During the past week, the Style section's diverse and outspoken collection of critics sat in judgment on the year gone by. Their responses to nine questions ranged from kudos to choler, and produced little agreement -- reflecting, perhaps, a year which promised more than it delivered but delivered more than it might have. Gary Arnold comments on film, Paul Hume on classical music, Alan M. Kriegsman on dance, James Lardner on theater, Paul Richard on art and Tom Shales on television. Richard Harrington discusses pop music, and Joseph McLellan appears on various subjects. 1. What was the high point of the year?
Arnold: Among American films, Carroll Ballard's "The Black Stallion" was the finest achievement; and in a foreign language the first major release of the year, Bertrand Biler's inimitable, enigmatic sex comedy, "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," remained unsurpassed (for the rest of the best, see Page K6).
Richard: Washington was blitzed with paintings by men considered masters. While it's hard to pick a high point in such a range of peaks, the never-to-be-repeated show of Oceanic Art, still on view at the National Gallery, might well get the nod.
Lardner: In Washington, the new plays that stirred me the most were Michael Weller's "Loose Ends" (first at Arena, now at New York's circle-in-the-Square) and Ernest Thompson's "On Golden Pond" (first at the Kennedy Center, now at New York's Century Theatre). The lack of serious new plays was dispiriting, but a few of the old were energetically and gracefully performed. One of the best is John O'Keeffe's "Wild Oats," now at the Folger.
Kriegsman: Among the high points: the Joffrey Ballet's reconstruction of Vaclav Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun"; the remarkable rebirth of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, which must now be accounted one of the world's most stunning ensembles; the reappearance in this country of England's Royal Ballet (at Wolf Trap); the first sizable sampling in the U.S. of the work of The Netherlands' Jiri Kylian, and the growing national acclaim for Washington's Choo San Goh, demonstrating that the wellsprings of creativity in classical ballet are far from running dry.
Hume: The National Symphony performances of Britten War Requiem last January.
Shales: In television, milestones tend to be judged as much for their social impact as for whatever artistic merit has been mustered in producing them. And so while NBC's film of John Updike's "Too Far to Go" and New York Channel 13's "Three Cheever Stories" on public TV were enormously satisfying by any reasonable standards, ABC's "Roots: The Next Generations" and "Friendly Fire" were probably the most important dramatic programs of the year, and "CBS reports: Teddy" the single most significant and titillating nonfiction program on a network.
Harrington: The year-long British invasion may eventually have as much impact as the attack of the '60s with the solid energy and enthusiasm of bands like The Records, Dire Straits and the Rumour, and performers like Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Bram Tchaikovsky, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. America retaliated with The Knack, Tom Petty and Talking Heads. This is a battle of the bands that the audience won.
McLellan: I heard something approaching perfection twice during the year.
Once was in the performance of the 'Blue Danube' waltz, given by the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Boehm as an encore after Schubert's Ninth Symphony (a very difficult work to follow). The other was the performance of "La Marseillaise" by the Orchestre de Paris and its chorus -- an event to make you wish you were French. Both were during musical visits notable in many other ways -- the Vienna State Opera, for example, for its "Marriage of Figaro" and the Parisians for their Berlioz Requiem. 2. What was the low point of the year?
Shales: It became farily common to "sweeten" -- artificially, of course -- the laughter and applause on certain television programs, one of the grosser betrayals in the history of a self-betraying TV system. But the nadir of nadirs was reached (on ABC, naturally) on Friday, Nov. 23, with the telecast of "Playboy Roller Disco Pajama Party," a peekaboo plugfest so gauche and garish that even the Village People looked embarrassed to be a part of it.
Lardner: Except for the high points, the whole year was a low point.
Kriegsman: One nomination must go to the Canadian troupe Les Ballets Jazz (seen here at Lisner), proving that if you mix bad ballet and bad jazz dance, what you get is worse than either; another belongs to John Neumeier for his "Lady of the Camellias." The consensus boo of the year, however, went to a work that illness prevented me from experiencing -- a potpourri from the National Ballet de Cuba whose title I keep distorting into "Night of the Living Guitar."
Arnold: Absolutely speaking, the most loathsome and inexcusable "attraction" of the year was "Mr. Mike's Mondo Video." Happily, it aroused so much animosity that self-respecting theater owners felt obliged to drop it like a diseased potato. But the great popular success of American hogwash like "Rocky II" and "The Amityville Horror" -- and a stale French confection like "La Cage aux Folles" -- were discouraging reminders that popular taste was not necessarily improving.
Hume: Washington Opera staging of "La Traviata" last September.
Harrington: Local low points came in February, when Georgetown University took WGTB-FM off the air, signaling the end of a certain kind of freeform progressive radio that was as maddening as it was exhilarating. And Washingtonians who had kept Little Feat alive through crises found a particular sadness in the late-June death of guitarist and songwriter Lowell George.
McLellan: Robert Goulet's destruction of an otherwise good production of "Carousel" at Wolf Trap takes the prize. He forgot his lines, tried to fake it, forced his voice, stumbled aimlessly about the stage, perpetuating an insult to his own memory. 3. What was the major change during 1979?
Kriegsman: The big development is the justended American Ballet Theatre lockout, and the capitulation of management to the dancers' demands for earnings more commensurate with those of musicians and stagehands. It's a signal that once and for all, dancers are through sacrificing basic well-being for art -- letting fund-raisers, administrators and grantsmanshippers do a little of the bleeding hereafter.
Shales: The rise of "60 Minutes" to the very top of the ratings, week in and week out, and the proliferation of magazine-type shows on other networks and on local stations -- combined with a deadly stasis afflicting Hollywood production of the average rut series -- indicate, one hopes, growing public disaffection with the dim-bulb frippery of Fantasy Islands and Happy Dayses and an increased appetite for something within a 10-mile radius of reality.
Richard: Painters get better as they paint, and there are more of them around than there were before. There were more fine paintings shown here, by artists dead and living, than any single viewer had the time to see. We've never had it so good.
Lardner: There were hints of better things to come -- above all, a healthy drift toward nursing new plays much more slowly and carefully by way of workshops and multiple productions at various odd locations across the country. wFor Washington theatergoers, the market has widened considerably with the opening of the Terrace Theater, the revitalization of the Warner, the new aggressiveness of the National's management and a further proliferation of small theater groups around the city.
Hume: Little change other than that poor singing is more prevalent, and more foolishly applauded.
Harrington: Music generally took a step back to its primal energies. Suddenly, rock became a lot more direct, with less importance placed on production and packaging (with obvious exceptions among the bigger names). Listening to the radio started to become a pleasurable experience again.
McLellan: With Eugene Ormandy's retirement, we have officially ended the age when one conductor would establish a permanent, fulltime, year-round relation with one orchestra and they could grow together through the years. Orchestral music moved a little bit further into the age of the visiting celebrity (who will sometimes be called a music director). We may hope it will gain in glitter what it loses in potential depth, but the prospect is doubtful. 4. What special person or group stood out?
McLellan: The ubiquitous Martin Feinstein made more news than anyone else: changing jobs, importing talent, and beginning construction of a new opera company. And in general he did more to put Washington on the cultural map than any comparable figure.
Lardner: Set designers. Ming Cho Lee's set for Arena's "Don Jaun," Tony Straiges' for Arena's "A Winter's Tale" and David Jenkins' for the Kennedy Center's "The Art of Dining" were all dazzlingly inventive, and contributed -- far beyond the call of duty for a set -- to the effectiveness of each production.
Richard: Bob Wade built downtown the Biggest Cowboy Boots in the World. The Fragonard drawings at the National Gallery were more beautiful, but 40-foot-high boots are not easily ignored.
Hume: The 20th Century Consort, with the Theather Chamber Players neck and neck.
Harrington: It wasn't that kind of year, although Bob Dylan stuck out like a sore ecclesiastical thumb, pointing in a new direction and obviously hoping that his fans will look to someone besides himself for the answers to life's tricky questions.
Shales: Fred Silverman came out, saw his shadow, and predicted another decade of himself. 5. What main trend emerged during the year?
Richard: It took us 10 years, but we finially lost faith in the religion of the new. "Present-chauvinsim" is fading, too. Painting has been around for 30,000 years, and nothing that we saw in 1979 was strong enough to overwhelm all the pictures of the past. New art, for a while, got emptier and emptier, but now portraiture is strong again, and iconography is in. Art, nourished by the past, is filling up again.
Lardner: As in other realms, it was back to old-fashioned sentimentality, sometimes by way of revivals and sometimes by way of new plays written in old rhythms. "On Golden Pond" was a superior example of this, and so is "Da," coming here in the spring.
Shales: In television, it was mostly Trends Away: Away from the once-vaunted mini-series format, away from the cop shows of years past, away even from the jiggle-jiggle-jiggle of the discodrama and the smutcom -- the last unfortunately offset by increasing reliance on sexually sensational or provocative material to lure viewers during crucial ratings periods.
Kriegsman: The main trend in dance in 1979 was the propensity of Cynthia Gregory to do her "I'm leaving ABT for good" number with ever-increasing frequency. This time she may have burned her bridges, by bad-mouthing incoming director baryshnikov and just about everyone else she could think of. But you never can tell -- Gregory may be around to kick and be kicked some more.
Hume: A definite trend in composition toward a more communicative style, away from past sterility.
Harrington: Maybe it's a good sign, but the music industry wasn't able to force any clear-cut trends this year, and none appeared out of the blue. One annoying tendency is the increasing tightness of radio stations' playlists; there is less openness on the air, less chance-taking, as stations fight it out for the advertising dollar. And disco proved that the most common denominator is not always the highest.
Arnold: No thematic or stylistic trends took hold. The touted youth-gang cycle resolved itself into a single controversial hit, "The Warriors," followed by several instant obscurities. No one ever took the idea of roller-disco musicals seriously. The most imaginative settings and special-effects sequences in "Alien," "The Black Hole" and "Star Trek" reaffirm the new importance of the science-fiction adventure fantasy as the spectacle genre of the future. Unfortunately, the storytelling mechanisms have a way of remaining conspicuously primitive while the quality of the scenic illusion improves dramatically.
A cluster of horror thrillers opened in the summer, inspiring the usual think pieces about the pathological decadence and angst afflicting American culture. At least three of the hits were blatantly ludicrous: "The Amityville Horror," "Prophecy" and "Phantasm." Only "Alien" and "Dawn of the Dead" justified serious analysis. The most impressive movies of the cycle, they were also graphically appalling.
Given the contorted nature of costly projects like "Apocalype Now," "1941" and "Star Trek," it might be useful if pictures like "The Black Stallion" or "Breaking Away" dominated the next Academy Awards. The dominant movie at the Oscars is likely to be "Kramer vs. Kramer," a modest production with surefire sentimental appeal and some timely interest, stemming in part from the filmmakers' peculiarly slanted and questionable assumptions about changing sexual and parental roles. It's the kind of wellmade touchstone that you can productively brood about or pick a quarrel with. Not so with the misbegotten blockbusters of the year. They invite despondent speculation about what might have been going their directors' heads while the footage rampaged or drifted out of effective dramatic supervision.
McLellan: Digital recording began to make its impact on the consumer market -- more as a slogan than a revolutionary reality, since the digital material still has to be transferred to the analog grooves of a vinyl record before you can play it at home. Still, there is a perceptible improvement, and the long-range possibilities (when we will be geared for direct playback of digital material) are enormous. 6. How did the public respond during 1979?
Lardner: Washington theatergoers, known in some quarters for a relative lack of sophistication about the theater -- paradoxically coexisting with a high level of sophistication in other areas -- seem to be growing less malleable. The Kennedy Center lost about 2,000 subscribers between last season and this, presumably because the subscribers didn't like most of what they saw. And who can blame them?
Hume: Attendance at all kinds of classical events had dropped markedly.
Harrington: The public Got Smart. It became more wary in its buying patterns. There were a lot of empty seats on the Peter Frampton tour and Fleetwood Mac's LP "TUSK" never reached Number 1, which would have been unthinkable earlier in the year. (But Donna Summer put out a record at the end of the year that was almost a recapitulation of everything she had done in the previous 10 months. It went to Number 2.)
Shales: As usual, everybody hated television except the public, which insisted on watching it as much as ever. Near the end of the year, with the advent of the seemingly interminable Iranian crisis, audience levels for network newscasts skyrocketed, and ABC late-night reports on Iran sometimes scored higher ratings than competing flotsam from Tinsel Town on other networks. This may not prove that audiences crave reality in television, however -- only that the Iranian mini-series produced a kind of national nostalgia for the good old crisis, the kind that unites the country rather than divides it, in which good guys and bad guys seem as clearly delineated as they do on soaps and cop operas.
McLellan: People spent a lot of money on music -- including ways that we seldom notice. For example, the audience of WETA-FM, during its fall fund-raising marathon, pledged over $160,000 for something they can get for nothing just by flicking a switch. This broke all records for fund-raising by a publicly supported FM station.
Richard: The museums are stuffed with people, and the galleries are making money. The art public has never been so large or so well-formed. The more you see, the more you know, and there's been a lot to see. 7. How much did the arts influence each other?
Arnold: The most remarkable influence, if you can call it that, was an ineffectual sleigh-of-hand designed to obscure the boundaries between TV and theatrical films. "Mondo Viedo" didn't reach network television, but Spielberg's "Jaws" finally did -- padded by perhaps 20 minutes of superfluous material shrewdly trimmed from the original theatrical release. Finally, Paramount invested upwards of $40 million in a lavish testimonial to the cult popularity of a defunct TV series. It looks as if the Trekkies who boasted that the box office records of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" were talking through their beanies, but the film may prove enough of a meteoric success to jusify its costs. Still, the movies are dependent enough on remakes without contemplating nostalgic enlargements of TV hits.
Richard: People have been waiting for years for the photography bubble to burst, but it keeps getting bigger. In 1979, Ansel Adams made the cover of Time, Harry Lunn sold millions of dollars worth of photographs from his gallery in Georgetown, and the Corcoran showed more photographs than paintings. Painters work from photographs; photographers paint their prints. The old lines have dissolved.
Lardner: Opera has invaded the musical in a big way, and when I say big I mean "Sweeney Todd" and "Evita," which means big.
Kreigsman: "Multamedia" seems to have been a part of the '60s mystique which slid into quiet obscurity this last decade. At year's end, however, an astonishing collaboration between dancerchoreographer Lucinda Childs, composer Philip Glass and filnmaker Sol LeWitt (at the Brooklyn Academy of Music) hinted that the subject may be headed for a revival and that along with it -- as the recent spate of spaceship movies suggests -- a new kind of weightless, interplanetary esthetic as well.
Harrington: High tech. Everyone's talking about the advent of video cassettes. (But rock on the small screen has never worked. With a record, one at least has freedom of movement and selection.) And there is now a plan to aim car music at the driver's spine, blasting sonic rhythms through the seat. Look for a record-rater on American Bandstand to say, "Give it a 95; a great song to sit on."
Shales: In television, "interdisciplinary influences" are propably best represented by the phenomenon known as the cross-plug. Local stations throughout the country aired a half-hour special on black holes in space, for instance, that they got free of charge and with ads built in. But it was in reality a subtle plug for the Disney Studios' film "The Black Hole." As for other influences, TV continued to soak up whatever it could wherever it could, but rarely on a rarefied plane. The cheever stories, the Updike special and the forthcoming return to public television of "The American Short Story" give hope, however, that TV dramas of the future can deal with something other than worrisome Significant Social Issues and perpetual car chases. 8. What didn't happen during 1979 that should have?
Lardner: The theater once again ducked every serious political and economic question facing Americans and our government. Why not a play about the energy crisis? Why not a play about Henry Kissinger? Why not a play about the shah?
Shales: Satcom III, RCA's $50-million investment in a new communications satellite, should have gone into orbit in December after its launch from Cape Kennedy. Instead, apparently, it went plop-plop, fizz-fizz, and now nobody knows where the hell it is.
Kriegsman: Poor Alexander Godunov, having gone to all that trouble to defect and dropping a wife and all, should surely have gotten at least one chance to dance so far -- but he hasn't. Mikhail Baryshnikov, having gone to all the trouble of moving from ABT to the New York City Ballet, should have had at least one new ballet created for him by George Balanchine -- but he hasn't.
Finally, according to natural expectations, the Kennedy Center Honors Gala program should have had something to do with the arts -- but it didn't.
Arnold: Coppola's long-awaited "Apocalypse Now" did not justify the wait. However, the director's wife, Eleanor, did publish a revealing journal of the production, "Notes," which tells a far more coherent and urgent story than the movie itself.
Hume: Washington Opera has not given positive signs of moving toward a firmer future.
Harrington: The Beatles reunion didn't happen again, but this year it should have. For one thing, it might have raised millions of dollars for a very worthy cause. More importantly, it probably would have been so terrible that no one would ever want to ask, "Do you think the Beatles . . . ?"
McLellan: La Scala did not come to the Kennedy Center. And nobody found a cheap substitute for petroleum -- a failure which is more threatening to live, staged presentations of the performing arts than any other non-happening of the year. 9. What's the outlook for 1980?
Richard: More of the same. The art boom is no fad. It's going to grow and grow.
Lardner: The outlook is hazy -- or maybe it's my eyesight. If there is going to be a strong pattern to the theater in 1980, it has yet to reveal itself.
Harrington: What 1980 should bring, if we are good little rock 'n' rollers, is a continuation of the vitality of 1979, a continued cross-fertilization of musical styles that marked the '70s, the growth of regional musical identities, and -- many hope -- the last gasps of disco as we know it.
Arnold: Fairly promising. The first quarter should bring a host of films including Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz," Herbert Ross' "Nijinsky," William Friedkin's "Cruising," Lewis John Carlino's "The Great Santini," Michael Apted's "The Coalminer's Daughter" with Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn, and John Huston's "Wise Blood." And the summer of 1980, with many more promising titles, could be a commercial record-setter.
Shales: A slight increase in the level of sexual frankness on network television as the business gets increasingly nervous about still-nascent competition from other sources like pay-cable and video discs and cassettes. By the time NBC becomes the number one network -- as Fred Silverman has predicted it will -- nobody may really give a hoot who's the number one network anymore, and that may be just as well.
McLellan: Austerity -- and perhaps it is high time.