The Bible says ''To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven.''
That's from the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verse 1. It doesn't take too much familiarity with February in Western New York, to realize that this is the season for arts columns to review videos and books.
It's always a treat, and we have them piling up on us, so put on some good music, pull the lap robe over your knees, and let's set our minds free to wander through ideas and information.
Our first review for this week is a documentary film, which has recently been released on DVD by the NAXOS label. It is a technical refreshing of both the original 1939 film, and a re-recording of the classic score, by composer Aaron Copland. It's called ''The City.''
This film is likely to especially appeal to two audiences: Classical music lovers will be fascinated in how the composer sought to enhance and better communicate the messages of the film. Environmentalists will be fascinated by the film's ideas of city planning, including both their successes and their failures.
Not surprisingly, though, people who aren't members of either group may readily find they like both the music and the way the ideas on how people live brings out ideas of their own on city planning and environmental control.
''The City'' was made for the 1939 World's Fair. It begins with the open, quiet villages, which are common throughout New England. That part is intended to represent how the majority of Americans lived before the industrial revolution and the enormous growth of cities.
Then, it switches to cities and the life of the average person among the noise, smoke, and complete isolation from nature which was so common then. People had been sold on the idea that ''smoke makes wealth,'' and they had adopted a way of living which now seems monstrous.
The conclusion of the film deals with a social movement toward what we now call suburban living. Experiments such as Greenbelt, Md., were planned communities in which relatively low-cost homes were built on lots large enough to have yards, there were open park lands and playgrounds, and limits on the number of people who could live there.
The contemporary re-creation of the film was done by musician and musicologist Joseph Horowitz. You may remember that we wrote a column about another of his documentary updatings, which was titled ''The Plough That Broke the Plains'' and ''The River.'' That double film had scores by American composer Virgil Thomson.
In addition to the 43-minute historic film, with its moving score, now both presented in the sharpest of focuses, there are other features on the DVD, including the choice of seeing the film in its original form, with the crackling soundtrack which originally accompanied it. There is also a documentary on Greenbelt, Md., and a filmed conversation between documentary filmmaker George Stoney and Horowitz.
I think most Americans think of Aaron Copland for his music which was inspired by the Wild West, including ''Rodeo'' and ''Billy the Kid.'' Probably even most classical music lovers are unfamiliar with this score. The recent recording of it by the Post-Classical Ensemble, with Angel Gil-Ordonez conducting, is clear, precise and clean, and very moving to hear.
Anyone who enjoys being educated and inspired, in addition to being entertained, will enjoy this DVD. It's on the Naxos Label. Find it through the Naxos web site or other vendors of intelligent DVD literature, with the number 2.110231. As of this writing, it cannot be ordered through the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System.
Gossip is the ugly stepchild of the news. In a democratically-based society such as we hope to have, it is urgent that citizens be able to learn which policies the president seeks to pursue and the reasons why some people are in favor of or opposed to those policies.
The people who bring us the news have traditionally been somewhat heroic images: serious, educated and respected. Think of Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. Information such as the dating life of the featured actors in ''Teen Musical,'' and whether Jessica Simpson has gained a few pounds, has a greater interest for many of us, although even the most avid gossip fan will probably admit, it shouldn't be more important.
One icon of the gossip scene for more than 50 years has been columnist and television personality Liz Smith. Now well into her eighties, Ms. Smith has been a major source of that information we might want to know, but almost certainly shouldn't.
The Queen of Dish has published her memoirs, which she calls ''Natural Blonde.'' Claiming that fair is fair, the author tells us her birth date - 1923 - and about her failed marriages and a couple of romantic involvements. She spells out how she went from a small town in Texas to one of the most feared and courted figures of sophisticated Manhattan. She even admits that the title of the book is a bold-faced lie.
When I was sent the book for review, I considered not doing so, because I feel so strongly that gossip tends to trivialize both the news and the arts. I have never believed that because someone was an actor or a singer, that it entitled total strangers to know what color he painted his bathroom, or to make a circus out of his wedding by hanging out of helicopters with cameras.
What made me decide to read the book was a curiosity about why someone would spend her life writing about trivia, and a deep curiosity about how much truth is involved in what she has written throughout her career, and how much of it was made up out of whole cloth by publicists trying to get their clients' names well-known.
I came away from the book with the impression that probably she thinks what she's written is more truthful than it actually is, but that she usually tried to make it truthful, far more than I would have expected.
Based on Smith's book, the life of a gossip columnist is an elaborate and complex dance. Performers want to talk with her, but they don't want her to find out too much. If she doesn't publicize certain things, she may win the gratitude of a performer, which will get her more and better stories in the future.
On the other hand, if she sits on a story and another writer gets it, she begins to look incompetent and expendable to the newspaper or television station which pays her salary.
Worst of all, a great many people in public live - in performing arts and politics and big business to name a few - convince themselves that they want to be private, but in reality, want to be the topic at everyone's breakfast table. They won't tell a reporter what she wants to know, but they will be angry if she doesn't get the information somewhere and publicize it widely.
In general, the author comes across as a gutsy dame who has known the rich and the famous at a degree of intimacy which is surprising, in many cases. She drops a great many names, along with truths about what it was like to be invited for a personal dinner by Katharine Hepburn, although I can't help being torn between wondering why anyone would want to know, and wondering whether she has really captured what it would be like.
''Natural Blonde'' has 445 pages in hard bound edition. It was published by Hyperion, and sold for $25.95, when it was new. Numerous copies are available through various libraries in the library system. Find it with ISBN number 0-7868-6325-0.
Liz Smith has always been on the more serious end of the gossip spectrum. The next book we want to discuss is by a woman who has always been well on the gossip end of the serious news spectrum: Barbara Walters.
Ms Walters has sat at network news desks, in the days when there were only three television networks and they took their responsibilities to present the truth, very seriously. She has interviewed world leaders who have refused to talk with any other journalists, such as Fidel Castro, Anwar Sadat, and Indira Gandhi.
At the same time, she owes the majority of her fame to celebrity interviews. She showed the nation the wallpaper on Barbra Streisand's walls, which really doesn't matter much, when you come right down to it.
Ms. Walters has recently published a memoir, covering her entire life, from her birth in Massachusetts through her semi-retirement, leaving ABC-TV's ''20-20,'' and reducing her efforts to occasional interview specials and coverage of very special occasions.
She has titled the memoir ''Audition,'' because she believes that her whole life has been spent auditioning for the approval of others.
She was born the younger of two daughters to nightclub impresario Lou Walters and his neurotic, homebody wife. There is a block, just north of Times Square in New York City, which is named for her father. He was a big thinker, who was always a millionaire or penniless. Sometimes her family lived in penthouses bordering Central Park, and other times, they subsisted in airless basement apartments with no windows and bad cases of mold.
Her older sister was mentally handicapped, and needed to be cared for. Beginning in elementary school, the author was required to ''take Jackie along'' to visit friends for school or eventually on dates. Before she was 10, she was coping with guilt, that she loved her sister, but she didn't want to take her places where her presence might mean they were both laughed at and excluded.
Among the nightclubs which her father started and temporarily profited from, was the famous Latin Quarter, which was one of the ''in'' places to go, to see the rich and famous. She was used to having Milton Berle or Jackie Gleason or the Duke and Dutchess of Windsor, or similar personalities, drop by for lunch or come and sit with her at her father's table in the nightclub.
In many ways, it gave her an advantage in working her way into television, that she had personal connections to some of the biggest names, unrelated to her journalistic skills.
Indeed a great deal of her career has been a careful balancing act. Again and again, she found herself the first woman to have a particular job, in an era where women in important jobs were tokens, if they existed at all. On the NBC news, where she first began her journalistic career, for example, Ms. Walters was the ''Today Girl.'' She did stories about fashions and about cooking and issues which were considered unimportant, but of interest to women, while the men did the serious reporting.
On the other hand, when she was invited to visit Fidel Castro's weekend getaway home or to participate in prestigious social opportunities which made it possible to get scoops which men would have never been offered, she didn't stand up for equal rights as strongly as she did when she was the one being denied.
The author demonstrates that the life of a newsperson as often involves sleeping on the bare floor of a cargo plane or risking being bitten by a Middle Eastern leader's camel as it does sipping champagne at an elegant reception.
The author seems very frank about issues such as the period when Donald Trump was cursing her name at every opportunity or Frank Sinatra was threatening to cast out anyone who agreed to do an interview with her. Her awkward partnerships with personalities as diverse as Frank McGee, Harry Reasoner, and Rosie O'Donnell are all explored, and seem accurate.
She even describes her attempts to find it funny when Saturday Night Live's Gilda Radner began performing her cruel satires on Ms. Walters' difficulties in pronouncing the letter ''R,'' and her penchant for asking off-the-wall questions such as ''Were do you buy your clothes?''
Reading the book will teach you a lot about how the news is made and how it is covered. Obviously, Ms. Walters is the hero of her own life, so it might be interesting to read memoirs from those with whom she has crossed swords.
''Audition'' has 582 pages in hard bound edition. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf, and costs $29.95. The library system has more than 20 copies available to borrow, including large print editions and CD recordings. find it with ISBN number 978-0-307-26646-0.