“Tinker”ing with a classic. One strategy: A cheat sheet for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

My full reviews of several movies — including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which has some sneak previews tonight and opens formally Wednesday — will be in the week’s print and online editions starting late tomorrow, but I wanted to give a head’s-up about one of the new releases: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is a throw-back to the Cold War thrillers of the 1970s, both in tone, topic and look, but what’s really interesting (aside from a subtle gay subplot you should be on the lookout for) was something not on the screen, but in your hand.

At the press screening last night, attendees were presented a “dossier” (above), a slickly-produced fold-out intended “for your eyes only,” but really an almost-necessary cheat sheet to the plot of the damn thing! As any fans of John Le Carre know, Tinker, Tailor was originally produced as a seven-part miniseries in the late 1970s, which gave the labyrinthine plot room to breathe. The filmmakers do a good job concentrating on the major points and telling a complex but cogent story, but the existence of the dossier made me feel they didn’t really trust audiences to give themselves over and figure it out for themselves.

Or maybe they just didn’t trust critics. I’m not sure if the “dossier” will be available at all screening when it opens at the Angelika Friday, but let me know! It certainly is a fun little novelty if nothing else.

And until then, don’t miss Dragon Tattoo!!!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Van Cliburn returns to Tchaikovsky Competition for 1st time since winning it 53 years ago

It may be hard to believe today, but in 1958, a piano concert was as big on the international news pages of the world as the 1980 U.S.-Russia Olympic semifinal hockey game would be decades later. That’s when a kid from Kilgore, Texas, named Van Cliburn attended the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition — named for the great Russian composer, and intended as a display of the prowess in the arts of the Soviet Union — and walked away with the top prize, following an eight-minute ovation.

The impact was huge — a Time magazine cover; a ticker-tape parade in New York City — and Cliburn has been a giant in classical music since then. He now lends his name to his own piano competition, which has become one of the most celebrated and revered events of its kind in the world.

The Tchaikovsky was 53 years ago, but apparently, it’s never too late to go back. Monday, the gay piano virtuoso boarded a plane for Moscow, returning to the competition for the first time since his historic win. (He’s visited Russia many times over the years, but never returned to the competition.)

I can hardly imagine what it was like, at the height of the Cold War, for a 23-year-old Texan to travel all that way barely six months after the launch of Sputnik, which ratcheted up hostilities and the space race between the sole superpowers of the day, as the eyes of the world looked on. Just to go there was heroic; to perform, and perform well, superhuman; to win it … well, it’s legend. For Cliburn to return now — and to be a Russian in the room when he takes to the stage for the first time in more than a half-century? Well, it gives me goosebumps.

Congrats to Van Cliburn.

See Van Cliburn receive an award from President Barack Obama here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones