Archive for July, 2013

Apollo’s Girl

July 31, 2013

Art, Music, Film

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Fearless Predictions (and a Surprise)

First, the surprise: I have to admit, right off the bat (pun intended) that I’ve just never been able to get excited about baseball. Spent evenings with friends who really got into the game, but remember the intervals between plays seeming endless; the action that had them screaming and rising to their feet for every hit, every run, felt (to a woman who loved tennis and hockey) like perpetual slow motion. I also remember dozing off and, when I grew up a little, remembering urgent appointments elsewhere until I was no longer asked to be part of the coach potato cheering section.

But I promised you a surprise, and there is one: cuban baseballA friend (similarly inclined) recently took me to The Eighth Floor for what was supposed to be a flyover of Stealing Base: Cuba at Bat on our way to dinner.  What a revelation! As it turns out baseball is the Cuban national passion, inspiring prose, poetry and, in the case of this exhibition, a trove of witty and fascinating paintings and sculptures, even some film, on the subject. The flyover was canceled as we loped repeatedly around the show, our delight increasing with each tour and revelation (and some welcome Cuban snacks).  Could we have been wrong all these years? You have til September 2 to discover for yourselves; take advantage of the pleasure, and see what this congenial Flatiron gallery has coming up: http://the8thfloor.org/2013/03/cuban-baseball/

Now for the Fearless Predictions…

4 x 4 Festival. If baseball is a new friend, early music goes back a long way (yes, steinanother pun). And there’s nothing cooler in the dog days than a scrum of viols, sacbuts, theorbos and portative organs to lure you into chilling out with like-minded souls. Led by Avi Stein, who can summon the best players, 4 x 4 is a loose consortium of friends and colleagues who play and sing up and down the Eastern seaboard and around the world, a live organism forever separating and reconnecting as their repertoire demands.

Of course the energy of their shared passion pervades their work, and includes forays into contemporary and pop repertoire, too. QuicksilverBehindthescenesIt’s an attitude reflected in the names of their individual groups (most have at least one of their own): Guido’s Ear, Quicksilver, Apollo’s Fire, King’s Noyseplayful and ecstatic at the same time. Nothing doleful here! Whenever it was composed, it’s music for our time. This year’s four-part feast began last night and continues through August 2. So get thee to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on time (concerts begin at 7pm; admission is free and first-come, first-served; there is a $20 suggested donationmake it it’s a bargain at the price!) Programs: http://4x4baroque.com/

Film/Video: Opera, Dance

Emerging Pictures has scored another coup Ira_Teaching(its president, Ira Deutchman, is known for his visionary taste and quick-moving distribution skills) with a summer series of top-of- the-line live-in-HD dance and opera performances recorded live at the Bolshoi, The Hague, Covent Garden, and now — throughout August — at La Scala. To celebrate Verdi’s 200th anniversary, the menu includes performances of Aida, Don Carlo, and La Traviata, with big names and bigger-than-life drama: Alagna,  Urmano, Furlanetto, Zajick, Gheorgiu, Vargas.  The programming brings the best of global Angela-Gheorghiu-Vargas-Traviata-RomalyparaLNPara_LNCIMA20130124_0377_5performances to the United States, with options far beyond the stages of the Metropolitan Opera. It’s an exciting (and affordable) idea, with venues all around the country, and technology that permits long-distance live Q & As.  To find out what’s coming up (and where), see http://www.emergingpictures.com/

And if you want to see Emerging Pictures current film lineup (some of the best of what’s playing now or coming soon), http://www.emergingpictures.com/film. It’s all good!

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Apollo’s Girl

July 17, 2013

Film, Art

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Summer in the City:
It Can be Civilized

No need to pine for autumn, with all those  good films jockeying for Oscars. Along with some of the worst rollouts (they know who they are)long, brutish, ugly and  mind-numbingly loud if you’re willing to brave the heat, but not the noise, the gods of distribution have some blessed, and surprising, summer relief.

For two quiet, intriguing, twisty examples, try The East and Shadow Dancer. Both are long on story, cast, and direction (really fluid and assured), with the bonuses of fine cinematography and editing. THE-EAST 2Zal Batmanglij’s The East offers a timely plot: a government operative (Brit Marling) infiltrates a sophisticated, upscale anarchist group, only to find herself increasingly attracted to its mission and to its leader (Alexander Sarsgård). It’s a big film: the cast features Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Julia Ormond, along with a lot of  smaller turns remaining vivid because of the actors who fill them.  The East is also notable for the chemistry between Sarsgård and Marling, and for Marling’s dual role as star (she’s very good) and (with director Batmanglij) co-screenwriter. 

shadow dancer 6James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer (based on Tom  Bradby’s novel) shines in the Irish Troubles genre, but, like The East. its script and performances (from the tough-but-tender Clive Owen and the simmer-below-the-surface Andrea Rieseborough, to every bit player) burnish the patina. Also. like The East, its twists spin when you least expect them. Having shadow dancer 1seen Rieseborough in TV films as Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and Iron Socialite Wallis Simpson, I’d say she has range. As an Irish woman torn between two conflicting ideologies and her own emotional desires, her reticence  is the perfect foil for Owen’s own conflicting loyalties. It’s all very low-key, yet their chemistry centers the film. Gillian Anderson pulls the political strings that keep things humming, and the camerawork sets the mood that frames the story. 

At Film Society Lincoln Center, Latinbeat 2013 schedule is featuring a matias_pineiro_1_smallretrospective of Manuel Piñeiro’s work, with particular attention to his favorite muse: William Shakespeare. Using a cast of young, energetic and interconnected actors, Piñeiro has created updates on Twelfth Night (Viola)and As You Like It (Rosalinda) that are as clever as they are playful. The bodies in constant motion run with his (and Shakespeare’s) talent for puns, sexual complications, and politics; their antics make a dense and satisfying update on stories that never grow old. But my personal favorite at Latinbeat is actually ImpenetrableDaniele Incalcaterra and Fausta Quattrini’s lovable and lovingly made true story about Paraguay’s sordid past under dictator Alfredo Stroessner. You might call Impenetrable impenetrable 2(in contrast to Pineiro’s updated madcap Shakespeare) slow film. But, fueled by the filmmakers’ stubborn determination to return their patrimony (a 5,000-hectare tract of scrubby wilderness in the Paraguayan chaco) to the Guarani Indians from whom it was all but stolen impenetrable 3by Stroessner and his friends, it picks up momentum as it goes along. It’s a unique blend of “travel diary, Western, road trip, scientific exploration, and…the savagery of capitalistic exploitation.” It’s also an increasingly captivating tale of how the good guys win in the end against all the odds. And you know that’s one formula that really never grows old! Catch this at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center right now.

MuchAdoAnd while you’re there, get tickets for what is arguably the very best updated Shakespeare ever: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Much Ado is what a producer/writer/director known for his big-budget, big-profit TV and feature films (Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Alien Resurrection; Roseanne, etc.) does for the fun of it. And non-stop fun it is! Also a 12-day miracle of seasoned and constantly imaginative directing. It just never stops spinning, playing with its text and characters, their romantic dilemmas and breathtaking agility. Language? The first time I’ve seen Shakespeare done (to a turn) by an American cast, speaking American English yet, somehow, making love to the Elizabethan cadences of period vocabulary. Every line, every syllable, is crystalline. Every joke in the play is there, and many more generated by the cast and crew, dressed in everyday clothes, yet cloaked in delicious 17th-century tropes. 

much ado 1The screen, the camera and the actors are alive, busy navigating the plot and the set—Whedon’s own California home and grounds—from one idea, one room, one garden to the next. There is music (juicy and jazzy) and art (from first frame to last) that keep Shakespeare and the here-and-now dancing rapturously together. In fact, Much Ado is not only the most delicious take on Shakespeare for our time, but the most musical one as well. Play on, Joss, play on! You have brought us all into a mountain of affection..

And speaking of affection: a lovely remnant of this year’s New Directors/New Films is Tiza Covi and Rainer Frimmel’s The Shine of the Day. Its plot is simple: a young stage actor (Philipp Hochmair) and an old shine of the day1circus performer (Walter Saabel) meet when Saabel shows up, unannounced, at Hochmair’s door as his long-lost uncle. Then, Saabel moves in. At first, it’s an Austrian take on the Odd Couple; Hochmair is heir to the traditions of deeply serious German/Austrian stage work (and sends much of it gratifyingly up); Saabel is a crusty retiree at loose ends. Gradually, after his decades as a rolling stone, Saabel finds himself connnecting to his neighbors and, finally, to Hochmair (another rolling stone) for a humane and often very witty story. The film was made by following the two actors around for a year as the story and their relationship took shape, then editing some of the inspired improvisation. Happy ending? Yes!

More later…

Cooper’s London

July 10, 2013

Theatre

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A Mad World, My Masters,
by Thomas Middleton
(a.k.a. Guys and Dolls in Soho)

If there is a chance to get to only one show this middletonsummer at Stratford, make it this one. Middleton is not as well known as he should be, and this is his ultimate masterpiecea wickedly satirical and utterly hilarious farce. It is also a production that makes it clear that you could consider Middleton to have been the Damon Runyon of 1605 in his approach to satire. The director, Sean Foley, has come sean foleyup with the idea of updating the action from Soho (the London lowlife areas of 1605) to Soho in 1955, and the parallels not only work, but give the show the feeling of a Jacobean Guys and Dolls. As in that show, the louche underworld characters are treated with a kind of indulgence and we see everything from their viewpoint.

mad worldWith some wonderfully evocative and edgy jazz music from the era being played and sung throughout, the evening feels like an intelligent and provocative musical; and there really are an awful lot of laughs.

 

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The performance I attended was rollicking fun and the audience was captivated from the moment the excellent Linda John-Pierre sang her bewitching opening number. With a little modernization of some of the more difficult Jacobean language and of some of the characters’ names, the points are made that much  sharper. I especially like the protagonist being named Mr Littledick (not to mention the hypocrite, Mr Penitent Brothel), excellently played by Steffan Rhodri and John Hopkins, respectively.  The text is remarkably clear and accessible in this production. I came out wondering why the play is performed so rarely.

I think they should transfer A Mad World, My Masters to the West End and then Broadway and that it could have the same success as the National Theatre’s update of A Servant of Two Masters (now known as One Man, Two Guvnors). I resist picking anyone out for special praise because everyone in the cast was giving a peak performance; the staging amounts to a brilliant piece of ensemble work.

This is Sean Foley’s debut at the RSC, and I expect to be returning to see his work as often as I can. Mad World: in repertory, Stratford’s Swan Theatre til 25 October 2013
Schedule/tickets

A Kick-Ass Chorus Line

chorus line 2When it opened in February of this year, a facsimile edition of A Chorus Line hit the Palladium road running, as it were, and got sensationally positive notices everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not doing sensational business, even though it’s very good.

So if you’re in London and fancy seeing as-near-as-damn-it to the original production, then you should be able to get in at half price or less! They are keeping the show running through the tourist season and then sending it on tour all over Europe in September.

I saw A Chorus Line all those years ago when it opened off-Broadway in a small house at the Public Theatre, but I don’t remember its specifics well enough to be able to say point by point how this production differs or is fitted to the new cast. All I can say is that it doesn’t have the dazzle or, indeed, the surprise value that it did in 1975; and much of the stuff that was original with this showlike dealing with homosexuality openly in a musicalis now common enough not to shock or distress as it could when the show ran originally.  The things that made people gasp with surprise and recognition and with the excitement of breaking taboos just can’t do that any more.  Nor can sitting in the Palladium give you the sense of proximity to the stage or intimacy that the original production did before it transferred to Broadway for its .

That said, it is still a very appealing show, best seen live because of the energy and impact of the dancing. The cast is uniformly excellent zimmerman 2and Leigh Zimmerman deservedly won an Olivier award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in March. That means she beat out the boys too, because in the Oliviers there is only one supporting role award, not one for each sex.

Zimmerman’s movingly acted, nuanced and dazzlingly sung-and-danced performance as Sheila is memorable. She conveys the tough carapace that Sheila has grown through years of disappointment as well as the vulnerability that still exists underneath. Scarlett scarlett strallenStrallen is a poignant Cassie. In both cases you wish the parts were longer, the back stories more fleshed out. And Cassie’s solo routine, a long and demanding piece of choreography, is a true show stopper.

The entire cast keeps on giving: I liked Victoria Hamilton-Barrit, Rebecca Giacopazzi, and the Zach of John Partridge, for example. A Chorus Line has been faithfully restaged for this London run by two members of the original cast, Baayork Lavian and leeee and Bob Avian, who were also members of the whole, fascinating lengthy workshop process that developed A Chorus Line in the first place. And though the Palladium is somewhat too large for what was originally done as an intimate show off Broadway in a small theatre, this theatre is a legendary venue in itself and some of the fun is simply being enveloped in a place which has hosted so many wonderful vaudeville stars and Royal Variety performances.

A Chorus Line stands up to repeated scrutiny despite my quibbles. The score by Marvin Hamlisch is a fine one, with superb lyrics by Edward Kleban, the whole show building inexorably to that famous climax when everyone you have gotten to know as individuals over two hours suddenly returns glitteringly attired and melts into the anonymity of the chorus line with the unforgettable number One.

chorus line 3A Chorus Line runs at the Palladium Theatre in London until 31 August 2013 and then starts its European tour.  Catch it while you can! One of the tempting offers for the show is at: Best price tickets

Apollo’s Girl

July 3, 2013

Film

apollo and lyre

Human Rights Watch Film Festival:
Its Eye Is On the Sparrows

 

OimagesCA1XM8ERne of the great attractions of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is its piercing gaze at many subjects otherwise unseen, and the passion and depth of its committed filmmakers. Definitely not for those accustomed to bread and circuses, yet so compelling it’s hard to turn away.  In fact, truth can be addictive. And what a welcome relief!

This year’s slate, co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center, includes traditional values and human rights: disability; LGBT; crises and migration; focus on Asia; the rights of women; and human rights right here at home.  Taken together, they make essential viewing  that can shock, repel, fascinate, and tear your heart out. 

act of killing2One example that delivers on all four counts is Joshua Oppenheimer’s controversial The Act of Killing. It’s a reenactmentby the principal villainsof their murders of more than one million of their Indonesian countrymen after President Sukarno’s ouster in 1965. They preen like movie stars as they discuss production details and the finer points of “playing” themselves in their glory days, their bloated faces revealing everything you need to know about who they are even before the horrors mount before you.  Without going into too much detail, I can verify that the movie is hard to watch,  but it’s a stunner that  won the audience award at the Berlinale, was co-produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, and has earned (so far) a Metacritic score of 92.  (See trailer).  Opens in New York on July 19.  Brace yourself. Be there.

The issue of women’s rights (in the headlines right now) is given a powerful boost by HRW with four new films. Three are about the lives of  Muslim women in Senegal, India, and Morocco, living in villages, towns, and cities. Despite their cultural differences, what they have in common is Islam and the pain of isolation as they try to remain independent in societies that are largely unsupportive, or actively hostile to their goals. Education, for all of them, is freedom; the difficulty of achieving it (which we have  long ago left in the dust, now having to focus our energies on the perpetual defense of Roe vs. Wade) is a reminder of what life, for women, is really like elsewhere.  

Of the three, Tall as the Baobab Treea dramatall as the baobab tree(Senegal; Jeremy Teicher) is the gentlest. It’s set in a peaceful rural village where two sisters (Coumba and Debo) and their families are part of a close-knit, traditional community, tending cows and gardens. They talk about learning and work hard to become good students. Their lives are protected, yet circumscribed. Longing for learning and a place in the world beyond their village, Debo, the younger sister, is sold in marriage to a much-older man, denying her forever the possibilities that education would bring. Coumba vows to buy her back, but village customs make it unlikely, even when she has secretly earned money to do it by working at a hotel in a nearby town. The beauty and serenity of the landscape are a sad contrast to lives that will never be.

Salma (India; Kim Longinotto) Salma’s life is less about serenity than about the stubborn insistance of a Tamil woman in India secluded (like many other salma 1women in her culture) when she reaches puberty; she must wear a burka and cannot study or leave the house until she finds a husband. She marries and, against all the odds, begins writing poems on scraps of paper, which ultimately find their way to a sympathetic publisher.  In time, her husband reluctantly accepts her increasing fame and urges her to run for local political office (she runs and wins).  But decades of inner and outer struggle have taken their toll. She will go on writing, but is realistic about the limited options available to her countrywomen in the future. 

Camera/Woman (Morocco; Karima Zoubir) The bright Camera Womanlights and city energy of Casablanca are an ironic contrast to the reality of Khadija’s life. She is divorced, with a young son, and living with her parents and brothers. The fact that she is divorced shames them almost as much as her occupation as a camerawoman, recording the weddings and celebrations of anyone who will hire her. She must bargain with her clients for enough money to cover the cost of stock and camera rental, with no profit margin. It’s a hard life, but the only one she has been able to put together for herself. There seems to be no way out except marriage, and she’s reluctant to embrace it a second time. 

Now this is where HRW has done us a huge favor: by offering us  these rare glimpses Pussy Riotinto the lives of others, then contrasting it with Pussy RiotA Punk Prayer (Russia; Mike Lerner/Maxim Pozdorovkin). Make no mistakePussy Riot is a clever, well-made and thought-out film, backed by the BBC. The bright lights and big city energy here are in Moscow, and the issues are sophisticated and complex. The Punk girl band is very naughty; they have chosen to express their displeasure with Vladimir Putin in very public ways, for one by performing in tights, tunics, and masks on the most sacred altar of The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

christ the saviorConsider for a moment the back story here: the cathedral was originally raised (right next to the Kremlin) to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat and the many sacrifices of the Russian people.  It was the tallest Orthodox church in the world, took 21 years to build and required another 20 for the completion of its lavish decoration and gilding. In keeping with its origins, Tschaikovsky’s 1812 Overture had its premiere there. After the Revolution, Stalin, sensing its power, had it dynamited. Eventually the remaining foundations were used to swimming poolhouse the biggest swimming pool in Moscow. Yet the Orthodox faithful watched and waited, biding their time until Glasnost to begin raising funds from the public; the cathedral was rebuilt and reopened in 2000. So its symbolic importance to Russians in general, and to Muscovites in particular, is unique. In short, Pussy Riot’s brief fling on its altar caused a virtual riot, and the band was jailed on a number of charges.

In the course of the film it becomes clear that the pussy riot4band members (in contrast to the Muslim women described above) are educated, well-to-do, wordly and attractive. and very much in charge of their lives. They have a huge following. During their trial (filmed in detail), the daily confrontations between Orthodox Russians and Russians who support the detainees grow in numbers and intensity. Of course serious attention is paid; the world press has a feeding frenzy, recording everything that moves. (We note that many of the Pussy supporters’ signs are in English). Their provocations may not move the implacable Mr. Putin, but they continue to generate CDs, videos and impressive publicity for the provocateurs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoJqzGG7u_k

What to make of all this? It raises some important questions, and we learn that three of the girls are sentenced to two years at hard labor, while a fourth is released on a technicality.  We also learn that the band has taken part earlier in some fairly questionable forms of protest (including a performance of what looks like busy non-simulated public sex), has considerable support from the public as well as from their families, and has planned its strategies knowingly and for maximum impact.  Madonna has taken up their cause, and two band members have somehow made it to New York for the film’s premiere in June. 

Pussy Riot was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for World CinemaDocumentary at Sundance this year, but did not win. With backstage politics no less Byzantine in Park City than in the Kremlin, it was then awarded the Special Jury Prize in the same category. It has theatrical release and has been showing on HBO. How could Coumba, Debo, Salma, and Khadija imagine such things? And who will speak and protest for them?

99%—The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film 99%(Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, Lucian Read, Nina Krstic). Unlike some collaborative films whose broth has been stirred by too many cooks, this one gets five stars in every category. Remaining clearly focused on the issues that generated the movement in 2011, the film was put together by almost 100 filmmakers across the country, driven (and kept together) for a year by their frustration with the system and their conviction that it can be improved.  99% not only identifies the problems and the ways in which they are self-perpetuating and interdependent, but offers thoughtful solutions that demand consideration.

It’s not just about getting publicity, but about generating 99% 2(and maintaining) enough energy to bring about lawful change. Brilliant interviews and editing keep the issues front and center and remarkably clear. Because the subject has truly international implications, 99% is required viewing for everyone who hopes to improve the present and secure the future. FYI: It’s also fast and smart!

clinton_in_haitiFatal Assistance (Raoul Peck). Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010, like hurricane Katrina in 2005, struck a fatal blow to its struggling and already impoverished victims. However, the immediate worldwide outpouring of funds, material aid, and celebrities on the ground seemed to ensure that Haiti would recover and rebuild, perhaps finally even be able to break free of a century of corruption and desperate poverty. Such a dream was soon obliterated by reality: much of the money promised was not actually released, or slipped away and remained unaccounted-for; the NGOs involved had their own conflicting agendas; little of the reconstruction was completed, or even begun. Rubble still fills many streets, and roads from the cities to the interior remain impassable. Gradually, the pattern of corruption reasserts itself in the chaos. Even as Bill Clinton and Sean Penn lobby eloquently on Haiti’s behalf it becomes clear that relief efforts are doomed to failure. The question of where Haiti goes from here cannot be answered with any certainty.

See more about the festival at: human rights watch


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