Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Apollo’s Girl

May 24, 2017

Film/Theatre

 

Dead or Alive:
Afterimage; Obit; A Doll’s House Part 2

Afterimage (Dir.: Andrej Wajda)
(Opens May 19 in NYC at Lincoln Plaza;
May 26 in LA at Laemmle Playhouse 7;
May 26 in Chicago at Gene Siskel Film Center)

The Polish film schools were always spoken of in hushed terms when I really began looking at foreign films. Their graduates seemed to have absorbed technical virtuosity in order to express a profound understanding of human nature; the films were as rich as they were beautiful, the scripts dimensional, the characters endlessly fascinating. And, no matter what kind of story they were telling, their was an element of realismus that made immersion a foregone conclusion. The very first Polish film I saw was Landscape After Battle, Andrej Wajda’s Palme d’Or Cannes nominee in 1970; I was permanently hooked.

No filmmaker’s art has imitated life as often as Wajda’s, but his 56 works reflect his long and complicated life rather than imitate it, and Afterimage (his final film) premiered at TIFF in 2016, a month before Wajda died at 90. It is one artist’s uncompromising look at another uncompromising artist, Władysław Strzemiński, Poland’s giant of the avant-garde, founder of the country’s museum of modern art, revered teacher and thinker, and author of Theory of Vision. But a listing of his achievements in no way represents the power of Wajda’s portrait, or of Boguslav Linda’s turn in the role. You can’t stop watching him, or listening to his ideas. The Communist officials detest him as much as his students love him, taking great risks in order to help him finish his book before the apparatchniks shut him down, one increasingly cruel step at a time. But the artist refuses to give way.

Wajda has created a fitting valedictory for his own life, and for Strzemińskis, the sadness of which is always outweighed by the power of the film and the magnitude of the portrayal. Don’t let this one get away!

Obit (Dir.: Vanessa Gould)
(In NYC at Cinema Village; Music Box Theatre, Chicago;
Laemmle Fine Arts, LA; wide release a/o 5/19/17)

No matter what you may think, Obit has nothing to do with death and absolutely everything to do with life. Spend some quality time with its quirky crew of New York Times obituary writers; share their MO and deepest thoughts on the mortality they confront every day (and often, when there’s late-breaking news) far into the night. It’s spellbinding!

Once a Siberia for writers, the department has been revitalized by a deep sea change: some of the Times’ best and brightest are at the machines and in the morgue there (I still treasure my fading copies of William Grimes’ forever fabulous chicken pieces*), doing battle with deadlines, word counts, reluctant sources and perfectionism with every tribute. In this passing parade, everyone—everyone— plays their part, from Poppa Neutrino to the man who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima; from Pete Seeger to JFK. And don’t forget the guy who dedicated his life to repairing manual typewriters, as Margalit Fox recalls their sound, “It’s this music that this man who knows the old songs was helping to keep alive.” Or Jon Pareles paying tribute to a jazz great: “It’s a definition of why art and artists make us remember…..the stilled voice, the fingers that don’t move any more. They’re talking to us, changing the way we think. You don’t want to think of them as perishable.”

The sheer mass of the resources is clear in the morgue…..aisles, shelves, cabinets bursting with the print and image fallout of lives going back to the 19th century (“If,” as archivist Jeff Roth observes, “you can find them.”) Roth is the fierce keeper of these many flames, the sole survivor of a department that once had 30 colleagues. The keys to the kingdom are in Roth’s head; wish him a long and healthy life…

You will find rue and joy in Obit—a little sorrow and a lot of hilarity— among the scribes who have a way­ with words and the ever-growing horde of characters they immortalize (without ever being able to meet them) as they struggle to make each one unique. The quotes are seductive as they speed by. How many treasures had to be abandoned on the cutting room floor? One can only imagine the pain that director Vanessa Gould and editor Kristen Bye must have known as they had to compress and delete one essential after another.

Seeing Obit made me think of George Stevens’ Jr.’s biopic about his father. It ends with a shot of Brandon De Wilde calling out after Alan Ladd, “Shane, Shane–come back!” The subjects of Obit won’t come back but, as one biographer explains, “We try to weave a historical spell—to enchant the reader– to do justice to a life. It’s a once-only chance to make the dead live again.” You will meet them in Obit, a dazzling bunch, and soar in their company. That’s the takeaway.

(Meantime, read these. You will thank me…)
*http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/21/dining/it-came-it-clucked-it-conquered.html

*http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/04/dining/lost-one-black-chicken-owners-bereft.html

A Doll’s House Part 2 (Dir.: Sam Gold; Author: Lucas Hnath)

If you’ve been lucky enough to follow Lucas Hnath’s work, you will know that he just can’t resist a good argument and that most of his plays are built around at least one. Hnath is also a prodigious learner. Having ingested competitive athletics for Red Speedo; physics for Isaac’s Eye; religion for The Christians, he has now turned his gaze on gender issues by arguing up a sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—that original battle of the sexes discourse—that simply raises the ante. This time, Hnath talked to some leading feminists to get it right read it here and this time everybody wins, especially the audience, who can see a spectacular cast (Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jane Houdyshell and Condola Rashad) acting up a storm.

Despite the play’s darker, still-unresolved issues Hnath is serious about, his sly humor erupts at intervals; you’ve got to watch him like a hawk because just as you become embroiled in the follies of each character, Hnath (and/or director Sam Gold) will snatch you up with a giggle or a belly laugh. It’s always intriguing, and has been nominated for eight Tony Awards. The bad news: it’s a limited run, set to close on July 23. You’ve got two months to do something about it.


Apollo’s Girl

April 28, 2017

More Film

First, the Good News…

As we continue to up the truth-or-dare ante with North Korea, there is respite available downtown: the Quad Cinema has awakened from its long slumber and emerged, gleaming, as the star of a successful makeover by Pentagram, sponsored by the Cohen Media Group, and guided by programmers Christopher Wells (director of repertory programming) and Gavin Smith (senior programmer). With CEO Charles Cohen’s muscle, millions and determination, the Quad has big plans for indie, foreign and revival fare for those eager to receive the bounty. 

The makeover? It hits all the sweet spots—clean lines, stylish visuals, comfortable seats and sight lines, a lobby bar (with banquette) serving coffee, popcorn and treats, and a cafe/bar next door with alcohol and food. Did I mention the marble ladies room? Worth the trip! So, before you go back to worrying about Armageddon, bookmark the Quad to stay on top of its schedule (https://quadcinema.com/) and be thankful for its offerings.

One of them, A Quiet Passion (directed by Terence Davies, based on the life of Emily Dickinson) is a fascinating mixture of biography and between-the-lines interpretation of the inner life of this most private poet. The dialogue is drawn from her work and her letters to and from her publishers, her friends, and her family. Initially, this imposes a formality on the conversations, which offer an accurate account of how differently people thought and expressed themselves in the mid-19th century, when letting it all hang out would have been entirely unacceptable. Yet, as we become used to the dialogue and the distance it creates from emotion, we are drawn into the enormous conflicts between Dickinson’s strict religion and morality, and what appears to be a deeply sensual nature that tore at her most of her life. She remained with her family, increasingly reclusive, until she died. They were supportive of her quirks and her talents, (she was a formidable baker), but the obstacles to publication of her woman’s work and how they affected her are given their due. Because of the distance created by formal language, the emotional impact of Dickinson’s final years and death are all the more powerful, and Cynthia Nixon is Dickinson. For a deeper dive into some of her original prose and poetry, go to the Morgan Library and Museum for I’m Nobody! Who Are You? www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emily-dickinson. On view til May 28.

A Quiet Passion will be joined at the Quad by Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (Dir.: Daniel Raim) a not-so-quiet backstage romp through the long and adventurous marriage and careers of Harold and Lillian Michelson, the go-to story couple behind Hollywood’s most successful movies and movie-makers. Think that the blockbusters you’ve relished over the years appeared full-blown on the screen? Think again. Even those based on well-known novels and biographies (or earlier film versions) were the products of armies of creatives and craftsmen. And, from the very beginning, once the directors were in place, Harold and Lillian joined the party as indispensables.

If you’ve ever become obsessed with a subject and wallowed in the joy of finding out every single thing about it known to mankind, you will “get” what happened to Lillian while she was a stay-at-home mom with time on her hands. She didn’t type, but had a ravenous curiosity, and found her way as a volunteer to plunge into the black hole that was Goldwyn’s research library. Research became her life, and the books and files (she bought them when Goldwyn decided to sell) moved with her over time from studio to studio, but she never looked back. Harold (who had always been able to sketch) developed a talent for storyboards; they were much more than stop-motion shorthand versions of the scripts they compressed, including camera angles, edits and approach. For years, even though he often worked in secret, his drawings were used by Hollywood’s biggest names on films ranging from The Ten Commandments to West Side Story, from Hitchcock’s thrillers to Rain Man and The Graduate. Ultimately, he and Lillian often worked as a team, surviving whatever life threw at them (a lot of surprises) and becoming legendary where it counted, with Harold at last winning the title of Art Director on 14 films. The feature clips in Harold and Lillian alone are a trip; what makes the film tick are the drawings, the home movies, the backstories, and the testimonials from the linchpins of the business who love and admire the subjects of this endearing Hollywood Story. 

Apollo’s Girl

January 11, 2017

Film

apollo-and-lyre

NY Jewish Film Festival
(January 11 – 24, 2017)

Film Society of Lincoln Center/Jewish Museum
http://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/new-york-jewish-film-festival/#schedule

nyjff-logoNYJFF 2017 has a big palette; color it interesting. Opening day/night’s film is Moon in the 12th House (director Dorit Hakim will be present at both matinee and evening screenings), a look away from more familiar Israel-specific military and settlement issues to a very contemporary and personal tale of two sisters who inhabit very different lives. Their dilemmas resonate far beyond their homeland, mirroring family conflicts familiar throughout the West. Hakim observes and probes deeply into her characters, with her cast working hand in glove to demand 12th-houseour attention (Yuval Scharf and Yaara Pelzig as the sisters are superb). This is an important film for everyone who cares about the basics of how parents determine the paths their children take, the consequences of their choices, and the possibilities of redemption in challenging circumstances. Rooted in tradition, these young Israelis learn how to shape-shift into adult lives in a non-traditional world. Highly recommended.

One of this year’s features is a slate of exceptional revivals, with a big palette all their own. Threepenny Opera (Pabst, 1931), based on the Brecht-Weill musical of 1928, itself a lineal
threepennydescendant of
John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera of 1728, is not to be missed. While Gay’s version offered a charming pastiche score of popular songs, hymns, and opera tunes, it’s Weill’s original score that remains the gold standard. Its powerful bite has not been matched. Of course all three versions have their own backstories, but for a telling account of the mother of all behind-the-scenes movie dramatics, marvel at Tony Rayn’s account https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/614-the-threepenny-opera-doubles-and-duplicities. It will seem like today’s news. While the film as seen now omits many of Weill’s matchless ballads, it offers a glimpse of the phenomenon that was Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife and muse), and a sense of what made Berlin the international capital of attitude and art between the wars.

valeskaNur zum Spass, nur zum spiel—Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert (Volker Schlőndorff, 1977). A look back at the queen of eccentric dance and stage and film acting, famous in the same Berlin and then a refugee who fled to America and survived by washing dishes and running a series of cabarets staffed by then-very young busboys like Jackson Pollack and Tennessee Williams (among others). A rebellious standout even in Berlin, Gert appears in the Threepenny Opera (in a small role), but deserves Schlőndorff’s attention to reveal her truly revolutionary and original talent as a real ancestor of Punk, way ahead of its time.

THE PRODUCERS (1968) GENE WILDER, KENNETH MARS, ZERO MOSTEL PRDR 002CP MOVIESTORE COLLECTION LTD

And make space for The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1968) on the big screen. Forever fabulous, it’s the only way to immerse yourself in the outsize phenomenon that was Zero Mostel, and his partner in crime Gene Wilder, aided and abetted by Mel Brooks. Treasure those laughs…

For one more look back at Germany between the wars (this time through the eyes of one of its most celebrated exiles), attend Closing Night to see Maria Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: zweigFarewell to Europe. This is a big, beautifully made film, powerful and affective. The screenplay (by Schrader and Jan Schomburg) gives all of Zweig’s complexities their due; his refusal to condemn Germany, his ambivalence about his fame, his need for both solitude and for friends and family in exile. The cast is an Olympian match for the material: Josef Hader (as Zweig); Babara Sukowa and Aenne Schwarz (as Zweig’s first and second wives); and a host of others (playing the many artists and politicians who were integral to Zweig’s circle) create an entirely believable moment when the world was turned upside down and changed forever. Schrader (famous for her role in Aimée & Jaguar) applies her acting smarts to her cast’s talents, and gets a gorgeous film from DP Wolfgang Thaler and editor Hanzjőrg Weißrich. (P.S.:Pay attention to the way the end of the film is shot. Fascinating choices.) Austria’s nominee for Best Foreign Film.

peshmerga

Returning to the present, don’t miss PeshmergaBernard Henri-Lėvy’s documentary about the eternal struggle of the Kurds to prevail against IS, as the war rages through Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey with no end in sight. The Kurds are determined to create Kurdistan for themselves, and we will have to wait until their multi-sided battles have been resolved to see the future. This is war up close and personal, being observed by one of France’s leading writer/philosophers.

kentridgeSince William Kentridge is unquestionably a prolific, articulate, original and utterly charming subject who talks and performs as well as he paints, draws, and makes film, attention must be paid to Andrea Patrieno’s account (Triumphs and Laments) of the artist’s murals (reflecting Rome’s history) painted on the banks of the Tiber, where they will ultimately be washed away by the river’s ebb and flow. Kentridge is a subject hard to get enough of, and time spent in his company is time to be cherished. Grab it while you can (Patrieno will be present for Q & A at both screenings).

Angel Wagenstein: Art is a Weapon (Andrea Simon) This is a truly stunning work on every level, from an accomplished filmmaker with a subject made for her talents. Even in the Festival’s august company (Kentridge, Zweig, Gert), the 94-year-old Wagenstein dominates the screen. Described by a supertitle (“94 years; 52 films; 3 wagensteinrevolutions”) he offers up his life with a heady brew of humor (“I am a Marxist because of the Marx Brothers”), humanity, and survival skills that you will hate to abandon at the film’s end.

Simon benefits from an archival deluge of Wagenstein’s films and documentary footage covering most of the 20th century. But most of all she benefits from Wagenstein himself, an international treasure whose memories and personality are every filmmaker’s dream. I shudder to think of how hard her choices must have been, and mourn the thousands of feet of footage that had to be left behind, even as I celebrate the brilliance of her decisions and the film she has made from them packed into only 84 succulent minutes. Angel Wagenstein has everything, and you will regret it if you can’t find a ticket for its single screening (Sunday, January 22 at 8:30 PM, Walter Reade). Andrea Simon will be there afterwards for a Q & A, likely to be as rich and as interesting as the film itself.

Apollo’s Girl

July 26, 2016

Film

apollo and lyre

 

 

Playing Now/Coming Soon..

The Witness (IFC Center)
The Kitty Geneovese case (as it was known at the time) was one of those puzzles of a murder that was never quite solved, and never went away. Since 1964, it has remained emblematic of urban reluctance to “get involved” in unpleasant situations. No one wants to be drawn into the witnessviolence, to be at risk for complications. Better to stay aloof.

When Genevese was raped and attacked twice on her way home in the middle of the night and died of her wounds, the urban legend is that 38 neighbors heard her cries for help and did nothing; that she might have been saved if only they had run to her aid, or called the police. Eventually, a serial criminal (William Moseley, who confessed to having killed three women and raped eight)) was arrested for the crime and sentenced to 20 years-to-life. He escaped (briefly) and managed to take hostages and rape a woman before being captured and returned to jail. Despite earning a college degree while incarcerated, his 18 requests for parole were denied; he died, still in prison, earlier this year. Those are the basic facts of the case.

Kitty’s brother William Genovese became obsessed with his sister’s murder and began to collect every william genovesedocument and account he could find over the decades. When he retired from a career as CEO for several educational and mental health organizations, he pursued his obsession full-time for a decade and dug deeply into his archives, finally tracking down and interviewing many of the original witnesses and officials involved. He emerged with information that contradicted much of the case’s received wisdom, and as a highly intelligent, appealing and surprisingly objective investigator. It is William Genovese who is the center of gravity of this complex and ultimately fascinating film. The film itself reveals its secrets precisely when they are needed and (as an example of excellent storytelling and editing) its collaborative nature is mirrored in the credits, which cite Genovese, two writer/editors, and writer/director James Solomon behind the addictive ebb and flow. Solomon’s resume attests to his affinity for unraveling mysteries  (The Conspirator and 100 Centre Street, The Practice, The Bronx is Burning); in The Witness he has found just the right stuff in both his subject and his on-screen protagonist.  

Summertime (FSLC: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center)
With its theme of intense love between two women—especially since one of them is named Carole—it’s hard to avoid comparing Catherine Corsini’s Summertime to last season’s Carol, a mainstream feature on the summertimesame topic. Yet Carol, despite its outstanding performances and really stunning production remained, for me, a tale worthy of respect for its achievements, but always a bit chilly under its high-gloss surface. Summertime, on the other hand, while certainly beautiful to behold, was on fire with emotion and the caprices of real-life women with deep conflicts (for different reasons) over the connection that brings them together. It’s definitely not because of the external differences in their lives when they meet, or that they regret their surrender to one another as often as they are torn by it, but the gritty reality (with its constant shifts and contradictions) that frames their every move into, and away from, the flame. Its evocation of city and countryside in the France of the 1970s is imersive. And both Izia Higelin and Cėcile de France capture your attention and your sympathy full-time.

Our Little Sister (Lincoln Plaza)
In a summer rife with heat, humidity and Big Films that Go Blam, umimachi diaryBlam, Blam, give thanks to SONY for releasing the latest treasure from Hirokazu Kore-eda. Although it’s adapted from Unimachi Diary
(a graphic novel by Yoshida Akimi), any resemblance to most graphic novel adaptations ceases there. 
It doesn’t burn, but glows steadily with a gem-like flame that draws you in with understatement and, with its revelations of plot and character, keeps your attention until you’re hooked.

our little sister 2
What’s most notable is its delicacy in handling contemporary issues: multiple marriages and their effect on children; adultery between two most engaging adults who must make decisions about their future; how families bond (or don’t) and deal with adversity and emotional pain. It’s a long list; what makes it so irresistible is how you come to realize that its power is generated by subtlety and the accuracy of Kore-eda’s vision. He’s a master psychologist who never raises his voice. But oh, how he gets to you, and how you miss him and his cast when the film is over…..

Ants on a Shrimp (July 29, IFC Center)
As a devotee of food porn who has not had the luck to be in ants on a shrimpCopenhagen eating at Noma, I recommend watching Ants on a Shrimp to see how a sea change for a famous restaurant affects its staff and its menu. Early on, when Noma’s alpha male and founder, René Redzepi, rationalizes this risky idea with “Let’s have fun!…Every day it’s a grind. Why don’t we do it in a new place and just have fun with it.?” You know what’s coming next…

redzepWithout the Gallic over-the-top emotions and desserts of Kings of Pastry, Ants goes for a gradual reveal of the rules of its game, which chef René Redzepi keeps upping, leaving you with an urge to check your air miles to see if there’s any way you can get to Noma’s five-week pop-up shop in Tokyo before it goes home. It wouldn’t matter if you did, though, since they have only 2,000 places for the entire run, and a waitlist of 58,000 in advance of opening night. Not all of it is fun (surprise!), but watching him stretch himself and his staff as they pull it together becomes hypnotic.

Director Maurice Dekkers is no stranger to food; his long-running hit TV series Keueringdienst van Waarde (Food Unwrapped) has been delving into the origins and preparation of what we eat since 2003, making him the logical partner for Redzepi’s insatiable and nomaunorthodox approach to food. We watch Redzepi and his multinational crew invade a forest to feel the burn and taste the foliage as they learn to avoid poisonous mushrooms. Back at their hotel in Tokyo, we watch them practice their philosophy and explore new combinations of flavors. How to merge Japanese ingredients and traditions with Danish (well, Redzepi is actually Macedonian) chutzpah? It’s tough going, but you suspect they will figure out a 14-course solution just in time. What’s fascinating is how Redzepi runs his ship: he encourages each associate chef to invent dishes without constraint. Then everyone tastes them and edits their fate; opinions are welcome, but Redzepi has the final say. Cool rules in his workplace: “Don’t let any frustrations out—just let them eat you up from the inside.”

Being a process lover by nature, I was totally absorbed by the intensity of the hand arbeit behind every dish. Not only must it pass collective tastebud muster, but also remain noma shrimpa miniature work of art throughout its very short life on plate and in bowl. But wait: is that shrimp with ants actually moving? Actually, yes. (We are assured by Redzepi that it will go invitingly limp once you bite into it.) And in a spirit of journalistic candor, I must also report that a few snapping turtles are harmed in the course of dinner preps. Nevertheless, when showtime comes, the lucky guests arrive to pass an evening in the company of the staff (creating their meal in an open kitchen), before they dig into flora, fauna and flesh. And you can just let yourself go for the last five minutes—Redzepi narrates over a parade of dishes being presented to the crowd; nature’s bounty with interventions. It’s definitely a happy ending. Unless you’re a shrimp or a turtle.

Hieronymous Bosch: Touched by the Devil (July 27, Film Forum)
If you’ve got it, as they say, flaunt it. And that’s exactly what this gorgeous, international thriller does from start to finish as science and technology reveal the secrets of art, the thrill of the chase and the high-stakes poker behind a Dutch blockbuster, “Jheronimus Bosch: Visions of Genius”.bosch poster

The opening image is a full-screen shot of a two eyes scouring a work with a light and magnifier tube, caressing its every line and brushstroke to make sure they were produced by the master himself. It’s only one of the weapons used by a crack team of specialists scouring the world to vet and assemble as many of Bosch’s paintings as they can beg, borrow, and steal. Their goal: to create a 500th anniversary celebration in Bosch’s home town (Den Bosch). It will include a son-et-lumiere in the town square, several Bosch-themed boat tours, and a feast of art and performance throughout the city. They must succeed, since there are only 25 known Bosches in the world, and not one of them hangs in Den Bosch. They have five years to make a miracle.

Bosch’s canvases teem with tiny perfectly-executed mobs of humanity in extremis. The artist was consumed with visions of damnation and the darkness of the human spirit. His little people and fantastic hybrid animals have found countless ways to commit unspeakable acts on their fast track to hell, all of it rendered in brilliant color and obsessive detail; all of it the product of a raging imagination. It’s easy to see why the paintings have been jealously guarded and prized by art historians and the public alike for centuries.

gardenWhile tracking down the art and analyzing it for authenticity would have been a good story in itself, its escalating subtext is all about just how to pry it from Madrid, Venice and private collectors and magic it back to Holland. And that’s where the real suspense comes in. The team has a few aces up its collective sleeves: the ability to restore the paintings (however brilliant, they are, after all 500 years old) in exchange for securing their loan; the parlous chess game of offering Dutch masters (other than Bosch) in exchange down the road; of using their influence to facilitate favors andthe master strokethe promise of their unshakable technology and authority to determine if the paintings are truly by Bosch and not his studio or his followers. ilsenkLed by über strategist Matthijs Ilsink (who deserves a film of his own), the team forges on. Determined to win, they ply their instruments and diplomacy like battlefield surgeons at Doctors Without Borders.

But there’s more: that subtext is a lesson in negotiation; always charming, witty and elegant, but with rapiers of finest steel wrapped in multilingual gloves. Pay attention to it! Watching them carve their way through thickets of politesse and property law is thrilling. In other words, truly the art of the deal. And all of it (almost all) caught on camera by a crew monitoring body language, expression, and gesture that portend the likely outcome of every round.

van HusteeAlthough nominally Pieter van Huystee’s debut as director, Hieronymous Bosch benefits from the portfolio (he’s produced and or written some 80 films) he brings to the table. He knows just when to disclose the mysteries and surprises, how to show the art, and how to capture the personalities of the high-strung and complicated players in the drama. He can even make their advanced technology comprehensible. He has hired outstanding cameramen and editors to shape the material, and a composer (Paul M. van Brugge) and sound designer (Mark Glynne) to match the images and dialogue. Like I said at the beginning: a gorgeous international thriller. See it on the big screen if you can.

Apollo’s Girl

April 24, 2016

Film

apollo and lyre

What’s New and Different:
FSLC and MoMA

There was plenty to chew on and savor this year, downloadplenty to think about, and a sense that filmdespite the trail of tears of financing and distributionis alive and well in a number of places. In Iran, for instance, Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari) is a curious and affecting combination of war story, ghost story, and the plight of women in a crumbling society. More effective, and far under the shadowmore unsettling, than a conventional anti-war narrative,
Anvari manages to combine several themes into a cohesive and original political statement for his narrative feature debut. http://www.filmcomment.com/blog/ndnf-interview-babak-anvari/

bodyguardTwo shorts were exceptional, compressing volumes into the cinematic equivalent of a highly distilled brandy: Concerning the Bodygyard (Kasra Farahani, from a story by Donald Barthelme) for which Salman Rushdie provides the film’s narration, and Farahani’s elegant, reductive sensibilities provide the sting.

In The Digger (Ali Cherri), Sultan Khan, the lone caretaker of crumbling grave sites makes his rounds, dedicated to protecting what remains of the desert’s ancient civilizations. The The-Digger-2camera records a vast, quiet emptiness in which Khan’s tiny figure is almost lost, plodding through endless sand dunes under a merciless sun; the brick structures are disintegrating and their graves have been emptied. The film’s silence makes space for the viewer to imagine the story of what once was; what is is imposed by a slow reveal of Sharjah’s enormous oil refineries shimmering in the distance. In the right hands (and Cheri’s are), the truth is shattering.

happy hourAt the other end of the clock, there’s Happy Hour (Ryusûke Hamaguchi). The movie begins with a train carrying four friends to an outing, moving through a tunnel into the light; you know you are going on a ride. But if you expect to be restless at the leisurely pace and length (317 minutes) of Happy Hour, think again. You are much more likely to be surprised by how quickly you’re drawn in at first, then hypnotized by the way Hamaguchi weaves his tale of 30-somethings living and maturing in Kobe. Many of the scenes are shot in real time, with the four women, their relatives and significant others reacting to one another, sharing their adventures and coping with the social pressures of modern Japan. It’s storytelling by accretion, as layers of acutely observed behavior accumulate to pay off over time. You learn as you go, and the more you learn in each scene, the more you understand in the next, or one half-an-hour down the line. Infidelity? Jealousy? Sisterhood? Risky behavior? The weight of the past in the present? They’re all here, and more, to keep you entranced as Hamaguchi’s complicated structure rises on the screen. If the devil is in the details, it is Hamaguchi’s ability to see them, and to use them to reveal the humanity of his flawed but ultimately fascinating women. (The four shared the award for Best Actress at the Locarno Festival.)

Thithi (Raam Reddy) Nothing like the polite Anglo exercises of Merchant/Ivory, or the streamlined homecomings of Mira Nair, and definitely not like the Bollywood of many Indian thithi2
filmmakers now making deep inroads into Western cinema, Thithi is totally immersive, yanking you into the village culture of South India with its unfamiliar sights and sounds. For two hours you are inside a saga that begins with the death of a centenarian (who simply collapses on the street where he spends most of his days), continues through the generational family agendas that emergealways at oddsimmediately after, continues to unfold through an exotic shaggy dog story, and ends with a funeral to end all funerals. There are some choice quotes: “I’ll pass his life through a strainer,” and “This is a place where dogs lay eggs”, and some joyously discordant music. The cast stays in constant motion, traveling barefoot, by moped and by tractor. All in all, it’s quite a trip.

the fits2The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer) After NDNF’s Grand Tour The Fits comes home to Cincinnati for the coming-of-age story of a young Black girl struggling to find out where, and how, she fits in with her friends and family. She helps her older brother out with chores at the gym where he works, sees lots, says little, and misses nothing. She boxes occasionally, and joins a dance drill team preparing for a competition. An epidemic of “fits” runs through the dancers and teachers, unexplained. So the script is occasionally puzzling, sometimes extended with a rich score, or slow-motion for emphasis. But what carries the entire story is the haunting presence of its young star, Royalty Hightower, whose melancholy eyes and quiet presence capture both your imagination and your attention. Watch for her…

evolutionEvolution is an example of what feels like a brand-new sub-genre of science-fiction: an indirect story. An elegant, truly original idea (in this case, a reversal of the reproductive process) Evolution incorporates eerie cinematography and lighting, the mysterious power of the seashore and the sea, a series of clone-like young mothers, and their clone-like young sons. There is a hint of Frankenstein and some curious medical procedures. A mythic sensibility pervades the strange plot which, because it’s so beautifully told and so tantalizingly revealed, draws you into a guessing game that no one fully wins. But the journey is fascinating.

A little bit a documentary of the Italian countryside, a lot a lost and beautifulreference to the eternal traditions of commedia, dell’arte, Lost and Beautiful (Pietro Marcello) mixes things up in cunning ways. It beings with the story of a “real” caretaker who dedicates himself to preserving the ruins of a noble palace. He is loved and respected for his selflessness, but as he lies dying, he convinces the filmmaker to find a Pulcinella to rescue a buffalo calf. Thus begins a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress as Pulcinella and calf make their way to their destiny. The tone is set with the calf’s voiceover statement: “I would have liked to have been born on the moon; nothing could be worse than where I live now…this is my story.” Or: “I’m proud to be a buffalo; in a world without a heart, being a buffalo is an art.” Magical realism prevails; the calf finds a new home and, finally, the castle is beautifully restored for all to see. Dedicated to its real-life caretaker, the film is (like many others in this year’s festival)a quirky and original entry.

Kaili Blues (Gan Bi). Another original marvel, and something kaili bluesof a Chinese shaggy dog story, resonant with texture and imagination. In other words, a non-linear narrative that often drops its clues and references entire sequences away from their payoff. Although set in contemporary China, its characters are shaped by the country’s ancient and recent history, which surfaces in intriguing and often unexpected ways. A doctor sees his brother (a bit of a no-goodnick) who is interested in selling his son, Wei Wei. The doctor wants to adopt Wei Wei, but appears too late. He sets out on an odyssey to find him in the country, full of beautiful mountains and rivers, and odd shabby little towns, and encounters villagers, mysterious women, and finally, a band of archaic people marching to a funeral, playing their instruments, whom he’s been seeking for many years. When he finds Wei Wei at last, he finds a grown man who doesn’t recognize him. But creating a synopsis of Kaili Blues is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Its fractured timeline, the density of its references to Chinese culture, the wow factor of its spectacular 40-minute tracking shot and the depth, richness and sharp-eyed skill of its director require multiple viewings.

mountainTwo films from Israel (one co-produced with Denmark) focus on the difficulties of living under the restrictions of Orthodox Judaism, and particularly on the effects of its rigid attitudes toward sex and emotional expression. The first, Mountain (Yaelle Kayam), is a story (based on the Talmud) like no other I’ve seen. Living next to a cemetary on the Mount of Olives with her children and her indifferent husband, Zvia (Shani Klein)is deeply lonely and isolated; her only acquaintance an Arab man who looks after the cemetary, with whom she occasionally chats. At night, she gradually forges a relationship with the prostitutes and pimps who work the area, bringing them food and drink as she looks on. She feels the stirrings of curiosity and more, yet is frozen into the role she must play as Orthodox wife and mother.

tikkunIn Tikkun (Avishai Sivan), the volatile moods and desperation of a Rabbinical student (Aharon Traitel) are evident when he faints at the sight of his own blood after sharpening a pencil. The film’s black-and-white cinematography underscores the growing intensity of its story. There is little dialogue, but what there is leaves no room for ambivalence: the father (given to heavy-handed determinism) tells his anguished son, “God gave us our bodies; you have to worship God through your body.” The son replies, “I hate my body!” For the son in Tikkun and the wife in Mountain, God has no pity, and offers the pain of stifled lives with no respite. Although Tikkun has a streak of mysticism that provides great beauty, it is no match for its sorrow.

Weiner (Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg) Described as “ a hybrid of classic documentary techniques and reality-based dramatic storytelling,” Weiner is, more accurately, a Very Big Deal and a Very Big Story recent enough to be conjured up by many outrageous moments throughout the film, and by an opening quote from Marshall McLuhan, “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he almost never recovers.” For the reference to McLuhan, I leave readers to Google the name in question. But for the film? It’s fast and furious, and often full of double takes, emotions whisked under the rug in front of the camera’s harsh eye, and details increasingly painful to behold. Well-made and clever, of course, weinerbut the unavoidable question looming at the end of the film’s 100 minutes is: why on earth did ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin (one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides and her former Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department) agree to have their overflowing hamper of linen washed in public? Perhaps it seemed to them that it would be useful for their future in politics; perhaps the savvy producers simply talked them into it. But given the couple’s considerable experience and sophistication in the political arena, that seems unlikely. While we are often given more information than we might want, it does not include an answer to the question, nor a happy ending. It is, however, very entertaining, and lures us in with a surfeit of the very techniques that keep us wringing our hands over the tenor of our festering political climate.



Cooper’s London

March 1, 2016

Theatre/Music

Mel snapshot 19

 

 

Coming Up, In and Out of London…

For imminent highlights, don quixotemy instincts tell me that first and foremost I must get tickets to see the new adaptation of Don Quixote appearing soon at the RSC. It plays 25 February until 21 May in The Swan at Stratford-upon-Avon and has definitely raised my hopes. The novel’s adaptation will be by James Fenton, whose The Orphan of Zhao in 2012 is still one of the best and most memorable shows that the RSC has commissioned. The director is Angus Jackson, whose imaginative staging of Oppenheimer I saw in 2015 was one of the most original, intelligent and dazzling realizations of a script imaginable. Its sheer theatricality is still with me; as are several of the spot-on performances that Jackson got from his actors. Actor david threlfallDavid Threlfall is playing the mad, appealing Knight of the Woeful Countenance, the original quixotic hero. Have you seen him on TV in the UK version of Shameless? He’s a reliable and dedicated character actor whose popularity goes back to playing Smyke in the eight-hour-long RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby in the early 1980s—a performance that is still available on DVD. Add to that the fact that the novel of Don Quixote is a wonderful but ridiculously long and varied text; it will be fascinating to see which bits Fenton chooses to include. Not long ago the RSC did a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s lost play based on Don Quixote, Cardenio. I am very excited about this project, which is in rehearsal already.

Looking further ahead, I am particularly keen on two of the many major opera and music festivals that arrive every summer. Gaining repute as the new Glyndebourne, this year’s just-released programme at the Longborough Festival in rural Gloucestershire is its most ambitious yet. Several audience favorites are returning among four operas: Handel’s baroque opera Alcina will be jeremy silverconducted by the adept and youthful Jeremy Silver who is working for the third consecutive year with the same production team and with young professionals early in their careers to give them a springboard. They have already shown that they can be both cheeky and moving in this repertory; and there will even be a performance at the Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge on 4 August.

https://lfo.org.uk/young-people/young-artist-programme

As with Glyndebourne, you want to get to the original venue if you can to experience the full pleasure of the place; they provide a show that includes time to wander around lovely grounds and have a long interval for dinner after an early start.

https://lfo.org.uk/

longboroughTannhauser should be powerful in such an intimate venue. John Treleavan and Neal Cooper are sharing the title role; the rest of the cast looks interesting, and the music director of the festival, Anthony Negus, is conducting. He has already been highly praised by the press and audiences for his previous Wagner performances at Longborough and has a solid reputation. Conductor Robert Houssard leads another established production team for a Marriage of Figaro that will star baritone Benjamin Bevan as the Count and the Australian baritone Grant Doyle (formerly a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House) in his role debut as the impertinent valet. The wonderful Norwegian soprano Beate Mordall and England’s Lucy Hall are sharing the role of Susanna. Finally, lee bissettLee Bissett, who is a huge favourite with the audiences at Longborough after taking on Isolde last year, will return to sing Janacek’s Jenufa.

The Glyndebourne Festival, that mother of all summer al fresco festivals in the UK, runs this year from 21 May to 28 August and needs very little introduction from me. Whatever you find still availableeven if you think you do not like that opera—just buy the damned tickets and go for the experience. Established in his stately home by glyndebourneJohn Christie in the 1930s to do Mozart in its original scale (in every sense of the word), many of its productions have been mythical from the very start; much of its work has been broadly influential, and many young artists have gone on from there to important international careers: Janet Baker, who started in the chorus and ended up as Orfeo in Gluck’s opera, among them. (According to legend, they nearly fired Montserrat Caballe, and Roberto Alagna scored an early success as Rodolfo.) Today’s casts are just as riveting and, in a purpose-built theatre, the productions are almost invariably innovative and thought-provoking, while maintaining the highest musical and production standards. Probably all this is due to several factors, two of which must be the long rehearsal periods and being able to work in a rural setting away from the ususal stresses of major opera houses.

For me a highlight of this summer will be more Wagner in a more intimate venue: the revival of the famous David McVicar Meistersinger von Nurnberg with Gerald Finlay as a youthful, sonorous and exceptionally moving Hans Sachs and Michael Schade as Walter. The new production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville draws me like a magnet to see danielle de nieseDaniele de Niese undertake the role of Rosina with the veteran Alessandro Corbelli as her venal guardian, Dr Bartolo. In the past, Glyndebourne has had Victoria de los Angeles and Maria Ewing as memorable Rosinas and I am confident that de Niese will be added to that list. And among the other treats I am particularly delighted to see there is to be a revival of
midsummer night's dreamPeter Hall’s magical interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare set to music by Benjamin Britten) from the 1981 festival.

There will, of course, also be the Proms in London throughout July and August and early September; and there are the interesting productions coming up at Shakespeare’s Globe and Regent’s Park, as well as opera in Holland Park. More of all that anon. But meantime, a reminder to start booking if you fancy a trip around the countryside with a little bit of culture as well. The Brits really do this kind of thing brilliantly.

Apollo’s Girl

February 23, 2016

Film

apollo and lyre

 

 

In the Library…

The Festival of Films on Art will be performing its annual miracle in Montreal (March 10 -20, 2016), with dozens of films from dozens of fifa logocountries on every conceivable aspect of the arts.
Imagination is key here; you can expect the unexpected, the cutting edge, and the retrospective glories of yesteryear screening side-by-side for almost two weeks. This is FIFA’s 34th season under Director Rene Rozon’s 
skillful hands, pulling international bold-face names and discoveries out of his bountiful hat.

hepburnFIFA is also a movable feast: its best films tour the world when the festival ends. Right now, in New York at Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts, you can behold last year’s treasures, with selections from Katherine Hepburn to the design genius of the Vignellis; Bill Viola’s video art; dance with diaghilevDiaghilev; and finally Jonas Kaufman doing songs from 1930s Berlin. Best of all: the programs (mostly Tuesdays at 2:30 til March 1) kaufmanare free, in the Library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium.
Details at: http://www.musefilm.org/events/2015/12/9/2016-fifa-festival-of-films-on-art

As of March 1st, go to www.artfifa.com for a complete rundown of the Mother Ship’s upcoming slate and related events in Montreal; many filmmakers will be there for discussions and Q & As, and—if you don’t know this already, make sure you make it part of your plan—there’s always the glory of Montreal’s restaurants and history. You can fly, of course (it’s only a little over an hour) or, if you like matchless scenery, take Amtrak’s Adirondack at 8:15 AM and arrive in time for dinner. Catch the Hudson River, the upstate forests, and Lake Champlain on your way north. It’s definitely a cool trip…

Apollo’s Girl

October 28, 2015

FILM

apollo and lyre

 

 

Film Society of Lincoln Center:
Scary Movies 9: October 30 – November 5

This year’s choices are a perfect witches’ brew of classics frankenstein 1jpg(Frankentein (1931); The Gorgon; The Last Winter); brand-new takes on adaptations and genres; and tools (chainsaws) and tropes (don’t go into that forest!) of the trade.

So: You can make it easy (Southbound, on Opening Night, with directors, stars, and a costume party with food, drink, and prizes); or you can make it hard: the closing-night double bill of Bernard Rose’s frankenstein21988 Paperhouse and his just-released Frankenstein. Rose knows how to do evocative and how to do powerful (remember the scene in his Immortal Beloved when young Beethoven lies in bed, terrified, knowing his drunken father is climbing the stairs to give him a beating?) but he always does beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful: I was intrigued by Sean Byrne’s sean byrneThe Devil’s Candy, a ravishing marriage of painterly light and camerawork, and seriously heavy metal. The story of an artist who paints butterflies for banks and turns to canvases for the devil was smart, fast, and stylish beyond anything Goethe imagined when he wrote Faust. This is Byrne’s second feature; he’s worth watching and waiting for. P.S. The entire cast—especially the principals (Shirl Appleby, Kiara Glasco, and gallery-
ready embrypainter Ethan Embry)—put, and keep, it spinning over the top.

You can, of course, pick and choose your favorites, or you can keep the popcorn coming and sign up for a week of fear and trembling. https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/scary-movies-9/

Cooper’s London

October 5, 2015

Opera

Mel snapshot 19

In London (and On the Road)

The Royal Opera House starated its new season with its first production of Gluck’s seminal Orphée et Eurydice in a long time – that is, the French version for a tenor Orpheus – not the original in Italian written for a castrato and reworked for a mezzo by Berlioz. ORPHEEetEURYDICE- bill cooper-opera-danceJuan Diego Florez was simply an ideal choice for the mellifluous hero, with Lucy Crowe as his beloved. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists were led by John Eliot Gardiner in what promised to be an “authentic” performance of the work.

luke-stylesFrom 9 September the company will be presenting a new commission in the Linbury Studios, a one-act chamber opera version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the promising Australian composer Luke Styles. This is followed on 9 October by a new opera by Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy. last hotelThe Last Hotel, that I am very curious about because I have enjoyed Enda Walsh’s plays so much in the past.

Back in the main house with the Covent Garden orchestra, there is a revival of David McVicar’s truly gripping and imaginative production of The Marriage of Figaro with a fine cast conducted by Ivor Bolton; I would also wish mattilato attend the revival of Ariadne auf Naxos if only to hear Karita Mattila sing “Es gibt ein reich”. She has the perfect voice for Strauss and is a consummate actress in every role she undertakes. She also has a superb sense of humour and can act irony! For me, the star attractions of the revival of the fine Carmen production by Francesca Zambello playing from 19 October are the conductor, Bertrand de Billy, and the heroic and tormented Don Jose of Jonas Kaufmann (okay, okay, here’s a few choice clips):

and not just the well-sung interpretation of Carmen herself by Russian mezzo Elena Maximova. This is coming in December.

Antonio Pappano is conducting a new Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci directed by Damiano Michieletto, whose Guillaume Tell last season caused a major rumpus because of its graphic rape scene. Many critics and some operagoers hated it; there were boos; there was newspaper hysteria; but it came across well on cinema screens when it was broadcast and many people actually found it very exciting, innovative and a really strong and interesting interpretation of the opera. It remains to be seen what he can do to Leoncavallo and Mascagni who were, of course, in their day, quite revolutionary and controversial themselves as they developed the verismo approach. I bet Michieletto tries to up the ante! romeo and julietteMeanwhile the Royal Ballet will be reviving Macmillan’s classic version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (built originally on Nureyev and Fonteyn) with loads of performances throughout the autumn; and I am particularly looking forward to catching up with Martha Clarke’s ballet Chéri, based on cherithe Colette novels, with Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo returning to dance the roles they created. http://www.roh.org.uk/seasons/2015-16/autumn

Meantime, over at the financially beleaguered English National Opera, which has also just lost its long term artistic director, John Berry, there are three new interesting productions for the autumn. The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich has been a huge hit for them in past years, with Josephine Barstow becoming a notable international star by playing the title role. Directed and designed by Sergei Tcherniakov, racette at ENOPatricia Racette looks likely to be as stunning a Katerina as was Barstow; and the estimable Mark Wigglesworth, the new music director of the company, should be able to conduct up a wigglesworthstorm. The musical forces for Verdi’s The Force of Destiny are impeccable; but the betting is that Calixto Bieito’s production will be even more controversial than his Masked Ball with the male chorus sitting on toilets reading newspapers and commenting on current politics or his Don Giovanni that starts out set in a garbage dump in Seville. This one has been updated to the Spanish Civil War; and for my taste Bieito’s approach has become more and more insular and self-referential since his rather convincing and powerful Carmen. That said, I live in hope; know that Wigglesworth is a terrific Verdian; and look forward to hearing this strong cast. All the other autumn shows – Jonathan Miller’s Barber of Seville and his inventive Mikado; the lovely La Bohème directed by Benedict Andrew; and a winning Magic Flute directed by reliably brilliant Simon McBurney – were all hits when they first appeared and go on being eminently revivable and well-cast. The Barber is particularly famous for the stellar turn by Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo who is, thankfully, returning to the role.

http://www.eno.org/?gclid=CjwKEAjwiZitBRCy0pb3rIbG9XwSJACmuvvzj4Pc-WIw6mTiDr_fi9NlMpHp5wMgdMTBaW4zjD4AahoCtJvw_wcB

Finally, if you are willing to travel out of London, my top recommendation would
welsh national operabe the
Welsh National Opera; it has a particularly interesting season coming up focusing on madness in opera, specifically in Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, I Puritani; Handel’s Orlando; and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. At one of the most consistent companies for fielding imaginative productions that actually illuminate the works themselves, and for its high-level musical interpretations, these works are definitely all worth considering in Cardiff or on tour. https://www.wno.org.uk/whats-on

Apollo’s Girl

October 4, 2015

Music, Video

apollo and lyre

 

 

It’s World Animal Day; just click on the links to celebrate.

JACK Quartet (Miller Theatre)/
Internet Cat Video Festival (MAD);

On September 17, Miller Theatre at Columbia University jackopened its 2014/15 calendar with a take-no-prisoners premiere of Simon Steen-Andersen’s Run Time Error, performed by the composer and the JACK Quartet. It was definitely a trip! I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and am taking the easy way out by pointing you to the NY Times‘ review of the concert by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.

Times’ review

Miller has become known for the adventurous programs devised by its director, Melissa Smey whose interests traverse the entire range of human history, whose choices require the use of the word “fearless” for every performance, and who appears to know just about everything. The real thrill is in seeing and hearing how she puts it all together.

jl adamsComing up: A triple exposure of John Luther Adams’ compositions (he won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2014) on October 7, 9, and 10. But it’s not only what’s new but, sometimes, what’s old: a screening of Carl Dreyer’s iconic silent, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), starring the equally iconic Falconetti, with 15th-passion-of-joan-of-arc-480x270century music by the Orlando Consort (October 14 and 16). There’s jazz, too. And, earlier this year (on April 1), even the launch of the Canine Composers series; surely a first, but likely to become an audience favorite:

It’s exhilarating to experience Smey’s seasons, which appear to become more innovative and appealing every year. Just get on board and stretch: http://www.millertheatre.com/.
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It was a triumph! The Pope had just left the pope
West Side and was on his way to Madison Square Garden. As the faithful streamed out of Central Park, another crowd surged into the Museum of Art and Design; the Internet Cat Video Festival (from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis) was about to begin, and it was standing room only. cat vidThere were very few old ladies in sneakers, but hordes of millennials wearing them mad_exteriorinstead, and applause and laughter rose from the committed like a much-needed benediction. 

The Museum has unveiled a new season of events including cinema, performance, talks, encounters and workshops. Although I can personally recommend the upcoming 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (previously enjoyed at FSLC’s Human Rights Watch Festival); https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/apollos-girl-44/), MAAD’s season looks more than promising. The cinema, in particular, is well-curated, and free! http://madmuseum.org/calendar?t=Cinema. You know what to do….. 


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