Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Apollo’s Girl

January 2, 2019

Art/Music/Film
apollo and lyre

ISAW right now! (through January 6)

isaw 4The perfect respite from holiday excess sits on a quiet side street in a gloriously restored mansion. Wrapping yourself in the glow of New York’s gilded age, you will
find cases of dazzling silver with an amazing backstory – sure to trigger envy and awe that connect millennia and cultures. It is isaw 1French treasure and Roman luxury. The treasure was (literally) uncovered in 1830 by a farmer plowing his field in northern France, but the metallic gleam that caught his eye had been buried much, much earlier
in a brick-lined pit by Romans on the site of their temple dedicated to Mercury Canetonenis.

The farmer, a practical man, thought to sell his find for the its weight in silver, but had the wit to show it to a local expert first. Such news travels fast, triggering a bidding war between
the Louvre and the Bibliothèque Nationale. The Bibliothèque won, the farmer was
compensated, so (after recent conservation by the Getty Museum) we can now enjoy
the privilege of seeing for ourselves what the Romans could create in precious metal. There are gems, jewelry and miniature dioramas of gods and mortals telling their stories of everyday life, eternal epics, and the life of the imagination in the ancient world. 

Many of the objects are offerings by the wealthy seeking favor and naming rights(sound familiar?)
isaw 3from Mercury, the messenger of the gods as well as the patron deity of commerce and the arts. The hand work of the master metalsmiths is breathtaking; their dedication and skill can still be marveled at. And, in an echo of their painstaking artistry, one of the two large statues of Mercury on view was found in fragments then, like an infinitely complex jigsaw puzzle, put back together piece by piece by the Getty conservators on their mission to recapture the past.

One of the great pleasures of ISAW (the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World)is that you can spend quality time with the displays, absorbing their mysteries and splendors only inches away. (Bring a magnifying glass for the ultimate experience.)

P.S.: From March 6 – June 2, 2019, Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes will be on the walls and in the vitrines. Not to be missed! ISAW: 15 East 84 Street. Information and hours: isaw.nyu.edu isaw 5

 

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Apollo’s Girl

December 9, 2018

apollo and lyreMusic/Art

Once-in-a-Lifetime…

Sometimes, you just get lucky. First it was at Juilliard’s Martin Luther King Day program (a legend among staff and students) in 2014. Julia Bullock sang and recited a little, but mostly listened to Davon Tynes. Bullock’s listening was entirely still, focused, as intense as her own readings and song. It emitted light, compelled absolute attention. I became a fan.
julia_bullock

The next time I got that lucky was last year at the Met Breuer, when I stumbled into Met Live Arts’ Theatre of the Resist.  It was definitely beyond my well-worn paths, but a revelation.
https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/apollos-girl-95/

For the past seven years, the Met’s current incarnation of Concerts and Lectures has exploded with programming that highlights the Met’s collections, the best and brightest of  today’s thinkers and doers and the imagination of Limor Tomer and her staff. It’s a brilliant combination. They have refashioned their mission, complementing traditional images with performances that explore contemporary issues from entirely fresh perspectives. The aesthetics and ideas are sophisticated but accessible, and nothing is ever dumbed down.

Part of Met Live Arts are its residencies – today’s A-list community of artists, many of color, with their own prodigious resources – like DJ Spooky (an experimental hip-hop musician), The Civilians (an experimental theatre collective); and Alarm Will Sound (contemporary classical music). The real magic is in how they manage to make experimental communicate. They are mostly a 21st-century version of the formally trained musicians who ventured into jazz mid-century, adding the complex rhythms and harmonies of bop and third stream to its basic traditions. They can do it all.

Which brings us back to Julia Bullock. She is the current artist-in-residence, and she is a wonder! Her enormous intelligence is coupled with a very big rolodex; she knows her peers and what they are capable of and is using them to create wide-ranging, free-form programs combining segments of poetry, instrumentals, and song. Sometimes she sings, sometimes she doesn’t, just listens to her collaborators. Either way, she remains riveting.

Her opening salvo was keyed to the Met’s exhibition of African-American folk art. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/16/arts/music/review-julia-bullock-met-museum.html?rref=collection2Fsectioncollection2Fmusic&action=click&contentCollection
=music&region=stream&module=stream_

quilt

400 years of free labor

Her next venture was a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance and Langston Hughes (in which she reunited with Davon Tynes) and had the performance smarts to end with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and the entire cast. It was exhilarating for its sheer quality and emotion. No dry eyes in this house!

There are several concerts left in her residency, but some are already sold out. Make the effort to reserve what you can; this is an exceptional series, part of a larger philosophy and practice at the Met, and you will be lucky to snag a seat.
https://www.metmuseum.org/press/news/2018/julia-bullock-makes-her-premiere

 

Apollo’s Girl

December 5, 2018

Film

apollo and lyre

 

Russian Film Week in New York

russian film weekWhile we hold our collective breath to see when (and if) Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet again, and try to imagine what they might say to one another, we can enjoy our own conversations. The 2018 Russian Film Week in New York will present its films, filmmakers, producers, writers and actors at the SVA Theatre: 333 West 23rd Street, NYC;  (212) 592-2980; http://svatheatre.com/events/russian-film-week-2018/

More to the point, they will also offer discussions (absolutely certain to be lively!) and Q & A’s following the screenings, panels with journalists and VIP receptions. It’s a terrific chance to find out about Russia now and exchange opinions with leading creatives in real time. Bring your best questions; you’re going to get answers…..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNRtC7ERmcQ

Its dynamic programming includes both independent and commercial films and features, plus the Russian Academy Award selection Sobibor – directed by and starring Konstantin Khabensky and – interesting to note – partially funded by the Russian government; along with a new takeon Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story (by Karen Shakhnazarov); documentaries, comedies and animation. But – let’s face it – it’s not just the movies, but the origin stories, the political climate, and the chance for intense dialogue at the person-to-person level before our heads of state sit down together—if they do. Enjoy it while you can.

http://cherryorchardfestival.org/russian-film-week/

Apollo’s Girl

November 9, 2018

apollo-and-lyreFilm

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable
Beautiful Boy
Maria by Callas

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable (Dir.: Sasha Waters Freyer)
(Pasadena, Miami, national release)

If you were plying the mean streets of New York in the 60s, or the scene  in Los Angeles in the 70s, you might have noticed a guy with a camera watching you. Perhaps he took your picture before you knew what had happened.
garry winogrand

So you might even find yourself onscreen in this film about a tough, sensitive, romantic, belligerent photojournalist who never stopped looking and snapping. He liked legs and was famous for capturing a laughing Marilyn Monroe standing over a vent with her skirt blown up. But this Bronx-born tough guy who was steeped in black-and-white magazine culture for years decided to become an artist and an activist, and had the grit and the genius to make it happen

The film is filled with movement, with images that snatch the moment and yet (as one colleague puts it) “…have a Hopper-like quality” of stillness at their core. A score of other photographers and critics are unanimous in their judgment of his gifts and his quirks, his unerring eye and his hair-trigger temperament (he was no stranger to fistfights). But with the kind of lucky timing that makes relationships and careers, MoMA’s curator of photography, John Szarkowski, was planning MoMA’s first-ever exhibition of photographs reflecting the disruptive culture of the 1960s. In a New York that had not one gallery featuring photography, with MoMA’s “New Documents”, he put Winogrand (now hungry to expand his visions beyond magazine work) directly on a permanently redrawn map.

As he sailed into the possibilities of street photography, Winogrand’s lust for immediacy remains timeless, compatible with current tastes; not so much drawing viewers toward the frame as yanking them — with power and wit – right through it and into the other side.

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable has a lot of information about photography and about Winogrand’s era; that, and its ferocious energy make it a must for repeat viewings. Make sure you leave time for them.

Beautiful Boy (Dir.: Felix van Groeningen) (national release)
beautiful boy

This film, buoyed by two wrenching performances from Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell is ultimately both one of the most compelling and most frustrating films of the year. Either way, it’s also ripped from daily headlines and television scrutiny as it exposes the consequences of the opioid addiction that tears a family apart. One of its strengths is its fidelity to the struggles of that family to retain its balance, to remain supportive and connected despite the repeated assaults of the crises that become cumulative. However well-meaning and concerned the father is, how can he counter his son’s description of addiction: “I felt better than I ever had, so I just kept on doing it.”

Yet this fidelity is also the source of frustration. Based on dual memoirs of father and son authors, David and Nic Sheff, the separate sources often pull at each other, so their shifting points of view divide but don’t always conquer. The script credits include the director, writer Luke Davies, and “based on” for both Sheffs. This must have posed challenges as the screenplay was developed; not only for its based-on origins, but because both authors are very much alive.

In the end, the actors surmount any challenges, and create Oscar-worthy portraits that are hard to tear yourself away from. Chalamet is already on the fast track after some wins and nominations for his earlier work (especially for Call My by Your Name), and has a future crowded with Shakespeare, Luisa May Alcott, Woody Allen and Denis Villeneuve’s remake of Dune. Carrell, on the other hand has (lucky for us) finally been recognized as the brilliant actor he is (remember Foxcatcher? I do.) and deserves to be rewarded with some meaty roles to keep him stretching beyond his comedy portfolio. So see this for its honesty and the searing music of its cast. And for the cinematography of DP Ruben Impens.

Maria by Callas (Dir.: Tom Volf) (Angelika; City Cinemas Paris)

Here is the woman who lived and defined the word diva. In her words, and in her voice. It’s a wild ride, and it’s complicated. How do you account for a Brooklyn-born, Greek-descended, world traveler, ferociously hard worker and painfully romantic singer with a voice and presence like no other?

Because Volf has decided to forgo an omniscient narrator, or any narrator at all, he rewards us with Callas herself. And yes, it is a feast.

callas

All the essential details of her roller-coaster life are here, but Volf chooses to draw a veil over the most excessive or painful without shortchanging our need to know more about the woman behind the arias and recitatives. Her marriage to Giovanni Meninghini lasted ten years while he supported her and made her opera career possible. For another twelve years after that, he refused to give her a divorce, and she became profoundly involved with Aristotle Onassis.

Veil or no, it’s impossible to remain unmoved when the film touches on Onassis’ marriage to Jackie Kennedy (which he managed not to mention to the lovestruck Callas, who found out about it in the newspapers). Yet the two had a powerful bond, and reconnected when Jackie began spending time away from home base. But I digress.

What Volf also accomplishes with Maria by Callas is much more important than gossip or even the complex operatic drama that was Callas’ real life. It’s the revelation of her supreme gifts, which he allows us enough time to savor. His decision to let us hear (and see) entire segments of her storied roles (Tosca, Carmen, La Boheme) without reducing them to snippets and sound bites. It’s in these segments that her fabled artistry is on view; her phrasing, her acting (always bigger than life, but extraordinarily seductive) and the radiance with which she commanded every stage. Alas, during the worst periods of her life, Callas coped by overeating and taking on too many roles when her voice was in need of rest and nurturing. To be honest, I saw her at the Met and in her master class at Juilliard when her singing had already lost much of its luster.

And, as a perennial diva, she had no idea of how to make her students dig into themselves to begin to fathom the intellectual and physical resources they would have to command to pursue vocal careers. In exasperation she simply ordered them to “do it like I do”, illustrating her commands with a voice that had ceased responding to her will.

Watching Volf’s film, with its generous archival riches, was a revelation. For the first time I truly understood how she was sui generis, even among the greatest singers of her day; a force and an artist like no other. Go see Maria by Callas and keep your eyes and your ears open.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xmsGzhhDGE

Apollo’s Girl

May 26, 2018

Film/Music
Filmworker
Cinema Village, NYC; Laemmle, LA
(national venues: )
https://www.kinolorber.com/film/filmworker

You don’t have to be a filmmaker to gorge on the feast that is Filmworker and still hope for seconds
after every course. Nominated for a Golden Eye at Cannes, Tony Zierra has co-produced, directed,
shot and edited a film that makes every second spent in Leon Vitali’s company leave you wanting more.

Who is Leon Vitali? For one, an enormously talented actor who willingly gave up a flourishing
career to become Stanley Kubrick’s dazzled assistant and then, in succession, a reader, an assistant editor, an acting coach, a sound effects maven, a cameraman, post-production supervisor expert at color timing and every other aspect of technique and, finally, the true and final arbiter of Kubrick’s negatives, prints and PR materials. He spent his life in willing service to Kubrick, a master smart enough to see how Vitali could both absorb filmmaking in all its intricacies and share his legendary perfectionism, enabling him to make 20th-century film history.

What it cost Vitaly is written in his face, lined with a lifetime of unendurable stress and sleep deprivation. As actor Matthew Modine says, “What Leon did was a selfless act – a crucifixion.” Perhaps. But Vitaly makes clear that the rewards were the films at the highest level – and decades of struggle in an absolutely fascinating and addictive environment. For him, it was always the journey. As he admits, “I gave everything because he gave everything.” But what makes Filmworker equally fascinating and addictive is the story-telling ability of this onetime actor; Vitali draws you in from frame one and takes you on the journey with him, aided and abetted by an abundance of clips from Kubrick’s portfolio, personal footage, and illuminating commentary from his fellow-travelers.

Despite the ravages that came with the job, Vitali is still able to say, “How honored was I to be able to work with him.” Pity that Kubrick is not here to add “How lucky was I to have found him.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEZ2r1YGKSA

Music

Farewell to the Chief

As the New York Philharmonic’s only hometown boy who made good at home, Alan Gilbert became the orchestra’s music director in 2007 and, two years later in a real-estate-is-destiny move across Lincoln Center’s plaza, the head of Juilliard’s conducting department as well. It was win-win for everyone.

The Juilliard orchestra would benefit from access to Philharmonic repertoire, and be able to support Gilbert’s visionary programming concert review But all good things must come to an end; Gilbert finished the season at the Phil last year and led his farewell concert with Juilliard’s ensemble two weeks ago. It was Barber and Rouse and finally Brahms’First Symphony, mellow and poignant. No need to mourn, though. Gilbert is going to Hamburg to lead the Elbphilharmonie in its new home. It may look, at first glance, like a glass ship in dry-dock, but boasts acoustics that are definitely the wave of the future, subsidies, and openness to adventure. It’s the right place for Gilbert. And we are told he will be coming back to conduct Juilliard’s finest once a year.

Adventures in Opera

Given the luxuries of extensive rehearsal time and enthusiasm for trying out the new and rethinkingthe old, both Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music offer repertoire seldom available elsewhere. Juilliard’s Hippolyte et Aricie (Rameau’s first opera) was simply exquisite, perfect in every detail, and stunning in its voices, its acting, its choreography, its costumes and its décor. (Hope it was recorded…)

And Manhattan School’s Snow Maiden was a revelation (like the Bartered Bride, its overture is a playlist favorite, but its entirety is mostly left by the wayside—why?) was a revelation. Ravishing melodies abound and harmonies reminiscent of Boris Godunov anoint you with Russianness; its story is a compendium of Slavic folk tales and traditions. The singers (especially Juliana Levinson in the title role, Zuhao Zhang as a cad who reforms, and Monica Conesa as his implacable ex-) were outstanding. With the intimacy of smaller auditoriums in both locations, you are not only close to the singers and musicians, but buoyed by the spirit of their colleagues in the audience. It adds to the energy of young (but already seasoned) performers, and sweeps you up in their excitement. By autumn, MSMNYC’s renovated Neidorff-Karpati Hall will be up and running for next season’s productions. Stay tuned for both locations.

Looking toward the future, a preview of David Henry Hwang and Huang Ruo’s new opera, An American Soldier, was produced for the Guggenheim’s Works and Process series. It will premiereat the Opera Theatre of St. Louis on June 3, expanded to the full length its true-life story (about the racial taunts and beating that drove Private Danny Chen to suicide) deserves.

Apollo’s Girl

September 13, 2017

Film/Theatre

Film: Mid-life Makeovers
Nobody’s Watching; Red Trees; Year by the Sea; The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis

Nobody’s Watching (Dir.: Julia Solomonoff)
Film Forum
With a dozen features and shorts to her credit, as a magnet for scores of awards, prizes and grants, and with solid relationships with the best and brightest of Europe and Latin America as collaborators and supporters, Solomonoff has made a movie which everyone should watch. It’s confident, as smooth and addictive as her talent can spin it out, with a well-meaning but feckless hero (Guillermo Pfening, Jury Prize for Best Actor at Tribeca, 2017) who grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. When he finally becomes his own man, you’ll want – you’ll need – to cheer.

The story of this actor, a soap opera star in Argentina, and an undocumented gay immigrant/babysitter in New York waiting for a big part in a big international film that never materializes, touches on every hot button issue in the book without ever slowing down or going stale. Pfening is surrounded by an ensemble cast that works all the time, yet the work seems effortless, the actors always at ease. As it moves between New York and Buenos Aires, Nobody’s Watching transports you right to its deeply satisfying conclusion, Solomonoff’s gift to those who will be grateful to share her talents and the shine of her cast and crew. You will miss them all when the last frame turns to black.

Red Trees (Dir./Writer: Maria Willer) Quad Cinema
This is one gorgeous film, pulsing with the life of the mind, the heart and the eye; Marina Willer’s tribute to her father, Alfred Willer, who became a survivor and a man of the world. That world, in all its complexity and angst is revealed through his memories (poignant, rich—a repository of cultures with many origins and great depth) of Central Europe and, later, Brazil, where he eventually found residence and raised his 
family after World War II. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1781157492/red-trees-a-short-film-by-marina-willer

What sets it apart from many memoirs is its access to Willer’s visual skills (she’s a partner of the design firm, Pentagram), equaled by the work of DP César Charlone’s (City of God; The Constant Gardener) cinematography; it’s a match made in heaven. Because Alfred Willer (a chemist by trade) was also an artist, a musician, and a writer whose journals provide his eyewitness to history, the director had an embarrassment of riches from which to create her work. She chose wisely and well, visiting many of the locations in Czechoslovakia in which her father had grown up, and in Brazil, where she lived most of her own life after the family arrived there in 1947.

If you have ever wondered what the period between the wars was like in a Europe that nurtured and respected high culture before it was smashed beyond repair, see Red Trees. You will find its music, its art and its literature. But before you weep for what was lost, you will be transported to what was found afterwards: a tribute to resilience, to acceptance, and the hope of diversity as the promise of the future. Let’s say that the film, for all its searing images and words, begins with Bach and ends with Leonard Cohen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wOlGJFkqic;
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NU5FPAR7ass

Year by the Sea (Dir./Writer: Alexander Janko) Landmark Sunshine;
Lincoln Plaza
The press conference following the press screening of Year by the Sea was an astonishing love-fest as cast and crew described the long journey from Joan Anderson’s Times’ best-seller to the final cut that has just opened. While the production seems to have benefited from the kumbaya atmosphere that prevailed on location and set, the most astonishing aspect of its journey was the story of how Janko (a prolific musician, composer and arranger) found Anderson’s novel, persuaded her to come on board, to mentor him as he adapted her book into a script, and support him to direct it as his debut feature. But, without question, the revelation that she, as the novel’s author, was present on-set during the entire production and that she and Janko are still friends was nothing short of amazing. While many directors will not permit an author of source material, or even the script writer, anywhere near their shooting schedule, Year by the Sea was definitely its own movie; a communal effort from a community that has remained together. Add to that the fact that Anderson’s book is not a novel, but a personal memoir of her transformation from hausfrau to the fully realized woman she has clearly become, and it is even more exceptional.

Karen Allen plays Anderson with real conviction, aided and abetted by her two best friends: Celia Imrie as psychoanalyst Eric Ericson’s free-spirited wife and caregiver, and S. Epatha Merkelson as the long-suffering and empathetic agent who shepherded Anderson through the process of turning her life into her best-selling book. Together, they spend a year in a remote New England fishing village while Anderson (and the husband she has been living apart from who works through a transformation of his own) learns how to balance self-realization with loving support. The preview audience was deeply enthusiastic, and the film will resonate with many viewers, just as the book did with its readers.

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis (Dirs./Writers: Francisco Marquez, Andrea Testa) VOD
Also an adaptation (this time from a novel by Humberto Constantini), The Long Night, for all its modest resources, is an absolute gem! The hero, once a low-key revolutionary poet, has settled into a life of middle-class comfort with his wife and friends. Until he’s contacted by an old friend and fellow-traveler who asks him for a favor that can put him at serious risk in Argentina’s new post-revolutionary society.

It’s not the story itself, but the way it’s told and especially the way its reluctant hero (the outstanding Diego Velazquez), allows us to feel the pain of his struggle and its resolution. Very much worth keeping an eye out for its VOD release later this fall.

Theater

Caught Van Gogh’s Ear at the Signature Theater and was intrigued by its synesthesia, with music of the period (played live by a fluid group of strings and piano)used to enhance and amplify Van Gogh’s paintings and distress. Together, the music (including songs performed by Chad Johnson as Vincent’s brother, Theo, and Renee Tatum in dual roles of sister-in-law and lover) and scripted lines (based primarily on Vincent’s letters) spoken by Carter Hudson as the brilliant artist captured the ecstasy of Impressionism when it ignited a fin-de-siècle revolution. David Bengali’s projections and the set and costumes by Vanessa James (especially those worn by the musicians) kept the fires burning up to the inevitable finale.

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century, which created Van Gogh’s Ear, has two more productions waiting in the wings: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Dec 21 – Jan 7) and Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart (May 17 – June 17). While co-existing in the same century, the three subjects could not be more different; it will be fascinating to see how – and where — they take us. http://romanticcentury.org/

Apollo’s Girl

August 7, 2017

Art/Film

Playing around with your influences…
Ettore Sottsass: Design Radical
(Met Breuer til October 8, 2017)

A few years ago, while browsing the wares of a local street vendor of old books and, occasionally, old things, I discovered that that day’s thing was a battered plastic portable typewriter case. Inside it was a machine in surprisingly good conditionpale beige, sleek, a minimalist ode to form and function. It could be mine for $15. Took a chance, took it home, replaced the ribbon, discovered it worked and that the case would clean up nicely. Later discovered it had been designed by Ettore Sottsass for Olivetti.

That very model, and many other things are yours to enjoy at the Met Breuer this summer, affording an intimate glimpse of Sottsass’ process and works; the portfolio of an artist/designer with eyes wide open and a lifelong distaste for pigeonholes. Curator Christian Larsen has laid out this feast to include many original sources for Sottsass’ inspiration; they are legion! The man had curiosity and few restrictions on what sparked his enthusiasm for artistic potential in his designs. This is immediately apparent when the source materials (many dating to antiquity) are placed next to what Sottsass made of them.

Design Radical, with its angles, surprises, giddy balances and palette (Sottsass never met a color he didn’t love, nor was ever timid about combining them), is the perfect antidote to the current state of the world, and a joyful reminder of Memphis, that 1980s Milanese vortex of post-Modernism. You will marvel at how many corporations took advantage of his unruly talents, how he used them to define an era, and how well they hold up. Meantime, keep a sharp lookout for old typewriter cases, and be sure to open them before you move on without taking them with you. Mine remains at the ready on the floor under my desk, waiting for the power grid’s next outage. Safe to say it is sure to come.

P.S. The Met Breuer has, at last, a wonderful performance spacea little industrial, very modern, and full of promise for repurposing for every occasion. Currently, it’s been housing Theatre of the Resist (“…a snapshot and celebration of performances and films by artists in reaction toand sometimes in refutation ofthe current political climate”). The program I saw was The Lifers Group, founded at Rahway Prison decades ago to sing R & R and, later, rap. Improbably (but deservedly) they won a contract from Disney to record an album and opened a 501(c)3 with its profits to mentor young people at risk of incarceration. It was powerful stuff, real life in person, brilliantly moderated by Nicole Fleetwood. Only two programs remain;

Strong Island and DJ MOJO: Music is Life. Both are free with museum admission: http://www.metmuseum.org/events/programs/met-live-arts/theater-of-the-resist-15?eid=A001_%7b0716250D-27C0-484F-982F-AA3F97D397EF%7d_20170517122153. The series was generated by Met Live Arts; stay on top of their upcoming exhibitions and shows for some out-of-the-box experiences.

* * * * *

Machines (Dir.: Rahul Jain) NYC: Film Forum

Anyone who has sought customer service at a very big bank comes away with an image of a generically named (Ashley, Kevin, Tiffany), relentlessly cheery Brit wearing office attire and a headset at a call center somewhere in India. You are assured that even if you can’t always get what you want, all is well with the world. But India is a very big country, whose population is approaching 1.5 billion souls; it will soon overtake China’s. And the world, for most of its workers, does not go well at all.

Rahul Jain’s first feature, shot almost entirely inside a textile plant that churns out ravishing printed fabrics for saris, shows us the images and sounds of the men and boys who make this beauty. There is no narration, and none is needed for total immersion in their life. It’s all flames, racket, speed, and back-breaking labor, almost entirely manual, dangerous and stupefying. There are 12-, 24- and 36-hour shifts for those who are able to work until their bodies give out.

Jain knows this world well: he’s a textile designer, art historian, and author of RaptureThe Art of Indian Textiles, skilled in drawing attention to the end products of hand-made traditions that made India famous for centuries. But he is honest enough to look behind their modern incarnations and bring them to us raw. The sequences are Dickensian, a 21st-century replica of 19th-century England’s industrial age, alive in the grim outskirts of Gujurat, far from the call centers. Jain is credited as director, and for editing and sound, allowing for the intimate access that makes Machines the achievement it is, and permitting us to draw our own conclusions from what we see and hear.  It’s Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% makes it likely we’ll get the message.   trailer

 

Cooper’s London

July 27, 2017

Theater/Broadcast

A Tight Andronicus  

I cannot understand why Titus Andronicus has such a terrible reputation. Perhaps it’s because so far I have only seen good and interesting productions? Which suggests to me that there is something stageworthy about it even if it doesn’t read all that brilliantly on the page.

At one level, of course, it’s like watching those contemporary action thrillers or horror films with lots of blood and events. This new production at the RSC in Stratford, updated to a contemporary world on the edge of street riots, embraces (to a degree) that kind of Summer Blockbuster approach. It opens with a prologue of alarums and excursions by a contemporary mob and police, swiftly underscoring the theme that the violence and emotional savagery of humanity are still being played out in the contemporary worldEgypt or China or Venezuela or Syria, for instance?

Director Blanche McIntyre deploys a battery of shock effects and line readings that at times, and rightly, provoke uneasy, spontaneous laughter from the audience. Not that the Grand Guignol is played for laughs. The actors present characters that are believable, if grotesque or evil, and are all the more convincing because of the updating of the visuals to a contemporary world that resonates with echoes of everyone from Erdogan to Asad. Further, the play ties in neatly with the RSC’s “Roman Season “ in which they are doing productions of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus as well as Titus Andronicus to show how the plays work when given a thematic context.  The good news is that the four plays are being broadcast to cinemas all over the world; you’ll also be able to catch up with them on DVD in the near future and see what I’m talking about.t So you won’t have to go to Stratford-upon-Avon or, later, to London’s Barbican Theatre, to see these shows and decide for yourself, because the RSC now brings its season to you, wherever you are. 

Of course it isn’t quite the same as being in the theatre. But these live broadcasts do capture the sense of occasion. While you are not in a fixed seat with a fixed viewpoint, the broadcast director and cameramen are choosing varied viewpoints for you, and they have become increasingly skilled at this. The compensations of being able to experience the actual new production in real time and see the actors in close-ups definitely balances the disadvantage of not actually being there. So let us hear three cheers for this new dispensation! The RSC Roman Season has already broadcast its exemplary Julius Caesar and extremely fine Antony and CleopatraCoriolanus is to be broadcast on 11 October 2017. And if you miss any of these plays, they will appear on DVD; you can catch up with them later. Another good thing about our era is simply that these productions are being preserved.

The RSC, with this kind of integrated approach to the four plays, and its commitment to widening its audience through new technological means, is enjoying a very good period at the moment under the directorship of Gregory Doran. When you see this season’s plays, each one stands on its own but there are echoes across them of a shared central vision, a core, that makes a point about our world today and what we are seeing on the the news. The news cameras are right there on stage for the big public moments of Titus Andronicus throughout. And the world of a mythical Ancient Rome is just as much a paradigm for our current displaced but suppressed violence, anger, and our populist denial of reason and compassion as are the clips we witness every day from, say, the Middle East.

I recommend this Titus Andronicus very highly (in whatever medium you can access), as you have probably guessed by now. For a start, it’s an extremely intelligent interpretation that’s very sensitive to subtext, and the text is presented with utmost clarity.There’s not a weak performance in the cast. David Troughton  (King Lear at Stratford not long ago) brings out a quality in Titus that is a kind of early, simpler draft of Lear. He begins with immense self-assurance and lack of pity for the plight of Tamora’s son, whom he puts to death. And there’s the rub! He’s tired, he’s old, he’s vengeful, he cannot see beyond the rituals of Rome and appeasement of his gods.  At the start, Andronicus only slenderly knows himself and doesn’t seem to see that his actions might have uncontrollable consequences. Nor will he allow himself to become Emperor, though the people want it. It’s his voice that tips the balance into rousing the crowd to appoint Saturninus as Emperor; it’s therefore his shirking of responsibility that causes so much chaos and damage to ensue. At the beginning, like Lear, he cannot see beyond his entitlements, his power and his beliefs. Does it make you think of anyone in the world of contemporary politics, by any chance? Clearly Shakespeare was already contemplating that the fault was not in our stars but in ourselves. McIntyre’s production suggests this strongly. 

Martin Hutson is a riveting, neurotic, lustful and dangerously self-inflated Saturninus, a modern-day City banker or trader, a Stalin whose fear of losing power makes him paranoid; Nia Gwynne is terrifyingly manipulative, fearsome and predatory as Tamora, as well as bruisingly moving and self-justifying in her anguish. There is a convincing, effective Aaron played by Stefan Adegbola, whose credo is that if he ever did a good deed he regrets it. And yet, when it comes to it, he loves the baby son that he fathers on Tamora and strives to save it. But is this unexpected paternal love or simply projection of his own ego onto the child? The strength of this reading is that we are left with several ambiguities. Aaron comes across as a very early draft of Iago, of course: unfathomable, seemingly motivated only by his own evil.

The production is as bloody as it needs to be (given the text), and visually impressive as it moves about the design outside a contemporary bank of glass and steel created by Robert Innes Hopkins. The set enables a fluid, direct staging, and Tim Sutton’s music is used to great effect;  I was frequently moved by Hannah Morrish as Lavinia and thought the pacing of the play was always superb. Will Bliss plays a clown who must have been one of Shakespeare’s earliest creations as a stark, gasp-making contrast to the unfolding tragedy and mayhem; and Patrick Drury was particularly fine as Marcus Andronicus. The younger generationespecially David Burnett as Quintus, Tom Lorcan as Martius, Dharmesh Oatel as Bassanius, Jon Tarcy as Alarbus, Sean Hart as Demetrius and Luke MacGregor as Chironwere all praiseworthy, as was Marcello Walton in more than one part. 

The great strength and pleasure of the RSC is its ensemble work, the rehearsing until everyone is completely part of a strong unit with one purpose, to find and communicate the soul of the play. In this case, the achievement is all the more impressive because it’s not one of Shakespeare’s best plays and he probably did not contribute more than a few speeches in the first act; yet one is suitably disturbed to see its portrayal of this dark and sometimes uncontrollably brutal side of the human psyche.

Titus Andronicus is playing in repertoire at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 2 September and at the Barbican Theatre in London from 7 December 2017 until 19 January 2018. It will be broadcast live from the stage on 9 August 2017.

To experience a first-rate production of this early Shakespeare play and discover its often-disputed and underrated merits, check the web for the broadcast schedule: https://www.rsc.org.uk/titus-andronicus/in-cinemas

Apollo’s Girl

July 4, 2017

Film

Road Trips…


My Journey Through French Cinema;
Pop Aye; Dawson City Frozen Time;
Paulina

My Journey Through French Cinema (Part One)
(Dir./Writer Bertrand Tavernier)
06/23/17 New York NY Lincoln Plaza
06/23/17 New York NY Quad Cinema
06/23/17 Los Angeles CA Laemmle Royal
07/07/17 Chicago IL Gene Siskel Film Center
07/14/17 Portland OR NW Film Center
07/15/17 Nashville TN The Belcourt 
07/21/17 Minneapolis MN St. Anthony Main Theatre 
07/28/17 Miami Beach FL Miami Beach Cinematheque 
08/04/17 Santa Fe NM The Screen

To grow up in New York when the New Wave was cresting was to dive off a cliff into the ocean that is French culture. Life-altering total immersion. As luck would have it, the films were not dubbed, but sub-titled, so every tic and nuance of the actor’s craft was right there in the dark in front of you. Who could not yearn for those characters, those crooked old medieval streets pulsing with post-war social revolution? The birth of story after story played out by Bardot, Belmondo, Signoret, Montand, Moreau? And what about the writers, the directors, the auteurs?

If you missed all that, never mind: Bertrand Tavernier has captured the Wave, along with much earlier and much later French films and poured the whole catch out for us with all the passion and authority conferred by more than thirty films of his own. Tavernier admits to wearing many hats (citizen, spy, explorer and painter, chronicler and adventurer) for his road trip through French cinema, and switches them frequently. We are the lucky ones, who can lean back and share the journey with him as faces, sites, words and music unspool for his pleasure and ours. No need to swim: just sit back and watch this cosmic show-and-tell. While Tavernier is a warm and generous host, one of the great achievements of My Journey is the  way in which it clasps to its very generous bosom viewers thrilled to revisit and expand what they remember, yet bestows equal pleasure by solving the problem that weighs on all who champion a pre-digital agenda: how to mold a context that will lure the Gen X’s, Y’s and Z’s for whom the New Wave is a surfboard, rather than a dive off a cliff. Even compressed into three-plus hours (they whiz by) instead of decades, My Journey is still exhilarating.

Of course, like all filmmakers, Tavernier mourns the favorite bits that languish on his cutting room floor; there are rumors that a sequel will include them. Meantime, he makes loving (if fleeting) references to them with titles, and we feel his pain. “I would like this film to be an expression of gratitude to all those filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, and musicians who have erupted into my life. Memory keeps us warm: this film is a piece of glowing charcoal for a winter night.”

It’s also, in its delicious and ultimate Frenchness, a really cool way to enjoy a summer evening.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K22hX_9BUnU


Pop Aye: (Dir./Writer: Kirsten Tan) NYC Film Forum and national
This elephant (the title character) is out of the room and on the road in Thailand with his new owner
an architect who has, like the elephant, seen better times. They are trekking back to the architect’s hometown for a visit, moving slowly but steadily toward their distant goal until a passing truck is flagged and they climb in. “You don’t look like the type who’d be traveling with an elephant,” observes the driver. “I just bought him,” says the architect. Thus begins this quirky and appealing take on civilization and its discontents, a debut feature from a filmmaker who plies the Singapore/New York nexus with her own 
singular vision and notice from Rotterdam, Sundance and Sydney.

Part of what makes Pop Aye go is the sheer improbability of the ingredients that Kirsten Tan has mixed into a delectable and slightly dry brew. Taken one at a time they would seem to defy blending. When was the last time you found an architect and an elephant in amiable partnership? Or discovered a dysfunctional family with its own take on relationships. Or a truck driver who appears and disappears from time to time (this takes place in Thailand) with an inner GPS of his own. Then there’s a holy man in flip flops who says he will soon join his brother in heaven (he read it in the stars). There are bureaucrats and farmers, ex-wives and partners with little patience for the hero and his faithful traveling companion—and always that marvelously amiable elephant.

Don’t imagine for one minute that Pop Aye can be defined as a linear story; it threatens more than once to disperse, and occasionally makes unexpected (and not always logical) leaps in continuity but, as constructed by Ms. Tan’s whimsical imagination, it’s hard to let go of its sneaky and oddly compelling logic. Surrender to its charms and you will find yourself glad you hitched a ride in the slow lane with some excellent company.

 

Dawson City: Frozen Time (Dir.: Bill Morrison)
(NYC IFC Center; LA Landmark Regent;
Laemmle Monica Film Center; Vintage Los Feliz Theatre)

There are many threads in the tapestry that is Dawson City Frozen Time, and Bill Morrison is its God at the Loom. Not for nothing does Morrison call his company Hypnotic Pictures: this profound meditation on life and death of men, movies and mores, crafted from a trove of old footage unearthed by a backhoe in Dawson City, Yukon, is mesmerizing. Prepare to be transported as it travels backwards and forwards in time, carrying you with it like some spellbound caboose on a rich and improbable road trip in black and white.

Dawson City’s population was a thermometer that measured the heat of the gold rush of 1898, and the ups-and-downs of the fever were mirrored in the photographs by Eric A. Hegg, whose images of hopefuls struggling up the glaciers remain iconic. As native Canadians whose fishing and hunting shacks were wrenched upriver to make room for the town that erased them, Dawson City waxed and waned several times. At its heart was a succession of hotels, provision stores, civic monuments, saloons and brothels catering to itinerant prospectors and, soon after, public halls to screen the movies sent out from early producers to lull and excite the population. The movies—newsreels, shorts, and long-forgotten features—mirrored the world outside, but always after the fact; Dawson City was the end of the distribution line. Since the cost of returning the films to their home base was prohibitive, the orphaned reels simply stayed put, moving in and out of basements and backyards as time passed by, wars began and ended and tastes changed. 

Morrison has a field day with this treasure, marked as it is by decades spent in the permafrost, scratched and flaring, the ghost of movies past (some believed lost entirely until the backhoe dredged them up). But there’s another text that holds it all together: the repeated rise and fall of Dawson City as it fights to stay alive; the transformation of gold mining from manually panned nuggets to digs run by shadowy figures from the world beyond—in fact, the Guggenheims, who bring in big machines to do the job until all the veins are stripped. Newsreels faithfully record strikes and Sacco and Vanzetti, the Black Sox scandal, inventions and progress, always behind the times. And, with his hands deep in movie gold, Morrison sprinkles the film with nuggets of factoids like spices: the founding of Donald Trump’s family fortune by his grandfather, who ran an inn (cum bordello) in nearby White Horse, or what happened to some of Hollywood’s forgotten stars.

Respectability came to Dawson after a while, along with civic structure and society. Not since Edgar Reitz’s Heimat has communal evolution been put under a microscope so cleverly or, in this case, so imaginatively. But, in the end, it remains dreamlike, a leisurely (but rigorously edited) road trip through history in black and white, embraced by Alex Somers’ music and John Somers’ sound. Definitely to be savored. 


https://vimeo.com/180648695

Paulina (Dir: Santiago Mitre) Spectacle Theatre
The question should be how did a film whose many awards include the Grand Prize and FIPRESCI at Cannes find its way to the Spectacle Theatre in Brooklyn? Spectacle is “a volunteer-run microcinema, screening rare and under-appreciated films seven days a week. It is also a spot for radical polemics, in-house edits, live scores, original posters, and filmmaker appearances. We are an ex-bodega of enchantment, a semi-social society, an anti-commercial Atlantis. All screenings are $5 unless otherwise listed.“

Although Paulina is based on an earlier film (La Patota – The Gang) it is Dolores Fonzi’s performance
in the title role that dominates a very complicated story and keeps you thinking about its chronology and narrative reversals. The script tackles enormous issues of political and social justice even as it focuses on the moral positions of its principal and supporting players and their changes of heart and mind. One of the lines that connect the dots shows that random events can change lives forever, and that simple misunderstandings can trigger dominoes that will continue to collapse. Without Fonzi’s power to anchor the story, it might scatter, despite Santiago Mitre’s skill and the cast’s agility with shorthand. And many of its theories are revealed in arguments between Fonzi, (a talented judge-in-training), and her father (a respected and influential jurist), who are equally matched and equally stubborn.

The ideas and characters remain in memory, however, after Fonzi is seen resolutely marching down the road toward her destiny, chosen by her own design.

 

 

Cooper’s London

May 29, 2017

 

Books/Music

Stop, Read, Listen:

Glenn Frankel, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, 379 pp, Bloomsbury.

This book is a fascinating companion to Victor Navasky’s Naming Names, which was a fairly comprehensive general history of that era of scoundrels and evil opportunists thought of as McCarthyism. But, at its centre, there remained the appallingly blinkered and self-righteous House Un-American Activities Committee (affectionately known as HUAC)a Senate tribunal that rode roughshod over the US Constitution much longer than McCarthy managed to. Glenn Frankel’s compelling book, nicely produced and published by Bloomsbury, focuses mesmerizingly on the relationship of HUAC to Hollywood, and also on the impact this had on the making of the classic Western movie High Noon and its gripping subtexts. Frankel sees the script of High Noon as a clear reflection of the climate of the Red Scare in Hollywood at the time. The hero of the book is Carl Foreman, who conceived the story and then adapted it as he came under increasing pressure from HUAC to testify and to name names. Indeed, in the end Foreman had to flee to England to work.

Featured players include Gary Cooper, the ailing star of the film, who took on the project at a time when he felt a strong need to resurrect his reputation as an actor; director Fred Zinnemann, whose commitment to the project was in itself bold; and the producer, Stanley Kramer. You get the full background story of each of these men, and many more involved in High Noon and in the persecution of Hollywood’s left wing.

Frankel’s work is well-written and a real page-turner, probing the background of the Hollywood film industry itself to show why Hollywood was so vulnerable to the pressures of HUAC in the late 1940s. This book is also a superb companion piece to the recently filmed Trumbo; certainly all the people who figure in that tale turn up as major or minor characters in this one, too, So you get to revisit the self-serving bigotry or narrow-minded pusillanimity of people like Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Adolph Menjou, Richard Nixon, and all the senators who contributed to the insanity that was the Blacklist. High Noon clearly delineates how the Blacklist happened and its fallout—yet some people still insist it wasn’t as bad as all that, or even that it never really existed at all. And High Noon mounts an attack on the Blacklist Deniers and takes a significant stand based on the actual facts, not the alternative ones. You also get sound and thought-provoking insights into how much people thought they were acting for the good of the country, fighting to save America from being overthrown by the Red Menace. The paranoia, at times, seems almost to leap off the page but so does some strong sympathy for the gulled and a great deal of understanding for both sides.

By the end of the book, you have the complete story of the making of High Noon, seen very much through the prism of the HUAC investigations of Hollywood. The book serves its double interest fully and convincingly throughout. There isn’t a dull or unnecessary page; the tale is told tautly, like a thriller.

Informative, well-written and still relevant, this is an excellent study of the impact on Hollywood and the arts of the mentality that drove HUAC and overcame the protests of people who could see through it, but had little hope of doing anything substantial about it. Those who tried to combat HUAC and the Blacklist include some pretty bold-face and surprising names: Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, and Gregory Peck, among others. And then there are the tragedies of people like John Garfield. You are made both to understand and to feel their frustration.

I learned a lot from High Noon. I ended up, to my surprise, developing more comprehension of and of and even sympathy for Gary Cooper, who is usually labelled as an arch-Conservative; even greater admiration for Fred Zinnemann and Carl Foreman in particular than I had had before; and some disappointment about Stanley Kramer and how he behaved during the worst years of the crisis.

This is a book that manages to be informative, infuriating, educational, dramatic and entertaining all at the same time. It also gives you a wonderful journey through the background of Hollywood from the silent era onward. I recommend it highly to anyone who relishes being surprised by how much richer the subjects at hand were than they might have suspected.

Fearless Prediction:
MAKI SEKIYA, Future Perfect

What can you do to promote a completely unknown musician who, you think, is world class and ready for a world-conquering career? At the insistent invitation of a friend, I went to a piano recital in Oxford in an out-of-the way church, to hear some of the most astonishingly wonderful playing in every way that I’ve ever heard in my life. It was like hearing Emil Gilels or Sviatislav Richter or Artur Rubinstein for the first time; an artistry that went beyond the instrument and its limitations. Maki Sekiya is surely the Clara Schumann of our era! Yet this artist is a tiny woman, very self-effacing, able to charm the audience with little spoken introductions. And absolutely a giant at the piano.

Sekiya deserves to be heard by everyone, everywhere. She played music from William Byrd through Beethoven, contemporary Japanese music, Debussy, and Guido Agosti’s transcriptions of Stravinsky’s Firebird, and in every case she seemed to be channelling the composernot in any way getting between the audience and the music—while creating unique interpretations that were totally fresh and gripping. In every case she had a sure sense of the style, of the idiom of the individual creator. She has her own voice as a musician that is recognizable and remarkable without, somehow, in any way imposing herself on the music. She simply is the music when she is playing it.

Technically, it was an outstanding performance in every way. In Beethoven’s Piano Sonata 21 in C Major, Op 53 (the Waldstein), Sekiya started at speeds that were faster than I’ve ever heard but still with a and energy that demanded attention. Though the Adagio was a spiritual dream, in the Prestissimo she somehow tied the whole thing together, referred back to the beginning, and put the final polish on a flawless jewel. Her touch is defined by the complexity or simplicity of what she is playing, and she deploys both the sustaining and loud pedals to burnish her interpretation; she is a mistress of nuance. This artist has a rare sense of the architecture of every piece she plays and enables you to hear it as a coherent, complex whole. In the quiet passages she can take the huge risk of playing so delicately that you almost fear the notes will not sound; yet she is able to play louder and more forcefully than seems possible when the music requires it. Also, I have rarely been in an audience that was seduced into paying such rapt attention to every note, every pause, throughout the evening. Without flamboyance, without showing off for a moment, this was absorbing and completely compelling music-making. We were in the presence of someone very special, and we all knew it.

Sekiya has studied at the Purcell School in the UK and also in Russia, and she has managed to blend perfectly Japanese delicacy and attention to detail, Western urgency and Russian energy. The playing was both emotionally affective and brilliantly intellectual all at once. The lapidary sheen of her pianism is astonishing; the wit and intelligence breathtaking.

The concert was at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, which was turned into an arts centre not long ago, with fine acoustics,worthy of the evening’s program. But Sekiya’s talent demands a world stage – Carnegie Hall, the Wigmore Hall in London, the Bunkamura in Tokyo. For the moment she is living the life of a wife and mother in Oxford and teaching piano there, and we are very fortunate to be able to share such astonishing and inspiring musicianship. She is developing a local reputation. The church was packed out; and of course, she got a standing ovation at the end of her recital and again after playing a breathtaking, magical Debussy Claire de Lune for an encore. Again, it sounded totally fresh, almost as if I was hearing it for the first time, familiar yet original.

So make note of the name Maki Sekiya, pianist extraordinaire. I am going to see if I can find a few samples of her playing to put up on this web site from the concert I heard (because it was recorded), and possibly also do an interview to discover Maki’s plans for the future. Keep watching this space! Meantime, here’s a preview of things to come:


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