Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris

Last night I saw I Love You Phillip Morris. It is a gay love story about two men who meet in prison, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

It is basically a romantic comedy, that has an odd edge to it's tone. Jim Carrey plays a compulsive con-man, and his performance is typically manic. Charming yet inaccessible. Which is perfect for his character. Ewan McGregor's character is sweeter, more vulnerable, but ultimately not very well developed.

I liked the movie overall. It was entertaining and pleasant, and it was great to see a gay male love story in a mainstream movie, and there were some great scenes. But basically there was no emotional core to it and I don't think it worked. There are a couple of scenes toward the end where, if the movie was hitting it's mark, I should have been crying. But it didn't hit me hard. I felt more like I was watching a narrative wind itself up (if that makes any sense).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wives and Daughters

Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters is extraordinary!

The characters are all so wonderfully drawn; I fell in love with every one of them. I enjoyed reading this so much, and felt like these were all my friends.

I was particularly moved by the relationships between the family at Hamley Hall. The old cantankerous, moody, sentimental and conflicted squire totally captured my heart.

Each of the characters, from the charming and droll Lady Harriet, to the unpleasantly vain Mr Preston, the spoiled yet good Osborne, the concerned spinsters, etc... each of them was so endearing because they were all flawed. Mrs. Gibson, hysterically so, and Cynthia, poignantly so. In fact, Cynthia was so sympathetic to me, because it seemed her inner flaws would prevent her from ever being happy. True of her mother Mrs. Gibson as well, but it seemed that Cynthia had the insight to see what was missing, whereas Mrs. Gibson existed in a fog of self-absorption.

The most stalwartly good characters, Molly, Mr. Gibson, and Roger, were no less lovable for their perfection.

Gaskell died before she finished Wives and Daughters, and it was disappointing to read the rushed ending tacked on by the editor. But she had been very close to finishing, and it was easy to see how the ends would have been tied together. I loved this book and will miss keeping company with all the delightful people of Hollingford.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

True Grit

I LOVED True Grit, the Coen brothers movie I saw with my mom on Christmas day.

It's a remake of a western about a 14-year old girl seeking to avenge her father's death. She hires Jeff Bridges, a drunken and slurring and ruthless marshal to hunt down the killer. The two of them spar in dry clipped observations and character assassinations that are hysterical. Matt Damon plays a comic foil.

The dialogue in this movie is superb, and adds a wonderfully surprising bite to the violence and drama and adventure. I didn't expect to like True Grit at all, but I was tense and riveted and entertained for every moment of it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pelleas et Melisande

Last night I saw Pelleas et Melisande at the Met. This 1902 Debussy opera is stiflingly atmospheric, grim and ethereal.

The narrative, about an old prince, his young bride, and her romantic attachment to his brother, has an abstract symbolic quality to it that made it difficult to emotionally connect with.

The music was beautiful and complex, and there were many interesting moments where there were no vocals, just stretches of music where the performers froze in a tableau and the set moved in a circle, hauntingly slow, mesmerizing, aesthetically pleasing, (yet still somehow emotionally alienating).

A few scenes of note: this strange extended moment when Melisande leans awkwardly out a window so that her long, somewhat straggly hair can brush against Palleas and they can each fondle themselves.

Then there was another physically awkward and dramatically tense moment when Melisande's husband has his nine year old son on his shoulders peeking into Melisande's bedroom. The young boy, by the way, had a BEAUTIFUL voice, and his performance was the most captivating and satisfying to me.

Simon Rattle conducted, and Stéphane Degout, Magdalena Kožená, and Gerald Finley sang the leads.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rachel Maddow at the 92nd Street Y

Last night I went to a live taping of The Rachel Maddow Show at the 92nd Street Y.

It was so fun! I can't quite describe the mild thrill of participating in a live television event.

It was particularly cool because so much important news happened yesterday. Specifically, Obama signed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The audience was super enthusiastic, and it was just a great a feeling.

Rachel Maddow is very poised and charismatic and brilliant and it was terrific being able to see her live.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Paul Thek at The Whitney

After seeing The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, I took the Madison Avenue bus up to The Whitney to see the Paul Thek retrospective.

I had never heard of this artist before, but a friend is a big fan and told me to check out the show.

I liked his work a lot, but was much, much more drawn to the sculptures and installations that I was to the drawings and paintings.

He is famous for a sculpture series called Meat Pieces, and these were my favorite. Shiny, wet and ultra real, these visceral sculptures of meat have a vivid, super alive presence to them. Icky, strange, confusing and gorgeously hideous.

His installations were made of pieces of hospital-like furniture, with pulleys and fixtures on them, slabs of meat, and dead birds. These works have a sense of decay and destruction, violence and loss to them.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Rockettes!

At 9 this morning I saw The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

Even though I knew it would be tacky as shit, I actually had high hopes for this show. I was looking forward to being swept up by the over-the-top spectacle. And, as spectacle, it was pretty damn good. The production was very state of the art, and they really do give a lot of bang for your buck.

But I have to say, even thought the dancing was great, the choreography was predictable and the music was pretty insipid. The Christmas theme was, obviously, hackneyed, and each number (excellent as they all were), just seemed like more of the same.

Okay, that sounds horribly negative, and I don't mean to be big ole Scrooge. I did in fact enjoy myself; it was good fun, and it was great to finally see what is basically a New York institution.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Swan

I am trying to figure out what I thought of Black Swan, which I saw last night. Directed by Darren Aranofsky, it stars Natalie Portman who is in every scene.

Black Swan is about a sweet, highly disciplined, but emotionally stunted ballet dancer, a soloist in (presumably) ABT who is performing in Swan Lake (which I hate to say I've never seen). It is an odd, haunting, and confusing psychological thriller that explores the dancer's coming of age and coming to artistry.

Interestingly, her repressed sexuality takes center stage, and her growth as an artist hinges on owning her sexuality -- a feat which also involves an intense struggle for autonomy with her domineering and creepy mother (played brilliantly and scarily by Barbara Hershey). These themes were drawn very broadly, and if it wasn't so interestingly and masterfully filmed it would have felt cartoonish.

Black Swan is also a horror film dealing with inner demons in a stunningly, frighteningly, visceral way. The dancer's body cannot be trusted -- hideousness lies beneath.

I was riveted by Natalie Portman's performance, but I also felt something was missing. Her delicate face registered a large handful of emotions, but I'm not sure there was a there there. On the other hand, that is kind of a crucial feature of the character -- she is so effaced by her own discipline and fear of power...

I guess I liked the movie; I feel kind of confused and unsure, though, of what I really thought. Part of me feels a need to be able to say what it is "about". I think that the heart of the story is about female competition and its viciousness; the price of victory: devastatingly high.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

Last night I went to an opening night performance at Dixon Place of Let Them Eat Cake: A Gay Marriage in One Act with Confections, written by Miss Holly Hughes, Miss Megan Carney, and Miss Moe Angeloes.

This event was so much fun! It centers around a gay marriage (duh, right there in the subtitle) and the exuberant performers articulated all sides of the "issue" -- still it wasn't too "issue-y". It made you think, made you feel, made you laugh... (corny but true).

The piece is also very interactive; the audience is invited into the action which created a sense of collaboration and community which was actually rather moving, given the theme.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tiny Furniture

I saw Tiny Furniture this afternoon at BAM.

It is a very smart, bittersweet film about a girl who just graduated college coming home to her successful mother in Tribeca and trying to figure things out.

She is pudgy, and kind of schlubby, yet charmingly self-possessed in an oddly insecure way. I know that doesn't make sense, self-possession and insecurity, but this character has both, which endeared her to me and helped me respect her, even as she endured humiliation.

The dialogue was fabulous, very funny and awkward, and the characters were drawn with a delicious and observant wit -- everything felt real and true and was never boring.

Weirdly, there was a not unpleasant and vaguely intimate stiltedness to the acting which took some getting used to. When I came home I read this article on the filmmaker Lena Dunham (who wrote, directed and stars in the movie). Suddenly the woodenness made sense: Dunham is not an actress, and her real life mother and sister play themselves. Tiny Furniture is very personal to begin with, and has a very touching way of portraying this somewhat unique family. The personal quality takes on an entirely new resonance, however, when you realize that the family is being played by actual family members and the piece is largely autobiographical...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stacy Szymaszek and Eileen Myles at Dia Chelsea

An awesome reading last night! Stacy Szymaszek and Eileen Myles read at Dia Chelsea.

Stacy read a beautiful and complex prose piece reflecting on the life and work of Hart Crane. The piece had a nuanced emotional texture because the poet interwove her own history. The piece was clearly written by a poet, someone drawn to and living within language. A few days ago her book Hyperglossia arrived, and I can't wait to bite into it this weekend.

Eileen is always a great reader, bringing her personality and charisma to the work in a easy-going way that invites the audience into a conversation with the work. Her poems always contain a mixture of poetic observation and uniquely personal engagement that gives a push and pull to poems. A quality of attention, a gesture or moment of authentic communication -- communication in the sense of communion, artistic, literary and social.

Julie Schenkelberg at Asya Geisberg Gallery

Yesterday I stopped by Asya Geisberg Gallery and the current exhibition is fucking fabulous. Julie Schenkelberg: Bad Blood features four evocative and provocative installation pieces that have an overwhelming emotional and tactile quality.

These works are made mostly of plaster, construction materials, and dinnerware. They are intricate and overflowing with a kind of destructive excess. A quaint wedding party lost and subsumed in wreckage that hints and disaster and the passing of time. (In fact, I was reminded of the Keats poem, Ozymandias, which I had to memorize in 6th grade...)

Each piece has so many tiny details, little surprises to be discovered, like a cognac glass filled with buttons spied deep in a decaying cabinet. A shoe resting behind the sculpture, containing small orange light bulbs...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Throne of Blood

Last night a friend took me to see Throne of Blood at BAM. Directed by Ping Chong, this play is an adaptation of Kurosawa's film that represents the story of Macbeth set in feudal Japan.

The stage production was fucking amazing. The sets and lighting were both austere and majestic at the same time. A screen across the top of the stage was used with filmed images that were beautiful and dramatic and which added a depth to action, making it larger in scale and more layered in meaning.

The actors moved and spoke in a slow, choreographed, stylized way that heightened the drama and created a sense of suspended tension. Particularly adept at this was the woman who played the "Lady Macbeth" character (I don't recall the Japanese name"). Her restrained and methodical speech was chilling.

The high concept drama was a little cold and impersonal, however. This made one moment stand out for me: during the prolonged segment where "Macbeth" accepts the spear from his wife, just before taking it, he touches her cheek. This was exquisitely poignant, especially in the context of the stark, militaristic atmosphere of the whole play.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The other week I had a real treat: I got to see a reading of Crawlspace, a play by Moira Cutler.

The play centers around a relationship between two women, both artists from the South, who are struggling to understand and articulate their issues around intimacy, love, and art. There were extended moments in their dialogue where I was riveted by the emotional tension.

The invitation I received to the event describes the play as "a Southern Gothic noir and New York Story. A thriller with a lesbian interracial love story at it's heart... Crawlspace spans space and time, taking us back to the backwoods of Appalachia, New Orleans, and New York City of the past, present and future."

Crawlspace is rich with beautifully written and evocative monologues. In fact, I was most struck by the poetry of the playwright's language and felt that this was a very special artistic project.

The reading took place at the Wow Cafe, an all women and trans-inclusive theater collective. I can't wait to see it when it is finished and fully staged!

Jim Hall Quartet

Last night I saw The Jim Hall Quartet at Birdland. The music was very beautiful and soothing but rich and complex.

It's so rare for me to go see jazz, and I definitely need to do it more often. I sometimes feel inadequate because I am not a sophisticated listener, and I can tell that I am missing a lot of what is happening. But I enjoy the total effect very much; I very much enjoy taking in the experience as a whole.

The performance was for Jim Hall's 80th birthday and he was so sweet and humble seeming; you could see how much he loved the musicians he was playing with (Greg Osby, alto sax; Steve Laspina, bass; Joey Baron, drums).

All in all an excellent evening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Provisions at the Nathan Cummings Foundation

A fascinating and rich group show is now on view at The Nathan Cummings Foundation. Provisions, curated by Meridith McNeal and produced by the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation explores food from an intimate yet global and very 21st-century perspective.

The show features 18 contemporary artists, and each work has a complexity and depth that exceeds the theme of "food". Capitalism is implicated in the production and distribution of food, the chasm between abundance and deprivation. But none of these works moralizes; they all work on the viewer through naunced beauty.

I was most gripped by two installation pieces: Flower Eaters, by Claudia Alvarez, is a painfully beautiful sculpture of small children and scattered clay flowers. April Banks' The Price of Rice: Tomorrow I wake Up Hungry is a pile of rice that has been molded into simple bowls, with an image of rice production flickering over the mound. These were haunting, powerful, and richly narrative at the same time that they were aesthetically simple and elegant.

The image here is of a work by Cecile Chong. Several of her pieces were featured in Provisions, and I'm not sure of the technique she uses, but the texture of these paintings reminded me of icing and confection...

Help Me: Found Photos from the Collection of Gillian McCain

Last night I went to an amazing photography show. Help Me: Found Photos from the Collection of Gillian McCain is a beautifully curated exhibition of lost pictures now on view at the Camera Club of New York. The show is co-curated by Gillian McCain and Megan Cump.

These are snapshots, Polaroids, etc, that have been bought, found or stolen by the collector. Her eye for the disturbing and haunted is just uncanny. Every image has a mysterious poignancy. Every image is narratively rich, with so much going on outside the frame, so much depth to the people looking in to the camera.

From a 1960s era woman on the toilet, to a mug shot of "Kathy D. Stoner" what is perhaps most powerful about the photographs in this collection is that they got lost. They are private and personal items that meant something, at some point in time, in some way or another, to someone. And somehow over the years they scattered and found their way into an ebay lot or a flea market shoebox...

This is great show, and the collector has an incredible, distinctive eye.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stranger in Town

Cedar Sigo's newest collection of poetry, Stranger in Town, is formidable and elegant.

The poems differ in style, but the mature, reflexive, and always verbally extremely talented voice of the writer is clear and consistent.

The poems have a polished and statuesque quality -- by which I mean they are perfectly crafted. But the fine technique is by no means formal and dry; there is a quiet, steady urgency to them. An emotional stirring. The writing is virile and muscular, yet delicate and fragile.

I guess what I'm responding to is a core current of content -- the expressive wonder and sometimes disillusionment of the poet in the world. The poet navigating life, love, art, sex, friendship, etc, but always, always navigating writing.

There were so many parts I loved in this book. If I had to choose a favorite poem (and I really really can't choose just one) it would be the prose piece Portrait of Sara Bilandzija which begins: "Not an utter stillness but one with a sometimes buried sometimes flickering spark. It was only to be uncovered via talk and subsequent closeness. Preparing tea without a tray."

Other moments that particularly moved me:

"There was one beauty there to sing
& another to divorce me,
Tell me I needn't fear, be kind"

-- From Song

"...None of this

concerns the poem as pure entrance,

what I have allowed & what I might do...

Fix myself against a long drink, write

out any trace of formal training in praise

of Jack. Go back and visit rulers of the interior.

Let loose our new books and prints."

-- From Showboat

And the final line of Simple Gift:

"Do not temper the spirit."

Friday, October 22, 2010


Well, I finally finished Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, and I have to say, Wow!

It's an in-depth exploration of the emotional lives and psychological struggles of an American family and it delves into a number of characters with such rich, complex, observant detail that I found myself kind of mesmerized.

When I first started it (about three weeks ago?) I was immediately sucked in. Then it dragged, then it picked it up, and then it ended in a wonderful, powerful way. Left me crying and I will miss the Berglunds' presence in my life.

I have to say, my favorite part was the first half, the story of Walter and Patty growing up, their college years, the early part of their marriage. There was something lingeringly anti-climactic about the body of the book; in a way it never completely lived up to its promising start (much like all the characters).

But in the end I was won over. By his prose, by the devotion to each of the characters -- none of whom were totally likable, but all of whom were written with compassion and true authorly respect.

This book has gotten a lot of high praise, and it is certainly impressive and wonderful. However, as great a read as it was, I don't see this as such a groundbreakingly phenomenal literary feat that it seems it is being touted to be. Still, like I said, a great read.

Dusty Boynton at Denise Bibro Fine Art

Last night I went to a wonderful exhibit of art by Dusty Boynton! Dusty Boynton: Out of Line at Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea is a really exciting exhibit of deceptively raw and childlike art. The paintings and drawings sort of crackle with emotion and suggested narrative.

There is something fun and joyous about this work, at the same time that there are dark and kind of frightening undercurrents. I guess that's what I mean by the word "crackle" -- there is so much visceral tension that you can almost hear the energy in the work.

The press release for the show states: "Boynton's new series of works on paper are rendered with exuberant, gestural zest, as she continues to delve deep into the realms of the inner child, emotional conflict, and psychology." This description very accurately captures my experience of the art: alive, happy, sophisticated and dark.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cedar Sigo at the Poetry Project

Last night I saw Cedar Sigo read at the Poetry Project! He is one of my favorite poets. Like all my favorite poets, he has a uniquely personal voice, an intimate ear and so much thoughtfulness, so much intelligence, so much loveliness in those poems.

He gave a great reading. But, since I bought his book and am going to read it this weekend, I'll write more about his work then.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mark Ettinger and Jim Page at Maryhouse

Last night I got to see Mark Ettinger, a beautiful and fun singer-songwriter perform with Jim Page. They were MARVELOUS.

They performed at Maryhouse in the East Village, home to The Catholic Worker, the radical socialist wing of the Catholic Church. The room was filled with protest posters and stacks of the paper, The Catholic Worker.

Mark and Jim were so great! They played to the intimate audience with so much virtuosity and ease. Jim played guitar and sang his songs with Mark playing bass and doing harmonies. The songs were traditional folk/protest songs and they were all very well written. Both performers have lovely voices that work very well together.

I was particularly moved by an anti-Columbus Day song, perhaps because of the timing. I was also struck by a song about "ghost bikes"-- because recently I read about a "ghost stroller" in my neighborhood (which apparently people think was an art project/joke, and not a memorial to a child).

Mark also sang his own songs, which were upbeat and beautiful. His friend Kate harmonized with him, and these pieces really brought the audience together and made for a great night.

I'm so glad I got to go!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Last night I saw Howl at the Angelika.

It was wonderful, a really tight, beautiful, small, focused, important film.

It's focus is really the poem itself. How many movies, if any, have been made about a poem?

Several main sequences are interwoven: Allen Ginsburg reading the poem to an audience; an animated rendition of the poem; the obscenity trial surrounding the film; and a long interview with Allen Ginsburg. Spliced with the interview are small scenes of his early life.

I thought each worked surprisingly well. James Franco was perfect as Allen Ginsburg, and the interview segments were wonderful, so calm and human and writerly; it really seemed to capture the mind and orientation of the artist to the world and to his art. The animated sequences totally worked for me (although I can see people having trouble with them), and really showed a kind of underbelly of the poem. Least interesting to me was the obscenity trial, although the judge's speech at the end was beautiful and provided an important narrative arc to the movie, sort of establishing and foreshadowing the social and artistic impact Howl was to have.

I was very moved by this film, teared up at the end when they told what happened to each person, showing their actual pictures; and then, finally, Allen Ginsburg himself...

censory impulse

I read Erica Kaufman's collection of poems, censory impulse, last weekend in one sitting and it was wonderful.

There is a mysterious, intimate narrative arc to the whole book. Although each poem is excellent, I think censory impulse is not a book to be flipped through and read from here and there (as sometimes read poetry). Taken from beginning to end, something happens between these poems, a subtle transformation of voice, a coming to light.

Which is not to say the poems don't stand alone. Usually when I read poetry I put an asterisk on top of the page of poems I particularly like. This books is now littered with asterisks, as each one is beautiful and stands up with its own solid perfection.

One of many favorites:

via more than just warnings
i need to figure out how
to deal with being modern.

tenacious to consider anything
outside the physical. prefer
mucous to aggression, asthma

to"there's meaning for you
here." my only hobby is
to sketch my own profile.

a continuity scheme all dressed
up and feverish. turn to odor
for incarnations of our story.

presumed casual relations
begin with a broad concept
of the other. develop

the feeling component. sense
impressions turn around. shine
a spotlight. serve as a hub.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sara Powers and Jonathan Dixon at Barbes

Last evening I heard two wonderful prose writers read at Nelly Reifler's series at Barbes.

Sara Powers read from a novel in progress that follows a number of characters from college through the next thirty years of their lives. Her prose is very sharp, insightful, and lovely. The descriptions of college are spot on, unsentimental yet at the same time suffused in a subtle nostalgia.

Jonathan Dixon read from a blog/memoir about his time in culinary school. Again, spot on descriptions. Tight and witty prose. Very funny in fact. He is a very talented writer.

I am very much looking forward to reading these works when they are out.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Fall for Dance!

I went to another Fall for Dance program at City Center tonight! It was awesome.

Although I usually am blown away by flamenco, the first company performed flamenco and I wasn't quite captivated by it. Company Rafaela Carrasco featured a singer with a strained, raspy voice that kind of made me nervous. During the first part of the dance, the female dancer worked with a scarf which was very distracting and annoying. Then, the last three sections of the performance was mainly a tap routine -- it just wasn't as sexy and soulful and moving as flamenco usually is for me.

My absolute favorite part of the evening was New York City Ballet's Red Angels, with a guest artist playing violin. This dance featured two women and two men, and their movements were so cool and intense and quirky and amazing. I was completely transported.

I was very excited to see the Bill T. Jone/Arnie Zane Dance Company. They performed Duet, which was choreographed to strange music and spoken word -- excerpts from a radio interview with John Cage. Although the dancers' movements were beautiful, I felt that the piece was a bit difficult for me. Eventually, however, I got into it, and by the end I was moved emotionally by the piece.

The last company was fucking awesome. The Brazilian Companhia Urbana De Danca performed an dark and aggressive piece set to haunting urban music (ID: ENTIDADES). All the dancers were male, and their movements were so lithe and agile. I was also transported by this piece, fell into its world, and enjoyed it immensely.

Fall For Dance!

Last night I got to see a wonderful program at the Fall for Dance festival at City Center. I think this is the fourth year in a row I've gone. Definitely at least the third year.
The program included:
1. Merce Cunningham Dance Company. I had never seen them before and was particularly excited for this opportunity. They performed XOVER, Cunningham's last collaboration with Rauschenberg. The music was Jonh Cage's Aria and Fontana Mix. I have to say, I've always had trouble with Cage. Because of this, XOVER was difficult for me, and it took me a while to really enter the piece. Once I was there I was transfixed, but the experience seemed rather cerebral to me.
2. Gallim Dance. I had never heard of this company before, but they were FANTASTIC. Really acrobatic and exuberant and joyous and funky. The dance they performed was I Can See Myself in Your Pupil and the music was by an Israeli band called Balkan Beat Box (I'm going to download a CD tonight!). They are the company pictured here.
3. Madhavi Mudgal performing Vistaar. This was Indian dance with live musicians (our seats were so sucky we couldn't see them at all). The dance was beautiful, but kind of monotonous and less interesting than the other pieces in the program.
4. Miami City Ballet performaing "The Golden Section" choreographed by Twyla Tharpe to music by David Byrne. I LOVE Twyla Tharpe and found this dance so dynamic and fun. It was on par with the Gallim piece. It was aggressive and sexy and tight at the same time that it was complex and vast. If that makes any sense. It really uplifted me.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Angelina Gualdoni at Asya Geisberg Gallery

Last night I saw an exhibition of Angelina Gualdoni's haunting, subtle, and enigmatic paintings at Asya Geisberg Gallery in Chelsea.
I was smart enough to arrive at the opening early, because within minutes it was packed.
The paintings are beautiful. Soft and strong at the same time. Rich yet simple. You can spend a lot of time looking at each one. In fact, I'd like to go back and see it again

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just Kids

I came to Patti Smith early, but also slowly.

In 8th grade something drew me to a copy of her poems, Babel. I think it was at Colliseum Books. There was a picture of her on the cover that seemed empirically cool. I just felt something. I loved the poems and did an English class project on the book. I also bought a copy of the album Horses. Unfortunately, I found it weird and difficult to listen to. In high school I would listen to it occasionally, but could really only deal with "Redondo Beach" and "Kimberly".

Then when I was a sophomore in college a friend made me listen to Wave, saying that it reminded her of me.

I was transported. Elevated. Hooked. Patti Smith forever. The more I exposed myself to her, the more amazed I was with the brilliance of her art. As I blogged here, Dream of Life is one of the most beautiful "documentaries" ever made.

So I've been meaning to read Just Kids since it came out at the beginning of this year to rave reviews.

I gobbled it up on my Kindle. I have to say, between my adoration and the amazing things I had heard about it, I was slightly disappointed. Just Kids isn't as artistically beautiful or successful as I had hoped. It's a very, very good memoir of a unique and historically important friendship. A portrait of two young artists in the midst of an historic and wonderful cultural moment. The downtown music and art scene in NY in the late 60s and 70s. It's especially interesting in the way it chronicles the development of Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith as young artists. It's a good read. In a way kind of an important read.

But for the most part the prose is kind of flat. A memoir of her intense, romantic and artistic friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the two brilliant youths at the heart of the story always seemed somewhat remote to me. Something was missing.

Still, in spite of not loving it, I loved it. I was bawling as I read the last few pages chronicling Mapplethorpe's illness and death.

She ends:
"Why can't I write something that would awake the dead?That pursuit is what burns me most deeply. I got over the loss of his desk and chair, but never the desire to produce a string of words more precious than the emeralds of Cortes. Yet I have a lock of his hair, a handful of his ashes, a box of his letters, a goatskin tambourine. And in the folds of the faded violet tissue a necklace, two violet plaques etched in Arabic, strung with black and silver threads, given to me by the boy who loved Michelangelo."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Engaged Observers

I saw a really wonderful exhibit at the Getty, Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography Since the 60s.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to this exhibit I was so wiped out from walking around the Center, taking in the views, appreciating the architecture, and going through the Gerome exhibit, that I was too tired to see the whole the show.

It provided a fairly in-depth look at the projects of several iconic photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark's documenting of homeless teenagers, Larry Towel's investigation of Amish culture, Leonard Freed's work on race relations in the US during the civil rights era, and Lauren Greefield's more recent exploration of the production of femininity and beauty.

I hope this show comes to New York, as I would really have liked to have given it more time.

Gerome at the Getty

While I was in LA I checked out the Getty museum. One of the exhibitions presented the work of 19th Century French painter, Jean-Leon Gerome. I had never heard of him, but his paintings are beautiful and lush and sensuous.

I'm ashamed to admit I don't really know how to look at pre-20th century art, actually. I just don't have a background in art history. So when I look at older art, I just respond in a basic way to what's obviously pretty, obviously intense, etc. So I was most drawn to his nudes of women, and the exotic images of the "Orient".

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Last night Meridita and I saw Tosca in HD outdoors at Lincoln Center.

It was wonderful! We had sandwiches from 'Snice and delicious wine and cookies.

I enjoyed the story, the intensity of Tosca's emotions, and the beauty of the lead singers' voices. But somehow I didn't feel as emotionally drawn is I wanted to be. Gorgeous and tragic, it left me dry-eyed.

This was a new Met production that premiered last season. The set was actually booed! I'm not sure what the audience's issue was. I didn't have a problem with the stark fortress like structure, although the design choices for the interior of the castle seemed off to me, and I couldn't figure out what era the piece was supposed to be taking place in...

Karita Mattila sang Tosca, Marcelo Alvarez was AMAZING as Cavarodossi, and George Gagnidze sang the villainous Scarpia. Joseph Colaneri was the conductor.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Believers

Zoe Heller's The Believers is a deliciously mean-spirited novel that scathingly satirizes the dysfunction of a high-minded socialist family.

Zoe Heller is disturbingly adept at capturing the nuances of social interaction. She does so in such away that that every moment is weighted by social strain, insecurity, and egoism. It's a wonderful quality, actually, and her intelligence and nuance makes up for the fact that the characters are not likable.

In spite of the surface viciousness of much of the novel, there is a lot of heart there, and insight into the human yearning underneath intellectual/ethical contradictions. I was surprised by how moved I was at the end of the novel.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems

I feel emotionally spent, uplifted, transported, hollowed out from reading Jeni Olin's Hold Tight: The Truck Darling Poems in one afternoon.

These poems have so much fucking heart, so much beauty and pain and utter, complex, unequivocal brilliance. She is such an incredible, singularly talented poet.

As usual, when someone's work totally blows me away I find myself at a loss for words. Her poems are so packed with gorgeous phrasing, smart and surprising references, and from this beauty emerges a strong, undeniable, poetic persona that any sane person has no choice but to stand in awe of, if not love.

I was aesthetically and emotionally stricken by every poem in the collection, but some that particularly stood out for me (in no particular order): "Sigil", "Tashi Delek", "Default", "Prematurely Gay", "Anyhoo", "Birthday Poem", "Artist's Statement:" and, "Aftermath" which I will quote in its entirety:

(for Todd Colby)

Something ethical is moving me
away from your beauty. For serious.
You rage like swollen math & allergies
in my brain. In my dreams I am hatching
the hot eggs of black oceanographers.
The massive animal flu of love
has run me down. I am running
the temperature of a star in a ditch.
I inherit other people's dreams
when I'm crushed out on them.
Are you so strong or is it the Black Russian in me?
Can I french you where it hurts one more time
this time with apathy?
Sushi'd out & despairingly acoustic, you
cannot bring sexy back without a receipt.
Hot little animal, hold tight.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kissing Jessica Stein

The problem I have with romantic comedies is that they rarely (if ever) strike me as particularly romantic or particularly comedic. At their best they are cute. Or sweet. Or bittersweet. With a touch of intelligence.

And, for those reasons I really liked Kissing Jessica Stein.

It's about a youngish woman (28) who is smart and charming and neurotic and who can't seem to meet a man. Largely because of what other people judge to be her high expectations. One day she stumbles on a personal ad featuring a Rilke quote which had coincidentally recently moved her. The ad was placed by a woman.

The two meet and they are both very appealing, attractive, smart, talented woman and they have a very sweet (although not too passionate) attraction that they explore. It's very well done and everybody, including Jessica's Jewish mother, is very likable. There are no bad guys.

Annoyingly, Jessica goes back to men. Which just frustrated the fuck out of me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Budos Band and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Last night I went to a fabulous concert in Prospect Park. The opening act was The Budos Band, and they were fucking awesome. Really big soul/funk sound and long, enthusiastic set.

Then Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings performed for two hours and they were incredible. The energy level was unfucking believable.

It was a really great concert and I want to buy both groups' music.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

The other night I saw Tamra Davis' Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child at Film Forum.

The documentary uses extensive footage of Basquiat and the downtown art scene in the 80s to chronicle Basquiat's career. It really brings out the power, beauty and brilliance of his work, and does a great job contextualizing his life. It doesn't overly romanticize or overly pathologize his heroin use, and it is a very strong, tight film.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Taylor 2 & Paul Taylor Dance Company

Last night I got to see Taylor 2 and Paul Taylor Dance Company perform for free at Lincoln Center out of doors.

The lines were long, the sun unforgiving, the heat oppressive, and the seats rather tortuous, but, it was TOTALLY worth it.

The evening started out with two dances by Taylor 2. I am not sure how this company differs from the main one, but the dances were very good, although not great. I enjoyed the lovely, pretty, "Esplanade".

The Paul Taylor Dance Company was utterly spectacular. "Airs" with music by Handel was so beautiful, very classical and balletic. The dancers looked like sparkling moving water. The second dance, "Syzygy" was totally incredible. The music was by Donald York and it was very modern and exciting. The way the dancers moved was surreal. I think it was my favorite. I would love to see "Airs" or "Syzygy" again. The third dance was called "Company B" and it was performed to music by the Andrews Sisters. It was very wonderful and entertaining, but by that stage in the night I was a little tired and my attention wandered...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Torture: The Guantanamo Guidebook

Torture: The Guantanamo Guidebook presents an experiment wherein the filmmakers subject seven volunteers to a recreation of the experience of being held in Guantanamo. The producers explain: According to George Bush, 'torture is never acceptable'. The interrogation techniques used in Guantanamo Bay have been calibrated to fall short of a legal definition of ‘torture’. However, legal experts say they do still constitute torture. The Guantanamo Guidebook reconstructs the regime at the US's Cuban base. For 48 hours, seven volunteers are subjected to interrogation techniques known to be used in the camp, ranging from harassment and abuse to sensory deprivation – with shocking results.

This documentary was very difficult to watch. But, this brought home the fact that the practices which the US engages in and which are not tolerated by the international community, are deeply unjust.

The Weather Underground

The Weather Underground (2002), directed by Bill Segel and Sam Green, documents the rise and fall of the 60s era revolutionary group. The filmmakers present the anti-government radical activities in the context of a culture of protest and civil unrest. The Weathermen split off from other activists groups who were using mostly peaceful means to protest the war in Vietnam. The Weathermen instead went underground and bombed several offices in response to government violence. They worked in hiding and were largely isolated from other protest groups who publicly distanced themselves from the Weathermen. However, by the time the US withdrew from Vietnam, the group had begun to lose internal cohesion, and the end of the war left them without a central focus. By the eighties most of them had turned themselves in. Because prosecuting them would expose many ways in which the FBI broke the law in pursuing them, many of the group did not serve sentences. Many of these members are still involved in social activism.

I thought this was a great documentary. It really provides a sense of who these radicals were and what motivated them, and it was fascinating to listen to them now and hear them reflect on their involvement.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project (2002) tells the story of the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard. Directed by Moises Kaufman, the narrative interweaves the process of playwrights interviewing people in the town of Laramie so that the film is layered.

All the people were portrayed by actors, many who I admire (Christina Ricci, for example; and Steve Buscemi). But I have to say, the acting was spectacularly, unbelievably bad. I have never seen anything so cheesy in my life.

In spite of this major flaw, and the director's tendency to overdramatize emotions, this film tells an important story, and it explores the role of community and societal hatred that informs individual acts of violence.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood

Berlinger& Sinofsky's 1996 documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood, is often riveting as it tells the story of three teenage boys accused of mutilating and murdering three children.

The film exposes the ways in which emotions can dominate the judicial process, the ways in which the media can intrude on people and amplify aspects of events, and the ways in which people who may be considered socially deviant are vulnerable to demonization and injustice.

However, in many ways I found this film lacking in analysis and I was left wondering about the filmmakers' intent. What did they want the viewer to come away with?

The film also had a weird perspective in that it made everybody in the Arkansas town seem crazy. Specifically, the parents of the victim's came off as horrid, ignorant and vengeful, and the filmmakers did not seem to sympathize with their tragic and horrific loss. They were blinded by rage which made them unable to see the innocence of the accused, but I think the filmmakers still could have shown at least a little empathy for that rage.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Billy Redden

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to see a staged reading of Billy Redden, an off-Broadway play currently in rehearsal.

The story is emotionally and technically complex; a thirteen year old is visited by several versions of himself at different ages, ie, in his twenties, forties, etc. These versions of Billy Redden have complicated relationships with each other, and while they are there to try to control the unfolding of life events, the drama seems to really center less on this plot line and more on the psychological prism of self; an entire life and all its nuances captured and refracting itself at one surreal moment.

There is a lot of pain and regret in Billy Redden's life, as well as pride and accomplishment; the bitter frustration was brilliantly portrayed by Dave Chontos, who plays "Will"-- Billy in his forties. Sad, angry, lonely, Chontos' Will seemed to capture and embody the central dramatic tension of the play.

It was wonderful reading and I look forward to the final production.

(My program got wrinkled in my bag, so this is a rather unfortunate image...)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Murderous Maids (Les Blessures Assassines)

Jean-Pierre Denis' 2000 Murderous Maids is restrained, methodical, and unsettling in its retelling of the story of the Papin sisters, two young maids who murdered their employers.

The film is quiet and poised on the surface, just like the two protagonists, and the emotional, social, and erotic disturbances simmer throughout. The dominant sister, Christine, is on the brink of confused despair throughout, and although her character was remote, the actress portrayed such a mix of vulnerability and rage that she emerged as complex and even sympathetic.

The incestuous relationship between the sisters was interesting to me, but somehow the obsession and loneliness that seemed critical to their bond was not relayed fully enough. I guess the intimacy of their connection remained private and hidden, and I wanted to understand it more.

The violent murder includes gouging out the employers' eyes, and this was so intense for me. It seemed that in their horrific outburst, all their rage and shame and frustration was senselessly let loose, all the emotion that was not revealed throughout the movie just suddenly erupted.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Frontline: When Kids Get Life

I just watched the 2007 Frontline report, When Kids Get Life. Often I have trouble with what I perceive to be Frontline's over the top sensationalism, but I thought this documentary was very good.

It examines the issue of life without parole in the case of crimes committed by juveniles, and makes a strong case against this inhumane practice. A practice that no other country embraces. In fact, while the US has over 2,000 juveniles serving life sentences, there are only12 other juveniles in the world serving such sentences.

The stories of the crimes that were committed were very moving, and they chose young men who were very sympathetic. I guess it would be interesting if they had shown an unrepentant crazy asshole or something to round it out. As it is, the families of victims came across as vengeful and narrow minded, in contrast to the families of offenders who came across as sane and pained. So, yeah, there's a bit of a bias there. But I guess since the bias represents my view of the issue I'm less bothered by it and appreciate the rhetoric.


I just watched a recent French version of Bluebeard, directed by Catherine Breillat.

It is an awkward and strange telling of the fairytale. All the characters are remote and inaccessible. The scenes all have a muted, stilted, stagy feeling to them, but somehow this worked. Somehow it made everything seem mysteriously intimate and charged.

The story is told as a story-within-a-story, with two young sister in their attic reading the Bluebeard tale. I didn't really care for this at all, in spite of the fact that the two little girls were incredibly charming.

I was more interested in the Bluebeard part. I'm not really familiar with the story, so I'm not able to compare it to other versions. But what drew me in was the strained and clunky yet delicate and tender relationship between the big, sad, tormented, ugly Bluebeard, and his lithe and serious young bride. The quiet chemistry between them was very touching. Very enigmatic.

The gothic horror element wasn't really lurid and brutal; rather it was suffused with a sense of sorrowful inevitability.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Don't Cry

Mary Gaitskill's shimmering collection of stories, Don't Cry seemed to seep into my heart as I read them.

I'm a big fan of Gaitskill (although I didn't care for her celebrated Veronica and don't know if anything she has written since Bad Behavior effected me as much as that debut collection).

These stories glimmer and twitch with the mundane erotic and neurotic nuances of interaction. Lust, romantic confusion, loss, disappointment. What she is truly great at is capturing the subtleties of emotion that are constantly at play.

My favorite story, "Mirror Ball", describes the interaction of her characters' souls alongside their actual interaction. It is beautifully written. It doesn't seem surreal or magical, because there is such a concrete sense of truth to the idea that in many situations two conversations are going on at once -- the surface one and the nerve-infused one. The nerve infused connections between people come to the surface in each story.

Other favorites: "The Agonized Face"; "Today I'm Yours"; "The Little Boy" -- LOVED that one; and "Description."

I didn't read the last story, "Don't Cry." I was sitting in the waiting room of an MRI testing place, freaking out about what disease I might have, and, needless to say, had trouble concentrating. When I got home just now, I picked it up, and just had the feeling that I was finished. So there.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Wow. I really haven't read a book in a while. This has been quite a reading slump. Well, at least it's over now.

I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. My first Kindle book, actually (and finishing a book on Kindle is not as satisfying as finishing a physical book).

This was the perfect book to get me over the slump. A fast, easy read, it is full of fascinating information and moving personal stories. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has several narrative threads. It's about the extraordinary cells taken from a cervical tumor of a poor black woman in 1951 which turned out to have remarkable reproductive abilities. These malignant cells just keep on reproducing, and the HeLa cell line contributed to many advancements in medicine. At the same time, this part of the story is deeply connected to the medical profession's exploitation of poor black patients as research subjects.

Skloot also investigates the life of Henrietta Lacks, and describes the history of this poor Southern family. In addition, much of the book is devoted to the lives of Henrietta's children, describing their relationship to the medical profession, and how they learned about their mother's special cells.

I'm not describing it very well. Basically, it's a fascinating, multifaceted story that makes a great read.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


After the Dead or Alive show, I went to another exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design -- Intertwined: Contemporary Baskets from the Sara and David Lieberman Collection.

This was a surprisingly diverse, innovative, and beautiful exhibit. Not your average basket weaving, that's for sure. The works were very complex and beautiful. Surprising textures and shapes. Ingenious, creepy and stunning.

Pictured here, Norma Minkowitz's haunting Sisters.