Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Nutcracker at BAM

Last night I saw The Nutcracker at BAM. The company was The American Ballet Theater, and the choreographer was Ratmansky, and it was rather different than the production I saw at Lincoln Center as a child.

An exuberant, silly, cotton candy ballet, it was thoroughly delightful. I got impatient for real dancing during all the kitschy set up in the first act, but was rewarded in the second act.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

War Horse

I guess I enjoyed Steven Spielberg's War Horse. It opened today, Christmas, and I saw it with my mom.

It's ruggedly sentimental, predictably schmaltzy. An epic story of a horse and the boy who loves him. The horse ends up in battle in WWI, and there is a lot of violence and drama. But somehow I felt one step ahead of the story, easily sensing what would be coming next. In spite of this, the narrative and cinematic tricks all worked on me: I cried.

I like it when a movie makes me cry. And I guess I liked this movie, even though I didn't really think much of it one way or the other.

Friday, December 23, 2011

MOMIX Botanica

I saw MOMIX perform Botanica tonight at the Joyce. It was such an incredibly beautiful, awe inspiring, exuberant piece!

Based on the seasons and an exploration of natural processes, Botanica is made of many very short dances, each which inventively -- extremely inventively -- use light, props, and illusion to create stunning visual effects. The dances were humorous, erotic, joyful, and sorrowful, and the dancing was graceful, athletic and energetic. I was so thrilled by each piece. My favorites were the marigold flower dance, the dance with the trees, the horses, and this piece pictured here, where a dancer moves against a mirrored surface -- so sensuous and confounding and complex.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rent Girl

Rent Girl, Michelle Tea's illustrated memoir about being a young hooker in Boston, is totally engaging.

The writing has a light, conversational style that sucks you in. Vignettes are presented in an offhand fashion. Yet the voice deepens and grows on you and I began to feel invested in the narrator. The tales of hooking are gritty and sad, filled with mundane and sometimes humorous details.

Laurenn McCubbin's illustrations add a tremendous amount to the story, really breathing life into aspects of it.

Rent Girl chronicles Tea's relationships and struggles to find a way to get by financially without compromising self or aesthetics, and in this way it's sort of a coming of age story.

I really enjoyed it!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Righteous Dopefiend

I am so glad I read Bourgois & Schonberg's Righteous Dopefiend, an ethnography of homeless injection drug users in San Fransisco.


I had been concerned that this photo-ethnography would be voyeuristic poverty porn, but instead it painted a complex, nuanced, in-depth portrait of human suffering, contextualizing individual lives within a socio-economic and political history. Righteous Dopefiend takes the reader into a "Community of Addicted Bodies", exploring the nature of community, habitual drug use, and biopower. The photographs are disturbing and beautiful, and provide detail, texture, and humanity to the work. In addition to being an excellent ethnographic work, Righteous Dopefiend includes journalistic portraits of unique individuals and relationships, and chronicles violence and abuse. Finally, it includes a thoughtful and realistic analysis of policies affecting homeless and indigent drug users.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Muppets

After dinner on Thanksgiving I went to see The Muppets with my brother and sister in law.

I had never seen the previous two muppet movies, and didn't really have any feeling about muppets one way or another. I thought this one was kind of bland and formulaic and not particularly entertaining. Although a woman sitting near me in the theater was thoroughly enthralled and delighted. Clearly she had grown up adoring the muppets, and this was a meaningful experience for her. Which leads me to believe it is best suited for children and people who are already big fans.

Gender Rebel

The other day I watched a documentary on Watch Instantly called Gender Rebel, which follows a few young genderqueer couples. One is dealing with telling her mom about being genderqueer, another is transitioning, MTF, and it follows the strain placed on her lesbian relationship, and the third follows a young genderqueer who is moving from the East Coast where she doesn't feel safe to San Francisco in search of a community.

I found it to be a very sensitive documentary, with a lot of humanity, and very interesting and engaging for its 45 minutes. It didn't however explore gender issues in much depth or offer any kind of analysis.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ties That Bind

I just finished reading Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences by Sarah Schulman.

I had recommended it for a student, and then thought I should check it out myself. It turned out to be impossible to put down.

Ties that Bind is about the active exclusion of gay people that exists at every level in our culture. The family is a primary, crucial institution for instilling and enacting homophobia and heterosexual privilege, and Schulman unflinchingly examines the injustice of this shunning. It is a call for third party intervention, for others to defend the rights to dignity and inclusion that the victims deserve. It includes very interesting sections on other kinds of victimization and abuse and silencing, which illuminate the particular consequences for queers. It also includes examples from the authors personal history which very powerfully illustrate the injustices of homophobia in the family, as well as in the world of art, entertainment, and publishing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Piano Teacher

I just finished watching The Piano Teacher (on Watch Instantly).

About a decade ago I was on a real Jelinek kick, and read several of her novels, all of which I was really into. I think, if I remember correctly, that I liked The Piano Teacher the least. Still I have been meaning to see the French film version of it for a long time.

So... I just don't know what to think. I suppose that is a good thing, when the director doesn't impose a point of view on you. But it's rather disconcerting.

The Piano Teacher is basically a character study, focusing on a kind of archetypically repressed woman. Hair back, high collared shirt. She is a highly intelligent, highly controlled, curt and acerbic musician who teaches piano at a conservatory. Her personality is so cold, so unforgiving, and so stiff, that it is very difficult to empathize with her. This becomes a particular problem when she mutilates herself, and when she does one very cruel thing to one of her students. Not being able to connect with her makes these things, and others, very agitating to watch.

She lives with her overbearing and unkind mother, and she has a few dark sexual predilections. But the story centers around a relationship between her and student at the conservatory who pursues her, and whom she ultimately engages in masochistic fantasy.

I felt agitated and disturbed throughout the movie. But I was mesmerized by the pacing, the control, and the acting. It was an unpleasant experience, but a powerful one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Mere Future

I LOVED The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman. I read it very quickly, totally captivated by the unique, at times beautifully dissonant, and emotionally sharp prose.

It takes place in Manhattan in the future, and the city has been transformed by a charismatic leader with an astute aesthetic sense. The novel explores a number of interrelated characters. Their inner world and social identity are illuminated by the wonderful writing, and my only complaint is that as the plot quickened I knew the experience would be over before I was ready to say goodbye to the characters.

This was the first book I read on my iPhone. It was kind of ironic, reading a dystopic novel that addresses the alienation of consumerism on the device I am increasingly dependent on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sarah Schulman at RADAR event

Last night I went to a great RADAR event held at Viracocha, a very cool store in the Mission. The reading took place down stairs in a wonderful space (that included a bar!).

Ali Liebegott read from a novel she is working on, and the selection she shared was about an intense scene involving a dog. I really liked the work.

Then Sarah Schulman read from her new novel, The Mere Future, and it sounded like such an interesting and evocative work. In the 90s I read and loved Rat Bohemia and Empathy, and now, in addition to wanting to go out and get The Mere Future, I want to re-read those novels, which I remember as being wonderfully written.

After the reading Michelle Tea interviewed Sarah Schulman and the discussion was fascinating. The audience got insight into Schulman's writing process and experiences as a queer writer making literary space for herself and her community in the world. All in all a great event.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sybil Exposed

Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, by Debbie Nathan, is a marvelous, marvelous read. Completely impossible to put down.

It is a biography of the three central women behind the Sybil book -- the real life Sybil, Shirley A Mason, her shrink, Connie Wilbur, and the author Flora Schriber. It describes the histories and issues of these frustrated women and the ways in which they manipulated and exploited each other. In particular it focuses on the ways in which Wilbur manipulated Shirley into acting out, and the ways in which the diagnosis of MPD was constructed out of thwarted needs and misguided attempts at finding satisfaction. The diagnoses, is a hoax; but it tapped into anxieties and concerns of two generations of American women, the pre-feminist and early feminist women who were negotiating new female identities...

I loved reading this book. I gobbled it up on the plane to Syracuse and back and was disappointed when it ended...

Sidewalk

Sidewalk is a terrific documentary based on Mitch Duneier's ethnography of street booksellers in Greenwich Village. It allows you to really get to know several of the men, and provides an understanding of many of the conditions and obstacles faced by the homeless.

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo is a powerful and gripping documentary about the routine and often sadistic rapes of women in this war-torn country. The violence is at times very difficult to watch, but the documentary is made with sensitivity to this important subject.

No! The Rape Documentary

No! The Rape Documentary is a wonderful exploration of rape in the African American community, particularly looking at the reasons this form of violence is often silenced.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids looked like the kind of movie that I would just hate - a comedy built around a wedding. I never like them. I find the wedding as a dramatic motif so insulting, and the inevitable hysteria so gratingly shrill. It makes me embarrassed to be a part of the civilization.

But I had heard good things about Bridesmaids so I thought I'd give it a try. And, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. The central character is the maid of honor for her best friend, and enters a rivalry with another one of the bridesmaids who is this just too-perfect woman (played by Rose Byrne who is very wooden and annoying in Damages). Obligatory hilarity ensues.

The thing is, the hilarity is actually well-written and well-acted. The lead, Christine Wiig (I think) is very funny and very relatable, and she carries the whole movie. In spite of some very over-the-top moments, and some very broad comedy, Bridesmaids is enjoyable and worth watching.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Zipper Mouth

Holy shit, I loved Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks so much! I heard her read some sections of it last week at the Luggage Store and was totally entranced. My mouth watering for more, I soon downloaded the novel onto my Kindle and proceeded to devour it.

The writing is fast, with complicated energized manic sentences taking you into the whorls of the narrator's mind. Neurosis, desire, self-contempt and humor all collide in this searing story of a self.

The narrative goes back and forth in time, somewhat crazily and at times jarringly. The protagonist is a lesbian junkie living in a quagmire of self-consciousness and deeply attuned to her mental and emotional processes. Her story is a pastiche of different moments, the present seemingly focused on an unrequited crush on a straight girl.

What makes Zipper Mouth so delicious is the smart, observant, transcendent prose ("the car's interior erotic with the heat of our narcissism"). I hate myself for not having written this. Not that I ever could or would.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

RADAR series at the Luggage Store

On Wednesday night, after a LONG ASS day of work, I went to a reading at the Luggage Store sponsored by RADAR Productions.

It was a great night of queer literature. The prose readings were particularly strong, and my favorites were Alvin Orloff, reading from a novel, Why Are You Smiling? and Laurie Weeks reading from Zipper Mouth. Why Are You Smiling? tells the story of an awkward teenager in the 70s, and the selection he read from included an encounter with a handsome and charming born-again. Zipper Mouth is amazingly written prose exploring neurosis and obsession, and the selection she read included a marvelous rant directed at Judy Davis.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Prohibition, Episode 1 ("A Nation of Drunkards")

Ken Burns' three-part documentary, Prohibition, is a detailed look at the social history surrounding the 18th Amendment. Last night I watched Episode 1 on the PBS website.

This hour-and-thirty-eight-minute episode ("A Nation of Drunkards") provides rich detail about the rise of the temperance movement, starting prior to the Civil War. It discusses the social role of alcohol in the US from the colonial era forwards.

Prohibition includes evocative still footage of the era, and in-depth profiles of some of the key figures in the temperance movement. In particular, it highlights the role and political agency of women in this campaign and the effectiveness of their dogged, determined, collective action.

So far the second and third episodes of Prohibition aren't available on the PBS website, but I have them in my Netflix queue. Can't wait to watch them.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Picasso at the de Young Museum

This morning I went to see the Picasso show at the de Young Museum, Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris. The exhibition was incredibly crowded and I was irritated at the beginning, but gradually I just gave in to the fact that it was a fairly unpleasant viewing situation. Once I relaxed on it I was able to enjoy the show a lot more. Also, I gave myself permission not to take in every single piece.

It was marvelous to see so many Picassos that I had never see before, and just as wonderful seeing things in real life that I had only before seen reproductions of. This show made me appreciate him much more than I had done before. I saw more joyousness in the works than I had previously been aware of, as well as more darkness and depth. It was a very good show, a very good experience, and I'm glad I went. (It closes tomorrow and I almost blew it off this weekend).

Summer Hours

Last night I watched Summer Hours on Watch Instantly. This French movie is about three adult siblings dealing with the estate of their recently deceased mother. The family was related to a significant artist who had a significant art collection, and dividing up and selling the estate was a formidable and slightly emotional affair. In addition were revelations about their mother's relationship with the uncle (the artist).

This was a simple movie, well acted, with very little drama. I enjoyed watching it, but was a bit perplexed because there was only the vaguest emotional center grounding it. The estate itself was sort of the main character, with the actors assuming different relationships to it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

28 Days Later

Last night I watched 28 Days Later. I had actually seen it when it first came out, but have no memory of it. I do, however, remember watching the sequel a couple of years ago and being totally taken by it.

28 Days Later takes place 28 days after a horrible virus has gotten loose. It turns the infected into zombie-like homicidal maniacs within seconds of being bitten. It would be cheesy except it's so well crafted. The story follows a man who awakens from a coma in a deserted hospital in a deserted London and doesn't know what has happened. Luckily he meets up with two humans who haven't been infected and who have somehow managed to survive. They meet up with some others, lose some along the way to the raging infected, and eventually find their way to an estate that is protected by nine military men. It turns out being with these guys is pretty terrible as well.

28 Days Later is a scary and haunting movie, and I'm looking forward to watching the sequel a second time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turandot at the San Fransisco Opera

Tonight I saw Turandot at the San Francisco Opera. I got $30 tickets through work, and, as I don't really know any opera lovers out here (yet), I went by myself.

I have to say, going to the opera alone really does take a fair amount of the fun out of the experience. (An opera just isn't an opera without Meridita) But I did my best. I got there early and enjoyed a plate of prawns and lentils in the house's downstairs restaurant, with a glass of wine, of course.

This was my second Turandot, and although I appreciated the story much more the second time around, I think I prefer the Met's production. The set tonight was designed by David Hockney and it had bold, flat colors -- fire engine red against black or Mattise-blue. It just had a cut out cartoony feeling to me, at least compared to the Met's lavish set. Also, at the Met I've almost always had orchestra seats, and these were grand tier and were farther away. It was actually a little difficult to hear the singers at some point.

Calif (Marco Berti) sang well but I wasn't drawn by his performance and he really does need to carry the whole opera. Although the Nessum Dorma totally sucked me in. It's just such stirring music; you can feel the whole audience holding its breath. As in the Met production, I preferred the singing and the role of Liu (Leah Crocetto) to Turandot (Irene Theorin). All in all, I enjoyed Puccini's lush and romantic music, and am glad I went.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Downton Abbey

Last night I finished watching the PBS mini-series Downton Abbey. I gobbled it up on Watch Instantly. Actually, I had started it a few months ago, based on a review on Bitch Magazine's blog. But I couldn't get into it then. Recently, someone else recommended it and I got totally sucked in.

It takes place in 1914 on a large English estate. It is a melodrama about the wealthy family that might lose the estate, the cousin who stands to inherit, and the romantic possibility of him marrying their eldest daughter. She, Mary, is somewhat of a haughty bitch with whom it's hard to sympathize. But her acting is strong and nuanced. There is an intense rivalry between her and her middle sister. Also, about half the drama centers around the household staff. It's kind of an Upstairs Downstairs affair (I never saw that though).

Anyway, Downton Abbey has lots of deliciously bitchy characters, some really villainous. And then there were the good guys, who were always dignified and said just the right thing. Crisp, wry, British dialogue. Maggie Smith was just wonderful. Fun to watch in her elegant, haughty curmudgeonliness. Unfortunately, Elizabeth McGovern, as the American wife and head of the house was rather stilted and awkward in her performance...

The second season of the series starts in January. I don't have a TV, so I'm not sure what I will do. I might have to inflict myself on my friend/neighbor. Or else, buy a TV...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Everything Must Go

A few nights ago I watched Everything Must Go, a movie staring Will Ferrell based on a Raymond Carver story. It is about an alcoholic who loses his job on the same day that his wife kicks him out of the house -- changing the locks and leaving all his stuff on the front lawn.

I think you are meant to think that he's the jerk in the situation, because he's an alcoholic fuck up. But really I couldn't get passed how fucked up it was of the wife to leave his stuff out and to cancel his access to their joint account. Leaving him with absolutely nothing to do. You are supposed to get past this and become absorbed in his dilemma and the bittersweet way that he deals with it, living on his lawn, befriending the son of neighborhood home care worker, and the pregnant woman across the street. And I did enjoy most of the movie. The acting was good, the dialogue solid, the plot engaging. But there were a lot of holes and in the end I didn't feel like I had anything invested in any of the characters.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Valencia

I just devoured Michelle Tea's Valencia. I downloaded it on Kindle last night and couldn't put it down. When I got too tired to stay up, I forced myself to go to sleep, and woke at seven this morning to finish it.

It is so fun, so fast, so sexy. Well written, with lots of wry, smart observations. A charismatic, slightly manic voice telling wonderful stories about youth wildly thriving in a particular era. (It is very nineties -- one thing that hit me was when she writes about calling from pay phones and getting answering machine messages. Gone are those days).

I haven't been able to read anything since I started preparing for my move to San Francisco, and I think it's fitting that this the first book I've read since I got here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Born Innocent

Born Innocent is a made-for-TV movie that I saw when I was a child. It made quite an impression on me, because I'm pretty sure I even went out and read the book. I hadn't seen it since the 70s, and for some reason felt curious about seeing it again. I knew it would be cheesy, but I thought it would be a guilty pleasure kind of thing.

Born Innocent is about a 14 year old runaway who ends up in a state facility for girls. Immediately the culture of the girls is rough and confrontational, and innocent Chris (played by Linda Blair) is not there too long before she is gang raped with the handle of a plunger by a group of her peers. It is a disturbing, awful scene. She is traumatized and ends up telling a teacher at the institution. Though the teacher believes her, the other adult doesn't. In any event, the possibility that girls are gang raping each other is glossed over.

The girls are tough in a ridiculous cartoon way that is hard to relate to, but you sympathize with Chris simply because she has such a youthful, cherubic face. When she gets to go home, it turns out her mother is kind of crazy and her father is violent and they don't want her. Back in the institution, Chris begins to harden. There is a silly food fight, the loss of a baby, and then a seriously violent riot, instigated by Chris bullying the adult supervisor. In the end, despite the efforts of a sympathetic teacher, Chris has lost her innocence and is a tough girl like all the others.

The homophobic undertones and the blase treatment of violence, combined with the adults' wistful, earnest, over-the-top acting was bizarre, and although I did enjoy Born Innocent, I also felt kind of sick while I was watching it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Politics of Injustice

The Politics of Injustice: Crime and Punishment in America by Beckett and Sasson offers a persuasive argument against get-tough-on-crime policies, and puts forth an analysis of mass incarceration that implicates conservative rhetoric, underlying racism, the war on drugs, and private interests in the dire situation we see today.

Although making a clear thesis throughout, the problem of the crime issue is never oversimplified. The relationship between political rhetoric and strategy, mass media, and public opinion is particularly nuanced. In conclusion the authors recommend adopting alternative sentencing, ending the war on drugs, decriminalizing drugs, reinvesting in social programs, and instituting gun control.

This is an excellent book for undergraduates.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, staring Matt Damon and based on a Philip K. Dick story, is an engaging movie that is a little sillier than it intends to be, and not as gripping or suspenseful as it needs to be.

It has a fascinating premise -- after a chance meeting with an engaging woman, Matt Damon's character walks into his office to find everything frozen and dapper men in hats, as wells as some in protective gear, doing something sinister to his colleague. It turns out he has seen something he wasn't supposed to see, and had walked into the parallel universe where these slightly sinister, slightly robotic, and extremely rational men make "adjustments" on humans so everything goes according to some plan laid out by the "chairman."

This at one time a conventional, and rather charming, love story at the same time that it is a sci-fi adventure. Matt Damon and the woman are very engaging to watch, but their encounters defy the plan and they must escape being adjusted if they want to be together. There are many surreal twists, where actors go through door after door that opens into surprising and illogical spaces.

The acting is good, and the men in hats are spooky, but ultimately it was kind of a limp movie. A lame debate about fate versus free will is interspersed throughout The Adjustment Bureau, and the ending was both corny and kind of unsatisfying. Also, it wasn't scary enough.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Damages: Season 1

This week I was obsessed with Damages: Season 1, which I watched on Watch Instantly, two to three episodes at a time.

This series is about a law firm, headed by Glenn Close, that is involved in a complicated high profile case. The defendant, Frobisher, is played really well by Ted Danson. Close plays Patty Hewes, a steely, sometimes creepy, and driven attorney who you can't trust. The drama also centers on a young attorney new to the firm, Helen. I grew to dislike this actress who seemed both wooden and limp at the same time, and was out of her league in terms of the acting talent in the cast.

The story has many twists and turns and you never know who to trust. It also leaps back and forth in time in a way that enhances the suspense and tension. I liked this a lot, but by the end it felt exhausting and strained, and I was a little sick of it. Still, will I watch Season 2?

Absolutely!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Kennedys

Over the last few days I watched The Kennedys, an 8-part made for TV movie that mainly centers on Jack Kennedy's presidency.

I found it to be very lukewarm. There wasn't enough politics or social context to make it really exciting or relevant. It was more of a personal drama, which is fine, but a central story line, between JFK and Jackie Kennedy was very weak. Katie Holmes played the First Lady, and in striving to be "graceful" she came across as remote and a little dim. There was no spark there. Nor was there any spark between her and Kinnear, who played Jack Kennedy. I didn't feel them fall in love or sense any bond between them. This made their marital troubles seem just oh so blah and unimportant.

The most engaging part of The Kennedys was the relationships between the three central men, Jack, Bobby and Joe. These scenes crackled and Tom Wilkinson was wonderful as the domineering and ambitious father. And by the end, I was horrified by Bobby's assassination (Jack's just felt like so what).

Ted Kennedy was nowhere to be seen. In fact the only other one of the siblings in the film was the sister who got lobotomized. Her brief storyline was presented only in relation to her parents, not her brothers.

All in all, this was watchable but forgettable.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shutter Island

The other night I watched Shutter Island on Watch Instantly. Actually, I finished watching it yesterday afternoon, and had been watching it in bits at night for a while.

I did not enjoy this movie. It seemed to employ every cliche in the book -- cliches about mental institutions and evil doctors; detective story/noir cliches; and horror film cliches. It felt really labored watching the actors make it through.

However, the ending kind of throws everything out of whack and kind of makes up for the heavy handed shlock. It's one of those movies you think about a lot after it's over, in spite of its flaws; and one of those movies you might watch again, just to see it from the beginning knowing how it ends.

To summarize the premise of Shutter Island, a federal marshal and his new partner are investigating a missing patient at an institution for the criminally insane. The hospital is on an island that can only be gotten to by ferry which is controlled by the institution. Once there, the two investigators are isolated in the creepiest of environments, and it is possible that they are victims of an evil conspiracy...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gertrude Stein: Five Stories

I just got back from a wonderful exhibition at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. "Gertrude Stein: Five Stories" is an aesthetic exploration of Stein's life told in five sequences.

The first, "Picturing Gertrude", presents young photos of her and her family, but is really focused on her as she was photographed by significant artists. In this way, it is very much about Stein's unique and formidable appearance. To understand this woman and writer, and her impact on art, means understanding what she looked like.

The second, "Domestic Stein," focuses on her life with her partner, or "wife", Alice B. Toklas. This section chronicles their domestic partnership and the creation of their home, salon, and fashion aesthetic. Again, it is represented largely through photographs of the two women. They were photographed together as a couple frequently, and this "story" was particularly significant in that in anchors Stein's life and persona in her lesbian relationship.

Perhaps the most important "story", and literally the central one, is "The Art of Friendship" which presents the artistic and social circles which Stein inhabited. The many famous men who Stein was friends with are a critical part of her legacy. Yet somehow (and I'm really not sure why) I found this the least dynamic part of the show. It seemed a little rushed, too. Interestingly though, it took it's time with her opera and theater collaborations, and included footage from a dramatic ballet which Stein wrote the words for. I had no idea she created librettos...

The fourth part, "Celebrity Stein" chronicles her tour of America, her fame in her own country following the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and follows her interest in the World War and her writings on war. Interestingly, the exhibition mentions that she and Toklas were protected Jews during the Nazi occupation of France, but there is little information as to what this was like for the couple.

The fifth and final "story", "Legacies" showcases the impact Stein had on art after her death. Featuring the Andy Warhol portrait, this section includes pieces by Glen Ligon and other's (I can't remember the name of the female artist whose work was an inverted image of Stein created entirely with spools of thread, seen through a glass viewer...).

The sections that were most significant for me were the second and fifth. It was very moving seeing a public lesbian relationship from that era highlighted and given significance. The small final section put her enduring work into context.

Although each story included brief bits of text from Stein's work, I would have liked if more of her unique and difficult language was included.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Damage

I watched Damage last night on Watch Instantly. This early 90s film by Louis Malle (who I love) stars Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche as sexually obsessed lovers.

Binoche's character, Anna, is dating Jeremy Irons' character's son. Binoche and Irons have an intense erotic attraction that neither of them can ignore, but for some reason Anna doesn't leave the son. I found this to be a major flaw in the movie. Or a major character flaw. It made her unlikeable to me. Irons' character was of course unlikeable too, but his quiet and pained performance commanded much more sympathy. Binoche's Anna was presented as mysterious and having a tragic past, and presented as emotionally elusive... Perhaps a kind of femme fatale... In any event, in spite of the sexual heat, there was something cold and impenetrable (and a little boring) about their relationship). Although the ending was beautifully executed and powerful, there was something empty about it. I suspect this emptiness comes from Irons' restrained performance: his emotions for his son (and anyone else) were not accessible, and this made the ultimate tragedy seem sort of academic in a way.

At first I was turned off by Damage. But I got sucked in and really began to appreciate it. (By the way, it's possible I've seen it before, certain scenes, including the haunting ending, were extremely familiar to me)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Blithe Spirit

Last night on Watch Instantly I watched the 1945 English film, Blithe Spirit about a married man who becomes haunted by his previous wife. The film centers around the upheaval this causes in his marriage.

The dialogue is very taut and crisp. Fast-paced banter that at times is too quick, too sharp, a bit too bitchy, and too... verbal. It's a very verbal talky film, but because it's so well written and well-paced it is thoroughly enjoyable. It also features a hilarious and earnest medium.

Blithe Spirit moves very quickly and has a breezy feel. Although a ghost story, there is no gloom and doom (in fact it is VERY blithe).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love

The day before I left for San Francisco (three days ago) I saw Crazy, Stupid Love with my mother.

This sensitive, yet slightly screwball romantic comedy was just what I needed to calm my nerves.

Starring Steve Carell, it's about a long married man with kids whose wife (Julianne Moore) suddenly wants a divorce. He finds himself adrift in the singles bar scene and a suave younger man (Ryan Gosling) takes him under his wing. There's a whole Eliza Doolittle situation that goes on for a while. Then the movie focuses more on the damage to the family and the emotional needs of the characters. There are a couple of subplots as well, and everything comes together in an amusing, improbably mess. Of course, things resolve the way you want them too (except for one subplot with the teenage son; as the Times wrote, this resolution was "icky and insensitive").

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dr. John, Chuck Brown, and Red Baraat!

I saw an AMAZING concert last night at Celebrate Brooklyn. It was fan-fucking-tastic.

I went to see Dr. John -- who was fabulous. So great. Exactly how I expected him. No disappointment there. He is fantastic.

But, I was also blown away by the two opening acts. Red Baraat, a "Bhangra funk" band that included a lot of brass (including a sousaphone) was so incredibly energetic and exciting. I loved their funky, Indian-inspired, eclectic sound. It was hard not to dance (although I didn't). They kind of reminded me of Balkan Beat Box, who I love as well.

Next up was Chuck Brown, who I also had never heard of. He is apparently the godfather of go-go (had to look that up this morning). He had the deepest voice I ever heard and his funky "go-go" music was incredible. Again, hard not to dance (although again, I didn't).

Finally, Dr. John. The audience went wild for him.

The awesome concert made me very happy, but for some reason I got very tired toward the end and was wiped out from all the incredible musical talent and energy.

(the photo here isn't from last night; I got it off the internet, but I think he was wearing the same outfit.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dear Zachary

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about his Father is a moving and gripping story about a young doctor who is murdered. The filmmaker was a childhood friend of the man, and he started making this documentary as a kind of letter to the man's son (who had not yet been born at the time of the murder).

The wonderful footage of the life of the murdered man, Andrew Bangby, really made you feel like you knew him; it definitely captured his spirit and worked as a perfect memorial. However, the film was more than a testament to this great guy. It chronicles his parents in the aftermath of the murder trying to get custody of his child, Zach. Zach's mother is the one who killed Andrew, and the court drama surrounding her extradition is a big part of the film. Andrew's parents emerge as these wonderful, brave, loving, and wronged people. You really feel their intense grief, and feel like they are so strong throughout this terrible experience. And things only get worse...

Dear Zach tells a good story. However, I felt the style was too frenetic. I would have liked a slower, more straightforward telling. Also, it moralized slightly at the end about having a swifter surer justice system, and I'm not sure how I feel about it taking that direction.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Feelies!



Last night I saw The Feelies at Celebrate. They were amazing! It was truly an awesome show.

Awesome in spite of the 100+ degree heat yesterday. Sitting at the bandshell I was sweating my fat ass off. But it was totally worth it.

I remember The Feelies from college. I had the album The Good Earth, and I listened to it all the time. I wasn't aware of their other albums, but everything they played last night was terrific. I don't know how to describe their music, so I won't.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Maurice

The other night I watched Maurice, the 1897 Merchant-Ivory movie based on the book by EM Forster.

Recently I badly wanted to read the novel, but it is not available on Kindle. I had heard that it's a frank story about a gay man in England at the turn of the century, and was very curious about it. It was published posthumously.

Maurice is a young gay man that has an intense romantic friendship with a college friend. The romance is physical, but it seems that the friend, played by Hugh Grant, never wanted to go all the way sexually (if I understood correctly). Eventually Grant's character becomes too afraid of living the life of a gay man, and renounces his romance with Maurice and marries a woman.

Maurice is tormented by his sexual feelings and goes to a doctor and hypnotist, to no avail. Eventually (SORRY: Giving away the plot), a servant falls in love with Maurice and pursues him. They have a few passionate encounters, a little relationship drama, and the movie ends with them together. How they would navigate the class and sexual mores of the time is unclear.

Maurice is beautifully and sensitively told, and I'm not sure why I didn't quite love it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Inside Job

I just finished watching Inside Job, the documentary by Charles Ferguson about the economic meltdown. It gave me such intense agita to watch this. Although there was little information that I wasn't already aware of, it was intense having the story all laid out. The interviews were great. Some very pointed questions were asked, and evaded, and there were some tense moments. Basically, the power held by a small group of the super wealthy is just unconscionable, and the extent to which they are intertwined with government is truly frightening.

Steel Pulse at Celebrate

Last night I saw Steel Pulse perform at Celebrate Brooklyn.

It was an incredibly crowded concert with awesome energy in the audience and it felt wonderful and exciting to be there. The music was terrific -- they sounded great, and I enjoyed dancing.

Only problem was, I went by myself, and it just wasn't as fun as it would have been had I been with a friend.

I got there early to get a good seat, but everybody was standing so that was moot, I couldn't see a thing. But, like I said, they sounded great. Because I spent so much time waiting on line and waiting in the venue for the concert to start, once it did I had to pee like a motherfucker which was distracting. I left the concert an hour in. It was a great show, but I had to pee and I kind of was done.

Right now I think I'm going to download some Steel Pulse. I loved them and really hadn't heard them since college.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pride NYC 2011

Yesterday was the first time I went to the Pride parade in about a decade. It was so much fun! My friends and I had a great spot on 19th and 5th, right behind the barricade. It was awesome. Although on an intellectual level I'm critical of the institution of marriage, it was thrilling celebrating Pride a day (or two?) after New York passed gay marriage. Very exciting.

The weather was perfect, warm and mild. Not too hot, not too sunny, not too humid, and the spirit in the crowds was great.

Topped the afternoon off with many margaritas at Rosa Mexicano...

Least Weasel Chapbook Launch

On Saturday night I went to a wonderful reading reception for the launch of 6 new chapbooks by Least Weasel.

The readers were:

Brenda Iijima, who read from Glossematics; Joanna Fuhrman, who read from The Emotive Function; Christopher Funkhouser, who sang his poems from Electro perdix; erica kaufman, who read from the amazing Instant Classic; and Christina Strong, who read from Fifth Plateau. The sixth reader, Jane Rice, couldn't be there, so the publisher read from her book of poems, The Truth About the World.

It was a great evening of interesting, well-crafted poetry. I enjoyed Fuhrman, Iijima, and kaufman's work the most.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Muriel's Wedding

I am pretty sure that I had liked Muriel's Wedding when it first came out in the early 90s, so I was surprised by how intensely it grated on me and turned me off when I watched it again last night on Watch Instantly.

About 25 minutes in I turned it off. The screeching mean girls did not seem funny to me. Muriel's awkwardness and neediness just seemed sad, and I found there to be something unlikable about her.

However, friends on facebook encouraged me to keep watching. And I was rewarded with a few wonderfully awkward and interesting moments. Particularly worthwhile was Rachel Griffiths as Muriel's true friend. Still, overall Muriel's Wedding was shrill and pathetic, with a lot of unredeemed meanness. Muriel's family was so sad that I could find no humor in it. And the woman who played her mother was so good at portraying the beaten down hopeless and neglected wife that it was her sadness and tragedy that stood out most for me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Look! Look! Feathers

Mike Young is an amazing prose writer!

I just finished a sharp, dynamic, poignant, and expertly written collection of his short stories, Look! Look! Feathers.

These stories take place in pockets of suburban subcultures. Often written from the collective first person (is that the phrase? what I mean is the narrator speaks from the perspective of "we"), there is a strong sense of community within these small towns and cliques, a sense of belonging even while there is simultaneously a strong undercurrent of alienation, isolation, and twenty-first century futility.

What stands out most about these stories is the powerful crackling prose. The writing is fast and just bursts. I want to quote at great length, to give a sense of the spit-fire energy. The characters all have a dynamism because they are wrapped in this wonderful friction of language.

I enjoyed all the stories immensely. My favorite, however, was "Susan White and the Summer of the Game Show", about what happens to a small town when an invasive reality show descends on them. Also, "Stay Awhile If You Can". Oh, it's hard to choose -- I loved them all.

Hal Willner's Freedom Rides Project at Celebrate Brooklyn

Last night I went to an interesting concert in Prospect Park, one I had been looking forward to for a while. Hal Willner's Freedom Rides Project brought together some musicians I was very excited to see: Toshi Reagon, Lou Reed, Roseanne Cash... The event was to commemorate and celebrate the Freedom Riders 50 year anniversary.

I'm afraid I was a bit disappointed in the event. It seemed not to have cohesion, and, more importantly, it seemed to lack in spirit.

The audience was all white, which I was not expecting. The large band that backed the performers seemed at times to be competing with them, and the contemporary arrangements at times seemed a bit discordant, cacophonous, and uncomfortable. For instance, a marvelous and powerful singer, Catherine Russell, had to belt out her song on top of them, and it took away from my ability to hear and appreciate her amazing voice.

Things seemed to pick up more when Tao Seeger came on; I think he was the first performer to directly address the Freedom Riders and the civil rights movement. He was a great, energetic, charismatic perform aer, and he got the audience singing with him. However, it felt a bit awkward or off, being in an all white audience singing about the freedom of riding on the front of the bus.

Toshi Reagon was awesome. She came on next and also talked about rights movements, comparing the civil rights movement to the need for women's rights right now. Her two numbers were wonderful.

I really wanted to hear more of Roseanne Cash, Tao Seeger, Catherine Russell, and Toshi Reagon. They all stood out for me (much more so than then straining Eric Mingus) (even more so than Lou Reed -- it was cool to see him live, but he seemed a bit to be phoning it in).

All in all, a good but uneven show.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Memorial reading for Akilah Oliver

Last night I went to a memorial reading for the dear, wonderful, deeply questioning, and relentlessly beautiful poet Akilah Oliver. It was held at The Poetry Project, and sponsored by belladonna.

A number of poets read their own work in tribute to her or inspired by her, which was very touching. Most read from Akilah's own impressive, incredible body of work -- her explorations of desire, of subjectivity, race, culture... and most piercingly, of loss and grief. Her poems all contain a lucid, brave, and vulnerably honest voice that haunts me and makes me so sad for her passing.

One former member of Akilah's group, The Sacred Naked Nature Girls, performed, nude, riding a bicycle. It was heart wrenching, in part because Laura Meyers was such a talented performer, but also because it invoked a younger Akilah, the Akilah right before I met her in 1996. I remember her talking about The Sacred Naked Nature Girls, and wishing I had had an opportunity to see them. I felt Akilah's presence so sharply and sweetly during this performance.

At the end of the reading there was a screening of her reading her own work. It was so intense -- after two hours of people reading her work, invoking her through her language, to see her physically, in high resolution, and to hear her warm, firm, and living voice. The last line was, I believe, "someone is calling my name" -- and, of course, we all were, and are, and will for a long, long time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bright Stream

I saw a marvelously joyous ballet last night: American Ballet Theater's production of The Bright Stream at the Met.

This ballet was originally produced in Russia in 1935, and was re-choreographed by Ratmanksy in 2003. It is a comedic ballet that takes place on a farm collective, and has a silly and somewhat complicated plot. It involves a dancer dressed as a dog, a man in a Sylphide costume, a woman dressed as a man, and elderly gentleman on a bicycle.

I, however, did not worry myself over the narrative one bit. Instead I enjoyed the rousing music and delightful dancing. The evening was such a pleasure. When it was over I felt like I wanted to see an entire other act.

Our seats were in the highest section, which made it somewhat difficult to really see the dancers, but allowed me to appreciate the choreography and entire staging. Also, the long thinness of the ballerinas arms was particularly apparent and lovely from afar.

The score is by Shostakovich, and the principal dancers were Paloma Herrera, Marcelo Gomes, and Gillian Murphy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ballet Nacional de Cuba: La Magia de la Danza

I LOVE ballet! And I'm so glad I got to see Ballet Nacional de Cuba present La Magia de la Danza at BAM tonight!

The performance featured scenes from several classic ballets: Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Don Quixote, and Swan Lake, as well as another ballet, Gottschalk Symphony. The classic ballets were all re-choreographed by Alicia Alonso, the Director of the company. Unfortunately I am not familiar enough with any of these ballets to appreciate her changes.

It was a remarkably beautiful and joyous evening. The dancers were amazing. Even though our seats were very high up, I felt I could see everything quite well and could take in the full staging.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Low Life 5: Flaming Queens at the Howl! Festival

I enjoyed a wonderful set of performances on the main stage at the Howl! Festival in Tompkins Square Park. Particularly entertaining was Low Life 5: Flaming Queens, a raunchy and dynamic drag cabaret.

The acts included a trio of bishops or cardinals dancing to an image of a crucified Justin Beiber (and going down on him); a terrific Diana Ross impersonator; a sexy male stripper; and a French duo costumed circa 1700s (or whatever, point is: great wigs)