Sunday, January 29, 2012

Albert Nobbs

Last night I saw Albert Nobbs, a film starring Glenn Close about a woman in 19th century Dublin who has lived her entire life as a man.

Glenn Close's subtle and painful performance was brilliant, although rather difficult to watch. Albert Nobbs is a repressed, clueless waiter in a hotel, who has no understanding of human emotions and who is deeply isolated. He meets another man who is in fact a woman and who lives very happily with another woman. This idea of domesticity and companionship opens up possibilities for Albert, who chooses a maid in the hotel to be his future partner. She is in love with someone else and toys with Albert. The scenes of their stilted courtship are awkward and unpleasant, and you realize that there is no hope for him.

Albert Nobbs was very interesting, but in spite of the melodrama and great acting, it left me kind of cold.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Yiddish With Dick and Jane

The other day I read Yiddish With Dick and Jane, a wonderful book following the format of the classic children's reading primer.

Dick and Jane have separate families, and the storyline, although written in that "see-Jane-run" style, includes adult themes such as a grandmother having a stroke, Dick's wife cheating on him, homosexuality, and Jane's sister's adult unhappiness. The book is hysterical and each page introduces a new Jewish word, such as schlep ("See Jane schlep - Schlep Jane, schlep") and nu and many others.

It is such a fun book it has inspired me to order Drek!: The Real Yiddish Your Bubbe Never Taught You.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's most recent movie, is a very pleasant, delightful, easy going movie. It's about an American man and his fiancee in Paris; he is a screenwriter who regrets not having pursued a career as a fiction writer, and is working on his first novel. His fiance is negative and unsupportive, and seems fixated on material things while he is grappling with creative struggles.

He romanticizes Paris in the 20s, and miraculously gets transported back to that era, where he interacts with the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and the surrealists. During these encounters he becomes more inspired to pursue his art and make a meaningful life for himself.

The time travel and scenes with key figures from the literary and artistic era were well executed. Light and breezy, filled with clever dialogue and interesting insight. Owen Wilson played the traditional Woody Allen character, and he was so agreeable and likeable -- he really brought something to the role, making him sympathetic so that you are on his side (which, for me, is usually not the case with the Woody Allen persona)

My only problem with Midnight in Paris was the portrayal of the fiancee and her family. They were very broadly drawn and it was hard to take the relationship troubles too seriously. Because of this it lacked a dramatic center.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Yesterday I saw Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at The Brooklyn Museum. This is an exhibition of portraiture by gay artists exploring coded depictions of gender and sexuality through time.

The show was presented chronologically, starting with Thomas Eakins and ending with Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz.

All the chosen works had an element of coded homoeroticism or gay identity, and together Hide/Seek presented an interesting narrative of homosexuality in American art. But perhaps for me it was too coded, too genteel. Also, I was not familiar with about a third of the artists, and would have liked some biographical information. Instead, the wall text (which weirdly was displayed at knee level) directed the viewer on how to read each image, which I found intrusive.

It was interesting to see an Agnes Martin portrait, and one of my favorite pieces was Romaine Brooks' haunting and shadowy self-portrait. I would have liked to see more lesbian desire in the show, and strongly felt the dearth of women.

The final gallery addresses the AIDS crisis and included AA Bronson's dramatic "Felix".

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Last night I finished watching Alice on Watch Instantly. I had started it a few nights ago, and found it unbearably tedious, but something made me want to see it through to the end.

It is a late 90s Woody Allen movie staring Mia Farrow as a rich housewife. She has a crush on another man, and begins to explore what she wants out of life. She does this through visits with a Chinese healer who gives her herbs that open her up to herself. The herbs do things like bring back ghosts and make her invisible. There are some amusing moments, but basically I found Mia Farrow whiny and insipid and intolerably boring.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


On Friday I saw Pina, a 3-D documentary memorial to the choreographer Pina Bausch.

I was only aware of Bausch from the haunting segments included in Almodovar's Talk to Her, and back then I became instantly fascinated and curious about her work.

Pina, directed by Wim Wenders, is an incredible film that captures many of her complex and emotionally wrenching dances. Although it doesn't show any dance in its entirety, you fully enter each and experience their incredible power, beauty and ingenuity. The 3-D effect was brilliantly and subtly used, adding depth and dimension without tricks or kitsch. The dances took place on stages, as well as in urban environments.

Pina was breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and riveting. It gave me a wonderful introduction to her work, and I hope to see some of these dances performed live.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I first read Empathy in the early 90s, and loved it. I just reread it and it was even better than I remembered.

Written by Sarah Schulman, it is kind of an existential novel about lesbian identity and the search for meaning in the contemporary world.

It centers around two characters who are each somewhat at sea in New York City where people are dying of AIDS, nodding out on the street, or living in a stupor of consumerism. One of them is a street corner psychoanalyst. He gives out cards on the street and only sees patients for three sessions. The other main character, Anna O (named after the famous hysteric) is his patient. Together they enter into a wonderful dialogue and both try to manage their alienation -- romantic, political, social, and familial.

The writing and dialogue have a special surreal quality, where people really speak themselves. It cuts to the heart of things. Each character exquisitely observes themselves and others in a way that makes Empathy very intimate and very intelligent.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Deconstructing Harry

I enjoyed Deconstructing Harry, a 1997 Woody Allen movie.

I have a number of problems with his films. Although in some ways I identify with his self-absorption and neurosis, I find his presence in his films to be alienating. The way he creates emotional chaos in those around him while remaining unchanged himself. He is good at illustrating the wedge he creates in relationships, but completely incapable of depicting anything bonding between his character and others, and so I never understand why any of them are drawn to him.

In spite of this, Deconstructing Harry is smart and interesting. Great scenes, great bits of dialogue, great performances here and there. It is about a writer struggling with problems in his personal and creative life, and the fictional depictions of these are interwoven with the actual plot, so it's stories within stories. One of the writer's stories is about an actor who is out of focus, and I found this to be a particularly interesting idea. One of my favorite scenes was the meltdown fight he has with his ex-wife, played by Kirstie Alley, who is excellent -- fucking excellent -- at portraying emotional hysteria.