Sunday, June 30, 2013


Elsewhere, Richard Russo's memoir about his emotionally disturbed mother, was the first audiobook I listened to. I listened to it on the treadmill at gym, bored with my music. I found the experience enjoyable, and will listen to more.

I was often frustrated with Elsewhere as it seemed to focus almost unrelentingly on the logistical details of numerous moves. This emphasis had the effect of numbing me to the emotions and relationships, and many of the specific narrative points ran together for me in a blur.

But, there is a deep emotional heart to the memoir, and it is a moving depiction of a woman incredibly dependent on her only child. Towards the end Russo offers more reflection as his perspective on her and their relationship shifts after her death. What touched me most was his sense of guilt, even though he did more for her throughout her life than most people would.

I enjoyed his reading style, and listening to him tell this story made the experience more intimate.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Out List

Last night I watched HBO's The Out List. It was a series of interviews of prominent openly gay people, including a number of celebrities. One interview followed the other, presented as monologues, without the voice of the questioner.

The cumulative effect was of a proud panorama of LGBT identities, perspectives and experiences. The 60 minute documentary got a lot in -- the trans experience, the early drag queens, AIDS, marriage equality, etc. But I also felt like it glossed over these things, not really contextualizing the importance of pre- and post-Stonewall, pre- and post- AIDS, pre- and post- Ellen. These were important social and political moments that make the fact that we can have a glossy mainstream documentary of out celebrities possible. Yes, these things were touched on, but not brought forward. For instance, one person talks a bit about ACT-UP. But takes knowing what it was for granted. As a college professor I know that many young people watching will have no clue what ACT-UP was, no clue about Stonewall. No clue about how important it was when Ellen's character came out...

Of course, The Out List is not intended as a history of the gay movement. It is more of an extended "It Will Get Better" campaign, offering an array proud, happy, well adjusted and successful role models for younger people, and reminding everyone how far gay visibility has come in recent decades. It isn't a bad documentary, but it has more of the feel of a long public service announcement...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Natalia Zukerman and others

Last night I saw Natalia Zukerman perform at Union Hall with three other singer/songwriters. I had seen her perform last year when she opened for Keb Mo, and was struck then by her lovely voice and terrific songs.

The four musicians, including Dayna Kurtz, Ed Romanoff, and Benjamin Scheuer, all sat on the stage with their guitars and performed in the round, one after another. Each had a very unique style -- different ways of phrasing lyrics, different voices, different moods of songs. But all were wonderful. Dayna Kurtz has a particularly powerful voice. I will be looking out for all four of them to see them perform again in the future. I would have bought their CDs but I had no cash on me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lost Memory of Skin

It took me forever to read Russell Banks' Lost Memory of Skin. Mainly because I was so bored by it I hardly ever picked it up and when I did I would fall asleep.

The novel is about a young man convicted of a sex offense and who, as a result of residency restrictions, is unable to find anywhere to legally reside other than an encampment under a causeway. A sociologist who studies the homeless takes an interest in him, and Lost Memory of Skin follows the relationship between these two odd characters. In spite of how bored I was by the prose, I did feel somewhat drawn to the character of "the Kid" - as the young sex offender was known. However the plot took an annoying turn as it focused on the professor and I continued reading with little investment in the outcome.

Wanda Sykes: I'ma Be Me

Last night I watched the HBO comedy presentation of Wanda Sykes: I'ma Be Me, filmed in 2009.

I think she's great -- I just love listening to her. Love her attitude, her timing, her sense of self and presence. The material already seemed slightly dated -- it was still when Obama was a new president. And, in spite of how much I enjoyed the hour and a half episode, there were only a few times where I was literally laughing out loud. For the most part I was just pleasantly amused.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary telling a moving story of a musician, Rodriguez, who made two albums in the US in the early 70s which didn't sell.

However, they became gigantic hits in South Africa. He had no idea of his fame in that country, where it was rumored that he had committed suicide on stage. His South African fans, who listened to his albums for decades, comparing it to Abbey Road, knew nothing about him.

Then two journalists decided they wanted to find out how Rodriguez died. In the process they discovered he was still alive and living in obscurity in Detroit.

The documentary includes long stretches of his music (which I'm listening to now on Spotify) which is bluesy and folksy with strong lyrics. I think I now consider myself a Rodriguez fan.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Last night I watched Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about two characters struggling with emotional issues trying to come together.

Although billed as a comedy on Netflix, I found this to be a tense drama. The main character's anger episodes kept me on edge. The woman he meets and forms a friendship with was also very angry and abrasive. Which is not to say they weren't complex and sympathetic. But the emotional pitch of the film kept me on edge.

Pat returns home from a stint in a mental hospital after a violent episode. He has to move in with his parents and is obsessed with reuniting with his wife, who has a restraining order on him. While trying to figure out a strategy, he meets Tiffany, a damaged woman with a lot of charm. The story is about their off-kilter way of connecting.

The acting was very good.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Alvin Ailey

 Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. The dancing was wonderful, and I am so pleased that I was finally able to see this company.

Only one of the dances on our program were choreographed by Ailey or the other artistic directors of the company -- that was the short solo, "Takademe", a jittery fun, quirky, fast piece choreographed by Robert Battle.

The first dance, "From Before", was choreographed by Garth Fagan. It included different segments of dancing with Afro-centric moves and pieces of music. The dancers wore brightly colored full body leotards, and the effect was exhilarating.

The dance "Grace" mixed up-tempo and slower music. I was much more interested in the fast segments. Choreographed by Ronald K. Brown, the dance featured dancers in white costumes, taking up the stage in a variety of complex, beautiful, and fun ways.

My favorite dance was the final one, "Minus 16", choreographed by Ohad Naharin, the Artistic Director and choreographer of the captivating company, Batsheva, which I saw perform in San Francisco last year. This dance started before the intermission was even over. With one dancer is a suit standing in front of the curtain. Gradually he started moving, in a quirky, jittery way. Eventually he was full on dancing. After his applause, the curtain was raised to a room full of dancers in dark suits. The music was mildly threatening, and the dancers all worked with chairs in robotic, haunting ways. I can't describe the powerful effect of this piece. Eventually the dancers had stripped to their underpants, and danced without the chairs.

Then, after the set went dark, they were all in full suits again. They came out into the audience in rhythmic fashion and one by one led people up to the stage. Each dancer brought one audience member, and they began dancing with them. It was so exciting to see "regular" people dancing up there. They deliberately chose people wearing red or bright colors, to festive and classic effect. The audience was thrilled and this number got a full standing ovation.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors remains my all time favorite Woody Allen movie. It is perfect. I saw it in the theater when it first came out (1989), then years later watched it on VHS, and today watched it for the third time. It is taut, sensitive, complex and nuanced, and tense.

The movie centers on an adulterous opthamologist whose situation comes to a crisis and he has a serious moral dilemma. Crimes and Misdemeanors is an existential drama that includes many segments and references to Jewish law, philosophy, and moral structure and meaning of the universe. Unlike many of Woody Allen's other movies, these references aren't just thrown in for humor's sake, but add emotional and philosophical cohesion to the whole film.

A real treat is Sam Waterston as the Rabbi who is losing his sight.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream

This afternoon I watched Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream, a documentary on PBS exploring the gap between the rich and the poor in the US. It focuses on some of the richest most powerful people (such as David Koch), who live in 740 Park Avenue, and highlights their political connections and political power. It also addresses the populist movement which is hostile to taxation of the wealthy, even though so painfully few benefit from the tax breaks and at such cost to so many.

It is informative and straightforward. I would have liked some more analysis of cultural issues that might provide some insights into why people in the US are not outraged by extreme income inequality and the excessive wealth of so few people.

Musee D'Erotisme

After the Pompidou we walked to Montmartre to check out the Musee D'Erotisme. It was located in the red light district and had a kind of cheesy vibe. The collection included a number of ancient fertility artifacts and sexual art from many different cultures, and those were interesting. Then there were several floors of contemporary art, including an exhibition of black and white photography depicting various unusual nudes, such as hermaphrodites and overweight women. It was okay, but nothing to write home about. Another exhibition was very detailed and well executed pencil drawings of a huge ass dominatrix with a scrawny guy who always had his face up her ass or twat. They were interesting, but again, nothing special. Rather mediocre. NYC has a Museum of Sex which I'm going to check out this summer to compare.

Centre de Pompidou

 The other day I went to the Centre de Pompidou in the Marais, Paris. It was an amazing museum of modern art. I saw many wonderful works I had never seen before, including a number of Picassos. I enjoyed the experience tremendously.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Match Point

I watched Match Point last night. I had seen it when it originally came out, about 8 years ago.

Its an excellent, tense thriller about adultery. The acting is fantastic, and the scenes are wonderfully directed by Woody Allen. This is one of his best movies, and it's an uncharacteristic one. Although it is similar in many ways to Crimes and Misdemeanors, which I'm going to watch next. There's nothing funny or goofy here. There's a sense of excitement and dread. The sexual chemistry between the characters Chris and Nola is intense, and his discomfort with his wife is palpable. The relationships are all well executed, and the ending is just fantastic.