Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking back on 2014

So, 2014 is about to come to a close. Now I take a look at What I Read and Watched this year, and make some assessment of general favorites. I read, watched, and saw a lot of really great stuff this year, enjoying most of everything. Yay.

First, I must mention the experience that defies categorization, The National Holocaust Museum in DC, which was intense and profound and important.

My favorite art exhibitions this year was Meridith McNeal's Liar, Liar at Figureworks and Patti Smith's "The Resilience of the Dreamer" at Ft. Tilden.

Of the live music I saw this year I think the best concert was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, although I thoroughly enjoyed all the concerts I was fortunate enough to go to this year.

I saw lots of dance so it's hard to choose favorites. I'm going to go with Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca; Dance Theater of Harlem; Company XIV, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

I only saw two operas this year, liked them both, and am going to name L'Elisir Amore as my favorite.

For theater, the dark and demanding The Killer, as well as Company XIV (who really are a category of their own).

I watched many movies on Netflix etc, but only saw a few in the theaters. Of those, Her is the only real stand out.

I didn't see many documentaries this year, but include Tim's Vermeer, Spinning Plates, and The Flat as favorites.

It's hard to choose between all the TV series I watched online this year. So, the list of favorites has to include Olive Kitteridge, Big Love, Asylum, and Transparent.

As for reading, I started reading poetry more seriously this year, and tremendously enjoyed all of it. I'm not singling out anything.

Did not read a lot of fiction. The two standouts are very different from each other. The contemporary and artistically exciting Nochita, and the nostalgic and timeless A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Nonfiction: Bluets, Dear Nobody, I Wear the Black Hat, and Gentrification of the Mind. And of course the timeless and always important and eloquent diary of Anne Frank.

Side Show

I have mixed feelings about Side Show, the Broadway musical about lives of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet during the 1930s.

On one hand, I found it artistically underwhelming and banal. There were no thrilling musical numbers that transported me. All the songs sounded the same, as seems to be true of much of contemporary musical theater. (I saw a revival of Pippin last year, and though silly as hell, all the songs were very different and yet each very catchy).

On the other hand, I was moved by the central conflict of the narrative. From Wikipedia I have learned that the story of the Hilton Twins is more complex and grim than portrayed in Side Show. What this production did convey was a core conflict between being "connected" to someone and being "alone". I place both words in quotes because these words and concepts were repeated puns and underlying themes. Both Daisy and Violet lacked privacy and autonomy, because they were conjoined. Yet each felt alone and longed for connection with another (romantic sexual connection with the opposite sex). Another theme is the desire to escape exploitation as "freaks" and live "normal" lives (another two words and concepts the show plays on). That Daisy and Violet's story is not wrapped neatly with an inspiring pink bow is a strength of this unique piece of theater, which instead ends on a rather sarcastic note of grim triumph.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cinema of the Present

When I was in college my creative writing professor told me that "poetry is not to be 'understood' -- it's to be experienced." Lisa Robertson's Cinema of the Present is a mesmerizingly excellent and unique experience. Reading the second person lines that make this long poem, it feels like something is happening.

The "you" of the poem had me feeling like I was being directly addressed, like the speaker was intensely focused on me in this way no one else has been or can be. It was like being a locked chamber of narrative but also like a house of narrative mirrors. I mean all this in the best way, of course.

Cinema of the Present is made entirely of interspersed lines, one in regular text, one in italics. It is not clear if this is meant to represent different speakers in dialogue. That is how I first experienced the poem, but within ten or so pages if felt like one speaker in slightly different voices. A sort of echo-self.

Every single line of the poem is amazing and can stand on its own. What makes Cinema of the Present is the way these lines stand on the page as stark statements at the same time that they interweave and form a complex fabric of language. The poem to me did not have any sort of narrative arch, but there was a building internal momentum that increased in intensity, particularly as some lines were repeated. My take on this is that the poem is its own present, with no beginning middle or end. Just a pure happening.

I'm going to quote a section, but do remember I found just about every line extremely good and very quotable. So much of my book is underlined:

"Thus your data shimmers.

Then sleepiness came link an incision.

You wore the dress as payment for entrance to the symbolic order.

There will be a period of exuding, celebrating and cheering.

How does it look?

Then there will be the unknown period, the one you do not wish to represent.

You're in a life-facing position,

Then you are occupied by a question.

You're fierce, then you're tired."


Last night I finished watching the 10-part first season of Transparent, a new Amazon Prime series. The plot focuses on a family in LA, all grown children, and centers on the father who is in his 60s and just coming out as trans. She is played by Jeffrey Tambor and this performance really elevates the whole series, which, though strong, has a few weak spots. In the chaos of high pitched self-absorption surrounding Maura, Tambor's sensitive, quiet, at times pained performance, becomes the heart of the whole thing.

There are many excellent strands of plot lines in the grown kids lives -- the new lesbian relationship of the older daughter, the son's past relationship with his babysitter, bits and pieces of the younger daughter's aimless life... They all had a level of obliviousness to others that was at times very annoying, and at times borderline cruel/sad. The character that I liked the least was the mom. I don't know who the actress was, but she played the character entirely through mannerisms and with a frantic annoying energy.

I would have liked more of Maura's experiences and am very much looking forward to the second season.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

I had wanted to see Les Ballets Trockadero for so long, and finally had my chance last night. This all male company performs wonderfully masterful ballet using at times over the top slapstick. The mix of humor and beauty is truly joyous, and it was a rather uplifting experience.

The sight of me en pointe is jarring and funny. It continues to tickle the senses, even as you grow used to it. So just the fact that men are playing the traditional female roles adds one layer of fun.  Then the performers used large gestures, facial expressions, and deliberately un-balletic movements to further enhance the comedic elements.

Although I enjoyed the humor, I was truly buoyed by the marvelous dancing. There were four pieces: a section of Swan Lake; a parody of Balanchine called "Go Barocco" (I wouldn't have known this was a joke except I read this Times article which pointed it out); a fabulous pas de deux ("Le Corsaire"); and "La Naïade et le Pêcheur". My favorites were the less narrative, less slapsticky two middle pieces. Like I said, I didn't pick up on Go Barocco being a take on Balanchine -- I simply loved the dancing, as well as the lighting and colors, the whole thing. Le Corsaire was also incredibly delightful.

This was truly a great holiday treat!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year

I just read Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year, written by Deuce Flanagan and illustrated by David R Dudley.

This book provides a shitload of information about shit. Almost everything you ever wanted to know about the subject (it did leave a few questions unanswered).

Some things to think about "Before the automobile, NYC was so overrun by horses and pack animals that during the winter the streets were covered in five feet of ice-packed manure." I just can't get over how much the world must have stunk before modern plumbing!

How did people deal?

The illustrations in this book really work well with the text. They are amusing and also informative.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Olive Kitteridge

I just finished the 4-part HBO miniseries, Olive Kitteridge. It is a very painful portrait of a difficult woman in Maine. She is harsh and stern and cold for the most part, with a few awkward moments of compassion and softness. The story follows her life from when she and her husband are about in their forties with a son in middle school, through to her older age, as her son marries and moves on in life. Her marriage to Henry, an incredibly, painfully, nice man, is strained and taut. This aspect of the miniseries was hardest for me to watch, as I felt so bad for Henry.

There are numerous important minor characters, and the view of Olive's personality deepens and becomes more complex with each scene. I hated her in many moments, but was very moved and felt very sorry for her. Frances McDormand was truly amazing in this role. The acting throughout was phenomenal. And, Bill Murray even has a part in the end, which was wonderful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lisa Jarnot at The Poetry Project

I enjoyed such a marvelous and evocative poetry reading tonight. Lisa Jarnot read from an in-progress long poem that is currently in five parts. The sections she read conveyed a thoughtful poetic sensibility, a delightful command of language and imagery, and a sweet and intelligent poet's presence in the world.

The work had a terrific momentum, capturing fragments of observation of the external and internal worlds. I can't say how much I loved the language, the surprising turns of phrases and bursts of humor. I just cannot wait till I have the opportunity to read the whole poem.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Territories at MAD

I had a bit of a stressful visit to the Museum of Arts and Design this afternoon, as I arrived close to closing and there were other issues going on. So I felt rushed as I went through the fascinating exhibition, New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft, and Art in Latin America. There was so much to look at I had trouble taking it all in. Also, didn't have my phone with me so I couldn't take photos (not necessarily a bad thing). 

Some works that stood out for me were the fantastical pink beaded creation by Nepomuceno (pictured in the second installation shot), the collection of high heeled shoes (all so different and funky and creative) inspired by different lovers, by Errazuriz. There were three beautiful white chairs like lace (didn't catch the artist's name), a beautiful table and chandelier. And these haunting dresses pictured in this installation shot. I may have to go back a second time to see what I missed!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine is a very sad, very difficult move to watch. It stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young married couple whose relationship is falling apart. Both actors give marvelous performances.

The movie zeroes in on the the tension between them, almost microscopically. It also veers, through extended flashbacks, to the sweet beginning of their courtship. It does both these things very well, but there seems to be something missing. How did they grow that far apart? Did she just become sick of him (he still seemed crazy about her)?