Posts Tagged ‘wes anderson’

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: springtime in New York

April 8, 2018

The Spring Culture Season blossoms forth!

March 30God’s Own Country on DVD (I didn’t love it the way many others have — the central relationship seemed more schematic than plausible to me).

March 31Cabaret Luxe at Lot 45 in Bushwick, inspired by Weimar-era German club performance, with maitresse of ceremonies Dorothy Darker…

leather-lunged diva Dee Dee Vega backed by punk klezmer rock band Amor Obscur…

and burlesque performers Lewd Alfred Douglas…

Divina Gransparkle…

and Deity (pictured below with the entire cast).

April 1David Bowie Is at the Brooklyn Museum, fun immersive experience.

While we were there, we strolled through the ongoing exhibition “Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas,” with its eerie kachina dolls and awesome thunderbird masks.

Afterwards Andy and Tansal and I had lunch at Kiwiana in Park Slope, which serves all New Zealand cuisine, including the irresistible dessert known as pavlova.

April 5Yerma at Park Avenue Armory, Lorca’s play adapted and directed by Simon Stone with a ferocious cast led by Billie Piper and Brendan Cowell (below, photo by Sara Krulwich for the New York Times) and a spectacular set designed by Lizzie Clachan.

April 6Wild Wild Country on Netflix, the riveting six-part documentary about how rural Oregon dealt with the sudden emergence of an Indian sex guru (Rajneesh, aka Osho) and his community of devotees in their midst.

April 7Isle of Dogs at Cinépolis in Chelsea — we loved it.

April 8 — Museum of Modern Art. Final day of the Club 57 show. Ann Magnuson put out the call for a closing day party, so the basement of MOMA thronged with senior citizens who once upon a time were the hippest and grooviest of East Village clubgoers, along with plenty of excited visitors too young to have seen the club back in the day.

This delightful cartoony Kenny Scharf painting (“Escaped in Time, I’m Pleased,” above) prepared me for the colorful figuration all over the Tarsila do Amaral retrospective, with its inquisitive-looking critters and its theme of anthropophagy.

And upstairs a rich, heady, comprehensive survey of rigorous conceptual artist Adrian Piper, with its witty dada performative moments (I loved the idea of the humming room, very Yoko Ono — and I love that a security guard stands by whose job it is to make sure you’re humming when you enter the room).


Culture Vulture: Nina Simone, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Edmund White, and ROCKY, et al.

March 15, 2014

nina simone
Nina Simone Live at Montreux 1976 – by chance someone posted on Facebook a link to a YouTube clip from this concert, her rendition of Janis Ian’s “Stars,” with a long spoken introduction. It was so riveting I had to buy the DVD. The concert is simply astonishing. (You can watch the whole thing online here.) Her musicianship is breathtaking, yet at the same time it is patently obvious that she is out of her fucking mind. Only after she died did the biographies reveal that she suffered from bipolar disorder. This concert could be used in medical schools to teach psychiatrists what that looks like. She free-associates, begins diatribes, catches herself, disappears very deeply into her stony face and fathomless eyes. Very disturbing and painful to watch, and yet you walk away dazzled that someone so deeply wounded and ill could even be up walking around, let alone play music like this. She only does six numbers in the hour-long concert, none of them bearing any resemblance to anything she put out on records. There’s a twenty-minute version of “Little Girl Blue” and a vamp she picks up from her drummer and turns into its own song that she gets up and dances to. The bonus material includes six songs she performed at the jazz festival other years.

FILM: The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson’s movies are the epitome of twee, but you will not hear any complaint from me about that. I have enjoyed most of his curious, fast, absurdist, huge-cast epic capers (especially The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox), and this one is no exception. One yummy brief performance after another (Harvey Keitel! Tilda Swinton! Edward Norton! Willem Dafoe! Bill Murray! Adrian Brody! Larry Pine! Casting by Doug Aibel, of course) but deeply appealing leading performances by Ralph Fiennes and his adorable Lobby Boy, Tony Revolori. It’s wildly whimsical yet inspired by the real-life absurdist tragedy of war-torn 20th century Europe, especially the work of Stefan Zweig.

inside a pearl

BOOKS: Edmund White’s Inside a Pearl: My Years in ParisWhite’s latest memoir is a daredevil act of personal narrative, loosely organized as a portrait of his friendship with Marie-Claude (MC) de Brunhoff, a critic and translator, but branching out to reminisce and gossip about every fascinating character he encountered in the 15 years he lived in the French capital. It is gossipy, loving, self-revealing, shrewd, and beautifully written. A few choice tidbits:

  • one of his boyfriends, John Purcell, carried White’s novel A Boy’s Own Story around for a month but never got beyond page 10. “He said he was dyslexic, the vogue word of that decade for lack of literary curiosity, just as attention deficit disorder is the term now.”
  • “I guess I define intelligence as the power to make new, surprising, wide-ranging associations and never to rely on automatic, untested generalities.”
  • On the ultimate wisdom and generosity of polyamory: “Who were the members of Bernard [Minaret]’s salon? One was Jacques Fieschi, a successful writer of film scenarios who was also an amateur boxer (he had the smashed-in nose to prove it). Jacques had been Bernard’s lover for many years, then fell for Claude Arnaud. Rather than losing Jacques in a fit of jealousy, Bernard decided to ‘take the couple’ and so he moved Claude in. In that way he was like Cocteau, who, learning that his longtime lover – the much younger movie star Jean Marais – had fallen for a lifeguard, Paul Morihen, set his rival up in business as the proprietor of a bookstore downstairs from his apartment in the Palais-Royal, thereby extending his family by one member rather than diminishing it to zero.”
  • “In those days, sex dates in the gay world were made on telephone party lines. We taught [a female friend] to call out, ‘Bouffeur de cul cherche cul’ (‘Ass eater is looking for an ass’) over a gay party line and she said it in the voice of a raw teenage boy from the suburbs.”
  • “Outside I was as gushy as my Texas mother and inside cold and calculating.”
  • “I had been influenced by Nabokov’s observation that if he wanted to see whether a novel was a crappy best-seller, he’d just flip through it and if he saw too much dialogue, he knew it wasn’t for him. He reasoned that since dialogue always sounds alike, the writer couldn’t establish his own special tone if he handed the book over to his characters and their banal yammering.”
  • On the short-lived pre-internet/smartphone technology Minitel: “The cruising facility was the ligne rose (pink line), where users typed out their preferences for all to see. It took some doing to learn the abbreviations. JhCh TBM pour plan hard, pour SSR, look Santiag meant ‘Young man (Jeune homme) looks for (cherche) a very handsome guy (trés beau mec) – or, alternately, very well-hung (trés bien monté) – who wants rough sex (plan hard) and safe sex (sexe sans risqué) who wears Western-style cowboy (“Santiago”) boots.’”
  • “I now had a fatal Old World sense of conversation – that it should be exciting and frivolous and provocative and preferably scandalous. I’d mentally prepare two or three hot topics before every evening. But my style was withering to Americans, who like to graze peacefully in conversation, and my ‘sparkling’ style inhibited general conversation – which would revive, I would notice, whenever I went into the kitchen for the next course.”
  • “Until I became old and fat I was still going to saunas, but soon I discovered the whole paradise of cruising gerontophile chubby chasers on the Web.”
  • On life’s purpose: “I was alive in order to – well, to teach, to trick, to write, to memorialize, to be a faithful scribe, to record the loss of my dead.”

masters of sex

Thomas Maier’s Masters of Sex – on vacation in Florida, I read this biography of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the pioneering sex therapists. I haven’t watched any of the TV series based on this biography; I read the book as a colleague for inspiration. A noteworthy passage, describing a moment that took place in 1954 at Washington University in St. Louis: “Masters visited the medical school library, looking for any book, medical article, or dissertation [related to the medical study of human sexuality]. ‘I realized that there was really nothing that had been written or researched that was going to be of any help in working out the physiology of human sexual response,’ he later observed.

“At Washington University, Masters found just one title about sexual functioning to shed some light. The textbook had been written by a former University of Illinois department chairman of obstetrics and gynecology who, as Masters learned, waited until retirement to publish it. Washington University kept this book on the reserve shelf. When Masters asked to see it, the librarian refused.

“ ‘I’m sorry, Dr. Masters, I cannot do that,’ she told him.

“Puzzled, Masters thought she had misunderstood him. ‘I do not want to take it out,’ he explained. ‘I just want to look at it.’

“The librarian wouldn’t budge. The textbook contained sketches – thin line drawings – of male and female genitalia, which the library superiors worried might be pornographic. As an associate professor, Masters wasn’t eligible to see it. Only full professors, heads of departments, and librarians could remove this book from the reserve shelf, he was told. …This small incident, Masters later reflected, ‘represented all too well medicine’s fearful approach to the subject of sex.’”

Some of Masters’ first important consultants on sexual functioning were sex workers. “During his first twenty months of research, he interviewed 118 female and 27 male prostitutes, from St. Louis and other cities. “Their streetwise frankness was far different than the stiff anxiety of his upper-middle-class patients who visited his office for a pelvic exam. These prostitutes, conscripted with the vice squad’s help, knew exactly what aroused a flaccid penis and stimulated a dry vagina, and how the two might come together with maximum efficiency. ‘They described many methods for elevating and controlling sexual tensions and demonstrated innumerable variations in stimulative technique.’”

When Masters and Johnson started viewing people having sex in their laboratory, their subjects wore paper bags and pillowcases over their heads for anonymity. When Masters’ mother heard about this, she volunteered to design and create silk masks for the volunteers to wear for their couplings.

They were interviewed by Playboy magazine, who asked “Traditionalists complain that investigations such as yours destroy the mystery of sex. Do you think that’s true?” Johnson replied, “We happen to think that the realistic, honest aspects of sexuality are a lot more exciting than the so-called mystery. The mystery to which the traditionalists usually refer has to do with superstition and myth. A knowledge of sex doesn’t impair but enhances it.”

Masters: “The greatest form of sex education is Pop walking past Mom in the kitchen and patting her on the fanny, and Mom obviously liking it. The kids take a look at this action and think, ‘Boy, that’s for me.’” A good description of my household growing up!

THEATER: Caryl Churchill’s Love and InformationI’m a longtime fan of Caryl Churchill’s brainy, super-theatrical plays. The latest, produced by New York Theater Workshop at the Minetta Lane, consists of 57 tiny vignettes, some of them one-line blackout sketches, that take place in a brightly lit white cubicle with different suggestive set pieces for each one. It’s an exercise in composing elliptical scenes on a general theme. Not my favorite of Churchill’s work but I am amazed and impressed that she scrupulously refused to repeat herself – each one of her 45 plays takes a different form, plays with a different genre, exercises a different muscle in her Olympian writer’s body. What I would really love is to have infra-red glasses and watch how the stagehands scramble around between scenes changing the furniture…

love and information

Rocky The Musicalthe consensus is pretty much: lousy score, exciting and ingenious staging of the climactic fight, appealing performance by Andy Karl in the title role. I go along with all of that. I also had a special affection for my friend David Zinn’s witty costumes – someone had to figure out to dress those muscle hunks in period workout attire! I donated an old ripped up motorcycle jacket to the wardrobe – DZ painted the collar red and put it on the guy who delivers the big box TV set in Act 2.


Culture vulture: a week in New York

June 24, 2012

June 15 – I wasn’t planning to see End of the Rainbow, Peter Quilter’s play about Judy Garland, but Kai invited me to go with him, so I figured why not? Well, it turned out to be everything I’d suspected – a mediocre play, an unnecessary theatrical event. I thought I might at least admire Tracie Bennett’s much-ballyhooed performance as La Garland, but I didn’t see any of the extreme desperation or corrosive self-hatred others reported. I’m told Bennett has scaled her performance back since the show opened on Broadway. Understandable, but no fun for latecomers like me.

June 16 – Andy and I stood in line for two and a half hours to get free tickets to see Daniel Sullivan’s production of As You Like It at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, largely on the basis of having admired his Merchant of Venice on Broadway. Both productions featured Lily Rabe in the central female role. But the production was so unengaging that we ended up leaving at intermission. John Lee Beatty’s set design was drab, and although Rabe was lively enough, most of the performances seemed stiff, distant, and/or unintelligible. I felt most sorry for poor Stephen Spinella, playing a nearly static Jacques in a bad wig and scraggly beard. The one pleasure of the evening came from Steve Martin’s surprisingly fresh bluegrass-scented score, beautifully played by an onstage band (Jordan Rice, Tony Trischka, Tashina Clarridge, Skip Ward).

June 18 – I’m very much liking Fiona Apple’s new album, another one with an unwieldy title that most commentators have consented to just call The Idler Wheel…. I was tripped out by Dan P. Lee’s profile of Apple in New York magazine – fascinating and yet disturbingly intimate. I guess if you’re going to stay up all night getting “very stoned” and drunk several times with the subject you’re writing about, you might as well include it in the story. But it ended up seeming creepily exhibitionistic, and I wondered if Apple really consented to Lee’s hyper-exposure.

June 20 – Andy and Jonathan accompanied me to see the Keith Haring show at the Brooklyn Museum. Both of them enjoyed it very much – the show focuses on very early, pre-stardom Keith Haring (essentially 1978-1982), before either of them lived in New York or were aware of Haring’s work. Since I was living in NYC and working for the Soho Weekly News during much of that time, I was around when the wunderkind was making his chalk drawings on subway posters, and one aspect I loved about the show was its time-capsule flavor (all praises to the late Tseng Kwong Chi, who documented all this stuff at the time, because his photos preserve ephemeral work for posterity). I also liked getting a look at Haring’s art-school notebooks, the unexpectedly academic working-out of what became iconic images, the room-sized painting The Matrix (above), and his early inconsequential videos. But ultimately I was unsatisfied with the narrow range of the work on exhibit because I couldn’t help holding it up against the vast range of what came later, the stuff he showed at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery and the increasingly ambitious multimedia collaborative stuff that MOMA beautifully showcased in the retrospective that happened before Haring left us way way way way way too soon.

We toodled around a couple of other exhibits at the museum, checking out the small but intriguing display of newspaper articles written by Djuna Barnes, quirky intrepid gal-reporter pieces from the lesbian novelist best-known for Nightwood. (The show is installed in the corridor next to Judy Chicago’s iconic The Dinner Party.) We also walked through the “American Identities: A New Look” show, a potpourri of stuff from the permanent collection, including an early figurative painting by Mark Rothko (Subway, above; I never knew he did anything but the color-field paintings for which he’s famous), some striking neo-icons by Kehinde Wiley (below), and John Koch’s titillating painting The Sculptor.

June 20 – Andy had never seen Bonnie Raitt live, so it was doubly joyous for us to see her opening night at the Beacon Theater. The temperature had soared to the high nineties, and Bonnie gave thanks that the concert wasn’t outdoors, like some of the shows on her tour. The concert was terrific. She looks amazing, she led a smoking hot band, and she sang her heart out. She did almost her entire new album, Slipstream, but my favorites were two great ballads radically re-arranged: John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” and then her own “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which I didn’t dream of hoping she would even be willing to sing nowadays. It was actually the first encore because she said she didn’t know where else to put it in the show. I found it a little strange that she seemed to apologize for doing ballads and felt like she had to immediately do a bunch of peppy songs right afterwards so the audience didn’t get depressed or bored. Her ballads are the best part of her repertoire – they’re beautiful, deep, and true, and she could sing them all night as far as I’m concerned, whereas I could care less about hearing songs like “Real Man” or some of the medium material on the new album. But, still. Love me some Bonnie Raitt. Mavis Staples opened the show, and it was fun to see her bask in the glow of legendhood. Bonnie’s keyboardist Mike Finnigan got to do a solo number called “I Got Some News,” which had some funny lyrics: “You came in smiling/With your lipstick a mess/I didn’t understand that….”

June 21 – I blow hot and cold on Wes Anderson, but having been dazzled by the visual sweep and crazy ensemble cast of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I figured I’d better see the similar-sounding Moonrise Kingdom in the movie theater rather than on home video. I’m glad I did. As usual with a Wes Anderson film, the word that keeps coming up to describe it is “twee,” cute to the point of precious in a curdling sense, and yet I totally admire its quirkiness and originality. It’s not copying anything, and in fact as a crazy young adult saga I love that it presents the romantic heroic journey of two unlikely nerdy kids (played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, above). I want there to be more non-conforming quirky nerdy heroic kids in the world. That the soundtrack toggles back and forth between Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams becomes its own running joke. And the assortment of amazing actors running around in mostly small, nutty parts (Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban) makes the movie fun and never boring. Not to everyone’s taste, but surprisingly satisfying to mine.

June 22 – George Harrison: Living in the Material World is one more in an unbroken string of Martin Scorsese’s phenomenal rock-music documentaries. I’m not a completist fanatic like Allan Kozinn, but I’m a hardcore Beatlemaniac and I thought I’d hoovered up everything there is to know about the Fab Four, but this two-disc, nearly four-hour documentary uses no familiar material and rounds up tons of odd scraps of film and video from the full history of the Beatles. Focusing on George makes for a very different retelling of the familiar Beatles saga, because he was in some ways the most enigmatic of the four. I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know – mostly trivia, but fun facts. After totally giving George credit for the classic guitar riff of “And I Love Her,” Paul McCartney talks about another recording session (only four years later) when George kept playing guitar solos on every line of “Hey Jude” and Paul asked him not to. This, in its own way, signaled the beginning of the end of the Beatles. I love seeing recent interviews of Paul and Ringo talking about the Beatles. You can’t help noting that, for all his eloquence and humor, Paul is kind of a dick — bossy, self-satisfied, pompous even when he’s trying not to be. Even so, he has made some great solo records, which can’t be said of George. The documentary never says so explicitly but watching it you can’t avoid the plain fact that George’s songwriting after the Beatles was never that good – his rhythms often plodding, his melodies banal, his sentiments kinda preachy. But it’s fun to see and hear about the origins of his best songs, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” and his extraordinary range of friendships, including Eric Clapton (even after Clapton fell in love and then married George’s first wife, Pattie Boyd). Two very fleeting references are made to serious drug problems – someone says “George did everything all the way, whether it was cocaine or meditation” – though we do see him performing “What Is Life” totally wasted, his voice a wreck. Tom Petty is another compelling commentator, talking about the Travelling Willburys. But a key moment I’ll take away is Ringo talking about his last encounter with George, who was being treated for his cancer in Switzerland. Ringo mentioned that he was on his way to Boston because his daughter was being treated there for a brain tumor, and George, who was in terrible pain and could barely sit up, said, “Would you like me to go with you?” And then, wiping away a tear, Ringo says, “I feel like I’m on  Barbara Walters….”

June 23 – On the last day of the show, I got to see “Boat,” Laurie Anderson’s show of paintings at Vito Schnabel’s pop-up gallery on Leroy Street. Wow! I’m so glad I did. They’re monumental. I’ve been seeing Laurie’s work since the year I got to New York (1980) and have admired to varying degrees her experiments in music, performance art, video, film, photography, book-making, sculpture, storytelling, and political commentary. I’ve written about her a lot over the years, and we’ve gotten to be friends. She hasn’t ever had a show of just paintings before – she’s often evinced mixed feelings about the official Art World – but then these aren’t just paintings. The strongest feeling I had walking into the gallery was that of witnessing grief. The centerpiece of the show is “Lolabelle in the Bardo,” a series of ten charcoal-on-paper drawings imagining her beloved rat terrier in the state of being that The Tibetan Book of the Dead suggests the soul inhabits for the 49 days after it leaves the body. (Lolabelle died April 17, 2011.) These large canvases swirl with movement and recurring images (diamonds, spinning tops, and of course dogs), and they’re not without humor (Osama Bin Laden died May 2, and the artist imagines him cohabiting the bardo with Lolabelle). But a sense of loss and mourning, and the disorientation that goes with those experiences, pervades the whole show, which includes some paintings on fabric, some canvases so dark they look like sketches on blackboards (such as the painting that gives the show its title, with its mythological references to Cerberus and Styx), and a hologram of Laurie and Lolabelle sitting in armchairs while Laurie tells a story called “From the Air.”

In the evening, Andy and I trekked to a movie theater in Astoria we’d never been to (Kaufman Astoria Stadium) to see Brave. Andy’s a huge fan of Pixar and has been keen to see this movie since it was first announced that the studio famous for Toy Story, Up, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E was finally doing a movie with a girl as the heroic lead. As is so often the case, the trailer gives you the best part of the movie in two and a half minutes – the rest of it is a rambling fairy tale that gets vague and mushy at the end. Mostly, it’s a movie about hair. Merida does have an amazing mane of blazing red hair, depicted like no hair has ever been seen in animated film before. Not enough for me, though.

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