Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stephen Ira

got on my radar last week thanks to this post on the Advocate's website. It gives a video he posted on a website called WeHappyTrans, a wider audience; The Advocate's copy is more summary than commentary, mentioning his famous parents and his interest in Truman Capote, but there's nothing terribly controversial here that my cisgender self can detect.

Well I was enlightened yesterday on a few things by Stephen in his intense blog, Super-Mattachine, which is blowing my mind right now. Here's a quote from his article about WeHappyTrans--
In this article in the Advocate, where the media attention to my video began, all of the focus is on me as an individual: my parentage, my “journey,” my gender, my sexuality. There is almost no talk about WeHappyTrans as a project, no mention of its creators, Jen and Noah, just the cursory explanation that it’s “a website dedicated to allowing transgender people to share their positive experiences.” In other words, the Advocate wants you to think that WeHappyTrans exists just so that trans people can talk about our feelings. This makes sense in the cis narrative of transness.
This is especially compelling to me because, while I've always been interested in trans representations in the media, this is a more nuanced view of trans media coverage than I've detected before. To my thinking it does ring true, but I'd argue that there wasn't much thought given to presentation of WeHappyTrans at all past the fact that Stephen participated in it.

He makes reference to this later in the post with this passage--
Then there’s another choice that the Advocate made: they picked my video, not one of the many others on the site, and billed me as “Warren Beatty and Annette Bening’s Transgender Son.” , Because within a cisnormative narrative, a trans person cannot have value on their own. Their ideas are relevant only when they are connected to cis people, especially well known cis people. News about celebrities makes for hits, and hits make for ad revenue. Obviously, like anyone, I don’t appreciate only being valued in relation to my parents–how would it feel if you were always talked about as an extension of your parents?–but it’s also insidious beyond that.

If my work is so banal that it’s only of interest because my cis parents make movies, why report on it at all? When I’m billed as the “Transgender Son of Celebrities,” it implies that the work I do isn’t valuable or important. After all, if it were, would you need the added draw of my parents’ famous names to click the link?
I hesitated to add this passage because I respect Ira's frustration with being known solely as the "Transgender Son of Celebrities," but I included it since, well, he wrote it. Also because I'm impressed at his ability to navigate his own path in the context of this.

And the good news is that, even if it's his connection to celebrity that draws attention to him, he's making good impressions on his own merits. The blogosphere seems to love him; I did a search and saw fawning posts from Gawker and LAist (the latter of which called his famous parents "irrelevant"). Further, banal is the last word I would use to describe his blog, which calls out media bias and racial and transphobic injustice (specifically in the case of CeCe McDonald, another situation I was enlightened about through reading Ira's blog).

In short, I'm a new fan. You should read his stuff.

And his observations inspire some other thoughts about all this business of narrative -- trans, cis, and otherwise. More on that in a bit.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm all for boycotting

Chick-Fil-A. I do it happily and have for some time. Then again, even if I wasn't avoiding on principle, do you think I'm gonna haul my ass up to Sunset and Highland just for a dumb chicken sandwich? It's hard enough trying to plan a trip around an In-N-Out Burger. I don't have to boycott them yet, do I?

That said, is it just me or is there something really lame about this boycott?

I want a sexy boycott. Like Coors, with hot studs in skin-tight Levis and shaggy woofy moustaches pouring the stuff out on the streets of the Castro!
Or a campy boycott like Florida Orange Juice and that Aqua Netted jerk Anita Bryant!


Don't get me wrong, I love Kermit.


But does that make this the cuddly boycott?

I've been taking hikes

in and around Malibu every week for the past three weeks. Here are some pics of my most recent one, starting at the end of Corral Canyon Road. Modern Hiker calls it Castro Crest and Bulldog Road, but I'm not sure I followed their directions to a tee. I ended up wandering way down towards Malibu Creek State Park to the point that I got nervous I wouldn't make it back to my car. I turned around and, 3.5 hours and a hot sunburn later, I emerged with some iPhone pics.






Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Things I wish I'd blogged about, # 3: Samuel Steward


One of the best biographies I've ever read was one I picked up at City Lights Books last fall while I was in San Francisco. Secret Historian, by Justin Spring, tells the story of...well, let me just give you the subtitle: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade.

Steward was defiantly gay, celebrating his own sexual prowess and S&M inclinations with a meticulous approach to his own personal history. His detailed documentation was an important resource for Alfred Kinsey's sex research. His "Stud File" makes him a sort of liberated, queer, 20th-century version of Arthur Munby, another personal fascination of mine.

When I was so obsessed with this book, I would describe it to people and they'd look at me like I was nuts. Even some of the gay folk I talked to seemed to wonder what the hell I was on about. But Secret Historian is major --a National Book Award Finalist in 2010 -- and it's an astounding read. So much so that I wanted to send Justin Spring a thank-you note when I finished. The book is extremely rich, obviously the product of serious, challenging work. I can't imagine tackling the writing of a book like this, but I'm glad he did.

I also owe Spring a debt of gratitude for his biography of painter Fairfield Porter, a book that was indispensable to me in my work on my thesis play about artists and poets of the 1950s and 1960s. So thank you Mr. Spring.

One reason I wish I'd blogged about it at the time was because it would be fresh enough for me to share good passages on the blog. I've pulled one below, found while refreshing my memory about Steward's own obsession with Jean Genet. All this came back to me because JW is reading Miracle of the Rose and was complaining about the translation. Steward did his own translation of Genet -- Querelle de Brest -- while he was in Paris, desperate to meet Genet and even dabbling with some of his hustler friends before learning of Genet's anger at the unauthorized translation he had done.

Spring connects Genet and Steward through their raw methods of self-exploration--
Genet, Steward, and Seblon [a character in Querelle] were all united in this perilous activity of self-discovery through confessional writing. The way in which language described and defined not only a sexual experience, but also the inner life and motivations of the person engaging in it -- and, and doing so, the opposing sexual mores of the society in which that person lived -- would become ever more central to Steward's own artistic project....
Here's a brief video of Spring talking about Steward and his work on the biography.

Nightingale at La Jolla

I was considering taking a drive down to San Diego to see this show, extremely excited about the new Sheik / Sater musical with Moises Kaufman directing. After hearing about the casting controversy, I have to say I lost some of my enthusiasm.

The LATimes has a good article today about a panel discussion that happened in response to a "multicultural" approach to casting a production set in China. Only two actors in the show are Asian American, and neither is in a lead role. The lead is played by a Caucasian male. It sounds a mess. Here's an excerpt--
[T]he musical features five male roles, none of which is played by Asian or Asian American actors.

Both Sheik and Sater were present in the audience but were not panelists. Still, Sater, who wrote the book and the lyrics for the musical, spoke out to say that the multicultural casting was deliberate and was meant to "reflect the world I live in." He said a multiethnic vision is one that "I continue to embrace for the piece."

[La Jolla Artistic Director Christopher] Ashley and Kaufman both offered apologies in separate addresses to the audience. Kaufman said that the creative team intended to create a mythological China, not a literal one. But, he added: "I'm the first to agree that we have been unsuccessful at what we were trying to do."
Multicultural is great and all, but it sounds like it was done really clumsily here.

One thing I appreciate about this article is Kaufman's apology. I'm not sure how satisfying it is to those who feel most aggrieved, but admitting failure is pretty big of him, I think. And because this is a workshop, if there are other productions, hopefully this experience will inform future casting decisions.

Let's just hope he figures out the answer to this question before he goes back to the drawing board.
A tense moment came when the panelists asked Kaufman if he would cast a white actor in the role of an African monarch. The director avoided answering the question directly, which prompted the panelists to repeat their question. Kaufman still did not answer the question.
Read the whole article here.

Saw Beasts of the Southern Wild

this morning.


Hushpuppy is my new hero.

Swing Lo Magellan

I'd been contemplating seeing Dirty Projectors this Saturday at the Wiltern for some time, but I'm trying not to spend money and figured I might skip it. Then I downloaded the new album, Swing Lo Magellan, and two songs in I stopped my car and bought a ticket using my iPhone. Technology is great for impulse purchases, isn't it?

Rob Weinert-Kendt calls the new album a masterpiece on a par with Sgt. Pepper. He's been blogging a lot about it at Wicked Stage, writing about the cultural phenomenon (and relevance) of the "masterpiece."
It's a lot easier, and in many ways more sane and humane, to live in a world where we all manage to find our groove, our tastes, and go on about curating our Netflix queue and our Spotify playlists (and, if we're of a certain age, order our subscription seasons of theater and the symphony). I mean, how many life-changing, conversion-level experiences do we have space and time for our in our lives? Maybe no more than we have for falling in love.

These thoughts have been stirred by the arrival this past week of the new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan, which has hit me with a force I wasn't prepared for, despite my having loved their last two records, Rise Above and Bitte Orca. Those records felt like tangible, irreversible leaps forward for art pop; lead Projector Dave Longstreth essentially uses the standard rock quartet, plus an indispensable complement of harmony singers for which the term "backup" is entirely inadequate, to compose music as dense but delightful as the best music ever written for bands, from Mozart to Ellington to Zeppelin.
Check it out here.

And here's their first video, "Gun Has No Trigger."

Monday, July 23, 2012

RIP Sally Ride

Saying that her sister was a very private person, Bear Ride said, "People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, that's going to be a huge shock. For 17 months, nobody knew -- and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer.

"The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same," Bear Ride, who identifies as gay, said.

"I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them," she added.
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Outfest: The Devotion Project

Last night I went to Queerer than Fiction, the documentary shorts program, to cap my Outfest 2012 experience. Another strong program, but one that stood out was actually one I'd seen before, part one of something called The Devotion Project.

Director Tony Osso decided to make a handful of short films showcasing successful, loving, committed queer couples. He's got four finished now, and his first one, More Than Ever, was shown as part of the shorts program tonight. It's marvelous. Check it out.



Here's the Tumblr page for the whole project, which has all four videos available to watch.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Outfest: Andre Lee

I teared up during the first scene of The Prep School Negro, and the waterworks were intermittent throughout the rest of it. As the standing ovation for the film's subject and director, Andre Lee, started, I almost lost it. It's a thoughtful, funny, and moving film, and I hope everyone sees it.

Journal Entry - 4/17

Ten years ago this September I moved to Los Angeles here with a lot of excitement and no clue what I was doing out of the closet less than a year full of energy and anticipation eager to finally live to grow up to figure things out I remember very early possibly before even registering at temp agencies rushing to West Hollywood expecting what I don't know possibly an adventure romance, attention at the very least I'm sure. Going to A Different Light on Santa Monica, splurging the 15 or so bucks for a new David Leavitt novel (was Martin Bauman or, A Sure Thing), moving to a Coffee Bean nearby, sitting at an outdoor table, and practicing my cruising over the pages of the book to the surely oblivious patrons and passersby. It was thrilling if fruitless, where I was, what lay in front of me, the possibilities.

Almost ten years later I'm unemployed again, at a different Coffee Bean in West Hollywood -- Sunset rather than Santa Monica -- having just splurged four dollars on postcards (homoerotic Thomas Eakins and Bruce Weber for myself, Debbie Harry for Kevin and Bonnie and Clyde for JW) before settling in at a table here with a double espresso and a different book (Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man). My cruising has morphed into either curious glances or enjoying the scenery the customers provide as they pass through. The guy sitting side-saddle on his motorcycle in the parking lot, DG logo sticker on his helmet, bumping fists with people as they walk in. Inside the younger ones, listening to them talk. A young guy tells a pretty girl in a tight skirt he's from Texas and has only been in L.A. for a few days. He has a Louis Vuitton knapsack for his nice laptop. He asked her if she was on shows and she mentioned she'd worked for SyFy. The two have just exchanged names and it must be love, good for him for being so bold. Or maybe her, not sure who initiated.

So here I am, unemployed in West Hollywood, still haunting bookstores and coffee shops. Quietly admiring, curious, still some sense of possibility. Still no plan. Still trying to put one together.

Jon Robin Baitz on David Adjmi's 3-C

I just saw this on Twitter and thought I'd draw a little attention to it here.

David Adjmi wrote a play parodying Three's Company, and he's now being bullied by a big law firm representing the TV show's production company with a cease-and-desist letter. Jon Robin Baitz (and "the Theater Community) writes for The Awl:
I am not a lawyer, but David may need one, and I am currently investigating the willingness of a respected First Amendment firm to take this case on pro-bono. That an off-Broadway playwright should be bullied by a Wall Street law firm over a long-gone TV show, is, in and of itself, worthy of parody, but in fact, this should be taken seriously enough to merit raising our voices in support of Adjmi and his play, which Kenyon & Kenyon is insisting be placed in a drawer and never published or performed again.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Outfest: Bill Clegg

About halfway through last night's screening of Keep the Lights On, I thought to myself, "hey, this seems an awful lot like Bill Clegg."

I bought a copy of his memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, for a couple of bucks when Borders was going out of business. It's sat on my shelf unread ever since. I remember marveling at how good Clegg's publicist must've been when that book came out. Seems like he was everywhere -- magazine interviews, NPR -- promoting the chronicle of his downward spiral from crack addiction, his professional self-destruction, his tumultuous relationship with his tortured filmmaker boyfriend. Now the filmmaker, Ira Sachs, gets his crack at the story.

As for the movie, I'm sure it's authentic in chronicling what it's like to love an addict, but it all seemed a little remote to me as I watched. I admire the film's look and sound, though, particularly when Arthur Russell is scoring the action. I discovered Russell through Outfest (as I mentioned earlier today here), and while I think the music stands on its own, it's rich and evocative in the context of this urban melodrama. Here's the trailer, which captures how visually compelling it is, and how well the music works, too.



So thanks to Outfest I have renewed interest in that memoir. Which I might read while listening to Arthur Russell.

Outfest: Ashlie Atkinson

Sunday morning I brought the spirit to DGA2 for a screening of My Best Day, starring one of my Arkansas favorites, Ashlie Atkinson. Check here for a trailer. It's a solid bit of modern small-town life, rich with feeling, understatement, and charm. I love the way the gay and straight characters share the storyline without much concern for politics. The movie took for granted these people's perfunctory interactions, which I think is way more common than people realize. It's instructive, too, and where its politics lie, I think.

Either way, Ashlie looks great on a motorcycle and the rest of the cast is equally as sharp.

Outfest: Narcissister

This is an ad/interview, but I'm posting it because it shows Narcissister's live performance of her short, Every Woman, one of my favorites from the Platinum Shorts program.

Outfest: Joe Brainard


I finished my day at Outfest on Sunday with the Platinum Shorts program, a collection of experimental shorts at REDCAT. I was there mainly for the Matt Wolf short, I Remember: A Film About Joe Brainard. It was a nice bookend to a day beginning with Taylor Mead, who acted on sets designed by Brainard in the double-bill of O'Hara's The General Returns from One Place to Another and LeRoi Jones' The Baptism.

The entire Platinum Shorts program was impressive, incidentally. I may post more about some of the other shorts in a bit.

But I was there for Joe, and happily so. I know about Brainard mostly through his appearance in O'Hara's orbit. I'm not much of a collector, but if there's anything I seek out in bookstores, it's New York School-related writings. Back before A Different Light on Santa Monica closed its doors I used to try and buy something every time I went in there, just to do my part. My favorite purchase remains The Nancy Book, a whimsical collection of Brainard's riffs on the famous character. Here's a sample--


I found a good post about Joe online; it mentions his book, I Remember, beginning with this quote from the poem:
I remember the first time I met Frank O’Hara. He was
walking down Second Avenue. It was a cool early
Spring evening but he was wearing only a white shirt
with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And blue
jeans. And moccasins. I remember that he seemed
very sissy to me. Very theatrical. Decadent. I
remember that I liked him instantly.
The audio of Brainard reading from I Remember forms the spine of Matt Wolf's short film, reverberating at times like a murmur, at times like a funny old relative. The film combines this audio with stock footage, along with images of Joe, his friends, and his art.

If the poem is the spine, then Ron Padgett's narration, itself a fond remembrance, is the film's heart. Joe was born in Arkansas, but his family moved to Tulsa, where Padgett met him in school and grew up with him. They remained close as they lived in New York, along with Ron's wife Pat, who was herself a big fan of Joe's.

When Joe came out, he distanced himself (however amiably) from Pat and Ron, exploring his sexual identity and becoming a sort of protege of O'Hara's. I found this excerpt of his diaries from a review of Brainard's Collected Writings:
I feel very much on the verge (at last) of being a little more free of myself. But not quite. I mean like, more open, less nervous, and more human. More vulnerable. It may be a perverse thing to want, but that's what I want. I want to be more vulnerable. Frank O'Hara. I think often the way Frank O'Hara was. If I have a hero (I do) it is Frank O'Hara.
O'Hara may have been his hero, but I Remember: A Film About Joe Brainard makes clear that his greatest advocate was (and still is) Ron Padgett. His narration is warm and clear-eyed, describing his admiration for Joe's art, his relief at Joe finally realizing his sexual identity, and finally his concern for Joe's health. He and his wife cared for Brainard during his struggle with HIV.

Matt Wolf made one of the best movies I've ever seen at Outfest, Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, and I found this nice ArtForum interview with him about his interest in gay artists like Russell and Brainard. My favorite quote is below.
In a way, I think of the film as a gay-straight guy buddy movie. I think that’s an interesting social dynamic, which hasn’t been explored much in film. I know Ron is not keen to canonize Joe as a “queer” artist or icon. Nonetheless, a lot of young gay people like myself are interested in exploring the biographies of gay artists who died in the early ’90s from AIDS––to reclaim that history, I suppose. Joe is an important, and often overlooked, part of that story. The subject of my previous film on Arthur Russell is similar to Joe in that regard.
Wolf's made another gorgeous film here -- an ode to art, artists, and the special ways artists admire each other. And of course, it's a film about friendship, human connection, and the preciousness of memory.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Outfest: Taylor Mead

I started my Outfest 2012 experience with an anniversary screening -- one of the three movies from the first Outfest 30 years ago was Queen of Sheba and the Atom Man, starring actor/poet/artist/New York legend Taylor Mead.


I had a special interest in this movie because Mead, although more well-known as a Warhol Superstar, was also in Frank O'Hara's circle, appearing in a brief double-bill of O'Hara's play, The General Returns from One Place to Another and LeRoi Jones' The Baptism. O'Hara liked Mead's performance so much he added him to the play's dedication. He also dedicated it to Warner Brothers, but never mind.

Mead won an Obie for that performance in 1963. The same year he appeared in Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man, his second collaboration with avant-garde filmmaker Ron Rice, and what Mead calls his greatest movie.

It's a merry mess of a film, but there's so much to savor in it. The boho New York interiors for starters; cluttered, messy, tiny apartments serve primarily as the movie's sets. My favorite detail was the fly strip hanging from a table in the corner of the frame. There's a great article by Dan Glass about Mead and the movie, written on the occasion of a premiere of a documentary about him. Glass writes--
Critics nowadays would call this film, and others like it, amateurish, although the media then was struggling to stay hip, using turns like “intellectual hellzapoppin’” and “cubistic comedy of the new world cinema,” to describe them. They were trying too hard. It was plain to see, beyond the occasional and obvious symbolism, that these people were playing. Taylor says, “We just ran around in a cab going to interesting places in the city. The movie was two hours long and it took us two hours and 15 minutes to film it.”
New York looks great in it too; there are things in that movie that don't exist anymore, as my friend Andrew pointed out. And once you adjust to the film's rhythms, surrendering to the silliness of it, it becomes joyous. The soundtrack is full of pop, jazz, and classical selections, many times at odds with the events on screen. Towards the end of the film things seem to sync up, and lively music matches with a riotous dance party. I giggled periodically throughout the movie, but this had me laughing out loud.

The dancing continues to the end of the picture, with Mead in a bar dancing under a sign that says "No Dancing."


A little roughhousing ensues, but things end up alright, with Winnifred Bryan -- who's been naked and toyed with rather casually by the men in the movie --


-- in a pretty dress and white gloves, dancing with a game white gentleman in a suit. Nearby two men dance together in similar fashion. I appreciated the transgressive, playful elegance as a cap to a movie that zooms in on garbage trucks on more than one occasion. The whole thing's a hoot, and it's available to watch online in its entirety. Check it out here.

There's tons more stuff about Mead on the internet, but I'll just end it with a fun pic of him and Dennis Hopper.


Okay that and a video. He's still kicking in New York, reading poetry at the Bowery and other places. In fact he's all over Youtube; it was hard to single out one clip to show. But this one is the favorite that I watched, his ode to Jake Gyllenhaal.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Outfest started on Thursday

and I'm going to try to see as much as I can and post about it all, as usual. This year I have an embarrassment of riches. Just for kicks I entered an Outfest contest and created a Pinterest board of films I'm interested in seeing during the festival. I started a Pinterest page earlier this year in an attempt to understand it for the boss I was working for at the time. And now I have it and have no idea what to do with it.

The contest asked to make an Outfest 2012 board and put images from festival movies on it. Seemed easy enough, and was fun to do. I threw every movie onto it that looked remotely appealing, although I'm afraid I'm not going to get to a third of them. Here's my page if anyone's interested.

More soon. I've gotta get to some screenings!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Chalk Art Riots of 2012!

One of the things that's awesome about the evolution of Facebook since I began writing this blog is that now I just get awesome weird news items in my feed that I can pluck out and plaster up here. How wild is this, for example? A friend of mine who works downtown posted about it first person a few minutes ago and I just dug up the article.
The melee that broke out in downtown Los Angeles late Thursday between police and Occupy L.A. protesters appeared to have stemmed from a sidewalk chalk-drawing demonstration, witnesses said.

At least two officers were injured and several arrests had been made.

A woman who identified herself as part of Occupy L.A. said protesters attended the monthly L.A. ArtWalk on Thursday night with the intention of showing support for people previously arrested for chalking on the sidewalk. A Facebook event advertised the planned demonstration.
Now if I can just figure out Twitter maybe I never have to write anything of substance ever again.

Read the rest here.

More on MOCA and Baldessari

LATimes has a new piece about his exit, along with some of the other folks bailing on that mess. I love this quote from Baldessari:
"When I heard about that disco show I had to read it twice. At first I thought 'this is a joke' but I realized, no, this is serious. That just reaffirmed my decision," he said.
And also some writing on the problems with the Broad show over there--
After Broad's 2008 pledge kept MOCA from being merged with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "it sort of became a one-man show there," said [former board member Jane] Nathanson, who had favored the merger. "It's difficult to maintain engagement on the part of the entire board when the decision-making is limited to a few."

[...]

Climate control issues and other building-related problems make the 55,000-square-foot Geffen, which has more than double the exhibition space of MOCA's Grand Avenue headquarters, unsuitable for permanently displaying collection items. Nathanson had hoped that a big renovation campaign would not only provide MOCA with space to show many more of its vaunted holdings of post-World War II art but would give it a rallying point to fundraise its way out of fiscal doldrums while also eliminating the expense of operating two sites.

But she said the idea of closing the Grand Avenue museum ran up against Broad's vision of developing crowd-drawing synergy between the MOCA headquarters and the $130-million Broad Collection museum he is building across the street for his own major collection of contemporary art, with an expected 2014 opening.
Read the rest here.

Judy Davis Film Festival: Husbands and Wives

JW and I decided to cut to the chase and go right to the first movie that comes to mind when I think of Judy Davis, the under-appreciated Woody Allen movie Husbands and Wives.

It seems more significant now than it did when I originally saw it. This may be because it stands head and shoulders over To Rome With Love, so fresh in my memory and such a comparative trifle. No matter, I've decided that it's up there with top-tier Allen; it's formally distinctive, raw, and often painfully funny. You should check it out if you haven't seen it lately.

I remember seeing Husbands and Wives as a teen when it came out and finding it repellent. And it's not an easy movie at any age. Its faux-documentary experimentation still comes off as abrasive at times. The whole movie is just so brown, too; everyone's in these drab sweaters, and New York has never looked sadder or droopier in his films than in this one. The unfortunate timing of its release didn't help either, when he was being vilified in the press and everyone saw the movie as a commentary on the collapse of his personal life.

Watching it last night, I was pretty stunned. It's astounding the jarring liberties he takes with the documentary-style approach. I know he wasn't the first person to do it, but this was before we've become so numbed by the era of the slick handheld gimmickry of shows like The Office, where it's all style and no resonance. In Husbands and Wives, on at least one occasion a character shifts mid-monologue from an intense personal argument to look directly at the interviewer (and the camera). It's a shocking, powerful trick. It also accentuates the theme of marriage-as-performance. It's something that's part of the film's larger preoccupation with perceptions -- about the opposite sex, the object of one's affection, the object of one's desire, one's marriage, other people's marriages. And so on.

As we were walking out of To Rome With Love, JW mentioned that Ellen Page was essentially playing Barbara Hershey's role in Hannah and Her Sisters. It's a reasonable comparison, but what struck me the most was how lop-sided the film is toward the men in the picture. Page was not given anywhere near the material Hershey was. They're very different pictures, but it's nice that Hannah and company are deemed important enough to get the title of theirs. And while the women share the title of Husbands and Wives with the men, they sure are given more dimension than any of the major actresses he cast in To Rome with Love.

I could focus on To Rome's weaknesses, but as with Allen's lighter fare, it announces itself so immediately and warmly as such that it seems beside the point. I do think it's fair to say that he's written better female characters than those in that movie, even if he's able to cast Judy Davis to mesmerize the audience into not caring that much.

Take by contrast, Husbands and Wives, which has three killer roles for Davis, Mia Farrow (who plays another Hannah here, although not a thankless variation), and Juliette Lewis. Even Lysette Anthony's character (Sydney Pollack's younger bimbo girlfriend) is treated with empathy. It's so unsettling when he drags her out of that party more or less kicking and screaming. She might be ridiculous but she doesn't deserve that.

One could argue the movie offers a caustic attitude about its women. But I think that attitude comes less from the movie and more from the movie's heterosexual males. And all of them are frumpy, unattractive middle-aged men complaining about their passive-aggressive, sexually frigid, or otherwise remote spouses. The only guy who gets even the slightest pass is Liam Neeson. Handsome as he is, he still can't stop himself from collapsing into a pathetic obsession with Judy Davis. Meanwhile she couldn't send him more negative vibes.

Still, the women don't fare all that much better in their presentation. Davis is funny and fantastic and looks amazing in her perfect lipstick and Elaine Benes hair, but that doesn't make her character any less insufferable. My favorite line she has is to Liam Neeson, who she invites in for a drink. She yawns and then reassures him with something like, "Oh I'm not tired! I'm just hyper-oxygenating because the car ride made me a little sick."


I wanted to find a clip of her in the movie, but I think one of the best scenes to talk about, particularly in the film's depiction of women, is a scene in a cab with Juliette Lewis. She's a young, budding novelist and she's just read the new manuscript of her mentor, played by Allen, who's become infatuated with her.



Two things are remarkable to me here. One is obvious -- even as Allen becomes more upset, calling her a twit and swearing at her, the camera never gives him any attention. It's all about her as she lets him have it for how badly his male protagonist misperceives the women in his life. How it's beneath him. The other is the final exchange between the two:
Allen: I'd hate to be your boyfriend! He must go through hell.
Lewis: Yeah, well I'm worth it.
She is, of course. And if pressed I think Allen, and all the rest of them, would agree.

MOCA's blowing up

Four members of the Board of Trustees dress down Jeffrey Deitch in a letter to the LATimes here.
The celebrity-driven program that MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch promotes is not the answer.
John Baldessari just resigned from the Board. Also from the LAT--
The noted artist said in an interview that “to live with my conscience I just had to do it.”
Looks like Eli Broad's downtown takeover's getting a little hostile. Hope he doesn't burn the mother down.

This is great news

The Neil Patrick Harris concert Company is being released on DVD. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thanks

are due to Steven Leigh Morris in the LAWeekly for his kind words. Hello to anyone visiting from that blog. If you do know me, thanks for checking things out again. If you don't know me, check out some of the Best Of posts on the left, or just take a stroll through the archives. There's lots of stuff to explore, a lot of which I'm not even all that embarrassed by.

Also, just to give a little sense of the origins of this blog and how it's grown and changed over the years, this post from 2010 might give you a sense of things.

MOCA Does Disco

From the LATimes:
L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art may not be well-endowed financially, but it’s getting ready to shake its booty nevertheless: An upcoming exhibition will examine the cultural impact of disco music, according to a report Tuesday by the New York Observer’s GalleristNY blog.
Nice damage control, guys. Tell the critical snobs to eff off, do a show about 40-year-old party music, and boost your aging hipster cred by getting LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy to co-curate. Gotta hand it to him; the chutzpa rivals Mike Daisey.

I love James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem, and I even love a little bit of disco, especially when this one is involved--


Seriously, watch that whole thing. IT DON'T GET NO BETTER.

But really, Deitch?
Deitch likened 1970s disco to Cubism as a movement that began in an urban subculture and “within a few years spread all around the world.”
While I will admit that this show sounds two tons more fun than that tedious Land Art show going on right now, chill out for a bit. I would like to keep all the art historians in my life from going completely blind with rage, okay?

Things I wish I'd blogged about, # 2: Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey's back in the press at least a little bit, after inviting loads of web journalists (I can only assume Gawker's Adrian Chen was not on his list) to his revised remount of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. For those who don't know or remember, an excerpt from his one-man-show was featured and then retracted in embarrassment on NPR's This American Life after several fabrications were discovered in its content.

One of his upcoming revised performances at Woolly Mammoth in DC includes a Q&A with Steve Wozniak after and costs 100 bucks. At that price maybe he feels a need to hustle a little extra for coverage.

But then Daisey's always hustled. It's one of the things I admire about him. He's a constant, shameless self-promoter. And why should there be any shame in self-promotion? Who else is going to do it for you?

It's funny the level of suspicion we apply to the notion of self-promotion. The very phrase -- shameless self-promoter -- as if one should be ashamed of drawing attention to one's self. As if shame is the normal, appropriate response.

Is this just a basic Judeo-Christian notion of self-denial festering in our culture? I feel rather deeply this aversion to selling myself. It takes real effort for me to hustle -- for jobs, writing opportunities, you name it. In some regards I've gotten better at it as I've gotten older, or learned to care less, or at least understand its necessity.

But it must come naturally to Mike. He's great at email blasts. He's got a cool blog and a robust Youtube channel. He's aggressive in comments of blogs that write about him, whether in wry or confrontational (and let's face it, ugly) fashion.

And that's where I get hung up on his This American Life appearance, his mea culpa, and all the rest of it. I get that he's passionate about his activist theater, but the one commonality in all of his work is the POV. Solidly his. Sitting behind a table, telling his stories about his observations, his interviews, his experiences, his life. His interest in the welfare of Chinese workers in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. His intervention in domestic disputes in The Last Cargo Cult. His righteous indignation about the inadequacies of the American theater in How Theater Failed America. Promotion of all of these concerns is self-promotion in his case. It also seems oddly solipsistic, all things considered. He even makes comic reference to this, addressing his audience in The Last Cargo Cult (or at least a performance of it reviewed by Jason Zinoman) with the following:
“You are nothing to me,” he says, scowling. “You sit there in the darkness, strangers to me. You listen, and you laugh. You are a job. And you will be replaced.”
But I digress. My point is that if Daisey truly is an activist, then his voice, his face, his persona are part and parcel of his activism.

Now one could argue that people use their personas to advance altruistic agendas all the time, and what's wrong with that? But doesn't altruism preclude self-promotion? Is it really only because of speaking (theatrical or actual) truth to power that Daisey lied to TAL's fact-checkers about his translator (to me the most audacious lie) so they wouldn't kill the story? I'm glad he apologized for misleading everyone and I certainly was never furious or scandalized by any of it (because wouldn't that be so boring), but after saying he's sorry with lines like these--
I speak about truth because it is what I aspire to. All my stories, even when I’ve fallen short, have been attempts to experience the truth with my audiences.
--he really would've impressed me if he'd just owned up and said, "I know I shouldn't have done it, but hey, it was This American Life! Do you know how major that is? And come on, if you were in my shoes and could come out of it charging $100 a ticket and rubbing elbows with the Woz, would you have fessed up?"

Monday, July 09, 2012

I'm beginning a Judy Davis

film festival after finding her the highlight of the pleasant, forgettable To Rome With Love. While it is fun to see the grandfatherly Woody Allen deliver his own lines again, Davis steals practically every scene she's in, whether she means to or not. There's an important beat over a meal where Allen suggests he can make his future son-in-law's father an opera star; he shares the frame with Davis, and JW and I agreed afterward that we both spent the whole scene just watching her eat and react.

The first film in our festival is Impromptu, where she plays George Sand. It's a showqueen's dream, with James Lapine directing and Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin acting. And there's also Julian Sands, Emma Thompson being extra ridiculous, and Hugh Grant young and silly as Chopin.

But it's Judy's show. She shows off serious actorly pipes and looks great in her waistcoats, trousers, and cigars. And then there's the severe hair, which looks like 19th-century gender-warrior novelist by way of 90s spiral perm.


Also, just as an aside, Mandy Patinkin's beard is pretty marvelous in this one.


Here she is later in the film, in a more gender-normative get-up.



Tomorrow I'm going to try for Children of the Revolution, but I'm afraid JW's going to vote for My Brilliant Career.

Things I wish I'd blogged about, part 1: Margaret

Since I'm dusting off FWL and trying to get back in the swing of things, I thought it might be fun to cover a few things I probably would've blogged about in the time the blog was so sorely neglected. Here's my first stab at it -- some thoughts about Kenneth Lonergan's movie, Margaret, which I saw in the theater last September during its one-week release.

Lonergan, writer/director of a lot of good plays and You Can Count On Me, one of my all-time favorite films, got a fair amount of press for the struggles he had getting Margaret made to his liking. See here and here for a couple of run-downs.

The movie stars Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen, who witnesses a bus driver hit and kill a pedestrian after distracting him, and spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out how to deal with it. A.O. Scott writes about her in his review--
Lisa’s subsequent attempt to make sense of this trauma — to figure out how it counts as something that happened to her and to assimilate it into her developing sense of the world — is at the center of “Margaret.”
My memories of the film are a little vague, which is one of the reasons I wish I'd written about it here last fall; Jeannie Berlin's exasperated performance is the one thing that really stuck with me. She's wonderful.

Other than that I remember going into the theater wanting to love it or hate it, and leaving the theater feeling neither extreme. I found it both compelling and overwhelming, or bewildering, even. I didn't really know what to make of it, so maybe the easiest response to it was to just shrug it off and get on with my vacation week. Luckily it wasn't Allison Janney's bloody torso bleeding out that I had to get over, so, well, I moved on.

And then I started to notice critics going nuts about this thing. Towards the end of last year I had a conversation with a couple of writers for a movie blog; one of them was willing to engage with me about my attitude towards it, but the other responded to my suggestion that it was a mess with "it was my number one film of the year," and more or less turned his back, as if that pronouncement effectively silenced me. I let him remove himself from the conversation without any fuss, even though I marveled at the fact that there are film critics out there who actually talk that way. Should I have started screaming at him like Anna Paquin's character did to her classmates in the movie? I kinda wanted to. Especially in retrospect.

There is something strange to me about the way the film's admirers -- and there are several -- champion this movie as a misunderstood masterpiece. It's as if they're on a crusade to be the writer who was really into that one movie that nobody saw. And it's a well-known fact that Lonergan wasn't happy with the cut they raved about, so I don't think it's an insult to his artistry or a critic's facility for judgment for me to suggest that the movie I saw didn't work. I get to do that. Anna Paquin gets to disagree with her classmates about politics. I get to be ambivalent about a flawed movie.

I don't know Alonso Duralde, but I like his reviews and podcasts so I subscribe to him on Facebook, and I was pleased to see a post from him that went something like "I don't care what anyone says! That Margaret is a piece of crap!"

Of course I didn't think the movie I saw was a piece of crap, but it was like a breath of fresh air to hear a critic who didn't seem so keen on enlightening his readership, or being the one who really gets it...really gets this overlong, meandering, complicated, challenging movie...this intellectual film that is apparently about 9/11 even though it's not about 9/11 at all; this movie that has so much to say about New York, and politics, and the past 10 years, and it's important and major and I GET IT PEOPLE! ME! I GET IT, OKAY?!

Even though I don't really agree with either critic's POV, the POV of the skeptic is way more attractive to me here. And apparently taking up sides is, as well. And I know that, just as I get to be ambivalent about a flawed movie, someone else gets to be excited about a flawed masterpiece. I know it doesn't have to be anything more than that. All critics who disagree with you aren't out to get you, Kyle. Margaret really isn't some pawn in a culture war.

Wait a minute, am I Lisa Cohen? I am, aren't I? Maybe we all are! Shit.

I just found and read Duralde's original review, which I never got around to last fall. He's like me in his appreciation of Berlin, but he ends it with something I think I noticed him echoing on his Facebook page--
If the moviegoing audience at large ever gets to see Lonergan’s edit of “Margaret,” and if it does indeed turn out to be great, then that will be cause for celebration.
And he's right. And I am curious. I just can't decide if I'm up for a member screening of the 3-hour cut at LACMA next Tuesday, with Lonergan doing a Q&A after. I might be.

The Winter's Tale

Independent Shakespeare Company's production of The Winter's Tale in Griffith Park is really worth it, especially since it's free. It's the first opportunity I've ever had to see a production of it (I think...certainly the first I've taken). I remain a big fan of summer Shakespeare with ISC; they do serious work, but with a light, accessible touch.

They're doing Midsummer Night's Dream and Comedy of Errors this summer as well, and I plan to see those too. And while it may be free, you should put some money in the bucket on your way out. At least a dollar or two.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

And another thing

There's something else going on in this article that needs to be taken into consideration. See this quote:
There's a myth in this country that playwriting is an unlimited resource. That the number of potentially brilliant plays will always exceed the number of production slots. But as someone who has scouted new work for several nonprofit theater companies, I can attest that this is complete fiction. Good playwrights are rarer than fine wines.
I want to address a couple of things McNulty does here. 1) He substitutes a myth with an easy cliche; and 2) he conflates two things that are quite different -- "potentially brilliant plays" are entirely different things than "good playwrights." And of course there's no rubric for his understanding of what potentially brilliant plays or good playwrights are, or what theaters should be doing to either stage these plays or nurture these writers.

I think my major beef with this paragraph is that it muddies two different approaches to producing theater. There's 1) focusing on product, and 2) nurturing talented artists. I would disagree with McNulty that a good playwright is as rare as a fine wine. But then I don't really think fine wines are that rare, either. But then our definitions of fine are probably different for both wine and good playwrights.

Regardless, GOOD playwrights are hardly rare. Good playwrights with a trunkload of plays that are ready to be produced on the nation's mainstages, now that's a different story. That takes work, and resources, and support.

Good plays aren't rare, either, but I don't think that every good play is right for every theater, and I don't think that a good play is automatically a play that deserves to be on the stages of large and small theaters all over the country. Potentially brilliant plays? Should that be the criteria for having your work produced? I don't know why he stops at "potentially brilliant," unless that's his way of being generous enough to allow work that's not actually brilliant to get his seal of approval.

If McNulty thinks that what L.A. really lacks is theaters willing or able to take risks on playwrights who have established themselves elsewhere (whether it's London, New York, or a commission at SCR), that sounds an awful lot like a local theater that lets other places do the heavy lifting. He can try to empathize with local small theaters and their struggles, but what kind of cultural capital are we if we're content to collect the scraps from the efforts of others who actually support writers and help them to build a body of work?

Apparently

new play development is cost-prohibitive for all of these small theaters, which McNulty (click here for the full article) points out in an attempt to give a bit of attention to the fact that all these places do world-premieres.
Growing your own plays may take a company only so far (few are completely self-sustaining), but it seems to be the most satisfying approach. Pooling resources with another theater has become an increasingly popular way of dealing with the economic hurdles of new play development.
Note here how measured he is ("only so far", "seems") in even talking about the matter.

Either way it's nice he gets to it eventually, even if he refuses to let go of this odd narrative he's working on. It goes something like "Aww, it's so sad that these poor places that don't make any money can't get local premieres of plays done at the BIG theaters like CTG, SCR and The Geffen! The 99s are just so small and they don't make any money for artists, but they're SO SO GOOD."

At least he lets Daniel Henning voice a little more passion about world premieres than he's willing to muster.
"I feel like over the years at the Blank, we keep coming out of the closet more and more as producers of new plays," said Henning. "When people ask the question, 'Why do you only do new plays?' — which I get all the time — my answer is, 'Because Shakespeare doesn't need to pay his mortgage anymore, and I know people who do.'"

[...]

Henning asked, "Why is there so much money and energy spent on showcasing theater from other places and nobody gives two shakes about what we're doing here?"
So McNulty gathers together a bunch of solid small-theater artistic directors who produce world premieres, and even as he lets them talk about new work and includes their discussion, he won't really let it broaden his POV that our local theater is so sorely lacking of plays we've all been reading about in the NYTimes for years now.

Bitter Lemons

addresses a complaint he read on Twitter that there isn't a producer of color in the Critic's Notebook article by dismissing the concern, but I don't think it's invalid to point that out. Maybe it's an easy criticism to make, but then it's equally easy for McNulty to include a company like Jon Lawrence Rivera and Playwrights Arena, a place that actually produces quality premieres by local playwrights of color. It's not like there are zero options for McNulty on this front.

Regardless, diversity onstage is what should be of paramount importance, and I think all the people and theaters represented in this article would be quick to point out their efforts on that front and their attention to the issue. It's just the subject of a different article than this.

I did appreciate learning that The Fountain is producing Tarell Alvin McCraney's In the Red and Brown Water, but again, that's a play that's been seen in New York and major regionals already.

And of course I want to see productions of all these plays too, but I can also check out published copies of them from the library and read them, and then get excited about premieres of local playwrights (or non-local playwrights) that all these theaters actually do.

I'm emerging

from self-imposed exile thanks to the recent Charles McNulty Critic's Notebook at the LATimes this weekend. He brought together a bunch of small-theater artistic directors for a discussion and got an article out of it.

Here's a quote from McNulty--
To start, I brought up a recent Arts & Books feature in which Reed Johnson noted that there were no Southern California productions planned of Quiara Alegría Hudes' "A Spoonful of Water," winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama. I've been wondering the same thing about new works by Annie Baker, Will Eno, Christopher Shinn, Lisa D'Amour, Young Jean Lee and Amy Herzog that have yet to reach our area.

Critically esteemed yet commercially challenging, these playwrights have been underserved by Los Angeles. One problem is that the marquee nonprofit houses have been reluctant to take chances on dramatists carving their own paths, while the city's few midsize theaters, which would be the logical venue for emerging writers who aren't pandering to established tastes, haven't seemed eager to fill this gap.
Listen, if a small theater in L.A. manages to nab a premiere by one of those playwrights, more power to it, but this article really focuses on the problem with second productions of plays already seen in New York and London taking so long to get here. Rogue Machine chased the rights to Blackbird for years; The Fountain chased the rights to Opus; Rogue Machine's still chasing the rights to The Pillowman. McNulty's assembled some of the best 99-seat folks in the city, many of whom do premieres (Boston Court increasingly seems like a place with a national profile for such things), and he spends over half of his article talking about the difficulty they have in doing stuff other people did first?

I suppose we should be appreciative that McNulty is offering such big exposure to these theaters in the Sunday Times, and he is generous about their work, saying this--
I selected these individuals because they have been doing the most interesting work in town regardless of venue size. Disparate in their aesthetic vision, they are united in their possession of a fine-textured sensibility. If I were a playwright, I'd entrust my new play to any one of them — in fact, I think I might prefer it to a production at a regional theater where the audience sometimes seems to be visibly wondering whether the subscription is really worth the time and expense.
But he still focuses on it being "embarrassing" that L.A. doesn't have productions of hit plays by playwrights established elsewhere and uses this to call into question L.A.'s clout as a "cultural capital." Would L.A. truly have a theater worthy of its status as a "cultural capital" by treating its audience as if it's in the dark and needs the lights turned on by its more sophisticated counterparts? If so, it already does that. Is the solution doing more of it? Or just cherry-picking the imports so they're edgier?

Rather than showcasing solid work that doesn't get enough attention, this reinforces old New York/L.A. and big regional/99-seat dichotomies. Not that I'm surprised, but the hierarchies are maintained in L.A.'s paper of record, folks.

I have more to say on this. Stay tuned.