Monday, December 31, 2012

Year end music!

No lists here. Well, maybe a little list.

Frank Ocean.
Dirty Projectors.
Kendrick Lamar.
Patti Smith.
Fiona Apple.
Ty Segall.

Another best list

I saw lots of movies this year. So how about a list of them?!

10. Compliance fascinated me. Killer Joe did too, but for different reasons.
9. I saw Moonrise Kingdom twice and liked it a lot more the second time.
8. I didn't like The Master more the second time I saw it, but I understood more what the movie was getting at. I also understood its flaws better. And appreciated the 70-millimeter more. And admired Joaquin Phoenix even more than I did on the first viewing. 
7. I saw two delightful movies at Outfest -- a short one about Joe Brainard and a long one starring Taylor Mead.
6. From the meticulous plotting to the third act freak-out to the climax cameo, Cabin in the Woods was a delight.
5. Eddie Redmayne slayed me in Les Miz.All he had to do was enter the frame and I welled up.

4. Holy Motors was pretty damn fun. Kylie Minogue's musical number was a highlight.
3. Frances McDormand in Promised Land. Her performance is all charming, world-weary, mild exasperation. She's a joy to watch.
2. Judy Davis in To Rome with Love. So much so I had a mini Judy Davis film festival.
1.5. Paranorman. I love Paranorman. Particularly the climax, which is intense and gorgeous in 3D on the big screen and it made me cry.
1. How to Survive a Plague is a knockout documentary. I hear it's streaming on Netflix now too so you should check it out.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

L.A. Affairs on proposing pragmatists

I'm impressed they didn't go with a New Year's theme. Here you go--
My girlfriend picked me up and we went for dinner that night at our favorite Chinatown restaurant, which is where I proposed, in a manner of speaking. The conversation went something like this:

"I'm hosed," I said over the moo shu chicken (or words to that effect). "I'm under 25, single and just totaled your car. My insurance is going to go through the roof. Why don't we get married?"

"OK," she said.

"Your mom's coming out from Chicago for a visit in January," I went on. "Let's do it then, and save her a trip."

"Fine," she replied.
Read the rest here.

LACMA Post - Kubrick

I rushed through the Kubrick show. It was easily the most crowded, and most crowded with objects, video, and text. By this time I was getting museum fatigue and didn't have much stamina left to linger on this exhibit.

I did enjoy this description of how he worked on Lolita (tied with Strangelove for my favorite Kubrick movie).
He encouraged his actors to improvise, using the dissimilarities in their performances as part of a precarious dreamscape.
It's especially thought-provoking for me considering a creative project Fell Swoop is working on.

LACMA Post - Mapplethorpe

I started my visit to LACMA (I think it was 12/22 -- rainy and dreary) in the Caravaggio and His Legacy exhibit. I came on strong with the handful of Caravaggios in the first room, but then my attention flagged while wandering into the Legacy part. I let myself get distracted by at least one of the men viewing the exhibit with me, which was amusing considering the subject of the show.

After that (and the Ken Price, which I quite liked), I found the small Mapplethorpe X, Y, and Z Portfolios exhibit and spent a little time in there, both taking in the work and enjoying the scandalized few who wandered in without noticing the "mature images" warning outside.

Edmund White's introductory text for the Z Portfolio is mounted in the room with the photos, and that's where I found this--
Because sexual desire, finally, is a form of love -- of wanting to possess, explore, probe, taste, invade and inhabit an alien body if only for a moment. Not love in the sense of sustained social responsibility but love as passion, as appetite, as irrepressible yearning. Oddly enough, passion, like art, is always irresponsible, useless, an end in itself, regulated by its own impulses and nothing else.
Then I sped through the Kubrick. More in a bit.

LACMA post - Ken Price

I had a good afternoon at LACMA a couple of weeks ago. I typed up a bunch of notes on my phone as I was walking through -- mostly quotes and text from the various shows. I've been meaning to publish them here.

The Ken Price retrospective is a lovely tribute -- nicely designed by Frank Gehry and full of playful, colorful ceramics. Here are a couple of nice quotes from Price that I found in the wall text.
"I used to call it the highway to the unconscious. And that's where I like to be, in that place where you're open, your mind goes quiet, and before long all kinds of possibilities come."
"You don't have to act serious to be serious."

"A craftsman knows what he's going to make and an artist doesn't know what he's going to make, or what the finished product is going to look like."
Mapplethorpe is next.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Back in the Village

with my parents and weathering some major weather. At least they got the power back on, although the fridge is getting purged, which depresses Mom terribly.

Hope to have some new posts up soon. I'd slap up some pictures of our white Christmas, but I screwed up my computer at some point during my travels, making it hard to upload things from my phone. It doesn't seem too terrible, except the monitor is seriously wrecked.

Okay more in a bit. And just in case you need to make a year-end donation to support the performing arts, check out Fell Swoop's donation page here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas in Pismo

with L.A. Affairs--
It was our first Christmas together, and I was determined that it would be special.

We had booked a hotel room for the holidays on the sand at Pismo Beach. Jim, my new love, had Mark Harmon hair and a Richard Gere smile. He watched BBC News, read (actual) books and regularly finished the Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle — in pen.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 theater

It's time for the year-end favorite best year-end top love it I saw so much and I have to write about it again list!

10. I didn't really see that much.
9. Anything Goes is fabulous.
8. Alan Mandell makes me never want to see another production of Waiting for Godot again because how could it live up to him?
7. Or any other Beckett like Krapp's Last Tape because I might end up bored out of my mind and feel a little guilty about that.
6. Gatz didn't change my life or anything but was pretty cool. And Scott Shepherd is my hero.
5. Oh yeah and Book of Mormon. It was fine, but I wish Josh and Rory were in it.
4. Clybourne Park because this is a year-end best list so I'm required to mention it, right?
3. American Idiot is a great big mess but I loved it so much I saw it twice!
2. God what else did I see? Jitney, Follies and Good People. I'm supposed to mention those too, right?
1. The Children at Boston Court worked pretty well on me, I have to say.

And then there's this. Which is 1-10 and 11-20 too!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

James Dobson and Mike Huckabee

are terrible evangelists. That was the thought that stuck with me after reading one article after another with them both claiming in some form or fashion that gay marriage, separation of church and state, and various other worldly trends are the reason for the killings in Newtown.

Religious public figures often baffle me for several reasons. Not the least of which is the type of Christian self-denial that seems absent in the attention-seeking of everyone from Huckabee to Sharpton. Do they actually care about the religion they preach? And of course the cliche of the religious huckster is hard to forget, particularly when so many of them -- specifically the anti-gay ones -- seem to exist solely to raise money and pay their own salaries.

But deep down I do think Huckabee and his ilk believe what they're saying. I also think they like their salaries and their speaking fees and their hangers-on and their TV shows on Fox and their guest appearances on Jon Stewart. They like to surprise their liberal foes that they're actually pleasant and well-mannered, they know their way around a self-deprecating joke, and they're really just folks and not at all like the moralizing, judgmental, exclusive zealots their positions suggest.

What I don't get is how saying the things that both of these alleged men of God said this week could possibly evangelize, or could possibly reach the unconverted at all. How do you win over a skeptical public with such dubious, shameful, heinous sentiments?

That's why I think calling them evangelicals is a misnomer. These people are preaching to the converted. They're reaching out to their base to further a kind of institutional evangelism. Christianism, as Andrew Sullivan would describe it. Their goal is to get politics and government to do their work for them. If it's evangelism at all it's of a lazy, dictatorial sort. Get the converted to alter government to force religion on everyone and that's how we'll keep God alive. AND we get to go on talk shows!

And while it seems to work on the choir and nurture the preachers' vanity, greed, and other deadly sins, I do wonder what kind of a minister or a politician you are if you're unable to persuade with the power of your message and the soundness of your arguments.

Ty Segall

blew me away opening for Stephen Malkmus in 2011. I only saw the last two songs of his set but they were the best songs of the whole night (and I'm a big Malkmus fan). It was sweet the way Malkmus and his bassist, Joanna Bolme, thanked him during their own set. Bolme started with something like, "Thanks to Ty Segall for coming onstage and shredding," with Malkmus chiming in, "Every night. EVERY. NIGHT."

Thrilled to see him at the El Rey on Saturday, even if I wished there were two fewer opening acts and Segall played a longer set. (Incidentally, my favorite lyric of the evening came from the first opener, Pangea: "We don't hold hands an-ymore / We just give head an-ymore.") Overall the show was a hoot -- all ages, with 14-year-olds in Stooges t-shirts and mad stage-diving and crowd-surfing. Segall played a stunning, blazing set, short and sweet, with the coolest cover of "Feel Like Makin' Love" I've ever heard as an encore. In other words, I'm completely smitten.

Here are some clips.

Monday, December 17, 2012

L.A. Affairs on Mr. Popular

Oh Manhattan Beach, home of the heartbreakers and the broken-hearted.
All the women in the bar had their devil eyes on him. The men looked envious. I then realized who he was. He was Mr. Popular. I suddenly felt unsure whether my free-spirited persona would mesh with the star quarterback.

But I persuaded Dave to set up a double date for dinner anyway.

It went well. After dinner, he kissed me with his full, soft lips. He made me laugh. He listened. I felt beautiful around him.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A book critic on Gatz

David Ulin's review of Gatz in Sunday's LATimes is thoughtful enough, but I can't help but find his approach condescending. It's a familiar condescension to me, something literary types seem particularly good at when it comes to theater.

It reminds me of hearing Martin Amis speak at a book-signing; he talked about how hilarious it is that Shakespeare, our greatest poet, is a dramatist, considering how low and terrible plays are as a literary art form. He said this as if there was no disputing the fact, which I think has more to do with being Martin Amis than being true, but no matter.

I'm reminded also of one of my Shakespeare professors in my college English department, who said he'd never seen a production of Shakespeare that was better than the one he could find in his head. To this I can only reply, "Congratulations. Now you just stay inside your head and let the rest of us rubes have our fun."

Ulin's quite attached to his thesis about the dangers of excess, so much so that he writes two paragraphs about it (one of which quotes a Terry Southern essay) before mentioning either Gatz or its source material (hmm, excess, interesting), then goes on to suggest that due primarily to the production's length and commitment to presenting the book in its entirety, it's a victim of some kind of "clunky" theatrical excess that the more interior written word avoids, somehow.

And yet, it's set in a run-down office, with a bunch of ordinary people. There's no opulence, there's no period detail, there are no grand set pieces or set changes. Just a bunch of workaday types who become transformed by a great work of literature. I guess you could call that clunky if you like (although what I've seen of Elevator Repair Service suggests that a certain clunkiness is part of the intention -- and charm). If it's excessive, it seems primarily so in its length. To criticize it on that front is to reject the endeavor entirely before even getting to its substance.

Further, farce is hardly a word I would use to describe anything that happened onstage at REDCAT, although he suggests that the first half of Gatz succumbs to farce as an attempt to reconcile the novel's interiority. I'll set aside the use of the word farce as a pejorative (itself an indication of bias) and focus on the difference between farce and comedy. The pertinent difference is that Gatz uses comedy and does not use farce.

And comedy is a serious element of stage (and literature). People like to laugh when they go to theater sometimes. Allowing them to do so is useful, too. It breaks tension. It varies rhythm. It lets audiences breathe. It makes them want to stick around, to come back. We try to do these things for audiences.

The first act of Gatz also has the seductive wildness of the parties Nick stagger into and out of. This is no farce, but a means of seducing the audience, the pedestrian performers and the setting into the world of the novel. It's the most exciting portion of the production, and a smart way of getting at the essence of what to me has always been the most memorable and attractive section of the novel.

Ulin finally shows his cards by the end of the review (right before tying up his excess theme with a great big holiday bow), suggesting that the boldest dramatic choice would've been the Andy Kaufman one -- having an actor sit onstage reading the book. Perhaps that's true, but a lot of us know it's been done already (including ERS, as the director's notes indicated). Regardless, an evaluation like that suggests he'd never have been happy with anything but the pure, undiminished interiority of a book he's already read. It dismisses the attempt at fusing theater and literature to create something new, at using one form to illuminate another, at letting theater artists be theater artists, at respecting the ambition, daring and audacity that birthed this effective, successful, serious production.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Documentary dating

Is the theme in Saturday's L.A. Affairs. 
I found my first couple of dates through a Jewish singles mixer. Then I had a "speed dating" experience in which I met eight men — eight dates. In January, I traveled to Mammoth. It was surprisingly warm, so I skied down the hill in a bikini — outside my comfort zone — and asked the lift operators out on dates. The first two said no; the third stood me up. Later, I was sitting at a bar alone, which led to an impromptu date with a Royal Air Force pilot. We clicked, but the only follow-ups were some emails with the news that he would be stationed in California next summer.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

More on GATZ

The office 
One could argue that it's gimmicky, and at times it seems to disappear as a conceit altogether. It gives the production a welcome freedom, though. And it works as more than just a literal representation of the transporting power of literature (and theater). It also mirrors Nick Carraway's and Gatsby's immersion and disconnection from the decadent circles they find themselves in.

The length
There were times when I drifted, times when I checked out, but they were never for long. I was pleased with my ability to remain connected to the event. In all honesty, during the dinner break I was a little exhausted by the prospect of returning for another 3+ hours, but I wonder if I would've appreciated the things about the performance that I loved if I hadn't been persuaded to give myself over to the production's pacing.

And it's refreshing to be provided this opportunity to disconnect from mobile devices and multitasking -- even if everyone was checking their email and texting and tweeting during the breaks -- to adjust to the rhythms of a novel being read aloud. To remind myself that I can do it.

The simplicity
I so admired the simplicity of the production. And I say that admiring also the inventiveness in the show and occasional wildness of the scenes. But this was done in one simple set with good light and sound, complementing but not stealing focus from the novel, the show's real star.

The ending
I haven't read the book since college so I'd forgotten much of the second half. Because of the book's pacing, the climax happens so early in the last act that wrapping things up takes a while. Here again is where I think adjusting to the pace and rhythm is so important. Scott Shepherd finally abandons the book and recites the final passages -- it seemed like at least half an hour's worth, but I'm not sure -- which contain such stunning prose I wanted to immediately grab the copy off the set during the curtain call and read it all over again. I understand why the book is considered a great American novel, but the ending is so specific and connected to character and in culmination of the book's events; I suppose one could read it as representative of an era or as allegory but I felt it most strongly as that place, those people. And Nick Carraway, full of wonder, sadness, grappling with his own history. It's such a devastating, resonant ending that it made me appreciate every second that preceded it so that it could land the way it did for me.

And it was all done by one everyman reciting some text on a stage.

I survived GATZ!

Lots of thoughts, and hopefully I'll carve out some time today to post more about it. Most importantly I'm even more of a Scott Shepherd fan than I was when I only knew him as that awesome actor in all those Wooster Group shows.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

L.A. Affairs on Arranged Marriage

 In this weekend's L.A. Affairs, we learn that one can find love in places other than the Westside or Malibu.
After college, I had firmly established myself in a good career, but I felt something was missing. While I did date occasionally, it seemed impossible to find a woman with the same religious and cultural background, so I reached out to my parents in Pakistan.

Please help find me a wife.
Read the rest here.