Translate

Monday, June 22, 2015

THE TESTAMENT OF YOUTH 6/22/15



The confluence of history, social mores and a young woman’s strong belief in her own individuality - convictions suffused with a humanist sensibility - are at the center of this sweeping saga based on Vera Brittain’s World War I memoir titled TESTAMENT OF YOUTH directed by James Kent. Born into an upper class English family, Vera Brittain (an independent, sharp-eyed, exotic looking young woman played by Alicia Vikander of Ex-Machina fame) never moves at a leisurely pace, but always with a speed and determination befitting her “youthful” fierceness of purpose. 

We first glimpse Vera in 1914 teasing her brother and his two friends, as she effortlessly glides through a body of water - the repressed sexuality of the era heightening the interactions with the young Oxford men. We are quickly made cognizant of Vera’s value system as she laboriously studies for the Oxford entrance exam against her father’s wishes - having just bought her a piano to entice a potential suitor with her “womanly” skills. Despite protestations against being pulled into the quicksand of romance, Vera  falls in love and becomes engaged to a fellow poet and student, Roland Leighton (Kit Harington - underwhelming in the part.) Life is expansive  - possibilities flourish - the English countryside echoes the verdant blossoming of the future.

International conflicts exploding beyond one’s personal microcosm, upend our beings in an instant, leaving unexpected consequences; dreams are shattered and cast behind, as political events forge ahead. The clarion call to the First World War; patriotic young men enlisting in droves dreaming of manhood and glory fighting in the battlefields are illusions waiting to be crushed with the thunder of artillery and bombardment, resulting in a cataclysmic loss of lives and the sweet innocence of a generation.

The Brittain family is critically impacted by these world-wide hostilities; Her beloved brother and fiancé go off to combat, and eventually so does Vera who in good conscience cannot continue to study poetry at Oxford, leaving school to support the war effort by nursing wounded soldiers. The horrific reality of troops sluggishly wading in the mud, their blood filling the trenches; the dead listed page upon page in the daily newspapers - hits our psyches with a powerful awareness of the abomination that is war.

Ultimately Vera Brittain, becomes the face of pacifism based on her experience ministering to the recruit’s maimed and damaged - those injured and dying - both friend and foe. Her resolve is as passionate as ever, but this time she is battling an unending cycle of violence, hate, and vengeance; like a tidal wave, crashing over those impacted by events, altering them forever creating pockets of bleakness in their souls.


 At the conclusion of THE TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, I left the theater with a feeling of despair, aware that global circumstances today are as murderous and uncontrollably flammable as they were 100 years ago.

Friday, June 19, 2015

PERSONAL REFLECTION ON MY FATHER: WORDS/WORDS/WORDS ON WOMEN'S VOICES FOR CHANGE SITE


A few months before my father died, I completed a painting titled So Hard to Say Goodbye. Twenty-two years later, he still haunts my work. In the last two years of his life, he too had a hard time saying goodbye.
Like a battered boxer knocked down and counted out, he kept holding on. People commented on his “grievous quality of life” after a stroke narrowed his world, depriving him of the ability to speak or to swallow. He could never eat or drink again, and he was left so weakened that he could barely move. Yet I selfishly cherished those last two years.
After he had lost the power to voice his needs and desires, I became fascinated with the words he wrote on a notepad in a spidery, shaky hand, scribbling all over the page as if the ruled lines that he had always lived by were finally flung away, strange characters landing aimlessly on the page...
To read more go to:
http://womensvoicesforchange.org/fathers-day-words-words-words.htm



Saturday, June 13, 2015

THE WOLFPACK 6/13/15



Crystal  Moselle’s documentary THE WOLFPACK, is a mysterious and sensitive probing of the Angulo family – six brothers, with Sanskrit names - Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krsna and Jagadisa, now ages 16 to 23, a “special needs” sister, and their parents, Oscar and Susanne, who live in NYC Public Housing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Over a period of five years, the director Moselle shot approximately 500 hours of footage recording lives that were anything but conventional; encountering them on one of their rare neighborhood outings, a crew of six brothers dressed in black with sunglasses and dark flowing hair. She became their first friend and ultimately a catalyst for change. What is so intriguing is the fact that the entire family rarely left their small apartment (one year they never went out at all), the father being the only one with a key keeping everyone under secure lock, including his wife who supported them by home schooling the children. Oscar Angulo who is seen in home movies, often drinking, and engaging with his offspring in “questionable” ways that made me uneasy – spouting philosophical sound bites reminiscent of the 1960s, fashioning himself as a highly “evolved” person who had a mission to protect his brood, absolutely convinced that there was a “safe” world inside and a “dangerous” one beyond the warren that was their refuge from the evils lurking within the big city.

 Susanne, like a mother cat lolling on a bed with her kittens nestling close by, splayed about in every direction, comforted by an adult’s loving presence – was unable to defy her husband’s bizarre authoritative control over the household, yet she was able through her teaching to fuel their original and fanciful spirits. We are privy to what life was like growing up within the confines of a small space, never leaving the enclave to venture outdoors; the cosmos is isolated and narrow, but also richly imagined.

The father begins to bring movies into their home  – a collection of over 5,000 DVD’s and Videotape Cassettes that the Angulo boys’ catalogue - and an alternate universe is studied, imitated and explored. The manipulative Goliath looming over their lives inadvertently becomes the source of their survival and ultimate liberation. Acting, performing, directing, making delightful masks and props out of cereal boxes, yoga mats, and other detritus including clothes brought home by Oscar, rummaged from throwaways in NYC garbage bins; typing and performing scenes word-for-word from films such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, etc. mutates the boredom of their existence into an electrically agitated collision of the “reel” world with “reality” as seen through the eyes of various directors.

Between wild maneuvers, the boys acrobatically leaping in the air with the grace of youth, their long pony-tails flapping skyward, feigning death by flying bullets shot out of aluminum wrapped guns, and acting out the excruciatingly extreme violence of horror films, Crystal Moselle asks questions – and the responses are so genuine, awkward and shy that I barely could hold back tears for the tragic circumstances that non-socialization accorded them. Shaky amateur movies chronicle the Angulo children’s development, communicating their silent childlike observations, as we witness the transformations that occur once they mature and began to challenge the strictures that they were living under - eventually having the courage to defy their father and venture outside.

The window looking down at the street from on high is a persistent motif and seductively photographed - colors illuminating the changing seasons vivifying the neighborhood’s daily routines, particularly holiday parades which punctuate special events. In one particularly moving segment on Halloween, the Angulo boys replicate the costumed children parading up and down the street; so they too march around the apartment dressed in marvelously handcrafted outfits which communicate both horror and beauty.

There are many poignant moments in the evolution from isolation to autonomy. Investigating the natural surroundings is a fresh and enchanted adventure as seen through the eyes of the new-born “wolfpack” traveling together like a single organism – a tribe made up of six individual members on their reconnaissance discoveries. Going down the elevator of your building for the first time conscious of being both anxious and euphoric; experiencing the icy winds and wet breezes on your face and back; stepping into the air and inhaling the diverse scents of the city; attending your first movie in the balcony of a theater; and taking a trip to Coney Island tentatively dipping one’s foot and then one’s body into the buoyant salty water are all deeply momentous occasions.


Whoever believes that the fantasy milieu of films lack the power to enrich lives is proven wrong by THE WOLFPACK. Both hopeful and challenging, this movie leaves many questions open for exploration, and I for one am rooting for the Angulo clan to realize their dreams. The future though fraught is one they now have the opportunity to wrestle with.

Friday, May 29, 2015

THE WHITNEY MUSEUM AT GANSEVOORT, NYC 5/29/15



I got turned around a few times once I alighted the subway at 14th St. to get to the Whitney Museum; it was too hot and muggy for a long walk, so I felt quite grumpy by the time I saw the industrial-designed hulk of a structure looming in the distance. At first I was confused by the many new slick gray buildings speckling the landscape with multiple balconies overlooking The High Line, along with a surfeit of elegant dress shops and expensive restaurants .... were we only 2 blocks away from the messy, sweaty circus that is Fourteenth Street? As I approached the "Castle on Gansevoort," the air became clearer and the price of admission reflected that rarified atmosphere.

I approached the Museum and walked past the outdoor dining tables of renowned chef, Danny Meyer’s newest franchise Untitled - the next generation of Gramercy Tavern - avoiding the beautiful servers snaking around the long lines with a grace befitting the chic atmosphere. I delighted in catching a glimpse through the windows of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres lightbulb sculpture ,“Untitled (America)” 1994-1995 shaped like an anthropomorphic tree, the bulbs fragile and glowing strung together with a tensile strength enticing us to come in - and I did - entering a fairly dark less inviting entrance, after a futile attempt to get my friend into the Museum on my membership card for a cheaper than $22 admission price. I always try! This being my first  visit to the “new” Whitney I was sensitive to the logistics of the building and aware that my early impressions were fleeting, knowing that they would change with each visit.

Some quick notes on the bathrooms which are situated on almost every level - some having only 3 stalls  others had more. Alas they are a tight fit so when I heard a plop, I realized that my iPhone had slid out of my back pocket into the toilet bowl - Letting out a loud shriek….I fished out my “connection to the world device”  slightly wet but amazingly unscathed…lifting my mood and freeing me to heed  and focus on the interconnected circuitry of my surroundings.

The four elevators contain commissioned murals by the late Richard Artschwager but I could not help comparing these “lifts” to the large, airy, beautifully proportioned elevator at the former Whitney on Madison Avenue with its magnificent  roominess - giving breathing latitude to native New Yorkers who are afforded a reprieve from their cramped apartments as if a patch of nearby Central Park’s capaciousness entered the location. 

The Renzo Piano designed museum takes this inside/outside idea and exquisitely transports it to the entire downtown Whitney by opening galleries to the outdoors with terraces on almost every floor, allowing for seating and breathtaking views of the city’s rooftops and  the Hudson River. From aerie vantage points - ordinary existence becomes hallucinatory, and immaterial; I found myself being replenished - the intellectual and emotional exhaustion of exploring artworks collaborated with the breadth of the open environment; intimacy morphed into the vast vistas of fancy.

The inaugural exhibition is titled AMERICA IS HARD TO SEE and I quote excerpts from the brochure:
“Drawn entirely from the Whitney Museum of American Arts collection…as an opportunity to reexamine the history of art in the United States from the beginning of the 20th century to the present…Comprising more than 600 works…The title, America Is Hard To See, comes from a poem by Robert Frost, and a political documentary by Emile de Antonio. Metaphorically, the title seeks to celebrate the ever-changing perspectives of artists and their capacity to develop visual forms that respond to the culture of the United States. It also underscores the difficulty of neatly defining the country’s ethos and inhabitants, a challenge that lies at the heart of the Museum’s commitment to and continually evolving understanding of American art…Organized chronologically, the exhibition’s narrative is divided into twenty-three thematic “chapters” installed throughout the building…Works of art across all mediums are displayed together…By simultaneously mining and questioning our past, we do not arrive at a comprehensive survey or tidy summation, but rather at a critical new beginning; the first of many stories still to tell…”

 This is an ambitious undertaking and the results are varied. Exhibition rooms differ in size - some works are hung too close together, some are too neatly color-coordinated, some are hidden, immersed in the darkness of the painted walls,  and others expand like flowers in  a light-filled  garden. Occasionally I was unable to step back blocked by sculptures sited out of scale, creating barriers to the line of vision - thereby making it literally “hard to see” the work. But most importantly a large portion of the collection is now visible including wonderfully surprising encounters with unfamiliar artists, creating a magnetic presence that pulled me closer and closer to the source of my attraction.

http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/AmericaIsHardToSee
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhhLRkOSfS8

http://www.artnews.com/2015/04/23/the-new-whitney-museum-is-glorious-a-review-look-inside/
Alvin Loving, Rational Irrationalism, 1969

David Hammons, Untitled 1992

Detail: Lee Krasner, The Seasons, 1957

Mark Bradford 

 Vija Celmins Heater 1964

Monday, May 11, 2015

TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER PUBLISHED IN WOMEN'S VOICES FOR CHANGE 5/10/15



I am proud that the piece I wrote about my mother is now published in Women's Voices For Change.
 Please feel free to comment on the site. Here is the first paragraph; please go to Women's Voices for Change website to read the entire piece and would love to read your comments.

http://womensvoicesforchange.org/else-graupe-1912-2007-a-mothers-day-tribute.htm
OR

"...As my mother, Else Graupe, lay dying in hospice, I sat by her side creating a visual diary of the last moments of her life—drawing the wasted, thin, inert body on papers that I had selfishly garnered from the nurses’ station to distract me from the pain of losing the one person who always “had my back” despite our seemingly irreconcilable lifestyles. Pencil in hand, I scrutinized her as I had never done before; the face that I thought was so familiar to me since childhood became an abstraction of lines and forms seen afresh with the wonder of a daughter who sees her mother for the first time through the art of constructing the parts into a whole picture.
I began with the strong jaw—that very jaw that I had argued with since childhood. The jaw that, in a moment of desperate frustration, called her taunting offspring “a bad seed.” I was a disrespectful, iron-willed girl, constantly challenging my mother’s strict rules, not wanting to follow the tightrope of tradition..."



Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THE SALT OF THE EARTH 5/6/15

A documentary on the photographer, Sebastiao Salgado’s passion for exposing worlds that are hidden from our view as well as the undercurrents of man’s  greed, violence and inhumanity - all through what co-director Wim Wenders explains is the process of  “ drawing with light.” The other director is Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the photographer’s son. For many years, I have been beguiled by Salgado’s black and white imagery, particularly as source material and inspiration for many of my own late 1980s pastels. His representations are stark and at the same time filled with an expanse of tones - from  the deep darkness of coal to the blinding whites which shine with the force of incorporeality; a range of imperceptibly varied grays sandwiched in-between -  all breathtakingly beautiful and often reduced to abstract patternings which are in danger of overtaking his subjects, but Salgado is a master at balancing form and content.

I was particularly moved by his photographs of the fierce deprivation that  droughts and famine had wreaked on Sub- Saharan Africa - particularly Ethiopia. Because Salgado exposed  situations that many people were not aware of, his photos drilled a space for perception into our consciousness. Salgado has traveled to over 100 countries - projects often lasted years and the resulting books include OTHER AMERICAS, WORKERS, SAHEL - THE END OF THE ROAD, MIGRATIONS, AFRICA, and most recently GENESIS  - the book that became his respite after years away from his native environs, witnessing the globe’s devastation, including chronicling the genocide in Rawanda and the Congo. By the late 1990’s he was heartbroken: “We humans are a terrible animal; we are extremely violent…Our history is a history of war; it's an endless story…My soul was sick…I no longer believed in anything, in any salvation for the human species.” (Quotes from Kenneth Turan's review in LA Times.) 

THE SALT OF THE EARTH  invites us to enter Salgado’s personal sphere; we meet his beloved wife Leila, the enduring relationship of his life, the editor of his photographs; the mother of Juliano and Rodrigo - the youngest born with Down syndrome; the compassion and love that unites the entire family in their own personal struggles with domesticity, and the enormous achievement of reclaiming the cattle ranch that was once Salgado’s home near the town of Aimores in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais. Memories of the fecund greenery and waterfalls were incised into Sebastiao’s childhood recollections and when he returned in the 1990’s his homeland was an environmental disaster - dry and parched. 

Salgado, his spirit quenched by regarding the pillage, and spoliation around the universe was re-invigorated by Leila’s dream of planting a forest in Brazil starting with a few trees and “return[ing] the property to its natural state of subtropical rainforest…and in April 1998 they founded the Instituto Terra, an environmental organization…which has now been declared a Private Natural Heritage Reserve, some 17,000 acres of deforested and badly eroded land… have undergone a remarkable metamorphosis…More than four million seedlings native to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest have been raised in the institute’s own nursery…” * This resuscitation propelled Salgado to travel again focusing on the beauties of the planet, resulting in his latest book GENESIS.
( *About us -The Instituto Terra.) http://bit.ly/1JQQzvd 

The documentary uses Salgado’s majestic photographs interspersing them with site visits to previously unrecorded locations, including old color footage; using his voice and conversations to great effect. We get a sense of the quiet strength of this man, his commitment to justice and the deep suffering that his vision extracts with the lens of a camera. The plethora of interchangeable living beings moving about silhouetted against the background of clouds billowing in the infinite skies, underscore the brevity of time and existence. We are only here for a short interval and Salgado’s output is a plea for respect, justice and accommodation among the men/women/animals and the frangible cosmos we all inhabit.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA 4/28/15


 I saw Olivier Assayas’ CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA twice in order to fully absorb the breadth of this complicated, though seemingly simple, story of a forty something actress Maria Enders  (a radiant Juliette Binoche) who is asked to be in a  revival of a theatrical production titled Majola Snake that made her famous twenty years earlier when she played the ingenue Sigrid, filled with the confidence and callousness of youth who seduces her boss Helena, an older woman; their subsequent love “affair” incinerates the very ground that Helena stands on propelling her to suicide. The twist here is that a new director is asking Enders, a now celebrated actress to perform the part of the  mature woman devastated by desire.  Generational differences extrude into every aspect of  Maria’s world  -  physical and psychological boundaries become blurred and the fictional script blends into reality, past memories and present relationships. This is a film about film as well as life.  Does a great actor lose oneself utterly in a part? What happens when you take on another persona and  grope to come up for air to retrieve the you that you once were?

We sense the power of Sils Maria a hauntingly exquisite municipality in the Swiss Alps, where the actress and her young assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart who masterfully holds her own in every scene with Binoche) go to rehearse to prepare for the upcoming play in a house cradled in the snowy valleys of the majestic mountains which belonged to Maria’s beloved mentor, the playwright William Melchoir, who dies unexpectedly at the beginning of the film, literally setting the stage for the ensuing drama. Against this breathtaking backdrop the individual is subsumed by the beauty of  the surroundings; the upcoming stage production, Majola Snake, refers to the clouds which slowly wind through the valleys  blanketing the view with a blindingly beautiful soft white mist - foreshadowing the fog and confusion of the two women who are wrestling with a dialogue which gets unhinged from the pages of the script and infiltrates their precarious realities.

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart’s interactions both fuse and clash as their role-playing illuminates each one’s frailties and strengths. From the onset of the movie we see what an efficient and capable personal assistant  the lanky, beautiful, two-cellphones-in hand Valentine is, always making sure that Maria Ender’s busy professional activity runs smoothly.  Once they start reading scenes together, the delicate hierarchy begins to transform, and the gap between their years becomes a source of differing tastes and outlooks. There is an undercurrent of sexual tension which is verbally unacknowledged, but at the same time obviously acknowledged visually; Juliette Binoche, her hair now closely cropped, dresses more severely - the wardrobe revealing her amalgamation into Helena and the disorientation and turbulence of her own yearnings. 

On the Internet, we catch our first glimpse of the “scandalous” 18 year old, Jo Ann (a blooming Chloe Grace Moretz,) -  the stereotypical Lindsay Lohan-type actress who will play Sigrid, her videoed exploits being Googled by Maria Enders. The Bette Davis  classic All About Eve comes to mind, but this upstart is a contemporary version, self assured and fearless - with a belief  in youth’s immortality trumping those whose futures are shortened by the labyrinth of passing time.


The men in this movie are ancillary - a writer, a director, a former lover  - all functioning as vehicles in divulging snippets of the plot’s history, but all subordinate to the women who are portrayed with an intimacy unveiled through the emotional archaeology of attachment,  passion, and the apprehensive challenge of ambiguous entanglements.