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Monday, February 8, 2016

AN INTENSE AND TENDER RELATIONSHIP - 2/8/16

My article on "first love" was published in Women's Voices For Change.


“A relationship of intense beauty and emotional anarchy was formed, waged by teenagers in the vortex of ‘romantic love,’ where infatuation, anger, and jealousy crack through the shell of invincibility and time is forever-after.”

— Grace Graupe-Pillard


http://womensvoicesforchange.org/valentines-day-an-intense-and-tender-connection.htm

Friday, February 5, 2016

TWO EXHIBITIONS - GREGORY CREWDSON AND GUIDO van der WERVE IN CHELSEA, NYC 2/5/16











Gregory Crewdson's moving and amazing exhibition titled CATHEDRAL OF THE PINES- photographs of landscapes that have the texture, light and resonance of masterful painting with figures that often feel like they were painted by Georges De La Tour or sculpted by Duane Hanson dislocated from their environment, but still vital to the narrative. I leave Crewsdon's exhibitions with an aching sadness.


http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/gregory-crewdson--january-28-2016




We enter a darkened room and a see a 3-Channel screen with naked elderly men and women; some seated, some standing, and others moving slowly like turtles on the left screen - their presence invisible to most viewers; the center screen has clothed middle-age people practicing Yoga and other psychological/spiritual practices; and on the right screen where most of the audience is focusing their attention, are a group of nordic-looking, beautiful young people exuding the energy of eros. All of the participants seem to be strangers who are connecting randomly.

The Dutch artist Guido van der Werve's videos are shocking in their blatant depiction of the sexual act from pre-coital touching to the exhaustion of spent copulation. What begins with a programmed gentle touch becomes a slapping mechanical fornication - which goes on and on and is exhausting to witness. Literally stripped of any eroticism - the mechanics of sex becomes laborious and tiresome.
Meanwhile on the left screen the older folk lay about eating and slowly moving from place to place without vitality. At the very end of the film, everyone ends up in similar positions - splayed out on the floor, bodies fallen in utter capitulation to whatever life force has been exerted. According to the Press Release the videos projected on the three walls represent the id/ego/superego lasting about 40 minutes and beginning every hour - played out in 12 acts (the months of the year.) The names of the astrological signs beginning each new chapter with a visual depiction of the constellations. The only sounds, we hear besides the slurping of sex is a lonely player piano in the center of the gallery - a proxy for the artist himself who has "written a score in 12 parts in the 12 major keys" - the tones clear and lucid.
I was both fascinated and bored - despite its rigid structural formality, the images reflected the simplistic categorization of passion/libido with the passing of time. Desire is not wiped out with age - it is enriched by tenderness and experience.
http://www.luhringaugustine.com/exhibitions/guido-van-der-werve4#14
http://www.luhringaugustine.com/exhibitions/guido-van-der-werve4/press-release

Saturday, January 30, 2016

LETTER TO NETFLIX

Dear Netflix,
I am sorry I ever brought you into my life. My daily routine has been disrupted and I am not sleeping because of the long hours I spend being entertained. I can be very excitable, and have a tendency to become addicted listening and watching your tales which can take hours and sometimes weeks to come to some resolution. I am hooked because of great acting, writing, visual imagery, and the mystery, poetry, and diversity of ideas, that are brought into the manageable circle that was my universe.
But a warning: you cannot take over my life so be aware that we are going too fast and need to slow down to make this relationship a permanent one.
grace

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

MAKING A MURDERER 1/27/16

I am mesmerized by the Netflix series MAKING A MURDERER - the title is open to many interpretations - does it refer to the corrupt system that wrongfully imprisoned a man for 18 years - does that "make" a murderer; is it the pinpointing of an individual without investigating other potential suspects - "criminal tunnel vision" in revenge for a suit brought against local county officials "make" a murderer; or are Mr. Steven Avery and his nephew the murderers of a horrific crime committed 2 years after DNA exonerated Mr. Avery of the first offense?
Questions about class and "justice"; the fascination of watching a trial in progress - the process revealed - the time, expense, and terrible emotional costs to all the families involved are part of this intense viewing experience - a documentary that is still unravelling.
Truth can be slippery and fragile to grasp. MAKING A MURDERER is profoundly sad; a stunning portrait of the "powerless" pursued by those who have institutional power to alter the trajectory of their lives. Mis-steps are brutal and unforgiving.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

BEASTS OF NO NATION 1/13/16



Director Cary Joji Fukunaga's "BEASTS OF NO NATION" is a terrific film - beautifully acted, directed and photographed. I am numb from the sadness of watching a movie about the recruitment of young boys to participate and be indoctrinated into the horrors of war, where fellow "soldiers" grown into your family. These children witness what can never be purged from their minds and hearts. To lose the innocence of childhood, to descry the cold-blooded murder of one's relatives, and the loss of the land of your ancestors - watching your country being torn apart by constantly changing political factions; survival becomes a momentary respite from killing or being killed; it all becomes easy and commonplace.


War turns a sensitive, imaginative and intelligent youngster into a "beast", but one who never loses his moral conscience, therefore suffering from the fact that he cannot dismiss his own conduct in a world that he was tragically thrust into.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

THE HATEFUL EIGHT 1/10/16



Quentin Tarantino’s films are wildly original, despite his cinematic homage to great directors. I know there will be an excess of violence, blood will hemorrhage, splatter and “spritz” over everything and everyone, while the characters keep on talking  literally to their dying breath. Dialogue which is both amusing and penetrating is the linchpin of his movies -  refreshing in its fearlessness in talking about issues of hate, misogyny, and racism that have oozed under society’s surface veneer of civility, over the centuries. Tarantino’s approach is not to preach but to show through his characters their appetite for revenge, greed and the conceit of self-interest.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens up with panoramic shots of horses galloping in rhythm pulling a stagecoach silhouetted against vast mounds of white snow; an infinite vista emptied of form with only a white light flooding the screen.  We are blinded by the beauty and the calm stillness of the landscape; short-lived - the drama begins. Words slice through the silence and language becomes a weapon; Tarantino’s unique verbiage becomes a tool that wounds and spills blood setting the stage for physical slaughter.

 Bounty hunting for the most ruthless,  becomes the chosen profession of both former Union and Rebel fighters who are skilled in bringing “accused criminals” - those WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE back to small frontier towns to be hung. Trials are an afterthought - the reward is in the successful transport of prisoners to the “hangman.” In this movie, there are at least 7 men and one woman who are itching to shoot each other down with very little pretext. All the lives of the “hateful eight” converge and ignite at Minnie’s Haberdashery - a cabin with a stable and outhouse set like a punctuation mark in the center of the pristine snow-covered terrain - a warm space serving food and drinks for drivers and passengers and a shelter for the exhausted horses. 


Like a lot of Tarantino’s movies, his characters are mysterious - past lives and actions are questionable - truth weaves in and out of the picture; the agility of “the talk”, the facility of the tongue to deceive is always hovering in the fetid air. The first person we see emerging from the all-encompassing blanket of snow is Samuel L. Jackson halting a stagecoach speeding to keep ahead of the blizzard, and  confidently hitches a ride - frozen prisoners - all dead in tow. Jackson gives a terrific performance as Major Marquis Warren - a grizzled legend in the land, not only for bringing in his bounties “dead” rather than alive, but for being a pen pal and confidante of President Abraham Lincoln, a letter from Ole Abe reverently folded up in his breast pocket - the letter being a catalyst for discussion and a symbol of the former black Union soldier’s stature. THE HATEFUL EIGHT bristles with post Civil War disputes - the war might have ended a few years before but a peace treaty does not allay animosities that run deep from generation to generation to this very day. 

We next meet  the wagon’s occupant, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) handcuffed to a swollen, blackened eye Daisy Dormergue (great performance by one of my favorite actors - Jennifer Jason Leigh) being brought into Red Rock - for the $10,000 reward. We are never told what Daisy was charged with, but the racist venom spewing out of her mouth reveals a grotesque spirit which is palpably visible on her battered face. Tarantino’s over-the-top violence does not coddle women and it is difficult to watch Daisy being a punching bag and receiving the brunt of “the hangman’s”  brutality, but Tarantino literally does not pull any punches especially when he is dealing with a fanatical bigot.  Another passenger, who is frozen  by the extreme elements, is added to the group -  Walter Goggins plays Chris Mannix an ex-Confederate soldier and the newly appointed sheriff of the town where the hanging will take place.

Upon arriving at the rest stop, the action begins - 4 men are already there waiting out the blizzard - with a mesmerizing performance by Bruce Dern as Confederate General Sanford Smithers - an elderly man whose claim to fame is the slaughter of a black Union Calvary Division. To round out the “hateful eight” picture we have Tim Roth (always a favorite of mine) as the actual Hangman of Red Rock complete with a phony British accent, suave and ironic (reminding me of Christoph Waltz’s character in Django Unchained,) and Michael Madsen - a Tarantino ensemble regular as Joe Gage - a laconic stranger lurking in the background, quietly observing the scene. And then there is Bob (Demian Bichir ) dubbed “The Mexican” who seems to be running the joint - claiming that Minnie is out of town. For Major Marquis Warren who misses nothing - it all does not add up.


What ensues in this darkly lit claustrophobic space with occasional bursts of light from the door opening and closing by the storm’s wind  is mayhem. Tarantino’s ability to use language is irresistibly seductive and I was never bored. Shards from words piercing the atmosphere infuse the room with a straining tension. Rapier wit together with brutish violence dominate the expansive monologues. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is interesting in that of all Tarantino’s movies - this one is intentionally the most constrained by the oppressive limited space; ultimately there is only the outside and the inside. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

THE BIG SHORT 12/27/15




I do not  grasp what Hedge Fund Managers do, or what Collateralized Debt Obligations (CODs), Credit Default Swaps, Mortgage Backed Securities  (MPS) and subprime mortgages are, and what it means to “short” something, but director Adam McCay’s THE BIG SHORT based on Michael Lewis’ book is an excellent film - both comedic and forcefully tragic with many fine actors making this a movie that is both entertaining and deceptively poignant. Surprisingly we do get to understand a lot of what was going on in the fiscal system without having to take a course in the particulars. This is accomplished through visuals - quick flashes of TV shows, cinema and pop stars, artworks, news headlines, sports figures, etc. all subliminally flashing before our eyes embedding the culture of money into our psyches. Throughout the film, there are witty respites whereby the camera exits the narrative, and various actors in wildly strange settings explain Wall Street jargon with idiosyncratic humor to make the “wheeling and dealing” more comprehensible. 

 I left the theater with an abysmal feeling of sadness, my voice cracking and tears in my eyes - not wanting to betray my emotions and my fierce anger at a capitalist system gone completely awry; rigged and fraudulent in handing the money of everyday working people whose pensions, domiciles, and livelihoods were placed into the hands of manipulative, raptor-like greedy banks and money managers. Billions - not millions - of dollars are just abstract numbers to be gambled with as the “party” keeps blasting upwards and onwards, monetary gains piling up, until it all implodes with aftershocks eventually destroying the income, employment and shuttering the homes of millions in the US and globally.

Many of the main characters are based on real people who worked for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns among other firms. Christian Bale is terrific as Dr. Michael Burry, a Cassandra-like figure, an eccentric - characterized by walking around barefooted - who foresaw the mortgage collapse early on, watching banks bundle mortgages which were being given AAA ratings by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s without proper examination of the underlying financial integrity of the lenders and borrowers. Burry decides to “short” - to bet on a future housing crisis debacle and is ultimately proven correct.

Steve Carell portrays Mark Baum, an irascible individual, who was one of the few conscience stricken players in the “money game”, trying to make participants aware of the looming future cataclysm, but also wrestling with his own hypocrisy in personally profiting from the 2008 world economic bankruptcy. He is an anguished “truth teller” antithetical to most characters engaging in this closed world of financial gains and losses, whose egos get propped up by the insubstantial glint of wealth.

The director McCay includes every type of  trader - from self-centered, sophomoric “masters of the universe” to those with some integrity and concern for their clients. The editing is quick and incredibly entertaining for a subject that could easily put many of us to sleep. In THE BIG SHORT we are made painfully aware of the collusion of institutions and governmental agencies, all profiting from the deception that the housing market was one of the best and most secure investments to be made.  We see the social and human ramifications of this delusion that brought world markets to the brink of financial collapse. 


Unlike previous  films about Wall Street, this is a true story - a tale that is still resonating in our minds and pocketbooks. Many ordinary persons were encouraged and seduced by the easy access to home ownership, low interest rates that often skyrocketed a few years later to the bewilderment of landlords and tenants who had to flee their properties. This drama showed how the Banks were “brought down“, but today we are still wondering  were they ever punished? Cynicism persists as new ploys and risky gambits continue to be placed before a gullible public by corruptible institutions functioning without legislated safeguards. THE BIG SHORT is a powerful indictment of Wall Street engineering of avarice - profiting the few and afflicting the lifestyles of the majority of Americans that they are called upon to serve.