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Monday, February 12, 2018

THE SHAPE OF WATER 2/12/18


I did not want to see Guillermo Del Toro's THE SHAPE OF WATER, but when I finally saw the movie I was utterly charmed. I was charmed by the fable, by the clippity/cloppity sounds of tap-dancing and seduced by the infusion of nostalgia - the Black and White TV blaring the song and dance music that I spent hours watching and loving as a child....an overtone of lighthearted romanticism that covered a 1950’s/1960’s dark view that was racist and homophobic.
At the same time I cringed at the depiction of a black man as stereotypically “shiftless” - a man who, when he does “act” is the catalyst for evil. I cringed at the desperate feeling of isolation of a gentle, gay man longing for the restoration of his youth. Films are complicated - are they advocating FOR - OR showing an era filled with hatred and bias? Questions I often ask myself as the movie industry is a powerful medium of promotion and indoctrination.  Del Toro makes one forget that some of his personas are based on prejudices that are the maggots eating away at our society. SHAPE OF WATER with its overlap of mysterious fantasy, its veil of beauty - is a powerful distraction from the undercurrents of societal bigotry that is depicted, and we are gulled by the fairy tale’s message of “love” and resurrection.

SHAPE OF WATER is infused with tiresome depictions polished off by some lovely performances and wrapped up in a cocoon of a love story between two different species - an aquatic he-man and a mute woman who connect and communicate their desire without words - just vocal utterings and limited hand "signing". Del Toro effectively manages to make each character fit a cliche by sliding and slippery means- and yet we are haunted by them- the music, the raindrops the fantasy all contribute to this illusion.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

BABYLON BERLIN - PRELUDE 2/11/18

I am looking forward to watching the television series, BABYLON BERLIN depicting a period of change in Germany's Weimar Republic in the 1920's. My father lived in Berlin growing up in that era, the formative years - a time when he grew up from a young boy into a young man. I wish he were alive today so I could ask the questions I never asked about HIS life, instead of only probing mine, indicative of the vanity and arrogance of youth.

An interest in history and political science was honed at City College of NY - where I stopped making art and became immersed in exploring the pragmatic realities of nations that were unknown entities. I took courses with the great Hans Kohn in Nationalism, studied Southeast Asia, and eventually went for a year to Graduate School to study Russian Area Studies.


My fascination with the past was enriched by signing up for classes in Greek Literature, reading not only Homer's epic poems - Iliad and the Odyssey, but Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian Wars and discussing Herodotus' Histories, which gave me insights into strategies of war, justice, and the concept of "hubris" and "nemesis". In order to understand the poetry of human motivation and tragic "flaws" I then turned to Shakespeare's plays, and the masters of Ancient Greek literature - Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. - myths infused with wisdom and humor, written with the beauty of the gods they invoked.


Regrettably, I have forgotten so much of what I avidly engorged in my college years, but I have never forgotten the importance of looking at lives that are not only like my own; lives that are lived with the same urgency and desire as all human beings. I attempt to instill in my artwork the shadows the veil of the little that has penetrated my person - a way of conveying the glass-shattering, explosive nature of gliding and fighting our way through the fleeting moments we have on this earth.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A WINDOW ON MCCARTHYISM AND TRUMPISM 2/4/18

Senator Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn his Chief Counsel

When I was a little, mischievous girl, we lived on a block in Washington Heights that had one tree struggling to survive planted in front of our apartment’s first-floor gated windows, where I would yell out to my friends when they were playing late into the night, while my sister and I had to go to bed much, much earlier, enviously listening to the sounds of whooping and hollering coming from the neighborhood kids. That window was an opening to the world outside and just as critically an escape from the oft “anxious” lives of the inhabitants inside. 

My parents, refugees from the totalitarianism and genocide in Nazi Germany were more apprehensive than usual because of a man who was gaining power and influence in the U.S. Senate. The time was the mid-1950’s during the McCarthy Hearings (named after Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin) whose tactics during this “Cold War” era against Communist spies and so-called allies infiltrating into the USA  have come to represent  a period of tension and “…demagogic, reckless and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.” (Wikipedia.)

One day - being a naughty child, I decided to shout out the window that I was a “ Red Commie“ - not understanding what those words even meant but the image was beguiling. I will never forget the rush of being pulled away from my “escape” outlet and scolded with an intensity that I had never seen in my quiet, gentle father. This was serious and my first introduction to the gravity of politics and how it affects all our lives - instilling fear and resistance.


Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel was Roy Cohn who later became Donald E. Trump’s lawyer and mentor. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

PHANTOM THREAD 1/29/18




Paul Thomas Anderson, the Director of Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and Magnolia tells complicated tales with an elegance wrapped in humor, channeling the dark, mysterious beauty of unmasking layers of our all-too-human enigmatic psyches into the glaring light of prosaic reality. His latest film, PHANTOM THREAD is full of twists and turns  - from the main character being a master controller to being controlled; from the ghostly, tensile thread of holding oneself together to unraveling feverishly with the curative relief of being unbound.

We first meet Daniel Day Lewis  (excellent) who portrays an extraordinarily  handsome man, keenly aware of his fading youth, powdering his face, running graceful hands through his graying hair and gently polishing his shoes; this is Reynolds Woodcock  - Couturier to the elite of London in the 1950’s; an extremely sensitive neurasthenic designer of dresses whose House of Woodcock is run with military discipline by his beloved sister Cyril (a quiet, unnerving performance by Lesley Manville) and a devoted group of experienced older women who fabricate his artistic ideas, catering to his every need - each individual contributing to an exquisite productive outcome. 

We also meet Woodcock in a more casual  personal setting, eating breakfast with his sister and a soon-to-be-discarded lover - as is Reynolds’ wont. His delicate nerves cannot tolerate any disruption to the routinization of a life that has been constructed to enable him to concentrate on his work day and night. At this point we become aware of Reynolds’ deeply emotional ties to his now deceased mother - a woman whose influence and love are critical to the person he has become, as evidenced by secretly sewn messages tucked, into the fabric, never to be unearthed. This form of communication is a life-line to the past and to the future, for Woodcock fervently believes that his mother is eternally watching him - either a curse or a blessing. 


Going to his country home to get away from the bustle of London business, Reynolds has breakfast at a country Inn and lays intense eyes and the avidity of his persona on a waitress by the name of Alma (a sturdy peasant-like figure of a woman played by Vicky Krieps) who is bemused by the rapacious breakfast order of a man whose hunger and appetites are laid bare, and is quickly seduced into being a model and “muse” into The House of Woodcock. The relationship between Mentor and Muse is explored by the visual treat of watching Alma in varying costumes and partaking in the world of Fashion - a world where the rules and schedules are tight, where the constriction of freedom is heightened  by a close up shot of the tightening of a corset - the air slowly becoming more and more restrictive.



Paul Thomas Anderson is exploring the sphere of “genius” with all its attendant myths, poking with a Guignol satiric thrust at the absurdity of the oppressive commercial world that artists can paint themselves into. For some viewers,  Alma will seem demonic, but for others she is a release valve to the pressure of cupidity and ego-centrism - perhaps a liberating savior or the mother reborn.Those are the questions this film raises aided by the lingering music of Jonny Greenwood and the director’s sensuous cinematography. Fabric and its  accompanying filaments of beautiful fibers  intertwine to create a metaphor for the urgency of love and the need to be identified and recognized for the unique entities that we all are.

Monday, January 15, 2018

THE POST 1/15/18


Spielberg often directs provocative films, but recently he has relied on obvious tropes to depict his characters and plots; they are often so cliched that I could not help but wince in the theater and was told to shush by another patron. Drama is"heightened" by placing familiar barriers in the path of the fulfillment of a time-sensitive mission. Ie: a car almost hitting a copy boy running to deliver important papers. Sigh.....

On the other hand, it is worth seeing THE POST (referring to The Washington Post newspaper) and its 1971 role in the publication of The Pentagon Papers which exposed the hypocrisy of United States Presidents going back to Truman, on the reality of the so-called "successes" of American soldiers fighting in Indo-China, the area later known as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 

The source of these potent revelations was Daniel Ellsberg who today, at 86 is making the talk-show rounds reliving for a new audience his historical whistleblower experience; the extraction of top secret papers from the Rand Corporation and secretly giving them to The NY Times and The Washington Post for publication. 
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/us/pentagon-papers-post.html?_r=0


Tom Hanks appears especially fit - what happened to his doughy face of yore? Here he looks svelte and passionately portrays Ben Bradlee- a bit of a strutting peacock - the Post's Executive Editor, who believes it is critical to get this story out to the public. Freedom of the press and the unraveling of lies and propaganda in the search for truth is this journalist’s credo.

Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham is both overly awkward (Spielberg making a point and overdoing it) and a fierce defender of the paper her family has run for years - a newspaper that often comes in second when being compared to the NY Times, and one that is in financial difficulties. Being a woman running a paper, surrounded by men who do not take you seriously, is challenging and we see the evolution of Graham’s confidence and resolve in doing what she intensely feels is right - and the respect eventually accorded her by the men who only saw her as a presence to be tolerated.


THE POST resonates at this time because of Trump’s “FAKE NEWS” crusade to silence the voices of criticism and the many women who are screaming to be taken seriously in the workplace - not only in 1971 but just as fervidly today.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

GET OUT




GET OUT directed by Jordan Peele is like no other film that I have ever seen; not a  conventional comedy, nor a conventional horror movie - but rather a trenchant psychological thriller about black/white relations incorporating myth, history, and racial symbolism resulting in an intelligent, profoundly moving fable. GET OUT opens with an abduction of an innocent young black man who is lost, aimlessly searching for an address on a quiet suburban street in the dark of night - this one abbreviated cinematic moment encapsulates years of racial violence, forecasting what lies ahead for the viewer.

We witness a young couple who appear to be disarmingly happy - a young African American man Chris Washington (an excellent Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (a lovely Allison Williams) packing in preparation for a visit to her parent's home in the suburbs. Once they are in the car leaving the city they allegorically cross a “color line”  and the mystery and tension mount with baleful incidents that augur a grim future.



When they arrive at their destination, we observe in the behavior towards Chris, a cool veneer that is draped over each character like a shroud of duplicity, particular Rose’s “liberal” parents (the wonderful Catherine Keener as her mother Missy) along with a groups of friends who are invited to an annual lawn party. Each character is satirically delineated with a familiarity that betrays their inner bigotry. GET OUT is so biting that the ensuing marks claw deeply under our skins. 


Jordan Peele (formerly of Key and Peele) in his directorial debut makes memorable use of his powerful comedic skill, but this time we do not laugh with joy, but we drown in the despair of a modern-day allegory of stereotypical attitudes and conspiratorial stratagems towards Afro-Americans that are as original and devastating as a science-fiction tale. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

WONDER WHEEL 12/18/17





WONDER WHEEL, written and directed by Woody Allen falls flat. It is redeemed - only slightly - by the nostalgic soundtrack and the overly-saturated colors blanching out the inherent seediness of Coney Island in the 1950’s. I am familiar with the intensely restless lure of hot summer days at the beach, having ridden the A train for up to 2 hours from my family’s Washington Heights apartment with groups of friends to the gritty sands fingering the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean - though Rockaway and Orchard Beach in the Bronx were my destinations. Shops nestled into the makeshift enclaves of the boardwalk wooing us with games of chance, hawking prizes that when we finally won - felt like jewels; “making out” under the boardwalk where it was dark and dank, the sunlight creating stripes on our exposed arms and legs was a familiar “go to” place - our hearts and groins throbbing. 


Alas, I felt none of the above ambiance in Allen’s latest movie - despite the gorgeous backdrop. Wonder Wheel  is a melodrama replete with gangsters, a dreamer poet, a wife-beating drunk and a failed actress as well as a strange pyromaniac child - “symbols” of thwarted “fate” - a point repeatedly stated by the earnest, lightweight poet Mickey portrayed by a cooly detached Justin Timberlake who is having an affair with the frustrated housewife, Ginny ( a harried Kate Winslett) who is turning 40 years old, mired in a miserable marriage, working as a waitress instead of pursuing her thespian ambitions, and in a constant state of hysteria which quickly becomes boring and repetitive losing its emotional impact. What has happened to Allen’s originality with language? Instead, the actors resort to over-the-top Brooklyn accents - a contrivance that is a blanket smothering the insipid dialogue with affectation. 


Juno Temple plays Caroline, a beautiful young woman,  the most complex and fully written character in Wonder Wheel  - with her shining blonde hair gleaming like a star, fleeing to her working-class father (Jim Belushi) and stepmother in Coney Island where she hides out from pursuing mobsters becoming the fulcrum for the ensuing narratives. 



Woody Allen has been relying on “place” (envisioned by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) and recruiting wonderful actors in minor roles to enrich his most recent works, but I get a sense that no one’s heart is in this film least of all Woody Allen. Wonder Wheel feels like a “one-off” - the requisite yearly production that keeps this once great director occupied.  Questions of betrayal, aging, the illusion of creativity’s power, and ultimately the direction that our lives take - all these issues are brushed up against with the lightest of touch, but never held in a firm generous grasp.