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Sunday, August 6, 2017

DETROIT 8/6/17


My tears have dried up but my throat is still choking from the injustice that the characters experienced in the incredibly tragic film DETROIT, directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow. Sticking close to the facts that occurred in 1967, this movie is a docu-drama about the events leading up to, and the aftermath of the Detroit riots, when a city was trashed, looted and set afire - a red-hot blaze that spontaneously erupted spewing forth all the hatred and resentment that racism had wrought.

DETROIT is expansive and intimate, coldly brutal and deeply felt, where stereotypes are upended and a portrait of the white/black divide is bleakly demonstrated. Bigelow focuses on a particularly merciless incident that occurred at the Algiers Motel - sited in the midst of the fuel-filled horror, seemingly far removed from the screeching of sirens and the acrid smoke of burning buildings, but historically primed to become a symbol of vast psychological and physical brutality, echoing the conflagration outside.

Detroit police officers searching the Motel for a sniper, led by a sadistic bigoted white cop, terrorize and murder 3 black teenagers in cold blood. How that episode of blatant criminality impacts the surviving participants is heart-wrenching for its razor sharp depiction of our American Judicial system, and the stench of racism which has penetrated into and perverted every aspect of both black and white lives. Fifty years later - not much has changed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

DUNKIRK 7/23/17


The movie Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan was quite moving....I was surprised how often the tears were coming out of my eyes slowly falling down my face - silent weeping. Trying to figure out why I was so emotional and realizing that this film presented an expansive AND personal view of a crucial incident in history - Dunkirk - a place where for nine days in 1940 - @400,000 British, French, Belgium, Canadian troops were caged - trapped by the sea in front of them with powerful Nazi weaponry at their rear, being bombarded in the air by Luftwaffe aircraft, and by torpedoes under the sea - just 47 miles from Britain.

We witness what has been called the Dunkirk "miracle" - an armada of @ 800 boats belonging to the populace propelling through the English Channel - a show of ingenuity and bravery coming to the rescue of 330,000 men who were evacuated through the aid of their fellow citizenry. Prime Minister Churchill decided after the British Expeditionary Forces were safely moved, to continue the operation helping their allies - French, etc.

Britain had a leader - Churchill who gave his people through the power of his words, the will to survive odds that were at that moment against them and instilling hope for the future.
I think of President Trump whose words are only about his narcissistic persona - who is not a leader - who is a despicable person and who does not give a damn about anyone unless it benefits him. Loyalty has no meaning for this man. That is why I was crying - a wail of frustration and despair.

Monday, July 10, 2017

GRACE VISITS: SANDRA PAYNE 7/10/17



GRACE VISITS: SANDRA PAYNE
*ALL QUOTES ARE FROM SANDRA PAYNE


“ I fall into a world that I am pulled into - a world of depth, a world of shine…”




In an East Village walkup - situated in a neighborhood which despite gentrification still has an edge of desperation - I followed the artist Sandra Payne to her studio, pulling myself by the railings, up five flights of stairs, totally unprepared for what I would encounter when we arrived breathless at our destination. When Sandra opened the door, the illumination of radiant objects created a resplendence that flooded the room with a veiled light that was both ethereal and unearthly. I have never experienced an apartment where every inch of space was conceived as a beautifully composed art installation - a respite from the realities of the outside world; a sanctuary built on a love of acquiring unnoticed materials and transforming them into objets d’art by endowing them with a  splendor and uniqueness through a poetic dislocation of expectation.



Childhood memories of growing up as an African- American girl in a close-knit family in the West End of St. Louis, Missouri with many of her relatives living nearby, had an enduring impact on Sandra Payne’s future as an artist. She recalls the appearances of the women in her family being dramatically transformed when they put on feminine “adornments” retrieved from mysterious boxes filled with gleaming stones. Her mother, a registered nurse and a graduate of an historically black nursing school, owned a “nice plump jewelry box” packed with curiosities including a black cameo (a relief of a woman of color,) and other ornaments. One day when she was in second grade, Sandra bedecked her school girl body with her mother’s “costume” jewelry - an iridescent necklace and bracelet - and left for school. When she arrived, her teacher took one look at the bespangled 7-year-old who believed she was wearing the world’s most precious “crown jewels” and contacted Sandra’s mother resulting in little Sandra getting “her ass whopped…” 

Sandra’ particularly admired her Aunt Verna, who was not only an amazing cook but “fully accessorized” with a well- categorized assortment of jewelry encompassing rhinestones, trinkets in glistening colors, and compilations of perfume bottles, hats, and scarves. “ Women love beauty and this is a way of expressing that appreciation…”  After attending Washington University and getting a degree in multi-media arts, Sandra Payne too began collecting things that were both extraordinary and mundane, including 400 aprons, pearls, African beads, jewels, twigs, crochet potholders, baskets, music and postcards/photographs of the sensational entertainer/activist Josephine Baker. “She was very sparkly,” Sandra whispered to me with a smile.

          

“When I was a little girl, about 8 years old, Ebony Magazine had a spread on Josephine Baker…I remember her fabulous outfits, and eye makeup…she was from St. Louis. Interesting to me that she came from St.Louis…and that you could do something and be a creative person - a rebel and become known for doing what you love….I have collected her ever since…”




Today Sandra’s studio is her home and her home is the studio which she has aptly named SANDRALANDIA - a lived-in environment made up of residue from the past and aspirations for the future. She is an artist who passionately mutates in various media the “familiar” into the fantastical, often using elements that reference her own personal history; a biography that is both intimate and irreverent, inexplicable and recognizable. She combines seemingly incompatible materials which ultimately dissolve into one another, and are bewitchingly reborn.



The inspiration and source material for her PROPERTY OF A LADY collages come from imagery she finds at The Strand Book Store in downtown Manhattan, where Sandra is always on the lookout for jewelry and other auction catalogs, design and fashion magazines. She proceeds to cut out images that intuitively attract her, and with no preconceptions glues them onto Museum Board. ”Today I think I will only use sapphires….or work mostly with pearls and diamonds, etc…It is like opening the jewelry box of an insane Royal…”   Each artwork has a singular presence invoking desire with an elegance that is both temptingly seductive and exquisitely delicate. Pictures of gigantic rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, and aquamarines float together with changes of scale, dizzyingly arabesque patterns, and yet beautifully structured as if the “hand of reason” plucked down into chaos and inscribed the divine.



   



As I  walk around the apartment, my eyes are never at rest, looking up or down - every inch of space is crammed with another surreal congregation of disparate jars, containers, glasses, etc. teeming with “matter”, reconstituted and transmuted from its original embodiment into a phantasmagorical new entity. Every niche of the studio, every closet contains ingredients that have been or will be metamorphosed into the “totally feminine” enchantment that is SANDRALANDIA. Opening her flat files, I see drawer upon drawer of myriad jars brimming with dazzling, seductive, fine-grained sand, crushed stones, crystals and jewels all arranged by colors. On shelves are vitrines with peacock feathers with a jewel hidden somewhere in the plumage; smashed pine cones situated in snow white glitter; larger canisters of opalescent shells with pearls; wrapped driftwood with gilded paper and rhinestones; twisted wires poking out of bottles flecked with beads, glitter, and pearls which periodically fall off and drop into the bottom of the container; and branches imported from Japan with attached rhinestones disconcertingly displayed upside-down in glass bottles. Sandra Payne with her cryptic interventions unearths the lyricism of the unseen and we view what was once considered commonplace anew. 











                                                       

I stop to look at the sides, tops, and bottoms of containers that catch my eye, boxes covered with mirrors creating an infinite space, and I am told that many hold secrets including Aunt Verna’s cooking recipes - face down file cards with a jewel placed on top of the pile - indicating the preciousness and redolence of lingering memories. Sandra shows me another group of white boxes - the lids tightly closed - which contains more of her Aunt’s belongings: folded aprons, peignoirs and nightgowns from the 1960’s, and containers that are private - replete with tags recording the words Property Of A Lady. Sandra describes them as “….a room of stacked locked boxes…a library of unopened secrets…a world of intimacy.”







Flower shop gold and pink aluminum wrapping paper, twisted over wine bottles evoke a gallery of “presences” - some reminiscent of Greek statues, ie: Nike/Winged Victory or attendees at a Royal Ball in France. Congregating in expressive, animated groupings, they populate the studio like cavorting sentinels - protectors of the rarified universe they inhabit.









Sandra Payne’s other persona was as a much-respected Young Adult Librarian for the NY Public Library where she worked for 28 years in different branches all over the city. Subsequently, she was promoted to Coordinator Of Young Adult Services for Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island, charged with collection development and training the staff to serve and advocate for the particular needs of NYC’s teens. “Most of my job involved assisting other Librarians in planning programming opportunities for teens in their neighborhood libraries i.e. setting up Meet the Author programs as well as writing, art and photography workshops…”

Sandra Payne’s inner and outer cosmos meet in a cocoon of beauty where the objects she loves, live and breathe freely, nurtured by her sense of touch and tender care; an environs that I was privileged to enter.

“I love arranging…my favorite place is The Container Store…”









Sunday, June 11, 2017

WONDER WOMAN 6/11/17



25 years ago I created a ‘Wonder Women Wall” for The Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC made up of an installation of pastels/cutouts on canvas drawings of powerful women - women whose courage and toughness is discernible in the pursuit of their dreams; women who negotiate the daily struggles of life’s conflagrations; women who are mothers, sisters and daughters who endure the everyday grind of work, and fight for what they believe in with tenderness and tenacity. They are all flesh and blood, vulnerable Wonder Women who prevail; not immortal, but dealing with their mortality without the aid of super-human powers, lacking a sword and shield, steel wristband bracelets, and breastplates. They are the breathing, conscious descendants of the mythic phenomenal Wonder Woman - the D.C. comics Amazon warrior who has the physical prowess of the greatest male warriors - a woman who captured my imagination as a young girl when I was fighting to be seen and treated as the equal of the boys around me.

From the DC Comic Database - some history on the origins of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman:

Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, the first child born on Paradise Island in the three thousand year history that the immortal Amazons lived there. The Amazons had been created around 1200 B.C. when the Greek goddesses drew forth the souls of all women who had been murdered by men and placed them on the island. One soul was held back from creation, the one that would be born as Diana. That soul originally belonged to the unborn daughter of the first woman murdered by a man (whom Hippolyta was the reincarnation of). In the late 20th Century, Hippolyta was instructed to mold some clay from the shores of Paradise Island into the form of a baby girl. Six members of the Greek Pantheon then bonded the soul to the clay, giving it life. Each of the six also granted Diana a gift: Demeter, great strength; Athena, wisdom and courage; Artemis, a hunter's heart and a communion with animals; Aphrodite, beauty and a loving heart; Hestia, sisterhood with fire; Hermes, speed and the power of flight. Diana grew up surrounded by a legion of sisters and mothers. When she was a young woman, the gods decreed that the Amazons must send an emissary into Man's World…Before embarking on her mission, Diana was given the Lasso of Truth, forged by Hephaestus himself. She was also given the Sandals of Hermes, which allowed her to instantly traverse great distances in seconds. Diana's mission was one of peace, but part of it initially involved defeating a mad plot by Ares to destroy the world. 

Patty Jenkins the director of WONDER WOMAN charmingly recreates the idyllic Paradise Island - a peaceful enclave, where for many years the Amazons have been preparing and honing their battle skills for the return of Ares, the God of War -  and the inevitable final clash between Good and Evil. We first view Diana - the future Wonder Woman - as a young mischievously headstrong child practicing in pantomime, echoing the slashing movements of swordplay, already fully confident of her own destiny.

Once Diana has grown into the beautiful, shapely Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot, a former model whose acting skills regrettably do not provide the  “gravitas”  or range of emotions that would have elevated her role from being a 2-D cartoon character,) the commercial Hollywood blockbuster entertainment industry takes over the movie. They do so (faithful to the original creation of Wonder Woman conceived in 1941) by placing Diana in the midst of The Great War (W.W. I) complete with flaming infernos, British spies and German villains experimenting with chemical substances to be unleashed upon the civilian populations. And just to brighten the mood, lame sex jokes playing on Diana’s naiveté are regularly interspersed throughout the dialogue, revealing an innocence derived from being sheltered on a remote Island safeguarded from life’s realities.

Meeting her first man, Steve Trevor, an American pilot (a baby-faced blue-eyed Chris Pine played cute) - tumbling out of the sky with his plane diving through the barrier mist that enshrouds this secret enclave from interlopers  (a Freudian interpretation might be relevant,) he crashes into the surrounding waters, and is saved by Diana from drowning. This archetype of a “strange species” called “man,” both fascinates and confuses our heroine; nonetheless, she is quickly captivated by this handsome soldier and accompanies him outside of her insulated universe in order to fulfill her destiny and bring “good” back into the Ares-corrupted world.  Having bitten from the apple in the Garden of Eden, she becomes acutely aware of the destructive malevolence of a landscape outside her own. 

The final scene in the movie is a spectacular light show of hell erupting with super-woman vaulting from one combat zone to another silhouetted against the glaring heat of combustion, as she saves humankind from the evils of darkness. We women can relate to that and applaud along with the audience in support of Wonder Woman’s fight - though the special effects which attend the cataclysm resemble an amalgam of horror creatures and a wet, melting super monster. Diana’s last words made me audibly groan and giggle: “Only love can save the world.” What??? WONDER WOMAN’s  final message trivialized a film which had a lot of potential. Please, Diana Prince, return to your Paradise and live among those other terrific Amazonian women - perhaps then you will regain my respect in your fight against injustice and not glorify the catastrophic means that is the traditional super-hero solution.





Sunday, May 28, 2017

THE KEEPERS - NETFLIX SERIES 5//28/17





The seven-part Netflix documentary series THE KEEPERS is a scathing indictment of the Baltimore Maryland Archdiocese and its coverup of abuse by priests in collusion with other locals, leading to the murder of a 27-year-old nun, Cathy Cesnik, a popular English, and Drama teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in 1969. Forty-seven years later, the murder still haunts some of her students, particularly Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins - two women whose fierce devotion to their former teacher transforms them into "senior Nancy Drews" who have spent the intervening time trying to make sense of what happened, long after the brutal  extermination of Cesnik became an  official “cold case”. Their loyalty and unflinching determination to discover the “truth” was and is an on-the-job learning curve; their use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other investigative methods, including old-fashioned footwork and interviews, begins to unearth an impenetrable darkness that enshrouds the case with widening implications. Buried execrable secrets eventually thrust themselves into the light making us gasp at the physical and mental sufferings of these young people - an agony that time never can expunge along with confusion and guilt - accessory weights that profoundly settle over our spirit.


We discover early on that the police and assisting governmental officials ignored salient facts during their investigation - reports are missing, records are transferred and now gone  - all indications of the dominant influence of the Catholic Church in Baltimore on many of the institutions of power. Our “detectives” uncover a pattern of horrific child abuse by Cesnik’s colleague, Priest Joseph Maskell who would target the most vulnerable students; young girls who had a history of family trauma, and call them into his office  for “counseling.”  The beauty of innocence is also its bane; to navigate through corruption requires an armor that the tender skin of youth has not yet developed - those who scald that fragile shield are craven reprobates. 



Director Ryan White intersperses the past and present - through newspaper headlines, interviews with people whose lives touched on Sister Cathy and those who were victimized in Archbishop Keough High School, and eventually feel compelled to speak up - still believing that their oppressor, the Catholic Church would be their savior - not their foe in the daunting fight for truth and justice. We witness the long-arm of the Archdiocese which utilizes its power to quash dissent, quietly protecting the offending clergy by transferring them from school to school compounding the abuse.  A hushed pall of silence - a cloud large enough to hover over medical personal, the police, and governmental agencies sanctioned a fog of evil to multiply and continue to destroy lives. 


THE KEEPERS speaks with great sensitivity and directness to the wounds of molestation that never heal, and to the courage of those who are the true heroes - exposing their personal agonizing history to the vicious cross-examination of those in authority -  in order to protect future generations from the  enduring effect that the despoilment and loss of childhood naiveté has on an individual. We also observe a crime story and the pursuit of “truth” - over decades -  an inquiry that becomes an avocation - a razor sharp spotlight on what might seem like a minutia of evidence that with time and patience piles up into a penetrating narrative, with the potential to bring down an Empire. These are “the keepers.” 


Monday, May 8, 2017

NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER 5/8/17

Watching the esteemed Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s new film NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER, I kept thinking that the wardrobe expenses for the main character was quite a bargain, as Richard Gere wears the same camel-hair coat and grey cap throughout the movie with a very occasional change into a suit. The character Norman is the Bernie Madoff of the political and social set - building exotic schemes and dreams upon the sludge of greed and desire, but as his clothing indicates in a spare and pared down manner.

Norman is a cipher - we have no idea where he lives; his personal life is a mystery; whether he gets any financial remuneration out of his zany deals;  or whether he gets satisfaction in just being accepted by men-in-power that are as secretive and cagey as he is. This is the tragic tale of a man who has come to believe in his own lies, a man passionate about making connections - hooking up people with one another - a “shadchan”, the Yiddish word for matchmaker, but for the marriage of political and business elites. This sycophantic “nebbish” is both sympathetic and pathetic. Norman need not fear “invisibility,” since he is vociferously insensitive to his own behavior, annoyingly pestering and nudging his “marks,” like a mosquito that keeps on biting and never feels being squatted away - a gambler, rolling the dice for a jackpot without any money to cover his bets.

Richard Gere, in a defining career move, sheds the glamor of previous roles, to play Norman, a person intensely driven to pushing and cajoling his way into the lives of the power brokers; surprisingly when he does gain some notoriety, his approach to life remains unchanged. Norman continues to wear the identical outfit; his office still consists of wandering the streets of Manhattan making promises on the phone; a loner who remains an enigma who cannot control his need to “help” despite being helpless.

This film is a character study of an older man who unintentionally has an enormous impact on people in his immediate circle, and internationally - particularly Israel’s peace talks in the Middle East. The bare bones of the plot focuses on an early decisive encounter between Norman and an Israeli Deputy Minister, who 3 years later becomes the Prime Minister of Israel. The impact of their initial meeting reverberates throughout the film.

There is an innocence and an affability to the soft-spoken Norman; oftentimes he looks confused and fails to understand that his schemes can lead to dire consequences. Small moments in the film are incredibly moving; Norman sneaking into a synagogue’s back room to dip into a jar of Vita herring which he deftly balances on crackers, underscoring the bleakness and isolation of his life in the very space where he goes to for sanctuary and comfort.  Steve Buscemi is excellent portraying the Rabbi of this large Congregation, surprising even himself by reaching out in desperation to Norman, the “fixer” to help save the Synagogue’s building from being wrested away due to lack of funds.


NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER, is a fascinating study of someone with a bad case of logorrhea, who clearly has no influence or prestige, with a reputation built on quicksand  - who shockingly does affect events and temporarily succeeds. 



Thursday, April 20, 2017

GRACE VISITS: MIRIAM BRUMER 4/21/17




I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit with artist Miriam Brumer and write about her artwork for Women's Voices For Change.


HERE IS A LINK TO THE ARTICLE: 

Women's Voices For Change Article


Images in the order that they are mentioned in the article: CLICK ON IMAGES and THEY ENLARGE. PLEASE COMMENT ON WOMEN'S VOICES FOR CHANGE SITE IF YOU WISH.
Miriam Brumer in Studio

 
Miriam Brumer holding drawings

Gymnast, 9"x12", ink on paper, 2010

Untitled, 22"x30", mixed media on paper, circa 200

     
Detail: Untitled, 22"x30", mixed media on paper, circa 2003

                                     
Letting In The Light, 12"x9", ink on paper, 2017


The View From Here, 9"x12", ink on paper, 2017
Sanctuary, 9"x12", ink on paper, 2016


The Bristlies Go For A Walk, 9"x12", ink on paper, 2016


Detail: Lacewing, 30.5"x28", mixed media on paper, 2000

Miriam Brumer's Website