Sunday, June 8, 2014

IDA 6/8/14

 Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s new film IDA is visually stunning. I am a painter  whose work deals with light and color; this film extrudes color out of infinite blacks, grays, and whites culminating in a blinding silver light. The poetry of tonal form in synch with the secrets of the unknown, contrasting the innocence of spiritual isolation with the realities of political ideologies has a streaming effect on the bloodlines of our interior selves.

We meet Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska in a beautifully understated performance) - a novitiate nun running through the snow with her “sisters” lightly carrying a statue of Jesus Christ, which is gently lowered  into a circular crevice in front of the Convent where Anna has been sheltered for the past 18-20 years, having been brought there as an orphan when she was an infant in the early 1940’s. The time is now 1962 and the place is Poland under Communist rule. 

Before taking her vows, Anna follows the advice of the Mother Superior to visit her only living relative, an aunt who over the years has never attempted to contact her.  Anna’s simple, spare, and silent world, where the love of God consummated her every need, leaves the Monastery for the first time, braving surroundings that are antithetical to the tranquillity and stoicism that she is accustomed to.

As soon as Anna meets her mother’s sister, Aunt Wanda, a once beautiful woman, now disheveled, wearily smoking, a drink sloshing in her hand,a man in partial undress glimpsed in the back room, Anna is told that her real name is Ida and that she is Jewish - a shocking revelation, but Anna/Ida’s response to this news is barely perceptible. Her lovely face never reveals private intimate turmoil. Agata Kulesza is excellent as Wanda who we get to know as brutally honest and uncompromising - a Communist state functionary - an ex-prosecutor who is now a Judge living with having made desperate life decisions that are remorselessly haunting - a woman attempting to survive anguished memories.

IDA becomes an intimate existential road trip, so authentically filmed that the ambiance of the subsistence countryside envelops us with its rough beauty, The two women attempt to uncover the secrets of their horrific past living under Nazi occupied rule, and the ramifications of being a Jew in a country where the innocent were literally slaughtered because of fascist ideology, often with  the compliance of their fellow human beings. We witness history unfolding a generation later - the same country now under totalitarian Communist rule. 

Anna/Ida during this short period of time is faced with choices that affect the very essence of her understanding of the outside world, beyond her previously cloistered life, questioning the ecstatic power of faith vs.the banality of everyday existence.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


My beautiful dark eyed friend and former gallery dealer, Ricky called me in NJ at 3:00 in the morning from a hospital bed at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles hiccuping uncontrollably - reaching out -  between grasping gulps of air - to make contact and say hello. It was late - an ungodly  hour - but his life was ticking away on its own clock - perceptions of time speeding up and slowing down, out of synch with the familiar rhythms of  the earth’s rotation.  I had just returned from Venice, CA to see him - hoping it would not be the last visit - which grievously it was. Ricky knew how to unfold himself like no one else I had ever met. He brought me gifts from trips around the world that excavated (inside of me) buried, silent tears of joy - offerings that celebrated not only his singular moments, but what I meant to him in life. This delicate man’s existence burned out quickly, once he was diagnosed with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - AIDS. Today, looking back I keep thinking, (as so many of us do) - IF ONLY he had held on another couple of years, he would still be around for me to glance at once more with such silken pleasure.

Seeing the film THE NORMAL HEART  based on Larry Kramer’s play of the same name (he wrote the movie’s screenplay) brought back a wave of memories of this era which was likened to a “plague.” Young vital men, were disappearing before our eyes; the arts community was being decimated. Cancer was no longer the disease of certain death - it was supplanted by HIV-AIDS - the “gay cancer” - as it was called in its early medically ignored and confounding stage . But of course 30 years later we now know that there are no borders and HIV -AIDS  has affected the world’s population - men, women, and children.

THE NORMAL HEART directed by Ryan Murphy brought flashbacks of a wildly ecstatic era - when sexual freedom and experimentation went unrestrained - tender and callous, continuous without any awareness of a rampant virus which was creeping slowly into the erotic, passionate, rough and intimate f*cking that was occurring. The movie begins with shots of gorgeous young sculpted men traipsing out to Fire Island dreaming of commingling and delighting in the lack of restrictions that this vacation spot holds for them. The atmosphere is filled with amorous/seductive fleeting once-overs filed away for later exploration and consummation.  The film arouses all our senses, both visually and through the pounding music which further accentuates the interweaving of bodies heating up alongside the cool water.

THE NORMAL HEART  has many heroes - one of them being Ned Weeks (an excellent, believable and nuanced Mark Ruffalo ) who early on sees a pattern developing - buff bodies wasting away, and dying  - at first just a few of his friends are infected, but soon like a geometric progression, the numbers increase and keep multiplying. Weeks becomes one of the founders of The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) with its impassioned mission to bring this burgeoning epidemic to the public’s attention; many obstacles block their efforts - from both inside and outside their own community. This was and still is an advocacy group advising on an illness which in the early 1980’s many  considered an intrusion on a lifestyle of sexual liberation that seemed finally attainable.  

Fascinating questions are raised in the film about what are the best means to politically get funding from a government  that is firmly entrenched in homophobia, “morality”, hypocrisy and denial. Exposing the pragmatic realities within the organization itself - the “handsome” President, Bruce Niles - a Wall Street banker (Taylor Kitsch doing a great job as a “closeted” leader) vs. an impassioned and often irascible Ned Weeks whose anger and rage  at the “system” is fueled by the tears, snot, saliva, blood and shit that is oozing out of a generation’s diseased core. 

THE NORMAL HEART’s heroine is Julia Roberts in one of her best performances as Dr. Emma Brookner - rapidly scooting around in an electric wheelchair disabled by an earlier generation’s virulent virus, Polio -  who tirelessly and desperately tends to her patients, her compassionate face revealing the overwhelming odds that she is up against - fighting for the funding that will propel the medical establishment into action. I remember  reading the daily obituaries in The NY Times from that period, and the ages of the dead jumped out at me, becoming almost commonplace - many in their early 30’s and ’40’s -  never given the opportunity to scout out and sift through the unique complexities of our journey on this planet.

There is also a personal love story, revealing an affectionate, temperate Ned Weeks - in contrast to his public persona - prone to explosive outbursts, impatient with those who disagree with him and his unrelenting militancy; in private we see a man deeply committed to his partner - a rapturous burning intensity coupled with a profound grace is achingly visible between them, and an integral counterpoint to the urgent couplings of anonymity. 

The human species is irreparably linked  and the tentacles of contamination do not live in a vacuum, spreading rapidly like an ignited fire. THE NORMAL HEART  introduces us to other characters whose unremitting efforts in puncturing and unmasking this once-hidden, scourge and bringing it into the brilliant clarity of light, opened the path to the research which would eventually create the medical cocktails we have today for HIV-AIDS.