Thursday, December 4, 2008

Twilight Watch, Part 1

I just can't do it.  I almost bought tickets online to force myself to go, but I know I would rather waste the twelve dollars than watch. Sigh. I cannot, I repeat, I cannot. I feel that I must. I've been writing about female directors, with a special emphasis on American women. Genre films are of particular interest to me.  The goal has been achieved. A film directed by a woman has a monster opening weekend- 70 million dollars. Domestic! Gift horses. Mouth. Sigh. I am incapable of either seeing this film or of keeping myself from counting teeth.

The film is Twilght. I have not seen the film and I haven't read the book. I have no right to comment.  There is a 2:15 matinee.  It's now 1:52.  Can I make it?  I still really, really don't want to go.  I'm really pleased for Catherine Hardwicke.  

That's a total lie.  The entire thing makes me angry.  Updates on my attempts will follow.

There is clearly no pleasing me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


The past few decades have not been good for people who specialize in the short form of anything, but maybe, just maybe the pendulum is swinging in the other direction again.

Hollywood is specializing in three hour long B Movies, novels are volumes long, and I think all of it is collapsing under the unbearable weight of expense and bloat. I love short stories, and if my opinion is worth anything, I really believe that the best young American writers seem to be short story specialists. Kelly Link is untouchable with her razor sharp voice and her boundless imagination, and Karen Russell is not far behind, having written my favorite story of recent years: St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves. Link's fantastic zine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is never ever dull, and is, story for story, way stronger than The New Yorker. The yearly anthology edited by Ellen Datlow (who I met this year at a reading and almost died of shyness and excitement) and Link is always really, really worth reading. All we need now is for Alice Munro to win her long deserved Nobel.

Okay. I need to fess up. Alice Monroe aside, most of the above write what is called fantasy, or speculative fiction, or horror. If left completely to my own devices, this is where my taste runs. Happily, my taste seems to have gone mainstream, so there is lots and lots of it. Also, most of the authors listed above are women. I don't know if means anything, as the world of speculative fiction short story writing has always been more egalitarian than some (probably because there was always so little money at stake). All this brings me back to The List I started blogging about last summer. To recap: there have been remarkably few female film directors who have had careers of any significance.

Last night I attended a screening of an anthology of short horror films directed by women, Bride of Sinister Six, curated by Bryan Enk. I love anthologies. I play my ipod on shuffle. I crave variety. Halloween is the best. The more splatter the better. I had a really great time. To make a full disclosure, I know many of the people involved. I'm not here to be a critic. I'm just really glad Bryan remedied a really unfortunate situation (the two previous Sinister Six anthologies included only male directors).

I loved Sally McKleinfeld's film (The Box) which dealt with sisters and a horrific, flipper-like tongue. I also really liked Gyda Arber's creepy roommate story (Watching), with a lovely performance by Jessi Gotta (who played Winnie in the second incarnation of Antarctica). I enjoyed all six films, but I really wanted to talk about "The Poison Kiss", Hope Cartelli's offering (still, above). It is sublime, it is beautiful, it is complete. A black & white, silent, German expressionist pastiche, with a terrific lead performance by Iracel Rivero (who looks like she was cast via time machine). Hope has been collaborating with her husband, Jeff Lewonczyk, on the silent, staged, Bizarre Science Fantasy series for the past few years, and the experience shows. The story telling is clear, fluid and concise. This is Hope's first film but you would never guess that from seeing this short. More please?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton at The New Museum

I wish I could be the fourteen year old version of myself a hundred years from now, walk into a museum, and discover Elizabeth Peyton's paintings; I would love to see them with uncynical eyes far enough in the future that the slightly disreputable poppiness will have evaporated.  

I saw the midcareer retrospective currently mounted at The New Museum and just loved it.  I don't pay much attention to contemporary art these days, and I had forgotten all about her.  I saw the Kurt Cobain exhibition in the mid-nineties and I liked it, but I remember being really snotty about it.   Oh, she paints from photographs. She paints rock stars.  I was wrong. I mean, yes, Elizabeth Peyton does paint from photographs and she does, indeed, paint lots of rock stars, but after seeing the exhibition yesterday, I'm not the least bit snotty. I think she might be the real deal.

Writing about painting isn't much better than dancing about architecture, so still the best thing I can say is to go see it.  She paints mostly people: rock stars, people from history, friends and lovers.  She also has one extraordinary street scene, Seventh Avenue looking uptown to St. Vincent's Hospital.  Her colors are beautiful, the pictures are really lovely and compelling.  

I went to art school for a time about twenty years ago, and I really liked painting people.  It never even occurred to me that I could major in fine art, as fine art at that point wasn't at all about painting pictures of people.  People who painted representationally became illustrators.  In an interview, Peyton articulated something very well: "If it [art] can be understood, it [is thought to be] somehow dumb."  I think she's right, and it's something that has pervaded theater, too.  

I think she's a brave artist.  She paints pictures of people.  There's nothing not to get.  If you don't like one of her paintings, you don't like her work.  If your work is more conceptual, I think you have more barriers between yourself and what people think of you.  People might not understand your work, they might not have the context to appreciate it, they might be a little stupid.  I'm not saying I don't like, or find abstract or conceptual art interesting or worthwhile, I just think there is room for both.  And I've always found people to be more interesting than ideas.

There is a kind of aching romanticism in Peyton's work that I haven't felt before in contemporary art.  I'm jealous in a way, as I think this is the sort of work I would like to be doing if I still painted.  Seeing this exhibition of portraits of pop stars, and film stills, and artists and people she loves made me want to paint again.  I like pictures of people.  I think lots of people do.  That doesn't make it a bad thing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Open Letter To Chris Rock

Dear Chris Rock,

I watched your most recent HBO special, filmed in NY, London & Johannesburg. I live in NY and the last two places I've travelled to were London and South Africa, so I was all like "Yay!"  Then I watched it.

Please note:  When you asked the question, "Can white people say [the "N word"]", your answer was, "Not really".  Later in your show, you explained the broad circumstances where it was okay to call someone a faggot.  You explained it was okay "if they were acting like a faggot."  Hilarity apparently ensued.  Substitute [the "N word"] for [the "F word"] in the previous sentence.  See my point?  Hate speech is hate speech.  Proposition 8 is being voted on next week.  You're too fucking smart for this.  It's just not good enough.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Message From My Dad Who Feels He Has Been Misrepresented

I was probably overly flip in my comments, from my Dad:

"I never said Muslims are crazy. There are good things about Islam. There are also things I don't like such as their literal reading of the Koran, their treatment of women and their jihad to convert everyone. But, they are still a young religion. How many years did it take for Christianity (at least most of them) to accept women as equals, to recognize the Jews, and to stop killing each other. I may be an agnostic, but I see the good in religion as exemplified in Mom and others."

Unlike my Dad (who is probably a much nicer person than I am), I really don't think Christianity accepts women as equals. All that aside, I really do think I misrepresented his views though, and I apologize. I think I took maybe an outburst of "these people are crazy!", in response to, say, crazy jihadists, rather than ordinary people who practice Islam.

In completely different news, the greatest photo in the history of American elections:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Middle Name Is Hussein

I have really weird feelings about the facebook Hussein middle name thing (if you look at my friend list there are lots and lots of Husseins). I mean, I get the solidarity thing, but as someone who was raised Catholic and walks around with a Moslem last name, like, all the time (my agnostic Dad's family was Albanian Moslem, Mom is Irish Catholic), I'm having a little trouble parsing all the implications. I know all the Hussein-ing is coming from a happy place, but...but..argh.

Something about it bothers me, I guess as a meme, without the fact of any individual doing it bothering me, if that makes sense. Perhaps it's the inherent racism of the necessity for it, or the insistent cries of "hey! look! he's not a Moslem" that I hear over and over again, as if the fact of Obama being Moslem would make him, de facto, a bad person not worthy of his impressive record and stance on the issues at hand.

If this blog post falls into the wrong hands, Obama is not Moslem, any more than I am, although, for the record, we had an Imam at my grandmother's funeral, I was baptized and confirmed, my dad thinks those practicing Islam are crazy people, the world is messy and interesting, etc.

Please let me know your thoughts my delightful, intelligent and politically engaged readers. I mean it. Cheers and kisses.

See you at the polls!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


This is kind of exactly what I've been thinking. Frank Capra was a Republican, but, like, not this kind of Republican. To quote Megan Carpentier "the party of motherfucking Lincoln". I think I've been reduced to incoherence by the past few weeks of gobsmacking current events and this stupid cold. I'm tired of staring at the news and wondering when someone is going to pop up and yell "SURPRISE SUCKERS!" and discover we've all been gotten good in the most elaborate practical joke in the history of the world. That's about as ranty as I'm going to get. I decided when I started this blog that politics wasn't going to be one of my subjects, that I would leave that to the pros. But as the great Hunter S. Thompson so memorably (and possibly apocryphally) said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro".

Rules are being broken, all bets are off.   I raise a shot of NyQuil to the world.

Monday, August 18, 2008

FringeNYC Redux

Back when I was a New York International Fringe Festival staff member ('98-'03), it would sometimes be almost forgotten that theater, and play-going and performance-attending was the point of FringeNYC.  The running of the festival was such an overwhelming, all-consuming job, that few staff members saw much at all.  Nancy Walsh and I had a running joke where we would sidle up to each other and say "Hey, you know what?  I just found out there's theater going on around here!" "No way!"  After all, as we often said, from our point of view it was a Festival of Envelopes. (see bottom right photo.  Those are envelopes.)

Now, all these years later, this is really the first year in which I am really seeing the festival from the vantage point of an audience member.  In 2004, I was still the ultimate insider.  I hung out with the staff, ran some box offices and hoped I wasn't turning into some kind of version of that weird guy who hangs out with the undergraduates after leaving school.  In 2005 I was in rehearsal for a show I was taking to the SF Fringe and wasn't around much.  In 2006 Virgodog had a show in the festival, so lots of that year's experience was about that.  Last summer I was once again a participant, so I was focused on my own play.  This year, finally, I am an audience member only.  Granted, an audience member with a VIP pass, but audience member nonetheless.  Let me tell you, it's completely fantastic.

I've seen about a dozen shows, some that friends were involved in, some random picks, and it's all just glorious.  In 2004 I had an inkling of what it was all about and wrote Elena K Holy an email telling her that "I get it.  I finally get it."  Maybe I forgot, but I seem to have gotten it all over again.  It's about the facilitation of art.  It's a platform that didn't exist before 1997, and now it does.  I think the theater world of NY would be essentially different had the festival not begun.  I wrote earlier about LIT and the Theatorium and it's all part of the same whole.  There are so many complaints about the festival, I've heard every single one of them, but the one I haven't heard is that New York would be a better place if FringeNYC wasn't here.  Because it wouldn't be.  Whatever the complications and problems, and nobody's feelings about the festival are more complicated than mine, when it's all said and done, on this dying planet of ours, this is a good.  Because there is work being done, some great, some less than great, but there is work being created by real live people with very little chance of any sort of material gain in return who are doing it anyway, so this is a win.  

This life is hard, this life is short.  Why limit anything?  200 plus shows?  Why not?  See some theater.  Buy a ticket.  Be in the same room with people who are making something while you watch.  It's all quantum mechanics, you know.  Your presence effects what's going on.  That doesn't happen with TV or movies.  Isn't that exciting?

Photos:  Dixie Sheridan & George Rand

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

West Egg Revisited

Last weekend I drove down to North Carolina with Virgodog, where I was his guest/Sig Oth/arm candy at his 20th high school reunion.   After arriving in Little Chicago, North Carolina*, we hung out with a good friend of Virgodog's from high school and his wife.  They were both delightful.  This was a huge relief, as I hadn't at all known what to expect.  Aside from the Virgodog support aspect, I was attending in the spirit of anthropological zeal.  I didn't grow up in a place anything like Little Chicago.  I grew up in a place called West Egg.

Tacky North Shore suburb, over-indulged, over-privileged, gold-plated pressure cooker that it is, I hated it.  I left as soon as I could.  I did my best to carve out a life for myself that wasn't too informed by what I perceived as the narrow values of the place in which I grew up.  And then the two fold way back machine of my own high school reunion and joining facebook happened.  

It's nice to have perspective, or so I've heard, and I don't know if I do.  At my reunion, I felt exactly as I did when I was in high school and I didn't terribly enjoy the acid flashback aspects of the event much.  I looked around the room, and thought "who are these people?" and was sorry I'd come.  Most everyone was nice, some extremely so.  But everyone seemed a little shell-shocked, or maybe I'm just projecting.  Thank god for the open bar.  The people I liked in high school, I still liked.  The psychopaths were still psychopaths, and it was mildly comforting to find that my opinions of these people weren't completely colored by the hormonal hysteria of adolescence, but were, in fact, accurate.  Everyone looked good, everyone was successful in their own way, which, I think speaks more to the self selecting nature of reunions than anything else.  At the end, I would have regretted not going.

And then I joined facebook, which engendered another, slow motion high school reunion.  A particularly interesting aspect to this is that I link my blog entries to my facebook account, eschewing all anonymity.  I have reconnected with lots of people.  In a nice controlled way, I've messaged and chatted and said hello to lots of people I grew up with.  Which has been fun, really. 

I have no animosity for anyone I grew up with.  We were raised in strange circumstances, in a place where none of our parents were from.  (I remember the day when me and four friends all discovered that our fathers had attended the same high school.  We thought it was a remarkable coincidence, we didn't realize we were the product of a cultural cliché.)  Our school system was a sophisticated mechanism devised to achieve exactly one end:  to get its students admitted into an array of elite colleges and universities.  Inevitably, one of the byproducts of such an education are the acquisition of the tools required to analyze and dismantle the machinery in which we were caught.  If, like me, any of us chose a different path, we knew we could.  Like Gatsby before us, we saw that green light.

*all names have been changed to protect the easily embarrassed, i.e. Caviglia

Monday, July 28, 2008

Theatorium In Memorium*

I just found out via Scrappy Jack's blog that there is a new building going up on the site where the Theatorium used to be. A converted garage (auto body shop? Shit, how could I not know this?) at 198 Stanton Street, between Attorney and Ridge, it was, from 1998 til 2003, a lot of people's artistic home and now it's gone gone gone for good.

I'm full of all kinds of mixed feelings about this turn of events, compounded and confused by my not very mixed feelings about what is happening to my old East Village/LES neighborhood. The Present Company gave up the Theatorium in early 2003, understandably really, as it was a huge drain, both financially and in other ways. I try not to wax nostalgic what with my punk rock upbringing and all. The building has stood empty for five years. But still.

Buildings have memories, what goes on inside of them seeps into the walls. That building absorbed so much sweat and hilarity and frustration and blood and here and there, genius, pure genius.

The early years of FringeNYC (for which the Theatorium was Command Central) changed my life. I spent hours and hours and hours working for the festival while simultaneously and unwittingly creating what would become the rest of my life from the people I met and the theater I saw. Nothing I would subsequently do would ever be more difficult, maddening, frustrating or completely and utterly magical. I was going to tell a funny, funny anecdote about filing a stack of cash under M for Money, but figured Elena would not be pleased. I'll tell this instead:

A friend and I had this longstanding theatrical goal, that we would one day be involved in a performance where audience members would would be so shocked and horrified, they would jump out of their seats and run for the door. In the Theatorium, on a deathly cold night in (I think) 1999 our wish came true! We were involved in a performance/art/music extravaganza called Safety Can. It began at midnight and went until 3 or 4am and was hosted by Bill Talen. One piece involved this pagan offering-up of salad ingredients which were thrown by us into a huge, rubber vat. Then someone (I can't for the life of me remember who) came out with a weed-whacker and made salad, which we subsequently served to the audience (yes, the salad was precisely as disgusting as you might think). We had packed the Theatorium to the rafters with extra folding chairs in front. As the weed-whacker roughly pureed our ingredients (including dressing), salad was flung toward the (now much closer due to the added rows of seats) front row. Several people leaped to their feet and ran to the exit. We managed to stagger off stage before literally collapsing with laughter. Goal attained!

I have mentioned LIT in previous posts, and one thing being discussed is a sort of LIT seal of approval for venues and rehearsal spaces. So that audience members and theater-folk would know that the spaces are clean, air-conditioned, etc. Needless to say, the Theatorium would have failed on every single point. Un-airconditioned, largely unheated, leaky-ceilinged and oh, yeah, rats. But the alchemy of spaces put to artistic uses is strange indeed, and the old Theatorium for all its faults and assorted horrors (rats, sewage explosions- I'm looking at you!) was possessed of certain grubby magic that will be fondly remembered, maybe best remembered rather than re-experienced, by me and I'm sure lots of others. I lift a glass to all the lost sacred spaces that live only in our thoughts, dreams and art! Let the myth-making begin apace!

Me, in front of the Theatorium, 2002

*I am fully aware that the correct Latin is "memoriam". Memorium looks better, so no need to comment. God, I'm such a fucking pedant.

Drinking Hard, Alienating Your Friends, Fucking Up

Dorothy Parker was a mess. She was so much of a mess that being totally fucked up was kind of her professional schtick.  I was thinking about this because last weekend I saw a bio-play about her, Those Whistling Lads (Yeah. Worst title ever.), that had Parker expositing about her life, and dramatized some of her short stories and poems. 

Her life is more interesting to me then her writing,  so in the spirit of positive thinking, I will focus on her life.  One word about the work:  her patented combination of cynicism and sentimentality is most effective I think in her screenplay for (probably one the most influential screenplays ever) the original 1937 A Star is Born.  Frederick March's Norman Maine might seem a little clichéd to modern audiences, but his washed up, alcoholic, self-destructive movie star is also, well, really modern.  With his trial by tabloid, followed by rehab, followed by relapse, Dorothy Parker's Norman Maine created the cinematic blueprint for every subsequent fictional or real life Hollywood disaster.  It probably feels so real because she lived it, drinking hard, alienating her friends, fucking up.  

The thing that is so remarkable to me about her is that she stayed employed for such an incredible length of time.  I said in a previous blog post that women can't afford to fuck up.  Dottie did, and got away with it for a really  long time.   It wasn't her drinking and fucking that brought down her career (as that extraordinary flapper icon Louise Brooks put it), but her politics.  As McCarthyism swept Hollywood, she was put on the infamous Blacklist.  In her last years, she worked, intermittently, as a book reviewer for Esquire where she gave Harlan Ellison a great review (possibly his first) for his collection Gentleman Junkie (a book I loved when I was growing up. I haven't read it since I was a teenager, and I'm a little afraid to now. Um, I think I still have the paperback I stole from my brother's room 20 years ago.).  Like so many others, she died broke.  But- and this may be completely apocryphal - after her death, a check for twenty thousand dollars was found, tossed nonchalantly in a desk drawer, uncashed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Even If You Look Like a Disney Princess, There Are No Guarantees of Happily Ever After

I spend lots of time writing about teen girls and watch lots and lots of movies and TV shows about them. I would like to see more theater about (and for) girls, but there's not a whole lot of it. Please, please comment with titles. I am not talking about stories that are really about boys in which girls appear.

This brings me to the Miley Cyrus brou ha ha of a couple of months ago. The legendary celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz took the following photo of the fifteen year old Disney superstar for Vanity Fair:

Personally, I think it's lovely and no more revealing than anything any girl her age would wear to the beach. My opinions aside, cries of "child pornography!" were soon shouted from all corners of the nation (as the French, once again, pointed and laughed).

I know this is really old news. I know that most likely no one who is reading this is a fan of the (now) sixteen year old Cyrus or thinks this pretty picture of a pretty girl is pornography. It just leads me to a little experiment I conducted. The website has a constantly updated list of the top 50 models currently working. Many of these women are below the age of eighteen and few of their names would be recognizable to anyone who did not follow fashion very, very closely. The following photos all appeared in magazines either in the US or Europe. The girls modeling are all about the same age as Cyrus, but there was no outcry of any sort. I want to be clear that I don't particularly think there should be, but, consistency, people! More on this after the AV presentation:

Or this:

And most of all, this (NSFW).

Since few people seem to be talking about children being presented as women in fashion, I would like to do so. There has been a lot of really unfortunate news surrounding models recently, much of it weight related, some of it involving murders and suicide, and really there is a collective sarcastic "boo hoo" from everyone whenever somebody mentions there might be a problem within the industry. The glamor! The money! The shallowness! Who cares?!

In the wake of 20 year old Kazakhstanis falling from the sky in Lower Manhattan, maybe we should begin talking about what is going on with pretty, pretty girl children who are being dressed up as grown ups and maybe think about who is looking out for their interests. There has been talk on the interwebs about the possibility of starting a modeling union. This Jezebel thread is particularly interesting. It seems to me that this is a question of perception and a question of international child labor law.

The only difference between Miley Cyrus and the girls whose images you can see above, is one of marketing, branding and perception. Ms. Cyrus is under contract to a giant multi-national corporation who have a vested financial interest in keeping her image squeaky clean and youthful. She has a team of handlers, lawyers, parents, publicists and agents looking out for her (and their own) interests. She is also a member of a union, namely SAG. She also lives in California where the Coogan Act dictates how much of her finances are to be handled. Only time will tell how this all works out for her in the long term. These young working models are in a very different situation. Many of them are from brutally poor countries, mostly former Soviet states. Many of them don't speak the language of the country in which they are working particularly well. Most, I am sure, are grateful and thrilled with the opportunities they have been given. They are dressed up and treated as working adults. But they are still kids. I'm sure some of them have savvy parents who are looking after their daughters. I wonder if some modeling agencies shy away from girls with caring, involved families, and prefer signing up fifteen year olds from Poland or Latvia, whose families are far away and more likely to be desperate for the work.

New York has pretty clear child labor laws, but I don't think anyone is paying attention to them when the girls are from Estonia and dressed up like goddesses. Women are being treated more and more like commodities, and are treating themselves as commodities, too. (If I read of one more woman in the NY Times referring to herself as needing an "upgrade" I will go postal) I think that is why this issue bugs me so much. That if the facade is good enough, pretty enough, perfect enough, no one cares what is crawling around underneath. I'm as complicit as anyone else. I'm a bigger fashion junkie than most. It seems everything is about that facade, one picture of one fifteen year old girl tastefully draped inspires cries of "where are her parents?" and magazines full of pictures of other teenaged girls cause no concern at all. Only the labels are different, and the market in which they are being sold. One has the courts looking to see if her money is being banked appropriately, the others do not. It just kind of sticks in my craw that if a girl is beautiful and works in what is perceived as a frivolous industry, it is kind of assumed that whatever bad things may happen to her are sort of her own fault, and don't count because the shoes are so terribly, terribly expensive.

No one can argue that there are children who are treated much more appallingly then these mostly fortunate girls with modeling contracts. Many less fortunate girls from Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova and most of the former Soviet States are being trafficked to the UAE, Scandinavia and the United States to work as prostitutes where they are treated as slaves. Children work in factories and sweatshops all over the world in deplorable conditions. I do wonder how many hopeful (or desperate) young girls have had the promise of a modeling contract lure them into deadly circumstances they could not escape from. Maybe if the fairy tale lovely model from Kazakhstan is treated fairly, maybe the girls in the sweatshops one day will too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Surrealists Are So Pretty But Then So Many Artists Are Forgotten

A couple of weekends ago I watched a Netflix triple feature: The Triumph of Love, Romper Stomper, and Once. It was lots of fun as none of these films had anything to do with each other and I'm the kind of person who only listens to her ipod on shuffle.

Romper Stomper is really disturbing and really well done, but judging by a quick google search it has been embraced by every stripe of wannabe violent asshole, which is a pity. It's a show boaty, high energy Clockwork Orange-influenced tragedy about Australian Nazi skinheads. It was Russell Crowe's second major film role and he is really, really good in it. His performance as this really menacing, tightly wound skinhead is so completely different from the likable character he was in Proof (directed by Jocelyn Morehouse, PJ Hogan's wife), a movie I really adore. Once, as basically every other person on the internet has already said, is a complete joy. Triumph of Love was sort of a mess, a filmed version of a Marivaux play, starring a sort of incompetent Mira Sorvino. It had a lot of ideas, such as seeing flashes here and there of a modern day audience sitting on folding chairs watching the action. It was directed by Tasmanian Clare Peploe, who got her start as the writer of Anonioni's hippie epic, Zabriskie Point. Which brings me back to The List I started a couple of posts ago.

Lois Weber is someone I had never heard of until I began researching female directors for this blog project. According to IMDb, she directed 132 films (although according to Film Reference the number could be well over 300) and was the first woman to direct a feature. There is a clip from her film Hypocrites on YouTube and it really makes me want to watch the whole thing. It's beautifully shot, and I'm not entirely sure what is going on but it features a priest and a naked ghost girl and it's super ethereal and lovely (Note: the music used, however, is super annoying. I suggest you mute it). Lois Weber was a rabidly successful silent actor, director & producer. She was the highest paid director at Warner Bros. and from what I can gather (up to 90% of all silents are lost, few of her films survive), she explored moral hypocrisy and society's ills from a kind of early 20th century religious/progressive/feminist perspective. Her films looked at abortion, birth control, capital punishment and drug addiction and made lots and lots of money. Like many successes of the silent era, the combination of a messy personal life and the coming of sound killed her career. She found some work as a script doctor and then died penniless in 1939. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (6518 Hollywood Blvd.), and is all but completely forgotten.

Maya Deren. Why are all the lady surrealists all so, so lovely? Maya Deren was an experimental film-maker who although she rejected being classified as a surrealist, made a number of films which share many qualities with the films of Cocteau, Buñuel and Duchamp (who she at one time collaborated with). Her most famous film Meshes of the Afternoon, is like a dream. I do not mean what is usually meant when people describe things as being "dream-like". It is just like a dream, in its constant repetition of events with slight variations, confusion of identity, its use of the subconscious and of ritual. It was playing on a loop at the Tate Modern when I was there, and I just sat and watched it two or three times in a row. I love At Land, which somehow manages to build an unimaginable tension through its imagery and silence. In 1947 she received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation to travel to Haiti and study Voodoo. She died young in 1961 from a brain hemorrhage brought on by malnutrition and amphetamine addiction. Or possibly from a voodoo curse. One never knows.

On Writing Novels

If anyone reading this is writing a novel, or is thinking of writing one, Zadie Smith has a really wonderful piece in the June issue of The Believer.

Most of the people reading this know that I am at work on a novel and that I am posting a chapter a week online.  Posting a chapter a week has not been at all difficult as I have a considerable backlog.  We'll see towards the end of the summer as the pre-written chapters run out if I will be able to keep up the pace.

One thing I have not decided on, is whether I should go back and quietly edit the chapters I have already posted, or to change my own drafts and leave the published chapters as they are. If anyone is reading this, or if you have any opinions on the matter please let me know.  One of the things I already find sort of interesting is that problems that never occurred to me, now seem glaringly obvious now that five chapters have been posted.

Back to Zadie Smith.  I loved her first novel, White Teeth, and haven't read the next two.  This article (which was originally a lecture given to Columbia Grad students) made me want to hug her.  Lots of it would be useful to playwrights, too.  I almost shouted out loud on the subway when she wrote about scaffolding.  What she means by scaffolding is when you decide each chapter will be based on a book of the old testament or Shakespeare's plays, or it has to be written in six chapters, each one taking place in a different decade.  Essentially constructs that keep us from killing ourselves while writing, and about how maybe, probably, whatever we are working on would probably be better if the scaffolding was removed at some point before turning the book over the the publisher.  She also writes about how the worst person on earth to edit a book is the person who wrote it because they can't even see it at the point they are expected to give it a final edit.  I do have a burning desire to find my own Maxwell Perkins.

I began blogging my novel to give myself a kick in the ass.  So that I had all kinds of deadlines.  But these deadlines are meaningless if no one is reading.  So please read.  And tell me what you think.  But please be kind.

Monday, July 14, 2008

There Are Things Better Than Celebreality In Our Dying Culture

Someone (ahem) has blogged about the lack of female or more specifically American female film directors working now.   The upshot is mainstream American films suck, big time, and this really great tradition has been drowned out and murdered very effectively by Wall Street types who want an immediate return on their large investment.  I like superheroes as much as any Buffy-fixated person, but it's all just gotten SO BORING.  

I work in theater where I can be as badass as I like and don't have to appease anyone really.   But it feels sometimes a little like exile from the larger culture.  There was a meeting last Saturday called by the wondrous and magical Martin Denton about a newly formed advocacy group called the League of Independent Theaters to be spearheaded by Mr. John Clancy.  It's a was a very hopeful and inspiring thing to see The Barrow Street Theater full of theater people, most of whom I don't know, which was weirdly exciting.

I hate to sound hopelessly corporate in my speech, but the most important thing (once we can fucking videotape our shows thank you AEA) is rebranding.  To make going to cheap theater something that people do, you know, for fun.  I rented out my brain (AKA freelanced) to pharmaceutical PR for a while and I saw whoever owned the language, set the agenda.  Name what something is, and you have control over it.  Instead of fighting with Isherwood or whatever, we theater folk need to learn to use the incredible array of media we have at our disposal.  And having an organization whose agenda includes putting what we do on the map is truly, truly wonderful.  From where I stand it almost seems to be picking up a dropped torch that seemed to sputter out around the time the larger public really started going to FringeNYC.   Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and I feel there was a missed opportunity there for bringing our downtown affordable live entertainment to the masses.  I don't know if we got cocky, or if we were too insular (i.e. EVERYONE loves what we do, meaning actually, everyone I know), but it's a big, big world and most of them have no idea who any of us are.

People like movies.  People like TV.  People like music.  People like art.  People like the internet.  Why can't people like affordable theater?  Affordable is a good thing, and so is theater, and maybe we all have to do what the indie bands did before us and tour, or maybe think about touring in a different way.  Not just on the Canadian circuit, and not just like Les Miz.  If Les Miz is the Rolling Stones, maybe we could be Minor Threat or The Replacements or The Pixies or (oh my god I'm dating myself) Pussy Galore?  I'm sure this is all unspeakably difficult, and I'm just throwing out ideas here.

Thank you Martin and Rochelle and John and everyone else.  More to follow I'm sure

PS  I have no idea why I never once referred to what is being done as "Indie Theater"  which was sort of like decided upon, rather than the sad sack "affordable theater" I used above.   And after all that Naming It/Owning It jazz.  Ye Gads!

And here:

Directing Movies Without The Benefit of a Penis

Why are there so few female movie directors and why do their careers seem to have so little momentum?

Last night a friend and I stood in the 7th Avenue subway station in front of the token booth discussing this. I hate the conclusions we came up with which were about the really disgusting Hollywood boy's club, about how most movies are geared towards little boys, about how one box office disappointment (I mean disappointment, not disaster) will kill a female director's career flat*, about the Sofia Coppola exception (more to follow on this below), and on and on. It's all very dispiriting.

Far fewer women go into directing film than men. It's a much more complicated prospect. Whose career to emulate? Who would I like to be? There are so few women, and almost no American woman to look to to see how it was done before. I mean who wants to be a pioneer? It totally sucks having to justify your very existence within an industry that clearly doesn't want you there. Maybe I'm wrong, and please post comments if you think so. Through this and subsequent posts I will create a list of female directors, with some discussion of their careers. One more sweeping generalization before I begin listing: no female director has ever, or could ever in the current climate weather the various non-performing movies, egotastic lunacies, creepy scandals and drug fueled shenanigans of some of our most respected male film directors. For example. Women simply cannot afford to fuck up.

The List, Part 1: Oscar Nominees

Sofia Coppola: The only American woman EVER to be nominated for an Academy Award for directing a film, and is only the third woman to be nominated. Look. I love her movies. From her short "Lick the Star" through the problematic but still worthwhile Marie Antoinette, she is making truly interesting films. But, she is also the great exception as she has the weight of the film establishment behind her in a way that cannot be matched by any other woman working in US filmmaking today or possibly ever. The executive producer credit on each of her three features is her father, Francis Ford Coppola. I want to be really clear. The happy circumstance of her birth did not make her movies good. I particularly want to give a shout out to her adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, a nearly unfilmable tone poem of a book, which is absolutely pitch perfect. The fact of who her father is, and the power he wields within the industry got her movies made, which of course is step one to becoming a legend.

Jane Campion: Full disclosure- I HATED The Piano for which she was the second woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Direction. Moving on. She's had a really great career that seems to have faltered recently. Angel at My Table is fantastic (based on Janet Frame's three autobiographies, which knocked my brain out of the back of my head when I read them), Sweetie is a great suburban gothic, lot's of people liked The Piano although it did not work for me, Holy Smoke I have not yet seen, and In The Cut was a disaster. To me, this is a really solid career. She has a film about Keats in the pipeline, which is kind of worrisome.

Lina Wertmuller: I'm in really dicey territory here, as I (embarrassingly enough) have never seen one of her films. She got her start as Fellini's assistant director on 8 1/2. She directed the original version of Swept Away (i.e. not the Madonna one). Was a communist and a feminist. She directed her latest film in 2004 when she was 78 years old. She sounds super awesome, actually, and I'm sure she benefitted from never having to work in Hollywood where lefty feminists have traditionally not fared very well (the Streisand exception will be in a later post).

To be continued!

* After Waterworld, that douchebag Costner was allowed to make The Postman, possibly the worst movie ever made.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Herzog & Antarctica

Just a quick line into the ether-- but if you get the chance, go see the new Werner Herzog documentary about Antarctica: Encounters at the End of the World. Now, most people reading this know I am, ahem, a little obsessed with the giant, cold, Southern continent. For those that don't know, I wrote a play about Antarctica, pretend Antarctica, anyway.

That said-- SEE IT! It's full of obsessed, eccentric marine biologists, volcanologists, PhDs who wash dishes, a greenhouse-tending linguist, and one mad, unstoppable penguin who runs amok, into the mountains to a certain death. Really, what else could you possibly want?

Herzog narrates it himself. If I had my choice, I would have Werner Herzog provide the narration for my life, in real time. I think he may be completely mad, but he sees no reason to get excited about it. In the director's commentary for Fitzcarraldo (which is arguably just as entertaining as the movie itself, as it is the one or two most legendary shoots in the history of film), he calmly tells of how a crew member was bitten by a deadly poisonous snake, and how the crew member immediately picked up a chain-saw and cut off his own foot, thus saving his life. Mind you, this anecdote is told in the same matter of fact tone a more conventional director might use to speak about craft services, or perhaps an actor flubbing a line.

And while you're renting Herzog documentaries on my recommendation, you may as well watch My Best Fiend, too. If anyone knows where one can find a complete film of Klaus Kinski's Jesus Tour, please let me know.

This was a much longer posting than I had anticipated. While speaking of Antarctica-- if it melts, we all die. Now turn off that light in the next room!

Seemingly Ordinary Garage Doors

I'm not sure if I'd ever been to Jersey City before, except in a real drive-through, fly-over sort of way.  Which is strange to my way of thinking as I have lived in NY my whole life and this Jersey City place is right over the water.  I ate a really good meal (thank you Cinos!), and saw a show Maggie was performing in under the banner of the tireless ArtHouse people.

After the play, we went over to the home of one of the cast members who was having a party, and it was this really intimidating, well-decorated duplex (they have hypoallergenic cats).  My favorite part of the house, however, was the alley out back.  It ran about a hundred yards with garages opening up along its length.  This may sound like an ordinary place, but I promise you that it was completely magical.  Looking at it, I knew with a complete certainty, that right behind the rather plain fronted, almost industrial facade, were a series of wonders behind each door, each one more fantastic then the next.  

I don't know the details as all the garage doors remained shut.  There are several possibilities.  One, of course, immediately thinks of treasure.  Where has all the Spanish gold disappeared to?  Where do pirates store their booty (I know, I know, the jokes really write themselves).  Another possibility, is that this alley is a gateway between worlds.  If you prefer more sinister options, think keys, and curiosity and wicked, bearded husbands with many previous and unaccounted-for wives.

All of this is really a fancy-shmancy way of introducing this blog.  As many of you may know, I recently quit the money-making day job, and I am being an artist in a more full-time kind of way.  I am no kind of journalist, or diarist, really.  I'll probably post every once and a while to share things I've seen or read or looked at.

I seem to be a little link happy, but I'm making a real effort to connect to places of interest, so please click away.  I do want this to be a modern digital version of a 17th century cabinet of curiosities.  A Pope's forefinger next to a piece of a unicorn's horn, and a lacquered watch fob next to the exoskeleton of an Egyptian beetle.

Enjoy and let me know what you think.  

I am certain, however,  it will be nothing compared to the wonders contained in an alley in Jersey City, behind rows upon rows of seemingly ordinary garage doors.