Monday, October 18, 2010

Good grief! It's been more than three weeks since i've paid attention to this blog, though i've been faithfully following many of my friends (Reid Rosefelt, Michael O'Sulivan, Joe Baltake) who are quite diligent in posting.

I've been mulling over the New York Film Festival. The press screenings ended on October 8, and i found it to be quite a solid festival. And more than that, the choice of "The Social Network" for the opening night was astute. The movie really did seem to encompass a lot of the contemporary world, it was a movie that really seemed to express something in the zeitgeist. I was very excited by the movie (and i've been excited by several of David Fincher's movies, including "Zodiac" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and it was the kind of movie that was fun to talk about with friends.

One of the trends (in terms of the movies i saw) was an attempt to look at the past. Even movies which weren't ostensibly historical had a "timeless" quality that made them seem to be set in the past. Two of those movies would be Manoel de Oliviera's "The Strange Case of Angelica" and Raul Ruiz's "Mysteries of Lisbon". And Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives" was overtly about a man looking back on his past. One of the most controversial movies turned out to be Abdellatif Kechiche's "Black Venus"; was it a movie which exposed racial and sexual exploitation, or did the film wallow in racial and sexual exploitation? I would also throw in Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" as a film which seemed timeless.

I feel like i should really be writing more about these films, especially "The Social Network". I like the fact that the New York Times has devoted several articles about film, including a very funny piece by Maureen Dowd in which she talks about the themes of the film in terms of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

One of the most frustrating screenings i went to was at Anthology Film Archives: a selection of films made between 1905 and 1912 by the Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon. This is a program that will be coming to Anthology at the end of the month. What was frustrating was that i was the only person that showed up for the press screening. I mean: these are rare, restored 35mm prints of some amazing early cinema shorts, and there's no interest? Well, i'm interested in early cinema. And a movie like "La Grenouille" (1908) was just so enchanting. There's a woman prancing around a fountain. One of the things about these films is that many of them were hand-tinted. So the woman dances around when a frog jumps into the scene. The frog is actually someone in a frog suit, and the frog is painted green. The frog jumps around, and then the woman is transformed into a huge frog, and the huge frog is also painted this pale pistachio green. The differences in scale (the woman becoming a frog which is twice the size of the person in the frog outfit), the use of coloring, the seamless trick photography: these were done in such an appealing way, which accounts for the sheer magic of the film. And Segundo de Chomon's films were filled with these wonderful effects.

I also went to the press preview of "Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958-1968" at the Brooklyn Museum (Thursday, October 14). It was a very focussed show, carefully selected, it wasn't huge, but it was finely displayed. And it was good to see work by Marisol, Yayoi Kusama, and Rosalyn Drexler. But there were also discoveries: i was fascinated by the works by the British artist Jann Haworth.

The exhibition raised a lot of questions: what was the definition of "Pop" for the curators? Why were some artists included? For example: the inclusion of Faith Ringgold was surprising. But the usage of figuration in her paintings isn't really pop, anymore than (say) Alice Neel's work (which is also figurative) would be pop or even proto-pop.

I also went to the Whitney Museum, and saw the anniversary dance concert by Trisha Brown (Sunday, October 3). It was another event which raised a lot of questions, for example, the addition of music to "Accumulation" (which had always been done in silence). What happened was that the addition of music turned what had been a rigorous process exercise into... well, entertainment. "Not that there's anything wrong with that..." but there actually is something wrong with that. It's a subtle form of pandering, of making the work more palatable to the audience.

What made "The Social Network" so exciting was that the movie was crafted in such an impeccable way, but it didn't play down to the audience: Fincher, Aaron Sorkin and company assumed that there was an intelligent audience that would follow the movie, no matter how arcane the dialogue got.

It reminded me of seeing Richard Foreman's production of Arthur Kopit's play, "End of the World With Symposium To Follow", and in the second act, the scientists talk about the physics involved in the creation of the Atomic Bomb. It's very, very technical. So Foreman had the actors juggle during this scene! (Juggle? I think there was a reference to the use of the juggler in Yvonne Rainer's "The Mind Is a Muscle".) Obviously, Foreman felt that there was a need to have an element of spectacle to counter what would have been a drily didactic scene.

But... i would have preferred that the second act be drily didactic. Because i like to be drily didactic. I remember when i talked to Richard and asked him about the juggling, and he said, well, you can't just expect an audience to sit through a chunk of theory! And i said, why not? I do it all the time, and i make 'em love it!

Which reminds me of my one sort-of encounter with Arthur Penn (who died a few weeks ago). In the mid-1980s, Arthur Penn was part of the group (which also included Ellen Burstyn and Al Pacino) who were trying to salvage The Actor's Studio after the death of Lee Strasberg. Penn was in charge of the Playwrights Unit. So Crystal Field (who had studied at The Actor's Studio; with other members of The Actor's Studio in the early 1960s, she was part of the cast of "Splendor in the Grass") suggested me. So i get a call, and i drop off some of my plays to The Actor's Studio. A few weeks later, Arthur Penn tells Crystal that he can't see how anyone could sit through my work: he can't imagine an audience which would sit through a work in which the characters just sit in a cafe and argue about a movie! Or a "play" that was a panel discussion with the characters talking about the economics of avantgarde filmmaking, or a panel discussion with the characters talking about the gender and racial politics of the artworld. (What? Arthur Penn never sat through a panel discussion?)

That's my life, and if it's a life, it's enough for a play. Or a movie. And "The Social Network" proves it, because "The Social Network" is the movie of the year in the same way that "Bonnie and Clyde" was once the movie of its year. And when Arthur Penn said that about me, i knew: the guy's missed out, time's passed him by, and there's no way he's ever going to get back.

And he never did, as all the obits on him stated.