Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't even know how long it's been since i posted anything. I've been seeing things, but it's also been very hectic trying to deal with the holidays. And already, it's almost time for the end-of-the-year round-ups. Just got my notification about the Village Voice/LA Weekly poll. It's due next week.

But what have i seen this year? Strangely enough, because of the way American movies are marketed nowadays, being in Berlin actually wasn't a detriment. There are a number of foreign movies that i missed, though i'm trying to catch up with some of them (such as Bellocchio's "Vincere") but it's been such a haphazard year. The categories for these polls (with actors and actresses and supporting actors and supporting actresses) presuppose dramatic narratives, but a good percentage of the films i get to see are documentaries. And though documentaries can be illuminating and informative, the specific qualities of imagination which drew me into the movies just aren't there in documentaries.

One reason i've been feeling out-of-it is that i feel very displaced. I came back to New York, and soon i was seeing the press screenings at the New York Film Festival, but i haven't been seeing other people. I'll give an example. A few weeks ago, i went to the press screening of Edward Bland's "The Cry of Jazz", a 1959 featurette recently restored by Anthology Film Archives. Now: i invited a friend to the screening, because Anthology's press screenings can be notoriously underpopulated. So i'm there with my friend, and one other person is there. That's it.

Then the movie has its run at Anthology... only J. Hoberman in The Village Voice and Richard Brody in The New Yorker devote considerable space to the movie. My question: when did they see this? There was only one press screening, and i didn't see them.

It was an incredibly fascinating film. As a film, it's rather crude, but as a dramatic polemic, it was mesmerizing, because it attempted to develop an argument about race in America which prefigured the attitudes of the 1960s, with the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and Amiri Baraka's "Dutchman". The film intermingles various concert footage with a single scene, the aftermath of a jazz club meeting, when a group of three African-American men and two white men and two white women remain, to discuss (actually, debate) the "meaning" (political, philosophical, sociological) of jazz. And the point is that jazz represents the soul of "the Negro" and "the Negro" is the conscience of America, and the fate of "the Negro" will be the fate of America, because how the country treats the people that it has enslaved will determine the humanity of the nation.

One sidelight: while watching the movie, i had this nagging feeling, because one of the young women, a tall, rather round-faced blonde, seemed very familiar. And her voice was so distinctive: i knew i'd heard that voice many times before. And the credits at the end of the movie didn't really help... and then, about an hour after i saw the film, i realized that "Linda" must have been a diminutive of her name, and then i realized that she was a teen-aged Melinda Dillon!

But what were some other highlights of this year?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today, woke up to find that there had been a derailment on the R line, so that meant delays (the derailment happened in Manhattan and i'm in Brooklyn, but any excuse for delays seems to be the modus operandi of the MTA), so i knew i wouldn't be able to make the press screening of Visconti's "Vaghe Stelle dell'Orsa" on time, so i decided to stay home. Tonight perhaps i'll go to the AICA lecture by Holland Cotter (i did RSVP, so that shouldn't be a problem, just as long as the subways are running, you never know, the morning commute was a mess and perhaps the same will happen this evening).

However, i have been going to see things, and i did see some enjoyable things and some utterly wonderful things. Among the enjoyable: Mario Monicelli's "The Passionate Thief" with a screenplay co-authored by Suso Cecchi D'Amico (the Film Society of Lincoln Center is doing a small retrospective; the woman was incredibly prolific and any series can only hope to show a portion of the voluminous number of films she contributed to; that was also why "Vaghe Stelle dell'Orsa" was being screened, though the Visconti movie i'm really dying to see again is "Conversation Piece" which is also in the series). Totally charming, with sweet performances by Toto and Anna Magnani (at one point - a truly magical moment - they do an old vaudeville number) as a couple of down-on-their-luck performers who are trying to find a way of having a good time on New Year's Eve. It was made in 1960, the black-and-white cinematography of Rome was gorgeous, the plot was outlandish (involving Ben Gazzara as a thief) and it was delightful. Monicelli has a talent for letting the humor of these situations come out without going overboard, this can make his films seem a bit tentative, but it's a lot better than getting hit over the head for boffo laughs. And it allows a performer like Magnani to show a less volcanic register. This is similar to the languid humor of "Big Deal on Madonna Street" (which was probably Monicelli's biggest hit internationally). Among the wonderful: Bruce Conner's films, and the Judson Dance Theater concert.

I've seen a lot of things in the past two weeks, including a panel discussion at the Judson Memorial Church about the performing arts there, as well as the dance concert commemorating the Judson Dance Theater, with work by Toby Armour, Remy Charlip, Carollee Schneemann, Aileen Passloff, and Yvonne Rainer. (These events were in conjunction with an exhibit at NYU's Fales Library about the Judson Church's various arts programs since the 1950s.) Some films i've seen include Eugene Green's "The Portuguese Nun" (which i found delightful, but i'm a sucker for his work) and Edward Bland's "The Cry of Jazz" (amazing!) which were at Anthology Film Archives; "Kawasaki's Rose" at Film Forum; the first program of the Bruce Conner films at Film Forum. I also went to see "For Colored Girls" which was playing at the local movie theater.

I also saw the big Abstract Expressionist show at The Museum of Modern Art, the Paul Thek retrospective at the Whitney Museum, as well as the Edward Hopper show at the Whitney. I think the Hopper show is a considerable exhibition, but it's also a canny move on the part of the Whitney: it's a perfect show for the holiday season, just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, sure to delight a wide audience. As for the Abstract Expressionist show: it's MoMA's greatest hits, and it's a deliberate reiteration of MoMA's essential position vis-a-vis American art since World War II. It's unsurprising but it's also impressive. It's hard for me to criticize the show, because this was the story of American art that i learned when i was growing up. It's hard to repudiate it, since my sensibility was formed by this work, and by the specific narrative about American art that MoMA fostered.

My lecture on the Judson Dance Theater is now online in Germany. I should include the link.