Thursday, November 27, 2008

John Virtue

I'm at home in Nebraska for Thanksgiving (whoop!) and have been going through stacks of my old work in my old bedroom. As I flipped through stacks of prints I created during my senior year of college, I started missing black ink and printing presses and damp paper and acid wash and Bob Dylan and dirty fingernails. I work with other people's art all day but its been a while since I've been at a press physically rolling my own prints. I miss it.

The prints also reminded me of one of my favorite painters, John Virtue, who has influenced my own work greatly.... some might even say that I copy him. I'm okay with it. I first saw his work at the National Gallery in London where he was serving as Associate Artist (lucky duck.)

The Associate Artist is appointed by invitation for two years. He was given a studio in which to make new work that somehow connects to the National Gallery Collection, demonstrating the potential of the Old Master tradition as an inspiration for today's artists. Love that idea. At the end of his stay at the gallery he had an exhibition of the work completed within that year.

I was fortunate enough to attend Virtue's exhibition London Paintings and immediately fell in love with his work. I remember stepping into the back gallery space and looking up and up and up in amazement and that feeling of exhilaration and excitement that we only get from really good art. It gives us those ideas and inspiration and hope and thrill that we hadn't felt a moment earlier. I still haven't gotten it out of my head.

Virtue is a painter of Landscape (well, cityscape to be specific), inspired by Old Masters such as Turner (my fav), Constable, Church, van Ruisdael, Gainsborough and Rubens. He understands the brilliance of these paintings and their lasting impression on artists today.

Landscape is commonly yawned upon, especially at the National Gallery with their impressive collection of impressionistic and post-impressionistic paintings. It takes a bit more love and care to appreciate a lovely Gainsborough farmhouse than it does a Van Gogh self portrait. And maybe that's why Virtue is so great. He looks with a lens that so many fail to compute. He then paints his own reflections of this era of painting on canvases the size of gymnasiums with black and while oil paint... and like Cecily Brown's, his paintings look like so much fun.

Turner paints London with grace and extreme power. He smears huge washes of black paint over intricately made buildings, bridges, and steeples. The masses can be considered in many different directions... some said it was London's fog, others said storms, shadows, one even said sin. I think they are the reflections of Constable's giant oaks, of Turners crashing waves. He took shapes from those paintings, flattened them, rethought them, and then painted them. He channels his teachers into his paints so physically and so homogeneously. Its a frozen energy and its beautiful. His translations of London somehow creep past cheesy (its so difficult to make a non-cheesy cityscape!) right into epic. Tragically and wonderfully epic.

Like the city itself, Virtue's paintings are built layer upon layer. He isn't afraid of thickness and doesn't shy from error. This jumps Virtue into the 20th century with gusto, while maintaining the structural significance of paintings past. The city is created around an academic structure, not the other way around. They aren't literal depictions. There are triangles and laterals, pyramids and squares. Tracing back to Leonardo himself.

Colin Wiggins, the chief curator of the exhibition, compares Virtue to Charles Dickens. Like Dickens before him, Virtue understands the city as a huge living, breathing and evolving organism. Quoted from Dickens' London in Our Mutual Friend,

It was a foggy day in London and the fog was heavy and dark. Animate London, with smarting eyes and irritated lungs, was blinking, wheezing, choking; inanimate London was a sooty spectre, divided in purpose between being visible and invisible, and so being wholly neither."

It voices Virtue's paintings, doesn't it? Yet, as Virtue commented,

"I have no interest in recording a rhetorical history of London; really I'm interested in making exciting abstractions from what I perceive. So in a sense I'm not a Londoner painting London out of any roots or any kind of affection - I'm an accidental tourist here, but I intend to go on working particularly on sites around the river Thames."

He isn't taking credit for any of it... he isn't mastering London, nor is he trumping his Old Master superstars. He is simply feeling the city and feeling the grand history of art creep into his huge paintbrushes and grand brushstrokes. Virtue's work is both humble and dominant which makes us all love him and his works with intention.

My own works were on a much more personal scale... pieces of paper smeared with ink over city and sky (Ink, Line, and Sky is the title of my final series.) They can be held and touched and tucked away quietly without a trace of 'epic' or 'grand' or 'dominant'. It is Virtue's interest and love in history that I channel. That I also love.

Although...maybe its not only his Old Master romanticism that I admire. I have to admit how phenomenal it would feel to have gymnasium-sized canvases, buckets of gesso, and the National Gallery vaults at my fingertips... at my beck-and-call. How lovely it would be to step out of my studio onto the rooftop overlooking Trafalgar's Square in the morning with a cup of coffee in an ink-stained apron. Hey. A girl can dream. :)

Monday, November 24, 2008


Harvey Milk makes us all look lazy (as most martyrs will.) It was San Francisco in the 70's and gay pride was suddenly a thing. Blame the war, blame the hippies, blame revolution-- but suddenly gay neighborhoods started feeling something other than shame... they were proud and happy and joyous.

Gay men and women in America had been told for 200 years, since America's bright and shining existence, that they aren't normal, that something is wrong with them. They were being called the devil and that they were the evil amongst good. That they are the problem and an embodiment of sin. Gay teenagers were killing themselves in shame and desperation. Violent raids and riots were breaking out in neighborhoods like the Castro, and the people's elected officials weren't doing anything. They were actually part of the problem.

But suddenly it was 1970 and there was San Francisco and a camera shop owner named Harvey Milk decided to make some changes. His story is one of heartbreak and hope, love and revolution. What a funny thing to have to fight for, right? Love and acceptance? Harvey Milk died so that others could live-- sounds super familiar, doesn't it...

Sean Penn stared as Milk, with James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and Allison Pill as his world. The film jumps between real footage and acting which creates a very clear idea of what this movement felt like. The film stills absolutely mirror the photograph's I've seen of Milk and his campaign which validate its deep sadness and real joy.

This is one of the first movies about gay pride to make a splash in contemporary culture which is kind of shocking. Brokeback Mountain, sure, but this is about openly gay relationships, not hidden, contraband ones. Always use the steps when you come here, Milk told Cleve at San Francisco's city hall. Wear the tightest jeans you can find. You can make a grander entrance that way. And always with Sean Penn's stunning and heartfelt smile.

Milk believed deeply in being yourself, being proud, loving fully. He didn't try to hetero-ize himself or his campaign for the good of the vote. This was extremely risky for a state and a legislature seeing an openly gay man run for the first time. Wouldn't it have been easier had he quieted it down a bit? Snuck in and took over slowly over time? It wasn't Milk's way. There is nothing to be ashamed of, he told the nation. I am Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you!

The win was beautiful. Glorious. The rein was everything it should be. And we all knew, every one of us, that he was eventually going to be shot. I, however, was not at all prepared for the embodiment and the aftermath of that crime. Fellow Supervisor Dan White shot both Milk and the Mayor their own offices after losing his governmental position over a gay issue vote. It wasn't a mystery, it wasn't a sniper or a hit and run. It was a man with a gun in a room. He served five years for manslaughter. Five years. For manslaughter. The defense arguing that White's bad diet of junk food and sweets caused a chemical imbalance that caused him to commit murder. WHAT?!

After Milk's death, 30,000 people marched the streets in a candlelit vigil, mourning the death of a man so very imperitave to the lives of so many. His life and death rocked the world. It was beautiful.

And as I just read on Wikipedia, writer John Cloud remarked on his influence, "After he defied the governing class of San Francisco in 1977 to become a member of its board of supervisors, many people—straight and gay—had to adjust to a new reality he embodied: that a gay person could live an honest life and succeed." YA THINK!? We've still a long way to go, America...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sleepwalk with Me

I laughed and laughed and laughed at Mike Birbiglia's show Saturday night at the Bleecker Street Theater. Best feeling ever. We laughed until our heads were floating above us and nothing in the world seemed to matter because everything in the world was funny. I love that feeling, and I haven't felt it in far too long. (Well, that's not true. I recently realized that physical feeling of a good laugh is the same light-as-air feeling that we get from a really hard cry... how unfortunate.) Laughter of this degree comes from good storytelling, not comedy alone. And while Sleepwalk with Me could be categorized as stand-up, it held its own as a story, which made this show stunningly unique.

I first heard of Mike Birbiglia on This American Life, the Fear of Sleep episode. (Listen to it immediately... there is also a super interesting story about The Shining and an even more interesting bit about understanding death through sleep. The human mind astounds me!)

His tone is extremely endearing and his comedy is very clean and not the least bit crude. Well, obviously, as I first heard him on NPR. But he isn't trying to be clean, he isn't trying to be family friendly... he just uses real life as a jumping point, and his real life and his real person are respectful and deeply feeling. I don't usually like stand-up comedy for the reason that it is too easy. Its so easy to jump into vulgarity and to make fun of audience members while being overtly inapproprite. Its so base. Its talentless and cheap.

Birbiglia, on the other hand, talks about love and sex and family with respect and honor, but makes it FUNNY. So funny. So in addition to laughter we feel heart. He's a good guy. These honest good guy qualities--from his opening instructions for us to turn off our cell phones to his closing comments about finally relating to his distant father--make every audience member fall in love with him.

This is what happens when we create a platform for everyday people who are good at telling stories. He reminds me of my friend Cale. He could have been at our dinner table, he could have been in our living room, late in the evening, with wine and lingering laughter. The difference is that he hints at an event, an epic event, then takes the entire two hours or so to get there. There is no one to interrupt or jump in with thier own anticdotes, as often happens when Cale tells stories. And we don't get frusterated by his wandering... that takes talent. We let Mike speak and are grateful for it. The story ebbs and flows, in and out of his life in his twenties, so familiar that we nod along amidst the song-like laughter.

We learn bits an pieces of his life building up to a grand moment that of course doesn't disappoint when we finally arrive. Its a one-two punch, a shuffle-ball-change, but real and epic and larger that life. I turned to my friend Meghan so many times, whispering in her ear our own funnies, our own embarrassing memories from a life growing up awkwardly and together. He was a catalyst, after all, for not taking ourselves too seriously. Thank goodness for that.

If you live in New York City, I highly recommend this show. Its local, off-Broadway theater done really really well. And as my boy Ira Glass has said... hurry and catch him before he gets too famous.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Un conte de Noël

Un conte de Noël, or A Christmas Tale (as unfortunately translated in English) was my Movie Monday pick of the week. We went to the IFC, which is my favorite theater as they play short films before evening's feature. The chosen short this Monday was a lovely 4 minutes of an overweight synchronized swimmer swimming her little heart out... love that someone decided to make a movie about that! Anyway...

Un conte de Noël is a dark french tale of a family brought together by life threatening illness during the Christmas holiday. As previously mentioned, this film held my favorite set-up-- a bunch of people in a house for a weekend, all talk talk talk. The Family Stone meets The Big Chill meets Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. The characters and sequences are announced with doom-- a la Luhrmann-- and the main players took turns with camera-facing soliloquies-- a la Ferris Bueller. Incroyable!

Mathieu Amalric stars as Henri, the problem-child turned problem-adult. Love him. I last saw Amalric in Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly), where his stunning performance made me sob uncontrollably for the entire evening. He clearly didn't disappoint my irrational emotional reactions in Un conte de Noël either, as I literally passed out after this film. The man can act. (That-- or my notoriously light head couldn't handle the very frank and very realistic bone marrow transplant sequence. Blechk.)

The film opens with a brief family histoire followed by the banishment of Henri from the Vuillard family, as demanded by Elizabeth, the eldest. Five years later, Junon (Mama Vuillard) discovers a rare disease that can only be cured by a very specific bone marrow transplant that could kill her, the donor, or both. Da da daaaaaa... What follows is a not-so-nice return of the prodigal son into his estranged family's fete de Noel. And guess whose dark and twisty blood ends up being a perfect match... Et voila.

The family interactions slide right past dysfunctional into settled disdain. Snapping, punching, ignoring, glaring, don't-you-dare-come-near-me, hard and dirty disdain. Super gratifying for the viewer. A friend of mine recently criticized our mutual reactions and interactions as being Minnesota-nice. While it stung at the time, more honest verbalizations may have avoided a fall-out of massive proportions. What if we weren't afraid of onlookers overhearing our words, what if we could say anything to anyone and work it out solidly? Stop tiptoeing, stop with the it's okay, it's okay, it's okays...

If everything is spattered on the table, we are able to love and not-love as we please. The family lash-outs do mirror Rachel Getting Married, but in a much darker, French noir-ness (noir-ness?). Its all somewhat refreshing. Don't you love me anymore, Mother? asks Henri. I never loved you, answers Junon with a smirk.

The tone of course crosses to joy (love, even!) as battles are dissolved and jingle bells are hung. Champagne, tinsel, fireworks, snowfall, paper crowns, figgy pudding, fa-la-la. It is A Christmas Tale, afterall, despite the darkness and the depth. The film creates closure without discrediting its art. These people aren't going to kiss and make up, they aren't going to change into a grand sense of togetherness. But they do begin to throw approving glances, they do meet with smiling eyes and a greater understanding of self and understanding of other. And despite the horrific and super realistic bone-marrow transplant final scene... we left with a bit of that understanding too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gossip Girl

I am slowly coming to terms with two things:

1) I actually don't have time in my life to watch television.
2) I am not as smart as NY Mag Daily Intel.

So... I haven't seen any of this season of Gossip Girl, even though it is the best show ever. However... I do read about it every week on my favorite blog. Even if you don't watch Gossip Girl (you should) and even if you are pretty sure you are too good for it (you're not), read this. Its brilliant... such smart writing. (I mean, come on. They reference Matlida in this week's blog, along with the Spin Doctors and 'slutty apricots'. So funny.) Reading NY Mag's recap will quickly become one of the best parts of your week. And read all of the comments as well-- New Yorkers are amazing in their wit and genuine enthusiasm.

Honestly, the blog might be better than the show. Funny how that happened... a show about a blog... :)


Monday, November 17, 2008

Richard Avedon

We all perform. It’s what we do for each other all the time, deliberately or unintentionally. It’s a way of telling about ourselves in the hope of being recognized as what we’d like to be.
-Richard Avedon

I was pleasantly surprised by the Richard Avedon Performance opening at Pace last Thursday. It was a very rare exhibit for Chelsea, and perhaps a safe one in this economy. This is work that we want to look at, photos that make us smile. After all, Avedon is a fashion photographer... one of the best. This show wasn't announced a month ago when I called them for show info for my Chelsea guide, which causes me to wonder if this was a star-studded filler for a waning world of collectors. Like busting out The Nutcracker whenever the ballet hits rough roads. But that's simply this non-expert's outsider speculation...

Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised. The last show at Pace was a horrific display of Keith Tyson sculptures that looked like a sour attempt at awakening Mondrian's perfect little squares. (Bummer, because I usually love Tyson and i absolutely worship Mondrian.) Avedon was the opposite... zero guess, zero quease, zero quandary. It celebrated the celebrity and the art of high-gloss black and white portraiture. And everyone showed up for the occasion... the Beatles were there, as was Marilyn. Paul Simon and Carly and Dylan. Bridget Bardot and Charlie Chaplin (pictured) and Audrey Hepburn mid-kick.

The show was about the performer, about the act of performing. Avedon saw performance as an innate quality within all of us. Performing is human nature, its just that some channel it into careers and lifestyles and others work it into our daily interactions indeterminately. Simple, straight forward, refreshing.

Aaron, Daniel, and I slowly circumambulated the space, pointing and smiling, taking turns with our adoring exclamations. There wasn't much to argue at this show (we made up for it at Tony Shafrazi about ten minutes later) there was more to agree upon. The air was light and friendly and nostalgic-- everyone sipping champagne and floating along happily. Again... I have to wonder if this show is perhaps the safe direction to which galleries will turn during these tragic times? I desperately hope not, but for the time being, Avedon cleared my head and turned up the corners of my mouth, just as these performers intended.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In America

I somehow missed In America when it originally came out in theaters. Shocking, as it touches upon all of my favorite things: New York, art, and love. My friend Katie brought it to me as a gift tonight, in a 'how I fell in love with New York' birthday package. (Also included were Working Girl and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, both of which I am greedily awaiting to bite into.) These are the ways that Katie fell in love with this city before her arrival and now she is giving them to me. Lovely, right? Katie, Kate, and I watched it last night with generous glasses of Cabernet and tears in our throats.

In America opens with a young Irish immigrant family reacting to seeing Manhattan, their new home, for the first time. Its the same feeling that we all had in varying degrees as we first entered-- promise. New York City: Where All Your Dreams Come True. It's New York's oldest and dearest story and is told once again through the eyes of two young girls, their dreamer father, and their mother Sarah's strong Irish blood.

The tale mirrors both A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Glass Castle, two of my favorite books. Not only is it told through the voice of a young girl, but its told without pity, complaint, or sorrow. The father is named Johnny, the same as in Betty Smith's tale, and is just as big of dreamer. He is more grounded than the former Johnny, but equally Irish, equally poor. Its a bittersweet telling, because even the good and happy parts are tainted with a sadness of not quite being okay. Not yet. The little things seem better and the family is stronger under the lens of poverty and struggle.

The family befriends Mateo, a tall, strong, African painter living in their dilapidated building. He is a stunning artist who feels his anger with paint and gesture. He is HIV positive, we quickly learn, and displaces his rage and anger with a deep love toward Johnny and Sarah's family. Are you in love with Sarah? Johnny asks in fear. Mateo's answer is one of the most poignant and loving voices I've heard coming out of an illness that will surely kill him.

No... he answers, I'm in love with you. And I'm in love with your beautiful woman. And I'm in love with your kids. And I'm even in love with your unborn child. I'm even in love with your anger! I'm in love with anything that lives!

We feel grace and love and pain in the deepest sense as we watch the Johnny struggle, Mateo die, and a new baby fight for her new life in America. We hold our breaths and wince as we watch a father prove his love for his daughter through a carnival game and an E.T. doll. We scream with Sarah as she makes up for a lost child with the desperate hope of a new one.

It is Sarah, after all, who is the stronghold of this family. Sarah as Gaia, the earth goddess, with her feet firmly planted in this New World, with vines and fruit wrapping and stabilizing a family that is a mere floating orb held together by love. But it is also Sarah, the strong, who is set on fire with anger and passion and fear and want. She believes in Johnny because she loves him, not because she wants to. Its a love story that will never end, one that cannot be torn by the petty struggles of those with plenty. One that exists as two people steering a ship together toward the same shore. Its hearty and real and lasting. Even though it is hard. So hard.

The young girls in this film are extraordinary. Christie and Ariel exist as Smith's Francie and Neeley: the protector and the innocent. Christie's brow is furrowed in worry and her eyes are constantly scanning for what could go wrong and how she can soften it. In contrast, Ariel sees America as a constant adventure. She is Alice chasing white rabbits as Christie furiously paints the white flowers red. Its Christie, in the end, who heals the family. She takes the dreamer, the earth goddess, and the adventurer and snaps them into a place where they can move on together, a forward chasing vector, toward a real future in America. Not just a spinning dream anymore.

In America reminded me once more of why New York is great and why it is essential. Its a hope and a promise. A place for dreamers and for workers, for lovers and for fighters. Katie, Kate, and I-- all new New Yorkers who moved here not long ago with dreams and hopes and wishes bigger than ourselves-- fell for this city all over again with tears our eyes. The three of us are struggling too, it seems, but thank goodness-and-mercy that we can struggle here, in a city strong enough to carry us through.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Family Stone

If I knew how to add sound to this blog, I would cue the Family Stone Waltz to set the tone here. Remember the opening credits whose wintry greetings nod Meet Me in St. Louis? Those singing violins and biting flutes that cut off Meredith's pinched holiday shopping tactics mid-micro-manage? One of the best opening scenes in history, I say. Cuts right to the chase.

I'm pleased to announce that I know more about The Family Stone than any movie I've ever loved. Not only have I watched it repeatedly since its release but I've also studied the Sarah Jessica/Dermot Mulroney commentary so many times its embarrassing. Its my favorite. And the dad reminds me of my dad. Which has nothing to do with anything but he does and it makes me proud.

I remember seeing this movie for the first time and wanting to talk about it afterward. So much of it struck me as insightful and real and rare for films today. I've referenced it three times in three different blog entries so far and I do think about it often. And yes, I see the humor in my sentiment... most of you probably feel this way about The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, or Schindler's List. Well, it is what it is and I see this film as important.

The Family Stone was written independently but when Diane Keaton signed on, a studio picked it up and created the star studded event as it stands today. But it was an indie script-- a very small, earnest film about a grown-up family and their Christmas at home.

Keaton and Parker shared a dressing room, or so I hear, which we can imagine was as intense Meredith's little power suits at 8am pre-coffee. If you know anything about Diane Keaton, you know that she wouldn't have gone easy on the former Ms. Bradshaw. But Parker held her ground, and as any good New Yorker might, brought the Times to breakfast and discussed politics, economy, the arts, and business for hours. Everything was on the table and there for the taking. Yikes. The casting was intentional, people. Keaton and Parker don't fit and they weren't supposed to. The differences leaked into the film perfectly-- a complicated family dynamic that couldn't be faked.

This film, much like Vicky Cristina, is lovely in its observation of character. My sisters and I will laugh the entire way through, paying attention to lines like 'running for mayor,' 'hounds tooth? hounds tooth?' 'just as fast as the wrist allows,' and 'that's on Hong Kong side!'... our favorite character is probably Brad, who has a TIMELESS reaction to Meredith announcing that she slept with Ben. Watch that scene, you'll know it immediately.

Its on par with Meredith slapping her head and freezing mid-dress as Kelly walks in on her Christmas morning. Its equal to Amy's confusion when she opens the door to Brad with an armful of awkward poinsettias that you know he picked up at the grocery store on his way over. Watch Luke Wilson open his gifts. Watch Susannah interact with her daughter and watch Sybil mention Kelly's overdue haircut. This movie pays attention to real people. And its set up like old Hollywood. Perfect.

The story unfolds in college town New England in a big old white house whose cold mornings you can practically feel. The light hits that whiteness that only new morning snow can produce (most clearly in the Christmas Eve morning scene... 'I don't care if you like me or not!' 'Oh. Of course you do.') and immediately we want a cup of coffee. Sybil wears a robe and scarf for most of the weekend, driving this point home. Its an old chilly house and they are the type of family who would live in an old chilly house in a college town in New England.

Rachel McAdams as Amy wears one of the rarest and most poignant costumes I've seen in any film: weird dinosaur t-shirts, glasses that she's had since high school, and too thin, too big, too short pajama pants that probably came from Old Navy. The film hits every key in perfect pitch so that it doesn't have to explain why or where. We know that Amy is probably a really cute dresser at college or in the classroom. She probably owns a flat iron and wears knee high leather boots a lot. But this is Christmas vacation, and she is wearing whatever is left in the drawers at her parent's house. Again, no one tells us this, it is assumed. If the film is successful in hitting these subliminal details-- and this one is--the obvious need not be stated. It gives the audience intelligence and the characters room to live in the present.

This film's importance comes through in the dialogue. One scene in particular shocks us into the highest form of discomfort and tense reaction... so much that we stop breathing with Kelly's sharp slap to the table (notice Everett's mirroring reaction earlier in the film). Thad and Patrick are to adopt a baby. Clare Danes, as Julie Morton, directs a few questions of the process... do they have a preference on race?

They are a gay couple, Patrick is black, and Thad is deaf (a point in this movie that I LOVE. I once had an entire subway conversation with a deaf man using only signs that I learned from The Family Stone). The odds are clearly against them. They both smile and answer Julie's question with an understanding no, they just want a baby. Meredith picks up on how comfortable and successful Julie is in interacting with this family and and their complex issues and chooses this point to interject her own insights into the conversation. We can read her sudden comfort and excitement at the chance of contribution.

This is where we begin to feel sorry for Meredith. She doesn't get it and is trying way too hard. Her comments dig her deeper and deeper into an opinion degrading to this family and to the gay community as a whole. She does it to fit in but instead, her words circle back and slap her quick. Its so hard to watch.

Meredith escapes to O'Reily's with Ben and two random EMT guys, one of whom we are introduced as the imminent Brad. Julie and Everett go after her and get lost in each other instead. Sibyl regrets the distance she is drawing with Everett and Susannah tearfully watches Judy Garland's red velvet twirling at the end of Meet Me in St. Louis (nod number two.)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles
Will be out of sight

We had all forgotten that Sybil is dying of breast cancer and that this is their last Christmas together. The film isn't about that, not in the least. But it suddenly kicks up the heartstrings and draws us in with more felt investment. The interlude turns the film on its head and begins act II... think Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

The final long comedic sequence commences in The Nutcracker Suite's sharp and familiar Trepak. Meredith is crying and covered in raw egg strada, Brad introduces himself to Julie mid-fight, and Everett realizes that he was never in love with Meredith to begin with. Its funny and clever and the essential Christmas chaos. This is only topped by Meredith's soft and offhanded humming of the second verse of Joy to the World while lying in bed with Ben.

Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy

Everyone has settled into themselves and into their places. Meredith and Everett are the biggest culprits, in costumes revealing a sudden comfort and relaxation in the form of a hooded sweatshirt, a thin heavy metal t-shirt, and long, uncombed hair. They aren't together and they were never supposed to be. All is good, and lovely, and well. And here again enter the high violins and the fresh fallen snow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love Walked In

Emily, Laura, and I all just finished this novel. I finished it for the third time, and I finally convinced them to read it for the first. I may have to convince you as well, because, I know, it looks like something that only a certain middle aged desperate female set would appreciate. The cover is of a young girl with knee socks and the title has the word 'love' in it. Its chick-lit, FINE.

But I am of the twenty-something New York professional gal crowd, and before I lose my credibility as someone with impeccable taste (don't deny it)... hear me out. I love this book.

Marisa de los Santos writes the story of a young woman finding unexpected love. A simple concept, but its gorgeous. Heart-stopping. Its me on the subway hoping that my stop will never approach because I hate leaving the world within these pages. Feel-good at its most brilliant.

A friend of mine once said that she liked people more if they liked Harry Potter. Harry Potter was her barometer for friendship. Harry had little to do with it, it was the reader that she liked. She found that she and those who liked Harry Potter shared an understanding. She liked people who could become invested in something as obscure as the lives of wizards. She felt a kinship with those who could be caught reading tween literature and who would appreciate imaginations of a certain British intelligence.

Well, I like Harry Potter well enough, but Love Walked In just might be my barometer. If you like this novel, we probably understand each other. And if you are still concerned, know that my favorite novels are Dickens and Fitzgerald, Collins and Homer. I like Smith and Cather and Coetzee. Its just that this novel links reader and idea in a way that I have yet to come across.

The writing style is uniquely forward, and reads as something incredibly familiar. The author writes to us, as if we share a common prior knowledge. de los Santos, as Cornelia in the first person, talks her way around situations by anticipating judgment and confusion. She is quick to back herself up and quick to explain action and reason. The story is laced with references and idioms that come from Cornelia's world, a world that we feel we are part of and not just watching from above. Its deeply intimate and reads a bit like Austin's Mansfield Park-- Fanny Price invites us in by talking to us.

de los Santos also writes with the depth of someone who grew up on old movies. She is of course somewhat nostalgic in this, but makes up for it with sarcasm and sass. The old movies and classic novels come up throughout the story as a point of understanding between reader and character (remember, this is what will also link you and I as sharing a great understanding) and they serve as a catalyst for idea and comprehension. The Philadelphia Story plays a lead role, as do Hitchcock and Montgomery. You can see why I was struck.

The novel follows the tale of Cornelia Brown, a thirty-something cafe manager. Cornelia is a character to whom I often return for strength and for wit. Cornelia gets it in a way that so few do. She is uprightly moral yet an utter realist. She's feisty and questioning and content. Cornelia built a world for herself out of material and goodness and moved to Philadelphia because of Tracy Lord. She loves Cary Grant, real pajamas, and making lists. And her imagination is as thick as my own. I like Cornelia for the same reason that I like my coffee mugs... because she innately feels like home.

Cornelia meets Clare, the second leading lady, mid-plot, and there creates the most beautiful of all love stories. In this story exists philia... friend-love. Clare is an eleven year old girl who just lost her mother in every way that a mother can be lost-- amidst a mental breakdown. She found Cornelia and Cornelia found Clare, and philia enters the tale with generosity and compassion.

The story whips and wraps and encloses on reader much like old movies do. Its complicated and sad and comforting. Its the 1940's silver screen shining into the Starbucks generation. And speaking of the silver-screen, my girl S-J is said to have picked up this script and will play her in the film version. My thoughts on New York's Victorian starlet as Philadelphia's Cornelia Brown? I'll embrace it faster than you can say cosmopolitan.

Rear Window

Rear Window is a Butler family favorite. We all love Hitchcock and this is what we consider the cornerstone of Hitchcock films. Jimmy Stewart is collectively our favorite actor, and Grace Kelly steals every heart. This film is great in so many ways. Let me name a few...

1) The entire film takes place in Jeff's apartment, almost in real time. Similar to the best Friends episode ever made... 'The one when they are getting ready' when Rachel can't find a dress, Pheobe 'gets the hummus', Monica calls Richard and leaves a breezy message, Joey wears all of Chandler's clothes, and Ross almost 'drinks the fat' in an Abraham and Isaac allegory for love. Kind of like that. If only the Ugly Naked Guy made an apperance, it would pretty much be the same movie. (Reaching? Maybe.)

.... more to come.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tomma Abts

Aaron and I attended the Tomma Abts opening at David Zwirner last week. It was our second big opening of the night, the first show at Pace being somewhat of a disappointment. I failed at researching the Zwirner show ahead of time, a point that I will circle back to later, so I had no idea what to expect.

We walked into the gallery on 19th street and both immediately drew back in complete retreat. It was bizarre. The Zwirner space is a huge, grand box with ceilings that stretch two stories high and white that goes on forever. And while this isn't at all uncommon for Chelsea, it must be stated that the Zwirner space is big. Bigger than most Chelsea galleries. So when you walk into a huge white box and see ten or so small, meager canvases hanging at eye level with over eight feet between each one, you pretty much lose your balance. The white starts caving in on you and the paintings look like they're going to get eaten by the void. Bizarre. Again... even for Chelsea.

We both crinkled our noses in confusion, made some agreeable comments on how the paintings looked forced (we're really into labeling paintings 'forced' or 'felt' these days) and how they seemed to be stuck in 1992. Yuck, we stated with confidence. Don't like it.

So we moved into the adjoining gallery space housing a very handsome photography exhibit, grateful to be away from the 'uncomfortable painting show.' We had a beer and chatted photography with my publisher and another work colleague whom we had happened to run into. Did you like the Abts show? asked Susan, c'ette work colleague. Ummm... no, we both answered. Susan nodded in understanding, stating that most people either love it or hate it. She completely valued our honest dislike. But still she hesitated. Susan, turns out, loves Abts. Of this I was suddenly interested.

Susan gave a very brief history of Abts and her work, including the highly regarded Turner prize. Also that each painting took over a year to complete. Her loving tone and protective statements were extremely refreshing... but still confusing. After all, the paintings were bad. Aaron and I listened, nodding along, but remained in the nice photography room for a while longer, preferring the comfort of the symmetric and thoughtfully planned narrative C-prints to Abts's random little paintings that were getting eaten by white in the next room over.

But before we left, we told ourselves to reconsider and to look at Abts's paintings again, post-Susan. If Susan, with her articulate thoughts and impeccable taste likes the show... lets try to like it too. So we stood once again in the big white room and looked at a few pieces. We discussed their merit and payed closer attention to color. We squinted up close and breathed a few steps back, noting the shapes. We tilted our heads with our hands on our hips in what has become the Chelsea mudra and reevaluated the placement. And then both decided, once again, that we hated them. I believe that the word 'blechk' was used more than once.

However. Being me, I've been thinking about this show. A lot. Its been bothering me that I couldn't see whatever it was that Susan saw. I've become obsessed with reading Abts articles and viewing her work online, trying to pinpoint what it is that makes this artist tick. Turns out... I love her too.

Abts proves my strong convictions about art in context. Its almost embarrassing how much she proves this. I should have known that David Zwirner and those pretentious Tate officials aren't idiots. I should have been the one telling myself to read-up before I make any snap judgments, especially at a gallery of this caliber. I should have known.

I am of the (old-) school of thought that honors artists' statements and press releases. Reading, looking, considering... so very important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Oh, please. This is contemporary art...what does beauty have to do with it? There is good art and bad art, there just is. Its not up to the viewer to decide. Opinions absolutely count, but its like arguing with someone about their taste in food. If you don't like peach pie it, you don't like peach pie. It still might be good pie.

Zak Smith once said that the biggest misconception of the art world is that it is has anything to do with those outside of it. Translation: if you don't get it, its not intended for you. My not-for-profit art friends are going to hate that statement, but I actually agree with him. We must put in some effort. Do some reading, spend time with the piece, draw a few conclusions... that's what its all about. That's what its for.

Tomma Abts starts with a blank canvas. Okay, I know, doesn't everyone? Well, yes, but Abts actually doesn't have a plan before she starts painting. She doesn't sketch or even envision. She purposefully starts with a mark and goes from there. Its completely felt, completely fluid (which throws my earlier conclusions back in my face) and the final image is one of profound process. Its a map of her working mind.

Her paintings do take years to finish and she works tirelessly until she suddenly feels their completion. She says that when a painting done, she can sense it immediately, like the painting is at once floating and existing on its own, as a new entity completely separate from her part in creating it.

The final product includes the ghosts of the underpainting. We can see the shapes that Abts painted then later covered up with a flat color. This is important and part of it, she says. And she doesn't paint shapes, she paints the space around the shapes, making hers a negative process. Interesting. Her colors pop, ebb, and flow, aiding in their sudden independence from artist. The color helps each painting and each shape within that painting stand on its own.

Knowing this, we can find these random little paintings worthwhile. Beautiful, even. I can see why Susan spoke of them with such grace. We can't help but begin to cherish these works as Abts so clearly did while creating them. They turn into jewel boxes, into memories. We suddenly feel privileged to be in their presence.

The idea of taking time to understand a work of art is so obviously transferable into every aspect of life and learning. That is my lesson for the day. Conversations with paintings can and do exist, and you don't have to be an 'art person' to do so. And as Clare Danes so eloquently speaks of art in a lovely scene of a lovely movie... its there for you. You just have to want to see it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacobs and I are kindred spirits. Thats what Anne Shirley would say.

........more to come...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

I like when the audience starts clapping at the end of a movie. Its always spontaneous because it can never be expected. No one is there to hear it-- no final bows, no obligatory encores. Movie applause is the purest form of all applause because we do it out of true gratitude. It legitimizes thankfulness and honors excitement. As I said, I like when the audience starts clapping at the end of a movie-- we all clapped at the end of this one.

Slumdog Millionaire is a love story in that it is a story about love. Its about a very pure form of love and the story is one of loving, not the act of falling into nor the art of searching. The love exists to its utmost extent from the moment Jamal loses Latika as a young boy and it extends through the final scene when he finds her again as a grown man. There is no guessing nor jarring character transformation... Jamal loves Latika and Latika loves Jamal. Done. The guessing comes in how the hell they can ever be together.

Unlike dear Romeo and Juliet-- who also had a few hurtles in coming together--Jamal and Latika are from the same walk of life. They come from the slums of India. But like Romeo and Juliet, they are undoubtedly star crossed.

The depth of this movie is found in its emotion, not in the dissection of character. I tend to gravitate toward films driven by dialogue. I like to collect bits and pieces of character evidence that I can reassemble into reason, motivation, and explanation for why a character does what he does or acts as she will. My favorite type of movie takes place over a weekend, in one house, and its all talk, talk, talk. (The Philadelphia Story anyone? The Family Stone? The Big Chill?) This movie is nothing of the sort. Its sweeping, its majestic, and epic (in its own quiet way.) And I couldn't take my eyes from this tale.

Its also about a type of love of which I'm not always convinced... this isnt phillia, this is eros. It isn't the gracefulness of agape, nor the tension of passion. Its eros... true love. All-knowing-never-second-guessing-love. Dickens puts it best... I'll tell you, says Miss Havisham to a terrified young Pip, what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter. (As we all roll our eyes.)

Well, Jamal's devotion carried him back to Mumbai after successfully escaping an evil child-blinding gangster. His self-humiliation brought out rage and violence in his otherwise gentle self anytime anyone dared disgrace Latika with word or action. Jamal submit himself directly to danger by vowing to help Latika escape her form of slavery, and he gave up his heart long ago. He gave Latika his heart the moment his hand left hers as children running after a train. And-- eye rolling aside--Jamal convinced me of eros. Of course he did.

The coming together of Jamal and Latika forms in mechanical clicks. You can hear it as every piece of Jamal's life starts pointing toward a single moment... click, click, click. Like one of those crazy deadbolt locks in old spy movies. And suddenly the pieces snap into motion and the clock starts ticking and Jamal and Latika are where they should be because it is written.

This unfolds under the lens of the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire... curious, right? But the clicking pieces of Jamal's young life absolutely mirror a game show. And the emotional impact serves us flawlessly. We hold our breath for Jamal in both his life and his vital million dollar answers. Its a clear metaphor for all of our lives and for our... well, our destinies.

Each step we take, hurdle we jump, and Siren we avoid brings us one step closer to the final destination. Just like a trivia-based game show. Get it?
And you mustn't cheat, either. You must live honestly, just as Jamal proved to all of us. In his game show, Jamal recalls another harsh, painful, pivotal moment of his life with each question he is asked. In the end, it was his life and the living of it that brings him finally to Latika, who turns out to be (wait for it...) his phone-a-friend. Its beautiful. And extremely smart writing. Click, click, click.

This is a gorgeous film. Just stunning. And it's rumored to be Oscar-worthy. So, just as I rooted for Jamal's million dollar answer and for his million dollar kiss... I will be rooting for it's statue as well. Standing ovation, everyone. Applause all around.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.

I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage.
-Joan Didion, 'Goodbye to All That'

Joan Didion's Goodbye to All That from her collection of essays entitled Slouching Towards Bethlehem both affirmed and frightened me. It really is quite terrifying to read as a 23 year old new New Yorker, which is the age I was when I first read it. I love it and I hate it but I think I love it more. It changed me, no doubt, and jerked me into a better understanding of self in my current life, however odd that may sound.

Didion writes an account of her love affair with and subsequent fall from New York City. Her words are so familiar that they bite. They were familiar the first time I read them, shockingly so, and even after I read them again today, for what have been the twentieth time, they still bite.

My roommate Meg often tells me that no one loves New York as much as I do. I don't know if that is true, but I do know that few love it in the same way that I do. But Joan Didion absolutely understood what it felt like to be in love- real heartbeating love- with a city. With this city. (Remember how lovingly she phrased it? 'the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again...') The problem is that she fell in it and then she fell from it and she wrote about it with such bitterness. One can only fall that hard and be that hurt if she is in very, very deep. Joan was, and I am.

Didion moved to New York when she was twenty and it was the summertime. She had no idea what she was doing but she thought she did. She dove in and without coming up for air, embraced everything around her. She went to parties and roamed the streets and stayed up all night and never bought any furniture. She talks about the smells, the snowflakes, and the very clear naivete. She writes about her young self not with fondness as most writers do, but with a sort of dissonance. Sour grapes, almost.

Didion has always written with a certain harshness. She can go on about the scent of L'Air du Temps perfume mixing with Henri Bendel soap and the salty smell of the crab markets without getting the least but romantic. In fact, she isn't romantic, not in the slightest. She is a gorgeous, crafted writer--sentimental, even. But her words and sentences and phrasing are nothing but honest. The way that she writes takes you into her world with a clear lens and felt truth. It scares me a little bit. So much that I can't stop reading her.

The 'long while' that she refers to in the passage above is an understanding of what it means to become jaded. It would be a long while before she would fall from the girl not understanding the big joke and not caring in the slightest due to the distractions of Christmas trees on Fifth Avenue, the first snow as seen from a cab, a new party dress, and Park avenue in December. She didn't care to pay attention to the naysayers because she wasn't one yet and that's a good enough reason as any.

Didion started to fall when she began to avoid the city. This is what struck me to the core the first time I read this. I think about it all the time. Everyday maybe. Once she had been here for a few years she learned what spots to avoid... couldn't bear upper Madison Avenue on weekday mornings, couldn't stand Times Square in the afternoon, and stopped going to the New York Public Library all together.

If you live in New York, you understand. These things are helpful and even necessary. But for Didion it started building on itself. Pretty soon you can't leave your apartment because you are paralyzed by all of the places you can't stand to be. And Didion eventually sat in her apartment on Seventy-Fifth street for days, too frightened to go outside. You can see why she started falling out of love. The city had stopped loving her back, or so she believed.

I know that Soho is horrific on the weekends, so is Times Square. The village is crazy after midnight and Prospect Park is a madhouse of buttercream cake, helium balloons, and sticky children every Sunday afternoon. But you have to go anyway. You have to. Didion stands as a warning as to why its so important. My dance class is in Soho on Saturdays and Times Square has the good movie times, not to mention most of the theater.

We go to the Village for its craziness and there is enough room in Prospect Park for all of us. Its a goddamn piazza (as Tom Hanks once so eloquently said). The city as a whole is a place we all can gather and must do so to keep its pulsing streets alive. You can't just love New York as an abstract concept, you have to love its parts too. This is what Didion failed to understand. Its why she had to move and she knows it.

I had a huge party marking my One Year Anniversary with New York... one year from the day I moved into my first apartment on 102nd and Central Park West. I told the same joke over and over-- that my relationship with New York is the longest, most significant, and most rewarding relationship that I have ever been in. New York and I are getting on fabulously, I gushed. Its been a whole year, and I know its still the honeymoon phase but I think this might be the real deal. We're just so in love... It was self deprecating, clearly, but everyone thought I was really funny and they all bought me drinks to cheers my love story. The fascinating part, however, is that its true.

And I am the naive girl, I know that. This entire blog is naive in its tone, right? (Was anyone ever so young, she asks.) This is where the better understanding of self kicks in--I am Young Joan still, not Wise All-Knowing Joan. I know.

Didion lives in Los Angeles now, and has for many many years. She stayed in New York for eight and never regrets leaving. She loved New York (still loves? Its hard to tell...) but her love affair ended at twenty-eight. And that's okay. Its not easy for me to say that, ask Meg. I get harshly defensive when people don't love New York as much as I do. But I'm trying to work on it. To understand that New York has many many stories. Eight million, in fact. And Didion moved on to what some would consider to be a 'more important' love story--take an afternoon to read A Year of Magical Thinking, you'll know what I mean. And perhaps someday I will have a story like that too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

To Catch a Thief

I watched To Catch a Thief on Sunday afternoon. It started out normal enough-- curled up with my Auntie Fay quilt, Paris tea, and pumpkin cookies made by my Sunday movie buddy Alison. Read on, my friends.

The film is about a jewel thief. Its all about jewelry and the stealing of it. Diamonds, sapphires, pearls, rubies... its about jewels, the people who wear them, and the people who steal them. (Stay with me here, I do have a point.) Its Cary Grant dressed all in black, crawling across Spanish tiles and over perfect European chimneys... Grace Kelly, stating that she doesn't wear jewelry because she doesn't like anything 'hard and cold against my skin'... Jessie, dripping with diamonds, proving that she isn't afraid of losing them.

So you can imagine my surprise when the doorbell rang (a sure oddity in Brooklyn) and opened the door to one of New York's finest--a bonafide NYPD cop-- asking if my name was Sarah and if I called to report missing jewels. I will repeat that... a cop came to my door in the middle of Hitchcock's jewelry thieving film, asking if my name was Sarah and if I called to report stolen jewelry.

Umm... no... I answered in complete shock, slight panic, and building excitement. I suddenly was Grace Kelly and this strapping cop my Cary Grant! All that was missing was my perfectly cut white evening gown (I was wearing a Nebraska sweatshirt and pajama pants), a black cat to aid in the sleuthing (the stray cats living on my stoop are all calico), and fireworks out the window (this is Bed-Stuy, after all. The 'fireworks' are usually gunshots. Yeek.) It was a perfect movie moment.

Well... almost. The thieving turned out to be from my sweet British landlady, Sara-Jane, whose precious rings were stolen at the manicurist. And the cop turned out to be... a cop. Not Cary Grant. Ah. Reason. Not a good thing, but definitely an explanation.

To Catch a Thief is stunning and completely enjoyable. Its a gorgeous Hitchcock escape film that Ocean's Twelve (the best Ocean movie--don't even try to argue with me, haters) absolutely robbed from in all its Mediterranean sleuthing glory. The fashion is impeccable-- Grace Kelly defines glamor. (The white and black beach number made Alison and I gasp in unison.) The car chase on the windy roads of Monaco is even more terrifying when you know that Princess Grace later crashed to her death on those very twists and turns. If you didn't know this information, watch that scene again... goosebumps.

So. Even if I didn't actually enter To Catch a Thief during my NYPD fiasco, I do feel a little closer to it now. And to make up for the disappointment of not being Grace Kelly this time, I am planning to steal all of her good lines and claim them as my own in the future.

Miss Stevens?
Yes, Mr. Burns?
You know what I think?
About what?
I don't really care.