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Sunday, December 27, 2015

THE BIG SHORT 12/27/15




I do not  grasp what Hedge Fund Managers do, or what Collateralized Debt Obligations (CODs), Credit Default Swaps, Mortgage Backed Securities  (MPS) and subprime mortgages are, and what it means to “short” something, but director Adam McCay’s THE BIG SHORT based on Michael Lewis’ book is an excellent film - both comedic and forcefully tragic with many fine actors making this a movie that is both entertaining and deceptively poignant. Surprisingly we do get to understand a lot of what was going on in the fiscal system without having to take a course in the particulars. This is accomplished through visuals - quick flashes of TV shows, cinema and pop stars, artworks, news headlines, sports figures, etc. all subliminally flashing before our eyes embedding the culture of money into our psyches. Throughout the film, there are witty respites whereby the camera exits the narrative, and various actors in wildly strange settings explain Wall Street jargon with idiosyncratic humor to make the “wheeling and dealing” more comprehensible. 

 I left the theater with an abysmal feeling of sadness, my voice cracking and tears in my eyes - not wanting to betray my emotions and my fierce anger at a capitalist system gone completely awry; rigged and fraudulent in handing the money of everyday working people whose pensions, domiciles, and livelihoods were placed into the hands of manipulative, raptor-like greedy banks and money managers. Billions - not millions - of dollars are just abstract numbers to be gambled with as the “party” keeps blasting upwards and onwards, monetary gains piling up, until it all implodes with aftershocks eventually destroying the income, employment and shuttering the homes of millions in the US and globally.

Many of the main characters are based on real people who worked for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns among other firms. Christian Bale is terrific as Dr. Michael Burry, a Cassandra-like figure, an eccentric - characterized by walking around barefooted - who foresaw the mortgage collapse early on, watching banks bundle mortgages which were being given AAA ratings by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s without proper examination of the underlying financial integrity of the lenders and borrowers. Burry decides to “short” - to bet on a future housing crisis debacle and is ultimately proven correct.

Steve Carell portrays Mark Baum, an irascible individual, who was one of the few conscience stricken players in the “money game”, trying to make participants aware of the looming future cataclysm, but also wrestling with his own hypocrisy in personally profiting from the 2008 world economic bankruptcy. He is an anguished “truth teller” antithetical to most characters engaging in this closed world of financial gains and losses, whose egos get propped up by the insubstantial glint of wealth.

The director McCay includes every type of  trader - from self-centered, sophomoric “masters of the universe” to those with some integrity and concern for their clients. The editing is quick and incredibly entertaining for a subject that could easily put many of us to sleep. In THE BIG SHORT we are made painfully aware of the collusion of institutions and governmental agencies, all profiting from the deception that the housing market was one of the best and most secure investments to be made.  We see the social and human ramifications of this delusion that brought world markets to the brink of financial collapse. 


Unlike previous  films about Wall Street, this is a true story - a tale that is still resonating in our minds and pocketbooks. Many ordinary persons were encouraged and seduced by the easy access to home ownership, low interest rates that often skyrocketed a few years later to the bewilderment of landlords and tenants who had to flee their properties. This drama showed how the Banks were “brought down“, but today we are still wondering  were they ever punished? Cynicism persists as new ploys and risky gambits continue to be placed before a gullible public by corruptible institutions functioning without legislated safeguards. THE BIG SHORT is a powerful indictment of Wall Street engineering of avarice - profiting the few and afflicting the lifestyles of the majority of Americans that they are called upon to serve.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD 12/26/15



Saw a movie I never thought I would see and it is sticking with me. George Miller (at 70 years old) directed this last in the franchise and most probably the best - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD with one of my favorite actors - the silent Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa - the hero with a prosthetic arm who creates an incendiary revolt to save "the breeders" - the hand-picked wives - the child bearers of the all powerful horrific ruler - Immortan Joe whose "citadel" is trucked out with past and future apocalyptic adornment, including genetic mutations and the final gasp of death; physical weakness and a pasty whiteness indicating lack of hemoglobin.
Macho characters adorned with the armaments of bizarre - way over the top head gear, facial makeup, and decaying skin covered with the boils of greed.
The theme is the dead environment and the fight for drops of water and fuel. Not many people can breathe freely - oxygen masks with hissing sounds of inhaling air as if through straws contribute to the zombie like atmosphere. Women are the warriors - the old and the fecund. Hardy as "mad" Max is there for support - one of the last remaining males with a conscience still ruminating somewhere inside his gut.
Metropolis came to mind - with shaven headed worker bees in an architecture of death and putrid decay. The ruler of the corrupted land allows the starving populations left on this dry earth some water - which he turns on and off - the benevolent despot - as it cascades out of pipes like waterfalls to scrambling desperate people buckets in hand to catch the jewels of survival.

Good review by Anthony Lane in The New Yorker - worth reading:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane












































http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/high-gear-current-cinema-anthony-lane

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS PAST - CHRISTMAS ENVY published by Women's Voices For Change 12/21/15




I was asked by the online magazine Women's Voices For Change to write an article on Christmas. My first response was a quick "no" since I do not celebrate - and then I remembered my childhood in Washington Heights.....Please comment on the site if you feel so inclined!

http://womensvoicesforchange.org/christmas-envy.htm

Friday, December 4, 2015

REFLECTIONS ON MARK BRADFORD AND ZHANG HUAN 12/4/15

  




Two artists with distinctly different stylistic works dealing with their own cultural histories are exhibiting in Chelsea: Mark Bradford’s BE STRONG BOQUAN at Hauser & Wirth New York, 511 W.18th Street, November 7th – December 23rd, and Zhang Huan LET THERE BE LIGHT at Pace Gallery, 510 West 25th Street October 30th - December 5th, 2015. Both artists are making paintings that are not only incredibly ambitious, but their approaches co-opt abstract expressionism and photo realism into eloquent personal statements along with visual breadth, grandeur and the intimacy of poetry.

Mark Bradford born in 1961in South Central Los Angeles where his mother owned a beauty salon, supporting the family. He spent many hours in that space during his formative years, even after she moved the family to Santa Monica when he was 11 years old, closer to the beach - a neighborhood less suffused with violence. After High School, Mark got his hairdresser’s license and worked in his mother’s shop, and it was not until he was 30 years old that he left to study at Cal Arts where he eventually received an MFA. His work makes use of the detritus of the streets of the city where he grew up and where he still lives and works. Supplies come from Home Depot as well as the shards of his urban environment - ripped billboard signs, ropes, wood, etc:


Calvin Tompkins in The New Yorker profile of Bradford - June 22, 2015:

“…He starts with a stretched canvas and builds up its surface with ten or fifteen layers of paper—white paper, colored paper, newsprint, reproductions, photographs, printed texts—fixing each layer with a coat of clear shellac. Sometimes he embeds lengths of string or caulking to form linear elements in the palimpsest. When the buildup reaches a certain density, he attacks it with power sanders and other tools, exposing earlier layers, flashes of color, and unexpected juxtapositions. Not until the first sanding does he begin to see where the painting is going. He works like an archeologist, rediscovering the past…Bradford refers to his work as “social abstraction”—abstract art “with a social or political context clinging to the edges…”

Bradford’s process is one of tearing down and building up - excavating and constructing - the scratched surfaces, as if clawed in desperation are contrasted with the delicacy of lightly scraped areas, as if we can see through a telescope deep into the body of the work - an exquisite poignancy punctuated with evidence of his hand and arm tossing house paint flowing over the canvas like an erupting volcano. I am moved and stand still in my tracks - unable to stir. His presence permeates the room.


From the Hauser and Wirth Press Release:
http://www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/2642/mark-bradford-be-strong-boquan/view/

"‘Be Strong Boquan’ takes its title from Bradford’s new multimedia work ‘Spiderman’ (2015), which is presented together here with a series of new paintings, sculpture, and a second video installation. The exhibition builds upon ideas explored in the artist’s recent solo show at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles CA, referencing issues ranging from the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s and society’s misrepresentation and fear of queer identity, to the brutality and lasting outrage resulting from the race riots in Los Angeles during the early 1990s. Bradford’s latest work finds the artist returning to these themes, reaching back to the touchstone experiences of his early career and carving into his art the potent memories of youth and the political and social policies that ignited conflagrations over questions of culture, race, sexuality, and gender. "

This latest show takes time to absorb, as do the ideas embedded in the paintings many of which “draw inspiration from molecular and cellular imagery of the human body.” At first we are struck with what superficially looks like more conventional works - bombastic and sensual - but as I approach these overpowering objects,  my senses opened up to the realization that these are visceral pieces filled with both humanity and rage.

This exhibition which also includes videos - jokes, music, and voices from the street  - confirms that Mark Bradford is one of our greatest contemporary painters - I am humbled before his art.

When I walked into Zhang Huan’s exhibition, LET THERE BE LIGHT, I was overwhelmed by the pure scale of these amazing wrap-around-the-room paintings of over 1000 photo realistic images of mostly male Chinese   officials - transporting us back to1960’s China under the rule of Mao Tse -Tung  (Mao Zedong) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976.) In an excellent interview with the writer, Barbara Pollack, Zhan Huan explains how he came upon the photograph which is the source of this challenging work which took 3 years to complete:

“…About 5 or 6 years ago, when I first returned to Beijing  from NYC, I encountered this antique photograph in …flea market. I found that I was very familiar with the figures in this photo, who were all central leaders in the government when Mao Zedong ruled our country. And in June 1964 I was just about to be born [January 1965]. Therefore the sight of the photo took me back to my childhood…”

Upon closer inspection, JUNE 15, 1964, with its plethora of portraits are painted with ash on linen - a medium he began using in 2006 which he considered “…a spiritual  material for art creation…”, As I made my way around the gallery the ash background behind the seated multitudes changed imperceptibly  like the setting sun, from light to dark. Each face was distinctive - no two were alike - all strikingly observed and rendered with a tenderness that belied their roles as revolutionary bureaucrats.

The Braille Paintings which fill the second room at Pace Gallery, are very abstract with braille inscriptions - almost minimal in their quiet reserve, but the written words are precise and explicit giving clarity and the opportunity for the blind to communicate through touch, echoing  the title of the exhibition as well as Genesis and Zhang Huan the artist as creator -  LET THERE BE LIGHT.

“…What is most interesting about the Braille paintings is that I am using ash, which comes from Buddhist temples and carries the spirit of Buddhism, to express Bible stories and even the national anthem of the United States. It is a combination of cultures. Similarly the Braille paintings look like abstract paintings, but at the same time, they are not abstract because they have concrete text…” (Interview with Barbara Pollack.)

Both Mark Bradford and Zhang Huan exhume their own history and culture, generating a distinctly elegiac and elegant cosmos where the textures and materials of their personal backgrounds become the alchemy for new beginnings.


http://www.pacegallery.com/newyork/exhibitions/12768/let-there-be-light

Monday, November 30, 2015

TIMBUKTU 11/29/15


I saw TIMBUKTU directed by ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO - the film was both poetic in its depiction of a sense of place and the relationship of an isolated cattle herder living peacefully and contentedly with his family in a tent under the stars in a sea of sand, herding cows, gently and playfully interacting with his wife and adored 12 year old daughter (who often reaches to the sky to attempt getting a signal for her cell phone - technology has permeated all our lives,) and devastating in its description of what people have to endure living under (AQIM) Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2012 Mali, particularly when they find themselves in direct conflict with this government.


TIMBUKTU shows the brutal rule of Jihadists (as they called themselves) - the hypocrisy, the legal capriciousness in the administration of "justice" and the total disregard for fellow Muslims under their authority - who are equally devout, but in contrast to those now in power, humane in the interpretation of their beliefs. Arbitrary orders concerning dress, (gloves and socks must be worn by all women), the banning of music and sports such as Soccer - edicts loudly proclaimed for all to hear from a megaphone proscribing and narrowing those very actions that allow for the breadth of life's beauty and individuality.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SPOTLIGHT 11/25/15



if you want to understand the process by which four investigative reporters - each with his/her own expertise - function as a team working for the “Spotlight” unit of The Boston Globe’s newspaper in 2001, exposing what will become a Pulitzer Prize (2003) winning probe of the Catholic Church’s furtive silence and the Boston Archdiocese’s cover up of pedophile priests who molested guileless young boys and girls in their Massachusetts’ parishes, see the movie SPOTLIGHT, a docudrama written and directed by Tom McCarthy.  A film that is not histrionic in its presentation, but slowly and methodically builds a case which unearths the horrific breach of trust between “believers” and those who are anointed as their spiritual sentinels in the secular world. The aftermath of the newspaper’s disclosures reverberated beyond its local sphere of examination into an international autopsy exhuming shame and dishonor upon the Church and its leaders.

SPOTLIGHT  opens with a feeling of tension; we sense the apprehension of a close-knit circle of reporters - the Spotlight investigative  division of The Boston Globe - a small corps of journalists who focus on one important story oftentimes for over a year -  when an “outsider”, Marty Baron (a self-possessed, beautifully understated performance by Liev Schreiber) is recruited from The Miami Herald to become their new Editor. Baron realizes the potential of Spotlight to substantially examine an issue and shifts their target unto a story that over the years had been buried deep into the paper, occasionally surfacing to be interred again - eruptions of accusations appearing in print expeditiously extinguished. Marty Baron understands the need to look at the Institution itself - not just pinpointing individual perpetrators and victims, but examining the Catholic Church and its powerful influence on other authoritative organizations in predominantly Irish Catholic Boston, well aware that there will be attempts to stifle any exploration that cuts deeper into the skin of corruption.

The meticulous and disciplined search for the “truth” of a story involves interviewing victims  now in adulthood, who reveal lacerating facts on their loss of innocence at the hands of the very people they trusted most to protect them - a spiritual shock as well as a physical one. Sacha Pfeiffer (a non-glamourous Rachel McAdams who is turning into a wonderful actor) conducts many of the painful interviews excavating devastating memories - her empathy and concern are both convincing and authoritative. One weeps for the hidden secrets that are divulged and the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that these young people must covertly endure. 


Michael Keaton, who stars as Walter “Robby” Robinson, communicates through expressive facial nuance, and the hunch of his shoulders, the conflicted burden and courage that being leader of the Globe’s coverage exacts on his innate view of himself - an Irish Catholic member of the church; a man who rubbed shoulders with the Cardinal and other politically connected elite Church officials; a person who despite the distressing revelation that while he was Editor of the Metro Section years before - the glimmerings of this  scandal were literally kicked underground into files gathering dust in the storage bins of the newspaper.

Mark Ruffalo, another terrific actor is  frenetic as Mike Rezendes - a Spotlight columnist who is in constant motion, a whirlwind of  physical movement - ascetic in his dedication to spending long hours following leads, questioning defense attorneys, ferreting out important documents, petitioning court papers, and at the same time imbued with an equally impassioned integrity in lifting the lid on this pressure cooker of deceit. I responded to his innate decency and inexorable belief in the need for Spotlight  to yield a  scalpel of precision in cleansing the fetid decades old duplicity of the Church.

The fourth participant of Spotlight is the numbers man, Matt Carroll, (Brian d’Arcy James,) an individual who makes sense of the mounds of accumulated data, once the stick has pierced the hornet’s nest. Carroll intuitively makes necessary connections and has the tough “unglamorous” job of putting fact to “fiction.” 

SPOTLIGHT has an ensemble cast ie:  Ben Bradlee Jr. (played by John Slattery of Mad Men fame), son of Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post Watergate scandal fame) supervises the Spotlight team; Stanley Tucci excellent as Mitchell Garabedian who is portrayed as a querulous, cantankerous attorney whose firm to date has represented more than 1000 victims and survivors of clergy abuse. In 2001 Garabedian played a pivotal part in The Boston Globe’s explosive revelations. 


What sets SPOTLIGHT apart from other movies that dramatize political “cover-ups” is the directness and restrained tone of its presentation. There are no “deep throats”, midnight trysts lurking in the background, but rather a deliberate, efficient system of operation which slowly yields results that withstand legal scrutiny - conclusions backed by strong research that will detonate Institutional complicity and dissimulation - echoing around the globe generating further investigations like a chain of illuminations in a tunnel of obfuscation, lighting up the shrouds of darkness.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

MEDITERRANEA 11/21/15



MEDITERRANEA  written and directed by Jonas Carpignano who has been working on this film for 5 years. Initially in 2010, he intended the project to be a short documentary on the African immigrants who were mainly farm workers in the town of Rosarno in Calbria, Italy protesting against their discriminatory treatment and horrific squalid living conditions.

“… several thousand immigrants live in and around Rosarno while helping with the harvest of oranges and clementines…On the Gioia Tauro plain which encompasses Rosarno, they are collected each morning by overseers and driven into citrus groves for work that can last from dawn to dusk…"They earn €25 a day", said Father Ennio Stamile of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas. ‘They have to send money to their countries to maintain their families and also live here. Not much is left for them. The economic crisis has exacerbated their situation…On the plain, there are about 2,000 African immigrants who sleep the night crowded together in a former paper mill and another large building, said Monsignor Pino de Masi, the vicar-general of the Oppido-Palmi diocese. ‘If anyone from central government were to see the conditions in which they live, without sanitation, electricity, water or heating, they would not be surprised by what has happened.’ “
(The Guardian, John Hooper 1/2/2010) 

Nights of violence between the migrants and the Italian locals led to many injuries and during the day demonstrators - marched on Town Hall to demand  an end to racial intolerance. Into this highly-charged milieu, the Director Carpignano met an Aftrican migrant, Koudous Seihon from Burkina Faso whose powerful presence changed the trajectory of his original concept - from a short documentary to a full-length feature film based on the life and stories told to him by  Seihon who also agreed to play the lead character, Ayiva - a beautiful, nuanced performance conveying steadiness of character with a deep longing for his homeland and the seven year old daughter he left behind, combined with an optimistic view of a future that is fraught with barriers based on color, and economic bleakness.

MEDITERRANEA follows the well worn path to “the promised land” which unknowingly is often seeded with hopelessness and despair. In this fictional dramatization of Koudous Seihon’s own trek,  Ayiva must first obtain the money to leave Burkina Faso and is forced to pay unscrupulous brokers high fees to get a seat on a truck filled with fellow travelers - herded together like lambs going to slaughter. 

I am an artist whose focus has been on refugees and migrants for the past 14 years and the images on the screen reflected my paintings like a mirror - literally pictures moving. I wanted to cry out “hold that frame, and the next one, and the one after, etc. etc!!!!” Once on their journey to Europe the exhausted bands of wanderers have to go through many difficult and life threatening trials - all on foot - over Algiers; stumbling through the dry vast seemingly limitless Libyan desert, where bandits/ human vultures prey on the vulnerable; and the final “labor” - maneuvering a small boat without a seasoned navigator through the volatile waters of the Mediterranean Sea  exposed to nature’s moods  - be they light-filled or threatening storms - until those that endure arrive in Calabria - the toe of Italy where the local welcome is wary and impassive and often downright aggressive and dangerous.

Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography is immediate and intimate. The hand-held camera bounces along with the fleeing characters contributing to the chaotic climate and the confusion of flight - we don’t know where we are; there are moments when the lens is in and out of focus, an arm, a leg an eye bounces on the screen, distance is compressed - near and far become a blur, and we in the audience experience the tension and agitation of the approaching unknown.

We follow Ayiva and his best friend Abas (Alassane Sy), a languid, narcissistic, spoiled man envisioning Europe as a huge Hollywood fantasy with a dream of sexy women responding to his “handsome charms” - who smashes up against reality filling him with anguish at the fetid and wretched circumstances he and his friend are forced to  occupy,  falling into depression and despondency, eventually striking back in frenzied frustration.  

MEDITERRANEA  is not delusional cinema - it is a heard-hitting view of displacement, contrasting cultures with moments of shared humanity. The flight from the homeland - is a painfully difficult one which requires a steeliness of will and some humor. That humor is injected by a teenaged Italian boy Pio (Pio Amato), a consummate tradesman who barters with the African immigrants and is a dead-panned comic. In contrast the immigrant women are often exploited by the Italian men, and we catch a glimpse of how they are sexually abused - barely witnessed by the camera, silhouettes in the act of fellatio behind a dim, closing door. 

The film climaxes with the immigrants’ fierce uprising on the streets of the city after the destruction and collapse of their tawdry makeshift “homes” - demolished by the Italian Police - Carabinieri. The locales in the community are brutal in their response  - a retelling of the original Rosarno outbreak, where Director Jonas Carpignano first met Seihon (Ayiva) who would galvanize this movie; an attempt to narrate crossing borders without any simple answers to what we see daily in the “headlines”.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

TRUTH 11/16/15


TRUTH a film that often felt like a theatrical stage production, directed by James Vanderbilt is reminiscent of a much better movie, KILL THE MESSENGER - both docudramas about investigative journalism and the virulent consequences of digging into the actual facts - the "truth"- and the complicated process of vetting, double-checking data, and ultimately getting a controversial story aired and the consequences of doing so. The aftermath/repercussions from the "higher up" media power-brokers (often linked to big corporations) includes impugning the integrity of the correspondents and their searching methodology to the actual loss of jobs; winning a Pulitzer Prize does not make you immune to virulent attack.

http://graupepillard.blogspot.com/search…

TRUTH focuses on the CBS 60 Minutes' investigation into President George W. Bush's service with the Air National Guard in 2004 - when he was running for re-election against then Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry. The "military service" issue was relevant because of the outrageous "swift boat attack" political ads waged against Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, during a nasty campaign at a time when we were fighting a disastrous war in Iraq.


The film's heroes and victims were Dan Rather (Robert Redford) - respected anchor of CBS news and his producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett.) TRUTH is a cautionary tale extolling those journalists who have the courage to question, and the fortitude to continue digging into political events that affect all our lives, stories that are floating out in the ether - like the first inklings of Watergate - eventually brought to the attention of the public slamming us with the "truth".

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

SUFFRAGETTE 11/11/15


The struggle for the right of women to vote is an international one and the bruising fight continues to this day. The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution: Women’s Right To Vote was ratified in August 18, 1920 after decades of civil disobedience, strife, marching, humiliation, hunger strikes and incarceration -  a battle with simple but enormously important consequences - the necessity  for women to have a voice in who represents them in making the laws of the land and how those laws which often affects a woman’s life are interpreted. Without the vote, we are ignored, invisible and betrayed. Here is a link to a Library of Congress’ paper Why Women Should Vote written sometime after 1896 by  Alice Stone Blackwell giving 16 compelling and poignant reasons why women should vote - as relevant today as ever:

http://tinyurl.com/l3hbvf4

SUFFRAGETTE directed by Sarah Gavron focuses on a group of both working class and wealthy British women in 1912 whose ideologies and wretched situations at home  propel them to risk jobs and marriages in order to crack the male shell of resistance to the idea of women’s equality. Led by Emmeline Pankhurst, (a cameo performance by Meryl Streep) who in 1903 founded the more militant Women’s Social And Political Union (WSPU) - participating in demonstrations and hunger strikes where she herself was violently force-fed - acts that contributed to her mystique and the adoration of her followers. The bleak ambience of SUFFRAGETTES characterizes with historical accuracy the streets of London, the  wardrobes, and homes of women in different socio-economic groups, just before the advent of World War I - a time when women were more expendable and vulnerable to their male bosses; wages were a mere pittance and escape, a mirage. Husbands had absolute control over wives and children - both through physical abuse and the power of the British legal system. 

Films distort by the very nature of their structural limitations which are usually 2 hours. In that compressed amount of time and  a director’s subjective view of history, we follow the political radicalization of a laundress who labors under deplorable conditions (having begun as a mere child) named  Maud Watts (an actual composite of a suffragette named Hannah Mitchell - http://www.biography.com/news/suffragette-movie-history) beautifully played by Carey Mulligan, coming to the realization that she has no legal recourse over her detestable working environment, and in her personal world no claim over the welfare and future of her child. Maud comes to the conclusion, along with a group of fellow activists after hearing Mrs. Pankhurst speak, that years of peaceful protests had not altered their situations; shocks of violence were the only means of getting the attention of the government controlled Press and Parliament. The consequences of  these menacing actions are woven into the film’s drama. The wonderful actor Brendon Gleeson plays an Inspector Jarvert-type police official who is relentless in the prosecution and strategy of dealing with political “agitators” personifying the authority of the British legal system which enveloped ALL women who were subjugated to the daily slog of male dominance vitiating their every breath.

SUFFRAGETTE is not a great film, but the  inequities that befall the heroine and her “co-conspirators” made me fiercely conscious of society’s injustice to those who are seen as  defenseless. I was overcome by the overwhelming powerless of an individual to enact change without organizational support. Transformation is possible where there is courage and the remaining choices have been eliminated - when one is caged there are few alternatives other than shattering the bars.

At the very end of the movie there is  a timeline listing when women got the right to vote and the list was astonishing. There are many country's that in 2015  still do not grant women that right such as Saudi Arabia where it is still pending!!!!

Timeline of Women’s Suffrage Granted, by Country
1893 New Zealand
1902 Australia1
1906 Finland
1913 Norway
1915 Denmark
1917 Canada2
1918 Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia
1919 Netherlands
1920 United States
1921 Sweden
1928 Britain, Ireland
1931 Spain
1934 Turkey
1944 France
1945 Italy
1947 Argentina, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan
1949 China
1950 India
1954 Colombia
1957 Malaysia, Zimbabwe
1962 Algeria
1963 Iran, Morocco
1964 Libya
1967 Ecuador
1971 Switzerland
1972 Bangladesh
1974 Jordan
1976 Portugal
1989 Namibia
1990 Western Samoa
1993 Kazakhstan, Moldova
1994 South Africa
2005 Kuwait
2006 United Arab Emirates
2011 Saudi Arabia3
NOTE: One country does not allow their people, male or female, to vote: Brunei.
1. Australian women, with the exception of aboriginal women, won the vote in 1902. Aborigines, male and female, did not have the right to vote until 1962.
2. Canadian women, with the exception of Canadian Indian women, won the vote in 1917. Canadian Indians, male and female, did not win the vote until 1960. Source: The New York Times, May 22, 2005.

3. Women in Saudi Arabia will not be eligible to vote until 2015.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

STEVE JOBS 11/1/15



Watching the STEVE JOBS  biopic directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin was a nostalgic experience, bringing me back in time to 1992 when I purchased my first Apple Computer which regretfully turned out to be a “rotten apple with so many problems that Apple’s headquarters sent a technician to my home in NJ to change the “motherboard.” This was the “dark phase” of  the company when it was on the downswing - the percentage of Apple users were declining and IBM’s P.C.’s were on the rise.  Because my “mentor” was a rabid supporter - never wavering in his belief in Steve Jobs and Apple products, I too followed his lead despite the fact that Jobs was not with the company having been “fired” in 1985. The film STEVE JOBS gives us a glimpse into the man who today is considered a visionary having changed the way we communicate and navigate the world.

I once wrote a Letter to the NY Times extolling the power of film “… to re-vise, re-invent and re-position history and historical figures within popular culture… Too often ideas, whether they be political or cultural, permeate into the general consciousness through the membrane of a director…”  And this holds true for director Danny Boyle’s depiction of Steve Jobs. There is a frenetic pace to the film - and  Boyle uses the moments before the  presentation of new products to an audience of devotees as a vehicle “exposing” the complexity of Steve Jobs’ personal and professional history. 

The  dramatic focus of the movie STEVE JOBS  hinges upon 3 major “computer launch” events - the original Macintosh in 1984 in competition with the Apple II - the commercial bedrock of the company; the unveiling of NeXT cube in 1988 - what it did is still a mystery; and the beautifully designed iMac in 1998 - the start of the “iEra”.  The products were an extension of the man himself - a person who controlled every aspect of his brand - obsessively committed and singleminded - never one to compromise - as witnessed by his battles with childhood friend and co-founder Steve Wozniak - Seth Rogan doing a great job as this decent, burly “nuts and bolts” man who actualizes Jobs’ idealistic concepts. Michael Fassbender is excellent as Jobs - cool, detached  and charismatic  encased in armor that is rarely penetrated except by the always-by-his side assistant Joanna Hoffman (a staid and respectful Kate Winslet with a weird  undertone of an accent) and his daughter Lisa, (whose paternity he once renounced,) - a pivotal character functioning as a catalyst and humanizing foil to the self-absorbed and fervid Jobs.

There is a claustrophobic feel to the film - an undercurrent of acute tension created by Job’s contentious and  truculent interactions with his colleagues and family; the need to micro-manage every one of life’s moments leaving no room for respite - we the audience suffer from the lack of air. I also left the theater wondering WHAT exactly did Jobs do as co-founder of Apple Inc.outside of being a genius marketing promoter? 


 I recommend reading Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs, particularly after seeing a movie which gives you a narrow, surface view of an impassioned man who deserves to be seen more fully  to understand his historical importance as that rare individual whose accomplishments touched people all over the globe. Regrettably STEVE JOBS gives very little inkling of the man who  anticipated much of the 21st century’s technological innovations.

Monday, October 19, 2015

MANA CONTEMPORARY and INTIMACY IN DISCOURSE: REASONABLE SIZED PAINTINGS 10/18/15

Went out to  Jersey City, NJ to MANA contemporary  which is becoming a MALL of art studios and exhibitions. A lot of the art I saw was mediocre as were the rash of shows. I was very disappointed by Saul Ostrow's curated "Here's Looking Back at you: Images of Woman from the ESKFF Collection." There are big names with small works and lesser known artists whose works were larger and cuddling up to cheap gimmickry highlighting bravado brushwork signifying nothing. Tour-de-force photo-realistic paintings that were a shallow display of technique- all surface and nothing to plunge into.

The best exhibition by far was curated by Phong Bui titled INTIMACY IN DISCOURSE: REASONABLE SIZED PAINTINGS. Each of the artists showed a series of works - all beautifully curated - chosen with intelligence and hung with an awareness of how they played off against one another. There are varieties of paint surfaces and styles from aluminum to burlap; abstraction to figuration and a few that were a combination of both. I was immediately attracted to the 4 simple, lovely paintings of trees silhouetted against the sky by Sylvia Plimack Mangold - her brushwork was so fluid that I was thrilled. Minimalism meets figuration with a loving hand.

A wonderful mini, mini retrospective of works by Bill Jensen- ranging from the 1970's to 2013 and a good choice of terrific paintings by Thomas Noskowski. I also responded to Robert Storr whose small strangely colored paintings - had lost some of the awkwardness that I remembered and actually loved; but though more confident there is a still a quirky color palette that threw me off balance. Rackstraw Downs showed images from his Barbed Wire series and one slightly larger more panoramic view. I am less and less of a fan of his work - feeling that the colors and brushwork are in a tradition in which he is perhaps too comfortable - despite being successful.

James Siena had some beautifully painted meticulous op-art-y works that lit up the room as did Ann Pibal and Tom Burckhardt. Robert Feintuch's weird and often grotesque figurative paintings had me return to look at them again and again because they felt so compelling in their distorted beauty. Ellen Altfest's image of a leg - an abstracted form cut off floating in the center of the canvas - combined the sensuous with the mysterious - a small work that makes me want to see many more. This is just a taste of what is available to see and worth the trip to 888 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07306.
http://www.manacontemporary.com/2015-intimacy-in-discourse/
A raw, unedited video is available on youtube at:
http://tinyurl.com/nnf9vx4



Saturday, October 17, 2015

BRIDGE OF SPIES 10/17/15



Director Steven Spielberg is the conscience of American film-makers, delving into the dark places of our history - the morally shaky ground of policymaking in a country that prides itself on its belief in upholding the principles of the U.S.Constitution. In his latest film, BRIDGE OF SPIES, he pokes a stick into the headlines of Cold War events - the 1960 U-2 Spy plane incident, in order to shed air and light into the shadowy reaches of official myth-making. Aware that this can be done most powerfully through precise direction, detailed sets, soaring soundtracks, and cinematography that echoes the dreary mood of the times - bright sunshine recedes behind the shadows of deception. The audience is always entertained, despite the subject matter’s depiction of  the  murkiness of ethics and morality. Like the great illustrator Norman Rockwell - we are seduced by an “apple pie” ethos, except there are worms wriggling around in the crust.

Tom Hanks is perfectly cast - an actor who I cannot remember ever playing a “bad” guy - as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer conscripted by the CIA in 1957 during the height of the Cold War hysteria to defend the arrested Soviet mole, Rudolf Abel, (an academy award winning performance by Mark Rylance,) and participate in a US government programmed “kangaroo-court” trial. Except James Donovan believes in the right of an individual to the best defense as the bedrock of our democracy, not willing to compromise his deeply held integrity.

BRIDGE OF SPIES begins with a panning of a dreary Brooklyn street with the Manhattan Bridge in the background looming over the landscape, the camera eventually lands upstairs in a tenement building where Mark Rylance/Rudolf Abel is looking at himself in a mirror painting a quite good traditional self-portrait. This double view is our introduction to the personality of a seemingly Walter Mitty-like individual, his physiognomy imprinted with a haunting and magnetic expressiveness, conveying adversity and conviction. Rylance's sympathetic portrayal of Abel is seductive and thrilling; this spy is a mystery and remains so.

Tom Hanks/James Donovan - a  reincarnation of Jimmy Stewart (thicker in physique) lives a 1950’s  dream life in suburbia; three children and a clueless stay-at-home wife and mother (played by Amy Ryan in a thankless part.) Women are just accessories in this movie - indicative of how they were considered at the time. Thank goodness for the Feminist Movement 20 years later! Getting involved with cloak and dagger politics does not change Donovan - he is incorruptible and strongly rooted to the ideals of American values as put forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

At the same time as the Abel trial - America is preparing to send a U-2 spy plane equipped with surveillance equipment over Soviet territory and the Central Intelligence Agency recruits a young pilot Francis Gary Powers (a bland, handsome Austin Stowell) to complete the reconnaissance mission. In 1960, the operation is implemented and shortly thereafter the U-2 spy plane is shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile and Powers parachutes unto Russian soil still alive and is captured and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment and hard labor. A politically heated issue and an embarrassment for the Eisenhower administration - the incident was vigorously denied by the USA and a cover-up was attempted, but the covert military maneuver was ultimately exposed.

Attempts are made to return Gary Francis Power to the USA in order to interrogate him about how much classified information he revealed to the Soviets. The authorities turn again to Attorney James Donovan to negotiate the exchange of spies on Glienicker Bridge in East Germany - Rudolf Abel for Gary Francis Powers; the tension and drama of BRIDGE OF SPIES begins against the backdrop of the Wall being erected in East Berlin - a bleak city in contrast to its counterpart in the Western sector.


 Pragmatic political behavior by officials in the KGB, CIA and FBI are all stick figures in the chess game of diplomacy and Tom Hanks deftly navigates his way through the labyrinth of innuendo and deceit. Espionage, duplicity, betrayal are at the heart of this film. What makes it palatable is the humanity of both Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance’s characters who bond with mutual respect, despite their opposing ideological viewpoints. Director Spielberg can be sentimental, but is able to tunnel through the sappiness with humor and affection. He really likes his two leading men and so do we.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

THE MARTIAN 10/13/15


I am fascinated by films that show how people survive in impossible situations. THE MARTIAN  is an old- fashioned “feel good” movie directed by Ridley Scott who knows how to make blockbusters and hold your attention - though here he goes “off course” from his usual dystopian science fiction-y horror movies like his breakthrough thriller “Alien.”

THE MARTIAN is basically about Mark Watney, (a breeze-through performance by Matt Damon,) as an affable brilliant, but down-to-earth botanist/scientist on a manned flight mission to Mars who  is left stranded on the “red planet",  after a fierce storm untethers him from the rest of the crew. Dramatic footage of sand and flying debris slamming the spaceship upending its stability, forces Jessica Chastain (performing in a minor role as Melissa Lewis, the flight Commander) to make the agonizing  decision to abandon their fellow crew member - assuming he was killed by some space junk that pierced his body -  to continue their NASA mission.

The quiet after the storm shows us a steadfast Matt Damon awakening to his dire predicament, and the knowledge that death is almost a certainty, but never panics; rather he is optimistic, immediately going into survivalist mode - step by step using all that science and life experience has taught him in order to figure out how to live on a planet without water or food. One advantage is the artificial space vehicle/living habitat, or Hab which is still intact - providing oxygen and dietary supplies including his fellow astronauts’ personal effects, along with a trove of "bad" music that becomes an ongoing joke in the film. The lighthearted likeability of Matt Damon, who relates his daily chores and mundane skirmishes with the airless “elements” via a video diary - a technique that keeps the film buoyantly hopeful; psychological depression never sets in - so we know that Hollywood has cast a rosy net of oblivion around THE MARTIAN. And by doing so, it feeds directly into the hearts of Rocky Balboa, and sports viewing fans - we love to see America’s can-do spirit triumph.

This is intrinsically a story about man’s ability to endure in the face of terrible odds - which makes for great theater, and we in the audience cheer him on. Who cannot get caught up in this existential dilemma and not feel the intensity of Mark Watney’s battle to exist? He is not alone - eventually there are others who join the fight to aid him in his heroic efforts to stay alive in an “alien” atmosphere; everyone realizing that there is a looming deadline when necessities will be depleted. Lots of actors contribute to the ensuing drama and add to the film’s tension, which involves the diminished "window of opportunity" - to bring Astronaut Watney home while he is still alive, as the months glide by. 


The supporting actors were chosen to exemplify a “type” in the movie: Jeffrey Daniels as NASA’s Director, caught in the vise of the political ramifications of his decisions; Michael Pena, a fellow space traveler who is the jesting buddy; Chiwetel Ejiofor, an assistant at NASA who is a catalyst for getting things done; and  a surprisingly wonderful scene-stealing performance by Donald Glover as a young “idiosyncratic” Jet Propulsion Lab scientist whose mathematical computations lead to innovative approaches in the rescue attempt to bring Watney home. Being a bit of a wonk, even though I don’t understand the mathematics and physics involved in the computations, I am thrilled seeing numbers and formulas no longer sitting abstractly on notebook papers, but put to use to change the world we live in- another example of what a group’s inventiveness and a resilient outlook can accomplish.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

SICARIO 10/3/15


What are the rules of engagement in fighting the Mexican drug cartels especially if US law enforcement agencies go into foreign territories where they have no jurisdiction; does the end justify any means? Denis Villeneuve’s intense new film SICARIO (which means hit man in Spanish) takes us into the tactical underbelly of those cryptic individuals who carry out US policy decisions “from on high”,  cloaked in legitimacy, though they are prohibited maneuvers that would be considered illegal in any court of law.

The atmosphere is beautifully filmed - either pale, washed out ochers depicting the long dusty border between US and Mexico, or the rich deep blues and blacks of the evening with night - vision goggles irradiating the world around them into skeletal images. Put a young, female FBI agent into this mix - Emily Blunt as Kate, a dedicated officer, former head of a kidnap-response unit based in Phoenix, who is forced to question all that she has practiced and been taught in the Bureau; her fiercely held personal values are turned upside down by the reality of being recruited into the midst of anti- cartel “warriors” who can behave as dark and dirty as their enemy - the drug lords that  control the populous by murdering and slaughtering men, women and children, stringing up body parts hanging them from electricity wires like abandoned baggage on clothes-lines.

Transporting, manufacturing,  shipping and controlling the wildly lucrative  drug industry necessitates making alliances - everyone is  corruptible from the dealers to the federales  and police on both sides of the border - all partaking of the spoils, while their interior sentiments become ghosts evaporating into the surroundings. “It is not personal” are words that exemplify the cool calculations of those in power whose humanity has been shredded, and who barricade themselves with bodyguards and fancy homes from the brutality that they inflict on nameless people.

Kate and her FBI partner ( a good performance by Daniel Kaluuya) are the two newcomers brought along on a mission that they were not briefed on - so the “fog of war” is indeed literally murky. Everything becomes clear with time, but meanwhile we in the audience are as mystified as the protagonists. We meet a team of hardened DEA operatives with Josh  Brolin as Matt - the wise-cracking, gum chewing leader who is a cipher, offhandedly refusing to respond with a straight answer to any question put before him. Despite his Cheshire-like grin, there is a man beneath the lumbering, impenetrable veneer who is callously determined to fulfill the U.S. government’s calculated goals no matter the toll.

Benicio Del Toro is the “star” of SICARO, brilliant as the mercenary Alejandro - a person whose face reveals little, but whose eyes and body language betray a passionate resolve for revenge, and a history of incomparable  pain and suffering at the hands of the drug-lords becoming a person for hire with no longer a “soul” to lose. He is the “enforcer,” expert at torture and killing, yet despite his horrific activities, every moment he is on the screen it is filled with his abundant presence and an acute sense of heartache. 


Kate’s sojourn from an idealistic FBI agent to an awareness of the brutal realities of the contaminated policies used by the United States to combat the  “drug war” is a bit naive and inconclusive. We sense that she remains a staunch believer in the underlying principle of the “rule of law”, but we know all-too-well that she is standing on shaky grounds.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

POWER PROTEST AND RESISTANCE - THE ART OF REVOLUTION 9/26/15


Danny Simmons and Oshun Layne are the curators of this ambitious show, with over 100 participating artists being exhibited in 3 venues - RUSH GALLERY Gallery, Chelsea, NYC; SKYLIGHT Gallery - Bed Stuy Restoration Corp.Brooklyn,  and SALENA Gallery on the LIU Brooklyn Campus. Since I am exhibiting in RUSH ARTS my focus is on that particular space, but I encourage everyone to go to all three. POWER PROTEST AND RESISTANCE comes straight outta the blaring tabloid headlines; many of the works address the anger of those who feel powerless in the fight against institutionalized control which is considered by many to be an entitlement - not to be examined or investigated. But there is a “tipping point” where a tsunami of voices can crash into the structures of government and demand to be heard - no longer guarded and blazing internally with rage in the face of the tactics of intimidation and fear.

Upon entering the gallery, the tone of the exhibition is set with Paul Deo’s black and white painting  of a disembodied head screaming BE HEARD quoting Martin Luther King: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal”; underscored by the artist Tafa’s futuristic abstract painting, PROTEST/MARCH-DOUBLE SYNTHESIS railing against a democracy that “incarcerates millions of its youth” implicating not only the brutality of the system but the silence of the majority. 



There is an immediacy and intelligence to many of the artworks; some are very direct - such as Kristine Mays’ wire hoodie, as beautifully delicate as lattice but referencing chain-link fencing to guard against the exposed tenderness of the flesh. On the other hand,  Shellyne Rodriguez creates a whimsical looking chandelier in the shape of an eye, made up of mousetraps titled THE PROTOTYPE FOR BELPHEGOR’S EYE.  Belphegor, a recurring character in her work “is the demon of SLOTH who imbues its prey with spiritual or emotional apathy…” Rodriguez is incriminating all those who exploit their brethren for their own predatory greed, trapping them through the temptation of wealth and meaningless displays of ostentation. 






Cey Adams touching 12”x12” silkscreen and enamel on canvas paintings titled “”4 Little Girls” references the1963 murders of  the young African American girls - Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley - in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama. The faces in the works are almost invisible and as you move around and look closely attempting to grasp their appearances, we perceive ghostly images emanating in and out of the canvas referencing the chimerical function of memory - fleetingly out of sight but permanently etched into the weave of history.




Sol’Sax’s digital photograph THE BLACK POWER MOJO HEAD also invokes a seminal point in the fight for human rights, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both shoeless wearing black socks  to echo poverty raised their gloved fists, heads lowered, in the gesture of the black power salute during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner at the 1968 Olympics medal ceremony. In his statement accompanying the photograph, Sol Sax wrote: “I anchor Tommie Smith and Joh Carlos’s historic Olympic protest pose in Congo ancestral magic…Racism, Europeans magic means of supremacy is confronted with The Congo Nkisi Nkondi that means ancestral knowledge or spirit from heaven that hunts in this case the inequities of a racist society. By placing Minkisi Minkondi (the plural of Nkisi Nkondi) in the context of the black power movement I seek to point to the ancestral roots of this magical protest pose…”  


Che Baraka’s work, AN ANONYMOUS PAIRING, astutely shows the roots of cubism in African art by altering Picasso’ SEATED NUDE AND STANDING NUDE revealing that the beginnings of modernism is based on cultural imperialism without attribution to its sources. Baraka wrote “…that the piece also addresses the inherent value of brown bodies and suggests an interplay of different strategies for social re-envisioning as symbolized by the Elegba and Guy Fawkes masks.”


Jerome Lagarrigue painted a triptych- BATTLE FOR AREA X and GAS#2 and BACK OF A PROTESTER’S HEAD - that graphically portrays the universal gestures of violent protest occurring  all over the globe depicting heaving bottles, molotov cocktails, throwing of stones, etc. against rulers who have access to tanks and tear gas to squelch dissent. Other artists address domestic issues - familiar staples of recent news media - that slip in and out of our consciousness - names change, soon to be forgotten, but the iconic images of art contradict this burial of awareness. Taha Clayton’s SATURN paints a portrait of Kalief Browder who at age 16 was wrongly arrested and sent to Riker’s Island Correctional Facility for 3 years for stealing a backpack - 2 of those years spent in solitary confinement. He was eventually released and shortly thereafter killed himself. Clayton shows Browder, eyes shut, flying into the vastness  of the atmosphere, enveloped in peace. He includes a quote from Stevie Wonder’ s lyrics to Saturn.





In her mixed media piece, FOR TITO (IN HOMAGE TO SANDRA BLAND,) part of a series exploring issues of police brutality, Sophia Dawson did not forget Sandra Bland whose questionable suicide days after being stopped for a supposed traffic infraction, landed her in jail for questioning the arresting Officer’s authority. Watching the  incident on video reaffirmed the deplorable complacency of authority placed in the hands of people whose beings are often permeated with ignorance  and contempt. And then we have a painting by Jas Knight titled RAY’S GAZE of former officer Ray Tensing who shot an unarmed Cincinnati motorist, Samuel DuBose in the head, after being stopped for not having a front license plate on his automobile. Jas Knight wanted to show the face of hatred and incise it into our cognizance letting the world know that the perpetrators of malevolent actions are going to be remembered.


Regrettably I have only written about a few of the pieces that are up in these provocative exhibitions, I urge you to attend all three venues.