Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review: My Most Memorable (Non-Film) Artistic Discoveries

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—It's that time of year again: time for all of us to think back on the year that was and look ahead to the year to come.

For me, at least here at My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second, that means taking stock of all that I consumed artistically—because you all know me: always on the prowl for enjoyment and illumination, culturally or otherwise!

As usual, though I put a special emphasis on film when it comes to these year-end retrospectives, I'd be remiss if I didn't devote some time to looking back on some of the most memorable things I experienced in other artistic disciplines. So that is what I will do with this post.

Without further ado: my favorite (non-film) artistic discoveries of the year!


Photo credit: Solve Sundsbo
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
I don't go to as many art exhibitions as I should, so this was an easy choice, considering that I didn't really have much to choose from as far as art discoveries go. But...let me put it this way: Going into this blockbuster exhibition of the late fashion designer's work, I didn't really think all that much of fashion as a vehicle for personal artistic expression. As I weaved through McQueen's gloriously dark and impassioned designs, I could feel my own conception of the possibilities of fashion infinitely expanding. None of the other handful of exhibitions could quite match the boundary-pushing power of this exhibition.

Other memorable artistic discoveries:
  • the transfinite: Ryoji Ikeda's multimedia installation at the Park Avenue Armory was deceptively simple—a big monolith along with a few smaller monitors—but powerfully evocative of our digital age. (I wrote about it here and even took some video of the experience.)
  • Primitive: Those who thrilled to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's environmental evocation of history and memory in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives earlier this year found an extension and deepening of those themes in this multimedia installation at the New Museum, combining artwork and videos to paint a complex, vivid portrait of Thai life as he perceived it in the 1960s and '70s.


Photo credit: Stephanie Berger
Shen Wei Dance Arts, seen at Park Avenue Armory
This is an even easier call, my knowledge of dance being even more rudimentary than my knowledge of visual art. I wonder if I ever will be able to appreciate dance as an art form. I went to three American Ballet Theater productions over the summer, and frankly found myself having trouble working up much emotional engagement with what I was seeing. If seeing Shen Wei's fascinatingly abstract choreography recently at the Park Avenue Armory tells me anything, it's that maybe modern dance is more my speed than traditional "story" ballets. I shall persevere next year. Until then, I will fondly remember the thrill of experiencing the Chinese choreographer's new work, Undivided Divided—a work that divided Park Avenue Armory's Thompson Drill Hall into squares and literally invited us spectators to wander around the dancers.


This is the kind of volume that has the power to inspire an aspiring film critic like myself to step up one's game. Dave Kehr offers up insight after insight in this anthology of his work for the Chicago Reader during the '70s and '80s—but the most admirable thing about Kehr's approach is how humble and subservient he is to the films he reviews and the artists he champions. Those who think they know Kehr only through his Chicago Reader capsules and weekly New York Times DVD column owe it to themselves to pick up this book and see new sides not only of him as a writer and critic, but of the films he writes so accessibly about.
Other memorable literary discoveries:
  • Howl and Other Poems (1956, Allen Ginsberg): On a whim, I picked up a copy of this while visiting the landmark City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in October (fitting, since it was through the obscenity trial that resulted from its publication of this slim volume that the bookstore itself became famous). Having never read it before, I proceeded to be wholly blown away by the urgency and passion in Ginsberg's language, beautiful in its own angry way.
  • Jane Eyre (1847, Charlotte Brontë): Here's another one I somehow avoided reading in high school/college until this year. Jane Eyre's journey to independence and maturity is still as inspiring as it ever was. (I still haven't seen Cary Fukunaga's recent film adaptation, released this year.)
  • Miss Lonelyhearts (1933, Nathanael West): a fascinating irony-drenched black comedy about a man who seemingly bears the weight of the world on his shoulders, whether he really ought to or not
  • The Sun Also Rises (1926, Ernest Hemingway): Gorgeous and heartbreaking, this Hemingway classic offers a corrective to the half-hearted critique of fantasy nostalgia Woody Allen offered up in Midnight in Paris (I tried to explain my thinking on that point here).
  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956, Yukio Mishima): one of the most vivid and unsettling portraits of neurotic madness I've ever read


Follies (1971, Stephen Sondheim), seen at Marquis Theater in New York
There were more adventurous works of theater I saw this year, but none of them delivered the kind of emotional insight Eric Schaeffer's revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1971 musical offered up in spades. It's the kind of brilliant revival that may well have you saying "They don't make them like they used to"—rather fitting for a musical about aging and the compromises in life.

Other memorable theatrical discoveries:
  • Gatz (2005, Elevator Repair Service), seen at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J.: This word-for-word, six-and-a-half-hour stage adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is as much a meditation on the act of adaptation as it is a singular experimental theater piece by its own right. (Not too far behind this: The Select (The Sun Also Rises), Elevator Repair Service's adaptation of the aforementioned Hemingway novel—less daring, perhaps, but just as inventive and perhaps even more affecting. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to another accomplished feat of book-to-stage adaptation, Amon Miyamoto's Japanese-language stage version of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.)
  • Krapp's Last Tape (1958, Samuel Beckett), seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.: In a mere 55 minutes, John Hurt managed to suggest a whole lifetime of bitter experience in Samuel Beckett's typically stripped-down, one-act, one-man drama.
  • The Normal Heart (1985, Larry Kramer), seen at the Golden Theatre in New York: This revival of Larry Kramer's chronicle of the stirrings of AIDS awareness in the early '80s unexpectedly hit the zeitgeist when New York officially legalized gay marriage earlier this year. Thankfully, The Normal Heart—at least in this deeply moving production—plays surprisingly well as character drama, not just as polemic. 
  • Satyagraha (1979, Philip Glass), seen at Metropolitan Opera House in New York: Less a conventional opera than a philosophical meditation on the intersection of the political and the personal, Philip Glass's opera—given a fascinating and moving production by the Metropolitan Opera—still packs a mighty punch today, especially in the shadow of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
  • Sleep No More (2011, Punchdrunk), seen at the McKittrick Hotel in New York: To wander around the various floors and hallways of this "immersive" adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet is to not only find yourself ensconced in a whole new world, but to feel the possibilities of theater expand right before your very eyes. Love it or hate it, there was certainly nothing else quite like it.


Inuksuit (2011, John Luther Adams), seen at Park Avenue Armory in New York
No album I listened to, or concert that I went to, was quite as mind-blowing as John Luther Adams's astonishing feat of musical daring: a work that literally created a whole environment of sounds from the bottom up and asked us listeners to wander around and create our own musical experience from it. It is, I daresay, the closest to a musical equivalent of Playtime as I've ever come across. (I wrote more about it here.)

Other memorable musical discoveries:
  • Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998, Lucinda Williams): still the alt-country rocker's finest collection of songs. That tender grit in her voice never fails to slay me.
  • Egypt (2004, Youssou N'Dour): an act of cross-cultural empathy on a par with Paul Simon's classic Graceland, courtesy of an amazing Senegalese singer
  • How I Got Over (2010, The Roots): This may be my favorite Roots album, brimming with a lyricism and thematic ambition that makes it stand out among the rest of this hip-hop group's post-Things Fall Apart outlook. It's too bad it took me 'til this year's release of their latest (and very fine) album, Undun, to finally get around to listening to Black Thought, ?uestlove & co.
  • Nine Types of Light (2011, TV on the Radio): Their 2008 album Dear Science was my breakthrough with this much-acclaimed Brooklyn-based band, and their latest album continues the gorgeous melodies and joyous experimentation of that one.
  • Station to Station (1976, David Bowie): I had never listened to much of Bowie's music before seeing the Bowie-led Nicolas Roeg film The Man Who Fell to Earth for the first time this year. Eventually, I got around to delving into this famous glam rocker's catalog...and of all the records he cut during his prime (late '60s/'70s/early '80s, roughly), this is the one I return to the most, the one with arguably his most daring cuts (the 10-minute title track, for one) and his most soulful (for him) vocals. (His follow-up, Low, runs a close second.)
  • Vespertine (2001, Björk): my favorite album from the Icelandic pop songstress, lush, whimsical and beautiful. (Her most recent album, Biophilia, is...okay, I guess.)
  • W H O K I L L (2011, tUnE-yArDs): Actually, I think I like both this and BiRd-BrAiNs about the same, but W H O K I L L announces its greater ambition straight away with its first cut, "My Country." Either way, though, Merrill Garbus's bracingly low-fi music scintillates and engages.
  • 劉美君 (1986, 劉美君): I wasn't as vigilant with Chinese-pop explorations as I have been in previous years, so my usual C-pop discovery of the year automatically goes to this one, the debut album of Prudence Liew, a singer who somehow makes her lack of vocal grace an asset rather than a drawback.

Tomorrow, on New Year's Day: the film-related lists you've surely all been waiting for. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Literary Interlude, Agnostic Edition


Colonel Cathcart went away from General Dreedle with a gulp and kicked...[C]haplain [Tappmann] out of the officers' club, and it was exactly the way it almost was two months later after the chaplain had tried to persuade Colonel Cathcart to rescind his order increasing the number of missions to sixty and had failed abysmally in that endeavor too, and the chaplain was ready now to capitulate to despair entirely but was restrained by the memory of his wife, whom he loved and missed so pathetically with such sensual and exalted ardor, and by the lifelong trust he had placed in the wisdom and justice of an immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, humane, universal, anthropomorphic, English-speaking, Anglo-saxon, pro-American God, which had begun to waver. So many things were testing his faith. There was the Bible, of course, but the Bible was a book, and so were Bleak House, Treasure Island, Ethan Frome and The Last of the Mohicans. Did it indeed seem probable, as he had once overheard Dunbar ask, that the answers to the riddles of creation would be supplied by people too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall? Had Almighty God, in all His infinite wisdom, really been afraid that men six thousand years ago would succeed in building a tower to heaven? Where the devil was heaven? Was it up? Down There was no up or down in a finite but expanding universe in which even the vast, burning, dazzling, majestic sun was in a state of progressive decay that would eventually destroy the earth too. There were no miracles; prayers went unanswered, and misfortune trampled with equal brutality on the virtuous and the corrupt; and the chaplain, who had conscience and character, would have yielded to reason and relinquished his belief in the God of his fathers—would truly have resigned both his calling and his commission and taken his chances as a private in the infantry or field artillery, or even, perhaps, as a corporal in the paratroopers—had it not been for such successive mystic phenomena as the naked man in the tree at that poor sergeant's funeral weeks before and the cryptic, haunting, encouraging promise of the prophet Flume in the forest only that afternoon: Tell them I'll be back when winter comes.

—Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

Even amidst all the bits of scalding satire contained in Heller's classic American novel, there are moments that cut through pitch-black-comic surface and get at something emotionally and even philosophically real. Above is one particular passage that really got to me; it's as dead-on an encapsulation of the reasons behind my own agnosticism as any I've come across in a work of literature.  Granted, this comes in the context of a character—a naive army chaplain—who, rather than being an agnostic/atheist from the start, is a deeply religious man who experiences a crisis of faith as this particular war drags on. Still, the confusion Heller articulates, with near-unnerving directness, more or less aligns with the kind of confusion I feel whenever I get around to contemplating matters of religion and spirituality.

I'm still reading Catch-22, by the way (I'm almost finished with it), but so far I'm finding it about as brilliant as its reputation—a thorough savaging of the absurdities of life during wartime, by turns hilarious and infuriating. It's snarky and sometimes just plain insane, but at heart Heller's vision is deeply, bleakly humane—as passages like the one above attest.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Dec. 19, 2011 - Dec. 25, 2011: Christmas Weekend Edition

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Yesterday was Christmas.

Yeah, that's pretty much the only excuse I have for not annotating this week's artistic consumption log below. I was all set to sit down and take some time to annotate it yesterday, but my will failed me. Call it "the Christmas spirit" or just plain "laziness" if you will, but I felt more like hanging out with friends/folks yesterday rather than sitting down in front of my computer and coming up with substantive things to say about everything I consumed artistically this past week (which ended up being quite a lot, actually).

So this week's log is a barebones one. Next week's will most likely be barebones as well, but we'll see about that.

In the meantime...well, it's a day late (but hopefully not a dollar short), but here, for your viewing pleasure, is that immortal holiday chestnut "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as sung by Judy Garland in one of the films I saw this past week, the classic 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis (yes, for the first time—and it is glorious indeed). That film, by the way, is the one that introduced that song to the world—which partially explains why the lyrics are a little different than what you might be used to hearing.

Plus, sprinkled in this week's log are some personal Christmas traditions: viewings of the first two Die Hard films as well as a Christmas-set episode of The X-Files! (I've already thought of a different choice for next year's Christmas movie entertainment, though: Wong Kar-Wai's 2046. Hey, it's got scenes set on Christmas Eve! It works!)

Happy holidays!


The Servant (1963, Joseph Losey), seen at IFC Center in New York

The Gold Rush (1925, Charlie Chaplin), seen at Film Forum in New York

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, Vincente Minnelli), seen on Turner Classic Movies in East Brunswick, N.J.

Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan), seen on Netflix Instant in Hillsborough, N.J. [fifth viewing]
Die Hard 2 (1990, Renny Harlin), seen on Blu-ray in East Brunswick, N.J. [fourth viewing]

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher), seen at AMC Bridgewater Commons in Bridgewater, N.J.


The X-Files: "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" (Season 6, episode 6) (1998, Chris Carter), seen on DVD in East Brunswick, N.J. [fourth viewing]


Game Theory (2006, The Roots)
Rising Down (2008, The Roots)
How I Got Over (2010, The Roots)
Undun (2011, The Roots)

The Embracers, seen at The Bitter End in New York

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are You There, Moviegoers? It's Me, Margaret.


My latest film review published somewhere other than this blog was posted on Tuesday at In Review Online. Under consideration: Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan's film maudit that, even in something less than its creator's ideal form, is one of the best films of 2011. The film is so filled-to-bursting with ambition, beauty and humanity that I could hardly articulate everything I love and admire about this film in one single at the very least, I hope this piece will serve as a starting point for discussion—especially now that it's getting a re-release at Cinema Village here in New York starting tomorrow! Go see it; it's amazing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log: Dec. 12, 2011 - Dec. 18, 2011: "I'm Late, I'm Late" Edition

NEW YORK—I'm already super-late with this latest artistic consumption log, so let's get right to it, shall we?

Elevator Repair Service's Gatz at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J.


Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller), seen at AMC Empire 25 in New York
Screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin locate the beating human heart in Michael Lewis's nonfiction book about Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and the near-miraculous 2002 season his team had, and fashions a solid screenplay that receives sturdy direction from Bennett Miller and fine central performances by Brad Pitt as Beane and Jonah Hill as statistics-minded assistant GM Peter Brand (a character that is actually a fictionalized amalgamation of a few real-life characters).

For the most part, though, I enjoyed Moneyball out of personal nostalgia. Back in 2002, I followed professional baseball a lot more closely than I do now (that dissipation of interest is a hazard of following a team as perpetually disappointing as the New York Mets), and so I found myself smiling and nodding in recognition throughout this film, remembering a lot of details about the season this film depicts. If anything, Moneyball left me feeling the same way Beane felt towards the end as he was deciding whether to leave the A's and take a high-paying new position in Boston. "It's so easy to be a romantic about baseball," he says. The moment he said that, I started feeling a bit romantic about the sport myself, missing the days when I was a more intense baseball fan.

Rest assured, though, that Moneyball has more to it than nostalgia value. Once again, an all-American sport is made the backdrop of larger themes and dichotomies: haves vs. have-nots; the coldness of numbers vs. the warmth of human interaction; romantic idealism vs. harsh reality. (In those ways, it wouldn't be too far off to think of this film as a fitting follow-up to last year's Sorkin-scripted The Social Network, with baseball substituting for Facebook.) Thankfully, Miller mostly stays out of the way of the script and the actors, allowing the themes to come through sufficiently. It also has one standout scene: a real-time negotiation-by-phone in which Beane, with Brand in tow, tries to land a certain pitcher he desperately wants on his team. The highest compliment one could pay to Moneyball is that it manages to fashion a gripping human drama out of the potentially dry subject of baseball's behind-the-scenes business machinations.

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird), seen at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 in New York
If anything, I found this an even more consistently enthralling an action picture than Steven Spielberg's still quite enjoyable The Adventures of Tintin—which means this fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible series at least comes within striking distance of securing a spot in my personal pantheon of great Bruised Forearm entertainments (I wrote about previous inclusions into that canon here, here and here). Perhaps Brad Bird showed more "heart" in his animated features (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille)...but the action sequences here are so deliriously conceived and superbly wrought that that I can't find myself be bothered by the two or three moments of attempted character drama that don't fully come off (though that's one or two more than Spielberg really tried for in Tintin). And yes, this is absolutely worth seeing in IMAX, which is how I saw it; in fact, it was the first time since I was a kid (read: younger than 10) I had seen anything in a legitimate IMAX format (no, my second go at The Dark Knight at one of AMC's fake IMAX theaters in New Jersey doesn't count).

Nashville (1975, Robert Altman), seen at Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y. [second viewing]
I'm not sure if anyone has invoked Jacques Tati's Playtime (1967) in talking about Altman's 1975 masterpiece, but, watching this film for a second time—my first time on a big screen—I couldn't help but think of Tati's film in Altman's less overtly formal and more "humane" approach: Nashville's de-emphasis on central characters; its generosity in depicting various points of view; its spirit of inclusiveness with even the most selfish and/or self-delusional of characters. It's a human mosaic, not a message movie or political screed (this is why a film like Paul Haggis's openly schematic Crash—with its thin, position-paper characterizations—dishonors the "network narrative" form Altman pioneered); Altman might have his own personal vision of America in mind, but that doesn't mean he doesn't try to air out different points of view to complicate that vision. And once one gets attuned to Altman's deliberate looseness with narrative, Nashville becomes, well, pleasurable. Many have tried to match it (even Altman himself, with later mosaics like A Wedding, Short Cuts and Gosford Park) , but even now, there has still never been a film quite like it.


Phrenology (2002, The Roots)
The Tipping Point (2004, The Roots)
Phrenology pushes The Roots' hip-hop sound and lyrical substance even further than Things Fall Apart did; by contrast, the relatively more conventional The Tipping Point comes off as something of a creative breather for the group, though still an enjoyable one. That's pretty much all I have to say about these two albums (really, I try, but I'm no music critic, folks).

塵緣 (1985, 蘇芮) [third listen]
Finally—a chance to offer up a few words about one of my favorite Mandarin pop albums! I've mentioned 蘇芮—who also went by the Western name "Julie Su"—before; Jia Zhang-ke fans surely know who she is (she sings the song on the radio Zhao Tao dances to by herself in his 2001 film Platform). This 1985 album—her greatest album of the '80s, in my opinion—doesn't feature that song, though. Instead, it features the title track, a glorious nine-minute epic about the overcoming of heartbreak that is quite possibly one of the greatest cuts you've never heard.

Don't believe me? Check it out here (and to my mind, you don't need to understand what she's singing to get the gist; the music and her impassioned voice, signify everything that needs to be, uh, signified):

The rest of the album is pretty great, too—some of the most adventurous pop music Julie Su ever recorded, by turns rocking, spacey, surreal, romantic, regretful, and ultimately heroic. (If I've piqued your interest in it at all, you can pick up a copy here at


Gatz (2010, Elevator Repair Service), performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J.
Yes, I traveled all the way down to Princeton, N.J., to see this highly acclaimed six-hour theatrical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby live—and I paid quite a lot for the privilege ($150, more or less). It was worth every penny.

If you've heard anything about Elevator Repair Service's Gatz, you'll perhaps know of it as "that word-for-word stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby." There's more to it than that, though. Here's the set-up: A lowly office worker runs into computer problems during a normal day at the office, opens up his Rolodex and, lo and behold, finds a copy of The Great Gatsby sitting in it. He opens up the book, starts reading...and then gradually, within that one office set, the novel starts to come to life around him, even as "Nick Carraway"—because, of course, Fitzgerald's story is told from Nick's point-of-view—keeps reading from the book, which he holds in his hand (most of the time, at least) as he reads aloud every single word. This guy doesn't just read The Great Gatsby; he gets lost in it, the way anyone would get lost in any engrossing novel or work of art.

But wait, you might be asking at this point: Doesn't that set-up suggest that Gatz essentially adds up to little more than a staged recitation of this American literary classic? No. Judging by The Select—the Elevator Repair Service's stage adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises that I saw earlier this year here in New York (I offered up some commentary on it here)—this company thrives on finding inventive ways to illustrate great literary texts on stage, and a lot of the playful frisson of Gatz comes from the way they experiment with lighting, staging and acting to not only bring The Great Gatsby to life within its deliberately limited means, but to turn the whole production into an indirect meditation on the sheer act of book-to-stage adaptation. Simplification and/or compression is often the name of the game when it comes adapting a work from one medium to another; here, though, director John Collins and company apparently decided to try the opposite approach, presenting the whole work in toto. And yet...for one thing, listen to the way Scott Shepherd, who plays Nick/the narrator, subtly conveys different modes of engagement with the material he's reading aloud. Sometimes he gets fully into it, most notably in early party scenes and during Daisy's first reacquaintance with Gatsby; other times he just reads perfunctorily, as if figuring the language would take care of itself. Shepherd, in other words, gives a real performance even as just a "reader"; his feat of acting, among other details, is enough to get one to reflect on one's own preconceived notions about what's "theatrical" or not. Surely it's telling, then, that when Shepherd finally puts away the book and recites its final chapter from memory, his performance, freed from the shackles of the text, suddenly achieves a sense of creative freedom that was not consistently apparent throughout the rest of the production.

Of course, Gatz still works quite grippingly as a straight-up stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby—as long as you don't go in expecting fresh revelations about this much-discussed work of 20th-century art. As an adaptation, it's more about imaginative illustration than profound illumination. Its provocations lie elsewhere. The Elevator Repair Service seems to have decided that—unlike Gatsby and his attempts to remake himself into the man of his and Daisy's dreams—the only truly honest way to "adapt" The Great Gatsby to the stage would be to allow the words to speak for themselves while still trying to make it play as a work of theater. Is this maybe the only way to truly do justice to a literary work in a different medium? In being retrograde in its approach to adaptation, Gatz is also, paradoxically, more daring.

All of that basically sums up my disorganized, incoherent, complicated thoughts on this monumental work, simultaneously an act of theatrical hubris and artistic humility. It's coming back for an encore theatrical run at the Public Theater in New York in the spring (details here); if you're willing to put in the time and money for it, I think it'll be worth your while—at least if you're game for having your conception of the possibilities of theater rocked to its core.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Dec. 5, 2011 - Dec. 11, 2011: Birthday Celebration Edition

NEW YORK—I'm really starting to think that San Francisco bit me with some kind of "chill out" bug when I was there at the end of October—a bug that has led me to drastically slow down my culture intake. Two films? Only two? I usually manage, like, four or five in a week. What is wrong with me?

Maybe I should blame OKCupid (of which, the less said about it, the better—but if you want to ask, feel free to ask me about it). That and my 26th-birthday celebration (which went extremely well, if you wanted to know).'s a summary of my week in artistic consumption.

Krapp's Last Tape (photo credit: Anthony Woods)


A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg), seen at Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York
There are, I admit, moments in this adaptation of Christopher Hampton's stage drama about the clash between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in which David Cronenberg's surgical precision leads the film to plod a bit too much for my taste; I guess there's only so much even a brilliant visual artist like Cronenberg can do with such inherently talky material until it starts to feel, well, talky. Even at its saggiest, though, form follows function in A Dangerous Method: a wholly intellectual battle of wits gets an appropriately clinical treatment in Cronenberg's hands, the better for its stabs of underlying human anguish—Keira Knightley's virtuoso spasms of hysteria, Jung's attempts to repress his sexual urges—to puncture through the good surface manners with an unexpected emotional force. Its final image—which, now that I think about it, is remarkably similar to the final image of Cronenberg's last film, Eastern Promises, in terms of how much it implies about a character's persisting inner demons—is especially striking in that regard.

So yeah, I liked, if not necessarily loved, A Dangerous Method. If nothing else, I'm now much more interested in reading Jung and Freud than I was going into the film.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Steven Spielberg), seen at Regal E-Walk Stadium 13 in New York
I'm afraid of breaking any sort of review embargoes that Paramount might have imposed on this film, which, thanks to a roommate of mine, I was able to see at an early screening. (I guess I have the recent David Denby/The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo brouhaha in mind in my anxiety.) So I won't say too much about it now...except to say that if you're a fan of Spielberg's classic action-adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark, you will likely enjoy this, too.


The Roots Present: an undun performance..., seen at Highline Ballroom in New York
Illadelph Halflife (1996, The Roots)
Things Fall Apart (1999, The Roots)
I recently decided to dive into the music of The Roots because of a concert of theirs I agreed to go see with two of my roommates on Tuesday night. Alas, I wasn't able to listen to all of their albums before going to the concert—which was, in part, meant to promote their latest album, Undun—so I watched Black Thought, ?uestlove & co. more as a detached spectator than as a passionate longtime fan. I still enjoyed the experience, though; having only heard their first two albums, Organix and Do You Want More?!!!??! by that point, I found it interesting that their early stabs at infusing jazz elements into their hip-hop had, by all appearances, flowered into something grander, as evidenced by the group's inclusion of full-blown brass instruments (tuba, trumpets, saxophone).

Later in the week, I got around to listening to their next two albums after Do You Want More?!!!??! I didn't notice quite as much of the smooth-jazz sound in these two albums; if anything, Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart seem to mark a move away from that to something approaching straight hip-hop. Perhaps I have some more experimentation to expect from The Roots as I go further into their recorded output to date. In the meantime, allow me to express my full admiration for the band's consistently intelligent and inventive rhymes, always showing an awareness of the outside world even when they rap about themselves (no Kanye West-like self-involvement here).    


Krapp's Last Tape (1958, Samuel Beckett), performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Samuel Beckett did indeed write plays other than Waiting for Godot, and on Friday night, I saw one of them: a 55-minute one-man play in which a sick, elderly man plays an old audio recording of himself made years ago, tries to record a new one, eats some bananas, drinks a lot, and just generally feels disappointment at what he considers a wasted life. This production, directed by Michael Colgan and starring John Hurt, is equally spare in execution: The set is basically just a table on a stage, no other sets in sight, with light literally boxing Krapp in (and this boxing-in is turned into a visual joke at one point when Hurt plays peekaboo with the darkness outside of that box of light). Krapp is imprisoned not only by light, but by his own memories of missed and failed opportunities. Depressing? Sure. But, as with the best "depressing" art, the sense of invention on display as well as its range of emotion—from bleak humor to deep despair—is genuinely enlivening. Did I mention it's only 55 minutes long? And yet, one feels, within those 55 minutes, as if one has experienced a précis of a whole lifetime of experience.

Krapp's Last Tape is running until Dec. 18 at BAM's Harvey Theatre. It's well worth your time. If you aren't able to see it, though...well...look what I found on YouTube!

Apparently, way back in 2000, Atom Egoyan, as part of a British TV series entitled Beckett on Film, shot a film version of Krapp's Last Tape with...John Hurt as Krapp! Someone was nice enough to upload the whole hour-long work to YouTube. For those who aren't able to see Hurt act live onstage, I guess this offers you all a second-best option.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Nov. 28, 2011 - Dec. 4, 2011: 26th Birthday Edition

NEW YORK—Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011, was my 26th birthday.

Yeah, that flatly declarative statement gives you an idea of how eventful my 26th birthday actually was. But that's okay; I'm putting off my official celebrating until Friday night, with a party in the works at a place in the East Village! Details, for those of you readers of this here blog who aren't on Facebook, are forthcoming (at least, if I feel like broadcasting them far and wide)...

Until then...there's this log—which, to be perfectly frank, I felt too lazy to annotate on Sunday on account of it being my birthday and all. So, for another week, at least, I'll leave this as a barebones thing.

By the way, for those who hadn't figured this out yet: For the still photos that usually precede these logs, I usually try to pick one from the work of art that impressed me most throughout the week. This past week, though, I found myself experiencing the most sheer awe at a program at the Park Avenue Armory of modern dance works conceived by Chinese choreographer Shen Wei and performed by his Shen Wei Dance Arts company. In this case, only a video, I felt, could hope to give you a sense of what I witnessed. Here below, then, are clips from Folding, a Buddhist-inflected work full of hypnotically slow movements, spare yet dizzying costume designs and a gradually enveloping sense of stillness. These selections don't come close to conveying a sense of the whole, but for now, at least, it's close enough:


Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987, Eric Rohmer), seen at Film Forum in New York

Carnage (2011, Roman Polanski), seen at Sony Pictures Screening Room in New York

Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese), seen at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas in New York

Possession (1981, Andrzej Zulawski), seen at Film Forum in New York


Organix (1993, The Roots)
Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995, The Roots)

出塞曲 (1979, 蔡琴) [second listen]


Shen Wei Dance Arts, seen at Park Avenue Armory in New York