Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Over his decades-long career, John Ashbery has been many things, including the winner of just about every major poetry prize out there, poet laureate of New York, subject of a book-length work by Harold Bloom (a sure sign of having arrived in American letters), and, most recently, poet laureate of mtvU, which is exactly what you think it is. Given all this, it’s not surprising that he read to a sold-out auditorium on a Monday night at the 92nd Street Y (only in New York . . . ).
Practically 56 years after he won the Discovery Prize and first appeared in the hallowed hall, Ashbery took the stage to read mostly early verse and some recent poems, “to prove that [he’s] still writing them.” Between poems his breath was ragged and haggard, but he read the lines fluidly and fluently. There was also the occasional offhand remark: “I’ve written a lot of sestinas. This is the only one I’ll inflict on you.” Aloud the verse seemed more cohesive and conclusive than it sometimes appears on the page, imbued as it was with the stuff of life.
Madison Square Park is currently home to Pulse Park, an interactive art installation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The project reads the heart rates of passersby and projects them in lights across the darkened lawn, turning private beats into public rhythms.
Monday, October 27, 2008
As a child, one of us loved Chinese food so much she decided she’d someday major in Mandarin in college. That didn’t happen, although today we live just a few miles north of thousands of fluent speakers. We’re talking about Chinatown, of course, whose streets you might walk down without hearing a lick of English. Recently we ate a pretty good, if expensive, lunch at Amazing 66: fresh but flavorless sautéed broccoli, tender chicken with snap peas in spicy black bean sauce, and tasty vegetable lo mein. It didn’t live up to its name -- or our memories of meals at Hunan Gourmet and Panda Garden -- but we’d still go back.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the highly cultured and deeply reflective physicist remembered today as the director of the Manhattan Project, is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, as the subject of a recent prize-winning biography and the lead character of Doctor Atomic, the much-lauded opera by John Adams, making its debut at the Metropolitan Opera this month.
And what an opera it is. We managed to get tickets for this past weekend, and even though we underwent mild oxygen deprivation from our seats near the rafters, Adams' relentlessly propulsive music made it impossible not to be caught up in the drama, anxiety, and ethical ambiguity of the day and night leading up to the test of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site in New Mexico. The libretto, assembled by Peter Sellars, includes poetry from Baudelaire and Muriel Rukeyser, songs of the Tewa Indians, and reported conversations from Los Alamos. But it's John Donne who has pride of place, as his "Batter my heart, three-person'd God," used here as Oppenheimer's most revelatory moment of doubt, is sung in the ominous shadow of "the Gadget" and set to a throbbing passage of music that dips into momentary calm only to return louder, sharper, and more insistent, refusing to let either Oppenheimer or the audience off the moral hook. In an opera full of fine moments, this one is the most compelling, leaving the audience in wide-eyed horror, but cheering all the same.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Buried with its owner in the 6th century BCE, this chariot is now one of the star attractions of the Met's Greek and Roman galleries. We love the hammered details, which depict events in the life of Achilles, along with various animals both mythic and real. Despite its importance, the chariot is often overlooked, perched as it is on a balcony above the main floor of the galleries. But that makes it all the more appealing for us, since the absence of crowds lets us spend more time in the company of a vanished culture.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
We made our annual trip to the Bronx Zoo's Halloween festivities recently, where the vibrant autumn leaves and elaborately carved pumpkins vie with the wildlife for attention. But some animals, like the mandrill, can't be bested in a costume contest.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Partners in art and life since the late 1960s, Gilbert & George make huge photomontages, but they prefer to be called "sculptors." Indeed, their whole shtick is based around the idea that Life Is Art and they themselves are "living sculptures." They're so connected to each other and to this philosophy that they prefer to be called an "artist," as in "the artist Gilbert & George."
To their fans, G&G are queer heroes partly responsible for keeping figurative art alive during times of conceptualism and abstraction; to their detractors, the drawings and photographs do nothing so much as overwhelm and disgust, a complaint that sounds too prim to be taken seriously until you check out some of their close-ups of fecal matter or juvenile depictions of ejaculating penises. We admire their honesty; after all, what human isn’t so fascinated with his or her own minutiae, to the point of believing, consciously or unconsciously, that every action, bodily function, thought, wrinkle, gesture, sexual partner, and/or behavior is worthy of display on the white walls of a museum?
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Banksy, the ultra-secretive but ultra-popular British graffiti artist, has set up shop in New York--literally. For the past several weeks, Banksy's murals have been popping up around town, setting art-world tongues wagging, and last Wednesday he unveiled his newest piece: The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill. A through-the-looking-glass pet shop featuring an animatronic monkey watching TV (a show about monkeys, naturally), a rabbit "testing" cosmetics, fish sticks swimming in a goldfish bowl, and chicken nuggets pecking at a packet of BBQ sauce, the installation is a study of our treatment of animals that is pointed and funny, though decidedly unappetizing.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Several years ago Wong Kar Wai went to retrieve the negatives of his 1994 epic Ashes of Time, only to discover badly deteriorated reels. What he thought would be a quick restoration of the story about martial arts assassins in medieval China turned into a five-year revamp, which included developing a new score and contacting theaters in Chinatowns around the world for clean prints to swap in (hence the "redux" in the title). But Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero this isn’t.
By far the highlight of the night was crazy Christopher Doyle, frequent Wong collaborator. In addition to such gems as "fuck you very much" and "this guy makes you want to give 50%, not your usual 30%" to projects, Doyle danced, applauded himself, and took several photos of the crowd and fellow panelists. At one point, he even left the stage to hide behind some curtains, periodically stepping out to wave.
Doyle and Wong also told a story that's making the rounds in the press: Doyle got really, really drunk the night before the final shoot, which involved setting the entire set on fire. Too inebriated to shoot it properly from a crane, Doyle eventually stripped off his clothes, grabbed a camera, and jumped in the fire. The shots were unusable (obviously), but Wong thinks this story shows the dedication of Doyle--and everyone else on the crew--to make a difficult, meditative movie under an exhausting shooting schedule in the middle of the Gobi Desert, with just a portable generator. Too bad the result isn’t nearly as entertaining as the cinematographer.
Monday, October 06, 2008
You don’t often see stories like this on the big screen. A young woman, Wendy (Michelle Williams), is traveling with her dog, Lucy, from Indiana to Alaska, washing up in gas stations and meticulously keeping track of pennies and mileage in a ruled notebook. Her car breaks down in Oregon, Lucy disappears, and Wendy slips further into degradation. The movie begins with no preamble and ends just as quietly (and abruptly). In the Q&A afterward, Kelly Reichardt mentioned that she had victims of Hurricane Katrina in mind as she filmed the short story by frequent collaborator John Raymond; she wanted to explore the “disdain for poverty” endemic to America today. Like Old Joy (2006), Wendy and Lucy examines a particular set of white, liberal, middle-class concerns, but here Reichardt is more pointed, crafting a sharply political world out of a handful of characters struggling to make their way.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The perpetually-under-construction Cathedral of St. John the Divine is one of many Catholic churches blessing animals on the Feast of St. Francis. But it may be the only one where the blessees include Shetland ponies, chickens, peacocks, hawks, goats, rabbits being pulled by sheep-cart, and llamas.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
In honor of the recent restorations of Coppola's Godfather series, Film Forum has been screening the first two installments, and recently we attended the back-to-back marathon, nearly seven hours of ambition, compromise, vengeance, murder, and snappy suits. We got there early to stake out the best seats--you have to be strategic if you're going to be in a movie theater for more time than it takes to fly to Europe--and listened as people in the crowd quoted their favorite lines, debated Michael Corleone's motives, and left our New York for another one, full of secrets and covered in darkness.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
We kicked off the 46th New York Film Festival with a screening of Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. Like all Leigh films, this story about an effervescent young kindergarten teacher named Poppy came out of an intense period of improvisation, which involved hours of discussion among Leigh, Sally Hawkins (Poppy), the set designer, the cinematographer, and various other individuals. The result is a smart, day-glo-colored movie about the effort it takes to be happy in the face of life's relentless irritations. Poppy manages to smile through fights with her pregnant sister, a counseling session with a six-year-old bully, driving lessons from a creepy evangelical who falls in love with her, a strange meeting with a deranged homeless man, and random interactions with those who think her attitude is at best misguided and at worst simpleminded. "It's hard work being a grownup," Poppy tells her best friend Zoe; it's especially hard to grow up and choose joy, day after day.