Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Conversation with Photographer Albert Watson

Jack Nicholson, from Albert Watson's Icons series, 1998 (All photos courtesy of the IZZY Gallery)

New York City-based celebrity photographer Albert Watson is a master of his profession. His images have appeared on more than a hundred Vogue covers and countless other publications from Rolling Stone to Time Magazine, many of them featuring now iconic portraits of rock stars, including David Bowie and Eric Clapton, in addition to Hollywood actors like jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood and other notable high-profile personalities, including Steve Jobs, Mike Tyson, Kate Moss, Sade and Christy Turlington. Exhibited in art galleries and museums around the world, among them the Museum of Modern Art in Milan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, and the National Portrait Gallery in London, Watson recently made his Canadian debut at Toronto’s IZZY Gallery (106 Yorkville Ave; with a retrospective show called ARCHIVE, which closes on December 27. Aged 70 and with a career spanning 40 years, Watson is one of the few internationally acclaimed photographers still working exclusively in film, processing it himself in his dark room. All of his hand-processed images now hanging in Izzy Sulejmani’s gallery are for sale, enabling collectors as well as fans of Watson’s work to own something by one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time, according to Photo District News. “Photography is quick communication,” he told critic Deirdre Kelly during a recent visit to his New York City office lined with some of the images for which Watson is celebrated. “People easily get it.” 

Here’s more of their conversation.
Photographer Albert Watson (Photo by Gloria Ro)

dk: These are wonderful digs you’ve got here in TriBeCa, close to the Hudson River and flooded with natural light. I am assuming this is where you work?

aw: We don’t shoot here, no. I no longer have a studio of my own. We had a huge one in the West Village from 1987 to 2008, about 26,000 square feet. But I sold it to a hedge fund guy. Now, we don’t actually have a studio. We don’t need one. About 25 or 30 years ago, light in a space was fairly important. But nowadays you can replicate the light in a studio with technology. The business has changed, which is why we moved here. We’re now much more focused on supplying work for galleries and museums – fine art work and producing prints and making platinum prints. We make all our prints in the office and rent studios when we need them. Everyone told me that I would miss having my own studio. But I’ve spent my whole life working in Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Milan and other centres, including Toronto, and I’ve become quite used to photographing in other people’s studios. Where I work doesn’t have to be my own space. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Two Views: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Martin Freeman as Bilbo and a room full of dwarves

Today, we have two of our critics weighing in on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Neither David Churchill nor Shlomo Schwartzberg know what the other wrote, so this is a bit of a voyage of discovery for them now that the two reviews are up. 

Finishing a Patchwork Quilt

Over the years, there seems to be a building hatred for Peter Jackson, especially in the critical universe, because, as some have said, “he no longer has any street cred.” No, I have no idea what that means (expect maybe they expected him to make low budget splatter movies his whole career). It's just empty verbiage trotted out when they have really nothing to say. It's the critical world equivalent of businessmen who spout phrases like, “new paradigms,” “moving forward,” etc. Granted, Lovely Bones (2009) was a failure with some good ideas, as I outlined here; while King Kong (2005) divided critics too; but the real vitriol began when Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 2001. There was so much sneering at the first film among the Toronto-based critical community that one reviewer for a major publication was heard to tell another critic he'd put it on his Top 10 not because he actually liked it, but because he didn't want to get nasty letters from Tolkien/Jackson fans. How craven! Was he afraid he'd be banished from the in crowd who thought Jackson had lost his “street cred?” Probably, but what is completely clear is that this critic, who is still employed by a major publication, has no ethics. If you hate it, state it and say why.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Born Again: David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook

We are pleased to welcome a new critic, Phil Dyess-Nugent, to our group.

Soap opera fans have a term – SORAS (for “Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome”) – to describe the process by which a child character who’s too young to have a very dramatic romantic life may be sent away to boarding school or summer camp, disappear from the show for a while, and then return, suddenly being played by a 24-year-old actor. Following the careers of some movie actresses, it’s easy to get the feeling that there’s been an outbreak of SORAS in Hollywood. Actresses who make a strong impression as children – Christina Ricci, Kirsten Dunst, Natalie Portman – may turn into leggy, intimidatingly sultry-eyed sirens, with a speed that could snap your neck. In some cases, as with Ricci, they may go from seeming eerily mature and self-assured at eleven to working hard to not overwhelm male actors who fit in all too well in a movie culture where guys can extend their boyhood into their fifties. Jennifer Lawrence was already twenty when she starred in Winter’s Bone in 2010, but there, as in this year’s mainstream hit The Hunger Games, she projected a flinty resourcefulness and inner strength, while coming across as a frightened little girl who was in over her head. Good as Lawrence was, nothing she did in those movies can prepare you for the daring and emotional range of her performance in the romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell, from a script he adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lyricism, Two Ways: Children of Paradise and Umberto D.

The Blu-ray release of the gorgeous Criterion discs of Children of Paradise and Umberto D. highlight the end of one era and the beginning of another in European movies. Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis), with a screenplay by Carné’s favorite collaborator, the poet Jacques Prévert, came out just as the Second World War was ending, and considering the restraints under which French filmmaking was confined – political, esthetic and financial – during the Occupation, it seems remarkable that these two men could have come up with a movie so lush and with such a broad narrative sweep. (It took two years to make.) Children of Paradise is a three-hour-and-ten-minute historical melodrama set in the Paris theatrical world of the 1820s and its subject is the line, easily blurred, between art and life. Carné’s bailiwick was the romantic-fatalistic vein of French movies in the 1930s, and though other directors worked it too – Julien Duvivier in Pépé le Moko and even occasionally Jean Renoir (especially in La bête humaine) – Carné was its undisputed master. That’s Carné’s Port of Shadows we see being unspooled in the movie house in the Dunkirk sequence of Atonement, while James McAvoy is wandering around behind the screen in a fever: Joe Wright, the director, is playing carefully against the romanticism of Carné’s movie, with its moody, doomed hero, to suggest that this kind of gesture is gone forever, that in the world of Dunkirk it’s become a mockery. Carné and Prévert reached the height of this irresistible style and mood in Daybreak (Le jour se lève), which came out just before the war. (Jean Gabin, the poster child for this genre, was the leading man in all four of these movies.) Children of Paradise, which has the good sense to slip it into a faraway historical period, is its last gasp.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Critic's Notes & Frames, Part II

Joni Mitchell draws on the intimacy of Nina Simone's version of Rodgers and Hart's "Little Girl Blue" (which also begins on piano with a Christmas tune) to tell a tale of independence that doesn't so much have a destination in mind, but rather a sense of place that's only uncovered in the journey. While her feet would indeed learn to fly, the ground was never certain beneath her. Don Quixote had his windmills while Mitchell had the road in which to tilt forward. Those fascinating elliptical tales of romantic entanglement and creative struggles that followed Blue (1971) might just have started right here on that "River."

Monday, December 17, 2012

I Could Go On Singing: Giant and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Brian D’Arcy James and Kate Baldwin in Giant at the Public Theater in New York (Photo by Sara Krulwich)

Considering that Show Boat is one of the most phenomenally successful musicals in history, it’s surprising that it’s taken nearly a century for someone to get around to adapting another Edna Ferber novel to the musical stage. Like Show Boat, Giant, which she wrote in 1952, is a vivid soap opera that sprawls across two generations. Ferber has been out of fashion for a long time (though her books are still highly readable); most people who are familiar with the material would know it through the famous 1956 movie version, directed by George Stevens and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and, in a posthumous performance, James Dean. The giant of the title is Texas, where Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Hudson) brings his Virginia bride Leslie (Taylor) to live on his enormous ranch, Reata: he has to get used to her independent-mindedness and her social conscience and she has to get used to the ways of Texas, which is crass, self-adoring, patriarchal and racist.

The movie, which runs on for three hours and twenty minutes, is uneven in every conceivable way: visually, in the storytelling and in the acting. Stevens was past his prime when he made it; he’d begun to equate length and subject matter with prestige, in that distinctly Hollywood way. (Giant has approximately the same running time as a double bill of his two best pictures, Alice Adams and the Astaire-Rogers classic Swing Time, both of which he made in the mid-thirties.) Still, like the book on which it’s based, Giant is very absorbing, and even though it’s a mammoth Oscar-boosting extravaganza, it doesn’t try very hard to convince you that it’s an important drama. By contrast, the musical, which began at the Dallas Theater Center and made it to New York’s Public Theater last month, is more inflated than the loudest-crowing, most self-righteous Texan in its cast of characters. Moreover, it’s something that you could never call a single one of those Texans: it’s a twenty-four-carat phony.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Giving the Gift of Culture: Presents for the Holiday Season

Being Jewish I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I often feel sorry about the financial pressures the holiday imposes on so many of my friends and co-workers. They simply cannot afford to purchase gifts for so many different people on their gift list. Fortunately, I do sense that the trend of late has seen them cutting back on spending, opting for inexpensive books and the like. In that spirit, I herewith offer some suggestions, many off the beaten track, for presents that won’t break your bank account.