Saturday, August 25, 2018

Counterbalance: The Clarity of Costas Picadas

"Hyperbola 3", from the Hyperbola series by photographic artist Costas Picadas. (Photo: Odon Wagner Gallery)

“The photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”  Diane Arbus

Welcome to the future history of photography: a utopia of pure images, a somewhat surreal realm in which our presumed yet arbitrary borderlines between the real and the imagined are deftly erased by the aesthetic prowess and technical skill of the artist. These splendidly pale gems are chromogenic prints, colloquially known as c-prints, but they are digital c-prints, where the image content is exposed through lasers rather than chemicals. Created in limited editions of five, with variable scales, and face-mounted to plexiglas, they are also invitations to a fresh kind of visual experience consisting of crystal-clear clarity. What Arbus did for faces and figures the Greek-born and New York-based Picadas seems to do for places and buildings: he reveals their inner essence by scratching gently at their surfaces to unearth their architectural facades, either their secret countenance or their psychic landscape. His dream-like vistas, with portions either fading into or out of optical focus, offer the viewer a whole new and vastly expansive dimension of hidden significance. They are retinal balms that soothe the weary eyes of our digital age, and yet they too are digital gifts, pulling us into the otherworldly architectonic realm of the everyday world we inhabit.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Neglected Gem: Ma Saison Préférée (1993)

Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil in Ma Saison Préférée. (Photo: IMDB)

The family dynamics in André Téchiné’s Ma Saison Préférée (My Favorite Season) are messy, complicated, and utterly plausible. Émilie (Catherine Deneuve) is married to her law partner, Bruno (Jean-Pierre Bouvier); their kids, Anne (Ciara Mastroianni) and Lucien (Anthony Prada), who’s adopted, are grown, though still in residence. The marriage has become perfunctory, and when Émilie’s estranged younger brother Antoine (Daniel Auteuil), a neurologist in another town, comes back into the picture, he initiates an argument between them that provokes a separation. Antoine has a habit of inciting arguments. He and Émilie have a close, eruptive relationship; at this point they haven’t spoken in three years, but when their mother (Marthe Villalonga) has a stroke and comes to stay with Émilie and Bruno, Émilie seeks Antoine out. The thinking among the members of Émilie’s family is that he’s crazy, and that he gets her acting crazy too; Bruno can’t abide him. So she lies to Bruno that she happened to run into him on the street and invited him to dinner to patch things up between them. Antoine tries to act like the perfect guest and not stir the waters, but he slips and exposes the lie. Bruno’s fury provokes Émilie; she’s so fed up with his disapproval that she says the worst things she can think of to hurt his feelings – she tell him that he suffocates and exhausts her, that she tells him lies to give herself a break from him. It isn’t true, but it does the trick.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Neglected Gem: David Lynch's Dune (1984)

Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Muad'dib in Dune. (Photo: IMDB)

In any list of the worst book-to-film adaptations, you’ll find David Lynch’s Dune somewhere near the top – universally acknowledged as a shallow, baffling, unsatisfying adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal novel, which suffered from an infamously tortured production process. In fact, to even call it “David Lynch’s Dune” is to invoke the spectre of this troubled development, which left Lynch so disgruntled that he hid behind the “Alan Smithee” pseudonym and even modified his writing credit to read “Judas Booth” (a mash-up of Judas Escariot and John Wilkes Booth) in subsequent cuts of the film. Pointing the finger at studio interference and a lack of creative control – including being denied final cut – Lynch seemed to respond to Dune’s critical and financial failings by dodging the issue of quality within the material itself and instead focusing on the ways in which he had been stifled. Dune remains a strange black mark on his filmography, frequently cited as his worst film and a disaster from top to bottom – which I think does a tremendous disservice to the things that make it not just a worthy addition to the Lynch canon, but to the epic fantasy genre as a whole.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Larger Than Life: The Big Note by Charles Ulrich

Frank Zappa, whose legacy is catalogued in Charles Ulrich's The Big Note. (Photo: IMDB)

This coming December 4th marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Frank Zappa. Just before he died of cancer at the age of 52, he was interviewed by NBC Today Show correspondent Jaime Gangel, who asked him how he wanted to be remembered. “It’s not important to be remembered” was his direct reply. Nevertheless, when you’re dead, you have no more say in the matter. The Big Note (New Star) by Charles Ulrich could be described as the final say in the matter of Frank Zappa’s music, a scholarly 800-page encyclopedia of all things Zappa.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

To Seek and Be Called: Nostalghia (1983)

Oleg Yankovskiy in Tarkovsky's Nostalghia. (Photo: Getty)

Nostalghia (1983) is often considered, along with Ivan’s Childhood (1962), to be a minor Tarkovsky, the latter due to its relative conventionality, the former because of how far it goes in the other direction. Written by Andrei Tarkovsky with famous Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, this film is a mood piece in the strictest sense of the term, in that its core theme is the feeling of “nostalghia,” which alludes to a Russian emigrant longing for the fatherland, and in the fact that every cinematic element is either sacrificed for this theme or indentured into its service. What results is a work of devastating beauty just ripe for the GIFing.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Fanny Brice: Brains and Talent

Fanny Brice, born Fania Borach, pictured in 1928. (Photo: Getty Archives)

In William Wyler’s 1968 Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand gives one of the two or three greatest musical-comedy performances ever put on film as Fanny Brice, the Brooklyn burlesque comic who became a Broadway star when Florenz Ziegfeld tapped her to appear in his Follies in 1910. But Streisand’s is a reimagined Brice – more crafted, funny in a more modern mode, and more of a camera creation (even though Streisand had originated the role on stage and this was only her first picture). The real Fanny Brice, who can be glimpsed in only a handful of movies – Hollywood didn’t seem to know what to do with her, so when she retired from the stage in the 1930s she wound up on radio, where she played Baby Snooks for years – and heard in a couple of dozen recordings. (Jasmine Records has collected them all, including a couple of Baby Snooks routines, on Fanny Brice: The Rose of Washington Square. The song “Rose of Washington Square,” which she performed in Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic in 1920, is not, alas, among them.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Donny Osmond Does an Encore

Donny Osmond, in his prime. (Photo: Billboard)

The story of Donny Osmond is not an easy one to tell in a short space. A book might be better. Although the former teen idol seems to have been around forever, he just this year turned 60. Yet his life has had as many chapters as someone twice his age.

The first, and the most widely known, is filled with descriptions of his life as a jet-setting member of the internationally known Osmonds. You remember, the singing brothers from Utah? The Mormons in bell bottoms, sequins and big-collared shirts? The guys whose squeaky-clean image helped push them to the top of the recording industry? At one time, they scored nine gold records in a single year. Their rivals were The Jackson 5, brothers too, but black. The teen magazines pitted one against the other.