Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Harvest of Memory: The Multi-Faceted Art of Bea Nettles

Harvest of Memory, Bea Nettles (University of Texas Press)

“I see my career as a spiral with my ideas always circling and picking up reflections of earlier thoughts.”– Bea Nettles, Journal, 1990.

“There are parallels to making art and tending one’s garden . . . an image or an idea can be split up, shared, and even better yet, transplanted into someone else’s garden.”– Bea Nettles, Journal, 2011.

John Lennon once famously, and sarcastically, remarked to a journalist that his wife was the “most famous unknown artist in the world,” something that was true only in the sense that Yoko Ono’s serious art-world credentials (which pretty much disintegrated when she married him) were submerged in the notoriety that surrounded their alliance. But as an art historian I can tell you without a doubt that though I greatly admire Yoko’s prescient and poetic pre-John visual-object work (and her first three brilliant recordings), the actual title of Most Famous Unknown Artist really belongs to one Bea Nettles, whose radical work over fifty years is now being celebrated through major retrospective shows that clearly demonstrate how far ahead of her time she was. Only in the rarefied off-the-map art-world circles where true cultural revolution and evolution usually take place was she rightly famous.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7

Caitlin Fitzgerald, Alan Metoskie, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Sasha Baron Cohen and Noah Robbins in The Trial of the Chicago 7. (Photo: Niko Tavernise/Netflix)

Tremendously entertaining and affecting, The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (and streaming on Netflix), is a first-rate crowd-pleasing zeitgeist picture like On the Waterfront and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There hasn’t been one of those in a long time – perhaps since The Social Network, which Sorkin wrote and David Fincher directed a decade ago. For all his gifts, Sorkin has a weakness for editorializing, but he didn’t indulge it in The Social Network and he doesn’t here either. He knows he doesn’t need to. The liberal audience can hardly watch this account of the 1969 trial of (originally) eight men, almost all of them young, accused of inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago – a notorious travesty of the justice system presided over by a prejudiced, unethical, incompetent judge, Julius Hoffman, that became a signpost in the chronicle of anti-Vietnam protest – and not think of contemporary assaults on justice and ethics and contemporary protests. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is to our current political horror show what Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, set in a 1970 version of Korea, was to the culture of the Vietnam era, but Sorkin doesn’t even do as much as Altman did to forge the link between the two wars by piling on put-on comedy and slipping in a few seventies references (like a shot of the players in the centerpiece football game passing a joint). Sorkin plays it straight. That the movie is as funny as it is bubbles naturally out of the material, which had its own put-on clowns, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), two of the four co-founders of the Yippies (as the Youth International Party was popularly called). They make jokes throughout the trial, even showing up at one point in judicial robes; when the pissed-off judge demands that they remove them, they do so without a murmur, revealing cop uniforms underneath.