Thursday, October 6, 2022

Hamp Rising Up: Bracing for Stiff Headwinds

Hampshire student Rhys MacArthur stands in front of the image of Hampshire College President Miriam “Mim” Nelson and talks about the protest. If she weren’t at Hampshire, she says, “I’d probably be sitting on my stoop at home smoking cigarettes.”  

Those of us worried about the future of American democracy might do well to take a look at a new documentary that chronicles a smaller but no less perilous experiment in governing. The Unmaking of a College (2022) tells the story of Hampshire College, a small liberal arts school in Amherst, MA that, just before the pandemic, nearly closes. Hampshire has a radical philosophy of education. Professors don’t lecture; they advise. Students design their own curriculum. There are no grades. The school boasts alumni like Jon Krakauer, Liev Schreiber, and Ken Burns. 50 years old, its endowment is only $54 million, which pales in comparison to older institutions like nearby Amherst College, with a treasure chest of nearly $3.8 billion. As a consequence, over the past few years, Hampshire began operating on a shoestring budget. One trustee began writing personal checks to cover shortfalls. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Frozen Music: The Celluloid Dreams of Richard Kerr

All images courtesy of the artist.

“Now, why should the cinema follow the forms of theatre and painting rather than the methodology of language, which allows wholly new concepts and ideas to arise from the combination of two separate concrete objects?” – Sergei Eisenstein

The elegant artifacts crafted in this time-tapestry originate in a mythical country I like to call Analogos. This land is the opposite of the digital world we currently occupy and harkens back to an era when the image ruled its optical kingdom in a nearly sacred dance of montage assembly and patterned sequence. This limited-edition artist’s book, as a kind of guidebook for tourists traveling in time, captures moments from a celluloid dream world that is anti-Hollywood and pro-haptic: it privileges a domain where physical touch was much more important than cerebral reflection. And yet much of its basic content also references the very dream factory that it also seeks to escape from, plunging us fully forward into the realm of experimental cinema and celebrating cinema itself as a kind of music for the eyes.

Kirk Tougas, the founder of Cinematheque in Vancouver, which traces its own origins way back to the land of Analogos in the early pre-digital 1970’s, has often cautioned me about using the word experimental to describe films which provide alternatives to linear entertainment and take us on a fabulous flight to the outer edges of visual art. Experiential, he has helped me realize, is often a more accurate term to characterize those filmmakers, such as the Canadian Richard Kerr, who wants us to experience and explore his works as paintings that move, or don’t move at all. Hence, perhaps, Kerr’s primary notion of a project which utilizes a haunting inventory of images solely as the raw material, the paint of light and time, so to speak, in a weaving motif which arrives at a core moment of inherent stillness: when time stops and looking starts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Coming Around Again

David Adkins, Corinna May, Tim Jones and Kate Goble in Seascape.

This article includes reviews of Seascape, Persuasion, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Sing Street.

Edward Albee’s Seascape first appeared on Broadway in 1975, in a production he directed that featured Barry Nelson, Deborah Kerr, Frank Langella and Maureen Anderman. Its run was short – a couple of months – but it won Albee the second of his three Pulitzer Prizes. (The others were for A Delicate Balance and Three Tall Women.) Though it’s a marvelous work, but it seldom comes up for revival, presumably because it’s such an oddity. It’s about a meeting between a middle-aged couple, marking retirement with a beachside vacation, and a pair of lizards, also a couple, who have come up from the sea; Albee, taking the special poetic license reserved for absurdists, has conveniently allowed the lizards to converse in English. With its taste for revisiting plays, mostly American, that have fallen into obscurity, Berkshire Theatre Group has just opened Seascape at its Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. This is only the second time I’ve seen it performed. Mark Lamos staged a dazzling production in 2002 with a flawless cast – George Grizzard, Pamela Payton-Wright, David Patrick Kelly and Annalee Jeffries; I can still remember the costumes Constance Hoffman designed for the lizards. Lamos remounted it at Lincoln Center in 2005 with Grizzard, Frances Sternhagen, Frederick Weller and Elizabeth Marvel.