September, 2009

Rashomon… Like Never Before

rashomon_sp2Before Pulp Fiction, there was Rashomon.  Before The Usual Suspects, there was Rashomon.  Before Memento, before Elephant, before City of God, before Watchmen, before Lost, before pretty much any piece of cinema that effectively utilizes non-linear narrative, flashbacks, and multiple perspectives to tell its story, there was Rashomon.  Directed and co-written by the late and great joiner of Eastern and Western film, Akira Kurasawa, Rashomon weaves the tale of a purported rape and murder through the eyes of its four witnesses: the bandit, the woodcutter, the rape victim, and the dead man himself.  The accounts all contradict one another, and the audience is put in the position of impartial jury, charged with the task of piecing together the various strands of truth into a cohesive whole.

But if it’s just the story or historical time capsule you want, go rent it on Netflix.  Because Rashhomon is, aside from the narrative innovation, also a masterpiece of cinematography—it was the first film ever to shoot directly into the sun—and the only way to truly appreciate the visceral beauty is to see it in its original 35mm format.  Fortunately for us Angelenos, this is still possible and starting this Friday, October 2 at the Nuart Theatre, for one week only, Rashomon will be showing in a newly restored film-print created from the original, 1962 camera negatives.  Cleaned by hand, as well as state-of-the-art digital technology, the print contains a newly improved soundtrack and enough resolution to properly honor the supreme talent of Kurasawa’s genius collaborator/cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa.

Basically, whether you’re a veteran camera-op or a wannabe screenwriter, or just your average kung fu nut, you probably owe something to Rashomon, and its not often you get to see such a vastly influential example of cinematic craft in such perfect condition.  It may be twenty years from now that another opportunity like this even comes about, and by that time, you and your three friends will be so busy arguing about what happened on that one night, twenty years back, when you were supposed to all go see Rashomon at the Nuart, that none of you will even bother to notice.

The newly-restored Rashomon plays from October 2nd – October 8th at the Nuart Theatre.  For more information, please visit or call (310) 281-8223.

Posted in Film, Santa Monica No Comments »

Unconventional Strings

The last time you sat and listened to a string quartet, it was your sister’s wedding and to be perfectly honest, you only listened to the music so you could avoid your awkward cousin.  Debunking this stereotype is Sonus Quartet, a Los Angeles-based alternative answer to a string quartet that was formed in 2003.

Playing everywhere from dive bars to concert halls, the members of Sonus Quartet are not your mother’s classical musicians.  They have worked with Stevie Wonder at the Library of Congress, Michael Buble, K.D. Lang, and Ringo Starr and have performed at Disney Hall with the LA Philharmonic.  This week, however, they’re playing (for a mere $10.00) at the Bootleg Theatre on Beverly Blvd.  The performance will include pieces by Dmitri Shostakovich, film composers Clint Mansell and Max Richter, and Jacques Arcadelt among others.  It’s basically a cross section of the most interesting compositions for string instruments over the past, well, couple centuries.

If you’ve ever considered yourself “on the fence” about the violin or perhaps a fair-weather fan of string instruments – this is your next step.  They’re your mother’s new classical musicians.

Sonus Quartet is playing at the Bootleg Theatre on Thursday, October 1 at 8:00pm.  For more information, please call (213) 389-3856 or click here.

Posted in Classical Music, Hollywood, Music No Comments »

New Waves of Enlightenment

Enlightenment comes in many forms, especially in Los Angeles.  Depending on the weather, the day of the week, or the current passing trend, enlightenment can be found in a yoga class, in a martini shaker, or at the movies.  Where some need to sweat out their worries on a treadmill, others are of the school of thought that meditation, silence, and breathing are the ticket.  Personally, one thing that works every time is good music, played loud and up close.  I’m not talking about the ‘jump on your bed while listening to Pearl Jam’ kind of loud and up close, I’m talking about the kind of music that moves you to your core – Yo-Yo Ma on the violin or Ravi Shankar on the sitar, for example.

This weekend at the Broad Stage, you’ll find another musician bringing enlightenment in bulk – Rajeev Taranath.  One of the world’s leading Sarod players, Taranath will grace the stage on Saturday evening with tabla virtuoso Abhiman Kaushal for a performance guaranteed to shift your perspective for the better.  The Sarod is a stringed instrument similar to the sitar that has long been used in classical Indian music, while the tabla is a classical Indian drum that has been featured in both traditional and popular music around the world.

What’s more is… Fine Arts LA has got tickets for you!  The lucky winner of today’s Extra! Extra! raffle will win tickets to see Rajeev and Abhiman enlighten Santa Monica on Saturday night at the Broad Stage at 7:30pm.  Some Extra! Extra! details you’ll need to remember: by entering into this raffle, you’re also eligible to win the next three (3!) raffles!  All we need is your first name, last name, and email address and voila – you’re a newly enlightened guru!

(Click here if you don’t want to risk it and you’re just gonna buy your own tickets.)



                      (valid email required)

Posted in Extra! Extra!, Music, Santa Monica, Tickets, World Music No Comments »

Only at REDCAT

As you sneak around the grandiose Walt Disney Conert Hall to find the hidden door to REDCAT, you almost feel like you know something that concertgoers heading in to hear Brahms don’t.  When you slip into the space, that you secretly consider an artistic speakeasy, what you’re hoping to hear is something that will get conversations flowing and inspire you in an esoteric way that only a contemporary artist can – no offense, Beethoven. 

Ana Cervantes is the perfect candidate to perform at REDCAT.  A Mexican-American mix, Cervantes plays piano with the same gusto and fervor that the forthcoming Gustavo Dudamel puts toward conducting – perhaps it’s a Latin thing.  She has performed works by Mexican composers throughout the US and Cuba and can be seen at REDCAT on Wednesday evening at 8:30pm performing her Rumor de Paramo.  Rumor is a solo concert featuring seventeen pieces inspired by Juan Rulfo who, in 1955, changed the face of Latin American literature with his Pedro Paramo. 

With composers that run the gamut from Englishman Paul Barker to Spain’s Tomas Marco, the concert will be as eccentric as you’d hope without going too far.  Rulfo’s story alone is a magical-realist look at tragic social and family histories; your narrators are ghosts.  This is the kind of concert that will have you saying things like “I always head to REDCAT for the best new music,” or “there are so few places in LA that will support this kind of fresh experimentation,” or “that’s so REDCAT.”  See you Wednesday, connoisseur. 

Ana Cervantes will perform her Rumor de Paramo at REDCAT on Wednesday, September 30 at 8:30pm.  For more information, please call (213) 237-2800 or click here. 

Posted in Classical Music, Downtown, High Brow, Music, World Music No Comments »

(Not) The Last Picture Show

On July 28, an email popped into my inbox. The subject screamed: “WHAT?” Ten minutes later, in a mild state of shock, I dialed LACMA director Michael Govan’s office and left a strongly worded message expressing my displeasure at the museum’s abrupt cancellation of its 40-year-old classic film program.

A month later, as co-head of a coalition called Save Film at LACMA, I faced Mr. Govan across a conference table for a “popcorn summit.”  After delivering the thick print-out of our 3,000-signature on-line petition, I spoke on behalf of the 4,000 “fans” registered on our Facebook page. 

Ramping up this extraordinary grassroots movement was at times surreal and at others as disciplined as a war game. It lived almost entirely in cyberspace. Our real-world success, measured by the museum’s reversal of its decision for one year, boils down to passionate dedication and good writing.

In the days following the initial cancellation, I connected by email and blog to my founding partners. The initial team – a corporate public relations manager, a film critic, and I – forged a formidable communications effort, our individual skills melding powerfully. As a corporate writer specialized in marketing communications for investment firms, I know how to use language to entice and sell. I’m also a critic writing about dance and film.  

We rolled out Save Film at LACMA across several internet platforms. Film critic Doug Cummings and I each leveraged our blogs: and We started a Facebook page and launched our petition. We connected immediately with the press, issuing engaging and informative press releases. A volunteer wrote and videotaped a humorous protest song and posted it on, which many blogs and publications re-published on their websites.

On every channel we provided, people poured forth their feelings, proclaiming their deep personal attachment to the film program and their discontent over the unforeseen way it was terminated. 

The key elements of the campaign’s success were:

  • Good writing. Our team included three strong writers who co-wrote every significant communication. Every blog post, Facebook comment and press release was literate and readable.
  • Tonality. The campaign hit the right note for its audience: a serious, educated group of art and film lovers. The tone was light, positive, inclusive, and humorous.  All comments were astonishingly courteous and passionate. (We only ranted behind the scenes!)
  • High-profile participation. Our greatest success and the cornerstone of our campaign was a beautifully written letter by Martin Scorsese published in the Los Angeles Times.  Peter Bogdanovich and directors Bertrand Tavernier, Alexander Payne, and Curtis Hanson also chimed in. This gave our movement clout, credibility, exposure and gravitas.
  • Hewing to the message. Our clear position was that the film program wasn’t broken; it was in dire need of proper marketing. We adhered to this message in the face of the museum’s counter assertions that the program was pathetic, fading away, suffering from a diminishing audience of geezers.
  • Social Networking. Facebook (now 4,000 fans) is a hungry animal demanding constant monitoring and care (I fed the beast for a month!). But it was key to spreading the word worldwide.  We also put out a Twitter feed (now 200+) on all significant press coverage.
  • Online petition (now nearly 3,000 signatures). We almost wept at the fervent messages some of the signatories wrote above their names.
  • Blog.  Our Save Film at LACMA blog let us publish and control our message.
  • Press/media relations. We achieved a coverage trifecta: Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. We also got covered in a broad swath of industry-focused publications and blogs.

As other causes seek my help with similar grassroots movements, I muse on my still-fresh experience. I believe that our template is only replicable by a passionate advocate pushing on a daily basis, urgently fostering creative ideas, never being dissuaded, and fervently believing in the righteousness of the cause.  Yes, Save Film at LACMA succeeded based on a strong set of skills, but the secret sauce has been passion.

- By Debra Levine

( and Save Film at LACMA)

Posted in Film, Miracle Mile, Museums, Personalities No Comments »

Alan Cumming: Take Your Pick

Between Anniversary Party, Emma, Spice World, or Eyes Wide Shut… which is your favorite Alan Cumming movie?  At any given time in nearly any movie, Alan Cumming is bound to pop up as a hotel clerk, a cab driver, or a love interest without warning; the Scotsman fits in just about any role.  He’s dynamic on stage, on film, and now as a one-man cabaret act.

On for a brief run at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, Cumming’s “I Bought A Blue Car Today” arrives in Los Angeles fresh from performances at the Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Center, and London’s Vaudeville Theatre.  The show combines witty stories with spectacular musical numbers in which live musicians join him on stage.  One could ask, who knew Alan Cumming was such an accomplished singer?  The answer is only that you, silly, haven’t been paying close enough attention to his career.  This is to be expected!

When Cumming was trying to become a US citizen, one requirement was that he could show his ability to write the following sentence: “I bought a blue car today.”  From that, you can be sure, the stories and songs throughout his cabaret act will focus on the hilarity that has ensued during his time in the US.  Within the intimate confines of the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, you’ll feel like you’re getting a closer look at Mr. Cumming in his most natural setting.  But you never know what will come next – you may find him trying his hand as a puppeteer, a ringmaster, or lion tamer.  If he considers life to be a cabaret now, next year it will be a circus!

Alan Cumming’s “I Bought A Blue Car Today” runs from September 29 through October 4 at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse.  For more information, please click here.

Posted in Music, Musical Theatre, Personalities, Theatre No Comments »

Finally! A Play About Struggling Writers!

In the small, self-indulgent world of the written word a ‘manuscript’ is, by definition, a “book, article, or paper written by hand or with a typewriter.”  It’s unpublished, unprinted, unofficial, and unrecognized; essentially, the collective livelihood of about 90 percent of all young writers, myself included.  But there’s always that other ten percent out there, the lucky ones or the talented ones (sometimes both) that do get recognized, and go from ‘manuscript’ to just plain ‘script’.  And this is great—gives the rest of us something to shoot for.  It’s just when those select few happen to be people you know or people you used to know or maybe even used to date that things get ugly and potentially desperate.

At least that’s the way it goes in Paul Grellong’s new drama, Manuscript, which made it’s West Coast premiere at the Elephant Stageworks Theatre this past Saturday to a packed house of other young, yet-to-be-noticed Angelenos—Bill Pullman, a notable exception.  The two-hour long play, chock-full of fast-paced, wit-to-wit dialogue, focuses in on the relationship between David, an over-educated, wannabe novelist, and Elizabeth, the newly christened, literary-celebrity girlfriend of David’s best buddy, Chris.  Undertones of jealousy and overcompensation float nicely in the background of the threesome’s initial meeting, but it isn’t until Chris leaves to go visit a mysterious, J.D. Salinger-like acquaintance that the true identities and motivations of David and Elizabeth begin to surface.

It’s a tribute to the tangible charisma of the actors, especially Adam Shapiro who plays David, that the brief moments of incredulity in Grellong’s plot are still fun to watch.  At one point, David embarks on a long, lovable diatribe defending pro-wresting as the newest and most effective form of modern dance.  Director Brianna Lee Johnson smartly expands this metaphor to the entirety of the production, allowing for the characters to slowly morph into larger-than-life wrestlers, executing their blows with practiced choreography.

I suppose it is this kind of clever entertainment, after all, that can act as the ultimate equalizer—between those with a career and those with, well, just a ‘manuscript.’  I mean I sat in the same row as Bill Pullman and as far as I could tell, we both enjoyed ourselves just the same.

Paul Grellong’s Manuscript runs through October 3, on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM at the Elephant Stageworks Theatre.  For more information call (323) 960-5774 or visit

Posted in Hollywood, Theatre No Comments »

Save and Misbehave: Kid’s Edition at MOCA!

As kids all over town head back to school for yet another year of bad influences, second guessing themselves, and melodramas (er… I mean math, history, and arts classes), we can all agree that they could use some confidence in their choices and at the very least some interesting stories to answer the question “what did you do this summer?” This Sunday (and every first Sunday of the month) at MOCA is the “For Families” workshop.  This month, you’ll join a guided tour of their Collecting History: Recent Acquisitions exhibit and discover a range of artists working with a variety of media.  Afterward, you (and the child you’ve brought) will be able to express your own creativity with a workshop with Megan Sant where you can make your own sculptural project. It starts at 1pm and is FREE, with no reservations required.  Think of how confident they’ll be heading back to class and telling their friends about the textural composition in Eduardo Abaroa’s work!

If you’ve got a teen who is perpetually embarrassed to be seen with (God forbid) an actual family member, they’re free to drop by with their friends between 1 – 3:30pm for their own guided tour and an artist-led workshop.  Their sculptures, unlike the little kids than came before them, will be filled with the important dramas of teenage angst to be sure.  Ah, to be a family!

“First Sundays are For Families” Workshop is held this Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 1:00pm for free.  They’re held the first Sunday of every month.  For more information, please click here.

Posted in Art, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Museums, Save + Misbehave No Comments »

Slang This! Psychicinema Multiplex

The word “slanguage” has been hitting the airwaves (and internet waves) the past few weeks with increasing frequency.  You think, what is this portmanteau?  What is a portmanteau?  Tell me more!

Developed in the heart of Wilmington, the harbor area of Los Angeles, Slanguage is an artist-run collective with its roots deep in the city and its fingers combing though contemporary art and social histories.  All of its members, such as yours truly, have their own ever-changing definition of the word “slanguage” so it is difficult to give a precise Webster’s definition.

We do know Slanguage as an organization relies on organic development and the reflection of the popular and hidden culture, much like any spoken language.  And, physical manifestations of Slanguage’s past work includes performance, video, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, and educational workshops both locally and internationally. But also, we must also understand that Slanguage looks to this idea of Cityspeak, the mishmash street language of Japanese, Spanish, German, Hungarian, Chinese, and French that Edward James Olmos speaks in Bladerunner, in its practice.  It is an exploratory, but ever growing approach to art-making!

But you can come take a closer look yourself into the lexicon of Slanguage this Thursday.  Slanguage has been invited by MOCA to participate in a performance-based residency called Engagement Party.  For its first incarnation, Slanguage will bring a homegrown approach to film screening to another level in Psychicinema Multiplex. Psychicinema took its name because Slanguage originally screened movies in the backyard of an old psychic house for one and all.  Come Thursday, Psychicinema will turn Psychicinema Multiplex as Slanguage continues the dialogue of MOCA’s monumental 1992 exhibition Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s.  The film Helter Skelter and other movies will be shown as well as DJs; fortune tellers; an interactive photobooth, Artifice Orange, by Slanguage member Arnold Vargas; and a participatory urban planning exercise, Slang-topia: Rethinking the City, by artist and urban planner will help you figure out how to speak this language.

You don’t need to know what “slanguage” means, but you will definitely find your own Slanguage along the way.

Slanguage’s Psychicinema Multiplex is this Thursday 7 – 10pm at MOCA.  Don’t worry, it is free! Click here for more details.

Posted in Contemporary Art, Film, Museums, Performance, Video Art No Comments »