deFineArtsLA

Night of the Demons, Fest of the Scream’ns

If downtown Hollywood wasn’t a horror show already, now it is. The 10th annual Screamfest began this past weekend at the Hollywood and Highland Center, and for once, the homeless Michael Jackson impersonators weren’t the only ones in costume. The goths, the geeks, the girls with dragon tatoos…they came out in droves on Friday night for the premiere film of the fest, Night of the Demons, a remake of the 1988 Kevin S. Tenney horror flick, this one directed by Adam Gierasch.

I too made my may to the Mann Chinese Theatre on Friday, not just to leer at the bursting bosoms of B-movie scream-queens, but to see the kinds of cinematic staples any good cult horror film demands: irrational plot-lines, flash-cuts of demonic puppets, a gluttony of gore and fake boobs, and of course, at least one spooky mirror scene. Night of the Demons did not disappoint on any of these counts.

If the plot could be summed up in a semi-logical manner (which it can’t), this is maybe how it would sound: Loopy, goth-chick Angela (Shannon Elizabeth) rents out a haunted New Orleans mansion and throws a massive Halloween bash. Party gets broken up by cops, but seven random stragglers (four of whom happen to have past romantic entanglements) remain behind. It’s only when this horny crew of attractive 20-somethings—with the exception of a rather bloated Edward Furlong—realize the gates have mysteriously been locked that things get weird. Angela and Colin (Furlong) stumble upon a coterie of decayed skeletons in the basement (seven to be exact), and as is wont to happen anytime anyone sticks a digit in the jaw of a skeleton, Angela gets her finger bitten. It’s not long before the skeleton bite takes its toll and Angela transforms into a demon, complete with jaundiced eyes, horns, pasty skin, and worms for vomit. (Note: to morph temporarily back into human form, a demon hast only to wobble their head like a baffled Looney Tunes character). Angela gets the hang of her demonization, and quickly goes on the hunt for converts. Her method of seduction: sex, sex and more sex. One make-out session, one lesbian  tryst, and one uncomfortable insertion later, all but three of the house-mates are demons.

The remainder of the movie is basically a string of punk-fueled demon fights with brief interludes of non-sensical back-story (basically, the demons need seven souls to effectively destroy the WORLD). That is not to say the viewing experience was anything less than a blast though. The filmmakers are quite familiar with their territory, and often exploit their own narrative pitfalls in the name of comedy. Action-sequences are filmed with the chaotic energy of a mosh-pit, and Furlong, despite his girth, delivers a great performance.

To me, Night of the Demons, and Screamfest in general, represent an important part of cinema. It’s the fun part, the visceral part, the part that makes you clap out loud in the middle of a scene, the part that knows something gross is going to pop out of that mirror any second but still gets scared when it happens. It’s the part that wants to share the experience with another person, even if it’s a dark theatre full of curious outcasts like you.

- By Joshua Morrison

The 10th Annual Screamfest runs until the 17th. For more information on Screamfest and the upcoming films on schedule, please visit www.screamfestla.com, or call 310-358-3273.

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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: POET

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMusic—if not the industry—has triumphed through electronic, digital, and online revolutions. Photographers can shoot a thousand frames in a matter of minutes. Painting has outgrown the traditional borders of the canvas, now readily available on street corners and highway signs. Cinema is viewed less in the cinema than on Youtube or Netflix streaming. Words are no longer inscribed in ink, and many popular novels are now written as 140-character-long serials.

But poetry is dead.

Or at least that’s what it seems like. Even as a devoted follower of some incredible living and working poets, I find it hard to list more than five off the top of my head. And maybe this is due to the general assumption that while every other art-form may gracefully surf the never-ending tides of technology, poetry is to remain dormant—to hole up in its cage of antiquated rhyme schemes and meter. Even “free-form poetry” collects dust these days.

Then I hear about someone like Mathew Timmons—and I’ve been hearing a lot about him recently (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions just wrapped up a month-long installation based on his 800-page book/collection/poem/collage entitled Credit.) Timmons is immediately difficult to pin down into a label. He’s a poet, a blogger, a curator, a critic, a performer, a collaborator, and a creator of chapbooks. But I suppose all could be condensed into a single description: Mathew Timmons is one of many young, Los Angeles-based artists insistent on keeping poetry alive

His latest project, as a part of his ongoing series of projects entitled “General Projects,” opens at 323 Projects on Monday, September 6th. Never heard of the gallery? That may be because it exists solely by phone, offering “visitors” a rotating sample of sound poems from Timmons’s upcoming album, The Archanoids, meant to explore the evolving relationship between noise, language, collaboration, and context.

Here’s the kicker, though. The “gallery” has a voicemail, available 24-hours a day, in which people are invited to call in and leave messages that will eventually be edited down by Timmons into a single, multi-layered sound poem by the end of the exhibition on October 11th. The show is open all day and all night, and the number to call is (323) 843-4652 or (323) TIE-IN-LA.

It all reminds me of a story, or an image rather, I was once told by a poet friend of mine in New York City. He said he knew of a fellow poet, more published than he, yet still relatively anonymous, who decided to hang a glowing, neon fixture—like the ones in old-school dive bars—facing outward on her window. It just had one word on it, in all caps: “POET.”

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information on Mathew Timmons and 323 Projects, please visit www.generalprojects.blogspot.com.

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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: Now is the NOW!

Picture-1Late July and we’re knee-deep in festival season. You’ve likely hit a few events from the Slamdance, the LA Film Fest, the Fringe Fest, Outfest, Comic-Con, the Middle Eastern Comedy Fest, Lilith Fair…the list goes on and on. The urge to see it all keeps us coming back, but I know, festival fatigue is strong. Hang in there, though—we’re at the home stretch. The REDCAT’s NOW Festival, which kicked off this weekend, should bring festival season to a spectacular end.

The New Original Works Festival features new dance, theater, music, and multimedia performance works by artists who are known for their often radical and unconventional approaches. While Week One (with work from Maureen Huskey and Killsonic) may have past us by, there’s still time to catch Weeks Two and Three, beginning this Thursday, July 29th.

Three artists make up Week Two of NOW: Christine Marie & Ensemble, in the expressionist theater piece “Ground to Cloud,” uses projections, electric light and shadowplay to unfold a multidimensional mythology of nature and human intervention. Systems of Us, from choreographer Rae Shao-Lan Blum & composer Tashi Wada, explores the disruption and transformation of relationships in a dance collaboration that may call to mind those early experiments of Cage and Cunningham. Finally, master of Breaking and hip-hop dance innovater Raphael Xavier’s “Black Canvas” explores the body of the Breaker in relation to the stage and life.

Week Three, beginning August 5th, features theater, dance, and animation. Alexandro Segade’s “Replicant vs. Separatist” depicts Segade himself calling the shots on a live sci-fi film shoot in which two male couples navigate the murky waters of state-mandated marriage. Hana van der Kolk’s “Once More, Again, One (Solo)” uses familiar pop music as the background for her solo dance adaptation of a work originally conceived for four dancers. To close, animator Miwa Matreyek (of Cloud Eye Control) uses animation with live projection to explore fantastical worlds in “Myth and Infrastructure.”

- By Helen Kearns

Each “week” of NOW is really only a Thurs/Fri/Sat, so budget your time accordingly. If you only attend one more festival this summer, consider the power of NOW. For more information, please visit www.redcat.org, or call 213-237-2800.

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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: Dave Hill’s Genuine Hipness

What is a hipster sense of humor? Surely it has something to do with irony—the hipster’s original sin—or at least the thin version of irony that exists in wearing a D.A.R.E. t-shirt, while smoking a cigarette outside of the Silver Lake Lounge. But even irony has lost its all-consuming flavor amongst UCB and Largo crowds. Hipster humor also has something feminine about it, non-confrontational in its satire; it’s about a style and a matter of intention more than it is the content of a joke. Absurdity is actually its most potent ingredient, a commitment to the weird, a detached joy in the randomness of things.

In a name, it’s interviewer/performer/writer/comedian Dave Hill, who will be performing his one-man show, “Dave Hill: Big In Japan,” tonight, at 9:00 PM at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Hill looks like the character of Dim from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and the pitch of his voice ranges from acid-trip-high to wallowing-drunk-low in a matter of seconds. He has become known for his fast-cut, Borat-style interviews—which have been featured on This American Life—in which he is always the main subject (Hill probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Sacha Baron Cohen, but the two differ vastly their approach). Many of his interviews are filmed on camera, and one gets the feeling he is constantly winking at the audience, but not in a mean way (a lot like Jim does when he looks toward the camera on The Office). He has an incredibly quick wit, but he doesn’t use it for harm. Carrying a misguided sense of uber-confidence, Hill seemingly wants to be friends with everybody he talks to, and thus, his undeniable charm.

He’ll walk into the red carpets of New York’s fashion week, holding a huge boom-mic with a windscreen on it, and proceed to ask an attendee what she thinks of the Kofi Annan collection. Though even this is harsh for him. More likely, he’ll take a private movement/acting class in New York City, and twirl around in tights with the male instructor, laughing with him rather than at him, creating a sense of camaraderie through shared acknowledgment of the absurd.

This is, in fact, Hill’s greatest strength: his ability to include the subject, and by extension, the audience in the creation of the joke. He is genuine, which is why it works. And why he may be one of the best examples of hipster humor out there.

For tickets more information about The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, please visit www.ucbtheatre.com, or call (323) 908-8702.

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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: So You Think You Can Dance With Elephants?

When I heard about choreographer Lionel Popkin’s There’s an Elephant in This Dance happening at the REDCAT this past weekend, complete with interpretive dance and elephant costumes, my imagination went wild. Dancing elephants! Sign me up! Being the enthusiastic fan of the extravagantly bizarre that I am, I was of course expecting something outrageous—chorus lines of elephants adorned in gold and green, roller-skating through arbitrarily-floating sheer fabrics of rose and yellow, a bazaar-like carnival of gleaming lights and clamorous music and pinwheels and ice sculptures and bubbles, lots of bubbles!—but of course, as I should’ve learned by now, anything that I attend at the REDCAT is nothing like what I expect. Usually, it’s better.

The dance opened with a woman, Peggy Piacenza, on a dark, empty stage, matter-of-factly putting on the pieces of a chintzy, worn-out elephant suit. She jiggled the headpiece into place, and bing! Elephant! The now-elephant contemplated her newfound existence for a moment before beginning a series of delightful, childlike dances, at moments hesitant and at others exuberant, until collapsing exhausted on the floor.

I was quickly learning that the elephants in my own mind rest in a much different place than the ones in Popkin’s. Popkin, raised in a split Hindu/Jewish home, grew up surrounded by images of Ganesh, the Hindu deity esteemed as the Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Beginnings. Popkin used his own connection to the iconography of Ganesh to explore the themes of cultural identity and self-actualization in There’s an Elephant.

Following the opening, the dance centered on the character played by Lionel Popkin himself. The wistful, plucky music of composer Robert Een’s live score accompanied by a black-and-white video of the furry dancing elephant by Cari Ann Shim Sham and Kyle Ruddick served as a backdrop for Popkin’s more serious self-exploration. Hands in pockets, Popkin planted himself center-stage and looked around inquisitively. Slowly, he began to sway, his spine swiveling at his hips just like the trunk of a curious pachyderm, whipping and contorting with increasing ferocity. Popkin was soon joined by the dance’s other players, including long-time collaborator Carolyn Hall and modern dance veteran Ishmael Houston-Jones.

Hall and Popkin took the lead in a terrific duet, wherein Hall commanded Popkin about the stage with her index finger, leading him by the mouth like a mule to a carrot. The innocent buoyancy of the dance dissolved quickly as the power struggle between the two dancers grew. Caught between resistance and longing, both dancers struggled to assert their individuality while simultaneously remaining clearly co-dependent. A beautiful play of domination, desire, and will emerged as Popkin’s character scuffled with the ever-more-clingy Hall. Finally, in a brilliant reversal of roles, it was no longer Hall’s character who led Popkin’s on her finger, but he who carried her, limp with exhaustion, into darkness.

What was so great about this dance was its capacity to mimic human capriciousness—at one moment somber and pensive, the dancers entwined in this petulant power-struggle, and at another playful and blithe. Being prone to emotional volatility myself (only sometimes, y’all) I found myself laughing out loud and then immediately sinking back with the dancers into their pining.

In the concluding act, Popkin’s character reached the final stage in his quest for self-actualization. Alone again, he encountered the elephant suit, which had maintained an eerie side-stage presence for much of the dance (aside from a charming interlude in which Piacenza romped excitedly around stage while attempting to put the thing on). Watching Popkin explore the dimensions of the suit, dressing and disrobing, at times rolling on the floor trailing the head by its trunk, gave strange feelings of awe and unease. With the last moments of the dance Popkin seemed to find peace, but only after many fits full of grace and existential yearning (I said it! Existential yearning!).

I was left not only wanting to sign up for an agro-yoga class, but feeling almost like I’d already taken one myself. That feeling you get after a not-to-strenuous bike ride on a sunny day. So what if I saw “dance” and “elephant” and I didn’t read any further—I’m glad I didn’t. There’s an Elephant in This Dance was the most pleasant surprise a trunk-lovin’ girl could’ve asked for.

For more information on REDCAT and their upcoming events, please call 213-237-2800, or visit www.redcat.org.

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deFineArtsLA: Stuff It!

BREWER_frick_N_frackGrowing up on a farm in South Carolina affords memories of a childhood of which few could dream—the apple orchard where barefoot we would run, yes. The chorus of cicadas droning in the sunset, yes. And the wood-paneled living-rooms adorned with the stuffed heads of dear, oh yes, sweet Carolina.

I know most of you probably think taxidermy is a little abnormal. Creepy.  Backwoods. It both fascinated and terrified me as a child. I’d look up at the buck head mounted above my grandfather’s fireplace and imagine how it got there—the old Quasimodo-type hunched over a pile of loose skin, a long needle and thread pinched in his thick fingers haunted my imagination.

Taxidermy is much more than a backwoods craft, though. It’s an art whose roots stem back to the 18th Century, when hunters began to have the skins of prized hunts mounted to preserve them as trophies. It wasn’t long before taxidermists were getting creative—take the work of Walter Potter, who constructed whimsical dioramas with mounted animals mimicking human life.

A recent trend in the field is rogue taxidermy, the fabrication of mounted animals which do not have live counterparts. If ever you visit Wyoming, you may see a jackalope, the famous horned jackrabbit so fast that it can’t be seen by the human eye.  If this Friday you visit La Luz de Jesus in Los Feliz, you can see even more. Robert Marbury will curate the “Rogue Taxidermy Show” with his partners Scott Bibus and Sarina Brewer of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists—the organization who coined the term in 2004. Taxidermists working in the field use “recycled” animals—from roadkill to discarded livestock—to create a bizarre and fantastic body of work. The show runs from May 7th through the 30th, and promises to deliver high art, in both concept and craftsmanship. They even will have a live demonstration on the 8th! If you’re an animal lover, don’t worry—no animals were killed for the sake of a mount—all the sources are recycled. It’s nice to know that 3000 miles from home, taxidermy is alive and well.

By Helen Kearns

“The Rogue Taxidermy Show” opens on Friday, May 7th and runs until May 30th at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Feliz. Reception begins at 8 PM on the 7th and ends at 11 PM.  For more information, please visit www.laluzdejesus.com, or call 323-666-7667.

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