Film

Film Art House Round-Up: Week of March 25th 2011 – March 31st 2011

Roundup1This week there’s the unrated versions of KILL BILL 1 and 2 at the New Beverly, a STAR TREK series with George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nicholas Meyer appearing in person at the Egyptian, and Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in 70mm at the Aero on Thursday.

Friday March 25th

EGYPTIAN

7:30 PM: Star Trek Double Feature: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN (Directed by Nicholas Meyer) + STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (Directed by Leonard Nimoy) Discussion with actor George Takei between films.

AND

7:30 PM: EVEN THE RAIN (Directed by Icíar Bollaín). New Spanish release with Gael Garcia Bernal; won the audience award at Berlin. Screens again at 10:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday.

AERO

7:30 PM: Tribute to composer John Barry: MIDNIGHT COWBOY (Directed by John Schlesinger) + THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (Directed by Anthony Harvey).

LACMA 7:30 PM: Classics from La Semaine de la Critique : MORE (Directed by Barbet Schroeder) + TRASH (Directed by Paul Morrissey).

NEW BEVERLY

7:30 PM: Shaw Brothers Night: THE AVENGING EAGLE (Directed by Chung Sung) + DUEL OF THE IRON FIST (Directed by Cheh Chang). Screens again Saturday.

Midnight Screening: FRIDAY (Directed by Mario Caiano).

SILENT MOVIE THEATRE:

7:30 PM: John Cassavetes Closing Night Party: A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Directed by John Cassavetes), plus rare film and videos and a panel discussion.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT: 6:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday March 26th

EGYPTIAN:

7:30 PM: EVEN THE RAIN (Directed by Icíar Bollaín). New Spanish release with Gael Garcia Bernal; won the audience award at Berlin. Screens again at 9:30 PM and on Sunday.

AND

7:30 PM: Star Trek Double Feature: STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (Directed by Leonard Nimoy) + STAR TREK V (Directed by William Shatner). Both screen in 70mm; discussion between films with actor Walter Koenig.

AERO

7:30 PM: Tribute to composer John Barry: DANCES WITH WOLVES (Directed by Kevin Costner).

LACMA

7:30 PM: JORDAN BELSON: FILMS SACRED AND PROFANE (Shorts directed by Jordan Belson).

NEW BEVERLY

7:30 PM: Shaw Brothers Night: THE AVENGING EAGLE (Directed by Chung Sung) + DUEL OF THE IRON FIST (Directed by Cheh Chang).

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

2:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sunday March 27th

EGYPTIAN

5:00 PM: EVEN THE RAIN (Directed by Icíar Bollaín). New Spanish release with Gael Garcia Bernal; won the audience award at Berlin.

ALSO:

7:30: Star Trek Series: STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Directed by Nicholas Meyer). Screens in 70mm; discussion with Nicholas Meyer follows the film.

AERO

7:30 PM: Michael Caine Double Feature: THE IPCRESS FILE (Directed by Sydney J. Furie) + DEADFALL (Bryan Forbes).

NEW BEVERLY

2:00 PM Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again at 7:00 PM and Monday-Thursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

11:30 AM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Tuesday and Wednesday.

Monday March 28th

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again Tuesday-Thursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

Tuesday March 29th

LACMA

1:oo PM (Tuesday matinee): MARIE ANTOINETTE (Directed by W.S. Van Dyke II).

 

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM: Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again Wednesday andThursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

7:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Wednesday.

Wednesday March 30th

AERO

7:30 PM: A HATFUL OF RAIN (Directed by Fred Zinnemann). Actors Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint appear in person for a discussion after the screening.

EGYPTIAN

7:30 PM: Tribute to composer John Barry: WALKABOUT (Directed by Nicholas Roeg).

SILENT MOVIE THEATRE

8:00 PM: THE GODLESS GIRL (Directed by Cecil B. Demille) with live score by the Club Foot Orchestra.

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM: Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again Thursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

5:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release.

Thursday March 31st

AERO

7:30 PM: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Directed by Stanley Kubrick) in 70mm.

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM: Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino) Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

- By Erica Elson

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Three

LACMAWe began these spontaneous looks at three of Los Angeles’ cultural icons with The Norton Simon Museum, followed by The Getty Center. Now we come to the third side of the triangle and I am still trying to define LACMA.  Perhaps that is because I am most familiar with it; spend the most time at it. Of the three museums it is the most diverse in content, the most bureaucratic in design and administration, and also perhaps the most ambitious in its reach. You can go to LACMA’s website and discover the history of its birth on your own. Today we again arrive as a stranger with no bigger an agenda than to see what we can see.

PART THREE:  LACMA

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

Though the newer buildings get the big “oohhhh” when you first arrive at LACMA, it is the old buildings that I find have held up quite well. The Times Courtyard is a wonderful place to gather with a friend and plan your time and what you want to see. If you don’t have an official agenda, you will be surrounded by choices.

The Japanese Pavilion with its Guggenheim-like spiral, the Hammer Building with the most comprehensive collection of Korean art outside of Korea and Japan, the Arts of the Americas Building which has special exhibits on the 2nd floor while the 3rd and 4th levels will take you through both pre and post European influenced art. There, ancient feathered serpents shake hands with Diego Rivera, David Hockney and Millard Sheets give you differing birds eye views of Los Angeles, American landscapes prove equal to the best of the Barbizon, and social realism reminds us that our relatively short history is filled with powerful human stories—Reginald Marsh’s Third Ave. El, Miki Hayakawa’s Portrait of a Negro, Paul Cadmus’s Coney Islandall are grand fine art, and of these last, sometimes I wish LACMA would give them the greater promotion that they deserve.

The two new stars of the LACMA campus are the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and the even newer Resnick Pavilion. Both are mega-buck ultra contemporary architectural superstars. BCAM, as the Broad is called, is for those who love or who are at least curious about the cutting edges in Contemporary Art. For those who “get it” no more need be said—they will embrace the silk purse while others will hold their nose at the stench from the sow’s ear—and some will see nothing and insist the emperor is naked.  Rapture or anger, you won’t be bored.

The Resnick Exhibition Pavilion is the newest member of the LACMA family and already has had a major success with Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.  Renzo Piano’s designs for the BCAM and Resnick structures is all 21st Century optimism, colors and shapes and promises for the eyes. And they reflect LACMA’s focus on the future demographics of Los Angeles.

However it is the Ahmanson building that is still the “museum” building at LACMA…the grand lady where you can find a genuine Egyptian mummy and “Jack the Dripper” just one floor apart, and while running from one to the other, have some Tea with Henri Matisse and gawk at Giacometti and puzzle over Modigliani and don’t miss those weird unhappy German expressionists and why did Picasso make all those women look like horses as he went from Neo Classic to Cubism and then to a fusion of both and how can you not see the big black thing in the lobby. The Ahmanson building has it all, plus Hindus and Buddha and a nod to Islam.

The gallery for the Impressionists/Post-impressionists/Paris School is weak. No way around it. And the reason is simple. The Getty and the Simon are the raucous offspring of wealthy individuals. LACMA is the hesitant creation of a city born of orange groves and dreams, trying to puff up its chest and imitate its East Coast peers. The great examples of European Modern Art were mostly bought and sold before LACMA even existed. However given how late it got into the game, LACMA has rolled the stone up the hill and done worthy job for the tax payers and the museum goers.

I want to end this piece with a treasure hunt for some modest works of art that continue to draw me back again and again. I’ll give you clues but you will have to search for them and find them. In the Art of the Americas building is a trio of works hanging side by side, paintings by two students and their teacher: Miki Hayakawa, Yun Gee and Otis Oldfield. I leave it to you to learn the stories behind them. In the Ahmanson on the 3rd floor are two great little paintings, one hung so high up you might need a step stool to find it. They are Painting and Music by Martin Drolling and Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino by Martinus Rorbye. This last one is very small; actually it was a sketch in oil for a later work. However if you can get close enough to see the amazing detail in even this sketch, you will see that this very small painting is every equal to a much larger nearby masterpiece, View at La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, Near Orleans by Constant Troyon. Lastly, look for a beautiful and almost life-sized bronze, Seated Hercules by Guillaume Boichot, stare into the face and wonder…in wonder.

LACMA is very big and there is a lot to see, worth seeing, worth sharing with people you care about. It has free jazz concerts on Friday nights, and movie programs, and it has places where you can sit and be alone with a piece of art and take your time getting to know it. And if you do that with just one work of art, then LACMA is a success. You can learn more about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at their website, www.lacma.org.

- By John Ireland

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Labute’s Own Mercy Seat

labute

There’s not a lot of middle-of-the-road when it comes to Neil Labute—not in his work, or in the reaction to his work. He creates lean, hard-nosed, often reverse morality tales fraught with meticulously manipulative or ethically challenging characters, and people either love it or despise it. Almost no one, however, will dismiss it.

Having read pretty much his entire published oeuvre, and even acted in a short film he recently wrote, I can confidently say I fall on the love side of things, but I do understand his critics. For instance, Labute has a penchant for what some call a “twist” ending. And I quote this word, because I’m not sure what it means—“twists” can either be a reveal (i.e. Bruce Willis was dead the whole time), or a kind of re-write (i.e. it was all a dream). Labute likes to work with the former type of “twist,” and as exhilarating as it can be, it does beg the question of why? Why not show us the behind-the-scenes footage of Evelyn’s project in The Shape of Things? Why not reveal sooner the true intentions behind the main characters in Some Girl(s) or In the Company of Men or This is How It Goes? Is it all for the reaction?

Another much-discussed facet of Labute’s work is the misogyny. All of his early plays, in the words of a former acting teacher of mine, always end up with hate. And though my acting teacher was prone to exaggeration, there is no doubt that hate, especially toward women, does happen in said plays. Very few people write male assholes as well as Labute can—or as harshly. He presents his characters’ defects without apology, which can lead to accusations about the author, and leaves audiences, once again, asking why? Why show us, over and over, the worst version of ourselves, if not to exorcise some demon within you? Is it all for the reaction?

Labute’s style of dialogue—raw, biting, direct—is maybe the one part of his writing most people agree is well-crafted. Well, almost. I do recall forcing my ex-roommate, a bright and articulate critic of all things media, to watch the film version of The Shape of Things. And like any time I’ve pushed some hobby or piece of art upon somebody, the reaction was not what I’d hoped. He vehemently disagreed with the film  and when it was done, beckoned me to recite one single line from the movie I thought to be a “good line.” I couldn’t do it. I was sure Labute was a good writer, and I felt strongly about the merit of his language, but I couldn’t come up with one single zinger. Why? Does Labute exist wholly outside the world of aphoristic dialogue? And if so, does that not somewhat contradict the idea that he writes for reaction?

I wish I had all the answers. But to further quote the acting teacher mentioned above, “the only way to do Labute is with a question.” And that I believe. There may be a small middle-of-the-road with him, but that’s probably only because the sides are not so defined. Therefore, I encourage anyone who mildly interested in acting or writing or directing (and has some expendable income) to show up tonight, at 7 PM to the Howard Fine Acting Studio in Hollywood for “An Evening With Neil Labute,” a benefit for the non-profit Vs. Theatre Company (who are producing his Mercy Seat later this year) as well as the charity organization, 9/11 Health Now. Actors suspected to join him include Amanda Peet, Johnny Galecki, Sharon Lawrence, and Bill Pullman. Between them all, you might even get to ask Neil a few questions.

- By Joshua Morrison

For tickets and more information, please call 800-838-3006 or go to www.vstheatre.org.

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Extra! Extra! Expand Your Cultural Nerves with Tickets to Randy Newman!

randy-newman-harps-and-angels-poster_gazette_thumbI’ll be honest: I don’t know much about Randy Newman. I’ve seen Toy Story and loved The Full Monty, but maybe it’s because I’m not originally from Los Angeles (and thus never heard “I Love L.A.” over the loudspeakers at Dodgers games), but I was never really exposed to him as a personality, let alone a singer/songwriter. And I feel left out. I feel as though my body is missing an integral cultural nerve-ending (I scoffed at my friend who, until recently, hadn’t heard Prince’sKiss”).

Now I have my chance though, and so do you (whether or not you’re a Newman newbie). And in fact, it may be our last chance. At the Mark Taper Forum in Downtown, the world-premiere musical Randy Neman’s Harps and Angels has enjoyed a successful one-month long run, which ends this Wednesday, December 22nd, and Fine Arts LA has two tickets to give away to this final performance. Directed by Tony winner Jerry Zaks of Guys and Dolls fame, and starring such names as Ryder Bach, Storm Lange, Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean, Katey Sagal, and Matthew Saldivar, the show features all the Newman hits (“Political Science,” “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today,” “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” and “I Love L.A.”), and maybe even some you don’t know.

Simply enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be entered into the running to receive two free tickets to Randy Neman’s Harps and Angels on December 22nd at 8 PM. And as always, though especially in the spirit of the holiday season, you will automatically be eligible to win any or all of our next three ticket giveaways. So happy holidays, and enjoy your cultural nerves—whatever those may be.

-By Joshua Morrison

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A Form of Currency: UCLA Graduate Open Studios

dscn1970-e1276139717586It’s all too easy—especially in a city permeated by the entertainment industry and material gain in general—to forget that there are still many artists out there committing their lives to their craft without the slightest hope of a monetary reward, and that there are a vast amount of studios in operation that have absolutely nothing to do with film or television. In fact, at the UCLA Graduate Open Studios in Culver City this past Saturday, I found that there were at least 30 dedicated artists at work who were not only putting their pieces up without price tags, they were most likely taking out student loans to do it.

This is not to say these young practitioners were exercising pure artistic selflessness; the hope, I gathered, as I traversed through the maze of sectioned-off galleries amidst packs of the hippest and most attractive art crowd I’ve seen in some time, was that people would notice the stand-out work, that they would pay attention (as opposed to money).

And attention can be a form of currency in itself. My colleague Helen, who I attended the event with discovered this fact in the most literal sense. We were vocally admiring the work of Max Rain (a stand-out artist, for sure)—in particular, a photograph of his that shows a piled arrangement of 20 or more dead and deformed rodents he collected as an employee of an animal shelter, the result of which amounts to a kind of macabre yet beautiful collage—when Max himself approached in the most amiable, non-egotistical manner possible in that situation. Helen told Max that if she had money, she would put the piece above her bed, to which he replied, “Really? If you promise to put it above your bed, I’ll give you a print for free.” He wasn’t lying. The mere idea of someone posting his work in their bedroom was, to him, compensation in itself.

I did, however, get a hint from another one of the artists, Sarah Dougherty—an incredibly talented painter who pieces together large LA-set landscapes with found objects, tapestry, and other pop-up book-esque features—as to who the real target audience might be. “We had our professor critiques this week,” she sighed in exasperation to me, going on to explain how most of the reviews were positive, but one in particular had her completely devastated.

Being in the “real world,” or at least the world outside of collegiate critique, it may seem difficult to relate to Sarah’s (or even Max’s) point of view. Who cares what a professor thinks? They’re not making any money either. But when you think about it, our art world—at least the part of it I’m interested in—is not so different from that Culver City rat maze I danced around on Saturday night, snatching up complimentary cheese and wine where I could find it. All artists, for the most part, are not looking to feed their wallets or even their ego. That’s not why they spend hours upon hours, day after day, inside tiny white rooms, experimenting with pigments or tweaking the electrical feeds on video installations. Why do they do it then? The truth is I don’t know. I’m tempted to say sex, but it probably has more to do with communication, putting something out there that’s you, says you—and how can something not be you when you spend that much time and energy on it?—then having someone else come up, take a look, and say, you know, I’d like to post you above my bed. Maybe it does have to do with sex.

- By Joshua Morrison

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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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The Man-Child, All Grown Up

After a stunted Lothario gets his testicles hacked off by a trumpet, will he ever find happiness? Barry Munday, directed by Chris D’Arienzo, is the latest entry into the “manchild grows up when he has a baby” genre, and is unremarkable, except for Barry himself. Played by an excellent Patrick Wilson, Barry is the kind of loser whom you’ve probably met before. He has a girlfriend who hates him, works in a depressing office where he hits on his secretary, and still gets wasted with his best and only real friend, Donald (Shea Whigham). Despite his general failure at life, Barry Munday still thinks he’s pretty great, until he literally loses his cojones.

But not to worry. Right after Barry’s crisis, he conveniently realizes he has fathered a baby with a shrewish woman named Ginger Farley, who hates Barry’s guts and wants nothing to do with him. Played by Judy Greer, usually typecast in Hollywood as the lovable and kooky assistant (see The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses), Ginger often edges toward the hysteria of an SNL character. Wearing oversized jumpsuits and 80’s glasses, she crinkles her forehead and grunts and grumbles through pregnancy, directing all of her antipathy and anxiety towards Barry. “You’re not the one who has to feel like your breasts are two bags of wet sand!” she hisses at him when he tries to show his support. Ginger is a caricature of an undesirable woman, so it’s puzzling as to why the sexist Barry would suddenly pursue her. Barry’s quick change of tune, from hapless narcissist to doting father, doesn’t completely make sense, and he doesn’t thoroughly explain himself.

The real problem with “Barry Munday” is that it feels like a mash-up of several different movies, while not achieving the continuity of any of them: the lost manchild theme from Knocked Up, the low production value and 70’s nostalgia of Napoleon Dynamite, the schlock of Meet the Parents and slapstick cheese of Father of the Bride. There are too many characters with half-baked subplots: Chloë Sevigny as Ginger’s blonde stripper sister; Jean Smart as Barry’s half-baked hippie mother; Shea Whigham as Barry’s best friend who enters air-guitar contests and wins trophies; a support group for men with unusual private parts, including one who pees out of his anus.

But thankfully, the movie really belongs to Patrick Wilson. Looking pudgy in striped polo shirts, with stringy brown hair and a receding hairline, he disappears into the role, showing a knack for physical comedy while being empathetic and believable. His performance compensates for several holes in the plot and pacing of the film. Tonally, the movie has an identity crisis, but at the center of it all is Barry Munday, who is so adorable and pathetic, you can’t help but root for him to end up happy, even if you don’t care what happens to anyone else.

- By Cassandra McGrath

Barry Munday opened in selected theatres on October 1st. For more information, please visit www.barrymundayfilm.com.

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Secrets of Silents

c22_PORTAIT-4Here’s a statistic: approximately 80 percent—maybe more—of all the silent films are lost. This is 80 percent of the early documented history of the predominant art-form of our age. It doesn’t seem that important until you watch some of the few remaining films, or pieces of films, that dedicated archivists have managed to preserve.

There’s a scene, for instance, from the 1923 movie Flaming Youth—which screened at this past weekend’s 46th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival in Hollywood—that contains true magic. It takes place at a Gatsby-like get-together, lots of men in tuxes, women in flapper attire, and the host of the party decides to intitiate a skinny-dip session with all the guests. This being 1923, the scene is filmed in pure sillhouette (though it was still too controversial to play in most theatres), and the result is nearly breath-taking, if only because this is the sole existing piece of footage. The shadowy figures of men and women diving into the pool look like ghosts jumping into the abyss of their own fragile mortality.

Film doesn’t last forever—its demise is inherent in the chemical properties that allow it to exist—yet it is still the most assured mode of preservation for the future, even in our digital world (as anyone knows who’s ever had a hard drive crash on them). The people behind Cinecon, and particularly the Saturday afternoon program I attended that was dedicated to lost (or previously lost) films, know this more than anyone. After the screening of what’s left of Flaming Youth, they showed a 1999 documentary called Keepers of the Frame. Highlighting such institutions as the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Modern Art, the movie takes a ‘Technicolor’ look at the continuing history of film preservation. Along the way, it shows the only surviving footage of President William McKinley two days before he was shot, the sole motion picture record of Alaskan Inuit in the 1930’s, and actual news-reel scenes from the Hindenberg disaster.

Had these strains of film not been carefully and pain-stakingly preserved, they would have been lost, much like the prize posession of the program and entire festival was thought to be: Charlie Chaplin’s third appearance in a film, called The Thief Catcher. Found by fortunate accident amidst a pile of old films inside a trunk at an antique show, the Keystone comedy does not feature Chaplin’s patented “Tramp” character; he is instead cast as one of the Keystone cops. He appears on screen for maybe a minute, and despite what they say about hindsight’s vision, his star quality is undeniable. He seems to already understand, even at this early stage in his career, the secret to silent film acting (and it’s still true today), which is that you need a secret. You can’t let your face belie your subtext—that’s representational acting, as Stanislavski would say—only your physical actions. And Chaplin, whether the star or the bit-player, was a master of physical acting for the screen. His face always posessed a certain secret, and it’s up to us as watchers of film, as confidantes, to preserve that secret for future generations of fellow conspirators.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information in Cinecon, please visit www.cinecon.org, and to pre-order a copy of the upcoming CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE 4-disc DVD set, which includes The Thief Catcher, please visit www.flickeralley.com.

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You’re Just Projecting

450Randy and Jason Sklar, better known as the Sklar Brothers, even better known as the hosts of the only ESPN Classic show I’ve ever watched on a regular basis—Cheap Seatsand possibly best known as the Cain and Abel of Hollywood agents in HBO’s Entourage, got their comedic starts amidst the burgeoning “alternative” comedy scene of mid-90’s New York. Back then and over there, such now-defunct clubs as the famous Luna Lounge used to hold regular open-mic nights, where names like Marc Maron, Greg Fitzsimmons, Louis CK, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, and many, many more once tuned their respective crafts. The Sklars didn’t immediately fit in. In fact, they stood out, and in a bad way. They’re identical twins, which, in the eyes of the comedy club weary, was synonymous with hacky—not far off from ventriloquism, as both shticks tended to traditionally rely on the straight-man/wacky-man dynamic. In interviews, Randy and Jason have talked about their initial struggle against this assumption, not so much with their audiences as within their act. They had to work hard to eventually to find their patented rhythm of completing one another’s sentences, riffing on topics the other brings up, never disowning their uncanny likeness, yet never relying on it either. Basically, they had to find their true collective self, a feat which simply would not have been possible without the open-mic.

These days, the Sklars still perform almost everywhere in Los Angeles, but have also transitioned into the world of film and television, an industry with lots of microphones (as well as projectors, the mic’s visual equivalent), few of which are “open,” almost none of which are free.  Hence, “Open Projector Night,” hosted by Randy and Jason Sklar, this Tuesday, August 17, 8:00 PM at the Hammer Museum. Free popcorn, cash bar, and a first-come-first-serve policy for any under-ten-minute film or video out there, these semi-regular nights have developed a reputation for rowdiness, rudeness, and yes, even the occasional cinematic gem. Come screen-test your private masterpiece (submissions begin at 7 PM), or just support your local filmmakers by getting drunk and voting them off the docket completely.

The Sklar Brothers, more than most, know what its like to struggle for an identity, and they’ve kind of made an on-screen career out of it (not to mention, paved the way for stellar teams like the Walsh Brothers). So if you’re tired of being constantly confused for someone you’re not, of having to dress different to stick out, of explaining the subtle yet imperative dissimilarities between you and that other idiot, just leave it in the hands of Sklars. They may not love your work, they may make some clever jokes at your expense, but they’ll at least give you a mic.

For  more information about “Open Projector Night” and Hammer Public Programs (all of which are free), please visit www.hammer.ucla.edu, or call 310.443.7000.

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Jewphony!

LAJS10-Ford-ORCHef48c13GuyMadmoni-1024x682The Ford Amphitheatre, located not a stone’s throw away from the Hollywood Bowl off the 101, is a good venue to stage a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or possibly Into the Woods. The sandstone sloped arena, where the audience sits, collides onto a central platform—to be had by the performers—which is backed by a lush, green, jungle-like mountain-side. It’s a little like one of those alternate dimensions you see characters in science fiction movies walk into, and it provides a sense of imminent danger. It’s perfect for Shakespeare, for fairy tales, and as was evidenced in the case of this past Sunday night, for Jews.

As a card-carrying member of Jewish tribe, who has attended my fair share of family Passover dinners, I know all too well the importance of a real or perceived threat (historical oppression, a gentile daughter-in-law, an infamously inedible recipe, etc.) in accommodating the success of a large-form, Jewish get-together. It creates unity. And the effect was no different on Sunday evening at the Ford Amphitheatre when the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony performed their latest melange of classical numbers, entitled “Cinema Judaica,” for a sold out audience of almost all geriatric Jews.

A woman two rows in back of me: “It wouldn’t be a Seder without Bubby’s kogl.”

Another woman holding two fingers together: “Our daughters and Sherri are like this!”

About the conductor: “She let her hair grow longer.”

And indeed the conductor, Dr. Noreen Green—also the founder and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony—did have long locks of blonde hair that bounced neatly atop her shoulders as she walked casually out to the central, elevated plank, and initiated a  rousing rendition of Alfred Newman’s20th Century Fox” theme, arguably the best known musical score in cinema. It was after the piece finished, however, that Dr. Green started in with her second role of the night (equally integral), which was quiz master and all-around emcee.

“What movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1956?” she asked aloud to the crowd, following a brief introduction of the program on bill.

The Ten Commandments,” screamed back some sporadic (though passionate) voices from the audience. But they were wrong. Cecille B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments did not win Best Picture that year; it was just nominated. But it was first up on the night’s listing of Jewish-composed/themed film scores—the composer of this piece being the great Elmer Bernstein.

He was supposedly hired by DeMille after another composer dropped out, and is still credited with changing the face of music for cinema. Hearing his epic “Ten Commandments Suite” played live by truly professional musicians—depsite the summer-camp vibe—I could make out the roots of Laurie Johnson’s Dr. Stangelove score, or even early John Williams.

Bernstein’s composition for The Chosen was next was on the agenda (after, of course, a second round of the ever-more-crowd-pleasing Quiz Show with Dr. Green.) This film demanded both jazz and traditional klezmer, in addition to Bernstein’s classical model. What emerged on stage was a swirling mixture of all three genres. Like a practiced jam band, the bass-players plucked swinging jazz riffs, while the clarinet and synthesized harpsichord snapped along with the klezmer, allowing for improvised sax solos and piano doodles. Never before had I considered the obvious connection between jazz and klezmer; they both rely on similar tools, such as off-key sharps and flats, to attain a colorful, upbeat music of the oppressed.

“There’s so much stuff up here,” kvetched Dr. Green once her second finely-conducted number was finished. The audience laughed, and watched her fiddle with cue-cards, batons, and god knows what else before launching into the most complex piece of the whole night: Jerry Goldsmith’s suite from the six-and-a-half-hour miniseries QB VII. Quick, unexpected changes in tempo, along with diverse instrumentation—congas, xylophones, electric guitars, and the entire Ford Festival Choir—combined for what I can only describe as Sciezmer, a perfect combination between between sci-fi and klezmer. Where the string section appeared semi-bored during the last Bernstein bout, their eyes were locked onto their music stands for this piece. Finishing off the suite with Goldsmith’s purposefully fragmented version of the Mourner’s Kaddish, the music was mesmerizing to say the least.

But just in case it wasn’t exactly a “greatest hit,” the orchestra went on to perform the instantly recognizable theme from Schindler’s List, as composed by John Williams, with Mark Kashper, Associate Principal Second Violinist for the L.A. Philharmonic, playing the solo. This piece was so moving, the couple sitting next to me (who must have been in their 70’s) started holding hands. And they kept them held together all through Charles Fox’sVictory at Entebbe Suite,” a powerful, pop-y, Phillip Glass-inspired melody, as well as Israeli pianist Andy Feldbau’s own solo arrangement of Alan Menken’sA Whole New World” from Aladdin. All this before intermission. No one ever said the Jews didn’t know how to squeeze in a good show.

However, Dr. Green and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s directors must have been counting on the majority of the audience falling asleep during the second half, because it simply was not up to par.

First was Danny Pelfrey’s suite from Joseph: King of Dreams, which was rousing if only because it seemed like one long crescendo of music. After that came the song “Trinkt L’Chayim” from Elmer Bernstein and Sylvia Neufeld’s score for Thoroughly Modern Millie. This piece was sung by Ariella Vaccarino, who’s gift lies in her voice, not in her fashion sense (she was wearing a sparkly, red strapless dress that was a bit too Broadway for the event).

And what kind of Jewish symphony would it be without the conductor’s own daughter performing a solo? That’s right: Hannah Drew, the gorgeous (and might I add, finely dressed), 13-year-old seed of Maestra Green sung the title song from Disney’s The Prince of Egypt, as composed by the legendary Stephen Schwartz. I hesitate to critique her performance, because, after all, she’s only 13. But then again, why is her mother hoisting her up on stage at such a fragile age? All I’m going to say is that while Hannah was, for the most part, brave and astonishing, she was clearly a product of intense coaching. In other words, she’s in training, as she should be at 13.

Luckily, the most inspired and fun composition of the night, written by Yuval Ron for the Oscar-winning short film West Bank Story, came next. Ron, himself, played the oud live with the orchestra, and his passion for the Arabian/klezmer/Israeli/show-tune music was palpable. Along with his colleague Jamie Papish on drum, he was on fire.

Lastly and appropriately, the show ended with a reprise of Jerry Goldsmith, this time from his score for the film Masada. It cleanly showed off the overall unity of the orchestra, the immense responsibility it takes from each and every musician to come together as a cohesive and beautiful whole. I looked around the audience, and not a seat was empty. Everyone, even the oldest and the youngest, were still present and awake. I realized that a symphonic piece of music like Goldsmith’s is not a bad metaphor for Masada, or even Jewishness in general. Because group unity (borne from individuality) is what’s it’s all about.

- By Joshua Morrison

Photography by Guy Madmoni.

For more information about Ford Amphitheatre events, please visit www.fordamphitheater.org, or call 323-461-3673.

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