Old School

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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The Aging of Aquarius

Hair TourAs 2012 is supposedly the true dawn of Aquarius, and as we are currently involved in at least one overseas military conflict with no foreseeable resolution, and as baby boomers’ babies are now reaching the age of maturity, and as the state of musical theatre in America seems to be careening in the direction of over-hyped, big-budget cartoon adaptations, Hair would seem to be the ideal show not just to revive, but to re-invent for a new generation.

After seeing the Tony Award-winning production, directed by Diane Paulus, on its opening night at the Pantages on Thursday (it runs until the 23rd), however, I realized the producers made no such effort toward re-invention. Instead, the non-stop round of musical number after musical number—sung as if the characters were participating in a cocaine-fueled campfire Kumbaya session—comes off as kitschy and embarrassing for anyone (like my one-time-hippy mother and father) who may have actually lived through the Summer of Love. In that sense, the show not only fails to adapt to post-millennium politics, but also to resuscitate the actual feelings that created the 60’s counter-culture in the first place.

If there was ever any plot to speak of in Hair, I didn’t catch much of it in this production. Essentially, there’s a commune of hippies living in New York City who spend their time singing and dancing about sex and their parents and sometimes the Vietnam War. The protagonist, Claude, a soulful lover and wanderer played efficiently by Paris Remillard, struggles to negotiate between his ‘duty’ to join the military and his new-found identity amidst the  tribe of peace-loving protesters. There are mild hints of potentially interesting love triangles within the commune—Jeanie (the beautiful Kacie Sheik) is in love with Claude, who, in turn, loves Sheila (Caren Lyn Tacket), who really loves Berger (Steel Burkhardt), etc.—but they are glossed over, much like every other breath of complexity.

And I realize many great musicals thrive upon their emotional simplicity (why else would anyone spontaneously break into song if not propelled by some deep, irreducible desire?) The problem, though, with painting hippies, in particular, with a one-color palette is that their critics (i.e. their parents, their teachers, even their government) start to make sense in comparison. When Claude is the only person out of his entire “tribe” not to burn his draft card, for example, I respected him. He showed to be capable of individual thought. Yet still, when he is asked by why he acts and dresses the way he does, all he can do is sing a non-sensical song about…well, hair.

The cast, however, is in no way to blame for my issues with the show. In fact, I appreciated seeing actual human body-types on stage—even in the infamous nude scene—showing off realistic stomachs, flabby biceps, and of course, curls of hair. Their genuine excitement was fun (if not completely contagious), and their voices were tremendous. They collectively proved you don’t need to look beautiful to be beautiful. I especially enjoyed Matt DeAngelis, who played the slinky, acid-burned Woof, and Josh Lamon, a legitimate show-stopper in his turn as Margaret Mead.

The one cast member, though, who gave the most exhilarating performance, by far, was the audience. Like a true method actor, they were “on” before the curtain even parted. It was strange. I’ve been to a bunch of huge Broadway shows and tours, on opening nights and closing nights, in London and New York and LA, and rarely have I seen this much palpable enthusiasm for a show. They absolutely carried the other, weaker actors on their backs the entire time, and in the end, proved the whole 2-plus hours to be a worthwhile endeavor—in my eyes—when they were duly invited on stage to sing a massive, rousing rendition of “Let the Sun Shine In.” Watching with glee as middle-aged women joined young, effeminate men and dolled-up, heel-clad girls in a shamanistic rage of song-and-dance, I thought, for maybe the first time in the production, this is something my mother and father would like.

- By Joshua Morrison

Hair runs until January 23rd at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. For more information, please visit www.broadwayla.org, or call 800-982-ARTS (2787).

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Reverse Discovery

44303_429030174317_267386114317_4742142_5663448_nA friend of mine and sometime contributor to this site Helen Kearns recently introduced me to the site, www.whosampled.com, a pretty amazing operation whereby you can look up an artist or title of a song, and the search engine supplies you with a catalog of other recordings that artist/song sampled and vice versa. The site is clearly still growing, and definitely doesn’t have every musician or track you can think of. But it is symbolic of an interesting trend I’m seeing more and more in contemporary music: reverse discovery.

It’s different than nostalgia in that often one reverse-discovers music they’ve never heard before, and instead of the present reminding them of the past, it’s the past reminding them of the present. What I believe this is leading to in the music industry (and entertainment industry) at large is the reissue of old recordings, not ones that were once popular Billboard hits, but ones that may have may have silently slipped through the cliched cracks of mainstream culture.

In fact, this is already happening on a small scale. One of my newest favorite albums, for instance, Air Over Water by Wall Matthews and Rusty Clark was released this year, but all the tracks featured were originally recorded from 1974 to 1986, the year Clark passed away. Chances are you probably haven’t heard of this album or these musicians, unless you reverse-discovered them through the popular British DJ, Four Tet, who illegally sampled their song “Neptune Rising” in his “She Moves She” (a fact not found on whosampled.com).

Matthew’s and Clark’s music is hardly irrelevant or untimely, however. They just happened to be performing and recording a few decades before vocal-less acoustic and “Imagistic”—to use a word from the subtitle of the album, “Imagistic Music for Guitar and Violin”—were readily available outside of coffee shops and experimental dance troupes.

To be fair, the name of the album does sound like an Enya-esque meditation soundtrack (though Enya is vastly underrated in my opinion, and has most likely enjoyed some reverse-discovery herself). But the actual music has no electronics, no singing, and with the exception of a few tracks, sticks to just two instruments. It could be dubbed minimalist if it were not for the full and entrenching landscapes these two instruments create.

The first song of the album, “The Two Snails Who Went to the Funeral of a Dead Leaf” is a brash, Indian-inflected violin solo from Rusty Clark, a call to the wild that dances between Philip Glass-like repetitions and something more raw and untamed. The level of musicianship is clearly marked high from the very beginning, and maintains the kind of virtuosic intensity you simply don’t hear that much these days outside of a symphony.

The second track, “Gypsies,” inaugurates the guitar-and-violin duets, which make up most of the album. And they are truly duets. The two instruments trade off positions of melody and landscape many times within a single song, and almost imperceptibly.  Matthews finger-picks his guitar in fast, clear, ringing tones, reminiscent of Nick Drake, but with more complexity and variety. Meanwhile, Clark leads his violin through a veritable wonderland of genres, from medieval-court-like fare to free jazz to pop to what, in “Alabama Sketches” and “The Clowns,” I can only describe as pastoral dread.

It’s tempting to call the songs on Air Over Water cinematic, because they are so visual, but then again, the music is what dominates here, and I’m not sure if would work taken into the soundtrack of a movie. What Wall and Rusty did, instead, and what feels more natural, was use it for dancers—a far more interpretive arena of expression that, like the instrumentation itself, works with (rather than on top of or below) the sounds.

“The Clowns” is a quick favorite for any new listener to Matthews and Clark. It’s ostensibly simple, with a clear, defined structure, and brings to mind a comforting type of rustic domesticity. But there’s also a creeping suspicion in it, and the repetition becomes and integral part of what ultimately makes the piece so haunting.

“The Blue Heart” introduces the first bits of piano into the mix, a welcome addition, especially with its combination of music-box simplicity and dissonant jazz. It a beautiful imbalance dancing with with innocent, would-be major key melody. It borders on the noir—a dangerous and flirtatious seduction between two ballroom waltzers.

Whereas the album began with a triumphant violin solo from Clark, the album ends with an unassuming “Little Piece” by Matthews, just him on guitar, gently leading the listener out of his world, at least for now. I began to realize, then, how the idea of reverse-discovery might be inherent in some music, how even when Wall and Rusty were recording these works back in the 70’s and 80’s, they weren’t just doing it for that specific time. They were inviting an entire future, real or imagined, to experience and discover their unique vibrations.

- By Joshua Morrison

If you wish to reverse-discover more, you should definitely check out Matthews’s Riding Horses, Heart of Winter, Zen Gardens, Color of Dusk, and Gathering the World, as well as the work of the Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble.

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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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Extra! Extra! Win Tickets to Legendary Count Basie Orchestra!

count-basie-orchestra-0011Jazz remains one of the few indigenous, American art forms, in that nothing quite like it ever existed before Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton started mixing up ragtime with the blues in an early 1900’s city called New Orleans. And to understand the history of jazz, as well as its incredible influence on our culture, is to understand the history of America and American music from slavery on up. Simply put, no artist you listen to today could exist without jazz. Which is why the genre makes its sudden flares of resurgence from time to time, and why you can still walk into most hip coffee shops around the city—notably, the Downbeat Café on Alvarado—and find a slick laptop-er or two subconsciously tapping their heels to the likes of Duke Ellington or Count Basie.

This Wednesday, July 28th at 8:00 PM at the Hollywood Bowl, jazz proves its not dead with the internationally renowned Count Basie Orchestra—still going after eighty years. Known for popularizing the Kansas City-style of big band jazz, as well as initiating some of the greatest artists in history (including Billy Holiday, Jo Jones, and Charlie Parker), Basie, himself, passed away in 1984, but his band plays on under different direction and with a regenerating cast of musicians. The current Orchestra doesn’t strictly adhere to its Kansas City roots (i.e. rhythmic riffs under improvised solos), but instead incoporates more of the East coast, neo-classisist style of big band jazz, with complex arrangements by director Bill Hughes.

That’s not to say, however, that such Count classics as “One O’Clock Jump” or “April in Paris” won’t be bouncing through the Bowl on Wednesday—along with the Dave Holland Big Band, the Dave Douglas Big Band, and yes, maybe you. Due to the overwhelming response of our last giveaways, FineArtsLA.com is once again raffling off two tickets to the Hollywood Bowl to see the Count Basie Orchestra live at 8:00 PM. Just enter your first and last name into the form below, as well as your e-mail address, and you are automatically entered into the running to win not just Wednesday night’s tickets, but also the next three FineArtsLA.com giveaways. So brush up on your two-step, and dust off those dancing shoes; even if you don’t win our contest, you can still buy tickets here.

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Posted in Dance, Extra! Extra!, Hollywood, Jazz, Music, Neighborhoods, Old School, Performance, Personalities, Tickets No Comments »

Panoramic Views: A Moving Story

union_theatre_facade1I’m about to move neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I realize this information is of interest to very few people, and even then, of very little interest. But for the past two years, I’ve lived in the USC area, about two blocks away from the historic Union Theatre—also known at the Velaslavasay Panorama—and I’ve never once stepped inside. I’ve tried. When I first moved in and took my inaugral expedition around the hood, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the building. It’s vastly out-of-place, an artifact from another era dropped in-between a bodega and some low-rent housing (and in fact, it is from another era: it was built sometime in the 1910’s and operated for many years as a venue of multiple uses, including a playhouse, a silent-film theatre, and a meeting hall for the Tile Layers Union Local #18). When I tried to enter beneath the grand, old-fashioned marquee, however, it was closed. Ever since, it’s just been that mysterious buidling (sometimes aglow) that I drive by nearly every day, and have yet to go in—either because it’s closed or I have no reason. And now I’m about to move.

Fortunately, I have one last chance. This weekend, starting on Friday, but running on Saturdays as well, for five weeks only, the Velaslavasay Panorama opens its doors at 8:00 PM to present the unique and aptly located live performance of The Grand Moving Mirror of California. What is it? Good question. It’s a series of moving painted scenes, which encircle the theatre like a long scroll being rolled out around the audience, and depict the journeys of early American settlers attempting to reach California during the Gold Rush of 1849. Using live narration taken from an actual 19th century script, along with musical accompaniment and radio-play sound-effects, the show celebrates and revives a 130-year-old mode of entertainment that simply shouldn’t be missed.

Not bad for my last weekend in the neighborhood.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information about the Union Theatre, the Panorama, or panoramas in general, please visit www.panoramaonview.org, or call 213-746-2166.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Downtown, Installation, Mixed media, Music, Musical Theatre, Neighborhoods, Old School, Painting, Performance No Comments »

Open Your Eyes & Enjoy the Ride…To Watts, with “Meet Me @ Metro”

IMG_2841_1I am one of the few lucky Angelenos to live near a metro stop, so I was able to catch the Red Line straight down to Union Station to attend the Watts Village Theater Company’s site-specific performance piece: “Meet Me @ Metro” last Sunday. In the first car I took while going to the performance a crazed woman with a suitcase was dancing and babbling unintelligibly for three fascinated children and their terrified mother. I changed cars and found myself surrounded by a group of long-haired jubilant tourists, cracking jokes at the top of their lungs about Los Angeles to anyone who would listen. Through both of these experiences I avoided all eye contact, set my face in an uninviting frown, and shrank into my chair: tricks I’d learned from four years riding the NYC subway.

At Union Station I joined the throng of expectant “Meet me @ Metro” audience members at the west entrance. We were quickly wrangled into a circle by a company of horn-honking cops circling us on tiny red tricycles and handing out yellow sticky-note tickets. With so many characters riding the subway on any normal day, it took me a minute to realize that the faux cops were part of the show and not just a bunch of lunatics. I perked up out of my guarded public transit shell as soon as I knew the show had begun.

At the center of the circle, the Watts Village Theater artistic director, Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez, explained that the mission of this show was to redefine the Watts community as a welcoming place and to literally bring people there by using theatre. And that is what they did.

Over the next two and a half hours, twenty or so performers lead fifty audience members through the bowels of the metro, on and off of trains, out into neighborhoods, and finally to a field at the feet of the Watts Towers. We were like a mob of Hansel and Gretels following bread crumbs of narrative, history, poetry, and dance, scattered along our route through an unknown wilderness. If theatre is supposed to take you to places you’ve never been, then this show did. Physically.

More than the performances themselves, we were motivated on by the encouraging smiles and sheer effort the performers put into this undertaking. “The most amazing thing about this show is that we’re doing it,” said Mr. Aviles-Rodriguez when we began, and he was right.

The actual performances at each location were confusing, hard to hear, and underwhelming in quality. The 7th and Metro Center stop just seemed to be an excuse for the MooDoo Puppet Theater to have a man on stilts hand out postcards for their show. In Pershing Square I was struck by the irony that the audience was huddled around a performer ranting like a homeless person about loving ShangriL.A., while we turned our backs to several actual homeless people on the edge of the circle who were asking what was going on.

But whether the performances were ‘Broadway quality’ or not was beside the point. Back at Union Station I had let my guard down and allowed myself to see more than just where I was headed. As we traveled from station to station, I saw more art in the world around me than I had ever noticed before. Los Angeles, and the Metro specifically, is full of murals, statues, and installation art that I had always walked by with indifference. Now each piece was a part of a show, and it was if a spotlight was shining on everything from Joyce Kozloff ‘s film mural at the 7th & Metro stop to the music of the Watts ice cream truck playing behind the performers song. And maybe I wouldn’t have seen the inhabitants of Pershing square or their plight to participate in the show if I hadn’t been brought there with more open eyes.

There is so much beauty, humor, art and humanity around us every day here in the second largest city in the United States, and it took a troupe of intrepid performers taking their spectacle out of the theater and onto the street to help me see it. I thought back to my experiences on the metro before the show began and wondered how I would have experienced them differently if I had approached them with curiosity rather than fear.

The Watts Village Theater Company and their collaborators hope to make “Meet me @ Metro” an annual performance festival. If they are lucky enough to make this happen, I encourage you to take the trip. Until then, as you make your daily commute around town, imagine a spotlight once in a while showing you art where you least expected it. I promise you it will make for a much more enjoyable ride.

- By Stephanie Carrie

For more information about The Watts Village Theater Company, please visit www.wattsvillagetheatercompany.com.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Conceptual, Downtown, Festival, Neighborhoods, Old School, Performance, The Social Scene, Theatre No Comments »

Hitchcock’s Storied Sense of Humor Takes to the Ahmanson Theatre

The-39-Steps-Photo-8-1024x819We start off with an English gentleman.  He’s on stage, with his requisite pipe, telling us of the dull and boring days in a rented flat in central London that drove him to seek entertainment in a place as unlikely as the theatre.  He treks off to see red curtains pulled back revealing a perfectly comic duo in only their first role of the evening: as host and the night’s main act, Mr. Memory.  This is the beginning of “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”, on now at the Ahmanson Theatre.

This show is not for the theatre purist easily offended by a lack of the ever-elusive “fourth wall.”  This is, instead, one of the funniest, most inventive, self-reflective plays I’ve seen in a long while.  With a cast of only four, the players cover many a persona often by simply changing their hat while still on stage.  The special effects were nowhere to be seen, either, with characters holding out and shaking their own coats to simulate the wind.  Various accents abounded as each actor moved between his or her alternate personalities – Clair Brownwell’s initial character, Annabella Schmidt, had a very German accent (pronouncing “involved” in all sorts of incomprehensible ways) before she switched to become the blonde Scottish woman, Pamela, out to get our leading man, Ted Deasy.

Deasy played only one man – the clever, but wanted Richard Hannay – and was a delight from the moment he stepped on stage.  He mastered a dry, elongated British accent and paired it with a quick-paced rapport, making the play seem almost like His Girl Friday, as directed by Mr. Hitchcock.  With references to Hitchcock’s films throughout, from a scene with Deasy running away from planes in silhouette a la North by Northwest to a sneaky puppet that made Mr. Hitchcock’s iconic cameo for him, “The 39 Steps” is a comical tour de force.

What made the show spectacular was the work of Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson, cast as Man #1 and Man #2, respectively.  They went from train ticket takers to cops on the hunt for a murderer to inn-keepers to German spies (and their wives) to on-stage “special effects” coordinators taunting Deasy and Brownell to the end.  The Men (numbers 1 and 2) interacted with each other seamlessly, moving in perfect sync when necessary and telling one another when they’d forgotten to change their hat again and they were acting as the wrong character.

Perhaps the scene that prepared the audience best for what we were about to experience came toward the start when Annabella Schmidt, who had talked her way into staying at Mr. Hannay’s flat for the night, explained her predicament.  She told Hannay that she was being followed by detectives and that they would be there now beneath a street lamp near his apartment.  As Hannay went to pull back the blind to see for himself, Man #1 and Man #2 rushed on stage holding a prop street lamp.  They set it up and stood beneath it, their trench coat collars pulled up and black hats pulled down.  Quick-witted with a hefty side of film noir, vintage international intrigue, and absolutely no magical seamlessness between scenes.  “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” tells you what its going to do as it does it, but in the funniest way possible – just make sure you brush up on your Hitchcock.

“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” runs now through May 16 at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown at the Music Center.  Please click here or call (213) 972-4400 for more information.

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What’s What in the Art World at Large (And What To Do in LA)

yves_saint_laurentWe may be geographically far from, well, everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep up with all the arts endeavors across every which pond.  So here’s a bit of news (for the very serious and elite readers) and a bonus round of what’s going on in LA that really deserves your attention (for those who care about little outside LA county).

First, a stop in Paris at the Petit Palais.  The Parisian museum brings to the fore the artistic achievements of none other than Yves Saint Laurent.  Curated by Florence Muller and Farid Chenoune, the exhibit, called Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective features gowns, menswear, some of the designer’s treasured personal items used in creative pursuits, and it highlight themes used throughout the many collections in Saint Laurent’s illustrious career.  One ticket to France, please! {Global Post}

Onto Italy.  In Milan, our very own Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition has commenced.  Founded in 1993, Domingo’s opera competition is meant to find the cream of the crop amongst new talent in opera.  The singers represent not only a range of vocal categories (from coloratura soprano to the lowest bass), but also an array of countries around the world.  The competition ends May 2 (this Saturday), so you’ll have a new vocalist’s career to follow starting Sunday, May 3rd.  We have a feeling it will be meteoric.  {Culture Monster}

Not to shower the French with too much attention, though they don’t mind, Sotheby’s has made quite the announcement prior to the upcoming auction season.  The storied (and once thought lost) private collection of legendary Parisian art dealer Amrboise Vollard is set to meet the auction block.  His career was spent promoting such up-and-comers as Picasso, Cezanne, and Renoir and Vollard’s collection includes not only paintings, but such enticing items as prints, drawings, and artist books.  The sale will be held in London on June 22, so brush up on your British colloquialisms.  {ArtInfo}

Back at home, there is much to celebrate.  Dig into your pockets just a bit to buy yourself a ticket to the Architecture and Design Museum’s official Grand Opening!  For $75, you’ll mingle with a veritable who’s who of the architecture and design world in LA at the reception tomorrow night (April 27), (hint: you can also find them anywhere from Father’s Office to Tar Pit on weeknights), check out the first exhibit, and bid on things at the silent auction.  {A+D Museum}  Also, if you haven’t uploaded his schedule into your iCal already, Gustavo Dudamel has returned to the LA Phil – he’s conducting pretty regularly from now through May 8 on a number of concerts all worthy of splurging for tickets.  {LA Phil} This is your last chance to see LACMA’s exhibit Renoir in the 20th Century.  The exhibit closes May 9. {LACMA} Last, but certainly not least, turns out that parodies of Wagner and his Ring Cycle abound.  LA Times’ Culture Monster shows us the best of the best. {Culture Monster}

Posted in Architecture, Art, Bring Your Flask, Classical Music, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Exhibitions, Fashion, Festival, Food & Drink, Galleries, Miracle Mile, Museums, Music, Neighborhoods, Old School, Painting, Personalities, Photography, The Social Scene No Comments »

Sassy, Classy, and Proud

Until I got to LA, the world of burlesque was somewhat foreign to me. I had a vague notion of 1920’s showgirls doing Bob Fosse numbers for over-excited guys in trench-coats and fedoras, a lot of nasally yammering and two-note whistles. But even this general notion of burlesque was gleaned from Looney Tunes and old movies, not real life.

Then in LA, I realized there was an actual burgeoning scene, filled with human beings, or at least the Hollywood equivalent. It seemed everywhere I went, there was some amateur poster or postcard hanging up, featuring a scantily clad woman in heavy make-up, teasing me to visit the “Saturday Night Follies” or “Beatrice’s Boudoir.” Thus I developed a kind of adverse reaction to the ad saturation. I felt these so-called burlesque girls were simply suburban strippers in disguise, lacking the fortitude to go the whole way. To me, it was post-feminism imploding in on itself.

Still I hadn’t yet seen a burlesque show with my own two eyes, and had very little idea what it entailed. So this past Sunday night, I decided to get up off my hypocritical, ivory-stained tuchus, and check out “Red Snapper’s Sassy, Classy Burlesque Revue” at The Sherry Theatre in North Hollywood.

I held some hesitation over whether to bring a notebook or not. Normally I always bring a notebook to any event I review, whether it be a gallery or a film screening, but the idea of taking notes while a girl is showing off her tasseled breasts seemed somehow creepy to me. In the end, I decided to take notebook, but keep it on the down-low.

Right from the start of “Red Snapper’s Sassy, Classy Burlesque Revue” I realized how ignorant I’d been. There was a giant, inflatable bottle of Absinthe set up on the stage, three guys in sharp suits and slicked-back hair sitting behind me—each toting a bottle of champagne and going by the monikers of Frederick O’Hollywood and Patrick the Bank Robber. Burlesque, it seemed, was a kind of costume party, a carnival, a renaissance fair for those who preferred jazz with their coffee. And everyone was happy.

The first performer, one Mr. Snapper (aka Andrew Moore), the emcee of the night, got things going with a cute ukulele rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” pitch-perfect trumpet scat-singing and all.  But in burlesque, there’s no such thing as cute—or even perfect—without raunch. So Mr. Snapper told a dirty joke before bringing up the premiere dancer: How does a college man propose? Answer: You’re having a what?

Bebe Firefly, the first lady as it were, was the reason for the inflatable Absinthe bottle. She was dressed as a dolled-up green fairy, the kind that supposedly pops up every once in a while under the influence of the nationally illicit spirit. To the tune of a jazzy, speed-guitar riff, Bebe proceeded to mix a glass of alcohol with sugar on stage, consume it, and promptly shake her hips and bust until all that was left was a thong and some tassels. The crowd, both men and women, all hooting and hollering, loved it.

Next up was Iona Vibrator, donning an elaborate, Asian/New Orleans fusion outfit, which came off in a similarly ritualized fashion to that of Bebe’s. After her: Ms. Jessabelle Thunder, who’s David Lynch-esque number made me realize the hypnotizing effect of such dances. It’s mostly just simple back and forth, some turns and winks thrown in, but for some reason it’s just enough to keep you swaying along with them.

The show’s producer and name-sake, Red Snapper, arrived on stage next, ushering the audience into the second half of the night—the more experienced girls. Snapper was obviously a crowd favorite, more than comfortable strutting around in a pair of garters and stockings, doing a kind of naughty 50’s housewife parody. The supposed female empowerment associated with modern burlesque became more apparent in Snapper’s performance. She possessed a definite control over her own teases, an excited familiarity with her routine that translated into a kind of feminine pride.

Panama Red followed, with Costa Brava not far behind, each showing off their own expertise with unique additions to the basic ritual of the formalized strip-tease. Whether it was Panama Red’s jungle-themed chest-shake, or Costa Brava’s feathered fan dance, these girls clearly knew what they were doing, and found ways to make playful what could become tiresome.

The show-stopper, both literally and figuratively, was Evie Lovelle, the seeming celebrity of the group, appearing in her last performance before a European tour. As she came out from backstage, wearing a tight corset which practically choked her tiny, tiny waist, the audience went nuts. And I could see why. She had long, black hair; gorgeous, pale skin; and a knowing smile that’s typically reserved for starlets of the silent film era. She’ll fit in just perfect in Europe.

Leaving the show, I talked to two female members of the audience, both of whom expressed interest in trying out burlesque themselves. They said they appreciated how the medium applauded real women, and how even conventionally “flawed” body-types could be made beautiful and powerful. As for me, I’m still not quite convinced of the transformative value in burlesque—after all, every number ends with what’s known as the “final reveal”—but I will say that I had a fun time. And as it tuns out, my note-taking didn’t feel that creepy at all. I suppose that’s because nothing seems that creepy about burlesque. It’s a celebration, rather than a perversion, and for that, I’ll hoot and holler with the rest of ‘em.

Photos by Holly Go Darkly

To find out about any and all upcoming burlesque shows in Los Angeles, please visit www.losangeles.Burlesque411.com.

Posted in Art, Bring Your Flask, Dance, Music, Neighborhoods, Old School, Performance, Personalities, The Social Scene, Theatre No Comments »