Archive for the Guide to What’s Good Category

Milk, Gus Van Sant Q&A

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

It’s hard to see it, but that, my friends, is a picture of Gus Van Sant. The Q&A was almost as teary as the film itself with testimonials: from a queer youth who thanked Van Sant for his film-making as activism and from the director of the Hetrick Martin Institute on behalf of his students at the Harvey Milk School. Lessin and Deal the directors of Trouble the Water were also in the house as well as a good crew of Bedstuy qpocs. Unpacking the film with them afterwards was one of the highlights of the night. We all agreed that it was a great Hollywood biopic. Although we loved experimental Van Sant in many of his earlier art house films, we thought that this format and budget were appropriate as a showcase for Milk’s life story. Slate Honey’s previous observation on the problematic portrayal of people of color, was indeed confirmed. However, Van Sant mentioned that many of the people depicted in the film were on set consulting during most of the filming, including the Asian man, who is referred to in the film as Lotus Blossom ( Find out where they are now). Still, I was kind of floored by Jack’s portrayal, it did feel somewhat superficial and unsympathetic. Overall though, I remain highly impressed by Van Sant’s cinematic mastery. If you squint you might be able to detect in my iPhone photo that Van Sant is suitably chill in his down to earth jeans, red sneakers and green socks. He was equally approachable and laid back after the Q & A as he happily talked one on one to folks from the audience. Thanks for putting me on the press list after all MOMA! Bloggers are tops!

Slate Gets Milk- Gus Van Sant’s new Film

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, Mr Slate Honey, People of Color, politics, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

Great review and thoughtful Analysis of Milk by Mr Slate Honey. Van Sant is giving a Q&A tonight at MOMA- hopefully I’ll get tickets and be able to report back tomorrow.-R

It seems everybody and their gay dads saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk as part of the Thanksgiving routine this year.  I was warned to go equipped with tissues and to be ready for problematic portrayals of the few characters of color in the film.  (Thanks lover, for the forewarning by the way.) I went prepared with a dewey heart and my critical lenses on.

I have been a committed Sean Penn fan ever since I saw Dead Man Walking when I was a little mister.  And I got on the Gus Van Sant train a bit late but his recent films Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park have served my grungy emo-homo skater-boy obsession very well.

Cinematographer Harris Savides and Van Sant make a great visionary team.  They previously worked together on Elephant, a film with a very precise, clean cinema verité style that transforms violence into real-time horror and renders its viewers innocent witnesses.  In Milk, Savides and Van Sant play with perspective, creating layers of consciousness for Penn’s character.  Switching perspective and cinematic style, and weaving archival footage into the film, Savides and Van Sant reveal a determined, emotional man at the center of a violent socio-political setting.  A particularly lush scene that is classic Van Sant perspective comes early on in the film.  Harvey and Scott (played by James Franco) fall in love in a soft-focus dreamscape of close movement, shot all in extreme close-ups set to the soundtrack of their tender conversation.  Gorgeousness.

Overall, Milk is very historically accurate.  Activist Cleve Jones and friend of Milk’s was on-set during production and connected Van Sant with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who had long been preparing a manuscript. Milk serves as a good personal portrait counterpart to the 1985 documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein.  I had the feeling watching MILK that I could trust the filmmaker team’s attention to detail and the solid sense of collaboration gave the narrative a documentary quality.

So the accuracy and detail of the film bring up a pretty big concern on the race-politics front.  I was charmed by Sean Penn’s old-school New York accent and faggy gestures, seduced by James Franco’s flirty eyes and mini handlebar moustache and increasingly worried as Josh Brolin’s character’s passive aggressive repression began to seep out.  And the constant influx of characters served well as a distraction from the tragic and narrow development of the few characters of color.

A member of Milk’s activist dream team includes an Asian man who is only referred to as Lotus Blossom despite his many appearances.  Random folks of color magically appear in the crowd every time Milk gets a further push forward in the political machine.  During an acceptance speech near the climax of the film, a black woman with a classic 70s look complete with afro smiles enthusiastically behind Harvey.  She promptly disappears behind a shower of balloons as soon as Harvey wraps up his speech.

Leaving the theatre, my mom suggested that the race politics of the film merely mirrored the San Francisco scene in the 1970s.  There just weren’t that many people of color, she argued.  And there were barely any women in the film, she added.  Historical accuracy?  (And, I might add, how much has the San Francisco gay scene departed from a mostly white gay male playground thirty years later?)

The seldom appearance of people of color is one thing.  I suppose you can reason this with some argument about accuracy.  What is more troubling is the passiveness of the characters of color.  Black and Asian extras dot the activist scenes, always with their thumbs in the air and big smiles.  Lotus Blossom doesn’t seem to wince at his nickname.  And finally, Jack, the one Latino character that makes it on-screen for more than thirty seconds is portrayed as an irrational, mentally unstable, co-dependent, infantile wifey.  Jack’s tragedy becomes expected and you can almost hear the characters whispering under their breath “She brought it on herself.” This is fodder for post-colonial theory.

So my warnings were well-heeded.  In the end, I cried like a baby, just as hard as I cried when I watched ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk’.  I left the theatre thinking about the fearless work of an older generation of queer activists that laid some ground for young folks to make demands relevant to what it means to be queer and fight for rights today.  I also left thinking about how race politics have systematically been swept under the rug by a white gay and lesbian rights movement in the 70s.  I thought about what work that has left contemporary queer activists of color.  And how truly far-thinking activists never get comfortable and only keep pushing and questioning.  Finally, making my way out of the city back to Brooklyn, I meditated on queer love as freedom, queer survival as civil rights, and a beautiful fearlessness that comes naturally to us.

Trouble the Water Tonight at BAM

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, People of Color with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

I can’t rave about Trouble the Water enough. I have been on the journey with this film for several months. From the time that I first saw it until now, interviewing the filmmakers somewhere in between, writing an article about them and the film…let’s just say I am on the boat for the long haul with this one.

If you are in the New York City area, come to one of my favorite gem spots, The Brooklyn Academy of Music for either the 4:30, 6:50 or 9:30 screening.

This is what NY Mag and BAM have to say about the film:

Trouble the Water is ineradicably moving.” —New York Magazine

“Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, this astonishingly powerful documentary takes you inside Hurricane Katrina in a way never before seen on screen. Brooklyn-based filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal tell the story of an aspiring rap artist and her husband, trapped in New Orleans by deadly floodwaters, who survive the storm and then seize a chance for a new beginning” BAM website

This is the beginning of what I said about it:

The human spirit, all toughness aside could not withstand this movie without tears of empathy, regret, boiling anger, growing conviction and then the commitment to respond. This feeling of good will, fueled by a desire to help, is something that filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal consistently refer to as what motivated them to bring their cameras to the gold coast and begin what would become, Trouble the Water. Long time collaborators with Michael Moore,  they experienced a similar impetus towards action after 9/11. Turning their cameras outwards towards their own Brooklyn neighborhood, they made a compelling short about the backlash of racism and unjust deportations which affected many Muslims at the time.  More

See it for the first time, see it again. Then talk about it with your friends, send me comments, see Spike Lee’s Katrina doco, remember that New Orleans is still in crisis.

x

Olea, Afternoon In Ft Greene

Posted in Food, Guide to What's Good with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

So I’ve spent the whole day at Olea, ostensibly working, while also having brunch and lattes and now a drink with different friends who have wandered in and out during my all day residency here. I figured that now might be a good time to report faithfully on the place. First of all, It’s great, because not only are they cool with writers like me camping out all day… Their mediteranean food is also adecuately posh, approved of by nytimes, New York Mag and etc. Very decent coffee as well! For dinner they are slightly pricier, but the French infused breakfast is reasonable. Try the homemade pain chocolat and enjoy free wireless!

Transgender History- Susan Stryker

Posted in Book, Guide to What's Good, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

I finished reading Transgender History by Susan Stryker during my long post-Thanksgiving public transport journey. It was overall a very informative and straightforward book. It was easy to read and understand, which is a feat for non-fiction, and a contrast to Striker’s recent CUNY lecture, which was considerably more cryptic. I really enjoyed the book, it felt immediate and relevant, engaging the reader with the past 100 years of struggle for transgender rights.

The movement towards visibility has been pretty fascinating. It seems that the first people to challenge the assumption that transpeople are not only mentally ill, but also extremely perverse, were people within the medical establishment, German and Austrian psychologists and doctors. Then it was wealthier white male bodied individuals, who campaigned for the rights to cross-dress, and separately, to be granted sex-change operations. The book moves from that telling, to the history of early FTM agitators for change, who also seem to have started within the upper class, or rather gained initial success there.

Direct action, and quasi-revolutionary groups later emerged in the second half of the 20th century, with Stonewall, and it’s predecessors, such as for example, the staged sit-in that occurred at Compton’s restaurant, inspired and enacted by civil rights activists, who were also queer, many of whom were trans,-rights activists. That intersection between transpeople and LGB folks was a theme that Stryker consistently explored in relation to recent trans history.

It seems that although there was a lot of overlap between struggles during the 60s, that unity was often fractured by both, feminist lesbians, who rejected trans people as impostors of a sort, and gay men who labelled trans individuals somehow not radical enough because they were willing to seek help from the medical establishment. As transgenderism remained a disease in the medical books, certain gay activists, judged the transpeople who sought sex change operations, while some lesbian feminists claimed that by enacting femininity in a stereotypical way, transwomen mocked their struggle towards an androgynously expressed equality, and that anyone not born a woman could never fully understand and experience Women’s Oppression.

With so much fragmentation prior to the late nineteen-nineties when queer emerged as a blanket, inclusive term for a whole wide variety of folks, it is kind of nice to see how much of the old divisiveness has died down. However, recently when transgender people were left out of the new anti-discrimination law, many of those old flames were rekindled. In explanation of this political division the distinctions between homosexuality and transgenderism are offered. As well as the wide ranging differences within the transgender umbrella. People often presume that transgender people are by definition homosexual, when historically and continuously that is often not the case. While for some the distinction between gender and sexuality is obvious, many members of the general public don’t quite get what the difference is. Stryker clarifies this within her large definitions section. For anyone who is still confused please refer to the text!

Sheila Rowbotham on Edward Carpenter

Posted in Book, Guide to What's Good, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

I went to CUNY this evening to see Sheila Rowbotham talk about her new book and the man that inspired it, Edward Carpenter. This is how the CUNY website pre-described the event:

“Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham discusses her latest book ‘Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love’. Edward Carpenter (1844 to 1929) challenged both capitalism and the values of Western civilization. He pioneered homosexual, lesbian and women’s liberation along with nudism, recycling, anti-pollution, diet reform and animal rights. He was friendly with such cultural icons as Walt Whitman, E.M.Forster, Isadora Duncan and Emma Goldman. He lived his politics, advocating a minimalist simplification to cluttered middle class Victorians and initiating a craze for country cottages, beeswaxed floors and sandals which helped to prod the modern age into being.”

Carpenter seems like an interesting man, who expressed his gay-ness fairly openly at the end of the 19th cetury. During this time, sodomy was considered criminal and Oscar Wilde was on trial for that very act. Sheila herself is a pretty fascinating lady. Earlier this year I read her 1973 book, Women’s Consciousness: Men’s World. It is a highly readable analysis of British socialist feminism. She tells the story of women who chose to trade eye liner for revolutionary politics, back in the day when it had to be one or the other. I especially like her likening of marriage to feudalism. While I categorically believe that queer people deserve equal rights and protection under the law, in all areas, including marriage. Like Sheila, I personally don’t think that marriage is a goal that any of us need aspire towards. Let’s focus on legalizing free thought instead shall we? It was cool to see Rowbotham, British accent and all, in a small room at CUNY. She is a thinker that holds a vital place in the history of second wave feminism.

In Bed, Eat Cafe, Superfine, Rhong Tiam

Posted in Food, Guide to What's Good with tags , , , , , , , on November 23, 2008 by thebrooklynsocialite

I’m in bed with my new baby. I’m referring to my laptop, it finally arrived and now my life can return to some semblance of normality. More posts, less German. I’m excited about the great writing I’m going to do on Franny (mac prompted me to name her, so franny it is) and I’m also very excited about the lit salon I’m having at my house tomorrow night. I promise an in depth report back on Monday morning.

As for today,  I started off at Eat Cafe/record store in Greenpoint for Lattes and French toast with stewed apples. Good coffee, and sweet neighborhoody vibe. It reminded me a lot of Melbourne, which is just the thing I”m always looking for in cafes. The menu changes daily, which seems to be the new theme for hip little joints, Superfine also works that way. I went there on Wed night but it somehow hasn’t made it into posts until now. Maybe because the food was fine, but not super and after all the good things I had heard about it was expecting more. The waitress was friendly and the space super cute but the food combos were a bit off-putting, I’d rather not have chicken liver on my polenta.

Rhong Tiam on the other hand is kinda worth the hype. It blends chic decor, a jazz and blues soundtrack, a fashion savvy host and pretty authentic Thai food. The New York Times says its one of the best Thai restaurants in Manhattan, but they admit, and I agree that the best in the city require a trip to Queens. The desert is decadent, enough for an army and they have a few creative fried rice options, like green curry and coconut. Plus good wine.

ok gotta crash now!