Archive for ella

Ella at Howard Zinn

Posted in Book, ella, People of Color, politics, queer, reading with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I will just preface this by saying that as someone with a degree in History, yes not your typical socialite trade, nonetheless true…Howard Zinn is my idol. Take that American Idol, last week, while I was paying my dues in the country, Ella went to hear him speak along with a few other visionaries at the 92 street Y. Here’s her report back. R

Entering the 92nd Street Y last Wednesday, I may have been guilty of bringing more than a healthy dose of cynicism. Don’t get me wrong – I cried as much as the next liberal during Obama’s acceptance speech. But, well… I struggle with a lot of the liberal left’s self-righteousness and lack of self-criticism. Especially when confronted with it in its Park Slope post-hippie incarnation. And let’s be honest – if I struggle to stay polite to Park Slope liberals, Upper East Side liberals should entice me to set off fire alarms by smoking Marlboro Reds,  and to loudly proclaim my affection for clubbing baby seals.

Also, taking the subway from Crown Heights to 86th street is such a bizarre exercise in people watching.  Not a situation geared to inspiring faith in the existence of a post-racial America. Even in oh-so-liberal New York.

The high schoolers carrying AP-study guides and the people handing out fliers for every cause and demonstration under the sun did nothing to raise my spirits. I haven’t been grumpier since my mother forced me to take part in a Swedish outdoor Hannukah celebration.

Imagine my surprise when A Young People’s History of the United States
turned out to be the most inspiring and intellectually challenging event I’ve been to in a long time.

Howard Zinn, I shouldn’t have doubted you. Surprisingly tall and gangly, Zinn’s introduction to the evening showed not only that he’s still sharp and funny but also that he can command an audience without bogarting the stage. Despite the fact that the evening tied in with the publication of A Young People’s History of the United States, the self-evidently titled young reader’s version of Zinn’s non-fiction bestseller, it didn’t feel like an excuse to hawk books.

Instead, the evening introduced me to several historical speeches I’m going to have to revisit, and several performers I’m keen to check out again. Tim Robbins has been a long-term favorite of mine, but Avery Brooks is definitely someone I’d love to see act again. And I want to hear Shontina Vernon sing again and Staceyann Chin perform poetry.

For me, one of the very genuine effects of the evening was a return to the feeling that dissent and questioning of the ruling order can be intellectually satisfying. And that this doesn’t have to be done mockingly. The Martin Luther King Jr speech, Where Do We Go from Here?, performed by Brian Jones, was a picture of sincerity, while at the same time addressing the troubling link between race and class which was true in the 60s and has not yet been overcome.

Emphasizing the role of young people in shaping the world, Evann Orleck-Jetter, the twelve year old girl whose testimony helped sway the Vermont state legislature to allow equal marriage rights, read the piece she’d delivered early this year, as well as a document against child labor from 1913. I was worried for a while that this would be gimmicky and embarrassing. Instead, her calm performance was a restrained tear-jerker –- impressive in anyone and incredibly dignified for someone that young –- which highlighted Zinn’s argument that the study of history should inspire people to participate in the struggles of their own age.

The evening inspired me to email one of the poems performed to an old teacher of mine, from back when I was a super idealistic teenager. She wrote back, thanking me, saying she’d needed it that day. I guess the evening brought back those feelings of I matter-ness that otherwise tend to get trapped beneath my everyday life. Maybe, sometimes, the enthusiastic young person in me needs to be given space to push the post-ironic jaded city dweller aside.

By Ella Fitzsimmons

The Socialiting Continues- Ella at Sonar

Posted in art, ella with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Sonar Sound at the Baryshnikov Arts Center showed that I’ve probably been in New York too long, because Europeans are starting to look inherently cool to me. I grew up there. I should know better. But where once I’d accurately identify their appearance as nothing but a synthesis of washed-out black clothing from H&M, a lack of vitamins showing on sallow complexions, decades of smoking and greasy-ish hair, I now saw urban sophistication. I even caught myself thinking it was cool to hear people switching between French and Spanish as they waited for over-priced beer.

This is troubling. Some might even call it a disgrace. Obviously, I need to return to the semi-socialist old world soon, in order for me to regain proper disdain for other Euros.

That being said, Sonar was pretty… well…cool. The 16th edition of Barcelona’s International festival of advanced music (which kind of sounds like an exam, but isn’t) and multimedia art was in New York for the Catalan days. I’m usually predisposed to automatically mocking any art happening held in a gritty space (courtesy of a long running joke targeting the London art scene’s predilection for showing sub-standard up-and-coming work in a “charming little dumpster in Hoxton”), but the slightly post-industrial feel of the Baryshnikov Arts center served Sonar well.

(Though, as my friendly co-reviewer pointed out, “There were a lot of stairs”. While it made sense, sound isolation-wise, to separate the shows by a couple of floors, this clearly confused a lot of people, including me. When I envision suffering for art, I mean my art. Or at least watching someone super-creative self-destructing in artistically portrayed ways. Being sweaty and lost and running in stairwells…not convinced.)

The first floor of activities started out on a firm footing, with Spanish musicians Fibla and Arbol’s live, ambient electronica accompaniment of pleasantly weird Taiwanese film Goodbye Dragon Inn. With dialogue kept to a minimum, Goodbye Dragon Inn is a near ideal film to reset a soundtrack to – Fibla and Arbol’s accompaniment chimes well with the recurring motif of a limping office girl making her way around Taipei , adding a balletic dimension to the character’s disability and social isolation.

Unfortunately, the next show that was on in Theatre C, Balago, managed to undo some of my newfound respect for multimedia performances. Projecting a giant screen-saver-like image and playing new agey-whale birthing music – admittedly without the sound of actual birthing whales. Or of the rainforest at dawn. But it’s terrible when your subconscious is triggered to add these sounds and you’re not even being given a massage or some over-priced “healing.” – Does not qualify as art. Ever.

The second floor was dedicated to dancing. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Prefuse 73’s set – though I could have been unfairly biased against him by unfortunate displays of unrepentant hipsterness in the audience. I spotted some fool wearing a t-shirt saying, “I’d rather have one truth than 15 minutes of fame” and realizing that this was definitely a case of freedom of expression working against me, I had to leave before telling the little weasel how his cheaply tinkered together philosophical tenets pained me.

The top floor, showing two interactive installations, quickly became filled up. Luckily, we managed to check out Marcelli Antunez’s piece Metamembrana before the floor was closed. Clearly influenced by Guernica-era Picasso and Surrealism’s affection for combining unlikely images, Metamembrana was a fun piece, which benefited from the second run through, where the audience was coached by Antunez on how to make the screen respond. Antunez’s explanations of the background to the project were helpful in appreciating how the work was rooted in Catalan culture (citing folktales, local produce, fertility myths and history as inspiration. My co-reviewer and I looked at each other, shook our heads and said, “Nah, he just likes boobs and naked art students.” Fair play either way). Plus, his geeky enthusiasm for his gadgets was quite endearing, and did manage to get people involved in the installation. For me, though, the most successful interactive art pieces don’t require instruction – they work because something about them( be it use of material, choice of images, use of sound or smell) compel the audience to breach the boundaries of more traditional gallery spaces, where you participate in art work by looking, rather than touching.

We rounded off the evening with some comedy dancing to d.a.r.y.l’s set. While his use of punctuation might be self-conscious, his music was anything but – a really lively electronic set, incorporating a lot of funk and disco. My companion for the evening, who is unpleasantly tall and good-looking but who dances like Elaine in Seinfeld, wishes for it to be known that she got the party started with some of her signature moves. Good times.

As Robyn Has Retired to the Coutryside +Binibon Review

Posted in ella with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

I’m Upstate, stay tuned for posts about the caterpillars and hummingbirds I’ve been meeting, in the meantime, here’s Ella!

As Robyn has callously abandoned her friends for a few weeks and retired to the countryside, Brooklyn Socialiting has been left to me for a bit. Braving the Hudson River, or rather, the evil machinations of the subway system, I left my lovely King’s county nest on Friday for an evening of Big City cultural activities. Not just hanging out in bars.

Admittedly, as I was early for the Bermuda art opening in China town, a little bit of Ella-in-Bar was necessary, so I sat myself down in Les Enfants Terrible. Lychee martini is the glass, Pink Martini playing on the stereo and meretricious French barmen multi-taskingly flirting with everyone around the bar. A good way to warm up for a friend’s art opening, which is generally not something that should be attended without some sort of support, alcoholic or otherwise.  Because there’s always that underlying terror that your friends are going to be profoundly untalented, and you still have to be nice BUT SPECIFIC about their creative output.

Having reached the age where a disturbing number of my friends are spawning, I’ve found that a parallel case exists with people’s babies. Otherwise funny and open-minded people have a complete sense of humor failure when it comes to their own children, which is why I have had to hold back about how many children I could name that look like Dick Cheney. Even though it’s intrinsically funny. Similarly, otherwise intelligent and interesting people often like and make bad art.

Luckily, this wasn’t the case with the Bermuda exhibit. Put together by students and fellows from the School of Visual Arts, the theme was secondary to showcasing works in progress. While a lot of the work was interesting, the looseness of the theme meant that the exhibition as a whole didn’t necessarily work, despite several really interesting pieces.

Running late, I had to jump into a cab to get to experimental art space, The Kitchen, for the eight o’clock showing of “Binibon”, a new piece of musical theater, based around the early 80’s stabbing  of aspiring actor and waiter Richard Adan by John Henry Adam,  a former convict whose writing talents had made him the toast of New York’s literati.  Back in the bull economy, cabs used to be a part of my daily life, pretty much always charged to my work account. No longer. I’m hoping that relative poverty and strife will successfully translate into me eventually writing something that’s not nauseatingly terrible, and it seems as if the team behind Binibon come at creativity from a similar angle.

At the same time, let’s face it – New York? Not what it used to be. I’ve heard people discuss the matter over organic, cruelty-free yuppie food: “Is New York’s current stability  and safety a fair trade for the loss of vibrancy?” Where once the city was genuinely throat cuttingly cutting edge, or was at least violent enough for the frenzy to rub off on the art scene, now it’s a place where people feel OK about raising their kids. Dear lord, even Madonna, a woman my MOTHER listens to, recently criticized the city for losing its edge.

After which, she moved back to raise her children.

Binibon, the experimental musical play put on at contemporary art centre The Kitchen in the west village is part of this debate.  Part of, but also symptomatic of. Because while the writer, Jack Womack, brings attention to the Disney-fication of the city that has taken place in the last few decades, the piece can’t escape the fact that it’s a play about a New York that mainly exists in the memories of the things were much realer in the past-brigade. Which brings questions about where the responsibility for the city’s loss of edge lies: I may be wrong, but it struck me as hard to believe that writers and musicians in the early eighties would have put together a piece about a murder in the mid-50s.

Elliott Sharp’s live music works most of the time (though there’s an unfortunate electric guitar solo which reminds me of a Dave Chapelle sketch where he wonders about white people’s love of the instrument), and gives an urgency to the storytelling which is occasionally lacking in the writing. One of the problems, for me, is that the role of several of New York’s literary heroes in the release of John Henry Adams from prison was touched on, but not really examined – despite the fact that their moral responsibility for the death of Adan is at the core of the play’s preoccupation with the city, creativity, authenticity and violence.

Busy–Al Franken: God Spoke

Posted in art, film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

The past couple of weeks have been really busy. As soon as I got back from Full Frame I was back into the thick of New York. I went to hear the COO of facebook, Sheryl Sanberg talk about selective sharing and the way that social networking is monetized. Then the Gen Art closing with Ella, Chin Chih Yang’s opening at the Chelsea museum and then it was already time for Passover and Bedstuy wildflower planting. Chin Chih’s show was great. Awesome to see my writing in action as the wall text and in the catalog. Then Passover offered the traditional family version and our liberation in times of war version. I enjoyed revamping the Haggadah and leading my first Seder.

This week, the festivities continued as we brought our second installment of Sal P’s punkfunk supper club to Brooklyn. Our curated version in the Chocolate Factory apartments, featured Sal’s incredible dosas and mango chutney + beet and eggplant salads and pure vegan soup. + Wine + in depth late night conversations covering all manner of topic from radical pedagogy to Queens bath castles.

Last night also ended in fascinating chats as Ella and I found ourselves perched on stools next to filmmakers, authors and legends! D.A. Pennebaker (the legend in question) was in the house. He produced Al Franken: God Spoke, which his wife, Chris Hegedus, co-directed with Nick Doob. The screening was, of course, another STF great and the film focused on Al Franken’s journey from actor to Senatorial hopeful. It ends before he is elected as the Minnesota Senator, but details his comedy speaking tours, turned political rallies for his friend, then Senator, Paul Wellstone. Franken ultimately decides to pick up the campaign mantle after Wellstone’s mysterious death in a plane crash.

Franken, who you may remember from his Saturday Night Live alteregos, Jack Handy, Stuart Smalley and Pat, comes off as a pretty nice guy. What you may not know about him is that he is a Harvard grad, a published writer and rumored to by quite prickly in person…so I hear. After the film I met another non-fiction writer, Russ Baker, who’s book Family of Secrets, sheds a lot of doubt on the already highly adored Bush family. After talking to him for quite sometime, Ella and I taxi-ed it back to Brooklyn considerably more paranoid then we were when we started the evening.

On a brighter note, I spent a great day upstate at the Dia-Beacon today. If you haven’t gone there, just go. $27 on metro-north gets you a return ticket, entrance to the museum and a chance to walk around the lovely town of Beacon, where you will meet friendly glass-blowers, eat local ice cream, and if you’re anything like me, get shockingly hit on by a 12 year-old boy, who thinks your 16!

Ella Dreams of Finding Bliss-Gen Art Closing

Posted in ella, film, Party with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

By Ella Fitsimmons

The final evening of the Gen Art Film festival confirmed something I’d always suspected, but never been certain of: despite my unashamed affection for celebrity gossip, I fail to spot these rare creatures when they are straight in front of me. During the awards ceremony, I realized that the short, bald dude with black-rimmed glasses I’d been chatting to before the screening of breast-fetischizing short Boob was none other than electro-pop phenom Moby, who was presenting the award for best film music. Had I known, I would have asked all sorts of clever questions about his views on the use of music in film. Instead, I hit him up for some free beer (they’d run out at the reception – a tragedy worthy of Aeschylus), and then suggested that if his need to take a wee become desperate during the pseudo-porn feature Finding Bliss, he could relieve himself in the seat empty seat in front of us. He said he’d have to hide from photographers. Not getting the “I’m famous, young lady” hint, I replied that it’d be dark, as we were in a cinema.

Sigh. Sometimes, I’m clearly less perceptive than I give myself credit for.

Luckily, the films put on a stronger showing than I did, so the evening wasn’t a complete write off. Pretty much laughing off questions about the classic film references contained in Boob, director team “Honest” showed a charmingly geeky appreciation for trashy splatter films. Call me juvenile, but I hardly even had to see the film to giggle – just the premise of a murderous breast implant running amok, killing people and pseudo-lesbianly (is a silicone-breast male or female? If there are any gender studies types out there, please feel free to let me know) slithering up to a hot young nurse before ending up being chopped to bits, is my idea of funny. Even though bits of it made me gag. And no, Moby left to respond to the call of nature, so he wasn’t to blame.

The feature, Finding Bliss, also pretty much had my vote from the get go. A romantic comedy set in the porn industries (which the characters insist should be called “adult entertainment”), where a young uptight film school graduate, played by LeeLee Sobieski discovers her sexuality and falls for a porn director (Matt Davis, who it turns out looked familiar because he played the self-obsessed rich boy in Legally Blonde. Yes, I recognized him. And not Moby. I will never be cool), writer-director Julie Davis based the film on her early experiences as an editor at the Playboy Channel. Eaves-dropping shamelessly on people heading to the after party, I heard a Frenchman saying “yes, it vas good, but zey vill nevah show zis film in America – zere iz too much zex”. I hope he’s wrong. FOR ONCE, there’s an Anglophone film about sex being fun, and which mocks the cultural trope that “true love waits”, while allowing for well-formed female characters. I salute Julie Davis for the ironic casting of Sobieski, who became famous when her parents, in my mother’s phraseology, “took leave of their senses” and allowed her to be fondled by an old man in Kubrick’s Lolita, as a frigid, judgmental good girl. Matt Davis, as the love interest, is attractive in the “you know he’s probably not good news, but you’d probably go there anyway”- way, and wins the evening’s “non-asshole award” for failing to cut the line at the after party, despite his friend egging him on to do so. Jamie Kennedy does a good job of seeming like a well-meaning moron porn star and Denise Richards is her ridiculous self – but with better lines than she spouts in her reality TV show.

The after-party and award’s show at BLVD was a landslide victory for My Suicide and star Gabriel Sunday. We are choosing to be charitable and are therefore attributing his behavior to elation in the face of victory, rather than the less legal nasal powder inhalations first suspected. At least he was having fun.

Walking home from the subway, I was happily pondering how Finding Bliss made me hope for a new dawn of sexual equality in the Anglo-Saxon world. A world in which men and women can enjoy sex in a non-guilt-ridden way. A world where Julie Davis’ could movie could go public, if only her film could find a distributor who wasn’t put off by there being “too much sex” in her film. At which point a large man on the street grabbed his crotch and yelled “Suck my D*ck, B*tch” after me. Welcome to the real world, Ella!

Gen Art Film Fest- Lymelife Review

Posted in ella, film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

While I’ve been in North Carolina running from doc to doc at Full Frame, Ella has been keeping track of the premiers at Gen Art. Here’s her review of Lymelife:

Looming  freakishly tall people lifted their  cameras as I walked the “red carpet” (which was NOT RED. Or carpeted. Much to my disappointment) of  the 14th Gen Art Film Festival, only to drop them in disappointment when they realized that this particular short, anemic-looking girl wasn’t an aspiring indie-actress, but just a confused blogger looking for the press entrance.

The first discovery at the official premiere of  coming-of-age in the 70’s indie–flick Lymelife was that being a paparazzi-photographer is a bit like being a basketball player – if you’re short, you better be fast as heck so you can get in there first. At 5’3 (on a good day), I really didn’t stand a chance of seeing any of the celebrities starring in the evening’s feature. So I headed for the free beer, cunningly avoided the chirpy Neutrogena girls (somehow giving away lipstick reminds me of my mother’s admonition to not accept candy from strangers. I have no idea why), noted a couple of those faces that “I’m sure I’ve seen them somewhere, so they must be famous”, smirked at the inevitable surfacing of fugly men wearing their best “I’m tortured because I’m talented”-faces accessorized by at least one, preferably two, willowy young things and headed in to get my seat.

The volunteer ushers in the cinema did an amazing job of avoiding chaos as people were pretty much fighting to get seats. While probably not fun for the volunteers, watching uptight artsy folk barely managing to not completely lose their shit when their (clearly exaggerated) sense of entitlement wasn’t catered for,  was a misanthrope’s dream come true.

The introductory short film, Trece Anos, directed by Topaz Adisez, addressed the issues confronting a young man returning to his native Havana after 13 years in the US. In the Q&A which followed, Adisez explained that the short had originally been part of his feature project (www.theamericanaproject.com), but that he had decided to show it separately.  The pressures of filming illegally in Cuba may be to blame for some of the weaker parts of the short (especially during the massive family argument, where some of the acting was a little forced). Mostly though, the documentary-style storytelling worked well, with the reunion between the son and his mother a genuine highlight.

Lymelife was a pleasant surprise. From the website’s description as a coming-of-age tale set in Long Island during a 1970’s Lyme disease scare, I feared the worst: 90 minutes of awkward teenagers in bad clothes discovering their sexuality and complaining about their parents. Luckily, it’s genuinely funny. Derrick Martini, the director, mentioned that he thought the love story between Rory Culkin (the Home Alone kid’s little brother) and Emma Roberts (niece-of-Pretty-Woman) was the most important and interesting part of the film — I don’t agree, but maybe that’s because I failed to find teenagers interesting when I was one. Admittedly, Roberts adds the long-legged, brown-eyed Bambi-on-ice charm that was her aunt’s trademark before she decided to accost us with the truly dreadful Ocean’s Twelve, but her character strikes me as a more a fantasy of a hot but intelligent high school girl, rather than a convincing character. Still, it’s a minor gripe, because the rest of the characters are really sensitively drawn. Sure, Kieran Culkin has a natural advantage in playing the younger Culkin’s brother, but his interactions with the other characters are equally nuanced. Alec Baldwin is suitably self-centered but charming as the nouveau riche philandering father of the Culkins, who is sleeping with his Roberts’s mother (suburbia gets messy). Cynthia Nixon, playing Roberts’s mother, comes across as appropriately neurotic and trapped in a life she hadn’t bargained for.

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Timothy Hutton, playing her husband, has been driven mad by Lyme disease and is unemployed, but is shown to be more perceptive than the other characters think. The scene in the local bar where Hutton’s character lets Baldwin believe he has been driven insane by syphilis, meaning Baldwin may have caught it from Hutton’s wife, is an awesome exercise in darkly funny revenge. Headed out, I ran in to a woman in a tiger-print dress who actually had Lyme disease, who was excited that the film would raise awareness about the illness. She insisted it had driven her crazy at one stage, and that Hutton’s portrayal “really showed what it’s like”. Assuming Hutton doesn’t actually have Lyme, that’s high praise.

The acting award, though, goes to Jill Hennessy, whom I’ve only seen in police series like Law and Order and Crossing Jordan. She’s truly impressive as the Culkin’s mother and Baldwin’s wife. Transplanted from her native Queens, Hennessy’s character struggles to repress her frustration at the family’s new found wealth, her husband’s infidelities and juggling the emotions of the children she’s desperately trying to protect; from the army, from Lyme disease and, ultimately, from her relationship with their father.  Alternatively weak, strong, submissive and angry, Hennessy isn’t afraid to let things get ugly – while managing to remain the most compelling character in a very strong cast.

The main test, of course, is whether you would pay to see the film – and for Lymelife, the answer’s a “yes”.