Archive for Justin Strawhand

Still Socialiting- with Legends

Posted in art, Book, film, People of Color, talk with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Wow, like a lost child I continue to stray from the Brooklyn Socialite path, but never too far my friends. Never too far. All the while as my keyboard fingers have gone limp, my little legs have still run from one cultural event to the next. Indeed, I have much to report.

In adventures in the surreal I have recently found myself in 2 interesting settings. One, a friendly neighborhood book group, with a selection of my peers. We had gathered to discuss A Mercy, by the legendary Toni Morrison. Halfway through some questions arose about characters and the author’s intention, when one of the group said, “Well, I’ll just call her and ask her, hold on a sec.”  “Excuse me?” I stuttered out. “What does she mean she’ll just call her?” “Well Toni Morrison is her grandmother.” Another member offered. Oh, I saw. Morrison was called and I sat dumbfounded. There was so much I wanted to ask her.

To continue on the theme of six degrees of separation, the next day, out of Brooklyn and all the way uptown at the 92 Street Y, I was picking up my ticket to Chinua Achebe from the press representative and he mentioned in passing that all 900 seats of the auditorium were packed. “I haven’t seen the Y this full since Toni Morrison was here.” He said. Of course, Morrison again.

My second brush with legend this past week or so, was a screening that I had the occasion to attend on the rooftop of the Chelsea Hotel. Yes, after seeing Chelsea on the Rocks, Abel Ferrara’s docudrama (it had re-enactments, many) next door at the Chelsea Cinema, I moved considerably closer to that old ghost, new art temple of legend, yes the Hotel in question. I got past the reception who didn’t seem to want to let any of us up to Sam Bassett‘s penthouse apt. We did make it though, the very small crew of myself, 5-6 other journalists, Sam, his girlfriend Erin Featherstone (I was having fashion week flashbacks, I had been to her show, but in person, she was more real life-like and very nice. Bryant Park makes one grand I suppose.) and Stanley Bard himself, with his support team of family and friends. There we sat, with an amazing view of the city, in Basset’s studio/home and watched the work unfold. His documentary, Stanley Bard, was decidedly different from Chelsea on the Rocks, although they were made at similar times, with similar subject matter. The comparison is a whole article in itself, but for now let’s leave it at more, on the gentle, kind and very talented Bassett, to come.

Next stop: Another screening in the series put on by the Royal Flush Festival. This art/music/film festival is a smallish local affair, still they have managed to pack their theaters and involve some amazing contributors. One such element of amazement, was Justin Strawhand’s film, War Against the Weak. Based on the seminal, critical history of  U.S. eugenics by Edwin Black, this film really mines our history in a way that many are not yet ready to own. It tracks how the Rockefeller foundation, along with several other rich American families funded eugenics research in the U.S and Germany from the beginning of the 20th century, all the way up through the Second World War. The startling tenet of the film is that Nazism was directly inspired and to some degree funded by racist American science, and what’s more, many other institutions and policies that remain in place here, to this day, were motivated by eugenics. A sinister origin is revealed for the SAT, the IQ test, and much of the  documentation, which has been kept by government agencies like jails and schools throughout the past century. Again much more can be said on the subject, and in order to verse myself more fully, I purchased, yes with my own limited funds, the last copy of Edwin Black’s book in the Union Square Barnes and Noble. Here once more, I accidentally approached legend, this book happened to be a hardcover, signed by the author.

But let’s take a step back, dedicated readers of this blog may remember that I first met Justin back in the spring at Full Frame. We got into a long discussion about Eugenics outside of a festival party. De ja vu, a couple of weekends back, when I was at the Hamptons Film Festival, lying low as Industry (that means I was on the screening committee, not that I am now an industry bigshot of any kind) who should I find myself hanging out with outside a party again. Yes, of course Justin and here it comes out that I still haven’t seen his film and the plan is made to be at his Royal Flush screening. Wait, what else happened in the Hamptons?

Well, I saw a lot of films and I took a little morning trip to Montauk, my favorite part of that area, where I went to Joni’s my favorite brunch spot in New York state. Oh, it’s charming, has amazing organic food, lots of  which is homemade. I also made a point to go the water everyday and watch the fishermen and walk and relax. Ahh the Brooklyn Socialite will survive Brooklyn only with regular exposure to nature. Yeah, I’m making a rule to get out as much as I can.

OK, but what were the filmic highlights? Let’s see, Shadow Billionaire, was intriguing, The Paper Man was great because of the fact that lots of stuffy audience members walked out in the middle including, one former Mayor Giuliani. Yes, this was my brush with not legend, but ignominy. Oh the shame. I wanted to give him an earful, but I was too polite to interrupt the film, unlike some people. Mira Nair’s collection of shorts was intense, also earned several walkouts, but as Guy Maddin (yes legend is the theme today) once shared with me the fact of the very high walk out rates in his films, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad sign.

To conclude with legends, and to reference my less than clever pun (Still Socialiting) yes I’m not just a boob, this is a reference to the film Still Bill. I saw it this week at Stranger than Fiction. The film is about, yes the legend, Bill Whithers, who after all these years is still Bill. He’s kept his roots and remained down to earth, a family man, who hasn’t released a record in 30 years, after such epic songs as Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone and Grandma’s Hands. The film is candid and touching and made me really want to find the last autographed copy of the Bill Whiters CD at Barnes and Noble on 14th street.  Maybe my luck will hold.

Some Southerners are Awesome- my Top 5 Meets

Posted in film, Guide to What's Good, queer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2009 by thebrooklynsocialite

Woah guys, let’s not take me too literally, I actually had a great time in the South and met a lot of really cool people. These are my top 5 in order of most to least Southern.

1.Laura Edwards, the founder of Lillian’s List and her partner Elaine Andrews. They are both from NC and were super hospitable, they invited me to sit at there presenters table while I was nervously reliving a cafeteria scene in some 90s coming of age film. They called over to me, ” There’s a free seat here!” Finally, I was the popular kid.

Ok, beyond my tendency to see life as theater, what is so awesome about these ladies is 1. Their personalities and 2. What they do. Lillian’s list, inspired by Emily’s list was founded in 1998 with the mission of getting Democratic pro-Choice women elected to the North Carolina legislature. So far they have succeeded at getting 18 such women elected.

2. One of these NC legislators, Laura’s sister, is number 2 on my list. Pricey Harrison of the NC House of Representatives, told me about the excessively offensive emails she gets from people. Apparently some idiots out there in Internet land think that it’s acceptable to issue death threats against those who support gay and women’s rights, food safety and the environment. Well I say keep up the good work Pricey, and those lurkers out there reading this, please speak up to support her work!

3. Alright, confession: the remaining 3 people on my list are not actually from the South, but I did meet them there, so it counts. Number 3 is slightly further South, in my old school digs, yes that’s right, New Jersey. Hailing from Jersey City, Justin Strawhand came to Full Frame to promote his film War Against the Weak. I haven’t seen it yet, so I won’t say much, but I can report that I had a very engaging conversation with him about the film’s topic: Eugenics. What I learned is that the US had a active program up until World War II, the legacy of which remains with us today in the form of the SAT’s, people who experience forced sterilizations, and in several other surprising manifestations. More to come on this subject.

4. The next person on the list is from Manhattan, but I’m still counting that as South of Brooklyn. Cameron Yates  writes for Indiewire and is working on a new documentary called The Canal Street Madam, watch the trailer here. It is about a New Orleans madam, who ran a brothel with her mother as bookkeeper, and her daughter as one of the call girls. He was given the Garret Scott Award by Full Frame, in honor of a young documentary filmmaker who died a few years ago. The grant helps, emerging filmmakers, who are in the process of making their first feature film, to gain fiscal support and mentorship. This year the award was co-presented by our friend Thom Powers from Stranger than Fiction.

5. Number 5, who does a poor job of being from the South (unless you count South Brooklyn) is Rachael Rakes, from the Feminist Press. She is the former partner of Garrett Scott and also a co-presenter of that award, and she told me that she is actively seeking trans writers and transrights advocates for publication in the Feminist press. This def. gets her on the awesome south list, not to even mention the fact that she is also a writer at Brooklyn Based and has starting a doc film series in Brooklyn at the Bell House! What what, is all I can say.

Did you meet someone interesting this week? Who?! Comment comment, wherever you are.