Film Reviews

“Edmond,” Alexis Michalik’s Love Letter to Cyrano de Bergerac

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a French novelist who lived during the 17th century and inspired the most notorious play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The love triangle between the shy, poetic and large-nosed Cyrano, his less articulate friend Christian and the charming Roxane, has been staged across the globe and adapted for cinema several times; as well as reworked into operas, ballet and other literary forms.

However the young director Alexis Michalik, through his theatrical background and experience behind and in front of the camera, brings to life a witty and enthralling ode to the author of Cyrano de Bergerac and his creative process.

Michalik’s first feature film, Edmond, is set in Paris in December 1897, exactly when the young French playwright was struggling for inspiration. Thanks to his admirer, the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, Rostand meets the most famous actor of the moment, Constant Coquelin, who insists on acting in his next play and having it debut in just three weeks. But Edmond has a wife and two children to take care of, many bills that are due, and most importantly he has yet to write the pièce. However he eventually finds his muse who will inspire the famous ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’

Director Alexis Michalik sublimely retraces Rostand’s use of verse, creating parallels between Edmond’s mundane activities and his poetry. The entire film is paced by rhyming couplets, with references to the classical alexandrine form, whilst homaging the great legacy of the Académie française. Michalik’s approach in intertwining the biopic with the fictional work, reminds of John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, but in this case the focus is on the genesis of the most famous story of the French Theater.

Michalik, who is also a stage actor and playwright shares some similarities with Rostand: they both had their first theatrical success at 29 years old. The contemporary metteur en scène turned réalisateur, notwithstanding his extensive career as a performer, did not choose to keep the role of Edmond for himself, casting Thomas Solivérès to play Rostand. Michalik opted for a cameo as Rostand’s rival: Georges Feydeau — who was much more successful than Rostand during the 19th century and was also known for being unsympathetic. By playing this role Alexis made a humble choice, mocking his position as an acclaimed author.

Olivier Gourmet performs majestically as the actor that Rostand cast to play Cyrano, Constant Coquelin; and the flamboyant Clémentine Célarié makes a stupendous Sarah Bernhardt. Lucie Boujenah is gentle and courteous in portraying Jeanne (who will inspire the character of Roxane), and Alice De Lencquesaing intensely embodies Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde, who is torn between jealousy and the demeanor that is required by the spouse of a writer of that time.

This film powerfully conveys the elements of dramedy of the original play, through the suave original score composed by Romain Trouillet. The music instills raw authenticity to the historical narration, making it a universal parable about an ambitious artist tackling with the turmoils of an ordinary man. The experience that is left with the audience is the desire to go back and read the original text and discover the nuances of the French hero par excellence: a man without beauty and ambition, but who placed his feelings above anything else…and with great panache.

With Edmond, Alexis Michalik enacts a magnificent cross-fertilization of the arts. He lyrically brings to life a work of metafiction in which theatre acquires a new dignity through motion pictures and where all the world is much more than a mere soundstage.

Memorializing Melancholy - A Retrospective on the Beginning of Barry Jenkins' Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacy

Memorializing Melancholy - A Retrospective on the Beginning of Barry Jenkins' Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacy

Jenkins’ latest feature, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, concludes what can be considered a Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacies. All three of Jenkins’ features assume a position about intimacy, more specifically a position about the shared romantic, albeit often warped, intimacies of Black men.

Avengers: Infinity War Brings Black Panther Back to the Big Screen with Confusing Ending

Avengers: Infinity War Brings Black Panther Back to the Big Screen with Confusing Ending

Comic book and Sci-Fi lovers get to see Marvel Comics characters unite to save the universe in the epic action movie, Avengers: Infinity War. The nail biting thriller will keep movie goers on the edge of their seats while watching amazing fight scenes and battleground action on the big screen. 

feast long day - Review of Jim Feast, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Brooklyn: Autnomedia, 2017)

feast long day - Review of Jim Feast, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Brooklyn: Autnomedia, 2017)

          I must praised Feast for his depiction of me or, at least a character modeled on that wayward waif, Steve Dalachinsky. At that time, I had not fully acquainted myself with the book and find that the Steve character doesn’t have much of a role in the story.

An End to Repetitions: the violence of the breaking of the ice Review of The Death of Stalin

An End to Repetitions: the violence of the breaking of the ice Review of The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin, the tremendous new film directed by Armando Iannucci and based on the comic book of the same title by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, begins in Moscow with a performance of a Mozart piano concerto, performed superbly by the pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), conducted by Spartak Sokolov (Justin Edwards) and transmitted through the radio by two highly
competent sound engineers (Paddy Considine and Tom Brooke).

Black Panther is Not An American Hero

Black Panther is Not An American Hero

Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan are the only men in film who are making movies about and for black boys. Their latest installment in this campaign, Black Panther, is a psychedelic adventure tragedy.

Cries and Whispers

Cries and Whispers

In light of the month-long centennial retrospective of Ingmar Bergman’s films at Film Forum, I am excited to share a piece I wrote as an undergraduate on Cries and Whispers as seen through a prism of Feminist Literary Theory.

Language Matters with Bob Holman film by David Grubin



Please come to a very special evening in honor of our new PBS documentary Language Matters with Bob Holman a film by David Grubin

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 PM at the National Museum of the American Indian 1 Bowling Green, New York City

What do we lose when a language dies? What does it take to save a language?

The one hour event will highlight excerpts from the film woven together with live performances by endangered language speakers, including Native American poets, a hālau hula (Hawaiian school of dance), the colorful legacy of Yiddish, and the tongue twisting poetry of the Welsh language. Afterwards, Bob and David will offer a short Q&A followed by a reception.

Please note: Language Matters with Bob Holman airs on PBS THIRTEEN onSunday, January 25th at 12:30 PM.

In partnership with THIRTEEN, Poets House, and the Endangered Language Alliance

For more information on events and airdates visit

Language Matters is a co-production of David Grubin Productions Inc. and Pacific Islanders in Communications. Produced in association with The Endangered Language Alliance. Major funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities with additional funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and philanthropic individuals.

The Past reviewed by Donna Honarpisheh

A Review of Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Oscar Nominated Film: The Past (Gozashte/Le Passé)

Released: 19 June, 2013 in Iran.

Unlike his other films, set in Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s latest award winning film (Cannes, The Prize of Ecumenical Jury), Le Passé (The Past) is set in Paris and almost entirely spoken in French. In talking about whether The Past is representative of Iranian cinema, Farhadi explains that the geography of his film does not change who he is as an Iranian filmmaker. This sentiment proves true as The Past maintains many of the stylistic and thematic elements developed in his previous films. Those familiar with Farhadi’s works know that the Past, even though it is not entirely in Persian, is a part of a continued story we have followed with the films: Chaharshanbe Soori, About Ely, A Separation, and now The Past. The filmmaker continues examining the powerful themes of family, divorce, and migration.

When The Past opens, we see a couple communicating through thick glass at the airport. They can’t see each other but they understand the gist of what the other is saying through mouthed words and gestures. However, as in most Farhadi films, the immovable piece of glass serves as an object that prevents them from fully understanding one another. This beginning sequence sets the tone for a series of misunderstandings, hidden feelings, and a “dark secret” that will unravel as the plot unfolds.

Farhadi creates a narrative about the past entirely set in the present. Without obvious flashbacks or even a glimpse into the incident that causes the drama we watch unravel, we enter the lives of four individuals in turmoil. It begins when, after four years of separation and living in Iran, Ahmad (Ali Mostafa) returns from Tehran to Paris to finalize divorce papers with his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) so that she can ostensibly move on and marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), a father with a comatose wife. What appears to be a new beginning actually exposes various elements from the past that weigh heavily on each character.

Marie, at the center of the drama, has been involved with three men in her lifetime. Her family dynamic is a constant reminder of these failed experiences. Marie’s eldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) beautifully expresses deep rebellion towards her mother’s life choices, while coldheartedly rejecting Samir. Ahmad comes to realize that this hostility isn’t simply a rejection of a new family member. It originates in an event before Samir’s wife had fallen into her coma, in the midst of her mother’s affair. Lucie alludes to the cause of Samir’s wife’s suicide attempt, but until the very end we remain unsure of what happened and in what order. Like Farhadi’s last masterpiece, we keep returning to the same seemingly tiny event, but unlike ‘A Separation,’ the event is off-screen and its consequences ripple in the opposite direction, eventually leading up to the final scene. Ahmad, ignorant of the “drama,” finds himself entrapped into the position of moderator. He looks straight into the camera and asks Marie: “Why did you bring me here, now, in the middle of all this drama?” Thus begins a heavy film with not a moment of serenity for its viewers as it ruthlessly untangles each character, forcing them to reveal their true selves.

the past

As soon as Ahmad arrives, we see that he too has lingering threads from his departure four years ago. The more involved Ahmad gets with his past family, the more we see that not only the camera, but the characters are drawn to him. The scene in which he cooks ghormeh sabzi (a traditional Persian dish) for his former stepdaughters, Lucie and Lea (Jeanne Jestin) feels almost too comfortable. It recalls another scene from the past. Again, as Ahmad digs into his suitcase in the garage, we are reminded of a past life with a photograph of the former couple, still curious about what tore them apart. The more Ahmad is invited into the day-to-day life of Marie and her new family, the more we feel Samir falling out of the picture. At one point Marie asks Samir: “Why are you here?” He responds: “What do you mean? Does someone have a problem with me being here?” This direct confrontation further establishes the characters’ disconnect with Samir. But this trajectory would be far too simple. Farhadi shows empathy for his characters, regardless of their actions. Even Samir’s character, that seems somewhat neglected by the camera opens up later in the film. Scene after scene we become more wrapped in what seems to be a complex whirlwind of relationships, lies, and truths rooted in the past.

In the final scene of the film, Farhadi makes a sudden turn and brings us to the hospital room where Samir’s wife lies in a coma. She is an underdeveloped piece in the mosaic of lies, arguments, and failed marriages that Farhadi has intricately put together. It is through Farhadi’s attempt to bring us closer to the couple whose issues remain unattended for most of the film (Samir and his wife), that we fully comprehend his ability to make every moment of life critical. These final moments, among others, shine with subtext. Humanity shows itself as each character grapples with his or her own personal plight, and nostalgia overflows their minds and memories. The film is a series of authentic moments with authentic people that allows us to sense the discrepancy between action and identity. Farhadi trusts his audience. Rather than explaining the lattice of emotions between characters, he allows us to sense them. There are whole worlds of feelings that linger between his characters’ lies, confessions, and even in silences.


The Past opens in select US theaters on December 20th, 2013.

Reviewed by: Donna Honarpisheh

Donna had the opportunity to view The Past in Tehran’s Cinema Mellat.


Blue Valentine by Zack Oleson

Is Blue Jasmine Funny?  Film Review by Zack Oleson

Watching Woody Allen’s newest film Blue Jasmine made me a nervous wreck. Which makes sense, considering it’s a film about nervous breakdown, a black comedy about trying to be something you’re not and the strain that comes along with that effort. The basic narrative: a socialite, Jasmine (or Janette; she changes her name depending on the circumstance she finds herself in) moves in with her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after her husband hangs himself in jail, her son drops out of school and out of her house, and she ends up receiving shock treatment after she’s picked up on the street talking to herself.  It’s hilarious!  Our protagonist is a naïve “comedic” character cracking-up, literally—and it’s our duty as audience members to crack up at all these unfortunate series of events. Yet laughing at all this suffering, pretending to find comedy in all these heavy, heavy subjects prove to be quite straining in and of itself.

First, though, allow me to set the scene.  After a classic Woody Allen opening credits (yes, the jazz is there, the frame-by-frame white Windsor font on black background, that’s there, too), we get a rather cheap-looking establishing shot of a jet (read: digital), then we’re thrown into a conversation between strangers on a plane—only this conversation is heavily-one sided.  “Could you imagine me as an anthropologist? Doctors put my parents in an early grave… My plane is to start a new life out here. ‘Go West.’ Was it Horace who said that?”   Meet Jasmine (Cate Blanchett).  Try to keep up.  When the poor old bag sitting next to her meets her husband at the baggage claim, he asks who that woman was.  Her response?  A stranger who “couldn’t stop babbling about her life.”  At this point I wrote in my notebook, “UH-OH.  THIS IS ME.  (IDENTIFICATION).”  A frantic, neurotic over-sharer who tells cab drivers about her panic disorders: just what you need to feel secure.

The rest of film goes roughly as follows: Jasmine’s sister’s boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) gets her a job at a dentist’s office while she takes classes in computer literacy, so as to fulfill her dream-of-the-moment to become an interior decorator.  Her boss assaults her.  Both sisters meet men (played Louis C.K., awkwardly charming as always, and Peter Saarsgard, cleverly introduced by only that voice alone, and that voice melts butter).  Faced with a new opportunity (i.e., new men), both sisters choose to lie in order to seduce their mates.  Once their lies are revealed, Ginger ends up comfortably back in her class, enjoying pizza with the boyfriend her sister convinced her to break up with, while Jasmine moves out and ends up on the street.  Back on the street—right where she started.

What we have with Blue Jasmine is a recipe for high comedy that ends disastrously from one perspective, ends well from another.  Definitely not an easy-breezy Annie Hall affair, it’s subject range from tax fraud to shopping, from finding employment to self-strangulation.  It fits with Woody Allen’s cynical doom-and-gloom fare (think Husbands and Wives, or more recently Match Point); rather than celebrate romanticism, Woody Allen attacks it.   It’s a dark satire directed at American’s wholehearted commitment to making something of yourself.  That’s all well and good, Woody Allen taking on economic justice, mortality, and madness, and there’s nothing like calling on Tennessee Williams to imagine a fall from grace ala Bernie Maddoff.  Worlds colliding, opposites paired together—that should be funny in theory, but there’s something about Blue Jasmine that doesn’t quite work. We’re left with the question of whether to laugh or not.  Seems like a silly question, I know, but by asking, “what’s so funny here?” we end up calling Blue Jasmine what it is: a tragicomedy about the line between dreams and delusions and the madness that ensues once you throw opposites together.

Why do we laugh?

In Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, Henri Bergson says that “comedy can only begin at the point where our neighbor’s personality ceases to effect us.”  In other words, when we’re cold, when we’re shut off, that’s when we find things funny. Theoretically, we can safely laugh at someone because it keeps him or her in check.  To laugh is to correct behavior, so to speak.  So whose behavior are we correcting in this satire?

Take, for instance, the assault-scene, a tricky scene to satirize even if with the players involved. Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) plays Dr. Flicker, a straight-laced dentist who believes you can learn a lot about a person from looking inside their mouth.  One day he tells Jasmine that she dresses in a very flattering way, and you can surmise what happens next.  How does Jasmine handle all this, though?  With panache—by asking, “Where is all this talk leading to?”  Her flippancy makes watching the scene tolerable; we’re laughing with her, not at the assailant.  No corrective-function there.  Later, in her computer class, her friend says that she doesn’t blame her for “being shaken up.”  Oh, yeah, ya just got sexually molested.  That happens.  Any yuk at that line goes right toward the dismissive friend.  Or is she onto something by not letting any of Jasmine’s troubles affect her?

There’s also the notion that we laugh at things that hit close to home, that seem accurate to the way things really are.  We probably don’t know this woman in real life, so to watch a film about her we have to be willing to suspend our judgment.  Being a spectator affords us objectivity: we have the distance to laugh at poor schmucks as clueless and cruel as we are in our day-to-day life. For example, there’s a scene early on where Jasmine is in the bubble bath going on and on about how hosting her sister is such “hard work”, how she’s “neglected all [her] priorities” (yoga and pilates).  Her husband presents her a gift: a diamond bracelet.  The diamond effectively shuts her up.  Lesson learned?  This is how rich men deal with their chatty-Cathy wives.  Seems accurate.   Or take Ginger, who ends up breaking up with her boyfriend over the phone.  It’s not a conventional choice for Woody Allen, to film a breakup happening over an iPhone, nor is it that interesting to watch, but it is how things go in real life.

So why do we laugh when the first thing Jasmine does after her new boyfriend proposes is reach for her Xanax bottle? Because “a flexible vice may not be so easy to ridicule as a rigid virtue,” as Bergson has it? Jasmine can be funny.  Her redeeming qualities—her earnestness, her dreams, her ambitions—are quite laughable because they border so close to delusions.  Her faults—her poor white privilege, her vitriol towards her sister, her tendency to look the other way—all relatable.  She’s as unsociable as Nicole Kidman’s unfeeling bitch of a mother in Margot and the Wedding. She’s comically inept at talking to her sister Ginger (“Have you ever been abroad—ever?” she ends a long, long meandering on San Francisco reminding her of the Mediterranean when Ginger’s trying her best to entertain her with lunch).  Yet Jasmine is adaptable.  Her diction changes depending on whom she’s with.  When she’s shopping with a friend for the Met Gala, her description of Ginger’s husband slips from “builder” to “contractor” then finally descends to “handyman.”  Her mantra when she’s under duress working at the dentist’s office is, “Remember you are classy.”  We’re just spectators to this ridiculousness, so it’s safe to laugh at this moments. Actually, it’s best not to identify with a comedic character if you actually want to have a good time.  If we follow this coldness equals comedy formula, then enjoying Blue Jasmine is contingent upon being a callous dick (which can be quite enjoyable.) But to laugh at her in other scenes requires a degree of disinterest that I myself could not muster, nor anybody else in the theatre.  Maybe I cared too much for her.  Or maybe it was the Xanax.

Why don’t we laugh?

Besides trivializing suffering and misfired deliveries, there must be other reasons why Blue Jasminedoes not fly.  With high comedy comes a high-minded audience; an ironic work seeks out an intelligent audience that can read between the lines.  Perhaps following the implications of the material in Blue Jasmine gets in the way of actually enjoying it.

There is an idea that vitriol pollutes: an acid tongue affects others and before you know it, the sweetest and most honest around become cold and disheartened.  In Blue Jasmine, we have Ginger taking a turn to the worse as a result of her sister’s influence.  She catches her brother-in-law cheating while she’s out pretending she was rich, then ends up digging at her more than genial husband Auggie (Andrew Dice Clay) for getting too drunk at a soiree: “Nobody likes those Polish jokes,” she chides. Watching Ginger living her sister’s lifestyle is plainly uncomfortable.  Yet in the end, Ginger does end up leaving all that fancy-talk and backstabbing behind.  She moves in directions throughout her narrative, but does not end up actually changing.  And we end up left with a dangerous message: don’t overstep your class, because you’ll end becoming what you hate.  Besides, it’s not worth the effort to change, because you’ll end up right back where you started.

Along those same uncomfortable lines, the questions Chili asks Jasmine come across as invasive and cold yet do effectively dig at the truth.  At their initial meeting, he asks, “Do you always stare off into space like that?”  Later, phoning in his support of her dreams/delusions, he asks, “So whaddya gonna study when you go back to college?”  Cannavale is good at providing the ying to the yang in all this madness, delivering simple, understated yet uncomfortable questions that cut everybody down to reveal the truth to all this dissembling, all this hiding little truths here and there.  (But he’s not always good.  There’s a laughably bad confrontation between him and Hawkins after his character where he spouts, “Two of you were in the corner playing kissy face,” literally in the blue-color.  Poor Sally Hawkins phones in such wooden dialogue.  Talk about hitting the nail on the head.)  By way of Chili, the film pokes fun at the idea that any fool can make it in America if only they dream big.

Uncomfortable truths, revelations of lies—none of this is belly-laugh material.  And we haven’t even gotten to the character of Jasmine.  The fact that Jasmine doesn’t change, that she goes back to her old habits, her old patterns time and time again is also disturbing on some level. Take the scene where Ginger asks why she flew first class when she’s broke.  There’s a difference between her “splurging from habit” and her confession, “I get bad thoughts when I’m alone”: the former is funny; the latter is not.  Both are divulged early on in the film, when Jasmine first comes to stay with Ginger. With the former, it’s ludicrous of Jasmine to even mention her first class flight in her sister’s humble dwelling.  Any chuckle arising from that line is soft rebuke, a knowing one, because isn’t it so Jasmineto try to make herself feel better, flying first-class.  We forgive her because we already know her. Now, “I get bad thoughts when I’m alone”?  That’s a different story, because it gets at the heart of her motivation.  She’s admitting to her family why she’s behaving so frantically, why there’s such a disconnect between what’s she’s saying and the reality of the situation.  Jasmine comes to stay with Ginger not because she needs money, but because she does not want to be alone.  Isn’t that too sad to laugh at?

Perhaps we don’t laugh because we’re watching a tragedy, not a comedy.  Now, to say that we’d need to make some distinctions.  Classically, tragedy implies ending in death, and in Blue Jasmine we’re left only with the threat of death: Jasmine cutting herself off and fending for herself on the street. Comedy implies a happy ending for lowly characters, which could account for Ginger’s story ending so well.  What we could have is something in between: tragicomedy.  Tragicomedy mixes classes and subject matter, frequently employing a double or parallel plot (i.e., Jasmine’s plot; Ginger’s plot). Woody Allen here is working in an old-school mode of tragicomedy developed in the early seventeenth century by playwrights Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.  Defined by them, a tragicomedy is a “romantic and fast-moving plot of love, jealousy, treachery, intrigue, and disguises, and ends in a melodramatic reversal of fortune for the protagonists, who had hitherto seemed headed for a tragic catastrophe.”  “Fast-moving”? Check.  “Love, jealousy, treachery, intrigue, and disguises”?  Check. But only one plot ends happily; the other ends catastrophically.  So it makes sense that we’re left so disturbed, given the tragic fate for at least one of the protagonists.

This equation so far—we don’t laugh at uncomfortable tragedy—leaves out something glaringly obvious: maybe the reason why this “comedy” doesn’t work is Cate Blanchett being too much of a steal-stealer.  Cate Blanchett starred in Liv Ullman’s production of Street Car Named Desire in 2009, so it makes perfect sense that Woody Allen would want her for his update of Streetcar.  Her every gesture and expression stand out so much so that the comedy that the writer-director wrote is lost when his star can’t help but use the material to create a fully-realized, therefore not entirely unsympathetic character.

Blanchett’s charisma is straight-up distracting, but some of the motion sickness can be attributed to the film, not the star.  This is a Woody Allen movie, after all: the pace is quick and every time we start to feel for a character, the rug’s pulled from beneath us.  A cut here, a bomb dropped in that conversation: at a backyard barbecue in San Francisco hosted by Bobby Cannavale’s character, the talk goes from Russian Vodka to strangulation within seconds.  There are also scenes where you watch Jasmine and wonder, “Who is she talking to?”  There’s no shot-reverse-shot to reveal whose Jasmine’s soundboard at the moment; it’s just a long take of Cate Blanchett bringing her best Blanche DuBois-meets-Kim Novak to another monologue, another soliloquy.   The effect is jarring but you get your answer: she’s talking to nobody, or at least anybody who will listen.

Blue Jasmine is a film that takes seriously the sentiments of its protagonist.  Her whims, her moods, her joys and sorrows structure the sequence of events.  In other words, whatever Jasmine’s got going on in her head decides the order in which scenes appear.  Somebody says something about France? We get a flashback to the moment Jasmine found out her husband was cheating on her with their au pair.  In effect, the film becomes not only a vehicle for Cate Blanchett to showcase her skill as an actress, and Woody Allen has given her character the agency to plot the film.  Given that power, it’s impossible not to find her unsympathetic.  Blue Jasmine ends up being a case study in too much pathos generated by too many different ethos.  The result?  We can’t laugh.

Walking out of the theatre, all of us audience members realized it was raining.  There was a collective moment of shock, of registering the world the world outside, how it had changed since we’d last seen it, two plus hours ago.  A fashionable yet angry woman marched by the theatre wearing a Duane Reade bag on her head to protect her hair.  When I opened my umbrella, I thought of another film about a mad woman, Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss.  (Times like this I wish I had my own film to follow the associations in my head.  Ah, well).  In the opening scene of that non-laugher, blonde and beautiful yet completely unhinged Ms. Voss wanders up to a man waiting for a bus in the rain, looking for a connection as well as his umbrella.  Like the girl marching by wearing a scowl so no one will mess with her, like Jasmine, and probably like me, she’s looking for any port in a storm.  We’re all mad here, and I’m still not sure whether to laugh at such desperation.

Mr.8mm newsreel (super eight and regular mm film) show at the Maysles cinema

IT”S SHOCKING, IT”S THRILLING, IT”S HIDEOUS, IT”S Mr. 8 mm PRESENTS history of 8mm: volume 9: Newsreels a (mini) history of the sub genre: 1930’s? At MAYSLES CINEMA 5/17/13       Reviewed by David Huberman Getting out of the subway at hundred and twenty fifth street, a mild may spring night greeted me in Harlem. I walked over to the Maysles cinema, which looked more like a storefront art gallery than a film house.

The person taking admission was polite and efficient. And, better yet, gave off an aura of friendliness. Mr. 8mm greeted me at the door and mildly said. “Have a seat”. I saw two friends and sat down next to them. I looked at my watch; it was 7:25pm, five minutes to go. I observed that the Maysles cinema has about seventy seats or so, a small theater that’s clean and comfortable. My eyes were getting used to the semi darkness and I couldn’t help but notice that only half the seats were taken. I wondered if. Mr.8mm would wait around past the 7:30 starting time to see if more people would show up, but he didn’t. He closed the doors, came in front of us and announced the format of the super eight/regular eight mm films that he was showing and there would also be a Q&A at the end of the program. With that task done, Mr. 8mm ran to the back of the cinema, went into the projection booth and started the program. Before each film, he would state the title, if it was super eight or regular eight mm, sound or silent, how many minutes it would be and what company made it. I’ve seen in the past few years, film programs by Mr.8mm, and sometimes they were very good and sometimes they were not. But this particular program for me was magical. It was just a fantastic night. It was FUN. First off, there were no mechanical problems during this performance. It can’t be easy dealing with old super/ regular eight mm films and running two vintage projectors. I would imagine that you have to have skill and luck to pull off a good program. There’s extraordinary alchemy going on here, showing super eight/regular eight mm films found in west coast flea markets and garage sales on a big screen. Sure, you might be able to locate on the internet some of these newsreels, but to see it on a small computer desk top monitor is kind of a blasphemy. I have to admit my inner child did come out during the program especially during “the Tacoma Bridge disaster newsreel” (regular super eight, castle film, 12mins long) Were there people in the car? And did they get out alive? Watching these old newsreels I could only compare the feeling I got to like discovering a golden age comic book in my collection that I forgot I had. Another factor that made this program so special to me .Mr. 8mm’s choice of films and newsreels. All of them were very riveting and exciting, I especially liked “News Thrills of 1944, Volume one “(Official films, reg 8mm, silent, b&w, 12 mins) seeing the historic allied meeting with Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt”. Also, a very interesting choice was of course, “Adventures of a newsreel cameraman-filming the big thrills”(Blackhawk films,super8sound, b&w,1930’s, 12mins)a composite of many news events of that past decade from Florida’s hurricane in 1926 to the Mississippi floods and the iced-up honeymoon bridge in Niagara Falls during that past year to finally the Hindenburg disaster. As I was watching these ancient celluloid treasures, I started to get flashbacks from my childhood days(1960’s) and remembering watching newsreels being shown before the feature film at the Earl movie palace up in the South Bronx, near Yankee Stadium. I just want to mention that Mr. 8mm has had live musical accompaniments in his programs. This time, he didn’t have it and he definitely didn’t need it.(Some of his other screenings, the music worked well.) I think in this case live music would have taken away from this powerful screening. Coming to the end of his program, Mr.8mm’s Q&A was excellent (Unlike the last time I saw his screening-I felt he really didn’t answer the questions the audience asked him) He was knowledgeable about the subject matter and of the questions the audience asked. He showed respect to them for asking and answered them with as much information as he had. He especially was attuned to the history of Castle films. All and all it was a very charming night with the film program that Mr. 8mm presented at the Maysles cinema.

You can see the next installment of Mr. 8mm’s, -“(8mm) World war 11 propaganda/newsreels: volume ten (sort of like/kind of a sequel to/continuation of history of 8mm: volume nine: (8mm) Newsreels: A (mini) history of the (Sub) genre: 1930’s-?) With an art show (“Wallpaper & beyond”) & 60th? Birthday gala” BE THERE!! Wednesday,November 6, 2013 at 7:30

Piñero Film Review by Aurora Flores

A Miramax Film Directed by Leon IchasoReview by Aurora Flores January 2002

Hollywood pulled a sucker punch on Latinos once more in this disjointed and undeveloped portrait of a psychopath. Worse than West Side Story, Badge 353 or Fort Apache, Piñero takes us on a walk on the wild side of hell without so much as a whisper of the rampant rumors of pedophilia at the essence of this twisted, demented sociopath celebrated in this film as an artistic icon of Nuyorican creativity.

Miguel Piñero appeared on the New York artistic scene in 1974 with the presentation of "Short Eyes" a play he wrote in a prison workshop while serving time in Sing Sing for armed robbery. Presented first by La Familia, then Lincoln Center and Joseph Papp's Public Theater it became a hit winning the N.Y. Drama Critics Circle Award for best American play before turned into a movie.

The work (interestingly enough) was about a pedophile who abused boys only to find himself in jail among prisoners who can forgive anything but. Piñero (who always told writers to write what they know and surely he knew more on this topic as both victim and predator) was tapped by Hollywood to write and act about crime and criminals for shows like Baretta, Miami Vice and others.

The film opens with the multilayered beats of Hector LaVoe's salsa pulsating in scenes that slice like a blade in and out of Piñero's black and white past with technical wizardry that masks the lack of infrastructure, stunted script and character development that these quick paced, eye blinking MTVish frames disguise.

We move from a jive time hustler in jail spewing smart-alecky street rhymes of life to a troubled childhood of transplanted poverty and incest. We then see a strung out junkie in a dope den of squalor pimping the talent that took him out of jail back to his mother who is holding onto five children calmly telling the father to leave after bearing witness to the rape of her eldest son at his hands. Welcome to the avant-garde.

Actor Benjamin Bratt's total possession of Piñero's spirit, however, is brilliant, electrifying and shocking. Bratt breaks through his previous "papi chulo" roles, bringing Piñero to life as vividly as the heroin that danced with "Mikey" through decadent degradation and debauchery. Like a lightweight boxer, Bratt pounces and punches his posse with words heard only in the deepest and most desperate layer of urban subculture. "I have to keep doing bad to keep the writing good," Piñero justifies his anti-social behavior. But his writing was never "all that" to begin with. The topic of pedophile as underdog has been done many times over. "The Quare Fellow," Brendon Behan's play about a child molestor murdered in prison by his fellow in-mates was produced in New York before "Short Eyes." And while Piñero's poetic rhetoric spoke of strength against oppressor and society's hypocrisy, his soul was corrupted by his total weakness and enslavement to drugs and dereliction.

But there were moments of lucidity as in the Puerto Rico/Nuyorican poets encounter. Piñero comes face to face with Puerto Rican scholars on the Island who repudiate his art and lifestyle. Piñero, the defiantly cool captive of his own dysfunction, "outs" the colonialized slavery of the Island's academia as definition of a sanctimonious identity not their own. In contrast, the scene where Piñero's play is presented by Papp to a packed audience is most telling where in his moment of triumph, Piñero shows his "ass" to the world. The sun was not always shining for this cool dude.

Piñero's sickness and arrogance never recognized his self-described "junkie Christ" as anti-Christ. Even in death, this unholy alliance with mainstream American media once again contemptuously maligns the hard working, self-sacrificing Latino artistic community that rises above its horrific childhood traumas to create works of true literary insight, craft and artistry as legacy of our pride and courage. Understandably, sensationalized commercial films sell tickets, but for a community still invisible on the screen, marginalized in society and misunderstood by its neighbors, this is one more attempt to show only the pus-infected cancker sores of a debauched existence.

On some deeper level, maybe Piñero knew he was being patronized and displayed like a curious monkey with humanlike qualities by the "culturally elite" who saw him more as freak than peer. He may be laughing right now at how, in death, he can still steal $10 from everyone who sees this film.

Piñero's girlfriend, played by Talisa Soto was as unconvincing as Rita Moreno's ethereal and flighty mother. Soto's Versace dresses, supermodel unmarked body, face and makeup belie the junkie/bitch/'ho of her character Sugar. The other players around Piñero appear superficially while Piñero's "friend," Miguel Algarin, (played by Giancarlo Esposito) is a one dimensional, totally absorbed and self-serving tributary of Pinero's dark side. Despite all the people around him, none did anything to help this "great talent." They all enabled the madness; the lack of morality, values, ethics, discipline, respect and sanity.

The absence of real women characters in this contorted macho nightmare, flies in the face of the founding of the Nuyorican Poet's Caf√© that counted on the many poems of Sandra Maria Esteves, one of the cultural warriors of the Nuyorican front line never mentioned in this hallucination. Neither are other worthy soldiers such as Victor Hernandez Cruz, Papoleto, Eddie Figueroa, Tato LaViera, El Coco Que Habla, et al. But it's just as well. Even comic John Leguizamo refused to play the role after he researched Piñero's life. Vaya Juanito! The last half hour of the film became tediously burdensom never exposing Piñero's nursery of prepubescent boys he introduced as his "sons," at functions outside the Caf√© instead laboring on the mundane primal language thrown around the club like eight year olds who've just learned bad words. And many times, this was what nights at the Nuyorican Poets Caf√© were about. That it was a creative gathering den for the forgotten is not refuted but there were those who under the guise of free expression relished an unrestrained and undisciplined orgy of depravity. Clearly many of the new breed of poets look to the Nuyorican Poets' Caf√© as an alternative showcase for literary voices that relate to our reality. And there are many who answered the calling. Piñero was not one of them. And to claim that this was the precursor to hip hop and rap when The Last Poets had already carved a role as political griots of that particular social shift in time is bogus indeed. This is not a film to take a sensitive young artist to. Nor is it a portrait of an exemplary Latino talent that survived New York's dark reality. This is a film that celebrates the reckless life of someone who was abused by his father, let down by his mother and everyone around him; a deviant who crashed and burned under the weight of living taking a few down with him. Some hero.

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, the Institute of Puerto Rican Policy and the National Hispanic Media Coalition presented the community screening I attended. The Village Seven Theater was packed with community leaders from the arts, education,social services and politics. The applause for the movie's spokespeople, Miguel Algarin, Giancarlo Esposito, Nelson Vasquez and Tim Williams was lukewarm. Questions on Hollywood's spotlight on negative Latino images and incest were glibly and smugly shrugged off or totally ignored by Algarin, who displayed the same self-delusional aplomb and cockiness as the film's protagonist. The response was polite curiosity from the crowd. But once everyone dispersed outside, the consensus was transparent. Miguel -- the emperor has no clothes.