African superhero Black Panther brings movie magic into reality with sold out theaters and record-breaking box office sales around the globe.
It was 1970, a year after Steve Cannon’s novel, “Groove, Bang and Jive Around,” was published, that he used proceeds from its sale to buy a three-story townhouse on East Third Street, just east of Avenue C, with a brick facade and a hospitable stoop.
Over the decades, that stoop became a gathering spot where Mr. Cannon and friends, including many from the nearby Nuyorican Poets Cafe, held wide-ranging conversations that lasted all night. Those freewheeling discussions moved indoors in 1991, when Mr. Cannon turned parts of the building into a gallery and salon known as A Gathering of the Tribes. There, he and others published magazines and organized readings and art exhibitions.
“It became a center for poets, musicians and artists from all over the world,” Mr. Cannon said. “People realized they could be themselves there because it gave the feeling of being at home.”
Faced with debt, Mr. Cannon sold the building in 2004, with an agreement that he could continue living and holding events on the second floor. That arrangement began to fray in 2011, and last year Mr. Cannon, 79 and blind, moved out of his home of more than 40 years.
The photographer Gaia Squarci spent several weeks documenting life inside the Tribes gallery. Her images show Mr. Cannon’s comrades arriving for final farewells, helping to pack books and using saws to remove a section of wall that had been painted by the artist David Hammons.
Mr. Cannon moved into an apartment a few blocks away. He has continued to organize readings, but they are now held in other places. Friends still visit to work on an anthology of art and poetry that Mr. Cannon is putting together or to discuss their own projects. Sometimes, he said, they reminisce about the good times on Third Street.
“It’s the same spirit here,” he said, “Only there’s less room and fewer people stopping by.”
Represent: 200 years of African American Art. Now through April 5, 2015 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Represent takes the patron through the 19th and 20th centuries of the African American experience as illustrated mainly by artists centered in Philadelphia and New York. The pieces in this collection are drawn from the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and arranged conveniently and chronologically in a gallery for your enjoyment. The exhibit tells a story of isolation and assimilation and the works demonstrate parallel cultures which are both intertwined and separate. The pieces featured in the show range a diverse range of perspectives and styles. The exhibit includes works from painters, artisans, sculptors, crafters, and photographers encompassing everything from a practical storage vessel to activist and abstract art.
As you enter the gallery you are greeted by a very moving black and white portrait of a young Martin Luther King by John Woodrow Wilson in 1988. The portrait is charcoal on cream wove paper. The stark image with downcast black eyes in bold black and white contrast is highly evocative. One's thoughts turn to the history of Africans in America; the triumphs and the tragedies. This is a perfect welcome into the exhibit.
The exhibit begins with cut paper profiles by Moses Williams, a former slave of the famous Peale family in Philadelphia. Born around 1775, he was trained to work in the Peale's museum where he learned physiognotrace; a technique able to produce fast and cheap portraits of the sitter which were made of black cut paper and always in silhouette. Similar in appearance to cameos, they were a novelty for the aristocracy. He used this machine, which was a precursor to modern photography, to create portrait profiles and earned a steady income from the work after he gained his freedom in 1802. He became a part of one of the largest free black communities in the country at that time.
A storage jar by David Drake, also known as Drake the Potter is on display. Drake was a master potter and poet from Edgefield, South Carolina who created large storage jars out of clay. The jar on display is dated May 3, 1859 and has an inscription of one of the artist's poems as well as his signature.
“The Annunciation” by Henry Owassa Tanner, 1898 is a large painting of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. Mary is shown as an adolescent dressed in Middle Eastern peasant clothing, without a halo or other holy attributes. A shaft of light represents the angel Gabriel. It was acquired by Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1899 and was his first work to enter an American museum. Also on display is Portrait of the Artist's Mother, 1897. This dignified portrait of Sarah Tanner is clearly a tribute to this remarkable woman and inspired by the Whistler's Mother portrait by James McNeill Whistler. Henry was raised in Philadelphia and studied at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. This work was painted in Paris after Tanner returned from a trip to Egypt and Palestine.
Aaron Douglass's "Birds in Flight" was painted in Harlem in 1927 during the early Harlem Renaissance. This painting looks very similar to Pablo Picasso's Ma Jolie which was painted around 1912. It is small and looks like it was painted in the cubist style. At first glance, this painting looks to be abstract. The painting shapes and patterns in shades of red, orange, brown, green, and blue, and diagonal lines. There are three looming smokestacks in the upper right, suggesting an urban scene as well as flapping wings, eyes, and round heads throughout the picture. Douglass was inspired by many art forms including African sculpture and modern art and design. Douglass made this painting just two years after he moved from Kansas to New York City. He became a central figure in the neighborhood of Harlem during this time of important cultural awakening. He made illustrations and covers for books by authors such as Alain Locke and Langston Hughes. He also painted large public murals, such as his famous Aspects of Negro Life on the walls of the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library. He established the art department at Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee.
William Henry Johnson's “Blind Singer” was painted around 1939-1940. It is reminiscent of, but possibly predating, the cut outs by Henri Matisse which were produced in the early 1940's. This lively image contains two musicians facing us directly and standing close together singing, and playing the guitar and a tambourine. The man and woman are wearing colorful clothing: a yellow hat with a blue band, a red tie, orange and blue jackets, and green shoes. It conveys the fashion, music, and dance that would he would have seen and experienced in his neighborhood of Harlem. William moved to New York City from rural South Carolina at age seventeen during the Great Migration when large numbers of African Americans left the south. He enrolled in painting and drawing classes at the prestigious National Academy of Design. Once finished with his studies in the U.S., he traveled to Europe and launched his artistic career. After his return to New York in 1938 he taught at the Harlem Community Art Center.
Horace Pippin's “Mr. Prejudice”, 1943, is a small but moving painting with a powerful message about Pippin's experiences of discrimination and segregation after returning from World War One. The characters stand on opposing sides of a large V which is being hammered by a grim faced white man. The V stands for victory abroad. On the right side is a hooded Ku Klux Klan member standing under a dark cloud. Other characters under the Klansman include a man with a noose. Following are other men in various war related professions; the whites on one side and the blacks on the other. Horace Pippin is also portrayed with his right arm that was injured in battle hanging at his side. Also “The End of the War: Starting Home”, painted in the early 1930's. It depicts black soldiers in France during World War One fighting and capturing German soldiers in a war scene. These paintings are demonstrative of Pippin's feelings about war and postwar experiences of discrimination, segregation prejudice and injustice. Horace Pippin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He fought in World War One in France where he served with a famous African American regiment named the Harlem Hellfighters. He was shot in the right shoulder toward the end of the war and taught himself to paint despite his disability.
Jacob Lawrence 1917 - 2000 “The Libraries Are Appreciated”, 1943 Is a slice of life painting where three people sit a table in the 124th Street branch of the New York Public Library. They are engrossed in their reading and surrounded by brightly colored books that line the shelves behind them. This is the twenty eighth painting out of sixty in the Harlem Series which illustrate various scenes of daily life in Harlem using bold shapes, vivid colors and patterns. He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey and moved to Harlem with his family at age thirteen. He studied art in New York first at an after school program and later at the American Artists School. He and his wife moved to the West Coast in the 1970's where he taught art at the University of Washington.
Gordon Parks 1912 - 2006 Untitled (Man in Hat Holding Little Girl) 1950 is a black and white photograph where a dignified looking older man holds a young girl in his arms while standing in a crowd of humbly dressed African Americans. He is wearing a hat which, illuminated by the sun, has a halo-like ring around the rim. The people in the background are out of focus, but we see every detail of his face. The people, who are all of various ages and humbly dressed, appear to be watching an event. This picture was taken around 1950, when he worked as a photojournalist for Life magazine. His photographs document the lives of African Americans with a Norman Rockwell like capturing of the essence of the lives of his subjects. He also documented the lives of famous celebrities and politicians of his time. Parks s photographs are powerfully engaging drawing the viewer into the subject and evoking emotion. Gordon Parks was born in Kansas. He moved to Harlem after having already working for the Farm Security Administration and working as a freelance photographer. Life magazine hired him in the 1940's making him the magazines first African American staff photographer. Well known for his photography, he was also an accomplished filmmaker, writer, poet and composer.
Elizabeth Catlett 1915 - 2012 “Mother and Child” Terracotta sculpture 1956. This is a piece showing a woman sitting, holding a young child. She sits erect but appears calm and strong. Her feet are firmly planted and her lap provides a stable comfortable seat for the child. The sculpture depicts a universal representation of motherhood. Mother and Child was sculpted while the artist was living in Mexico City. It is one of many versions some of which are made from mahogany or pecan wood. Elizabeth Catlett used her art to raise social consciousness. She was trained at Howard University and the University of Iowa and taught art in New York City as well as New Orleans.
Barkley L. Hendricks 1945. "Miss T" painted in 1969, is a portrait of a woman fashionably dressed black woman wearing a black pantsuit against a white background and has her hands placed behind her back. She looks cool and confident in her bell bottom pants, aviator glasses and afro hairstyle. This painting reflects the "Black is Beautiful" attitude of the late 1960's. Barkley Hendricks is known for capturing images of stylish, confident, everyday people. He attempted to fill what he saw as a void of black figures in the major museums of European and American art. Hendricks was born and raised in North Philadelphia. He studied at Yale and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He eventually became a professor at Connecticut College.
There is much more to see in this exhibit. In addition to the pieces mentioned, there are also pieces from other artists including but not limited to; Martin Puryear "Old Mole" Red Cedar 1985 Sculpture, Faith Ringgold "Tar Beach 2" Quilt 1990, Carrie Mae Weems Photography "Kitchen Table", as well as work by Lorna Simpson and Jerry Pinkney. It is worth a visit.
It is thought that studies involving the use of genome-editing tools to modify the DNA of human embryos will be published shortly1.
There are grave concerns regarding the ethical and safety implications of this research. There is also fear of the negative impact it could have on important work involving the use of genome-editing techniques in somatic (non-reproductive) cells.
We are all involved in this latter area of work. One of us (F.U.) helped to develop the first genome-editing technology, zinc-finger nucleases2 (ZFNs), and is now senior scientist at the company developing them, Sangamo BioSciences of Richmond, California. The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM; in which E.L., M.W. and S.E.H. are involved), is an international organization that represents more than 200 life-sciences companies, research institutions, non-profit organizations, patient-advocacy groups and investors focused on developing and commercializing therapeutics, including those involving genome editing.
- China’s scientists must engage the public on GM
- Novartis secures first CRISPR pharma collaborations
- Regulation: Sell help not hope
Genome-editing technologies may offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia and several forms of cancer3. All techniques currently in various stages of clinical development focus on modifying the genetic material of somatic cells, such as T cells (a type of white blood cell). These are not designed to affect sperm or eggs.
In our view, genome editing in human embryos using current technologies could have unpredictable effects on future generations. This makes it dangerous and ethically unacceptable. Such research could be exploited for non-therapeutic modifications. We are concerned that a public outcry about such an ethical breach could hinder a promising area of therapeutic development, namely making genetic changes that cannot be inherited.
At this early stage, scientists should agree not to modify the DNA of human reproductive cells. Should a truly compelling case ever arise for the therapeutic benefit of germline modification, we encourage an open discussion around the appropriate course of action.
Genome editing of human somatic cells aims to repair or eliminate a mutation that could cause disease. The premise is that corrective changes to a sufficient number of cells carrying the mutation — in which the genetic fixes would last the lifetimes of the modified cells and their progeny — could provide a ‘one and done’ curative treatment for patients.
For instance, ZFNs are DNA-binding proteins that can be engineered to induce a double-strand break in a section of DNA. Such molecular scissors enable researchers to ‘knock out’ specific genes, repair a mutation or incorporate a new stretch of DNA into a selected location.
Sangamo BioSciences is conducting clinical trials to evaluate an application of genome editing as a potential ‘functional cure’ for HIV/AIDS4. The hope is that intravenous infusion of modified T cells will enable patients to stop taking antiretroviral drugs. A phase I trial in patients with β-thalassaemia — a genetic blood disorder caused by insufficient haemoglobin production — is scheduled to begin this year.
The newest addition to the genome-editing arsenal is CRISPR/Cas9, a bacteria-derived system that uses RNA molecules that recognize specific human DNA sequences. The RNAs act as guides, matching the nuclease to corresponding locations in the human genome. CRISPR/Cas9 is the simplest genome-editing tool to work with because it relies on RNA–DNA base pairing, rather than the engineering of proteins that bind particular DNA sequences.
“The precise effects of genetic modification to an embryo may be impossible to know until after birth.”
The CRISPR technique has dramatically expanded research on genome editing. But we cannot imagine a situation in which its use in human embryos would offer a therapeutic benefit over existing and developing methods. It would be difficult to control exactly how many cells are modified. Increasing the dose of nuclease used would increase the likelihood that the mutated gene will be corrected, but also raise the risk of cuts being made elsewhere in the genome.
In an embryo, a nuclease may not necessarily cut both copies of the target gene, or the cell may start dividing before the corrections are complete, resulting in a genetic mosaic. Studies using gene-editing in animals such as rats5, cattle6, sheep7 and pigs8, indicate that it is possible to delete or disable genes in an embryo — a simpler process than actually correcting DNA sequences — in onlysome of the cells.
The current ability to perform quality controls on only a subset of cells means that the precise effects of genetic modification to an embryo may be impossible to know until after birth. Even then, potential problems may not surface for years. Established methods, such as standard prenatal genetic diagnostics or in vitro fertilization (IVF) with the genetic profiling of embryos before implantation, are much better options for parents who both carry the same mutation for a disease.
Patient safety is paramount among the arguments against modifying the human germ line (egg and sperm cells). If a mosaic embryo is created, the embryo’s germ line may or may not carry the genetic alteration. But the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in human embryos certainly makes onward human germline modification a possibility. Philosophically or ethically justifiable applications for this technology — should any ever exist — are moot until it becomes possible to demonstrate safe outcomes and obtain reproducible data over multiple generations.
Because of such concerns — as well as for serious ethical reasons — some countries discouraged or prohibited this type of research a decade before the technical feasibility of germline modification was confirmed in rats in 2009 (ref. 9). (Today, around 40 countries discourage or ban it.)
Many countries do not have explicit legislation in place permitting or forbidding genetic engineering in humans — considering such research experimental and not therapeutic (see go.nature.com/uvthmu). However, in nations with policies regarding inheritable genetic modification, it has been prohibited by law or by measures having the force of law.
This consensus is most visible in western Europe, where 15 of 22 nations prohibit the modification of the germ line4. Although the United States has not officially prohibited germline modification, the US National Institutes of Health’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee explicitly states that it “will not at present entertain proposals for germ line alterations” (see go.nature.com/mgscb2).
In general, researchers who want to investigate the clinical uses of genetically engineered somatic cells must secure people’s informed consent. In the United States, this takes place under the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. For research involving genetic modification of the germ line, it is unclear what information would be needed — or obtainable — to adequately inform prospective parents of the risks, including to future generations.
Many oppose germline modification on the grounds that permitting even unambiguously therapeutic interventions could start us down a path towards non-therapeutic genetic enhancement. We share these concerns.
Ten years ago, the Genetics and Public Policy Center, now in Washington DC, brought together more than 80 experts from the United States and Canada to consider the scientific and ethical consequences of genetically modifying the human germ line. Now that the capability for human germline engineering has emerged, we urge the international scientific community to engage in this type of dialogue. This is needed both to establish how to proceed in the immediate term, and to assess whether, and under what circumstances — if any — future research involving genetic modification of human germ cells should take place. Such discussions must include the public as well as experts and academics.
An excellent precedent for open, early discussion as new scientific capabilities emerge was set by the hearings, consultations and reports involving scientists, bioethicists, regulators and the general public that preceded the UK government’s decision to legalize mitochondrial DNA transfer in February. We are not, of course, making a comparison between the replacement of faulty mitochondrial DNA in an egg or embryo with healthy DNA from a female donor and the use of genome-editing in human embryos. In mitochondrial transfer, the aim is to prevent life-threatening diseases by replacing a known and tiny fraction of the overall genome.
Key to all discussion and future research is making a clear distinction between genome editing in somatic cells and in germ cells. A voluntary moratorium in the scientific community could be an effective way to discourage human germline modification and raise public awareness of the difference between these two techniques. Legitimate concerns regarding the safety and ethical impacts of germline editing must not impede the significant progress being made in the clinical development of approaches to potentially cure serious debilitating diseases.
Justin Burnelljustinburnell@gmail.com 504.669.0604
Spirals of Progress a Review
New Orleans Boom and Blackout opens with a hearse at the Superdome. In the hearse is an empty coffin. Behind is a long line of taxis. Like the coffin they are also passenger-less and stand empty and unrented. The drivers are protesting the new regulations for taxicabs in New Orleans. New credit card machines and surveillance cameras cost money, and everyone in New Orleans always feels stretched thinner than everyone else. Their representative begins to speak in front of the golden Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Mayor Mitch Landrieu isn’t at the Superdome. The cavalcade rides toward city hall where Landrieu starts the one-hundred-day countdown to the Super Bowl. He is focused on the future out beyond the crowd. He addresses the press and says, “The idea is to make sure that New Orleans shines its brightest light at this particular time when we are on the world’s stage.” After revitalizing Louis Armstrong Airport, the front door to the city, Landrieu wants tourists treated lavishly. Landrieu won’t have them sticking to dirty seats or haggling over fares. At the podium he proffers a clean and sunny future.
The cover of New Orleans Boom and Blackout (NOBB) shows 49ers cheerleaders mid-dance under the half dead lights of the blacked out Superdome. Tom Benson, the Saints, and the stadium play major roles in the main narrative. The book ends (around) Super Bowl Sunday. Brian Boyles gave me every reason to think NOBB is about football or at least about a very big football game. It isn’t. Instead Boyles explores the future myth of the new New Orleans, and Mayor Landrieu’s position in continuing the cyclic legacy of speaking of the nations oldest city in the future tense.The Cycle
NOBB is chaptered in days. They move from 101 days to SB XLVII to a little past the game, but the scope of the book is vaster. As anyone who has delved into New Orleans’ history finds, context is crucial. The city of backdoor deals sealed with handshakes, the city where people take care of them and theirs is a place where one is either in on the joke or not. The residents are sharply divided—rich or poor, powerful or weak, local or snowbird—but the place operates in limbo. It is liminal. New Orleans is both the city that care forgot and a city of hope. “Only in New Orleans” has become a cliché. It has become so for good reason. One doesn’t have to look far back for absurd stories. When I moved here my friends told me stories of their parents rushing to the polls to ensure that the crook (Edwin Edwards) beat the devil (David Duke, former leader of the KKK). Boyles rolls through the regrettable moments in the city’s history with ease, pointing forward because at best the past is bittersweet, but the future is eternally hopeful and renewed.
NOBB frames the current rebranding of New Orleans with the past visions of New Orleans future. The book explores the making of the future myth and the one shot schemes promised to usher it in. It would be easy to cast these mayors, governors, and businessmen as hucksters angling to sell Springfield a monorail (even though that was actually proposed in New Orleans) but Boyles presents these men as they appeared to their era, as men who saw a future and grasped for the silver rope to pull New Orleans from the swamp.
Sports and politics are tight in the South. This is more or less the de facto premise of the book. In NOBB politics, sports, and the bright horizon all meet at the Superdome, or its creation. Boyles begins when New Orleans hosted the 1964 AFL All-Start game. When the black players arrived in the city, they were met with racism endemic of a (nearly) bygone era. After a night of being kicked out of clubs and bullied, the players boycotted the All-Start game in protest. Boyles quotes Mayor Victor Schiro saying the players “should have rolled with the punches” and lets the words stand on their own.
After this P.R. catastrophe, Dave Dixon, one of the city planners who coordinated the All-Star game, and Governor John McKeithen saw New Orleans stuck and sinking into a shameful history. The men shared a vision. New Orleans could have its own professional football team and with it a state of the art stadium: a superdome.
McKeithen thought a football team would put the city on the map and the Superdome would be the dot. The dome would be a modern marvel. With its 250,000 square feet it could host conventions, concerts, and college and pro football games. With it, New Orleans could compete with Atlanta and Houston as the jewel of the South. The building alone could generate a new era of growth and tolerance, a modern New Orleans. Or so went the promise.
“The Louisiana Superdome Welcomes You to Tomorrow” read the scoreboard ten years after the All-Star boycott. Boyles tells of the high wire balancing act it took to get the deal for the Saints and the Superdome done. But like the Morial Convention Center and the Word’s Fair ten years later, the Superdome was a financial disaster.
The New Visionary
“They said about us, ‘Y’all slow, y’all say you’re going to do things and you don’t do things and all that stuff you want to do is not going to be finished.’ And I said, ‘Not now. Not in this New Orleans, where we are on time, on task and under budget. Things are gonna get done!” Mayor Landrieu says after he dances onto the stage of the Superdome. Boyles watches from the stands with all the army of Disney volunteers.
Landrieu preaches that the new New Orleans will be a destination for major sporting events, success in the tech industry, and unique culture. His administration began the era of the cultural economy. The Super Bowl is his Superdome. Just as the city wallowed ignominy after the boycott, Landrieu took office in a period of abject struggle. The city was still in the crawl of rebuilding from Katrina and the indictments of government corruption seemed to rain down daily. For Landrieu the Super Bowl is just as much about earning the nation’s trust as it is football
It is clear that the game is a moment for the city to shine, but for Landrieu sees it as an audition for the future. He set about repaving major streets in the French Quarter as quickly as possible. Even though some blocks flood due to the repaving, on dry days the asphalt gleams. Landrieu builds the Loyola streetcar line in time for the game to help tourists traverse the Central Business District. He says that those who criticize it for going nowhere don’t see the larger picture. The area will develop around the streetcar line. Boyles draws the mayor leveraging the present for the future, knowing that the Super Bowl is his one-number audition. The success of the weekend at the price of all else. The NFL may take over the French Quarter, the streets may be repaved slapdash, and the city may only reap a fraction of the profit, but Landrieu only thinks of the promise. Boyles presents a well put together, easy going Landrieu scrambling to make sure the paint is new and thickly coats the rust underneath so that later, with the faith of the nation and investors, he can get around to the rust.
NOBB clearly shows the city’s ebb and flow of famine and promised feast, but Boyles’ portrayal of Landrieu is what pulled me through the book. The mayor’s charisma becomes one with the city’s. When Landrieu jumps from the new Loyola streetcar to lead a parade, the city’s allure and the mayor’s magnetism feed into each other and remind me why so many people over emphasize the city’s character to the point of magical realism. The mayor laughsand embraces the band director of the St. Augustine High School Marching 100 and it is impossible to not want to be swaying on the street in the sun with the horns roaring around you in New Orleans, which is exactly what Mitch Landrieu wants.
Amidst the history and saviors, Boyles walks the street. If the city as a whole is personified by Landrieu, then Brian Boyles is representative of the crowd of onlookers. His narrative implies closeness. He hangs out at a strip club to talk with the house DJ then crosses Canal Street to watch Lil’ Wayne perform at an exclusive after party—where he bumps into James Carville and Mary Matalin—and then stops off at a divey CBD bar and diner to chat with the owner. Boyles uses his time during the hundred-day span to illustrate how closely connected the bottom of New Orleans is to the top.
He pops into the text only as needed. Toward the end of the book Boyles is on his Super Bowl greeter shift. The volunteers are chaperoned by the extra police who’ve been bussed in from around Louisiana. Both volunteers and police guide tourists and point them in the right direction. The police are annoyed because they’ve been pulled away from real cases so they can manage foot traffic. I can feel the bored, distracted dance of the volunteers and the shit talking of the police. Just as I wondered why anyone would stick around, Boyles says, “Cold, unnecessary and among dwindling cohort, I resolved to abandon my post.”
Boyles isn’t a force, but he is the connective tissue. Or his tone is. As the book moves though history and the city, Boyles’ conversational tone reinforces the idea that all these events and cycles and players are working and talking together. I think above all this is the most enjoyable part of the book. The tone renders the pathos of the city’s close quarters where the living and dead, the hustlers and marks, the rich and poor are sardined shoulder to shoulder. In moments the prose collapses time and event on top of each other, which is how it feels as I write this in Alcee Fortier park established in 1926, surrounded by buildings of one hundred years or more, cars zooming by the cyclists riding in the new bike lane on Esplanade Avenue. His tone echoes the unsettled feeling of devotion to the future while living in a place out of time and on the verge of sliding into the ocean.
Few TV shows have created as much fervor within the Asian American community as Fresh Off the Boat. Between the coordinated hashtags, back and forth pre-release debates and the constant scrutiny on the smallest of details, it’s easy to forget that this is a network sitcom. Based on the memoir of chef Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat has morphed into a call for change and symbol of pride for the Asian American community.
I had the opportunity to attend the live community screening of the show at The Circle in New York. The nightclub-turned-theater easily hit its 1000-person max capacity with stars Hudson Yang, Eddie Huang and Randall Park mixed in with community sponsors and excited fans. I also attended a talkback for the fifth episode which included a panel featuring Father-of-actor Jeff Yang, Gothamist Co-founder Jen Chung, Comedian Jen Kwok and Entertainment Weekly Staff Writer Ray Rahman. These viewing parties extended beyond the boundaries of New York, cropping up in every city that had some sort of Asian American presence. For a Netflix-in-bed TV viewer, you could say that I’ve been swept into the hype of things too. It was impressive that so many people were excited to watch a show, but even more so that Asian American journalists, celebrities, artists and anyone else invested in the Asian American community were passionately fighting for the show.
It’s easy to see why. As the first Asian American-centered network show in 20 years, Fresh Off the Boat was a breath of fresh air. The show was met with a shower of praise soon after debuting. People were enamored with how cute Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen were as Eddie’s brothers, Emery and Evan. Critics quickly cited Constance Wu, who plays Eddie’s mother, as a breakout star. The packed crowd at The Circle cheered and booed as little Eddie navigated a white-dominated neighborhood that was all too familiar for the attendees.
This was extraordinary, but also sad. Strip away the cultural significance and you’re left with an above average sitcom, one that certainly wouldn’t warrant the intensive discussion that this show is receiving. Questions on how accurately the protagonist captures the Asian American experience and what ethnicity the writers of the show are would never appear with the same regularity for other sitcoms like Modern Family or New Girl.
But the cultural and historical significance of Fresh Off the Boatcan not be ignored. During the packed event at The Circle, Eddie Huang makes it clear that we shouldn’t have to be having these large campaigns and events. And it’s true. It’s great that the Asian American community is coming together to push for the success of this show, but Fresh Off the Boat shouldn’t be an anomaly. Eddie Huang shouldn’t be the only Asian American story being told. Fresh Off the Boat shouldn’t be the only Asian American story we see.
Unfortunately, since that’s the reality of current circumstances, it’s brought in a range of emotions from various demographics. The unfamiliarity of the situation have some people clamoring that it’s racist. There’s been many productive--and not so productive--conversations on the title usage, portrayal of Blacks, and authenticity to the source material. Just as with how Huang expressed his desire for the release of a new Asian American show to be less of a spectacle and more of a commonplace occurrence, I hope some of these conversations will be common knowledge next time around.
From comments by friends and feedback from both of the events I attended, the consensus by the Asian American community is one of delight that a show is willing to chart experiences we’ve felt, that it had characters relatable to our plights and that was willing to make jabs at issues we face. Fresh Off the Boat was relatable. This is what’s so sad about this situation. TV characters and tropes are designed to be relatable. The fact that it took this long for a show to address the needs and wants of the Asian American community demonstrates how far removed the American media system is from where it should be. We have such small representation in mainstream media that we need to place a huge burden on this show, hence the critical comments and apprehensive anticipation. Thankfully, the show has so far delivered as promised, and the community has responded in kind.
Perhaps since every move was judged by a magnifying glass, five episodes in, Fresh Off the Boat remains a biting, funny and relatable Asian American story. The next big hurdle is to keep the momentum going, having more minorities take up the directing, writing and producing roles, leading to more stories like Fresh Off the Boat. This is just the beginning and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Mother Tongues III* I.
Just think, all those tongues
all those people,
caught in the quickening wind.
Hindu speak, Arawak cry, African
bluesong, Hopi wail.
Can you see the spirits caught in
Babel's confused tower?
Last night I dreamed it was standing upright.
There is a baby sitting on my knee,
I am in the center of a village.
I own its past and its future. Sometimes I
paint the generations with my hands.
I am in search of my
I am in search of
the mother tongue.
American can't hold me,
has always been my second language.
I am in search, I seek my mother tongue.
More than the sounding of women
it is an understanding,
a knowing about cosmos,
this universe of all our bodies - earth.
Just last night I was in
search of the mother tongue,
found myself in the bush
of Chibok, listening to
wailing mother spirits, knowing
in the African cosmos, 276 girls,
500 girls, 1,000 girls like me,
like you just disappeared.
Last night, I dreamed all
the leaning faiths, all
the leaning truths everywhere
were standing upright.
I can see it in the smoke of the Ukraine, of Sarajevo,
how the whole city weeps. What happened
when they pulled the wall down?
What happened when they undid the boundaries?
This new Europe bleeds like in the old days.
I wonder if Lloyd McNeil remembers when
music was waiting to happen in him,
waiting for him to discover, metaphor,
paint and half notes.
His mind a fertile rooster flying free.
Ten years ago, Walcott said,
"surrender," and I did. And from that
moment, that forever the sound of
poetry has been calling ever since.
Mind of my mind,
practicing guerilla warfare.
Mind of my mind,
growing flowers in heart of the Stuy.
Where does a woman go for solitude?
Can't find Sarton's garden anywhere.
Picking glass, cigarette butts, dog doo, condoms,
and candy wrappers from the earth - a woman too.
All she wants is our respect.
All we want is our respect.
Just this morning, I remembered my
awakeness, saw the possibilities of
flowers that couldn't find the sun.
Heard the babble in my neighborhood go
from confusion to clarity. Saw this artist
who refused government aid. Refused
to be a state artist. Found a way,
made a way to keep wild poppies of her art alive.
She knows freedom does not require
an application, just pursuit.
Last night I dreamed
all those made to lean generations,
all the leaning flags,
leaning people of Africa,
were standing upright.
--*from a "Gathering of Mother Tongues".
In waters run obsidian
from loss and loneliness,
reflections closer than I thought
“I want to live,” she says
pushing aside my lame rejections.
Her agile spirit reveals
what I deny;
she who knits back skin
torn by a scalpel’s steel.
Never weary of moon cycles,
she returns faithfully
wearing her many skirts.
Wise woman, yaya
keeper of delicateness
black black, so blue are her ways
one can barely glimpse her.
I stain myself
with the wonder of her.
--*from "A Woman's Season".
Originally in The Best American Poetry: http://blog.
Levi Asher writes about Language Matters for LitKicks: http://www.litkicks.com/
LOOKING AT SEEING: DAVID HAMMONS AND THE POLITICS OF VISIBILITYBY Andrew Russeth POSTED 02/17/15
David Hammons photographed on September 2, 1980, in New York City. ©TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED/PORTRAIT COURTESY THE PHOTOGRAPHER Last spring, Mike Spano, the mayor of Yonkers, New York, a city of about 200,000 that shares a border with the Bronx, delivered his State of the City Address at City Hall. After describing Yonkers as a destination for “new-economy” companies—a developer of shared workspaces, a brewery, and a wine-storage business—he announced that the artist David Hammons would be opening an art gallery in South Yonkers. Hammons, who lives in Brooklyn, was in the audience.
To most eyes, this must have seemed like a fairly ordinary moment, a fine bit of municipal pageantry. However, for anyone who knows Hammons’s reputation in the art world, it would have been an astounding sight.
The African American artist, now 71, has, for the past few decades, been famously, willfully, inaccessible. He is one of the most influential and in-demand artists of the past half century, but he has not had gallery representation, often sells work straight from his studio, rarely agrees to shows, and has given very, very few interviews in the past two decades. The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl was one of the chosen journalists, but even Schjeldahl admitted that, when a misunderstanding about where he was supposed to meet the artist scuttled their first planned talk, “I weighed the odds that I was being treated to a custom-designed artwork.” The appearance of a new Hammons work, in a group show or benefit, has the feeling of an event. The news spreads quickly.
Turning up at Yonkers City Hall seemed like a distinctly uncharacteristic thing for Hammons to do. Perhaps, I thought, he was having a change of heart. And so I tried to get in touch with him. I called the collector Lois Plehn, who I was told serves as Hammons’s gatekeeper. “David is not going to do any interviews about the project,” she told me kindly but firmly, when I finally reached her. Higher Goals, 1986, mixed media, 5 units, heights 20'–35'. PINKNEY HERBERT/JENNIFER SECOR, COURTESY PUBLIC ART FUND, NY Though Hammons guards his privacy, much of his best-known art has been, in its way, resolutely public, albeit ephemeral. As a young artist in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he gained attention for his one-off body prints—made by pressing a grease-covered body (usually the artist’s own) to paper, then sprinkling the paper with powdered pigment—that anticipate performative works to come.
Hammons moved to New York in 1974 and in 1981, in two separate actions, he threw tennis shoes over and urinated on a hulking new Richard Serra sculpture that had been installed in fast-gentrifying Tribeca. In the winter of 1983, he staged his Bliz-aard Ball Sale, hawking snowballs at Cooper Union, New York’s then-free art school. In 1985, as part of Creative Time’s last “Art on the Beach” outdoor sculpture show before the site was swallowed up by Battery Park City, he built Delta Spirit, a wooden shanty house decorated with bottle caps set in the shadow of the World Trade Center towers. And in 1986, he installed a number of his Higher Goals pieces—basketball hoops soaring 20 to 30 feet off the ground—in Cadman Plaza Park in as-yet-ungentrified Brooklyn.
These public pieces offered up a succinct map of societal systems in flux that now seems shockingly prescient. Last year, Cooper Union, whose founder, Peter Cooper, once declared that education there be as “free as air and water,” began charging tuition, having saddled itself with huge debts from an overambitious building project. Brooklyn, where Hammons once asked people to dream bigger, now has the least affordable housing stock in the country. (Harlem, where he first created those hoops, has been hit with its own condo boom. “Harlem is under attack,” he told Deborah Solomon in the New York Times in 2001. “White folks want it back.”) Untitled, 2014, mixed media on canvas and blue tarpaulin, 137" x 123". ©DAVID HAMMONDS/COURTESY WHITE CUBE
Hammons’s actions and temporary structures are preserved as photographs and films, but also as stories, which may be filled with apocrypha. He made $20 selling snowballs, or sold out, depending on what you read. As the writer Greg Allen has pointed out, various accounts of Hammons peeing on the Serra (the work is called Pissed Off), say he either got arrested or was threatened with arrest, or was issued a citation. Hammons has made an art of rumor.
Ambiguity has entered Hammons’s art in an even more purposive, physical way of late, as in his much-discussed 2011 show at L&M Arts in New York. The exhibition consisted of a number of punchy, swirling abstract paintings partially obscured by found tarpaulins or plastic sheets—the stuff of makeshift shelters, and the street—or, in one case, a hulking wooden armoire.
Hammons has also covered luscious drawings made with Kool-Aid powder with curtains that can be lifted only under certain conditions. When one was shown at MoMA in 2012, visitors had to make appointments to view the work with a museum staffer and enter through a different entrance.
“[T]he efficiency, quantity and immediacy of information and information-systems has placed art and the artistic gesture at risk of being identified, categorized, digested, cannibalized and made into information before it has a chance to begin being art,” the curator Anthony Huberman has written. “Curiosity is being castrated by information.” Hammons’s paintings exemplify a considered response to that condition. They confront you with a sustained refusal, cloaked in beauty.
I have heard the criticism from some that Hammons’s recent works, particularly these half-hidden paintings, are too directed at the art world—that they lack the incisive political bite, not to mention the gutsy aesthetic panache, of his “Spade” sculptures of the 1970s, his assemblages made with materials like hair and chicken bones and wine bottles, and his black, red, and green African-American Flag (1990).
To be sure, Hammons’s output of the last two decades has not been as overtly engagé, but it is no less directed toward specific ethical ends. As information overflows and as surveillance networks expand, his works increasingly block, or withhold, information, addressing the politics of visibility, of who and what can be seen and explained. This preoccupation with seeing was enacted most literally in his Concerto in Black and Blue (2002), for which he left the Ace Gallery in New York in pitch darkness, giving visitors little blue flashlights to navigate the space.
Hammons’s most recent exhibition was a 2014 survey of work from the past ten years, at London’s White Cube gallery, which had him manipulating the conditions of display, of being seen, in new ways. One had the feeling of walking through an exhibition mid-installation, or even while it was being torn down. A security gate was partially lowered, and the lights were dim on the top floor, where a few of Hammons’s basketball drawings—sheets of paper on which he has forcefully bounced dirt-covered balls—were on view. On an otherwise blank wall was a rectangular void in the dust and dirt, as if a painting had been removed. Ceiling light covers were missing. Four recent paintings, hung with tattered rags and plastic sheeting, were on view. One was placed across a concealed door to the gallery’s loading dock. The door’s drywall skin had been partially stripped away, exposing the opening to the public. It felt inappropriate to be there.
There was also a surprise inclusion—a humble little Agnes Martin painting, with repeating stripes of white and pale red, blue, and yellow, hanging on its own wall. Such inclusions have become a hallmark of Hammons projects. There was the Miles Davis painting that he offered to the 2006 Whitney Biennial in lieu of contributing his own work, which effectively undermined the curators’ authority. Then there were the works by Donald Judd, Joan Mitchell, and Yayoi Kusama, which were included in an Ed Clark show that Hammons curated at New York’s Tilton Gallery last year (all three were friends with Clark). He enters the institution on his own terms, taking authority as he pleases. David Hammons, America the Beautiful, 1968, lithograph and body print, 39" x 29½". COURTESY MOMA PS1/OAKLAND MUSEUM, THE OAKLAND MUSEUM FOUNDERS FUND
In an essay, Philippe Vergne, one of the organizers of that 2006 Whitney Biennial, termed the Davis painting a “premeditated enigma,” and added, “This event—not to be understood or understandable, not to be seen, but to be conceived as a verbal enigma—possibly insinuates that we are culturally, aesthetically, miles away from assuming the full consequences of its occurrence.”
“Hammons tries to make art in which white people can’t see themselves,” artist Lorraine O’Grady has said, and while that’s clearest when he’s using hair from black barbershops and items from African American culture, there is a similar negation in these new works. In them, he informs you that there are things that you cannot see, and that you cannot know.
It’s anyone’s guess what Hammons has planned for Yonkers. Perhaps there is a clue in the catalogue for his 1993 show at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Illinois, his hometown, in which he talks about having a private museum there, a place to show his work. It might also be a place to show other artists’ work—either a fully functioning commercial gallery or a nonprofit alternative space.
The week before Christmas, I made the trip to the gallery’s future site. The BxM3 bus dropped me off at Radford Street on South Broadway, the town’s main commercial strip. There’s a McDonald’s, a smattering of pizza places, a non-chain pharmacy, a few vacant storefronts.
The building that Hammons bought is a 5-minute walk away, past a few modest suburban homes and a block of public housing. It’s next door to the community affairs office of the Yonkers Police Department. There’s a storefront church and soup kitchen nearby, but otherwise it’s a sleepy section of town.
Hammons’s space, at 39 Lawrence Street, is a one-story brick building with tall ceilings, filling a lot that measures two-thirds of an acre, about 29,200 square feet. According to property records, an entity called Duchamp Realty LLC, which is registered to the artist’s home address in Brooklyn, bought it for $2.05 million in January 2014. Construction permits for roof repair, issued a few months before I visited and valid well into 2015, were plastered over a door.
Whatever the Yonkers gallery becomes, it will join many of Hammons’s works as a marking, and reconfiguration, of public space. Slipping just beyond city limits, it denotes a hallmark of our time: artists’ flight from the moneyed playground that New York has become. “I’ve always thought artists should concentrate on going against any kind of order…but here in New York, more than anywhere else, I don’t see any of that gut,” Hammons told the art historian and curator Kellie Jones in 1986, anticipating this moment. “Because it’s so hard to live in this city. The rent is so high, your shelter and eating, those necessities are so difficult, that’s what keeps the artists from being that maverick.” Perhaps “Duchamp Realty LLC” is another clue: one might see the gallery as an assisted readymade, a former industrial space redirected toward a new purpose.
On the day I visited the site, the sound of a jackhammer was ringing through the neighborhood. It seemed to be emanating from within the building, but there was no obvious way in. The gates were down and locked, and looking through the high windows, I could see the sky peeking through sections of the roof that were missing. I bought a slice of pizza and headed back to Manhattan.
Andrew Russeth is co-executive editor at ARTnews.
The Prisoner as a Young Woman Orange is the New Black: Season 2 Now Streaming On Netflix
Jenji Kohan framework tends to be one in which an upper middle class attractive white woman who has been living a fairly sheltered life must contend with her world falling apart. In ‘Weeds” it’s the untimely death of Nancy Botwin’s husband leaving Nancy to figure out how to maintain her suburban lifestyle and raise her two kids. In OITHB, Piper Chapman, is engaged to be married and the expensive soap and her best friend Polly make is about hit Barney’s when her past rears it’s ugly head in the shape of a post-college lesbian relationship with an international drug trafficker. Just as Piper is about to marry a man and secure a conventional life, her ex-lover Alex gives her up and she is sentenced to a year in a minimum security prison.
After these inciting incident these women found themselves in the underbelly of society (for Nancy Botwin it’s the world of drug dealing; for Piper Chapman it’s prison.) The white washed polite world they grew up in still shows its mark as when Nancy Botwin bundles her weed in cutesy little packaging. Similarly, Chapman instead of throwing down with the prison chef, who she unwittingly insulted, she makes her a special lotion out of hot peppers to soothe her back pains. After being pushed out from the white upper crust and having to hustle to survive both Kohan’s main characters find strength they never knew they had, forming real connections with people who have never lived in their economic bracket, and like Walter White find a thrill in their new identities. They find the little badass inside their white girl body, and not only do these women survive, but most of the time thrive.
This fish-out-of-water, is a tired premise and is tailored to white middle class educated viewers. As both Botwin and Chapman play the audience’s guide into these rough subcultures. The implicit notion is the idea that the white educated upper class view, is the ‘normal’ one. Although OITNB gets more stars on the chart for diversity it is problematic that Kohan feels she must use the white upper class point of view to evaluate ‘the other,’ mostly low income african-american, latinas, and white trash meth-heads. In one way the show is light years ahead in it’s willingness to deal with racial issues and showing women of different shapes, sizes colors, and ages but it is still working within a normative white viewpoint.
The main problem with OITNB is the least interesting character is Piper Chapman. She’s got her facial expressions for disdain, shock, and incredibility down but besides being a visual guide on how a “normal” person would react to, say, seeing someone take out a tube of vaseline out of their ear, she’s not worth the top billing she gets.
The first episode is an eerie one, Chapman is released from ‘the shoe’ or solitary with no idea where she is being taken. Her demands to know where she is being taken, saying it’s her legal right are completely ignored by the guards escorting her who are deep in conversation about how women’s gotta have a booty.
This is one of the formula’s of OITNB: Piper reacts in outrage or disdain and is either ignored or at laughed at for being so naive. The very set of factors that gave Piper privileged in the world: being educated, white, and attractive, leave her vulnerable at Litchfield. Her P.C/liberal ideals are put to the test. During the first season, she ‘studied’ for prison, and when asked by her cell mates what she did, she stammers, “I read that you weren’t suppose to ask that.” She apologizes, tries to keep to herself, and feels uncomfortable by the racial divide in the prison, as a white prisoner had given her soap and a toothbrush saying, “We have to look out for one another.”
The second season Piper is in the midst of her transformation. The second season acts more as a bildungsroman, a novel of education or coming of age story. Normally the term is used for books about children entering Piper adolescence is a child-of-sorts, living a sheltered, wealthy bringing until she’s thrown into prison where she the raw environment transforms her to be more savvy at dealing with the world . She’s still got use for her look of incredulousness, as when she enters a new prison, and upon walking into her new cell she inadvertently steps on ‘yoda,’ a cigarette running roach and is told she must replace it. After she spots Alex Voss in the play yard but is unable to reach her she bargains with a male inmate to pass a note to Voss. When he asked what she can do for him. She says, “a kiss,” which makes him break out into laughter. “Well, you can’t sexually assault me in public,” she reasons. They agree to trade Piper’s unchanged four-day panties for the inatime to give Voss a note. Afterwards one of her cell mates explains that he is a hit man to which Piper replies, “Thank god, he’s a hit man I thought he was a rapist!.” This is a Piper with a new set of normal. She didn’t wince when the male inmate asks for her panties, and finds comfort that he’s a hit man and not a rapist, because her concerns have grown to be completely self-involved.
We lose Vose who gives up information, while Piper is given a longer sentence for perjury. The loss of Voss impacted the show by making this season a less-Piper centered and more focused on the rival, the newly arrived “V,” who quickly becomes the leader of the African-American group with the latinas. V, a middle-aged drug dealer, tells the African-American young women of the good old days when the black women ruled the prison and encourages them to re-take their place as the upper caste in the prison’s hierch. V, also, rekindles a grudge with Red (a fiesty, Russian women who is a “mother” to the young drug addicted women who enter the prison, provided tough love to keep them clean). Last season left Red outcasted, as she was framed by Guard Mendez was who went from creepy to plain evil by planting drugs in Red’s underground railraod of pantie-hose, lipstick, and other prohibited items for the girls. With the introduction of V, things are less like a bad day in high school and a bit more like a really bad day in high school in a rough ghetto. As one prisoner, tells the FBI who come to investigate the final blow-out between V and Red, “It wasn’t like camp but we weren’t trying to kill each other,’ she says.
V illuminates one of the most endearing characters of the show, Tastee. Basically, Tastee was an abandoned kid who V helped when she was in trouble and by becoming a maternal figure for her manipulated her into being part of heroin drug trade. Tastee, shown as a precious child, had a head for math and business but V held her back, luring her with maternal love, to keep her within ‘the family’ of drug users.
Each episode, illuminates a back story. We always knew something was off with Loreno, during the first season, she was obsessed with planning a perfect wedding with Christopher, who curiously never showed up to visit but the truth is more heartbreaking as we see that for all her lovable quirkiness, Lorean is completely delusional. After one-date with a man she meets in a post office she obsessively stalks him. During court proceedings the man says he’s moved three residences because of harassment. In one episode Lorena, who is trusted to drive Garcia to chemotherapy, shoots out of her parking spot and ends up at her stalking victim’s house. The scenes of Lorena going through the idyllic kitchen, bedrooms, closets, are equally parts, suspenseful, and utterly gut wrenching. The character’s face is filled with a heartbreaking naivety, as if she a little girl peering into a great mansion, hey eyes glittering with envy at a bottle of expensive bubble bath. She ends up in the bathtub donning the veil of the fiance of Lorena’s “Christopher.” then comes to her senses, grabbing a little teddy bear, that reads with tooth-rotting sweetness, ‘love lives here” and makes it back to the hospital in time, and is never found out.
The Lorana storyline is one of the show’s most poignant threads. While most of the show could be a group of rag-tag high school kids, giggling at toilet humor, using mirrors to figure out what hole pee comes out of it, making fun of one another, and playing games for hours, we forget about the prison/crime part of the situation. The Loreana storyline shows us that this character that we’ve become attached to her for being a little nutty, that her lovable naivety that is uncommon in the rest of population, not only broke the law, but could actually be a danger partly because her naivety is part of what produced her disillusionment that Christopher was a true soul mate. This is hard to take as a viewer as we confronted that however likable a character might be and however much we want to root for them, that many of these characters are where they are suppose to be and that’s kinda, well, sad.
There are a lot of great plots as when the latina’s showers are unusable due to sewage pipes being backed-up, when the entire prison’s power goes inciting one of the heart warming moments of the women breaking out into a sing-along.
Piper’s lot goes from bad to awesome as her ex-fiance sleeps with her best friend, her grandmother dies, and she losses Voss, we see how prison how changes her. As she pretends to forgive Voss and in a visit gathers information that she is planning to leave town, she carries out a plan to have Voss caught by her probation officer with a gun and plane tickets to get her back in prison. Piper, also, has a brother’s wife, leave a message for her best friend who betrayed her by leaving a sack of shit on fire on her doorstep. But her final act of retribution is for the greater good of the prison, during the power outage she steals files that confirm the warden is stealing money that she then diverges to the assist warden who gives a speech at a bar about how stifled he feels that he is encumbered to make living conditions for the women any better.
The last scene breaks out of the realistic mode and becomes a farce. Garcia, who is on her last legs due to cancer, breaks out of prison in a van, and on her way out she sees V, who has escaped, via’s Red secret tunnel, hitting her body, cartoon style, flinging it off the road.
OITNB is at it’s best a social commentary about prison, race, and inequality. This season had less to do with Piper’s whining and crying and more about the other more interesting characters. It’s hard with such a huge cast but Kenji’s has the show come off smoothly. Piper’s character was on the verge of becoming a tiresome, but the latter part of the season, shows that her transformation is worth watching. OITNB is more than quality viewing, it’s important viewing. It proves to TV execs that a show with an entirely female cast, wearing baggy unattractive prison duds, with different ages, has mass appeal. That good writing and acting will win out over watching pretty people acting out the same tiresome scenarios. Tolstoy wrote the function of art is to show the commonalities of all people, showing them another world is possible, beyond the divisions between people in life.” OITNB, while keeping with the accurate barriers in prison, does show us in a larger sense from the audience to the prisoners. In watching the back story what we see is not maliciousness or greed, but weakness, longing, and suffering showing us that the wrestling human heart in all it’s gut-wrenching glory.
WE DON’T NEED BAD MEN WHEN WE’VE GOT KOOKY CHICKS
The First Bad Man
A Novel By Miranda July
Miranda July is the master of quirky.. Quirky is a tightrope act, you risk being cheesy or falling into the surreal. Quirky is funny but not ha-ha funny.. Quirky gussies up reality with whimsy. Quirky is nothing but original. It’s the end of a fish tail sink stopper in the kitchen sink reality of literature. Quirky narratives feature main characters that are generally solitary figure. They are earnest to a fault and their clothes are a custome of the absurd. Bow-ties are quirky. Drug use isn’t. Being awkward is quirky. Being mean isn’t. Quirky is endearing. There is nothing quirky about the Holocaust, cancer, or porn. Being quirky is to be so uncool that you are pretty cool. To be quirky is to hold a child-like wonder in the face of a cynical mean world. The world of the quirky is wholly populated by the haves and the have more’s with a soundtrack of people who were indoor children, whose quiet weird music came out college dorms, never roughed in the streets. Being quirky is a narrative device that is the creation solely of the 1st world.
“Who is this middle-aged woman in the blue Honda?” July begins her novel, introducing her narrator Cheryl, as an everywoman but when July begins giving us a tour into the interior space of our narrator we find she lives in a bubble, her attempts to navigate the social world gives us more than a few cringe-worthy moments as when dealing with her bully of a roommate Clee and her crazy obsession with a man 22 years her senior, Phillip.
Cheryl's insights into the world at times feel alien, as she looks wide-eyed at the banal everyday and deconstructs to show us how exactly abused the world around is. Calling Beckett. As when Cheryl observes a soap dispenser, “Someone took a large bottle of soap and poured into this serious looking machine.” or when July keenly observes the weird ways in which women observe their bodies, as when her boss Suzanne explains to her that she is pear shaped, “This is how your body is shaped. See? Teeny tiny on top and not so tiny on the bottom’ then she explained the illusion created by wearing dark colors on the bottom and bright colors on top. when I see other women with this color combination I check to see if they’re a pear too and they always are--two pears can’t fool each other” (5)
July’s book is a book of longing, of emptiness, of wanting. July’s story is a story of an alienated woman who connects to the world in strange ways. One of the most refreshing ways that July deals with having a middle-aged childless woman is produced in Cheryl's obsession with finding Kelbelko Bondy. Cheryl is always on the search for Kebelko Bondy. Keubelko Bondy is an actual baby the narrator baby-sat for a short amount of time and felt a connection with, “I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew that he loved me more than his mother and father and that in some very real and elemental way he belonged to me. Because I was only nine it wasn’t clear if he belonged to me as a child or as a spouse” (8) As an adult Cheryl thinks of the baby, who she christened Kueblko Bonky and says: “I did see him again--again and again. Sometimes he’s a newborn, sometimes he’s already toddling along.” When Cheryl finds the spirit of Kuebelko Bondy in a baby she recognizes it right away. The telepathic conversation that ensue are oddly touching. One of the Kebelko Bondy babies peers at Cheryl and tells her, “I keep getting born to the wrong people” (13). Another urges her: “Do something. They’re taking me away” (9).. Cheryl obsessively searches every baby’s face for signs of recognition but is often met with disappointment: “as I pulled out of my parking spot I got a better look at the baby in the car next to mine. just some kid’ (9) Through absurdity July is illustrating what is at wrestling heart of a woman dealing with her ticking biological clock, which is to yearn for a connection, more than to be a mom, but to have an unmistakable tie to another human being that is fluid and transcends any one kind of love For Cheryl who has no children she has created the illusion she has many children, she just always be on the look-out for them.
At the novel starts Cheryl's obsession with Philip is already in full-swing. Cheryl is obsessed with Philip and Philip is always wearing a sweater that Cheryl always takes note of: : “grey cashmere sweater that matches his beard,’ ‘a wine-colored sweater” (2).
July’s portrayal of obsession is dead-on as in Cheryl's mind Philip is always a constant presence, “I drove to the doctor’s office as I was starring in a movie Philip was watching” (1). She rehearses not just what to say to Philip but how to look, “I practice how my face would go if Philip was in the waiting room” (1).
Cheryl's obsession with Philip is baffling. We’ve always had the experience of being completely perplexed as to why a friend is infatuated with someone who doesn’t seem all that special to us but with this information is left out all we are left Cheryl's obsession and the reality that Philip at his best is a new age kook, and at his worst: a total prick, leaves the reader apathetic and the obsession grows tiresome. This discrepancy feels lazy especially for a woman like Cheryl who has no problem sharing her seuxal fantsies in which she imagines she is Philip having sex with almost every random woman she/he meets. This is a woman who has no problem over-sharing.
July’s depiction of Cheryl's feeling of an intense connection with Philip feels genuine as when Cheryl describes how she desires to approach Philip “like a wife, as if we’d already been a couple for a hundred thousand lifetimes. Caveman and cavewomen. King and Queens” (12). Also, very realistic is the comically shit that comes out of one’s mouth such as when Cheryl repeatedly blurts out to Philip: “When in doubt, give me a shout!” After embarrassing herself, she vows to “behave so gracefully that the clumsy woman Philip had spoken with yesterday would impossible to recall. I wouldn’t use a British accent out loud, but I’d be using one in my head and it would carry over” (11)Every tiny gesture is perceived with a deep sense of meaning as when Cheryl’s bosses (who are portrayed with a network sitcom depth) unload beefalo, a hybrid of cattle and bison, onto their staff, which they have folded into white paper with each employees names on it. Cheryl and Philip’s names are called right after one and another and as Philip notices Cheryl's package is a bit larger than his own, the sexual overtones can’t be ignored as she thinks, “He gave me the meat that said Philip and I gave him the meat that said Cheryl.” (16). Cheryl is completely self-aware, that she deepens gestures with meaning that may not exist: “I’d done that before. I had added meaningful layers to things that were meaningless many, many times before (70).
July’s portrayal of Philip being a total jerk is missing the mark of humour/awkwardness that July had intended. Signs that Philip is pretty much a jerk is when “Philip pulls her towards him by the necklace,” Cheryl doesn’t perceive this as workplace sexaul harrasment but instead Cheryl decides the action is layered with irony as Philip is actually ‘mocking the kind of a man who would do something like that.” She goes on to tell us, “He’s been doing these things for years, once, during a board meeting, he insisted my blouse wasn’t zipped up in back, and then he unzipped it laughing. (7) When it feels as though Philip is actually about to confess his true feelings for Cheryl he instead drops this douchebag bombshell on her: “I have fallen in love..with a woman who is my equal in every way, who challenges me, who makes me feel, who humbles me. She is sixteen. Her name is Kirsten” (46). As Cheryl is emotionally about to jump off a bridge, Philip, being either cruel or oblivious to Cheryl's feelings, but either way totally weird, Cheryl explains how he “puts his hand on my hand. and tell her “We want your blessing.” (47). Philip explains that he finds Chery strong and stays to her: “you’re a feminist and you live alone, and she agreed we should wait until we got your take on it” (47). If there is anything that could put a woman in the bell jar it’s probably hearing a man you’re obsessed with tell you he admires you for how you live alone, after he’s told you how in love he is with a 16 year old.
Philip then goes on to explain how Cheryl's androgynous nature is the reason he looks up to her. “I told her (KIrsten) how perfectly balanced you are in terms of your masculine and feminine energies.” This ability for Cheryl to be able to “ see things from a man’s point of view, but without being clouded by yang” (47) is why he is asks her advice.
With Cheryl's obsession still in full blown and Philip’s being as weird as ever. We are left with this bizarre exchange:
“Our history was behind on us, a hundred lifetimes of making love” (47)
This passage concludes like this:
We have no elders,” he moaned. “no one to guide us. Will you guide us?”
“But I’m younger than you.”
“Perhaps” “NO, I am. I am twenty-two years younger than you” (48).
July touches on this idea of the single middle-aged woman as having some spiritual value in our society, as when her boss Carl called her a ginjo which is japanese for ‘a man, usually an elderly man, who lives in isolation while keeps the fire burning for the whole village’ (19).
The new-age kookiness that July thankfully doesn’t get into is what prompts Cheryl so see the “chromologist” (if you are me you will spend an embarrassingly number of pages mis reading chromologist for chemotologist and finding yourself feeling bad for Philip). Dr. Boynard, who works three days a year, concludes she has Globus sytericious? And the cure is 30 milliliters of the essence of red (Again, weird for the sake of being weird). There are moments where you want to feel the layers of meaning July has pinned on but instead the narrative falls flat, feels trying, like a dream, sometimes, just because something is weird doesn’t mean it’s interesting.
When Clee is introduced in the novel, we finally have a character who doesn’t feel as though she was written as a clever sketch of a character in a notebook. Clee is alive. She jumps off the pages. From her fungus-invested feet to her bratty attitude to her sofa bound, jugging sodas, with the television on 24/7 she is scene stealer.
Clee, Cheryl’s bosses’ aimless daughter who they are under the impression or denial that she is an aspiring actresses. Clee is predictably, after being bogged off by co-worker’s shows up at Cheryl's house. Cheryl’s misanthropic disposition reveals itself when she’s asked to house Clee: “When you live alone people are always thinking they can stay with you, when the opposite is true: who they should stay with is a person whose situation is already messed by other people and so one more won’t matter” (19). But Clee ends up moving in anyway which creates perhaps, the oddest, odd couple routine, their disdain for one another evolves into their own secret fight club. Cheryl’s who can’t help but smiling all day long after wrestling with Clee, which is like Gaitskill's ‘Secretary,’ finds a release in the world of Sadomasochism. Another pertitant quote of Cheryl comes to mind: “imitating crass people was kind of liberating--like pretending to be a child or a crazy person” (7).
Clee’s harshness is hysterical, as she says to Cheryl: “one half of your face is way older and uglier than the other half. The pores are all big and it’s like your eyelid is starting to fall into your eye. I’m not saying the other side looks good, but if both sides were lke your left side people would think you were seventy (80)
Clee is not just is cruel but messes with Cheryl system that have been in the making for years, “Let’s say a person is down in the dumps, or maybe just lazy, and they stop doing the dishes. soon the dishes are piled sky-high and it seems impossible to even clean a fork. So the person starts eating with dirty forks out of dirty dishes and this makes the person feel like a homeless person. so they stop bathing. Which makes it hard to leave the house. The person begins to throw trash anyway and pee in cups because/c they’re close to the bed. We’all been this person, so there is no place for judgment, but the solution is simple:
The other solution: stop moving things around ie. ‘Can’t you read the book standing right next to the shelf with your finger holding the spot you’ll put it back into? Or better yet: don’t read at all.”
At one point when Cheryl feels as though they are sharing a moment, Clee corrects her, “You thought i was laughing about the pan?...I was laughing because--you’re so sad. Sooo. Saad.”
The only time Cheryl stands up for herself is after Philip rejects her. She comes home and demands to Clee: “You need to get your act together and start looking for a job. This couch isn’t meant to be used as a bed. You need to flip the cushions so they don’t get permanently misshaped” (49).
It is after this exchange their first “fight” occurs: “The crook of her arm caught my neck and jerked me backward. I slammed into the couch--the wind knocked out of me. Before I could get my balance she shoved my hip down with her knee. I grabbed at the air stupidly. She pinned my shoulders down, intently watching what the panic was going to my face. Then she suddenly let go and walked away.” (50)
Philip-fuckng 16 year old and Clee attacked her:
“I peed in cups and knocked over one of the cups and didn’t clean it up (51)
“if possible, please donate the thirty minutes to someone who can’t afford therapy” (54)
Cheryl sees Ruth-Anne Tibbets for counsel. She recognizes Tibbet’s as Dr. Boynard’s receptionist the three days a year he works there. When Cheryl confronts her as being a fraud the explanation turns out to be far more bizarre Tibbets was the receptionist but also acts as Dr. Boynard’s receptions. Tibbets’ doesn’t do it for the money: “Three days a year I take on a submissive role. It’s a game we like to play, an immensely satisfying adult game.” (63)
Cheryl tries to offer Clee a gift to start off what she hopes will be an immensely satisfying adult game but Clee rejects it, saying, “I appreciate the gift but I’m not...you know. I’m into dick” (75). But the fighting continues and Cheryl is at her best in this part of the book until she finds out that Clee is pregnant. She is heartbroken. She quietly contemplates: “Were there many ways to get pregnant? not really.” (133)]
The real intimacy and bond in this novel is not between Philip and Cheryl and it begins but is actually between Clee and Cheryl. From the time that she sets sight on Clee, sofa-bound, with her feet reeking, this it the first time we see and feel any kind of intense emotional reaction from Cheryl which is then acting out during their ‘fight club’ scene. The tie-in for both Cheryl and Clee is that Cheryl's bosses who are Clee’s parents ran a studio that taught self-defense classes for women, so both women are often times accoutrements such the self-defense videos the company produced and the pummel outfits were by the men (which are doned by Clee). The physical release is the only source of intimacy for Cheryl. Where she was seeking a more conventional relationship with Philip, he soon is an extra in the novel, and the crux of the novel is the relationship between Clee and Cheryl.
After Clee becomes pregnant, true to her nature, she not cut from maternal cloth. This is where Cheryl steps up and helps Clee through her difficult childbirth and through the touch and go first day’s of the infant who they Clee wants to name, “little fatty,’ but Cheryl decides to go with Jack. The troubled first days of Jack’s life is one that July’s writes touchingly, as is the bond between the two women, “we were gripping each other hands between the folds of our white hospital gowns-- a small hard brain formed by our interlocking white knuckles” 169) As the baby is in critically stable, with tubes inserted in it’s tiny body, Chery realizes Jack is Kelbelko Bondy. The most touching scene of the novel is when Cheryl telepathically tries to will Jack/Kelbelko Bondy into giving life on Earth a chance: Try not base your decision on this room, it isn't representative of the whole world. Somewhere the sun is hot an a rubbery leave, clouds are making shapes and shaping and reshaping, spider web is broken but still works. And in case he wasn’t into nature I added: and it’s a really wild time in terms of technology. You’ll probably have a robot and will be normal.” Cheryl then forgives Jack if he decides he doesn’t want try life out, “Of course, there’s no ‘right choice. If you choose death I won’t be mad. I’ve wanted to choose it myself a few times.” Cheryl, not willing to indulge the idea of the baby not making it, as his eyes peer up to her, she back-peddles, “Forget what I just said. You’re already a part of this. You will eat, you will laugh at stupid things, you will stay up all night just to see what it feels like, you will fall painfully in love, you have babies of your own, you will doubt and regret and yearn and keep a secret. You will get old and decrepit,and you will die, exhausted from all that living. That’s when you get to die. Not now” (173). To read Cheryl give such an affirmation of life is immensely powerful. For most of the novel it seems she wasn’t living much of a life. It was only through Clee, Cheryl speaks of the evolution of their relationship, “I’d been her enmy, then her mother, then her girfriend. That was three lifetimes right there.” These realtionship with Clee is what transformed into someone who is on the side of life. As the baby grows stronger, Cheryl finds she is up for the job of being her guardian.
The last unneeded twist of the novel is when Philip swings back into the picture. If this were a movie I would assume the producers lacked funds to have more than a few actors and that’s what accounted for Philip’s presence but it’s not it’s a book and it’s bad choice. First off, Cheryl and Philip non-existent relationship was never central to the novel and the most interesting parts where in Cheryl’s own hand and second, although July does the heavy lifting of how Clee and Philip meet (Cheryl recommends Dr. Boynard for her feet fungus who was recommended by her by Philip) in Dr. Boynard’s waiting room, it still feels forced and still more forced that this chance encounter would end of the two of them having sex and neither of them telling Cheryl and that this fling would result in a baby. July is normally more scatterbrained, which is endearing, then to go to soap opera land to pile on the drama, which it actually doesn’t as we have long forgotten or cared about Philip. 3) As true to Philip’s shit-head nature he ends up crashing, having a one-night stand with Cheryl, and then deems he just doesn’t feel a connection with Philip and takes off. The only point of bringing Philip back around would have been to show the transformed Cheryl, who is now stronger through her relationship with Clee, and the strength of love she feels towards Jack, and tell Philip to go fly a kite. The fact that she still defers to him is painfully and brings Cheryl back about 100 pages in the novel.
July’s novel is uneven but worth reading. It would easy to break it apart and easier to love it because it’s fun. As a professor once told me, “in the end, you can choose whether you like a book and make a pretty fine argument either way,’ thus negating the entire idea of academia, but he is of course, has a solid point. We love things that are imperfect. Flaws in the narrative, and the Philip parts that lag, and the unnecessary Dr. Boynard, and globus hystericus, are worth it when July gets it right. July’s maturing as a writer. Her first book felt more like something she did in the afternoon, after she decided it would be fun to write a book the way retired people think it’s fun to take up painting but here is something different. There is real feeling, behind the quirks, and gimmicks, and weird for the sake of weird. Being quirky, as Wes Anderson, has shown us, when done right, is an aesthetic that doesn’t get in the way of an emotional connection. As all characters in the world of the quirky are underdeveloped emotional, and yearning for a connection. The connections that Cheryl makes in the novel aren't the conventional ones we’ve seen a million times in Hollywood. They are the connections of a stunted personality who literally needed to be punched in the face to feel something again.
Interview with Jason Moran
We all know the music that’s supposed to accompany Hollywood depictions of history, let alone the real-life, freedom-fighting icons whose charisma transcends any imagined depiction of them. For whether they’re Michael Collins leading Irish guerillas, William Wallace swinging a sword for Scotland or Mahatma Gandhi traversing India with a walking stick, audiences know they’ll hear the lofty noble strains of a symphonic orchestra – as mixed in with melodic ethnicity if the subject allows. Indeed, there’s nothing like a symphony to stoke the fires of justice, whether lit with cries of violence, or asking for the complete restraint of it in the face of those who’d do grievous harm to the righteous.
In the civilly disobedient musical case of Martin Luther King Jr. the impact of “Selma’s” score comes from its subtlety of meeting racist fury with soft dignity, as the jazz, soul and spiritual rhythms of an oppressed black nation join hands with a measured symphonic approach, especially when detailing the movement’s effect on a troubled marriage through soft strings and piano. Yet this is also a soundtrack that truly knows when to raise its emotional fist to shattering orchestral effect – both in getting across King’s still unmet call for racial equality, as well as announcing an impressive new voice on the major scoring scene.
As heard in an astonishing Hollywood debut by Jason Moran, “Selma” mixes the inspirationally expected with equal innovation, from paranoid electronics to the handclap percussion of police beat-downs. It’s an unstoppable sense of history making that could perhaps only be captured by a musician so steeped in jazz and its cultural heritage. Hailing from Houston with his craft learned in Manhattan’s jazz-infused stomping grounds, Jason Moran gigged with such musicians as Charles Lloyd and Bill Frisell, notching several releases with Blue Note records in the process. Also well established in the academic and cultural worlds as a teacher at the New England Conservatory and as the Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center, Moran only had a few documentaries to his credits before his music caught the ear of “Selma” filmmaker Ava DuVernary (“Scandal,” “Middle of Nowhere”). Now Moran and DuVarnay are marching to the recent tune of Golden Globe nominations for Best Film, Director, Actor and Song for “Glory” (performed by Common, who also appears in the picture), For Moran, there’s nothing more moving than walking in scoring lock-step with picture that re-creates a lightning rod moment in history – one that’s never been more pertinent than now, especially when it comes to marching to the beat of music as quiet, and bold as its leader.
When you hear a score as good as “Selma” from a composer who’s completely unknown, the first question is usually “Who is this guy?” What would you say to someone asking that?
Well, he’s a jazz pianist and composer, who plays around the world giving concerts in creative venues, in world art, and jazz festivals worldwide. And he wants to be like Duke Ellington!
How did you end up getting the gig?
I’m a close friend of Bradford Young, who’s the cinematographer of “Selma.” As they were nearing the end of their shooting, the director Ava DuVernay was asking around about who could do the score. So Bradford just said to “Call Jason.” Ava’s response was “Jason who?” But we started having conversations on the phone in the spring and early summer, and we formed a close relationship through conversations about our intentions as young artists, especially related to history. That ‘s a big part of what I do as a jazz musician. It’s really kind of how to re-conceptualize history and make it somehow resonate in today’s society. I’m dedicated to that craft of looking back, in order to expose something for the future. So we found a common language that way, which made it a real joy to work with Ava on this. What did Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you before you even became a musician?
Jazz and activism are so integral to each other, whether we think about the music of Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, the music of the vaudeville performer Burt Williams in the early 1900′s, or the music of Paul Robeson. That link, that defiance, that comes out of the origins of jazz and blues are what we know of black music in American. It has that kind of tension and history built in to it, a process of exploring sounds from James Brown to today’s artists like John Legend and Common, who perform “Selma’s” end song “Glory.” So when I study jazz, I don’t just study just the music. I study its relationship where it was in the history. “Selma” is set in the 60s, when John Coltrane was about to make his most profound work “A Love Supreme,” which is about the the way he felt about the things that were happening with the civil rights movement, as well as the four girls who were bombed in a church. John made a piece about that, so our relationship to each other has always been extremely close. It’s daunting to think about that, but it’s also how I’ve been working for my entire life as a creative artist. What were the challenges of going from jazz to doing a major orchestral score?
The challenge is just not knowing. So I always want to work with someone who knows how deep the water is, to show where it is I need to be heading. Ava and I had lots of discussions about where we wanted to go with the score. She really wanted to have an orchestral score, as this is her biggest film, so we moved in that direction of her big films. As we developed it more, the orchestrator Matthias Gohl (“The Red Violin”) came in to calm me down, and helped me through the process, especially because he has more experience in these situations. It was helpful to have someone like that help discuss the terror that I had as to where we were heading. I was both excited and nervous about the prospect, because I had no idea of what the finished product would sound like. I had the feeling of it, but I didn’t have the full idea in my head.
What I really liked about the score is just how subtle it is. Was it difficult taking that route with such a towering figure as Martin Luther King Jr., who isn’t exactly painted as a saint here.
When I scored documentaries, my first response would be to tell the director that their movies didn’t need a score! I was always very nervous about adding music. A score can be of help, but it can also really strong-arm a theme. I didn’t want to necessarily do that here. I spent the last ten years working with a great performance artist Joan Jonas, who has worked with video, painting, drawing, movement and costumes. We’d do these performances together (and still do it now), and she’s been very helpful in teaching me the process of how to expose a narrative through sound and text. So entering this kind of phase with Ava was similar. On “Selma,” I was trying to give a just a little, because my habit as a jazz player is to actually give you a lot (laughs)! But I had to resist the temptation, because the score needs to be “felt” more than “heard.” I was thinking of how the music would get us from place to place, and how it would help the audience breathe? And sometimes it needed to be big, to put us on a boat and take us across this bridge to arrive at Martin Luther King’s final speech. This is the first film to deal with the tension of his marriage to Coretta. How did you want to play their relationship, especially when it came to the rumors of his womanizing?
As a married man and father of two children, I can say that anybody who marries understands that any marriage is complicated. It has highs and lows. At most times it’s unresolved until the people pass away. Martin and Coretta ‘s marriage functions in “Selma” to address that state of complexity. There are a couple of scenes where they are together, and the music there is extremely “simple.” I think the way their actors David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo portrayed the relationship in a way that was so full of emotion that their scenes didn’t need much music. For years I’ve done these pieces where I played around pre-recorded voices, whether the language was Turkish, Mandarin or English. It taught me how I could “map” the directions of speech patterns, or how music could function with them. It also encompassed their breaths, and the tone of the room they were in. It was almost like playing the room they were in, rather than what they were saying. Ava and I worked hard to figure out the interplay between music and dialogue in “Selma” so we could get the sound just right. Another thing that impressed me about “Selma’s” score was how you subtly incorporated a traditional scoring approach with African-American music, whether it was jazz, the blues or spiritual anthems.
One of the first things Ava and I talked about was where would that rural music comes into conflict with the urban tunes. That let the tambourine become one of the instruments in the score. There are so many cultures around the world, and the tambourine is something that anybody can beat their hand to, and have this rattle attached to it. The blues is a major part of southern culture, as is spiritual music. Both use that kind of percussion. I wanted to kind of have that relation between blues and Gospel music to get the idea across of the “sacred” versus the “secular,” which also represents Martin Luther King Jr. As that kind of combination has also been a big part of my music, I was happy to find places in the score where both styles could work together.
There are also cool, far more modern sampling effects in the score that create a surreal feeling at points. I worked with a great guitarist named Marvin Sewell, whom I’ve been collaboration with for many years. As I was getting some of the themes together, we sat down and it just worked out beautifully. We weren’t worrying about the score sounding too “modern,” as Ava also wasn’t trying to perfectly recreate history. She just wanted to tell the history. Your score finally gets bigger in a more traditionally epic way when King’s marchers confront the cops at the bridge. How did you judge when to let loose your own big orchestral guns? When Ava said we were going to use source music for the bridge sequence, my reaction was, “Oh, good, because that was going to be a doozy!” But then she said, “Nah, we need a score here.” I was like, “Ah… ok.” A lot of my process kind of falls out of my relationship to the piano. As an improviser especially, I’m also recording myself, which is how I learned to write – to think about musical mood and how to develop it. So as we were working on that long sequence, Ava saw how the music needed to be broken down into three parts. There was the initial piece on the bridge, the conversation that happens on the bridge between the marchers, and then the confrontation with the police. Up to that moment where the police charge the marchers, it was how to look at that tension and how to represent the feeling of the police. Then there’s the tension within the marchers, who are aiming to march confidently across the bridge for what could be a long journey. But first they’ve got to see what’s on the other side. And it turns out to be pure terror. So it took us a long time to figure out what was the right mood for the sequence. We would get one part right, and then the other two would be wrong. It just took a while to figure out how to make it all work. I’m thrilled when people experience that theme there, and how the music tells you the whole story. The percussion of the marchers’ feet is also a wonderful thing to imagine, even though you don’t necessarily hear them entering the bridge.
The other big score moment of course is Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech. How did you want to accompany such meaningful, and moving words?
This was the first cue that I wrote. And I would cry every time as I was watching it and listening to my music. I called Ava to tell her that I was crying for an hour watching this speech. She said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Look, I’m going to send you my music, because sometimes you can cry for the wrong reasons! (laughs) But I was actually crying for the right reasons. Ave called me back with “I don’t know how you did it. But THAT’S IT!” It was a really good thing that had happened, because I hadn’t really thought about the rest of the film yet. I just knew how I felt about the end of it, because we know how his life ends after that speech. And we know where we are today. So the speech just seemed to be the most current part of the film for me. It was a really heavy moment each time I saw that cue come up. It’s shocking how relevant “Selma” is right to this minute. You realize how far black people have come since those days. But yet they really haven’t come that far at all.
“Selma” is a real comment on the relationships that rule the country, and how we relate to each other. There’s an indictment it imposes on all of us, the moment where King is giving a eulogy for the child that was murdered. He kind of indicts everybody, the people who aren’t a part of the marches. He indicts the clergy when he says, “Come on y’all. You see this is a problem for people.” This film will hopefully serve as a template to show how the community that was around Martin Luther King Jr., and what we have to do now to move forward and progress. Not to just change laws, but to change peoples’ attitudes. If a viewer decides to join the marches against injustice after hearing your music with the incredibly powerful music and images of “Selma,” will you think you’ve done your job?
Yeah. I think even people who are out there now are becoming aware of the film. Ava and Common took the film out to Ferguson and screened it down there last week. So “Selma” is becoming part of the community. They showed it last night in Boston to the mayor and the governor, and it’s now already part of their conversation. Cities are starting to find a way to discuss this film. Unfortunately, it seems that one of the biggest racist institutions is Hollywood itself, especially when so many black composers now get pigeonholed into only doing “black” films. How do you hope to avoid that, especially as you’re just starting out in the big leagues?
I’ve always been a functioning musician who has tried to defy pigeonholes. I’m very interested in stories, and narrative, which has always been in my strategy, with or without Hollywood. I’m an artistic director at the Kennedy Center for Jazz. With this film I was just trying to be subtle, if not splashy at all – which is the way I go about all of my music. I don’t have any particular goals, just to make it all work. I try to enable those around me to have a bold vision, to make them hear what it takes to really make an effective change, There’s a scoring world you know, a directing world, a gender world, so many spaces to have a discussion about. The hole is always big but I feel like I have the option to lower the ladder into that hole, and to help myself climbing out of it as well.
“Selma” opens on Christmas Day (A special thanks to Alexander Portillo for his interview transcription)
The Phoenix's by Xu Bin fly through the hollow halls of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine like Dragons above the hallowed grounds of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, though the sculptural creatures are in fact stationary and fill up most of the overhead space. Phoenixes mythically rise from the ashes and these were were created by the aforementioned Chinese artists detritus found at a construction site at which he witnessed conditions he deemed unsafe. Perhaps these giant birds having taken suggested flight. Also speak to New York City's great unfinished cathedral or the Gotham after 911 soaring anew and then again most likely Christ arisen as per their being placed in the seat of the Episcopalian archdiocese of New York.
“V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life,” at the Guggenheim Museum, until February 11, 2015
REVIEW OF THE SHOW BY Poonam Srivastava
“I work as an individual. I do not have a scientific point of view. It is mostly my total experience of life [and] nature that comes through me, that is manifested on canvas. For me, every painting I do is a miracle … It is my sincere belief in life, truth, God, whatever it is, that prompts me to paint.”1 Quoted in Polyphonic Modernisms and Gaitonde’s Interiorized Worldview by Sandhini Poddar. In: VS Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, exhibition catalogue, published by Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Prestel Verlag, New York, 2014, pages 27-28.
I was fortunate to witness the Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde, VSG, show, “V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life,” at the Guggenheim Museum, October 24, 2014–February 11, 2015. The 45 paintings and drawings in oil on canvas and ink on paper, span the years 1952 to 1998. The show of VSG’s works, left me centered and moved. His is the rare talent that opens hearts, minds, and souls simultaneously. The show touched me both as a person with great interest in art, but also as person with great interest and affinity for Zen Buhddism. I was moved as a South Asian woman, and also on a deeply personal non-nationalistic/historic level. VSG’s work reflected his life, 1924 to 2001 and brought to focus the recently discarded twentieth century with all its twists and contradictions; being modern and global while embodying ancient truths; the East - West / North - South dichotomy that was brought to light by the works of such scholars as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Edward Said. I am grateful that the Guggenheim for bringing his works to the attention of a greater public, and to my attention. Quite frankly the exhibit left me wanting more. I not only wanted to see more of V. S. Gaitonde's work, I wanted to know the man.
I agree with the New York Times in their January 1, 2015 article about VSG's work: " It is by a 20th-century Indian modernist who looked westward, eastward, homeward and inward to create an intensely personalized version of transculturalism, one that has given him mythic stature in his own country and pushed him to the top of the auction charts." Charts and
auction prices aside, the work I saw is the work of a true artist, one who transcends not only his geography but his historic moment to express the personal that is also the universal truth of life. His large canvases are monochromatic. There is a simplicity to them yet also a complexity. At first glance they are monochromatic studies of color. This draws you in and then you realize the world of detail that you have dropped into. The paintings are landscapes and portraits. For me they were uniquely Indian as well. The red one for example was an immediate connect to the myths of Kali and Durga and the female principle of the divine. There was another large oil on canvas that had me literally tasting curry and smelling cardamon. Yet as a western viewer I saw clearly Rothko, Klee and others, even as I realized VSG was simply Gaitonde.
In the earlier work, before 1970 or so, one sees more clearly the classical Western approach to modernism. Even a cursory google search of VSG's life and art reveals him as a hard working, spot light shunning, man who painted in a one room apartment in Delhi that also functioned as his studio. He never married and never had children. He worked in the community of artists and can be seen with his fellow painter chums, yet still worked outside of them. He reminds me of Henri Michaux that way -- with the Surrealists but not of them. VSG was a singular, rather solitary painter, well known as a member of the Bombay school of painting, not reflecting them but from within that bathwater marking his own strokes of genius. This then is what he offers.
Within the forty five pieces I recalled Moghul minatures, hindu temple art, flashed back to my visit to the cave murals of Ajanta, north of the city of Aurangabad, recalled Jain painting, and also the artists Klee, Rothko and many more. His oils include calligraphy from the written Indus Valley and Harrapan languages as well as compositions influenced by the Hill Korwa Tribe now extant as well .
Here is an artist who cast a wide net and then spoke in his own breath creating technique and producing works that put the words such as derivative, global, Western, Eastern, even modern to a special light. During a 1962 show at MOMA he said: my painting “was done on wet white with a roller and painting knife.” VSG used a roller and a knife, pasting on rolled up paper that was painted several times, to give layers that showed the arguably Indian notion of simultaneous creation and destruction translated to fields of light, color and form. As he told MoMA, “I aim at directness and simplicity.”
Do not miss a chance to see this show at the Guggenheim. It ends the eleventh of February. Hurry. You may see me there again. I hope we will be seeing more of Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde’s works here.
“SELMA” the Film and Actualities. by David Henderson 20feb15
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who followed in the footsteps of Gandhi in bringing civil rights to a people, and in some ways went even further than Gandhi, is a towering figure in the recent history of the United States. For that matter, he ranks highly throughout the entire Western world, and perhaps everywhere on planet earth. His public denunciation of the Vietnam War contributed to the war’s end, but—coupled with his support for the striking sanitation workers of Memphis and his protestations of the larger issue of widespread poverty—it also resulted in a diminution of his popularity and a certain disfavor promoted by the corporate-controlled press, and it may have contributed to his untimely and mysterious assassination.
His widow, Coretta Scott King, his children, and the famous entertainer Stevie Wonder combined forces with a broad swath of an approving public and fostered a public holiday in his name that became a reality in the late twentieth century. Now, in 2015, a new film, Selma, is based on one of his most important achievements: his leadership role in attaining the Voting Rights Act. He coordinated a protest that would bring together various civil rights organizations, church and religious groups, entertainers, and professional organizations, along with a public from all over the United States and countries across the world to march in Selma with the ordinary citizens of that small Southern town. These people endured great brutality in the hands of local Alabama police and state troopers in order to complete their march to the state capital in Montgomery to protest before the State House their inability to vote.
On March 7, 1965, with a few hundred locals, Dr. King formulated a strategy that resulted in thousands of supporters joining the locals and, despite the murder of some, would result in a successful march to Montgomery over a two-week period. The number of marchers swelled from 5,000 to 25,000, and they arrived in triumph to hear the speech by Dr. King that announced the Voting Rights Act that would become law in a few weeks—a verification of democracy that inspired the world.
Selma, a motion picture put together by Pathé UK, along with several other companies including Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo, (those two personalities also became producers ), was released during the Christmas holiday season, in time to qualify for participation in the Academy Awards of the Motion Picture Association of America. The film continued in theaters through the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 19, 2015.
The engineered mass resistance to the police repression of today recalls those civil rights days that are so essential to Dr. King’s legacy. Selma was one of those moments in history monumental to its time. This story, this civil rights triumph, could be told in any number of ways under any circumstances (from person to person or as a Roots-like television miniseries) and be compelling. Regardless of actors or scenery or vintage cars, one simply cannot go wrong with this high point in the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The greatest actors in Selma are the marchers, the crowds, the representation of that motley crew who marched through Alabama being brutalized and stressed on every level. Toward the end of the film, shots of those marchers dissolve into footage of vintage film of the original marchers, the technique making it possible for the footage of Selma to have the same vintage quality and adding an aura of verisimilitude.
On the other hand, to portray such a central figure in the history of Black America with an actor who is so far outside the culture is not only as close as one can get to cultural criminality, it also points to serious deficiencies of effectiveness within the film industry in Black America. It is also unfair to the careers of all the actors involved, from principals to supporting, because it involves them in distortions of history that extend from casting to a broad set of problems that range from calling it a biopic to a juggling of facts.
An African playing MLK could possibly be a descendant of those Africans who sold their own people centuries ago, now often called African Americans. Now an African plays our present-day Moses, however with no passion or understanding of the Black American spirit or the ways of being with one another. We are mocked in our beliefs of the time—that the system, the vote, would save us.
Selma begins just after MLK received his Nobel Prize in Oslo, Norway. Cut to the White House USA, where Dr. King is in the presence of President Lyndon Johnson, who congratulates him on that honorable achievement. But King wants the disenfranchised Blacks of the South to be able to vote. This harks back to the moment when Black Americans won their freedom via the Civil War, where they picked up guns and defeated the Confederacy. But after a few years of Reconstruction, where Blacks had been elected to public office all across America and often enjoyed the liberties of freedom that had been only dreams for centuries, a white racist government/corporate gentlemen’s agreement reversed that situation. The resultant Jim Crow system of institutionalized racism continued on unabated until the time in history symbolized by Selma. There, the struggle amid violent repression would culminate in MLK’s speech on the Voting Rights Act. As many believed then and continue to believe, the vote would bring true power to Black Americans. It is sadly ironic that today, with the election of a Black president, it has become clear that a basic lesson of democracy has been learned after so long and at such a great cost.
Be that as it may, the present times are reminiscent of Selma, but now masses from different backgrounds are marching to protest police brutality and the murder of unarmed Blacks, just as in the Old South the Civil Rights Movement was inspired in large part by the lynching of Black men and boys.
The principal actors, David Oyelowo as MLK, and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, however, pall next to the character actors who played the various SCLC and SNCC personages. Those Africans who play the central characters were trained in London. They are surrounded by Black Americans who know the public code of comradery that is an important aspect of Black American culture. Oyelowo’s King comes off as absolutely cold. He does not have an aura of greatness, nor that playful modesty and majesty MLK was known for. Seeming more like a clerk or a small-town businessman, Oyelowo says his lines, but the rigor of Southern speech, not only in intonation but in emphasis and dialect, is beyond him. And the paraphrased speeches—as the King estate forbade verbatim quotations—lacked even further emphasis that was intrinsic to the soaring rhetoric and phrasemaking King was famous for. The writer could perhaps have spent more time on those speeches, as they were in essence the hallmark of King’s connection with the public and the essential inspiration to his close followers. This aloof impersonation of MLK was contrasted by his screen wife, whose characterization was far from the staid and true Coretta. Nowhere near a mother figure, she was more like a high-priced model or perhaps an au pair, and the children had no lines at all, no screen time with either parent.
Oyelowo is also outdone by fellow British subjects who are Caucasian: Tom Wilkinson, who plays President Johnson, and, although not in a scene together with MLK, Tim Roth, who plays Alabama Governor George Wallace. He is electric, totally believable, and an excellent foil for Wilkinson.
Dylan Baker, the actor portraying FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, was a bit of a paradox and may as well have been portrayed by another actor representing the Crown, such as someone resembling the late Bob Hoskins. Baker had fairly brief screen time, but appeared to be a tall, and rather fair-skinned WASP, far from the real-life diminutive, dark, and somewhat rotund Hoover. The collaboration with President Johnson is played in a straightforward manner. There should be no doubt about their complicity. The publicity-inspired outcry over the imagined unfair characterization of President Johnson would have us believe that a former cabinet official would know all the doings of the chief executive, and that all that President Johnson said was the absolute truth – as if a Robert Caro did not go to the trouble to write several volumes on his vagaries and victories.
There is a scene where King and Coretta sit listening to a threatening telephone message that ends with a purported recording of the sound effects of King having sex with another woman. That the tape could be a fake or an audio production based on or not based on a real happenstance is not considered. The act of bugging the King telephone was obviously one of the psychological techniques that would increase the anxiety, blood pressure, and stress of the entire family.
White typed letters across the screen throughout the film contain brief messages indicating close surveillance by the FBI and/or other intelligence agencies. Unlike subtitles, these are placed midscreen, superimposed over continuing footage.
The costars of this film are the many character actors whose ensemble performances create an essential supportive emotional landscape. It is too bad that none of the actors representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee have enough screen time to qualify for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.
The continuous presence of Oprah Winfrey, the workaday, middle-aged woman who marches and gets beaten up several time—so it seems--- is problematic. That character seems to be straight out of The Color Purple, a role she played in the early days of her film life. She is much too well known to be a bit player with a few lines but plenty of screen time. And since she is an executive producer and her production company has its logo displayed in the closing credits, one wonders whether her financial support was connected to her “face” time.
For real fact-checking concerning Selma and the legacy of Dr. King, one could start with the Pacifica Foundation radio documentary recorded in Selma during the days of the marches. The license the makers of Selma believe they have gives rise to interpretations that can range from casting gaffs to historical distortion. One thing that saves the day is that the manipulation necessary in order to squeeze reality into two hours of screen time cannot change the actuality, the power of what happened. It might have been best for the director, Ava DuVernay, to insist on historical accuracy and thus build the drama accordingly. Whatever— Selma is in the can and will be available as is, for (probably) ever.
The first battle of Selma took place on March 7, 1965, with the bloody conclusion. The second battle went from March 9 to 24, culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery. This documentary features recordings from those marches and recordings of MLK, James Forman, James Bevel, etc., including a plainspoken woman near the end of the documentary who was quite articulate.
One of the important points of this radio documentary is that the second march, on March 9, was halted by King as a result of an agreement between him and city, state, and federal officials. This was not known to SNCC’s James Forman or the others in SNCC. Forman made a speech that made it obvious that he did not know. The film gives the impression that the halt and then retreat was owing to some seemingly mystical intuition on Dr. King’s part. Perhaps that halt avoided injuries, saved lives, and built dramatic tension that made the concessions necessary to ensure the Voting Rights Act. That happens to be the way it turned out, thank goodness.
P. S. Despite my complaints seemingly to the contrary, I believe that Ava DuVernay did an admirable job as a rookie major motion picture director. I strongly disagree with her belief that she has the right to slightly alter history for dramatic purposes, but she does not hedge her point of view. The soundtrack, of Selma is nothing short of wonderful, led by the Common and John Legend’s collaboration on the goose-bumpy ”Glory” – with a rap from Common that says it’s all good—with Legend’s soaring vocal somehow paralleling MLK’s oratory magic. The late, great Curtis Mayfield holds down the center with his long-underrated “Keep On Pushin’” that came out as a top-40 R&B hit of the time, inspiring many youths in the Movement across the country. And the brilliant jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran holds down the bottom with a viable semi-symphonic soundtrack that perfectly and often beautifully conveys the high points of dramatic intensity without intruding on the emotion. I believe Selma should win both categories of the Academy Awards for which it is nominated – best film and best song. Although Selma may not be a great film, the power of the history it portrays dominates the category, and the truth it does convey, fused with its wonderful music, makes it a film that despite its contradictions, will grow in acceptance.
Copyright David Henderson 2015