The Cannes Film Festival is a big deal; probably the biggest deal for avid, true-blue cineastes the world over, definitely bigger than the celebrity skifest that is the Sundance Film Festival. No Country for Old Men‘s Oscar campaign started in Cannes last May, where it actually received lukewarm reviews and was overshadowed by the acclaim for the Romanian masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which ran away with the Palme D’Or, or Best Film prize, and Best Director honors, respectively), two of the best-reviewed films of 2007. The 2008 Main Competition slate was unveiled last Thursday for the Festival that will run from May 14-25, and amongst the high-profile films competing for the Palme D’Or, such as Clint Eastwood’s period piece, Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie; Steven Soderbergh’s four hour opus about Che Guevarra, Che, with Benicio del Toro in the title role; Charlie Kaufman’s sure-to-be-eccentric-but-cool debut movie, Synecdoche, New York; former Cannes winners’ the Dardennes brothers’ La Silence de Lorna, and Wim Wender’s multi-lingual The Palermo Shooting, which sounds really perplexing (I mean with the lead singer of the German punk band Die Toten Hosen and Milla Jovovich as headliners, you gotta wonder what kind of medication Wenders is now on), is….Serbis, directed by Brilliante Mendoza of the Philippines! Yes, after more than a quarter of a century, the much maligned Philippine film industry, which continues to demonstrate more lives than three dead cats, is going to be represented in the Main Competition of the most prestigious film event in the world. Yay!
My philosophy of never taking no for an answer was severely tested two years ago when I was trying to get tickets for weeks for the sold-out run of Fiorello! at Timeline Theatre. In the spring of 2006, “no available tickets” really meant “no available tickets”, and no amount of groveling, coercing, begging, flirting, and flattering, or using any of the tricks I usually employ to get my way, could produce a ticket. And so I miserably failed to see the highly-acclaimed production of this seldom-produced classic of American musical theater. I kicked myself even more when a couple of months afterwards, Fiorello! garnered several Jeff Awards including Best Musical. How could I, self-proclaimed musical theater diva, have missed this show? Ugh. So when I heard late last year that Timeline was re-mounting the production in the spring/summer of 2008, I resolved that unless there was a tsunami striking the land-locked Midwest, or a plague of locusts, or a space satellite falling on Damen Avenue (yeah, cougars on the loose in Roscoe Village didn’t count), I was going to be one of the first in line to see the remount. Last week, during the second-to-the-last preview, as I was valiantly trying to restrain myself from singing along to the wonderfully lush “When Did I Fall in Love?”, I decided that the two year wait was definitely worth it.
Two of the slots in Francis’s “20 essential films to be marooned in a deserted island with” belong to films directed by the brilliant Wong Kar-Wai: the quirky, delicious, delirious, and ultimately heartbreaking Chungking Express (1994), about two sets of lovers in a Hong Kong anxiously awaiting the handover back to China, and the gorgeously-shot and designed but bone-achingly sad tale of two unhappily married people falling in love with each other, In the Mood for Love (2000), which Sofia Coppola has acknowledged as one of the main inspirations for her own masterpiece of dislocated feelings, Lost in Translation. I am such an ardent Wong fan that I have seen almost all of his movies and some of them twice. Two years ago, I took a Facets Film School class about his work, and nearly brawled with two annoyingly pretentious, pseudo film-geeks who seemed like they based their knowledge of Asian culture on being avid customers of Panda Express (sniff!). I really think Wong is unsurpassed right now among contemporary directors in successfully evoking mood, emotions, and characters’ perspectives with the barest of dialogue- instead he uses cinematography, actors’ facial expressions, design, and innovative editing techniques (both fast-frame and slow motion). Wong has a unique, identifiable style, and a very specific East Asian point of view – a world view that contains fatalism; deep-seated melancholy; loyalty (to family, to loved ones); a focus on subtext and unexpressed emotions; the powerful influence of the past on the present and the de-emphasis, almost the avoidance, of thinking about the future and what comes next. So I was very, very nervous to go see his first English-language film, My Blueberry Nights, set and shot in America, starring Hollywood stars…and Norah Jones. Will his style and sensibility translate well? Will he be able to still create a distinctive Wong Kar-Wai film versus an attempt to come up with a Hollywood art film? Can he give an interesting take on distinctively American situations, characters, and milieus? What can he do with Norah Jones’s, uhmmm, acting prowess? Well, I’m sure Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, Warren Buffett, masters all of their fields, have had bad days sometimes, and that’s fine. I’d like to think that the Wong who directed My Blueberry Nights was just having one long bad day.
It’s been several days since I saw Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company‘s Chapel/Chapter at the MCA Theater but I’m still reeling from it’s impact. It’s one hell of a powerful, provocative, mesmerizing piece of dance theater, and dance theater does not even begin to describe what it actually is: magnificent, gloriously inventive, jaw-droppingly synchronized dancing occurs, definitely; strongly dramatic theatrical elements are effectively employed, for sure (at the beginning of the performance, most of the company walks around a square with their eyes closed wearing orange jumpsuits, looking like aimless sleepwalkers, colliding with each other, and having to be pushed back onto the square by other company members who prevent them from going beyond the designated space). But in its 70 riveting minutes, Chapel/Chapter also includes film projections; a haunting musical score resembling sacred chants, composed and performed live by the acclaimed New York-based performer Lawrence “Lipbone” Redding; a game of charades gone haywire; blood-curdling throat screaming; spoken dialogue that combines newly-written material, excerpts from trial transcripts, and even the Lord’s Prayer, which at one point are all cut-up, re-arranged, and overlayed on top of one another; and Brazilian samba numbers (yes, you read it right)! If Chapel/Chapter sounds like a strange, maddening, demented menagerie of disparate elements, well, it is…but these elements are so beautifully and creatively woven together to demand the audience’s attention on three stories that portray the fallibility of human nature and the terrible things we are capable of (the stories are all true-to-life): a man randomly murders a family of three; a father kills his disobedient, troubled daughter in a moment of fury; another man confesses that he kept the secret of witnessing a friend’s suicide for twenty years. The metaphor of being imprisoned, either in a brick-and-mortar institution or in the emotional prisons of guilt and memory, is fantastically evoked, particularly by the fact that the dancers perform on a hopscotch grid surrounded by audience members on all sides (yes, I sat on one of the three sides that had onstage seating, which allowed me to see the dancers in almost painful, suffocatingly intimate close-up). Bill T. Jones is a genius, not only because of the powerful and vigorously muscular choreography but also, more importantly, for devising a concept for audience reflection and questioning, and strongly, vehemently, delivering on it. Here’s hoping for more Bill in Chicago. Lucia Mauro of the Chicago Tribune compares Chapel/Chapter to Oscar best picture winner No Country for Old Men, which is saying a lot.
In a week and a half, Chicago will be buzzing with artists, art collectors, gallery owners, the international media, and ordinary art loving folks like me and my friends, as Artropolis Chicago takes place for the second straight year at the Merchandise Mart from April 25-28, 2008. The Mart, under its President, Christopher Kennedy, took over the much maligned and drama-filled Art Chicago and paired it with a variety of other art fairs, including its own International Antiques Fair, under the umbrella of Artropolis, a weekend celebration of “art, antiques, and culture” in a bid to put Chicago back on the international art scene map again (Art Chicago was one of the top art fairs in the world in the 1980s). Judging from the reviews, participating artists and galleries, and audience turnout last year, I think the city made a terrific strong impression which should make this year’s Artropolis even more of a must-go destination for the denizens of the global art world (although Art Basel Miami and the Armory Show in New York continue to be seen as the premier North American art fairs). I was overwhelmed last year by the amount of art that was exhibited, and the variety of media that were on display, from painting, sculpture, and photography, to video installations and site-specific installations. It was impossible to really take advantage of the Artropolis experience in a single weekend, given the fact that in addition to viewing the art, there were lectures, live performances, and parties to attend if you wished to. My main quibble last year was the fact that the Bridge Art Fair, which was the showcase for emerging, cutting-edge, “younger” art, and The Artist Project, which was an exhibit of 30 independent/unrepresented artists, were housed in a tacky wing of the Chicago Apparel Center, right next to the Mart, whose temperature was similar to that of a Finnish sauna. I was loving and soaking up the Art Chicago exhibits, housed together with the Antiques Fair and the Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art in the main Merchandise Mart building, and glowing with that high that one gets when in the midst of stunning, unique, interesting art work; but then I had to traipse over to the Apparel Center, through a long walkway that felt like a sterile hospital corridor, and then emerged onto the two fairs, which were so poorly-laid out and cramped I felt I was in a Marrakech bazaar, without the Moroccans! Anyway, there will be no such problem this year since Art Chicago moves to the 12th floor of the Mart and the Next Art Fair (which has supplanted Bridge) moves into the 7th Floor, with the Artist Project, the Antiques Fair and the Intuit show all sharing the 8th floor.
The most ardent of musical theater queens can sit through hours and hours (even days) of musicals without breaking a sweat, batting an eyelash, or heaving violently, unlike many people who consider musical theater and film as akin to waterboarding. Ok, so I’m as ardent as they get (sometimes when I’m sauntering down the street, I just feel like floodlights will suddenly blaze on me, a thirty piece orchestra will appear, and I will break into “Maybe This Time” as if on cue- at the intersection of Lincoln and Wilson. Hmmm…that’s a fantasy to be recounted for another day’s blog post). So it was quite the rare and very pleasurable treat, after weeks of seeing Chicago storefront theater drama and bluster, to sit through two musicals back to back last weekend. First, I saw my dear friend Jonathan Verge perform as part of an energetic, committed, very talented cast for Bailiwick‘s production of Flaherty and Ahren’s A Man of No Importance. Then, I hopped on over next door to the Theater Building the following night to be enthralled by Porchlight Theater‘s staging of Maury Yeston’s Nine, based on Federico Fellini’s cinematic masterpiece, 8 ½. Although both have undeniable pleasures, they also have significant areas for constructive feedback (yep, that’s consultant speak for “you gotta fix this baby”), more problematic for A Man of No Importance than for Nine; on the whole though, they also happen to be worthwhile nights at the theater, even for musical theater agnostics.