Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The First-Ever Full-Length NYC Subway Art Documentary Resurrected at BAM

What’s most heartbreaking about Manfred Kirchheimer‘s  practically dialogue-less 1981 documentary Stations of the Elevated is that all of the artwork featured in the film is gone forever. Some of it was sandblasted, some sent to the scrapyard and the rest of it is at the bottom of the Atlantic. Did you know that’s where most New York City subway cars have gone to their final resting place in recent years, ostensibly serving as artificial reefs, asbestos insulation and all? Fortunately, you can see all of the long-gone, distinctively New York-flavored guerrilla art immortalized when the film – the first full-length documentary on New York City subway art – screens on June 27 at 8 PM at BAM’s Harvey Theatre. Advance tix are $25 and highly recommended. What’s also hard to believe is that this screening kicks off the movie’s first-ever theatrical run (it premiered at the 1981 New York Film Festival but lacked the music licenses necessary for a fullscale release). As a special enticement, the Charles Mingus repertory ensemble Mingus Dynasty will perform beforehand – it’s a good assumption that they’ll be playing music from the film soundtrack.

How fortuituous for future generations of New Yorkers that the filmmaker was out trainspotting with his camera, catching subways (mostly on the 4 and 5 line) as they rolled past, or into the Dyre Avenue station. Without Kirchheimer, there’s be far less evidence of the haphazard talent of legendary graffiti artists like Lee, Fab 5 Freddy, Shadow, Daze, Kase, Butch, Blade, Slave, 12 T2B, Ree, and Pusher, all of whom are represented. Kirchheimer wisely chose to film from spots where the trains would be moving at little more than a walking pace, and his lens lingers. Yet the effect is often akin to a series of jump cuts, tantalizing the viewer. Obviously, Kirchheimer wanted to capture as much as he could in a limited amount of time (45 minutes): to say that he scored is an understatement.

Kirchheimer’s background, other than as a documentarian, is as a film editor, which served him well here. Juxtaposed with the languid, now rather quaint (and for New Yorkers of a certain age and sensibility, impossibly nostalgic) shots of the trains in all their spraycan glory are images of campy billboards (the smoking Marlboro Man is priceless) and an upstate prison that from above bears a remarkable resemblance to the MTA train yards. The sound editing mirrors the editing of the film itself, a handful of Charles Mingus compositions cut and pasted with a rather sardonic bass solo from the composer himself front and center. There’s also a long gospel refrain from Aretha Franklin as the film winds out.

Kirchheimer has been quick to admit that he knew little about graffiti art when he began work on the film, and that the project opened his eyes to what he has termed a “scream from the ghetto.” Ironically, much as many of the deaths heads, cartoon figures and hastily painted yet stunningly lavish car-length tableaux make for a perverse celebration of civic pride. New York may have been gritty in those days, but it was those artists’ New York. Shame on the powers that be for failing to realize that and for destroying it (a sick cycle that perpetuates itself – yesterday’s cover of Metro featured a gang of gung-ho volunteers hell-hent on eliminating graffiti and graffiti art completely throughout the five boroughs). And kudos to Kirchheimer for preserving it with such a wry, keenly aware sensibility.

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June 10, 2014 Posted by | Art, Film, jazz, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisa Bielawa’s Double CD Release Concert Is Characteristically Captivating

Sunday at Galapagos composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Lisa Bielawa and an inspired cast of indie classical types played a stunningly eclectic mix of new material from her two latest albums, Chance Encounter (with the Knights and soprano Susan Narucki) and In Medias Res (with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose). The concert got off to a rough start: drummer Bob Schultz was game to recite a series of occasionally bizarre, frequently amusing overheard-on-the-street quotes over what turned out to be pretty steady solo drums, but he wasn’t given a soundcheck (big mistake) and consequently the lyrics were often inaudible. And in the rap era, making the beats fit is part of the fun; this piece seemed more of an slapdash attempt at jazz poetry with random words set to an unrelated rhythm.

Things got exciting fast after that. Harpist Ina Zdorovetchi played another piece from the BMOP album, shifting from unselfconsciously Romantic cinematics to a mysterioso theme, followed by pianist Sarah Bob playing another solo work that went in the opposite direction, a tug-of-war between consonant comfort and bracing, wide-open, sky-at-night atonalities. After a pause for technical difficulties, the excitement went up another notch. Split between the stage and the back balcony, members of the reliably surprising indie orchestra the Knights turned in a marvelously orchestrated (in both senses of the word), strikingly stereo version of Bielawa’s Prologue and Topos Nostalgia section from Chance Encounter. Alternating fugal astringencies between the two sections of the ensemble with still, quiet beauty and the occasional playful conversation between instruments, it was a showstopper: flutists Alex Sopp and Lance Suzuki along with violinist Carla Kihlstedt backlit by the sound booth while Narucki and several of the Knights held court onstage, among them violinists Colin Jacobsen and Christina Courtin, violist Nicholas Cords, oboeist Adam Hollander and Bielawa herself adding terse, pensive accents on piano.

The program concluded with Kihlstedt singing the Song from Bielawa’s Double Violin Concerto, a potently effective transposition of modernist melodicism to a traditionally classical framework, accompanied by string quartet, viola, piano and harp. That Kihlstedt was able to sing her tricky counterrhythms while playing was impressive enough: what was breathtaking was how powerfully she belted those off-center tonalities. Clear, pure and laserlike, she didn’t have much of anything in common with Narucki’s virtuosically operatic delivery, but she was every bit as intense and compelling, maybe more.

In addition to the music, two short films were screened: Lisa Guidetti’s 2007 lushly summery, awardwinning look at Chance Encounter being played in Chinatown’s Seward Park, and Renato Chiocca’s view of Chance Encounter as it was created – to expose random outdoor audiences, pretty much anywhere (in this case, Rome), to the work of new composers. It’s as simple as bringing a truckload of chairs and letting the audience assemble without knowing that they’re in store for what could be an amazing free concert.

December 21, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Albert Maysles: Photographs and Cinemagraphs, at the Steven Kasher Gallery

Albert Maysles, along with his late brother David, is one of the great pioneers in documentary filmmaking. Their most famous works include the groundbreaking Salesman (1968), the immortal Rolling Stones movie Gimme Shelter (1970) and the cult classic Grey Gardens (1976). Albert Maysles’ latest documentary, The Gates, chronicling the notorious Christo installation in Central Park two years ago, premieres on HBO this coming February 26. The shots on display here, from the just-published A Maysles Scrapbook: Photographs/Cinemagraphs/Documents fill four walls of the gallery, beginning with over two dozen from the Soviet bloc in 1955. In one black-and-white photo, Albert Maysles casually leans against the bumper of an old World War II surplus truck somewhere in Czechoslovakia, beer in hand, as the locals have just offered him as much as he can drink and as much gas as his scooter will hold. It’s an indelible moment, and sadly, unlike the vast majority of what’s on display here, it’s not for sale.

Other black-and-white shots from the Maysles’ trip behind the Iron Curtain that year include several of inmates at a mental institution, including one particularly scary character posing up against his hospital’s marble steps. Others are alternately troubling and lighthearted: a series depicts weary, clearly out-of-sorts travelers in the Moscow airport, including a family sleeping huddled together, as well as some amusingly sarcastic portrayals of Soviet-era women’s fashions, or what posed for fashion in a society that denied its citizens the right to express any esthetic sensibility that could conceivably be considered individualistic.

The stars of this show occupy the final wall, several large color montages from Grey Gardens. Popular in the gay community because of its camp factor, it’s actually a harrowing look at the effects of mental illness, tracing the twisted, symbiotic relationship between the aging, reclusive septuagenarian Kennedy clan member “Big” Edith Beale and her equally crazy wannabe-chanteuse daughter, fiftysomething “Little Edie” Beale over the course of several months in the duo’s rotting, rodent-infested Long Island mansion. Grey Gardens (which was adapted into a popular musical last year) is an incredibly funny movie, but the humor is completely unintentional, as far as its subjects are concerned. “Al Maysles is a great artist. He’s also a great photographer. He is also of Russian descent. My best friends were all Russian, but they were royalty,” Little Edie is quoted as saying, which speaks volumes.

Several of the most classic scenes from the film are here: a series of six shots of Little Edie cavorting with an American flag, as well as larger shots showing her doing sit-ups in her bathing suit on the decaying back porch, posing in the dunes, perusing an astrology book through a magnifying glass, demonstrating how to wear pantyhose underneath a dress and reclining on a bed while gazing at herself in a mirror with considerable trepidation. What may be the film’s most immortal scene is included here, where Big Edie, sitting bloblike and practically falling out of her dingy green dress, reprimands Little Edie to stop her incessant singing, threatening to leave the room and go hang out with the cats instead. The show’s scariest moment is the final shot, a black-and-white photo of Little Edie posed on the porch in a short skirt, dark scarf around her waist, pulled up to show her thigh. But there’s no seduction here. The frightened bewilderment on her face stops just short of complete self-awareness: only a crazy person would let someone take a picture like that. And as you leave the gallery, thinking you’re seen it all, there’s another black-and-white shot just to the left of the elevator, this time showing a smiling Little Edie shooting with Albert Maysles’ camera. This is a must-see exhibit whether you are a fan of the Maysles’ work or not yet a convert. The show runs through March 15 at the Steven Kasher Gallery, 521 W 23rd St. just west of 10th Ave., second floor, 11 AM – 6 PM Tues-Sat.

February 21, 2008 Posted by | Art, Film, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment