SceneAround

Scene Around

Deciphering the Culture

2.13.2005

The Politics of Censorship



Deep Throat was made for $25,000 and went on to gross six million dollars, becoming the most profitable film in history. It also generated a controversy regarding obscenity, which resulted to a Supreme Court ruling that still stands today, and allows each community to set its own obscenity standards. So, basically, we have Deep Throat to thank for Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate brouhaha.

The documentary Inside Deep Throat attempts to chronicle the rise and fall and rise again of the famed film that introduced the term “deep throat” to the American vernacular, and broke taboos about oral sex. Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato employ a sleek style, fast-paced editing and numerous interviews to tell the story of the film. We are fed delicious nuggets of information about how the film was made and how it went on to become an overnight success. However, the talking head segments are hurried and frivolous, showcasing more of the personalities’ quirks rather than substance.

The documentary would be a lot more interesting to watch if it engaged in more of a discourse about the politics of censorship, and the ramifications of the notorious court ruling for today’s culture. The most chilling moment comes as a final comment from Larry Parrish, still a prosecutor, saying that "If we could get the terrorists to go away, we could free up the Justice Department..." his follow-up, "...to prosecute porn," is inferred. This could’ve been a starting point for a whole other segment of the film. If only the filmmakers probed deeper…

Inside Deep Throat is currently playing at various New York theaters (Showtimes)

2.09.2005

Whacking Their Way to Love



Here come Punch and Judy! Bang bang bang! Watch them whack each other!Bang bang bang! Watch them deconstruct their relationship, bicker about each other's shortcomings, and perform an interpretive dance insinuating their inability as a couple to communicate. Huh? Welcome to The Confessions of Punch and Judy. As played by Ker Wells and Tannis Kowalchuk, this Punch and Judy are not ye olde whack-a-moles, but a fascinating, contemporary interpretation of the duo, replete with many a reason to seek couples' therapy. The actors are utterly submersed into their characters, and through song, dance, puppetry and slapstick they achieve a perfect harmony, even if the lovers they portray ultimately do not.

It's fascinating to watch such an envigorating adaptation of an old, traditional story, and realize how timely its themes are when applied to contemporary relationships. From Adam and Eve to Punch and Judy to Brad and Jen, relationships are always based on the pull and push that love always seems to require.

The Confessions of Punch and Judy runs through February 20 at HERE Arts Center (145 6th Ave., between Spring and Broome); 212.868.4444; $15

2.04.2005

Children are the Future (Consumers)



Following the passage of the Human Value Reform Act, American citizens are now a public offering on the stock exchange. Each time they have sex and remain unattached, their value increases. Insufficient sexual activity will cause a lower credit rating and higher insurance premiums. Quirky sci-fi scenario, or the future?

According to Hal Hartley, it’s more of the former. The director addressed the audience at the NYC premiere of The Girl From Monday at the MoMa, and called the film a “fake sci-fi movie.” The film plays as such, but its dark premise and wild speculations about the future of the city state after a “great revolution” are thought-provoking at least. Hartley imagines a world where convicted anti-revolutionists are sentenced to teach at high schools, one of the most dangerous assignments due to the amount of guns and violence. High-school students are given daily doses of ADD medication, and are encouraged to become depended on an addictive soda. Corporations target children at younger ages, in hopes of getting them hooked on their products early on. As one character puts it, “Kids are not children; they’re consumers.”

The film is too light ­­­to be taken too seriously, but it does raise some interesting questions about the issue of targeting children as consumers. From the overt Ronald McDonald, to the covert Joe Camel, advertising campaigns addressing children have proved successful, and thus, unstoppable. Can there be an end to this practice? And even if laws pass and practices change, can today’s savvy children revert to a non-consumerist status? According to the film, and to common sense, it is highly unlikely.

The Girl From Monday is due in theaters in spring 2005

2.01.2005

Bringing Down the Icons



Who says that only supermarket tabloids and TV gossip shows can drag a celebrity’s reputation down the drain? Bringing down an iconic pop culture figure seems to be everyone’s pastime, at water coolers across America. The irony is that the more extraordinarily popular celebrities are, the more gleeful the public seems to be in tearing them down. Poor Michael and Martha… Why do we revel in shooting down the stars we ourselves created? Are we that resentful of their success, or are we just plain mean?

What better way to dethrone our favorite icons than to use their own words against them? Who cares that their conversations were illegally recorded? We can still laugh at their audacity or stupidity! Verbatim Verboten is an ever-changing revue of illicitly recorded and uncensored conversations from public figures. Never meant for public hearing, these words now live on through this live theatrical production. Like the title says, these are performed verbatim, with all of the scary and confusing parts intact. The line-up of pieces changes every performance, with about a dozen pieces performed per show selected from a constantly updated collection of nearly 100 transcripts. Among the famous whose words come back to bite them: Britney Spears, Enron and Texaco executives, Madonna, Joe DiMaggio, Rudy Giuliani, Marion Berry and Orson Welles. Bringing down the icons has never been so fun. Keep recording!

Verbatim Verboten plays Mondays at 7:30 through February 28 at Fez, 380 Lafayette St,; 212.533.2680; $10

1.31.2005

Taking the Game out of Video Game



There are those artists who revel in the interactive nature of the internet, generating online art that can be malleable and personalized to each viewer, and then there are those who take such interactive media as video games and turn them into passive viewing experiences. Are we at a stage when we can appreciate the re-conceptualization of video games into art? Is the art world ready to accept programming code as a medium and the resulting multimedia experience as sculpture more than video and music?

Cory Arcangel is not a video artist, yet his art is not easily categorized. Math artist? Video sculptor? Geek? He builds his work from the ground up, by writing code, and running it, by relying on math and electricity. His latest effort, Super Mario Movie, is a hacked 8bit Super Mario Brothers 1 cartridge that plays a 15 minute movie using all original graphics from the game. The movie features a messed up fantasy world, set to remixed music from the game. The entire exhibition is 32k in size, the size of a normal jpg.

I wonder what the reaction will be from art critics who may be perplexed by this bizarre, yet beautiful experience, and from video gamers, who might be confused by the idea of a non-interactive video game.

Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Movie is on view until February 26 at Deitch Projects, 76 Grand St. (at Wooster St.); 212.343.7300; Tue-Sat 10-6

1.30.2005

Queer Art Goes Bland



The queer community has suffered plenty throughout the decades, but each drawback resulted in something hopeful, from Stonewall to ACT UP. Queer artists have been in the forefront of politically-motivated art, voicing the pleasures and the agonies of GLBT people, and as a result, “Queer Art” was deemed too shocking or too graphic, a public sentiment that culminated in the notorious “NEA Four” case at the Supreme Court. Ever since, queer artists have been embraced by the mainstream, and have successfully veered into non-queer themed art territory.

Many queer critics complain that the edge is no longer sharp when it comes to gay art. Just like the rest of America's minority groups, gays and lesbians are becoming more mainstream and perhaps as a result, queer artists appear less shocking—and dare to say, less original. Is this an unavoidable result of the mainstreaming of queer culture and the “normalization” of queer identity?

Log Cabin is the latest art show in the city to question the dynamics within the queer community and the motivations behind queer artists. It features a collection of diverse artistic works that examine the impact of neo-conservatism on queer representations in America. There are certainly interesting pieces like Cass Bird's portrait of a young woman in a baseball cap printed with the phrase “I Look Just Like My Daddy,” or a video of the artists A. A. Bronson and Nayland Blake wearing white face and black face and sharing a passionate kiss. But the overall feel of the show is underwhelming. Apparently, the more Queer Eye for the Straight Guy we have, the more queer art for the mainstream guy we get.

Log Cabin is on view until February 26 at Artists Space, 38 Greene St. (at Grand St.); 212.226.3970; Tue-Sat 11-6

1.28.2005

Desperately Seeking Advice



Americans seem to be in constant search of expert advice for anything from the best diet to helpful dating tips. Body issues and relationship guidance seem to dominate the field of expert help, which has ballooned with the advent of the internet, in addition to the traditional print media and television. We've even moved on to seeking advice from international experts, with books like French Women Don't get Fat, and TV shows like Sex Inspectors on BBC America. How much advice do we really need in order to learn and achieve? Do we keep searching for alternatives, or better, advice if we don't discover that perfect date right away, or if our sex lives don't seem improved?

Former porn actress and current sexpert Candida Royalle has joined the ranks of people we look up to for sex advice. At the reading I attended at Toys in Babeland, women of all bodies and backgrounds seemed mesmerized by the charming sex maven's advice. As she was reading excerpts from her new book How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do, the oohs and aahs from the audience made it seem like the author's tips were somehow groundbreaking. It seemed odd to me that these young women gathered at a sex shop in the LES, surrounded by sex toys and vibrators of every shape and form, would revel in getting their sex clues by a middle-aged sexpert with advice such as "Use lingerie perfectly suited to your body type and transform yourself into the star of your own sizzling fantasy." Royalle radiates a warm personality and knows how to relate to her audience, but her advice, like most advice out there, is stuff we've heard numerous times in the past, but we somehow forgot, or never got around to follow.

How desperate are we for expert advice? If feels like we've heard it all before, yet we keep buying the books, clicking on the websites and watching the shows. I wonder if we're spending more time seeking the advice than actually implementing it.

Candida Royalle's How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do is currently on book shelves and at Amazon

1.26.2005

Interactive Art at Your Fingertips



The internet is proving to be an invaluable tool for creators and fans of interactive art. The medium eases the transformation from art “viewer” to art “collaborator,” and allows for a more personal relationship between the artist and the spectator. Everyone can “play” with the online interactive art at any time, any place. How will this affect the traditional way of viewing art? Will artists, critics and curators decry the internet for taking the art away from physical institutions? Or, will the embrace the net’s on the spot facility and interactive nature?

Dutch artist Han Hoogerbrugge provides a droll examination of contemporary life and human nature in Modern Living / Neurotica Series. His short format interactive entertainment is not only original and amusing, but also addictive. A “playcation” break from work will end up lasting longer than planned!

Han Hoogerbrugge presents Modern Living / Neurotica Series at a computer near you

1.22.2005

The Other Side of "Other"



The immigrant experience has been documented numerous times with variable success. In the "New Europe" of multiculturalism and transculturalism, the traditional idea of an "immigrant" is irrelevant to the continent as a whole, as it is relative to each culture. Immigrants are likely to assimilate as they are likely to stand out; they are voted into parliaments and they are being deported; they are worshipped as celebrities and they are assassinated; they become one with their new home country or they long for the motherland, which perhaps they have never experienced. The traditional meaning of the word "immigrant" carries the connotation of an "other," a foreign entity so different from the norm that it sticks out, and is likely to be contained. Is it possible that in this "New Europe," the "other" is no longer defined by the immigrant experience?

Fatih Akin's hard-core romance of a film, Head-On, eschews documenting the immigrant experience, and instead focuses on people who happen to be marginalized due to their socio-economic status and behavior, rather than their racial/ethnic status. The two ethnically Turkish protagonists do not fit well in mainstream German society, but they also stick out like a sore thumb within the Turkish immigrant community. It doesn’t matter that they’re Turkish, the director suggest, it’s because they’re loud-mouthed, suicidal drunks that they’re in trouble. He portrays the lives of various Germans in the same grim light, as if to underline that socio-economic status has more to do than race in the “New Europe.” The two lovers may be under the impression that their Turkish identity is what is keeping them back, but when various unexpected circumstances force each of them to move to Turkey, it becomes obvious that they will continue to be marginalized, and carry their “otherness” on their heavy shoulders.

Head-On is currently playing at Angelika Film Center in New York City

1.21.2005

Answering to a Younger Boss



As boomers near retirement, Gen X and Gen Y are inevitably going to take over. They bring fresh ideas, cutting-edge knowledge, and facility with technology; what they lack, however, is what some call “deep smarts,” experience-based knowledge that is not easy to acquire. Boomers are obviously in the lead in this area, being able to make executive decisions faster and more intuitively, based on their years of work experience. As the young boss/older worker situation becomes more commonplace, it seems logical for those involved to turn this into a mutually advantageous situation, with reciprocal mentoring and mutual respect. How will companies manage to handle this delicate situation, and leverage it for their benefit?

Hollywood seems to think that conflict will occur more often than harmony. In Paul Weitz’s latest film In Good Company, a company shakedown gives a young, green, hotshot the reins previously held by a well-respected, middle-aged family man. Dennis Quaid’s successful boomer is pained to accept that his new boss is an inexperienced 26-year-old, taking his demotion as a jab to his professional ego and, more significantly, as a threat to his masculinity. Topher Grace’s ambitious Gen X-er discovers that he might not have all it takes to run a company, spending endless hours trying to make up for lack of expertise, and inadvertently trying to prove himself to Quaid’s father-figure. Cruel corporate logic and spiteful corporate executives complicate the situation, providing insight as to what can happen when a young boss is appointed and expected to lead a company with no regard to the older employees’ business savvy and experience.

The most intriguing aspect of Weitz’s film, however, is the relationship between the two male protagonists, not as professional careerists, but as men. The lack of a father and the longing for a son; the reality and the desire of being a successful family man; the ability to demand professional respect based on good old, masculine personality traits; these are the issues that drive the film in constructing an accurate characterization of contemporary relationships between men. Whether father and son or young boss and older employee, the film seems to be suggesting, both have much to teach each other.

In Good Company is currently playing at various New York theaters (Showtimes)

1.20.2005

When Porn as Art Becomes Smut



If porn is the norm, then is smut apt? Are there instances when pornographic art dives into smutty waters, and what, or who defines that line? It is usually up to critics and audiences to decipher this. But when a filmmaker settles on an opinion, and then tries to influence critics and viewers of the pornographic artist’s merits, the situation gets murky.

Ultra-controversial Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is the provocative subject of Travis Klose's documentary, Arakimentari. As a film subject, Araki is fascinating to watch, laughing non-stop and teasing the film crew and total strangers in the name of good fun. He is also a superstar, having single-handedly broken the ban on the photographing of pubic hair in Japan, while blurring the line between art and porn. However, while watching this documentary, we are confronted with hundreds of his S&M photographs, we witness his sexist interactions with his female models and we learn more about his womanizing history. The line between art and porn begins to blur the other way around. Are his intentions merely artistic when he puts his hands all over the naked models’ bodies, when he caresses and kisses them, while they nervously consent because they are collaborating with a celebrity photographer?

Klose’s biased approach is hard to deal with once the question of sexual harassment arises, because the film never addresses this concern except nonchalantly, and in passing. By the end, it’s all about the filmmaker’s admiration of Araki and the great things everyone from Björk to Takeshi Kitano have to say. When I brought this up at a sneak preview, the filmmaker brushed the whole issue over by claiming that Araki is just having fun. He might just be having fun, but it would be great to have an evenhanded approach so we can decide on our own.

Arakimentari opens today at The Imaginasian, 239 East 59th St., (between 2nd and 3rd Ave); 212.371.6682

Future Media Wars



The online media wars cause The New York Times to go offline in protest. Microsoft goes under after losing the information war. Google and Amazon join forces, and under the powerful Googlezon moniker, create EPIC, the most impressive online information center: Computers are editing news using algorithms that take all available information and personalize it for each reader. Are all these mere speculations or is this where we're headed?

The future is closer than we think according to the folks behind the Museum of Media History. Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson have created a fantastic future-based film, which chronicles the media wars of 2014. After watching, it all makes sense and seems so real. All we can do is wait nine more years and see what happens.

The Museum of Media History presents a future history of the media at a computer near you.

1.19.2005

Ready, Set, Paint



When it comes to art appreciation, viewing a piece of art at a gallery can be enjoyable, but watching the artwork being created from scratch is a rewarding and immediate experience. There’s also an element of exclusivity, the “I was there” factor that turns the whole experience a lot more personal. Being able to buy the artwork you just watched being created is an extra bonus, a bragging right even. Everyone can go to a museum, but watching up-and-coming artists create live can revolutionize the way people appreciate art. Will artists turn to more live, site specific and on the spot experiences in order to attract contemporary audiences looking for more personalized experiences?

Art Battles is a live show, enhanced with a competitive element. Two or more artists compete in front of a live audience to create the “best” piece of artwork. The audience is invited to walk around and observe the art as it is being created, and at the end, votes for the winner. At the session I attended at the Nolita House restaurant, the extra hook was that the artists were of different backgrounds: local street artists vs. classically trained ones. Many young people wandered in the restaurant throughout the battle to check out the artworks and cheer on their artist friends. The competition aspect was played down. The audience seemed to revel in the fact that art was being created around them, for their own, personal enjoyment.

Art Battles takes place every 4th Friday at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (at Bleecker St.); 212.614.0505; The website lists other upcoming events.

1.16.2005

Charity as a Marketing Tool



Confronted with a barrage of images of the tsunami disaster in Asia, Americans have rushed to donate money to the Red Cross and other international relief funds. The internet has proven a formidable tool for fundraising. Amazon.com has so far raised 15% of the total donations to the American Red Cross, and websites from Yahoo! to Buy.com have made it easy and fast to donate. Other forms of technology are being employed as well: Cingular sent out text messages to subscribers urging them to text back with a donation.

Offline businesses are also becoming involved. Armani Exchange advertises a Tsunami Relief t-shirt in their SoHo storefront, promising to donate $20 from its sales to the Red Cross. This is the first occurence I've noticed where consumers are asked to purchase a product in order to benefit tsunami survivors.

Fundraising efforts feel natural in a dynamic and topical medium like the internet, even when they are presented on consumer sites with financial gain as the bottom line. However, when they are exhibited in a storefront window and are linked to the purchase of a product, they feel like part of a macabre marketing campaign. Will consumers view Armani Exchange's effort as capitalizing on a tragedy to attract customers and sell products? Or, will they appreciate its involvement and continue to spend money to help the victims of this tragic disaster?

The SoHo branch of Armani Exchange is located at 568 Broadway

1.15.2005

XXX Cocktails



Porn is becoming the norm even when ordering drinks at an ordinary diner-style restaurant in the East Village. At Marion’s Continental restaurant, a plain brown wrapper with an explicit warning contains a list of “Triple XXX Cocktails.”

The warning reads:

“I AGREE
By opening this envelope, I certify:
I wish to view explicit materials.
Such materials do not violate my community’s standards.
I have a (slightly twisted) sense of humor.
I will be responsible for any and all consequences of my enjoyment.”

Inside the bag, a cocktail list offers such libations as Violated in Bangkok, Sex Trip to S.E. Asia, Top or Bottom, The Busted Cherry, Twisted Nipple, A Purple Pussy and Cum Shot.

Patrons who do not wish to open the XXX envelope have other drink menu options, but most customers on the night I was there seemed tickled to uncover the playful menu, and even more delighted to order a naughty cocktail.

Marion's Continental is located at 354 Bowery (at 4th St.); 212.475.7621

1.13.2005

Insider Politics as Entertainment



One of the most radical repercussions of the 2004 election was the change in the way Americans view politics. The traditional media outlets reported not only on hot issues and party platforms, but on the insider politics of the presidential race; bloggers offered shrewd armchair strategizing and influenced media stories by breaking news and focusing on under-reported stories; the internet allowed for the fast and easy dissemination of both insider information and speculation. Voters want to know everything, and they are now in the position to do so.

The popularity of Michael Frayn’s play Democracy can be viewed as further testament to American voters’ newfound interest in insider politics. It also goes a step further, suggesting that politics can serve as entertainment. The play is a fly-on-the-wall documentation of the brief but astonishing reign of West German leader Willy Brandt and the intrigue involving his personal assistant Günter Guillaume, who also happened to be a spy for East Germany’s infamous Ministry of State Security. Frayn’s involved think piece, with its dense historical exposition and fast-paced dialogue, feels out of place among countless Broadway lightweights. Yet, ticket sales are strong –the house was packed on a Thursday night two months after opening night -- and audiences seem engrossed and intrigued by the play’s documentary feel and insider perspective. The critical and popular success of this play parallels the success enjoyed by recent documentaries (Fahrenheit 9/11, Control Room, Outfoxed) that delved into the insider world of the media and the ways they present politics. People not only want to know more about the inner machinations of the political establishment, but they are viewing politics as entertainment. Will we be seeing more popular culture manifestations of the inside-politics world seeking to inform through entertainment? How will this affect the next election?

Democracy is currently playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th St.; 212.307.4100; $55-95

1.08.2005

Nightlife Exclusivity


Exclusivity is a powerful draw, not least in New York nightlife establishments. But is exclusivity an extension of the need to belong in a specific group, or does it have to do with the need to be unique and different from everyone else?

It's fascinating to compare the small, inviting places offering cheap beer in a homey setting that are springing up in the East Village to the huge and stark new lounges in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District that push bottle service and employ stringent door policies. This disparity plays to contradictory cultural expectations among nightlife revelers: There are those who seek out the exclusivity of discovering the small, off-the-beaten-path bars (hipsters) and those who revel in the exclusivity of passing the velvet rope at extremely popular, posh lounges (yuppies and B&T crowds).

Orchid Lounge is the latest addition to the first group. The bar's decor is eclectic chic, featuring various artifacts inspired by pre-communist China. The drinks are good (killer Ginger Martini) and the music is fun but unobtrusive, allowing people to relax and hang out on the plush couches. A gong behind the bar sounds occasionally to announce that free shots will be making the rounds.

The exclusivity and newness factors attract hip crowds on weeknights, but on the weekends it is already evident that Orchid Lounge won't be a secret for long.
Orchid Lounge is at 500 E. 11th St., between Aves. A and B; 212.254.4090

1.07.2005

Stereotypical Play on Jewish Identity



In Modern Orthodox, playwright Daniel Goldfarb creates a caricature world, where stereotypical characters go for obvious jokes and cheap visual gags under the trite premise of learning from each others’ differences. (For a great example of how to use this premise in a fresh and original way, see Avenue Q.) By using an unconvincing plot to raise issues of Jewish identity and relying on stereotypes and a smattering of Yiddish (“Is it schlamiel or shlamazel?”), Goldfarb veers off into slapstick land. He might amuse the middle-aged Upper East Side contingency, but to those who expect insightful commentary on contemporary Jewish faith, he will just come across as a schmuck.

Modern Orthodox is playing at Dodger Stages, 340 West 50th St., 212.239.6200; $46-66

1.06.2005

The Proliferation of Asian Cinema



Asian cinema continues to forge beyond horror pics and martial arts epics to tell compelling stories in an unassuming manner. As the movie market in Asia grows, more and more Asian films are winning American audiences, whether as originals (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring; Hero; Ghost in the Shell 2) or as American remakes (Shall We Dance?; The Grudge; The Ring)--in fact, a new cinema dedicated to Asian films, The Imaginasian, recently opened in Midtown. Will this symbiotic relationship expand, leading Hollywood to look increasingly to Asia for content, cinematic alternatives, and ticket sales?

As part of its impressive “Premieres” film program, the MoMA presented Hirokazu Kore-eda’s touching new film, Nobody Knows, with the Japanese director in attendance. Kore-eda masterfully walks the fine line between tragedy and melodrama to deliver a heartbreaking account based on a true story. A flaky single mother with four kids from different fathers takes off for days at a time with various new boyfriends, leaving the children alone in an apartment they must not leave for fear that the landlord will discover and evict them. When she finally leaves for good, the eldest boy (the charismatic Yuya Yagira, who won the Best Actor award in Cannes) has to take care of his siblings, visiting his mother’s ex-boyfriends to ask for money, and befriending a grocery store employee to score expired food. The children calmly deal with the absence of their mother, but the passage of time, as well as the lack of proper nutrition, has a degenerative effect.

Kore-eda spent twelve months filming the children, whose unaffected performances he captures in a natural, matter-of-fact documentary style. The children’s daily struggle for survival and the inevitable tragedy that ensues become haunting at the film’s placid and composed pace. It’s quite astonishing to watch this lyrical cinematic composition based on such heartrending subject matter--and not having to cringe as a Hollywood treatment of the same issue would demand.

Nobody Knows opens in New York on February 4th

1.05.2005

Recontextualizing Classic Theater



Innovative off-Broadway theater companies are offering fresh and imaginative versions of classics, and there are plenty of directors out there who have managed to revolutionize canonical works by injecting them with au courant stylistic and thematic elements. Some critics complain about the dearth of worthy contemporary plays, but isn't this theatrical "rip and stitch" an exciting new development in its own right that calls for attention?

Classic Stage Company has been a pioneer in presenting classic plays infused with cutting-edge theatricality. Their recent take on Sophocles, Antigone: As Played and Danced by the Three Fates on their Way to Becoming the Three Graces, was a knock-out. Their latest offering is a version of Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov’s loquacious play about life and boredom in a small town and the longing to return to the big city (still ostensibly Moscow in this production, although the costume and sets suggest otherwise).

Slovakian director Pavol Liska has abridged the text, but expands the play's scope. The sisters in the director’s quirky contemporary world are all hipstered-out in retro haircuts and vintage clothes; edgy choreography and whimsical musical interludes add an ironic flair to Chekov's dense dialogue. The actors revel in delivering their lines in unexpected ways, from comically exaggerated pitches to soft whispers. This avant-garde, "rip and stitch" approach to traditional theater injects freshness and gusto to the performance--and the audience, which was evenly balanced between the usual, older theatergoers (who seemed a bit out of their depth) and a younger, hipper crowd that would have fit in at a poetry reading at KGB or Williamsburg burlesque.

Three Sisters continues through 1.16 at the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St., 212.677.4210; $15

1.04.2005

Life Affirmation Lite



Truly life-affirming films usually center around saintly figures who put themselves at risk in order at save human lives or better humanity (think Schindler's List and Passion of the Christ). Such films are not especially frequent, but in these times of national insecurity and environmental disasters, will we witness more examples of mainstream entertainment cheering the selfless hero who against all odds does the good deed and saves lives?

Hotel Rwanda is hard to watch, but also brutally straightforward in its depiction of the genocide committed in this African nation in the early nineties. With such a gripping subject matter and powerful performances to boot, filmmaker Terry George can be forgiven for the (infrequent) lapses into melodrama and lauded for his courage to recreate the terrors of one of the most shamefully inhumane events in recent history. The only question about the way the film portrays its real-life hero, is whether he's ultimately presented in a way that audiences will go, "Oh, yes, this is what I would do as well if I were in this situation." Stripping the life-saving hero of any non-saintly quality, and over-emphasizing his good will, makes it easier to think that anyone can do what the hero did in order to save people's lives. Is this what audiences need to see in order to feel inspired? Will they be affected more if the life-saving and good deed doing feels like something they can handle in theory? Does life-affirming entertainment work best when it is technically feasible and morally perfect?

Hotel Rwanda is currently playing at various New York theaters (Showtimes )

1.03.2005

Uninspired Take on Midlife Crisis



Wes Anderson's acerbic new comedy, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou presents a man's midlife struggle in a shallow, uninspired manner. Bill Murray's character sulks, pouts, and uses apathy as a communication tool, a grumpy old man acting like a spoiled child. That's as far as Anderson will go, raising issues of fatherhood and paternity and professional and romantic emasculation (concepts familiar from movies at least as old as Falling Down), but unable to offer a new perspective. If changing family roles, higher retirement ages, and medical and technological breakthroughs have caused a sea change in the nature of the male midlife crisis, The Life Aquatic is treading water.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is currently playing at various New York theaters (Showtimes)

1.02.2005

Questioning Age and Fashion



Mainstream culture is continually pushing women to go further in the name of perfect beauty. There are women who view the extreme techniques of The Swan and Extreme Makeover as solutions, instead of problems. Can we rely on artists to counteract this perception?

Turkish photographer Pinar Yolacan's stunning portraits in "Perishables," of older women clad in tripe (yes, the lining of a cow's stomach), are shocking and even appalling at first glance. But initial shock quickly turns into curiosity and then settles into awe.

A lyrical commentary on aging, the perishable nature of meat represents the sense of our own ephemeral, rotting bodies. The delicately constructed outfits, fashioned specifically for each WASP-y, older woman by the 23-year-old artist, can also be construed as a commentary on fashion and its relationship with the female body, perpetually enveloping it as an acquired second skin. Each woman's outfit is curiously reflected in her expression, from a bored, overweight woman clad in a shapeless, unbecoming dress streaked with ruffles to an elegant lady, stunning in a crepe blouse with a collar fashioned from chicken heads.

This truly impressive work would feel natural next to Cindy Sherman's body-self explorations or Ana Mendieta's body-landscape imagery. It is reassuring to know that the groundbreaking feminist work of such greats is carried on by young female artists, and comforting to see that artistic explorations of the female body are fresh as ever, even when packaged in perishable meat.

"Perishables" runs through 1.21 at Rivington Arms, 102 Rivington St., 646.654.3213

1.01.2005

Blending Shopping with Nightlife

Are clothing stores the new bars, or bars the new clothing stores? Will we see the stunning Prada store in SoHo open its doors after hours to swanky soirees? Or will the big megaclubs turn into glorified department stores, selling anything and everything to inebriated revelers?

A clothing store/bar is not a novel concept in Europe, but somehow this trend hasn't quite caught on yet locally. The Hanger is the East Village's version of this concept, offering vintage clothing and jewelry for sale during the day and cheap Staten Island Iced Teas to a hipster crowd at night.

The Hanger is at 217 Third St., between Aves. B and C; 212.228.1030