I first met Adele Bertei when I accompanied Wayne Kramer’s organization Jail Guitar Doors on a visit to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. Jail Guitar Doors brings guitars and musical instruction to the incarcerated. There was a group of musicians that day, putting on a show, and one pixie-ish woman was introduced as Adele. “What’s your last name?” I asked, and when she answered “Bertei,” I got all fangirlish. Bertei was a pioneer of the New York postpunk scene, playing for the Contortions and the Bloods, the infamous all-girl band. As a solo artist and songwriter, she has kicked around the underground and pop scenes on both coasts and in Europe since. She also acted in the incredibly ahead-of-its-time film Born in Flames. Continue reading
Category Archives: Recommended viewing
Almost two and a half years ago, Björk spilled her guts to the world. On the album Vulnicura, the often reclusive musician wrote intimately and emotionally about her breakup with the artist Matthew Barney. It was a public purging of a high-profile heartbreak, a direct and exquisitely rendered “fuck you” to a shmuck – long before Beyonce squeezed her lemons into Lemonade. “I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions,” Björk sang on the thin ice of “Black Lake,” voicing the sentiments of a million millennial women waiting for their men to join them in the 21st century.
Ms. Gudmundsdottir is finally ending the Vulnicura phase of her astonishing three-decade artistic career. As she told me in an interview for the LA Weekly a few weeks ago, she has begun work on a new album and feels “the Vulnicura cycle is complete.” She delivered her last performance of the album at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday night. And what a – shall we say, in deference/reference to her infamous 2010 Oscars outfit — swan-song farewell it was.
I wasn’t expecting laughter and tears when I went to the Hammer Museum yesterday to see “At the Center of the World,” an exhibition of the art of Jimmie Durham. I knew little about Durham, except for some intriguing banners I’d seen around town featuring his sculpture of an Indian princess: an odd assemblage of snakeskin, feather and wood that’s disconcertingly life-like, its mismatched eyes staring, accusing. I didn’t even know the maker of Malinche was of Cherokee heritage, though that became immediately apparent in the first room, with its totem poles of animal skulls on top of sticks — clever, bizarre, strangely powerful, like the videos, drawings, sculptures, and writings filling the Hammer gallery.
Born and raised in Arkansas, Durham has been making art since the 1970s (when he was also involved in the American Indian Movement). But for the last 20 years, he has lived in Europe. This is the first show of his work since his self-imposed exile, and it’s mind-blowing. Durham, who is also a poet, can be hilariously funny and brutally dark. I repeatedly found myself laughing out loud, but I also at one point burst into tears.
I don’t even know where to begin, this show is so astounding in both its craft and content. David Hammons, Jose Bedia, Brancusi, and Fluxus are all explicit influences. I also see Judy Chicago in the cultural commentary and, again, the humor. His self-portraits, like the one above, are hilariously self-deprecating, while at the same time poking holes in cultural stereotypes – check out his “Indian penis.” Needless to say, this show is also timely and necessary, what with our liar in chief paying homage to his genocidal predecessor (Indian killer Andrew Jackson). I’m going back and I’m taking the family.
My grandmother used to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas. During the several years in which she lived with us in our ranch house in Wisconsin, Mama would usually retreat to her basement bedroom so she could view her favorite movie without all the noise of grandchildren and pets that surrounded the TV in our family room. After she moved out, it would strike me how dark and cold the room that was now used for storage was, when I would go grab something – one of Mom’s 1950s dresses, maybe — from it. Mama made the dank space warm and grandmotherly, with her constant crocheting and her love of old Frank Capra movies or TV shows starring Barbara Stanwyck.
The woman born Guyla Duncan didn’t have the easiest life; her World War I veteran, jack-of-all-trades husband had trouble staying in one place, and away from the bottle. They moved constantly, from Florida to Kentucky to California then back to Florida. So Guyla wasn’t too picky about her surroundings; a basement in the cold Midwest kept barely tolerable by the orange glow of a space heater was fine by her.
Mama survived the Depression, two world wars, six children, breast cancer, and her husband, so she had a pretty realistic view of the world. She knew damn well life wasn’t always wonderful. And yet she loved this sentimental holiday movie, with its beyond-happy ending and steadfast faith in bucolic small-town America. I came to love it too, once I got beyond my adolescent snobbiness. In fact, the screwball comedies of the golden age of Hollywood are one of my favorite things in the world, up there with Brazilian music, feminist art, and whiskers on kittens.
Using the tools of urbane high jinks, slapstick comedy, and witty romantic banter, filmmakers such as Capra, Howard Hawks, and Preston Sturges offered social commentary dressed up as popcorn entertainment. Stanley Cavell has written about how these comedies of remarriage reimagined the relationships between sexes, with women given equal footing with men as smart, classy, independent creatures — Katherine Hepburn was as adept at cutting repartee as Cary Grant. Many of these movies also flipped class structure – the department-store owner hanging with his employees, pouring coca cola into a glass of rare wine and discovering it really does taste better. It’s a Wonderful Life offers a blistering critique of Big Money and corporate banks and a plea for small, family-owned businesses. This is not old-fashioned mawkishness: In the TV show The Newsroom, Olivia Munn’s character uses Capra’s film to explain to Emily Mortimer’s the basis and importance of the Glass-Steagall Act.
It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 – scarcely a wonderful time in world history. It pretty much bombed back then, but it has become perhaps the most beloved movie in all of American cinema. That was the decade Mama’s son Leon was injured at Iwo Jima and she survived a double mastectomy. This movie, like all the screwball comedies, offered a vision of the way things could, and should, be, not the way they were. It provided relief, comfort, a good laugh, and hope, all while pointedly critiquing the evil of capitalism gone awry.
That was 70 years ago. On Friday night, you can relive that first run, when the San Pedro International Film Festival shows It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at the historic Warner Grand Theater. I probably don’t need to point out how appropriate this film is to this moment in time, how it’s an example of art that speaks to, and not down to, multiple constituents who feel disenfranchised in our current society, while always keeping its thumb firmly on the real villain. Or how we need its humor, its love, its screwball hope.
I used to see Mama watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but I never once sat down and watched it with her from start to finish – just as my son never watches it with me. I wish I had asked her what she got from it, if she felt keenly its affirmation of rootedness – of characters who may dream of the travel they see in posters – of lassoing the stars — but in fact never leave home, and live happily ever after.
Punk inspired Chardine Taylor-Stone (drummer for Big Joanie) to be a black feminist, and she gave a great TedX talk about it.
I saw A Danish Girl today and was deeply moved. This story of love and art earns my vote for best picture, actor, actress, and director. Okay, I admit: I’ve only seen a handful of movies this year that weren’t animated or didn’t star robots, and I have a soft spot (or is that a hard spot?) for movies about gender ID issues. I am also a really tough critic when it comes to movies: 90 percent of them disappoint me. This one surprised and stirred me from beginning to end. I weeped copiously. It’s a deeply feminist and humanist movie. The relationship between the two Danish girls is complicated and deep, and they are played superbly by Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. Plus, it’s a true story, and the 1920s styles and European landscapes are to die for.
Marissa Paternoster has a great rock’n’roll voice. The lead singer of New Jersey garage rock trio Screaming Females (ie the screaming female of the Screaming Females) stretches vowels like they’re taffy, pinching and shaking them with a piercing vibrato. In their cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” for the AV Club Undercover, “off” becomes a bellow and a solo. It’s the opposite of Tay-Tay’s thin reed, though the energy of this version owes a lot to that song’s compositional pop perfection. Plus there’s the way Paternoster holds off on playing her electric guitar until after the silly spoken break — and then rips into it, peeling off a lead as loud and unapologetic as her vocal burrs and the bangs covering half her voice. Yes, she screams with her guitar too. Think Chrissie Hynde, PJ Harvey, Corin Tucker, Johnny Rotten, Mick Jagger, David Johansen.