Passion for Action

Elizabeth Streb

Elizabeth Streb

Fearless dancer/choreographer Elizabeth Streb loves extreme motion and her troupe of strong dancers who offer up their bodies for the realization of shockingly difficult (often dangerous), beautiful feats.

Catherine Gund’s fascinating new documentary, “Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity,” explores the choreographer’s life (beginning with her adoption at age two and admiration for her bricklayer father, his strength and devotion to hard work) and art.

Gund interviews Streb, ex- and current dancers and observes the “extreme action architect” at home in lower Manhattan with partner Laura Flanders, and at her Extreme Action Company studio in Williamsburg.

Footage of decades of performance equally inspires awe and anxiety, particularly Streb’s conquering of “extreme air” during “One Extraordinary Day,” seven surprise, public performances that preceded the London 2012 Summer Olympics.  The dancers used the city’s landmarks, including the Millennium Bridge and the 500-foot London Eye ferris wheel, as launching pads for soaring.  And wearing harnesses, Streb and two of her dancers (in a tribute to legendary choreographer Trisha Brown), seemingly effortlessly strolled down the gorgeous, 10-story glass face of City Hall.

Streb explains, “Skill is being able to navigate the known world, but then being able to throw yourself into an unknown universe and being able to navigate that…in a mostly harm-free way.”

“Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity,” will open Wednesday September 10 at Film Forum for a one-week run, with Catherine Gund, Elizabeth Streb and dancers in person at several shows.  Click on events in the menu bar of Film Forum’s website for details.

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Vote Teachout In

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout

Constitutional law professor Zephyr Teachout, running against Andrew Cuomo in the New York gubernatorial primary (Tuesday, September 9), like Elizabeth Warren, is a Democrat from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.  Cuomo, although he championed marriage equality, has abandoned his progressive base and has become a dino (Democrat in name only and yeah, a dinosaur too).

While I choose to remain an optimist until every vote is counted and root for Teachout to triumph over Cuomo, there’s a genuine possibility that her running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Tim Wu, will defeat Kathy Hochul, who in Congress has behaved as if she were one of Boehner’s minions.  Historically primary turnout is shamefully low (in the last gubernatorial primary, 2006, only 15% of registered Democrats voted), so a very small number of committed people can determine the election.

Progressives Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu would work to curtail the influence of corporate money on New York government, ban fracking and safeguard the environment from oil and gas interests, reverse Cuomo’s deep cuts to public education and tax cuts for banks and billionaires, champion net neutrality and the Dream Act.  And clean up Albany.

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As it Was at “Howards End,” So It Is in This Post (Stillwater Diary)

Clockwise from top left: pear tree, fountain wisteria, hydrangea and bee balm

Clockwise from top left: aristocrat pear tree, fountain wisteria, peegee hydrangea and bee balm

James Ivory’s 1992 film, “Howards End,” was adapted from E.M. Foster’s eponymous 1910 novel–often cited as his masterpiece–dealing with class, property, love and friendship in turn-of-the (last)-century England.

Although I only vaguely recall the details of the story, I (think that I) precisely remember the profusion of flowering plants and the hem of Vanessa Redgrave’s extravagant dressing gown sweeping behind her through a field of bluebells in the dim early morning light.

And at Howards End, everything–wisteria, roses–bloomed simultaneously and seemingly perpetually, in gorgeous, glorious defiance of nature: my ideal garden.  In reality, I had an old wisteria that was a capricious bloomer, flowering some years, balking others, but relentlessly wrapping its tendrils around everything, trying to remove the railing from the deck and the shingles from the house.  Other flowering plants succumbed to Japanese beetles, the omnivorous deer and too much/too little rain, heat, sun.

But this year my flowering trees, shrubs, perennials have been living up to expectations. And in this post, they bloom simultaneously.

Clockwise from top left: kwanzan cherry tree, rhododendron, delphinium, hydrangea

Clockwise from top left: kwanzan cherry tree, rhododendron, delphinium, hydrangea

Clockwise from top left: wild flower, rose of sharon, day lily, rhododendron

Clockwise from top left: wildflower, rose of sharon, daylily, rhododendron

Clockwise from top leftL aristocrat pear tree, columbine, wild cherry tree (in front of a maple), columbine

Clockwise from top left: aristocrat pear tree, columbine, wild cherry tree (in front of a maple), columbine

Clockwise from top left: lilac, kwanzan cherry tree, viburnum mariesii doublefile, wild columbine

Clockwise from top left: lilac, kwanzan cherry tree, viburnum mariesii doublefile, wild columbine

 

I had shot James Ivory and his producer/life partner Ismail Merchant in my studio for the Village Voice which led to an invitation to photograph them (and their screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and composer Richard Robbins) at their elegant 1805 Federal house in Claverack (in New York’s Hudson Vallery).  I wasn’t surprised (and was quite pleased) that their design sensibility for living echoed the art direction of their films.

James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, Claverack, NY

James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, Claverack, NY

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Summer’s Fare

Late summer’s bounty includes tomatoes, corn, peaches, and a day at the 160+-year-old extravaganza in Rhinebeck (even more fun than in previous years because Andrew, Gabrielle, Jonah and Violet went with us).

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck, NY, 8/24/14

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The Company She Keeps

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert

Film critic Jim Hoberman once wrote that Isabelle Huppert was possibly the most essential actor in the world.  The truth of his ostensibly simple statement becomes obvious if you try to re-cast any of Huppert’s monumental and signature roles.

“An Evening With Isabelle Huppert” includes two films featuring her celebrated performances bookending an irresistible pairing–Huppert in conversation with director John Waters (also irreplaceable), who in Artforum in 2013 called her his “favorite actress in the world.”

In Catherine Breillat’s latest film, the semi-autobiographical “Abuse of Weakness” (2013), Huppert plays a director struggling to recover her life and work after a devastating stroke. Preparing to make a new film although still mentally and physically shaky, she casts a charismatic con artist, “swindler of the stars,” Christophe Rocancourt (French/Portuguese rapper Kool Shen).  And in a strange state of simultaneous self-awareness and delusion she becomes obsessed with him, and his victim.

Huppert won the Best Actress prize in Cannes for her fearless portrayal of Erika in “The Piano Teacher” (2001), directed by Michael Haneke, and based on Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, an unnerving exploration of repression, masochism and “the kinky underside of elegance.”

“An Evening With Isabelle Huppert” will take place on Wednesday, July 30, 6:00 pm, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Walter Reade Theater.  The screening of “Abuse of Weakness” will be followed by the Huppert/Waters conversation.  Huppert will introduce the 9:00 pm screening of “The Piano Teacher.”

“Abuse of Weakness” will open on Friday, August 15 in New York for a one-week run at Film Society’s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center and in Los Angeles on Friday, August 22 at Laemmle’s Royal Theater.

Before the first shoot I did with Isabelle Huppert, she required my portfolio to be sent to her in Paris (this was in the dawn of digital days).  And arriving in my studio, she scrutinized my lighting set-up and with approval, sat down to begin our shoot.

Although I had seen Huppert in countless films, when I asked her to lower her head, I suddenly realized how much she looked like Greta Garbo.  I told her and she responded, “I know”–there was no more vanity in her statement than if I acknowledged that I have good photo equipment, just a simple recognition of tools.

That image (top) was included in the spectacular book, “Isabelle Huppert: La femme aux portraits,” which has essays by Elfriede Jelinek, Patrice Chereau and Susan Sontag.  The images in the book were mounted as a traveling show.  In New York at MoMA PS 1, my portrait was hung next to Cartier-Bresson’s and my mother-in-law, Thu Stern, reported that in Paris I was next to Avedon.  Thrilling.

Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat

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The Camo Wall of Silence

Dan Krauss, NYC, 7/24/14

Dan Krauss, NYC, 7/24/14

Arguably war could be described as a society’s collective sociopathy, realized by its military. In director Dan Krauss’ powerful documentary, “The Kill Team,” one of the very young soldiers, an eager participant in atrocities committed by his platoon in Afghanistan, Corporal Jeremy Morlock says, “It was impossible not to surrender to the insanity.”

With extraordinary access (and boundless empathy), Krauss tells two parallel stories–about the horrific violence against civilians and the subsequent trials–focusing on Specialist Adam Winfield, who enlisted in the Infantry in 2009 and “was proud to wear the uniform.” But was unaware that his service would bring him to a place where his conscience and will to survive would do battle.

In November 2009, after the platoon’s sergeant lost his leg to an IED, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs (rumored to have faked “good shoots” against Iraqis and to possess a necklace of souvenir human fingers) replaced him.  Gibbs quickly sensed his soldiers’ frustration, anger, fear and boredom.  They had expected “climbing mountains and firefights everyday, not visiting old dudes” (mullahs) and resented doing work like building wells.  Private First Class Justin Stoner says the war was “not the way everyone hyped it and that’s probably why things happened.”

Aware that platoon members led by Gibbs had killed noncombatants and placed drop weapons, proudly becoming “made men,” Winfield messaged his father (a former Marine) who unsuccessfully tried to contact the military and politicians.

Krauss says, “You learn quickly that if you want to get out of there alive, you must be part of the group.  To step out of the group, to be an individual, is dangerous, as Adam learned.”  On May 2, 2010, having perceived Winfield as a threat, Gibbs involved him in an attack and Winfield knowing that the sergeant would kill him if he intervened chose to save his own life rather than to defend an Afghan civilian, Mullah Allah Dad.

Weeks later Winfield was flown back to Fort Lewis (Washington state) and charged with “the kill team,”  Gibbs, Morlock, and Private Class Andrew Holmes.  Winfield eventually accepted a plea deal carrying a charge of “involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent his fellow soldiers from committing murder” and was sentenced to three years with a bad conduct discharge.

Although other members of the 5th Stryker Brigade knew about “the kill team,” it was an investigation into a beating suffered by Stoner (“snitches get stitches”) after he reported hashish use that led to the discovery of the atrocities.  Credited as a whistleblower (and honorably discharged) he adamantly brushes off the label and says that he’d rather be seen as just a member of the platoon and expressing the odd morality of war, questions, “We’re trained to kill so why are you pissed when we do it?”

“The Kill Team” will open for a one-week run on Friday, July 27 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center with a Q&A with Dan Krauss at 7:15 pm screening on Friday, July 25 (moderated by Mark Boal) and Saturday, July 26.

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Dogs’ Days

Leo and Ryder hit the beach, bay side and ocean side.

Leo, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo (summer blonde), Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder, Bolston Beach, Truro, MA

Leo and Ryder (of Arabia), Ballston Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Leo, Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder and Leo (dogs in the dunes), Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

Ryder and Leo (dogs in the dunes), Fisher Beach, Truro, MA

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