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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12 Years Before Our Very Eyes

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater has said that the true subject of film is time, “If cinema was a painting, time would be the paint itself.”*

In Linklater’s wondrous epic, “Boyhood,” shot for three days each year for 12 years, the movie magic is real as Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a cherubic six-year-old grows into a watchful young artist and college freshman eager to grab his future.

“Boyhood,” unlike any other film, examines both the hard-won and inevitable changes that affect Mason, his divorced mother (Patricia Arquette), older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei–the only cast member the director was entirely confident would be available each year) and his father (Ethan Hawke).  The routines and rhythms of daily life, specific to this family yet universal, feel honest, and have their own beauty.

“Boyhood” will have a sneak preview on Thursday, July 10 in New York at the IFC Center and the BAM Harvey Theater (giant, gorgeous screen) and open on Friday, July 11, adding Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles.  There will be Q&As and intros with Linklater and Coltrane on July 10, 11 and 12 .  Click on the theaters’ links for more info.

To read Sean Axmaker’s fascinating interview with Linklater for Fandor’s Keyframe, click here.

*(For me, the true subject of photography is light.)

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“Hedwig,” From SqueezeBox! to Broadway: How Far the Culture Has Traveled

“Hedwig” (the film): Katie Roumel, producer; John Cameron Mitchell, director, writer and actor; Christine Vachon, producer; and Stephen Trask, writer and composer

John Cameron Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” started life in a drag club, as a 30-minute version of what would become the famous musical, a tryout about as far off-Broadway as it gets.  It was 1994 and Mitchell had been discussing his ideas for a show with his friend and soon-to-be collaborator, Stephen Trask, composer and musician, whose gigs included leading the house band at SqueezeBox! and who arranged for Mitchell to first incarnate Hedwig, the “internationally ignored songstress,” on the club’s stage.

In 1998 the show opened at The Jane Street Theatre, a strange place on the West Side Highway in the meatpacking district when the area was known for hanging carcasses, hookers and transsexuals, rather than today’s high-end boutiques, restaurants and the Standard Hotel.  “Hedwig” rapidly found its adoring audience.  And the film followed in 2001, with Mitchell directing and reprising his role as the East German transsexual girl rocker, betrayed by Tommy Gnossis, the boyfriend who stole her songs.

Twenty years after SqueezeBox!, Mitchell and Trask’s show is on Broadway, Hedwig incarnated by Neil Patrick Harris (who won the 2014 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical), bringing its ideas about love, gender identity, types of performance and rock and roll to a big, world audience, which seems as ready as not.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will screen on Monday, July 7th, 8:00 pm, part of  Queer/Art/Film’s “Summer of Drag” series at the IFC Center.  The film was chosen by guest presenters, the queens of Brooklyn’s Bushwig festival, including founders Simon Leahy and Matty Beats.  The screening will be followed by a Q&A and an after-party at Julius, New York’s oldest gay bar.

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Frozen

Bong Joon Ho

Bong Joon Ho

Ignore that everyone in Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer” seems dubbed and that the story is a conventional take on its subject–the oppressed rising up against the powerful.  It’s the wildly inventive, eye-popping visuals–gorgeous sets, FX, clever costuming–that make the film a must-see.

In an apocalyptic miscalculation, an attempt to reverse climate change turns the dial 180° and the earth is plunged into a second ice age forcing the small band of survivors to live on a sealed train, endless circling the frozen planet.

The poor, who boarded with no possessions and less status, live in near monochrome in the windowless caboose/slum, and are severely cramped, malnourished (subsisting on “protein blocks”), cold and dirty.  The wealthy live in splendor, all their needs serviced in the elegant (albeit narrow) train cars–sushi bar, disco, swimming pools, sauna, beauty salon, food cars (greenhouse, aquarium and abattoir), hospital, tailor and a school for their children.  And all is powered by the lead car, “the eternal engine,” run by its creator and the train’s absolute authority, Wilford (Ed Harris), whose quarters are sumptuous.

But seventeen years after the boarding, a young hero, Curtis (Chris Evans), rises and leads a rebellion to liberate the inhabitants of the tail section, pushing forward to ferociously battle security forces commanded by Mason (Tilda Swinton sporting an array of prostheses, a wig and oversized 80s glasses) in an attempt to capture the engine.

“Snowpiercer,” to date South Korea’s most expensive film ($40+ million) may hold its own against the American summer blockbusters made for many multiples of its budget, but it’s ultimately less interesting than Bong’s earlier films “The Host” (2006) and “Mother” (2009).  Stream them for genuine genre excitement.

“Snowpiercer” will open in select cities on Friday, June 27, including New York, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center (with a Q&A with Bong Joon Ho at the 6:15 pm screenings on Friday and Saturday), and Los Angeles and will expand on Wednesday and next Friday.

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