A Great Read for the Dark Season: Bureau’s Winter Issue

The new issue, Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015, of founder and editor-in-chief Joshua Triliegi’s Bureau of Arts and Culture, is 250 gorgeous pages, with four knockout covers. When I first downloaded it, because I had recently seen “Blade Runner” again (great as ever), what I flashed on was Edward J. Olmos, saying to a triumphant (albeit bloodied and “finished”) Harrison Ford, “You’ve done a man’s job, sir.” (And although I’m a card-carrying feminist, I feel no need to insert gender-neutral nouns into the famous quote.)

Bureau’s winter issue is stuffed with articles on, interviews with, and work by painters, sculptors, writers, musicians and photographers (including Magnum greats Dennis Stock and Rene Burri).  Surfing (page 210) is featured too–Bureau originates out of L.A.–with a visit to San Clemente, Greg Noll territory.  (I was thrilled to photograph Da Bull on an East Coast beach a few summers ago).  And I’m so pleased that the issue features my second “New York Style” column (page 66 and ↓).

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Pomme de Bois

Emmanuelle Devos

Emmanuelle Devos

Unlike Ebba in “Force Majeure” and Nica in “The Loneliest Planet,” Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos), doesn’t experience a sudden jolt, a shocking action, which leads to a wrenching reassessment of her partner’s character.  For Pomme, in writer and director Sophie Fillières’ “If You Don’t, I Will,” it’s the slow buildup over time of seemingly insignificant words, actions, events, that leads to the breakdown  in her relationship with long-time partner Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) and propels her flight into the woods where they were hiking.  For Pomme it’s what familiarity breeds and all that.

Frequent co-stars Devos and Amalric’s portrayal of a sophisticated couple in Lyon resisting the inevitable end is sad and honest. Trying to orchestrate spontaneity, Pierre proposes champagne at home in the afternoon. But finding none cold, puts a bottle into the freezer on a quick-chill setting and it explodes. The scene with the two carefully licking the Gallic slushy from the shards is oddly funny and oddly moving.

After walking away from Pierre (and the bickering) into the Chamoiselle Forest, Pomme spends her time in the enormous quiet, feeling the basics–cold, hunger, fatigue–and reimagining her life.  She leaves after several days and stays briefly in a small hotel but she recognizes that it’s a false start and walks back into the woods.

Finding a large, sheltered hole, she makes it her home and when a young, sweet-faced chamois (a goat-antelope species), slides down and is trapped, she lifts it up and out, saving its life.  And emerging from the woods for a second time, Pomme goes home to her comfortable apartment and her husband, changed.

“If You Don’t, I Will” will open on Wednesday, December 17 at Film Forum for a two-week run.

Mathieu Amalric

Mathieu Amalric



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Tip Top (As in Excellent)

Serge Bozon, NYC, 3/14/14

Serge Bozon, NYC, 3/14/14

Director Serge Bozon’s “Tip Top,” a police procedural–wrapped up in an absurdist farce, with incisive social commentary, and some comical rough sex tossed in–stars an authoritative Isabelle Huppert as an Internal Affairs Chief Superintendent, and a hilariously frumpified Sandrine Kiberlain, as her assistant, hidden behind giant 80s glasses and wearing an oversized, shapeless fisherman’s sweater

Esther Lafarge (Huppert) and Sally Marinelli (Kiberlain) are assigned to investigate the murder of Farid Benamar, an Algerian informant, who had aided the local police in Villeneuve, near Lille.  The women are greeted with arrehension and only partially concealed contempt at the precinct, particularly by Captain Robert Mendès (François Damiens), who’d worked most closely with Benamar and has a new informant-in-training, Younès (Ayman Saïdi) whom he’s trying to keep under wraps.

Lafarge characterizes her job, “Fallout is our domain.  And protocol even more.” She punctuates her interviews with the police and the dead’s man’s widow by banging on things, hard (people jump), reminiscent of  the ferocity of Jean-Pierre Leaud popping in, asking “un aperitif?” in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Detective.”

Adopting Sally, self-described as gawky, as her protégé,  Lafarge sends her to a bar frequented by Algerian men to try to suss out the identity of Mendès’ new informant. There she meets Younès, who, instantly smitten with Sally, dances for her to 3 Hürel’s irresistible “Ve Ölum,” the sequence a crazed homage to Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail.”

As the investigation proceeds, two more bodies turn up,  Younès disappears, Lafarge is briefly removed from the case (“private behavior incompatible with police ethics”–the same notation that appears in Sally’s file), then reinstated (“her fairness is distinctive”). Mendès also becomes infatuated with Sally and realizes he needs Lafarge to root out the lethal corruption in his force.

Everything in “Tip Top” is way off, operating in a reality of its own: the way people dress (Mendès’ ubiquitous, ill-fitting black leather blazer, LaFarge’s Pan Am blue stewardess suit); speak (at cross purposes, much too fast, Mendès’ Arabic malapropisms, tactlessly); move (in sync, as if choreographed or unable to stay seated, slide off the top of a desk); and the lighting (washed out, harsh, often unjustified).  But by the time Huppert is catching blood drops dripping from a  slow-to-heal cut on the bridge of her nose (inflicted by her violinist husband  during a night of passion) with her tongue, the world created by Bozon is so immersive that it all seems normal.  And, have I said, really funny?

“Tip Top” will open at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Francesca Beale Theater on Friday, December 12 for a one-week run and will expand nationally in January and February 2015.

Serge Bozon, NYC, 3/14/14

Serge Bozon, NYC, 3/14/14

12/12.  Just looked at my notes from the first time I saw “Tip Top,” when it screened as part of the Film Society’s 2014 edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. I’d scribbled a potential title for a future post: “One Hits, The Other Doesn’t.”

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The Birds and The Beavers (Stillwater Diary)

Stone Ridge, NY, 11/14

Stone Ridge, NY, 11/14

Beavers are horrifically efficient.  They start gnawing at a the base of a tree, 20, 30, 40 feet high, soon felling it for the prize they’re after, tender shoots near the top, food for their young.  Other bits build the lodge.  The first year we noticed the beavers, they had already taken down 20+ trees above the Esopus.  We called  Michael, the forester, also a trapper.  He located the lodge and one adult he caught looked like a cartoon–a paddle-shaped tail that was almost rubber and two prominent front teeth, flat and yellow as the keys on a rotting piano.  But what made me sad was what beavers are prized for–fur so soft that Leo and Ryder’s, by comparison, feels like sandpaper.

We read that stirring sand into paint and applying the mixture thickly to the area of destruction short circuits the manic chewing–beavers apparently don’t like the crunch any more than I like getting sand in my mouth from inadequately soaked steamers. And although the trees initially look funny with two-toned bark–but you really have to know to notice (forest for the trees, or maybe it’s the reverse)–the color soon blends.

But although we saved the big hemlock (and a smaller oak), the furry beasts weren’t done and last week clear-cut a resurgent stand of about a dozen five-foot-tall hemlocks, that had battled back from wooly adelgid attack. I’ll take some of the boughs the beavers left and deck the halls.  And call the trapper.

(File all of the above under “it’s stressful in the country too.”)

But had it not been for the chomped hemlock, I might not have seen the nearby fishbone still life left by (I’m all-but-certain) an eagle.  We spot eagles all along the creek, there’s a nest on DEP land across the water and several at the Reservoir.

A few years ago as I walked to the Esopus I thought a deer was galloping behind me from out of the woods, but it was an eagle flapping its magnificent wings, and when it reached me, thrillingly flying fewer than 10 feet up.  It was enormous, with a gorgeous white head.  And I thought of birdmeister Sean (expert in all things avian) telling Babette how to distinguish a juvenile (before it has a white head) from other raptors,  “If it’s an eagle, it’s like there’s a Buick sitting in your tree.”

Stone Ridge, NY, left to right, 11/14 and 12/14

Stone Ridge, NY, left to right, 11/14 and 12/14

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These Women’s Army

Talya Lavie and Dana Igvy, NYC, 11/26/14

Talya Lavie and Dana Igvy, NYC, 11/26/14

The young female soldiers in writer/director Talya’s Lavie’s super smart and very funny debut feature, “Zero Motivation,” are finding themselves.  Finding themselves in the middle of nowhere (working in the administration unit–secretarial work–at the remote Shizafon Base in Israel’s desert south), finding a way to deal with tedium and absurdity, trying to find a route to a posting in Tel Aviv, trying to find friendship and love (or at least a cure for virginity).

Think M*A*S*H (with women as the main characters) grafted onto a coming-of-age story grafted onto what dinner was like growing up in my family with three very verbal, opinionated members (my mother, Babette and me).

But that’s just shorthand.  There’s much more to Lavie’s unique film, which began with ideas she had during her military service for making “an army movie with the pathos and epic proportions of classic war films, but about the gray, mundane experience…of most girls during their two years of service.”

Zohar Ben-Ari (an amazing Dana Ivgy, two-time Israeli Best Actress Academy Award winner), kibbutz-raised, strong, sarcastic, prickly, endearing, the platoon’s Postal NCO, and her girlier, sassy and willfully inept best friend, Daffi (Nelly Nagar), assigned the made-up position of Paper & Shredding NCO, spend their days trying to top their own Mine Sweeper records on all of the office’s computers.  Their total lack of initiative and constant insubordination frustrate their commanding officer, Rama (Shani Klein), a go-getter with dreams of a big career in the military.  The other unit members, tough, Russian-born Irena and pop twins (endlessly singing duets), red-headed Liat, and Livnat, hidden behind Buddy Holly glasses, are minimally harder-working.

The film is divided into three “Stories”: “The Replacement,” “The Virgin,” and “The Commander.”  Daffi struggles to get re-assigned to Tel Aviv, viewing becoming an officer as her best shot, and only makes it through the intensive training by envisioning herself striding across the city’s boulevards, toward the mall, in a uniform accessorized with stilettos.  Zohar, angrily left behind, tries to act seductive in her fatigues (the khaki of the uniforms is the most vibrant color in the base and its moonscape desert surroundings–even a camel is beige). Rama strives for a promotion.

Nothing works out as planned.  But when Zohar and Daffi (who has–tearfully–returned to the base as the administration unit’s new commanding officer) take each other on in a wild shootout with staple guns (“the most precious things in this office”), destroying the room, the computers and with them, months of unbacked-up work in the base’s new computer system, the disaster works out just right.  What the military dishes out,  intended as punishment/demotion, is exactly what Zohar and Daffi were longing for.

“Zero Motivation” will open on Wednesday, December 3 at Film Forum for a two-week run.  Talya Lavie and Dana Igvy will be in person at the 7:15 pm shows on December 3, 4 and 5.   A national release will follow.

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Someday December 1st Will Just Be December 1st

Bob Wilson, NYC, May 1988 ("I've made panels for approximately 30 friends.")

Bob Wilson, NYC, May 1988 (“I’ve made panels for approximately 30 friends.”)

Cleve Jones, long-time gay rights activist, had the idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1985 and in Nadine C. Licostie’s new film, “The Last One,” he lovingly shows a quilt he had as a child, made by his great-grandmother from his great-grandfather’s pajamas.  “At an early age, to me, a quilt embodied family love and not throwing anything away.”

In San Francisco in June of 1987, Jones organized the NAMES Project Foundation with Mike Smith and other activists.  Says Jones in the film, “If we were a community, now was the time to show it.”   Enraged by the mounting death toll and with a profound need to memorialize those lost lives and to force the homophobic Reagan administration to acknowledge the crisis and fund treatment research, the Quilt’s founders staged its inaugural display on October 11, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  There were 1,920 panels, the beginning of a public art work of great beauty and deep emotion, and with the reading of the names, as Smith says, the Quilt “defines a sacred space.”

The Quilt has expanded to approximately 48,000 panels and “The Last One” details its evolution.  Recognizing that the South is seeing a disproportionate share of the 50,000+ new cases of AIDS diagnosed each year in the United States, the Foundation moved from San Francisco to Atlanta in 2002.

Patricia Nalls, a long-time AIDS survivor, who lost both her husband and a very young daughter to AIDS, began a support group for other HIV+ women, which grew into the Women’s Collective in Washington, D.C.  “Most of the women we serve are single, head-of-household and African-American. ”  Echoing Jones, “the Quilt was created to be a weapon in the war not only against a disease but the cruelty and bigotry the disease exposed,” Nalls, a deeply compassionate woman, adds that “the stigma can be as bad as the disease.”

In July 2012, the Quilt returned to the National Mall as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and a panel delivered anonymously in 1987, which simply says, “The Last One,” was held up at the ceremony, as a future without AIDS could finally be imagined.

“The Last One” is available on iTunes, beginning today, December 1, World AIDS Day.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, May 1988

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, May 1988

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, May 1988

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, May 1988

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, May 1988

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, May 1988

On the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend in 1988, I traveled with my good friend (and much-admired colleague), writer Jeff Weinstein, to document the unfolding and display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta for a Village Voice cover story.  In New York a week earlier we had visited the very busy quilt-making workshop at the (then-named) Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.

The Voice has done an even less than haphazard job of digitizing its archive but Jeff’s remarkable piece, worth searching out, is included in a fascinating book, “Art in the Public Interest,” edited by Arlene Raven, Ann Arbor UNI Research Press, 1989.

During the early years of the pandemic, I winced if my phone rang around 4:00 pm on a Friday.  I didn’t need still-to-be-invented caller ID to know it was the Voice’s photo department, phoning to ask if I had a portrait to accompany an obit for yet another essential person, lost to AIDS.

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Jane, Tess, the Cat, the Bear, the Angel (And the Others)

Nastassja Kinski and Hunter Carson, Holly Beach, LA, 11/27/83

Nastassja Kinski and Hunter Carson, Holly Beach, LA, 11/27/83

I went to a Diary Queen in Port Arthur, TX, with Nastassja Kinksi.  She was 23 and wearing soupcan rollers in her hair, which didn’t diminish that she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen.  The other customers and the kids behind the counter stared at her (just as everyone had in the general store with the mostly empty shelves in Holly Beach, LA).  She initially seemed not to notice, but halfway through her soft-serve speculated that maybe it was the rollers, maybe she should have worn a scarf over them.

The next day she shot Jane’s beautiful and emotional “Paris, Texas” monologue.

Wim Wenders’ Palme d’Or-winner and eight other films starring Kinski (including James Toback’s “Exposed,” Paul Schrader’s “Cat People,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “One From the Heart” and Roman Polanski’s “Tess”) will screen in the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s retrospective, “Nastassja Kinski: From the Heart.”

The series, at the Walter Reade Theater, opens Thursday, November 27, and runs through Wednesday, December 3.  Intro by and Q&A with Nastassja Kinski for “Paris, Texas,” on Sunday, November 30, at 7:30 pm.  James Toback will introduce and participate in a Q&A for “Exposed” on Friday, November 28, at 8:30 pm.  Toback will moderate a discussion with Kinski after the screening of “Tess” on Saturday, November 29, at 4:00 pm.

James Toback, NYC

James Toback, NYC

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