There Will Be Mud (Stillwater Diary)

Early spring, March/April 2014, Stone Ridge, NY

Early spring, March/April 2014, Stone Ridge, NY

Mud season, early spring’s insistent sibling–not my favorite, although oddly photogenic.  I prefer May, June, warmer, my Kwanzan cherry and rhododendrons in bloom.  And there’s a masterpiece by Ozu, “Late Spring,” starring the sublime Setsuko Hara.

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If I Were Doing the Hiring…

John Turturro

John Turturro

John Turturro’s fifth film as writer and director, “Fading Gigolo,” has a warm glow, as if it had been shot through honey, and tells a sweet story.  But to slightly adapt what my friend Jeff countered when I offered, “But he’s nice,” in defense of a mutual acquaintance: “Just nice indicates a personality stripped of other more interesting attributes”–sweet, too, is often unsatisfying.

Old friends Fiorvante (Turturro) and Murray (Woody Allen), the type of middle class New Yorkers that the city is abandoning (and will be poorer without), are struggling financially. Murray is closing his rare book store and Fiorvante, although he has an elegant eye for flowers and arrangements, is fearful his florist shop will also be shuttered soon.

But Murray has a plan to ease their economic instability.  Relaying his lovely derma- tologist’s confidence that she and a friend are seeking a man for a ménage à trios, he convinces an initially skeptical Fiorvante that he has what it takes.  And a ho is born.

Percentage wise, there are more working girls on the screen than on the street and invariably the fictional prostitutes are gorgeous and on display.  The johns are average, if not sweaty slobs. (Major exception: Richard Gere.)

In “Fading Gigolo” the looks roles have been reversed.  The clients are gorgeous: Sharon Stone, beautiful, of course, and she’s got gams, which figure prominently;  Sofia Vergara, working her high-end lingerie and Christian Louboutin sky high heels; and Vanessa Paradis, miscast as a widowed Hassidic Rebbetzin (even less believable as an Orthodox Jew than Renée Zellweger).  But Turturro (undeniably a great actor, appealing in many ways), and here kind, loyal, affectionate–and less undressed than the women–is boyfriend material. But if I were hiring my taste would run to Viggo (not “Virgil”–as Fiorvante rechristens himself when he assumes his new persona), Benicio, Olivier M., Daniel, or as a colleague volunteered, Mads. 

At the screening I attended, a famous (male) TV critic sitting in my row, laughed with delight at a character’s mishearing of acidic/Hassidic.  And I’ve read men, including the perennially funny ex-Ethicist (he’s still a good person, but no longer writes the column for the Times), Randy Cohen, in a description of his newest “Person, Place, Thing” podcast, a conversation with John Turturro, call the film very funny.  I respond readily to humor (Randy once referred to me as “an easy laugh”) but while the film has warmth (notably provided by amazing actress Tonya Pickins in a small role) to go with its sweetness, I  noticed few real laughs.  Maybe “Fading Gigolo” is a boy thing.

“Fading Gigolo” will open in theaters on Friday, April 18.

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Adam and Eve: World Without End

Jim Jarmsuch, , NYC, Centuries Ago

Jim Jarmsuch, , NYC, Centuries Ago (8/10/84)

Centuries-married and still in love, bed-head coiffed vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are living separately in Detroit and Tangier.  Sensing that her virtuoso musician husband, finding the modern world a bad fit, is depressed, she methodically books a red-eye.  Shortly after her arrival, the joy of their reunion is marred by the arrival of her rambunctious younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whom they haven’t seen in 87 years.  As the situation deteriorates, they flee his home for hers.

The highly entertaining “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a Jim Jarmusch film and has all the elements that characterize his unique work–deadpan humor, great music (here including Yasmine Hamdan and Jarmusch playing guitar for Adam), hipster characters, gorgeous visuals, particular pacing (lots of long takes) and a relaxed plot.  Much the way Jarmusch, with “Dead Man” (shot by the incomparable Robbie Müller), made the western his own, in his romantic new film, he offers his specific take on the vampire genre–his Adam and Eve are world citizens, loyal friends, and literate adults with a long historical perspective.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” will open on Friday, April 11 at Landmark Sunshine Cinema (with Jim Jarmusch in person for a Q&A after the 5:00 pm show and to introduce the 7:30 pm show), the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the Walter Reade Theater, with a nationwide release to follow.  Today is the last day of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Jarmusch series, “Permanent Vacation: The Films of Jim Jarmsuch.”

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Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Lars von Trier’s “Nympomaniac: Volume I” starts in darkness (the screen is black) with the sounds of water dripping on metal and “Volume II” ends in darkness with the sounds of frantic footsteps running away.  In between Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), self-described nymphomaniac and “bad human being,” rescued from an alley where she’s lying bleeding and taken to his spartan apartment by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), tells the middle-aged bachelor the erotic story of her life.

Joe and Seligman occupy opposite poles of human sexuality.  She’s pure body,  remembers having experienced sexual pleasure in childhood and has obsessively pursued numberless sexual encounters since adolescence, loving only her father (Christian Slater–not the bit of stunt casting that is seems on paper) who immersed the young Joe in the world of nature, and Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) whom she leaves, after she loses the ability to have an orgasm.  Seligman, living with his books and classical music is pure mind–and a virgin.  And although both are speaking in English, they seem dubbed (as does the entire cast), often (intentionally?) affectless.

Von Trier’s new film–and yes, it’s as explicit as reported, but also mostly unsexy–will do little to resolve whether his heroines are powerful or put-upon and it neither confirms nor dispels the charges of misogyny frequently leveled against the great filmmaker/ provocateur.  (Card-carrying member of NOW that I am, I usually vote to acquit, maybe indelibly influenced by my first encounter with von Trier’s women, Emily Watson’s transcendent performance in “Breaking the Waves.”)

Over the credits, in the breathy voice she inherited from her mother, Charlotte Gainsbourg sings, “Hey, Joe.”  Von Trier could have just as easily assigned his leading lady “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”

And in the credits it says “no actors performed sex acts.”  Either that depends on what your definition of sex acts is or bits of the bodies of porn stars and “real stars” were digitally fused to protect the prominent.  And allow me to be facetious–if a body double stood in for the coltish Stacy Martin (who plays the young Joe), I want that person to pretend to be me.

“Nymphomaniac Volume II” opens nationwide today.  “”Nymphomaniac Volume I” is already in theaters and both films are available on demand.

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Adam and Eve at World’s End

Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller

Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller

Filmmaking team Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller’s sui generis documentary about an unspoiled Pacific Ocean island and unsolved murders, “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,” sticks in the memory like a dream.

The story of human habitation of the Galapagos, focusing in on the five-year sojourn (1929-1934) in “paradise” of two German free-thinkers, Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch, is inventively told through a mashup of sources: archival home movies and still photos; a contemporaneous silent (and very strange) narrative film about a she-pirate made by a wealthy ship captain/amateur scientist; voice performances (based on the writings of the prolific protagonists) by actors including Cate Blanchett, Connie Nielsen, Diane Kruger, Thomas Kretschmann and Josh Radnor; interviews with long-time residents of the larger Galapagos island of Santa Cruz (several descendants of settlers who had fled Europe during Hitler’s rise) and gorgeous HD footage of the islands’ flora and fauna.

Ritter, 43, a Berlin doctor and avid reader of Neitzsche, and his lover, Strauch, 28, rejecting the rules and mores of bourgeois society, abandoned their families and arrived at unoccupied Floreana on September 19, 1929.  They trekked inland and cleared jungle, establishing their settlement, which, combining their names, they dubbed Friedo.

Their intentions were to live pure spiritual and intellectual lives.  Ritter, suprememly self-assured, planned to write philosophical treatises, eager to take his place in the pantheon of great thinkers.  But Strauch was soon disillusioned by the reality of their existence, “This Eden is not a place of rest, it’s (more) manual work, less contemplation or spirituality.”  And as Ritter became distant and dismissive (“our relationship deteriorates”),  she found comfort with animals, particular a burro.  In amazing footage, she lifts it up onto its hind legs and holding its front hooves,  the two do something resembling the cha-cha.

After a visit in 1931 by The Velero III, Southern Californian industrialist/patron of science/cellist  Allan Hancock’s research vessel, whose crew included a young entomologist John Garth, Ritter and Strauch’s bold experiment was breathlessly (and often inaccurately) detailed in international newspapers.

The articles inspired Margret and Heinz Wittmer to seek a healthful life for their sickly son Harry, and eager to leave the economic and political upheaval of Germany, arrived on Floreana in late summer 1931.  Ritter and Strauch, infuriated to have neighbors, forced the Wittmers to make their home in a cave, an hour’s walk from Friedo.

But it was the October 1931 arrival of self-styled Austrian Baroness Eloise von Wagner, (with her two younger German lovers), with plans to develop a luxury hotel, Hacienda Paradiso, for visiting yachtsmen, that upended the peaceful possibilities of Floreana.  Described by Strauch as “frivolous yet sinister,” the Baroness (whose luggage included guns), aggressively claimed Floreana as her own, which led to her unexplained disappearance with one of her men and their likely murder in spring 1934.

Shocked by how few people were required to establish “civilization”–or certainly its discontents–in an intended Eden, and after Ritter’s death in November 1934, which Strauch attributed to eating contaminated meat (although Margret Wittmer suspected something more sinister), she returned to Germany.

Alone on the island, the Wittmers survived and suited for life on Floreana, thrived in a fashion, leaving the cave, building a house and a hotel, which is still run by their daughter Floreanita, born on the island in 1937.

Residents of Santa Cruz dismiss the the Ritters and the Baroness’ particular ideas of paradise. Gil De Roy, whose parents immigrated from Belgium to Santa Cruz in 1955, says, “Little town, big hell.”  Friedel Horneman, born to a German mother and Norwegisn father in the Santa Cruz highlands in 1940, said, “Paradise is not a place.  It’s a condition.”

“The Galapagos Affair” will open at Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Friday, April 4, with Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller in person on Friday for a Q&A after the 6:50 pm show and to intro the 9:20 pm show and on Saturday for a Q&A after the 4:15 pm show and to intro the 6:50 pm show.  The film will open in San Francisco on Friday, April 11, Los Angeles on Friday, April 18, and will be followed by a national release.

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Proof of Life (Stillwater Diary)

Stone Ridge, NY  (left: lavender; right: watercress in the Groverkill)

Stone Ridge, NY (left: lavender; right: watercress in the Groverkill)

The watercress in the Groverkill has migrated about 20 feet downstream.  I had worried that it was smothering under this winter’s two+  feet of snow, now hoping it doesn’t drown–the stream, expanding with snowmelt, is deeper and faster-moving than it’s been since the watercress was planted.

The lavender (planted to pretend we’re in Provence–of course it’s a hardier variety) survived, is poking through snow that’s repeated a cycle of melt some/refreeze and is now the consistency of snowcones.

Ferns–some barely the size of my pinkie, some so intensely green it’s as if they’re shouting–are reappearing.  Hi, welcome back.  And I’m even happy to see my nemesis, dandelion, whose tenacity was never in doubt.

Stone Ridge, NY (left: dandelion; right: fern)

Stone Ridge, NY (left: dandelion; right: fern)

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Swedish in Germantown

Gun Nowak in her barn/guest house, Germantown, NY

Gun Nowak in her barn/guest house, Germantown, NY

On a dazzling day in the late fall, before the onset of this winter’s relentless snow and ice, writer and editor Linda O’Keeffe and I traveled to Gun Nowak’s Columbia county farmhouse, to observe, interview and photograph for an article that has just been published in the Spring 2014 edition of Upstate House.

Flame-headed, friendly, funny Gun, who founded FACE Stockholm cosmetics in 1982 and now has 28 stores (including two in upstate New York–Rhinebeck and Hudson), moved to her Germantown house with its 12 acres and a beautiful, ever-changing view of the Hudson and the Catskills in 2005.

Gun did minimal renovation but opened up her 1870s farmhouse, removing several ground-floor interior walls.  Linda writes, “spread over two floors, the 2,500-square-foot space now has an intuitive flow and its logical layout utilizes every nook and recess.”

The decor, “simple, bare-floored” includes living and dining room furniture shipped from Stockholm, antique display cases, large, ornately-framed mirrors resting against walls and Asian artifacts, and marries “exuberance, formality and restraint.”

The property also has a post-and-beam barn which Gun transformed into a guest house (oh, to be a good friend of Gun’s who doesn’t live within a reasonable driving distance), with a wall of west-facing glass, looking toward distinctive Round Top (at 3,400 feet, just shy of qualifying as a Catskill High Peak).

Linda, describes the barn’s abundant light as “almost a structural material,” and quotes Gun, “I asked my contractor to install as many windows as possible, until he made me sign a waiver to say he wasn’t responsible if the whole thing collapsed.”

Left to right: in the living room, a marble-topped desk, Buddha and a Tibetan talisman; the upstairs dressing room with a bistro table and mired folding screen (and Gun's minimal back clothing)

Left to right: in the living room, a marble-topped desk, Buddha and a Tibetan talisman; the upstairs dressing room with a bistro table and mirrored folding screen (and Gun’s elegant, minimal black clothing–exactly my size)

Master bedroom with a "huge mirror that deepens the perception of space"

Master bedroom with a “huge mirror that deepens the perception of space”

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