Face in the Cloud

Hurricane Irma, 9/8/17

There’s a great commercial for something–American Express?–anthropomorphizing everything: portraits, of chic handbags, mundane drain pipes–faces everywhere.

I often see faces in clouds. As the catastrophe, Irma, approaches, a persistent and hypnotic graphic on MSNBC shows the churning. In it I have seen an angry lobster with its tail tucked under, a goldfish with an untidy combover and (for AC) a laughing elephant.

Thoughts (and if you pray, prayers) to Florida, Houston and the surrounding area (decades ago I had a giant bowl of swirled chocolate and vanilla soft serve at a Diary Queen in Port Arthur), the Caribbean, Mexico, and the American West ravaged by wildfires.

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Putting One Paw in Front of the Other


Slow, but steady, Leo turns 15 1/2 today. Happy birthday, dear Schmoo.

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The Boys in the Sand*

Steve Buscemi and Bill Sherwood, NYC, 2/12/86

As the summer of 2017 slips away, like sand sifting though sunburned hands, Metrograph offers “On Fire Island,” six films set on the barrier island sixty miles southeast of Manhattan, known, particularly before gay men and lesbians gained widespread acceptance, for the queer meccas of Cherry Grove and The Pines.

“Parting Glances” (1986), deftly directed by Bill Sherwood (1952-1990), as both a relationship dramedy and an unsentimental look at the AIDS crisis, stars a young, charismatic Steve Buscemi as Nick, an underground rock star facing his mortality.

Andy Warhol and Chuck Wein’s very funny, very campy “My Hustler” (1965), features a trio–a middle-aged queen, his female neighbor and an aging male prostitue–enjoying their deck chairs as they compete for the attention of plantinum-blonde “Dial-a-Hustler” hunk Paul America.

Broadway dancer and director Wakefield Poole’s “Boys in the Sand” (*from which I stole its punning headline) created a sensation “when he and producer Marvin Shulman opened their gay adult feature at the 55th Street Playhouse in NYC in 1971. Starring Casey Donovan in three sexual vignettes, the film made Fire Island an international tourist destination and introduced gay sex positivity to straight audiences.”  It screens with Fire Island ’79, directed by Todd Verow and Patrick McGuinn.

The two other films in the series are “Sticks and Stones” (1970), directed by Stan Lopresto, and Frank Perry’s “Last Summer” (1969).

“On Fire Island” opens today at Metrograph and runs through Sunday, August 13.

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Jeanne Moreau 1928-2017

Jeanne Moreau, Jury President, 33rd Berlin International Film Festival, backstage before the awards ceremony, 3/1/83

To honor the great Jeanne Moreau, who died on Monday at 89, Film Forum is showing the new restoration of Louis Malle’s film noir masterpiece, “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958), which propelled her to international film stardom. Malle, however, always rejected credit for Moreau’s elevation, saying that when the film was released, she had already been “recognized as the prime stage actress of her generation,” cast at the Comédie Française in her 20s, and had appeared in B-movie thrillers with Jean Gabin, films not unlike “Elevator to the Gallows.”

New Yorker critic David Denby has described the film, “Moreau’s nocturnal wanderings are made unbearably poignant by an exquisite Miles Davis jazz score that became famous in its own right… The street scenes, the bizarre, anomalous adventures that Moreau has on her nighttime quest, the anarchic kids who just pick up and go—all this looks forward to the New Wave.”

“Elevator to the Gallows” will screen at Film Forum through Thursday, August 17.

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A Schlemiel Becomes A Mensch

Portrait: Robin Holland; Poster design: Brandon Schaefer/Jump Cut

Experienced documentarian Joshua Z Weinstein’s first fiction film, “Menashe,” a universal story of profound paternal love, but set in the insular Borough Park, Brooklyn Hasidic community, fully succeeds in looking at this world with “an ethnographic, sociological lens,” and in merging the messiness of real life with fiction. Shot surreptitiously within the religious enclave depicted in the film, “Menashe” is one of a very few productions to have been performed in Yiddish in 70 years.

Inspired by the life story of the amazingly talented non-professional lead actor, Menashe Lustig, 38, the film remains true to his emotional experience. (Weinstein says , “Menashe looks so proud and yet so sad at thee same time.”) But it hews only as close to actual events as necessary.

Widowed for less than a year, sloppy Menashe, a goofy grocery store clerk, is losing custody of his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), a beautiful boy, to the child’s successful (and judgemental) uncle and his wife because, according to religious law, he must live in a home with a mother. It is a week before Menashe’s late wife Lea’s memorial service and his sympathetic rabbi (The Ruv), allows the boy to stay with his father in his spartan apartment for the period. Rieven and Menashe stumble into a true closeness.

And even though Menashe dramatically bungles his dinner to honor Lea after the service at the cemetery, he shows his community that he’s ready to take on the responsibilities required to raise his beloved son.

“Menashe” will open on Friday, July 28 at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema. There will be a Q&A with director Joshua Z Weinstein at Angelika after the 8:10 pm shows on Friday, and Saturday, July 29, and the director will be joined for a Q&A by star Menashe Lustig on Sunday, July 30 after the 5:00 pm show. Weinstein will be at Lincoln Plaza for a Q&A after Friday and Saturday’s 6:25 pm shows, and with Lustig on Sunday, following the 2:15 pm show.

Menashe Lustig and Joshua Z Weinstein, NYC, 3/2/17

I always enjoy working in my studio to realize the ideas an agency, art director and client have for a film poster. But shoots are rarely perfect. “Menashe” was perfect–the rapport and humor shared by everyone in the room, on both sides of the camera, and the results we all achieved. Thank you so much, Stephen Garrett and Greta Read (Jump Cut ) and Graham Retzik (and all) at A24. Looking forward to the next time.

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Pinching the Mums (Stillwater Diary)

Marigolds, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/17/17

My wonderful, clever mother, Doris, grew up in a small, three-story apartment building, owned by her parents, on New Main Street in south Yonkers. My grandfather’s tailor shop (a child’s wonderland) occupied the ground floor.

When my parents bought their starter (and only) house, on the suburban side of town, Mom proved to have green thumbs, and annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees soon colonized our small lot. My father, Hal, a Bronx boy, grew beefsteaks and cherry tomatoes.

Mom’s sister, Edie, and her family, bought a similar house in the development (created for the Greatest Generation, their wives and their baby Baby Boomers), a five-minute ride from us (no one considered walking). She was less of a horticulturist. With few options for flowers in that first fall, the sisters both bought mums. On the phone with Edie, Mom advised deadheading (which sounds like following Jerry Garcia & Co.), which she called  pinching, to encourage blooming until a hard frost.

Maybe, because as an aunt, Edie had so often taken a chubby bit of my (or Babette’s) cheeks lovingly between her thumb and index finger, she applied the same maneuver to the mums, leaving the expired flowers slightly dented, but in place. When Mom discovered the misunderstanding, a family joke (with endless teasing) took root.

This spring in Stone Ridge we planted lots of orange for the hummingbirds (who prefer the sugar water in the flying saucer-shaped feeder)–an extravagant double hanging begonia, a Cuphea “Vermillionaire” and marigolds. The latter require deadheading (and their pots, a bit of weeding to remove the perkiest of all volunteers, purple basil seedlings). I love the marigolds’ very specific fragrance, a smell of summer, movingly redolent (like tomato leaves) of my childhood backyard.

Marigolds, Stone Ridge, NY, 6/17/17

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Jonah Is 42

Alain Tanner, Geneva, 12/11/82

The great Swiss director Alain Tanner, who debuted his first feature in 1969 (“Charles, Dead or Alive”) at age 40, subsequently created a “radical body of work that bristles at the numbing neutrality and status quo monotony of his native country, a cinema full of rebels, outcasts, and dropouts, where the presiding mood is one of driftlessness and anxious ambivalence.”

“Alain Tanner,” an eight-film retrospective at Metrograph, includes “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in The Year 2000” (1976), one of Tanner’s masterpieces from that decade–“La Salamandre” (1971) will also screen–which was co-written with John Berger. A diverse group of eight Genevans, still clinging to the idealism of May 1968 in the mid-70s, get together on a rural retreat to imagine a world beyond shiny consumer culture. French film critic Serge Daney wrote it’s “a didactic film with no lesson to teach, an encyclopedic film with no conclusion.”

The hypnotic “In the White City” (1983) stars the incomparable Bruno Ganz as Paul, a Swiss sailor who jumps ship in Lisbon and rents a room, with no plans to resume his real life, or to do much of anything. He starts a romance with Rosa, a young chambermaid (Teresa Madruga, very affecting) and sends Super-8mm “letters” home to his baffled wife.

The five other films included in the retrospective, which opens today and runs through Sunday, July 23, are “Middle of the World,” “A Flame in My Heart,” “Charles, Dead or Alive,” “Light Years Away” and “Messidor.” All of the films will be shown in 35mm.

“The Big Chill,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan, opened the 21st New York Film Festival in 1983. I remember, maybe incorrectly, that the party was on the stage of the New York State Theater (since re-named for a conservative monster). The event was packed. Someone introduced me to one of the stars of the film, Jeff Goldblum. He’s James Comey-tall and I came up to his waistband. Making polite conversation, he asked what I thought of the film. I was very young, still considering my opinions of interest to everyone, and replied with now cringe-worthy authority, “Well, the good film in the genre is “The Return of the Secaucus Seven.” And probably screaming in the very noisy space, I continued, “And the great film in the genre is “Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000.” He seemed to agree and because the party was so crowded, in several seconds, simply by standing still, I was no longer near him.

The next morning I woke up, deeply embarrassed, without even vodka to blame for my brazenness. Deciding I needed a gray cardigan sweater, I walked to agnès b. in Soho. The women’s and men’s clothes were then in the same store. Finding the women’s stuff too floraled and/or fluffy, I climbed the spiral staircase to look as the men’s selection (French men aren’t big), and as I reached the top, heard my name called out enthusiastically. Jeff Goldblum was sitting (with Tom Berenger) on the small sofa. Laughing, he shut down my apologies (but we did reminisce about “meeting cute” when in later years,  I photographed him twice, once individually and once with the rest of the cast of “The Life Aquatic”). The saleswomen who had found me invisible now swarmed about with offers of assistance. I took home a gray cotton cardigan sweater.

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