Friday, August 28, 2009


NYFF 2009


The New York Film Festival (NYFF) is always one of the highlights of the year in film. It usually previews a few of the most important films that will be competing for awards at the end of the year (unimportant films also compete for awards, but they'll not be found at NYFF) , and many films that are among the very best of the year from all over the world, and hardly seen at all except at NYFF.

(For example, last year's slate screened Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner The Class and the Academy Award-nominated films The Wrestler, Changeling, and Waltz with Bashir.)

Filmmakers and actors often visit the festival and participate in discussions on stage after the film, (and even, sometimes, casually, outside).

Arnaud Desplechin
Outside Walter Reade Theater last year
Photo by Eric Roffman

Here, above, is Arnaud Desplechin, a quintessential French Director, who made last year's A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noel) (with Catherine Denueve and Mathieu Amalric) outside the Walter Reade Theater last year.

In the many connections among the films from year to year, Amalric was in the 2007 film
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon), and will appear again at the festival, this year in Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) by Alain Renais.

Pedro Almodovar will be back at the festival on closing night. Again, with a film featuring Penelope Cruz. Above: Here's a report from 2006 with Penelope Cruz talking about Almodovar.

(Note -- disclaimer!): I don't know which filmmakers or actors will actually be present this year... when I say they'll be back I only mean that they have a film in the festival).

Juliet Berto
at NYFF 1974
Photo by Eric Roffman

And Jacques Rivette (now 81... Alain Renais, by the way, is 87) will be back with 36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak (36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup). Above is a picture of Juliet Berto in the Green Room at Alice Tully Hall, when she came to the festival for Rivette's Celine et Julie vont en bateau more than 30 years ago. (Berto was a co-writer of that film, and was also in Godard's masterpiece La Chinoise, which was shown recently in the 1968 retrospective by the Film Society. )

Unfortunately, getting tickets to the films is not so easy. Each film is only shown at most twice. And the festival tends to be oversubscribed. Unlike the policy at the The Public Theater, which tries to give away many of their seats free to the public, democratically (but in return for waiting on line really, really early in the morning), access to Film Society tickets are prioritized by the length of time you've been a member of the Film Society, and only after initial orders are taken do other tickets go on sale to the public.

While Alice Tully Hall was undergoing renovations, films were shown at Rose Hall. It's time to take the most oversubscribed films and show them more than twice, perhaps adding screenings at Rose or even Avery Fisher Hall (where opening and closing night films are shown). It's nice that the Film Festival is like a party for those who go every year, but it should also allow more people to participate. I would think that a full house at any of these theaters would more than pay for itself and whatever trouble it would require to schedule extra screenings. Some of the films, of course, go on to commercial screeneings after the festival. Still, I think it's more fun to see them at the festival.

If you do not have a ticket, by the way, there are frequently people who do have extra tickets that they will sell (at face price) or even give away free at the door. There usually are quite a few, so it's worth trying if there's a film you want to see. (And if you do have a ticket you're not using, by all means go to the theater and let someone else use it!)

Note: 9/16 -- It has just been announced that there will be a "Rush Line" this year with at least 50 tickets available for each screening at the Alice Tully Hall box office!

Note 10/1 -- The Festival is providing extra screenings for the most popular sold-out films!


Here is a summary (by the NYFF) of the festival's main event offerings. (In addition to the main event there are several sidebar events, including selections of films from China and from India.) (Note: Check the description of the last film, the Wizard of Oz retrospective, for my favorite line from these previews!)


Opening Night: Alain Resnais' Wild Grass
Centerpiece: Lee Daniels' Precious
Closing Night: Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces

The 47th edition of the New York Film Festival will open with the U.S. premiere of Alain Resnais's Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) and close with Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos). This year's Centerpiece will be Lee Daniels' Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.

In addition this year's festival will include two Masterworks series from China and India, Views From the Avant Garde, and special events.

The Festival returns this year to its renowned home, Alice Tully Hall, beautifully restored and renovated with superb, state-of-the-art sound and projection.

The 17-day NYFF highlights 29 films from 17 countries by celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new independent directors.

This Year's Selections:

A Film Society veteran, legendary French auteur Alain Resnais returns with Wild Grass, his 10th film selected for the New York Film Festival. His film Muriel appeared in the first New York Film Festival in 1963. And recently, Private Fears in Public Places showed at the 44th edition of the Festival in 2006.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the French New Wave and fifty years after his groundbreaking debut with Hiroshima Mon Amour, Resnais delivers a career-crowning masterpiece with Wild Grass, a delightful roundelay based on Christian Gailly's novel The Incident, about the fate-altering ripples triggered by a seemingly ordinary purse snatching. The purse belongs to Marguerite (Resnais' regular, Sabine Azema), a dentist who moonlights as an aviatrix. Its contents are retrieved by Georges (André Dussollier), a married man who soon finds himself infatuated with the purse's owner, even though he hasn't actually met her yet. Add in a couple of keystone cops (hilariously played by Mathieu Amalric and Michel Vuillermoz), some dizzying aerial acrobatics, and the glorious widescreen camerawork of cinematographer Eric Gautier and Wild Grass becomes a uniquely playful meditation on coincidence and desire that suggests Resnais, at age 87, is truly in his prime.

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Lee Daniels' Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, marks the first time the American director has been at the Festival. In his astonishing adaptation of Sapphire's 1996 novel, Daniels unsparingly recounts the horrific life of Clareece "Precious" Jones, an obese, barely literate 16-year-old living in late '80s Harlem who's sexually abused by both her father and mother. But Precious is not just a tale of endless abjection-it's also an exhilarating celebration of a young woman's determination to free herself from the pathologies surrounding her, guided by a teacher who senses her innate talents. Without a trace of easy, unearned sentimentality, Precious might be the most spirit-affirming movie of the year. Bringing this raw, uncompromising material to the screen, Daniels has assembled a remarkable cast: Paula Patton as Precious's devoted teacher, Mariah Carey as a tough yet compassionate welfare officer, fearless newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as Precious, and-most memorably-Mo'Nique as her monstrous mother, which won the actress a Special Jury Prize at Sundance.

Also no stranger to New York audiences, and a true NYFF favorite, Pedro Almodóvar's newest, Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos), marks his eighth film in the New York Film Festival. (Seven of these have either been Opening Night, Centerpiece or Closing Night selections.) Broken Embraces tells the story of a blind screenwriter, living and working under a pseudonym, who learns of the death of a powerful industrialist, triggering a flood of memories that encompass a tale of naked ambition, forbidden love and devastating loss. Moving from Madrid sound stages to the volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands, Almodóvar takes us on a candy-colored emotional roller coaster that barrels from comedy to romance to melodrama to the darker haunts of film noir-with even a salute to the "Making Of..." film along the way. Penelope Cruz has never been better, nor more ravishing, and she's ably aided by Lluis Homar (Bad Education), Blanca Portillo (Volver), and a wonderful newcomer to the Almodóvar stable, Rubén Ochandiano. The luscious cinematography is by Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, Brokeback Mountain).

Rounding out the 2009 slate, The Film Society welcomes a group of well-established alumni back to the New York Film Festival with new features, including Marco Bellocchio (Vincere), Catherine Breillat (Bluebeard), Claire Denis (White Material), Manoel de Oliveira, (Eccentricities of a Blonde), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon), Jacques Rivette (36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak), Todd Solondz (Life During Wartime), Lars von Trier (Antichrist) and Andrzej Wajda (Sweet Rush).

New directors to the Festival include Maren Ade (Everyone Else), Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass), Zhao Dayong (Ghost Town), Samuel Maoz (Lebanon), Raya Martin (Independencia), João Pedro Rodrigues (To Die Like A Man) and Sabu (Kanikosen).

New York Film Festival 2009
September 25 - October 11
Main Slate


Mathieu Amalric in
Wild Grass
Alain Resnais, France, 2009; 113m
Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Sony Pictures Classics

Wild Grass / Les herbes folles
Alain Resnais, France, 2009; 113m
The venerable Alan Resnais creates an exquisite human comedy of manners, mystery and romance with some of France's - and our - favorite actors: Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Almaric. A Sony Pictures Classics release.


Gabourey Sidibe in
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Lee Daniels, USA, 2009; 109m
Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Lionsgate

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Lee Daniels, USA, 2009; 109m
Precious is sixteen and living a miserable life. But she uses all the emotional energy she possesses to turn her life around. Director Lee Daniel's audacious tale features unforgettable performances by Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. A Lionsgate release.


Penelope Cruz in
Broken Embraces
Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2009; 128m
Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Sony Pictures Classics

Broken Embraces / Los abrazos rotos
Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2009; 128m
Almodóvar's newest masterwork is a candy-colored emotional roller that barrels from comedy to romance to melodrama to the darker haunts of film noir and stars his muse, Penélope Cruz, in a multilayered story of a man who loses his sight and the love of his life. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak / 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup
Jacques Rivette, France, 2009, 84m
The legendary Jacques Rivette returns with an elegiac look at the final days of a small-time traveling circus.

Lars von Trier, Denmark, 2009, 109m
Surely to be one of the year's most discussed films, Lars von Trier's latest chronicles a couple's efforts to find their love again after a tragic loss, only to unleash hidden monsters lurking in their souls. An IFC Films release.

The Art of the Steal
Don Argott, USA, 2009, 101m
Bound to be controversial, this intriguing account of the travails of the legendary Barnes collection of art masterworks and the foundation set up to protect it raises vital questions about public vs. private "ownership" of art.

Lola Creton in
Catherine Breillat, France, 2009, 78m
Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Pyramide Films

Bluebeard / La Barbe Bleue
Catherine Breillat, France, 2009, 78m
Two sisters reading Charles Perrault's 17th century tale of perhaps the first "serial killer" becomes a meditation on the enduring fascination with a character who has served as inspiration for countless novels, plays and films.

Crossroads of Youth / Cheongchun's Sipjaro
An Jong-hwa, Korea, 1934, 73m
The oldest surviving Korean film, this recently-rediscovered masterwork will be presented with live musical accompaniment as well as a benshi (offscreen narrator).

Eccentricities of a Blonde
Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/France, 2009, 64m
One hundred years young, director Manoel de Oliveira returns with another gem: a wry, moving tale of a pure if frustrated love adapted from a novel by Eça de Queiroz.

Everyone Else / Alle Anderen
Maren Ade, Germany, 2009, 119m
The ups and downs, joys and jealousies, frustrations and fulfillments of a young couple on a summer holiday provide the premise for this brilliant meditation on modern coupling.

Ghost Town
Zhao Dayong, China, 2008, 180m
A revealing, one-of-a-kind look at China far away from the glittering urban skylines, this portrait of a contemporary rural community in China offers extraordinary insights into everything from the role of religion to gender relationships to the place of social deviants.

Bruno Dumont, France, 2009, 105m
A young woman searches for an absolute experience of faith-and in the process grows increasingly distant from the world around her.

Raya Martin, Philippines, 2009, 77m
Maverick director Raya Martin offers a kind of alternative history of the Philippines and its struggle for nationhood in this stylized tale of a mother and son hiding in the mountains after the US takeover of the islands.

Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Inferno / L'Enfer
Serge Bromberg, France, 2009, 100m
A film buff's delight, Serge Bromberg film resurrects the surviving footage of Clouzot's aborted, experimental film L'Enfer, revealing a slightly mad but beguiling project that will always remain one of cinema's great "what ifs."

Sabu, Japan, 2009, 109m
Kanikosen is a highly stylized, stirring, manga-flavored update of a classic Japanese political novel, with labor unrest aboard a crab canning ship evolving into a cry of a younger generation aching to break the bonds of conformity.

Samuel Maoz, Israel, 2009, 92m
Debut director Samuel Maoz takes us inside an Israeli tank and the emotions of its crew during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz, USA, 2009, 96m
Preparing for his bar-mitzvah, a young man must deal with his divorced mother's prospective fiancé as well as rumors that his own father is not really dead.

Min Yé
Souleymane Cissé, Mali/France, 2009, 135m
A work of startling originality, Souleymane Cissé's first film in over a decade insightfully and incisively chronicles the dissolution of an upper-middle class African marriage.

Mother/ Maedo
Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2009, 128m
Convinced that her son has been wrongly accused of murder, a widow throws herself body and soul into proving his innocence. Kim Hye-ja in the title role gives perhaps the performance of the year.

Ne Change Rien
Pedro Costa, France/Portugal, 2009, 103m
A shimmering valentine, Costa's latest is less a portrait than a kind of visual homage, to the artistry of actor and singer Jeanne Balibar.

Police Adjective / Politist, adj.
Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2009, 115m
Discovering a teenager with hashish, a young policeman hesitates about turning him in. But his supervisor has other ideas in this beautifully acted, provocative modern morality play. An IFC Films release.

Room and a Half / Poltory komnaty ili sentimentalnoe puteshtvie na rodinu
Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Russia, 2009, 131m
Former animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky combines scripted scenes, archival footage, several types of animation, and surrealist flights of fancy to create this stirring portrait of poet Josef Brodsky and the postwar Soviet cultural scene. A Seagull Films release.

Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, 2009, 105m
Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, 2009, 105m
This breathtaking chronicle follows an ever-surprising group of modern-day cowboys as they lead an enormous herd of sheep up and then down the slopes of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana on their way to market.

Sweet Rush / Tatarak
Andrzej Wajda, Poland/France, 2009, 85m
Celebrated master Andrzej Wajda returns with a bold, experimental work that juxtaposes a story about a terminally doctor's wife rediscovering romance thanks with a heart-rending monologue written and performed by actress Krystyna Janda about the death of her husband.

To Die Like a Man / Morrer como um homen
João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal, 2009, 138m
This touching, finely-etched portrait follows Tonia, a veteran drag performer confronting younger competition and her boyfriend's demands that she undergo a sex change.

Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 2009, 129m
Mussolini's "secret" marriage to Ida Dalser, afterwards completely denied by Il Duce, along with the son born from the relationship, becomes the springboard for this visually ravishing meditation on the fascist manipulation of history. An IFC Films release.

White Material
Claire Denis, France, 2009, 100m
Photo Credit: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Wild Bunch

White Material
Claire Denis, France, 2009, 100m
A handful of Europeans try to make sense of-and survive-the chaos happening all around them in an African country torn apart by civil war.

The White Ribbon / Das weisse band
Michael Haneke, Austria/France, 2009, 144m
The Palme d'Or winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival, this is a starkly beautiful meditation on the consequences of violence-physical, emotional, spiritual-in a northern German town on the eve of World War I. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

The Wizard of Oz
Victor Fleming, 1939, USA, 103m
The 70th Anniversary of the timeless classic, presented in a spectacular newly-restored edition makes the film a new experience even for those who practically have it memorized. A Warner Bros. release.

This year the NYFF introduces Masterworks which will feature works from India and China.
- "Re-Inventing China: A New Cinema for a New Society, 1949-1966"
- "A Heart as Big as the World: The Films of Guru Dutt"
Both series will screen at the Walter Reade Theater.

There will also be: Special Events! and Views From the Avant Garde.

(Note: Always remember the Sponsors. Due to the strange way the world works, few artistic endeavors would ever exist without private sponsors.)


The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from 42BELOW, GRAFF, Stella Artois, Illy Caffè, The New York State Council on the Arts, and The National Endowment for the Arts.

The 47th Annual New York Film Festival is sponsored by HBO® Films, The New York Times, and Kodak.
HBO® and related channels and service marks are the property of Home Box Office, Inc.

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While a man may hire a prositute for sex...

According to a storyline in HUNG (on MTV), one of the ways a woman will use a prostitute (aka a "happiness consultant") is to make him care-for/love her and then break up with him to hurt him -- just the way so many men have hurt her by breaking up with her.

This show finds odd and amusing ways to illuminate m/f relationships (and also the mysteries of building a new business).


Thursday, August 27, 2009



When a satisfactory health care bill, giving everyone in the country affordable state of the art health care is passed by Congress, it should honor Senator Kennedy by naming the bill after him, for his career-long efforts on behalf of medical care for all the people of this country.

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Monday, August 24, 2009



Jonathan Groff as Dionysus & The Chorus
in The Bacchae
Photo by Joan Marcus

There’s a terrific production of The Bacchae (Βάκχαι), by Euripides’ (Εὐριπίδης), one of the greatest plays in all classic Greek theater, and indeed all theater, now at Shakespeare in the Park. Anyone with an interest in theater, Greek theater, or, generally, any theater which, remarkably, is as fresh now as if it had just been written, should see this version (playing just till Aug 30). It’s also outdoors, which is a rare connection these days with the ancient performances.

Greek gods often represented personalizations of archetypal human behavior or natural phenomena, or both. They were kind of living metaphors for strong, sometimes complex ideas.

Because the gods were archetypes, respect for the gods meant being respectful of the true nature of man and the power of nature. (Note 1 (disclaimer): This is one point of view. In one sentence. Many whole books have been written about the attitudes of Greeks to their gods.) (Note 2 (somewhat contrary view): See below: JoAnne Akalaitis, the director, takes a different point of view on the relation between the gods and men.)

Greek Gods did not exist a priori, they were created as myths, and the myths were refined by people, especially writers, and in the days of Greek theater, especially playwrights.

The story of Dionysus (aka Bacchus) and the Bacchae – the women followers of Bacchus – as described by Euripides was a combination of his invention with myths and history that were known to the Greeks. Each author that translated or adapted Euripides’ text and every director that staged the play since it was written added their own creative invention.

(Note: In a story about the National Theater of Scotland’s production of The Bacchae at Lincoln Center last year, I discussed in detail some of the alternative approaches to The Bacchae.)

Euripides’ version alludes to many themes associated with the myth of Bacchus:

THEME 1 -- It was a relatively new religion that swept in from the East.

This theme has echoes now in our modern world, where the western world is being tested by fervent promoters of a religion which is coming from the East.

THEME 2 -- Alcohol liberates the spirit, provides comfort – but also can provoke fighting.

This can be amplified to a basic cycle: a spirit of liberation, supported by forces of moderation; which is opposed by a repressive regime; and then there is an element which associates itself with the pacifist spirit, but which is violent.

This duality was certainly a part of the spirit of 1968-69 – the 40th anniversary of which we are celebrating now. It is epitomized by the journey from Woodstock (a festival of peace and love and mud) to Altamont (where, as described in Wikipedia, a member of the audience at a Rolling Stones Concert – one of whose anthems was “Sympathy for the Devil" -- was killed by a member of the Hell’s Angel’s). Or by the journey from the "summer of love" to the Manson murders.


Dionysus in 69
Directed by Brian De Palma & Richard Schechner, US, 1970;
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Richard Schechner

The liberation of the 60’s and its tie to the myth of Bacchus was expressed in the version of this play, Dionysus in 69.

(Note: For a look back, visit the contemporary impressions of Time magazine, and The New York Times -- access to NYT may require registration.)

The Tribe/Chorus
in Hair
Photo by Joan Marcus

It was also expressed (with Pot more than booze as the liberating drug of choice) by Hair.

Interestingly, a terrific production of
Hair is currently playing on Broadway, where it was transferred after originating at Shakespeare in the Park last summer. Hair (especially the first act) could almost be an interpretation of the spirit of the Bacchic revelers in the present age.

Jonathan Groff as Claude
in Hair
Photo by Joan Marcus

It is also interesting – and more than a coincidence I would think – that the current version of The Bacchae, now playing in Shakespeare in the Park features
Jonathan Groff as Bacchus. He also played Claude in last year’s Hair at The Park, and also is part of Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, about the festival.

The current version takes note of, but does not show (much less enjoy) the spirit of liberation. There is no sex, no nudity, no Bacchants in this production. (The chorus may be Bacchants in name, but they do not participate in any Bacchic revels.) The chorus, which in many productions takes the role of the liberated women, here are purely commentators (which they do in an especially rich fashion, as we comment below). The description of liberated women is – except in the scene with Cadmus & Tiresias (Τειρεσίας), who are sympathetic to the revels – almost entirely in terms of how Dionysus has crazed the women, especially the daughters of Cadmus.

Note: Tiresias is the blind seer. Cadmus is the old, retired legendary king of Thebes who has given his crown to his grandson, Pentheus. His daughters are: Semele, the mother of Dionysus; Agave, the mother of Pentheus; Autonoe and Ino. Dionysus is thus the cousin of Pentheus and also a grandson of Cadmus.

Dionysus claims that his father is Zeus, and therefore he has divine lineage. His mother claimed Zeus was her lover, but neither Cadmus nor his mother’s sisters believed her. This rejection is the primary motivation behind Dionysus' return to Thebes to claim the respect he and his mother were denied. Continued disrespect is the motivation for his revenge.

Revenge / Violence:

This production stresses the theme of revenge. Dionysus comes out angry. The Chorus is fierce. Dionysus gives Pentheus a chance to respect him. When Pentheus does not, Dionysus arranges for Pentheus to be brutally murdered by his own mother.

On one level this is a counter-reaction of violence to repression. On another level, this is the representation (we alluded to before) of the aspect of drink that makes people fight.

Depending on how you view the play, this is

THEME 3 – Cross dressing

In the course of his revenge Dionysus convinces Pentheus to dress as a woman so that he will not be attacked by the Bacchants.

This is a strange statement on the face of it, since earlier Euripides’ has (at least according to most translations) suggested that men and women were making love among the revelries and, besides, Cadmus and Tiresias had just gone up to join the revelers. The simplest explanation is that Dionysus was lying to Pentheus.

Pentheus expresses reluctance to wear a woman’s clothes, and the reaction the play seems to be looking for is that Pentheus is humiliated by dressing as a woman.

Jonathan Groff as Dionysus
With a smear of red lipstick
in The Bacchae
Photo by Joan Marcus

Bacchus, himself, in myths is portrayed as half-man half-woman. And stage directions in many versions of the play describe Dionysus, when he comes in, as having long blond hair, kind of androgynous. In this production, Dionysus wears just a smear of lipstick.

Anne Hathaway as Viola
in Twelfth Night
Photo by Joan Marcus

Some commentators on the play treat the theme of cross dressing as the paramount theme of the play. Indeed the ads for this whole summer’s Shakespeare in the Park stress Cross Dressing: the other play this summer being Twelfth Night, in which Viola (played by Anne Hathaway) dresses as a man.

(Note: Viola dresses as a man to be safe going around in a strange country by herself (aka himself). It was, of course, convenient for Shakespeare to have women dressed as young men, since they were, in fact, being played by young men.)

Neither play seems to make too much of cross dressing in these productions. (It was a much more important part of The Scottish Theater’s version of The Bacchae.) With respect to how cross-dressing illuminates the relation between men and women, they do take almost the same view (that in the world they live in, men are more important) in very different ways (inflating women and deflating men in Shakespeare; mostly mocking women and – perhaps mockingly – almost worshipping hunting and killing as manliness in The Bacchae

Twelfth Night notes how a woman can be just as manly as a man, when people think she’s a man. It bursts a bubble of assumed superiority for men, and elevates woman to the same level as a man.

The Bacchae, in the person of Agave, boasts how a woman can be just as strong as a man when she is crazed, while Pentheus, dressed as a woman is mocked: Men are strong, women are maddened by Dionysus; when a man is maddened, he is made to play the role of a woman and mocked; a woman can think she is as strong as a man only if she is maddened. In this view, Euripides is quite a misogynist. (Other interpretations of Euripides, stressing the androgynous nature of Dionysus, and the freedom and independence of women in the Dionysian rites, are quite different.)

THEME 4 – Human powerlessness in the face of irrational gods

I had no direct access to the creative team, but the NYT quotes
JoAnne Akalaitis, the director, as saying the play is “partly about human powerlessness in the face of irrational gods…” In this interpretation, Dionysus is not even revenging himself, his fury is irrational.

(If one wishes to put this irrationality in context, it could be tied back to the idea that excessive drinking makes one irrational, and to a modern notion that the gods of Greece were pagan gods.)


There is an additional element in the interpretation of a play, especially a Greek play, and that is how the play is staged.

the story I referred to above, I discussed the staging of the play last year by The National Theater of Scotland. That staging was notable for its ability to find humor in the text, and for cross-dressing, and for its vivid effects.

The Chorus
in The Bacchae
Photo by Joan Marcus

In addition to being outdoors! (as Greek plays were originally staged), the most notable element of the staging in The Park is the magnificent score by Philip Glass, and the singing, chanting, dancing and appearance of the chorus. It is almost operatic, and is the central element for most of the play. (In the program, Eustis, the Artistic Director of The Public Theater, says the chorus was “almost really the starting point for this entire endeavor.”)

Watching The Bacchae, and listening, I thought back to the last opera I saw:
Doctor Atomic, with a score by John Adams. There is something about our times that is bringing a certain musical sensibility, large in scope, concerned with real and mythical events, recent and ancient events, that remind us of the precariousness of our situation, comfortable at home, but threatened by the possibility of imminent cataclysm.

There is a similarity between our times and the times when Euripides wrote The Bacchae – Athens was in grave danger, both militarily, politically, and philosophically, with much of the danger coming from Persia and the East. The Bacchae may be 2,400 years old, but it is a modern play, and this is a timely production.

(Note: It has little to do with rest of this article, but I just wanted to note that these are extraordinary photos by
Joan Marcus. These are not only great shots, but they show the extraordinary concentration and the incredible life that is going on with every one of the characters shown in the pictures. They are a great tribute both to the productions, and to the photographer.)

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Saturday, August 15, 2009



The Brazilian Film Festival (officially named "VII Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil-NY") presented a balanced picture of an eclectic film industry in a huge country with political stability and somewhat more economic stability – and growth – than most of the world. It was very enjoyable.

Aside from well known, beautiful and talented superstars (eg Sonia Braga, Alice Braga, Giselle Bundchen) of Brazilian origin, Brazil has a reservoir of great talent... less well known outside of Brazil. And there was a lot of talent on display in the films in the festival.

There is a charming feeling of relaxed sexuality, and adult behavior in the films (and the performance of Silvia Machete at the opening night party). Indeed, one feature of the films was they were mostly about adults. (As one member of the organizing committee told me, we don’t need to make films for or about kids and teens; the Americans take care of that.) The center of gravity for the fictional characters was about 40 years old and moderately prosperous. Many of the documentaries were about even older musicians.

The strongest of the films I saw (I saw many, but not all the films) were Romance, an original, bright romantic comedy, and Veronica, a well-written action/chase movie. Overall, the greatest strength in the films was the acting; good writing, and a very personal dedication was also evident in the great labor it took to make the films, especially the documentaries.

The weakness of the films that I saw included a tendency to be safe in their overall stories, an almost complete lack of expensive effects – for example, low light graininess seemed more like cheap filmmaking than sophisticated style. And some really terrible subtitles (sometimes invisible white words on white backgrounds, sometimes ungrammatical, incomprehensible or even nonsensical translations – it seems like many people in Brazil speak good English – except for the translators who work on subtitles). The movies, while very good, seemed in some cases to not quite fully achieve the scope and edge in story and technique of great feature films.

I’m just guessing here, but the causes of these limitations could be: a home market that can not support very expensive films; a funding system that does not facilitate independent, well-budgeted, cutting edge films (which, of course, is true everywhere); and inexperience with all the possibilities of feature films as a medium different from TV.

The films shown include glimpses of a stable, prosperous country, the Brazilian musical scene, some corruption, and a lot of sexually charged relationships. Yet, the stories could have even greater scope and more edge, the moment-to-moment activity could be more complex and subtle, the visual canvas can be much broader, including more spectacular and diverse locations; and there is still room for more passion to underlie the films about what is really exciting about Brazil.

Also, getting someone who speaks native English to produce the final subtitles would be an instant boost to the films in the American market.

Young Brazilian pop singing superstar
Sandy Lima
on the Red Carpet for Wandering Heart
Photo by Eric Roffman for QPORIT

The opening of Wandering Heart, about the highly respected musician, Caetano Veloso, was the occasion for the Red Carpet event, though it could have been more exciting, with some prominent celebrities being no-shows. Indeed, more actors and actresses could have come for the screenings and all the parties to promote their films, the festival, and above all, themselves.

As a note to the organizers of all festival parties for filmmakers and journalists, I would like to make a suggestion for the name badges (brilliantly implemented by Esther Dyson at her tech events, by the way): Name tags should be huge, and the name and the person’s reason for attendance (eg the film’s name, and the person’s role – actor, director, producer…) should be able to be easily read by anybody nearby. It makes the people you want to meet so much easier to find, and conversations so much easier to start.

For all that, the festival itself was fun, with good screenings, parties, and a nighttime disco.

The Brazil on display is a Brazil I have always wanted to visit.

With a large TV industry to provide a reservoir of technical and – especially – great acting talent, and a huge, diverse, and untapped environment, Brazil provides a unique prospect as a site for movie makers to set their movies.

Here are some reviews of specific films and the opening event:


With a sly, engaging personality and a performance that is both retro and avant garde, Silvia Machete gave a real boost to the festival on opening night.

Performing at the Central Park SummerStage, in the open air in beautiful weather, after a day of horrible rain, she thanked the organizers for inviting her, mentioning that she lived in New York for a while -- giving street performances in Central Park, and suspected this might be the first time the police would ever let her finish her performance.

She has a nice voice, a pleasant jazzy style in both English and Portuguese, and fine back-up musicians. She performed her distinctive set-piece: hand rolling and lighting a “cigarette,” whose ingredients are stashed in various parts of her anatomy and clothing, while twirling a hula hoop. She also was taken up on her offer to give a free disc to some young man in the audience who would come up on stage and suck her toe (sic… yup… he did that… she did that).

Gloria Pires and Tony Ramos
If I Were You 2


If I Were You 2 was shown on the open air screen at Central Park on opening night.

This is a pleasant, enjoyable, amusing comedy. The acting and directing are very good in this role-reversal film, and the visual style is pleasant. The projection in Central Park, even before it was fully dark was excellent.

It is said to be the most successful domestic Brazilian film of the year (maybe ever). I was told that it grossed about 1.5 million dollars, which does set a limit on Brazilian domestic box office, and indicates why it may be difficult to provide large budgets for any films not likely to be a big success domestically and internationally.

The film conveys a feeling of a prosperous and stable society, which may be just the image the festival had in mind for its opening night. The film is kind of old fashioned both in style and content. In truth, the film could have been made in the US 50 to 75 years ago
(if they had color then).

The couple’s young daughter, whose boyfriend has gotten her pregnant, is played by
Isabelle Drummond, (actually, Isabelle Christine Lourenço Gomes Drummond), an impressive young actress. I was a bit confused by the dialog which refers to her boyfriend as a pedophile and exploiter of young girls, because she looks well over the age of consent and sophisticated and beautiful enough to be experienced. According to IMDB, however, she was actually only about 14 when she made this film, which explains a lot. Brazilians may be used to such young beauties, but for the external market, it would have been helpful to place her in a classroom with some young friends to set more context. Americans are used to seeing 25 year old actors play 16 year old high school students. Understanding that an actress who looks, perhaps, 18-19, is actually only 14, and supposed to be playing 15-16, is not intuitive for an American audience.

I enjoyed this film. It was a good start for the festival.

Andrea Beltrao with Matheus de Sá


This rather gritty chase film / thriller begins with excellent dialog and a setup that could come from Hitchcock: A burnt-out, everywoman teacher helps a child who is not picked up after school, and finds herself protecting the boy from drug dealers and corrupt, drug-dealing cops who want to kill him, like they killed his parents, to recover the recording his father, an informer, made of their drug transactions (a recording which the father, rather dangerously, gave the kid to take to school in the morning as kind of a necklace).

The acting is excellent.
Andrea Beltrao – who plays the teacher here, (and a very different character in Romance) throws herself into the role, and Matheus de Sá playing the boy is pitch perfect. The style is grainy and realistic (though it seems sometimes to be more ugly-ish and grainy because of the budget than because it’s the best choice for the film).

I found myself just a little put off by the way the script portrays the teacher as a 20 year veteran teacher and “one of the best teachers in the school” since she seems totally confused at first about what to do with a student who is not picked up; and completely unfamiliar with the neighborhood. (In 20 years there must have been students not picked up on time; and you’d think she’d know the neighborhood better.) It might have been just a bit more credible for me if she was, at least, new to that particular school.

The way it ends is interesting. Not to give too much away, the ending is neither too pat, nor too easy and over-optimistic.

Letícia Sabatella and Wagner Moura


This very nice romantic comedy deals with many issues that arise in theater, TV, and films:

1 -- A director and an actress love each other. But he is jealous, she is beautiful, and there are so many handsome actors, talented directors, and rich producers around...

2 – Theater can be awfully stagy.

3 – There’s much more money in TV than in theater.

4 – Theatuh is about the wuhrk, people should come for the ahht, not to see a famous actress.

5a – Happy endings can be unrealistic. Depressing endings are bad for box office.

5b – Classic theater pieces (especially Tristan and Iseult, Romeo and Juliet, etc) have classically tragic endings. TV and films usually have happy endings. When a classic tragedy is adapted for popular TV, should it end as happy/TV or classic/tragedy?

5c – For that matter, how should the movie itself end? It starts with classic theatrical tragedy and ends in the theater, but it’s a film with popular aspirations.

The acting is excellent again here,
Letitia Sabatella, as the actress, is beautiful and sympathetic. Letitia is also active in issues involving native Brazilians, and is the co-director of Hotxua. Andrea Beltrao, who is very good as the lead in Veronica, plays a very different sort of character here. These are two terrific actresses. Wagner Moura, who plays the director, is also very good.

This film is interesting, romantic, amusing and interesting. It begins with kind of an arty, arch, theatrical start (… well, after all, it begins by portraying an arty, arch, theatrical production, so I guess that style is appropriate). But the film becomes warmer and more and more naturalistic as it develops, -- and better and better -- finishing with a warm, comic flair.

Of course, half the final joke is that the warm comic flair of the finale is exactly what the character of the Director objected to in his TV film. The other half of the joke is that at the end of the film, now that he's got his girl, he's delighted to have a happy ending. (Note: It is hardly a "spoiler" to reveal that a romantic comedy called "Romance" has a comedic, romantic ending.)

Arnaldo Baptista

Loki -- Arnaldo Baptista is an old fashioned, threadbare documentary and a very interesting film about a very interesting subject -- Arnaldo Baptista, a musician who was instrumental in developing the evolution of Brazilian music. It is a portrait of a unique personality. It is also a story of love lost. In an interview, Sean Lennon says of Arnaldo, he has "the soul of a child." That could have been the title of this film.

The director/producers went to extraordinary lengths to obtain fascinating archival footage. This film, directed by Paulo Henrique Fontenelle, won the Festival's Crystal Lens Award for Best Feature Film, by the vote of the audience.

In contrast to the older music of Loki, the documentary Favella On Blast concentrates on the baile funk, music with its roots in one of the most violent and poor places, the shanty towns in Rio de Janeiro.

Fernando Grostein Andrade
Director of Wandering Heart
Photo by Eric Roffman for QPORIT

I did not have the chance to see Wandering Heart, but I did have a chance to chat with the director, who strikes me as extraordinarily skilled. He has accomplished a lot while very young, and he’s also charming. He is a good bet to become an important filmmaker.

The presence of three documentaries about music (and one fictionalized film version of a true story -- see below) testifies to the importance of musical traditions in the Brazilian culture.

Selton Mello and Alessandra Negrini
The Herb Of The Rat


This bizarre film (co-directed, and written by Júlio Bressane -- based on some famous stories) is sensuous, sexual, visually interesting, and logically completely incoherent. It has some of the worst subtitles ever; but I suspect that even in its native language it is better with the sound track off.

The cinematography and, especially, the actors, however, are very good. Selton Mello is a distinguished actor in Brazil, with many awards. The actress, Alessandra Negrini, of whom we see a lot in this film (and even more is available online), is a fine actress and very attractive. Her Cleopatra, from 2007, also directed by Júlio Bressane, won numerous awards in Brazil, including best actress for Alessandra.

The film has three distinct sections: the beginning could be a satire of an art film; the middle section is sexual and, except for the dialog, engrossing; toward the end it’s just gross… and also ridiculous: sort-of a bloodless, tensionless, pointless, horrorless, would-be horror film. I don't particularly like the title, which seems like a bad translation for the name of a poison. The film might perhaps better be called The Rat & The Pussy.

Watch the middle.


This fictional recreation of a real story, for most of the movie, presents the universal epic of a fledgling arts organization trying to organize in the face of financial and political obstacles. The insanely rapid progress the students make in their musical abilities, without obvious instruction, is a bit fake, but it’s fun. The young performers in the films are terrific, both in music and acting; and the young girl singer has an especially beautiful voice.

The first hour could (and should) be shown to every young orchestra and every municipal council anywhere in the world. But then for a short while, this story gets really ugly: a child kidnapped, beaten and abused physically, then abused some more -- psychologically -- by corrupt investigators; the maestro falsely accused of sexual abusing his students; suicide, blood, would-be murder. This awful stuff is over quickly, but it makes the film unsuitable for most audiences that would most appreciate it.

It’s also over too quickly to be a really adequate dramatization of the exceptional corruption and venality that made this story famous, or the exceptional way that media coverage, community support, and judicial review resolved the problems. (The story could have been a two-part movie or TV mini-series, with the “ugly” part given 90 minutes all its own.)

Happily the end credits suggest that the orchestra and teaching institution are flourishing and the children involved have gone on to successful lives, mostly with professional careers in music.

Adriana Dutra
Smoking I Wait

Smoking I Wait is an earnest film that presents a compelling description of many aspects of the tobacco problem: the difficulty of quitting (the director uses herself as the guinea pig); the addiction and marketing of cigarettes, the history of tobacco, and more. The attractive and affable Adriana L. Dutra is the director, the face of the story and, as it happens, also one of the organizers of the film festival.


Looking back over all the films in the festival and the whole experience, I am pleasantly impressed. There’s room for improvement in the quality of the films, yet the handmade feeling also provides a warm, personal feeling that gives the viewer the feeling of being really there, close to the action and the filmmaker, and not removed by a degree or two – the way films that are too sophisticated exist at a remove from the viewer.

The acting was exceptional.

There is enormous opportunity, I think, for filmmakers to tap into the Brazilian world, and Brazilian talent. And when major financiers put more financial support into the technical quality of the films, it will be easy for homemade Brazilian films to expand aggressively into the world market.

This festival travels around the world. It's worth visiting whenever it comes to your city.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Brazilian Film Festival.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009



Walking in New York the other day, I passed Opera Man (whom I hadn't seen for quite a while) back in his familiar neighborhood, though passing out leaflets this time, not singing. (Opera Man -- who was invited to appear on SNL and described by Adam Sandler as one of the inspirations for Sandler's Opera Man character -- for many years would stand on the street somewhere near Carnegie hall, singing operatic arias a capella, with great passion though a very soft voice).

Then a few blocks away, in the west 70's, there was an apparently homeless man, with unkept beard and hair and messy clothes, barefoot, with bags of belongings on either side of him, sitting on the street with his back against a wall, reading the New York Times Business Day section.



The doctor says: You need this test or procedure. The insurance says: We won't pay for it. Right now, the insurance has the final decision.

Insurance has a incentive to refuse: money. Moreover, the employer who pays for insurance has an incentive to use the insurance which is cheapest (unless the employee who chooses the insurance company is sick and has an incentive to choose the best coverage).

One might think the doctor who requests the procedure is always right, but that is not necessarily so. The doctor may have an incentive for using the procedure, or the doctor may not actually be the best expert on state-of-the-art treatment. (In the best of all possible worlds, an insurance company would have the best statistics and most accurate up to the minute information on the best treatment practice -- since they deal with many cases all over the country.)

Negotiation between the doctor and the insurance company now seems to be the standard (and perhaps only) method -- other than going to court -- of resolving such differences.

It might be very helpful if there were a permanent council of expert doctors, completely independent of the insurance company -- and, in any particular case, independent of the doctors or hospitals or teaching institutions involved -- to arbitrate and decide (both routine and difficult differences) between doctors' recommendations and insurance companies' rejections.

To prevent doctors or insurance companies from simply dumping all decisions on this panel, there should be a review and possible penalty for doctors proposing unnecessary or unwise procedures, and insurance companies rejecting valid claims.


Monday, August 03, 2009



Brenda Cooney (as Patty Reilly)
Photo by Andrew Serban (Director)

There's an on-going film festival at Anthology Film Archives, and a special film festival organized by New Filmmakers.

New Filmmakers is presenting a progam of short films related to drugs on Aug 5 at 6:00 in the Courtyard Theater at Anthology Film Archives as part of their Summer Festival of selected films.

One of the films, Patty Reilly Was Here, is by new director
Andrew Serban, a former directing fellow at AFI Conservatory in LA. Andrew is also a terrific professional photojournalist, and a new director to watch.

Patty Reilly Was Here: Troubled young drifter PATTY REILLY dreams of escaping her life of poverty and abuse in the gentrifying neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, NYC. After a well-dressed young woman accidentally bumps into her, she plunges into a maelstrom of rage and despair, and begs her lovelorn friend TODD for a plane ticket out west. When he balks, she seduces him in exchange for his dad's gun -- supposedly for self-protection, but actually to rob and avenge herself against the 'yuppie trash' that disrespected her.

Wednesday, August 5, 6:00 PM
at Anthology Film Archives
Courtyard Theater
32 Second Ave (at Second Street, NY NY)

New FilmMakers celebrates drugs past and present (part 1)


Phillip Cappe BIT OF HIMSELF (1997, 4 Minutes, Video)
Darren Coyle BROTHERS (2009, 14 Minutes, Video)
John Knowles SHADOW NET (2008, 20 Minutes, Video)
Andrew Serban PATTY REILLY WAS HERE (2009, 15 Minutes, Video)

(Irrelevant note: They, themselves, variously call themselves New Filmmakers, New FilmMakers, and NEWFILMMAKERS.)

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