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Chris Ofili’s Long-Overdue Retrospective at the New Museum Is NYC’s Comeback of the Year

The Web’s Urban Dictionary has two definitions for the verb “to giuliani.” The first, predictably, is “To sodomize with a plunger.” The second, more usefully, reads, “To shamelessly take advantage of tragedy for one’s own personal gain.” Riffs on the man who served as New York City’s mayor from 1994 to 2001, these meanings underscore the crippling effect of scandal on the great majority of artists. History has taught us that confronting political power usually results less in progressive culture-war victories (like Robert Mapplethorpe’s) than in lasting abuse (like Abner Louima’s).

In September 1999, Chris Ofili’s elephant-dung-decorated Holy Virgin Mary — part of the Brooklyn Museum’s controversial “Sensation” exhibition — was scapegoated by New York’s lame-duck mayor during his unsuccessful Senate campaign against Hillary Clinton; Giuliani called the painting “blasphemous” and “sick stuff” and threatened to pull city funding unless it was removed from the show. After multiple tabloid headlines, the Brooklyn Museum’s First Amendment cause prevailed, but at an important cost to Ofili — who virtually disappeared from the American scene. Fifteen years later, the disappointment of seeing this English artist’s work only infrequently in the city has been substantially remedied, thanks to a vibrant New Museum survey that includes hundreds of his lyrical paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Much like the current Museum of Modern Art exhibition of Matisse cutouts, this sparkling display constitutes a sensational NYC comeback.

Titled “Chris Ofili: Night and Day,” the New Museum’s offering represents the London-born artist’s first major American solo museum exhibition. A Turner Prize winner in 1998 and the U.K.’s 2003 representative at the storied Venice Biennale, Ofili is still largely misidentified in the U.S. as a second-generation identity artist. As this retrospective shows, that characterization shortchanges his remarkable accomplishments. Beginning with his lushly confrontational Afrocentric Pop paintings in the 1990s, Ofili’s vision grew exponentially: Constant experiments with subject, materials, color, and style make his canvases crackle with rare electricity. Consequently, this two-decade show celebrates a genuinely unique achievement. It also provides a moment to reflect on what might have been, had Ofili’s older hip-hop cousin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, anticipated some of the Englishman’s exquisite control, ripe sensuality, and outright doggedness.

The New Museum’s curating team of Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and Margot Norton have deftly arrayed 30 major paintings, four sculptures, and 181 watercolors over three floors. Featuring several distinct bodies of work, “Night and Day” charms and enraptures by turns yet doesn’t flinch at presenting the very paintings that gave Ofili tabloid name recognition. Among these are powerhouse canvases like Affrodizzia and Monkey Magic — Sex, Money and Drugs, mixed-media portraits made from a signature combination of acrylic, oil, resin, map pins, glitter, and the aforementioned dung (a material the artist picked up after a residency in Zimbabwe). Also included among 10 other paintings that represent the artist’s output from the contentious 1990s is The Holy Virgin Mary herself: an icon-like image of a large-lipped, wide-nosed black Madonna draped in a blue tunic on a gold background, with putti made from collaged female bottoms, plus clumps of pachyderm shit that make up the Virgin’s exposed right breast (as well as the painting’s feet). Far from defacing Ofili’s Madonna, the turds turn her body voluptuously earthy. In case anyone is still shocked, it’s worth recalling Rembrandt’s 17th-century job description: “I find rubies and emeralds in a dung heap.”

A batch of related works Ofili made for the 2003 British Pavilion in Venice marshal similar painterly elements. Made using the restricted palette of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, the five paintings on view here create an immersive environment that pulsates in shades of red, black, and green. An abridged version of the pavilion designed by Ofili’s friend David Adjaye, these canvases feature jungle landscapes populated by embracing couples, tropical greenery, and a repeating starburst motif — as seen in works like Triple Beam Dreamer and Afro Love and Envy. What Ofili depicted in these pictures is a 2-D vision of a pan-Africanist Eden. What he aesthetically engineered is an enveloping experience akin to hearing bass-heavy reggae with surround-sound speakers turned up to 11. In comparison, most contemporary pictures from the era look like the synesthetic equivalent of Kraftwerk.

The last of Ofili’s works to incorporate painted dots, map pins, and elephant dung, the Venice Biennale series signified a major triumph, but also a profound shift. Change came in two ways. First, Ofili left London for the Caribbean heaven of Trinidad in 2005. Second, he quit the image sampling and magpie ornamentation that characterized his previous canvases in order to make “less complex” work that tapped into “a process of looking that was slower.” The results — contrary to sunshiny expectations — were his blue paintings: nightscapes loaded with blue-black shapes and figures that literally drift in and out of visibility. Hung in a darkened gallery on the museum’s third floor, these paintings vibrate dramatically according to the viewer’s movements. For the minimalist-minded, there are connections to be made to Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings and Rothko’s black-on-black monochromes. I, for one, prefer to think of these pictures as closer to viewing Monet’s water lilies — by moonlight.

The museum’s topmost, fourth-floor galleries are given over to Ofili’s more recent works, which feature dramatic color combinations in sinuous compositions depicting elongated Matisse-like figures disporting against Art Deco–like backgrounds. Bright, fluid, flat, and often gauzy, Ofili’s newest dreamscapes engage mythological narratives and religious figures — subject matter the artist has incorporated into his work in much the same way he once used dung and clippings. Paintings like the knockout Ovid-Destiny and Ovid-Actaeon were made for a joint commission for both the U.K.’s Royal Opera House and the National Gallery; their theme is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Other works, like the orange, teal, and purple Raising of Lazarus, take on art history directly, with a veteran’s confidence. An image that not only echoes past versions of the painting, from Rembrandt to van Gogh, Lazarus and other works like it in “Night and Day” appear to literally embrace and consume all of art history.

El Greco, Les Fauves, Gauguin, Picasso’s Blue Period, late Matisse, German Expressionism, Yves Klein, Romare Bearden, Robert Rauschenberg. Like lessons learned during Giuliani-time, this artist train is not in vain, but rather marks stages in the development of a painter who, as this retrospective amply demonstrates, became a modern master. Any remaining Ofili detractors ought to have their eyes examined.

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Spring Arts Guide: The Testament of Mary, Quite Contrary

As a girl in County Cork, the Irish actor Fiona Shaw walked past a statue of the Virgin Mary every day on her way to school. She didn’t care much for the sculpture—”this revolting statue, this mass-produced blemished virgin with marble all around”—or for the Virgin, either.

Crunching an apple during a snatched rehearsal break on the ninth floor of a midtown high-rise, Shaw recalled her early associations with the biblical Mary. “She seemed to be so watery and blue,” said Shaw of the Virgin’s typically insipid portrayal in art. “She’s a blank virgin mother without personality, whose virtues don’t seem to include anything you’d want to explore as a child—not lively, not chatty, never said anything remotely interesting.”

And yet, Shaw, 54, a helplessly interesting actor with sharp features and an even sharper intellect, will play that virgin—and on Broadway, no less—when Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, directed by Shaw’s longtime collaborator Deborah Warner, begins previews on March 26 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. “I knew if Colm wrote a version of Mary’s story it wouldn’t be blue and watery,” said Shaw.

Tóibín is an Irish writer of daunting precision and rare psychological insight, perhaps best known for the novels Brooklyn and The Master. His Mary has plenty to say, rather little of it virginal, holy, or full of grace. In this monologue, first written for the theater and then recently published in expanded form as a novella, an elderly Virgin reflects on her own life and that of her celebrated son.

Even as Tóibín’s Mary struggles to live quietly, encountering the simple pleasures and demands of the everyday, early Christian followers intrude on her solitude. She offers a more acerbic attitude toward these disciples than what the Gospels suggest. “A group of misfits,” she calls them, “or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye.” These men want her to tell a story that extols and glorifies her son. Mary only wants to narrate her particular truth—which includes a troubled relationship with that son and a skepticism surrounding his godliness.

Tóibín portrayed a County Wexford childhood even more saturated with the Virgin than Shaw’s. Perched on a swivel chair in his book-lined office at Columbia University, he spoke of “a world of Mary, praying to Mary, statues of Mary.” A former altar boy, he recalled a prayer, “Hail, Holy Queen,” that he recited every night of his youth. (For her part, Shaw recalled saying the Hail Mary “every two minutes.” She can rattle off the whole of it in four seconds flat.)

Tóibín never really intended the play, which he first began writing during a visit to Ephesus, for Broadway. “It’s not something I ever thought would happen,” he said. But following a successful debut in Dublin in 2011, starring the Tony-winning actress Marie Mullen, producer Scott Rudin insisted on bringing it here.

Though it might seem a highly secular space, the Great White Way has often proved hospitable to plays and musicals with strong religious themes. The past several years have seen such new plays as Doubt and Grace, as well as successful revivals of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Yet while the latter are both drawn from the Gospels, neither includes a Virgin Mary.

One difficulty in staging the Queen of Heaven is that in the Gospels she barely appears and speaks even more rarely. Tóibín said that for anyone who undertakes to imagine Mary, “you’re dealing with silence. Her silence. The imploring figure at the cross is silent. The figure in general is silent.” Marveled Shaw, “She only says about two things in all the New Testament.”

Tóibín cited a host of inspirations for the voice of his Mary: Greek heroines, Bach cantatas, various contraltos, a Titian canvas and one by Tintoretto, the late poems of Sylvia Plath, recent novels by J.M. Coetzee, and a poem Tóibín himself wrote as a teenager, now lost. Tóibín has fused these disparate sources into a forceful, enduring tone—anguished, bitter, and often contemptuous, particularly of all the adoration her son has generated.

Of the resulting script, he said, “Very few actresses could do it.” Yet despite her demurrals about unlikely casting, Shaw seems an obvious choice for this prickly, complicated character. Among Shaw’s virtues, according to Tóibín: “absolute fearlessness, fierce intelligence, extraordinary physical agility, and a face that can do anything.”

Shaw has never shied away from difficult roles. Though film audiences may know her best from comical turns as Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter series, she boasts a daunting theatrical résumé, from Medea and Mother Courage to a cross-cast Richard II. She memorized T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land as a solo piece and more recently learned and recited Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner accompanied by a dancer, a production that will play the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the fall.

But while Shaw is an old hand at undertaking layered characters and thorny monologues, she described rehearsal for The Testament of Mary as “a huge struggle.” Shaw’s approach focuses less on Mary’s exceptionality—it’s not every woman who births the putative Messiah—and more on her universality: Many women have troubled relationships with their children. In charting the script, Shaw discovered “a wonderful story of family betrayals, family losses,” she said. “It’s the story of a woman who is rejected by her son and then rejects her son, and that could happen anywhere.”

Neither Shaw nor Tóibín could predict with any confidence how Broadway audiences will react to this piece. Tóibín noted that when the play debuted in Dublin, the theater provided ample exits for those who chose to walk out and discussed how to manage spectator protests. But no one left, and no one objected. “The theater was full every night,” he said.

Shaw describes New York audiences as generous, but also quite demanding. “When we took Medea here, people laughed quicker, faster, sharper, and more viscerally than they did in London,” she said. “It seems to me that there’s a kind of intensity of expectation of audiences in America.” Yet she does not know how spectators will react should the play challenge their particular religious beliefs.

In rehearsal, Shaw said, she focuses very little on broader questions of faith, truth, glory. “This story that we have here is a woman trying to get through a day,” she said. “I get the feeling that she’s probably someone whose great desire would be to be anonymous. That’s the thing that history has ripped from her.”

“The Testament of Mary,” March 26–June 16, Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, walterkerrtheatre.com

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Pussy Riot!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom

It was just last February when the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot performed their “Punk Prayer” at a Moscow cathedral asking for the Virgin Mary to “banish” Vladimir Putin. For their actions, three of the five women who performed that day were sentenced to two years in a prison camp. However, one of the bandmates was released this October after it was decided she played too small a role to serve the full sentence. She has since reported that in the camp there is no hot water, warm clothes, or access to adequate medicine and medical care. To raise money for the group, the Feminist Press has published an e-book, Pussy Riot!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom. Tonight,
Eileen Myles, Laurie Weeks, Barbara Browning, Vivien Goldman, Johanna Fateman, and Justin Vivian Bond will read excerpts from their contributions to the book.

Thu., Feb. 7, 7 p.m., 2013

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Why I Hate Religion! 47 Reasons That Will Send Me To Hell!

Because … I already feel guilty writing this column. … No one seems to remember that, unlike being gay, it’s a choice. … Eternal damnation in hell is held up as a scare tactic to make you behave the way the church wants.

You have to keep track of your sins and then humiliatingly recite them in a loud, crisp voice, so the priest doesn’t say, “Repeat that, please.”

The virgin birth put an impossibly high standard on the rest of us for all time. … The church blames internal pedophilia on gays, but then when gays get the right to marry in a healthy, adult, consensual way, the church vehemently condemns it. … The church urges us to be good citizens, but when gay marriage goes into law, they suddenly want people to buck the system. … The church reserves the divine right to further wreck lives by forbidding condoms and abortions.

Every Wednesday afternoon, I loathed being dragged out of school to go to catechism and be taught scary fairy tales by forbidding nuns. … Not enough proselytizers seem to have read the Bible all the way through, and even if they have, they relish picking out the supposedly hateful parts to make trouble with, twisting them for maximum effect. … Jesus is almost always portrayed as someone out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue because, after all, if you advocate peace, love, and humble values, you have to look like a supermodel.

The founding dis of Christianity—”No room at the inn”—is the church’s favorite thing to tell people who don’t measure up. … “Love the sinner, but not the sin” is so deeply patronizing. Take all of me, baby. … If a non-priest walked around in the same garments and accessories as a clergyman, he’d be labeled a sicko and a degenerate. … The Radio City Christmas extravaganza stopped inviting me. … They falsely accuse gays of trying to convert children, but outside a church in Greenwich Village, there’s a sign asking, “Have you introduced your children to God? Let us help.”

Most religions contradict one another as to who God is and what He stands for. (How can they all be true? I’m guessing none of them are.) … Politicians—including our president—have invoked it as a reason for their beliefs on civil rights issues! (Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? Why should our leaders’ alleged religious values affect my status as a tax-paying citizen?) … An open atheist would have no chance whatsoever of making it to the White House.

Actors who regularly drink, drug, cheat, and do it up the ass shamelessly thank God when they win an award. … Broadway musicals about Jesus keep getting revived at the same time. Which to choose? … The Mormon musical is more fun than the Catholic one. That’s so wrong! … Mormons long ago made the bold move to quit polygamy, but nowadays they spend much of their time trying to stop gay monogamy.

Atheists who get old and face the threat of death suddenly believe in a divine being. … Losers who pray for a parking space occasionally get one and shriek, “It works!” … Some people I know who piously visit places of worship on a regular basis spend the rest of the week being bitchy, negative, and judgmental. … A handful of extremists in each religion come to represent the whole religion to a terrified populace.

All that supplicating and kneeling is bad for one’s ego (not to mention posture). … I don’t trust anyone who claims to have a direct hookup to a supreme power. I don’t even have international calling. … When something good happens, we thank God’s great generosity. When something bad happens, it’s our fault. … Most religions scoff at Scientology as hogwash, as if to say, “Stick to our batch of fiction, not theirs!” … Liberal religious people must not have powerful enough agents; they never seem to get airtime.

Religion hated me first. … Americans I’ve met who co-opt Buddhism do so as a self-advancement program more than a religion, exclusively chanting for money and promotions. … Producers who’ve told actors they look “too Jewish” have caused scores of noses to be cut off to spite their faces. … I have to be friends with people who killed my Jesus. … For Jews, the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’av are a mourning time when celebration and many other forms of activity are minimized. But most accidents happen at home!

Too many religious holidays are about fasting, denial, and abstinence. You come to dread these special days. … And yet, when Christ’s birthday gaily comes along every year, all that gratuitous gift giving and forced merriment ups the suicide rate. … Many Republicans scorn Shia Muslims for being oppressive to women, forgetting that they’re anti-gay, too. … God tells people to vote against gays, but did He also tell them to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s or see Transformers?

The architecture and songs are always really good, but they’re hard to enjoy with all that guilt attached. … Religious theme parks are usually way too brown. … The coffee grounds on my counter once almost formed a portrait of the Virgin Mary, but it wasn’t a strong enough resemblance to charge visitors to see.

The Hindus have literally millions of gods and goddesses. There is barely time to worship them all, let alone pick one of the three favored roads toward salvation. … There’s no guidebook on how it all works in actuality (e.g., how do you find your dead loved ones in heaven? Do you just float around, figuring you’ll eventually run into them, since you’re there for eternity? And I do mean you.)

But the thing I hate the most is that I happen to have met some religious people who aren’t petty or bigoted at all, and that tends to annoyingly get in the way of a lot of my theories. Amen.

musto@villagevoice.com

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Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes Refrains from Demystifying

With its palette of hot poppy red and cool sky blue, its deft mining of the subliminal comic potential of grand, historically heavy locations, and its obsession with watching as an invasive action, Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes looks and often feels like the work of a modern-day Alfred Hitchcock. And yet this French film unfolds on a lofty, cerebral plane of mystery that’s virtually anti-Hitch: Hausner evades procedural elucidation — the What Happened —for a dryly farcical meditation on the inability to know why anything happens at all.

Blonde, wide-eyed Christine (Sylvie Testud, giving great Mona Lisa smile) stands out amid the crowd of ill and otherwise desperate souls on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, a holy spot in the Pyrenees where the Virgin Mary has allegedly performed healing miracles. Unable to move her arms and confined to a wheelchair by multiple sclerosis, Christine’s adult desires (manifested in shy flirting with hunky Order of Malta officer Bruno Todeschini) are frustrated by a body that has to be lifted and laid into bed like a baby. As in Avatar, the cripple watches life happen to people with working legs, but Christine projects placid patience while outside forces (from the pretty, petulant charity worker whose face registers crude distaste as she feeds Christine, to the pilgrimage organizer who scolds her for being too greedy for a healing) conspire to squelch her last vestiges of hope and self-respect.

A serial pilgrim who admits to using such trips as an excuse to get out, Christine’s faith is clearly not as blind as that of her fellow travelers, but when she starts dreaming of a miracle, she has more conviction than the zealots that her dreams could come true. And then they do. Has God “manifested his presence,” as a priest promises? In the world of the film, where even missionaries recommend resignation, is a miracle a real possibility?

Part of Lourdes‘ appeal is the extent to which Hausner and Testud refrain from demystifying the mystical. Skepticism is the plague of the day: The comforts offered by a belief in God are easily overwhelmed by an uncertainty as to how God’s world works and why he chooses to run it as he does. The word “meaning” is often used to refer to a vague something to strive for. “Meaning” proves to be as elusive to find as the concept is ill-defined.

Winking at the absurdity of miracle hunting without fully undercutting its seriousness, Lourdes ultimately eschews rigorous religious inquiry to study the mechanics of envy and frustrated desire. As Christine shifts from giver to receiver of a penetrative gaze, the film delves deeper into the pain and pleasure of watching other people experience the wonderful things you dream of happening to you. In that sense, Hausner has crafted a kind of meta-riff on the masochistic lure of cinema itself.

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Séraphine, Lyrical Biopic, Stirred the French Public

Martin Provost’s lyrical but bracing portrait of the early-20th-century French painter Séraphine Louis begins and ends with a quietly ecstatic shot of the artist nestling up to the rustling leaves of a majestic tree. In Provost’s vision, the dirt-poor country housekeeper’s elemental flower paintings, derided by her bourgeois neighbors, are powered by her love of nature, the direct line she believes she has to the Virgin Mary, and the support of Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), a German collector whose floors Séraphine scrubs with the same fervor she brings to collecting chicken blood to mix her own brand of red paint. If Séraphine’s untutored primitivism is a romance imposed by the filmmaker—in real life, she sat in on art classes for young ladies in Paris—it’s a compelling one that seduced an adoring French public and earned the movie seven Césars, including a well-deserved Best Actress award for Yolande Moreau. The actress brings a potent restraint to this beady-eyed, unkempt, and all but feral outcast who seethes with inner struggle between strength and appalling vulnerability. Séraphine’s dependence on her patron—a cultivated but emotionally detached homosexual, who knew a fellow outsider when he saw one but came and went in her life without warning—is almost as unbearably moving as her inevitable unraveling—when money and fame cut the artist off from her creative wellsprings and drove her over the edge.

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Vadim Glowna’s Laborious House of the Sleeping Beauties

Edmond (Vadim Glowna) is a tortured old man. His dreams? “Toads . . . black dogs, and drowned corpses.” So, off Edmond goes to a mysterious establishment run by Madame (Angela Winkler), where doped-out naked girls sleep peacefully through the night while you do whatever you want, as long as there’s no penetration. In Edmond’s case, this consists of unremittingly lugubrious soliloquies on topics like how one girl’s nipples remind him of his mother’s breast milk. Pseudo–Thomas Mann nuggets (“Nothing is more beautiful than the innocent face of a sleeping girl”) are dropped with ponderous regularity. Writer-director Glowna knows how to frame a shot, but that’s about it. The images are cluttered with overwrought symbols (Pegasus! The Virgin Mary!), and the story wastes a good metaphor. There should be plenty to say here about the need for tactile contact and how it can—or can’t—be separated from emotional interaction; instead, Glowna goes for the relentless weight of old age and death. Laughably somber, House wants to be erotic, profound, and charged with David Lynch night terrors; instead, it’s just one of the year’s worst releases. A second viewing of Synecdoche would be less painful.

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DEEP TRANCE

Rather than ponder why it took this long for a musical figure as prominent as Krautrock legend Manuel Göttsching to make his U.S. debut, let’s celebrate that he’s doing so under such auspicious circumstances as this Wordless Music evening titled 800 Years of Minimalism—The Spiritual Transcendent. Following the 12th-century composer Pérotin’s “Beata Viscera” (a paean to the Virgin Mary’s womb and breasts) and Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars, Göttsching will perform his 1981 piece E2-E4. It’s been argued that Göttsching’s hour-long, chess-inspired work for slowly evolving beats and a playfully deployed electric guitar truly provide the template for the Detroit house sound, ambient chillaxation, and everything in between. Accompanied tonight by the latest iteration of the Fillmore East’s fabled Joshua Light Show, Göttsching’s masterpiece may actually reveal itself to be the missing link between acid rock and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe Sector Nine, and their trance-rock ilk.

Fri., Aug. 15, 7 p.m., 2008

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GENDER- BENDER

British-born performance artist La JohnJoseph, who cracked up audiences earlier this year as the star of the naughty Virgin Mary–inspired comedy America’s Next Top Mary, is turning up the heat at Dixon Place’s HOT! Festival with his debut theater piece, Notorious Beauty, an autobiographical tale of androgyny, petty theft, underage sex, and an abandoned modeling career. “Mainly, the stories relate to being so profoundly gender-queer, and throwing people into confusion as to whether I was a boy or a girl,” he says. “Sometimes they get upset or confused, sometimes they get turned on, sometimes they just want me to sit for a portrait.” For this final performance of his three-night festival stint, he’ll share the stage with drag legend Flawless Sabrina and writer Tucker Culbertson, lip-sync to songs by Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and Judy Garland, and dream that he’s Marlene Dietrich (with sausages between his legs)—in La JJ’s weird world, anything and everything goes.

Sat., July 12, 10 p.m., 2008

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A New Crisis for Britney’s Sister?

It’s time to play catchup, kids, so get out your mitts and strap on your vomit bags. First off, did you notice that when the Jamie Lynn Spears pregnancy story broke, the photo of the 16-year-old tartlet on the New York Post cover showed her sporting what looked like a gigantic herpes sore? I’m just sayin’! Even more upsettingly, a Christian publishing company put a parenting book by Britney’s mother, Lynne Spears, on hold after the big announcement (that Jamie Lynn was pregnant—not had herpes)! So before that, everything was fine, and Mom was considered a glorious parent who instills profoundly inspiring values in her kids? (Rolls eyes.)

A more substantive mom, Jodie Foster, semi–came out by finally acknowledging her girlfriend in public, blah, blah, blah, but now what? Will she take it back, like Rosie O’Donnell did with “I love you, Kelli!” and then go the other way and burst out with a dykey vengeance that’ll lead her to the stage of the Mohegan Sun casino? Will she choose a tasteful magazine to do the obligatory Lance Bass–style cover story for, thereby taking the coyness out of her boi-ness? Will she live up to the line in The Brave One, when the pimp says, “Oh, my God. We got us a super cunt here!”? Here’s what I think Jodie will do: absolutely nothing. But it would be nice if a red-carpet interviewer at least asked her to elaborate a little. Do you have the balls, ET?

Meanwhile, Queen Latifah
was supposed to reveal that she’s getting engaged to her female trainer, according to various wacky websites. But shortly afterwards, Queenie made sure to tell USA Today about all the guys who’ve desperately wanted her through the years. That doesn’t necessarily mean they got her, does it? Come on, ET—ask!

While I’m waiting for that announcement—or any
announcement—let’s catch up with the even more sexually complicated things happening on Broadway. Is He Dead? is glorified sitcom stuff, but it’s been deftly resuscitated from the archives, with impish Norbert Leo Butz—once again playing a con man in disguise—adorably clowning around in pincurls as other characters say things like, “I shall expect your full-on oui-oui by four o’clock!” Did I like it? Wee-wee!

I also said yes-yes to the handsome production of Cymbeline, in which Martha Plimpton and Michael Cerveris give highly developed star performances. But I was bothered by Jonathan Cake, who over-leered it up with an irritating speech pattern. (Speak slowly and emphatically, then rush a bunch of words, then come to a sudden stop . . . then speak slowly and emphatically . . .) But he looked great in a towel. Let me eat Cake!

You don’t need a towel to watch The Little Mermaid—the water is played by Mylar and the fish float by on what looks like a giant revolving salad bowl. And, shockingly, I didn’t want to run out for sushi instead. Of course, I may not be the right person to review this kind of thing: I actually enjoyed Mary Poppins, especially when they vogued, and I even found stuff in Tarzan to like besides the leading man’s thumping chest and the homo-erectus remarks. But this show—pretty much a female Pinocchio, about an oddball longing to be human, sort of like Mitt Romney—stays entertainingly afloat for at least the first act. (The dull second half, on dry land, needs water thrown on it.) And between the king’s abs and the prince’s tightly clothed butt, there’s a lot of eye candy for the gays—not to mention the fact that Flotsam and Jetsam come off like screaming queens, the gay has crabs (I mean, the crab seems gay), and Ursula vamps like Bette Midler at the Continental Baths with extra tentacles. Sadly, Flounder was out the night I saw it—maybe he had a haddock—but his understudy didn’t flounder at all.

Off-Broadway at the Zipper Factory, a vigorous revue called Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad included a song about gefilte fish that culminated with the entire audience rejecting a bite. The show put the whore in hora, trotting out standup, stripteases, two dancing dreidels, and one angry (and wildly out of place) Def Poetry Jam type. The tirelessly brassy MC/organizer, the Goddess Perlman, offered both wisdom (“With JDate, you get dinner. With Craigslist, you get laid”) and fashion. (She wore a menorah dress while admonishing, “Be careful what you throw out!”)

Talking trash while wearing riches, the city’s best drag queens still include Peppermint, Shequida, and Shasta Cola, who rock Barracuda with hot lip synchs and humor; Bianca Del Rio, whose hilarious mouth is saltier than the rocket salad at Ye Waverly Inn (the New Orleans emigré just got a drag MC gig at Harrah’s, by the way); and Kitty Hiccups, who does a deadpan but not-dead-yet Eartha Kitt over at the Ritz. Meanwhile, at Don’t Tell Mama—where my waitress doubled as the lighting lady—the fearless Mimi Imfurst mounted A Very Mary Christmas, which had Mimi as the Virgin Mary performing an unlikely comeback cabaret act that involved Heather Mills jokes (“She works at IHOP”) and retooled pop hits (“Oh, what a night . . . late December in 1 B.C. . . .”) Mary’s latest CD? It’s available at the Virgin Megastore.

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At the M.E.A.N.Y. Fest finals at the Knitting Factory, I voted for the tighter-than-my-pussy Ten Year Vamp and the completely off-the-wall Maslow, but some showbizzy Scottish band with bowler hats won, maybe because they’d flown all the way from Sweden just for this event. Fellow judge (and powerhouse performer) Lourds Lane previewed her Super Chix rock opera and told me that Frenchie Davis will appear in it, singing the immortal “Shut Up and Fuck Me.” Oui-oui!

Some movie catchup? One of the few ceremonies that’s been unencumbered by pickets, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards brought out cinema types genuflecting before one another—literally in the case of Javier Bardem, who kneeled in front of Daniel Day-Lewis as I simultaneously cried and got sick. The latter won Best Actor for definitely doing Walter or John Huston (but definitely not Whitney Houston) in There Will Be Blood, one of several arty films this year about greed in the wilderness. (Then again, what do I know? I am a false prophet! God is a superstition!)

Before the ceremony, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck—who directed the best foreign-language film, The Lives of Others—told me, “I don’t see the Huston thing. I see Daniel’s performance as a completely personal study in greed. Watching it was a deeply therapeutic experience. Everyone can find elements of themselves in Daniel Plainview.” Yeah, especially Walter Huston.

Onstage, von Donnersmarck praised Day-Lewis, but he also thanked presenter Charlie Rose, interestingly saying that if he wasn’t happily married, he would have enjoyed the fans he got from being on Rose’s show. Another grateful winner, Sarah Polley, nabbed Best First Film for Away From Her, so I saucily asked if she beat Ben Affleck for it. “Yeah,” Polley deadpanned, “I beat the crap out of him and he’s lying in a ditch, where he’s ineligible.” (A woman who plays along with the press and makes a haunting Alzheimer’s film? I’d marry her if I weren’t already so devoted to Charlie Rose.)

In total homo land, I hear that on the Florida set of Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild, Will Wikle had a lovely affair with porn star Brent Corrigan. Another ejaculation idol, Michael Lucas, had to be forced to wear his “cock sock” coverup during his scenes—he wanted it all flapping out, as usual—and what’s more, he made his screen romantic partner cry by ad-libbing a bit where he fingered the kid’s butthole. Uncharacteristically, Lucas had no comment about this when I asked for one.

A more covered-up Michael—Michael Cera—was just spotted downtown trying to convince a bunch of girls from Long Island that he’s an actor! But even if they hadn’t heard of Juno yet, Superbad was huge! How super-dumb can you get? We got us some super cunts here.

WEB EXTRA

Wait, let me catch you up on more from the New York Film Critics Circle awards. Receiving a lifetime achievement honor, Sidney Lumet said this was nice “after 30 years of enmity with the critics.” He added that this year there were so many good movies out that once awards season hit, “I found it hard to vote for myself—but I managed.”

A publicist for Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep was running around saying, “They restored it—and then we had to pay for the music rights!” Daniel Day-Lewis, presenting an honor to Javier Bardem, cracked, “He didn’t get this from the National Association of Barbershops.”

Persepolis‚ Marjane Satrapi told the crowd, “In France, they always call the New York critics tough bastards. So thank you, my bastard friends.” Patricia Clarkson said she’s only eight years older than Amy Ryan but “In Hollywood, I’ll be playing her mother soon.” The Lives of Others director von Donnersmarck told me he “had some important things to say” when the orchestra cut his acceptance speech off on the Oscars. But he wouldn’t specify what they were because, “There are some things you can only say when the world’s listening.”

With the room listening, Ellen Barkin claimed that after he directed his first few movies, George Clooney wrote a letter to Lumet saying he’s sorry he stole so much. And Maggie Gyllenhaal revealed that There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit once hid in a closet to take a photo of her brother Jake’s birth. That must have been how TMZ was born.

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musto@villagevoice.com