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‘Movies Are Strange, Man’: Joaquin Phoenix Talks About Not Knowing What’s Next

I don’t know. Those are the three words that Joaquin Phoenix probably says the most during our interview. He may be one of the greatest actors of his generation — possibly, the greatest — but even he seems not quite capable of articulating just how it is he does what he does. That somehow feels right. We’re talking about Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, for which Phoenix won the Best Actor award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s a marvelous performance, but he speaks very little dialogue, and for much of the film we see him only in brief glimpses. During our chat, as the actor fumbles over his words — abandoning analogies halfway through, professing ignorance of his own talents, wondering if anything he’s done works onscreen — he reveals something of his art. Because so much of what Joaquin Phoenix does is about not knowing, both for us as viewers and for him as an actor. In his best performances, he gives off a sense of total absorption and aliveness. Everything seems possible and nothing feels predictable. No other working actor today seems more intuitive, more uncategorizable.

Don’t tell him that, however: Phoenix doesn’t watch his own movies. When I tell him how much I admired him in this film, he deadpans, “Maybe you have terrible taste.” Then when I respond that I’m a fan of his performances in general, he responds, “It looks like you do.” He says it cheerfully, but it’s also hard not to suspect that there’s some doubt in the back of his mind that he uses to rid himself of anything resembling self-consciousness or preciousness. That’s a perfect state of mind for You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay’s devastating and gripping alt-vigilante drama, in which Phoenix plays a hammer-wielding veteran who is paid to save kidnapped children and who brings all his rage and regret and self-loathing and desire for oblivion to the job. The actor is so convincing in the role that at first I was somewhat scared to talk to him. But the result was a fascinatingly open-ended discussion about acting, Ramsay’s brilliant film, as well as his turn as Jesus in the upcoming Mary Magdalene.

I’ve always found there to be something distinct about Lynne Ramsay’s characters — they’re very submerged and self-negating. You’ve worked with a lot of different directors. Was there anything about her approach that felt different to you?

Every director is different. I’ve never once felt like there’s one standard. But what is unique about Lynne…I don’t know how she worked on other films, or how she worked with other actors, but on this movie, something that we were really cognizant of was trying to fight the clichés of the genre. We didn’t really have a set way of doing things. I imagine there’s like a wildly different performance in there, in other takes, you know. Because each take was different. That was kind of a goal — to do things that might seem out of character or uncomfortable, and play with things, and improvise. We looked for a way of approaching each scene that just wasn’t traditional, wasn’t what you’d expect. If anything in the script felt like it was something that we had seen before, we’d try to change it.

Even though you’re the lead and the whole movie’s pretty much from your character’s perspective, we rarely see your face. Sometimes, we don’t even see you. There’s so much of the film where we’re watching a room that your character has just left. I’m sure some of that happens in editing, but was that always the idea behind the performance?

Yeah, a lot of that was in the script. Certainly Lynne set the tone for that from the very opening scene, creating this kind of mystery around this character — where you’re not really knowing exactly where you stand with him and who he is and what he represents. That was pretty evident in the screenplay, but I’m sure there’s stuff that she does in editing to magnify that or to lessen it.

But for you, as the guy who has to give that performance, what kinds of challenges does that present? When you know that your face is not actually going to be on screen much, or that you’re not going to have as much recourse to dialogue? Do you have to work on the character’s physicality, say, or his posture, or how you walk?

I think it’s a mistake sometimes, as an actor, to think about a movie from the filmmaker’s perspective. It’s hard not to be self-conscious, and it’s one of the struggles that you have as an actor. So, I don’t ask what size lens is there and how much of my body are you seeing. I just have to inhabit the space the way I feel is right. And how the filmmaker captures that or uses it is up to them. It was important to never feel certain of how I was going to behave. The crew was amazing — particularly the camera and sound department, you know, who have to basically follow you around and capture what it is you’re doing — but there really was this feeling that the moment you locked something in, it just started to die. So it felt like things would always have to change and you’d act differently. It was really important for the film and the energy of the character to work that way.

It’s also a pretty violent movie, but so much of what we see is the aftermath of the violence. There’s one fight near the end where we see the whole thing, but that’s about it. For the other scenes of violence, did you guys actually shoot a lot of that stuff and then cut around it in the finished film?

I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m not sure what’s in there, but it was intended that you didn’t see a lot of it. But there are probably other things that we shot and didn’t use. Lynne is a really amazing filmmaker because the more her back is against the wall, the stronger she gets, the better the ideas that come to her. She’s like this brilliant eleventh-hour kind of person. And it’s really astonishing because the story shifted throughout production. There were a couple times where I thought, “Fuck, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and we’re totally fucked.” And she just came up with something at the last minute, you know, and it was really, really impressive. Like, the brothel sequence was originally conceived as something different, and then she got to location.… But that’s what happens; you imagine something in your head and then you have to react to the location. That’s part of what filmmaking is, right? It’s the imagination, and then it’s the reality of what you’re working with. She was great at just reacting to the environment and coming up with something that felt unique.

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The Psycho references, when you’re playfully doing the “eee eee eee” sound and air-stabbing your mom — were those always there, or were those improvised?

Does it happen upstairs in the bathroom?

It happens twice early on in the finished film — once when she’s actually watching Psycho on TV, where you do it playfully. And then up in the bathroom, when she’s yelling at you from the other side of the door, and then you do it again — and it’s slightly more sinister the second time.

We shot all of that stuff with the mom over, like, two or three days in the same house. We played around with different versions of me coming home — what that could be like. And it was three takes in or something when Judith [Roberts, who plays the mother] said that she was watching Psycho; it wasn’t written in the script. She just said that, and so I did the Psycho voice. But I didn’t know if that was the take that was going to be used, so then upstairs when we shot that other scene, it just came up again. And I didn’t know if we would use that version or not. You know, there’s probably like four or five different versions of those scenes, each different.

Those two little moments early on in the film really let us know that we’re watching something quite different from the average revenge drama. They’re funny, of course, but they’re also revealing about the mother-son relationship.

Yeah. Initially in the story there was an almost idyllic dynamic to their relationship, where I was this loving son.… But it seemed like as we got into it, the reality is that when you’re taking care of somebody like that, who has a lot of needs and is struggling, inevitably you’re going to feel frustration. We wanted to find ways to show that.

When you’ve got a character like this who is so wounded, with such a complicated and tragic backstory, to what extent do you have to connect to those kinds of feelings to feel like you’re doing justice to the part?

I don’t know. It’s a good question, it’s a fair question. Movies are strange, man. Sometimes, you hear the writer talk about it, and you read about some of this stuff. For example, we spoke to someone who actually does [hostage] extractions. He goes in with a team. Some of the stories that he told were impossible not to be affected by. But to be honest, sometimes you’re fuckin’ eatin’ Fritos, and you shoot a scene. [Laughs] And you want to take credit for stuff as an actor, but the truth is that it’s really the filmmaking, ultimately. Probably some of the greatest moments in movies the actor was just thinking what was for lunch. So, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. There are times where you feel affected by things, and it’s emotional. But there’s other times when you go, “This scene is shit, and this is not fuckin’ working.” Then somebody tells you a year later, “I really love that scene. It felt powerful.” And you’re like, “Oh, really?” It’s probably different on every movie. And I think you learn something from every movie — even if the lesson is “Well, let’s not do that again.”

There were parts of this film that were really challenging. Part of it is that we put in a lot of time, a lot of work in pre-production, and that’s about going all day long, into the night, going through and talking. Also, Jim Wilson, who’s the producer, was a really big part of that process. There were a lot of changes to the script, and when you spend your time thinking about one subject matter, it starts seeping into you. Inevitably you’re affected by it. But there are times where maybe it’s just that you’re emotionally available, and so you can go in and shoot a scene and be brought right into it. But, you know, there were times in the fuckin’ brothel where the hammer would bend, and I’d be carrying it in my hand and everybody would be laughing. And I’d go, “Oh, what the fuck’s going on?” You know what I mean? I hope it ends up being a tense sequence, but over the one or two days that we shot it, there were moments that were really tense, and there were moments where we were going, “This is a stupid line. How the fuck are we gonna say this? What is this?”

So, how do you get through that? You’ve talked about trying to avoid being self-conscious. How do you pull that off? Because you seem to do it pretty well.

[Long pause]

And I realize that probably makes you self-conscious too, me just saying that…

I don’t know. There’s not one approach. It depends on the scene. The important thing with this movie was — and I acknowledge I probably do this a lot — to feel comfortable enough to make a lot of mistakes. To be able to say there’s not one right way for him to behave. Again, it seemed like the key was not knowing what his reaction was going to be. I’m sure that sometimes we used just a really straight version of a given scene, but we filmed so many different versions. You just dive head on into that feeling. But sometimes, when you’re making a movie, yeah, your nerves wear off and you grow accustomed to it, or you get tired, or whatever. Maybe it’s a million things over the course of the six weeks. So you just go, “OK, well, this is fuckin’ shit,” and you go outside and you sit and you talk about it, and you try to connect again to what is meaningful about this moment — to try and uncover something that you can latch onto. I guess. I don’t fuckin’ know, man.

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In You Were Never Really Here, there’s a random shot, almost part of a montage, where you’re reading a book and you tear out a page as you’re reading it. Do you remember the motivation behind tearing that page, or even what book it was? It’s such a mysterious little moment.

I don’t remember the book. It was just sitting there. That was another day in which we were shooting stuff in the house, and we had all these different things that we talked about as possibilities. I don’t remember why that came up. Honestly, it was probably nothing. There probably wasn’t like a great idea behind it. Don’t know that it symbolizes anything. I think it was just in that moment, it happened.… We shot a bunch of stuff. We shot a thing with the knife [Phoenix’s character plays with a knife, balancing it in front of his face] and we decided to use that, and use this book. But I honestly don’t remember what occurred to me in that moment. Maybe it’s something that I read about somewhere, or something I did once. I don’t remember. I have no idea why I did that.

It’s a great little moment. It’s probably better that you don’t remember why you did it.

It is. I mean, those are the things that I’m most interested in and want to be open to. I’ve become less interested in mapping things out, as an actor, and making decisions. Or maybe I’m just not good at doing that. Maybe, like, once I’ve made the decision, in that moment, it becomes boring. It just feels dead to me if you say, “This is what we’re doing.” And so, it’s just trying to be open to inspiration and what happens in the moment — feeling comfortable enough to make those decisions.

I don’t know if it’s in there, but do I sing a song in the movie, to the mirror? At the Russian bathhouse. It was just another thing that we’d talked about. A song that my grandfather used to sing to me. We were just trying things in that moment, and I think we were always trying to figure out where the song might go. I don’t know whether it came from Jim or Lynne or both, but they said, “Maybe try it here.” Sometimes, you have something and you don’t know precisely where it goes or if it will work, but you just try to create the space to try those things.

It’s revealing hearing you talk about this. My job is to write about movies, and often I have to discuss why the filmmakers made certain decisions. But hearing you talk, it’s clear that so many of those decisions are intuitive. You don’t necessarily sit down and reason them out.

Yeah, I’ve had both experiences, and certainly, my preference is the more intuitive — because I do think that if you’ve done your work and you feel familiar with the character in the world, that’s…I don’t know, any analogy sounds stupid. It’s like you have all your ingredients, right, and so you know your basics, of what you’re going to put together. But in the moment, you try a few different.… Oh, man, I don’t want to say herbs or fuckin’ spices! That’s so terrible; I don’t want to use that analogy! But you understand what I’m saying. And that is a joy. When I was younger, I thought the whole key to good acting was figuring it out, and locking something in and nailing it. And I just find that repulsive now. It was really something that we went after on this — just trying to be available and open to what the scene might tell you. I like that way of working.

I haven’t seen Mary Magdalene yet; I don’t even know when it will come out in the U.S. But how exactly does one prepare to play Jesus?

Well, there is a lot of information to consume, and a lot of it seems to contradict each other. So you just start reading all sorts of shit, and you go, “OK, well, I like this, and I like that.…” For me, it was important trying to find true contemporary figures that I thought possessed qualities that I was interested in. We always think about the spirit and mythical side of Jesus, but I was trying to find the humanity. That’s what makes the crucifixion such a sacrifice, because if he was just spirit-body then it’s like, “Great, I’m goin’ back.” Oftentimes, for me, research is great. Like, it’s great to take in a lot of information; it will give you ideas, and you’ll try to focus on, you know, what your character fuckin’ ate daily or whatever bullshit it is, right? But oftentimes it’s not until I start experiencing something, at least for me, that I start feeling close to it. I don’t know what the process is, but sometimes I just have to start having the experience. There was this healing scene we did, and it wasn’t until Garth [Davis, the director] and I started talking about it when we were on set, and I was in wardrobe, and I was touching the sand, did I start thinking about it differently — sort of feeling it instead of having this idea that in some ways was…I don’t know, I don’t want to say polluted, but in some ways polluted by the research that I did. I had a particular idea, and then when I got there it started changing. And I’m sure there’s still pieces of that work that are in there, but then it becomes something else — and to me, that’s the ideal place to get to.

 

 

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Chef Justin Bazdarich of Speedy Romeo Doesn’t Like Ramps

Justin Bazdarich worked as the opening chef at Perry Street and helped Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Culinary Concepts launch 15 restaurants all over the world, but in 2012 he opened his own restaurant, Speedy Romeo, in an old auto-parts shop in Clinton Hill with longtime college friend Todd Feldman. After over a year of churning out thin-crust pizzas and baked oysters, Bazdarich has a few things to say — including the admission that he can’t stand ramps, though he would make a whipped ramp ricotta if necessary.

What soundtrack plays in your kitchen?
Dr. Alimantado’s “Best Dressed Chicken in Town” on YouTube.

What did you grow up eating?
Peanut butter and jelly on white bread.

What are the three best things to do with ramps?
Grilled-ramp salsa verde, pickled for Bloody Marys, whipped ramp ricotta on pizza.

What food do you secretly dislike?
Ramps.

What dish do you wish guests would order more often?
Our chef collaboration pizzas. We’re constantly changing them, so they don’t stick around long. Next week’s is by chef Dave Gould from Roman’s.

Where’s the best place in the city to get dumplings?
I love the pretzel-pork-and-chive dumplings at Talde.

Wings?
The only place I go to eat wings is Buffalo Wild Wings at Atlantic Center. But I go for the trivia, not the wings.

What’s your favorite junk food?
Ruffles potato chips.

And your favorite drink?
An ice-cold glass of milk.

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Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

The Third Man’s Wolfgang Ban Explores the ‘Secret’ East Village

January in New York is well-suited to a cloak and dagger mentality and these dark and stormy days can set the stage for some equally heady nights in our suddenly-eerie metropolis.

Our advice? Embrace that film noir feeling and grab a drink at The Third Man, the new cocktail den on Avenue C from the Edi & the Wolf team. The bar takes its namesake from a classic spy film starring Orson Wells, and riffs on many of the Cold War-era references from the time. “You’ll see references to the film in some of cocktails themselves, names and ingredients,” says Wolfgang Ban, half of the chef/partner team (along with Eduard Frauneder) behind the project. “The cool thing is, Avenue C is still kind of a ‘secret’ area of New York City, just starting to be discovered.”

Today, Ban chatted with us about the bar’s Viennese influences, his favorite bar back home, and how to fix a tough day with Austrian Blaufraenkisch (or what we call red wine).

The Third Man is a classic Cold War spy film. How have you brought that aesthetic into the creation of the bar?
Edi [Frauneder] and my favorite hang out in Vienna was called Loos Bar (also called “American Bar”). It’s a tiny bar in the center of Vienna, which was designed by Adolf Loos in the early 20th century. We tried to create a place which would feel warm and welcoming like this place, and serve as a local neighborhood spot as well as a destination.

You’ve been open for about a month now. In three sentences, how would you describe your the atmosphere on any given night?
In terms of Viennese influence, the most prominent similarity is the emerald green leather banquettes, which are inspired by those at the Loos Bar. The combination of exposed brick, glass shelving and the banquettes give the place a more elegant feel than say, Edi & the Wolf, but with the same welcoming, communal vibe. We’ve also got these great wrought-iron buttresses salvaged from an old West Village church, that help provide a nice balance of old and new.

Finish this sentence: “On a dark and stormy night, I’ll pour myself a…”
Nice glass of Austrian Blaufraenkisch, or an old Scotch Whiskey. Depends how hard of a day it was.

And if we came by ordered one of your signature cocktails, like the “Harry Lime,” we’d get…?
Mezcal, chartreuse, maraschino, fresh lime juice, sparkling wine chaser. It’s our riff on The Last Word, with a central character’s name playing off the color of the drink.

How have culinary influences played into the the creation of your drinks?
Edi and I get our understanding of flavor combinations from cooking and creating plates. These days cooking and cocktail creation blend with each other. We can start using cooking techniques in the bar and vice versa. For instance, we’ll incorporate pickling juices from the restaurant and pickled ingredients are very common in Austrian cuisine. The cross-pollination is one of the best parts of opening the bar so close to one of our restaurants.

If you aren’t at The Third Man, where are you having a drink?
Booker and Dax or Death & Co. are definitely at the cutting edge right now. If I’m feeling divey, I’ll hit up Rudi’s on 9th Avenue near my apartment for a cheap beer and some good people watching.

You’re using liquid nitrogen in certain cocktails. Where can we find it on the menu?
We chill the glasses and occasionally freeze an ingredient before muddling it, like the dill in the Nessun Rimpianto.

Freezing anything sounds rough right now. What’s the best cocktail for staying warm in this punishing weather?
At The Third Man, we’re serving what we call the Triest, a mix of Fernet, myrtle berry liquer and a house-made five spice mulled cider. The combination of the hot temperature and spices in the Fernet and cider warm you right up.

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NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Creators of Atlantic Yards film, Battle for Brooklyn, Talk Opening of Barclays Center, Jay-Z, Corruption, and More (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, we introduced you to Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, co-directors of the film Battle for Brooklyn.

The film follows Brooklyn apartment owner Daniel Goldstein and his fight to save his home from real estate developer Bruce Ratner and other powerful New York City figures and officials seeking to displace residents from their homes in order to make way for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development project.

As they prepare for Friday’s free screening of Battle for Brooklyn, around the corner from Jay-Z’s debut concert at Barclays, Michael and Suki talk more corruption and reveal whether they have any beef with the rapper. They also explain why their film is still relevant and why they don’t plan on making another film like this ever again.

Michael on hosting a free screening on the night of the debut concert event at the Barclays Center:

Michael: [The screening] starts at 8 p.m., and Jay-Z goes on at about 10 p.m., so they can stop by and see it. What would happen is, they would enjoy the movie, and they would enjoy Jay-Z. No one is saying that Jay-Z isn’t incredibly talented, and I think he’s pretty awesome at what he does. I don’t think there’s anyone better — well there’s a few people better. But, the point is, it’s not us versus them, it’s more of a having information versus not knowing.

There’s going to be a certain amount of protest, but certainly not aimed at the people going to see Jay-Z. It’s really aimed at getting the media to pay attention to the fact that every promise was broken, and that the system is rigged against the average person. That’s really what it’s about. I have no problem with anyone going to see Jay-Z. I have no problem with anyone going to see the Nets. I do want them to know what happened, so that when this kind of thing happens again, people will have a little bit more knowledge and a little bit more ability to make it better for the public.

Michael and Suki on the immediate value of Battle for Brooklyn:

Michael: For us, the message of the movie is “pay attention to what happened here because they’re about to do the same thing in Queens.” And we’re trying to get the people from Queens who want a real discussion about the major league soccer stadium to come and use the film as a way to get a better process over there.

We’re not going to make a movie about it, but we want to make [Battle for Brooklyn] available so we can get a better discussion going. We’ve done that a lot. We’ve bought it to California and all over the country. For instance, in Santa Clara, California, there’s a group fighting the San Francisco 49ers football stadium, and it’s the same process. Nobody in the community was involved. The community board [or the city council] did vote on it to approve it, but what they didn’t tell the people is that the people are on the hook for $1 billion in bonds. So if it doesn’t work out, and the team goes bankrupt, the city of Santa Clara will have to back-stop a billion dollars in bonds, which means that it will go bankrupt. That’s a lot of risk.

Suki: There is a playbook by which these things go, and developers and the government have fine-tuned how to get these things expedited and passed and accepted in the quickest way possible. So that when you do have a document like this film that shows how they do it and the ways in which you can fight back, it is a useful tool for others going through the same process.

Michael and Suki on some of the particularly frustrating abuses of power by some of those pushing for the arena:

Suki: I think the most shocking thing was the Community Benefits Agreement. Eight groups that were supposedly representing the community signed a benefit agreement with the developer, but six of them didn’t exist before the project was announced. And it turns out that three of them got their money entirely from the developer. So the questions were raised about who they represent and how can they possibly represent the community if they’re getting all their funding from the developer himself. Those kinds of tactics — where you make a sort of astro-turf group that claims to be grassroots, and claims to be of the community — are very shocking to us.

Michael: There was a really nice article a week go Saturday in The New York Times, an op-ed about how amazing it is that basketball is coming to Brooklyn. It was a very well-written article by a guy named Dan Klores. And in his PR line it says Dan Klores is a “Peabody Award-winning filmmaker.”

Dan Klores also happens to be the name of the publicity company that ran the huge lobbying and PR campaign for Forrest City Ratner for the entire length of the project. Now it is true that Dan Klores sold his interest in the company five years ago to his employees. But when this project was announced, and his campaign to create grassroots groups, and all that was started, that was Mr. Klores’s company. It’s particularly troubling to me because his company kept me out of every press conference. They would bodily remove me because they didn’t know what we would do with the footage. Now we went to [them] and said you really need to correct this. This is unconscionable. You basically allowed the PR rep for the company to write the PR-line and call himself a filmmaker — which gives it more credence.

. . . The New York Times allowed this former publicist for the project, whose company probably billed close to $10 million, to write an op-ed and call himself a filmmaker and make no mention of the fact that he profited handsomely from this project. I mean that’s just beyond corrupt. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It almost kills me, really.

What story would history tell about the Atlantic Yards project if Battle for Brooklyn had never been filmed?

Michael: It would be the one that says “Hey. It’s great. It’s here. There were naysayers, but there were naysayers when they built Rockefeller Center.”

All of the press was developer-driven for the most part. And for the most part, press people don’t have the resources or the time to really spend to get to know it. So covering it over eight years, we saw person after person show up and not know anything. They knew nothing about what this project was or anything. I would happen to guess that of the 400 press people who were at the Barclays Center opening, probably 10 percent had some idea of what happened. But the good thing was that since there was a counter-protest outside, people were forced to pay attention to it, and they did ask hard questions inside. They asked Marty Markowitz hard questions because [the issue] still exists, and they’re not going to go away. And there’s an insistence on people not forgetting because these other people want them to forget.

Michael on how Brooklyn residents will ultimately feel about the project:

Michael: I think there is going to be a lot of anger about the project because it’s going to take 30 or 40 years for them to actually finish building it. People have patience. But I think when a couple of ugly buildings with non-affordable housing go up in the next three years and that’s it, and, there’s still a parking lot, there’s going to be anger. . . . Part of the reason why the opposition still exists is because there are being efforts made to try and take the rest of the land back, and give it to a developer who will really build and pay attention to what the community wants.

Will you do something like this again?

Michael: Hell no! It almost killed us. We spent eight years on this project.

Suki: That shows why it was so difficult for the media to even begin to tell the story. It was very complex, complicated. It took eight years. It was just a difficult story that’s very hard to convey in an entertaining way. I felt like we did a pretty good job. Once again, we tried to more like Frank Capra than Michael Moore. In the sense that we wanted to tell a compelling story and a universal story rather than a political polemic.

Check out the trailer for Battle for Brooklyn!

Battle for Brooklyn is playing five times in New York this week, culminating in Friday’s free screening up the block from the Barclays Center.

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NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Creators of Atlantic Yards film, Battle for Brooklyn, Talk Opening of Barclays Center, Jay-z, Corruption, and More (Pt. 1)

With the opening concert at the Barclays Center slated for Friday, we caught up with Michael Galinksy and Suki Hawley, creators of the critically-acclaimed film, Battle for Brooklyn.

Battle for Brooklyn follows Brooklyn apartment owner Daniel Goldstein and his fight to save his home from real estate developer Bruce Ratner and other powerful New York City figures and officials seeking to displace residents from their homes in order to make way for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development project.

The story documents the broken promises and manipulation used by a few powerful men to drain the city of public funds and impose eminent domain on Brooklyn residents for a private project.

In a two-part interview, the Voice brings you a series of excerpts from our conversation with Michael and Suki as they gear-up for a free-screening of their movie up the street from the Jay-Z Concert on Friday night.

What’s your response to Bruce Ratner calling the film all lies in a recent New York magazine article?

Michael: It’s disconcerting that someone who has that much access to power can make a statement like that — that continues the narrative that somehow the movie is untrue. When in fact, everything in it was fact checked. We made so sure that there wasn’t anything out place. So to call it all lies, or to declare that Dan Goldstein is lying, is kind of surreal really.

Suki: It’s very surreal, but also from a PR perspective, it makes sense. What I find surreal is that New York magazine just printed that without any kind of rebuttal or any chance for the writer to take a look at the film and decide for himself. Instead he referred to Ratner as a mensch for even considering Dan a formidable opponent.

How has the film been received?

Michael: The film across the board has gotten really great reviews — from film critics. One of the things about information is that we tend to live in bubbles. So people who have seen the movie outside of New York really get it, and see it as this kind of even-handed message. But people in New York have a difficult time because the media has been so one-sided. Every story that’s written about it is based on a press release from the developer. So when do they write about it? When the developer has a press release that [says] we’re going to do X, Y, or Z. As such, most people in New Yorker don’t really have a full sense of what the story is or what was at stake, or the amount subsidies that went in to it, and the lack of community involvement — the fact that nobody got to vote on it.

People don’t realize at all. They kind of trust government and think the government is going to do the right thing; you kind of have to. It’s very troubling from our perspective that the movie then can be summarily dismissed like that — without people getting to see it.

Michael on what viewers can expect from the film:

Michael: People haven’t seen it, and they hear this thing about it being all lies or whatever. The truth is, it is very much It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s more of a Frank Capra film than a Michael Moore film. It’s a movie . . . there’s not a lot of facts, there’s not a lot of figures. There’s very little that could be held up, even possibly, as a lie. That’s what’s so disconcerting about that kind of statement being taken at face value.

Michael and Suki on the level of objectivity in the film:

Suki: When we went into the project there was a baseline idea that the government was going to protect the regular person. That that’s what the government’s main job is, to make sure that everything is even and fair, and I think coming out of this, it’s definitely more clear how people with connections and money can definitely get favored treatment form even the government.

. . . In a sense, that’s how we’ve come to the opinions that we have because we did come in objectively. It wasn’t like we were going to make this activist film against this [project]. But when you see something like that you just can’t say, “Oh, these two sides are even, they’re telling the same story.” There’s just not. On side is not playing fairly. So you’re going to some out with a particular view of how this went down.

Michael: What’s very frustrating to us is that we were not activists. We did not allow the movie to become a part of the activism against the project because we thought that would kind of ghettoize the film as being something that was part of [the activism], so you wouldn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t real journalism. I think in the end, as a real journalist, you saw it, and said, “Hey this completely fair probably.” There’s nothing in here that’s a lie. And so it’s really frustrating to us to then have the film be kind of dismissed as being only a part of some fight rather than a really really precise document of something that happened.

Can you describe the feeling of walking into the finished arena after almost a decade of following its development?

Michael: Look, it’s a nice arena. It’s fine. I like basketball; I really do. I would say that the vast majority of people who were against this project, are not against basketball. What they’re against is a really rigged and one-sided process. So this very powerful developer, who’s getting millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, can say “basketball, basketball, basketball, Hoops and Housing.” It like a magic trick to make everyone not look at the fact that he’s pocketing $300 million in subsidies, $200 million dollars in naming rights, this weird green card scam that netted them another like [200]-and-something million dollars in no interest bonds. All of these things, that’s what we’re against, and we’re against this impermeable cronyism of it.

I walked into the arena the other day, and like I said, it was nice. There were all these wonderful people there, cheering this wonderful event, but everyone on that stage was a government official or a billionaire or both, in fact several were both billionaires and government officials. There’s a kind of myopic view of the world that shuts everybody out who has a counter-viewpoint. And because money and government are so powerful, the media tends to support that process.

Come back tomorrow for pt. 2 as Michael and Suki discuss Jay-Z and the impact of their film.

In the meantime, check out the trailer for the film.

Battle for Brooklyn is playing five times in New York this week culminating in Friday’s free screening up the block from the Barclays Center.

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Q&A, Part 1: Restaurateur Carlos Suarez on His New Venture Rosemary’s, Rooftop Gardens, and the West Village Community

See More Interviews:
Dan Ross-Leutwyler of Bellwether

Chez Jose’s Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pam Yung

Maybe it’s the food or the cleverly designed space–or perhaps it’s just the bees on the roof–that have created all the buzz surrounding Rosemary’s, the latest West Village venture from restaurateur Carlos Suarez. Suarez, who opened Bobo in 2007, has been planting roots in this neighborhood in a variety of ways. We sat down with him to discuss the restaurant, its rooftop garden, and his commitment to the local community, including his agricultural projects with students at P.S.41.

Can you tell me a bit about your background as a restaurateur and how you decided to go into the restaurant industry?
I went to university in Philadelphia. Discovered the Italian market in Philadelphia, and had a great time exploring that market and cooking for friends. Meanwhile, I was studying for a career in finance and ended up pursuing a career in finance. I worked for a small hedge fund for all of 11 months and realized that I didn’t want to do that. I was young enough to be able to take a risk and pursue my passion. I ended up taking a hosting job at Blue Fin in Times Square, of all places. It was not somewhere I’d ever been, but I created a management-training program there. I started as a host, worked as a server, was terrible at that, bartender even worse, but ended up being a restaurant manager for that group…I spent two and a half years with them, but still wanted to pursue opening my own restaurant. I was working at Vento in the Meatpacking District, which is a big-box restaurant sort of thing, and it just occurred to me that the reason I was in the business was for a much more intimate experience, like having friends over for dinner. So the idea of pursuing a much more intimate restaurant than a big-box, commercial enterprise really motivated me. I really channeled that and went after a residential approach. I opened Bobo in 2007. About a year into it, or 18 months into it, I met Ben Flanner from Brooklyn Grange. He was, at the time, at Eagle Street Farm in Greenpoint. I also had the epiphany of going to Roberta’s back then and saw what they were doing in their backyard. I was really inspired by that, and by what Ben was doing, and I wanted to bring that sort of urban agriculture to the city. So I began looking for places that were single-story where you could put a farm on the roof that people could see from the street, as opposed to on the sixth story and being much less accessible and much less visible.

Rosemary’s is one of very few restaurants in Manhattan doing direct farm-to-table from the roof. Can you describe your set-up a bit?
I continued the relationship with Ben at Brooklyn Grange, sourcing their ingredients at Bobo, and we’ve remained friends from working together. We’ve done a bunch of events at Brooklyn Grange over the past few years, including a series of dinners called Plate to Gate. So they consulted on the farm upstairs–they helped us plan it, design it, and install it. They introduced us to an engineer who helped us work on the structure of the building, because we had to modify the structure to support the new load. Then Ben and his team came and laid down special fabric on top of the roof used for rooftop gardens. One Saturday in early May, we all showed up and a 60-foot-long truck with a huge crane and these massive bags of soil came and craned soil up onto the roof. We raked it all out and mounded it into different rows. We started with a few seedlings from the Grange–tomato seedlings and some pepper seedlings–but mostly it’s all little seeds. Our chef Wade (Moises) and (sous chef Xan Hast) basically run the show upstairs. They manage it, plan it, work on it every day.

What are your plans for the future in terms of meeting the restaurant’s needs from the garden?
I would imagine it will only meet a fraction of our needs in terms of our produce. We may end up producing all the honey we use.

So there is an apiary?
There are two hives that have been recently painted by kids in the neighborhood. Chase (Emmons), the Brooklyn Grange guy, is coming back to fill the hives with bees. So we probably won’t see any honey out of those hives until September–and that’s if we’re lucky in September. Otherwise it will be next June. At some point we will get all our honey from upstairs and a fraction of our produce. Although I think Wade said that he stopped buying herbs. So all the herbs in the restaurant are from upstairs, which is a small feat. One day, hopefully at the end of the summer, we’ll have a chicken coop. I don’t know how many eggs a week–maybe four eggs a week per chicken? So probably not that many chickens up there.

But the purpose of the garden is also educational for the program that you are doing with P.S. 41. Can you talk a bit more about that?
One of the reasons I pursued this location is the proximity to P.S.41. We’ve been involved with them and the development of their greenroof with Bobo. That was a project started by this woman Vicki Sando five or six years ago, and its finally been built. Through crazy red tape, she’s persevered and created an incredible roof. They’re integrating agriculture and nature into their curriculum at the school. They already visit with Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern about twice a semester. They see that restaurant, go to the greenmarket with him, and spend time in the kitchen. We hope to basically follow in his footsteps with something more convenient for them.

You have longstanding commitment to both sustainability and a connection to this community. Can you talk a bit about what attracts you to the West Village and your connection with this neighborhood?
This space is across the street from one of the most beautiful gardens in the city–Jefferson Market Garden. So it has that going for it. The West Village is fun and elegant at the same time. There’s incredible talent in terms of restaurants–it’s out of control how much great food there is within a few blocks. It’s always really exciting to be able to go after work and be inspired a few blocks away. Also, meeting people like Vicki Sando. I went to P.S. 41 and said, “Hey, what do you guys think about doing a rooftop garden? Because I’ve seen on Google Images that you guys have this huge roof.” They said, “Hold on one second, let me introduce you to somebody.” And out walks Vicki who had been working on this for a few years. So there are a lot of like-minded people in the neighborhood and this community develops very quickly.

Read part two here.

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Q&A, Part 2: Runner and Stone’s Peter Endriss on Brooklyn Flea, “Tart-tening” Up Bread, and NYC’s Whole-Grain Movement

See More Interviews:
North Fork Table & Inn’s Gerry Hayden

Travis Post of Yunnan Kitchen

Yesterday, Peter Endriss told us about opening a permanent bakery in Gowanus, baking at Per Se, and working 35 hours a weekend. We follow up today with part two of our chat with the gifted baker. He shares his thoughts on the markets, what excites him about bread, and why it’s just so darn hard to make.

How have the markets been?
Really fun! There’s nothing more direct retail than the Brooklyn Flea or New Amsterdam market, so it’s been really cool for field testing our recipes and getting feedback on everything from pricing to different breads to options…and reinforcing all of the cultural stereotypes, of all of the Germans coming and loving the rye bread, and all the French that come and grab the canelé, and all the Italians that want the olive loaf.

What new bread or pastry that you’re making are you excited about at the moment?
When raspberries came into the market a couple of weeks ago, we started making a raspberry almond croissant, which I’m particularly fond of. I really like our almond croissant, so we put the fresh berries in there and it kind of “tarts,” or “tart-tens,” it up a bit — well, okay, it “tarts” it up too. In terms of bread, the rye ciabatta is my current favorite. It has a really nice sourness because there are two pre-ferments in it — it has pretty distinctive flavor. It’s made with a poolish also, so it has a nice thin crackly crust. With a 30 percent rye, you usually don’t get that.

What other breads in the city do you like?
I really like Austin Hall’s bread at Roman’s, his sprouted spelt is really tasty. I’ve had good breads at Bien Cuit, especially the pan pugliese — I think it’s the one he makes with potato and a little rye flavor. And, Dean and Deluca is actually making a lot of nice breads — in April, they made a baguette with a little bit of barley flour that I loved. Louie, the head-baker, is a really interesting guy, really knows his stuff and is very open and passionate in a kind way about bread.

In the city today, there seems to be a zeitgeist of bakers using whole grains and rare wheats. What’s driving the whole-grain movement?
It seems like so many things that are happening in the food movement now are “old things writ new.” like, pickling — everyone’s re-discovering pickling like they are first people to ever make a pickle, even though it’s been happening for millennia. With the whole-grain thing, I’m really happy it’s moving in that direction. I feel like the Green Market system and June Russell, who does inspections for the Green Market, she’s championed whole grains for the past three years, and as a result, from all of her connections between bakers, chefs, and millers, and farmers, there’s like this whole new economy that has arisen with a lot of really great millers in the New York area. So, if you want to use local whole grain flour, you have options and it’s actually great flour. It’s made it a lot easier for bakers to experiment and get inspired by what they’re using. For example, at New Amsterdam Market, there are almost 15 bakers, and everyone was using all local flour, in their own style. Just the fact that that can happen is really indicative of where we are. Every miller I’ve spoken to talks about how they almost run out of flour, which is actually a good thing, when those flours are buckwheat, rye, organic whole wheat, and spelt. That’s really cool.

Unpredictable but beautiful breads at Runner and Stone
Unpredictable but beautiful breads at Runner and Stone

How are whole-grains different than regular flour?
It makes for more interesting bread and also requires more of the baker. If you want to use 40 percent whole wheat flour in a bread and not have it be a brick you have to know what you are doing. It seems like there’s a big crew of New York bakers who really know what they are doing, and there’s a constant exchange of ideas.

Why is bread so hard to make?
I think it’s because it requires a lot of time. And, either a good memory or good documentation to try and kind of unpack why breads behave the way they do. Sometimes to figure it out you have to go back 48 hours. With pastry you make a recipe and within two hours you have a product. Bread is like, “Was it the pre-ferment that screwed up? Was it the proof? Was it the shaping? The flour?” And so, to troubleshoot it winds up being a matrix of factors that you have to concentrate on and really be in it, to adjust the matrix to get what you want. Bread, in the general term, is easy to make. But good bread is very difficult. To take it from that home-baker, bread-machine level to the next level, is a really big jump.

What’s one tip you have for home bakers?
Bar none, make wetter doughs! Wetter doughs make nicer bread, or the kind of artisan bread that home bakers are probably picturing they want to make.

Anything that frustrates you about the New York City food and restaurant community?
Now that I’m on the other side of the press, being interviewed by a number of people, I’ve had a few interviews where they haven’t even tasted your product and then write something about it without having tasted it. And it makes me feel like the review is disingenuous, and that’s disappointing. I think the New York press machine, because there is so much happening and people want to be the first ones to report on something, sometimes it doesn’t do its homework. And so, I see a lot of reports of products that I don’t think are so great, and great product that I don’t think are celebrated enough. Otherwise, the food scene is super-innovative. If it has any fault, it’s that it’s always trying too much.

Check out part one of the interview with Peter Endris here.

Saturday: Smorgasborg, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; The Brooklyn Flea, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: New Amsterdam Market, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Justin Smillie of Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria Loves Yakatori: Part 2 of Our Chef Q&A

[ See More Chef Interviews: Dragonfly’s Cornelius Gallagher Quotes Bill Cosby, Is Influenced by Gray Kunz | Q&A with Chef Max Hardy on Cooking for the New York Knicks ]

Yesterday we chatted with chef Justin Smillie about his commitment to the farmers market and the thrills of an open kitchen. Today, he reveals what a chef who spends eighty hours a week cooking Italian food eats in his free time. He also lets us in on his pantry essentials.

Tell me about the open kitchen here at Il Buco. It gives all the guests the possibility to look in on you working. But what does it mean for you to be cooking while people are watching?
You have to make it a part of the meal. It definitely forces everybody to be on their toes a bit more. What you say, how you dress, and how you carry yourself. How clean everything is. So the movements are a little slower and a little more methodic.

I’m sure you have a lot of people getting excited about the food when it comes out. Especially those ribs. What do you like to serve the most? To watch people experience?
I like seeing their faces when they see the short ribs come out, especially when they order it for one. I think that’s hysterical. Speaking of commitment again, that’s a big undertaking. I like when people get involved with the entire meal. When they touch many different parts of the menu. I guess that’s the best for me.

What do you like to cook for your friends and family at home in your free time, if you have any free time?
Some of it is spent eating out, not too crazy. But I just cook really simple meals.

What’s your go-to 10-minute meal to prepare?
I love making yakitori. That’s probably my favorite thing.

You mentioned that you also like to eat out. What’s your favorite restaurant in New York?
I love Yakitori Toto. I love Txikito. Pizza Co is delicious. I still go to Barbuto. Then in Jersey, I eat a lot of Asian on my day off. After smelling Italian food six, seven days a week, 80 hours, I want a change. And that kind of helps cleanse the palate and start fresh again.

What do you find most exciting about the New York food scene?
The flexibility. And I like that there’s enough space for us all to do our own thing. In smaller markets, you might get pigeonholed a little bit. In all big cities that’s the advantage–what you can actually get in the door every day.

What’s the last great meal you had out, in New York, or elsewhere if it wasn’t in New York?
My favorite place to eat in the world is still Cal Pep in Barcelona. We were in Barcelona and I ate there probably seven times in that month. I just love the ambiance. I love how it’s quick and how fresh it is. There’s no menu. You just kind of line up behind a bar stool and wait to be seen.

What are five essential things that you always keep in your fridge or pantry? Things you cannot live without.
I always have really good vinegar, always some kind of fish sauce, chilies for sure, Kewpie mayo–guilty pleasure–and fresh vegetables.

Are there any foods that you absolutely will not eat and try to stay away from?
None.

In terms of preparation, are there things you do not like to cook?
I love to cook everything, but I think in a restaurant certain things become time and space prohibitive. But that’s just logistical. I like it all…but it’s hard for us to talk about ourselves, too. The thing about our process here is not like…I don’t sit at home for hours and hours. I mean, I do read a lot and I do think a lot about it. But usually it’s whatever I see in the market–how can I put that together here. That creates the final dish.

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The Good Old Days of Epic, Expensive Lunches at the Financial Times

Want to take a quick break from our live May Day coverage? The Financial Times looks back at its long-standing column, Lunch with the FT.

It’s a fun look at the golden days of the celebrity interview. FT journalists drank cocktails at hotel bars with celebrities (who weren’t even promoting a project!) and dropped hundreds of pounds on fancy lunches around the world (the article has a chart of its most expensive meals). But this sort of lunch culture didn’t last long:

First smoking went out of fashion, then daytime drinking. Negroni-drinkers were dying out, or reforming. Wine began to be drowned out by absurd fizzy water. Then the food itself was threatened, partly because business lunches were becoming more businesslike, partly because interviewees were becoming more self-conscious.

And for journalists looking to sharpen their interviewing skills, Lucy Kellaway suggests lunch:

“Lunch is hugely helpful from an interviewer’s point of view. It might start with both of you nervous but a lunch is like a three-act play. The ordering and the eating keeps allowing you to change the subject, to catch them unawares and lull them into small talk.”

If you’re not familiar with the column, here are three recent stories to get you started: Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. security adviser, Han Han, the political blogger, and novelist Peter Carey (who chose Gramercy Tavern).

Via Financial Times

 

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Q&A With David Rees, Cartoonist and Pencil-Sharpener Extraordinaire

David Rees is no stranger to paper. As a cartoonist for Rolling Stone and other publications, he won widespread acclaim (and criticism) for his politically charged “Get Your War On” strip, which visualized, in comic form, the intense spectrum emotions felt throughout the Bush years. He is also the self-proclaimed “hottest blogger on the planet.” Now, he’s onto a bigger project and this one involves his own drawing device: the pencil.

Last July, Rees started an “artisanal pencil-sharpening” business. For $15 or so, customers could send him their pencils for a quick touch-up from the famed cartoonist. From there on out, Rees dedicated his time to the lead-filled field of study and, as of last week, his book, How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Craft of Pencil-Sharpening, can be found on bookstore shelves everywhere.

His tour for the book will end May 18th in Brooklyn at the Public Assembly, with guest star and the book’s foreward author, comedian John Hodgman. Runnin’ Scared sat down with the cartoonist-turned-pencil-author to find out more about the ins and outs of the ‘artisanal’ craft, his career in cartoons and what will make people laugh in this upcoming Presidential election:

Runnin’ Scared: So how’s the tour going? Are people across the country excited about pencils?

David Rees: It’s going great! I’ve answered a lot of people’s questions and long-standing issues with pencils; I wanted this tour to be an ‘adult education class’ and it’s playing out just like that.

Runnin’ Scared: So you probably get this a lot but how did you go into the field of pencil-sharpening? Why did you leave the comic field and decide you wanted to write this book?

David Rees: I got a job working for the Census as a door-knocker. And on the first day of staff training, we all had to sharpen our #2 pencils they had given us. I hadn’t sharpened a pencil in a long time and it was really satisfying. So I told myself, “There’s gotta be a way to get paid sharpening pencils.” So I started my own pencil-sharpening business.

Runnin’ Scared: So what’s your favorite way to sharpen a pencil?

David Rees: It really depends on what the client wants. If I’m just doing it for myself, though, a pocketknife is pretty satisfying or a box-cutter. It’s the most difficult but it gives you the most control on what kind of point you’re going to make. Each different technique has its own pleasures.

Runnin’ Scared: The title of the book includes the “Practical and Theoretical” sides of pencil-sharpening; what’s the theoretical side apply to since the practical presumably applies to the how-to guides?

David Rees: I think the theoretical stuff applies to matching the device to what the client needs. And the psychological part of sharpening a pencil. All the nostalgic association people have with pencils and what pencils can symbolize for people, in terms of the anxiety of trying to produce this perfect pencil point versus the practical nature of actually just needing to use the pencil. That kind of tension, I find really interesting; it’s symbolic, on a deeper level, about whether you’re going to spend your whole life just dreaming of the perfect situation or whether you’re going to go out and get to work.

Runnin’ Scared: In regards to nostalgia, do you think, with iPads and keyboards, kids are missing out on the glories of pencil-sharpening?

David Rees: One of the points the book makes is to celebrate the pencil itself as an engineer device, as a really efficient and elegant tool. The basic design hasn’t changed for hundreds of years because it’s still really affordable, flexible and portable. I’ve been telling people that if Steve Jobs had developed and designed it now, people would cream their pants over how amazing it is. If no one had seen pencils and it came out today, it would blow everyone’s mind. But they’re so familiar and ubiquitous to us – we don’t really think to celebrate them. The book is to make the pencil new to the reader again so they can appreciate how cool they are.

Runnin’ Scared: Do you ever see pencils going extinct at one point?

David Rees: I don’t think so: they’re erasable, they’re portable and long-lasting. And you still need them to fill out scrantron sheets, like on the SATs or the Census. But the domestic market, in terms of manufacturing in America, has basically collapsed; it’s nothing like how it was a hundred years ago. There’s still billions of pencils produced; it’s like any other market: if America stops using pencils, China will pick up the slack like they do with everything else… like pollution.

Runnin’ Scared: In a field as non-controversial as pencil-sharpening, do you still get haters? Do pencil haters even exist?

David Rees: Not pencil haters, ‘artisanal pencil-sharpening’ haters. For some reason, this project has made people really upset and frustrated. They think I’m pulling a scam or it’s proof of the collapse of modern society. Not pencil-sharpening, but my business of ‘artisanal pencil-sharpening, – charging people $15 for a hand-sharpened pencil.

Runnin’ Scared: In the ‘Customer Testimonials’ section of the book, there’s one with Spike Jones where he complains that one of your pencils stabbed him. Have you had any other encounters with ordinary people complaining about the dangers of your pencils?

David Rees: Every pencil I sharpen comes with a certificate that says it’s a dangerous object and you have to be careful with it. One of the funny things on this tour is that people are coming up to show me old pencil wounds from their childhood.

Runnin’ Scared: We‘ve read online that you fact-checked at Maxim and Martha Stewart Weddings. At what point, were you just like, “Yeah… this isn’t me”?

David Rees: Those jobs were very interesting; people think they’re different but, in a way, they’re both similar kinds of softcore pornography for two different audiences. I still was at Maxim when I started the “Get Your War On” comic.

Runnin’ Scared: “Get Your War On” was unbelievable because it showed the hyper-paranoia of the Bush years in visual form; the surveillance, the terrorism alerts no one could make sense of. If you were writing that strip now, how would it look different in Obama’s America?

David Rees: I did a comic strips recently about the election for Rolling Stone. But, like alot of liberals, I’ve been frustrated with the stuff Obama’s done. A lot of the issues that began under Bush are still continuing under Obama, whether it’s the actual policies or the conversations and discussions being had among the elite class and elite media class. They still sound stupid and unproductive to me. Domestic issues and all the arguments about so-called “class warfare” distract us; it’s embedded in our culture – the logic we use to solve situations – and it doesn’t really matter who the president is. That’s why I left cartoons for the most part after Bush; his administration was just exhausting and I respect cartoonists, like Tom Tomorrow, who are still able to do it regularly.

Runnin’ Scared: Many people in the comedy business – like the writers of SNL – think this is going to be a relatively boring election. How do you think cartoons of Romney and Obama will play out? Is there still hope for comedy?

David Rees: It depends on what kind of topical satire you’re interested in. You can always make political jokes about Romney being a robot but the stuff that always interested me were those deeper issues – how we talk about fighting terrorism, how we talk about creating wealth and what it means to be an engaged citizen. I think if you stick to those issues instead of the foibles of the individual candidates, there’s still good jokes to be made. But yeah, I can’t imagine this campaign will have anyone like Palin again.