The Trisha Brown Dance Company performed four pieces at BAM last night, including two New York premieres. I know very little about dance and lack the vocabulary to describe the movements and style; but I do know when it works, when the energy makes sense. It is like music in how it opens thoughts from the day-to-day into something skulking deep within. The dancers spun, flipped and dashed, and I found myself thinking back to my first book, The Sacred Whore. As I told agents time and again back in 1988, “It’s the story of a group of prostitutes who kidnap a college basketball team so that they can air their views on what is wrong with America on primetime television.” The first draft was 720 pages and had 15 major characters.I eventually got that down to 282 pages and five main characters. It’s a chaotic, action-dependent, socio-political piece that stumbles and ultimately fails, but I still am interested in the premise. It opens on the back roads of Oklahoma, women climbing out the back of an 18-wheeler truck like refugees. They’ve been kidnapped by a pimp who wants to address the hypocritical morality of the nation with a hair-brained kidnapping scheme. I was standing in a Paris apartment when I thought of this, a mannequin sitting in the dark beside the bed. Prostitutes transported across the country by a truck. What about that? It seemed like something, I didn’t know what, like the moment some months later, halfway through the book, when a character I had expunged from the text, Chantal, decided to return. She did that on her own. I want back in. She was like the woman on stage last night at BAM, dancing with a camera on her back. She was self-realized, something out of nothing. I thought about that coming back over the bridge.
Charlie Rose interviewed Al Gore last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Both men are highly intelligent and empathetic, as evidenced by their reflections on democracy, the environment and what the future holds for humankind. Mr. Gore also demonstrated a more human, lighter side, laughing at the more biting questions – “When did you get over losing the 2000 election?” – and offered down-home Tennessee wisdom: “If you spot a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.” And while the witty repartee was highly engaging, something was askew. Perhaps it was their matching conservative suits and ties. Perhaps it was the self-satisfied, almost smug, nature of their discourse, knowing things they wish everyone else would understand. Or perhaps it was the fact that, as much they both seemed to know, they were still just pitching products, Gore’s book and Rose’s show. Gore says that his book The Future was the result of a nagging question that wouldn’t let him alone: “What drives global change?” I too have a nagging question: “Why are humans so good at nothing but talk?”As much as we might love our discourse – how noble in reason and all that – we don’t actually seem to care about anything but ourselves. In short, we just aren’t a great species; we aren’t even a fair one.
We explain and justify, argue and judge, talk and blog, but do nothing in the end but make life miserable for one another. Kids are shot, women gang raped, thousands slaughtered… and what do we do? Sign on-line petitions. Hurrah for us.
Film Forum’s current program New Yawk New Wave showcases director-centered New York films in the 1950s-70s, including D.A. Pennebaker’s 1 P.M. The genesis of the piece, as Pennebaker explained in his comments before the screening, arose from Jean-Luc Godard’s belief that the United States was on the brink of revolution. Pennebaker, esteemed for his work on Dont Look Back, Monterey Pop, Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars as well as The War Room, didn’t share Godard’s belief but saw an opportunity for something to unfold. The film centers on Godard directing various people in 10-minute unedited sequences, including political activist Tom Hayden, Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, actor Rip Torn, The Jefferson Airplane in a rooftop performance, that identify the unnatural order of filmmaking and narrative construction. As heavy-handed and off the mark as Godard might have been about America’s revolution, this is a great film for filmmakers. It is a genuine attempt to merge form and content and also features many candid, almost heart-warming moments of Godard on camera.
A screening of Maidstone followed 1 P.M. Pennebaker confessed in his pre-screening comments that this film (directed by Norman Mailer) had bored him in the end…that is of course until the infamous scene in which Rip Torn attacks Mailer with a hammer. It takes a long time to get there, but we have Pennebaker to thank in the end for never letting go of the trigger.
New York can be a distracting place, a tough environment to imagine isolation and
silence, which is where my head is supposed to be these days. That said, New York is a very good place to find inspiration from others. While the constant flow of art and ideas can be numbing, it can also fit pieces in the puzzle as well. Last week, we attended the closing night screening of the New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center. The film was Hannah Arendt, an eponymous biopic directed by Margarethe von Trotta. The narrative is strong, as is the setting and atmosphere – more cigarettes smoked than in a season of Mad Men – but most memorable are the philosophical musings of Ms. Arendt. Credited with developing the idea of “the banality of evil”, Ms. Arendt’s pursuit of understanding is ferocious.She argued that the Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was not so much an evil-minded villain as an unthinking bureaucrat only doing his job. Viewers of the film witness Ms. Arendt espouse her theories to attentive students, argue her points with colleagues, and most interesting of all, contemplate the complexities of humankind as she sits and smokes at home, staring into oblivion. “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”
Some 25 trees were knocked down by Hurricane Sandy near our house. Three months later, with a little help from my friends, I’ve managed to finally fell, cut, split and pile it – a full five cords – for the winter.
You can have your colas, un-colas and cream sodas, your spritely lemon limes and root beers…no soda matches a ginger ale. It doesn’t matter your age (5 or 105), the occasion (formal or on the sidewalk) or your state of being (puking or vibrant), a ginger ale is always crisp and delicious. I am no connoisseur, and I haven’t tasted them all, but Canada Dry is certainly the most reliable. Blenheim, of North Carolina, is hot and delicious, if you can find it. And for an incredibly gingery taste, there are always high-end options like the signature offering at En Japanese Brasserie in Tribeca. Just understand that it’s $9 a glass.
I hate being sick. It wasn’t like that when I was a kid. There was real comfort in being sick, in the quiet of my bedroom, in the care of my mother, the sheets and blankets tight over my legs, the TV table over the bed, the tiny black and white television within reach. I was obsessive with the game shows in the morning – Gambit, High Rollers, Match Game, The Joker’s Wild! I stared blankly at the talk shows in the afternoon – Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore. I ate rusks and honey, drank ginger ale, and read Watership Down cover to cover. And then I got the blankets pulled back tight.
As Robert William Service wrote in The Cremation of Sam McGee: It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone. It starts at your fingertips and toes. It grips your face and neck. Breathing hurts. It creeps up from your extremities into your inner thighs, your armpits, into your core. You have to keep moving. And it still gets in. You think about what it would be like to die of exposure, such as the 129 men on the Franklin Expedition did in 1846.
I was biking today. And it was cold. -14 Celsius. It’s the same bitter cold as it was seven years ago in 2005 when the Metro Transit Authority (MTA) went on strike just before Christmas. I remember Mayor Bloomberg leading his entourage over the Brooklyn Bridge every morning to make sure that we all knew that we were in this together.He’s always been good at doing that. And then they opened up Madison, an entire lane for biking, pyloned off and policed, which was amazing until a taxi door opened right in front of me, and I went heels over head, “No!” and banged flat upside down onto the curb. I lay, looking into the cold blue, police everywhere, and thought, “Yeah, I’m okay. I can feel everything. I’m okay.” I sat up. My helmet was cracked. My hand was bloody and sore. I shook it out. And then I stood. The cab driver was there, looking desperate. “Please, please, don’t sue me. You can’t do that.” I tried to calm him. And then I realized it was the passenger who had opened the door, and he was long gone. An ambulance arrived. I told the medic that I was fine. He told me I had a broken hand. I didn’t believe him. “You’re in shock, man. Look at your bike.” The front of it was entirely bent. He took us – me and my bike – to the hospital. I waited for the x-rays and read Gotham. They sewed up my hand and I suddenly felt sick. I hadn’t eaten all day. They gave me orange juice and wrapped my hand in a cast. I had to walk my bike to the shop. “Doored?” The bike guy asked. “How many stitches?” “It’s broken.” “Lucky you’re not dead.” I left the bike to be fixed and walked home, 45 blocks through densely crowded streets; the strike was still on. I didn’t take the prescribed codeine – I was too tired for that – and felt oddly content and adrift when I flew to England for Christmas. They gave me a business class seat because of my hand. I stayed at a Hyatt Resort south of London for Christmas with my sister and mother and found myself on the elevator with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. I said something inane and one of them smiled. I wrote every night in the hotel pub and thought I might run into them again and I did. They were at a table right behind me; they only had to glance over to see my words. Wouldn’t Mr. Burton like to chat with a writer who had a broken hand? That was kind of like Oyster Boy, right? He might even need a quick re-write or a scene conceived. I could do all of that so much the better with my crooked and lumpy claw. I wrote and drank and finally looked. He was gone. I knew it wouldn’t have worked anyway. I didn’t write like him; his stuff was too weird. I continued to write and edit until closing time every night and woke up late and then came back to New York, the transit strike resolved, the cold weather too. The only scar that remained was my inability to make a fist and the fact that Burton didn’t jump at his chance.
It’s cold in New York today: -7 C (19 F), the coldest it’s been in two years. This is good because I am writing about cold things. Not surprisingly, January 22 has a cold history: 1930: -37 C (-35 F), Mount Carroll, Illinois (State record)
1982: 75% of the United States is covered in snow. 1985: -34 C (-30 F), Mountain Lake Bio Station, Virginia (State record); also 90% of the citrus crop is damaged by a cold wave in Florida. 1987: Due to a blizzard in New Jersey, only 334 people attend Devils’ 7-5 win over Calgary Flames. Finally and sadly, Judy Garland died of an overdose at age 48 in 1969. (Click her name or photo to listen to Somewhere Over the Rainbow.)