Recently in Film & TV News - Criticism Category

Today, at our lovely local Sundance cinema, I saw a film that really moved me:  the documentary "Bill Cunningham New York," about the longtime fashion photographer and commentator for The New York Times.  Cunningham's two photo columns sum up the highlights of New York street fashion and the gala set.

Though I've enjoyed his columns for years, I never knew much about Cunningham himself--though, in that respect, I'm not much different from most in the fashion world.  The film reveals Cunningham to be steadfastly private and governed by a deep sense of personal morality.  His egalitarian spirit and humility exist alongside sheer, exuberant joy in what he does.BCNY.jpg

I don't review films, but seeing this movie made me wish I had brought along my notebook; there were so many memorable observations from Cunningham that I wanted to remember.  Among them [to paraphrase]:  "Lots of people have taste, but few dare to be creative."  That fashion, rather than frivolity, is a kind of armor that makes our daily lives bearable.  And, perhaps most important, "Those who seek beauty will find it."

That last line, part of his remarks while accepting an honor from the French Ministry of Culture, seemed like the ultimate summation of Cunningham's approach to life.  Part of what appeals to me so much about Cunningham is, quite simply, attention:  his rapt attention to something that feeds his mind and his soul.  Nowadays, that's rare, due partly to omnipresent technology.

While at first Richard Press' documentary seems to have little to do with the subject of this blog--about the arts in smaller U.S. communities--it finally occurred to me that it does.  While every bit a creature of New York and a brilliant chronicler of urban life, Cunningham has an attitude that suits him well wherever he goes.  He doesn't assume that something bigger and grander will necessarily be more imaginative.  Something spotted on the street any given day might leave a more lasting impression than the latest couture show.

It's this kind of attitude that I think informs the work of artists, writers, actors and others living in smaller cities and towns.  Creativity and daring are not what someone else tells you they are; they're where you make it or find it, and sometimes that's in the most unlikely places.

If you have a chance to see this film, by all means, do, whether or not fashion interests you.  Cunningham's joy in his life's work is something from which we can all draw inspiration.

[Photo credit for image above:  First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films]

June 30, 2011 9:00 PM |
india600.jpg Dan McCue, a terrific business journalist, has sent City Paper a story about Charleston's connection to Bollywood, which is shorthand for India's hugely profitable movie business. Dan reports on Robert Miller, head of a local company called ReelSports that specializes in sports action sequences in films like Miracle. In June, Miller won the Indian equivalent of a passel of Golden Globes and Academy Awards for a field hockey movie called Chak De! India (or Go! India). A scene from the movie can be seen above. Miller is now working on a movie about cricket, which India's national pastime. More significantly, Miller, who works out of his office on East Bay Street, is on the vanguard of a global trend in which Westerners are striking gold on the subcontinent. But the showbiz is a two-way street. Indian power brokers are looking West, too. Last month, The New York Times reported on hip-hop musician Snoop Dogg's appearance in an Indian music video called Singh is Kinng. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that actor Sylvester Stallone inked a deal with an Indian movie company. And today, NPR reports that a company called Reliance is buying up movie theaters around the country. Dan's story comes out in Wednesday's issue of Charleston City Paper.
August 26, 2008 6:43 AM |

I drove out to Marfa, TX for the first time a couple of weeks ago. How deeply embarrassing is it that I didn't make it to one art gallery? (Kind of incredible, really, considering I'm not sure there's one building in that town without "Judd" stamped on it.) (Donald, that is.)

So why was I out there, if not for contemporary art? Good question: I made the almost-six-hour trek to attend the inaugural Marfa Film Festival, a five-day event founded by San Antonio transplant Robin Lambaria and her fiancé, filmmaker Cory Van Dyke. (Incidentally, I did, at least, see Rainer Judd's excellent autobiographical short film, Remember Back, Remember When.)


Marfa itself is without a technical movie theater, so the local theatre venue, the vaguely Alamo-reminiscent Goode-Crowley building served as the main screening space. (Recently-released-on-DVD flicks are shown at the town library. I know: I stayed with the super-interesting, super-sweet guy who runs the program.) Most of the films were shorts and docs; at night the Alamo Drafthouse lent its giant, inflatable Rolling Roadshow screen for outdoor screenings of classics like Night of the Hunter.


The entire weekend was surreal, and honestly it was difficult to separate my "new town" experience from my film fest experience, and so my coverage in the Current ran a little like a travel article. I ran on about the charming Brown Recluse, but neglected to mention the Marfa Book Company, where I spent less time but over whose gorgeous volumes I lusted at length during one afternoon. So many art books, so many screenings to make.


The most surreal event was the MFF's showing of There Will Be Blood on the inflatable screen on the still-standing set. As I expressed in the Current, I struggle with that film: Does it make sense structurally? Tonally? Is there any emotional core, and if not, is it one of those cases where its absence is excusable, even necessary? Why is it when P.T.A. makes a distinctly non-P.T.A. movie, the critics love him? I tend to be of one mind with Nathan Lee when it comes to heaping praise on the dead, and movies that recall too closely their dead forebears. To crudely paraphrase, is like: OK, we've done these old movies -- can we do something new? When in comes to TWBB, I just keep feeling like, Huston and Kubrick did their thing. What's next?


But under the incredibly clear and bright nighttime sky in Marfa, with 300ish others, settled between Little Boston and the Train depot, I appreciated TWBB in a way my two previous viewings hadn't allowed. Methinks it was the meta. (And the margarita. Fine.)


The festival programmer told me they hope to have three daytime screening venues for next year, and with King Airways planning to make a stop in the Marfa area, I imagine more folks from all over Texas will make the MFF a must in the future. I'm sure gonna try. 

May 29, 2008 9:30 AM |

My apologies for underrepresenting the Lone Star State of late, Flyover friends. (Everything's bigger in Texas ... except arts coverage, wink.) The combination of late-onset NEA Institute exhaustion, health troubles, copious antihistamines, and the formidable "Best Of" of issue (love-hated by altweekly staffers everywhere) on the horizon have prevented me from accomplishing much more than washing my hair every (other) day. I've even developed an immunity to coffee, believe it or not. (Why do I get the feeling that when I tell my friends I'm just drinking it for the flavor, they look as if I'd just told them I read Playboy for the articles. Sigh.)

But things are happening hereabouts. The Marfa Film Fest is near (May 1-5), and I for one cannot wait to watch There Will Be Blood on the Alamo Drafthouse's giant inflatable screen in the film's still-standing set. Definitely wasn't my favorite P.T. Anderson film; in fact, the more distance I get the more reservations I have (or the more I'm able to put my finger on them). But I'll watch anything Robert Elswit shoots.

SA film/makers should be in abundance, too, and apparently Dennis Hopper's coming also. (How long will I be able to I refrain from "Pop quiz, hotshot" jokes? Your guess is as good as mine.) 

Now, closer to home, something's has been on my mind since I reviewed San Pedro Playhouse's production of Crowns (Regina Taylor's musical adaptation of Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry's coffee-table book, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats; not fantastically written, but extremely well performed here).

Anyway, if my snarky ass was in charge of the San Antonio theater scene, programming would be a lot different. All together now: Duh! But I've gotta say, though I may not love San Pedro Playhouse's every show (I lean edgier), I honor its decision to regularly produce plays that showcase local African-American talent. (According to information from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 6.8% of San Antonians identified as black or African American.) Aida, Dreamgirls, and now, Crowns, have all graced the stage of San Antonio's oldest public theater recently.

I haven't attended all of the Playhouse's shows, so I can't say with any certainty how multi-racially cast its other productions are. It's one of my dearest hopes that people don't feel boxed into casting "the canon" with Caucasians all the time, that performers of color aren't ghettoized into plays written specifically about the African-American or Latino experience; the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  revival would suggest we're moving in that direction, anyway.

That's something I'll be keeping my eyes open for here, friends, and I'll be sure to report back. Happy Weekend. 

April 18, 2008 3:35 PM |
Charleston, S.C. -- It's time again in cinematic history to call for the imminent death of the movie theater.

When TV emerged in the 1950s, the death knell was tolling.

When VHS ascended in the '70s, Gabriel was calling.

When DVDs triumphed in the '90s, theaters were knocking on heaven's door.

But death? Not yet.

This time, though, things are different. Movie theaters are facing a perfect storm of cultural, economic, and technological change that's been brewing for the past half decade.

International piracy (bootlegs popping up on the Shanghai black market), advancements in home entertainment systems (56-inch high-definition TV, DVRs), and improvements in broadband and the Internet (cable on demand, streaming video from Hulu and Netflix) -- these have conspired to undermine the value of going to the movies.

But movies aren't going away. You could even say it's a great time to own a theater, says Mike Furlinger of the Terrace Theatre in Charleston, S.C.

The same technological advancements that have come to threaten theater venues are the very advancements that will make them more relevant and profitable, he says.

Along with mainstream movies, theaters everywhere are trying to make themselves unique by subscribing to live broadcasts of special timely events, like sports and opera, as well as films made for niche-market demographics, such as fashion-obsessed teenage girls, pro-wrestling freaks, NASCAR fans, or Japanimation aficionados. 

After the jump, read more about movie theaters taking steps to use high-tech to attract viewers, plus other companies enticing audiences with fashionable amenities and plain old-fashioned aggressive business tactics in order to break into the Charleston market.

April 16, 2008 5:32 AM |

Most people who have ever seen a David Lynch film have, at some point, wondered: where the hell did THAT come from? Well, in at least a small sense, it came from Missoula, Mont. -- Lynch's hometown. Last week, the Missoula Independent ran a lengthy interview profile with Lynch. Few papers in America expend as much ink on their cover stories as the Independent (disclaimer: I write for a competing paper), which in this case is a good thing, as Lynch is obviously a pretty compelling conversationalist.

April 16, 2007 6:14 AM |

Curt Holman, a 2005 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at the University of Southern California and writer for Creative Loafing in Atlanta, has thoughtfully pointed out a cover story, published in Time Out New York in December, that turns the tables on Big Apple critics. Anyone who reads Art.Rox ought to check it out. The book critics section is particularly interesting.

What's also interesting is the thinking expressed in the introduction. Writer Nathan Huang cleverly notes that critics give readers a lot to talk about, even if readers have no intention of experiencing the theater, concert or performance in question. One purpose of criticism, in other words, is providing readers with information with which to take action. But isn't another purpose to contribute to the ongoing dialogue of a community?

As Huang writes: "We live in a city that churns out massive amounts of art and entertainment, then proceeds to talk about it endlessly. At times it doesn't even matter if you haven't seen, read or heard something, as long as you can gab about it--and our local critics provide the handiest cheat sheets."

Even if a city doesn't churn out as much culture as New York (and let's face it, name one that does), culture still plays an important role in the lives of everyday people, even if they themselves don't know it. Here in Savannah, where I'm the arts and culture reporter for the Savannah Morning News, people love -- and I mean love -- high school and college football.

There is an Southern adage worth remembering -- you don't get married in the fall, you don't die in the fall, you don't do anything in the fall except watch football. The result is people are gabbing about football endlessly come autumn. But why can't they also gab about the arts? Their children are involved in all sorts of cultural activities, in school and in other organizations. I suspect parents don't talk about the arts at least in part because such talk would be considered haughty and highfalutin.

Case in point, I was reading the New York Times while waiting for my lunch yesterday. The waitress came by with my order and patiently waited while I moved by newspaper. She said: "I don't want to put this on your New York Times," with a tone of voice that suggested I was some fancy-pants Yankee doing something regular folk, like her, don't do.

But when it comes to the arts, people in reality are very engaged; they just don't talk about it. In my view, that's where we as arts journalists can play a critical role -- by normalizing what they already experience and giving them the vocabulary to use in talking about it. Perhaps someday even a place like Savannah will talk about the arts as endlessly as we do about sports.

February 14, 2007 10:37 AM | | Comments (2)

The Montana Meth Project has earned more than a few headlines around the country for its extremely graphic television, billboard, and print ads. This week, a full-length documentary sponsored by the MMP is set to debut at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula (read about it here, and squirm). The doc will run on HBO next month.

February 13, 2007 2:11 PM |

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