The week began with a guest post from Jamie Kazay who continues her serial Barbie-reflections:
Play time with Barbie created a space for the infinite possibilities that language enables. This is, albeit a different medium, how the principles of La Nouvelle Vague operate. Within this movement there seems to be an intense need to circle-back, to recreate, and to satirize all with the intention to provide a variety of end results. It is the distance that is traveled while watching these films that should be observed. They provide a wealth of possibilities. For instance, in “À bout de souffle” I am amused by the collage of scenes that jump back and forth like a child playing jump rope. The mismatched shots pull from a variety of American cultural references. I recount the jazz notes and sounds, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, Humphrey Bogart, and countless other references. As I played with Barbie, I adapted. I coordinated a sense of wonder and culture, and this established my freedom to create.
Following that, EDITION #10 spellz hot hot hot and, aside from a Who Wore It Better contest between TIME Magazine and a tombstone, the weather report, Facebook art convos, and more, contains a nice little list of good books to check out. As What’s The T? mastermind, Dana Bassett, puts it:
Chicago Artist Writers hosted a workshop with Lori Waxman at Gallery 400 on March 14, 2013. This week on Bad at Sports, they tried to collect and recap some of Waxman’s two-hour lecture:
Lori posited that criticism has largely not changed much since its first appearance with Diderot’s reviews of the Paris Salon of 1765, and the writing that we see in major outlets like the Tribune or Artforum holds the same basic values of that style to this day. This default approach to art criticism doesn’t reflect the drastic changes in art and technology’s influence on the contemporary conversation as much as it could.
She used Documenta as a case in point–-it embodied a sprawling, time-intensive experience for the viewer, and the critical responses to it suffered as their structuring was inadequate to cover the exhibition’s curatorial conceits. Critics who were only able to visit 3-5 days and print 1000 words were ill equipped to critique the event in its totality. “Who goes to NYC for a weekend, and tries to see everything, and if they can’t, it’s New York’s fault?” Lori asked. She used Dieter Roelstraete’s review of the Documenta in Artforum as one example; one of his main critiques was that it had too much going on. Similarly, Roberta Smith’s review in the New York Times was schizophrenic, unable to deal with the scope of the massive three-month undertaking. Lori suggested that despite the stubborn precedent of “objective distance” in traditional criticism, she herself might be the best critic of Documenta, having spent her entire summer there.
News from New York: Juliana Driever interviews Jason Eppink, who by way of introduction has said on his blog: “At some point in time I will write three succinct sentences that clearly express who I am and what I do. Alas, we have not arrived at that point in time yet. ” He is also the Assistant Curator of Digital Media at theMuseum of the Moving Image and, at one turn in the interview says:
Every generation is comfortable navigating the world with the tools they grew up with and every generation feels uncomfortable with the tools they didn’t grow up with, and there’s a simple evolutionary reason for this: Our brains are elastic during our youth as we figure out how the world works, adapting very easily to new tools because, well, everything is new to us. And our brains become more firm as we age so we can more efficiently do the things that ensured our survival. And in age, we can interpret new tools as threats or we can adapt and relearn behaviors. Historically this was not much of a tension, because, e.g., it took thousands of generations to perfect agriculture. Today, the tools change a little faster.
BIG & BOLD: a post from your truly about exciting things (or should I say, things I am excited about) including the Rapid Pulse [Performance] Festival, ACRE’s kitchen festival, a Heather Mekkelson show from 2008, and the new Vitamin D2 book, featuring Deb Sokolow and Elijah Burger.
Monica Westin posted her piece on Steve Juras this Friday:
The first impression Steve Juras’ studio calls to mind is of self-constraint as aesthetic. His work spans any number of two and three dimensional, formal and conceptual practices, and it’s the consistently tightening systems he builds and acts under that provide a through-line: repetitions and experiments in tightly restricted games that insist on looping back on themselves. Juras’ background is in design– his MFA from SAIC is in visual communication– and it’s easy to read some of that background into his somewhat detached approach, which often translates into the obsessive working of images into their most basic shapes (like a long series of skull drawings in notebooks, where a naturalistic sketch ultimately devolves into a study of curve and line) and explorations of shapes within grids. “I’m always looking back to abstraction, the investigation of the line,” he muses as he flips through carefully labeled notebooks that offer endless repetitions on simple themes.
MAINTENANCE #2 courtesy of one Mairead Case — who adeptly discusses the MORE books (including) Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler (Seven Stories Press, 1996), Kite by Dominique Eddé, trans. Ros Schwartz (Seagull Books, 2012), Dying Birds by Nicolai Howalt and Trine Søndergaard (Haasla Books, 2010), Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun (Riverhead Books, 2009), STIR Vol. 1 (www.stirtoaction.com, 2012), and Man vs. Sky by Corey Zeller (YesYes Books, 2013), with an introductory note:
This MAINTENANCE comes to you from my neighbors’ apartment, where it is thunderstorming outside and inside, I am looking after one very great, very large, very orange boss of a cat. My Buddha machine is on and every hour or so, a cuckoo clock pings and the cat leaves the bedroom to hiss or to glare. Across the alley, some little girls are shriek-giggling.
All the disquiet—a word I’m using like the great Marc Weidenbaum does—is, in the end, pretty cozy. (Kitty calmed down.) I didn’t always feel this way, the shrieks in particular would be too many hooks for hanging my hat. But Weidenbaum’s writing and sound archives, which include field recordings and more traditional performances (usually as part of Disquiet Junto, a series he runs), they help me maintain focus even when my neighborhood’s not playing a lullaby. They help me see chaos settling into music, not into garble but patterns and rhythms, however hiccupily.
And, rounding off the week Adrienne Harris posted this very same Sunday with notes from our other coast, about her theater and movie attendance:
When I lived in New York, theatre felt almost as easy as going to the movies. There were so many theaters all over town. There was public transportation and the TKTS discount ticket center in Time Square offering me tickets to shows I desperately wanted to see at a price that was in my budget. I had friends that worked for live theatre and could get me free tickets. Hell, I sold concessions at a small professional theatre in West Village and saw all those plays, multiple times, for free. I saw the original production of the Last 5 Years and an amazing productions of Burn This with Edward Norton and Katherine Keener for free! It was great. Now I live in LA and my friends work for tv shows and in movies and no one has access to free theatre anymore. So, I go to the movie theatre near my house and park in the large parking structure that takes the movie theatre’s validation and I use my Stubs card to earn upgrades on popcorn and eventually free movie tickets and I sit in the dark and watch Super Heros duke it out, or couples turning 40 fight about their marriage, or young people who feel lost but find love in the end. And I LOVE this too. I really love it.
Last week we talked painters on and off the podcast! Featuring interviews and studio visits with Everest Hall, Mara Baker and Steven Husby — in addition to our usual treasure trove of cultural insights….Here’s a play by play —
Amanda Browder, interviews painter Everest Hall, who describes (among other things) the value of being raw in the studio:
“There is a responsibility that comes with being an artist to be naked and open and free. Let’s bring the audience to another place. Come with me. On this journey, I don’t know where we are going, but I see a clearing in the woods. Let’s go for a walk together and maybe make love in a pine forest. I think that sounds delicious.“
The week began with our latest guest contributor, Jaime Kazay. Kazay co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series has a poetry collection out from Dancing Girl Press. This week she reflects on all things Barbie, asking a question I have continued to trip over all week — “I wonder if Barbie likes peanut butter?.”
Duncan and Richard made appearances on a WBEZ panel featuring a “panel of local critics [discussing] their role in the new media landscape.” #fahntsie
New York correspondent Juliana Driever published an interview with Social Practice Queens (SPQ), “a collaboration of the Art Department of CUNY Queens College and the Queens Museum of Art with the goal of developing an MFA pilot program in Social Practice.” Here is one excerpted Q&A:
“Juliana Driever: Unlike other social practice MFA programs, SPQ is in direct partnership with a major museum, which is a unique set-up for an MFA program to start, but even more so given that much socially-engaged art typically takes place beyond museum and gallery contexts. Does the QMA’s investment in this program also signal a shift in the role that museums play in support of such work?
“Prerana Reddy/Jose Serrano: At the Queens Museum of Art, we are constantly striving to examine whether the avant-garde in the realms of art and politics can actually meet. Can an art project simultaneously address aesthetics and concrete social goals in public space? This is a constantly evolving process, one that must be responsive to shifting demographics, economic conditions, political will, unplanned crises, and a constantly unfolding definition of art. Unlike the confines of the gallery or contracted set of artistic services rendered in non-museum spaces, engaging in complicated social relations in the “real world” involves a surrender of control over outcome as well as some amount of risk. This is not something that all museums want to enter into or are well-positioned to do.”
Monica Westin, wrote about Mara Baker, Mara Baker, “a self-described student of deterioration and residue” about her upcoming show at Sidecar:
“In the ‘residue’ series, spray paint and glass create transparent layers that give recycled materials ‘a new history,’ Baker says, ‘creating a sense of space without building up.’ She’s deeply interested in the interplay between the real and the representational in mixed-media work, and the paintings often employ representational images like blurred photographs that formally reference abstract elements. Where previous two dimensional work has been sculptural in its formal approach, she finds such materials can create space and depth without losing the surface of the picture plane. ‘Still, I’m most successful when piling, wrapping, and removing something.’ She points out a few paintings that have abstract white space, either scraped off or added to the top of her layered images—what Baker calls ‘the conceal, something underneath you can’t see’ that creates somewhat ‘quieter objects.’”
Stephanie Burke’s TOP 5 Baby!
Some great coverage from another new contributor Robert Burnier this week. Burnier took the time to review Steven Husby’s show, BRUTE FORCe at 65 Grand, “a studied exercise in emergence and the way that severe restrictions can somewhat paradoxically throw subtle expression and gesture into great relief.” In a subsequent interview with Burnier, Husby says:
“I would say that I’ve flirted with pictorial recursivity, deductive structure, and something like absolute opacity for years. The house–painterly way I work really started in undergrad as something to aspire to and something to work against. A kind of pop–inflected formalism was in the air – and I was young and impressionable. Over time I’ve generally found it to be worthwhile to give myself over to the more excessively restrained aspects of my practice, probably because I’m not a particularly neat, linear, or orderly person, but I like what happens when I try to behave as though I were. I think I was first attracted to limits both as things to provide traction and as things to be subverted in some way. I found as soon as I practiced these things, the force generated through restraint was greater than I could ever achieve without it. The channeling, focusing, and projecting of force – whether from inside or out – is absolutely key to the whole project.”
Kickstarter is bandied about once more, as Adrienne Harris discusses the ethics of Zach Braff’s recent success in raising money for his film, on his terms”
“I worry that the success of campaigns like Zach Braff’s… is going to change the way that studios and producers expect ALL film to be financed in the future. I worry that I will take my next screenplay into a meeting which I am lucky enough to score with Sony Picture Classics and they will say, ‘We love it Adrienne. Now come back with $2 million and we’ll see what we can do.’”
Which seems like the self-same conversation that came up a while back as far as art institutions go — will government funding similarly dry up in lieue of these public charity campaigns? Which I suppose furthers the question: who is responsible for footing the bill in creative enterprises? Where do we draw the line between entrepreneurial investment, friendship pennies, fans pitching in, and government support?
Last week, while at a dinner party, I was involved in what turned out to be a very passionately divided argument. The subject up for debate? Zach Braff’s Kickstarter campaign.
Now, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, just like one of the dinner party guests did not, I will explain it you, from the beginning. Kickstarter is a for-profit company founded in 2009, that aims to help people with creative projects find their funding through crowd sourcing, using the Kickstarter Website. One might make a video, or a commercial for their creative project, be it a film, a show, a novel, or an invention, post their plea for cash on the Kickstarter website, link it their twitter/facebook/read-it/tumbler account and hope for the best. The project creator sets a time limit and a minuium funding goal. If their goal is not met in the time allotted, no funds are collected (meaning the donated funds are returned to the donators.) If they do reach their goal (Hurray!) then Kickstarter takes 5% and calls it a day. Kickstarter retains no ownership of the project and the project creator is free to go off and make their dreams come true.
A little over a month ago, the team behind the cancelled but popular television show Veronica Mars launched a campaign to raise the capital ($2 million) to shoot a feature film of the series. The series lead actor, Kristen Bell, appears in a video along with other cast members and the show’s creator, Rob Thomas. They explain that they have been trying to get this movie greenlit by the studios for years, but no one believed that the show was popular enough to warrant a movie. The studios were not willing to risk their money. But one studio agreed to distribute if the team could come up with their own financing. So they took it to Kickstarter, where they not only raised the $2 million, but they did it in a weekend. By the end of the month, they’d raised over $6 million and promised to shoot the movie this Summer.
This past week, actor/director Zach Braff launched his own Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of raising the capital to shoot his second feature film. He made a similar, cute and funny video, where he explains that he’s got a script that he wrote and loves and thinks his fans and the fans of Garden State will love too, but he needs our help to fund the movie. His goal was met and surpassed quickly. Zach Braff will make his movie.
So, what was the discussion about? The heated, passionate debate, I mentioned earlier? Basically it is this. I think that Zach Braff is manipulating Kickstarter, his donators and the world, and now I’ll tell you why.
Zach Braff begins his Kickstarter video by explaining that he and his brother have written a film, and found some “money guys” who are willing to finance but are insisting on final cut of the film (final cut is an industry term meaning that the “money guys” would control how the film is edited. It also means that if they and the director disagree about something, they win the argument.) Zach also explains that these “money guys” want to control casting. He explains that if he might want to cast Jim Parsons (from Garden State and more recently, The Big Bang Theory) or Donald Faison (Scrubs) the “money guys” might insist on Justin Bieber or Denzel Washington. These are the actual examples that Zach Braff gives. The video is entertaining and both the Jim Parsons and Donald Faison appear. Zach sits in front of a large framed poster of his first feature film, Garden State, and explains that that movie was financed almost entirely by one money guy who was a fan of Zach’s and Scrubs and wanted Zach to have full creative freedom. Garden State was a very successful movie and I’m sure that Zach’s fan financier was very pleased with his return on investment both financially and creatively.
Zach Braff has had a successful career as an actor and film maker. As one dinner party guest said, “he won the lottery.” So why does he need my money to make his film? This is my first problem with his campaign. He admits that he has access to financing. He admits that he has doors open to him that are not open to every creative person hoping to make a meaningful film. He is a television and movie star who gets the meeting he wants and needs and he even has a financing offer on the table but he doesn’t want to give an inch of creative control. I understand this dilemma, but at the risk of sounding catty, “boo-hoo.” Life is full of compromises, especially in Hollywood. No one gets to make the movie they see in their head. There are teams of people whose job it is to figure out what an audience might want to see, and that is often imposed on the writer and director. Zach himself admits this on his very nicely put together campaign page. He discusses advanced screenings where the audience makes notes on what they did and didn’t like so that changes can be made before the film is released. Zach wants to avoid all this because he is sure that his vision in best and should be unchallenged. OK. I get that. But I will say that as a writer, having people challenge and help shape your work can be really helpful. You realize problems you never would have seen on your own. And I’ve seen the director’s cut of Garden State (you can too, it’s on the DVD) and it’s long and indulgent. His Garden State team, possibly his fan investor, had the sense to pull in the reigns a little, and thank goodness they did. Zach also only suggests that his “money guys” might not let him cast who he wants. MIGHT NOT. He is turning down their financing because they might not let him do exactly what he wants, and he can’t stomach that idea.
That leads me to my second point, if this project is so important to him, then why hasn’t he invested in it himself? I won’t pretend that I understand Zach Braff’s financial situation, but I would imagine that he has more money than most. He was on a very successful television show for a number of seasons at a time where tv stars were making huge sums per episode. Huge! Garden State did very well and I assume that he retained quite a good deal of ownership. I’m not saying that Zach Braff has $2 million under his mattress, but I do find it interesting that he never in his video claims to have invested in himself. Maybe he could come up with the first million or $500, 000 and ask his fans to help him match it (just a suggestion, Zach, not that you need my suggestions.) A friend at the dinner party had a problem with my problem. He argued that my idea that rich actors should pay for their own passion project was ridiculous. He claimed that no one pays for their own projects, it just isn’t done. To that I say, well why the hell not? It seems to me, that when Zach Braff makes his movie and if it does well, the only person that stands to benefit financially from this venture is…Zach Braff. In a traditional investor agreement, the film-maker would be expected to pay back the investment with interest, and the investor would make money as the film makes money for the rest of the film’s life. That includes distribution deals, netflix, dvd sales etc. As a Kickstarter campaign contributor, it is not an investment, it is a donation. There will be no payback (all though there are incentive gifts that the production promises to send you.) But if the film gets world wide distribution and breaks box office records, Zach Braff and his team will reap those benefits…not his “financiers.” My friend argued that he thought Zach Braff was being creative, and brave, asking for help with a risky model. I have to wonder…where’s the risk? It seems to me that Zach Braff has a lot of options for getting his film made (where a lot of filmmakers have few or none) and the least risky is asking strangers for money with little to no strings attached.
And lastly, I worry that the success of campaigns like Zach Braff’s and even Veronica Mars’ (to which I donated because I LOVED that show) is going to change the way that studios and producers expect ALL film to be financed in the future. I worry that I will take my next screenplay into a meeting which I am lucky enough to score with Sony Picture Classics and they will say, “We love it Adrienne. Now come back with $2 million and we’ll see what we can do.” I worry that it will soon become a part of the writer/director’s duties to also secure the financing, even on a bigger studio scale. I admit that the studio system is changing and will continue to change in ways I can’t foresee, but this concerns me. On a totally selfish level, I was hoping in the near future of my career as a writer to be able to hand the financing problem over to another department, and now I’m afraid that it will always land back in my lap with the suggestion of an easy Kickstarter campaign.
As the conversation wound down and we all agreed to stay friends even though half of us will donate to Zach’s campaign and half will not, I did have to admit it was an exciting argument to take part in. Art and money are always tricky. However, it is encouraging to know that there are lots of people out there donating on Kickstarter, to big public campaigns like Veronica Mars and Zach Braff, but also to smaller, lesser publicized campaigns for burgeoning novelists, fine artists, video game designers, and an engineering toy tool set geared especially for little girls that I invested in last year. I’m sure at some point I’ll make a Kickstarter campaign for a project, and though I’m sure Zach Braff won’t donate (can you blame him? I haven’t exactly been nice) I’m hoping you’ll consider it.
This week, I feel like writers have been articulating an inherent push against traditional boundaries and bounds — what is art that smells? Where do we locate the human/non-human divide? What if we dissolve that distinction? What becomes of performance then? I am deeply interested in blurring the borders and bounds between human/non-human, natural/unnatural, living/non-living, as in doing we can destabilize hierarchal patterns that have been in place for decades. It sounds crazy, maybe — but consider how much one’s thought would shift if we simply de-emphasized the Human. If the Natural panorama was equivalent with a panaromic, digital experience — the immediate recoil and rejection of such a thought reveals some the depth of our quasi-relgious interpretations of “landscape.”
We began the week with a buffet of smells, as provided by Shane MacAdams’ visit to a “smell show” called Art and Scent in NYC, a show that called enough attention to smell that it affected his experience of surrounding environs. As he put it, “Any quaintness Greenpoint offers is mitigated by the realization that it’s sitting on 30 million gallons of spilled oil, that comes out in occasional farts that engulf the neighborhood.”
There seems to be an obvious connection between that undercurrent of oil and João Florêncio’s post, “Performing Ecology,” where Florêncio goes through series of snapshots (or “Scenes), describing the performance of the body in space, illustrating the connecting networks that such performances can highlight. For instance:
Scene 6. Johannesburg, South Africa. A white man in drag wears an old chandelier as if it was a tutu and struggles to balance himself on his disproportionately high high-heel shoes while walking on debris, stones, and dirt in one of South Africa’s shanty towns. Around him, workers hired by the local authority, armed with crowbars and wearing orange overalls, demolish the locals’ dwellings to allow for the construction of the future Nelson Mandela bridge. This is Steven Cohen’s Chandelier.
These scenes are not strictly about humankind. Rather, they illustrate our position in our present ecological time, a time that has been coined: “Anthropocene.” Florêncio will continue to write about this in the coming months: “I will be presenting an overview of the anthropocentric role theatre and performance have played throughout History, some of the ways in which they have been criticised and reinvented, and, ultimately, the ways in which they ought to be thought differently as a consequence of their unfolding on the broad Anthropocenic stage.”
Victor Delvecchio posted about Performance Architecture — focusing on the work of Alex Schweder and how his intervening “scripts” at the TATE altered visitors’ movement through the museum. “Having worked seven years as a mold and leak expert… [Schweder] comes to the point that buildings are alive, uprating much more similarities to our flesh than we want them to.” Schweder, who’s show at Opus Project Space in NY opened this weekend, describes the work this way:
Performance architecture is about aestheticizing the action that occurs within the building and using the building as a script for doing so. There is a whole history of architecture involving the body as an example giving a kind of history of how idealized bodies have come to inform the way we design building, building as effigies of those bodies that we would like to have; and then we occupy these bodies that we would like to have.
Juliana Driever posted a great interview with Mare Liberum, a “freeform publishing, boatbuilding and waterfront art collective based in the Gowanus, Brooklyn.” Throughout the week, I feel like there is a regular return to the idea of our environment and this interview is no exception. In the words of one ML member, Dylan Gauthier:
We borrowed the name Mare Liberum – which is latin for Freedom of the Seas – from a 17th century commentary which championed the natural rights of maritime trade and navigation and forms the basis of modern maritime law… In taking the name we oriented the collective toward a study of past relationships with the water as well as to the present environmental threat to the sea through global warming but also the exploitation of oil resources and other risky undertakings that threaten the health and stability of this water-commons. For us Mare Liberum is also a bit tongue-in-cheek, since we were interested in getting out on the water for as little cost as possible, hence our translation and our website “thefreeseas.org”.
Our Atlanta-based correspondent, Meredith Kooi posted a great essay about Full Radius Dance’s performance of Touch:
Touch, in its multiple parts involved dancers of varying bodies and abilities. As a physically-integrated dance company, Full Radius’ dancers are both abled and disabled, some use wheelchairs in their everyday lives. [Douglas] Scott first became engaged in this practice through a workshop offered at Shepherd Center, a hospital and rehabilitation center located in Atlanta that specializes in medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries. He realized that all bodies do not move the same way that his does and that there was opportunity to explore the “limits of physicality” with various bodies.
What’s amazing about Kooi’s description of the dance, is the way wheel chairs are fully absorbed and incorporated into the whole choreography, thereby pushing the bounds of what we might consider “body” and “non-body” (or machine). This article raises questions about how we define the body, and especially, how we might engage and incorporate the non-normative body. It reminds of Anthony Romero’s post from a while back, “What Can Be Done with Dance?” where he reminds us that most space is defined by “an athletic body.”
The week would be remiss without Stephanie Burke’s TOP 5 — a veritable road map for gallery enthusiasts. (CHECK IT OUUUT!)
Richard Holland has started a new column in the spirit of levity and delight — so keep your eyes peeled for that, and here is his first installment. It’ll be a nice respite from the Anthropocene……
(At least we can safely say, the Mayan’s were wrong)
Abraham Ritchie was inspired to post an essay about everyone’s darling THE BEAN, in reaction to a live tweet he disagreed with (that’s intended as a kind of bread crumb trail. In case you want to go back and follow the tweets, so to speak). What I’d like to repost here is an excerpt from the end of Ritchie’s essay (and please, take note of Ritchie’s use of the word “alien,” because I at least have always assumed that if the world ever does end, that thing is probably going to turn into a space ship and carry the president to safety.):
The alien form of the abstraction identifies itself immediately as Art but does not alienate, instead it draws people in through their curiosity and the work’s generosity. Kapoor’s contribution accomplishes the mission of Millennium Park, while being wholly successful on its own terms. Rather than an indifferent sculpture, this is public art that lives up to the aspirations of its genre, bringing people together and inspiring them.
Part of what is so awesome about The Bean is that it is alien, and strange, and yet it engages its audience (us) by reflecting our faces. We are fascinated by the translated-fun-house-mirror distortion.
Nicholas O’Brien asks about site specificity when applied to the digital space? How does such an application challenge traditional ideas about installation, and can we apply the same terminology Land Art employs with regard to site. Here too, O’Brien engages a virtual landscape as a literal one. In doing so it can easily feel alien, it might even reflexively alienate oneself (or me) from the supposed “natural” landscape (after all, I certainly spend more time on line that outdoors).
Perhaps it makes good sense that we begin the week in NY and end the week in LA: a successful coast-to-coast transfer. We began with smell and we end with Adrienne Harris’ post on a murder mystery game at the Getty. There is something I deeply dig about the simulacre of a murder mystery scavenger hunt — the body-lessness of the crime. The parody of real life located in the land of Hollywood. In Chicago we stand in the dregs of winter — warming days that melt and muddy the world, only to morph into freezing night that stiffen everything anew. The point is, I’m always daydreaming about California. Someone told me once that California was the future — it was as far into the future as any American could go. The edge of the West. On the edge of that coast you stare into the east, though my same friend pointed out there is an island of plastic in the way, otherwise known as the Plastic Vortex.
“I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living.” These are the words that a despondent and depressed Anne Hathaway sings into the camera as Fantine, the despondent and depressed semi-heroine of the Broadway hit turned Major Motion Picture, Les Miserables. I can relate. I moved to LA with a dream in my heart and a song in my soul, and after 5 or so years living in Los Angeles, working on movie deals that have yet to come to fruition (YET!), working several unsatisfying jobs and being a part of one long term, super great relationship, that ultimately and recently ended, I find myself often looking into the abyss and thinking…”I dreamed a dream in days in gone by…when hope was high and life worth living.”
But I don’t want to talk about me (well, not just yet) I want to talk about the Academy Award nominated and multi-Golden Globe-winning cinematic experience, Les Miserables, or as we shall further call is Les Miz TM. I had high hopes for this film. The cast was a veritable parade of stars who, if you check their bios, claim to have sung before. Russell Crowe is in a band, Hugh Jackman has appeared on Broadway, and Amanda Seyfried sang in Mama Mia, right? The trailer made it look exciting, energetic and emotional. Anne Hathaway, all big-eyed and sad, looks into the camera and with haunting sincerity sings the famous I Dreamed a Dream whileshots of the rest of the movie play out for us. We see soldiers and poor French children. We see fighting and redemption. We see Hugh Jackman with tears in his eyes, Amanda Seyfried with tears in her eyes, Annie H with tears in her eyes, etc, etc. And when it came to those things, the trailer didn’t lie.
Those aspects were all there. Visually, it was all very stunning, but aren’t most movies these days? I live in LA. You can’t sit in a coffee shop with a girlfriend to complain about the man who wronged you (see Fantine, I can relate) without overhearing at least one production meeting. I have them myself. I have one later today. It is LA’s business to make ALL movies look stunning! Nobody sets out to make a movie that looks OK, but sounds great, or looks OK but has a great story. Film is first and foremost a visual medium, and most films, Les Miz included, live up to that part of the promise. It’s the “great story” and “sounds great” part of the promise where I think Les Miz really fails. Now, we can’t fault the filmmakers for the story. Les Miz is a novel turned musical turned movie. I’ve never read the novel (but my mother says it’s a real page turner). I’ve seen the musical several times, and the film stays very true to that subject matter, changing virtually nothing about the music, or story. The problem I have with this movie is the singing. I love musicals. I’m a musical theatre geek. I moved to LA from New York where I spent years attending and auditioning for (but never appearing in) Broadway musicals and I love them ALL. So my main complaint about Les Miz TM is that most of its stars did not sing the songs (and there are a lot of songs) as well as they should have. I’ve complained about this a lot, to almost anyone who will listen, and I’ve gotten some push back. “They’re movie stars, not professional singers.” And “They did all their singing live with out any auto-tune, dubbing, or lip syncing.” You know who else sings live? Broadway performers, every night. And they sound amazing! Academy Award winner Russell Crowe looks as though he is trying to remember the lyrics as he strains out Stars. Amanda Seyfried looks very pretty in her bonnet and even manages to hit the very high notes of Cosette’s many love songs, but I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed the high or low notes of any of her vocal stylings. Even Hugh Jackman, who I saw and enjoyed on Broadway in The Boy From Oz a few years back, doesn’t quite have the right voice for the role, always sounding a bit shrill and timid for my taste. I’m sure it is different to deliver a vocal performance with a camera in your face and only the melody line playing in your ear (they added the orchestra in later) but in the end it made the song performances, and ultimately the total performance of the actors feel very controlled, limited and boring to me. But don’t feel bad for them. Wolverine won the Golden Globe and has an Academy Award nom under his belt for the film. Annie H won a Golden Globe and will probably win the Academy Award for a total of 20 minutes or so of screen time in this really long movie, and for what? Getting a haircut and tearfully whispering an iconic song? But let’s leave Anne alone. She did the best she could and will be rewarded plentifully for her emotional efforts (and for sacrificing her beautiful hair). Fantine is an elegant mess and Annie H plays her as such, never shaking the misery that is life. As I mentioned before, I can relate. I’ve had bad haircuts much worse than Anne’s (picture too short and with a too tight perm) and I’ve degraded myself for money. I have not worked as a prostitute or sold my hair, but I have worn a chip monk costume at Disneyland, worn a bowtie as a waiter, and once sang Billy Joel songs at a kid’s birthday party while literally NO ONE listened or applauded. I think I got paid about $50 and got a free lunch, so ultimately, it was totally worth it.
In fact, as I drive around Los Angeles, I am struck by how comparable the lives of the characters in Les Miz are to the lives of my fellow Los Angelinos. How often have I driven up to a Starbucks and seen that the drive-thru line is 6 cars deep and felt truly miserable? How many times have I sat in bumper to bumper traffic on the 405 at rush hour and thought “God on high, Hear my prayer…Bring me home Heaven blessed.” I’ve often walked my dog in the misting rain and thought about my celebrity crush on say, Jake Gyllenhaal, and sung the words to On My Own out loud for the neighborhood to hear. Not to mention the “lovely ladies” walking down Sunset at night looking for a date. We all understand and experience Les Miz in our own way.
So, At the End of the Day (did you see what I did there? That’s a song from Les Miz) I wouldn’t recommend going to the theatre to see the movie Les Miserables. I would recommend getting the Broadway soundtrack for your car and driving around Los Angeles, traffic and all, beholding the misery while listening to the beautiful, trained voices of the Broadway performers, instead. It may not be quite as visually stunning a show, but it will be a better musical experience.