Culture: November 2002 Archives

Damn! Shoulda posted something before the Festival, since it ends tomorrow! Commenting now won't help you find the films and videos already screened, and it won't help the artists.


BUT. We were able to be part of the audience for James Wentzy's "Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP on Video." on thursday, which I did recommend in an earlier posting.

The ACT UP documentary was beautiful, but for all the evidence of the success of the activism it records, the reminders of how little has changed in the world in fifteen years is a horrible concomitance. Bush, war in the middle east, health care, drug company profiteering, oil, greed and stupidity. There were also the images of so many activists whose lives were destroyed at the height of their beauty and their powers. I would not have missed this screening for anything, but it was a melancholy, if not terrifying, experience, and one which an intelligent and generous world could have prevented.

The Middle Eastern and Muslim Lesbian and Gay Experience

This afternoon we were very lucky to be able to go back to Second Avenue for the collection, "Queer Diasporas: The Middle Eastern and Muslim Lesbian & Gay Experience," and we stayed for the discussion which followed.

There are few subjects whose human dimension could resonate more tragicly in the midst of today's international madness than that of the challenge of queer existence in the cultural milieus of the Middle East.

The films were apparently just about the only ones addressing this subject which are currently available, but their general excellence, as art and as record, certainly did not belie the narrow selection pool. Particularly wonderful were Tawfik Abu Wael's "Diary of a Male Whore," "Just a Woman" by Mitra Farahani and "Whistle," by the curator of the afternoon's program, Kouross Esmaeli. Finally, I was fascinated by the softly beautiful and amazingly gentle, familiar but still exotic veiled affection, both seen and heard, in Akram Zaatari's "How I Love You."

Oh yeah, a special rave for the audiences which we both saw and shared on each of the days we visited the Anthology Film Archives for the screenings, a very impressive bunch indeed, far more interesting, intelligent-looking, open-eyed and just plain beautiful than any group I have ever sighted at the somewhat less edgy, The New Festival, in spite of that institution's own virtues.

Right now who else shows the will and has an alternative culture and, perhaps, the means to withstand the American hegemony?

José Bové is a hero, but he's going to need help.

A star of anti-globalization has fallen.

José Bové, the sheep farmer and convicted vandal whose mission is to save France from fast food and free trade, will serve 14 months in prison after the country's highest court Tuesday threw out his appeal.

Bové, 49, is a media-savvy, handlebar-moustachioed anti-globalizer who protests at economic summit meetings and is sometimes likened to the French cartoon hero Asterix, leading defiant Gauls against today's Romans. He attracted worldwide attention three years ago when he led a group of French farmers to smash windows in a McDonald's in Millau near his home in southern France.

Later that year, he attacked a field of genetically modified rice grown at a research station near the southern city of Montpellier. He was sentenced to six months in prison, and it was an appeal of that sentence that France's Cour de Cassation in Paris rejected Tuesday.

A man who supplies sheep's milk for makers of roquefort cheese, he also has opposed U.S. trade tariffs against French luxury foods and multinational corporations.

The beautiful city of Dresden is going to be alright.

No, not alright, it's going to be as spectacular as it ever was.

The Zwinger Museum, flooded this summer, has reopened, with 400 paintings, including works by Titian and Rubens, stacked against the walls 10 deep, "like Andy Warhol reproductions in a poster shop." [They won't be returned to storage in the cellars, out of fear of future floods, so they await a new or converted building and a new rest above ground.]

The Semper Opera is being repaired at a cost of tens of millions of euros, but has already seen a production of the ballet, "Swan Lake." It was still impossible to use the house for full opera, so the latest production is being staged in a factory, but not just any factory.

When the star bullfighter in "Carmen" makes his triumphant entrance in the back seat of a Volkswagen, one could dismiss it as a cheeky updating of Bizet's classic.

But then the Volkswagen shift workers in white overalls, installing drivetrains and dashboards on an assembly line behind the orchestra, signal that this is no ordinary night at the opera.

Flushed out of its 19th-century opera house by the calamitous floods of last summer, the Semper Oper of Dresden is staging its latest production in an automobile factory — a shimmering glass-and-steel edifice in which the newest VW, a luxury sedan called the Phaeton, is assembled.

"We didn't choose to do `Carmen' because of the name," said the opera's artistic director, Hans- Joachim Frey, though the poster for the production, with "car" and "men" in different colors, is an obvious wordplay.

VW's rival, DaimlerChrysler, is the opera's main sponsor, but the firm was more than happy to suspend its rivalry for the run of "Carmen." The factory continues its operation without interruption throughout the performance.
It was also a chance for Volkswagen to show off its $180 million assembly plant, which opened last December. Built in downtown Dresden, with glass walls, oak and maple floors and a soaring central foyer, it looks less like a factory than an industrial cathedral. Potential buyers can watch the cars being assembled from a circular bank of windows overlooking the line.

For the duration of the opera engagement, which ends on Friday, the foyer has been filled with 450 seats and a stage, festooned with posters of bullfights. The orchestra is seated to the left of the stage, underneath giant soundproof windows that show half-finished cars rolling silently by.

Harry Kupfer, the German director who staged this "Carmen," made full use of the factory's dramatic design, filling the balconies with a chorus and sending his players up and down staircases. In a nod to his host, he wrote in a cameo role for the Phaeton, as well as for a vintage VW bus.

Stefan Schulte, the head of sales and marketing for the Volkswagen Phaeton, said, "The opera people keep asking if we're building better cars. I tell them, 'Sure, because of your beautiful music.'"

Great theater, meaning brilliant writing, extraordinary and sexy cast, wonderful direction, humanist message for our own time, and for the ages, and a wonderful performance space*, but it's going to be around for just one more day! Yeah, tears too, but I could still see very well.

Try to get into Timberlake Wertenbaker's, "Our Country's Good," at the Culture Project, at 212-875-7995.

* go early enough, sit on the far side of the stairs, and watch the audience descend and find their seats around the open rectangle floor. Notice the lighting. As you wait for the company of those who will actually be aware they are performing, you'll think you're already in the midst of a play. You are.

Bob Holman thinks so, and it seems like his Bowery Poetry Club may have a good chance to do just that. It looks and sounds wonderful, but the genie himself may be what makes the difference.

This is the poet, a former cabdriver and temporary worker, who used to call himself Plain White Rapper. For a few years, he ran a spoken-word record label, Mouth Almighty.
Last month he opened this, er, club.
"I run a coffee shop and bar so you can have poetry every night," he said. "Somehow, you have to pay for your addiction. They say no one has ever gone broke running a bar in New York, but we're going to give it a shot."

Taylor Mead, Butch Morris, Amiri Baraka, teen poetry slams, karaoke poetry, Norman Ohler, Ned Rothenberg and Uncle Jimmy's Dirty Basement, are among the starters this month.

The club shares the building with the intriguing, DV Dojo, "a boot camp for digital filmmakers," in Holman's description. Last night we also noticed it's just across the street from the 313 Gallery of CBGB, where we had stopped for the opening of the provocative and still largely illegal work in the exhibition, Illegal Art, especially to see Eric Doeringer's installation.

It all seems more than fitting, if not world-changing.

"Boca." Wonderfully perverse. We've now very happy to have been able to see it twice, the first time in its original presentation by Target Margin Theater, and last night, with largely the same, and definitely at least as wonderful, cast, by No One in Particular, at Present Theatre Theatorium.

It's great great fun, but I suppose it really helps if you know the original.

Tell them Wagner sent you.

Another letter in the NYTimes today puts the lie to the boasts of Hummer owners and GM's marketing campaign. Note that the vehicle in question is the "small" Hummer

To the Editor:
I'm not surprised that the H2 is such a hot seller (Business Day, Nov. 2). America is full of self-centered people, desperately craving attention from strangers.
Hummer's general manager says, "The people that buy this product, they're daring." What's so daring about driving a military vehicle to do errands? Riding a bicycle is daring.
Seattle, Nov. 2, 2002
The question should also be directed toward the owners of less ueber SUVs.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from November 2002.

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