Sunday, March 19, 2006

Review by Proxy

I've been told that Claire Z. at Sacred Fools is excellent. It's based on absurdist Durrenmatt's The Visit. The plot summary is promising:

Singing eunuchs, bizarre butlers, drumming, chanting and much more!

The richest woman in the world returns to her hometown: an impoverished little village enduring an agonizing period of decline. She will open her purse and give her vast wealth to the town, restoring it to grandeur, on one condition: kill Alfred Schill, the man who wronged her years before.

Will they kill him? Absurd... but the town is desperate, and Claire can wait...

CLAIRE Z is a percussive-driven, movement based theater piece drawing from the work of Grotowski and Suzuki, featuring the music of Lou Reed, Simon & Garfunkel and much more.

I hope I can get out there before it closes next weekend!


V for Vendetta.

Seeing V for Vendetta last night with friends inspired a long evening of conversation about the politics of film, comics, and video games, and, of course, politics in general, which is in itself almost enough of a reason for me to see it. Anything that leaves me wanting to talk about it was well done, even if it wasn't exactly the movie I wanted.

I have complaints. V was too conversational, to voluble at the beginning when he should have been mysterious. I wasn't sucked into the world of the film immediately; I would have liked to see more setting established. Evey and V aren't the only things going on in this world, and I would have liked to see more of that immediately, and not just through the TV. Some of the editing was difficult, and not necessarily good.

But by the end, I was completely wrapped up in the film. It did a wonderful job of tying all the plotlines and metaphors together, building to a truly stunning climax. It was a fairly faithful rendition of the graphic novel, editing some subplots out for the sake of clarity, playing up the ties to the contemporary situation, but for the most part following the plan layed out by Alan Moore in the graphic novel.

Moore, however, wants nothing to do with the film. He had his name redacted and refused a share of the profits. He has reasons to be angry, some of which are explained in this New York Times article. In addition to his disputes with DC Comics, who do indeed make a habit of stripping their authors of any intellectual property rights, Moore's objections to film adaptation stem partially from his commitment to establishing graphic novels as a valid and complex medium in their own right, rather than just prototypes for film. His worst fears about film might be evident in an examination of From Hell and how completely unrelated to Moore's dark, literate graphic novel the Hollywood movie turned out to be.

I've read V for Vendetta and I must say that the film in some ways felt more clear, just a little easier, but for the most part very similar. I definitely felt that I knew what was coming every moment. Both were intensely literate, dripping Shakespeare quotes and images of famous artwork, and not at all subtle, trying to force the audience into some realization about life, politics, and revolution.

But will people see this movie? Will they think about it beyond the big explosions? Why aren't people angry? Can they really think it's just a movie, rather than a much-needed political speech of an extreme variety? Perhaps the New York Times Review is an indication, dismissing it all too easily in a show of wit rather than serious consideration. The only sentence in the entire review I agree with is that it "never manages to make this Goth dystopia pop." Although perhaps this one at least deserves some consideration: "The more valid question is how anyone who isn't 14 or under could possibly mistake a corporate bread-and-circus entertainment like this for something subversive." Like this sentence, the whole review is haughty and superior, not for a moment giving the movie credit as a political statement. And perhaps the reviewer is right that within the system you can't possibly overturn it and this film is indeed motivated by profit as much if not more than by art or politics. But I think that the people dismissing this as a facile political statement are wrong. It's saying something that needs to be said, in the 1980s, now, and again: the government is wrong, DO SOMETHING.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review Long Deferred

faults, lies, and faultlines. Katastrophe. 2005.

When I ordered this CD, I meant to write a review fairly quickly. But with CDs, I tend to want to let them sit in my head for a while, to give myself a chance to figure out when I want to come back to them. And the first time I listened to fault, lies, and faultines, it didn't quite get stuck in my head (with the possible exception of the first song, "The Life." I wanted to listen to it more, understand it deeper, penetrate the lyrics, but I didn't immediately love it. So, taking a month to listen to it occasionally, and to come back to it whenever I wanted, I've discovered exactly how wonderful it is.

There's an amazing level of depth and complexity in this CD, both in terms of layers of sound and layers of meaning. It's a little different than Let's f*ck and then talk about my problems, which I feel does a lot of work toward establishing a persona for katastrophe. This album seems to wrestle more with issues and individual choices, from "Diamond rings," which claims "I'm fine, without those diamond rings attached to price tags. I'd make a nice dad, but I'm not taking any chances in a word that takes advantage" to "all wrong" which says "It doesn't matter if you even like me anyway. 'cause you don't live my life and I don't know what it's like for you. So you mind yours and I'll mind mine and everybody can get along just fine." And katastrophe doesn't back away from trans identity and trans issues in this CD; queer and trans issues are integrated throughout the album, sometimes coded and sometimes direct, but very clearly part of a larger identity and larger issues with which the album wrestles.

The first song on the CD, "The Life," is a collaboration with Shaggy Manatee and Ruby Valentine of Romanteek. The several voices within the song make it a lot of fun, and it's a great song to dance to. The chourses of "break down" and "drop a line" and "read me" similarly compell me to dance and sing along. Other songs feature pointfivefag and jb rap (Juba Kalamka and Jeree Brown of Deep Dick Collective), cindy wonderful of Scream Club, and aggracyst. The entire album is a beautiful balance between multiple layers of katastrophe's unique voice and collaborations that add interesting complementary voices, demonstrating a commitment to a queer hip hop/rap community. It also has a great tension between brilliant lyrics and poetry I want to listen to and fun beats I want to dance to.

And I must mention "fake meat" which is a wonderfully witty rumination on insecurity, both personal and financial. Katastrophe even reminds us that "I ain't proud to let y'all know money come in slow, so dig deep and we'll all sleep easy," which, oddly enough, rather than irritating me that he's asking for money, actually makes me want to send some to him. I think I'll order a replacement for that long lost copy of his first album now. Anyway, I highly recommend this CD, but it took me some time thinking about it before I really fell in love with it. The more I listen to the lyrics, the more impressed I am.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Full Disclosure

Recently, I found myself in a situation I never expected. This blog actually lead to a real world benefit for me. Specifically, Sarafina from the band Lipstick Conspiracy read this post from when I saw them perform at Fresh Meat. Not only did she contact me, which was sweet, but she took pity on my complaints of poverty and gave me a copy of the CD, Don't Tell a Soul, that I never managed to buy when I saw them perform. I was delighted! I'm a huge fan of free stuff, and this CD made me very happy. The only things I have to offer in exchange for this wonderful gift are a mention here on my blog and a review, so even though she didn't ask me to, I promised to at least link to the band's website. For a moment, I felt almost guilty about that. Does this mean I'm bribe-able? Will I promote anything that gives me free stuff? I decided that this was a silly little moral dilemma because:

A. I make no claims to professionalism and journalistic ethics
B. I saw, enjoyed, and linked to the group before they gave me anything
C. Reviewers get free CDs, books, theater tickets, etc. all the time

So, basically, I decided that if anyone wants me to review anything (CDs, books, videos, fabulous fashion accessories, etc) feel free to send it to me. I also accept theater tickets (gladly!). I'd love to get stuff to review. I'd love to be more aware of cool and especially queer bands, performers, etc. So, while I doubt anyone will take me up on the offer, feel free to email me and offer me things to review. I'll do my best to provide thorough consideration, interesting and honest opinions, my performance studies expertise, and appropriate links.

I'm also excited to hear a rumor that Lipstick Conspiracy is in the process of recording a new CD and may be touring this summer. So feel free to check back here (or here) soon for info on when they'll be in SoCal. I'll also be reviewing their CD shortly.

Book Signings

There are two very interesting author tours coming up in the near future.

Sunday, March 26, 7pm
Michelle Tea reads and/or signs (I'm not sure) Rose of No Man's Land at Skylight Books

Leslie Feinberg will be in California speaking and signing hir new novel, drag king dreams

Thursday, March 23, 7pm
LGBT Liberation in Time of War Abroad and Repression at Home
Featuring Leslie Feinberg
with LeiLani Dowell of Fight Imperialism Stand Together
and John Parker of International Action Center-LA
5274 W Pico Blvd, #203
Sponsored by: & International Action Center – LA

Tuesday, March 28, 7pm
An Evening with Leslie Feinberg
Transgender Author and Activist
One Institute National Gay and Lesbian Archives

(Feinberg info via thuggery & skullduggery)

You know what this means? It means I'll be buying Rose of No Man's Land in hardback. I have an irrational distaste for hardback books, but sometimes, you're stuck with them.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Another Reason I Wish I Could Date Annalee Newitz

I am completely in love with Annalee Newitz and especially what she is wearing in this picture (via Laughing Squid). Please note the t-shirt with blazer (hot) and especially the matching plaid bottoms. Pants? Skirt? I don't know, but either way, it's pretty darn awesome. I also love that her t-shirt says something, but the only word we can read is "gay." Rock on.

Disclaimer: Annalee Newitz is clearly a genius and writes a weekly column at AlterNet on technology which generally explains and comments amusingly on things about which I had no idea I should care. Go read this week's column on the attention economy. She is my latest internet crush, but otherwise has no connection to me whatsoever and should not be concerned by my mild stalking.

Oscar Roundup

I thought I'd share my thoughts and some of what I've been reading about the Oscars. I am very disappointed that Crash won, although I can't say anything against it because I didn't see it. I didn't see it because I heard mostly mediocre things from my friends who did see it and I know several people who HATED it. Hardly a resounding endorsement. I felt that both Brokeback Mountain and Good Night and Good Luck were execellent examples of what filmmaking could be. These were gorgeous, important, challenging films. Not only did they have something to say, but they had a style that supported and delivered that message in a clear, effective way. Again, I can't say whether Crash fits in this category as well or not.

Instead, I will point you to the LA Times, where James Bates explains the promotion and insider politics behind Crash's win and where Kenneth Turan offers a wonderfully angry breakdown of how Crash was the safe choice. Turan isn't the only one who feels that this decision was homophobic. The Virgina Quarterly Review and Backwards City (via Bookslut) both discuss Crash's win as homophobic and conservative. Cintra Wilson at Salon similarly discusses how the Oscars this year were safe, pandering to the conservatives. Finally, Bill Robinson at the Huffington Post has a slightly creepy counterperspective that I find disquieting but interesting.

I did indeed find the Oscars a bit upsetting. I can't really say for sure that the refusal to honor Brokeback (and Felicity Huffman for Transamerica) was homophobic, but it does feel that way. In fact, it feels a lot like after the last election when 8 states past anti-marriage amendments; it forced me to realize that there is a lot of the country that still hates us. While grand, sweeping, beautiful statements such as Brokeback can be made, people still feel as if they have the right to hate or ignore them just because they're gay.

George Clooney began the night so well, claiming a proud, liberal tradition for the Oscars as politically out of touch in a good way. But then everything about the night fought to contradict him. Even the the horrible, nonsensical anti-DVD rants demonstrated exactly how conservative the Oscars really are. Come on, who watches Ben Hur in theaters?!? For those of us who aren't 92, all of the movies whose 'spectacle' they celebrated we first watched on DVD or on TV if at all. And maybe they should be showing more of the old classic movies at theaters to recapture some of the glory of great film. Perhaps their fight against DVDs should involve making moviegoing an event (and an enjoyable one rather than one about crowds and lines and screaming children and ringing cellphones) or perhaps they should just recognize that they don't get to dictate how and when people enjoy their products. But they shouldn't be lecturing and talking down to their audience in the middle of an awards show. Jon Stewart may know that, but apparently a lot of the Academy does not.

Even 'A Return To Glamour,' which was the theme of the Oscars this year, seems wrongheaded and conservative. None of these movies was about glamour. These were movies with something to say, which was mostly achieved through looking gritty or sparse. It was a refusal of artificial glamour that made them notable. By denying and ignoring that, the Oscars were once again trying to whitewash and hide the real issues.

Cintra Wilson's observation on Salon about Resse Witherspoon as advocating conservative values is brilliant and important. She's a beautiful, young, blond starlet who talks only about her husband and children and her grandmother. She seems unsure at times about whether she was playing June Carter Cash or her own grandmother. She stresses her similarity and identification with the role as a 'strong woman' and a 'real woman.' I'm mildly amused and slightly horrified by a couple of the people liveblogging the Oscars whose first thoughts after Reese's repeated "she's a real woman" comments were, "Is she saying something about Transamerica?" Examples here, here at 10:59 and here in the comments. I suspect she's just dumb and not that cruel, rude, and homophobic, but even the fact that it can be interpreted that way is pretty scary and reason enough why she shouldn't have said it. In this interview from two years ago, she talks about how motherhood has allowed her to play women with whom she can better identify. If this isn't a blatant promotion of conservative values, I don't know what is.

Finally, I'd like to point you to the latest Guerrilla Girls Oscar campaign: The 500-pound gorilla in Hollywood isn't King Kong—it's discrimination against women directors!. They remind us that:

Only 3 women have ever been nominated for an Oscar for Direction (Lina Wertmuller (1976), Jane Campion (1982,) and Sofia Coppola (2003). None has won.

Clearly, the Oscars are and have always been a boys club, and while they like to seem liberal and congratulate themselves, the reality is the same exclusion and discrimination that you see all over.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Another Moment in a Long Tradition of Broadway Orientalism

Bombay Dreams. Orange County Performing Arts Center. Segerstrom Hall. Costa Mesa, CA. 2/23/06.

Bombay Dreams is a musical set in the Bollywood film industry and on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai). It was a beautiful, lush production with a talented cast, but it was still profoundly problematic. Despite its attempts at authenticity, several moments certainly evoked the orientalist tradition of Broadway musicals.

The good news is that, unlike Rodgers and Hammerstein in The King and I or South Pacific, Bombay Dreams features several people from the culture it represents, both in its cast and among its creators. Composer A R Rahman is indeed a composer for Bollywood films and the romantic leads are played by actors of Indian descent.

In fact, I suspect that a little more familiarity with Bollywood film and Indian culture might actually have increased my appreciation of this musical; a large proportion of the audience was Indian and I would guess that Bombay Dreams has elements of both tribute to and satire of the Bollywood genre that a greater literacy might have given more meaning.

There were some extremely troubling moments, however. My biggest problem is with the role and the treatment of the character of Sweetie (played by (Aneesh Sheth), whose unrequited love for the leading man, Akaash (played by Sachin Bhatt), is unbearably painful. She's a hijra played by a man and fated to die tragically in the end in a rather unnecessary moment of queer containment.

My other concern is the fact that in this touring production, only about half of the performers were of Indian descent. Almost the entire cast was extremely light-skinned, with several people from across Asia playing Bombay natives. Several of the men were apparently African-American Just as the Puerto Ricans in West Side Story are generally played anyone with dark hair, including Natalie Wood, whose parents were Russian.

The strength of Bombay Dreams is its spectacle. The lush production numbers, full of bright colors and beautiful dancing, make this an entertaining show despite its flaws. The Bollywood setting, like the long Broadway tradition of backstage musicals, provide ample opportunities for singing and dancing and the cast does so quite well.

Fred and Ginger with Backup

Never Gonna Dance. Musical Theatre West. Carpenter Performing Arts Center. Long Beach. 3/2/06.

Never Gonna Dance was a fairly inexplicable musical. It has the basic plot structure of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical, Swing Time, but with changes to the plot that made even less sense than the original wacky 1930s musical. With Fred and Ginger, the plot was just an excuse to get from one dance number to another, but Never Gonna Dance lacked the pace and frivolity that made the Fred amd Ginger musicals so much fun.

The dancing throughout the show was excellent; leads David Engel as Lucky and Tami Tappan Damiano as Penny worked really hard and carried the show pretty well, and all of the chorus were extremely talented tap dancers. Every member of the chours got an opportunity to dance a bit of a solo as well as serve as ensemble backup dancers. It was odd, however, the way they adapted songs that were originally Fred and Ginger solos in closeup to production numbers. It drained a bit of the individual personality and chemistry away from the leads.

The performance I saw was questionable at best. There were several technical difficulties including a backdrop getting caught up on an electric and twisted. More problematically, the sound, especially in the second act, was extremely over-mic'd. It made even the leads sound shrill, and it ruined Harriet Harris' solo, showing just how much she wasn't a singer (although she's a brilliant character actress and performed quite admirably in "Shimmy with Me").

Overall, the show was fun, although in no means great. It had its moments, and it had its problems. I think as a concept, it was weak. I'd rather watch the original with Fred and Ginger. Or even a live stage production of the original text, without Never Gonna Dance's tweaked the plot and odd collection of songs.