Woofstock Week

Written by Adam Heimlich on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.



Soon, we hope, young, upper
middle-class white people who loudly talk shit about "film" in public
places will chatter instead about
Fight
Club
, which opens Friday, and which deals with some of
the same issues as Beauty in an immeasurably less smug way. The other
big cinema event this week is the
Dreyer retrospective
at
Film Forum. For that, Matt
Zoller Seitz offers guidance:


"What readers unfamiliar
with Carl Theodor Dreyer need to know about him is (1) he’s Danish and
preoccupied with themes of faith, passion and transcendence, (2) he’s so
very Danish, meaning austere and precise, that he makes Ingmar Bergman look
busy and easily distracted, and (3) he pretty much invented the closeup as we
know it today. Film Forum is showing six of his films from 10/13-19 (209 W.
Houston St. at Varick St., 727-8110), in conjunction with Danish Wave ’99,
a citywide celebration of Danish art and culture. The films are
The
Parson’s Widow
(1920,
10/13),
Vampyr
(1932, 10/14-15),
The Passion of Joan of Arc
(1928, 10/15-17),
Ordet (1955, 10/16-17),
Day of Wrath (1943, 10/18)
and
Gertrud (1964, 10/19).



"Technically, the films are
likely to be perceived by modern audiences as primitive, because they eschew
plot development and easy dramatic confrontation for long moments of concentration
and reflection. Dreyer’s single most important tool is the human face as
captured by a closeup, sometimes a tight closeup. The director had a very elaborate
system devised to enable actors to gradually work through the emotions required
for the closeup. He did take after take after take, watching the previous day’s
footage with the actors to identify precise moments where some truthful and
comprehensible emotion emerged–in other words, moments where the distance
between the actor and the spectator vanishes and what remains is not the character,
but the character’s emotions. They built on what had been done before,
always aiming to achieve perfect simplicity and directness.


"If you haven’t seen any
of the filmmaker’s work, you have to steel yourself before a screening
as one might steel oneself before entering an intense, theoretical classroom
discussion or a house of worship during a time of great national crisis. It
takes some getting used to, just as Shakespeare’s language takes some getting
used to. But once you orient yourself, you might be surprised by how modern
the performances seem. They are not like the typical theater–informed,
ornate performances common to some silent films; they’re not even psychologically
busy, like some Method performances. They are at once intensely stylized and
oddly realistic. The faces communicate what the characters are feeling and thinking.



"Reconstructed from
actual records of Joan of Arc’s trial,
The
Passion…
contains what is widely believed to be the finest
performance of the silent film era, by stage actress Falconetti as Joan of Arc.
Large portions of the film consist of little more than closeups of her face
as she contemplates her fate and her faith. The film was a powerful influence
on Godard, Scorsese, De Palma and other filmmakers of an hallucinatory, hyperreal
inclination. Scorsese took Dreyer’s closeups a step further in his dramas,
filming some views of actors’ faces in very slight slow motion, to pinpoint
the exact moment when the characters shift from one thought or emotion to the
next."



The temptation to stay at home will
be strong this week, though, given the political climate. Last week the Mayor
of New York City (allegedly) suspended subway service to the art exhibit he
doesn’t like, and the Mayor of Heimytown refused to divulge the date and
location of a reading from a book I didn’t like. Life sure is rough in
the city, compared to out in America, where no one needs subways or listings,
and freedom of esthetic choice is granted to all through the miracle of remote
control.



Plenty of people were living
that sort of life last week. There was the Mets and Yankees playoff action,
the best
Simpsons
in recent memory (Bart diagnosed with A.D.D.) and, perhaps most exciting, the
season premiere of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Once again proving itself the best-written show on broadcast television, the
episode–about
Buffy’s unsteady orientation
week at State U.–was yet another example of the show’s perfect blend
of unsentimental teen drama, gallows humor and kung-fu action. The supernatural
threats of
Buffy’s world are well-costumed stand-ins
for the things that really frighten teenagers: bullies, out-of-control authority
figures, snooty popular kids, peer-pressuring friends and, in the premiere’s
case, world-weary upperclassmen. Every episode provides a subtle lesson on how
to combat these foes. Extended metaphor evokes the grim seriousness of these
issues as they are truly felt by young people, and neatly precludes the caring,
arm-around-the-shoulder voice that made every
After-School Special
such a heavy-handed joke. (Tuesdays at 8 p.m., Channel
11.)


This season of Buffy
should be even more enjoyable for adults than the last three were, because the
plotline aimed at young girls–the histrionic relationship between Buffy
and reformed vampire hunk Angel–ended last spring. Angel moved to L.A.
and was spun off into his own hourlong drama, which premiered after the new
Buffy, while Bernie Williams went on his thrilling
Game One rampage. Though aimed squarely at Backstreet Boys fans (Angel’s
big problem is that he doesn’t want to open up emotionally but really,
really needs to),
Angel, so far, looks like
it will be another artful and entertaining show. It fits the basic mold of an
Incredible Hulk, A-Team
or a
Six Million Dollar Man, with the hero
using his freakish powers to help out a different distressed maiden or nerd
every week. But how’s this for a break with formula: in Angel’s premiere,
he failed to gain the trust of the guest-starring damsel in distress, and so
she ended up murdered. They showed her being carried away in a bodybag.
Buffy/Angel
creator Joss Whedon is not fucking around–he remembers that to sensitive
kids, what marketers call "teen angst" feels like nothing less than
a matter of life or death, and he very skillfully portrays it as such. (Tuesdays
at 9 p.m., Channel 11.)


To me, this indicates a
stronger link between Whedon’s work and rap music than the affinity to
hiphop claimed by artist Chris Ofili of his

The Holy Virgin Mary
. The collage techniques Ofili uses
are about a hundred years old, and the depiction of Bible figures with dark
skin predates "The Message," too. That this boast made by the sensation
of "Sensation" was so relentlessly parroted but never questioned is
typical of the bogus "debate" surrounding the exhibition. If Ofili
was truly hiphop, instead of a coddled favorite of the art establishment, the
denial of New York City funds to support his work would seem natural, familiar
and, to most, just. (For those heading out to the
Brooklyn Museum
this weekend, be aware that admission to the nearby
Botanic Garden
is free this Saturday, 10/16–a gift from the Pfizer Corp.–so be sure
to stop and smell the roses either before or after you look at the poo.)


In Ice T’s excellent
1994 book,
The Ice Opinion,
the L.A. gangsta-rap pioneer explicated the real-life basis and political implications
of horror entertainment. His trenchant longview was designed to counter the
sort of censorious posturing that has since swung its aim toward targets other
than hiphop, but Ice T remains the most sober and incisive voice in a celebrity
culture always ready to jump off one deep end or another. His new, seventh album,
The 7th Deadly Sin (Atomic Pop) came out Oct.
12, and proves this worldly and intellectual rapper still able to make topnotch
street music. Ice reveals that he’s a big Mobb Deep fan (good taste), presenting
on the new album his own version of the Queensbridge duo’s icicle-sharp,
stripped-down-to-the-bone sound.
7th Deadly Sin makes
it seem as if hardcore hiphop is mostly about writing and execution, with its
rebellious aspect merely incidental.


The pressure of American
"traditions" that make uppity, emotional hiphop inherently inflammatory
is more directly addressed on another fine rap album that came out on Oct. 12:
Mos Def’s
Black
on Both Sides
(Rawkus). My first reaction to this solo
debut by the smartest and most charismatic figure of the indie-hiphop scene
was disappointment at its sound. For much of the album Mos continues in the
lite-soul vein of Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star. The up-and-coming
MC wants all the Beastie Boys fans in his audience (there are tons of them)
to know that he’s a black man from Brooklyn, brought on up Stevie Wonder
and Nina Simone, not Led Zep and the Stones. He comes right out and states such
preferences during "Rock ’n’ Roll," which ends with a Bad
Brains-esque tirade recalling Ice T’s glorious
Body Count.


Mos Def is hyperaware of
the fact that black leaders are read as representatives of the entirety of black
America. Born dark-complexioned and a natural star, he’s reacting to this
absurd reality pragmatically, by presenting as varied and complex an image as
his extremely versatile skills allow.
Black
on Both Sides
is an album that everyone who cares about
hiphop should hear, but its self-consciousness–its concern with the way
it’s going to be received by the mainstream–keeps it from being the
late-90s version of
Paid In Full,
Criminal Minded
, 3 Feet High and Rising,
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
, Illmatic or
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
that, in my opinion, Mos Def
was capable of. If I were to interview Mos (he seems, at the moment, to prefer
to cooperate with snidely subtitled puff pieces for
Vibe),
I’d point out that all of those seminal debuts were loved by thousands
of dopey white kids, but none of the artists involved bothered to address them.
Mos has a verse on his new album accusing the media of racism for the way it
covered the child-molesting allegations against Michael Jackson, as opposed
to those against Woody Allen. I’m wondering, if this guy’s so immersed
in urban blackness, how could he get that on his album without everyone in the
studio going, "Nigga please!" and convincing him to cut it out?


The two big shows for rich
kids this week are
Tricky
and
DJ Shadow. Thinking about these concerts reminds
me of a reference
New York pop critic Ethan
Brown made, in a piece on Springsteen last summer, to "my painfully hip
DJ-culture friends." I shouldn’t quote Brown because he’s proven
to be really sensitive about it, but I could not have come up with so evocative
a phrase myself. DJ Shadow’s audiences have caused me pain with their hip
insistence on not dancing or even listening–that part is clear. But the
mindset to which DJ culture is a type of friend is not something I’ve researched.
Do these friends stutter incessantly and keep changing the subject, or what?
I don’t know, nor do I want to find out, so I won’t be seeing Shadow
on Tuesday. (10/19, with Cut Chemist, at
Bowery Ballroom,
6 Delancey St. at Bowery, 533-2111, $15.) Besides, I have to join my blissfully
beat poetry-culture friends that night at
Gregory Corso and Patti
Smith
’s reading at the Guggenheim.
(10/19, 1071 5th Ave. at 88th St., 423-3587, $10, $7 st./s.c.)


Tricky, on the other hand,
puts on a show intense enough to give hipsters a good shake. He tours with an
excellent band, surprisingly capable of recreating Tricky’s shape-shifting,
respiratory mixes in real time. And the man is far more credible as an MC in
person than on disc. He plays Saturday night, with Stroke and DJ Genaside 2,
at
Hammerstein Ballroom.
(10/16, 311 W. 34th St., betw. 8th & 9th Aves., 307-7171, $23.)


There are separate art
and culture festivals this weekend in Williamsburg and DUMBO. Both will be held
on Saturday and Sunday ("
d.u.m.b.o.
art under the bridge
" actually starts Friday night), feature
open galleries and artists’ studio tours, and are free. The Williamsburg
one includes an "Hasidic Discovery Tour" and antique sales; in DUMBO
it’s all new-school, with live-action painting, poetry readings and DJs.
For DUMBO info: 718-624-3372. For the ’Burg: 718-486-7372.


Meanwhile, in Manhattan,
Saturday is "
Woofstock"–the
annual dog walk to benefit the ASPCA. Chairperson Bernadette Peters and chairdog
Rags from
Spin City will declare October "Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog
Month" at 9:30 a.m. (
Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield,
enter at 72nd St. & 5th Ave., 876-7700 for info.) October was Breast Cancer
Awareness Month first, I’m pretty sure. On the same day as Woofstock, though,
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will declare October "
Slam
McDonald’s Month
" and begin to raise awareness with
a "massive campaign against corporate cruelty." Brace yourself for,
"[g]raphic in-your-face billboards and newspaper advertisements that read,
‘Do you want fries with that? McCruelty to go,’ above a picture of
a slaughtered cow’s head…" Mmmm. Fries.



Adam Heimlich is out
of the office until Monday, Oct. 25. Important messages for him can be sent
instead to micheimlich@hotmail.com.


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