Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

New Movie: 127 Hours

Saw the new James Franco movie 127 Hours and the new Signature Theater play, Walter Cronkite Is Dead this week. The movie is gripping with severe editing that makes it thrilling to watch. The play is humorous and poignant.

This will not be a discussion of my crush on James Franco. Although watching his tongue lap at the last drops of water closeup has given me new things to think about.

Each made points about people and the company they keep. Based on the book 127 Hours : Between A Rock and A Hard Place, the movie indicates that Ralston learns that he needs to appreciate and spend more time with his family and those who he loves.

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The play Walter Cronkite Is Dead illuminates the view point of two women who could be the mother of a man of Ralston’s age. While not completely forgotten about, the two women are lonely. 

Despite their residence in a blue and a red part of the US, the women through conversation overcome their political differences to find common ground mostly in their motherhood. They also discover that they both bemoan the loss of a sense of commonality and cultural “standards”, seemingly embodied in the title characters’ newscast to a large audience and his times of greater cultural common points or touch points.

Was the 1960s really this time of great common touch points? There were many different ethnic communities with their own media, culture, and communities in the US. While less acknowledged as culturally acceptable then now do to cultural relativism and “political correctness” these distinct groups had their own distinctive ways of being that were not shared among the larger culture. Many within these groups resisted said mainstream cultural standards.

Ralston, like the children of the two mothers in the play, leads a life generally apart from his parents. He hardly seeks connection with even like-minded people, let alone someone from a different background, with drastic political differences.

The movie seems to indicate that he realizes his need for connection. His distance from his parents and his denial of a college girlfriend, a topic that would have been interesting for the movie to go into in greater depth, are for him the result of a macho attitude of doing it alone.

To him it is, but I thought about people who like being alone and how the movie could have represented those people. I thought about people who seek out environments, such as the Utah mountains, to commune with nature because that is their major connection.

The two women in the play saw the value of immersing into different cultures. Each sought to take a trio, either to see beauty or to wipe away their cultural attitudes and perceptions.

The play shows that a US citizen who lives on either coast or in the great middle does not have to travel outside the country to immerse somewhere different. All they need to do is travel elsewhere and engage with an open mind.

The movie and play raise the question of experiences alone in new and challenging environments. This is one of the reasons why people travel. They seek to immerse their self in a unique place to feel different things and perhaps come back feeling differently or thinking more broadly.

The two works also make one wonder about how we each spend our time. How much alone time do we need and do we get it? How much time is spent with like-minded and with differently-minded people. Do we have enough of each. Seems all of us could use amounts of each of these experiences.


Spectacular New Show

Walk through the Portrait Gallery’s second floor and you’ll see a montage of Elvis photographs, part of their exhibit on the great rock n roll star.

Down the hall is a painting of another famous icon: Andy Warhol. His face is covered over with streaks of color. The text aside the 1986 piece asks, is Warhol hiding?

The new show at the Portrait Gallery is called Hide and Seek. It is the first federal government sponsored show on issues related to art and gays, lesbians, and homosexuality.

The show is part of the Gallery’s missions: to depict the lives of individuals who have had a significant impact on American live and culture and to show major themes in American history, the struggle for justice and for all citizens to reach America’s promise of equality and inclusion.

Now that the opening text validates the reasons for holding the show, one can enjoy the range of types of art, the scope of years covered: about 120 in total, and the rich description that provides context for most of the pieces.

Video art ranges from the frustration of David Wojnarowicz, who engaged in art that confronted the apathy toward the AIDS epidemic in the mid 1980s, to the famous Pink Narcissus, a depiction of a single person growing up in the artists’ apartment in the late 1960s.

There are many artists who play with the symbols of gender in their photography. Males don wigs, females moustaches and other elements in what societies have deemed only appropriate for one sex or the other. This ranges from Marcel Duchamp during the 1920s, through the more recent work of Christopher Makos and Catherine Opie.

A series of photographs made by Carl Van Vechten show famous individuals in the entertainment and other realms during the 1920s through 1940s. The people were important figures in the Harlem Renaissance and homosexual cultures within the theater and writing circles. Van Vechten frequently Harlem and other parts of cities that historian Kevin Mumford called, Interzones: locations on the edges of usually African American neighborhoods where people on the margins of the mainstream could have nightclubs and congregation spaces freer from police intrusions. San Francisco had the Tenderloin District and Los Angeles had West Hollywood.

Several artists surprised me with bawdy depcitions. Many of us have seen the humorous classicism of Paul Cadmus. George Bellows showed a meeting in a male bathhouse in New York City. Jess Burgess Collins’s 1954 collage called The Mouse’s Tail includes a range of hot men clipped from physique magazines popular in the 1940s and early 1950s. Duane Michals’ 1970 photo series captures a cruising situation familiar to urban gay males.

J C Leyendecker, the creator of the Arrow Shirt Man, painted an oil painting that featured these iconic figures two decades  earlier. His Arrow Shirt man, popular in the 1930s, evoked for me a series of Paramount Studio photographs showing actors Randolph Scott and Cary Grant in their Malibu Beach house from 1933-1942. One photograph is below:

The two most emotional pieces for me came from Robert Mapplethorpe and Keith Haring. Mapplethorpe’s photograph of Roy Cohn is eerie and captures the contradictions of a man who sleeps with man and who promotes the distaste for the homosexual community. Haring’s unfinished painting from 1989, evokes his untimely death one year later.

Is Warhol hiding in his painting? Probably in a similar way to Hollywood, which had a style that us historians have called, the Open Secret. In the 1920s and 1930s, gossip pages followed Hollywood stars who went to see female impersonators at clubs in West Hollywood. Warhol hung at the sexually ambiguous night club Studio 54 in the 1970s. Hollywood gossip columns contained code words that carried hints to the in the know crowd and probably to many other newspaper readers as well.