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Edited by y Armond White

New York’s Review of Culture .

Dramatic Personae The Taviani’s Illuminate Reality through Theater By Armond White   ompartive Literature classes were never as exhilarating as the best parts of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Caesar Must Die. This ingenious adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, combines documentary and drama as the Tavianis follow theater director Fabio Cavalli guiding a couple dozen convicts through a production of the play staged in Italy’s Rebibbia Prison. As always, the Taviani’s, (best known for the modernist neo-realism films Padre Padrone and Night of the Shooting Stars), combine artifice and naturalism. This prismatic approach illuminates Shakespeare, cinema and life. The concept shows convicts utilizing the amount of existential acting that comprises their street and prison yard lives, their behavior as men, sons, pals and citizens. The Taviani’s interpret Julius Caesar’s political conflict, (a tyrannical leader assassinated by fellow politicians), for more than facile contemporary allegory; they reveal its insight into basic human interaction and masculine aggression. This thesis is made endlessly fascinating by the prisoners’ real-life spectacle. Brutus’s recitation hesitates at reality’s contrast; its vulgarity and absurdity trouble him freshly—as it does a viewer. The Tavianis’ moral clarity provides fleet, astonishingly reflection. Two convicts, Gianni and Juan, get so caught up in their personal rivalries while acting that we respond to their conflict as to HBO’s prison series Oz, (especially those memorable episodes about putting a play). These faces suggest hardened versions of actorly visages. There’s a tough Derek Jacobi, a corpulent Louis Calhern, while others suggest the same Italo



ethnic types made cartoonishness by The Sopranos and GoodFellas. It’s abstract yet it gives soulfulness to a political and social perspective that transcends being Brechtian. Sometimes the humor resembles the prison scenes in Big Deal on Madonna Street, that authentic Italian comedy about petty crooks. Because the Taviani brothers use dialectical methods, their visual and conceptual ideas alternate, (color/b&w, theater/reality), without always merging comprehensively. Yet, their ambiguous whole


avoids the banality predictability of some of the Dardennes brothers films. This is an intellectual modernization of Shakespeare that West Side Story sold out in favor of popular appeal. The men’s discovery of theater is moving. As the movie slips past the obvious strictures of incarceration and gets caught up in the emotional space of rehearsal and the individual inmates’ personal transformations, a sense of illusion comes from temporary suspension of disbelief—very much like Louis Malle achieved in Vanya on 42nd Street, but richer. Many of the actors are surprisingly good— passionate and credible. Cavelli encourages their naturalism: “It’s not a vulgar dialect, it’s a dialect in the mouth of noble characters.” They discover the cultural heritage that they had squandered—and you can feel it. The Tavianis’ spartan, mostly black and white visual style contrasts “performance” with reality, a complex move in the era of Reality TV where all notions of truth, fiction and cinema verite have been corrupted if not destroyed. The Taviani’s are admirably minimalist, but sometimes cinema calls for theater, some all around phenomenological fascination with the reality of prison as a place of confinement. The most conventional cinematic excitement comes when the

Taviani’s zoom in and begin introducing information about the men’s crimes and sentences. The amount of Taviani’s control is perplexing but it beats Reality TV fakery by admitting the harsh truth beneath the overall artifice—and the potential beauty. When the men ponder, “How many centuries to come will see actors play this great scene of ours?” Or muse about “Kingdoms and languages yet to be invented,” the terms may not exactly express the thoughts of convicts but it’s poetry nonetheless and nothing in Dustin Hoffman’s self-satisfied opera diva film Quartet or Malle’s Chekhov caprice can touch it. Do-gooder programs that bring hip hop into prisons cannot possibly be this effective. Marc Antony delivering his famous speech in a concrete basketball court tells us the classical arts are not dead but can elevate contemporary self-esteem. This helps illuminate the most mundane aspects of taken-for-granted life. When Cassius (Cosimo Rega) walks back into his quarters, he admits “Since I got to know art, this cell has become a prison.” Rehabilitation? The Taviani’s turn insight into a powerful act of compassion. Follow Armond White on Twitter at 2xchair



Lenox Hill Democratic Club Presents a

Gun Reform/Safety Panel

Wednesday, February 27th 2013 7PM to 9PM At Church of the Holy Trinity 316 East 88th Street (between 1st and 2nd ave)

Barbara Hohlt States United to Prevent Gun Violence New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Brina Milikowsky Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel NYC Office of the Mayor/ Mayors Against Illegal Guns Jason C. Lippman Senior Associate for Policy and Advocacy The Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies, Inc. Bring a neighbor and be informed on gun control issues and legislation. To be informed of upcoming events visit the Lenox Hill Democratic Club web site and sign up for our email list:

David Menegon President Lenox Hill Democratic Club



The Accidental Buddhists

Artists’ Sacred Visions at Tibet House By Renfreu Neff

Guest Speakers:

“Watching the Mind” by Jayoung Yoon


he gallery at Tibet House is hosting “Sacred Vision, Separate Views: Contemporary Buddhist Perspectives In Art,” which is an exhibition of works by six artists whose study and practice of Buddhism have informed their work in distinctly different ways not readily identifiable as “Buddhist art”. Here is an exhibition that is vibrant and dynamic in its larger than usual dimensions, such as Japanese artist Shigeru Oyatani’s fiery red Party Line and the blizzard white No, each a 72-inch square, right- angled to each other in one corner of the gallery. There is mystery hidden in Oyatani’s great squares, as there is in two works by poet-painter James Walton Fox, who often incorporates script, including Arabic, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Farsi, as a visual device. Proof embodies vowels and consonants of the “Ali Kali” alphabet as well as Euclidian Proof, while his more ephemeral seeming Sky Burial contains a poem of his own that follows the metrics as the Buddhist Seven-Line Prayer. Valley Fox’s Venus In Furs Feast Offering #11 is a bold departure from her exuberantly erotic flower “portraits”; also here one sees the untamed, cascading fluidity of Pale Fire. The eye rests a moment on one of two smaller ink and pencil renderings of Study for a Line In Space, a collaboration between Fox and Wesley Simon on a sand mandala. But it is Simon’s stark ink and charcoal Mountain of Burnt Offerings, a

large rectangle with its burned off lower edge and burnt remains in a pile on the floor, that resonates with current events, a reminder of the one-hundred Tibetans reported to have self-immolated in response to Chinese oppression, (as well as the Tunisian fruit vendor and wave of sympathizers who ignited the Arab Spring). Sculptor E. Elizabeth Peters displays Bounty of Burnt Offerings, a collection of hand- molded, skeletal objects cast of ceramic porcelain bisque then smoke fired—a foreboding human skull, dark ashen bones, goblets and pitcher—all appearing to have been unearthed from an archeological dig. Standing thigh-high on four sensuously shaped “legs,” is a plexiglas box containing unfired clay ru: What Remains? Korean video artist Jayoung Yoon presents a series of elegantly still pieces reflective of her Butoh influences. Tibet House does not promote its gallery as aggressively as it ought to, perhaps in keeping with the Buddhist tenet of nonego or non-attachment. This can be selfdefeating when it comes to exhibitions as notable as this one, which some, summoned by mailing list or word of mouth, have deemed the best they’ve attended. Perhaps what’s required is a gallerist, as gallery owners have come to be called, a veteran seasoned in the art market’s ways and (considerable) means. “Sacred Vision, Separate Views: Contemproary Buddhist Perspectives In Art” at Tibet House, 22 West 15th Street, through Feb. 1.



Show Biz Kids Coppola and Sheen promote Hollywood solidarity By Armond White


t can’t be easy for children of famous filmmakers to escape their parents’ shadows. That’s the problem facing Francis Ford Coppola’s offspring, daughter Sofia and son Roman, the most talented of the two. Neither can seem to get out from under their father’s eminence but at least Roman gazes beyond his own navel as in the new film A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Charles Swan III looks at a Hollywood brat, (a free-wheeling advertising wiz and immature bachelor), who has hit crisis point. Since it stars Charlie Sheen, director-writer Roman Coppola places his personal concern at pixilated, fantasy remove. This works nicely because both Sheen and Coppola are yoked under the same privilegedHollywood-scion onus without burdening the audience with too much enviable and undeserved celebrity identification. Whatever one’s initial reaction to the film’s conceit, it is always complicated by realization that the film’s subject is broader and more humane than judgmental gossip. Sheen’s recent public behavior, the hardpartying stuff of tabloid fodder, (and tabloid income), is shown in a cooler light—a light made resplendent by videographer Nick Beal who also knows to lend surrealist exaggeration to Swan‘s paranoid extremes. This story of privilege run amok, (Swan can’t understand why his girlfriend deserts him, why business associates are dissatisfied with his selfish preoccupation), is also a tale of fond sensitivity that Roman Coppola understands and vouchsafes to the world. (Roman co-wrote Wes Anderson’s most profoundly emotional and deeply charming film, The Darling Limited.) Perhaps the only reason Charles Swan III wasn’t greeted with the rapturous reviews Sofia Coppola always receives is that it doesn’t rely on the poor-little-rich-girl petulance that our celebrity-worshipping mainstream media adores. Candidly masculine, it risks the tyrannically p.c. media elite’s hypocritical disapproval. Yet Roman Coppola empathizes with the more complicated bad boy tradition exemplified by Sheen, (a childhood friend since the filming of Apocalypse Now which was directed by Coppola’s father and starred Sheen’s dad).


Unlike the cosseted worlds on view in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, Charles Swan III offers a satirical view of narcissistic privilege as a young man’s dubious choice, not as social entitlement. Swan’s custom-designed bacon-and-eggs car, the fancy-dressed cowboy-and-squaw fantasy, the erotic vision of an out-of-reach love object poignantly, hilariously mock self-indulgence. This rare feat of satirical candor recalls the Steely Dan song “Show Biz Kids” that predicted “Show biz kids/Making movies of themselves/You know they don’t give a fuck about/ Anybody else.” While that remains an insufferable truth about Sofia’s movies, it is exactly what distinguishes this film as a charming display of camaraderie. (Note the lovely, reckless revenge Swan III exacts in defense of his stressed-out sister, played with sweet complexity by Patricia Arquette.) Above all, Roman helps Sheen achieve succor and Sheen returns the favor with a forceful performance—as in an ambidextrous telephone scene that shows impressive actorly skill far beyond his coasting as the oblivious roue in that TV filth Two and a Half Men. It’s been over a decade since Roman Coppola’s last directorial effort (CQ). This new film isn’t any more major but it’s of equal esoteric charm. Charles Swan III’s missteps appeal to our humanity in an era of rabid celebrity envy. No less a misanthrope than Paul Schrader recently complained to “It’s that Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Chris Grown thing. The [media] can’t stop themselves from unloading and judging. It’s a terrible fish bowl existence.” Roman Coppola’s fishbowl satire makes an uncommon objet d’art. Asking for sympathy is more complex than a disingenuous apology. Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair


* entering kindergarten 2013

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cityArts Downtown February 21th, 2013