BEST EUROTRASH TANTRUM Part One Best Eurotrash Tantrum ...
The first was only a single incident, even if it took place in a Broadway theater in front of hundreds of people. (Stewart made a curtain speech in which he faulted his own producers for not spending enough money advertising the play.) The second went on a bit longer, sparked, apparently, by the Fourth of July Mel Gibson vehicle The Patriot, which depicted British soldiers doing ungentlemanly things like shooting unarmed children in the back. First Sunday in July, the Times carried an item by London-based correspondent Sarah Lyall about how "full of outrage" the local newspapers had been, even though the movie hadn't even opened there. She quoted a journalist in The Evening Standard complaining about how "the dastardly English are presented as heartless toffs and Machiavels" in American movies. Weeks later, the Brit press was still going on about it. "Which of these recent Hollywood thrillers does NOT feature an evil British villain?" asked a limp quiz accompanying an Observer article about "Hollywood's burgeoning genre of Brit-bashing films," in which "we limeys occupy a moral niche somewhere between Satan and Atilla the Hun."
For the record, Brits, not Yanks, initiated this trend. It started with Alan Rickman's over-the-top performance in Die Hard. Even though he was not playing a Brit, after that no reputable, respected British actor could rest until he'd landed a high-paying gig in some cheesy Hollywood thriller or wig-stomper: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Roger Rees, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh?the list goes on and on. They didn't complain because they were making money. That was what they wanted, big old American dollars. They thought it would be fun to make a fast buck and shake some malignant booty.
It was Brits themselves?greedy British actors?who figured out they could do a land-office business in villainy, just as they figured out they could make millions in voiceovers. You don't hear them complaining about the money Jonathan Pryce made selling obscenely expensive cars on American television all those years, or about the millions of dollars' worth of other commercial work we throw their way. (And what's with this idea that the British are better poised to sell luxury items or caution us about the dangers of gingivitis, anyway? Are we supposed to fall in a dead faint every time we hear that accent?) And how about Elizabeth Hurley scabbing for Estee Lauder?what's that about? Like she didn't know there was a strike on?
Actually, we don't have a problem with movies that depict Brits doing heinous things. The British are horrible people?ruthless, unfeeling, self-serving and endlessly willing to exploit what they see as our greed and vulgarity. They're a bunch of racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic creeps who, absent the threat of actual invasion, would probably be incapable of doing anything even remotely noble or praiseworthy. Here is arch-little-shit Alan Cumming burbling on in the London Telegraph in a piece entitled "Oh, why am I such a celebrity":
"You see, I think that in Britain, fame or celebrity or whatever you want to call it is still thought of as mildly embarrassing, if not downright cheesy..."
Shut the fuck up, you poncey little assholes, or next time we won't come over there and win your fucking war for you!
Best Literary Triumph by a Local Boy
Jonathan Lethem's National Book Critic's Circle Award
Next, He Tackles Iron Chef as Meta-Narrative. When Lethem started, in the early 90s, writing literary books disguised as genre fiction, only his fans knew what he was up to. Book after book he experimented with detective stories, sci-fi, mixtures of both, all while slowly building an audience amazed at his range and skill and ability to transcend any (sometimes limiting) theme with perfect writing. Then comes Motherless Brooklyn, maybe his best book (though we say Girl in Landscape by a nose), and an avalanche of accolades. And, best of all, sudden interest in his back catalog. Now everyone can see what indeed he's been up to: slowly but surely breaking down boundaries between literary art and genre fiction.
Bountiful Mutiny. This is kind of a tongue-in-cheek category, since New York is swarming with hordes of terrific DJs spinning so many types and subtypes of dance music that, quite frankly, we can't always tell what's what, especially when we hear the same track variously described as "deep house," "tech-house" and "emotional techno."
It's easy to tell the DJs apart though, and Navdeep stands out. There's that turban, for one thing, and then there's the way he's so into what he's doing, dancing, leaning way over the turntables, grinning a broad grin, sometimes waving his hand in the air, caught up in the energy of the crowd. That magical circuit between crowd and DJ is stronger and deeper with Navdeep than with a lot of others, and it's not just that we're particularly partial to the variety of music he spins: a heavenly blend of South Asian, Jamaican dancehall and dub, jungle and drum 'n' bass. His segues are smooth and tight, his fades are inspired and he never uses gimmicks to heighten the "peak"?he never needs to. We'd love to see more of Navdeep at Mutiny (his crew) events around town, or?here's a radical thought?on bills put together with some contrast, rather than for aficionados of one subgenre or another. After all, he's already spinning five of 'em at once.
Batty for Pratty. We all know Mike Piazza is great at what he does. But so is Todd Pratt, who subs for the bang-up (and banged-up) Mets catcher/slugger. In April last season, during Piazza's two-week stint on the DL, Pratt filled in by batting .319, knocking in 11 runs and belting three homers. Early this season, he went six for nine while subbing for Piazza for three days. But fans most remember him for his substitute catching gig during last season's Wildcard game, when the Mets took on the Diamondbacks. Piazza sat out the final two games of the best-of-five series; Pratt went to work for him and blasted the homer in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 4 that sent the Mets on to the NL Champion Series against the Braves.
Pratt's got the blue-collar ethic down cold: he gives a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. He cheers teammates' success as much as, if not more than, his own, sitting in the dugout with a big smile on his face, and seems just plain glad to be a Met (and should be: Pratt'd been out of baseball for nearly a year and skippering a Florida Domino's when the Mets signed him in 1996), and is happiest when the team wins, not just when his personal stats improve. After garnering a career-high four hits in one game late this past April, Pratt downplayed his go-to-guy role, telling the Daily News' Rafael Hermoso that what mattered was "the whole basic team thing. If I went 0-4 and we still won it would've been the same feeling."
It's a shame some of that team-first hasn't rub off on egomaniacal New York crybabies like Paul O'Neill. While we wouldn't mind our kids being like Mike, we wouldn't be disappointed if they wanted to be a little like Todd too.
Best Exhibition for Remembering Why You Hated Art in the 80s
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave. (75th St.)
"If You're Reading This, You Suck." Barbara Kruger's work today could not look more dated if it were carved into rocks in gothic script. Featuring a seemingly never-ending collection of rooms silk-screened from floor to ceiling?a few blasting audio read woodenly by hammy actors?Kruger's one-note exhibition at the Whitney, up through Oct. 22, is a Philip Glass CD played with a busted needle. Barely varying her art in a 20-year career, her purportedly "challenging" billboards preach p.c. dogma to a dwindling company of devotees of tired lifestyle politics. Cheese and crackers to go with that whine?
Best Reason to Listen to Bluegrass
Dolly Parton's The Grass Is Blue
Throw Out Your Old Flatt & Scruggs Albums, Boys, Because This Is All You Need. We once loved a boy who was really into bluegrass. Really into bluegrass. He played his banjo constantly, took it with him everywhere; made us listen to countless renditions of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"; dragged us to outdoor festivals, where we had our first moonshine, and a hell of a lot of marijuana. We came to love the sight of him picking every night when he came home from work, his head lolling back, lost in a place we'd never been and never would be.
We loved that banjo too, but it was his; bluegrass was his. And although we had spent most Sunday afternoons at the foothills of the Appalachians, jumping on haystacks at our great-grandmother's tobacco farm; although, as a little girl, we watched sinners washed clean at a tiny fundamentalist Baptist church; although we used to stare at the sheer number of square-dance costumes in our aunt's closet, we never much listened to bluegrass. It was too close to home, in a way.
Living with that boy, we heard more bluegrass than we ever thought possible. It got exhausting after a while. Bluegrass?American classical music, traditional Irish melodies left to ferment in the hills for too long?is a strange genre. Kind of like electronica, in a way: fast, hyperactive. Overwhelming. You don't know whether to focus on the lyrics, the singing, the melody or the instruments. It can be intimidating.
And then one early morning last fall, we were driving next to a river in Western Massachusetts when we heard Dolly Parton on the radio, belting out her version of the Billy Joel song "Travelin' Prayer." It was the richest, most incredible bluegrass song we'd ever heard, and we immediately fell in love. With The Grass Is Blue, Dolly's first all-bluegrass album, suddenly bluegrass was ours, something that had nothing to do with our ex, and everything to do with the sheer genius of the music. The Grass Is Blue might be the best album released this year, bluegrass or not. Dolly sounds unbelievable: we can't even describe it. Listening to "Silver Dagger" and "Train, Train" is practically akin to a religious experience. She sings bluegrass: none of that wimpy Alison Krauss shit. It's a practically perfect album, with the best bluegrass musicians in the country (Sam Bush on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Stuart Duncan on dobro). This is the kind of album you listen to; you just listen, loud, feeling every note.
Best TV Sex Kitten Since Val Left 90210
Charisma Carpenter, Angel
The It Girl. Twice. First off, let's get one thing straight. There will never be another Val?the breadbasket girl next door who could make a dead man, or even Maria Von Trapp, come. And so when she split L.A. and kissed David goodbye (we knew for sure whose dad owned the show when that wigger picked Donna "cement tits" Martin over Ms. Malone), we cried even harder than she did. Gina Kincaid was a Joan Collins substitute for that Liz Taylor bust, and by the way, did anyone else notice that the bad girls' complexions got progressively darker on that show?
With Val's departure went any reason for tuning in to prime time, until Charisma. If you're one of those people who likes Buffy The Vampire Slayer (only Sarah Michelle Gellar's notoriously charming bedside manner could make that skeleton a sex symbol), but has too much of a life to stick around for Angel, try to catch at least the first 10 minutes for Charisma and the halter tops she so bravely and selflessly supports. Ever since she first appeared on Buffy we've been eagerly awaiting her lads-mag cover debut. Must be the laugh lines. In any event, thank God there's a pinup worthy of inspiring straight, female college sophomores everywhere to continue experimenting with each other.
Best Rocker Aging Gracefully
Still Looking for a Kiss? Undeniably, tradition runs strongly against rockers believing that they can age gracefully, encouraging them to think they have only two options, to keep playing rock the rest of their lives or burn out and die young. Probably the self-destructive lifestyle of rockers is predicated at least in part on this fatalism. The ones who die young?commit suicide, in effect, most often by drugs?may feel that they just can't be here in 15, 20 years. They just can't still be rocking in their 40s and 50s, and not knowing what else to do, they check out while they've still got it. Leave a beautiful corpse, all that. (Or, if they're into heroin, the rocker's suicide of choice, they live as a beautiful corpse for a time, one of the heroin-chic living dead, and then take it all the way.)
It doesn't always have to be this way. Jimi Hendrix certainly could've grown old gracefully, mellowed into some sort of jazz-blues statesman. Janis Joplin surely could have matured into a bluesy jazz performer as well. Friends of Kurt Cobain say that had he only lived another couple of years, spent that much more time being a father and getting away from junk and Courtney, he could've survived for the long haul, settled down with a nice girl on some land somewhere, pulled a kind of Neil Young.
David Johansen strikes us as a rocker who has grown up gracefully?eccentrically, yes, but gracefully nonetheless. He just had to abandon rock to do it. Phase One, he's the singer in the New York Dolls, a band that personified rock excess and outrageousness, from their high heels to drummer Billy Murcia's OD'ing on their first tour of the UK. As a band, the Dolls displayed an admirable understanding of the need to get out while the getting was good. They broke up early and young, leaving behind just the two studio albums and a big impression. Johansen continued to make rock, with varying degrees of critical and popular success, into the 1980s. Then he abandoned it and reemerged in the mid-80s with an entirely new persona, the high-haired lounge lizard Buster Poindexter. Whether or not you liked this new act?a lot of Dolls fans, ironically, found it offensively campy schlock?it made more sense for him to be doing this in his mid-30s than if he'd tried to keep prancing around in gold lamé pedal pushers and high heels. At least Buster was intentionally ridiculous and funny, as opposed to, say, Mick Jagger.
As the century ended, Johansen entered a third phase of his career. Under his own name (and hair) again, and backed by a great acoustic ensemble in the Harry Smiths, he's made an even more striking transformation than Buster was: at 50, he emerged as the middle-aged former rocker turned white bluesman and purveyor of old-fashioned, downhome American Music. Sitting on a stool on the stage of the Bottom Line last spring, not too shy to slip on his old fart's reading glasses when he needed to scan a lyric or a chart, he offered lovely renditions of old standards by Lightnin' Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters and Rabbit Brown, as well as even older, anonymous traditional tunes with roots sunk deep into America, like the heartbreaking "Delia" and the magnificent country dirge "Oh Death." (Check out the audiophile-quality CD on the local Chesky label.) In his own small way he's taking rock, at the beginning of the 21st century, back to where it started. It won't make him millions of dollars or earn him millions of screaming teenage fans, yet it feels and sounds like exactly the right music for him to be making at this time. For a man who's acted as outrageously as he has at previous points in his career, this is a startling, wise, beautiful and, yes, respectable turn. All Johansen is doing is acting his age. Why is that so amazing?
Best Musical Thing About Christmas
WKCR's Bach Festival
89.9 on Your FM Dial. Every year during the drinking season, the Columbia University radio station plays one week of nothing but the music of Bach. It is a wonderful oasis. There is a mini-festival of the playing of the irreplaceably great Glenn Gould, and Bach in every flavor from jazz to oratorio. It is a joy. You will not believe how fine it is.
Best Place to See Bad Sculpture
United Nations Park
First Ave. (betw. 45th & 48th Sts.)
Great. Next We'll Hear from the Fitz-Greene Halleck Society. For a city with a magnificent artistic heritage, New York suffers from some of the worst public sculpture in the world. Compared to Paris or Rome or London, New York's public statuary is a civic embarrassment. Worse yet, we crap up our parks with it. Few things would improve Central Park more than tearing down about 75 percent of the statues in it. (Who the fuck is Fitz-Greene Halleck anyway, and why do we have to look at his ugly mug every time we stroll down Literary?aka Poets'?Walk?)
Every park is riddled with stinkeroos?bronze godawfuls that should have been melted into beer steins long ago?but for the skankiest collection of middlebrow art in the city, you have to go literally abroad to the garden just to the north of the United Nations complex. (It's officially international territory.) Remember, the organization is based on the laudable, if sappy, idea that nations can get along, i.e., the UN tries to beat swords into plowshares. And jeez?how about that??the park actually offers up a sculpture of a guy...beating his sword into a plowshare! To explain that violence is bad, there is a big bronze of a pistol whose barrel has been tied into a knot. This may be a sly reference to the shotgun featured as Exhibit A in the landmark case of Bunny v. Fudd, but the sculpture ain't that slick.
Where else can you see a 39-foot tall St. George slay a dragon; and not just any dragon, but a dragon with a belly that is really a spent missile? Get it? There are the other works along the lines of women holding hands around the sun and something else in French. The sculpture garden on the one-world theme is pretty thick, featuring earnest allegories every couple feet.
Rotten as most of this stuff is, the curator has provided New Yorkers with an excellent reason to visit the park: the lifesize elephant in the 47th St. corner, close to 1st Ave. Our friend William Bryk would politely call this an "entire" elephant. Make that entirely entire?after Giuliani, it's the biggest public dick in all of Manhattan. And while this penis-packing pachyderm may not advance the Middle East peace process any sooner than the square-knotted gun, it's a lot more fun to look at than the warm and fuzzy baubles that block the view of the East River.
Best Live Sound
74 Leonard St. (betw. Church St. & B'way)
Check One Two. Check. Doesn't anybody else believe in twiddling with little knobs anymore? If so, it's usually to little effect. Most clubs seem resigned to half-decent sound at best, and are anything but anxious to help out performers who need adjustments during their sets. (Of course they weren't here in time for soundcheck?your catering tray probably wasn't quite up to professional standards, either!) We've seen several club shows this year where the soundboard was unmanned, and plenty more where it might as well have been. Maybe all the people who know what all the little knobs do can make better money with less hassle in studios. But the Knitting Factory definitely has a few. By keeping excellent technicians on staff and behind the boards, the Knit has distinguished itself as far and away the best place to hear, and not just see, touring rock and rap acts. Yeah, you knew it was good for jazz. But it's something else entirely to see the look of surprise on an MC's face when he realizes his monitor levels and sibilance are being fine-tuned as he keeps saying "mic check." Usually rappers just say it. Thank you, Knitting Factory, for actually doing it.
Bowery (E. 4th St.)
My Old Kentucky Home. When we go home, it's to the same Kentucky county that's home to the Jim Beam distillery, a county whose slogan is "Where the Real South Begins," a county whose claim to fame is housing the world's largest mules. And while we love New York, Kentucky holds a kind of magic for us that will never be duplicated. Kentucky has integrity, a friend of ours says. It keeps you honest.
And that's why the city's best billboard (fuck the showy Absolut/Ikea ad a few blocks away) is the Jim Beam ad on the southeast corner of Bowery and E. 4th St.: clean, straight up, it's a picture of a huge Jim Beam bottle, with the slogan "It Takes a Kentuckian to Make the Perfect Manhattan." Brilliant. Simple. Humbling. We love it.
Best "Live Girl" Booths
42 W. 33rd St. (betw. 5th Ave. & B'way)
I Hear You Knocking. Never has the old adage about location, location, location been more true than in the Manhattan sex biz. The most recent laws have made it very difficult for many fine porno shops to be able to have sexy live girls. We know that's a temporary thing, and many places on the fringes of Times Square have already begun to bring back "Live Girl" booths. There's hope that Giuliani's prostate cancer might mellow the great man.
One store, however, never had to rely on Rudy's personal ways. That's Empire Erotica, which was fortunate enough to be located just where it wasn't necessary to shut down its live booths. In fact, Empire Erotica hasn't changed much at all over the past few years. The best thing about the joint has always been there. We're referring, of course, to the way that their full-length booths?yes, full-length?have been arranged so that the windows quickly open with the first appearance of an appropriate tip. It may not be Times Square squalor, but anybody looking for a sleazy sexual experience can negotiate a cheap encounter behind these hallowed walls.
Strangely, you'd think this fortunate zoning would have brought the best and brightest of the exiled "Live Girls" to work at Empire Erotica. Instead, it's the usual selection of sexy gals mixed with the occasional beauty. That's still enough to recommend the place, even if those glass booths never swing wide. They're open late, too, and conveniently located next to the impossibly tame and lame Paradise Club. If you get caught by someone you know, just explain that you were looking for that joint. Nobody in a million years will suspect you of having had sex.
Best Multitasking on Your Office PC
"The Glen Jones Radio Show Featuring X-Ray Burns" Archives at www.wfmu.org/jones
Shut Up! We're Busy! We swear to God if the woman in the next cubicle does not turn down her VH1 at Work we're going to put our black office pump though her monitor. One can only listen to so much Matchbox 20. That's why all we listen to now at work is Jonesy. That's right?the best radio show in the Tri-State area, "The Glen Jones Radio Show Featuring X-Ray Burns," heard live every Sunday from noon to 3 on WFMU?is now archived on the Web. Which is good, because, we're ashamed to say, we are often asleep noon to 3 on Sunday.
You need the free RealPlayer audio, but it's worth the download. Now when Ms. Thirtysomething Office Drone kicks out the jams to yet another Sheryl Crow joint, we can kick back to some magic mix Jones, in his beer and cigarette haze, concocted to feed our Sinatra and 80s technopop...jones. And we turn it waayyy up during the mics, just to see the Drone fume at the banter between Glen and the Shakespearean wise fool, X-Ray Burns. You can't have enough Jones, but the archives only go back as far as February, so take it slow and savor each one, bay-bee. Remember, you gotta be a fast Jones not to be the last Jones.
Best New Actress Who Looks Like Someone Was a Little Too Aggressive with the Forceps
But She'll Be Perfect For Star Trek: Generation Y. Hmm...were mommy and daddy kissin' cousins? This freak wouldn't pass for sexy in a Cronenberg flick. She didn't look too grotesque in American Beauty, but after seeing a publicity shot of her later, we realized why: someone had the brains to cover her forehead with hair, or at least airbrush a good two inches off that monster. Moreover, we couldn't believe an interview in which she unashamedly claimed to know?even as a child?that her good looks were a sure ticket to stardom, and that she never had any doubt she'd "make it" early. Especially revolting was her spot on a Vanity Fair cover as one of Hollywood's young, hot up-and-comers. Where was Thora Birch, who played Suvari's more interesting best friend in the movie, when that pool of backbiting Conde Nast queens was deciding what's sexy in a woman? How American to give an Oscar to a movie satirizing American standards of beauty and then completely miss the joke by championing the stick-like, typically Germanic, retarded-looking cheerleader on the cover of its fashion magazines!
Or perhaps it was Suvari's A-cup, made even more flaccid when juxtaposed against the curvy, beans-and-rice-didn't-miss-her voluptuousness of Birch, that put her over the top. To be fair, maybe Suvari's mother wasn't a third trimester lush. Maybe she's just Welsh.
Best Venue for Free Local Rock
99 Ave. B (betw. 6th & 7th Sts.)
Hell, It's the LeFrak City of Rock. Maybe it's the $2.50 Rheingolds, or the fact that handsome Dick Manitoba himself, reformed alcoholic and punk rocker, stands behind the bar that keeps us coming back for more. Whatever, this is our East Village watering hole for some cold ones and free live music. Once we witnessed Dick notice the Yankees were on tv and then turn down the jukebox blaring the MC5 so he could pound on the bar and yell repeatedly, "Let's go, Yankees." He turned the jukebox up again after one disgruntled drinker yelled at him to shut up. Where most venues feel just like any other place to see bands play, Manitoba's succeeds in making you feel at home, like everyone is there together to have a good time. Mostly local bands take it upon themselves to entertain us bottom-feeders who revel in free entertainment. There was the night Bebe Buell befriended the mic and the all-New York Dolls covers night; and there're the Friday nights with Adam Roth or Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty 6 in residence. Manitoba's is so New York and yet so small-town in so many ways.
Best Brooklyn Golf Course
2880 Flatbush Ave. (betw. Ave. V & Belt Pkwy. E.)
Far Away, But Worth the Trip. Outside the city, a typical nine-holes takes us something in the neighborhood of two hours, door to door. In the city, the damage is more like four. This is because, lacking a car, we are required to board the B41 bus and be ferried all the way out to Marine Park, nearly at the terminus of Flatbush Ave., followed by a 10-minute hump with bag slung over shoulder from Kings Plaza. It takes forever, obviously, so we usually bring a book. Once we're on the course, however, the trip quickly becomes worth it.
Marine Park is a relatively nice old Robert Trent Jones design, 6866 yards, a links-style track with few trees and a strong sea breeze that, when it blows, turns every par 5, of ours, into a par...7, at least. The fairways are chewed up and endlessly susceptible to the plague not just of casual water but also impromptu ponds. These attract large flocks of insolent geese, who shit everywhere and rarely move, even when drives are sliced directly into their midst. The greens, however, are tricky, undulating, difficult to hold (especially on the long par 3's), and well-maintained.
Unlike at Dyker Beach Park, it is possible to get on at Marine Park without a week's notice. During the summer, notably at dusk, the course turns into a malarial swamp (it is, don't forget, smack in middle of a wetland), so Deep Woods Off! is an advisable addition to rain gear in the old golf bag. The pace of play is also numbingly slow, and the clubhouse is decidedly no-frills. The practice greens are swell, however, and the staff is kind. In early summer, the twilight rate is a terrific deal: $10.25 after 4 o'clock. One can usually get almost 14 holes in before darkness falls and that long bus ride back down Flatbush looms.
Best Circus War
Barnum's Kaleidoscape vs. The Big Apple Circus
Mangled Clowns, Broken Acrobats. This fall's circus season in New York promises to be a bright and shimmering thing, indeed. The Big Apple Circus is already crying about the arrival of Barnum's Kaleidoscape, apparently attempting to garner sympathy based on the alleged good deeds they perform for the community. There's something horrible about the sight of Paul Binder whining on the front page of the "Metro" section of the Times. Since when is whining part of the circus tradition? The Big Apple Circus has to fill the huge gap left by the disappearance of the Woodcock Elephants, and the good deeds and the show itself bear examining before Barnum's Kaleidoscape opens on Nov. 21 in Bryant Park and rips the fabric of the American circus tradition another stitch. Be prepared for this one and get your tickets early.
Best Artistic Expression of a Sociological Phenomenon in an Underrated Movie
But Soft... A word or two about Denzel Washington's performance in The Hurricane before it fades irrevocably into pseudo-intellectual oblivion. Norman Jewison's movie about railroaded former boxer Rubin Carter, who spent almost 20 years in prison for a triple murder he didn't commit, got almost as much of a bum rap as its subject, albeit for some interesting reasons. For one thing, no one recognized the genre?or, rather, the movie had enough in common with enough different types of genre-picture to confuse the hell out of the critics. (Was it a boxing movie? A crime thriller? A bio-pic?) Reviewers seemed to fixate on one or another form and fault the movie for not following its rules.
Also, this was a year in which professional thinkers? i.e., people who write for The New York Times?were giving a lot of professional thought to the question of how much liberty should be taken with stories based on real-life or historical incidents. Thus, we had anvil-headed columnist Richard Bernstein reminding us that although Shakespeare played around with facts, since nothing in contemporary culture is as good as Shakespeare, no one else should be allowed to, while the reporter and the lawyer who had devoted large amounts of their professional lives to the case?and felt snubbed by the movie?tried to set the record straight.
Actually, whatever else the controversy surrounding The Hurricane suggested, it made it clear that Jewison's big faux pas had been to make a movie that failed to glorify either lawyers or journalists. (All the Presidents Men was showing a lot on the History Channel around this time, complete with interstitial interviews with Ben Bradlee; and we somehow kept tuning in at the place where someone was asking Bradlee if a particular scene had really happened the way the movie depicted it and his indulgent reply: "Now, So-and-so, you've known me for 20 years! You know I don't talk like that...") But Jewison wasn't interested in glorifying lawyers or journalists, or in making a genre picture of any sort; he was interested in questions of identity and self-invention and the problem of how to make something creative out of a life in which violence and brutality are the only constants. Which was too bad, from a diplomatic perspective, because once he'd alienated members of those two highly articulate and well-connected professional communities it seems as though no one was going to take his movie seriously.
Here, for instance, was Times critic Stephen Holden on a particularly artful piece of acting and direction:
"In an early prison scene Mr. Carter, who has been thrown into isolation for 90 days after refusing to wear a uniform, is portrayed as two different personalities at war in the same body. One is violent and self-destructive, the other, determined and self-disciplined. The notion of the boxer's two selves slugging it out in a private ring of the mind may be simplistic, but it gets at a fundamental truth about all life being a struggle between positive and negative impulses and the choices all of us make every day of whether to pursue our loftiest goals or to give up."
But this wasn't a scene about the dilemmas facing overeducated, white, upper-middle-class journalists, it was about a specific dilemma facing young black men in the latter half of the 20th century: the choice between bestiality and submission. And actually, of the two versions of himself that Carter saw, one was frightened and helpless while the other was destructive of others. "I feel like I want to kill someone, but there ain't nobody here to kill," the latter said menacingly to his proper self, "so I'm gonna kill you." What was brilliant about the scene (apart from Washington's performance) was the fact that we didn't at first recognize it for what it was?a piece of stylized moviemaking. We started out thinking that these were all actual versions of Carter who was schizzing out over a period of time. As we gradually figured out that the scene was a metaphor, we were lead to the realization that our first assumption was also correct: all those figures were present in the same man.
Best Public Consumption of Marijuana
Surf Reality, 5/13
It's Like No Business We Know. This spring, comedian and short-film artist Steve Naidich (best known, perhaps, as the cocreator of the serial play Toilet) got baked while onstage at this Lower East Side performance space. Naidich had just quit the military, and was breaking an abstinence of a dozen years or so. Aside from dodging a smoke-shotgun from the overzealous guy who'd given him the weed in the first place, Naidich's performance included his flashing his audience from underneath the full KKK rig he wore; military tales of all stripes; and?best of all?the world's biggest killer-spit gag. He proved that there are more interesting ways to produce meaningfully subversive artwork than, say, hanging rags soaked with AIDS-infected blood over people's heads. Is the NEA aware of Naidich? We doubt it. Parochial bastards.
Best Bar Band
You Send Me. The Senders are criminally unsung heroes who've been boogeying New York City bars since the Max's days. They may be the world's greatest bar band, not just NYC's, and why they're not wildly famous has mystified us for years. Quality doesn't always guarantee success, obviously. We remember seeing the Senders open for Johnny Thunders at Irving Plaza in 1980 or '81?and blowing the sainted drug addict off the stage. Singer Philippe Marcade has one of the most distinctive voices in the business, a baritone hepcat wolf-holler growl something similar to (and, we've been told, a definite influence on) David Johansen in his Buster and Harry Smiths modes. And Wild Bill Thomson is the king of the bar guitar, a white-hot blues-boogie riffer who's influenced a generation of fanboys. The Senders have run through a thousand lineups over the decades, and the new one, which can be heard on their fabulous new CD Goodbye Cruel World (Action), is tight, muscular and smart, with Ned Brewster on drums (another longtime scenester) and bassist Danny Ly. They jump, they stride, they bop and rock and crawl in the gutter, they do the hully gully and the boogaloo, they do r&b power ballads that'll have the whole joint crying in their drinks, they even do some funny deep-sea psychedelia. We go see them play anytime, anywhere. So should you. And buy the CD.
Best Thinly Veiled Clinton Apologia
In Which Will, Harried Husband of Dame Ambition, Falls Victim to Neighbor Lust. Oh you poor, powerful man, punished for telling it like it is. Your red blood should have been able to surge unhindered. Of course it's okay to appreciate the loveliness of little girls, and to?sure!?express a little lust for them. Because you stop short of fucking 'em! Besides, your wife is blinded by her ambition. Yes, you're a hero for neglecting your boring and oppressive responsibilities, and for instead losing yourself in a self-contained world of vanity and appetite. Everyone wants to do that! You need only to unleash your nimble tongue in order to vanquish the hypocrites and liars who criticize you. They can never bring you down. You are the protagonist representing all of us who might appear rather privileged but are really beleaguered victims who shouldn't have to take it anymore, whatever "it" is. The only thing standing in the way of your enlightened vision enriching all the world, the only one who doesn't understand you the way decent and educated folks do, is that accursed human scourge, the flag-saluting child-abuser and closet homosexual next door. He refused to "move on," the twisted old fruit.
Best One-Man Show
Marc Maron's Jerusalem Syndrome
Westbeth Theater Center
151 Bank St. (betw. West & Washington Sts.)
More Than a Funny Jew Doing a Show About Going to Israel. We know Marc Maron from the early days of Comedy Central when "Short Attention Span Theatre" was aired, it seemed, 24 hours a day, and which Maron eventually hosted for a period of time. We also caught him emceeing some simul-Internet-cast weekly thing at the now-closed Catch a Rising Star. We even chatted with him after one of those shows and found him to be a pleasant fellow, in apparent contrast with his tendency for abrasive, aggressive stand-up.
His one-man show, Jerusalem Syndrome, which ends its run at Westbeth Theater on Sept. 30, is an extension of his stand-up work from the last several years. It, too, is abrasive and aggressive at times, but full of wit and unafraid of exposing some of Maron's workings. It's also mercifully devoid of characters, skits and setpieces, instead structured as an extended monologue centered around Maron's assertion that for years he's suffered from a case of Jerusalem Syndrome, a psychological condition that causes the affected to either believe that their trip to the Holy Land is a great portent of grand happenings, or that they are actually a biblical figure. In Maron's case, he felt that his trip to Jerusalem would be the time for something big.
He begins the tale in college, when a stoner-poet's experiment with meditation caused an out-of-body experience, and moves on to L.A., where his bottoming-out on coke caused him to believe that God had spoken to him. After the drugs took him nowhere and God wasn't calling anymore, he veered off into consumerism. A deconstruction of brand loyalty and a suspicion of corporate motives are the subtext of the show. With little place for the inflexible dogma of institutionalized religion in their lives, many substitute brand loyalty for the antiquated concept of religious affiliation. Maron's recounting of his trip to Jerusalem, for instance, was hinged on his belief that he was destined to capture the face of God on his Sony camcorder, which he had bought specifically for the occasion on an instruction in a dream.
Fortunately for Maron, actor Denis Leary is just about forgotten as a stand-up comedian. They're cut from the same cloth, only Leary got out of Dodge in time for Maron to make the staccato, semi-rant smart-guy monologue thing his own. He's honest and funny, and pulls the best material from those incidents in life that most would conceal. For instance, his trip through Hollywood's underbelly in the days of Kinison is unapologetic and unashamed. While he never tries to elicit sympathy with his coke anecdotes, he also doesn't hold them up for street cred. It's just something he uses to make jokes. Similarly, his retelling of his youthful naivete in thinking that he was destined for great things is wonderfully self-mocking. ("That's not smog [over L.A.]. It's vaporized disappointment.")
Unfortunately for Maron, he plays to the Jewish crowd a bit much. This may be the nature of the material, and he is a Jew after all. But the Hasidic asides are a little too insidery ha-ha and perhaps a bit gratuitous. (With the exception of his observation that the Hasidim need to exist as Jewry's extremists so that the middle ground can continue believing at a level of devotion comfortable to them. That was a nice bit of observation.) Maron runs the risk of Jerusalem Syndrome being pigeonholed as a "Jewish" act: a group of a dozen people in the crowd were speaking Yiddish afterward, and we wondered if word's gotten around that there's a funny Jew doing a show about going to Israel. We also wonder how the Orthodox in the crowd felt about the vulgar language and abovementioned tales of drug use.
We're not saying Maron should worry a whole lot about being pigeonholed. The material is great, and the show's timing and direction are perfect. But it would be a shame for the show's success to come at the expense of losing wider appeal. Our advice is that when the first B'nai B'rith organization offers Maron a cool five g's to "do that funny Jerusalem act" but "without all the cursing," he should please, please
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