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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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