Sunday, November 29, 2009

Soul Searching

Went to see Robert Bergman's photo portraits at P.S. 1. He took these intimate if not uncomfortable photos over the years(mid 80s through 90s) traveling The Midwest and East Coast.
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As we stare at Bergman's large scale photographs, his subjects with their large eyes stare back at us. It's an indescribable feeling. Observers being observed. If these were taken by some twenty something Williamsberg hipster, I'd have screamed "EXPLOITATION!" But Bergman, 65, who'd never had an exhibition before this, achieves something quite extraordinary I rarely get to see in photographs.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ah, the treasures you find in the gutter

I was walking down the street today in my neighborhood and found a pile of Indian audio cassette tapes on the sidewalk. Either some unlucky guy was thrown out of his house with his music collection or he felt the digital age has finally caught up with him and decided to ditch his cassette player along with his once precious tapes. Some of the cover arts were so endearing I had to pick them up. I mean, just look at them!
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I imagine him experiencing his first kiss, even getting laid while blasting one of these tapes. These are time capsules of someone's precious memories!
Insert of Tarazu:
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All I have to do is find a tape deck somewhere to play these gems.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving. Turkey Dinner. The Road...

The Road (2009) - Hillcoat
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This has been the most anticipated film of the year for me after reading Cormac McCarthy's gripping book. Plus, when it was announced that the director, John Hillcoat, of The Proposition - a brutal, revisionist Australian Western would be helming the project, about two years ago, I thought he was an apt choice. And The Road the movie is pretty much true to the book. Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of the man who'd die for protecting his young son in a post apocalyptic world is touching- his gaunt, wrinkled face communicating more sorrow and sadness than thousand words. His meek narration is that of a person who'd given up hope long ago. The gray world where everything in nature (even the ocean) had died is completely hopeless. It's a bleak world. What's left of morality is measured by whether you would resort to cannibalism if you are starved. The Man has to keep reiterating to his son that they are the good guys.

Missing are the terse prose of McCarthy and sense of desperation. For a film version of the Road to work, it should have been absolutely brutal. I don't think all the background information in the narration was that necessary. For the emotional impacts, Hillcoat could've held shots a little longer to showcase those bleakest settings. The flashbacks with the wife (Charlize Theron) were adequate and not too schmaltzy. Is the boy meeting another family with father, mother, two young children and a dog negates the wife's decision to off herself? It made me think of what I'd do in that situation. The world is destroyed and has no future whatsoever. Her decision could be seen as quite rational.

My lady just pointed out that as much as we love Nick Cave, the music was too much, too saccharine. It would've been better without any music.

It's a perfect Holiday movie that makes your fuzzy and warm inside. Hahaha.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Plays Bassoon with the Wolves: Never Cry Wolf

Never Cry Wolf (1983) - Ballard

Tyler, a nebbish biologist(played subtly and gracefully here by Charles Martin Smith), sent by the gov't to Alaska to study the disappearance of caribous finds unforgiving mother nature first hand when he gets dropped off in the middle of snow covered vast landscape by a crazy redneck pilot/entrepreneur Rosie (Bryan Dennehy). With all his equipment and cases upon cases of frozen beer and cans of asparagus in tow, he would die out in the cold for sure, but a mysterious Innuit Ooteh saves him. He finally gets his post set up and befriends a couple of wolves (George and Angie) and their cubs. Tyler feels kinship toward Ooteh because in their dreams, they both experienced being devoured by wolves. The all-wise Native mysticism is present here but never plays out as corny. After all, for Innuits, wolves are $350 per pelt each. That means food for the family, a new snow mobile perhaps and even new teeth.

Ballard, a veteran nature doc filmmaker and his cinematographer Hiro Narita capture some of the most beautiful scenery ever filmed. Tyler coming across the caribou herds and hunting naked with wolves is just one of many spectacular scenes in the film.

There are a lot to be loved here. Smith's Tyler is at first bumbling catastrophe but slowly gets into grooves with his surroundings. There are no real good guys or bad guys in nature, just survival of the fittest he learns. It's a beautiful movie.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Slash: Paper Under the Knife

I've never been to Museum of Art and Design (MAD) located at the Columbus Circle. For some reason, its ultra modern design never tickled my fancy. Here is the building:
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Then I read about an exhibition entirely made of paper there. So my lady and I went to check it out despite the discouraging $12 ticket price. And boy was it worth it! It was perhaps the most satisfying art exhibit I've been in a long time. Something about seeing extremely detailed, labor intensive work based on a simple, elemental material like paper brings out so much joy in me. I got nothing against collages but when it comes to utilizing paper, there is nothing like intricate paper cuts. Standouts are:

Andrea Dezsö:
MAD,Slash: paper under knife
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Dezsö Tunnel Books- delicately layered and painted small dioramas were my favorites. Too bad pictures I found online don't do her work justice. They are really something. Full of imagination and stories.
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Ed Pien
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Large scale, intricately cut silhouettes. Beautiful.
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Andrew Scott Ross
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Loved the line qualities on this. Playful.
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Rob Ryan
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I've seen Ryan's work as book covers. Use of images and letters, his stuff had more controlled, victorian silhouette sensibilities to it.
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And of course, undoubtedly, Kako Ueda's work Reciprocal Pain was one of the highlights of the show
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Labor Pains: An Injury to One

An Injury to One (2002) – Wilkerson
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“An injury to one is an injury to all” was a motto for IWW(Industrial Workers of the World, its members known as Wobblies), an all encompassing radical labor union, in the turn of the last century. Some of the more famous wobblies include – Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, John Reed, Joe Hill and Ralph Chaplin. To keep the long story short, IWW was crushed by the country entering the first World War where war profiteering companies and the US gov’t were in cahoots to exploit workers.

Wilkerson’s visually elegant, well-researched experimental doc tells a story of Frank Little, a wobbly organizer who was known for his fiery speeches. He was beaten, dragged behind the car then hanged on a railroad trestle by Anaconda Copper Company’s hired thugs in Butte, MT in 1917. Butte, back then, was a Gibralter of the labor movement and Little was sent there after the mine fire in which took the lives of 168 miners, caused by extremely hazardous working conditions, still the worst mining disaster in history.

Using black & white, color stocks and split screen presentation, Wilkerson’s thesis student film is quite beautiful to look at. Words appear on the screen against dead desolate town that is present day Butte, punctuated by simple guitar soundtrack.
Wilkerson’s implication on the Joe McCarthy and Daschell Hammet’s involvement(as a Pinkerton detective) in lynching of Little is a bit far fetched but over all the impact of the film is already felt in the beginning with 3’x7’x77” (dimensions of Montana grave) sequences.

I watched An Injury to One at Maysles Institute in Harlem. Two of my dear friends who are present day wobbly labor organizers did a Q & A on the state of IWW today. With many of manufacturing jobs gone and the American work force heavily dependent on retail and service industry, the need for union protections and benefits among transient workers are greater than ever. Starbucks workers union has made some strides organizing and improving working conditions of its workers. But the in country where only 9% of the workforce(public sector) and 6%(Private) are unionized, they are fighting an uphill battle.

The picture quality of the film was terrible. I’ve seen a pristine copy of An Injury before and was excited to see it on a big screen. And the Maysles Cinema isn’t really up to par as a film screening venue. But its eccentricities made up for it. For instance, a crazy old black gentleman in a flamboyant suit and a Rick James wig started singing Hava Nagila and Irish National anthem before the show, then proceeded shouting non-sequiturs in his sleep during the film and Q & A through out. Then we experienced Albert Maysles outside the theater curbing an old timey popcorn machine. Weird night it was.

Here is my travelogue to Butte, MT 2 years ago, if anyone's interested:

http://www.writerscafe.org/writing/obviously/455229/

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reincarnation: Unmistaken Child

Unmistaken Child (2008) - Baratz
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A Tibetan Buddhist Tenzin Zopa has a grand task of finding a reincarnation of his beloved mentor/Buddhist master Geshe La(Lama Konchong). After consulting astrological experts and advices from elders, Tenzin sets out for a small mountainous town in Tsum Valley in Nepal with little indications on what to look for. As he admits, he can not be sure, he's not Buddha. After interviewing many little-more-than-a-year-olds and their parents, he finally finds the possible reincarnate in a little boy. It's quite something to see the little one not letting go the rosary that belonged to his possible former self. The boy is then tested by other older, more estimable monks then finally gets approved by Dalai Lama himself. The process is fascinating and much more graceful than Catholic rituals.

The emotional journey is beautifully shot and the setting is spectacular. The doc is intimately narrated by Tenzin in his very good English. It's his long soulful face that communicates thousand words without saying much. A beautiful film. I gasped when the credits rolled though. The film was shot by my friend Yaron Orbach. Then I remembered him telling me stories about his trip to Tibet 4-5 years ago. Good job Yaron!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Needles

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The Vanderbilts were obviously well off. The little Vanderbilt, that snot-nosed little brat, needed a piano in his room on the second floor of their giant white mansion on Long Island. So they called The Sullivan Moving Co. And that’s how Red Sullivan hurt his back on Tuesday.
It was rainy, and the grounds were muddy. And Mrs. Vanderbilt made Red and his partner wear plastic bags over their muddy work boots in a very contemptuous manner. It was not going to be a good day. Red knew. It happened in the middle of the spiral staircase. Rodrigo, his go-to guy among his crew, was manning the front of the piano and Red in the back, going up.

Red was a big, strong man in his prime(or so he thought) who just turned thirty nine that year. “You are as old as Homer Simpson now.” Missus Sullivan joked, as she pulled grey hair out of his temple with tweezers one morning. Silly woman.

A sharp pain shot up through his left shoulder and neck. Hmmph. It almost knocked the wind out of him. His muffled internal cry was loud enough, Rodrigo looked back concerned.
You OK, boss?
Can we stop for a sec? Red barely managed to say.
He looked up the top of the stairs and saw the little Vanderbilt sitting there picking his nose.
I don’t know how they managed to get the piano up, but they did. With great difficulty I’m sure. They exited the building as the little brat hammered on the keys some post-modern masterpiece.

* * * *

Red screamed as Missus applied some Ben Gay on the troubled spot on his hairy back. Ben Gay, the name always bothered him. Ben Gay on my back. He shuddered.
Missus told him to see a doctor right away. He whined about the ineffectiveness of going to the doctors. They are all swindlers. All they want is your money. He said with utter contempt.
In fact, Red hated going to the doctors. It had been at least two years since he stepped his foot in one: he hated the idea of a needle going into his flesh. He couldn’t think of anything more helpless than having someone poking him with a sharp object against his wishes.
Don’t give me that macho crap. You are gonna see that old doc of yous pronto!

That night in bed, Missus remembered while rolodexing her brain the list of doctors she knew, Gerry, a neighborhood kid who grew up to be a medical student at some ivy league school. He was studying Eastern Medicine and acupuncture.
I hear it does wonders. She said.
They teach stuff like that in school now? He said incredulously. She gave him a look.
As he laid himself down in bed, the pain shot up.
Anyway, I doubt that our insurance will cover that.
Well, nowadays, you never know. You are not afraid of needles are you?
He had to roll to the side, facing away from his wife.
I’ll go see Strauss. He said.
I hear it’s good for snoring too. She threw that in just as she turned off the light.
Red couldn’t get an appointment until Friday with Dr. Strauss. The pain didn’t go away let alone subsided. He was in real misery the last few days.

* * * *
The young Hispanic receptionist was on the phone chatting away as usual, not paying any attention to Red’s miserable state. He waited waited waited for her to get off the phone. She waved him off twice already. His appointment was at four, about thirty minutes ago. His face was getting red. He prided himself in being a patient fellow. But lately, everything was getting to him. He needed to calm himself down, really. Tranquility. Relaxation. Meditation. What luxurious ideas. He let out a big sigh, got up and approached the reception desk once more.
Did you want something? The little Dominican twat finally looked up from her phone receiver.
I…had an appointment at four. He flashed his grinding teeth. It was supposed to be a smile.
What’s your name again?
Sullivan. Red Sullivan.
Is this your first time here?
Calm yourself down. Nothing good can come out of losing your cool. The voice inside his head said.
No, I’ve been coming here for years.
I gotta go, she said irritably to the receiver and finally hung up the phone. What’s your name again?
Sullivan.
Sullivan what?
As he entertained the thought of breaking through the windows and grabbing her neck and snapping it like a twig, a young attractive woman in a lab coat opened the side door. She was wearing a silk blouse and a short skirt underneath the coat. Her black high heels made a sound that reminded Red of Fred Astaire movies.
Mr. Sullivan, come on in. She picked up the Sullivan’s medical file from the receptionist’s desk.
He followed her to a small examining room skulking in pain.

Sit yourself down here. She patted the examining table with her slender fingers. She looked in the file.
Mr. Sullivan, you haven’t been here for more than two years. Are you afraid of us? She smiled mischievously.
His eyes followed down her neckline as the top two buttons of her blouse were undone.
You are not Dr. Strauss. He finally said, smiling as his anger from minutes before was subsiding.
She bent down to listen to his heartbeat with her stethoscope. Hmm. She looked up brightly.
You have a heart murmur. The high heels said. Did you have congenital heart defects?
Got it fixed when I was seven. I got a scar to prove it. He said.
That’s nice, she smiled. Dr. Strauss is seeing other patients now. I’m just helping him out today. He will be here shortly.
A girl in scrubs entered the room after a brief knock.
She’s an intern. You don’t mind all the attention, do you? She teased. Congenital heart defect. She announced proudly, as if she’s in possession of a rare specimen.
Now they both were examining him with their stethoscope, fascinated by his heart murmur.
I want you to come in for an echo, soon. Nothing wrong with your heart but you need to check it out once in a while since you had a heart surgery. The intern jotted everything down with the ferocious concentration.
So, it’s your back that’s the problem? The high heels asked. He didn’t mention snoring.
She touched his back. Here? Mmmph.
Probably a severe case of back sprain, she said. It happens when the ligaments get stretched by sudden movement. Blah blah blah….
Pretty green eyes, he noticed on the young intern.
Acupuncture might alleviate the pain a bit. The high heels said. This caught his attention.
It turned out that Dr. Strauss practiced acupuncture.
I’m sure he can put some needles on you today if you want. The high heels said.
He had no idea the whole time he’s known Dr. Strauss. That old geezer, knew acupuncture. Ha! And apparently it was covered by his insurance. What do you know.
Does it hurt?
Well, there is a slight sting when the needles puncture the skin. But I’m pretty sure a big strong man like you can handle it. She smiled slyly. Try something new?

Oh, hello. The bald, white bearded Dr. Strauss said as he came in.
You just crashed our little party doc. The high heels said. Both she and the intern giggled.
Oh, sorry about that. Poor old humorless geezer, Red thought.
The girls said bye to Red as they exited. He smiled back.
So let’s see here… Dr. Strauss said, narrowing his eyes as he read what the intern had jotted down.
He gave Red a routine speech about the importance of posture and exercises and stretches. He also mentioned him perils of getting old and told him to take calcium and vitamin pills regularly. Red’s mind was now fixated on acupuncture though.
Doc. I didn’t know you do acupuncture.
Oh yes. I’ve been doing that for quite some time. I can’t guarantee the result right away. But…why, did you want that done on your back?
Can that do anything about snoring?
Why, do you snore?
Well, my wife says. He said, dismissively.
I understand. Well, it might work on sleep apnea. I can’t guarantee it though. Everyone seems to have a different reaction to it.
Red was suspicious about doc’s “Can’t guarantee” business but after all the greasing he was really up for this exotic treatment.
Well, poke me. Poke me hard doc. Red said. Dr. Strauss didn’t smile at this.
Doc went and took out needles from an unopened plastic package. He explained that those are disposable needles.
Take off your shirt please.
Red did this with difficulty. Doc rubbed some alcohol on his back, neck, the bridge of his nose and his forehead.
It will sting a little bit at first. If any of this is in any way uncomfortable, you let me know. Doc said as he put needles on his face, the back of his neck and then down his shoulder and finally on his left hand, in the fleshy part between his thumb and his index finger.
Does this hurt? Doc asked as he fiddled with each needle. There were about twenty on him.
No. I feel just a bit of pressure here and there.
You are supposed to feel the pressure. Doc smiled. Means it’s working.
Doc left the room telling him he would be back in five to check on him. You might have to sit still for about twenty minutes or so. He told Red. Relax.

Honestly it wasn’t bad at all.

Red looked at the dingy small room: A faded black and white “Smoking is bad” poster circa 1984, judging by the man’s hairstyle and clothes in the photo(he looked like the blond guy from Hall & Oats), a human anatomy chart, pamphlets on HIV/AIDS prevention, a fake indoor tree, an oxygen tank next to a small white fridge marked with bio-hazard sign, etc. This was far from exotic and relaxing environment. But he was feeling mighty tranquil for some reason.

First, there was a faint odor of something sour, like spoiled milk. Red looked around to locate the origin of the smell. Nothing out of the ordinary. A couple of minutes later, his vision started to get blurry. All of sudden he was seeing colors on the black and white anti-smoking poster, around the blond’s edges like 3-D picture. He started to panic.
The high heels tap danced in to the room along with the receptionist, alarmed by Red’s scream.
What’s wrong?
They had colorful glows around them.
Something is wrong. Can you take these off of me?
Red felt an incredible pressure on his neck. He looked back and saw the Vanderbilt kid squeezing his neck with a giant left hand. With the right hand he was picking his nose. The kid had a maniacal grin on his face. Red screamed. He felt his left arm tensing up then all of a sudden it went completely numb. Before he knew what was going on, his left arm took the mind of its own and went crazy. It knocked out all the bottles and glasses off the table, took down all the frames off the wall. And with an amazing strength, it hauled the oxygen tank against the medicine cabinet. Then with the lightening speed, his arm got a hold of the receptionist’s neck and broke it like a twig. The high heels was long gone. Tap, tap, tap...

Dr. Strauss arrived at the scene. The room was like a war zone: papers and broken glasses everywhere, the receptionist’s corpse sprawled on the floor like a discarded rag doll.
It’s the Vanderbilt kid, Doc! Red shouted. He is making me do this! You do see him behind me, don’t you? –was what he was saying but it came out like a wookie talk. His tongue was hanging out of his droopy mouth as he lost control over the muscles on his face.
Dr. Strauss went to a corner and broke out more needles from the now destroyed cabinet. With his left hand outstretched, Red went after doc.
Stay away! Stay away! doc shouted, swatting at the cursed hand. But The hand easily got a hold of the old doctor’s thin neck and lifted him up off the floor. Doc’s face was turning blue and his feet kicking the air.
Woooahaah ah, whooohaah(It’s the kid! It’s the kid!). Red cried.
Doc managed to remove a needle from Red’s left hand and was released from his grip. He fell to the floor on top of a dead receptionist whose lifeless dead eyes was looking straight at him. He crossed himself as he got up. Red’s hand was dangling from the wrist on, but his arm was still stretched out, still gunning for doc.
Woooahaah(Help me doc!).
Doc rolled under the murderous arm and got behind Red and placed a needle on the very top of Red’s cranium. With a brief howl, Red fell to the floor, face down.
I told you I can’t guarantee anything. Dr. Strauss mumbled, as he collapsed against the wall.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Loneliest Man on Earth

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I developed a strange habit of sizing up women on the train on the way to work and back home. I get on, spot women in the age of 25 to 40 and try to look at their ring fingers, all as inconspicuously as possible. I position myself all the way in the back of the car, right below where an emergency break hangs like some obscene tongue of a salivating animal. I scan the car methodically, clock-wise- there, no she has a ring on, over there, no too young. As the car fills up with commuters as we approach downtown, the task becomes more difficult. And I’m not that thick skinned not to notice when women shoot back the look of displeasure as I stretch my neck at an impossible angle to look through under someone’s armpit just to have glimpses of them.

I was looking at a tall pretty Russian girl and her older sister (maybe mother?) one day on the train. It was a weekend and the car was almost empty. The older woman noticed me looking at the girl. I looked away but not fast enough. They looked at me and talked with each other and to my surprise, the older woman came up to me with a very serious face.

You looking at my sister? She accused me with a heavy accent.
Uh, no.
You looking at my sister, I saw you. She narrowed her unibrow.
I looked away embarrassed. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me toward her.
You like that? You like looking at girls?
I looked at the tall blushing girl in the distance.
You do this all the time, checking out girls?
I was silent. The woman punched me on the shoulder.
Aw, that hurts.
How about us looking at you like that, huh?
Like what? I tried to sound as innocent as possible.
Oh, I think you know what I mean!
She went on punching my shoulder.
You are sick. She kept saying.
I noticed that the woman wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
Are you married? I asked her as I was pulling out my cell phone from my pocket.

* * * *

Hello! How are you? I looked up and saw a short balding man with glasses.
Oh hello. I replied.
How are you my friend? How is your wife?
Oh fine, fine. She’s fine also.

I’ve seen him around. I’ve been living in Kensington in Brooklyn for the last six years. The area was dubbed as the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the US by Newsweek Magazine recently, for whatever it’s worth. It’s true though- although heavily dominated by Hasidic Jewish and Pakistani population, there are also healthy Indian, Bengali, Tibetan, Mexican, Armenian and Russian population present as well.

Mohammed, as I came to know him, is a Bangladeshi immigrant and from what I gather, is a very lonely bachelor. We got into half a dozen lengthy conversations over the years, always on the street, on our way home. There on the sidewalk of Kensington, he presented his case.

Do you know any girls who want to marry?
Excuse me?
Do you know anyone who’s interested in marriage?
Hm. I can’t think of any at the moment.

I remembered my wife telling me that he started hitting on her on the street. She told Mohammed that she was married and his grin changed to an expression that resembled a death row inmate in an instant.

I’ve been living alone for twenty years. I’m 46 years old now. I came to this country and I’ve worked very hard. I have my own house. I have my own business. But it’s very hard to find a woman to marry. He said.
That’s hard to believe, I said, a good-looking guy like you-
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I’m a very good Muslim!
I’m sure you are-
You know I go home and turn on my computer- guess how much time I spend on the internet?
…um, how much?
I spend three hours everyday! Three hours, looking for a woman to marry!
But you have everything. I really can’t believe you can’t find anybody.
Mohammed felt silent.
Mohammed?
They don’t want to marry me because I’m a Muslim. They look at my profile online and they are not interested. They get scared.
You think?

* * * *

I was riding the train home with Olivia, a young co-worker of mine who recently moved to Kensington area. When the train almost reached our stop, I noticed Mohammed in the corner grinning at our direction. I waved and he waved back.
After Olivia and I went our separate ways, Mohammed caught up with me.

Man, I thought you were married! He exclaimed.
I am married Mohammed. I said, defensively.
Who’s the girl then? She’s beautiful!
That’s Olie. She walks with me.
Oh man, she is beautiful. She’s not married, no? It hurts. He grabbed his chest. His eyes were glistening with tears.
It hurts to see you with a woman smiling and I’m so lonely it brings tears to my eyes.
Mohammed, she has a boyfriend. Forget about her!
It hurts so much! He wiped the tears off of his eyes with a handkerchief.
Can you please let me know if you find someone who wants to marry? He pleaded.
I don’t care if they are young or old. Please let me know, my friend.
I promise Mohammed. I’ll let you know. I told him as I was putting in his telephone number into my cell phone directory.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spicy Tomato Garlic Soup with Oyster Mushrooms

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It's my recipe so I can't find a picture that would do justice. Anyway, this soup is for cold rainy days. Have it with a hunk of good bread.

You will need:

1 can roasted whole tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic crushed and chopped
1/2 pound oyster mushroom
4 cups chicken stock
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbsp butter
1 jalapeño pepper halved and seeded
olive oil

Puree tomatoes in a food processor, not all the way, but just enough so you will have chunky soup.
Pour tomatoes in a large pot, juice and all and add salt . Add chicken stock and bring it to boil, lower the heat. Add jalapeño.
Sauté mushroom in butter and olive oil with garlic until brown. Put them all in the soup. Cook 10- 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Uncertain Future: L'eclisse

L'eclisse (1962) - Antonioni

It's Italy in the 60s: time of affluence. Modernity reflects on cityscapes and interiors(a lot of phallic symbolism, slick furniture and appliances). Vittoria(Monica Vitti), first seen breaking up with her lover, is an indecisive, bored little slut. She goes on her suburban bourgeois life, horsing around with her bored housewife neighbors until she meets Piero(Alain Delon), her greedy mother's stockbroker. Their cat and mouse affair comes across as more juvenile than anything- almost naive and childlike against the cold and alienating backdrop. Vitti is Antonioni’s Anna Karina here: playful, endearing, full of childish charms and wide smiles. Delon comes across as a grown high school jock in his cat like demeanor and boyish presence. With the use of recurring imagery and motifs, Antonioni shows that these young lovebirds are living in a different world, hinting that their relationship is doomed from the beginning.

The look of the film is nothing short of astounding. With exquisite framing and precise camera movements, L’eclisse is one of the most stylized films I’ve seen. Structurally daring 10 minute silent ending threw me off a bit. First I thought it was too obvious and way over the top. But more I think about it, the more I like it and befits the film better as a whole.

L’eclisse has a very little but effective unsettling soundtrack. At the end with the montages, I was secretly hoping the Edge’s guitar riff from Where the Streets Have No Name to kick in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bhan-Chan

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Siobhan was an enigma. She was the only white girl who’d ever worked as a waitress at Hana, a Korean restaurant where I was waiting tables. She slipped in to my life one day, and before I got a chance to really get to know her, she was history. Just like that.
It was a cold Saturday evening in late October when Siobhan first showed up. She was dressed in classy clothes, except for her blue backpack, which didn’t suit her at all. I took her for an adventurous young connoisseur of foreign food. Back then, Korean food fad hadn’t caught up yet with the general New York public. Even though there had been some lunch takeouts by white office workers nearby, a white woman alone coming in for a dinner was a rarity in a Korean restaurant in the heart of Koreatown on 32nd Street, Manhattan. Man-soo, our most seasoned waiter, with his forever smiling face, was there at the door to greet her. She bowed a little like a Korean girl and said hello in perfect Korean. She was inquiring about a job. This surprised Man-soo to no end.

So you are looking for a waitress. She said it in non-inflected Korean.

Well, not at the moment… Man-soo hesitated.

Siobhan pointed her slender finger to the door where the hand written sign was taped up: “Waitress needed. Must speak English. Inquire Within” – in Korean, She bowed again.

Oh, excuse me, but, did I make a mistake? She said smiling.

Man-soo scratched the top of his head. His smile was still intact.

Uh, ok. Give me your contact number and we’ll call you. He said it but not meant it.

Siobhan took out a pen from the blue backpack with a fox patch stitched on above where the Northface logo had been. A couple of customers came in and Man-soo had to sit them.

Give it to Moon. Man-soo said, waving at my direction.

She saw me watching her, smiled and bowed at my direction. I bowed back. She came over to me.

Can I borrow your back? She held up her pen.

It took me about a minute or so to realize what she meant. I turned around. She put her number down and I memorized it on my skin.

We had a busy week and a lack of another wait staff really showed. And that’s how Siobhan, a white girl, got hired as a waitress at Hana, a full out, unabashedly Korean restaurant. Siobhan got into the action pretty quickly. We were all surprised at her for how fast she adapted to her surroundings. Not that waiting tables there was the most difficult job in the world, but she was quick witted and personable. And her Korean was exquisite. The idea of a white girl yelling orders across the room in Korean we all had to get used to. Soon, we started calling her (Sio)Bhan-chan. Ban-chan in Korean means those little side dishes that come with a main order: usually couple of different kinds of kimchee(pickled cabbages, radishes), dried, candied anchovies, fried tofu, marinated bean sprouts, dried shredded squid in hot pepper and so on. She had taken some Korean classes in college, went backpacking in South Korea and had Korean roommates. "One of my few useless talents," she once said.

She even warmed up to our oldest female wait staff, the forever bachelorette, Hye-eun, who’s been known for her territorial pissing (she scared off at least three younger waitresses in tears, as I recall). Soon I saw her chatting and laughing with Bhan-chan over soon-dubu(spicy, silky tofu sea food stew) lunch.

Bhan-chan never missed her shift. She was a tireless worker. It took very short time for all of us at Hana to fall for her. But she was also a mystery. Not that she was unreachable, but her being white prevented us from asking her too many questions. All we knew about her were that she was from New England some where, college educated and loved Korean food.

She is a good waitress and that is good enough for me, Man-soo said once to the girls after overhearing them gossiping about Bhan-chan.

I saw Bhan-chan on the subway platform one night after work. Apparently we were going the same direction, or so I thought. She saw me waving at her and came to me. She looked very different than in the restaurant.

Bhan-chan, you look very different. I said, admiring her beauty.
It’s just clothes, Moon. It’s same old me. She winked.
It’s just that, I never see you after work.
Well, here I am. She turned around slowly and laughed. I adored her.
Moon, you don’t remember me do you?
What do you mean?
The reason I work at Hana is because of you.

Apparently, Bhan-chan had seen me before, making a delivery to her previous job, an art gallery on the Westside. Her boss, a crazy Cuban, was nuts about Korean food.

That’s how I remembered Hana when I was looking for a job.
Really? I surely would’ve remembered you. If you were-
I was different then, not quite me yet. She said, lowering her eyes.
Why waitress?
I wanted to do something physical, to tire me out.

She was a mystery wrapped in enigma in a foggy day, like a turducken.
It was almost new years and all the wait staff were gearing up for the end of the year party one night after work. Man-soo assigned me the task of asking Bhan-chan out for the night of drinking and Karaoke. He asked me not only because everyone was uncomfortable asking Bhan-chan anything, but also she and I were about the same age and I was the only male wait staff without a date. Maybe he also noticed the way I had been looking at her.
I approached Bhan-chan, who was ringing up an order. She turned to face me and said:

Yes I will.
What? I asked incredulously. I didn’t even ask you anything.
I hear things, She said. I have ears. You Korean man don’t believe in whispers. She smiled.
Damn you Siobhan. You are too smart for us.

Siobhan could drink. She drank up Soju(Korean vodka) like an Irish sailor. Even Man-soo couldn’t keep up and passed out in the sofa of a tiny noraebang(karaoke room). Bhan-chan sang “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane” badly. By the time she took the stage with her rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine”, many of us already have petered out and called it a night. It was two thirty in the morning. It was me, Bhan-chan and Mansoo. She stretched out the microphone for “Where do we go now?” chorus part. I sang along. I clapped as she finished her soprano screaming. She threw the mic and collapsed against me on the sofa, panting and wet from perspiration. She finally calmed down, breathing on my chin regularly. I downed the last shot of soju to cover up my big gulp and looked at her. She was looking straight at me with her big green eyes. We kissed. Then she whispered into my ear:

Don’t fall in love with me, in English. My heart ached.
You don’t have a nerve to say it in Korean, huh? I retorted bitterly.

She just stared at me for a long time, then looked away.

I’m leaving soon. She said.
Where are you going? I asked.
Up north. Alaska.
What’s up there?
Solitude.

I got a handmade postcard from Siobhan in early summer next year. It was the picture of the icy Bering Strait.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"a solid sky as if it's protecting us from what's behind it"


Sheltering Sky, a film Bertolucci made right after the success of The Last Emperor, presents an affluent American couple- Port(John Malkovitch) and Kit(Debra Winger) who are together, yet so far away. In order to be closer to each other, they embark on a journey of an extreme kind, from New York to Saharan Africa. With a third wheel, rich, young, handsome but 'incredibly dull' Tunner(Campbell Scott) in tow, they move from one town to the next, more foreign and remote in turn, into the interior of the dry part of the continent. At arrival, answering Tunner's clueless question on the difference between a tourist and a traveler, first Port, then Kit answers forebodingly, "A tourist is the one who thinks about returning home as soon as he arrives. As for a traveler, he might never return." "I'm both" Kit adds.

There are quite few films that use vast exterior as a stand-in for character's inner struggle, but none like this. Based on the Paul Bowles' novel, Sheltering Sky the film lacks some of the feverish hallucination of Port as he lay dying in the middle of nowhere, but Storaro's cinematography more than makes up for it with stunning vistas: half solid blue sky and half bright yellow desert.

What I really love about the film is that it presents two people in love but can't express it properly in spectacular manner, but not in societal, post-war-bourgeoisie-mocking way. Port is perhaps John Malkovitch's snide best- arrogant, snappy and otherworldly yet vulnerable, a man who is truly alone in the world. Kit, a woman weighed down by guilt, incapable of connecting with her true love, is played with dignity by radiant Debra Winger. There are many heartbreaking moments in the film but none like when Port is in his deathbed, grappling at loneliness and Kit trying desperately to save him.

The film takes a turn and becomes Kit's journey through the desert. She is finally unhinged and finally becomes a traveler, taking in her surroundings without prejudices or judgments, trying to find a comfort in many strange men's arms. Winger's portrayal is daring and Bertolucci's version gives more depth and humanism to its characters. A great one.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Reptile Cam + Crack Pipe + Soul Dancing + Wet Underpants = Bad Lieutenant

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) - Herzog
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Bad Lieutenant is perhaps the best comedy I've seen in a long time. Cage, like Kinski in Aguirre and Bruno S. in Kaspar Hauser before him, is born to play Terence McDonagh, a decorated, coked up New Orleans cop whose path, by all indications, points straight to an early grave. Cage is in his top form. Under the firm hands of Herzog, his usual overacting comes across as funny and even endearing. Clocking at lean mean 2 hours, Port of Call New Orleans has no fat and is dry as a feather in its post-Katrina setting. As McDonagh goes on solving the homicide case while digging a hole for himself that seems to be getting deeper by the minute, we are presented with delightful moments like Cage threatening to shoot old ladies in the head at a retirement home blaming them for the downturn of America, hilarious lizards cam and of course, the soul dancing scene.

Herzog's take on Bad Lieutenant far exceeds its typical film noir trappings. First, it's lol funny. And unlike its Coen Bros' or countless Elmore Leonard adaptations counterparts, Bad Lieutenant doesn't feel slick or premeditated at all. It's loose, playful and goofy. McDonagh's ambiguous morality has no heavy handed message and sans self righteous attitude of Travis Bickle. Herzog must've taken the opportunity to make a satire of the faux seriousness of its namesake original. With great supporting cast including scrumtious Eva Mendez, hot-in-uniform Feruza Balk, scene stealing Shea Whigham(of the Wrist Cutters), rapper-cum-actor Xzibit and wired bookie Brad Douriff, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is definitely one of my favorites this year.

Banjo Africa!

Throw Down Your Heart (2008) - Paladino
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The film played at Margaret Mead Film Fest last year and had a week short theatrical run in the city this Spring. I missed both and was kicking myself silly. But it's finally out on DVD.
If Deliverance has ruined your banjo music experience forever, no worries, watching Sascha Paladino's doc chronicling American banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck's trip to Africa in search of where the famed Southern American instrument originated from is finally gonna wash away the turd and replace it with intimacy and joy.

Fleck, looking like a fuzzy Tom Sizemore, is a kindred spirit and an amazing banjo player. Here he is joined by musicians first from Uganda, Tanzania then Gambia and Mali as he treks from Eastern Africa to West, jamming with local musicians. Paladino captures some vivid footage(and not in the third world poverty porn way) and the music is just fantastic- here you can hear the roots of Calypso, Flamenco, Middle Eastern and even rap.

The doc doesn't really gets stuck in the narrative. The main attraction here obviously is music. And its loose ending is totally acceptable. The Soundtrack to the film is fantastic if anyone's interested.

Fear of Women

Antichrist (2009) - von Trier
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Didn't hate it. But didn't love it either. Definitely worth seeing. Gorgeously photographed with the Red One camera and as expertly executed as any other von Trier film. From Breaking the Waves on, his films always felt one note for me and never came across as sincere. But with Antichrist(his depression might have attributed to this), I felt more of a weight than his others- good intentions gone bad, controlling and fear of nature/women, christian guilt and shame, role reversal, self-fulfilling deathwish... there are a lot to chew on. I guess one can go on and on about the details and pseudo-symbolism of the film and what they represent forever. But I won't go into that. Too much of it is already said about the movie. This film needs to be experienced, not read.

Herzogian view on nature made me laugh. Funny. Usually when I watch a movie, I don't really care who made the film. I have no interest in a director's personal life or his/her beliefs. Herzog and von Trier are only two that I am actually interested in what they have to say outside their films.

Excess. That is what I didn't like about the movie. von Trier could've gotten the messages across without squirm inducing, graphic self mutilation scenes, really. He could've done without the redundant hokey ending too.

Me and my friends had a long nice talk after the movie over heaps of mofongo. For some reason seeing that movie made us very ravenous. It was good to talk among men- total sausage-fest I know, but I don't think any sane woman would wanna see this film and talk rationally about it afterward.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

SAIFF 2009: Harishchandrachi Factory

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Review at Twitch
It was great.

And Manjadikuru Swept up all the awards - Best Feature, Director, Cinematography, Screenplay and Emerging Talent for its star Vyjayanthi who played Roja. The film's release date is listed as 2008 according to imdb. I hope hope hope it gets a release even if it's on dvd. It needs to be seen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ma Vie Sexuelle

ma vie seuelle
I didn’t know anybody in New York and had no place to stay. It turned out that my grandmother had cousins living in Flushing, Queens, a central hubbub of Korean Americans in New York. I was to mooch off of the Kim family that I’d never met before, until I got a job and had enough money to find my own place. The Kims consisted of an old lady (my grandmother’s cousin), her son, his wife and their son, Alex. Mr. and Mrs. Kim were hard working first generation immigrants - they both worked at a post office and never around that much. Nonetheless, they all treated me well and I was grateful for their hospitality.

I got a job at a Starbucks in midtown and another one at a Mexican restaurant. I was also interning at a theatre group in the West Village. I hardly stayed at that apartment but to sleep. When I had a little time for myself, I wrote. Alex, then twelve, took an interest in me. As it was mostly the case with the first generation Korean immigrants, his parents put a heavy emphasis on little Alex’s schooling. He in turn, like a good Korean American child, excelled in school- top of the class, a math genius destined to be another Asian American doctor or lawyer or banker. I guess it was fascinating for Alex that I was not one of those but a struggling artist type.

What are you doing? Alex asked me one night.
I’m writing. I answered, as I wrote on my well-worn, trusty Apple computer (Mac Classic II, if anyone remembers that).
Well, what are you writing?

It's a script, a movie script.
Oh, what’s it about?
It’s about relationships.


This was my first magnum opus called “Flush”. I revisited the script recently and found it god-awful.

Can I read it?
Sure.
Alex read what was on the screen intently, and looked back at me with wide-open eyes.
You say(silently mouthing) “fuck” a lot in this. He giggled.

I regretted having him read it. I didn’t really know how to interact with twelve year olds.

It’s all right. I won’t tell my parents. He said.

Alex was a lonely kid. He used to sneak into my room at night to talk to me.

Lonely at the top eh?
Tell me about it. He used to say with a sigh.

Rendez-vous with French Cinema, an annual film series at the Lincoln Center was going on. I made myself available for one particular film, My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument/Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle) by emerging young director Arnaud Desplechin. It was a typical French, twenty something, talky romantic comedy. It wasn’t a good movie or anything- rather long and monotonous. But I was happy to get a free movie poster of that film at the Center, only later to realize that I didn’t have any place to hang it.

After couple of months, I moved out of the Flushing apartment and into a small room in the East Village tenement building with a musician roommate from the West Indies. Over the years I lost touch with the Kims. I heard the passing of grandma Kim and the family moving to New Jersey.

****

I was reading a movie review in a magazine at the dentist office. It was one of those hip leisure magazines with full of pretty pictures and advertisements. The review was on The Christmas Tale, directed by Arnaud Desplechin and starring the venerable Catherine Deneuve. The review went on acutely pointing out Desplechin’s penchant for natural dialog and his strength in getting great performance out of the rather large ensemble cast. I was nodding along, basically agreeing with what the reviewer was saying- that his films are like real life but slightly amplified. But these particular sentences really caught my attention and made me look up the name of the critic:



…my first encounter with a Desplechin film was My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument, in a movie poster form, which I found inexplicably in the closet of my parents’ apartment in Flushing, Queens. I never talked to them about it. It was a provocative title for a twelve year old. The poster hung secretly in my room and I became obsessed with the movie and its director…



The review was written by Alex Kim, my long distant cousin.