Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tribeca Film Festival 2013: World Premiere Gore Vidal The United States of Amnesia

The last word and testimony of a great American life, 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, Spotlight Section

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 19, 2013

NEW YORK--The highlight of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival was the World Premiere of Gore Vidal The United States of Amnesia, a film that chronicled the stupendous life of the iconic literary lion, social commentator and historical chronicler.

No single figure in any century has had such a profound effect at all levels of media and social interaction as Gore Vidal. As a writer, his best-selling works probed deep into the annals of history, revealing the flesh and blood intrigue and psychological pistons that drove the great minds of our nation's history. As a social commentator, his was the face and voice of scathing political commentary, perhaps single-handedly creating a new medium of social commentary that would dominate the airwaves for decades to come.  In a professional life that spanned more than half a century, he is seen as  not merely a witness to his time, but as a major influence, opinion maker and pivotal force.

To the political manner born, Vidal began his professional life as a teen-aged page for his maternal grandfather, the legendary blind Senator Thomas Prior Gore of Oklahoma. Young Vidal read and wrote his grandfather's important documents and speeches and learned first hands the inner workings of American politics. His close observations would serve him well in his later literary, political and social endeavors. Coincidentally, he further linked himself to the seat of lasting power through his mother's marriage to Hugh Auchincloss, a wealthy financier, who, in turn, divorced her and married Jacqueline Kennedy's mother, establishing a connection between Vidal and the Kennedy dynasty that would persist through the presidency of John F Kennedy.

After graduation with honors rom Exeter, he entered the Reserve Army Corps and then served as an officer with the Army Transportation Corps on board a ship in the Aleutian Islands. It was during the dismal drudgery of his service onboard ship, that he passed the time writing his first novel, WILLIWAW, which became and instant New York Times best seller. At 19 years old, a new literary lion was born who, from the outset, drew comparisons to Hemingway and Stephen Crane. His name quickly became associated with other young postwar literary voices of the time, including Norman Mailer, his friend and sometime arch-rival and Truman Capote.

Gore Vidal The United States of Amnesia not only surveys the landscape of this great literary mind, it chronicles the continued growing pains of US democracy from the unique perspective of one whose thoughts and actions have been a driving force in its progress.

Besides Vidal's own thunderous voice, there are those of his contemporaries, both friend and foe, who weigh in a voice that continues to resonate, even in the wake of his death at 86 in 2012.

Gore Vidal The United States of America is must viewing for every American who believes that democracy is worth fighting for, even if you are one of its most fierce and feared critics.

Tribeca Film Festival celebrates "Big Joy" in NY Premiere

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton chronicles roots of gay pride, spiritual awakening of America

 Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 18, 2013

NEW YORK---Manhattan is awash with spring. Cherry blossoms suffuse the air as that other harbinger of spring, the Tribeca Film Festival unfolds. Symbolically, the first film I reviewed at the festival is one that celebrates the 'spring awakening' of America and its counter-culture, Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, a poet, filmaker and spiritual visionary whose life and artistic commitment foreshadowed the gay movement, the age of  Flower Children and even the Beat era of Jack Kerouac,  Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Alan Ginsberg. When James Broughton died at the ripe young age of 85, he had set more trends and achieved more socio-artistic trends than any number of Facebook pages, Google searches or You Tube trenders combined. Briughton's life was "viral" before the word was even invented.

I spoke with the film's Producers and Directors, Stephen Silha and Eric Slade on the eve of New York Premiere in the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, Viewpoints.

"Jame's life was all about the celebration and collaboration of the worlds of filmmaking poetry and dance," said producer  Stephen Silha. "Before him, all of these disciplines had been treated as separate entities and never combined in a single medium. He did his first experimental film in 1946. The other thing is that, when he began holding public readings of his poems and those of others, poetry had never been viewed before as a performance medium. It was always something that was read in solitude. James Broughton was the first to bring poetry out as performance art and give it a voice."

Broughton's life and career took a decisive turn shortly after he won the Cannes Film Festival's Prix de Fantasie Poetique award in 1954 for his very first full-production experimental film. "He decided he wanted to persue his life as a poet, instead of a Hollywood filmmaker," recounted producr/dorectpr Eric Slade. "This was a move that prompted his close friend, the writer Anais Nin to tell him "This is the biggest mistake you will ever make!"

Surely, the move cost him a great deal. Not only did he throw away a promising commercial film, but it would eventually cost him a marriage, his family and who knows whatever accolades and riches ahead.

"Instead, he achieved a kind of richness and joy in life that few others will ever know," producer Silha reflected. "Although, this all came with a great personal price."

When Broughton arrived in San Francisco in the waning years of World War II, it was the dawn of the Beat Movement in North Beach. Lawrence Ferlenghti was holding readings at his City Lights bookstore. A young New York Jew named Alan Ginsberg and a precocious young Canadian poet named Jack Kerouac soon arrived, and the Beat Generation was in full swing. When Alan Ginsberg published his obscene-laden landmark tome "Shout", which prompted violent police repression and beatings in North Beach's fog enshrouded, hilly streets, the images of gestapo-like repression when global, the equivalent of the computer age's 'viral' and like-minded youth latched on to the words, black beret, blue jeans and work shirt dress code and pot-smoking vibe of a new, Beat Generation.

In later years, Broughton would continue to make experimental films, most notably "The Bed" which punctuated 1967's "summer of love" and broke taboos with its celebration of the dance of life, complete with full front nudity and open celebrations of gay love. The film not only broke taboos, but won many awards and was the darling of film festivals around the world. For the first time, the guiding lights of what would become the New Age movement gained an international stage; philosopher Alan Watts, dancer Anna Halprin, astrologer Gavin Arthur and photographer Imogene Cunningham all had starring roles in the film and cemented it and James Broughton's reputation as one of the guiding lights of the New Age.

It was during this time that Broughton was a teacher of film and artistic ritual at San Francisco State and San Francisco Art Institute. One of his students, Joel Singer, became his muse, soul mate and life partner from 1975 until his death in 1999.

Big Joy is more than a celebration of a life well lived. It throws down the gauntlet to us all to make the choice to either acquiesce to a life of compromise and unhappiness, or go for that golden ring of deep inner reward of personal satisfaction and gladness. It is not a path paved with gold, but offers a reward that surpasses all material gain or cognitive understanding.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Staatskapelle Dresden delivers stunning reading of Bruckner's last masterpiece

Staatskapelle Dresden with Principal Conductor Christian Thielmann in Anton Bruckner;s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor at Carnegie Hall

NEW YORK---With the exception of a slightly flubbed entrance from the horns in the opening bars, Staatskapelle Dresden and its Principal Conductor Christian Thielemann gave a near letter-perfect reading of Anton Bruckner's final masterpiece, his Symphony No. 8 in C Minor.

With his meticulous use of the baton and carefully measured cues, Thielemann was able to elicit a highly emotional and dramatic interpretation of Bruckner's lofty tome, with all of its electrifying grandeur. His lengthy and lush themes ere realized with an ever-intensifying sense of drama, making Bruckner's expansive melodies, shrouded in times with dark, dissonnent moods, seem to glisten in the shimmering light.

Bruckner idolized Wagner, as is evident in his freuently shifting melodic and harmonic landscape, often following lovely, tuneful passages with sudden discordant and troubling ideas. Perhaps this is why, for much of the last century, Bruckner was ignored. It is only in recent decades that the brilliance of his genius is appreciated. Bruckner was not only ahead of his times, but light years above the mental and emotional capacity of many, both within the music profession and among the leity.

Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden proved to be more than up to the task of resurrecting the preeminence of this unrecognized genius. There's was truly a landmark performance that should firmly affix Bruckner's star in the firmament, amidst the pantheon of musical greats.

The orchestra's New York concerts were dedicated to the memory of Sir Colin Davis, who passed away Sunday, April 14, 2013 at the age of 85. Sir Colin maintained a long and happy association with the Staatskapelle, having been named in 1990 as its first and so far only conductor laureate.
 Staatskepelle Dresden Principal Conductor Christian Thielemann

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lisa Batiashvili with the Staatskapelle Dresden at Carnegie Hall, simply the best

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 17, 2013

NEW YORK--To paraphrase the old Western movies, "Move over Anne-Sophie Mutter, there's a new violin-totin' babe in town, and her name is Lisa Batiashvili. The svelte Georgian beauty and Sibelius Competition winner swept onstage in a striking fucia gown, festooned with black floral silhouette appliques, and immediately began placing herself in a trance-like state as conductor Christian Thielemann began the downstroke of Brahm's eponymous Violin Concerto in D Major.

Composed in 1880 for the virtuoso Joseph Joachim, it is Brahms's only violin concerto and considered one of the most difficult of the violin repertory. Its lush themes and hushed introductions would have one think otherwise, but beneath it's seeming simplicity lies a complex maze orchestration. Batiashvili imbued Brahms's soaring melodies and intricately woven internal passages with a level of emotion that transcended its technical challenges to reveal a performance of exquisite beauty. She exemplified a level of emotion far beyond her 32 years in its most emotive passages, particularly in the Adagio movement and the poignant opening theme of the Allegro giocoso. She literally threw herself with abandon into the final bars of the joyous finale.

For his part, Christian Thielemann, Prinicipal Conductor of the Staatskapelle Dreseden, in this highly anticipated Carnegie Hall performance, wielded his baton as if it were an impressionist painter's brush, eliciting delicate brushstrokes of tonality here, a dollop of pointillist color there.  Internal passages from woodwinds and cellos shimmered in the intricately woven passages of Brahms's, masterpiece of orchestral complexity. The opening Allegro mon troppo seemed, at times, to take on elements of the dance, as Thielemann's deft conducting allowed the leitmotif to unfold. The Staatskapelle is in the midst of a national tour that recently brought it to the Armour Stage at Chicago's Symphony Center.

 Lisa Batiashvili in concert
 Christian Thielemann, Prinicipal Conductor, Staatskapelle Dresden

So impassioned was Batiashvili's playing that it caused one of my esteemed colleagues to proclaim during the interval to almost anyone within earshot; "forget every live performance you've ever heard  (of the Brahms Violin Concerto). Forget all the recordings you have at home. She's simply the best!"