Few things are as fulfilling as seeing a large, creative project finally reach completion. For many artists, finishing can be as difficult as starting. Artists often toil away for months, even years on a project with no reassurance that the work will find an audience or receive any critical attention.
That’s why I was thrilled to see a number of artists who have been featured on Gwarlingo receive some well-deserved attention from the mainstream press this past week. I remember when these projects were nothing more than an idea, and most of these films and performances were years in the making. (Perseverance is an often overlooked element in the creative process.)
No. Not all deserving artists receive the attention they deserve. But creative projects can’t stay in “the draft” stage forever. They need audiences and feedback in order to have any hope of making an impact.
Here are just a few of the Gwarlingo artists who have been in the news recently and who currently have new work on view in New York and other cities….
Performance Artist Joseph Keckler
When I first saw Joseph Keckler perform two years ago, I was immediately convinced that he was going places. It was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
Joseph’s new song and video “The Ride” has just been released and will be performed as part of I Am An Opera. (The video is a collaboration with filmmaker Laura Terruso, musician Dan Bartfield, and performer Edgar Oliver, a favorite on The Moth).
In his interview with Gerry Visco in Interview!, Joseph humorously describes the evolution of the song and video:
I envisioned the driver as an almost Charon-like figure. We called Edgar Oliver and asked him if he might want to play the part. He replied in his extraordinary bass-baritone voice, which is simultaneously soothing and foreboding, “Oh yes, I love the idea… but I only have a learner’s permit. Can I take you across the river Styx on a… learner’s permit?”
I wrote it over the course of a couple weeks in the La Mama ETC Theater rehearsal studio on Great Jones Street. I didn’t know how to sing it; I was approaching it with a big lounge-singer baritone. Eventually I tried it in my falsetto voice, which I’m using more and more of for “pop” songs.
Joseph’s work may be difficult to categorize, as the Times acknowledges, but for my taste, this is what makes it so unique and unforgettable. A fascinating blend of actor, pianist, opera and blues singer, performer, cabaret act, and storyteller, you can get a taste of Keckler’s unusual style in these video segments featured on Gwarlingo back in 2011.
As the Times article explains, I Am an Opera is largely autobiographical and a mix of song, text, and video. According to the Times, the piece “has been nearly two years in the making and has garnered no small amount of buzz along the way.”
You can watch “The Ride” here and reserve tickets to the Dixon Place performance online. I’m looking forward to seeing this show myself on April 26th!
Filmmakers Jem Cohen and Sam Green
Jem Cohen’s new project, We Have an Anchor, is now at the top of my “Must-See” list for the fall:
For the filmmaker Jem Cohen, who has long straddled the film and music worlds, live cinema has the potential to induce “a kind of primitive enchantment,” he said in a recent e-mail. While most movies are too predictably scored, and while projections at concerts tend to double as “moving wallpaper,” as Mr. Cohen put it, live cinema permits “a more equitable balance or dialectic between sound and image.”
Mr. Cohen’s new live project, “We Have an Anchor,” which will be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music next fall, combines multiscreen projections of Nova Scotia landscapes with live accompaniment by musicians from Fugazi, the Dirty Three and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
“As an environmental portrait I wanted to make something fully immersive,” Mr. Cohen said.
Sam Green and Yo La Tengo’s live film, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, which I wrote about in-depth a few months ago, was the central focus of the Times piece on live cinematic experiences:
In an age of instant access and shrinking screens the insistence on cinema as a communal experience can only be called utopian. “I’m very interested in the interaction between the audience and the work,” Mr. Green said. “And not to sound too much like a Northern Californian hippie, but there is an energy in the room when you’re up there that is very meaningful.”
As Sam points out in the article, live cinema can also be more lucrative. “While filmmakers earn screening fees of a few hundred dollars, Mr. Green said, performance fees can be in the thousands: ‘The performance world still has an economy that hasn’t been imploded by the digital revolution.'”
Sam and I delved into these topics in more detail in my interview back in January: “More and more we are watching films (and having other cultural experiences) on our laptops while checking email, or on an i-Pad while riding the subway,” Sam told me. “I have nothing against the internet, …but these ways of watching films are not the way I want my work experienced.”
One thing is for certain: the old models of filmmaking are changing quickly, and no one knows what’s next. But Green and Cohen are on the right track.
Filmmaker Cindy Kleine and Director André Gregory
When I met filmmaker Cindy Kleine at The MacDowell Colony many years ago, her idea for directing a documentary about her husband, actor and theatre director André Gregory, was just that—an idea. But the project came together like all ambitious projects: minute by minute, day by day, one small task at a time.
Kleine’s new documentary, Before and After Dinner, is finally making the rounds at the festivals and art houses. Martin Scorsese has given the film an enthusiastic plug, along with Variety magazine. Adam Gopnik also covered it this month in a Talk of the Town column in The New Yorker.
Gregory is best known for his starring role in the film My Dinner with André, which also features his close friend Wally Shawn. (Or, at the other end of the film spectrum, he is also known as the warden who has his eye gouged out by Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man).
My Dinner with André is a radical piece of cinema because it isn’t doing everything for you as a viewer. Instead, it’s activating your imagination. “If you like the movie,” says Gregory, “it’s waking you up, which was one of the intentions of the movie.”
“The film is about men, because men tend to be so hidden,” Gregory adds. “And Wally is hiding behind silence. I’m hiding behind words. The progress of the movie is that Wally is able to come out and start revealing and I’m able to to listen…These were radical actions as characters.” If you haven’t seen the film in some time, it’s definitely worth revisiting.
Gregory has had numerous film acting roles. He played John the Baptist in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ and appeared in Woody Allen’s Celebrity and Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast. Louis Malle, Wallace Shawn, and Gregory also collaborated on the film Vanya on 42nd Street with Julianne Moore. But it’s his work as a theatre director that has left a large mark on the New York theatre scene.
By the time I saw a rough cut of Kleine’s film, Before and After Dinner, in July of 2012, editor Jonathan Oppenheim, along with Kleine, had chiseled away hours of footage into an entertaining, moving documentary that is part love story, part mystery, part biography, and part exploration of the creative process. (If you missed the in-depth piece I wrote about André, Cindy, and their new film Before and After Dinner, you can read it here.)
On February 25th I attended a special screening of Before and After Dinner at Film Forum in New York City. Artists, friends, supporters, and those who participated in the film were out in force that night.
Before and After Dinner is difficult to pin down, for it is not a traditional documentary. The film has more in common with French director Agnes Varda’s experimental works (like The Beaches of Agnès) than conventional American documentaries. The film’s unique spiral structure, which mimics the loose, fractured nature of human memory, is a risk for Kleine, for American audiences often prefer their films linear in narrative and easy to categorize. But the risk has paid off. The final cut of the film is humorous, moving, and also tighter than the earlier rough cut I saw.
Last week Before and After Dinner was chosen as a Critic’s Pick in The New York Times. Here is Times critic Stephen Holden:
[Wallace] Shawn is also Mr. Gregory’s dining companion in Louis Malle’s 1981 classic, “My Dinner With André,” a revelatory personal and philosophical dialogue between Mr. Gregory, who plays a version of himself as a risk-taking psychic adventurer, and Mr. Shawn, who champions comfort, continuity and simple pleasures. “Before and After Dinner,” which includes wonderful excerpts from that film, feels almost like a sequel.
The preparations for “The Master Builder”…are one strand of the documentary, which Ms. Kleine narrates in a friendly, welcoming tone. Another is the story of their happy marriage. Mr. Gregory was 63, and she was 39, when they met. Their bond was instant. Mr. Gregory is 78 now, and his only complaint in the film is the difficulty of physically keeping up with her; he is shown training in a gym and doing yoga…
As Mr. Gregory demonstrated in “My Dinner With André,” he is a spellbinding raconteur who exudes the same sorcererlike aura that he emanates while directing Ibsen. His tone is confidential but genial, and you have the vaguely uneasy feeling of being manipulated by an extremely charming trickster. That impression is augmented by a masklike face, with hooded eyes and a sly smile, and by Mr. Gregory’s dry, slightly sinister cackle.
You can’t help wondering to what degree he is exaggerating for the sake of a good story when he describes “The Shining” as “a documentary about my childhood.”
He is particularly obsessed with his manic-depressive father, a man he recalls as having no empathy and who, despite being a Jew, may have had connections to Hitler…
“My theater work,” he says, “is an ongoing meditation on the most frightening person in my life: my father.”
If you’re in New York, you can see Before and After Dinner at Film Forum through April 16th. Kleine and Gregory will be on hand for special live appearances on April 11th, 12th, and 14th.
The film will not be released until fall of this year, but readers who donate $100 to Gwarlingo will receive a signed copy of the film when it’s released, along with an interactive profile on the Gwarlingo Member Page. To donate and receive a signed copy of the film, click here.
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