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Why won’t Linklater, Hawkes and Delpy shut up?
Following Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight’s ongoing chronicle of an aging, talkative, narcissistic couple Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (he’s author of two books This Time and That Time; she’s artistic) threatens to become the The Thin Man series for indie movie hipsters.
And that’s precisely the problem. Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) are dramaturgically thin. Like any sequel, Before Midnight follows a formula: Jesse and Celine babble, flirt, babble, fight, babble and reunite. This time they jabber while vacationing in Greece which director Richard Linklater photographs like Hoboken, (not the Mediterranean jewel of Clare Peploe’s Greece in High Season), just to keep the bland franchise aesthetically consistent.
No doubt this talkathon appeals to indie geeks who haven’t realized that cinema is a visual medium; basing the series on dialogue allows its fans to utilize the screen simply as a vanity mirror. This verbal emphasis suggests that the script, (credited to Linklater and his actors), might well include improvisation. But is it the actors or the characters who think every thought in their heads must be uttered?
Hawkes and Delpy seem so natural in these roles that their characterizations stress behavior over action; self-involvement over interaction. The opening scene shows Jesse escorting his teenage son to a return flight back to America where he lives with his divorced mother. The possibility that Jesse will deal with the personal complications of parenthood continues when Celine arrives with their angelic twin daughters. His guilt and her self-sacrifice are promising. But the children and their obligations are soon shoved off-screen, leaving Jesse and Celine to imbibe egotism the way Nick and Nora Charles downed martinis.
The European locale doesn’t sharpen their sense of being in the cosmos because their world only extends as far as their noses. Jesse’s scraggy gruffness and Celine’s spreading rear-end displace any eroticism; what’s highlighted is the way these characters still embody all the liberal pieties, biases and affectations. Their constant boasting and self-flattery and philosophizing accurately reflect the utter banality of the half-educated—the essence of all Linklater’s films.
Before Midnight’s most profound observation isn’t a sense of mortality from approaching middle-age, (as suggested by the title), but a facile agnosticism. Celine accuses Jesse of being “a closet Christian” then behaves blasphemously in an ancient church. Existentialism is offered when an elderly woman mourns “We are important to some but we are just passing through.”
Later, Celine argues “There’s no one human state. The human state is multiple.” That’s really funny because Before Midnight, like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, has but one mode: discursive self-infatuation. Only when the parenthood subject crops up later do Jesse and Celine focus their logorrhea. It gets personal and hurtful. Delpy throws herself into Diane Keatonesque emotional extremes while Hawkes’ exasperates to a draw. It’s what Noah Baumbach can’t do yet Linklater does nothing with it. He makes the mistake of referencing Roberto Rossellini’s marriage drama Voyage to Italy and even imitates the climactic sunset moment of Eric Rohmer’s Le Rayon Vert. This is hipster filmmaking at its most ignorant: Linklater, Delpy and Hawkes don‘t seem to realize that Rossellini and Rohmer’s masterpieces were about miracles, not mundane naturalism.
Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair
Culture warp at the Met’s “Chaos to Culture” show
What punk? An extravaganza prefaced by a non-smelly replication of the club CBGB’s toilet, “Punk: Chaos to Couture” is the Metropolitan Museums of Art’s most recent nod to what used to be termed popular culture. Here, go directly to couture despite some mood-inducing references, in piped-in time-appropriate music and paraphernalia. On opening day there was none of the whiff of rubber either, promised by some promotional bits, though many looks of wonderment from a crowd who had missed it all, taking forbidden pictures — perhaps the only spontaneous expression of authority-challenging at hand.
The exhibit credits an admitted re-colonizer, Brit rock promoter Malcolm McLaren, for packaging punk, quoting him as saying he was first inspired by Richard Hell of the Voidoids when catching his act at CBGB’s on the lower east side at 315 Bowery. Taking home to England the look of spiky hair, sloganned and ripped T-shirts and of course attitude, he and then-inamorata Vivienne Westwood, now a high end designer, showcased and sold punk-inspired designs in their store Seditionaries at 430 King’s Road in London. The first room of this show’s seven is titled “A Tale of Two Cities.”
That’s pretty much it for the American side of things, with club-goers described as middle-class kids with dyed hair having a good time watching Blondie, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. The next room/gallery has a background T-shirt display in dim lighting to preserve the precious objects, from Seditionaries. For those who were enlivened by last year’s Alexander McQueen exhibit, which happened to also have been curated by Andrew Bolton, this exhibit’s chief organizer, you understand why Westwood and McLaren went for patched-together tartans, particularly in pants, though you have to make your own fill-in-the blank connection to the juxtaposed, more recent McQueen designs. It helps to remember McQueen’s comments that Scotland was historically raped by the Brits; thus the fabric tears and holes.
Then it’s on to display of today’s world class designers, mainly Europeans and Japanese: fanciful for the Italians, severe and dark for British, etc. I began to believe. Yes, punk—studs, rips, staples, wildly strappy heels — is incorporated, even in an apparently straightforward dress by Rossella Jardini for the House of Moschino. At first it seems to only have a sparkly bodice, but up close you can see, indeed, it is composed of teeny-tiny safety pins, making use of one of punk’s tenets: using disposable objects. To the museum’s credit, there is wall text quoting Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols: “Tears, safety pins, ripped over the gaff, third rate tramp thing, that was poverty, real lack of money. The arse of your pants falls out, you just use safety pins.” It’s a short step to “DIY Bricolage” featuring gowns made of garbage bags — real ones, some cut to look ruffly, even of materials designed to look like garbage bags — manneristic but seemingly wearable.
Yet the most sophisticated piece was a man’s evening suit, with the famous punk red splatter-over-the-heart T-shirt reinterpreted by Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane as discrete but shiny red beads on the breast region. Other fabulous, using the word advisedly, ball dresses from Dolce and Gabbana are voluminous, painted or patterned with pretty graffiti-inspired images, which is supposed to make them punk. But as Joe Strummer of The Clash says in wall text, “All the stuff about Pollock was a veneer. We didn’t have any overalls, so we got covered in paint [after painting a warehouse]. It was a good way to put something together to wear on stage.”
Bondage locks as jewelry, traceable to Sid Vicious, are pointed up. A contemporary red leather S&M harnessed affair by Westwood signals the show. Red (blood) of course, and black (nihilism) are the dominant colors. Even Karl Lagerfeld leaped on board, some. His 2011 Chanel suit of elegantly cut, subtly metallic fabric, with holes-on-purpose, triggered an overheard comment from one woman to another: “Oh, I remember that. I would never wear it of course.”
Yet does the show draw a clear line between punk and high design? Is ripping up a T-shirt really the same as deconstructionism? The canard of fashion starting from the streets is not new, with designers on the look-out for inspirations to create, promote, and make a buck from. And one connection is not made, but then it was easy to miss even in the ’70’s. The Mudd Club, an unmarked door at 77 White Street in pre-monied downtown Manhattan, was also a punk scene for musicians like Lou Reed, David Byrne, Nico, the B-52’s.
Artists such as Marisol, Basquiat and Keith Haring, designers like Betsey Johnson, filmmakers such as Amos Poe and Vincent Gallo stopped by: visual and aural artists on the edge. Anna Sui and William Burroughs showed up, and how could all these creatives not influence each other? Their impact on art, design, even clothing, was breakthrough. Upending, if not anger, was the game. Same for punk, which probably never intended to have its by-products sold for thousands in boutique stores, or even as knock-offs in malls—or become totems in hallowed museum spaces.
Founded by Vy Higginsen in 1998, the Mama Foundation for the Arts (MFA) has been internationally acclaimed for rebuilding Harlem as an artistic cultural center featuring entertainment and arts education. The Mama Foundation has produced a dozen theater productions, which have been performed on several continents. MFA’s best known musical, Mama, I Want To Sing, is the longest running Black Off-Broadway show in American history.
In 2003, Higginsen created the School of Gospel, Jazz, and R&B Arts. Three years later, she formed the award-winning Gospel for Teens program to train youth and “save the music.” According to Lesley Stahl from CBS’s 60 Minutes, “The Gospel for Teens program is not just teaching gospel, it is saving these kids.” Mama Foundation members have performed at numerous special events including the TED2012 Full Spectrum conference, the Congressional Black Caucus, The Stellar Awards, and a reception for Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Madonna, Chaka Khan, opera singer Jessye Norman and gospel artist Shirley Caesar are among the many stars that have shared the stage with the Gospel for Teens Choir.
A renovated five-story brownstone on a residential block on West 126th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Manhattan has been the home of the Mama Foundation for the Arts (MFA) since its inception in 1998. One block away is the foundation’s performance space, The Dempsey Theater, where thousands have enjoyed Mama, I Want To Sing: The Next Generation and Sing Harlem Sing!
What is so wonderful about the work that Mama Foundation is doing is their commitment to bring the arts not just as entertainment but as personal enrichment through the Vy Higginsen’s School of Gospel, Jazz and R&B Arts.
Earlier this year Mama Foundation held a series of lessons for learning to sing gospel. Now Mama Foundation is hosting a series of learning to sing jazz and blues. So step into being a active part of the artistic new Harlem Renaissance. The classes are from 7 to 9pm on four series of Wednesdays: May 22, May 29, June 5 and June 12. Classes are $80 for the four sessions. To register by phone call (212) 280-1045 or see their website at mamafoundation.org.
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