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Kung Fu Hustle

Heroic Grace is under way at the Walker, and I lined up to catch the first two in the series: The Five Venoms (Wu Du) and The New One-Armed Swordsman (Xin Dubi Daowang). By no means do I consider myself a kung fu film afficianado – and really I didn’t know anything about the genre […]

Heroic Grace is under way at the Walker, and I lined up to catch the first two in the series: The Five Venoms (Wu Du) and The New One-Armed Swordsman (Xin Dubi Daowang). By no means do I consider myself a kung fu film afficianado – and really I didn’t know anything about the genre before walking in to the cinema. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself…

The story of this girl and her kung fu actually starts in London, January 2001. I was in the UK on a study abroad program for art, architecture, and theater. One evening I ditched my classmates at some contemporary theater I don’t remember and caught the tube to a small theater that was hosting a screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I had been following the hype on this film for a few months, and despite my dislike of martial arts films at the time (just thinking of every goofy Jackie Chan film to come out of Hollywood made me shudder), but I was determined to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because Ang Lee had laid his magic hands on it, and that was the only reason I needed.

At first I was really put off by the martial arts sequences – they seemed fake to me. I thought, No one can run on rooftops like that, or fly around, who are they kidding? But I had missed the point. A valuable lesson I learned later when watching so much Japanese film was: suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. And as the film continued the fight scenes grew on me, I fell in love with the characters, I was stunned by the beautiful scenery, and by the time I walked out of the theater I was a little bit embarrassed for giving Jackie Chan such a hard time. Golly gee, this martial arts stuff isn’t so bad!

The Five Venoms (Wu Du), 1978 I was thinking a lot about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when I headed in to The Five Venoms. I read some of the program notes about the elaborate fight sequences, narrative methods, and other bits about the martial arts film heyday in the 1970′s and early 1980′s. I was particularly interested in director Cheh Chang and the themes of chivalry, brotherhood, and loyalty that were recurring in his many, many contributions to the genre. One thing about this director that caught my attention was that in Hong Kong it was a not-so-secret secret that Cheh Chang was gay. Put in context, it becomes really entertaining to see him cast every dashingly handsome martial arts star he could find in Hong Kong. (I was particularly smitten with the Snake character in Five Venoms. So cute!) Not to mention the long, meaningful glances that said cute martial arts stars would cast at each other as they declared their loyalty, or plotted an elaborate scheme for vengeance.

The New One-Armed Swordsman, 1971 The New One-Armed Swordsman was another treat. In watching the elaborate fight choreography, I paid close attention because I wanted to know where something like Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed film could come from. Yeah, I know I’m oversimplifying, but when it comes to the fight scenes, Hong Kong martial arts films clearly set the stage for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to come along later…or Hero….or House of Flying Daggers, for that matter.

What I enjoy so much about film screenings at the Walker is that more often than not they draw the kinds of audiences that are not looking for passive entertainment, but rather are invested in the whole cinematic experience. In watching these films, hearing the gasps and giggles and applause of the audience is as much a part of the film for me as our gorgeous heroes on the screen kicking ass and taking names.

Never before have I been more certain that cutting class is a valuable right of passage for every student.

Kiss me once, twice, three times.

Had a chance to see a premiere screening of Three Times on Saturday. The still images I had seen looked beautiful, and I was intrigued by the idea of presenting three love stories with the same actors in different, critical points in Taiwanese history. This was my first Hou Hsiao-Hsien (HHH) film, and I wasn’t […]

Had a chance to see a premiere screening of Three Times on Saturday. The still images I had seen looked beautiful, and I was intrigued by the idea of presenting three love stories with the same actors in different, critical points in Taiwanese history. This was my first Hou Hsiao-Hsien (HHH) film, and I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. A. O. Scott over the NY Times said it is “A Masterpiece. This is why cinema exists.” How could I not see it?

Three Times, 2006

Three Times is heartbreaking. Three times over you get to meet these two enchanting people – get to experience that chance for a new beginning – and three times over you watch circumstance or personal failure muck things up. And as the viewer I’m helpless to offer aid; I can only witness the disintegration. That was the heartbreaking part for me. But I don’t think that is what HHH had intended entirely. In fact, I was surprised to read that HHH gave the film the Chinese title Best of Times, a nod to the nostalgia of his youth during these critical times in Taiwanese history when he was chasing pool-hall girls and enjoying American pop tunes from the 60′s. The best of times always seemed to end up being the worst of times for our two leads.

But I loved the long moments when the camera would fix on a characters face after a significant event, and like the character, I had to go through the whole emotional mess with them as I watched each nuance play out on their faces. There were no quick cuts to distract me; no special effects to detract from these bare, essential human experiences.

Leaving the film I had heard terms thrown around among the audience, like minimalist cinema, but I wasn’t totally in the know about that, so I went and looked it up. As it turns out, I’m something of an unknowing fan. This Wikipedia articles references two of my very favorite films, Last Life in the Universe and 3-Iron (Oh! Don’t get me started on 3-Iron. That film, for me, is one of those instances in which art rises above moral obligations, and I’d tell you to see this film, even if you have to steal it.)

But I definitely see the minimalist effect at work in Three Times. I was very fond of the long, uncomplicated shots; focused down a corridor with beautiful ambient light in which servants at the brothel weave in and out as they go about their daily chores, or a recurring shot in the pool hall looking out on to a courtyard with a gloomy sky as May prepares for the night’s business at the pool table.

Three Times, 2006

Is this film the reason that cinema exists? Well, I probably wouldn’t jump on that bandwagon. (Besides, there are days when I feel pretty sure that Labyrinth and any John Cusack film are the reasons that cinema exists.) Three Times is definitely a compelling reason to follow cinema. It’s a mess of a romance. But then again, sometimes the messy romances are the only ones worth pursuing.

Love is a battlefield.

I’ll be the first to admit that my familiarity with performing arts is about on par with my understanding of quantum physics: I’m aware of it, I have a vague idea of what it’s all about, but I fall flat on my face when it comes to practical application. (Though I’m not sure how anyone […]

I’ll be the first to admit that my familiarity with performing arts is about on par with my understanding of quantum physics: I’m aware of it, I have a vague idea of what it’s all about, but I fall flat on my face when it comes to practical application. (Though I’m not sure how anyone could practically apply quantum physics.)

As a result, I’m also ready to admit that I went to the recent performance of Forgeries, Love and Other Matters for no other reason than that I really liked the title. (I have a habit of doing this with music, too: “Hey, what a great album title! I’ll buy it!”) To see the words ‘forgeries’ and ‘love’ in the same title was immediately intriguing, and seemed to promise something messy and complicated. I’m definitely for that.

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I was intrigued by the set – this large, man-made brown hill with a series of holes and rooms underneath that the performers used to move around. It seemed to set the stage for an emotional landscape, something wide and encompassing. I also liked that composer Hahn Rowe was set up in the corner of the set, actively involved in the piece.

Things started off slow – really slow. The two characters sat at one corner, seemingly absorbed with some sort of grief. That transitioned to a lot of sliding around the hill (on their backs, heads, and butts – or whatever surface was available as they slid down), running up and down the hill, and these sort of jerky half-motions. That then moved toward full-out spastic episodes with plenty of shaking and trembling.

I was starting to lose my patience with it. I thought maybe the two people were going through the destruction of a relationship, but I was so frustrated with this kind of ‘interim’ dance. I just wanted to yell: “Would you just break up, or get back together, or something?? Just do something!”

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I really loved Hahn Rowe’s musical contributions, and the dialogue – though sparingly used – was a really great addition, but the repetitive movements, and flailing around on the hill really started to wear on me as the piece continued. All I could sum it up with was: “Love is a battlefield. And this is what it looks like when you’re the victim, left bruised, bloodied, and seizing after the war.”

I showed up for the cyberpunkiness, but stayed for the woolly socks.

Bruce Sterling has largely existed on the periphery of my computer science know-how. Even for someone that has studied the science, I never really got into the hacker side of things. (Unless you count my brief flirtation with the film Hackers – for which some of my geek friends would kick my butt for even […]

Bruce Sterling has largely existed on the periphery of my computer science know-how. Even for someone that has studied the science, I never really got into the hacker side of things. (Unless you count my brief flirtation with the film Hackers – for which some of my geek friends would kick my butt for even admitting to it.) I don’t even really follow science fiction that closely, but Sterling has legendary status in the cyberpunk genre, and I have some friends that would readily call themselves devotees. How could I not show up and see what’s what?

bruce-sterling.jpg RirkritTiravanija.jpg

Rirkrit Tiravanija was someone even farther out on the periphery for me. I knew he was a Walker artist-in-residence, and that he was creating a cool installation for the upcoming exhibition, OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement). Aside from the stories I heard about art works in which he cooked up some tasty green curry in galleries for visitors, I didn’t really have an inside track on Tiravanija as an artist.

To be totally honest, by the end of the talk, I wouldn’t say I had a better line on either of these guys. But I did laugh a lot, and they did have my rapt attention. At times the talk seemed to be a rapid ping-pong fire of answers and questions – not necessarily corresponding in an easy way to follow – and if one of them hesitated for a moment, the other readily jumped in with a new idea or outrageous statement. (Okay, almost anything that I’d call ‘outrageous’ was coming out of Sterling’s mouth.)

Some things I learned last night:

  1. Rirkrit doesn’t collect things for himself. He collects the things that visitors leave behind. However, he suspects those visitors also take things. Rirkrit has been looking for his Patagonia woolly socks for some time. (The woolly socks became a long-standing joke the rest of the evening.)
  2. Sterling is an admitted Power Vampire – always hunting around for an available outlet to plug in his laptop.
  3. Rirkrit doesn’t worry about the water supply near his work, The Land, a large-scaled collaborative and multidisciplinary project on a plot of land near Chiang Mai, Thailand. He said there were ‘two water buffalos’ worth out there.
  4. Sterling followers are enthusiastic! There was a fanboy down in the front row just as eager to join the conversation – throwing out lines to Sterling and Rirkrit. He was very animated – almost kind of thrashing about in this enthusiasm. Gesticulating wildly, if you will.
  5. Sterling likened the commercial tech industry, and the way they market to the “needs” of customers, to receiving news of your mother’s death from a Mickey Mouse telephone. “Gee, thanks, Mickey!” Bad news coming in cute packages.
  6. Where are those woolly socks??

Looking for more Sterling fun? Check out his guest blogging for the Walker. And for ‘more punishment’ – his phrasing, not mine – check out his blog over at Wired.

To all the Walker RSS Readers I’ve loved before…

Slacking off! That could certainly be the charge levelled against me. But that’s not quite the case. I took a break from the Walker blogs – Walker events, really, my main fodder for blogging – to handle the recent adoption of my retired racing greyhound, Kiba. Good thing for me that Lara and SP are […]

Slacking off! That could certainly be the charge levelled against me. But that’s not quite the case. I took a break from the Walker blogs – Walker events, really, my main fodder for blogging – to handle the recent adoption of my retired racing greyhound, Kiba.

Good thing for me that Lara and SP are willing to take up the slack.

Not that I haven’t been thinking of, or pining away for, my Walker Art Center. Just thinking of all the Women with Vision films that I’ve missed is enough to make me raise my fist to the sky in righteous indignation. Curses!

But….she’s worth it, right?

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Sakura Sayonara

Yesterday we bid farewell to our dear Kiyoko – Community Programs mastermind and super-colleague. ECP hosted a cherry blossom-inspired party as an homage to her Japanese heritage, and a call to the upcoming spring season. Ilene and Megan designed a gorgeous sakura (cherry blossom) mural complete with a haiku scroll. This kind of thing doesn’t […]

Yesterday we bid farewell to our dear Kiyoko – Community Programs mastermind and super-colleague. ECP hosted a cherry blossom-inspired party as an homage to her Japanese heritage, and a call to the upcoming spring season. Ilene and Megan designed a gorgeous sakura (cherry blossom) mural complete with a haiku scroll.

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This kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight – we spent a few days getting the art lab ready – and in typical Kiyoko fashion, she conscientiously walked the long way around the offices for days in order to avoid walking through the art lab as we worked.

Many colleagues and some of the many, many community partners she has collaborated with over her eight-year Walker career were on hand to wish her well as she starts her new career at The Children’s Theatre Company.

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And the Hello Kitty cake with strawberry filling? AWESOME!!

Kiki Smith: Death, Disease, and Dismemberment

A few weeks ago I invited a friend to the exhibition opening preview part for Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, and this friend’s first response was, “Who’s he?” “Kiki’s a girl,” I reply. “Well, what does she do?” “She works in sculpture mostly – but really super-fantastic sculpture. There are lots of bodies and fluids […]

A few weeks ago I invited a friend to the exhibition opening preview part for Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, and this friend’s first response was, “Who’s he?”

“Kiki’s a girl,” I reply.

“Well, what does she do?”

“She works in sculpture mostly – but really super-fantastic sculpture. There are lots of bodies and fluids and fairytales. It will rock. So, you wanna go?”

True to form, Kiki didn’t disappoint and I had a fabulous time wandering through the galleries of this – her first major retrospective ever organized in the U.S.

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Born, 2002, bronze Courtesy the artist and PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York

Photograph by Kerry Ryan McFate

The following day was a conversation between Kiki and much-beloved art critic and writer, Peter Schjeldahl. It was interesting to hear Kiki expound on the role of narrative – or the non-narrative, as it happens – in her work. Peter was actually far funnier than I was expecting, and came prepared with a list of words for Kiki to react to; among them being the phrase “death, disease, and dismemberment.”

At one point when the conversation seemed to be dwindling, Peter pulled a question out of the “I can’t seem to think of anything else” bag: “Kiki, if you could be any of the animals your work portrays, which animal would you want to be?”

Kiki: “Oh! I’d want to be a worm. I like worms.”

A few chuckles whispered around the auditorium, and Peter looked as though he were trying to decide how best to proceed when Kiki asked: “Peter, what kind of animal would you be?”

Peter: “I think I’d be a dog.” As Peter took a moment to think about why he’d be a dog, mumbling a few ‘hmms’ and ‘well…’ phrases, Kiki leaned in a little to say, “I could crawl up your asshole!”

The whole audience took a moment to silently debate: Did she REALLY just say that? I looked over my shoulder at the camera, thinking about the folks in Online Land watching the event as a webcast. Did they catch that? Peter looked speechless, and even Kiki seemed a little suprised by it. Just as quickly the moment passed and the whole place erupted in laughing and snorting. Peter still looked like he was trying to strategize a way to rescue this event when she added: “Or you could step on me.”

And now that happily-ever-after moment will be preserved for future generations to enjoy on the Walker Channel.

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Blue Girl, 1998, silicon bronze Private Collection, New York /

Courtesy PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York

Photograph by Ellen Page Wilson

Through a glass artfully.

“Hey, Morgan – Kiki Smith is in the art lab!” “Really?” “Yeah, man. Check it out.” “Hmmm….suddenly I think I need to get up from my desk and visit another office, passing by the art lab on my way….” The Kiki Smith Exhibition Preview Party is on Saturday, and I bought a cute new outfit […]

“Hey, Morgan – Kiki Smith is in the art lab!”

“Really?”

“Yeah, man. Check it out.”

“Hmmm….suddenly I think I need to get up from my desk and visit another office, passing by the art lab on my way….”

The Kiki Smith Exhibition Preview Party is on Saturday, and I bought a cute new outfit for the occasion.

Popcorn kernels and soda-sticky floors.

The Walker Cinema is a no-snack venue. But never have I yearned harder for a little bag of popcorn than I did at the screening of Dogfight as part of Lili Taylor’s Regis Dialogue and Retrospective. I brought along my friend, Sovady, and we settled in for 89 minutes of snarky one-liners and endearing moments […]

The Walker Cinema is a no-snack venue. But never have I yearned harder for a little bag of popcorn than I did at the screening of Dogfight as part of Lili Taylor’s Regis Dialogue and Retrospective. I brought along my friend, Sovady, and we settled in for 89 minutes of snarky one-liners and endearing moments with Lili and River Phoenix. I am such a sucker for that film.Dogfight.jpg

River Phoenix and Lili Taylor in Dogfight.

I came back the following night for a double-feature with I Shot Andy Warhol and The Addiction. During her Regis Dialogue with critic and writer B. Ruby Rich, Lili mentioned that The Addiction was a strange turn for her, and the fans of that film are few and far between. I am pleased to note that I am among the “few and far between.” But what I remember most clearly as I left the cinema was that both films made reference to William S. Burrough’s controversial book, Naked Lunch. This stuck in my brain because at that moment, sitting at home on my coffee table, was the film adaptation of the novel by director David Cronenberg. I don’t have any reflections on ‘Naked Lunch’ to offer beyond its tenuous and coincidental connection to my Netflix queue.

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Lili Taylor and director Mary Harron on the set of “I Shot Andy Warhol”

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Lili Taylor seeks advice from sage vampire Christopher Walken.

There’ll be more to report as the retrospective continues. Tonight is another Nancy Savoca film, Household Saints.

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