Not tickled by the magic feather

Charlie-Brown-and-Snoopy-peanuts-34485607-500-371

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the movie “Barfly”:

Jim: “You worked last year?”

Chinaski: “Six months in a toy factory. You don’t know how men suffer for children.”

Recent movies return the favor, according to Luke Epplin in his excellent Atlantic article You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids’ Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem?.   Children’s movies now rely on “magic feather syndrome”: the plotline where a misfit child/toy/anthropomorphized animal ends up triumphing in the end by merely believing in themselves, often utilizing the very “defect” that caused them to be an outcast.

A prime example of this (which he doesn’t mention) is when Rudolph is welcomed back into two-faced Santa’s fold after successfully saving Christmas by guiding the sleigh with his formerly-hideous nose.  Epplin cites many other examples: Dumbo and his ears, a garden snail winning a race in “Turbo”, a rat cooking in “Ratatouille”, a crop-dusting plane in “Planes”.  It goes on an on.

He contrasts these with the 1969 animated film “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”, where Charlie LOSES the big spelling bee on the word “beagle” no less.  Charlie returns home and takes to his bed for days.  Linus consoles him by saying that despite losing, the world didn’t come to an end.   Charlie slowly returns to daily life, nobody pays much attention to his failure, and in the final scene he takes a kick at the football Lucy is holding.  In any animated kids movie today he’d kick the ball a mile.  Instead Lucy pulls the ball away, as always, and he ends up flat on his back.   The redemption is in not needing redemption, for this is how LIFE REALLY WORKS, and kids are actually smart enough to appreciate this.

As sleazy as Charlez Schulz has been made out to be in his personal life, “Peanuts” was a gift:  a very sophisticated, humane comic.    I’m reminded also of the”The Muppets”, who also weren’t afraid to make a difficult emotional point (“It’s not easy being green”) but who now have been sold to Disney in order to sell SUV’s and fast food (“It’s not easy being a delicious Subway sandwich in less than 5 minutes!!!!!!!!!”)

Pauline Kael in her review of “The Little Mermaid” makes the point that children don’t need to be spoon-fed,  they thrill to darker elements:

Are we trying to put kids into some sort of moral-aesthetic safe house? Parents seem desperate for harmless family entertainment. Probably they don’t mind this movie’s being vapid, because the whole family can share it, and no one is offended. We’re caught in a culture warp. Our children are flushed with pleasure when we read them ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ or Roald Dahl’s sinister stories. Kids are ecstatic watching videos of ‘The Secret of NIMH’ and ‘The Dark Crystal.’ 

where_the_wild_things_are

The question I’m left with is why are “magic feather” movies so ubiquitous today?   Disney fare from the 30’s and 40’s was significantly more nuanced.   One commentator to the Atlantic article suggests that it’s the stress of a post 9-11 downwardly-mobile world which encourages escapism. For all who feel uniquely stressed, remember that back in the 1960’s the Cold War was going full force and the threat of nuclear war was real. It almost happened with the Cuban Missile Crisis, 7 years before Charlie Brown was shown in theaters.

My guess is that it’s more related to the always-on-yet-emotionally-disconnected nature of e-connected life today.   When you have to be able to respond at any time, you seek refuge, and the only refuge in a competitive world is being the winner.  There is no Charlie Brown in his bed anymore, quietly getting up and putting his clothes on.

Cabaret Revival? – “Nein danke”

Here’s a short list of actors who have reprised Joel Grey’s role as the emcee in “Cabaret”: Alan Cumming, John Stamos, Michael C. Hall, Doogie Howser, and now Alan Cumming II.  They do a version of this:

alancumming

michael_c_hall_cabaret doogie_cabaret stamos_cabaret john_secada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A louche, drippy, supposed sensuality.   What the role calls for is more of this:

Cabaret-joel-grey-26347153-462-329

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

joel_gray_manic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grey’s manic clown-from-hell, who takes you places you-know-not-where.

This is because the parts of “Cabaret” that take place outside of the KitKat Klub are ominous and depressing.  They include the strangulation of Weimar Germany by creeping Naziism and a doomed romance between a Jewish greengrocer and the landlady Fraulein Schneider.

Alan Cumming seemed tired and disengaged at the matinee performance I saw recently.   Part of this is just style, watch the energy level change when Joel Grey takes over in this performance at the Kennedy Center in 1998:

The only way to counter the heavy tediousness of the main story, is to witness the spectacle of this talented freak-pixie and his bawdy backup group.

From what I can tell Alan Cumming’s performance was  was exactly the same down to the gesture as in the 1998 show.  I was also inordinately bothered by his pronunciation in the song “Money”, he says “Money makes DE world go around…” when all German speakers that I know would say “Money makes ZE world go around”.  Seems minor but nobody caught that?

At the Roundabout theater, you are seated in a replica of the Kit Kat Klub, which is fun.  Michele Williams hit the notes but was shrill.  My recommendation is to see the 1972 film “Cabaret”, for which Joel Grey rightfully won an Oscar for  Best Supporting Actor.

 

 

20 Feet from Stardom

"Twenty Feet From Stardom" Portraits - 2013 Sundance Film Festival

20 Feet from Stardom, a documentary by Morgan Neville, opens with an oddly wooden Bruce Springsteen (botox, plastic surgery?) explaining how rock-and-roll backup singers have to be even better than the headliner.  Other rock demi-gods agree, but by the end of the movie we become aware that despite legions of praise by the headliners, it’s only on these special occasions where backup singers get their due.

Neville circles around this theme, suggesting that the lack of recognition stems from factors such as racism, record company politics, lack of ego in the singers, “fate” (a reason offered by the wizened Sting), and finally a healthy lack of ambition.   While it’s helpful to present options, the lack of a central point-of-view made this film less successful than it could have been for me.  In the meantime though we get to see and hear some great unheralded performances.

Just how vital backup singers are to a song is demonstrated in one of the first sequences, the Talking Heads “Slippery People”, where, perhaps on purspose the backup vocals are muted:slippery

The backup singers add variety, dynamics, call-and-response, support, and in this particular case, some fantastic dancing.

“20 Feet” then delves into the history of background singing, back to the tame, white-girl singers who would accompany crooners like Perry Como.

fontane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film then wisely focuses on some of the pioneer female black singers, including Darlene Love, who resorted to cleaning houses after he contract was manipulated by Phil Spector:

darlene_love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We see a scene where she does a  duet with Tom Jones  and he does not benefit from the comparison.

Merry Clayton’s star turn in the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” is played in isolation, and it gave me chills.  She did the takes while pregnant and in curlers, called out of her bed to a late-night recording session.

clayton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clayton’s solo career was short-lived.  Above we see her belting out a version of Neal Young’s “Southern Man” that knocks your socks off.

“Gimme Shelter” has been sung live since 1989 by Lisa Fischer.  I found her to be the most gifted of the featured artists.  Here’s her one hit as a solo artist:

The explanation given is that she did not want to, it was not in her personality not everybody needs to grab the spotlight.  Yet with all of these singers there is a wistfulness and sadness about not being able to step out of the shadows.

Finally we see the up-and-comer Judith Hill:

judith_hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will she make it?  The film stops short of casting her as a redeeming figure, ending on an uncertain note when it comes to her solo career.  After watching 2014 Winter Olympic coverage, and sitting through countless exhortative “follow your dream” big corporation commercials, I took this as a welcome grace note.

The Lady from Shanghai

ladyfromshanghai

 

Despite all mirrors, sharp angles and Expressionistic undertones, I found Orson Welles’ “The Lady from Shanghai” to be lurching and vague.   Most of the reviews I’ve read on it are heavy on context: Welles and Rita Hayworth were in the midst of a divorce be because of his philandering, Welles was considered “finished” in Hollywood after the movie failed at the box office.  But for once I’ll take a movie on it’s face: I did not care about the characters, I thought the plot overcomplicated, and I did not find Welles at all convincing as a romantic lead or a tough guy.

Supporting actors Glen Anders and Everett Sloane are terrific; Rita Hayworth is luminous though simple (she lip-synchs wonderfully).   Since it’s a murder mystery from the same era, I kept thinking about how the film would have been different if Alfred Hitchcock directed it.   More shock, more icy energy, less of the romantic triangle.

Welles’ vaunted visual effects such as sea creatures magnified in aquarium tanks, and the famous “hall of mirrors” finale, didn’t do much for me, especially when paired with the relatively conventional and boring courtroom scenes.   Welles’ Irish brogue was unconvincing, even distracting, and I found his delivery to be “stagey”, even when delivering the most off-hand of lines.

It’s not a complete clunker, the cinematography during the yachting scenes is fluid in a way you don’t expect from a film made in 1948, and supporting performances are good – Glen Anders, as the half-crazy business partner adds some energy.  When the closing credits rolled though, I felt I had shanghai’d MYSELF by committing the time to see this movie.

Pleasing our mothers, our fathers

generation-war-1671546017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— SPOILER ALERT.  There are spoilers in this review.  —

“Generation War” is a 5 hour epic that follows the lives of 5 young Germans throughout the course of World War II. Originally titled “Our Mothers, Our Fathers”, it had a successful run as a miniseries on German t.v.

Reviews in the U.S. have been mixed.  David Denby in The New Yorker says “…it may be clunky, even embarrassing, but it’s certainly never dull.”  I’ve seen this same line of exculpation so many times in reviews, perhaps resulting from the desire by the reviewer not to come across as too negative.  Rarely are movies described in the opposite way “….graceful and meaningful but certainly quite dull”.

The main knock on “Generation War” in the U.S. has been that it sanitizes the German war experience avoiding difficult questions about what level of culpability ordinary German citizens had in the rise of Hitler and the atrocities that followed.

This criticism has been less apparent in Germany.  “Der Spiegel” magazine described it as “a turning point in German television”, and claims:

“Germany apparently remains eternally wounded, dependent upon the healing power of remembrance. Germans must live with their trauma and occasionally reopen the wound to prevent it from festering.”

“Generation War” does everything it can to avoid reopening the wound.    It focuses on the collective conscience of a group of 5 tolerant, young, liberal friends, while ignoring the national conscience and the national character that lead to the ascendence of the Third Reich.   The film uses the trope of good Germans versus bad Germans, creating sympathy for these ordinary people against whom so much is happening.

Here is our wacky, close-knit group of protagonists:

GW_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remind you of anyone?

friends_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The level of character development remains on a “t.v.” level as well, as if there were just half an hour to get to know them rather than 5.  They fall into conventional types: the responsible upstanding one, the sensitive poet, the chanteuse, the “good girl”.   Yes, there is even a Jew.   To be played by David Schwimmer, perhaps, in the American version.

What follows is fairly predictable.  The sensitive one becomes a stone-cold killer (because of his sensitivity) ,  the good girl hardens, the chanteuse sells out, the responsible one becomes disillusioned, and the Jew survives (this is not “Shoah” after all).   In the end the remaining survivors gather at the bar where we met them in the opening scene, to toast their fallen friends.  Unlike “The Deer Hunter” they do not break out into patriotic song.

It’s a near-impossible task to capture the German experience of WWII.  The most successful German war film that I’ve seen is Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot”, precisely because its scope is limited to the experience of life onboard a German submarine.  It should be noted that “Das Boot” too, pits “good” German protagonists against evil Nazis, the difference is that the characters in “Das Boot” begin disillusioned by war.   The opening scene also takes place in a bar, with nervous submariners drinking to the point of vomiting, not innocently clowning and posing for group pictures.   

“Generation War”, if done correctly, would evince a greater tragedy than “Das Boot”, look how far the characters fall, they are all compromised and disillusioned by the end.  But the script is so hackneyed, the direction so obvious (long draw on a cigarette = deep thinking) that we see the end hours before it arrives. The final scene in “Das Boot”, on the other hand, is truly shocking, and we empathize with the characters, despite their mordancy, partially because of the extraordinary plot device of being trapped in a submarine with them (just as being trapped in a stuck elevator would encourage commonality) but also because we have seen them be brave while knowing they are both doomed and compromised and so is everyone else.  There is an unforgettable scene where we witness the German sailors watching men jump from a ship they have just torpedoed, on fire and begging for help.   No one is innocent, and a redemptive story about the perpetrators of the second Great War must proceed from this fact as a starting point in order to be taken seriously.

“Generation War” has been praised for its war scenes: typically shakey-cam speeded-up jittery cuts.  These seemed to be done by a different director, not so of course, and while riveting (“certainly never dull”) this technique evoked that “Sopranos” strategy  of interjecting bursts of violence to “juice” the audience when things were getting heavy or dull.   It also reminded me of U.S. war movies – “Generation War” has been described as a German “Band of Brothers” – which function as action movies, shocking the moral reflection out of the viewer and pouring in platitudes about cameraderie.  The message is always “bad things happen to good people, but at least we have each other”.

In “Generation War” there is a sense that those “bad things” which “happen” include the protagonists own moral failings.  These are limited to a personal rather than societal scale.  When the good-girl nurse turns in her Jewish assistant we have no sense that she was capable of the betrayal,  that she had become morally compromised and had lost the memory of her Jewish friend, Ross, uh, Viktor.  Instead the focus is on how badly she feels afterwards.  The deed is later forgiven in one of the final scenes where the Jewish nurse’s aide  returns, improbably, as a Russian commanding officer, who not only conveniently spares the nurse from rape by the advancing Stalinist troops (something I don’t think the filmmakers wanted to address) but also provides the film’s redemptive dollop by stating, in effect, “this must end somewhere”.

With all its flaws, the best legacy “Generation War” can provide is to encourage us to look at the compartmentalization and moral relativism in our own war films.  Critical praise for movies like “Zero-Dark Thirty” demonstrate how difficult it is to come to terms with the moral failings of our own society.  As it stands “Generation War” is a slick apologia, an immaculately-wrapped present by dutiful German children to their (grand)mothers and (grand)fathers.

 

 

Expectation Breakers

james-franco-alien-spring-breakers

Who would have thought that Harmony Korine’s candy-colored fleshfest “Spring Breakers” would be so unsatisfying?  But that seems to be the point.  While watching the movie I kept searching for ways to “make it work” but couldn’t.  Not as a bacchanal – I found the quick cuts clinical and unsexy.  Not as a gangster movie – James Franco was more clown than crime boss.  Not as a parody – it’s too dreamlike and not funny enough. Not even as Korine’s standard detached documentary – the characters have no depth, there are no real connections.

“Julien Donkey-Boy”, a previous Korine film also featuring dysfunctional weirdos,  offers moments of real emotional connection.  There’s a touching scene where Chloe Sevigny is pretending to channel the deceased mother of Julien (Ewen Bremner).   But in “Spring Breakers” everything is detached and suspect, you can never quite believe what is happening onscreen.  Would four naive-seeming co-eds don ski masks and rob a restaurant with squirtguns and a mallet?  Would they exalt afterwards?

Throughout the film Korine has you asking such questions.  Every time you think the film is hewing to a narrative type (coming-of-age, redemption, documentary) you are thrown off base.  So James Franco’s “Alien” character initially seems ridiculous, then briefly menacing.  The next time you see him he’s jumping up and down on a bed while holding on to two machine guns saying “Look at my shit!” in a very non-menacing, non-gangster way.  This is not an organic change, it’s just an inconsistency.

Motion in this movie is created by the scrambling of these filmic conventions, rather than through character development.  This feels unsatisfying, and throws into relief the tacit agreement we ordinarily make with films: a willingness to trade the enjoyment that comes from having unspoken conventions met – for example the revenge narrative – in exchange for accepting poor writing, no semblance of real life, and a conventional, cowardly point-of-view.

Other disruptive films, for some reason I think of atmospheric French films, simply deny the viewer the usual pleasurable sign-posts.  Spring Breakers shows them in brightly-colored glory, only to have them fade and blur in close-up.

 

 

Phillip Roth – Masked

 

proth

Phillip Roth turns 80 today.  He’s quite a pleasant fellow, at least based on the recent documentary “Phillip Roth – Unmasked” which just wrapped up at the Film Forum yesterday. One doesn’t get a sense of how dark, sardonic, and satyric (is that a word?) his writing is.

Given that he’s faced a lot of feminist criticism, it’s interesting that most of the commentators in this film are women, including Mia Farrow, who we learn is a staunch friend.  I wondered whether Claudia Roth Pierpoint, another commentator, was related to the author, that’s never explained and I haven’t been able to find out online.

Although it’s not an in-depth view, I did learn some things about Phillip Roth:

 

  • He was extraordinarily handsome as a younger man and attracted women easily
  • He had a terrible first marriage and went into psychoanalysis 3 to 4 times per week, which he felt helped him
  • “Portnoy’s Complaint” was written using the model of an analysand speaking to a psychotherapist
  • He suffered from chronic back pain for years, which made him suicidal (I have since learned there is a character in “Everyman” who commits suicide due to back pain)
  • He fears death and is very discouraged by aging

So although this wasn’t a comprehensive biography, I found it refreshing to see a movie with intelligent conversation and at least a few insights.  I’m looking forward seeing “Andre Gregory – Before and After Dinner”

Herzog the Unnatural

Remember Werner Herzog speaking on the topic of nature while filming Aguirre, Wrath of God ?

herzogBWnature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Click to see the interview on Youtube, it’s worth it)

In his latest film, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga”, he’s done a complete about-face, creating a paen to nature:  a cross between a Leni Riefenstahl-style “Bergfilme” and a Disney documentary.

Let’s not forget, this is a director who created a definitive cinematic statement on man’s powerlessness against nature – “Aguirre – The Wrath of God” In that film nature is an irresistable force that causes only madness and death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even as recently as Grizzly Man there was an ominous undertone to his depiction of the natural world. Gradually though  (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Encounters at the End of the World) his view has become much more sanguine. And by that I don’t mean “bloody”.

“The Happy People” features self-reflective, ethnic-Russian fur-trappers, musing philosophically as they conquer nature with a series of canny traps, self-made gadgets, dugout canoes, and home-brewed insect repellent (along with snowmobiles, chainsaws and plastic sheeting). I find this sort of thing very enjoyable, there’s a Robinson Crusoe-esque self-reliant quality that seems like a good antidote to the anxiety of modern life.

The problem I had with “The Happy People” isn’t want Herzog puts in, it’s what he leaves out. He barely touches on the indigenous “Ket” people of that region of Siberia, who are at the bottom of the social order.  They are plagued by alcoholism, and their culture and language are disappearing.

Ket

As you can see, these are not the “Happy People”. They are like the mythological Eris, left out of the wedding of Peleus and Thetis and it would have been more fruitful for Herzog to explore their discord. They in fact invented many of these canny traps and techniques that the Russians use.

But Herzog now seems to be beyond provocation and provocativeness.  He’s in a steady groove that ignores reality but garners good reviews all around. Kael’s comments on later Scorcese seem applicable:

“He has become a much more proficient craftsman… but the first films he did that I responded to intensely – Mean Streets and Taxi Driver had a sense of discovery. He was looking into himself and the world…. Even though Scorcese shows what he can do in some ways, he doesn’t shape the material.” (Conversations with Pauline Kael, p. 167)

I have some other quibbles. Could a man really travel 150 kilometers in -50F weather at night in a snowmobile? I don’t think “Survivorman” would try this with the best gear.  How would you survive if your snowmobile breaks down? How do you get out of bed when it’s that cold? How do you wash yourself? How happy a person are you when a tooth becomes infected?

Creative people often have a brief shining period of amazing originality, followed by years of reputation-coasting. It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to be Picasso.  Herzog has become a master emcee.  I’ll remember his earlier work.  I’ll remember Woody Allen’s “earlier, funnier films” too.

In the meantime, may I recommend the low-budget film “Alone in the Wilderness”, the story of a man who builds himself a log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with just hand tools.  Think of it as  “The Happy People” without the quirky Bavarian voice-over.

alone-in-the-wilderness

 

The Tattoo Artist

This entry courtesy of Herbert P. Zornow, my Pop (text by myself).

The New Yorker magazine recently published a cover featuring Mitt Romney in a parody of Normal Rockwell’s famous painting “The Tattoo Artist”:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the original:

 

The New York Observer pointed out that this parody had been done before, in 2005, in their article on Angelina Jolie:

Not so fast, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and editorial cartoonist R.J. Matson.  Although it came later (2005), this version, featured presidential candidate John McCain and is thus closer to being a direct rip-off:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As noted in a comment in the online version of the New Yorker, it is ironic that Romney “replaces American sailor in the original illustration, especially since Romney clan has no record of ever serving in the US military, including his five able-bodied sons.”

Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Absent (thanks to HBO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to decide which is more depressing: the state of American film criticism or the current quality of mainstream documentaries.  In “Marina Abramovic – The Artist is Present” HBO Documentaries and Matthew Akers have made a film that undermines the power of her seminal career, and that’s a considerable feat.

Critics are lauding “The Artist is Present”: Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles times calls it “A riveting portrait”.  It’s easier for them to conflate subject with film, than it is to analyze what does and doesn’t work in this piece. The truth is that t.v. director Akers has cobbled together a couple of bad Lifetime t.v. episodes, called it a documentary and done Abramovic a disservice.

Marina Abramovic is a hard-core performance artist whose best work has brought “negative” elements such as stillness, grief, hunger, pain, and isolation into sharp focus, through works that often involve great endurance and physical suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In 1997 she performed Balkan Baroque at the Venice Biennale. It involved her scrubbing clean 1,500 cow bones six hours a day for four days and weeping as she sang songs and told stories from her native country” (Sean O’Hagan, Guardian UK).

In “Rhythm 0” she lay quietly next to 72 objects, including a loaded gun, scissors, and a whip, and let museum-goers do whatever they wanted to her.  As time passed the audience became more aggressive, cutting up her clothes and poking her with thorns.

“The Artist is Present” is organized around the event of her eponymous 2010 MoMA exhibition.  There she sat silent and immobile for 7 hours a day while museum spectators took turns sitting opposite her.  As the exhibition continued, Abramovic’s rock-star status began to grow – people would camp out overnight for the chance to sit with her.  Eventually she became so popular that tight controls were placed on spectators, they could only sit for 4 minutes at a time, whereas before the time was unimited, they could not make any gestures or sounds.  There is a touching scene where a young woman removes her dress as she sits down and is swiftly escorted away by the security squad.  This is jarring because most of Abramovic’s work involves her being nude, we get very familiar with her body.  Witnessing young fan shut down for that act of emulation is ironic and telling, but this goes unexplored.

Instead the focus is on the crying.  Many attendees tear-up when looking at the impassive queen-bee-like Abrmovoic, in her religious-looking smock.  The soundtrack repeats the sins of  “March of the Penguins”, a cloying musical score, telling us dummies that “it’s time to feel now”.  A montage of artfully-focused ethnically-and-age-balanced faces, in varying stages of composure, felt like a Benetton ad.  Akers should have been smart enough to realize that viewers can’t help but intuit the tarnished corporate halo in this aesthetic.  Too many t.v. ads are like this, especially ones for big “faceless” corporations.  It’s about as far from cleaning bloody bones as you can get.

Focusing on a singlular event feels like a panicky move by documentarians.  Sure there are some films where the event is the event (“The Last Waltz”), but here it’s used as a way to expose the artist, and honestly I did not know much about Marina after 2 hours than I did after 15 minutes. And the fact that the film literally ends with her final bow at MoMA makes me think that Akers didn’t have the curiousity to explore the question “What is it like to enter the normal world after that intense level of communication with thousands of people?”

As I’ve suggested before, the way to make documentaries interesting is to show themes, to then illustrate patterns within those themes, and then to identify when and why those patterns are broken.  That is all the event you need.  And indeed the audience wants something to happen in any performance.  Focusing on an orchestrated “happening” can cover up the actual personal changes that make for narrative.

What are some of those themes that could have been explored?  In the beginning of the film we see Marina in her huge NYC loft, also at her beautiful Hudson Valley farmhouse.  Later she enters a truck that she livd in for 5 years in Europe (it has been brought to MoMA as an exhibit) and begins weeping, saying that this was the simplest, happiest time of her life.    She is visited by her former lover, Ulay, with whom she lived in the truck.  He is deflated by her wealth, you can see he longs for that level of material success.

So to me a central question raised by the film was “What does success mean and what has it done to the artist?”  Is she less successful now that she is “successful”?  What is the significance of the change from allowing the audience to do anything they want  (“Rhythm 0”) to being prohibited from make a simple gesture (“The Artist is Present”)?

Another theme is artist vs. art. Marina admits to craving attention, to using performance as a way of getting the love she didn’t as a neglected child.  Does this minimize the value of her statements about war and suffering?  If she were to find love, would her art suffer?  She says that when her performances with Ulay were at their best, their personal relationship was at it’s worst.  What does this say about art?

There are many other areas in this artist’s life that would have been fruitful to explore.  Instead, by the end, I felt like an audience member denied my time across from Marina.