Tag: review

In a footnote from her essay “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag refers to film as a “subdivision of literature.” Now, I have never been one to uphold any kind of “hierarchy of the arts” (of what use would this be anyhow?), but I am interested in the relationship between different artistic mediums, and, in particular, as Sontag describes, that between film and literature. “Subdivision of literature” suggests literature as a kind of umbrella term encompassing film within its greater arena, as opposed to, as one might have intuitively supposed, two separate subsets within the greater arena that is “art.” Furthermore, the phrase disallows the opposite (“literature as subdivision of film”) to be true. What is it, then, that makes literature more “all-encompassing,” and what does it mean for a film to be “literary”?

An examination of “Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie,” Sontag’s essay on the French filmmaker’s fourth film about a struggling-artist-turned-prostitute, will prove useful here. In the essay, Sontag points out two general tendencies of the artist: the tendency toward proof, characterized by an emphasis in considerations of form, and the tendency towards analysis, which is more akin to fruitless “rambling” within a work, as the artist chases after the “infinite angles of understanding.”

As you might have guessed, Sontag favors the former, insisting that “In great art, it is form—or, as I call it here, the desire to prove rather than the desire to analyze—that is ultimately sovereign. It is form that allows one to terminate.” Thus, it is characteristic of great art to contain “endings that exhibit grace and design, and only secondarily convince in terms of psychological motives or social forces.” Vivre Sa Vie is therefore “literary” in the sense that, as in all great literature (Sontag names Shakespeare’s early comedies and Dante’s Divine Comedy as paragons), at play is a predominant concern towards proof—as opposed to analysis. The term “literary,” used to describe film, is thus a bit of a misnomer on Sontag’s part, as it might have suggested the presence of qualities intrinsic to literature, whereas all she is referring to is that which defines good art, within any medium. For Sontag, this means the artist emphasizes the formal: that is, they include a conspicuous element of design (symmetry, repetition, inversion, doubling, etc.).”

Sontag’s insistence on form strongly reminds me of my Art Hum instructor, Daniel Ralston, who would call us out whenever we would respond to a painting with such platitudes as: “I think the three birds represent the Holy Trinity” or “The expression of the left-most figure is one of intense melancholy”—statements of a nature which would no doubt have gone unheeded (perhaps praised) in some of my previous Core classes. For example, during my Literature Humanities course several years ago, a full hour was once spent on a Freudian analysis of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (which, unfortunately for me, I consider to be one of the most beautiful novels of all time). Ralston would often respond to these comments by saying, “Yes, but, what about formally—for example, what can you say about the composition?” And though frustratingly delimiting and didactic at first, I eventually came to realize this methodology was far more compatible with my personal relationship with art, which, for the most part, had tended to go ignored by many of my humanities classes at Columbia.

This issue came up once during the discussion section to my Western class (FILM 2120, Topics in American Cinema: The West) the previous semester. The topic of discourse was the Edenic imagery permeating throughout some boring film whose name I can’t recall. Someone had said, “I don’t see it. I don’t see him [the director] trying to do that,” to which the others collectively responded in defensive choir, “But it’s there,” leaving the poor girl outnumbered. In that moment, what none of us understood was that, at its core, the disagreement arose out of a difference in hermeneutical approach. On one hand, there was the school of thought that perpetuates myth by asserting that “this is there” and this isn’t, that “this ought to be but not that” (i.e. all the feminist readings of these films), and, on the other hand, there were those who believed that a work of art is the thing itself, not whatever meaning is forced out of it by some ulterior agenda.

The subject of her famous “Against Interpretation” essay, Sontag is well aware of this dry hermeneutical approach, prevalent among most schools, which tends to mistreat the work of art. As she writes: “…it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it’s usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. (‘What X is saying is…,’ ‘What X is trying to say is…,’ ‘What X said is…’ etc., etc.)” (4). “Content,” in this sense, is tantamount to “what I think it says” which is always subjective—whereas it should be acknowledged that content is in fact objective (“This is not Edenic imagery, just a shot of a meadow where this story happens to take place”), and that anything more than that is a stretch, fabricating superfluous intellectual delusions that numb the senses and are best befitted for the most cerebral of students, those who relish the thought of life in academia and seek to write theses along the lines of “A Queer Reading of the Works of Pedro Almodovar” or “Marxism in Kafka”—horrible titles, but you get the idea. Sontag beautifully sums up the problem as follows:

“Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.”

And what would fix this? A de-emphasis on content and a recognition of art as a sensory experience. Or, as Sontag put it: “In place of hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” It is by abiding by this mantra I’ve discovered the audiovisual intensity of Faulkner to be found in Aronofsky’s crescendos, the minimalist serenity and ennui of Hemingway in Antonioni, and the hypnotic allure of flawed (but painfully realistic) characters from Tolstoy in Kieslowski. Literature is thus capable of being as “cinematic” as the cinema is of being “literary”—it’s just a matter of form, form, form.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

There’s this consistent trope that exists in many stories typically featured on Broadway:  a person falls in love with another character that has unexpectedly entered their life and against all odds, they end up happily ever after. I sat through two-thirds of Once On This Island, seeing this same storyline build up, only to be thoroughly surprised by the ending that unfolded.

As a woman, I see this across media all the time – in TV shows, movies, and more relevant to this article, plays and musicals. For example, “A Bronx Tale,” a musical about Jane, a stunning black woman, and Calogero, an Italian man from a racist Italian community in the Bronx. Despite awful racial tensions, including a scene where he drops the “N” word, the two magically work things out and end up in a “loving” relationship. Though a less extreme example in “Groundhog Day,” Rita Hansen, another successful woman, falls for the main character, Phil Connors, a man who after getting stuck reliving Groundhog Day, attempts to use the ability to emulate what he views as Rita’s ideal lover without her knowing.

Seeing these different examples where it seems characters end up relinquishing their lives and passions for a lover they barely know has always come off to me as traumatic and sad — and seeing this notion challenged in “Once on This Island” was quite meaningful for me. Relationships are meant to be hard, but they’re not meant to be traumatizing. They’re not meant to lack reciprocity and pose burdens on one of the parties. That’s quite simply unhealthy behavior.

Where “Once on This Island” shines is its uplifting collection of songs that emphasize community and belonging. Rather than just another character suddenly finding love, the show showcases a community of people so closely connected that stick together despite the adversity they face living on a small island. In particular, in the song “Part of Us,”  the audience is reminded that a relationship is not the be-all end-all for the lives of women, especially women of color. In a world that consistently emphasizes the importance of intimate relationships, it was refreshing to see a musical emphasize community. Growing up in a Puerto Rican family, it was always ingrained into me that my family came first. And as I grew up and learned to embrace my Caribbean-Latina identity, it became even more obvious to me what was most important to me. Seeing Ti Moune struggle through navigating her own identities and values spoke to my own journey. While her experience doesn’t speak for everyone’s, I was happy to see another story being told.

Beyond the storyline, “Once On This Island” has an amazing cast. One of the show’s breakout stars is Alex Newell. Newell, playing the role of Asaka was absolutely radiant. In particular, his performance of “Mama Will Provide” absolutely blew me away thanks to his strong vocals and jubilance. Along with Newell was Hailey Kilgore in her Broadway debut who was a stunning Ti Moune. Her energy was tantalizing and her voice shined throughout the theater as she helped tell the story of these islanders. Overall, “Once on this Island” was fun, meaningful, and a beautifully nuanced representation of people of color and a reminder of why fostering inclusive communities matters so much.

If you’re a looking for something that will leave you feeling uplifted with a big smile on your face, this is the show to see.

Tickets to Once on This Island can be purchased from the TIC and through the show’s website.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

When Dina (played by Katrina Lenk) beautifully sings “Welcome to Nowhere,” a song introducing the audience to the show’s location, she doesn’t portray it to be one of the most exciting places. In fact, she goes so far as to sing “Such a city, nobody knows it. Not a fun, not an art, nor a culture. This is Bet Hativka.”

And her character is right: this show, like it repeatedly describes, is a simple story about how ‘’Once not long ago group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Yet, in this charming 95-minute show, audiences are thrust into a story that is so simple yet so complex, just like the human experience. Indeed, like life, the show begins with a slow start, in which we are introduced to the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt, which, due to a misunderstanding of their final destination, end up spending a night in Bet Hatikva rather than Petah Tikva.

Stuck in a new place with nothing else to do, we see these strangers begin to connect. Part of the experience of meeting new people is finding out more about them: at first, you don’t know much about each other, but as time goes on, you learn more and begin to feel more for one another. The same is true for characters in shows. While The Band’s Visit eventually introduces us to all of its characters, unfortunately, we only get to really know a few. As the show progresses, though, we see extraordinary songs and heart-wrenching moments from most of the characters that, when the characters we as the audience get to know are involved, leave us tearful and filled with emotion.

For the characters we don’t get know as well, moments of truth — revealed in admittedly beautiful songs — can be a little confusing. Why does the man who waits by the telephone wait so obsessively for his girlfriend to call, to the point of being agitated when someone else uses the phone? Just because he misses her? Knowing nothing about this man except that he waits and waits and waits, it felt as if his behavior fell closer in line with someone who is unhealthily obsessed rather than in love. While this too can be part of the human experience, it was frustrating to see this moment aggrandized as it leads into the final grand moment of the show in which the entire cast harmonizes beautifully, singing about longing, love, and human connection. If we had gotten to know this man better, perhaps the final wouldn’t have felt as if it came out of nowhere.

That being said, the final song (“Answer Me”) is still beautiful in its own right, highlighting the show’s strongest component: its music. With lyrics and composition by David Yazbeck, every song pulls at the heart, making you laugh and leaving you contemplating your own desires. Each song is stunning and invites the audience members into the moment, allowing them to connect with the music on a personal level, even if they’re not familiar with the musical style, which is inspired by Arabic culture — something rarely seen on Broadway.

In a time that feels incredibly divisive, this production shows that, despite differences in our languages, our backgrounds, and our heritages, we all still are united in one human experience. We still all have a desire to love and be answered, and The Band’s Visit is such an important musical because it reminds us of just that. Rather than focusing on gaudy, ostentatious sets, colors, and music, it strips down these elements and focuses on the simple, the ordinary. This ordinariness actually produces something  unique and extraordinary, and, accordingly, the show should be seen by all.

Tickets to The Band’s Visit can be purchased from the show’s website.

Photo courtesy of Roberta Kirosingh

 

I may not have been a Rocky Horror virgin when I entered the Diana Event Oval on Friday, October 27th, but I was still inexperienced: this was only my second time seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show live with a shadow cast. The difference between these two times for me was like the difference between the first time you have sex and every time after that: a vast improvement and learning experience.

Surprisingly enough, CMTS’s production of Rocky Horror was the latter in this analogy. My first experience was over the summer at a theater in Chelsea, and the uncomfortable, awkward feeling I had during the entirety of this production due to its lackluster quality definitely made me feel like the virgin I was labeled as. In fact, I’m hesitant to even count it as experience because it didn’t really teach me how to engage with a live Rocky Horror.

CMTS’s Rocky Horror, on the other hand, was the first time of my dreams.

Packed to capacity, the vibrant energy one associates with Rocky Horror was present in the space before the directors and hosts Maggie Vlietstra and Madeline Ducharme even walked on stage. And when the two did finally speak, it was in the same wacky manner as the characters of the movie. Every sentence was a joke, and mindful of their audience, Vlietstra and Ducharme catered these jokes to the Barnumbia community, mentioning how our limited free time was fleeting as per the CSA time management sheet and how alluring Lincoln Center could be, especially if your initials are D.S.

The fun didn’t stop when the movie started and the hosts left the stage. Instead, it was continued by Nick Hermesman, Carina Gobelbecker, and Liz Sobolik as they danced and stripped to complement the infamous introductory red lips of Rocky Horror. To my amazement–and I think it’s safe to say the amazement of everyone present–this choreography even included flips and splits in high heels. Mouths opened in awe, and soon after in laughter as the plot of the film began.

I find it hard to even begin to describe how wonderful the cast was because they made the show into a one-of-a-kind experience. Each member accomplished the difficult task of both interacting with and ignoring the audience. Dr. Scott gave high-fives while rolling through the audience, and Frank N. Furter, played by Juan Esteban Guerrero, threw Furter’s wig into the audience area. But the cast never missed a beat, even when the enthusiastic call-outs from the chorus and audience and sound of the movie blurred into a distracting and intelligible blob of noise, even when they were running up and down the aisles of the Event Oval.

Brad and Janet during rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Roberta Kirosingh.

Janet, played by Grace Hargis, and Brad, played by Lulu Cerone, were equally charming in the way they effortlessly adapted to their roles and embodied their characters, becoming the perfect shadows to the on-screen characters they were mirroring on stage. Rowan Hepps Keeney’s Rocky was comical and goofy, which balanced out the swagger of Guerrero’s Frank N. Furter, whose enormous presence demanded every ounce of attention from the audience, even when Furter was killing Rachel Barkowitz’s equally cocky Eddie off-stage. Charlotte Force and Rachel Miga also put on fantastic performances as Riff Raff and Magenta respectively, and their surprisingly well-rendered costumes, with their metallic and shimmering materials, literally dazzled the audience at times. The dynamic between the entirety of the cast — chorus and shadow cast alike — brought all of this together into what was truly a hilarious, fun-filled experience. I don’t know when else I’d ever get to put on a party hat and throw toilet paper at a movie screen while watching people run around stage half-naked and energetically mirror a movie except at Rocky Horror, and I especially don’t know where else I’d get to do it for only $2.50.

People often talk about how much they love doing things in the city, but can’t because it can be expensive. CMTS’s Rocky Horror reminded me that we don’t have to look past the Barnumbia gates to get a stellar theater experience: we’ve got plenty of talent right here on campus that you can see for cheap (and, if you live on campus, without taking public transit!). So, if you missed out on CMTS’s Rocky Horror this year, don’t worry — it’s an annual affair, and there’s plenty of other upcoming student productions you can check out on the Arts Initiative’s website. Or, if this article has made you really wish you went to this year’s Rocky Horror, try doing the timewarp again and maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up there.

Image via IDBD

Gloria Estefan was a trailblazer. She was one of the most successful female artists of all time, the most successful Latin-American crossover artist, and her voice is a force to be reckoned with. So when I took my seat at the Marquis Theater to watch her story come to life onstage, I had high expectations. But alas, I was disappointed.

The show On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan has all the promise in the world. With songs like “Congo,” “On Your Feet,” and “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” the writers had a lot to work from. I practically congo-ed into the theater, eager to dance and clap along to Gloria’s famous beats and ready for Broadway’s liveliest show yet. But instead, I found myself falling asleep.

Broadway has had a history of success with these kinds of musicals. Jersey Boys, which was based on Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, is a smash hit. Mamma Mia!, written around ABBA’s famous songs, has been solidified as a classic. But for On Your Feet, it felt like Broadway gave up.

The opening number of On Your Feet is slow, boring, and actually quite confusing. For the first ten minutes of the show, scenery and time shifts at a mile a minute, and we are left extremely disoriented. First, a young Gloria awkwardly dances with strangers on the street while her mother jokes about the laundry, then solemnly sings to her father who is serving in the Korean War, and then all of sudden she’s all grown up and taking care of her MS-stricken father. Emilio enters the scene incredibly quickly, and before we know it Gloria is singing with his band and they fall in love without even a hint of a glitch. The entire first act happens quicker than you can imagine (and yet still manages to drag on with only the slowest of Gloria’s songs!) The act’s ending number, “Conga,” Gloria’s biggest hit, gave me hope that the second act would be livelier.

But of course, it wasn’t. The start of Act Two continued on in the same way, skipping so many years and milestones. All of a sudden Gloria is the biggest female artist in America, but we are given no details about how she got there or what her life is like. Only ten minutes into Act Two she is hit by a truck and the remainder of the show follows her road to recovery, once again choosing the slowest songs in her repertoire. In the final number, a coda after the story ends, the cast belts out “On Your Feet” and showcases some epic dance moves, but it was only the second number that had me smiling.

Of course, the show did have its highlights. Ana Villafane, who plays Gloria, is fantastic, and her pipes sound eerily similar to Gloria’s. The dialogue is well-written, well-acted, and actually quite funny. Gloria’s abuela, played by Alma Cuervo, is the show’s most entertaining and sentimental character, and overall the show’s arc is gripping. Where On Your Feet fails, however, is in its music choices and rough transitions. Perhaps if it had followed Jersey Boys’ example and blended much more fun with the serious, it might have been more exciting to watch. My Grade: B-

 

The Must-Watch List: If you are looking for a show to see, I’d definitely recommend getting tickets to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s School of Rock. The show will blow your mind with its insane music and witty dialogue, and you’ll be floored by the completely live musical performance by the show’s star children. If you loved the movie, you’ll love the musical even more. My Grade: A