Maysles Film Festival @ National Gallery of Art in DC All Summer Long! @ngadc

My cup runneth over. Who needs that vote, when at least they are taxing us and giving us a Maysles Brother Filmfest.  All. Summer. Long. In the cool, hallowed halls of the National Gallery of Art, or more specifically the movie theater. Because who needs to be outside in the middle of the day in a DC summer. Am I right here?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the oeuvre of the dynamic fraternal documentary duo, they are so much more than Grey Gardens, the documentary regarding reclusive mentally ill wasps related to Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy (I know you might be thinking that reclusive mentally-ill wasp is a redundant statement, and I left out alcoholic, but hey, I’m trying to cut down on the personal disclosures labelling.)

Here’s the 411. Also, of course, I was exaggerating that I would prefer a filmfest to my constitutionally mandated vote in Congress.  Oh, to have one’s cake and eat it too:

Maysles Films Inc.: Performing Vérité

July 5–August 2

Albert Maysles (1926–2015) and his brother David (1931–1987) expanded the artistic possibilities for direct cinema by espousing “the eye of the poet” as a factor in shooting and editing cinéma vérité. Their trademark approach — capturing action spontaneously and avoiding a point of view — became, for a time, the very definition of documentary. This series focuses on their interest in art and performance and includes several screenings in original 16mm format. It is presented as a tribute to Albert Maysles, who died in March, 2015. Al often visited the National Gallery of Art; his wife Gillian Walker was the daughter of former Gallery director John Walker. Special thanks to Jake Perlin and Rebekah Maysles.

Albert Maysles (far right) and David Maysles during the production of Salesman, 1968
courtesy Maysles Films Inc.

  • Soldiers of Music — Rostropovich Returns to Russia
    July 5 at 4:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    In 1990, Albert Maysles accompanied cellist and National Symphony Orchestra conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya to their native Russia, their first trip in the course of a long exile. Soldiers of Music chronicles this historic reunion, as the couple is treated to a passionate, poignant homecoming. (Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb, and Bob Eisenhardt, 1991, 88 minutes)

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  • Horowitz Plays Mozart preceded by Anastasia
    July 10 at 2:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    Horowitz Plays Mozart documents a legendary moment in the life of pianist Vladimir Horowitz: his first studio recording with a symphony orchestra in more than thirty years. He agreed to record with Milan’s La Scala Philharmonic but refused to allow any rehearsals to be filmed, until the very last one. (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Susan Froemke, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1987, 50 minutes)

    Anastasia, created at the height of the Cold War for the 1960s NBC news program Update — was an early Maysles work-for-hire about the dancer Anastasia Stevens, the only American in the Bolshoi Ballet. (1962, 8 minutes)

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  • Meet Marlon Brando preceded by Salvador Dalí’s Fantastic Dream
    July 11 at 2:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    Meet Marlon Brando captures the actor at age forty, confronting journalists (in both English and French) with his typical wit and charisma on the subject of a new film project. (1965, 29 minutes)

    Dalí worked briefly to publicize the New York release of Richard Fleischer’s 1966 Fantastic Voyage. His campaign was documented by the Maysles brothers, then edited into the short subject Salvador Dalí’s Fantastic Dream (complete with cameo appearance from Raquel Welch, the artist’s muse at the time). (1966, 8 minutes)

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  • Jessye Norman Sings Carmen preceded by Orson Welles in Spain
    July 11 at 3:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    Jessye Norman Sings Carmen is a gripping vérité study of the famous dramatic soprano’s approach to mastering Bizet’s heroine in recording sessions with Seiji Ozawa and the Orchestre National de France. Musical segments include performances of three arias and the great duets between Carmen and Don José (Neil Shicoff). (Albert Maysles and Susan Froemke, 1989, 57 minutes)

    Orson Welles in Spain catches the famous director pitching his ideas for an unusual film on a bullfighter. In classic fashion, the garrulous Welles pontificates on the art of the bullfight and on the state of the cinema. (1966, 10 minutes)

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  • What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA
    July 12 at 4:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    The Maysleses’ freewheeling account of the Fab Four’s first visit to the United States in February 1964 follows their historic tour for five days — from the riotous JFK airport reception to candid moments inside the Plaza Hotel to their historic Ed Sullivan Show appearance. (1964, 81 minutes)

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  • The Gates preceded by Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece
    July 19 at 4:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates — twenty-three miles of orange fabric-strewn arches positioned in Central Park — were on view in February 2005 for a fleeting sixteen days. As the grandest public art project in Manhattan’s history, The Gates required twenty-five years to steer through the New York bureaucracy. The final product thrilled the world. Quipped Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “I’ve never understood why anybody was against it.” (Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Matthew Prinzing, 2007, 87 minutes)

    Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece documents the artist’s 1965 performance at Carnegie Hall, with Ono sitting motionless on the stage as audience members were invited to come forward and cut away bits of her clothing. (1965, 8 minutes)

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  • Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness
    July 23 at 3:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    New York choreographer Sally Gross — a former Judson Dance Theater member who was cast by Robert Frank in Pull My Daisy — is the subject of Maysles’s film on her stillflourishing career. The title echoes Gross’s work of the same name, which emerged from a Buddhist practice and her own peaceful center. (Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile, 2007, 58 minutes)

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  • Christo in Paris
    July 24 at 2:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s first urban wrapping was the medieval Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris and site of the two artists’ courtship. While relating their love story, Christo in Paris also chronicles Christo’s flight from his family home in Bulgaria. (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Deborah Dickson, and Susan Froemke, 1990, 58 minutes)

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  • With Love from Truman followed by Accent on the Offbeat
    July 26 at 4:00
    West Building Lecture Hall

    Truman Capote reveals his personal thoughts on his book In Cold Blood, in a new genre he dubbed the nonfiction novel, “turning reality into art.” (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1966, 29 minutes).

    In Accent on the Offbeat a dance and music collaboration unfolds at the New York City Ballet, with original choreography by Peter Martins and musical score by Wynton Marsalis. (Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke, and Deborah Dickson, 1994, 56 minutes)

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  • Grey Gardens
    August 1 at 1:00
    East Building Large Auditorium

    The now-famous aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Edith Ewing Bouvier and Edie Bouvier Beale, lived out their lives in a ramshackle Long Island estate. In 1975, while preparing for a film on Lee Radziwill, Albert and David Maysles arrived at the Beale household and at once became immersed in the lives of its extraordinary inhabitants. Criticized at first for exploiting the two women, Grey Gardens is now hailed as one of the greatest nonfiction works of the twentieth century. “So many people in other ways have had more successful lives. But who among their neighbors would ever be as successful a character in a movie as these two women?” — Albert Maysles. (Albert Maysles and David Maysles, 1976, 95 minutes)

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  • Salesman
    August 1 at 3:00
    East Building Large Auditorium

    Four average American men making a marginal living by hawking bibles in working-class neighborhoods are the subjects of the Maysleses’ beautifully crafted feature documentary — a masterwork of American nonfiction. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that one of the four, Paul Brennan, has lost his knack to make the pitch and perform, and the camera tracks this apparent crisis. Albert and David Maysles traveled with the team of four, befriended them, and remained in touch for many years. (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1968, 91 minutes)

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  • Gimme Shelter
    August 2 at 4:00
    East Building Large Auditorium

    David and Albert Maysles’s footage from the last of the epic 1960s rock ’n’ roll concerts symbolized the demise of the era’s counterculture and, as Pauline Kael cynically noted, “hit the cinema vérité jackpot.” As the concert — which featured, among others, the Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Rolling Stones — was winding down, the infamous murder of Meredith Hunter was inadvertently captured on camera. “We structured our film around what actually happened; what came out was a surprise to us as well” — Albert Maysles. (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1970, 71 minutes)

Weekend Lecture at National Gallery on the Pre-Raphaelites

I’ve been so focused on post-Raphaelites re DC Fotoweek, that I have quite neglected to see this show at one of my favorite museums, the National Gallery.  Well, this can all be remedied on November 21 when NGA curator Dianne Waggoner, expounds and more on November 21 at 2:00 pm. Come and learn about a time when painters were influenced by photography!
Uncompromising Truth: British Photography and Pre-Raphaelitism
Diane Waggoner, associate curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art
Book signing of The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875 follows.
East Building Concourse, Auditorium
Also a book signing. About the book:

As photography steadily gained a foothold in the 1840s, a group of British painters calling themselves the Pre-Raphaelites came of age. Answering John Ruskin’s call to study nature, “rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing,” these young painters were also spurred on by the possibilities of the new medium (introduced in 1839), particularly its ability to capture every nuance, every detail. And yet, the Pre-Raphaelites’ debt to photography has barely been acknowledged. From photography, painters learned to see anew: adapting such radical qualities as abrupt cropping, planar recession, and a lack of modulation between forms, painters made their art modern, sometimes shockingly so.

 

Photographers in turn looked to Pre-Raphaelite visual strategies and subject matter – mined from literature, history, religion—to secure, as Julia Margaret Cameron wrote, “the character and uses of High Art.” These artists developed a shared vocabulary—featuring light and minute detail as an emblem of visual truth—which helped launch realism as the century’s dominant visual mode. “Exactness,” a critic affirmed in 1856, “is the tendency of the age.”

 

This volume explores the rich dialogue between photography and painting through the themes of landscape, portraiture, literary and historical narratives and modern-life subjects. These artists—from photographers Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, Henry Peach Robinson and Oscar Gustave Rejlander, to such painters as John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John William Inchbold—not only had much in common, but also upended traditional approaches to making pictures.

 

240 pages, 200 color | 9 x 11.5 inches

 

Photographer Robert Bergman at the National Gallery of Art

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First off, congratulations to NGA curator Sarah Greenough for winning a Lucie for the NGA’s exhibition of Robert Frank: The Americans, well-deserved honors for the woman behind many of my favorite exhibitions in Washington, and who consistently prefaces photography in Washington’s art scene. Well done! And speaking of Robert Frank, on Oct. 10, an exhibition of photographer Robert Bergman’s portraits (who says his viewing of The Americans changed his life), collected over nine years from 1986 to 1995, opened and will run till Jan. 10, 2010.  The show has gotten some good press already, most notably in the Wall Street Journal by Judith Dobrzynski, in part because of the apparent long-awaited spontaneous combustion that is happening for Bergman right now with simultaneous shows at the NGA, PS1 in New York, and next month’s opening at photographic savant Yosi Milo‘s gallery.

I believe the gallery owns about 98 Bergman prints, right now, of which not all are shown, which I think is a good thing, because stylistically they are all the same, and the two rooms filled with them are more than enough to give one a good taste of Bergman’s work, without the overkill that can accompany a monumental show built upon one typology.  And while the Bergman show is not a typology, per se, his evocative portraits do intentionally strip most of the environment from the subject, leaving a person who, more often than not, conveys some angst-ridden inner drama, sunken-cheeked hollow-eyed gaze, and taken cumulatively left this viewer with the feeling despite the photographer’s intention to the contrary I had learned less about the people being portrayed than the mind-set of the photographer who created them.

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The inkjet prints, which are about 16×24″ are beautifully printed, with few exceptions, evoking lush colors and composed artfully, befitting the experience of a photographer who studied and painted for years.  He modus operandi was not to pose the subjects but take them en situ, working the situation, and making a few frames until he had what he wanted.  His decision to identify the works just by the year Bergman contends is to strip all the excess information so that the viewer is forced to contend with the human condition.

I think this is a bunch of hooey, myself.  Admittedly, I am someone who when in the kitchen of an accomplished chef, to use the words of Robert Olen Butler, I am someone who will want ” . . . to understand everything. His kitchen was full of such smells that you knew you had to understand everything or be incomplete forever.”

So I like the environmental details, I like their names, where they are from.  I am one of those horrid people who likes to locate people on their particular nexus so that I might understand in my own small way where they are coming from, I had not realized that I was robbing them of their humanity by doing so.  I say this, because my own particular nexus was uprooted so often that I find it reassuring to have something to hold on to.  This is my bias.  And I also prefer mise en scenes. So there you have it.

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© Robert Bergman

© Robert Bergman

© Robert Bergman

This image is the one that disturbed me most in the entire show, it is a fuzzy print, and really so out of place and brought down the exhibition, so that I was puzzled by its inclusion. The hands are charged with tension to be sure, indicative of a psychological state, but technically not up to the rest of the show.

© Robert Bergman

© Robert Bergman

The gripping stares, the lush colors, accomplished compositions and excellent printing make this a show well worth your time.  I am glad to see the National Gallery of Art bringing a heretofore unknown photographer to light (though his simultaneous exhibitions do deflate from the sense of discovery).  Also opening at the Gallery this Sunday is In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes – which I peaked into while visiting Bergman (right next door) and am super-excited to go see and review. I’m sure these will both make your experience at the National Gallery a worthwhile one.

Looking In on Robert Frank with Michael David Murphy

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The Mecca, When, Oh When will it be MY TURN????
Sunday was a good day – Michael David Murphy was in town, scribbler of 2.8whileseated as well as unphotographable as well as being a fine photographer in his own right, and working full-time for Atlanta Celebrates Photography.  He seems to do it all without artificial stimulants and this must be a true testament to the power of following your bliss.

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True-Dat.

His visit was a great excuse to re-visit and re-acquaint myself with Robert Frank.  As studious readers of this blog may know, I purposefully do not spend a lot of time looking at photography, esp. on the web.  I do look at it.  And if you ask I will look, but I don’t seek it out.  Time is precious, I’ve formulated my personal vision (for the moment), and it doesn’t serve me much purpose.  Please do not misunderstand, I love photography, I love looking at it, I love going to exhibits and seeing books. I just try not to make it a daily habit.  All this being a long-winded way of saying I haven’t spent any time with Bobby Frank since the last century.  Sorry if this offends you. I last sought him out at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, and after spending a very unprofitable 20 minutes viewing his video-work, I had to put the fatwah on him for the wasted minutes of my life I could never get back.

Fortunately, such was not the case with this exhibit.  So it was great fun to spend the time with MDM and look at all the works from the Americans in order as they are on the book, except they are much larger, vintage prints on a wall. AND some contact sheets are there. Despite the fact that I almost had myself thrown out of the National Gallery several times for committing the cardinal sin of leaning on the plexiglass housing said contact sheets (consider yourself warned, you too may get caught mesmerized by the Frank process as I did and lean not once, twice, but thrice against said plexiglass despite REPEATED warnings from ever-vigilant NG security guards who are very polite, and should be highly compensated for their thoroughness).  It is a completely different process than viewing the book – you really absorb the sequencing differently.  My favorite room was the one devoted to transportation.  For the rubber-necker in you, the contact sheet depicting the scene of a fatal car crash in the Southwest is on display, and i must say I found it fascinating. Call me Macabre.

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MD-M himself, not to be confused with one of my favorite collegiate bevies, MD 20/20 (I have changed!) His sartorial sense is impeccable, note how his palette matches the walls and the painting behind!  He’s a charmer!


It is great fun to meet new photographers – I believe we share a similar sensibility in regards to our appreciation of photography, and that is always nice to see one’s beliefs reinforced.  He’s got ideas and I love that. We also both LOVE Lars Tunbjork.

Good times Michael David!

Long Weekend

Fabulous four day weekend begun by playing hookie on a rainy Friday with a visit to National Gallery with mon amour. We started off at the Snapshot Exhibit curated by National Gallerist Sarah Greenough, and which chronicles, funnily enough, the American snapshot from it’s inception in the early 1900’s to the 60’s via the collection of one Robert E. Jackson, a man of good taste and distinction. Jackson assembled his collection over the past decade from flea markets, art fairs and sales on eBay. Apparently they thought the time was ripe to launch such an exhibit because digital photography has changed the way we take and display pictures.

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Having been suitably inspired by the American snapshooter, we continue on to the piece de resistance: Edward Hopper, which due to our weekday arrival was not packed like sardines like on the weekends. Perhaps like me, many of you first became acquainted with the work of Hopper through knock-off paintings exhibited in those fine public galleries, the fast food restaurant dining area. I actually thought the original version of Nighthawks was the one with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Bogie all gathered around some late night diner. Well, it was an errant youth, but I’ve since learned a thing or two, and one is Hopper did not paint celebrity. I adore his moody, lonely, hint of a narrative painting style and his lush jewel-toned, heading toward somber palette.

Edward Hopper at the National Gallery of Art

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

There’s something in this retrospective for everyone, dreamy landscapes in Maine, the city, you know which one, changing, as it began to build skyscrapers which would crowd out the brownstones, flappers in cool clothes (the gallery is very astutely marketing cloche hats with the exhibit). And there’s Hopper himself, an iconoclast, the best sort. Someone with early promise, who didn’t sell his first painting till he was in his forties, taciturn and true. He painted in his manner before it became in vogue, then remained centered during his the years of his adulation, and continued to make his best work in his sixties and seventies whilst holding on to his reputation despite the rise of non-representational superstars like De Kooning, and more famously, Pollock.

He said, ” If you could say it in words, there’d be no reason to paint.” So his work sort of bears that man of few words nature too, tho still waters run deep and all that. Viva Hopper!

Sunday brought friend and fellow Review Santa Fe alum, Simon Roberts into town for a visit. Simon took me back to the National Gallery and introduced me to the work of British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, who painted in the 1800’s and was having a huge survey of work occupying veritable football fields of gallery space. The work was great, monumental shipwrecks, and classical idylls, detailed pencil and watercolor paintings of classical architecture, as well as more impressionistic work done in his last years, work which greatly influenced Monet and the rest of the waterlily school.

Simon shares a studio with his doppelganger, Simon Norfolk, doppelganger only in the sense that it is with Norfolk that he is most often confused, by people such as myself, upon hearing his name when they first meet him. He tells me that Norfolk cites Turner as an influence on his work. I suspect this is a great technique with which to be taking seriously by Kathy Ryan as a fine artist. Building on tradition and taking it further and all that good stuff. My own work is sadly more influenced by after school television specials (Sara T. : Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic – anyone?).
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Simon is across the pond – dog and pony-ing it for his fantastic survey of Russia, Motherland – which was published by the savant Chris Boot, and is the inaugural show at the new Darren Ching/Deborah Klomp endeavor, KlompChing Gallery (not to be confused with kerching – the sound a cash register makes when tallying up all the prints flying off the walls – which is of course what we hope happens).

Well all has been sweetness and light, we were cheerily bundled into the car heading to the airport, when during a slight traffic jam on rock creek parkway Simon and I came to the stunning realization that I thought I was taking him to National Airport (20 minutes away) and the chappie had booked out of Dulles airport (40 minutes – 1 hr plus away). And this during rush hour. Well, this is when one shows the stuff they are made of and I’m happy to say that calm prevailed. Slight U-Turn on crowded parkway and a determined weaving in and out of traffic – Starsky and Hutch re-runs becoming useful here, and we had old Simon at the gate with six entire minutes to spare before the gate closed.

Good times!