“The Happy Prince”: A Different Oscar Wilde

It is not uncommon for an actor to change their appearance for a role. Often this transformation, if the script is good and the film is well directed, can render an Oscar nomination, if not an outright win. Looking back who can forget Charlize Theron’s transformation to the serial killer/man hater Aileen Wournos in “Monster” or Alfred Molina putting on a lot of weight when he played Frida Kahlo;s husband, Diego Rivera, in “Frida?” And what about the late Philip Seymour Hoffman drastic alteration of his body and visage to portray an effete Truman Capote in “Capote.” (In retrospect by Theron and Hoffman won Academy Awards for their characters in “Monster” and “Capote.)

In Sony Classics’ “The Happy Prince” so does Rupert Everett morph his well-chiseled physique into a bloated, oversized, sotted, mess of a man in an attempt to give visual relevance to Oscar Wilde in the last years of his life. In past films. Everett mostly portrayed urban, sophisticated, body-beautiful men who always had the last quip and were the love interest of both women and men alike. Everett’s Oscar Wilde is far removed from the well-heeled gay characters that Everett has portrayed over the last two decades. His Wilde is desperate, morose, down-on-his- luck, and lost in menage of remembrances past and unfulfilled opportunities.

Though “Happy Prince” is written and directed by Everett, Everett ingeniously mines out a performance that is stocked full of nuance and depth. He even manages to project beyond Wilde’s miserable state of a penniless outcast who depends on the kindness of friends, fellow miscreants with an occasional rent boy thrown in for good measure. In spite of Wilde’s pitiful state, Everett injects a wealth of charm and vibrancy coupled with Wilde’s incomparable wit into his portrayal.

In a cheap Parisian hotel room, in declining health, Wilde looks back on life, his fall from grace, his imprisonment, and his many loves—Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) and Wilde’s wife and two children. His retrospection details good times and great losses; his life as a libertine and dandy of sorts, as well as the fame that came with the production of his plays and written works.

“The Happy Prince” includes a stellar cast that includes Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, and Edwin Thomas. Still, “The “Happy Prince” is a star vehicle for Rupert Everett. And with his portrayal of a downtrodden Oscar Wilde, we get to see Oscar Wilde in a different light, and how deep Rupert Everett’s well of talent can go. With “The Happy Prince,” Rupert Everett proves he is much more than a pretty face with a British accent. Is there is Oscar nomination in the works? Fashion Reverie thinks so!!

Photos courtesy of Sony Classics

“The Happy Prince” is distributed by Sony Classics and opens in limited release on October 10.—William S. Gooch

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco

Image courtesy of departures.com

It is amazing how one person can touch the lives of so many people. Antonio Lopez is just that person. Though Lopez only lived to the ripe age of 44, his influence in the fashion industry is immensely important and still felt thirty years later.The documentary “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” carefully and brilliantly details Antonio Lopez’s rise from humble beginnings in Puerto Rico, and later the Bronx, to his prolific, though short, career as a fashion illustrator and designer. Interestingly, Lopez’s ascent in the fashion industry—in the mid 1960s—came at time when there were few people of color in positions of influence. Still, Lopez with his magnetic charm was never an outsider, always pushing the proverbial fashion envelope, ultimately expanding fashion’s palette of what is beautiful and relevant.

Lopez, singlehandedly, used his familiarity with urban and street culture and infused his illustrations with that specific influence. This was perhaps the first time that major fashion publications had a person of color in their employ that paid homage to diversity and urban culture.

“Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” gives a purview into how the worlds of urban street culture, pop music, and the downtown arts scene were beginning to influence the fashion industry. Lopez was at the epicenter of this particular cross-pollination of cultures and infused his art and craft with this mélange of influences.

From his fashion illustrations that demonstrated that black and brown is beautiful to his renderings that expressed male sexuality and sensuality in ways that were both erotic and sophisticated, Lopez helped forge a new consciousness in fashion that went beyond the fashion elites and well-heeled ladies with deep pockets. And this documentary gives credence to Lopez’s mastery of fusing a plethora of pop cultural experiences.

Director James Crump carefully examines Lopez’s unique ability to excavate inchoate talent and pushing that talent to the forefront of fashion. Without Lopez there probably would not have been a Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Patti D’Arbanville, Corey Tippin or Jerry Hall. And it was Lopez and his partner Juan Ramos that sparked that creative fire and sensibility in Karl Lagerfeld early in his career. Without Lopez and his coterie of creative merry people, perhaps, Lagerfeld would not have developed into the genius who could masterfully combine a variety of influences and popular trends into a seamless expression of beauty and adventure.

Blending video footage, photographs, Lopez’s fashion illustrations, disco music and some very well-placed interviews from Jessica Lange, Grace Coddington, Bill Cunningham, Pat Cleveland, Joan Juliet Buck, Andre Leon Talley, Corey Tippin, Bob Colacello, and others, James Crump artfully creates the mood and motivation of the late 60s and 70s. This collision of cultures and aesthetics is set against the backdrop of New York City and Paris. In fact, Crump creates such well-collaged kaleidoscope of images, sounds and colors that is almost like being in the New York City and Paris of Antonio Lopez. Still, Crump does not leave out some of the vices that drove Lopez’s creative genius. Though these vices—sex, sex, and more sex—are not the focus of the documentary, Crump does detail Lopez’s excesses without simulating titillating voyeurism.

Sadly, like many artists of Lopez’s ilk, his glorious flame burned out way too early, succumbing to HIV/AIDS in 1987. Though Lopez is gone, he most certainly is not forgotten. And “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” shows us why!!

“Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” is currently playing at the IFC Center in New York City through October 4.

—William S. Gooch

The Old and the New Collide in “Crazy Rich Asians”

                Image courtesy of joblo.com

Film critics knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. We all understood that is was time overdue for a mega box office Asian film that put Asians as the main characters and spoke to the growing number of wealthy Asians globally.It has been 25 years since the US has had an Asian film—“The Joy Luck Club”—with a majority Asian cast. And though “The Joy Luck Club” had a stellar Asian cast and did well at the box office, Hollywood did not really stand up and take notice and nor did “The Joy Luck Club” spur Hollywood to invest dollars in other Asian films with a mainly Asian cast.

                Image courtesy of vanityfair.com

That said; 25 years after “The Joy Luck Club” things have changed. Asians are the largest group of new millionaires and billionaires globally. And “Crazy Rich Asians” reflect this new wealth demographic. Though most Asians are not wealthy, in fact, globally, most Asians live below the poverty level; this fact did not stop Hollywood from producing a cinematic look in the luxury lifestyles of the Asian one percent—and in “Crazy Rich Asian’s” case, Asians from a former British colony, Singapore.“Crazy Rich Asians,” a romantic comedy based on Kevin Kwan’s novel, centers on Chinese American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a New York University economics professor, who travels with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Rachel does not know that her boyfriend’s family is the wealthiest and most esteemed family in Singapore.

                  Image courtesy of variety.com

Excited about visiting Asia for the first time, Rachel is not prepared for the rigors of Singapore’s elite class and in particular the expectations of Nick’s disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh). Feeling out of place, Rachel reaches out to college roommate Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose family is a part of Singapore’s garish nouveau riche, for support and a quick lesson in the morays of Singapore’s elite class. What ensues is a layered romantic comedy that gives insight into the East meets West culture of Singapore and a universal love story about the clash of culture and class.Director Jon M. Chu gives audiences an inside peek into how very rich Asians live, outside of the US, and how Western culture has permeated Asian countries. And though this film is very funny, particularly the scenes with Awkwafina upstaging, in a good way, almost every actor in sight, Jon M. Chu touches on some very important elements of Asian culture that, in spite of Western assimilation, has not been uprooted. Michelle Yeoh represents those old world values; values that contradict Western attitudes toward individualism and personal achievement. Rachel, who was born in the US, is pitied against these old world standards and most find a way to adapt.

            Image courtesy of nymag.com

At first glance, “Crazy Rich Asians” is formulaic and could be about any wealthy ethnic group grappling with fading, old world values and the inchoate morays that can accompany great wealth. However, at closer examination, Chu is asking audiences to re-examine neo-liberal concepts of wealth and status. In this way, “Crazy Rich Asians” has more depth and texture than more recent films of this ilk.Interestingly, Jon M. Chu displays an excessive amount of the Western influences of decadence, greed, and individualism compared to his examination old world Asian values of family, saving face, and sacrifice. Perhaps, Chu is saying that these decadent Western influences don’t work so well outside of Western countries, making folks a little schizoid and crazy. Or, at a deeper level Chu is demonstrating that old social norms die a hard death or never really disappear.

           Image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

Whatever Chu’s motivation, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a lot of fun and a great addition to the end of summer blockbuster season. Standout performances, and there were many, include Awkwafina’s (Goh Peik Lin) over-the-top, hip hop–embellished portrayal of Rachel’s college roommate; Michelle Yeoh’s dogmatic, steely portrayal of Nick Young’s mother; Constance Wu as the Chinese-American girlfriend caught between two worlds; Lisa Lu as Nick’s stoic grandmother, and Ken Jeong as Goh Peik Lin’s nouveau riche dad.”Crazy Rich Asians” opens nationally on August 15.

—William S. Gooch

R&B Music’s Triple Threat: Porcelan

R&B singer Porcelan is a triple threat. She’s got talent, looks, and intelligence. In an age when market traction can be about how great an artist looks in a video or magazine spread, Porcelan harkens back to a not-long-ago era when R&B singers had great looks and a great voice. (Think Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Tamia, Toni Braxton, and Deborah Cox.)

Add brains to beauty and talent, and Porcelan’s success is guaranteed. With her top 30 R&B hit “Lois Lane,” Porcelan is on her way to R&B stardom. Still, Porcelan is not an overnight success story or a one-hit wonder. She has been in the music game for a few years with her freshman release last fall earning her a Top 40 debut. And Porcelan is the R&B-Soul Chanteuse and Apple Music Independent Artist for the month of June.

Porcelan graciously took time out of her busy schedule and spoke with Fashion Reverie about her music, her personal style, and being an empowered woman.

Fashion Reverie: Where does your love of music come from?

Porcelan: My love of music comes from growing up around music. My mother loved music and my father was in a small band, so music has always been a big part of my family. As a child, we would take long rides and my mom would play R&B classic and oldies on the car radio. Some people say they can hear those influences in my musical styling.

FR: You are from the South, more specifically Memphis, how does being from the South affect your musical tastes and style of music?

Porcelan: Being from the South where music is heavily steeped in Gospel and Blues influences, you cannot help but have those influences in your music and stage performances, particularly when you sing from the heart. I sing from the heart so that conviction and those Southern influences are evident in my musical choices.

FR: How would you describe your musical style?

Porcelan: My style is young and fresh, yet relatable. I would say my music is melodic and connected with my emotions. My music has a message and is definitely crafted about and for strong women.

FR: Let’s talk about your name, Porcelan. Is that a stage name or your real name?

Porcelan: It is my birth name.

FR: Since that is your birth name, how did your parents come up with that name?

Porcelan: My mother is always very well dressed and polished. She was the only woman in my dad’s band. My mom’s hair was jet black and worn in a ponytail like Sade; so, because of her look, her stage name was ‘Porcelain Doll.’ When I came along, they decided to name me, Porcelan. As an R&B artist the name really fits me well.

                               Porcelan in “Lois Lane” video

FR: Interestingly, your name is Porcelan, which infers something that is beautiful, yet delicate. In your new song and video “Lois Lane,” you talk about a woman looking to a man or needing a man to rescue or protect her. Did your name influence the “Lois Lane” song in any way? Porcelan: I do see the correlation and it meshes well together; however, that is just artistic irony and it was not something that was thought about or planned. There was no intention of connecting my actual name with the “Lois Lane” song. Now, there is the blond coif and my name that some folks try to tie into “Lois Lane.” Which I understand, but it is all coincidental.

FR: That said; how did you come up with “Lois Lane”?

Porcelan: The “Lois Lane” concept came about through the writer Denarious Holmes. He is a great friend of mine and he knows my background and my life challenges well. All this makes for a very easy collaboration with a songwriter. He writes songs specifically that align with me and what I am experiencing as a black woman and musical artist. So, we sat down with the producer Hamilton Hart and magic was made.

FR: Did you have any trepidation about creating a song in which women speak about the need to be protected, particularly in this Cardi B, female-empowered moment in music?

Porcelan: Depending on how the concept of “Lois Lane” was put across I knew that some clap back could happen. However, I put trust in my creative team and I knew, especially after the video came out, that we were good!!

I loved the “Lois Lane” concept. I believe the character in the song came across as sexy and empowered, not desperate or a victim. This song was about those moments when you are strong and confident, but you need support and assistance. Everyone needs that. And I heard from a lot of male consumers who love the song and video, and like the fact that this particular woman is asking for help. Men like to feel that they can assist a powerful woman.

Sometimes, women in put in positions where they are forced to be strong, even when they don’t feel so powerful. This song is about a woman who needs a break, and is not afraid to ask for help!!

FR: I noticed that in one point in the “Lois Lane” video you have your love interest walking with you and protecting you on the red carpet. As you have become better known, do you feel that you need more protection or have you become more cautious about outside forces?

Porcelan: I am very cautious and always have been. As my career builds, I will need more security; however, I am always around people who love and respect me. So far, everyone has been great. I currently have no stalkers. Right now I am fine and keep myself out of situations where I would feel threatened.

At the moment, fans just want to take a picture with me or get an autograph. And I am always up for that.

FR: Right now, you are doing a lot of touring. Could you talk about that?

Porcelan: It has been really great. Currently, I am on my radio tour, doing lots of interviews and appearances. I have thoroughly enjoyed all the personalities I have met since I’ve been on the road.

I am very busy, sometimes in two cities in one day. However, I am not tired because I am doing something that I love. I was recently on TV One’s “Sister Circle,” and I performed at the 2018 Essence Music Festival.

FR: What other musical tracks are soon to be released?

Porcelan: I am in the studio right now recording new music. So, the new releases are coming!!

FR: How would you describe your personal style?

Porcelan: MY fashion style is very statement based. When it comes to jewelry, I am a minimalist. I like to mix classy and regal garments and them combined with edgy pieces. You could say, I am a classy chic with a bit of an attitude, a good attitude, that is.

FR: Who are some of your favorite designers, and why?

Porcelan: I love Alexander Wang. Though I still shop on a budget, I have fallen in love with this LA–based company, Dark Star, and Elisabetta Franchi. Elisabetta Franchi’s clothing looks amazing on me and it is always the perfect fit.

FR: Who styled you in your music video?

Porcelan: Ken Law styled me in the “Lois Lane” video, in fact, that is when I fell in love with his work. He researched my personal style and brought clothes to the video that reflected that. He actually brought a lot more garments to the video than we used. We used a baby blue ensemble in the video and I had never worn blue before, except for blue jeans.

I loved his work on the “Lois Lane” video so much that I decided to keep working with him as my stylist. He is very talented. 

        All images courtesy of 2R Entertainment and Media PR

FR: What’s next for you?Porcelan: I am continuing my radio tour. I will be making some appearances at New York Fashion Week: The Shows spring 2019 in September. I have an event coming up in October with Vivian Green in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I have new music coming out in late September.

—William S. Gooch

Judy Gellman Makes Excellent Costume Choices in “American Woman”

Alicia Silverstone is currently singing her dramatic song in Paramount’s new television series “American Woman.” The show, based on the childhood of actress and socialite Kyle Richards, takes us through 70s wave of feminism as women began entering the workforce in higher numbers, seeking independence from traditional roles.

Costume designer Judy Gellman managed to capture the wealth and wonder that went into the wardrobes of those upper crust Beverly Hills women in the 70s, showing us how women communicated through 70s fashion their style and passion. Fashion Reverie had the privilege of speaking with Judy Gellman about her role costuming “American Woman.”

                  Judy Gellman, Costume Designer for “American Woman”

Fashion Reverie: How did you get involved with this project?Judy Gellman: The guy who created the show and I had worked together before. When he was putting it all together he contacted me and asked for my input on what things would look like in 1975, and so I helped him put together some things to show prospective writers. I became involved when the project was bought and he got a green light for the pilot.

FR: Where did you get your inspiration for the garments in “American Woman”?

Judy Gellman: There was so much actually. It was a complicated process, but one that costume designers always relish. There is the research of trying to bring the period to the screen without it being “Hello, here’s a fashion show of the most iconic things that happened in 1975 for characters like this.” The main thing is to serve the story. We wanted very much to have the clothing be fun, evident, and exciting, but to support the characters. My inspiration came from the fashions that were promoted at the time, the culture, and people of Beverly Hills, and the economic bracket these three women lived in.

FR: How did you do your research?

Judy Gellman: I first started with things like Time magazine copies from that era, other vintage magazines, and of course the Internet, as well as information about New York in the mid-70s. Alicia’s character came from New York, which made her unique in that her look had to encompass what a woman from New York would dress like going to Beverly Hills.

FR: Is that why she had that mink coat?

Judy Gellman: Yes, that was an iconic look from that era, the Diane von Furstenberg dress, and the mink coat.

FR: What other fashion brands did you use?

Judy Gellman: There were so many, we found, Pucci, Chanel, Hermes, Pierre Cardin, Halston, even jackets from Fiorucci. There was a designer who did his own prints out here whose worked I managed to find. We also used Mary McFadden and Fendi. There were tons of designers that I really wanted to present.

FR: Did you have difficulty finding clothes that were in good shape?

Judy Gellman: In some cases, I did have difficulty. The two biggest issues were condition and size. Sizing was very different then. Everything that I acquired or made for the show had to be measured. A size 4 back then was like a size 0 today. The sizing was a challenge, as well as, the condition of the pieces. Sometimes, I’d find something and we’d have to remake the lining or buttons would be missing, a new zipper would be needed. All sorts of things needed some attention. However, we found some amazing things.

FR: Were replicas made?

Judy Gellman: I can’t say I actually needed a specific garment that I had to have copied, but there were things I had made. I found a pattern for a Peignoir coat, and I found vintage fabric and to make a top for a nightgown. I was able to find vintage patterns on etsy.com and different Internet sites.

FR: What can viewers expect from Alicia’s wardrobe next on “American Woman”?

Judy Gellman: What we’re going to see is more things she has to work in. At the beginning of the series, Alicia’s character doesn’t have a job, and doesn’t know where to get employment. You see her a few times working at a department store. You’ll see her in things that would be suitable to that environment. Her character also grows in many different ways between levels of independence, self-confidence, and her romantic life.

FR: Talk to me about feminism wave one and how that affected fashion in the show?

Judy Gellman: One of the things that is really important in “American Woman” is what a professional working woman of the 70s needed to look like. Nowadays, fashion has exploded to such a level of freedom in the workplace that didn’t exist back then. If you look at Jennifer Bartel’s character Diana, who worked in a bank, her wardrobe is very conservative. What was appropriate back then was to support designers like Calvin Klein and Anne Klein. It was the whole development of suits that were appropriate for the workplace and had some style to them. That was an important visual that I was glad to have there. Things couldn’t be considered provocative in any way. Women were trying to be treated as equal, but fashionable at the same time. If you were working in a law firm or bank, you had to be concerned about certain things to be taken seriously.

                                All images courtesy of the Paramount Network

Judy Gellman: Alicia is so easy to work with, there was nothing that was a challenge, except, trying to acquire and make the things we felt were appropriate, as she came into being a working woman, I think what you’ll find that in work suits back then the fabrication was much different. The fabrics were not stretchy, even though there was a lot of polyester. In the workplace, the suits and other garments were more rigid.For me, what I wanted to do was to give Alicia’s character things that were appropriate to work in that might not be a suit. I wanted to put her in things that still showed off her figure and had texture and color. It’s a complicated process to find things your character can stand out in and work with the color scheme of the set. It’s kind of a complicated process to make sure that the colors, styles, and silhouettes don’t disappear and don’t clash with what’s happening on the set.

“American Woman” stars Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, Jennifer Bartels, Lisa McHugh, and James Makenna. “American Woman” premiered on June 7, 2018 on the Paramount Network and continues through August 23, 2018. 

—Kristopher Fraser

 

 

Boots Riley Gets it Frighteningly Right in “Sorry to Bother You”

                                              Image courtesy of nymag.com

What can be said about Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You”? A lot can be said. There is humor in this film, a love story, juxtapositions of wealthy elites against the working class, and most of all a phantasmagorical surrealism. All these disparate elements and sub-stories are all rolled into one surprisingly cohesive story. Which is a testament to how good of a writer and storyteller writer/director Boots Riley is.Known mostly as a political activist and lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, Boots Riley in his directorial debut has spearheaded a film that is apt for our current, tumultuous political climate. “Sorry to Bother You,” though infused with humor, metaphor, and satirical commentary on the growing rift between economic elites and everyone else, is still entertaining in spite of the film’s harrowing message.

“Sorry to Bother You”—which some film critics might deem a science fiction comedy—follows the journey of a young African American telemarketer, Cassius Green, as he adopts a Caucasian-sounding sales pitch and rises to the top of the sales/marketing ladder. During his ascent Cassius Green is faced with choosing the wealth and creature comforts of his recently acquired success or helping his fellow workers organize a labor union. (Consider the play of words with Cassius “Cash” Green’s name that references money and sports icon Cassius Clay aka Mohammad Ali. And like Cassius Clay, Cassius Green has a ‘eureka’ moment that changes is ideology and life perspective.)

                                     Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

At first glance, “Sorry to Bother You” is reminiscent of Spike Lee’s attempt in the late 1980s and early 90s to make socially relevant films that commented on race, class, and social mobility. (Riley even uses some of Lee’s cinematic techniques.) Still, Riley’s foray into cinematic expression is different from Spike Lee because there is a lot more humor and Riley’s metaphorical, phantasmagorical images, though harrowing and rooted in science fiction, when examined more closely, those images reflect accurately the times we are living in. Which in some ways makes those metaphorical references tangibly eerie.There are some very strong performances and standout moments in “Sorry to Bother You.” Though Danny Glover has a small supporting role as a fellow telemarketer, he almost singlehandedly is the deus ex machina of this film, expertly providing the momentum to push the film forward. Omari Hardwicke as Mr. _________ is brilliant as a clandestine character that aids Cassius Green in his transition from worker drone to successful marketer. And LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius “Cash” Green brings nuance and depth to Cassius Green nerdy, and ship-without-a-sail character. Stanfield also craftily navigates Cassius Green’s evolution from aimless worker drone to informed citizen.

                                         Image courtesy of syfy.com

Standout scenes include, but not are not limited to, the scene where nerdy Cassius satisfies his rap music thirsty white co-workers by shouting the N-word every two seconds; Cassius stumbling upon equine/humans in the men’s room, and Cassius becoming more sexually appealing after he becomes more successful, even though his physical appearance has not changed. And even more impressive is how strategically Riley handles crowd scenes, a real accomplishment for a first-time director.In this current political climate, one would wonder how “Sorry to Bother You” has achieved nationwide release. Perhaps, this film slipped through cracks because of its criticism of capitalist elites and big business and not the Trump Administration directly, even though they are one in the same. At any rate, “Sorry to Bother You” is a film that must be seen.

                                       Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

In “Sorry to Bother You, we finally have a film with a strong people of color cast that makes you think. We need many more films just like this!!”Sorry to Bother You” is playing in cinemas nationwide.

—William S. Gooch

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

The fashion industry is experiencing a retrospective glance back at 1980s street style and culture. This nostalgic reverie, if you call it that, plays out mostly in an reinterpretation of 80s street style evidenced in re-imaged track suits, big hoop earrings, an explosion of 80s–inspired sneakers, fanny packs, and a reinvention of glammed-up New Jack and Jill Swing.

Prior to urban culture becoming a part of the mainstream there were forces in play that gave seed and flower to a political and cultural movement that was the direct antithesis to white privilege. Jean-Michel Basquiat was at the epicenter of this shifting tide, putting his on stamp on the art world and what was to become hip-hop culture. Though his life was cut short by drugs and excessiveness, Basquiat’s impact on the art world urban culture is still felt thirty years after his untimely death. “Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” successfully examines Basquiat’s burgeoning talent before he took the art world by storm and New York City as the backdrop to Basquiat’s genius.

                                            Image courtesy of okplayer.com

As a 16-year old homeless youth Jean-Michel Basquiat’s New York City was a city that had been ripped apart by urban decay and blight and financial insecurity. White flight and the financial crisis of the late 1970s had left New York City bankrupt with few resources to buffer the growing tensions bubbling under the surface. Yet, this lack of resources served as a creative petri dish for a growing urban culture and style that would include rap music, changing fashion trends, and a new direction in art. Director Sara Driver brilliantly juxtaposing New York City’s declining infrastructure as an inspiring landscape for Basquiat’s nascent brilliance.

Images of Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, and Lee Quinones courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Starting with Basquiat’s minor dalliance into graffiti art with the street tag SAMO, Driver’s “Boom For Real” follows Basquiat’s evolution from a talented street teen to a young artist who combines mixed media to take the art world by storm in the early 80s. Driver ingeniously weaves in interviews from friends and collaborative artists like Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, Patricia Fields, Lee Quinones, Luc Sante, and others to paint, almost figuratively, a portrait of who Basquiat was and who he was going to become. Driver also brilliantly distilled how Basquiat moved between the worlds of urban culture, the downtown art and culture scenes, expertly absorbing and manipulating those worlds to his own best advantage. On the surface from this documentary, Driver almost concedes that Basquiat was an operator and hustler; yet, Basquiat exposed the insincere privileged art world of that time, where some artists were “making art on their parent’s dime.” Basquiat would have none of that, mainly because he was not that privileged. What he did do was demonstrate that there was relevance and beauty—though sometimes dystopian in nature—to what was going on in urban young people of color’s mind and experiences and that the larger world should take notice. Pat Fields, who carried some of Basquiat’s one-of-a-kind clothing in her store, said it best, “He came to conclusions based on his own philosophies. Most people just aimlessly walk around.”Basquiat represented the artist as an alienated, disenfranchised youth that had a strong point of view, making art based on their own terms. And the rest of the world be damned. This in your face, almost anachronistic approach to his art made Basquiat in odd character, but interesting to folks in NYC’s downtown culture scene. And once his art got the right focus and venue, it just took off.As one interview subject expanded toward the end of the documentary, “He did it. He gave it to them his way. He showed it’s possible!!””Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” is currently playing at the IFC Theater in NYC until May 23.

—William S. Gooch

Ballet Hispánico Scores Another Homerun

                     Image courtesy of Paula Lobo

A few years back, Ballet Hispánico hosted an audience Q&A after one of their performances, and an audience member commented that he was surprised that Ballet Hispánico did not present more ballets with a stronger Latin influence. Perhaps, this audience member thought he was only going to see flamenco dance or dance works with strong, traditional Latin rhythms from the Caribbean and South America. What that audience member may not have understood is that Latin culture is an amalgam of influences from many cultures, be it West Africa, North Africa, indigenous Native cultures, the European mainland, and even some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. And oftentimes these cultural influences are so brilliantly melded into more recognizable Latin rhythms and influences that to the untrained eye, some theatrical works may not appear Hispanic, when in fact, the Latin presence is quite strong.

At their recent season at the Joyce Theater, Ballet Hispánico’s CEO and Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro demonstrated the breadth and wealth of the Latin diaspora. The four programs on the opening performance—Linea Recta, Espiritus Gemelos, Waiting for Pepe, and Con Brazos Abiertos—aptly exhibit that Ballet Hispánico is commented to exploring Latin culture in all its diversity and incarnations.

Under founder Tina Ramirez, Ballet Hispánico assembled a repertoire that had a recognizable Latin influence and fit into the fold of what non-Hispanic audiences would expect from a dance company rooted in Latin culture. Ramirez’s point of view under her aegis was appropriate at that time. However, in this current incarnation of Ballet Hispánico, Vilaro is stretching the company beyond that. And that is a real good thing.

                                    “Linea Recta” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Linea Recta approaches familiar, traditional Hispanic influences—flamenco, mantillas, lacy, ruffled dresses, and black fans—in a modern interpretation. Ochoa aptly takes familiar flamenco movement and replaces and enhances some recognizable movement with vocabulary from the modern dance lexicon. Instead of flamenco foot tapping, Ochoa employs barefoot shuffles and other barefooted flourishes. The traditional high-low ruffled skirt, traje de gitana, is replaced by a shortened version that gives the dancers more movement freedom. And the pyrotechnically brilliant choreography demonstrates Ochoa’s acumen for taking something that is deeply rooted in Andalusian culture and translates that influence into a modern interpretation for modern audiences. The company performed this seminal favorite with verve, passion, and technical prowess with standout performances by Chris Bloom, Lyvan Verdecia, and Eila Valls.

     “Waiting for Pepe” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

“Waiting for Pepe,” a Ballet Hispánico world premiere with choreography by Carlos Pons Guerra, explores Guerra’s interpretation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba. For those familiar with Lorca’s play, the dominance of the women in the household is front and center. That female forcefulness is a crucial element in Guerra’s choreography. Guerra infuses his Latin power women and family intrigue with the theatricality that can be found in Latin films and telenovelas.

Guerra also showcases in “Waiting for Pepe” his ability to meld different movement styles from the modern dance lexicon seamlessly without sacrificing dramatic relevance. And the last movement of this dance work Guerra brilliantly utilized the rhythmic, percussive music of Jacinto Guerrero, exhibiting Guerro’s expert skill at expressing modern dance movement styles juxtaposed against narrative and emotion.

Ballet Hispánico’s Joyce season placed a heavy emphasis on Federico Garcia Lorca. The company’s third work of their opening night was the second dance work that drew inspiration from Lorca. “Espiritus Gemelos,” another company world premiere, drew inspiration from the meeting between Lorca and Salvador Dali in 1923. Collected letters from that time imply that they there may have been a sexual relationship between Lorca and Dali. Gustavo Ramirez Sansano explores this relationship through movement that is subtle, thoughtful, and sensual. Again, Ballet Hispánico explores different ways of defining Latin culture through movement that expands the company’s repertoire beyond work and movement styles that is familiar and expected.

                          “Con Brazos Abiertos” image courtesy of Paula Lobo

Another favorite, Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos,” explores the immigrant experience with verbal sound tracks from Cheech and Chong, music of Julio Iglesias, and a mix of rock en epanol. Funny, bombastic, and technically brilliant, this crowd favorite always satisfies.

Ballet Hispánico’s season at the Joyce Theater is from April 10–15.

—William S. Gooch

Blockers: An Adult and Teenage Sex Comedy for the 21st Century

Anyone familiar with the teenage sex comedies of the 1980s understands that most of the 80s teen sex comedies—The Last American Virgin, Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Private Lessons, and Little Darlings—where about getting laid or dealing with the virginity obstacle. It was formulaic, frequently low budget, oftentimes archetypal, depending on your age, very entertaining, and box-office gold until market saturation crept in.

Blockers seeks to take advantage of the continued teenage angst of what to do about unwanted sexual inexperience as seen through the eyes of three female senior high friends who make a pact to get rid of their virginity on prom night. What does differ in the 2018 version of formulaic teen sex movies is that the main characters in Blockers are the parents not the teenagers.

Parents sentimental super jock John Cena, overprotective Leslie Mann, and liberal, chilled out Ike Barinholtz form a posse to prevent, or ‘cock block’ their gal pal daughters from losing their virginity on senior prom night after discovering a text message on Mann’s daughter’s Katherine Newton’s laptop. Teaming up all three parents go through a series of high jinks, guffaws, and realizations has they attempt to foil the gal pal pact.

Though Blockers does differ from 80s teen sex comedies of its ilk, there are some obvious archetypes and story lines. There is the nerdy character that has a horny flip side. In this case it’s Cena’s daughter played by Geraldine Viswanathan. There is also the constant drinking and drunken stupors always found in 80s teen sex films. Lastly, there has to be one anal sex reference. (John Cena is comedy gold in this scene.) And there is the awkwardness of first-time intercourse similarly found in 80s teen flicks. Which is surprising with the current expanded liberal attitudes toward sex and sexual orientation.

Still, there are some differences from 80s teen sex comedies. Family composition in Blockers includes mixed marriages and relationships. We also witness kinky sexual games, not by teens, but from the adults. There is the deciphering of emojis and teenage guys with man buns. The introduction of same sex coupling is not so new, but the general liberal attitude toward gayness is.Blockers is not a movie to look to great screen performances, but teen sex comedies rarely are. However, but as an escape vehicle Blockers might just do the trick. And in these very uncertain times where absurdity is the order of the day and the emperor has no clothes, escape is a very good thing!!

                                            Images courtesy of Universal Studios

Blockers cast includes Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Katherine Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon, and is directed by Kay Cannon. Blockers opens nationwide on April 6.

—William S. Gooch

Jesus Christ Superstar on the Goth Side

Graduation Backdrops

                                                   Image courtesy of newsweek.com

Translating a musical from the Broadway stage to film is a difficult task, and the transfers rarely do justice to the original production. In recent years there have been some success to some critical acclaim and with modest returns at the box office. Dreamgirls, Chicago, and Hairspray come to mind.Even more of an arduous task is performing Broadway musicals live for a television audience. For the past few years NBC has tried its hands at this very ambitious endeavor, with not a lot of success—The Wiz being the network’s most calamitous faux pas. Still, NBC soldiers on in spite of not being able to deliver credible re-interpretations of Broadway classics repurposed for television.

                                                  Image courtesy of NPR.org

Jesus Christ Superstar is NBC’s latest blunder. Though the televised production has a noteworthy cast, the production value and main character performances fall way below what the iconic Broadway classic aptly deserves.When Jesus Christ Superstar debuted in London and on Broadway in the early 1970s, the now-iconic musical was a revolutionary approach to presenting the historical Jesus in a more contemporary and humanistic way. No longer was Jesus only a heavenly, divine God figure who performed miracles and was to be the divine Messiah of all of mankind, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus was a relatable God-like prophet who spoke words of wisdom, love, and rebellion. All this set against the backdrop of folksy, lyrical songs and rock n’ roll recitatives that helped push the story forward of Jesus’ last week before his crucifixion.

                                         Image courtesy of thewrap.com

Though this Jesus rock opera received lots of criticism at the time of its premiere, the rock opera was a huge hit among young theatergoers and received well-deserved popularity among followers of the Jesus movement that was sweeping the US in the late 60s and early 70s. And though there have been many reincarnations and reinventions of the classic rock opera over the last 40 years, Jesus Christ Superstar is still able to move audiences because of the incredible Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice score.Well, maybe not this time around. That said; the producers of this televised version of Jesus Christ Superstar did do some things right. Surrounding a not tried-by-Broadway fire main character with strong Broadway performers was a very good choice. Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas Iscariot, Norm Lewis as Caiaphas, and Erik Gronwall as Simon Zealot gave much support to John Legend (Jesus Christ)—in spite of being in strong voice—whose lack of charisma and stagecraft did not convince as  Jesus Christ.

Backdrop party photography pictures

   Images courtesy of IBTtimes.com, fashionista.com, and gettyimages.com, respectively

Paul Tazewell stage costumes also worked in this production; well, sometimes. While Jacquemus dress served Sara Bareilles’ Mary Magdalgene well, the Issey Miyake geometric coats worked for the Sanhedrin, and Anne Demeulemeester’s punked-out, white layered, monkish robes also made sense for the priests, the Rick Owens’ looks for the disciples and Jesus Christ (Balmain white moto jeans and Rick Owens’ torn tee shirt) made Jesus and his disciplines look like underground rebels from some dystopian society. We know that historically, Jesus and his disciples, with the exception of the zealot Judas Iscariot, were not outsiders in their community, but an integral part of the formative Judaic community at that time. Still, Jesus and his disciplines looking like grunge, goth moles is hard to digest.Still, Tazewell gets a pass in favor of artistic license. However, the Conan the Destroyer set does not get a pass. Many of the songs and rock recitatives speak of the light and love of Jesus Christ; however, the set and the costumes detail the darkness and gloom of those times, perhaps, referencing the Roman occupation of Palestine. This incongruence does not help push the story forward and the Beatles’ like screams from audience members every time John Legend opened his month distracted from the production.

https://www.katebackdrop.com/collections/easter-backdrops

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT — Pictured: Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Overall, this was by far the better of NBC’s Broadway musical productions. Perhaps, this signifies some light at the end of the tunnel!!—William S. Gooch

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