Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene, Weather or Not

By Friday, Hurricane Irene was all you could talk or think about. That morning for reasons purely coincidental I was shooting the breeze with two good buddies, both of whom are Jersey City Born & Bred and not young. Both agreed they had never heard this kind of talk, possible evacuation, about any storm before today. That morning Atlantic City and other Down The Shore communities had been ordered to evacuate and there was talk that by noon, Hoboken, Jersey City and areas of downtown Manhattan would do likewise.

The Day after Tomorrow was not only here, Irene was scheduled for the actual day after tomorrow!

What to think? Who to believe?

We live in an era of Weather Hysteria. It’s partly the fault of the 24 hour news cycle, all these networks and news sources competing with each other. You want coverage of why our nation’s healthcare system needs a public option, read the Nation or Salon (or Rolling Stone!), do not turn on the radio (I’m looking at you NPR!) or television.

But if you want coverage of an unfolding story – and no issue unfolds as often or with the same relevancy as the Weather – plug in and tune in and free yourself of reason and introspection.

Every time it snows, will it be a “snow-megadon”, temperature pops up above 70 degrees, the Heat Index is high, drink plenty of water or you will perish. Advisories, Alerts, Warnings, Watches – you hear one or more of these serious criteria items at least once a week, each with some distinct though inconclusive definition. Yes, taking proper precautions is prudent and important, but the fact remains – it’s just weather. The constant, pre-fabricated gravitas in the weather report has created a chicken little society, further supported by other pop culture fears.

Al Gore is right, Global Warming is real. Gore’s film was right-on fantastic, damn good documentary. Weather is not the same as when you and I were kids, that’s just the fact. A lot of Evangelical Protestants, particularly those prone to dominionist thinking (our present day Millerites) – the ones who make the Left Behind novels best sellers – watch the weather for end time signs. But whether these new weather events are pollution related or rapture harbingers or both (blue state meeting red state), it’s just weather! Weather is something to be endured, not be hysterical about. Beyond these current concerns of climate change and end times beliefs, weather is a natural concern for us all. We need to know.

Weather is nature manifested and deep (and not so deep) down we all know, nature wins out in the end. Like change, nature is master of us all. This normal and universal interest in whether your day will be rainy or sunny, warm or cold, has been exploited by the news media who long ago abandoned their obligation to inform the public and followed what the Reagan era declared a much higher aspiration: maximizing profits.

Hurricane Irene was serious but a boy who cried wolf syndrome now pervades. How often can we panic? We survived six inches of snow and a heat index that makes it feel like 100 with some mere complaining and we heard the same weather reports, foreboding, grave comments by meteorologists, Mayor Bloomberg, dire and serious, grimly standing at the podium responding with annoyance to any reporter daring to ask a question, the satellite maps show a large Red circle over our homes and cities. Mass causalities did not occur then and for the most part, the worst to happen were minor inconveniences and yet another understanding of the simple fact that the weather was different today than the day before and will be different the day after because unlike how we take our morning coffee or tea, weather changes every day. That’s why it is weather.

Why should we think Irene is any different?

So, that’s my gripe. Not that the precautions were unnecessarily called for but that the fear mongering about weather our news media use to sell the story and maintain ratings have become so intrinsic to our culture that when a real Katrina occurs, we do not know who to trust. We can either dismiss it or panic, as long as we don’t change the channel.

Unlike Climate Change or The Rapture, Katrina is a genuine weather fear unbound by abstraction. That national tragedy and debacle of what now seems like mythical proportions, now means that government officials are all part of the weather hysteria machine. No more “heck of a job, Brownie” moments for us. Democrats are in the executive branch so actual professionals and not political cronies hold FEMA positions. Of course where was the news media when Bush was gelding FEMA by treating it like it was a diplomatic post, i.e., another vestige for right wing patronage or when he cut the budget of the Levees, making them unable to withstand the gusts and downpour of Katrina. Shame on us for not being interested in issues of infrastructure, and to be unwilling to seek information that do not entertain. Impending doom symbolized by the red circle on the satellite map, expanding like the giant space amoeba in that Star Trek episode, and now that we know that FEMA and infrastructure have been proven to be lacking, our fears are justified. We dare not turn off CNN, or FOX or whatever.

Our leaders have been elected to lead and nothing is more demanding of leadership than an immediate, real-time, crisis. In their drive to appear authoritative in the midst of catastrophe, our leaders only reinforce the boy who cried wolf syndrome. What should appear as pragmatic and smart advisory caution gets absorbed into the fear mongering, which is repeated every time the weather report forecasts any sort of storm or less-than-perfect weather event.

Christi declared state of emergency, but didn’t he do that very same thing during another summer rain storm? Bloomberg musters up credible gravitas, yet we wonder if he is merely covering his ass for being in the Bahamas during the last Blizzard where streets in the poorer (and less caucasian) outer boroughs remained unplowed for days?

But in the morning when I was talking with Ricardo and Mustafa, they were only talking evacuations in Hoboken and Downtown. They had never heard anything like that in these parts for forty some odd years, nor had I in albeit, twenty.

In the swirl of the 24/7 weather hysteria that had now saturated the news – it didn’t help that we had a very minor earthquake earlier in the same week – it had become clear that a few notes in the usual symphonic onslaught were new, and attention worthy. I was thinking of going to the movies, I often do that on Friday Afternoons, especially during the Summer I have a flashlight, would that be enough? Well, I’m not that strong a non-conformist so I gave in.

I went to Super Discount, my preferred 99 cents store. I was on line for more than 20 minutes. Usually I’m in a line of one or two and one is always me. I got a candle, extra batteries and a small $10 radio. I have a radio in the closet that I never use, but I needed a new radio. I needed an emergency radio. If I didn’t get one I was going to be accused of being foolish, immature or unpatriotic, or some combination of all three.

Then on to C-Town, where you get limited selection, but low prices and no lines. At least they still had water, but again 20 minutes on lines. I could only imagine Shop Rite was worse. Lines at the 99 cents store and C-Town; as my daddy always warned, buy cheap, die cheap. We’re all in this together. So in addition to some usual foodstuffs, I bought cans of Dinty Moore Turkey Stew and Hormel Turkey Chili. I considered buying a can of sterno – a buddy of mine at the 99 cents was buying one – but I realized if I have to eat this stuff to survive, heating it over a can of sterno is not going to ease the pain, or the survivor’s guilt. It’s the Day After Tomorrow, not the Day After (not yet or again at least).

I was going to go to the movies, but watching Fright Night or Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was suddenly unappealing. How can you see horror when you had enough anxiety. I could not give in to apprehension, nor could I escape it, so I read Typhoon by Joseph Conrad, a long short in a collection I peck at when I’m unsure of what to read. I respect Conrad more than I like him. The story is about a captain of a steam ship in the Far east carrying Chinese workers back home, he takes his ship into a typhoon and him and the first mate make it through this late 19th century imperial British perfect storm. Fun reading, especially in the context, but I’m simply not a Conrad enthusiast.

Saturday was strange, Irene was on everybody’s mind, pictures of empty water aisles appeared on line. Advice proliferated: fill bath tub, fill up gallon size zip lock bags and freeze them in case electricity goes out, then you could put them in the refrigerator, keep perishable food fresh and have drinking water in a pinch. It was good advice. I didn’t read any sterno recommendations, so I didn’t go to the store.

Mandatory evacuations were issued. But I was informed, they are just issued so if you stay and cannot be rescued, the city is not liable for your safety. I’m staying put! My buddy in a flood zone fled to Bayonne. I wondered if our levies would hold then was informed, we have no levies.

It was so humid, the humidity growing with the hour. By four o’clock it was a steam bath. Tape was put on windows, plywood, sheets of plastic. Sand bags in corners of places, things tied down. How strong can wind be?

Fewer pedestrians out and about… ominous, sort of creepy… the air was like steam and the drizzle brought no relief. Rain then more rain then more, more… no one got a decent night’s sleep. Worry. The word Hurricane – or typhoon – is fraught with destruction. I talked with my buddy Danny, who survived Katrina, I told him it was category one. You could play lawn darts in a category one, he sneered. Katrina was a four. 8, 10 am… I wasn’t sure, the radio wasn’t sure… was the time it was predicted to make land fall.

I wanted to walk out in the eye of the hurricane, see the eye of Irene, stare into the eye and not blink. Rain was pounding. I was up early, by six AM it was just ferociously torrential. Never saw such rain. DVDs, NPR news, Facebook, New York Times. The Jersey City Independent said it would stay online throughout the weekend (usually they do not publish Saturday and Sunday). Here they had local updates and such. No weather fear mongering, just useful information, access it and decide what to do. By 10:30 it was clear, the rain had faded. Was this the eye? I wandered downstairs – the elevators had been turned off – saw one of my neighbors. She was not afraid to go outside. She was going to church, she said. It was downgraded to a tropical storm, and has moved away. It’s over.

Over? Does that mean no eye of the hurricane? Dang. I wanted to be in the middle of chaos and remain stoic! Oh well, have to wait for the next disaster to prove my strength of will.

Erie. Few people were out. Flooding on streets that I had never saw before, not widespread but startling. Part of Christopher Columbus was closed off. New lakes and rivers already giving birth to new generations of disease carrying mosquitoes. People were making jokes, since the damage was relatively minor compared to the potential devastation warned about on the News.

I saw some Sunflowers knocked down by Irene. Oh the humanity! We… will… rebuild. Nothing seemed open this early.

I couldn’t find anyplace for lunch. I was prepared for disaster and what might come after but I forgot to plan for lunch! I went home and heated the turkey chili in the microwave which I ate with fat free soybean chips. The state of comfort food after you have a heart attack is pretty dismal.

Later on, more people on the street. Everybody being neighborly, everybody glad to see each other. Jersey City is so cool that way: faces recognizable that you don’t really know or talk to regularly but there’s a wave or nod and then at times like this, you pause and rap, happy this familiar stranger made it through.

Was it as bad predicted, no but you hear other stories, a buddy of mine in Westchester without power and flooded, North Carolina’s outer banks, parts of Vermont. The storm here was not as bad, destruction came in patches and that destruction was devestating.

No one in J.C. could think of a worse storm here either. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as the fear mongering weather reports would have us believe, but it was as bad as we’ve seen a storm be, which is saying a lot. Later in the day, walking around again, I went to the River, exchange Place. The wind was incredible. Flags were twisting in the wind. I saw a branch get ripped off a tree. In with intense humidity, out with furious gusts. The update on the JCI was about which Jersey City bars that would be opened tonight, fun, usefull story.

I got down to the River and looked at the other shore, New York. Tom Verlaine once sang, I love Disaster, and I love what comes after. That false rhyme says a lot. Night falls, winds blow, the skies clear. Farewell Irene. We now return to our regular programming.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Timon’s Timeless Rage

Timon of Athens
By William Shakespeare
As performed by the
Hudson Shakespeare Company (website here:
August 12, 2011 in Van Vorst Park, Jersey City

I saw the rehearsal (here) for Timon of Athens. I’ve been meaning to go to one of these al fresco theater experiences and since I recently read the play, thus it is fresh in my mind, I decided to go to a Van Vorst performance.

A splendid August evening, no rain, little humidity. Started at 7:00 and ran a brisk two hours and fifteen minutes. No stage. Those portable dressing screens were set up, doubling as the wall of castle (s) and later as the wall around the city of Athens. No microphones, which was at times slightly irritating, because of the traffic noise and the propensity for pedestrians walking by or sitting on the closest benches to not shut up.

After the first couple of scenes I moved closer and sat on the grass (mental note, next year bring a blanket or tarp) so at least the latter was problem was mostly alleviated. Actors prone to the stage as opposed to screen are known to love Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's language, while sometimes archaic is so poetic, especially with the inversion of phrases, has a flowing aspect, especially when the Bard’s at his best.

As a reader or play goer, it may take a bit before you get into the language but once you are there, attained the ear, the action moves. The language is so beautiful, it is easier to read than some Joyce or Faulkner and as Harold Bloom says, the only response is “one of awe.”

I think the reason his language works and will always work is that the writing actually resembles how the mind works. This theory needs further formulation. The lines erupt like extended spurts of flowing lava. It’s a rush to follow, almost always more fun to hear than to read. This troupe was spot on. Such a difficult environment to overcome. The lack of amplification was at times an impediment, though to be fair other times the unmodified human voice enhances Shakespeare’s language. To Project is the thespian mission, but here they were able to speak loudly enough to be heard, sustain that essentially unnatural volume for the entirety of the story and yet this extreme projection had to sound natural. The combination of complex language and need for volume means that recitation is more paramount then the acting but they overcame this potential obstacle. You were absorbed in the language, characters and story. Disbelief was soon suspended. These kids can act.

Timon of Athens is set in ancient Greece, but the setting here was updated to a kind of roaring 20s, probation era gangster, which invokes Boardwalk Empire, as well as the original Scar Face and the Great Gatsby. This updating of Shakespeare’s settings is often called high-concept, but this was basically in Van Vorst Park so concepts can only get so high. Overall, the updating was effective especially in terms of casting. Timon is alone in all of Shakespeare is that there are no major women characters; the only females in the play are whores, which are minor roles. The Hudson troupe, a small but dedicated group of comrades, have both sexes of course and several of the actors and actresses play multiple minor role parts, removing some of the limits the author put on this play.

The Jazz Age setting and costumes was even more effective with the casting of an actress in the role of Flavius, the loyal servant of Athens. A woman in this role alleviates the unintended homoeroticism that might arise in an ancient Greek milieu. Her sincere and unyielding fidelity to her master no matter the extent of his madness think of Rosemary Woods, Fawn Fall and even Condoleezza Rice.

Timon is an Athenian leader whose greatest virtue, generosity is the key to his undoing. When he finds out he has no more money left, he sends Flavius to friends thinking they are as benevolent as he but they refuse to help and the benevolence turns into hatred not just for his fake friends but all of humanity. He becomes his id. An early scene is of a lavish dinner party where Timon is giving away money, his last party he serves his Athenian friends water and stones, then he leaves the city, wandering outside the walls of the city where finds gold. Shakespeare seems to both echo ancient Greek Plays and anticipate surrealism with this theatrical device.

Timon simply finds the gold by “digging” in the ground, which was simply pantomimed on the Van Vorst lawn. He gives money to the concubines of Alchibades, a soldier (here he was dressed in a khaki uniform, which may have been a WWI veteran,) to fund his attack on Athens. That is the revenge of Timon, how he ultimately expresses his rage at his ex-friends, by waging a ceaseless war against not just them, but their entire city and way of life. It’s up to Flavius and others to convince Timon to stop, and he finally dies, off stage, an apparent suicide because even he can’t live with himself.

The play is unnerving, we never really know why Timon decides to cease his hatred and thus his funding of attack on a city that rejected him. He leaves an epitaph for his tombstone that proclaims himself to be a “wretched bereft soul,” which all of “mankind did hate,” but then welcomes passerby’s to “curse their fill,” but warns them against tarrying over his tomb. Is this some final redemption or the fulfillment of this man’s utter nihilism. It’s considered a problem play and is believed to be the one play never to have performed during the bard’s lifetime. Bloom says it is unfinished. I find it heart wrenchingly provocative.

Coincidently I first read it at the start of the summer, and couthought about it a lot, then was again reminded of its gnarly ambiguity when I caught the rehearsal and contemplated its various messages again after seeing the live in the park performance.

Unlike Lear or Coriolanus or Hamlet, there is nothing gradual about Timon’s descent into madness. It is sudden, not really explained in the text. It’s A to B to C, he’s kind, when he needs kindness he is abandoned, result, the rage he feels is uncontrollable. It is up to the actor to make this abrupt transformation convincing and here the young artist did that, adding an antic edge (like Jim Carrey) that was present throughout, especially in the early scenes of his charity, a rather satisfying performance choice – the intent was different – altruism then hatred – but the edginess was tangible in both phases.

The Flavius portrayal seemed to be the audience, she makes us sympathize with Timon. He is the sort of man only his mother (or sister) could love, kudos for the casting and the performance, which also enhances the unnerving aspect of this play – we may resist sharing the anger and hatred of Timon, but we cannot evade our identification with those dark emotions or their intent of utter destruction.

Timon spends the final two acts with exhortations and cursing, while Flavius spends her time beseeching. Apemantus, a cynical philosopher who is sort of a bill collecting lawyer in this incarnation but that might be my reading into it, had some really funny repartee with Timon trading very odd, very Shakespearean insults (Timon: All villains that do stand by thee are pure!/Apemantus: “There is no leprosy but what thou speak’st.) On the lawn, the two players played this scene wonderfully, taking long pauses, walking back and forth on the lawn, in and out of “Center” stage in-front of the dressing dividers now in this cases imagined to be the impenetrable wall of Athens. Neither wants to give the other the last word, but the physical acting displayed here added to the text, and the overall entertainment experience and knowingly turned the lawn as stage into a dramatic advantage.

Alchibades, the soldier or bandit Timon employs to wage his proxy war against the city that forsakes him was also the centerpiece of an interesting addition to this rendition of the play. Timon’s gold enables Alchibades to hire bandits, weapons, etc., but he has his own reasons to despise the senators and other leading Athenians. Lines in the play imply the leaders wrongly executed a comrade. The Hudson Players version of the play used a wordless, choreographed scenario depicting this execution, which not only was well executed physical acting, and a short respite from the flowing, complex language but it drew me closer to the play. With all the verbal volleys I was following, I was suddenly confronting pantomime story telling. The not knowing, the figuring out that was necessary to follow not just the nonverbal scene but then to connect to the verbal storyline, focused my attention. Really clever stagecraft – pretty good for a play without a stage – giving Alchibades more of clear motive seriously added to this play, which is a commentary on the repercussions of revenge.

My only complaint is the lack of amplification, which honestly is a minor complaint. This al fresco performance had such a genuine purity to it. Most importantly, it deeply increased my appreciation of this great, albeit problem play.

Unnerved, swatting away mosquitoes, night had fallen. Timon is a play that just gets darker, the summer night was an astutely complementary backdrop to the tragic going-ons. The staging resembled the 20s, thus Gatsby, who yearned to “repeat the past.” But there are forces that we cannot escape, either Gatsby or Timon. With the latter, rage no matter how justified has the potential to control any one of us. In a time of economic uncertainty, where bill collector is one of the few employment opportunities that are growing, the story of unleashed rage that destroys Timon (and just about destroys everyone he encounters) is more relevant than ever.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Laundromat Project Gets Lucky

A unique combination of public and private space is how Karina Aguilera Skvirsky describes Laundromats. She has been at Lucky Laundromat on 577 Jersey Avenue one day a week or so since May interviewing people not about fabric softeners, folding techniques or liquid vs. powder but Jersey City. It’s an art project that is part documentation, capturing the intersection of change in an individual and social change, in other words, life and history. Ask Me, Tell Me is the name of project, or at least that was what is on an explanatory postcard available here at the Laundromat and elsewhere.

She asks one question – something about how you feel about gentrification – and records responses on video. In September the video will be played in the Lucky Laundromat, as part of an installation. Yes, an art installation in a Laundromat. Ask Me, Tell Me part of the Laundromat Project.

Here is Karina’s website:

Here’s a project blog:

The Lucky Ask Me/Tell Me project is part of the Laundromat Project. Here’s that website:

“The Laundromat Project is a community-based public art non-profit that brings arts programming to Laundromats in the Greater New York area”

Well, as some economists like to hope: supply creates its own demand. I may have misheard some of these details so check the above websites for accuracy. I think there are other parts of the project and other installations planned. I am not a news source. I have enough problems with my own laundry – there are washer and driers in my building.

Nonetheless, I participated. I’ve never been interviewed on tape before. A compelling experience, but also disquieting and uncomfortable. Mainly fun though, opining about our fair city and the changes I’ve seen. I hope I sounded intelligent. I’m sure I looked fat. It was fun and there is something about the context that was pleasingly surreal – an ordinary place and you think of your place in history, your city and your city’s place in history.

I liked the Laundromat idea. I guess it’s similar to the Barber Shop or the ideal of one, but except for those movies of the same name I don’t know if the Barber Shop is where folks congregate. These days I just go in and out, I mainly talk about baseball or the weather. Besides, you only get guys in a barber shop and the same gender-centric atmosphere is true for hair salons and females. Bars are for cliques and you get people just visiting – not everybody who drinks here is from here. I guess there’s still a barfly or two willing to spew about the good ole days. Might be a skewed viewpoint.

Laundromats get a plausable cross section. Those doing their laundry have a time to spare, during the wash and drying cycles.

Unlike those other public/private space around which community coalesces, laundry is more of a necessity, a chore. Unlike say drinking or enhancing appearance, distractions here are welcomed.

Gentrification alters cities in fits and starts. You wake up one day and realize this is not the land you knew but the truth is that this transformation was going on every moment of your life and you were too busy living to notice. In the end, nobody is immune to the forces of history. Change is the master of us all and the final, inevitable change is one we all share.

Laundromats remain in suburban strip malls. Chains in this business are still the exception. Laundromats survive minor upheavals like new sidewalks, new residential zoning laws and the displacement of one economic class with another. Change comes, change goes but clean underwear and socks are forever!

Karina’s set up of a camera and recording devices and release forms occupied part of a folding table near the back of the Lucky Laundromat. It was not immediately obvious why she was there or what she was doing. Clothes swirled in mild turbulence visible in the windows on the doors of the washers and driers aligned like aquariums in a pet shop. Few customers on this sunny afternoon. They were oblivious to the art, the documentation, the changing city outside and for the moment at least only interested in enduring the waiting necessary for the completion of this chore.

Bud Tow

Why such a massive truck is allowed a narrow village street like University Place is beyond me, but the people of the city need their beer. Might have to wait for the Bud. It’s always amusing to see such a humongous vehicle hooked to a tow truck. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. As tow jobs go, what a nightmare. At the bar, those unable to drink Miller either went to Whiskey or took the pledge.

Fallen Lamp

Thunder Storm season. No matter how nice the day and clear the sky, sometime near sunset humidity builds, clouds thick as steel wool overwhelm above and the heavens erupt with lightening and thunder and ferocious gusts. Lasts as long as it lasts. One of the lampposts in Hamilton was a casualty, looks like a falling tree limb knocked off the lantern top of the post. Seems a considerate citizen placed the top near the pole. Weekend storm clean up has been cancelled due to budget cuts, repairs postponed.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Horizon West: Sort of Silent Cinema

Horizons West. Ever hear of this film? Neither had I but I was looking forward to a rare Film Forum (the one in the N.Y., not J.C.) screening of this obscure movie because it featured my new favorite actor, Robert Ryan and my new favorite director of westerns, dangerousBudd Boetticher.

I’m far from the first to notice the immense acting talent of Ryan. He usually plays the bad guy, but he has such a level of realism that he is never less than convincing and his characters always have what appears to be an honest argument with their own humanity. He reminds me of Mickey Rourke, that is, an artist working the highest levels of his craft yet are usually stuck in grade b (and lower) films. Not only do they have to act to the best of their ability, they have to elevate the entire movie, which they do. Ryan performances worth seeing include The Naked Spur, Wild Bunch, Crossfire, The Racket, and Day of the Outlaw.

I’ve been studying westerns for several years now. The 50s were the hey-day of the genre and Boetticher was one of the best, psychological, taut, action-centric drama, existential morality tales. He’s most famous for a series of films with Randolph Scott, the best of which is 7 Men From Now. Tarintino has declared this film his favorite western and praised Boetticher as an influence, instantly increasing the attention given, urging the work back into the public eye. The other classics with Scott include: Decision at Sundown, The Tall T, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station. All are not just great Western, but great American films all with universal themes. Among aficionados of the Western, they were and are revered.

Ed Harris, director and star of Appaloosa, as well as Robert Spencer, on whose novel this film was based, likewise have cited Boetticher as an inspiration for this recent western. The characters are more complex than typical westerns and he’s intensely interested in ritual. Rules and protocols must be followed. For example, in one film, Richard Boone, a bad guy will not turn around because he knows that Randolph Scott will break his moral code and shoot him in the back. Is the code absolute or existential in nature? The question is explored if unresolved in Boietticher’s Westerns, which are allegories of the human subconscious. The rituals that appear in the filmmaking directly relate to the subconscious. I love his work.

So what little I know about this director is that prior to the Scott films, he made a few B-pictures where he did not have creative control. One of them is Horizon West, a western starring Ryan, made in 1952, and Film Forum was showing the movie one day only, part of a double bill with City Beneath the Sea, another Boetticher lensed film starring Ryan. One day only. Rarely screened gems? Well, the gem part remains to be seen but the rarely qualifier is beyond doubt.

The audience took up about half the theater, senior citizens were the majority. They get that discount and populate many a matinee, my preferred time to experience cinema. Seemed to be hard core New Yorkers, film buffs who can think of no better way to spend a summer afternoon than at a matinee. The rest were young film nerd types.

We were all fellow travelers promoting the Boeticher revival.

Ryan, with Rock Hudson and James Arness, all wearing Confederate Gray ride along a dirt rode, passing a herd of sheep and into the camera range where they exchange dialog.

The picture is blurred and scratchy. It’s not a quality print, rare for this cinematique, known for their revival series and almost always obtaining “restored & re-mastered” prints from a studio’s preservation department.

The words are unclear, barely audible and so muffled you cannot make them out.

There’s no sound audience members cry.

Several scenes are screened. There is a crackle

The screen goes dark, the lights go up, a Film Forum representative apologizes. People murmur and minutes pass, when the lights go dim and the screen is filled with the projection and the three lost cause soldiers again ride up to the camera. The sound remains muffled. If it is better, the improvement is at the best slight and even that in the most generous definition of slight as possible.

The FF rep returns. It is the print, there is nothing we can do. Usually we screen the films but this slipped through the cracks. We will be showing Naked Spur at 3:00 PM for the next showing of Horizons West, and all your tickets will be good.

Can you still run this, asks one of the young film geeks, which gets a smattering of applause.

Yes we can do that.

But as he leaves, one of the older audience members says, I want to watch Naked Spur, we don’t all agree with this loud mouth. (rude, confrontational, inconsiderate, the senior citizens in abundance here are classic New Yorkers).

The rep explains, you can still come back for the 3:00 Naked Spur even if you watch Horizons West now. We cannot show Naked Spur now.

Loud mouth? Everybody but this elderly New Yawk crank understood seeing Naked Spur at 1:25 was not an option.

On the other hand, how many times do we get to hear somebody insist, I want to watch Naked Spur. (a great western by the way)

Only a few people left the theater, maybe 10 percent. A very mild dwindling of the crown. Everyone else watched Horizon West sans sound. Well, that’s accurate. The sound wavered, in and out, a smattering of dialog here and there. You would hear some things like Foley Board horse hooves and punches. It was a Western so there were Bar Room brawls but you only heard the fake punches, all obviously recorded after the shooting, but no other crashes or voices and no musical score whatsoever. The only sound persisting throughout was the static crackle.

What a weird experience. The movie looked cheesy, and it co starred Raymond Burr and Rock Hudson, who are not just terrible actors but the baggage of being in the closet gay men forever clouds their consistently dull and crappy performances in their mostly worthless movies and TV shows in which they appear. That’s a bit harsh, I grant you, and they are part of some iconic pop culture films but for the most part, these two are no better than goofy pleasures or what they are in succeeds in spite of their performance, not because of it. How much of that is due to their in the closet baggage is debatable, but I can’t see how a culture more tolerant of different sexual orientations would have given these two hacks artistic integrity.

This looked like a sort of cheesy picture, although I could see glimmers of what makes Boetticher’s masterpieces in a few scenes. But I’m just guessing here. There is no way to judge a sound film without sound. This was probably an adequately entertaining B-Western of its era. Apparently, Arness, Hudson and Ryan are brothers who return to Texas. Arness and Hudson are good boys, I think they become sheriffs. Ryan, as he oft does, follows a different drummers. He joins up with bushwhackers and rustles cattle that belong to Perry Mason. There’s some nonsense with a girl both Burr and Ryan are in love with, and without sound, there’s a scene of Burr kissing the woman and the look of nausea on his soundless face inspired laughter among the audience.

Day Of the Outlaw, Ryan’s best cowboy performance, this was not.

I hope to see this movie with sound some day, but I can say the priority is pressing. It was only a glimmer of the actual film, but it was a Boetticher and a glimmer is better than nothing.

The other film, City Beneath the Sea, had sound and was enjoyable. Ryan and Anthony Quinn are deep sea divers looking for sunken treasure in Jamaica. It was all filmed on sound stages with really out of date looking special effects, even so, it was a cheesy effect with very little Boeticher apparent. I also had this strange feeling that I saw this movie as a small child, on television. It was dimly familiar. I had an aquarium and I had one of those deep sea diver air filter guys bubbling on the gravel.

All in all, a unique cinema experience, if rather lackluster in terms of pure film.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Feast

Leaves, now you can let go of your chlorophyll. Stores, start your back to school sales. Sports fans begin debating Super Bowl odds for the Giants and the Jets. Let the early evenings get dark. Summer is now fading into her final weeks because Jersey City has held its annual festival, The Feast (or La Festa Italiano for the sticklers). Here’s a website.

I have written about this event every summer, been going for about as long as I’ve been here in Downtown. I hate to repeat myself so for other coverage, go to the month of August for 2009 and 2010 to find out more background.

Everybody calls it The Feast. It’s a five day street fair on 6th street, food, music, food games and did I mention food. Community manifests itself. I go about four nights usually, always have fun and always meet friends and neighbors again. For those who are J.C. born and bred – which I am not – the Feast can be a little more intense, or emotional. Not in a bad way at all, just the nostalgia gets thicker than the Jersey accents. It’s rather… joyous.

How many things can you say that about these days?

Two Words. Rice Balls.

This year, while excellent as always, they seemed even better, a little more fluffy. Best ever!!!

I always order two at a time, one with sauce, one without. I can never decide which style is the most pure Rice Ball experience.

The “gravy” is fantastic of course, but does it overwhelm or enhance the Rice Ball’s reason for being: rice and romano cheese, which encloses a dollop or meat and peas and which itself is encased in breadcrumbs and fried to a golden brown. I don’t expect to solve the sauce or no sauce riddle but by next August I do expect to ponder the comparison again.

So my buddy Tony informed me that the proper name is Arancini, which is Italian for orange. They resemble oranges you see. Romantic languages usually submit to the gradational pull of the poetic. I accused him of using a food network word, but he swears that is what they call them in Italy.

Although he’s been to Italy, we have to yet to verify if he ate a rice ball there. I never heard them call that. Maybe I don’t like the idea of Italians having a word for orange that rhymes. Just not right. Unfair even.

So, I asked around and somebody told me that yes, the older timers sometimes did refer to as Arancini.

This picture is rare. The indoor and outdoor rice ball women together during the Feast. These two sides of the annual Operation Rice Ball usually don't see other for days.

Thousands were rolled and fried and sold. They roll them in the Kitchen of the rectory, have runners carry them out to the stand, where they are fried fresh. Freshness is what they’re all about.

A woman standing near me on line remarked, the san generrao festival everything is frozen before it’s fried, not fresh like this. That’s what makes them so good, I believe, the freshness, said Katy.

She was taught the rice ball trade by the original Aunt Mary, who brought the rice balls to the Feast. They used to only make a few a day, maybe two dozen, but as The Feast grew and their reputation spread, that number is well into the hundreds. They’re Sicilian. My family is from Naples, so we just called them Rice Balls. That’s what Mary called them too, nobody calls them Arancini.

Right on!

I prefer them without the sauce, she confided
A woman standing near me on line remarked, the san generrao festival everything is frozen before it’s fried, not fresh like this. That’s what makes them so good, I believe, the freshness, said Katy.

She was taught the rice ball trade by the original Aunt Mary, who brought the rice balls to the Feast. They used to only make a few a day, maybe two dozen, but as The Feast grew and their reputation spread, that number is well into the hundreds. They’re Sicilian. My family is from Naples, so we just called them Rice Balls. That’s what Mary called them too, nobody calls them Arancini.

Right on!

I prefer them without the sauce, she confided

Jeremiah Healy, the 44th Mayor of Jersey City. No entourage or police escort. He was talking to people and was recognized, campaigning he was not. He seemed to be enjoying The Feast, like he probably has been doing every summer since his Jersey City boyhood. He’s a decent man. I love living in a city where you on your way to the Rice Ball stand you can say howdy to the mayor.

Broccoli Rabe. There’s a lot of great food and I have written about the immortal splendor of Rice Balls elsewhere in this blog, but this stand I visited twice. I love broccoli rabe, which is kind of like an Italian version of Collard Greens, expect with little florets amongst the leaves of greenery. They prepare it fresh. I had it with dried tomatoes, tomato salad and a slice of fresh mozzarella. Awesome. B.R. is almost always great, but this was prepared the way I like it best, a olive oil and garlic delivery system disguised as a leafy vegetable.

The B Street Band opened up the five day street fair. The world’s leading Bruce Springsteen Cover Band.

I remember Howard Stern saying how he would rather interview the leader of this band than the Boss himself. I see his point. We’ve seen countless interviews with Bruce about Bruce, but do we really know what compels someone to be a human Bruce Jukebox.

Their musicianship is impressive. these cats can play, but that talent is surpassed by a more idiosyncratic skill – their astonishing level of commitment to precisely reproducing the sound of New Jersey’s favorite Rock & Roll son.

During a fantastic, note-for-note rendition of 10th Avenue Freeze Out, a poignancy rippled through air – just after the “Big man joined the band” lyric as the sax solo, a perfect clone of the Clarence spotlight, issued forth. The moment was funny and sad, ironic and honest.

The vast majority of the folks here have seen Bruce, more than likely with E-Street, and probably at the Meadowlands. That’s a pretty good bet. So at first, the response to the big man lyric and sax solo seems like a scripted, even programmed burst of cheers. This band re-creates the Bruce experience to an audience all too eager to participate. Together they make the Bruce experience happen during a street festival far from the arenas and stadiums.

The recent loss of Clarence cuts deep and throughout our culture the wound is not just tender, but fresh. The programmed response to the perfectly rendered lyric + sax took on an emotion so refreshingly genuine that no matter how planned or expected, it felt spontaneous.

We miss you Clarence. Thanks for the Music, Big Man.

The Colassurdo family are a major nucleus of the Feast (here’s a history), their grandfather being one of the first organizers. The feast is a fund raiser for the Parish of the Resurrection, a Roman Catholic Church on 6th street. The family’s booth is known for its shots of Lemoncello (prepared here), wines and peaches and the woman pictured here who are dancing constantly. Hanging out here is a blast. This lull is uncommon. They look ready.

My buddy Darren brought his kids to the Feast again (click here), for the second year in a row. They live in Bergen County. The games and the bouncy rides were all located on Brunswick. This year, they all won toys, which took about $30 worth of tries but a stuffed blue shark and caterpillar for a six year old, priceless.

Major Feast development this year – the unveiling of a new statue. For all its celebration of everything Italian – and by everything, we mean food because somehow the warmth of family and fellowship seems to emanate from or is at least connected to eating – the Feast revolves around the Feast of the Assumption.

This is Catholic feast day for the Virgin Mother, who was assumed – Body & Soul – into Heaven. Mystical theology aside, the festival concludes with a Mass and a procession on August 15th, the day of the Assumption. A statue of the Blessed Mother is carried by parishioners as they march through the streets of downtown, basically around the bock weather permitting. They’ve been doing this since the Feast began, nearly a century ago.

For all these years, the statue leading the procession, while of the Mother of Jesus, was a different incarnation than the holy day holiday. She’s Our Lady of Grace (on the left), not Our Lady of the Assumption (on the right).

This year, Maria S.S. (“santissima”) Dell'Assunta Society, which means Mary Most Holy of the Assumption Society, the organization behind the feast oh so many decades ago, through funds generated by The Feast, enabled the purchase of a new, official, Our Lady of the Assumption statue, hand made, hand painted in Italy (where else!)

Of course, both statues will be carried. By the way, in the center of the picture is the original banner of the Maria S.S. (“santissima”) Dell'Assunta Society, which means Mary Most Holy of the Assumption Society, which also will be carried.

Here is some background on the society, its history and the creation of the Feast. Holy Rosary Church, considered the oldest Italian church in N.J. – it’s 125 years old – is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen, a treasure trove of hyper-realistic statuary mostly in bright, vivid colors.

For nine days, including the five of the feast and culminating in the feast of the Assumption on August 15th, parishioners hold a special mass and special Assumption Novena (Novena means nine) prayers. This year I attended one of these services for the first time. What a lovely, spiritual experience.

The organ playing was so robust, richly textured hymns. Some of the prayers were in Italian. Roman Catholic services may or may not be your thing, but this was local parish services at their best and really worth checking out regardless of your belief. I felt less alone, part of something bigger than myself, that I was one of many at a table stretching far into the past and far into the future.

On the 5th night, it rained. Flood alert torrents.

The weather held out and it usually rains one day. But as it got heavier and the hard core remained, there was dancing in the rain. The music was cancelled, only a few stands were opened. A DJ spun well known songs from the stage.

There was dancing in the streets, everyone was drenched and we said good bye to the Feast.