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Saturday, November 28, 2015

What I'm Watching: The Seventh Victim

Posted By on Sat, Nov 28, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Jean Brooks in The Seventh Victim - RKO RADIO PICTURES
  • RKO Radio Pictures
  • Jean Brooks in The Seventh Victim
Digging into the DVD vaults the other day, I pulled out Mark Robson’s mid-budget 1943 thriller The Seventh Victim, mostly because it was one of the few films produced by Val Lewton that I had never seen. The fact that the film is more strongly identified with its producer than, as is customary, with its director, has turned out to be, for me, the most interesting thing about it.

Mark Robson’s name is not particularly well remembered these days, though he directed many films whose titles retain some degree of cultural currency: The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), Peyton Place (1957), The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), Valley of the Dolls (1967) and even his penultimate film, the cornball, all-star disaster movie Earthquake (1974).

These are the kinds of films that, while not necessarily beloved, show up as answers to questions on “Jeopardy!” But Alex Trebek would be highly unlikely to ask contestants to name their director, because Robson’s name just isn’t well known. (It could be a good “Final Jeopardy” stumper, in fact. Alex, you can send my royalty check courtesy of Seven Days.)

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

What I'm Watching: Pete Shelley's "Homosapien" video

Posted By on Sat, Nov 21, 2015 at 8:58 AM

Some 12 years ago, when I was living in Madison, Wisc., I spent a lot of time going to rock shows. My musical education was broadened tremendously by attending concerts by the likes of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the Residents, Melt Banana (twice!), John Doe and a pre-fame White Stripes, who were opening for Sleater-Kinney. I probably spent most of my meager income on concert tickets and records. And movie tickets, of course.

One of the most memorable all of the shows I saw back then was a free, outdoor concert given by the recently reformed Buzzcocks, the best pop-punk band of them all. The concert took place late in the summer at the University of Wisconsin’s primo summertime hangout spot, Memorial Union Terrace, and it nearly didn’t occur at all for a nasty rainstorm.

But the promise of a free Buzzcocks show was enough for me — and a crowd of the faithful that diminished in size as the evening went on — to wait it out. I recall the members of the band saying, basically, screw it, we came all this way, and we’re going to play whether it’s raining or not.

The Buzzcocks did not disappoint, playing an incredibly energetic show of their songs new and old. For me, it was well worth getting soaked — not just because I enjoyed the music, but because attending the show closed a sort of musical-visual loop for me.

By the time of that concert, Buzzcocks lead singer Pete Shelley was older and thicker of body than he’d been in the band’s late-1970s/early-’80s prime, but he (and the rest of the band) could still bring the noise. I’d been listening to Shelley’s music since I was a kid, and my introduction to it was his first solo single, “Homosapien.”

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Liz Lerman on Movement and Finding Artistic Voice

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2015 at 5:06 PM

  • Courtesy of Middlebury College
  • Liz Lerman

Liz Lerman is a mover and a shaker. To those who know the choreographer’s work, that statement might seem reductive at best, but it’s fitting on more than the obvious level. Lerman, who received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2002, isn’t just interested in physical movement, but in the movement of ideas across disciplinary boundaries. She’s at Middlebury College through Wednesday this week conducting a short residency focusing on just that. Her stay culminates in a lecture tomorrow, November 18, at the Mahaney Center for the Arts Dance Theatre.

Lerman, who is known for working with intergenerational groups of movers, has an open approach to education. In other words, she doesn't believe in forcing her ideas about art upon anyone. “I have a lot of ideas about ways of being in the world, but I feel a lot of those are things [students] have to discover for themselves,” Lerman said in a phone interview. “Sometimes I feel like an old-fashioned trader: I’m trading goods for ideas, delivering information from other parts of the country.”

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Vermont Artist August Burns' Oil Painting Faces the Jury

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 3:50 PM

"Emma" by August Burns - COURTESY OF AUGUST BURNS
  • Courtesy of August Burns
  • "Emma" by August Burns
The distance between the National Arts Club in New York City and Axel's Gallery & Frameshop in Waterbury is closer than you might think, at least by way of Middlesex painter August Burns. The artist's portrait "Emma," which was included in Burns' solo show at Axel's, is now on its way to a competitive group show of women artists working in the U.S., Canada and Europe: the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club's 119th Annual Open Juried Exhibition, on view December 1-18.

"They had an unprecedented number of qualified entries this year," says Burns, "so I was especially pleased to be accepted."

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

What I'm Watching: The Book of Eli

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2015 at 9:01 AM

Denzel Washington as a postapocalyptic badass in The Book of Eli - ALCON ENTERTAINMENT / SILVER PICTURES
  • Alcon Entertainment / Silver Pictures
  • Denzel Washington as a postapocalyptic badass in The Book of Eli
Heads-up: This column contains spoilers for a film that is sufficiently recent to warrant them.

When I saw The Book of Eli on its release in 2010, I was impressed with its visuals, in particular with a virtuoso gunfight scene that appears to play out in a single long take. I’m always drawn to long-take films, in large part because they offer such a valuable alternative to an increasingly edit-happy modern cinema.

In reality, the gunfight scene was not pulled off in a single take: As the camera zips between the combatants inside an isolated farmhouse and those mounting the assault outside, the transitions between these two spaces are digitally smoothed over. The result is that a multi-shot scene has the urgency and breathless pacing of a single-shot scene. To me, the capacity to create such a scene is one of the most important changes to film style that the digital age has produced.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Would Sotheby's Lie? Visiting Critic Ola Wlusek Asks Big Questions

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 1:42 PM

"My Wife's Lovers" by Carl Kahler - COURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S
  • Courtesy of Sotheby's
  • "My Wife's Lovers" by Carl Kahler
One of the first images displayed in Ola Wlusek's lecture "The Burden of (Art) History?" was a picture of her cat. This Wednesday evening, the second of Burlington City Arts' visiting critics held court in BCA's second floor gallery space, surrounded by Sabra Field prints tacked to the walls, and spoke articulately about her myriad curatorial projects. All of them have involved artists who in some fashion address history as a construct meant to be tampered with. 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Little, Brown Not Sheepish About Vermont Lamb Story

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 9:24 PM

The cover featuring adorable Sweet Pea - COURTESY OF JOHN CHURCHMAN
  • Courtesy of John Churchman
  • The cover featuring adorable Sweet Pea
At Frog Hollow, the Vermont state craft center in Burlington, director Rob Hunter says the shop can't keep Sweet Pea & Friends: The SheepOver in stock. "It just flies out of here," he marvels.

Hunter is talking about John and Jennifer Churchman's children's book, a volume coauthored by the Vermont couple and filled with stunning photo-illustrations by John. "Sweet Pea," you see, is an adorable sheep — is there any other kind? — and the self-published picture book has really struck a chord, even outside of rural Vermont.

The Churchmans' many Facebook followers were the first to fall in love with the true tale of the ailing lamb, removed from her "friends" to convalesce in the farmers' greenhouse; with the ministrations of Dr. Alison, a country vet; and, of course, with the happy ending that I will not reveal here. (B-a-a-a-ck off!) The farmer/storytellers decided to embark on a crowdfunding campaign to raise the capital to produce their first book. It was instantly successful, and preorders poured in.

The fan base escalated even more after Elizabeth Bluemle, co-owner of Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne and a contributor to Publishers Weekly's ShelfTalker blog, wrote a glowing review of The SheepOver in an October 2 post.

And then something else happened. Fast.

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Forget Caskets — the Infinity Burial Project Has Another Idea

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 4:55 PM

  • Courtesy of Generator
  • Jae Rhim Lee
Vermont, prepare yourself for death and decomposition — the good kind. On Thursday, November 12, in Burlington, Jae Rhim Lee and Mike Ma will discuss their work creating a sustainable, eco-minded "death suit." Their presentation is the second installation of Generator’s "Big Makers" series, to be held at the Champlain Ballroom (163 South Willard Street). Drinks at 7 p.m., talk at 7:30.

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Mural Not Long for This World Pops Up in Burlington

Posted By on Sun, Nov 8, 2015 at 9:04 AM

The wall painted by Champlain College students - COURTESY OF BRIAN CLARK
  • Courtesy of Brian Clark
  • The wall painted by Champlain College students
On an unusually warm and sunny November day, the biting fumes of spray paint drifted out of the fenced-in corner lot at Maple and St. Paul streets in downtown Burlington. A horde of college students armed to the teeth with aerosol cans roamed the concrete wall against the property's northern edge. The building once here, the former Eagles Club, was razed earlier this year, and the lot awaits new student housing for Champlain College.

Meantime, the single retaining wall remains, and on this day students were adorning it with colorful, larger-than-life caterpillars, disembodied eyes and hands, floating corn cobs and swirling arrows.

Champlain College professor David Mills emerged from behind the chain-link fence, camera in hand, to greet a curious reporter. The students were participating in the class "Aesthetic Expressions," a core requirement for sophomores, he explained.

Mills said the objective was to get students to think about "the nature and value of art." 

He couldn't have chosen a better "lens," as Mills put it, than street art. The genre inherently challenges and engages viewers simply by being in their line of sight, whether they want it or not.

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

What I'm Watching: The Passion of Joan of Arc

Posted By on Sat, Nov 7, 2015 at 9:00 AM

One of the many, many close-ups in The Passion of Joan of Arc - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public Domain
  • One of the many, many close-ups in The Passion of Joan of Arc
I have lost track of how many times I’ve seen Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, but that figure is probably around two dozen. My most recent viewing took place during the film history class that I’m teaching, and, though the classroom is cramped and the video projector could probably use an upgrade, the film is so stark and strange that its power was not compromised. I’ve always found that the adjective that best describes this film is “intense.”

I’m not talking about the “pulse-pounding intensity” referred to by the cliché-addicted “critics” who make their living blurbing the latest action films. The intensity of The Passion of Joan of Arc is that of an artistically groundbreaking film about a woman undergoing one of the most severe crises of faith in human history. In exploring Joan’s fragmented, fraught subjectivity, Dreyer employed a style that is, remarkably, as comprehensible as it is radical. Indeed, as I suggested to my students, the film’s pre-eminent achievement is that it exists on two seemingly contradictory levels. Its story is entirely comprehensible, yet its style is extremely odd and arresting. The real miracle here is not the conversation with the divine that Joan claimed to have, but the clarity with which Dreyer conveys his ideas using such a strong, strange style.

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