Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sacramento Journal: Sutter's Landing Park

Sutter's Landing Park (watercolor by Hallie Cohen)
John Sutter bought the area known as Sutter’s Fort from the Mexicans in 1841--seven years prior to the Gold Rush. It stands at the intersection of the American and Sacramento Rivers. The waters all descend from the Sierra Nevada where Lake Tahoe continues to be a central attraction for skiers and winter vacationers. It’s still a bucolic spot on whose banks families picnic on sunny afternoons. Now Sutter’s Landing Skate Park occupies a huge tin hanger only steps from the river, with the crashing sound of boarders performing daredevil feats drowning out the sound of the gently flowing waters nearby. A few feet away are bocce ball courts and the Two Rivers Trail. It’s an iconic image of California life, in which the only constant is change and, historically, legions of new settlers transformed the landscape overnight. John Sutter’s fortunes fell precisely at the moment when gold was discovered on his property and it was, in fact, his son, John Augustus Sutter Jr., not John himself, who would found a town named after the Sacramento River. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sacramento Journal: Granville Redmond at the Crocker

"Sand Dunes" by Granville Redmond
The California artist Granville Redmond (1871-1935) wanted to be appreciated for his tonality. But it was his exuberant impressionistically painted fields of poppies, amongst the works comprising the show of the artist's work, "The Eloquent Palette" at the Crocker Art Museum, that would both catch the public's eye and secure his reputation. Paintings like "California Oaks" (1910) with their darker moonlit hue had less appeal. "Alas, people will not buy them," said Redmond. "They all seem to want poppies." Maybe it was the fact of his deafness and the silent world in which he lived that made these lush landscapes particularly come to life. Redmond had a second job. He played small roles in several Chaplin silents both acting and doing scene effects on City Lights, for example. He actually played the part of a sculptor in that movie. Chaplin spoke of Redmond thusly: "Something puzzles me about Redmond's pictures. There's such a wonderful joyousness about them all. Look at the gladness in that sky, the riot of color in the flowers. Sometimes I think that the silence in which he lives developed in him some sense, some great capacity for happiness in which we others are lacking."

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sacramento Journal: Aristocracy

Sacramento was the setting for the hit film Lady BirdThe multitalented director of the film, Greta Gerwig, who’d also starred and co-authored the script for Frances Ha recently directed the adaptation of Little Women. She also happens to be the partner of Noah Baumbach, whose Marriage Story was a hit in theatres and on Netflix. They used to talk about Hollywood aristocracy and if the semi-autobiographical Baumbach character did eventually find himself being forced to move to LA in an attempt to rescue his relationship, then Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical character ended up in New York, where she and eventually Baumbach would reside. So that creates the geographical equivalent of a trilemma, Sacramento, Hollywood and New York. Lady Bird was a filmic Bildungsroman recalling iconic locations like Gunther's Ice Cream, Club Raven on J, Pasty Shack and the blue house on 44th and M--all part of the neighborhood known as East Sacramento. However, despite an abundance of local productions you might also understand why anyone with an interest in theater, attending the Catholic school portrayed in Lady Birdwould want to escape to New York--though there's no doubt that the movie itself has left its imprint on the cultural life of the city. Speaking of another aspect of the arts, Sacramento happens to be the home of the artist Wayne Thiebaud whose upcoming l00th birthday anniversary will be the subject of a retrospective at the Crocker Art Museum in October. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

After the Fall

"The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man" by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder
“To experience a thing as beautiful means: to experience it necessarily wrongly,” says Nietzsche in The Will to Power. What a refreshing breath of air for those who find the wild and ubiquitous exclamations of delight disconsonant with their inner being. After all man is the creature who once fell from a garden and was forever exiled from his place among other species who remained free and unconscious of literally everything. It’s easy to be bludgeoned into believing something is wrong with you for not singing hosannas about another orange sunset. One's supposed to react a certain way, even if the perception of some idealized bit of nature actually only underscores how ugly and imperfect you might feel amidst a chorus of angels. This is one of the downsides of well-meaning people who treat the questioning of their idealized universes as sacrilege. Is one not entitled to maintain the notion that an industrial park possesses a beauty tantamount to that of the gently lapping waters of an idyllic beach at summer’s end? Beauty is truth,” says Keats. It’s also “in the eyes of the beholder.” The Asphalt Jungle (1950) was the fame of a famous crime movie, but you may prefer it to getting lost on the Appalachian Trail.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Final Solution: Something Happened

rehearsal of 2012 production of Ivo van Hove's Roman Tragedies
Back in 2012 theatergoers were allowed on stage during Ivo van Hove's production of the Roman Tragedies at BAM. You could be a supernumerary in the crowd as Caesar famously intones “Et tu, Brute?” Usually the audience perceives Caesar's murder with several degrees of separation. The willing suspension of disbelief is actually held in abeyance by skepticism. Back during the performances of Roman Tragedies, the disbelief was more than willingly suspended as one found oneself adopting the role as a spectator in history. Actually, if you’re in Rome today, you can visit the very spot where Caesar met his end, the Largo di Torre Argentina. You'll get closer to an event that occurred millennia ago, then to the version of history unfolding in a 24 hour cable news cycle. Unending translation of happenstance creates a high level of distance and consequentially unreality. It’s not so much fake as filtered news or simply phenomena. Due to social media there’s a lot of chatter. You may have the illusion of having some breathing space but you might as well be watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve--on TV. It’s rare that you ever nakedly come into contact with literally anything. "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth," said Picasso. What BAM offered back in 2012 was something close to the experience of seeing history actually unfold. Remember a Joseph Heller novel called Something Happened or the 50s CBS series, You Are There?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Final Solution: Vox Populi

The notion of a senate goes back to Roman times. Senators were classic figures and you can see them in old movies like Spartacus or let’s say Bob Guccione’s Caligula if you’re lasciviously inclined. In I, Claudius, Charles Laughton played the emperor. During the impeachment trial, the American public had a good chance to see the senate in action and it still had the look of a private mostly gentleman’s club. The southern accents of Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander and Kentucky’s John Kennedy always stand out and the few women like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine exude an a regal air, even in the thralls of their tortured wrestling with issues. Senator Cory Booker famously had his "'I am Spartacus' moment" when he threatened to release confidential records during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. If you were to cast a modern epic in classical dress any of these characters, including the lone Republican dissenter, Mitt Romney, could easily be placed in period costumes. You wouldn’t have to bother with a script. In the current production, the decision was an open and shut case, but the average guy, a member of the plebeian class, looking up at his TV from his barstool, was just a part of the gallery as he always would be. There were dissidents like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supposedly speaking to his or her interests, but there was no real vox populi. The same charioteers were whipping their horses, nostrils flaring, into a frenzy and power was still a magic and secret thing wielded by the few in whom it still resided. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Final Solution: Voting the End of Democracy

What if Congress voted for the end of democracy? Theoretically it can’t happen because of the constitution and the bill of rights. The majority may elect representatives, but majority rule, in theory, cannot destroy the essence of our system. However, if President Trump’s acquittal by the senate on purely partisan lines is an indicator then fundamental governances will slowly be whittled away, with each abrogation establishing a precent. Alan Dershowitz proposed the idea that a president cannot be impeached if they're doing something they believe is for the good of the country, ie to further their electability. What if the president were given unlimited executive powers, then could they retain the structure of government while advocating the principles of autocracy? The brand of extreme populism characterized by Trump's base is one or two degrees of separation from fascism since it represent a juggernaut that brooks no attention to details like due process. With the mandate of powerful popular support and a relatively weak opposition, nothing seems to matter. You can say you’re upholding  principles that define the very structure of American society when you’re not.The cheering crowds packing a recent Trump rally in New Jersey demonstrated the fervor with which millenarian tyrants have always been greeted. What if a Bolsonaro, an Erdogan or an Orban offered a chicken in every pot?