Monday, April 30, 2012


Malgoska Szumowska’s Elles references many films both in the feminist and modernist canon. The life of the journalist who is doing a piece on prostitution, Anne (Juliette Binoche), is curiously reminiscent of the mundane existence of the prostitute portrayed by Delphine Seyrig in Chantal Akerman’s classic Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. The scenes of Binoche on the toilet with their extra added mundanity recall Nichole Kidman on the loo in Eyes Wide Shut. The theme of prostitution as a metaphor for the commodification of human existence naturally recalls Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. And then there is the almost romantic concept that the prostitutes in the film have a certain freedom which their interlocutor lacks, locked as she is in her bourgeois existence, a highly perverse reference to Ibsen’s Doll’s House (Anne being a Nora in feminist drag). Does Binoche’s character envy her subjects? If nothing else she is stimulated by them. A scene of anal rape with a wine bottle enables Anne to masturbate, one of the scant releases (one wouldn’t say pleasures) that the film depicts her experiencing and references both Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour and Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter. In the end, however, Elles is a curiosity that has less to do with feminism than modernity itself. In Marx’s early writings (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844), industrialization and the division of labor alienate man from the objects of his creation and Szumowska’s film is ultimately an across the board indictment of upper middle class existence. The family with their constant cell phoning, the computer games, the computer porn and the refrigerator door that refuses to close are strangers in their own lives. Anne is not suffering because she is a woman.  Rather, she’s a post-feminist character who is, like he rest of her menage, drowning in something more numbing and less easily pinpointed than ideology.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Little Tales of Misanthropy

One of the most disconcerting elements about the search for beauty is its lack of conscience. Creativity and humanism can be strange bed fellows which is another way of saying that many famous artists are shits. Bergman was notorious for his many failed marriages and relationships and if the portrait of the writer in Through a Glass Darkly is any reflection of his parenting, then we can conclude that he wasn’t much interesting in child raising. Updike’s Too Far To Go is a heartbreakingly beautiful description of the breakup of a marriage, but the breakup of Updike’s first marriage was the palette and one can’t help wondering if the breakup were not somehow unconsciously staged for the sake of the writing. Philip Roth’s one time wife Claire Bloom has documented the deficiencies of her former husband’s character and V.S. Naipaul’s extreme sadism towards woman has been described in Patrick French’s biography. Saul Bellow was married five times and fathered a child when he was 84. On the female side Doris Lessing abandoned two young children and husband to pursue her career and reading the way Patricia Highsmith discarded lovers, it’s not surprising that she wrote a collection a collection of stories called Little Tales of Misogyny. In spite of the extended tantrum of fame and the greater amounts of opportunity that fame produces, are these creative geniuses any more narcissistic or sadistic than your average Jack or Jill? Or does the destructive behavior of talented individuals stand out in relief since we consciously or unconsciously idealize those who mirror our heart’s desires? Is the average Joe, the man amongst men, whose goodness derives from his more modest level of self-absorption and ambition, any less selfish and sadistic in either his real or fantasy life, or is the problem simply that we expect more from the artist?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cartegena Journal

Photograph by Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
Now that the Secret Service scandal is calming down (with everyone properly reimbursed for the their services), all the girls in Angeles and other brothels have become erstwhile fans of the new HBO series “Girls.” The popularity of “Girls” in the brothels of Cartegena, according to informed sources, derives from the fact that the series actually makes “the girls” who man them feel good about themselves. All of the customers in the Cartegena brothels wear condoms and none of them dares to call any of the prostitutes a whore, as Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) boyfriend did in episode #2 of the HBO series. One of the jokes currently circulating in Cartegena is that if Hannah is looking for a paid internship, she should consider one of the city's love hotels. Hannah’s fears of AIDS, which surfaced in episode #2 of the series, would also attended to in a Cartegena brothel in a way that is far superior to what she experienced in the course of her normal life hooking up with guys in New York City. The Times interviewed a brothel owner who explained the enlightened practices that make life such a bowl of cherries for her girls. “Sometimes, she said, a customer will come to her and say that a condom has broken and he will ask if the prostitute he was with has been tested for sexually transmitted diseases. She will then show the customer the woman’s most recent results. Twice, she said, customers have agreed to take a rapid H.I.V. rest to show that they, too, are uninfected. (“Prostitutes Perplexed As Glare Falls On City’s Brothels,” NYT, 4/25/12). Twice is better than not at all.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


We had the era of Metrosexuals. Now with Girls, the latest in the sex on television sweepstakes, welcome the Metasexuals. At the beginning of Episode two, Hannah (the character played by the series’ lead character and creator Lena Dunham) is having sex--though we can’t really say making love--with her boyfriend who is better described as a guy she occasionally hooks up with. He calls her a whore and asks if she wants him to cum on her tits or her face. He tells her he is going to send her home to her parents covered in cum. This last little paraphilia is particularly telling since in the previous premiere episode Hannah’s parents in a gesture of  “tough love” tell her they will no longer support her after she leaves her job as an unpaid intern. The regressive jeremiad to parents eager to force their children to grow up too fast, is also a kind of rude updating of Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, who also faced a certain opprobrium after being left to her own devices in the big city. But the initial engagement on which episode #2 begins is also significant when you realize that the series is written and created by a woman and the so-called submissive is really the choreographer of the action both in the scene in question and behind the scenes. Pornography and law have one thing in common and that is precedent. Most pornography particularly of the sado-masochistic kind is a vicarious reliving of previous porn which itself finds its provenance in other pornographic works (can we say that the seven days of creation of the ur-pornographic universe began with Sade?--probably not). So what we are experiencing is a far cry from passion or even the de facto improvisational lustiness of the tryst. We are now in the world of metasexuality, where all sex acts are citations and what is ultimately missing is human connection of either a loving or sadomasochistic kind.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

What makes a great poem or play? What differentiates a Pollock from the finger painting of a child? Taste and sensibility are the subject of David Gelb’s film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, currently playing at the IFC, about an 85 year old sushi chef, Jiro Ono, whose restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, has earned him a three star Michelin rating. And when you think about it, what better way to deal with the subject of taste then in its most concrete olfactory form since smell is the chief building block of taste when it comes to food? Dealing with sensibility on the level of food and particularly sushi making, which is so much about simplicity, at least according to Jiro, is like dealing with consciousness or esthetics from the point of view of say genes and DNA. In the film you see creativity working at its most basic levels and as a side note one wonders how Jiro and his oldest son, Yoshikazu, who will inherit his restaurant by virtue of the primogeniture that still prevails in Japan, eat all that fish? Apparently, part of the process of great sushi making is not only cutting and kneading and cooking certain fish, but constantly tasting it along the way. Chekhov once said dissatisfaction lies at the heart of all great talents and the Japanese food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto who is quoted throughout the movie comments about Jiro, “I’ve never met a chef who is so hard on himself. He is never satisfied with his work.” Jiro’s hero is the great French chef Joel Robuchon. “If I had his tongue and taste I could probably make better food.” So despite the seeming tedium of the job, there seems to be no end to a struggle for perfection in which Jiro describes himself feeling “victorious” when he discovers a great piece of fish. But though Jiro's talents comprise both those of the editor or critic and creator, Gelb’s movie makes one wonder if the concretization of the artistic process, as it manifests itself in eating or dressing (fashion) can still result in the kind of transcendence we still identify with high art. Can a piece of otoro (fatty tuna) produce the emotion of Hamlet? Undoubtedly there are sushi lovers who would say yes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Three Sisters at BAM

Photo: Victor Vasiliev
Chekhov probably wouldn’t have been too interested in Yoga instructors and other spiritual gurus who urge their followers to live in the now. In fact, the brilliant Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s production of Three Sisters currently playing at BAM presents Chekhov's world of nostalgia and anticipation, with a fervor characteristic of a whole different brand of Russian thinker, the l9th century anarchist and revolutionary.The audience’s relation to Alexander Borovosky’s design, a house behind which most of the action takes place is very much like that of the three sisters, Olga (Irina Tychinina), Masha (Elena Kalinina) and Irina’s (Ekaterina Tarasova) relation to reality. It also recalls Plato’s cave allegory. “There can be no happiness for us. We can only dream it.” “In two or three hundred years maybe a new happy life will dawn.” “What does it all mean? It’s snowing. What does it mean?” The great lines are all there, along with the tautologies which are the equations of the Chekhovian universe. If something is near it cannot be far away and if it’s far away it cannot be near is a typical locution. It’s a logic of annihilation in which the past is a taunting illusion that can neither be undone nor recaptured and the future exists only to diminish the present. Lev Dodin directs his cast with an almost evangelical stoicism; his blocking evokes a funeral procession of mourners and pallbearers, the living dead. Irina cannot bring herself to tell the Baron (Sergei Kuryshev) anything, still less that she loves him, and yet in the touching moments before the famous shot rings out, she momentarily tastes the manna of an elusive present. Is this what Heidegger meant by “being there?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ideologia Sexualis

Reginald Marsh Illustration of Dreiser's An American Tragedy
In a piece in a recent Sunday Review Section of the Times, Maureen Dowd quotes a Harvard educated phone sex dominatrix who uses the name Jennifer Hunter to the effect that “Every good dominant knows that the submissive is really the partner in control. All a submissive woman has to do is relax and enjoy the ride while delicious sexual acts are visited upon her. She’s the star of the proceedings. Someone is ministering to her needs for a change. Master is choreographing all the action…after a long day of managing employees, making all the decisions and looking after children, a woman might be exhausted about being in charge and long to surrender control.” (“She’s Fit to be Tied," NYT, 3/31/12). The occasion of Dowd’s piece is the enormous success of the E.L.James trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey. It used to be said that intellectuals provided the ideology for revolutions. However, now it seems as if ideology is providing the lubricant for sexuality in this segment of the evolutionary time line--when it’s so easy for instinct and consciousness to be at cross-purposes. For example, classic romanticism, the act of falling in love, is aided and abetted by a certain degree of voyeurism and arrivisme. Falling in love in this formulation is a form of social rising, to the extent that the aura which becomes the conduit of sex constitutes the hope for a new life. Similarly, S&M as expressed by Dowd's dominatrix appears to be motivated less by the emotional need for punishment than by the desire to relinquish the responsibility of self. In this case, the process is reversed and slightly more complex when it comes to the ideology of the sexuality. Sex may actually begin as the horse driving the cart, but what’s at stake is not only the relaxation from pressure that Dowd’s dominatrix acquaintance describes, but freedom from the bondage of self. Such liberation is a characteristic of Buddhism and other spiritual practices where desire is deemed the beginning of suffering (with happiness ultimately residing in the forsaking of pleasure). Isn’t the true pleasure conveyed by the swashbuckling master that of devotion to a leader or belief system that takes away the headache of individuation? Many women who read Fifty Shades of Grey or The Story of O for that matter think they are indulging in the forbidden, the naughty, the rebellious and the risqué. But are they that different from their more prim contemporaries who throng to communion or confirmation, who takes the sacraments, don the chador or bath with their sisters in the mikvah?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disney Berezniki

Here is one of the greatest leads ever written. It begins a piece from the Times with Andrew E. Kramer’s byline datelined BEREZNIKI, Russia and entitled “A Russian City Always on the Watch Against Being Sucked Into the Earth” (NYT, 4/10/12). “Dimitry Rybolovlev, the Russian fertilizer tycoon who in February bought the most expensive apartment ever sold in New York City—the $88 million penthouse at 15 Central Park West—may have done a lot for real estate values there. But here in this old mining city in the Ural Mountains, where he made his fortune, not just property values, but properties too, have been plunging.” Rybolovlev, whose daughter Ekaterina was also the subject of a recent front page Times piece about how big Russian money is affecting prices on the top levels of Manhattan’s residential real estate market, is not exactly being blamed. Kramer makes it clear that Rybolovlev was absolved of responsibility for the sinkholes that have afflicted Berezniki by "a government commission," but there is an implication that without his potash mines the sinkholes might not have become an affliction of almost paranormal status. The holes even have names like "The Grandfather" (430 yards long and 780 feet or 50 stories deep), "The Tiny One" and "The Young One," which “sucked in a row of storage sheds and parked Moskvich passenger car.” Kramer reports that “So grave is the danger that that the entire city is under 24-hour video surveillance” (a picture of the monitors actually illustrates the story). But it’s a wonder that the local authorities have not exploited their problem, turning the sinkholes into a tourist attraction. If Disney got involved in the creation of a sinkhole theme park, the prices for luxury Manhattan residences would likely soar even more than when Rybolovlev and Ekaterina (or E-Kat as she will henceforth be known) first came to town. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Post Mortem

Mario (Alfredo Castro) the central figure of the Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s Post Mortem currently  playing at Film Forum immediately recalls the character of Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintigant) in Bertolucci’s The Conformist. Both characters are emotionally absent and plainly traumatized by their pasts, remaining sleepwalkers within the fascist onslaughts that both films describe. In The Conformist, the reason is explicit. In Post Mortem, Mario’s personality is not explained, but he like Marcello is capable of small moral gestures within the ambiguous universe he occupies. He works as a functionary in a morgue and refuses to have sex with a co-worker who is sleeping with someone else; in the course of pulling a hand wagon full of murdered leftist demonstrators, he hears a groan and rescues a survivor. The narrative hinges around Mario’s love for his neighbor, a cabaret dancer named Nancy (Antonia Zegers), but their one lovemaking scene is curiously disembodied. You see only her face while hearing his moans in the background. It’s like the corpses in the morgue which seem to pile up out of nowhere. The film is firmly anchored in history. An autopsy is even performed on Allende at one point; on the other hand the net effect of historical circumstance is constantly muted by the direction which presents everything from a microcosmic rather than macrocosmic point of view. The  obvious is turned into allegory, in a way obfuscates rather then throwing any fresh light on September ll, l973, the day that Pinochet’s military overthrew the first democratically elected Marxist government in Latin American history. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

More Billion-Dollar Social Media Start-Ups

 “Facebook Buys Instagram for 1 Billion,” was the headline readers of Eveyln M. Rusli’s  Dealbook column started their week by reading on Monday afternoon. Brian McFadden who draws The Strip which appears in the Sunday Review section of the Times runs the equivalent of an old fashioned meat grinder, the kind your grandmother used, to make chopped liver. McFadden took aim at one of last week’s top stories and by the following Sunday had masticated and regurgitated the Dealbook in a panel entitled “More Billion-Dollar Social Media Start-Ups,” (NYT, 4/15/12) McFadden’s suggestions included “Chore-Sourcer,” which “‘Tom Sawyers’ your contacts into doing your work for you,” “Slackify” which “randomly adds items to your timeline to make it seem like you have the time to goof around online,” and “Pocket Intervention,” which “tracks the number of bars you visit, auto-detects drunks dials and texts, then initiates an intervention.” The panels ended with a check made out to Brian McFadden by Mark Zuckerberg for One Billion for “cool ideas!” Here are some other possible apps that Zuckerberg might want to consider. “Finger Giver,” “which automatically gives the bird to your whole friend list once a day and twice on holidays,” “Locked Up,”  “an alternative to linked in for inmates in state and federal penitentiaries ,” “Your Tube,” “which makes sure to remind you when you are running out of toothpaste,” “Therapressed,” “now currently the most popular application used by depressed therapists” and finally “James Cameronist,” “the hugely popular application for those who experience jealousy of the Australian maker of blockbuster movies who also happens to be the most intrepid explorer in the history of mankind.” Each of these programs is available at the current market price of one billion and may be purchased by sending a check in this amount to The Screaming Pope.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Goldfinger Starring Kim Jong-un as Oddjob

Pedro Ugarte/Agence France Presse--Getty Images
“The White House has urged media organizations not to overdo their coverage, saying it would give Pyongyang, a propaganda victory. The satellite, one official said, was a ‘dishwasher wrapped in tinfoil.’ But that has not stopped news organizations from sending correspondents to Pyongyang, where they have filed frequent reports on preparations,” the Times’s Mark Landler and Jane Perlez wrote in a front page piece ("Few U.S. Options as North Korea Readies Missile Launching,"NYT, 4/11/12). Has anyone considered the idea that the purpose of the now ill-fated missile launching was in all likelihood micro-economic, ie to attract a flood of journalists who would prop up Pyongyang’s listless tourism and hotel industry?  Remember Oddjob from Goldfinger? Harold Sakata, the actor and wrestler, who played him was Japanese, but he was supposed to render the part of Goldfinger’s Korean jack of all trades, an Asian butler with a killer derby. Now 48 years later, it looks like North Korea has caught up to the third of the Bond movies. Kim Jong-un, the newly appointed “Supreme Leader” (“As Rocket Launching Nears, North Korea Continues Shift to New ‘Supreme Leader,’” NYT, 4/11/12) displays an uncanny likeness to Oddjob that would make him a candidate to take on Sakata’s part if a remake of the movie were ever envisioned. However, what was most astonishing about Landler and Perlez piece about the rocket launching was Pedro Ugarte’s accompanying photo, in the print edition of the paper. Ugarte’s shot of a bank of eight computer stations, each manned by two technicians facing a huge screen with accompanying data displays, showed that the rocket launch center would be the perfect set for any prospective Goldfinger remake. Remember too that Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s recently deceased father loved movies and you begin to see another rationale for both the launch and the eye-catching technology. It’s the old notion that any publicity, however bad, is good--a formula that’s been used and is continuing to be used by other bankrupt dictatorships all over the world.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Paris Journal VIII: Le Triomphe de Silene

Photograph: Clio20 (2006)
There is a statue in the Luxembourg Gardens called “Le Triomphe de Silene.”  It’s surrounded by tulips in the spring and when you look past the weathered green of the bronze you see first the running path, then the fence then the elegant apartment houses that border the park. The sculpture was created by Jules Dalou (1838-1902) and the inscription reads as follows: “Dans un enchevelrement pyramidal de forms humaines, Dalou reprise the personage du Silene le pere nourrisise de Dionysius (dieu de la vigne at du vin) denude, ivre et chancelant.” Silene or Silenus, as he was known was  “the god of the dance of the wine press” according to the Theoi Project. His name, according to the Theoi citation, is a combination of selo, “to move to and fro" and lens, “the wine-trough” and he is described as a “foster father” of Dionysius. If one takes the sculpture of the nude drunken and singing figure literally it seems to have no place in the repose of one of the most enchanting spots in Paris. But like a lot of contrarieties in the city of light, its presence is seamless and eternal. "Le Triomphe de Silene" is an oasis of chaos, a paean to the bacchanal amidst the effusion of Beaux Arts splendor which is the quintessence of Paris.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Paris Journal VII: The Beauty of Animals

If you are an animal lover, you will want to see “Beaute Animale” at the Grand Palais. It’s a perfect segue way from the work of Helmut Newton, also being exhibited at the Grand Palais, who was a great lover of beaver. Jeff Koons, Muybridge, Calder and Henry Moore are all represented, along with cats by Goya and Bonnard, a miscegenistic painting of black and white cats by Manet, a Picasso toad, and bats from both Durer and Van Gogh. The curators recount the incidence of the Viceroy of Egypt giving Charles X a giraffe which was marched from Marseilles to Paris. Courbet's La Truite, which appears in the show would be the perfect accompaniment for the next collector who dares to acquire his notorious L'Origine du monde. An anonymous painting of great complexity called  Les Oiseaux precedes an Audubon water color in a show devoted to both the food chain and the great chain of being and its influence on our conceptions of beauty. One curiosity is that the work of Henri Rousseau, which was filled with amazed animals, is remarkably absent from the show. Is there an implicit critique in the omission--of the politically incorrect notion that animals are naïve?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paris Journal VI: La Sainte Anne de Leonardo

“La Sainte Anne, l’ultime chef d’oeuvre de Leonardo da Vinci,” currently running at the Louvre is a monumental exploration of artistic process using one of da Vinci’s greatest works, "The Virgin and Child With St. Anne"as its petrie dish. Da Vinci worked on his masterpiece over several decades, right up until his death in 1519.  To begin with the show explores the influences on da Vinci in the inception of the work. Bartolomaus Zeitblom and Lorenzo Fasolo ware just two contemporaries whose works impacted da Vinci and a line of artists running from Raphael to Pontormo, Degas ("Etude d’apres la Sainte Anne di Leonardo,” 1855) and Odilon Redon (“Homage a Leonard di Vinci,” 1919) would eventually be influenced by the masterpiece since it was first exhibited in the Salon Carre of the Louvre in 1797. The curators also point to the influence of the painting on Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, in the way that the “virgin’s mantle” recalls the vulture that landed on “Leonardo’s cradle” and which for Freud played such a key role in development of Leonardo’s scientific sensibility. But the key element of the exhibit are the early drawings for the cartoons on which da Vinci based his conception. “The fierce debate about the nature of Mary’s conception, according to which Mary was conceived exempt of Original Sin had encouraged a veneration of her mother,” the curators remark at the beginning of the exhibit. During the long gestation period in which da Vinci created his masterpiece, John the Baptist was replaced by a sheep and Sainte Anne was moved to the top of the field, a change which increased the importance of the Jesus’ grandmother while also giving the painting itself a vertical and diagonal dynamic. The modifications which were not subtle, would change the history of both art and thought.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Paris Journal V: 38 Temoins

Existentialism is alive and well in France, if Lucas Belvaux's  38 temoins (38 Witnesses) exemplifies the zeitgeist. The movie, which is playing at the Danton, only steps away from Odeon stop of the Metro, might be subtitled Kitty Genovese in Vichy. A woman is brutally murdered on a street in the port city of Le Havre and none of the 38 witnesses (38 people by way also witnessed the Kitty Genovese murder) in the apartment complex overlooking the scene of the crime even calls the police. However horrible the murder, the real crime is silence. And when one of the residents, a harbor pilot named Pierre Morvand (Yvon Attal) racked with guilt by his own complicity in the silence, fesses up, he is treated as criminal by his irate neighbors. For all the seeming ponderousness of its story, the film is narrow and slight, a mordant form of what Graham Greene might have termed an entertainment (it was based on a novel by Didier Decoin). Everything fits together neatly--the movie is a philosophical vignette--and the disquisition takes the form of montage sequences in which scenes of Pierre piloting cargo ships through the harbor are cross cut with the memorial the self-righteous apartment dwellers have built to honor the ill-fated victim. “l’infer, c’est les autres,” is a line from Sartre’s No Exit. In slightly more watered down form, 38 temoins presents a similar notion. It’s not surprising the film hasn’t found a US distributor, but this is France where philosophical dialogues can still be found on television. The French still require a smear of existentialism with their croissant.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Paris Journal IV: Why is French so French?

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
Je suis desole is what the guy who makes those great jambon et fromages right down the street from the Odeon stop of the Metro reports when he’s run out of baguettes. Can you imagine you’re at the counter person of the old Cake Masters on 86th and Broadway saying “Je suis desole” when they run out of challah? No they’d say, “we are all out of challah, but we still have raisin breads, bagels and bialys. Evidement, now that’s a French word which reflects the obvious as said with the shrug of the speaker’s shoulders. Evidement brooks no ambivalence. Evidently is the closest thing in English, but it doesn’t conduce to the bodily movement, any more than mais non or mais oui conveys our “yes”or  “no.” And then there is old tellement. English uses “so” which takes less time but doesn’t tell the story and ends up obliterating a quintessential moment. But attends, attends. If you ride the famous Paris Metro with the colorful station names like Denfert-Rochereau and Sevres-Babylone which end in exotic places like the Porte D’Orleans instead of Battery Park, you'll hear more than one animated conversation sprinkled with this exclamation. A person can be speaking or listening, but it means literally wait a second there is something urgent forthcoming. You have to be there to get the feeling of imminence that “wait” fails to conjure.  You say A bientot and a tout a l’heure when you are going to see someone in some indefinite future, but they both could be the title of a book like say Bonjour Tristesse, the novel by Francoise Sagan. They tell a story that has more double entendres than the more prosaic “see you in a while.”  Which all goes to show that the innuendos of a sonorous language like French are untranslatable. While a poulet and a chicken are still la meme chose, as a "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," syntax is a form of thought.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Daughter Rybolovlev

Alexei Barrionuevo's epic story on the front page of Wednesday’s Times, “Time to Sell Penthouse. The Russians Have Cash.” NYT, 4/3/12) is a seemingly superficial tale that has the breadth though not the depth of War and Peace or Anna Karenina. Or perhaps The Brothers Karamazov more effectively nails the idea. Remember Dimitri Karamazov? Well we have a new Dimitry surnamed Rybolovlev whose daughter Ekaterina, a competitive horse racer (Catherine the Great also liked horses but not for their racing capabilities), and who Barrionuevo reports is completing a degree at Harvard University’s Extension School and who shares an apartment with her dad in Monaco, which apparently is closer to her phillies, acquired Sandy Weill’s penthouse at 15 Central Park West for $88 million, a record. Barrionuevo also reported that Vladislav Doronin, whose name may be used by some future writer of a long Russian novel (in English), purchased Shaq’s Star Island manse for a cool 16M. According to Barrionuevo, these wealthy Russians keep the cash registers ringing at Nobu and the Standard  and “Some of them roll about town in customized Rolls Royces where the doors open at the opposite hinge to allow women to step out easier in heels.” Would Pasternak or David Lean who filmed Zhivago have even been able to imagine such an elegant fate for Lara (Julie Christie in the movie)? Perhaps Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is the model for Mr. Rybolovlev’s CV, but her Ubermensch was no Russian. In any case Ekaterina’s big acquisition has had consequences far beyond the confines of her stable. “Extell Development company has increased its listing prices percent to 15 percent at 157 West 57th Street, which will be New York’s tallest residential building,” Barrionuevo commented. “The two-floor penthouse is now selling for $115 million, up from the original asking price of $98 million.” Meanwhile in the same issue of the paper a piece with the byline “Fire Kills 17 in Moscow Workers’ Dormitory,” (NYT, 4/3/12) underlined “Russia’s worsening problem with the enforcement of basic safety standards.”  “Respect for the law is minimal even when human lives are at stake,” the Times reported about a country whose new rich are such a positive force in the market for high-end Manhattan residences. “Boats sink, planes crash and buildings burn with startling frequency, leading to protests but little apparent change.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Paris Journal III: Helmut Newton at the Grand Palais

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
“The ‘Big Nudes’ began in l980 and were inspired by police identity photos of German terrorists,” is the Helmut Newton quote above a wall of totally naked models that’s part of the exhibition of his work at the Grand Palais. Along with these the half naked female Beverly Hills cop from l997, “Laura, Oui" (1974) and “Ernest Esposito et une amie” all appear like the antiquities that might be shown in the nearby Louvre. The mountains of pubic hair, which were once such a bold statement of unfettered eroticism, have all but disappeared from both fashion photography and pornography both. Pubic hair has been naturally selected out of the evolution of modern photography. The fittest which has survived is the photograph of the model who has undergone Brazilian hot waxing. “Je suis tres attire par le mauvais gout,” Newton is quoted as saying on another wall of the exhibit. Are beauty and desire creations and if so what goes into the making of these neuropsychological events? What Newton calls bad taste was for him a kind of beauty, a mixture of sado-masochism and humor (such as the picture of a woman’s lower torso in the mouth of a crocodile from a l983 picture of Pina Bausch’s Dance Theater taken in the company’s home town of Wuppertal). Now beauty in fashion is more often than not defined by the anorexic photos of Kate Moss which to some constitute the epitome of bad taste. Brassai was one of Newton’s many celebrity subjects (along with Elsa Peretti, Liz Taylor and the Wildenstein family) and his photographs of Paris represent a Pleistocene concept of beauty in photography. “Some people’s photography is an art,” Newton explained to Newsweek back in 2004, in a quote that introduces the show. “Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or museum, that’s fine. But that’s not why I do them. I’m a gun to hire.” But one which hit the bull’s eye at a certain moment in the history of sensibility.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paris Journal II: Cine Reflet

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
If books leave our universe a la the vision of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, then all the back streets around Paris' famous Boulevard St Michel, filled with antique bookstores, as they now are, will become a scene of desolation like downtown Detroit. Cine Reflet, “La librairie du Cinema” 14, rue Monsieur-le- Prince 75006 Paris (Metro: Odeon) is one of the treasures that would be lost, if Truffaut’s filmic version of the sci fi classic--really an allegory about totalitarianism--ever comes to pass. Books are still being burned and censorship continues to be widely prevalent. Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is banned in his native India; a controversy recently broke out when Hari Kunzru and other writers read sections from the novel at the Jaipur Literature Festival. But for the most part technology has replaced totalitarianism as the biggest threat to the printed word--though one wonders what piece of modern technology could replace a Cine Reflet? On a recent night the bookstore hosted a talk with Vincent Nordon, the author of Straub/Huillet, non merci—la plaint d’un ami. Nordon, besides being a director and writer in his own right was assistant to such greats as Pialat, Godard and Duras. An ancient 35mm projector stands smack in the middle of the store amidst volumes of works like Michael Powell, A Life in Movies and Le Cinema d’Abbas Kiarostami along with a poster for L’Inconsolable, film de Jean-Marie Straub, d’apres Maurice Barres, Cesare Pavese and Franz Kafka. You won’t find either Nordon or a store whose name itself suggests reflection, on your Kindle.