Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lego Man speaks

By Marty Fugate , Herald-Tribune / Friday, October 28, 2011
This roving Sarasota Herald Tribune visual arts reporter was pleased to be granted an exclusive interview with the Lego Man. The following is a portion of our frank discussion.

So, you're the Lego Man?
That is not quite accurate. I wish you to refer to me as "Lego Man." There is no definite article in my performance artist name.

You're a performance artist?
I am a serious performance artist.

But you're always smiling.
It is the way I have been made.

Please tell us about your performance art.
I wash up on various beaches then pose for photographs with pretty girls.

I see. Uh, does this relate to saving the whales?
No. I hate whales. They have an undeserved positive reputation. They are called "killer whales" for a reason, you see.

Why do you do it?
Have you heard the term "plastic people" ....?

Yeah. Frank Zappa. That's from his Absolutely Free ...
Spare me the dated music trivia. This does not concern me. I wish merely to say that the expression "plastic people" is a term of insult. Ever since the 1960s, this term has spread. "He's so plastic." "Let's ditch these plastic people and grab a beer at Growlers." Hate speech of this nature fills my ears and I have finally said too much!  For this reason I create my performance art.

You're drawing a line in the sand.
Yes. And the line is myself.

What do you feel about the new Legoland theme park?
A sense of existential nausea and dread.

Uh-huh. And that's why you washed up on the beach?
That's exactly why. It is an act of protest!

Come on, this isn't a publicity stunt?
Yes, of course. A publicity stunt for my plastic brothers and sisters in chains. Do you know what Lego means? The word itself?

I ...
Your ignorance does not surprise me. Well. The term "Lego" derives from leg godt -- in Danish this means "play well." Are they playing at this so-called "theme park?"

Yes, they are playing. People are having fun!
Yes. The meat people. They play! But not the plastic people!

I see you feel very ...
This interview is over! And you can kiss my shiny ...

Sadly, at this point the digital recording ends. Despite the cultural misunderstandings, we wish our plastic visitor only the best. Plastic people are not a drag. They're our brothers and sisters. And we really can get along.

Play well.

ART NEWS: "No Real Than You Are" finds community support

No_Real-ThanYou_AreSet for release at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival, "No Real Than You Are" is a locally produced, 20-minute film investigating the life of a local girl from a pioneer Sarasota family who spirals into Oxycodone addiction. It's a story about the community created with intense community support. Producer Arash Zandi is one of the student talents at the Ringling College Digital Film Department. Writer/director Vincent Dale is a twenty-something Florida State University graduate, and Sarasota resident.

The film takes its title from the whimsical slogan of Ego Leonard, the life-sized Lego sculpture created by an anonymous Dutch artist and left to be discovered on Siesta Key in 2011. The original statement is a plastic man's ambiguous assertion of identity. The film itself deals with a darker identity crisis.

According to Dale, "The story is fiction, with roots in painful fact." Dale's script is  dedicated to the memory of Brandi Meshad, a local 18-year-old girl who died from an Oxycodone overdose. According to Dale, "This is not just her story, but the story of countless people in our area who are impacted by this drug."

Filming took place, thanks to a small army of volunteers and supporters from Sarasota's creative community. Dale notes that, "Over 70 actors showed up to auditions over the course of two weekends. By the time production rolled around, we'd assembled a full production team and would eventually have the privilege of working with over 25 filmmakers, artists, and craftsmen. We were also able to work with a myriad of local artists and performers including a master sand sculptor, a chalk muralist, fire spinners, a silk dancer, professional makeup artists, and animal wranglers, to name a few."

Former Clothesline gallery director Van Jazmin was part of that creative army. He notes that, "I spent 12 hours a day volunteering for two weeks straight to make this production a reality. It was a great experience for all of us. People really got behind that film in a great way. It's a great story, a sad story, and a story that needs to be told. I'm glad we're getting it out there."

The film was shot on several iconic Sarasota locations. These included Cafe Gabbiano, the Rosemary Graveyard, a grandiose mansion in Siesta Key, the Herald Square building in the Burns Square neighborhood, and the underpass beneath the John Ringling Causeway bridge.

"No Real Than You Are" officially finished production in July. Post-production work is slated to continue through October 27. Kickstarter donations are being accepted at: No Real Than You Are: Kickstarter Campaign. For further information, contact or call (941) 536-3228.

By Marty Fugate , Herald-Tribune  /  Saturday, October 5, 2013

Friday, May 15, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

This is a very clever movie. Heartfelt as well. I should also mention honest. Very truthful, right. Also closely observed. It captures the way people talk now, the 21st century's ubiquitous demi-cyberspace of cellphones and tablets, the nuts-and-bolts of an actor's craft, the rarefied world of an A-list actor, and on top of that it's got lots of really nice Swiss scenery. But?

Well, OK.

But ...

Director/screenwriter Olivier Assayas seems to think that entertainment and selling out are the same thing. Let's be clear. Temptations to stoop to entertainment abound in this flick. But he remains pure.

The set-up is a goldmine. Back in 1995, an actress (Juliette Binoche) made a name for herself as a 20-year-old heartless temptress in a play and film adaptation. Flash-forward to 2005, and she's an aging actress. A hot director wants to cast her in a remake. Not the seductress, this time. He asks her to play the older woman that the young sociopath seduced and abandoned.

Good stuff, right? Alfred Hitchcock or Charlie Kaufman would've twisted reality to imitate art and showed the aging actress falling for her brat costar and reprising the fictional plot in real life. Could've been really entertaining, but Assayas is above such temptations.

What he gives us instead is a combo of actor's prep and subtext.

The actor's prep? Hey, you could take this movie and teach a class from it at an actor's conservatory. There's a lot of specific insight into how actors approach their characters and make 'em real. (Or not.) Binoche's character does line readings with her charismatic assistant. Every now and then, there's a frisson of ambiguity -- is this the play, or a real conversation? But there are only mere hints, subtextual winks -- and never to the point of being unsubtle, boorish or entertaining. Most of the time, it's dull actor's process stuff. "An actor prepares." Yeah, yeah. Evidently, they do that a lot. Yep. A lot of boring stuff has to happen before the entertainment begins. Good to know. Do we need two hours of granular detail? It's like a movie about a war where you never actually see the war -- just the hurry up and wait stuff as the army gets ready.

The subtext? That's Binoche's character confronting the aging process, of course. There are a couple of poignant scenes. Most of the time, Assayas sticks with hints and implications -- and never puts something so obvious as actual conflict, drama or character revelation on the screen.

This is not to say there's no drama in the movie. There is.

The plot builds up to the world-premiere of the actual play. The drama we've all been waiting for ...

And that's when the film ends.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

ART REVIEW: “SquareRoots: A Quilted Manifesto — A John Sims Project”

Johannes Curtis Schwarzenstein (aka John Sims)[/caption] “SquareRoots: A Quilted Manifesto — A John Sims Project” explores the shared domain of visual art and mathematics through March 27, at the SCF Fine Art Gallery. The exhibition showcases John Sims’ latest math-inspired visual artifacts. These include 13 math/art quilts, nine dresses based on the number Pi; a blues composition based on Pi; and a video installation introducing Johannes Curtis Schwarzenstein, the Afro-German Jewish math-art poet. (And Sims’ alter ego.) As fans of Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land know, the connection between visual art and math is profound. For centuries, artists have been fascinated by (and created fascinating imagery from) such mysteries as the ratio of the Golden Rectangle, the Fibonacci Series behind every spiral form in nature, and, of course, Pi. (The number also known as π.) Strictly speaking, 3.14159… Well, it goes on. Forever actually. An irrational number at the heart of Western rationality. Math/artist John Sims, Pi is more than a fascination — it's close to an obsession. The irrational number pops up throughout this exhibition. The relationship between Pi and visual art is the spark igniting “Civil Pi,” Sims’ textile collaboration with local Amish quilters; it informs Sims’ series of Pi dresses examining and deconstructing the cult of couture; it also underlies the strategies of cultural revolution explained by Sims' Schwartzenstein persona in a multimedia video production. So. Why Pi? As the artist points out, “Pi is one of the few mathematical constants that have successfully entered the pop-culture psyche. It's a number that continues to stimulate and fascinate the human mind.” Pi fans will note that this art show coincides with the release of “31415,” Sims’ and Vi Hart's Pi-themed spoken word and hip-hop single track. The official release date is 3 /14/15. Otherwise known as Pi Day.

Square Roots: A Quilted Manifesto — A John Sims Project. Through March 27 at Fine Art Gallery at SCF Bradenton, 5840 26th St. W.; 752-5225. John Sims dedicates this exhibition to the legacies of Kevin Dean, Kenny Drew Jr., Joanna Weber and Florence Tate.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

A meditation on screenwriting

Just caught the first disc of the first season of Homeland. This meditation is the result.

Smart writing. But it stretches the suspension of disbelief to the point I wanna scream, "Uncle." Stuff happens that wouldn't happens; characters do things they wouldn't do. It bugs me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not pushing for literal-minded realism. As Anthony Burgess once pointed out, realism is an incredibly slow way of telling a story. Not to mention dull. I get it. He was defending the ridiculous coincidences in A Clockwork Orange -- but I happen to agree with him.

Fiction -- any kind of fiction -- has a certain amount of necessary bullshit. So be it.

But Homeland is full of unnecessary bullshit.

For example?

Uh, let's start with the basic core premise. Nicholas Brody, a Special Forces sniper, has been an AQ POW for eight years and is miraculously rescued. Homeland teases us with a Manchurian Candidate possibility. AQ may have brainwashed Nick and turned him into a sleeper terrorist. That'd be bad, but let's back up a second.

Nick's been beaten and tortured and held in a freaking hole for eight years. If that happens to anybody in the 21st-century United States military, it's SOP to give them a psychological evaluation these days. Forget the Manchurian Candidate angle. Such a POW -- whatever their strength of character -- is likely to suffer PTSD, survivor's guilt, and a range of other inner torments. The American military's smart enough to know that now. In real life, Nick would be tested, Nick would be evaluated, Nick would be plugged into a support system of counseling.

But that would interfere with the story points in the outline.

The writers wanna get from A to B.

That's what it says on the 3x5 cards, right?

A: Nick is rescued. The brass wants to make him a hero. They ignore his possible compromise.
B: Our plucky female protagonist is left on her own to prove Nick might be a sleeper terrorist.

Psychological counseling sessions would get in the way.

So they just don't happen.

This is gratuitous bullshit, because the possibility of counseling doesn't have to kill the premise of this show. In fact, it would've made it more interesting. AQ would have anticipated the military shrinks. They would have given Nick the appropriate responses to show he was legitimately damaged -- but still trustworthy. AQ would have coached him. He'd have answers to the counselors' questions. Heart-rending answers that made Nick sympathetic to the infidel shrinks.

An interesting layer, no?

But it slows the domino's fall from A to B.

So they skipped it. It's not bad writing. It's lazy writing.

It's fiction. Fine. I understand that. Lie to me. Fine. But make an effort. Try to fool me.

And there the unnecessary bullshit lies.

That's my gut reaction. But it's not good enough. Necessary, unnecessary. Come on. Where do I draw the line? On what basis? How can I swallow The Bride taking her samurai sword on a plane in Kill Bill -- but get bent out of shape at trivial stuff like the lack of psychological counseling sessions in Homeland?

I think it's like this ...

Film is artifice. I get it. But some movies are tall tales.

Kill Bill, for example. A million plot holes. Obviously not a documentary. But great fun.

Others movies are like good lies.

Good lies feel like truth -- which is what makes them good. So, all film is artifice. But some artifice pretends not to be artifice. I gravitate towards movies like that.

So, I can watch Moulin Rouge maybe once. But I can watch Scorsese's Mean Streets again and again. I believe in those characters, believe in their world. The movie feels real, like a voyeuristic glimpse of real life. That makes me feel for the character inside that reality. I believe, therefore I feel.

Any obvious cheat kills that identification.

Homeland isn't a tall tale. It's a gritty story that could really happen, yattayatta.

Thus, I hold it to a higher bullshit standard.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

OSS: Nest of Spies.

Attention auteurs! You want to make a spoof? Watch OSS #117. It’s like a film school course in cinematic satire. Watch it, see what it does, and don’t do it. It breaks all the rules of satire. I never knew satire had rules, until I saw this movie. Now I know. Here they are:

Rule #1. Know what you’re making fun of.
If you draw a caricature of Jimmy Durante, it should look like Jimmy Durante. You have to know how his skull works before you distort it and make fun of it. This flick riffs on the surface elements of the Cold War spy genre -- and gets it all wrong.

Rule #2. Love what you’re making fun of. Check out Young Frankenstein. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder clearly love old horror movies. Michel Hazanavicius, the politically correct director of this flick, clearly hates old spy movies.

Rule #3. An imitation of bad art, if it’s bad, is just bad art.
The stuff you’re making fun of may be bad. Your stuff must be good. You can’t say, “Well, the scenes went on too long and the acting was bad in the original movies. Mine are too. It’s a satire.” No. You're just pretending to be bad. Your scenes have to work; your acting must be good.

Corollary to Rule #3: Art direction isn't comedy. Your sets and lighting may look exactly like what you're mocking. That doesn't make it funny.

Rule #4. Your story – even if it’s making fun of another story or genre – still has to work as a story. Consider Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks is, basically, taking a dump on the Western genre. Even so, his movie has dramatic tension. Joke or not, it grips you. When the Cisco Kid is facing off against six dudes with revolvers trained on him; when Black Bart is about to drown in quicksand or get lynched. You give a shit. OSS #117 is 99.44% suspense-free. You don't give a shit.

Rule #5. For your story to work, we have to understand what’s at stake. I have no !@#$ idea why OSS #117 is in Cairo.

Rule #6. Your characters have to be real. They have to have an inner life. They have to make sense.
The spy in this flick grins like an idiot. (OSS #117--aka Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath--if you want a name.) He does stuff that doesn't make sense. Maxwell Smart really was an idiot. He survived, thanks to the luck of fools. This spy knows too much to be an idiot but he acts like an idiot. He shouldn't survive. I don't want him to. Worse than that, I don't believe in him. There are no point-of-view shots. There's no hint of a reality inside the character's head.

Rule #7. You can’t violate story logic or character logic. A French spy trained in Arabic wouldn’t beat up a muezzin who woke him up at the call to prayer in Cairo. Never happen. No !@#$ way. Yeah, it’s a dig at French colonialism – who cares? It’s contrived. It’s false. It just wouldn’t happen.

Rule #8. Your movie is a joke. The characters within your movie don’t know that. Your characters should take themselves and the reality of the movie absolutely seriously. You should too. Play it straight -- in all your acting, editing and music choices. Never elbow the audience in the ribs. Isn’t this funny? The second you ask, it ain't. This flick is constantly reminding me of how wacky it is.

Rule #9. Make one, big satiric point, then stop. Jimmy Durante’s nose is big. Ha-ha. If you try to make lots of little points, you weaken the comedy. Hey, our spy is an arrogant French colonialist. Oh, he’s also probably a closet homosexual. So, is this gay bashing, or spy bashing, or colonialist bashing, or what? It’s not funny anymore.

Rule #10. Never make us care about characters and then kill them for no good reason.
Never ever have the hero do it, even if he is a shithead. Death can be hilarious – if you set it up right. But throwing characters away is ugly, vicious, heartless and the opposite of comedy. OSS #117 kills Princess Al Tarouk, if you want to know--pointlessly, right in the middle of a girlfight. I liked her character. I hated him. My dislike of the movie turned to hate at that moment.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Brothers Karamazov

photo by Frank Atura
O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Ignoring the glorious sun and sand, I spent one family vacation on Saint George Island cooped up inside a beach cottage reading big novels: Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, John Barth’s Giles Goat Boy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, etc. Out on the sunny beach, my sister caught a Whiting and hollered with delight; inside the gloomy house, I crammed my head with literature. As to Karamazov, I made it at least as far as the Grand Inquisitor passage, though I don’t remember what happened after that. Fortunately, Roland Reed adapted the novel as a play; FSU/Asolo Conservatory just put it on stage. Finally, I know how the book ends.

Director Andrei Malaev-Babel holds the reins. It's a wild ride -- a disorienting, hallucinatory assault. (I mean that in a good way.) It's also no mean feat. Dostoevsky crammed most of human life in the pages of his original novel. This production crams the bones of his novel in a three-hour performance. Not too shabby.

There are three messed-up brothers and one lousy father. In Russian tradition, they all have several names, depending on context, so you have to pay attention. But family dynamics ain't the point. It's all about ideas. Lots of them. The kind tormented 16-years-olds obsess about.

If you hate ideas, don't see this play. It's a philosophical novel; the play is faithful to it. (I have a few quibbles, but Reed did a damn good job.) In Cliff Notes terms, the story is a study of good and evil. Dostoevsky, it seems to me, draws from the same dark well as Nietzche. Ivan (Jesse Dornan), the disaffected, intellectual Karamazov brother, says something to the effect, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” The possibility terrifies him. So, leaving the question of truth on the table, religion is a great form of crowd control. Don’t kill children or practice cannibalism or you’ll burn in hell. Good to know. If not, why not? This slowly drives Ivan mad.

Minus the philosophy, the bare-bones story has a lurid, Jerry Springer quality. It's the study of dysfunctional family. Dirty dad fighting with one of his sons over the same woman.

Fyodor (Francisco Rodriguez) the father, in question, is a corrupt, lusty, son-of-a-bitch. He’s rotten. He’s a blowhard. Like Richard III and Alex in A Clockwork Orange, he’s the most interesting character in the story.

Dirty dad competes for the affections of Grushenka (Kelly Campbell) with his son Dmitri (Brendan Ragan), the ex-military brother. Alyosha, a repressed monk, tries to make peace in the family. But there is no peace.

There's more to it than that. There's a troika of minor characters; the subplots have subplots. I won't attempt a plot summary. It'd be like, well, summarizing a Russian novel. Let's not. I won't spoil the ending, but it all ends badly. Excellent performances. (More to come, as I have time.)

Malaev-Babel's direction is original and gutsy. He feints and throws you off balance like a good prize fighter. Characters bump into furniture and push it back into place -- or wander off the stage entirely. The staging implies the characters aren't at home in this world, don't quite fit in our reality. Beyond that, Malaev-Babel turns the collective consciousness of the village into a Greek chorus, offering commentary and judgement on the main action. Nice touch. There's also a weird, prophetic echo of the Soviet Union in the costume choices. This pays off when Dimitri shares his vision of a line of starving women and a dying child, begging for bread outside their burned-out homes in the snow. It could be a scene from the Nazi invasion of Russia or one of Stalin's purges. In a final vision, Dmitri strives for the light, despite the darkness. (There were tears in my eyes; and in the eyes of the actors at the curtain call.)

Dostoevsky saw the darkness coming. He saw Hitler, Stalin and Charlie Manson coming. But he decided to keep going.

The hint of light beyond the darkness was enough.

The Brothers Karamazov
Through Nov. 20
An FSU / Asolo Conservatory production
FSU Center for the Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

Quibbles below jump ...