Sunday, August 20, 2006

(a brief note on) "What Color the Dawn: Breaking Silence on the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot"

Last night (well it was "last night" when I started to write this) I went to see the Opening of What Color the Dawn, the art show curated by Kevin Sipp with Louise E. Shaw, commemorating the Atlanta Race Riot. The exhibition will be at Eyedrum August 19-September 30, 2006, and is sponsored by the Arts and Remembrance committee of the Coalition to Remember the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, a Truth and Reconciliation project in the city. According to the Coalition website: "During the summer of 1906, white fears of African Americans’ increasing economic and social power, sensationalized rhetoric from white politicians, and unsubstantiated news stories about a black crime wave created a powder keg of racial tension in Atlanta. The powder keg exploded on the night of September 22nd in what became known as the Atlanta Race Riot. By the time the riot ended on September 25th, at least 25 blacks and two whites lay dead." Additionally many were injured and "hundreds fled."

I came late, but artist Toni Bingham, an animated storyteller whose work I hadn't previously seen, and artist/curator Kevin Sipp (whose work is not in the show) were still there. Sipps looked energetic as usual, despite it being towards the end of the four hour reception.

Interestingly photography figured heavily in the work, both documentary photography reconfigured as installation as with Karen Tauches' Disappeared Houses which featured photos on resin with backgrounds of wallpaper designs familiar to many a black southern home, and in the collage work of art historian and artist Michael Harris who included mug shots of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks among what looked like blood stains applied to a large scale reproduction of an ad illustration for confederate leaders circa the 1880s.

Bingham's work included photos and pages he found found "fluttering" among the remains of an African American church which was burnt down in 2005. The second part of the work was an installation of memorial posts with burlap, stones, and earth.

Hermina Glass-Avery had multiple installations in the rear exhibition room, including a bottle tree whose containers hold photographs, and a "memory house" at least that's what comes mind. The lighting for Glass-Avery's work was a complementary rust-ochre: simultaneously warm, harrowing, and earth-bound.

Public Domain (Chea Prince/Robert Cheatham), an Atlanta -based non-profit arts collective "which explores the connections between technology, art, theory, and writing" had a single-channel projected video in the exhibition, The Final Race, dealing with the riots and included investigations of UFOs and memory. The video also screened independently the following Sunday evening.

On my way home I stood on a Marta escalator behind a white couple who both wore t-shirts on the back of her's was printed "Redneck Girl" on the back his appeared a confederate flag with the text "It's A Southern thing...Y'All Wouldn't Understand." I wish I had a picture, oh wait, here's one:

On the front it has a small image of the Confederate states with a Confederate stars and bars across it. With text underneath reading "Dixie Forever"
on the Accuracy in Media (AIM) web site that sells this shirt the ad copy reads:
"Save the battle flag from extinction. Show your Southern pride."

Such wording begs the question: whose southern pride? And whose South (i.e.:"Dixie") are we talking about? I never had a question about whether or not this show was necessary, and similar to Cinqué Hicks (who also has some photos from the show) I felt this exhibit worked beyond a simple polemic in addressing a hot button issue. Nevertheless it only took 30 minutes of travel on a relatively deserted MARTA to witness this ubiquitous walking-popular-culture-commentary and the need for various explorations of power, history, and citizenship in the South.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hair (Race) Matters: Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney

j'stheater has a two part series (Take 1 & Take 2) on the national elections and black candidates. I responded (at, ahem, some length*) to his Take 2 writing on the Georgia Fourth District race between incumbent Represenative Cynthia McKinney and victorious former Dekalb County Commissioner Henry "Hank" Johnson. The fact is that as much as I respect many of Congresswoman McKinney's views and her willingness to speak out against the war, I don't agree with how she handled the Capitol police incident. But I can't help but wonder how being painted as a crazy woman, "loose cannon", and/or a pariah, has impacted McKinney, as has the hemorhaging of the support she once experienced? Most of the people adding fuel to this fire have no idea of the toll of mounting a defense against that type of reputation-tarnishing can cost in terms of time and psychic energy. Apparently the Democratic Party has decided that McKinney is a liability for 2008 election plans, even the Congressional Black Caucus was silent on the Capitol incident and were quiet again issue of endorsing her 2006 re-election effort, after lending their support for the 2002 and 2004 campaigns. Additionally, it would increasingly seem that her style has evolved into one of alienating people and making enemies both at the national and local level. Whether that is true or not, or to what degree it might be true, its appearance as truth left McKinney with few allies in a state that is quite partisan and a nation that has become deeply so, and has increasingly impacted her effectiveness. Unfortunately, this was not an issue McKinney addressed in her political campaign, and holding the feet of the powerful to the fire doesn't always make for powerful allies. Some examples of Cynthia McKinney's insistence on accountability and the price she paid for it can be found in her 2002 writing "Thoughts On Our War Against Terrorism" which can be found on journalist Greg Palast's site. As well as Palast's 2003 article on "The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney" , which also notes the history of the famous quote on what Bush knew that was erroneously linked with McKinney. Interestingly, journalist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, whose work also appears on AlterNet has criticized McKinney and other black leaders for being out of touch with the needs of their black constituents. But I wonder how speaking out against the Florida voter disenfranchisement in the 2000 presidential election, when most of those disenfranchised were African American, likely Democratic, and whose absent votes likely resulted in Bush's election is ignoring her constituency. And sadly, Ofari Hutchinson is continuing to repeat the erroneously attributed, and untraceable, Bush and 9/11 quote to McKinney.

The ways McKinney has been characterized and caricatured following the Capitol police incident speak volumes regarding the manner in which the media and certain bloggers have distilled/poured frustrations with McKinney into pre-existing formulations of racial stereotypes concerning African American physicality, particularly the gendered loci of body size and hair, but also eyes and lips. I'm not ruling out the possibility that race played a part in how the Capitol police officer handled the situation, a lot can be said with a glance, a particular turn of lip, the amount and type of pressure being brought to bear on a shoulder or forearm--a lot can be said without uttering a word. While the issues leading to the Capitol police incident may have originated from more sources than racism, I would posit that the below images validate that racism is an issue in the current downturn of McKinney's political career.

*Perhaps I could have just said, to quote Greg Tate acknowledging what he'd learned from fellow writer/performer Lisa Jones, hair is everything. Witness:

Cynthia McKinney in better times, at her April 3rd news conference in the 4th Congressional District of Georgia. But this isn't the sort of photo that appears ubiquitously in media coverage of the Congresswoman. Her hair is a primary target these images, running a close second are her large, expressive eyes which in video stills often look extreme, bearing a likeness to 1940-era African American actor Eddie Rochester's physical comedy bits. That is to say it is possible to make an affect, gesture, physical feature, etc. appear ridiculous, absurd, if you focus on it to the exclusion of or while downplaying other elements--a key method of caricature.

This is one of the less offensive examples:

An example of the worst images

One of the increasingly derogatory images (above)

And worse (right, and below)

A poster (below left) which makes an criticism of McKinney worth consideration, the relevance of her changes in hairstyle with regards to her recognizability, but seeming to use an intentionally unattractive main image. This image was also altered by one web communicator to highlight the whites of McKinney's eyes (below right).

In addition there are a host of cartoon caricatures dealing with the Capitol police incident featured on cartoonist Dan Cagle's political cartoon website and elsewhere.

(left) This caricature's text steers clear of racial associations, but the image is another matter.

A weblogger's commentary on McKinney's assertions ( right)

McKinney's new style for the run-off debate with successor Henry "Hank" Johnson (below left):

And finally as an interesting counterpoint, atypically congressional, but nevertheless luminous, a photo of Congresswoman McKinney from the website, again from better times (below right):

For more thoughts on the politics of hair and African American women's beauty within US society, three good beginning sources**:

Hair Matters: Beauty, Power and Black Women's Consciousnes, by Ingrid Banks

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori Tharps

Ain't I A Beauty Queen?: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race, by Maxine Leeds Craig

**My first instinct is to link to Powells, an independent bookstore which also offers a used books, but they hardly ever have synopses or reviews of the books I list.

Update 8/17/06: Before her defeat in the Georgia Democratic primary Cynthia McKinney was interviewed by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now! on the the subject of open primaries, advertising difficulties, and campaign financing with regard to Hank Johnson's funding sources. Transcript available at

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sound Artist/Composer Federico Schumacher's 1197 Project

Chilean sound artist Federico Schumacher is undertaking what promises to be a profoundly moving composition, the 1197 Collaborative Project remembering those who were disappeared during Pinochet's military dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990). Schumacher is collecting the voices of people reading the names of the 1197 persons (one name per participant) for a composition to debut in 2007.

Below is a Google English translation (helped a little by me) of Schumacher's project description. If you read Spanish or French check out his site:

•• 1197 Project description from Federico Schumacher ••
1197 names of disappeared people, more likely assassinated, evoked by 1197 voices of people of different countries, cultures, sex, political religion, race, opinions, and/or ages. Gathered through the internet or invited by a friend, these 1197 voices will be presented in a musical work thanks to an aggregate of electronic mail, notices on discussion lists, in short, utilizing all methods that today offer us the possibility of communicating and sharing ideas the virtual world.

Perhaps it is a this good way to speak of globalization.

1197 names of people disappeared, named by other so many living ones. Perhaps it seems strange that so many people want to participate in something like this, possibly we have been deceived and human beings share more in common than we have been led to believe.

Evoking these 1197 names will not cause the reappearance of those who no longer are, but I believe that it is a way to keep the memory alive, to insist Never More. Neither in Chile, nor in any other country.

Ultimately, this will be a musical work. An electroacoustic work using eight channels. Realized with the above in mind, and with the greatest respect for the relatives of the people who we will evoke in her [the art work], moreover, the act of creation is always the first challenge of art, and it is in an artistic-musical language in which this challenge will be fulfilled.

The composition of this work, as well as its eventual release on compact disc, is being financed by the Fondo de la Música Nacional del Consejo de la Cultura del Gobierno de Chile/Fund of the National Music of the Council of the Culture of the Government of Chile.

"1197" will premier in October 2007 at VII Festival Internacional de Música
Electroacústica de Santiago de Chile "Ai-Maako" 2007
/ Ai-Maako: The 7th Annual Festival of Electroacoustic Music of Santiago, Chile, simultaneous with the release of my disc [In] DISCIPLINE, on which the project "1197" will appear.

If you want to participate in this project, send an email to Federico Schumacher:

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

CODE Z has arrived!

Cinqué Hicks and Crew's project, Code Z: Black Visual Culture Now, which has emerged from the hiatus of Electric Skin is now up and running. Don't worry your old Electric Skin link will take you to Code Z. Featuring editors who are accomplished visual artists in their own right such as photographers Carla Williams and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, along with peripatetic curator and writer Ingrid La Fleur, and writers George Kelly and Julia Chance, the Z offers the mercurial voices of artists from a range of visual mediums. The inaugural launch features Greg Tate's interview with "bio-morphic" artist Wangechi Mutu, a walking tour through the p.o.v. of "Chicago artist and scenester" Hebru Brantley, a review of Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, J. P. Stassen's graphic novel "masterwork chronicling an impossible love story against the backdrop of the Rwandan genocide", as well as updates on "boundary pushing" black art-doings around the globe.

Check it out! Code Z: Black Visual Culture Now. Click Here

Saturday, August 05, 2006

R.I.P. Arthur Lee, 1945-2006

Arthur Lee, who was the quixotal leader of the 1960s LA-based psychedelic rock/pop band Love, died on August 4th in Memphis, Tennessee from leukemia, he was 61. Arthur Lee was the prototype for the black rocker, and arguably ahead of his time as the head of a multi-ethnic band before Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, but the question of who was first isn't as important to the Lee legacy as his unique artistic explorations within psychedelica and rock. A range of bands cited Love as an influence, particularly in Britain where the band was better known than in the US. As of late there has been a resurgence of interest in Lee and the band Love, so that when Lee announced that he was battling leukemia earlier this year there were numerous benefit concerts held in the US and Britain to aid him with medical bills. The songs "Little Red Book" and "Always See Your Face" were both featured on the soundtrack of High Fidelity; only the latter made it onto the soundtrack CD. To find out more about Lee and Love, check out the links below. The first link below includes video of Love performing "Little Red Book" on American Bandstand and Arthur Lee performing "7 & 7 Is" in London with Baby Lemonade.

R.I.P. Arthur Lee - thanks for all the Love
Arthur Lee, 61 a Pioneer of Psychedelic Rock, Is Dead

End of Month Film Report: July 2006

Short report this month, cause life is in flux and so is my time. There are fewer films and more viewed for work (all the teen dreck). This month I was ruined by one film and officially it wasn't even a traditional film, it was 4+ hours mini-series. Not that I noticed.

1. Angels in America (2003) Dir. Mike Nichols. Yes, ruint, thusfar I cannot watch anything else and gain any satisfaction. Tony Kushner's meditation on the meaning of life, love, race, sex, and the question of God's existence amid the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York. Kushner's writing, his characters, and the casting made me remember why I love theater. The last theater I saw was a year ago, a musical, The Color Purple: The Musical. I appreciate Ms. Winfrey giving African American musical theater actors a vehicle to on and from which to work, grow, and gain recognition, but it has been a while since musical theater in the US has been innovative, and this was primarily an example of traditional musical theater. That's fine, but I wanted something more, something deeper. That something more was there in Angels in America, and while I sincerely admired Nichol's staging and direction, as well as Paul Hsu's innovative sound design, I feel like this work could have been set in a black box with no props and the actors still would have nailed their performances--the folks are that brilliant. I'm one of those folks who doesn't care if s/he never sees Meryl Streep in another performance. I got burned out on her in the 1980s and the fuse was never relit for me. Now I realize she just never got material truly up to her level after she hit 40, so I found myself enjoying her again as she truly disappeared into fascinating characters with quite human dialogue, and enough spaces to for her performance to suffuse into (as opposed to dead spaces that an actor has to ballast). What stood out for me was the work here for me comes from the trio of Ben Shenkman, Justin Kirk, and Jeffrey Wright, plus Patrick Wilson as the Mormon golden boy. Jeffrey Wright is my IBM (Ideal Black Man). I mean as an artist, since I don't know him as a human being. I just love him in everything I've seen him in, he brings such fearlessness, depth, and intelligence to his diverse collection of roles. I would love to watch the movie of life that rolls inside his brain for 30 minutes. (Being Jeffrey Wright) But I also think Ben Shenkman is stunning as character Louis Ironson, who we expect to hate; he abandons his lover of 4 and a half years, Prior Walter (Kirk), when the latter develops AIDS. I didn't hate him, I was disgusted with and annoyed by that character but on a meaningful level, he earned it with the particularities of his flaws, they had if not a complete backstory character unto themselves. Yet but I still saw his humanity, his intelligence, his sensuality, could see why his boyfriend had loved him in the first place. Ultimately the resolution of that relationship and way that interweaves with the resolution of the relationship between closeted Roy Cohn underling and Morman Joe Pitt, and his emotionally unstable wife, Harper (Mary-Louise Parker who made me wish that she had reprised her stage role in the film adaptation of Proof (not that I've seen it but I have the same feeling about Gwyneth Paltrow as I used to have about Streep, let's hope it's because Paltrow has exhausted US film material and not that she's just played out--she's always good, but like an acting machine). When Joe shows himself to be both heartless and vulnerable, self-involved and broken he too is not completely unlikeable and both he and Louis are ultimately forgiveable but neither can be bestowed with the same kind of love they took for granted as their right, theirs to receive or put on hold until they felt like reciprocating. There are not easy characterizations here. And then Emma Thompson as a visionary, confused, amorous, and somewhat violent angel, what can you say. Kushner earns each step his characters make in their development, they don't just move forward to serve a plot point, or because the genre requires it. I also realized how rare it was for me to happily anticipate the next bit of dialogue because I had no clue of what was coming next, of which way a character was going. The actors were so good at listening to each other's performances--I always felt they were in the moment, but also with Kushner's writing again there weren't easy progressions, there wasn't a formula I could see coming a mile away. It ruint me, I tell ya, just ruint me in the best possible way.

2. The Joy of Life (2005) Dir. Jenni Olson. I had been reluctant to see this film, ostensibly an experimental film wrapped inside a 65 minute documentary, only because in part it deals with the death of her friend and colleague Mark Finch, the late director of the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (SFILGFF). Olson was Assistant Director of the SFILGFF having come to San Francisco after having founded successful film screening series in Minneapolis, Minnesota as an undergraduate student. Mark Finch committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in early 1995. I have just told you just about all that Olson covers of his death in the film, maybe a little more as I named the year. I did not know Finch well, he had asked me one year if I wanted to play host to British film historian Richard Dyer for a talk he was giving during the festival and I stupidly declined. I can no longer remember my specific reasoning for saying no only that it was silly. I served on a screening committee with him, and we knew each other to say hello. But still when he killed himself, I felt deeply affected. I imagine a number of people felt this way. It was 1995, a year of considerable loss due to AIDS, felt in different communities but particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area and in various arts communities. So here was this loss at so many levels, people lost a friend a colleague, the city lost someone who had nurtured the festival into its latest incarnation as a truly international festival, with his connections in Europe, and a long history of involvement in film programming in Britain. So the world, primarily the west, lost this person of great vision and great film love. And it was unsettling because it wasn't easy to know exactly why, why we had lost him. The first part of The Joy of Life is primarily about Olson's search for personal happiness as a butch lesbian, the often fragile nature of joy when she does find it, and yet her continued resiliency in that quest. The second part, marked by a black screen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading one of his own poems about San Francisco, begins the tale of suicide in Frank Capra films, the influence of Johann Wolgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers/The Sorrows of Young Werther, and the sad legacy of the Golden Gate Bridge which at 1300 recorded suicides is the nation's world's number one suicide landmark. Olson enumerates the original plan for the Bridge which included a barrier of 5'6'' which was then lowered to 4' making it considerably easier for the desconsolate to maneuver and the over 50 years worth of debates and review of the barrier issue. Official records of suicides ended at the 999th death. I guess someone decided that if they just stopped mentioning it people would stop doing it. Now the determination is made based on the review of bodies pulled from the Bay. The main consequence seems to be that the numbers are harder to obtain, but people are still jumping and the irregular currents and riptides mean that a number of bodies are not recovered; some estimate the numbers at twice the recorded 1300. Harriet "Harry" Dodge provides a measured voice over, simultaneously emotive and restrained. Oddly either Dodge has consciously imitated Olson's voice or the two have some similar vocal qualities; I had to keep reminding myself that it was Dodge, by the end I gave up and just let my mind go with the idea I was hearing Olson (pictured right at Sundance) intoning her thoughts over still long takes of empty post-sunrise San Francisco thoroughfares, side streets, alleys, and city, bay, industrial and bridge vistas, a style that emerged for Olson with her second and third short diary films "Meep, Meep!" and "Blue Diary." A meditative thoughtful work worth seeing. A note: As I was completing this post I read poet Marvin K. White's post about his friend Rickey who recently also lept to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. White explores the thoughts and emotions triggered by this loss in an entry titled, "The dead can offer no answer. We must question the living." This is one of the most frank and searching pieces I've read on black folks and mental health, and worth reading.

3. She's All That (1999) Dir. Robert Iscove. I wish either she or the movie had been all that as watching this movie would have been made easier one or the other were true. The racial dynamics alone in this movie were enough to make my head spin. The use and abuse of African American masculinity with Dulé Hill and the deployment of the African American and Latina hand maiden, Gabrielle Union, Tamara Mello, and 'Lil' Kim. The latter portrayals began to resemble Manet's Olympia the MTV version, although I believe it was the black male emasculation (within a capitalist framework of masculine identity of sexual conquest and consumerism) that was parodied in Not Another Teen Movie. I'm glad to see Freddie Prinze Jr. liberated to TV because in film he tends to act with his admittedly knee-weakening teddy bear brown eyes, with their frame of dense eyelashes and furrowed brows, but not much else. On TV his mama's boy character seems to have been forced into adulthood and Latinadad identity. I appreciate the Hector Elizando "Best Latino Actor In a Cross-Over Role" legacy as much as anyone, but Elizando has actually played Latino characters, Prinze was in danger of never having that opportunity. As for Rachel Leigh Cook, I haven't been stirred by any of her work since her passionately destructive wielding of a frying pan in the "this is your brain on drugs" anti-drug PSAs of the 1990s.

4. She's the Man (2006) Dir. Andy Fickman. In which I found out that while Amanda Bynes' skill for physical comedy is precocious given her age, the lack of pathos in her portrayals, and her ubiquitous on-screen pleasantness (think Doris Day without Burt Reynolds) keeps her from being a truly great comedic talent--like not even at Kevin James (Hitch, King of Queens) level let alone that of Jeremy Piven, which is where I think she aspires to be, notwithstanding her stated Jennifer Anniston aspirations (Anniston was good in Miguel Arteta and Chuck White's The Good Girl, but then, well who knows what happened, "movie star" handling?). Bynes stars as Viola, a stand-out on her high school's girl's soccer team, until the team gets cut and the coach won't let the girls try out for the boys team (ruining her chances to be seen by the UNC recruiter--she wants to be "a Blue Devil" even though she won't get as much playing time there as at another school: hunh?), and her boyfriend--team captain and goalie sides with the coach. Meanwhile her twin brother Sebastian is hightailing it to London for two weeks to pursue his music dreams. Just enough time for her to become a boy and pretend to be him at his new school, try out and make the starting line up on that school's boys soccer team (apparently they don't have a girl's team either) and give her ex the public beat down he deserves on the soccer field. Of course, the best laid plans are subject to some necessary revision and along the way both brother and sister find love, a sensitive guy who can still throw a punch learns a girl can be a friend and a lover, and everyone gets paired off at the end. These days if teens are going to interrogate gender I want to see some more uneasiness than found in the primarily easy payoffs evident here. I know it's based on Twelfth Night, but don'tcha think if William S. was around now he'd push the envelope a bit more? This stays well within everyone's comfort zones which is too bad (Fickman also directed Reefer Madness: The Musical)Given that adolescence is the time when gender is most in flux and discomforting they could have done so much more with these characters and situations. Oh and the portrayals of black folks, back in time, so sad. With Amanda Bynes inconsistently doing some sort of psuedo black male/urban speak which then lapses into would-be white southern boy dirty south drawl, and then into her own voice and back again without it being a particular failing of the character but instead an apparent attempt to masculinize a character that looks like a twelve year old boy. Everything but the burden indeed.

4. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) Dir. Dir. Gil Junger. Well here's a well-done Shakespeare adaptation with a solid soundtrack. But then it's got a solid cast not just stuffed with pretty people. Julia Stiles, a pre-Brokeback Heath Ledger whose mouth still looks like an unresolve wound part of the time, i.e. you can see the Brokeback performance seedlings. David Krumholtz who I've already cited as a great talent, as the nebbishy aspiring MBA with a romantic soul. Pre-Mysterious Skin Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an atypical hottie, and Julia Stiles as the shrew in this adaptation of her taming. Comedian Larry Miller as her father, a quirky and paranoid ob-gyn whose patient demographics has him terrified of teenage pregnancy,leading him to proclaim that his younger daughter cannot date until his older "did you make anyone cry today, honey?" daughter does. Deep Bad boy Ledger is conscripted into the taming, while superficial pretty boy/bad boy Andrew Keegan attempts to reap the rewards by de-virginizing the younger sister, as Gordon-Levitt attempts to romance the self-involved younger sister. Ultimately this screenplay doesn't garner the charges of misongyny that Taming has earned, but some of that anxiety is indirectly displaced onto unresolved issues of gendered race, and class, most obviously embodied in the characters played by Gabrielle Union (as, what else, the best friend) and Daryl "Chill" Mitchell (as a frustrated English teacher) respectively.

5. Notorious C.H.O (2002) and 6. Cho Revolution (2004) Dir. Lorene Machado (both). Notorious Cho I realized I had seen before, but I get to see the interviews with her parents which is the best part of the DVD, they just love her and are proud of her. It's quite something to see. I like Cho despite the unease with which I sometimes experience her maternal mimicry. With her most recent incarnation in Cho Revolution she's lost weight and developed a black drag queen-WeHo (West Hollywood) diva intonation that she regularly lapses into especially for the punchline of her less politically saavy work. It truly got on my nerves, especially since it was a cheat, she didn't have to really work for the laugh with the degree people have been conditioned to laugh at the sound of those particular vocal intonations and phrasings. I appreciate the personality and character of her actually voice and voice sounds like a caricature of the "sassy black women" from which those drag queens and divas are gathering their style and strength.

I wondered if Cho had just been inculcated by her time in West Hollywood, like is "pseudo urban black" the new lingua franca there? Cho is also doing a rap comedy show (Yikes!) in which she appears as "MCMC" along with her fellow comic African American Bruce Daniels. The loss of weight has changed Cho's physical presence--the definition of her face, her main instrument, is different and you can see her working to make adjustments. The body of a female comic is under a particular kind of scrutiny, subject to a particular kind of read--it often becomes part of her comedy intentionally or not, in a manner not experienced by male comics. In the history of female comics in the US a funny big girl, or funny-looking funny girl is a comedic normalcy. For Cho, some of her staples, particularly talking graphically about sex and dieting, read dissimilarly coming from a "big girl" (more of an "every-girl", or at times a "subversive girl"), than from a more svelte, bare-armed, markedly femme-fashioned body. Physically she's employing her body with some new methods which has opened up her comedy, apparent in a quite funny bit she did about airline steward nervously serving her "Asian Chicken Salad". At the same time her face is smaller which means that her main canvas--as one fan said "no one can pull a face like Margaret Cho"--doesn't offer her quite the same opportunities for expressiveness, so it is interesting to watch her work her body differenttly.

7. The 24th Day (2004) Dir. Tony Piccirillo. Piccirillo's writing here is a bit uneven, at points this come across as a morality play instead of a human drama, and unfortunately a good theater staging does not always make for a good film. The story of a married man who was recently diagnosed with HIV, Tom (Scott Speedman), who had a single sexual encounter with another man, Dan (James Marsden) who he stalks and kidnaps in order to obtain a blood sample for testing with the intention of letting him go if the results are negative and killing him if they aren't. In this case the plot, which already feels dated, suffers from Piccirillo's inconsistent direction. Nevertheless Speedman comes across as a capable actor despite the fiasco of replacing Brad Pitt in the ill-fated Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Duets (2000). But this isn't the film that changed things for him or James Marsden who has perhaps gotten more beyond pretty-boy credibility, with his role in Heights (2004). The problem is the pacing, which probably worked with a claustrophobic stage design but doesn't work here. In addition, the premise of Speedman's motivation, that only a gay man could have given him HIV instead of the possibility of it being his wife, insists on reinforcing the idea of this as a "gay disease." In spite of this, I thought both Marsden and Speedman were quite capable in their roles, with Speedman making the most of his character's particular arc.

8. Hatuna meuheret/Mariage tardif/Late Marriage (2001) Dir. Dover Kosashvili.
After seing Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi in Walk on Water(2004), where he played an Israeli agent on the trail of an aging Nazi war criminal. I was curious about his other work. He's good at playing men who come from a rigid and closed frame of reference, with which they eventually find themselves at odds. In this case he plays Zaza, a 31 year old philosophy graduate student whose Georgian parents are setting him up with numerous women in an effort to arrange a marriage. After he rejects numerous brides in desperation the family organizes a stake-out and discovers the son having a relationship with Judith (the striking Ronit Elkabetz), a divorcee who has a precocious daughter. Zaza is apparently quite happy and has created a surrogate family where he's almost fully himself. The film also features some of the more sensual heterosexual love scenes I've witnessed in film as of late. Unfortunately, all hell breaks loose as the family stages an intervention where painful family secrets are hinted at, their eventual exposure shows the power of familial love, the weight of patriarchal control on those who wield it and those against it is enacted, and the impact of generations of unquestioning adherence to those traditions. Ashkenazi is quite good as a man whose sheltered existence hasn't prepared him for the consequences of following his heart's desires.

9. Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002) Dir. Robert Rodriguez. His second trip into the land of children’s make-believe with the return of lessons in family values, ego and anger management, and personal integrity all dressed up in a fun sometimes sarcastic and snarky kids film. Rodriguez gets point in my book for a narrative that explores the reality of children having to develop a sense of integrity and personal ethos independent of their parents’ (especially when mom and dad’s priorities are questionable). Alan Cummings and Tony Shalhoub briefly reprise their roles and I for one missed them once they were gone, the new villain, a rival in father Antonio Banderas’ attempt to head the OSS spy organization, is played with bland arrogance by Mike Judge (who sadly has a rather forgettable face, except for it being so remarkably anglo in comparison to most of the other adult leads). The kids, Alex Vega (who gets to sing on the soundtrack) and Daryl Sabara, have grown and developed into full-fledged spies with their sibling warfare intact, each of the kids has a love interest, and they do a fairly good job of carrying most of the film. Vega evidences a more spirited personality and has more fight scenes than the younger Sabara, the sensitive little brother, good at counseling would be villains to consider a new world view. Great guest spots here by Rodriguez-Tarantino alum Steve Buscemi as an inadvertently mad zoologist, who has created a mutant Noah’s Arc and fellow Texan Bill Paxton as a sort of modern entrepreneurial Will Rogers of amusement parks. Rodriguez’s notion of family values is that daddy is the leader and everyone else falls in behind him, although daddy is the subject of some disparaging humor.

10. (Repeat) High Fidelity (2000) Dir. Stephen Frears. I get now that Frears is an art film director for hire, he’s not an auteur, which means that his director’s commentary is rather dry. But I watched this again to hear Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe,” which in this music saturated film is the last and irrefutably the most important song of the soundtrack given the protagonist’s character arc. In the meantime I was reminded of what a gem this is, stunning early work by Jack Black, a brief sexy moment from Lisa Bonet, who can sing. All this and a charmingly wrecked John Cusack as a jaded 30ish consummate ass boy-man until he finally commits to actually showing up for his life.

11. Gangstresses (1999) Dir. Harry Davis. This is a disorganized documentary shot over a three year period which deals with black women hustlers: those working in pornography, as prostitutes, and drug dealers. With the tagline "There's one [a gangstress] in every woman," the documentary features interviews with hip hop stars Mary J. Blige, and Lil’ Kim and a number of underground female rappers, and features porn star/dancer Champagne, who attempts to break through the sexist boys club of men’s club adult entertainment management. There are also Pamela, a prostitute, and her daughter Tamieka, some women who identify as hustlers in a vague manner (presumably not to implicate themselves in any current illegal activities) and a number of sex workers, all of whom have the intent of building up their nestegg in order to take care of their families. The approach here is to glamorize and mythologize this life with interviews from Lil Kim, Mary J. Blige, Russell and Kimora Simmons about gangstresses, but then pull back the high gloss sheen and show the reality of women being subjected to violence and sometimes murdered when living by the hustle or participating in the hustle of a male romantic partner. The film gives little context for the lives of these women, nor does it situate them in a larger framework of African American women’s lives—e.g. those poor working women who choose not to hustle. From this documentary you would think all poor black women do was work in illegal industries, as though it were default mode. Finally, the last part of the film delves substantially into the adult entertainment industry with a considerable amount of graphic footage of black women engaged in various forms of sex work,to the extent that it re-exploits these women. I think this work is now out of print.

12. Dancing in September (2001) Dir. Reggie Rock Bythewood
An HBO movie also written by Rock Bythewood about how a well-intentioned talented African American television writer (Nicole Ari Parker) and producer (Isaiah Washington) lose their way producing what becomes a number one show on a white-run start up network thereby securing the success of the network. Basically it comes up as a dramatization of the behind the scenes history of Norman Lear's "Good Times" and Kristal Brent Zook's take on how the Fox Network established itself with the success of African American shows which it then dumped and replaced with white shows to further secure the white demographic. A less surreal take on network television and race than Spike Lee's Bamboozled, it's considerably less operatic tone also is more successful in suggesting an insidious pattern of appropriation, cooptation, and abdication of black comedic narrative (since no black character centered hour long drama has ever been successful on network television--witness the early demise of the excellent "Gideon's Crossing"). It is also memorably one of the few times you'll see mental illness dealt with by name in a black film, even though the end it's given an over the top representation.

13. Clean (2004) Dir. Olivier Assayas. Why did it take so long for this to gain a US release, after Maggie Cheung won the Best Actress award, and Eric Gautier won for Cinematography at Cannes (he also won in for Motorcycle Diaries [2004]) and Assayas was nominated for a Golden Palm for direction but lost (Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was the awardee). I've heard that this film doesn't cohere, that it's mainly something that fans of Assayas and Cheung (Irma Vep groupies?) will enjoy, but no one else. I haven't seen anything else by Assayas, although I keep meaning to see Irma Vep (1996). This film reminded me of Lisa Cholodenko's High Art (1998) and Gilliam Armstrong's High Tide (1987), not so much because of the subject matter: abandoned children, drifting dissolute lives, strung out junkie artists, and in the world of dive music joints. Armstrong's film is probably among my favorite films of all time. Similar to Judy Davis' character Maggie Cheung's Emily is no one's friend, she's self-involved has abandoned the child she had with her broken down former rock star husband Lee. Maggie Cheung plays Emily as a woman slowly coming back to life, moving from heroin to methadone to just nicotine, determined to see her son again after Lee OD's and she spends six months in jail for possession. Some will see parallels between Emily's character and that of Courtney Love, but I just saw it as ex-husband Assayas wanting to create a vehicle for Cheung where she could play a role not so extraordinarily outside of herself. This would normally be unusual for an actor to be drawn to such a role or for a director to create it out of respect for the artist's talent. But in Cheung's case where she's been an action star and played "a green snake," a multilingual, multi-nation residing, woman in the contemporary era is Cheung's reality and giving her the opportunity to play with a character with those reference points was unique. She also sings in the film; her voice is a cross between latter day Marianne Faithful and the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, a stripped nakedness I that enjoyed but it may not be for everyone. Cheung is wide open here, uneasy in her sober skin, resilient, and raw. The film also features a thoughtful, contained performance by Nick Nolte as Emily's pragmatic father-in-law who is leaning towards forgiveness.

14. Mission to Mars (2000) Dir. Brian De Palma
. The cinematography by Stephen H. Burum has everyone here looking amazing. Gary Sinise (Jim McConnell) has the most brilliantly fascinating canvas of a face here, so much intelligence and complexity comes through: he should get Burum to light him for everything. Although the film features a great cast and skilled, in some cases heartbreaking performances, particularly Tim Robbins, it slows and loses its footing about halfway in. It doesn't help that thematically it bears more than a passing resemblance to John Cameron's The Abyss (1989). Unfortunately, where the two films part is in Mission's lack of a strong female lead. That part goes to Kim Delaney (Maggie McConnell) who plays Sinise's passionte and visionary deceased wife in a past captured on video. McConnell dropped out of the Mars program when she became ill, they were both astronauts, and so while this mission should be his to lead he doesn't even get a spot on the crew. Instead Luke Graham (Don Cheadle) leads the mission where they encounter something unexpected, and a rescue ensues (I could ask "why the black man gotta be rescued?" but the plot doesn't insist on Cheadle's incompetency. His Luke Graham is amazingly competent given the circumstances in which he finds himself). Everything is not as it seems on Mars, and apparently the human race has a lot to look forward to if we can keep from blowing each other up before our next stage of consciousness development.

15. The Human Stain (2005) Dir. Robert Benton. I screened this because of "Passing and Failing: Reflections on the Limitations of Showing the Passer in The Human Stain," an article in a Women & Performance special issue on Passing in which Rachel Gelder argues that white critics, she doesn't name them as white, but all the ones cited in the article are, don't validate a passing narrative unless it is the story of a failed attempt. The lack of failure creates an intense sense of unease among the critics who found unbelievable the respective performances of Anthony Hopkins as Coleman Silk, a black man passing for a white Jewish professor of Classics at a presitigious New England college, and Nicole Kidman as a fallen blue blood (in Kidman's case because she seemed too beautiful to be living a blue collar life, clearly some people don't get how that rarified breeding can "out" even in a hard-lived life. And don't these people watch America's Next Top Model with its collection of beauties from a range of class strata?). Interestingl, the success of the passing narrative actually rests on the performances of Wentworth Miller and Anna Deavere Smith. Miller portrays the young Coleman Silk who decides as a teenager to pass for white, specifically Jewish, as it "benefits" him, starting with a boxing match (as Coleman "Silky" Silk), and finally to pass completely into the white world. Smith is his aggrieved mother who has some moving scenes with Miller as the son attempts to gain her understanding of the reasons for his decision without ever giving the act a name. Miller watched Hopkins' mannerisms and speaking patterns and recreated them in the corpus of a younger, more overtly sensual man. He eerily captures Hopkins' powerfully seductive manner. By the time we return to the older Coleman he's a man entrenched in the life his ethnically marked privilege has afforded him. And even at this point we never hear him reference the act of passing. His story is told through a blocked writer friend played by Gary Sinise. Actor Wentworth Miller is of self-identified mixed heritage, and of Jamaican background the latter which adds another layer of complexity to race/culture identity and questions of the marked body given the history of blood and physical appearance in Jamaica. But what if I didn't know that, or what if he were "white" how would that impact my read of his performance? Further, how would that "white" identity impact his performance, or not? I found Gelder's assertions fascinating and I know they influenced how I experienced the film and the various performances, especially Hopkins', particularly as the actor claims not to have done any research. To Hopkins it was "just a job." Admittedly, he may have dismissed queries this way to avoid having to talk about his process which a number of actors prefer not to disclose. But what was also intriguing about Gelder's article was the detailing of how each of the main actors in this film, and director Benton (pictured left with Miller at a BAFTA/LA event) had a different definition of "passing" and what it meant to their respective characters.