Archive: November, 2009
The Yes Men Fix the World opens with its protagonists frolicking in green, sun-dappled waters, dressed head to toe in business suits. Before the end of the documentary, they've manufactured candles ostensibly made from human remains, distributed a version of The New York Times with entirely good news and roamed lonely landscapes dressed in 'Survivo-balls,' inflatable, 'disaster-proof' suits they marketed to a frighteningly receptive audience of Halliburton product scouts.
In their more, erm, legitimate lives, the Yes Men, Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, are professors of media arts and design, respectively. The Yes Men Fix the World, which was screened at Painted Bride on Nov. 5 as part of the First Person Festival, documents how they apply those disciplines and their Monty-Pythonesque spirit to a special brand of political activism they call 'identity correction.' Briefly, this entails impersonating corporate figures to perform acts that are remarkably socially responsible, environmentally conscious or simply absurd, to get at larger truths about the corporation.
But The Yes Men Fix the World also shows the more private, authentic aspects of their work. We see Bichlbaum on the morning of his visit to the BBC studios in Paris, about to pose as a Dow Chemical spokesman in front of 300 million viewers, curled up in the sheets of his hotel bed and groaning with anxiety. His BBC performance goes smoothly, and he temporarily convinces the world that Dow has decided to compensate the victims of the Bhopal disaster in India, in which poisonous gas leaked out of a factory and killed thousands. Bichlbaum performs so well, in fact, that reports start coming in of how crowds of Indians celebrated the broadcast with tears of joy ' then bitterly angry tears when they found out it was a hoax.
Bonanno and Bichlbaum are suddenly stricken by guilt. 'Had we really hurt the people we'd been trying to help?' asks Bonanno in a voiceover. They go to a Bhopal to find out ' and what do you know, the locals in Bhopal welcome them gladly. Turns out they were bitterly disappointed, but when Bichlbaum sheepishly asks, 'Was it worth it?' an old man assents vigorously: 'Totally worth it!' For longtime fans of the Yes Men, many of the exploits covered in the documentary may already be dearly familiar. But these glimpses at their real identities are delightful, and give a fuller sense of who, in fact, the Yes Men really are.
Bichlbaum opened up even more in a question-and-answer round after the screening. He winced when describing some of the pair's failed stunts, including an effort to parody the Bush presidential campaign in multiple skits: 'We got a grant for it, too,' he recalled wistfully. He spoke bluntly about his fears for the future of journalism, declaring himself 'worried about a future in which news is only told by bloggers.' But of the lawsuit recently filed against the Yes Men by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose identity they recently corrected, Bichlbaum was buoyant. The case would attract the Chamber a lot of bad publicity, he said, and besides, 'We're raring for a fight.'
There are probably more direct ways to actually fix the world than impersonating corporate figures, as Bichlbaum himself said during the post-screening Q&A. But before being dismissed as distracting jokers, the Yes Men should be credited for focusing global attention on some grievously neglected injustices.
Plus, who else will insert images of sodomy behind a filmed interview with a free-market pundit who requests that he be shown against a backdrop of 'free men freely pursuing their desires'?
|Photo | Lauren Seibert|
|Nimisha Ladva reads an essay about
her relationship with her mother-in-law.
We never left our seats at the Painted Bride, but we might as well have hopped a plane and spun around the world. In the space of two hours Thursday night at the Salon du Festival, the sixth event of the First Person Festival, the audience found itself carted off to Sinai, England, New Orleans and even Philly's own Northern Liberties. Four presentations of memoir and documentary art drew us into four very different worlds.
Erica Hoffman kicked off the night with a presentation of her essay 'Mom's New Deal,' a saucy little piece describing her relationship with her penny-pinching mother. The latter apparently lived for two days on a can of green beans in her younger days, and later could be found 'wielding her coupon-cutting scissors like a back-alley surgeon,' as Hoffman recalls.
Philadelphia photographer Laura Jean Zito opened our eyes to a world rarely seen through the lens of a camera ' especially a camera in the hands of a woman. Though the Sinai Bedouin people rarely allow themselves to be photographed, somehow Zito managed to overcome this cultural barrier in her travels through Egypt's peninsula. Her striking images of harems, robes billowing in the wind, rolling sands, and scarves covering all but a woman's piercing eyes made the exotic seem tangible ' if only for an instant. Zito's descriptions of the culture had me hooked, from the fact that the Bedouin consider the mouth the most sensual part of a woman, to their 'waste nothing' desert mentality, to the slow infiltration of the West into Bedouin life. How did Zito gain access to all this? 'I believe I was at the same time a mascot, an anomaly, and a role model for the Bedouin,' she told us.
|Photo | Lauren Seibert|
|Jennifer Baker discusses 1980s NoLibs.|
In a joint presentation, artist Jennifer Baker and her husband, Inquirer journalist Stephan Salisbury, took us back time to the Northern Liberties neighborhoods of the '80s and '90s. As her paintings of the old and new buildings flashed across the screen, the two alternated in telling the tale of the fires that burned down much of neighborhood.
Finally, photojournalist Ryan Brandenberg spoke about his fascination with Katrina and its aftermath for the people of New Orleans. Over a span of several years and several visits to the Ninth Ward, one of the most damaged neighborhoods, Brandenberg shot 27,000 photographs and recorded 118 hours of audio. Putting it all together in a slideshow, he gave us a glimpse of the motivations ' in their own words ' of the people who returned to start over again.
From the Br'no DVD extras: Sacha Baron Cohen vs. Pete Rose. The former Phil handles himself quite nicely considering he's sitting on a man-chair. In his review, Sam Adams wasn't too hot on Br'no, saying, "the movie's provocations connect only fitfully, and despite its comparatively strong narrative, it feels less of a piece than Borat, and more like an overlong episode of Cohen's TV show."
Don't fret for Pete, either. Very few things could be as embarrassing as this.
Br'no comes out on DVD November 17.
Admit it, you want more from this week's Movies section.
The Box ' B
The Box didn't screen in time for print but Drew Lazor went anyway. Here's what he had to say:
Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly's latest expands a remarkably short, short story by sci-fi icon Richard Matheson into a peculiar, campy, frustrating but undeniably original two-hour creepfest. Matheson's tale, one of those ones so well-suited for middle-school English class discussions, takes the classic morality play setup and repackages it into what's basically a Staples "Easy" button. An odd stranger presents a struggling couple with a proposition: If they choose to push a weird button on a weird box, a stranger will die ' but not before they're awarded a large chunk of money. Kelly's version has the male lead (James Marsden) employed by NASA, the wifey (Cameron Diaz) as a repressed schoolteacher and the odd stranger (a frightening Frank Langella) touting natty suits and extreme facial disfigurement. Kelly is a gifted weaver of suspense, and The Box score ' constructed brilliantly by members of Arcade Fire ' trumps up the screenplay's many moments of Hitchcockian paranoia. The movie's shortcomings are not based in implausibility (all in the game), but rather in the occasional stiffness of Marsden and Diaz's performances. We can all agree that pretty people can't always sell middle-class ' but this film's built like a nesting doll, so we expect our leads to get sharper as the answers starting rolling in.
Related: Kaleidoscope ' Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
The Fourth Kind ' C
Related: Trailer!: The Men Who Stare at Goats
Revanche ' A-
Skin ' C
As I say in my my review, the true story of Skin protagonist Sandra Laing ' a South African born to white parents who appeared black, and was therefore classified as such during the Apartheid-era ' is harrowing enough as it is without cheap, tearjerk-y moves. You can see for yourself in this documentary about Ms. Laing and her life.
|Act, JBJ, act! Jon Bon in U-571|
You've gotta be fucking kidding me with this, Lipton.
Dave Itzkoff over at the NYTimes' ArtsBeat blog writes that Jerz boys Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, David Bryan and Tico Torres will headline the first episode of the new season of Inside the Actors' Studio with James Lipton.
How in god's name do the producers even justify that? Have Sambora, Bryan and Torres even been in anything of note? Granted, JBJ has short resume under his belt. I mean, I enjoyed Young Guns II and Cry_Wolf as much as the next girl but'
What's the attraction? Maybe it was JBJ's gleaming white teeth? His classic aging rock star, wind-swept hair, which replaced the oh-so-feathered look? Or maybe it was simply Sambora's uncanny ability to sleep with him women who are much, much, much more attractive than he is? Yo, Lipton, to make up for this extremely confusing move, you're first question has to be: Where is the free, Philadelphia Soul-celebrating Bon Jovi concert? We want our Parkway concert, goddamnit!
(Side question: Hey Richie, how are you enjoying that Two Liberty Place apartment?)
We have to thank our lucky stars for YouTube user BonJovi011 who posted not one, not two, not three, but four montages from JBJ's acting career. Here's the first one. You can find the rest yourself, or simply tune in on Monday, November 16 on Bravo for other highlights:
|Xerox Number Three, by AntiPop Ltd.|
If you happened to be anywhere near the corner of Third and Race streets this morning at 8 a.m., you might have noticed Stephen and Ophelia Clark ' the creators of AntiPop Ltd. ' plastering boarded-up windows, guerrilla style, with their art. This week's First Friday Focus gets into the meaning behind the mostly-black-and-white multimedia collages that have popped up in Old City and other neighborhoods as a fitting juxtaposition to gallery-bound First Friday. Here's a snippet from the column:
"As experience tells us, art and creative expression suffer greatly under corporate control," says Stephen. This is not a diss on First Friday but a call to action for artists living in a world where expression is trumped by advertising, capitalism and the Internet. "Our concern is for the next generation of artists, since we are witnessing individuality being co-opted by pre-packaged rebellion, creating youth that will be bereft of culture, independent thought and artistic intent."
Our very own Neal Santos got up bright and early this morning to follow the Clarks as they installed their public exhibition. Watch the video below; then read a Q&A with the artists, who want to make sure you don't get the wrong idea about what they're doing. "We're not political or anti-technology or anti-popular culture," says Stephen. "What we're trying to do is put these things into perspective in a world that is seemingly becoming more and more reliant upon them."
City Paper: Your work is heavily collaged found art with tons of pop-culture references ' like the CBS symbol. Can you talk a bit about the work and the meaning behind it?
AntiPop: For the most part our paintings are a combination of collage and acrylic paint. We are interested in using images in a context that is reactionary to corporate controlled media's abandoning of fact-based news for agenda-based propaganda and exploratory of the effect this poses on the society at large. The pieces range in size and scope. Along with paintings and collage we incorporate installations, original music and photography and we are now beginning to experiment with short films. We have seen all of these mediums in recent years scooped up into massive corporate conglomerates and as experience tells us, art and creative expression suffers greatly under corporate control as finance becomes the priority.
We attempt to look ahead and explore the role of the artist in such a society and how the relevance of art will change with greater leaps in technology and possible restraints on individuality.
CP: Where did AntiPop come from?
AP: The name AntiPop is more a reflection of style and aesthetic choice than anything else. We take the name as it describes our attempt to combine the bold imagery of '60s Pop with the reactionist questioning of artistic and societal standards of early 20th-century Dada. The similarities in the movements are clear, both movements being reflections of the society in which they were created.
CP: How long has this idea been brewing? Have you done any public installations like this before?
AP: A year or so ago, I began noticing by and large it seemed the trends in art were not reflecting the society I was living in. In the last 10 years we have seen the world change more dramatically, and faster, than any 10-year period since perhaps the '60s. The only difference seemed to be a lack of public reaction, which seems contradictory since surely people are better informed now. I talked about it with Ophelia who was already painting (I was still doing photography at this point) and we collaborated on a piece (Death and Tax Attorneys) that became our first painting.
We had maybe completed six or seven pieces when we had our first opportunity to participate in a group show at a new gallery in our neighborhood called Skylight 307. The organizer of the exhibition liked and wanted to include all five pieces we submitted and the public reaction seemed genuinely positive. That was in April and since then we have primarily taken to the streets in our neighborhood and others. We have reproduced some of our canvases on stickers and smaller canvas boards and put on public exhibitions. We are currently working on putting together a series of five individually themed shows, each show being a piece of a larger concept. They would include installations, original music and short films displayed with the paintings. We have recently sent this proposal out to a few galleries.
CP: What do you hope audiences will gain from the Friday-morning art installation?
AP: Friday [was] a continuation of the series of public exhibitions we have been putting up. The paintings will explore the replacement of the conventional with new iconography based on celebrity and technology worship. Art is interpretive by nature. We hope that people don't misunderstand where we're coming from. We're not political or anti-technology or anti-popular culture. What we're trying to do is put these things into perspective in a world that is seemingly becoming more and more reliant upon them.
Bill Withers is probably one of the least polarizing artists of all time. Do you know anyone who reaches for the radio dial when "Lovely Day" or "Ain't No Sunshine" comes on the radio? Of course you don't, it's musical blasphemy. That voice! Those arrangements! But when Withers was at the top of his game, he simply walked away from it all for a quieter, outta-the-spotlight life. On Sunday, November 8 the First Person Festival screens the documentary Still Bill (check out the trailer above) tracks down the reclusive Withers and he opens about why he shunned the limelight and what he plans to do from now. Withers obvs won't be there (reclusive isn't a word you throw around lightly), so Johnny Ingram will be there, singing the hits, instead.
While you're at it, watch Withers receive an achievement award from the R&B Foundation last year at the Kimmel Center, with Dionne Warwick ("Use Me" is my fave Withers song too, Dionne!) introducing a Withers and a medley of his tunes:
Still Bill, Sun., Nov. 8, 7:30-9:30 p.m., $25-$30, Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., 267-402-2055, firstpersonarts.org.
Remember last week when we got crazy excited about Frank Reynolds (aka Danny DeVito) flashing around a copy of the City Paper, Carolyn Huckabay's cover story on T. Desiree Hines to be exact, on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? We promised we'd give you the goods when the episode went up on Hulu. Without further ado, lower the lights and check CP out:
Also, if you saw last night's episode, it's in your best interest to visit dicktowel.com. Like, now.
|Helen Horstmann, phillyfoodie.com|
|Foobooz Burger Cruise|
Technically the First Person Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art kicked off on Tuesday night (and that doesn't even include the Oct. 26 preview dinner with Ruth Reichl, or the First Person Arts-sponsored Welcome House you might have noticed in early October). So far there's been a burger cruise, a "group eating" event, a movie screening, a festival salon and even a concert by Woody Guthrie's granddaughter. Whew.
But the majority of fest events are happening this weekend, and there's a lot of noteworthy stuff out there. We figured since we can barely keep track of it all, you might need some help, too. Here's a rundown of don't-misses (all events take place at Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., and cost $20, unless otherwise noted):
Going to Extremes >> If you've ever sat for hours at La Colombe, sipping perfect cappuccinos and people-watching the coffee shop's Euro-fabulous clienetele, you have Todd Carmichael to thank. The La Colombe owner's not just known for torrefaction, though ' he's a daredevil who's trekked across Antarctica and has plans for the Namib Desert and Death Valley National Park. He'll talk about his wacky adventures and misadventures and give audiences a chance to ask questions. Like, Who does that? Fri., Nov. 6, 7 p.m.
Karaoke Obsessed >> As many drunken nights at Yakitori Boy can attest, karaoke just sometimes ' happens. Brian Raftery, like all of us before our first time, once thought karaoke was for chumps. We don't know what his first song was, but it changed his mind, and now the author of How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life is an addict. He'll read from his book, and then hand the mic to Sara Sherr, she of Sugar Town and the Khyber's Karaoke that Doesn't Suck, for some audience participation. Get ready to sing your heart out. Fri., Nov. 6, 9 p.m.
The Guinea Pig Diaries >> For his new book, A.J. Jacobs ' author of The Year of Living Biblically ' did all kinds of weird stuff, from posing nude for Vanity Fair to outsourcing his life to India. Read A.D. Amorosi's interview with Jacobs here, and then ask Jacobs if there's anything he wouldn't do. We're guessing no. Sat., Nov. 7, 7 p.m.
Grand Slam >> The culmination of a year's worth of Story Slams, this Grand Slam features hilarious/poignant/serious/ridiculous tales from each winner from the 2009 series. Who will win the title of "Best Storyteller in Philadelphia"? Sat., Nov. 7, 9 p.m.
Life Without Parole >> Our own Julia Harte filled us in on this prisoner's tale in the print edition of CP: "The star of this event won't be present on Sunday ' he'll be locked up in California State Prison. To understand how lifer/author Kenneth Hartman got there, and the metamorphosis he's undergone since his murder conviction 30 years ago, excerpts of Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars will be read by a local actor." Sun., Nov. 8, 2 p.m., free.
Sweet Tea >> CP's Josh Middleton gave us the scoop: "If the word 'tea' means gossip in gay vernacular, then E. Patrick Johnson is ready to serve it up: He'll be performing the narratives of four characters in his book, Sweet Tea, an archive of candid stories told by black gay men of the South. The book explores the unique experience of growing up black and gay below the Mason-Dixon and suggests the Southern mind-set may be broader than some think." Sun., Nov. 8, 6 p.m.
|Hannah, "An Exhibition of Nude Photography," Proximity Gallery.|
If you're in need of First Friday suggestions, take a look at Carolyn Huckabay's First Friday Focus column (and the slideshow that goes along with it). Then hit up our revamped gallery listings, which are complete with images from the shows, gallery hours, and summaries written up by City Paper staff members.
Afterward, if you think of a way to make the listings better, feel free to leave a comment below or e-mail email@example.com.
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