This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

THE CONTENDERS 2014: MANAKAMANA

MANAKAMANA

A mother and daughter eat ice cream in experimental documentary MANAKAMANA

MANAKAMANA (Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Wednesday, November 26, 7:30
Series runs through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
212-708-9400
www.moma.org
www.manakamanafilm.com

If you’re an adventurous filmgoer who likes to be challenged and surprised, the less you know about Pacho Velez and Stephanie Spray’s Manakamana, the better. But if you want to know more, here goes: Evoking such experimental films as Michael Snow’s Wavelength, Hollis Frampton’s Zorns Lemma, and Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests as well as the more narrative works of such unique auteurs as Jim Jarmusch and Abbas Kiarostami, Manakamana is a beautiful, meditative journey that is sure to try your patience at first. The two-hour film, which requires a substantial investment on the part of the audience, takes place in a five-foot-by-five-foot cable car in Nepal that shuttles men, women, and children to and from the historic Manakamana temple, on a pilgrimage to worship a wish-fulfilling Hindu goddess. With Velez operating the stationary Aaton 7 LTR camera — the same one used by Robert Gardner for his 1986 documentary Forest of Bliss — and Spray recording the sound, the film follows a series of individuals and small groups as they either go to or return from the temple, traveling high over the lush green landscape that used to have to be traversed on foot before the cable car was built. A man and his son barely acknowledge each other; a woman carries a basket of flowers on her lap; an elderly mother and her middle-age daughter try to eat melting ice-cream bars; a pair of musicians play their instruments to pass the time.

A heavy metal band takes a picture of themselves in meditative documentary

A heavy metal band takes a picture of themselves in meditative documentary

Each trip has its own narrative, which must be partly filled in by the viewer as he or she studies the people in the cable car and the surroundings, getting continually jolted as the car glides over the joins. The film is a fascinating look into human nature and technological advances in this era of surveillance as the subjects attempt to act as normal as possible even though a camera and a microphone are practically in their faces. Produced at the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory at Harvard, Manakamana consists of eleven uncut shots of ten-to-eleven minutes filmed in 16mm, using rolls whose length roughly equals that of each one-way trip, creating a kind of organic symbiosis between the making and projecting of the work while adding a time-sensitive expectation on the part of the viewer. A film well worth sticking around for till the very end — and one that grows less and less claustrophobic with each scene — Manakamana is screening November 26 at 7:30 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” consisting of films the institution believes will stand the test of time. Among the other films in the series are Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (followed by a Q&A with writer-director Linklater and costar Ethan Hawke), and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (followed by a discussion with star Tilda Swinton).

MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ: GENERATOR

Marina Abramovic, “Portrait with Blindfold,” framed fine art pigment print, 2014 (photo by Marco Anelli)

Marina Abramović, “Portrait with Blindfold,” framed fine art pigment print, 2014 (photo by Marco Anelli)

Sean Kelly Gallery
475 Tenth Ave. at 36th St.
Tuesday - Saturday through December 6, 10:00/11:00 am - 6:00 pm
212-239-1181
www.skny.com
www.immaterial.org

First, a word of warning: If you want to get all you can from “Generator,” Marina Abramović’s new show at Sean Kelly, just go and experience it with as little advance information as possible. Don’t go to the Tumblr site where you can see photos of people in the space. Don’t look at pictures on the Internet or the postcard at the gallery until after you’re done. Not having this knowledge will greatly enhance your involvement in this sensory-deprivation participatory event. All you need to know is that after putting all bags, jackets, and electronic devices in a locker, you will be blindfolded, and noise-canceling headphones will be placed over your ears by facilitators trained by artist Lynsey Peisinger. You will be led into a large, brightly lit room and told that it’s a slow-movement space and that you should raise your hand when you’re ready to be guided out. You can stay as long as you want; you can sit, you can lean against a wall, you can stand stock-still in the middle, or you can carefully wander around. You’ll be able to hear some sounds and see hints of light, but if you allow yourself to become immersed in the piece, you’ll soon find you are looking deep inside yourself, both frightened and exhilarated, feeling lost and lonely as you yearn for any kind of contact. Finding a wall is comforting, but brushing by another human, a complete stranger, is such a necessary relief that you’ll want to hug that person, although that’s probably not a great idea. However, occasionally Abramović herself will be in the gallery, giving out hugs of her own. I went on an afternoon in which there were very few other people there, so I had large swaths of space to myself, increasing my loneliness, but when there is a line to get in, you’re obviously far more likely to make much more contact while you slither your way through. (Capacity is sixty-eight.)

Abramović’s career took a giant leap forward during her 2010 MoMA retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” which re-created many of her previous performance pieces (including one in which visitors walk through a narrow doorway “guarded” on each side by naked men and women) and, most famously, an interactive work in which individuals sit across from her at a table and engage in a unique kind of staring contest. So now, even though the artist is usually not present at Sean Kelly, she hovers on the edge of your mind as you delve into this stark world she has created. “It took me twenty-five years to have the courage, the concentration, and the knowledge to come to this, the idea that there would be art without any objects, solely an exchange between performer and public,” she writes about the exhibition. “I needed to go through all of the preparations that I did, I needed to make all the works that came before; they were leading to this point.” Nothingness has never quite felt like this before.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: “GENUINE” BY SHINOBI NINJA

There’s no way we can ever stop loving a crazy live band that celebrates “drinking, smoking weed & all types of ill shit,” so we have a fondness for local hip-hop funk rockers Shinobi Ninja, who also have a song called “Rusty Stab” and a video-game EP titled Shinobi Ninja Attacks! Over the last few weeks, we’ve been following their road trip as they travel around making new music with a Monster Go DJ portable unit and seek to escape from New York. On November 22, Duke Sims, Baby G, Maniak Mike, Alien Lex, Axis Powers, and Terminator Dave will be at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn for the Monster Van Album Release Party, joined by Sunshine Gun Club, Cowboys 2 Girls, and City of the Sun. On “What If Times,” Shinobi Ninja asks, “What if times don’t get no better than this?” With Shinobi Ninja, times always get better. The gang will also be back in town on December 28 for a big show with Fishbone and Nonstop to Cairo at the Gramercy.

MONK WITH A CAMERA

MONK WITH A CAMERA

Monk Nicholas “Nicky” Vreeland shares his unique view of the world in engaging documentary

MONK WITH A CAMERA (Tina Mascara & Guido Santi, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater / Howard Gilman Theater
144/165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
November 21-27
212-875-5050
www.filmlinc.com
www.monkwithacamera.com


In 1977, Nicholas “Nicky” Vreeland, the playboy grandson of fashion legend Diana Vreeland and the son of U.S. ambassador Frederick “Frecky” Vreeland, began studying Buddhism with Khylongla Rinpoche. He eventually moved to India, became a monk, and led the rebuilding of the Rato Monastery. He shares his life story in the curious, deeply engaging documentary Monk with a Camera. “I don’t know what led me to wish to pursue a spiritual path,” he says early on, dressed in his red Tibetan monk’s robes. “Was I unhappy? No more unhappy than anyone else. I did feel that there was a way, a life outside the sort of normal life. I had some kind of belief that there was something beyond material satisfaction and things like that.” Born into privilege and living life to the fullest, he was a talented amateur photographer experiencing carnal pleasures, speeding down the Champs-Élysées, and using his connections to work with such photographers as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, But he gave it all up, eventually moving to India to undertake a more philosophical, self-reflective, and celibate existence — in the film he playfully refers to one of his cameras as his girlfriend. Vreeland fell in love with photography at a young age, and he struggles with the attachment he still has with the medium, understanding that it might be a worldly indulgence that goes against his renunciation of earthly delights. But it turns out that his photography ends up playing a major role in the expansion of Rato Monastery.

MONK WITH A CAMERA

Nicky Vreeland finds his true calling in MONK WITH A CAMERA

Directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi, who previously collaborated on Chris & Don: A Love Story, maintain a calm, meditative pace throughout Monk with a Camera, matching Vreeland’s calm, meditative demeanor. Vreeland, resembling a bald, older Steve Carell, walks and talks in carefully measured tones, adding bits of sly humor with his naturally infectious smile. Among those sharing insight into his life are his brother, Alexander Vreeland, who urged him to keep taking photos even after becoming a monk; his stepbrother, writer Ptolemy Tompkins; writer John Avedon, keeper of the Richard Avedon archives; photographer Priscilla Rattazzi; New York magazine design editor Wendy Goodman; his longtime friend and fellow Buddhist, Richard Gere; and his father, who says, “What it was that drove him to spirituality? I’m a person who doesn’t believe that there’s ever one cause for any effect, that there were multiple causes,” before telling a wonderful anecdote about Nicky’s first visit to Dharamsala. The film also includes playful comic-book-style animation by Joe Rothenberg and a lovely scene in which Nicky, Khylongla Rinpoche, and Richard Gere meet with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who chuckles as he delivers some seriously funny lines. Monk with a Camera is a lovingly told story about one man’s unique relationship with the world, a tale that will have audiences considering their own relationship with such central Buddhist ideals as attachment and impermanence. Monk with a Camera begins a one-week run November 21 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center; the 7:20 screenings on Friday and Saturday will be followed by a Q&A with producers, editors, and directors Mascara and Santi and subject Nicky Vreeland, and there will be a Q&A with Vreeland and Gere in the Furman Gallery after the 5:20 screening on Saturday for ticket holders only.

THE CONTENDERS 2014 — NYMPHOMANIAC: EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT

NYMPHOMANIAC

Joe (Stacy Martin) learns about sexual pleasure in Lars von Trier’s controversial NYMPHOMANIAC

NYMPHOMANIAC: EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT (Lars von Trier, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, November 23, 2:30
Series runs through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
212-708-9400
www.moma.org
www.magpictures.com

When I reviewed Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac earlier this year, when it was released in two separate “volumes,” I wrote, “I certainly would have preferred seeing Nymphomaniac in one complete sitting rather than in two parts, one of which stands head and shoulders above the other (although they do need each other); however, I’m not sure what I’ll do when the five-and-a-half-hour director’s cut is released later this year.” Well, as promised, the extended director’s cut is now available for viewing, being shown November 23 at 2:30 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” consisting of films the institution believes will stand the test of time. What follows is a slightly amended version of my initial review of the first two volumes; there are an additional thirty minutes added to the first part, while the second part now includes what MoMA refers to as “some of the most gruesome and wrenching passages ever seen on film.”

In Breaking the Waves, Danish Dogme 95 cofounder Lars von Trier’s 1996 breakthrough, Stellan Skarsgård plays a paralyzed man who convinces his wife (Emily Watson) to have sexual liaisons with other men and then tell him about the encounters in graphic detail. In von Trier’s latest controversial, polarizing work, Nymphomaniac, Skarsgård stars as Seligman, a single man who takes in a woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is soon sharing her own sexual adventures with him, in extremely graphic detail. After finding Joe severely beaten in an alley, Seligman nurses her back to health while carefully listening to her life story. She repeatedly says she is a bad, irredeemable human being because of the things she has done, which started to go off the rails when she was a small child discovering the pleasure sensations to be had in her nether regions. Her sordid tale is told in flashbacks, as her younger self (Barking at Trees’ Stacy Martin) goes from lover to lover to lover to lover to lover ad infinitum. (The specific numbers are plastered over the screen.) Along the way, Seligman offers his own interpretation of her life, praising her sense of freedom while comparing her sexuality to fly-fishing, which von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Melancholia, Antichrist) relates in a playful way that is at first absurdly silly but actually ends up coming together. Unfortunately, however, Martin is far too bland as Joe as she beds victim after victim, including Jerôme (a miscast Shia LaBeouf), perhaps the only one who truly loves her. The film also features Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as Joe’s parents and Uma Thurman as a scene-stealing wronged wife.

NYMPHOMANIAC

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues her search for sexual pleasure and pain in the second half of NYMPHOMANIAC (photo by Christian Geisnaes)

The second half of von Trier’s four-hour graphic exploration of feminine sexuality and the very nature of storytelling itself is a masterfully crafted, often deadly dull and repetitive, but, in the end, gloriously inventive work. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is in the midst of telling her brutally in-depth tale of sexual addiction to the sincere and respectful Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who brought her into his home upon finding her badly beaten in a dark alley. In the flashbacks, Joe is now played with mystery and complexity by Gainsbourg, after the young Joe had been previously portrayed by the bland and boring Stacy Martin, and the change of actress is one of the key reasons why the second part works so much better than the first. Joe shares details of trying to make a sex sandwich, giving group therapy a shot, becoming obsessed with a violent sadist (Jamie Bell), and accepting a dangerous job with L (Willem Dafoe).

L (Willem Dafoe) offers Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a dangerous job in second volume of controversial Lars von Trier epic (photo by Christian Geisnaes)

L (Willem Dafoe) offers Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a dangerous job in controversial Lars von Trier sexual epic (photo by Christian Geisnaes)

In between her stories, which are divided into such chapters as “The Eastern and the Western Church (The Silent Duck)” and “The Mirror,” Seligman delves into various intellectual theories to help explain her exploits, discussing religion, paradox, democracy, language, mythology, Freud, and such dichotomies as suffering and happiness, pleasure and pain, Wagner and Beethoven, and the virgin and the whore. Cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro’s camera is far more steady in these scenes, in contrast to the moving, handheld shots that dominate the flashbacks. The interplay between the calm, gentle Seligman and the lonely, lost Joe is beautifully acted and inherently touching, but, this being von Trier, the film’s ending will further controversies that already involve episodes of extreme violence and actual sexual penetration (the latter performed by body doubles). The MoMA series continues through January 16 with such other 2014 cinematic entries as Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.

MONSANTO IS THE DEVIL

Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor Pl.
Sunday, November 23, 30, and December 7, 14, 21, $15, 2:00
212-967-7555
www.publictheater.org
www.revbilly.com

Over the past year, anti-consumerist activists Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir have been battling against corporations’ role in climate change. “The activism is content for the play,” they explain on their website, using cash register exorcisms, retail interventions, cell phone operas, live performances, and protest marches to help save the world from imminent destruction, taking inspiration from the opening scene of John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana. They’ve been fighting for Earth Justice for fifteen years, and that journey continues with their latest show, Monsanto Is the Devil, running Sunday afternoons at Joe’s Pub from November 23 through December 21, led by director Savitri D. and musical director Nehemiah Luckett and joined by the Not Buying It Band. The eco-televangelist will also be leading his minions on a march on Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters as they enjoy an organic Thanksgiving dinner on the company’s lawn, after which they will spend Black Friday in Ferguson, Missouri. “Monsanto is a right-wing apocalyptic fundamentalist religion; all the big corporations, all the big nature-hating corporations, are. That’s something we have to understand,” Reverend Billy preaches, adding, “When you deal with Monsanto, we can’t be polite.” The reverend and his choir, which protested the state of the honeybee in The HoneyBeeLujah Show earlier this year at Joe’s Pub, are unlikely to be polite as they take on the self-described Sustainable Agriculture Company’s use of pesticides, GMO crops, and other controversial methods and dealings. The Shopocalypse continues….

PULP: A FILM ABOUT LIFE, DEATH AND SUPERMARKETS

Jarvis Cocker takes a ride through his hometown of Sheffield as he prepares for Pulp farewell concert

Jarvis Cocker takes a ride through his hometown of Sheffield as he prepares for Pulp farewell concert

PULP: A FILM ABOUT LIFE, DEATH & SUPERMARKETS (Florian Habicht, 2013)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Wednesday, November 19
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com
www.pulpthefilm.com

Florian Habicht’s Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is a brilliant inside look at the long-lasting relationship between a band and its hometown. In December 2012, British alternative band Pulp returned to the place of its birth, the rugged, working-class city of Sheffield in the north of England, for what was being billed as its last-ever concert on dry land. Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker hooked up with Habicht (Love Story, Woodenhead), conceiving a project in which the time and place, along with the fans, would be just as important as the band and its music, if not more so. In the nonchronological film, Habicht cuts between archival footage of Pulp, clips from the final concert, interviews on the street with old and young fans, and brief chats with Pulp tour manager Liam Rippon and the other band members: guitarist Mark Webber, keyboardist Candida Doyle, bassist Steve Mackey, and drummer Nick Banks, who are pretty much taking it all in stride. But at the center of it all is the soft-spoken, enigmatic Cocker, who founded Pulp back in 1978 when he was fifteen years old.

Habicht shows Cocker biking and driving through Sheffield, discussing his first job working for a fishmonger in a mall, and, most thrillingly, fixing a flat tire on his less-than-fancy car. The theme song of the documentary is Pulp’s “Common People,” in which a woman tells Cocker, “I want to live like common people / I want to do whatever common people do / I want to sleep with common people / I want to sleep with common people like you.” Is it possible for a rock star to be “common people”? It doesn’t really matter as Cocker reestablishes his connection to Sheffield. “We stopped playing in 2001 or 2002 or whatever it was, and I did feel that the way it finished was kind of a bit, I don’t know, not right,” he says in the film. “It didn’t feel like a good ending. . . . So I know that tidying up isn’t the greatest rock-and-roll motivation, but I did want to kind of tidy things up and give the story a happy ending.” It is all very happy indeed, as Habicht also delves into such Pulp favorites as “This Is Hardcore” and “Help the Aged” as well as “Disco 2000,” “Underwear,” and “Sheffield: Sex City.” The band, which released seven studio albums during its career, from 1983’s It through 2001’s We Love Life, has no arguments or complaints, just positive attitudes that make Pulp a thoroughly exhilarating experience.

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