AMERICAN SNIPER (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
In theaters now
Three dozen years ago, I remember being blown away by Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, the supposedly true story of Billy Hayes, a New York City native busted for smuggling hash into Turkey in 1970 who ended up escaping from prison five years later. Although the film was based on Hayes’s book, it took liberties with the truth, turning Hayes into a heroic figure and inventing nonexistent characters; Hayes was particularly disappointed with the depiction of the Turkish people in the film. “My problem with the movie is there are no good Turks in it,” he said years later, pointing out that in reality he had made several good Turkish friends. “All the Turks in Midnight Express are bad. . . . It’s all very one-dimensional.” In 2004, screenwriter Oliver Stone apologized for his embellishments. “It’s true I overdramatized the script,” Stone said in Istanbul. “For years, I heard that Turkish people were angry with me, and I didn’t feel safe there.” Filmmakers are always given a certain amount of poetic license, but when does it become too much? The Midnight Express scenario ran through my mind shortly after seeing American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film about Chris Kyle, based on the Navy SEAL’s memoir about his multiple tours overseas, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. It’s a tense, expertly made thriller about a sharpshooter who is compelled by the events of 9/11 to join the military and defend his country and democracy. Bradley Cooper is mesmerizing as Kyle, making viewers watch him as closely as he watches his targets. Cooper, who has been nominated for an Oscar three years in a row now, following nods for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle — he might also find himself up for a Tony for his bravura performance in The Elephant Man on Broadway, furthering confirming him as one of America’s finest actors — is especially effective when depicting the PTSD that deeply affected Kyle.
However, the film, written by Jason Hall, has come under attack for playing hard and loose with the facts and fomenting racial hatred, jingoistically creating a world in which all Americans are good, all Arabs are bad, with nothing in between. Kyle is no longer here to defend himself, but his book speaks volumes, as he refers to Iraqis as “savages” and “evil.” There have been many articles that have compared the book with the movie, and the differences are striking. The opening scene itself sets the stage for what is to come; in the book, this prologue is titled “Evil in the Crosshairs.” Kyle is on a rooftop as a troop of Marines move into a small Iraqi town. In the movie, a young woman and a boy appear on the street, carrying a Russian grenade; Kyle must decide whether to shoot the woman and the boy, a frightening choice for anyone to make. He ultimately kills them both. However, in the book, the woman is carrying a Chinese grenade, and there is no boy at all; he is a complete fiction. But by starting the film by showing that even Iraqi women and children are not to be trusted, Eastwood and Hall — and Cooper, who is also one of the producers — are making all Arabs the enemy.
It’s difficult to say how much is true and how much isn’t; Kyle was suffering from PTSD when he wrote the book, so his memory might have been shaky at times. (His claims of shooting looters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been unsubstantiated, and his declaration that all proceeds from the sale of the book would go to veterans charities has been questioned as well.) Kyle’s friend and fellow Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell also wrote a book that was made into a movie, Lone Survivor, that had much of its accuracy debated as well. In December, American Sniper producer Rob Lorenz told the Washington Post, “You have to make choices and skip over some logic in order to fit the story on the screen in a reasonable amount of time.” Meanwhile, the eighty-four-year-old Eastwood told the Toronto Star that all the complaints are “a stupid analysis. . . . It was an important story, but you have to embrace [Kyle’s] philosophy if you’re going to tell a story about him.” So is American Sniper emblematic of a nation split between conservative, hawkish Republicans and liberal, dovelike Democrats? Does it matter that so many facts were changed when the “philosophy” is still intact? Should it be judged merely as a movie by itself, without everyone, including Michael Moore, Seth Rogen, and Bill Maher, analyzing its motives and themes in such detail? Well, it seems that the public, and the Academy of Arts and Sciences, has spoken. The film is breaking box-office records, having grossed more than $270 million worldwide and garnering six Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and, tellingly, Best Adapted Screenplay.
Who: Cathy Weis Projects
What: Rare screening of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, documenting collaboration between experimental artists and Bell Labs in 1966 at the 69th Regiment Armory
Where: WeisAcres, 537 Broadway between Prince & Spring Sts., buzzer #3
When: Sunday, January 25, free, 2:00 (all future events at 8:00)
Why: The 2014 winter season of Sundays on Broadway begins on January 25 with a ten-hour marathon of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, consisting of films by David Tudor, John Cage, Deborah Hay, Övynid Fahlström, Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Robert Whitman, Alex Hay, and Lucinda Childs; the salon-style series continues Sunday nights at 8:00 through March 29 with live performances, readings, film screenings, discussions, and more, including a selection of Trisha Brown’s early works on February 1 with Wendy Perron, a screening of Léonide Massine’s Choreartium on February 8 with Tatiana Massine Weinbaum, and a reading of Fortunato Depero’s unpublished Dramma plastico futurista by puppeteer Dan Hurlin on February 15 (advance reservations are required for the immersive installations taking place the last four Sundays in March with Jon Kinzel, Jennifer Miller, Vicky Shick, and others)
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Peter Jay Sharp Building
230 Lafayette Ave.
Wednesday, January 28, $35-$50
“Miranda July’s ability to pervert norms while embracing what makes us normal is astounding,” Girls creator Lena Dunham says of Miranda July’s debut novel, The First Bad Man (Scribner, January 2015, $25). “Writing in the first person with the frank, odd lilt of an utterly truthful character, she will make you laugh, cringe, and recognize yourself in a woman you never planned to be. By the time July tackles motherhood, the book has become a bible. Never has a novel spoken so deeply to my sexuality, my spirituality, my secret self. I know I am not alone.” On January 28, Dunham, who wrote, directed, and starred in the indie hit Tiny Furniture and whose memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, was released this past September, will host an evening of conversation with July, an influential multimedia artist who writes, directs, and stars in her own films (Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future), writes short stories (many of her earlier ones have been collected in No One Belongs Here More Than You), has recorded albums (10 Million Hours a Mile, The Binet-Simon Test), developed the personal messaging app “Somebody,” and makes performance pieces and art installations (“Eleven Heavy Things,” “Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely Are Not Going to Talk About”).
In her first book since 2011’s It Chooses You (a companion piece to The Future), July introduces the world to one Cheryl Glickman, a rather persnickety, peculiar, strangely punctilious woman who lives her life and interprets situations a bit oddly. When her carefully laid out existence is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of her bosses’ troubled daughter, Clee, who will be staying with her for an indeterminate amount of time, Cheryl is forced to reevaluate her needs and her “funny way of doing things,” as Clee says. Cheryl suffers from globus hystericus, has a bizarre relationship with her therapist, pines away for an older member of the board of directors where she works, and is constantly in search of Kubelko Bondy, a “baby I think of as mine.” An eccentric both inside and out, Cheryl and her exploits are endlessly charming and plentifully weird as she deals with sexuality, femininity, class, age, and family. And just when you think you might have her figured out, she does yet another thing that surprises, delights, and confounds you. In reviewing No One Belongs Here More Than You, we wrote, “July’s characters live in their own alternate, warped realities, constantly confusing their relationships with friends, family, and even strangers, mistaking nothings for somethings,” a statement that suits The First Bad Man to a tee. The book even has a cool, chic design, courtesy of July’s husband, artist and filmmaker Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners); the dust jacket and case are all black, the title and author name in plain white sans serif type, but the endpapers are like a groovy psychedelic abstract painting. Seeing July, who was born in Vermont and raised in Berkeley, and Dunham, a New York City native, together at BAM should be endlessly charming and plentifully weird as well, making for one very entertaining evening. We’re hoping for a warped, brilliant view directly into two very particular expressions of contemporary female creative sensibility — and one very kooky discussion.
FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH: THE TOMI UNGERER STORY (Brad Bernstein, 2012)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Monday, January 19, 8:00
Winter series runs Tuesdays at 8:00 through March 24
“I am a self-taught raving maniac, but not as crazy as Tomi, or as great as Tomi,” Maurice Sendak says early on in Brad Bernstein’s engaging documentary, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, adding, “He was disarming and funny and not respectable at all.” Another children’s book legend, Jules Feiffer, feels similarly, explaining, “Tomi was this wonderfully brilliant, innovative madman.” Born in Alsace in 1931, Tomi Ungerer developed a remarkably diverse career as an illustrator, incorporating the emotional turmoil he suffered after losing his father when he was still a young child and then living under Nazi rule. In Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, Ungerer takes Bernstein and the audience on a fascinating journey through his personal and professional life, traveling to Strasbourg, Nova Scotia, New York City, and Ireland, which all served as home to him at one time or another as he wrote and illustrated such picture books as The Three Robbers and Crictor for editor Ursula Nordstrom, made bold political posters in support of the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War, and published a book of erotic drawings, Fornicon, that ultimately led to a twenty-three-year exile from America during which he stopped making books for children. “I am full of contradictions, and why shouldn’t I be?” the eighty-one-year-old Ungerer says in the film. Ungerer discusses how he uses fear, tragedy, and trauma as underlying themes in his stories, trusting that kids can handle that amid the surreal nature of his entertaining tales.
He opens up his archives, sharing family photographs and old film footage, which reveal that he’s been pushing the envelope for a very long time, unafraid of the consequences. He also visits the Eric Carle Museum to check out a retrospective of his work for children, appropriately titled “Tomi Ungerer: Chronicler of the Absurd.” Meanwhile, Rick Cikowski animates many of Ungerer’s drawings, bringing to life his characters, both for children and adults, adding another dimension to this wonderful documentary. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is a lively, engaging film about a seminal literary figure with an infectious love of life and art, and a unique take on the ills of society, that is a joy to behold. The film kicks off the IFC Center’s winter season of Stranger than Fiction on January 19 at 8:00, followed by a Q&A with Bernstein and Ungerer; Ungerer aficionados will also want to check out the new exhibit ”Tomi Ungerer: All in One” at the Drawing Center through March 22. Stranger than Fiction continues Tuesday nights through March 24 with such other nonfiction works as The Hand that Feeds, Freeway: A Crack in the System, Occupation: Dreamland, Seymour: An Introduction, and A Dangerous Game; each screening will be followed by a Q&A with the director(s), producer(s), and/or subject.
Monday, January 19
In 1983, the third Monday in January was officially recognized as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, honoring the birthday of the civil rights leader who was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Dr. King would have turned eighty-six this month, and you can celebrate his legacy on Monday by participating in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service project or attending one of numerous special events taking place around the city. BAM’s twenty-ninth annual free Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. includes a keynote speech by Dr. Cornel West, live performances by Sandra St. Victor & Oya’s Daughter and the New York Fellowship Mass Choir, the theatrical presentation State of Emergence, the NYCHA Saratoga Village Community Center student exhibit “Picture the Dream,” and a screening of Ken Burns, Sara Burns, and David McMahon’s 2012 documentary The Central Park Five. The JCC in Manhattan will host an Engage MLK Day of Service in Brooklyn: Feeding Our Neighbors community initiative, a screening of Rachel Fisher and Rachel Pasternak’s 2014 documentary Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent, and “Thank You, Dr. King,” in which Dance Theater of Harlem cofounder Arthur Mitchell shares his life story, joined by dancers Ashley Murphy and Da’Von Doane.
The Children’s Museum of Manhattan will teach kids about King’s legacy with the “Martin’s Mosaic” and Mugi Pottery workshops, the “Heroic Heroines: Coretta Scott King” book talk, and Movement & Circle Time participatory programs, while the Brooklyn Children’s Museum hosts the special hands-on crafts workshops “Let’s March!” and “Let’s Join Hands,” screenings of Rob Smiley and Vincenzo Trippetti’s 1999 animated film Our Friend, Martin, and a Cultural Connections performance by the Berean Community Drumline. The Museum at Eldridge Street will be hosting a free reading of Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom’s picture book What Do You Do with an Idea? along with a collage workshop. Also, Film Forum will show the 1970 three-hour epic documentary King: A Filmed Record . . . Montgomery to Memphis at 7:00, and the Harlem Gospel Choir will give a special MLK Day matinee at 12:30 at B.B. King’s in Times Square.
UNDER THE RADAR: A (radically condensed and expanded) SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I’LL NEVER DO AGAIN — AFTER DAVID FOSTER WALLACE
Daniel Fish returns to the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival with an ingenious take on the work of Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008 at the age of forty-six. But A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again isn’t about the life or death of the Ithaca-born writer, nor is it a theatrical adaptation of the title short story. It’s not even a celebration of the written word; instead, the ninety-minute show, continuing at the Public’s Anspacher Theater through January 16, focuses on the spoken word, inspired by the way Wallace vocalized, whether narrating an audiobook, giving an interview, or making a speech. Moved by the rhythm, tone, and pattern of Wallace’s voice, Fish, who presented Eternal at last year’s Under the Radar Festival, scoured the archives of the David Foster Wallace Audio Project for essays, short stories, excerpts, and interviews with Wallace and created various setlists of the pieces over the last few years; one stretched to a four-hour marathon. But the audience doesn’t actually hear Wallace; instead, Fish sends Wallace’s audio recordings into headphones worn by performers Mary Rasmussem (Trade Practices), Jenny Seastone Stern (Our Planet), Therese Plaehn (Family Play), and John Amir (All Your Questions Answered), who repeat the words out loud. Fish often changes speeds in the recordings he feeds them, resulting in the actors’ sometimes having to speak very fast, using their bodies to help them keep up.
The current iteration of the show includes such Wallace writings as his outrageously funny 1996 Harper’s piece “Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise”; “Forever Overhead,” which takes place at a swimming pool as a boy turns thirteen; and “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” an essay/book review that delves into Wallace’s longtime love of tennis. In fact, the sport plays a central role in the production. As the audience enters the theater — seating is general admission — a tennis machine is shooting yellow balls at a picture of Tracy Austin taped to the wall. The tennis balls remain on the stage throughout the show. The actors, who at one point move all the balls to the back of the stage, are in a kind of tennis match themselves, waiting for the words to come to them (they don’t know which parts Fish will send them or how fast he’ll make them) as if preparing for the next tennis shot, ready to volley Wallace’s words at the audience, but it goes beyond mere repetition and into a sheer love of language. Even at ninety minutes, A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again feels a little too long — when you’re reading a short story or listening to an audiobook, you have the ability to stop for a while and ponder what you’ve read or heard, but in this case there’s no off switch — but it’s most definitely a fun thing, even if we haven’t decided whether we’ll ever do it again. But one thing we’ll definitely do is read or listen to a whole lot more by Mr. Wallace.
Who: Caitlin Leffel and Jacob Lehman
What: Book party celebrating release of In Love in New York: A Guide to the Most Romantic Destinations in the Greatest City in the World (Rizzoli, January 13, 2015, $24.95)
Where: The Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Ave. at 93rd St., 212-831-3554
When: Tuesday, January 13, free, 6:00
Why: Forget Paris, Rome, or Bayonne; there is no better place to be in love than our very own backyard, New York City. Caitlin Leffel and Jacob Lehman have followed up The Best Things to Do in New York: 1001 Ideas with In Love in New York, which features such chapters as “Love at First Sight,” “Getting Serious with the City,” and “Will You New York Me?” In the introduction, “The City that Never Sleeps Alone,” they write, “Whether you’re new to your relationship, new to the city, or an old pro at both, New York is there to seduce, excite, console, and entertain.” Their romantic suggestions are accompanied by photos of the Temple of Dendur, Lincoln Center, Central Park, the High Line, and other sensuous locations, with each chapter kicked off with an old-fashioned iconic postcard image of a favorite part of the city. And they include the top-ten make-out spots as well, in addition to the forty best places to propose, in case the kissing sessions were a big hit.