VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST (Dave Davidson & Amber Edwards, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Through Thursday, January 26
Vince Giordano has an infectious glee throughout most of Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past, a lively documentary that celebrates his dedication and passion for keeping the music of the 1920s and 1930s alive. “He’s totally consumed by his mission,” one member of his band, the Nighthawks, explains. “He’s meant to be a bandleader,” another one says. Director-producers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards follow the youthful Giordano, who will turn sixty-five in March, as the band plays at the Newport Jazz Festival, with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion, at Sofia’s in the Edison Hotel, at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing, and at the New York Hot Jazz Festival at the Players club as well as recording a tune in the studio with David Johansen for Boardwalk Empire. The Grammy-winning Giordano and the Nighthawks have performed music for nearly two dozen films, including several by Woody Allen. But leading a Jazz Age band in the modern era is no easy task; Giordano, who plays the tuba, the string bass, and the bass saxophone and handles the vocals, has no roadies and no agent, so he and partner Carol Hughes are seen lugging equipment around, scrambling for gigs, and getting the orchestrations just right, testing Giordano’s gleeful onstage demeanor. “When I first met him, I thought he was very unusual and a nice person, but I didn’t think he was exceptional and crazy like he is,” Hughes says. The Brooklyn-born Giordano is also a music historian and archivist, having collected some sixty thousand arrangements, with twenty-five hundred brought to any single show, making for a wide range of setlists. Among those singing Giordano’s praises are many members of the eleven-piece Nighthawks, some of them who have been part of the band since the 1970s; sharing fun stories are reed players Mark Lopeman and Dan Levinson, trumpeters Jon-Erik Kellso and Mike Ponella, violinist Andy Stein, pianist Peter Yarin, trombonist Jim Fryer, and guitarist Ken Salvo.
The heart of the film is watching the remarkable band play such songs as “Stampede,” “Shake That Thing,” “The Moon and You,” and a glorious “Rhapsody in Blue” at Town Hall, by such legendary composers and bandleaders as George Gershwin, Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, and Duke Ellington. One of the most poignant parts occurs when Sofia’s, where Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks played every Monday and Tuesday night for five years, closes, so Giordano must find a new home, which he does, at Iguana NYC. (You can also catch them at the “Highlights in Jazz” forty-fourth annual gala on February 9 at BMCC’s Tribeca Performing Arts Center with Ms. Vinnie Knight and Cynthia Sayer & Her Joyride Band.) Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past is a poignant tale of a New York City treasure whose obsession brings great joy to the rest of us.
Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharpe Theatre
2537 Broadway at 95th St.
Monday, January 23, free, 6:30
One of the very first actors I felt a real bond with was Fritz William Weaver, the Pittsburgh-born star of stage, screen, and television who passed away in November at the age of ninety. On January 23 at 6:30, a very informal memorial service will be held at Symphony Space, the Upper West Side institution where he was a regular participant in the “Selected Shorts” series and the annual “Bloomsday” reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Speakers will include Sherrill Milnes, Jay O. Sanders, Barbara Barrie, Peter Maloney, Harold Holzer, and several family members. I first saw Weaver in such films as The Day of the Dolphin, Marathon Man, and Black Sunday before being blown away by his Emmy-nominated performance in 1978’s Holocaust, which, following on the heels of 1977’s Roots, helped redefine what a miniseries could be. In 1979, I was breathless with anticipation at seeing Weaver on Broadway in Arthur Miller’s The Price, in which Weaver portrayed Walter Franz. I even stuck around to have him sign the program. Comfortable with being the star or as a character actor, in a Shakespeare play or strange films (Demon Seed, The Maltese Bippy), the Tony winner (Child’s Play) and Theatre Hall of Fame inductee appeared in more than one hundred movies and television shows, from Rawhide, The Fugitive, and Gunsmoke to The X-Files, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Murder, She Wrote. He also starred in two of the best Twilight Zone episodes, Third from the Sun and The Obsolete Man. The late Isaiah Sheffer, one of the founders of Symphony Space, referred to Weaver as “Symphony Space’s leading man,” so it is only fitting that the celebration will occur there, where he also made his last public appearance.
WE ARE THE FLESH (TENEMOS LA CARNE) (Emiliano Rocha Minter, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, January 20
In his debut feature, twenty-five-year-old writer-director Emiliano Rocha Minter paints a horrifying vision of modern-day Mexico in We Are the Flesh. The film, a hit at festivals around the world, takes place in a kind of surreal, postapocalyptic underground hellmouth ruled by lunatic ogre Mariano (Noé Hernandez), who is delighted when siblings Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli) come stumbling into his lair. As the three of them build a bizarre womblike structure, they engage in taboo acts that can best be described as foul, vile, disgusting, putrid, and demented — as well as strangely beautiful and maddeningly erotic — luridly photographed by Yollótl Alvarado on eerie sets designed by Manuela García. Esteban Aldrete’s threateningly pulsating score is interrupted by moans, screams, and occasional songs, several of which transform into oddly beguiling music videos. Minter also edited the film, with Yibran Assuad, maintaining a steady, sinister pace in which the audience awaits the next bit of craziness with both gleeful revulsion and terrifying excitement. Dialogue is limited and eccentric but gets the point across: “You were chosen by chance,” Mariano says, “and remember that chance is the most dangerous criminal who has roamed the earth.”
The film, which deals with various kinds of hunger as well as birth and rebirth, was inspired by the stories and pictures in sensationalist rags that are sold at newsstands throughout Mexico. “These newspapers remain unmatched as a gaze into a country that finds its pleasures in Hell,” Julio Chavezmontes explains in his producer’s statement. “This is the reality that Tenemos la Carne has dared to address. This is a film that is in total synchrony with its time and the ravaged country that gave it birth. It is a fearless, unprecedented vision of Mexico.” It’s also a film that goes where few films venture — with good reason, of course; watching it is like reading one of Charles Bukoswki’s more depraved stories: You know you should stop and put the book down, but you just can’t, in the same way you can’t turn away from Minter’s film. The dark tale evokes the work of such auteurs as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kenneth Anger, Gaspar Noé, Dario Argento, and Carlos Reygadas, yet it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a hallucinatory adult fairy tale with a twist ending that brings it all home. Opening January 20 at Cinema Village, We Are the Flesh packs a whole lot of punch into its maniacal eighty minutes.
NITEHAWK BRUNCH SCREENINGS: PAN’S LABYRINTH (EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO) (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Saturday, January 21, and Sunday, January 22, 11:15 am
The closing night film of the 2006 New York Film Festival and an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a breathtaking fairy tale set in 1944 Spain, shortly after the Spanish Civil War. When her mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), marries Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) must move to the middle of the woods, where Vidal and his small group of soldiers are defending the last vestiges of Franco’s Fascist regime against a group of resistance fighters seeking peace and freedom for all. Led by a mysterious flying creature, the adventurous Ofelia makes her way through an ancient underground labyrinth, where she meets the Faun (Hellboy’s Doug Jones), who tells her that she just might be the reborn, long-missing princess they’ve been waiting centuries for — but first she’ll have to perform three tasks to prove that she has returned to claim her throne. As Vidal shows more concern for the baby that Carmen is carrying than for Carmen herself — and also brutally tortures and kills anyone who gets in his way, whether it is one of the revolutionaries or one of his own people — Ofelia meets a dangerous yet engaging series of beings as she hopes for her fairy-tale dreams to come true and erase the nightmares of the real world. In Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone) has cleverly balanced fantasy and reality, alternating between scenes of horror and graphic violence aboveground and below as seen through the eyes of a brave young girl trapped in both. Nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of three (for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Makeup), Pan’s Labyrinth is being shown January 21 and 22 at 11:15 am in the Nitehawk Cinema series “Nitehawk Brunch Screenings” and “The End Is the Beginning,” the latter consisting of movies in which the ending is told at the beginning. Inspired by Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, the series, which also featured Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, concludes January 28 and 29 with Sam Mendes’s Oscar-winning American Beauty.
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Company
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 29, $25
Jason O’Connell lets his inner geek rise in his intimate and entertaining one-man show, The Dork Knight, which opened last night at the Abingdon Theatre, where it runs through January 29 but deserves a longer engagement. O’Connell, who has appeared in such recent envelope-pushing Bedlam productions as Sense & Sensibility, Hamlet, and The Seagull as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Pearl, shares his deep connection to the Batman superhero, which started for him as a child but really began taking off when Tim Burton’s Batman was released in 1989, starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. “That just seemed to combine everything I cared about at a very specific, formative moment in my life. And it was popular!” O’Connell, who was a high school senior in Commack when the film came out, says. “So for me, a kid who was never really on board with the popular thing — to suddenly see people loving something that I had always loved was . . . intoxicating. And from that moment on, for better or worse, the Batman movies became these touchstones in my life.” The Hofstra graduate shares personal details seen through the lens of Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, the Dark Knight trilogy, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, doing impressions of Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale as Batman, Nicholson and Heath Ledger as the Joker, Danny DeVito as Penguin, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and Jim Carrey as the Riddler. “They say the world is divided into two groups: Superman fans and Batman fans. It’s kinda like cat people and dog people. You’re allowed to like both, of course, but usually you prefer one over the other, and that preference tends to say something true about you,” O’Connell explains. “Superman sees the good in all people. Batman distrusts everyone until they prove themselves worthy. Now, I try to keep a sunny disposition, I like to think I’m an optimist at heart, and yet . . . somehow . . . Batman has always exerted the stronger hold on me,” he adds, noting how Batman has no superpowers, that he is “just a scared little boy who transforms himself through the sheer power of his will. Batman could be anybody — with a billion dollars.”
The inaugural production in Abingdon’s Second Stage Series, The Dork Knight is playing at the tiny Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, where an audience of fifty-six sits on three sides of Jerry Marsini’s spare set, consisting of a chair and a table. O’Connell occasionally sits but usually stands, telling his story in a very personable way, making constant direct eye contact with the audience as if seeking its approval and understanding — which he receives, as members of the audience regularly nod in agreement, cathartically letting a little bit of their own inner geek out. There’s also a lot of laughter along with the self-deprecating and brutally honest O’Connell’s clever insight, which includes seeing plenty of Hamlet in Burton’s Batman. His Keaton impression is dead-on; with just a few facial gestures, he looks and sounds like the controversial Batman portrayer. His Ahnuld is excellent as well, faring better than some of his others. Directed by Abingdon artistic director Tony Speciale (The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, Stet), The Dork Knight is a fun and involving eighty-minute confession about the effects pop culture has on us all. At one point, O’Connell discusses a would-be high school date in which he and “this beautiful athlete/artist/musician who drove a convertible and had long, blonde hair that smelled like strawberries” went to see Batman, and after the film, she declared, “‘That’s a classic. That’s our generation’s Star Wars. It’s our Wizard of Oz. This is, like, art.’ To which I said, ‘Marry me please we get married now!’ She didn’t. No one has yet. But that’s another one-person show.” Whenever that next one-person show is, we hope O’Connell sends out the Bat signal, because we’ll be there in a jiffy.