LOOKING FOR A LADY WITH FANGS AND A MOUSTACHE (Khyentse Norbu, 2019)
Rubin Museum of Art
Thursday, April 8, suggested admission $15, 5:00
Opens virtually Friday, April 9
Every November, my partner travels to Kathmandu in Nepal to study with a meditation teacher, known as a Rinpoche, and I have accompanied her several times. This annual trip became impossible last year because of Covid-19. But writer-director Khyentse Norbu’s latest film, Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache, made us feel like we were there once again, in this mystical, spiritual land.
A Bhutan-born Tibetan Buddhist teacher and filmmaker, Norbu, also known as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the third incarnation of a principal lama, maintains a calm, meditative pace in telling the story of a secular man suddenly staring death in the face. Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyalthang) rides his motorcycle through Kathmandu, trying to find a place to open a Western-style coffee shop. He is guided by Rabindra (Rabindra Singh Baniya), who is not happy when Tenzin is drawn to an abandoned monastery that was partially destroyed in the devastating 2015 earthquake. “Are you crazy?” Rabindra says, claiming that the building is “the womb of the goddess.” But Tenzin is a nonbeliever, more concerned that his button-down shirt and tie are properly adjusted and his hair is perfect than offending a would-be divine being.
Tenzin starts having strange dreams involving a young girl skipping barefoot through a field of marigolds, so his friend Jachung (Tulku Kungzang), worried about what the dreams mean, takes him to see a fabulously cool cereal-loving psychic monk (Ngawang Tenzin) who wears shades and headphones and regularly checks his iPad. The monk interprets the dreams to be a signal that Tenzin has only a week to live unless he finds a dakini, a sacred female messenger of wisdom and power. “You don’t have much time left. Better go and see your friends and relatives,” the monk says. “If you have any money, spend it all and have some fun. I heard you’re a modern man, so you won’t offer to monasteries anyway.” Tenzin is told to visit with the Master of Left Hand Lineage (Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche), who will further advise him about dakinis. Meanwhile, Tenzin continues going to a traditional Tibetan music class with Janchung and Kunsel (Tenzin Kunsel), taught by a wise, elderly man (Loten Namling).
Tenzin at first thinks his supposed fate is nonsense until strange things start happening to him and the prospect of his potential impending death finally gets to him. He searches for a dakini, which could be any woman he sees, particularly if they have fangs, a moustache, and three eyes. Meanwhile, the Master instructs, “If everyone believed they only had seven days to live, the world would be peaceful.” As the end of the week approaches, Tenzin must decide what, and whom, to believe as he examines the world he has made for himself.
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache is a beautifully constructed, deeply contemplative parable about tradition and modernity in a culture that melds the good and the bad, spirituality and practicality, life and death. Norbu, whose previous films include 1999’s much-loved The Cup, in which two boys are desperate to watch the World Cup at a monastery that doesn’t have a working television, and 2003’s extraordinary Travellers and Magicians, a road movie in which the Bhutanese protagonist wants to leave the Himalayas for the prospect of success in America, once again explores the idea of a personal quest in his latest work. Tenzin’s hunt for a dakini represents the pursuit all of us have for something other than what is already within us. The film is gorgeously photographed by famed Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing (In the Mood for Love, The Assassin), with reds, yellows, greens, and blues blossoming from the brown, gray ancient city of Kathmandu.
In one nearly four-and-a-half-minute uncut scene shot from a few dozen feet away with a stationary camera, the rock-and-roll monk is seen through an open doorway on the right, sitting cross-legged on a white cushion, relaxed and comfortable as he checks his iPad. Tenzin stands by an open doorway on the left, his arms crossed in stark refusal of what is happening to him. The two men are separated by a window in front of which are three large potted ferns and two smaller plants, life growing gloriously between them. They are not quite as different as they might appear.
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache is having a special online screening on April 8 at 5:00, kicking off the Rubin Museum’s “Brainwave: Awareness” series, followed by a live Q&A with Norbu and neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson. The film opens virtually on April 9.
Who: Song Ming Ang, Melanie Kress
What: Live online artist talk
Where: The High Line Zoom
When: Tuesday, April 6, free with RSVP, 1:00 (exhibition continues through April 28)
Why: In the 2019 interview “A New Understanding of Place” for the High Line blog, associate curator Melanie Kress explained why video was part of the elevated park’s continuing celebration of site-specific public art. “When we think of public art, most of us think of murals and sculptures. But to fully showcase the range of mediums that artists are working in today, video is indispensable,” she said. “Video also has the ability to cross back and forth between many different worlds and forms at the same time — between advertising, social media, film, documentary, documentation, television, music videos, and more. It provides a really interesting place for artists to play with viewers’ expectations. In a public space, visitors aren’t necessarily expecting to encounter art — especially video art — so those lines can be blurred in all the more challenging and creative ways.”
The latest video art installation to screen on the High Line Channel at Fourteenth St. is Singapore-born artist Song-Ming Ang’s “Piano Magic,” which consists of 2014’s Backwards Bach, in which Ang, who is based in Singapore and Berlin, plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s C Major Prelude from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord both forward and backward, and 2011’s Parts and Labour, in which he fixes a disused piano. On April 6 at 2:00, Ang and Kress will discuss the project, which continues through April 28, in a live Zoom Q&A. Ang is also represented at the Asia Society Triennial with the multimedia site-specific installation True Stories, twelve music stands with text and images that explore the demise of societal norms, which he detailed in the Instagram Live program “Talking Dreams: A Conversation with Artist Song-Ming Ang.”
David Wojnarowicz packed a whole lot of living into his too-brief thirty-seven years, and the frenetic pace of his life and death is copiously captured in Chris McKim’s dynamic documentary, Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker. Born in New Jersey in September 1954, Wojnarowicz — pronounced VOY-nah-ROH-vich — experienced a difficult childhood riddled with physical abuse from his father, became a teen street hustler in Times Square, and later dabbled in heroin. He gained fame as an avant-garde artist and anti-AIDS activist in the 1980s, when several of his pieces earned notoriety, condemned by right-wing politicians who wanted to censor the works and defund the National Endowment for the Arts, which had supported the shows of art they found objectionable or morally corrupt. (The controversy continued decades past his death, into December 2010, when the National Portrait Gallery edited his short film Fire in My Belly in a group show.)
McKim lets Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS-related complications in July 1992, tell his own story, using the multimedia artist’s extensive archive of journals, cassette tapes, phone messages, photographs, and super 8 films; Wojnarowicz lived his life as if it was an ongoing radical performance installation itself, obsessively recording himself. “All the paintings are diaries that I always thought as proof of my own existence,” he says. “Whatever work I’ve done, it’s always been informed by what I experience as an American in this country, as a homosexual in this country, as a person who’s legislated into silence in this country.”
Editor Dave Stanke does a masterful job of putting it all together, primarily chronologically, seamlessly melding Wojnarowicz’s paintings, photographs, and videos into a compelling narrative that is as experimental, and successful, as the artist’s oeuvre, placing the audience firmly within its milieu. He intercuts news reports and other archival footage as Wojnarowicz’s life unfolds; among those whose voices we hear, either in new interviews or old recordings, are cultural critics Fran Lebowitz and Carlo McCormick, gallerist Gracie Mansion, curator Wendy Olsoff, his longtime partner Tom Rauffenbart, photographer and close friend/onetime lover Peter Hujar, artists Kiki Smith and Nan Goldin, artist and activist Sur Rodney Sur, Fire in the Belly author Cynthia Carr, Wojnarowicz’s siblings, and photographer and filmmaker Marion Scemama, who collaborated with Wojnarowicz on the haunting Untitled (Face in Dirt), pictures of the artist partially buried in the southwest desert. In addition, McKim includes such conservative mouthpieces as Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and Senator Jesse Helms, who both sought to shut down Wojnarowicz and the NEA.
Influenced by such writers and artists as Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs, and Arthur Rimbaud, Wojnarowicz’s art is as bold and in your face as it can get, relentlessly depicting a hypocritical world inundated with lies, violence, and perpetual inequality. Among the works that are examined in the film are Untitled (Buffalo), Untitled (Peter Hujar), Gagging Cow at Pier, Arthur Rimbaud in New York (Times Square), Burning House, Untitled (One Day This Kid . . . , David Wojnarowicz (Silence = Death, New York), Untitled (Genet After Brassai), and his Fire, Water, Earth, and Air four elements series. McKim also focuses on Wojnarowicz’s incendiary East Village punk band, 3 Teens Kill 4, with snippets of such songs as “Hold Up,” “Hunger,” and “Stay & Fight.” Wojnarowicz spoke in a relatively calm, straightforward tone, especially when compared with the constant whirlwind surrounding him, but his work, from art to music, revealed the fiery emotions bubbling inside, a roiling mix of rage, rebellion, and resistance.
McKim (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Out of Iraq) adds a curious, overly sentimental modern-day ending that might elicit a tear or two but is completely out of place; otherwise, Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker, named after one of the artist’s works from 1984, is an intense journey into the mind of a deeply troubled soul who shared his endless dilemmas in very public ways that made so many people uneasy. “Last night I was standing around here, looking at my photographs. They’re my life, and I don’t owe it to anybody to distort that just for their comfort,” he says.
Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker opens virtually at Film Forum through Kino Marquee on March 19 and includes a prerecorded Q&A with McKim, Mansion, McCormick, and producer Fenton Bailey, moderated by journalist Jerry Portwood. There will also be a live Q&A on March 30 at 7:00 with McKim and Stanke, moderated by artist and activist Leo Herrera, that is free and open to all.
CENTER STAGE (Stanley Kwan, 1991)
March 12 - April 1, $12
“Isn’t she a replica of myself?” Maggie Cheung says of Chinese actress Ruan Ling-yu in 1991’s Center Stage, in which Cheung plays Ruan as well as Maggie Cheung. “Maggie, may I ask if you wish to be remembered half a century later?” a man asks, to which Cheung responds, “That’s not so important to me. If future people do remember me, it won’t be the same as Ruan Ling-yu, as she halted her career at the age of twenty-five, when she was at her most glorious. Now she is a legend.” The Hong Kong–born Cheung is now a legend herself, having made more than ninety films since her career began in 1984, when she was nineteen; current and future people are sure to remember the glamorous superstar who continues to help spread Chinese cinema around the world.
Cheung, a former model and beauty queen, is radiant as both herself and Ruan as director Stanley Kwan goes back and forth between the present, as Cheung is making the film, and the past, as she portrays Ruan rising from an extra to a star in the late 1920s and early 1930s, at the same time Japan is mounting attacks against China. Cheung (As Tears Go By, In the Mood for Love), who was named Best Actress at prestigious film festivals in Berlin, Chicago, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for the role, is joined by a stellar cast, including Chen Yen-yen, Lily Li, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Carina Lau, and Chin Han; the real Ruan is seen in archival footage. Made thirty years ago, Center Stage, also known simply as Actress, is now available in a 4K digital restoration, created from the original negative and approved by Kwan (Women, Hold You Tight), streaming March 12 to April 1 on Metrograph’s online platform.
Who: Lorna Luft, Joel Grey, Lily Tomlin, Michael York, Joan Collins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ben Vereen, Ute Lemper, Michael Feinstein, Billy Stritch, Kathie Lee Gifford, Lea Delaria, Chita Rivera, Jonathan Groff, Charles Busch, Kathy Najimy, Sandra Bernhard, Andrew Rannells, Julie Halston, John Waters, John Kander, Nathan Lane, Mario Cantone, Tony Hale, Coco Peru, John Cameron Mitchell, Andrea Martin, Michele Lee, Nicolas King, Parker Posey, Craig Ferguson, Hoda Kotb, Jason Alexander, Jim Caruso, Kathy Griffin, Neil Meron, Haley Swindal, Seth Sikes, Verdon Fosse legacy dancers
What: Seventy-fifth birthday tribute to Liza Minnelli
Where: The Town Hall via Stellar
When: Friday, March 12, $30, 8:00 (also available March 13 at 8:00 and March 14 at 7:00)
Why: On March 12, 1946, Liza May Minnelli was born to beloved actress and singer Judy Garland and Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli in Los Angeles, ultimately a family of Academy Award winners. On March 12, 2021, several dozen of Liza’s friends and admirers will gather virtually to wish the Tony-, Oscar-, and Emmy-winning star of stage and screen — Cabaret, The Sterile Cuckoo, Arthur, Liza with a Z, The Act — a very happy seventy-fifth birthday. Presented by the Town Hall, “A Love Letter to Liza Minnelli: 75th Birthday All-Star Tribute” will feature performances and appearances by a wide-ranging group of celebrities, including Joel Grey, Lily Tomlin, Joan Collins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ben Vereen, Michael Feinstein, Kathie Lee Gifford, Chita Rivera, Jonathan Groff, Charles Busch, Sandra Bernhard, Andrew Rannells, John Waters, John Kander, Nathan Lane, Mario Cantone, Andrea Martin, Michele Lee, and Kathy Griffin, along with surprise guests and never-before-seen footage of Liza.
“Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad / But the world goes ’round / Sometimes you lose every nickel you had / But the world goes ’round,” Minnelli sings in New York, New York, offering words to live by, especially during the current crises. “Somebody loses and somebody wins / And one day it’s kicks, then it’s kicks in the shins / But the planet spins, and the world goes ’round.” Of course, this is Liza’s world; we’re only living in it. Tickets to the birthday tribute are $30, with twenty percent of the proceeds benefiting the Actors Fund.
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Friday, March 5 - Thursday, April 1, 2021
On March 5, IFC Center opened its doors to limited, masked, socially distanced audiences, allowing film lovers inside for the first time in nearly a year. They are kicking off this new chapter with four weeks of movies that have been available for streaming but could not previously be seen in a theater in New York City. “What’d We Miss?” consists of nearly two dozen films, each group being shown for one week. Through March 11, you can catch Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, Alexander Nanau’s Collective, Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI (followed by a prerecorded Q&A with the director), Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and David France’s Welcome to Chechnya. The March 12-18 lineup comprises Francis Lee’s Ammonite, Kelly Reichardt’s gorgeously moving First Cow, Darius Marder’s hard-hitting Sound of Metal, Michael Almereyda’s Tesla, Garrett Bradley’s poignant Time, and Karen Maine’s Yes, God, Yes.
From March 19 to 26, you can settle in for Bill and Turner Ross’s Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, Kirsten Johnson’s bizarre, mesmerizing comedy-documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead, Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, Natalie Erika James’s Relic, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s stunning To the Ends of the Earth, and Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s The Truth. And the roster for March 16 to April 1 is Kitty Green’s powerful The Assistant, Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s beautifully strange and violent Bacurau, Miranda July’s eclectic and gripping Kajillionaire, Chad Hartigan’s Little Fish, Channing Godfrey’s Miss Juneteenth, and Sean Durkin’s The Nest.