RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE (Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer & Quinn Costello, 2017)
323 Sixth Ave. at Third St.
Tuesday, October 23, 7:30
And you thought the rat problem in New York City was bad. “I wanna tell you all a tale that’s crazier than hell,” Louisiana native and Treme star Wendell Pierce says at the beginning of Rodents of Unusual Size, Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer, and Quinn Costello’s eye-opening documentary about the nutria, the twenty-pound web-footed, orange-toothed South American creature that was introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s to boost the fur trade and has wreaked havoc ever since. The rodents multiply like tribbles and destroy so much vegetation that the resulting erosion affects storm surge protection, leading the government to encourage the mass murder of the beast by offering a five-dollar bounty for each tail. The filmmakers visit Delacroix and the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, talking to such nutria hunters as Larry Aucoin, Darrell Aucoin, Liz LeCompte, and Trey Hover, who is killing the swamp rat to help pay for his college education. LeCompte is doing it to protect the environment. “If the land’s gone, then me and my family don’t have a future,” she says, explaining that “Cajun women, they not afraid to get their hands dirty.” Nutria control specialist Michael Beran, who patrols the canal banks and uncovers nutria-built subterranean labyrinths that can also endanger bridges, notes that the nutria is an “invasive species [that] has to be deleted.” Nutria tail assessor John Siemion gets right to the point: “It offers these guys money when there is none,” he says. “This is their income for the year.”
Fashion designer Cree McCree, the founder of Righteous Fur, believes that using nutria pelts for vests, hats, leg warmers, ties, and other clothing should be supported by organizations such as PETA. “I like to think of Righteous Fur as a giant recycling project,” she says. Some restaurants are serving nutria on their menu. James Beard Award-winning chef Susan Spicer of Bayona Restaurant insists, “If you approach it with an open mind, you’ll find it doesn’t have a really bad, swampy taste.” Rebirth Brass Band cofounder and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins barbecues nutria. “It’s definitely like tasting Louisiana. Delicious!” he declares. The filmmakers also speak with Edmond Mouton of the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, fur wholesaler Tab Pitre (who skins a few nutria on camera), Bimbo Phillips of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe, Chateau Estates resident Paul Klein (who feeds the buggers), Rick Atkinson of the Audubon Zoo, Chateau Golf & Country Club maintenance manager Brooks Mosley, Louisiana Fur & Wildlife Festival organizer David LaPierre, Fur Queen Beauty Pageant winner Julian Devillier, and Eric Dement, who has a pet nutria. But it’s fisherman and philosopher Thomas Gonzales who the filmmakers keep coming back to. “Never kill something unless you make something with it,” the old man says, later adding, “I’m born to die, so I’m gonna get all the gusto out of this little body that I got.” In Delacroix, a sign reads, “End of the World.” It seems like not even Captain Kirk could cure Louisiana’s nutria dilemma. Rodents of Unusual Size, which also has a fab soundtrack by the Lost Bayou Ramblers, is screening October 23 at 7:30 at IFC, concluding the fall “Stranger Than Fiction” series, and will be followed by a Q&A with codirector and cinematographer Springer.
On October 4, a framed painting titled “Girl with Balloon” by British street artist and provocateur Banksy began shredding itself upon being sold for $1.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction, shocking and delighting the art world. Was Banksy, whose very name evokes cold, hard cash, making a sly comment on the art market, on auctions, on the intrinsic value of a work of art? In the immediate aftermath, there was general confusion about just what the buyer had purchased and whether she had to keep it at all. In many ways that stunt exemplifies what Nathaniel Kahn’s highly artistic documentary, The Price of Everything, is all about. Kahn, who was nominated for Oscars for his 2003 film, My Architect: A Son’s Journey, which explored the legacy of his father, Louis Kahn, and his 2006 short, Two Hands, about pianist Leon Fleisher, this time trains his camera on the volatile global art market. “Art and money have always gone hand in hand,” superstar auctioneer Simon de Pury says. “It’s very important for good art to be expensive. You only protect things that are valuable. If something has no financial value, people don’t care. They will not give it the necessary protection. The only way to make sure that cultural artifacts survive is for them to have a commercial value.”
Traveling to art fairs, galleries, museums, and studios, Kahn gets a wide range of opinions on the subject, from such art-world denizens as Amy Cappellazzo of Sotheby’s, who savors the chase and the deal and has her own definition of “money shot”; collectors Inga Rubenstein, Holly Peterson, and, primarily, husband-and-wife Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, with Edlis getting a lot of screen time showing off his vast collection and discussing various pieces and artists in detail (“There are a lot of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Edlis says. “The art world is capricious.”); curators Paul Schimmel and Connie Butler; art historians Alexander Nemerov, who talks about the “pricelessness” of Old Master paintings at the Frick, and Barbara Rose, who compares art on the auction block to pieces of meat; gallerists Mary Boone, Jeffrey Deitch, and Gavin Brown (who sees art and money as Siamese twins); and ever-philosophical and acerbic New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, who laments the prospect of great works of art being sold to private collectors, perhaps never again to be seen by the public.
Kahn also speaks with numerous artists who give their own views on what constitutes value, including Jeff Koons, who is in his busy studio, where his large team is creating his Gazing Ball series, intricate copies of classic canvases, each adorned with a reflective blue ball; octogenarian Larry Poons, who is working on dazzling paintings at his home in the woods of Upstate New York; Gerhard Richter at the opening of his exquisite 2016 painting and drawing show at Marian Goodman Gallery, explaining, “Money is dirty”; Njideka Akunyili Crosby, the rising Nigerian-born, LA-based artist who works in photo-collage and reaching new levels of success; critical and popular favorite George Condo, who exuberantly puts the finishing touches on a painting; and photorealist painter Marilyn Minter, known for her glittery pieces.
Kahn is building up to the hotly anticipated Sotheby’s auction “The Triumph of Painting: The Steven & Ann Ames Collection,” where each of the above artists has a work for sale, although they will not be profiting from it since they don’t own the pieces. There’s terrific archival footage of the 1973 Scull auction, which changed the art world forever, where Robert Rauschenberg approaches Robert Scull after a work of his just sold for an exorbitant price and Scull embraces the artist, claiming that it was good for both of them, even though Scull is the one who pockets the cash. Kahn is ever-present in the documentary, never seen but often heard asking questions, trying to get to the bottom of the beguiling relationship between art and money in the twenty-first century, concluding with a beautiful Michael Snow–like shot that in many ways sums it all up. An HBO Documentary Films presentation, The Price of Everything opens at the Quad on October 19, with Q&As and introductions featuring Kahn, producers Jennifer Stockman, Debi Wisch, and Carla Solomon, and editor Sabine Krayenbühl taking place at select screenings through October 25. Let’s leave it to Poons to have the last word: “There are no rules about what is going to be good and what is gonna be bad. Art doesn’t give a shit. It never has.”
Alexandria Bombach’s On Her Shoulders is an extraordinary film about an extraordinary human being. In August 2014, the Yazidis of Northern Iraq were attacked by ISIS, who raped and killed thousands of Yazidis in what amounted to a genocide, turning countless women into sex slaves. Twenty-one-year-old Nadia Murad survived and later escaped the horror and has been on a mission ever since, traveling around the world to share her story in order to save and protect this ethno-religious minority, who have been scattered throughout refugee camps. “What must be done so a woman will not be a victim of war?” she demands. For a year, Bombach followed Nadia and Murad Ismael, executive director of Yazda, a global organization dedicated to supporting the Yazidis and other vulnerable groups, as Nadia met with media and politicians while hoping to be able to address the UN General Assembly. They go to Canada, Germany, Greece, and America, occasionally joined by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, Yazda deputy executive director Ahmed Khudida Burjus, and former International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, as she makes her case to anyone who will listen.
Nadia is not a born activist; she has taken up the cause because she can’t see any other option. In the process, however, she has become a remarkable speaker and a reluctant hero to her people, but it takes a toll on her. As she tells her story, she must relive over and over again the atrocities she personally experienced and meet with men, women, and children who are suffering terribly and often break down into tears upon just being in her presence. “As a girl, I wish I didn’t have to tell the people this happened to me. I mean, I wish it hadn’t happened to me so I wouldn’t have to talk about it,” she explains. “I wish people knew me as an excellent seamstress, as an excellent athlete, as an excellent makeup artist, as an excellent farmer. I didn’t want people to know me as a victim of ISIS terrorism.”
Bombach, who directed, edited, and photographed the film — using a small, handheld Canon EOS 5D Mark III to be as unobtrusive as possible — treats Nadia with a deep respect and sensitivity, being very careful not to exploit her even further, nor does she put her on a pedestal. She focuses her camera on Nadia’s striking face and her expressive eyes, which are filled with a mix of horror and hope, tired beyond their years. Throughout the film, Bombach (Frame by Frame, Common Ground) includes clips of an interview she conducted with Nadia near the end of their time together. Nadia’s long black hair and black top nearly fade into the black background, her face and neckline prominent as she speaks openly and honestly about her mission. Nadia barely ever allows herself to smile, refusing to feel joy when there is still so much work to be done; she will not stop until there is justice and accountability for what is happening to the Yazidis. It’s heartbreaking when she says, “I can’t bear to live this kind of life.” In a rare moment out of the public spotlight, she is in a kitchen cooking, and it is absolutely delightful, a much-needed break from the intense pressure that hovers over her. On Her Shoulders is a deeply affecting, heart-wrenching film that will leave you emotionally exhausted but also energized to take action. “I want women and girls to see themselves as something special,” Nadia — who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize — says, refusing to acknowledge that she herself is special indeed. Winner of numerous festival awards, On Her Shoulders opens October 19 at Village East, with Bombach participating in several Q&As on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Roger Paradiso’s The Lost Village takes on a subject near and dear to many a New Yorker’s heart: the gentrification and corporatization of the city, which is replacing affordable housing and mom-and-pop shops with luxury buildings and fancy boutiques. However, the film provides no new insight into the dilemma; in fact, Paradiso even hurts his cause by speaking with a fairly random assortment of people, including some fringe, less-than-objective, not very articulate figures, and demonstrating little skill with a camera. “People came to the Village because it was different,” he explains, stating the obvious. “They’re trying to change the character of the Village, trying to make it a hipster’s suburban mall version of what was once a great Village of artists and working-class families. It’s enough to make a Villager puke.” The film begins as a screed against NYU’s massive expansion into real estate, pointing out that many women students have become sex workers in order to afford their tuition. Mark Crispin Miller, NYU professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, shows a radical 1960s spirit in arguing against the university’s policies, but the rest of the film is scattershot and hackneyed as Paradiso, who previously wrote and directed the movie version of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, marches in a handful of economists, brokers, journalists, and activists who give meandering lectures that sound like “Voice of the People” letters in the Daily News. And it doesn’t help that the film looks like a 1970s relic in dire need of restoration. There’s an important story buried somewhere here; perhaps the series of talks accompanying numerous screenings at Cinema Village will shed more light on this critical topic. [Full disclosure: I’m an NYU graduate with a degree in Cinema Studies.]
Friday October 19, 6:45
“St. Vincent’s Hospital and Other Places I Remember,” with George Capsis and Lincoln Anderson, moderated by Jim Fouratt
Saturday, October 20, 2:45
“The Inside Story of What Is Going on in the Village,” with Caroline Benveniste and Jim Fourrat, moderated by Roger Paradiso
Saturday, October 20, 6:45
“The Art of the Gouge: How NYU Squeezes Billions from Its Students and Where that Money Goes,” with Mark Crispin Miller and Andrew Ross, moderated by Jim Fouratt
Sunday, October 21, 2:45
“Where Have All the Artists Gone?,” with Heidi Russell and Sandy Hecker, moderated by Jim Fouratt
Sunday, October 21, 6:45
“Resistance from the Pulpit,” with Reverend Ed Chinery, moderated by Jim Fouratt
Monday, October 22, 6:45
“Where Have All the Activists and Artists Gone?,” with Doris Deither and Alison Greenberg, moderated by Jim Fouratt
Tuesday, October 23, 6:45
“Saving Mom & Pops,” with Marnie Halasa and Peter Cetera, moderated by Jim Fouratt
Wednesday, October 24, 6:45
“Taking Back the Village & Saving It,” with Anthony Gronowicz and Carol Yost, moderated by Jim Fouratt
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and other NYU locations
566 La Guardia Pl. between Third & Fourth Sts.
October 17-28, free with advance RSVP
This past May, Karl Marx would have turned two hundred years old. The NYU Skirball Center is celebrating his bicentennial with twelve days of special free programming honoring the man who wrote, “The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Audiences can also determine if they want to contribute to the performances based on supply and demand and their own consciousness; the events are all free with advance RSVP but donations are welcome. The “Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx” begins October 17 at 7:30 with London-based Bulgarian performance artist Ivo Dimchev’s one-hour show, P Project, in which people from the audience will get paid by agreeing to do spur-of-the-moment things involving words that begin with the letter “P.” For example, Dimchev will present them with tasks that might involve such words as Piano, Pray, Pussy, Poetry, Poppers, etc. On October 18 at 6:00, NYU professors Erin Gray, Arun Kundnani, Michael Ralph, and Nikhil Singh will discuss “Racial Capitalism” at the Tamiment Library. On October 19 at 9:30, DJs AndrewAndrew will spin Marxist discs along with readings by special guests from Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto.
On October 19 and 20 at 7:30, Brooklyn-based Uruguayan dancer and choreographer luciana achugar will present the world premiere of Brujx, which explores ideas of labor. On October 22 at 6:30, Slavoj Žižek will deliver the Skirball Talks lecture “The Fate of the Commons: A Trotskyite View.” On October 23 at 5:30, NYU professors Lisa Daily, Dean Saranillio, and Jerome Whitington will discuss “Futurity & Consumption” at the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis. On October 24 at 4:00, author Sarah Rose will talk about her 2017 book, No Right to Be Idle at the eighth floor commons at 239 Greene St. On October 25 at 5:30, luciana achugar, Julie Tolentino, and Amin Husain will join for the conversation “Labor, Aesthetics, Identity” at the Department of Performance Studies. On October 26 at 7:30, Malik Gaines, Miguel Gutierrez, Latasha N. Nevada Diggs, Ryan McNamara, Seung-Min Lee, and Alison Kizu-Blair will stage “Courtesy the Artists: Popular Revolt,” a live-sourced multimedia work directed by Alexandro Segade and Amy Ruhl. The festival concludes October 28 at 5:00 with Ethan Philbrick’s Choral Marx, a singing adaptation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Manifesto for the Communist Party, performed by Benjamin Bath, Gelsey Bell, Sarah Chihaya, Hai-ting Chinn, Tomás Cruz, Amirtha Kidambi, Brian McQueen, Gizelxanath Rodriguez, and Ryan Tracy.
In 1652, the Lotts, a family of French Huguenots, immigrated to Brooklyn from Holland. In 1719, they purchased a farm in Flatlands and built a house there the following year. The Dutch Colonial farmhouse, a New York City landmark that was bought by the city in 2002 — and has a history that includes slave labor — is generally closed to the public, but it will open its doors this Halloween season for several special events. On October 20, the home will host “A Haunting at Hendrick’s,” a cocktail party and costume fundraiser at 7:00, with all proceeds going to the preservation and renovation of the house. In addition, on October 27 and 28 at 11:00 and 2:00, there will be rare tours of the Lott home. It’s all part of Archtober, a month of programs celebrating the architecture of the city. Among the many other sites participating in Archtober are Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Times Square, the South Street Seaport, the Guggenheim, Ellis Island, and the subway.
It’s one of the most hotly anticipated series of the fall season, streaming on Netflix beginning November 2, and you can get a sneak peek at it on October 17 at the 92nd St. Y when House of Cards comes to the Upper East Side. Kevin Spacey’s career turned into a house of cards when he was accused of sexual assault by Anthony Rapp and others, but the show will go on without him for one more season, with stars Robin Wright and Michael Kelly and executive producers Melissa Gibson and Frank Pugliese at the Y to talk about it. Wright, of course, plays Claire Underwood, who has taken over the presidency from her devious husband, Frank Underwood (Spacey, as a character whose initials are not accidentally FU); Kelly is Doug Stamper, the dark and dedicated loyal ally to Frank who knows where all the bodies are buried. The evening will look at political thrillers, the idea of the first woman president, and how the show evokes what is really happening in Washington and across the country.