Extraordinary multidisciplinary artist Bill Shannon brings his latest project, the multimedia Touch Update, to New York Live Arts this week, accompanied by special programs. Shannon is best known for his performances and unique technique using crutches, as he was born with a degenerative hip condition. But that hasn’t stopped Shannon from skateboarding through the Financial District, moving through Duarte Square and Governors Island, and appearing at the Maker Faire in Queens. Over the years, he has been adding cutting-edge technology to his performances and installations, culminating in Touch Update, which incorporates dance, theater, prerecorded and live video, and a cubist mask onto which images are projected; Shannon met with neuroscientists to get everything just right. “It’s built around basic philosophical questions about humanity: Can people change?” he says in an online promo piece in which he also calls the show “a response to the filter of social and digital media and how humans interact.” The seventy-minute work, which was developed at a residency at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh, includes reverse engineering of the Shannon Technique for those who do not require crutches and will be performed by Raphael Botelho Nepomuceno, Ron Chunn Jr., Teena Marie Custer, Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight of slowdanger, Jacquea Mae, Cornelius Henke, and David Whitewolf. The November 15 show will be followed by a Stay Late Conversation moderated by Jennifer Edwards; there will also be a Reverse Engineering Workshop ($15) on November 17 at 1:00 and a lecture, “The Condition Arriving” ($10, $5 with ticket), the same day at 5:00.
“You are very well informed,” Holocaust survivor Ruth Elias tells filmmaker Claude Lanzmann in The Four Sisters: The Hippocratic Oath. Thanks to the Paris-born Lanzmann, a French resistance fighter during WWII, we are all very well informed about so many of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis, told to him in moving, powerful stories by “living witnesses” for decades. In The Four Sisters, which made its world premiere at the New York Film Festival in October, the Shoah director, who passed away in July at the age of ninety-two, focuses on the extraordinary experiences of four strong women who survived concentration camps, each one originally interviewed for Shoah. “The more I thought about these four women, the more the necessity to bring the spotlight on these female faces of the Shoah seemed important,” Lanzmann explains in his director’s note about deciding to turn them into four separate portraits. “Each of them deals with a little-known chapter of the Holocaust, each from a unique point of view. . . . The incredible strength in each of them has to exist in its own right, and yet the exceptional quality they all share also had to come through — that searingly sharp, almost physical intelligence, and an irrepressible survival instinct which could not be extinguished, despite an apparently certain death awaiting them.” The four-part film is being told in two parts at the Quad beginning November 14, Hanna & Paula and Ruth & Ada.
In The Hippocratic Oath, Ruth Elias tells her remarkable story from the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 to her deportation in April 1942 to Theresienstadt, where she was reunited with and married her boyfriend, to her pregnancy in the winter of 1943, which led to her being sent to Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, where she met Dr. Josef Mengele, who chose to use her baby in an inhuman experiment. Filmed in a little garden, Elias, an accordion player, is firm and direct as she shares the details of precisely what happened, her dark eyes seemingly sent back to Eastern Europe as her words bring it all to vivid life; one can visualize each location, each movement, each glance. The camera occasionally turns to Lanzmann, smoking a cigarette as he listens to her, mesmerized, just as the audience is. Lanzmann is more active in Baluty, walking along the shore in Panama City, Florida, with Paula Biren, whose story begins in Lodz, Poland. An elegant woman, Biren needs a little more prodding to speak, which she does very carefully, with a brutally cold honesty. She describes how Lodz was turned into a ghetto, how she became a police officer there, and then was sent to Auschwitz, where her younger sister and mother were killed, followed by her father’s death shortly thereafter. Lanzmann supplements the film with archival photographs of Lodz. Throughout The Merry Flea, Ada Lichtman is cleaning and mending dolls; it is eerie as viewers eventually find out why. Lichtman, from the Polish town of Wieliczka, relates her story of being captured by the Germans and sent to Sobibór, speaking at a determined, almost eager pace, sometimes skipping around so that Lanzmann has to interject to get her back on track or to go into more specifics, particularly regarding her treatment at the hands of a Nazi officer named Wagner and her description of cattle cars where naked men, women, and children were forced to dance with one another. The camera occasionally shifts to her husband, who she met in the camps; he stares ahead almost blankly, with hollow, haunted eyes, then hides his head in his hands. The sound of traffic outside can be heard, as if coming from another time and place.
Finally, in Noah’s Ark, Lanzmann introduces Hungarian native Hanna Marton, who sits calmly in a chair, holding a small notebook as she speaks in Hebrew, the director sitting right in front of her, nearly knocking knees; in the film’s production notes, Lanzmann explains, “I’ve never heard an account that is as constantly, relentlessly painful as the one that Hanna Marton gave me when I filmed her during the shoot for Shoah in her Jerusalem apartment.” Her eyes sometimes tearing up, Marton, continually on edge and at times defensive, talks about the early Zionist movement in her hometown of Cluj, the capital of Transylvania; discusses how Jews were used by the Hungarian army, which supported Germany and Italy, as living mine detectors; details the creation of the Kolozsvár ghetto in May 1944 as a way to quickly exterminate Jews; and delves into her involvement with the Kastner train, a deal made between Jewish-Hungarian lawyer Rudolf Kastner and Nazi Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann. The Four Sisters is no mere addendum to Shoah, nor is it a footnote to Lanzmann’s long, important career; together, the four films make a powerful statement about hatred and bigotry, about violence and war, and about the indomitable strength and spirit of women, especially during the war and its aftermath. They are also a terrifying reminder that given the state of the world today, it’s not impossible that something like this could happen again, even right here in America, as there are fewer and fewer concentration-camp eyewitnesses, Holocaust deniers litter the internet, nations build walls and fences to keep out refugees, and a sitting president insists that some white supremacists are “very fine people.”
THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (LE DERNIER DES INJUSTES) (Claude Lanzmann, 2013)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Wednesday, November 14, 6:35, and Monday, November 19, 6:35
For more than forty years, late French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann documented the Holocaust and the birth of the state of Israel in such provocative and powerful films as Israel, Why; Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.; and his nine-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, Shoah. In 1997, he made A Visitor from the Living, built around a 1979 interview with International Red Cross worker Maurice Rossel, who led a delegation inspecting the Nazis’ so-called “model ghetto” of Theresienstadt, which turned out to be a glorified concentration camp. Lanzmann returns to the Czech camp in The Last of the Unjust, an utterly fascinating 218-minute documentary consisting of a series of interviews he conducted in Rome in 1975 with Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the only Jewish Elder to survive the Holocaust. For years, Murmelstein, who was appointed directly by and reported to Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann, has been declared a Nazi collaborator, by writer Hannah Arendt and many others, even being arrested, imprisoned, and tried by Czech authorities. But in The Last of the Unjust, he paints a vivid portrait of everyday life in Theresienstadt, claiming he was not a collaborator but instead was doing whatever he could to improve conditions for the Jews there.
He poignantly describes not knowing about gas chambers and trains to Auschwitz and proudly defends his actions, referring to himself as the “last of the unjust.” Murmelstein has a spectacular memory, vividly recalling specific moments, answering all of Lanzmann’s questions with a bold honesty and correcting long-held misbeliefs concerning Theresienstadt. A cool, cigarette-smoking Lanzmann is seen in the old interviews and he also appears in new footage shot as he visits the camp and other relevant locations, geographically linking the past and the present. Between Murmelstein’s amazing storytelling ability and Lanzmann’s sharing of his personal perspective, the film never gets boring or repetitive over the course of its three-and-a-half-hour length. In the written introduction, Lanzmann states, “It took me a long time to come to the realization that I didn’t have the right to keep this to myself.” He indeed did a great service by not keeping this to himself, making yet another poignant document of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a unique and thoroughly intriguing witness. The Last of the Unjust is screening at the Quad on November 14 and 19 at 6:35 (the November 14 show will be introduced by Lanzmann assistant Laura Koeppel) as part of the “Claude Lanzmann’s Cinema of Remembrance” series, which continues through November 21 with such other works as Napalm; Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.; Israel, Why; A Visitor from the Living and The Karski Report; Shoah in two sections; and Tsahal.
WELCOME TO THE BEYOND (Brent Huff, 2018)
260 West 23rd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday, November 13, 7:30
Festival runs November 8-15
In the summer of 1978, Hoyt Richards, a gorgeous blond athlete from a large, successful family, was approached by a man on a beach in Nantucket who offered him a bright future. Richards, aka John Richards, appeared to already have it all, but he eventually followed the man, who turned out to be Frederick von Mierers, the leader of the Eternal Values cult, who claimed to be an alien from the planet Arcturus. Former model Brent Huff tells the bizarre story, in many ways a cautionary tale, in Welcome to the Beyond, screening November 13 at DOC NYC. In 2012, while filming a Ford Models reunion, actor, writer, and director Huff (Behind the Orange Curtain, Chasing Beauty) recognized Richards and approached him about making a documentary about his experience with Eternal Values. Richards agreed, and speaks extensively about what happened to him; Huff also meets with many of Richards’s friends and relatives. “There’s definitely a dynamic in this family that’s regrettable,” younger brother Garth says. “That dynamic had to do with, John was always my father’s favorite, and John epitomized what my father would have loved to have been: the blue-eyed, blond-haired, good-looking football player. There’s a cruel twist in all that, is that by my father making John his favorite, he created resentment from every other sibling of John. He put John on an island, and I don’t know how John internalized that, but that wasn’t a pretty place to be.”
Talking about his mother, John, who is one of the film’s producers, admits, “I always just felt like she was on a different planet.” John was the first male supermodel, went to Princeton, partied at Studio 54, and had a major career, but ultimately he came to understand that he was in a cult and that he had to get out. The psychology behind his story is related by Steven Hassan, a former cult member who became a deprogrammer and has written such books as Combatting Cult Mind Control. Richards’s five siblings, cousins, parents, and close friends as well as a fellow former cult member all share their thoughts on a situation that they still don’t really understand: Just why did Richards fall for von Mierers and Eternal Values? Welcome to the Beyond is screening November 13 at 7:30 at Cinepolis Chelsea in the Portraits section of DOC NYC, with Huff, producer Shawn Huff, and editor Pete Speneuk on hand for a Q&A.
Most recent polls show that health care is the number one concern of most Americans, ahead of the economy, immigration, the environment, gun violence, and other issues. Filmmakers Anna Moot-Levin and Laura Green travel to northern New Mexico to explore a critical aspect of the health-care crisis in the moving, almost elegiac The Providers, which is making its New York City premiere at the DOC NYC festival. Moot-Levin and Green, both the children of doctors, directed, produced, photographed, recorded the sound, and edited (with Chris Brown) the film, which follows three health-care workers as they deal with poor, underserved patients with empathy, compassion, and understanding in small rural towns. “My job is to try to keep you alive,” nurse practitioner Chris Ruge tells one patient. “Health care is a relationship,” explains physician assistant Matt Probst. And family physician Leslie Hayes points out that once she retires, there is no one to take over for her. Moot-Levin and Green spent one hundred days over three years in Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and Española in New Mexico, going behind the scenes as Ruge, Probst, and Hayes treat men, women, and children, including many adults suffering from alcoholism, opioid abuse, and other addictions. The three providers are part of the ECHO Care program at El Centro clinics, which allows them to see patients who have little or no money; they visit them in the hospital and make house calls, often stopping by just to check on how things are going. “There is so much beauty here. And there is so much pain,” Probst says.
The film also reveals how their dedication to their jobs impact their private lives; Ruge’s wife, nurse midwife Ann Ruge, complains that her husband cares more about his patients than about her, while Probst has to deal with an addicted father and troubled sister. When future funding for ECHO Care is in jeopardy, Chris Ruge notes, “If it ended, it would likely lead to the early death of a lot of our patients.” Another problem is where the next generation of health-care workers will come from to serve these indigent communities; Probst teaches physician assistant students at the University of New Mexico, where he hopes to find young men and women willing to stay local. “I want to go into the medical profession because this community is so far from medical help,” one student, Tiffany, says. The Providers is screening November 12 at IFC in the American Perspectives section of DOC NYC, with Moot-Levin participating in a Q&A after the film.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (Orson Welles, 2018)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, November 11, 5:00
Series runs through January 8
Throughout Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, characters make declarations that have been applied to Welles’s work over the years, and what audiences may even be thinking in the first minutes of this, his final film: “Does all this matter?” “What the hell is that?” “I’m bored with the whole story.” “You could tell me what’s going on here.” And “What happens here?” “I’m not really sure, Max.” But that wickedly sly self-referential commentary is one of the many reasons that The Other Side of the Wind is yet another masterpiece by the man who brought the world Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, F for Fake, and other classics. Welles’s legendary difficulties — budgetary problems, editing and reshoots without his consent, productions that took years to finish — are both the subject and the story of the making of The Other Side of the Wind itself. Welles’s potent skewering of Hollywood was shot in the 1970s and remained incomplete until now; finally, nearly one hundred hours of footage have been edited into a two-hour gem that will be screening November 11 at MoMA in their annual “Contenders” series, made up of films the institution believes will last the test of time. The Other Side of the Wind begins with an equilibrium-challenging blast of grainy scenes photographed with shaky handheld cameras and sudden, disorienting closeups, switching from color to black-and-white, the audio track not quite synced, Michel Legrand’s jazzy noir score underlining the too-rapid pace as all the main characters are introduced. The conceit of the film is that it tells the story of the last day of iconic, ornery auteur J. J. Hannaford’s life, played by iconic, ornery auteur John Huston. (Welles always claimed that Hannaford was not based on himself but on other great directors.) “This little historical document has been put together from many sources,” Hannaford acolyte Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich) announces in voice-over at the start, “from all the footage shot by TV and documentary filmmakers and also the students, critics, and young directors who happened to bring 16- and 8mm cameras, having been invited to Jake’s seventieth birthday party.”
Once the film calms down, it’s stupendous, a bittersweet takedown of the studio system and the end of an era, with a fabulous cast that covers nearly every aspect of the film world: Susan Strasberg as ruthless, ambitious critic Julie Rich; Edmond O’Brien as actor Pat Mullins; Mercedes McCambridge as Maggie Noonan, Hannaford’s manager; Norman Foster as Billy Boyle, an old-timer who knows how to handle things; Paul Stewart as Matt Costello, another of Hannaford’s old cohorts; Lilli Palmer as movie star Zarah Valeska, the host of the party; Cameron Mitchell as grumbling makeup artist Zimmie; Pat McMahon as journalist Marvin P. Fassbender; Joseph McBride as critic Pister; Tonio Selwart as a financier known only as the Baron; Howard Grossman as biographer Charles Higgam; Geoffrey Land as studio head Max David; Frank Marshall as one of the documentarians; Cathy Lucas as Mavis Henscher, a young woman Hannaford takes a liking to; Stafford Repp (Chief O’Hara on Batman) as Hannaford supporter Al Denny; Dennis Hopper as director Lucas Renard; Benny Rubin as Hollywood agent Abe Vogel; Gregory Sierra as screenwriter Jack Simon, who keeps throwing barbs at Hannaford; and Dan Tobin as the uptight Dr. Bradley Pease Burroughs. Among those being parodied or paid homage to in the casting and the plot are Marlene Dietrich, John Houseman, John Ford, William Wellman, Pauline Kael, Robert Evans, Charles Higham, Cybill Shepherd, and John Milius. Among the party guests are George Jessel, Curtis Harrington, Henry Jaglom, Paul Mazursky, Claude Chabrol, Cameron Crowe, Les Moonves, and Rich Little, who originally played Otterlake but was replaced by Bogdanovich, who extensively interviewed Welles for the seminal book This Is Orson Welles. (And yes, that man in the bathroom stall is William Katt, who would later become the Greatest American Hero, while 1970s/’80s star Cassie Yates is Martine.)
Cinematographer Gary Graver and editor Bob Murawski have done what must have been a nearly impossible job, creating a compelling narrative that interweaves the many styles with the making of Hannaford’s last film, also called The Other Side of the Wind, a somewhat existential erotic tale of a Native American woman played by an unnamed actress (Oja Kodar, Welles’s companion) who’s being followed by a motorcycle rebel portrayed by first-time actor John Dale (Bob Random), a new discovery of Hannaford’s. The film is Hannaford’s attempt to remain relevant in the modern age; it’s shot in bold colors, with plenty of nudity and a hip score that serve as a stark counterpoint to the predominantly black-and-white footage of Hannaford and his exploits. “It’s a whole new business,” Zimmie laments. The Other Side of the Wind is a fitting coda to Welles’s career — although he does not appear in the film, his voice can be heard off-camera at one point — a grand finale lovingly put together with respect and admiration that once again makes us wonder what Welles could have achieved had he not continually run into so much trouble as a filmmaker. The MoMA screening will be followed by a Q&A with producer Filip Jan Rymsza. It will be preceded at 2:00 by Morgan Neville’s overly fanciful They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which goes behind-the-scenes of The Other Side of the Wind, detailing the making of the movie through interviews with many of the participants while also delving into Welles’s working process, fundraising methods, and, of course, genius. It’s narrated by Alan Cumming and features Bogdanovich, Kodar, Shepherd, Jaglom, Graver, Random, Marshall, Little, Mitchell, McBride, Simon Callow, George Stevens Jr., Jeanne Moreau, Danny Huston, and others. Neville will take part in a Q&A after the screening.
BEHIND THE CURVE (Daniel J. Clark, 2018)
260 West 23rd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Saturday, November 10, 8:00
Festival runs November 8-15
A few years ago, I got into a series of social media discussions with an old high school acquaintance who believed in a lot of conspiracy theories. It turns out he is a Flat Earther, one of a growing number of Americans who believe that the planet is not round. He asked me to watch a bunch of videos that supported his beliefs, and I did, but no matter what science-based evidence I threw back at him, he was prepared with an answer that often included claims that high-level, respected scientists were part of the conspiracy, that they were being paid off by the secret government. I ultimately ended our social media friendship when it turned into a false flag discussion and it became evident he thought reports of mass shootings were hoaxes as well. Anyway, Daniel J. Clark’s Behind the Curve brought that all back for me. In the expertly made film, screening November 10 in the Science Fiction section of DOC NYC, Clark tracks the exploits of several very public Flat Earthers as they prepare for the first annual Flat Earth International Conference in 2017 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Many are eager to hear in person from those they follow online, leaders in the movement who regularly post videos “proving” that there’s no curve to the Earth. “I didn’t choose flat earth; flat earth chose me,” Flat Earth superstar and former digital pinball champion Mark Sargent explains. Clark spends a lot of time with Sargent and his cohort, the Morrissey-loving Patricia “the Interviewer” Steere, as they attend meetups, go to a NASA museum, watch the supposed solar eclipse, and make new videos. Among the others attending the conference are Nathan “the Evangelist” Thompson, Bob “the Engineer” Knodel, Chris “the Craftsman” Pontius, and Jeran “the Experimenter” Campanella as well as people who go by such names as Infinite Plane Society and Odd Reality; the only Flat Earther who turns his back on the conference is the angry Matt “Math Powerland” Boylan, who thinks Sargent is a plant working for Warner Bros.
Clark allows the Flat Earthers to make their case, neither judging them nor portraying them as idiots. He does, however, speak with a number of concerned professionals who delve into the psychological reasons why people fall for conspiracy theories, including Caltech astrophysicist Hannalore Gerling-Dunsmore, UCLA psychiatry professor Dr. Joe Pierre, Caltech physicist Dr. Spiros Michalakis, Caltech astronomer Dr. Erika Hamden, NASA astronaut Commander Scott Kelly, psychologist and writer Dr. Per Espen Stoknes, high school teacher Stephen Hagberg, and science writer Tim Urban. (He purposely avoided such well-known debunkers as Neil “He Who Shall Not Be Named” deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy.) They all show empathy and understanding for the Flat Earthers, treating them as misguided people rather than absurd zealots for a ridiculous cause, a tempting characterization of those who believe, among other things, that we are all living inside a giant dome like in The Truman Show. The experts discuss such diagnoses as impostor syndrome, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, institutional disconfirmation, information bias, miseducation, scientific superiority complex, and a general distrust of authority, never outright criticizing any of the Flat Earthers. One of the Flat Earthers humorously states that most of them do not live in their mother’s basement; however, Sargent does spend a significant amount of time with his mom, who is not fully sold on the planet being flat. Clark and producers Nick Andert and Caroline Clark will be at the Cinepolis Chelsea screening to talk about the film.
“Getting to know your own mind should be fun,” former Silicon Valley tech executive Erric Solomon said at a recent cocktail party celebrating the release of Radically Happy (Shambhala, $24.95), the new book he cowrote with his longtime friend, Tibetan Buddhist teacher Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche, who explained, “It’s about how you can be happy, not why. We already know why we should be happy.” Solomon and Phakchok Rinpoche will be at the Rubin Museum on November 10 at 3:00 for the talk “Ancient Wisdom and Tech Future”; this past summer, Rinpoche appeared at the Rubin for two presentations, a mindfulness meditation and “Stories of Padmasambhava.” Radically Happy: A User’s Guide to the Mind features a foreword by Daniel Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman, colorful artwork by Julian Pang, and such chapters as “Why You Need Radical Happiness, or How to Be Less of a Dog and More of a Lion,” “The Looking-for-Happiness Conundrum,” and “Contemplating the Interdependent Nature of Reality.” As the Golemans note, “Phakchok Rinpoche lives much like the rest of us and so can draw on his own doubts, anger, and other familiar feelings to illustrate ways we can each find steadier footing in the rocky realities of our lives.” Solomon and Rinpoche might use the word “radical” a lot in the book, but their approach applies common sense to everyday existence, believing that problems can “be resolved by being more present-moment focused and by thinking of the welfare of others. Could the path to happiness really be that simple?” Part of the Rubin’s yearlong investigation into the future, the talk will be followed by a book signing; general admission is $25, but for $45 you get a signed copy of the book, preferred seating, and a karma tour.