There’s a reason why Bill Morrison calls his production company Hypnotic Pictures; for more than twenty years, the Chicago-born, New York-based experimental director has been making hypnotic, mesmerizing films that pair spectacular found footage in various states of decay with gorgeous original soundtracks. The results are as much about its main subjects — natural disasters, societal ills, Frankenstein — as about the history of film, particularly the physical celluloid itself, especially poignant now in the digital age. On October 20, Morrison will be at MoMA for the museum’s latest installment of Modern Mondays, discussing his work in conjunction with the midcareer retrospective “Re-Compositions,” comprising a rotating selection of his oeuvre shown in the Ronald S. and Jo Carole Lauder Building Lobby through March 31. The exhibition is supplemented with “Compositions,” a series of screenings through November 21 consisting of Morrison’s full-length and short films and videos, including The Great Flood, with the score performed live by composer Bill Frisell and Ron Miles, Tony Scherr, and Kenny Wollesen; the trio of All Vows, Just Ancient Loops, and Light Is Calling, with live musical accompaniment by cellist Maya Beiser; a collection of eight 16mm films made between 1990 and 1996; three dystopian works (Gotham, Dystopia, The Highwater Trilogy) made between 2004 and 2008; five 35mm projects from 2000 to 2005; and his 2002 masterpiece, Decasia.
“What are my qualifications to write this book? None, really,” comedian Jim Gaffigan writes at the beginning of Food: A Love Story (Crown Archetype, October 21, $26), the follow-up to his 2013 bestseller, Dad Is Fat. “So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. Okay, to some I might not be considered that fat, but the point is, I’m not thin. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating, I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book. . . . First of all, how do you know they really feel passionately about food? Well, obviously, they are not passionate enough to overdo it. That’s not very passionate. Anyway, I’m overweight.” The stand-up comic and married father of five, who has appeared in such films as The Love Guru and on Broadway in That Championship Season and has publicly shared his desire for Hot Pockets and bacon, among other edibles, will be at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on October 20 at 7:00 to read from and discuss his new book, which features such chapters as “Not Slim Jim,” “The Buffet Rule,” “Cup of Gravy,” “Salad Days,” “Kobe Beef: The Decadent Meat,” “French Fries: My Fair Potato,” and “Hot Pockets: A Blessing and a Curse.” Seating will begin at 5:00 on the fourth floor, with priority given to those who have purchased a copy of the book; the event will conclude with a signing.
STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED (Manfred Kirchheimer, 1981)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Thirty-three years after screening at the New York Film Festival, Manfred Kirchheimer’s Stations of the Elevated is finally getting its official U.S. theatrical release, in a gorgeous new restoration showing at BAMcinématek October 17-23. In 1977, Manfred Kirchheimer, whose family escaped Nazi Germany in 1936, went to the Bronx and filmed graffiti-covered subway cars at the train depot and rushing across the elevated tracks, kids playing in a burned-out housing project, and giant billboards advertising hamburgers, cigarettes, alcohol, and suntan lotion. Shot on 16mm reversal stock, Stations of the Elevated is more than just a captivating document of a bygone era; it is a deeply poetic socioeconomic journey into class, race, art, and freedom of expression, told without a single word of narration or onscreen text. Instead, producer, director, editor, and photographer Kirchheimer (Colossus on the River, Bridge High with Walter Hess) shifts from the natural sound of the environment to a superb jazz score by Charles Mingus while cutting between shots of trains covered in tags and illustrations (and such phrases as “Heaven Is Life,” “Invasion of the Earth,” “Never Die,” and “Earth Is Hell”) by such seminal figures as Blade, Daze, Lee, Pusher, Shadow, and Slave and views of colorful billboards filmed peeking through the geometric architecture of the elevated railways and set against bright blue skies. Most often, the camera focuses on the painted eyes in the ads, looking right back at the viewer as they dominate the scene, evoking the optician’s ad in that famous novel of American class, The Great Gatsby. (The concentration on the eyes also predicts how Madison Ave. was watching the graffiti movement, eventually coopting the imagery into mainstream advertising.) Through this dichotomy of meaning and execution, Kirchheimer reveals similarities in artistic styles and how the elements influenced each other; a particularly telling moment occurs when a man is shown hand painting a billboard who could have just as well been spray painting a subway car.
Kirchheimer remains outside during the course of the forty-five-minute documentary, never venturing into the tunnels, capturing the elevated train lines as if they’re just another part of New York City architecture, which of course they are. And it’s especially powerful because it was made at a time when the city was in the midst of a severe economic crisis and rampant crime epidemic, as Mayor Koch sought to eliminate the scourge of graffiti, while Kirchheimer celebrates its beauty (and New York-ness) in this glorious little film. Stations of the Elevated, which elevates the station of subway graffiti artistry with an entrancing calmness, is being shown at BAMcinématek with Claw, Kirchheimer’s 1968 film about urban renewal made with Hess; Kirchheimer, now in his early eighties, will be at BAM to participate in Q&As at the 7:45 screening on October 17 and the 7:00 screening on October 18. In addition, street artist David “Chino” Villorente will make a special presentation at the 8:00 showing on October 21 (in place of Claw).
Advertising itself with the deliciously cringeworthy phrase “It’s kind of a big dill,” Pickle Day returns to the Lower East Side on Sunday, October 19, promising its annual mix of food, fashion, and fun. Among the fifteen purveyors of pickled items will be McClure’s, Guss’, the Pickle Guys, Brooklyn Brine, Mrs. Kim’s Kimchi, and Sour Puss as well as more than two dozen other food vendors, including Georgia’s BBQ, Brooklyn Taco, Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya, Mimi and Coco, Melt Bakery, the Meatball Shop, Russ and Daughters, and Doughnut Plant. We’ve never really equated pickles with fashion, but at this festival you’ll also find clothing from Pull In, Yaf Sparkle, Fox and Jane, Grit N Glory, and Realife. Throughout the afternoon, music will be blasting from two stages, featuring Fantasy Grandma, Ellen Kaye and the Moscow 57 Band, Gil K, and DJs Hurrikeen, Bruce Tantum, and Kai Song, in addition to face painting, dancing, a home pickling contest, cat Bingo, a Pickle Day Pun-Off, a photo booth, workout demonstrations, a brine dunk tank, and animal adoptions.
ROCKS IN MY POCKETS: A CRAZY QUEST FOR SANITY (Signe Baumane, 2014)
Symphony Space, Leonard Nimoy Thalia
2537 Broadway at 95th St.
Sunday, October 19, $14, 7:00
The recent suicide of Robin Williams shook the nation, once again pointing out that depression is no laughing matter. But Latvian-born, Brooklyn-based writer-director-producer-animator Signe Baumane takes a unique approach to depression and suicide in the darkly twisted animated film Rocks in My Pockets: A Crazy Quest for Sanity. Influenced by such animation giants as Jan Švankmajer and Bill Plympton in addition to Lithuanian-Polish illustrator Stasys Eidrigevicius and Russian animator Yuri Norstein, Baumane, a self-described “Master of Self Pity,” incorporates hand-drawn animation, papier-mâché constructions, and stop-motion animation in telling the story of her family’s long history of mental illness and suicide. Inspired by her own thoughts of ending it all, Baumane (Teat Beat of Sex), in her feature-length debut, divides the film into segments about her suicidal relatives. She narrates the tales of Indulis, an entrepreneur and failed counterfeiter with an “idea-generating brain”; Anna, a university graduate and secretary who falls in love with Indulis, her married boss; Miranda, who looks at the world as if everything were a work of art; Linda, a medical student with big dreams; Irbe, a lonely music teacher who hears voices in her head; and herself as they all experience various aspects of severe depression while facing the trials and tribulations of everyday life in a changing sociopolitical climate in Eastern Europe.
Despite the serious topics and events — and the regular appearance of nooses tempting the protagonists — Rocks in My Pockets is filled with clever jokes, imaginative visual puns, beautiful imagery, and a playful score by Kristian Sensini; Baumane refers to it as “a funny film about depression,” and that’s just what it is. The animated characters make their way through lush forests, across a real chess board, and past other colorful backgrounds as reality strikes them hard. The personal nature of the film is enhanced by Baumane’s own narration, in her thick Latvian accent. (Her mother attempted to talk her out of doing the narration, thinking it was a bad idea.) “I want to survive, but I don’t want to live,” Baumane says halfway through the film. “When my brain is idle, it starts eating itself.” Fearing that depression and suicide are part of her DNA, she’s unsure how she can get away from it — and prevent it from affecting future generations of her family. Winner of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize at the 2014 Karlovy Vary Film Festival and financed in part by a Kickstarter campaign (where you can learn more about the making-of process), Rocks in My Pockets will be screening October 19 at 7:00 as part of Symphony Space’s Thalia Docs series and will be followed by a Q&A with Baumane.
The New York Botanical Garden, Everett Children’s Adventure Garden
2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx (easily accessible via Metro-North)
Tuesday - Sunday through October 31 (special events October 18-19, 24-26, 31), $20
The Haunted Pumpkin Garden opened last month at the New York Botanical Garden, featuring a vast array of pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and sizes. Continuing through All Hallow’s Eve, the display is accompanied by daily family-friendly activities in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, including interactive puppet shows, a pumpkin sprouting demonstration, a scavenger hunt, and parades (Tuesday – Friday, 1:30 – 5:30; Saturday & Sunday, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm). On October 18-19 and 25-26, there will also be a Creepy Creatures of Halloween picnic with live animals (12 noon & 2:00). On October 18 & 25, children (recommended eight and up) can participate in a Budding Masters Creepy Pumpkin Carving Adventure ($50, 10:00), while Spooky Nighttime Adventures take place October 18, 24-25, and 31 ($20, 6:30 & 7:15) with programs geared for children four to twelve; flashlights will be supplied as families encounter ghost stories at the Wild Wetland Trail gazebo, make trick-or-treat bags (and go trick-or-treating), decorate gourds, carve pumpkins, dissect owl pellets, and more. On October 18-19, pumpkin carver extraordinaire Ray Villafane will give demonstrations (10:00 am – 6:00 pm) and take part in Q&As with growers (12 noon – 4:00), while the giant pumpkins will make their way into the garden October 25-26.
Three years ago, China’s Beijing Dance Theater made its U.S. debut with the three-part Haze, an emotional, abstract examination of environmental and economic crises that was part of BAM’s 2011 Next Wave Festival. Founded in 2008 by choreographer Wang Yuanyuan, visual artist Tan Shaoyuan, and lighting and set designer Han Jiang, BDT is back in Brooklyn for the 2014 Next Wave Festival this week with another three-part presentation, Wild Grass. In choreographing the work, which combines tradition with modernity, Wang found inspiration in Lu Xun’s seminal 1927 prose-poetry collection, Wild Grass, also known as Yecao and Weeds, which includes such poems as “The Shadow’s Leave-Taking,” “My Lost Love,” “Revenge,” “Hope,” “Snow,” “Tremors of Degradation,” and “The Awakening.” The three sections, “Dead Fire,” “Farewell, Shadows!” (aka “Farewell of the Shadow”), and “Dance of Extremity,” each of which will have a different kind of floor, delve into the nature of human spirit and perseverance. The first movement, in BDT’s own poetic description, “has burning form but no flickering. It stands frozen like corals, with black smoke curdled on its tips that makes you wonder whether it has just emerged from a house on fire — and that is why it looks burnt and dead.” That is followed by “Farewell, Shadows!,” in which “I linger between light and darkness; know not whether it is dusk or dawn. Let me raise my ashen grey hand and feign a toast; I shall journey far, far away, unbeknownst to all.” The evening concludes with “Dance of Extremity,” where “there remains only the vast wilderness; this dried couple, completely naked, sword in hand, stand in the middle. With dead men’s eyes they observe with gusto the withering passers-by in a great bloodless carnage. They are eternally plunged into life’s giddy, excruciating bliss.” Wild Grass runs October 15-18 at BAM’s Harvey Theater; on October 18, Wang will lead an afternoon class at the Mark Morris Dance Center for experienced and professional dancers ($25, 3:00).
Update: As with Beijing Dance Theater’s 2011 U.S. debut at BAM, Haze, the company’s 2014 Next Wave Festival presentation, Wild Grass, is very much about surface. However, while the three sections take place on three different floor surfaces, artistic director, choreographer, and cofounder Wang Yuanyuan and the dancers never quite get below the surface in the work, which was inspired by the prose poetry of writer and activist Lu Xun. The fourteen dancers are individually technically proficient, but they never really catch fire as a unit, although Wu Shanshan stands out when she invigorates the second part with passion and humor otherwise missing from the evening. At several points, it’s possible to see how the dancers prepare their bodies for what is going to happen next, like a baseball hurler telegraphing his pitches. The first movement, “Dead Fire,” set to a minimalist piano score composed by Su Cong and played by He Peixun, takes place on a standard black dance floor that is continually littered with paper confetti that evokes snow, with the moon and white-capped mountains on the backdrop; “Farewell, Shadows” features electronic music by Biosphere and Kangding Ray and a slippery white floor across which the women glide, towed by male dancers; and “Dance of Extremity” has music composed by Wang Peng, with Yahg Rui on violin and Wang Zhilin on cello, as the dancers trudge through a straw-covered field that rises slightly in one corner, where a man stands next to a hanging rope. To paraphrase what we said in our review of Haze, there’s a lot to admire about Wild Grass, but Wang never quite achieves the narrative flow she aspires to.