SLAM (Marc Levin, 1998)
127 West 127th St.
Thursday, December 5, suggested admission $10, 7:00
Series continues through December 8 at Maysles Cinema
Award-winning documentarian Marc Levin is being celebrated this week with a four-day “Masterclass” tribute at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem. The series begins December 5 with a fifteenth-anniversary screening of Levin’s second fiction feature, the genre-defining Slam. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes, the 1998 film stars Saul Williams as Ray Joshua, a young man arrested for selling weed in the appropriately named Dodge City in southeast D.C. Ray is faced with three options: plead not guilty and go to trial, which means long prison time if he loses; plead guilty and get locked up for eighteen months to two years; or cooperate with the police and walk free after naming names. Unable to make bail, Ray is incarcerated while trying to decide what he is going to do. While behind bars, he lets loose with some remarkable spoken-word rhymes that earns him respect and the attention of writing teacher Lauren Bell (Sonja Sohn). Soon Ray’s artistry might be the only thing that can save him as he continues to fight an unfair system in an unjust world.
Shot in a compelling cinéma vérité style by Mark Benjamin that adds a heavy dose of grim reality, Slam is a collaboration between Levin and Richard Stratton, an ex-con who started Prison Life magazine after spending eight years in jail for drug smuggling. In addition, Williams, Sohn, and Bonz Malone, who plays prison inmate Hopha, wrote their own dialogue/raps. The score, by DJ Spooky, is supplemented by a soundtrack that includes KRS-One, Pras, Big Pun, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Mobb Deep, Brand Nubian, and others. And yes, that is D.C. mayor Marion Barry Jr. as the judge preaching about the scourge of drugs. Slam, the first of an urban trilogy by Levin that continues with Whiteboyz and Brooklyn Babylon, is screening December 5 at 7:00 at the Dempsey Auditorium, preceded by a live performance by Darian Dauchan, Samantha Thornhill, and Jon Sands and followed by a Q&A with Levin, Stratton, Williams, Sohn, Malone, Bob Holman, and Liza Jessie Peterson. The Masterclass series runs through December 8 at the Maysles Cinema with such other Levin films as Whiteboyz, a double feature of Gang War: Bangin; in Little Rock and Back in the Hood: Gang War 2, and Mr. Untouchable, shown along with a preview of the work-in-progress Freeway: Crack in the System, about Rick Ross. (Fans of Williams can also catch him performing at the December 7 edition of the Brooklyn Museum’s free First Saturdays program.)
In his first children’s book, The Blue Hair Club and Other Stories, actor Dan Lauria collects made-up stories he’s been telling his godson, Julian Farnsworth. The book is the first in a new series called “The Godfather Tales”; Lauria collaborated on the text (the book also includes “The Boy Who Built a Bridge Our of Carrots” and “The Story of the Sun”) with Julian’s mother, L.A.-based photographer Cathryn Farnsworth; the playful illustrations are by Brandon Morino. The Brooklyn-born Lauria, who starred as grumpy father Jack Arnold in The Wonder Years and is about to reprise his role as narrator Jean Shepherd in A Christmas Story: The Musical, running at the Theater at Madison Square Garden December 11-29, will be at the Society of Illustrators on December 16, in conversation with Star-Ledger theater critic emeritus Peter Filichia, discussing his long career onstage, on television, and in the movies, as well as the book. Also on hand will be the famous leg lamp from the show, along with members of the cast of the musical, who will perform excerpts from the book, followed by a signing. In addition, there will be fudge and a cash bar. Proceeds from sales of the self-published book ($21.73) will go to the nonprofit Front Door Agency, whose mission is “to offer support and provide services to assist individuals and families in their transition from crisis to self-sufficiency,” focusing on the needs of single moms and their children. Advance RSVP with the number of books you’d like to reserve is required.
THE PUNK SINGER: A FILM ABOUT KATHLEEN HANNA (Sini Anderson, 2013)
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St., 212-924-7771
Nitehawk Cinema, 136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave., 718-384-3980
Opens Friday, November 29
A cofounder of the riot grrrl movement, Kathleen Hanna was an outspoken feminist as she toured the world with Bikini Kill and then Le Tigre starting in 1991. But it all came to a mysterious halt in 2005 when the Portland, Oregon, native suddenly went on what became a long hiatus for undisclosed health reasons. Director Sini Anderson gets to the heart of the matter in the intimate, revealing documentary The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna. Incorporating rousing archival footage and photographs along with new interviews, Anderson, in her feature debut, gets Hanna to open up about her life and career, discussing such influences as Kathy Acker and Gloria Steinem as well as the serious health problem that kept her out of the public eye for five years. Hanna also talks about her childhood, a sexual assault that happened to her best friend, her photography and fashion work in college, her zine writing, and the formation of her bands, along the way always pushing her message. “We didn’t give a shit,” she says about the beginnings of Bikini Kill. “We weren’t making money; we knew we were never going to make money. And it was really important that we made our music. We were on a mission. We were going to do what we did whether we got attention or not.”
Anderson also speaks with such former and current Hanna bandmates as Johanna Fateman, JD Samson, Kathi Wilcox, and Tobi Vail, musical icons Joan Jett and Kim Gordon, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, and Hanna’s husband, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz; many are interviewed in the back of a snazzy van during a Hanna tribute concert at the Knitting Factory in 2010. Anderson weaves in plenty of music clips that display Hanna’s powerful stage presence, including snippets of such songs as “Rebel Girl,” “White Boy,” “Distinct Complicity,” “Hot Topic,” “Deceptacon,” and “Aerobicide” from Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the Julie Ruin. The Punk Singer is a gripping portrait of a fearless, talented woman who continues to do whatever it takes to get her message out. “What is the story of my life?” Hanna says near the end. “I have no fucking idea.” But now, thanks to Anderson, we do, even if that story is still being written. The Punk Singer opens November 29 at the IFC Center and Nitehawk Cinema; Anderson, cinematographer Jennie Jeddry, and editor Bo Mehrad will be at the Nitehawk to participate in Q&As following the 7:30 and 9:55 screenings on Friday night, and Hanna will be at the IFC Center for Q&As moderated by Lizz Winstead after Friday and Saturday’s 7:55 and 9:55 shows. In addition, Hanna will be signing copies of the new album by the Julie Ruin, Run Fast, at 10:00 on Saturday.
Saturday, November 30, free
“Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores,” bestselling author Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) wrote in an open letter to “gorgeous book nerds” on September 1. “I want all of us (you and you and especially you) to spend an amazing day hand-selling books at your local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday (that’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30 this year, so you know it’s a huge weekend for everyone who, you know, wants to make a living).” And he set out a plan as well: “We book nerds will become booksellers. We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends’ books. Maybe you’ll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).” Hundreds of bookstores around the country are participating in the one-day event; here in New York City, more than two dozen authors are scheduled to appear at fifteen locations, including LaShonda Katrice Barnett at 192 Books, Amy Brill, Jon Scieszka, and Matt de la Pena at the Community Bookstore, Paul Zelinsky, Michael Buckley, Ayana Mathis, Jeffrey Rotter, and Justin Torres at Greenlight, Jodi Kantor, Emily Jenkins, and Stefan Merrill Block at powerHouse, and Amy Shearn, Jennifer K. Armstrong, Sarah McCarry, Susannah Cahalan, Emma Straub, Tim O’Mara, Jami Attenberg, and Myke Cole at WORD. As Alexie concludes, “So join the Indie First Movement and help your favorite independent bookstore. Help all indie bookstores. Reach out to them and join the movement. Indies First!”
In 2010, New York City-based dancer and choreographer Donna Uchizono performed in longing two, the first time in ten years she had taken the stage, convinced by dancer Hristoula Harakas to do so in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Donna Uchizono Company. Uchizono (Thin Air) will be back onstage again next week for the deeply personal Fire Underground, a New York Live Arts commission that relates the tremendous difficulties she encountered when trying to adopt a child. The piece, which examines the idea of performance itself, is a collaboration with dancer Becky Serrrell-Cyr, lighting designer Joe Levasseur, composer David Shively and photographer Michael Grimaldi and will feature five dancers. The piece will be preceded by an updated version of 1999’s State of Heads, which Uchizono brought back for the recent Oliver Sacks festival at NYLA and will be performed by Serrell-Cyr, Levi Gonzalez, and Harakas, set to music by James Lo and lighting by Stan Pressner. “State of Heads explores the feeling of waiting and the passage of time in the state of hiatus where familiar time and scale are pushed,” she told us in an April twi-ny talk. “Using the separation of the head from the body as a point of departure, in an exploration of disjointedness and the sense of a will apart from the mind driving the movement, surprisingly created a world of endearingly odd characters.” The double bill runs December 4-7 at NYLA; the December 4 performance will be followed by the Stay Late Discussion “Behind Fire Underground” with members of the company, moderated by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and the December 5 show will be preceded by the Come Early Panel Conversation “Making Dances in the ’90s Though Today’s Lens” with choreographers Tere O’Connor, John Jasperse, RoseAnne Spradlin, and Uchizono, moderated by Carla Peterson. In addition, Uchizono will lead a Shared Practice workshop on November 30 from 1:00 to 4:00, sharing her creative process with a small class; registration is $20.
National Academy Museum
1083 Fifth Ave. at 89th St.
Tuesday, November 26, $15, 6:30
The National Academy’s current exhibition, “See It Loud: Seven Post-War American Painters,” on view through January 26, examines a lesser-known group of U.S. artists who, in the years following World War II, walked the fine line between representation and abstraction. “There was very nearly a moral dimension to the opposition between the two aesthetics,” notes senior curator Bruce Weber. The seven artists featured in the exhibition are Leland Bell, Paul Georges, Peter Heinemann, Albert Kresch, Stanley Lewis, Paul Resika, and Neil Welliver. On November 26 at 6:30, Schenectady-born painter, critic, professor, and National Academician Stephen Westfall, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow and winner of a 2009 Rome Prize in the visual arts, will discuss the work of Welliver (1929-2005), whose large-scale landscapes, including the beautifully composed and somewhat dizzying “Blueberries in Fissures,” are a highlight of the show. The talk will be followed by a screening of artist and collector Rudy Burckhardt’s half-hour documentary, Neil Welliver Painting in Maine. (Also in conjunction with the exhibition, Lewis will be teaching the “Working from the Masters” painting class on December 5; tuition is $200.)
CUTIE AND THE BOXER (Zachary Heinzerling, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, November 26, 8:00
Series continues through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer is a beautifully told story of love and art and the many sacrifices one must make to try to succeed in both. In 1969, controversial Japanese Neo Dada action painter and sculptor Ushio Shinohara came to New York City, looking to expand his career. According to the catalog for the recent MoMA show “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde,” which featured four works by Ushio, “American art had seemed to him to be ‘marching toward the glorious prairie of the rainbow and oasis of the future, carrying all the world’s expectations of modern painting.’” Four years later, he met nineteen-year-old Noriko, who had left Japan to become an artist in New York as well. The two fell in love and have been together ever since, immersed in a fascinating relationship that Heinzerling explores over a five-year period in his splendid feature-length theatrical debut. Ushio and Noriko live in a cramped apartment and studio in DUMBO, where he puts on boxing gloves, dips them in paint, and pounds away at large, rectangular canvases and builds oversized motorcycle sculptures out of found materials. Meanwhile, Noriko, who has spent most of the last forty years taking care of her often childlike husband and staying with him through some rowdy times and battles with the bottle, is finally creating her own work, an R. Crumb-like series of drawings detailing the life of her alter ego, Cutie, and her often cruel husband, Bullie. (“Ushi” means “bull” in Japanese.) While Ushio is more forthcoming verbally in the film, mugging for the camera and speaking his mind, the pig-tailed Noriko is far more tentative, so director and cinematographer Heinzerling brings her tale to life by animating her work, her characters jumping off the page to show Cutie’s constant frustration with Bullie.
During the course of the too-short eighty-two-minute film — it would have been great to spend even more time with these unique and compelling figures — the audience is introduced to the couple’s forty-year-old son, who has some issues of his own; Guggenheim senior curator of Asian Art Alexandra Munroe, who stops by the studio to consider purchasing one of Ushio’s boxing paintings for the museum; and Chelsea gallery owner Ethan Cohen, who represents Ushio. But things never quite take off for Ushio, who seems to always be right on the cusp of making it. Instead, the couple struggles to pay their rent. One of the funniest, yet somehow tragic, scenes in the film involves Ushio packing up some of his sculptures — forcing them into a suitcase like clothing — and heading back to Japan to try to sell some pieces. Cutie and the Boxer is a special documentary that gets to the heart of the creative process as it applies both to art and love, focusing on two disparate people who have made a strange yet thoroughly charming life for themselves. Cutie and the Boxer is screening November 26 at 8:00 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders” and will be followed by a discussion with Heinzerling. “The Contenders,” which consists of exemplary films that MoMA believes will stand the test of time and continues with such films as Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight.