Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Friday, February 28, $25, 7:00
In conjunction with its current exhibit “Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being,” the Morgan is hosting a special event on February 28, bringing together a wide range of performers celebrating the vast influence of Jarry, the French Symbolist who died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, having left behind an important legacy of plays (Ubu Roi), novels (Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician), essays (The Green Candle), illustrations, and more. The evening includes musical excerpts from actor Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz’s Ubu Sings Ubu, a mashup of Ubu Roi and songs by Cleveland art-punk provocateurs Pere Ubu; a screening of British speculative sculptor Lawrence Lek’s two-minute 2010 film The Time Machine, “a translation of surrealist science fiction into physical form” based on Jarry’s 1899 essay “How to Construct a Time Machine”; “Reading Jarry,” a collaboration between DJ Spooky and Belgian actor and producer Ronald Guttman; and live scoring by DJ Spooky to clips from the late Polish graphic designer and cartoonist Jan Lenica’s 1979 film, Ubu et la grande Gidouille. The program begins at 7:00, but ticket holders are invited to check out the exhibition, which continues through May 10, beginning at 6:00.
PREMATURE (Rashaad Ernesto Green, 2019)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, February 21
From the first time their eyes meet, you know that Ayanna (Zora Howard) and Isaiah (Joshua Boone) are destined to fall in love in Rashaad Ernesto Green’s sweetly tender and moving Premature. A Sundance hit that was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards — the John Cassavetes Award for best film made for less than $500,000 and the Someone to Watch Award for Green, whose previous film was 2011’s well-received Bronx-set Gun Hill Road — Premature is an expansion of Green’s 2008 fifteen-minute HBO Grand Jury Prize-winning short that starred Howard as a Bronx teen facing a crisis. Ten years later, longtime friends Green and Howard, who live in the same Harlem neighborhood, teamed up to write the feature-length version of the story, which opens February 21 at IFC. (Green will participate in Q&As at the 8:20 shows on February 21 and 22, joined the first night by Howard.)
The film was shot on location in Harlem primarily around 145th St., where Ayanna, a poet, is spending her last summer before heading off to college. She hangs around with her close group of friends, Shonté (Imani Lewis), Tenita (Alexis Marie Wint), and Jamila (Tashiana Washington), some of whom already have children and who don’t share the dreams of independence that drive Ayanna. Meanwhile, her mother, Sarita (Michelle Wilson), shows only a mild interest in her daughter, instead taking up with a series of men, searching for her own love. Upon meeting the slightly older Isaiah, a music producer dedicated to the legacy of his late jazz musician father, Ayanna at first plays coy, then heads full steam into a relationship with Isaiah, who appears to be more honest and dependable than most of the other guys in the community, who like talking trash and getting it on with any woman in their path. But when Ayanna suddenly faces an unexpected crisis, she has to decide what she wants for herself, her once bright future now possibly in question.
Premature is beautifully photographed in 16mm by Laura Valladao, giving the film a kind of timelessness, both modern and a throwback to an earlier era, attempting to capture a Harlem that is quickly undergoing gentrification, losing some of its identity; in some ways it is reminiscent of Horace Jenkins’s recently discovered and restored 1982 indie gem Cane River, in which a young woman about to go to college falls in love with a slightly older man who wants to be a poet, although Premature is far more accomplished in both storytelling and acting, has a feminist perspective, and purposely steps aside from issues of race, politics, and the legacy of slavery. Instead, Green and Howard, a playwright whose Stew closes at Walkerspace on February 22, focus purely on the love story between two black people who are practically living in a private dream world, as if their relationship exists on its own plane.
Their Harlem is not the one you usually see onscreen; it’s not a spoiler to say that there is no crime or violence in Premature, no side plots of drugs, prostitution, clashes with law enforcement, or other stereotypical sociocultural elements that usually creep into such narratives. Yet the gentle, sensitively told Premature, with a lively score that features Dave Eggar on solo cello and a mix of song styles from diverse musicians, is as much about Harlem and its black community as it is about a man and a woman who might be destined for each other. The film slips as it reaches its conclusion, stretching the limits of credulity as it devolves into a sentimentality and cliché it wisely avoids otherwise, but it also includes an unforgettable scene when the dreadlocked Ayanna takes a pair of scissors to her hair, a defining moment for the character and the movie itself. Green and Howard sought to make a different kind of black love story set in New York City, and that’s exactly what they have done, to all our benefit.
ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON & THE BAND (Daniel Roher, 2019)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, February 21
The opening night selection of the tenth annual DOC NYC festival, Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson & the Band is an intimate, if completely one-sided, look inside one of the greatest, most influential music groups in North American history. The film was inspired by Band cofounder Robbie Robertson’s 2016 memoir, Testimony, offering his take on the Band’s ups and downs, famous battles, and ultimate breakup. “I don’t know of any other group of musicians with a story equivalent to the story of the Band, and it was a beautiful thing. It was so beautiful it went up in flames,” Robertson, sitting in a chair in a vast, empty room, guitars hanging on the wall far behind him, says. The setup puts the focus on Robertson’s individuality, his alone-ness, in what others trumpet as a collection of extraordinary musicians. “There is no band that emphasizes coming together and becoming greater than the sum of their parts, than the Band. Simply their name: The Band. That was it,” fan Bruce Springsteen says. “I was in great awe of their brotherhood. It was the soul of the Band,” notes Eric Clapton, who says he wanted to join the group made up of singer-songwriter and guitarist Robertson, singer and bassist Rick Danko, singer and keyboardist Richard Manuel, singer and drummer Levon Helm, and keyboardist and accordionist Garth Hudson.
When Robertson, who was born in Toronto in 1943, talks about his childhood — his mother was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian reserve, which had a profound effect on him musically, and his biological father was a Jewish gangster, although he was raised by an abusive stepfather — the film is revelatory, with archival photographs and live footage of Robertson’s early bands and his time with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. Robertson shares mesmerizing anecdotes about going electric with Bob Dylan, recording the Basement Tapes in a house called Big Pink, and discussing his craft. “I don’t have much of a process of like I’m thinking about this, and now I’m going to write a song and it’s gonna be about that,” he explains. “A lot of times, the creative process is trying to catch yourself off guard. And you sit down and you’ve got a blank canvas and you don’t know what you’re gonna do and you just see what happens.”
Hawkins speaks glowingly of his protégé Robertson, who wrote his first songs for Hawkins when he was only fifteen. Roher also talks to executive producer Martin Scorsese, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, record producer John Simon, road manager Jonathan Taplin, equipment manager Bill Scheele, photographer John Scheele, Asylum Records creator David Geffen, and musicians Dylan, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, and Jimmy Vivino, who all rave about Robertson and the Band. “They were totally in love with their music, and they were in love with each other,” photographer Elliott Landy says. “I never saw any jealousy, I never saw any arguments, I never saw them disagree. They were always supporting each other. They were five brothers, very clearly five brothers who loved each other, and I never saw anything but that.”
Of course, Roher cannot talk to Manuel, Danko, and Helm, who are all dead, and Hudson did not participate in the documentary. Robertson and his wife, Dominique, paint a harrowing picture of the Band’s severe strife as drugs and alcohol tear them apart. There’s really no one, aside from a brief point made by guitarist Larry Campbell, to offer an opposing view to Robertson’s tale, which puts him on a golden throne despite some very public disagreements, particularly with Helm over songwriting credit and royalties. Robertson speaks enthusiastically and intelligently throughout the film, but it’s clear from the get-go that these are his carefully constructed, perhaps selective memories about what happened. But Roher doesn’t disguise that conceit; the film is named after one of Robertson’s solo songs, and the second half of the title is, after all, Robbie Robertson & the Band, as if Robertson is separate from the rest.
One of the main surprises is Robertson’s claim that the Last Waltz concert at Winterland in 1976 was not meant as a farewell but just a pause; Roher and Robertson fail to point out that the group continued to tour and record without Robertson. On his sixth solo album, Sinematic, which was released last September, Robertson has a song about the Band, the aforementioned “Once Were Brothers,” that can be heard at the start of the film. “Oh, once were brothers / Brothers no more / We lost a connection / After the war / There’ll be no revival / There’ll be no one cold / Once were brothers / Brothers no more,” Robertson sings. “When that curtain comes down / We’ll let go of the past / Tomorrow’s another day / Some things weren’t meant to last.” It’s a sad testament to a storied legacy, packed with amazing photos and live clips that make it a must-see for fans of the group. Once Were Brothers opens at IFC on February 21, with music photographer Elliott Landy, who appears in the film, participating in a Q&A at the 7:45 show Friday night.
Who: André Holland, Phylicia Rashad
What: Dramatic readings from The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Where: 92Y, Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1395 Lexington Ave. between 91st & 92nd St.
When: Tuesday, February 18, $15-$46, 8:00
Why: In honor of what would have been Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison’s eighty-ninth birthday — the Ohio-born author of such novels as Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved passed away in New York City last August — Morrison scholar and Columbia professor Farah Jasmine Griffin has curated an evening of dramatic readings from Morrison’s final book, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, to be performed by actor André Holland (Selma, Moonlight, Jitney) and Emmy- and Tony-winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show, A Raisin in the Sun, Creed). It is a reprise of an earlier event, held in May 2019, celebrating the release of the book; it now takes on a different meaning with Morrison’s death. The Source of Self-Regard is divided into three sections, “The Foreigner’s Home,” “Black Matter(s),” and “God’s Language,” featuring such chapters as “Racism and Fascism,” “The Slavebody and the Blackbody,” “The Site of Memory,” and “Goodbye to All That: Race, Surrogacy, and Farewell,” with tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Romare Bearden, William Faulkner, and others. “With The Source of Self-Regard, Toni Morrison further cements her reputation as the towering literary figure of our time,” Griffin, who moderated a conversation with Morrison at the 92nd St. Y in 2015, said in a statement. “Her intellect, like her prose, is original, incisive, and illuminating. Hers is a voice we urgently need now more than ever, and I am honored to join these great artists as we bring that voice to the stage of the 92nd St. Y.”
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, February 16, $25-$30, 2:00
Exhibit continues through July 19, $20
In 1979, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek show sought out new life and new civilizations by daring to go where no sci-fi television franchise had gone before: to Hollywood. Directed by five-time Oscar winner Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still), the film sent Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), weapons officer Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Starfleet officer Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) back into space together, attempting to get to the bottom of a dangerous energy cloud and the mysterious V’ger. It was not the most auspicious cinematic debut, but it kicked off a new era of the Star Trek universe and was followed by the best of the franchise’s films, The Wrath of Khan. The Museum of the Moving Image will be screening the underrated Star Trek: The Motion Picture on February 16 as part of its “See It Big! Outer Space” series and in conjunction with the exhibition “Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey.” Seventy-seven-year-old director and special effects master Douglas Trumbull, who worked on such classics as Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Andromeda Strain, Silent Running, and, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 2001: A Space Odyssey, will give a multimedia presentation and take part in a Q&A at 2:00; a digital projection of the film will be shown afterward at 3:00. The $30 tickets include admission to the exhibition, which runs through July 19. “See It Big! Outer Space” continues through April 19 with such other films as Flash Gordon, Alien, Gravity, The Right Stuff, Wall-E, Interstellar, and Aelita, Queen of Mars.
I could watch Bill Cunningham talk for hours and hours. Although we get less than an hour of him serving up delicious stories in Mark Bozek’s seventy-four-minute documentary, The Times of Bill Cunningham, it’s time well spent. “I’m not a real photographer; I’m a fashion historian,” the beloved photographer and fashion historian says in the film, which opens February 14 at the Angelika. Bozek was scheduled to speak with the Boston-born Cunningham for ten minutes in 1994, shortly after the longtime Manhattan transplant had been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle, but Cunningham just kept sharing fab tales, literally until the tape ran out. An engaging, self-effacing raconteur, Cunningham traces his career, from working at Bonwit Teller first in Massachusetts, then in New York; running his own millinery shop, William J., where he provided chapeaux to a ritzy clientele; then working at Chez Ninon before becoming a photojournalist for Women’s Wear Daily and, from 1978 to 2016, for the New York Times, most famously with his popular “On the Street” column. He didn’t set out to take pictures; his life changed when his good friend, designer Antonio Lopez, gave him a 1967 black-and-white Olympus camera.
Throughout the interview, which lasted six hours, Cunningham is shot from the mid-body up, looking slightly off camera at Bozek as he discusses attending such fashion shows as Versailles ’73; meeting such luminaries as Diana Vreeland, John Fairchild, Stephen Burrows, Brooke Astor, Marlon Brando, Anna Wintour, and Bethann Hardison; learning his trade from such other photographers as Weegee and Harold Chapman; and dyeing the dress Jackie Kennedy wore at her husband’s state funeral. He also talks about living for half a century at Carnegie Hall Studios, utterly content even though he doesn’t have his own bathroom there; in addition, despite having taken millions of photographs of fashion folk, the rich and the powerful, and, primarily, people on the street, he doesn’t care very much what he wears himself, often depending on hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. “I know I should care more how I look, but it’s more important I go out and get the right picture. That’s the main thing,” he explains.
Cunningham makes it very clear that it is what his subjects are wearing that attracts him, not their celebrity status. In fact, he took the photo that launched his Times career, a candid shot of an unsuspecting Greta Garbo on the sidewalk, because of how she was dressed; he had no idea it was Garbo until someone told him later. “It makes people feel good,” he says of the attraction of being fashionable. “They get dressed to go out in the morning — I don’t care who you are, it lifts the spirits, it’s self-esteem. . . . As long as there are human beings, there will be fashion, because people want to feel good about themselves.” As happy as he is through most of the film, his big teeth and infectious smile dominating the screen, at one point he does turn sad and emotional, thinking about the impact of the AIDS crisis, which was so dire in 1994.
Bozek might not be the best interviewer — this is his directorial debut, having previously studied acting with Lee Strasberg, worked in marketing for WilliWear, then spent more than two decades as a home-shopping pioneer (he was portrayed by Bradley Cooper in Joy) — and his camera is fairly static, but he and editor Amina Megalli let Cunningham regale us while interweaving hundreds of never-before-seen photographs taken by Cunningham from throughout his career, along with shots of Cunningham from the 1950s to just a handful of years ago, when he could still be seen riding his bike in the city. (It’s somewhat hard to fathom that Bozek had forgotten about the footage he shot in 1994 until hearing of Cunningham’s death in 2016.)
Sex and the City fashion plate Sarah Jessica Parker adds fairly standard voiceover narration that is not quite revelatory but moves the story forward, while the soundtrack features numerous songs by Moby. The Times of Bill Cunningham is very different from Richard Press’s 2011 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, in which dozens of celebrities sang Cunningham’s praises; here’s it’s just the thoroughly charming Cunningham himself, raw and uncensored, accompanied by his photographs, his passion, his visual love letter to the city and the people who live, work, and play there. “The streets are reflecting precisely what’s going on in the political world, in the social upheaval of our times,” he says. “It’s all right there.” Bozek will participate in a pair of Q&As opening weekend at the Angelika, following the 7:45 screenings Friday night with André Leon Talley and Saturday night with Hardison.
The Jewish Museum, Scheuer Auditorium
1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.
Thursday, February 13, $12-$18, 6:30
Exhibit continues through March 22, $8-$18, pay-what-you-wish Thursday from 5:00 - 8:00, free Saturday
Rachel Feinstein’s first survey exhibition, “Maiden, Mother, Crone” at the Jewish Museum, leads visitors down the Arizona-born, New York City-based multidisciplinary artist’s unique rabbit hole, an abstract wonderland where mythology, fairy tales, religious iconography, sexuality, and family are interwoven through a distinctly feminist lens. Mirrors figure prominently, allowing us to take a close look at ourselves and our innate biases. In conjunction with the show, Feinstein will give the Gertrude and David Fogelson Lecture at the museum on February 13, followed by a book signing of the companion monograph. The exhibit is fashioned like a fantastical trip though winding pathways with life-size statues, maquettes, paintings, film, and installation that are not always what they initially seem. A former fashion model who studied at Columbia, Feinstein creates works layered with nuance and filled with little surprises.
Model, a wood, plaster, and enamel paint construction with mirrors, is flanked by St. Sebastian and St. Michael, equating pop culture and religion. One room features Goldstein, a white-painted, carefully carved wood wall that evokes a tropical getaway, while another offers Panorama of Rome, Mylar wallpaper of Ancient Roman architecture surrounding such classical-inspired statuary as Corinne, a swirling Majolica piece made with the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory and based on an eighteenth-century Commedia dell’Arte figurine; The Orphan and Bleeding Shepherdess, which subvert convention with frank images of the female body and its functions; and Butterfly and Puritan’s Delight, which play with fairy-tale tropes.
Also on view are the stained wood Adam and Eve, which intertwines the biblical couple with nature in the Garden of Eden; a yearning depiction of the Crucifixion, Feinstein’s first work after having witnessed the destruction on 9/11 from her downtown apartment; the colorful Flower Girl, a Play-Doh-like youth with animals congregating all over her; Mr. Time, a fanciful black-and-white working clock based on a drawing by Feinstein’s son when he was ten; and a series of six cameo-like paintings of women on oval mirrors, five elderly ladies and a younger prima ballerina.
The inherent tension in Feinstein’s oeuvre, involving color, materials, and meaning in a kind of twisting of Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll, is also evident in her 1994-96 experimental short film Spring and Winter, in which she reconfigures Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty story with an eye to the source material, Giambattista Basile’s Sun, Moon, and Talia, which was not so child friendly, as well as the true story of Art and Nan Kellam, a couple who lived in isolation on an island off the coast of Maine; in the film, Feinstein portrays a paper doll, a maiden, and a crone. There’s a theatricality to virtually everything Feinstein creates; in fact, her 2014 Folly installation in Madison Square Park was accompanied by a performance festival. “Maiden, Mother, Crone” continues through March 22; on March 12 ($18, 6:30), the panel discussion “Dialogue and Discourse — Once Upon a Time: Narrative in Art” features Feinstein with Lisa Yuskavage, Sofia Coppola, Tamara Jenkins, and Florence Welch, moderated by curator Kelly Taxter, and there will be such special gallery talks as “Mirrors of Civilization” and “The Dark Side of Fairy Tales” as well as Thursday Evening Cocktails through February, where attendees can try Feinstein’s potent potable of choice, the Negroni, an Italian favorite consisting of gin, vermouth rosso, and Campari.