THE ATOMIC CAFE (Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader & Pierce Rafferty, 1982)
209 West Houston St.
Opens Wednesday, August 1
The time is ripe for a 4K restoration of the absurdist 1982 documentary The Atomic Cafe as President Trump deals with the nuclear capabilities and arsenals of Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty were searching archives for propaganda films when they discovered a treasure trove of military and government shorts about the atomic and hydrogen bombs and how the American people should face any oncoming threats. The filmmakers weaved sensational footage together into an hour and a half of clips that range from the hysterically funny to the dangerously outrageous. Young students are taught to “duck and cover.” Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets Jr. describes how easy it was to fly over Hiroshima and drop the bomb but then admits his shock over the eventual destruction it wrought. Presidents Harry S Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower discuss the impact of the bombs. A radio duo makes jokes about the decimation. Scenes of the horrific damage to Japanese victims are shown in silence. Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy defends the Bikini Atoll test, where island residents are assured everything will be fine — as are soldiers who will be in the vicinity of various tests.
While Russia escalates the Cold War — yes, they were our avowed enemy for quite some time, although the film includes President Richard Nixon joking around with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev — and a battle between North and South Korea looms, Americans drink “Atomic” cocktails and dance to “Atomic” songs. The execution of Ethel Rosenberg is explained in disturbing detail. A military officer tells the troops, “Watched from a safe distance, this explosion is one of the most beautiful sights ever seen by man,” and in a training film a military chaplain says to a few soldiers, “You look up and you see the fireball as it ascends up into the heavens; it’s a wonderful sight to behold.” Loader and the Raffertys fill the film with a vast array of black-and-white and color footage of nuclear bombs exploding into immense mushroom clouds, accompanied by a wide range of mood-enhancing music. It would be easy to dismiss most of the archival material in the film as ridiculous, outdated propaganda from a bygone era, but in this age of fake news, social media, lies from the White House, a war on journalism, and a president cozying up to enemies and taking issue with longtime allies, it’s more than a little bit frightening too. The Atomic Cafe opens August 1 at Film Forum — where it debuted in 1982 — with Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty participating in Q&As following the screenings on August 2 and 3 at 7:10 and August 4 at 5:10.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, August 4, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum starts preparing for the annual West Indian Day Parade with the August edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Alex Mali, the Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra, and the Brooklyn Dance Festival, with Dance Caribbean Collective, the Sabrosura Effect, Project of ContempoCaribe, KaNu Dance Theater, and Bloodline Dance Theatre, followed by a Q&A; a Fiyah Fit movement workshop with choreographer Jessica Phoenix; a caribBEING House mobile art center; a hands-on workshop in which participants can create noisemakers for the West Indian Day Parade, inspired by instruments in “Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas”; Drink and Draw sketching of live models from mas camps, with sounds by Rodney Hazard; pop-up gallery talks by teen apprentices on Caribbean art and stylistic influences in the museum collection; pop-up poetry with Rico Frederick, Erica Mapp, and Camille Rankine of Cave Canem; and the community talk “Organizing Caribbean Communities in Brooklyn” with Ernest Skinner, Dr. Waldaba Stewart of the Medgar Evers Caribbean Research Center, Ninaj Raoul of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, and Albert Saint Jean of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “William Trost Richards: Experiments in Watercolor,” “Infinite Blue,” “Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and more.
209 West Houston St.
August 1 - November 4
For thirty-five years, Bronx-raised actor, singer, conductor, composer, gambler, puzzlemeister, and arranger Steve Sterner has been playing piano accompaniment to silent films at such venues as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the old Thalia, and Film Forum, where he’s been the resident silent film composer/accompanist since 1987. Film Forum is honoring the self-described “bad improviser” with a series of his own, “Steve Sterner Selects . . . ,” running through November 4 and beginning August 1, when the institution reopens after a major renovation and the addition of a fourth theater. The festival consists of a dozen silent works chosen by the longtime Upper West Sider, who’s lived in the same rent-stabilized apartment on West Seventy-First Street since 1979. Among the films chosen by the sixty-seven-year-old Sterner, who will, of course, play piano at every screening — preceded by his traditional cough drop — are King Vidor’s Show People, which will be introduced by FF programmer extraordinaire Bruce Goldstein; Clarence Brown’s Flesh and the Devil, the first silent movie Sterner played music for; William Wellman’s Wings, winner of the first Best Picture Oscar; Edward Sedgwick’s The Cameraman, in which Buster Keaton is let loose on an unsuspecting New York City; and Sam Taylor’s lesser-known Exit Smiling. Sterner, who was also the subject of Paola Ochoa’s short 2014 documentary, The Accompanist, recently answered questions via email for twi-ny about his life and career.
twi-ny: When did you first realize you wanted to play piano accompaniment to silent films? Was there a eureka moment?
steve sterner: I never aspired to accompany silent films. I was thrown into it by Wayne Daigrepont, a cartoon collector on the staff at the Thalia theater.
twi-ny: What do you see as the primary responsibility of playing piano accompaniment?
ss: Be faithful to the film and enhance it as best you can.
twi-ny: In the past, you have said that your playing should not be the focus, that the audience shouldn’t even notice you and instead should get lost in the film while you play. What does it feel like to now be the center of attention, putting together a series at Film Forum with your name in the title?
ss: The film is the star — I’m a supporting player. However, it’s always nice to be recognized when I’m not playing the piano.
twi-ny: On October 16, you will be sitting down with FF programming genius Bruce Goldstein for a discussion and Q&A in conjunction with a screening of William James Craft’s A Hero for a Night. What is it like working with Bruce?
ss: Working with Bruce has always been a joy. I think he’s one of the last great impresarios.
twi-ny: You’ve been doing this professionally since the early 1980s. Over those decades, has the audience changed at all? For example, are they any more or less attentive in this social-media-saturated age? And is the audience itself older, or are the younger generations showing up as well?
ss: I think the audience has gotten younger over the years, but other than that I haven’t paid much attention to the makeup of the audience.
twi-ny: For many years, you and Donald Sosin have been the go-to guys when it comes to this art form. Are you friends? Is there a competition between you for specific films or gigs?
ss: I wish I could play piano as well as Donald Sosin. I met him in the ’90s and have heard him play many times since. If there’s competition between us I’m unaware of it, but I’d never feel slighted to lose a job to him. He’s one of the best.
twi-ny: In addition to Film Forum, you’ve played numerous other New York City venues. Do you have a favorite (other than FF)?
ss: I enjoyed playing at the Thalia in the ’80s.
twi-ny: Is there a specific silent film that you would love to play piano with but for some reason, either rights or the quality or existence of an acceptable print, you’ve been unable to?
ss: Any lost film that’s been unearthed.
twi-ny: Do you have a particular favorite silent film?
ss: The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.
twi-ny: Favorite silent film director?
ss: Lubitsch, Hitchcock, Seastrom, Murnau, and others.
twi-ny: Favorite silent film composer?
ss: Charles Hoffman and William Perry.
twi-ny: Favorite sound film composer?
ss: Max Steiner.
twi-ny: Favorite silent film star?
ss: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Lon Chaney, Clara Bow, and Douglas Fairbanks.
twi-ny: When you're not accompanying silent films, what do you like to do for fun in New York City?
ss: I watch baseball and ’50s television shows on YouTube.
Three summers ago, I went to a talk on “Being Radically Happy” by former Silicon Valley guru Erric Solomon and Tibetan yogi practitioner Kyabgön Phakchok Rinpoche. As I was introduced to Rinpoche, an honorific applied to Tibetan Buddhist teachers, we shook hands and he said to me, “We have met before.” I assured him no, we had not. He looked closely at me, nodded ever so slightly, and mystically said, “Oh yes, we have met before.” I have since traveled to Rangjung Yeshe Gomde Meditation Center Cooperstown and Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling in Kathmandu, where he is Vajra Master at the home base of his uncle, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, to study with the jovial Rinpoche, who has a robust love of life and learning — and for good hamburgers and steak, which often make it into his metaphors as he teaches. In addition, he is responsible for many other monastic and teaching responsibilities that you can explore here, while his popular online courses, including Dharma-Stream, can be found at Samye Institute.
The thirty-seven-year-old married father of two will be back in New York City this week, hosting two programs on August 1 at the Rubin Museum. At 1:00, Rinpoche, whose book with Solomon, Radically Happy: A User’s Guide to the Mind, will be published in October, will lead a Mindfulness Meditation, consisting of an opening talk, a twenty-minute sitting session, and a closing discussion, all centered around a specific work of art in the museum’s collection. (The continuing series is presented by the Hemera Foundation, Sharon Salzberg, the Interdependence Project, and Parabola magazine; upcoming teachers include Tracy Cochran, Kate Johnson, and Salzberg.) At 7:00, in “Stories of Padmasambhava,” Rinpoche will share tales from the life of Guru Padmasambhava, the precious master who incarnated fully enlightened, as well as his student Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, recognized as the Mother of Tibetan Buddhism. The program will be preceded by a curator tour of “The Second Buddha” exhibition at 6:15 led by Elena Pakhoutova, and the stories will be followed by a Q&A and closing meditation. Rinpoche is an engaging, enthusiastic storyteller, so this should be a very rare and special evening.
The New York Botanical Garden
Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery
2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx
Tuesday – Sunday through October 28, $10-$28
In 1939, Georgia O’Keeffe was offered a commission from the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later known as Dole, to go to Hawai‘i and create artwork for an ad campaign. The fifty-one-year-old famous artist accepted the proposal, taking it as a chance to explore a state she had never visited before. It turned out to be nine weeks that reshaped her art and her views of nature and beauty; the New York Botanical Garden, which has previously celebrated the work of such artists as Claude Monet and Frida Kahlo, is now exhibiting “Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i,” a lovely show that details the flora of what would become the fiftieth state in the Union in 1959, as experienced by O’Keeffe. Twenty of the Wisconsin-raised O’Keeffe’s paintings are on view in the garden’s sixth-floor LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery; they were last seen as a set in 1940 at an American Place, the midtown gallery run by her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. “If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what three months in Hawai‘i gave to me,” O’Keeffe wrote in her artist statement for the show. “Maybe the new place enlarges one’s world a little. . . . Maybe one takes one’s own world along and cannot see anything else.” The NYBG display includes “Waterfall — No. 1 — ’Iao Valley — Maui, 1939,” a green mountain range with a narrow stream of water flowing down the center; the gorgeous “Hibiscus with Plumeria,” an extreme close-up of the flowering plant; and, side-by-side, the two works that the Hawaiian Pineapple Company eventually used in their ad campaign, “Heliconia’s Crab’s Claw Ginger” and “Pineapple Bud.” Outside the gallery are large-scale reproductions of photos O’Keeffe took in Hawai‘i, a digital version of her sketchbook, and copies of the ads in magazines.
Two floors down is the short documentary Off in the Faraway Somewhere: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Letters from Hawai’i, in which Sigourney Weaver narrates excerpts of letters O’Keeffe sent back home to Stieglitz, who is voiced by Zach Grenier. “It was as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen,” O’Keeffe wrote about the ocean views. Down the hall is “Flora Hawaiiensis: Plants of Hawai‘i,” a history of flora on the Hawaiian Islands, divided into native plants, canoe plants (brought by the first human visitors), and post-contact plants, introduced after Captain James Cook’s 1778 landing there. The walk to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory along Garden Way is lined with hanging lights by Hawaiian-Chinese sculptor Mark Chai inspired by plants in O’Keeffe’s paintings; in the round pond is “Heliconia Loop,” the large, circular hole in the middle serving as a kind of viewing scope for the surrounding trees. (As a bonus, the work lights up at night.)
The centerpiece of the exhibition is, of course, the display in the conservatory, where hundreds of plantings have been added to create a Hawaiian-like atmosphere. The colorful plants and trees, both inside and outside, include heliconia, pineapple, kava, breadfruit, lotus, white angel’s trumpet, bird-of-paradise, hibiscus, cup of gold vine, Hawaiian tree fern, flamingo flower, ti plant, coconut palm, ohia lehua, jackfruit, red rosemallow, Arabian coffee, taro, banana, Maui wormwood, screw-pine, frangipani, sacred lotus, sweet-potato, sugar cane, candlenut tree, Indian-mulberry, air-potato, Malaysian-apple, and bottle gourd, among others. Visitors can take a break in a traditional hale, a structure made of wooden poles, natural cords, and a pili-grass thatched roof, all surrounded by plants. In conjunction with the Poetry Society of America, poems on white boards pop up on the path, by Brandy Nālani McDougall (“Māui,” “Red Hibiscus in the Rain,” “Yellow Orchids”), Puanani Burgess (“Awapuhi”), Kahikāhealani Wights (“Koa”), Sage U’ilani Takehiro (“Kou Lei”), Juliet S. Kono (“Silverswords”), and several by former US poet laureate W. S. Merwin (“Islands,” “Remembering Summer”). “I am looking at trees / they may be one of the things I will miss most from the earth / though many of the ones I have seen / already I cannot remember,” Merwin writes in “Trees.” Curated by Theresa Papanikolas, PhD, of the Honolulu Museum of Art, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i” more than establishes just how unforgettable the state can be.
The exhibit is supplemented with special events throughout its run, which ends October 28. On July 28 and 29, Celebrate Hawai‘i Weekend features “The History of Hawaiian Tattooing,” “‘Iolani Palace’s Queen Gowns,” and the NYBG Fashion Walk. “Aloha Nights” ($18-$38) take place on August 4 and 18 and September 1 and 8, with an evening viewing, interactive storytelling hula lessons, lei-making demonstrations, and live music. Hula Kahiko and Hula Auna demonstrations will be held on Saturdays and Sundays through September 30. And artisan demonstrations of coconut kiʻi puppet-making, lei-making, Hawaiian instrument crafting, poi-making, and more are set for Saturday and Sunday afternoons as well. E hauʻoli!
U.S. Grant National Memorial Park
Wes 122nd St. & Riverside Dr.
Sunday, July 29, free, 12 noon - 8:30 pm
Festival continues through August 25
More than forty thousand people are expected to converge in U.S. Grant National Memorial Park on July 29 for the annual Great Day in Harlem festival, part of the summer Harlem Week celebration. This year’s theme is “Women Transforming Our World: Past, Present & Future,” with the subtheme “The Community within the Community — Saluting the LGBTQ Community.” A Great Day in Harlem will feature an International Vendors Village from 12 noon to 8:00, the Artz, Rootz, and Rhythm International Cultural Showcase at 1:00, the Gospel Caravan at 3:00 with Hezekiah Walker, the McDonald’s All-Star Gospel Choir, and other gospel greats honoring Mahalia Jackson, a Fashion Fusion Showcase at 4:30, and “A Concert under the Stars” at 6:00, with Peabo Bryson, Harlem Week music director Ray Chew, and the Harlem Music Festival All-Star Band paying tribute to Phyllis Hyman and Minnie Riperton. Harlem Week continues through August 25 with such other events as Summer in the City on August 18, Harlem Day on August 19, and Harlem Restaurant Week on August 21.
Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Pl.
Wednesday - Sunday through October 25, $70-$121
I only wish my mother were still alive to see the dazzling US premiere of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Shraga Friedman’s adaptation, Fidler Afn Dakh, debuted in Israel in 1965 and has finally made it to New York City, where it is being presented by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through October 25. Directed with verve and style by Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey, whose father was klezmer star Mickey Katz, the rousing three-hour production features musical staging and choreography by Staś Kmieć, inspired by Jerome Robbins’s original, with musical direction by conductor and NYTF artistic director Zalmen Mlotek. The show is the Fiddler we know and love, the tale of a shtetl on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolution, complete with stirring nightmare, breathtaking bottle dance, and a sewing machine, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein. But the Yiddish version, with Harnick and Harold Prince serving as consultants, offers neat little twists on the language; Friedman’s translation goes back to Sholem Aleichem’s original Tevye stories and reconfigures numerous lines to match the rhythm and meaning in Yiddish.
Thus, “Tradition” becomes “Traditsye,” “If I Were a Rich Man” turns into “Ven Ikh Bin a Rotshild” (“If I Were a Rothschild”), and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is sung as “Shadkhnte, Shadkhnte.” In “Sunrise, Sunset” (“Tog-Ayn, Tog-Oys”), “I don’t remember growing older / When did they?” becomes “Just give a look, how grown up / they’ve become,” while in “Do You Love Me?” (“Libst Mikh, Sertse?), “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, / cooked your meals, cleaned your house” turns into “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your wash, / I rub and polish pots of brass.” The lyrics are sung in Yiddish, with Russian and English surtitles. Tony winner Beowful Boritt’s spare set is backed with three long, hanging scrolls representing the parchment of the Torah; the word “Torah” is written on the middle section in Hebrew. The twelve-person orchestra plays behind the scrolls, partially visible.
The utterly superb Steven Skybell, an Obie winner for Antigone in New York, joins a long line of actors portraying Tevye the milkman, from Zero Mostel, Topol, Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, and Herschel Bernardi to Alfred Molina, Harvey Fierstein, and Danny Burstein, but he’s the first one to do it in Yiddish in America. He shakes his body with vigor, slyly smiles as Tevye looks to G-d for answers, and playfully debates various incidents on one hand and the other. The narrative looks directly at modernity and change from two main perspectives; the personal and the communal. Tevye and his wife, Golde (Jill Abramovitz), are raising five daughters, Tsaytl (Rachel Zatcoff), Hodl (Stephanie Lynne Mason), Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy), Shprintze (Raquel Nobile), and Beylke (Samantha Hahn). Town gossip and matchmaker Yente (Jackie Hoffman) arrives one day to tell Golde that the wealthy, much older butcher, Leyzer-Volf (Bruce Sabath), wants to marry Tsaytl, but unbeknownst to either of them, Tsaytl is in love with the poor tailor, Motl Kamzoyl (Ben Liebert). Tsaytl and Motl’s determination to make their own match goes against tradition and the father’s power — and also leads to Hodl wanting to be with progressive teacher and political radical Pertshik (Daniel Kahn) and Khave falling for non-Jew Fyedka (Cameron Johnson), as women start making decisions for themselves. The excellent cast also includes Lauren Jeanne Thomas as Der Fiddler, Kirk Geritano as Avrom the bookseller, Jodi Snyder as Frume-Sore, Michael Yashinsky as Mordkhe the innkeeper, Der Rov as the rabbi, Jennifer Babiak as Grandma Tsaytl, and Evan Mayer and Nick Raynor as Fyedka’s friends, Sasha and Yussel.
The other key plot point centers around anti-Semitism and the future of the shtetl. Der Gradavoy (the constable, played by Bobby Underwood) warns Tevye, whom he claims to like and respect, that there is going to be an unofficial demonstration by the police to rattle the village in order to assert their control. “Thank you, your excellency,” Tevye says. “You are a good person. It’s a shame you aren’t a Jew.” Anatevke is in danger, but the residents don’t want to leave the only home most of them have ever known. I’ve seen numerous Fiddlers over the years, but this Yiddish version, which could have felt dated and old-fashioned, instead is very much of the moment in the wake of the immigrant and refugee crisis currently going on in America and around the world. It’s chilling watching the final scenes in light of what is shown on the news night after night. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has been on quite a roll since celebrating its centennial in 2015, with a wonderful adaptation of The Golden Bride, the Drama Desk-nominated Amerike — the Golden Land, and a sensational work-in-progress preview of The Sorceress. This Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof should be another big hit for the talented troupe. And my mother would have loved it.
Note: There will be a series of preshow discussions ($5, 6:30) called “Fiddler Talks: From Anatevka to Broadway and Back Again,” consisting of “The Making of Fiddler on the Roof” on July 18, “Transforming Fiddler on the Roof into Fidler Afn Dakh” on July 25, “Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye and Fiddler’s, or ‘Was Tevye a Traditional Jew?’” on August 8, and “Shalom / Sholom the Yiddish Mark Twain” on August 22. In addition, Tevye Served Raw, which includes two Tevye tales not in Fiddler on the Roof as well as other Aleichem works, opens July 17 at the Playroom Theatre.