The English word “democracy,” and the concept of ruling by the common people, comes from Greek classical antiquity. The Public Theater, in partnership with Onassis USA, hearkens back to those origins in the 2019 Onassis Festival: Democracy Is Coming. From April 10 to 28, the Public and such other venues as La MaMa will present live performances, discussions, and more exploring the meaning and role of democracy from its early days to the present time, as fascism rears its ugly head in America and around the world. Below are only some of the many highlights.
Wednesday, April 10
Saturday, April 13
Relic, solo performance by Euripides Laskaridis, examining the current Greek crisis, Shiva Theater at the Public, $35, 8:00
Wednesday, April 10
Sunday, April 28
Socrates, new play by Tim Blake Nelson, directed by Doug Hughes, and starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Niall Cunningham, David Aaron Baker, Teagle F. Bougere, Peter Jay Fernandez, Robert Joy, Miriam A. Hyman, and others, Martinson Hall at the Public, $85
Saturday, April 13
Brunch, Tragedy & Us, book talk with Simon Critchley interviewed by Paul Holdengräber, the Library at the Public Theater, free with advance reservation, 11:30
Choir! Choir! Choir!, community singalong created by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman, free with advance reservation, Public Theater lobby, 5:00
Sunday, April 14
Democracy Is the City, panel discussion with Alfredo Brillembourg, Karen Brooks Hopkins, and Kamau Ware and a live performance by Morley, Shiva Theater, 2:00
Monday, April 15
Public Forum: Of, by & for the People, featuring a conversation with Oskar Eustis, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Kwame Anthony Appiah and live performances by André Holland and Diana Oh, Shiva Theater, $25, 7:00
Thursday, April 18
Saturday, April 20
Antigone: Lonely Planet, Lena Kitsopoulou’s comic version of Sophocles’s tragedy, Shiva Theater, $35
Monday, April 22
Public Shakespeare Presents: What’s Hecuba to Him? Tragic Greek Women on Shakespeare’s Stage, commentary and readings from Euripides and Shakespeare with Professor Tanya Pollard, Isabel Arraiza, Tina Benko, Phylicia Rashad, and Ayana Workman, Martinson Hall, $35, 7:00
The hottest events of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival are taking place on the Upper West Side at the Beacon Theatre, where screenings, discussions, and live performances will feature Wu-Tang Clan, Spinal Tap, Francis Ford Coppola, the Trey Anastasio Band, and Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro. Tickets are going fast, so act now if you want to catch any of these special presentations.
Thursday, April 25
Tribeca TV: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (Sacha Jenkins, 2019), followed by a live performance by Wu-Tang Clan, $116, 8:00
Friday, April 26
Movies Plus: Between Me and My Mind (Steven Cantor, 2019), followed by a live performance by the Trey Anastasio Band, 8:00
Saturday, April 27
Anniversary Screenings: This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984), followed by a discussion with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner and a live performance by Spinal Tap, $46-$256, 8:00
Sunday, April 28
Directors Series: Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, 2:00
Anniversary Screenings: Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), world premiere of fortieth anniversary 4K Ultra HD restored version, with special Meyer Sound VLFC, followed by a discussion with Francis Ford Coppola, $46-$116, 5:00
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, April 6, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum celebrates Frida Kahlo in the April edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Renee Goust, Calpulli Mexican Dance Company (Puebla: The Story of Cinco De Mayo), and Pistolera (with visuals by Screaming Horses), as well as Yas Mama!’s El Noche de las Reinas with Lady Quesa’Dilla and DJ sets by Hannah Lou and Shomi Noise, hosted by Horrorchata; pop-up poetry with Danilo Machado, Jimena Lucero, and Francisco Márquez; the community talk “Art and Disability” with Dior Vargas and Kevin Gotkin; pop-up gallery talks of “Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas” with teen apprentices; a hands-on workshop in which participants can adorn instant photos with a Kahlo-like flourish; and an “Archives as Raw History” tour focusing on disabled artists and visitors with archivist Molly Seegers. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” “One: Do Ho Suh,” “One: Egúngún,” “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” and more.
In conjunction with the release of her latest nonfiction feature film, documentarian Penny Lane is being celebrated at the Museum of the Moving Image this week with screenings of all four of her full-length films — Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Pain of Others, Our Nixon, and the new Hail Satan? — in addition to her many shorts: Sometimes I Get Lossy, The Abortion Diaries, The Wren, The Commoners, Nellie Bly Makes the News, The Voyagers, The Pleasure Principle, Kitsch Is a Beautiful Lie, Just Add Water: The Story of the Amazing Live Sea Monkeys, How to Write an Autobiography, Men Seeking Women, Normal Appearances, and We Are the Littletons. Lane — yes, it’s her real name — will be at MoMI for all three Saturday programs to discuss her process and the wide range of her subject matter.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Banksy, 2010)
Friday, April 5, 7:00
The series opens with Banksy’s 2010 Exit Through the Gift Shop, which Penny Lane selected as an important influence on her. In 1999, L.A.-based French shopkeeper and amateur videographer Thierry Guetta discovered that he was related to street artist Invader and began filming his cousin putting up his tile works. Guetta, who did not know much about art, soon found himself immersed in the underground graffiti scene. On adventures with such famed street artists as Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Ron English, and Borf, Guetta took thousands of hours of much-sought-after video. The amateur videographer was determined to meet Banksy, the anarchic satirist who has been confounding authorities around the world with his striking, politically sensitive works perpetrated right under their noses, from England to New Orleans to the West Bank. Guetta finally gets his wish and begins filming the seemingly unfilmable as Banksy, whose identity has been a source of controversy for more than a decade, allows Guetta to follow him on the streets and invites him into his studio. But as he states at the beginning of his brilliant documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy—who hides his face from the camera in new interviews and blurs it in older footage—turns the tables on Guetta, making him the subject of this wildly entertaining film.
Guetta is a hysterical character, a hairy man with a thick accent who plays the jester in Banksy’s insightful comedy of errors. Billed as “the world’s first Street Art disaster movie,” Exit, which is narrated by Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (Danny Deckchair) and features a soundtrack by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow sandwiched in between Richard Hawley’s declaratory “Tonight the Streets Are Ours,” is all the more exciting and intriguing because the audience doesn’t know what is actually true and what might be staged; although the film could be one hundred percent real and utterly authentic, significant parts of it could also be completely made up. Who’s to say that’s even Banksy underneath the black hood, talking about Guetta, who absurdly rechristens himself Mr. Brainwash? It could very well be Banksy’s F for Fake from start to finish. No matter. Exit Through the Gift Shop is riotously funny, regardless of how you feel about street art, Banksy, and especially the art market itself (as the title so wryly implies). Exit Through the Gift Shop is screening at MoMI on April 5 at 7:00, preceded by two Lane shorts, 2010’s How to Write an Autobiography and 2014’s We Are the Littletons.
OUR NIXON (Penny Lane, 2012)
Saturday, April 6, 4:30
Penny Lane will be at MoMI on April 6 at 4:30 to screen and talk about her debut documentary, the all-archival Our Nixon, which offers a compelling new inside look at the Nixon White House. The classic cautionary tale about power, corruption, and paranoia, which ultimately brought down the thirty-seventh president of the United States, has been told many times before, on film (All the President’s Men, Oliver Stone’s Nixon), in books (Woodward and Bernstein’s The Final Days, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon), onstage (Frost/Nixon, Checkers), and even as an opera (John Adams’s Nixon in China). When Nixon moved into the White House in January 1969, he brought along three key figures: Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, Chief Domestic Adviser John Erlichman, and Deputy Assistant Dwight Chapin. And those three men brought along Super 8 cameras, prepared to document not only their daily lives but also how they were going to change the nation. During its investigation of the Watergate scandal, the FBI confiscated more than five hundred reels of footage, totaling more than twenty-six hours, taken by Haldeman, Erlichman, and Chapin, and these home movies, which belong to the Nixon Library and have been digitized specifically for the film, form the basis of Our Nixon. Director-producer Lane combines this deeply personal footage — showing alternate views of the 1969 inauguration, a White House Easter egg hunt, the moon landing, Trisha Nixon’s wedding, Nixon’s trip to China, the Republican National Convention, and other, more mundane events — with carefully chosen audio excerpts from the White House tapes, creating a unique audiovisual experience.
Lane foregoes any political and historical experts in favor of having the protagonists do all the talking, through radio and television interviews (with Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, and Phil Donahue), oral histories, and the secret White House recordings. In addition, there are supplemental news reports from Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Daniel Schorr, and others. As interesting as it is to see the home movies, the audiotapes are mesmerizing, revealing some of the behind-the-scenes manipulations that were often not nearly as planned as most people assume. It is actually both frightening and sad to hear Nixon talking to Haldeman about a just-completed short television address he gave to the nation, the president concerned about how he came off and upset that only one colleague called to congratulate him. And just wait till you hear what they have to say about Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Although Our Nixon offers no excuses or apologies for the actions of the Nixon White House, it does humanize, instead of demonize, these central figures, who might not have been quite as overtly evil as many people would like to believe. Of course, that doesn’t mean they come across as a group of cuddly teddy bears either.
“NUTS!” (Penny Lane, 2016)
Saturday, April 6, 7:00
Penny Lane will also be at MoMI for her wonderfully titled, inventively told “Nuts!,” which tells the wacky true tale of Dr. John R. Brinkley, a pivotal twentieth-century figure who was part P. T. Barnum, part Donald Trump, a controversial doctor or a quack, a radio pioneer or a snake-oil charlatan, depending on one’s opinion. He became rich and famous by surgically implanting goat glands into men’s testicles, claiming it increased virility, but his story is about much more than that. “This is a film about John Romulus Brinkley, a doctor, amongst other things, a man who succeeded against terrible odds and powerful opposition, a man who changed the world,” narrator Gene Tognacci explains early on. Lane, who previously profiled another intriguing individual in her debut feature-length documentary, 2013’s Our Nixon, this time follows the often outrageous exploits of Brinkley, using text from Clement Wood’s 1934 book, The Life of a Man: A Biography of John R. Brinkley, home movies and photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, and actual radio broadcasts. She also has seven different animators re-create scenes from Brinkley’s life and career, and each artist or team (Drew Christie & Dane Herforth, Julia Veldman C, Michael Pisano, Krystal Downs, Ace & Son Moving Picture Co., Rose Stark, and Hazel Lee Santino & Downs) employs a unique style while maintaining the film’s overall potent sense of humor. Producer-director Lane, who cleverly edited the film with writer Thom Stylinski, initially casts Brinkley as a sympathetic character just trying to get his own piece of the American dream for him and his family in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas, but as Dr. Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, gets ever closer in his obsessive quest to discredit Brinkley, everything the goat-gland doctor has built threatens to unravel. But Lane’s genius is yet to come, as she begins to unravel our assumptions and the very process of biography and history itself as the film proceeds to its inevitable conclusion.
It’s hard to believe that “Nuts!” is true, but that’s all part of the fun. Lane just lays it out there for us to see, and you’ll be rooting for Brinkley as he grows his empire, just as you’ll be booing Fishbein for desperately trying to bring him down. Brinkley was a kind of mad genius, understanding how to get ahead in business by giving the people what they want via early infomercials, realizing the vast power of radio, and flouting the rules whenever he could — and then attempting to change them. Lane limits the talking heads to very occasional comments from historian and former Kansas councilman James Reardon, social and cultural historian Dr. Megan Seaholm, Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves coauthor Gene Fowler, and Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam author Pope Brock. “Nuts!” is all the more comic for its reality, and Lane has succeeded wildly in transferring that notion to the way she has made the film, literally revealing the hands of the artist as the pages of Wood’s sycophantic book are turned; by the end, viewers will be questioning the documentary form itself just as they’re questioning Brinkley’s validity. In fact, Lane is readying a public online database “for audiences to consider the epistemological and ethical issues at the heart of the nonfiction storytelling process.” “Nuts!” will be preceded by Lane’s 2004 Kitsch Is a Beautiful Lie and 2011 Just Add Water: The Story of the Amazing Live Sea Monkeys.
Film Forum repertory programming director and Rialto Pictures founder and copresident Bruce Goldstein has spent some 30 years attempting to get the rights to restore and release the 220-minute television version of Francesco Rosi’s 1979 epic, Christ Stopped at Eboli. Now that he has succeeded in his personal quest for that holy grail, it’s easy to see why: The four-part foray into Fascism, faith, and forgotten peasants is a magnificent masterpiece. In 1935, Italian writer, painter, intellectualist, and anti-Fascist leader Carlo Levi (Gian Maria Volontè) was exiled to the remote mountain village of Lucania (now known as Basilicata) in the instep of Italy’s boot, where the small community lived much like its ancestors did. Levi recounted his experience there in his 1945 nonfiction novel, which Rosi adapted into a 150-minute theatrical film and the longer, more in-depth television version; the latter has its long-awaited US theatrical premiere April 3 at Film Forum in a glorious 4K restoration featuring a new translation by Michael F. Moore (who will introduce the 7:00 screening on Wednesday night).
“Christ stopped at Eboli. Where the road and the train abandon the coast and the sea, and venture into the wastelands of Lucania,” Levi says in early voiceover narration. “Christ never came here. Nor did time, the individual soul, or hope, nor did cause and effect, reason or history. No one has set foot on this land, except as a conqueror, an enemy, or an uncomprehending visitor. Today the seasons rush past over the toil of peasants, as they did three thousand years before Christ. In this dark land, without sin or redemption, where evil is not moral, but an earthly sorrow, in all things for eternity. Christ never descended. Christ stopped at Eboli.” It’s not that Jesus stopped in Eboli; he stopped at the edge of the town, without going into this godforsaken place.
The film opens beautifully, with a shot of one of Levi’s paintings, of a child peering over its left shoulder, mouth turned in sadness, mountains in the background, as Piero Piccioni’s lush, aching score plays underneath. (The image is on the cover of Levi’s book Le parole sono pietre, which means “Words are stones.”) Rosi cuts to Levi’s face; with his heavily gray beard and mustache and thick, wavy hair, he resembles a biblical figure. His eyes search off camera, then he shifts his head to gaze at the painting; Rosi zooms in on the child’s forlorn face, and Levi remembers. “Many years have gone by,” he says, sitting in his studio as Rosi focuses on other paintings of distraught men, women, and children. “Years of war . . . and what we call history. Tossed about by fate, I could not keep the promise I made, when I said goodbye to my peasants, that I would return. And I do not know if or when I can keep it. But closed in a room, in a closed world, I indulge in remembering that other world. Imprisoned in its pain and customs, forgotten by history, by the State, eternally patient. That land of mine, without comfort or kindness, where the peasant lives in misery and isolation, in his motionless civilization, on arid soil, in the presence of death.” It’s an elegiac moment of a man measuring regret as the narrative travels back to 1935.
Levi is a gentle soul who has accepted his temporary fate, exiled from his native Turin to the middle of nowhere in southern Italy. He is staying in a dank room with a family who occasionally gives the second bed to an old friend or a local drunk. He speaks very little, instead taking it all in with his penetrating, thoughtful eyes. He can’t fraternize with the other political prisoners in the village (its real name is Aliano; Levi calls it Gagliano), but he does have conversations with the mayor, Don Luigi Magalone (Paolo Bonacelli), a loyal Fascist who censors Levi’s letters; the priest, Don Traiella (François Simon), an alcoholic with a meager flock; and a clarinetist tax collector (played by a street cleaner from Matera) who fills Levi in on the dire situation of the peasants, who have been ignored by Rome. He goes on long walks with his new dog, Barone, who adopted Levi at the Eboli train station, but he is not allowed to go past the local cemetery.
After his sister, Luisa (Lea Massari), pays him a visit, he gets better living quarters and starts painting again; he particularly wants to do a portrait of his housekeeper, Giulia Venere (Irene Papas), the only woman who is permitted to take care of his home because her virtue is already gone, as she has been pregnant seventeen times from numerous men. He takes a liking to Giulia’s young son Carmelino (Carmelo Lauria), who is curious about Levi. Meanwhile, when the townspeople find out that Levi is a doctor, they demand he treat them even though he tells them that despite his degree he has never practiced medicine. He looks around at the misery that is everywhere — gorgeously photographed by Pasqualino De Santis, using a muted, earthy palette that emphasizes the grayness that hovers over everyone as the camera focuses on a crumbling church, a small protest, the vast, desolate emptiness of the rocky landscape surrounding the village, complemented by Piccioni’s sweeping, melodramatic soundtrack — and tries to get by as basically as he can, without complaint or argument save for the occasional sly aside.
Volontè (A Fistful of Dollars, A Bullet for the General), who also appeared in Rosi’s Many Wars Ago, The Mattei Affair, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Lucky Luciano (which is screening at Film Forum on April 14), is impeccable as Levi, who carries himself with grace and dignity, participating in life with the peasants and holding his tongue as news reports announce Il Duce’s invasion of Abyssinia, although he sometimes can’t help but mildly scoff at many of the villagers’ uniquely strange rituals and beliefs. He recognizes his elitism but refuses to flaunt it. While Rosi (Salvatore Giuliano, Three Brothers) includes elements of neo-Realism, Christ Stopped at Eboli is a contemporary fable with surreal touches, with a cast of professional and nonprofessional actors who successfully form a cinematic community, encouraged to improvise to heighten reality. It’s a tenderly told tale of southern Italy — Rosi was born in Naples — and a town that has turned its back on a country that has turned its back on it. The film is imbued with a magical mysticism that is intoxicating; it’s clear why Goldstein spent decades trying to bring it back to life, and now it’s a gift for us all.
Who: Amor Towles
What: Books Are Magic author event
Where: First Unitarian Congregational Society, 119 Pierrepont St.
When: Friday, April 5, $14-$21, 7:00
Why: Massachusetts native Amor Towles will be in Brooklyn on April 5, celebrating the release of the paperback edition of his bestselling novel A Gentleman in Moscow (Penguin Books March 26, $17). In the court transcript that opens the book, Secretary Ignatov asks, “I have no doubt, Count Rostov, that some in the galley are surprised to find you charming; but I am not surprised to find you so. History has shown charm to be the last ambition of the leisure class. What I do find surprising is that the author of the poem in question could have become a man so obviously without purpose.” Towles’s follow-up to 2011’s Rules of Civility is set in 1922, when Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a hotel across from the Kremlin. General admission tickets for the author event at the First Unitarian Congregational Society are $21 including a copy of the book and $14 without.