This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

BOB DYLAN AND HIS BAND

bob dylan beacon

Beacon Theatre
Broadway at 74th St.
November 24 - December 1, $139 - $300
www.bobdylan.com
www.beacontheatre.com

In 1978, I saw my first Bob Dylan show, at Madison Square Garden. At one point my friend said to me, “What the hell is he doing? I just want to hear ‘Tangled up in Blue.’ ” I turned to him and said, “Um, that last song was ‘Tangled up in Blue.’ ” For more than forty years, the so-called Voice of a Generation has been fiddling with his vast catalog, reimagining classic songs and focusing on new material during his Never Ending Tour, which thunders into the Beacon for seven shows November 24 to December 1. He has previously played the venue twenty-one times, beginning in October 1989, including memorable performances with Patti Smith in December 1995. All these decades later, if you’re expecting the seventy-seven-year-old troubadour to change his stripes, well, that just isn’t going to happen. So it was with great anticipation that I entered the Beacon on November 26, and Dylan did not disappoint. Exclusively playing a baby grand piano — occasionally sitting, more often standing or just leaning against a high piano bench — along with some fine harmonica, Dylan did not alter his basic setlist one iota from any other show on this leg of the tour (although occasionally he switches an encore). Dylan was joined by Donnie Herron on pedal steel, lap steel, electric mandolin, banjo, and violin, Charlie Sexton on lead guitar, Tony Garnier on electric and stand-up bass, and George Receli on drums, each wearing silver sequined jackets, black boots, and black pants. (Rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball dropped out earlier this month.) Dylan was dressed in black-and-white boots, a black shirt with a bolo tie, and a loose cross between a kimono and a cowboy jacket ennobled with glinting swirls of blue and white embroidery. No hat perched atop his huge shock of curly (evenly brown) hair, and no pencil-thin mustache ornamented his occasional sardonic grins. The hundred-minute show was a mix of folk, pop, rock, blues, jazz, and even a little jumpin’ jive, a cacophony of sound centered around Dylan’s still-remarkable vocal phrasings.

For the last several years, one thing that hasn’t changed is Dylan’s opening song, the Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed,” written for Curtis Hanson’s 2000 film, Wonder Boys. “People are crazy and times are strange / I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range / I used to care, but things have changed,” Dylan sings, but don’t be fooled by his lack of patter with the audience (he did actually introduce the band during at least one of the shows); Dylan is fully engaged in the music as he proceeds through his carefully selected setlist. Five of the next six tunes dated no later than 1971, but in each case, the audience did not applaud with recognition until they caught familiar words in the chorus, since the arrangements were so displaced from the original versions, and even some of the lyrics were altered, making it hard to sing along; but that’s exactly what makes these Dylan concerts so exciting. (I use binoculars not only to see his facial expressions, which include a smiling grimace, but also to read his lips to figure out what he is warbling.)

Bob Dylan continues to reinvent himself at the Beacon

Bob Dylan continues to reinvent himself at the Beacon

He also employs a sly sense of humor; he reimagines “Simple Twist of Fate,” only to let the missing melody line later appear in “Make You Feel My Love.” Be prepared for a host of songs from 2001’s Love and Theft, 2006’s Modern Times, and 2012’s Tempest but nothing from his American songbook or Christmas albums, and there’s not a dud in the bunch. On a sizzling “Scarlet Town,” Dylan headed to center stage and grabbed the microphone stand, adopting a few rock-star poses as he belted out the bluesy 2012 tune with a Middle Eastern lilt, declaring, “If love is a sin then beauty is a crime / All things are beautiful in their time / The black and the white, the yellow and the brown / It’s all right there for ya in Scarlet Town.” His regal reinvention of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” made it vital once more.

The only uncomfortable moment came during the first encore, an update of “All Along the Watchtower” in which he suddenly stopped the song and seemed to be angry, either at a technical issue or a person in the front snapping his picture — who just happened to be Ringo Starr, who posted the awful photo to social media; Dylan returned to the song but it never regained its steam. (Paul McCartney took in an earlier Beacon show.) The key to experiencing a Dylan concert is to just let Bob be Bob. There’s still no other musician who can so adroitly capture the heart and soul of life and love and the state of the nation in such unique ways. He doesn’t just sing but virtually spits and swallows words, a bittersweet outpouring that can rattle your core with a beautiful glory. Go to the Beacon with no expectations other than to be uniquely entertained, challenged, and confused, and keep those cell phones off and don’t try to sneak pictures or text friends. More than at most shows, you need to pay attention to every rapt minute, and if Dylan hasn’t earned that respect from you, then just stay home and binge Netflix.

MAIRA KALMAN: BOLD AND THE BRAVE BOOK SIGNING AND EXHIBITION

Maira Kalman, Sometimes the women were jailed for months, gouache on paper, 2018

Maira Kalman, “Sometimes the women were jailed for months,” gouache on paper, 2018 (courtesy Julie Saul Gallery)

Who: Maira Kalman
What: Book signing and exhibition
Where: Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., sixth floor, 212-627-2410
When: Saturday, December 1, free, 3:00 -6:00
Why: Artist Maira Kalman will be at Chelsea’s Julie Saul Gallery on Saturday for the opening of her latest exhibit, “Bold & Brave,” in the project gallery, consisting of twenty-nine gouache paintings made in association with the book Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote (Knopf, November 13, $18.99), written by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and illustrated by Kalman. Kalman will be signing books from 3:00 to 6:00. (She will also be signing copies of Sara Berman’s Closet, which she wrote with her son, Alex Kalman.) Among the heroes depicted in the book are Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Alice Paul, Inez Milholland, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Jovita Idar, and Lucy Burns. “They fought so women could be heard,” writes Gillibrand, who also pays tribute to her grandmother Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, who was recently portrayed by Edie Falco in the New Group world premiere of The True. Also on view at the gallery is Sarah Anne Johnson’s “The Cave.”

MAKING WAVES — NEW ROMANIAN CINEMA: AFERIM!

AFERIM!

Father (Teodor Corban) and son (Mihai Comānoiu) hunt for a runaway slave in wickedly funny Aferim!

AFERIM! (Radu Jude, 2015)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Sunday, December 2, 6:30
Series runs November 26 - December 2
718-636-4100
www.bam.org
bigworldpictures.org

BAM’s weeklong “Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema” series began November 26 with Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner Touch Me Not and concludes December 2 with Radu Jude’s Silver Bear winner Aferim! Romania’s 2015 submission for the Academy Awards is a savagely funny blacker-than-black comic Western about bigotry, infidelity, and frontier justice in 1835 Wallachia. Lawkeeper Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his son, Ionitā (Mihai Comānoiu), are galloping through the local countryside, searching for runaway Gypsy slave Carfin (Cuzin Toma), who Boyar Iordache Cindescu (Alexandru Dabija) has accused of having an affair with his wife, Sultana (Mihaela Sîrbu). The surly Costandin leads the hunt, verbally cutting down everyone he meets, from random old women to abbots to fellow lawmen, with wicked barbs, calling them filthy whores, crows, and other foul names while spouting ridiculous theories about honor and religion; he even batters his son, saying he’s “a waste of bread” and that “if you slap him, he’ll die of grief.” It’s a cruel, cholera-filled time in which even the monks beat the poor and where Costandin regales a priest with the telling riddle, “Lifeless out of life, life out of lifeless,” which the priest thinks refers to the coming doomsday.

Cowritten by Jude and novelist Florin Lăzărescu (Our Special Envoy, Numbness), who previously collaborated on the short film The Tube with a Hat, and shot in gloriously stark black-and-white by Marius Panduru (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective), the Romanian / Bulgarian / Czech coproduction is an absurdist combination of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, and John Ford’s The Searchers, skewering everything in its path, either overtly or under its wide-reaching breath. Even Dana Pāpāruz’s costumes are a genuine riot, especially the boyar’s majestically ridiculous hat. But Aferim! is more than just a clever parody of period films and nineteenth-century Eastern European culture and social mores; it is also a brilliant exploration of the nature of racism, discrimination, misogyny, and the aristocracy that directly relates to what’s going on around the world today as well as how Romania has dealt with its own sorry past of enslaving the Romani people. Jude was inspired by real events and historical documents, setting the film immediately after the 1834 Russian occupation, which adds to its razor-sharp observations.

Aferim! is an attempt to gaze into the past, to take a journey inside the mentalities of the beginning of the nineteenth century — all epistemological imperfections inherent to such an enterprise included,” Jude says in his director’s statement. “It is obvious that such an effort would be pointless should we not believe that this hazy past holds the explanation for certain present issues.” Aferim! is screening December 2 at 6:30, followed by a Q&A with producer Ada Solomon. The series also includes such other recent Romanian films as Monica Lãzurean-Gorgan and Andrei Gorgan’s Free Dacians, Mona Nicoară and Dana Bunescu’s The Distance Between Me and Me, and Ivana Mladenovic’s Soldiers: A Story from Ferentari in addition to Jude’s “I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians,” The Dead Nation, The Happiest Girl in the World, Scarred Hearts, and Everybody in Our Family.

AILEY ASCENDING 60th ANNIVERSARY

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be celebrating its sixtieth anniversary at City Center, which is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be celebrating its sixtieth anniversary at City Center, which is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary

New York City Center
130 West 56th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
November 28 - December 30, $29-$159
212-581-1212
www.alvinailey.org
www.nycitycenter.org

On March 30, 1958, a troupe of black dancers performed as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time, at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA Dance Center, traveling around in station wagons. Now AAADT’s sixtieth anniversary tour pulls up to City Center for the company’s annual monthlong residence, this year running November 28 to December 30. The season, known as “Ailey Ascending,” features new and old works, looking back at the troupe’s glorious history and exciting future. Under the leadership of artistic director Robert Battle, thirty-two dancers, including longtime favorites Hope Boykin, Clifton Brown, Vernard J. Gilmore, Daniel Harder, Rachael McLaren, Akua Noni Parker, Jamar Roberts, and the incomparable Glen Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims, will be presenting the world premiere of Ronald K. Brown’s The Call, which Brown refers to as a “love letter to Mr. Ailey,” with music by Johann Sebastian Bach (performed by Chris Thile, Edgar Meyere, and Yo-Yo Ma), Mary Lou Williams, and Asase Yaa; Rennie Harris’s Lazarus, the first two-part AAADT ballet, by AAADT’s first artist-in-residence, dealing with racism and Ailey’s legacy from 1958 to today, set to music by Nina Simone, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Michael Kiwanuka, Odetta, and Darrin Ross, along with the voice of Alvin Ailey; and EN by Jessica Lang (who just announced that Jessica Lang Dance is in its final season, closing on April 30, 2019), her hundredth ballet, with original music by Jakub Ciupinski. There will also be the company premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Kairos, set to Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” reimagined by Max Richter and with set design by Idris Khan. New productions consist of Battle’s Juba and former artistic director Judith Jamison’s Divining and Forgotten Time.

Among the special programs are “All Ailey” (Memoria, Masekela Langage, Revelations; Night Creature, Cry, Masekela Langage, Revelations), “All Battle” (Juba, Ella, No Longer Silent, In/Side, Mass), “All New” (Kairos, Lazarus), “3 Visionaries” (Mass, Ella, Divining, Forgotten Time, Cry, Revelations), and “Timeless Ailey,” comprising excerpts from many well-known and rarely performed Ailey works, including Opus McShann, For “Bird” with Love, Mary Lou’s Mass, The Lark Ascending, Phases, Hidden Rites, and Pas de Duke. The opening-night gala will be chaired by Angela Bassett and Cicely Tyson and features special appearances by Ledisi, Norm Lewis, and Brandie Sutton, a new piece by Battle set to Nina Simone’s “Black Is the Color,” and the premiere of the multimedia Becoming Ailey, which will also kick off every performance except the December 11 celebration of New York City Center’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Also on the schedule are Jamar Roberts’s Members Don’t Get Weary (music by John Coltrane), Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Shelter (music by Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn), Talley Beatty’s Stack-Up (music by Earth, Wind & Fire, Grover Washington Jr., Fearless Four, and Alphonze Mouzon), and Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section (music by David Byrne).

THE WAVERLY GALLERY

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

A family faces a matriarch experiencing dementia in Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Golden Theatre
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 27, $49 - $149
thewaverlygalleryonbroadway.com

Elaine May gives a career-topping performance as an octogenarian suffering from dementia in the Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, the sensitive, bittersweet memory play The Waverly Gallery. Running through January 27 at the Golden Theatre — the same venue where May and her longtime comedy partner, Mike Nichols, staged An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May in October 1960 — The Waverly Gallery takes place between 1989 and 1991 in a small, inconsequential Greenwich Village art gallery operated by eighty-five-year-old Gladys Green (May) and the Upper West Side apartment where Green’s daughter, Ellen Fine (Joan Allen), lives with her second husband, Howard Fine (David Cromer), and their dog. Ellen’s son, Daniel Reed (Lucas Hedges), often comes over for dinner, along with Gladys. “I want to tell you what happened to my grandmother, Gladys Green, near the end of her life,” Daniel tells the audience early on in the first of a series of direct addresses looking back at the past. “I lived in her building — where I still live — in Greenwich Village, during the last couple of years when she was there. . . . For twenty-eight years she ran a tiny gallery on Waverly Place, around the corner from where we lived. And without being too depressing about it, she didn’t always have the best stuff in there. But some of it was pretty good. . . . It’s not that I didn't like her. I did. It’s just that once you went in there, it was kind of tough getting out again. So I was pretty stingy with the visits.”

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Art gallery owner Gladys (Elaine May) speaks with her daughter, Ellen (Joan Allen), as painter Don (Michael Cera) looks on in Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan play (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

One day a somewhat egotistical artist from Massachusetts, Don Bowman (Michael Cera), walks into the gallery, which is connected to a hotel undergoing renovations, with his portfolio, and Gladys decides not only to give him a show but also to let him sleep in the back room, as he claims to have no money. Ellen, who becomes easily exasperated with her mother, and Howard, who practically yells at Gladys when he talks to her, thinking she is deafer than she is, are suspicious of Don’s motives as he insinuates himself into Gladys’s life. But when the hotel owner tells the family that he is taking back the gallery to turn it into a breakfast café, Ellen, Howard, and Daniel have to figure out a way to tell Gladys, whose Alzheimer’s is getting worse.

The play opens with Gladys saying, “I never knew anything was the matter.” Although she was specifically referring to Ellen’s first marriage falling apart, she could just as well be talking about her own life. Her memory lapses, hearing problems, and inability to truly understand what is going on around her are harrowing to watch, yet Lonergan, the writer-director of such award-winning films as You Can Count on Me and Manchester by the Sea and such hit plays as This Is Our Youth and Lobby Hero, injects plenty of humor into the strife. “We’re liberal Upper West Side atheistic Jewish intellectuals — and we really like German choral music,” Daniel tells Don. A dinner scene in which Ellen and Howard futz with Gladys’s hearing aid has a slapstick touch. And Gladys’s forgetfulness can be charming and funny — until it’s not. The eighty-six-year-old May, a National Medal of Arts winner who wrote, directed, and starred in A New Leaf and worked with the likes of Nichols, Warren Beatty, and Neil Simon in such films as The Birdcage, The Heartbreak Kid, and, yes, Ishtar, imbues Gladys with such honesty and sincerity that it’s heart-wrenching watching her decline.

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Lucas Hedges, Elaine May, Joan Allen, David Cromer, and Michael Cera star in The Waverly Gallery (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

In her first Broadway show, Drama Desk- and Obie-winning director Lila Neugebauer, who is building an impressive résumé with such works as Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, Annie Baker’s The Antipodes, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Everybody, and Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, superbly balances the humor and heartbreak, never letting melodrama take over and instead including numerous moments in which the audience feels appropriately uncomfortable going from laughing to tearing up as David Zinn’s sets alternate between New York City apartments to the quaint belowground art gallery. Grammy winner and Oscar nominee May, Tony winner and Emmy and Oscar nominee Allen (Burn This, The Contender), Tony-winning actor and director Cromer (The Band’s Visit, Tribes), Oscar nominee Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Yen), and Tony nominee Cera (Arrested Development, Juno), in his third consecutive Lonergan play on Broadway, form a stellar ensemble, capturing the essence of an extended family facing a tragic situation. (The 1999 original cast featured a widely hailed Eileen Heckart as Gladys, Maureen Anderman as Ellen, Mark Blum as Howard, Josh Hamilton as Daniel, and Anthony Arkin as Don; Anderman is now May’s understudy on Broadway.) “Honey? Do you think the Village has changed much in the last five years?” Gladys asks Daniel, who responds, “Yes! It’s been changing for a lot longer than that!” But what hasn’t changed nearly enough is the brutal impact of Alzheimer’s disease on sufferers and their families, so aptly on display in this perceptive and humane production.

THE COEN BROTHERS GO WEST: THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Tim Blake Nelson plays the title character, a singing gunslinger, in Coen brothers’ Western anthology

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2018)
Museum of the Moving Image, Redstone Theater
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Thursday, November 29, $15, 7:00
Costume exhibition continues through May 26
718-777-6800
www.movingimage.us

The Coen brothers honor and subvert the Western as only they can in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a six-part anthology film they made for Netflix. It also was shown in two theaters for a week — making it eligible for Oscars — and is having a special screening on November 29 at the Museum of the Moving Image. Over the course of the last quarter-century, Joel and Ethan Coen wrote a handful of short movies that they thought would never get made, but they eventually decided to put them together into one omnibus film. Each segment tackles a different subgenre, involves at least one death, and begins with the turning of pages in an illustrated book, as if these are old classic Western fables, although that’s just a cinematic conceit: Only “The Gal Who Got Rattled” and “All Gold Canyon” were inspired by real works, by Stewart Edward White and Jack London, respectively.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

James Franco stars as a doomed bank robber in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The anthology opens with the title tale, about singing cowboy Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), who casually takes on all challengers with his remarkable shooting prowess, speaking directly into the camera as he creatively disposes of one gunslinger after another. In “Near Algodones,” a cowboy (James Franco) thinks it will be easy pickings to rob a bank in the middle of nowhere, but then he runs into a teller (Stephen Root) who is not about to surrender any cash. In “Meal Ticket,” a traveling impresario makes money by putting a limbless man (Harry Melling) on a stage on the back of his wagon, reciting Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and other famous writings and speeches. Tom Waits is nearly unrecognizable as an old prospector in “All Gold Canyon,” panning for valuable nuggets until a young man (Sam Dillon) sneaks up on him. In “The Girl Who Got Rattled,” quiet Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is on her way to meet a suitor chosen for her by her earnest brother, Gilbert (Jefferson Mays), accompanied by his noisy dog, President Pierce. They are part of a wagon train led by the handsome Billy Knapp (Bill Heck) and the tough-as-nails Mr. Arthur (Grainger Hines), but trouble awaits when Gilbert falls ill and an Indian appears in the distance. And finally, in “The Mortal Remains,” a grizzled old trapper (Chelcie Ross), erudite Frenchman (Saul Rubinek), and proper lady (Tyne Daly) are sharing a stage coach with a pair of bounty hunters, an Englishman (Jonjo O’Neill) and an Irishman (Brendan Gleeson), who are transporting their latest capture on the roof.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

A nearly unrecognizable Tom Waits is a wily old prospector in “All Gold Canyon” segment of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Written, directed, edited, and produced by the Coens, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a fabulous journey through the Old West, as the brothers play with genre tropes and stereotypes while paying tribute to John Ford, John Wayne, William A. Wellman, Gene Autry, Howard Hawks, Walter Brennan, John Huston, and many other Western stalwarts. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel lovingly shoots the vast landscapes and blue skies using a digital camera, a first for a Coen brothers film, while the inimitable Carter Burwell provides the period soundtrack and Mary Zophres the historically accurate, mostly handmade outfits. Despite the six different stories, the film flows together quite naturally, with the last entry a sly commentary on everything that came before it; essentially, the characters played by Rubinek, Daly, and Ross represent the audience, as the Englishman mesmerizingly describes the art of storytelling itself, something the Coen brothers have mastered yet again. (Now, if only they could fix the typo on the first page of “Meal Ticket.”)

The Museum of the Moving Image screening will be followed by a Q&A with longtime Coen brothers costume designer Zophres, moderated by MoMI senior curator Barbara Miller; it is being held in conjunction with the new exhibition “The Coen Brothers Go West: Costume Design for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” The display, which consists of sixteen costumes (including the fab one worn by Nelson and the protective one donned by Root), ten costume boards, and several hairpieces, will be open after the MoMI screening. For more Coen magic, IFC Center’s “Weekend Classics” series continues on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings at eleven with The Big Lebowski (November 23-25), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (November 30 - December 2), No Country for Old Men (December 7-9), True Grit (December 14-16), The Hudsucker Proxy (December 21-23), and Inside Llewyn Davis (December 28-30).

THE CONTENDERS 2018: BLACKkKLANSMAN

BlacKkKlansman

Detectives Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) go undercover to infiltrate the KKK in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman

BLACKkKLANSMAN (Spike Lee, 2018)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, November 25, 2:00
Series runs through January 8
212-708-9400
www.moma.org
www.focusfeatures.com

BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s best fiction film since 1989’s Do the Right Thing, a comic thriller inspired by the real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a Colorado cop who went undercover with the KKK. “Dis joint is based upon some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t,” the movie announces at the start. Stallworth, wearing an impressive natural afro, is hired by Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) to diversify the force. When the police hear that Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, now using the name Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Colorado College Black Student Union, the chief and Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito) send Stallworth in to scout out the situation. There he meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), a dedicated activist fighting the racist system, with a particular dislike for cops. Seeing an ad for the KKK in the local paper, Stallworth proposes to his bosses that he infiltrate the secretive organization, and they come up with a plan in which Stallworth will gain intelligence over the phone, speaking with local KKK leaders. The only problem is that Stallworth, in a major rookie mistake, used his real name when first talking to Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), which complicates the operation. But they proceed, as Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) insinuates himself into the group in person, applying for membership and trying to find out about any future marches, cross burnings, or other attacks, gaining the trust of the straightforward Breachway and the goofy Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser), while the nasty Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen) quickly grows suspicious of him. In the meantime, Stallworth develops a phone friendship with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) and begins dating Dumas, while Kendrickson’s wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), desperately wants to prove her racism by participating in the KKK’s schemes — which are explicitly limited to “white Christian men.”

Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) fights for justice in

Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) fights for justice in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman

Written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee, BlacKkKlansman takes plenty of liberties with the facts — for example, Stallworth has never identified his white partner, Dumas is a fictional character (although based on Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver), and the time shifts a few years ahead — but the heart and soul of the story is true, and Lee captures it with gusto. The film is wickedly funny and frighteningly realistic, all too relevant to today’s rising racist hatred around the world. As Dumas teaches Stallworth about his responsibility to the black race, Stallworth does the same with Zimmerman about his Jewishness. “Why you acting like you don’t have skin in the game?” Stallworth asks him. Photographed by Chayse Irvin and edited by Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman is also one of Lee’s best-looking, most-accomplished films, featuring a terrific score by Terence Blanchard along with songs by such diverse musicians as James Brown, Prince, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Looking Glass, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Washington — who played a student in Lee’s Malcolm X, starring his father, Denzel Washington — and Driver have a great chemistry that propels the film, which was released on the first anniversary of the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Several lines of dialogue specifically evoke what his happening in America today, and Lee seals the deal with a finale that includes footage of Duke and President Trump refusing to condemn what went down in Virginia on August 12, 2017. (He also has Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin play a not-too-bright white supremacist; actually, none of the racists is endowed with much intelligence.) As is his trademark, Lee pulls no punches; especially effective is how he switches between Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) relating the true story of the lynching of Jesse Washington and the Klansmen watching D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Because, of course, we all have a skin in this game. BlacKkKlansman is screening November 25 at 2:00 in MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” consisting of works the museum believes will last the test of time, which continues through January 8 with such other 2018 films as Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (followed by a discussion with Neville and producer Nicholas Ma), Paul Dano’s Wildlife (followed by a discussion with Dano, cowriter Zoe Kazan, and actors Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal), Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (followed by a discussion with Shrader and Ethan Hawke), and John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (followed by a discussion with Krasinski).

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