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.
“Down by the boathouse at Shaker Lake / When there wasn’t nothing but love to make / They were two young lovers wishing on the stars above / Well, they carved their initials in an old birch tree / With a heart and an arrow and a ’sixty-three / You had to be blind not to see / It was a perfect love,” Ohio-born singer-songwriter Marc Cohn sings on “Perfect Love,” a track from his 1991 self-titled debut album. Cohn is likely to perform that song, and many other favorites about love, hope, faith, and heartbreak, when he comes to New York City for his annual Valentine’s Day show, February 14 at the Concert Hall at New York Society for Ethical Culture. An honorary member of the Blind Boys of Alabama, with whom he recorded the 2019 album Work to Do, Cohn survived a shooting in 2005, after which he released several live and studio albums and has toured relentlessly. He can be seen often at City Winery, which is presenting the Valentine’s Day shindig with Metropolitan Entertainment. Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter Mark Erelli, whose new album, Blindsided, comes out next month, will open the show. Continuing the romantic theme, Cohn will also be at the Beacon Theatre on March 12 as part of the Love Rocks NYC benefit for God’s Love We Deliver! with Dave Matthews, Chris & Rich Robinson, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Warren Haynes, Joss Stone, Macy Gray, and others, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Shaffer, Jeff Garlin, and Ellie Kemper.
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.
If you haven’t seen Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas perform in New York City, you haven’t been paying attention. She and her company have presented A Love Supreme at New York Live Arts in 2017, Six Brandenburg Concertos at Park Avenue Armory in 2018, and Transfigured Night at Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2019. This week de Keersmaeker and Rosas are performing the North America premiere of Mitten Wir Im Leben Sind / Bach6Cellosuiten (In the Midst of Life / Bach’s Cello Suites) at NYU’s Skirball Center, a series of solos accompanied by master French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, who plays a 1696 cello by Gioffredo Cappa, with de Keersmaeker joining each dancer for a duet.
The two-hour piece, which debuted at the 2017 Ruhrtriennale in Germany in 2017, consists of six Bach sections written between 1717 and 1723 (BWV 1007-1012) — the allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, and gigue — created with and danced by Boštjan Antončič, Marie Goudot, Julien Monty, Michaël Pomero, and De Keersmaeker. The stark staging, in which the dancers move across a black space around a seated Queyras, with swirling white chalk marks and green and red tape placed on the light-colored floor, features costumes by An D’Huys, sound by Alban Moraud, and lighting by Luc Schaltin. The title comes from Martin Luther’s version of the Latin antiphon “Media vita in morte sumus”; the Lutheran hymn reads, in part: “In the midst of life / We are in death / Who shall help us in the strife / Lest the Foe confound us? / Thou only, Lord, Thou only!” In addition, Bach wrote a freestanding chorale (BWV 383) based on Luther’s three-stanza liturgy; de Keersmaeker has also discussed how she saw the Luther quote on the tombstone of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch. The February 14 show will be followed by a talk with de Keersmaeker and Queyras, moderated by Center for Ballet and the Arts founder and director Jennifer Homans.
One of the city’s most reliably consistent companies, the Mint, scored successes with its initial two productions of works by British character actor, screenwriter, and playwright Miles Malleson, 2017’s Yours Unfaithfully and 2018’s Conflict. But it’s unable to pull off the hat trick with Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories, a pair of Russian short stories Malleson adapted into plays that have been brought together for the first time, running at Theatre Row through March 14. The Artist, based on Anton Chekhov’s “An Artist’s Story,” published in the April 1896 issue of Russkaya Mysl, takes place in a Russian country house where painter Nicov (Alexander Sokovikov) is staying. After five weeks, he has finally found inspiration, primarily in eighteen-year-old Genya (Katie Firth), who lives on Monsieur Byelkurov’s (J. Paul Nicholas) estate with her older sister, teacher and activist Lidia (Brittany Anikka Liu), and their mother (Anna Lentz). While Genya and Nicov share a flirtation, Lidia and the artist battle over social issues.
“Let them have time to breathe, don’t let them spend all their lives at the stove, at the washtub, on the fields — slaving, slaving, slaving just to keep alive,” Nicov, who was portrayed by Malleson in the 1919 original, says of the working class. “Let them have time for the life of the spirit. The highest vocation of man is spiritual activity, spiritual effort — the perpetual search for truth and the meaning of life. And when a man has recognised that vocation he can only be satisfied by religion, by science, by philosophy, by art, by the great things — and nothing else. And then, and not till then, civilisation will mean freedom.” An angry Lidia responds, “These are the things people say when they want to justify their inaction.” Directed by Mint head Jonathan Bank (Unfaithfully Yours, Katie Roche), The Artist is like an unfinished painting, feeling more like a work in progress than a completed piece. It’s difficult to get involved in the trials and tribulations of these people; neither the characters nor the plot is particularly compelling. The Mint is renowned for their sets, but Roger Hanna’s design for the play consists merely of a canvas on an easel, some chairs and a table, and a painted backdrop of a large tree that overwhelms everything.
The backdrop rotates to the threatening roots under the tree for Malleson’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1885 short story “What Men Live By.” In a Russian peasant hut where expert shoemaker Simon (J. Paul Nicholas) works with his wife, Matryona (Katie Firth), and the elderly Aniuska (Vinie Burrows), Simon comes home one night with the mysterious Michael (Malik Reed), a shoeless beggar who doesn’t speak and rarely smiles, even after Matryona agrees to let him apprentice with Simon, who quickly discovers that Michael is an extremely talented artisan. When they receive a special order from a nobleman (Sokovikov), Simon sees it as an important opportunity, until Michael takes things in a different direction.
In her directorial debut, longtime Mint sound designer Jane Shaw can’t find the heart of the religious-tinged tale, which was originally produced in 1919 as an antidote to the horrors of WWI. The conflicts never feels urgent enough, with plot twists coming too fast to let the drama take hold. While The Artist moves too slowly, What Men Live By packs too much into too little time on its way to its not-necessarily-surprising final revelation. Both works end up underwhelming, as if still being cobbled together, which is a rarity for the highly professional, superbly efficient Mint.
MoMA’s FESTIVAL OF INTERNATIONAL NONFICTION FILM AND MEDIA: FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (Lynne Sachs, 2020)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, February 11, 8:00, and Friday, February 14, 4:30
Series continues through February 19
“We’re pretty candid about who Dad is, and we’ve seen him through a lot, but we’re also able to shift what we might recognize as who he really is to what we want him to be,” experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs says in Film About a Father Who, a revealing look at the patriarch of her seemingly ever-expanding family, her dad, Ira Sachs Sr. Inspired by Yvonne Rainer’s seminal 1974 work A Film About a Woman Who . . . , a cinematic collage exploring sexual conflict, and Heinrich Boll’s 1971 novel Group Portrait with Lady, Sachs’s movie, screening February 11 and 14 in MoMA’s annual Documentary Fortnight series, consists of footage taken over a period of fifty-four years, beginning in 1965, using 8mm and 16mm film, VHS, Hi8, Mini DV, and digital images, edited by Rebecca Shapass. Now eighty-three, Ira Sachs Sr. was a sex-loving, pot-smoking minor-league hotelier, a neglectful, emotionally unavailable husband and father, both selfish and generous, carefully guarding secrets that Lynne, her sister, journalist and author Dana Sachs, and her brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr., discuss with their six half-siblings, children their father had with other wives and girlfriends, some of whom they did not know about for many years.
Ira Sr.’s mother, Rose Sachs, known as Maw-maw, who left him when he was young, says of his womanizing, “I can’t stand that way of life.” His first wife, Lynne’s mother, Diane Sachs, speaks about what an easy decision divorcing him was. “Marriage was just a lot of being up at night, going to the window, wondering when he was coming home,” she explains. His second wife, Diana Lee, says through tears, “He’s a mistake.” Yet nearly all the women in his life, relatives and companions alike, profess their undying love for the long-haired, bushy-mustached man who was able to cast a spell over them despite, at least outwardly, not appearing to be a particularly eloquent Don Juan type and never remaining faithful. But there’s also more than a hint of psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. “She treated me as an enemy,” he says.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the first three children of such a secretive man all went into the storytelling arts, mixing fiction and nonfiction in film and literature; Ira has won awards for such films as Forty Shades of Blue and Love Is Strange, Dana’s books include the novel If You Lived Here and the Vietnam memoir The House on Dream Street, and Lynne’s documentaries range from Investigation of a Flame and Sermons and Sacred Pictures to Your Day Is My Night and States of UnBelonging. There are numerous shots of family members filming other relatives; at one point, Lynne is filming Ira Jr. filming Ira Sr. while watching home movies on the television. A Film About a Woman Who . . . , which features music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello, is a striking portrait of an unusually dysfunctional family, a true story that has been in the making for more than a half century and even now provides only some of the answers. Perhaps you can find out more when it screens at MoMA’s Festival of International Nonfiction Film and Media on February 11 at 8:00, introduced by Lynne; it is also being shown February 14 at 4:30.