Emily Beecham was named Best Actress at Cannes for her role as a scientist and single mother who creates a different kind of monster in Jessica Hausner’s tense and gripping Little Joe, which opens Friday at the Quad. The Austrian director’s first English-language film was inspired directly by Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers while evoking elements of Rosemary’s Baby and Little Shop of Horrors as it plays with horror, sci-fi, teen drama, and other genre conventions. Beecham is Alice Woodard, a plant breeder who is developing a flower she believes can make people happy through its “mood-lifting, antidepressant” scent. She names the new species Little Joe, after her son, Joe (Kit Connor), and even sneaks one plant home for him from the highly secured lab, which is blatantly against the rules.
She works at a science institute — a pristine environment with sterile-looking halls and researchers walking around in white lab coats — with Chris (Ben Whishaw), who has a crush on her, Bella (Kerry Fox), who goes everywhere with her dog, assistants Ric (Phénix Brossard) and Jasper (Andrew Rajan), and their boss, Karl (David Wilmot), who is hesitant to release the plant to the public until rigorous testing proves its safety, even though there’s an important plant show coming up where it would be perfect to introduce it. But after the lovely red blooms start emitting clouds of white spores, first Bella’s dog, then Alice’s coworkers and son, along with his friend Selma (Jessie-Mae Alonzo), begin changing.
Written by Hausner (Lourdes, Amour Fou) with Géraldine Bajard, Little Joe is thick with foreboding, as scenes play out slowly to creepy electronic music by late Japanese composer Teiji Ito, who scored films by Maya Deren. The film is set in a timeless world of brightly lit, vividly contrasting pastel yellows, reds, greens, pinks, purples, and blues that conjure the 1970s but there are cell phones; cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, editor Karina Ressler, costume designer Tanja Hausner (the director’s sister), and production designer Katharina Wöppermann invoke the atmosphere of such cult faves as auteurs John Carpenter and David Cronenberg and novelist Ira Levin — who wrote The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil, and Rosemary’s Baby — as Alice soon finds herself fighting against what appears to be a spreading conspiracy, all the while exploring her fears with her understanding psychotherapist (Lindsay Duncan). Alice’s bowl-cut red hair is reminiscent of Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby (and her last name, Woodard, is similar to Rosemary’s, Woodhouse). Like that classic horror film, Little Joe focuses on the concept of birth and parenthood from a female point of view; even as Alice tries to protect her scientific creation, she is attempting to hold on to her pubescent son as he and his father, Ivan (Sebastian Hulk), become closer. “The ability to reproduce is what gives every living being meaning,” Bella says.
Perhaps the scariest part of the film is how realistic it feels despite its heavily stylized artifice. Hausner, for her first English-language movie, consulted with neuroscientist James Fallon, biologist Hanns Hatt, and other experts to research the validity of her plot, particularly in an age where there is global controversy over the efficacy of genetically modified food and animal and human cloning. Beecham (Sulphur and White, Into the Badlands) is superb as Alice, a stand-in for all of us, someone who just wants to bring happiness to the world but, in this case, may not fully understand the price it comes with.
11 Cortlandt Alley
Sunday, December 8, free, 2:00
Fukushima-born, LA–based performance artist Ei Arakawa will lead a parade of a different kind on Sunday, December 8, inaugurating the new home of Artists Space. The former New Yorker is presenting WeWork Babies (11 Cortlandt Alley), beginning at 2:00 outside Artists Space at 11 Cortlandt Alley with a march of plastic infants that will then go into the lobby and down into the cellar gallery, which serves as an art baby nursery. The piece, complete with Q&A, will be performed by Arakawa, Malik Gaines, Tony Jackson, Sohee Kim, Erika Landström, Shuang Liang, George Liu, Yuri Manabe, Molly McFadden, Gela Patashuri, Jamie Stevens, and Tinatin Tsiklauri, with music by Boston-born, Brooklyn-based composer and installation artist Stefan Tcherepnin and his seven-month-old son, Igor Törnudd-Tcherepnin. Founded in 1972, Artists Space “strives for exemplary conditions in which to produce, experience, and understand art, to be a locus of critical discourse and education, and to advocate for the capacity of artistic work to significantly define and reflect our understanding of ourselves.” The opening-month celebration continues with such other free programs as the album launch “Speaker Music: drape over another” on December 13 and the book launch “Alexander Zevin: Liberalism at Large” on December 16.
Three years ago, we saw the Builders Association’s multimedia Elements of Oz at the 3LD Art and Technology Center. The multimedia presentation is now back for three shows at NYU Skirball, December 7 at 3:00 and 7:30 and December 8 at 3:00, closing out Skirball’s yearlong celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall. Below is our slightly amended review of the December 2016 production.
The Builders Association (Sontag:Reborn, Invisible Cities) takes audiences on a wild trip down the yellow brick road as it deconstructs and reconstructs The Wizard of Oz in its fun and innovative multimedia experimental production Elements of Oz. Conceived by Marianne Weems, Moe Angelos, and James Gibbs, directed by Weems, and cowritten by Gibbs and Angelos, Elements of Oz delves into the legend and legacy of the classic 1939 film, sharing little-known stories, reenacting key scenes, and examining its online presence, including theories about how the book and movie are metaphors for the U.S. monetary system and gold standard. The show presents a small corp of actors who reenact and reshoot key scenes, creating a new version via multiple monitors that project what is happening onstage and freeze-frames taken from previous scenes. The piece is performed by Angelos, Sean Donovan, and Hannah Heller, who each portray several characters — all three play Dorothy Gale at various points. They not only switch roles, they also shift from commenting on the film to acting in its re-creation, and from past to present, telling tales of 1939 moviemaking and its ongoing reverberations in popular culture.
Following a YouTube overture, Angelos delivers the first of many “talking points,” giving inside information to the audience. “It’s a masterpiece,” she says about the film, “but all we see is the magic. We don’t see all the brutal work and failure.” Elements of Oz reveals how much of that magic was made as stage manager April Sigler, associate lighting designer Elliott Jenetopulos, video designer Austin Switser, production manager Brendan Regimbal, and technical director Carl Whipple set up and break down Neal Wilkinson’s sets, filming short scenes that are then edited live to mimic the original, shot by shot, and played back on a large onstage screen as well as the monitors that fill the theater. Meanwhile, Moe relates stories about Margaret Hamilton and her double, Betty Denko, suffering major injuries; how “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was almost left on the cutting-room floor; that some of the munchkins were repurposed as flying monkeys; and what really happened when the film went from black-and-white to color.
Just as The Wizard of Oz made use of cutting-edge technology, so does Elements of Oz, which has a unique innovation of its own. During the show, which is based on both the film and the book by L. Frank Baum, there are moments that are best viewed through your smart phone or tablet via a free augmented reality app, designed by John Cleater, that enhances what you’re watching by adding visual and aural effects, from snow to giggling munchkins to other cool surprises. Angelos (the Five Lesbian Brothers), Donovan (Thank You for Coming: Play), and Heller (The World Is Round) are hysterical as they change from role to role, with Angelos as Dorothy and Glinda, the mustachioed Donovan as Dorothy, Uncle Henry, Mike Wallace, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Salman Rushdie, and the Wizard, and Heller as Dorothy, Aunt Em, the Wicked Witch, the Scarecrow, Judy Garland, and Ayn Rand. (The costumes are by Andreea Mincic, with lighting by Jennifer Tipton, sound design and original music by Dan Dobson, and interactive design and programming by Jesse Garrison.) Originally presented by Peak Performances @ Montclair State University, the goofy and charming Elements of Oz is probably about twenty minutes too long, as things get a little repetitive, and as fun as the app is, you’ll find yourself at times looking at your phone, waiting for the next bit of AR to take place, instead of watching what is happening onstage. But like the original book and film, Elements of Oz is an enjoyable mind-expanding journey — and be sure to keep that app on as you exit Skirball and head toward Washington Square Park.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, December 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum shows off the best of the borough in the December edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Los Hacheros, Gemma, DJ Laylo, Adrian Daniel, and drag collective Switch n’ Play (featuring Divina GranSparkle, K.James, Miss Malice, Nyx Nocturne, Pearl Harbor, and Vigor Mortis with special guest Heart Crimson); Visual AIDS screenings of short films commemorating the annual Day With(out) Art, followed by a conversation between filmmakers Iman Shervington and Derrick Woods-Morrow, moderated by writer Mathew Rodriguez; a book talk on Elia Alba’s The Supper Club with Sur Rodney (Sur) and Jack Waters, focusing on the conversation from the book that asks “What Would an HIV Doula Do?”; a curator tour of the Arts of Japan galleries with Joan Cummins; teen apprentice pop-up gallery talks in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall”; a night market with handmade artisanal products; and a poetry reading and book signing by Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang from her latest book, Hybrida. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “yasiin bey: Negus,” “One: Xu Bing,” “Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion,” “JR: Chronicles,” and more.
The Theater at Gibney 280 Broadway
280 Broadway between Chambers & Reade Sts.
December 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, $15-$20, 8:00
Gibney’s annual DoublePlus program, in which established artists mentor pairs of emerging choreographers, kicks off December 5-7 with Pilipinx-American producer, administrator, contemporary performance manager, and Current Sessions founder Alexis Convento curating works by Korean and black American interdisciplinary artist Dana Davenport and composer and vocal artist Samita Sinha. Davenport will present the new movement piece Experiments for ~Relaxation~, while Sinha debuts Kaalo Jol (“Black Waters”), a duet with Sunny Jain on dhol on Thursday and guitarist Grey Mcmurray on Friday and Saturday. The December 6 show will be preceded at 7:00 by a free Living Gallery site-specific performance of Capital-D Dance by Brooklyn-based dancer, writer, and producer Tara Sheena. The series continues December 12-14 with Alexander Diaz’s Getting closer to Coral and Jennifer Harrison Newman’s topologies, curated by Charmaine Warren, and December 19-21 with Laurel Atwell’s We Wield and Hyung Seok Jeon’s Deep Out Agents, curated by Tei Blow.
CinéSalon: MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, 2011)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, December 3, 7:30
Series continues Tuesday nights through December 17
Danish writer-director Lars von Trier has nothing less than the end of the world on his mind in his controversial 2011 drama, Melancholia, which is screening December 3 at 7:30 in the FIAF CinéSalon series “Charlotte Forever: Gainsbourg on Film.” Yet another of Von Trier’s love-it-or-hate-it cinematic forays opens with epic Kubrickian grandeur, introducing characters in marvelously composed slow-motion and still shots (courtesy of cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro) as an apocalyptic collision threatens the earth and a Wagner overture dominates the soundtrack. Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of Justine, a seemingly carefree young woman celebrating her wedding day who soon turns out to be battling a debilitating mental illness. Her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), is madly in love with her and does not know quite what he has gotten himself into, especially as the partying continues and Justine’s motley crew of family and friends get caught up in various forms of intrigue, including Gaby, her marriage-hating mother (Charlotte Rampling), Dexter, her never serious father (John Hurt), Jack, her pompous boss (Stellan Skarsgård), Claire, her married sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Claire’s filthy rich husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), who is hosting the event at his massive waterfront estate.
While most of the film focuses on the wildly unpredictable Justine, the latter section turns its attention on Claire, who is terrified that a newly discovered planet named Melancholia is on its way to destroy the world. But Melancholia is not just about sadness, depression, family dysfunction, and the end of the world. It’s about the search for real love and truth, things that are disappearing from the earth by the minute. Justine works as an advertising copywriter, attaching tag lines to photographs to help sell product; at the wedding, Jack is determined to get one more great line of copy from her, even siccing his young, inexperienced nephew, Tim (Brady Corbet), on her to make sure she delivers. But what she ends up delivering is not what either man expected. Perhaps the only character who really sees what is going on is a wedding planner played by the great Udo Kier, who continually, and comically, shields his eyes from Justine, unable to watch the impending disaster. Just as in the film, as some characters get out their telescopes to watch the approaching planet and others refuse to look, there are sure to be many in the moviegoing public who will shield their eyes from Melancholia, choosing not to view yet another polemical film from a director who likes to antagonize his audience. They don’t know what they’re missing.