And the Oscar Goes To…

It’s no surprise that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the beautifully written and filmed The King’s Speech last night at the 83rd Academy Awards. It’s also no surprise that Colin Firth took home the Best Actor Oscar for the same film, that Natalie Portman won Best Actress for Black Swan or that both of them gave charming and emotionally driven thank you speeches. No surprises in most of the winners, though I wasn’t really expecting Melissa Leo to win Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter, especially considering her overzealous campaigning for said honor. Knowing that she did that makes me wonder if the votes weren’t just because the Academy wanted to shut her up. And I’ll guarantee you that sweet Hailee Steinfeld wouldn’t have dropped the F-bomb during her acceptance speech. Don’t worry Hailee, you’re so young and so talented… you have time.

I’m not surprised that The Social Network won Best Adapted Screenplay or that Christian Bale got Best Supporting Actor – though I was hoping that he would thank his beard during his acceptance speech since it’s become such a character and partner in his life. I’m not even surprised that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won for Best Original Score – though on that note, I would just like to say to my father, you remember that album Pretty Hate Machine that you went on and on about how it was noise and horrible and discordant and not actually music? Yeah, um, Dad – that guy just won an Oscar.

In fact there was very little that surprised me last night during the Oscars Broadcast, other than a few of the fashion choices. Sharon Stone took the whole Black Swan craze to a new level with her uber-tight and rather trashy feathered up Christian Dior gown that put me in mind of Cruella DeVille, especially with the age inappropriate super severe eyeliner and giant hair. Nicole Kidman’s white Dior (by John Galliano) gown was just unflattering and ill-fitting. Though her face may have started to soften lately, the dress was too structured and oddly designed – kimono from the future anyone? One other thing I’ve noticed about Nicole Kidman lately is that she seems to have stopped caring at all about her hair. Between the simple ponytail and straightened yet undone bangs, I wonder if she and Keith used the same student hair stylist for the event. But Nicole and Keith weren’t the only two who went a little too casual with their hair. Scarlett Johansson’s dress was lovely, if not quite formal enough in my humble and uneducated opinion, but her hair looked messy. I love the bob on her. Really I do. But I think for an evening like this, a little slicker, a little sexier and a little more well-groomed would have won the day.

What about the show itself? Every year, the Academy goes all out to attract a “younger” audience. Its a boring show. Really. The addition of hosts who haven’t hit their peak yet is supposed to get the attention of the ADD riddled youth of America (and the world I suppose). This is, in theory, a good idea. But last night’s performance wasn’t only boring, but it lacked chemistry, both between its co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco, and between the performers and the audience. For all its preparation and glamor, the Oscars last night were just boring. Out of the entire 3 hour broadcast, I giggled once at Anne Hathaway’s jabs at Hugh Jackman through her re-written version of Les Miserables “On My Own” and once again – not at James Franco showing up on the stage in Marilyn Monroe drag, but more at his one funny line and we all knew there would be a Charlie Sheen joke in there somewhere so it wasn’t entirely unexpected either.

But as usual, every Oscar show has one moment that is remembered for stealing the show. Last night, it was hands down the rambling, endearing and funny Kirk Douglas presenting Best Supporting Actress. He may be a bit mush-mouthed at his age and I think does actually ring in as the oldest man in Hollywood, but he was brilliant. He flirted with the nominees and the winner, he flirted with Anne Hathaway and went off-book. He was having fun. I think he was the only person watching the show that was.

All that aside, I did watch the entire show. I snarked about it straight through from Red Carpet to final award but turned it off with the entrance of the elementary school chorus to sing out the show. That must have seemed like a good idea to someone somewhere but I can’t imagine who would have thought it so. And with that travesty of entertainment, we can heave a sigh of relief and hang up our spanx for another year.  Awards season in Los Angeles is over and everyone can go back to slumming around in sweatpants and no makeup.

That’s Not An Exhibit, That’s What’s In My Living Room

As a member of LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), every few weeks, I check their website to see what new exhibits are coming up. I try to go at least once a month for a wander through my old favorites in the Broad Contemporary Art Building. Usually, there’s a few interesting exhibits to wander through and most often, given my career path, I get excited when a new photography exhibit comes through. (Though, I have to say I CANNOT wait for the Tim Burton exhibit in May.)

Today was no different. An otherwise non-eventful Saturday afternoon, this is exactly when I usually go. I’d seen on the website listing for an exhibit of photographer Larry Fink’s journalistic portraiture. I was intrigued by the description. I’d of course heard of Larry Fink before, and I knew he had a long career snapping portraits and his many times was the only camera allowed inside the legendary Vanity Fair Oscar Parties. His career spans over 40 years and I was thrilled to see the possibilities of what his lens might have captured. So this afternoon, I asked a friend and fellow photographer to join me up there to check it out.

What was billed on the website as an “exhibit” was a huge disappointment. For a man whose work spans 40 years, the portraits included only cover 9 of those years. And to be honest, it looked to me like almost all of the images pulled for this were from the same year and party. And the number of images was ridiculous. I’d say there were about 18 images in total. That was it. Forty years of a career, 9 years of material to pull from and the artist didn’t even take the time to pull 2 dozen images? Who does that?

Though, seeing some of the images in their intended silver gelatin print form, rather than in digital or printed in a book was nice. And the prints were beautifully done – at the least the gelatin prints were. There were also a number of inkjet prints, I assume from digital images, but they looked off – both in colour and contrast. They were a bit green to be honest. Having worked with a photographer who did a large number of inkjet prints for a gallery show all from digital, I know that this is an avoidable issue, so I can only assume either he didn’t have time to double check them or just didn’t care enough to do a proper job on colour correction on his prints.

The only thing about the show that I did enjoy was this one image of Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and Kid Rock sitting together at one of the parties. Just the juxtaposition of these three icons of media got my attention.

As for the rest, the only thing that made the images interesting was the subject matter. A few years back, some friends and I were discussing the book project that another photographer we knew was putting together. He was focusing on doing lighting techniques in the book, but the images used as example were all images of celebrities. And the question put forward was “If it wasn’t a celebrity in the photograph, would it STILL be an interesting image?”

For most of the work that I saw yesterday at the Larry Fink exhibit at LACMA, the answer is sadly, No. I felt like we were walking through a hallway of a grand home. It was wall art. For the size of it, for the subject matter and the way it was presented, I’d have to say that this wasn’t an exhibition, it was a vanity piece.

Friday Night, Rainy Lights

My knees hurt. A lot. If you know me, you know that even though I am an avid bicyclist, I have a dodgy knee due to a car accident a few years back and I have spent the better part of the last 6 months working to rebuild the strength and musculature of my entire right leg to avoid further degradation of the knee cap. I think, last night, I reversed all the good I had done. In one night. In the span of about 2 hours. It was worth it.

A few months back, I noticed that a band that I love quite a bit, Pendulum, who do a sort of techno drum & bass rock hybrid and do it well, was due to hit Los Angeles on their tour supporting their current album, Immersion. Having missed them the last time they came through, I went ahead and bought tickets. I had no idea who would go to the show with me, but thought “screw it.” I wanted to go and I’d worry about that later.  About a month ago, I realized I still didn’t have a date for the evening, so I asked my good friend A to come with me. She’s always up for something new and different and I love that about her. She agreed and that was that. Fast forward to the day of the show and after a brief discussion yesterday afternoon, we were led to the perfect plan.

I live on the westside of LA, very close to the beach in fact, which is nowhere near the venue and would require a long drive. A lives in Hollywood a short bus ride down the street to the venue. So the decision was made on the following: option 1) park at the venue where we would be subjected to jacked up parking rates (over $20 to use an unused grocery store lot next to the venue) and not be able to drink very much, not to mention wasting money on the overpriced watered down cocktails that the venue has to offer. OR, option 2) meet at A’s house, share a bottle of wine, take the bus to the venue for the low, low price of $3 for both of us, be a bit drunk and be able to enjoy the night without the stress of how much to drink. Option 2 it is. DONE. (Not to mention, I had NEVER taken a bus in Los Angeles before and the thought of it intrigued me to be honest.)

After a bottle of red between us, and a happy warming buzz, A and I braved the 2 block walk in the rain to the bus stop. I forgot my hat. Whoops. My hair got wet, but as my hair is currently in a state of “it’s growing out, I know it looks like crap,” I really didn’t care too much. Also because this was not to be a Look Cute to Meet Boys sort of evening. This was a Be Comfortable And Dance My Ass Off sort of night. As such, my lack of hat didn’t bother me in the least, nor did my ever dampening hair. Fortune smiled upon us not only in that the bus arrived just minutes after we got to the bus stop and that the dollar machine on the bus itself (Buses take dollars now? See how long it’s been since I’ve been on a bus?) was broken, so our ride to the show was not a tiny $3. It was an even tinier NOTHING.

The bus ride took us just to the lovely corner of Western and Wiltern, where the venue, The Wiltern Theatre is located. Super convenient! We arrived, although only 20 minutes before the headliner was scheduled to play, and there was still a line around the building for entry. Guess everyone else had read that the opening band sucked too. But the line moved really quickly and a few minutes later, A and I were inside and had enough time to scope out a place on the floor to watch the show from and even to grab one more drink at the bar. (Dear Wiltern Management, Just a FYI – $8 for a 6 ounce cup full of very cheap box wine is not only ridiculous, but insulting.) Though really all I cared about at this point was that my hair had stopped dripping. OK, so next time I’ll remember my hat.

Now, the main event, as I’d said was Pendulum. And they came out with a bang. And a lot of lights. The crowd didn’t stop moving for the entire set, myself included and as I mentioned, my knees are killing me today and I’m pretty sure are threatening to stop working altogether if I ever do that to them again (which I will). Pendulum sounded mostly fantastic. A few little things about the show I didn’t enjoy. MC Ben “The Verse” Mount was a bit hard to understand. Truly for an MC, this is not a good thing. And he seemed lacking. I can’t quite put my finger on it really. I’ve been trying all day, but I just didn’t get the impression that he was all there.  He seemed a bit distracted to me. But that’s one little thing right? And honestly, the music did sound fantastic. But that brings me to another thing about this show that I had a bit of an issue with.

The music sounded great, but the song choices were a bit all over the place to me. And granted I have never seen them live before and didn’t know what to expect going in, other than I had heard that their live shows were fantastic and sort of mind-blowing between the live music and mixing and light shows. If last night’s performance was any indication, I think they weren’t on their game. The set list was disappointing. More than one of the best songs from their last album, In Silico, were missing entirely and only one of the singles from the newest release was called out and showcased. There just didn’t seem to be any connection with the audience.

As I mentioned, it SOUNDED fantastic, but I’ve been going to shows longer than I care to admit and what makes a great performance is that audience-artist connection. It just wasn’t there. It seemed to me that Pendulum were on auto-pilot and just running through the choreography that they’ve done every other night for however long this tour has been going. (I’d hate to think if this is the beginning leg of this show.)  But again, I was still dancing my butt off, and enjoying myself thoroughly.

And then it was done. The show came to its end rather abruptly and in a shorter time frame that I would have expected as well. The set times as listed prior to the venue stated Pendulum was meant to play from 10:10 to 12:15 – allowing them a full two hours. But they started closer to 10:30 and were off the stage by 11:45 – which means that they really only played for a little over an hour and maybe that was part of it. It was too short. And as I mentioned, it was abrupt.

It was sort of like lots of foreplay and no follow through. There was all this build up and then the expected encore, which should have consisted of the most intense and climatic of the mixes and songs that they could possibly play, just petered out. I wanted an explosion and I got a firecracker. And then it was done. Good show but it was like dating a boy in high school… fun at the start, but over before it really got there, leaving you wanting more. More than once walking out of the show, I heard “that was short” from someone.

I love Pendulum. And I did have a good time in spite of all of the downsides. Next time they come to LA, I will probably try again. But last night, I felt as if my date started flirting with the waitress before she brought the dessert.

Consuming the Arts

Tonight I would like to write a little something about a project that has become rather near and dear to my heart. It’s called the Consuming the Arts Theatre Project.

Once monthly, at the Lounge Theatre here in Los Angeles, a group of writers, actors, musicians, spoken word artists, poets, and artists get together to put on a themed show of one-act plays and pieces to entertain and amuse for the viewing pleasure of a growing audience. The project was started by my friend Aurora Lizardi and her friend and partner Carrie Morris-Factoran 3 years ago as a non-profit in an effort to bring theatre and art to neighborhoods that don’t have access to shows like this. Not to mention providing a showcase for the amazing group of artists and performers who participate, with no expectation of reward other than the applause of an audience. Each show is woven around a theme that is not only common to all peoples, but meets head on some of the more controversial subject matters that everyone must deal with.

I’ve now seen three of these shows, and this last time, I offered up my services to photograph the event. I was intrigued as to what I might capture both onstage and off. So this past Sunday night, I headed out to the Lounge Theatre to do just that.

Jennica Schwartzman and Christopher Reed Performing "Lion's Den"

The theme of this week’s event was “Forgiveness” and featured a one-act play written by CTA contributor Evan Baughfman, music by Tim Banning, comedy (done as improvisational word jazz for lack of a better way to to describe it) by Matt Geiler and a fantastic set of original spoken word and poetry by Jacole Kitchen, who I firmly believe is my generation’s Lucille Clifton. (And if you don’t know who Lucille Clifton is, go look her up!)

Spoken Word Performer Jacole Kitchen

The last performance of the night was an original one-act play written by CTA’s Aurora Lizardi called “For Keeps.”  (She also acted as the lead and did a fantastic job.)

Performance of "For Keeps" by Aurora Lizardi

Not only was it acted really well by both Ms. Lizardi and her co-star Matt Munroe, but the addition of musician Jake Newton to play in and out of the scene transitions was a fantastic touch and highlighted the play’s theme so well it was as if Newton wrote the song for it.

Singer/Songwriter Jake Newton Playing During "For Keeps"

The performance was so good that the audience gave them a standing ovation, which I am told is a first at CTA, but it was well-deserved. If you have the interest and the inclination, I highly suggest that you come check it out sometime. The performers are fantastic, the event is fun and original, and if that’s not enough they provide a lovely spread of snacks and wine during the intermission for their audience. (Free food is always a bonus.)

It’s good fun. It’s a good cause. It’s just good. Go.

For more information on the Consuming the Arts Theatre Project, follow them on Twitter @feedyourart and check out their next show on March 23rd.