Photo: Penitentiary / Wizard Video / Photofest
Never was there a more fiercely independent spirit than that of Walter “Jamaa Fanaka” Gordon, who accomplished something most filmmakers would never dare attempt: While still a student at UCLA, he completed three feature-length films, one of which — Penitentiary (1979), the first in a trilogy of manic, progressively weirder prison boxing epics — went on to be the highest-grossing independent film of that year. Because of the comparative commercial appeal of his work, Fanaka was a rebel even among the rebels, an outcast among his classmates in the UCLA-birthed L.A. Rebellion movement. But there was more to Fanaka than outsize ambition: He subverted the blaxploitation template to tell stories with an uncommon tenderness, ones that he knew would appeal to a wide audience. His masterpiece, Emma Mae (1976), uses its disreputable genre trappings (a revenge story is the selling point) to tell an outsider’s coming-of-age story as she moves from the Deep South to the Southern California of the late Seventies. Fanaka has now been gone for five years, but he and his films persist through a philosophy that he described as “secular immortality.” Through his cinema, people departed and places forgotten live on as if in the present day — they are alive to the viewer.
—Samuel B. Prime
Few artists possess the talent and audacity to repeatedly challenge their audience in the manner of Stan Brakhage, who stands as perhaps the single most important director of the American avant-garde. Even fewer have written or spoken so articulately about their own work. That writing, concentrated in Metaphors on Vision, provides theoretical insights and introductions to some of Brakhage’s best films, but has been unavailable for some forty years — until now. Anthology Film Archives and LightIndustry are republishing Metaphors, and the latter institution will commemorate the re-release with a lecture by P. Adams Sitney, the foremost scholar of American avant-garde cinema. Sitney will discuss and screen the work of Brakhage as well as that of Maya Deren and Hollis Frampton, two contemporaries equally determined to redefine the medium’s possibilities. Neither lifelong fans nor those seeking to dip their toes into one of the art’s most fecund minds for the first time should miss it.
In a hip-hop landscape in which seemingly half of the most popular rappers sing more than they spit, Open Mike Eagle feels like a breath of fresh air. His clear lyrics, easy flow, and airy production give the genre a much-needed dose of sunshine. But that’s not to say his music shies away from darkness: His new album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, is an ode to the Chicago housing project where he visited relatives growing up, which was demolished by the city in the 2000s. These loopy, surreal, Dilla-inspired beats and soft-spoken rhymes tap into one vein of the deep pain that plagues America’s black communities. By dealing directly with the structural racism that stunts the lives of black people in America, Eagle has made a protest album that hits harder than most of the many attempted anti-Trump anthems.
One of the best fundraiser shows at Silent Barn this week features Shamir, the Las Vegas–born indie r&b star whose excellent 2014 single “On the Regular” put him on the map. After his slick, highly enjoyable disco-pop debut Ratchet in 2015, Shamir returned this April with an album he recorded in one weekend; it took the young artist in the direction of lo-fi pop preferred by some of his favorite artists, like fellow Philly resident Alex G. Shamir will headline a show that includes local favorites gobbinjr, who play charming, poison-tongued lo-fi indie pop.
Photo: Halil Altindere, "Muhammed Ahmed Faris With Friends #1" (detail), 2016 / apexart
“You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore. This city will always pursue you,” wrote the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy in his eminent poem The City. Displacement has remained through the centuries an inherent component of the transformation of mankind, though its impetus has changed from famine to genocide. The group exhibition “Fellow Travelers” weaves various contemporary migration narratives into a depiction of the global landscape, with sharp doses of humor, social commentary, and science fiction. The poet and jazz musician Sun Ra, who famously claimed the identity of an alien from Saturn, moved from Louisiana to Chicago during the Second Great Migration; “It takes a motion to notion and it takes a notion to motion,” he declares in his 1972 poem Tomorrow Is Never, a copy of which the gallery exhibits. Turkish artist Halil Altindere chronicles the extraterrestrial journey of the first Syrian cosmonaut, Muhammed Ahmed Faris, who is currently a refugee in Turkey. Altindere’s multimedia piece Space Refugee proposes Mars as the next dwelling for displaced peoples — yet another frontier in the ongoing and multitudinous saga of human migration.
Bill Phillips’s screenplay for Christine, adapted from Stephen King’s 1983 novel, severs some of the tendons that linked high-school hormonal insanity with an old man’s all-consuming hatred. For his part, the film’s director, John Carpenter (at the height of his powers), tempers his affinity for the le plan américain shooting style, inherited from Hawks, with the ominous, switchblade cool of his Steadicam-mounted widescreen frames, as the camera wanders like a quiet ghost from one vehicular homicide to another. The film divests King’s novel of some of its considerable thematic fat, and it cannot quite seem to solve for the Great Becoming of Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon). But it’s also underrated for its intimations of supernatural malevolence — deadlights illuminating the dashboard radio — as well as its deeply felt, and patiently observed, rendering of the peaks and valleys of horny teenaged melodrama.
—Jaime N. Christley
Photo: Maya Ciarrocchi's "Site" / courtesy the artist
Like so many recent group exhibitions of its kind, this year’s Bronx Biennial deals with widespread political problems. Climate change, racism, glaring economic disparity — these are our perennial issues, and therefore our perennial curatorial themes. It can become a bit monotonous, to say the least, but “Bronx Calling: The Fourth AIM Biennial” largely avoids that pitfall by not being overly didactic. This show is less about adhering to an overarching idea than it is about presenting works by artists most people have never heard of, which is always an admirable goal. Seventy-two painters, sculptors, and installation artists are included, all of them New York–based but many of them foreign-born. The exhibition is tied to the Bronx Museum’s Artists in the Marketplace program, now in its thirty-seventh year, for which thirty-six artists are chosen to participate in fifteen practical seminars on how to make a career in the arts.
Bringing dance into the intimate, booze-fueled precincts of a cabaret space, DanceNow replays the top twelve artists who successfully met its 2017 challenge: to create a clear and complete artistic statement in five minutes or less on a stage the size of a pipe organ. Christal Brown of Middlebury College wins this year’s cash prize and a residency at Kirkland Farm; also earning repeat performances will be David Parker, Tricia Brouk, Jane Comfort, Gregory Dolbashian, Brendan Drake, Raja Feather Kelly, Jordan Isadore, Jamal Jackson and Dana Thomas, Megan Williams, Nicole Wolcott, and Zvi Gotheiner. Deborah Lohse, in her sparkling incarnation as TruDee, hosts the evening, and provides a sneak peek at new work by her ensemble, LMnO3, slated for November.
The infamous punk veteran Lydia Lunch will curate this night of out-there experimental jazz and performance in Greenpoint. The show features piano from Jesse Lynch, Matt Nelson on tenor sax, and a headlining collaboration put together by Lunch herself. The night is a benefit for a public art project that will honor Greenpoint’s Polish heritage. The piece, Ziemia (Polish for “Earth”), will be a ceramic orb formed out of clay taken from the ground nearby and glazed with soil from places around the world that are meaningful to the community.
Poptimism may have jumped the shark, but its gift to us is groups like Charly Biss, who revel in their bubblegum aura without shame. The New York band sounds like your favorite Nineties group slightly pitched up and sweetened, like if Liz Phair was completely unabashed about her love of Paramore. It’s not hard to love Charly Bliss’s debut, Guppy — every song is doused in sing-along choruses and sick guitar riffs. Their show should be pure fun.
Photo: ACT UP Rally at City Hall Park (detail), Lee Snider, 1988 / Lee Snider Photograph Collection, Fales Library & Special Collections
Pride month may be over, but there’s still plenty of time to catch the Museum of the City of New York’s current show, “AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism,” which takes a new look at the disease and its politics through a domestic lens. AIDS activism often involves spectacular forms of protest, but MCNY’s exhibition explores the relatively less visible role of queer homes and support networks during the Eighties and on through the present day. Three rooms divide the show into broad themes — caretaking, housing, and family — mapping out a novel history of New York’s LGBTQ community in documents and artworks across an array of mediums, including works in yarn, embroidery, wallpaper, textiles (think: the AIDS quilt), and other household materials. Arriving during a period of great discontent in Washington — six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS recently resigned to protest the White House’s lack of a strategy for addressing the ongoing epidemic — the show couldn’t feel more urgent.
The fall version of this twice-a-year event from UrbanSpace and the Madison Square Park Conservancy runs daily from September 2–29, and it’s your chance to try food from two dozen vendors who converge on the park from all corners of the city. It’ll be hard to go wrong with any of it, but we recommend the po’boys from the Gumbo Brothers and whatever sweet concoction that Renegade Lemonade, Ice & Vice, and Macaron Parlour have teamed up to create. (Hint: It’s called “Renegade Vice Parlour.”) Or, if you look at a plate of chicken and waffles and think, “Wish I didn’t have to sit at a table and bother with utensils to enjoy this,” Chick’nCone is your food trend du jour.
The multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington is best known as one half of Darkside, his moody, atmospheric collaboration with composer Nicholas Jaar. On this special night in Ridgewood, Harrington will perform a one-time-only collaboration with DJs Jeremy Black and Trevor Brooks and many other musician friends. The newly formed ensemble will record an EP in the days leading up to the show, and, according to Resident Advisor, the music will blend “live drum programming, modular synthesizer, electric guitars, keyboards, and live drum kit.” There’s only one way to find out what’s going to happen — show up.
We’re not sure what “St*rbucks Ombre” is, other than a reference to a questionable pink beverage, but they’re headlining this great show during Silent Barn’s week of fundraising. Based on the rest of the lineup, it’s likely that whoever they are, they’ll be worth seeing. The endlessly surprising and inventive Xenia Rubinos — whose 2016 album, Black Terry Cat, mixed soul, jazz, pop, and r&b, and deserved far more attention than it received — is the main attraction. Emily Reo, a friend of Silent Barn and excellent electropop composer, will also play.
Since the release of her old-school-inspired mixtape 1992 last year, the androgynous Bronx rapper Princess Nokia has become a staple of the New York underground scene, bringing a queer perspective to her autobiographical rhymes. She’ll play Williamsburg’s Villain with the adventurous producer Suzi Analogue, who has provided beats for forward-thinking rappers like DJ Earl and Nappa Nappa. Her two-tape series ZONEZ is strongly based in an audiovisual experience, so watching her live should provide a more complete picture of her work.
In 1980, William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, released his most controversial movie ever. Cruising, an adaptation of a blatantly homophobic novel, depicted an undercover cop (played by Al Pacino) who must infiltrate New York’s gay s&m underground to find a murderer. Gay advocates at the time hurled verbal and even physical insults at the production — activists attempted to stop the making of the movie by throwing bottles and blasting stereos. But in the decades since the film was released, it has become a cult hit and has even been embraced by parts of the queer community. The abrasive, brazen DJ False Witness will rescore the film at the Spectrum’s fabulous Ridgewood venue, giving a sonic critique based in queer theory and the music of the era. Whatever you think of the film, this performance should make you see it anew.
Photo: Nicholas Papananias / Courtesy Grey Art Gallery
Theirs was a friendship with a lasting influence on the way Americans regarded everyday objects. Alfred Barr and Philip Johnson — together credited with, according to a release from the Grey Art Gallery, “[introducing] modern design to North America” — worked closely together at the Museum of Modern Art in the Thirties and Forties to cultivate their vision of beauty inspired by the Bauhaus school: Barr, as MoMA’s first director, and Johnson, as its first curator of architecture. This small exhibition is the very first to examine their partnership, which, through pivotal exhibitions they organized, made MoMA a testing ground for design that was functional as well as attractive. On view are industrial objects from these shows (tubular chairs, a graceful sink) and also sleek furniture and prints from the men’s homes that offer a glimpse into the personal palates of these young pioneers.
The local team’s schizophrenic fall season opens with a clutch of performances of Peter Martins’s somber Scandinavian Swan Lake, then switches gears to launch four new ballets, including the first of two new pieces by resident choreographer Justin Peck (this one to Stravinsky); one by company principal Lauren Lovette; a work by eighteen-year-old School of American Ballet alum Gianna Reisen; and the third contribution to the repertory by soloist Troy Schumacher. (All of these offerings are dressed by hot fashion designers.) Then we lurch back to Swan Lake before toggling between a program of Balanchine dances; another of enduring works by Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, and Peck; and a whole bill of works to twentieth-century violin concertos.
Maira Kalman illustrated a grammar book, eighteen children’s books, and Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, but this collaboration with John Heginbotham may be her first foray into designing for dance. Called The Principles of Uncertainty, after Kalman’s online graphic diary for the Times, the piece has a Colin Jacobsen score played live by The Knights.
Monte Hellman, whose immortality is assured thanks to his masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop, directed this slice-of-life road movie about a penitent man (Warren Oates) who lives from payday to payday training fighting roosters. On paper, this 1974 film, which was adapted by the great Charles Willeford from his 1962 novel, sounds like a macho tone poem, arch and short-fused and violent, and there’s a bit of that. But the largest part of Cockfighter is easygoing, elliptical, and rather friendly — less Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, more Junior Bonner. If you can stomach the animal violence, which is quite real, you will enjoy trying to figure out whether you believe Oates can imitate a monk, and watching the extraordinary supporting cast (which includes Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Begley Jr., Laurie Bird, and Millie Perkins) do the same.
—Jaime N. Christley
Plagiarized by Beyoncé some years back, and retaliating with a genius project, the Belgian choreographer here offers a reworked quartet (originally made in 2005 with Spanish-born dance artist Salva Sanchis) for four young male dancers to sax legend John Coltrane’s milestone A Love Supreme. Watch as they illuminate ‘Trane’s improvisational genius.
Photo: Christine Jean Chambers
Spoken-word artist Liza Jessie Peterson brings attention to the injustice of mass incarceration in this solo show. A Def Poetry alum, Peterson has been developing and expanding her narrative piece since 2003; during that time, she has toured the in-progress work to various prisons, and become a teacher and counselor at Rikers Island. She knows firsthand the untold stories of those behind bars and the families impacted by the prison system. In the show — which takes its title from the term the peculiar institution, a euphemism for slavery — Peterson’s character, Betsy LaQuanda Ross, links the history of slavery to the contemporary privatized prison system, where white people profit off the confinement of people of color. Betsy visits incarcerated friends and family, and though she tries to entertain them with gossip and humor, she also forces the audience to reckon with the racial inequities perpetuated by the system.
Ever since their 2012 Open Up, Hadrian — watched in part while sitting on a bucket — I’ve been a raving acolyte of Javier Antonio González and his brilliant group, Caborca. Happily, this fall their Distant Star (adapted from Roberto Bolaño’s bleakly comic novella) will be at Abrons — almost certainly with regular seating.
Photo: The Wonderful Country / Courtesy United Artists / Kobal / REX / Shutterstock
Alongside the high-profile premieres of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 55th New York Film Festival stands this celebration of the star “who wore a gut as a badge of honor,” as Pauline Kael once wrote. Follow the postwar actor’s weary eyes as he falls for the wrong girls in noirs, terrorizes families in melodramas, and becomes a soulful oaf in Seventies mysteries.