Monday, January 1, 2018

no-phones concert


Here's what happened at Dave Chappelle and John Mayer's secretive no-phones concert

It’s one thing to find out that Dave Chappelle knows all the words to the Radiohead song “Creep.” And it’s another to discover that the famous comedian gets a kick out of singing it at his favorite strip-club karaoke night in Portland, Ore.
As funny as this information is, though, the real comedy in Chappelle’s off-kilter predilection can’t merely be described; it needs to be enacted, which is what happened Friday night at the Hollywood Palladium, where Chappelle played the first of three collaborative gigs with the singer and guitarist John Mayer.
As the latter expertly picked out Radiohead’s moody arpeggios, Chappelle delivered the song’s bitter words about self-disgust while simultaneously miming his enjoyment of the fleshly display surrounding him. And when Mayer reached “Creep’s” chorus, with its signature eruption of distorted guitar, the comedian flared his eyes in a pitch-perfect parody of white-guy rage.
Improbably or not, these two have been pals since at least the early 2000s, when Mayer — known for his blues-guitar chops and for goopy ballads like “Your Body Is a Wonderland” — put in an appearance on Chappelle’s acclaimed Comedy Central series.
What they’ve developed over that time is a keen sense for how to complement each other: the way Mayer, playing the lick from the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes,” will set up Chappelle for a joke about how chipper ’90s-era alternative rock sounds like “Shrek music.” Or the opening Chappelle will give Mayer to demonstrate Drake’s use of the same five musical notes in all of his songs.
They’re calling this live show “Controlled Danger,” after a phrase Chappelle said Mayer once used in a text message about their plans for an evening out on the town. (In April the duo brought “Controlled Danger” to San Francisco; they’ll replay the Palladium on Saturday before moving to the larger Forum for New Year’s Eve.)
On Friday, the control in question seemed also to have to do with secrecy. Showgoers were required to place their cellphones in small locked bags that kept anyone from shooting photos or videos.
It’s not like they were protecting some proprietary formula. The two-hour concert began with Mayer performing a brief solo set, then had Chappelle doing stand-up; after that, Mayer returned and the pair spent the rest of the show onstage together.
Rather, the imposed intimacy felt like a means of creating a kind of safe space for the entertainers to experiment — to discover how tight they could get their odd-couple mind-meld.
That yearning for safety is pretty rich, of course, coming from two men notorious for their rough verbal treatment of certain groups: the women Mayer has spoken about indiscreetly, for example, or the transgender people Chappelle has repeatedly targeted in his routines.
Indeed, the Palladium show included a lamely mean-spirited account of the comedian’s run-in with a massage therapist in a fancy San Francisco hotel.
I wish someone had been able to film it and put it on YouTube in the (likely futile) hope that Chappelle might finally be shamed into examining his transphobia.
He was far better when punching upward, as when he compared white liberals’ exasperation with President Trump — who’s “scary to watch,” he said, “like seeing a crack pipe in your Uber driver’s seat” — to the way African Americans have always felt in this country.
And you could tell how much he relished the opportunity to roast the power players accused of sexual misconduct in Hollywood — or, as he referred to it, “the world capital of rape.”
With Mayer’s help, Chappelle did a hilarious bit about how hearing the theme from “Footloose” might’ve transformed last summer’s tiki-torch mob in Charlottesville into harmless street dancers. They were also both good throwing out not-quite-formed thoughts regarding celebrity’s effect on a man’s sexual desirability; here you could really feel the private-workshop factor as they jumped around the complicated topic, getting progressively closer to its heat.
The same went for Mayer’s impressive set, which was much looser than his solo tour from earlier this year. Wearing a short, kimono-style robe emblazoned with a Grateful Dead logo, the singer played guitar and triggered samples and programmed drums in dramatically rearranged versions of tunes from his most recent album, “The Search for Everything.”
At one point in “Moving On and Getting Over,” the music morphed into Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” over which Mayer then layered Frank Ocean’s vocals from his and Calvin Harris’ hit “Slide” — a dizzying pile-up that made you realize how broad Mayer’s stylistic appetite has grown since he first emerged.
To finish his solo portion of the show he pulled off another clever mash-up, combining his “Waiting on the World to Change” with George Michael’s “Freedom ’90,” which is about taking the steps to make change happen.
As Chappelle stepped onstage to grasp the baton, he seemed pumped up by his friend’s music.
He’d come before us to “speak recklessly,” he declared, and he wasn’t afraid to be booed.

‘Time’ Magazine Says Contemporary Art Is to Blame for Trump

‘Time’ Magazine Says Contemporary Art Is to Blame for Trump. That’s Stupid.

Alex Melamid issues a bold and baffling denunciation of cultural "infantilism."
Jeff Koons at his Whitney retrospective with his Play-Doh sculpture, which turbo-charged the rise of Donald Trump. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.
Jeff Koons at his Whitney retrospective with his Play-Doh sculpture, which turbo-charged the rise of Donald Trump. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.
This week, Time has graced its Ideas section with an opinion piece exhorting readers to “Blame Donald Trump’s Rise on the Avant-Garde Movement.” The artist Alex Melamid penned the essay. He’s currently publisher of Artenol magazine and formerly one half of witty conceptual art duo Komar & Melamid, which might lead you to think that this was some kind of satirical experiment. Except I don’t think it is.
Even judging by the extremely low bar set by cultural hot takes on Trump, this one is an oddity.
To paraphrase, it starts in the 1960s and is about how Andy Warhol made publicity and money cool. Ergo, Warholian values are to blame for the fact that we have a president who’s all about publicity and money. That’s probably overstating the case, even if it is true that Warhol is the one artist that Trump seems to know by name.
But Melamid does not stop there. He jumps back in time to Dada maestro Tristan Tzara and Cubist king Pablo Picasso, arguing that these modern artists cleared the way for the rise of a general cultural “infantilism” that has now touched the highest heights of power.
He then rounds back towards the present:
Recent artists have taken the idea further. Jeff Koons’ “Play-Doh,” a gigantic sculptured pile of the familiar childhood substance, has been dignified by the New York Times’ Roberta Smith as an “almost certain masterpiece.” (Koons also just released a new sculpture in Rockefeller Center; it is a balloon.) Cy Twombly’s pieces look as if they were made by a four-year-old; Howard Hodgkin’s are hardly more sophisticated. Looking at the work of Warhol’s protégé Jean-Michel Basquiat, hailed by many as the greatest artist of the last fifty years, one might be forgiven for assuming it’s the product of a disturbed nine-year-old—and a lot of parents will tell you that nine is a bad age, destructive and freewheeling, in a peculiarly American sense.
Leaving the political stuff aside for a moment, let us pause to say what a weird list of artists this is. You don’t ordinarily group, say, Hodgkin’s lush old-school abstraction with Koons’s slick neo-Pop.
The late Howard Hodgkin with a suite of his paintings, in 2008.
The late Howard Hodgkin (1932–2017) with a suite of his paintings, in 2008. Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images.
To lump them together as evidence of a general “infantilism” seems itself pretty immature: Surely the adult way to approach art is to grant each artist the dignity of a more-than-superficial reading.
In any case, you get the idea: Mainstream art is childish, which has filtered out to make the world childish. (While he’s at it, Melamid pins the present epidemic of superhero movies on the “avant-garde” influence too. Why not?)
“Whatever the intelligentsia nurtures and celebrates in our galleries and academic journals is bound to flow eventually into the nation’s cinemas, through its ballot boxes, and toward the swamp of Washington, D.C.,” Melamid writes, closing the case.
It would actually be very comforting if this were true, to believe that art had that kind of prophetic power!
Komar & Melamid's version of the USA's "Most Wanted" paintng. Image courtesy DIA.
Komar & Melamid’s version of the USA’s Most Wanted painting. Image courtesy of DIA Foundation.
The oddest thing is that, as part of Komar & Melamid, Alex Melamid made his name with the project The People’s Choice (1994–1997). For that famous work, the duo did opinion polling in a variety of countries about artistic taste. Based on the responses, they then had a painting fabricated that would be, theoretically, the perfect artwork to match each country’s taste.
What did popular taste look like? Well, the “people’s choice” was definitely not avant-garde, usually some kind of watery Impressionist-inspired realist landscape, with a familiar historical figure near a lake and lots of blue (This formula was true of all the surveyed nations except, randomly, for Holland, whose “most wanted” painting is an abstract composition of color swatches.)
What does The People’s Choice show, in its knowingly campy way, except that popular consciousness is actually rather segregated from anything remotely approaching the “avant-garde movement”?
The political situation is dire. Nothing really feels important right now unless it somehow connects to that situation, which leads to all kind of flailing around in cultural commentary. In this case, turning the problem inside out, Melamid ends up echoing the most thoughtless caricature about modern art—”my kid could do that!”—just to construct a credible way to plug art into the Conversation about Trump, who acts like a kid.
I’m not saying that there is no blame to be shared by the “intelligentsia,” or their “galleries and academic journals.” It’s just I think it is mainly to be found in how out of touch that conversation is; how it constructs a bubble with a puffed up sense of its own universality; how it doesn’t really touch on the world, not how it does.
Despite being wildly sloppy, Melamid’s argument seems to have some traction. Why? I think maybe because it recreates a false sense of self-importance in the guise of criticizing it—fake news disguised as real talk.

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Movies of 2017: Wonder Women, Racial Disharmony, and...



The 20 Best Movies of 2017: Wonder Women, Racial Disharmony, and Daniel Day-Lewis’ Final Bow

What a stellar year at the movies.

Readers, it’s been a rough year. It’s felt like five. Remember Fyre Festival? That happened this year. Such is the Trump Effect, where weeks feel like months and any concept of time is lost, as though we’re all mushes wandering about a heavily oxygenated Atlantic City casino.
And Hollywood, bastion of romanticism and glamour, is in the throes of a long-overdue reckoning when it comes to matters of sexual harassment and assault—one that began with the unmasking of movie monster Harvey Weinstein and has ensnared countless others since. Any form of entertainment, whether it be music or movies, that helped drown out the madness for a couple of hours felt like manna from heaven.
What a year at the movies it was, too. It began in earnest with Jordan Peele’s deliriously entertaining horror-satire Get Out and closed with Daniel Day-Lewis’ swan song Phantom Thread. In between there were too many good films to mention, and when compiling this Top 20 list I managed to leave out quite a few worthy of commendation, including the race-relations comedy The Big Sick; Taylor Sheridan’s murder-mystery Wind River; the cannibal-drama Raw; Bong Joon-ho’s wildly eccentric fantasy-actioner Okja; and Olivier Assayas’ ghost story Personal Shopper, anchored by the brilliant Kristen Stewart.
So without further ado, here are the top 20 films of 2017.
20. ‘The Disaster Artist’
There’s really no reason why this labor of love, about the making of the most ridiculous cinematic labor of love ever—Tommy Wiseau’s The Room—should be this affecting. And yet it is. Sure, there are plenty of laughs to be had at this delusional Hollywood vampire’s expense, but director/star James Franco manages to find the beating heart beneath it all. Pursue your dreams, however foolish or impossible they may seem.  
19. ‘Good Time’
The latest from the talented Safdie brothers (Heaven Knows What) is like an arthouse version of Crank, as our disturbed hero, played by Robert Pattinson, races against the clock in order to save his mentally handicapped brother. Along the way, he negotiates increasingly absurd obstacles but your interest never wanes thanks to the breakneck pace, pulsing electronic score, and Pattinson’s jittery magnetism.
18. ‘Girls Trip’ 
This raucous comedy about four lifelong besties (Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah) who go down to New Orleans’ Essence Festival to let loose was this year’s Bridesmaids, and a blockbuster smash that slapped down the industry myth that black women can’t open movies. The film also served as a coronation of sorts for star Tiffany Haddishwho, like Melissa McCarthy before her, deserves awards recognition for her scene-stealing turn.
17. ‘Wonder Woman’  
Filmmaker Patti Jenkins and star Gal Gadot have achieved the near-impossible here, not only managing to salvage a cherished superhero trapped in a godawful cinematic universe, but bucking societal sexism to create a superheroine for the ages—one that little girls across the world can cherish and admire. Some movies transcend the medium. This was one of them.

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16. ‘Mudbound’
It’s been exciting to watch the cinematic maturation of filmmaker Dee Rees, who burst onto the scene with her Sundance hit Pariah and followed it up with the gripping HBO film Bessie. Here, she’s filled her largest canvas yet, telling a tale of two families—one black, one white—on a flood-drenched farm in rural, racist Mississippi just after World War II. Rees’ epic, which takes you from the battlefields of WWII to the backwoods of America, is first and foremost a triumph of perspective, mining the depths of each and every character in creating an indelible commentary on race and what it really means to be a patriot.  
15. ‘The Lost City of Z’  
James Gray is an incredibly talented filmmaker who always seems to get screwed over, from star Joaquin Phoenix torpedoing his press tour for the riveting Two Lovers to Harvey Weinstein burying The Immigrant. This adventure-drama about Percy Fawcett, a British explorer in the early 1900s in search of a lost city deep in the heart of the Amazon, grossed only $8.6 million at the domestic box office. Too bad, because it’s an astonishing work, and one of the few adventure films that weighs the cost of what’s left behind
14. ‘Dunkirk’
I’m still waiting for Christopher Nolan to helm the mother of all Bond films, but in the meantime, this World War II saga about the Dunkirk evacuation will do. Nobody handles scale like Nolan, and this sprawling wartime drama, shot in eye-catching 65 mm, provides the most gut-wrenching sensory experience of war since the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
13. ‘Logan’
In a year of standout superhero films, from Wonder Woman to Thor: Ragnarokthis one proved tops. Anchored by a grizzled Hugh Jackman, it plays like a western/road movie, with an aging Logan/Wolverine squaring off against an ICE-esque deportation force. But more so than the action or allegory, it’s the film’s consideration of fatherly bonds—between Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier and Logan, and Logan and X-23—that make it profound.    
12. ‘The Shape of Water’
Few directors manage to harness the transportive power of cinema like Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, whose exquisite creations—from his period sets to his delicate creatures—continue to inspire awe. This 1960s-set fairy tale, about a mute cleaning lady who falls head over heels for a mysterious sea creature, is made with such tenderness and love that it’s impossible to resist. It is, at times, extraordinary, as during a musical number later in the film, and Sally Hawkins proves the perfect vessel for del Toro, an actress who inspires more goodwill than just about any other.
11. ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’
Without question one of the biggest surprises of the year. Who knew Vince Vaughn had it in him to anchor a skull-crushingly violent B-movie about an ex-boxer brawling his way through the prison system in order to free his pregnant wife (Jennifer Carpenter) from the mob? Vaughn, witty and imposing, is an absolute revelation here. With the exception of a midnight screening of Get Out, it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.
10. ‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’  
I’m a bit angry with myself for not catching this one before compiling my list of the year’s most overlooked movies, because this urgent French drama certainly would have made the cut. Directed with grace by Robin Campillo and featuring a breakout turn from star Nahuel Perez Biscayart, it chronicles the efforts of the AIDS awareness group ACT UP in early ‘90s Paris, vividly capturing their unbridled passion in the pursuit of social justice. Remember that “some movies transcend the medium” bit? This is it.
9. ‘A Fantastic Woman’
If there were any justice in Hollywood, Daniela Vega would make history as the first transgender person to be nominated for an acting Oscar and only the third transgender person to ever be nominated, after the composers Anohni and Angela Morley. She is absolutely electrifying as Marina, a woman whose life is turned upside down following the death of her lover, in Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio’s latest. As she navigates the treacherous terrain, teeming with closed-mindedness, Vega truly lives up to the film’s title.
8. ‘A Ghost Story’
Yes, this film co-stars Casey Affleck. And yes, some will find that a problem. Thankfully, he spends most of the film covered in a white sheet—a man who, after perishing in a car accident, awakens in the morgue as a ghost and proceeds to haunt his Texas home, as well as his heartbroken wife (Rooney Mara). What sounds terribly silly on paper proves to be a bold, poetic meditation on love, loss, and mankind’s pursuit of serenity. And Rooney Mara is absolute dynamite. You’ll never look at a chocolate cream pie the same way again.
7. ‘Get Out’
I had the distinct pleasure of catching the very first public screening of Get Out—a surprise midnighter at the Sundance Film Festival—and what a rollicking good time it was. Not since the first Scream has a horror movie incited such loud cheers, as its hero turns the tables and begins knocking off the baddies, one by one. But Jordan Peele’s film is so much more than that, too. It’s a bristling commentary on liberal racism and the pressure to conform to whiteness that, in 2017, couldn’t be timelier.
6. ‘Columbus’
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this small, stunningly rendered film should be up for a whole bunch of Oscars. It marks the feature directorial debut of video essayist Kogonada, and stands as a monument to the architectural beauty of the Midwest, as two lost souls—a morose forty-something (John Cho) whose architect-father is in a coma, and a gifted 19-year-old (Haley Lu Richardson) putting her life on hold to care for her recovering-addict mother—navigate the Saarinen-designed structures of Columbus, Indiana, as well as their pasts. A lovely little gem.
5. ‘Call Me by Your Name’
A transcendent exploration of first lust, first love and first heartbreak. That it’s set in the ‘80s, and concerns gay affair between a 17-year-old and a slightly older man only raises the dramatic stakes, amplifying those feelings of crippling self-doubt and romantic ecstasy that are part and parcel with one’s sexual awakening. Luca Guadagnino guides the story with grace, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer sizzle as the two lovers, and the always-impressive Michael Stuhlbarg delivers the most heart-stirring movie monologue of the year.
4. ‘The Florida Project’
Sean Baker, the visionary filmmaker behind the iPhone-helmed Tangerine, is one of the most exciting young directors around. His latest, shot in lush 35 mm, chronicles life in a run-down extended-stay motel on the outskirts of Disney World as seen through the eyes of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a mischief-making 6-year-old who lives with her unstable and unemployed mother (Bria Vinaite). It’s a stunning, heartbreaking meditation on how the other half lives, propelled by Prince’s winning charm and Vinaite’s volatility that, with its mixture of grittiness and magic realism, recalls Beasts of the Southern Wild.
3. ‘Faces Places’
With all due respect to Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer, the most compelling movie duo of the year is none other than J.R. and Agnes Varda, the 33-year-old French artist and 88-year-old nouvelle vague filmmaker. Watching them traverse the French countryside in a truck, transforming the villagers into works of art—plastering large-format photos of their faces on their surroundings—is pure joy. A stunning tribute to those that make the world turn.
2. ‘Lady Bird’
It’s an interesting thing, when the gifted pupil surpasses the master—a recurring theme of samurai cinema and those inspired by it, from Star Warsto Batman Begins. With her spectacular feature directorial debut, writer/director Greta Gerwig has done just that, leapfrogging her mentor/partner Noah Baumbach. Centering on a precocious high schooler (Saoirse Ronan) stumbling through her senior year, Gerwig’s film captures the messy spiral of emotions that lead hormonal teenagers down paths scary and unknown. From awkward first kiss to prom night, the familiar teen-narrative beats are handled with such realness and care that they’ll transport you back to your own not-so-halcyon high school days, when there was everything before us and nothing before us. It will also make you feel incredibly grateful for your mother.
1. ‘Phantom Thread’
No film this year has stuck with me like Phantom Thread. It’s haunting. The There Will Be Blood duo of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, perhaps the greatest American filmmaker right now, and actor Daniel Day-Lewis, perhaps the greatest living actor, have reunited for this fine-tailored tale of a 1950s London dressmaker and his muse (the Luxembourgish Vicky Krieps, divine). There isn’t a wasted frame in this, Anderson’s meditation on the push-and-pull that exists between obsessions professional and personal, and the childlike neediness of the artist. The performances are also first-rate, including Lesley Manville as Day Lewis’ icy sister, and if Jonny Greenwood’s score is not justly rewarded, there will be outrage. Quite the swan song for Day-Lewis, if the retirement rumors are true.