Jay Gatsby is one of those mysterious figures who, as they become revealed to us, reveal something about us. Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, delivers a performance that stays true to the myth of the man while allowing us to pick apart the myths that are his bane. Despite the nuance and strength of DiCaprio’s performance, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is far bigger than just the story of a man and DiCaprio can only take the movie so far.
The story goes like this: Jay Gatsby was poor when he met and fell in love with the Louisville debutante Daisy Fay (Carey Mulligan). While Gatsby was trying to climb the socio/economic ladder, old money Tom Buchanan (Joel Egerton) swooped in and stole Daisy away. Gatsby has made his fortune; now that he is worthy of Daisy’s love, he is ready to pick up from where they left off. Everything Gatsby does including the wild parties at his mansion every weekend are all geared towards getting Daisy’s attention. What could possibly go wrong? The story is told through the eyes of Gatsby’s neighbor and Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who becomes Gatsby’s go-between in rekindling the relationship with Daisy. Through Nick’s eyes we see the whole picture.
If you have seen the previews for the film (and you have) you have undoubtedly seen shots of the outrageous parties that make Gatsby a legend. While the outstanding dancing and music is amazing, it doesn’t feel like decadence — it feels like hard work and endless practice. The Broadway-style song & dance aren’t helped by the peripatetic camera-work. Combined it is all too much, which diminishes the power of what is supposed to be the best part of the movie.
In adapting the novel, director Baz Luhrman has made some controversial choices. He tries to keep the heavy writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald with copious amounts of narration. With such famous prose at the beginning and end of the film, narration was probably inevitable (and made even more inevitable by casting Mr. wide-eyed moralist himself Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway). But film is a visual medium, and when you are adapting a book you have to show, not tell. The narration in the middle of the film is an interruption and Tobey Maguire is a twerp.
I could live with all of that, but it is Luhrman’s interpretation that really turned me off. I just reread the Great Gatsby again last week. Among my many disappointments, the biggest is the diminished importance of the Jordan Baker character. It is made even more disappointing because the sexy, complicated performance by Elizabeth Debicki that left me wanting more. Old friends with Daisy back in the Louisville days; Jordan didn’t marry into the elite strata. In the novel, she cheated and lied her way to the top of professional golf circuit only to get caught and become disgraced. As the embodiment of the different set of rules that apply to the rich and powerful, she gives a defense of recklessness as chilling and memorable as Marie Antoinette’s apocryphal “Let them eat cake.” Unforgivably, none of this is included in the film.
The parallels, the links, the way it is woven together are what makes The Great Gatsby, well, great. It doesn’t just hold up a mirror to us as individuals, it holds up a mirror for an entire era, an entire country. You don’t have to get into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s impasto symbolism to understand that he is writing about what is all around us — still around us today.
Would I recommend seeing Gatsby? Yeah, I would recommend it. It is a big movie with a $127 million budget that people are going to have an opinion about.
In the novel, the Great Gatsby, nothing is what it seems; in the film by Baz Luhrman, everything is exactly what it seems. The creativity and inventiveness Luhrman displayed in his earlier hits, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, has been drown out in a true stroke of irony, by money and ambition.
Chant (Song), by Rene Leveque is a dominating presence at the Dallas Contemporary. Composed of hundreds of black umbrellas hanging upside-down from the ceiling, the installation is a little larger than a tennis court. The generic black umbrellas were bought in bulk (perhaps that explains the acrid, oily smell of the installation). The umbrella’s canopies were slashed according to the artist’s instructions. The overlapping fabric creates a low black ceiling disrupted by powerful oscillating fans angled up at the umbrellas. The fans, together with a soundtrack, create a tromp d’oreille illusion to emphasize the auditory nature of the trick). It seems that this gentle push of air is responsible for the dramatic, metallic screeching that can reach up to 95 decibels.
While the soundtrack is reminiscent of a turning subway amplified by the acoustics of a tunnel, the black umbrellas are the personification of generic. These two ingredients are combined to evoke a crowded, cosmopolitan environment. What remains hidden are the people implied by a subway, and the crowd that should be holding the umbrellas. The absence of this implied crowd makes the other visitors fill the gap, like they are meant to be a part of the exhibit. In fact, Chant creates an unusual stage of museum-goers walking with their heads tilted up, or a crowd of people talking seemingly oblivious to the mob of umbrellas above.
As the canopy of umbrellas ends, there is a drywall fence with holes; it is the next piece by Leveque, La mort du cygnet (The Dying Swan). Behind the fence is a shed made out of plywood painted black. A light bulb hangs down from the ceiling, and a black wedding dress rests on the floor below. The missing masses of Chant are overshadowed by something more disturbing: the absence of an individual connected to the abandoned dress. With the black dress, there is the hint of a narrative. Once again the crowd becomes a part of the installation. Limited by the size of the shed, we all stand in close proximity to the dress and look down as if we were attending a funeral.
Often in a museum our response to art is individual — personal. Viewing Leveque’s works, like attending a sports event, is infinitely more powerful if you go when it is busy. There is an unusually shared response to Chant.
There is an interesting corollary installation at the Grand Palais in Paris that applies what sounds like a more colorful, whimsical approach to similar themes. (Note to editor: see links below) While Daniel Buren’s installation of low, overlapping, colored glass with a soundtrack sounds cute and all, I personally am glad to have Leveque’s very effective, very memorable works here in Dallas. Whether it says something to you about art, or it just inspires you to buy an umbrella with a little more personality, Leveque’s work stays with you.
The very best time to visit Leveque’s installations before they close on August 8th, is this Saturday when the Design District hosts Gallery Night from 6-9. Having been to the Contemporary during its regular hours, I know first-hand that these installations are best appreciated with a crowd. In case food trucks, a DJ, a dozen galleries open late and the ever eclectically dressed Dallas gallery crowd weren’t enough incentive to attend. Put it on your calendar now, and get there before your friends so you can appreciate the absence of the implied masses and the anonymity of the other viewers.
My four year old is the worst storyteller. He includes details that are superfluous and leaves out details that are necessary to understand the conclusion of his story. At the same time, there is something marvelous about learning the details he notices and those he doesn’t. I love seeing how his embellishments seamlessly become a part of the story. It is this flawed but charming way kids tell stories that is at the center of the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. It sounds cute doesn’t it?
In fact, it is disturbing. The camera wanders past squalor that our protagonist, a six-year old, African-American girl called Hush Puppy, takes for granted. More than just narrating the film, Hush Puppy is the story teller. Despite the horror with which the audience sees this civilization, we (especially as parents) are reminded by the flawed, patchy way the Hush Puppy tells the story; of the way our own kids would tell it. Just like when my son tells a story, I started to lose track of what actually happened and what didn’t – what is a shiny detail and what is part of the plot.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is set on an island south of Louisiana known to its inhabitants as “the Bathtub.” With no stores, no school, and no post office, the residents of the Bathtub are focused on survival. Their cherished way of life looks primitive, but they are close to nature in a long forgotten mystical way. Shortly after our introduction to the community, the residents are preparing for an epic storm. Actually, prepare might not be the right term. Hush Puppy’s father, Wink, “prepares” by instructing Hush Puppy sit in a flimsy suitcase, while he gets drunk, curses out the storm and then shoot a gun at it. Despite his efforts, the storm is devastating. All but a few houses are underwater. The water doesn’t recede and the salt water starts to kill everything on the island. There is an ‘us vs. them’ moment where the remaining community has to confront the levee that keeps the Bathtub under water and protects their civilization from interference from the rest of the world. After they take action, it is impossible for the outside world to ignore them anymore. It is the turning point of the movie. As the residents are confronted with modern values that the audience takes for granted, the Bathtub civilization starts to make sense.
The story is told on two levels; and this is really where the film is brilliant. There is a tension throughout between the objective circumstances that are a part of the story and scattershot narrative of Hush Puppy. At the adult level, it is difficult not to judge. Wink (Hush Puppy’s father) who initially seems like an almost inhumane parent starts to come into focus. Like all of us, there was a conscious reason behind his disturbing ‘Boy-Named-Sue’ style of parenting
The remoteness, the poverty, the erratic relationships are all made real and terrifying by the outstanding performances of first time actors Quvenzhané Wallis (Hush Puppy) and Dwight Henry (Wink). Wallis holds the movie together, delivering a visceral performance that makes your hear break for her as if you were her own mother and father. Wallis is the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Oscar (see interview here). Beasts of the Southern Wild has three additional Oscar Nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. It is also a favorite of First Lady, Michelle Obama as reported by the Washington Post.
Would I recommend Beasts of the Southern Wild? That’s complicated. With it showing only at the AngelikaTheaters in Plano and Dallas, it isn’t necessarily an easy movie to get to. And it isn’t really an easy movie to watch, and it doesn’t get easier towards the end.
As a parent, I found the film to be humbling. Hush Puppy responds so strongly to her father on his level, embracing values and lessons Wink is trying to teach her. At the same time, she wears her emotions and her vulnerability on her sleeve as only a child can. In the end, there is something universally incorruptible and innocent about the way a child perceives the world, even a world that is so much harder than the one any of us knows.
With big wins already in Cannes and at Sundance, you can count on Beasts of the Southern Wild to be a favorite at the Oscars, and maybe even around the water cooler. If you chose to use one of your all too precious date-nights to see Beasts (I feel your pain), you might pad baby sitting budget a bit so you can go out for a drink afterwards. This is the kind of film that you are going to want to talk about. And it is the kind of film that makes you sneak into your son’s room when you get home and give him a little kiss on the forehead.
American Vanguards at the Amon Carter Museum focuses on an association of artists who dubbed themselves the “Three Musketeers:” John Graham, Arshile Gorky and Stuart Davis. When a fourth member was added (Willem de Kooning), the group doubled down on their lack of originality to become the “Four Musketeers.” The group’s appropriation of their moniker is in some ways fitting for their association, as their styles from the interwar period are more borrowed than original.
That is actually very much the point of the exhibition. Before becoming leaders in the art world, they were followers, borrowing heavily from the trends popular in Paris from truly avant garde groups. Continue reading →
My fondest Olympic memory is of the ‘84 games. Even though I was just 8 years old, I vividly remember the way our neighborhood ‘70s-style metal playground was hastily transformed into an Olympic venue. Our Olympians, the teenage boys in the neighborhood, invented events and rules as they went along. The event most likely to be featured on a box of Wheaties was the way they used the momentum of the swing to kick off a shoe. The champion’s shoe made it all the way to the slide (an Olympic record that still stands)! A few years later, a new wooden playground was put in where everything was connected to a two story wooden structure (a precursor of the playgrounds of today) we had entered a new era!!!
The magic of my playground memories in no way prepared me for my first encounter with Kids Country in Coppell. It is a sprawling wooden castle with bridges and turrets galore; there’s even an amphitheater. Ancient looking Oak trees provide a roof that covers the vast majority of the area. As I looked incomprehensibly, I realized there was something I had lost sight of: my four year old son.
When I ask Kyle Cundy at Leathers and Associates about the redesign of the playground, she picks up on my experience as a parent right away, “I don’t think the way kids play has really changed, but parental expectations have.” “Sight lines” is the first thing she mentions along with accessibility & an emphasis on age appropriate play areas. The designer of the original 1992 Kids Country, Leathers and Associates is designing the updated version as well.
Kids Country is a beloved part of the area. It was brand new when Ed Guignon started taking his family here. Now Ed is a part of the volunteer steering committee working on the redesign of the park. “When Kids Country was built in 20 years ago, it had a 15 year lifespan,” Ed explains. As we walk along the weathered wood of the playground, he points to spots where slides had to be removed because they couldn’t find replacement parts. Swinging bridges and stairs suspended by chains have had to be fixed in place or even phased out over the years. The playground PVC pipe telephone system has been out of service for years as it has become clogged with debris. Then there are the drainage problems that have raised maintenance costs for the park.
Looking at the design of the new playground, Ed walks through the new features and innovations. One of the changes being made is actually including some of the most beloved features of the original Kids Country in the new park, including: the amphitheater and musical opportunities (glockenspiel, drums etc). All of the trees will stay in place, as will the handprints that line the sidewalk.
Community listening session at area elementary schools have yielded new features as well including: a guitar shaped slide, a banana shaped balance beam, an additional tire swing and covered seating for parents. Accessibility changes include a wheelchair/stroller friendly rubberized surface, lower bars and some lower swings. When asked about what he is most excited about, Ed immediately mentions a last minute addition to the playground that doesn’t show up on the plan, described as a climbing pyramid.
Beyond individual features, there are some big picture design changes as well. There will be separate areas for the under 3s and a 3-5 area. The sight lines are improved, so if a parent comes to the playground with their 2, 4, and 7 years old he or she could see them playing on different playgrounds simultaneously. Other innovations include play villages, pirate themes, and two climbable sculptures with mosaic styles.
The plans are laid out on the website www.kidcountry2012.com/. There is also a Facebook page www.facebook.com/kidcountry2012/. More than offering a glimpse at the future, these pages are the best way for members of the community and businesses to contribute/volunteer to make a difference. Just as the original Kids Country was built by the community (with some help from the Dallas Cowboys players), the new playground will be built by community members during build week from Oct 2-9.
As I enjoy playgrounds (mostly) vicariously these days, I am aware (from my own childhood) that memories and magic are being made right before my eyes. The last day the park will be open is Friday, July 27. Put a final trip to KidsCountryPark on your list of things to do this week. When I can see him, I will be watching my son with an extra dose of sentimentality.
The location “Moonrise Kingdom” in Wes Anderson’s new movie by the same name isn’t instantly recognizable. After the lights have come up, however there is a realization that like Hotel California, it is a destination we all know.
At a younger age, we all had these special, secluded places where we could go to try to make sense of things. By embracing these isolated places, they became a part of our own worlds, in an actual world that still saw us just kids. The prepubescent protagonists in Moonrise Kingdom take this place to a completely different level.
The young couple, Sam (Jared Gilman) & Suzy (Kara Hayward), are labeled “emotionally disturbed” and “troubled” respectively. To be sure these two are quite different, and their environments aren’t helping them. For Suzy, it is her dysfunctional parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) communicating through a blow horn in their labyrinthine house. Continue reading →
It is tough to go to a polo match without preconceived notions. My GPS eventually returned a result for Prestonwood Country Club, located off of Yacht Club Drive (that’s literally the street-name). I instantly had a sinking feeling that I was underdressed and I should stop somewhere to top the car off with premium gasoline. However, at $10 per car, the price of admission is the same as it is for many of our Texas lake front public parks — so far so good.
In fact, the Prestonwood polo grounds don’t have an ostentatious feel at all. The parquet flooring in the Ralph Lauren section of Macy’s is more exclusive. Continue reading →
As the St. Louis Art Museum’s prepared to break ground on the David Chipperfield designed expansion, it closed or repurposed the galleries whose stability was impacted by the construction. When that happened, the art on display was reduced to “highlights of the collection.”
But construction on the exterior of the new East Building is drawing to a close; and in the iconic Cass Gilbert building, 275 paintings have recently been reinstalled in 18 galleries. More than a step toward returning to business as usual, these art-works represent what is being called “the new vision.” Continue reading →