[UPDATE 9/30/2011: Video of the full lecture is now embedded at the end of the story.]
David Simon warned Monday night that America’s “great engine is beginning to rust,” the middle class is being destroyed, the poor are cast aside and the sale of the political system to the highest bidder along with wars on drugs and the Middle East spell the end of the country’s ability to lead and prosper.
No one is going to confuse Simon, the screenwriter and director for The Wire, Treme and Homicide: Life on the Street, for an optimist.
“Every time I try to reach a level of cynicism that goes too far, I find out I’ve been outmaneuvered,” he said.
Despite some rain and colder weather, the four-day event called SPARKcon, the sixth-annual celebration of Raleigh's creativity, was well-attended and included a number of great showcases for local and independent artists.
SPARKCon is organized around various “Sparks,” collaborative groupings of artists around a theme. These range from groups like danceSPARK and theaterSPARK to geekSPARK (technology) or wheelSPARK (skateboarding). One of the most fun aspects of SPARKcon is wandering into a building off of Fayetteville Street and coming across a SPARK you didn't know about while witnessing a demonstration of something new and innovative.
GeekSPARK probably tops the list in that regard. Their independent video game exhibition allowed one to play the latest apps and games from local developers on XBoxes and iPads. Many of these games were also featured at the recent Game On Raleigh. Some were silly fun, such as Ninja Hamster Attack from Nakai Entertainment, and some were really addicting puzzles like Cylinder, a 3D Tetris-like game from Mighty Rabbit Studios.
The narrative chassis supporting Drive is the sort of heist-gone-wrong story that Hollywood has made and remade a thousand times. As a parable about greed and its unintended, even violent consequences, there’s not a lot of daylight between it and the typical Coen Brothers film—a Sophie’s choice offered near the end of Drive closely mirrors the one Anton Chigurh extends to Llewelyn in No Country for Old Men.
The pleasure of this vehicle is a matter of style, not substance. Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising) fills his hypnotic noir-ish fable with muscle cars and a nihilistic LA tableau, playing to the European penchant for stylized cinematic renderings of American culture. In this context, it is little surprise that Refn won the best director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Based on James Sallis’ 2005 novel, the plot revolves around a taciturn Stuntman With No Name (Ryan Gosling) who also exploits his skill behind the wheel at night as a hired getaway driver. Called “Driver” in the credits, the part-time auto mechanic, clad in a white satin jacket with a scorpion embroidered on the back and clenching a toothpick between his teeth, takes a shine to Irene (Carey Mulligan), a lonely mom living with her son Benicio in an apartment two doors down. When Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison, he carries home a debt still owed to mob-connected boys back in the big house. This triggers a series of increasingly harrowing events as Driver battles to protect Irene and her moppet from reprisal.
Picking out the cinematic influences becomes its own parlor game during Drive’s more meditative moments—the film feels much longer than its 100-minute running time. Refn marries the ironic action styling of Luc Besson’s early work with the bloody ultra-violence of Sam Peckinpah, although Driver is less emblematic of David Sumner in Straw Dogs than a steely-eyed, slightly unhinged Steve McQueen. Indeed, Refn credits the McQueen classic Bullitt as an inspiration, along with the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Discerning viewers will also spy sidelong references to Williams Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA, Walter Hill and the sort of kitschy ’80s action films that Bernie Ross (Albert Brooks, captivating), a film producer turned cold-blooded gangster, says he used to make.
The ultimate engine propelling Drive beyond its visual and aural sensations is Gosling’s performance. The young actor takes what in lesser hands would be a typical movie tough-guy role and, blessed with minimal dialogue, transforms it into a character full of charm, complexities and contradictions reminiscent of De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.
That same surreal, contradictory air hovers over Drive as a whole, making it a film that may not appeal to the movie-going masses. However, those willing to go along for the ride will enjoy its scenic routes.
Given that Caryl Churchill’s drama A NUMBER is at least ostensibly about cloning, you could say that each production mounted out of the theatrical DNA embedded in Churchill’s script constitutes a clone of the play.
It’s a tempting argument, but it’s wrong.
I actually touched on one of the reasons why in Tuesday’s review of Somewhere Out There. If a group of graduate students assaying Beckett can all but be counted on to reach a bewildering range of conclusions from a script in which all production elements are spelled out in significant detail, what chance of accord is there with a script like Churchill’s, in which almost none of the same specifics are?
For after describing the four character’s names, ages and familial ties—Salter, a man in his sixties, who is father to Bernard, age 40; a second character, also named Bernard, age 35; and Michael Black, age 35—Churchill’s complete stage directions for A NUMBER read as follows: “The play is for two actors. One plays Salter, the other his sons. The scene is the same throughout, it’s where Salter lives.”
Beyond that, the director, actors and design team are on their own.
Here’s where I’m supposed to say that it shouldn’t be so surprising, then, that director Mike Donahue, designer Jan Chambers and actors Ray Dooley and Josh Barrett reached several significantly different conclusions in this PRC2 production, which you should hasten to before its close on Sunday, than Raleigh Ensemble Players did in the regional premiere in 2007.
And yet, at least one surprise in this laudable production came as little less than an interpretive revelation.
There’s—always—more than one way to envision a script.
It’s an early assignment in a directing class. The students are given the same text—say, Come and Go, Samuel Beckett’s self-described dramaticule. Their assignment is unambiguous: stage the brief one-act, exactly as it’s written—without collaborating with one another.
As such things go, you’d think it would be something of a theatrical no-brainer. Beckett’s dialogue is riddled with stage directions, conspicuous in their precision. They cover all elements of a production: set, costume, lighting and blocking—down to the exact placement of the actors’ hands and the vocal stresses in individual lines. Beckett’s artistic vision was nothing if not explicit.
A week passes. The artists work with different actors, and bring their scenes to class. Not only are no two productions identical; frequently, no two are significantly alike. The point is made: Even when a text is as exacting as Beckett’s—and even when a grade in grad school’s on the line—different artists can be all but guaranteed to see the same work differently.
But something interests us even more than the three different versions of SOMEWHERE OUT THERE that Urban Garden Performing Arts explored at Raleigh’s Antfarm Studios last Friday night. It’s the singularly different concept P.J. Maske has utilized in producing—as opposed to directing—it.
Although it’s not always activated in painting, scale is one of the most interesting aspects of an artifact. Monumental garden sculptures by Henry Moore turn you into a child wandering through the looking glass, while gazing up at Louise Bourgeois’ gigantic maternal spiders can leave you feeling meek or apologetic for the rest of the day. If those were tabletop pieces, your emotional reaction to them would be smaller, if not absent.
Each painting is more than a yard square, which isn’t in itself large. But the faces are five or six times life size and, hair-to-chin, fill the rectangle of the canvas. Charlton brings out the drama of the monumental in this enlarging and framing, amplifying the tension between the intimacy of the image and its globally public presentation online.
But make no mistake; these works aren’t about the Internet. They’re about people—Charlton’s daughters and their friends—trying to capture an image that represents them to the world. Existence is inherently dramatic, online and in reality.