Archive for the ‘the petri dish’ Category

Emory Douglas @ MOCA

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008


I had been meaning to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibit on The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas for quite a while, and I finally, finally got a chance to do so this past weekend. Douglas, for those of you who are curious, was minister of culture in the Black Panther Party and designed all their posters–rally announcements, commemorations, calls to action–as well as their official newspaper. I was fascinated by the pieces on show, by how they ranged in tone from pure propaganda to deeply felt testaments of a cultural revolution. The exhibit included articles showing the connection with Algeria (the influence of Fanon‘s theories, Eldridge Cleaver‘s flight to Algiers, the support for the Panthers in post-colonial North Africa) and with other countries of the non-aligned movement. It was interesting, too, to see how Emory Douglas contributed to the branding of the Black Panther image with the consistent use of black berets, army jackets, and rifles in representing party members. (This reminded me of a show I saw a couple of years ago at the V&A museum in London, about Alberto Korda’s iconic photo of Che Guevara. The revolution will be branded!) The exhibit was curated by Sam Durant, and it’s only open for another week, so if you’re in the L.A. area, hurry up and see it before it closes.

Photo: “Power to the People” poster, by Emory Douglas


The Coens’ No Country for Old Men

Thursday, November 15th, 2007


I finished work early yesterday and went to the Laemmle in Santa Monica to catch a matinee of the Coen brothers’ new film, No Country For Old Men, their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel by the same title. The story is about a welder named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who stumbles on a handful of dead men in the Rio Grande, along with a bag full of cash–about 2 million dollars. He takes the cash, setting off a chain of events, which, although easily guessed at, are nevertheless completely suspenseful. On Moss’s trail are a psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem), a sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), an assassin (Woody Harrelson), and a handful of unnamed Mexican drug dealers. (Unnamed, and undeveloped as characters, something that is true also of two of the three females in the book.)

In some ways, the Coen brothers’ adaptation remedied a couple of the problems in McCarthy’s otherwise excellent novel. One is that a crucial scene that resolves what happens to Moss is missing from the book, but not from the film. The other is that, in the book, it’s easy to miss the fact that the story is set in 1980 (the date is hinted at the beginning, but not mentioned again until about halfway through the novel.) Obviously, in the movie, the sense of time was immediately clear. The film also gives us the pleasure of hearing McCarthy’s pitch-perfect dialogue spoken by talented actors. (You know how, after watching Fargo, you left the theater and tried to speak like Frances McDormand? You’ll be doing the same with Tommy Lee Jones in No Country.) But there are also ways in which the Coen brothers’ movie doesn’t quite compare with the novel. The one female character, for instance, that did something other than plead with a man or serve him food or coffee ended up being cut entirely from the film. Still, the level of craft that went into making this adaptation is really, really remarkable. Not to be missed.

Arab Film Festival in L.A.

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

The 11th annual Arab Film Festival is coming to Los Angeles in just a few days. You can see a line-up here. There are two movies about Morocco or by Moroccans: The documentary I Love Hip-Hop in Morocco, which follows H-Kayne, Fatima and Brown Fingaz as they set up a music festival, and the short film The Deceased. Be there!

Kahlo Letters

Monday, August 13th, 2007


Fifty years after her death, Frida Kahlo’s letters to one of her best friends, Dr. Leo Eloesser, have been released, and are now published in Mexico, under the title My Beloved Doctor.The letters had been kept sealed on Diego Rivera’s orders for all this time, but now visitors to the Kahlo family home in Mexico City can see the letters, and other artifacts, displayed for the first time. I am a huge fan of Frida Kahlo’s–maybe someday I can finally, finally, visit her house.

Photo: Las Dos Fridas. Via.

‘Hasta La Victoria, Siempre’

Friday, July 7th, 2006

Che-Guerrillero.jpg The V&A is not my favorite London museum (that would be the Tate) but I was there today because they’re having a special exhibit on Alberto Korda’s iconic image of Che Guevara. A thoroughly enjoyable and informative history of how two photographs, snapped quickly when Che appeared on the balcony during a speech by Castro, have become such emblems of revolution, social change, and guerilla chic, reproduced on everything from T-shirts to Russian dolls. Some of the pieces in the exhibit are well-known, like Patrick Thomas’s “American Investment in Cuba,” which uses U.S. brand names to create the image of Che. But others were new and unfamiliar (to me, anyway), and I do wish there had been more effort to document those. (I wanted to know, for instance, what the poster “Bangla Che” said, but no translation was provided.)

Photo: ‘Guerrillero Heroico,’ Alberto Korda.

Indigènes Win

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

I mentioned last week Rachid Bouchareb’s new film, Indigènes, which is about a little known chapter of history: That (Muslim) soldiers from the French colonies were sent to fight the Nazis. It’s a subject that’s near to my heart, because my grandfather was part of the Tirailleurs Marocains, so I am dying to see the movie. I just heard that the ensemble cast (Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, and Samy Naceri) has won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film doesn’t have a U.S. distributor yet, but one hopes that the attention at Cannes will help get it to theatres here.
I’d like to read Elaine Sciolino’s interview with Jamel Debbouze in the NYT, but it’s hidden behind a subscription wall. Can someone send it to me? Thanks, A. Here’s a snippet:

He achieved international recognition with the 2001 film “Amélie,” in which he played Lucien, a stammering grocer’s assistant. In “Astérix and Obélix: Mission Cleopatra” the next year, Mr. Debbouze played an incompetent Egyptian architect who never made his deadlines and put doors near ceilings, justifying them by saying, “In case you ever want to build a second floor.” That role earned him $2.7 million,
making him one of France’s top-grossing actors. Now only Gérard Depardieu commands a higher salary per film.

He credits his mother, who rose every morning at 4 and held down back-to-back jobs to help support him and his five siblings, for his success.

“In everything that’s black, she sees rose, yellow, green,” he said. His mother, a Muslim, wears a headscarf in public.

When he told his father, now a retired sweeper in the Métro, that he wanted to be a comedian, he said his father replied, “That’s for drug addicts and homosexuals.” After a pause, Mr. Debbouze smiled and added, “But he calmed down when I gave him his first Mercedes.”

Mr. Debbouze resents that he is given such labels as “the prince of the housing projects” or the “Arab with attitude.”

“They categorize us always as ‘actors of Moroccan origin,’” he said. “I am not an ‘actor of Moroccan origin.’ I am an actor.”

I’m not sure why we needed to hear about his mother’s headscarf, but oh wait, it is the NYT, after all.

Cannes 2006

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

At Cannes this week, all eyes are on the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, but I’m really intrigued by the new film from Rachid Bouchareb, called Indigènes, which will also premiere at the festival. It’s set in 1944, and it’s about four young soldiers from France’s colonies in Algeria and Morocco, who are sent to the mainland to fight the Nazis. It stars Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, and Sami Bouajila. You can view a trailer here. The official site also has photos and information about this forgotten moment of history. Notice, by the way, that there was no hand-wringing about “integration” and “assimilation” of North Africans when they were being sent to the front lines to fight for the freedom of their oppressor.

New Pearl Jam

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Lorraine Ali meets profile of Eddie Vedder and his bandmates for Newsweek:

After the success of their 1991 debut, “Ten,” which sold nearly 10 million copies, the Seattle group stopped making videos, shunned endorsements and shied away from almost all self-promotion. And each subsequent album proved less accessible than its predecessor. (Can you name the last two Pearl Jam records?)

Actually, no, I can’t, and I live with a card-carrying Ten Club member. But I am indeed looking forward to the new CD. I hope it’s good.

Palestinian Cinema

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

The Guardian‘s Xan Brooks (What kind of a name is Xan? A cool name, that’s what) interviews several Palestinian filmmakers about their work, and their challenges.

Feted by the critics and public alike, Palestinian cinema remains a culture in exile, an industry without a home. “Let me tell you about the Palestinian film industry,” says actor-director Mohammed Bakri, who made the documentary Jenin, Jenin after the demolition of the refugee camp. “Very simply, we do not have one. We have some very talented film-makers, but that’s about it. We have no film schools and we have no studios. We have no infrastructure because we have no country.”

From the sound of it, they have no distribution network either. “There is one cinema in Ramallah, and nothing anywhere else,” Bakri says. “And this is probably the biggest problem. We are not reaching the people we are talking about. For me it’s very painful, because obviously I want my people to see my films.” The irony is clear: visitors to the Palestine film festival in London will have had greater access to Palestinian films than the vast majority of Palestinians.

And yet, Palestinians directors still manage to release films, somehow. Read the full article here.

Thanks to David for the link.

‘Out of Sight’

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Another day, another case of foolish racial profiling. This time, it’s John Sinno, the director of Seattle’s Arab and Iranian Film Festival, who was stopped and questioned for nine hours in Vancouver because he had a box of DVDs in the trunk of his car.

“I felt like I was in a military zone,” Sinno says. “They followed me to the bathroom and stood right behind me when I was at the urinal. It was unbelievably harsh for having a small box of DVDs.” That the box included titles such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Hidden Wars of Desert Storm was the least of his problems, says Sinno, who was travelling with a white American colleague. The colleague was waved on his way, while Sinno was held for nine hours. “They asked me where I got the DVDs from, and when I told them they didn’t believe me,” he says. “It was pretty scary. I said to them, look, I’m being racially profiled. Let’s admit it and move on.” He hesitates. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to talk about it. We live in touchy times.”

More at the Guardian.

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