There seems to be a trend at QFEST this year of films with jazz soundtracks and in each case an essential part of recreating cinema verite and fantasy. The all-star soundtrack for Tamra Davis’ brilliant documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat The Radiant Child, included tracks and performance footage of Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker and audio tracks from Miles, Mingus and Monk throughout the film. The film is built off of an incisive video interview Tamra filmed of the artist two years before his death from a heroin overdose. Davis not only gets to the essence of the artist and the man, Basquiat himself showed the influence of these musicians, and their importance to him as a black artist, in his work.
Even though Basquiat started as an abstract musician with his art group Gray, out caging John Cage with electronica funk at galleries, Basquiat’s heart and soul were involved with jazz. He said bebop was his favorite and that same cool, intensity pulses in much of his work. The reclaimed hipster downtown Manhattan echoes the cool jazz era and private film of Basquiat at the forefront of that scene is vividly captured.
Lucked out on the opening weekend of the 16th Int. Philly gay film festival (Qfest) with three strong films- Beautiful Darling about Warhol superstar Candy Darling, Handsome Harry, a drama about a closeted veteran’s haunted past and the most unlikely hit about the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s first book of poems.
Fascinating as Ginsberg was throughout his life, it is improbable to think that a mainstream movie about the life outside of a documentary would get made. But HOWL by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is stealing everybody’s hearts and minds on the gay film festival circuit and headed for a strong release this fall.
It brings the world of the rebellious gay liberte Ginsberg while he was composing HOWL, perhaps the most influential poem of the 20th century and the now storied journeys of the Beats- Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac, et.al.
Howl is part bio-pic, part documentary and frames a tour de force performance by James Franco as Ginsberg. Franco, who bears an uncanny natural resemblance to James Dean, pulls off looking remarkable like a young Allen. There is so much restraint, detailing and passion in his performance.
‘There is no Beat generation.’ Ginsberg says in an interview session ’It’s just a bunch of writers trying to get published.’ Franco articulates Ginsberg’s honesty so beautifully. There aren’t many substantive films about the artists and concrete facts about creative process-Julian Schnabel’s Basquait and Derek Jarmen‘s Caravaggio come to mind- but they are few and far between. HOWL is one of them.
Franco resides inside the poem as he recites the entire thing throughout the course of the film. The filmmakers use Ginsberg’s illustrated poems in animation to turn Howl’s imagery into a trippy and harrowing fantasia. A hypnotic contrast to Edward Lachman’s period cinematography of 16mm graininess Ginsberg’s apartment or the black and white verite of the poetry scene of the 50.
Philly used to be an empty metropolis on summer holiday weekends, but this weekend thousands of Philadelphians and visitors remained in town for the 4th celebrations and feast for the senses. At Penn’s Landing to see Danail Rachev conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in their concert of patriotic music and symphonic show pieces. The multi-tiered amphitheater set against land and sea vistas on the Delaware during a magnificent sunset.
Even though the crowd never stopped milling about (stop that milling & definitely don‘t text & mill during the performance!) Still, easy to ignore when there was such a cool vibe of social diversity.
The musical highlights included Rachev’s crisp punctuation during Leonard Bernstein‘s overture to Candide and quicksilver fanfares of Aaron Copland‘s ballet score to Rodeo. The finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with it’s crescendo cannons that were provided by a ship on the Delaware. Couldn’t help but wonder how many in the crowd knew that these composers were gay men.
The emotional highlight was the patriotic songs sung by AVA alum Jeffrey Halili and the Armed Forces Salute with the service men and women in the audience standing to be recognized. Halili, a tenor, appropriately vaulted his voice with unfussy passion.
Then the fireworks began, fired from a small boat and cued to recorded classical music that just pierced the night. Cinematic when a fire-diamond and sapphire waterfalls was accompanying George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. As I turned and faced the crowd I noticed everything and everyone was completely still. Gershwin’s symphonic city epic never ceases to inspire.
Last night, across town on the Ben Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art premiere Philly fusion band The Roots just tore down the open air house. Earlier in the day during his programming of WWII music, WRTI jazz dean Bob Perkins playing stellar sets including the Andrew Sisters version of Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if you Ain’t Got That Swing and coincidently the Roots turned the song into a jazz- funk scorcher that had the front crowd pulsing bumper to bumper despite the heat.
Watching the hearings on Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court nominee ( graduate of Harvard Law School and a former dean there) this week makes me want to ask ‘Where is that ‘Have you no shame, at long last? guy who blew the whistle on Joe McCarthy style character assassination. We need him so bad. As Republican senators tried to put Kagan through their Catch- 22 meatgrinder, it is a reminder of systemic hypocrisy at full reek.
Of course, it’s all called tit for political tat… the snake calling the viper asp… the knife cutting both ways…well anyway Kagan continued to beat the clocks and the nay-saying senators at their own game by refusing to be trapped by semantics.
Or appearances- on her nomination many wanted to know if she was lesbian as if that should catagorically would disqualify her. So much for the Constitutional rights to privacy.
Failing anything concrete, Republicans tried to demonize her because of her previous stance against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, using their gay dividing rod to taint her as being anti-military.
The comic highlight was when Wisconsin democratic Senator (and apparently former member of the Rat Pack) asked her-
“I’m sure you’re a woman of passion. Where are your passions?”
To which Kagan replied that she would keep those passions in check as she considered each case individually.
So in the end it is all ritual. If they had anything substantive to hold against Kagan’s nomination, the press would have leaked it out even before the hearing.
Every Supreme court nominee has to own their record that may or may not predict how they will stand on particular future case. Yes, we believe that John Roberts and Samuel Alito keep their previous ultra-conservative hammer in the closet when they put on their robes. There was no doubt that the conservative consilgieri… well, never mind.
Thank the gods that Kagan is the brilliant independent thinker she is with sterling academic credentails and obviously, an honest set of human emotions.
It was paraded out that Kagan previously called the Supremes confirmation hearings ‘vapid.’ Do we need any more confirmation than that to give this nominee a robe.