Tuesday, February 27, 2007

10 Mount Morris Park West

I stopped by a part of Harlem I haven't visited as much in the past year, and which I probably won't be seeing much of anymore after Saturday, and thought I'd check out that old prison they're turning into con-dos. Seems to be coming along nicely. Corcoran-approved banner out front? Check. Website with sufficiently hip lounge music? Check. Street-level glass-door entry to a unit's kitchen and dining room? Uh, check? I understand there used to be some flashing that went on from this building, but do they have to keep that spirit alive?

It seems pretty rare to have an apartment with such a direct connection to the sidewalk. How hard is it going to be to sell that ground-floor unit? Do people really want to a see-into eating area on West 121st Street? Suggested pitch line: Get that sidewalk-cafe feeling every day! Whether you like it or not!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

From Bauhaus to Philip's House

Sure, it's a little obvious, but I really like the placement of this painting in the MoMA (seen above). And it was a gift of Philip Johnson, one of the designers of one of the iterations of the museum, which seems all the more appropriate.

Earlier Saturday, I caught the members preview of the new Jeff Wall exhibit on the sixth floor, open to the public beginning today. Definitely the best I've seen there since the Munch last year. Forty large-scale photographic works arranged chronologically: I felt like I could spend a good moment with each one before moving on, something I don't always get in traveling exhibits that inundate you with stuff to look at. I inevitably feel like I've walked through and missed something. Yes, there can be always more to see, but at least in this kind of hanging I feel I've given each work a chance.

The artist's name probably should've stuck in my head better, because there were at least five or six works in this show that I've seen before: at MoMA, at the Philly museum, at the Met, at the Tate in London. I guess I didn't realize Wall was so closely associated with the large-scale photo transparencies in illuminated metal box frames, but thought they were different artists presenting work in the same medium.

What I like about his work is how much it draws upon and comments upon the sweep of art history. Certain pieces explicitly evoke their forebears in their titles: A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai), for instance. But even when Wall isn't being that clear, there were resonances between his pieces and the composition and imagery of famous works that preceded him. Wall's piece showing one slightly bent lip on an outdoor wall of otherwise orderly white vinyl home siding reminded me of Lucio Fontana's work. And another photo in the exhibit, called Tattoos and Shadows, made me think of Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, transported to a suburban backyard. There are also works whose titles specifically reference literature, such as a stunning work evoked by Ellison's The Invisible Man in which we see a man sitting in a windowless room lit by hundreds of old bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Most if not all of these works are staged, even if they appear to be taken from uncoached life, but there's something more real and less creepy than Gregory Crewdson's work, which I also enjoy. Crewdson so often pulls in fantastical elements that remind you that it was all staged. And while there is that element here too, it's less so. In both artists' work, I love the sense that you're watching the whole of a movie in one perfectly focused frame.

UPDATE: Haven't read it yet but Jeff Wall is the topic of the cover story on the NYTM today.

Swimming to Minetta Lane

W. and I checked out Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, a posthumous collection of the monologuist's work that mostly manages to avoid getting in the way of Gray's words. There might be some kinks to work out before it opens March 6, but it was a satisfying show. I never saw Gray live and haven't seen his personal movies either, but I've heard what an impact he had on the form for which he became so strongly known. This show gave me a sense of his humor, insight, vulnerability and strength, and how he used those aspects of himself to captivate on stage. Richard Kind, whom we remembered as "Paul" from "Spin City," guest starred this week, including last night and today. It's at the Minetta Lane Theatre, around the corner from where I took this afternoon shot.

Other highlights of the evening: Dinner at Cafe Centosette, which was a new-to-us Italian place in the East Village, if not THE new-to-me Italian place I had in mind on the phone, and then couldn't find again; and drinks at the East Side Company Bar, which has really gotten kind of overrun since last I visited more than a year and a half ago, but still manages to maintain its fun, secluded, laid-back atmosphere. And it didn't hurt that we snagged a table for two just after finishing our first drinks. I had a gimlet and some gin fixes garnished with berries, still as well mixed as I remember even amid the hubbub of the bar.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Free on-demand for sick at home nights

My hand and shoulder issues have been flaring up again, for whatever reason, so I've been home the past two nights (and probably should've just gone home the second half of the previous night). But no worries, as long as there is free TV to stream on the internet. Who needs to pay for On Demand when some great shows are available on the web whenever I'm free? One of the most satisfying TV shows in recent memory is "Friday Night Lights." Every episode leaves me with the kind of satisfaction usually reserved for great movies. It's that good. It manages to take what could be a fairly cliche topic -- high school drama in a small town -- and turn it into something more, with realistic characters, good writing and great performances.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

She/this makes me smile

I have to see her next time she comes to NYC. (She is playing up at Purchase College next month, but I mean, she'll probably come down here eventually, right?)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

L train disappoints, among other things

You know it's been a lame night at the bar when you're actually excited to go check out the new L train signs at around midnight. So imagine my disappointment when I learn that they haven't installed the next-train-will-arrive-in-x-minutes signage in every station, just the big ones. Perhaps I wasn't reading those stories closely enough: Did they mention this fact? And tonight was a night we could've used such a sign. The train was forever in arriving, then -- and I guess the sign wouldn't have told us this -- it took forever to get from 3rd Avenue to 8th. Like forever as in I could've walked across the island quicker. Sure, it was fun to see M. and her crew again, but it wasn't the same without K., and I'd had my first drink at 6, back in 55 Bar where I saw Kate McGarry's first set at the early show. What a great little bar. I guess I should've known I wouldn't be able to make it the whole night, even having drank a lot of water in the interim. And on top of that, the Croc is just not my scene. And when have I ever actually met anyone interesting in a loud Saturday-night bar? Sure, interesting people go to such places, but I don't usually meet them there. At least it's a three-day weekend, and there's more leisure time to be had tomorrow (well, technically, today) and Monday.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Avenue Montaigne

In these days of perpetual hype and omnipresent media, it's refreshing to know you can still hear the barest amount about a movie, take a little risk, fork over your money on a Friday night, sit down in the theater and hope for the best. Or just hope for a little entertainment. That's exactly what we got tonight with this French film, which isn't being advertised as Orchestra Seats, even though it's Fauteuils d'orchestre, but as Avenue Montaigne instead. A small matter. This bubbly ensemble piece is cute and charming without feeling too contrived or cloying. And it stars Sydney Pollack, acting in something other than that silly Cingular ad ("Is my directing interrupting your phone call?") before the trailers. Sure, it exists in a Paris -- nary a chain store in sight -- that American Francophiles imagine exists enticingly, waiting to be discovered, but isn't that what you hope for in the movies sometimes?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


In the tradition of resyFEED:

Moran's -- 212 732 2020 -- two rings, we've got a prix fixe tonight, 7 works, you know we're downtown at 103 Washington, right?

So it's not the hippest of joints. At least it has a fireplace, and making a reservation evidently got us the prime spot right in front of the hearth. L. and I made last-minute plans to have a non-Valentine's Valentine's night dinner, braving the slushy, blustery wilderness of what I've seen being referred to recently as FiDi, aka the greater Wall Street area -- or my old favorite, NoBaT (north of the Battery tunnel). The comfortable bar food was decent to a cut-above, the place was warm, the company was great, and the tavern, where I've drank before in bloggier times, was just busy enough to avoid feeling empty.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Encore, encore!

Too often, it seems, I read about some amazing show that I'd love to see, starring great performers who deliver stunning performances, and then time passes, circumstances intervene, and I don't get to see it. Tonight was not one of those times. I had the tickets to one of just six performances of Sondheim's Follies at City Center. The glowing reviews came in. And then I got to see it. And it was lovely and goosebump-inducing at all the right moments. What a treat to see Victor Garber, Victoria Clark and Donna Murphy sharing the same stage. And the audience -- clearly filled with some major theater fans -- absolutely loved it, applauding like mad after almost every song. The standing ovation at the end, for a change, felt like the most natural thing in the world and totally earned.

[For a bit o' fun looking-back, check out Frank Rich's 1985 review of the similarly staged concert performance of Follies starring Barbara Cook, Carol Burnett, Lee Remick, Elaine Stritch and Mandy Patinkin. The making-of video from that version was my introduction to the musical, but it was much more satisfying to see it all the way through instead of cut and spliced docu-style. It's fascinating to read of what a flop it was, and yet what a treat it was destined to become.]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Things that are still there

I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's again, part to and part from the ski weekend, on the bus, thanks to the magic of iPod. Something that struck me was how certain scenes could be filmed today and not much would have to be changed. The main floor of Tiffany's still looks pretty much the same as it did 46 years ago. Ditto for the Seagram Building, which was just a few years old at the time when they filmed Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard sitting out front of it, toward the end of the film, and "Holly" remarks that she loves New York and will take her imagined children back to see it after they've grown up in Brazil.

While I can't think of too many specifics right now, I know it's been featured in many movies and even a few songs made during the decades that followed its construction in the late '50s. There's a line in Sondheim's Company (1970), currently in revival on Broadway and featured in this recent Times article, that goes: "You know what comes to my mind when I see him? [Bobby] The Seagram's building. Isn't that funny?" I guess it doesn't hurt that it's named after a liquor company.

Another thing that's still around, although it remains off screen in the movie, is what they call Hamburger Heaven, now shortened to Burger Heaven, an Upper East Side mini-chain institution.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Good Girl/Bad Girl

It'll be three years that I've lived in the city come spring, but it's only now that I finally got around to one of those quintessential NYC experiences I'd seen in movies and read about in the Times: seeing a cabaret singer while sipping a cocktail in a secluded old hotel lounge. And I wasn't disappointed. I only wish I could've shared it with someone else. I saw Maude Maggart (Fiona Apple's sister) sing in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. The experience was transporting, and so much fun I didn't want it to end. I think it's taken me this long because I don't always recognize the names of the people performing in such cushy venues, but Maude I've now seen three times -- the last time being a free River2River show in the Stuyvesant High theater last summer. She was great then, but even more in her element tonight. I sat next to a couple who said they remember being neighbors with Maude (born Amber) and Fiona, back when they were toddlers. They kept insisting that Maude/Amber was either 40 or in her late 30s, which is funny because of all people, they should realize she's younger than that: just 31. But she's definitely got an old soul, and often speaks about her grandmother, who was a Broadway dancer back when many of the songs she sings were first written. Next on Maggart's sked: London and Chicago. But she's back to New York in June. I should really just go ahead and buy tickets now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One of few reasons I'm glad it's freezing outside

I'm going skiing in the Poke-a-nose this weekend for the third time ever at the third annual ski weekend. (Isn't it nice when you say something's going to be the first annual of something, like back in '05, and then it actually makes it to multiple years?) Blue squares, here I come!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Letterman Presents BP and NM

Didn't realize (should've realized) there was a YouTube clip of the same song we saw them perform on Thursday night. [More proof Brooklyn Vegan rocks.]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rainy Friday night

I should've watched Groundhog Day today, but I've seen it pretty recently, so I dug a little deeper into my VHS collection (yes) and pulled out yet another one of my favorites: Big, which I've been thinking about this past month. It's definitely one of those movies I watch differently now that I'm older. I was a lot closer to 13 when I first saw it. It appealed to me as an adventure story. And now, almost 20 years later, I'm closer to the age of "big" Josh played by Tom Hanks. I still sometimes feel, as do many, like someone who went to sleep a kid one night and woke up an adult. But of course now I also identify with the girlfriend character who looks at her life a little more closely after meeting this kid-in-an-adult's-body or laughs at the proposal, toward the end of the movie, to come and be a teenage girl again. It's also of course a story about coming to New York. The scene where Josh spends his first night in the "St. James Hotel," listening to the screams and gunshots from outside -- this was the '80s, after all -- reminded me of that pang of uncertainty and loneliness I had on my first night in my new city apartment. There's also that Our Town-like moment where big Josh goes back to his Jersey neighborhood and looks around at all the joys of being young and realizes it's something he doesn't want to miss.

There's something in so many of the scenes that rings true. It's a bittersweet movie, but that's what makes it realistic, even with its central fantastical element. That's also why I'm not surprised at this bit of trivia from IMDB: "The original ending for this film included a scene in which Josh is in class, and a "new girl in school" is brought into the classroom. Her similarity to 'Elizabeth Perkins' and a reaction shot from Josh imply that this is Susan, having also become young. The scene was cut after poor response in test screenings."

BP Presents Four-Scored

So it turns out the BP was not the oil company, but short for Brooklyn Philharmonic. Another interesting show at BAM last night. Four singers, all of whom I knew, but who turned out to be pretty different in style, performed songs with Kings County's very own orchestra. (Think of the video from GnR's "November Rain," but less over the top.) Out of all of them, it turned out that the wonderfully talented and goofy Nellie McKay, who opened the show, used the format to the greatest advantage. Laurie Anderson and Suzanne Vega were appealing, but didn't play along with the orchestra for half of their sets. And Joan Osborne, while still showing she has a great set of pipes, surprised at least one person in the audience by revealing that she went all motown/R&B pastiche at some point: her band's orchestrations were too predictable and cookie-cutter to be enjoyable. They could've dispensed with the orchestra and just played some synth sounds, it was that cheesy. Still, I like seeing programs like this one that take risks and experiment with traditional concert formats.