Articles by

<Virginia K. Smith>

04/02/14 11:15am

The New York Times wont call Perfect Pussy by their name

  • Image via Suoni per il Popolo

The New York Times has many, um, quirks, not the least of which is a notoriously quaint, pearl-clutching approach to the use of profanity. Most recently, they referred to Is The L Train Fucked as a site with an “unprintable name.” It’s charming, in its way, but also a little confusing, particularly when it manifests as referring to Pussy Riot by name, but indie darlings Perfect Pussy as another “unprintable name.” The Observer picked up on this particular disparity, and asked the paper of record to explain themselves.


The paper’s standards Editor Phil Corbett told Off the Record, “I would not describe it as inconsistency; we are making case-by-case judgments, based on newsworthiness, context and other factors. In the case of Pussy Riot, it involved a major international news story, and the name was reported ubiquitously. It would have been impractical and probably counterproductive to try to avoid the name. On the other hand, a brief reference to one obscure band is a different situation. Plenty of bands these days choose names in part for shock value, and we don’t necessarily feel obligated to print them.”

Seems like a fair assumption that Pussy Riot also chose their name “in part for shock value,” but we get what he’s driving at. Any of you young upstarts hoping to just force the Times to say “pussy” for kicks have another thing coming. You’ll have to take that routine to publications that’ve already debased themselves to your level. Like this one.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

04/02/14 9:30am

Photo Courtesy of Baxter Brothers Film Releasing

  • Photo Courtesy of Baxter Brothers Film Releasing

It’s never been a better time to be a Brooklyn filmmaker, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s also an unfortunate truth that most of the films shaping our borough’s reputation tend to represent a relatively small, specific version of “Brooklyn,” one that generally doesn’t have a whole lot to do with East New York.

With Flex is Kings, local filmmakers Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols (who reside in Bed-Stuy and East Williamsburg, respectively), spent two years in the neighborhood shooting the dancers making a name for flexing, a dance style born in East New York that’s now expanded throughout the country, and caught on in places as far flung as Russia. The movie’d be worth watching for the mesmerizing dance sequences alone, but Schoo and Nichols have also managed to put together an honest portrait of a part of Brooklyn most media outlets (including this one) don’t get too all that often, as well as the dancers’ successes and obstacles (one venue, for instance, tried to cancel their ongoing dance competition, Battlefest, at the last minute for trumped-up reasons about the name’s “violent” implications, and a general objection to their use of any music that might qualify as hip-hop). Now, after a wildly popular Kickstarter campaign and a successful run on the festival circuit, Flex is Kings is finally starting to make the rounds at local theaters, and just screened at BAM last week. Ahead of their run at Village East Cinemas (April 4-10), we caught up with Schoo and Nichols about their time in one of Brooklyn’s most misunderstood neighborhoods, the dancers’ new gigs, and how the hell that trick with the bird came about (you can see it at the end of the trailer, below).


How did you first find out about flex?

DS: In late 2008, I was on an unrelated assignment for the Village Voice – photographing a variety show at St Nick’s Pub in Harlem. A dancer named Storyboard took the stage and blew my mind. I followed Storyboard and he told me about flexing and Battlefest – an event organized by Kareem Baptiste in which flex dancers competed against one another for the title of King of the Streets. I did a bit of research and went to the next Battlefest. I’ve been going ever since.

The flexing community is obviously such a large and dynamic one. How did you decide which subjects to focus on for the movie?

MBN: It absolutely is. It all came down to who would give us access and who had something going on that would give the film a natural narrative trajectory. We contacted Flizzo first – he has such a huge personality and charisma, and that bird trick stuck with me – and then went from there. Flizzo ended up introducing us to Jay Donn by taking us to an event called “Flex Wars” in East New York. Jay’s performance included: dancing with a prosthetic arm, pulling sneakers with invisible fishing line, doing a backflip off a ladder, spinning around on his head on the wheeled-part of the bottom of a mop bucket, and leaving the stage to scale a flight of stairs and flip off the one-story balcony back into the crowd. So we thought he should be in the film. Next came Reem, the organizer of Battlefest and one of the main people really responsible for organizing the movement and getting it into the limelight. There were a few dancers that we spent a great deal of time with but weren’t able to work into the film for a variety of reasons, and we struggled with that. But we found that Flizzo and Jay really represented two of the trajectories we witnessed happening in the community. It felt like Flizzo was becoming a man and dealing with real life issues – he had a daughter during the course of the film, and moved in with his girlfriend – and was starting to question how dancing fit into that equation. Jay’s career, meanwhile, kept expanding outside the flex scene, and he was starting to get opportunities to showcase his dancing internationally. These two stories felt like honest depictions of what so many in the flex scene go through.

Did the dancers teach you any moves over the course of shooting?

MBN: They tried to, but I didn’t have health insurance.

What was the craziest move you saw any of the dancers pull off while filming?

DS: Flizzo’s bird punchline never ceases to amaze. Pretty much anything Jay does shocks me every time. Havoc won the title of King of the Streets by jumping from the 2nd floor balcony then somersaulting into the battle ring – that was pretty awesome.

MBN: We asked Flizzo to perform his bird trick on top of a roof so we could get it on film. He did this whole routine as trained pigeons swirled above him. At the end, he placed the finch in his mouth, faced forward. He explained right before that when he opens his mouth he gives the bird a little flick with his tongue to urge it out. It was inside his mouth for about 3 seconds as he finished his routine, hit his mark, and then BOOM.

Had you spent much time in East New York prior to getting involved with the flex community? Was there anything that surprised you about the neighborhood?

DS: No, it was Flex that took me out to East New York. Bad stuff happens in ENY but the spirit is amazing. People are so nice. There is great energy in ENY.

MBN: None. I was surprised to witness the incredible sense of community that exists there. Dancers knew ten people on the way to the bodega. We’d be filming in the park and all these kids would come up to watch the dancers and hang out. In the film, when Flizzo says he’s a king in East New York, it’s absolutely verified by what we saw. There’s a huge amount of support and love in the community for its artists.

The movie includes epilogue notes about what some of the main characters are up to. Have you heard anything new since wrapping?

DS: Yes! Flizzo now works full time teaching dance and mentoring kids at Boy’s Club NY! Jay is designing clothing and working on music. Reem is continuing to grow Battlefest. All are doing really well.

MBN: Yes, a woman who works at the Boys and Girls Club up in Harlem came to one of the Tribeca screenings, saw Flizzo, and hired him to teach flex dancing as a class! He’s been doing that for a year now. That right there makes the 3 years we spent working on the film completely worth it. The Boys and Girls Club even hosted the most recent Battlefest on March 23rd. Jay continues to tour and travel the world, and Reem’s been killing it with Battlefest – he has an Iphone app for the league now.

Have you watched the film with its subjects or gotten any feedback from them about the finished product?

DS: Yes, we watched the film with the subjects before showing it publicly. They had a few moments where they squirmed but they’re all such honest people who are interested in sharing their stories that they don’t think twice about those moments now. And we’re so lucky to have the subjects of the film in the same borough. We always have a great time at screenings and events. It’s a love-fest. The Flex community is full of amazing people.

Flex is Kings screens April 4th-10th at Village East Cinemas. On April 4th and 5th after the 7pm screenings, the theater will host a Q&A with Schoo and Nichols, as well as featured dancers Jay Donn and Flizzo.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

03/26/14 4:00am

Moonlight Mile
200 Franklin Street,Greenpoint

If you’re going to be so bold as to stock your bar with one kind of liquor—and presumably endure endless conversations about whether you really can’t make me a gin and tonic—you’d better know what you’re doing. And if you’re going to name your business after a Rolling Stones song, you’d better not embarrass yourself when it comes to the jukebox. Luckily, this place does both tunes and booze nicely, with a staggering selection of 80 bourbons as well as a massive restored jukebox with an excellent selection of records handpicked by owner Garry Embry, who is as passionate about music as he is about drinks. (You can even play songs for free, if not necessarily with the guarantee they’ll come on in any order.)

This place has mastered the art of serving one drink—and serving it very well. It also cannily caters to tastes highbrow and low, with bourbon flights for the serious connoisseurs (you can get one for as little as $12) and a cocktail list varied and creative enough that even the bourbon-hater I brought with me happily swallowed several. (The cocktails are all $12, too.) The Kennessee Old Fashioned, made with homemade sassafras syrup, is a sweeter, easygoing twist on the original, and when autumn rolls around, we expect to see the cinnamon-tinged Washington County on a lot of seasonal Best Cocktails lists. Moonlight Mile also offers a few snacks (think bourbon caramel popcorn) and a respectable list of beers from Bells, Founders, and Schlafly, as well as a few wine and prosecco options if you’re really, truly, honestly not in the mood for bourbon.

The inevitable downside is that whiskey culture—and high-end cocktail culture in general—can bring out the worst in people, or just the worst people. It takes a while for any new place to find its groove, but Embry, a laid back Kentucky native, already has a way of ensuring the place isn’t overrun with shouty bros; on a recent visit, he pulled off one of the quietest and most evenhanded ejections of a rowdy, blacked out, ass-grabbing patron I’ve ever witnessed. “This isn’t my first time at the rodeo,” he told me later, and I believed him. Soon enough, the mood settled down and the place again became what it’s clearly meant to be: a neighborhood spot for stiff, perfectly made drinks.

03/11/14 10:11am


  • Images via Cotton Candy Machine/Facebook

A quick update on last week’s bonkers, poorly-executed Williamsburg art theft that resulted in a gallery owner chasing a portly thief through the neighborhood until he ran out of breath: one of the guys behind it has now been indicted.


DNAinfo reports that Louis Lassalle, 49, has officially been charged after walking into an opening at Cotton Candy Machine and walking back out with a portrait of Jean Michel Basquiat valued at $10,000. He faces up to seven years in prison for charges of burglary, robbery, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, petit larceny, and criminal trespass.

Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson said of the incident, “The brazen nature of the theft of this artwork, whether from a business, a home, or anywhere in our community, will not be tolerated. An artist’s work should be showcased, not stolen. Accordingly, Mr. Lassalle will be held accountable for his actions.”

Lassalle wasn’t working alone, though; he’s pictured above with two men who are suspected of stealing two other paintings from the gallery which have yet to be recovered. The lessons here are twofold: if you happen to see portraits of Nelson Mandela or Snoop Lion that are somewhere they shouldn’t be, maybe check in with this gallery, and, more broadly, don’t try to orchestrate a smash-and-grab theft if you’re not in good enough shape to outrun the person you’re stealing from.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

03/04/14 4:40pm


  • Images via Cotton Candy Machine/Facebook

It’s not a funny story, per se—two of the gallery’s paintings are still at large, which is terrible—but the details of this weekend’s bush-league heist at Williamsburg art gallery Cotton Candy Machine are pretty nuts, to say the least.


After Louise Lasalle and two accomplices allegedly made of with three paintings worth a total of $10,000—portraits of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nelson Mandela, and Snoop Lion—during a party at the gallery Saturday night, Cotton Candy Machine’s owner Sean Leonard personally chased down Lasalle until the cops showed up, and actually managed to recover one of the paintings. From his post about this incident on Facebook:

This was after my long chase with Louis Lassalle, who is now under arrest and facing grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. I found him blocks away from #cottoncandymachine with this Basquiat portrait by Amar Stewart – Artist, stashed between a fence and a railing. I confronted him and dialed 911. He immediately started threatening me and telling me to leave. He called someone and told them I hand found him. He kept threatening me and trying to scare me off. It made me laugh even though this guy could have killed me. I just knew he couldn’t catch me and there was no way I was going to just leave. He tried to run and jumped in a cab, so I rushed to the passenger side door and opened it to yell at the driver. Telling him that I was on the phone with 911 and he couldn’t take this guy anywhere. Louis got out of the cab and came at me, threatened me again. This happened with cab after cab as I began chasing him and stopping cabs from taking him away. Doing all this while carrying a giant 5′ painting. a few times I’d just run in front of the taxi and start yelling until the cabby would roll down the window and hear me out. I had to keep updating the 911 operator as we ran through the neighborhood. I chased him almost to the subway at North 7th and Driggs Ave. Then when it got a little crowded, and I was making a lot of noise about the situation, he started chasing me back the same way we came. So I’m running with this painting working against me as a wind sail, trying to keep my distance. We got to North 4th and Driggs when I saw the police coming down the street. He tried to bolt one more time but he was fat and winded and didn’t make it far. The officers arrested him and took him away. They have been questioning him about the other suspects involved. The DA’s office has been a huge help today. Thank you friends, the news media, the art community and NYPD for continuing to help. We are still missing 2 paintings and we will find them. Thank you again for your support.

Most well-executed vigilante justice we’ve heard about in quite some time. There’s room for more, though; the gallery’s still trying to track down two of the stolen paintings, so y’know, if you see something, say something.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

03/04/14 9:30am


Can’t say we really saw it coming, but unexpectedly, delightfully, Archie Comics has found itself in the news quite a bit as of late. First there was the lawsuit about the company’s CEO allegedly berating her staff with cries of “Penis! Penis! Penis!”—easily one of the better news stories of 2013—and now there’s the totally-different news that none other than Lena Dunham is set to write a series of comics for the beloved franchise.


After Dunham mentioned her love of the Riverdale crew at an event with J.J. Abrams, the company’s newly-hired Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa reached out, and explains, “We sent her a box of tons of Archie books. She devoured them all, and maybe a week or two later came back with her pitch.”

He also notes that Dunham’s planned four-part story for the comics will be “set in the Archie continuity” and “very contemporary. It’s a classic Archie story with a definitely unique, Lena spin.” Bad penis PR aside, this is all part of a larger move from Aguirre-Sacasa to take the franchise into the 21st century, and to “[explore] the potential to take Archie’s Pals and Gals outside of comics and into different media.” This guy already deserves a raise, we’d say.

Anyway, all sounds like a pretty well-conceived plan, and we’re curious to see how the whole thing turns out. And if the series just happens to include Betty finally snapping and hysterically screaming “Penis!” at a guy who’s been stringing her along for the last 65 years? All the better.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

02/26/14 4:00am

The Johnsons
369 Troutman Street, Bushwick

When I first heard that Welcome to the Johnsons would open a bigger, cleaner branch of its Manhattan original off the Jefferson stop, my hopes weren’t high. A grown-up, more expensive Bushwick version of a beloved and bargain-basement Lower East Side dive felt like sacrilege, or at least a crass attempt to leverage all the cred of the old place to get into the ever-booming Bushwick bar scene. And anyway, everyone knows a true dive can’t just be created; it takes years to develop organically.

But the new outpost—simply called the Johnsons—turns out to be better than we expected. The look of the place hints at the original’s 70s TV-room vibe without beating you over the head with it: light wood paneling so pervasive that the entrance looks like a sauna; basket chairs hanging from the ceiling; shag rugs here and there. (For what it’s worth, the jukebox at this one actually works.) The bathrooms are mercifully well-kept, and, this being Bushwick, the bar benefits from about four times as much space as the Rivington location, which the owners here filled with a pool table and enough booths that I have yet to come here without being able to find a seat, even at the height of a Friday night rush.

Most importantly, the Johnsons has nailed its drinks menu, making sure you can still do some serious damage for $10 or less. They don’t do draft beer, but they carry 15 well-chosen bottles, ranging from $2 Lion’s Head to $10 Delirium Tremens, plus a few more interesting options like Green Flash West Coast IPA and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. The real selling point is the cocktail list, though, half of which go for $5 until 9pm—think pomegranate margaritas, Sazerac Slings, and something called the Desert Sun, a combination of vodka, Curaçao, and cassis that’s better than it has any right to be. The rest of the cocktails cost $10 and veer classic and strong, including solid takes on the martini, Tom Collins, Moscow Mule, and Foghorn alongside a few less expected and more tropical options like the Mezcal-based “Rock Me Oaxaca.”

Even the short snack menu is carefully put together though unfussy, featuring truffle-infused hard-boiled eggs ($3), Deep River kettle chips ($3), and a plate of cheese and flatbreads for $5. The owners seem to have intuited just what the neighborhood needed, which was an affordable, lighthearted change of pace from the stained-wood-and-whiskey spots that surround it. As such, the Johnsons has pulled off a neat trick, creating a well-executed homage that’ll please those loyal to the old place while feeling fresh to everyone else.

02/24/14 2:50pm


There have been a lot of jarring updates pouring out of Ukraine as of late, but curiously, the international community hadn’t received any word from Lou Bega. No more!


Earlier this afternoon, the “Mambo No. 5” singer—last in the news for being mistaken for dead following the death of other noted music-making Lou, Lou Reed—posted the following update on his Facebook page:


  • Screenshot via Lou Bega/Facebook

In fairness, this wasn’t totally without context—it was accompanied by a link to a video for his song “Bachata,” which was recorded with a Ukranian girl group called Alibi (“It was the first single from his third album Lounatic […] The song is about dancing bachata on a party and the erotic effect of this dance,” notes Wikipedia). Anyway, his sympathies are appreciated and noted. A “loose loose situation” indeed.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.