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Articles by

<Jessica McKenzie>

11/20/12 12:15pm

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It could have been lost forever, buried under layers of grime and rust with the nondescript title Twin Sisters. Instead, Leslie Anne Lewis of the National Film Preservation Foundation (described as a “nitrate sleuth”—whatever that is!) took note of two remarkable stills as they passed over her light table: a close-up of a hand of cards, and a portrait-like shot of a woman framed by smoke. Struck by the artistry of the two frames, Lewis began an investigation into the remaining reels. Knowing the names of the two stars, Betty Compson and Clive Brook, and Selznick, the American distributor, was enough information to deduce what she had: 1924’s The White Shadow—one of the first films bearing the name of Alfred Hitchcock.

So he wasn’t director, but Hitchcock’s name is all over the thing: assistant director, editor, art director, and scenarist (the story was adapted from Children of Chance by Michael Morton). It’s an amazing find and resource for any film scholar or snobbish hipster cinephile.

The film opens on a boat to England, where Nancy Brent (Betty Compson), a student returning home from Paris, and Robin Field (Clive Brook), an American touring Europe, meet and start flirting. Nancy returns home to her twin sister (also played by Betty Compson) and parents; Robin follows her there. Then the title cards inform the viewer that the sisters are completely unlike each other and that Nancy lacks a soul. This is confirmed, I suppose, when Nancy and Robin kiss, but then Nancy sends her sister Georgina to meet him in town in her place, thus orchestrating the first instance of mistaken identity. Ultimately, through several twists and turns, Georgina falls in love with Robin after taking on her sister’s identity, and Robin intends to propose, but his friend stops him after seeing Nancy, now called “Cherry,” in a Parisian cabaret—gasp!—gambling. “That’s a lie!” Robin exclaims in a title card.

Although only three reels survive, the film-archivists tracked down the plot description filled for copyright purposes and wrote up an epilogue of sorts so viewers wouldn’t be left hanging. The last three reels sound like they were as convoluted and melodramatic as the first three, with a saccharine-sweet ending.

The film was a huge flop. The storyline was just too implausible, even for audiences in 1924. Critics still praised the performances, the style and the look of production, the elements Hitchcock valued most even at this early stage in his career.

For two months the film will be available free of charge on the National Film Preservation Foundation website. Michael D. Mortilla wrote a beautiful new score to accompany the piece, although the premature ending is a bit of a disappointment. But that means it’s only 42 minutes, so if you generally have a short attention span, this is one silent film you might be able to sit through.

11/14/12 4:00am

The Normals
Directed by Kevin Connors

Billy Schine (Bryan Greenburg) is the ginger-bearded hero of this attempt to capture one man’s experience as a participant in a two-week trial of an antipsychotic drug. He joins fellow green-clad “normals” Gretchen (Jess Weixler), Rodney (Reg E. Cathey), and Lannigan (Frederick Weller) at a secluded testing facility. (They filmed it at Creedmore, an abandoned mental hospital in Queens.) He begins the trial cheerily enough, chatting up the nurse, doctor, and blood technician during processing, much to their institutional irritation. But things take a slow, confusing turn in the dark and bizarre second half of the film.

Greenburg is the straight man to an entire cast of banana men. Weller plays his self-centered actor roommate, a real asshole, who’s just a tad too obnoxious to be funny. Sameer (Debargo Sanyal), an effeminate Pakistani, thinks he can taste his tongue. He reluctantly explains it tastes like semen, not that he knows what semen tastes like, because he’s not gay, but he knows what it smells like. Salty, right? He appeals to Weixler for confirmation.

These characters start out so bizarre that as the film progresses it’s hard to tell if they’re experiencing side effects of the drug or if they’re all just freaks to begin with. Many of them express a desire to feel something, including Greenburg, whose character is escaping a mediocre existence in New York City, living in a grungy apartment, plagued by debt collectors and seemingly unemployed. Characters try to guess his profession: writer? Artist? Actor? No, no, no, he answers, without explanation. Greenburg portrays Schine as a lost, purposeless funny man: the guy who was friends with everyone in high school but grows up and doesn’t make much of himself or his life. He’s endearing, relatable and frankly kind of lovable.

Punctuated by a bizarre news story about a murderer with a tumor that looks like Jesus Christ (played by director Kevin Connors), and commercials about products like the Shake Weight and prescription drugs with long lists of possible side effects, the film alludes to some darker musings on the pharmaceutical industry. However, writer Christopher Ciancimino admitted they left most of the heavy-duty philosophy and emotional baggage in the novel by David Gilbert. Ciancimino said at a post-screening Q&A that he didn’t think it would be a difficult adaptation, but trying to turn such an internal story into a film was harder than he expected. With a budget of roughly a million dollars, the film is an impressive feat.

Opens November 16

11/13/12 11:06am

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Yet another museum has arrived in Brooklyn, only this one claims to be unlike all those that came before. The Street Museum of Art (SMoA) is completely free, open at all hours and publicly curated (one might say crowdsourced). If you live or work in Williamsburg you might already have stumbled across some of the exhibition, which launched 6 weeks ago, although parts of it have already been dismantled and replaced because the streets don’t have security guards. SMoA’s online description has the intriguing words “guerrilla” and “illegally” in the online description, so of course we had to find out more.

The Founder and Director agreed to an interview but only via email in order to safeguard his or her anonymity.

Could you tell me a bit about the origins of this project? Where did the inspiration come from and how did you get the whole thing started?
The idea came together a year ago, after Jeffrey Deitch’s Art in the Streets exhibition opened at MOCA. The museum received record attendance numbers for an exhibition of artists whose work can already be seen around their cities on any given day, and for free! The exhibition was great in that it put many of these artists on the map for the museum-goers who may have never really known about street art but this was not an exhibition of “Art in the Streets.” Instead of modifying or replicating this inherently public art medium, we decided to re-evaluate the current model for contemporary art museums by adopting the guerrilla tactics and radical energy of the street artists. The answer seemed simple — we would bring the museum to the streets.

So you’re operating anonymously, but could you describe the group or some of the people behind SMoA?
It is important for us to operate anonymously for many reasons but mainly because our individual identities are not what is important. The Street Museum of Art is a project that is entirely reliant on the reaction and participation of the public — SMoA can be anyone, or everyone.

How long has the exhibit been up and what has public response been like?
In Plain Sight was launched 6 weeks ago, however, much of the work had been put up by the artists long before we came along. Within 24 hours Gaia’s Cat Eating Mouse piece on Kent Avenue had been buffed out by another artist. Jaye Moon’s mosaic piece constructed from LEGO blocks was ripped down a few weeks later and taken by someone from the corner of North 7th and Bedford. That is just the nature of street art — it is ephemeral and is in a constantly changing dialogue with the city.

I saw that the public can request art labels and participate in curating this exhibit; has anyone taken advantage of that yet?
People have been submitting photos of the work they find all around the city! Aside from our program of curated exhibitions, the Street Museum of Art is providing the public with blank, self-adhesive labels on the website — ready to be filled out with their own personal descriptions. Photos of the labels that simply read “This is Art” c. 2012 will be added to the museums online collection. It is our way of encouraging the public to get out there and start looking at and rediscovering their city through a new lens.

Labels were also mailed to the directors of every major art museum in the city, critics, historians and the city’s public art organizations. However, it seems the ‘artworld’ insiders are going to be the hardest ones to convince that this is an art form worth supporting!

How has the project proceeded as expected, and how has it surprised you?
It is always surprising to watch a person’s reaction when they walk past one of SMoA’s labels unexpectedly. Crowds of people can walk by in a day without anyone even noticing a work of street art on the wall. Then as soon as one person finally stops to read the description, take a picture or simply look at what is in front of them, it triggers others to do the same. We hope that The Street Museum of Art will similarly spark a change in the way the public view their city and cause others to start exploring and questioning what they see around them. This is only the beginning for the Street Museum of Art though and we are excited to see how things continue to progress!

On your website, you describe the museum as a program of “illegally curated exhibitions”. How illegal is illegal. Are you expected any kind of backlash or dismantling of the exhibition?
Well for starters, mapping out our exhibition with the placement of Plexiglas didactic labels around the city does not exactly sit well with the police. Many of the artists talk about a fight to reclaim public space when discussing their street work and this is because there are many laws preventing the public from total freedom of creative expression in these spaces. SMoA is adopting the guerrilla tactics of a street artist in as aspects of our operations.

10/26/12 3:16pm

Sex.

  • Sex.

A new study into music and our listening habits reveals the surprising extent that music plays in our sex lives. According to the research of Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen, a music psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, over 40 percent of respondents said that the music they listened to during sex was more likely to have turned them on than the touch or feel of their partner.

Dr Müllensiefen told Spotify, who commissioned the study, “It is no surprise that so many respondents claimed to find music arousing in the bedroom. From neuro-scientific research we know that music can activate the same pleasure centres of the brain that also respond to much less abstract rewards such as food, drugs or indeed sex.”

The study surveyed 2,000 people between the ages of 18 and 91 with a roughly equal gender split.

The research also reveals the “top 20 songs” for when you want to set the mood, when you want to flirt on the dance floor, and when you hit the sheets. Unsurprisingly, Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and “Let’s Get It On” topped the list in the first category.

As for what to listen to while doing the deed? The Dirty Dancing soundtrack took the number one spot for both men and women, while the rest of the list included some surprises: Ravel’s “Bolero,” Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” and the Star Wars soundtrack. I personally shudder at the thought of “Mamma Mia,” but the Star Wars soundtrack makes some sense.

In case you’re hopelessly single, they also quizzed respondents on the songs they found to be “better than sex.” Apparently anything by Queen is pretty awesome, especially “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the number one better-than-the-dirty song.

Spotify has put this new knowledge to good use, creating a series of relevant playlists for the most intimate of moments. Try them out, and let us know how it goes (or, ew, don’t).

10/23/12 2:21pm

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First, in the area of Arts and Humanities, a Belgian girl takes an anthropological, and sociological, and poetical look at the “beardos” in her book-in-progress, The Beardo Manifesto. Cecile Goossens started the project while visiting New York last year after noticing “it was some kind of fashion in Brooklyn. We don’t see that many ‘beardos’ in Brussels,” reports DNAinfo. She wanted to know what was behind the secular “ritual”, so she stuck up posters calling for “beardviews”: interviews with bearded men. The final project will blend a fictional story about a girl who wishes she could grow a beard with the real-life stories of the 18 bearded Brooklynites (not surprising—they’re all from Williamsburg). It sounds refreshingly unironic.

In Gaming and Technology, there’s the beard video game, which probably won’t be making its way to your iPhone anytime soon. They didn’t raise enough funds in their Kickstarter campaign. If only I found this three days earlier!

And in Religion: Have you seen the tumblr Bearded Gospel Men? It might be the best way to waste time I’ve found all week, and has inspired a hitherto unknown beard envy (Freud had it all wrong). Only thing—I can’t tell to what extent (if any) they’re being ironic! BGM told the Huffington Post: “The honest and simple agenda for BGM is getting our beard on and encouraging one another as Christians. We love all beards and all men and all are welcome to visit, comment, and enjoy BGM, but our niche is beards for Jesus (and fun).”

I just don’t know. They seem pretty insistent about the Christian thing, but they also used the phrase “getting our beard on”. And their Facebook page implores readers not to take them too seriously, which might mean they take themselves a little seriously? What do you think?

10/02/12 1:20pm

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Someone Listened to All 208 Jay-Z Songs and Found All 67 References to Brooklyn. Then they listed the references on Complex, along with the song, album, and a little commentary and background information. They also analyzed the theme of Brooklyn in Jay-Z’s music over the years, using it as a way to track his development as an artist.

Fun fact: when listening to any given Jay-Z song, there is a 37% chance that he’ll reference Brooklyn. Crazy!

The references range from the geographical (“You know when I heard that? When I was back home/I’mcomfortable dogg, Brooklyn to Rome”) to the literary (“I planted my seed on infertile land Myrtle Park/Marcy,Flushing and Nostrand and/Still I grew some how I knew the sun will shinethrough/And touch my soul take hold of my hand/Look man, a tree grows in Brooklyn”), to the incendiary (“I’m ballin’ for real you pump faking’ it/Manhattankeep on faking it, Brooklyn keep on taking it”), and also touching on professional sports (“Chi-town’s D-Rose/I’m movin’ the Nets to BK”).

Then there’s my personal favorite, from “Hello, Brooklyn”:

“Like a mama you birthed me, Brooklyn you nursedme/Schooled me with the hard knocks, better than Berkeley/They said you’d murkme, by the time I was twenty-one/That shit disturbed me, but you never hurtme/Hello Brooklyn, if we had a daughter/Guess what I’m a call her, Brooklyn Carter/When I left you for Virginia, it didn’t offend ya”