We will lead a Q&A on Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound to screen at Filmgate Festival tomorrow
February 7, 2015
Miami is known the world over as a city full of surprises. As a freelance music writer here for more than 20 years, I have become accustomed to expect some mind-blowing realignment of my perspective of this city every year. The last surprise happened about a year ago, when I learned the photographer of some of my favorite ‘70s glam rock albums lived here (read that article here). Now comes Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, a documentary that opens a portal to a ‘60s-era soul scene I never knew had existed in Miami.
Among those who also never knew about this distinctive music scene was the film’s co-director and writer Dennis Scholl. I dropped him an email to ask what inspired him to make this documentary. He wrote: “When a friend sent me the Número re-release of the Deep City catalog, knowing I loved soul music, l listened to it, and before I read the liner notes, I called him and said, ‘This is great, where is it from?’ My friend said, ‘Don’t you know? This is all from Miami.’ I was shocked.”
Eccentric Soul, Vol. 7: The Deep City Label is a diverse and amazing compilation beautifully preserved by the Chicago-based reissue label Número. It’s even available on vinyl. It features bombastic horn sections and swinging grooves that speak to the region’s Caribbean influence at an almost molecular level. There are also famous, gorgeous female voices by the likes of Helene Smith and Betty Wright, who went to levels of great notoriety in the early ‘70s with “Clean Up Woman” and was on the cutting edge of the disco scene.
Scholl could not believe the riches he found in the compilation. “I had lived here close to 50 years and never heard about it,” he says about the Deep City label. “The quality of music was so high that it sent me on this exploration of our soul scene that, as DJ Spam says in the film, had been virtually forgotten. The more I got into it, the more I felt a strong need to bring the work of these artists to the attention of our community, and thus began an almost four-year odyssey to make a documentary film about the birth of the Miami Sound.”
So he, along with co-directors Marlon Johnson and Chad Tingle, made this documentary, which first premiered in South Florida at the Miami International Film Festival in 2014 and enjoyed a run at SXSW before airing on Miami’s public television station WLRN and won an Emmy. It’s a punchy, colorful examination of a time in Miami focused around the music released by the independent record label Deep City. The film features interviews with artists like the soulful songbird Helene Smith and legendary guitarist/vocalist Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, who both recorded for the label. Then there’s label co-founder and songwriter Willie “Peewee” Clarke, who grew up in Overtown during the years of segregation in Miami. Also featured is Clarence Reid, who also recorded for the label, co-wrote many songs with Clarke and continues to perform in Miami as the notorious and original shock rapper Blowfly. Then there’s Arnold “Hoss” Albury who brought in fellow members of the Florida A&M University marching band and added big arrangements to the pop songs released by the label.
In the documentary, Clarke credits label co-founder Johnny Pearsall, who owned a record shop in Overtown, for coming up with the label’s name. He says it was because Miami was the deepest city in the South. In 1963, Deep City was the first black-owned record label in Florida, notes Clarke in the documentary, and it spawned some slight hits in its time, which got lots of regional airplay but also some airtime on national TV shows like “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.”
Deep City is a well-rounded film, featuring additional testimonials by Miami’s well-respected music historian Jeff Lemlich, Miami’s TK Records’ founder Henry Stone and, as Scholl noted earlier, Andrew Yeomanson, a.k.a. DJ Le Spam of Spam All Stars fame, among others. Yeomanson is real proud to be associated with this documentary. “The film provides the uninitiated with a snapshot of a crucial time in Miami’s musical development and the characters who made it happen,” he says about the documentary. “Most people in Miami had no idea that there was a soul scene here in the 1960s until recently.”
Miami will get a chance to get re-acquainted with the label on Sunday afternoon during a special screening at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, as part of FilmGate Interactive, a workshop-oriented film festival in its third year. I was invited by the festival to host a Q&A with Scholl and Clarke after the screening. Before the film, DJ Le Spam will be spinning ‘60s Miami soul records as people walk into the screening, so if you have tickets get there early.
Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound runs 56 minutes and will screen Sunday, Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. The screening is nearly sold out. For tickets jump through this link. All images here are courtesy of the producer, WLRN, except the image of the vinyl of Eccentric Soul Vol. 7, which was provided by Número Records.
While many Israeli film exports are straightforward or dramatic movies, Zero Motivation offers a breath of fresh air with a funny yet critical look at the role of women in the military. In a series of stories featuring women serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the film weaves different vignettes through an episodic narrative that at times is pure hilarity and at others shifts to insightful criticism with dark undertones. The film received an award from the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival for Best Narrative Feature and the Nora Ephron Prize, given to a female writer or director with a distinctive voice. Zero Motivation is the debut feature film from writer-director Talya Lavie who served in the IDF as a secretary on a base.
In Zero Motivation, Lavie uses a critical inward-looking gaze at her own homeland with a focus on one of the strongest institutions of Israel: its military. Often touted as an achievement in gender equality, Lavie’s portrayal of the IDF is far from the international perception of the Israeli military as a model for gender equality. The machine, as presented by Lavie’s lens, is filled with the usual patriarchal practices you would expect in that setting: harassment, a lack of representation at the top and almost no engagement in combat. The film presents a group of women serving in the IDF — all of them quite different but all women — relegated to a highly bureaucratic human resources office characterized by a typical gendered division of labor. Not only does the office concern itself with having paper backups of leaves by soldiers, it also shreds papers and serves coffee and drinks to other officers.
Early in the film we meet Daffi (Nelly Tagar), a young and naïve soldier who is also the “Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Paper and Shredding.” Her storyline involves her quest to be transferred to a Tel Aviv station. In Daffi’s mind, the mindless paper tasks would be the same at any station, but at least Tel Aviv offers the glamour of the big city. Daffi’s good friend Zohar (Dana Ivgy) is focused on even smaller goals, her one quest at the office is to beat a Minesweeper record on the office’s outdated computer. Zohar’s other main priority is to lose her virginity, which is one of the standout chapters of the film. Zohar finds a soldier who seems interested, only to quickly learn that even for the seemingly polite young man, being a soldier means being entitled over the women around him. These are well-drawn characters that speak to the overall disconnectedness between the institution and its female population.
With her comic storytelling, Lavie skillfully reveals the contradictions in the system of mandatory conscription in the IDF for women, while the status of women within the organization remains systematically constrained. On the one hand, including women in the IDF is an important step towards equality, but the governance of the organization has relegated women to secretaries far removed from the realities of combat. In a poignant and clever montage, two of the characters walk around the station while in the background another female soldier posts reminders of all the historic military engagements of the IDF and their significance. The message and design of these posters is quite institutional and shows the distance between that reality and the contained environment in the military stations.
We have no clear sense of why each of the characters made it to service but all have hopes and dreams that, however small or funny it might seem to the audience, are upended via their military service. Even the one woman in this institution who holds genuine aspirations to grow within the IDF fumbles her chances. Rama (Shani Klein), the female officer in charge of this group of misfits, cannot seem to access the “good old boys network,” as her group of slackers sabotage her in one instance after another.
All the stories in Zero Motivation speak to the uncomfortable relationship between Israel’s Western aspirations and its embedded traditional structure. While the film is critical with an undercurrent of dark humor, it does not settle any of the issues it raises. It will certainly be the opening for many conversations that will be plagued with more questions than answers.
Zero Motivation runs 100 minutes, is in Hebrew with English Subtitles and is unrated (there’s cursing, violence, nudity and sexual situations). The film will premiere in Miami at the Miami Jewish Film Festival where I have been asked to introduce it on Sunday, January 25 at 6 p.m. at O Cinema Miami Shores. It is being distributed by Zeitgesit Films to theaters and has begun a theaterical run that continues expanding. For other screening dates and times around the country visit the film’s official website here.
Update: Zero Motivation opens for a brief three-day run at the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus on Friday, Feb. 13.
November 6, 2014
Miami’s O Cinema is once again expanding. After setting up a movie house in the artsy district of Wynwood in February of 2011, O Cinema opened another movie in Miami Shores in October of 2012. This Friday, it will take charge of a third movie house in the northern part of Miami Beach. It’s an old movie house built in 1968 and once owned by Wometco and later the Regal Group.
I sat down with O Cinema’s co-founder Kareem Tabsch, in one of the cinema house’s 304 seats, at the front of the theater. It’s a large space with a mezzanine and is fitting of the aspirations of one of several Miami-area indie art houses. Tabsch says the City of Miami Beach has long hoped to bring art and culture to an area that already has plenty of great restaurants and lies just blocks from the beach. “It’s part of a lot of things there,” Tabsch says. “They just redid the fountain up the street, on 71st, Normandy Circle, the band shell is being activated.”
Tabsch notes that when he and his business partner Vivian Marthell started O Cinema, they hoped to usher in a new era of film culture to the community. “Why we did it from the beginning, which is what we believe in, is that there are plenty of film lovers or people who want to see quality independent cinema in the city, but they don’t have the opportunity … There is a critical mass for film. All the arts in Miami have reached these new levels,” he says, referring to the art scene in Wynwood, the Adrienne Arsht Center, a massive theater and concert hall in Downtown Miami, and the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, among other new cultural destinations in the city that have popped up in the last decade or so. “But film was kinda held back in a sense, as far as critical mass. You had stuff going on in the ’70s and the early ’80s with Nat Chediak’s theaters in Coral Gables and the Fendelman Brothers in the Grove.”
He also brings up the ’90s, when Miami had the Alliance Theater in Miami Beach and the Absinthe House in Coral Gables, the owners of which later expanded to the Mercury in North Miami, in the early 2000s. The Mercury would only last a couple of years, and all those theaters soon shuttered. The only mainstay, as far as indie/art/world and retrospective cinema was concerned, was being programmed by the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which is now celebrating its 11th year in operation under founding director Dana Keith, who has been booking special screenings in Miami Beach since 1993. “I always give Dana at the Cinematheque props because he’s held it down for the longest,” says Tabsch.
Tabsch also notes that he has a great working relationship with Keith and neither see the new O, which is located more than 60 streets north of MBC, as competition. Tabsch brings it back to North Beach as opposed to South Beach, which has its own culture and scene. Tabsch says it’s all about giving the area its own indie cinema. He also notes that he is very aware of the demographics of the community, including the fact that there is a high concentration of Brazilian and Argentinian families in the area. “Going to the movies is something that should happen within your community,” he offers. “It’s a part of your life. It’s a part of your culture. You want to walk to your movie theater. You don’t want to drive 20 minutes away. For a very long time in Miami, all you could do was just drive. For the first time in 15 years we will be providing, 52 weeks a year, seven days a week, cultural programming in North Beach. You will be able to come and see an indie movie every day of the week, and I think that’s gonna be a huge part of the growth of the neighborhood.”
You can read more of my conversation with Tabsch and plans for the new theater in this week’s “Miami New Times,” out on newsstands now or on-line at the weekly paper’s art and culture blog Cultist. Jump through the banner below to access it:
The opening night screening of Birdman is already sold out, but the film will play there until Nov. 13 (Update: due to technical issues the O Cinema premiere of Birdman was postponed. It now opens Friday, Nov. 21, and the cinema is honoring tickets from Nov. 7 for any Birdman screening at O Cinema Miami Beach). For screening details, visit here. Then, the theater will host The Theory of Everything (details). Read my review of Birdman here: ‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire. I loved that movie.
September 21, 2014
One of this year’s most startling films has to be Child of God. It took a while for this film critic to warm up to it while watching it. It’s harsh, spare but ultimately eye-opening. Once you tangle with its stark intentions: accepting the humanity of a man who commits reprehensible acts, this is truly a film that deserves respect (read my review: James Franco captures pathos of a necrophiliac psycho with ‘Child of God’). The film, based on the 1974 book by Cormac McCarthy and directed by the popular actor James Franco, challenges the audience on several levels. Viewers are not only expected to bring open minds but also a sense of empathy for a character most movies would portray as frightening or despicable. That demands the audience to travel to a dark place within themselves.
I spoke with the film’s star, actor/director Scott Haze, via phone ahead of his visit to the Miami Beach Cinematheque where he will sit down and talk with two film critics about Child of God for about an hour. “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar will engage Haze during the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema.” The event will feature clips of the film and will be recorded on video to be archived for educational purposes.
Speaking from his car in Hollywood, California, Haze talks openly about the lengths of his preparation and the baggage that comes with being judged as part of a Franco-directed film. Much of our conversation has already been published in the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” Read it by jumping through the logo to the blog below:
We spoke for nearly a half hour, so there was a lot to our chat. Below you will find a modified Q&A featuring lots of the great material I could not fit into the “Cultist” story. It captures the gist of our 25-minute conversation without repeating anything from the “Miami New Times” story:
Hans Morgenstern: Have you ever been to Miami?
Scott Haze: I’ve been everywhere in the United States except for Miami, which is crazy.
Do you have any expectations?
My expectations are really probably very lame. Miami’s been such a backdrop for some of my favorite movies as a kid, so the expectations I have are that it’s a great city, it’s a fun city. There’s a lot of beautiful women. There’s a lot of parties.
I have a sense that you and Franco worked very closely on this film, which I think is one of the most humanizing portraits of a serial killer that I have seen.
You know, this project started as a passion project with James years ago. He knew that Sean Penn wanted to make the movie, and he’s a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, so I guess it started as his desire to translate this project into a film. He does a lot of adaptations, but this was a dream project. This one and As I Lay Dying were the two movies that he wanted to make before he died.
What is the audience supposed to take away from this film?
I don’t know. I think that’s the cool thing about cinema. People are obviously not going to see The Wizard of Oz or Spiderman. You walk away with different things when you watch Child of God. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have walked away with many, many different things. A lot of people have connected to the feeling of looking at somebody who’s really alone and what it was liked in the 1950s in Tennessee. It could happen to somebody because back then they didn’t have Instagram, they didn’t have Twitter, they didn’t have Facebook, so Lester probably couldn’t have gone online and made friends, so it’s a different time. I think a lot of people have felt — if they look at being isolated and being alone for that amount of time — what it looks like. Some people are deeply moved by it, some people are rooting for Lester, some people cheer him on. Some people are horrified, but they want to see the story unfold, so they stick with it. It’s been really varied.
What did you do to get into this character’s head?
I did a lot of stuff. What I did was I realized I had to lose a lot of weight because I just played a Marine, had a shaved head. I was really built up, so I ended up losing tons of weight. I had a friend in Tennessee, and I went out there with an actress named Elissa Shay, and we did work on the script for about a month, and I filmed like a short documentary on the town and the community and what it was like interviewing a thousand people who were from that actual time frame and where Cormac set the novel. The novel is set in rural Tennessee. My friend actually happened to be the town historian of that city, so he took me on like this crazy tour of learning about caves, and everything Lester does in the novel I did. Half that stuff didn’t make the movie, which is just funny. I think of all that work I did, like scenes we shot where I make my own ax, which is in the novel, so I did everything that Cormac wrote in the novel … and then [my friend] had a cabin there, which was alone in the woods, and then I ended up living in isolation for well over a month in the cabin. Then I was in the caves for a little over a month. There was like this ongoing, evolving process of how this thing happened.
Watching your performance, you really go all out. Was it a fun role to play or was it painful?
It’s both. It was really, really hard, but at the same time, I look back on it, and a lot of people said I was just kinda crazy at that time, but it was fun at the same time. I knew that this was a great role. As a kid growing up wanting to play these great roles, I knew that I was very fortunate. I knew that Sean Penn wanted to do this role, and he couldn’t get this movie made for 15 years. It was like an adventure, like the stuff you watch on the Discovery channel.
Speaking of physicality, why include the scene of you shitting in the woods?
Well, that’s just in the novel. It wasn’t like I said, “You know what, James? What we need to do right now is I need to shit.” I think it was more like it’s what Cormac wrote, and I think there’s like something really wild about showing the conditions he’s living in and his mental state. There’s a lot of things that that does that I think Cormac was thinking about when he wrote that into the book … basically when you see that, the audience should realize what they’re in for. At that moment, when you see something like that, you don’t go, oh, I’m going to see Spiderman now, and I think James is a filmmaker who doesn’t want to shy away from something that may be hard on the audience.”
You are director too. How does that help the performance?
I direct films, I direct theater and I’m a filmmaker myself … I get it. There’s a scene in the movie where I could walk through the cold water in 10 degree weather or I don’t. What it was is it was James and I teamed up to tell the story, and we both understood that we were both completely invested. I think that being a director helps me in so many ways. It helps me in my preparation. It helps me in understanding filmmaking. It helps me in understanding how to help other actors in the scene. A lot of what I did I think it helps in a lot of ways.
The critical reception has been divisive at best. What are critics not getting?
If you were to put Brad Pitt in the role of Lester Ballard would that make Child of God different? I don’t know. I read an article in “Vice” that asked, ‘What are people missing out on by not realizing that Child of God is important to cinema today?’ I think it’s just a testimony to where we’re at with entertainment. These are really important movies that examine situations in life and human behavior that tell a story and don’t involve a green screen and don’t involve a cape or a superhero. Not only that, it’s really tackling serious circumstances in a very honest way. It’s hard to watch if people consider it a horror movie, and it’s not a horror movie. It’s a character study. It’s easy for people to say, ‘this is shocking, this is so crazy,’ and I don’t think it is.
I think you are definitely touching on the way I feel about it because I think the more you escape, the more you detach from humanity. This film makes you realize you have to have humanity to sympathize with such a character. There’s something more dehumanizing in these cartoon movies as opposed to a film like this which says, ‘Hey, wake up.’
I’m really glad you liked it, man. I really am because I’ve talked to people since the movie came out who are just awful to talk to, and they ask me some of the stupidest questions. Like the worst one is, Did you read the book? I’m like living in a cave to prepare for the movie and ‘I’m like, ‘Did you read the book? Yes, I read the book, a thousand times.’”
I think sometimes reviewers are biased due to the star persona of James Franco, but at least some people, like Jonathan Romney in “Film Comment” are writing intelligently about this movie.
The reason I think that this one was more well-received than a lot of his work, cause this movie played in competition at Venice last year and people like yourself who understand it love it, and they said this was his best movie, and I think it’s because of the story we’re telling that we were able to get away with things that you can’t get away with if you’re doing Ocean’s 11, like we had a camera on sticks in the middle of nowhere or going handheld. The fact that this movie is so rugged in the filmmaking style that he rolled with added itself sometimes to help it when it could have been disastrous. Your overall question is that there’s tons of people that just hate people, and they just want to take people down who are out there trying new or daring projects, so yeah, it’s huge, and I know that he knows it, and I know it, and anybody who roles with our crew know it if he’s named as our director that people are going to come in and hate, and I don’t think it’s fair to him. I think he’s doing something that’s not revolutionary but that they used to do in the theater back in New York. They had a group of actors that all just made movies together that were friends, and I think, as the years go on, people might step back and look at this differently with what he’s doing. Sure some of it is crazy, but most of it is not. Most of it is really daring, challenging projects that no one else thinks to do or doesn’t have the balls to do or doesn’t want to do, and he does it because he wants to do it, and then his close friends get it.
Child of God is showing exclusively now in South Florida at the Miami Beach Cinematheque through Sept. 28. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.
June 25, 2014
It’s not often that I promote a project’s Kickstarter campaign, but there’s no denying my personal connection to the subject of Little Haiti Rock City (here’s a link to the campaign). Though I hardly know the filmmakers, director Franco Parente and producer Angel Eva Markoulis certainly share my sentiments for the bar in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami called Churchill’s Hideaway, which was once run by British ex-pat Dave Daniels.
Daniels, a former pal of the famed BBC DJ John Peel, could certainly be considered one of the original Miami hipsters. His anything-goes attitude to the musicians he allowed on stage even allowed me to get on stage to lash at guitars and sing with the preeminent local noise band the Laundry Room Squelchers, who have long had residence on Thursday nights at the bar. The group’s founder, the legendary Frank “Rat Bastard” Fallestra, was always happiest when the din produced made people leave the bar. That Daniels could not only allow that but continue to invite Rat back over, night after night for literally decades, speaks to the kind of man Daniels is.
Churchill’s has not only incubated the likes of artists like Rat but also musicians like Sam Beam of Iron and Wine (who I first discovered there). Interpol’s drummer, Sam Fogarino, reunited with his old mates in the Holy Terrors a few years ago after an Interpol show (it was the better show that night). Now, after 35 years of ownership, Daniels has sold the bar, and I could hardly avoid the howl of protest from many local musician friends (this show happened, and it was one for the ages). Of course, the local musicians and fans have been only understanding, but they also harbor a bit of dread that the place will just never be the same.
Parente also has that same feeling. He has already spent much time with Daniels since he started shooting footage for his documentary on a bar that he considers Miami’s equivalent to New York’s CBGB. “I’d like to think it’s about the legacy that Dave built or rather allowed to build itself. What most people don’t see is the community of artists, musicians and just regular people that have coexisted within that space in Little Haiti.”
“The story we’re telling of Churchill’s wouldn’t exist were it not for him since it just wouldn’t be the same,” adds Markoulis.
Local musician Steven Toth, a.k.a. Mr. Entertainment, who put together the tribute show “For the Good of Music/A Night for Dave Daniels,” epitomizes the many local artists who would have never found their voice were in not for Daniels’ openness. “Well, Dave has been like the coolest uncle ever, and we aren’t related,” he says. “He gave me and my band a chance when we may not have even been good enough. He encouraged us to play, always told me how much he loved my street performing, and pretty much never said no to any of my crazy ideas. What Dave gave to us was freedom and a home all in one.”
During his interviews with Daniels, Parente found some insight into what motivated Daniels to open his stage to pretty much anyone with an instrument of some kind. “I think it’s been his interest all along to watch people flourish and shed the armor,” he says of Daniels. “I know he’s a businessman and always has been, but he’s a businessman with a heart, and that’s a dying breed.”
The idea of the dying breed is also part of the urgency that motivated Parente to begin work on this documentary before he had all the funds necessary to complete the film. Now, he and Markoulis have taken to Kickstarter to finish their work. “It’s a monumental task to raise this much money with smaller donations, as opposed to large investors bankrolling it,” admits Markoulis. But she also offers a perspective that will make it easily feasible. “If everyone who stumbles upon our project page pledged the cost of going to the movies, we’d have our funding and be able to preserve a piece of music history.”
As of the publication of this post, they are halfway to the $79,000 required to continue their work, but they only have eight days to go. Markoulis says if everything goes as planned, they could have their film completed by next year. They also hope to get the new owners on the record, even though the filmmakers admit some of these owners have chosen not to reveal their identities, which goes to show just how intimidating it is to be seen as a replacement for Daniels. “We are in the process of setting up an interview,” notes Parente, “but it’s a transitional period and direct access to the new owners has not been easy to come by. They’re not sitting at the end of the bar sipping on cider like Dave did for so long.”
“We would really love to include them in the documentary and the future of Churchill’s Pub,” adds Markoulis. “Hopefully they will be willing to sit down for an interview with us.”
Despite the doubts that seem to haunt the new ownership by many, both filmmakers remain optimistic about them. “We stand by them and hope that they make positive changes to the place and that we as a community can have Churchill’s here forever,” Parente states. “The reason we are making this film is not to preserve the building, but what Dave and his way of doing things have allowed to go on and came from that building.”
You can read much more about the film, including more specifics about how the filmmakers plan to use the Kickstarter funds, by jumping though the image below to this article I wrote for Pure Honey, earlier this month:
If you live in South Florida, one of the best ways to experience this venue while supporting this film is by checking out a show this Saturday, June 28 (here’s the Facebook event page to join). There’s a $10 cover and all proceeds go towards the Little Haiti Rock City Kickstarter campaign. Bands slated to appear include:
-The PawnsShop Drunks
-Shark Dust Sisters (featuring members of Load, The Holy Terrors & Quit. Plus special guests)
-Mr. Entertainment (playing the sidewalk, like the old days)
Remember, even if you are not in Miami, you can donate. Once again, here’s the link:
During the Miami International Film Festival, I had an opportunity to sit down with actor/director John Turturro. I was told I had 12 minutes to discuss his new film, Fading Gigolo, with him. Somehow we lost track of time and carried on for double that time, but it was a great conversation, touching on specifics in both his filmmaking and his acting style, directing Woody Allen the actor, his vision to hire Vanessa Paradis, a model/singer/actress better known in France for all her talents and best known in the U.S. as Johnny Depp’s ex. We also touched on his memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who only recently passed, and who we did love so much here at Independent Ethos.
It was a long chat that had to be spread across two articles in the Miami New Times. This first one appeared in print in and was written as a feature story and touched on not only the movie but Allen and that controversy that hung a bit too close over the film’s premiere in Miami. It also features his comments on Hoffman. Read it by jumping through the Miami New Times logo below:
There were many details left out of that piece for the sake of space, which one has to be very conscious of when writing for print. We spoke much more about Allen and how it was working with him, but we also spoke about Paradis’ talents and, on a more important scale, the presence of a film like Fading Gigolo in a major movie production industry more concerned with adapting YA stories and comic books. Where does a film about more complicated adult love fit into such an industry? We get into all that and more in the expanded Q&A I provided for Miami New Times’ art and culture blog Cultist. You can read that part of our chat by jumping through the Cultist logo below:
Finally, there is what is left of our chat, which was no less compelling. Turturro was certainly gracious about his award, which he received at a packed concert hall in Downtown Miami a couple of months ago, at the 2014 Miami International Film Festival (A re-cap of a hectic half-attended, still impressive Miami International Film Festival 31). However, there’s something of a feeling of achieving a peak with such awards, and it can do things to your creativity and career … We start there, talk about color and film, shooting in 35mm (which Turturro has not given up on), and love stories for mature people. Here’s part three of our talk, exclusive to Independent Ethos:
Hans Morgenstern: So what was it like getting your big career achievement Award?
John Turturro: You know, I take those things with a grain of salt. People obviously like what you do. But I wouldn’t like to be doing it, because I’m not announcing my retirement. You know, I got one of those things when I first started out in Sundance. They gave me this Actor Piper-Heidseick Award. I think I was the first person to ever get one, and I was just starting out. It was like 1990 or 1991 or something like that. I remember I didn’t even have a proper suit jacket to wear. I guess because I do a variety of things, oh, look at this, look at that. I’m always appreciative, but I’m more appreciative of being able to do the things I want. That’s what I want to do. People can win an Academy Award, and it may not help them get another job. Things like that have happened many times, and my important thing is being able to do things I like to do. That’s it. That’s what I care about. I can’t sit and stare at the walls and say I got all these awards. It’s nice, but I don’t think about it too much.
They also showed your new movie, Fading Gigolo. One of the things I noticed about the film was the range of colors you used.
Oh, yeah, very carefully selected. We used the Saul Leiter photographs. He was a fashion photographer who did all these great street pictures and reflections in windows. Maybe they were staged, some of them. I’m not sure some of them weren’t, but they were like Kodachrome. There was a certain dye transfer that he did. Then I used the Italian painter, [Giorgio] Morandi, a still life painter, for a lot of the colors of Fiorvante’s apartment. So those were the two visual sources. Everything was selected very carefully, stripes that the Hasidic community used and the stripes that my character had, and even getting Woody in dark pants was a big thing. I told him, no khaki pants. I didn’t tell him, but I gently nudged him, and as you see, he’s got dark pants on, and that’s very unusual for Woody, and he even has a purple, kind of, colored corduroy hat. He’s even got a black jacket at some point, and he never dresses that way.
I even noticed the white of his hair more in this movie.
Well, he hasn’t really been in that many movies for a long time. Anyway, yeah, cause color is emotional, and the way it’s lit, we shot it on film. We didn’t shoot digital. We used 8 millimeter for the credits and it’s 35 millimeter, and [director of photography] Marco Pontecorvo, he’s great with the light. We used a lot of shadow, a lot of chiaroscuro.
Have you always shot in 35mm?
Only Passione I did with the Red [digital camera]. But this we tested, and we thought it was a lot softer on the women, and it’s a film about New York or any city that’s kind of changing and fading a little bit. I thought that would just be—it’s more voluptuous, soft.
Well, fading is a key word to your film.
Yeah, of course.
So what motivated you to do this film about a man far along in his prime, let’s say? Because when you are dealing with Hollywood and this complex idea of love, it’s so much easier to focus on the youth.
Well, youth is part of life, but it’s not all of life, and sometimes you can see a film like Blue Is the Warmest Color, and it’s fantastic. The girl is unbelievable because you’re seeing someone budding. I thought her performance was brilliant, but most of the time you see it, and their reference is very young, and life goes on, and people start life again at 40. They get divorced. They lose someone. They never find the right person, and though, well, here’s a guy who’s in the middle of his life and lives in a room, and I know people like that, who are really comfortable with women, who likes women, but he never really commits, but he’s a guy who is very good, physically. I have friends that can fix their engines, they have a plumbing problem, they have an electrical problem, and it’s very attractive to be around a person like that, cause you’re like, wow. These people express themselves in that way, and they may not be ambitious, and I was thinking about that. So many people want to be famous instead of doing what they do. I think love and needing to be loved, to be touched, to connect, it’s a universal thing. It never ends. You’re livin’ by yourself, and you’re 70 years old, you know, loneliness can kill a person. So I thought that could be an interesting thing to explore. Obviously, you have to be in good enough shape to do it, and I thought when Woody makes the suggestion to me, the guy is resistant. I’m too old. I’m not a gorgeous looking guy, but he’s not insecure that way at all. He’s like, well, I know who I am.
And that helps with the ladies.
Yeah, that’s right. It could help a lot. Especially if you know how to listen and you know how to behave, you know how to pick up what’s going on in the moment.
Your character has a great name: Fiorvante. Where’s that from?
A lot of the names I took— my father was a builder— right out of his phone book. He’s no longer alive and Dan Bongo, I took right out of his phone book. He was a plasterer. Fiorvante, I think [his last name was] Boccio, he was a painter. I just took the names right out of it. Not all of the names, but those names I did. Virgil Howard was a name I took right out of a phone book. So sometimes you’re superstitious. You think, well, maybe if I take something from my parents, it’ll bring you good fortune. It’s a way of communicating with them or something.
Fading Gigolo opens Friday, May 2, in the Miami area at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24. On opening night, at the 7 p.m. screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema there will be a live video-link Q&A with Turturro. For screening dates in other cities, visit the film’s official website.
October 11, 2013
When I wrote about Sigur Rós coming to Miami I made an off-the-cuff reference to fans who let the tears loose at the sound of frontman Jon “Jónsi” Thor Birgisson’s voice (An interview with Sigur Ros’ drummer ahead of the band’s first Miami show [go through to the Miami New Times interview, too]). It was something I had heard in passing, and I could not remember a specific reference. I could have even just made it up, as I believe the Icelandic group’s music is some of the most stirring I have ever heard. It’s the way they know how to build up music. It’s assembled with such care and patience that albums such as 2002’s ( ) earns the ecstasy of untitled track 3 (AKA “Samskeyti”) because of the two untitled tracks before it (“Vaka” and “Fyrsta”). It takes a full 15 minutes before a pretty, looping, driving piano melody appears, but it’s only as good as it is because of the investment in the rather ambient, amorphous, restrained bits of music before it.
The other night, at the Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park, I noticed the band work that subtle magic that ultimately affected me. It was during the fourth number of the night when it felt like I stepped across a line in my consciousness.
“Glósóli” from 2005’s Takk… was coming toward its finale. After building up from sporadic, light bass string plucking by Georg Hólm, a light twinkling bell melody and the surreal muddy crunch from either a sampler or one of the band’s many percussive elements, the song soared to heights of layered ecstasy. Jónsi bowed at his electric guitar, creating a wall of sound like a ghostly wind rolling over a distant mountain. The song went double time, with more elements of percussion piling up and pounding along. Guitars joined in the din until it all became a sort of white noise that still had musical scale, growing higher and more ecstatic. As Jónsi repeated a phrase, “Og hér ert þú, Glósóli,” extending the “þú” with each refrain, I realized I could cry. I did not need to know what he’s saying. It was all about the sensation. The decision to allow the tear ducts to open was as easy as opening a door and relaxing into what greeted me on the other side.
Here’s the video for “Glósóli”:
You can read my full review of that night by clicking on the image below shot by Miami New Times’s photographer Monica McGivern:
Sigur Rós’ tour continues with a stop in Mexico City and London in a few days and then a European leg in November:
Oct. 13 – Corona Capital – Mexico City
Oct. 18 – Maida Vale – London
EUROPEAN AUTUMN TOUR
Nov. 16 – O2 Arena – Dublin, Ireland
Nov. 18 – Usher Hall – Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Nov. 19 – Capital FM Arena – Nottingham, United Kingdom
Nov. 20 – Brighton Centre – Brighton, United Kingdom
Nov. 21 – Wembley Arena – London, United Kingdom
Nov. 23 – Rockhal – Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Nov. 24 – Jahrhunderthalle – Frankfurt, Germany
Nov. 25 – Mitsubishi Electric Halle – Dusseldorf, Germany
Nov. 27 – Baltiska Hallen – Malmo, Sweden
Nov. 28 – Spektrum – Oslo, Norway
Nov. 30 – Hartwall Areena – Helsinki, Finland
You can find tickets to any of these shows by visiting the band’s touring page here.