‘Pass Over’ at the August Wilson Theatre is Glorious

(L to R) Jon Michael Hill, Gabriel Ebert, Namir Smallwood in Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over, directed by Danya Taymor (Joan Marcus)

Two men standing on a desolate street corner with a lamppost shining on a blasted, deserted, space save for a garbage can, a patch of weeds, a tire, a wire milk carton. Such is the material/empirical setting reminiscent in its isolation and abstract loneliness of Samuel Beckett’s setting in ‘Waiting For Godot.’ Likewise the comedic and clown-like Moses (the brilliant Jon Michael Hill) and his Homie, clowning sidekick Kitch (the brilliant Namir Smallwood) appear similar to Vladimir and Estragon. However, they are not. They are black. And where Vladimir and Estragon “wait,” unafraid, bored, wiling away the hours, Moses and Kitch exist in a hellish landscape afraid of death at the hands of the “PoPos,” shorthand for police.

Whether one has seen Beckett’s Godot or not, doesn’t matter. The isolation of these two individuals and their express desires to leave this heartless existence that holds the terror of black men dying by a simulated “justice” which is tantamount to the injustice of lynching is conveyed with empathy and poignancy by the creative team of actors and director Danya Taymor. With acute care, emotional grist, comedic genius and dynamic drama, they bring to stark, felt life, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s haunting, memorable dialogue in Pass Over, currently running at the August Wilson Theatre in a cool, streamlined no intermission production.

Jon Michael Hill in Antoinette Chionye Nwandu’s Pass Over, directed by Danya Taymor (Joan Marcus)

When we first meet the likable Moses and Kitch, we understand their camaraderie and support for one another, as well as the similarity of their desires, fantasizing about the finer things of a luxurious, material, elite lifestyle. Though Moses is the leader and Kitch is his follower and admirer, their synchronicity and dependency is clear, for they wish to “pass over,” to get to the “promised land,” the “land of milk and honey” represented by the “American Dream.”

And whether we have eaten lobster or drank Crystal, like they wish to, we, too, have craved the finer things of life and may even feel a sense of superiority that we have experienced them, where these impoverished of the ghetto block can only entertain themselves and each other by dreaming about such extravagances in a humorous and ironic game which has become a way of bonding between them.

(L to R): Namir Smallwood and Jon Michael Hill in Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over, directed by Danya Taymor (Joan Marcus)

Fifteen minutes in to the thrust and parry of humor, the gaming is interrupted by a Pavlovian signal that has brainwashed them to fear: the stage floods momentarily with a steely light and a dull, blaring warning sound. (It reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film War of the Worlds, when there sounds a far-reaching alarm announcing the aliens’ presence.) We learn later that Moses and Kitch recognize this alarm as the sound of death; that another black friend or acquaintance in their neighborhood has been killed by police. They cower and crouch in fear until the light and sound normalizes to the stasis of desolation, and once again they return to humor and the grace of planning to escape and go somewhere where they can live free from fear in a greater abundance of prosperity than their current existence.

However, there are two caveats. They must elude the PoPos, as Moses led the Israelites to elude the angel of death which “passed over” the the First Born if the blood of the lamb was on the doorposts of the Israelites’ homes. Secondly, the PoPos expect them to remain on the block to never escape their oppression and misery. Thus, they are free only in their games, humor and imagination, while their physical bodies are subject to the reality of their dire existence with the threat of death hanging over their lives. Will they be able to “pass over” and escape death? The symbolism is spiritual with possibilities for escaping all of what the playwright infers elements of the death state is in this life.

(L to R): Namir Smallwood and Jon Michael Hill in Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over directed by Danya Taymor (Joan Marcus)

Into their ghetto corner (which the playwright suggests symbolizes as historical oppression and redemption-a river’s edge, a plantation, a desert city built by slaves and a new world on the horizon) comes Mister who slips up and calls himself Master (the wonderful Gabriel Ebert). Taymor has him ironically dressed in a white suit and vest, such as gentlemen of the Old South used to wear on or off the plantation. Mister, intending to visit his ill mother with a picnic basket of food, inexplicably gets lost and arrives with his bounty to the ghetto block.

At first Moses, whom his religion teacher encouraged to live up to his namesake, the Biblical Moses, proudly eschews Mister’s offer of food charity, though both he and Kitch are hungry. However, sociable, “good-natured” Mister cajoles and tempts them. And after he massages their egos with charm and humility, he shares some of the delicious food in his basket with Moses and Kitch in a wonderfully humorous staged scene.

(L to R): Namir Smallwood, Jon Michael Hill in Pass Over (Joan Marcus)

We note the roles between the individuals and hints of seduction and exploitation, expecting some catastrophe, however, Nwandu has tricks up her sleeve and the situation with Mister is as it appears. Mister worms his way into their hearts and they become friendly. And for a fascinating moment they forget about “getting off the block,” and being all they can be, lulled by the food. Intriguingly, Mister chides them for abusing their use of the “N” word which he cannot use, because as Moses suggests, he doesn’t own that word.

It is an ironic gesture since it is perhaps the only “thing” Mister doesn’t “own,” as a representative of the dominant oppressor race. Though Mister doesn’t “own” their black identity which they have accepted as their own, is it something which is good for them or is it another trick of oppression? After Mister leaves, Moses and Kitch realize that adopting that identity is a trick of the white culture and the PoPos, for by inference, the “N” label associates with low-down and/or slovenly criminal behavior, regardless of whether they are deserving of such labels or not. Ironically, they have proudly accepted that term as their identity, but it has resulted in black male deaths at the hands of the police.

Deciding to cover for themselves, using Mister’s gentile manners, they avoid trouble, when Ossifer (a police officer played by Gabriel Ebert who is the different side of the same coin as Mister) shows up. Moses and Kitch become “gentlemen” in word and action, imitating Mister. It works. Ossifer leaves them alone and protects them as culturally “white” until Kitch slips up and uses the “N” word triggering the brutality of the police officer who confronts them as their oppressor to control, belittle and demean. Under these circumstances we feel the depressive desolation of the historical and current inferior “slave.” And Ossifer terrorizes them reminding them that their lives are only useful for living in fear and misery as “the controlled.” The only respite Moses and Kitch have is the humor and hope Kitch and Moses stir up within themselves and share with each other to make existence bearable until they can “pass over.”

(L to R): Namir Smallwood and Jon Michael Hill in Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over directed by Danya Taymor (Joan Marcus)

In an amazing turning point, Nwandu clarifies a new meaning for the term Moses references from the Bible, “pass over.” It is a spiritual one that Moses convinces Kitch they must now seek, no longer wanting to deal with the despair and long trial of a desolate existence.

Taymor, shepherding Hill, Smallwood and Ebert creates extreme tension throughout. Especially when Ebert as Mister and Ossifer shows up. The atmosphere is that of a pressure cooker sizzling until it seethes into an explosion which does occur. We, like Moses and Kitch, expect the blast after every joke, around every game they play, especially when the alarm sounds and lights flare up that the PoPos have killed another black man. Nwandu cleverly distorts the thrust of the heat and danger providing extraordinary twists in the turn of evolving events. These become revelatory, magical and lead to the unexpected and heartfelt.

The beauty of the conclusion is in its realization of a return to an ideal which isn’t actually some pie in the sky fantasy, but is present and real. In the production it occurs with the help of and extraordinary supernatural intervention as happened to the Biblical Moses. Taking one step forward after another, Moses, Kitch and Ossifer (a reborn Christopher) are released and the imagined consciousness comes into being. However, the lure of what’s past beckons. One must not turn around to be enticed, or everything will be lost in the material plane where the human race has crashed and burned for millennia.

Pass Over is a must see for its fantastic performances, its uniqueness, its joy, despair, thematic truths and its wonderful faith and hope in human nature. I could not help but be gratified that there were no female characters. Their absence is lyrically pointed. The production is mesmerizing and I have nothing but praise for how the playwright, director and actors connected with the truth of what we face as a multifaceted and diverse society that is desperately crying out for healing and redemption. But as Nwandu suggests, the promised land is already here. We must look to our own inner strengths and step out to cross that “river”and never turn back.

Kudos to the creative team that made this production fly and whose effects helped to send chills down my spine and tears down my face. They include Wilson Chin (scenic design) Sarafina Bush (costume design) Marcus Doshi (lighting design) and Justin Ellington (sound design). Pass Over runs until the 10th of October. This is one you cannot miss. For tickets and times go to the Pass Over website by clicking HERE.

‘The Body Fights Back,’ Documentary Review

Mojo, ‘The Body Fights Back’ (courtesy of the film)

How do you feel about your physical body? Are you slim, gorgeous, buff, married to a hot man or woman? Or do you fear getting on the scale or if you’re a guy, looking in the mirror because you haven’t been able to work out for two weeks and you know that the flab is growing in leaps and bounds around your middle? Do you have an inner voice that screams don’t eat another piece of pizza or have that cronut? Or do you annihilate that voice and go unconscious eating everything in the fridge after being “careful” and eating only salad and a small piece of fish for your entire food calories daily for one week, though you go to bed hungry?

Cat Walk in Trafalgar Square in 'The Body Fights Back' (courtesy of the film)
Cat Walk in Trafalgar Square in ‘The Body Fights Back’ (courtesy of the film)

The Body Fights Back written and directed by Marian Vosumets shadows five individuals from diverse backgrounds that represent all of us at one point or another in our lives as we confront issues of weight, appearance guilt, body shaming, appearance perfection and the subterranean condemnation that the media lays on men and women through the marketing industry, the fashion industry and most predominately the weight loss industry. And this includes you, too, icon of “superior weight loss,” Weight Watchers.

If that is a mouthful about what Vosumets tackles in her documentary, it is because she highlights all of the problems the culture presents for everyone as they attempt to find happiness in getting to the next day. Meanwhile, they must navigate through the dangerous rocks, the images of perfection that are everywhere and that brainwash and bamboozle everyone to internalize self-condemnation because their appearance just “doesn’t have what it takes to get anywhere.”

Rory, 'The Body Fights Back' (courtesy of the film)
Rory, ‘The Body Fights Back,’ (courtesy of the film)

Vosumets interviews Mojo, a feisty, adorable, overweight black woman, Rory Brown a buff-looking white male, Hannah Webb, a thin, quiet-speaking, young white woman, Imogen Fox, a thin, out-spoken, confident gay white woman, Tenisha Pascal, a confident, bubbly overweight black woman and Michaela Gingel an outgoing, overweight white woman. Each of these individuals is a courageous star who has confronted and battled body shaming, self-ridicule and unhappiness with their appearance identify which was beaten into them by the diet industry and culture at large. Mind you, diets don’t work. Indeed, as one researcher in the film points out, 85% of the individuals who diet again and again go back to their former weight and many gain even more weight. Of course, the diet culture keeps that statistic under wraps.

Recording her subjects’ prescient and brilliantly honest presence and commentary, the documentarian gets at what the diet culture and all of its octopus tentacles (the fashion industry, marketing industry, media in all its forms, health industry) do to destroy the souls of millions of individuals, predominately in the U.K., U.S. and Australia by making them feel inferior and deserving of condemnation, unless they look perfect. Appearance is everything to the diet culture octopus. Unless one fits the image in the billboards, magazines, media, people are the equivalent of worms to be outcast from community and companionship. Importantly, they are not deserving of love, most importantly self-love. Thus, they HAVE to go on a diet to look better. Their lives, which are boiled down to appearance only, and never includes their treasured souls, depend on dieting to look good. If they don’t diet, they face the outer darkness.

Cat Walk, The Body Fights Back (courtesy of the film)
Cat Walk ‘The Body Fights Back,’ (courtesy of the film)

If this sounds like hyperbole, it is. Diet culture and all of its psychotic means to make billions of dollars a year exploiting fear of fat, will stop at nothing to twist the minds and hearts of everyone. Let’s face it, women, if you’re not a BMI 18-20, you’re a pig. The sacrosanct thin people who fit this weight category are most probably in some form of eating disorder or addicted to pills, cocaine, smoking, crack, heroin, etc. Celebrities have revealed their disorders and addictions to stay thin: anorexia, bulimia, binging and purging, cocaine addiction, speed addiction, crack, heroin and more.

Hannah Webb truthfully discusses how doctors missed her eating disorder because they, too, had fallen for the lie that healthy people are always thin people. She weighed within a normal range of BMI, which is not an accurate indicator of health; other factors must be taken into consideration. Thus, Hannah lived a lie which made her miserable until she confronted it. In poignant discussions with her mother captured by Vosumets, she discusses battling her issues with eating, for example, a croissant and constant fears of gaining weight. With her disorder she was on the verge of life and death. Yet, she was able to come out of it with the help of her family and therapy.

Hannah is the opposite side of the same coin as Mojo, Michaela, Tenisha and Imogen, all of whom had or have issues about weight. Imogen also battled a disability and discusses that when she was heavier, the hospital staff were very insulting and annihilating about getting her a gown to fit (get her a man’s gown which is bigger) and other obnoxious calumny in front of her face, almost as if they enjoyed and felt sanctified in their sadism.

But this is par for the course. Overweight in the culture is anathema and grounds for banishment from normal society. It deserves vilification, ridicule, jokes and shaming. How unhealthy these fatties are!!! Of course, this emerges from colonialism, white male paternalism (women must be quiet, thin, beautiful and sexually available 24/7 and perfect until they can be thrown away for another model) and capitalism-make that money even if you have to step over the bodies of those you kill in the process.

TRAILER The Body Fights Back OUT July 13 from The Body Fights Back on Vimeo.

The diet culture, thus, reinforces the most nihilistic of values at the expense of truth and health. Vosumets has researchers and scientists comment that one could be thin and on the verge of death; overweight is not correlated to healthiness. Indeed, based upon appearance, Hannah and Imogen who are at the epitome of thin (according to the diet culture and Octopus standards) are perfect and sanctified. Ironically, they are not; one battled for her life just to eat certain foods without fear and the other is disabled. Thus, the diet culture lies. It is its own profitable myth. (diets don’t work) And this is one of the key points in Vosumets’ wonderful documentary. What is healthy should include physical, mental, emotional, psychic well being. We are, after all, not only a body; we have a soul and spirit. And indeed, the body disintegrates. However, what are we doing about the interior of our lives? No wonder with eating obsessions individuals are miserable, regardless of how thin and buff they appear.

Vosumets cleverly includes Rory Brown to show that he, too, is a slave to conformity. For men the idea that you have to be buff and gorgeous is what life is all about. Yet, he confides that as he goes to the gym, he is depressed. As he looks in the mirror, he is glad he looks “great,” but he can’t carry a mirror around with him every second of the day. He’s worked on his exterior, but his interior is miserable. Like Mojo, Hannah, Michaela, Tenisha and Imogen they have all been enslaved to the octopus (the diet culture and its attendant industries) who siphons off their emotional well being and eventually their physical well being. Sadly, the brainwashing of not being able to measure up to perfection has been internalized. Each discusses how daily, they’ve lived with judgment, self-condemnation, self-loathing and fear.

Vosumets’ editing is thematic and she builds in an arc employing the commentary of her stars to chronicle the beginning of the problem, usually with parents and upbringing. The stories then evolve so that we understand how the subjects began to realize what they were up against in themselves from rebellion, to acceptance, to self-love. Interspersed with these interviews of Mojo, Hannah, Rory, Tenisha and Imogen she interviews researchers, doctors, therapists, journalists who have written on the subject or who counsel individuals with eating disorders. They identify first hand from the testimony of their clients the noxious attitudes of the diet culture octopus. And they explain how once internalized early on, the attitudes and voices become the self-destroying tormentors within the souls of those who wrangle with emotional issues at the heart of body image problems and eating disorders.

One of the most enlightening and uplifting final segments in the film is the sequence with Rebecca Young’s Anti-Diet Riot Club and the Cat Walk. With the Cat Walk, men and women, some disabled, many of all shapes and sizes and colors and races go on a Cat Walk wearing whatever they like to proudly present who they are. They are not their bodies only but their beings who ask that they be recognized holistically. It is truly a celebratory experience to see them receive the applause from an appreciative audience of onlookers. Vosumets also examines the Anti-Diet Riot Club as a force for change. Weight and rejection of bodies has been a political and economic and health issue, it seems, since colonialism rose and is finally setting into a sea of oblivion, eventualy.

Researchers make important points that must be considered. Eating disorder issues arise when there are tremendous gaps between the rich and the poor. For example fast foods are mostly found in lower socioeconomic areas (food deserts) where there aren’t markets like Whole Foods. Thus the unhealthier food is offered to encourage the lower classes to fit the inferior body image that the more wealthy class can look down on in addition to shaming them with regard to health. Mojo poses interesting questions about why around dinner time there are so many McDonald’s commercials and fast food commercials but few commercials about organic foods and no commercials about Whole Foods. Also, the point is made that fast foods are easy and convenient to feed families when single parents are working two jobs. Families who are wealthier can have home cooked meals that take longer to prepare.

Things are changing. For some not fast enough because the younger generations are suffering from the abuses of the older paternalistic, Colonialistic, white supremacist generations whose fascist images of perfection have been used to exploit people and make them feel inferior for profit. However, Vosumets ends on an uplifting note. Change is coming and the backlash will be present as old myths and money die hard. But change must come because too many have lived lives of quiet desperation internalizing the lies of the criminal profiteers who have sold their souls to enslave others for money. The young are aware and they are throwing off the lies and myths so the generations after them can live and breathe with the freedom and joy of self-love.

The Body Fights Back is a must-see film especially if you have ever felt to go on a diet to lose weight or you looked in the mirror and were not overjoyed at the image that stared back at you. It is streaming on all platforms. For more information and to stream CLICK HERE.

‘Love Type D’ A Semi-Satire About ‘Born Losers in Love’

Obsessive love stinks. When women or men are attacked by Cupid, they may move on a scale from fools to killers. Love is potent stuff. But what happens if you have a gene to be “lucky in cards and unlucky in love?” Love Type D written and directed by Sasha Collington is a crowd pleaser that removes you from reality which is a necessity, but it also disavows the serious topics it touches upon with a too light tone. A missed opportunity for this comedic, ironic film.

The premise is high concept; it is easy to understand how the pitch for this film worked. However, in its execution, the plot has dead spots, ups and downs, moving from laugh riot (infrequently) to gentle gruntles to “yeah, ho hum.” If only it mined the gold in the themes it touches upon! The group ensemble scenes work well as do some of the implausible farcical moments. The background music “mostly lighthearted” not so much.

Frankie Browne (Maeve Dermody) winsome, twenty-something in love with Thomas Lacey (Oliver Farnsworth) waits for him at a lovely London restaurant for their romantic dinner. Surprised by 11-year-old Harry Potteresque Wilbur (Rory Stroud) Thomas’ brother, she wilts at the message Wilbur gives her. To avoid a scene, Thomas has sent the pipsqueak to break up with Frankie forever in a humiliating, abrupt, “let her down hard so she can’t come back to bug me” way. The devastated Frankie attempts to discover why Thomas has dumped her to no avail.

To make matters worse, Wilbur who is involved with his friend in a research competition takes advantage of her neediness. He eventually reveals (Frankie pries it out of him) that she most probably has a “loser love gene.” Her love relationships starting with tweenhood have ended worse than badly; she reflects about her past loves. Collington fills in her heartbreaks with two flashbacks. Look for Natacha Basset playing the young Frankie.

As many women are wont to do, Frankie judges her past eleven breakups through the eyes of her failed relationship with Thomas. She must have an inherent fault as a “love loser,” a liability in her DNA, says scientist Dr. Elsa Blomgren (a scary Tovah Feldshuh). She is a Type D (the dumped on type). As commercials do subliminally, the ones made by Epigenica featuring Dr. Elsa promote guilt and pile on condemnatory negativity, converting watchers to losers in every aspect of their lives, particularly in love. Affirmed again and again as a loser, Frankie watches the sales pitches and becomes convinced that via Type D, she irrevocably has been and will be dumped in love relationships. It’s terribly depressing, and an imperative to purchase a $500.00 test to see if genetically she is destined to be dumped eternally.

In human beings’ worst moments, including suicidal moments, the misery of humiliation, the thought of being a loser, and feeling that things will never change have persuaded more than a few to end it. The film flirts with this notion of love’s impossibility and nihilism in the human heart and mind. And it flirts with the gene theory of irrevocable inherent inferiority (rather fascist, master race stuff) as a subliminal, noxious message. However, this message is converted mildly to farce and keeps that terror at bay with light humor.

There is a missed opportunity here. The farce could have been broader and more extreme. That Frankie so willingly accepts this “scientific” designation is alarming. And somehow, the signals are muddied as we laugh. If the humor was darker, more sardonic, the film’s themes would have been strengthened. But that involves adding a character with a critical, observer’s eye and that character of reason is absent in the midst of those who are either “perfect” or “inferior.” (a main problem with the plot and themes of the film)

Frankie, with the help of Wilbur, eventually goes through a journey of twists and turns, some of which are hackneyed, others surprising. First, after getting tested for the gene and finding she is irrevocably a loser, she collaborates with her work colleagues in a love loser cult of “woe is me.” Some of these ensemble moments are beautifully paced and LOL funny.

However, in her attempt to still reconcile with Thomas, who has picked a lovely winner for his girlfriend (an astronaut, fit, brilliant, to be envied) she eventually works with Wilbur to find a solution to the “love loser” problem. Wilbur and his friend have discovered if the losers dump their first love to reverse the “curse” of being dumped and do this with all those who dumped them, then the gene will somehow switch off. It is at this point that the plot goes into the stratosphere and not necessarily in a good way. However, for all those who have “lost” in love, been defamed, humiliated, reduced to worms and slugs, the idea to “dump the dumper” is appealing, if not vengeful and psychically/emotionally unregenerative and narcissistic.

Frankie is such a loser that she is “stuck” on trying to get Thomas to love her. She uses every deception with the help of Wilbur (hypnosis to name one) to get close enough to “dump” him. However, Cupid’s arrow is so deep, she’s a hopeless case. Her obsession is so ridiculous, that he is forced to take out a restraining order against her. By this point older, seasoned women will throw up their hands in exasperation, while younger women will be rooting for her, indignant at the cruel and heartless Thomas. Meanwhile, Frankie’s work colleagues have been successful at going back and reversing the tables with former boyfriends/girlfriends by dumping them.

In a Deus Ex Machina (the miraculous intervention) solution, Wilbur and his friend develop a liquid “Love Potion Number 9” made of pheromones at “elephant strength,” (that’s how much of a turn-off Frankie has made herself to Thomas) to use on Thomas to get close enough to dump him and trigger a reversal of the gene. The scene at the nightclub where Frankie croaks out a song which the power of the potion converts so that she has the voice and allure of Katy Perry (all the men including Thomas are entranced) is hysterical.

The conclusion ties up neatly with a protagonist who walks into the camera speaking her wisdom philosophically. But the depth of what she has learned is surface and the danger of what she and others have missed in all of the machinations of cultural definitions of success and failure, genetic engineering for “success,” and mastering ourselves so that we love ourselves “for who we are,” remain unsatisfactory. But, since it’s all in good fun, it doesn’t really matter what we consume, does it?

Love Type D screened at the Charlotte Film Festival, Manchester International Film Festival, RiverRun International Film Festival and Washington DC Independent Film Festival where it won awards. Look for it screening online 9th July.

‘Ghosting’ Streaming at The Irish Repertory Theatre

Anne O'Riordan in 'Ghosting,' presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the theaters)
Anne O’Riordan in ‘Ghosting,’ presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the production)

Theatermania has referred to the Irish Repertory Theatre as the “Leader of Streaming Theater,” during the pandemic. Its shows have been top notch during the unprecedented New York City theater shutdown. Ghosting written by Jamie Beamsh and Anne O’Riordan, performed by Anne O’Riordan is an intriguing and thoughtful provoking offering. Recorded live at Theatre Royal Waterford in Ireland, that theater, Thrown Shapes and the Irish Repertory Theatre collaborated to stream the presentation which concludes in a few days. (4th July)

Anne O’Riordan’s performance is nuanced, personal and superb. She personifies the voice and demeanor of various characters with the exception of one, for a symbolic reason. Sheila, nicknamed “She” for short, left Waterford for London and has been there for six years. We gradually discover the reason why, though she initially misleads us and we think it is because her former boyfriend who took her virginity then “ghosted” her. In the vernacular, ghosting means an individual cuts off all communication and ends a relationship without explaining why, without going through miserable late night begging sessions to “stay together.” In other words, he cut her off and never spoke to her again.

Anne O'Riordan in 'Ghosting,' presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the theater)
Anne O’Riordan in ‘Ghosting,’ presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the production)

From her position at work, we note she is irascible and unapproachable. She doesn’t have any friends, nor does she have any hobbies or interests that she discusses. She essentially complains about her co-worker who clearly cares about her and with whom she might establish a relationship. She is uninterested and aloof. We consider is it him or her. As Sheila confides in us she slips information discussing that she can’t sleep at night. Perhaps, her irate attitude is because she hasn’t been home to Ireland in six years. Perhaps it is because she has not kept up with family after her mother died. Thus, we determine she grieves. Some people never end their grieving for a parent. No communication is easier than tears and longing for who will never retrun.

The turning point comes when she can’t sleep one night and someone shows up at the foot of her bed. Is this a dream? Is this reality? Is she hallucinating because she has gone insane? We follow along for the ride not wanting to believe that Sheila is psycho, though in some circles, she immediately would be given medication and confront her obviously deep-seated issues with group or individual psychotherapy. But this is different. Sheila is rational; her story, thus far, is logical and we accept that her former boyfriend at the foot of her bed is a ghost or has emerged out of her dream to stop ghosting her by ghosting her. The irony is humorous.

Anne O'Riordan in 'Ghosting,' presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the theater)
Anne O’Riordan in ‘Ghosting,’ presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the production)

From there the twists and turns gyrate and we whirl along in Sheila’s adventure as she maneuvers a journey back to Ireland. What happens there becomes an examination of her admission that she has been the one ghosting. She’s ghosted her father, her family and friends there. Most importantly, she’s ghosted herself. She realizes she’s been living a non-living reality, not existing so that she deferred grappling with herself, her destiny and future. Does she make plans and enjoy the moments and breaths of her life? No. She has been a shadow person, beyond a state of hibernation. And the only way that she comes out of it is through someone else’s sacrifice and a supernatural visitation, an earthquake that shakes her unto herself to show her what she’s been doing.

When Sheila returns to Waterford, her hometown, she’s drawn home for an urgent reason (to her) via a text her sister sends her. She meets her sister in a bar but she vows not to see her father. Startling and embarrassing, emotional events occur. The miraculous visitations continue until she is brought to a reconciliation with herself and her family after she returns to her home in London.

Anne O'Riordan in 'Ghosting,' presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the theater)
Anne O’Riordan in ‘Ghosting,’ presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the production)

Beamish and O’Riordan’s writing has elements of the philosophical poetical. The direction of the visitation scenes is spot on. The scenes are powerful and remain atmospheric and suspenseful as we wonder, like the character of Sheila, where we are being taken. Importantly, the issues of why Sheila left Waterford, why Mark, her boyfriend ghosted her are eventually answered, though other mysteries are opquae.

The beauty of this work is the meld of the supernatural with reality; the sacred and the profane delivered through the lighting effects, projections and sound design (Beamish effected most of it with Dermot Quinn taking care of the lighting design). Vitally, it is O’Riordan’s authentic and finely hued performance which makes us believe and go along with her on this wild, exceptional journey. We remain curious and engaged with her as she touches the shadows of another consciousness which is hers, her boyfriend’s her father’s. Importantly, we are astounded at the human capacity for love despite misery and unredeemed emotional pain, and the ability to want to heal, even if it means stirring spirits from the other side to help us.,

Anne O'Riordan in 'Ghosting,' presented by Thrown Shapes, Theatre Royal Waterford and Irish Repertory Theatre
(courtesy of the production)
Anne O’Riordan in ‘Ghosting,’ presented by Theatre Royal Waterford, Thrown Shapes and Irish Repertory Theatre (courtesy of the production)

Ghosting reminds us with paramount intention that our actions have dualistic purposes that we may not understand, initially. But if we hang on long enough, the answers come and we can confront ourselves, evaluate and be gentle to our sensitive inner being which needs care. Sheila, by the conclusion of Ghosting resolves the emotional pain, though it will always be with her. However, the miraculous helps her look at it and stop ghosting herself, by making herself more present to accept actions which she once loathed about herself.

This is one you shouldn’t miss for O’Riordan’s performance which is memorable, for the production values and for the direction. Jamie Beamish directed the livestream. Aidan Kelly directed the original stage production. Ghosting streams until Sunday, 4 July unless they extend it. In order to make reservations go to Irish Repertory Theatre.

Check out the production and the 2021 seasonal offerings coming up. Theater in NYC is going live full blast in September. The Irish Repertory will be a part of that celebration. However, it’s appeal has now become global and most probably they will continue to stream performances during their season so if you are in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Ireland, you won’t miss out. Donations are always welcome . CLICK HERE for details in the pull down menu.

‘The Lost Leonardo’ World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021
Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon – Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021

The Lost Leonardo directed by Andreas Koefoed and written by Duska Zagorac, Mark Monroe, Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff and Andreas Koefoed. The film is a fascinating documentary that delves into the nail biting discovery of the painting Salvator Mundi (a portrait of Jesus) that was ill-used, in ragged condition and an obscurity for decades or centuries depending upon what you believe. It was sold for a mere $1,175 in 2005 by New Orleans auctioneers who didn’t really pay much attention to provenance or the possibility of its potential greatness. However, purchasers who hunt for sleepers (undiscovered renowned works) thought it might have value. They wanted it to be restored with the intention of reselling it. How lovely if it slipped under the radar of the New Orleans merchants who were not schooled in high Renaissance art. Finders keepers and all that!

Thus begins the journey of a painting that remains a mystery to this day and has been examined, pawed over and quibbled about by some of the most prestigious art galleries, museums and their curators in the world. Like a well-heeled detective, Andreas Koefoed cobbles together the video clips of individuals who pondered over, investigated and worked on the Salvator Mundi. He also interviews art critics, museum curators, experts, scholars, art historians, investigative journalists, the Founder of the FBI Art Crime Team and shady art dealer businessmen who profit off of billionaires who purchase such costly works privately or at auction. These wealthy could care less if the provenance is in question as long as the perception remains that it is authentic. They do this in order to bury their money in the painting purchase which hides a record of their wealth from the pernicious eyes of tax collectors.

The adventure Koefoed embarks on is thrilling, and he unspools the clues like a master mystery writer. The chase of whether this work is truly the “lost Leonardo” keeps one enthralled. However, there is no conclusive finality and uncertainty reigns with every word his subjects use to speak about the painting.

Perhaps conceived with hope initial buyers Alexander Parrish, sleeper hunter, and his friend Robert Simon (an old masters paintings expert) fantasized about what the Mundi was and who painted it. They acted on their conceptualizations, and to satisfy the curiosity of their wallets, they brought the Mundi to top art restorer Dianne Modestini who had partnered with a spot-on expert recently deceased, from whom she had learned. With his assistance, over the years, she had gained expertise and knowledge restoring fine paintings.

As Modestini worked on the Salvator Mundi, she nearly fainted examining the mouth of the figure in the painting. The Salvator Mundi‘s similarities around the right side of the upper lip resembled that of the Mona Lisa. The more she worked, the more she concluded that only one individual could paint in this way: Leonardo da Vinci. As time progressed, the Salvator Mundi in verbal shorthand is referred to by ironist art critics as the male Mona Lisa.

‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (Sony Picture Classics)

Only eight known paintings are globally attributed to the Renaissance master who was “forward thinking” by about 500 years; among his papers are drawings of space ships and underwater submersibles. He was a scientist, painter, mathematician, inventor and all-around genius. However, that this is a “da Vinci” turning up at auction, like a ghost from the backwaters around New Orleans, remains as implausible and incredulous to some global art experts as unicorns are to empiricists. And these scholars are prepared to deny the work’s authenticity as are those experts who are prepared to defend it to the death as a Leonardo. Belief and faith in the power of money trumps any concern about whether it is a fake that a highly skilled genius painter tossed off and was happy to get some money for.

The problem with any work of fine art, is to establish the provenance and period when it was painted based upon the artist’s technique, any underpainting, the chemicals used to mix the paint as well as the chemical composition of the pigments. Art restorer Dianne Modestini affirms on pain of death that the Salvator Mundi, which sold in 2017 for a record-setting $450 million, is the “lost Leonardo” based upon her understanding of the demonstrated technique and brush strokes.

On the other hand, art critic Jerry Salz who is knowledgeable about the corruption embracing high art sales, auction houses and art galleries who benefit from them is the receptacle of a vast skepticism about the Mundi. Saltz’s demonstrated wisdom is not to be underestimated. Indeed, the art industry has been taken over like other arts industries, for example theater, by the philistines. When money is concerned, auction houses and dealers allow the presence of fakes to take a backseat to money, power and the perception of authenticity, backed by lucid, clairvoyant analyses and explanations.

If you can get away with billionaires offering you hefty sums for works they believe to be authentic, but may not be, who is hurt? If the billionaires are squirreling away their treasures for the purpose of tax evasion in Freeports (tax free airport storage, above the law of all countries) no one will see these fakes anyway and the benefiting institution and billionaire are content. By the time they may have to sell them at a loss, most probably they’ve made twice as much in their corrupt enterprises in the interim. These rich guys are good for art; they are easier than the overhead of collecting subscriber donations and the hard work of charitable fund raising galas to run galleries and museums sometimes at a loss.

Examining ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

An additional factor to consider as to why the allure of wealthy anonymous buyers is so great for the art industry is that running public museums and private art galleries, one must pay exorbitant insurance costs and for security to prevent the little people from thieving works off the walls and reselling it to rich clients who can only display them privately. Better that the art dealers, auction houses and galleries contract with these billionaires who risk purchasing fakes which will most likely be kept in locked rooms in their mansions, Freeports, villas or one of their 15 million-dollar condos neatly situated in favored cities around the world.

The only ones concerned about fakes are the renowned public museums with a rich history of standing by their experts’ knowledge, respected institutions like the Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum. They do not take kindly to displaying fakes or works that are questionable alongside their incredible proven treasures. And perhaps millionaires who don’t have the money to burn on fakes might be concerned. Other than that, billionaires have entered the art world and they are a sure thing for art dealers and auction houses.

In this amazingly instructive film about the upper classes and the corruption of geopolitical wealth, the filmmaker and writers launch off into three thematic threads emphasizing the concept at work which is the “game.” Sectioning off three segments to keep our understanding regular, he amasses a tremendous amount of research in video interviews, archived photos of works and voice overs. These are structured as the “Art Game,” the “Money Game” and the “World Game.”

It is in this discussion of how art is a game, we begin to understand the shadowy dark money world that fuels fakes and authentic pieces alike. Clearly, the filmmaker reveals that one doesn’t engage in this game naively or without experience and circumspection or you will be taken and regret it. How well can you play the game? How well can you game the auction houses and art dealers? How thoroughly can you game yourself?

If you (like the Russian oligarch who purchased the Salvator Mundi from a French Freeport owner are stuffing away your potential fake in Freeport storage units, then art is a safe, untraceable transaction far from Interpol or Vladimir Putin. As an investment it is unrecorded in any bank unless it’s the safely corrupt Cyprus Bank which deals with foreign transactions from corrupt leaders, and practices money laundering.

Such art has no significance to oligarchs, least of all the meaning of “the savior of the world” Salvator Mundi, which may be a joke to the oligarch or afterward MBS who purchased it anonymously as revealed by the FBI art crime bureau. If you truly care about seeing the Mona Lisa or a work of Rembrandt, then the corruption of viewing a fake is monstrous. The reason why the public purchases memberships in museums and donates millions is because they believe what they view is the “real deal.” The fiasco with the sales of the Salvator Mundi and its dubious authentication based on faith has exposed the art industry’s realm of “alternative realities” and the grand con possibilities. Is it or isn’t it a fake? Only the “little people” are self-righteously outraged if what they look at are fakes hanging in the walls of prestigious museums.

Auction houses and galleries and museums have bridged the reality gap into the alternate Donald Trump/Vlad Putin universe (my intimations, not the filmmakers though it is an important theme for our time). These dealers, auction houses and their buyers justify the authenticity or value of the works they sell because they can, especially if the industry trafficks in bullshit. The honest critic or expert is unwanted then, no matter their weight in gold. These themes Andreas Koefoed raises in this profound documentary which is a sweet siren’s warning. And it gives the average museum goer the fodder to ruminate and feel rage at how art has become an untrustworthy commodity, not a historical, cultural legacy.

Bruce Lamarche, Yves Bouvier’s business partner, ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, Bruce Lamarche)

But billionaires don’t mind the cache that goes with owning various works, for example, MBS who was anonymous until the great reveal by the FBI. Why would the murderer of WaPo reporter Jamal Kashoggi be interested in a painting that means “the savoir of the world?” The thought of his repentance at his villainous acts of killing family and the “traitorous” reporter is laughable.

On the other hand the notoriety of buying it because he could, was alluring. Owning the painting was a way to gain acceptance and prestige. This was so much so that he enticed the curators of the Louvre that he would loan the Salvator Mundi to them as representative of the “Lost Leonardo,” the male Mona Lisa with its provenance and authenticity in doubt. They were interested, until they heard his conditions. They must hang his purchase with the clouds of fakedom wafting off it—next to the Mona Lisa. The publicity alone would be tremendous. In 2011, the UK’s National Gallery displayed the male Mona Lisa with all its warts of uncertainty so that crowds could show up and imagine it was real. For the Louvre to hang the “Male Mona Lisa” next to the “Mona Lisa” would be a validation of it, sort of like riding the Mona Lisa‘s coattails into veracity, truth and art reality.

The Louvre refused. They were not willing to display a potential fake next to their acquisition whose provenance they were certain of. And MBS, annoyed that his offer was spurned, didn’t take them up on allowing them to display the Mundi in a separate room, explaining its restoration and questionable provenance. Of course the film does not go into the irony of a MBS with all his murders on his head, owning the portrait of Christ as the “savior of the world.” It doesn’t have to. The irony is stunning as is MBS’s arrogant longing.

With the exception of museums who display art so that the public can enjoy it, this whole industry is a philistine’s game (the money lenders and buyers who trade). They could care less if David Bowie (no offense meant to this fabulous artist whom I adore) smeared some of his dung on a canvas and signed it and sold it to the highest bidder. Such was the case with Pablo Picasso who became so disgusted with the “trade” aspect of art in the hands of philistines, he used to draw on napkins at restaurants and depending upon whether he liked the wait staff or not, signed the napkin and gave it to them. In some instances, he drew it, signed it and then destroyed it as they hungrily watched. For the artist commercialization of their work is loathsome and welcome, but only if they reap the rewards in their lifetimes, which usually does not happen. However, what can be done if the vultures pick their bones clean after they’re dead and gone? No wonder Banksy rigged the shredding of his “Girl With the Baloon” after the gavel hit in an auction that garnered a record price for his work.

The Lost Leonardo presents a vital perspective of the “art industrial complex” as it were. Who decides what is great art, even if it is potentially fake and not all the experts can agree on its authenticity? The fact that it’s MBS who purchased it for (after a circuitous route of sales from $1175, to $87 million, then $127 + million) $450 million does nothing to establish its credibility. And after the National Gallery exhibited it to great celebration as a da Vinci in 2011, they mired themselves in the smut of gaming when the FBI revealed that MBS purchased it for a price which means it’s now unsaleable and unpresentable if he persists in riding on the coattails of other Leonardo paintings which he could afford, but which should not be sold to him. This is especially so after it has been proven that he ordered Kashoggi to be brutally murdered, an M.O. of his despite his vapid denials.

However, like many billionaires who remain anonymous he worked through an agent. Would the auction house have sold this work to him if they knew he was purchasing it? They know how to play the game. And as a result, they have smeared themselves and the art world with BS which is what the Dutch filmmaker subtly infers in The Lost Leonardo.

This is a film to see, if not for a good look at the painting which is mostly a restoration and therefore, is more Dianne Modestini’s effort than da Vinci’s. It finished screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Look for this beautifully edited and scripted documentary streaming on various channels or perhaps at your favorite Indie theater after its release on 13 of August. Don’t miss this Sony Pictures Classic if you love art and are interested in learning more about the specious and scurrilous art traffickers which unfortunately find dueling interests with renowned museums who cannot afford works of art, after the traffickers bid the works to obscene heights.

‘LFG’ in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Megan Rapinoe, US International Women’s Soccer, ‘LFG,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of HBO Max)

What does it take for women to achieve parity with men economically and socially? For the International Women’s Soccer Team (4X World Cup winners) to reach equity with the men’s team which never won a gold cup since 1930? Thus far, parity remains elusive. As a result, US Women’s Soccer are litigating their employer the US Soccer Federation for equal pay. The thrilling documentary LFG in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival explores their efforts.

Structurally, documentary filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine intercut the women’s magnificent athletic feats with the drama of litigation. With unprecedented access to these world class women athletes, LFG showcases how the team survives the obstacles the US Soccer Federation puts before them. Acutely, filmmakers reveal the physical, emotional and psychic demands team members face. Also, filmmakers showcase the team’s courage and resiliency in risking their jobs to create long-lasting social change with the biggest fight for women’s rights since Title IX.

With timely determination, three months before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the players filed their class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit. Interestingly, the class-action approach often takes years. And the women don’t have years. By the film’s conclusion the team hired a new litigator. As filmmakers chronicle events in real time, the action and suspense sweep up the viewer and elicit their support and empathy for the women..

Passionately, with expressive interviews and video footage, Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine, unspool a vital, must-see film. The directors follow the team throughout 2019 into 2020. Indeed, with charm and cogent arguments, key players raise awareness of the financial inequities between the men’s and women’s US Soccer teams. Disparities don’t only include financial remuneration. Players discuss differences in the way their employer poorly accommodates them (travel, hotels, medical resources) despite their successes and fan support. Because the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) paid members of the USWNT less than their male counterparts for the same work, they discriminated. And this pay disparity violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jessica McDonald, US International Women’s Soccer, ‘LFG,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of HBO Max)

With facts and figures solidifying their arguments, filmmakers illustrate the symbolism and importance of the USWNT’s lawsuit. This is especially so in a time when misogyny, a conservative political tactic (“feminazis displace men”) holds sway as a right-wing, “cancel culture” message. Initially, the women asked for $67 million, while USSF asked for the suit to be dismissed.

Undergirding the team’s worthiness, the Fines emphasize that USWNT remains the most successful in all of international women’s soccer. They won four Women’s World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019). Additionally, they won four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012). For the coup de gras, they took home eight CONCACAF Gold Cups.

Yet, the men’s teams reap the rewards and perks despite their dismal record and fans’ lack of interest.. FIFA awarded a total of $400 million in prize money for the participants of the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 nations at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, including $4 million for the USWNT after winning the tournament. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money for the next competition in two year’s time. Still, the pay would be grossly under the amounts offered the men’s teams.

As filmmakers indicate, fans overwhelmingly support the women’s team’s lawsuit globally. To publicize both sides of the case, the Fines reveal how the US Soccer Federation’s flimsy arguments nevertheless cloud the issues of parity.

Ironically, USSF does this using gender to argue its side. For example, they claim that women, not as strong as men, lack men’s skills. Thus, women don’t put forth a man’s effort and shouldn’t have equal pay. According to the USSF women’s inferior bodies inherently establish inequality. Thus, women deserve less money.

US International Women’s Soccer Team protest unequal pay with jersey turned inside out. Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of HBO Max)

Additionally, District Court Judge Klausner created a Catch-22, then ruled against the USWST. Because the women accepted the union negotiated pay structure, the judge argued they made more money than the men. Speciously, the argument suggests a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. In order to play, the women had to accept the USSF’s unequal pay structure. Unfairly, women could take it or leave it. Then the judge ruled that the women received more money then the men and dismissed the case.

However, the women made more money because they won more and received bonuses. Maliciously, the USSF argued that they paid the USWNT more per game than the USMNT. Meanwhile, to do that the USWST performed at a far superior level throughout the past few years. Ironically, the USSF arguments belied the “inferiority” of women’s bodies. Indeed, the women vastly outperformed their male counterparts to begin to achieve monetary equity. Importantly, the men’s team’s base pay exceeds the women’s base pay which tops around $50,000. Thus, the USSF arguments circumvented the truth of unequal pay and the District Court bought it. Why should women have to vastly outperform men working with repeated excellence for equal pay, while men just get by on gender privilege?

Substantively, the filmmakers’ interviews and clips of the women working out, doing a second job to afford bills and supplying commentary provide the grist for this wonderful film. Unsurprisingly, Megan Rapinoe, stands out as a natural leader. Indeed, she and her team, warriors to the last, step up to their wins with ferocity. Also, filmmakers reveal the frustration and depression that follows the court decision currently on appeal. Rapinoe on the field and off spearhea ds the bravery each woman manifests in this obstacle-filled situation. Additionally, teammates Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Samantha Mewis, Christen Press and Jessica McDonald prove why they win on and off the field.

In leading the fight for equal pay, these women represent women globally. And global fans back them. During the process the head of the USSF, Carlos Cordeiro, stepped down and Cindy Parlow Cone VP took his place. No matter, the team moves on, doing TV interviews and garnering even more support for their cause. Taking huge risks, they champion women’s demands for equal rights, equal pay, equal representation. In their celebration of these individual winners and our US International Women’s Soccer Team, filmmakers rally to the cry “LFG.” “Let’s F*cking Go.”

To see this frustrating, amazing and inspiring film, check into HBOMAX ON JUNE 24 where it is streaming.

‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story’

7/27/95.Beverly Hills,California.Jackie Collins At Jackies New Home In Beverlyhills She Designed Herself (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)
7/27/95.Beverly Hills,California.Jackie Collins At Jackies New Home In Beverlyhills She Designed Herself (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)

If you are a fan of Jackie Collins’ florid and racy descriptions, plots and characters, and especially if you adore the third wave “feminist” character Lucky Santangelo, you must run, not walk to screen the documentary LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story. The documentary which lovingly and cheekily chronicles the best-selling novelist which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is set to premiere on CNN — Sunday, JUNE 27 at 9:00 PM ET and PT.

This is a must-see for many reasons, chief of which is director Laura Fairrie’s exhaustive research on Jackie Collins. The filmmaker reveals the woman behind her characters and examines her three marriages and how she was able to negotiate the changing view of women despite hawkish criticism at the end as the #METOO movement was forming its ethos. Of course the irony is that Jackie Collins exemplified with grace, power and vitality how women must “step up to the plate,” and take charge in a world of men.

Indeed, through a series of trials and errors that Collins reversed into boons, director Fairrie reveals the arc of her life story and solidifies that Collins was an overcomer who refused to take life in all its wheels and woes on the chin. It is an amazing history of sorrow, setback, triumph and reformation and at the end, courage and legacy. Fairrie shows great equipoise in her highlighting the competition with her sister Joan Collins who encouraged her to go to Hollywood and have a film career. She reveals Collins signed a $2 million-dollar-book deal, though in no way did she display the writing talent for description and story-telling that Jackie did. Acting on film and television was Joan’s medium. On the other hand Jackie’s talents were as an observer, a listener and wordsmith who converted life into art.

Joan Collins 'LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)
Joan Collins ‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)

Using videos from personal archives starting when the Collins sisters were young up until her death of cancer in 2015, the sourced material is extensive and Fairrie cobbles it together switching different time periods. She organizes the documentary not chronologically but via themes that threaded through in Jackie Collins’ life. Thus, we follow videos of her troubled, brief, first marriage, to manic depressive drug addict Wallace Austin to her successful marriage to second husband Oscar Lerman and her third husband “larger than life-gigolo type character” in Frank Calcagnini.

This second marriage to the co-owner of the successful London celebrity nightclub Tramp lasted 23 years. It was Oscar whose supportive encouragement initiated Jackie’s writing career. With him she finished her first book, The World is Full of Married Men. Unlike Austin who was jealous, grasping and abusive, Oscar was a loving husband and father who adored Jackie. Because he was a success in his own right, he didn’t fear playing “second fiddle” to her growing celebrity as a best selling novelist.

Indeed, to burgeon her career, he agreed to move the family to Los Angeles when Collins decided to expand her empire and publicize her novels appearing on talk shows and soliciting media to improve US market share. The move brought the sisters together and Collins, who launched her own empire writing and marketing her work with aplomb was a maverick entrepreneur in the 1980s. Interestingly, she paved the way for another novelist empire builder from Scotland, J. K. Rowling.

Wisely, Fairrie includes video interviews from a host of family and friends that include clips of her daughters, Joan Collins, her friends (wives of celebrities) and Hollywood heavyweights at parties that Jackie went to (Michael Caine, etc.). In one segment, three friends share how they were Jackie Collins “best” friend. Another celebrity friend ironically indicates that Jackie was so saavy as to make everyone she spoke to feel important and loved.

Jackie Collins, ‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)

She apparently also did this when she did book tours, signings and talks. There is a clip of Jackie taking the time to briefly chat with women fans creating long lines. However, her readers, who always came back for more, felt it was worth the wait to talk to the beautiful and talented novelist.

Jackie Collins’ life was difficult, especially with her third husband who was abusive. And it must have been heart-wrenching when she battled stage four cancer when no one knew or understand what she was going through, i.e. at times she had difficulty walking because she was in pain. However, her persona of “being Jackie Collins” moved her forward so that she triumphed with mind over matter determination. Much of the persona she created to discuss her novels helped her market herself and her works. Thus, she was able to rise to the top and have her novels serialized on television. Currently, her novels are contracted for films.

The smooth, lovely Jackie Collins persona arose especially when she was challenged for writing belittling characters who were not worthy of the fourth wave of feminism. She was measured, controlled and steely eyed in her responses, though the harsh critics attempted to bloody her. Sadly, they were intellectually inferior, missing the positive impact she had to empower women.

Though you may not be a fan of Collins’ racy, sexy, sometimes softly raw “hot and heavy” descriptions, her characters explore women’s sexuality and assertiveness as men’s was explored by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Her women are as bold and as assertive as men. She thrillingly portrays them so to demonstrate the intelligence and allure of inner strength and they eschew being men’s toys. The beauty of Collins’ work is that she elevated the esteem of women at a time when they needed to feel powerful sexually. She loosed women from the categories of “whore” and “slut” that women often used competitively against each other. She gave women permission to explore and revel in their own identity.

Jackie Collins, 'BOSS LADY: The Jackie Collins Story,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)
Jackie Collins, ‘BOSS LADY: The Jackie Collins Story,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)

Collins’ descriptions openly presented sexual women who enjoyed the pleasure they found. For that reason her novels are a success. Though the current wave of feminism which is hyper-aware of men’s predation, having suffered through the menopause of late revelation (i.e. Placido Domingo’s forward behavior of forty years ago) her writing is skilled, arousing and delicious. It is also brilliant, maverick and underestimated by intellectually dense “trending” women’s groups. Collins’ novels raised the consciousness of women so that they examined their gender beyond men defining it for them. In that she is a vital chapter in how women historically see themselves as free, whole beings. Of course Collins’ characters are a danger to men who would oppress women so that they remain objects to be abused and manipulated.

Interspersed between Collins’ home life and relationships, Fairrie indicates how Collins’ writing also reflected who she was. Thus, in select parts in the documentary she has hosts read from Collins various novels. The result is ironic and humorous.

LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story is an important retrospective on a women entrepreneur who broke the mold created by men to keep women unsettled and easily dominated. She did this in her home life and how she approached the obstacles life placed before her. She used the therapy of work to muscle quietly through when Oscar died of prostate cancer which he didn’t discuss or burden the family with. And though her third husband businessman Frank Calcagnini was jealous and abusive, once again her work embodied her strength to face his death from a brain tumor.

LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story premieres on CNN June 27th at 9 PM. Look for it; you’ll be glad you did.

‘All These Sons,’ in a World Premiere at Tribeca FF

All These Sons, Tribeca Film Festival 2021, Documentary World Premiere, Bing Liu
‘All These Sons,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, directed by Bing Liu, Documentary World Premiere (Charlotte Sather)

The World Premiere of All These Sons directed by Oscar-nominated Bing Liu (Minding the Gap) currently screens in Documentary Competition at Tribeca Film Festival. Also, the film is the feature debut of award-winning editor Joshua Altman. Accordingly, to catch this extraordinarily heartfelt work celebrating Tribeca’s twentieth year, make sure to screen it by 20 of June the festival’s end date.

One cannot help but become involved with the young men, their mentors and guides that Bing Liu shadows and interviews in this intimate portrait about two Chicago programs designed to help black communities. Uniquely dedicated to social and personal responsibility, the programs target the South and West sides of Chicago. And they particularly address gun violence. Bing Liu’s portrait is a timely and in depth perspective showing how individuals in these black communities work to re-educate, empower and heal young at-risk black men.

For decades Chicago’s gun and gang violence on the South and West sides garnered national headlines. Sadly, the terrible fact remains that the city government attacks the problem in a limited fashion. First they beef up the aggressive policing measures. Second, the police practice tough enforcement rules. Does police brutality occur? Of course as police use necessary force, sometimes ignoring excessive force which tips over into brutality. Unfortunately, abuses benefit no one. And they create divisions in an already wounded community.

By targeting those who have little opportunity to escape violent neighborhoods, the troubles circle and repeat. Violence never mitigates violence. Instead, it creates hopelessness. Indeed, oftentimes, such short-sighted plans exacerbate violence, a condition that brought Chicagoans to the current state of affairs.

Embedding themselves, Bing Liu and his team shadow two community members who introduce them to the troubled neighborhoods and the programs that help mitigate violence. Billy Moore of Iman and Marshall Hatch, Jr of Maafa, lead effective programs with tremendous effort, love and care. Throughout, filmmakers enlighten us to Moore’s and Hatch, Jr.’s backstory and the backgrounds of those under their care. Indeed, Moore and Hatch, Jr.’s lives qualify them for this work. Having once been on the other end of violence, they know the score and hold nothing back to win over those in their programs.

As the filmmakers view group sessions, personal counseling and interview Moore and Hatch Jr., we understand how Iman and Maafa create a safe space. Ironically, the at-risk youth constantly look over their shoulders for gang vengeance to knock on their doors. Drive-bys in violent neighborhoods kill the innocent and the guilty. Throughout the documentary, we understand that these young men have either killed, been in jail or have lost loved ones as the casualties of turf wars and revenge.

The documentarians approach their research revealing a flare for ethnography. Powerfully, the subjects show how they attempt to change the conditions that produce gun deaths. Thus, the programs select those young men most at risk of being a victim or perpetrator. Before their acceptance, participants must dig deep. Finally, examining their fears and justifications, the young men confront the traumas in their own lives that perpetuate violence. 

When Bing Liu and Joshua Altman in cinema verite style follow Charles, Zay and Shamont as they confront their former identities to carve out new personas, we hook into the poignancy and humanity of the process. Realizing the benefit of their own honesty with themselves, participants thrive. Interestingly, they begin to make life-affirming choices. Of course, the daily fight requires they stick with the program and adhere to their mentor’s guidance. If they accomplish this difficult task, they will construct a better future for generations to come. Indeed, their hopefulness and sensitivity redefines and stops them from acting like violent stereotypes. Kudos to the filmmakers for their unfiltered, raw perspective of the participants’ stories. Bing LIu’s honest rendering reveals Charles’, Zay’s and Shamont’s vulnerability, authenticity and will to transform themselves.

All These Sons (a reference to Arthur Miller’s All My Sons) grabs one’s heart and emotions. Indeed, this occurs because Bing Liu and Joshua Altman allow us to hear and see these young men working hard against the cycle they could easily fall back into. Theirs remains a testimony for our time that change can happen. The filmmakers and all subjects in the film relay their powerful message with the faith that fewer may be lost than if the Iman and Maafa didn’t exist.

Finally, this documentary provides a viewpoint rarely seen. It focuses on its participants who speak their truth clearly, succinctly. As a result their bravery and courage to do the hard work of transformation shines.

All These Sons screens in the Documentary Competition category at Tribeca Film Festival 2021. Check for tickets and times by clicking HERE.

‘Shapeless’ Tribeca Film Festival Review

Kelly Murtagh in 'Shapeless,' Tribeca Film Festival, Midnighter category (Charlotte Sather)
Kelly Murtagh in ;Shapeless,’ Tribeca Film Festival, Midnighter category (Charlotte Sather)

Shapeless, in the Midnighter category at Tribeca Film Festival like its title, remains fairly opaque if one doesn’t recognize the signs of Ivy’s (Kelly Murtagh) illness early on. Cleverly directed by Samantha Aldana and written by Kelly Murtagh and Bryce Parsons-Twesten, the film premiered at Tribeca in the “Midnight” category. Thus, this review will provide no spoiler alerts. Rather than to ruin the eerie emotional dislocations and frightening weirdness the director brilliantly conveys with sound (music selection) and visuals, let Shapeless wash over you when you see this intriguing film.

Indeed, the impressionistic Shapeless centers around this singer/entertainer who must confront her inner demons but doesn’t. By degrees we understand how Ivy’s unconscious undercurrents surface, then retreat, then repeat in ever-widening circular patterns. Tellingly, during Ivy’s isolated moments at home, we gradually understand the entrenched and frightening conflict. However, we never see beyond to the reasons or logic of what she created that fuels her addiction. Because the film avoids the psychological, a huge chasm of uncertainty opens to engulf us in Ivy’s misery. For what she wars against, no cure presents itself. And Ivy doesn’t seek one. She just charges on and moves deeper and deeper into denial.

Fittingly, the Tribeca Film Festival Midnighter takes place in the eerie, atmospheric and elusive city of New Orleans. Known for its jazz backwaters, ghostly tales, haunting sounds, sights and smells and voodoo, the city is the perfect setting. Overarchingly, the film suggests, infers, intimates. No substantive clarity surfaces. We just get to watch Ivy grow more and more debilitated with little explanation. However, Ivy’s choice to sing in clubs contributes to her addiction. Yet, ultimately, her sickness threatens to destroy her singing career. In some ways, dependence on drugs would be easier for her to overcome. What she battles runs so deep that it refashions her into a strange creature. Thus, the fantastic becomes a part of her nature and in turn devours the health and wholeness she would seek.

Finally, Ivy, addicted to self-destructive behaviors on one level becomes further addicted to her fantastic response to those behaviors. Two people, the creature and the woman who seeks salvation, her outer and inner life rock her soul.

The director’s decisions about sound, editing and set design to imbue characterization remain spot-on. And the overall effect unbalances the viewer. Subsequently, as the film enthralls, one becomes more displaced about understanding Ivy. Conclusively, when the viewer realizes the addiction threatens Ivy’s life, yet she can’t overcome it, the shock settles into numbness. This parallels Ivy’s experience. Her situation can’t be that bad. We think as she thinks. Gradually, the viewer swept up in Ivy’s denial, accepts it as circumstance: “it is what it is.” Nevertheless, the director clues in the audience that her condition must not be ignored. And eventually we understand why, though we don’t ever find out the “why” of it.

Based on a true story of Kelly Murtagh’s personal struggle (she also co-wrote the screenplay) Shapeless becomes a cautionary tale of lies, denial, addiction, self-destruction with no resolution. Murtagh’s performance elucidates the hopelessness of those addicted and swept up with illnesses like hers. Her performance in effecting Ivy’s gradual decline in her singing voice which starts out as merely adequate, shines with understanding. Indeed, Murtagh portrays Ivy’s denial and acceptance of what she does to herself with brilliance.

The film should be seen for many reasons. Two key reasons remain Murtagh’s subtle, nuanced portrayal and Aldana’s stylized rendering of Ivy’s condition and its impact on her life. Shapless screens at Tribeca Film Festival. For tickets and times check this link: HERE.

‘Ascension’ Tribeca Film Festival Documentary

'Ascension,' Documentary World Premiere, Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)
‘Ascension,’ Documentary World Premiere, Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)

Ascension, Jessica Kingdon’s documentary feature explores the rise of capitalism in the communistic political system of China. Accepted in the feature documentary category at Tribeca Film Festival (which it won) Kingdon’s film defies linear documentary structure. The documentary is a uniquely impressionistic portrait of Chinese culture and society. Thus, Kingdon turns filmmaking chronology on its head by using Chinese delineations of class structure to organize her film.

Highly visual, Ascension slices into cross sections of China’s lower, middle and upper classes. With minimal use of dialogue or voice-over narration, she presents a vision of the new China. Pointedly, the observer follows each segment of economic society clearly categorized and stuck in it place. Importantly, we note the individuals caught in the strata like one-celled creatures made part of a gigantic, layered, interdependent whole.

Initially, Kingdon begins with freelance workers looking for jobs at a street sight where agents hawk menial jobs for low pay. From there she moves through the various locations revealing what these jobs entail. Essentially, the factory work, like all factory work on an assembly line remains mindless and robotic. Nevertheless, the jobs promise a better lifestyle in the city. Importantly, these workers manifest China’s evolution from an agrarian economy. And as we follow, we see our recent past, our industrial revolution, manufacturing, automation. Ironically, with outsourcing, China’s factories of immense scale have long overtaken ours. Subsequently, Kindgon reminds us that we have been engulfed by the stratification of Chinese economic development.

Deftly, Kingdon explores how the Chinese pursue their version of the American Dream, Chinese style. Through gradual visual revelation Kingdon identifies the various factory locations. Then she manifests how their manufacturing produces product for middle class consumers. Often these are products the lower classes cannot easily afford. As a result each class depends on the other as they redefine the meaning of success for their class.

Nevertheless, the Chinese culture’s economic divide categorized by labor, consumerism and wealth mirrors the worst of our economic history. As menial cogs in the wheel of production, workers struggle through long hours. Meanwhile, the middle class mercantiles promote consumerism. Indeed, considered successful, they enjoy the fruits of the lower classes’ labor. Likewise, the wealthy upper classes revel in leisure time and find indulgent ways to waste it as an affordable luxury.

Of course as with its counterpart of the American Dream in the U.S., the “Chinese Dream” can only be attained by a few. Sought after by all who climb the economic ladder who would integrate into society, the dream is magical thinking. And like all fairy tales, it dissolves and diminishes each day of boring labor, routine and relative poverty.

Shot in 51 locations across China, Kingdon’s work strikes at the heart of the issues China and the U.S. face today. How does an evolving nation remain strong economically yet keep the divisions of wealth equitably stable? Ultimately, in the pursuit of the fairy tale, even the wealthy find meaninglessness and purposelessness inescapable facts. That a historically philosophical culture panders to materialism, hedonism and global domination remains ironic. Indeed, at the film’s conclusion Kingdon suggests that the meretricious values of the U.S. infected Chinese culture in the negative. And her documentary warns of the cultural and spiritual dissolution that comes with embracing such values.

Ascension’s sound design, cinematography and editing become the mainstay to elucidate Kingdon’s visual expressions. The film premieres in Tribeca’s Documentary Competition on 12 June. Check out the Tribeca FF link HERE.

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