December 9, 2013
Ray Mercer is one busy man. The award-winning dancer and choreographer is currently juggling nine commissions across the country, serving as resident choreographer of Howard University’s dance department and performing six days a week in Broadway’s The Lion King. From now until April, he is spending his days off in Washington, D.C., developing a new dance performance to celebrate the African Art Museum’s recently announced educational initiative, “Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa.”
The project is funded by a $1.8 million gift from the Sultanate of Oman—the largest gift in the museum’s history—and will encompass exhibitions, visual and performing arts, lecture series and other public programs to explore the historical and cultural linkages between Oman and East Africa. The multi-year partnership will kick off in 2014, as museum kicks off the celebration of its 50th anniversary.
Mercer’s group dance piece will debut in April 2014, interpreting elements of Omani and East African cultures through a personal lens. We spoke with the choreographer to find out more about the work in progress.
Were you familiar with the cultures of Oman and East Africa before you took on the project?
When I was first asked [to choreograph] by the Museum of African Art, I wasn’t too familiar with Oman culture, so it was a little bit daunting—and still is. I was excited but apprehensive at first. I’m learning about the culture and the history behind it. Now I’m having a great time!
How are you going about the research?
I work with archivists at Howard University who’ve been doing a lot of the research into Oman and East African culture. I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I feel like I’m in history class all over again! But the most important thing for me is to be clear that I am a choreographer. A lot of this would just be my interpretation of some of the historical events and cultural things that I’ve run across, because in my opinion they could have went to Oman and brought back dancers and done the traditional thing. I just wanted to take certain aspects of Oman and East African culture and do it through my eyes, choreographically, while being very sensitive to their culture. It’s important to me that this is not me trying to recreate traditional folk dances.
What are some of the cultural elements you plan to incorporate? Why did they jump out at you?
What I decided to do is love and marriage and death, things that we mourn, things that we celebrate. What could I do that wouldn’t be a history lesson but still could be entertaining, that when the audience walked away they could be moved? I thought about it for a while and I said, well, the things that tie us are the humanistic things.
I decided to do one of the rituals—the initiation of women, the rite of passage for women. Death is another [element]; in Oman, they celebrate or mourn the dead in a ritual called Dan. I want to create a piece surrounding that. Also, wedding, a celebratory thing where two people come together. The last one I’m still debating, going back and forth, doing the research and working on it.
What’s your process for distilling culture into choreography?
One of the most difficult things that you have to do is know the history and approach it in a way that’s very sensitive to their culture. I have to realize and take into consideration the do’s and don’ts of costuming, music, certain prayer dances. As a choreographer I’m used to doing exactly what it is I want to do. I go in with a commission and here’s my idea and I set it on the dancers. Now I really have to be sensitive about what I do, historically.
So the costuming, the set, the music, the rituals all have to be authentic, but the movements of the dancers are all your own?
Exactly. The movement, the aesthetic, the style is all my own. But in that same framework, I want to be sensitive to the culture.
I also want to tie all this together. I’ll have a narrator who will introduce each dance with background on the particular piece, the movement, the culture. It’s going to take you through a journey, telling a story.
What do you feel dance conveys about these cultures that other art forms can’t?
In cultures around the world, you find dance that celebrates so much. It celebrates life, it celebrates death. It’s celebratory. When you can’t talk, you can dance. That’s what connects us as human beings. Hopefully I will be able to do that in the evening of work that I’ve planned.
December 6, 2013
The real “Most Interesting Man in the World” didn’t sell Dos Equis; Eliot Elisofon took pictures. And yes, Elisofon was allowed to touch the artwork in the museum, because he gave it to them. He also put the Brando in Marlon. And strippers kept photos of him on their dressing tables.
His Latvian last name (accent the first syllable: EL-isofon) so confounded General George S. Patton that the commander simply called him “Hellzapoppin.”
The most interesting man in the world didn’t think of himself as a good photographer, but rather as the “world’s greatest.” And while ceaseless self-promotion was his game (he hired a press agent and a clipping service), the output of his camera can be measured: The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art boasts more than 50,000 black-and-white negatives and photographs, 30,000 color slides and 120,000 feet of motion-picture film and sound materials. In addition, the photographer collected and donated more than 700 works of art from Africa. Hundreds of other images are owned by the Getty Archives, and his papers and materials are housed at the University of Texas at Austin.
Beyond his prodigious photographic output, his life was a whirlwind of travel, food, wives (two marriages ended in divorce) and celebrity friendships. His good friend the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee kept his photo on her vanity table; he helped establish the image of Marlon Brando in 1947, photographing the rising star in his role as Stanley, kneeling in disgrace before his wife, Stella (Kim Hunter), in the Broadway production of Streetcar Named Desire. Elisofon’s passion for travel was interrupted only by occasional home visits to his New York apartment or his Maine beach enclave. He would later claim that he’d traversed as many as two million miles in pursuit of his art. Painter, chef, documentarian, filmmaker, art collector and connoisseur, and naturally, the most interesting man in the world knew how to drink and dine on the go.
“I am having some Brie and crackers and a scotch and water. I know how to get Brie exactly right,” he once said. “You have to carry it on a TWA plane, get the Stewardess to place it in a bag of ice cubes, then in Tel-Aviv leave it in your room overnight, then keep it for two days in the ice-box of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem—it’s too hard anyway. From Tel-Aviv to Bombay keep it under your seat—well wrapped in plastic—One night in the Taj Mahal Hotel room and a short plane ride in Keshod—and it is just right, not too runny but it would be if left in the single small refrigerator they have in the Guest House.”
While Elisofon’s portfolio includes everything from celebrity homes in Hollywood, to soft-coal mining in Pennsylvania, cocaine trading in Bolivia and Peru, the King Ranch in Texas and the North African Theater during World War II, his most enduring and significant work would come from the nine expeditions he made to Africa. Beginning in 1947, when Elisofon crossed the continent from “Cairo to Capetown,” he became the first Western photographer to portray Africa’s peoples and traditions without stereotype or derision.
Recently, a retrospective of his work, “Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon,” went on view at the African Art Museum in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the donation the photographer made of his images and art works to the museum. “Elisofon’s breathtaking images,” says director Johnnetta Betsch Cole, “capture the traditional arts and cultures of Africa and are simply unparalleled. The enduring brilliance of his photographs expose a new generation to the breadth, depth and beauty of Africa.”
Elisofon was a staff photographer at Life magazine from 1942 to 1964, and one of the first freelancers at Smithsonian magazine when it began publishing under former Life editor Edward K. Thompson in 1970. In fact, an Elisofon image, one of the most requested photos from the museum’s collections, graced the magazine’s January 1973 cover and features a Baule woman of the Ivory Coast holding two ceremonial chasse-mouches, or fly whisks, made of gold-covered wood and horsehair imported from the Sudan. His accompanying story tells of his visit to meet with a Baule chief, the Ashanti ruler in Ghana and other West African peoples.
“Among the crowd that day, I saw seven men dressed alike in brilliant red cloth with gold tablets covering the tops of their heads,” Elisofon wrote. “Each tablet was decorated with intricate designs in wrought or beaten gold. . . . No one—traveler, anthropologist, art historian—has made any reference that I have been able to find to these tablets, yet they were clearly centuries old, their edges worn away by use.”
“Elisofon used his brains and his talent to lay his hands on the world,” says former Smithsonian editor Timothy Foote, who worked with the photographer when they served together at Life.
“For generations foreign photographers had misrepresented Africa as a mysterious or uncivilized continent full of exotic animals, backward peoples and strange landscapes, “ wrote curator Roy Flukinger for a 2000 exhibition of the photographer’s work at University of Texas at Austin. “The limitations and/or prejudices of many ‘objective’ documentary photographers and writers had discolored the entire portrait of a vibrant land and its myriad cultures. Elisofon’s social consciousness and inherent humanness would not tolerate it. He held that ‘Africa is the fulcrum of world power’ and he sought to have America ‘wake up to that fact.’ ”
“Photo historians,” says the shows co-curator Bryna Freyer, “tend to stress his technical achievements. As an art historian I tend to look as his images as a useful way of studying the people and the artifacts, because of his choice of subject matter.”
He photographed artists at work, she adds, “capturing the entire process of the production of an object. And he photographed objects in place so that you can see the context of masks, their relationships to the musicians and to the audience. I can use [the image] for identification and teaching.”
“On a personal level, I like that he treated the people he was photographing with respect,” she adds.
The exhibition on view at African Art includes 20 works of art that the photographer collected on his trips to the continent, as well as his photographs, and is complimented by a biography section composed of images of his exploits.
The photographer as the subject of another’s lens can sometimes be regarded as insult, and for Elisofon it was injury added to insult. In 1943, Elisofon was aboard a transport aircraft that crashed on takeoff, but he managed to escape the burning wreck. Grabbing his camera, he somehow lost his pants, he went straight to work documenting the scene before collapsing in exhaustion. Later, his frustration was described as titanic when the images he shot that day were not selected by his editors back in New York. Instead, they chose an image that another photographer got of Elisofon shooting the scene in his boxers.
The focal piece of the exhibit is a classic photo of Elisofon on location in Kenya, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance hovering above the clouds like a mythic spacecraft. The image taken by an unknown artist depicts the peripatetic adventurer as “explorer photographer” says the show’s co-curator Amy Staples. “For me that image is symbolic of the title of the show, Africa Re-Viewed, which is about the role of photography and constructing our view and knowledge of African arts, and its cultures and its peoples.” Another highlight is a documentary film, Elisofon made of the Dogon people of Mali, carving a Kanaga mask, which is used in ceremonial rituals that are regarded as deeply sacred.
Born to a working-class family and raised on New York City’s Lower East Side, Elisofon earned enough money as a young entrepreneur to afford tuition at Fordham University. Photography would be his hobby until he could make it pay. And he would ultimately rise to become the president of the highly prestigious Photo League, where he lectured, taught and exhibited his work. The young photographer would also pick up a brush and prove his talent as painter and artist. In the nascent days of color photography and filmography, he would eventually apply what he knew about the intensity, saturation and hue of color as an artist in Hollywood. Serving as a color consultant in the motion pictures industry, Elisofon worked with John Huston on the 1952 Academy Award-winning Moulin Rouge.
Several of his illustrated books, including the 1958 The Sculpture of Africa, co-authored with William Fagg, have become iconic. And the photographer was on location for the arduous shoot when Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn were filming The African Queen. He would shoot dozens of other film stars, including John Barrymore, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rudy Vallee, Natalie Wood, Kirk Douglas, Ira Gershwin and Rock Hudson.
Yet some time prior to his death, in 1973, at age 62, of a brain aneurism, Elisofon would become circumspect about his wildly diverse career, reining in his earlier bravado.
“Photography is too personal a medium with which to achieve greatness easily. I’m too diverse a man to be a great photographer. I have discipline, motivation. I’m a good photographer. But I’m a writer, painter, editor, filmmaker, too. I’m a complex human who needs to satisfy human needs. You can’t be great without giving everything you’ve got to a single art,” he said, and perhaps this is where the real life “Most Interesting Man in the World” departs from the man of advertising fame.
“I haven’t done that,” he said, and then he added, “I’m also a talker.”
“Africa Reviewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon” is on view at the African Art Museum through August 24, 2014.
December 5, 2013
The Smithsonian is here to get you into the swing of the holiday season by way of a free, two-day festival happening this weekend. Come out to the mall for two days of movies, music, book signings and (of course), shopping. For all gifts purchased at the Air and Space, American History and Natural History Museum stores, volunteers will be on hand to wrap your presents from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. And if you need help getting around, the Smithsonian Holiday Shuttle Bus will loop the National Mall every fifteen minutes from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM, stopping at the American History Museum, Smithsonian Castle, Air and Space Museum, American Indian Museum and Natural History Museum. Getting excited? Here’s the rundown of events.
Saturday, December 7
Air and Space Museum
9:30 AM-3:00 PM: Holiday Festival Family Activities for All Ages
Learn about comets and make a decorative comet ornament to take home. Learn how different cultures around the world told different stories about the same groups of stars, discover your Tibetan sun sign and then decorate your Greek sun sign. Design and create a paper Native American star quilt.
11:00 AM-2:00 PM: NASA Star Quilt Activity
Create a star-themed fabric quilt block to add to the block created by astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station. Nyberg has invited the public to create star-themed blocks to be combined into a community quilt for the 2014 International Quilt Festival. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
11:00 AM-4:00 PM: Trunk Show: Alpha Industries
Alpha Industries has been making military garments for over 50 years. Come explore our assortment of Alpha flight jackets, including our most popular style, the MA-1, which has a bright orange lining used during rescue missions.
11:00 AM-5:00 PM: Trunk Show: Red Canoe
Red Canoe offers aviation inspired apparel and accessories perfect for the flight enthusiast. Meet Dax Wilkinson, Founder and President of Red Canoe, and shop their line featuring products inspired by Boeing, Cessna, Lockheed Martin and North American Aviation. This event repeats on December 8 at 10:00 AM at the same venue.
11:00 AM: US Air Force Band Holiday Concert: Max Impact
Come listen to Max Impact, the United States Air Force’s six-man rock band as they perform a lively holiday concert. This event repeats today at 12:00 PM, and 1:00 PM, and again on December 8 at 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Margaret Weitekamp, David DeVorkin and Diane Kidd
Air and Space Museum curators Margaret Weitekamp and David DeVorkin teamed up with illustrator Dianne Kidd to create the children’t book Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery. Meet the authors and illustrator and have your copy of the book signed.
American History Museum
9:30 AM-5:00 PM: Jewelry Trunk Show: Anne Koplik Designs
Anne Koplik’s handmade, vintage-inspired jewelry has studded the fashion scene for the past 30 years and has been featured on television programs such as Dancing With the Stars and America’s Got Talent. A selection of her bangles and baubles will be available for purchase at the museum store. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
10:00 AM-5:00 PM: $10 for 10 mins.: Smithsonian Tours by Segway
In the market for alternative modes of transportation? Try the Segway PT for 10 minutes for only $10. If you enjoyed your test run, save your receipt and get $10 off a Smithsonian Segway tour, where you can enjoy a scenic glide along the National Mall. Tickets are required: $10 for the 10-minute Segway experience. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
11:00 AM-3:00 PM: The Polar Express 3D
A special, 12-minute 3D adaptation of the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book will be screened at the Warner Brothers Theater. Tickets are $5 and are on sale outside the Warner Brothers Theater. Multiple screenings will occur each hour between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. This event repeats on December 8 at the same time and venue.
11:00 AM-1:00 PM: Book Signing: David Bruce Smith
Author David Bruce Smith signs copies of his books Three Miles from Providence, a work of historical fiction about a Mexican-American War veteran called to guard Abraham Lincoln, and American Hero, an illustrated biography of founding father and Chief Justice John Marshall.
11:00 AM-1:00 PM: Book Signing: Susan Castriota
Author Susan Castriota signs copies of her children’s book Wilson and the White House Pups, the story of an adopted poodle who travels back in time to meet the dogs who inhabited the White House.
11:00 AM-2:00 PM: U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants
The official chorus of the United States Air Force will fill Flag Hall with the sounds of the holidays. Each performance begins on the hour and lasts approximately 20 minutes.
1:00 PM-3:00 PM: Book Signing: Richard Kurin
The Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture Richard Kurin signs copies of his book The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, which tells the story of the United States from the pre-Columbian era to the present, all in 101 objects from the Institution’s vast collections.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Ann Mah
Food and travel writer Ann Mah signs copies of her book Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris, in which she chronicles her gastronomic adventures in the City of Light.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Roland Mesnier
Chef Roland Mesnier, who served sweets to five presidents of the United States, signs copies of his culinary memoir A Sweet World of White House Desserts. You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with a slice of pie made from Brown’s recipes, for sale in the Stars & Stripes Café.
3:00 PM-5:00 PM: Book Signing: Warren Brown
Lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove bakery, will sign copies of his fourth book Pie Love: Inventive Recipes for Sweet and Savory Pies, Galettes, Pastry Cremes, Tarts, and Turnovers.
3:30 PM-5:00 PM: Puppet Demonstration and Book Signing: the Puppet Co.
Puppet Master Christopher Piper brings to life a Circus Bear, Cinderella’s bossy stepmother, and shows kids how to make a sassy hand puppet with a simple rubber ball. Afterward, Piper is joined by fellow Puppet Masters MayField Piper and Allan Stevens to sign copies of their book of the Puppet Co.’s The Nutcracker, illustrated with color photographs from the production, and celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the show. This event repeats today at 3:30 pm and 4:15 pm.
10:00 AM-4:00 PM: Trunk Show: Kyoto Kimono
Kyoto Kimono offers one-of-a-kind vintage Japanese garments straight from the temple markets and auction houses of Kyoto, Japan. Each vintage kimono is unique, offering its own expression of Japanese life and culture. Come shop our assortment, as well as special trunk show only items, and take home your own piece of wearable art. This event repeats on December 8 at the Natural History Museum.
1:00 PM-4:00 PM: Book Signing: Laura Kelley
Laura Kelley signs copies of her book The Silk Road Gourmet in which she chronicles the cuisine of 30 Asian countries in 1,000 recipes.
Natural History Museum
9:30 AM-5:00 PM: Jewelry Trunk Show: Meridian Jewelry & Design
Inspired by peoples and places from all over the world, designers Lynn and Brad Ölander draw on both old world aesthetics and modern streamlined forms in their collections of handmade jewelry
11:10 AM: Jerusalem 3D
Jerusalem 3D takes you on an inspiring and eye-opening tour of one of the worlds oldest and most enigmatic cities. Destroyed and rebuilt countless times over the past 5,000 years, Jerusalem’s enduring appeal remains a mystery. What made it so important to so many different cultures? How did it become the center of the world for three major religions? Why does it still matter to us? Tickets are required: $9 for adults; $8 for seniors; $7.50 for youth. Tickets may be purchased in advance online or at the Johnson IMAX Theater box office. This event repeats today at 1:50 PM and 3:20 PM and again on December 8 at the same times and venue.
1:00 PM-2:00 PM: Story Time: Dino Tracks with Rhonda Lucas Donald
Author Rhonda Lucas Donald and illustrator Cathy Morrison present their story, Dino Tracks. Come learn which dinosaurs made the tracks and what scientists think they were doing when they made them. American Sign Language interpretation will be provided.
2:00 PM-3:00 PM: Book Signing: Rhonda Lucas Donald
Author Rhonda Lucas Donald signs copies of her children’s books Dino Tracks and Deep in the Desert.
1:00 PM: Holiday Card Workshop
Come to the Postal Museum for this arts and crafts workshop where you can create your own personal, one-of-a-kind holiday greeting cards. Look to the museum’s collection of beautiful holiday stamps to inspire your creations.
11:00 AM-4:00 PM: Jewelry Trunk Show: Cynthia Gale
Cynthia Gale finds inspiration from the collections of American cultural institutions, such as the Kennedy Center and the New York Historical Society, to create her handmade works of sterling silver jewelry.
Sunday, December 8
Air and Space Museum
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Book Signing: Tami Lewis Brown
Author Tami Lewis Brown will sign copies of her children’s book Soar, Elinor!, the true story of Elinor Smith who earned her aviator’s license at the tender age of 16 and went on to be hailed as one of the best pilots in America.
American History Museum
11:00 AM-2:00 PM: U.S. Air Force Silver Wings
The premier country band of the United States Air Force will fill Flag Hall with music. Each performance begins on the hour and lasts approximately 20 minutes.
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Book Signing: Brian Jay Jones
Author Brian Jay Jones will sign copies of Jim Henson: The Biography, his account of the famous puppeteer and creator of the Muppets.
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Book Signing: John Fricke
Author John Fricke will sign copies of The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic, his latest book on the beloved 1939 movie.
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Book Signing: Paula Fleming
Author Paula Fleming will sign copies of her book Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell, a book that reprints a series of 19th-century 3D postcards depicting supernatural scenes. Antique stereoscope viewers will be available near the book signing so you can experience first hand the original 3D entertainment.
4:00 PM – 4:30 PM: Walt Whitman High School Chamber Choir
The Walt Whitman High School of Bethesda, Maryland, Chamber Choir is the school’s most advanced choral group. The Chamber Choir has long been considered a flagship of excellence among high school choirs throughout the state of Maryland. The group performs a mix of a cappella pieces from a variety of choral styles, as well as holiday songs. Select jazz octets also perform lighter selections.
2:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Tranquil Tuesdays Tea Tasting Event
Meet Charlene Wang, founder of Tranquil Tuesdays, an online business that showcases China’s finest teas, and sample authentic Chinese tea in this tasting event.
For some fans of popular Asian cinema, American remakes are automatically sacrilegious insults to intelligence and taste. I am not so doctrinaire. While it’s true that films like The Ring and The Grudge pale compared to the Japanese originals, Martin Scorsese managed, with The Departed, to create something new and compelling by reinterpreting the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs in his own style while retaining its clever core conceit. Spike Lee is the kind of director who may have been able to do the same with the 2003 Korean film Oldboy, but, as a longtime Spike Lee fan, it pains me to say this isn’t the case.
Like all the above mentioned films, the new Oldboy came to be thanks to the efforts of the Korean-American producer Roy Lee, whose company, Vertigo Entertainment, was founded on the perhaps cynical idea that Americans won’t go to see movies with subtitles. Vertigo buys the remake rights from Asian distributors, then pitches them to Hollywood studios as readymade scripts that are already proven hits in their home territories and only require a bit of tinkering to do the same in the US.
It is upon these twin assumptions—an untapped, subtitle-averse audience unfamiliar with the source material and the need to make changes to suit American tastes—that the new version of Oldboy falters. Park Chan-wook’s original film combines a lurid, neon lit visual palette with a charismatic, deadpan performance by Choi Min-sik as the protagonist Oh Dae-su. In keeping with its origins as a Japanese manga comic, the plot is lean and propulsive and ends with a shocking twist. Its meticulously choreographed violence, somehow both operatic and cartoonish, is best exemplified by a famous fight scene in which Dae-su dispatches a couple of dozen thugs in a hallway using only a hammer. Judging by reviews at the time, its discomfiting mix of violence, visual beauty and dark humor left critics feeling as impressed and battered as the those hammer-beaten thugs. It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and spawned an enthusiastic worldwide cult audience. When the Freer|Sackler screened Oldboy earlier this year as part of a Park Chan-wook retrospective at the Korean Film Festival, one audience member proudly told me it was her sixth time seeing it.
In other words, Oldboy already has a following. Many people who normally wouldn’t see a foreign film have seen it, so there’s a lot riding on any remake of it.
Park’s film is designed to make you uncomfortable: he wants you to be repelled and fascinated at the same time, to laugh at things you know you shouldn’t. Spike Lee achieved a similar feat with Bamboozled, and, like Park, he’s an inventive stylist willing to take risks, so I can see why he might have been a good choice to direct the remake. The problem is that what draws fans to the original Oldboy is that it eschews convention. Park has no time for traditional character development, or even for making them sympathetic. All we know about Oh Dae-su is that he gets epically drunk one night, misses his daughter’s birthday, and wakes up in a locked room. When he emerges 15 years later, he is a creature of pure vengeance, so lacking in humanity that he tries to sexually assault Mi-do, the kind young woman who comes to his aid.
Although Lee claims he wasn’t thinking about altering Oldboy to suit American tastes, he doesn’t seem to be on the same page with his screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, who, in a Buzzfeed interview, discusses the necessity of doing exactly that.
For example: because sympathetic characters with clear backstories and motivations are considered essential, the new Oldboy begins with several scenes detailing just how much of an alcoholic jerk Josh Brolin’s Joe Doucett is before his imprisonment: he drinks on the job, curses out his ex-wife, and hits on a client’s wife during a business meeting. Once imprisoned, he follows the well-trodden Hollywood path to redemption by quitting drinking and writing letter after letter to his daughter promising to be a better man. He at first nobly spurns the tentative advances of Mi-do’s counterpart, Marie Sebastian, who in the new version has been transformed from a sushi chef to a social worker with, naturally, a history of addiction to explain her urge to help people like Joe.
This sort of Screenwriting 101 backstory replaces momentum with explanation and leaves little room for the black humor that saves Park’s original from becoming too bleak. In fact, one of the oddest failings of the new Oldboy is its complete lack of humor. Where Park acknowledges—indeed embraces—his film’s outlandishness, Lee presents it with a straight face, which, considering all the violence involved, makes for grim going.
Lee’s Oldboy did poorly with audiences and critics alike. Given the lack of fanfare or publicity surrounding its release, I suspect that both Lee and the studio knew they had a dud on their hands. I may be naïve, but a solution to a problem such as this might be for studios to simply release foreign language films with the marketing and promotion budget they deserve. They may discover that Americans aren’t so afraid of subtitles after all.
December 4, 2013
It was business as usual Tuesday as visitors strolled around the gallery of the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.
Then, a lone cellist strolled to the center of the room, sat down and began to play.
When the soft, sweet opening lines of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring floated from the belly of his cello, visitors stopped in their tracks to catch one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most famous songs. But the surprise wasn’t over yet. Soon, a bassist and conductor appeared; a woman took off her coat and began a violin accompaniment. Eventually, 120 musicians and vocalists crowded the first and second floors of the museum as the United States Air Force Band put on its first flash mob at the most visited museum in the country.
The performance was the first of nearly 30 holiday performances the band has scheduled around the National Mall and the greater Washington, DC, area.
If you weren’t lucky enough to catch the flash mob in person, we have you covered: watch the performance in the video above.
You can also catch more of the U.S. Air Force bands this weekend at the Smithsonian’s Holiday Festival at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History.