July 30, 2010

BRAVO Reality Show Brings Art To TV

For the last two months the reality program "Work of Art" on BRAVO has been winnowing down a field of 14 as part of a competition to find "the next great artist."  Despite it's standard format, editing and lame attempt to have a catch-phrase (i.e. "your art didn't work for us"), the show does something extraordinary: it has brought a discussion of fine art and fine artists to network television.  

A few weeks ago, I interviewed contestant Nao Bustamente for an article about the program that just posted on the New York Foundation for the Arts website.  Nao is a well-known performance artist who was the most established artist on the show but, unforunately, lasted only four episodes.  We had a very lively conversation about art and television as well as a clear telling of her experiences through the looking glass of reality TV.  It's your weekend read...enjoy!

July 28, 2010

The Obama Has Landed (PART 2)

Wow--what a crazy afternoon/night here on my block!  The President is now gone and, amazingly, you would never know he'd been here today.  All is quiet on the Western Village front, less than an hour and a half after his departure.  It was two two days to setup but less than two hours for all of it to disappear. 

Here's some video of the arrival and some shots I took of the scene; the crowds who kept getting pushed further away, the swarms of police and Secret Service vehicles, and the snipers on Anna's rooftop who took a particular interest in me as I stood at the window talking to my friends as this all went down.  I believe they radioed me in because, a couple minutes after I took pictures of them, I got a buzz at my door saying it was "the police" but it was actually the Secret Service.  They told me to close my windows and then left.  

As for POTUS's arrival, it was quick and surprisingly quiet; no sirens blaring or Hail To The Chief or anything.  After a few motorcycles and police cruisers, two armored limos (Obama was in the second one) turned onto Sullivan Street and slipped into the white tent in front of Anna Wintour's townhouse.  Immediately, the Secret Service closed the flaps and that was that.  According to my brother (who used to be in the White House press pool), this is standard procedure for a Presidential arrival when there is no covered or enclosed entrance.

If you want a minute-by-minute detail of the whole thing, an enterprising intern at a fashion blog called Stylite did his damndest to live blog it, even though he was on the opposite side of Houston.  Anyone who got closer than that was shooed away.  They really kept all un-uniformed citizens off the block...except, of course, those folks who paid $30K a plate to sup with the President.  God Bless America!  

On the lookout for terrorists and nosy neighbors like me

The bomb dog sniffs the post box, which I was surprised was still there.

Hey guys--I don't have binos but I've got a 6x zoom

Sanitation truck filled with sand scares terrorists away(?!)

All the poor saps at the other end of Sullivan without a view

The money shot....the Presidential limo ready to go

The Obama Has Landed (PART 1)

The President arrived here at 7:20 sharp, as predicted by his schedule.  He's at Anna's now having dinner.  I will post some video and more pics of all the security scene later.  Snipers are watching me through my window as I type this....for reals!

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner....Obama! (PART 2)

It's 3PM....roughly four hours away from President Obama's arrival on my street and the block is already in lockdown.  Access to Sullivan from Bleecker is closed, with two sets of barricades blocking the sidewalk and a large dump truck parked in the middle of the street (pictured below).  

Meanwhile, they have constructed an elaborate tent for the President's limo to pull into to screen his exit from the car and into the townhouse of Anna Wintour.  There are Men in Black everywhere too.  

So I am in the bubble, as it were.  Fortunately, I just came back from a run to the deli. :)  I've been told if I leave after 5pm it will be tough to get back in my apartment.  And these people are not kidding around.  

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner....Obama!

I knew something was up on Monday when I saw a group of five police officers wearing "NYC Anti-Terrorism Unit" t-shirts standing on my corner and pointing up the block.  The next day there was an unusual number of big guys in big suits, something rarely seen on my block in the Village.  Then the signs went up...."No Parking Wednesday".  Knowing the President was supposed to be in the city on Wednesday for a taping of THE VIEW, I decided to Google "Obama" and "Sullivan Street".  Sure enough, PODUS was set to attend a fundraiser at the townhouse of Vouge editor Anna Wintour, who happens to be my neighbor.  

When I woke up this morning, my block was already in partial lockdown as you can see from the photo above.  They just finished towing the few remaining cars that were left by people who slept late or are out of town. I even saw the cops give someone a ticket for an unnamed offense.  I think he sassed one of the cops who told him to walk on the other side of the street.  

Unfortunately, I won't be attending the event as my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. (ha) But that's probably a good thing.  The report I found online said it's a $30,000 a plate affair which is slightly out of my range for political donations, more or less dinner!  Anyway, I will be updating the blog later today about the preparations for the Presidential visit and more photos of all the Obama-hubbub.  And maybe some pictures of The Man himself.  Stay tuned....

July 27, 2010

A View Of The Bridge

It was quite a sight yesterday as the new Willis Avenue Bridge floated up the East River.  I found some great video of the last leg of its voyage on the NY POST website. 

The bridge was built upstate, floated down the Hudson over the last couple weeks and finally arrived in Harlem yesterday where it will replace a span that is more than 100 years old.  The original span cost about 2M and then new one....614M.  It's the most expensive bridge the Department of Transportation has ever built.  

It's been a long time coming as the current bridge has been falling apart for years.  Installation begins in August and traffic should be flowing in November.  

July 26, 2010

A Day At The Beach In Queens

This weekend, I escaped the city heat without even leaving the city.  At the end of Flatbush Avenue, on the southern tip of the Rockaways, lies a decommissioned Army base which has a stunning strip of beach.  Fort Tilden used to house troops, canons, rockets and even nuclear weapons to defend New York City from 1917 until 1974.  Now, as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, it is a great place for a day at the beach.

I first discovered Ft. Tilden when I was in film school and worked on a couple shorts that were shot on it's empty beaches.  The beaches aren't so empty anymore, especially after recent articles in the TIMES and TimeOut have turned the place into Hipster Beach.  But it is still not nearly as packed as Jones Beach or neighboring Riis Beach on a 96 degree July afternoon.

We stayed at the beach until sunset which is when I took these magic-hour photos.  You would never guess these were taken in Queens, right?  Or within 45 minutes of downtown Manhattan.  All it takes to get there is a Metrocard: the 2 train to the end of the line then a transfer to the Q35 bus.  

July 23, 2010

The Way-Back Machine: Stryper

This is a new feature on Hi-Fi Bri where I take a look at something weird and wonderful from the late 20th Century.  Today, I'm remembering Stryper, the Christian rock band with the big ass hair that took MTV by fire and brimstone in the mid-80's.  

I always figured that MTV put Stryper's quasi-religious videos on as some sorta counter-PR to the popular argument that the network was turning Gen-X brains into oatmeal.  But watching their video for "Calling On You" (which I saw a hundred times back in the day) these guys really could rawwwkkk!  The song is a catchy confection of glam/metal pop, kinda like Poison without the naughtiness.  The guys were actually a bit hotter than Poison, I have to admit.  Lead singer Michael Sweet was quite cute in a skinny John Travolta sorta way.  And his brother Robert Sweet the drummer was seriously hot.  Check out those guns!  

These days, Stryper (whose name is a reference to the lashes on Christ's back) is still alive and kicking at their official website.  After a short lived breakup and lapse of faith in the 90's, the band started making music and touring again in the Aughts.  To date, they have sold more than 10 million records in total and it's estimated that 2/3'rds of those sales were to non-Christians.

July 22, 2010

Mel Gibson Is Dating A Guy....Sorta

So there's been a lot of Internet hay made out of Mel Gibson's career-ending answering machine messages.  But this is the best use of them that I've seen so far....even better than those wacky kitten posters with Mel quotes.  

RandyRainbow posted a hilarious YouTube video in which he is dating Mel.  Or at least having a long-distance relationship via phone.  Given the actor's homophobic history, it's doubly brilliant....and very funny. Go Randy!

July 20, 2010

Facebook Goes Hollywood

As everyone knows, Facebook has taken over the world with its 500 million friends.  But can it rule Hollywood too?  We'll find out this fall as director David Fincher ("Fight Club") brings the story of the founding of FB to the big screen.  Set way back in 2003, it's all about Mark Zuckenberg who famously decided to put Harvard's Freshman "facebook" online.  (As a side note, if Mark had gone to Boston College, we'd all be logging on to "meatbook" which is what it was called when I was an undergrad.)

Anyway, this supercool trailer was released last week after a less than cool teaser came out earlier this summer.  When someone asked me to describe the trailer I said it had a lot of cute/crazy college kids yelling at each other...like a geeky "Less Than Zero".  Oh--and Justin Timberlake playing a nerd.  Hot.

"The Social Network" will be the opening night film at the NY Film Festival on September 24th and then open in limited release that weekend. It will go wider depending on how much you "like" it.

July 19, 2010

Burlesque By The Beach

Last Friday, I headed out to Coney Island for some Burlesque By The Beach.  After checking out the new Luna Park and some serious fireworks on the boardwalk, we strolled back through the summer throngs to the Sideshow By The Seashore for an entertaining evening of old school showgirls.  Pictured here is one of World Famous Pontani Sisters in an amazing act they put together called Goldigger.  

The whole thing was hosted by Murray Hill who had the rowdy, wildly mixed crowd eating out of the palm of his/her hand.  All in all it was a highly entertaining 90 minutes with some amazing outfits and impressive dancing, not to mention some bumping and grinding. ;)  This summer, Burlesque By The Beach has a different act every Thursday and Friday with tickets a reasonable $10 and $15 respectively.  And coming up on September 10th is Tigger's Man-A-Tease, an all-male review which I caught last year that is not to be missed. 

July 16, 2010

The Gay Agenda Theme Song

A couple of talented young singer/songwriters are getting some attention here in New York, as well as a residency at Ars Nova. The Gay Agenda is a duo composed of two 30 year olds who are wild about showtunes: Micah Bucey and Nicholas Williams.

They were recently brought to my attention through a write-up in NEXT magazine this week which lead me to this YouTube video of their theme song, "The Gay Agenda". Their music is sorta like if Cole Porter were actually out of the closet and had been cloned. Their lyrics are witty and smart and basically anyone who can rhyme "recalcitrant" is OK by me. 

July 15, 2010

Construction At Ground Zero Uncovers Old Ship

I recently posted about the flurry of construction activity happening at the site of the former and future World Trade Center.  On Tuesday, workers digging 30 feet below street level hit some pieces of wood that were perfectly lined up with each other.  Archeologists rushed to the site and started excavating the remnants of what is an apparently an old ship dating from the 18th century.  The picture was taken by Fred Conrad of the New York Times and you can see a bunch more on the Times' City Blog, which reported the discovery today.  

It was found in an area between Cedar & Liberty Streets, which was not excavated in the '60's for the original Trade Center.  What is most fascinating about this is that archeologists are truly in a hurry because the wood of the ship is so old it will start to deteriorate immediately when exposed to sunlight.  Also, construction at the site has not stopped around them. The new WTC is famously behind schedule so there will be no slow down, even for this historical find.

July 14, 2010

President Obama Will Not Get His Day In Court

Back in April, Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo chained themselves to the fence of the White House in protest of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (which by the way has still not been repealed).  Last month, as they prepared for their trial on charges of unlawful conduct, they subpoeaned a powerhouse witness...President Obama himself.  These two soliders stated they were merely following their Commander-In-Chief's orders from last fall to pressure him on the repeal of DADT, a statement Obama made in speaking about his intention to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

This legal manuever was a clever, headline grabbing ploy but, this morning, it appears the President is off the hook.  The trial, which was supposed to start today, has been cancelled. AmericaBlog reports that everyone was in court this morning, Choi, Pietrangelo and all the officers and Secret Service involved in their arrest.  But for reasons that are currently unclear, the prosecutor dismissed the charges.  Clearly, they were wary of the trial becoming a showcase for Choi and Pietrangelo's crusade to keep the issue of DADT in the public consciousness.  

At the end of the court appearance, Choi asked the judge if the "stay away" order from the White House was no longer valid.  The prosecutor's answer was yes.  So you can bet Choi and others will be back at the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue soon, demanding their right to serve openly and proudly in the armed forces.   

July 12, 2010

The Other Summer Movies

There has been a lot of strum and drang out in Hollywood about what a lackluster summer this has been at the movies.  Total box office is down, actual admissions are down and the spirits of moviegoers are low.  Despite the success of "Toy Story 3" and "Despicable Me", there have been a lot of supposedly sure-fire hits that have been underperforming not to mention some eviscerating reviews of movies like "Sex & The City 2" and "Knight and Day". 

But hope exists and you can find it in a couple of small, daring independent films that are the best commercial features out this year.  They are two movies about modern family that could not be more different in style and tone but share one thing in common which is a rarity in mainstream movies lately; the ability to tell a coherent story without anything exploding.  These diamonds in the summer of rough are "I am Love" and "The Kids Are All Right".  

"Love" is the work of an Italian director Luca Guadagnino, who has such a sure visual style and old Hollywood touch that the movie feels like something from the 1950's.  However, it's sexual explicitness along with a riveting and nuanced performance by Tilda Swinton cue its modernity.  I don't want to say much to give away the film's surprising storyline other than it's a sweeping portrait of a wealthy Italian family and its unlikely matriarch.  Simply put, if you like your cinema with a capital C this is not to be missed.

"Kids" is the fourth feature of indie auteur Lisa Cholodenko.  Her previous films ("Laurel Canyon", "High Art") were all extremely well-crafted and had their comic touches as well.  But this film is a revelation. In scenes that are equally hilarious and heartbreaking, this movie explores the complexity of modern family life with a real tenderness and compassion.  Annette Benning and Julianne Moore's portrayal a lesbian couple seems so real that Warren Beatty must be feeling a bit nervous.  Benning is particularly wonderful and will surely be taking home some awards later this year. 

July 9, 2010

When Trains Ruled The Skies

Long before the NYC subway became the modus operandi for local travel, New Yorkers used an extensive system of elevated railways to get around town.  Starting in the 1870's, steam trains ruled the skies of the city, blazing smoky trails up and down 3rd avenue, 6th avenue and 9th avenue downtown.  They pre-dated the subway system by a good three decades and, if Boss Tweed had had his way, might have expanded to take the place of the subway.

This week The Bowery Boys have posted an excellent podcast detailing the reign of the elevated train.  The last elevated tracks in Manhattan on 3rd avenue were torn down in 1955.  If you are feeling nostalgic, you can get a glimpse of them in the Billy Wilder flick "The Lost Weekend", a rare Hollywood film shot on location in the 1940s.

The Bowery Boys are great local historians who truly know their stuff.  And they have some great visuals too.  Below is a picture from their site of the 3rd Avenue El where it hit the Bowery.  You can subscribe to their podcast on iTunes or get it directly from their website.  It's my recommended weekend listening.  Enjoy!

July 8, 2010

Tombstone On The Sidewalk: A New York Story

Today's TIMES has a great New York story;  a man walking down E. 4th street one night finds a tombstone. It is dated 1910 and has the name Hinda Amchanitzky on it.  The rest of the tombstone is in Hebrew. 

When artist and part-time cook John Lankenau carted this curiosity back to his apartment, he began a quest to find out who Hinda was and what her tombstone was doing on a city street.  After hitting some dead ends, he enlisted an intrepid reporter from the TIMES. With an assist from the Library of Congress, they found out some surprising facts about this mystery woman who died nearly a century ago.  And, against all odds, they were able to reunite Hinda's tombstone with her final resting place.

July 7, 2010

What Is It About Kittens and The Internet

In case you have never typed "kittens" into YouTube (and you know you have!), there are thousands of cute kitten videos on the site.  In fact, they could start calling it KittenTube.  Or some smart trendy person could create a website that is all about cute kitten videos.  Well, guess what?  There is a site out there just like that and it's draining the nation's productivity by the cute kitten minute.

It's called KittehRoulette, which is catchy but a bit of a misnomer.  It's not ChatRoulette for cats.  I know all you cat owners out there think your cat is a genius but it's not like there are a bunch of fat cats from Russia sitting in front of their owners' MacBook "nexting" some rangy looking kittys from Malaysia.  Basically, this site is a collection of all those YouTube cat videos, one right after another.  Though it uses the spelling popularized by the LOLCats phenomenon, it is somehow not part of that burgeoning cuteness empire.  The Kittehs stand alone....for now.

So if you're having a bad day or just need a break from the tedium of work, you now have an oasis of cuteness.  Meow.

July 6, 2010

A Trip Along The National Road

I took a lovely drive over the holiday weekend along the National Highway.  You might think I'm referring to I-95, the east coast mega-freeway that stretches from Maine to Florida.  But the National Highway is I-68 from Hancock, MD to Morgantown, WV.  Whaaaa?  How did that become the National Highway? Well, I decided to look into it...

The National Highway follows the route of the National Road.  This was the first federally funded turnpike in the United States, authorized by President Thomas Jefferson in 1806.  The original path was used by indians and soldiers back in the 1700's  The plan for the "Cumberland Road", it's original name, was to upgrade and extended that road to connect the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, a task that was completed in 1818.  When car travel took over from horses, the National Road became part of US 40 which was the first highway to traverse the entire United States.

Today, sections of I-68 parallel the old National Road, which you can still see winding its way alongside it's newer, faster counterpart through the hills and valleys of scenic Western Maryland.  A ride along the National Road is a beautiful trip with more than 200 years of history behind it.  

July 5, 2010

A Forest of Construction Cranes At Ground Zero

I was walking past the former site of the World Trade Center recently when I noticed a veritable forest of construction cranes have sprung up there.  Work is moving full-speed ahead on the Memorial, the Museum, One World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower) and Four World Trade Center.  The two new trade center buildings are visible above street level, with 1 WTC rising nearly 20 stories in an impressive framework of steel.  

On the 9/11 Memorial site, the outlines of the former WTC 1 and WTC 2 are now complete and the Memorial itself is scheduled to open on September 11, 2011.  You can read more about the plans for these on the WTC Memorial site.  There is also a temporary visitors center on 20 Vesey Street with models and timelines for the construction, as well as some tribute videos to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

It's incredible that nearly 10 years after 9/11, this 10 plus acre plot is still a construction site.  But, after years of squabbling and confusion, things are actually moving forward now.  According to current plans, the new World Trade Center complex is scheduled to be complete by 2016.  

July 2, 2010

Uncle Tom's Cabin Is In Bethesda, MD

When I was growing up in suburban Maryland, there were rumors that the real-life inspiration for the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was located in the woods just off the Old Georgetown Road exit of I-270.  As it turns out, the rumors are not only true but now there a plans for an Uncle Tom's Cabin interactive museum on the site located in the middle of the burbs of North Bethesda (11420 Old Georgetown Road to be exact).

In 2006, the Montgomery County government purchased the property, officially know as the Josiah Henson Site.  Henson was a slave who lived there for nearly 40 years in the early half of the 19th century before escaping to write his autobiography.  It was this book that inspired abolitionist/author Harriet Beecher Stowe to write her international blockbuster, "Uncle Tom's Cabin".  Stowe's novel was so widely read and influential that many historians list it as one of the causes of the Civil War.

It's remarkable that this little piece of history has survived all the development around it since the suburban explosion of the 1960's.  Currently the site is open for limited visitors to tour the original plantation house and a small wood-cabin kitchen.  The Montgomery Gazette reports that planning is underway for a full museum to open on the site in 2012. 

July 1, 2010

While You're Waiting For GLEE To Return...Flash Mobs!

While GLEE is on hiatus til September, I've discovered a sort of GLEE-substitute: a recent spate of flash-mob dance-in's to mashups from the show's soundtrack. The most recent one occurred in Paris a few days ago but the best one I've seen was in Seattle.  Those kids on the left coast can really move.  And look out for their flawless jazz hands....must be all that coffee.  Go Seattle!