August 31, 2010

Broadway's Newly Restored Belasco Theatre

As a fan of Broadway, I'm also a fan of Broadway theatres. I especially have mad love for the older houses along the Great White Way with their ornate murals, draperies and architectural flourishes. Along with some of their elderly patrons, they are the true grand dames of old Broadway. 

Recently, one of Broadway's oldest theatres the Belasco (which opened in 1907) underwent a 14 million dollar renovation, restoring it to it's original glory.  There was a great article and accompanying slide show in the TIMES this weekend of the Belasco through the years, along with details on the meticulous re-do.  

I saw "Passing Strange" here a few years ago and look forward to returning to the new Belasco soon.  

August 30, 2010

Emmys Open With GLEE And The Boss

Last night's Emmy awards got off to a musical start with host Jimmy Fallon, the cast of GLEE and an assortment of TV stars in an awesome number featuring Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run".  I thought this one topped Neil Patrick Harris' effort last year but, then again, I'm a bit of a GLEE fanatic. :)  

I only wish that this song was available on iTunes but I doubt that will ever happen.  The Boss is notorious for charging astronomical licensing fees for his music, which is why you don't see his stuff turning up very often on TV or in the movies.  Actually, I was pretty surprised to see a Springsteen song opening the Emmy's but my bet is he must have a teenage daughter who is also a GLEE fan.  

Due to these rights issues, the opening number is not available on NBC's website. But you can watch it here....though probably just for the next 12 hours or so.  

August 27, 2010

Some Amazing Pics of WTC Ship

Last month, while excavating for the new World Trade Center, workmen discovered the bow of a very old ship.  I posted about it here but wanted to follow up with some extraordinary 360 view photos that have been put up on the web recently.  

The ship dates from the 18th century and was a Brigantine, a workhorse of the seas that up and down the eastern seaboard on short to medium hauls.  It was discovered about 30 feet underground and subsequently was removed from the site in late July and sent to the Maryland Archeological Conservation Library in St. Leonard where it will be examined further.  This was the first ship to be found on a construction site in the city since 1982.  

August 26, 2010

A Tribute To Artists Lost To AIDS

My friend and fellow filmmaker Ira Sachs made a short film called LAST ADDRESS that premiered at Sundance earlier this year.  The film shows the exteriors of the buildings where gay downtown artists like Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and David Wojnarowicz lived and often worked before they succumbed to AIDS. Ira's 8-minute short serves as a beautiful elegy to these New York artists and the unique time in which they lived.  

This week, a companion website went up online with more information about these extraordinary men.  I encourage you to check it out; you can watch Ira's film below and you can visit the website here.  All in all, the LAST ADDRESS project serves as a lovely tribute to an amazing group of artists who may be gone but whose work will not soon be forgotten.  

August 25, 2010

Inception Spoof Is Shot-On

There's a fun spoof of the INCEPTION trailer I came across recently called INEBRIATION.  It's pretty funny and silly and made for about 1/1000th of the actual movie. Though it certainly helps to have Hans Zimmer's score to make the point.  Anyway, I'll just let the damn thing speak for itself. 

August 24, 2010

Don Draper Is In The Hood

On this week's episode of MAD MEN, Don Draper wrote a check which had on it the address of his new bachelor pad:  104 Waverly Place, apt 3B.  Yes, it's true, Don Draper is in the hood, his apartment just a few blocks from mine....though we are separated, of course, by about 40 years.  

Anyway, I stopped by 104 Waverly Place to see what the joint looked like.  Unfortunately, there is no 104 Waverly Place.  There is 106 to the right and then the back of a large apartment building on the corner, listed as 29 Washington Square West.  If there were a 104, it would be that little alleyway with all the garbage out front. (The picture is from GoogleMaps, clearly taken on garbage pickup day.)

It was probably due to legal necessity that the producers had to use a fake address.  However, I'm sure the people at 106 Waverly are breathing a sigh of relief.  The unfortunate folks who live in the building at the corner of Bedford and Grove (the exterior for FRIENDS) are constantly beseiged by camera-wielding tourists standing on the corner day & night snapping their own friends. 

August 23, 2010

A New Reminder Of The Old Penn Station

Coming out of Penn Station this weekend, I discovered some new artwork that recalls the glory of old Penn Station.  Inside a new entrance to the station at 31st and 7th ave that NJ Transit opened about a year ago, a series of 10 natural stone mosaics pay homage to the grandeur of the McKim, Mead & White's original "Temple To Travel".  

These pieces are the work of a Russian-born artist Yakov Hanansen and they are a beautiful tribute to the old station, which was torn down in 1964 to make way for Madison Square Garden. Currently, there are many plaques and photos and sculptures scattered through the underground tunnels which now make up the so-called station, in remembrance of the terminal's storied past.  But Hanasen's mosaics are the most elegant homage to a grand place that still lingers in the imagination.

August 20, 2010

Takin' It To The Summer Streets-Aug 21

This weekend is the last chance to enjoy Park Avenue without cars.  The annual Summer Streets program, which expanded from 1 to 3 Saturdays this year, wraps up on the 21st with all sorts of events from 72nd Street all the way down to Chatam Square.  The biggest buzzed about addition this year are the three dumpster-diving swimming pools that have been set up near Grand Central Terminal.  If you're interested in taking a dip on Park and 40th, you should get there early as the pools are small and there can be a wait.  
Last Saturday, I hit the Summer Streets and took advantage of the free bike rentals, provided by Bike'n'Roll.  You get use of the bike for an hour which was plenty of time to head from Spring and Lafayette to 72nd Street and back.  Riding below 14th Street was a little crowded but once you get onto Park it was better and above Grand Central it was gorgeous, biking past the Seagrams Building and the Lever House and enjoying the wide roadway and no dangerous taxis.

Even if you don't have a bike, there's tons to do; free yoga and exercise classes from Crunch on 25th Street, an outdoor Whole Foods market on 24th and excerpts from Fringe NYC Shows at a small stage on Spring/Lafayette.  Summer Streets starts early tomorrow at 7am and goes to 1pm when the streets are reopened to traffic. 

August 18, 2010

The Shocking Things You'll Find At Ground Zero

There has been a furious debate lately over the "mosque at Ground Zero." First of all, it's not a mosque they are planning, it's an Islamic community center and secondly, it's not "at" Ground Zero, but roughly 2 1/2 blocks away.  From the street, you can not see Ground Zero from the community center and vice versa. 

The thing that infuriates me the most about this inane debate is that the majority of the uproar is coming from people who don't live in New York City and thus don't understand how this city operates.  Given the limited amount of real estate, the sacred and the profane are often forced to live side by side in NYC. That has always been the nature of this particular urban beast and always will be....even when it comes to Ground Zero.   

To illustrate this fact, Daryl Lang's excellent NYC blog History Eraser Button showed a number of businesses that are within the same 2.5 block radius from the former Trade Center site.  He found a strip joint, a betting parlor and a Burger King.  Notably, this BK served as a makeshift morgue and then police HQ in the weeks after 9/11, as it was directly across from the site. 

My kudos to Daryl for defusing the debate by pointing out the realities of city life. Hopefully, as this controversy continues, people will look start to look beyond the headlines and consider the actual facts involved. Not to mention the merits of the First Amendment.

August 17, 2010

Hey Ladies--It's The New Cami-Secret

I am a secret fan of bad know the type, where people have ridiculous problems that are solved by a miracle product.  The only thing the product can't fix is the bad overacting and breathless narration that are the hallmark of these ads.  

Yesterday, I was turned on to a new commercial for a product so ridiculous it could have easily be dreamed up by the writing staff of SNL.  Yes's the Cami-Secret, which is essentially a dickie for women to hide their cleaveage without the "mess and fuss" of a real camisole.  I found this on D-Listed but apparently it is airing on TV. So check your CW channel, maybe around 2am. Or just watch it here.  Don't delay--watch it TODAY!

August 16, 2010

Send In The Divas

Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" had a diva switchover last month, as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Agnela Lansbury were replaced by Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.  This cast change seems to be the inspiration behind a YouTube video posted by a very talented NYC cabaret singer.  If you are a Broadway baby or diva devotee, you'll find her impressions are spot-on.  

August 13, 2010

Sondheim's 80th Year Celebrated With Online Recital

As part of the yearlong celebration of Sondheim's 80th, NY TIMES music critic Anthony Tommasini posted a lovely little recital yesterday in which he deconstructs the master's music and marvels at Sonheim's ingenuity as a composer.  It's a must-view for musical theatre fanatics like myself.  I especially loved his discussion of "Merrilly We Roll Along", Sondheim's 1981 Broadway flop which now is considered possibly his most interesting score.  I was in a production of this show back at Wildwood Summer Theatre and, though the show didn't make much sense, the music still resonates with me today.  Not a day goes by....indeed.

August 12, 2010

MTA's Gap Rap

If you ride the LIRR, you may have noticed the profusion of signs in recent years to "Watch The Gap".  Continuing this program to educate the public about the dangers of falling through the gap between the station platform and train, the MTA has now put out a "Gap Rap".  The rap was created by the LIRR's medical director Dr. John Clarke.  He's not a rapper but he plays one on YouTube, having already created a rap for the MTA's H1N1 educational program last fall.  The MTA's website says the Gap Rap is "MTV ready".  Well, let's just say the MTA should probably stick to the business of getting the trains to run on time.

The interesting story behind this story, though, is the gap safety program itself.  In 2006, a teenager named Natalie Smead fell through the gap at Woodside and was killed by a train.  Her family sued the MTA and won a very substantial multi-million dollar settlement.  It was this death and lawsuit (which revealed that there had been hundreds of gap-related accidents) that forced the MTA to address the issue of the unusually wide gaps on the LIRR.  In addition to signage everywhere as well as posters and PSA's, the MTA has actually filled in the gap at many LIRR platforms.  

So this "Gap Rap" is the latest measure in the MTA's recent gap education program to prevent further accidents, deaths and massive lawsuits.

August 11, 2010

What's On The Menu At The State Fair

State and county fairs of late have become summer playgrounds for culinary crackpots, dishing newfangled treats like deep fried butter and spaghetti-on-a-stick.  Now comes word of the latest caloric catastrophe: a hamburger served on a Crispy Creme donut.  

This is the hot item at the Wisconsin State Fair, where many folks are lining up for the $5 patty presented on a sliced glazed donut.  The mixture of savory and sweet was praised by many. As for myself, I think I would take a pass.  I'm not a huge fan of the lastest sweet/savory mashup trend, where enterprising chefs like to add bacon to ice cream for instance. I prefer to enjoy my desert and breakfast foods separately.  

August 10, 2010

A New Kind Of Tart Hits 42nd Street

Following in the footsteps of the wildly popular Hershey's and M&M stores in Times Square, a Pop-Tarts store opened recently on 42nd Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue.  On a stretch of formerly seedy sidewalk which used to host an entirely different sort of tart, you can now order up 30 different kinds of sweet snacks made from Pop-Tarts.  They're even selling something called "Pop-Tart Sushi" which consists of three different flavors combined in a fruit roll.  Eeek.

Now given my donut leanings, I have to admit I've never been a huge fan of the Pop-Tart.  There is something about them that always tastes a little stale, whether its fresh or toasted or rolled into faux sushi.  But clearly America does not agree as nearly half a billion dollars of the rectangular snacks were sold here last year.  

One interesting fact that I learned from the TIMES article (linked above) is that Pop-Tarts were actually a rip-off of a similar treat from Post called "Country Squares" that was already on the market in 1964.  Pop-Tarts took off partially because they tasted better but also because of the rise of Pop Art at the same time.  It's a fascinating bit of marketing/etymology behind one of America's favorite treats.

August 9, 2010

New Photos Revealed on 65th Anniversary of Hiroshima/Nagasaki

It was 65 years ago this weekend that atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In commemoration of the anniversary, has posted some never-before-published photos of the unique devastation visited upon those cities where the combined death toll was more than 100,000.  Taken by LIFE staffers Alfred Eisenstadt (who is famous for the V-E photo of the sailor in Times Square) and Bernard Hoffman, these pictures are a sobering reminder of the power and danger of nuclear weapons.  

This year for the first time, a US representative was on hand in Hiroshima for ceremonies marking the dropping of the atomic bomb.  Ambassador John Ross was welcomed by Hiroshima's mayor for the event.  It's somewhat surprising to me that's it taken us this long to have someone on hand for the anniversary.  But the wounds of war and the scars of this particular atrocity still run deep.

August 6, 2010

The Art of Urban Exploration

Last night I went to DUMBO for their open gallery night.  This is similar to the practice in Chelsea, where galleries coordinate their openings on a Thursday evening and serve up some free wine as well as new art.  At the Mighty Tanaka Gallery, we found some stunning photos taken from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 59th Street bridge and the Municipal Building.  These were the work of Shane Perez, a photographer who specializes in going where no man is supposed to go.  

He told us that getting to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge was actually the easiest of his many adventures.  It's only a 5-10 minute walk straight up the cables that support the span.  He headed up there late one Monday night around 3:30 AM and wasn't arrested or even spotted.  He also had some great photos of the Hellgate bridge, abandoned subway tunnels under City Hall, and an old electrical power plant in Philly.  This guy gets around!

You can view some of these other pictures on Shane's website.  Also, I found a website where you can learn more about the world of Urban Exploration...where nothing is off limits.  

August 5, 2010

The End of Prop 8 And The Beginning Of Marriage Equality

Yesterday was a momentous day in the struggle for equal rights in this country.  A federal judge in California, the Honorable Vaughn Walker, struck down the state's hateful and divisive Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.  In a 136 page ruling, he measured Prop 8 against the equal protection clause of the constitution and found that it came up short.  He also found that the state had no business in regulating this area of it's citizen's lives:    

"Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest." 

However, this ruling is not the end of the fight for marriage equality.  It is actually the beginning as it marks the first time a federal judge in a federal court has ruled on the issue.  It's estimated it will be another two years of appeals and additional rulings before the case makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it rightly belongs.  Justice Kennedy holds the key to how that will go.  But given Judge Walker's clear and strong ruling, it's becoming harder for opponents to make their case and see this issue as anything other than a struggle for equal rights. Period.

August 4, 2010

Randy Rainbow Goes To Rhinebeck...Sorta

Randy Rainbow, who made the most hysterical video mashup of Mel Gibson's rants, has now put together a little video about his weekend in Rhinebeck.  He talks to President Obama about getting snubbed and even dishes with Michelle too.  And then Hillary comes in on call waiting.  OMG--this guy is a riot!  Can't wait to see more...

August 3, 2010

Let The 3D Backlash Begin

Yes folks, it's 1954 all over again as the 3D backlash has officially begun.  Last month at Comic-Con, two Hollywood directors Josh Whedon and JJ Abrams made disparaging and somewhat defiant comments about the new technology.  Abrams, who did the 2D "Star Treck" reboot and Whedon, who is resisting a 3D conversion of his upcoming horror film "The Cabin In The Woods", highlighted the technical limitations of 3D as well as saying that they didn't view it as a movie savior the same way the suits do. 

Today's TIMES takes up the issue of the backlash, including the widespread reports of cheering by rabid "Hobbitt" fans when it was announced the movie would be shot old school.  Unfortunately, 3D will not exactly be going away any time soon.  More than 5,000 theaters have been converted in the US, roughly one out of every 8 screens.  Also, given the fact that 3D ads $3-5 bucks to ticket prices, the studios have a big incentive to keep cranking them out.  In fact, unnamed studio execs said that decisions about final formats for "Hobbit" and "Woods" are still in process, countering the filmmaker's claims.  

As a director, I agree the technology of 3D can easily get in the way of storytelling.  If all you're trying to do is throw things at the audience, that's not a movie....that's just a ride.  The fact that Warner Brother's summer blockbuster "Inception" did not go 3D is a testament to this fact. I think the 3D in "Avatar" worked well but that was not the key to that movie's success.  What made it unusual was that Cameron told a beautiful, cinematic story....a rarity in the thrill-driven movie marketplace of the moment.  And if too many movies go 3D, it will become a gimmick just like in the 50's.

August 2, 2010

The Way-Back Machine: Super Train

President Obama's High-Speed Rail Initiative has been in the news lately as it tries to do two things at once: create jobs and build a world-class train system in the US.  Construction has started on the first major project, a 200 MPH train from Tampa to Orlando.  However, that's nothing compared to the nuclear powered Supertrain which used to speed across the country from NY to LA in less than 36 hours.  What? You say you don't remember the Supertrain? It only ran for a brief period of two months starting in Feburary of 1979.  And the train was also fictional.  

"Supertrain" was a short-lived TV show that aired a mere 9 episodes in the winter of '79.  It was supposed to be the "Love Boat" on speedy silver wheels. Unfortunately, despite a million dollar budget and the imprimatur of ABC programming genius Fred Silverman, the show turned out to be one of the biggest flops in television history.  One hint about how terrible the show comes from the fact that you won't recognize on single name in the opening credits below.  No star was gonna touch this one...

Despite its lameness, I still remember this show fondly, or more so the anticipation I had about seeing it before it aired.  (The promos were everywhere on 3rd place NBC.)  The only thing that kept me watching were the shots of that nifty model train.  Yeah, I know--geek alert!  Well, back in 1979, I didn't have much of a social life....this and "Battlestar Galactica" kept me occupied. :)