January 31, 2011

Brunch With Jazz Singer Lea Delaria

Yesterday, I was invited for an only-in-New York experience; a jazz brunch featuring Lea Delaria and a sharp jazz trio at Smoke.  This restaurant/lounge tucked away on the Upper West Side is a charming and very intimate space for a performer but, fortunately, Ms. Delaria, formerly know for her out-there standup in the 80s/90s, is not shy.

She is a remarkable singer and was in top form as she did an hourlong set for the brunch crowd.  I remember first seeing her sing in the lovely production of ON THE TOWN at the Public's Central Park stage.  She blew me, and the audience, away with her brassy interpretation of Hilde, the rat-a-tat cab driver, and her unique song stylings of the Camden/Green standards.  Lea, along with Mary Testa, stole the show.

Well, now she's got her own show and rightly so.  Not to mention more than a few CD's on Warner's Jazz label.  One I am downloading today is called Double Standard, where she converts some unlikely pop songs into the jazz canon, most notably Blondie's CALL ME.  I wish I could post it here but you'll just have to download it yourself on iTunes.  I don't know that much about Jazz, but I do love Blondie and this is an amazing cover!

January 28, 2011

A Teenaged Liza Dances Up A Storm

This clip was sent to me by friend Jay Blotcher, an ol' TV hound who is always digging up lost classics to share with me.  He and his partner recently checked out the Judy Garland Christmas Special...on VHS even!  Liza, of course, is amazing though she is barely 17 years old. But also notable is her dance partner, Tracey Everitt who was a real Broadway hoofer back in the day. He was in the original class of such classics as WEST SIDE STORY, BYE BYE BIRDIE and even HOW TO SUCCEED, heading to Bway this spring with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead.

So where is Mr. Everitt these days? Well, Mr. Blotcher decided to find out and tracked him down to a dance studio in Hoboken where he teaches everything from ballroom to tap. Clearly he knows his stuff, as you'll see below.

January 27, 2011

The Half-Billion Dollar Business Named GLEE

This week's edition of The Hollywood Reporter has a fascinating story on the business of GLEE.  This show, which was one of the biggest risks the FOX network took when it premiered back in 2008, has become a half-billion dollar business for the network second only to their American Idol franchise.  And it is that rare thing in television these days....a cross-generational hit with everyone from 8 year olds to 80 year olds singing along to the showtunes.  Nearly 14 million people each episode!

There are many interesting details in his piece about how the show is put together as well as the high cost of each episode, nearly 4 million dollars.  Though GLEE certainly has it's ups and downs in terms of storyline, the show remains a remarkable thing for television....a weekly musical!  Of course, there were who thought this idea was crazy, including Universal Music which turned down the licensing for the music.  That went to Columbia which is now raking it in due to all the hit songs the show has spawned.

The question is can creator Ryan Murphy keep up with the crazy pace of production on this show?  Even he has his doubts. It's a lengthy article but worth the read if, like me, you love the GLEE.

January 26, 2011

The Story of The Verrazano Narrows Bridge

If you look at this picture of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, you'll see there's something missing.  Taken in 1963, when this massive bridge was still under construction, the traffic deck is not yet in place on what was, for some time, the longest suspension bridge in the world.

The remarkable story of this NYC landmark is now being told by the Bowery Boys in one of their highly entertaining historical podcasts.  There are all sorts of fun factoids and crazy stories in this story, namely about the bridge's namesake who was an Italian explorer who discovered the narrows in 1524 (almost a hundred years before Henry Hudson sailed in) but didn't go any further because he thought New York's harbor was a big lake.  So instead of the Verrazano River we have the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  So why name a bridge after a second rate explorer?  The story behind that is even more surprising.

January 25, 2011

Adopt A Piece Of Fine Art Today

A friend of mine who works at NYFA recently told me about this fantastic website where you can "adopt" works of fine art for free.  The Fine Art Adoption Network was started by an artist named Adam Simon who thought it might be a way for artists to get some exposure while also clearing out some working space in their studios too.

This painting on the left is by artist Heidi Neff, is 60 x 66 inches and inspired by her love of church ceilings. It is available for free...the only cost is shipping.  And like adopting a child, that baby is yours for eternity.  But you have to be a good parent and take care of it.  And, just like adoptiong, you have to apply.  But where in NYC can you get free art? Nowhere....except the Fine Art Adoption Network.

January 24, 2011

EW Puts Kurt And His Crush On The Cover

Kudos to EW for putting GLEE's Chris Colfer and Darren Criss on the cover of this weeks issue. It's a totally adorakable pic....and a pretty good story to go with it as well.  EW's piece talks about the history of gay teens on TV and how suddenly they are popping up everywhere, most prominently on GLEE.

Now, I know that GLEE may not be a perfect show but it is easily the most unusual and groundbreaking TV show in years, especially in terms of its portrayal of gay teens.  It's actually pretty astounding to see how  Colfer's "Kurt" has become the heart and soul of this show. It seems lately that GLEE works best when it focuses on Kurt's storyline, with one of the best episodes of the season being Kurt's introduction to the all-boy school, the amazing singing of Blaine and The Warblers.

After the two of them did a sweet duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside" on the Xmas episode, fans of the show are clamoring for a real gay bromance. Could Kurt and Blaine become the new Ross and Rachel?  There are many hints that things are going that way, especially in an interview Colfer gives on the set of their photo shoot.  Only time, and new episodes of season 2, will tell....

January 21, 2011

Forget Spidey-The Book Of Mormon Is Coming To Bway

The big Spiderman news this week, as reported in the NY TIMES, is that they added a new closing number with more flying around the theatre and ending with the movie's famous upside down kiss w/Mary Jane.  This is news?  Really?!

Look--if you want some actual news about what's happening on Broadway these days, the funniest new musical to hit the Great White Way since AVENUE Q is opening in March and you probably haven't heard much about it.  Trust me, you will hear more as word spreads about THE BOOK OF MORMON, a collaboration between the South Park guys (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the creator of AVENUE Q.

I was lucky enough to catch the show in a workshop production at the Vineyard Theatre in 2009 and it was awesome.  It's about a couple young Mormon's who get sent on their first missionary trip to Africa....comic chaos ensues.  It is full of tasteless but hilarious laugh-til-you-cry jokes and some outrageous songs in the style of TEAM AMERICA'S crazier bits (remember the AIDS number?).  I don't want to give all the good stuff away so I'm gonna leave it at that.  Previews begin February 24th and the show will actually open a month later, on March 24th. Take that Spidey!

January 20, 2011

A Post-Blizzard Brooklyn Mystery

During last month's incredible December blizzard, a young man in Brooklyn went seeking an adventure by  slapping on some cross-country skis and shushing through Prospect Park.  On his journey, he came across a small canister of black/white film that someone had lost in the snow.  Curiously, he printed the photos and found them to be quite interesting.

Determined to find the people who took them, he created this YouTube video below. I found it over on the Daily Beast and wanted to share it here.  It's already had more than 100,000 hits and rightly so...it's a wonderful little New York story.

January 19, 2011

Quorum Forum Kicks Off With Museum/Loft Party

The Quorum Forum is a 10-day series of free arts-related events happening in Brooklyn and Queens, from January 14-23.  I heard about this from attending their kick-off event last Friday, The Pop of Museum of Queer History, which took place in a Bushwick loft packed with artwork, movies and performance.  This event was co-curated by queer artists Hugh Ryan and Buzz Slutzsky and was partially created in response to the removal of David Wojnarowicz's work from the National Portrait Gallery, which I've covered here on the blog.  It was packed with the hip/arty gays and turned out to be so much fun that even the police showed up!

Anyway, I wrote about my night at the museum (ha) for NEXT magazine's "The Nexus" blog and took some pictures too, including the shot above of the Stonewall Riot made out a gingerbread.  This is the sort of homemade creativity that the other Forum events will be encouraging this week: there'll be  some bookmaking, tarot card reading and, the final event, a "Hot Pink Mass" on Sunday.  Amen, Mary!  :) You can find all the details on their website.

January 18, 2011

Film Shot On iPhone To Screen At Berlin

Korean director Park Chan-wook, who brought us the bloody cinematic feast OLD BOY, has shot his latest movie entirely on the iPhone 4.  It's a 30 minute short that he made in Seoul last fall and is now starting to show in theatres there.  He used multiple iPhones shooting simultaneously to create a horror-fantasy-comedy film called PARAMANJANG which is about a man who catches a woman while fishing. The film will show in South Korean theaters starting January 27th and will get it's international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival next month.

So the question is why? "The new technology creates strange effects because it is new and because it is a medium the audience is used to," Park said.  It almost sounds to me like more of the growing trend of "branded entertainment", meaning the film was created as a promotion for the iPhone in Korea.  Apple is not officially involved and Chan-wook claims that he had no special iPhone made for the shoot.  He added that he made no changes to the existing model, except for the addition of lenses.  Not to be a stickler but I'd say that's a pretty big change as you don't see many people taping jury rigged Zeiss lenses on their phones.

Anyway, I'm curious to check it out.  Could it be the future of cinema?  Will Hollywood start making feature films on the iPhone?  Like all technological changes, it's still not going to make movies cost nothing.  The budget on this 30 minute short was $133,000.

January 17, 2011

Remembering MLK And The 1960s

When I was a junior at Boston College, I took a class called "Remembering the 1960's".  It was taught by a woman who lived the decade and knew the subject intimately.  In fact, she had attended Bob Dylan's bar mitzvah!  Anyway, it was an amazing class as she told the story of how the decade that changed this country actually began in the 1950's, most notably in the 1955 Montgomery, AL bus boycott organized by a young preacher named Martin Luther King.  As she told the story of Dr. King and his use of non-violence to change the hateful Jim Crow laws across the South, I was deeply moved and also somewhat inspired.  Dr. King's words and actions showed a great nation that it had forgotten one of its founding principles...that ALL men were created equal.

While many in my class bemoaned the fact that the 80's were not as interesting as the '60s and that there was nothing to fight against, I knew this was not true. The AIDS epidemic was killing the gay community and polarizing the straight world and, once again, there was the assumption that a certain group of people (gays and lesbians this time around) were not so equal as the rest of Americans.  I wondered why the nation viewed us as The Other?  I thought one reason was that this country hardly knew us, outside of what they'd gleaned from Elton John and episodes of SOAP.  And so I started writing openly and honestly about my experience as a gay man.  It began as short stories in a writing class that same year, then became films and books and even some plays.  But, looking back, I can trace the inspiration for all my writing back to that history class in which I learned about the civil rights movement and how one man raised his voice and made a difference.  Even though I was not a politician or a preacher, I thought I would do what I could to show people that we were not The Other.  We were human, just like everyone else, and wanted the same things that all Americans are promised; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Anyway, as I reflect today on the the legacy of Martin Luther King, I can see that the struggle for equality and equal rights is not over.  Though we have certainly come a long ways since his death more than 40 years ago (we've got an African American President!), his remarkable dream is not quite complete.  Gays and lesbians still suffer from hate and discrimination and a lack of equality when it comes to some pretty basics rights, including the right to marry.  So in honor of Dr. King, I urge you to look around and do what you can to support the continuing struggle for equality for all.

January 14, 2011

My Brother's Photograph Is Part Of LIFE's Best Of 2010

I've linked a few times here on the blog to the newly reinvented, online version of LIFE magazine.  They've done some great photo essays over the past year and have released some historical photos too, like some never before seen shots of Hiroshima after the Bomb.

Yesterday, I found out that my brother, who is a photojournalist based in Washington with AFP, had one of his photos of President Obama selected for LIFE's Pictures Of The Year.  It's a shot of the very tall commander in chief being positioned for a summit photo by the hands of a hidden South Korean presdient.  It's a somewhat comic but also suprising pic as it's not often you seen the President of The United States being manhandled into position....except on healthcare.  Badump-chik! Thank you folks....I'm here all week and don't forget to tip your waitresses!  :)

But seriously folks, it's a great honor for my brother to be included in this compilation. And it's a stunning collection of photos in general.  To check out the whole visual recap of the year that was, it's on LIFE.com.

January 13, 2011

When Polar Bears Attack Video Cameras

Below is a video clip from a UK nature show in which polar bears, who are being secretly filmed by some very clever spy cams, get a little too curious about these strange objects that are following them around.  Apparently, more than any other animal they have filmed before using these stealthy cams, the polar bears not only take notice of their new "friends" but also get incredibly curious as well.

The bears are sorta playful but sorta scary, especially when they crack open these pieces of machinery with their bare paws as if they merely were just another walnut.  While polar bears may be cute, they are pretty damn strong too and best viewed from a distance....or a reinforced spy cam.

January 12, 2011

Walking In A Central Park Wonderland

I had a meeting up near Columbus Circle this morning so, after it was over, I felt inspired to take a stroll through a newly snowy Central Park.  Even though the big storm had stopped only a few hours before, after dumping more than a foot on the city, the Park wasn't exactly the pristine wonderland I was hoping for. There were plenty of tracks through the powder and lots kids sledding down the "mountains", as I overheard one group of toddlers call them.  But it was still a pretty beautiful and wintry wonderland.  And there were photographers everywhere!

Anyway, thought I'd share some of my pics from today. Enjoy!  :)

January 11, 2011

Astounding Photos Of Detroit In Ruins

Urban Exploration seems to be the theme of the week here on the blog.  I was checking out some of my favorite city blogs and found a link to these astounding photographs of Detroit. This city, which used to be a thriving industrial metropolis at the height of the American auto boom, is now a literal shell of it former self, its downtown littered with abandoned buildings left to rot.

A pair of 20-something photographers from the outskirts of Paris, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, set out to document the post-apocalyptic interiors of the city. Photos of the empty city library and an abandoned police station are especially haunting. Their work is viewable in a gallery on the Guardian UK's website and have also been collected into a book called "The Ruins of Detroit". Right now, it's only available in Europe but hopefully, as these pics get some stateside attention, the book will be available here.

January 10, 2011

Steve Duncan Goes Underground In This Amazing Film

Steve Duncan is a well-known 32-year old urban explorer who specializes in going where no man is supposed to go.  Legally, that is.  He leads late night expeditions into sewers and subways of around the world, to the tops of famous bridges and through forbidden underground tunnels.  And he is not just a thrill-seeker.  He is actually getting his PhD in urban history at the University of California.  You could say he's something of a modern day Indiana Jones, seeking not a crystal skull but a 300-year old sewer.

Steve recently was profiled in both the New York TIMES and also NPR as he went on a 25 mile adventure under and over the city of New York.  Also, on his website Under City, he recently posted an extraordinary video of some adventures made earlier in the year.  The video, beautifully shot by Andrew Wonder on a DSLR, is almost 30 minutes long but it is truly fascinating and edge-of-your seat stuff.   You will not believe some of the things he gets into....and on top of.  And the cinematography is stunning.

Earlier this year I posted about Shane Perez, a photographer I met in DUMBO who is also an urban explorer and has taken some amazing pictures from the Brooklyn Bridge. He has a cameo in this film, which in some ways seems like a pilot for a TV show about urban exploration.  It's also 100 times more interesting and exciting than most of the overcooked thrill-reality shows like ICE TRUCKERS.  Also, Steve is a knowledgeable and charming host too.  I hope to see more, either online or on the Discovery channel soon.

UNDERCITY from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

January 7, 2011

Huckleberry Finn Gets White-Washed

There has been a great deal of academic strum und drang this week over a new edition of "Huckleberry Finn" in which the N word is being replaced by "slave".  In today's TIMES, the queen bee of literary criticism Michiko Kakutani throws her critical hat in the ring while also trying to calm the tempest.

As she acutely points out, Mark Twain's seminal work seems to create a cultural firestorm on a semi-regular basis as people continue to debate the worth and meaning of this undeniably Great American Novel, one which doesn't quite suit our contemporary tastes.  Overall, she gives a concise history of the ancient and annoying human habit of trying to santizie everything from the Bible and Shakespeare to Normal Mailer, who famously used "fug" instead of the F word in his classic "The Naked And The Dead".

One fact she doesn't point out, perhaps because it's so obvious, is that the original author-approved version of "Huck Finn" will continue to be available in libraries and bookstores here and around the world.  It's really going to be a matter of choice and, frankly, I'd hope that most high school English teachers with something resembling a brain would refuse to teach this historically incorrect version of the story.  The fact is, though, that Twain's novel is in the public domain and has been for many decades, meaning that if you'd like to publish your own version of Huck with all the slow parts or endless digressions taken out (and there are a few!) you are free to do so.  As people sometimes forget, that uber-American principle of freedom of speech is a two-sided coin.

January 6, 2011

Josh Groban Is Kinda Cute Singing Kanye's Tweets

Since officially moving to New York last fall, classical singing superstar Josh Groban seems to be working on something of a personal makeover.  He's scruffier now, has shorter hair, a new wardrobe and even funky glasses on occasion.  And lately he loves to make fun of himself too....first with some appearances on GLEE and now with a comic bit from Jimmy Kimmel in which he sings the tweets of Kanye West.

It's funny stuff and is kinda like the reverse of long-ago TONIGHT SHOW host Steve Allens' schitck where he would read the lyrics of rock'n'roll songs as serious poetry.  Anyway, Josh is major trending topic on Twitter today so people seem to like the new sillier Groban. The question is will it sell more copies of his new album?

January 5, 2011

Some Big NYC Anniversaries in 2011

I often take note here on Hi-Fi Bri of famous anniversaries here in NYC.  In fact, one of the most widely viewed and linked posts was last year's story about the 100th anniversary of the Manhattan Bridge.  Well, as I found out today on the Bowery Boys blog, 2011 is shaping up as a banner year for centennial celebrations here in the city.

The biggest birthday is 100 years for the New York Public Library's landmark building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.  In preparation for the centennial celebration, this landmark has been getting a facelift and, while in midtown yesterday, I noticed the scaffolding had come off the south side of the building on 40th and it looks incredible!  The marble facade is now blindingly white after decades of NYC grime were removed with soap and water.

A more grim anniversary coming up in March is that of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911.  More than 146 people died in this infamous tragedy, with many young immigrant women leaping to their deaths from a locked sweatshop.  And, of course, another sad anniversary will be the the marking of a decade since the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.  To read more about all the upcoming anniversaries, you can check out the Bowery Boys blog which has a full listing and more information as well.

January 4, 2011

Jeff Bridges Has A Really Cool Website

Jeff Bridges has been on the talk show circuit lately for not one but two movies that are out this holiday season;  TRUE GRIT and TRON LEGACY  Though actually TRON is more like a big video game than a movie.  Granted a very cool looking and sounding video game in which he plays two characters, including a 30 years younger version of himself from the original TRON.

Anyway, I saw him on Jimmy Kimmel last week ostensibly pitching TRON. But they mainly talked about other stuff, like THE BIG LEBOWSKI and the cult of The Dude.  Jimmy also mentioned that he had visisted Jeff Bridges website and was very impressed by it.  I checked it out and have to agree.....it's pretty unique.  Bridges is an artist and photographer and the website utilitzes his quirky handwriting and original drawings to show off his artistic side.  Its really worth a visit...and, unlike TRON, it is free.  Though his photobook of Wideluxe movie set stills and other works of art are available for purchase.

January 3, 2011

Need A New Years' Resolution? Stop Drinking Bottled Water

New Years is a time for resolutions that are generally aimed at self-improvement; lose weight, quit smoking, get a girlfriend/boyfriend/, lose a girlfriend/boyfriend.  OK--these are all well and good but, let's face it...4 out of 5 times these resolutions just don't work.  I think I have tried all of them (except for me lose weight was gain weight) and most have been a failure.  Except for that one time I resolved to start flossing...

Anyway, how about resolving to do something to improve the world in 2011.  It's very simple as you don't have to cure world hunger or end war or anything like all.  All you have to do is stop drinking bottled water.  Seriously.  It is one of the most wasteful habits of mankind.  Here's a few simple and scary facts:

  • 1.5 million barrels of oil a year are used to make the bottles 
  • That's enough oil for 100,000 cars in the US to drive around for one full year
  • Every week nearly 40,000 18-wheelers are tooling around the US to deliver bottled water
  • More than 80% of bottled water containers in the US are not recycled
  • It can take 7 times the amount of water in the bottle to actually make the bottle!!!

So, despite the green label (yes Poland Spring--I'm talking to YOU), bottled water is incredibly wasteful. But it's also totally unnecessary too. Tap water is held to much higher standards than bottled water. So get yourself a nice stainless steel thermos, fill it up in the sink and resolve to do your part to make the world a better place.  And forget those boyfriend/girlfriend resolutions.  Just remember...a good planet is even harder to find.