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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Unseen Warhol

by Sarah Gentile

One of the joys as an archivist at an arts organization with a 150-plus-year history is seeing what has remained unseen for a long time. While working on the Leon Levy Digital Archives grant, we are processing photographs, video, audio, programs and ephemera that in some cases has been hidden for decades. Andy Warhol himself had a fascination with archives, going so far as to create his own version called Time Capsule 21, an art project consisting of more than 600 cardboard boxes full of ephemera from his daily life.

This fall, BAM will present Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films, a set of films never publicly shown, with accompanying music from rock icons Dean Wareham, Tom Verlaine, and Martin Rev, among others. It's not the first time Warhol's ties to rock were seen at BAM. In 1968, The Velvet Underground, the in-house band at Warhol's Factory, came to BAM for Merce Cunningham's opening night benefit. Warhol's helium-filled, mirrored, floating rectangles—what he called Silver Clouds—were also part of the New York premiere of Cunningham's RainForest, one of a set of eight performances featuring the work of composer John Cage and visual artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella. Then in 1989, Lou Reed and John Cale paid tribute to Warhol in the BAM-commissioned Songs for Drella, for which Warhol-inspired Campbell's soup cans and packets were created to give to the opening night audience. With the launch of the BAM archives website in 2016, expect to see more of these finds from BAM's history soon.

Excerpt from a 1968 Merce Cunningham BAM promotional mailing highlighting A Rock 
Dance; the Velvet Underground performed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Invitations Matter: Polish theater finds from the Harvey Lichtenstein Collection

by Anika Paris

The BAM Hamm Archives' recent work processing the files of BAM President Emeritus Harvey Lichtenstein yielded these beautiful items from two luminaries of Polish theater: Jerzy Grotowski's Polish Laboratory Theatre and Józef Szajna's Teatr Studio Warsaw.

In the fall of 1969, the Polish Laboratory Theatre produced three shows with BAM: The Constant Prince, Acropolis, and Apocalypse. Several years later, in the spring of 1976, Teatr Studio Warsaw produced Dante and Replika. Speaking of Replika, Szajna told The New York Times, “It is a protest against war; it says, ‘Look at what we make of ourselves.’”

Grotowski was no stranger to conflict either, though he made his protests a little closer to home—when Lichtenstein and the director of the Chelsea Theater came to the premiere of The Constant Prince, Grotowski told them to leave in these choice words. If only they had these invites in hand!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Next Wave Festival Preview:
Independence Day Edition

By Robert Wood

A slightly cheesy, glibly bohemian, and yet entirely reasonable proposition for this Fourth of July: art has had everything to do with creating what we understand to be America (and the Declaration of Independence has done alright, too). The Great Plains are Woody Guthrie’s masterpiece. Main Street USA? Much obliged, Frank Capra.

That’s what we’re thinking about, at least, on this Independence Day—that and our upcoming Next Wave Festival, which will feature a handful of shows with an American bent to them: a new production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America from Dutch director Ivo Van Hove, a staged version of Teru Kuwayama’s Basetrack project, which documented the experience of Marines serving the front lines in Afghanistan, and a concert of American and other folk music from Kronos Quartet, Sam Amidon, Rhiannon Giddens, and others. All three are sure to contribute fruitfully to the red, white, and blue imaginarium.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Majestic BAM Harvey Theater

by Louie Fleck

Imagine if you will, the entertainment options in 1904: no internet, no video games, no YouTube or TV… in fact practically no movies! Oh yes, and no radio. If you wanted to be entertained, you had to go somewhere.
Imagine Fulton Street, Brooklyn in 1904… No sneakers or cell phone stores or discount closeout shops! But there were a lot of theaters. Only six years after consolidation to become part of the City of New York, Brooklyn had its own “Broadway” district on Fulton Street. The newest jewel in this Brooklyn theater row was designed by J. B. McElfatrick at 651 Fulton Street. Meanwhile, just a block away, construction was about to begin on the brand new Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The Majestic opened up with a production of The Wizard of Oz (yes, 33 years before the Judy Garland film). Here at the BAM Hamm Archives, we’re still looking for a program, but it was most likely a road version of the hit that was running at the Manhattan Majestic at the same time. For this production, Toto was played by a cow. Can you imagine the flying monkeys carrying Toto away?

The theater had 1708 seats and hosted a wonderful variety of productions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

About Last Night: The Ignite Gala

Last night BAM wrapped up a very full season with the Ignite Gala: Benefiting BAM Education. The fun-filled evening began with cocktails in the Dorothy Levitt lobby, followed by a gorgeous dinner on the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House and a playful dessert reception with a DIY margarita bar.

The evening was a great way to jump in to summer. Read on for more about the event and what's coming up for BAM Education!

And check-out the full photo album.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

BAM CUP 2014

Every four years the world turns its eyes towards the World Cup as 32 nations battle it out for the title of greatest footballing (soccer) nation. Here at BAM a different competition has begun. As the premier New York venue for international artists, we decided to host our own sporting competition of sorts, the inaugural BAM Cup.

Artists and companies from around the world (and one from USA!), representing performances and films from BAM seasons past and future, are competing in a tournament that quite literally is too abstract to explain. What we can promise is that the results ALWAYS mirror those of the World Cup.

We've watched the group rounds with fervor and anticipation, and the drama has not disappointed: upsets galore, bites, and some truly stellar acting. 16 countries have emerged and the knockout rounds have begun. It’s Art vs Art, Performers vs Performers.

And here are the teams:

Friday, June 27, 2014

BAMcinemaFest 2014: Q&A with Joe Callander (Life After Death)

"As impossible to pin down as it is to stop talking about" (Moving Image Source), BAMcinemaFest alum Joe Callander's debut feature Life After Death charts the life of a directionless young Rwandan receiving aid from a charity-minded Christian couple in the US. Lacing this powerful depiction of life in Rwanda post-genocide with touches of wry comedy, Callander delivers one of the most unique and unexpected documentaries of the year. He spoke with us about his inspirations and the audacious and complicated tone of the film.

What films have served as inspiration in your work?

When I first started to really focus on making questionable life choices in pursuing documentary filmmaking back in 2008, I happened to see Jennifer Venditti's Billy the Kid. That film served as a kind of blazing beacon on a distant but not unreachable hill. It's a wonderful portrait of a character at the margins of society, which is the type of story I was trying to tell at the time. You need those films that get you thinking, "There is an audience for the type of film I want to make. I can do this. It's possible." Also, the Fishing With John TV series that aired on HBO back in the 90s affirmed for me that it's O.K. to get a little strange with documentary storytelling.

Beyond that, Burden of Dreams, American Movie, the films of Werner Herzog, and the word-movies of Mark Twain have inspired me immensely.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Spike Lee—By Any Means Necessary

by Michael Koresky

Rosie Perez and Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing. Photo: Universal/Photofest

There are many ways critics, journalists, and other kinds of commentators have tended to categorize Spike Lee. He has been called the most important African-American filmmaker of our time. Or perhaps he’s the most controversial American filmmaker. Or the most political. Or, most suspiciously, the most angry. The “most” business is a most tiresome one, isn’t it? A wildly formidable, inspiringly versatile director such as Spike Lee deserves more consideration—and intense focus—than the mere hyperbole his blistering films appear to invite. By Any Means Necessary: A Spike Lee Joints Retrospective, co-presented by BAMcinématek and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will take place at BAM Rose Cinemas from June 29 to July 10.

Media discussion of Lee as a controversial figure has long distracted from considerations of his aesthetics. If one looks back over his career, without the pre- and mis-conceptions that have dogged him, the idea of Spike Lee as a provocateur first seems specious. From the first, he was a director with the vibrancy and gameness of a French New Waver. Nearly 30 years of increasingly prepackaged American indies have only made his black-and-white feature debut, She’s Gotta Have It (1986) seem that much more pleasurably shocking. The NYU film school graduate had already begun to make a name for himself with his hour-long Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads (1983)—the first student film ever selected for Lincoln Center’s prestigious New Directors/New Films festival—but She’s Gotta Have It introduced him to the world, making a splash at festivals from Cannes to San Francisco (where, legendarily, premiere audiences were so blissed out by the film’s first half-hour that they didn’t budge when a neighborhood-wide blackout interrupted the film for 30 excruciating minutes).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Don Coleman is done with Robert Wilson!

by David Hsieh

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Don Coleman, Robert Wilson, and Willem Dafoe. Photo: Elena Olivo
In the busy, sometimes hectic backstage area at BAM, Don Coleman is a reassuring presence. With a full head of silver hair, metal-framed glasses, and a deliberate way of talking, he exudes calm. Although he is tall, he doesn’t tower over people. He has a resonant baritone voice, but he doesn’t shout people down. He doesn’t have to. After 18 years at BAM supervising productions, he knows how to get things done. But it’s those talents that got him into the theater world in the first place.

“The drama coach in my high school in Albuquerque, NM was eager to have a big guy with a voice that can project for stage presence,” he recalled in a recent interview at the Howard Gilman Opera House. He liked it enough to study theater at University of Texas in Austin but soon found out there were others who were better at acting. So he switched to the design and technical side. After retiring from the Marines in Vietnam, he was “trying to make up my mind what my life was going to be.” With the help of the GI Bill and a scholarship, he was able to attend New York University's theater master’s program.

Unbeknownst to him then, another theater-loving UT-Austin alum had also moved to New York. Robert Wilson, who had quit studying business administration, was starting to make a name in the downtown art world. Their paths would eventually cross when Don joined the BAM production team in 1996. In 2000, he took on his first Wilson show—The Dream Play. Wilson was an established international artist by then. He had also acquired a reputation, which, according to Don, was of someone “who’s very definite about what he wanted and could give you a very hard time if he didn’t get it.” He added, “I know a lot of directors and artists are like that. I found that a lot of times when someone has a reputation of being difficult, the way to solve that problem is by giving them exactly what they want.”

BAMcinemaFest 2014: Q&A with Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn (L for Leisure)

Filmmaking duo Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn's second narrative feature follows a group of friends as they jet-set from one international locale to another on various breaks from grad school. Set in the early '90s and shot on 16mm film, L for Leisure is a throwback celebration of vacation at its laziest and sunniest. We checked in with Lev and Whitney to learn more about the four-year process of making the film, its incredible original soundtrack (released on cassette, in true '90s form), and their own vacations.

What are some creative and logistical challenges you faced while working on L for Leisure?

In planning L for Leisure we tried to design a film that would take advantage of our extremely limited means. We knew it would take a very long time to make, and we knew working with friends and lots of non-actors meant that we couldn’t expect everyone to make it to every shoot—let alone keep their haircuts consistent for years. Locations fell through, new ones (like Iceland) suddenly became parts of the film. L for Leisure almost describes the shape of all the surprises and setbacks we ran into. And it’s cool. We couldn’t have possibly planned for the movie to develop the way it did.