Rest in Peace

Jody’s Sense of Ice

Jody Sperling’s New York Time Lapse Dance Troupe is famed for its swirling fabrics, breathtaking at moments they are caught in freeze frame and more stirring still in motion. (See photo above of her dancers performing the very beautiful Ghosts – Parade.) Sperling, who is also the a leading scholar of the work of modern dancer and choreographer, Loie Fuller, is now exploring a wide and forbidding new world. The Arctic. This spring she will accompany a scientific expedition on the Coast Guard Cutter Healy to study the sea north of the Bering Strait. There, she and an interdisciplinary team including a visual artist and two videographers will record “the transition from sea ice to open ocean.” Her project, “Ice Melt,” will document alterations in the polar ecosystem.

There will be a send off performance for project “Ice Melt” this Thursday and Friday, May 1 and 2. Friday’s event will be followed by a benefit party including champagne and a silent auction at the New 42nd Street Studios.

May 1-2 at 7pm, 2014
New 42nd Street Studios, 3A
229 West 42nd Street (between 7th & 8th Avenues)
Thursday, May 1 at 7pm – Performance + Discussion
Friday, May 2 at 7pm – Performance + Discussion + Champagne Reception

Tickets $10-$50 – Advance Ticket Purchase Required

Jody Sperling, Artistic Director
Jody Sperling/Time Lapse Dance, Inc.

825 West End Avenue #13G
New York, NY 10025
Tel: 212.866.1759
Mob: 917.653.1852 |

Congratulations Zero Motivation

Winner of Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival 2014.

Great Expectations

It’s the second week of the Tribeca Film Festival and I’m in for two screenings. First, Zero Motivation, an Israeli film billed as a “dark comedy” about a unit of young female solders who man, if you will, a “human resources” office at a desolate desert outpost. Complex relationships develop as they push papers and vie for top score on Minesweeper. Directed by Talya Lavie. This one had me at “hello.”

The second, Glass Chin, involves a down-and-out boxer who hopes to get back into the big-time by partnering with a corrupt restauranteur. Stars Corey Stoll, Kelly Lynch, and Billy Crudup and is directed by the very talented Noah Buschel.

Check times and tickets online at

Hair Flying, Clothes Drying

This is a late weigh-in on the N-YHS’s 100th anniversary of the Armory Show. Indulge me. Nudes, of course, were the peak experience. You could stand three feet away from Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase; then turn on your heel 180 degrees and find yourself face-to-face with Henri Matisses’s Blue Nude. (Can this ever have been thought so offensive that the painter was burned in effigy?) But one of the show’s most sensual paintings, to my way of thinking, was John Sloan’s Women Washing Their Hair. (Shown above.) Sloan, as we know if we read this blog, was one of “The Eight,” the name given to the non-comformist illustrators and artists of the Ashcan School of painting that came of age in this city during the early Nineteen Hundreds. Their subjects were not socialites, but working people caught actually working or playing or, as in the case of the women above, luxuriating in a leisure moment. They’re probably immigrant girls who have worked six days a week in a sweatshop and are spending their free Sunday afternoon grooming. Catch that hair flying and the clothes drying. The movement in this piece is sensational.

A number of Sloan’s paintings deal with tenement life. (He lived in one and it was a convenient point from which to observe the neighbors.) Fortunately, he was as deft with a pen and he was with a paintbrush. Witness the diary entry below:

Started to paint from memory of the Wind and Dust Storm that we saw and felt Sunday. Across the backyards in a room on the second floor I saw a baby die in its mother’s arms. The men of the house powerless, helpless, stupid. She held it in her arms after it had started to pale and stiffen. Hope tried to fight off Fact, then Fact killed hope in her. They took it from her. The men smoked their pipes – sympathetic with her anguish and trying to reason her back to calmness. A bottle of whiskey, and a drink for her. I could hear nothing – but the acting was perfect.

John Sloan
June 11, 1906

(New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. p. 187.)

Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

Above is a photo of my son, (fledgling playwright and captain of his college rubgy team), sharing a tender moment with his orange tabby Buster. As a kitten, Buster fit into a palm. Now, he has to be slung over a shoulder.

New Yorkers love their cats. Probably because cats, unlike dogs, are allowed under rental leases and even most co-op boards will grant them a sentimental grandfathering in. And they are so painfully missed when they pass on. Only listen to the late New York novelist and diarist Dawn Powell’s lament upon losing her beloved Perkins.

My dear cat Perkins died today –very sweetly, very quietly, daintily, a lady wanting to give as little trouble as possible. She took sick Monday with chills and bladder trouble and threw up her fish. She knew and I knew that this was it. I cashed a bad check to take her to Speyer’s where the vet gave me pills and medicine to give her which she hated. She could not eat either. Nor would she try. Finally she lay on the balcony, exhausted, in the sun. I heard her choke, and she was in a convulsion, but I picked her up and put her in a chair where she managed to fix her sweet eyes on me while I held her paw and moistened her lips with water. It was unbearable. . . .

I forgot my debt to her … until the night after she died when I was alone in the house and suddenly every sound once more became sinister – the escaped lunatic slowly turning the doorknob the big brute creeping up the stairs. My cat analyst was dead and my phobias came plunging out of the pits and closets where they had been locked. I cannot have another pet – it would be unfaithful to my little dear who liked no one but me, knew no other cats, no mice, no love but mine. She thought she was my mother – was ashamed and outraged if I was noisy or loud-talking, slapping me if I was blah, avoided me scornfully if I was drunk, approved if I typed. She was the first pet in my life.

Dawn Powell
September 29, 1945

(New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. p. 313.)

Poe, Just Under The Wire

I’ve intended for weeks to make it to the Morgan Library’s “Edgar Allan Poe: The Terror of the Soul Exhibit.” (See my blog entry for October 31 last.) The display, arranged in conjunction with the NYPL’s Berg Collection, contains manuscripts of Poe’s work from his varied career as literary critic, adventure writer, inventor of the modern detective story as well of those of his better-known tales of horror. There is also his correspondence. One letter observes, rather bitterly, that a person must be wealthy, or at least of independent means, to embark upon a career as a writer. In his era, true. He was, in fact, the first American to earn his living solely by writing. Interesting note: Poe pasted carefully re-written drafts into scrolls because he felt the reader’s concentration should not be disrupted by the turning of pages. This is one writer who would have adjusted quite handily to e-books.

The exhibit is up for only one more week (ends Sunday, January 26). So duck in if you get the chance.

Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be brokers

Great wealth, unless inherited, or acquired by professional energy and industry, is now, as a general rule, presumptive evidence against the character of its owner… Most dodges, devices, and complots which Wall Street considers legitimate and in which millions are lost and won (on paper) every day, are, of course, plainly guileful, dishonest, and wicked. But how many of our nice, fresh, ingenuous boys are plunged into this filthy pool every year at eighteen or even younger…though their parents could well afford them a liberal education. Each hopes to win some great prize in that great gambling house, an establishment far less honest than were those of Baden-Baden and Homburg. And so they grow up to be mere illiterate sharpers, with possible fine houses and fine horses and fine Newport cottages and without capacity to appreciate anything higher – men without culture and with damaged and dwarfed moral sense.

George Templeton Strong
July 22, 1873

(New York Dairies: 1609 to 2090. pp.233-234)

Time Heals Most Wounds

Randy Cohen’s recent guest on Person Place Thing is legendary journalist, screenwriter, director and producer, Walter Bernstein. The interview, arranged in conjunction with the Writers Guild of America East, allowed the 94-year-old Bernstein to score the most coveted of all coups, the final word.

As his Person, Bernstein picked Harold Ross, founder and first editor of the New Yorker. He described Ross as an entirely literal man who would send an author’s manuscript back covered with blue pencil queries, the most frequent being “Who he?” (Every person mentioned had to be identified. The exceptions were Houdini and Mark Twain considered too famous to require it.)

Place? the Loew’s Cameo on Eastern Parkway, where, as a boy, he discovered film. It became his “reality”; his day-to-day life being then downgraded to “fantasy.” Over the course of his seventy-year career he authored the screenplays of Fail-Safe, The Magnificent Seven, The Train, and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, among other notables.

Thing? Bernstein named the Red Channels, a six-page pamphlet in which, during the Red Scare of the Fifties, he found himself black-listed along with some 160 other writers. Channels was offered as a guide for the guilty to purge their sins and return to a state of grace by naming names. Bernstein was prepared, he said, to speak about his own activities, but refused to implicate others. Consequently, he and other black-listees had to find “fronts” to get their work through Hollywood . His own experience gave rise to the dark classic, The Front, starring Woody Allen.

In this interview, Bernstein comes off as defiant, even exultant, when discussing those black-list years. Of those who abandoned him, he is charitable. They were good people, he says, but afraid. “They were good people who did a bad thing.”

Asked about the novelist and screenwriter, Budd Schulberg, who did name names, Bernstein is terse. The two never discussed the matter. They did not, in fact, talk for forty years, though they did finally shake hands at a wedding. Schulberg died in the summer of 2009.

You can listen to this interview as a podcast when it posts January 2 on

Quoth the Maven, “Valdemar”

I am still puzzling over an entry made by the literary critic, Evert Duyckinck, on the heels of a visit to Edgar Allan Poe. The latter, in dire financial distress as always, was living in a tiny rented cottage in the Bronx with his invalid child bride, Virginia, and her mother, Maria Clemm.

Duyckinck describes the occasion.

June 24, 1847

Visited Poe at Fordham whom the wondrous Mrs. Clem [sic] has domiciliated [sic] in a neat cottage near a rock overlooking the pretty valley with its St. John’s College of Jesuits, contiguous hill and forest, the Sound and the blue distance of Long Island. The purity of the air, delicious. At night the whole agreeable impression of the afternoon reversed by dreams, into which it might have been supposed Poe had put an infusion of his Mons Valdemar with the green tea, the probable cause of them. All the evil I had ever heard of him took bodily shape in a series of most malignant scenes.

I explained in an editor’s note that the “Mons Valdemar” must be a “hallucinogen” relating, perhaps, to one of Poe’s lesser-known stories, “The Strange Case of M. (Monsieur) Valdemar.” But it’s occurred to me since that Duyckinck might simply have had his mind jarred by hearing Poe read from the work. This would make more sense if Poe had been in the process of writing it, but Valdemar was completed and published two years earlier. We can’t know for sure if Poe slipped Duyckinck a drug. Poe had laudanum and possibly opium at his disposal for personal use. But without a third-party corroboration, the matter remains open for speculation.

Regarding “The Strange Case of M. Valdemar,” sometimes referred to as “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” I’ve now both read the story and listened to it read by an actor on YouTube. The experiences are vastly different. Try it. Reading it to yourself, you focus on the strangeness of the experiment: a hypnotist entrances a dying man to see if it will arrest the progress of death. When it is read to you aloud, however, the juxtaposition of the hypnotist’s voice with that of Valdemar’s whispering from beyond the grave is truly terrifying.

Note: The Morgan Library and Museum has just mounted an exhibit entitled “Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul.” It includes, among other items, manuscripts, first editions and even Poe’s first casket. He was re-interred in surroundings more appropriate to his literary status. I was hoping to make it to the Morgan on November 5 for a reading by Lou Reed. But unless Lou was mesmerized before his demise last Sunday, we will probably not be hearing from him.