Friday, April 8, 2011

Weak, Engaged and In the Know

I sold out intellectual pursuits for a pink bubbly and sunny views. No, I'm not proud of that, but it's fact. Go right ahead and judge.

With ticket in hand for the "Community of Huguenot Goldsmiths" lecture at VMFA at 6, the plan was to stop by Amuse for a pre-lecture absinthe and then make my way downstairs to the lecture.

But when I took my seat at the empty bar (unheard of, but everyone else was doing their drinking on the terrace in the 82-degree weather), I got sidetracked.

Knowing my fondness for pink, I was immediately informed by two members of the staff about a new addition to the wine list. "Well, I'm here for absinthe and a lecture," I explained unconvincingly.

"But it's sparkling rose and from Champagne," bartender Stephen tempted me. "Would you like to taste it?" Well, who doesn't see where this is going? The Francois Montand Sparkling Brut Rose had me at the first sip. Pale pink, it had loads of flavor and beautiful bubbles.

As a consolation prize for not having ordered absinthe, I was given a slotted absinthe drip spoon, but told I should continue to visit Amuse for my absinthe fixes. Will do. We'll consider it a trophy rather than for actual use.

I was given a peek at Amuse's summer drink list, full of high end rum and tequila cocktails, all mixed with the flavors of summer.

By the time I thought to inquire about the time, it was 6:05 and I hadn't finished my bubbles, so with a little nudge from Stephen (who reminded me that tickets to the event were free), I changed course and decided to stay for a bit.

And as long as I was going to stay, I decided to eat a little something, not that I was the least bit hungry after a 3:00 Five Guys burger and fries, but why not if I was going to stick around? So I got the grilled asparagus (garlic, Pecorino, olive oil and absolutely delicious) and another glass of pink bubbles.

When the sun had dropped below the buildings and the shades began to raise up to let the early evening light in, one of the servers began singing appropriate music to accompany the incoming light.

When I asked if he did the same when they lowered them, he admitted he did. I've no doubt that a sense of humor helps in the restaurant business.

Determined not to be  a complete cultural slug, I finally paid up and headed to the Grace Street Theater for another installment of the James River Film Festival.  Showing was a restored 35 mm print of "Taxi Driver," all the more significant for this being the 35th anniversary of the film.

And then there's the fact that I'd never seen it (my film failings are well documented because of not watching TV) and since it's considered one of the greatest movies of the 70s, I knew where I needed to be.

The film was introduced by Trent Nicholas, he of VMFA's Film series, and he made a good point. "Seems appropriate to be seeing Taxi Driver's mean streets in the former Lee Theater, a porn theater. You're sitting in a lot of heritage here and not just X-rated heritage."

It was such a terrific way to experience the film for the first time. The virgin print we saw was flawless, clean, color-saturated and looking as sharp as the day it was released.

I didn't realize that Bernard Herrmann, the composer for so many of Hitchcock's films, had scored this movie, either. There were times when I heard enough of a similarity to know it was Herrmann and others when his innovative music was pure 70s. It was the last movie he scored, dying before it was released.

And I don't know who looked younger, Scorcese as a cuckolded husband in the taxi or DeNiro, looking lean of face and body. Boy, the 70s were a long time ago.

Favorite period details? The porno theater concession stand Travis Bickle frequented carried no Coke, only RC cola. And an RC and three candy bars cost $1.85.

At a political rally scene, there were young guys sporting Afros and middle-aged women wearing white gloves, making for a great visual metaphor for the cultural overlap still happening in 1976.

Nicholas' point that movies were meant to be seen on a big screen surrounded by other people for a shared experience was driven home tonight.

I was far from the only audience member who had never seen it and there was much squirming and murmuring during some of the more difficult scenes. It was good to know I wasn't alone in my reactions.

Of course, there was also the girl behind me who laughed at the line "You talking to me?" when it was anything but appropriate for the moment.

Such a heavy, albeit important, film had to be followed with much lighter fare and the Black Girls show at Balliceaux supplied that. Walking down the alley to get there, I heard the fireworks coming from the Diamond's opening night.

The group of white boys, with their pastiche of influences (KC and the Sunshine band, Modest Mouse, 70s funk) and multiple vocalists, get better with each show. Tonight's crowd danced far less than the Sprout crowd where I saw them last (there people were doing the bump), but not because the incentive to do so wasn't there.

I ran into a guy I hadn't seen in years who had just happened in to Ballcieaux tonight to meet a friend. I asked him how he was enjoying the band, since I was there specifically because of the band.

"They're amazing," he said enthusiastically. "So you knew to come and we just lucked into seeing a band this good?"

Well, yes, but I also sold my intellectual plans down the river this evening, so don't give me too much credit. Who knows when I'll get another chance to learn about Huguenot goldmaking?

Not that I have any interest in gold, mind you.

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