Friday, October 16, 2015

Excitement is Not Always Clean

When planning a culturally full evening, it's wise to save the depravity for last. Start with it and the rest of the night will seem mighty dull in comparison.

I like to think I'm too smart for a rookie mistake like that.

Moving outward by degrees over the course of the evening, my first stop was at nearby UR Downtown for Take 30, a quickie talk about the current exhibition, "All Our Sorrows Heal: Restoring Richmond's East End Cemetery."

Photographs of unearthed gravestones and the volunteer work being done at East End Cemetery made up the exhibition about the 16-acre property founded in 1897 where 13,000 blacks were buried.  Because no arrangements had ever been put in place for perpetual care, the place had gone completely to ruin.

Enter professors Brian and Erin Holloway Palmer who were seeking a place where black history was being reclaimed by people using their hands. Setting set out to document all this, a massive project was born.

They were Take 30's featured speakers and Brian emphasized how every uncovered grave marker was a story connected to black history in Richmond at its height. Erin's job was then to research the names on the stones found and discover their story.

Part of their mission was to ignite interest in the ongoing effort (two of sixteen acres are cleared so far) and recruit volunteers to help with the weekly effort. Brian assured the room that once you uncover your first headstone, you become addicted to the process.

The goal, as he put it, is to achieve a balance of stories by reclaiming these Richmonders' stories to consider alongside those of more documented white Richmond residents. I have to admit, it makes me want to go out and see what's been accomplished so far.

Next came Afrikana Film Festival's Noir Cinema series at the new Ghostprint Gallery, tonight showing Zakee Kuduro's short film, "Rosemarie."

I'm that nerd who got there on time and as I was sitting there reading today's Washington Post, they were showing photos taken at past events. When my face came up on one of them, the photographer came over and pointed at it, saying, "Look, I got your good side!"

A matter of opinion, but I'll take your word for it.

Not long after, a guy came up and asked me if I was at Laney and Jameson's show last night, which I was. Chatting, I learned that he was a conservator who used to restore old houses (he was impressed with Ghostprint's new digs) but since the housing crash, now focuses on filmmaking and acting.

Sounds like more fun anyway.

The house was nearly full when "Rosemarie" began and we were immediately plunged into a very strange but visually fascinating world involving three characters who never spoke and a classical-sounding score written by the director, to the audience's great surprise ("I thought it was Bartok," one woman said).

Just before the film ended, the conservator got up to leave, handing me his card before he walked out. Should I assume I looked like I needed conserving? Nah.

When the lights came up, the first person to speak summed it up for all of us. "I got questions."

Everyone did. Who was the mysterious man who added articles of clothing gathered at each landing of a building's staircase? Why a bull mask and spurs on the boots? Why a mime's mask? Was that dancing or some sort of ritual?

Director Zakee Kuduro, a non-linear visual maker, explained a lot, but not the meaning behind his film. A Brazilian who said he registered to people as a black man, he'd gotten two scientific degrees before doing work for Gnarls Barley, Lilly Allen and M.I.A.

His was a refreshingly honest take on creating art.  "I didn't come to art to be broke," he explained. "Why would I be sleeping on someone's couch because I love my art? Art doesn't love me that much."

He railed against the dearth of talented black directors, saying Spike Lee and John Singleton weren't doing anything anymore, so people like him needed to step up.

A big part of the appeal of Noir Cinema - besides seeing work that would never show in Richmond otherwise - is immediately getting to hear the director's thoughts and opinions without a filter.

But sometimes you want it even raunchier than filter-less and that's when you go to Bandito's. And speaking of filters, when it's your first time at a dive like Bandito's you don't go in knowing that it's one of those places people still smoke.

Cough, choke, sputter, my hair and clothes now reek of smoke. Thanks, Bandito's.

Such was the price I had to pay to see John Waters' "Female Trouble," a 1974 dark comedy starring Divine that I'm pretty sure I'd never seen before. Or maybe I just blocked it out.

It was showing on the bazillion screens around the room while a noisy, drunk crowd mostly ignored it except when genitalia flashed on screen or Divine was bouncing on a trampoline. I found a safe haven out of the fray to watch the seamy underbelly of Maryland circa 1974, a period in which I was also a resident of the state.

It's always hard to choose the least tasteless part of a John Waters' film, but it's so much fun to try.

Was it mother Dawn's abominable treatment of her daughter, Taffy ("She's getting tied to her bed for a week for this!") whom she eventually strangles to death?

Watching Taffy's drunk father try to convince his daughter to sexually service him?

Or was it multiple references to mass murderers ("Oh, Richard Speck, get me through this night!"), including one saying that she'd given him oral sex?

Oh, John Waters! You give us as many options as a Whitman's Sampler, except they're all disgusting ones.

But his dialog can be laugh out loud hysterical commentary ("The world of a heterosexual is a sick and boring life"), dated dialog ("You are not my Daddy, you disgusting hippie pig!") or just plain funny ("I'm going upstairs to soak in a hot beauty bath and try to forget the stink of a five-year marriage!").

Tonight's double feature was the kickoff to John Waters' visit to Richmond tomorrow night and while I'd have liked to have stayed to see "Pink Flamingos" after "Female Trouble," I'd had about all the Bandito's I could stand.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to soak in a hot beauty bath and try to forget the stink of 90 minutes in a smoking chamber for the sake of classic trash.

Make that for the sake of art.

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