Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Was There and I'm Told I Had a Good Time

I can always count on my neighborhood to deliver.

Walking up Henry Street just after 8:00 on a Friday evening, I hear the sounds of chanting and a drum. Here come the anti-Trump protesters down Marshall Street, not in lock step, but in solidarity against the racist white man running for President and the rally he's staging a few blocks east.

It's pretty catchy.

No facist USA
No Trump!

I don't hesitate to stop and chant along in accord and one of the marchers brings me a flyer about destroying white supremacists like Trump and his ongoing campaign demonizing Blacks, Latinos and Muslims. I spot the drummer from No BS Brass band among the protesters carrying banners and signs.

Behind the marchers is a cadre of VCU bicycle cops and a young white one rides over to greet me. "How are you, ma'am?" he says in a smarmy tone, as if he assumes I'm as disdainful of the march as he apparently is. Just fine, I tell him.

Nodding toward the marchers, he rolls his eyes and condescends, saying, "Just another day in the neighborhood." I roll my eyes in return and walk away without saying a word.

I revel in living in a place where people make their beliefs known in a peaceable way capable of inspiring others. I've marched in parades in J-Ward on multiple occasions, a fact I'm proud of.

A few block further at 1708 Gallery, people are gathering for the Bijou's pop-up members' screening, noshing and sipping. Talk beforehand centers on how the Bijou is moving toward weekly events, both first-run and repertory and how they'll make a point to screen on 16mm and 35 mm whenever possible.

I consider that essential for the Bijou since there are now so many people who have no sense of seeing movies on actual film.

Tonight's first 16 mm film, Truffaut's "Les Mistons," introduced me to the beautiful Bernadette Jouve and, predictably employed the most important trope in a French film: a woman riding a bike in a dress, a  fact I've gleaned from years of attendance at the French Film festival.

It was decidedly French in attitude, as when when the lovely Bernadette asks her lover what he feels for her and he responds, "A brutal physical appetite."

Not a bad answer.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, there were many occasions where the actors spoke and no subtitles were provided, a decided difference from today's inane captioning of every grunt and moan.

Also shown on 16 mm, "Mouseholes," by Helen Hill used 1999-era handmade animation and voice-over spoken by her dying grandfather in the hospital for a moving tribute to the man.

The main event was the Richmond premiere of "Chekhov for Children," by Sasha Waters-Freyer, the title referring to a group of kids in NYC's P.S. 75 who rehearsed and produced Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" in 1979 as part of an intensive arts program targeted at specific schools in the late '70s and early '80s.

Sasha explained that she'd been the student director of the production. Hello, for my one and only school play, I'd been chosen student director, which some thought was a waste since my dramatic nature had earned me the childhood nickname "Camille" with my Dad.

What she wanted to explore was how she'd grown up thinking that that experience, as well as the many films the school's students produced, was perfectly normal.

Only as a an adult did she see that having 10 and 11-year olds interpret the dark, adult viewpoint of Chekhov was not a typical rite of childhood passage.

The documentary was fascinating for the amount of archival footage she had to work with as well as the conversations with her fellow students, now grown up. Everyone credited the program and the play with making them feel like their possibilities were limitless.

Seeing children deliver heavy Chekhovian dialog with passion and adult weariness was startling. One little girl credited her emoting to dealing with her parents' divorce and the sadness that had caused her.

That's some deep stuff.

But they also felt like the production itself, not performing it for an audience (although they did that, too with a nearly 2 1/2 hour production at a real theater), was the point. They were doing it for themselves and the experience, a wonderful thing to teach 5th graders.

Fittingly, we heard a lot from the teacher who'd conceived the project and loved Chekhov.

Let me tell you, I was eating up this film's subject with a spoon. It was a sterling example of what the Bijou will mean to Richmond by having a small theater that shows this sort of film - the kind that never plays here or a classic piece of cinema like the Truffaut or even an artistic gem like the Hill film - week in and week out.

With a bar, I might add.

My great regret was having to leave before the Q & A period to meet friends because I'd have relished hearing more from the director about her original experiences.

Instead I revisited my own childhood, albeit not as a member of a Chekhov production, First up was presenting myself at Belmont Food Shop to meet two couples who'd just finished dinner and after minor chit chat, we strolled back to Holmes' house for a listening party.

"This album is so good I'm going to listen to it for the rest of my life," he announced, piquing everyone's (okay, my) interest.

The CD in question was the Monkees' latest, "Good Times!" which was intended as a commemoration of the band's 50th anniversary and something I somehow hadn't even read about.

The music was striking for how spot-on Monkees-like it sounded, not like an update or interpretation of their sound, but simply like a long-lost record had been unearthed. What was cool were the collaborators: Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, Noel Gallagher, Rivers Cuomo and Paul Weller.

But the one that made us melt into teen-aged puddles was "You Bring the Summer," sung by my favorite Monkee, Mickey Dolenz and written by the fabulous Andy Partridge of XTC.

The three-minute gem is a practically perfect pop song.

We listened to the CD straight through twice, marveling at how good the songs sounded, how fortuitous it was that they had an unreleased Davy Jones track they could add backing vocals to and a Nilsson demo that Mickey could "duet" with in true Nat "King" Cole style.

They even included - wait for it - an unreleased Boyce and Hart song and as every girl who was ever Vice President of the local Monkees fan club knows, a lot of the Monkees' '60s hits were written by that songwriting duo.

Wait, it gets better. Calling into my local radio station to request the Monkees' new single, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," I'd been instead put on the line with the in-studio guest that day: singer Bobbie Gentry. Sure, I made small talk with her, but all I really wanted was for them to take my song request.

Of course, no kid would have time to listen to pop music if they were busy studying their lines for a Chekhov production.

Sounds like I got the childhood I was supposed to have.

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