“Water Marks”–What Lies Beneath the Surface

“Water Marks”, the current exhibition at Pacific Grove Art Center (PGAC), features approximately 50 Monterey Bay area printmakers who have created etchings, woodcuts, screenprints, monotypes and mixed media prints focusing on the theme of water surrounding our beautiful Monterey peninsula.   The Monterey Peninsula College (MPC) Printmakers is an association of artists who are passionate about printmaking in all its variety of forms and techniques.

This exhibit is analogous to a “watermark” in that  the artwork requires more than a casual viewing.   Printmaking can be breathtaking in its variety and visual expressivity, even when focused on a specific theme such as water.  Far from diminishing originality, the “Water Marks” exhibit flourishes in its wide-ranging interpretation of water with unexpected embellishments, subtleties, and creative charm.

All prints in the gallery add multi-layered connotations to what water means to our lives.   For example, Evelyn Klein’s “Giverny” evokes the famous gardens of Monet in a photoetching with drypoint and subtle chine collé (decorative paper).  Donna Kooyman uses the solar print to reveal lunar phases in “#1 Blue Moons” and Linda Marcellini uses similar techniques in “Our Vital Resource”, a more abstract interpretation of undulating water. Patricia Colman, in “Dance of the Sea Kelp”, takes the organic plant and creates layers of color and mystery underneath the seaweed with paint. In “Sea Fans”, a mixed media piece including collage, intaglio and watercolor, I suggest not only the hypnotic tangents and curves of water but also the organic material beneath its surface.

A reception with the artists was held last Friday, February 22, and the public is invited to make their own prints on Sunday, March 2, 1:30-4PM. The exhibit closes on April 4.

Regular gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 12-5PM and Sunday, 1-4PM. Pacific Grove Art Center is at 568 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove. For more information contact the center at 831-375-2208 or go to their website at www.pgartcenter.org.

“Amour”– A Somber Sonnet to Love

This year’s Cannes Film Festival winner is a film like no other on the dissolution and disintegration of life and the toll it throws at love.  As a five-time Academy Award nominee, “Amour“, directed by the Austrian Michael Haneke, is a spellbinding masterpiece. The superb Jean-Louis Trintignant of “A Man and a Woman” fame and the delicate Emanuelle Riva who stunned audiences in “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” are the capstone of this film.

Playing two retired octogenarian music teachers (Georges and Anne), these two masterful actors portray a deep and time-tested loving couple, sharing stories of their day with quiet tenderness and warmth. But Anne’s health declines precipitously after a mini-stroke and Georges becomes her dutiful caregiver, with little emotion towards those who worry about them, particularly his daughter Eva (played by Isabelle Huppert in a beautiful but minor role).

“Amour” demonstrates unsurpassable courage and unflinching honesty in exposing the deterioration of one’s spirit as life starts leaving it.   Riva and Trintignant’s subtle, delicately nuanced performances are classic, transcending linguistic barriers and strongly touching all viewers in the audience.  (The theater was so quiet, this viewer could hear the intake of breath and the quiet sobs of those nearby.) Everyone who sees this film will be affected.

Yet this is an unsentimental look at old age and dying, of decrepitude and the humiliating loss of dignity. Just as the two principal actors are intrepid in their performances, so too must the viewer be in receiving the images from the filmmaker. “Amour” is an epitaph of mourning, of having to face the certitude of death. It is painful to watch: to gaze at ageing and loss.  It will overwhelm; it will be heartbreaking.   Although “Amour” is the story of love and life’s end, the originality and the directness will surprise all who see this haunting film.

“House of Cards” — A Bulimic Buffet for Couch Potatoes?

Why wait a week to watch another episode when an entire buffet is available?  A lot has been written recently about “binge-watching” the practice of sitting on the couch or in bed to gorge on an entire season or a majority of episodes of a television series in one batch.  The bulimic viewer was not possible before Tivo, DVRs and Netflix video streaming (aka Instant Queue). Netflix has given us 13 episodes of “House of Cards”, a reinterpretation of the 1990 BBC miniseries which starred Sir Ian Richardson as a conniving Parliamentarian who rose to the level of prime minister before meeting his fate.

This 2013 “House of Cards” is the first foray into developing original television content exclusively for Netflix members. What has been the unintended outcome of the release of all thirteen episodes of “House of Cards” on February 1 is that the critical reviews of “House of Cards” have been more about “binge-watching” and less about the plot of this powerful political minidrama.

With the genius of Beau Willimon, (the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “The Ides of March”) and David Fincher (Oscar-nominated for directing “The Social Network”) we have a set of twisted plots worthy of Machiavelli or the Borgias. “House of Cards” has been transformed into a contemporary American narrative about a vengeful Beltway insider, US Congressman and House majority whip Frank Underwood.  Hailing from a nowhere town in South Carolina, Underwood masterminds the destruction of all those who blocked his appointment to Secretary of State.

Set in present-day Washington, D.C., Underwood (Kevin Spacey) decides to inflict his volcanic temper and impalpable revenge upon those who betrayed him.  With lethal self-centeredness he is successful in every detail.  Underwood and his wife Claire (exceptionally played by Robin Wright), epitomize an über power-hungry couple who stops at nothing to conquer everything.  Each needs the other in order to be lethal.   Ruthless and cunning, Frank and Claire bask in the shadowy world of greed, sex, and corruption, severing all ties with anyone who stands in their way.  Nothing and no one are beyond their grasp, no matter whom they hurt.  Both exploit even the good qualities in others to set them up for manipulation and debasement.

While I personally like watching more than one episode at a time, if the story is tightly woven and meticulously written, I want to savor every tasty morsel.  “House of Cards” has such biting dialog, stunning character work and a provocative exploration of contemporary politics that an “all-you-can-watch” buffet of episodes may result in indigestion. Use portion control in feasting on this series.

 

Following “The Following”

A Fox television drama series starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy (the British actor who brilliantly played Marc Antony in the “Rome” series), “The Following” premiered two weeks ago (January 21).  It is already gaining a fervent, mostly young audience.

A furloughed FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), responsible for the imprisonment of the brutal serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), is brought back into action when Carroll masterminds a series of copycat murders perpetrated by a cult following (think Charles Manson meets Silence of the Lambs).  But Carroll is no ordinary psychopath.  He is a brilliant college professor who knows the power of his charisma and attracts a bevy of young college women to his seductive interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe.  The cult he creates becomes devotees of a perverted, distorted  religion, a version of Gothic romanticism Carroll has authored to encourage the belief that the only way to truly live is to kill.  With obvious references to the “Black Cat”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, “Telltale Heart”, and “Nevermore”, the viewer may have a renewed interest in Poe as reflected in the depraved mind of Ryan.

What follows is a battle between the psychologically wounded (Bacon) and the malevolent psychopath (Purefoy)  who inflicts unimaginable horrors on his victims. Ryan is damaged by the affair he had with Claire Matthews, Carroll’s ex-wife (Natalie Zea–the weak link in the superb cast).  Because he had a romantic connection with the criminal’s ex-wife, Ryan is dismissed from the FBI.  Now the pursuit of not only Carroll but also of his lapsed romance with Claire forces Ryan to deal with his unhealed wounds.

One of the most violent shows currently on broadcast TV, “The Following” is definitely not for the squeamish.  (The series “Dexter” looks edited and censored by comparison).  The horror/suspense nature of the series is underscored by the fact that all the victims in the first episode are young women.  The cult of killers or wannabe killers is made plausible by the quality of the writing and the acting, so that the violence is definitely gory and frightening (I closed my eyes in some scenes), but the psychology of manipulation, betrayal, and exploitation prevents the story from becoming ridiculous.  More back story of the principals (Ryan, Carroll, and even Claire) is required for this program to continue to maintain its fans, however.

“The Following” is a ferocious alloy of  psychology and violence, redemption and deceit.  I can’t wait to see where it’s going next.