“Straight Outta Compton”—A Rap on Censorship and Racism

Straight Outta ComptonThe critically acclaimed film, “Straight Outta Compton” is an unlikely blockbuster for its “R” rating and timely depiction of the mean streets of Compton, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. Although taking place in the mid-eighties, the clashes with the police resonate today. Chronicling the rise of N.W.A. (”niggaz wit attitude”), this biopic of music pioneers belongs in the company of “Ray”, “Walk the Line”, “8 Mile” and more recently , “Love and Mercy” (see July 12 review) and “Muscle Shoals”(July 19 review).

The seminal South L.A. hip-hop group N.W.A is the story of the creation of rap and hip-hop culture. Composing controversial lyrics, through word wizardry and brilliant poetic rhyming, N.W.A. music rages about the daily lives of young black men and the fears and violence they confront. Truthful, and not pretty, the music of N.W.A. was often censored, and considered dangerous and criminal.

For those of us in a certain demographic, this film requires patience in the first half hour of its 2 ½ hour running time. After the ferocious hook in the opening scene, “Straight Outta Compton” lingers mostly on the songs of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. While this soundtrack will enthrall the younger viewer, for the rest of us this movie only really takes off with the dramatic scenes of the censorship of rap, unspeakable police brutality, and racism. The assault on Rodney King (with iconic news footage) also is underscored as a context for the explosive rise in popularity of rap and its profound impact on the young musicians of N.W.A.   “Straight Outta Compton” is a wild ride, and an historical one. But also a disconsolate reminder of where we are today.

O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Ice Cube’s son, plays his father without sentimentality. Corey Hawkins, as Dr. Dre, conveys with a glance how much he must adjust to the ugly side of fame. And Paul Giamatti dazzles as N.W.A’s manager (just as he did playing another music manager in “Love and Mercy”). Similar to other movies where the protagonists come from very hardscrabble backgrounds, “Straight Outta Compton” is a powerful set of portraits of young artists who, as a group, are both supportive and envious of each other’s talents and success. Yet these young striving musicians also want so much to be loyal to each other. “Straight Outta Compton” succeeds in disavowing the easy, uncomplicated stereotypes projected on the talented and the young who become successful and rich too quickly.

 

 

“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography” at the Getty Center [until September 6]

Light, Paper, Process
Light, Paper, Process

For anyone who loves photography, “Light, Paper, Process” is mind-blowing. Do you want to know what can be done with a photograph processed the old fashioned way? Before Photoshop? This exhibition features experimental photography from seven artists—Matthew Brandt, Marco Breuer, John Chiara, Chris McCaw, Lisa Oppenheim, Alison Rossiter, and James Welling—who focus on light sensitivity and chemical processing including smearing emulsion so that the representational is coaxed into the abstract, often dunking the amorphous semi-developed image into different liquids. One photographer even develops his own gigantic camera and climbs into it for part of the photographing. Other photographers digitize the resulting image and use Photoshop for even more dramatic effects.

Marco Breuer
Marco Breuer

The first images in the exhibition feature a brief retrospective from the Getty Museum’s twentieth century photograph collection, especially photographs by Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy. “Light, Paper, Process does indeed provide a glimpse into the ongoing reinvention of photography today.

Alison Rossiter
Alison Rossiter

Getty Center’s brilliant show breaks the mental boundary and categorization of photography’s mission as attempting to capture the essence of the object being photographed. Instead, “Light, Process, Paper” turns that mission on its head. The artists are more concerned with exploring the fundamental nature of the medium itself, the unfolding accident-driven discovery of what can be done with the process from the inside out.

Note: If you are at the Getty Center, also   try to see “Power and Pathos—Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” (ends November 1), a dazzling collection that displays rare bronzes influenced by both Greek and Roman styles of the human form, including eyes molded by metal and marble, with distinctive copper eyelashes. Some are newly excavated and being open to the public for the first time.

 

AL’s Place—A Favorite New Spot in SF

Squash salad

AL stands for Aaron London, the young energetic chef of Ubuntu fame (renowned for vegetarian food in Napa Valley). This newly opened San Francisco restaurant on the corner of 26th and Valencia is a standout. Beautifully presented, but in a very noisy, but pristine white environs, AL’s Place seats only forty-six diners. All the dishes we ordered—including meat and fish—were standouts.

London’s confidence and virtuosity with vegetables is no surprise and is reflected in the unusual combinations of fruit and veggies he dreams up. Seafood is peppered in many main dishes, while other meat and fish options are listed as sides. In addition to snackles (small bites) and sides, the menu is divided into cold/cool and warm/hot sections and limited availability items.

We started off with a stunning cold dish of “lightly cured” trout with crispy potato, smashed cucumber, in a bagna cauda sauce (very light garlic and anchovy dip). The Coho salmon trout looked more like sushi than a smoked fish, or perhaps Gravlax: pure, ineffable freshness in a beautiful presentation on top of crispy tomatoes and cucumbers.

In the cold/cool section of the menu we had an unbelievable salad—thinly sliced yellow squash with crushed raspberry/fig oil, burrata and toasted almonds. The presentation is worthy of an artist. Another veggie dish we loved was a generous portion of royal trumpet mushrooms with fava bean mayo, and topped with green peach/pluot relish. What a mix of flavors! On the warm/hot section the stone fruit/albacore curry with black lime marinade, green beans, and a sprinkling of blueberries was a mind-game of ingredients that you would think to be mutually exclusive instead of astoundingly compatible. Going to AL’s Place for this dish alone would be worth the trip.

For sides (don’t let the name fool you), we had the smoked brisket with sieved egg, pickled mire poix, and a faint touch of maple mustard. Brisket is quite trendy now but this one was remarkable. Brisket is not easy to smoke—gristly, fatty, and dry—but this dish had none of those attributes.

In the limited availability menu we had the fish catamaran with a double dip, one of which was a lemony vinaigrette while the other was an incredible miso béarnaise. When the chef stopped by to greet us, we asked how the miso sauce was made and I was exhausted just listening to all the steps involved.

Fish Catamaran--before
Fish Catamaran–Before
Fish Catamaran--
Fish Catamaran–After

We had a sparkling rosé pinot noir (Onward) that was not to our taste so we recommended another one from Carmel to the sommelier. He was inviting and asked for the information, proving he was open to other wine selections. We did like the idea that AL’s Place was experimental in trying lesser-known appellations from all over the world for their wine list, which was very modestly priced.

For nonalcoholic drinks the freshly made watermelon and shiso sparkling soda was perfect—not at all sweet, but refreshing on that warm evening.

I don’t think you can go wrong with AL’s Place—your vegetarian friends will be in Nirvana and we carnivores and pescatarians will have just as good a time. If you are in San Francisco, check out AL’s Place—you won’t be disappointed!

“Patrik 1.5”—“The Kid’s All Right”

Patrik 1.5

This Swedish sleeper of a film is entertaining and very moving. Sweden is often thought of as the bright light of liberalism, a model for social justice. And less than a month after the passage of the same-sex marriage decision by the Supreme Court, we may think we are catching up. But “Patrik 1.5” shows us even socially liberal countries have bigotry to overcome. I was fascinated to see the cultural dynamic of a gay couple having to deal with homophobic neighbors as well as a homophobic teenager in a country this viewer associates with more liberal views and open-mindedness.

The main character, Goran, is a gentle and hard-working physician whose partner, Sven, is the love of his life. In a rare cinematic production, “Patrik 1.5” addresses a marriage which just happens to be a same-sex one. The humanity is portrayed without cliché or stereotype. The heartaches, conflicts, and struggles are those of any couple wanting to have a child and be a parent.

Goran and Sven are in store for the surprise of their life when, instead of the 1 ½ year old boy they think they are adopting, the adoption agency hands over a rebellious, delinquent and homophobic 15-year-old named Patrik. That misplaced decimal point is a bigger error than a typographical one. The drama takes off from there.

This film from the female director Ella Lemhagen dabbles in the foster family territory of the Academy-nominated movie, “The Kids Are All Right”. But the teenage actor nails the teenage angst in a far finer and more nuanced performance here in “Patrik 1.5”.

Enjoy the ride!

 

 

Shakespeare’s Henry IV – Conflict between Father and Son

 

Guest blogger: Patricia Robertson

Henry 1Shakespeare has a keen understanding of the human psyche, including family dynamics. This is apparent in the 2015 Michigan Shakespeare Festival (July 11-August 16) production of Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, masterfully combined and abridged into one bringing out the best and highlighting the conflict between King Henry and his son, Hal, Prince of Wales. henry2

This familiar family saga ends with Prince Hal requesting that his father’s advisors’ treat any sons he has as they treated him, a touching tribute to his father. Thus the wound between father and son is healed and doesn’t continue to the next generation unhealed and without recovery, as so often happens.

Family struggles are the stuff of life. The love and acceptance of fathers is essential to the well-being of their children. In telling the story of a conflict between father and son, Shakespeare’s play resonates today as a universal human theme.  If you are in Michigan at this time, please take advantage of the opportunity to see this festival!

Note: Patricia Robertson has released her novel, Still Dancing, the sequel to her novel, Dancing on a High Wire, and is looking forward to writing the next book in the series during NaNoWriMo this year. She blogs about life and writing at http://patriciamrobertson.com .