Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Smithsonian photos to exit Jan. 5

James VanDerZee, GGG Photo Studio at Christmas, 1933, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment and the Smithsonian, Institution Collections Acquisition Program

It's a great show for a family event over the holidays, and it's free.

What little or big child among us is not interested in pictures?

Tina Barney, Marina's Room, 1987, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, copyright 1987, Tina Barney, courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.
At the American Art Museum the Smithsonian presents a fascinating popular history of the U.S. in photographs, sure to fascinate even the least history-minded person in the bunch and as diverse as one could expect, with land, sky, city, and plenty of peoplescapes to intrigue.

Helen Levitt, New York, c. 1942, printed later, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, copyright 1981,  Helen Levitt

Joe Deal, Backyard, Diamond Bar, CA, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, 1980, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts through the Photography Museum of Los Angeles, copyright 1980, Joe Deal
To celebrate the 30th birthday of the Smithsonian's photo collection, guest curator, Merry Foresta, the museum's former curator of photography, studied 7,000 images in the collection, selecting 113 pieces for the show which are displayed in four sections: "American Characters," "Spiritual Frontier," "American Inhabited," and "Imagination at Work."

Robert Frank, Butte, Montana, 1956, printed 1973, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
The name of the exhibition, A Democracy of Images, comes from Walt Whitman who believed the new picture-taking art form, which arrived in the U.S. in 1840, created possibilities for all Americans, Ms. Foresta said. He was right. More than the poet likely could have ever imagined, millions now take pictures using almost as many different kinds of equipment.

O. Winston Link, Living Room on the Tracks, Lithia, Virginia, Dec. 16. 1958, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Vladimir and Eileen Toumanoff, copyright O. Winston Link
At the exhibition's opening, Ms. Foresta briefly described the history of photography in the U.S. which early critics believed "was positioned to do miraculous things," and it did.  Ten years later people lined up to get their pictures made, so thrilled and amazed were they by the medium.

Jeremiah Gurney, Woman and Child, c. 1850, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

The creators designed many of the works for framing, to be hung as pieces of art in the home.

Guests to the show will recognize familiar photographs and see some new ones.  Some of the photographers are familiar (Sally Mann, Annie Liebovitz, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams) while others are not.  Some of the picture takers are anonymous like these from the San Francisco Police Department:
Unidentified photographers, San Francisco Police Department, c. 1942, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Richard A. Brodie and James F. Dicke II

A museum statement says the images "explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression." 
It all ends Sunday, so rush is in order.

Robert Disraeli, Cold Day on Cherry Street, 1932, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan, Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, copyright 1932, Robert Disraeli
For helping make the exhibition possible, the people of the United States are grateful to Saundra B. Lane, Lisa and John Pritzker, the Crown Equipment Exhibitions Endowment, the Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, and the Bernie Stadium Endowment Fund. 

What: A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: Now through Sunday, January 5, 2014, from 11:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets, N. W. , First Floor, West

How much: No charge

For more information: 202-633-1000

Metro station: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dance at Dulles

Swing dancing at the Dulles Hilton/Patricia Leslie

It's been a while since I've been out to dance at Glen Echo, but dancing at the Dulles Hilton Friday night was a lot more fun, because…

It was a "pajama party" (literally), however and thank goodness, I didn't get the message and didn't show up in my night clothes, but had I gotten the message, I would not have shown up in my night clothes.  Egad.  The instructors wore full-length Superman and Batman p.js. with capes and danced in bunny slippers which are good for sliding around. Gotta Swing is the Friday night host. 

You know about dancing's benefits, right?  The physical, emotional, and mental exercise is terrific, and I've never been disappointed in the bands at either of these dance halls. 

Partner, not necessary/Patricia Leslie

Bad Influence played, and they were spot-on! Bluesy, jazzy and fast, just what I needed and like.  Sadly (yes, Virginia, there is a "sadly,") I missed the 30-minute lesson which precedes the dance. I always have a better time when I arrive in time for the lesson for the fellas get to know you a little bit.

Aurora Borealis came to swing dance, too, at the Dulles Hilton/Patricia Leslie

Anyway, why dancing at the Dulles Hilton is better:

1.  The ratio of men to women at the Hilton was smaller than Glen Echo's, according to my unscientific survey (4 to 5 at Dulles vs. 2.5 to 4 at Glen Echo, more or less) which means we women get to dance a lot more at the Hilton.

2.  For Northern Virginia residents, the Dulles Hilton is closer and does not require driving on the Beltway.  The Hilton has great directions, too, right here, including routes which bypass the pricey Dulles toll road.

3.  The Hilton's parking is closer to the entrance, better lighted, and more secure.

4.  The Hilton's dance floor is smaller, about half or less than Glen Echo's, and is divided up into three dance floors, making for a more intimate experience.

5.  The dancers seemed more serious about the purpose.

6.  Hilton participants seemed happier, smiled more, and, on the whole, were more relaxed (in their p.js.) and a lot older (generally speaking) than the Glen Echo crowd (or, at least, the last time I was there when a marriage proposal of sorts was extended). (On the other hand, the Hilton event was more like a club for most of the participants knew each other, and newcomers can feel like intruders unless you force yourself to engage.)

7.  The Hilton has a bar.

8.  The cost is about the same ($15) for both places.

But, the number one reason Dulles is better:

1.  The Hilton's ballroom is heated. (Does Glen Echo got heat now?)

But who needs heat anyway when you're dancing?  There's enough of it on the floor.  Several fans at the Hilton helped keep us cool, but we're all cool enough anyway, natch.

Stay tuned for a Glen Echo update.  Or, how do you think they compare?

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Who:  Click here for bands

What:  Swing dancing

When:  Friday nights from 9 - 12 p.m. with a class at 8:30 p.m.

Where:  The Dulles Hilton, 13869 Park Center Road, Herndon, VA 20171, ph. 703-478-2900

How much:  $15

For more information: debra@gottaswing. com, ph. 703-359-9882

Metro station:  One of these days

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie review: 'Her' is lifeless and flat

Joaquin Phoenix/Warner Brothers

Unless you're a geek freak and need vicarious and phone sex.

(Would that be all of us?  Never mind. 
Throw in the nude de rigueur females, please.  Done.
Where are the nude males?  Never mind.  They don't sell as well.)


I thought it would never end.   Cut a third, and the movie would be lots better. 

Speaking of thirds, the F-bomb makes up about a third of the script.

All right, all ready:  Call it an "arty film."  That still doesn't make it any better.  Yep, the critics adore it, but they are the critics' critics.  I am the people's critic, and folks, this one is pretty sad in more ways than one.

I'll bet you didn't know technology is taking over and supplanting human interaction, communication, and observation, and Her takes it to the extreme in a funny, original way:  Man falls in love with a voice on the computer which the critics say is possible Oscar material...a voice!  Not only are machines replacing humans, but this may be a first for Oscar:  no appearance necessary or need to worry about population growth.

Whatever, this does not warrant your dollars or time.  I wish I had read this before I wasted mine.  And this goes for a rental, too.

The only redeeming social qualifies she's got:

1. Originality (Spike Jonze is writer, director, producer) 

2. Joaquin Phoenix  (dreamy to look at, but even the 90 minutes devoted to shots of him in the bed don't make it worthwhile)
If this is supposed to be a comedy, most didn't know it in the screening I attended since the sporadic audience laughter came from males only.

What does that tell you?  Right.  It's not a chick flick, but a trick flick Joe show.  And the clothes prove it.  No dashes of flash, but (a costumer's prediction for the future) the guys all wear sansabelts and Hush Puppies.  Such turn-ons. (But what more do we need with Joaquin as the star?)  I can't wait.

You can find better sex on YouTube.

And that's all she wrote.  I am dropping off quickly:  Her sedatives work fast. 
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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Movie review: 'Nebraska' is an instant classic

The sun doesn't shine too much in Nebraska. That's because it's set in black and white, and after a while, you don't notice, since the spoken, street, facial, and landscape lines carry you away.

Moviegoers, this is one heckuva film, one of the year's best, and pretty much aimed at an older crowd, those above 50, all of whom can identify with one or more of the characters and the mental wrestling which comes with age.  I don't guess that few, if any, millennials (I am already so sick of that word) will appreciate it too much, unless they are film aficionados, so they can stay at home and Facebook.

I loved Nebraska.  There is one scene outside a bar which I am certain was designed from the grave by Edward Hopper (1882-1967). 

Will Forte, left, and Bruce Dern in Nebraska

The number of spoken words might be the lowest heard in any movie in quite a while (Being There with Peter Sellers comes to mind), but what does it matter, except to make it more powerful?  The reverse of the predictable occurs (thank you!) in many scenes:

Now, is he going to die? 

Prove them all wrong.

Will someone take a fist to the bullies?
The mother and wife, June Squibb, is par excellence, and will certainly be nominated.  The role is a bit too extreme and stereotypical, but who can match her mouth? (I don't suppose it occurred to the writers to reverse the roles and make the female the central figure.)  Whatever, she will make you reel, gasp, and sometimes shriek with laughter.  You've likely seen the cemetery scene somewhere, and that's just one funny part.   

But the best performance has got to be Bruce Dern's, the old man in more ways than one, the resigned, the battered, the lifeless, yet showered by his son's attention, played by Will Forte, who is likely to be nominated, too.  Dern's mannerisms will remind you of every old man you've ever known or observed.  (Gooosssssh, he is 77.  I thought it was all makeup.)  I couldn't quite understand the reasoning for the existence of the older brother played by Bob Odenkirk, unless to provide physical support and counterbalance his brother.

At least one reviewer called the movie depressing, but it wasn't depressing to me in the least.  It's inspirational and provides hope that someone is listening, after all.  At the end, I wanted to stand up and shout:  Right on, bro'.  Let's give our time and love while we can.

Costuming by Wendy Chuck is perfect, and the music (Mark Orton) reminded me of the score for Lars and the Real Girl (2007), if anyone besides Carla and me saw that. 

Several days later and I am still thinking about Nebraska. That's a sign of a very good flick in my book which I hope you'll go quickly and see, because I have a feeling since it's a touch bit arty, it may not be around as long as Thor or the ones featuring blood and gore.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Hawthorne, Nebraska, but the real one is purty different from Nebraska's Hawthorne.
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A few Oscar nominations:

Best Director:  Alexander Payne (of Sideways)

Best Actor:  Bruce Dern

Best Supporting Actress:  June Squibb

Best Supporting Actor:  Will Forte

Best Casting Director (new award this year): John Jackson

Best Costume Design:  Wendy Chuck
Winter Travel

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Trains and trills trump nation's tree

The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse south of the White House/Patricia Leslie

The best decorations at the National Christmas Tree setting on the Ellipse south of the White House are the trains.  They go round and round little villages which are all lit up at night, and they light up faces, too, of all ages.  Like candles glowing in the night.

The trains at the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse south of the White House/Patricia Leslie

For a few moments visitors are hypnotized by the glory of the moment sweetened by nightly (and daytime, too, on weekends) live seasonal music coming from nearby performers on stage. 

What is the reason the singers' backs face visitors to the National Christmas Tree? Is the target audience the traffic on Constitution and the people at the Washington Monument?  Can they hear what I hear?/Patricia Leslie
For years I've been struck by the permanence and artificial appearance of the national tree and how much it reminds me of senior ladies who used to wear hair nets.  Who remembers those?  Egad.  The national tree looks like it is permanently fried, perfectly coiffed, with that sprayed-on look which used to be popular in the 1950s.  Tightly woven together in perfect symmetry. 

Is it an artificial tree?  The website says it is real and was transplanted to the grounds about a year ago.

Please, abandon all hedge trimmers and chainsaws, ye who enter these hallowed spaces.

Perhaps it's only because I see it at night.  But from Constitution Avenue during the day the tree looks like it was decorated by robots on ladders.  The white balls hang in boring rows, suspended huge ping pong balls. 

Please, may we have some semblance of humanity at our nation's tree?   Something which loosens it up so that it does not look like it was decorated by a machine (or a "plan" of a map of the tree used year in and year out) but by nature.  And people.  Without artificial components.

It's too "matchy matchy," what you would expect to find in North Korea. (The website says General Electric designed and provided the lights for the tree.  Yep, looks like some engineers had a hand in it, all right.)

Sadly (there's more), the 56 trees all of the same exact height and width which surround the tree (representing the states, territories, and the lowly District of Columbia) are practically identical.  The signs say the ornaments on each tree are individually crafted by state representatives. (Not legislators.  Can't you just imagine that?  A decorating party for state legislators?  Yuk! Yuk!  But, come to think of it, maybe they'd all get along better.  "Who's got the glue?" "Please pass the scissors.")  The lack of individuality suggests they came right out of a manufacturing plant in China.  Or, perhaps the artists were following strict guidelines issued by...engineers?

For the Tennessee tree, Pam Weston from Tennessee Young Artists in partnership with Middle Tennessee State University made these ornaments for the states and territories' "Pathway to Peace" at the National Christmas Tree /Patricia Leslie

On second thought, it must be the bubbles which encapsulate and protect the ornaments from the elements which lend them this image, but the plastic cases detract from the contents and obscure the designs.
The sign indicates Jenna Lee of the John P. Sousa Middle School made ornaments for the District of Columbia tree, pictured here/Patricia Leslie


Hamilton Glass and Patience Salgado, ART 180 made these ornaments for Virginia's tree/Patricia Leslie

Can you spot three moving engines with headlamps? Patricia Leslie

Now one of the engines has moved out of the picture.  Where did it go? Patricia Leslie
The back of the White House, the big house, whose seasonal finery we enjoy/Patricia Leslie

There is an alternative. 

Up at the U.S. Capitol at the other end of the National Mall  is the Capitol Christmas Tree ("This is real!") which last year featured ornaments made by Colorado school children.  It looked more natural and honest, leaning one way a little bit with uneven branches, to wit, a heckuva lot better than the National Unnatural Christmas Tree. 

Or, what about permitting each state to design its own tree?  And ornaments.  What an incredible idea!  (Engineers prohibited from entering.)

Please have a look, see what you think, and write soon.

Weekend Flights

The remainder of 2013 scheduled performances at the National Christmas Tree for which the people of the United States are truly grateful are:

Wednesday December 18, 2013

5:00-5:30 pm Louise Archer E.S. Chorus
Vienna, VA

6:00-6:30 pm Robert E. Aylor M.S. Chorus
Stephens City, VA

7:00-7:30 pm Olney E.S. Chorus
Olney, MD

8:00-8:30 pm Kent Island H.S. Wind Symphony
Stevensville, MD


Thursday December 19, 2013

5:00-5:30 pm Virginia Women’s Chorus
Charlottesville, VA

6:00-6:30 pm St. Mary’s Bryantown Choir
Bryantown, MD

7:00-7:30 pm West Springfield H.S. Madrigals
Springfield, VA

8:00-8:30 pm Mayfield Singing Ambassadors
Manassas, VA

Friday December 20, 2013

5:00-5:30 pm Maranatha Gospel Choir
Fredericksburg, VA

6:00-6:30 pm Boyle School of Irish Dance
Alexandria, VA

7:00-7:30 pm Lewisburg Area H.S. Concert Choir
Lewisburg, PA

8:00-8:30 pm NPursuit Jazz
Richmond, VA


Saturday December 21, 2013

1:00-1:30 pm Children of the Light Dancers
Fairfax, VA

2:00-2:30 pm The Christmas Singers
Gaithersburg, MD

3:00-3:30 pm Central Bucks West Chamber Choir
Doylestown, PA

5:00-5:30 pm Victory in Praise Dancers
Baltimore, MD

6:00-6:30 pm Ox Hill Baptist Youth Choir
Chantilly, VA

7:00-7:30 pm Blue Ridge Thunder Cloggers
Waterford, VA

8:00-8:30 pm Tru Voice NYC Singers
New York, NY

Sunday December 22, 2013

1:00-1:30 pm Hearts of Gold
Linthicum, MD

2:00-2:30 pm Bull Run Cloggers
Manassas, VA

3:00-3:30 pm Washington Mennonite Chorus
Washington, DC

5:00-5:30 pm The Voices of Zion
Washington, DC

6:00-6:30 pm Metropolitan School of the Arts
Alexandria, VA

7:00-7:30 pm Linda Clark
Richmond, VA

8:00-8:30 pm Voices in Praise
Friendship, MD

Too perfect symmetry/Patricia Leslie

What:  The National Christmas Tree

When:  Now through January 1, 2014

Where:  In the Ellipse south of the White House

Metro station:  Farragut West

Cost:  It's free!

Winter Travel



Monday, December 16, 2013

Celebrity bishop Gene Robinson in town

Bishop Gene Robinson at the Center for American Progress/Patricia Leslie
Retired bishop Gene Robinson, whose homosexuality spawned the departure of some conservative members from The Episcopal Church in 2003 when he was nominated for the episcopate, was in Washington last week where he attended a religious liberty presentation at the Center for American Progress.

The discussion centered on the creeping growth of religious expression which threatens to usurp civil rights and is increasingly found in legislation on state and federal levels to discriminate against gays, for example.  Panelist Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign said religious liberty exemptions would give license to bully those who are different. 

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance said he was "so proud of the ACLU because they are taking on the Catholic bishops," referencing  a case in Michigan where a pregnant woman at a Catholic hospital was given insufficient information leading up to the miscarriage of her fetus. Panel member Eunice Rho of the ACLU provided elaboration.

Sitting in the rear of the audience, Bishop Robinson was recognized by a panel member who asked him for a comment. 

Robinson, whose national identity and honesty have helped increase Americans' acceptance of gays, said to combat discrimination "nothing works better than personal stories…. [and] getting people to tell stories about spiritual pain."

Said Mr. Gaddy: "You can't substitute anyone's holy book for the Constitution because the Constitution protects everyone."

Lissy Moskowitz from NARAL Pro-Choice America was another panelist.  CAP's Sally Steenland served as moderator, and Tom Perriello made opening remarks.

A report by CAP's Joshua Dorner which outlines the current debate, Religious Liberty for Some or Religious Liberty for All?, was available at the meeting.

According to the report, almost 70 percent of Americans believe civil rights trump religious beliefs and that business owners, for example, should not be permitted to discriminate against those whose lifestyles do not match their own.

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