Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Movie that Everyone is Raving About: THE SHAPE OF WATER at the Venice Film Festival

The Shape of Water
(Venice, Italy) I love romantic fairy tales, and I always dream that I can breathe underwater. So I wasn't sure if anyone else would love The Shape of Water as much as I did until the industry audience broke into wild applause here in Venice this morning. Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro has captured a spark of the divine. It is a masterpiece.

I had never seen a Guillermo Del Toro film before, so I didn't know what to expect. What kind of fantastic mind imagines a plot like this: Elisa, a mute cleaner at a U.S. government aerospace facility falls in love with a captive watery Creature, a merman, during the Cold War.

Sally Hawkins & Guillermo Del Toro - Venice Film Festival
At the press conference, I fell immediately in love with Guillermo Del Toro, too, when he said that choosing fear over love is a disaster. "The Beatles and Jesus both can't be wrong, and when they disagree, I go with the Beatles."
"The Beatles and Jesus both can't be wrong, and when they disagree, I go with the Beatles." 
Guillermo Del Toro
The Shape of Water press conference
74th Venice Film Festival
Del Toro has drawn out the purest, most creative aspects of everyone working on the film. It is a perfect unit, led by Sally Hawkins' silent, sublime performance, and enriched by Alexandre Desplat's musical score. All the actors -- Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer -- are in top form as they bring the screenplay by Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor organically to life. The costumes by Luis Sequeira and production design by Paul Denham Austerberry are magical, captured by Dan Lausten's ethereal cinematography.

Venice has earned the reputation as an "Oscar Launch Pad," which The Shape of Water is certain to enforce. Guillermo Del Toro has created a timely gift for humanity. 

Sally Hawkins
Here are some rave reviews, which also describe the story:

From The Daily Beast:
A majestic 1960s movie palace, glistening in the rain. A derelict apartment awash in antiquity. A mute woman (Sally Hawkins, lovely as always) and her elderly gay caretaker (Richard Jenkins, ditto) parked in front of the tube. The Shape of Water casts a spell over its audience from its opening moments and holds you in its thrall long after the credits have rolled.
 From The Hollywood Reporter:
Guillermo del Toro delivers pure enchantment with The Shape of Water. A dark-edged fairy tale as lovingly steeped in vintage movie magic as it is in hypnotic water imagery, this captivating creature feature marries a portrait of morally corrupt early-1960s America with an outsider tale of love and friendship molded by a master storyteller.

Centered on an exquisite performance from Sally Hawkins that conveys both delicacy and strength, this is a visually and emotionally ravishing fantasy that should find a welcome embrace from audiences starved for imaginative escape.
Sally Hawkin & Octavia Spencer
From Variety:
A ravishing, eccentric auteur’s imagining, spilling artistry, empathy and sensuality from every open pore, it also offers more straight-up movie for your money than just about any Hollywood studio offering this year. This decidedly adult fairytale, about a forlorn, mute cleaning lady and the uncanny merman who save each other’s lives in very different ways, careers wildly from mad-scientist B-movie to heart-thumping Cold War noir to ecstatic, wings-on-heels musical, keeping an unexpectedly classical love story afloat with every dizzy genre turn.
Lit from within by a heart-clutching silent star turn from Sally Hawkins, lent dialogue by one of Alexandre Desplat’s most abundantly swirling scores, this is incontestably Del Toro’s most rewarding, richly realized film — or movie, for that matter — since 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
 From IndieWire:
At one unexpected moment in Guillermo del Toro’s virtuosic new film, the characters break into a song. The lights dim, the colors drain to black and white and Sally Hawkins’ otherwise mute Elisa takes Doug Jones’ unnamed creature by the hand, and the two begin hoofing old Hollywood style in a “Top Hat” reminiscent musical number set to the old standard “You’ll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You).” It’s just one more magical moment in a film full of them, another reminder that not only is “The Shape of Water” one of del Toro’s most stunningly successful works, it’s also a powerful vision of a creative master feeling totally, joyously free.
The Shape of Water will be released on December 8, 2017 in the United States.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Live! From the 74 Venice International Film Festival! A Star is Born: Hong Chau in DOWNSIZING

Hong Chau in Downsizing
(Venice, Italy) Kudos to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for writing a script with a great role for a woman -- and a Vietnamese dissident with an amputated leg, no less. Hong Chau will certainly be nominated when award season rolls around for her role as Ngoc Lan, a house cleaner who captures Matt Damon's heart after he shrinks down and moves into Leisureland, New Mexico, the ultimate suburbia for small people.

Searching for a compassionate solution to overpopulation, Norwegian scientists discover a method to shrink human beings down to five inches. The perk for the planet is that an entire community produces a single ordinary bag of trash in a year. But the real appeal for most of those who volunteer to undergo the procedure is that they instantly become rich.

Downsizing stars Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon arrive at the Venice Film Festival Credit:Joel Ryan
Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, who still lives in the same house in Omaha that he grew up in, first with his mother, then with his wife (Kristen Wigg). When they are turned down for a mortgage, they decide to join the ever-growing group of folks who have downsized after they learn that their assets of $125,000 would be worth $12.5 million in a town designed for the small. They could easily afford a McMansion -- not to mention spa treatments, tennis, jewels -- everything the consumer culture dreams of achieving, and not exactly what the Norwegian scientists had in mind when pondering ways of how to save the planet.

Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau and Alexander Payne
The reviews are mostly positive, but with caveats:

From Variety:

Alexander Payne's science-fiction comedy about humans who get miniaturized to save the planet (and live like royalty) is that rare thing: a ticklish and resonant crowd-pleaser for grown-ups.

 ...Payne may be the closest thing we have to a studio-system classicist. His films are built with a craftsmanship so beveled and honed that it’s beyond impeccable, yet that very precision can, at times, rob his movies of spontaneity. ...the movie, in the end, is more amusing than exhilarating, and what should be its emotional payoff hinges too much (for my taste) on the director’s apocalyptic vision of climate change. “Downsizing” turns into a movie about saving the human race. But it’s most fun when it’s about saving one man whose life turns out to be bigger than a hill of beans.
What I liked best about the film were the international characters that Paul encounters in Leisureland and beyond, throwing him completely out of his Omaha middle-class comfort zone.

From the Daily Beast:

...Paul sets off on one of those oh-so-Hollywood journeys of self-discovery, encountering a series of outsize characters along the way. There is Dusan (Christoph Waltz, deliciously extra), a Serbian smuggler with a penchant for drug-fueled all-night parties in his penthouse suite, and Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau, extraordinary), a cleaning company owner who resides in a dilapidated tenement on the outskirts of Leisureland populated by the (predominately Hispanic) mini-forgotten.

During the press conference, a journalist asked if Payne and Taylor had intentionally set out to write a film where an American man gets educated by Europeans and an Asian woman -- a question I thought was terrific because I had wondered the same thing. Taylor sputtered a bit until finally admitting, "This is the first time we're hearing that."

Christoph Walz and Hong Chau
Hong Chau has been singled out for her dynamic performance:
Variety again: “...Hong Chau’s performance is remarkable. She starts off as a borderline stereotype — a bitter refugee spitting venom in broken English — and then melts into the film’s most surprising character.”
From The Wrap: "If there’s a standout here, it’s Chau, taking a character who could easily have been a saintly martyr and making her funny, bristly, moving and occasionally profane. As awards season kicks up, she should definitely be part of the conversation."
From The Telegraph: "’s rescued from mawkishness by some well-placed jabs of dry humour and a terrifically appealing performance from Chau, whose character’s snappy matter-of-factness beautifully complements Damon’s nicely pitched bluff affability. Their chemistry turbo-charges the film through its increasingly foreboding final stretch, in which the fate of humanity (really!) hangs in the balance."
It is a striking coincidence that the film premiered during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the catastrophic flooding in Houston, Texas -- even though Jim Taylor said they had been working on it for about ten years.

Downsizing opens on December 22.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Picasso on the Beach - Peggy's Granddaughter, Karole Vail, Steps into the Spotlight at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Karole Vail & Luca Massismo Barbero - Photo: Cat Bauer
Director Karole Vail & Curator Luca Massismo Barbero - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) If ever an exhibition fit perfectly into a space, it's Picasso on the Beach, which opened today (Peggy's birthday - she would have been 119 years old) in the new Project Rooms at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Intimate and classy, the space offers a chance to get up close and personal with three of Picasso's masterpieces, On the Beach, Women Seated on the Beach and Large Bather with a Book, as well as studies that allow a glimpse into the maestro's creative process. Curated by the profound and prolific Luca Massimo Barbero, the exhibition is deeply moving and ties Picasso's artistic output to dramatic world events.

The opening of the show was especially exciting for those of us here in Venice because yesterday, August 25, Karole Vail, Peggy's granddaughter, held her first press conference as the new Director of the museum.

On the Beach by Pablo Picasso, Oil conté crayon & chalk on canvas, Feb 12, 1937 - Photo Cat Bauer
In February 1937, within a span of a few days, Pablo Picasso painted three beach-themed masterpieces while the Spanish artist was in Tremblay sul Mauldre, a village about 30 minutes outside of Versailles in France -- in the middle of winter and nowhere near a beach.

On the Beach study by Pablo Picasso, Feb 12, 1937, pencil on paper - Photo: Cat Bauer
At that time, world events were building to a dangerous crescendo. The Nazis were consolidating their power in Europe, and supported the policies of the Spanish military dictator, Francisco Franco. Two months later, on April 26, 1937, Franco would order the bombing of the town of Guernica, the spiritual capital of the Basque people, during the Spanish Civil War, an event that shocked Picasso, and outraged the world --  compelling Picasso to create his famous mural-sized oil painting, Guernica, in June, two months after the horrific event.

By that time, Picasso had already created The Dream and Lie of Franco, which is also on display, and contains such images as Franco riding a horse waving a sword and flag, and Franco being gored by a bull.

The Dream and Lie of Franco, part 1 (1937) by Pablo Picasso - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition includes ten drawings, three paintings and a sculpture made by Picasso between February and December 1937, and is part of the Musée national Picasso-Paris Picasso-Méditerranée, an international cultural event. One of the studies is a preparatory drawing for On the Beach that Picasso gave his lover, Dora Maar as a gift.

On the Beach study by Pablo Picasso, Feb 10, 1937, pencil on paper - Photo: Cat Bauer
Back on March 8, 2014, I wrote a post about the Surrealistic artist, a woman in her own right -- and the only person who Picasso allowed to photograph the progression of Guernica -- which you can read here:

Dora Maar - DESPITE PICASSO - Women Artists Welcome Spring 2014 at Palazzo Fortuny

I thought that Peggy's granddaughter, Karole Vail, was terrific, hitting the perfect key at the press conference in her role as the new director: energetic, knowledgeable, poised and friendly. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with her during the nibbles, and she was charming. She comes to us from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she worked on the curatorial staff for 20 years, and looks uncannily like a (prettier) version of Peggy.

Picasso on the Beach is timely and cautionary, and runs through January 7, 2018, so you have plenty of time to see it. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian  Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Where to Find Pleasant Tourists in Venice

Ca' Pesaro - Foto di Giovanni Porpora courtesy Comune di Venezia
(Venice, Italy) Venice has been in the international news lately with reports about Tourists-Behaving-Badly: having public sex, jumping into canals, sitting on bridges and blocking the flow of foot traffic, riding bicycles, wearing beach clothing, etc. The New York Times recently published an article entitled: Venice, Invaded by Tourists Risks Becoming 'Disneyland on the Sea,' (someone needs to blow the dust off that headline) about how mass tourism is killing the city. The other day, The Guardian piled on with "I Don't Mean to Ruin Your Holiday, But Europe Hates Tourists -- And With Good Reason, and last month: "Imagine Living With This Crap: Tempers in Venice Boil Over in High Tourist Season." The Economist chimed in with Not Drowning But Suffocating, suggesting that splitting Venice from Mestre was the solution, as if that were an original idea.

None of this is anything new. Way back in 2008, out of frustration with the tourist flow, I wrote a piece called TIPS FOR MOVING AROUND VENICE, a condensed version of which was picked up by the Financial Times and published in their Weekend Magazine. In an article called That Was Then, This is Now: Venice, my words were paired with comments from John Evelyn's Diary, dated 1645:

1645: from John Evelyn, Diary “...add the perfumers & Apothecaries, and the innumerable cages of Nightingals, which they keepe, that entertaines you with their melody from shop to shop, so as shutting your Eyes, you would imagine your selfe in the Country, when indeede you are in the middle of the Sea: besides there being neither rattling of Coaches nor trampling of horses, tis almost as silent as the field.”
2008: from “Venetian Cat – Venice Blog” by Cat Bauer “Tips for moving around Venice: 
1. Stay to the right when walking (even if you are British). Pass slow-moving creatures on the left. 
2. Do not sit on the bridges, under any circumstances whatsoever. One person sitting on a bridge can cause a traffic jam for miles.
3. Before stopping, look both ways, plus, in front and behind ... Do not stop short. Someone could rear-end you.”

Henry James used to stay on the top floor of Pensione Wildner on the Riva degli Schiavone, which was thick with tourists even in the 19th century. Here is what he had to say about Venice back in 1881:
...The barbarians are in full possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar.
There was a horde of savage Germans encamped in the Piazza, and they filled the Ducal Palace and the Academy with their uproar. The English and Americans came a little later. They came in good time, with a great many French, who were discreet enough to make very long repasts at the Caffè Quadri, during which they were out of the way.
The months of April and May of the year 1881 were not, as a general thing, a favourable season for visiting the Ducal Palace and the Academy. ...They infest the Piazza; they pursue you along the Riva; they hang about the bridges and the doors of the cafés....
Photo: Savvy Backpacker
Now we have arrived in the year 2017, where, thanks to technology, a bunch of foreigners have become "authorities" on Venice, hawking self-published books and "expert" services, feasting off the moribund body of Venice from afar. They do not live in Venice, but try to control the local narrative, manipulating social media to promote their skewed view of life in a deeply complex city -- a Byzantine city that carefully guards her secrets.

So, not only have local residents been pushed out of Venice by foreigners buying properties and renting them out to other foreigners, we are also bombarded on social networks by opinionated foreign marketers who link their names to unsuspecting local individuals and organizations, trying to gain legitimacy for their superficial "Venice" brands. As the late Martin Roth said, "You see how art and culture can be controlled for political purposes without you realizing it."

Forbidden Behaviours from the Venice Comune
The Venice Comune has launched their own awareness campaign on social media called #EnjoyRespectVenezia, with Good Rules for the Responsible Visitor, and clear, simple diagrams of Forbidden Behaviour. Most no-nos should be obvious, like don't get drunk and jump off a bridge because you might land on a boat.

On Ferragosto, August 15, I decided to head over to Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art because I had missed the opening of David Hockney - 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life exhibition. On my way over, I witnessed with my own eyes five out of six of the Forbidden Behaviors, including a bicyclist zooming down the Zattare. The only forbidden behavior missing that day was that no one happened to be diving off a bridge -- at least, not that I saw.

When I asked a father sitting on a bridge with his three kids to get up because they were blocking foot traffic -- specifically an elderly Venetian man with a cane and his wife who needed to use the handrail -- the father glared and ignored me until I took his photo. It is a €200 fine to sit on a bridge and block the flow of traffic, which, to me, is a rule the Comune should strongly enforce. In about 45 minutes I would have collected €3000!

Larry Gagosian by David Hockney
"I've known Larry for forty years, 
since he had a poster shop in Westwood. 
Now he's a big art dealer."
Anyway, when I arrived at Ca' Pesaro, I was pleasantly surprised to see the museum teeming with visitors, a whole other breed of traveler who had managed to get their families over to Venice's modern art gallery during their mid-August holidays. Ca' Pesaro is an enormous Baroque palace on the Grand Canal, built in the second part of the 17th century. Just the opportunity to enter and wander around such an imposing structure is worth the price of admission. There was a sign at the entrance apologizing for the lack of air conditioning, and I wondered if that was supposed to be a joke because the marble palazzo was so naturally cool.

Cat Bauer in the David Hockney chair
I made my way up to the David Hockney 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life exhibition, which is of interest if you are someone who wants to see who the 82 people he painted are -- some of the portraits have comments by Hockney, some don't. For the rest of us, there is a terrific hands-on project you can participate in, kids and grown-ups alike: You can create your own cut-out paper portrait, posed sitting in the Hockney chair.

You wander into the end room, where there are six different patterns to choose from for your pose, and two different angles of the chair. You settle down at one of the two tables stocked with colored markers, scissors and glue. It is up to you to color in the figure, which is blank, cut it out, and then glue it in the chair.

Cat Bauer - work in progress
It was great fun. There were all types of people, male and female, grownups and kids, young and old, black and white, brown and yellow -- everyone sitting at the tables and concentrating on creating their masterpieces. We were quiet and respectful, asking politely if someone was done with a certain color, trying not to jiggle the table with our strokes. We chatted softly amongst ourselves, remarking about how long it had been since we had done something creative with our hands. It was so human, not cyber -- I got enormous pleasure by just being in the same space and time with other human beings doing a simple human thing.

Cat Bauer Hockney finished product
After you finish your portrait, you tape it on the wall. Well, you don't have to tape it on the wall, you can take it home with you, but most people tape it on the wall, so there is a glorious gallery of self-portraits inspired by David Hockney, which, frankly, I found much more interesting than the portraits Hockney did himself.

Portraits inspired by Hockney
After taping my effort to the wall (it's the first one on the bottom left), I went downstairs to see where the controversial Judith II (Salomè) by Gustav Klimt had been hung. You regular readers will remember that when our billionaire mayor Luigi Brugnaro first came into office, he threatened to sell it to raise cash, causing all sorts of commotion.

Later, Brugnaro completely flipped his attitude and supported the painting -- it had a starring role in an exhibition called Around Klimt - Judith, Heroism and Seduction in the Candiani Cultural Center in Mestre on the mainland, with Brugnaro posing next to the painting. I wrote a post about it, which you can read here:

Klimt's Judith II (Salomè) Stars at Centro Culturale Candiani in Mestre (Venice)

After the exhibition ended, Judith returned to her home inside Ca' Pesaro, but in a more prominent location. I found Judith beautifully framed by a prominent doorway on the first floor, making her much easier to find.

Judith II (Salomè) by Gustav Klimt - Photo: Cat Bauer
So, if you are looking for pleasant tourists in Venice, head over to Ca' Pesaro. Not only will you be surrounded by civilized human beings, you will find many other sights for sore eyes, such as treasures by Chagall, Picasso, Kandinsky, Calder, Klee, Rodin, and many, many more.

The Oriental Art Museum is located, oddly, on the top floor of the palazzo (how it got up there is the subject for another post), and crammed with the priceless collection of Japanese art from the Edo period that Prince Henry, Count of Bardi hauled back to Venice from his travels to Asia from 1887 to 1889. The 30,000 exotic artifacts -- swords, daggers, silk-dresses, rare porcelain, Chinese art, Indonesian shadow puppets and more --  make the Oriental Art Museum another kid-pleaser.

Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, August 7, 2017

In Memory of Martin Roth - Under One Sun

Martin Roth - Photo: Under One Sun
(Venice, Italy) Martin Roth, one of the most dynamic museum directors on the planet, has died. I had the great good fortune to hear him speak on more than one occasion, so this news shocks and saddens me.

President of La Biennale di Venezia Paolo Baratta
remembers Martin Roth

Following the death of Martin Roth, President of La Biennale di Venezia Paolo Baratta remembers him with these words:

Martin Roth was an extraordinary man of culture endowed with a vital and visionary energy. The collaboration between La Biennale di Venezia and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which he directed until last year, was born in a climate of generosity and enthusiasm. We remember him with deep affection and appreciation”.

Martin Roth was born in Stuttgart in 1955. He served as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London from 2011 to 2016 and had been recently appointed President of the IfA, the German Institute of Foreign Relations.

Venice, August 7th, 2017

From The Guardian - Photograph: Nick Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock

From The Guardian:

Martin Roth, former V&A director, dies aged 62
First German to head major UK museum oversaw record visitor numbers but left V&A after disillusionment with Brexit vote

... Roth was the first German to head a major British museum, leaving the V&A in 2016 shortly after it won the museum of the year award. That victory meant that Roth, after five years in charge, could leave while the museum was on a high. However it was a decision also hastened by his disillusionment over the Brexit vote....

Under One Sun installation by Elvin Nabizade - Photo: Cat Bauer
Martin Roth was the co-curator of the Azerbaijan Pavilion for this year's Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition. The pavilion is entitled, "Under One Sun. The Art of Living Together, and you can find it in Palazzo Lezze in Campo Santo Stefano. Roth was passionate about different cultures coming together in harmony, and used the country of Azerbaijan, with its multicultural society, as an example of people who had mastered the art of living together in peace. "Azerbaijan is a perfect example of a complex society which promotes acceptance of different languages and cultural together mostly in harmony and equality..." Roth was criticized for working with the country, which has been described as "authoritarian."

Go to the Azerbaijan Pavilion for more information about the exhibition.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Back on October 17, 2014, I wrote a post entitled Top International Museum Directors Meet in Palazzo Ducale, Venice and highlighted what Martin Roth had to say:

Martin Roth, the Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, declared, "I believe in museums." He said a museum is never the same, and changes with the culture and politics. He said the V&A was a brilliant idea by Prince Albert, an ongoing World's Fair, and that a museum is an open institution for everyone; it belongs to us all -- from the taxi drivers, to the Queen, to the green grocer.

Since the UK has had such a huge influx of refugees, they have created exhibits to reflect those cultures -- "If you are a refugee, come to the V&A."

Roth said their Board of Trustees is completely independent, and he didn't like the US system where you buy yourself onto the Board. He said he had a friend in the US who was going to retire from a Board because it was "too dangerous." He said, "It's not supposed to be that way!"

Roth said the V&A was a local museum for a global audience, and that it attracted a lot of young people who came just to hang out. All museums in the UK are free. He said, "A museum is never a business, but you can run it business-like."
Click to read the entire post:

Top International Museum Directors Meet in Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Martin Roth made a deep impression on me. He was outspoken and courageous, with strong opinions and original thought that shocked the system. In a world that seems to have fallen asleep, I thought he was refreshing. Rest with the angels.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog