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Archive for April, 2004

Where was I again?

Dubya and Cheney work on getting their stories straight for tomorrow’s joint appearance before the 9/11 committee. If the press machinery worked in this country, there is no way on God’s Green Earth Bush would be allowed to bring along his compadre for help on this one, or that the two of them would be able to testify without any recorded transcription, particularly when you consider how President Clinton was treated during his Lewinsky testimony. Absolutely pathetic.

Keeping Secrets, Keeping Suspects.

Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick reports in on the Bush administration’s twin attempts before the Supreme Court to lock up US citizens and hide their shady energy deals indefinitely. Update: The Times and Post weigh in as well.

The Wrath of Kahn.

So, with the first slew of summer tentpole movies still over a week away (and, aside from Troy and possibly Spidey 2 and Azkhaban, it looks like a remarkably poor crop this year…Exhibit A: Van Helsing), I went over to check out My Architect: A Sons’ Journey at the Lincoln Cinemas last night. The documentary follows writer-director Nathaniel Kahn’s attempt to understand and come to terms with the life and work of his deceased prodigal father, Louis Kahn, who, besides being one of the more renowned architects of the postwar period, also kept up three different families and died anonymously and deeply in debt in a Penn Station bathroom in 1974. Mostly haunting, occasionally saccharine, My Architect succeeds inasmuch as it explores the mysteries of the father, but fails whenever it wallows in the emotional insecurities of the son.

The advertising copy for My Architect quotes a New York Magazine review deeming it a “Citizen Kane-like meditation,” and at its best moments the film does suggest comparison with that 1941 classic. Inveterate romantic, spiritual nomad, ill-tempered workaholic, and a scarred and often-anxious thinker obsessed with issues of permanence and legacy, Louis I. Kahn is a man of many, many layers, and much of the resonance of My Architect comes from seeing his friends, admirers, lovers, and enemies grapple with their still-powerful memories of him, twenty-five years after his death. The film might have benefited from a more dispassionate analysis of Kahn’s work — certainly not all of his buildings are masterpieces (the film does say as much about a U-Penn medical complex), and I thought his plans for redesigning downtown Philadelphia were particularly ill-conceived. (I’m all for reducing automobile traffic in urban areas, but it seems strange and off-kilter to commemorate the cradle of the republic with the type of primitivist ziggurat Kahn seemed to specialize in.) Still, one can hardly fault Kahn for erring on the side of eulogy when remembering his father in film.

What one can fault Kahn for, however, is the amount of time spent in My Architect on his own personal Oprah-esque mission of emotional acceptance. Particularly in the second hour, the movie takes long detours away from the architect’s portfolio to examine Nate’s relationship with his half-sisters or his cloudy memories of his dad’s hands. And, while I’m sure this is all very important to Nate Kahn, it’s frankly not very interesting to the viewer. In fact, I thought after a while that Kahn’s persistent presence — perhaps even mooning — in every interview or location detracted from our understanding and appreciation of his subject. For example, it’s hard to contemplate how Louis Kahn’s failure to build a synagogue in Jerusalem may have impacted the man when we have to sit through Nate cutely dropping his yarmulke over and over again.

Still, to be fair, this gripe, while a significant one, doesn’t kill the movie by any means. If it comes to your town, My Architect is well worth seeing as a study of one man’s struggle to achieve some kind of permanence during and despite a transient life, and how memories, like buildings, can both last forever and fall into disrepair.

Losin’ It.

Continuing his recent spate of bizarre pronouncements, Zell Miller calls for repeal of the 17th Amendment, as apparently the direct election of senators is the primary cause for the domination of special interests in Washington these days. Well, the principle of federalism aside, it’s hard to take seriously any such special interest prescription from a guy like Zell, who’s gone so far out of his way to prostrate himself before Dubya and his cadre of corporate cronies. Sorry Zell…it’s Miller time no longer.

No secrets to conceal.

“Popular culture usually comes to an end very quickly. It gets thrown into the grave. I wanted to do something that stood alongside Rembrandt’s paintings.” Via reader Jeff some time ago, Bob Dylan opens up about his songwriting process.

Wait ‘Til Next Year.

So, despite my earlier wishful thinking, the Knicks stunk up the joint, getting swept in the playoffs and being completely exposed as the one-dimensional squad they are by the high-flying New Jersey Nets. Sigh. Well, hopefully Isiah Thomas will be able to somehow coax a quality free agent to the Garden this summer, as I’m not feeling too good about rooting for Allan Houston’s banged-up knees and Tim Thomas’s incredible disappearing game for the next few years. But, in happier sports news, at least the Yankees are terrible

Viva the Vegas.

Flush with the success of the Kill Bills, Quentin Tarantino now threatens to make The Vega Brothers (being John Travolta of Pulp Fiction and Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs.) Hmm. I was hoping his next project would be something a little more focused and less derivative of his previous work, after all the cool-guy posturing that afflicted Kill Bill.

Purple Village People Eaters.

Evil unseen alien forces threatening rustic Americana…let’s hope they can handle water this time. Yep, it’s the trailer for the new M. Night Shyamalan movie. With Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, and a strange period vibe to it, I’d normally be quite enthused about The Village. But Signs was so lousy and self-absorbed that the bloom is off the Shyamalan rose, and this looks to me like more of the same. Plus, William Hurt has been phoning it in now for at least a decade, and he usually means the kiss of death for a film these days.

Artful Dodging.

Hey, even thespians have to pay the bills. Kenneth Branagh is apparently joining Mission Impossible 3 (presumably as a villain), with Tom Cruise and Carrie-Anne Moss. Meanwhile, over at a more interesting project. Ben Kingsley takes on Fagin in Roman Polanski’s upcoming version of Oliver Twist. Update: Scarlett Johansson also climbs aboard MI:3.

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