Czech Dream – a hoax reviewed
The Czechs got punked in this smart and funny documentary set in 2003 Prague. It was created by two film students, who get government support to create the documentary. Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) introduces the film. He says admiringly, “I wish I’d thought of it.”
The two filmmakers (Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda) go through the elaborate process of launching a new hypermarket for the shopping-crazed Czechs (who still remember waiting in long lines for basic necessities in the Communist era). Vit and Filip, as the store managers, get personal makeovers, pose for corporate portraits, and work with the local office of a well-known global advertising agency (BBDO). The agency (they’re in on the hoax) creates logos, signage, clever anti-consumerist advertising, giant billboards, flyers, even fake product labels for house-branded products. The campaign teases about the nature and location of the hypermarket, named Czech Dream (Cesky Sen) as a result of a focus group process.
The film ties in with the 2003 Czech Republic referendum on the question of joining the EU. The referendum passed with 77 percent of the votes and the country joined the EU in 2004. The political overtones of the film are probably more apparent to Czechs than they may be to viewers today.
On opening day, May 31, 2003, thousands of people gather hours before the store opening. Fencing keeps them a long hike from the colorful and massive storefront, which they can view in the distance. Finally, after long opening ceremonies and a bungled ribbon-cutting, the crowd is allowed to enter. The crowd trudges across the field toward the store, including families with baby carriages, and elderly people using canes and walkers.
When they get there, they find it is a Potemkin village. A storefront with nothing behind it.
The reactions of the prospective customers are most interesting. Some are really angry. Some blame the government. Some get the joke and enjoy it.
Both filmmakers have continued to make films in the Czech Republic since then. They must have learned a lot about audiences from this process – and so will you.
Pussy Riot, A Punk Prayer – an activist’s review
We’ll stay in eastern Europe for this 2013 film: a profile of the feminist performance-art collective known as Pussy Riot, which premiered on HBO this week. Because of their February 2012 performance on the altar of a Moscow church, a protest against Putin’s reelection, they were arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced to two years in a penal colony.
Nadia and Masha are still serving prison terms; Katia’s sentence was suspended and she was released. They have become poster children for free speech all over the world. They are activists who use art to communicate and bring about political action. They were defiant to the end. “Come and taste freedom with us,” was Nadia’s closing remark at the trial.
In the film, religious people tell the filmmakers how much they were offended, even insulted, by Pussy Riot’s protest on the altar. Russia supposedly is a secular state with a secular constitution, according to one of the defense lawyers. But they were charged with blasphemy. Katia’s sentence was suspended because she had not actually done anything on the altar; she was taken away by police before being able to perform. She continues the Pussy Riot activities while Nadia and Masha serve their terms.
Pussy Riot has many more members who demonstrated in Moscow wearing neon-colored balaclavas and tunics. One of their early protests was “kiss a cop.” The documentary shows video of members attacking Moscow police with kisses. The day of the sentencing, many protestors wearing trademark balaclavas protested around the trial site. Their protests involved climbing on to the court building, shouting and singing their political messages and punk lyrics.
I wrote about Pussy Riot last fall and showed this photo of the three defendants; Nadia is wearing her No Pasaran shirt. @free pussy riot is on Twitter and has a multilingual website http://www.freepussyriot.org To my great joy, #nopasaran is a trending hashtag on Twitter, almost 70 years after the Spanish Civil War.
The Chicago Design Museum has a varied exhibition on graphic design titled Work at Play, part of the Pop-Up Art Loop project. The exhibit includes work by four major designers and a collective of 12 contemporary designers. You can see it until June 30 in a raw temporary display space on the third floor of the Block 37 building, 108 N State St.
My review at gapersblock.com notes that the exhibit honors the work of John Massey, a famous Chicago designer best known as the director of design and communications at the late great Container Corporation of America and the founder of the CCA Center for Advanced Research in Design.
Read my review at gapersblock.com.
The city of Chicago opened a new temporary park called Gateway to the Loop right in the middle of State Street yesterday — on the median between Wacker Drive and Lake Street. It’s a great place to savor your Starbucks, meet a friend for a brown bag lunch, or just kill time being an urban person. It’s really quite charming.
Photo credit: Nancy Bishop
My newest article on gapersblock.com is about a theater director who moved to Chicago from Charlotte, NC, to find a more challenging and dynamic theater scene. As you may know, I have a strong North Carolina connection. I’ve been there many times to spend time with my son, his beautiful lawyer wife and their two darling cherubs. I’ve spent time mostly in Greensboro but also in Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh and Charlotte. I know a little about the arts scene in Charlotte from my time with the giant law firm that has an office there. And I’ve been to a whole bunch of Bruce Springsteen concerts in North Carolina since 2002. (Greensboro is one of my favorite places to see Bruce; the audiences there are great!)
I met Jim Yost, the director, when I attended his current production, Orange Flower Water, at the Raven Theatre a few weeks ago. (The play is a co-production of Jim’s company, Barebones Theatre Group, with his new Chicago company, Interrobang Theatre Project.) You can see a link to my review on the right. I thought his move to Chicago from Charlotte might make an interesting feature for Gapers Block, the website about everything Chicago. So Jim and I had a good conversation recently in my office away from my home office, a Panera Cafe, and the story, in interview form, went up today.
It’s been years since I recorded an interview, transcribed it and turned it into a story. (I did that a lot earlier in my career.) It’s not a quick process, as any writer will tell you. But it’s a rewarding one — and getting the subject’s voice and style just right in the interview is important.
So here’s the story of Jim Yost and his move north to Chicago. His closing remark, which I didn’t put in the story? “I really love Chicago, except for the winter.” I told him he would get used to it. That’s why stores sell mittens, earmuffs, scarves and big puffy jackets.
(Photo courtesy of Interrobang Theatre Project.)
Ka-Tet Theatre is presenting a very interesting, dark and challenging play at the Athenaeum. Smudge by Rachel Axler is a 90-minute odyssey from ultrasound to reality. Here’s the beginning of my review at gapersblock.com.
It’s a prospective parent’s worst nightmare: Will our baby be perfect? A missing finger or toe and many congenital diseases can be adapted to or treated, but in Smudge, Ka-Tet Theatre asks us to think about how we would deal with an even more dramatic birth–an infant that may not be quite human.
— *** —
Please read the review here. And check out this play for a rewarding evening of theater from one of our interesting small theater companies.
Stevie Chadwick Lambert (with Mr Limbs) and Scott Allen Luke. Photo by Andrew Cioffi
A hipster string quartet, a madman drummer* – and the inimitable Corky Siegel, collapsing on his back in an ecstasy of harmonica playing. That was the culmination of an evening with Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues last weekend at the Mayne Stage.
Siegel is a well-known Chicago blues musician — harmonica and piano player – who has been playing in various Chicago venues since 1964. You might have seen him years ago at Pepper’s Lounge on 43rd Street, where blues masters such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy played. Corky connected with guitarist Jim Schwall in the ‘60s and they played regular gigs there and toured and recorded as the Siegel-Schwall band into the 1970s; they still play today and have current dates on the concert schedule.
For the last 25 years, Siegel has been working on a hybrid kind of blues – combined with classical chamber music. Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues plays several concerts in this area every year and travels the country and the world with this vibrant blues genre.
Last weekend I saw him at the Mayne Stage on Morse Avenue in Rogers Park. That’s a great venue with excellent acoustics and sight lines. If you pay a little more for “reserved” tickets, you’ll sit at a small café table on the main floor.
The concert opened with Siegel introducing the string quartet – two violins, viola and cello – to play two numbers, one of them from the Turtle Island Quartet. About that time, Frank Donaldson, the madman drummer, arrived to kneel at his tablas, bongos and other percussion instruments. Siegel came out soon after and the band began to rock in a series of jazzy blues numbers with some vocals by Siegel. The setlist is mostly original compositions by Siegel, many with names like Opus 14, 16, 17.2, 8 and 4 (half of 8).
The band played for about 90 minutes, then came back for a short encore, during which Siegel played a rousing piano solo, eventually joined by all the other musicians chiming in at the keyboard.
The musicians are all excellent and charming performers, who seem to be having as much fun as the audience. Violinist Chihsuan Yang gets some amazing percussive sounds by fingerpicking her strings. Her fellow violinist Aurelien Fort-Pederzoli played a marvelous solo with Siegel. Violist Dave Moss and cellist Jocelyn Butler add great depth to the classical/blues sound. And drummer Donaldson adds percussion in amazing ways, including a mystifying hand-slapping chorus. (Mystifying because I couldn’t figure out how he did it.) Plus he has a never-ending series of percussive instruments that add great fun to the music. (I’m a sucker for drummers. If I ever run away from home, it will be with a drummer.)
The next local date right now for the Chamber Blues experience is Saturday, September 28, at the Beverly Arts Center. I’ve alerted you. Don’t miss it.
*Springsteen fans will recognize that phrase from Bruce’s early era of cramming as many syllables as possible into a lyric line.
Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat
In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat
With a boulder on my shoulder, feelin’ kinda older I tripped the merry-go-round
With this very unpleasing sneezing and wheezing the calliope crashed to the ground
Some all-hot half-shot was headin’ for a hot spot snappin’ his fingers clappin’ his hands
And some fleshpot mascot was tied into a lover’s knot with a whatnot in her hand
And now young Scott with a slingshot finally found a tender spot and throws his lover in the sand
And some bloodshot forget-me-not whispers, “Daddy’s within earshot, save the buckshot, turn up the band”
“Blinded by the Light” from Springsteen’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Nancy, the theater junkie, has been checking out local offerings lately. See my reviews of two new plays on Chicago stages at gapersblock.com. I recommend both. They’re interesting and enjoyable theater evenings.
Orange Flower Water: Breaking apart two families … at Interrobang Theatre Project
Orange Flower Water is a wrenching marital drama where the bed is the heart of the matter, both literally and metaphorically. The bed is the centerpiece of each scene, with quick changes of covering signaling changes of venue. The four characters are two couples who live in the same neighborhood and whose children play soccer together. One of the partners in each couple wants to end their marriages. James Yost, in his first Chicago directorial outing, directs this smartly written play by Craig Wright, author of television scripts written for “Six Feet Under,” “Lost,” “Brothers & Sisters,” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”
Please continue reading this review and see ticket info at the end. Orange Flower Water runs through June 9 at the Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N. Clark St.
Speech & Debate speaks to a wide audience … at American Theatre Company
Group interpretation, original oratory, extemporaneous commentary. These are some of the graphic titles projected to introduce new scenes throughout Speech & Debate at American Theatre Company (ATC). That may sound like a yawnfest for speech majors but in the hands of four talented performers, they signal funny but searing explorations of teenagers trying to sort out their identities. This is doubly tough in an era where online activities further complicate the growing-up process.
Please continue reading this review and see ticket info at the end. Speech & Debate runs through June 23 at American Theatre Company, 1909 W Byron at Lincoln Ave.