Hopping to Brooklyn Galleries on a Friday Night

Gallivanting to galleries with Kyle on a Friday night in Brooklyn. First went to Janet Kurnatowski’s gallery in Greenpoint for group show called Paperazzi w/a Wonder Wheel drawing variation of Kyle’s. Lots of great works on paper. Enjoyed chatting with David Ambrose whose mosaic-like painting mesmerizes. Then to spacious Life on Mars in Bushwick for show of lush paintings by Fran O’Neill w/work by Ben Pritchard in project room. Enjoyed the genial vibe in the busy borough.

Glad for Revival of THE REVENANT, a Great Adventure Novel

JANUARY 2016 UPDATE: Readers of this blog may recall my connection to The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, mentioned on this site a year ago in the post below, after I learned the book, originally published in 2002, was about to be reissued by a new publisher, the basis of a major motion picture. I saw the movie last weekend, and found it quite engrossing, even at more than 2 1/2 hours duration. The cinematography is exceptional, the acting quite believable, and the storytelling very powerful. I recall that author Michael Punke was already then having discussions about possible film adaptations, since the Glass story had already once been filmed, as “Man in the Wilderness,” with Richard Harris  and John Huston in 1971. Even so, over the years no film resulted, that until word came last year of the cinematic collaboration between Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s. As the credits rolled following the film last weekend, I saw that the production of course credited the book, though with a proviso I’d not seen before, stating that the movie was “Based in Part on the Novel by Michael Punke.” I imagine the wording was mutually agreed to between the author’s agent and the producers, because the two works do diverge. But I don’t criticize the filmmakers on that score, for as Punke himself wrote in an Historical Note at the end of the novel, the confirmed history surrounding Hugh Glass’s life is scant—little more is known for certain beyond the fact he lived, was a skilled tracker, was mauled by a grizzly bear during an 1823 expedition with the Rocky Mountain Fur Trading Company, following which he was left for dead by two of his likely companions, a miscreant named John Fitzgerald and a teenaged Jim Bridger; Bridger ultimately became a much more famous mountain man than Glass, with modern tourist sites in the Mountain West named after him. I’m pleased to see the movie is bringing more attention to the gripping novel, which is a bestseller in the Picador reissue. I’m also pleased to remind people about the book, since as the Obama administration’s Deputy Trade Representative to the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, Michael Punke is not permitted to directly promote his own commercial interests. I’m happy to stand in for him, then, as relatives of his have been doing at premieres of the movie, which has now garnered many Academy Award nominations.

When I was a retail bookseller with Undercover Books, this is exactly the sort of novel that we would read in advance galleys from the publisher, then order 50 copies, and sell them all in the book’s first month on sale. If you enjoy adventure tales, I recommend you read this one, a gripping survival story based on the life of a real American who traverses a great swath of the inter-mountain west in a quest for justice, less than 20 years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition had opened the region to exploration.

January 2015nant-front.jpg”>Revenant frontthe BN Review recently I was delighted to discover that one of the most engrossing novels I ever edited and published—The Revenant: A Novel of Revengehas been reissued and is being made in to a major movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who recently directed “Birdman.” The novel, by Michael Punke, was published in 2002, when I was an editorial executive at Carroll & Graf. It’s inspired by the epic life and adventures of a historical figure, Hugh Glass. He was a frontiersman and fur trapper who in 1823 was part of a westward expedition spanning what is today Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming. While foraging for game, away from the troop, Glass was attacked and severely mauled by a grizzly bear. Grievously wounded and bleeding, with the skin on his back nearly flayed off his torso, Glass was still conscious when his comrades found him. Believing that Glass would surely die soon, the leader of the troop ordered two men to stay with him until he expired, then bury him and catch up to the group. In the midst of this death watch, a band of Indians approached the camp, panicking the two men: they grabbed Glass’s rifle and hunting knife and fled. Deserted, defenseless, and enraged at being abandoned, Glass refuses to succumb to his wounds; he survives, determined to recover his weapons, vowing revenge on the men who left him to die. The novel is beautifully written and reads like a timeless adventure story. Talk about a film adaptation of the novel began years ago, and I’m delighted to see now it’s really happening, and with such a high profile team. Hugh Glass did inspire one earlier film, in 1971, when actor Richard Harris was cast as the Glass figure in “Man in the Wilderness,” a rather lurid and unexceptional movie. Punke’s telling of this epic saga, with Glass crawling and dragging himself across wild terrain until he was again able to walk, has all the elements for a great movie and I’m hopeful that is what the production will lead to.

Punke’s agent Tina Bennett submitted the manuscript to me soon after 9/11, an event and aftermath that I was close to, as the offices of Carroll & Graf and Avalon Publishing Group were only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. As I chronicled on this blog on Sept 11, 2012, in a post titled Remembering 9/11/01—Running Through a Dust Cloud in Lower Manhattan, the exertions of that day left me with nagging leg injuries that persisted for most of the year that followed. In fact, when I attended the book launch for The Revenant, held in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2002, I took the train from NYC using a cane to help me walk on a still-tender ankle.

Though novels don’t often have subtitles or reading lines, I suggested to the author that we use one here. We had quite an evocative title, though the word ‘revenant’ (a being that returns from the dead) was not then and still isn’t a widely familiar term. Glass’s odyssey seeking revenge and justice resonated powerfully with the spirit of the time, so “A Novel of Revenge” seemed the right way to position the book for readers. The publisher reissuing the book now is Picador, part of Macmillan, and I’m glad to see in online listings they’ve chosen to retain the reading line. Interestingly, they’ve reissued the novel in hardcover, not paperback, a somewhat unusual choice for a book published more than a decade ago, though perhaps a sign of the publisher’s confidence in its continuing relevance.

Michael Punke has written two nonfiction books in the years since 2002, both in Western history, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 and Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West. The book launch for The Revenant was in DC because Punke worked for a law firm there. Among the hosts at the party was a mentor and colleague to Punke, Mickey Kantor, a lawyer involved in international trade who’d served as chair of the Clinton campaign for president in 1992. Punke now works as President Obama’s Deputy United States Trade Representative and US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. According to this article in Maxim, his ability to engage in promoting his books is very limited by his sensitive position in the federal government. I’m very glad to know that Michael Punke’s first book is coming back in to print, and that a movie is in the works. We have been in touch occasionally over the past decade, and I’m pleased that I have so much good news to congratulate him about when we’re next in touch. Above is the front and below the back cover of the paperback edition of The Revenant from 2003.Revenant back


Katherine Bradford, “Shelf Paintings” at Arts + Leisure, till Dec 14

Katherine Bradford, "Shelf Paintings" catalogKyle and I had lots of fun amid the lively crowd that gathered at Arts + Leisure gallery for the opening of  “Shelf Paintings,” an exhibit of new work by one of our favorite painters, Katherine Bradford. These are colorful object paintings that employ dimensionality with a shelf projecting out at the bottom, with other structural elements arrayed in them. Kyle and I had earlier seen Bradford’s 2012 exhibit at Edward Thorp Gallery, which was also full of terrific paintings. Kyle wrote about that show for the Left Bank Art blog and over the past couple years we have continued to find her work irresistible and enjoyable, not missing a chance to see her work. Below are pictures from last night’s reception at the very convivial Arts & Leisure, located along Lexington Avenue at 101st St, on Carnegie Hill, on the southern edge of El Barrio. It was a pleasure meeting and making many old and new friends, including Shari Mendelson, Rick Briggs, JJ Manford, Elisa Soliven, and David Rich; Donald Cameron and Nick Lawrence of Arts & Leisure; and of course, Katherine Bradford herself, who inscribed a copy of the full-color catalog for Kyle. If you like what you see here of Bradford’s work, go to Arts & Leisure where the exhibit will be up until Dec 14. Also, you can read Kyle’s essay on the 2012 exhibit, and the informative release/essay posted on Arts & Leisure’s site, accompanying “Shelf Paintings.”

Growing up w/Ghoulardi, Cleveland’s Great Horror Movie Host

Ghoulardi, Tom Feran and R. D. HeldenfelsThe favorite scary character of my youth was the TV prankster Ghoulardi (real name Ernie Anderson, the father of film director Paul Thomas Anderson). The interesting doc here—based on the 1997 book, Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland’s Wildest TV Ride, brought out by Gray & Company, an enterprising Cleveland publisher doing books of local interest—shows how Hollywood studios’ rediscovery and repackaging of their old horror classics for local TV stations in the late 1950s and early ’60s prompted many local TV stations to program horror movie shows, often known by names such as “Shock Theater.” In Cleveland, where I grew up, we were fortunate to have one of the most colorful and interesting of these early horror film hosts. Ghoulardi. Watching him during my childhood, though it be would be many years until I ever heard the term “meta,” I instinctively loved how he inserted himself in to whatever monster or horror film he was showing, somehow putting his own image on to the TV screen, jousting with, say, “Cyclops,” trying to subdue the creature with his a cane and rancorous insults. His outrageous schtick—in a a gray sweatshirt and scraggly goatee, with dangling cigarette-holder—made him an early iconoclast of ’60s pop culture. Ghoulardi was a kind of low-rent Professor Irwin Corey, if you remember “The World’s Foremost Authority,” some before years Corey, turning 100 this year, took his act to the Tonight Show.

As with the attempted bans of comic books, chronicled in David Hadju’s Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America, Ghoulardi was condemned by goo-goo parental groups who tried getting him off the air. Despite this, his usual Friday night slot, coming after local news, around 11:30pm, grew to include a Saturday afternoon show. The decency crowd might have succeeded in sidelining him, during this pre-cable era, with only three TV stations in Cleveland, but he was so popular with kids, and his audience was so large, there was no way the station would’ve dropped his show in its prime.  When Ghoulardi did finally go off the air, it was because Anderson moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in TV with his longtime pal, and earlier sidekick, Tim Conway, later of “McHale’s Navy.”

Carving Space w/Esme Boyce Dance in “Dark and Pretty Flat”

Esme Boyce DanceHad an enjoyable time last night at “Dark and Pretty Flat,” a dance performance and multimedia presentation put on by Esmé Boyce Dance. The series of eight linked pieces flowed seamlessly from one to the next against a rolling video backdrop, of wooded roadsides and watery depths; atmospheric guitar playing, both live and looped; and spoken word poetry. The four dancers, in costumes that bore a wood grain texture in gray and peach hues, were sometimes on the floor all together, in pairs, or solo. Carving space with their articulate arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, and toes, they supplely shifted their weight in to rolls across the floor and shoulder tucks that brought them in to very near proximity with their own torsos, or those of fellow dancers. It was a world premiere, with all the pieces choreographed by Esmé Boyce. Beside directing her eponymous company, she collaborates with the Satellite Collective and is a member of Janis Brenner & Dancers. Other collaborators were: video artist Cody Boyce, Esmé’s brother, music and poetry; actor Ted Levine, reader; architectural designer Chat Travieso, set designer; artist Sue Julien, the two Boyce’s mother, costume designer—she chose the wood grain fabric, and cut the costumes as supplely as the dancers moved.

The performance was at a lower east side combined theater and bar venue Dixon Place, a new one to me. Entering at 161A Chrystie St, between Rivington and Delancey, you walk in on a narrow bar, while small tables, chairs and sofas and a tiny stage are in the back. In that rear area is a stairway down to the basement where there’s a large theater, with upwards of 50 seats in banked rows. As a New Yorker for nearly thirty years, it still fascinates me to discover spaces like this, caverns tucked away beneath the rumbling streets and subways, renovated and built out for creative endeavors. The establishment has a great vibe, whether upstairs or down. It was particularly nice to see Kit Boyce, friend of many years, husband of Sue Julien, father to Esmé and Cody, friends who I first met in Chicago, in the years I regularly went there to visit Franconia College classmate Robert Henry Adams.

After the dances, the full house walked back up the stairs for an instant after party in the bar and seating area. Bouquets were presented to the dancers—Esmé’s mates were Giulla Carotenuto, Kit McDaniel, and Christopher Ralph—and toasts were offered all ’round. I hadn’t been to a dance performance in years, and I found it an aesthetic pleasure to see movement, color, fabric, sound, and light all played to such intriguing effect. There’s one more performance of “Dark and Pretty Flat” tonight. I recommend it highly, or take yourself out to some dance soon.Dark and Pretty Flat

W.C. Fields Photographed by Steichen

“TURN: Washington’s Spies”—Currently My Favorite TV Show

Turn AMCI’ve been engrossed with AMC’s Revolutionary War historical/spy drama TURN since it began airing last winter. After a few months watching it every Sunday night at 9pm I learned that the historical source material for the show’s writers is WASHINGTON’S SPIES: The Story of American’s First Spy Ring, a 2006 Simon & Schuster book I just got a copy of at my NYPL branch. It’s by Alexander Rose, a writer educated at Cambridge now living in NYC. His well-paced narrative centers around the key espionage ring of the Colonial Army, the Culper Ring, for which American officers recruited civilian agents to operate undercover, in New York City, and behind enemy lines, to gain valuable information on Tory movements and their forces in NY, CT, and NJ. One seaside town, Setauket, on Long Island, is a strategic spot, where many British troops were billeted in the homes of uneasy locals, and where Abraham Woodhull lived, one of the ring’s most important members.

Washington's Spies, Alexander RoseThe thing I appreciate about the book and the program is how they both make clear that—given the advantages of training, manpower, and firepower enjoyed by the Redcoats—espionage was one of the few ways for the Americans to neutralize those advantages, and capitalize on the greater knowledge they had of local geography, nearby villages, and the residents of those towns. Having seen all ten episodes aired so far, and now reading the book, I’m amazed how close to history the program is tracking—with many of the scenarios and most of the main characters present in both. After a full season of 10 episodes, AMC renewed it for a second season, and I expect the show will resume early in 2015. Meantime, AMC is re-airing all Season I episodes beginning this Saturday night, August 2 at 10pm, right after another AMC historical series, Hell on Wheels, about the building of the transcontinental railroad. Here’s AMC’s own description of TURN and below that three more show photos with cast.Washington's Spies back cover

“A character-driven drama set during the Revolutionary War, TURN: Washington’s Spies takes us behind the battlefront to a shadow war fought by everyday heroes who vowed to keep their heroics a secret. Based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s SpiesTURN: Washington’s Spies centers on Abe Woodhull, a farmer living in British-occupied Long Island who bands together with a disparate group of childhood friends to form the Culper Ring. Together they risked their lives and honor and turned against family and king for a fight they believed in passionately, ultimately helping George Washington turn the tide of the Revolutionary War in favor of the rebels. Their daring efforts also revolutionized the art of espionage, giving birth to modern spycraft as we know it today, along with all of the moral complexity that entails.” 

Help Support Photographer Harvey Wang’s Upcoming Book, “From Darkroom to Daylight”

Harvey Wang is a photographer I admire, whose 2011 exhibit at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum I covered for this blog.Wang exhibit post

Wang had told me about a book he’s writing that chronicles the transition in photography from the darkroom era to the digital age we’re in now, and today I was glad to learn of a Kickstarter campaign he’s running to support publication of the book, which I tweeted about after contributing. Below, you can view a video about the book, and contribute to the Kickstarter via this link. The campaign is running one more week, until July 30.