“when a voice is changing it has no time to find the body it is changing in” — Edwin Torres (poet)
“as long as we tell the truth we have no problem” — Milford Graves (musican)
The moody scientist with the eye patch over his left eye walks toward the bureau and turns on the stereo. It consists of two very modern-looking components. My guess is a tuner and receiver. What sounds like Vivaldi or Bach suddenly wafts through the room. The year is 1954. He’s here with his childhood sweetheart, now his ex, who—she has explained earlier to her new lover—always considered the scientist as more of a big brother to her. The scientist lost his eye in some terrible accident in the war, my guess the Bomb. The childhood sweetheart’s boyfriend and a reporter have just left. In a few moments he takes her to his laboratory. They enter, he picks up a small capsule with pincers and drops it into a tank filled with fish and, by the look on her face a few moments later, we know something awful has occurred. We learn much later that this is an invention of his called the “Oxygen Destroyer” and that it reduces everything to bone and is the only hope left to destroy the monster. He is a pacifist and resists using the Oxygen Destroyer, but later gives in, killing himself, the monster, and, I imagine, every other living entity in the sea. He takes his deadly secret with him.
The monster, of course, is the legendary Gojira—Godzilla to you. It’s his 60th anniversary—though no one ever really stated “he” was male—and at Film Forum I saw for the first time the original Japanese version sans Raymond Burr, fully restored with a great musical soundtrack. In fact, the entire movie is like a symphony with a great string section, full orchestra, and variations. Amazing. As the notes indicate, “to make room for Burr some 40 [essential to my mind] minutes were cut” to cover up the anti-A-bomb—and soon-to-be-detonated H-bomb—messages, plus other harsh realities of the time. Much of the music was cut as well. The score was written by Akira Ifukube and is itself a monster, and, believe it or not, that roar of Gojira’s was made by loosening the strings of a contrabass and rubbing them with a glove. Now if that ain’t modern I don’t know what is. It’s also said that electronic reverb units and big bass drums were used to create the monster’s footsteps. There are wonderful repetitive phrases for string quartet and orchestra, which pulse throughout the film, adding to the ominous action.
My wife, who is Japanese, insisted that we see it in its original form because it was made around the time she was born and was a big part of her history growing up, and I am certainly glad I did. A must-see even though I still can’t reconcile the guy in the “monkey” suit, which I learned is called “Suitmation,” and the shoddy special effects. But then we must think about when and under what circumstances it was made.
And speaking of monsters in suits: Anthony Braxton’s new four-act opera Trillium J (The Non-Unconfessionables), comes in many guises as it takes us on a wild ride through America’s history, distorted by greed, passion, murder, mystery, corruption, international terrorism, and domestic violence. With characters in beaver suits, rabbit suits, butterfly suits, turtle suits, vampire capes, antebellum gowns, and leotards, it’s a maddening romp from Scarlett O’Hara’s South during reconstruction, to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (with vampires thrown in), to an inside joke about Paul Desmond (I learned this from a dear friend Chris Jonas who more than capably manned the video). It details the rise of the railroads in America, land grabs, “nation building,” and just about everything that caused this country to go haywire. Above all, it shows that we are not innocent until proven guilty, but that we are guilty even as we claim our innocence, and that the evidence is stacked against us. It shows us how duped we are as it takes us from square dancing to Double Dutch (a standout section). It has everything: the oboe that ushers us in and out; the double orchestra of reeds, brass, and strings; two conductors; dancers.
Street talk mixes with Braxton’s sophisticated science/sci-fi/philosophical lingo, e.g. “composite poetics,” “polarity fake-out.” This is another of his big adventures and Braxton, as well as all members of the Tri-Centric Foundation and the other participants in this production, deserve kudos for their efforts. With all its dark humor and pathos, it is a mirror of/to the soul, of what we are and what we could, and yet should not, be. With Braxton, like with all seekers, art, if worthy of being called art, is constantly evolving.
As to my recent probing into mix and match, the latest effort, which worked wildly on many levels, was Tony Torn’s production of UBU SINGS UBU, which Torn describes as “a mash-up of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi and the music of Pere Ubu.” Torn, who co-directed and sang many of the songs, was sensational as Ubu. Ubu’s wife, played by Julie Atlas Muz, was also a “wow,” and the band a knockout.
In Visions of Mary Frank, also at Film Forum, we are steeped in New York’s bohemian and Beat era of the ’50s. Frank, a painter and the first wife of Robert Frank, takes us into her world then and now, accompanied by a soundtrack of Fado, Monk, Couperin, Shamisen, Zuni, Amram, Bach, Purcell, Erik Friedlander, and Greek Rebetiko. It is a film about the weight of painting, the history that surrounds her work, and vice-versa.
The 19th Vision Festival will take place June 11 – 15 at Roulette, with a great line-up. This year’s Lifetime of Achievement award will go to Charles Gayle. Check out the Arts for Art website for full details.
The other day I saw a guy sit on stage pretending he was Bukowski. He looked a bit like him, drank lots of beer, and for an hour and 15 minutes read Bukowski’s work and talked about “his” life. When it was over he stood, said something off-mike to the packed house, and left the stage. He walked toward the back where some guy threw a trench coat over his shoulders. He then split the Cornelia Street Cafe, jumped into a cab, and vanished. All during his performance I wondered if he felt like the guy in the Godzilla suit pretending to be a monster.
So have we learned anything since Godzilla’s timely release? Well other than not actually dropping another nuclear bomb, which can still happen, I’d say unequivocally: NO. The scientist proclaims in the last shot that as long as we keep testing nuclear weapons (acting like A-holes), there’ll be more Godzillas. Was he correct? I’d say so. Just look at how many sequels it’s spawned. We’ve spawned. So remember, keep your ears close to the radio and listen for those distress signals when they come in. That’s what I’m doing right now at 4 a.m. And what beautiful signals they are: The William Parker Bass Quartet with Sirone, Charles Gayle, Alan Silva, and Henry Grimes.
I dedicate this, as well as my heart, to the late Stephanie Stone, who passed away in April at age 93. She was the last of the fierce ones and a fountain of independence, music, and bravery. If you want to know more of her story come to Roulette on June 27 from 6 – 11 p.m., where artists, musicians, and speakers of every ilk, including Stephanie herself, will reveal, and revel in, this force of nature.