In between activism and parenting, teaching and serious things, some weeks we just go to the movies, or more specifically, to see our friends in the movies, or to support their battles over public space, or their art shows. Other afternoons, we just hang out in the park. And sometimes, along the way, we find things, treasures in the wreckage, strewn out, left out in the trash. The things we find here are many. If we look close enough, the city offers countless discoveries with their own secret histories.
I had always thought Christian was cool. He joined us for a world naked bike ride and a pies of march actions a few years ago.
|Christian and this author during the 2012 pies of march ride.|
|Christian and scenes from Interior: Leather Bar. Vito Russo hated the movie its based upon.|
|“Cruising Protest” by A.J. Epstein, showing a 1980 rally against the movie.|
I always thought he was pretty amazing. But then we saw him steal the show in Interior: Leather Bar. He seemed to eat up the screen, a defender of kink in this otherwise, limp homage to a film which maybe should have been forgotten. Billed as a reflection on some 41 lost minutes from the 1980 Al Pacino film Cruising, which Vito Russo famously zapped, Leather Bar comes off as more of a story about making a film than a film itself. While Leather Bar takes on a lost underground world, with countless devotees, it seems to gaze rather than attempt to understand. Vito Russo, the original film's greatest critic, loved sexuality and reveled in public sexual culture. For him, public sexuality was “a kind of promiscuous giving… loving all of humanity.” It opened spaces for Whitmanesque comradery. But it also drew something from him, leaving him sometimes depleted. Little of this sentiment can be found in Interior: Leather Bar.
Franco frames his film as a reflection on queer theory he studied at Yale under Michael Warner. As an activist, Warner was quick to point out the limits of homonormativity, noting that a "we're just like them" gay politics only supports a globalization steamroller flattening out communities of difference, such as those depicted in this film.
"The culture always holds out a bribe: Clean up your act and we'll tolerate you," Warner explained at the time. "But it's our messy act that we're fighting for in the first place, and anyone who accepts that bribe is going to lose."
With only a few minutes of the 41 lost minutes of the interior leather bar, a few of us wondered if he might put together an interior leather bar two, the lost 35 minutes dedicated to queer practices, rather than worrying about straight men’s hang ups about them. Others wondered about the lines between art and porn.
Watching the movie and its musings on the clash between straight men and queer bodies, art and porn, sexual practices and creative expression, I thought of a trip a to the museum of sex a decade ago. I penned a review for sexualities shortly after the trip.
“Just as, when paintings and sculptures were wrested from the churches and palaces of Europe and consigned to museums in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they acquired a newfound autonomy, relieved of their earlier functions, so now photography acquires its autonomy as it too enters the museum…” wrote Douglas Crimp on the Museum of Modern Art’s fiftieth anniversary. “Once there, photographs will never look the same” (Crimp 1989, p.6-7). It’s a point which lingers about the ephemeral and the raunchy images featured in New York’s new museum of sex, named “museumofsex,” and its inaugural exhibit “NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex in America.” “The history of sex survives in correspondence, arrest records, personal accounts, and other once neglected records, including photos deemed pornographic,” the curators explain. Thomas Painter’s intimate black and white images of scenes with friends in home and George Platt Lyon’s striking portraits of lovers from the early 1900’s – both at one time considered obscene, they now exist in a museum. Part of the show’s story is the journey of such images from context to context. When in Honcho, Robert Mappelthorpe’s or Jack Pierson’s photos read as porno; but when at the Whitney, they became high culture. The context changed, but the images did not. Building on years in vaudeville, Mae West brought the aesthetics of Greenwich Village gay men, Harlem dancers and Bowery prostitutes to her movie career. The result was a sensation. In a peep show, Little Egypt’s burlesque show read as smut to be zoned away; on Broadway, her show caught the city by storm. For New York’s first anti sex crusader, Anthony Comstock, the answer was simple: if a work is in a museum, it’s a piece of art; if it’s in a peep show, it’s smut and worth shutting down (Kendrick 1996, p.125-57). The result of his strained interest in the topic was a categorization and archive of the smut he sought to eliminate. Ironically, the curators note that Comstock’s documentation clearly featured in museumofsex, helped form a foundation for a history of New York sex. To a degree, the museum’s subject is the journey of images from the street to the camera, from porno shop to the art gallery, through the tributaries of low culture’s sticky corners toward high culture’s rarefied resting places. Cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer (1995/1963, p.1) does after all remind us, “Today, access to the truth is by way of the profane.”
Going to the movies in the West Village, it was most fun to see it with my friends. With a jaw which could cut glass, Christian stole the show. We laughed, hung out, and enjoyed a funny moment in time.
These trips out with friends make living here so rich.
Earlier in the day, Aresh, a friend from garden activism, was holding a press conference at Borough Hall in Brooklyn, for a lost community garden. The New York City Community Garden Coalition posted a picture of the garden last year at full bloom.
The NYCCGC pointed out THIS WHAT WAS LEFT OF THE GARDEN ON DECEMBER 28TH 2013 WHEN GREEDY DEVELOPERS AND THE BROOKLYN BOROUGH PRESIDENT ILLEGALLY BULLDOZED IT TO BUILD AN AMPHITHEATER:
JOIN THE NEW YORK CITY COMMUNITY GARDEN COALITION & THE CONEY ISLAND COMMUNITY
ON THE STEPS OF BROOKLYN BOROUGH HALL MARCH 5TH AT NOON
TO LET THE ELECTED OFFICIALS KNOW THAT THIS CANNOT STAND!
WE WILL FIGHT TO REBUILD BOARDWALK GARDEN!
WE WILL FIGHT TO STOP OTHER COMMUNITY GARDENS FROM THE SAME FATE!
TOGETHER WE CAN KEEP OUR COMMUNITY GARDENS!
TOGETHER LET’S SEND A MESSAGE TO THE BOROUGH PRESIDENT AND THE MAYOR:
STOP SELLING OUT TO DEVELOPERS!
At the press conference, a group of my students chanted, More Gardens, More Peas, New York City Has Got to Breathe!
These are people I have organized, fought, hung out, and enjoyed life with for years now. They make the narrative contours of the city more interesting every day, reminding us there are secrets in the blades of grass making their way up between the cracks in the concrete jungle. Yet, we have to have our eyes open to look for them.
Saturday after a week of such adventures, we walked around and went skateboarding in the Warren Street playground in Gowanus on our way to an art opening. And we discovered something.
Look at this skateboard, number two explained, holding a beaten up board without trucks. Earlier in the day, she’d gone to a party and not felt right about her stake board. Maybe this old board was just what she needed.
Smiling we agreed the next day, we’d go get her new trucks and wheels. So we went to a local skate shop.
“This is a Brian Anderson 3-D Board,” explained the guy at the store. It’s a great skateboard. He probably left it behind for just this reason. I do that with all my boards after a few months.
Hopefully, some other seven year old kid can find them.
Be inspired, and turn it into your own ride.
Get a helmet and go out and ride your neighborhood, right here he advised. And she did.
Turns out, Brian Anderson, who made the board we found has a thing or two to say.
I just wanna go on a trip in a car with my two homies and we’re gonna film everything and skate ditches and just have fun. I love every single person we traveled with but I think it’s rad to do something small. So we don’t have to be in a van with a whole bunch of people to get coffee and take a crap and go to Target and all that stuff. Just 3 of us, it’s just quicker and easier.
Filming and living, skating and painting, drawing and exploring the line between the museum and our lives, this is what makes the synchronicity of such moments wonderful.
After picking up the board, we rode to the show.
There, hanging on the wall, is an image of number two sitting under our table in a family portrait in Heather Weston’s at home show at the Invisible Dog studios. Weston had dropped by at 8 am on a Sunday morning a few years prior, snapping a candid family portrait, one of a series of thoughtful portraits of Brooklyn homes, families and the blurry lines between their lives, interior and exterior worlds.
|The Shepard's at Heather Weston’s at home show|
Weston's work was one part of a sprawling show.
I loved seeing Heather’s works, with the lights pouring in, mixing her stories, and the lives of her subjects in juxtaposition with the other works at the Invisible Dog and its narratives of ball players, art, skating and bodies in motion.
|Top Moses, who put the kibash on the Dodgers plans for staying in Brooklyn.|
Below Jackie Robinson and Jason Collins, breaking barriers and beating back the air of inevitability in Brooklyn.
Looking at the show, discovering lost treasures in the streets nearby, I was thinking, perhaps Brooklyn is finding its center again, even as it loses itself from time to time. It’s a bit of sacrilege to talk baseball here, given the infamy of the Dodgers untimely departure some sixty years ago. Yet, it wasn’t the Dodgers who left so much as Robert Moses who would not welcome them into a home at Flatbush and Atlantic, the space where basketball and trendsetting still takes shapes with Jason Collins jersies, which serve as blows against homophobia, selling just like Jackie Robinson jerseys once did. Moses wanted to put a stadium in Queens in the Center of New York City; a stadium and team soon followed after the Dodgers and the Giants departed. Its been a lot of years of Brooklyn being lost to cars and Robert Moses’ vision of urban dystopia. But for many of us, playing here, telling stories here, taking pictures and finding skateboards here. These experiences of gardens lost and found, of movies and skateboards, this is perhaps the making of a more abundant narrative, in which we beat back the inevitable feeling of loss which so often envelops those of us who live here.
Perhaps, just perhaps we are moving somewhere else beyond a last exit.