CITIES NEAR AND DEAR TO ME THREATENED

With natural and manmade disasters erupting places near and dear to me, this week my city observed commentary on public radio 99.1 KB, and select websites everywhere, goes plural: it is cities observed.

Most immediate is my vulnerable Malibu, and the peninsula of Point Dume , where we live overlooking a shimmering Santa Monica Bay. Smoke from the nearby raging fires wafted in the skies above, but it was, is, safe. For now!

Hurricane hot winds whipped trees, and lifted the heavy planters into the pool, but no real damage was done, except to the Bromeliads I cultivate. We were made safer just weeks prior by our abiding long time neighbors, the Harringtons, cutting down a threatening pine tree, that had been shedding flammables on our property.

Those Pines and Eucalytus trees can be explosive torches, which some of Malibu’s misanthropes don’t seem to recognize, or care, despite the fire department warnings. As for our neophyte local government, it makes pronouncements, but prefers to sit idly by and let others the heavy lifting when it comes to the safety, and welfare of residents.

Not so safe was my former back woods community of creek side homes for which I was once a board director, on leased forest lands in the mystical Matilija Canyon north west of Ojai.

Located at the dead end of a long twisting road, it was evacuated in the Thomas fire that encircled and scorched bucolic Ojai. According to maps of the fire, the canyon community and our former cabin seems to have survived.

Not so lucky was large swaths of Ventura County, where hundreds of thousands of acres were burned and hundreds of homes lost. The fire continues only partially contained.

Another city very much on my mind these days is Jerusalem, roiling one again, as it has for most of its turbulent 3,000 year history, this time no thanks to our the impolitic announcement of our impolitic president.

We were actually suppose to be there now for the holidays, to celebrate my birthday in nearby Jordan, at the ancient remnants of the city of Petra, and of course, be in Jerusalem, to meet with the extended family, pay homage in Yad Vashem to our holocaust victims, place a prayer in the holy Western Wall, and, ecumenical us, go to Bethlehem Christmas eve,

Though I wont be able to insert the pieces of paper the prayer was written on, I can disclose it was, ironically, a plea for peace, good will, and health and happiness to all this holiday season. I hope someone is listening.

 

STAR ARCHITECTURE REVISITED

My goodness. Look what FB dug out of my past postings, and ran as a memory. Gehry is history, but it makes for a provocative and relevant read:

December 12, 2015 · Malibu ·
A slightly updated posting, in response to some comments received regarding my frank commentary on the Frank and Paul embrace: it’s really not about designing buildings, but rather about being a celebrity. Architecture is sadly secondary:

I don’t think it’s cynical to state that the noble pursuit of designing spaces and places for human endeavor is being corrupted by the cult of star architecture.

From my long tenure as an urban design critic, I see the scramble among a select gaggle of professionals to be anointed, as increasing insidious and insistent, and the effect on architecture students depressing.

This is no thanks in part to a celebrity obsessed media, and so I declare in my weekly commentary for 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net and on cityobserved.com. and other websites.

And so we have tomes such as Paul Goldberger’s “Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry,” reading more like “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, with architecture as a social art subsumed by the architect as a social animal.

If anything, the read reveals Goldberger’s transition from when he was a solid, if not stolid, critic in his early years for the New York Times, and then the more fastidious New Yorker, to his present vain-glorious gazing at Vanity Fair, the glare unfortunately compromising.

As for the ever-grasping Gehry, noted is his transition from an aspiring architect of modest talent, to a self-aggrandizing, celebrity-schmoozer who sadly believes his own press clippings, and the finger to whomever doesn’t.

But Gehry with the gift of a grifter does know how to massage the media, as evidenced by Goldberger’s undiscerning biography, and clients as well, as evidenced by his hyped designs. Little is heard from the users, their advocates or the affected communities.

Granted, it is hard to blame some of the architecture elite for manipulations, given the competition in the profession for deep pocketed clients and prominent projects promising yet more publicity.

It is very much a merry, merry-go-round, unless of course it is not, and one fails to grab the gold ring, and hang on, resulting in what might be labeled, professional envy.

Also, running an office is expensive, especially when the principals have to be out and about pontificating at endless forums and glad handing clients, while the actual designs are being produced by the talent in the back rooms.

I recall it was the august Philip Johnson, who was to the manor born, commenting that to be a successful architect, as he was in his time, you had to be a whore.

It is all very depressing, if you think of the effect it has on conscientious peers with a trace of talent and good intentions, desperate for attention, if not a little love, while trying to piece together a practice.

The bad books they have written about themselves and the mountains of monographs documenting their projects tend to be embarrassing, even if just circulated among family, friends and clients.

Still, hope springs eternal, and I appreciate and embrace design. When focused on those who will actually be affected by the crafting of spaces and places – the users– it can elevate the human experience.

“SOMETHING ROTTEN” ROCKS

If you love musicals, but not too much so as not to be amused by their being abused, in good fun, of course.
 
And if you love Shakespeare, but also not too much so as not to be offended to have him paraded as a rockstar of the of the waning 16th century, then you’ll love “Something Rotten”.
 
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere , a hit several years ago on Broadway , the musical is now in full blown production at the Ahmanson in the Music Center downtown through the end of the year,.
 
And indeed as in New York, it is a extravaganza, a BIG musical, delivered by a high kicking dance, and high note singing chorus, ever ready it seems to allow the ensemble’s leads to skip and shuffle off stage to catch their breaths.
 
And that also gives the audience a moment to intermittingly stand and cheer, as they did opening night. Obviously, there was a lot of fans and family present.
 
Their enthusiasm echoed the cast’s enthusiasm, staring Rob McClure as Nick Bottom, a struggling writer in the shadow of a supercilious Shakespeare, played to perfection by Adam Pascal. Blake Hammond as the soothsayer Nostradamus deserves a shout out, as does Josh Grisetti.
 
Actually, the whole cast of dozens is deserving, deftly directed and choreographed by Casey Nicolaw, the stage design and lighting , and the costumes ,just fine. All meld magnificently.
 
But if there is problem, at least from this critic’s perspective, it is the story line. Shakespeare envy is just too broad, not very subtle, and the dialogue , sophomoric,: cute but not clever.
 
However, the show numbers mostly were clever, jazzed up parodies of hits of the past. There were winks at “Wicked.” a nod to “Chicago,” a sharp elbow to “Pippin,” a mention of “Cats.” all jogging the memory and prompting smiles.
 
It was in sum a rollicking evening, especially for show musical lovers, so allow me to end with a purloined a line from Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, “All’s well, that ends well.
 
And to be sure, “Something Rotten,” does end well and you’ll leave the Ahmanson smiling.

LACMA DESIGN DISASTER STIRS AN “OUTRAGE”

“You will be outraged,” declared the one line email I recently received heading the attachment from Los Angeles County detailing a Draft Environmental Report for 5900 Wilshire Boulevard.http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/index.html)

AS I comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere, the draft report details the demolition of the existing core buildings of the landmark L.A. County Museum of Art and replacing them with a smaller smattering of pavilions in the shape of a biomorphic blob sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard.

To be sure, a heat absorbing accretion is not particularly environmentally sensitive. Neither is demolishing nearly a half million square feet of existing construction composing LACMA that could more efficiently recycled, to say nothing of the toxics such as PCBs that might be released. And there are other environmental and health concerns.

The present LACMA might be fractured and flawed, a clutter of galleries and clashing styles, and does need better maintenance and graphics, as well as circulation. But it can and does work for viewing art, which, really, is what a museum is about.

And not mentioned in the draft report is that when all costs are calculated, it will probably cost a billion dollars and take at least five years to complete. That is a long time for the public to have to suffer makeshift exhibition spaces, and limited programs. Need we be reminded that this is a public institution, not a private social club for deep-pocketed patrons.

This protracted public problem also most likely will be after the glad-handing perpetuators of this colossal boondoggle are gone on to new hustles and fraudulent fame.

Just think how that monies could be better spent, such as eliminating all entrance fees, underwriting arts curriculum, and sponsoring artists housing.

A start would be putting a lid on the project’s consulting fees and excessive expenses being run up by the museum’s smarmy Michael Govan and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

So, today I observe with a sickening sense of dread what I know, if allowed to be built, is going to be a social, environmental and architectural disaster, a landmark to be mocked for the ages, a bad L.A. joke.

Yes, the trusted writer of the email I received, a journalist experienced in the willful ways of civil serpents and shadow governments, was right: I am outraged. And you should be, too, if it will make any difference in a world increasingly being manipulated by an egomaniacal, elitist autocracy.

In this instance it is our elitist locals orchestrated by Govan and sycophants, who have blatantly hustled the County Board of Supervisors, LACMA being a county project.

But supervisors Sheila Keuhl, Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger can stop the project, especially now in the environmental review phase. The public has until December 15 to comment, in writing, fax or email, or attending one of several public hearing. Details are available by clicking here. (http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/files/NOA.pdf)

May democracy prevail.

 

 

SETTING A TABLE AT CITY HALL FOR THE HOMELESS

As I comment in my weekly city observed segment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, Thanksgiving Weekend could not be a better time to review the controversy over feeding the homeless roiling Malibu, and add a voice to the recommendation to have the forsaken dinners served at City Hall.

As noted by a growing concerned, articulated by the ever right-on Janet Katz, it is a building owned by all of us, has a kitchen, the space, and is away from homes and schools where the presence of a few of the more downtrodden make locals uneasy.

Though I must say it is sometimes hard to distinguish the difference between the homeless and others roaming through Malibu. These include deep pocket patients paying megabucks a day at our many rehabs, the party animals renting an AirBnB, and your next door neighbor’s hipster child.

As for City Hall, hosting the meals for the homeless there, that can happen almost immediately, so the hungry can be fed while the ego involved locals search their souls.

After all, it was in a temporary City Hall where the laudable SOS initiated the meals 17 years ago. With the churlish nipping at its heels, the meals eventually moved to Webster School, until a few privileged parents protested.

It then asked to go back to City Hall, but was turned down by leaders there who were too busy selling the city’s soul to developers to concern themselves with the homeless who do not obviously make political contributions.

There was a brief stay at Malibu Pres, until some members protested, prompting the move to the Methodist Church.

It felt at home there for several years, embraced by the Methodist theology of charity in the now. That is until recently when a few parishioners and neighbors protested, putting to test the faith of the elders, and the good will of the powers-that-be.

Whatever spin those involved may give, the fact is soon after meals at Methodist were ended. Particularly sad was the abrogating the teachings of the church, and the weak knee explanations by the mayor and mayor pro tem.

No, they nor the city ordered an end to the meals. After all; they had no authority. But they did strongly suggest it, and then fudged it as a miscommunication. Clearly they were complicit, and for them to be contrite, frankly, was ingenuous.

The very least the Mayor can do is use what waning influence he has to open up City Hall for the meals, now; have the full council bless it; and the city manager make it happen without the usual petty procrastinations.

 

CELEBRATING THE RENAISSANCE AT THE GETTY

Thanksgiving is over, and a good time to push away from the table, get out of the house and go somewhere different, very different if you can.

I personally would like to go back to Italy, way, way back , to the Renaissance, though not as a lowly plebeian, as I comment in my weekly arts and entertainment observed on public radio KBU 99.1 and select websites everywhere.

No, I would want to be an artist. I’d leave being a cultural critic to others; it had its social and economic limitations, then, as it does now.

Prompting this time travel fantasy are several exhibits at the always engaging Getty, which being in nearby Brentwood I’ve come to regard as the local cultural center. And it’s free.

So if you are a skeptic and don’t believe in being whisked back in time and place, you, like me, also can go the Getty, and at least be beguiled by the exhibits radiating the Renaissance .

Most evocative are the landscapes of the Venice based Giovanni Bellini. Considered a leading exponent of the popular religious themes that dominated painting in the 15th century, Bellini filled his canvases with characters and scenes from familiar sacred stories..

And while his landscapes are highly metaphorical, they also accurately reflect the region’s topography and natural light. Indeed, if studied closely in they exude a reality that makes you see what it might have been like to be in Italy 500 years ago.

A companion exhibit focuses in on views of sacred landscapes depicted in Renaissance manuscripts, with the Getty noting that many people then looked to greenery for contemplating the perceived divine order of creation. The Getty notes:

“Manuscript illuminators were among those who carefully studied the raw elements of nature—such as rocks, trees, flowers, waterways, mountains, and even atmosphere—and incorporated these into luxurious objects of personal or communal devotion. “

Adding to this celebration of the Renaissance is a rare showing of three Caravaggio masterpieces, on loan from the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Considered one of the true masters of Italian painting, Caravaggio is known for his bold, realistic style in which sacred subjects were shown as very real people, their emotions and physicality made dramatic by selective lighting, and dark shadowing. His works are mesmerizing.

Indeed, the three paining alone are worth a visit to the Getty. Be prepared for possible time travel.

 

NEOPHYTE MALIBU CITY COUNCIL STRUGGLES ON

 

Observing the Malibu City Council at its last meeting you almost felt sorry for the members, as they struggled with a heavy agenda, lend staff direction, and suck up to speakers in support of the homeless.

Almost sorry. Maybe, for one or two on the dais, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites.

Frankly, it was just too apparent at the marathon meeting that the poorly led neophyte city government is sadly not up to the challenges confronting Malibu, and is fumbling others it has stuck its thumb into.

But you actually had to be sorrier for the many who descended on City Hall to express their heartfelt support for homeless services, and those there for other items. I watched the proceedings on television, and even in the comfort of my couch, became weary of the convoluted comments of several council members

Though the meeting did have its humorous moments, such as when one property rights paragon, a hired gun who persistently attends most all meetings, obsequiously applauded the council and staff for its dedication, and then

called for generous pay increases for all at City Hall, which he added the development community would gladly subsidize.

I bet they would, and no doubt throw in a few free lunches as well. That nonsense added a few minutes to the nearly eight hours of proceedings.

Then it was on to the more serious items. These included how to host the high maintenance homeless, address the continued mansionization of Malibu, do something about the corrupted landscape of Legacy Park, and possibly assist select neighborhoods pursuing underground wiring.

It also voted to explore the development of a cultural center. You can add that one to the list of city potential boondoggles.

The focus of the evening was a flurry of mea culpas by the mayor and mayor pro tem for failing to clearly articulate their concerns of a venerated program serving meals to the homeless in the local Methodist Church.

That failure prompted misleading news story about its closing, and a flood of nasty personal threats. Some were read to an audience that really wanted to hear that the meals at the church would continue.

Apparently they will not; apparently because no one seems to be take responsibility, due in large measure to the city’s ambiguous position. They’re for the meals, but…Ah, those buts.

To be fair, the agenda was daunting, and the council did make a few praiseworthy decisions. It voted 3 to 2 in favor of the phrase “neighborhood character” being considered as planning criterion in zoning cases.

And in particular took exception to the School District’s recalcitrance in the present stymied state of negotiations to allow Malibu to create its own district. That no doubt will have ramifications in sanctimonious Santa Monica.

All these items of course are to be continued, with the staff directed to bring back more reports, for more discussion.

 

 

UCLA HOSTS DANCE PERFORMANCE

 
If the arts and entertainment do anything for me, it engages, excites and expands the mind, be it the theater, film,, painting, sculpting, music or dance, as I comment this week on radio malibu, 99.1 KBU and select websites.
 
Note new and stronger signal, out to all of Malibu!
 
Dance in particular I’ve always found challenging, combining as it does music and movement, a feast for the ears, and eyes, and being an aging mesomorph, I am always amazed seeing what the body can do.
 
Prompting this thought was the premiere performance last weekend at the UCLA ‘s Royce Hall of “calling glenn,” a work by the ever-experimental dance company AteNine, and and supported by the ever-encouraging UCLA Center for the Art of Performance.
 
It was choreographed and directed by Israeli-trained and now L.A. based Danielle Agami, who not incidentally was one of the ten dancers who athletically and with grace cavorted on stage to the original music of Glenn Kotche.
 
While each talented dancers made distinct solo statements, none really stood out, not even when isolated by staging or costume, for the 70 minute piece was very much a collaboration, either as duos, a foursome, or a troop scrambling in concert.
 
What props there were you could have guessed: simple chairs the dancers on occasion sat in and dueled with. And microphone stands they grasped and fought over.
 
At times the choreography looked chaotic, but obviously wasn’t. The technique displayed was awesome, the unpredictable changes in rhythm challenging, and the multiple and simultaneous actions I felt celebrated a welcomed expressive freedom: what contemporary dance is all about.
 
And it was riveting.
Somehow the dancers kept pace to the percussionist punctuated music, or perhaps it was the music performed by an energetic Kotche that somehow kept pace with the dancers.
 
And then in the midst of a segment, there was silence, which had the effect of lending a sharp focus on the non-stop performers. Very legendary composer John Cage and dance choreographer Merce Cunningham inspired
 
At the abrupt end of the performance, the dancers appeared spent, and so was the audience. But not so much as not to give the dance company and Agami a standing , rousing ovation.
 
You left Royce elated, and looking forward to the next delight from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.
 
 

CRITICAL COMMENTARY NEEDED EVERYWHERE

As cityscapes everywhere continue to grow, so does the need for critical commentary; especially now, as our democratic institutions are being compromised by a nefarious fusion of greed, ignorance and fear. If you don’t think so, you do not have to read further. Take a walk on the beach and think about climate change.

In my purview of L.A. this includes the need for questioning the proposed ravaging of the County Museum, the green lighting of over designed high end developments, and the red lighting of needed affordable housing. Shameful, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.

In Malibu, a paramount question is whether the city will do the right, and moral, thing, hosting the homeless, or just talk, and talk, and talk, about it as those in need go hungry. Sanctuary city indeed,

Meanwhile, the city center continues to be misshapen as a tourist trap, and Legacy Park is finally being exposed as another pricey mistake by a neophyte City Hall, which can’t get its act together to even make happen a promised right turn lane off of the PCH.

But it certainly can bend the municipal budget to serve its pensions and payrolls, and select consultants. With no oversight to speak of, the city slyly continues to approve contracts for questionable services, from hosting lunches in Sacramento, to mowing grass.

This includes the maintenance of a rarely used practice field in Trancas Park that can be easily converted for needed Little League and AYSO use, and take development pressure off the environmentally sensitive Bluffs Park. That is if City Hall had any gumption.

Meanwhile, my dogs wonder what ever happen to the promised resurfacing of their park at Trancas.

The list goes on and on, but for now they will have to wait, for on the front burner, and simmering, is the proposal before the Santa Monica dominated school board to allow Malibu to create a stand-alone school district.

For the last seven years that feels like 70 to involved parents, Malibu’s school advocates have repeatedly argued for breaking away from the district, noting the differences and distance between the cities.

\Though previously agreeing to the separation, and having Malibu jump through all sorts of financial hoops, the board’s duplicitous Santa Monica majority apparently now is backtracking, and doesn’t want it. Neither does the new superintendent, who obviously knows who signs his checks.

So instead of blessing the separation as had been anticipated at the upcoming board meeting, scheduled for Thursday Nov.16th, up for review will be some unspecified lesser arrangement that allows them to keep control of the district , and keep shortchanging Malibu.

Malibu’s advocates for the separation are chagrined, to say the least, and are expected to pack the meeting to once again argue for the separation. As a show of force all supporters are being urged to attend. I certainly will be there,

 

 

VIDEO BAND OK GO OFFERS DIVERSION

It’s Fall, and the arts and entertainment calendar is full, with all sorts of offerings to stretch your smarts and delight the senses.  But frankly for me it is a struggle, what with the state of the world.

These days are not fun days, with almost daily assault of our democracy and sense of decency by a dangerous president and his deceitful followers.

Then it seems there is an almost biblical plague of natural disasters and senseless slaughters. This put m in very real need last weekend of some diversion to raise my spirits.

Answering my wish was UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, with a concert, or was it a happening, featuring the band OK GO .

Whatever, with a bursts of confetti fluttering out over a packed-to-the-rafters Royce Hall, the group performed an immersive medley of their hits against a big screen backdrop that showed their imaginative videos.

Included among the favorites were “Here It Goes Again,” played out on a treadmill, the amazing “This Too Shall Pass,” featuring a fantastic Rube Goldberg machine going full blast, and the most recent, “Upside Down and Inside Out, “ in which the group performed weightless in a Russian jet maneuvering to create a gravity free interior.

If this all sounds wild and crazy, it is. With OK GO you expect the unexpected.

And if you ever wondered how they did what they do, lead singer Damian Kulash tried to explain it, despite an audience of many children who should have been in bed instead of jumping up and down screaming. But so what.

As an immodest Emmy award winner and former Disney Imagineer, I absolutely loved it.

For those who have not monitored what their kids have been watching in the last decade, OK-GO was a rock band out of Chicago 20 years ago that never made it as musicians. Their sound was, and frankly I feel still is, not very different than so many hard driving garage bands.

But in a flash of inspiration when they moved to L.A. a few years later, they started to experiment with video. What emerged is a series of music videos that are pure delights, and wonderfully diverting.

As the group itself describes themselves, they went from OK GO-The-Rock-Band, to OK GO, The -Guys-Who-Make –Those –Art-Project –Music-Videos, to OK GO –The Creative-Guys., employing a bagful of tricks. These include stop motion, optical illusions, mass choreography, and let us not forget exploding paint balloons.

Can’t wait to see what the innovative dance company AteNine will do this weekend at the ever-au courant UCLA for the Art of Performance.