Posted By on March 29, 2010

I just started Week Two of mental stimulation marked by seeing six movies at the dazzling Cleveland International Film Festival, a great, too-short concert by John Zorn’s Masada Sextet (here’s my preview) and, this morning, reading “Atomic Age,” Martin Benjamin’s first, long-overdue book of photography.

Karen and I went to the film festival for the first time in it must be 10 years last week, and didn’t hit a clunker. Here’s what we saw: “The Ape” (Swedish); “House of Branching Love” (Finnish); “A Matter of Size” (Israeli); “Fire in the Heartland” (U.S.); “Desert of Forbidden Art” (U.S.); “Marwencol” (U.S.) Each time we went downtown was more fun. The festival was packed, the standby lines long. Here’s a brief rundown of the flicks:

“The Ape”: Intellectually fascinating study of paranoia and trauma that never resolved, remaining ambiguous and disturbing. The point of view was riveting.

“House”: Bawdy, funny sex comedy about tribulations and rewards of marriage. Entertaining as hell and ultimately uplifting. The actor who played Wolfi could be a major star.

“Fire”: About the May 4, 1970 National Guard shootings at Kent State. Well-documented and profoundly sad, it evoked the politics of the ‘60s with minimum preachiness and suggested there still are stories to uncover about that seminal incident.

“Matter”: Emotionally my favorite flick, it’s a comedy about four giant misfits in a small Israeli village who channel their creativity into becoming sumo wrestlers. It’s a whole new way of seeing fat, too. A blast.

“Desert”: A documentary about suppressed Soviet-era Modernist art in a museum in Uzbekistan. Great art, amazing story.

“Marwencol”: From rural, upstate New York comes this documentary about a guy beaten nearly senseless whose “recovery” consists of creating a World War II-inspired community in his backyard, populated by dolls. The most provocative movie I saw, it makes you rethink your notions of art and “wellness.”

Saturday night, I saw John Zorn’s Masada Sextet at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Saxophonist Zorn, who channels what he calls Radical Jewish Culture, and his five co-conspirators played only a little over an hour, but how and what they played! Great, often romantic music with a Sephardic, Spanish coloration; even one highly abstract piece was a kick, because Zorn and Co. so enjoy each other and their shared discipline.

The film festival and Zorn show were breaths of fresh air in a community that often feels ingrown. Seeing crowds downtown was invigorating. Hearing Zorn’s music was similarly mind-expanding. Cleveland felt like an open city this past week. Maybe it’s spring rearing its desired head.

Today I got Martin Benjamin’s “Atomic Age” in the mail. I worked with Marty in Albany in the ‘70s and ‘80s at rock and roll shows, and he’s the best photographer I’ve ever worked with (dig into his website and you’ll find a picture of me—with more hair and way bigger glasses). His book—infrared photos of his wife; shots from irradiated sites; glimpses of remote cultures; startling closeups of what look like perfect strangers—is an event. Like words, but in different ways, images can move and shape and change the world. Marty’s certainly do.


2 Responses to “Stimulated”

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  2. Carlo says:

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I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: