As a teenager, I fell in love with fearsome and gorgeous Gods and Goddesses who --according to myths and legends of Ancient Greece --ruled the world from the top of Mount Olympus. Then, years later, upon settling in Los Angeles, I added to my Pantheon the beautiful Gods and Goddesses of Hollywood. So, as you can imagine, I take the Oscars very seriously, and follow all the brouhaha leading up to the live Sunday broadcast. And this year was no exception. But for me, along with a few good friends, the party actually started the day before, on Saturday. That's how it went...
Los Angeles artist Don Bachardy is famous for his eloquent and informal portraits of Hollywood stars, with whom he and his late partner, Christopher Isherwood, have been friends for years. Currently, Craig Krull Gallery in Bergamot Station has an exhibition of a few dozen portraits covering several decades of Hollywood history. Here's the beautiful Tilda Swinton, with her translucent skin and intimidating gaze. Then, there's young, dreamy Montgomery Clift. And nearby is the girl next door, Teri Garr --as charming as ever. Let me mention a few more stars who posed for Bachardy and whose portraits are on display at the gallery: Natalie Wood and Henry Fonda, Bette Davis and Laurence Olivier, among others.
After paying respect to these Hollywood Royals, I went with my friends to Santa Monica Museum of Art to see the exhibition of work by Brian Weil (1954 - 1996), whose primary medium was photography, and whose subjects included scenes of homicide, AIDS politics, and, to put it mildly, unconventional sexual activities.
All of his photographs are black and white, and many of them are unceremoniously tacked on the walls, unframed --the way the artist preferred. His concern was neither the beauty of the subject nor the technical perfection of the print.
Many of these photographs are simply shocking --by its subject, and the raw, scratchy, grainy surfaces of the prints deliver an additional punch. Did I like the photos? No... Was I impressed? You bet... There is no way to get it out of your mind. All that reminded me of the iconic moment of The Golden Age of Italian Cinema, Roberto Rossellini's film, Rome, Open City, with Anna Magnani running, screaming, and finally shot dead in the street.
Movie magic has many ingredients, and one that is particularly close to my heart is the art of cinematography, the way the camera shapes every frame of the movie, the way the light paints every scene. The last stop my friends and I made on Saturday in our pre-Oscar warm up was at the Getty Museum to see the exhibition of photographs by Czechoslovakia-born artist, Josef Koudelka.
His most famous photos, done in the 1960s, are the images of Gypsies living in Eastern Europe. And then, there are his photos capturing the crash of Prague Spring by the Soviet army in 1968. Each image is worthy of not a thousand, but a few thousand words. Combining drama and spontaneity with extremely focused composition, Koudelka's images make us aware of how much the art of cinema is informed and inspired by its older relative, the art of photography.
Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.