Watching Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road at the Little

As a fan, I looked forward to seeing Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road so I headed out to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see it tonight. I had a decent, light dinner at the cafe beforehand and was generally having a good night. I spoke with a woman who encouraged me to become a member of The Little — I often consider it, but my first step is always to go see a film.

So I settled in to watch. I was astonished at the dreadfully poor quality of this concert documentary. Edits were out of the 1970's "variety hour" playbook — I was fully expecting a pan to the overhead lights so the camera's Orthicon tube would render its unnatural flare. The cinematography looked like someone's uncle's wedding footage, albeit physically stable.  But the images often drifted in-and-out of focus, had copious electrically-powered zooms, terrible framing, and many camera-related glitches from the low-light situation. Editing was even worse as it was choppy like a kid with A.D.D. The editors also frequently switched between a right-facing wide shot to a left-facing close-up and back, requiring the viewer to constantly reorient themselves. The only good of it all were a few longer-than-average shots tightly highlighting Cohen's age-weathered face.

The music (and sound, thankfully) were excellent. I'm always amazed that the man is still playing music, but he is — and looks to have no intention of stopping. His singing retains a depth of emotion often lost after the thousandth rendition. So save your $10 and instead go to buy a couple used CD's that you don't already have. And go find a picture of the man and look at that while you listen.

Toward the end of the movie I had to resort to earplugs — not because the music was loud, but to drown out the quiet, constant chatter from (you guessed it!) the woman who wanted me to become a member. As someone who loves movies, I'm enamored of the Dryden with its excellent projection, and sound, and spoiled by my fellow cinephiles' respectful silence. If the Little skimps on anything it's the quality of the projection and sound (with tonight being a rare exception) and the patrons are self-absorbed jerks who can't keep their mouths shut for a measly 90 minutes.

Although, I must admit, membership is tempting in the sense that it's like paying for prisons. For if it weren't for the Little, the gentrifying class would certainly migrate to my precious Dryden and begin ruining it. So perhaps I will join — and maybe someday I'll have the opportunity to have my explanation of why I'm a member printed on one of their posters.

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Hundreds of People Watch the Beast Pageant at the Dryden

The Beast Pageant screened at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) tonight. It took me a while to extricate my thoughts from the various sets I helped build and from the scenes I acted in, but I think I finally have a grip on what great all-around acoustic soloist Jon Moses, and Albert Birney were getting at.

On its surface, The Beast Pageant follows Abe from his lifeless industrialized existence on a journey of reconnection with the natural world. It's all told in fantastical dream language, so time, space, and reality really have no grounding. It just is its own special place.

But dig deeper, and there's a layer about the beauty of human beings. Moses even used the phrase "it's an anti-aibrushing movie" in the question-and-answer. And by that, he means that the movie defies the media-generated images of the human form. All of us who acted as part of the natural world were nude (unless fully covered in costume). And the point is we're just regular people. We didn't spend 6 months prior to the film with a personal trainer to ensure our bodies were picture-perfect; rather we were all just people from around town who live normal lives.

This was the most consistently shocking element. You'll note that neither the D&C article nor the one in City Newspaper made mention of the near-constant nudity on screen. And it's because they can't unless they also subtly condemn it. So the authors of those pieces, finding a work they genuinely liked, opted instead to simply omit that fact.

To me this is a terrible precedent. It's not as if anyone in the U.S. does not see themselves naked at least once a day. Yet through the media's constant condemnation of the human body, we are taught to loathe the sight of it. And through that we loathe ourselves. And, oddly enough, we strive to buy products to give us satisfaction — so the media will approve of our appearance.

And so that theme runs through The Beast Pageant as well. The giant machine in Abe's apartment is an entertainment system (in addition to personal companion, and provider of all his physical needs.) The machine resists Abe's attempt to escape — much as the media machine resists the existence of The Beast Pageant.

But somehow, I think The Beast Pageant is going to win, one way or another.

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