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The crowd at the Nasher Museum of Art last Thursday was bustling and spirited, a diverse commingling of students and residents from the farthest reaches of the Triangle area. Exhausted parents chased restless children through the lobby, snippets of conversations about art and politics floated freely above the fringe and people milled about the hallways of art, stopping frequently to snap pictures and ponder them silently. The droves of people were there to partake in the opening party for “Royal Flush,” an exhibition of artist Nina Chanel Abney’s work over the last ten years.
I grew up on a cul-de-sac—a street that stretches into a spoon shape, the end rounded like the mouth of a river—and for that, I consider myself lucky. The dead-end was designed to limit residential traffic and children-at-play casualties, but for my corner of the neighborhood, it was the anointed (and preferred) rendezvous spot.
The corridors of the East Duke building were alive Saturday evening. Students lay sprawled across the floor in what loosely resembled a line and loud chatter hung in the air, jumbled and indistinct. It was the second night of programming for Me Too Monologues, an annual show centered around identity that is written, performed and produced by members of the Duke community. The students had been waiting in line for nearly an hour to secure an enviable seat in the Nelson Music Room, which would surely be packed by the end of the night.
In 1968, writer James Baldwin appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” and offered an explanation of a racial paradox which he understood to pervade American society: “When any white man in the world says, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one.”
Protests, which are the unequivocal cornerstones to American democracy, have been swelling across the United States since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Two weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of women poured into Washington D.C. to participate in the historic Women’s March, their rallying cries for equality echoing throughout the U.S. in demonstrations that stretched from Los Angeles to New York. Even throughout this week, airports across the country have been engulfed with protesters demonstrating against the recent executive order which seeks to halt immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and displace hundreds of refugees currently living in America. Indeed, it seems we are in the throes of a civil rights movement comparable to that of the 1960s.
Martin Scorsese isn’t the kind of director whose repertoire of films beckons the label ‘religious.’ Considering his most popular works are character studies of morally bankrupted and deeply flawed men (“Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” come to mind), it must strike the casual film-watcher as odd that “Silence,” Scorsese’s most recent film, is a veneration of Christianity and its practices. But Scorsese, a lapsed Roman Catholic who aspired to priesthood in his adolescence, has always held a deep affinity for religion, and “Silence” is his homage to the predecessors of his faith.
Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush (Feb. 16-July 16)
Spring semester’s presence has been looming closer, surveying the student body on its silent haunches, waiting for the perfect moment to unload its burdens as winter break draws to a close. Perhaps it was a professor’s email, dispatching required textbooks and banal syllabi, or the multiple Duke Alerts about the debilitating inch of snow received by the Triangle Area that forewarned the new semester’s commencement. But for most, there has been one telltale, inescapable indicator—Greek and SLG rush.
There’s no pronounced shortage of comedy on Duke’s campus. Duke University Improv holds live shows throughout the semester, Department Of publishes its satirical pieces monthly and the Chronicle even has its humorous Monday Monday column which runs biweekly. Add this to the innumerable fledgling comedic projects that sprout up throughout the year (often via Facebook), and one is left wondering if there’s any room for another joke to be made.
As a person who loves movie theaters and the atmosphere that they can cultivate, I find myself griping about the lack of engaging cinemas within the Triangle Area often. The Rialto Theatre in Raleigh and the Carolina Theatre in Durham each offer distinctive arthouse theater-going experiences, but I can’t help but notice a dearth in the number of cinemas that offer immersive viewings of movies.
“Moonlight,” the sophomore film of director Barry Jenkins, is quiet. Like its main character Chiron, the movie doesn’t say much in terms of dialogue — searing and vibrant visuals do all of the talking instead, powerful gazes and pointed body language communicating what the characters’ words do not. But in its silence “Moonlight” speaks volumes, wielding its tersely poetic features to stir the viewer in a deeply personal manner.
When filmmakers François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard burst onto the French cinematic scene in the 1950s, they brought more than the French New Wave with them; they gave birth to a theory known as auteurism. Translated into English as ‘authorship,’ the theory stipulates that a director can create a style that is uniquely his or her own, lending to an array of films that undoubtedly belong to a single artist.
Using comedy as a mechanism for political commentary is not a new concept by any means. In fact, its history can be traced back to 427 BCE, when an Athenian playwright and comedian named Aristophanes planted the first, fledgling seeds of political satire. Caricaturing a Greek political figure as a warmongering demagogue, his provocatively funny take on the political state of his country elicited both admiration and outrage amongst his audiences.
“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent,” said Don Draper in an episode of the television show “Mad Men.” “It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”
When, if ever, should the actions of an artist negate the
value of their art? In 1977, filmmaker Roman Polanski pled guilty to the
drugging and statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. Twenty-five years later, he
won an Academy Award for Best Director for his film “The Pianist.” A gripping
biopic about a Jewish man’s attempts at surviving Nazi Germany’s occupation of
Warsaw, “The Pianist” is largely considered mandatory viewing in order to
understand the terrifying nature of the Holocaust. It was also made by a
rapist. Is that to say that a historically important and significant story
should not be heard because of the actions of a single artist?
If the intention of directing is to leave a unique fingerprint on a film, then director Jared Hess’s mark would be unmistakable: tonally deadpan, visually drab and awkward in every sense of the word. In terms of his past work, “Napoleon Dynamite” was painted in hues of brown and yellow, “Gentlemen Broncos” thrived on socially inept and dimwitted characters and “Nacho Libre” felt at home with daft subject material. So why is it that his most recent film, “Masterminds,” feels like a juvenile attempt at comedy when it had all of the artistic underpinnings that make Hess’s films so humorously sound?