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Folkie legend Dave Van Ronk, one of the mainstays of the Greenwich Village music scene in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, isn’t as well known as his old rival Bob Dylan, but that may be about to change. Joel and Ethan Coen are reportedly working on a film loosely based on the late singer-guitarist’s life.
Last month Joel Coen told an audience at New York’s Lincoln Center “We’re working on a movie now that has music in it but it’s pretty much all performed live, single instrument.” The Los Angeles Times confirmed that the project is inspired by Van Ronk’s experiences at the birth of the coffeehouse scene. The Coens are drawing material from Van Ronk’s posthumous memoir “The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” according to the report.\
It’s a rich slice of cultural history. The counterculture and protest movements of the 1960s have deep roots in the student culture around Washington Square’s little cellar clubs, and singers such as Joni Mitchell and Phil Ochs were discovered there. As the gatekeeper of the folk scene, Van Ronk mentored Dylan and soon saw the Midwestern newcomer who crashed on his sofa blaze past him to concerts, gold albums and world tours. Van Ronk never crossed over to commercial success and mainstream fame. A true believer in purist folk-revival values, he equated becoming too visible or successful with selling out.
The Coens have made several music-intensive films before, tapping into gospel for “The Ladykillers,” eclectic oddities and obscurities for “The Big Lebowski” and old-time and bluegrass for “O Brother Where Art Thou?” all of which yielded popular soundtrack albums. Whether the Van Ronk project will see the light of day remains to be seen; the prolific Coens have quite a few unproduced screenplays to their credit.
The next Coen project due through the production pipeline likely will be their take on the 1966 Michael Caine heist comedy “Gambit.” The Coens’ revisionist screenplay, starring Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz, is currently shooting in London, directed by Michael Hoffman (“The Last Station.”) It will be released by CBS Films in 2012.
At 65, John Waters has grown mature but he has decidedly not grown up nor slowed down. In his one-man show “This Filthy World” Friday night at Walker Art Center, he treated his audience to 80 minutes of jet-propelled provocation. They ate it up.
Waters, a film director, author, actor, photographer and raconteur, directed the 1988 film that inspired the Broadway hit “Hairspray,” but is best known for his infamous 1972 breakthrough, “Pink Flamingos,” a comedy of bad taste in which his star, 300-pound transvestite actor Divine, consumed dog droppings on camera. “If I discovered the cure for cancer tomorrow, that will still be in front of it in my obituary,” he said.
Waters was in Minneapolis to unveil his work as guest curator for a Walker exhibition titled “Absentee Landlord” opening Saturday. Putting together an art show isn’t all that hard, he said, likening it to a teenager decorating her bedroom. “They let me infect every part of the museum,” he said. Waters mashed the permanent collection into ironic combinations with imported artworks, piped audio of crashing, rending metal into the elevators, and sabotaged the architecture of one public restroom. Since the museum granted his every crackpot wish, Waters wondered aloud if there was anything the museum wouldn’t have allowed him to do. Perhaps he should have instituted Nudist Late Night Thursdays, he said.
Waters commented on the current entertainment scene, observing that it’s a good thing Michael Jackson never met Justin Bieber, reminisced about the eccentric citizens of his native Baltimore (“the goiter capital of America”), and saluted his cherished artistic accomplices who have all purchased adjoining gravesites. “We call it Disgraceland,” he explained.
Though he was bounced out of New York University at age 19 in what he says was the first pot bust ever on a college campus, Waters said he has no interest in today’s trendy drugs. “I’m not going to try salvia,” the psychedelic herb smoked by Disney star Miley Cyrus in an internet video. “It causes a hysterical outburst of laughing. I want to put it on the popcorn at my test screenings.”
Waters reminisced about his staunchly conservative parents’ reaction to his scandal-courting career as a cult filmmaker. His father exited one screening saying, “That was pretty funny. I hope I never have to see it again.” When he told his mother that the subject of his most recent project was sex addicts, she responded, “Oh. Maybe we’ll die first.”
While Waters’ aim has always been to tickle and titillate audiences by pushing them out of their comfort zone, he observed that everyone has limits. “Even Divine had limits. When he met Richard Simmons, he felt homophobic.” Recalling the tawdry charms of politically incorrect carnival freak shows, Waters imagined creating a tent show of modern abnormalities. “SEE the world’s skinniest model! SEE the man with no tattoos!”
Until then, there’s "Absentee Landlord," running at the Walker through March 4.
Neko Case, left, and Ray LaMontagne / file photos
The lineups were announced with great fanfare this week. We want you to weigh in. Which summer music festival sounds more appealing to you and why: Rock the Garden or Basilica Block Party?
To vote, leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Here are the lineups for these radio-sponsored outdoor fests:
Rock the Garden
89.3 the Current
June 18 grounds of Walker Art Center (one stage)
Basilica Block Party
July 8-9 grounds of Basilica of St. Mary (two stages)
Veteran arts reporter Lee Rosenbaum, who blogs at Culture Grrl, has been covering the fate of Egyptian antiquities pretty much 24/7 in recent days as rumors of theft and looting have percolated out of Egypt. Her reports have a somewhat overwrought edge lately, but are still the most informed and timely descriptions of a fast-changing political and cultural landscape. Check Rosenbaum's update here.
Scroll down for earlier posts on this topic at this Star Tribune blog.
Image courtesy thegazette.com
Update: The controversy sparked by Iowa Rep. Scott Raecker's bill to force the University of Iowa's Art Museum to sell a prized Jackson Pollock painting has prompted him to back off for now.
National organization's threatened to cancel the museum's accreditation and refuse to loan art or exhibitions to Iowa institutions if the painting were sold in violation of the donor's wishes. Des Moines philanthropist and art collector John Pappajohn, who had given $40 million to the University, opposed the sale as did Governor Terry Branstad.
In light of the uproar, Raecker, (R, Urbandale) told the Des Moines Register that it was more important to pass a state budget than to wrangle over the future of a painting. Today's committee meeting (Feb. 22) to onsider his proposed bill has been canceled.
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