Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Henriette Mantel, actor/writer/director

Henriette at IMDb

Henriette is a morning person. I am a night owl. So this interview took several months to coordinate... but, it finally happened in a diner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at about noon today.

I have known Henriette probably since 1986. I met her at a comedy club called The Eagle Tavern, which was on Ninth Avenue and West 14th Street. It was right next door to where Comix is now located. We were a group of comics that performed on all different levels. Jon Stewart and Henriette "killed" on Thursday nights and I plodded along mostly bombing but nevertheless enjoying myself and receiving great encouragement from the club's booker, Tim Davis. I thought Henriette was an amazing comic, and I went to see her at Caroline's... which back then was a small club on Eighth Avenue. I also saw her at a club on Grand Street called Comedy U. I remember seeing Sue Kolinsky, Susie Essman, and Joy Behar do short sets at many of the same shows. Henriette impressed me with her sharp and topical wit and she was smart, clever, and always very funny. In the years that followed, I would bump into Henriette in the neighborhood and in places like Whole Foods... where we would stand by the hot prepared foods and schmooze about life and stuff. Today, I had a chance to really catch up with Henriette and hear her talk about her work.

In 1978, Henriette was 21 and working for Ralph Nader. Years later, in about 1987, when Henriette was working in comedy clubs... she met the comic Steve Skrovan who was fascinated with Ralph Nader. He was always asking about Ralph Nader. Henriette was so happy that a comic was smart enough to ask about something other than himself and they started to talk.

In 1999, Steve had a deal for a sitcom and he wanted to write one about a consumer advocate's office. So Henriette introduced Steve to all her "old cronies" and Steve wrote a pilot but no network bought it. They discussed Ralph Nader and the presidential election of 2000, and they decided the story had to be told because it was so convoluted and people had no idea what really happened.

They decided to make a documentary. Henriette had worked with Michael Moore and on the reality TV show "The Osbournes," so she had some experience in filmmaking. The documentary, "An Unreasonable Man," was made and screened at Sundance... and they were short-listed for an Academy Award.

Henriette is very proud of this film because it tells both sides of the Ralph Nader story. She feels the movie educates people and this makes her feel very good. Henriette says, "Two comics made a very serious documentary." And what an excellent documentary it is!

"An Unreasonable Man" was reviewed on January 31, 2007 in the NY Times. It was called, by a viewer at IMDb, a "brilliant, in-depth examination of Nader and his societal interactions" and you can read that review here.

Henriette talked a little about her "great experience" working for Michael Moore. Since she worked with Ralph Nader and coming from a background in politics and comedy... Michael Moore was perfect for her. She wrote for his series, "The Awful Truth," and she really enjoyed writing for the segments. Her work included writing voiceovers and structuring the pieces.

I asked Henriette what she is doing now. Henriette wrote a book with Teri Garr called "Speed Bumps" which is about Teri Garr's life and multiple sclerosis. She told me she just wrote a children's book, and she is working on another docmentary, and she just wrote and directed a "short" film called "Pink and Blue." It is about a policeman who had to make a call on a woman because all the neighbors heard screams coming from the apartment. And Henriette looks forward to writing and directing a feature film.

Henriette sort of phased out of stand-up because she is "tired at night." If she could "do stand up at 11 in the morning," she would "really like it..." She loves writing and no longer has that mad desire to go on stage at midnight and make people laugh anymore. I laughed to myself because there is that morning person surfacing again.

So, the interview ended and I left the diner and walked down Broadway to the subway to take the #1 train back to Chelsea. I walked and wondered if as we grow older do we become defined by whether we are either morning or night people. I was very glad I got up early and met Henriette for this interview. She is an interesting and talented woman whose intelligence and eclectic career I very much admire.

Several hours after the interview ended, I realized I had forgotten to tell Henriette that my first car was a 1962 light beige almost gold Chevy Corvair...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wave Hill, the gardens

Today I visited the the gardens at Wave Hill. It is a beautiful place for relaxation and contemplation. In the distance, the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River is visible... with the tall buildings of New Jersey and the lofty hills in the horizon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harlem, a Renaissance tour

Yesterday, I joined The Transition Network tour which explored the Harlem of the 1920s. We visited historic sites which were presented by a member of the Schomberg Center for Black Research & Culture. I loved seeing the beautiful Strivers Row. And the Renaissance Theater and Ballroom with the old "Chow Mein" sign was a wonderfully nostalgic touch. On the ride home, we had a bit of unexpected excellent entertainment. This was a wonderful walking tour and a thoroughly enjoyable morning.

Women, of Washington Square

Several months ago, I went on this tour with The Transition Network. We saw the homes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Emma Lazarus, Edith Wharton, Ida Tarbell, Dawn Powell, and Mabel Dodge. This was a walking tour organized by The Transition Network as part of the "Explore NYC" series. And while I was not able to interview these interesting women whose homes we saw on the walking tour, I learned much about them from our guide, Jane, who said:

"Greenwich Village is renowned for the extraordinary women who’ve lived in this historic area over the decades....Eleanor Roosevelt, Emma Lazarus, Edith name just a few. On this hour-long walking tour we’ll see where these women, and other notable feminists, lived and worked and we’ll talk about their lives."

These are some of the photos I took along the walk.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Heidi Draper, filmmaker

Take It Back, is a documentary film by Heidi Draper. It is about the thousands of volunteers who traveled to Iowa in 2004 to help Howard Dean win the crucial first primary. It tells the story of how Howard Dean moved to the front of the Democratic Party candidates, and how Howard Dean's candidacy ended abruptly.

Home Sweet Home is an earlier film made in 2001 by Heidi and her partner Michael Raeburn.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Patsy McArthur, artist

The Road Is Lonesome I
26" x 57" charcoal, conte and pastel on fabriano paper

The Road Is Lonesome II
26" x 42" charcoal, conte and pastel on fabriano paper

The Promised Land
35" x 39" charcoal and conte on fabriano paper

The Road Is Lonesome II:
This two part work was started in an initial stage in July. The idea began as a set-up from photos which then became the drawings as they took on a life of their own during the process. Patsy McArthur wanted to catch "the commuter," and the theme is men in suits. She awakened early to catch these businessmen on NYC's 55th Street before their presence became crowded and mixed with others pedestrians. She took hundreds of photos which served as research for the material. And at that angle, the vision became strong and powerful. The solitary figures appear to be going somewhere with purpose but the resounding sensation is that they are all disconnected and on their own. The extremely large dimensions of the drawings enhance the impact of the strong and physical sea of confrontational figures as they are coming towards and away from the viewer from nothing in a white horizon.
Patsy produced these pieces on the international residency program for artists at NY Studio Gallery on Stanton Street and they will now travel to London where they will be on sale at Blackheath Gallery in London.

The Promised Land:
All the men in this work are the same model and this vision had to be staged. This work is more romantic and less confrontational than much of her work. It is an image of the essential tragic romantic hero searching for utopia. The idea of the horizon with a shining light came at a very late stage of this drawing and at that point came the title.
This drawing is presently in her studio in New York and will be exhibited in London at her solo show in February 2010 at Flying Colours Gallery, Chelsea, London.

It was a pleasure interviewing the amazingly talented artist Patsy McArthur... and I thank her for sharing parts of her personal creative process that develops into her extraordinary work.

The works at this blog appear with the written consent of Patsy McArthur: Patsy McArthur's website