Sunday, October 2, 2011

Somewhat Sunny in Philadelphia

Last Sunday a friend and I trekked down to meet up with another friend and acquaintances in Philadelphia. While it may always be sunny in Philadelphia in the TV world, it was an overcast day with a 60 percent chance of rain forecast so we decided to stay indoors rather than hoofing around the city.

We began the day by taking a trip over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a building of such grand architecture as to make its exterior an art exhibit in itself. The museum's current big hit exhibit is titled "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus." As you can imagine from the title, this exhibit features the many, many portraits of Jesus painted by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn. This exhibit was popular with our little group and based on the huge lines, many others who were at the museum. But I have to confess, it held no appeal for me. For starters, while I can appreciate Rembrandt's work considering the time in which it came, I am but very rarely a fan of dark and shadowy works in any medium. Furthermore, after years of visiting art museums, I've seen more than my fair share of paintings based on biblical stories, which let's admit it, is a limited palate when you consider the hundreds of artists over hundreds of years painting these scenes. To further limit that to only portraits of Jesus himself, you can imagine that this exhibit was rife with redundancy. I'm sure for major fans of Rembrandt, portraits, or religious iconography, this was a great exhibit. But for me, it was enough to breeze by quickly and then say, what next?

So while the rest of our group meandered and spent a while in this exhibit, I moved on to what was a far more interesting exhibit for my tastes, "Here and Now: Prints, Drawings and Photographs by Ten Philadelphia Artists." This seemed like a particularly fitting exhibit for me to see while visiting Philadelphia as I'd be unlikely to see it anywhere else. As you can probably gather from the name, there was no particular theme tying together the works of this exhibit, but rather the locality of the artists. But while there was no overarching theme in the works, I would say that a combining element, beyond just the city where the artists work, was a feeling of weightiness to the art. The artists all tackled serious issues, such as the feelings of being an outsider due to a multiracial background. That isn't too say that these subjects were all treated with a doom-and-gloom attitude. Some of the works did have an ironic or downright funny effect despite - or perhaps because of - their serious nature. While I enjoyed nearly all the works on display, two artists and their art particularly stood out. Daniel Heyman was on hand for interviews with Abu Ghraib detainees and displayed their portraits and their stories together. These were heart-breaking to read, yet very necessary works to have to remind us of atrocities around the world. Serena Perrone's woodcuts were haunting, even surreal at times. In particular, I liked her works "Phantom Vessels and the Bastion of Memory V,""A Day in November: Impending Loss," and "In the Realm of Reverie." There is some quality about these works that I can't quite put a finger on that somehow allows them to be both childlike and innocent yet have an undercurrent of dread lurking just beneath the surface. Of course, I love woodcuts (so much so that one of my favorite books is Lynd Ward's Gods' Man, a wordless novel entirely made up of woodcuts) so you'd be hard-pressed to find an exhibit featuring woodcuts that I wouldn't like.

I then wandered up to the section of the museum dedicated to European art from 1500 to 1850. What I really enjoyed here was the broad view of the term art. Yes, there were paintings and other traditional art works, but there were also porcelains, furniture, and other everyday items. It was fun to stumble upon such objects as a baby's cradle and be able to compare something hundreds of years old to what we use today. There was even a fully furnished 17th century Dutch room, which is pretty cool to view. I barely scratched the surface of this permanent exhibit when the rest of our group was finished with the Rembrandt exhibit and we all decided to trek over to the museum's auxiliary Perelman Building.

Across the street at the Perelman Building, we took in another current exhibit, "Zaha Hadid: Form in Motion." The exhibit featured the sleek designs for furniture, a car, and even shoes by architect Zaha Hadid. As a woman in a predominantly male field who has done particularly well, Zaha Hadid seems like an interesting person and I would have liked to learn even more about her as a part of the exhibit. Indeed, the only thing we all agreed we did not like about the exhibit was that there was not more of it. It was rather small and featured only a limited number of works. However, given the amount of work that went into this exhibit (Hadid also re-designed the exhibit space to create flows and contours to complement the works featured), I understand why that would be.

By this time, the museum was closing but it was still a little early for dinner. To kill some time, we went back to my friend's apartment and were flipping channels until we landed on the reality TV series, "Sister Wives," which ended up being fuel for the fire of us discussing various things. All I'm going to say here is that the show itself was like a train wreck - you know you shouldn't keep watching but you can't peel your eyes away.

After dinner, with storm clouds still threatening, we again returned to watching the tube, but this time selected a movie. I was actually the decider in choosing Sunshine Cleaning, which no one else in the group had seen yet and I didn't mind re-watching myself. I'm always a little bit nervous about zealously suggesting something for fear it won't live up to everyone else's then-heightened expectations or that my quirky brand of humor won't appeal to others, but everyone agreed at the end that they enjoyed the movie. My one friend expressed it perfectly by saying that it was one movie where the characters actually felt "real." However, before I go too far in editorializing about the movie, I should provide a brief summary. Rose (Amy Adams) is a single mother with a child who needs special attention at school. Even working as hard as she does, cleaning houses doesn't pay enough for the school she wants her son to attend. When her boyfriend (Steve Zahn) finds out how much a crime scene clean-up crew makes, he suggests he takes her cleaning skills in a different direction. Rose enlists her slacker sister Norah (Emily Blunt) into starting a business with her, Sunshine Cleaning, to invest in this lucrative field. The film also co-stars Clifton Collins, Jr. as a helpful cleaning supply store owner who steers the sisters in the right direction as they start their business, Alan Arkin as the unreliable father of Rose and Norah, and
Mary Lynn Rajskub as the woman Norah finds herself befriending.

There are so many things I like about this movie and viewing it a second time only made that more abundantly clear. The movie had originally been recommended to me by a friend when we realized we both liked Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, and she pointed out that they starred together in Sunshine Cleaning. And, indeed, both did an excellent job in this movie (and actually look as though they could be sisters). Alan Arkin doesn't disappoint as the quirky grandfather, and young
Jason Spevack, who plays Rose's son Oscar, is absolutely adorable. Clifton Collins, Jr., who I couldn't stand as Perry Smith in Capote, redeems himself in my eyes as the subtly played Winston. Actually, I feel that most of the characterizations were understated, adding to the feeling that the characters were indeed "real." After the movie ended, we actually spent some time wondering about the pasts and futures of these characters, including their motivations, as though they were actual people we were trying to learn more about and analyze. I love that the movie provided that kind of fodder.

Likewise, while the movie is nominally a comedy (and has many funny moments, especially of the darkly humorous type that I like), it had plenty of serious undertones and opened the conversation around it up to death and dying, marriage and relationships, family relations, middle-class working families and their unique troubles, etc. The next time you're looking for an alternative to your latest run-of-the-mill Hollywood churn-out, Sunshine Cleaning fits the bill.

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