Author: Edwin Roman

A New York based artist shares his thoughts on art, culture, food and politics.

The Music Video as Art: Dark Ballet by Madonna

Since the video became a ubiquitous part of popular music nearly forty years ago, it has sometimes struggled as an art form. The marriage has not always been harmonious: sometimes you have great songs with mediocre videos and vice versa. What I have always appreciated about it, when it does approach art, is that a story or message can be conveyed without the constraint of a script, spoken word, or even the lyrics of the song.

Madonna, who rose to prominence during the early years of the music video, has produced a stunning body of work in both video and song. However, in the last decade, this has not been case; she seemed more occupied with cannibalizing younger recording artists and profitable touring than producing thoughtful work. Mercifully, she has returned to peak form with “Dark Ballet.”

The song and video are essentially a pop version of the opera by Tchaikovsky, The Maid of Orleans, which tells the story of Joan of Arc. Interestingly, this is not Madonna’s first time exploring Joan of Arc in her work: in her last album, Rebel Heart, she had a song titled “Joan of Arc.” In my review, I noted it as the most irritating song because she was essentially complaining about being famous and I questioned what that had to do with Joan of Arc.

“Dark Ballet” is told from Joan of Arc’s point of view. In the brilliant bridge of the song, set to a pulsating electronic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker, Madonna speaks:

“I will not denounce the things that I have said
I will not renounce my faith in my sweet Lord
He has chosen me to fight against the English
And I’m not afraid at all to die ’cause I believe him
God is on my side and I’ll be his bride
I am not afraid ’cause I have faith in him
You can cut my hair and throw me in a jail cell
Say that I’m a witch and burn me at the stake
It’s all a big mistake
Don’t you know to doubt him is a sin?
I won’t give in”

The video is book ended by quotes, with one by Joan of Arc and another by queer poet and activist Mykki Blanco, who was cast as Joan of Arc in the video. Madonna is surprisingly absent except for a very brief cameo. Blanco gives us some incredible acting here. I also can’t heap enough praise on the cinematography, production, and direction by Emmanuel Adjei (he is one to watch).

And while the song and video is about Joan of Arc, it feels as if Madonna and Adjei are also addressing the toxic mix of bigotry and religion that pervades the world: too many people use religion to justify their prejudices and fears.  

Madonna’s pop version of the opera The Maid of Orleans is “Dark Ballet.”

www.edwinroman.com

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New York City Is Surrounded By Water

Sometimes living in New York City can be overwhelming. Believe it or not, there are oases in the concrete jungle. I rarely share them, but when I do it is when I bring a close friend to experience it. Many of them are near water. I remember once bringing a friend to one of my secret places near the water and he noted how amazing it was to find this peaceful place surrounded by such overwhelming noise.

I experienced great peace and inspiration on the days I took these photographs. I hope they make you feel the same way too.


“Mist to mist, drops to drops. For water thou art, and unto water shalt thou return.” ― Kamand Kojouri


edwinroman.com

Book Review: Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo

I love cats, art, comic books, science fiction, film, Alfred Hitchcock, documentaries, illustration, photography, architecture, music,humor, and food television shows. I love it when two of my favorite things meet— such as cats and science fiction.

Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with friends regarding science fiction franchises. I have always favored Star Trek above all because of the extensive story of Starfleet via decades of films and television series. Cats have appeared on Star Trek, in two episodes of the original series (on the episode “Assignment: Earth” I loved that Isis the Cat broke through Spock’s cool logic) as well Data’s cat, Spot, on The Next Generation who appeared in several episodes (my favorite moment between them was in TNG’s first Film, Generations, when Data finds that Spot survived the ship’s brutal crash). I named one of my cats Seven after the character from Voyager.

My second favorite science fiction franchise is Alien. Yes, there have been several missteps since the second film, but I appreciate the various visions that have been brought to the overall story. Only one cat has made an appearance so far: Jonesy, the Nostromo cat.  He appeared in the first Alien film and its follow-up, Aliens. And let’s face it, he is the only cat the franchise will ever need because he had a ton of personality! I am not the only one who thought Jonesy was a personality—not long after I got on Facebook, I found a that Jonesy has a presence there! More recently, is the brilliantly graphic novel by illustrator Rory Lucey, Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo.

Jonesy is a graphic novel in the tradition of Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams, in that there is no dialog. The story is told from the point of view of Jonesy, so why would there be a need for words? The novel faithfully follows the first Alien film, but adds some details that we may not have seen in the film. For example, when the Nostromo crew is first awoken from their cryostasis sleep, Jonesy, in a bit of foreshadowing, gives Ripley a preview of the facehugger. Similarly, we see what Jonesy is doing while the crew is out investigating LV-426.

As scary as Alien is, this book is really funny—and it is because of Jonesy! Cats are funny and Lucey brilliantly captures that. My favorite moment is near the end of the book when Ripley is trying to eject the alien off the shuttle and Jonesy is in the cryostasis tube licking himself!

The illustrations are terrific and Lucey shows that he has lived with a cat (he dedicates the book to his wife Emily and his own orange feline, Caesar). He beautifully conveys with watercolors all the crazy and funny things cats do.

French author, Colette, once said, “There are no ordinary cats.” Lucey upholds this with his truly wonderful and entertaining book. A MUST for fans of the Alien franchise!

www.edwinroman.com

Frida in Brooklyn

I visited the Brooklyn Museum on the opening day of the wonderful and timely exhibition, “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving.” I naively thought that I could beat the crowds: after all, I had arrived at admissions at 12 noon, exactly one hour after the museum opened. Instead, I was surprisingly told I would have to wait until 2:30pm to enter the exhibition (in the meantime, I was able to enter and explore the rest of the museum)! My first recommendation is to buy tickets in advance. I checked the website and noticed that weekend shows for the next several weeks are already sold out.

My second recommendation is to put away your phone! Visitors are told that photography is not allowed, but that didn’t stop quite a few rude people from taking out their phones and ruining the experience for others. If you are one of those people who just can’t help themselves, consider this for a moment: when you snap a picture of a painting, that you can probably find online via a museum website, how often do you go back and look it? How often do you study it? Why ruin a rare moment of seeing a painting in person by fumbling with your phone? And if you are snapping a picture on your phone for posting on social media, the exhibition has two interesting displays to do just that before you enter the actual exhibition.

The exhibition is presented thematically, using paintings by Kahlo and peers, photographs, and Mexican ceramics to explore Kahlo’s identity. Clothing and make-up are central to this: for example, Kahlo used native clothing to express her Mexican nationalism. It was surprising to see that she loved using perfume and Revlon products (Revlon is the major supporter of this show). Many of these items had been stored in Casa Azul, the home, Kahlo shared with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

One of the most absorbing, and heartbreaking, pieces of art was a lithograph depicting Kahlo’s miscarriage. It was as powerful as the “Henry Ford Hospital” painting, which explores the same subject. I absolutely adored the home movies that were shown, which I saw twice! Among my favorite pieces were the photographs, many of which I had never seen before. Standouts were those by Gisele Freund, known for her documentary photography and portraits of writers and artists.

The major problem with this exhibition is how some of the artwork is displayed, most notably the photographs. Many are presented in groups of four, with two of the four well below eye range. This means that if two people stand in front of the four pictures, others have to wait to properly study and contemplate them (as well as contend with the impolite people who insist on taking pictures). With the crowds, this simply does not work. The first two rooms were rather small with one wasted on a second ticket checkpoint. Yes, there were two checkpoints to get into the exhibition: one at the door and one in front of a wall, projecting images of Kahlo. A wall. Interesting.

It has been over sixty years since Kahlo has passed away, but she still continues to fascinate. This exhibition is worth seeing—but only if you can go during a weekday, with minimal crowds. Each piece is worth quiet contemplation. The exhibition notes how much she loved New York City—the world is here and that is what she embraced and probably why we embrace here today. She is a voice from Mexico’s past conveying the need for more bridges and less walls.

www.edwinroman.com

A Motherfucking Mistake

Let me preface this blog entry by conveying that it is absolutely acceptable to criticize ideas, politicians, and anyone you support. Similarly, one should be open to criticism and should be constantly reexamining their own beliefs. Without this, there is no growth.

Yesterday Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), when speaking to supporters at an event on the night of her swearing in, said:

    “when your son looks at you and says ‘mama, look you won, bullies don’t win.’ And I say ‘baby, they don’t’ because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.”

Dropping the motherfucker bomb was a colossal mistake.

I have been known to drop fuck bombs often, but I don’t do that at work (unless I am in a private conversation with a close colleague). I have two voices: my professional voice and my personal / artistic voice, the one that has no problem saying the word fuck. I also don’t have a problem with women dropping fuck bombs. I have been a fan of Madonna for over thirty years and can’t think of any other entertainer, male or female, who has dropped more fuck bombs. But note, she is an entertainer, not a politician.

I have come to realize, in my middle age, that the overuse of swear words is just a lazy way of expressing yourself or the individual simply does not have a good command of the language—something Trump demonstrates everyday whether in front of the camera or on Twitter. In essence, what Tlaib did what stoop down to Trump’s level. She also gave him what he wanted.

Trump and other conservatives will now use Tlaib’s motherfucker bomb as an endless talking point to steer the conversation away from the real pressing issues. And of course, the bigots are going to endlessly EMPHASIZE the fact that she is a Muslim. The rules for a politician of color are not the same; Obama would never have been elected if his credentials were as paper thin as Trump’s.

Earlier today, I commented on a Twitter posting that supported Tlaib that this was a mistake and people responded with comments that she conveyed what we were thinking. One person responded that intelligent people swear more and that I should Google the studies. How do you explain Trump? Also, some additional context is needed beyond that overshared article and meme. One ridiculous post actually said that no one should criticize Tlaib because Trump sat there smiling while Kanye dropped the fuck bomb in the Oval Office. Again, Kanye, like Trump, is an entertainer. The most vexing were the ones that tried to justify her behavior by saying that Trump does it. No. I agree with the line of thought that we cannot normalize Trump’s lack of decorum, which Tlaib did by acting like him.

Our politicians are not entertainers and should be held to a higher standard. Speaking eloquence is not required, but expletives are always inexcusable. The most scandalous thing I want the politicians I support to do is to wear a tan suit.

edwinroman.com

Camera Ready

Edwin Roman: The Year in Pictures 2018

2018 was actually not a productive year for me in terms of photography. I don’t often go out on photo taking trips during the winter months because working the camera and changing and adjusting lenses is difficult while wearing gloves. My first trip out wasn’t until March. I did travel to New Mexico in July and took a lot of pictures, but the following month was hit with a crushing illness that kept me home bound for the rest of the summer and much of the fall. In spite of the illness, I still managed to produce some photographs with those from the New Mexico trip being among my favorites. I hope you enjoy these photographs, I absolutely loved taking them.

Blue Entryways. Edwin Roman, 2018.
Blue Entryways. Edwin Roman, 2018. As seen at Taos Pueblo.
red-sails-in-the-brooklyn-wind2
Red Sails in the Brooklyn Wind. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from Governors Island.
Kitchen Mesa. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from The Ghost Ranch.
Kitchen Mesa. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from The Ghost Ranch.
Sunset at The Triborough
Sunset Under the Triborough. Edwin Roman 2018.

adobe-red-and-blue

Adobe Americana. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in the Taos Pueblo.
Adobe Americana. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in the Taos Pueblo.
Speakeasy-Sal-sepia
Speakeasy Sal. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island.
San Geronimo Chapel. Edwin Roman 2018.
San Geronimo Chapel. Edwin Roman 2018.
Wards Island Footbridge in Black and White
Wards Island Foot Bridge in Black and White. Edwin Roman 2018.
In the Distance on Route 550. Edwin Roman 2018
In the Distance on Route 550. Edwin Roman 2018
Climb into The Cave Dwelling. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at Bandelier National Monument.
Climb into The Cave Dwelling. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at Bandelier National Monument.
the-sunbather
The Sunbather. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen on Ward’s Island.
bands
Bands. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party.
The Orange Parasol
The Orange Parasol. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party.
Underneath with the Tides
Underneath with the Tides. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen under the boardwalk at Coney Island.
Grazers. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in Taos Pueblo.
Grazers. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in Taos Pueblo.
Juan black and white 2
Juan Views the Atlantic. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at Coney Island.
Adios. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen while leaving The Ghost Ranch.
Adios. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen while leaving The Ghost Ranch.
The-Rockefeller-View
A Rockefeller View. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from the Rockefeller Overlook in New Jersey.
I actually used the above photo as the cover for my forthcoming book, People Watching: New York City. Proceeds from this book will be donated to Humane Borders.

www.edwinroman.com



A Nazi Christmas? Sorry Bigots, You’ve Got Your Wires Crossed

Bigotry is a consequence of ignorance. The less you know, the more you fear. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”

On October 31, 2018, The Washington Post ran a story on Nazi and KKK memorabilia being sold at a Kentucky gun show. Joe Gerth, a columnist with the Louisville Courier-Journal, was at the show to do research for a piece he was working on, interviewing gun dealers to inquire if they feared that the guns they sold could end up being used by the wrong people. Earlier that week, a gunman had gone to a Kroger store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, and fatally shot two Black customers. Later that week, the Tree of Life synagogue was the scene of yet another mass shooting. Both shootings that week were racially motivated and executed by White domestic terrorists.

While at the gun show, Gerth tweeted the following:

A spontaneous face palm hit me when I saw the above picture. Why? Because the Nazi party actually worked to repress and oppress the Christian Church in Germany. In fact, many historians believed that the Nazis intended to completely eliminate Christianity in Germany after winning the war. 1

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “by defending myself against the Jews, I am fighting the Lord’s Work.” But Hitler’s early views towards Christianity were born purely out of political necessity, he knew that he needed the early Nazi Party to attract a majority of Christian voters. However, Nazi ideology could not come to terms with an independent establishment whose legitimacy was not founded and fostered by the Nazi government.2 From 1933 to 1945, more than 6,000 clergymen were charged with treasonable activities and were imprisoned or executed. 3

Interestingly, Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful individual in the third Reich, became interested in Germanic myths, which reinforced the idea of the superiority of the German race as well as other occult ideas. He wanted Germany to be restored to its mythological roots, free of Christianity.4

I know that people like to cherry pick passages from the bible in order to find justification for their bigotry, but to combine your faith with a secular belief that are actually incongruent is ignorance at its worst.

 

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller

 

1 https://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/13/weekinreview/word-for-word-case-against-nazis-hitler-s-forces-planned-destroy-german.html

2 Theodore S. Hamerow; On the Road to the Wolf’s Lair – German Resistance to Hitler; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1997

3 Overy, Richard (2004). The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 281.

4 Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler, trans. Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 77.

 

edwinroman.com