Chinese drag queen BaeJing is at home in front of a camera. When she heard we’d be taking photos, she strutted to the front of the bar at the Ritz in midtown Manhattan, ready to serve looks. She knows her angles—each pose showed off the blended contour and shimmery highlight of her cheekbones. More →
New York’s still ripe for catching movies, be it the common blockbuster or obscure fare, but it’s tough getting people in the door. Yet over at arthouse temple IFC Center, a cult grows. Since September, Planet Midnight – a Cronenbergian meld of cult distributor IFC Midnight and storied comics shop Forbidden Planet – has been offering a premium experience for cheap thrills: free movies, free popcorn, free beer, interaction with the filmmakers themselves, all at a decent hour.
For folks hesitant to gamble on shared theatrical experiences, Planet Midnight boasts the chance to re-evaluate while supporting underground artists. That chance is rare; for Planet Midnight’s curators, it’s essential. “Providing something community-based, opening up the definitions of genre, making spaces for different voices, and giving voices to women and people of color are what it’s about,” curator Kate McEdwards explains via phone.
This Thursday’s choice cut is Jennifer Reeder’s Knives & Skin, an overwhelmingly colorful teen nightmare which owes more to a melting John Hughes mixtape than to David Lynch.
Writer-director Reeder jams imagery both comforting and disturbing into a busy satire about the trials of girlhood in a barbaric yet harmonic world. The weirdness never stops – moms sleep on tin-foil pillows and throw raw meatloaf; dads wear clown makeup to cope with unemployment; acapella groups sing the Go-Go’s while their teacher cries. The Midwestern town – one of many nods to John Hughes – is full of secrets, which the film only begins to uncover. Don’t expect narrative closure from Reeder’s art, just ride the vibe. Her Vimeo page offers a glimpse into the kind of artist curators Kate McEdwards and Matt Desiderio are elevating.
A publicist for IFC, McEdwards champions IFC Midnight’s titles, which include some of the decade’s best (The Babadook, House of Pleasures). McEdwards also co-hosts the Ladies Horror Night podcast with filmmaker Daphne Gardner, highlighting women’s roles in horror, both in front of the camera or behind (see their pre-show sizzle reel of Mary Lambert’s wonderfully bizarre Pet Sematary II).
On Forbidden Planet’s end is manager Matt Desiderio, who has screened underground movies at Drafthouse and Spectacle, and curates Forbidden Planet’s collector-friendly Blu-ray/DVD section. (See our coverage of his Museum of VHS and Charles Pinion showcases.)
Desiderio and McEdwards have created a cost-effective program adjacent to the film-festival circuit, allowing a pinhole into a plethora of overlooked goods. Many of the films picked for the IFC Midnight slate are from international festivals, which even avid filmgoers have trouble attending. Very few films enjoy a life when the circuit closes. The other mission is to return the midnight movie to the dreamlike realms of Pink Flamingos, Rocky Horror, and Eraserhead. These films don’t fit into a distinct slot, all incorporating tropes from musicals, horror, and melodrama.
The Planet Midnight slate follows that lead and encourages collective fun; legal-age filmgoers get a drink voucher to a nearby bar, The Half Pint, where they can unpack what they just saw. Knives & Skin is chock-full of conversation fodder.
Over the phone, Reeder discusses young life in the 1980s, an identity that the Knives & Skin uses as a lens. “The film itself is a teenager,” she says, “trying on many identities. It’s about transitions, and it is a film itself in transition.” Knives & Skin thrives when changing appearance, just as its characters find strength in their emblematic costumes; much of Reeder’s inspiration comes from her roots in ballet’s heightened scale. She says her deadpan interactions and emblematic characters are owed to Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) and Oscar Wilde, whose works are defined by characters in comedies of manners and profound transitions. As Knives & Skin demonstrates, that shock affects adults and teenagers alike. Music plays a collective role in that, be it in a lamentful take on Naked Eyes’ “Promises, Promises” or in the peripheral probe of Nick Zinner’s synth score.
Having grown up in central Ohio, Reeder found refuge in misfits, be it her friends or in music or film. Knives & Skin embodies the type of film she wishes she found as a kid. It was picked up by IFC Midnight after playing Berlin and Tribeca. Her biggest dream for the film now? “Fast-forward to the midnight cosplay singalong version.”
One could draw a straight line from Knives & Skin to Greener Grass, an only slightly less ghoulish take on soul-sucking suburbia. That colorful off-color comedy, starring writer/director duo Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, screened for Planet Midnight before beginning a small run at IFC Center and Nitehawk Cinema. With a flavor reminiscent of John Waters siphoned through Adult Swim, it’s an eye-popping dark comedy that offers something to inspire conversation. The same can be said for the series’ other past picks, be it the unlikely star or jittery use of past Hollywood stars – no holograms, please – in Jesus Shows You The Way to the Highway, or the practical/fiscal possibilites of creating a Frankenstein’s monster in a New York apartment a la Larry Fessenden’s Depraved.
Thursday’s screening of Knives & Skin is nearly filled up, but in case newcomers miss out on the screening, Planet Midnight’s spring slate will be announced this month. They even have an exciting batch of filmmakers and studios in tow to help spread the fun. Meanwhile, midnight riders can hit up IFC Center or Nitehawk for limited screenings beginning Friday, December 6th, when the film will also be on VOD. You can also follow IFC Midnight and Forbidden Planet through the usual social media outlets.
The 2019 Gotham Independent Film Awards arrive at a critical moment in awards season. Predating most of the major awards, they provide a clue into which indies are on the industry’s radar. But more importantly, Monday night’s ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street highlighted a selection of excellent titles — from indie gems such as The Farewell and Waves to mainstream favorites like Hustlers. More →
Present Bodies: Papermaking at Dieu Donné
Opening Wednesday, December 4 at BRIC, 7 pm. On view through February 2.
Though it’s not quite as big a part of our lives as it used to be, paper is still ubiquitous. It creates our books, our restaurant menus, our never-ending piles of junk mail, and of course, our art. Starting Wednesday, our humble paper will get the star treatment at an exhibit at BRIC, showcasing artists who not only make art on paper but make the very paper displaying their art. The show features eight artists who participated in a recent residency at hand papermaking organization Dieu Donné. They all use their craft to explore marginalized bodies, taking both their identities and the medium their art exists on into their own hands.More →
Over the years, B+B contributor Frank Mastropolo has brought us a series on Lower Manhattan’s ghost signs; painted on walls or erected in metal or neon, ghost signs are relics of businesses that vanished long ago.
Schiffer Publishing has just released Mastropolo’s new book, “Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past.” With photos of more than 100 signs, the book reveals the stories behind the old ads.
Click through the slideshow to see ten additional ghost signs recently spotted.
R&L Restaurant, 69 Gansevoort Street
R&L Lunch opened in 1938, serving the butchers and longshoremen in the Meatpacking District. In 1955, the eatery was renamed R&L Restaurant. Florent opened in the space in 1985 at a time, the New York Times noted, that the neighborhood hosted “a brand of debauchery that had little in common with the sleek corporate offerings that define the neighborhood today.” Florent closed in 2008 and later R&L became a retail space.
Waverly Smoke Shop, 29 Waverly Place
The Waverly Smoke Shop, across the street from New York University, opened in the 1940s and for decades sold cigarettes, candy, newspapers and NYU gear. Shop owners Mel and Jerry Goldstein were perplexed, the New York Daily News reported in 1991, when they were deluged with requests for NYU tank tops. Fans were trying to emulate Ellen Barkin, who wore the shirt in a scene from the film Switch. When Oren’s Daily Roast closed this year, the smoke shop’s sign was revealed.
Ramon, 201 West Eleventh Street
Ramon Hair Design was a Greenwich Village salon in the 1980s. When Two Boots West Village closed for renovations in 2019, workers removed its signage to reveal Ramon’s ghost sign.
S. Klein, 68 Clinton Street
The flagship of the S. Klein department store chain was open on Union Square from about 1912–1975. S. Klein was founded in 1905 and had other stores in New York and New Jersey. This ghost sign, embedded in the floor at the entrance of the Pig & Khao restaurant, may be the last evidence of the stores in Manhattan.
S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer, 317 East Fifth Street
The retail space down a few steps in the East Village was a bar and grill from at least the 1940s until the 1980s. S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer is apparently a much older tenant, though little is remembered about it. Its ghost sign was revealed during renovations in 2019.
Foot Gear Plus, 131 First Avenue
Foot Gear Plus opened in the East Village in 1980. Owner Tony Scifo told EV Grieve why he decided to close in 2019. “After several years of peaks and valleys in business there were just too many valleys . . . We offered great merchandise and great service — no gimmicks. But we just can’t compete with online.”
Foot Gear’s original sign was revealed by workers in 2019 as the site was being cleared.
Nathaniel Fisher & Co., 146 Duane Street
In the 1880s Duane Street and West Broadway was a neighborhood of shoe manufacturers and dealers. One of the most enduring was Nathaniel Fisher, a manufacturer and importer of shoes and boots. Its founder moved here in the late 1800s and remained at the address until 1953.
Craig’s Shoes, 114 Chambers Street
Craig’s Shoes in Tribeca opened in 1949. Before it closed in 2006, the New York Times noted some of its famous customers. “Senator Charles E. Schumer has picked up Rockport Dressports for $100. And the actor Robert De Niro once sent an autographed picture after an assistant bought shoes for him there.” Renovations in 2019 revealed Craig’s ghost sign.
The Yipster Times, 9 Bleecker Street
The Yipster Times was the house organ of the Yippies, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin’s anti-war protest group. Founded by Dana Beal in 1972, the newspaper was published sporadically from 1972 to 1979, when its name was changed to Overthrow. Its small staff wrote and edited the paper in a three-story building that served as newsroom, office, dormitory and meeting hall for East Village activists.
Whalebone, 161 Duane Street
While this Whalebone ghost sign in Tribeca has been repainted, it is authentic. The Tribeca Citizen explains that in the second half of the 20th century, the bones of whales were used in corsets, hoop skirts and buggy whips. George Messmann opened the Pacific Whale Company here in 1890. He later told a reporter, “I had that sign painted large and white because I learned as a mere lad that advertising pays.”
As the whale population was decimated and fashions changed, the whale bone industry collapsed. Messmann closed his store in 1920.
Photos by Frank Mastropolo unless noted.
Pete’s Candy Store opened in Williamsburg on December 1st, 1999. It’s almost unbelievable that it would still be open, 20 years later, considering the trajectory of the neighborhood over the ensuing era. Pete’s stage has welcomed a laundry list of now-famous musicians and writers, while becoming home base for a rotating yet loyal pastiche of social cliques. More →
If gorging on turkey, stuffing and canned cranberry sauce doesn’t sound like a good time and you wouldn’t be caught dead at the Macy’s parade, you might be anti-Thanksgiving. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do in the city that don’t involve gluttonous food consumption or having awkward conversations with distant relatives. If you’re stuck in the city for the fourth Thursday of the month, here are some alternative events to check out. More →
Last week Elon Musk revealed the apparent result of that weed he smoked on the Joe Rogan podcast: the Tesla cybertruck, a retrofuturistic wedge that’s made of dent-proof stainless steel and supposedly shatterproof glass— in case Alec Baldwin ever steps to you over a parking spot. More →
If you text teen pop star Chloe Grace Baker, a.k.a Baker Grace, you’ll probably wait for a reply for three to five business days. The 19-year-old songstress isn’t a fan of technology, or the way social media is being relied on in this digital age. Instead of fawning over Instagram likes and Facebook friends, Baker is using her music to flip the script on how social media is used. More →
Parked under a bridge in Queens is a white Mercedes Sprinter van. On the outside it looks like any other car; maybe you notice the solar panels on top, or the windows blocked with insulation. But on the inside is Nathan Staiger’s entire life. Staiger, 30, goes to school, rock climbs and sleeps in his van. Some may think he’s homeless, climbers may think he’s awesome, but Staiger and a small community of other vandwellers in the city are carrying a torch that has a deep history in climbing and other outdoor sports. More →