Looking Back at D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968)

The Skirball’s Friday Night Rock Docs series continues this summer with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (1978) on July 31 and Hal Ashby’s Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982) on August 21. In order to get ready for these screenings of landmark rock docs, I decided to delve a little into the history of the genre—with particular focus on D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1968), which kicked off the Skirball series on Friday, June 19.

A barrage of liquid light show images choreographed to the shrill screams and pulsating rhythms of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Combination of the Two” opens Monterey Pop. In this somewhat disorienting opening sequence, Pennebaker immediately sets the documentary—depicting events at the Monterey Pop Festival, which occurred Friday, June 16–Sunday, June 18, 1967—apart from its generic predecessors. This film is not just about the counterculture; Pennebaker employs a style that represents the counterculture’s subversive values both visually and aurally.

Watch Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin, perform “Combination of the Two” live at the Monterey Pop Festival. A recording of the song plays over the opening credit sequence of D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop.

Prior to the release of Monterey Pop and his 1967 Bob Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, Pennebaker was perhaps best known for his affiliation with the Drew Associates, a group of filmmakers including Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, and David and Albert Maysles. Together, these filmmakers furthered a documentary style known as Direct Cinema, largely the product of the new lightweight camera and sound equipment developed in the 1950s. Unlike many conventional documentarians before them, champions of this new style did not use staged reenactments, voiceover narration, or extensive onscreen text to explain their subjects. Instead, they strove for objectivity and immediacy in their films, capturing events as they happened and allowing people to tell their own stories.

In many ways, Monterey Pop assumes the stylistic goals of Direct Cinema. Continue reading

Happy New Year, Skirball Trees!

Every morning when I come to work, I never take for granted how beautiful this campus is. The Skirball is home to hundreds of gorgeous trees, and I am proud to oversee a crew of expert landscapers from Four Seasons Landscape Services who keep them healthy. In honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “New Year” for trees, I’m happy to share a few little fun facts about our lovable family of Skirball trees.

Number of Trees on Campus: 270

Number of Species: 40—Just to name a few, the campus grows California pines, London sycamores, Italian cypresses, magnolia trees, Japanese maples, gingko bilobas, jacarandas, plum trees, and cherry trees.

Unofficial Skirball Mascot: Before we broke ground on constructing Herscher Hall and the Guerin Pavilion, construction crews identified the circular driveway outside the north garage as the best place to position a crane. But in order to install it, we had to remove one olive tree that was planted there. I knew I didn’t want any harm to come to this magnificent tree, so we had a crane lift it, box it, and carefully move it to higher ground. From its new hillside spot perched over the construction site, it became our mascot for the duration of the long and involved building process. The crew and I lovingly named him Charlie. Years later, when the new facility was nearing completion, we moved Charlie back to his original spot near the north entrance, where he is thriving. I have a soft spot for Charlie and always say hello to him!

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.  On the right, Charlie is the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors  at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.
On the right, there’s Charlie in the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors
at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

 

Most Exciting Tree Rescue: If you’ve ever been to one of our Sunset Concerts or just hung out in our central Taper Courtyard, then you know that it features eight tall jacaranda trees. Continue reading

Pasatono Orquesta Revives a Tradition, With a Twist

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.

The Skirball’s annual Hanukkah Family Festival approaches, and this year the festivities take inspiration from Latin American culture. Along with Mexican tin art painting, mariachi and Capoeira performances, and Latin American–influenced Hanukkah treats, don’t miss out on seeing Oaxaca’s Pasatono Orquesta.

Pasatono Orquesta has made a name for itself over the last fifteen years by reinterpreting traditional Mexican folk music. The group’s latest album, Maroma, pays tribute to the traveling circuses that were once popular throughout rural Mexico. These maroma, as they were called, consisted of a single clown tasked with juggling, telling jokes, reciting poetry, and performing acrobatics, drawing inspiration from a mixture of pre-Hispanic indigenous traditions, European street performances, and modern circus elements. Continue reading

Your Recipe for a Romantic Vegan Date at the Skirball

Check out my recipe (linked in the article below) for a fresh vegan summer salad, a satisfying accompaniment to Sunset Concerts at the Skirball.

Check out my recipe (linked in the article below) for a fresh vegan summer salad,
a satisfying accompaniment to Sunset Concerts at the Skirball.

It’s summer, and that means concert season has begun! Now that it’s officially July, you can start counting down the days to this summer’s Sunset Concerts at the Skirball. It all starts on July 24 with a performance by Noura Mint Seymali and continues every Thursday night through August 28.

Sunset Concerts are fun, festive events to share with friends and family. Each concert offers you a night filled with music and dancing, and the concerts are all FREE! Every concert showcases a different style of music, so make sure to check out the Skirball website for a complete line-up. The concerts begin at 8:00 p.m., but try to arrive early because the seating is first-come, first-served!

In my opinion, Sunset Concerts are especially perfect for a romantic date night. If you are looking to impress that special someone, I’ve outlined the recipe for a romantic summertime evening below:

  • I would suggest planning ahead and packing a picnic. Who doesn’t love to be courted with a home-cooked meal? If your date has any special dietary needs, check out my recipe for a vegan Greek salad. As with any great recipe, there’s room for modifications; for instance, you can add feta cheese if you prefer to make a nonvegan version. Along with the salad, pack a baguette or crackers, your favorite hummus, and grapes or strawberries to nibble on. (If packing a picnic isn’t your style, you can purchase a complete meal on site at Zeidler’s expanded grab-and-go cart, featuring gourmet sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, and assorted other goodies.) Continue reading

LA Teens Weave Their Own Stories into the American Fabric

I’m the artistic director of artworxLA, a nonprofit arts organization that combats the high school dropout crisis by re-engaging students in their high school education through long-term sequential arts programming. Formerly called the HeArt Project, artworxLA has spent the last twenty-two years bringing professional artists into continuation and alternative high school classrooms to inspire students to embrace their own creativity, challenge their preconceived notions, and create a space for their creative voices. Our success as an organization rides on the amazing artists that live and work in Los Angeles and the fabulous cultural institutions with which we partner every year.

This school year we partnered with the Skirball Cultural Center. Inspired by objects in the Skirball’s core exhibition Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, 550 students were invited to explore their identities as individuals and community members and to draw parallels to the American Jewish experience. Over the course of ten weeks, students from twenty-five schools worked with teaching artists to explore the immigrant experience across cultures, connect the past to the present, and celebrate their unique American identities as a collection of cultures and heritages. For a minimum of two hours each week, students, teaching artists, and workshop coordinators diligently collaborated to find a creative pathway to explore these concepts. The resulting projects included performance pieces, music mash-ups, short films, poems, and visual artworks.

Above left: A sampling of the range of student artwork from Pocket Portraits completed by students at Hollywood Media Arts Academy with Teaching Artist Lluvia Higuera. Above right: A three-dimensional Poet-Tree conceived by Teaching Artist Marissa Sykes. Photos by Rachel Bernstein Stark and Paul Ulukpo.

Above left: A sampling of the range of student artwork from Pocket Portraits completed by students at Hollywood Media Arts Academy with Teaching Artist Lluvia Higuera. Above right: A three-dimensional Poet-Tree conceived by Teaching Artist Marissa Sykes. Photos by Rachel Bernstein Stark and Paul Ulukpo.

Each of the three series of ten-week workshops culminated with a public presentation at the Skirball, where students presented their artwork to one another and to members of the community. Continue reading

18 Selfies of the Skirball at 18 (Well, If It Could Take a Selfie)

Happy birthday, Skirball! Today you turn eighteen. If you were like other Angelenos your age, you might be spending these days preparing for prom… or waiting for college acceptance letters… or applying for that job you weren’t eligible for until now. Hopefully you’d live up to your mission and register to vote and not dodge jury duty. You’re not quite old enough for a cocktail, but we’ll toast you nonetheless.

It’s been a good year for you, Skirball. At last, your fifteen-acre campus was completed, and in grand style at that. The Jewish Journal took note of the special occasion in a cover story on your founder, Uri D. Herscher, and he and architect Moshe Safdie reflected upon the journey of your building on film. Of this particular birthday, Uri also reminds us, “Eighteen in Jewish life is special cause for celebration, for in Hebrew the number spells life—and the Skirball’s life is thriving like never before.”

Now, as an eighteen-year-old, you would certainly spend a ton of your time taking selfies and posting them online—if only you could. But since you can’t, a few of us on staff took some for you. Here are eighteen gorgeous—and some unexpected—views of you, all taken in the last week or so. Thanks for being home to us and to so many of our visitors. Happy eighteenth!

My Top Ten Puppet Festival Moments 2014

This past Sunday was my first time attending the Skirball’s annual Puppet Festival, and as soon as I reached the parking lot, it was obvious that everyone in attendance was filled with excitement and anticipation. Moms, dads, friends, and relatives were actively engaged in conversation while their children—many dressed in colorful costumes—were skipping with joy at the thought of seeing the myriad of puppets. Throughout the day, I observed many memorable moments; fortunately, talented photographer Peter Turman was there to capture some of them with his camera. The Puppet Festival was a full day of celebrating families, friends, and puppets! Click through the slideshow below to catch a glimpse of the day as seen through my favorite ten of Peter’s photographs.

All photos by Peter Turman

Water World

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When the rain is coming down during winter in L.A. (like it is today, finally!), the Skirball takes on my favorite look: wet. Much has been made of Moshe Safdie’s signature materials—glass, steel, and water—and how they reflect the sun, sky, and mountains. [To learn more about Safdie’s design aesthetic, visit Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie.] Those of us who live/work in one of his environments know the special secrets of how the concrete walls look wet, the patterns of raindrops on the pond, the sound of a storm against the glass, and the occasional leaf floating in a puddle.

It is with these moments in mind that I decided to create a spotify playlist—a soundtrack, if you will, for those stormy days, when the archaeology dig is closed and the buildings’ exteriors take on a mellowed hue. I invite you to pick up an umbrella and admire the Skirball in the rain with your headphones tuned to this playlist.

The Taper Courtyard.

The Taper Courtyard.

“Hljómalind” by Sigur Rós from Hvarf/Heim
The organ at the beginning always reminds me of a church organ, but the song is anything but a hymn. It’s written in Hopelandic, the imaginary Icelandic-like language the band has invented to focus their listeners on sounds rather than words, I frequently think that Jónsi is singing “you saw the light” and “you shine on us.” At the same time, for me the nonsense syllables call to mind the interplay of wet flagstone and sky in the Taper Courtyard. The final moments of the song remind me of a toy piano. Follow along with the Hopelandic lyrics, here.

“Eple” by Röyksopp from Melody A.M. (but I most prefer the Black Strobe remix off their Eple 12″ EP)
In Beaux Art architecture, in order to create a successful fountain, one needed to ensure that anyone strolling by would hear the sound of water on water, water on stone, and water on metal. Certainly on a rainy day one can hear that all of that at the Skirball. “Eple” seems to reflect the romance of falling water in at least all three of those states, plus the drama of grey skies. I think here at the base of the mountains and Mulholland Drive we benefit from a very special climate. If you’ve ever watched the clouds roll into the mountains here and become fog, you know what I am talking about. See the Röyksopp music video, here.

“Tinseltown in the Rain” by The Blue Nile
The classic but defunct indie band The Blue Nile knew a thing or two about rain: their home base was Glasgow, Scotland, a city that receives nearly fifty inches annually. While their song is not about Los Angeles but the impermanence of love, I love comparing the idea of the wet Victorian buildings (ubiquitous in Glasgow) to the Skirball’s rain-streaked modern architecture. Plus the song showcases Paul Buchanan’s plaintive voice to brilliant effect. I often sing the song to myself while I walk out the Skirball’s front door towards a rainy Sepulveda Blvd. The repetition of lyrics is a nice accompaniment to watching windshield wipers of cars stopped at the traffic light. Watch it performed live, hereContinue reading

Intersections between Architecture, Math, and Science

When I look at anything, I see mathematics in it. There is not an object or natural phenomenon that does not seem mathematical in nature to me. According to cosmologist Max Tegmark—as quoted in the July 2008 Discover story Is the Universe Actually Made of Math?—”There is only mathematics; that is all that exists.” Though the way I see the world may be strange to some, I am not the only one who sees it this way!

Taper Courtyard pond at the Skirball. What principles of geometry apply here? Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Taper Courtyard pond at the Skirball. What principles of geometry apply here? Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Every exterior and interior of every structure at the Skirball Cultural Center has a mathematical aspect, as well as a cultural purpose—from the geometry of the slate tiles in the Taper Courtyard (where music fans gather for Sunset Concerts and other programming) to the “tent of welcome” in the Ziegler Amphitheater.

Recently, I’ve been working to create a Math Trail through the Skirball, a walking tour in which students and teachers use the sights and sounds of the campus to complete mathematical challenges. The project is inspired by the Skirball’s current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. One example of math in architecture that we’ll be using on the Skirball Math Trail can be found in the Ziegler Amphitheater.

Ziegler Amphitheater, on the south side of the Skirball campus. Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Ziegler Amphitheater, on the south side of the Skirball campus. Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Slope = rise/run = change in height divided by distance moved forward = 5.5 in/12.5 in = 0.44 = 44/100 = 11/25

Slope = rise/run = change in height divided by distance moved forward = 5.5 in/12.5 in =
0.44 = 44/100 = 11/25

Problem: Begin at the stage and measure the height and depth of a stair step. Estimate the slope of the stairs. Describe your process. Continue reading

Do It Yourself at diy days

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

I first met Moshe Safdie around 1990 when the Skirball Museum staff began to work in earnest on the planning of this cultural center. Over the years of our collaboration with him, he would mention in passing his work in Canada, Israel, and India, and I was always amazed at how he could juggle so many projects at once—no doubt due to the talented team he has assembled.

As I prepared for the opening of Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdiea recent Domus story describes the exhibition and Safdie’s architecture very well—I began to consider how to address topics at the heart of his design philosophy. [Moshe Safdie’s “first principles” include Humanizing the Megascale, Building Responsibly, and Responding to the Essence of Place.] I didn’t want to offer yet another lecture course on architectural history. Instead I wanted to engage our audiences Continue reading