Geneva Anderson digs into art

Interview: renowned artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, talks about his “Napoleon” poster, especially commissioned for the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s reconstructed silent film masterpiece

New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who created the poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's exclusive screenings of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” signed his posters at Oakland’s elegant Paramount Theatre on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Abel Gance’s riveting silent film, “Napoleon,” presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), has taken the Bay Area by storm—and there are just two remaining opportunities to catch the reconstructed classic: this Saturday and Sunday at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.  Equally amazing is the film’s poster, essentially a huge portrait of Napoleon, evoking the tri-colored French flag, created especially for the event by legendary artist and illustrator Paul Davis.  Even if you’re not familiar with Paul Davis, you’re likely familiar with Paul Davis’ work, especially if you went to any Broadway or off-Broadway shows in the 1970’s or 80’s, where you would have seen his posters, or if you read magazines like Time, Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Esquire, etc., where he’s done both illustrations and covers.   When the prestigious Centre Georges Pompidou opened in Paris in 1977, Davis was the first American artist to show his work there—his solo show was part of the museum’s opening festivities.  His artwork is also included in  MOMA’s poster collection.  His career spans 50 plus years and his creative voice has helped define that world where art, illustration, design and typography all spill brilliantly into each other.  

His Napoleon poster, too, is sure to become a classic: on the top is an evocative portrait of a young Napoleon, the man who would defend a nation during its greatest Revolution.  Executed in rich hues of blue, with strands of seafoam hair framing his pensive face, the young leader stares imperiously—right at you and right through you.  On the bottom, in red, there’s a subtle use of an epic battle scene from Napoleon’s Italian campaign which closes the film.  Blazoned across the center in a gorgeous typeface called Eagle is “Napoleon” set off by a white backdrop.  Full size posters and window placards are all around the Bay Area and, last weekend, a few were brought to Sonoma County.  

Bruce Goldstein, of New York’s Film Forum, on the advisory board for SFSFF and handling the national publicity for the Napoleon event, suggested Davis for the poster.  “All Paul’s posters have a real psyche,” said Goldstein, who first worked with Davis in the late 1990’s, when his company, Rialto Pictures, commissioned him to do the poster for the special re-release of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937), one of the greatest movies of all time.  “We needed something special, not a run of the mill poster, and Paul Davis, was the illustrator who came to mind who was worthy of Grand Illusion.  And he delivered!  I might also add that his image for Grand Illusionbecame the very first image used as a DVD cover by the Criterion Collection, which was quite an honor for Criterion.”

 “Most movie posters today, even those for so-called art house films, are filled with clichés—it’s just ridiculous,” said Goldstein.  “We didn’t want the Napoleon poster to be an advertisement but rather an enduring work of art in the tradition of the great poster designers of the 19th century, like Toulouse-Lautrec.  You’ll see textual information, which had to be there, but you won’t see any critical quotes on this poster.”

“A poster makes an incredible impression and it’s really a very important factor in the decision to go and see a film,” said Anita Monga, Artistic Director, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, “This is an artwork that makes you want to see the film and that you’ll want to have afterwards to commemorate the screening.  It’s all we’re using.”

I couldn’t wait to speak with Davis about his poster and I caught up with him at last Friday’s dress rehearsal for Napoleon at the Paramount Theatre.

How did you approach a poster design project like this?

Paul Davis:  I first saw the film in 1981, when it was at Radio City Music Hall with a live orchestra and it was quite dramatic.  I remember that feeling of being swept up in it, the emotions, but not so many of the details.  I managed to download the whole thing from the internet on my computer and I really looked at it and that’s where I got most of my reference material from too.  I knew I was going to do a portrait of Napoleon right away.  It was really hard to find that right image–I did a half a dozen portraits before I did this one.   This was from a frame right out of the film itself.

The creative process also has a lot to do with intention.  When I set out to do something like this, I go to the material and I go as deeply as I can go, finding out what moves me and working off of that.  I started on this project last summer and I had several versions and that’s how it’s done.  Sometimes there’s a great film and it really suffers from this lack of attention and that always mystifies me.

Why are so many movie posters today absolute turn-offs?

I ask myself that all the time.  You can look at a movie poster and you say, ‘I know that genre; I don’t want to see the movie.’  But these designers so often miss the point of the movie—they’re so interested in making sure that you know the genre and in capturing a given audience that they are unwilling to experiment in capturing what’s actually moving about that film.  As a result, a lot of posters are negative advertising.     

A film frame of French actor, screenwriter, film director and novelist Albert Dieudonné, who plays the adult Napoleon in Abel Gance’s silent film “Napoléon,” was the basis of artist Paul Davis’ limited edition poster that was commissioned by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for its special Bay Area screenings of the newly restored masterpiece. Image: courtesy SFSFF

For me, what works about the Napoleon image you’ve created is that he is both looking at us and right through us, as if he’s fixed on more important things, which seems so appropriate.  We have a glimpse of his internal world and there’s an almost filmic saturation of the colors. 

Paul Davis:  I do try to capture as much of the character as I can.  There is an emotional quality as well.  He’s looking out into the world.  He was such an unusual character, so very confident and such a leader.   People don’t do what he did without tremendous courage, audacity, and arrogance.  

In terms of a subject for a portrait, it’s hard to take your eyes off Albert Dieudonné−those penetrating eyes and his total embodiment of a complex and driven personality.  

Paul Davis:   Actually, they weren’t sure they were going to cast him; he really had to convince Gance, who thought he was too old.  He dressed up in the uniform and went over to visit him―they were friends―and he got the part.

The portrait that is so familiar of Napoleon though, that is in everyone’s mind, is the one of Napoleon with his hands in his coat, with that kind of permanent scowl, which is so grim.  I wanted to make the poster a likeness of Dieudonné, with an echo of what we all know about Napoleon−that fierce grin on his face.  Actually, if you look closely at the poster, at the face, you’ll a great difference in the whites of his eyes too.  If you look at people’s faces and divide them, there are two different people in everyone.    

So the inspiration is a film still, but you had a real vision of what it should convey.

Paul Davis:  Well, I took the frames I liked off the film, literally hundreds and hundreds of them, and then I loaded them all in iPhoto and I studied them.  I was really looking for very subtle types of emotion and when I finally arrived at that, I printed those out and drew from a few of those.  I actually made several finished portraits.  I was trying to depict that moment when he internalizes that he is the revolution, with him gazing upwards and having the light come from behind his head.  I was working and working with that but I couldn’t get it―it wasn’t convincing.  The one that I chose was the last one that I made.  I knew I had it because it did everything I wanted it to do.

Beyond the idea of a portrait, how did you approach designing this?

For the battle scene at the bottom, I started with a chaotic scene from the film but it was so blurry and it didn’t have everything I wanted, so I started inserting figures and objects into that, that you could read and identify.

Would you say you’re very influenced by and even dependent on photos? 

Paul Davis:   Of course, but when I do the theatre things, if I could get access, I’ve always tried to take my own photographs and to spend time close to the heart of the performance.  I try to see the person separately so that I can have an idea of their character.   For me, I felt that I need to get to know them.  I attempted that here too, to capture Napoleon’s personality.

Paul Davis designed the limited edition poster for the 1999 theatrical re-release of Jean Renoir's 1937 "Grand Illusion. His same poster image also serves as "Spine #1," the first DVD, for the Criterion Collection's elite collection of classic films. Limited-edition U.S. one-sheet, matte finish, 27 x 40 inches, created for the 1999 theatrical rerelease. image: courtesy Paul Davis

When do you add color?  Also, how did you handle the division of space and how it all comes together?

Paul Davis:  First, I compose the image and the color comes last.  I painted the portrait blue and the battle scene red with Photoshop.  I had the idea for the tricolor from the film itself because, at the end of the film, the screen is tricolor, pretty hard and intense―the left screen is blue; the middle is white; the right is red.  The images are just sort of boiling over those colors and that’s the end of the film.

But before that, I basically have the two images in the computer and I set up the size of the poster and start playing with the scale so that I could make the battle scene wider or narrower or deeper or shallower.  Then, I added the white in the center.  I also had to add all that text at the bottom. At that point, it becomes more technical, just trying to fit everything in.  I knew that I didn’t want any text above his face so I convinced everyone to put the title in the middle and everything else beneath that. 

You’ve chosen a very simple typeface but the color makes it pop.

Paul Davis:   That typeface is “Eagle” and it’s one of my favorites. I don’t pick them by name but there’s an eagle in the movie that keeps appearing, so this is the perfect typeface.  It’s from the 1930’s and it’s very useful and you’d be surprised at how many places in the world that it appears.  Once you start noticing those spiky m’s and n’s and the perfectly round o’s―it’s really gorgeous.  Napoleon has this wonderful “o” in it and “n’s” on both ends and it’s such a great word that really works with that font.

What was the feeling you wanted to evoke though the typeface?

Paul Davis designed the poster for Joseph Papp's 1976 production of "The ThreePenny Opera," by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, starring Raul Julia as Mack, and performed at the 1976 New York Shakespeare Festival. Image courtesy: Paul Davis.

Paul Davis:  I wasn’t trying for nostalgia at all, maybe the opposite.  I tried another typeface of Cassandre’s (pseudonym of the legendary French artist Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron) called “Bifur.”  Cassandre was a great poster designer who did all those great 1920’s posters we know of steamships and so forth.  Bifur is an experimental font from that era which I always wanted to use but haven’t yet.  It just didn’t work for the poster, so I used Eagle instead, which is from also that era and from that same period in which Gance was working, that very modern age.  The colorization was handled through Photoshop.

Sounds like you reply on your iPhone, Photoshop and the new design tools.

Paul Davis:  Photoshop, an Apple computer, iPhone and quite a lot of software—it’s all standard for artists now.  The only thing that is a little unusual about the work that I do is that I also do a lot of illustration and I also do design.  The illustrators all want to know if I had to learn about type and the type designers all want to know if they have to learn about drawing.   My attitude is why wouldn’t they want to know−it’s like consciously choosing to remain crippled. 

Your website has a fabulous gallery of work.  I recognize several of these images.  Which are your favorites?

Paul Davis:   The early theatre posters I did for Joe Papp―The Three Penny Opera and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.   Those were the first real theatre posters I did.  That was over 30 years ago.  I did most of these within a year or two of each other and I was exploring new ground and I was very receptive to trying many different things for new effects.  To kind of begin a career with an opportunity like this was really good because it gave me the chance to do the type of work that I wanted to do.

How many movie posters have you done and how are they different from your theatre posters?

Paul Davis:  There are different contractual agreements.  In terms of film posters, I’ve done:  Small Circle of Friends (Rob Cohen, 1980, starring Brad Davis, Karen Allen and Jameson Parker), Secret Friends (Dennis Potter, 1992, starring Alan Bates),  Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937, starring Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Eric von Stroheim) and Napoleon.  I’ve done quite a lot of sketches for movie posters that were rejected and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do them.  We’re doing another Grand Illusion poster for the 75th anniversary.  They are doing a digital version of the original print, so I’m doing that too.

What makes a movie poster work for you?

Paul Davis:  I really love the posters from the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s.  They had very exciting graphics but they weren’t taken very seriously in terms of being an art form.  Some movies had as many as 1,000 printed pieces that went with them to the exhibitor and, to capture different audiences, they would do two and three posters for some movies.  They would also put little contests into the posters too to find out whether people were actually looking at them.  They would print small things like, “Mention this when you come to the theatre and you’ll get a prize.”  I was amazed at how intense some of these posters were and how creatively they were designed and how they made real statements.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, they used some of the very best artists in New York for these—like Al Hirshfeld.  When it came to prizes, these artists never won any prizes for these things because I think they were considered kind a low form of art.   That whole era, when they were churning them out and were so experimental, is very exciting for me.

Paul Davis’ 1968 portrait of Che Guevara, based on a photograph by Alberto Korda, became the February cover of liberal “Evergreen Review.” The public response was instant and intense—copies of the poster were defaced and a bomb was thrown into the Evergreen offices. 30 x 45 inches. Image: Paul Davis

What poster artists inspire you?  I’ve read that you really appreciate Toulouse Lautrec.  

Paul Davis:  The best posterist at the time was Jules Cheret, known for his rainbow of color…an almost impressionistic splatter of color…but Lautrec, one of the very best artists, really breathed life into his art.   And because he was wealthy, and could do what he wanted, he was such a great artist.  Lautrec, Cheret and Cassandre—the high art they brought to the poster was unexcelled.  So the poster, for me, really starts in France and then it goes to a lot of other places.   I heard that Lautrec used to go and stay in the country with some friends of his and, every day at their house, he would write the menu for dinner and make a drawing and would do this in multiple.  The woman who owned the house would throw them away afterwards.   And apparently he never objected at all to her behavior.  It just makes me sick to think of throwing out those drawings.

What are you working on right now?

Paul Davis:   Two things.  A promotion for a new project about Eleanor Roosevelt (a video) and I really want to do a portrait of Obama for the election. I had this idea four years ago but the Shepard Fairey inauguration poster just swamped everything and it was so good, very graphic, and you really remember it.  I also thought I ought to do a poster of Mitt Romney too, just to be fair.  Norman Rockwell did this.  He did Nixon and John F. Kennedy and he did Eisenhower and Stevenson and he would do these portraits every 4 or 8 years, and he was so even handed.  I really want to do this.

But it sounds like you’re not so interested in being even handed?

Paul Davis:   No.

Do you have any personal connection to Napoleon?

Paul Davis:   Well, I grew up in Oklahoma.  In 1803; Napoleon sold that land, which included Oklahoma and 14 others states, in the Louisiana Purchase to Thomas Jefferson.  If he hadn’t sold this, I might be French today.  So that’s my connection.

If you could somehow go back in time to Napoleon’s era when he was the most important figure in world politics and the frequent subject of caricature, how might you have depicted him?

Paul Davis:  I don’t know what I would have done.  The fact is that they were sending English caricaturists to jail in France for what they did…but the satire back then was quite sophisticated.  I recently saw an image at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their exhibition, “Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine” of a caricature done by the famous English artist, James Gillray, dated 1805, showing Napoleon and William Pitt, who was England’s Prime Minister, though they didn’t use that title at the time.  The two of them are carving up the world―depicted as a big plum pudding with the Earth drawn on it.  The thing that struck me as fascinating was that Gillray was criticizing the English military mandate in the same way that he was criticizing Napoleon.  You saw Napoleon slicing off Europe and the

The political cartoon first appeared in England. Here two famous individuals, Napoleon and William Pitt, are the butts of the artist James Gillray, who is satirizing both France and England. "The Plumb-pudding in danger-- or State Epicures Taking un Petit Souper" 1805," colored engraving, 240 x 340 mm, British Museum, London. Image courtesy: British Museum.

English guy slicing off another side, like the Americas.  Napoleon was trying to unite Europe and started out with a very noble cause, wanting to bring about real change.  In the beginning, the French Revolution was supposed to bring liberty, equality and fraternity and it did remove a lot of obstacles to progress but it brought along a lot of horrible things as awful people came to power.  Napoleon came in at the end of that and he was lucky that he didn’t get caught up in it, or killed.  He seemed set to really change things but he became a total nepotist and had members of his direct family made kings (of Belgium, Italy and Spain) and that flew in the face of everything the revolution had fought for.  I’m sure I would have found a way to comment on that, but it was also dangerous. 

Paul Davis’ Artwork appearing in film and television:  Paul Davis’ artwork has appeared in many movies and TV shows. When Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason share an apartment in The Goodbye Girl, it is decorated with Davis’s poster for the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Henry V.  Davis’s poster of Che Guevara appears both in Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! and Rob Cohen‘s A Small Circle of Friends.  In the film adaptation of John Guare‘s Six Degrees of Separation, Davis’s mural for New York City’s Arcadia restaurant is featured.  Paul’s iconic poster for the Public Theater production of Three Penny Opera is on the wall of Jonathan Eliot’s apartment in the NBC sitcom The Single Guy. In the 2009 film Precious, Paul’s poster for the 1975 production of Ntozake Shange‘s For Colored Girls adorns the teacher’s apartment.

Click here to purchase a limited edition Napoleon poster by Paul Davis.  (27” x 40”  $30.00 and 11” x 17’ $15.00)  Posters will also be available at all four screenings.

More about Paul Davis:  There’s a very good article by Steven Heller about Paul Davis (click here to read) at AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Paul Davis’ Napoleon poster was printed by Jeff Baltimore of XL Graphics, Inc., in NY.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What:  Silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927 5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the finale in polyvision, requiring 3 screens. The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by the eminent British composer, Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film. This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music. 

2 remaining performances: Saturday, March 31, 2012, and Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Margaret De Patta lecture and curator walk-through on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at OMCA

De Patta's nontraditional use of gemstones and her use of simple lines and structure to create elegant architectural forms are key to understanding her influence on contemporary jewelry design. Margaret De Patta. (American, 1903–64). Pendant, 1959. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Eugene Bielawski, The Margaret De Patta Memorial Collection. Photo: Lee Fatherree

Jean DeMouthe, senior collections manager for geology at Cal Academy, will discuss the basics of gemology, focusing on the types of stones used by jeweler Margaret De Patta, followed by a guided tour of Space-Light-Structure: The Jewelry of Margaret De Patta with Julie Muñiz, Associate Curator of Craft & Decorative Art at The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA).   The event will take on Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 2 p.m.

Studio jeweler Margaret De Patta (1903-1964) blended Constructivist principles with Bauhaus design to create miniature sculpture that moved with its wearer.  Based in the Bay Area, De Patta, who studied with Bauahus sculptor Moholy-Nagy in Chicago is credited with starting the American studio jewelry movement on the West Coast.  The Oakland Museum holds the largest collection of De Patta’s work, most of which was donated by her (third) husband Eugene Bielawski after the artist’s untimely death by suicide in 1964.  “Space-Light-Structure” features more than 60 of De Patta’s iconic jewelry pieces as well as ceramics, flatware, photographs, pictograms, and newly released archival material.   The exhibition also features stunning Moholy-Nagy photographs, some never exhibited publicly before.  Space-Light Structure is a collaboration with the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York and is co-curated by Ursula Isle-Neuman, MAD’s Curator of Jewelry.

Discover Margaret De Patta’s work online by exploring OMCA’s online collection of De Patta creations.

Stay tuned to ARThound for coverage of “Space-Light Structure” and an interview with Julie Muñiz.

Details:   The De Patta lecture begins at 2 p.m on Sunday, March 25, 2012.  The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is at 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street, in Oakland.   General Admission to OMCA is $12.00.

March 24, 2012 Posted by | Art | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pounce! General subscription tickets for the Green Music Center’s Inaugural season go on sale tomorrow, Sunday, March 25, 2012

Subscription packages for the inaugural season of the Green Music Center  go on sale to the general public at 8 a.m. on Sunday, March 25, following a two-week advanced ticketing window for Green Music Center capital campaign donors.  For additional information, visit or call 1-866-955-6040.

March 24, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | | Leave a comment

Abel Gance’s fabled “Napoleon” has arrived”—artist Paul Davis signs his “Napoleon” posters Sunday morning, March 25, 2012, at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre

New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who designed the poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's exclusive screenings of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” will sign posters at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Photo: courtesy Paul Davis

Yesterday’s press screening and final orchestra rehearsal of Abel Gance’s legendary silent film “Napoleon,” was an exhilarating all day affair at Oakland’s magnificent historical Paramount Theatre.  I hadn’t seen “Napoleon” before and was blown away by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s restoration of the 1927 silent film classic—which added an additional 30 minutes of found footage and upgraded the film’s image quality substantially (particularly in tinting and toning) since its previous restoration, some 30 years ago.  British composer Carl Davis’  new 5 ½ hour orchestral score,  a pastiche of dramatic and inspirational music from the period and some new material,  was played valiantly and with great emotion by the Oakland East Bay Symphony.   It was also my first opportunity to meet acclaimed New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who designed the limited edition poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s four exclusive screenings of this masterpiece, unseen in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.  Davis’ compelling poster, which uses the colors of the French flag, is based on an actual film frame of Albert Dieudonné, the intriguing French actor who brilliantly brought the adult Napoleon to life on screen.  Dieudonné plays Napoleon through age 26, when the film ends, just as the legendary young general is about to lead the French Army into Italy, marking the close of the 18th century.  Napoleon became emperor in 1804 and died in 1821, having undone many of the principles he so ardently fought for as he rallied the people and brought France to glory.   The poster’s lower section, in red, features Davis’ conception of the film’s final battle, which will be shown in its intended and unforgettable Polyvision panoramic version at the Paramount Theatre.

The festival is selling Davis’ iconic poster in two sizes–27” x 40” and 11” x 17’–and Davis will be signing posters on Sunday, March 25, 2012, at the Paramount Theatre from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., just before the film’s second screening at 1:30 p.m.  Admission to the signing is free.

Artist Paul Davis with his Napoleon poster at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. Davis will be signing his posters, designed especially for the San Francisco Silent Film Society, on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Image: Myrna Davis

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with Paul Davis about his conception for the poster.  Davis is perhaps best know for his iconic theater posters (including Three Penny Opera and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide…) for producer Joseph Papp.  He also designed the poster for Film Forum’s 1999 screening of the rerelease of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion, hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made.   

Click here to purchase a limited edition Napoleon poster by Paul Davis.  (27” x 40” ($30) and 11” x 17’ ($15)  Posters will also be available at all four screenings.

Davis’ poster can be seen in Petaluma at the Petaluma Arts Center, the Central Market restaurant, Petaluma Pie Company, and Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus in the Mahoney library and Ellis Auditorium.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What: Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927   5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the final polyvision, requiring 3 screens. The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film. This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music.

When: March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 24, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Magnificent March of “Napoleon”—Abel Gance’s fabled silent film masterpiece has been restored and is screening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre to live music, starting this weekend, March 24, 2012

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting Abel Gance’s legendary masterpiece, Napoleon,  unseen in the U.S. for nearly 30 years—for four performances only—March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012—at Oakland’s historic Paramount Theatre.  This marks the exclusive U.S. premiere of silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s complete restoration of the film and the U.S. premiere of a 5 ½ hour orchestral score by the eminent British composer Carl Davis,  who will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony at all four screenings.  The Brownlow restoration, produced with his partner Patrick Stanbury at Photoplay Productions in association with the BFI (The British Film Institute), is the most complete version of Gance’s masterpiece since its 1927 premiere at the Paris Opéra.  The film will screen in the original 20 frames per second, with the finale in polyvision, requiring 3 screens.  The gorgeous Art Deco Paramount Theatre in Oakland is one of the few theatres in the country that could meet the technical, staging and spatial requirements of this enormous undertaking— a proscenium large enough for the Polyvision finale, an orchestra pit, floor space to accommodate a 48 member orchestra, and a seating capacity of 3,000.  And because Carl Davis would have had to work with a different symphony orchestra in every city to deliver the monumental 5 ½ hour score  — that’s at least four solid days of rehearsal—expensive!—there are NO plans for this restored version to travel to any other U.S. venue.  And because the cost of recording the 5 1.2 hour score is prohibitively expensive for the DVD/BluRay market, and the dramatic Polyvision finale in the theatre could not be duplicated— It would be letterboxed onto the television, no matter how large your viewing screen is.—there will be no DVD/BlueRay recording made.  This is it!

What exactly is Polyvision? And what are the technical requirements?  Polyvision was one of Abel Gance’s greatest innovations: for Naploeon’s finale, the screen dramatically expands to three times its normal width, for both panoramic views and montages of images. There has not been anything like it since: even the similar American process Cinerama, first presented 25 years later, never made such virtuosic use of its three screens.

To present Polyvision at the Oakland Paramount, three projection booths equipped with three perfectly-synchronized projectors must be specially installed, along with a purpose-built three-panel screen, which will fill the width of the auditorium.  These technical requirements can only be handled by top technicians and a 3-person team from Boston Light & Sound is being specially brought in for the Paramount’s installation.

In the captivating clip below, Brownlow is captured in an interview discussing Napoleon some 30 years ago.  Brownlow became fascinated with Gance’s film when, as a schoolboy in the 1950s, he ran two 9.5mm reels he had stumbled upon at a street market.  That chance encounter turned into a lifelong fascination with Gance and a quest to restore the film.   Last year, Brownlow became the first film historian ever honored with a special Academy Award and he will feature promnently in the events at the Paramount Theatre, including a special Gala dinner and reception on Friday, March 23, 2012 in Okaland and a talk at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on March 30, 2012.

The first major Brownlow/BFI restoration culminated in a screening at the Telluride Film Festival in 1979, with 89-year-old Gance watching from a nearby hotel window.  Under the auspices of Francis Ford Coppola and Robert A. Harris, a version of this restoration, accompanied by a 4 hour score composed by Carmine Coppola, was presented at Radio City Music Hall and other venues in the U.S. and around the world in the early 1980s. This version, with the 4-hour version with the Coppola score, has been shown on television in the U.S. and was released on VHS and laserdisc, but never on DVD in the U.S.   Brownlow and the BFI did additional restoration work to Napoleon in 1983.

The current restoration, completed in 2000 but not previously seen outside Europe, reclaims more than 30 minutes of additional footage discovered since the 1979 screening and visually upgrades much of the film. This unique 35mm print, made at the laboratory of the BFI’s National Archive, uses traditional dye-bath techniques to recreate the color tints and tones that enhanced the film on its original release, giving the images a vividness never before experienced in this country.

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with artist Paul Davis who created the spectacular poster for this special event.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What: Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927   5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the final polyvision.  The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film.  This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music.

When: March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 19, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

interview: Director Mye Hoang, whose edgy film “Viette” closes SFIAAFF30, talks about coming of age traumatically and putting it all on film

In “Viette,” Mye Hoang (left) is Viette, a Vietnamese American high school student, who leaves her traditional and very controlling Vietnamese family for her older boyfriend Matt (Sean McBride). Photo: Andrew Amsden

The 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30) closes its 10 day run this evening in San Jose and director Mye Hoang’s compelling first feature film Viette, which had its world premiere last Saturday in San Francisco, is sold out.  Viette is an enthralling story modeled after Hoang’s own experience as Vietnamese American teen trapped in a very suppressive family environment, a situation that looks ok from the outside but in reality is toxic and life-threatening.  When Veitte uses her older lover as a means of escape, she trades in one kind of pain and betrayal for another.  The film captures a remarkable journey of private struggle, perseverence and reconciliation with the past.  I caught up with Mye Hoang this weekend and she agreed to speak candidly about her courageous film and the secret demons many Asian Americans of the 1.5 generation may battle.

How did you come up with idea of making Viette and what does Viette actually mean?  

Mye Hoang: Viette is based on my life as a young Vietnamese American woman (born in the US) during the most transformative years of my life, my late teens.  I was trying to live my own life while being a dutiful daughter to my parents who were very traditional and didn’t speak English.  It was a very painful family situation, and the experiences I had trying to break free were extreme and sounded like a movie to my friends who encouraged me to make this film.  It took time but I realized that I was not alone in this. There are many young women I don’t know who have similar life experiences but don’t talk about them—the humiliation, fear, shame. And once I broke free from my family, I found myself in another very controlling situation in which I was very vulnerable.  I wanted to explore all of that in the film and put it out there for others too, so that they don’t also have to feel alienated.

As for the title, “Viette” is the Americanized version of the common Vietnamese name, ‘Viet,’ which is often mis-pronounced and is broken down to the two-syllable “Viette.”  Also, the character is a die-hard romantic and I felt this name best suited her (it has a little French ring to it).

How did you come to play Viette?

Mye Hoang:  I knew what I wanted for the role and the picture and I knew that I was not going to compromise.  We could not afford to pay the actors and it would have been a very risky situation to ask for nudity —no one would have done it.  It’s also a huge risk to have someone agree and then back out at the last minute, compromising the film, so I cast myself in the role of Viette, knowing that no one else would be more committed to the project.

Mye Hoang directed, produced, and stars in “Viette,” which has its world premiere at the premiere at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30) on March 10, 2012. Photo: Andrew Amsden

Viette also needed a certain sense of vulnerability that extended into her twenties and to project that vulnerability and loss of innocence. That comes with the way I look, my size and my experience.

This film spans 9 years with you playing Viette from age 18 through 27, about 9 nine years. Do you mind me asking you how old you are and how you managed to do this so convincingly?

Mye Hoang:  I am 35.  I have to thank my parents for the young gene. That was one complaint that I got from the film’s first screening that I looked young throughout the film and didn’t age. I really did try to look and act older.

What is the 1.5 generation exactly and does the term apply particularly to an Asian-American phenomenon?  Is it as simple as the children are growing up in the U.S. but their parents who brought them here are unassimilated and enforcing a traditional lifestyle that seems out of place in America? 

Mye Hoang:  Basically, it’s being in between the first and second generation. I/Viette was born in the U.S.  Technically, I should be 2nd generation but I had live by 1st generation rules. I should be assimilated but am kept from fully doing so.

Although I’m not an expert of Asian American studies, I do believe 1.5 generation can apply to both the community at large as well as to non-Asian communities. I’ve heard it used.

I have older siblings like the one depicted in the film who were born in Vietnam but were educated in high school and beyond in the U.S.  Technically, I’m not sure which generation they would fall into; but I know they had the same difficulties as me growing up, if not more so.

In this film you chose to depict the father as the harsh disciplinarian who beats and verbally abuses his child.  The mother, who is depicted as powerless and also under his thumb, capitulates and lets him go way too far, at least by American standards.  Are there some family situations you have heard of where the mother is the perpetrator of violence and, if so, how is that different?

Mye Hoang:  When I was young, it was actually my mother who was the harsher of my two parents and, later, it was my father.  She was definitely a believer in physical punishment and I am not sure why that is because she never spoke about it.  It probably had something to do with her being unhappy about being in the States and about her being so isolated and it was hard for her and she took that out on me.  In the film, the father has all these fears about Viette, especially about her being ruined before marriage which will reflect poorly on the family.  He doesn’t seem as concerned for her welfare as he does about this.  He is not able to be calm and to talk things through rationally.  She knows this and hides who she really is from him and from her mother.   He also displays a very strong distrust, intolerance, of her relationship with a Caucasian which is also very common among fathers whose daughters go with White guys.

Chi Pham plays the controlling father in “Viette,” who is vigilant about keeping his teenage daughter, Viette, sexually pure and opposes her having a Caucasian boyfriend. “Viette” had its world premiere at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30) on March 10, 2012.

Ironically, the reason why they go to the U.S. is to escape the life in Vietnam and to provide their children with a better life than they had there.  Instead, they create this private hell which seems like it might be worse than the situation they left.  It does all backfire.   I wanted to show how it backfired for everyone though—the parents as well as for Viette.   And that is what really happened in my life too.  Without realizing it, she in the movie, and me in my life, went from an abusive family into another abusive and controlling relationship.  In both cases, I felt I had very little power and I wanted to show that for Viette too.

That first love relationship does represent a very real bond for Viette as well as for her boyfriend, but over time, this develops into an increasingly unhealthy situation.  She is trapped and she knows the truth but isn’t facing it.

Mye Hoang:  Yes and that is what really happened and it’s common. The situation in her family conditioned her to be like a child and to accept control.  She bonds to Matt sexually and emotionally and because the family is so unhealthy, she is very conflicted and really relies on him.  She loses herself in Matt and when she leaves them for him, pretty soon, she is trapped again. 

The issue of marriage also figures significantly.  They are together for nine years and she dreams of marriage but they never marry.  Why?

Mye Hoang:  Well it’s complicated.  In real life, I did get married and I took it very seriously.  We were together for 9 years and so we felt very married.  To simplify the story in the film, and to keep the budget trim, I omitted any kind of wedding for Viette but it was part of the dream for her.  They were in a long-term relationship that she took very seriously and yet she knew all along what the conflict areas were going to be.  She stayed and it got very out of control.

I understand that her parents were intolerable but she also leaves her older sister.  Can you explain that relationship to me—it seems strange that she doesn’t make any attempt to get back in touch with her sister and find out how she is. 

In “Viette,” Mye Hoang’s first feature film, Viette (Mye Hoang) and older boyfriend Matt (Sean McBride) spent a lot of time in bed over the course of the nine years covered in the film. Photo: Andrew Amsden

Mye Hoang:  In actuality, the sisters were not that close.  The sister is older and, at the most important times, sides with the parents when it comes to Viette—she wouldn’t dare defy them the way Viette does.  There’s that pivotal scene where the sister betrays Viette and shatters any bit of trust.  I think that says it all for the complicated kind of relationship (or lack of) that they had.  There was a huge age gap too, and a lot of resentment because the older sister wouldn’t stand up for Viette.  She, of course, also had to deal with the consequences of Viette’s defiance of the parents which must have been very difficult.

How did your experience impact your sense of identity?  Do you describe yourself as Vietnamese American or just American?

Mye Hoang:  I am Vietnamese American but if you ask me how I feel, I don’t really feel Vietnamese, nor do I have any strong ties to the culture.  Had I been able to embrace aspects of both cultures, it would have been easier to embrace the Vietnamese side and the language.  I grew up in a family that never really talked or showed affection or even hugged and I never understood that.  A lot of Asian Americans either really relate to this or they don’t. But I think anyone who has experienced extreme loss will be able to relate to Viette’s struggles.

Had you worked with any of the actors before?

Mye Hoang:  No but it all worked out very well. Chi Pham, the father, had starred in All About Dad (2009), which came out a few years ago and this was his second film. Yen Ly, the mother, had also played the mother in All About Dad and Bang Bang.  There are not many actors to choose from in the Vietnamese American community, but Chi and Yen are so generous and giving. We could not have pulled off the film without them. Sean McBride who played the boyfriend Matt had auditioned for the role— he was actually the very last audition and gave the best line reading. We were extremely lucky to find him.  Many had shied away and possibly didn’t understand the material, but Sean is very intelligent and thoughtful.  I think he has the most challenging role in the film because he has to display a wide variety of emotions, and he is convincing in each part.  I didn’t feel like we rehearsed very much, yet I rehearsed with Sean the most because he has to carry the film as much as Viette does, and it was important to me that we’d feel comfortable doing the love scenes together.  It was critical for those scenes to feel authentic, otherwise, why would the audience care about them if they didn’t seem in love?

Viette doesn’t shy away from sexuality.  How did you use sex in the film and are there particular stereotypes/themes that you wanted to explore?

Mye Hoang:  There’s a lot of sex sprinkled from beginning to end to foreshadow what is to come.  It’s not just a story about family issues, there’s a relationship at stake here too.  It’s very passionate and I tried to shoot it in a neo-realistic way, which is my style of the film. I wanted it to feel raw and honest.  In much of American cinema, we tend to sugarcoat sex when in reality it can get really dirty, and even unnerving, if we were to see it from the outside.  I also wanted to explore how their sex life changed as time went on, and as technology advanced.  The internet and cell phones have introduced a whole new element into our lives, giving easy access to pornography, and are portals to new forms of infidelity.  The intimacy they had in the beginning is no longer there in the end.

In creating Viette, and forcing yourself to revisit your past, what did you learn?

Mye Hoang:  Writing it was a good way for me to really process what I had experienced because, for a long time, I was surprised by how everything had turned out in a short amount of time.  It really seemed like a movie.  I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve been traumatized by these events, which were a long time ago.  I have a great circle of friends now and the film could not have been made without their tremendous love and generosity.  However, there will always be this void in my heart for the dreams that didn’t come true, for reasons that were completely out of my control.  I’m still learning to accept these facts of life.  Often times the things we want out of life just aren’t in the cards.  Sometimes we fall in love with people who aren’t good for us, or who are just plain not good people.  I’ve done that repeatedly.  I’ve been treated horribly by men who supposedly loved me.  They love you for one minute and then easily dispose you for the next new thing.  I’ve learned this is a common feeling (especially among women) in today’s times, and I’ve learned not to waste one more second on these people.  It’s better to be alone than with someone who keeps hurting you.  If there’s anything my film can impart on the viewer, it’s that.

Filmmaker Mye Hoang and cast at a Q&A following “Viette’s” world premiere at SFIAAFF30. From Left to Right: Mye Hoang (Viette), Joshua Bednarsky (friend Martin), Sean McBride (boyfriend Matt), Chi Pham (father), Anh Vo (sister Trinh), Julie Hwang (associate producer), Jon Lu (associate producer), Linda Blackaby (programming SFIAAFF). Photo: Kelly Lim

What was the world premiere like?

Mye Hoang:  Our first Q & A went on for over 40 minutes and a lot people had serious issues they wanted to talk about, so that was very positive. I’m glad that it has elevated this discourse and that it got to people.  The film starts out all lovey-dovey and sensual but it drops into something serious and dark and that’s what I wanted.

I understand you are very involved in the world of Asian American film despite this being your first  full-length film.

Mye Hoang:  In 2002, I started the AFFD (Asian Film Festival of Dallas) during the period that I was going through all of this.  It grew to become the South’s largest showcase of Asian and Asian American cinema but I eventually left that festival and moved away from my hometown of  Dallas.  I then moved to New York and became the public relations coordinator for ImaginAsian Entertainment and helped launch the first all-Pan Asian movie theatre in Manhattan.  In 2005, I co-directed and produced a short comedy called Press or Say 2, which has been shown all over the world and has won several awards.  Up until a few months ago, I worked in San Diego for the San Diego Asian Film Foundation/Festival, the 2nd largest showcase of Asian cinema in North America. I’ve probably rejected a lot of other filmmakers’ first films—always the worst part of the job—and I’m a little relieved to not be in that role for awhile.

What’s next?  

Mye Hoang:  We are going to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May and are trying to get Viette on the festival circuit.   I don’t even think about making another film these days. I’m trying to find a job, and I’m just in survival mode.  I’m not trying to be a filmmaker.  I honestly think you have to be independently wealthy to keep making films.  But if one day I do return to filmmaking, I’m interested in documentaries.

Viette‘s trailer on Vimeo:

You can learn more about Viette at

or on Facebook at

March 18, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ARThound visits the Metropolitan Opera: Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina—a grand, intense and brooding Russian epic with a stellar line-up of Russian and Georgian singers, through March 17, 2012

The final scene from Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina,” at the Metropolitan Opera through March 17, 2012. Photo: Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera.

I can’t think of a more enthralling opera to see live at the Metropolitan Opera this winter than Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, which marked my first return to the Met since I was in graduate school at Columbia some 25 years ago and experienced Otto Schenk’s classic Ring cycle as my not-so gentle introduction to opera.   This is the first time that Khovanshchina—epic in scale and length (4.5 hours)—has been performed at the Met for 13 years.  Having seen last season’s spectacular Boris Godunov, through the Met’s “Live in HD” simulcast, I was primed for more Russian opera and keen to hear Mussorgsky live.  The Met delivered in spectacular fashion and proved to me that nothing tops the live opera experience for both learning and sheer sensual pleasure.  It’s one thing to watch a fiery immolation scene on HD and another to literally smell it as it takes its tragic toll on stage before your eyes.  And, despite the opera’s ripe old age of 135+ years, I can’t think of a more timely opera in terms of capturing what’s unfolding in Russia right now–Russians are living in a moral and ideological vacuum and are awakening to the idea that if they want democracy and real social justice, they need to engage in active struggle.

Mussorgsky was obsessed with Russian history.  His dramatic Khovanshchina delves deeply into the political and religious struggles that embroiled Moscow upon the turbulent eve of Peter the Great’s coronation in 1682, a definitive period when Russia felt the pull of modernism and the great tug of tradition—the struggle for Russia’s very destiny.  The stellar Slavic cast includes the magnetic Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina as Marfa, a passionate member of the religious movement called the Old Believers, the Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as Dosifei, the spiritual leader of the Old Believers and Russian tenor Vladimir Galouzine as Vasily Golitsin, a liberal-minded aristocrat, and Ukranian bass Anatoli Kotscherga in his Met debut as central character Ivan Khovansky, the leader of the conspiracy against Peter the Great.  Conducted by Kirill Petrenko who put his own spin on Shostakovich’s end to Mussorgsky’s unfinished original score, the music was breathtaking and fresh—at times tender and at times evoking the cataclysmic clashing of bells.  Backed up by a glorious chorus and a finale of immolation, this is a production befitting the tormented Russian soul.   To read the full article, click here.

Khovanshchina Productions Details:  Khovanshchina opened on February 27, 2012 and was performed on March 1, 6, 10, and 13, 2012. The final performance of Khovanshchina is Saturday, March 17, 2012, at 12 p.m. E.S.T. which will also be broadcast through SiriusXM Live Broadcast (Sirius channel 78 and XM Radio channel 79) and Toll Brothers-Met Opera Radio Network Broadcast.  Margaret Juntwait, now in her 8th season of hosting, will interview singers backstage at the first intermission.  You can try the subscription for free for 30 days by signing up here.

Metropolitan Opera Details:   The Metropolitan Opera is located at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, between West 62nd and 65th Streets and Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Refer to the Metropolitan Opera website (here) for information regarding programming. The Met’s 2011-2012 Season has 13 remaining productions.  The Met’s 2012-13 Season includes seven new productions, two Met premieres and 16 revivals as well as a complete Ring cycles and a special holiday program.  Individual tickets as well as season packages are available online here.  There are also special ticket pricing offers, student, and rush tickets.

March 17, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFIAAFF30 closes this weekend with “Viette,” Mye Hoang’s feature debut about a young Vietnamese woman’s coming of age

Based on events from filmmaker Mae Hoang's life, "Viette" is the first feature film from a Vietnamese American female perspective addressing issues rarely discussed in Asian American culture. The film screens at SFIAAFF30 this weekend. Image courtesy: SFIAAFF

The 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF30)  closes its ten day run on Sunday with “Viette,” Mye Hoang’s poignant fature debut about a young Vietnamese-American woman who feels the pull of forbidden love and her parent’s pressure to stay close to her Vietnamese heritage.  Viette screens on Sunday, March 18 at 5:20 pm at San Jose’s Camera 3 Cinemas.  SFIAAFF30 is showcasing 102 of the very best new Asian American and Asian films and videos from around the globe, with 10 films making their global premieres.   The festival, a presentation of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM,) is the largest of its kind in North America and offers many new sights and sounds, including cutting edge dramas, unflinching documentaries, innovative short films and videos, and special retrospective and revival programs.  Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with Mye Hoang.

Festival Ticket Information:  Excluding special events, panels, galas and special screenings, advanced general admission tickets are $12. Students, seniors (65+) and disabled adults are $11 (Limit 1 per program with ID Only!). Tickets for Center for Asian American Media members are $10 (Limit 2 per program per ID). There is a $1.50 service charge for all tickets purchased online.

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , | Leave a comment

“Bouquets to Art”— Fabulous Flowers at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, through Saturday, March 17, 2012

“Bouquets to Art” is a glorious annual exhibition and fundraiser at San Francisco’s de Young Museum featuring floral arrangements created by leading designers in response to artworks in the museum’s permanent collection. Photo: courtesy FAMSF

As an avid gardener and art lover, I find endless inspiration in the de Young Museum’s annual Bouquets to Art, a five day extravaganza which transforms the museum’s hall and galleries into a fragrant and sensual display of blooming color and creativity.  This year, over 140 of the Bay Area’s most innovative and sought after floral designers have gathered to create a spectacular array of floral arrangements in the museum that respond to artworks in the museum’s permanent collections. Designs range from the stunningly simple to the elaborately complex, making this the museum’s most highly attended event.  In the 28 years since its inception, Bouquets to Art  has drawn over 650,000 visitors and raised nearly $5 million in net proceeds.  Proceeds from Bouquets to Art 2011 were used to fund, in part, Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power from the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, which was on view at the de Young through February 12, 2012.  Bouquets to Art also features engaging floral demonstrations by noted local, national and international floral designers, and luncheons and afternoon teas catered by McCalls that complement the flower-bedecked galleries and public spaces in the museum.  The event concludes on Saturday, March 17, with a raffle drawing of deluxe prizes that include jewelry, travel packages and other luxury items.

Schedule for the Rest of the Week:

Thursday, March 15: 

10 a.m: Floral Demonstration by Ron Morgan, East Bay floral designer, Koret Auditorium: 10 a.m. Tickets: $35 each; includes general admission to the museum.

9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m: Floral exhibits

Noon:  Take a quiet break over a seated lunch or afternoon tea, catered by  McCalls in the Piazzoni Murals Room. Advance reservations are required as space is limited Lunch service at noon; individual tickets $55.  Tea service at 3 p.m.; individual tickets $35.

6 to 8 p.m:  Museum members only night

Friday, March 16:

9:30 am–8:45 pm: Floral exhibits

Saturday, March 17:

9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, raffle drawing

Visiting the de Young: Address: Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive San Francisco, CA 94118 (See Map)  Hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 am–5:15 pm Friday: 9:30 am–8:45 pm; closed on Monday.

Bouquets to Art 2012 Ticketing

General admission allows access to all floral exhibits and special exhibition galleries. Tickets: $20 adults; $17 seniors; $16 youth 6-17; free children 4 and under & FAMSF members.  General admission tickets may be purchased in advance either online or in person at the museum box office during regular museum hours.  Advance tickets are required for the opening night gala, luncheons, floral demonstrations and afternoon teas. For more information and to order tickets, go to


March 15, 2012 Posted by | de Young Museum | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Saturday’s Scherman Lecture, by Dr. Alexander Nagel will reveal new information about ancient Iran’s brightly colored past and Professor David Stronach will sign “Ancient Iran from the Air,” at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

Dr. Alexander Nagel, F|S assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art, this year’s Scherman lecturer, will deliver his findings on polychromy in ancient Iran. Dr. Nagel is part of team that, in 2006, began a systematic investigation into the role of colors, pigments and other materials on the surface of the monuments and buildings excavated between 1931 and 1939 on the terrace platform of Persepolis. Photo: courtesy Alexander Nagel

Much of what we know of ancient Persia’s history has been informed by studies of the magnificent site of Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Persian Empire from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC.  UNESCO world cultural heritage sites since 1979, these well-preserved ruins in Southwestern Iran constitute the most important examples of Achaemenid dynastic architecture in Iran.  Although it has long been known that these monuments and reliefs were painted, new research in the fascinating field of polychromy, or color, will be presented at this Saturday’s Scherman lecture at the Legion of Honor by Dr. Alexander Nagel Assistant Curator, Ancient Near Eastern Art, Freer│Sackler Galleries. Nagel will deliver “An Empire in Blue—Color in Persepolis: New Research on the Polychromy of Achaemenid Persian Palace Sculpture, ca. 520 to 330 BCE,” at 2 p.m.  The event, organized by FAMSF’s Ancient Art Council, is open to the public.  Following the lecture, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley and one of the world’s leading scholars on ancient Iran, will be on hand to sign hot-off-the press copies of his Ancient Iran from the Air, published by Philipp von Zabern, which  just arrived from Germany.  The book, co-edited by Stronach, is a remarkable collection of aerial photographs taken by Swiss photographer Georg Gerster between 1976 and 1978 of Iran’s arresting landscapes, archaeological sites, and historical monuments.  The book will not be available in bookstores until the fall but it will be sold at the Legion’s bookstore on Saturday.

Dr. Alexander Nagel collecting data for his research on polychromy at the Throne Hall built by Xerxes and completed by his son Artaxerxes I at the ancient site of Persepolis. Photo: courtesy Alexander Nagel.

New Insight on old Color:  Dr.  Nagel is what we might call a chromovore.  Fascinated with all aspects of color, he is at the forefront of contemporary research in polychromy, which is an exciting intersection of archaeology, anthropology, science, and conservation studies.  The emphasis is on using new technology to analyze old color and refining the actual meaning of color in the ancient world.  Nagel is part of a team that, in 2006, began a systematic building-by-building investigation into the role of colors, pigments and other materials on the surface of the monuments and buildings excavated between 1931 and 1939 on the terrace platform of Persepolis. During his great march across Asia, Alexander the Great was determined to see the end of the Persian Empire, the splendid Persepolis in particular, and he wreaked extensive destruction on its palaces, even setting the city on fire, but did not succeed in obliterating it.  Early travelers noted traces of paint on its stone sculptures and monuments, which has long fascinated researchers, but, prior to Nagel, no one has so systematically examined color and pigment.  Nagel will describe his research and will reveal how his results can change our perception of the ancient Near East,  as well as discuss a range of issues relating to restoring the polychromy of ancient structures.

The Legion’s treasured ancient Persian relief:   Following Saturday’s lecture, a small 4th Century B.C. stone relief from ancient Persepolis in the Legion’s lower level corridor cases, is bound to get a lot of attention as people try to imagine what this might have looked like in its original glorious color. The 5 by 8 inch relief of a gift bearer is the only ancient Persian relief in FAMSF holdings and is dated, in approximate terms, from between 490 and 470 BC.   It comes from one of the relief-decorated sides of the monumental stone staircases at Persepolis and is representative of a particularly accomplished moment in the history of Achaemenid Persian sculpture when the goal was to emphasize the role of the Achaemenid king.  Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, wrote in 1892: “Everything is devoted, with unashamed repetition, to a single purpose, viz. the delineation of majesty in its most imperial guise, the pomp and panoply, of him who was well styled the Great King.”

Relief of a Gift Bearer, Persian, Achaemenid Empire, Persepolis, Palace of Darius or Xerxes, ca. 490–-470 B.C., Bituminous limestone, 2008 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, purchase from various gifts and funds. Photo: courtesy FAMSF.

“The dress and pose indicate that the depicted individual was a royal servant,” said David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley, who admires the relief.   “He was almost certainly shown carrying food (or some other item) in a long procession of servants.  His face is one of notable dignity and he is shown wearing a characteristically Persian headgear called a bashlyk. In hot and often dusty conditions, this was a very practical form of headgear that consisted of a cloth band that was wrapped round the head and neck.”

The relief’s journey out of Iran most likely occurred in the 19th century when a number of small-scale reliefs (often showing servants or guardsmen) were removed from the ruins at Persepolis. When these reliefs reached Europe, they were frequently trimmed to leave a neat, square shape suitable for framing.  As a rule, little more than the face and headgear were left in view.

Dr. Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator of ancient art and interpretation, is proud of the 2008 acquisition, not only for its exceptional detail but because it completes a gap in the museum’s collection.  “I wanted it for the collection because it gives visual expression to the Achaemenid style and iconography created for Darius and his successors and because it represents a stepping stone in the transition of figural art from the “Winged Genius” of the museum’s Assyrian wall relief to the figural art of classical Greece, and subsequently our Western tradition.  We learned of its existence through a dealer in New York.  A team of experts had examined the relief’s provenance and ascertained that it had been purchased by its original owner long enough ago to allow us to acquire it without issues and, even more remarkable, we had several ofdonors who gave significant sums to help us purchase it.”

Georg Gerster’s aerial photograph of the Sassanian City of Gu/Firuzabad, Iran. The city is divided into 20 parts, radially structured and extends over a plain crossed by pathways, drainage ditches, and irrigation channels. The tower at the heart of the city was essential for measuring the radial lines and also had a symbolic significance, as did the city’s circular shape. Photo: Georg Gerster.

“Very few such pieces with a long and well documented history of prior ownership outside Iran usually come on the market,” explained Stronach.  “The FAMSF are to be congratulated on the acquisition of this unusually fine, representative piece of Achaemenid sculpture.  It adds greatly to the distinction of the holdings in the Legion of Honor.”

More About Ancient Iran from the Air:  Between April 1976 and May 1978, Swiss photographer Georg Gerster flew across Iran, photographing the memorable landscapes, archaeological sites, and historical monuments that characterize this storied land—the Sassanian city of Bishapur, the Sassanian imperial sanctuary at Tak-kt-I in Suleiman, Luristan, and Cheqa Nargesm in Mahidsasht, Iran—to name a few. Most of his photographs were safely stashed away in his archives in Switzerland.  Quite recently, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley and Co-Director, UC Berkeley-Yerevan State University Excavations at Erebuni, working with Gerster and a number of reputed specialists in the art and archaeology of Iran, arranged to have these images published.  Ancient Iran from the Air provides—from a distinctly novel angle—a fresh appraisal of the greater part of the long history of the built environment in this crucial part of the ancient Near East.  (Read ARThound’s previous coverage of Dr. Stronach, Georg Gerseter and Ancient Iran from the Air, here.)

Dr. Alexander Nagel, F|S assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art, examining pigments left on a squeeze (a multidimensional mold) from the inscriptions of the façade of Darius I (d. 486 BCE). By analyzing the raw incidental artifacts that were picked up as molds were being made, Nagel, was able to identify the paint pigments left in the squeezes. Photo: courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

More about Alexander Nagel: Originally from Germany, Alexander Nagel earned his PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with a focus on the art and archaeology of ancient Iran. His dissertation, completed in 2010, is titled Colors, Gilding and Painted Motifs in Persepolis: The Polychromy of Achaemenid Persian Architectural Sculpture, c. 520–330 BCE.   Nagel has helped organize numerous international conferences, including the landmark 2009 workshop The Color of Things: Debating the Current State and Future of Color in Archaeology at Stanford University.  He has authored several articles on his research, and has lectured in Europe and the United States on polychromy and the archaeology of the ancient Near East. In 2009, he was the University of Michigan Freer Fellow in residence at the Freer and Sackler.  I n fall 2010, he joined the Freer|Sackler staff as assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art.  Nagel’s’s first F|S exhibition, Ancient Iranian Ceramics, opened in July 2011.

The Scherman Lecture Series is sponsored by the Scherman Family Foundation.  This lecture is held annually and followed by a reception for all attendees.

The Ancient Art Council is one FAMSF’s many specialized groups and offers regular programming, including lectures and tours, for those who share an interest in ancient art and the preservation and promotion of antiquities and culture of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Details: “An Empire in Blue—Color in Persepolis…” by Dr. Alexander Nagel is at 2:00 p.m, Florence Gould Theater, Legion of Honor, San Francisco. The lecture is free to the public.

Please RSVP by sending an email with subject “RSVP Scherman Lecture” to or phone 415 750 3686

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment