Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monday in Night in DUMBO: "The Candidate" at the new Galapagos Art Space

At 6:15 p.m. last evening, on our way to the G train, we mailed in our early ballot for the September 2 Arizona Republican primary (that's right: we are currently registered in the GOP because there's this really weird liberal Republican running for Congress from a Phoenix district that we like).

At 7 p.m., we were at the new Galapagos Arts Space facility on Main Street in Dumbo, just one block from the water at, duh, Water Street. While we miss having the old Galapagos close by to our Dumbo Books HQ (which is, anomalously and anonymously, in Williamsburg), this new space is much larger, more inviting and comfortable, prettier and greener - well worth the subway ride and the pleasant walk from the A/C High Street exit (if we avoid getting killed crossing where cars rush off the BQE without stopping).

Holding 175 seated and around 230 standing, Galapagos continues to focus on hosting "theater, dance, performance art, cinema, puppetry, classical and world music, lectures, literary events and fundraising events for non profits and local cultural groups," director Robert Elmes told Gothamist (to whom we thank for the photos of the exterior on top and the interior below)

The curved seating, over the same kind of walkway over a pool that greeted visitors when they entered the old North 6th Street space, provides unobstructed views of the huge stage and makes the audience area cozy and comfortable.

There's a mezzanine above, and we walked around exploring a little, impressed by the dark, cool hallway with a feel that's both totally contemporary and classic. And the men's bathroom has faucetless sinks and the most futuristic urinal we've seen lately!

And as WNYC's Leonard Lopate, who introduced the night's event - which we think was the first in the new space - noted, Galapagos is New York City’s first LEED-certified 'green' cultural venue.

Lopate talked a bit about the "The Candidate," a film that we first saw on Tuesday, July 4, 1972, according to our diary entry, which is in our new book Summer in Brooklyn: 1969-1975:
A sunny & warm Fourth of July. . .So early today, right after breakfast, I drove into the city - the traffic was fairly light. I parked at Third Ave. & 58th St. & first did some shopping for herbs. Then I got in line at the Sutton Theater & went in to see "The Candidate." It was superb, the best film I've ever seen about contemporary American liberal/media politics. Robert Redford was great as the young Democratic liberal & Don Porter came over well as his conservative Republican opponent. [Then] I drove back into Brooklyn & enjoyed a burger with smothered onions at the counter of Junior's.

Having just turned 21 (and finally eligible to vote - back then, you could only drink at 18, which didn't do us any good), we were pretty involved in Brooklyn politics, having worked in campaigns since 1964, when we stood on Avenue N outside the American Legion hall handing out "Get on the Johnson, Humphrey, Kennedy Team" leaflets.

We'd just worked on the New York primary for George McGovern and getting our friend Mark Moskovitz (called "Mikey" in the book) elected a convention delegate from our district (back then, the delegates' names, not the presidential candidate, were the ones on the late June primary ballot).

Here's our entry for five days after we saw the film, Sunday, July 9, 1972 (also in Summer in Brooklyn), when we were staying at our grandparents' Miami Beach condo the day before the opening of that year's Democratic National Convention:

I just got home after getting some groceries at Publix, and everyone must have gone to the beach or someplace.

We all went to the Diplomat at 10 AM for the Youth Caucus. There were about 50 delegates under 30 from N.Y., but the whole thing seemed sort of silly. There’s a Women’s Caucus and a Gay Caucus and Black, Latino and Jewish Caucuses. I made a joke about everyone being the Captive of the Caucuses (Caucasus) to Leon, figuring he might get it because he’s going to grad school in Comp Lit. But he just looked at me blankly, so I don’t think he’s read Andrei Bitov. Mikey just sat there saying nothing, and seeing how other people like Mike Gerstein sounded, I think he did the right thing.

In the lobby, I ran into Rob, who took me to see Liz Holtzman, who I guess is looking for a Congressional staff since she won the primary against Manny Celler. I can’t imagine what she’ll look like if she serves 50 years in the House like he did. The big thing, Liz said, is the seating of the Calif. delegation – if McGovern gets all the delegates, he’s got the nomination. But isn’t it kind of hypocritical to rely on the state’s winner-take-all primary rules when he chaired the committee to reform the process?

It took a long time for all the 278 state delegates to caucus. There’s a fight for the chairmanship of the N.Y. delegation between Joe Crangle, the state chairman; Mary Ann Krupsak, an upstate legislator; and Bronx Boro Pres. Bob Abrams. Mayor Lindsay looked tanned and handsome, as usual the Golden Boy even if he did horrible in the primaries; Bella Abzug was in a feisty mood and a floppy hat; the Queens boss Marty Troy dressed like a slob; and sanitation commish Jerry Kretchmer wore a T-shirt. I also spotted Al Lowenstein, Herman Badillo, and Arthur Schlesinger in his bow tie. There was a minor revolt as the diehard reformers tried to oust Crangle from the Rules Committee, but he survived.

Mikey and I had lunch in the coffee shop, then I went with Leon and Skip down Collins Ave. to the candidates’ HQ at the various hotels. We collected lots of buttons and posters from the campaigns of Muskie, Humphrey, and Chisholm, and we put this big poster, “Wilbur Mills for President,” with his big red nose, on the hood of the Pontiac. At the Doral, Skip tried to say, “We’re with Mills,” but I don’t think they believed we were workers for the chairman of the, as it’s always called, "powerful Ways and Means Committee."

We were trying to find Gene McCarthy HQ, but the people at the hotel where it was supposed to be said they’d never even heard of him. We also went to the HQ of the two idiotic Vice Presidential candidates, Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel (who I actually shook hands with) and former Mass. Gov. Endicott “Chub” Peabody. (There's a joke in Updike's Couples: Q: What three cities in Mass. are named for him? A: Endicott, Peabody, and Marblehead.)

Then there was a cocktail party for the N.Y. delegation back at the Diplomat, but they served just watery punch and stale pretzels, not real cocktails. They turned the cameras on only when Big John came in to mingle. I went up to Mary Lindsay and started telling her I first met her when I was only 14 and they were campaigning on the beach at Rockaway, but she simply nodded and smiled.

The atmosphere in this town is absurd. The Zippies and others are downtown camping out in Flamingo Park, and the Convention Hall has barbed wire around it.

Okay, it's not brilliant writing, but we were just kids! There's more from the '72 convention in Summer in Brooklyn if you're interested. But enough nauseating self-promotion.

"The Candidate" still holds up amazingly well. If you want to hear smart people talk about it, you can join us in tuning in today's Leonard Lopate show on WNYC to hear a discussion that's part of his Political Projections: Campaigning Goes to Hollywood series.

For us, Michael Ritchie was probably the shrewdest Hollywood director commenting on the American scene in the early 1970s (we still remember loving his incredible beauty-pageant satire, "Smile," in the old underground Paramount theater in the old Gulf + Western Building on Columbus Circle), and in "The Candidate," he employs a partial cinema-verite style to show exactly what campaigns were like back then.

Robert Redford is amazing as the dynamic but sometimes clueless Democrat whom political operative Peter Boyle has made into a credible U.S. Senate candidate from California. Redford's at his best here; he's got "the power," as the candidate's wife, who should know, says, and Boyle seems to have presciently channeled later campaign managers like Lyn Nofziger and Hamilton Jordan.

The film also has great supporting performances by Don Porter (known to us mostly as Ann Sothern's boss and Sally Field's dad in the sitcoms of our childhood, "Private Secretary" and "Gidget") as Republican incumbent senator who's a master of the old politics but not so good at what's coming; Allen Garfield as the media guru who creates TV commercials (think David Garth); and old Melvyn Douglas as Redford's father, a crusty former California Governor. (Douglas, of course, was in real life married to a U.S. Senate candidate from California, who, if she hadn't been smeared as "the Pink Lady" by Richard Nixon, might have won and saved the United States much misery.)

"The Candidate"'s realism probably comes most from its Oscar-winning screenplay by Jeremy Larner, who was the prime speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy in his 1968 antiwar campaign for President (we still remember the ratty old McCarthy HQ storefront on Flatbush Avenue and Avenue I). A sarcastic reference to "those brilliant journalists, Evans and Novak," for example, seemed exactly right (and, given the day's news about Novak's retirement, still relevant).

Active in numerous campaigns back then, we found no false notes. Seeing the window full of McKay for Senator campaign signs, buttons and ribbons in a Manhattan storefront the film company had rented, a lot of people thought it was for a real candidate - and wanted to voted for him. And if you don't see any relationship to the fictional Bill McKay/Crocker Jarman race and Obama vs. McCain, we'll eat our 1972 McGovern-for-President straw hat.

Anyway, we had a great time last night - the facility hadn't gotten their liquor license yet, so when we stepped up to the bar and asked for something nonalcoholic, they gave us a big glass of Diet Coke for free - and as we walked out of the fantastic new Galapagos Art Space, we saw on the Watchtower clock that it was 9:24 p.m. The evening had gone fast, and we're looking forward to going back to Galapagos to see some live performances next time.

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