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Breaking it down: Infringement gets busy at Nietzsche's

Last night, Nietzsche's hosted the Infringement Festival dance party, featuring sets by the likes of DJ Cult Hero, DJ Medison, shapes of states and many more. I went on the recommendation of uber-infringer Ron Ehmke, who noted that his favorite Infringement moment so far came when he heard shapes of states, a one-man outfit conceived by Geoffrey Peters. I was not disappointed.

The night also featured bit of breakdancing from the members of Buffalo's Differential Flavor Crew, one of whom you can see doing his thing (no cardboard necessary!) in the video above.

Stay tuned for more on Infringement's final weekend.

--Colin Dabkowski

'Pyromancy' in Days Park

Who isn't fascinated with fire?

Last night I caught a bit of Pyromancy, Buffalo's fire-dancing troupe, doing their popular performance in Days Park. It was a cool scene, with families and Infringers of all stripes oohing and ahhing at the troupe's entrancing brand of blazing ballet.

--Colin Dabkowski

Infringment, day 6: Mark Twain, nudity and a 'Midnight Death Interview'

Local video and performance artist Kendall rehearses for his piece in the Infringement Festival in July. Photo by Charlie Lewis / The Buffalo News.

Today, in what was by far the oddest moment of the Infringement Fest for me so far, I watched a man dressed as Mark Twain arriving for his performance at Squeaky Wheel. He was right on time, but Kendall, the local performance artist, was still in the midst of a theatrical performance piece featuring thumping music, a pulsing video projection and, not least of all, a bit of G-rated nudity.

A visibly disgruntled Twain, beer and cigar in hand, looked on from the side of the performance space and --  fully in character -- ambled off in a kind of ornery huff to wait his turn in the Squeaky Wheel lobby. This was a bit of extra, unplanned theater that epitomized the sense of the unexpected the Infringement Fest boasts: the possibility that a Mark Twain impersonator might bump into a naked performance artist at any moment whatsoever.

Kendall's piece, which I wrote about briefly here, was called "Elevator Machine Room." Though his description had given me high hopes, I have to say I came away form the piece more confused about Kendall's intent than moved, enlightened, or even intrigued. That being said, this piece ranks as the first in a series of four (called "Quadrant"), so it may be that he'll gain his artistic footing in this medium as he goes along. Kendall also announced he'd been awarded a residency at Squeaky Wheel, an honor that bodes well for this developing video artist.

As for Mark Twain, better known in local theatrical circles as Franklin LaVoie, he presented a spot-on pastiche of Twain's writing. It was stunning how well LaVoie mimicked the cutting satire and compassionate tone of Twain's writing, and how inventive a yarn he wove. The story, called "Incident at Deer Lick" and set in the Missouri of Twain's time, was a sort of fable about a man about to be hung for a crime he didn't commit. It's essential listening for the Infringer inclined to the literary arts, and it was the acme of foolishness for me not to record any of it. But don't fret, because LaVoie performs the piece again Wednesday at 8 p.m. at 96 Niagara Falls Blvd., Saturday at 5 p.m. in Rust Belt Books and at the Infringement-ending party on the rooftop of the Broadway Market on Sunday, at 1:30 p.m.

I also caught a performance of Jeffrey Coyle's short one-act comedy, the rather laboriously titled "Midnight Death Interview with Danger: The Adventures of Copper Peterson, Private Dick." It featured the talents of Steve Coppes, Michael Renna and others, and was essentially a send-up of the send-up of the Chandler-esque detective figure. Think Philip Marlowe filtered through the sensibility of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and you have a pretty close idea. It was fun, if not exactly original in its spoof-of-a-spoofiness. Copps, as usual, delivered a charming and funny performance as the play's bumbling hero.

Here's Coyle on the inspiration for the play, and how his process was helped along by the built-in audiences and artistic freedom Infringement provides:

To end my Infringement activities for the day, I tried to catch "Pyromancy," a performance of fire dancers that has become an Infringement fave in recent years. But they had wrapped up by the time I arrived (though they were listed as performing for a full half hour longer.) But no matter, as they'll be performing Wednesday and Sunday as well. Look for video of the fire dancers in this space tomorrow. Happy Infringing to all, and to all a good night.

--Colin Dabkowski

Puppets and poetry: Infringers take on the Rust Belt blues


Michele Costa, of theatreFiguren, in September, 2009. Photo by Sharon Cantillon / The Buffalo News.

At its heart, the Buffalo Infringement Festival is about pushing boundaries.

The proliferation of dance, theater, music and unclassifiable art provides an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone -- whether it’s the ubiquitous 4/4 meter in music, the familiar pirouettes and pliés of ballet or the comforting look of landscape painting. To be sure, there is no shortage of Infringement acts, performances and exhibitions that challenge long-held assumptions about what art should be.

Take Shapes of States (a.k.a. Geoffrey Peters), who performed a 15-minute set of “glitch poetry” earlier tonight on the back patio of SP@CE 224 aimed at exploring “the sugar coating that surrounds much art, music, and literature that has been flaking off causing the Buffalo streets to be due for some much needed sweeping.”

The piece, titled “Taste This Voice,” had Peters reading his poetry about the familiar fears assailing artists in the digital era, from being “a cog in the works” to “turning blindly into digits.” After he spoke each phrase into a mic, Peters would loop the last couple words of the phrase and modulate the pitch to produce strange sonic textures that seemed to emphasize the sense that his was just another voice crying out to be heard from the digital void.

This is typically fascinating Infringement stuff: The poetry itself wasn’t about to win any awards, but Peters’ method, by sheer virtue of its novelty and the way it points up the sincerity of Peters’ intentions, made the piece intriguing.

theatreFigüren's "The Edge of Here"

But, within the Infringement fold, there are also some glorious traditions. One of these is theatreFigüren, a highly stylized brand of puppet theater and mime conceived, crafted and performed by Michele Costa. Since the festival was founded in 2005, Costa has appeared at various events, appearing each year with a new show that deftly melds the arts of painting, puppetry, music and storytelling.

The first time I saw Costa, in 2007, she performed a wistful piece called “Concerto” in the sweltering back room of Rust Belt Books. It involved painted scrolls of paper, a strange octagonal box of unknown mysteries, and an endless procession of hand-crafted puppets whose faces, though static, seemed to magically adopt whatever emotion Costa intended at the moment. It was an experience of almost indescribable beauty, and one that has stuck with me since.

So it was with great anticipation that I showed up at the Crane Library earlier tonight to see Costa’s latest creation, a show called “The Edge of Here.” Costa describes the piece as “a puppetry love letter to the city of Here and its inhabitants.” The “city of Here,” of course, is Buffalo, a title borrowed from Mark Goldman’s book “City on the Edge.” In Costa’s mind, Buffalo, is a place of both unsettling decay and unknowable beauty. Her new piece is an attempt to get behind the supposed hopelessness of the pervading Buffalo mentality and to show the buried hope and hidden charm behind her characters’ bouts with boredom and neurosis.

Costa creates lonely little vignettes of darkness and hope, which usually begin in unsettling ways – an old woman sticking her head in an oven, for instance – before resolving themselves into moments of simple and transcendent beauty.

The show began with an elegant introduction, in which Costa introduced her foldable puppet stage, a wooden triptych painted with a colorful cityscape that she could wear around her neck while manipulating her various puppets and props.

Before long, we meet the first character, a nervous and jittery old man in orange golf pants resembling nothing so much as a miniaturized Christopher Walken. He struts and frets from one side of the stage to the other before eventually settling down in his armchair to read the newspaper. This brief moment of calm ends when he discovers an ad for something called “a personal escape suit” -- based on an actual classified ad Costa read in The Buffalo News. Frightened to death by the ad’s implications of impending nuclear, biological and chemical disasters, he sends away for the suit, a green space-age looking outfit which arrives promptly by mail.

Our neurotic hero dons the suit in a bit of convincing puppet trickery, and while inside, he watches life go by outside his window in the form of a painted scroll featuring Jehovah’s witnesses, visiting salesmen and fighting neighbors. After this goes on for a spell, he becomes overwhelmed by isolation, sheds the suit and sends away for a manual lawnmower from the same newspaper.

It sounds random, I know. But to see this neurotic creature step outside of his house and gleefully mow his lawn, and then ascend into the air as if flying, was a quiet thrill. You wanted to clap for him.

Other vignettes, featuring an tried old woman, a daring stilt-walker and a small dog, were equally compelling and each beg to be seen. Costa’s characters, like one the city they inhabit, are, as she says in her poetic epilogue, “crumblig but reaching upward.”

“The Edge of Here,” at its heart, points to the undiscovered beauty of the city, and the untold number of lonely dreamers who live here in obscurity. They live, as Costa tells us, “on streets that are mysterious, but too familiar for words.”

In the absence of words, Costa's puppetry will do just fine.

Costa performs “The Edge of Here” at Rust Belt Books (202 Allen St.) on Thursday at 5:30 and Friday at 6:45 and at the Crane Library (633 Elmwood Ave.) on Saturday at 4 p.m.

--Colin Dabkowski

Infringement: Days 3 and 4

After Saturday's rain canceled a couple of Infringement Festival events (though most went ahead as planned), the sun decided to shine on the fourth day. Which was useful, because today's schedule boasted one of the most anticipated events of the fest -- the annual College Street Block Party. It's always quite a diverse scene, with families, neighborhood weirdos and Infringers of all walks converging to watch some of Buffalo's under-the-radar bands.

Work obligations meant that I could only check out a tiny bit of the party today, but I was fortunate to drop by when the Bloodthirsty Vegans were in the middle of their set of politically conscious, anti-corporate brand of funk and hip hop. (The Vegans' self-description: "A musical family that makes music (sweet, sweet music) about peace, love and understanding to unite the human family, foster respect for the interconnected web of life, and remind the tribes how liberating it was to dance the dances of freedom.") Here's a snippet of one of the band's new songs, about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

Stayed tuned to this space for more about the Infringement Fest, which runs at venues around the city through Aug. 1.

--Colin Dabkowski

Is there a "herd mentality" in the new Buffalo anthology?

As is the case with regional art exhibitions, regional compilations of writing are often burdened with the expectation of making some aggregate or representative statement about the community they are drawn from. Just as regionally based speakers share a common dialect, it seems reasonable to suggest that geographical proximity might have some influence on the aesthetics or sensibility of a literary voice.   


Is there a literary perspective distinct to Buffalo or a set of attributes characteristic of a Buffalo writing style? Voices from the Herd: An Anthology for Buffalo, NY, edited by local writers Cindy Mantai, Alicia Ripley and Tom Waters for Doubt It Publishing, is the latest anthology of Buffalo-based writing to raise this issue, if not to resolve it.  


How one begins to approach this question depends on what part of the city you visit and whose writing you read. Lauren Belfer's Pan-American Exposition-era Buffalo in City of Light is not the same as Gary Earl Ross' account of the contemporaneous city in his novel Blackbird Rising. The churches and taverns of Tim Russert's South Buffalo of the 1950s and 1960s seem more than a decade and twenty-five miles away from the small town gothics of Joyce Carol Oates's fictionalized versions of her native Millersport on the Erie-Niagara County border.


Ishmael Reed and the late Lucille Clifton grew up in the same neighborhood on Buffalo's East Side and were childhood friends who remained close throughout their distinguished respective careers. You would have to dig deep into Reed's brilliant, often-caustic, satirical prose, however, to find similarities with Clifton's holistic, woman-centered incorporation of African-American idiomatic speech into a late modernist poetics.  Even two leading Buffalo bred writer-activists of different generations but both noted for their focus on working-class issues and associations with the labor movement -- playwright Manny Fried and poet Mark Nowak -- couldn't be further apart aesthetically. 


And to complicate matters further, all these versions of Buffalo differ markedly from two critically acclaimed recent fictionalized depictions of the city: the Elmwood Village and West Side of the 1990s in Greg Ames' Buffalo Lockjaw and Charles Baxter's elliptical flashback to the strange nexus of cultural forces that made Buffalo one of the birthplaces of postmodernism and the erstwhile home of the American literary avant-garde in the late 1960s and '70s in the first half of his novel The Soul Thief.


Voices from the Herd, to be sure, does not even claim to be representative or inclusive in its sampling of local voices, and it mercifully contains no long-winded introduction to say as much. What is curious about the book is the implicit dedication of its title: the editors elect to call it an anthology "for" Buffalo, not "of" or even "by" its various writers. The phrasing suggests that the book is a gift, although we are uncertain of the occasion.


Given the preponderance of various poetry compilations that originate from the Buffalo area each year, the editors wisely opted to incorporate a range of popular contemporary writing genres. Voices from the Herd is comprised of three distinct sections of approximately equivalent size. The first section features ten pieces of shorter "flash" fiction; the second, ten nonfiction essays and personal vignettes of roughly feature article length; and the third, twenty-three poems of various lengths and forms.


In nearly all the pieces in the anthology, the shared Buffalo setting or "aboutness" is foregrounded.  There are explicit landmarks and local references the reader will be able identify with.  While this constraint is far from arbitrary, the pieces are too short and disparate for the city to emerge as a distinct unifying "character" of their collective narrative, in the way a city might in a classic novel.  What does emerge as a constant in nearly all these pieces is a sense of Buffalo's past that is more vivid than its present.  This is a city where ghosts wander about perhaps a little too freely: they step into the path of our present day traffic, take seats at our board room tables, obscure what we see when we gaze into our mirrors. 


The first three stories in the flash fiction section set the tone for where the anthology is headed as a whole.  In "The Butter Lamb" Sadie Worth recounts a tale of a pre-adolescent girl visiting the Broadway Market at its heyday during the traditional Catholic Holy Week.  In Stephanie Haefner's "A Shea's Dream," a woman attending a performance of Chicago at Shea's Theater enters into a waking daydream and finds herself suddenly at center stage "transported back to a simpler time when a song and dance was considered quality entertainment."


Moving beyond nostalgia, Diane Meholick's 'Waiting for William" takes to us Buffalo's Central Terminal, a place where the ghosts of the past intermingle with the homeless occupants of its recent history.  However fleetingly, romance, and even self-discovery seem possible.  A darker, more absurdist view of that former hub of Buffalo's past grandeur occurs in Paul Rehac's "A Chance," a Samuel Beckett-like tale in which four superannuated Buffalo sports fans inhabit some kind of netherworld in the shell of the former terminal, where they play never-ending card games while watching Bills and Sabres highlights on an analog television with rabbit-ears.  "The distance between Buffalo and purgatory is strictly metaphysical," one of the card players intones "with no hint of bitterness." Or much of a sense of irony, as Rehac implies.


The sangfroid of a hard-drinking, hard-gambling, blue collar town where the bars used to stay open until 4 a.m., and the tawdry lure of the "Canadian Ballet" just across the border constitutes a rite-of-passage for male dead-enders from generation to generation gets both its expression and its comeuppance in George Tutuska's "Triple Crown," a story whose twist speaks to the foundering desperation of young and not-so-young men in a town whose glory days are a distant memory.


If the flash fiction selections tend to portray Buffalo as the city looming in the rear view mirror, the non-fiction prose pieces by and large take a less sentimentalized view of the city as it is, and for the most part conclude in the words of co-editor and contributor Tom Waters, "it could be worse."  While the idea of including nonfiction prose in the anthology might have seemed a good one -- "creative non-fiction" is the "growth" area of the creative writing profession -- the disparity of the approaches makes for some unusual juxtapositions.  Alongside the litany of good-natured complaints in "McKinleys and Mad Hamburgers" -- Waters's colorful, if somewhat dyspeptic, rant -- are pieces on the Bills and the former Memorial Auditorium that are competently written, but have a dated and somewhat gratuitous feel in this context. 


Worth noting, however, is a remarkable essay "Queen City Meets Marjan" by Billy Mariani, in which the author, back from a sixteen month tour-of-duty in Afghanistan, remarks on the similarities and differences between his hometown and the area of Eastern Afghanistan where he was stationed.  It's a wonderfully paced, eye-opening piece of writing that manages to say insightful things about both Buffalo and the parts of Afghanistan Mariani has seen.   Who knew, for instance, that there is a Tim Horton's in Kandahar?


Buffalo is, when all else fails, a city of "big weather" and decisive seasonal changes.  Judith Frizlen's  "What I Saw on Nature Walks Around Hoyt Lake" is a journal from midsummer of  2004 to midsummer of 2005 that is the single longest piece in the collection, but keenly-observed enough to leave you wanting more. 


Despite its general population decline, Buffalo remains one of the most active poetry communities per capita of any city in North America.  That community is well-represented in Voices from the Herd, which captures some of this area's finest poets stretching out their repertoire in unusual ways.  Karen Lee Lewis and Perry Nicholas--two of the Buffalo area's better known poets who also teach writing--contribute poems that are grittier and more street-savvy than their more widely circulated work.


Marina Blitshteyn and Sara Ries, two of the area's most promising young voices, weigh in here with poems that speak to the city they still call home, while Jennifer Campbell, one of the co-editors of Earth's Daughters offers a poem about living in a 150 year old house that has made her and her husband the involuntary curators of its century and a half of stories. 


Peter Fernbach, in a poem about a cracked monument in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery, perceives an indignity, and pens a few lines of mourning that could well serve as the dedication to the entire anthology: 


For it’s a wound made of absence.

A want that can’t be filled

We love you for want of your presence.


If there is one thing conspicuously absent from the anthology, it would be the lack of a strong voice (or multiple voices) telling us what it might be like to grow up Black or Hispanic in Buffalo.  The collection features a wide range of writers from different backgrounds and walks of life, but none that reference the landmarks of Buffalo's African-American neighborhoods, the legacy of Buffalo as one of the terminus points of the Underground Railroad, or name checks the clubs on Buffalo's East Side that were regular stops on the jazz circuit.


All editors and anthologists are necessarily at the mercy of the quality and variety of the manuscripts they receive in response to their call for submissions, but one would hope that the editors of such projects in the future would reach out to all segments of the community for a richer and more inclusive mix of voices. The best possible outcome of such an anthology project, after all, would be to learn new things about the city we thought we already knew. 


Voices from the Herd is available from the Buffalo Anthology Project for $12.99 for the trade paperback edition and $4.99 for direct download. 


-- R.D. Pohl

Subversive's 'Mother': Brecht goes interactive

Kurt Schneiderman has been stickin' it to the man since he launched his rabble-rousing Subversive Theatre Collective in 2002. And with a interactive production of Bertolt Brecht's "The Mother," which opened Friday night at the Manny Fried Playhouse as part of the Buffalo Infringement Festival, he's inviting you to do the same.

Subversive's production of the play, a highly didactic piece focusing on the plight of oppressed Russian workers, works by virtue of its game-like setup. At various points during the show, audience members act as props (doors, windows, even printing presses) or play the parts of protesters, cops and strike-breakers. All of this has the effect of turning what would otherwise be an eye-rolling Marxist diatribe into an evening that actually approaches fun. And that's no mean accomplishment.

Rebecca Ward (interviewed above) turns in a consistently amusing performance as the titular mother, who morphs from know-nothing peasant into political agitator through the course of the play. She's joined by an energetic cast of familiar faces, from the excellent Lawrence Roswell in a variety of roles to Andrew Kottler, familiar to Subversive audiences from his starring role in January's (ill-fated) production of "1984." Clever incidental music was provided by the avant garde "sound-crafters" Patrick Cane and Gabriel Gutierrez on a variety of rustic instruments, including the theater's sliding garage door apparatus.

The real stars of the show, however, were the audience members, who quickly shed their initial reticence and became more than eager to participate in the action as the play went along. To get the full experience, I played a strike-breaker, an alternately amusing and frightening experience that had a crowd of angry strikers launching fake but surprisingly realistic-looking rocks at me from the other side of the theater as I scurried to hide behind the blocky set pieces. Others were instructed to march around, holding signs with such slogans as "Bolshevik (sic) have more fun," "BP Sux," and "Lenin Rocks."

Although one might question the wisdom of mounting a long piece of interactive physical theater in a sweltering and poorly ventilated space, Schneiderman has always believed that you have to suffer a little bit for your art. But really, a decent air conditioning system might help folks focus a little more intently on Brecht's message.

Theatrical purists might find this approach gimmicky. But I think it fit perfectly into the do-it-yourself Infringement Fest vibe, which to me is one of the most interesting aspects of the festival and what sets it apart from the glut of summertime festival options our city boasts. Never has a Brechtian political screed been so amusing.

--Colin Dabkowski

Day 2 of Infringement: the thrill of the hunt

Looking through today's seemingly endless list of Infringement Festival events, from Marxist theater performances and perplexing art installations (see below) to backyard documentary screenings and art exhibitions in totally unexpected locations, it was easy to get frustrated by the sheer number of options. How could one be expected to experience the full power and scope of Infringement with literally hundreds of enticing and mysterious events transpiring at rad venues around the city in a single day?

The answer, of course, is not to plan. On a late-night stroll down Allen Street, not knowing exactly what to expect, you could have caught a set or two from the "This show doesn't need a fancy name" showcase or meandered past this strange and slightly unnerving art installation:


I couldn't locate the name or creator of the piece for the life of me in the Infringement schedule. It contained a vaguely organic mass of tissue papers suspended from a hook, not entirely unevokative of a bovine carcass. Suffice it to say that it was more than a tiny bit disturbing, even for the brief moments I basked in its creepy red glow and watched a man (presumably the artist himself) lumber around for a spell. I'll be coming back to this one for a more complete report if it's still around this weekend.

I also checked out a brief bit of SP@CE 224's documentary night in a small backyard accessed by an alleyway. The yard was packed with rapt onlookers, who were checking out a doc called "Buffalo Spray," described as "a small history of Buffalo Graffiti through the eyes of 3 street artists, Law Enforcement, and the Community." The night also featured Bflo Pnk 1.0, a documentary project by former News reporter and SUNY Fredonia faculty member Elmer Ploetz.

After that it was on to the main event of my night (aside from Subverisve Theatre's "The Mother," which I'll review here shortly), what I thought was the Cosmopolitan Gallery for the enticing-sounding "Creepshow Freakshow" opening night. Serves me right for not reading the schedule to find out that the unorthodox gallery space at Allen and Main Street, in fact, moved on up to the East Side. (The big "Cosmopolitan Gallery" sign is still up on Main Street.) So I took off in that direction only to find that the gallery had closed up shop for the night early.

Photo1 Photo

The lights were still on inside, however, and this former bar on an entirely bleak and abandoned stretch of Genesee St. had been decked out with all manner of dark art and occult-ish paraphernalia, including a freaky-looking skull in the front window. The whole scene looked like something entirely unsavory had just occurred in the space (not unlike certain paintings by Francis Bacon or Guillermo Kuitca).

The experience of looking in on all the strange items arrayed around this unexpected place on a quiet but sort of dicey stretch of the East Side was, in its way, a perfect moment of unexpected oddness and beauty -- and very Infringey way to end the day. I'll surely be returning when the doors are open to check out the space in fill you all in more on what's inside.

Until next time, follow my Infringement tweets at, and feel free to share your own favorite Infringement moments, acts and suggestions in the comments section of this blog.

See you around Allentown, and may the spirit of Infringement be with you.

--Colin Dabkowski

The emperor: wearing clothes or not?

"God help anyone who gives 'Inception' a negative review."

So said one movie writer before any of us had gotten a look at the year's most awaited film. Because the News' splendid new website is currently under construction, my two and a half star review of "Inception" (in the publicist's trade, reviews like mine are known as mixed/negative) is currently unavailable to News readers. Which, it seems to me, is a perfect opportunity to say what should have been said long ago: Rotten Tomatoes doesn't work. Period.

While the well-known movie website may pretend it's giving you a consensus of critical thinking on a hugely important movie like "Inception" what it's doing--while giving you an 86% per cent fresh-as-opposed-to-rotten rating-- is anointing critics from nowhere (or worse those seeking to flatter studios) and, worse, pretending that movies full of reservations top to bottom are actually "fresh" reviews, when more than a little rot is implied.

When I first saw Christopher Nolan's 'Inception"--and was more disappointed by it than any film I'd seen in years--I'd read two reviews, Peter Travers' encomium in Rolling Stone and David Edelstein's "tell-the-truth-at-any-costs" pan in New York Magazine. It was an even split.

I wrote my review praising the movie for being almost a perfect litmus test for those who wanted to know if they trusted a critic or not. Then I read those on "the fresh" i.e. visionary masterpiece side of the ledger:Ebert, Richard Corliss in Time Magazine, a few others I esteem.

But let me hasten to add that while Rotten Tomatoes readers are being told how dandy "Inception' is and how we should all be so grateful for such "intelligence" from a blockbuster during the summer, I'm delighted with the company I'm in among critics who don't think "Inception" is all that hot, let alone the movie of the year.

A selection.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "With its dreams, dreams within dreams, and dreams within dreams, Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' manages to be clunky and confusing on four separate levels of reality--while out here, in this even more perplexing dream we call 'life', it's being hailed as a masterpiece on the order of '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

Slap! Wake up, people! Shalala! Slap!"

Rick Groen, Toronto Globe and Mail: "Pretty good, not bad but brilliant it surely ain't..Here a Daliesque tableau, there an Escher maze--at best, the effects are truly special, our eyes truly dazzled. But that's where the truth, and any emotional response to it stops. The rest is a murky stream of subconsciousness..Occasionally, the mania pauses for interludes of chatty exposition, including a colloquy informing us that dreamers in this particular dream world don't awaken when they die but are doomed to an eternity in limbo. Yikes. It's like watching a movie and having a catechism class break out."

David Denby, The New Yorker: "For long stretches, you're not sure whether you're in a dream or reality, which isn't nearly as much fun as Nolan must have imagined it to be...Who cares if Cobb gets back to two kids we don't know? And why would we root for one energy company over another? There's no spiritual meaning or social resonance to any of this, no critique of power in the dream-world struggle between C.E.O's."

Nick Pinkerton, The Village Voice: "With his inability to let actors occupy a scene together, Nolan couldn't pass Pathos 101 and here he's trying graduate seminar stuff....It's obvious that Nolan either can't articulate or doesn't believe in a distinction between living feelings and dreams--and his barren 'Inception' doesn't capture much of either."

Todd McCarthy, former critic for Variety on indieWIRE: "'Inception' plays like the film of a brilliant mathematician, scientist or engineer rather than a work by someone who, in another era, would have been a novelist, poet or philosopher. Nolan is a thinker all right, a very busy explorer of mind functions but capable merely of diagrams when it comes to the heart and soul"

I like the company I'm on on the subject of "Inception" very much indeed. In my view, the Emperor may not be parading around stark naked. But he doesn't look all that good in a thong either.

--Jeff Simon

'Squares, weirdos and cool people' converge at the Infringement Fest kickoff

Tonight, Nietzsche's hosted the Opening Ceremonies of Buffalo's annual Infringment Festival, a city-sprawling melange of infinite art forms that will run at venues in and around Allentown until Aug. 1.

I had an assignment at Shakespeare in Delaware Park, covering their seriously watchable all-female version of "Macbeth" (see the review in Friday's Gusto), so I didn't make it over until after midnight. But when I arrived, a huge digital image of the Infringement Festival logo was still being projected on the side of the storied music venue and the place was still jammed with Infringers, mixed in with the normal (well, OK, not exactly normal) Thursday night Nietzsche's crowd.

I arrived to find this dude,


, Tim Sentman (self-appointed position: "tertiary helper monkey extraordinaire"), sitting behind the merch table selling Infringement t-shirts and assorted paraphernalia. He was hanging with fellow Infringement organizer and scenester Melissa Campbell, keeping an eye on the festivities and making sure things stayed true to the happily chaotic spirit of Infringement. By the looks of it, they were doing a pretty good job.

I check out a set by singer/songwriter/actress Megan Callahan, who, like me, had just high-tailed it over after Shakespeare in Delaware Park along with her bandmate Hanna Lipkind. These gals embody the Infringement vibe, multi-talented, eager and industrious as they are. The trio, completed by drummer Matthew Crane, played a lovely little acoustic set of bouncy tunes, the last of which, "Fare Thee Well," is on Callahan's forthcoming record. There was something endearingly Ani Difranco-ish about the brief performance, and it left the crowd in a pleasant afterglow.

Next up (and last, as it turns out) was the rock trio known as the Socialites, whose members all apparently work as local DJs, which explained why they were playing mostly covers. They had a listenable, I-know-we're-amateurs-but-we're-gonna-rock-this-out-anyway sorta vibe, but by the time their set got going, the crowd was thinning out. So I thought I'd better do the same myself and rest up for tomorrow, when the festival really gets going in earnest and you wish you could be in 18 places at once.

But before I split, I caught up with Infringement Music Coordinator Curt Rotterdam, who has the unenviable job of coordinating some 170 musical acts over the course of the fest. See our brief interview above.

Stay tuned for more, leave your own comments about what you saw and what was good, and follow my Infringement tweets at

Also be sure to check out the fabulously titled official Infringement Festival blog, "Infringe THIS!" with always interesting and enjoyable posts by Infringer Ron Ehmke and many others, here.

--Colin Dabkowski

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