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Enter Dimensions: The Art of James Turrell

By Alexander Ostroff


Most museum visitors saunter through exhibits with polite curiosity. True aficionados hang around to glean deeper insight into the work. It’s safe to say that nearly all of them are accustomed to viewing art that doesn’t take up much space. A sculpture here, painting there, heap of steel in the corner and off to brunch with friends. Such viewing habits are a bit of an issue for American artist James Turrell, who’s been creating spacious, mind-bending works for half a century.

TurellTurrell is revered in the art world but not well-known to the general public, primarily because displaying all his work is a logistical conundrum. The solution was deceptively simple. In May and June 2013, The Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art set up independent yet complementary exhibits exploring Turrell’s five-decade career. He has won countless prestigious awards and received generous grants from top endowments. He’s had more than 160 solo exhibitions since 1967. More than 70 international collections display his work, including 22 permanent exhibitions. There are 82 (and counting) Turrell Skyspaces installed in public and private structures all over the world,

Mathematician, geologist, astronomer, architect, cartographer, engineer, psychologist; Turrell, 70, is a genius for whom science is the ultimate palette. You won’t find crushed paint tubes and dried brushes scattered about his studio. The medium he uses is freely available to all, but only deems Turrell worthy of its obedience. Like an ancient magician bestowed with knowledge of the hidden, Turrell harnesses its power, crafting works of mesmerizing beauty. Turrell paints . . . with light. 

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Turrell’s work can best be described as indescribable, at least not with standard lexicon. In essence, he gives substance to the insubstantial. Professional art critics can articulate the layout and technical components. Conclusions will remain elusive. Sounding like an ancient Kabbalist, Turrell himself has said: “My art deals with light itself. It’s not the bearer of the revelation—it is the revelation. I am making spaces that play the music of the spheres in light.” Viewing a work/piece by Turrell creates a fusion reaction between observer and art. Light, color, and space team up to invade the psyche and accost the senses – in a good way – creating a very subjective experience that renders any critique meaningless.

When in town, Turrell looks like a sophisticated, transcendental Santa Claus. Back at his sprawling Arizona ranch, he’s a cross between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and John Wayne; a mystical American frontiersman pioneering new ways for us to see things, or “see yourself seeing,” as Turrell puts it. In the few interviews Turrell has given thus far, he comes off as contemplative, witty, and a bit shy. The artist speaks about technical matters with poignant brevity. When pressed to provide some kind of deep insight, Turrell grows cryptic. Good for him. Any possible explanations would defeat the purpose of his work.

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Despite working off the grid for decades, Turrell is one of the most successful artists on the planet. This is the byproduct of obsessive determination, steely eyed focus, and incredible work ethic. Some artists eventually break and genuflect. Turrell never compromised his vision. The world came to him.

A thorough breakdown of Turrell’s work is beyond the scope of any article. Google him, and you’ll find a ton of stuff, his website as the best source. Here are a few works that I found particularly intriguing.

Turrell’s Perceptual Cells are what Stanley Kubrick would have used as a time-machine had he made a film about time travel. These spherical chambers are designed to produce sensory deprivation hallucinations, offering a Whole Foods version of an acid trip. A convincing lab technical gives you a choice of two programs: “hard” or “soft.” You stretch out on a padded sliding table, but instead of being pushed into a crematorium, you enter the ethereal. Turrell, puppet master of the senses, has you exactly where he wants you. A hurricane of colors soaks your rods and cones, triggering an unscripted theater of mind for about 12 minutes.

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The Ganzfeld series is what it would look like if a rainbow miraculously touched down during an Arctic whiteout. You stand in the middle of spacious room and exit within the light. Time comes to standstill. Colors gradually shift. The light seems to take on visible mass, like subatomic fog. You’re a goldfish stuck in a murky aquarium that’s been placed in a steam room, the unseen hand of Turrell devilishly pouring food coloring into the water in hopes of completely nullifying your sense of location in the universe.

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Many artists, past and present, force you to see their work through their eyes. In a way, your emotions are dictated to you. A subconscious desire to break free causes some people to attribute ideas to the artwork that the artist never even considered. In contrast, Turrell is a station ticket agent who secretly owns the station, tracks, and trains. When you view his work, Turrell can be coldly absent or omnipresent. It really depends on you. According to Turrell: “We are part of creating that which we think we perceive.

Given the nature and proportions of Turrell’s work, his collectors are the 1% of the 1%. There are private collectors who illuminate their mansions, but much of Turrell’s work is incorporated into the architecture of public and private organizations around the world. For example, there’s a mountain in Argentina that supports an 18,000-square-foot Turrell museum. He constructed a massive pyramid in eastern Australia; eclipsed by one that he created in the Yucatán Peninsula. These are only a few examples.

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Turrell has indicated that he tries to be a full-service artist, i.e., create work that is more “ownable.” Enter framed holograms. Turrell’s holograms are not the gift-store variety with fracturing images and ghoulish faces staring at you with perpetual indifference. The subject is light itself, not what it illuminates. These transmission holograms change depending on your position, vanishing if you get close enough. Black frames house kaleidoscopic forms, both geometric and amorphous. If souls are as distinctive as the bodies they animate, Turrell’s holograms are snapshots of spiritual still life.

After making the required publicity rounds for his retrospective, Turrell disappears back into the marmalade brilliance of his 150,000-acre working cattle ranch in Arizona. This is ground zero for his magnum opus: The Roden Crater.

Roden Crater is an extinct cinder-cone volcano located near Arizona’s Painted Desert. It’s old as hell and looms about 600 feet above the desert floor. I didn’t think one could buy a crater, but Turrell did, and he’s transforming it into a celestial masterpiece—a project he’s been working on since 1972. Roden Crater is difficult to describe for another reason: It’s not yet open to the public; only major supporters are allowed to visit.

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Roden Crater is a structure that exists both in the far-off future and distant past; where ancient technology and the sleek, seamless instruments of tomorrow conflux. At first glance one might think it’s a landing base commissioned by extraterrestrials. Roden Crater will soon be the first naked-eye observatory in modern civilization, enabling us to see the celestial movements of stars, planets, and distant galaxies. In short, Turrell will lasso in the heavens.

Inside are viewing chambers, tunnels, and a strange staircase that appears thin and flimsy but is actually made entirely of bronze. A 900-foot tunnel basically acts as a refractor telescope with a massive lens at the center to focus the light. In order to get the full effect, visitors will have to observe from sunset until dark. Looking through the Skyspaces (apertures in the ceiling) one can observe dawn and dusk from inside the crater. The colors of the wild blue yonder mysteriously alter depending on whether you’re inside or outside.

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Turrell’s work is incredibly important for reasons that go beyond art. He is bringing awareness to the critical role light will play in the future of technology and medicine. Light therapy (heliotherapy) has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of mental and physical ailments—everything from skin problems to mood disorders. Medicine is only at the needle tip of the iceberg, in terms of understanding how light can heal the body and mind.

Photons are the particles that make up light. Not all light, however, is visible. The greatest minds in physics have tackled the dynamics of light, but plenty of mysteries remain. Experiments have demonstrated that light has awareness; it exhibits different behavior when we are looking at it, and when we’re not looking at it. Does that mean photons possess a quantum consciousness? We also know that light is able to transport information. Now, we know a lot about how the brain works, but next to nothing about the true nature thought. What if our thoughts are a type of light? These are all questions worthy of further scientific research. Then again, we can just ask James Turrell.

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To contact Alex Ostroff email him here:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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Beneath the Many Masks of Lucha Libre

By John Tommasino


1468522 10151913667840939 1701155559 nIt's a cool Sunday evening in Ontario, California. A sizable crowd of spectators, conversing in both Spanish and English, arrives at the sports arena and forms a line as children run and play about them. Some of the children are wearing colorful masks and mimicking the spectacle that awaits them inside — jumping, tackling and mock fighting one another as their parents patiently wait for the arena to open.

The gates open, and spectators file into the arena past a brisk, friendly security check.

 "Lucha Libre is not fake," says a boy, about 12 years old, waiting in the line behind me, to his somewhat older friend. "It's real. They hit each other really hard, and they get hurt."

Clearly, the disbelief of the adult audience is checked at the door as the crowd files into the arena. It's a mixed crowd of spectators, ranging from the small children who are mesmerized by the show and crowds of teenage girls who admire the athletic, toned physiques of the wrestlers, to older men who drink beers and taunt the performers. After the preliminary introductions, the spectacle begins as wrestlers (luchadors) perform their battle to the crowd's delight. There are cheers for the heroes and a healthy amount of boos and taunts yelled at the villains. This is Lucha Libre as put on by the visiting promotion Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors. But there is more to the spectacle than the style of standard American professional wrestling.

Translated, Lucha Libre means "free fight" or "free struggle." Its s080703 luchaperformers are starkly divided into two sides: the righteous technicos, and their bad to openly evil counterparts, the rudos. At the heart of Lucha Libre are the masked wrestlers (enmascarados). Although many promotions are held throughout the United States, particularly in the Southwest, and globally as far away as Japan, Lucha Libre remains a distinctly Mexican art form.

Unlike American professional wrestling (as popularized by Vince McMahon of the World Wrestling Entertainment), where size and strength — as well as lengthy belligerent rants on the microphone — are emphasized, in Lucha Libre, a strong foundation in Greco-Roman wrestling with its many grapples and holds is topped off by extreme feats of agility and an intense, speedy pace. Part carnival, part theater, Lucha Libre is a showcase for athleticism as well as a story about good versus evil.

William A. Nericcio is the director of The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor of comparative literature at San Diego State University. Nericcio noted that the original audiences of Lucha Libre were working-class Mexican families that delighted in the sport largely because of economic factors.1215114746 9684

"It's basically a working-class opera, although today it seems to be hipster heaven. Entire families would go to Lucha Libre shows on Sundays because they worked during the week. They couldn't go to the opera or a football game because it was too expensive, so this was their only outlet for live entertainment," Nericcio said.

"It's like a circus; it's a working-class spectacle. And sometimes it gets a little crazy," Nericcio added. During shows, the action in the ring often spills over into the crowd as wrestlers throw each other into ringside seats and battle among the spectators.

Origins, Training and the Mystique of the Mask 

Solares - SmallLucha Libre, although appearing somewhat kitschy on the surface to those unfamiliar with its traditions, represents a noble history that dates back more than eight decades to Mexico City. During the worldwide Great Depression, the city experienced a rapid urbanization period and found its early audiences among the poor, working classes.

Early promoters and performers began 3043588introducing masks among the athletes, an integral feature that gave Lucha Libre a distinct look that set it apart from the wrestling shows in other countries. The mask became a sacred symbol in the arenas. Masked characters represent not only good and evil, but specific powers like forces of nature, warriors, demons, animals, and other personifications. The wrestling masks also clicked on an instinctive level with the growing audiences, as Mexican history and culture are full of masks and masked rituals. Dating back to the pre-Hispanic era when Mexico was ruled by the Aztecs, Maya, and other indigenous peoples, the colorful and creative masks fit Mexican culture like a glove.

Heather Levi, Ph.D is a cultural anthropologist and an assistant professor of anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia. She earned her doctoral degree from New York University by engaging in a unique and physically challenging fieldwork, enduring the intense training of a Lucha Libre wrestler in Mexico City.

Levi also attended more than 100 live events in Mexico and fully immersed herself in the culture surrounding the tradition. Levi's experiences are chronicled in her book, The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations, and Mexican National Identity (Duke University Press, 2008). Levi credits her background in the martial arts as her solid foundation for passing the intense exercises and acrobatic skills of the Lucha Libre school run by veteran trainer and former luchador Luis Jaramillo Martinez.

6a00d8341c630a53ef01127970f20928a4-800wiMexico City's high elevation (well over 7,000 feet above sea level) made for a particularly grueling physical challenge, as the air was extremely thin. The intense physical training Levi and her classmates endured included learning the grapples, tumbles, and ring moves that luchadors perform, Levi said during a telephone interview with this writer.

"I was in the best shape of my life. The wrestling itself is a very intense activity and atmosphere. My (academic) committee was very supportive even though Lucha Libre is sometimes seen as kind of a weird topic," Levi noted.

Among the rituals luchadors in training endure is a rough physical "baptismo" at the hands of their trainer or another experienced wrestler. Baptisms often include rubbing a trainee's face into the mat and other physical punishment. Respect must be shown, and earned, in the gym and the training ring.

MexicanWrestlersLuchaLibrePrepareLondon UKSORDOxB3lAlthough iconic, Levi noted that the luchador masks do not represent a direct succession from the rituals of the indigenous Mexicans, but rather an oblique line influenced by many things, most notably comic-book superheroes. But the masks are a true fit for Mexican culture and carry with them a certain intangible mystique.

The promoters sometimes promote "mask versus mask" matches. Traditionally, when a luchador loses his mask, he can never wear it in the ring again and must continue his career with his true face. Enmascarados wear their distinctive masks during every public appearance, whether at a press conference or while signing autographs for fans. The iconic luchador masks are frequently sold at Mexican marketplaces and online specialty outlets.

In Mexico, and elsewhere, Lucha Libre is also a profession for its athletes with strict licensing agreements that the new luchadors must adhere to as they rise through the ranks in popularity. Today, fewer athletes are opting for a career under the mask and wrestle without the symbol, Levi noted. The colorful masks seem to have an innate ability to transform the athletes into both heroes and villains.

"I would see the other wrestlers that I trained with put on the masks, and they literally became different people," Levi said. After finishing her training, the anthropologist notes that she was tempted by a career in wrestling, but chose academia instead. In her classrooms at Temple University, the professor said she has earned a "lot of points" with her young students when they learn about her doctoral fieldwork and studies in Mexico. "They think it's cool," Levi said.

The Man in the Silver Mask

talking with solaresNo chronicle of Lucha Libre is complete without mention of the tradition's greatest icon. Just as Elvis Presley was the King of Rock 'n' Roll and DC Comics' Superman is one of the most recognizable comic-book superheroes, Rudolfo Guzman Huerta in the guise of El Santo (The Saint, also known as The Silver Masked Man) remains the most-recognized wrestler associated with Lucha Libre.

Carlos Avila is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and television director who grew up in the Echo Park neighborhood during an era when Echo Park was mostly working class and Hispanic. His boyhood idols were Mexican luchadors appearing at sports arenas in Los Angeles battling America wrestlers. Avila's 2012 documentary film, Tales of Masked Men, A Journey Through Lucha Libre, was originally broadcast on PBS and is now available on DVD and download. In the award-winning film, Avila thoroughly chronicles El Santo's story, from his early struggles to earn a living in Lucha Libre as a journeyman wrestler, to when he ultimately found his identity beneath a simple, silver-colored mask, and earned worldwide stardom as El Santo.

The character was originally a rudo who wrestled brutally, but changed to the side of technicos, where he became a symbol of goodness, courage, and honor. El Santo also appeared in more than 50 feature films earning multimedia, action-hero status akin to the later Hollywood film careers of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"He's such a legendary figure, and he is steeped in the history of the sport," Avila said. "He casts a very long shadow in Mexico."

Nericcio recalls his boyhood growing up in Laredo, Texas, and enjoying genuine bonding with his father when they watched El Santo's many films together. El Santo was a dynamic figure within the history of Mexican film, and his fame carried on through comic books, photo novels, toys, and other media, Nericcio said.

"Santo is ubiquitous in Mexico, and he was a key figure in the rise of Mexican cinema, which is a great tradition with wonderful films. Santo appeared not just in the Golden Age of Mexican film (from the 1930s to the 1960s), but later films as well," Nericcio said.

"Santo was a celebrity, not just in Mexico but worldwide; he was as popular as Lady Gaga is today," Nericcio noted.

hijo-del-santoToday, El Santo lives on through his son, El Hijo del Santo (The Son of El Santo), another iconic and talented wrestler who has copyrighted the image of his father and their mutual iconic silver mask to protect it from merchandise knockoffs and other piracy. The rights to the El Santo image and story were secured by Avila after he approached El Hijo del Santo at an event in Cudahy, California.

"I was on their (the El Santo Estate's) radar for some time because I was making this film. I just knocked on the dressing room door and introduced myself to El Hijo. I showed him the footage that I had made, and he liked it. I then flew to Mexico City and met with his wife and secured the permission of the El Santo estate," Avila said of his filmmaking journey, which took several years before the documentary was released in 2012.  Financial 'brick walls' and other challenges were met with the backing of Latino Pubic Broadcasting, an organization that shared Avila's film vision.

Avila's film focuses on the serious side of the tradition, the history and the training and athleticism required to make a career in the ring Other documentaries have focused only on the kitschy aspects of Lucha Libre and have given the viewers the wrong impression of what Meixcan wrestling is all about.

Avila was also able to secure a recording of El Santo's voice, an element missing from many of his feature films, as the luchador's voice was routinely dubbed in the course of his acting career. Hearing his actual voice was a gem for both the filmmaker and audiences familiar with the legend.

Despite achieving worldwide fame, El Santo remained a modest man at heart and is still known for his many acts of generosity and humility. When the legendary luchador and film star died in 1984, thousands of fans filled the streets in Mexico City to honor their idol. According to his wishes, El Santo was buried in his mask.

From Father to Son: Inheriting the Mask

Perhaps the most honorable tradition in Lucha Libre is the passing down of a wrestling mask and character to the next generation from father to son. Avila chronicles this practice in his documentary with the story of veteran wrestler and teacher Solar and his son, Solar Jr.

If a masked wrestler's son is interested in inheriting his father's character and identity in the ring, he must first prove himself worthy with the intense training and conditioning required to be a luchador and earn the honor of the mask. Many wrestlers appear as different characters before earning the skills and respect needed to inherit their father's mask.

Today, well past 50 years of age, Solar still wrestles with a passion and has earned legendary status and the respectful title of Maestro (teacher). He trained his son in the ring, and now the father and son sometimes appear as tag-team partners in the ring.

"I wanted to tell the story of a father passing on his character to his son, and I approached one wrestling family and was turned down. But I was met with open arms by Solar. He is a walking history of wrestling, and he wrestled with legends like El Santo and Blue Demon and Solitario all through the modern era. He also knows so many different styles of wrestling and is very well-respected in Mexico," Avila said.

Solar Jr. has adopted the unique sun-patterned mask of his father, but usually wears a distinctly colored yellow-on-black pattern. His father speaks candidly in the film about his age and how one day he will retire from the ring. But his son waits to carry on the name and character in the ring.

Mini Luchadors

In the United States, wrestling involving little people, or "midget wrestling," has been a fixture in rings for many years although the term carries a derogatory and exploitative connotation. In Mexico, little people have been wrestling for several eras, but have carved out their own niche as athletes and professionals. Avila tells the story of one popular mini-wrestler, Mascarita Sagrada (Little Sacred Mask). Mini-wrestlers in Mexico are often smaller counterparts to established characters; both sizes wear the same masks and costumes. But these little people are professionally trained and take their work very seriously.

2649506427 20becdbfde zMascarita Sagrada survived a childhood in poverty and was constantly challenged, even by his school teachers, because of his size. Today, he is a successful wrestler who found an identity under the mask and a profession in the ring.

"I had some concerns that this story was going to become a sideshow," said Avila. "But Mascarita was a professional who was conscious of that history, and he cared about his work. He impressed me because he was a professional."

Lucha Libre in the City of Angels

Los Angeles is an important hub for Lucha Libre in the United States, and the city carries a great history of the tradition. The Greater Los Angeles area is home to multiple wrestling organizations varying from the traditional wrestling of the UIPW L.A. to Santino Bros to an attraction called LuchaVaVoom, which combines wrestling with a burlesque (of all things!) and routinely sells out shows at the Mayan Theater and has staged shows in Chicago. Shows at the Mayan routinely attract Hollywood celebrities.

One of the most popular wrestlers in Los Angeles is named Lestat. Wearing a black mask and costume with silver, blade-like designs, his identity is a mystery. Lestat is both agile and fast and wrestles in classical Lucha Libre style.

We caught up with the masked Lestat before a Sunday afternoon wrestling event in East Los Angeles. “It’s very different from American wrestling. It’s more spectacular because it’s more high-flying. I grew up watching the movies of El Santo and Blue Demon. They were like my idols and I wanted to be like them when I grew up,"the masked hero said.

Lestat is currently one-half of the UIPW L.A.'s Tag Team Champions along with his partner El Mariachi Loco, an athletic masked wrestler who taunts his opponents with hip-shaking dance moves set to pre-recorded music. The masked duo are a popular hit with fans who audibly cheer as they move through the crowd before and after their matches.

Lestat trains in the gym “just about every day” for two-hour sessions of intense exercise in addition to weekly ring training where he practices the high-flying stunts. He also works a job away from his masked identity ring. “I like to keep very busy, every day,” he noted.

The high-flying is also high risk, and Lestat admits that he has been seriously injured several times during his matches, sometimes requiring hospitalization. But the cheering of the fans brings him back to the ring time after time where he can continue his passion for lucha libre. “I think that for me and every wrestler, to be in front of the crowds is a great feeling,” he said.

The luchador is also involved in a unique project, a motion comic book titled: The Guardian: City of Angels. This computer-generated art form will tell the story of Lestat as a crime fighter battling a Los Angeles crime syndicate. Lestat performs throughout Southern California and reports that it is one of his dreams to travel to Mexico and perform in front of fans in the same arenas where the legends like El Santo wrestled.

Fiction and life and limb

Why has Lucha Libre endured and grown in popularity since the 1930s? Largely, it is a family-oriented event loved by different generations of fans. But the spectacle also serves as a type of collective story in the form of a melodrama, Nericcio noted.

"Everybody needs fiction in some form. Even gossip is a form of fiction. Lucha Libre serves as that fiction."

Although Lucha Libre is often dismissed and looked down upon as a staged event, luchadors perform to an extreme in what is essentially a contact sport. Injuries are numerous, and there have been multiple deaths as the result of injuries and accidents in the ring.

"There are many talented wrestlers here in Los Angeles, and they are risking life and limb every time they are in the ring," Avila noted. 

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Sonia Nassery Cole Gets Personal:

Talks The Black Tulip, Being Thankful, Future Projects,
And The Power of Film

By Amber Topping


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During the holidays, we often contemplate what it is we are thankful for — but should that be the only time of year we count our blessings? In a recent conversation with filmmaker Sonia Nassery Cole, she illuminated the simple truth behind the people of Afghanistan: the many women and children looking for their next meal, or those who have just recently buried a loved one, all while still maintaining the gratitude for the small blessings in life. Passionate and empathetic, Cole is a strong woman with many sides. She is a humanitarian, accomplished filmmaker, writer and activist. But she’s also a woman with a unique voice that is important to be heard because of her unbelievable, personal experiences. “I’m getting ready to write my autobiography because that is something that nobody will believe,” she shares with a warm laugh. “I’ve been very silent and quiet about a part of my life that I will like to—it’s therapy. I want to do it for me.”

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One such experience occurred during the filming of her anti-Taliban movie The Black Tulip, which you can read about in detail in Will I Live Tomorrow?, her recently released memoir. In the middle of shooting an important flashback scene of the Soviet Invasion of 1979 at a bookstore, a dusty white pickup truck approached the crew. There were eight armed men with guns pointed in their direction. They were members of the Taliban. Right away, one of the men demanded to speak to the boss, the one in charge. Bravely, Cole stepped forward. “I am in charge,” she told him. Because she is a woman, he didn’t want to accept her claim. He put the gun on her chest and demanded to talk to the real person in charge. She swatted the gun away and stood her ground. Knowing that they respond to fear, she showed the opposite — courage. She convinced him that they were filming an anti-Russian movie, rather than the anti-Taliban one they actually were making. The man relaxed, watched some footage, and was convinced she was telling the truth. A close call, but one of only many examples of the death threats and harm she and her crew faced during the making of the film.

A Bit of History

Born in Afghanistan, Cole grew up as the daughter of an Afghan diplomat. She was in Afghanistan during the Soviet Invasion of 1979, but was able to escape and go to America right after the invasion. Brave even then, she decided to write a letter to President Reagan to ask for his help against the atrocities happening in Afghanistan. Needless to say, “by some miracle” he read her letter, invited her to the White House, and her “life changed because [she] had a mission in life.” She worked with Reagan to help the people of Afghanistan, and “since then nothing has changed” for Cole. More than 30 years later, her mission to help her people remains the same. “I am fighting for human rights for many, many years now, specifically for women’s rights in Afghanistan because it is so, so fragile” Cole emphasizes.

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Afghanistan World Foundation

In 2002, Cole established the Afghanistan World Foundation. Since then it has become one of the biggest organizations of advocacy for Afghanistan, with many politicians and Hollywood celebrities helping to spread awareness. But why should we care? According to Cole, today “the biggest mission for the foundation is the women’s rights and to empower women in every way, shape, or form from giving them homes when they’re abused . . . to educate them, to educate their daughters, and that process to keep them safe from the people who are after to kill them . . . ” But the foundation is not just for the women and children; she points out that it’s also to help the men.“Everybody’s suffering there. Everybody.” And everyone can get involved in Cole’s foundation. There are school programs, a hospital that they started, emergency clinics, etc. You can choose to make a donation and decide where you would like that donation to go specifically. If you would like it to go to orphan care for instance, you can have your donation expressly directed there. Or if that’s not an option, there’s always advocacy. Ms. Cole reiterates that just talking about the foundation and helping get people involved does work. “Giving brings you so much joy,” she says humbly. “I feel so selfish because it’s such joy.”

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The Power of Film

While humanitarian work is fulfilling for Cole, when she discovered that humanitarian aid wasn’t enough to get the word out, she turned to filmmaking because she “wanted the message to be stronger.” What if she could spread her optimistic message of hope through movie magic? She could become as those oral storytellers of old, and capture the essence of a people and their emotions through film rather than a tale told from one generation to the next. Cole was always fascinated with writing and directing, so one day she began to study it.

“There is no other medium that you can sit in a dark room and really focus for an hour, an hour and a half, on a dark screen. Today we are so distracted by telephone and emails and people around us that we can never focus on one thing. We are very distracted, except when you’re inside a theater,” Cole says. “They say a picture says a thousand words. That’s what film is about because you really, through a keyhole, you see—oh, my God, I had this thought about these people and this place, but here I am seeing something. And that’s the only movies you should do. To learn something from, to open a world to you that is unknown to you — that’s the power of film.”

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It was because of this power of the film medium Cole decided to make, The Black Tulip, a movie about an Afghan family (inspired by real people) who open a restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan called The Poet’s Corner with an open microphone where freedom of expression is encouraged despite the constant threats from the Taliban. The Black Tulip became the official Afghanistan entry for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and has helped spread the message about the plight of the Afghanistan people since. “It’s a historic piece that will never, ever be repeated again, at that moment in time in Afghanistan what was going on. And it’s forever. Our great grandchildren will see it. How incredible is that?” With an obvious enthusiasm for film, Cole continues. “As we grow, we see a film differently . . . like you see an old movie Casablanca when you are 18, and you see Casablanca today; you get a whole other story about it. We grow, and the movie stays the same, but we see it differently. I always think of the same movie, seeing it in 30 years from now because we evolve. As we evolve, not that the film moves, but we see it differently. We see it with wisdom, from the eyes of the wisdom, from the eyes of the experience. And we sympathize and empathize more with humanity. And we judge more. Or we judge less sometimes, depending on what we’re watching. It’s a very, very fun, exciting medium.”

Filming The Black Tulip and Writing Will I Live Tomorrow

Filming a movie isn’t always fun and games, however, as seen from the danger presented during the filming of The Black Tulip. Yet despite the risks of filming an anti-Taliban movie in Afghanistan, Cole made the decision to shoot the movie entirely on location. She wanted it to be authentic, not shoot a movie in China and pretend it was Afghanistan. Even though everybody else thought it was crazy, she decided to go anyway. “Being a woman, it was probably the most scary thing one can do to go to a country that women are not even allowed to walk alone without a man on the streets, to actually go and make an anti-Taliban movie.”

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During filming, Cole faced danger on numerous occasions, from threats to kidnapping to corruption (many times from the Taliban). “The worse feeling was you couldn’t trust anybody. You don’t know if you turn your back he’s going to just take a knife and put it in your back.”

Finding strength from the experience, she declares, “I am never going to be the woman I was before going to Afghanistan.”

Cole decided to write about her shocking experiences filming The Black Tulip in her book Will I Live Tomorrow? The worst day during the shoot for Cole was the final one. She was being held, extorted for money, and after all that she barely made it off the airport runway. “The last day for me was the day from hell . . . if I got the closest to feeling death, the closest—I really didn’t think I could make it [out] alive that day,” she recalls.

Being Thankful

Nonetheless, in the midst of all the danger and uncertainty, Cole maintained optimism and a hope that things will get better in Afghanistan, which is present both in the film and the book. The name of the film The Black Tulip refers to the Afghan flower of the same name, which can be seen as a metaphor for strength and resilience. “That’s the beautiful part of Afghanistan and the beauty of the people of Afghanistan. You never see hopelessness on the streets,” she proudly shares. “Nobody acts like a victim. Nobody. That is the most beautiful thing in life I learned from my people.”

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The people of Afghanistan have so much gratitude, she explains. Continuously she found the people saying, “I am thankful for what I have. It could be worse.” Referring to the people in Afghanistan and all the trials they face, Cole continues:

“Like, what are you thankful for? I mean, look at your life. You don’t have food to eat, your children are starving, and you’re fighting every single day. You don’t know if you’re going to wake up in the morning and have a bomb drop over your head. You don’t know nothing. Your daughters cannot go to school. They’re stuck in the house, but they’re thankful—this could be worse. It could be worse. My daughter could have been dead. My daughter could have been sick. Yeah, it really renews you as a human being when you go there and you come here to this beautiful country America, [in] which the essence of democracy’s practiced, and you have everything at your beck and call. You work hard, and you can be anybody you want to be in this country. Freedom of everything is served to you on a platter. And you see so many people pissed off and unhappy, complaining about such minute things. And you go like, ‘Oh, man. You don’t know nothing . . . about life.’ I have become that person that every day puts my head on the ground and I thank God for what I have. I’m not a religious person; I’m [a] highly spiritual person, but I really do appreciate — just the sip of clean, cold water when it goes down my throat. I say thank God for that because people don’t have that!”

Learning from the people of Afghanistan, Cole felt she became a much better storyteller and director. “Those experiences taught me a lot about humanity and life.”

The Hijack of Islam

Taking from these experiences, Cole has many projects in the works. Right now, she is working on a documentary called The Hijack of Islam. She believes with a fervor it’s “really important to show the world that [there are] 1.5 billion peaceful Muslims all over Africa, and Asia, and America—around the world, [they] should see what the Taliban is and who they are. And they are the anti-thesis of Islam. Everything they say and do is against Islam. My whole objective is to denounce them as Muslim because they are not even a half of a half of a percent, and these people have destroyed the name of Islam. And people are scared to talk about them because they are these savages, and destroy countries, and destroy humanity because of their ignorances and stupidity.” But Cole isn’t afraid.

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For the documentary, Cole plans to “meet with all heads of state starting from Afghanistan and [going] all the way to Iran to Jordan to Saudi Arabia to Lebanon to Syria to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, America, South America, and talk with these heads of state; and talk with a shopkeeper for example that has three daughters and lives in Jordan and he’s Muslim, and say, “What do you think of what these people are doing?” And then interview Islamic scholars, and ask them about their actions, and then actually interview them also so they can say who they are. Then, let the world come to the conclusion based on the knowledge [of] what the world thinks of them, who they are because they don’t have to do anything. They just have to be themselves, and you will know what they’re saying is insane. All these things are something that needs to be discovered and told because we don’t get that in our news today at all.”

The Hidden

Cole is also busy working on a commercial film called The Hidden, which should have fans excited. It’s a supernatural story “like The Sixth Sense” Cole shares, and will be entirely shot in Istanbul, Turkey. The film is about Jinn, beings every Muslim believes in. “They are supernatural beings that are among us. They are not good, and they are not bad. But they are invisible to our eyes. So you don’t see any face or any monsters or anything. You see their signs of what they can do.” Cole explains. “It’s a story of a Harvard graduate that goes to the University of Istanbul to study, to get a thesis in Islamic—mystical ways of Islam. And he falls in love with a Turkish girl, and then all hell breaks loose.”

As of now, the treatment is done, and Cole has had meetings in Turkey talking to producers who are interested. Now she is just waiting for her son, Christopher Cole, to finish the script (he has 23 pages to go). As soon as he’s done, she’ll be ready to go and start filming.

Women’s Rights, Human Rights

Discussing her movies isn’t all Cole has to talk about, though. She also has quite a bit to say about the progression of women’s rights around the world, including in the United States. “If you can believe it, even in the United States in the last 10 years women have gone backward, not forward. There is less women senators, less women congressmen, less women business owners then there was 10 years ago. It’s happening in Europe, and you see what’s happening in the world. Forget Afghanistan. In the world! On the atrocities of women, the women mutilations, the women trafficking, I mean, it’s just a mess. And we can’t sit here in the West and pretend it’s not happening. We have to do something about it. Because when human rights is violated anywhere, it’s violated everywhere.”

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She continues with passion, “And that’s not being feminist or all that because I’m not that. I really care about humanity and women’s rights is human rights. . . it’s not about being a thousand percent equal to men and equal to women. All that stuff means nothing to me, but I just believe that every one of us has the right to be the best we can be. And anybody who’s not allowed to be that, we have to stand up for them and let them be. That’s God given gifts, you know? It’s our birthright to be free.”

Being a Woman

As much as Cole has accomplished (for example, she just received the Freedom to Write Award from Pen Center USA, which honors writers who have fought bravely for the freedom of expression, and according to Cole, meant “everything” to her), it’s not always easy being a woman in today’s world. “There’s so many sides of me: my spiritual side, my woman’s side . . . I think for women, we always feel like you have to choose a career, your dream, or you choose family, and be married and be happy.”

Cole contemplates: “I sacrificed a lot to be who I am today. Do I have regrets? No. Do I miss certain things in life? Absolutely. But life is bittersweet. You can’t have it all. I don’t believe you can have it all. But it’s sad that we can’t. Would you choose a selfish act of you being beautiful and happy in life, and having everything you could possibly want in life? Or do something which would make a dent in this world? I chose the latter. I wish I didn’t have to.”

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Despite the sacrifices, Cole remains positive, thankful, and focused on her dream. “Every life I touch . . . that process makes me stronger. And know that everything happens for a reason. It was meant to be for me to do this. I am definitely not confused about what I’m supposed to be.”

Cole’s mission is clear: “to give voice to the voiceless around the world.” With full dedication she proclaims, “I truly believe that Afghanistan will be free when the Afghan women can join the society and help their fathers, brothers, husbands to move forward my country to another level."

Again, there are many different facets to Cole. When asked if she ever felt lonely, she said, “Well, I’m alone, but I’m never lonely because I have my head attached to me, and this head is so busy — keeps me going.” It will be interesting to see where Cole goes next.

For  more information about Sonia's films, visit her Bread Winner website, her personal website or the Afghanistan World Foundation.

Her book Will I Live Tomorrow?  and her film The Black Tulip are available on Amazon.

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Top Photograph - Credited to Ian McGlockin Sinclair.

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BoSoma Dance Company Celebrates Ten Years

By Brittany Lombardi



Lombardi5Last month BoSoma Dance Company celebrated its 10th season at Boston University’s Dance Theater. Established in 2003, co-Artistic Directors Irada Djelassi and Katherine Hooper began the journey as one of Boston’s most infamous contemporary-dance companies. Combining lively movements with athletic performance quality, BoSoma’s legacy has continued to challenge audiences to be creative through performances and outreach educational programs. Often collaborating with local musicians and other dance companies in the Boston area in order to connect with audiences of different artistic mediums, BoSoma believes in creating dances that inspire people to think and move in innovative ways.

Breaking the molds of the serene, intimate atmosphere of the show’s lineup, six dancers in black two-piece costumes appeared center stage in a hue of red light. Choreographed by Katherine Hooper earlier this year, using Dirty Doering’s catchy percussive song ‘Bye

BosomaBye Bar25’, Nocturnal Creatures explored the release of inhibition that one is only able to find during the wee hours of the evening. Five women and one man playfully flirted with the audience and each other during series of isolated shoulder movements, sleek glides through space, and moments of quick flight. At first, the dancers moved about the stage in straight lines and diagonal formations. As the piece progressed into a faster pace, each of the dancers branched off into their own areas of the stage and danced with smooth, buoyant falls to the floor, then stood again before moving into another pattern. Amongst the jazz-influenced steps, the partnering sections of the piece were seamless. In between the series of battements, pirouettes, and awkward weight changes, two or three dancers would join hand in hand, rolling off of each other’s backs or cartwheeling as their partners rolled beneath them. Combining organic, modern movements with dynamic jazz techniques made this piece entertaining to watch: The music made the piece come to life, and the dancers seemed to enjoy performing the choreography. By the end of the piece, the audience was refreshed and ready for the second act following intermission.

Unlike the exciting nature of Nocturnal Creatures, Moments (2012) centered on the human experience. Blanketed in a shadowed luminosity of grey images on a scrim upstage, dancers dressed in nude-colored shorts and dresses embraced the soothing sounds of violins and piano. Each section of solos, duets, and groups caused the images to change from cars moving fast on a city bridge to rain dripping gently from a window, imitating the pace of life, its ups and downs. The movement vocabulary of Moments incorporated balletic steps with weighted descents and effortless ascents into space, pushing and pulling away from unknown forces. The intricate nature of the choreography required serious attention to technical detail; had the dancers not any formal training, this work would not have interpreted as beautifully. Toward the final stages of the piece, the violin played faster, yet the dancers remained calm as they continued to curve their limbs into circular motions of turns and deep contractions. Despite the countless intriguing moments in Moments, the most liberating part of the 15-minute excerpt of the original 30-minute piece was observing the dancers’ use of breath. Each time there was an exhale, whether it was in unison or individually, the dancers’ bodies became smaller; on every inhale, their extremities reached past their kinespheric space, giving the illusion of ongoing length beyond the stage.Lombardi6

Closing the evening on an entertaining note, BoSoma Dance Company brought its viewers to the wonders of a Marionette circus. Originally choreographed by Katherine Hooper, Ricardo Foster, and Irada Djelassi, puppetry and modern dance merged to formulate a zany “mad hatter” atmosphere. Using three white boxes as pedestals, and thin, white, elastic strings as props, the entire cast transformed from people to clumsy dolls as soon as the music started. According to Katherine Hooper, “The idea of Marionette was based on the idea of how we, as individuals, tend to be controlled and influenced by our surroundings, by what and who we’re born into — society around us.” The combination of BoSoma’s precise aesthetic with Foster’s energetic hip-hop movements gave the dancers performing Marionette a challenging obstacle to conquer- throwing their bodies into flimsy motions without losing control. If the props were not included in this piece, the choreography would not have been as dynamic or entertaining to watch. By using the boxes and strings to add level changes to the choreography, there were more moments for the dancers to demonstrate their technical abilities and performance qualities.

Examining a wide spectrum of movement styles, BoSoma Dance Company presented works it should be quite proud of. Its unique aesthetic can be unsettling at times because of the length of the works. On the other hand, the choreographies are rich with technical and organic steps that must be shared with the community. The most impressive aspect of the entire performance was the company’s preparedness. Without hours of rehearsal prior to this performance, the pieces would not have been clear in portraying the messages behind them. As one of Boston’s premiere dance companies, BoSoma Dance Company certainly inspired people to inventively think and approach dance in various views.

 

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Stanley Dyrector Then and Now:

 Interview With The Author Of Shedding Light On The Hollywood Blacklist

By Mende Smith


Surrounded by sunbeams through sitting room windows and the sum of his Hollywood years, author Stanley Dyrector has a unique view of the world. For more than 50 years, he has made the Hollywood Hills his home.

Dyrector is more than just an actor, producer, writer, and interviewer. He is also the go-to guy for the stories of the second wave of blacklisted writers stifled by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). At first glance, he is a charismatic man wearing a knowing grin. Introductory banter aside, this man has met people. This man has seen things.
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“I came to Hollywood when I got out of the Navy,” Dyrector says. “And I wanted to be a big movie star. I looked the part, and I had no common sense. But acting is what I wanted to do." Brooklyn by boat, California by land, discharged at the tender age of 21 by the U.S Navy, he and his buddy Steve Hays set off at last for Hollywood. After months practicing monologues from Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy alone on the decks of his ship between the California shore and Japan, Dyrector says he was getting “ready to rumble.”

He’s thankful for surviving what he calls “the school of hard knocks” with big plans to carry him from the dysfunctional family that left his mother institutionalized, matching the dreams of the skinny 12-year-old kid left to fend for himself on the mean streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

“It was a real Hollywood beginning,” Dyrector smiles. “I was what you would call ‘lean and not mean’ in my dress whites I walked the boulevard. Stars under my feet. Then somebody stopped me in the middle of the street saying, ‘Hey, you’re a good-looking kid. You ought to be in the movies.’ ” 

Dyrector’s enthusiasm was met with mixed approval when he found a place studying at The Hollywood School of Drama and Repertory Theater with actor Dan O'Herlihy (once nominated for an Academy Award for Robinson Crusoe) to be more of a challenge than he had hoped. His agent could not do more to promote the young actor, as he had not done too much for his portfolio. Nevertheless, Dyrector’s agent always seemed to compliment his efforts, and said he possessed what he called a “plaintive quality.”

One of Dyrector’s fondest memories was the night an aspiring young actress, Judy Rose, invited him to the Oscars. Dyrector muses that immediately after the red carpet event, he had to dress down into his station dungarees and pump gas at Beverly Boulevard and Alvarado Street. “We went to the Oscars in a limousine; first time ever for me. Judy’s mother, Helen Rose, had been up for an Oscar for costume design, and she did not win. The evening was amazing for me anyway, and right after I had to work my night job. When the clock struck 11:30, I had to go to work for my shift. I was not having drinks and what have you. I was sober as a judge. When customers came in to fill up that night I said I had just been to the Oscars, I was there an hour ago, and here I was pumping gas.”
 
Dyrector recalls how reading scenes at O’Herlihy’s school led him to the film Drag Strip Riot. Many other small parts would follow and sum up his professional screen-acting career.
 
Photo2 Page 6“Television and film chose me,” Dyrector says, “I came out here and right away I made connections. I was a particular ‘type’—like a John Garfield type—I didn’t have his talent, but I had his eagerness.”

Stan was cast in roles in films and series-TV, work such as his first movie, Dragstrip Riot" where he was featured as Cliff and in the TV series MSquad he costarred opposite Lee Marvin, in an episode called "Robbers Roost . In his role as Little Elk in a series called Buckskin, Dyrector recalls he was the “token Indian.”  “It should have been an even playing field for actors at that time. Native Americans should have been able to play lawyers or what have you, but unfortunately, they did not.”
 
Dyrector said he switched up his career when he “realized” that his beauty was vanishing at a young age. “I was passed up for parts I had tested for in some pretty big roles because I did not know how to use my instrument—my method. It was natural for me to shift gears. There had always been a small voice in my head, like a whisper, that I should be a writer; there were just too many other voices and stronger influences that muted that whisper. It took awhile for me to hear it again.”

john randolph and stan dyrectorDyrector found his place behind the typewriter in the mid-1970s, and for the next few years that followed, he collaborated with working screenwriters and began writing plays. “Being a playwright was tough. It was really tough, but rewarding in the sense that I was able to hear people speak my words.” Dyrector’s decision to become a cable talk-show host came after he settled down, got married, and began writing radio shows.
 
Of his talk show, Dyrector says, he had a good voice for television, and it was good to start interviewing fellow actors and writers; people in the business that he loved: Hollywood actors, writers, and directors were interviewed on his own TV show, called Senior Prom.

“The first guest was Theo Wilson, a headline reporter for the New York Daily news. She was a tabloid writer—she wrote about criminal trials.” Dyrector had met Theo through his wife, Joyce. He interviewed her about the role she played writing stories about the trials of Jack Ruby, Sam Sheppard, John De Lorean, Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson, and Patty Hearst.
 
During that time, Dyrector’s wife had known others on the women’s committee of the Writer’s Guild of America who had been blacklisted. Dyrector needed guests for his show, and soon realized there seemed to be more and more of these members willing to tell their stories.
 
They met in residences, rented studios, and even panel-style settings in local libraries. Dyrector could see the interviews were “shedding light” on an industry in turmoil—histories yet to be revealed.
 
His first book, called Shedding Light on the Hollywood Blacklist, offers a firsthand perspective from 12 men and women who lived through one of the darkest times in the American entertainment industry.

“For the ones who did not want to ‘rat’ on their friends and colleagues, they just did not work again. Many of them left the country.” Dyrector says. Recalling how Sterling Hayden, actor and author, named friends Bob Lees and Abraham Polonsky as communists, he later wrote that Hayden had felt like a coward. The book is full of uncomfortable exchanges between friends and once-partners. A testimony to the choice between life as factotum or failure.

“These people, both women and men, had lived through hell. Had to leave the country because they had been ousted from the business by the HUAC. I got to know blacklisted writers and actors at various times. I came to befriend them, and they were forthright with their stories.” Dyrector says.
 
Dyrector reminds us it is important to remember that America was different then. It was a time in our history that the Communist and the Socialist parties shared the voting ballot.

HUAC was created by the House of Representatives in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having communist ties. The subjects in Dyrector’s book not only testified; their disclosure frightened motion-picture studio executives and paralyzed the industry.
 
“Over 300 people lost homes, jobs, good names, some committed suicide—all that kind of stuff—and the worst part was, most of the goals of the Communist party were for positive social changes,” Dyrector says. “Rights for blacks, for women, for better wages for all minorities, which I would think is very idealistic.”
 
The “witch hunt” did not really begin in Hollywood until 1947, following a nine-day hearing set to expose alleged communist propaganda and influence in the Hollywood motion-picture industry. After conviction on contempt of Congress charges for refusal to answer some questions posed by committee members, “The Hollywood Ten” was blacklisted by the A-group of studio executives, acting under the aegis of the Motion Picture Association of America.
 
huacOn June 22, 1950, a pamphlet called Red Channels arrived, focusing on the field of broadcasting. It named more than 150 entertainment-industry professionals still working in Hollywood. That was the “second wave” that Dyrector talks about; the wave rendering most of those named along with a host of other artists interviewed in Dyrector’s Shedding Light, blindsided by the industry they trusted with their life’s work. Those named, now banished from employment in much of the entertainment field.
 
When the trade papers announced the firing of the artists—in what has become known as the Waldorf Statement—a number of the subjects of Dyrector’s book were also named under the context “Red Fascists and their sympathizers.”
 
Shedding Light interviews reflect back to the late 1930s and into the 1940s, when his guests admit to signing petitions promoting liberal ideals, and joining the Committee for the First Amendment, which led to blacklisting. Others in the business who merely associated with these members, their own names never put on the blacklist, like the late Charlie Chaplin, also found it extremely difficult to find work.
 
 “There is definitely still more of these stories to tell,” Dyrector says, “I may one day do these interviews—I have been approached—on a professional showcase level, where actors would read the parts of the guests, and it would be a stage performance. I also would like to see this done as a documentary following the lives of the people I have interviewed.”
 
Besides those who went to prison for their affiliations, the dozen interviewees in Dyrector’s Shedding Light talk very freely about those years, making his book a must-have record for industry historians. He said he still has a vision and enjoys a writing life. He is doing at last what he was meant to do in Hollywood.
 
Dyrector admits he is not a historian, but considers his book an excellent reference for those who would delve into it. Dyrector’s hours spent at Writer’s Guild Workshop have brought him much happiness. Now that he has one book under his belt, he says, he is set to lobby for the next one.
 
When asked about the highs and lows of the entertainment business, Dyrector takes pause before saying “it was all worth it.” Where he lacked the “internal” aspect for the craft, he says, he had the energy to act. Giving advice to young actors, today he says, “Keep your day job until you find your place in the business, then be prepared to quit everything else and live the part of your most creative, working self.”

He will be participating in the upcoming Hollywood Heritage Event Authors’ Book signing @ the Barn at noon on Saturday, December 7. Event will feature brief readings and offer gift wrapping for books sold.

Shedding Light on the Hollywood Blacklist can be purchased locally in Los Angeles at Samuel French Bookstore, Chevalier Books in Larchmont Village, and Skylight Books on Vermont Avenue in Hollywood. The book is also available on Amazon and iTunes.

To learn more about Stan visit his website and to watch episodes of The Stanley Dyrector Show, click here. 

In a previous version of this article, there was an error implying Theo Wilson was blacklisted, which was incorrect. Our apologies. 

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