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SPIKE LEE VISITS FIT TO DISCUSS DO THE RIGHT THING

Director Spike Lee visited FIT recently for an interview following a screening of his 1989 film Do the Right Thing. A frigid February night proved the perfect time to watch a movie that takes place on a scorching-hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Lee said he was inspired to write the script in part because “I noticed that in New York, when it gets above 95 degrees, people lose their minds.”

spikelee

One student said she was impressed with Lee’s stylish UGGs. (He wore them to stay warm in the stadium during the Super Bowl). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, holds the microphone.

The college’s Black Student Union organized the event as part of Black History Month (“the shortest month of the year,” Lee wryly noted). David Hamilton, president of FIT’s student association, greeted a packed house in the Haft Auditorium with the observation, “Black history is everybody’s history in America.”

From a show of hands, a sizable portion of the packed house in the Haft Auditorium had never seen the movie, which has held up beautifully over 25 years. The characters’ artfully crafted hairstyles, eyewear, and Day-Glo-colored outfits (for which Lee credited his costume designer, Ruth Carter) were redolent of the 80s. Still, some current students came similarly attired—and looked pretty chic.

At the climax of the film, a riot erupts. After the screening, one audience member asked whether Lee intended to stir up trouble. Lee answered, unequivocally, no. “That was a criticism of the film—that it was going to incite riots. There was a fear that you’d see the movie and run out and start smashing things. I don’t think Chuck D [of the band Public Enemy] who wrote the song ‘Fight the Power’ for me [it opens the film] was talking about taking up arms. It was more like mental stuff.”

Toward the end of the night, Lee invited students in the audience to talk about the obstacles they faced as they trained for creative careers. Many described their parents’ objections. “My father went to Harvard and my mother went to Columbia, and there’s no way they’ll pay my tuition to study fashion,” a student said. Lee counseled everyone to stick with it. “Parents,” he said, “kill more dreams than anybody.”

Lee revealed that the “Love and hate” speech given by the character Radio Raheem (above) was inspired by a scene in Charles Laughton’s 1955 suspense classic “Night of the Hunter”:

The manager of films for FIT’s student association also helped organize the event.

FACULTY MEMBER TAKES LIFE’S LEMONS, MAKES…WELL, YOU KNOW

Recently, Hue has been enjoying excerpts of Lemonade, an autobiography by Bernard L. Dillard, an assistant professor of mathematics at FIT. The book won the gold award in the “Autobiography/Memoirs” category in Dan Poynter’s 2013 Global EBook Awards. Not every word is true—Dillard includes a disclaimer that it was “inspired by actual events”—but boy is it ever juicy. We won’t disclose the scandalous bits; you’ll have to read the book yourself. Let’s just say that Dillard’s coming-of-age tale has a moment or two that might make you blush.

(Dillard with his sister and mother, 1980.)

But there’s heartache in the book, too. Dillard’s family owned a successful barbecue restaurant in Durham, North Carolina, but his parents fought constantly. One relative had a nervous breakdown; drugs entered the picture. Dillard writes, “Our name was respected in the community because of our restaurant business, but here we were, going through hell while everybody thought we were the Cosbys.”

(Above: Dillard, age 5 or so.)

The good news is, Dillard turned out all right.  More than all right, actually.  He—or the character based on him— graduated from Morehouse College with degrees in English and Mathematics.  Dillard has published essays on obscure math topics like “wavelet-based statistical techniques used for biosurveillance and national security.” He’s also made a name for himself as a model and actor.  We love the fact that he appeared on the TV show The Wire. You can watch a clip of him on the show here:

Read more about Lemonade here.

Check out Dillard’s site here.

FIT ILLUSTRATORS REFLECT ON JOHN F. KENNEDY AND MARTIN LUTHER KING

A new show at The Museum at FIT puts a collection of dreams on display. Inspired by two 50-year anniversaries—the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the delivery of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech both took place in 1963—the exhibition features stark images, some hopeful, some less so, by students and faculty from the college’s MFA program in Illustration.

Entitled Dreams Lived/Dreams Shattered: MLK, JFK 50 Years Later, the show includes works that range in media from scratchboard and canvas to pen and ink, clay sculpture, and digital print.

“I like bringing the culture of our times to our work,” said Melanie Reim, chair and associate professor of the program. “It’s important to remember that visual interpretations are potent, powerful ways of assigning a feeling to the written word, and in today’s world the illustrator is more powerful than ever with the combination of media they have at their disposal.”

In order to deepen the students’ understanding of these two seminal events in America’s history, Daniel Levinson Wilk, associate professor, American History, provided background, and Matthew Petrunia, associate professor, English and Speech, followed with the key aspects of great speeches. The students were then asked to interpret the events of half a century ago in any way they chose.

“Islands,” by Bruno Nadalin

Bruno Nadalin used the metaphor of Hurricane Katrina and the rooftops of New Orleans to represent the “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” that Dr. King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Maria Carlucco’s “Marching for Freedom,” above, is also featured in the exhibition.

The show runs until December 7.

AUTHOR FRAN LEBOWITZ DISSES HALSTON, STRAIGHT PEOPLE, AND MEN IN SHORTS

The author, satirist, and professional talker Fran Lebowitz visited FIT last Friday. She submitted, if that’s the right word, to an on-stage interview with Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, as part of a symposium, “A Queer History of Fashion,” which complemented the museum’s show of the same name.

An early moment in the exchange was fraught. Steele asked why Lebowitz refused to lend one of her suits for the show. Everyone leaned forward. Was some personal revelation forthcoming?

Nope. “I didn’t lend you one because I couldn’t live for six months without one of my suits,” Lebowitz said, referring to the length of the exhibition. “I don’t have enough [of them].”

Her career began in the early ’70s at Interview magazine, with Andy Warhol. As a denizen of his demimonde, she met many fashion designers, including Halston. “Halston was not someone I was very interested in,” Lebowitz said. “He was kind of a hick, actually. But he had huge parties, which are always good. His clothes were plastic. They were Ultrasuede, which is polyester, which is plastic.”

Steele asked how Lebowitz ended up on the Best-Dressed list. “People vote for you,” she said. “I’d rather be the mayor.”

Lebowitz has a famously bad case of writer’s block, though she’s quite relaxed—and quotable—in conversation. Steele said one question that kept coming up while preparing the show was why there are so many gay designers.

“Is that even a question?” Lebowitz said. “A better question is, ‘Why are there straight designers?’ Why are there straight men at fashion shows? Can’t something be done about that?”

Later she said that perhaps the correlation had to do with the fact that straight men “could have other jobs. There were few jobs where you could be gay.”

Steele asked if Lebowitz had a fashion bête noire. “To me, shorts,” she said. “I really do not want to see adult men wearing shorts. Ever. They’re suburban. When I see a grown man wearing shorts, I think, ‘You’re going to a cookout.” Baseball caps also draw her ire.

Asked to explain the appeal of leather, Lebowitz replied, “Sex. That’s the appeal. It’s durable. It lasts longer than sex. Which is why, at a certain age, you should give it up. It’s actually sad, at a certain age. It makes me sad. For them, not me.”

For the record, Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard make her suits, but she doesn’t go to London to be fitted. “I’m an Anglophobe,” she admitted. “They have a dress form of me, for sizing. It lives in London, so I don’t have to.” She has very particular tastes. Fabric, for example: “I could spend my entire life choosing fabrics.”  And, “I always ask for light-colored buttons,” a style somewhat against the grain. She’s also demanding about fit. She said, “At the point that a suit no longer fits, you should not go out.”

ARTIST WILLIAM WEGMAN VISITS FIT, UNLEASHES HIS IDEAS

The artist William Wegman came to FIT last night, bringing engaging slides of his work but, alas, none of the Weimaraner dogs he’s so famous for photographing. Wegman visited as part of a series organized by the college’s photography department, and presented the very image of a working artist, with rumpled gray hair and a blue checked shirt.

Wegman loves to create, and his work fits generally into the category of surrealism, though he said, surprisingly, that Norman Rockwell was an early influence. Wegman paints and makes sculpture and videos, but he’s most famous for his dog pictures:

Like so much of his career, as Wegman tells it, the discovery of photography was fortuitous, almost an accident.  In the mid-’60s he took his first photograph. It was of salami. “That’s still my best photo,” he said, with evident irony.

Painters Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha collected his early photographs, which Wegman initially used to document his performance art.  An early series of photos featuring the Weimaraner Man Ray, Wegman said, “is kind of like a Sol LeWitt painting, but with a dog.” By the late ’70s, he said, “my photography began to be dominated by Man Ray, who loved to work.” A few years after Man Ray died, Wegman got another dog, Fay Wray. “She almost demanded to work,” he said. “She looked right into the lens.” He later made videos of the dogs for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street. Here’s one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_IFN4lh59Y

 

A surprising sense of playfulness, of low-key spontaneity and experimentation, characterized the talk. “I would never think these pictures through beforehand,” he said. “They weren’t planned.” At one point, a student asked what lens he used to photograph the dogs. “I don’t know,” Wegman replied. “I’m not a photographer.”

Wegman with FIT Photography faculty Jessica Wynne, who organizes the Photo Talks series.