Film Spotlight: ‘Ottolenghi & the Cakes of Versailles’ Reminds Us How Much We’ve Missed Museums Like The Met

 

 

 

Considering America has been teetering on the brink of collapse, with 200,000 dead from COVID-19, the economy in free-fall, and a presidential election that, for all intents and purposes, will be acting as a portal to another civil war, a documentary about the cultivation of a Versailles-inspired luxury pastry program, to be served to a guest list of NYC’s rarified art elite, could seem a bit…frivolous?

But the opportunity to lose ourselves in the making of extravagant pink and purple confections seems just what we need right now to distract us from this otherwise very grey reality. And, well if one wanted to draw political parallels, the halls of Versailles themselves do contain lessons for today, regarding the iniquitous division of wealth, and the subsequent fall of a once great empire.

And so it is that the delicious new IFC doc Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles turns out to be the perfect bit of escapism, especially for those missing the highbrow delights of New York’s most exalted museums—as the spectacular setting is the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

It starts with renowned chef/restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi recalling how he received a completely unexpected message.

“I get this email from The Met, saying, ‘We’d love you to do an event for us.’ At first I looked…’Why am I getting an email from The Met?”

Curiously, the Israeli Ottolenghi currently resides in London and Vienna, the latter being perhaps the only city that can match Versailles in terms of baroque extravagance, courtesy of those with access to the royal coffers at that time. The Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg dynasty, you recall, also experienced a spectacular fall, the one which ignited WWI.

But the event in question was to be a rarefied party celebrating The Met’s Visitors to Versailles, 1682 – 1789 (April 16 – Jul 29, 2018), which explored the breathtaking realities of running the day to day hospitality matters at the grandest personal home in the history of mankind. Curator Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide is seen describing the exhibition thusly: “It is really inspired by the account of the many and diverse travelers who went to Versailles between 1682 and 1789, when Louis XVI was forced to return back to Paris.”

 

 

Why Ottolenghi was chosen for the gig is explained straight away, when at his test kitchen in London he sets up the journey by explaining, “There is just so much history in everything we cook…a recipe’s not that good if it doesn’t have a story.”

A montage of images of uptown NYC follows, and they’re captivating in a way that strangely makes an accidental statement at this time of pandemic lockdown, and the city’s uncertain future. As the idea of “downtown” cool had already become a moribund one, and COVID-19 came along and veritably finished it off, the visuals here seem to suggest, this…this is the New York that will survive. (For better of for worse.)

Ottolenghi then also reminds us of the spectacularness of New York’s cultural institutions, which we have had to do without for so many months now, when he observes, “It feels like The Met is a city.” If you’ve ever been, you know what he means.

Limor Tomer, General Manager, Met Live Arts Department, drives the point home: “The Metropolitan Museum of Art…two million square feet, over seven million visitors a year, over 1.5 million objects…it’s a big place, it’s daunting. It’s extraordinary, 5000 years of human achievement, right here in this building. Not just objects, but ideas.”

 

 

That also sets up just what Ottolenghi and his fellow pastry maestros will be up against. Cut to him wandering the imposing courtyards of Versailles, explaining how chefs from all over the world are united under a language and training that has ultimately been influenced by French cooking—and they will be charged with living up to that history.

He then starts recruiting them from around the world: Ukranian wunderkind Dinara Kasko, whose architectural background finds her devising 3D molds on her computer for her futuristic confection creations; London’s insanely hip Bompas & Parr, who make technology driven conceptual art out of English jellies; Ghaya Oliveira, exec pastry chef of Daniel, known for her reinvention of French pastry classics; Singapore’s Janice Wong, who fashions edible art, mainly with chocolate…sort of couture comestibles.

Dominique Ansel is introduced as the genuine “celeb” factor of the group, the modern but nostalgic French chef who gained global fame by inventing the cronut at this Soho bakery.

The mission: Ottolenghi explains, “When we were thinking about Versailles, we were thinking, how do we give people an embodied way to understand what Versailles was?”

 

 

We are then taken on a journey from conception, through the stresses of process, as all six of these masters of the fine art of pastry struggle to bring their lavish inventions to light by the day of the event. We are reminded that for all of the haughtiness of the finished product, working in a kitchen is, well, hard…and working with food is unpredictable.

“If you take a chicken,” Ottolenghi ponders, “and put it in the oven and cook it, you get a chicken. But if you take all the ingredients that go inside a cake, you get this incredible transformation. And I think this is why pastry chefs have always been in the forefront of the scientific endeavor in cooking. Because they are the ones that take ingredients and really transform them.”

Despite the music accompanying the “day of” montage feeling strangely like it could be soundtracking a Tim Burton movie, watching the massive confections be rolled out on trolleys is distinctly dramatic. And, well, from that point on, the doc is an absolute visual feast, one that’s best left to the eyes, rather than attempting any possible description here.

Yes, as mentioned, this is pure escapism. But there’s always something riveting about the process of great geniuses—and make no mistake, Ottolenghi’s team are geniuses in their field. And seeing how these wild creatives, also wildly divergent, bring their entire history of influence, from a grandmother’s perfume during childhood, to time spent being a ballerina, to the creation of a magnificent pastry, is a truly glorious thing.

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is now available for purchase or rental at Vudu, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, the Microsoft Store, and YouTube online.

 

 

David Byrne Insists ‘We Are Not Divided’—and He Has a New Multimedia Project to Back it Up

 

 

 

David Byrne has never struck us as anything less than a prophet, one who has always been able to absorb from every corner of the zeitgeist, and return back something thoughtful, thought-provoking, and even generally hopeful, as well. He is, for all intents and purposes, the living embodiment of his own set of semi-utopian ideals.

So it was certainly no surprise when last September he launched a new media project, the blithely titled Reasons to be Cheerful, just as America had reached such a level of socio-political divisiveness as to provoke deadly serious talk of a second civil war. Trump’s impeachment hearings were set in motion a few months later, and immediately following, the world went into its pandemic enforced lockdown. Things were as bad as they could be, to put it bluntly—and it was as if Byrne had somehow known just what we would need to help us survive it.

 

 

Since that time, ReasonsToBeCheerful.world has been a place to go to remind ourselves that the world is full of people who want to make it better. Visit the site right now, and there are stories about solar farms, cooperative housing for people with disabilities, even a student-led movement to de-polarize college. And now RBC is taking on the toughest issue of all: the seething polarization of American society.

Indeed, the just announced and steadfastly titled We Are Not Divided will be a six week, multimedia journalistic journey described thusly:

“It has become conventional wisdom that we are hopelessly divided. But this narrative masks a larger truth: that we humans are incredibly skilled at overcoming division. We Are Not Divided is a collaborative multimedia journalism project dedicated to revealing that truth by telling the stories that show our capacity, and our deep desire, to bridge our divides.”

Byrne explains, “This series is hopeful at a time when that is in short supply. I realize the title might come as a shock. Not divided? Are you kidding me? What world are you living in?”

 

 

But don’t mistake him for some misty-eyed liberal just wanting to metaphorically throw his arms around the world. Rather, he is enlisting serious editorial clout, with the likes of The Guardian, The Marshall Project, The Tyee, Next City, Freakonomics, and Solutions Journalism Network all making contributions. Notably, We Are Not Divided will also include a weeklong video interview series, Bridging Divides, hosted by storyteller and artist Scott Shigeoka.

With a noxious campaign season leading up to the American presidential election in November, and bitter battles playing out across the country over the wearing of masks and the distribution of impending vaccines, we are surely in need of something uplifting as a counter…yet with the gravitas to make it truly effective.

“I am more than a little aware of what’s happening,” insists Byrne, “but the truth is there is evidence that we can find ways to come together—I have to believe that or I would sink into despair. Luckily, there are people and initiatives out there that we can look to for inspiration, and boy do we need it.”

We Are Not Divided debuts today, and continues on until November 2.

 

A Happiness Museum Has Just Opened in Copenhagen – Good Timing(?)

 

 

 

The thing about museums is that for the most part, they exhibit things that have taken a place in history—even if that history was just nine or ten months ago, in some cases. So the irony of opening a museum focusing on happiness, while in the middle of a global pandemic, is either a deliciously clever one…or perhaps one that is just a little depressing.

Said institution, pithily titled The Museum of Happiness, has just opened in Copenhagen, curated by the awesomely named Happiness Research Institute. One can certainly see the sense in locating such a place in a country which experiences about 170 rainy days per annum—though Denmark actually recently finished second only to Finland in the World Happiness Report. So take your pick whether the intention of the museum is to bring about happiness, or merely to celebrate it.

 

 

“The UN has put happiness on the agenda with that report,” says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Institute, “where Denmark is repeatedly ranked as one of the countries in the world that is best for creating well-being, happiness and quality of life. Therefore, we think it is an obvious home for a museum that focuses on how we create a better framework for good lives.”

Wiking should know. He has written three best-selling books on the subject, including The Little Book of Lykke, The Little Book of Hygge and The Art of Making Memories, which have been collectively published in 50+ countries.

The museum itself, fitted into an 18th Century building along the Admiralgade, in Copenhagen’s Old Town, features eight rooms with titles like The History of Happiness, The Geography of Happiness, The Politics of Happiness, and, most intriguingly, The Science of Happiness—the latter which will surely eventually be protested by American Evangelicals. Visitors can hear a speech by JFK questioning the role of economic prosperity in cultivating contentment; scan a wall of post-it notes with assorted international peoples’ individual definitions of the “H” word; and test emotional recognition technology, seeking to better understand tech’s role in our quest for genuine serenity. (Sadly, there’s no gift shop yet, in case you were wondering if “happiness” were available for purchase.)

 

 

But considering what the last six months have wrought, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were a perpetual bottleneck to gain access to The Smile room, something which has decisively alluded us in this rather miserable calendar year of 2020. Here, one is tasked with testing one’s resistance to contagious laughter—and we’re very much looking forward to trying and failing.

Wiking concludes, “Our hope is guests will leave a little wiser, a little happier and a little more motivated to make the world a better place.”

So, if it even need be said, don’t expect to be bumping into Mitch McConnell here.

 

Yayoi Kusama Just Designed a Champagne Bottle For Veuve Clicqout

 

 

 

It’s hard to imagine any artist throughout history anywhere near her age who has so dominated the cultural zeitgeist as has Yayoi Kusama these last several years. Indeed, having turned 91 in March (and probably celebrating very well, as Japan did not impose a formal coronavirus lockdown), she has spanned the globe with sold-out exhibitions, mostly of her fantastical Mirror Rooms—which we experienced at the Lille3000 art festival in France in 2019—and has deftly crossed pop cultural lines in the process.

Her latest? A colorful collab with French Champagne house Veuve Clicquot, for which she has applied her signature aesthetic to the packaging and bottle of the brand’s prestige cuvee, La Grand Dame. The box itself features her signature polka dots in radiant orange, matched by a drawing of her also signature floral sculptures.

She has dramatically and romantically titled the project My Heart That Blooms in The Darkness of The Night, which is not just an off-the-cuff attempt at verbal opulence. Rather, the flower is meant to symbolize life, love and peace…and so it is particularly poignant at a time when more than 900,000 people around the globe have died from coronavirus this year, and a heightened level of divisiveness rules the global conversation.

 

 

The flower is also meant to mirror the strength and delicacy of La Grande Dame cuvée, the current vintage of which dates to 2012. Ideologically, of course, Champagne has always stood for optimism and overcoming challenges—considering the losing side is not known for popping a cork to follow defeat. Of course, we welcome all the optimism we can get right now, and certainly would love nothing more than to be celebrating a victory over the many forces of darkness and destruction that have beset us on all sides in throughout 2020.

If it even need be said, it also just looks beautiful—especially the limited edition packaging of the bottle tucked into a custom created flower sculpture, which reminds us of nature’s embrace, both cosseting and yet ever primal. There were only 100 made, but the chance to own a Yayoi Kusama sculpt for just $30,000 is not to be taken lightly.

Those satisfied, however, with merely owning a bottle of La Grande Dame cuvée in the strikingly designed Kusama box can grab one off the shelves in early October for just $195. But, surely, you’re not actually going to drink it.

 

This Happened: Vanessa Paradis Arrives in Full Chanel to Deauville American Film Festival

Vanessa Paradis attends the opening ceremony at 46th Deauville American Film Festival on September 04, 2020 in Deauville, France. (Photo by Francois G. Durand/Getty Images)

 

 

There’s a kind of surreal quality right now in regards to anything that actually, you know…takes place. Major concert tours, art fairs like Frieze, Basel, as well as our beloved Fashion Weeks, have all been shut down by this coronavirus crisis—and no one is really quite sure when the culture of culture will again resume in full.

So the reality of someone pulling off an actual event is both admirable, and a little head-spinning at once. But the 46th Annual Deauville American Film Festival, in the French beach town of the same name, is indeed taking place at this very moment. Officially opening this past weekend, and carrying on until the 13th, it is a veritable thrill to just once again take in images of the famous and fabulous (and glamorously attired) traversing a red carpet, as was the case with this year’s President of the Deauville Festival Jury, one Vanessa Paradis—who was looking smashing in head-to-toe Chanel. The exalted fashion house, known for vigorously supporting the arts, had signed on as an official sponsor in 2019, and re-upped this year.

 

Ana Girardot attends the opening ceremony at 46th Deauville American Film Festival on September 04, 2020 in Deauville, France. (Photo by Francois G. Durand/Getty Images)

 

Notably, with the Cannes Film Festival having been cancelled in May, Deauville this year is featuring a Cannes 2020 sidebar, with several films being screened that did not get their chance at the industry’s most glittering annual event. The list includes Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country; Lucas Belvaux’s Home Front; Yeon Sang-ho’s Peninsula; Farid Bentoumi’s Red Soil; Charlène Favier’s Slalom; and Jonathan Nossiter’s Last Words, with a cast including Stellan Skarsgard and Charlotte Rampling.

Amongst American films, Miranda July’s Kajillonnaire is prominently being featured.

“The host of one of France’s oldest film festivals will exceptionally take on the guise of la Croisette in this most unique year for cinema,” explains Cannes Artistic Director Thierry Frémaux. “We are immensely pleased by the hospitality extended to us to screen films from the Official Selection on the Deauville boardwalk.”

 

 

As for star power, the 2019 edition drew the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Johnny Depp, Pierce Brosnan and Kristen Stewart. But travel restrictions presented obvious difficulties for many this year. Still, the French were out in force, with Ana Girardot and Astrid Berges-Frisbey joining Paradis for flashy photo ops.

Chanel’s involvement actually runs deep, as not only was founder Gabrielle (Coco) intensely involved with Hollywood style—in her day dressing the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Gloria Swanson—but Deauville, which was the height of chic and high society in the early 20th Century, was where she actually launched her fashion empire. If you didn’t already know.

 

Astrid Berges-Frisbey attends the opening ceremony at 46th Deauville American Film Festival on September 04, 2020 in Deauville, France. (Photo by Francois G. Durand/Getty Images)

 

Watch: Is iDKHOW’s ‘Leave Me Alone’ the First Truly PPE Music Video?

 

 

The question of “Too soon to joke about the pandemic?” has never really been allowed a true gestation period, perhaps a byproduct of the speed of life in 2020. Indeed, the world went into lockdown in early March, and by April, the gallows-humored memes were already propagating in untold numbers.

Six months later, and we have what is likely the first full-on PPE video, courtesy of SLC nu-new-wavers I Don’t Know How But They Found Me—mercifully shortened to iDKHOW for journalistic pragmatism. This probably wouldn’t have been a good idea when personal protective equipment was in such short supply back in the spring, and was certainly no laughing matter. But the video for their new single “Leave Me Alone” (accidentally ironically titled?) finds them surrounded by a lot of retro looking hospital gear, while playing inside of plastic tents and bubbles—and, to be honest, it seems like a perfectly reasonable—and zeitgeisty—concept.

 

 

Frontman Dallon Weekes, formerly of Panic! at the Disco, is quick to point out its metaphorical intent.

“Most art is made to reflect the time,” he observes. “We had to make a video in the midst of a pandemic, so we incorporated the ideas of quarantining and sterile isolation into the video. Not just as a way of keeping everyone involved safe, but it also fit the themes of the song as well: quarantining yourself from toxic people and situations. Wanting to be left alone.”

The immediate success of the single, with more than a million streams already on Spotify, means they probably won’t have much luck in their quest to be left alone. And with its nearly spot on replication of the indelible aesthetics of mid-’80s Duran Duran (white boy funk riffs, squelchy synth blasts, fatted up bass), it hints that screaming female fans may just be in their future.

Oh, and please wear your mask.