The Pick List: This Week’s Recommended Events

Thursday, June 18


John Murphy, artistic director of The Cabiri, has been combining the fantastical and the anthropological for years with performances that are like a graduate seminar in comparative religion meeting under a circus tent. Ezid, their newest work, and the middle section of their TEA Trilogy, illustrates creation tales from the eastern Mediterranean, reaching back to the era where gods walked the earth and made humans to worship them. You can follow along with the reading list if you like, or just let the theatrical effects sweep you up—the two choices together are even more powerful. (Through Sat.) Cornish Playhouse, 201 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 800-838-3006, $20–$50. 7:30 p.m.

Disguise: Masks and Global African Art

Let me immediately stop you from thinking this is a history show, with all the dull anthropology and colonial guilt that implies. Instead, this is a contemporary show featuring 10 emerging artists with roots in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and even Japan. (Remember the “global” part, which extends to the U.S., too.) Several of those artists will be on hand for this week’s opening events; and not all of them are strictly mask-makers. Performance and music will be part of some installations on view, and videos document other ceremonies and masquerades of the digital age. The reference points are wide-ranging among this disparate group: contemporary politics, urban planning, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, modern animation, wandering herds of deer, and the concealment/assumption of identity that always comes with mask-wearing. Performing live during Friday’s opening party will be Brendan Fernandes, Saya Woolfalk, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Wura-Natasha Ogunji. (Through Sept. 7.) Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., 654-3121, $19.50. 10 a.m.–9 p.m. (Night of Disguise opening party, 7–11 p.m. Fri.)

James Longhurst

It’s summer (well, officially beginning on Sunday), which means bike season, which means more riders on the road and more conflict with cars. That, in the comments section to any Seattle Times bicycle story, causes a fresh eruption of the war-on-cars/“Bicyclists should be taxed” vitriol. But Wisconsin historian Longhurst seeks to turn down such inflammatory rhetoric, despite the bellicose title to his Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road (UW Press, $39.95). In six chapters, he traces the history of what is essentially road-sharing: first horses and carts mixed with pedestrians; then trolleys and buses; then, after WWII, an overwhelming shift, funded by federal highway dollars, to the primacy of the car. Longhurst—who admits to being a nervous bicycle commuter—repeatedly returns to the notion of the commons, that we all own the public right of way.

Pavement in this sense can be understood as a scarce resource that must be allocated and regulated for the public good. That was easier when cars were a rarity, the playthings of the rich; the rest of us walked or used public transportation. But now, any commuter will tell you, cars no longer work. In affluent, congested cities like Seattle, the wheel has turned. Bicycles, seemingly cheating their way through traffic, have become freighted with the symbolism of perpetual gridlock and made a scapegoat for such forces. (And here come Uber, Lyft, and Google’s self-driving car to disrupt things further.) Longhurst reminds us how the ’70s bike boom was partly a response to the OPEC fuel shocks. Today, he writes of our gas-tax-supported Highway Trust Fund, “It is stunningly ironic that this source of funding is drying up just as much of the highway infrastructure is nearing the end of its life.” Ironic, yes, but also an opportunity. Eagle Harbor Books, 157 Winslow Way E. (Bainbridge Island), 842-5332, Free. 7:30 p.m. (Also: Seattle Central Library, free, 3 p.m. Sat.)

Friday, June 19

Losing Ground

Fleetingly seen in New York, Kathleen Collins’ lost-and-found portrait of a marital meltdown is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, the 1982 clash between a rational philosophy professor and her promiscuous, free-spirited artist husband sounds like an Albee-style screaming contest; instead, Losing Ground is a wise, seriocomic examination of strong egos that can’t be reconciled. (It’s also a love quadrangle, with two interesting personalities pulling at each spouse.) Second, Losing Ground is likely the first feature of the indie era by an African-American woman, with a mostly black cast. Collins, who died in 1988, respects her repressed heroine’s quest for joy (“Why can’t I just let go, lose control?”). Yet, she hints, such hedonism isn’t really working for the husband, who hooks up with a Latina dancer who’s anything but the spitfire cliché. Music and dancing are integral to Losing Ground, which includes a student-film-within-the-film, as Sara (Seret Scott) makes a movie with suave, grandiloquent actor Duke, played by Duane Jones, the hero of Night of the Living Dead. (Along with those two, Bill Gunn is excellent as Sara’s husband, Victor.) Sara wants ecstatic release somehow—whether through art, religion, dancing, or an affair. Yet following one’s heart, she will find, can also lead to tears. This is an overlooked little gem from the oppressively white cinema of the Reagan years. (Through Sun.) Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 267-5380, $6–$11. 8 p.m.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll

Considering the Khmer Rouge horrors that came in 1975, it’s easy to be nostalgic about Cambodia’s prior two decades of post-colonial freedom, even if that society was hardly democratic. The politics—and rising specter of Pol Pot—sometimes filter through the music in this very affectionate doc by John Pirozzi; anyone he interviews here survived the killing fields, so they have reason for their fond memories—they’re grateful to be alive. Yet we know that not all those musicians seen in this wonderful trove of well-edited archival footage did survive, which gives the film its poignance. There’s a brief flowering of go-go boots and miniskirts, electric guitars and choreographed dance moves, elephant parades and pool parties. The royal family were music lovers, and Phnom Penh was a hedonistic, cosmopolitan Francophone city. Record labels sprang up, even as the Vietnam War spilled across Cambodia’s border. Then the mood darkens, with TV clips of Nixon and Cronkite, newsreels of B-52s dropping secret bombs, and one musician recalling, “All of a sudden, it was gone.” In its later scenes, Don’t Think shows how this music-loving country became a brutal agrarian police state. During that 1975–79 period, one survivor recalls, “You could be killed for singing the wrong song.” (Through Thurs.) SIFF Film Center (Seattle Center), 324-9996. $7–$12. See for showtimes.

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