Rockefeller’s Campus Gets an Upgrade

Sarah Baker

The Natural Selections Editorial Board in front of the new President’s Office and Dean’s Office building.

Excitement abounds at The Rockefeller University as we prepare for the grand opening of the new $500 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation—David Rockefeller River Campus, a four-year construction project to add two acres and a new research building to Rockefeller’s fourteen-acre campus. Construction began during the summer of 2015, right when I arrived at Rockefeller as a first year graduate student. Since then, I have gotten a chance to follow the progress of the new building, mainly through glimpses of the roof from my lab’s conference room in the Hospital Building, whilst crossing the Queensboro bridge, or from viewing the outside of the building from the esplanade. But these piecemeal looks never gave me a real understanding of the full scale of the project. In early February, Alex Kogan, Associate Vice President of Plant Operations and Housing at Rockefeller, agreed to give the Natural Selections Editorial Board a tour of the building, where we got a more comprehensive idea of what a massive undertaking this project has been.

If you walk anywhere on Rockefeller’s campus, it is easy to miss the massive river building completely (barring the constant construction that has been taking place for the past couple of years). In fact, the architects designed it this way in order for it to blend into the preexisting campus. Limited to the space between the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and York Avenue between 62nd Street and 68th Street, the university had to take a highly creative approach to expand the campus. The university was able to take advantage of the air rights over the FDR that it has owned since 1973 to expand into a long horizontal structure over the highway. In the summer of 2016, nineteen modular metal structures were installed from the East River using a marine crane to lift them over the FDR onto columns that had previously been built. The FDR was closed nineteen nights that summer as the modules were transported on a barge from New Jersey and lifted one-by-one into place.

Over the past couple of weeks, equipment and scaffolding blocking views of the new walkways to the River Campus have been cleared, showing off the beautiful staircases and many entrances to the new building. Take one of the two new outdoor staircases between Founder’s Hall and the Nurses Residence, or between Founder’s Hall and Smith Hall, and you will find yourself on the top of the new Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Research Building where there are two acres of open space containing a beautiful garden with many benches, an amphitheater of seats facing inward towards Welch Hall, and a lovely unobstructed view of the East River. The garden is strikingly devoid of noise from the FDR and looks to be the perfect place to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July or to hang out on a nice day. On the south side of the green space is the new cafeteria, which will replace Weiss Café. With state-of-the-art kitchen equipment and a full glass window looking out at the river, the dining services staff are eager to move into the new space and away from the undesirable conditions in Weiss, where the kitchen is far removed from the cafeteria. There is plenty of seating in a large open room adjacent to the cafeteria and I can see this becoming a big hang-out spot on campus. On the other side of the roof, as you walk north along the river atop the Kravis Research Building, are the President’s and Dean’s Offices with two large conference rooms that will be available for reservation by campus members as needed.

The Kravis Research Building below aims to provide Rockefeller scientists with a cutting edge research facility, and will replace many existing labs on campus that have desperately needed an upgrade in the modern bioscience world. Spanning three New York City blocks, the building has rows and rows of benches, tissue culture rooms, and chemical hoods. By the windows sit individual desk spaces for all researchers that will ultimately be separated from the main lab spaces by a glass panel, which will allow scientists to enjoy a coffee or snack at their desk. All Head of Lab offices are exactly the same size, meaning nobody has a bigger office than anyone else. All of the lab spaces are designed to be completely flexible, making it easy to adjust where benches and equipment will be set-up and allow for a space tailored to the unique needs of each group of scientists. There are four main wings of the building, each to be shared by six labs, which include north and south wings on each of the two floors of the building. The quadrants each share a common conference room and kitchen. All faculty were offered a chance to move to the new building, and so far eighteen labs will be moving into the new space, with the first labs set to move in March. No lab was given preference to particular locations in the building, but they have tried to put labs that collaborate closely near one another. I cannot help but be envious of the labs that received corner spaces with large windows—these seem like the perfect locale for bouts of deep pondering whilst doing science.

In the middle of each floor are two common spaces where there will be plenty of seating to meet for coffee or get away from the lab. There is also another large common kitchen that will be open to all of the labs on the floor. The bottom floor also has a lactation room for breastfeeding mothers. Bathrooms have been put in in the center of each floor as well, meaning everyone working in the building will be converging in the middle of the building at least a couple of times a day. The whole design of the building is open, which the architects hope will foster more cross-talk between people from different labs. In fact, I think it is going to be difficult to distinguish where one lab ends and the other begins.

At the end of the north side of the building, in front of the President’s House, will be a new large lawn that will serve as a backyard, and further, past the lawn by the 68th Street gate is a new conference center. This conference center will be open to Rockefeller labs and rentable by members of the public in order to generate some revenue for the university. With full glass windows facing the river, I think it will be highly desirable for meetings. It is completely separate from the rest of campus (meaning you will have to walk outside to get to it) and was designed to be sort of a retreat space to get away from the main interconnected research buildings. It will be accessible by the 68th Street turnstile, which will reopen soon, after having been closed for the past couple of years.

Campus has been under construction for four years now and I can fully say that it has been worth the wait. Although my lab is not moving to the new building, I will definitely be spending a lot of time there enjoying the gorgeous architecture, relaxing in the open space over coffee and lunch, and strolling in the lovely gardens above. The beautiful and highly innovative design of the expansion will be a refreshing addition to campus—the official opening cannot come soon enough! You can follow installed cameras with time-lapse views of the new building here.

Alex Kogan excitedly discusses the expansion of Rockefeller and the construction of the new river campus.

View of the new amphitheater facing Welch Hall from the green space above the research building.

The finishing touches are being put on the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Research Building, which must be prepared for the move of eighteen Rockefeller labs starting in March.

All photos courtesy of Megan Elizabeth Kelley. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEKelley.

Culture Corner

Bernie Langs

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Stephen Kurkjian discusses the Gardner Museum Theft and the Podcast “Last Seen”

Stephen Kurkjian (photo courtesy of Mr. Kurkjian)

Courtyard of the Gardner Museum in Boston (photo: Bernie Langs)

“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt, stolen in 1990 from the Gardner Museum (photo: Wikipedia)

At 1:24 a.m. on March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as policemen gained access to Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with thirteen pieces of art, now valued at $500 million. The stolen works included Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentlemen in Black, Vermeer’s The Concert, and Manet’s Chez Tortoni. Not one piece grabbed that night has been located despite the offer of millions in reward money for any credible information leading to the recovery of the paintings.

In 2018, The Boston Globe and Boston’s public radio station, WBUR, teamed up to create an investigative crime podcast about the theft. “Last Seen” is a fascinating dive into how the heist was pulled off and follows up on many potential leads about where these masterpieces may now be stashed and who may have been behind the heist. “Last Seen” boasts riveting audio of interviews and discussions with many of the key players surrounding the crime. The podcast audience also listens in on conversations with mob figures made by agents wearing wires, including those made by the FBI’s longtime art-crimes investigator, Bob Wittman. The search veers off in a multitude of directions as ideas are revealed and tested, mixing intense drama with unexpected moments of emotion and humor.

I reached out to The Boston Globe for comments about “Last Seen” and they directed me to Stephen Kurkjian, a retired Globe reporter and one of the show’s co-producers and lead investigators. A three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Mr. Kurkjian is the author of the book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist, which continues his investigation into the Gardner theft. After a quick chat on the phone, I emailed Mr. Kurkjian questions about “Last Seen” and his involvement in the case.

Bernie Langs: The final episode of “Last Seen” is a panel discussion with you and others who worked on the production and reporting. You discussed your personal history as a Boston native, the son of an Armenian immigrant who became a commercial artist and taught you about the value of Boston’s cultural treasures. You explain, “…this is the artwork of the ages. Everything passes. Art endures. And this is our art. Mrs. Gardner put those on the wall for us, put them on the wall for my father.” Can you elaborate further about your obsession with recovering the art?

Stephen Kurkjian: I don’t see myself as “obsessed” by the Gardner story as much as I do doing what any investigative reporter would do—following a compelling story that has great meaning and purpose to their city. As an investigative reporter, especially one who grew up in Boston, I am drawn to stories that have “purpose” for the community. Mrs. Gardner had assembled this extraordinary collection for a transcendent reason—to motivate all Americans to be inspired by artistic achievement. She understood, having traveled the world over, that the civilizations that survived in time were not those that had the strongest military or economic might but those that valued art, be it paintings, statuary, tapestry, music, etc. While America was becoming a world power during the Industrial Revolution, she did not see us gaining an appreciation for art and she wanted to do something about it. That is why when she opened the museum she insisted that attendance be free of charge—except for a donation, if possible—and she encouraged local schools to send class after class to the museum so youngsters could be inspired by her art. On the personal side, my father, Anooshavan Kurkjian, a refugee from the Armenian Genocide, was one of countless art students who visited the museum daily so he could study the techniques of the artists. And though he was proud of the results of my investigative reporting in other areas, he was especially pleased when I turned my sights to the Gardner case. “You have to stir the conscience of the community for it to understand the fullness of what was lost here,” he stressed.

BL: The podcast covers how you and others follow-up each credible lead. The Boston FBI refused to speak on the record in reply to your queries. One can’t help but speculate about why they repeatedly dropped the ball in this case, effectively ruining some of the undercover efforts and remaining secretive when they should have mobilized the city’s residents to assist in identifying suspects. Is it possible that the FBI killed leads about the theft for nefarious or duplicitous reasons?

SK: Following this story is difficult enough and I’ve sought to avoid chasing conspiracy theories. That being said, it is also true that the FBI has not covered itself with glory in pursuing the case. Yes, the agents assigned to the case have done so with diligence, but my complaint is that the agency has failed to act creatively in its investigation. They have restricted other agencies, especially the Massachusetts State Police and Boston Police, from playing a leadership role on the case. That was regrettable, especially at the start of the investigation, as these other agencies would have had valuable sources and resources to put to the effort. Why? Likely because the agency didn’t want to jeopardize its confidential intelligence to these other agencies in fear leaks might happen. Also, I think at the outset the FBI believed that the case would be solved quickly—either through an arrest or an exchange that gained the arts’ recovery. And the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office didn’t want to share the glory that would come from such a recovery with any lesser agencies.

While it may not point to a conspiracy, I remain intrigued as to how the FBI could have muffed the investigation at several key points. Why not focus on [museum guard] Abath more widely and intensively at the probe’s outset? More recently, why release a tape in August 2015 that seemed intent on finding the identity of a stranger who was allowed into the museum the night before the theft, and disregard the outreach of several former staffers who willingly told me that it was not a suspicious entry at all and identified him as the former security deputy director? How did the FBI misplace key forensic evidence taken from the scene of the crime that was not available decades later when officials wanted to do advanced DNA testing on the material? But my sense is that taken together these amount not to a conspiracy to impair the investigation rather than a lack of expert and strategic thinking about how to advance it.

BL: “Last Seen” grabs the audience from the very first episodes. When you tracked down the guard, Rick Abath, living in a shack in Vermont, was that an important find for you, when you discussed the suspicion that he may have been the “inside man” in the theft?

SK: I did that interview with Abath, and taped it, for a profile I was doing on him for The Boston Globe, not the podcast. He was willing to speak—for the first time, on the record—as he was thinking then of coming forward with a book on his involvement with the case. But I had interviewed him many times in the years before that, since 2005 in fact, when I originally found him living in Vermont. I had spent the entire day trying to find his whereabouts in that city, and when I finally found his house, a tiny cabin on a remote hillside, only the moonlight led me to his front door. Interestingly, he wouldn’t let me in but agreed to an interview in a city tavern. That was an exciting interview, as for the first time I was learning details of the theft that the FBI and the museum had never made public.

Included in it was how Abath acknowledged his two grievous errors in letting the thieves into the museum. He thought some kids drunk from the St. Patrick’s Day celebration had jumped the iron fence behind the museum and were possibly causing damage to the Gardner’s rear premises…he fell for the thieves’ ruse…he feared he’d be arrested and miss the Grateful Dead concert that he had a ticket for in Hartford later that night. But he was convincing in his assertions of innocence, that he was not part of any robbery scheme, nor could he recall ever giving security secrets to any gangster-types who could have used them to pull off the heist. I have detailed other reasons that raise suspicions about Abath’s actions that night in my book, Master Thieves, but the FBI has never had enough to arrest him for involvement in the crime.

BL: My own theory about the theft had always been that it was financed by an eccentric collector utilizing mobsters to grab the art for his private collection. “Last Seen” destroys the wealthy villain mastermind idea making it clear that this was a well-planned theft by seasoned criminals. Can you explain why you know that this is the scenario that makes the most sense?

SK: No one “knows” anything about this robbery. No one knows for sure who did it, how they conspired to do it, or what happened to any of the art work. My thinking is all informed by hard reporting and deductive reasoning built off that reporting. If the theft had been engineered by a “Dr. No”-type criminal, an oligarch-type or arch criminal, who commissioned the robbery in hopes of gaining a beloved masterpiece, then I doubt that the thieves would have been so rough in how they treated the works they stole. Remember, all paintings were broken out of their frames, and the two large Rembrandts were cut out of their backings. I’m thinking the mastermind who may have commissioned the theft would have been very upset by such treatment. Also, with thirteen pieces being stolen, you would think that if they had been divided up, that someone would step forward or screw up so that the authorities would get a trail to a recovery.

But the feds told me in 2010 that the FBI had not had a single “proof of life sighting” of any of the thirteen pieces, which in FBI lingo means that there had not been a photo taken of the pieces showing their whereabouts since the theft or a single piece of forensic evidence, which would show that a person could back up their claim that they had access to or knowledge of the whereabouts of the stolen pieces. Which leads me to the belief that the pieces were stolen as a potential “get out of jail free” card for someone already in jail or someone who was facing a prison term. In the last chapter of Master Thieves, I tell the tale of just such a person, a mob leader who had been jailed four months before the Gardner heist, and the person who pledged to help get him out of jail.

BL: You have won Pulitzer Prizes, worked on investigations with The Globe and their famous Spotlight team. You have written about everything from the clergy abuse scandal inside the Boston Archdiocese to political scandals in Washington. Master Thieves continues your investigation into the Gardner heist. You retired in 2007, yet here you are still trying to recover those paintings.

SK: I was a founding member of The Boston Globe’s investigative Spotlight Team. It was commissioned in the early 1970s to work on stories that had purpose to Boston and New England, and its three Pulitzer Prizes, 1972, 1980, and 2003, are evidence to the success of focusing on such stories. I regard the Gardner as a similar story and backed up by my personal ties to the museum via my father and my cousins, both of whom were classical pianists who often performed at the museum. Because of those ties, I have come up with an alternative approach to gaining a recovery—a full-fledged public appeal, which would be powered by social media. I remember what attention the “Ice Bucket Challenge” gained in the summer of 2014 to ALS research. I think a similar drive should be established to bring the public attention and energies towards a recovery. Such an appeal would include outreach to all segments of society both those law-abiding and criminal. The message should be that these masterpieces were put on the museum’s walls for all Bostonians, rich and poor, and that they remain missing (hidden somewhere!) serves no purpose. My sense is that no one knows where the artwork was hidden, and the two thieves and their boss who did know the whereabouts are now dead, as the FBI confirms. But there are still people alive who know or have suspicions about who did it, and what they may have done with the artwork. But those people are unlikely to say something because to do say is breaking some mob code of “omerta,” and to bring forward such information would be considered “ratting.” The conscience of these people has to be engaged and they have to be reminded that many of history’s greatest artists, including Van Gogh and Michelangelo, came from impoverished backgrounds like they and their families. Perhaps their grandchildren could be inspired by one of those masterpieces to become an artist but they need to be back on the museum gallery’s walls. They are doing no good being hidden away. It is time that they be returned. Regrettably, neither the FBI nor the museum has seen fit to advocate for the social media campaign.

Please visit Mr. Kurkjian’s Web site for additional background on his fantastic career: http://stephenkurkjian.com/. To reach Mr. Kurkjian regarding his work on the Gardner theft, email stephenkurkjian@gmail.com.

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan

In the third run of this series, I interview Mocha, the rabbit who lives with Natalie Omattage (Chen Lab, The Rockefeller University). I meet this fluffy one often, as Natalie and I share an apartment. If you would like your pet(s) featured in this series, please contact me at pviswanath@mail.rockefeller.edu.

Pooja Viswanathan: Mocha, I have never met a bunny like you before. What kind of bunny are you?

Mocha: I am a Lionhead bunny. We are named for the mane of fur around our heads! Lionheads are majestic creatures (I may be biased), and we are known for our sassy personalities. Some say I take after my mom, but I’d like to think we are just strong independent women!

PV: Is there a story behind your name?

M: I was originally named Ladybug but I didn’t think it suited me very well. Mom is a big coffee drinker and was inspired by my mocha brown hair!

PV: How old are you? In human years?

M: I’m seven years old—some say that’s about forty-nine in human years, but I still feel pretty young and spry! I was born in 2012, coincidentally, the same year my mom began grad school! I think that’s how I knew we were meant to be together.

PV: What is your first memory?

M: Sadly, one of my first memories was being abandoned in the middle of an alley during a rainstorm. I still get scared during storms to this day. Fortunately, the friendly folks at the Missouri House Rabbit Society (MO HRS) came to my rescue and gave me a warm safe place to sleep and spend time with other bunnies!

PV: Tell us about your mom. When did you first meet her?

M: My mom’s name is Natalie Omattage. We met in April 2014. She had just passed her qualifying exam at Washington University in St. Louis and wanted a furrever friend. I had spent nearly two years at the MO HRS and was very picky about who I wanted to be my next family. As she walked around, we locked eyes, and the rest, as they say, is history. Below is photographic evidence of us meeting for the first time.

PV: How does your mom belong in the Tri-I community?

M: She’s a postdoc in Dr. Jue Chen’s lab at Rockefeller. We made the trek from the Midwest to the Big Apple in September, and haven’t looked back since. I’m definitely a big city bun!

PV: Where do you live?

M: I live with my mom in her room. My cage is a large dog crate, and I also have a wooden bunny castle so I can keep watch over my territory! I’m allowed to wander around the room so long as I don’t chew on Mom’s belongings. I like to test my luck occasionally but Mom says I’m too cute to stay mad at for too long. 😉

PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

M: I think I’d want to live in Sri Lanka. All of mom’s family lives there, and I could see myself being a beach bun and living that tropical life!

PV: What is your favorite food?

M: Sticking to the Bugs Bunny stereotype, I really do love carrots! Although, they are high in sugar so I’m not allowed to have very much. My other favorite foods are bok choy and brussel sprouts.

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity?

M: I like to splay out in my cage and relax after a long week of nibbling on hay and playing with my toys. I miss Mom a lot during the work week so I often face her direction when I’m resting. I also like lots of scratches and snuggles when she’s around!

 PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

M: My mom’s partner once took care of me when she was out of town. When we are really happy we binkie, or jump in the air while twisting our body and heads in the opposite direction. It was my first time running around freely on carpet so I binkied the whole time I was staying with him! He had no clue what was happening and thought he had “broken” me and was too scared to tell my mom. When he finally told her what had happened we both had a good chuckle!

Life on a Roll

Elodie Pauwels

Jacques Cœur Palace

https://elodiepphoto.wordpress.com/

Bourges is located in the middle of France, where Jacques Cœur was born at the end of the fourteenth century. Among other duties, he was a merchant in charge of trading goods between his country and the Levant under King Charles VII.

Although he never lived there, Cœur ordered the construction in Bourges of an avant-garde gothic-style imposing hôtel particulier (now called palace). He chose scallop shells and hearts (in French: “Saint-Jacques” and “Coeur”) as heraldry, which can be seen at many places on and in the edifice. His motto “A vaillans cuers riens impossible” means “To a valiant heart, nothing is impossible.”

Jacques Cœur’s story has been novelized by a French author, Jean-Christophe Rufin, a Bourges native himself.

Natural Expressions

Music

On Friday, March 1, James Browning, a postdoctoral research associate in the Krueger Laboratory, will be performing at an indie rock show under the stage name Blackwing at Gussy’s Bar in Astoria, Queens (20-14 29th Street).  Blackwing will be opening for the Spanish Power Pop group, Compañía de Sueños Ilimitada. Doors are at 7 p.m. and admission is $10. More information about the show can be found online.

Daniel Gareau of the Krueger Laboratory will be playing a rock show with Doors tribute band, The Lizard Kings, on Thursday, March 7. The show will be held downtown at The Red Lion (151 Bleecker Street) from 9:30-10:30 p.m. and admission is $10. Check out The Lizard Kings online for more information.

On Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m., Lance Langston of the O’Donnell Laboratory and Alison North of The Rockefeller University Bio-Imaging Resource Center will be performing “The Tudors: Music of the English Reformation” at St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church (552 West End Avenue) with the Central City Chorus. This event features “Mass for Five Voices” by William Byrd, as well as the music of John Tavener, John Sheppard, Christopher Tye, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, and others.  Tickets and information can be found online at the Central City Chorus website.

Digital Events

This month, Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office announces the release of the animated music video “I Am Not the One,” created by GECCOVIZION with original music by Bernie Langs. The video can be viewed on Bernie Langs’ YouTube page.

Email Megan E. Kelley at mkelley@rockefeller.edu to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

Culture Corner

Bernie Langs

David Bowie’s music always showcased complex arrangements, alongside lyrics reflecting the turmoil of our world. To learn more about Bowie and his music, I contacted musicians and producers who had worked with him during his productive recording and touring years (2002-2004) hoping to land an interview.

Guitarist Gerry Leonard, who worked with Bowie at that time, amiably agreed to speak with me. Leonard appears in YouTube videos of several of Bowie’s tours and in documentary movies about Bowie’s late career.

Leonard hails from Dublin and studied classical guitar at the Municipal College of Music. He became interested in the harmonic possibilities of the electric guitar and developed an encyclopedic knowledge of equipment for creating original ambient sounds using complex machinery. His solo career centers on his work with his band, Spooky Ghost. Leonard recently toured with rock artist Suzanne Vega and with Rufus Wainwright. He has also worked with performers such as Laurie Anderson, Cyndi Lauper, and Avril Lavigne.

Leonard’s work with David Bowie is featured on the albums Heathen, Reality, and The Next Day, lending ambient space that gels seamlessly with Bowie’s musical vision. His guitar sound allowed Bowie to expand and perfect his musical statements. Leonard also acted as Musical Director for Bowie’s Reality tour.

 

Gerry Leonard.

Gerry Leonard (r.) and Gale Ann Dorsey (center) with David Bowie. All photos courtesy of Spooky Ghost: The Official site of Gerry Leonard https://gerryleonardspookyghost.com.

I interviewed Leonard on the phone and met him briefly in December. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Bernie Langs: Artists such as U2 and Sinead O’Connor continue to reflect traditions of Irish music. Your work with “Bowsie” and Susan McKeown reflects that. Do you approach this as a responsibility, a need to continue this tradition?

Gerry Leonard: It is in a sense [a responsibility]. Music and writing and literature, poetry, all of those things have very rich traditions in Ireland because Ireland was essentially a pretty poor peasant country—all of the entertainment and all of the stories in the late night get-togethers with people making their own entertainment, and making it their own, passing on their own heritage, through story and songs. That’s very much alive in the arts culture and always has been. And I think you see that with Sinead O’Connor and U2—we all come from the same water in a sense that the stuff was around.

However, when I started picking up the guitar, I was really interested in [the British TV music show] Top of the Pops. We’d watch the bands and then I’d get together with my friends—we had a little band, and then we’d try and work out these songs. We then got into a little bit of progressive rock and then punk rock and new wave hit for me in the mid-late ‘70s. And it was such a profound shift in terms of the role of the guitar in music, the type of bands.

I’ve always had a huge respect for the Irish traditional music. Susan McKeown, in regard to the “Bowsie” project, she came to me and I was already doing my more ambient, guitar-scape kind of music, and we had this idea to take some of these traditional Irish songs that she had learned in an oral tradition. She’d gone and traveled and met the person and they taught her the song. She visited people and learned the song from somebody, which is the way it needs to be done.

BL: You’re known for your ambient sound and guitar loops and creating that kind of atmosphereWhat drew you to that?

GL: I really love music and it’s always resonated with me on a deep level. Emotionally, I love listening to music and playing music and the raw power of rock and roll. But I also love more complicated things [including] some of the modern classical composers. I really like what [recording artist/record producer] Brian Eno does for instance, with space. I’ve always taught that through the use of some basic guitar pedal ideas, like echo, reverb, and distortion, you can start to change the harmonic characteristics of the sound and the length of the sound. Cathedrals, for instance, you go in there and you play a note and it does all that reverberation. Something changes in the sound and it becomes enriched by its surroundings.

When I play in an ambient way, I really recreate those kinds of atmospheres. It’s an environment, a flavor, and a color. When I teach, everybody’s focusing on the pedal and so forth, but there are many variations on the machines that do those things in different ways and some in really beautiful complex ways, but what goes in is important too, and that’s for the harmony and the music and the musical idea. I practice two things: like the way an athlete would practice, it’s a muscular thing, being in touch with your instrument, and then I practice harmonically, trying to understand the different keys, different voicings, and be more fluent in those things. Or in the studio, I can quickly analyze the harmonic sense of the song and where I see these shapes and colors in the song I can try and accentuate those with the ambient thing or with a line that’s got a certain tonal quality to it, which brings more color to the picture of all the elements that are really important.

If you think about a quality of a David Bowie song, for instance, he always had a kickass rhythm section and he always loved guitar and stuff, but there’s also room for a coloration or something a little more extreme in there and he enjoyed that boldness. Getting to play with David was a great culmination of a lot of those things for me. I think of recording as a snapshot, and it can be very static, but it can also be really interesting and mysterious. That is when it gets interesting to me, when you get this kind of lightning in a bottle where you’re getting something extra. It’s a constant quest.

BL: It’s amazing that Bowie recognized that he could use your technique for his work.

GL: It really was. Part of being in New York was about establishing a foothold for yourself. I’d been playing whenever possible, just learning my craft, and using New York as a filter to figure out what’s your strength, what’s not your strength, especially in regard to ambient guitar, figuring out a way to make it happen in the room live. I’d been working on all those things and then the call came through from my friend Mark Plati. Mark was working with David and asked me to do a track, and one thing led to another.

It was a very, very proud moment to get the call from David to be involved with him. He’s such an icon, and as a guitar player, it’s such a great legacy to be involved in, to be one of the guitar players. Even if it was in his later career, just to be able to play all that stuff with the guy who was there and wrote it. And he was a great inspiration to be around playing that stuff. It brought such a level of authenticity to it, and his very being—being around David you got that guru-like quality about him. It was tremendously exciting and a great honor, and it’s one of those ones where you really have to pinch yourself and go, “did this really happen?”

BL: When you were with Bowie, was there always an awareness of who he was?

GL: I realized quickly that when you’re with David, people start seeking you out with [ulterior] motives. You’re sitting in a hotel lobby waiting, and somebody comes up and goes, “Hey Gerry, do you want something to drink?” And I’m like, “Who is this person?” So you realize you kind of have to put up a wall around that because people want to get to David because he really is that person—he’s a rock star, but he’s touched so many people and changed so many people’s lives, and people have this real adulation for him.

The nice thing about working with David is he never wanted that; he didn’t want anybody sucking up to him. He wanted to be able to just be himself and he wanted you to be yourself. So that was always nice and refreshing to be around. But you have to put up a little bit of a wall around him because people, they changed their nature towards you.

BL: When you were with him alone or with him and the band, could you ever let go of who he was?

GL: Yeah, we did—I think we did. We had a lot of laughs. He was very good at kind of breaking that stuff down. You would get to a place where you were not self-conscious and that’s what you want. You want the truth in yourself and in your nature and in the way you responded to things, and you don’t want to be a deer in the headlights and freeze up. He wants you there to be part of a creative solution. We would pretty quickly, especially when we were working on music, get to a place where it was very relaxed. I’d been with him in social situations, too, and when we were together it would be really easy. Sometimes we’d go out to an art museum or something, and people would sidle up to me and go, “Is that David Bowie?” and I’m like, “Yes, it is, but you probably should just leave him alone. Because he’s there and just wants to look at the art.”

BL: I’ve watched videos of you discussing how “Loving the Alien” came to be performed with just you and Bowie. How did you feel alone, just you two, performing that song onstage?

GL: I literally got a call on a Tuesday. It was very David, where he’d obviously come up with this idea where he was like, “I want to do this song, I want to do a stripped-down version of it,” and he called me and told me, “Rehearsals are on Friday, are you up for it?” And I was like, “Yes, of course, I’m up for it,” and I remember putting down the phone and going to listen to the song and having that moment of panic, “What do we do here?” I worked on it and came up with that little [guitar loop] line, changed the key, and worked out a version on the guitar. When I got there on Friday, we did a couple of songs [in rehearsal], Tony Visconti had a string quartet and we were doing the other song and I was playing on those and everybody left and it was me and David, and he’s like, “Did you get to look at ‘Loving the Alien’?” and I played this loop to demonstrate and I start playing with it and he comes in singing and I keep playing and he keeps singing—we do the whole song. And he said, “Great, we’ll do that tomorrow night.”

Then that was that. It was like one of those things where I guess I got it right, but it was his idea, his song, and his idea to do it in this way. I brought my thing to it. He liked it. We did it. He liked it so much for me to continue to do it and it framed the song. It would be fair to say that we didn’t overthink it, but I also worked with David a few times prior, so I knew that I had to come up with something that stood on its own. I’m really proud that we got to do that. I’m very proud of the arrangement, and I love that he liked it. So, it was a nice moment where our two worlds met.

BL: It seems that Bowie recognized what all of you were doing for his music, using, for example, bassist and vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey as a foil while performing the songs and joking with the audience.

GL: Well exactly. David loved the personalities and he chose people as role players. Mike Garson [Bowie’s long-time keyboardist] would say he was like a casting director when it came to this and he did celebrate the musicians. He was very generous in those ways. And he was very comfortable in his own skin and he was able to share the spotlight in the sense, to give Gail a solo—and he always gave people their due.

BL: On the Reality album, I sense the perfection in the studio that began with Station to Station. And the social philosophy that began with Low. When you were working in the studio on Reality and Heathen, were you thinking of it that way?

GL: He definitely heard a lot of those philosophies going around, you could tell, in terms of the songs. I love what he did with Heathen. He took a real shift—he was going to do this record, essentially his reworked songs that he had over the years, and then suddenly he shut down that project and went and did Heathen. It was almost like he went off and wrote a novel or a prose thing. And I love that about it.

David was such an avid reader. He was always a searcher. You could tell. You’d come in, and if you hadn’t seen him in a while, he was always full of these stories or facts or things that he was interested in, whether it was art, sculpture, TV shows, whatever was going on. He really liked to stay in touch with a lot of things that were current, whether it’s music or comedy or TV or film, but he was always reading all kinds of stuff. And when he did the Next Day record and the Black Star record [Bowie’s final album] he was really into his books and those stories are seeping into his work. It’s a classic situation where David always got this insatiable thirst for art and then he had this way of taking what really inspired him from that stuff and somehow working it into his records and his music, and I think that happened all the way along. He just had this uncanny knack. I think when you got two records like Heathen and Reality it was just a more evolved, or more grownup version of it.

You were aware that these things were going on. Often though, working with David, you didn’t get the full picture until later because he would [only] have some lyrics done. He’d generally have a melody and a sense of what or where he wanted the song to go. But he was always open for you to put your two cents in. And sometimes you put something in there, and it would make it turn for everybody.

BL: When I saw Bowie in New York in 1978, there was no rock star thing going on with him. I was amazed he would stand back in the background just enjoying the band at times during solos.

GL: That’s classic Bowie. He was really good at reading people, reading situations. He had an instinct for that. I think he’s a huge music fan too, with other artists, and he had a real sense of how to write a song. If you take something like Heroes, he’s already reinvented himself a few times. And now he’s with Visconti, and he’s coming to the table with all these fresh ideas. It made such a potent thing, and it knocked all our socks off.

BL: When Bowie died, my friends and I were heartbroken. It’s so rare that a public figure’s life is so roundly applauded for his life in the media on passing. But for you, this is your friend, bandmate, and creative partner, a different level of grief.

GL: It is. It’s still hard to believe that he’s not with us. I was used to long periods where I wouldn’t see David, or didn’t speak with him, so it wasn’t unusual to be without him for a while, but at the same time, to realize that you’re never going to have those moments again is really, really sad. You have a feeling of the things that you should have said, you could have said, opportunities that were missed, just on a personal level, you think, “Oh God, why didn’t I say this? Or do this or ask him this?” It’s ongoing. At the same time, I know he would want us to just do our music and be the best that we can be. He was always really encouraging. When I was with Spooky Ghost, and I would do some shows on the road, he would come out to them every now and again, just to hang out. He was super supportive. So you temper it with that. We miss him.

BL: One of my friends once said, “There will be all the pop songs that nobody’s going to remember in the years ahead. And at that time, they are still going to be studying David Bowie.”

GL: Well, I think he would be happy to hear that. I don’t think he was made in that way, but he was a searcher, and he was not interested in resting on his laurels. That’s what is really rich about this whole scene of David Bowie, that there’s plenty to go on, and the archeological dig can continue for some time. The guy operated on a lot of different levels, and yet he was able to write and speak to the multitude. He had that gift, whether in Changes or in Heroes, or any of these iconic songs, he was able to capture what we all thought, felt, and wished for. That’s what’s beautiful about it. It was always contemporary, and it was always written for the people. It wasn’t written for some kind of elite. A unique gift. I miss him terribly.

People come up and tell me that all the time, especially when going to do these Bowie celebration gigs, and that’s all they want to talk about, their experience how David moved them, how he changed them. It’s really remarkable. It’s also hopeful. I feel like as part of the legacy with David, part of our duty is to keep his work alive. I feel very lucky to have worked with him, he was the one that really moved people, and everybody’s looking to get a little closer to that.

 Thanks to Victor Cisneros and Erin Henegan for technical assistance in recording and transcribing this interview. [Edited for clarity and length.]

 

For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition

Jim Keller

Every year, I reiterate that one can liken the Oscar race to a horse race where each studio pins their hopes on their respective horses hoping to place. In the analogy, the studio is the horse’s owner, public relations is the jockey, and the actor or film is the horse. Here I’ve included my rankings as they stood on the eve of Oscar nominations—the number in parentheses indicates my placement following nominations. I chose eight nominees for Best Picture out of a possible ten, as determined by the Academy’s preferential ballot system. All other categories reflect five nominees. The picks that appear in black text within the table were my original nominee picks, and those in red represent actual nominees that I had not chosen.

This year, I banked on the success of films like A Star is Born and BlacKkKlansman to drive their nominations, and ultimately included Bradley Cooper in my Best Director list and John David Washington in Best Actor (clearly, the Academy had other ideas; for example, you can see the support for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma through not only the Best Actress nomination for Yalitza Aparicio, which I predicted, but also the Best Supporting Actress nomination for Marina de Tavira, which was a nice surprise). You never know which way the Academy wind is going to blow, and perhaps to some degree that’s what makes Oscar watching so enjoyable.

With that, I give you my current Oscar predictions:

Roma. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

BlacKkKlansman. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

A Star is Born. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Rockefeller’s Resolutions for 2019

Sarah Baker

The Ancient Babylonians are thought to be the first people to make the equivalent of what we think of as a New Year’s resolution. Four millennia ago, they would make promises to the gods that they would pay their debts in the upcoming year. This happened at the beginning of the Babylonian new year, in March, during an eleven-day festival called Akitu, or the Festival of the Sowing of Barley. The Babylonians believed that if they kept these promises, the gods would bless them with good luck throughout the year.

This trend persisted thousands of years later, picked up by individuals mostly for religious reasons, and ancient Romans and early Christians continued to make promises to their deities or deity on the first day of the new year, which became January 1 after Julius Casear moved it to this date to honor the Roman god of beginnings, Janus. People normally used this as an opportunity to promise that they would atone for past mistakes and be better in the future. Today, New Year’s resolutions are common in the Western world and are generally individual goals for self-improvement. About 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but the success rate for keeping these goals is a measly 8%, according to a poll conducted in December 2018.

Now, at the start of 2019, we have reached a time when we all reflect on what we have or have not accomplished in 2018 and how we would like to improve ourselves this upcoming year. My own resolutions include seriously starting to plan my wedding, running my first half marathon, and being able to do ten pull-ups in a row. Maybe writing it down for you all to see will make me feel more accountable, and I can be in that 8% of people who actually achieve their goals.

Here is a glimpse of the resolutions that other members of the Rockefeller community have for 2019:

“My resolution is to survive toward end of the year, while 1) raising three kids, 2) taking care of a house 3) commuting between New York and Richmond, 4) doing my Ph.D., and 5) running two businesses at the same time. Steps taken so far: I have tried to fill every minute of my day with something.”

– Du Cheng

Du with his partner and three kids.

“My resolution is to lose weight by eating less burgers and more chicken and to become an “Intermediate+” volleyball player so that I can play with the Tri-I on Wednesday nights.”

– Shigeru Kaneki

Shigeru eating chicken he cooked for himself in his new InstantPot.

“My resolution is to figure out my career plan and to break out of this quarter-life crisis. I would also like to more seriously consider learning how to cook an adult meal.”

– Jyen Yiee Wong

Jyen trying to figure out her next life steps.

“My resolution is to cook healthier and eat in more moderation!”

– Steven Cajamarca

Chicken that Steven cooked for himself.

“My New Year’s Resolution is to travel more. So I decided to start the year right and spent a day in Moscow on my way back to NYC. It was so cold, but so beautiful!”

– Anna Amelianchik

Anna embracing the beautiful cold in Moscow.

Get Your Hot Dogs Here

Aileen Marshall

Classic New York Hot Dog: 100% American beef with sauerkraut and onions on a soft bun. May 31, 2014. Aneil Lutchman.

Hot dog cart on East 16th Street in New York City. October 23, 2007. Rollingrck.

“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” That was the tagline of an old commercial. Hot dogs are known for being a quintessentially American food, especially associated with sports stadiums. In New York City, hot dog carts are considered iconic.  But how American are they?

Sausages have been around since the ninth century B.C., and were even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Hot dogs are a type of sausage also known as frankfurters or wieners. This particular soft sausage, made from pork byproducts in a thin casing, was first developed in Frankfurt, Germany in the late fifteenth century, hence the name frankfurters. Legend has it that in the 1690s, a butcher in Colburg, Germany notice dthat frankfurters were similar in shape to his dachshund dog. He started calling them dachshund sausages. However, since hot dogs are also known as wieners, Austrians claim they were invented in Vienna in the late 1800s. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was a common practice to eat frankfurters in a bun. This practice was brought to America by German immigrants, not invented here, and they may have already referred to them as dogs.

There are variations of a famous story about how the first hot dogs were invented in America, but they are probably not true. The main rendition is about a man named Feuchtwanger. He was selling hot dogs on the streets in St. Louis (or some say at the World’s Fair) sometime in the late 1800s and would loan people gloves to eat them with so as not burn their hands. However most people never gave the gloves back. When he ran out of gloves, he talked to either a local baker, his wife, or brother-in-law who gave him some long buns he split down the middle. However, there is a lot of written evidence that hot dogs were already around. The writer H. L. Mencken wrote that he had been eating hot dogs since his childhood, in the 1880s, and they were not considered new then.  There are many mentions in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton magazines from the 1890s about “dog wagons” near the colleges. Apparently, they were called “dog wagons” since meat was considered low quality, but they were cheap, making them convenient food for students. So the story about the name “hot dogs” being invented in the early twentieth century by a newspaper cartoonist is probably not true either. Supposedly, Tad Dorgan was at a baseball game, polo match, or bicycle race at the Polo Grounds or Madison Square Garden, sometime between 1900 and 1906. A vendor was yelling something to the effect of, “Get your red hot dachshund sausages here!”, and it caught Dorgan’s attention. He drew a cartoon of the vendor for the New York Journal, but since he didn’t know how to spell dachshund, he just called them dogs; however, no record of this cartoon has ever been found. Ironically, wanting to serve something “truly American,” President Franklin Roosevelt included hot dogs on the menu for the visit of King George VI of England in 1939.

It seems hot dogs have been sold in New York City for well over a hundred years. There are newspaper mentions of hot dogs being sold from push carts, with sauerkraut on a milk roll in the New York City Bowery in the 1860s.  A German immigrant named Charles Feltman opened a hot dog stand in Coney Island in 1867, but it folded during the Great Depression in the 1930s. In 1915, a Polish immigrant working for Feltman slept on the floor of the restaurant to save money. A year later he had saved up $300, which he used to open his own hot dog restaurant in Coney Island. He competed with Feltman by selling his dogs for five cents, while Feltman’s cost ten cents. That enterprising young man was Nathan Handwerker, and his original restaurant is still in Coney Island to this day, with Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog restaurants located all around the country. Their celebrated hot dog eating contest started in 1972 and occurs every year on the Fourth of July.

There is a story that a friend of Feltman’s named Donovan built him a small tin-lined chest with a charcoal stove inside to boil the hot dogs, similar to the hot dog carts we know today. Another claim for the first modern hot dog cart is from 1926. A man named Frances Coffey designed a stainless steel cart with a cooking plate, steam table, and ice box, according to the website New York Tour1. Today there are regulations controlling mobile food vendors, including hot dog carts. The dogs must be pre-cooked and kept in a pan of hot water, which is why they are often referred to as “dirty water dogs.” The carts must have a cooler for storage, and sinks for washing utensils.  Most carts use propane for heating. Umbrellas are required to protect the food from the sun and dust, and there is a limit to the number of condiments carried. Vendors must be also trained in safe food handling practices and have their carts inspected by the city.

While hot dogs are much beloved in the country (we eat about seven billion per year), they are also rather unhealthy. Traditional hot dogs are pre-cooked, made from beef or pork byproducts, fat, salt, spices, and preservatives (mainly nitrates). The World Health Organization lists nitrates as Group 1 Carcinogens. There are many alternatives produced to make them healthier, such as chicken, turkey, or tofu dogs. Most hot dogs we eat are of the skinless type. They are cooked in the skin, or casing, and the skin is removed afterwards.

The customary New York City frank is a beef dog served with mustard and sauerkraut, and sometimes cooked onions in a thin tomato base, on a soft white bun. Different regions and stadiums tend to have their own signature style. In Chicago, hot dogs are buried under mustard, tomato, chopped raw onion, peppers, pickles, relish, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun. They like their hot dogs spicy in Texas; at Astros Field in Houston, dogs are sold with chili, cheese, and jalapeños. The “Fenway Frank” in Boston is boiled and then grilled, and served on a toasted New England-style (flat-sided) bun. The Atlanta Braves have their dogs topped with coleslaw. In Los Angeles, the “Dodger Dog” consists of a grilled ten-inch-long pork frank with ketchup, mustard, chopped onions, and sweet relish.

Hot dogs have always been a convenient food to eat while walking around, at picnics, or at sports stadiums. New Yorkers sometimes refer to the street carts as “sidewalk gourmet.” While not very healthy, it’s one more traditional foods to sample while in a new city, or even in your own.

A New Year, A New Musical: The Prom

Melissa Jarmel

There are many new musicals that will be vying for a Tony nomination this year. Some are movies turned musicals: King Kong (currently playing), Pretty Woman (currently playing), and Tootsie (starting March 29). Some are jukebox musicals: The Cher Show (currently playing) and Ain’t Too Proud: The Temptations Musical (starting February 28). One is a musical adaptation of a folk opera concept album by Anaïs Mitchell called Hadestown (starting March 22). And some are original new musicals: Gettin’ The Band Back Together (opened and closed in 2018), Be More Chill (starting February 13), and The Prom (currently playing).

A few of the musicals set to open are going to be strong contenders for the Tony for Best New Musical, but of those currently playing, I think The Prom is the favorite and will surely get a nomination. This show is a musical comedy, so you should expect over-the-top humor and exaggerated performances to keep you entertained. And The Prom delivers with self-awareness and little regard for political correctness.

The show opens with a group of aging, narcissistic Broadway actors who scroll through Twitter trying to find a cause to get involved with to better their image as activists. Enter Emma—a high school student who wants to bring her girlfriend to the prom—but her small town in Indiana is so opposed that the Parent Teacher Association cancels the prom altogether to stop her. Without consulting Emma, the Broadway crew races to her side to protest and reinstate a prom where she can take her girlfriend, and so the drama (and comedy) ensues.

The laughs are many, and the feels are high as the show explores themes of acceptance, the role of the arts in school, and personal growth in between the promposals and witty repartee. The music is poppy and upbeat, and you’ll be sure to leave the theatre bopping along to the final song “It’s Time to Dance” or singing, “life’s no dress rehearsal” from the other big company number “Tonight Belongs to You,” though these are not the only memorable songs.

There is a same-day rush when the box office opens for two tickets per person. Currently, Telecharge is also offering a discount to see the show through April 21st for up to $50 off tickets. Additionally, tickets have appeared at the TKTS booths for $83-93 and are usually orchestra tickets. Lastly, if you sign up for TDF, this is one of the shows that has appeared before on their listings for members (just a reminder that Broadway tickets are under $50 for members and membership is now $40).

The Prom​ is playing at the Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th Street).

 

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan

Rusty

Emma

In the second run of this series, Pooja Viswanathan interviews Emma and Rusty, the cats who live with Jim Keller and Dom Olinares. I met these wonderful creatures one fine evening, and they were very gracious to answer some pressing questions I had for them. If you would like your pet(s) featured in this series, please contact me at pviswanath@rockefeller.edu.

Pooja Viswanathan: How long have you lived in New York City?
Emma: All my life. Forrr 52 years—that’s nine human years.

Rusty: Forrr 32 years, that’s fourrr human years.

PV:  What is your first memory?

E: Hunting and defending my prey from otherrr stray cats on the streets of New York. I took advantage of my big paws and extra thumbs to fight and survive.

R: When I was brought in a shoebox with my siblings to the Humane Society from the freezing cold of winterrr. The tip of my tail had to be removed due to injury, but I was glad to be warm. I have a slightly shorterrr tail now, but it does not affect me at all.

PV: When did you meet your daddies?

E: In 2011, daddy Dom adopted me from the ASPCA, and soon afterrr I trained him to become my slave. Daddy Jim joined us two years laterrr and reformed me, but I still have the last say in everything.
R: When I was a kitten in 2014, my daddies came and picked me up from the Humane Society. I felt like I had always been waiting forrr them. The moment I saw them we werrre bonded. I cannot imagine living without them and my sisterrr.

PV: How do your daddies fit in the Tri-I community?

E: Daddy Jim is a writerrr and editorrr at MSK.

R: Daddy Dom does a lot of really cool experiments as a scientist at Rockefellerrr University.

PV: Where do you live? What is your favorite thing about living here?

E: On the Upperrr East Side. Our new place is very high up and has so many windows. I love it because I can see a lot of flying, feathered prey on the rooftops of adjacent buildings and on the East Riverrr. I chirp and chatterrr when I see them but they neverrr seem to hearrr me. I imagine the many different ways to catch them once I get the chance.

R: I love all the space in our new apartment because I can run around and chase my sisterrr all day and night. All the time is play time!

PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

E: I heard a lot about Paris from my daddies’ vacation last spring. I have already conquered New York, and I’d love to move on to anotherrr city of equal caliberrr.

R: You mean without my daddies?! Nowherrre!

PV: What are your favorite foods?

E: Classic chicken pâté, and dry cat food forrr treats. I shed a lot of furrr and I groom myself continuously so I preferrr food that helps me control hairballs.

R: Special treats from my daddies with real fish like sardines! Sometimes daddy Jim will sneak me some cream. Yum!

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

E: Napping on daddy Jim’s lap and then afterrr a while moving to daddy Dom’s lap.

R: Play all day! I bring my toys to my daddies and we play fetch.

PV: Besides your daddies, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?

E: I am loath to say that I like anyone else besides daddies Jim and Dom, but I guess I would say Auntie Natalia, who often looks afterrr us when they are away.

R: Auntie Natalia! She takes care of us when our daddies are traveling (even though I don’t like it when they leave!)

PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

E:  I’m afraid I can’t find much humorrr in the world today.

R: Well one time I rolled around in the bath tub and came out all glittery because of a bath bomb that had been used the night beforrre. My daddies could not figurrre out wherrre I got the glitterrr at first but then they caught me rolling on the tub again afterrr they had just cleaned me up. I thought it was the funniest thing everrr! I love rolling around in the bath tub when no one is looking, and I come out smelling really nice!

PV: Is there some way we can see more pictures of you on the interwebs?

E: You can find us both on Instagram using #theemmaandrustyshow.

PV: Which movie do you think will win the Oscar this year?

E: Definitely The Favourite because like Queen Anne, I am a queen who depends on others for everything.  I can relate to having loyal subjects, and I love that hers relentlessly fight over herrr in the film. That is how it should be.

R: Black Pantherrr! Wakanda foreverrr!

February Bulletin

Pregame Your Brain: The Science of Movement

 The Rockefeller Members of the KnowScience organization Sarah Baker, Tiago Altavini, Jyen Yiee Wong, and Simona Giunta would like to invite you to the “Pregame Your Brain” event at Caveat on February 8. From 6 to 8 p.m. scientists will introduce guests to the science of movement at the following stations:

  • Microsoft Kinect: Come discover the latest technology behind motion sensing to understand how learning about movement can help recover movement in people that have been hurt or sick. Scientist: Sarah Baker.
  • Leap Motion Controller: The infrared light sensor of the Leap Motion Controller tracks the motion of your hand and forearm, allowing you to play a video game without touching any surface! Scientist: Chiara Bertipaglia.
  • Human-human interface: Have you ever dreamt of controlling the people around you? Now you can! Come control someone else’s arm with your brain! Scientists: Stephanie Rogers, Heather Snell.
  • Visual Illusions: Challenge yourself with mind-blowing optical illusions. Come find out how they are gathered by your eye and processed by your brain, creating a disconnection between perception and reality. Scientist: Tiago Siebert Altavini.

The event is free with advanced RSVP online or $5 at the door (21+).

Natural Expressions

Music

On February 14 at 7:30 p.m. Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio of the Rice Laboratory will be performing a Valentine’s Concert with the Chamber Orchestra of New York, featuring music by Khachaturian, Mahler, and Tchaikovsky. This concert is being held in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall and tickets can be found online (25% off general admission using code: CNY29834) and $35 student tickets can be purchased by emailing Santa Maria at specoraro@rockefeller.edu.

Collete Ryder of The Rockefeller University’s Office of Sponsored Programs Administration will be performing Arthur Honegger’s King David (Le Roi David) with NYCHORAL on February 28. This performance, directed by David Hayes, will feature choral and orchestral music, as well as dance and narration, to explore the lives of three biblical characters: Samuel, Saul, and David. This performance will take place in the Central Synagogue (652 Lexington Avenue) at 8 p.m. Tickets ($45) are available online / contact Collette Ryder (cryder@rockefeller.edu) for discounts.

Maria Lazzaro from Human Resources at The Rockefeller University will be playing Jazz music on February 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mae Mae Café and Bar for an extended Happy Hour. Admission is free.

Digital Events

Bernie Langs and Clint Mobley of The Rockefeller University Development Office announce the release of their new recording on SoundCloud, “Resolution, She & Other Songs.” This medley features familiar and original themes from “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” by Bruce Springsteen, “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, “Resolution” by Clint Mobley, “She” – lyrics by Anastasios Kozaitis, music by Clint Mobley & Bernie Langs, and “Sloop John B.” by Brian Wilson.

 

Email Megan E. Kelley at mkelley@rockefeller.edu to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

A Tale of Two Meals: Profile of New Sichuan Restaurant, Hui

Emily Atlas and Donna Tallent

Emily Atlas:

Donna and I recently met at a Natural Selections interest meeting and learned that we both love food and exploring the various food options of the Upper East Side and beyond. Although some friends have told me that the Upper East Side has limited interesting food options, in my two months so far as a student at Rockefeller, I have found that this is not entirely true. We heard about a new Sichuan restaurant called Hui that opened about three months ago and thought it would be fun to share a meal together, try a few dishes, and then tell a Tale of Two Meals.

Donna Tallent:

If you’re walking up 70th Street toward Second Avenue, it’s hard to miss this ground-floor spot with its large maroon awning. Hui is situated in the Lenox Hill neighborhood, equidistant from Hunter College and Weill Cornell Medical College, and three short blocks from The Rockefeller University. Even at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, which is an early dinner hour for most New Yorkers, I observed a steady stream of pedestrian traffic heading inside or pausing to check out the menu as I stood out front waiting for Emily to arrive. One woman, someone who I imagined was local to the neighborhood, stopped and addressed me where I stood, as if I were some sort of an ambassador for the restaurant: “Grand Opening…Is this a new Chinese restaurant?”, she asked.

EA:

We had a 5:30 p.m. reservation at Hui. Having just come from an interesting Friday Lecture, I hustled to Hui, a 5-10 minute walk from Rockefeller’s campus. As I walked, I thought about how I had not yet found many Chinese restaurants near Rockefeller. In fact, before going to Hui, I had only been to Xi’an Famous Foods, a small shop on 78th Street that serves thick hand-pulled noodles, famously spiced with cumin. Delicious as it may be, Xi’an Famous Foods focuses mostly on noodles and regional specialties from the Xi’an province of China. While I am excited about the uptick of more authentic and regional Chinese restaurants in New York City, my childhood memories of Chinese food consist mostly of Chinese-American versions of Sichuan and Shanghainese food, and I still crave many of those dishes.

DT:

Hui, with its white tablecloths, attentive staff, and family-style portions, reminded me of the Chinese restaurants my family frequented when I was a child, but with much more of a modern-day feel. The exposed brick walls, grey wood floors, and sculptured metalwork décor give the restaurant a polished yet comfortable and inviting vibe. There’s also a lovely yet sleek, soft-lit, fully-stocked bar if you’re looking for a cocktail and a quick nibble. Hui is a place to have an after-work drink, an intimate meal with a friend, or a large family gathering.

EA:

The first thing I noticed was that the décor shows a lot of attention to detail. This is a place to go for a sit-down meal in a way that Xi’an Famous Foods is not. The restaurant was a tad empty at 5:30 p.m., but it filled up over the course of our meal, and was near capacity by 7:00 p.m.

The attentive wait staff quickly informed us that it was Happy Hour (every day from 5-8 p.m.). I ordered a glass of a dry Riesling ($6 at Happy Hour), a good wine to pair with Chinese dishes.

The menu had a near-overwhelming array of choices. Luckily, Donna and I agreed to share our dishes, so we could try as much as possible. We decided on scallion pancakes (six pieces for $7.95) and pork steamed buns (six soup-filled buns for $9.95). We also ordered the spicy and sour beef pot ($21.95) and the spicy and sour shredded potatoes ($13.95). Scallion pancakes and pork steamed buns (also known as pork soup dumplings, juicy pork buns, or xiaolongbao [shau-long-bau]) are two familiar dishes I try, if available, to get a sense of any new Chinese restaurant I check out.

When the scallion pancakes arrived, I wasn’t sure whether I would like them. I tend to look for crispy, browned, bubbly scallion pancakes with only a slight sheen of oil. These particular scallion pancakes were not browned, and frankly looked a little greasy. However, I was struck by how delicate they were. They were both crispy and chewy and paired perfectly with the dipping sauce of soy sauce, ginger, and rice vinegar. The pork steamed buns arrived piping hot in a bamboo steamer. The soup inside the buns was flavorful and rich and the pork was well seasoned. I was most impressed with the dumpling dough, which was delicate and cooked perfectly. You could tell that the dumplings were freshly made.

Finally, our main dishes arrived. The waitress had told us earlier that the sour and spicy shredded potato dish was one her mom used to make for her when she was a child, and eating the dish evoked nostalgic feelings of home for her. I dove right into the potatoes, which were very thinly julienned and crisp, with a vinegary tang. There were many thinly sliced red chilis and the dish was extremely spicy. I have a very high spice tolerance and I enjoy spicy foods, but by the end of the meal, my lips were definitely feeling the effects of the capsaicin. The spicy and sour beef pot was less spicy, but still flavorful.  Donna seemed to prefer this dish, but I found it hard to enjoy the subtler flavors after digging into the potatoes; that is one of the perils of highly spiced foods.

DT:

Emily and I ordered beer and wine from the almost-half-price happy hour menu (beer is $4 a glass, wine is $6 a glass) and then pored through pages and pages of glossy menu items, including full-color photos of dishes from ten different categories: Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, Soup, Salad, Vegetables, Entrees, Rice and Noodles, Special Clay Pot, Chef Specialties, and Desserts.

It didn’t take us long to pick out several items we felt were worth sampling: From Hot Appetizers, juicy steamed buns and scallion pancakes. Emily showed me how to eat the steamed buns, piping hot and full of luscious, savory broth, by gently balancing a bun on your spoon, nibbling the top until the broth trickles out, and then slurping up the broth. I attempted to be graceful with the first dumpling, but by my third, I began to shove them into my mouth whole. The scallion pancakes were light, crisp, and flaky. I imagined they received a quick, delicious dip into a shallow pan of oil and told Emily I could just eat an entire plate of only them. From Vegetables, spicy and sour shredded potatoes, which were too spicy for me but Emily seemed to love; and from Chef Specialties, the spicy and sour beef pot. Now this specialty dish was the plate of food that will make me return to Hui. A generous pile of shredded beef lay on top of rice noodles, which swam in a perfectly seasoned beef broth. I left my to-go box on the table and truly mourn for my abandoned, uneaten leftovers.

EA:

All in all, I had a great meal at Hui with Donna and would definitely return! Hui has a reasonably priced lunch menu and it would be a good break from my usual Collaborative Research Center or Weiss lunches.

__________________________________________

Hui Restaurant and Bar

314 E 70th Street, between First and Second Avenues

(646) 869-0339

Lunch specials served Monday-Friday, 11:30–3:30 p.m.

According to Web site, online orders are 10% off until December 31, 2018

Visit Web site for hours and additional daily specials.

Time is of the Essence: Limited Engagements Closing Soon

Melissa Jarmel

As the new year approaches, I wanted to draw your attention to three limited engagement plays that hit Broadway this fall and are set to close in January: The Lifespan of a Fact, Waverly Gallery, and American Son.

The most lighthearted among the three is The Lifespan of a Fact. This play features Daniel Radcliffe as an intern at a magazine whose superior, played by Cherry Jones, assigns him to fact-check an article by a writer who prefers “truthiness” to truth (though this writer, played by Bobby Cannavale, would immediately correct me to say that he wrote an essay, not an article, and that there isn’t really a difference between truth and “truthiness” or maybe that “truthiness” has more truth). With this highly topical play, you’re in for ninety-five minutes of absurd humor that considers the value of facts and the role the media has in telling the truth.

If you prefer to trade in the absurd for something that grounds itself in terrifying realism, you should make sure to see Kerry Washington (famous for Scandal) and Steven Pasquale (from Rescue Me) play parents of a biracial teenager caught up in a police incident in American Son. While the play focuses on one incident with one particular family in the middle of the night in a police station in Florida, Christopher Demos-Brown’s writing and Washington’s emotional performance excellently portray how her character’s frustrations and worries about her black son are the worries of many black mothers in America, sentiments that her estranged white husband fails to grasp for the majority of the play. The dynamic portrayed by this couple also delves into some of the challenges of interracial marriage and raising biracial children to have a cohesive identity in a world that won’t see them in their entirety. It’s a lot to tackle in ninety minutes, but this cast will keep you engaged and in suspense until the lights go out.

The Waverly Gallery is also based in realism but can often feel surreal as you are drawn in by Elaine May’s masterful performance of a feisty New Yorker facing Alzheimer’s disease. May returns to Broadway after fifty years to portray Gladys Green, a liberal activist in her eighties with Alzheimer’s who has been running a small art gallery for many years, from which the play takes its name. While the gallery isn’t thriving at the time the play begins, it is still serving as a familiar place for Gladys to remain engaged as her dementia progresses. This play explores how a person with dementia and their family cope as Alzheimer’s takes its course. Although a heartbreaking topic and portrayal, you’ll find yourself laughing throughout at the odd relationship Gladys develops with a young artist, played by Michael Cera, and maybe some all-too-familiar family dynamics.

All three plays have rush policies (listed below) and have recently been listed for same-day discounts at the TKTS booths.

 

The Lifespan of a Fact

Closes January 13, 2019

$40 General Rush

 

American Son

Closes January 27, 2019

$35 Student Rush

 

Waverly Gallery

Closes January 27, 2019

$40 Student Rush

Natural Expressions

Music

Brian Dougherty of The Rockefeller University’s President’s Office will be singing with the Musica Sacra Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. His performance of Handel’s Messiah will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 19, and tickets can be purchased online.

On Thursday, December 20, Collette Ryder of the Office of Sponsored Program Administration at The Rockefeller University will be singing A Ceremony of Carols with the NYChoral Chamber Ensemble. This holiday concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church and tickets are $40. More information can be found online.

Digital Events

Bernie Langs has recently recorded a medley of his original composition “I Didn’t Tell Anyone” and two cover songs by Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, “Till the Next Time We Say Goodbye” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Check out the release on SoundCloud.

Email Megan E. Kelley at mkelley@rockefeller.edu to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

Editorial Note

This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Jim Keller. We would like to thank him for his interminable dedication to Natural Selections over the past seven years. Jim first joined Natural Selections as a contributor and copy editor in October 2011, and he became Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor in July 2013. Jim’s love of film is evident if you’ve read his “For Your Consideration” column that has shed light on contentious Oscar races and given us insight into the best performances each year; luckily for our community, this column will have future editions. For the past five and a half years, Jim has been the fearless leader of Natural Selections as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, making the publication the success that it is today for the Rockefeller and Tri-I community. Jim has made a permanent impact on the Editorial Board, and we will do only our best to try to emulate his success in the years to come. We wish him all the best and will miss having him on the team!

 

 

For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition

Jim Keller

With Thanksgiving all a faded memory, it’s time to close out the Ones to Watch series with the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. The nominees for both races can be unpredictable but last year was the second year in a row where the Best Supporting Actor winner was essentially decided early on during the precursor awards circuit. Conversely, the Best Supporting Actress race has become very easy to predict the winner of for the past six years. Often a film’s narrative can decide who from the supporting races makes it in. Last year was a bit different, as you can see from the outcomes below. But the Academy clearly used other parameters in their decision to nominate Melinda Dillon for Absence of Malice in 1982 and more recently, Rachel McAdams’s for Spotlight three years ago. In the former, Dillon’s character famously skipped across lawns picking up newspapers and McAdams does nothing outside of make a few pensive “Mmm” sounds. This is why I use a different format when discussing the supporting than with the leading races. Instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and whether I would bet on them for a nomination, I have broken down the various circumstances these actors find themselves in because of the film’s narrative, and how that may influence Oscar voters to pencil them in for nominations.

Various critics groups, including the National Board of Review (NBR), the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have announced their respective nominees. These announcements, and the events associated with them, help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories clearer as we approach nominations on January 23. In effect, they signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.

~THE GENTS~

Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:

Mark Rylance Dunkirk: Because the film was still considered a Best Picture frontrunner at this time last year, it made sense that Rylance could be pulled along, but despite eight nominations for the film, including Best Picture and Best Director that was not the case.

Ben Mendelsohn Darkest Hour: Even though the film landed six Oscar nominations, Mendelsohn was not one of them.

Willem Dafoe The Florida Project: Dafoe was the film’s sole nomination, and the race came down to him and Sam Rockwell.

Armie Hammer Call Me by Your Name: Sadly, despite Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Golden Globe nominations, Hammer was unable to muscle his way into the top 5.

Michael Stuhlbarg Call Me by Your Name: Same here, Stuhlbarg was unable to find Oscar love despite a BFCA nomination.

Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: As I mentioned above, the race came down to Rockwell and Dafoe, with Rockwell collecting trophies from most of the precursors, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), BFCA, Golden Globes, SAG and eventually went on to win the Oscar.

Woody Harrelson Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: After his SAG nomination, Harrelson gained some traction and was nominated. This was a real two for one for the film with Rockwell’s nomination and win.

Michael Shannon The Shape of Water: Although the film did extremely well in overall nominations and went on to win Best Picture and Best Director, the Academy snubbed Shannon’s villain.

The category was rounded out by Richard Jenkins, the good guy in The Shape of Water, and Christopher Plummer, the bad guy in All the Money in the World (who replaced an even worse guy who originally played the role, Kevin Spacey). When Spacey was caught up in the #MeToo tide following sexual misconduct allegations, Plummer was tapped to refilm his scenes and take the role.

Before we dive into this year’s list of contenders, let me touch upon some of the phenomena we often see in the supporting races:

Two for one: A film can often have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set in both supporting categories back in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland competed against one another for Gone with the Wind, and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the ninety years of the Academy Awards, we have seen this play out twenty-nine times for Best Supporting Actress and only seventeen times for Best Supporting Actor. Last year we saw the end of a twenty-six-year streak of no double nominations in Supporting Actor with the nominations of Rockwell and Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The last time this occurred was in 1991 when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated for Bugsy. Conversely, we must only go back to 2011, when Octavia Spencer won and Jessica Chastain was nominated for The Help, for the last instance in Supporting Actress. It’s worth noting that Rockwell’s win should negate the idea that many Oscar watchers have that double nominations for a film effectively cancel both actors out.

Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors, e.g., Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread).

Category fraud: When there are too many high-quality performances to choose from in a given year, Academy voters have been known to fill lead performance slots with supporting roles and vice versa. Lookout for Mahershala Ali to pop up in supporting for Green Book for the men and Emma Stone in The Favourite for the ladies this year.

Eyes on the newcomer: Voters for precursor awards often rally around a newcomer to the Oscar race and anoint them the prom king/queen, i.e., they win most of the races leading up to Oscar so that by the time the Oscars roll around, it is a given that they will win that too. See Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Allison Janney in I, Tonya just this year.

Guide to the precursor awards and nominations standings: BFCA (*), LAFCA (+), NBR (~), NYFCC (^), Golden Globe (#), and SAG ($). The symbols appear after the contender’s names below.

Zeitgeist

Mahershala Ali (Green Book)* # $, Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)* # $, Richard E. Grant – (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)^ * # $, and Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)* # $:

Mahershala Ali in Green Book; Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Last year we saw three films vie for Best Picture that comment on the Trump regime: Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, and the eventual winner The Shape of Water. This year, that trend continues. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that most of this year’s Best Supporting Actor contenders come from films that capture the zeitgeist. First up is Green Book, which recounts the true story of a New York bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) who drove a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Ali) on a tour through the 1960s’ American South. Although billed as a comedy, much of the South was steeped in racism back then, and without spoiling the film, much of what unfolds is far from laughable—though the director, Peter Farrelly handles the subject matter with kid gloves, thereby avoiding it becoming the film’s focus, much the way it was handled in 1990’s Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy. The film, which has seven BFCA nominations, examines race relations in pressure cooker situations such as the division we currently see in the U.S. Ali’s performance is widely regarded as the one to beat.

Metacritic score: 70

A second film focused on race relations is Spike Lee’s fantastic BlacKkKlansman, which is also based on a true story where Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs (John David Washington), sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan branch. Driver plays Stallworth’s Jewish partner and the decoy for the operation. The depiction of two men of different races who work together in harmony to bring down evil is a bit of a metaphor for combatting the aforementioned division in the U.S. I would be remiss not to mention that Lee ties in past events to deliver a searing indictment of the Charlottesville, VA rally last August. Regardless of how the awards season turns out, the film will forever mark a dark time in the U.S. as a must see with a powerful impact.

Metacritic score: 83

There are two other films this year that capture the zeitgeist in different ways. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name and tells the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy) who resorted to forgery to revitalize a failing writing career. Swazi-English actor Grant plays Israel’s sidekick Jack Hock who gets embroiled in her schemes and leads to her undoing. The beauty of Hock is that he is a character who happens to be gay. His sexuality is not examined under a microscope or even discussed at all. Instead, Israel and Hock are kindred spirits who find comfort in one another as people who are largely rejected from society, and who do not have a definitive path forward. Grant lights up the screen opposite McCarthy and looks to be a lock for a nomination.

Metacritic score: 87

Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy; Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Beautiful Boy is based on a pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff chronicling the experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with drug addiction over many years. Chalamet mesmerizes as Nic, a teenage boy whose drug experimentation sends him down the slippery slope of addiction. The film is one of three films this year exploring addiction; the others are A Star Is Born and Ben Is Back. It’s no surprise really that three films tackling the same subject matter were released in a year that saw drug overdoses become one of the leading causes of death in adults under the age of fifty-five.

Metacritic score: 63

Best Picture Bets

Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)* ~ $, Sam Rockwell (Vice)#, and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)*: The rest of our contenders represent a mixed bag. We have Elliott, a veteran actor whose first film role was in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and who is known for his work in westerns on television and the big screen. In ASIB, he makes the most of little screen time, but his voice was also purposely channeled by Bradley Cooper who plays his on-screen brother who suffers from addiction in the latest version of love and stardom. Elliott’s unique voice has helped him stand out, and, in this case, is highlighted by Cooper’s use of it.

Metacritic score: 88

Next is Rockwell as George W. Bush in Vice, a biopic of Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). The film is the third film commenting on the Trump regime in that it examines the events of the past that made it possible. Rockwell, last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner, is said to be strong, but there is a question about his screen time that could ultimately affect his nomination chances.

Metacritic score: 63

Finally, there’s Jordan in Black Panther who looks to join Heath Ledger as only the second performance to date in a superhero movie to earn an Oscar nomination. The film is the first in the genre with an all-black cast, which sees the heir to the hidden kingdom of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman in the title role) step forward to lead his people while confronting a challenger from his country’s past (Jordan).

Metacritic score: 88

In all three cases, the men appear in strong Best Picture contenders, which helps their chances of a nomination.

Others who could be nominated include Steve Carrell for Vice and Lin-Manuel Miranda for Mary Poppins Returns. Ever since Carrell first played against type in 2014’s Foxcatcher his projects have often landed squarely in the Academy’s wheelhouse, and this year is no different with roles in Beautiful Boy and Welcome to Marwen. On the other hand, Miranda, a star of the stage looking to segue his voiceover career to the screen, is said to be great in the sequel to the Julie Andrews classic. It’s important to note that neither of these men have appeared in the precursor awards conversation. The only other one who has is Steven Yeun for Burning, but it’s difficult enough to land a Best Actor or Best Actress nomination for a foreign film, so it is not very likely that Yeun will connect.

~THE LADIES~

Last Year’s Best Supporting Actress Race Results:

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird: She was nominated but unable to take down Allison Janney who kept winning on the precursor circuit and never stopped.

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound: She was nominated thereby breaking the no acting nominations curse that Netflix had been enduring.

Allison Janney – I, Tonya: As I mentioned, she not only was nominated, but she won.

Octavia Spencer The Shape of Water: My hunch that the Academy wouldn’t be able to resist nominating her given that they recognized her twice in sprawling ensembles (The Help and Hidden Figures) was correct.

My instincts on Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) and Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project) were also correct, and neither made the cut despite BFCA and SAG and BFCA nominations, respectively.

The biggest snub was Hong Chau who gave one of the best performances of the year in Downsizing. I was really hoping that the Academy would break an abysmal eleven-year streak of zero nominations for an Asian actress, but sadly it was not to be.

Good Will

Amy Adams (Vice)* # $

Amy Adams in Vice; Photo Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

If you ask anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the awards race, they’ll tell you that Adams is long overdue for a win. She was first nominated in this category in 2006 for Junebug, and she amassed three more nominations in the category for Doubt, The Fighter, and The Master in 2009, 2011, and 2013, respectively. Adams earned her first Best Actress nomination for American Hustle in 2014. She won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Big Eyes, a BAFTA-nominated role the Academy, SAG, and BFCA ignored. Just two years ago she appeared in Arrival, a Best Picture nominee that earned a total of eight nominations but Adams was left out despite Golden Globe, BFCA, BAFTA, and SAG nominations and an NBR win. This year, not only does Adams have the nominations denoted above for Vice, but she has received double nominations from those awards bodies for her leading role in HBO’s Sharp Objects: Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television (HFPA), Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series (SAG), Best Actress in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series (BFCA), giving her campaign a boost from the television side. Here she portrays VP Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, and is once again earning raves for her performance that has many saying that she could win. There’s only one woman standing in her way: Regina King (see below).

Returning Champs

Emma Stone* # $ and Rachael Weisz (The Favourite)* # $ and Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased)*:

Oscar often retreats to what is comfortable by nominating those whom have won or been nominated before. Enter Stone and Weisz who play a pair of dueling cousins at each other’s throats as they try to curry favor with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman ruling, literally) in early 18th century England. Both women have won Best Actress Oscars: Stone last year for La La Land and Weisz in 2006 for The Constant Gardener. But Stone also has a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and, the much showier role, giving her a leg up on the competition. As does her second SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series in Netflix’s Maniac. As one of the highest reviewed films of the year, the film is on track for a Best Picture nomination—w ill it pull both Stone and Weisz along for the ride?

Metacritic score: 91

In Boy Erased, based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, Kidman plays Nancy Eamons, the mother of Jared (Lucas Hedges) who is forced by his parents to participate in a gay conversion therapy program. Kidman played a mother just last year in Lion, thereby earning her first Best Supporting Actress nomination. She has also been getting rave reviews for her performance in Destroyer this year, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Like Adams, she has done well on television having won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television this year for Big Little Lies. The same role won her the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie last year. Sadly, the film, my favorite so far this year, hasn’t been able to build momentum, and has been largely shutout of the awards race. Because of this, a nomination for Kidman would be a nice surprise.

Metacritic score: 71

The Wildcard

Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots)$:

Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots; Photo Courtesy of Fox Focus Features.

Last year, Robbie was always in the awards conversation for Best Actress for playing the ill-fated figure skater, Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. So, it was no surprise when she landed her first Best Actress nomination. This year is a bit of a different story—f or one, her film has mixed reviews, but for another, she is just barely in the supporting race with her SAG nomination. In Mary Queen of Scots, Robbie plays Queen Elizabeth I opposite her cousin Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) who is ultimately imprisoned before facing execution for her attempt to grab the crown. At this stage, I am betting Robbie gets in the top five, but a win is just not in the cards.

Metacritic score: 61

Newcomers

Claire Foy (First Man)*  # and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)+ ~ ^ * #: Although British actress Foy is new to the Oscar conversation, she is well known for her role in the Netflix drama The Crown, which netted her a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama in 2017 and a nomination the following year. In 2017, Foy was also nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy award, which she won the following year. In First Man, Foy plays the wife of famed U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), and because she did a lot with a small role, hers somewhat overshadows the subtler performance given by Gosling. This has translated to more acclaim for Foy’s performance than her counterpart, but the film’s prospects are uncertain following the controversy that erupted among conservatives because of Damien Chazelle’s decision to not show a flag being planted on the moon during Armstrong’s history-making walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Given that Oscar nominations are often built Academy branch by Academy branch, if the film doesn’t land a Best Picture nomination (as it most certainly should), will Foy’s chances slip away? Her lack of a SAG nomination could be a harbinger of what is to come.

Metacritic score: 84

This brings us to the peculiar case of King. Up until the SAG nominations, she looked like a slam dunk for the Oscar. But when she failed to get that nomination, which many say is crucial—you have to go back 18 years to Marcia Gay Harden’s win for Pollack to find a winner in this category who did not have a SAG nomination—it set her chances of winning back. Some say that because the film is a late breaker the nomination committee may not have seen the film, but we can never be sure. So, let’s focus on what we do know: King is a revered member of the Hollywood community, having won three Primetime Emmy Awards for her work in American Crime. The first two in 2015 and 2016 were for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie, and the third this year in Netflix’s Seven Seconds was for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. King earned a third nomination for American Crime last year but did not win. This year, the BFCA nominated her for that same role in Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Limited Series. In If Beale Street Could Talk, King plays the mother of a pregnant woman in Harlem who scrambles to prove her fiancé’s innocence of a crime. The film is director Barry Jenkins’ follow up to 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight and stands strong in the Best Picture race this year. All season, King has been the favorite to win. She will most certainly be nominated, but can she stem the tide of Amy Adams’ good will?

Metacritic score: 86

For the ladies, other possibilities include Michelle Yeoh as a high and mighty matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians, Natalie Portman’s caustic popstar in Vox Lux, and Rachel McAdams remarkable turn in another one of my favorites, Disobedience. Of course, one should never count out Meryl Streep who is said to be great in a small role in Mary Poppins Returns.

Similar to the men discussed earlier, none of these women have appeared in the major precursor awards conversation, though McAdams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the British Independent Film Awards.

With recent developments on the precursor awards circuit, this year’s races are quite exciting. It just goes to show that one should never get too comfortable where Oscar is concerned.