This year’s big story was the end of Ensemble Theater’s run in the cozy Alhecama Theater and its move to the renovated and brand-spankin’-new New Vic, an $11.5 million-dollar adventure that took many years to finally happen and has brought Jonathan Fox’s company to a space on par with the Garvin and Hatlen theaters. With state-of-the-art toys to play with, it’ll be interesting to see what Director Jonathan Fox does with the space. So far, Santa Barbarans have seen the Stephen Sondheim musical, “A Little Night Music” with Stephanie Zimbalist and Piper Laurie, and it was quite lovely.
Their farewell performances at Alhecama were also worth noting: David Ives’ “The Liar” was one of their funniest productions in a long time, witty and silly in measure. “The Year of Magical Thinking,” with Linda Purl stepping in for the recently deceased Bonnie Franklin in the role of Joan Didion, was the kind of one-woman show for which the Alhecama space was perfect. “Frankie and Johnnie in the Claire de Lune” was a good revival, although maybe not a necessary one.
End-of-Year Lists in Film get a bit redundant after the 10th or so. The consensus is formed — and rightly so: “Gravity” was awe-inspiring amazing. Woody Allen finally made a good film again with “Blue Jasmine.” “Before Midnight” completed the excellent trilogy. “12 Years a Slave” is probably going to win everything, deservedly so. “Dallas Buyers Club” will also pick up awards for its two strong leads. And then there are the ones that have just opened (“Inside Llewlyn Davis”) or are about to open (“American Hustle”), but most of us aren’t film-festival hoppers who saw these in Toronto or Cannes.
So here’s a list of the unsung, the little seen, the ones that passed us by, the streaming-only, and the ones you need to seek out, in no particular order … plus a few guilty pleasures. (Caveat: not everything has a copyright stamp of 2013 on it, but this year is when they became available)
My humble vote for pop concert of the year in Santa Barbara goes to the great and insistently hard-to-pigeonhole band outta’ Oklahoma, Flaming Lips. The band, led by charismatic Wayne Coyne in a bloody, witch-ly costume and throne-like perch, brought its grisly funny, rocking and trippy presence to the Santa Barbara Bowl the night after Halloween, ending with its mortality-minded pop anthem “Do You Realize.”
And my vote for the most senses-tickling five minutes in the 2013 pop year goes to the Lips’ opening song, which perversely reversed expectations by being a grand finale-style bombast with their customary epic red balloon release into the audience — but on the first song. Leave it to these Okies to turn rock ‘n’ roll convention on its ear.
One more piece of the puzzle has been placed in Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s award schedule. After the announcements of Oprah Winfrey, Cate Blanchett, Emma Thompson and the seven recipients of the Virtuosos Award, the Festival revealed that actor Robert Redford will receive this year’s American Riviera Award.
The 77-year-old actor scored among critics this year with his bravura, one-man survivalist movie “All Is Lost,” about a man trying to save his boat and himself at sea when the hull is ripped open. The sometimes wordless, visceral performance has earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and a Best Actor Oscar nomination may be in the cards, as the SBIFF often serves as a bellwether for award season.
Though Break Time is a quintessential dive bar in all the best senses of the word – strong drinks, jovial atmosphere, free popcorn, pool tables, carousing customers – owners Liz and Carl Quinn like to mess around with the cocktail menu, whipping things up to please the college crowd, and dare them. This is what we discovered one recent night when we stopped by.
The BT-Rita was our challenge, a margarita designed to be as spicy as possible but without becoming undrinkable. Carl Quinn knew habanero was the way to go. But the first habanero-infused tequila they produced was so hot it made them ill, Mr. Quinn laughed. Several experiments later, the right amount of peppers was determined, and resulted in an interesting mix of Espolon tequila, Aperol, their margarita mix, a bit of agave and orange juice for color (and just to cool that thing down). In a pint glass, this was a lot of cocktail to take in, but as with spicy drinks, one sip leads to another. It was not too sweet or heavy on the tequila, but we were glad we weren’t driving.
For someone whose artistic output consists of pin-up photography, 16mm reels of stripteases, and little else, the impact of Bettie Page eclipses that of another 20th century female icon, Marilyn Monroe. Ask yourself this: when’s the last time you saw a Monroe look-alike walking down the street? But for a Bettie Page clone? One served me coffee yesterday, albeit with an arm full of tattoos.
In “Bettie Page Reveals All,” a muddled, but fun documentary, one can see how this model attracted legions of fans across several generations. Her personality jumps out of every photo taken of her, from swimsuits and nudes to her staged bondage photos, either as dominatrix or submissive. She’s having fun, a rare blend of naughty and nice.
In October, the Canadian short-story writer, Alice Munro, now 82-years old, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the 13th woman to do so. Speaking of Stories, Santa Barbara’s well-loved evening of stage-read shorts, decided to honor the author with an evening celebrating her 13th and most probably last story collection, “Dear Life,” as Ms. Munro has announced plans to retire. The two performances at Center Stage Theater this Sunday afternoon and Monday evening consist of three stories taken from Ms. Munro’s latest, read by three of SoS’ regulars.
Alice Munro’s work has appeared frequently throughout Speaking of Stories’ history. Executive Director Maggie Mixsell put on her story, “The Bear Goes over the Mountain,” — a tale about Alzheimer’s — after it had been made into the movie, “Away from Her,” for a film-tie-in-based evening. Ms. Munro is better known to the reading crowd, however, not the film crowd, as not many of her stories have been adapted for screen.
Eighty years ago today, the 21st amendment to the Constitution ended 13 years of Prohibition and, as the song goes, happy days were here again. Several years ago, Jeffrey Morganthaler, the influential Portland mixologist, suggested in a blog post that we should all raise a glass on Dec. 5 to properly toast the reason we can drink in public without fear of jail time.
And I’m doing just that as one half of the team putting on Repeal Day Santa Barbara for the third year in a row. We took Mr. Morganthaler’s idea and started a little bar tour that this year has expanded to eight of downtown’s favorite drinking establishments. The fun begins at 5 p.m. today at participating bars including Roy, Marquee, Milk & Honey, Cielito, Cadiz, Pickle Room, Blue Agave and Wildcat Lounge. Each bar will offer specialty cocktails and more. Dressing up in Roaring ’20s attire is encouraged. For more details, go to http://repealdaysb.com.