The Cedar Bar

  • 2001
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama, Experimental

Writer-director Alfred Leslie's vivid amalgam of found-image montage and video footage of a staged reading of his play, The Cedar Bar is undeniably visually provocative. Where it falls short is in giving resonance to its provocations, which include juxtaposing a goofy sequence from a Three Stooges film with footage of Nazi concentration camp victims. The...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Writer-director Alfred Leslie's vivid amalgam of found-image montage and video footage of a staged reading of his play, The Cedar Bar is undeniably visually provocative. Where it falls short is in giving resonance to its provocations, which include juxtaposing a goofy sequence from a Three Stooges film with footage of Nazi concentration camp victims.

The Cedar Bar, in NYC's Greenwich Village, was famous as a hangout for abstract expressionist painters. Leslie, a painter and filmmaker (he collaborated with Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac on the 1959 underground landmark Pull My Daisy) spent many hours there and wrote a play in 1952 based on overheard conversations about the relationship between art and commerce and, more pointedly, artists and art critics. The play was lost in 1966, reconstructed in the mid-'80s and staged in 1997 as a public reading. The action takes place over the course of a single night at the Cedar, October 29, 1957, and is, as the film's subtitle says, "a true story about the war between the people who make art and the people who write about it." The combatants include painters Willem de Kooning (John Doman), Joan Mitchell (Irinka Jakubiak) and Helen Frankenthaler (Georgia Hodes), gallery owners John Myers (Andy Reynolds) and Richard Bellamy (Jason Knapp) and influential critic Clement Greenberg (Jack Luceno), whom they alternately excoriate and praise. Much of the conversation involves the tempestuous career of Jackson Pollock, whom Greenburg championed and who died in 1956 in a drunken car crash. The footage of the 1997 reading is muddy and plagued by dodgy sound, but most of the film is razzle-dazzle montage, over which the actors' dialogue is heard. Leslie's source materials include archival footage; scenes from movies (dating primarily from the '30s through the '70s), many involving car accidents, bars and art; footage of award show audiences; and bits of hard-core porn. Leslie sometimes manipulates footage, superimposing George W. Bush's face on a '50s billboard touting "Happiness Ahead," or adding text that identifies three tap-dancing chippies as painters Frankenthaler, Mitchell and Grace Hartigan, whooping it up at a party for Greenburg. Images occasionally correspond to the dialogue, but more often follow their own free-associative logic. Leslie ends his visual diatribe with a rim shot, a vignette from some old movie in which two flatfoots check out a classical marble as one muses, "Do you suppose anybody in their right mind buys a piece of junk like that?" "Sure they do," the other mug replies. "That is art." Ba-dum-bump.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Writer-director Alfred Leslie's vivid amalgam of found-image montage and video footage of a staged reading of his play, The Cedar Bar is undeniably visually provocative. Where it falls short is in giving resonance to its provocations, which include juxtapo… (more)

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