Sane people head south for spring break, trading sucky weather for sunshine. I passed Passover doing the opposite, dodging Manhattan's rainiest weather on meteorological record. Make what you will of my compo mentis recollections.
• I sat two rows behind Bill Murray during the extraordinarily exuberant Broadway musical Fela!, starring Sahr Ngaujah as Afrobeat revolutionary Flea Anikulapo-Kuti. (The closest you'll hear to that here in Orlando is attending a Eugene Snowden show at the Social.)
• I saw Pillowman playwright Martin McDonagh's latest pitch-black comedy, A Behanding in Spokane, starring Christopher Walken as psychotic slow-talker Christopher Walken. (The closest you'll see to him on our stages is his holographic double in Universal's Disaster! ride.)
• I ate dinner at Iron Chef Mario Batali's cozy Casa Mono, starring roasted bone marrow and truffled pig face. (The closest you'll taste in town is sneaking scrapple into Cat Cora's Kouzzina.)
• I was caught on webcam with pioneering performance artist Marina Abramovíc, who is spending three solid months sitting silently staring at strangers. (The closest you'll find in Florida is a fortnight following Brian Feldman.)
• And I served as a studio audience member at the Late Show With David Letterman, starring Sam Worthington and an abused iPad. (The closest you'll get locally is bootleg Avatar on your iPhone while waiting in line at the Mall at Millenia Apple store.)
Now that I'm finished flaunting my nonfame as "Orlando's Zelig" (as OW's Jessica Bryce Young Twitter-dubbed me), I'll share some slices of the Big Apple I sampled that smelled strongly of Orlando orange.
My first destination was the Museum of Modern Art, currently hosting a retrospective on filmmaker Tim Burton. MoMA membership has its privileges: The show often sells out to general audiences by noon. Patrons enter the densely crowded exhibit through the mouth of one of his signature monochromatic serpents, into a blacklight cave of carousel creatures and Danny Elfman—composed cacophony. The main gallery traces Burton's artistic growth, from pubescent juvenalia to his latest blockbuster, via voluminous sketches, sculptures and short films. Watch as his iconic obsessions evolve in infinite combinations: Here's blue-skinned Sally with giant Madonna-esque Gaultier boobs; there's a caricature of Vincent Price, autographed by the macabre master to his adoring fan a decade before they made Edward Scissorhands together.
Sadly, much space is spent on Planet Hollywood—style film props (Batman's cowl, Sweeny's silver-handled scalpels, Pierce Brosnan's screaming severed head) that only emphasize how Burton's work has dishearteningly devolved in the 15 years since he became a name brand. Perhaps the key to his decline is found in one untitled and unpublished sketch from his ill-fated era as a Disney animator: a line of colorful and unique creatures enter a mountain of grinning Mickey heads, then emerge from the other side as identical brown boxes. ‘Nuff said.
Next Orlando-associated stop: the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on Houston Street, site of one of the first nationwide screenings the new Disney documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. We're all familiar with the Mouse-massaged fable of Uncle Walt's single-handed invention of modern animation. This film fills in the less-famous facts of Disney's early-'80s collapse and late-'80s resurrection. In intimate home-movie footage (filmed by future Pixar prophet John Lasseter), we follow legendary artists like director/narrator Don Hahn as they are exiled from the studio lot following The Black Cauldron's massive failure (outgrossed by The Care Bears Movie), then witness their triumphant revival under the Frank Wells/Michael Eisner/Jeffrey Katzenberg triumvirate.
This film is essential viewing for anyone interested in the art form, but holds wider appeal thanks to two factors. An extended tribute to Little Mermaid lyricist Howard Ashman, who succumbed to AIDS days before his masterpiece Beauty and the Beast debuted, is humanely heartbreaking. And the epic ego clashes between Eisner and Katzenberg captured here evoke surprisingly Shakespearean sympathy for these often-caricatured corporate titans.
While most stories revealed within have long circulated sotto voce, the doc's biggest shock is the "A Walt Disney Production" credit at its conclusion. For an infamous whitewasher of corporate history to air its dirty laundry like this must surely be a sign of the apocalypse. It arrives at the Florida Film Festival with two screenings, April 15 and 17, but if it ever plays at Pleasure Island's AMC watch out for blood and locusts.
That isn't enough of an Orlando connection for you? Well, as I was walking into the theater, who was exiting but OW's current First Shot blogger Steve Schneider (and former staff member). City of 10 billion people, and I bump into the one guy who does my cynic shtick better than email@example.com