Aug 112013

By Michael Dean Benton 

When the news of the verdict of innocent for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was announced, there was an explosion of concern and comments on social media about how the decision reflects ongoing problems in regards to racism in American culture. At the same time, there was a counter-narrative that included paranoid declarations of arming for the coming race riots and lauding the verdict as a symbol of the rightness of self-appointed community policing.

Clearly there was a lot of confusion about the actual trial and the impact of laws, like Stand Your Ground, on the jurors’ verdict. This is why it was so important that communities across the nation immediately responded by gathering together to hold vigils, to actively protest the verdict, and to convene town-hall meetings to discuss the trial and ongoing racism.

In Lexington, Bianca Spriggs led the organizing of a town-hall style forum at the Carnegie Center on July 16. In the two days leading up to the event, despite her calls for civility, arguments concerning the verdict began to flare on the Facebook event page. It was quite obvious that Spriggs was scrambling to develop a sense of communal dialogue in order to avoid pointless, dismissive arguments. This was most clearly demonstrated in her continuous revision of the rules of dialogue and the decision, at one point, to remove long, rambling dialogues that violated the spirit of the gathering. Continue reading »

Feb 032013
Tattoo this. Photo by Laura Webb.

Tattoo this. Photo by Laura Webb.

By Michael Dean Benton

Bianca Spriggs has entered my dreams. No Hendrick, not in that way. It is her art and words that I have been dreaming about intensely over the last week. Let me explain how this came about.

A few months ago I saw an announcement by Transylvania University professors Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorva for The Lexington Tattoo Project.  They had a dream of their own, a collective art project that would involve 250 participants tattooing onto their bodies parts of a Bianca Spriggs poem written to Lexington.

As an advocate of participatory and communal art, I was intrigued and read through the poem for tattoo options.  We were told that we could make multiple choices, with the understanding that we may not get our first choice, that the tattoo would be donated by the artist Robert Alleyne (Charmed Life), and that we could choose where to place it on our bodies. Continue reading »

Oct 032012

By Michael Dean Benton

The Kentucky Theater, one of Lexington’s most beloved cultural centers, will celebrate its 90thanniversary this October. Originally opening in 1922, the theater is one of the oldest cinemas still in operation, surpassing even the world famous Los Angeles Grauman’s Theater (also built in 1922 but not actually opened until 1927).

The Kentucky marquee. Photo by Danny Mayer.

Situated on the southern side of the Main Street artery running through town, the theater continues to serve the Lexington community by hosting a wide range of cultural events. It is not hyperbole to say that this region would be a cinematic wasteland if it wasn’t for the recent releases the Kentucky brings to town. Not only has it operated as the primary Lexington venue for international, experimental and independent cinema, it also hosts a number of film revivals, festivals and special screenings throughout the year. In the summer its Classic Film series hosts capacity crowds of enthusiastic audiences either revisiting old cinematic favorites or encountering them for the first time on the big screen. Fall brings the Rosa Goddard International Film Festival, which this year re-introduced viewers to world cinema classics Band of Outsiders (France 1964), Diva (France 1981), Knife in the Water (Poland 1962), and which premiered in Lexington the critically acclaimed Weekend (United Kingdom 2011). Continue reading »

Sep 262012

A listing of events and commentary on recent film/performing arts news.

By Michael Dean Benton

I am writing an article for the October edition of North of Center about the Kentucky Theater’s upcoming 90th Anniversary celebration and their renovation plans, which includes a move to digital projection in the main screening room.  While preparing to interview Kentucky Theater owner Fred Mills, my colleague Don Boes left a copy of a recent New York Times dialogue between Mahola Darghis and Andrew O’Hehir on “how digital is changing the nature of movies.”  Continue reading »

Sep 052012

By Michael Dean Benton

September 17 will mark the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement, the first day of the Occupy Wall Street takeover of Zucotti Park in order to protest social and economic inequality, the abuses of the financial sector that led to the 2008 Global Economic Crisis, the undue influence of corporate money in the US government, and the way these problems undermine democracy.

Although the Occupy Movement looks to Occupy Wall Street as its first day of action, the movement was inspired from resistance movements around the world that were challenging similar injustices by their economic and political elites. These included the Arab Spring in Egypt, the encampments of the Spanish Indignants, and the 2011 Wisconsin protests. Canadian activists working with the magazine Adbusters led the original call to gather at Wall Street during the summer of 2011, circulating a communiqué featuring a graceful ballerina balanced on the head of the iconic Wall Street bull and calling on protesters to gather and occupy Wall Street on 9/17. Continue reading »

Aug 022012

Comments on the aftermath of the Aurora shooting

By Michael Dean Benton

On July 20, James Holmes, dressed in protective armor, unleashed a violent attack with assault weapons on a capacity audience during the opening night screening of the Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. 71 people were shot, 12 dead.  The worst shooting attack in American history.

In his assault, Holmes utilized smoke grenades, a 12 gauge Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M & P 15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100 round magazine, and a 40 caliber Glock 22 handgun.  In the theater parking lot, his car held more guns. At his apartment, Aurora police found a home wired with over 30 homemade grenades. Continue reading »

Jun 062012

By Michael Dean Benton

Joseph Anthony is in the midst of a creative surge. In 2009, the Bluegrass Community and Technical College humanities professor authored Camden Blues, a short story collection put out by Wind Publishing. Earlier this year, Old Seventy Creek Press released his novel Pickering’s Mountain. Later this year, Wind will release Bluegrass Funeral, a collection of short stories/novellas about Central Kentucky. Not bad for a college professor with a 5-5 course load.

I had heard that Anthony’s most recent offering, Pickering’s Mountain, dealt with the issue of mountaintop removal in Eastern Kentucky, and so, with the Kentucky Rising protests of June 1-3 in Frankfort coming up, it seemed this was a good time to read it.  I was rewarded in multiple ways: a rich, sensitive text, superb characters, and a keen eye for both the Eastern Kentucky landscape and the ethical complexities of the political issues that affect the communities that reside there. Continue reading »

Dec 072011

Accents Publishing releases anthology of poetry

By Michael Dean Benton

One of Lexington’s independent presses, Accents Publishing, is premiering its newest anthology of poems this month – Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems.  The world premiere will officially kick off with a public reading downtown at the Carnegie Center on December 8 at 6:00 P.M.  Over forty of the featured poets will be at the reading.

The notion of a world premiere is not publicity hype, for this anthology is truly international in scope.  There are authors from Singapore, Philippines, Germany and Canada, as well as closer here to home, including 60 poems from Kentucky.  Over a thousand poets submitted a grand total of 7,000 poems to the project.  The finished anthology is a representation of the work of 192 poets and 250 poems from those original submissions. Continue reading »

Sep 282011

Enforcing the Green Scare

By Michael Dean Benton

Photo by E.J. Watt

Activist sits atop clear cut land

Curry Marshall, with a degree in Comparative Religion from Swarthmore College and experience as a senior producer at a New York multimedia design firm, got his start in filmmaking by shooting, directing and editing the 2005 documentary Street Fight. The documentary followed the grassroots, underdog candidate Cory Booker’s attempt to unseat Sharpe James, the longtime mayor of Newark, NJ. Marshall impressed audiences and critics with his dogged determination to cover the campaign despite James’ attempt to control all media coverage of his public appearances. The film, which ran as part of a series on PBS and was later recognized with both an Oscar and Emmy nomination, remains an essential document of an actual grassroots campaign running against entrenched party machine politics.

Marshall’s newest documentary, made with cinematographer and co-director Sam Cullman, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011) tells the complex story of environmental Earth Liberation Front activist Daniel McGowan, who faced life in prison for his participation in the burning of two timber facilities. The film has received Best Documentary awards at multiple film festivals, and a Best Documentary Editing Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Continue reading »

Mar 302011

American sex and sexuality

By Michael Dean Benton

It is a common truism that reality can’t be copyrighted, but it can be manufactured, packaged, and marketed. Increasingly in our interconnected and digital world we are confronted by a plethora of images designed to influence us to buy certain realities. No images are more prevalent or artificial than the images of sex as products that circulate throughout American culture. From marketing pitches, to romance novels, to feature films, to internet peep shows: we are a prudish society that feeds on illusions of sex. Continue reading »