We’re Gonna Need to See Some Identity – A master documentarian of American history, Ken Burns and his bottomless curiosity help UCSB Arts & Lectures cap its 50th Anniversary season

Ken Burns has been shaping the way we think about history for the past 30 years with his epic, sprawling narratives of America’s past. In his multi-part documentaries for PBS, he has taught us about the Civil War, baseball, jazz, World War II and, in last year’s 12-hour series, the history of our National Parks.

UCSB’s Arts & Lectures celebrates the end of its 50th anniversary season with a very special appearance by Ken Burns on Monday, May 24, at the Coral Casino. Paula Poundstone emcees the event, which includes dinner and a silent auction of such goodies as a guitar autographed by Elvis Costello.

Read More

The Costello Show – Though he’s never stopped working, Elvis Costello returns to S.B. after 16 years

Elvis Costello at 55: his face still framed by black plastic specs, this season he has turned to a late-period-Dylan moustache and a series of wide-brimmed hats. In his albums, concerts and Sundance Channel chat-and-music show “Spectacle,” he continues to indulge, celebrate and expand his encyclopedic knowledge of music. He’s the Englishman who knows more about America’s musical culture than we do. In interview, he seizes the question and tussles with it for minutes, though at the end, he admits to being distracted. Costello had just got off the phone, having heard that John Ciambotti, the bass player from Clover — who backed Costello on his 1977 debut LP — had passed away. The interview went ahead, with Costello covering everything from his show and resurrecting old tunes to his thoughts on the latest “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie.

There have now been two seasons of “Spectacle.” Did being the interviewee for so many years help in becoming an interviewer?

No, I think it helped to be truthful, to be in the same location as the subjects. I really think that the success or otherwise of the conversations hinged largely on the fact that the people had a degree of trust simply because they knew that I knew what they do, even if our methodologies turned out to be different. The other (thing about the show is) they are not set up to really promote a new product the way a chat show is. Because the host in this case is not a comedian but somebody who … I mean, I can appreciate the humor in certain situations as much as the next person; but it doesn’t matter to me if the conversation becomes serious or reflective or emotional. And we get to also speak for a fairly long period of time and then try and edit the best bits into something like an hour. And all of those things put us, I would say, at some advantage to most of the discourse on television. So I don’t put too much thought into my own technique.

Read More

Werner Movie Classics : Werner Herzog’s 60-plus filmography continues to grow

Some would call film director Werner Herzog brave and bold. Others would call him crazy. Nobody would deny he is some kind of genius, whether making feature films about impossible, sometimes doomed missions, like “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” or “Fitzcarraldo,” or documentaries about doomed people (“Grizzly Man”) or inhospitable worlds (“Encounters at the End of the World,” about Antarctica). On Wednesday night he will sit down with another well-traveled soul, Pico Iyer, and talk about ? well, nobody’s decided just yet.

We talked to the 67-year-old director, who continues to make films at least once a year, and now has started up his own “Rogue Film School” to foster a new generation of rebels.

Read More

A ‘Precious’ Gem — How is Gabourey Sidibe handling her new fame and Oscar nom? We ask

The first thing that strikes you about Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe is the voice. It’s not that one expects the star and title character of the Oscar-nominated film “Precious” to talk in the hesitant mumbled tone heard in the film, but rather that her voice is not even East Coast. Sidibe sounds like a bubbly Valley Girl.

This only emphasizes the astonishing job she does in “Precious,” a harrowing yet uplifting drama about an abused 16-year-old African-American girl. Lee Daniels’ striking directorial debut, based upon the novel Push by Sapphire, mixes grim domestic scenes — featuring a monster of a mother played by comedienne Mo’Nique — with glamorous escapist fantasies. Also appearing in the film are Mariah Carey, who disappears under a black wig to play a social worker, and Lenny Kravitz, playing a male nurse.

Read More

Time to Shine

Sandra Bullock may finally be having her time in the sun. After the critical and popular success of “Speed” and “While You Were Sleeping” in 1994 and 1995, the actress has never been off our marquees, from thrillers and romantic comedies. But the big awards have eluded her, until now.

11 Amazing Days, 10 Starry Nights.

This year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival almost throws down a gauntlet with that slogan: we’ve got so many must-see events, we dare you to get to them all! And we know. We’ve seen those people in line, heck sometimes we’ve been them, too: the hardened determination, the 1,000-yard stare of the film addict. More stories, more inspiration, more celluloid, more tributes, more buzz, more, more, more!

Read More

Indie darling: Santa Barbara native Najarra Townsend takes a short break before a busy year to come


“My roots are showing,” says actress Najarra Townsend in a self-conscious moment at the beginning of our interview. She’s talking about her hair—dark brunette, almost black, waiting to be transformed again for another role—but she could be talking about being back in the town of her birth, Santa Barbara. Here to see family, she’s taking an end of year break that has been filled with film premieres, auditions, and shoot days. Her most recent film, “Tru Loved,” screened this November at OUTrageous: The Santa Barbara Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Film Festival, and then down the road at the Ojai Film Festival. She plays the title character, Tru, who moves from a progressive Californian town to a more repressed suburb and sets about shaking things up in terms of gay and lesbian awareness. And 2009 is starting to shape up as a busy year, with three more lead roles (“Betty I Am,” “The Dawning” and “Cupid’s Arrow”) and parts in “We Are the Mods” and “The Telling.”

“This year (2008) has been the slowest year,” says Townsend as we chat downtown on an intermittently cold and sunny day. There were projects, she says, but they are all either being wrapped up or edited…and some she hasn’t heard from. But her upcoming film “Marin Blue”—-again, she plays the title character,–plays the Berlin Film Festival in February.

Read More


Lewis Black has been working himself into a humorous lather for over a decade now, either in his wildly popular standup act or as part of the “news” crew at Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” where he lets his anger rip every week in his segment “Back in Black.”

Whether talking politics or lambasting the idiocy of the general public, Black is right on target and very, very funny. He’s been with the show since the beginning, and has watched his profile rise in the comedy world. Now he joins his cablemate Dave Attel, the hard-drinkin’, hard smokin’ host of “Insomniac,” in a double-pronged assault on the Santa Barbara psyche at Thursday night’s show at the Arlington Theatre. Black was interviewed as he was waiting for a flight to Lebanon, N.H., for a gig. This cell phone conversation took place in the midst of crying children and a persistent tannoy speaker.

Read More

Dennis Miller Interview: Natural Born Miller

Over his decade-plus career, Dennis Miller has tried to make the rant his own. Full of vitriol for targets big and small, the stand-up comedian has played a news anchor in his early days on Saturday Night Live—he pretty much made Weekend Update his own—won an Emmy for his talk show, and made a puzzling diversion as a commentator for Monday Night Football, lacing his appreciation for the games with references so dense and obscure that several Web sites sprang up to gloss his jokes.

But for some, Miller’s most drastic career move was evolving his humor slowly towards the right, with jokes about turning Iraq into glass, and scabrous comments about the French (not the rarest of targets, of course). Just last week, Miller raised the ire of Elton John, who denounced him at a charity gig from behind his piano.

Read More

Edge of the Known World: Dancer Peggy Baker sets out for uncharted territory

“I never expected I would be dancing solo. I expected I would just be dancing with companies. I had no idea that this would grab me by the roots. One project moves me in unexpected directions, and from there the next project arises.”

Dancer, choreographer, and teacher Peggy Baker still expresses amazement at her career and where she now finds herself, despite being someone who has never settled for anything less than what she wants.

She also has never let–and is still not letting–age determine what she can do. At 51, Baker–past member of the Lar Lubovitch Company, original member of the White Oak Project, and now solo performer–is pushing the boundaries and expanding the repertoire for mature dancers. She will be performing as part of the UCSB Dance Department Faculty Concert on October 10.

Read More