Big-time international restaurant owner Jeffrey Chodorow -- who owns a couple dozen name joints in New York, Vegas and elsewhere, but who you may remember as Rocco DiSpirito's money guy from that unconscionably awful reality show The Restaurant -- got his name in the papers again last week. This time, though, he had to pay his way in.

Following a zero-star review of his new(ish) New York steakhouse Kobe Club by New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, Chodorow took out a full-page ad in the Times (at $115,000) blasting the paper, the section and, in particular, Bruni himself -- saying, among other things, that the former Rome bureau chief and political writer who came to the Times critic's job with no serious food-world experience was not qualified for the gig and was in over his head.

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"You should have critics on your staff that celebrate and support the efforts of people who work in New York in one of the most difficult and demanding industries there is," Chodorow declared in the ad, which ran February 21. "Your readers would not expect your drama critic to have no background in drama or your architecture critic to not be an architect. For a publication that prides itself on integrity, I feel your readers should be better informed as to this very important fact so that they can give your reviews the weight, or lack thereof, they deserve."

Okay, a couple of things. First, man up, Chodorow. You took a bad hit, granted. But the proper response would've been to smile through the blood, keep your mouth shut and, in the time-honored tradition of critic-restaurateur relations everywhere, wait until the issue was off the stands and then talk about Bruni behind his back. What you did was spend better than a hundred grand to tell a two-year-old story that everyone else already knows: that Bruni was brought in from Italy, that he had no formal food or critical experience (beyond a stint as a movie critic back in the day), and that this made restaurateurs nervous.

Second, there are plenty of food critics out there who come to the job from somewhere other than the trenches. Most notably, Gael Greene (who Chodorow called one of "New York's and the country's most important and respected critics" in his ad and who, unsurprisingly, gave Kobe Club a positive write-up in New York Magazine). Greene never did a day of professional time, came to food writing as a home cook and a voracious eater (among other things), and has, in her time, given out more than her fair share of smack-downs. I'm not going to fight the battle of critical genetics here; it's unwinnable. But suffice it to say, we come from all over. Some of us are good. Some of us suck. Just like chefs and restaurateurs. And as for critics needing to "celebrate and support" the home team? Fuck off. The job title reads "critic," not "cheerleader." Someone buy Chodorow a dictionary, please.

Third, there are architecture critics? If that's the case, I want my next job to be critiquing donuts, porno and all-inclusive beach resorts. There's got to be a gig like that out there somewhere.

Fourth, according to the Times, a zero-star review (out of a possible four) means "satisfactory" -- which is some serious, waffling, pussy bullshit. A zero-star review ought to mean "not on a bet," "fucking awful" or "sucks balls" in any rational, reasonable world. Zero stars should be the nuclear option for any critic forced to labor under the ridiculous and stilted star (or thumb or fork or whatever) system. When I got an F on my report card, it didn't mean I was "satisfactory." It meant I was a dumb-ass who couldn't do a quadratic equation or remember the date of the Battle of Waterloo. Bruni found rubbery chops, limp lettuce, "gluey" mashed potatoes and a bad clam at Kobe Club -- none of which, by the way, would require Escoffier or Bocuse to suss out. To me, that doesn't sound satisfactory. That sounds like crap.

Finally, in case any of you restaurateurs out there have it in mind that what Chodorow did was the perfect response to a bad review by a critic in over his head, I've spoken with the ad folks here at Westword, and know they're ready to offer a deal on a full-page ad in the food section wherein you may spout off about whatever damn fool thing comes to mind. Hate my guts? Think I'm unqualified? Believe that I've been unfair to you or your staff? Here's your chance to put it in writing and tell the world. And unlike at the Times, where they won't let you use foul language or make dick jokes, we love that shit here at the 'word. So let fly, my friends, and when you call our ad department, remember to ask for the "Sheehan Special." Someone will be more than happy to set you up. -- Jason Sheehan

"If you asked me two years ago what I thought the future of Lipgloss would be, I'd probably tell you that the night would be dead by now," remarks Lipgloss DJ and co-founder Tyler Jacobson. The weekly dance party has become a Friday-night staple in the Golden Triangle, and tonight it celebrates six years of hipster bump 'n' grind.

To commemorate the occasion, the 'Glossers are bringing in a super-secret surprise guest DJ (hint: think Omaha) and giving away VIP cards to the first fifty people through the door. And know this: There will be more cool-kid shenanigans throughout the night.

So, what is in store for Lipgloss after this? "I don't know what the future will be," Jacobson answers. "We've had a lot of wacky suggestions — like a TV show and a compilation disc — but we want to be fluid, open to new ideas. We'll see what comes around."

Come around to La Rumba, 99 West Ninth Avenue, for Lipgloss Turns 6, with DJs Michael Trundle, Jacobson and guests. Doors open at 9 p.m.; cover is $7. (Sorry, kiddies, this is a 21-and-over party.) Get lippy at www.denver3.com or 303-572-8006.
Fri., June 29, 9 p.m.

Laccaria and boletes and telephora, oh my! They're not plants, they're not animals, they're delicious and deadly poisonous and even psychedelic. Experience the wonderful world of mushrooms at the thirtieth annual Mushroom Fair of the Colorado Mycological Society today at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1005 York Street. Have experts, including acclaimed author and mycologist Michael Kuo, help identify any wild mushroom species that you bring in and answer any questions you have about them. A variety of common mushrooms that grow in the city and the mountains will be on display, along with demonstrations on how to cultivate, cook and even make paper from our fungal friends. Mushroom arts and crafts will be on display, and there will be T-shirts, books and other mushroom merchandise to buy. There's even a "kiddy korner" to introduce the young ones to the magic of mycology.

The fair runs from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. today. Admission to the fair is free with paid admission to the Denver Botanic Gardens, which is $13 for adults, $9 for children four to fifteen, and $10 for seniors. For more information visit www.cmsweb.org/fair.htm.
Sun., Aug. 12, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Thank God for MySpace. If it weren't for MySpace, I know some people who wouldn't have any friends. At all. That's not just a witty T-shirt slogan; it's gospel. MySpace can be more than a little soul-sucking: I've seen it consume lives, World of Warcraft style. But as nefarious as it can be, it has undeniable upsides. Foremost, it's a wellspring of untapped talent -- and I'm not talking about trolling for trollops (although, come to think of it, some of my more scandalous homeboys would probably never get laid if it weren't for MySpace). There's an infinite amount of mind-blowing music just waiting to be found.

Of course, there's also no filter. To find the good stuff, you have to sort through endless streams of shit, most of which could test the gag reflexes of a Roto-Rooter man. Nonetheless, the baby is worth the labor. Hell, that's how I found many of the acts who've blown my skirt up this year.

Ultimately, as loath as I was to join the cult, I have to admit that MySpace has revolutionized the way I experience music. In the past, I'd go to shows blindly, not knowing what to expect or how I'd react; these days, I know exactly what I'm in for, having had the chance to familiarize myself with the music and the story long before I ever take it in live. The best part is that I've even been able to witness the songwriting process unfold organically and hear the music progress in real time, with artists blogging and posting their material in its working stages. Because of how turnkey the whole thing is, anyone can establish a page and post his innermost thoughts instantaneously, for better or worse, without needing to have some high-priced web designer on retainer. As a result, an entirely new level of intimacy has been forged with the listener.

And that's the cool thing about MySpace: I've had the chance to become invested in the artists, the music and their stories, to become a bona fide fan before I've even seen some of them live. That was the case with the Brotherhood of Dae Han, the subject of this week's profile. When I first heard the group's songs through my $10 computer speakers, I about spit out my dentures. I couldn't believe these cats were local and that I hadn't seen them yet or heard anyone talking about them. If the songs sounded that good on those cheap speakers, I could only imagine how great they would sound live or on a real stereo.

More recently, I had a similar experience with the Widowers, an outfit that I'm completely smitten with at the moment but that has yet to play a single show. At the urging of one of my buddies, someone whose ear I trust as much as my own, I checked out their page. I was stunned by what I heard: intricately crafted, densely layered psych-pop. Imagine Dungen, only with words that are sung in English, that you can actually understand and sing along to. Astounded, I reached out to Mike Marchant, the Widowers' guiding force, and grilled him for the details: How long had the Widowers been together, had they put anything out, and when would they start playing live?

Marchant told me that the group, which features members of Constellations and Women Gathering Gems, began as his solo project and had grown into a full-fledged band. At the time of our first exchange, the Widowers (myspace.com/widowersmusic) were in the midst of recording a six-song EP, which they're now mixing. Once they begin playing live -- which will most likely be by the end of May, at the hi-dive -- there's little doubt that the act will quickly rise to prominence.

For every upside, though, invariably there's a downside. In this case, I fear that MySpace might be killing off the underground. There are no closely guarded secrets anymore. The very thing that draws me to MySpace could be taking away from the music's mystique. In the past, bands like the Widowers or the Brotherhood of Dae Han might've been enjoyed by an isolated group of acolytes before reaching critical mass; now the bands arrive fully formed, with a fan base that grows exponentially with each show. But people get burned out just as quickly and move on to the next thing. It's a vicious cycle.

Fortunately, the good stuff sticks. At least it has for me. As voracious as my appetite is for new music, I keep coming back to the ones who have moved me. And that list just keeps getting longer and longer. This past March, when I was in Austin for SXSW, I was comparing notes with my counterpart from St. Louis regarding our respective scenes. I ran through the short list of the Denver bands I was excited about, and before I knew it, I had more than sixty. Sixty freaking bands! All worth my time -- and yours.

And that's only a fraction of the musicians we have in this town: Last week I compiled a tickler/reference sheet for members of the Westword Music Showcase nominating committee, listing all the groups I could think of off the top of my head. I came up with more than 500 acts, and of those, I've probably only seen about half. You know what that means, right?

Uh-huh. More friend requests.

Upbeats and Beatdowns: This Thursday, April 26, stop by the Larimer Lounge and check out the Archive (see Tom Murphy's writeup in this week's Critic's Choice), another band whose songs I'm completely nuts about, when it shares a bill with L'elan Vital, Caspian and Pena. Up north, Fear Before the March of Flames ignites the Aggie Theater with Poison the Well, Portugal the Man and Heavy Heavy Low Low.

On Friday, April 27, the almighty Slim Cessna's Auto Club pulls into Bender's Tavern for a two-night stand. On Friday, Slim, Munly and the gang will be joined by the Hollyfelds, and on Saturday, Machine Gun Blues will be on hand to turn folks on and bleed on everyone in sight; Magic Cyclops will keep a handle on things both nights. Elsewhere on Saturday, the Railbenders join GT and the Sidewinders at Herman's Hideaway; Goodbye Timebomb (formerly the Milkshakes) and Easy to Kill are over at the Larimer Lounge; Subconscious and U.S. Pipe and the Balls Johnson Dance Machine let it all hang out at 3 Kings Tavern; and the Stigmas, Gription, Today's Paramount and Rubber Planet bounce into the Toad Tavern.

Turning the tables: Props to my man DJ Quote the Beatmaker for landing his own mixtape show, Friday Night Flavaz, on 96.1/The Beat in Colorado Springs, and for being tapped to make another appearance on BET's Rap City earlier this month. Big ups also go out to the Nuggets' official DJs, Bedz and Psycho, who received a shout-out on MTV's Mixtape Monday last week for their latest, Capone Carmelo Kustomz, Vol. 2, hosted by Carmelo Anthony. Gotta love all the national love these local cats have been getting.

The 2006 MasterMind winners:

MasterMind, Visual Arts: KATIE TAFT

MasterMind, Literary Arts: CAFE NUBA

MasterMind, Design/Fashion: DEB HENRIKSEN

MasterMind, Film/Video: JOHNNY MOREHOUSE

MasterMind, Performing Arts: DRAGON DAUD

Visual Arts: Katie Taft
Katie Taft is a self-made woman, which makes her "self-made" salon, at Mario's Double Daughters Salotto, quite apropos. Every Tuesday since last June, Taft has invited someone from the local arts community to chat about how he or she has made it, offering up inspirational stories or tips for succeeding.

"I was working at Double Daughters doing marketing, sort of my day job, and we wanted to do something to bring the art world into the bar and make it a community place for them," she explains. "My original idea was just a stitch-and-bitch, but that was done. The more that we discussed the idea, the more we wanted to have someone come in and talk about what they do. Like, how do you walk into a gallery and feel confident? From this, I've gotten so many ideas for my career and been inspired by others."

Taft wasn't always inspired by Denver. The local girl bailed after graduating from high school in Boulder and headed to Washington State to study political science at Evergreen State College. Political science turned out to be too political, though, and she switched to filmmaking. "It was still politically minded, but more creative," she says. Eventually she left the "hippie, liberal school" for a Catholic girls' school in Portland, Oregon, with a great reputation for film, and she honed her photography skills there. Then she headed for the bright lights of Chicago -- but couldn't get a job.

Finally, the prodigal daughter returned. "I came home to regenerate and was planning on being back for about two weeks. I've been back about three years," Taft says, laughing.

While she's been grounded here, Taft has made a name for herself across the country with her ingenious Imaginary Friends series. She starts by developing a character -- personality traits, colors it would like, thoughts, word associations -- and then sculpts the creature, usually merging animals and people into a hybrid. After that, she photographs her pals out in the world. "When I first started in photography, I was coming from film, so I was costuming people," Taft says. "I didn't realize it was the Œimaginary,' but I knew I wanted to work in the fantastic. In my life, fiction is often more true than nonfiction. So I get my inspiration from stories, everything from Greek myths to Hello Kitty."

That suits her well for her other love: working with kids. Taft teaches after-school arts programs in the schools through DAVA and is on the board of Flash Gallery, part of the nonprofit Working With Artists photo school in Belmar.

Staying that busy, it's no wonder she has imaginary friends. "The thing that's great about being an artist is that it's a whole life," Taft says. "Everything I do. So when I'm working, I still feel good. Even teaching is great. I don't need spare time."

Spoken like a true MasterMind.

Literary Arts: Cafe Nuba
Cafe Nuba: It's hot and it's black. It's also one of the most vibrant literary events in town.

Celebrating its sixth anniversary this month, the once-roving evening of poetry and spoken word has finally settled down at the Walnut Room and is ready for a rebirth, says emcee Ebony "Isis" Booth. "What I hope to transition into is a more polished, professional showcase-type of set instead of it just being an open mike," she explains. "I want Cafe Nuba to be the end-all, be-all for showcasing your poetry in Denver. It kind of is already nationally, but I want it to be that for us personally, locally."

Booth has been hosting the event -- which is always scheduled for the last Friday of each month -- for little more than a year, volunteering her time with the Pan African Arts Society, which supports Cafe Nuba. "It takes a lot of work," says the New Jersey native, who moved here during high school. "It's high energy keeping a room full of people focused on someone reading poetry." But all that work has paid off: Booth has seen the audience grow to upwards of 250 people, with participants jockeying to get on the stage.

The local literary scene has also become more active since Cafe Nuba first started as a micro-cinema and film-centric poetry set. Whereas once there were just a handful of places to perform -- Brother Jeff's Cultural Center & Cafe and the Mercury Cafe among them -- a number of clubs now showcase poetry and spoken-word talent. "There are so many places where you can go to develop your own personal talent and skills," Booth says. "When I started out, there were only a few mikes. Now there are all these new microphones that poets have access to. Denver is really in a position to blow up. And if you have a platform like Cafe Nuba to perfect your skills, you can expand, get booked out of town, tour. It's pretty cool." [page]

And that's why Cafe Nuba is our 2006 MasterMind winner for Literary Arts. This group has shown Denver some luminary talent and even now is expanding its horizons with such events as Podcast competitions and high-stakes poetry slams. There's more competition today, but Cafe Nuba is the original -- and, as with Coke, the original has always been the best. Still, Cafe Nuba has made one major improvement to its original formula: booze. What was once a censor-free, smoke-free and alcohol-free night is now just censor- and smoke-free. "We wanted a grown-up, lounge-type feel," Booth says.

That's a genius move. The move of a true MasterMind.

Design/Fashion: Deb Henriksen
Deb Henriksen does everything from the core. Skate. Board. Design. She's the same kick-ass chick for whom she creates clothing through her company, Equillibrium Clothing.

Henriksen has been a part of Denver's fashion scene since its nascent stages in early 2001. As such, she's been one of the town's biggest boosters and an ardent, even notorious, supporter of others trying to live their dreams. That's because she knows all about it: Before she chased her fashion fantasy and became known for her trademark skull-and-crossbones cat and punked-out equal sign, she had a career in environmental health. But she left that steady work to strike out on her own, taking the big risk.

Since then, many would-be designers in Denver have followed in her footsteps. But Henriksen continues to set the tone, always pushing for excellence. That's why she's our choice for the 2006 MasterMind in Design/Fashion.

While others in the local fashion scene are content with creating screen-printed T-shirts or one or two niche items, Henriksen has stretched much further, designing a complete line of made-to-measure wear full of demure dresses with hard-core edges, flouncy skirts and killer handbags. It's Betsey Johnson if she were a tomboy on a board.

Even without the MasterMind award, Henriksen believes this is her year. She and her fiancé are moving her retail shop and his screen-printing business from the Upper Ballpark neighborhood to Third Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, where they'll have more than double the space. Henriksen also is expanding her material repertoire to include environmentally friendly hemp cottons and bamboo cottons, which have a silky drape and are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, "because it's fun to play like a boy, not smell like a boy," she says.

She's also realizing that there's room in her dream to honor her scientific side, so she's taken on some part-time environmental-health consulting jobs, which include working on meth-lab cleanups. "I like it because I'm both-brained," Henriksen notes, "and there was a part of me that was sad not being an active part of the environmental sciences."

But most exciting for Henriksen is that her California-based sister, who studied marine biology, is getting ready to launch her own clothing line this summer, and the two will be collaborating. "A sister in surf and a sister in skate," Henriksen says. "It doesn't get more core than that."

Film/Video/Multimedia: Johnny Morehouse
In a digital world, Johnny Morehouse represents the old school: He still shoots on reels, even honoring the medium with his annual "Super-8 Side Show" at the Bug Theater. This summer will mark the sixth anniversary of that project, for which Morehouse invites film aficionados from around the world to screen shorts shot with Super-8, the 1960s-era film. "A photograph is great, the aging of it, the feel of it," Morehouse says. "The same goes for film. It just has an instant nostalgia. We're in such an immediate society right now with reality TV, and the more that goes on of that, the less attractive digital is to me. I love watching old footage and old newsreels."

That's not to say this Colorado native isn't a thoroughly modern man. He works in digital during the day as a freelance producer of corporate videos and commercials and will be using that technology for his own documentary, Colfax vs. Broadway, which is currently in pre-production. Digital will also loom large in the new project he plans to launch in 2006, "Compose and Expose." Morehouse hopes to bring Denver's film and music scenes closer together by having the two collaborate on that program, with filmmakers submitting silents for musicians to score, and music-makers sending in songs so movie buffs can create music videos. [page]

This collaborative spirit and his passion for all things film make Morehouse our 2006 MasterMind winner in Film/Video/Multimedia.

Morehouse wasn't always an advocate for the art -- he started out as a journalism/mass communications student at the University of Denver, but after taking a few film classes, he was hooked. He moved to Portland after graduation, signed up for a few more courses at the Northwest Film Center and realized he'd found his calling. He missed Denver, however, so he came back to town in 1998, committed to helping nurture a homegrown film scene. "Portland was fun, but I wanted to get some stuff started here," says Morehouse, who loves to curl up with a good documentary.

"There wasn't too much going on when I came back, but there were pockets of things happening," he adds. "The scene is so vibrant now compared to back then. It's still rising, but it's in a good position. Plus, I love the non-snobbery of the creative folk of Denver, because I've seen some noses stuck up in the air in different cities."

You reap what you sow.

Performing Arts: Dragon Daud
Dragon Daud knows how to put on a spectacle. Whether through his flame-spitting robots, Burning Man installations or Art@Art art bus, he's a man with a strong sense of the dramatic. He's also been the backbone of Denver's underground arts scene for more than a decade.

"The part of the scene that I'm involved in used to be fragmented and splintered," Daud says. "When I started doing things in 1988, we were centered around Muddy's. I met a lot of people there, and those people have really formed the core of the community that I think of as my scene and the art scene here in Denver. But it's grown by leaps and bounds as we've brought in more cool people, and now we represent a lot of the really great art happening in town. What we do isn't commercial art; it doesn't belong in Cherry Creek. There are fine artists among us, but they are in pursuit of things that are less mainstream. In fact, we were blockaded by the police when we tried to take the bus to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival one year."

Certainly Daud is no stranger to controversy. Some galleries don't welcome his roving band of First Friday merrymakers, worrying that they are a distraction to the "real" gallery-goers (i.e., money-spenders). In fact, he was once surrounded by cops (again!) and firefighters while dressed in a bunny suit, because he had an open flame on top of the bus, a former Breckenridge ski bus that he bought in 2000. But over the past six years he's transformed the silver beast from a simple mode of transportation to Burning Man into true performance art.

He dreams up a theme for each First Friday (hence his bunny suit for the Easter Bunny vs. Jesus month), and crowds people onto the bus. The passengers (only people he knows; the public can't board at will) all dress according to the concept, which usually involves a lot of feathers, fake fur and sequins. The group then careens around town, checking out art and making some along the way. "I like people to stretch the theme idea out into something else," Daud says. "Sometimes you can't tell what they are, and you ask them and they have a whole story. That's the art: the story they're going to tell someone. I want everyone to find some way within their means to express themselves."

Now, though, his effort is threatened. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission sent Daud a nasty-gram on January 16, ordering him to either cease and desist or obtain a $5 million commercial-vehicle insurance policy. His crime? Charging his friends $5 a head to help pay for the biodiesel that fuels the party. Daud, although broke, is not down and out; he plans to appeal the for-hire classification and keep the performance rolling. "I'd like to see the art bus make it through this conflict and be recognized as a community-building thing and not as something to be squashed," he says. "I had a back injury a little while ago, and I've been laid up. But I'm almost recovered, and I'm really getting excited about finishing this robot I started last year. It's going to the best one yet."

That's the MasterMind spirit.

The 2007 MasterMind Winners

Performing Arts:
Jessica Robblee

Visual Arts:
Jimmy Sellars

Design/Fashion:
The Fabric Lab

Literary Arts:
Vox Feminista

Film/Video/Multimedia:
Tony Shawcross

Performing Arts: Jessica Robblee
Blond-haired, blue-eyed Jessica Robblee once played Cha Cha DiGregorio, the very bad girl in Grease. And while Robblee admits the casting was "somewhat preposterous," that ninth-grade experience sparked a love of theater in the Army brat.

She didn't return to the stage again in high school, though, choosing instead to play sports. But in her sophomore year at Davidson College in North Carolina, Robblee grew tired of athletics and began reconsidering her life path. "I thought, 'When was I last really, really happy?' and it was doing that play," she says. "As awkward as I was -- and boy, was I awkward -- it was fun. I'm into the fact that it's a collaborative effort. I really liked how you can do magical things really simply. And the cool thing is that it lets all different kinds of people in. It's a place where difference thrives."

And the unique personality of Jessica Robblee has certainly thrived in Denver's theater scene.

She moved to town eight years ago "for young love," she recalls, and while the boy is long gone, she's still here acting and teaching and hustling to keep her career moving forward. Right now she's performing in Aphrodisiac at Curious Theatre Company, where she's getting well-deserved raves, and Ramona Quimby at the Mizel Center, while also writing and performing in tRUNks, the all-ages comic-book show that runs every other Saturday through May 5 at Buntport Theater.

Robblee got started at Buntport after a successful run with the short-lived children's-theater troupe at the Bug. Then she pitched the idea of a children's show to Erin Rollman, and it turned out that the Buntporters had already been thinking about children's productions. "I was really excited, because I'd wanted to work there for a long time," says Robblee, who is also quite partial to British comedies. "We at first were going to do something with fairy-book characters, like a militant fairy, but then it morphed into a comic-book idea, which morphed into a serial comic book. I wanted it to be a series because I wanted to be writing. I really enjoy that."

Two seasons later, she's still at it -- but also looking at ways she can improve herself and Denver. "I'd love to have a really, really healthy audience for live performance," she says. "There's a lot of stuff going on, but if it were more in the Denver consciousness that going to a play would be an incredibly fun time, I would love that. I also hope to write more full-length plays. I want to do a choose-your-own adventure. It would be so fun as an audience experience."

Cha cha cha!

Visual Arts: Jimmy Sellars
Jimmy Sellars has one of those rare brains with a bridge between the right and left lobes. He's a talented artist in his own right, but he's also a gallerist who aids other artists with their businesses. "I really just want to be a part of this community and help where I can," Sellars says.

That's quite the understatement.

Sellars has been a fixture in the Denver art scene since he moved here in 1990, but his artistic roots go much deeper. He grew up in Kansas City, the son of two artists, and was in his first show at the age of eight. "It was just a pencil drawing, and it was so great because they didn't know the age of the people who submitted stuff," remembers Sellars. "We showed up, and they're talking to us like, 'Don't you just love art?,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, that's my piece.'"

His family moved to Estes Park in 1982, and a decade later, Sellars came off the mountain and got involved with several Denver arts organizations; he also founded an international arts group. At the same time, he continued creating his own art and had his first local solo show in 1992, the same year he opened Studio 211. He had that gallery for about nine years, until the ballpark-area prices forced him out. After that, he was on Broadway for a nanosecond -- but by then he'd already found another constituency online. "I was new to the Internet, and it was very different back then," Sellars says. "I kept running into people here and there, and it was amazing how many artists were online in the beginning. I started this international group, and we had a couple of shows, several in the U.S and Mexico, and another traveling exhibit that was in Europe." [page]

He was also experimenting with what would become his signature work: photographs of G.I. Joe dolls. His first show featuring the action hero was at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, and several hundred people turned out. "But then they all left for one of the movies that were playing," Sellars says, laughing.

That good humor has carried him over the hurdles of starting his own business, closing it and now restarting it as sellarsprojectspace, located behind the Oriental Theater. He's also formally assisting fellow creative types with their marketing and websites, even scouting potential galleries for them. And while he's working to create a Tennyson Street Arts District, he's also keeping an eye on the scene as a whole. "What I've seen, and I've always proclaimed this, is that we've always had an incredible arts scene," he says. "Being in one of the states with the lowest funding for the arts, it's amazing how much the artists have chipped in to make it as vibrant as it has been. People around the world have started to notice what is happening here, to invest more into what we do. This is really such an incredible community. I always feel fortunate to be a part of it."

And the community's fortunate to have him.

Fashion/Design: The Fabric Lab
The Fabric Lab and its owners, Tran and Josh Wills, are walking inspirations, proof that you can live your artistic dream -- even when you have no money and three kids to feed.

They started their local-designers-only boutique three years ago in the basement of Babooshka, a hair salon next to the Bluebird Theater on East Colfax Avenue. Since then, they've expanded from eight artists to fifty, moved into their own storefront just down the block at 3105 East Colfax, and even joined a collective that opened the A++ Boutique de Force store in Belmar.

"I always wanted to do this, but when you're a young mom, people look at you like you have no worth," Tran Wills told Westword when she first opened the Fabric Lab and was working in a medical office to pay the bills. "We wanted to prove to everyone we weren't going to be like that. I'm doing this for my kids. If it weren't for them, I'd probably be working a job that I hate."

Instead, she's got a job she loves, and the kids -- ages eight, four and one and a half -- help out at the store. That's where you'll usually find Tran, juggling the local merchandise that overflows the space, planning fashion shows that use Colfax as a gritty catwalk, and creating art with the Yummies, the performance-art group that shares space with the Fabric Lab.

In her spare time, Tran is also teaching "Tee Party" classes for the Denver Art Museum, showing members how to cut out their own stencils and screenprint them on T-shirts. "The last class, we had pretty young people to people in their fifties," she says. "It was cool, because they got to go through the museum and take pictures and then come back and cut out a design from the image and make it into a stencil. People did not want to leave."

Just like people don't want to leave the Fabric Lab, which is filled with one-of-a-kind couture -- some of it created by Josh -- as well as handbags, accessories and great limited-run T-shirts, including the infamous Colfax version. "I'm getting a new designer a week," Tran says. "People are becoming more eco-friendly and more conscious of what they're making.

"We really want to keep showcasing all of our artists and pushing local design," she continues. "I think we're finally getting somewhere, and we want to help them get to where they want to be in their careers."

In doing so -- in recognizing new designers and encouraging them to realize their potential -- Tran and Josh Wills make the Fabric Lab live up to its promise: "We keep it realer."

And real local, which is sheer genius.

Literary Arts: Vox Feminista
The Last Supper. Nutricide: The Last Supper. Nutricide: The Last Buffet. Just over a month before their annual spring performance, the eight women at the core of Vox Feminista are still debating the name of the show. They've set the bar high, having come up with many literary delights since their first show at the original Penny Lane in Boulder just over seventeen years ago. There's been White Noise: Asleep in the American Dream; Shooting Stars in Retrograde, Alienated on Earth and even Y2K-Y Jellymamas Dancin' the Apocalpyso. And the politics of food deserves no less a title than any of the other modern-day issues that they've tackled together. [page]

"Food is something for me -- we've done shows on great existential issues and the war, and people feel helpless -- but every day I eat three meals," says Oak Chezar, one of Vox's original members. "That's three chances to make a difference. We can choose to make a difference."

As passionate people out to raise the collective consciousness, that's what Vox chose to do years ago. But over the years, their voice -- like their standards -- has gotten higher. "It started with a mixed group," says Vox producer and original member Joy Boston. "And after the show, the guys -- as typically happens would leave to go party, and the women were left to clean up."

So she and Chezar and some of the other women decided to regroup without the benefit of Y chromosomes. Since then, Vox Feminista has continued to challenge audiences with a mix of poetry and performances at twice-annual shows. The members write all of the material, either as a collective or individually; they also enlist guest performers, whom they cull from open auditions. To make it all come together, they meet twice a week for three to four hours a shot, then put in additional hours writing and practicing. And they take only two months off a year from this labor of love.

But none of them can imagine life any other way. They thrive on informing people -- "We're here to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable," says Chezar and on challenging themselves, often adapting their own lives to conform with knowledge they've gained from researching show topics. On a meta level, the Fall 2003 show on white power was particularly uncomfortable; on a micro level, they quit printing Vox T-shirts after learning that the garments were produced with sweatshop labor. Now they hunt through thrift stores and put their logo on recycled tees.

What they've learned about the politics of food will be revealed when their Spring show opens on March 31. But they've already come to a consensus on the name: The Last Supper - To Go.

Film/Video/Multimedia: Tony Shawcross
Almost everyone in Denver knows about Tony Shawcross or at least about his work. They've heard about the guerrilla film project he once headed, which involved projecting movies on the sides of random buildings from a giant, biodiesel-powered bus. Or they've heard of deproduction, the nonprofit he helped found that puts media into the hands of many by teaching them how to shoot and produce their own segments. Or they've heard about his work with Denver's public-access TV.

So, yes, they've heard about his work but they probably don't know that Shawcross has a degree in business and marketing. That the poster boy for living the life of your choosing was once an IT wonk on the cubicle fast track.

But after Shawcross was laid off in 2000, his life completely changed -- for the better. He started interning with a variety of progressive media organizations, including Free Speech TV and Little Voice Productions, and spent time as a legislative aide for then-state representative Abel Tapia. He began investigating all the filmmaking options he'd wanted to explore in college but had shoved aside in favor of a more financially viable degree. "I rode my bike every day, I read philosophy, I tried anything that presented itself to me, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what life was all about for me," Shawcross wrote in a blog post about that time.

And what he realized was that the mix of politics and film had a lot more potential. So he and a group of friends who'd already created the online calendar denverevolution.org started deproduction. "I feel like I was raised on TV and a lot of my ethics and values have come from TV shows," says the Littleton High School grad who credits Star Trek: The Next Generation for creating his moral compass. "And like a lot of us, I feel like it's the most powerful medium."

In late 2005, Shawcross and deproduction stretched yet again, bidding for the contract to host public-access television in Denver and winning the job of running Channels 57, 58 and 59. To do so, they formed Denver Open Media.

Now Shawcross spends his days doing what he loves: figuring out ways to get more people involved in creating their own stories. He hopes to have a website rolled out within the month so that users can submit their own content, rent studio time, borrow equipment and take classes on how to produce, interact and build an informed, thoughtful community through public-access television.

"Looking at organizations like Wikipedia or even MySpace and YouTube, we realized they all started with teeny little staffs like ours," Shawcross says. "And the model that allowed them to have an impact was the decentralized, user-driven model. We realized that the biggest impact was not to just do stuff internally, but to involve the community as much as possible." [page]

That's the realization of a true MasterMind.

Getting a new theatrical production from concept to opening curtain is typically a long process. But A Play in a Day, a three-day event that gets under way tonight as part of Denver's Arts Week celebration, reduces the schedule from months to hours.

According to the Colorado Theatre Guild's Dana Miller, teams will receive an inventory list of elements they must incorporate at 8 p.m. the day before they're slated to step into the spotlight. Twenty-four hours later, the participants will present their finished works, and Miller can't wait to see what they come up with. "It's a grand experiment," she says, "and I think it will be a lot of fun."

Tonight's play, which focuses on visual arts, begins at 8 p.m. at the Greek Theater in Civic Center Park, 14th and Broadway. Admission is free for this show, as well as Play in a Day productions tomorrow and Sunday. For details, call 303-300-3547 or go to www.coloradotheatreguild.org.
Oct. 5-6, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 7, 6 p.m., 2007

I spend the first thirty minutes of 1001 in a state of irritated disaffection. This is the world premiere of an original play, and disaffection may be a legitimate response: Playwright Jason Grote has tried to do something original, something that I can't slot tidily into any of the pre-existing niches in my brain. I just don't know how to take what I'm seeing -- which is a satiric enactment of the story of the Arabian Nights.

Infuriated by his wife's adultery, Schahriyar, the King of Persia, has her executed and proceeds to marry nearly all the virgins in the kingdom, one by one, in order to deflower them and put them to death. Scheherazade hatches a plot to stop the murderous rampage. She gets the king to marry her and, at night, tells him stories, leaving each night's installment unfinished. As long as the king's curiosity stays alive, so does Scheherazade. This plot -- along with parts of Scheherazade's tales -- is acted out in a deliberately arch and overdone way: The first doomed bride flits around like a breathless high school girl; a eunuch affects a comically high-pitched voice; we listen to a lisped tongue twister of almost unendurable dopiness.

This disjointedness is intentional. The actors switch from role to role, some of the action occurs on a television screen, the costumes and props look as if they've been filched from an itinerant theater company, and the king periodically breaks character, utters weird anachronisms or confuses the meaning of ordinary words. And all along the way, there are hints that some other reality is stuttering beneath the surface.

Then we're in New York, and our king, now named Alan, is standing in what seems to be a sewer, having survived some cataclysm involving towers. "Where were the rats?" he wonders. The One-Eyed Arab who led us through the earlier stories reappears, and we're back in a dreamlike world in which Alan converses with labyrinth-maker Jorge Luis Borges and Sinbad the Sailor sets out on his seven voyages.

Alan is Jewish. He meets Dahna, a Palestinian, at a speech given by Alan Dershowitz, who's fulminating against activists' attempts to get American universities to divest from companies doing business with Israel. Dahna is played by Lanna Joffrey, who also plays Scheherazade. She tries to ask Dershowitz a question, but is silenced by his bluster and heckling from the audience. After the presentation, Alan approaches and assures her that not all American Jews are like Dershowitz, and a romance begins.

In Dirty Story, which was staged by the Denver Center Theatre Company a couple of years ago, John Patrick Stanley envisioned the conflict between Israel and Palestine as an endless, sadomasochistic embrace. Grote embeds his contemporary Jewish-Palestinian love affair in a web of allusions, metaphors, stories and references, from Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran to Edward Said's Orientalism (Dershowitz, incidentally, is one of Said's bitterest critics). But he focuses less on political and historical realities than on the swirl of myth and fairytale that characterizes the West's conception of the East.

Said argued that the West created its own vision of the Orient, a vision that sexualized and romanticized the East and helped justify colonialism. The Thousand and One Nights -- which began with Persian, Indian and Arabic folktales before it was written down and has since been translated and retranslated back and forth between the two cultures -- exemplifies this complex relationship. It also stands here as a metaphor for history.

Nineteenth-century French novelist Gustav Flaubert, who visited Egypt when he was 27, makes an appearance in 1001 with a prostitute, to whom he gives a blue veil (swaths of blue fabric play a significant role in the play). She uses it in a parodied belly dance before contemptuously sating his lust, and I begin to better understand the mocking, ramshackle style of the early scenes: They're a satiric commentary on the West's view of the Orient.

Meanwhile, in their parallel reality, Dahna and Alan visit Gaza, where Alan is almost killed by an Israeli soldier. Later, against her will, Dahna is drawn to a handsome young Arab businessman, with whom -- in a charming scene -- she communicates by instant message. He represents the reality of the modern Middle East, but he also calls to a deep, atavistic sense of national identity within Dahna.

Under the direction of Ethan McSweeny, all of the actors are vital and convincing. Josh Philip Weinstein's often befuddled Alan is appealing, and Lanna Joffrey brings strength and intelligence to the role of Scheherazade/Dahna. The terrific sound is provided by a live DJ, Sara Thurston, and the tech is impressive. We've all seen blue cloth used as rivers or sky on stage, but when Alan and Dahna dance under a parachute-like billow that then becomes the cover of their bed, it's magical.

Having set in motion a multitude of questions, 1001 ends as it began, with a man lying on a hospital gurney. The cast members take their bows, and I'm relieved to see that one of the actors, John Livingstone Rolle, is wearing a T-shirt that says "Stand up for your rights." Finally, I think, an unequivocal statement. Or is it?

Long ago, there reigned a clan of Speedo-wearing militaristic psychopaths called the Spartans. They lived beneath a copper-colored sky, on a copper-colored land, amid copper-colored fields, in copper-colored homes made from copper-colored stone. Legend has it that they would outline their copper-colored pecs and abs with ash to enhance their manly buffness, and yet these were men of action and honor, not "philosophers and boy lovers" like their namby-pamby rivals the Athenians.

Lunatic machismo was cultivated early. From the age of seven, Spartan boys were trained in the art of humorlessness, and made to beat each other into submission. Little is known of the Spartan women, but scholars assume they were fierce.

Spartans were men of few words. They spoke in a language composed almost entirely of monosyllabic stupidities. In that strange time, among those strange people, a voice rang out perpetually from the heavens. No one knows who spoke it, but historians agree that this holy text was silly and repetitive and devoted by and large to what they now term "the totally butch awesomeness" of Spartan deed. History remembers their ethos: "Only the hard and strong may call himself Spartan. Only the hard. The strong." It remembers their war cry -- "For honor's sake, for duty's sake, for glory's sake, we march. We march" -- and the immortal words of their fateful end: "We are undone! Undone, I tell you!"

Such magnificent verbiage was memorialized by Frank Miller and incorporated into the text of 300, his graphic-novel retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which the titular quantity of Spartan studs fended off a billion gazillion Persian invaders. Marshaling the full resources of high-end computer imaging and the full capacities of hard-core fanboy nerditude, writer-director Zack Snyder (he of the unexpectedly decent Dawn of the Dead remake) has now brought Miller's book to "life."

Slathering pancake makeup on its actors, then pasting them into digital backgrounds, 300 takes the synthetic blockbuster one step closer to total animation; its bland, weightless monochromatics make Sin City look like the grungiest neo-realism. It's a ponderous, plodding, visually dull picture, but the blame shouldn't be put on Snyder's skills, per se, and it has nothing to do with his ambition to blur the distinction between CGI and photography. Frankly, it's the slavish, frame-by-frame devotion to Miller's source material that's the problem. That explains both the risible screenplay and why the movie, for all its liberation from the real world, never takes full-winged flight into its own peculiar universe. Bogged down by respect for Miller's medium -- he's almost as faithful to 300 as Gus Van Sant was to Psycho -- Snyder seems to have forgotten that where comic-book panels indicate movement, movies can actually move.

The exception to the rule of inertia comes fitfully in certain action scenes, of which there are enough to satisfy the action-buff bloodlust the film seeks to aggravate and sate. Here and there, Snyder makes good use of the lesson of The Matrix, slowing the slices, dices and decapitations to a digitally calibrated crawl, the better to relish all 360 degrees of their stupendous ass-kickery. Tolerate the lobotomized dialogue and some half-assed political intrigues, and you'll find a good ten minutes of 300 worth posting on YouTube. You can never go wrong with rampaging battle elephants. Throw in a war rhino, some silver-masked ninja magicians and an eight-foot-tall godking who looks like RuPaul beyond the Thunderdome (Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes), and 300 is not without its treats.

Delicacies of dismemberment aside, 300 is notable for its outrageous sexual confusion. Here stands the Spartan king, Leonidas (Gerard Butler), and his 299 buddies in nothing but leather man panties and oiled torsos, clutching a variety of phalluses they seek to thrust into the bodies of their foes by trapping them in a small, rectum-like mountain passage called the "Gates of Hell(o!)" Yonder rises the Persian menace, led by the slinky, mascara'd Xerxes. When he's not flaring his nostrils at Leonidas and demanding he kneel down before his, uh, majesty, this flamboyantly pierced crypto-transsexual lounges on chinchilla throw pillows amid a rump-shaking orgy of disfigured lesbians.

On first glance, the terms couldn't be clearer: macho white guys vs. effeminate Orientals. Yet aside from the fact that Spartans come across as pinched, pinheaded gym bunnies, it's their flesh the movie worships. Not since Beau Travail has a phalanx of meatheads received such insistent ogling. As for the threat to peace, freedom and democracy, that filthy Persian orgy looks way more fun than sitting around watching Spartans mope while their angry children slap each other around. At once homophobic and homoerotic, 300 is finally, and hilariously, just hysterical.

Huffing and puffing to resuscitate a long-moribund genre, James Mangold manages to imbue a fifty-year-old Western with the semblance of life. Mangold's remake of 3:10 to Yuma isn't as startling a resurrection job as his Johnny Cash biopic, but it does send a saddlebag full of Western tropes skittering into the 21st century.

The original 3:10 to Yuma — newly remastered for DVD in conjunction with the remake — was an "adult" Western, shot in black and white with a pair of second-tier stars, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, as the charismatic outlaw and the beleaguered cattle rancher reincarnated in the remake by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Suspense trumped violence and chin music rivaled fisticuffs (much of the movie was confined to a single hotel room) as the rancher, not altogether willingly, assumed responsibility for ensuring that the outlaw boarded the train to the federal pen at Yuma.

Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma had an obvious kinship to High Noon, which appeared five years earlier. In both, a lone citizen is pitted against an insouciant criminal (and his gang), as well as confounded by a social order too craven to defend itself: The various moral issues are subsumed in the eleventh commandment that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. If 3:10 to Yuma lacked High Noon's stripped-down drama, it strove for additional psychological complexity in contrasting two American types: the stolid working-stiff everyman and the charming hipster sociopath. In one of its most resonant bits, Yuma juxtaposes Heflin's dutiful marriage with Ford's passionate seduction of a lonely barmaid.

Mangold sticks close to Delmer Daves's 1957 version, but given an extra half-hour in which to play, he opens up the original scenario to include a run-in with hostile Apaches and an interlude involving the construction of the train tracks. The railroad, as personified by corporate official Dallas Roberts, is the real villain, indifferent to anything other than property value. "Notice he didn't mention all the lives I've taken," Crowe remarks when he is first arrested and Roberts recites the litany of his crimes. Crowe's second-in-command (vividly played by Ben Foster) may be a sadistic nut job, but Crowe is a courtly gent with the soul of an artist. (Also the chops, as evinced by his post-coital sketch of the barmaid's naked back.) When a captor insults his mother, he chalks his vengeance up to chivalry: "Even bad men love their mamas."

Back in the day, America used the Western to ponder certain things — among them, the nature of right and wrong and the basis of the social contract. Mangold's movie is certainly louder in its ruminations than Daves's. Like, how does a man get to be a man? The key conflict isn't even between Bale and Crowe, but between the ineffectual rancher — who is not only hobbled by debt, but also by a leg wound suffered as a Union infantryman — and his fourteen-year-old son (Logan Lerman). All it takes is one look at Dad's floppy hat, compared to Crowe's stiff-brimmed derby, to grasp the depth of the son's shame.

Mangold is always willing to crank up the volume — and not just in his use of Freudian symbols. The opening stagecoach robbery is mega-ballistic: The coach has a Gatling gun, and a shotgun fired by one of Crowe's gang packs a bazooka's incendiary wallop. The ongoing body count dwarfs that of the original; the townspeople here are an even scurvier lot. The climactic final shootout unfolds in a virtual war zone — which is not inapt, actually, in view of Bale's revelation regarding the origin of his wound.

Even blown up out of proportion, this story still works. What's lost in Mangold's rough-hewn exercise in barroom-brawl baroque is the original one-on-one. Much of the original consists of the outlaw testing and tempting his captors, the rancher in particular; by distributing Bale's burden among the other characters and emphasizing Crowe's physical prowess over his mental craftiness, Mangold weakens the tale's moral structure. The original's argument becomes purely situational here; per the dictates of contemporary ADD entertainment, moral judgment is always in the moment.

For all his heavy lifting, Mangold can be a sensitive director of actors — or at least a skillful one, having coaxed Oscar-winning performances out of kewpie dolls Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) and Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted). Crowe may be overly familiar as the charming outlaw — it's a straightforward turn, without the crooked smile or shifty menace that Ford brought to the part — but here, even more than in Rescue Dawn, Bale makes a credibly determined action hero, with Lerman notably unself-conscious as his angry son.

The movie's best performance, however, belongs to Peter Fonda. Tough, terrific, and totally unrecognizable as a bounty hunter, this cantankerous old hippie is so leathery he deserves his own line of rawhide apparel. Maybe, if the Western ever does come back, he'll get a movie of his own.

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