Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Two Spocks

We already had reservations to attend another event when I read in the newspaper that Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in last year’s Star Trek movie, was going to interview the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, about his latest photography project, "Secret Selves," at the Hammer Museum.  I emailed Tim immediately to say there had been a sudden change of plans.  He told me to go have fun.

Located in Westwood a few blocks from campus, the Hammer is one of UCLA’s many museums/galleries.  The outside is very imposing—a big concrete, steel and glass box that seems impenetrable.  But inside, the box opens to the sky as the exterior of the building surrounds a lovely open-air atrium with trees and a small cafe.  To me, the space has always seemed more like something you’d find in NYC than Los Angeles.

The event was free, so I left almost two hours early in anticipation of a big crowd.  Sure enough, there were about 100 people in line by the time I got there.  Still, I got an excellent seat—one of the advantages of going to these types of things alone.  I had plenty of time to observe the audience, many of whom wore Star Trek regalia, including jackets, t-shirts and one woman attired in a full 24th-century star fleet uniform—completely inappropriate, I thought, for a program about Nimoy’s artwork.

Nimoy was introduced shortly after 7PM and commenced explaining his artistic process.  Seems he recently became interested in the Greek notion of humans once having four arms, four legs and two heads, until Zeus split them in half, forcing us to constantly search for our other selves.  Wondering what this might look like photographically, he asked the R. Michelson gallery, where most of his art is exhibited, to find 100 people who’d be willing to reveal their “secret selves” to his camera.  Nimoy then showed us a 40-minute film of his sessions with 25 of these people.

To say that these were deeply intimate encounters with folks who have fascinating and—sometimes very touching—alternate lives would be a huge understatement.  The film opened with a children’s book illustrator, standing in his underwear, holding an electric guitar.  His fantasy self: to be a rock star.  Others included the former Junior League president who was physically and mentally abused by her husband (she appears wearing boxing gloves in her photo), a graphic designer who is portrayed as an angel, a transvestite who wants to be Rita Hayworth, and a sailor who sees himself as Superman.  (Click here to view all 25 photos, plus clips from the film). It must have taken great courage for these people to participate in this project. The audience laughed many times throughout the short film, but Nimoy never once acted as if his subjects were strange or ridiculous.

After the screening, Nimoy reemerged alongside Zach Quinto as the two started chatting like old friends.  They talked about acting and the secrets performers create about the characters they’re depicting.  They also talked about Spock and the sometimes unwanted celebrity he has brought them.  (Nimoy had famously said to Quinto, "I do hope you know what you're getting into," when the younger man agreed to play Spock in last year's movie.)  It was really quite wonderful listening to two such popular actors discuss their craft candidly and so intelligently.

I highly recommend watching the podcast of their conversation, which will eventually be posted on the Hammer website, but be sure to stop once the Q&A is opened up to the audience.  A trekkie myself, of course, I tend to be very tolerant of fan questions; but even by my lax standards these were far more idiotic than usual (e.g., “How do you both feel when you see yourselves as action figures?”).  Ugh!

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