Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Walls Come Tumbling Down

So much to say, so much to reflect on.  All that coming soon.  In the meantime, I put together a little video to document my last days in my studio on Governors Island. Sigh.

Click here to watch it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This Weekend on Governors Island


My Governors Island residency is coming to a close, so this weekend is your last chance to visit me in my studio and see LOOKING FOR LEPKE in's photos from the first event in May. [This time around, you'll also get to sample some of the film that I've been editing together.]

Ferries to Governors Island are free and depart regularly from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Visit for ferry schedules and directions to the pier. And for more information about me and my fellow artists, please visit

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Came, I Saw, I Did a Little Research

Okay, I am an utter, dyed-in-the-wool, unrepentant geek. There, I said it. Now I'm gonna tell you why (or at least one of the reasons, anyway). I love libraries - always have, always will (and please, let them live forever! Digital schmigital!) Even as a kid, I spent hours walking around in the stacks, sifting through the books in their taut plastic coatings, flipping through the card catalogs (I just recently unearthed an old Ramones record I apparently never returned ... oops!) But I digress ... The National Archives is way up there on the geeky-library-lover's list, and yet I'd never been there, at least not until last Monday.

I was in the DC area for the world premiere of my new short film WATER so I couldn't resist the opportunity to hang out an extra day and dig in to some serious Lepke history. I was so excited about the prospect of the day, that even after five days of frolicking fun at the SilverDocs Film Festival, I man
ged to get myself to the College Park facility at 8:30am just as they were literally opening their doors. I got my official researcher's card, filled my "nothing-allowed-inside-that-doesn't-go-on-this-cart" cart with all ilks of camera and sound equipment, grabbed my ambitious printout of 60 films I wanted to review, and headed for fun and adventure on the Motion Picture floor.
This is where I
subsequently spent a celluloid-soaked 8 hours on my old friend the Steenbeck and his buddy the 3/4" Umatic deck, sifting through all sorts of newsreel footage from the 1930s and 1940s, sporting the requisite white cotton gloves. I found some gems depicting the beginning of WW2, the Dewey-FDR showdown, and of course the proclamation of the end of Lepke, ultimately getting through only a handful of the 60 films I wanted to, but hey, that's not bad for a novice. Never made it to the floor with the photos, nor the extensive textual collection, but left there satisfied with the beginnings of accomplishment.

The day was awesome, overwhelming and definitely addictive. I will definitely be found sifting through history on the media-soaked fourth floor of NARA some day very soon. But next stop, New York's Municipal Archives. YUM!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Dust Settles

Well, that was fun! Thanks to the over 1,500 people who turned out for our Open Studios event last weekend! It was a lot of fun, and my laryngitis was never so well-earned. We even had a special appearance by one of "the band" - Charlie "The Bug" Workman's great great nephew (or something like that) stopped by for a visit, and everyone was pretty quick to notice a more than fleeting resemblance between him and his notorious kin. There were a plethora of fedora-wearers in the house who stopped by for a photo with the life-size Lepke hanging in the middle of my space. And even my mother stopped by for a peek at what I'm up to. If you missed the festivities (or were right in the throes of 'em) please check out the Looking For Lepke webpage with photo highlights. And here's a little collage that my uber-talented friend Craig was inspired to create...

And so back to work....the heat has broken and there's been a delicious breeze and perfect sunshine on the island all week, which has been less than inspirational for studio work, but great for exploratory walks. Yet the show must go on and work I have. Spent the better part of the week getting into the latest theories on the subject of psychopaths and the nature-nurture question, and have reached out to a few of the leading researchers in the field. Should be meeting one of them this weekend!

I also had a much-postponed but greatly
anticipated first Skype conversation with the other member of my new "band", that is Gurrah Shapiro's great nephew. We had a lot of fun comparing notes, which were surprisingly similar when it came to family cover-ups of our sordid relations. Here he is peeking out from his initial disguise as his "Uncle Jack". It was the start of a beautiful friendship, though it left me with very profound thoughts about how what goes around come around. Not that we're gonna be following in our ancestors' footsteps, but just how worlds collide over and over again...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Open Studio Event May 28-29

Now's your first chance to visit me in my studio and see LOOKING FOR LEPKE in progress....

AY 29 12-5PM

Ferries to Governors Island are free and depart regularly from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Visit for ferry schedules and directions to the pier.
And for more information about me and my fellow artists, please visit

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm Getting The Band Back Together

About a year ago, after knowing my friend and fellow filmmaker JW for a while, the conversation came around to my plans to make a film about Lepke. So it turns out that JW's father's great uncle was Charlie "The Bug" Workman, one of Lepke's hitmen - in fact, the one who rubbed out Dutch Schultz at the Palace Chop House in Newark. JW's been trying to find a relative of his that'll talk to me about it ever since - same same.

So then over the weekend, I get an email from SS, the great nephew of Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro. Lepke and Shapiro met as teenagers doing petty street crimes together, and only prison separated them. 

It was Gurrah who pushed Lepke to kill Dewey when he had the chance.And when Dewey got Lepke's racketeering charges upped to murder, it was Gurrah who sent Lepke a note from his own Atlanta jail cell with the age-old words "I told you so."

Looks like the band is getting back together. What have I started here?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


So the seated bearded gentleman in this photo is believed to be Lepke's father Barnett (potentially at this point my great grandfather's brother, though I'm still working on that - the geneological tables keep turning!) The others in the photo are Lepke's half-siblings. It was apparently taken by a matchmaker after the death of Barnett's first wife as he looked for his second - Lepke's mother would eventually be his third! Thank you to my "new" cousin, Joe Ross, for the link!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

When I began thinking about my approach to my film about Lepke, I knew I wanted to avoid a historical timeline/narrative that would force me into a defined point of view on my subject. Positing an identity, motive or even basic biographical trajectory onto someone - even in hindsight - is much more elusive business than that. People are not one thing, and their story isn't either. I wanted to make a film in which I would push Lepke through a prism, and then deal with the multiplicity that comes out the other end. To do that, I've begun formulating a series of vignettes, which though freeing me from the constraints of traditional narrative, is simultaneously forcing me to find an alternate "glue" for the piece. At least that's how it works for me.

I like puns - if you know any of my previous work, that's pretty evident. So early on, I latched onto Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird" as my conceit for the vignettes - okay, 13 of 'em, and make 'em about a black sheep. That was pretty much as far as I thought I'd take it, until I found myself a little "stuck" .... I've been staring at these walls for a month now - posting, pinning, taping, moving bits of paper around on them trying to find my way in and not getting there. Well, to be fair, I'd gotten to about #6, but it still wasn't making much sense.
So today, I went back to the source, looking for inspiration. I printed out the poem, read each stanza. Just as Stevens contemplated his blackbird, I thought upon my black sheep. And low and behold -glue! With all deference and respect (and gratitude) due to Stevens' great (and completely otherly-intentioned) work, here I sit - 13 numbers assigned on 13 themes for 13 vignettes. Today folks, 13 is a LUCKY number! And that's what we're all about here, subverting the obvious!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shaking the Family Tree

The truth is, I was never that into researching my family tree, discovering old ancestors, finding my roots, all that. But this project dictates that I be in hot pursuit of that Ur-Buchalter who connects my grandfather to Lepke. So this week, I opened an account on one of those online family tree sites (more details when they accept my sponsorship proposal - wink) and sat down to a task I wasn't really all that interested in.

Except that....I'M HOOKED! I haven't had so much fun since we were taught genetic charts in 9th grade Biology. [I loved those "will the baby have brown eyes or blue?" exercises so much that I even thought I wanted to be a geneticist for a while - well, until Chemistry 101 in college, truth be told.] Okay, so you put in your beloved ancestor's name, and up pops all these documents and snippets of proof of their existence at various moments in history. Which leads you to the next one down the line, and the next one, and the next one. This one moved from here to here, and has now taken in so-and-so. It's an incredible interactive puzzle - and I'm on to you, Ur-Buchalter! Oh, and if anyone knows of a great genealogist specializing in Russia, lemme know....

PS. It was an incredibly beautiful day here on Governors Island (Spring is in the air!). After a pot-luck lunch with fellow artists, we were treated to a tour of the island by a National Park Ranger. I recorded the whole thing, so ROOM/TONE #2 - my next in a series of sound collage documentaries - is officially on its way. I may even have found a spot to install it.....oooooooh yummy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Organizing Crime

You may have noticed from previous photos that I initially set up the studio with my desk facing the wall. What was I thinking?! So today I did a little space re-org, opening up my vista onto the beautiful stretch of water between me and lower Manhattan, and opening up a whole new wall to hang stuff on (even better!) Set up my new computer, generously donated by my long-time supporter at Murphy Louise Enterprises, and got back into action.

:+) <--(me, now - despite the dreary yet ominous grey clouds over the big island)

I played the numbers game today - that is, I printed off numbers 1-13 (as in "ways of looking at a black sheep") and began assigning them to the various clusters of photos/articles/comics/post-its/etc I've been hanging on the walls. Beginning to identify various themes/stories/concepts that will slowly but surely become the thirteen vignettes of this film. (Hmm, it's so much clearer when you see it.....and mark your calendar for an Open Studio Event on Memorial Day weekend!)

On the way home, I went down the stairs at the subway station just as five police officers carrying automatic rifles and done up to the neck in bullet-proofing came barreling down the opposite stairs. For a split second, I honestly thought they were coming for me. Seriously, as in I sort of subconsciously and instantaneously assessed whether I had just been involved in something criminal. Like guilt by association - with the dead???! Can you surround yourself with criminals - even on paper - without it rubbing off? Guess I'll find out....

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lepke Executed!

I hustled to make the 8:15 ferry this morning - a bright start to the day, and I was excited to be early to the island. Fewer schoolkids on the ferry than last time, and the peculiarity and privilege of this experience hit me harder because of it. I am reminded of when I first got a bike in New York and began riding along the river-edge bike path - revealing a new perspective on the city, and making me feel that after so many years living here, it was actually new again. And so it is brand new again.

Worked diligently this morning hanging photos and family trees and comic book pages on the walls. Also found these fantastic decal sheets yesterday and made a little vertical window map of the most important of Lepke's haunts around the city. The panoramic view out my studio windows gives me a look-out over everything from his birthplace on the Lower East Side, to his stomping grounds in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to the site of Dutch Schulz's demise at the Palace Chop House in Newark, NJ.

The three-dimensionality of the space is amazing - I've had these materials in binders and boxes for a long time, but walking around among them makes me feel like part crack reporter (I've got to work on my wise-guy radio voice), part fugitive hunter (true-crime tv producing finally pays off!). I may have to wear a fedora while I'm in here....

PS - On this date in 1944, Lepke was executed at Sing-Sing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the Beginning....

Today it officially begins - a documentary project that I have contemplated and kicked around for a good 15 years but never quite found my way into....until now. I'm sitting here in my new LMCC Swing Space studio on Governors Island, where I'll spend the next five months filling the walls (and my mind) with the architecture of a project about my grandfather's notorious cousin Lepke. It will be a journey, a process, a search. I'll keep you posted here on how it's where we begin....