Thursday, November 20, 2003

Gordon Onslow Ford, the last of the Paris Surrealists, has died.
I wish I had more time to write about the events I’ve attended over the last few weeks. I should have mentioned a trip to San Diego where Manny Farber presented Pickup on South Street by Samuel Fuller and asked us to consider the clean economy of the camera shots; or a reading by Jordan Davis, Christopher Edgar, and Sarah Manguso at Dawson’s Books, where Horatio Hornblower and the man-on-the-moon met in an all-consuming battle of the text (it was a draw); or Delphine Gleize’s debut feature Carnage, which, while overwrought at times, melds Buñuel, Altman, and Almodóvar into a sturdy pig-iron bed frame (good for dreaming); or Gregorio Rocha’s The Lost Reels of Pancho Villa, a documentary film that proves, among other things, that film really does change history (and history is changed by the manipulation of film); or Agnès Varda, who presented her films Le Lion Volatil and Jacquot de Nantes at the American Cinematheque. The first follows up on André Breton’s dare to throw a bone at the Lion de Belfort statue at the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris, and the second imagines Jaques Demy’s childhood as a happy breeding ground for his later films, Bay of Angels, Lola, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Young Girls of Rochefort, Donkey Skin, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, etc. Varda, who completed Jacquot de Nantes in the aftermath of her husband Demy’s death, described her time spent editing the film as the work of mourning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Vidal has been throwing around this quotation by Benjamin Franklin, made during a speech at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, September 17, 1787:

In these moments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, -- if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
Gore Vidal, when asked last night by an exasperated Charlie Rose if there was anything in contemporary America worth loving: "!" I have more faith in some of our artists, if not in our government.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I've been meaning to mention Thomas Andersen, whose wonderful new film Los Angeles Plays Itself recently screened at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Los Angeles Plays Itself is an essay-film composed of clips from other Hollywood and independent films. Original narration accompanies the clips. "Movies bury their traces," Andersen writes, "choosing for us what to watch, then moving on to something else. They do the work of our voluntary attention, and so we must suppress that faculty as we watch. Our involuntary attention must come to the fore. But what if we watch with our voluntary attention, instead of letting the movies direct us? If we can appreciate documentaries for their dramatic qualities, perhaps we can appreciate fiction films for their documentary revelations." For citizens of Los Angeles, indeed for anyone interested in Los Angeles as background, character, or subject (as Andersen has it), this film is a real treat. Throughout, Andersen investigates fictional films that are about or set in Los Angeles. He shows us how history is erased or reconfigured in these films, how the city's modern architecture is bastardized, and how entire sections of the city are ignored. The LA Weekly recently printed an article by Scott Foundas on the film and Thom Andersen's work.

As corollary, Los Angeles Plays Itself hipped me to a whole school of African-American filmmakers of which I was previously unaware. Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, and Billy Woodberry all made (what look to be from the clips) interesting films during the 70s and 80s, and continue to do so. I'm keeping an eye out for screenings of any of their films. I think I'll start with Bless Their Little Hearts, directed by Billy Woodberry and written by Charles Burnett, which is playing next week at the Independent Los Angeles Film Festival.
A new film journal, Rouge, co-edited by Helen Bandis, Grant McDonald, and Adrian Martin, looks very promising.

"Every three months, ROUGE takes an in-depth look at the links between cinema and other arts. Our emphasis is on developing a creative approach to cinema through texts that are as poetic as they are analytical," writes co-editor Adrian Martin. "Contents of ROUGE 1 include: an exclusive text by master Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien on new directions in Asian cinema; Yvette Biro on Tsai Ming-liang; fictocriticism by American director Mark Rappaport; LA VIE NOUVELLE Philippe Grandrieux in conversation with Nicole Brenez; and Arab film and video by Jayce Salloum. Also: tributes to Brakhage and Pialat; painter Gerard Fromanger on meetin' JLG; and a translation of Serge Daney on Philippe Garrel." The next issue in January will be a Raoul Ruiz special.

From OpenDemocracy, filmmaker Ousmane Sembène writes about African cinema. And a feature on Nigerian writer Helon Habila, whose novel Waiting for an Angel won the Caine Prize for African Writing.

Monday, November 10, 2003

I attended the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival this weekend at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. The lineup was pretty much half young'ns and half geezers. Of the geezers, Iggy and the Stooges, James Chance and the Contortions, and Sonic Youth were the best. Of the young'ns, Deerhoof and the Danielson Famile ruled the roost. Cat Power's set was marred by a fire alarm that would not turn off. Daniel Johnston missed his flight so he played later at night while I was watching Sonic Youth. The Magic Band were okay, but there wasn't much magic without Beefheart. James Chance looked like Lon Cheney. Real late night monster movie stuff going on with that guy. The Mars Volta were bombastic classic rock. All their fans looked just like them, with giant afros and tight jeans. Terry Riley was a sad soft-jazz imatation of himself. No disrespect, though. I love In C. But the Stooges were definitely the highlight. Iggy danced his seizure dance, and a skinny Mike Watt filled in on bass. All in all, a pretty good time.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Vert Magazine has published an interesting e-mail exchange between several poets on the topic of “the bad” (as in bad poetry, bad art, bad film, etc). Coincidentally, while I was reading the exchange, a friend sent me a link to the blog Stone, which has a list of the Worst Album Covers Ever. My vote is for Let Me Touch Him.
Elia Suleiman, whose film Divine Intervention was not allowed to compete at the Oscars because it is Palestinian (Palestine is not an official state, said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) recalls meeting Edward Said.