Monday, June 30, 2003

Yesterday I took a long intermission from Aoyama Shinji's nearly 4-hour long film Eureka (a beautifully shot murder-mystery, in spectral sepia) in order to attend a reading at Beyond Baroque. Jen Hofer started the night off by throwing abstract javelins at the audience. Naomi Uman's film Hand Eye Coordination followed. Unfortunately, the projector sound went out during the last minute and a half of the film. Naomi was understandably unwilling to screen two new recently completed shorts without sound, but we sulked and bleated anyway until Garrett approached the podium. I found "Stay With Me", a poem from his book Some Mantic Daemons, particularly moving. He said that it was written after the death by overdose of a long lost friend. I also had an old friend die on me, though under much more mysterious circumstances. Unseen for many years, even by his own family, his remains were discovered deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The manner of his death was ruled inconclusive. When someone close to you dies it's always terrible, but when you haven't seen that someone for many years the grief becomes almost like a haunting. I think about him often, and I think about other friends unknown to me for years, and though I know I will never see him again, I wouldn't be surprised if I ran into him at a gas station in my hometown. His absence makes me feel old. Garrett's poem ends:

It's September, late September and everything
has changed though I in my body and the same
feeling runs through and through like blood
in a heart, bile in a spleen, beauty
in an ideal when it makes itself appear

as the symptom of an imitation
carried out by adults which, unlike that of children,
does not spare the spectators the most painful experiences
and can yet be felt by them as highly enjoyable.
Beyond that, dust alone exists.
Please leave a message.

I tried to write something about my friend after he died but it was not as eloquent as this. Maybe I'll try again some day. After Garrett's reading, Simone Forti read from her new book. I know her primarily as a dancer (though admittedly not very well -- I think she was involved with the Judson Dance Theater during the 1960s). Many of her poems explicitly addressed the post-9/11 situation. In one piece she conversed with her late father, a practical and perhaps conservative man, about the excesses of our current administration. Another ghostly conversation that made me feel old in the reading room.
Speaking of road movies and David Lynch, has anyone ever seen a television movie from the 1970s called Pray for the Wildcats? Check out this cast: Andy Griffith, Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, and Robert Reed. Andy Griffith plays a businessman who tries to coax Captain Kirk and Mike Brady to travel with him by dirt-bike down to Baja California. Someone on the Internet Movie Database describes it as Blue Velvet made by someone with no talent. I've only seen half of it, and I can affirm that this is one freaky flick.
I too was moved by The Straight Story, but a different emotion kept me from fully drowning in tears. Bafflement. I had come to expect a certain amount of eccentricity when viewing David Lynch's films -- dancing dwarves, severed ears, transmigrations of souls -- so to see a "straight" narrative where I expected a "slant" was perplexing. Rated G! Walt Disney Productions! In a way, The Straight Story is a better example of Lynch's practice of ostranenie than his more typically "strange" films because he upsets our expectations of what a David Lynch film can be.
Ernesto made a list of his favorite Desert Island Road Movies. To his list I would add:

Rubin and Ed
Hawks and Sparrows
Zabriskie Point
Fando and Lis
Wild at Heart
Two Lane Blacktop
Roadside Prophets
Bonnie & Clyde
The Road Warrior
National Lampoon's Vacation
Fellini's Satyricon

Some of these may not officially be road movies, but there's lots of wandering going on.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

I'm a scary masked clown, according to Limetree. Don't you believe what Chaucer said, below?
He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Busy upcoming weekend here in Los Angeles: a Pasolini film festival at the American Cinematheque (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom) and a Buñuel festival at LACMA (Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and That Obscure Object of Desire). Interestingly, both festivals are focusing on the later works of these auteurs. On Sunday, Jen Hofer, Garrett Kalleberg, and Simone Forti are reading at Beyond Baroque, along with the screening of short films by Naomi Uman. If you haven't seen Naomi's Hand Eye Coordination, I urge you to do so. It's truly a "hand-made" film. In what must have been a laborious process, Naomi scratched, stitched, and painted each frame of the 10 minute film, and combined original and found footage to create a witty meditation on vision and materialism. Lots o' hands, big hands, little hands, middle hands, fiddle hands.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

My housemate has on several occasions described lines of poetry (or prose sentences) as "sexy". I have always wondered what made sentences sexy rather than merely well-written: must you envy the sentence? Must you wish you had written the sentence or must the sentence be endlessly compelling? To my delight, I came across a reference to "sexy sentences" in Barthes by Barthes:

Different from secondary sexuality, the sexiness of a body (which is not its beauty) inheres in the fact that it is possible to discern (to fantasize) in it the erotic practice to which one subjects it in thought (I conceive of this particular practice, specifically, and of no other). Similarly, distinguished within the text, one might say that there are sexy sentences: disturbing by their very isolation, as if they possessed the promise which is made to us, the readers, by a linguistic practice, as if we were to seek them out by virtue of a pleasure which knows what it wants.
Pacific Grove is an early 21st century version of Proust's Balbec. Seaside Victorian homes, bed n' breakfast hotels, overpriced restaurants . . . granted, Balbec is much more than that, but this place was so unbearably clean that I longed for my little L.A. street with its graffiti and abandoned furniture. There were, however, a few interesting things to be found there:

A monkey puzzle tree, so-called because it's so prickly monkeys can't figure out how to climb it. I just love that name. Monkey Puzzle Tree.

A man who walks his cat every day on a leash -- not quite a lobster but still not a dog.

A man in his mid-50s who still lives with his mother. Every day she would watch him off to work. In the evening she would stand at the window a few minutes before he returned home. Their home was directly across the street from the house I was staying in. My stepdad took to calling him "Norman Bates," but they just seemed sweet to me.

At least I was able to make it over to Santa Cruz which has two of the best bookstores in the world, Logos and the Literary Guillotine.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun." -- Raymond Chandler

I have a coat and a hat. Don't want a gun, a drink, life insurance, or a home in the country. What I do need is a vacation. The beach awaits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I made Nick Piombino's Hot List! And after only a few days of blogging! Thanks Nick. I didn't expect to have visitors to this blog so quickly. I'm still getting the hang of this, trying to find a form.
Ernesto is so touching.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Jia is a member of China's Sixth Generation of filmmakers. Other directors in this group include Wang Xiaoshuai (So Close to Paradise, Beijing Bicycle), Zhang Yuan (Beijing Bastards, Sons), He Jianjun (Postman), and Ning Ying (On the Beat, Railroad of Hope). Anyone seeking new cinema from China would do well to start here. Unknown Pleasures played at the Los Angeles Film Festival. A hive of mad bees somehow developed in the theater courtyard before the show. Hollywood-types hung out at the bar while a beekeeper ran in circles trying to gather the bees with some sort of smoke tool. After the screening the bees were gone but you could still smell the smoke.
Unknown Pleasures, a film by Jia Zhang Ke: Motorcycle libretto. Mongolian King Liquor Troop. The women of the valley are all tigresses. [On April 1, 2001 an American reconnaissance craft collided with a Chinese fighter jet. The U.S. plane was forced to land in the People’s Republic of China. The widow of one of the Chinese pilots expressed hope that President Bush might apologize for the incident.] Monkey King doesn’t give a shit about the WTO. Falun Gong afire. The birth control generation. I follow the wind, trading rabbits. Nuclear reactivate. Ochre rodeo. Textile terror. Can you trust science, Zhuangzi?

Monday, June 16, 2003

The Apes and Go Go Go Airheart at Spaceland: I hadn't seen Go Go Go Airheart in several years, perhaps five or more. The last time I saw them was at an old fashioned movie palace in Santa Cruz. The college-age managers used to put on secret after-hours shows in the main theater. They would project whatever movie happened to be showing at the time (without the soundtrack) while the bands played on the stage in front of the screen, sort of a lo-fi Exploding Plastic Inevitable (or perhaps hi-fi, given the superior projection equipment). I remember Go Go Go Airheart playing in front of the Minnessotta snow of the Coen Brothers' Fargo. Every once in a while the music would miraculously sync with the image -- a wall of feedback would squeal as Francis McDormand discovered a body, or the film's editing would match the rythm section almost exactly. Last night they played only a few songs. It just wasn't the same. The Apes are a primitive rock band, as their name implies. The singer is annoying. He looks like Eric Stoltz channeling Jim Morrison.

Earlier in the day I went to this old style deli called Galco's to get this amazingly spicy ginger ale they sell there. On the way out I noticed a display of cider. The proprietor noticed me noticing the cider and said that this particular cider was from the oldest continuously operating ciderhouse in the United States, in San Francisco. Then he said that 5000 ships from the 19th century were still docked in the harbor, untouched, because the sailors wouldn't set sail after tasting the cider.
Reading Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Reader's Block by David Markson, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said, Sculpting in Time by Andrey Tarkovsky, the screenplay of Journeys from Berlin/1971 by Yvonne Rainer, and Paris Hollywood by Peter Wollen. Reading several books at once is a habit I've continued since college. In high school I was a one-book-at-a-time boy. My girlfriend's dad thinks I'm crazy. "How can you keep everything straight?" I think he's the crazy one: how could I possibly confuse Said with Barthes, or Markson with Hamsun? I suppose, hypothetically, if I were reading two Raymond Chandler novels interchangeably I might get the story lines confused. And Jane Austen's plots tend to bleed together somewhere in my memory. But generally I have no problem reading a chapter or two of a novel, jumping to an essay, then to another novel or a poem or two. I should have asked him if he gets Seinfeld confused with the Simpson's and the NBA Finals when he's switching the channels back and forth (which is unfair, he actually does read alot). Perhaps comparing visual and print media is a false analogy -- in my unscientific experience people tend to recall images more clearly than words. But that also varies from person to person -- ah, so many variables.

So then I began to think, and then I began to worry -- in addition to reading books, I spend several hours a day on the internet reading blogs, articles, news, commentaries, reviews, essays . . . Information glut? No, I should relax. Only a complete idiot would merge the Baath Party with al-Qaeda. Excuse me Mr. President.

And I don't read novels and poetry primarily for information. Yet David Markson's novel is so allusive that I've been forced to Google at least 4 or 5 sentences per page. Ron Silliman wrote about another Markson novel a few months ago, which I think must be similarly structured. Basically, each page is composed of names, unattributed quatations, and literary facts. For instance:

Ben Richards

The Aspern Papers

Juana de Asbaje was illegitimate

Hardy may have had an illegitimate son by a cousin named Tryphena Sparks.

The Sangreal. And/or Sangrail.

Dost know this water fly?

So if you don't happen to know who Juana de Asbaje was, or don't remember that particular line from Hamlet (perhaps I would have recalled it if I'd seen one of the movies, ha) you can type it into a search engine and find out. Almost every quote I didn't recognize turned up on the internet. Now if I could only read every book he quotes from . . .

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Maybe I was anticipating horror in Vendredi Soir because Denis' last film, Trouble Every Day (which, by the way, was terrible) was saturated with it. Several scenes were difficult to sit through, and not only because of the presence of Vincent Gallo.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Vendredi Soir, un film de Claire Denis: House hats, city nights, city lights. Capital of the 19th century. Movin’ on out. Packing up the library. Yes, she is. Mild boredom of order. Chaos of memories. Renewing an old world. A wide highway, but not a comfortable one. Traffic jams, transit strikes. Love thy neighbor. Lock your doors. Unlock your doors. Hit the brakes. Hammy radio. Would you like a ride? No thanks, I’ll walk. Come on in. I’m late for the baby. Nap time. Warm leatherette. Keyhole dreams. Boy’s back home. "Our House". Is this guy for real? Cut throat? Phone call. French kicks. Freedom ride. Coffee. Condoms. Jealousy. Empty hotels. Pinball follies. Fancy-pants. Mystic pizza. Meek sex. Just another Dielman? Will she kill him? Kill herself? Knives, ashtrays, heaters, magic lamps. Thriller? Romance? Moods?* Jean, Jean, are you awake? Then run into the streets. 400 Blows. Go see it.

*Denis plays with narrative conventions here like silly putty. Several people who screened this film with me felt it was a Wong Kar-waiesque love opera. I thought it was threatening to explode into violence until the final frame – constantly delaying the narrative payoff (and thank god for that! Narrative payoff would have killed this film). I suppose it reveals itself as a love opera after the fact. Or maybe I had too much coffee.