Tuesday, December 21, 2004

And then, less than a week later, I come across this passage in George Albon's Brief Capital of Disturbances.

INTERVIEWER: You were saying earlier that the inspiration comes from--

AGNES MARTIN: --your mind. It comes from your mind.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Agnes Martin: 1912-2004

Friday, December 03, 2004

This video of Encore by DJ Dangermouse (off the Grey Album) is really worth the download. Ringo on the turntable! John breakdancing!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A friend at work points me to this impending piece of insipid legislation in Alabama:

Gay Book Ban Goal of State Lawmaker

(registration required)

An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.
A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."
"Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," Allen said in a press conference Tuesday.
Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

I should point out that such a law would make illegal the works of Plato, Petronius, Marcel Proust, Andre Gide, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolfe, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Evelyn Waugh, Herman Melville, Jean Genet, E.M. Forster, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, ad infinitum.


As promised, here is a link to the full text version of Slavoj Zizek's Somewhere Over the Rainbow. (via Charlotte Street).

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Even the traffic jams seem longer.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

On the verge of tears. I need some time to digest this.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

I return from digital ethernity on perhaps the most important day of our lives to encourage all citizens of the United States to vote the Bush regime out of office.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

If you're so inclined, sign the letter of protest being sent to the New York Times in objection to the paper's insensitive obituary for Jacques Derrida. A similarly dismissive tone was used by the paper last year for its Edward Said obituary.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Laziness, and a brutal case of the bookworm, prevented me from attending Morgan Fisher’s new film ( ), described in the Film Forum Los Angeles catalog as “a rigorously constructed homage to the unsung building block of narrative film language known as the insert shot.” Ah, the insert shot; according to cybercollege.com, “a close-up of something that exists within the basic scene,” as below.

Don’t know what film these stills were taken from, but they convey the idea. I can only imagine Morgan managed to conjure up something magnificent. Hope it screens again sometime. Also showing was Thom “Los Angeles Plays Itself” Andersen’s --- ------- aka Short Line, Long Line (the first film in the wordless title meme?) which I caught last year, and which parodies rock and roll of the 1966 variety, as well as Eisenstein’s dialectical film montage, if you can believe that. It’s been awhile, but I recall a highly structured film: short shots of various rockers, jazzmen, and 60s scenarios, followed by long shots of the same, growing in length up to the apogee, then turning heel, shortening in length to the end of the whole shebang. But anyway: I did manage to see, Thursday last, a three-and-a-half hour documentary on Henri Langlois, that phantom of the cinematheque, entitled Henri Langlois, the Phantom of the Cinematheque. I was aware of but not versed in Langlois’ essential role in preserving film prints throughout the war (storing canisters in bath tubs and transporting them in baby carriages to hide them from the Nazis) and on through the 1970s. The documentary makes the case for Langlois as a “poet of the archive” who screened films thematically, often intuitively, sometimes strategically. Langlois recalls trading away a Theda Berra film very early in his career, assuming it was meaningless fluff, and not realizing the treasure he briefly held. The Langlois Lesson: hold on to it all, you can never foresee the vagaries of critical reception. I concur hesitantly, if only because I’m suspicious of the nostalgia so many from my generation feel for vintage television commercials (Schoolhouse Rocks, say, or Hey Mikey, He Likes It), nostalgia which often consigns (false) value to such cultural ephemera.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Bernadette Corporation, Get Rid of Yourself, 2002, still from a color digital video, 70 minutes, via Artforum.com


Bennett Simpson, Techniques of Today. Artforum, September 2004. It is the summer of 2001, and the New York– and Paris-based collective known as Bernadette Corporation has temporarily merged with Le Parti Imaginaire, a faction of post-Situationist militants and intellectuals with links to the burgeoning antiglobalization movement. The two groups have their own distinct practices and motivations, but, for the moment, they are united by the idea of making a film, which is to be set in the seaside Italian city of Genoa, amid the protests and stultifying inconclusiveness that will engulf the G8 Summit that July. The film resists knowing what it is or wants to be. And so its makers improvise, exploring what they call the "potential of community based on a radical refusal of political identity." More on Le Parti Imaginaire (in French) and the Bernadette Corporation.

Chris Kraus, Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness. Semiotext(e), 2004. Art and commerce have always been two sides of the same coin and to oppose them would be false. Instead, I am talking about a shift that has taken place during the past ten years in how art objects reach the market, how they are defined and how we read them. The professionalization of art production – congruent with specialization in other post-capitalist industries – has meant that the only art that will ever reach the market now is art that is produced by graduates of art schools. The life of the artist matters very little. What life? The lives of successful younger artists are practically identical.

(note bene: I believe this is changing, slowly. For successful non-MFA artists based in Los Angeles see Animal Charm and Miranda July – though it’s debatable whether these artists are “marketable” or not).

Péter Esterházy, The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (down the Danube). Northwestern University Press, 1999. I once had this mysterious, distant uncle, whom everyone simply called Roberto, as if he were some Italian gigolo. Everyone, that is, except my father, who didn’t call him anything at all: the man’s name ‘never so much as passed his lips’. He wasn’t a blood relation. It was as the husband of a kind of aunt that he briefly became part of the family, joining it at precisely the point where the two sides, maternal and paternal, playfully and fatefully joined hands. A river is always the same river, however many arms it has. More on Péter Esterházy.


Black Spring, Winter 2004.
The Poker, issues 1,2,3 & 4.

Update: Paris’s new slant on Underground movies. A group calling itself La Mexicaine de la Perforation has claimed responsibility for the secret subterranean cinema in the catacombs of Paris, mentioned below. To be fair, until recently very few people did have a clue about La Mexicaine de la Perforation, a clandestine cell of "urban explorers" which claims its mission is to "reclaim and transform disused city spaces for the creation of zones of expression for free and independent art".

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I'm home sick today, but, through bouts of phlegmish coughing, managed to stumble upon this fascinating story in the Guardian. In a secret Paris cavern the real underground cinema.

Police in Paris have discovered a fully equipped cinema-cum-restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern underneath the capital's chic 16th arrondissement. [...] After entering the network through a drain next to the Trocadero, the officers came across a tarpaulin marked: Building site, No access. Behind that, a tunnel held a desk and a closed-circuit TV camera set to automatically record images of anyone passing. The mechanism also triggered a tape of dogs barking, "clearly designed to frighten people off," the spokesman said. Further along, the tunnel opened into a vast 400 sq metre cave some 18m underground, "like an underground amphitheatre, with terraces cut into the rock and chairs". There the police found a full-sized cinema screen, projection equipment, and tapes of a wide variety of films, including 1950s film noir classics and more recent thrillers. None of the films were banned or even offensive, the spokesman said. A smaller cave next door had been turned into an informal restaurant and bar. "There were bottles of whisky and other spirits behind a bar, tables and chairs, a pressure-cooker for making couscous," the spokesman said. [...] Three days later, when the police returned accompanied by experts from the French electricity board to see where the power was coming from, the phone and electricity lines had been cut and a note was lying in the middle of the floor: "Do not," it said, "try to find us."

No word on whether or not they had The Phantom of Liberty (or Phantom of the Paradise) in stock. Link via greg.org via BoingBoing via DMD (amazing how these stories spread).

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

While thousands of Russians gathered today near Red Square to mourn their children killed at Beslan, the U.S. military lost its 1,000th soldier in the war in Iraq. An unknown number of Iraqis have died. According to Aljazeera, the Iraqi city of Falluja was under heavy artillery fire today by U.S. forces, sending families fleeing and causing civilian casualties. Former President Clinton was recovering from heart surgery, the 10-year U.S. deficit was expected to approach $2.3 trillion, and President Bush said: "Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country."

Friday, August 27, 2004

Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall

John Kerry, April 1971 by Elizabeth Peyton

Thursday, August 26, 2004

An article in the LA Weekly, Zealots on Parade, about the protest I mentioned on August 12, gives equal time to the substantial cadre of Bushies in attendance.

Facing north, it was Bush people to the right, anti-Bushes to the left. The veritable standoff had Genevieve Peters beaming. The 41-year-old teacher and Beverly Hills resident founded L.A. for Bush. “It started out with eight people around a table, and it’s grown to hundreds — hundreds and hundreds,” said Peters. Democrats, she explained, “stand for hate and for vengeance and a globalization that has no strength or character or anything that’s for America. America, from the beginning of time, had an identity and culture. And they’re trying to decimate our identity and culture . . . to some melting pot like Europe.”
She added, “Democrats have gone in and said, ‘We’re just all one. Every culture has a place here.’ No! We’re an American culture.”

I didn't detect this sort of anger among the Bushies in attendance , but then again, I didn't talk to any of them. They were grinning like Cheshire cats.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Iraq's (only?) heavy metal band, Acrassicauda (Latin for Black Scorpion) has a little trouble getting gigs.
Check out the trailer for Wes Anderson's new film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Just returned from a huge protest RIGHT NOW outside of my office building. Bush is landing at the Santa Monica Airport right across the street in about an hour. . . several thousand people lining the streets, mostly Kerry supporters and other leftists but some pro-Bush. Some signs: LGBT Equality Now, Billionaires for Bush (in full tuxedos n' top-hats), Palestine Will Be Free: Support the Right of Return, Pink Slip Bush, a drawing of Schwarzenegger squeezing Kerry and yelling "Girlie Man!", Fire the Liar, Occupation Is Not Liberation, Bush: A Weapon of Mass Deception, Free Iran: Bring Back the Shah, Bush Lying Troops Dying, and my favorite, Nuke the Whales for Jesus. A group of teenage anarchists yelling, "No Bush, No Kerry, Revolution is Necessary." This morning I saw Kerry's motorcade pass us going the opposite direction on the freeway (he's speaking at Cal State Dominguez Hills). At least 50 motorcycle and other-vehicled cops, several dark-windowed cars, unmarked vans. They pretty much had the north-bound traffic at a stand-still. Things are revvin' up.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Malevich's Black Square

About a year ago, I made a brief, wry comment concerning the immanent demise of both the social-networking site Friendster.com and the then-popular flash mob trend. I thought the enthusiasm my friends felt for these phenomena was naïve (“revolutionary” was the word most commonly used to describe both trends), and that, given time, we would throw them into the same embarrassing, slightly campy trash bin now reserved for Hands Across America and We Are the World (despite the noble aims of both 80s events – food for the homeless and aid for Africa, respectively – they left a legacy of horrible pop music. Additionally, they traded on the idea of chic activism: we’re holding hands for the homeless, don’t you want to join? Then you can go back home; help Africa, buy this record. Activism as consumption, see John Powers: “Take Michael Moore, for example. Back when he made Bowling for Columbine, one of the weird things was to watch the audience cheer at the end as though they had done something. All they had done was to choose to go see Michael Moore sort-of do something. That is activism as consumption.”). Once you’re connected to one million people through 85 friends on a network that asks you to list your favorite items of cultural consumption, then what? Once you’ve made silly gestures at the Macy’s shoe department with 100 other clued-in people, then what? Now the LA Weekly profiles Friendster and flash-mobs together. In Make New Friends…but beware of Fakesters, Scott Lamb chronicles the fall of Friendster:

I signed up out of curiosity — Dubin was very enthusiastic about the site, but couldn’t really explain what she did with it. At first I did exactly what you’re supposed to do: invite other friends, look for high school classmates, fret over the wording of my profile, and take awkward digital self-portraits in the bathroom mirror. I exchanged messages with people I haven’t spoken to in years, which was both pleasant and awkward. When I ran out of people to look up, I invented profiles for my favorite GI Joe characters (who remain far more popular than I, and have far more interesting profiles).

And then, like a summer fling, it was over. I pretty much stopped using the site after a few months, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing there.

Same here. Exciting: having all your friends (and friends of friends) connected to each other in one virtual space. Frustrating: perpetual potential. It was difficult to find any real use for so many connections. Lamb concludes, “If it’s true that we go online looking for connections that we haven’t made in real life, perhaps the connections themselves can’t bear up under all that weight. Meanings come from relationships, not just connectivity, and Friendster can’t just give you a meaningful relationship.”

Then Alec Hanley Bemis interviews the inventor of flash mobs (“Friendster writ large”) in My Name is Bill…A Q&A with the anonymous founder of flash mobs. “Bill” sees flash mob predecessors in Situationism, Reclaim the Streets, Chengwin, the Madagascar Society, S-A-N-T-A-R-C-H-Y, Spencer Tunick, and Stanley Milgram. Some of his thought is a bit contradictory (“You didn’t have to feel like you were cool. It got a lot of people to do something that was a little punk, and a little oppositional, just because they thought it was a clever idea and they wanted to see what would happen,” and “The events I did in New York had an undercurrent of poking fun at everyone for being such a herd. Most of them had some dimension of obeisance or self-congratulation…The participants would feel that they were cool just for participating”) but it’s interesting to see how “Bill” re-theorizes the project as it evolves. What started as something “a little oppositional”, a “performance project” and a “prank”, turns into a “compelling idea” about “disrupting the flow of people in a city.”

I’ll be honest. When I started I really saw it as a gag that had an artistic dimension at the end. I expressly tried to make the mobs absurd and apolitical — in part because I wanted them to be fun, in part because I didn’t want anyone to see them as disrespectful of protest, or as parody. What I didn’t expect was how many people would see the mobs as political statements…And the more I did them, the more I realized the mobs actually did have a deeply political value. The nature of public space in America today has changed. It’s shopping malls, large chain stores, that kind of thing. The presumption is that you’re going to purchase something, but once you try to express yourself in any other way, suddenly you’re trespassing…At first, I denied any political interpretations, but eventually I became won over to the political power of my own project.

Elsewhere, Slavoj Zizek describes flash-mobs as protest reduced to minimalism:

Is not the ‘postmodern’ politics of resistance precisely permeated with aesthetic phenomena, from body-piercing and cross-dressing to public spectacles? Does not the curious phenomena of ‘flash mobs’ represent aesthetico-political protest at its purest, reduced to its minimal frame? In flash mobs, people show up at an assigned place at a certain time, perform some brief (and usually trivial or ridiculous) acts, and then disperse again – no wonder flash mobs are described as urban poetry with no real purpose. Are these flash mobs not a kind of ‘Malevich of politics’, the political counterpart to the famous ‘black square on white background’, the act of marking a minimal difference? (Zizek, pg. 124, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle)

“Bill” also speaks of the “non-existent” center inherent to flash-mobs: “For example, in the third mob, we lined the banister of this hotel and stared down into the lobby for five minutes. Two hundred people lined this huge, city block-sized balcony, and after five minutes we just applauded. The idea being it was just this crowd of people, but at the center of it was a vacancy.” Doesn’t this image strangely recall the Malevich painting, with the black square as the the non-existent, vacant center of the hotel lobby?

Well, I’m thinking out loud, still sorting out the clues. Question: how does the “non-existent center” relate to Zizek’s “minimal difference”? (Also recall Zizek’s “absent center of political ontology”).

Monday, August 02, 2004

Reading Kevin Killian's wonderful account of the Orono Poetry Conference, I was struck by this passage:

At this point in my notes, which I transcribed from notes I wrote on my jeans, I see that Wallace Stevens somewhere said, "In the face of an overwhelming actuality, consciousness takes the place of the imagination." Was this something J. Hillis Miller shared with me? Or was it someone in the audience at my panel? I wrote the word AIDS next to the quote, thinking, what? That this was the overwhelming actuality that had occurred in my lifetime. Had consciousness then taken the place of the imagination, I can't decide. Sometimes I think yes, sometimes no.

Struck, because only a few hours previously I had coincidentally read the quote Killian kicks around, and it's deucedly different. It appears in Opus Posthumous, a short essay called "Poetry and War":

The immense poetry of war and the poetry of a work of the imagination are two different things. In the presence of the violent reality of war, consciousness takes the place of imagination. And consciousness of an immense war is a consciousness of a fact. If that is true, it follows that the poetry of war as a consciousness of the victories and defeats of nations, is a consciousness of fact. If that is true, it follows that the poetry of war as a consciousness of fact, but of heroic fact, of fact on such a scale that the mere consciousness of it affects the scale of one's thinking and constitutes a participating in the heroic.

It has been easy to say in recent times that everything tends to become real, or, rather, that everything moves in the direction of reality, that is to say, in the direction of fact. We leave fact and come back to it, come back to what we wanted fact to be, not to what it was, not to what it has too often remained. The poetry of a work of the imagination constantly illuminates the fundamental and endless struggle with fact. It goes on everywhere, even in the periods that we call peace. But in war, the desire to move in the direction of fact as we want it to be and to move quickly is overwhelming.

Nothing will ever appease this desire except a consciousness of fact as everyone is at least satisfied to have it be.
(emphasis mine)

Now it may be true that violent reality is an overwhelming actuality, but I find it interesting that Killian would misremember (or mishear, or perhaps it was misreported to him by J. Hillis Miller) the particularity of "the violent reality of war" for the more general (and less threatening sounding) "overwhelming actuality", while "war" goes missing from the quotation altogether, replaced by AIDS, which of course is a different kind of violent reality. But is this the imagination at work?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Note to self: Dan Graham and Rodney Graham are two entirely different people.

Friday, July 23, 2004

An art professor friend of mine is teaching a course on "The Eighties" next quarter and wants to include at least five films. Blade Runner is out because it's over-taught already and apparantly today's college freshmen find it incredibly boring (it lacks any Will Smith-style fistfighting, and most kids don't get the noir references). Derek Jarman's Jubilee is a possibility, but it seems more late 70s than full-on 80s in its references. I suggested that if he really wanted to show an 80s film, he should go with something like Rambo or Top Gun, but he really wants to stick to "paranoiac" 80s films. So with the "paranoiac" in mind we came up with
  • Repo Man
  • Videodrome
  • Blue Velvet
And that's all we could muster. Brazil was mentioned and rejected. If anyone has any ideas, please comment.
Several new albums that I’d like to share with you:
  • The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat. From what I can tell the songs on this album are an extended riff on the Who’s A Quick One While He’s Away, The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, psychedelic singer-songwriting, & the Carpenters. Brother-Sister duo sound nothing like the Hype Strypes. Haven’t heard the first album, hear it’s more bluesy.
  • Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands. A unique voice that requires getting used to, somewhere between Bert Jansch and Billie Holliday. Songs for folk folk.
  • Animal Collective, Tung Songs. The most interesting avant-rock I’ve heard this year. Campfire sing-alongs, beach bum melodies, Julio-down-by-the-schoolyard ethnographies.
  • Deerhoof, Milk Man. The latest in a long line of micro-masterpieces. Precision pop-a-wheelies.
  • Bill Fay, From the Bottom of an Old Grandfather Clock. I heard this in a store in Manhattan and felt compelled to order this import-only record, made in the early 70s. British folk-psychedelia with the Beatles looking over his shoulder. Shouldn’t be good but is.
  • Madvillain, Madvillainy. MF Doom and Madlib doin' it. As my friend Angelica says, “hip-hop for grownups.” S/FJ nails it at the New Yorker, Doom’s Day.
  • Azita, Life on the Fly. An uncanny homage to Steely Dan from the former Scissor Girl. Listen to the track on her website and tell me she's not a Donald Fagen follower.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

There's a great used bookstore near the NuArt Theatre and Cinefile video store in West Los Angeles called Alias which stays open until 11 o’clock every night, a rarity in these parts. I always find something interesting or useful there, the prices are reasonable, and the Scandinavian brothers who run the place are great conversationalists. Recently I’ve been scouring the city for old literary journals (which are not so easy to find; those that read journals don’t often part with them and many used booksellers refuse to buy them) so I was pleased to find a few at Alias last week.

Caterpillar # 12 from July 1970, edited by Clayton Eshleman with a great cover collage by Robin Blaser. Contributors are Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, and Stan Persky.

Barney #1 from 1981, edited by Jack Skelley with cover art by Eric Fisher. Billed “the Modern Stone Age Magazine” the premier issue has contributions from Bob Flanagan, Dennis Cooper, Elaine Equi, Jerome Sala, Benjamin Weissman, Amy Gerstler, Ron Padgett, Michael Silverblatt and others with whom I’m less familiar.

Transition Forty-Eight #1 from January 1948 edited by Georges Duthuit. The object of this journal, according to the editorial statement, is to “assemble for the English-speaking world the best of French art and thought, whatever the style and whatever the application.” The contributors to this issue include Jean-Paul Sartre, Rene Char, Antonin Artaud, and Georges Bataille. The issue begins with rambling post-Surrealist essay by Duthuit called “Sartre’s Last Class”, which begins, “A duel between men of letters, the last perhaps, for we are being watched, gentlemen, and not indulgently!"

Also picked up a Signature anthology of mostly UK writing which includes Samuel Beckett, Eva Figes, Aiden Higgens, and Eugene Ionesco, as well as Donald Barthelme's The Dead Father.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Distressing is one word I would use to describe The Corporation, a new documentary by Jennifer Abbot and Mark Achbar now in distribution. Other words would also begin with the dis prefix, and maybe the mis and mal prefixes as well. To my mind this film was much more effective than Fahrenheit 9/11 (although it’s probably an unfair comparison: Corporation is much broader in its critique than F 9/11, going after capitalism in general rather than Dubya in particular). It’s a meaty film, filled with all kinds of disgusting morsels and piggish maneuvers (for instance, Bechtel Corporation’s attempted privatization of water in Bolivia -- which would have made it illegal for villagers to collect even rain water -- and covert marketing campaigns). I didn’t learn anything new exactly, but the visual and rhetorical force of the film left me swooning. I kept an eye open for mention of any tech companies. Microsoft and Yahoo were mentioned in passing (“aggressive” was the term someone used for the Gates Machine), e-Bay's logo flashed on screen a few times, Xerox and Amazon came in for some ethical violations, there was a segment on the IBM-Nazi link, but there was absolutely no mention of Google. Which brought to mind Google’s motto: “Don’t Be Evil.” I know that many workers at Google take this phrase to heart (and now is the time I should mention I work at Google), but I wonder if it somehow operates as a marketing-tag in addition to a company goal. To what extent has Google successfully branded itself as a non-evil corporation? Can a company live up to its ideals if its ideals have become ad copy?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

My absence from the blogosphere (how I hate that word) is justifiable. Chalk it up to other priorities. I had meant this blog to be a live journal of various cultural events and artifacts, but events have come and gone and I regret my inattention. Herewith are a few things.

My recent visit to New York City provided an opportunity to catch a few exhibitions.

From Sue De Beer's Hans und Grete

The Whitney Biennial. Highlights included work by Ernesto Caivano (whose dream-birds mind-meld the fantasy art of Brian Froud), Sue de Beer (Dennis Cooper must love her), Robyn O’Neil (so lonesome), Chloe Piene, Aïda Ruilova (lifting Lung Leg), and Catherine Sullivan. Hmmm. Surveying this list, I see I have a lotta love for drawing and video. Well, harrumph! None of the painting really excited me; with the exception, perhaps, of Julie Mehretu, with whom I’m still wrestling. Her elephantitic canvases seem too slick on approach.

Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)
at the Guggenheim. My first face-to-face with the Gug – Lloyd Wright seemed much more a presence than Rauschenberg, Judd, Ryman, et al. I prefer Judd out in Marfa and environs. Flavin always fells me, though. The most successful installations were those that were given room (and given rooms): Robert Irwin’s Varese Scrim, whose false wall truly astonished me, and Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (One Hundred Spaces), the minimalist’s graveyard.

Open House: Working in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum. Should have made some notes closer to seeing this one, it’s flown my noggin now. I was greatly disturbed by the evident militarization of New York; as we ascended from the subway at the Brooklyn Museum, a small army of policemen in swat gear and rifles-at-the-ready watched and smiled.

Closer to home, MOCA trots out A Minimal Future? Art As Object 1958-1968, while across town LACMA ones them up with Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form 1940s-70s. Regarding Art As Object, I’d have to agree with Yve-Alain Bois, who writes in Art Forum, “Regrettably, the show offers not the tiniest bit of scenario. No chronology, no typology, no label explanations whatsoever, resulting in an exasperating feeling of pure randomness for anyone not already in the loop.” How was little old me to know that “the juxtaposition of the hideously decorative pastel-painted, canvas-covered beams by Judy Chicago with a series of Robert Smithson's jejune early geometric objects (in poor physical shape)” was chosen because they were “side by side at the famous ‘Primary Structures’ show of 1966”? Beyond Geometry is large and expansive, as its name suggests. Almost as great as the art was hearing random public reaction to it. “Disgusting!” cried a woman staring at a Judd box. Another, staring at the photo documentation of Eleanor Antin’s Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, which documents the artist’s gradual loss of weight: “Don’t bother looking at this one, honey. It’s just a naked girl repeated over and over, for no discernable purpose.” Lots of folks were there though. I’m taking my mom this weekend.
Harlequin Knights' one year anniversary came and went on June 14.
Overheard at le coffee shop this morning:

- Those Andy Warhol icons on your laptop are so passe.
- What? Warhol is cooler than Metal!

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Anonymous posted this in a comment below. I think it is important enough to bring it up front. It turns out Steven Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble is being indicted.

Art Professor Indicted for Illegal Medium

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; 6:08 PM

BUFFALO, N.Y. - An art professor whose use of biological materials made him the target of a federal terrorism investigation - which sparked an outcry in the world art community - was indicted Tuesday on charges he obtained the materials illegally.

Steven Kurtz, a University at Buffalo professor, was charged along with Robert Ferrell, chairman of the University of Pittsburgh's Human Genetics Department, in a four-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury seated earlier this month.

Prosecutors said Ferrell used his University at Pittsburgh account with a biological supply company to order potentially harmful organisms for Kurtz, which colleagues said Kurtz intended to use in an art project.

"The charges do not relate to bioterrorism," U.S. Attorney Michael Battle said. "Very simply, this is a case about fraud."

Kurtz is a founding member of the Critical Art Ensemble, which has used human DNA and other biological materials to draw attention to social issues, such as genetically altered foods.

As a private individual, Kurtz was not eligible to order the materials allegedly obtained for him by Ferrell, authorities said.

A call to Kurtz's attorney was not immediately returned.

Outraged by the investigation of Kurtz, artists and academics earlier this month held simultaneous rallies in Buffalo; Vienna, Austria; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Berkeley, Calif.

A colleague of Kurtz's who was among several people subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, called the indictment "a total joke."

"It sounds like they're trying to keep face because they overreacted and made fools of themselves," the colleague, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The investigation began in May after Kurtz called 911 to report the death of his wife, Hope, in their home. Firefighters who responded noticed the biological materials and notified Buffalo police, who then contacted the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The JTTF spent two days removing materials from the home.

The University at Buffalo, in a statement, said it would review the charges before considering any action, while stressing its commitment to the academic freedom of faculty members to pursue research.

As for Ferrell, "He is still a faculty member at the university and a distinguished scientist," spokesman Robert Hill said. "We do hope for a swift and positive outcome."

Both men face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ray Charles, Steve Lacy, and Robert Quine should be getting the real state funerals.

Monday, June 07, 2004

I've officially had it up to HERE with Ronald Reagan. His presidency may or may not have made our lives worse in all kinds of ways while he was still alive (I lean towards the former), but he's made my life very inconvenient with his death. I spent 45 minutes waiting in traffic on my way to work today while his presidential funeralcade made its way across an overpass on the 405 freeway. Los Angeles firemen, who should know better, lined the overpass in full view, fists in the air, and draped giant American flags from three-story-high extended fire-ladders, causing all the traffic on the freeway to slow to a crawl as motorists took a look. If car horns are any measure of approval, only the big-rigs seemed to enjoy this spectacle. The rest of us were left to curse this total waste of city resources. I want that 45 minutes of my life back, including reimbursement of the cost in wasted gasoline (which is now at $2.49 a gallon in Los Angeles).

UPDATE: Now is the time to remember J.G. Ballard's short story "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan".

Ronald Reagan and the conceptual auto disaster. Numerous studies have been conducted upon patients in terminal paresis (GPI), placing Reagan in a series of simulated auto crashes, e.g. multiple pileups, head-on collisions, motorcade attacks (fantasies of Presidential assassinations remained a continuing preoccupation, subject showing a marked polymorphic fixation on windshields and rear trunk assemblies). Powerful erotic fantasies of an anal-sadistic surrounded the image of the Presidential contender. Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan’s head on the unretouched photographs of crash fatalities.
In 82% of cases massive rear-end collisions were selected with a preference for expressed fecal matter and rectal hemorrhages. Further tests were conducted to define the optimum model-year. These indicate that a three year model lapse with child victims provide the maximum audience excitation (confirmed by manufacturers’ studies of the optimum auto disaster). It is hoped to construct a rectal modulous of Reagan and the auto disaster of maximized audience arousal.
Motion picture studies of Ronald Reagan reveal characteristic patterns of facial tones and musculature associated with homoerotic behavior. The continuing tension of buccal sphincters and the recessive tongue role tally with earlier studies of facial rigidity (cf., Adolf Hitler, Nixon). Slow-motion cine films of campaign speeches exercised a marked erotic effect upon an audience of spastic children. Even with mature adults the verbal material was found to have a minimal effect, as demonstrated by substitution of an edited tape giving diametrically opposed opinions...
Incidence of orgasms in fantasies of sexual intercourse with Ronald Reagan. Patients were provided with assembly kit photographs of sexual partners during intercourse. In each case Reagan’s face was super imposed upon the original partner. Vaginal intercourse with "Reagan" proved uniformly disappointing, producing orgasm in 2% of subjects. Axillary, buccal, navel, aural, and orbital modes produced proximal erections. The preferred mode of entry overwhelmingly proved to be the rectal. After a preliminary course in anatomy it was found that the caecum and transverse colon also provided excellent sites for excitation. In an extreme 12% of cases, the simulated anus of post-costolomy surgery generated spontaneous orgasm in 98% of penetrations. Multiple-track cine-films were constructed of "Reagan" in intercourse during (a) campaign speeches, (b) rear-end auto collisions with one and three year model changes, (c) with rear exhaust assemblies...
Sexual fantasies in connection with Ronald Reagan. The genitalia of the Presidential contender exercised a continuing fascination. A series of imaginary genitalia were constructed using (a) the mouth parts of Jacqueline Kennedy, (b) a Cadillac, (c) the assembly kid prepuce of President Johnson...In 89% of cases, the constructed genitalia generated a high incidence of self-induced orgasm. Tests indicate the masturbatory nature of the Presidential contender’s posture. Dolls consisting of plastic models of Reagan’s alternate genitalia were found to have a disturbing effect on deprived children.
Reagan’s hairstyle. Studies were conducted on the marked fascination exercised by the Presidential contender’s hairstyle. 65% of male subjects made positive connections between the hairstyle and their own pubic hair. A series of optimum hairstyles were constructed.
The conceptual role of Reagan. Fragments of Reagan’s cinetized postures were used in the construction of model psychodramas in which the Reagan-figure played the role of husband, doctor, insurance salesman, marriage counsellor, etc.
The failure of these roles to express any meaning reveals the nonfunctional character of Reagan. Reagan’s success therefore indicates society’s periodic need to re-conceptualize its political leaders. Reagan thus appears as a series of posture concepts, basic equations which reformulate the roles of aggression and anality. Reagan’s personality. The profound anality of the Presidential contender may be expected to dominate the United States in the coming years. By contrast the late JFK remained the prototype of the oral subject, usually conceived in pre-pubertal terms. In further studies sadistic psychopaths were given the task of devising sex fantasies involving Reagan. Results confirm the probability of Presidential figures being perceived primarily in genital terms; the face of LB Johnson is clearly genital in significant appearance--the nasal prepuce, scrotal jaw, etc. Faces were seen as either circumcised (JFK, Khrushchev) or uncircumcised (LBJ, Adenauer). In assembly-kit tests Reagan’s face was uniformly perceived as a penile erection. Patients were encouraged to devise the optimum sex-death of Ronald Reagan.

UPDATE II: Christopher Hitchens on Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan claimed that the Russian language had no word for "freedom." (The word is "svoboda"; it's quite well attested in Russian literature.) Ronald Reagan said that intercontinental ballistic missiles (not that there are any non-ballistic missiles—a corruption of language that isn't his fault) could be recalled once launched. Ronald Reagan said that he sought a "Star Wars" defense only in order to share the technology with the tyrants of the U.S.S.R. Ronald Reagan professed to be annoyed when people called it "Star Wars," even though he had ended his speech on the subject with the lame quip, "May the force be with you." Ronald Reagan used to alarm his Soviet counterparts by saying that surely they'd both unite against an invasion from Mars. Ronald Reagan used to alarm other constituencies by speaking freely about the "End Times" foreshadowed in the Bible. In the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan told Yitzhak Shamir and Simon Wiesenthal, on two separate occasions, that he himself had assisted personally at the liberation of the Nazi death camps.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A scientist believes he has discovered the lost city of Atlantis in southern Spain.

Satellite photos of southern Spain reveal features on the ground appearing to match descriptions made by Greek scholar Plato of the fabled utopia.
Dr Rainer Kuehne thinks the "island" of Atlantis simply referred to a region of the southern Spanish coast destroyed by a flood between 800 BC and 500 BC.

Quote of the day: "People knew he was building the armored bulldozer, but they didn't know why he was building it."

Runner-up: "Are we sure he's dead? Stake in the heart! Chop off his head!"
Loyd Sigmon, inventor of the SigAlert traffic warning, has died. If you're not from Los Angeles, you might be wondering, "What's a SigAlert?" It's not quite a traffic jam: an unplanned lane blockage of at least half an hour.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The sad (and disturbing) story of Steven Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble.
GrepLaw has posted some hilarious (and disturbing) political remixes of FOX News and US Army commercials.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Ubuweb has posted a copy of The Brakhage Lectures by Stan Brakhage. Lectures on George Méliès, David Wark Griffith, Carl Theodore Dreyer, and Sergei Eisenstein. Link via Free Space Comix.

Slavoj Zizek has a new essay up at In These Times. Typically, it recycles portions of his previous published essays to further extend his critique of the Bush Administration.

What Rumsfeld Doesn’t Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib

Does anyone still remember the unfortunate Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf? As Saddam’s information minister, he heroically would deny the most evident facts and stick to the Iraqi line. Even as U.S. tanks were hundreds of yards from his office, al-Sahaf continued to claim that the television shots of the tanks on Baghdad streets were Hollywood special effects. Once, however, he did strike a strange truth. When told that the U.S. military already controlled parts of Baghdad, he snapped back: “They are not in control of anything—they don’t even control themselves!” When the scandalous news broke about the weird things going on in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, we got a glimpse of this very dimension of themselves that Americans do not control.
Michael Bérubé offers a worthwhile pop quiz to all those persistent Bush supporters:

What is it you like most about the Bush administration and its policies?

___ I like the lying! It turned me on when the President spiked that EPA report on the toxic air quality around Ground Zero, thereby consigning thousands of firefighters, police, Guardsmen, rescue workers, and ordinary citizens to debilitating lifelong respiratory illness! If people are so worried about a few tiny particles floating around, let them buy those little fiber masks, for goodness' sake! Every Ace Hardware sells 'em.

___ I like the incompetence! It's so cool the way the President and his advisors blew off legitimate CIA and DIA intelligence on Iraq, and decided instead to take the word of an Iraqi double agent who's working together with Iranian Islamists. The post-"Mission Accomplished" occupation of Iraq has been every bit as cool!

___ I like the torture! I came for the tax cuts, but I'm staying for the torture and humiliation of random Arabs from Gitmo to Abu Ghraib! It's such a pleasant surprise, and so damn long overdue! That'll show whoever-they-all-are that you don't mess with the U.S.!

___ I like the cuts to veterans' benefits! Why should a bunch of veterans get all those free medical goodies? I support the troops, sure, but only by flying a flag from my car. Don't come around here asking me to pay more taxes just because some soldier comes home with the sniffles.

___ I like the attacks on overtime pay! I'm sick and tired of people freeloading off the rest of us by working ten or twelve hours a day. And I'm sick and tired of the way Democrats pander to their special interests. It's about time we had a President tough enough to draw the line when it comes to outrageous labor demands.

___ I like the $500 billion deficit! Clinton made me sick with all his feelgood liberal talk about "balancing" the so-called "budget." Reagan proved that deficits don't matter!

___ I like the new Medicare plan! Though I wish someone would explain it to me. What's this about donuts being covered after two thousand dollars?

___ I like the cowboy hat! I also like the whole Crawford ranch brush-clearing thing. I think it's shameful that Bill Clinton left him all that brush to clear.

___ Could you repeat the question? I wasn't really paying attention.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Musical performance-troupe (they call it show-core) My Barbarian.
I love their video for "Unicorns L.A."

Monday, May 17, 2004

So I saw a preview for Un Día Sin Mexicanos and it doesn't look very good.

Friday, May 14, 2004

From an article on CNet News.com, Congress mulls revisions to DMCA:

Congress has taken a step toward revising the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has attracted extensive criticism over the past six years.
A House of Representatives subcommittee convened Wednesday for the first hearing devoted to a proposal to defang the DMCA, a 1998 law that broadly restricts bypassing copy-protection technologies used in DVDs, a few music CDs and some software programs.
Called the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, the amendments are backed by librarians, liberal consumer groups and some technology firms. But they're bitterly opposed by the entertainment industry, including Hollywood, major record labels and the Business Software Alliance.

Check out Jack Velenti's odd sexually infantilizing language in this quote (emphases mine):

"It legalizes hacking," Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said of the proposed changes. "It allows you to make a copy or many copies. And the 1000th copy of a DVD, Mr. Chairman, is as pure and pristine as the original. You strip away all the protective clothing of that DVD and leave it naked and alone."

Promotional poster from Un Dia Sin Mexicanos.
JG Ballard writes about Hollywood disaster movies and the American unconscious at the Guardian:

Every American fear and paranoid anxiety is out in the open, from the ranting of ultra-right shockjocks to The Day after Tomorrow, Hollywood's latest attempt to traumatise us with fears of climate change. Here, global warming melts the polar ice-caps, flooding our planet and plunging us into a global catastrophe. The computerised special effects are more real than reality itself, bypassing many areas of the brain and posing problems for philosophers and neuro-psychologists alike, hinting at a future where the human race abandons "old" reality in the same way that Americans abandoned old Europe.

The Guardian's Dan Glaister also reports on a new film about the Latino "underclass" in Los Angeles called Un Día Sin Mexicanos (A Day Without Mexicans):

"On May 14," runs the poster's tagline, "there will be no Mexicans in California." The tagline for the Spanish language version of the poster reads: "Los gringos van a llorar" ("The gringos are going to cry").

The film, based on a short of the same name by the same director, sees California wake up one day to find a third of its population has disappeared. "Have they been taken by extraterrestrials?" asks one expert. "Is it the Apocalypse, and they are the chosen ones?" Or perhaps they have simply tired of not being valued.

Monday, May 03, 2004

I'm so glad someone finally pointed out those strange and terrifying wavy-armed thing that are so ubiquitous in Los Angeles. Miranda July on Sky Dancers:

It took a lot of Web searching to discover their official name: Sky Dancers (not to be confused with the flying doll of the same name, recalled for lacerating children's faces). What I'm talking about are those huge, air-filled promotional figures whose arms wave above their heads like they're eternally tormented spirits. Their desperate, needy flailing either infuriates me or moves me to tears depending on how I'm feeling about us, the people of Los Angeles, whose souls I'm sure these are.

See the rest of her ArtForum Top Ten.

Sky Dancers

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Saddest Music in the World
In anticipation of Guy Maddin's new film The Saddest Music in the World, IFC has posted 3 classic Maddin shorts, including Sissy Boy Slap Party, Sombre Dolorosa, and Trip to the Orphanage.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Illegal Art has posted a downloadable copy of Todd Haynes's great Barbie-doll film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

In my B-movie dream, President Bush looks off camera and says to himself: Dr. Demarco has created a subservient zombie. That's something my government must have!

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

There's a new game going round.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

I wish I had something more, well, wondrous, but I decided not to cheat.

"It might be argued that wonder in this context is an historically specific instance of the activity of all cultural systems in the face of the Real in the sense understood by Lacan."
-Travelling Light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture by Peter D. Osborne

Monday, April 05, 2004

Blogging fatigue. Please bear with me through this difficult time.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Reading Pamela Lu's Towards an Aesthetic of Cannibalism against Oswaldo de Andrade's Cannibal Manifesto.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I've been quite ill lately, and have spent some very late evenings attending the Chantal Akerman retrospective at the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the REDCAT. Fortunately I'm not the only Angeleno who needs his filmic fix. Franklin at konvolut m has faithfully recorded his Akerman-opinions after each screening, and Doug at Filmjourney managed to catch the documentary marathon, which I missed. Friday will be the final night of the retrospective. UCLA will be showing Night and Day followed by an encore presentation of From the Other Side. Next week filmgoers in Los Angeles should check out the Lars von Trier retrospective at the American Cinematheque.

Friday, March 05, 2004

"I thought you were going to Paris."

"I am in Paris."
from Blow-Up by Julio Cortázar: It'll never be known how this has to be told, in the first person or in the second, using the third person plural or continually inventing modes that will serve for nothing. If one might say: I will see the moon rose, or: we hurt me at the back of my eyes, and especially: you the blond woman was the clouds that race before my your his our yours their faces. What the hell.
Antonioni: I want to re-create reality in an abstract form. I'm really questioning the nature of reality. This is an essential point to remember about the visual aspects of the film, since one of its chief themes is "to see or not to see properly the true value of things."

Antonioni: The young people among whom my film is situated are all aimless, without any drive but to reach that aimless freedom. Freedom that for them means marijuana, sexual perversion, anything . . . What you get at the end doesn't interest me . . . It's that conquest of freedom that matters. The pursuit of freedom gives man his most exciting moments. Once it's conquered, once all discipline is discarded, then it's decadence. Decadence without any visible future.

Living among that youth, I had the precise sensation of entering a world which has finally put down barriers between individual and individual. You can speak with anyone of anything. No more taboo topics. I've talked with hundreds of young girls and boys who were seeing me for the first time. If one is used to smoking marijuana, he'll say so without fear. If a girl is frigid, she has no inhibition to admit it. This is a generation that has approached a certain individual freddom . . . and freedom from feelings too, because their sexual freedom, at this point, goes without saying. I don't know whether they can love the way we loved. They must suffer, I guess, but I'm sure they suffer for reasons very different from ours . . . never romantic . . . To live as a "swinger" . . . I think it means to take a leave from certain norms, certain traditions at any cost . . . But maybe it is also a legitimate way to get nearer a happier condition of life. Who can tell?

. . . . Love today is weaker, paler than in the past. When Soviet Cosmonaut Titov came back from his flight among the stars, he was asked by the press whether from the heights he had reached he'd once thought about his wife. 'No,' said Titov quietly before returning to live with her.

According to Roger Ebert, those mimes in Blow-Up are students: "These figures were described as 'white-faced clowns' in Pauline Kael's pan of the film, but a British audience would have known they were participating in the ritual known as 'rag,' in which students dress up and roar around town raising money for charity." The only definition I could find on the web is from WordNet. Rag week: a week at British universities during which side-shows and processions of floats are organized to raise money for charities. In his script, Antonioni simply writes: "A group of shouting students dressed in bizarre clothes and with white powdered faces are loaded in a jeep which drives into a paved courtyard surrounded by modern buildings."

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Just finished watching the new DVD of Antonioni's Blow-Up. It's been many years. I remembered the Yardbirds, but I had forgotten about the mimes. Loud, anarchic mimes.
Does all pop culture have the same rhythm? Leslie Thornton queries Jonny Quest in Another Worldy (1999). But let’s ask Mary Ann Doane (whose book The Emergence of Cinematic Time is essential): “Another Worldy is a revision of an older film by Thornton, Old Worldy (1998), which juxtaposes old Hollywood footage of dance sequences (from the 1930s or 1940s), ethnographic footage of ritualized dances from ‘primitive’ cultures, and an ironic rendition of 1990s techno-ambient disco rock on the soundtrack. The new film produces fascinating collisions and correspondences between the different materials, pressuring dangerously fixed assumptions about racism, sexism, and the ethnographic gaze. The film encourages tension but refuses easy satire and the assumption of a superior position.” From old world to another (newer) world, then. But the film begins in an older cinematic world, where 1940s Lucky Girl dancers kick a leg out to their Russian, Indian, and North African counterparts. As the film moves from familiar western haunts to unfamiliar orientalized orbits, it struck me that this truly is another world, because it can’t possibly be this one. And – but how could this be? – they’re all dancing to the same rhythm. And it even matches the (horrid) gothic-techno soundtrack. Thornton: “I was thinking about how popular entertainment is derived from forgotten pasts, from ritual, religion and war, from various symbolic, practical and worldly forms of movement. With reworking, Old Worldy evolved into something more nuanced and critically oriented than I originally imagined it being. There was a point when I had to give it another name--it was becoming another work altogether. I spent more than a year looking at ethnographic dance material, some ‘scientifically’ serious, some ‘educational,’ some what I call ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’-type travelogs and some newsreels. Another Worldy operates as an implicit, cross-cultural critique of dance forms and their origins. I wanted to hold on to the entertainment value and uncanny qualities of Old Worldy while bringing forth a more implicit critique.”

Elsewhere, in her masterpiece Peggy and Fred in Hell (1985-2004), a boy and a girl, Fred & Wilma of the post-apocalyptic set, thrash about a Paul McCarthyesque type workroom while reciting King of Pop lyrics and eating Cap’n Crunch. No, in 1985 she couldn’t possibly have known how creepy a little girl singing Billy Jean was to be. But from all accounts, the film seemed so futuristic in the 80s, while today, after 9-11, after Total Information Awareness, it seems simply of its time, an ethnography of the present. Who said that the future of the future is the past? With this film, Thornton burns the edge of narrative; as she puts it: “Narrative reflects specific cultural presumptions. Recognizing that, one can't help but think: then there must be other possibilities for narrative – reflecting other times and places and agendas, past, present, and future.” Peggy and Fred in Hell is the most tedious yet utterly fascinating film I have ever seen. To which Thornton answers: “I'm interested in boredom. My interest comes out of the experience of the most hardcore structuralist films from the '60s and '70s. I think these films often produced profound boredom, which forced you somewhere else . . .. you have a profound response, if you commit to stay. You feel you've had a life-changing experience. A voluntary experience of boredom. The mind becomes very active. All kinds of images and scenarios begin to play.”

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Both Leni Riefenstahl and Elia Kazan were remembered tonight at the Academy Awards. And the sweetest surprise of all, Stan Brakhage. No wonder he wasn't memorialized last year. He died in March of 2003.

Friday, February 20, 2004

A few films. Crimson Gold by Jafar Panahi. A good but minor film with a script by Kiarostami. Wonderful evocation of the highs & lows of Iranian society: working-class pizza men, upper-class Iranian-Americans, sophistic con-men. An inept but frightening Iranian police force. I wonder what Iranian pizza tastes like? Hues a bit too close to the Hollywood circular narrative for my taste, though. The Return by Andrei Zvyagintsev better evokes recurrence in that it is not so literal. Yes, there are Tarkovsky signifiers (dead animals, heavy rain, whispering vegetation) but the cinematography is colder, the narrative more acute. And while there are religious references (Abraham & Isaac, Christ even), the film is somehow more secular than Tarkovsky ever was. And halfway through, we get to see the best Robinson Crusoe scenario ever filmed (not that there’s much competition. Cast Away? Swept Away?). A different kind of castaway is Jandek, who is the subject of the documentary Jandek on Corwood. Disclaimer: I’ve been a fan of Jandek’s music for, hmmmm, 8 years now. I’ve become so used to its strange folksiness, its meandering yelps and yodels, that I can’t hear what’s not to like. Lots of lonely, late-night listenings. Franklin, you were there too? Did you see Beck in the back row, hiding his face?

Some Jandek links:

A Guide to Jandek

Jandek: The Great Disconnect

Mystery Man-The Jandek Story

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Jean Rouch, 1917-2004

There is a truth that the fiction film cannot capture - and that is the authenticity of the real, the lived.
-Jean Rouch

I was saddened to learn this morning of the death of French filmmaker and ethnographer Jean Rouch. He died yesterday in a car accident in Niger.

Some Jean Rouch links:

Jean Rouch: Anthropologist and Filmmaker

Jean Rouch: Cinéma-vérité, Chronicle of a Summer and The Human Pyramid

Visions of Africa: Anthropology on Film - Jean Rouch, John Marshall and other Film Makers

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

At the Academy Awards, when they list off the names of all the film legends who have passed away over the previous year, will they honor Leni Riefenstahl? Probably not. But will they honor Elia Kazan?

Last year I was upset that Stan Brakhage was overlooked.
The Gray Album. I’ve been obsessing lately over DJ Danger Mouse’s mash-up of Jay-Z’s Black Album with the Beatles’ White Album. I don’t even particularly like Jay-Z, but this really is one of the most innovative hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year. It’s so upbeat, frenetic, and effete compared to Jay-Z’s typically spondaic and masculine tracks. EMI, which owns part of the Beatles catalog, has sent cease-and-desist letters to DJ Danger Mouse, e-Bay, and the underground record stores that had been selling the CD, but you can still hear it at Illegal Art. Which raises the question, why hasn’t Illegal Art received a cease-and-desist letter? Is it because they contextualize the album within questions of copyright, fair-use, legality, creativity, and the archive? Or is Illegal Art just below EMI’s radar?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Non-site-specific? Nearly two decades ago, Gary Trudeau and Robert Altman made what may be the most experimental television mini-series ever. Tanner ’88 is fucking great (and I’ve only seen two episodes). You could say it combines Doonesbury with Nashville (shades of Hal Phillip Walker), but that would be unfair to both artists. The writing is funny and politically engaged, and the direction is trademark Altman, complete with wandering cameras, overlapping dialog, half-heard remarks, and abrupt editing. And although it's a comedy, there's no laugh track, lending the series an eerie silence, like the spooky ambience of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. On the television screen, this initially seems sloppy. I’m sure it was received as such in 1988, when The Thorn Birds was still the standard-bearer, but now that TV audiences have suffered through years and years (and years) of reality television, what once may have seemed incoherent now looks like the deliberate control of a master filmmaker. Michael Murphy plays Jack Tanner, a fictional presidential candidate making a run for the Democratic nomination in the 1988 primaries. The series is set against the actual primary contests, so real political players like Gary Hart, Pat Robertson, Bob Dole, and Al Gore show up as characters and make cameo appearances. The theme song (“Exercise your right to vote…”) is performed differently each episode, and is embedded within different scenes. In the pilot episode, which takes place in New Hampshire, the theme music is performed as an upbeat military march. When the campaign moves to Tennessee, a bluegrass band performs its own version at a campaign rally. Altman employs unusual camera shots throughout the series; one five-minute shot is framed entirely from beneath a glass coffee table, obscuring and distorting the image as Tanner gives a passionate speech about American values, the baby-boomer generation and who the best Beatle is (the right answer, he concludes, is John Lennon, godammit). This shot, ostensibly made on the sly by a member of Tanner’s campaign team, is later refashioned into a commercial, and is the impetus behind the Tanner campaign slogan: “For real.”

Later, a reporter will ask Tanner’s campaign manager: What happened to the old slogan ‘The Future is Now’? ‘The Future Is Now’ was then, she answers, and ‘For Real’ is now. The Sundance Channel is showing new episodes every Tuesday at 9pm, Pacific. It will be interesting to watch the fictional and real campaigns as they unfold over the next few months.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Regarding Beyonce's hit song Crazy in Love:

Misheard the lyric "Got me looking so crazy right now" as "Communism is crazy right now".

Friday, February 06, 2004

I missed most of the David Cronenberg retrospective at the American Cinematheque last week, but did manage to catch a double-bill of Rabid and The Brood, preceded by his rarely screened early films (each about an hour in length) Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). The early films are very student-filmy, though Cronenberg places them in the context of American “underground film” ala Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith and the Filmmakers' Co-op. To my surprise, Cronenberg (who was present at the screenings for a Q&A) said he formed an entity in the late sixties called the Toronto Film Co-op. With Ivan Reitman of all people. Reitman is the director of Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Kindergarten Cop. (I don't mean to disparage Reitman. Ghostbusters is a fond film from my childhood).

Stereo and Crimes of the Future are very much of a piece, but Crimes of the Future benefits from being more coherent and much funnier. Adrian Tripod, a dermatologist at an institute called the House of Skin, is researching a fatal disease called Rouge’s Malady which has killed off most of the planet’s women. The disease causes its victims to engage in bizarre sexual acts of fetishism and to secrete white, foamy, edible substances from their orifices. Some victims grow detachable organs that seem to serve no biological purpose. In order to re-populate the planet, the survivors must breed with a pre-pubescent girl who has somehow been genetically manipulated to bear children. Such pedophilia is the "crime of the future". The narration, humorous and baroque, with pseudo-scientific pretenses that would delight David Wilson of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, makes this film a must-see for Cronenberg fans. "Must-see". Jeez, I sound like a journalist. Gotta drop that.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould has a blog!

Monday, February 02, 2004

Speaking of Christian Bök, I just received his book Eunoia from Coach House Books. It reminds me a bit of Walter Abish's Alphabetical Africa, though Bök's writing is more felicitous. Ubuweb has provided a link to a flash-animated chapter from Eunoia (designed by Brian Kim Stefans I believe), Chapter E.
Christian Bök reviews William Vollman's Rising Up and Rising Down in the Globe and Mail:

Vollman suggests that violence constitutes a so far unenshrined, but no less inalienable, human right, and he enumerates four conditions under which the self might justifiably choose to exercise such a right: first, when defending oneself from violence; second, when defending another from violence; third, when deciding to commit suicide; and fourth, when deciding to euthanize another. Vollman studies the historical rationales used by different societies in order to defend their right to commit such violent actions. (Link via Splinters)

Friday, January 23, 2004

New background color, easier on the eyes.
A friend has pointed me to a journal that may address some of the questions The Battle of Algiers raises.
Fans of outsider music will have a hoot and a holler with Show and Tell Music. There's all kinds of crazy cover-art here, and some wacko mp3s. Kenneth Higney's "Look at the River" from his album Attic Demonstration is so harrowing I had to turn it off the first time through.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

More on The Battle of Algiers at Filmjourney.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Google shares a building in Santa Monica with Project Greenlight, Ben Affleck's production company. Sometimes he steals Google's parking spaces with his stupid car.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Memorial to 9/11 Victims Is Selected

Anthony Gardner, a brother of one of the victims of September 11th, is upset with the winning memorial design:

This is minimalism, and you can't minimalize the impact and the enormity of Sept. 11. You can't minimalize the deaths. You can't minimalize the response of New Yorkers.

Perhaps he wants an ostentatious architecture?