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)