Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween. This morning, a grey cat came to the back porch, took the pink tarp that we use to cover the front basement door when it rains, and proceeded to play with it, essentially ripping it and rummaging around in it. (It had been on the back porch, drying out from the weekend.) Then the large grey-and-white cat came and chased the grey cat away... and now they're both gone. Oh, well, when the black-and-white cat died, we thought the cats had deserted our back yard, but i guess we were wrong.

Dave Kehr reviews the Martin-and-Lewis Collection in the NY Times. He's really very perceptive about 1950s show biz. There's a big article about the Whitney changing its plans re: expansion. Maybe it won't expand on Madison Avenue after all, but build a second site downtown. Well, onto Albers and Moholy-Nagy. Richard Gilman died. More on that later. Did our subscription to Vanity Fair lapse? Went online and read James Wolcott about "red states-blue states" and must say he's been really sharp lately, especially about behind-the-scenes political dealings. (His piece on all those right-wing wordsmiths, cf. Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, etc. was hilarious.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Just got back from BAM where i saw Jonas Mekas's program (the first in a series devoted to Brooklyn filmmaking; Jonas showed "Williamsburg, Brooklyn" which was a film culled from footage Jonas shot in the 1950s when he lived in Brooklyn, and "Letter from Greenpoint" which is a digital video Jonas shot in 2004 when he was moving out of his loft in Soho and into his house in Greenpoint). Jonas wasn't there (he sent a little "video intro") but ran into Jon Gartenberg and Vyt Bakaitis.

Got two comments on my blog from "JasonKinky" asking about the availability of DVDs from Bill Jones. Well: they're not available publicly. I tried to answer (privately) but the e.mails came back "no reply". If you read this blog, you'll know that Bill is a friend (he's coming to stay, again, in two weeks, because he has a screening at MIX) and that's why he sent the DVDs.

In the past few weeks, have heard from a number of people. Tom and Lynda's daughter Kristy will be in NYC starting in January, for five months: she'll be doing an internship at the "Today Show". It's amazing to think that a few years ago, when they came to NYC for a visit, they actually woke up so they could stand outside and be part of the Today Show audience!

Roddy Bogawa wrote about his baby. And he sent me the prospectus that he's written about his new film. I should really try to get together with him, find out what he's thinking. Konrad (one of the people who was on the NYFA Video Panel with me this year) had been a student of Roddy's, and said that Roddy was adamantly a "film" person, that Roddy couldn't see himself making the switch to digital. But so many people (including Andrew Noren and Ken Jacobs) are now trying to find ways to work in digital.

Spoke with Theodora Skipitares last week, wanted to invite her to the "Me and My Brother" press screening, but she'll be in Eastern Europe, where she'll be looking at puppetry there. A two week trip, but her nephew is coming to visit.

Speaking of Bill Jones, reminds me that i should try to get in touch with Stephen Kent Jusick about this year's MIX. Maybe there will be something exciting there....

Found it, the quote from Yvonne Rainer. It was from "Film About a Woman Who...." and it was "They thought her shit was more important than she was." And, of course, for an artist, if the art isn't the most important thing, what is?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This weekend, i'm simply feeling exhausted. It isn't even ironic that the recent Richard Tuttle retrospective was one of the most acclaimed shows at the Whitney Museum, when, thirty years ago, the Whitney fired Marcia Tucker for putting on a Richard Tuttle show. Just like Charles Busch is able to make movies in Hollywood, while Jack Smith died with his estate now being battered back and forth. It's the type of thing: when the Whitney put on the recent Tuttle retrospective, did anyone even think to apologize to Marcia?

Of course not. In Alex Witchel's piece on Twyla Tharp in the New York Times Magazine, there's a comment by Jesse Huot (Twyla's son): "People whom Mom has been friends with, who have succeeded in the arts, have this, I'll say it, selfish relationship with their work. As my relationship with her has been challenged by her commitment to her work, I can only imagine how it affected someone involved with her in an intimate relationship." That's rather like the statement that Yvonne Rainer used in "Film About a Woman Who..." where she wonders if her "shit" is more important than she is. Of course it is: how many people actually know the person? But how many people will be affected by the work?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Roberta Smith (in the NY Times) has an obit on Marcia Tucker, who died on Tuesday at her home in California. Of course, The New Museum is in a situation of change, but she was (after all) the founder. Didn't realize that one of the shows that caused her to get fired from the Whitney Museum had been the Richard Tuttle exhibition in 1977... how times have changed, and one reason was because of Marcia. I love how Roberta Smith says that Marcia responded to getting fired by starting a museum of her own. People need that kind of moxie, that kind of chutzpah, especially now. But it's become so corporate. There's no mention of how her board eventually forced Marcia out, because the feeling was that she wasn't responsive to the new art. It happens to everyone sooner or later. Maybe that's why some artists are instinctively nostalgic.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Just found out online that Gillo Pontecorvo has died! This was reported by the BBC in London; the news hasn't hit this side of the Atlantic yet.

Very sad, but especially so after having seen "Marie Antoinette". Pontecorvo (with Francesco Rosi, with Marco Bellocchio, with Bernardo Bertolucci, with Elio Petri, with the Taviani Brothers) was part of a generation of Italian filmmakers who were concerned with the fusion of politics and aesthetics in filmmaking. Yet what makes their work (at their best) so astounding is that they fused their political passions and their ideology with the most fervent and beautiful imagery.

The final press screening for this year's NY Film Festival: Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette". Sofia Coppola is such a squirrelly filmmaker: she's always nibbling at the edges of sensibility. It's all peripheral: impeccable compositions, exquisite lighting, costumes and settings to die for, and an emptiness at the center. Is this emptiness supposed to be evocative? At times, the movie was like dress-up, with Coppola dragging friends and relatives into costumes. It's hard to say what Kristen Dunst and Jason Schwartzman are doing in this movie: it's not quite acting, it's more like... posing? But i can see why people are going for it, just as i can see why people are annoyed with it. One cute touch: the press kit was printed on pink paper!

But that was it! It's finally over, and i'm glad... somehow, this turned out to be a flattened-out, deflated festival. Just before the screening, there was an announcement by Jeanne Berney, saying that comments were welsome. Ha! I think not! For example: on the days when they had back-to-back screenings, if they were going to make such a to-do about checking people in and making you stand there waiting on line, they should at least have had all the press materials available once you were through with the check-in. But NO! I'm missing press kits for about seven of the films, and i was THERE. And when i asked, no one had a clue as to what i was talking about. A bunch of idiots working there.

But the Film Society doesn't give a shit, which is why everything is a mess there. (How could they have screenings at Alice Tully Hall, when the current renovations did away with half the restrooms? Did they consider how... not even inconsiderate, how difficult this made the screenings, especially for people who paid for their tickets to be then inconvenienced by having restrooms on only one side of the hall? I'm surprised that Film Society members, who are getting on in years, didn't complain.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Doug Cummings (from Masters of Cinema) has a really great piece about Danielle Huillet on his blog (http://www.filmjourney.org). Doug (who is one of the many "online" friends that i have) had an interesting article on his blog a few months ago, about the change in film culture, and how there is a vital network of people who "discuss" films online.... but when you're going out for an evening, and you're with other people, most of the time the social interactions happen over the usual Hollywood fare. And that's the problem. A lot of the type of discussions that we had going to see (say) "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" we now have discussing (say) "Lost" or "Project Runway" or whatever the hell the new hot, hip, happening TV show is.

It's hard, because for films to retain the cultural prominence they once had, there is a need for the films to have an audience which is engaged in the work. Can that happen anymore? I'm at a loss to even think about it, especially after the experience of the last weekend, with my attendance at the avant-garde programs... on Saturday, i was running into people left and right (Ernie Gehr, P. Adams Sitney, Babette Mangolte, Ross Lipman, Paul Arthur, Tony Pipolo, at al) and the Walter Reade Theater was packed... and it felt great. And it made the experience of going to see the program (for all its problems; it was very uneven) just so thrilling. But on Sunday, the auditorium never got full, and there were a few people there that i said hello to (Stephanie Gray, Ed Halter, John Mhiripiri) and it was great to see Ken and Flo Jacobs... somehow, the lack of an audience flattened out the experience (even though the program was more cohesive than the previous day).

(It's as bad as going to see a really bad film, and sitting in the middle of an audience going crazy for it... that's alienation the likes of which Camus never even considered.)

Yesterday was traumatic. No screenings, and was getting ready to go to the gym when there was news of a plane crashing into a building on York Avenue and 73rd Street; just kept watching the television. Larry had gone into Manhattan, and called him immediately; at that point, he was on the subway crossing the bridge.

On George Robinson's blog, he had a note about Danielle Huillet's death earlier this week, with links to other blogs that announced her death. In today's NY Times, Dave Kehr has an obit. One thing not noted is the importance that Straub-Huillet had in the development of the German cinema of the 1970s: not just the fact that their example (moving to Germany in 1963 and starting to make movies there), but the fact that they worked with Fassbinder's company early on. That was on "The Bridegroom, the Pimp and the Comedienne", which they directed and which was done with the Fassbinder troupe as actors. That was Fassbinder's first foray into film, and the economy and the speed of filming would provide Fassbinder with a model for his methodology.

Turns out that the plane was piloted by the Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle. Very sad.

Anyway, getting ready to go to see "Pan's Labyrinth"; hope that someone (Film Society of Lincoln Center? MoMA?) will show the latest (and last) Straub-Huillet movie, "Ces Recontres Avec Eux", which received a special prize at Venice. Actually, this year, Venice sounded like a pretty exciting festival, with awards going to Straub-Huillet, Jia Zhangke's "Still Life"... already, those sound more interesting than what we're seeing right now....

Monday, October 09, 2006

Today is Columbus Day; have been going to movies nonstop. Went to two of the omnibus progarms at "Views from the Avant-Garde"... and just feel a little rundown today. The only non-festival movie i saw last week was "Sweet Land" which was one of those curiosities. I thought that it was visually extraordinary, one of the best looking movies i've seen this year, and the acting was fine... but something was off. And i can't quite explain what. If i wree to hazard a guess: the adaptation of the short story emphasizes the plot points of the story in a way which does not actually illuminate the themes. The person who directed the film is a dierctor of commercials, and there is a professional sheen to the movie, but it's skewed. It's like a beautiful husk, but the center is missing, and that center is the mysterious quality that makes a cohesive work of art.

Of the two avant-garde programs i saw, the one on Sunday ("Above and Below") was by far the more cohesive. There was a "theme" (cityscapes, or what used to be called "city symphonies") and each of the films illuminated the general theme. Some of the films were a little far afield (Robert Fenz's "Crossings" and Bruce Conner's "His Eye is on the Sparrow") but wound up creating a counterpoint that proved very satisfying.

The one on Saturday ("The Great Divide") seemed to involve the use of "found" texts in juxtaposition to a collage of images. But the real surprise (and the big news) was that in the final short of the program, "Liberte et patrie" by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mielville, amidst the plethora of clips and stills from "classic" cinema, there was a brief segment from Maya Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon"! This is (unless i am mistaken) the first time that Godard has ever recognized anything from the American avant-garde cinema! (Godard and Mielville also include a shot from Kirsanoff... another first, because the avant-garde films from the 1920s - Kirsanoff, Man Ray, Picabia, et al - were always anathema to Godard.)

I have to say that Ken Jacobs's "Pushcarts of Eternity Street" and Bruce Conner's "His Eye is on the Sparrow" were quite exquisite: using methods that they had pioneered (the "nervous system" flickering for Ken Jacobs, the audio-visual collage methods of Bruce Conner), they created short little pieces which were perfect encapsulations.

These programs were fine, but a little deflating. The excitement which used to be part of going to an avant-garde program is missing. In many cases, it's like going to a reunion, and seeing everyone growing old. It's nostalgic, and rather sad.

But on Friday, finally, the festival kicked into some sort of gear: David Lynch's "Inland Empire" was a total mess.... often incoherent, sometimes insistently obscure, far too long, simply indulgent.... and utterly brilliant. There are times when the whole thing seems to have come directly from Lynch's unconscious, it's that direct in terms of the effect.

North Korea has claimed it's done some nuclear testing. A scary time in world affairs, and the Bush administration is totally unable to find a proper response, because the resources of this country are being decimated in Iraq. This is, indeed, a sad time for the country.

But if the country survives, it might prove to be an exciting time for the arts. The "age of anxiety" after the nuclear blasts that ended World War II prompted a real flowering for American art, because there was a concentration of dissent.

Who knows?

Back to movies: if you count the fact that i went to the two press screenings ("Saul Levine: Notes from the Underground" and "Paolo Gioli") and that the Kenneth Anger program and most of the Ernie Gehr program were things i'd seen before, that means that this year i did see a good portion of the "Views from the Avant-Garde"... and i have to say that i think that this year's "Scanners" was a little more exciting. Well, "Scanners" included Bill Jones's "V.O." which was one of the best pieces of the year. I am sorry that i missed seeing Nathaniel Dorsky's "Song and Solitude", Luther Price's "Turbulant Blue" and Jennifer Reeves's "Light Mood 1". That's the problem: i wish some of these things would show up at another time....

Friday, October 06, 2006

Still slogging it out at the NYFF. Today, Manohla Dargis has an overview in the NY Times where she questions the festival for its white elephant choices. The Village Voice is in turmoil: Michael Atkinson and Dennis Lim have just been fired. What will be left? It's time for another alternative weekly in NYC. But it's been time for one for a long time....

It's a matter of gender, i.e., men seemed highly predisposed to liking "Little Children", women are more ambivalent. (Ambivalent? Manohla hates it.) The constant ironic commentary, which undercuts so much of the movie, seems like a slap in the face to most women.

Yesterday, saw the Korean horror film "The Host", saw the latest Alain Resnais "Coeurs" which uses the title of the Alan Ayckbourn play in English "Private Fears in Public Places". In between, had a little talk with William Phuan about ACV's history, and its problems. When i got home, was almost ready to go to the gym, but realized that "Our Mother's House" was on TCM and so just stayed in and watched it, and then rushed to the grocery store, got back in time to see "Ugly Betty" while cooking. One thing: George Delerue's music (for "Our Mother's House") is certainly distinctive.

Well, getting ready to go to three movies today at the NYFF: "Falling", "Triad Election" and "Inland Empire". So far, it's a safe festival. On opening night, when Debby and i were at Alice Tully Hall, we remembered those years when i'd stand in line (after getting my stuff in the mail) for the cheap seats; Manohla talks about the audiences of 1966, coming to the festival to see "Masculine Feminine". But going to the festival, it was always to see something exciting. There have been good movies, De Oliviera's "Belle Toujours" and Weerasethakul's "Syndromes and a Century" come to mind, but nothing with that level of excitement. But maybe today will be different.

Monday, October 02, 2006

If John Gotti is the Teflon Don, is the Republican Party the Teflon Party? Why aren't those damned fundamentalist Christian groups screaming for Foley's blood? Where are the protests? These groups wanted Bill Clinton's blood for his affair with a young woman who was: 1) of legal age; 2) female. Yet these same groups which deplore gay marriage have not said a thing about a Congressman who propositioned underage boys. What the hell is this hypocrisy? Or is it just Fox News doing its usual cover-up?

The Republicans have been caught so often recently with their hands in the cookie jar: all the records point to the fact that the White House did indeed have dealings with Abramoff. But the White House claims otherwise, even in light of evidence. George W. Bush figures that the American public is so dumb that all he has to do is say he didn't do something (even if all the evidence shows he did) and the public will believe him. And he might be right. Certainly Condoleeza Rice thinks that's also the case.

But you can't say they're fools, because they're so sure they're winners. And they'll win no matter what.

Yet the hubris is breathtaking. Obviously there is no God, or no gods, or whatever. Because George W. Bush keeps getting away with (literally) murder. What do people think is happening in Iraq? In a tragedy, isn't hubris supposed to be followed by being blinded or having your children dead or something? Why hasn't anything happened to George W. Bush? Why doesn't anything happen to George W. Bush? I mean, life has never been fair, but this is ridiculous!

Well, have been trying to see as much of the NYFF as possible, and since Thursday, went to the opening night, saw the short "South of Ten" with the feature "The Queen"; had a very good time at the party, Debby and i talked to a lot of people, had funny conversations with Hisame Kuroiwa, John M. from Anthology, Debbie Zimmerman... there are people i've known for years, and i still don't know their names! It's like you knew them because they klnew people you know, and you always see them at parties, but i couldn't tell you their names!

Oh, well. Over the weekend did not go in to the rpess screenings; figure i'll have to see the movies ("Falling" and "Inland Empire") on Friday, but on Sunday, woke up at 7 and it was pouring and just couldn't face going out in the rain. But it cleared up by noon, and the weekend for the Bay Ridge festivities (the Ragamuffin Parade on Saturday, the 3rd Avenue Street Fair on Sunday) came off without a hitch.

Today went in to see "The Naked Race" and "Our Daily Bread" (another slaughterhouse documentary... well done but how many of these can there be?), "Chronicle of a Jump" and "Poison Friends". The last is a French feature to be released by Strand... tres precieuse.

Tomorrow is the Canadian "Journals of Knud Rasmussen" which i am looking forward to seeing....