Corrective note: just looked over my blog, and noticed that the end of my post on "So NoTorious" ahd a typo, i dropped an "e", so it should read, "Well, at least Tori Spelling has a sense of humor"; and my post on the Whitney Biennial, there are transposed letters, so it should read "the perfect prelude to this edition of The Whitney Biennial" - edition, not deition.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
It's been almost a week since i logged an entry, and the week was filled with stuff. Press screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival; some gallery events; some events on television; the week was bracketed (for me) by art: the Lee Mullican retrospective at the Grey Art Gallery, and (finally) a viewing of the Whitney Biennial.
Monday, April 24: the last pre-festival press screening at Tribeca (it had been scheduled for Friday, but was cancelled at the last minute), "Another Gay Movie" by Todd Stephens; then to the Grey Art Gallery for the Lee Mullican opening (when we got the invite in the mail, i thought the name sounded familiar, but couldn't place it; turns out that Lee Mullican was Matt Mullican's father; the show is another superb entry in the Grey Art Gallery's roster of highlighting artists who should be better known, as in the case of Atsuko Tanaka); then to the 2xist party in Tribeca (Larry says that it is pronounced "to exist"), a party that's supposed to highlight the work of Robert Sturman, but is really a plug for the three (male) underwear models - when we get to the gallery, assistants come up to get us to sign a release, because the models are represented by Janice Dickerson (i.e., the self-proclaimed "first supermodel" who was the bitch character on "America's Next Top Model" but is now launching her own reality show about her own modelling agency), some of the boys look awfully familiar, where have i seen them before but i can't remember (there are now so many spreads in magazines like Details or Interview or Esquire... or even the New York Times); then we rush to the Austrian Cultural Forum for an event that is part of the "Freud and Contemporary Art" exhibit, which rounds up the usual (post-conceptual) subjects, e.g., Sherrie Levine, Clegg and Guttman, etc. Then onto a screening of "Art World Confidential". It all ties up: "Another Gay Movie" is like a prelude to the 2xist party; the "Freud and Contemporary Art" show is like an illustration of the satire of "Art School Confidential". The only thing that is anomalous is the Lee Mullican show, and that's the most revelatory event of the evening. Larry and i had a lot of fun at these things, but can't wait to rush home to see our Monday night block of old TV detective shows. I was alerted by Ira Hozinsky that the "77 Sunset Strip" episode will star Tuesday Weld. Yes, indeed: the 16 year old Ms. Weld plays a famous teenage novelist, whose books represent the philosophy of Transcendentalism. Her opening scene, with Weld swathed in mink, with her pouty-mouthed babyface, as she displays an absolute bonecrushing confidence....
Friday, April 28, began with the press screening of the documentary "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis", then the press screening of "Voices of Bam"... then the evening, took Brett (he did get to NYC) to see the Whitney Biennial. Well: the idea of a press screening of anything to do with Jack Smith at 10 AM in the morning is just too hilarious for words. (On Thursday, i ran into - of all people - Agosto Machado, and he asked if i had gone to the "premiere" screening of "Jack Smith" because he didn't see me there, and i explained that i was going to the press screening in the morning, and we both laughed about the absurdity of Jack Smith being the first press screening in the morning! Midnight, maybe, but 10 AM?) Well, turns out "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" was the perfect prelude to this deition of the Whitney Biennial, i.e., a memento mori! So it's been a week of all sorts of interconnections, and very interesting. Will have to comment more....
Sunday, April 23, 2006
In the last few days, quite a lot, though nothing's actually happened. On Friday, went to the last Tribeca press screening (pre-fest) only to find it was cancelled. Of course, what was great (typical) was that no one was informed. No e.mails. Nothing. So: people who had gone to the 4:30 press screening came out to find that the 6:30 screening was cancelled, and those who arrived for the 6:30 screening were told that they shouldn't have bothered. So instead, walked up to the Strand, and looked around. The luxury of just browsing through a bookstore. And i found some real rarities! Two (not one, but two) of the novels written by Stanley Kauffmann! I've been looking for his novels for AEONS! After all, it seems rather bizarre to have known someone for so long, and to have all their volumes of film and theater criticism, and not to have a single one of the man's other writings. (The two books i got were "The Philanderer" and "If It Be Love".) On Saturday, picked up my official press creds for the Tribeca Film Festival, and found out that there was a press screening (on Tuesday) of Chris Marker's "The Case of the Grinning Cat"; Wednesday, there is a press screening of Guy Maddin's collaboration with Isabella Rossellini, "My Father is 100 Years Old". Two things that i am definitely looking forward to. Sunday is always "reality TV". Watched the end of "The Next Food Network Star". Interesting process. It became a contest between Reggie Southerland and Guy Fieri, with the audience voting. My feelings about this are very.... well, it's like everything else. Initially, "cooking shows" became a refuge (during the most embattled years of "the culture wars") for PBS stations; someone like Michael Chiarello (for example) had an idea for a "local" (Northern California/Napa Valley) cooking show. And the show was produced by the local PBS affiliate in San Francisco (and that's how Jack Walsh wound up being one of the show's producers during the initial run). Now: Chiarello has his "Easy Entertaining" show on the Food Network, and his Napa Style books, etc. (Of course, now that it's such a corporate entity, Jack Walsh is long gone.) But now, the Food Network isn't taking shows developed "independently", but they're developing shows, and people are being molded to fit into some abstracted idea of a Food Network "personality". On "The Surreal Life", Tawny Kitaen tries to take on Florence Henderson... but Florence Henderson is deceptive, in that she's one of the sharpest (and, at times, bitchiest) women in show business. Memorable moment: on one of David Letterman's first shows, he had her on, and he thought he'd have fun with the "bland" Mrs. Brady. But every time he tried to mock her, she threw it back at him... until it reached the point where he was utterly humiliated. I mean: he tried to do his superior-than-thou shit on her, and she had the audience laughing at him. Not with him, but at him! It was great, because she didn't just give it back to him, she wiped the floor with him! And Tawny Kitaen is no David Letterman! Poeple should know: you don't mess with Florence Henderson, because she's a real show business survivor. Two back to back episodes of "So NoTorious"; Larry and i really enjoy this show. Well, at last Tori Spelling has a sense of humor.
Been watching "Huff": tonight, Anjelica Huston makes her first appearance. I've enjoyed this season of "Huff"; the first season was (somehow) erratic... but this season, there's been... it's hard to explain. I can't even use the word "consistent" because what does that mean in terms of series television? Shows like "The Gilmore Girls" have just gotten wildly inconsistent: the characters now longer make sense. The "glue" of "The Gilmore Girls" was the strong bond between Lorelai (the mother played by Lauren Graham) and Rory (the daughter played by Alexis Bedell). But this season, it's as if they never had that bond, and without it, the show makes no sense. In a sense, "Huff" has the characters veer into "inconsistent" territory, but there's an almost baroque quality, which allows people like Sharon Stone and Anjelica Huston (who are almost too outsized for any "normal" characters) to find a context to do some very funny work.
There's been a lot in terms of politics. But what the hell does George W. Bush mean when he says "I'm the decider"? The "shakeup" of his cabinet sounds awfully suspicious to me: it sounds as if he's trying to hide people, because the trail (the CIA leak, the FEMA debacle re: Hurricane Katrina, etc.) always leads back to "the decider". Yet George W. Bush won't take the blame for anything.
Alida Valli died! Three movies that desperately need to be on (superior) quality DVD: Visconti's "Senso", Clement's "This Angry Age" and Bertolucci's "The Spider's Strategem". Alida Valli is proof that the American motion picture industry is not foolproof: David O. Selznick tried to make her a star, but he had no idea what her real range was. By the time she did "The Third Man", her "star" potential was shot in the US, and she went back to Europe with films like "Senso" and proved that Selznick didn't know what he was doing.
Exchanged e.mails with Brett; he's supposed to be in NYC at the end of the week, so maybe we can get to see each other.
The damned rain really depressed me: two days, just pouring! This weather is driving me crazy: parched for weeks on end, and then a two day deluge! But the rain seems to have done wonders for our fig trees: they're starting to bloom.
Looking forward to more movies this week....
Friday, April 21, 2006
Actually, not a very busy week, missed days of screenings at Tribeca, but that happened last year as well. Gardening, and trying to get rid of as many dandelions as possible. Those things do proliferate! Forget which day, watched the last two episodes of "The Next Food Network Star" that i missed on Sunday; many thoughts about the changes in programming, i.e., cooking shows used to be a staple of PBS affiliates as a public affairs nonthreatening item. And now there's a whole network, and now there is an attempt to fit people into the mold of "the next food network star"... Supposed to rain tonight...
Monday, April 17, 2006
The last line of my previous post should have been "Shows you how often...." Not "so you". I'm such a technologial idiot. I can't even figure out how to create links. I've looked it over (the instructions) and... i still don't understand what i'm supposed to do. Agh!
A lot of thoughts. Didn't go to any screenings, simply stayed home, reading various magazines (Interview, Premiere, NY Times Books Review). Charles came by and we all went out to Joe & Pat's on Staten Island; i thought Larry's sisters would prefer that to anything really fancy.
Over the wires, a little story about Jane Fonda feeling that she might prove a hindrance if she were to become more vocal in her opposition to the current Iraq War. About Jane Fonda: she's always been one of my favorite actresses (i loved her ever since "Walk on the Wild Side" and "The Chapman Report"), and i admire her courage in taking various stands, and in being so smart about business. But the woman remains an emotional mess: i was looking through her autobiography, and she still won't so much as mention the fact that she has two sisters! She doesn't even have the excuse that her brother had (i.e., that Pan and Amy opted to have private lives, and he respects that). Fonda feels that people like Cindy Sheehan are doing an excellent job with the protest movement against the Iraq War; she feels that she's still someone who is polarizing. Barbara Walters is subbing for Charlie Rose, and the guest is Jane Fonda.
Other stories: Bush appoints a new Chief of Staff. People are expected to resign. But nobody at the top. Bolten had been budget director. What kind of crap is this? It's like FEMA; after the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, the resignations.... but those Republicans aren't actually fired, they're just shifted to other spots on the public payroll. What is this?
Last week, there was an amazing episode of "77 Sunset Strip": it was one about a famed director who leaves a filmed will, with clues as to where the actual "treasure" is... but it was an episode where Fay Wray played a movie star from the silent period (which she was), and Neil Hamilton also played someone from the silent period (which he was), and there were segments from various old Warner Brothers movies... at one point, Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith) tells Fay Wray that he loved her in "Doctor X" (one of the Warner horror movies that she did star in)! It was aamzing because it was so self-referential: post-modernism had nothing on the way that Warners recycled itself in the late 1950s!
So many things happening.
DVD Beaver had another financial crisis: it's such an elaborate website, and Gary really doesn't want to do too much advertising on it, so he's losing money. But i've been trying to get DVDs through the links. Jonathan Rosenbaum has contributed two recent pieces to the site. I should put in a plug for DVD Beaver: people should click on http://www.dvdbeaver.com and take a look, it's an amazing site because the reviews are very specific about the quality of the DVD production, with amazing comparisons and screen captures. Gary just reviewed the Tennessee Williams boxset that Warners will be putting out.
It's funny: Gary lives in Mississauga, which is a suburb of Toronto. When i realized that, it brought a pang, since that was where Lance lived. (That's another long story.)
My brother came by and we did my taxes. I always feel like that line Laurie Anderson said (in 1982 or so): under the line that says occupation, i feel like i should cross it out and put hobby.
In current events, more generals are coming out against Rumsfeld. Generals! Of course, the White House is now rounding up as many generals as possible to discredit the ones who are speaking out. That is the way of George W. Bush! Not to answer the criticisms, but to smear those who dare to speak out.
Carmen sent us an e.mail, asking if we know of a film called "Pickpocket"! It was showing at the library up in Yonkers. Carmen is (sometimes) hilarious: the guy can be totally oblivious. Of course i would know "Pickpocket". Which reminds me that the article i promised the Masters of Cinema/Robert Bresson website needs to be finished!
What am i doing? I can be such a procrastinator.
Michael Giltz notes that this season's "American Idol" seems to be petering out, with the singers somehow less exciting than in other years. The Mandisa controversy seems to have been one of the only lively points in this season's competition. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that so many of the people are really professional: they've been on the outskirts of the music industry for years, and so you're seeing a lot of people who hadn't quite made it, and now you know why.... it's not like a whole bunch of real amateurs (and, say what you will, Diana DiGarmo, Fantasia, Ruben Stoddard, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken were all amateurs when they entered the competition) who are really straining to prove they can sing. The people who were amateurs (such as Ayla, David, Kevin) got eliminated early.
Dave Kehr's website has a lot of people commenting on an observation made in an interview by Harold Ramis.
On the Male4Malescorts site, Brett Holt has a new picture: a picture showing his face rather than his torso. I'm glad: Brett's really so handsome.
At some point soon, i want to read some of Gavin Lambert's other novels. I've read his books on Norma Shearer, on Natalie Wood, and on Lindsay Anderson, and the interview book with George Cukor... and i've read "Insiade Daisy Clover" but i'd like to read his other novels...
Jim Wolcott had a piece on Dwight Macdonald in the Times Book Review: for some reason (and i know the reason) it reminded me of David Denby's article on Susan Sontag. But it was actually quite touching, and Wolcott showed a real appreciation for Macdonald.
The point that so many movie people seem unable to understand: can you admire a writer even if you disagree? In terms of film: i often disagreed with Macdonald, but still he was a fun writer to read in Esquire in the 1960s.
One of the only truisms that i have is that if a critic is enthusiastic about something, and can't make you want to see it, then that critic isn't such a good critic. It's not making a wisecrack (most people can do that), it's making you want to rush out and see/hear/read whatever is under discussion. Jed Perl did that when the Guggenheim Museum had its amazing retrospective on African sculpture; his writing was so rapturous about the work, i had to see it for myself!
Jennifer Homans has an intriguing review in this week's New Public about some recent dance pieces in which sex and nudity are on display. I also liked her review of Marcia B. Siegel's book on Twyla Tharp. Which reminds me that it's been maybe a decade since i've run into Marcia. so you how often i go to dance now....
Just so much stuff to write about. But always in a rush.
Friday, didn't go to any of the Tribeca screenings; instead, spent time with Larry and family. Saturday, a lot of interesting items in the NY Times: article about how MFA programs are becoming baby mills for galleries (article by Carol Vogel; given FRONT PAGE treatment no less!), then a boldface article on Baird Jones (on the front page of the Metro Section, no less), then an article about the Stravinsky tribute at Dance Theater Workshop organized by Annie B Parsons, and how she wanted to find a choreographer whose impact would be as startling and revolutionary as Stravinsky's was in his time, so she decided to go with... Yvonne Rainer! I mean: a woman who (basically) retired from choreography in 1973! In the article, Yvonne says something funny: how her "manifesto" from 1965 has come to haunt her. (That's why i NEVER was so stupid as to write anything like a "manifesto": i didn't want to be forced to have my work looked at in a specific way... but what happened was that critics assumed that i was an idiot who unintentionally had all these references in my work, since i wasn't white, i couldn't actually have read these things - when "The Dialectic of Enlightenment" was reviewed in The Village Voice, the guy decided that it must have been some sort of fluke for me to use the title of a book by Adorno and Horkheimer, a stupid Chinaman couldn't have actually READ "theory", so people assumed that i couldn't have been intentionally theoretical and "intellectual" in my approach. So there's the dilemma: publish a manifesto, and it comes back to haunt you because so many critics aren't capable of actually extending their imagination, or don't publish a manifesto, and critics assume you're an idiot who unintentionally references theory.) A lot of film reviews, everyone seems to be reviewing "The Notorious Betty Page" but so far the one person who hasn't made a comment is David Noh: when i first met David Noh, he was working at Movie Star News, which was run by Paula Klaw. In the 1960s and 1970s, in NYC, to get movie stills, there were a few places: Cinemabilia, The Memory Shop, Movie Star News. And (of course) i would go in with the most arcane requests ("Do you have any stills of Carole Lombard in "Big News" the Gregory LaCava film from 1929?") and David would always try to help me find it ("Wasn't the costar Robert Armstrong? Maybe we have a still in his file"); i don't notice anyone asking David about Paula.
But that's the thing: in all of this current memorializing of the past, it's always at a remove. It's never from people who actually knew the people, etc.
Somehow, it didn't seem like Easter: the usual "Easter movies" weren't on TV. I mean: Channel 13 played "The Barefoot Contessa" and "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers", not exactly movies i would consider Easter fare.
But have thought a lot about those articles, and info online about the state of nonprofit media organizations. Just got an e.mail from Diana Lee: ACV is another organization facing a crisis.
As Kenny would say, "It was inevitable."
Friday, April 14, 2006
One of the producers of the rather horrid "Kettle of Fish" was Michael Mailer; his brother Stephen Mailer has a small part in the movie. Both are progeny of Norman Mailer. (See? Things always tie together, if you can find a link.) Stayed up last night and saw the credits for "Count Your Blessings", a lousy and strenuous "comedy" from the late 1950s; it's one of those movies where Deborah Kerr tries too hard. (Yet she's utterly charming and funny in "The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp" and "Vacation from Marriage" which were shown just before on TCM.) But what freaked me out was that the credits state that the movie is based on Nancy Mitford's "The Blessing"! I didn't realize that: though the bare bones of the plot are the same, the movie clumps so much that the bare bones of the novel got utterly trampled. But then, i saw the movie so long ago (i actually remember going to see it in a theater!) and i read the novel later, so there was no connection between the two.
Found the novel (a paperback edition, Popular Library did these editions where the Mitford novels were paired; "The Blessing" came with "Don't Tell Alfred"), and it reminds me that there are some paperbacks that have simply vanished. I have no idea where they went and they didn't show up when we packed/unpacked in the move. I don't know where Dorothy Richardson's "Pilgrimage" series is; that's something i'd like to look at again. My two favorite Iris Murdoch novels, "Under the Net" and "The Flight from the Enchanter", have also gone. (This reminds me that one problem i have is that i tend to read a writer from start to... wherever i wind up. When i read Iris Murdoch, she had written about 12 novels at that point, it was in the mid-1960s, by that point, the last novel she had written was "Bruno's Dream", and so i read "A Severed Head" and "The Bell Jar" and "The Red and the Green" and "The Italian Girl" and... well, "The Nice and the Good" is another big favorite. But that means that books like "The Sea, The Sea" or "The Green Knight" or anything she wrote after 1967 (where i went through two months where i read her novels), i have no idea... and i get this pang, like maybe i should take the time and read her post-1967 novels. But once i finish with a writer.... i love immersing myself in her or his sensibility, i love going from start to "finish" but it's hard (after that) to pick up the thread. (That's what's happened to Anita Brookner, and Ann Tyler... but in the case of Ann Tyler, after her first six novels, which i read in just about one sitting, i have picked up a few of her novels... "Back When We Were Grownups" was one.) That's such a bad habit...
But one thing is that one problem with "romantic comedies" is that there actually is material out there, but people in Hollywood don't seem to know it. Alicia Silverstone, for example, can be an absolutely charming comedienne, as she proved in "Clueless" and she's the right age (now) and she'd be perfect as the heroine (the blonde Jewish philosophy grad student) of Rebecca Goldstein's "The Mind Body Problem".
Ah... Jewish writers. Reminds me that two weeks ago, i read "Ravelstein". Yes, Saul Bellow is another writer that i did my usual: i stopped with "Mr. Sammler's Planet". And i didn't read anything he wrote after that. (Actually, i have to admit that Saul Bellow was a writer that i didn't even bother going all the way through: there were gaps. I never read "The Adventures of Augie March" until this summer!) But reading "Ravelstein", it reminded me of something Mary McCarthy wrote about the death of the novel, and how writers (Dickens, say, or Tolstoy) were engaged in writing about life, and a certain reportage was part of the novelist's craft. But the social conditions of the writer's life have contracted: writers basically know other writers, they study writing, etc.
And this can be seen in Saul Bellow: "The Adventures of Augie March is one of those "teeming with life" books ("Dickensian" is one of those adjectives that always gets bandied about); it's filled with amazing descriptive passages that depict the people and the places that Augie sees. But "Ravelstein" is a much thinner book, and i'm not just talking about size. I mean in terms of the texture: the life of academics just doesn't have the excitement for Bellow that the life of the tenements had. Bellow can't make "ideas" come alive, that's not his forte. He can't dramatize ideas in a way that make them vibrate.
Actually, i enjoyed "Ravelstein" a lot, but it just doesn't have the "weight" of his earlier books. But it also points to the way that writers develop in our society: if they become successful, their social standing shifts, and the social interactions constrict. Bellow was a renowned author and he taught at the University of Chicago, and his social circle became other writers, students and other teachers, etc.
This brings me to another point: when i was sending off my work to the bigger regional/nonprofit theaters, i got, not the standard rejection letters, but these horrendous two and three page letters, denouncing me! The reason: these people had contacted me, expecting an "ethnic" writer, and, instead, i was an avantgarde writer, and my subject was my life. And since i was 10, my "life" consisted of reading and going to movies and art in New York City. And by the time i was 15, that became my professional life. And i would have had to have been as retarded as most of the people running most of the nonprofit theaters in the US, to have continued to write about "Chinatown" (which, really, ended for me by the time i was about 5). I don't know what's happening in Chinatown now.
But i thought Nancy Mitford's novels were charming... even though i was so depressed about the fact that the Mitford sisters were neo-Nazis (with the exception of Jessica).
But i guess what i'm saying is that, if Saul Bellow can write about University of Chicago academics in "Ravelstein" because, by the 1960s, his life had become that, why is it so unusual for me to write about avantgarde filmmakers and performance artists and critics and curators?
Thursday, April 13, 2006
This morning, hilarity (of a sort) on the subway. Got off the R at 36th Street (Brooklyn) in order to catch the D, but the N train came first... and one car was empty, and as people stepped in, they gagged and ran out to another car: there was a homeless man with a shopping cart full of stuff wrapped in black plastic bags, and it reeked so much that people in the station were gagging and moving away from the car! (Reminds me that i once read that man's most potent "weapon" when he was still in the jungle was the stench: "man" unwashed and totally natural has the worst odor of any animal in the world, and this homeless guy proved it!) I had to wait (a long time) before a D train came, and when it did, at the Atlantic-Pacific stop, a schizo (who seemed off his meds) came on... sure enough, he stood right next to me, muttering and suddenly screaming... and it was crowded, and it wasn't as if i could move anywhere! Luckily, once we got to Manhattan, he got off at the Grand Street stop. (Thank heaven for small favors.)
Larry's sisters came in last night: they are staying for a week. Of course, today, Barry took them out to see Rockefeller Center, etc. But he keeps forgetting that they are both in their 70s, and after walking a lot, they get tired!
But i went to see screenings at the Walter Reade Theater for the African Film Festival. "U-Carmen eKhayelitsha" was pretty phenomenal (i thought): i could see why it won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival last year. (What i can't understand is why no other festival took it up before this.) Then there was a selection of shorts. Met Debbie there, and went to lunch with hre, then went down to a Tribeca screening: "Waterbuster". It's a true Tribeca film: a documentary that was developed as part of the Tribeca All-Access program. I thought it was pretty good, very solid and informational (it's about the displacement of the North Dakota plains Indian tribes in the 1950s), but then i was depressed....
Yesterday, i almost had one of my blow-ups. The reason: i was talking to some guy who has been attending a lot of the Tribeca press screenings, and he had been at the "experimental" program (Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson, Ken Jacobs) and he thought it was the booby prize of the festival, and i couldn't deal with it: i didn't want (once again!) to be the person who "justified" Ken Jacobs. (Or Jonas Mekas, or George Landow, or Warren Sonbert, or whomever.) I don't think that a lot of those people (i know Jonas doesn't) have any idea what happened starting in the mid-1980s: i was being asked by so many of foundations and councils and so on to be the "nonwhite avantgarde expert" and if i could provide a spirited defense of those artists, they could get a grant, or they might be included in a PBS program, etc. (I know that Warren was very aware of this, and i know that Ken has always been aware of this.) And i just couldn't deal with this person.
But i have to say: Robert Wilson's "video portraits" of Brad Pitt and Isabelle Huppert were two of the emptiest things i've ever seen.
Ken's "Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy" was a digital "transcription" of the Nervous System projection piece that Ken showed at MoMA during its "exile" at the Gramercy Theater. I loved it then, and it worked reasonably well in its digital version.
Last week, Larry and i were on the subway, and this very thin, incredibly beautiful tall boy was pacing back and forth on the subway car. He was so so antsy. And Larry was watching the boy, and i turned to Larry and said, "Are you feeling nostalgic?" Because the boy was obviously a junkie who was strung out. Just like the other day, i noticed the copy of Norman Mailer's "Why Are We in Vietnam?", and i remembered Kenny's comments (what kind of a stupid book is that? it's just curse words!... i should add that Norman Mailer was Kenny's favorite writer, his favorite book of all time was "The Executioner's Song" which he read at least 12 times! and he also loved "The Naked and the Dead", but he hated "Why Are We in Vietnam?"). Of course, i can't imagine how Kenny could have lived any longer than he did, but it's hard not to miss him.
After seeing "Kettle of Fish" (pretty dismal) at Tribeca, had a really interesting discussuion with Ronnie Sheib (who's a reviewer for Variety) about these insane attempts to make old-fashioned romantic comedies. So far, in terms of Tribeca: most of the fiction films have been unimpressive, but there have been a lot of very solid documentaries.
And this ties in with my feelings of helplessness: can there be another "wave" of new filmmakers? Everything now seems geared towards documentary. And Ronnie said it: documentaries are good and informative and so on, but she misses that imaginative leap, that excitement that comes when you see a real work of art. I know that Tribeca will show a lot of exceptional restorations: "Prix de Beaute" and Renoir's "The River" and Rossellini's "Flowers of St. Francis" are certainly worth chance to see, i love those movies....
But i want something new.
Actually, two of the things i saw at the African Film Festival qualify: "U-Carmen" and "Les Saignantes" were really exciting.
Monday, April 10, 2006
I can't understand why George W. Bush hasn't just self-destructed. Now there's this whole immigration debacle: the Republicans figured that no one (except "wetbacks") would care about their draconian immigration laws (which are part and parcel of the whole Patriot Act/taking away civil liberties), and now it's backfired, as demonstrations in so many cities have jammed up the streets. Today, it was amazing: at three o'clock, i was on the subway, going across the Manhattan Bridge, and you could see the masses streaming over the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to City Hall! Getting out at Canal Street, there were hordes, and so many police barracades. But it was fascinating....
Two screenings at Tribeca: "The Big Bad Swim" (surprisingly not bad, a charming little indie with good performances) and "Metro" (ugh! incredibly bad, a digital production which was impossibly ugly, because there was no color correction, and all the interiors were lit badly, so that the scenes were red, or green, or yellow... and never once was there a skin tone).
But today on CNN a very bizarre item: there was a segment with Seymour Hersh, and his article about the possibility of an attack on Iran as planned by the current adminsitration. Of course, there was footage of Bush and Rumsfeld denying this. But then CNN did something really funny: they posted the number of outright lies by this administration, especially in relation to Iraq ("weapons of mass destruction", etc.) and then they posted Seymour Hersh's "resume", concentrating on the number of awards he's won, and the "scoops" (such as the My Lai massacre, etc.) that he's broken, and then they left it up to the viewer: who would you believe? Hilarious! That CNN would do that now....
Ohmigod: it wasn't Jennifer Aniston in "The Wedding Date" it was Debra Messing, Jennifer Aniston's stupid-date-wedding-movie was "Picture Perfect" (and they all merge anyway, they're all so formulaic). Where is my brain when i'm watching these movies?
Allan Kaprow died. An obit in the New York Times. Didn't realize that he had been ill the last few years; feelings of sadness. His career was strange: he became the Happenings artist, and then he seemed to hibernate in San Diego. Of course, there was the (long) stit at UCSD, and his attempts at new modes of performance, and a few articles, but nothing to compare with his huge Happenings book (which Larry and i have).
Of course, i met Allan over the years, especially at the last "What's Cooking" festival; Pauline Oliveros had started the "What's Cooking" festival when she was at UCSD, but they carried on with the annual event (a "performance art" festival) for a few years after she left. So i was invited; it proved to be the last one, and that's when i spent time with Allan, Eleanor and David Antin, and Frantisek Deak. It was the period when the concept of "the avantgarde" was really in disarray. Allan was concerned that younger artists were too "commercial"; he said that during the final session of the festival, which was a session where people were supposed to reflect on the events, etc. (I had written an article in PAJ about how the avantgarde was becoming an avenue for entering the mainstream, and i used people like Laurie Anderson and Eric Bogosian as examples. This was in the mid-1980s, and i was taken to task by people like Don Shewey for suggesting this. Of course, i turned out to be right, and it's only become more and more like this.) I understood Allan's point, but i loved the fact that Eleanor explained that younger people can't have the same careers that people of their generation did: she even said that, how many young people are going to get teaching jobs like the ones that she and Allan have at UCSD, where they have the luxury of not having to bend to commercial pressures?
I remember running into Allan at the opening of "Blam!" the exhibition about '60s art at the Whitney.
That era really is over, and it's hard to explain it. Got the "Wintersoldier" DVD from Dennis Doros, and though i'd gone to the screening when they showed it a few months ago at the Walter Reade, the extras on the disc are also fascinating. But the whole "explosion" in terms of art and politics and culture...
BTW: looked at Callie's Warhol book at the Strand (still too expensive for me to buy) and realized that, in fact, Edie Sedgwick became the last of the "13 Most Beautiful Women" (though the numbering was crazy, because there were more than thirteen). Once Warhol got Edie, that marked the end of the series....
And Kenneth King had been one of the "13 Most Beautiful Boys". Boy, Kenneth was so beautiful in those days!
On one of the strands in the IMDB boards, there was a lot of comments about Debbie Reynolds, and one person saying that he met her recently, and she was a little scary, because she seemed a little absent-minded, a little out-of-it... but, hey, the woman's in her 70s! And that's like running into some of these artists... sometimes, they seem out of it, but then you realize how old they are.
Tomorrow, there's a press screening for Ken Jacobs' "Ontic Antics".
One thing: so many of these artists are now being "memorialized" and i have no idea what they're talking about. The people that they're commemorating have little to do with the people that i actually knew. At this year's Tribeca Film Festival, there are films about Jack Smith, Marie Menken, Robert Frank.... will any of these films have anything to do with the reality of those people? The Jack Smith film is the one i'd been hearing about.... i never was contacted by the filmmaker. What could i say? I went to see a lot of his work, and i... i guess i could say i was a friend. One thing: i knew enough never to talk to him first. If i ran into him in the street, and he couldn't look at me and remember my name, i just kept walking. Because once he was "lost in thought" it was better to leave him, because you never knew, he might fly into a rage! And he never did with me, and so our friendship was very pleasant, he was always trying to show me things he was working on.... but then, he could never remember exactly what he was doing!
But Jack Smith was the crucible of my first experience on a grant panel! It was the Multimedia category of CAPS (Creative Artists Public Service, i think it was; it was eventually disbanded and the functions were folded into the New York Foundation for the Arts). And his application was the most bizarre thing ever: it was a BOX. Literally: a taped-together big box, and inside, all sorts of things. Collages and little toys and... it was indescribable. But it was just like Jack! And i pulled a fast one: when it came time to discuss his work, i gave such a spiel! I made that junk seem like the essence of... well, i also noted how Jack was just one of the most influential artists ever! (We're still feeling the effects, or people like Charles Busch wouldn't even have a career.) And sure enough, Jack got his grant!
That was the period when there were still some of us who were trying to make sure that this "system" that was developing had a place for people like Jack. Or Harry Smith. (Harry Smith was so funny: he couldn't believe that i could watch his movies without being drunk. Or high. Or both.) Now, i don't think there'd be a place, and i don't think that the people who grew up with this system of grants and funding can understand that there was a period when people who were artists did it... it's difficult to explain how we did it, we just did!
It's like i was the kind of person, i decided to write a play, i did, i decided to begin writing a novel, i did, i decided to do performances, i did.... no training, no school, no nothing. I just decided to do what i wanted, and, initially, it worked out, by the 1980s, i started running into problems. And now people like Jack and Marie Menken are being memorialized, by people who probably wouldn't have wanted to actually know these people when they were alive. That's what kills me. (I mean: would these people have practically bolted the doors in order to make sure that Jack Smith would have gotten the one grant in his life? Not only that, but i knew what would happen: i would become a pariah, because someone that crazy had to be punished. And it happened, but then something else happened: "political correctness" and i became popular as the one non-white avantgarde advocate. In some years, i would do as many as three panels. And that would lead to things like the first year of ITVS. But the point was to try to make sure there was a place for people like Jack Smith. Now, this is so beyond the pale... Would these people have risked their careers championing someone like Jack? Now, they're doing it from the safety of... well, they're doing it because they're safe. But i was doing it when it wasn't safe.)
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Some news items of hilarity. Big brouhaha over Jared Paul Stern and Page Six of the New York Post, and possible extortion. Imagine: gossip columnists might not be the most ethical? Hell: hasn't anyone ever seen "Sweet Smell of Success"? I thought everyone already knew that most gossip columnists were the lowest of the low. So it turns out that George W. Bush wasin the loop regarding the CIA leak (which is a federal offense): this is a surprise? George W. Bush doesn't seem to realize that he is not supposed to be above the law. But it's like all these revelations just keep pelting him, and nothing's happening. No major outrage, nothing. I'm so disgusted i can't even spit.
A full day of screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival. Three docs and one narrative feature. "Two Players from the Bench." I can't even describe it, except to say "oh, those wacky Serbs" because every year or so there's a nihilistic/neo-absurdist/almost-farce which is very broadly done (almost to the point of utter caricature) from "the former Yugoslavia" that allegorizes the Serb-Croatian conflict. And here's this year's model.
However, the documentaries were fascinating, at least to me. The first was "Tell Me Do You Miss Me" which chronicles the last tour of the band Luna. Luna is one of those indie-alternative rock bands that's been around for a long time (i remember their appearance on bills in the early 1990s at places like CBGBs and The Bottom Line), and they've finally decided to call it quits. They've made about a dozen albums, but they've never made it to gold album sales status. So it's the farewell tour, and the four people in the band are remarkably adult. To me, what was fascinating was the idea of "adult rock", of which Aimee Mann is perhaps an exemplar. These people make music which is usually literate and reasonably catchy and rhythmic, but they're adults writing for adults (who've grown up with rock music as a predominant form). So Luna is one of those bands, and this documentary brought up a lot of conflicts (commercial and otherwise) which are part and parcel of today's music scene.
"From Dust" was a doc about some of the tsunami victims, and how, in Sri Lanka, the government has taken so much of the international aid (money, supplies, etc.) and is not giving it to any of the actual victims. In fact, the government is making things tough for the victims because the government wishes these people would just disappear so that all the waterfront property can be redeveloped for tourism, etc. It was heart-wrenching, but it's also sad because it was accompanied by a short, "Putting the River in Reverse", about the New Orleans musician and composer Albert Toussaint, and it's so obvious that the US government is just as horrendous as the Sri Lankan government: parts of Mississippi and Louisiana still have not gotten any of the assistance that was mandated.
Then there was the doc "37 Uses for a Dead Sheep", which was one of the more imaginative documentaries, detailing the lives of the Pamir Kirghiz people... it's an amazing story, because this tribe has been in constant emigration. Their Central Asian homeland was annexed by the USSR, and so they moved to land which then became part of China, and so they moved again to Afghanistan, and then when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, to Pakistan, and now they're in Central Turkey! And all through this, they've tried to maintain their distinctive culture and traditions and language, and now, after more then a century of constant dislocation, they're faced with the fact that their young people are moving to the big cities, to Istambul and other major cities, where they want to continue their education, they want to work in high tech jobs (one young man talks about opening an internet cafe; a young woman is now a nurse, but she wants to further her education and be able to specialize) and this assimilation process is inevitable, yet it means that something (a whole way of life, an entire culture) which had been so resilient is now in the process of being lost forever.
"37 Uses for a Dead Sheep" was incredibly charming (the "premise" is that the documentary filmmakers from England are there to make a film about the history of the Pamir Kirghiz... where they have the son of one of the great leaders playing his father, and people dressing up in heirloom clothing so that they can enact the pilgrimage made by their ancestors, etc.). I liked it a lot, so did Adrienne Mancia, who showed up for the screening.
I stayed up to watch Dreyer's "Gertrud" on TCM. Isn't it amazing how, when that film first came out in the mid-1960s, it just seemed so... archaic? But now, it no longer seems "slow", just... i don't know. Calm.
The other night, i came back from the screening of "Mountain Patrol" and i caught the last half hour of the HBO Rosie O'Donnell special about the gay-family-cruise. But i left it on HBO and watched "The Wedding Date"... i wasn't really that interested, but my eye was caught by the listing of Amy Adams very prominently in the cast. So it would have been at the same time that she was also in "Junebug", and i wanted to see....
Just very fast: the Randy Quaid lawsuit against James Schamus and Focus Features seems (on the surface) a nuisance suit, but it also points to the insecurities of Hollywood now. Amy Adams is an example. I looked her up on IMDB, and she's been working fairly steadily for the last decade (she's in her early 30s now). But Amy Adams is one of those (reasonably) skilled actresses who hadn't (yet) made an impression (the way Naomi Watts did a lot of made-for-TV movies and "B" movies for a decade before "Mulholland Drive"), and so she was willing to take a really low-budget job (as "Junebug" was) in the hopes that it'll bring her to attention. In "The Wedding Date", Amy Adams has the role of the sister who's getting married (which is the reason that her older sister, played by Jennifer Aniston, needs a date so desperately; she doesn't want to show up as the "old maid" older sister, etc.), and she's very pretty in the role, and she plays it well, but it's nothing special. And the movie is nothing special. And enough of those, and you may have a career, but is having a nothing special career really what anyone wants?
One reason movies can make you crazy is that it's such a crapshoot. Amy Adams rolled the dice with "Junebug" and won (it brought her critical attention, which brought her several awards, such as a special award at Sundance, and it went all the way to an Academy Award nomination), but for every Amy Adams, there are dozens of people doing indie movies which aren't getting anywhere.
And that's the reality of it.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Of course, i got angry at my mother, but how can i stay mad at her? She's my mother, after all. But went to two more screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival: "Burke and Wills" (an English comedy, kind of a depressed slacker comedy a la "Stranger Than Paradise" or "Clerks") and "Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig" (about the creation of a tribute album using the music from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" as a benefit for the Hedrick-Martin Institute, intercut with stories of students from said institute; it's like an extended - almost two hours - segment of "In the Life" and, sure enough, it's made by people who worked on "In the Life", like Katherine Linton). But what i've been saying about "movies" is coming (horribly) true: it's all becoming TV. So much is digitally created, and now it's being digitally projected, and the qualities are such that the audience might just as well be sitting home watching TV (on their big screen monitors). But also went to the press screening of "Mountain Patrol: Kekexili" and... it was a REAL movie, a widescreen adventure epic set in the mountain regions of the Chinese-Tibetan border. The story lagged at times, but the cinematography was spectacular, and it was really gorgeous. (I'm a sucker for these quasi-ethnographic movies; last year, i loved "Travellers and Magicians" from Bhutan and the year before, i loved "The Story of the Weeping Camel"; i'm sorry, sue me, but that's what i like.)
Well, onto more Tribeca screenings. Talked to my sister: this is something i can't understand, why she called me last night at 8:30 (i was on the subway then; i actually got home at 8:45) but her message didn't come in until this morning! These cellphones... why messages come in late, i don't know, but it happens every so often.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Yesterday, there was a big obit in the New York Times, about Barry Bingham, Jr. the obit rehashed the family crisis, where Barry Bingham's sister, Sallie, tried to wrest some of the control of the Louisville Courier from her brother, the resulting lawsuits which finally split the family, etc. But of course the settlement that Sallie received provided the initial funding for her son, Barry Ellsworth, to start up Apparatus Productions.
I haven't been to galleries, and i realized that Fred Wilson had a show at Pace, and Yvonne Jacquette had a show at DC Moore. Haven't seen Fred since his show at the Aldrich Museum; ran into Yoshiko Chuma at Nam June Paik's funeral and memorial. (Yoshiko is married to Jacob Burkhardt, who is Yvonne Jacquette's stepson; Yvonne was at Skowhegan the summer that David went there; David came back with notebooks full of drawings... i wonder if Donald Baechler still has those notebooks. I know that Yvonne and Rudy Burckhardt thought that David showed a lot of talent.)
Also this week: VOD (Video On Demand) from Universal. Two films offered on the Internet through some sort of pay service: "Brokeback Mountain" and "King Kong". The demise of the theatrical release continues apace.
It's the brave new world. And it's here. The Weinsteins (in their recent financial maneuvrings) have attempted to find a foothold in this new world, by acquiring interests in cable stations, in DVD distribution, in all those companies which specialized in what used to be seen as the "ancillary" markets, but which are now becoming primary markets.
Agh! Went to the BBC America website, and found out that the actor's name is Ken Stott... but on the end credits of "The Vice" i thought it said Eddie Stott. Anyway, he's also starring in "Messiah" (which was so creepy in its first season that i could barely watch it).
I blew up at my mother, but now i apologized. I'm always doing that. One day, i'm going to stop....
Maybe the reason i feel so depressed is that i'm so isolated. Nobody calls me. When we moved, we got digital phone service so that we wouldn't have to change our phone number, since we've had this number for 25 years. But nobody calls. Not for me, anyway. So here i am, stuck in Brooklyn, and i'm utterly alone. Larry goes to his openings and art events, and he's out every day. Unless there are press screenings, there's no reason for me to go anywhere. And so i'm stuck here. I don't know anyone around here. Nobody calls me. I remember once, i decided i wouldn't call anyone for a month. And sure enough, nobody called me. That was a few years ago. The other day, i called a bunch of people. And nobody called back. And the people i called still haven't called back. It just makes me feel more alienated.
Yesterday was the first time i've mentioned Kenny ever on this blog. For me, his death was the most traumatic of all the deaths in my life. (The very next day, after he died, i had my first attack of gout.) I miss my grandmother, and my father, and Pauline.... those were some of the people who were so close to me. But i miss Kenny so much. I remember him always saying to Larry and me, "You are my gay parents." "You are my family." Of course, we actually were: we were listed as his "designated next of kin", and when he died, we were able to sign all the death certificates (which didn't happen when his brother David died: there was no designated next of kin, and there had to be court orders before the body could be released.)
I've been trying to write about Kenny, but it's very difficult, because i don't want to let it slide into some sort of horrible sentimentality, the sentimentality of abjection (as seen in JT Leroy). But i'll see what happens....
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Mandisa got the lowest score on "American Idol"; she's now off the show. Interesting note about her on Michael Giltz's blog (http://popsurfing.blogspot.com) about a week ago, and it seems that she lost a huge fan base. Watched the end of "The Vice": absolutely shattering, especially in contrast with this week's "Law and Order: SVU", which had a similar ploy... but in "The Vice" the character played by Eddie Stott does lose it, and strangles the bad guy (a horrific scene) whereas in "SVU" you know that Mariska Hargitay won't lose it. Sunday was a day of TV: "Huff", "So NoTORIous" and (yes) "The Surreal Life" which is certainly surreal this year, what with Alexis Arquette's appearance as a transgendered (fe)male. Also "The Next Food Network Star". Have to say that Sharon Stone's appearance on "Huff" was fun, as much fun as her performance in "Broken Flowers" last year.
I'm starting to hate holidays, because my mother is such a pain. Once again, she's making problems... this time about the plans for Easter. I just wish... i can't even say it, it's too mean. But this is the woman who once screamed at me that i was causing problems for "her family" (and she didn't mean me, she meant her brother; when your mother lets you know she doesn't consider you part of her family... why do i even bother to speak to this woman?)... and she's doing it again. Once, in high school, one of my teachers asked me if my mother was proud of me (because i was such a know-it-all, especially about philosophy), and i said, no.
Kenny used to hate holidays, because his family would gather together and get drunk and start fighting. In the last year, my mother has made holidays a horror, because she's finally realized that what she wants is "her family", and that doesn't mean her children, but her one living brother (who wants nothing to do with her, and he's let her know it; the reason is that he has already used her and gotten all he can out of her, and she's of no use to him, so why bother?) and her sisters. She made Christmas a nightmare because she was brooding and miserable because she wanted to be with "her family", as if her sons and her daughter and their children weren't enough. But we're not for her. And the last person on earth that she wants to have anything to do with is me, her oldest child. And she keeps letting me know it.
And why do i put up with this? So i didn't: i let her have it tonight.
But even though it was dramatic, did it accomplish anything? I doubt it.
It's been more than a week since i've written anything, and so much has happened. A number of screenings, a lot of TV, current events, et al. And though i've had a lot of thoughts about everything, i've also been hugely depressed. It's depressing to state things and have them come true: people i know don't bother listening to me anymore, and then when what i've said comes true, they act surprised. It's like New Directors/New Films ended, and i told people that the series would get the worst reviews in years, and i was right. Not because i necessarily agreed with the negative reviews (i didn't) but because i always listen when other people are talking after press screenings, so i can figure out what other people think. It doesn't change what i think, but it clues me in to what the critical climate is right now. What are people looking for?
The Tribeca Film Festival started its press screenings, and i've now seen two movies, "The Sci Fi Boys" and "Encounter Point". Once again, i have the sense that a lot of the work will be projected digitally, and a lot of the work (especially the documentary work) will have been shot on digital. And the whole issue of aesthetics will again be muddied. Quite bluntly: most documentaries are not works of art. A simple definition: a work of art is a work of the imagination. Most documentaries do not engage the imagination. A good documentary deals in fact, and illuminates in a factual manner. A documentary is like journalism. But most journalists are not artists. But nowadays, what the hell is the difference? And what is imagination anyway?
Dave Kehr reviewed "The Busby Berkeley Collection" last week, a rather extensive review discussing the aesthetic of Berkeley and comparing Berkeley's usage of space and mass to Leni Riefenstahl (and noting that Susan Sontag made the same comparison in her essay "Fascinating Fascism"). This week, Kehr reviews Universal's "The Glamour Collection", DVD sets of films starring Carole Lombard, Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. Of course, the Dietrich set is essential as "art": it contains three of her films directed by Josef von Sternberg ("Morocco", "Blonde Venus" and "The Devil is a Woman"). But he devoted the most space to discussing Carole Lombard, though it should be noted that she is a very uneven actress: in 1934 (one of her busiest years) she could go from "Twentieth Century" (one of her greatest performances) to "We're Not Dressing" (included in the set, and a fine comic performance) to "Now and Forever" (to be found on DVD on the "Shirley Temple Little Darling Pack"; a flat and uninteresting performance, though she looks sensational). More than most actresses, she needed congenial directors and good scripts and a rapport with the other performers. But even in the era of amazing actresses (Colbert, Arthur, Loy, Hepburn, Davis, Stanwyck, Harlow, Rogers, Russell, Garbo, Dietrich, et al), she was special. The fact that comedy is underrated can be seen in the fact that: she was only nominated once for an Academy Award (the same goes for Jean Arthur, and Loy was never nominated), yet her best performances ("Twentieth Century", "My Man Godfrey", "Nothing Sacred", "To Be or Not to Be") rank with the best ever.
One interesting note: on Turner Classic Movies this month, the guest programmer is Ileana Douglas, and she has programmed three movies in which her grandfather, Melvyn Douglas, costarred. This is amazing to me, because about a decade ago, when she was in "To Die For", one subject that was absolutely verboten to mention was her grandparents: she did not want any mention of Melvyn Douglas or Helen Gahagan. She was trying so hard to distance herself from her grandparents (why? aside from everything else, her grandfather was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild, and her grandmother ran against Richard Nixon, and would have won, except that Nixon pulled a number of very dirty tricks, which resulted in Melvyn Douglas being blacklisted in the 1950s), but i guess she's relented.
Either that, or Robert Osborne is some sort of real Svengali!