Thursday, September 25, 2008

Well, the current political situation is incredibly volatile. John McCain is trying to suspend the presidential campaign in order for Congress to bail out Wall Street; this is a sign that the Republicans are trying to do everything possible to prevent an election this year.

I don't even know what to think about this: it's massively criminal, but the Republicans are now trying to get the government (which they claim is too big and too intrusive) to bail out the collapse of unbridled capitalism which they created by the consistent deregulation since Ronald Reagan. The current situation proves that, without checks, greed is simply that: greed. And there is no "trickle down" effect which is one of the boondoggles of deregulation.

The rich get rich, and the rich get richer. So George W. Bush has bankrupted this country, he has embroiled this country in a hopeless war, and in emergencies such as Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, he has so dismantled FEMA that there is no system to help anyone. Why did people vote for him?

I can't deal with it.

The New York Film Festival starts tomorrow; i just read Nathan Lee's blog on WNYC, and it was funny, but somehow, my enthusiasm for the film festival (which i've gone to every year since the beginning) has been rather lax this year. It has nothing to do with the "quality" of the films; when i've gone to the press screenings, i've found most of the films to be worthwhile. But everything is so unsettled....

This summer, there was the purge of so many film critics. (This coming Saturday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is having a symposium to address this issue.) And then there was the shuttering of so many specialty divisions. The whole idea of film distribution is changing.

Last week, i went to a film a day for six days (yes, even on the weekends)... and this week, somehow, i was exhausted by the idea of more films.

I think the film that exhausted me was the Guy Debord "In girum imus nochte et consumimur igni". This work from 1978 was not "bad", but it was theoretically interesting, and this always scares me. That is: is there work which, as art, is really deficient, but as concept, is fascinating? Are "ideas" enough to make a work of art? What is art, anyway?

Does art have to have something which appeals to the senses, to the imagination? And if it doesn't, then what is it?

In short: should there be "pleasure" in art?

I think the reason that Guy Debord's film disturbed me was the same reason that Susan Sontag's novels ("The Benefactor", "Death Kit", "The Volcano Lover") disturbed me: whatever talents she had, the talent of a novelist wasn't one of them. There was an inert quality in her fiction, and in "The Volcano Lover" she just bloated up her writing, but it didn't make it any more enticing.

And i felt that way about Guy Debord's film: the cutting of various images and sequences has no flow. I was never bored, but i never felt engaged.

Strangely enough, i had a similar feeling today while i was watching Jia Zhangke's "24 City". The intermingling of documentary techniques in a fictional context was skillful, but this time, there was a remove.

If the filmmakers can't work up an engagement with their material, why should we? And that feeling kept coming back through a lot of the movies at this year's festival (this is also the case with Hong Sang-So's "Night and Day").

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Monday, we woke up to find that the world had changed: all the morning programs (The Today Show, The Morning Show, Good Morning America, etc.) were agog with the news of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the imminent collapse of AIG. Larry said, the banks are failing, what's next?

Well, it's the new depression. (Why people won't say it's a depression is something i can't understand.) It's very scary and it's obvious that the Republicans have no idea what to do. In fact, the President has been remarkably absent in the last three weeks. When Hurricane Ike hit Texas, nada. Supposedly, it's his home state, yet he made NO public appearance. He is showing his true colors, his total lack of concern and his utter contempt for everyone except his cronies. And FEMA failed yet again! Two days after the storm, no food, no water, people were just left stranded. This is what the Republicans have done, yet there is the diversion of Sarah Palin. With the economy on the verge of a total meltdown, and areas of our country ravaged by storms, is Sarah Palin really someone anyone with sense wants near the White House? But then, America voted for George W. Bush, and look where it got them.

Back to the movies. This week was the first week of the press screenings for the New York Film Festival. It's a bit scattered: the screenings are taking place in different locations. So far, i've made it to a film a day.

Actually, Friday (Sept. 12) there was a screening of James Benning's "RR". Then Monday, Laurent Cantet's "The Class"; Tuesday, Hang Sang-Soo's "Night and Day"; Wednesday, Ari Folman's animated "Waltz With Bashir" (short: "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" by J. Dollhopf and E. Goldbrunner); Thursday, Lucrecia Martel's "The Headless Woman" (short: "I Hear You Scream" by Pablo Lamar).

Observations: a solid festival. James Benning's "RR" continues his career revival, which was brought about two years ago with "10 Skies" and "13 Lakes" and "One Way Boogie Woogie 27 Years Later". Jim Hoberman said that, with these movies, Benning returns cinema to its primordial roots, and these films do exert the same fascination that (say) the early Lumiere Brothers films do. Here, the length of the takes are determined by the length of time it takes for the (recorded) trains to complete their trajectory across the screen. (One of those all-frieght trains seems to be endless, stretching out for what seems like miles of attached cars.)

Opening last week was Godfrey Chesire's "Moving Midway"; in the New York Observer, Andrew Sarris (in what was the best review of Godfrey's film that i read) called it "a well-modulated masterwork of affability and good manners". I do hope that more people see it: it's really quite a lovable movie!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008: the seventh anniversary of "September 11th", the attack on the World Trade Center. Seven years is supposed to represent some sort of auspicious occasion in astrological terms.

Television this morning was dedicated to the ceremonies at the site, mostly a recitation of names. I'm reminded of the fact that, in our time at any rate, one of the first "memorials" where names were read aloud was the Day Without Art project from Visual AIDS. (Two events that were put on at MoMA for the Day Without Art: i remember going to read a list of names for half an hour; another year, in one of the small galleries on the first floor, there was a table with pieces of paper and pens, and you were supposed to write the name of someone you knew who had died of AIDS and post it on the wall. I remember that three of the names i wrote were "John Bernd", "Calvin Culver" and "Coleman Charles Jones, Jr.")

The political situation at this time has become so hysterical (in every sense of the word): i watched "Real Time With Bill Maher" and it was all he could do to stay civil on the subject of Sarah Palin. What a masterstroke on the part of John McCain! Utterly cynical and manipulative. But i don't feel like dwelling on something so horrendous.

As if wallowing in 9/11 isn't horrendous.

I remember what i was thinking that morning, as i walked away from Beekman/Downtown Hospital (which is near the World Trade Center). My appointment (annual check-up) was for 8:30 AM, and i arrived a half an hour early... and as i started walking from the subway station (City Hall stop on the "R" line), a huge shadow came over the area (it was one of the planes). As i got to the hospital lobby, phones started ringing off the hook, as emergency calls came in, and the police arrived to ask that people with non-emergency needs, please leave the hospital. And some people were being brought in who were bloody.

And as i walked to the subway (why that was my response, i don't know, but i managed to catch one of the last trains that moved before the system was shut down), i remember thinking of three things: the R.E.M. song "It's the End of the World As We Know It" played in my head; i thought of my grandmother, my father, and Kenny, because those were three people who had lived downtown for most of their lives, and i was glad that they were not around to see downtown Manhattan being destroyed; and i had images of all those post-WW II thrillers (like "The Third Man" and "The Man Between") of living in the debris of a destroyed city.

August marked the tenth anniversary of Kenny's death, and it also brought Michael back (via Facebook) in our lives. I don't care how it happened, but once a child comes into your life, you do (at least, i did) start to imagine a future for your child.

Kenny was always reading, and he would often say things that were so startlingly eloquent. And when he was in prison, he would write us letters (though it was rare, and every letter was an occasion) and the turns-of-phrases and images were really amazing. And so i gave him different sized notebooks, so that he could write. And he tried. In one of the notebooks, he struggled to begin the same story (about his parents fighting).

But he just couldn't concentrate. But i certainly think he had talent.

And with Michael: he wanted to be an actor, and we encouraged him. We let him participate in a children's theater troupe in San Diego.

Another thing that's happened in the last week: one of the Yahoo! Groups that i joined is devoted to gay porn stars from the 1980s to 1995. Initially, the group was closed, and all the albums posted were from the moderators. But then they opened it up, and other people started posting albums devoted to their favorite stars from the period. So i decided to do the same. At the end of August, there had been a "tribute" to Casey Donovan, consisting of two albums of photos as well as a tribute page and a biographical tribute. So i decided to post some photos of some of the people i knew, such as Keith Ardent. There actually isn't much online of Keith Ardent, but what there was, i tried to post.

And in the last day, i got some e.mails asking about Keith and Bill Eld. And it brought back memories.

And how this ties in is that Keith (whose real name was Coleman Charles Jones, Jr.) wanted to be an artist. I told Larry that i had gotten an inquiry about "Keith Ardent", and Larry remembered him (he was hard not to remember, he was such a tall person). I gave him several pages with old etchings on them, so that he could use them for his collages.

Right now, i'm watching "A Notorious Affair", part of TCM's Kay Francis Star-of-the-Month series. It's from 1930.

I should be thinking about movies, since the press screenings for the New York Film Festival start tomorrow, and i've been reading various dispatches from Toronto. But today was disconcerting....

I mailed off a package to my friend Mike in England, and then went to the gym where i worked out for more than an hour. Then i came back, showered, and then went down to Staples, to get some of the items on sale. Then i read some stuff online, and then laid down to take a nap.

When i woke up from my nap, the phone was ringing, but i couldn't answer it. Both of my calves were knotted up in cramps, and the pain was excruciating and i really couldn't move. I was hitting and massaging my legs, and eventually the pain subsided, but not for a good ten minutes or so.

And then i watched "Private Screenings: Leslie Caron", "Trouble in Paradise", "Cynara" and now "A Notorious Affair".

Tomorrow, "Bigger Than Life" is on the Fox Movie Channel, and TCM has a Frank Borzage night. So the stuff on TV is actually quite fascinating.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Well, on Saturday, Tropical Storm Hanna went through the metropolitan area, dumping several inches of rain. By Sunday, everything was sunny and dry.

I don't know if the hurricanes/tropical storms are any sort of metaphor for what's happening on the political front. McCain's pulling of Sarah Palin out of a hat was a trick worthy of Houdini. Looked at logically, she is a horror: her administration is filled with investigations into very questionable actions and ethics. But McCain knows that no one can think logically at this point. The whole campaign is now a matter of symbolic logic: the white avenger, backed by the right (literally) thinking white woman, will take back the country from the invading blacks. Even if it means more years of this horrible administration, which will pull the country down into an abyss of depression (on every level).

This time, when the hurricane went through New Orleans, the levees held. But barely. Is that some sort of statement about America today?

Last week, i did make it to one press screening: David Lean's "The Sound Barrier" (the title in the US was "Breaking the Sound Barrier"). One reason i wanted to see the film was that i'd only seen it on television, and i understood that the sound effects and the aerial photography (which were spectacular in its day) were not fully effective on television. Also: it was one of my father's favorite movies. It turned out to be such an enjoyable movie. It was nice to see such a cleanly crafted film, with a story where all the pieces fit (and the scientific information is presented so that it's easily digestible).

David Lean's English movies, before the success of "The Bridge on the River Kwai" bloated his work and he went the epic route, continue to be quite engrossing. There are the Noel Coward collaborations ("In Which We Serve", "This Happy Breed", "Blithe Spirit", "Brief Encounter"), the Dickens adaptations ("Great Expectations", "Oliver Twist") and what the BFI is identifying as the "Ann Todd trilogy" ("Madeleine", "The Passionate Friends", "The Sound Barrier"). The comedy of "Hobson's Choice" marked the end of that period; "Summertime" would take Lean to international settings (hinted at in "The Passionate Friends"), and from there, it was bigger (if not necessarily better).

But any artist should be judged on their best work, and not on some spurious idea of "progression" or "development". And from that standard, Lean's English films remain impressive.

And in "The Sound Barrier", it's easy to see why Ralph Richardson was so impressive in that period. With "The Sound Barrier" and "The Fallen Idol" and "The Heiress", it's impossible not to be impressed with the range and depth he can bring to these roles. (If "The Sound Barrier" was my father's favorite movie, Ralph Richardson was his favorite actor: my father just felt that Richardson was the greatest.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day, the first of September, and it has been a very trying period. I'm glad August is over!

Well, August marks the ten-year anniversary of the death of Kenny White. As the time passes, i find myself thinking about him and missing him. As if to commemorate the occasion, last Thursday, i received a Facebook friend request: Michael Hummel (who has been in Hawaii for a while); we last heard from him either just before or just after we moved, and at that time he told us he was in Hawaii, but that was it. I wrote to him, but never heard back. And now this.

On his Facebook page, Michael included an album of photos, and Larry looked at them and said, he doesn't look the same. Well: how could he? When we knew him, he was a teenager: he's almost 40 now. And there's an album of some of his paintings. How long has it been since he started painting, i have no idea. Years ago, he wanted to be an actor, or to work in the theater in some way. But now he's painting.

The other day, when i was watching the Claude Miller film "A Secret", i thought of the fact that George Robinson has a focus for his criticism: writing for Jewish Week, he has a clear idea of his audience, and he also knows the perspective which his readers will bring. And (at the moment) there are quite a few films around which have some connection to Jewish life. Even something like Azazel Jacobs's "Momma's Man" and certainly something like Claude Miller's "A Secret".

(I should add that "Momma's Man" prompted some of the most sensitive reviews in recent memory: Jim Hoberman's review can be found at and George Robinson's can be found at and certainly Stanley Kauffmann in The New Republic convention special issue of September 10, 2008 actually writes with great insight about "Momma's Man".)

And it made me think what are the specific values that i have to bring when i look at something.

But on Thursday, i was so thrown by having Michael get in touch with me that i felt like staying in bed. And i couldn't go out, so i missed press screenings of "Gomorrah" and "Treeless Mountain". I hope to catch "Treeless Mountain" at another time, because i do think So Yong Kim is really very talented, and i found "In Between Days" one of the best independent films of the last few years.

Bill E. Jones came to do his presentation at Light Industry: he stayed for a week, it was a tight squeeze this time, because before, when he would stay, we had the second floor free, but since the end of June, we've rented it out. His presentation of Fred Halsted's "Sex Garage" and "L.A. Plays Itself" was successful: there was a packed audience, and there was a lively discussion afterwards.

Bill had a funny comment on "In Between Days": he thought it was filmed in Toronto, but it wasn't, a lot of it was filmed in those "outer borough" neighborhoods in New York City where the Asian community has moved to (parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx). Correction: parts of "In Between Days" were filmed in Toronto, this from interviews with So Yong Kim, who has been interviewed because of the Toronto Film Festival screening of "Treeless Mountain".

I did catch "The Passionate Friends", and i'm looking forward to "Breaking the Sound Barrier": these are among the restored David Lean films that the BFI has on tour. The series will play Film Forum at the end of the month, but right now, there are press screenings. I found "The Passionate Friends" to be very well done, and the attempts at visual style were charming, but it was a rather bloodless movie. But that's ok. I'm looking forward to seeing "Breaking the Sound Barrier": it was one of my father's favorite movies (he thought Ralph Richardson was the greatest actor).