Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rain expected for the next two days in Berlin, but not the bitter cold. Today, it rained in the morning, was sunny for most of the afternoon, and now it's back to grey for the evening, with possibilities for showers.

Went to the exercise room today, the first time in about a month; sloth overtook me, because of the hideous weather. Trying to get back to some balance; Berlin really knocked the wind out of me.

The question is: why? And the answer is: i've never been alone so much in my life. I didn't even come out of the womb by myself! During my junior high years, i did go through the usual existential crisis, and i felt totally alienated. But who am i kidding? I've never been alone. Lonely, at times, but never alone.

And now i am alone. And i've never been away from New York City for more than three months at a stretch. All that adds up to the fact that i was particularly vulnerable in the past few weeks. I might have been able to handle the horrorshow of the Berlinale, if i didn't feel exposed. But it was just one more pileup of the hideousness i've experienced in this city.

Yet on Friday, i decided to actually walk around the neighborhood where i'm staying. I've walked in the direction of the Freie Universitat, and i've even found shortcuts. But i never just walked around to see what's here. It's still not that much, but it's a little more than i thought.

But (as mentioned previously) i always fixate on the negative. Once, when i was applying for a grant, i needed four recommendations. So i sent a little note to 30 people, asking them if they'd write me a reference. And only one person said no. But 29 people said yes. But it didn't matter: that one person was the one that got to me.

It's always like that.

One thing is that i've been going to see a lot of movies. Ok, i missed my chance at the Berlinale (by the first weekend, there were so many complaints that the old policy, where badgeholders were let in to the official press screenings if there was enough space, and there usually was because those screenings were at the Palast, which is huge, was reinstated, but i'd been avoiding the whole mess), but i've been seeing a lot of movies. "It's Complicated". "Invictus". "Up In the Air". A lot of these movies, i wouldn't have seen because when i'm home, i only go to the press screenings i'm invited to, which tend to be foreign and independent films and documentaries. I mean: i even saw "Avatar" in 3D! Now i can't wait to see "Alice in Wonderland" in 3D.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Berlinale came and went; i mostly avoided the event, but i got enough out of it to make it worthwhile. Not in terms of movies (i didn't actually see that many) but simply in terms of running into friends, etc.

The effect was to make Berlin seem like an inhabitable city, rather than an impregnable fortress. Also: it was nice to encounter sanity.

One of the highlights of the festival turned out to be the screenings of three films from the 1930s by Yasujiro Shimazu, a contemporary of Ozu and Naruse at Shochiku. As a director, Shimazu is rather more relaxed than either Ozu or Naruse, though the territory of the shomin-geki is the same. I was able to see two of the three films, "The Trio's Engagements" and "The Lights of Asakusa", both from 1937. "The Trio's Engagements" was really charming, a comedy about three young men who get jobs in a store that sells fabric (mostly rayon, and one of their tasks is to convince the customers that rayon is just as good as silk). "The Lights of Asakusa" was fascinating because it involved the interactions among a theatrical troupe. But if, in the 1920s and 1930s, "orientalism" was a rage amongst the cosmopolitan set in London and New York City, so "The Lights of Asakusa" shows the reverse: what might be called "occidentalism" among the Japanese, as the troupe is an operetta troupe, performing Western style musical theater.

Anyway, seeing more films. I'm anxious to see the new Tim Burton "Alice in Wonderland", not necessarily because i'm the biggest Tim Burton fan (he lost me a while ago, around the time of "Planet of the Apes", though i must admit to liking his adaptation of "Sweeney Todd"), but because i can't wait to see another movie in 3D!

Michael O'Sullivan has been having fun with his blog, talking about movies from the 1950s. I think it's now possible to have fun....

Of course, more cooperation from the weather would help: today, woke up to find that it was snowing again! And this, after four days of weather that was clear and partly sunny and abiove freezing! But it's supposed to get back to inching towards 10 degrees Celsius, so finally, it seems as if not just morning but spring has broken.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Michael O'Sullivan's comments on Valentine's Day movies (some of his choices include "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "An Affair to Remember" and "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing", "The Proposal"; found at reminded me that the only time i was ever in Berlin, it was for the Berlin Film Festival, i was with Larry, and on Valentine's Day, we went to the press screening of "Shakespeare in Love" (which we had not seen in New York City) and it was a good movie for that particular day.

But i also remember that i never wanted to ever return to Berlin. The reason: one afternoon, we were at an Ubahn station, Larry was walking behind me (he's always slow and walking behind and i get impatient and race on ahead) and as i got to the top of the stairs, a group of about five boys (all with buzzcuts) raced in my direction and tried to knock me down the stairs. Larry actually ran up to catch me, but the boys had already run out of the station. This was a period when the news reports talked of a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in Berlin, and increases in racially-motivated violence. And i experienced it.

And i NEVER wanted to return to Berlin, EVER. And now i'm here, because of a fellowship, which sounded good on paper, but you would think that a city which had a reputation which was (shall we say) not the best in terms of its sensitivity to "otherness" would make an effort to try to be polite to people. But not in Berlin.

There are pockets. That's why Claudia, Brian and i like Potsdamer Platz: not because it's such an architectural marvel (it's pretty hideous, and it's badly designed to boot, with these horrid metal plates stuck in the sidewalk areas, which, in the freezing weather, become lethal), but because it's a tourist trap area where people try to understand you if you don't speak German, and don't get all snotty on you. And it's the place where American and British movies are shown in the "o.v." (original version) with no subtitles. And the Kino Arsenal shows great classic movies.

I think my hatred of the Berlinale stems from the fact that i've had a horrible experience of being stuck in Berlin, and i was looking forward to the festival for some relief. I thought i'd see a few movies, run into friends, have a nice time.

Intead: my accreditation was messed up, there's this absolutely asinine system (oh, you can get tickets for the next day if you come at 8 in the morning... 8? it takes me almost an hour to get there, so if i take a shower, etc. i have to wake up every day at 6 to get tickets for the next day? what kind of stupidity is this?), and the people i encountered on the first day were hideously rude and snotty and snippy to me, no one more so than Frauke Greiner. Who did NOT apologize for her mistake but told me, oh, but i do not know you, and you are a nobody! Who the hell is she to tell me i'm a nobody?

I'm a nobody? She's the biggest pinchfaced loser i've ever met. And Reid Rosefelt told me she was nice (because she used to work for him). Well, that was back in the day (and we were all younger then) and sorry to report, she's become a horror.

But because i don't have many friends in Berlin, i did make the effort to go to the panel discussion on curating that Marc Siegel was on... also Stuart Comer (who had given a lecture on William E. Jones's work on Friday; he works at the Tate Modern, but he sounds American to me) and Henriette Huldisch (evidently some sort of assistant to Chrissy Isles at the Whitney, but Chrissy Isles is British, so i guess it's a fair exchange) and Heinz Emigholz. Stefanie Schulte Strathaus was the moderator, and it was enjoyable. But i went because of Marc, but then James Benning told me he was doing something at 5:30... so i went and asked if there were tickets, but i was told it was all sold out, yada yada yada. So, sorry, i just walked out and went home.

I'm probably going to see nothing, because i refuse to be part of the herd and do as i am told. That's not to why i came to Berlin: to be a sheep being led to the slaughter. (And yes, i mean that metaphor in the most literal and unpleasant way possible.)

These people are ridiculous: what if they really had to deal with Jack Smith? Or Harry Smith for that matter?

I never thought i'd be as crazy as Jack Smith, but Berlin has driven me to it!

Enough about the stupid Berlinale!

The Winter Olympics are happening in Vancouver. Weather problems: Vancouver must be one of the few places where it's too warm! And no snow. I wish that Vancouver could export some of the massive winter weather from other parts of the world (like Berlin! or even New York City!). But i've been watching the Olympics on EuroSport, and even though the commentary is in German, i know enough to figure out what's happening.

But as each year goes by, the sadness i feel about the Olympics grows. Because there were three people that i would always watch/talk about the Olympics with: my father, Kenny, and Pauline. In fact with Pauline, once she had retired, there were times when we'd call each other while we were watching the Olympics, and then we'd chat and kibbitz and comment. Those were fun afternoons.

Now all three of them are dead, and i miss them. And i miss talking about the Olympics with them.

Well, it's day five of the Berlinale, and i have been true to my word: haven't bothered to see a damned thing!

This must be the worst festival experience i've had in some 40 years of attending film festivals.

So much for that, since it's ridiculous. Not one single person on the damned staff has the courtesy to try to be civil. I don't understand why the bear is the symbol of this festival: it should be pigs.

However, i shall try to make it to the panel discussion with Marc Siegel, and if i can't get into that, that's it.

Never again.

Anyway, the installations at the DAADGalerie and Galerie Barbara Weiss proved to be a good contrast, because Phil Collins's pieces were... problematic, shall we say, but Heike Baranowsky's installations worked quite well.

Just a quick note: Phil Collins created pieces which were essentially narrative pieces. Just projecting one of the pieces ("soy mi madre") on a wall does not an installation make. In fact, it detracted from whatever qualities the piece might have had as a dramatic work. But Heike Baranowsky's pieces (the three-projected images of rather barren landscapes; the two monitor piece of mother and baby and fishtank, with the images in black-and-white with the only "color" being the orange goldfishes in the tanks) worked quite nicely as installations, because there was never the sense of narrative continuity which compelled a different attention span.

I'll have to think more about this, since it was also an issue with the installations at the Akademie der Kunste. (James Benning's installation, like Heike Baranowsky's pair, was successful, and for the same reason.)

One thing: i did find those galleries, so now i'm feeling a little more confident that i can find some of these places.

But the Berlinale: may it be plagued by locusts in its 60 years.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day two of the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) proper, and it hasn't gotten better. In fact, it's gone from bad to worse. To begin with: today, there was supposed to be an opening (starting at 15 hr, or 3 PM) of "Cinema City", three installations by artists from India. But when i got there, nothing; instead, the lobby of the Kino Arsenal seemed to become a lounge for film industry people, more specifically, buyers.

I waited around, and i was supposed to meet people from the Center, but... no one showed up (and i waited for 40 minutes) so i left. However, i did run into Stephen Kent Jusick, who has been running MIX for the last few years. Turns out my horror story about the Berlin Film Festival is not unusual: he also had a horrible run-in, and he just got here!

I'm so relieved! Berlin IS a horrible city! The Berlin Film Festival IS a horror story! It's not just me!

Stephen and Matthew Fox (from London) were telling me that their "film festival" badges get them into... nothing. You have to get tickets, no matter what. And most of the tickets at their official "home" are available a day in advance, and are mostly gone.

So what's the use?

However, i did go to the Akademie der Kunste on Wednesday night, to see the opening of the exhibition "Traces the Sand Left In the Machine", a series of installations by: Christian Giroux an d Daniel Young ("50 Light Fixtures From Home Depot"), Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarate ("Assemblages"), Brigitte Kuster ("Entkolonisierung"), Joao Maria Gusmao and Pedro Paiva ("Tarciso (seeries of 3)/Atom") and James Benning ("Tulare Road"). Oddly enough, Robert Koehler just wrote about this show (he's here in Berlin for the festival) on Doug Cummings' film journey blogsite.

Yesterday, i tried to get to the Hamburger Bahnhof for the opening of the Heinz Emigholz exhibit, but, as usual, i got the directions from Googlemaps, but once i got off the Ubahn, i went in the wrong direction; when i retraced my steps... it was so cold and it was snowing, and i decided to just get back on the Ubahn and go back home.

But tonight, it's the DAAD Galerie and Galerie Barbara Weiss, and if i miss those, i'm really in bad shape, because (according to the maps) they're about two blocks away from the Veneklasen Werner Gallery, and i know how to get there!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Donald Richie once told me that i would always look for the one bad comment; a hundred people can like something i've done, but if one person doesn't, i'll take that comment to heart. And it's stopped me many times over.

Berlin is like that one bad comment: i'm finding it difficult to concentrate in this city, because it's just so incredibly hostile. I'm not even talking about nice people, i'm just talking about common courtesy, which seems to be an unknown quantity in this city. And for the last few weeks, i've made half-hearted attempts to write, but i keep getting stumped.

Today, i did something that i used to do to prime myself: i started listening to music. A lot of pop music, mostly found on YouTube. I'm using the songs to prime my memory, to evoke those times and places and people that i want to remember.

The Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival) starts this week, i was looking forward to it, but i got the program, and it's disheartening, there's just so much, and the ticketing situation (even for press) is complicated, and i looked at the accreditation notification, i did NOT get the letter which was supposed to have been sent, and i was NOT registered as "press" but as "university". What kind of crap is this?

So already the Berlin Film Festival is on my shit list. As is everything else in this damned city.

And no, i do NOT want to go to gallery openings, because you can't find the damn places. The Veneklasen Werner Gallery is on Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse. But there IS no "Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse" on any map: it turns out that Kochstrasse, which IS on the map, turns into "Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse" for about three blocks. And this happened only about a year ago, and so things like Google Maps haven't accounted for the change. And how are we supposed to know this? I guess you're not.

However, once you get out from the Ubahn station at Kochstrasse, you walk to find that there is Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse. So that was easy. But trying to find Dam-Stuhltrager... forget it. And that's the way i feel about most of the Berlin galleries. Whatever street the gallery claims to be on was not easy to find. And it's sub-freezing weather, so i'm not trudging around, trying to navigate on the ice, trying to find streets that may or may not exist.

Obviously, Berlin is for younger people, but for someone who is (now) in his mid-50s and has already experienced an "art scene" of long standing (NYC from the late 1950s on)... it does have similarities to the art scene of the East Village in the 1970s, the subject of those documentaries at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, such as "Blank City" and "Burning Down the House". It's the art of reduced expectations, an exhausted art of a stultified city.

Anyway, speaking of the Veneklasen Werner Gallery, i did go to William E. Jones's opening (that was on January 15th) and it was a very handsomely mounted show, continuing his interest in archival material. In the booklet that was available at the gallery, Bill quotes from a manifesto by Isidore Isou in which Isou calls on film to become referential to the already rich history of the artform (and this was in 1951). It's a manifesto similar to Walter Benjamin's assertion that quotation was a necessary option. Appropriation becomes the logical outcome.

Of course, this strategy has been one of the hallmarks of postmodern aesthetics since the 1970s, and i should know; i remember that Anthony McCall and i had a lot of exchanges about using "old" material as a critical rebuke to modernist theories of artistic "evolution".

Everything old is new again. But in Berlin, everything old is old.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

So much has happened in the last few days (film-wise, anyway): the Sundance Film Festival gave out its awards, so did the Slamdance Film Festival; Kathryn Bigelow won the DGA Award as Best Director for "The Hurt Locker"; the Academy Award nominations were announced.

The producer David Brown died. My one real encounter with David Brown was at a panel that the late Steve Harvey organized at The Museum of Modern Art. The panel consisted of four very prominent producers (or producer-directors, as the case may be). I remember one was Tony Bill, another was Alan J. Pakula, another was David Brown... there was a fourth, and i am trying to remember who the fourth Hollywood biggie was. It was some guy noted, not just for being a tough operator, but also for being kind of a sleazeball. Was it Robert Evans? Was it Jon Peters? But there's a story to this.

Anyway, Tony Bill showed up with a small entourage, which actually consisted of his producing partners (one of whom was Julia - i'm having another senior moment, can't remember her last name offhand, but she's the one who wrote "You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again"); Alan Pakula was with his wife Hannah, who was very elegant. I remember that Helen Gurley Brown showed up, and she had small bandages on her face. There was a reception (was it before or after the panel, i can't remember) and someone actually asked her if she'd had an accident, and she was very forthright (and funny) and said, no, dear, i've just had a facelift, but i'm not ashamed of that fact, and i wanted to be here to support my wonderful husband! But there were several memorable moments during that panel.

But one thing i remember: at the reception, Steve Soba and i were assigned to take care of one of the girlfriends of Mr. Hollywood Sleazebag. He'd invited both of his girlfriends, but then he wanted to make sure that their paths didn't cross. So we had to take them in from different entrances, make sure that they were in different parts of the room, etc. Steve and i had to make sure that they were kept separate. Somehow, i was reminded of Fanny Brice in "The Great Ziegfeld"; for the audition, she starts singing "My Man" and she's dressed in a very elegant gown and then Ziegfeld (William Powell) rushes up and starts ripping the gown and says, No, no, no, i want her to be an urchin! And Fanny Brice sniffs, "For Ziegfeld, i gotta be an urchin; even in burlesque i was middle-class!" Here we were, working at The Museum of Modern Art's Department of Film, but for Mr. Hollywood Sleazebag, we had to be pimps.

Ah, movies: that's why i love 'em!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Being sick when you're alone in a foreign city is not exactly an experience that i was desperate to have, but it happened. I had the worst cold ever (perhaps an exaggeration, but not by much) and it's been here for two weeks, and i've had it in Berlin, which is undergoing the global freeze that's happening everywhere (snow in southeastern US, freezing weather in India, etc.) but the freeze in Berlin is a little more than a sane person can take.

I finally started to go out this past weekend. Finally got to see Serge Bromberg's documentary on Henri-Georges Clouzot's unfinished "L'Enfer"; a fascinating document. The documentary is sometimes problematic (what's with the "enacted" scenes from the script?) but the footage that Clouzot shot retains an obsessive fascination. And yes, Romy Schneider was a movie star, and she gives the movie a charge that hasn't dated.

Also went to see "Sherlock Holmes". Guy Ritchie is far from my favorite director, but his riff on the Sherlock Holmes mythology had its charms. But it was a confounding movie in many ways. The sets: were they some elaborate constructions, or were they the most extensive use of CGI pictorialism yet devised? The pacing was breathless, but then, when the movie needed to take the time for a little exposition, the pacing went slack and the movie turned inert. But Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law play together with conspiratorial glee, and Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly are delightful as the women in their lives. (Kelly Reilly is one of those actresses, once she appeared, it kept nagging at me, i've seen her before, but where? I had to go to IMDB and look it up, and realize she was the showgirl in "Mrs. Henderson Presents" and Caroline Bingley in the recent "Pride and Prejudice", etc. Now that i've put a name to the face, i shall have to remember. And i do hope that, since it's obvious that "Sherlock Holmes" is headed towards franchise status, the women are retained, Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly really did add to the charm of the film.)

Yesterday, watched Deborah Warner's production of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" on the Arte Channel. I can see why it was a "controversial" production, and the TV production actually had some very damaging aspects: the close-ups on the singers were really unflattering (when people sing, especially when they're belting out a complicated aria, the facial contortions can get extreme: we didn't need to have that shoved right at us), what was with Fiona Shaw in that prologue, and there was a creepy aspect to the chorus of children. But, for all that, i was glad it was in English; it was a relief not to have to watch BBC News and CNN and (yes) MTV to hear something i could understand with no sweat.

Since i've been sitting in the little apartment here at the IBZ with my stuffy/drippy nose, a lot has happened. Sundance and Slamdance came and went, and i read reports online about those festivals. Jean Simmons died, a great loss to many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when she was one of the great stars (though, after her brilliant start in such movies as "Great Expectations" and "Hamlet", she never quite got roles commensurate with her talent). James Mitchell died, immortal as Cyd Charisse's ballet choreographer-boyfriend in "The Band Wagon" (who was able to work continually on soap operas, including his memorable work on "One Life to Live"; that's what some people don't understand, the demise of soap operas really will affect so many aspects of show business, because soap operas were a place where many performers and technicians were able to continue to work and make a living). J. D. Salinger died, bringing with it a lot of talk about art and fame, about retreating from public life, and speculation about the fate of "Catcher in the Rye", which Salinger refused to allow to be adapted in his lifetime. But his lifetime is over.

On the Internet Movie Database, there was sad news: two of the regulars posters on the Classic Film Board died last week. Brought to mind the fact that in recent years, there have developed these virtual communities, where people from all over have been able to join together over a common obsession ("classic films" in this case). We "network" in new ways, on these message boards, on Facebook, on Twitter... but what does that mean for old-fashioned face-to-face interaction? Two weeks ago, i had a fright: someone i care about was no longer on Facebook. So i sent him an e.mail; turns out he decided to delete his account, because he was getting tired of the virtual narcissism, and the lack of actual human interaction. I was glad; he's someone who was very ill in the last few years, and i was afraid he'd taken a turn for the worse.

But for me, Facebook is a recreation of my life, of the various people (starting from high school) who were important in my life, but are no longer nearby. So many of us have moved, gone on to other things, but those old friendships meant something, and this way, there's still a connection. I'm no longer in New York City's Soho (where i lived for over 25 years); not many people i know still live there, either. But we're still "in touch", even if only on a virtual level. And that's especially important when you're in a foreign city, and, boy, Berlin is as foreign as i hope to ever get!