Monday, May 10, 2010

Shock and not-quite-awe. It has been a week of incredible stress: on Monday, 3 May, Esiaba Irobi died. He had been at the International Research Center since November; he had been part of the opening panel discussion of the Think Tank: Identity Politics at the Dahlem Humanities Center on Thursday, 8 April, and then gave a lecture as part of the symposium the day after. He was working feverishly, almost as if he were trying to defy the inevitable. When he came to Berlin, he had just finished his treatments for cancer; he didn't want to wait to see if the cancer was, in fact, in remission. He wanted so badly to start a new life, to find some intellectual excitement, which he didn't feel he was getting where he was teaching. But by December, the cancer had returned, and he was struggling with treatments and fatigue. And now, it's over, though so many problems remain. His wife is facing massive problems: there is the house in Ohio, there is the situation of his first wife and son in London, where will the funeral be held? The last has been decided: the funeral will happen in Nigeria, but that means arrangements have to be made to repatriate the body. But i have to say that everyone at the Center has really stepped up to the plate, as it were, and they have been incredibly helpful and supportive and decisive. That much is very impressive.

I just received the news that Callie Angell has died. I'm really in shock: i've known Callie for 40 years. It's the 40th Anniversary of the founding of Anthology Film Archives, and Callie was the first librarian there. Callie was the librarian, Linda Patton was... i forgot what her title actually was, it would be something like Executive Director, though i'm not sure if it was that. Jonas Mekas (of course) was the director (Artistic Director, whatever). I saw Callie in October, when she was here for Live Film! Jack Smith! at the Kino Arsenal and the HAU. She seemed to have problems: her legs were very swollen. It turned out that she was battling diabetes, and, in this case, it was a losing battle.

I'm very sad, because she's one of the people that was part of that first period of what i guess i would call my career: Jonas Mekas, P. Adams Sitney, Linda Patton, Robert Polidori, Ric Stanberry, and Callie were the staff of Anthology Film Archives, and Donald Richie, Adrienne Mancia, Larry Kardish, Eileen Bowser, and Charles Silver were the staff at The Museum of Modern Art's Department of Film. Robert Polidori has a photo exhibit here in Berlin which opened over the weekend; the notice i got didn't indicate an official opening, but i planned to see the show.

When i first met Callie, she had frizzy hair and thick eyeglasses, rather like Anne Hathaway at the beginning of "The Princess Diaries". But then, when i saw her again after many years (by that point, she'd become the curator for the Andy Warhol Film Archives, which is a joint project of The Whitney Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation), she'd cut her hair and it was white, and she wasn't wearing those thick glasses anymore. But she was really dedicated, and there were so many interconnections with Warhol's films and the work of other filmmakers. I can't even imagine that this happened. There really isn't that much time. Warhol (of course) used real time in his films, but even that wasn't enough for time to have a stop.

Friday, May 07, 2010

I'm just sitting here, and i'm losing money fast, because the Euro is going down in relation to the dollar. When i arrived here in Berlin, the exchange rate for the Euro was about $1.45; now, it dipped below $1.30 (it's currently $1.27). I have no idea what to do.

But one thing: i'm here in Berlin, no matter what. And with the better weather, it's a much better Berlin. There's actually a sense of things happening here. Gallery Weekend Berlin proved to be enjoyable (even if running into people was a mixed bag); there's a whole theater festival going on now. There are a lot of museum exhibits which have opened. Berlin really is a city where there is a lot to do. You just have to decide what you're interested in.

One thing Berlin has done for me is to reawaken my interest in film. Of course, i'm always interested in film, but in the last decade, i've mostly stuck to screenings at festivals or press screenings, and, since i'm not someone on the radar of the major studios, most of the press screenings i get invited to are for independent, foreign or documentary films. Which is fine, but here in Berlin, i've actually been going to the movies: in Potsdamer Platz, there is the Cinestar Sony Center, and it shows American and English movies in "OV" (original version) and so i've seen "The Ghost Writer", "Alice in Wonderland", "It's Complicated", "Date Night", "Greenberg" and others. One thing: the Cinestar is rarely ever crowded, so it's a nice feeling, like you can stretch out. (The Sony Center multiplex is only one out of seven in Berlin, so the others basically pay for the Sony Center; also: the Sony Center is where the IMAX and 3-D theaters are, and those are always crowded.) You know: would i actually go to see "Date Night" if i were home? Probably not, but i had a good time. The Kino Arsenal has had some exemplary retrospectives: when i arrived in October, the Kino Arsenal had its whole Live Film! Jack Smith! program, and then it's had retrospectives of the Dardenne Brothers, Antonioni, Dreyer, and (this month) John Ford, as well as focus series on current directors, such as Brilliante Mendoza and Lisandro Alonso. And when you've seen a good Dreyer movie, it's hard not to love movies all over again.

So i'm actually starting to have a good time. One thing is that i'm still feeling rather isolated, but people are starting to come into Berlin, so i'll have friends visiting and what more could i ask for?

However, i've been riveted by all this coverage on the British election: what does it all mean? It's now a hung Parliament.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Berlin is, after all, only a city, but it continues to throw me. Just when i'm starting to have a good time, i get kicked in the head again.

Case in point: Gallery Weekend Berlin. This is a weekend (Friday, 30 April to Sunday, 2 May) when over 40 galleries/art spaces/exhibition centers had openings and stayed open for three afternoons. Many friends and acquaintances are involved in shows, so i expect to see people i know. Ok, so far so... Berlin.

Right off the bat, we've got a problem: Damian Hirst and Michael Joo are collaborating on a show at Haunch of Venison (what a name!), which is Christie's gallery. But where is it? I look it up on Google Maps and on, and find out... it's NOT located anywhere near an Ubahn or Sbahn station! How do you get to this place? Obviously, if you're a Christie's customer, by limo! Otherwise, inaccessible. Ok, so scratch Michael Joo off my list, i'm not going to be seeing him this weekend.

So on Friday, i hem and haw and finally decide to go to Veneklasen Werner to see "Self Consciousness", described as "a project co-curated by artist Peter Doig and writer Hilton Als". Ok, so i finally get my tired carcass up to Veneklasen Werner, and Hilton seems delighted to see me. And we reminisce a little about Owen Dodson, and Hilton asks me to stop by the next day at 1, and maybe we'll be able to have lunch. I actually hadn't intended to go back to that neighborhood, since i was going to check out the galleries where the KW Institute for Contemporary Art is, and go to the talks by Julia Scher and Elaine Sturtevant, but, ok.

So i show up at Veneklasen Werner at 1 o'clock... and no Hilton. I walk around a little, i go to other galleries in the neighborhood (including Galerie Barbara Thumm, which has a terrific little Jo Baer show; i speak to Barbara Thumm about Baer's career, and how it's only now that Baer's minimalist work from the 1960s is getting the recognition it deserved, but her work from the 1990s and the 2000s is very different), and keep coming back, but by 1:55 PM, i figure it's a no-show, and it's time for me to head onto KW.

But getting there turns out to be a madhouse: the Ubahn is as crowded as the Tokyo subways at rush hour. People are just squeezing in. What's happening?

Turns out (i didn't realize it) but May Day is a huge holiday in Germany. No one told me. (More on this later.)

But i get to KW Institute for Contemporary Art. I walk into some of the galleries, then wind up at KW. It's through a courtyard, and then there's a little sign that L'ecole de Stephanie (which is what the series is called) is on the fourth floor. Fourth floor? This place is very handicap-inaccessible. But then, most places in Berlin are.

So i wind up getting up to the fourth floor, and damn near break my neck on the stupid little fence in the doorway (i shall find out it's fenced in because of the rabbit - don't ask). The place is covered with hay (which is what you're supposed to sit on), and i'm trying to see if i can find Julia. (How long has it been since i've seen her? Again, don't ask.) So i see a bunch of women setting up... but i don't recognize anyone. And no wonder, since none of them was Julia. When she comes in, i recognize her, and she recognizes me! So another one of these kissy-huggy moments.

Then Julia gives her lecture, which is funny but a little rambling. But i try to get some information (what is she doing later? does she want to go to dinner later?) but Julia is busy doing the art-schmooz bit. Ok. Elaine Sturtevant is brought in: people had to help her climb the stairs, because she's in her 80s and it's not easy. I stay around for the beginning of her talk, but the hay is starting to get to me: i'm starting to itch. So i leave.

And then i realize: i was blown off again! Twice in one day!

This is too much! But i decide that i should look at more galleries in the neighborhood, and i do, and by 6 i'm ready to leave. I come back, and i watch "The Screening Room" (is that on CNN or BBC? Which network has the program "Talking Pictures"?); it's a Ray Harryhausen episode. So then i decide it's time to go to the supermarket and get some food.

And i go to Rewe, to find... it's closed! I go to Kaiser's, and find... it's closed! May Day is a BIG holiday in Germany! I didn't realize this. I think maybe i'll have dinner at the little Japanese restaurant at Rudesheimer Platz, only to find... it's closed! What is open?

Well, i figure that the Chinese restaurant Dschunke must be open. You know: the Jewish Christmas tradition. But it's a bit of a walk. But i decide to risk it. So i walk, to discover... i was right, Dschunke is open! So i'm able to have dinner!

Thank goodness. But i'm feeling very uneasy, because i was blown off twice in a day. It's very disconcerting. It reminds me of most of the experiences i've had in Berlin: hideously rude, downright nasty, totally crass. Like... my experience at the Berlin Film Festival! The problem is that i'm always looking forward to things: i was looking forward to the Berlin Film Festival, i was looking forward to Gallery Weekend Berlin, and then, it wasn't just my hopes were dashed, it was also that i was insulted in the bargain. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone has an excuse, but why does everyone have to be rude? People used to say that New York City was a rude city, but New York has nothing on the absolute boorishness of Berlin.

So today is Sunday, and i just couldn't drag myself to see anything. I should have gone to see the Michael Snow exhibit at the Klosterfelde Gallery, and i should have gone to the opening of James Benning's "American Dreams" exhibit at the Kino Arsenal. I should have gone to Sylvere Lotringer's lecture at KW Institute of Contemporary Art. But i couldn't do it: i couldn't deal with possibly seeing people, because i'm feeling very anti-social.

Berlin has made me a very anti-social person.

And after dinner last night, i was watching TV (as usual: CNN and BBC, the two big English-language networks) and then there started to be reports about the bomb scare in Times Square. And when i woke up, i was watching the CNN coverage of the Times Square car bomb for hours (at least until noon, and i started watching at 7:30 AM).

And the oil spill in the Gulf Coast is beyond depressing. This could destroy the coastlines of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida. And (like Hurricane Katrina) the government response has been far too slow.

Plus now there are tornados in the area.

The southeast of the US is simply being destroyed.

So the rudeness to me is merely a blip in terms of the horrendous events going on all over, but still, such rudeness is very hurtful. And boy, Berlin knows how to hurt!