Sunday, November 01, 2015

It's now the first of November in 2015: it's the day of the New York City Marathon, which is a big deal in my neighborhood, since the Marathon goes right through 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Once i had gotten out of the habit of blogging, it's been ten months since my last post. Since then, there have been screenings, festivals, even performances. Unfortunately, there have also been many deaths. Too often, it's been commonplace to say, "it's the end of an era," but in many cases, it really felt that way.

I had been trying to write an article about the deaths of Beverly Schmidt Blossom and Elaine Summers, when other people died, including Sally Gross, Shigeko Kubota, and Ruth Emerson. And that threw me, and i found it very hard to deal with the various emotions.

When i started the article on Beverly Schmidt Blossom and Elaine Summers, it was because what i had predicted years ago (by the mid-1980s, actually) had come true: the contributions of these women would not be acknowledged. This was especially the case with Beverly Schmidt Blossom. In the New York Times, Jennifer Dunning had written an extensive obituary on Beverly Schmidt Blossom, but Dunning concentrated on the work Schmidt Blossom had done as a solo dancer starting in the 1980s. And certainly, her solo dance career was distinguished and important.

But Beverly Schmidt Blossom (along with her partner Roberts Blossom) was significant in the history of "performance art" for a whole other reason. It is now open to question whether they were the first, or whether Robert Whitman was the first, but the Schmidt Blossom Dance Company (which was also known as Filmstage) did theater pieces in which film was used in the early 1960s. They were so unusual in creating these mixed media pieces that a number of artists decided that they wanted to work with them: Meredith Monk was one of these artists, and so was Yvonne Rainer. In fact, when i ran into Yvonne at the opening of the exhibition on Minimalism in dance and sculpture that was at the Loretta Howard Gallery (the show was curated by Julie Martin and Wendy Perron), i was telling her about how most of the obituaries on Beverly Schmidt Blossom omitted any mention of the Blossom Schmidt Dance Company, and Yvonne said, "I was in the Blossom Schmidt Dance Company," and i said, "I know!" When i wrote about the Schmidt Blossom Dance Company, i said that they would be ignored because they were not the "right" people: Beverly Schmidt Blossom had been one of the principal dancers with the Alwin Nikolai Dance Company in the 1950s (along with Murray Louis and Phyllis Lamhut), and Roberts Blossom had been an actor and director. Since the history of "performance art" was already being institutionalized in terms of the visual arts (an approach exemplified by Roselee Goldberg, and currently highlighted by initiatives such as the Department of Media and Performance at MoMA), they were the wrong people: Beverly Schmidt Blossom didn't come from Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin or even James Waring, and Roberts Blossom didn't start out as a visual artist like Allan Kaprow, Robert Whitman, or Robert Rauschenberg. Yet their contribution to this field of "performance art" was at least as great as any of the other people mentioned, and the neglect they faced (by the 1980s) is symptomatic of the distortions that have become part of the historical record of the arts.

And so many other people have died. Jytte Jensen's death really was a great loss, because she was so committed to international exchanges in film, and her perspective was vital for MoMA's Department of Film. I've been going to the press screenings for Doc NYC, and i miss Ronnie Scheib, who died three weeks ago. She was someone i loved running into at screenings, because she always had such lively and wide-ranging insights into films.

What i loved about Jytte and Ronnie was that i felt there were other people who shared my particular perspective on film, a perspective which did not center on comic book aesthetics. Jytte's international approach to film led her to create several programs, such as the ContemporAsian series at MoMA, and the Global Film Initiative, and when i'd run into her, she was always telling me about a new discovery from another part of the world. She was really sick this year when New Directors/New Films was going on, and i kept hearing reports of her hospice care, and it made going to the screenings very melancholy, because i missed her. She was very passionate about New Directors/New Films: she'd been on the selection committee for so long, and she was always passionate about the films, and she couldn't wait to tell you about the films she felt were the true discoveries of this year's edition!

And Ronnie was always so astute about what was going on with films. During the screenings of various festivals, such as Rendez-vous With French Cinema or Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, we'd try to decipher what this year's selection actually meant in terms of film production in those countries, and also what image these festivals were trying to present. Last year, Rendez-vous With French Cinema had several films which were about "minority" communities in France, just as the year before, there had been a number of films which were directed by women. When you think about the controversies that have swirled around the American film industry (especially in terms of the Academy Awards), you could see how the French Film Office was trying to show how "progressive" the French film industry is in comparison to the US. But Ronnie and i would be puzzled at how other people didn't seem to be picking up on these things; instead, there was always coverage about Catherine Deneuve (who was in two films last year), rather than critics seeing the films and then trying to find the common themes of the films.

There are many other people, sometimes, it's hard to express just how much seems to be lost.


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