Hilarious Bookbinder on The Way of Grass

Hilarious Bookbinder talks about drift in Terrence Malick's The New World

"I just watched The New World this morning and was about to dismiss it when I began to realize how odd a film it is. And then I realized that Terrence Malick is all about drift. That's what The New World is: a love story, historical events, but it's all drifts. These are not character who determine their own actions. And yet neither are they absolutely determined by forces that exceed them. Rather, they are at once constituent and constitutive of the forces. Which is to say, they are forces just as they succumb to forces..."

Listen: Je Suis France From Catbirdseat

Over at The CATBIRDSEAT, "It takes a pair of giant, swinging, balls of iron to open your open your album up with a 16-minute long krauter-space jam. Je Suis France did it (whooping the ass off "Hallogallo" by a full 6 minutes). Track 1 from Afrikan Majik:

::: Je Suis France - Sufficiently Breakfast :::"

From Je Suis France,"Afrikan Majik Official Release Date - Tuesday MAY 29, 2007


Yo, I'm Michelangelo

Gallery Lelong exhibits signs of the recent wave of interest in the roots of feminism in art over the last few decades.

Up now in the New York space are works by Marina Abramovic, Helena Almeida, Eleanor Antin, Lynda Benglis, Helen Chadwick, Valie Export, Anna Bella Geiger, Birgit Jürgenssen, Shigeko Kubota, Anna Maria Maiolino, Ana Mendieta, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O'Grady, Yoko Ono, Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler, Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, and Francesca Woodman."

Ana Mendieta, the late wife of Carl Andre, was raised in the U.S. foster care system, after being exiled from Cuba. She later either fell, or was pushed from an apartment window to her death. Like Hannah Wilke, Ana used her body as her primary medium of expression in performances, super 8 films, videos, drawings, sculptures, and installations. Also, like Hannah, there has been a marked emphasis on her large body of work, and her early mythic fall.

Blake Gopnik, writing for the Washington Post, about her retrospective at the Hirshhorn said in 2004,

"Boil down art, all and any art, to its purest essence, and it's nothing more than a gesture that affirms a human ego. You do something to something, and thereby leave a mark upon the world. All of art's other goals, functions and aspects -- pleasing gods or creating beauty or crafting a commodity or exploring an idea -- come after that blunt fact. Any masterpiece, and every piece of schlock as well, has at its heart the graffiti artist's tag: "Yo, I'm Michelangelo." "Picasso was here!" "This is Pollock's turf...

...Not that a Mendieta silueta is just a neutral record of some generic human's presence.

In this art, that human being is specifically a woman. "

image: Ana Mendieta Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints – Face) , 1972 (detail) Suite of 13 lifetime black & white photographs Each 8 x 10” (20.3 x 25.4 cm) © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York


March Films at the Pacific Film Archive Part III

Of Antonioni's trilogy, I like L'avventura the least. L'eclisse shines with harsh brilliance. La notte is stunning and wrecked. L'avventura is just a bit too empty.

Anna's ghost neither recedes, nor lives on with any veracity. Truth be told, Antonioni reveals the shallow nature of his pool, maybe a little too easily. Perhaps Anna dies behind a scrim, a force of nature, the water spout mimicking her spiraling fall from cliffs, the mini avalanche telling us of her stumbling. Her escape leaves precursors to Gilligan's Island in her wake, but her wake is a small, innocuous wave, and not the tsunami required to flush out the story.

Anna was a trickster, clever and manipulative, certainly capable of making a run from her fellow fools, via the mystery boat, the old Australian, or the smugglers. Too bad, my favorite connection came to light in the dressing room when Claudia (Monica Vitti) tries on Anna's shirt, and keeps it, a foreshadowing of change to come. Claudia later becomes a brunette in a wig, again touching on her drifting into Anna's role. I would have liked to see more of Claudia and Anna together, since they seemed closer to each other, than any of the other pairs.

Luckily Claudia holds up as a sympathetic character. She rejects Sandro the shark, recognizing him at first for the ink-spiller he is. Her judicious (poor) background gives her a street wisdom lacking in the other pencil mustachioed geeks. Ultimately she lets him ring her bell, but quietly predicts his betrayal with the writer whore.

Claudia shape shifts like Anna. She echoes the robotic movements of a bellboy, sends her voice into boarded up buildings, pulls strings to make towers talk. Sonorous cries, and love are set in contrast to balconies, and radios. Ghost towns, apathy, spills, and sharp turns spin out of static architecture, still drawings, boarded up rooms, textured paintings, and wigs.

As an aside, I think Sophia Coppola's failures come out of trying to wring emptiness like this. I see an attempt at Antonioni in her work, but it doesn't quite fail as well as his. Even when he loses me, I'm lost in a better translation. I'm not sure why I want to think about Coppola's work here, maybe because I have hope that her play with alienation and time expressed in the body will cross over into a more topographical, textural materialism one day. Her montages need more brutality and edginess. On an extremely light note, I also see a reference to his pet humor in her scenes containing dogs.


March Films at the Pacific Film Archive Part 2

Warning, this post may contain spoilers.

Of the few Antonionis I've seen, I liked this one the best so far. The lengthy, frantic stock exchange sequences, the poetic abstract spaces of waiting, the contrasts between hyper motion and stillness reminded me of the existentialist angst of a film like Woman in the Dunes, if capitalists and art collectors were the ones who controlled the flow of sand, wind, and water. In both films, only the fleeting play of lovers is able to stop time. Phones are off their hooks, something that doesn't happen anymore.

L'eclisse moves like an eclipse, of the moon temporarily blocking the sun, or of the earth blocking the sun's light on the moon, I'm not sure which. It hides and reveals light, flies into and out of clouds, prays for moments of silence, even when they cost investors millions. It contains pauses of comic relief in between trembling stands of vulnerability: a poodle on its hind legs, the unselfconscious lovers mimicking odd couples. I also enjoyed Antonioni's Freudian puns, and the Berkeley crowd's audible response to them: phallic towers, Vitti throwing wood into water.

Antonioni seemed to be making a statement against racist stereotyping in a scene out of context, when he had the white African friend of Vitti's ask her to stop playing at being black, after she danced horribly in black face with rings around her neck.

The long montage sequence during l'eclisse's denouement stole both characters from the story, as if we'd jumped into an abstract egoless plane. I'm getting used to his films ending with sudden explosions of light.

Il Grido
I had trouble sympathizing with the wounded bull and his rascally, unaffected daughter. Miles of gas station logos, tread marks, and altars made of oil canisters pave the road to frustration without relief. Why would a man who violently spills the milk being warmed for his daughter be willing to provide for her alone, and why would such a sturdy mother let him take her daughter away? The most believable character was the piano score, Alto for Aldo. The only viable pair were the robust, alcoholic grandfather figure and his young socialist singing partner, little Rosina. Gramps is sent away to a nursing home. Soon after, Rosina is bussed home to mama, who as far as we can tell, has no idea she is on her way. Flags were raised in rural areas to signal the need for a doctor. Pauvre Antonioni forgot to raise his in Po. By the end of this road trip mine was at half mast.


Ed Gets Lynch and His Century

Bat Segundo Turns 100 with David Lynch.

Lynch: "Let’s talk about suffering. Like in movies, people die. Well, you say, you don’t have to die to show a death. And there’s all kind of suffering and torment and all these things in a story. And, for me, those things come from ideas. Now when you catch an idea, you see the thing. You hear the thing. You feel and see and hear the mood of it. And you see the character. You almost see what the character wears. And you see what the character says and how they say it. That it’s an idea that comes all at once. And you know that idea."

Congratulations Ed!


"Isn't that where I got my wanderlust?"

"collecting dust in bookstores all this time,

where no one comes to carry them away,

my poems, like exquisite, precious wines,

will have their day!" — Marina Tsvetaeva

Ruth Padel's top 10 women poets

"In honour of International Women's Day, Ruth Padel, prizewinning poet and former chair of the UK Poetry Society, chooses her favourite poets who happen to be women."

Hell on Frisco Bay and Girish: Two Great Film Blogs

Two of my favorite film blogs are blurbed in this SF360 article. Congratulations Brian and Girish!

"There's a scene well into Stephen Sondheim's Gypsy where the young Gypsy Rose Lee is offered timely advice from three seasoned strippers who cue her that she'll be much more than a mimic if she has a gimmick. With the plethora of blogs now available out on the blogosphere -- each somehow exposing if not shamelessly foisting the personality of their authors -- the parade of opinion can become nearly numbing; a real bump and grind. Good writing hopefully being a given, it still takes something extra to make a blog attract traffic."
Brian and Girish's blogs are two from the list that Michael Guillén says have that extra something-something he calls a gimmick. I don't think it's anything like a gimmick that makes these two special; Personally, I find their content clear, well-written, trustworthy, entertaining, and informative. They're also pretty well-designed, easy on the eyes. They meet the same standards any good alternative newspaper, zine, or daily rag should nail. Critics and allies of the blogosphere tend to forget that the same principles apply to good print or web content. It should be factual, up-to-date, neatly-presented, fun, broadly informed, and with it's own unique style and focus. The only differences relative to paper periodicals are those of speed and scale. Blogging is sometimes delivered with more speed, and can be at fault for rapidly firing off too much, too soon. In that way, it suffers a typically masculine flaw, premature ejaculation. Luckily, Brian and Girish's blogs don't suffer in this way. They hold back just enough to satisfy.

"2. Hell on Frisco Bay
Racheting down just a notch to provide a working handle in the Bay Area, Brian Darr's blog juggles the Bay Area's many movie calendars, pampering the cinemaniac's dream of attending choice screenings at favored venues. More like a ringmaster than a traffic control cop, Brian highlights the latest acts in town; it's a timesaving service for the rest of us.

Girish Shambu's eponymous site is a testament to his skills as an educator and social facilitator. Writing an entry usually once a week, he's a teacher who's cognizant that ending a lesson with a question provokes discussion and promotes interaction. He's fair in his moderation of comments that frequently dip into the hundreds within the course of a week. His blog is the water cooler that hydrates on-line discourse. Everyone gathers at Girish's place to talk about film."


Thanks Girish! Mike Watt Covers Madonna Via Answering Machine

"Sonic Youth’s experimental alter-ego Ciccone Youth—named for Madonna—released a weird and wonderful record called The Whitey Album in 1988. (Many of my fellow SY-loving friends think of this record as a self-indulgent ‘wank job’ but I must admit that it had a serious effect on my young and innocent ears at the time; it was the first ‘experimental’ rock record that I truly, viscerally, connected with.) From it, here’s a lo-fi cover of “Burnin’ Up” [mp3] sung, bear-like, by Mike Watt (ex-Minutemen). Legend has it that he phoned in the vocal—literally!—into an answering machine and the recording certainly sounds like it was made on a simple four-track deck. An interesting experiment but no serious threat to Madonna’s original."
[from Girish]


March Films at the Pacific Film Archive, Part I

Here's a brief review of a few films I watched this weekend, at the PFA in Berkeley. Spoiler alert! These notes contain a few spoilers.

Antonioni's Red Desert

The screen's technicolor was brutally intense, as were the industrial sounds. Where one expected clouds there were towering ships, inches from the lens. When birds should have been singing, tinnital factory whistles blew. Steam vented from every orifice, through valves in factory walls, pipes in the ground, siphoned up through toxic ashen soil. Giuliana's (Monica Vitti's) nervous breakdown seemed a symptom of the industrial waste that consumed her, even as she in turn, consumed a sandwich with bulemic zeal. The only relief from Giuliana's anxiety was the blissful story she narrated to entertain her temporarily paralyzed son, the story of an island girl who hears sirens singing on a remote beach. Her son asks her who the singers were. Giuliani answers, "Everyone." Red Desert (Deserto rosso) has been called the first real color film. I'd call the soundtrack one of the first injections of electronica, or industrial music into the vein of modernist cinema.

Antonioni's La notte

Filmed in Milan, a center of brutalist design and architecture, two of the most beautiful people in the world, played by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, after ten years of marriage, can no longer reach each other. Countless scenes transition from one place to another via tall grey walls.

The film's dialog hints at political commentary when a reader asks novelist Marcello Mastroianni, while he's signing a book, something like, (paraphrasing from memory) "Do you always sign your books on the left? A book always opens to the left, doesn't it? I hope you remember that." Mastroianni's character drifts off to the land of millionaires' parties and exoticist nightclub life, without giving pause to helping a big boss reach his lowly workers by being hired to write a biography and history of an industrial mammoth.

Soon after Mastroianni's character agrees to write for this wealthy man, Jeanne, playing his wife, reads him a passage he wrote to her when they were still in love, but he doesn't remember that it was him who penned the loving prose.

The only power left to Jeanne, who is incapable of adultery, is to either withhold her thoughts from him, or remind him of who he once was.

Cassavetes' Shadows

As everyone says, this, his first film, is timeless. Right from the start we become intimately aware of intersections of nuanced emotions (improvised by the actors) experienced by a tight knit mixed-race family of young siblings, growing up together in New York. Issues of passing for white or black, deciding who to date and how, whether or not to protect or free each other from the family group balance on a tightrope of urban beatnik cool. In addition, there's a stronger in-your-face feminist element than any I've seen in films of the last few decades. If only modern screenwriters would tackle race and gender issues and throw out stereotypes and assumptions as well as Cassavetes, with as much humor, subtlety and humanity, we would all be more enlightened. The Mingus soundtrack is also freakin' incredible.

Satyajit Ray's Aparajito

Overheard after the film, "No matter how many times I see it, I can't stop the crying."

This is part II of the Apu Trilogy. Satyajit ray's photographic compositions are precise, and so is the composition of his screenplay. The tragic and quick flow of life running by is like the River Ganges, or the railroads crossing the continent, both deadly and uplifting, ancient and modern. The original novel that inspired this screenplay, by Bibhutibhushana Bandyopadhyay, has been translated into English by T.W. Clark.