Friday, July 31, 2009
by Pat Padua
Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad is one of the most infamous works of avant-garde cinema. It polarized audiences in its day, when audiences still cared enough to be polarized about an art film. Pauline Kael lamented the "creeping marienbadism" of modern cinema, and given subsequent art-film indulgences you can't really blame her. But is the movie any good? Mariendbad has been unavailable on DVD for years, but thanks to a stunning new transfer from Criterion, a new generation can make up their minds about what did or did not happen last year.
The plot, such as it is, may be little more than high-class melodrama: X (Albertazzi), meets A (Seyrig), at a party and insists he's met her before. The dialogue appears vague and impenetrable: the opening narration is nothing more than a catalogue of a decadent hotel's super-baroque details. But pure cinema takes you through it, literally, as the camera dollies along baroque corridors and follows a shot that may consist of nothing more than two nattily dressed Frenchmen spouting some kind of avant-garde boilerplate ("it was '28 ... or '29"). This subverts conventional narrative, of course, but it's also a celebration of cinema — Resnais and his crew demonstrate that you (if you are a genius surrounded by beautiful people and impeccable craftsmen) Resnais and his crew demonstrate that you can take any old dialogue - say, Alain Robbe-Grillet's - dress and light it and come up with something compelling. Like The Sound and the Fury, you may not know what's happening, but the confident style carries you along - and you will follow that aesthetic anywhere. What is often lost in the controversy about Marienbad and what it means or doesn't mean is that this is simply one of the most beautiful examples of filmmaking ever struck to celluloid. Sacha Vierney's lush black-and-white photography; the handsome pair of Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi; even the man who can't be beat at matchsticks, Sacha Pitoeff, has an otherworldly creepiness that's beautiful; he's no less than the French Timothy Carey. If the film can be taken as an scathing indictment of haut-bourgeoisie values, then it certainly does not eschew beauty, but revels and dreams in it.
Resnais previous and subsequent films were often directly engaged in politics: the Night and Fog of concentration camps, a love affair tinged with politics in Hiroshima mon Amour. But in Marienbad, Resnais puts the real world aside to build something that only seldom is achieved in art: a perfectly imagined, self-contained world. It's a world that's best experienced in full immersion, in a dark theater on a huge screen; but in the absence of that, Criterion's release is essential viewing.
The bonus disc includes two early Resnais documentaries, Toute la mémoire du monde (1956), whose tracking shots through vast libraries prefigure Marienbad's camera gymnastics; and Le chant du styrène (1958). Also on board is a half-hour documentary featuring interviews with surviving members of the production team. They were Young Turks working on this production, Resnais included, but their dedication to the project - even though the script mystified many of the participants - were crucial to this masterpiece. In fact, it is through the meticulous craftsmanship that the film is actually less convoluted than it's making. To take one example, a scene where X and A are followed down a long corridor turns out to be assembled from shots of three different corridors. The script girl (Sylvette Baudrot, who still works with Resnais today) helped bring scenes shot months apart into a seamless flow, taking a gesture that Delphine Seyrig makes to turn away in one shot, continue into the second shot, filmed a month later.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The above youtube clips came over the transom from different sources the other day. I linked them one after the other on the Facebook and in jest remarked that "The line that connects Guss Visser to Cage and Cunningham is the line from which springs all subsequent American Art." By which I meant the blurring of highbrow and lowbrow upon which I base much of the creative work I do. Sans highbrow, perhaps. Moments later, I discovered, via Jeffrey Cudlin, the twelve-tone kitten work of Cory Arcangel, which proves my thesis in undeniably cuddly fashion. Here is the fruit of the lineage of Visser, Cage and Cunningham:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
In the days leading up to the test I consulted with several friends who were veteran polysomnogramniacs, and their litany of inconveniences ranged from a telephone ringing down the hall to test patients in the next room reacting badly and vocally to the unfamiliar surroundings. The biggest worry I took from this was the paste used to affix sensors to the hair and scalp. I was assured by all that I'd find traces of this stuff in my naturally curly hair for days:
But owing to a recent change in formula, or the silken sheen of my naturally curly hair, or both, the gel washed off with no apparent residue. Still, it was an uncomfortable night, and the thick hospital walls meant I couldn't get a cellphone signal and was unable to live tweet the proceedings. But it went alright, and sometimes this week I will reward myself with a cupcake - if not the remembered cupcake of my youth, something from the aptly named Baked and Wired.
I watch old movies all the time and never ruminate on how many members of the cast of, say, The Magnificent Ambersons is still alive (zero major cast members, apparently.) But old tv clips like this make me sad. I wonder how many people who used to fall asleep watching the late show are today no longer waking up. Maybe it's that much of the cast of The Magnificent Ambersons is still remembered today. But who will long remember the names of these unidentified newscasters? Maybe it's the imperfectly preserved broadcast, the degrading video a reminder of what will happen to our memory and the memory of us. Will future generations have such a frisson when looking at the "early" days of the internets, the blogosphere, the twitterverse?
Friday, July 24, 2009
When we passed through Lake Wales last fall we were taken by the Hotel Grand, formerly the Dixie Walesbit, an unoccupied ten-story structure in the middle of town. I made a few phone calls and the next time we passed through with permission to enter the premises. Many thanks to the City of Lake Wales, who owns the property, for their time and generosity in allowing us a look inside.
The hotel was built in 1926, near the end of what is known as the Great Florida Boom. Though the Boom passed, the hotel remained open until the 90's, and passed through a series of commercial owners before the City of Lake Wales took over. Sadly, previous owners didn't know what to do with the place - during our one-hour tour we saw that many original details had been ripped out, and at least one floor had been subject to vandals - though it wasn't always clear if the vandals were destructive teens or destructive "renovators." The hotel is now slated for multi-use development. After talking with city officials and the developer we were heartened to hear how much they care about the history of the old place and hope to restore it to as close as they can get to its old glory.
Note: When in Lake Wales, get the garlic bites at Norby's Steakhouse. You'll be glad you did!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
This latest installment in a series of Cryptozoological Hits of the Seventies is, save for the lurid sleeve design, uninspiring product. Can any band of supposedly comic artistes be worth their salt as improvisors if they can't think of anything better to call their group than "The Improvisors"? The B-side is a Christmas record, and while they certainly deserved their share of Christmas pudding I'm certain nobody slipped a Muse in their stockings.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
By request: more cryptozoological hits from the 70's, this one from across the pond. The trick ending is a metaphor for the monster itself. Finally, who is the monster? We are the monster. Leave it to a handful of folk-rocking Europeans to ask the tough questions about life in the loch.
by Pat Padua
Director Chris Marker is best known for his masterpiece La Jetee, a 22-minute film consisting almost entirely of still images. This meditation on time and memory, which inspired Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, is one of the very few fiction films in Marker's
Marker's primary work has been in the documentary genre - but not the documentary as practiced by Ken Burns or even Errol Morris. Rather, Marker is a film essayist. Where La Jetee masterfully edited and juxtaposed the elements of still photographs to fashion a chilling science fiction, his documentary work, at its best, works such magic on the historical and cultural detritus of celluloid. His Sans Soleil (available on an essential Criterion DVD with La Jetee) is the pinnacle of this form, with layers of image and narrative that transcend the ordinary documentary to create a multi-faceted dreamscape of fact.
There may not be a more thorough document of the international student uprisings of 1968 than Marker's A Grin Without a Cat (aka Le Fond de L'air est Rouge). The director/essayist weaves a celluloid tapestry juxtaposing footage of explosives instruction with a television ad where an elderly couple boasts, "Now we're a TWO-set family." Copious tinted stock footage of army training films, pilot's-eye footage of a napalm attack on a village in Vietnam, and of course Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin battle for semiotic significance. But the talking heads (which include the likes of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, natch) and onslaught of revolutionaries fail to incite the fervor of this non-student of the revolution. For the large part (Grin originally ran at what Marker himself admits was a megalomaniacal four hours) the released print is merely three hours) the film lacks the cross-disciplinary layering that makes Sans Soleil so fascinating. While essential classroom viewing, A Grin Without A Cat probably won't interest many outside the academy. But for those who were there in 1968, there's probably plenty of fodder for both sides of the political spectrum.
Inquiring Nuns sounds like a good concept for a half-hour television special: set two young nuns loose on the streets of Chicago asking passersby, "Are you happy?" The problem is that despite the seeming cross-section of the 1968 Chicago zeitgeist - both the hippies and the straight-laced, the religious and the non-believers - there's something about two young nuns asking "Are you happy" that prevents the interviewee from saying anything truly interesting. The respondents who the sisters speak to outside church - fresh after Sunday mass, even - are particularly polite and predictable. Which is too bad, because most of the people they speak to look interestingâ€”you wonder what did the blue-collar worker, the businessman, the African-American grandmother, really think about what was going on in 1968? Many responded that they would be happier if America pulled out of Vietnam but that is all they have to say on the matter.
An occasional score by Philip Glass lends some minor chords to the proceedings but that's the extent of the tension onscreen. More interesting is the bonus material. Interviews with the nuns today reveal that both of them left the order, inspired by the times and each other to question authority (but not their faith) and pave a path that certainly contained more drama than the two television episodes on this DVD.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Ever since the bulk of outdoor flea markets in Chelsea moved to Hell's Kitchen, I've restricted most of my browsing to the Antiques Garage. I've ignored the few smaller markets left in the neighborhood, assuming they were closer in spirit to the kind of flea market whose specialties get no more obscure than knock-off designer purses and cheap socks and bootleg dvds. But I was wrong. One day this spring I stopped at one of those weekend parking lot markets that I normally pass by. I found the usual ratio of wheat and chaff but also some genuine antiques action. I was lured into one booth by a plastic photo album that depicted a surfing teddy bear. When I opened up that talismatic plastic ersatz Hawaiiana I was rewarded with a small but remarkable stash of Russian portraits and snapshots. Comrades of all inclinations as well as mail-order bride shoppers will find plenty here to whet the apetite:
The fabulous Veronica Ebert, aka lapinfille, is showing two of her pieces in this show curated by artist and art critic Lenny Campello:
Frida Kahlo inspired show opens
The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery at Smith Farm Center in Washington, DC will be hosting Finding Beauty In A Broken World: In the Spirit of Frida Kahlo.
This exhibition showcases the work in all mediums of artists selected by me and whose work is influenced not only by Kahlo’s art, but also by her biography, her thoughts, and her writing or any other aspect in the life and presence of this powerful artist.
Frida Kahlo's artistic footprint in 21st century artists from all over.
This is the third Kahlo show that I have juried in the last decade and I am floored by the range of work and interpretations that I selected.
"Hein will be washing."
"Please, we have plenty in the freezer."
"I can see your house from here."
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd were shooting a filum in town a few weeks ago, and they kept following me, first to the 18th and Columbia Rd. Starbucks. The next day they ambushed me while the 36 bus was caught in traffic on 15th street. Luckily, the bus sped me away unharmed.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
[I promise not to blog about Michael Jackson this week anymore. - ed.]
The art and design world's response to Michael Jackson's passing has been fast and furious – and in some cases prescient. Within days, sidewalk vendors in major cities were peddling King of Pop memorial t-shirts, some of them festooned with variations on Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous red, white, and blue Obama design, the caption HOPE sadly replaced with POP but not yet, as far as this reporter has seen, the plainly accurate DEAD.
As for the prescience, the Leo Kesting Gallery in the Meatpacking District was hosting an exhibition of paintings by artist Jonny Fenix when the King of Pop suddenly shuffled off. The gallery quickly erected an impromptu memorial, showcasing Fenix's work, "Michael's Jacksons", priced to sell at only $3,000. I shot a photograph of this display on fast, grainy film that had expired in the 1990's, imagining that the color cast would reveal something about the fickle finger of fame and the half-life of celebrity. As it turns out, the colors were fairly accurate. Chalk one up to enduring legends or, rather, to refrigeration as metaphor and preservation technique.
Gallery director David Kesting, who opened his space in 2003 as a showcase for "cutting-edge" artists, writes that "Fenix's visual library references the characteristics Americans love while subtly pushing us towards resolution of the negligent hypocrisy we are now becoming aware of." Among the other subtle canvasses decking these Meatpacking District walls are a hairy disembodied penis and a black Jesus flipping the viewer double-barreled fingers. Fenix knows how to get your attention, and his at times tabloid subject matter is presented with a keen design sense.
The exhibit closed on July 5th but its memory may linger in the hearts of pop-culture students and jaded gallery crawlers, while the rest of us will revel in the harder-earned but still morbid laughter evoked by the James Ensor show at MOMA.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
"I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event."
--Dame Elizabeth Taylor to her 80,000 followers on Twitter, explaining why she turned down a request to speak at the Staples Center memorial.
I don't think there's a *wrong* way to express personal grief. I've seen my share of hospital waiting rooms and funeral homes, and people deal with things the best they can, whether they gnash their teeth or find distraction or simply withdraw. The death of Michael Jackson is a huge media event, but it has also provided an outlet, and for many people a public outlet, for all the ways we grieve. Missing the music and lamenting its decline, missing the child-man and denouncing the man-child, remembering where you were when you first heard "Ben" or "Billie Jean." Whatever you thought of him as a musician or a human being, his work and life is a nearly universal cultural reference, and everyone has an opinion about it - none more so than the celebrity griever.
I come here not to praise the common man but to bury the celebrity. Celebrity remembrances of Jackson or of any dead star can be as much a celebration of the person talking about it as of the deceased - often more so. When Kurt Cobain died in 1994, "Voice of a generation" Douglas Coupland pulled off on the side of the road near Candlestick Park in San Francisco to figure out how he felt about it - and made sure to tell that that to a major newspaper:
"I felt that I had never asked you to make me care about you," Coupland wrote. "But it happened - against the hype, against the odds - and now you are in my imagination forever. And I figure you're in heaven, too. But how, exactly, does it help you now , to know that you . . . were once adored?"
That hand-wringing tenor could just as easily have been texted or twittered on June 25th, 2009, when the level of teeth-gnashing was directly proportionate to the publicity machine of the mourner. A sample from Salon.com's roundup:
- Celine Dion: “I am shocked. I am overwhelmed by this tragedy. Michael Jackson has been an idol for me all my life.”
- Madonna: "I can't stop crying over the sad news. . . I have always admired Michael Jackson…The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever! My heart goes out to his three children and other members of his family. . . God bless."
- Mariah Carey: "I am heartbroken. My prayers go out to the Jackson family, and my heart goes out to his children. Let us remember him for his unparalleled contribution to the world of music, his generosity of spirit in his quest to heal the world, and the joy he brought to his millions of devoted fans throughout the world. I feel blessed to have performed with him several times and to call him my friend. No artist will ever take his place. His star will shine forever."
But the winner of the celebrity mourner's Highest Achievement in Lack of Self-awareness Award goes to the embattled widow and shoe collector Imelda Marcos. If you know anything about her rise and fall, it's hilarious:
- Imelda Marcos: “Michael Jackson enriched our lives, made us happy...The accusations, the persecution caused him so much financial and mental anguish. He was vindicated in court, but the battle took his life. There is probably a lesson here for all of us.”