June 2002 Archives

Spent most of this morning and evening digging around, looking for contextual material for the new project (it's a feature right now). Here are some source links.

For this, I've been really hung up on music videos, actually. Mike Mills (who directed the wonderful, easy-going documentary, Paperboys, which just played at the Brooklyn Int'l Film Fest in early May) has done some great work.

Also, Gorillaz is a favorite. Brilliant videos, hard to take my eyes off them when they're on. (Thanks, MTV2 and MuchMusic!)

  • Gorillaz.com is the homeworld of the animated band.
  • Here is an article from Res about the making of Gorillaz vids. Includes an interview with co-creator Jamie Hewlett, a lot of technical information, translation from storyboard to video, etc.
  • Here is an interview with Mike Mills, also from Res.

    The afternoon was taken up with a trip to P.S. 1, which opened its new Playa Urbana/Urban Beach in the courtyard, and a related show of Mexican art. And that's enough about that.

  • June 29, 2002

    Oh, and over the last

    Oh, and over the last week, a film idea I'd had (and sketched out a couple of weeks ago) is rapidly taking shape. While I'd planned to keep it quiet until I worked it through more clearly, I blurted it out to a veteran producer-turned-major entrepreneur at dinner, then to a couple of very film-minded people, all of whom were very interested. And this morning, I woke up with a few lucid, brilliant flashes (brilliant as in intense, not necessarily as in genius, yet, anyway) about how it could work. So, this week, there's going to be a concerted effort to develop it. No details online just yet, though. Stay tuned.

    MoMA QNS: I should've written yesterday about the Thursday night opening party for MoMA's new building in Queens, but I didn't get around to it. Except for the part where about 1,500 people had to stand in the middle of the street in a tremendous downpour, only to (eventually) be told by the Fire Marshall that there's no way they're getting in, it was great. (We led a group of 30-35 people under the elevated train until we reached a Romanian restaurant to sit out the rain. After 10:30, the party was not only great, it actually rocked.)

    Went back again today, the first day it's open to the public. There were 1.5 hour lines, trailing all the way down a block that probably had never seen such a crowd. Naturally, we walked right in the front door [a rare case of where my sense of entitlement is not wildly misplaced). The two standout features: Michael Maltzan's work here is really great. Videos projected on the walls; both functional and ornamental ramps (perfect for parties and the ADA), and a very smart experience at the entrance to the galleries. So, of the last $90 million spent on contemporary architecture in NYC, $50 million was spent successfully (MoMA QNS) and $40 million was, well, whatever (Prada SoHo). [here is a little book published by MoMA about the new bldg.]


    The other amazing thing: The literal frenzy of people picking up Felix Gonzalez-Torres posters. This stack sculpture by Gonzalez-Torres from the Walker Art Center collection has a rich, large black&white image of water. As is typical when his work is exhibited, your first encounter is long before you see the actual piece; you notice people walking around with giant posters rolled up and tucked under their arms. (I'd seen this in the pouring rain at the Thursday opening, and it didn't register at first; if you're going out for the evening, do you want to carry a giant poster around with you all night?)

    In the gallery with the stack, there was bedlam. Seriously. You'd have thought people stood in line just for the poster. There was frantic activity everywhere as people sought out a wide enough space to roll up their poster. Some people teamed up--as if they were folding sheets together--to roll them up smoothly. The stack itself was in total disarray; people were standing on a stray sheet next to it. By the time we walked through the adjacent galleries and back, the stack was gone; only the wall label and two tape corners on the floor betrayed its presence. And, of course, the hundreds of people walking around with giant posters.

    On the way out, an older woman (sort of an outer borough Sonia Rykiel) with a disheveled roll of several posters was hustling toward the door, while an irritated middle aged woman in a tank top called after her, "Do you have any posters?" Do you have an extra one?" "Do you have more than one?"

    Welcome to the party! This week, another weblog launched documenting the conception, birth and life of an independent film. Cyan Pictures is the brainchild of two guys, Joshua Newman (aka "a veritable Doogie Howser") and Colin Spoelman (aka, a veritable Vinnie Delpino, I guess). As Newman notes on his personal site, self-aggrandizement.com, their's is the "the web's first moviemaking weblog." [of the week, I guess. I added them to the short list.]

    They, too, are starting with a short and a film festival target (Sundance for them, Cannes for Souvenir November 2001). and have just posted the first public version of their script. I wish them all the best. Stay tuned. (via Kottke.org)

    Watching CNBC like it was 1999: Actually, it was nothing like 1999, which is why I'm mentioning it. CNBC had been the VIP room at the analyst's club for the entire boom of the 1990's. But in an utterly transfixing burst of reporting, reporter Mike Huckman caught Jack Grubman, a top Salomon analyst of Worldcom, on tape [scroll down for the video] by waiting outside his townhouse yesterday morning. Nothing new about that, right? Except that the video they got was so completely different from anything else I'd seen on CNBC (or from any other reporting on this type of story, for that matter).

    Mr Grubman (who, apparently, is a neighbor) was definitely caught off guard by the reporter and his polite persistence. His answers were unremarkably shocking ("What can I say? I'm not part of the company?" "I'm no different than anyone else on Wall Street."), especially given his nearly god-like stature in the telecom industry. [Anecdote: When he was earning only $3.5 million in 1997, it was so much that younger analysts at Salomon began pricing things in $3.5m "Grubman units." He made as much as $25 million/year since then, though, presumably requiring all sorts of G.U. recalculations.]

    But what was most gripping was the man's palpable sense of loss of control, of a seemingly unprecedented sense of unpreparedness as the world he knew (and so dominated) was collapsing around him personally (and on live TV). In between pleas of privacy, ignorance, and harassment, he still answers questions, cagily and painfully; he clearly wants to be left alone, but also wants to make sense of things. At the end of the clip, Grubman attempts to flee the wrong way up Fifth Avenue, when he abruptly turns and gives one final answer ("So this caught you completely by surprise?" "Yes. Yes.") He then walks into an empty Fifth Avenue to get away. No waiting car.

    Earlier, I was writing on a new project, which reminded me of the Bohr story, which I posted. Then I found Wall Street on Bravo and kind of got into it for a bit. Then it got on my nerves, because they kept saying, "sure thing" and "easy money." Even in what may be Oliver Stone's only truly good movie, he can't resist beating the viewer over the head. Went swimming instead. Then came back to an incredible scene in a truly, truly good movie: the hookup scene in Out of Sight.

    I hadn't really noticed it before, but Steven Soderbergh and Anne Coates wove two intensely related scenes with Jennifer Lopez & George Clooney together: A) their slightly awkward small talk in the hotel bar, and B) their subsequent playful foreplay in Lopez's room. The sound and dialogue throughout is from the bar, and the overlay of their mutual flirting with its payoff makes their lines doubly charged. Coates uses very brief freeze frames, too, and the combined scene closes on a still of the two actors just about to kiss. The whole scene plays with expectation, anticipation, fulfillment. We know these two stars are gonna hook up, so there'd be little suspense in their flirting. This way, both scenes--and the pacing of the movie--benefit. It's been almost a month since I've had a paean to Soderbergh, and it's overdue. Coates should get major props, too, though; after all, she won an Oscar for editing Lawrence of Arabia. Here's an article on Coates from the Editor's Guild.

    Also found these helpful quotes from a this Guardian interview with Soderbergh:

    "As soon as an actor takes their clothes off in a movie, you're watching a documentary, not a feature film. I feel like it breaks the spell that you've created for the characters, that it's not Karen taking her clothes off, it's Jennifer Lopez. In a movie, I sort of check out when people start to slather on each other." And on Coates: "I had to shut her up. If I had to hear one more David Lean story, I'd belt her."

    [Buy Wall Street, Out of Sight, or Lawrence of Arabia on DVD.]

    June 26, 2002

    I usually find The Art

    I usually find The Art Newspaper a little too smart for its own good, no doubt an attempt to appease/appeal to its too-smart target readers, who don't need something as mundane as a newspaper to tell them anything about art, thank you very much. But this article about Documenta 11 (the current sub-theme of this site, apparently) is pretty good, despite its annoying "A is for Africa...Z is for Zero, Ground" conceit.

    There's something refreshing about a sudden downpour, especially when you're not trapped in it. Thunderclaps that set off car alarms on your street, Flickers that--save for a surge protector--would fry your laptop. Suddenly bright sunlight ("the devil is kissing his wife"). This is, like, the third or fourth in the last few weeks, though ("The Storm of the Century of the Week"). Can it be a sign of global warming? Yes. Unless you're a right-wing environmentalist group.

    June 26, 2002

    At first, I thought this

    At first, I thought this guy was a weblog stalker, considering we'd been to several of the same exhibits and openings, but it turns out that the "reading over your shoulder," "they're right behind you!"character of Modern Art Notes is a benign sign of how small the DC art world is.

    My favorite astrophysicist and I loved this great story from Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which I found on kottke.org over the weekend:

    Exporting gold from Denmark was "nearly a capital offense" under the Nazi occupation of 1940 on. Entrusted with the gold Nobel prize medals of Max von Laue and James Franck (two German Jewish physicists who had fled first to Copenhagen), George de Hevesy and Niels Bohr dissolved the medals in acid to avoid their confiscation (and any complications that would arise from sheltering Jewish refugees). The resulting solution, known as aqua regia, remained undetected in the Niels Bohr Institute and was delivered to the Swedish Academy in 1950 so that they could be recast. [A search for primary source material turned up this page on the Nobel site, which (unromantically and unfortunately) says the Academy decided to recreate the medals with new gold, not the carefully saved original metal. Still, it's a great story.]

    Peter Schjeldahl reviews Documenta 11 in this week's New Yorker. He snidely and wearily compliments the show for its "robust, mature...festivalism," which I take to mean they figured out how to show video-based works. But he at least notices two of my Documenta favorites. On Amar Kanwar's documentary: "a stunning exploration of the Pakistani-Indian military frontier in Kashmir...[and] skillful, alluring, and notably uncomplaining." (Gee, sorry to disappoint you, Peter.) On Gabriel Orozco's terra cotta bowls: the "always witty" artist's "work's bristling joke...also invokes the anti-stereotype of a Mexican who is lousy at pottery..." (Huh?? And the one about the pollack who graduated from college?)

    Ultimately, though, the real reason I'm linking to Schjeldahl's review is because he was staying at my hotel in Kassel. Yes, I slept with Peter Schjeldahl.

    Festivals Update: Submitted Souvenir November 2001 to the Evora International Short Film Festival, held in November in Ővora, Portugal. On hearing this, a Portuguese-Ohioan friend of mine praised the town effusively. (He just got back from a trip to the other homeland last week, so I was predisposed to send something to Portugal anyway.)


    NYC Flava: An easy dozen real estate underlings are milling around outside the window right now, including a couple of blondes with Lily Pulitzer dresses (aren't those supposed to be for the beach? In any case, Here's something we don't have in NYC: A store called The Lily Pad.) and the token gay guy with a brush-hawk (a name I just made up for a Beckham wannabe mohawk that's just combed, not shaved). Anyway, the townhouse across the street is on the market, after spending the last three years in a to-the-neighbor's-brick reconstruction.
    Here's the site for Alexandra Champalimaud, the designer. Turns out the house belonged to the great director, Otto Preminger, who'd modded it up. Funny, I'd forgotten what it looked like. [Just found this writeup in the Observer about the deal. If you're interested in buying it, let me know. I'll hook you up.]

    At the Hirshhorn Museum yesterday (originally to see the Ernesto Neto installaion before it closed), I kind of fixated on the work of Anne Truitt, which is in the "Minimalism and its Legacy" installation on the lower floor.

    I wasn't familiar with Truitt's work, but a quick Google search shows an embarrassingly long and distinguished career (embarrassing for me not to know about it, that is). Go ahead, try it. Truitt was a central figure (along with Judd and Andre, but "championed," for better or worse, by Clement Greenberg) in the emergence of Minimalist art in the 60's. Yet unlike the canonical Minimalists, her work never sought the complete elimination of content. It seems obvious to me (although no shows seem to have been done to examine it) that the surge of artists using minimalist vocabulary (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Robert Gober and Ellen Gallagher are among the most obvious) to biographical, emotional and political effect can relate directly to Truitt's work. (One of Truitt's earliest sculptures was--and wasn't, of course--a section of picket fence, which suggests Gober's various playpen/crib sculptures.)

    Surprisingly, Truitt's still alive and cranking away (although from the tone of this interview in Artforum, "cranking" isn't the steely-yet-genteel artist's style) right here in Washington, DC. And looking at the consistency of her more recent work, she continues to pursue her interests, while being somewhat inexplicably underappreciated by the current art world/market. [Here is Daybook: The Journey of an Artist, Truitt's well-reviewed diaries. Buy it. I did.]

    Oh, the Neto piece is great, btw. I'd seen a couple of less successful ones lately and wondered if he's been in a slump, but the strong sculptural quality of this one was really nice. Since it was rice and styrofoam, it didn't smell, but it did have so many visual references to genitalia (think mons, orifices, and billygoats moving away from you, not the "wombs" the brochure delicately alluded to) that an arts funding crisis would've broken out if conservatives didn't feel oh-so-comfortable with their grip on this town right now.

    Stopped off in Philadelphia for a couple of hours to see the big Barnett Newman exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum. One thing I hadn't known before was Newman's (and his other artist friends') battle with the relevance of painting in the wake of WWII. In a 1966 WNET documentary interview, Newman said how there was no sense painting in the early 40's, since the world was coming to an end. And in the late 40's, with global-scale destruction and atom bombs, painting didn't seem particularly relevant, either. The solution? Newman set to painting the most profound subjects he could, Creation, Genesis, the Universe, the Void. These led to his breakthrough works, the "Onement" series that contained fully realized versions of "zips" (although he didn't call them that until later).

    Also interesting: seeing the chronological development of his work and mapping it to public and critical acceptance. His first two (or three?) gallery shows (in 1950-1) were basically failures; he supposedly stopped painting for four years; yet his work entered the MoMA collection by 1959. By the Sixties, though, his harder-edged work--produced during a period of great acclaim--seems a little synthetic and dry. There's some inverse correlation going on here.

    Anyway, the show's great, and it's up until July 7th, then goes to the Tate Modern in London in September. [Buy the exhibition catalog from Amazon.]

    The wind must be shifting when I actually read and link to a Maureen Dowd column. Yesterday in the NY Times, she wrote about the raw cynicism of Bush's handlers for actually trying to cast him as any sort of intellectual force. Dowd tells of the setup Ari Fleischer and John Bridgeland, an appointee running USA Freedom Corps gave a Bush speech last week in Ohio:


    "[Bush]'s building on notions of duty and charity, human fulfillment and love of country; ideas anchored in great religious teachings and the thinking of the ancient Greeks and Romans and in the principles of the founding fathers."

    [Bridgeland] said the president "derived" his ideas from the teachings of ˇ now follow along ˇ Tocqueville, Adam Smith, "the world's major religions," Aristotle, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Pope John Paul II, Cicero, Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.


    Joe Conason was equally incredulous in his NY Observer column. In contrast, the Washington Post took the briefing at face value. Who's right? Is it possible that Bush is now a grave, serious, student of history?

    Two additional datapoints may help clarify what's really going on the heads of Bush and his aides:
    1) In this recent Slate column, Timothy Noah gave this rare quote from Fleischer "setting the record straight" on the President's claim to have "read" an EPA global warming report:
    "I think the presidentˇwhenever presidents say they read it, you can read that to be he was briefed." Perhaps the same logic applies when the President (as opposed to Fleischer's slyly all-inclusive "presidents") "derives" something.

    2) With the exception of de Tocqueville and Benjamin Rush, all the Bush sources alleged by Bridgeland are included in the 1919 Tenth Edition of Bartlett's Quotations (searchable on Bartleby.com). So. If, within the last 83 years, these two historic figures have been included in subsequent editions, we can confidently conclude that President Bush has been briefed on Bartlett's Quotations, a situation which should surprise no one.

    June 19, 2002

    In the cab this morning:

    In the cab this morning: A veritable weblog full of unsolicited narration from the older, female driver.
    "I been driving a cab 34 years."
    "I used to race cars. I was 14."
    "The tourists come to see the matinee, but they can't drive."
    "I washed my car this morning, but I didn't need to. It's clean."
    "My friend died. Cancer. Yesterday."
    "He's a cabdriver 30 years. three sons and a grandson. He's so young."
    "And he just bought a new cab last year."

    June 18, 2002

    Still in Kassel, at

    Still in Kassel, at least mentally. The bad news first: Michael Kimmelman's embarassing writeup of Documenta 11 in todays NYTimes is not only self-contradictory, but almost every complaint or criticism he makes of the show can be refuted by the contents of the show itself.

    Maybe it's telling that we approached the show from different angles, literally. He arrived via Cologne, where the Matthew Barney show just opened, and so he supposes that Barney's work is "just what Documenta 11 is reacting against but could do with a little more of." I, in the mean time, came via Basel, the world's biggest contemporary art fair, where the hottest souvenir turned out to be the "I Survived Cremaster 3" T-shirts, which were handed out surreptiously (at first) among the hubris-weary dealers and consumers.

    While I do agree with one of Kimmelman's statements-- "It leaves me edified and a little sad" --I doubt we're sad about the same thing. He lamented "didactic" overly serious, homogeneity and an indifference to "art." But there were beautiful, moving works that spoke (both directly and obliquely) to injustice, hatred, violence, decay, abuse of power, and any number of important problems facing the world (go ahead, zoom in, and say they face the west, the east, the country, the city). As Documenta 11 makes a very persuasive argument that art can and does matter to the world outside a museum or a gallery, Kimmelman, inexplicably, seems to be pining for irrelevance and overwhelming self-referentiality. There's a time for that: it's called 1999.

    amar_kanwar_season_still.jpg

    A Season Outside, video still, Amar Kanwar, 1998

    Now the good news: One of those works is Amar Kanwar's 1998 documentary, A Season Outside. It begins with scenes of the bizarrely ritualized gate-closing ceremony that takes place at the Kashmiri border of India and Pakistan. Citizens of each country cheer on their own soldiers, who high-step and prance agressively like armed peacocks. Literally, each step a guard makes is matched by the his counterpart, a ridiculous, bravado-blind tit-for-tat that prefigures the blustery statements politicians are making today. It's breakdancing, but with nuclear missiles. The filmmaker's voiceover describes a feeling of inevitability and impending disaster, and the crowd of men onscren turn out to be wagering on a pair of rams repeatedly set loose to butt heads.

    Refusing either pessimism or cynicism, Kanwar poetically explores the philosophy of nonviolence, even as covert video shows gangs of Chinese soldiers clubbing Tibetan monks. When Kanwar asks a monk if all the injustice they face doesn't demand a forceful response, the monk replies, "whatever be the way, I must not return pain for pain, evil for evil." Here's a work made five years ago that directly speaks to the greatest threat to the world at this very moment and that presciently implicates the exact word George Bush wields as his religio-political sword. The more I remember it, the more impressed I become with A Season Outside, the sadder I become for the current total absence of nonviolence as an element of the debate in the US, and the more I feel that art could play a powerful role in shifting that debate.

    [Here is an early review from FAZ.net (in German). Run the URL through Babelfish for a rough translation. Excerpt: "Amar Kanwar's contribution lives on hinreissenden [ravishing, I think] pictures, detailed observations and a melancholy, which seek to mediate between past and future." ]

    Setting: Fredericianum, Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany
    The voice of a woman reading from within a freestanding glass booth echos through the gallery: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and twelve. B.C.

    You watch, slightly amused. A set of black binders in a vitrine bear the title, One Million Years (Past and Future). One binder is open, showing columns of numbers, years. A couple enters the gallery and stops right in front of the booth. If it were the window to someone's home, they'd be standing invasively close. They stare into

    The voice of a man reading from within the booth: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and eleven. B.C.

    the booth. The woman acknowledges them, but doesn't speak. They keep staring for a moment, then move on. The gallery is basically square, typically classical, on the central axis of the building, with an extremely high, domed ceiling. The doorways are placed enfilade, creating a path for traffic right in front of the booth. That booth is kind of nice, though. Seamless, slightly grey glass. At least ten feet high, including the suspended ceiling and diffused lighting. Grey carpet, a black table with two places. One chrome mike stand, one binder,

    Woman: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and ten. B.C.

    and one glass of water for each place. A pile of CD jewel cases on the floor? Ah, they're recording this, too. (Wouldn't you? I mean, how much would it be to get interns to record this for you?) How long will it be before the guy reads his next year? If they cough, does that get edited out of the CD, or do they leave it in? More people walk in, pause, smirk at each

    Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and nine. B.C.

    other, look at the label, and move on. OK, now time the interval. Well, maybe later. I mean, they'll be there a while, right? You move on to the next gallery. Hmm. Not very interesting. The next one is dark, though. A row of thirty or so film projectors lined up on a shelf that spans the entire gallery, but they're not on. Ein Tagebuch (A Diary) by Deiter Roth. It starts at 11:00, in just about

    Woman's voice, still audible: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and eight. B.C.

    five minutes. Push ahead and come back. You know, there are all those little photos culled from Der Spiegel. That should take about five minutes.You head back through the central gallery, past the booth again. Do those people in there think you're lost? or at least aimless? En route, you try to look purposeful, make eye contact, acknowledge their humanity, their contribution to art and culture. You get it, after all. You know On Kawara's paintings, too, so,

    Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand four hundred and four. B.C.

    thanks.

    The photos are small, pinned under glass, and extend all the way around the gallery. There's a crowd. a riot, a group of soldiers. Another crowd. Demonstraters in handcuffs. Billy clubs. Another crowd, another riot, another, another. Isa Genzken has found an unsettling aesthetic similarity between these photos spanning decades of unrest and violence on every continent. Now the game is to identify the country and the

    Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and seventy nine. B.C.

    era from the clothing the subjects wear and the cars and advertisements in the backgrounds. You check your watch. Almost five minutes. You hustle back through the galleries just as two attendants are signalling each other. They start the projectors from the outside moving in. Little home movie-like images slowly populate a grid on the wall, which the attendants focus and fine tune. Roth's explanation is in the catalog: "I wanted to show my daily life in the films here...so I didn't have to do anything courageous...For instance, it would be courageous to make a point

    Woman: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and seventy four. B.C.

    of showing badly made films individually; but because I'm afraid of this kind of exposure, I will show 30 films of this kind at once--a flickering, which dazles and distracts from the poverty of each individual film." Hmm. Sound like weblogging to me. Looks like it, too. You head back to watch the rest of that documentary on the India-Pakistan border which revitalizes the philosophy of non-violence, considered "quaint" (when it's considered at all), passing once again through the

    Man: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and sixty one. B.C.

    gallery with the booth. But this time something hits you and you stop. The cycles of life, violence, death, the attempts of people to make sense of it, to be remembered, to gain dignity and avoid embarassment, the lessons unlearned over centuries of conflict, the conceptual memento mori offering no illusions of progress or respite, the same inexorable flow of time giving unexpected comfort that things will pass. You choke back tears as you take up place against the door jamb, yielding to the years that pass over you. The woman looks up briefly, acknowledging my humanity, my contribution to art and culture, and then turns her eyes back to her page.

    Woman: Nine hundred eighty eight thousand three hundred and sixty. B.C.

    Report from Kassel: Got back Saturday, after an ultimately successful and fulfilling trip, but with entirely too much driving. Friday afternoon, the Documenta technical office installed a new monitor in the Ashkin piece, calibrated the timing of the three monitors, and started it up again--all under the watchful eyes of Okwui Enwezor, Carlos Basualdo, and myself. (It turns out the Ashkin was the only piece in the entire show not visible on Thursday, so it would've been a priority for them even if I hadn't turned up.) Okwui was effusive and smooth in his apologies, and they were both stoked about the piece, which they'd first seen at Andrea Rosen Gallery in Jan. 2000. [click on "artists" and "michael ashkin" to see stills and installation photos.] People seemed to respond well to the piece, at least during the 90 minutes or so that I watched it. The video consists of shots (with fixed camera & ambient sound) of an overgrown, abandoned proving ground at Sandy Hook, NJ, which progress on three large monitors. These multiple views create a very spatial experience, an understanding of this otherwise unreadable (or at least unusual) landscape. Basically, it rocked.

    While waiting for the afternoon installation of the monitor, I was able to watch most of most of the Igloolik documentaries (that's not a typo). It was both a revelation and a relief; these shows were clearly prelude to Atanarjuat, both in story and technical terms. It takes at least a little pressure off to know that it didn't just spring fully formed from Zacharias Kunuk's head and win Best First Feature Award at Cannes.

    KASSEL - A mammoth contemporary art exhibition. First things first: Documenta 11 is at least an order of magnitude better than last year's Venice Bienale, and not just because it's not so freakin' hot. While pursuing some gratuitous VIP ego-stroking (I'd just come from Basel, what do you expect?), I wandered into the Documenta Lounge, where I met Okwui Enwezor, curator-for-life and the suavest guy in town. [As of today, the catalog's not on Amazon, but these "Documenta" books are.]

    Even though there is at least as great a percentage of video-based art, it is far more engaging, engrossing, and better presented than the depressing gauntlet of the Arsenale. Presentation seems to vary and complement the work, with some stadium-style seating platforms (for Isaac Julien, Steve McQueen, and one more I don't remember); futon-like benches for Craigie Horsfield's 4-wall meditation, and more standard black box theater/rooms for others. Who suffered? Shirin Neshat's film--shown on two opposing walls like her breakthrough piece at Venice in 1997-- is beautiful and back on track, but the room is cramped and clogged with lost-looking people. Igloolik, Zacharias Kunuk's production company (as well as the name of the Inuit town where he is based), is showing 13 documentaries on 13 wall-mounted monitors in the loong central hallway of the main venue; there's a bench all along the wall, but it seems shortchanged. (Although I'm hard-pressed to think of a better way to show 13 Inuit documentaries in an art gallery... Compared to Atanarjuat, they're like a full season of The Real World: Igloolik.

    There are installations with video, too, but for some reason I found them almost universally lacking. They included Chantal Akerman's multi-channel "real-time" piece on immigration, the INS and the Arizona border, which was like wandering around a darkened Circuit City and seemed full of an outmoded French smugness. (If she's critiquing France's own immigration problems through a self-righteous 'exploration' of US/Mexico, doesn't seem too guilt-ridden to me.) Joan Jonas...I forget, but I just couldn't watch any of it. And a net-based piece by tsunamii.net, which included a synthetic voice intended to read the webpages on the monitor was, instead, reading the error page from Internet Explorer.

    So why am I really dwelling on the challenges and vagaries of video-based art? Because I hauled my sorry butt to Kassel to see one work, a three-channel video installation by an artist whose work has been very important to me (and who has been a friend) for a long time, Michael Ashkin. I happen to have bought this work, Michael's first video piece, more than two years ago. I was extremely excited when he told me he was included in Documenta, and both honored and excited when he said he would include this video piece as well. Since the piece requires a large room, three flatscreen monitors on large pedestals, and a central bench, we've never installed it (although we play the DVD's from it one at a time on our TV). Earlier in the week at Basel, many people (most of whom didn't know I had the work) spoke very highly of Michael's pieces here, and the installation itself is wonderful. EXCEPT FOR THAT ONE MISSING MONITOR AND THE "OUT OF ORDER" SIGN ON THE WALL.

    Fortunately, I'd just sat through an amazing work (A Season Outside by Amar Kanwar, an Indian documentary filmmaker) which dwelt beautifully on Gandhi's and the Dalai Lama's teachings of non-violence. [I have to write about Kanwar later. His work made a real impression on me.] I found the head of technical services and calmly talked to him about the missing (broken, actually) monitor. Of course, fixing it was already a concern for him, and by the afternoon, he said the replacement would be installed tomorrow morning. The piece would be back in action Friday morning, noon at the latest. So, I am staying an extra day to see it. Thus, the vagaries of video-based art are transformed from institutional inconvenience to personal crisis.

    BASEL - A mammoth contemporary art fair. A pleasant scattering of familiar faces and new (and old) work by favorite artists. And tons of work by artists I don't really care for. A surprise DJ/friend from NYC turning up at a gallery dinner/party. Drivng down the tram-only lanes of the road, thereby frightening my euro passengers nearly to death. A great crew from the uber-art magazine, Frieze. Getting magazines --not just flyers--under the windshield wipers of my car. Favorite cover story from Art Investor magazine: "Die Big Spenders." (note: the magazine's in German. I imagine the German "Die" jokes wear pretty thin pretty quickly if you spend any time here.)

    Favorite websearch from my referrer logs AND websearch most likely to become the title of an article or weblog posting: "Y tu MoMA Tambien" [capitalization added]


    Greatest moment of soulsearching since last week's preview screening: right now, when the Wu Tang track we used on the soundtrack turned up in an Adam Gopnik segment onThis American Life...


    In The New Republic, Jed Perl wrote
    an impressive review of an even more impressive exhibition, "Tapestry in the Renaissance" at the Metropolitan Museum, which I saw last weekend. After a detailed, compelling, history-filled analysis, Perl surprisingly (and effectively) contrasts this "alternative medium" (ie., tapestry) to the current crop of "alternative media" that are generally displacing painting in current art (or curatorial) practice.. For me, though, something else stuck after seeing these unknown--or at least, wildly underappreciated--masterpieces.


    When I saw an hour and a half on
    Sundance Channel blocked out for Meet Mike Mills, I couldn't figure out how interesting he could possibly be. 90 minutes with Scorsese, sure. But 90 minutes with Mike Mills? Naturally, I HAD to watch it.

    Turns out they showed the entirety of his shorts, Architecture of Reassurance and my favorite, Paperboys. It's one of the most unassuming films in a long time, and it's got a really engaging, smart view of a world many adopted New Yorkers have fled. (Architecture is actually about a girl who longingly wanders around an oppressively homogeneous suburban subdivision.

    Paperboys figured into my first documentary project, adding to my conviction/hypothesis (depending on the day) that a studied look at rural life could be interesting.

    Mills also directed the some of my favorite Gap ads (did that phrase just chase you all away? hello? ...hellooo?), the ones inspired by West Side Story, which is one of only four musicals I can stand. (For your purchasing pleasure, the others are Moulin Rouge, South Park and Umbrellas of Cherbourg.)

    Mills' videos, commercials, and some shorts can be seen in the archives at The Director's Bureau site, which has one of the only Flash intros I don't mind watching. Work and info from his partners, including Roman and Sofia Coppola, is also available on the site.

    June 5, 2002

    I was going to


    I was going to wait and post about
    Atanarjuat after I'd finally seen it, but I can't resist. Atanarjuat, or Fast Runner, in English, is the Inuit-language movie that won the Camera d'Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. It has also challenged film critics--who write about movies for a living--to come up with suitable praise. To wit, J. Hoberman's review in today's Village Voice, titled "Let There Be Light." The last paragraph:


    The rhetoric of movie reviews is a debased currency. Is Spider-Man really an essential expression of American culture? Did Attack of the Clones signal the resurgence of our own pop "Ring Cycle"? Atanarjuat is so elemental in its means yet so cosmic in its drama, it could herald a rebirth of cinema.

    Yeah, yeah, I'm working on a post-preview screening post, but in the mean time, There's this crackup exchange from the courtroom where Woody Allen gave testimony in his lawsuit against his one-time producers and friends (as excerpted in the NY Times):


    [Woody Allen] would have answered them at considerably greater length had Justice Gammerman not frequently, if good-naturedly, cut him off.

    When Ms. Weiss asked Mr. Allen if he was now working on a movie, he replied, "Yes, and that's why I haven't been able to be here all the time, because ˇˇ"

    " `Yes' is the answer," Judge Gammerman said.

    Mr. Allen continued. "Because I have a film crew out now, shooting on the streets of New York, and I'm trying to ˇˇ"

    "Stop talking," the judge said.

    "Stop talking?" Mr. Allen asked, somewhat incredulous.

    "Yes," Judge Gammerman said. "I'm the director here."

    A few minutes later, Ms. Weiss asked Mr. Allen whether he considered his longtime business manager, Stephen Tenenbaum, a close friend.

    "Yes," Mr. Allen said, "he's a trusted friend who ˇˇ"

    " `Yes' is the answer," Judge Gammerman said again.

    "She could ask you the questions!" Mr. Allen said to the judge.

    "If I know the answer," the judge said, "I'll answer them."

    June 4, 2002

    Last night was the


    Last night was the first real screening of Souvenir November 2001 for anyone outside of my immediate family (and the anonymous-to-me festival screeners listed at left), and it went extremely well, far better than I allowed myself to hope. The film screened three times in the course of the evening; as soon as we got to 25-30 people, we hustled them in and sat them down. Building crowds were distracted by boxes of Krispy Kremes (labelled Krispy Kremaster, a reference to the Matthew Barney movie I mentioned in the invite: "...it packs even more emotional wallop than Cremaster 3, but in 93% less time!!") and a couple of coolers of drinks (Diet Coke and beer, mostly, although non-drinker Greg didn't realize that you need an opener for Amstel. I'd just figured it was a Rolling Rock-only crowd.).


    More than a few people were surprised by the movie's reflectiveness/gravity/ sophistication (their words), either because they know me primarily as a superficial joker (my guess) or because my intro remarks for the very first screening were so apologetic and hedging they probably thought they were about to watch a home video of my nephew eating Cheerios or something. After that, my confidence was buoyed, frankly, and the genuine compliments, comments and questions of people whose taste and talent are superior to my own allowed me to relax a bit.


    As I'd hoped when I started this project, New Yorkers all seem to have some fairly well-worked out ideas for what should happen at the WTC site, for how New York will need to cope/change as we continue to recover and rebuild. While the film doesn't provide any definitive answers, it certainly seemed to work as a catalyst for people to discuss their ideas for the future, and the value of what can be learned from the past. Many people were happy with the lack of sentimentality/melodrama and the willingness to leave things open for them to decide. (Writing this, it feels like the
    Zagat's of movie reviews.) And several people noted the music, much credit for which goes to Jonah, who consistently pressed for more subdued tracks.


    After the last screening, there were several questions about the documentary aspects of the film. The first part of the film plays as more straightforward narrative, which then loosens/disintegrates into documentary style as the search progresses. While some of this can be traced to exigencies of shooting (ie., my taking over the lead role when the original actor suddenly got sent to Afghanistan), a lot of it was quite deliberate. Not for nothing are Agnes Varda and the Maysles Brothers strong influences on me. (One astute, generous friend likened my stepping into the role to the scene in Grey Gardens where Edie pulls Albert Maysles in front of the camera to dance.) Also, a low-impact DV crew and equipment is pretty fluent with the language of documentaries.

    The relation of the script to the finished film was also brought up, something that probably wouldn't happen if it werent' for the realtime posting of drafts of the script online. While I've considered publishing a "revised" script that actually reflects the edited version of the movie, I've resisted. The script in this case served as a guide for me as a director, for completing shooting, and for devising the general arc of the story. But the characters in the script are certainly eclipsed by the real "characters" who portrayed themselves in the finished film. Someday, I hope I'll be able to write characters who are as compelling and engaging as the people in the film, people who communicate rich personalities and stories in just a few lines.


    Part of me, of course, remains very self-critical (or skeptical). I'm reminded of a scene in Unzipped, the Douglas Keeve docu about Isaac Mizrahi. He talks about a compliment he got from a powerful fashion editor: "She said, 'But when Isaac does too short, it works.' and I'm thinking, 'what does she mean by thaaat?'" Fortunately, I don't think I'm that insecure. Or at least if I am, I don't have a camera following me around to capture it. All in all, what started as a hugely anxious evening turned out to be a huge rush. Thanks to everyone who helped and who came.

    I submitted applications Monday for three festivals, and almost submitted to a fourth, when I belatedly realized I'd already sent them a tape two+ weeks ago. Festivals submitted today: Tehran (Iran) International Short Film Festival, the Winterthur (Switzerland) International Short Film Festival, and the San Diego Film Festival. The one I almost resubmitted was Interfilm Berlin, probably because I had Berlin on the brain today. (Olafur, the artist I mentioned in the previous post, lives in Berlin, and I just booked a ticket to Germany and Switzerland, too.) Oh, and Monday was the first preview screening of Souvenir November 2001 in NYC. More on that later.

    June 2, 2002

    There's a group of


    There's a group of
    François Ozon movies on Sundance Channel this month, including See the Sea, his chilling and creepy first feature (technically, at 52 minutes, it wasn't feature length. But it was released in the US with his award-winning short, Summer Dress). As IMDB shows, though, he's made a TON of movies. He just keeps cranking them out. Ozon's website is pretty comprehensive and up-to-date. [See the Sea is only on VHS. X2000 is his collected shorts and is on DVD.]

    June 2, 2002

    Need a reminder of the

    Need a reminder of the time and place for Monday's preview screening of Souvenir November 2001? Click here to get the details sent immediately to your email (no subject line or body text required). Tip: Send an email to info< at > greg org from your cell phone, and you can have the details at your fingertips.

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative processÔÇömy own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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    Posts from June 2002, in reverse chronological order

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