October 2002 Archives

Ben, Jen, Kevin on the set of Jersey Girls

On his illustrious entertainment portal Movie Poop Shoot, Kevin Smith is publishing a weekly production diary of Jersey Girls, his latest, which he calls "hands-down, the best movie we've ever made." The dates are a little ambiguous. The Week One entry is dated July 12, and the Week Two entry isn't exactly dated, but the original schedule had the 11-week shoot wrapping on November 1, er, tomorrow. It's got Ben Affleck and Jen Lopez in it, who also star in the unofficial off-the-set production diary, E! Online. Bonus: There's a big show tunes musical number in it.

Since the eerie gap in this online production diary overlaps perfectly with the lag on Full Frontal (where it was Week 3 for two+ months), my theory is Miramax had some kind of summer web embargo, or fired their sysadmin and couldn't do updates, or something.

pentagon pre-9/11 aerial view, with memorial site marked by a red star

In the 45 minutes between reading about it in the Washington Post and seeing the competition exhibition itself at the National Building Museum, I had designed a memorial for the Pentagon in my head. In fact, I debated going home to document it before seeing the 70+ designs--6 finalists and 60-something "semi-finalists" from both amateurs and professionals--submitted to the competition sponsor, the US Army Corps of Engineers. (See submissions of the six finalists at the competition website.) After making a movie that uses precisely this subject to explore how people--and places--deal with horrible events, I felt compelled. I still feel compelled, but for different reasons.

In the Post article, Benjamin Forgey laments that while (Vietnam Memorial designer) Maya Lin's influence is "mightily felt here" in the competitors' attempts at "direct, highly charged personal encounter that Lin made possible with her dark, reflective wall," "there were no Maya Lins in the competition. I found just the opposite: there were far too many Lins. The Vietnam Memorial's combination of heavily programmed "experience" and minimalist form has become the default setting for memorials, at least in the US.

Among these best designs, the vocabulary of contemporary art is widely used without hesitation or fear of high-brow backlash. One semi-finalist Rogers Marvel, rather beautifully and ingeniously uses the form of James Turrell's Roden Crater, incorporating the Pentagon's cornice and planes flying overhead en route to National Airport in ways that subvert the artist's sought-after serene sublimity. Other semi-finalists quote or Tadao Ando's churches with remarkable literalism. Lin's memorial itself is mimicked as well, with names or photos carved on highly polished or translucent panels.

The Post article didn't prepare me for the large number of entries that marked the approximate flight path of AA77 and oriented themselves to the "point of impact." My own memorial design was to address this overlooked (I thought) but crucial element of the attack. But while no design incorporated it like I would (i.e., "meaningfully"), I soon found out why it featured so obviously in so many entries; the path and the point of impact are marked prominently and clearly on the location plan that was part of the competition materials. While supposedly claiming no specific program, the Pentagon's own documents actually "told" many people what to include in their design.

A final observation on the competition finalists: The program for remembering every person killed has clearly reached some kind of conceptual endgame, to the overall detriment of the resulting memorial. Terry Riley, MoMA's curator of architecture and one of eleven jurors in this competition, once said that the Thiepval Memorial to The Missing--a monumental arch with 75,000 names on its surfaces-- was the first major example of a memorial to individuals lost in battle. Before that, memorials were to generals or battles, but not lowly soldiers. Inspired by this Memorial, Lin brought this powerfully inclusive idea into her design. But at least since Oklahoma City, memorializing each individual individually has become the norm. An overwhelming percentage of the designs called for 184 somethings: benches, pools, stone markers, glowing human-height columns, wind-chime-like reeds, trees. One finalist includes 184 "life recorders," individual "black boxes"; another proposes 184 "memorial units." Indeed, without dismissing the losses of these people and their families, such individually totemic shrines have become the devalued currency of tragedy, drowning out the significance of an event which means much more than the sum of the lives lost, and limiting the memorial's audience unnecessarily.

I'm going to go ahead and make some sketches anyway.

I spent a couple of hours this morning thinking about the Pentagon Memorial, and I made a design in response to those selected by the jury for the Army Corps or Engineers Competition. Click here to see it.

To be honest, my original idea embodied the somewhat escapist idea that we could go back to the time before the attacks, that we could undo what had happened. I wondered, "What if, somehow, Flight 77 veered at the last minute and resumed its original course, heading uneventfully toward Los Angeles?" I found that, instead of escapism, my response had to painfully acknowledge that, while briefly entertaining such thoughts is a natural human response, we must inevitably confront what happened and deal with the losses and changes in our world.

To some degree, my design is also a response to Benjamin Forgey's wistful comment in the Post: "Still, I'd like to recognize the Pentagon memorial at a distance, to reflect on it as an identifiable part of Washintgon's symbolic landscape." It's a comment I can understand well.

The memorial in Thiepval was designed to dominate the surrounding landscape, built as it is on a promontory with key strategic value to both sides in the Battle of the Somme. Also, Forgey understands Washington well; this place is nothing if not a symbolic landscape, and for every tourist who pulls up to a memorial, thousands of people drive right on by. A memorial that doesn't take them--or the millions of others who experienced the attacks on television--into account drastically limits its own impact.

Click here to read a compilation of my weblog entries about of memorials.

October 29, 2002

These bus shelter posters

These bus shelter posters in London seem so fake, it's shocking to read the text: "CCTV and Metropolitan Police on busses are just two ways we're making your journey more secure/Busses are getting better/Mayor of London. Police and CCTV on a bus? I saw that movie in 1994; didn't seem very secure to me...

I was looking on Indiewire for the official MoMA Documentary Fortnight screening schedule announcement, so this headline made me flinch: "'Failed Artist' Allen Talks Up European Film". Fortunately, it's not about me or my "European film," it's Woody, who disingenuously (but accurately, especially lately) calls himself "very, very mediocre."

It's a phenomenon I'm well aware of, because I've done it myself. Even when I was growing up in North Carolina, my accent was never that strong; it certainly isn't as strong as it is when I'm asking people in the South for something. Then, my accent deepens a bit, and I turn into Jethro Clampett before my traveling companions' bemused eyes, a good old boy just trying not to get screwed at the rural gas station.

But I'm not the President of the United States. Bush very self-consciously hicks up his accent sometimes, for some reason(s) known to him. It should be researched, analyzed, and reported, but my theory is he does it only when he's campaigning among the partisan faithful in certain states where he thinks Curiously Folksy George'll play better (IA, NM, CO recently).

Want to try it out? Listen to this news conference with Chinese President Jiang Zemin from C-SPAN. Bush is in Crawford, but as soon as the mention of "the ranch...in Texas" is through, Bush goes nearly accent-free.
Now try this campaign speech in Alamogordo, New Mexico from NPR (the Bush story starts at 2:00), which is the strongest accent I've heard yet. [Note: NPR changed the stream. Now no audio/video of this stump speech seems to exist on the web. Why is that? It could be quite useful to hear politicians' "entirely for local consumption" speeches repeated verbatim in multiple locations. "Sher am glad to be here in ... Springfield with y'all")

According to obviously not unbiased but nevertheless generally credible sources, Spike Jonze & Charlie Kaufman's new film Adaptation is getting effusive response from preview audiences.

We saw the trailer for Adaptation; before the opening of Punch-Drunk Love, right after writing about the film's just-launched weblog at SusanOrlean.com. Brimming with excitement for the film, anticipation building, the trailer made me want to run screaming from the theater. It was the worst trailer for a supposedly good movie since The Shawshank Redemption, which was almost buried by it's horrible trailer.

the jerk who just took two parking spots

< New Yorker Crankiness >: I hate amateur parallel parking, like the guy out my window this very minute, who just parked half a car-length from the sign and half a car-length from the next car. He even spent a few moments pulling up, backing up, focusing on getting straight and close to the curb, yet remained oblivious to his taking two spots. Even though Trent Lott wouldn't approve, you could still fit a couple of Smart Cars in there. < /NYC>

Chowhound. I've been trying to remember this site, after hearing it on WNYC a few months ago. It's the culinary findings of unnervingly energetic food fan Jim Leff, and it just turned up again on The Next Big Thing.

Cremaster 2 still, Matthew Barney Production Still, Cremaster 2, 1999 Matthew Barney (photo: Peter Strietman)

Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle, pound for pound, the most comprehensive Barney Book ever. (You won't wonder why there's no free shipping.)

PBR Round 2 pic

The best line from the awards ceremony at the PBR World Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas: "Well, retirin' your best friend's like shootin' your best horse."

So I'm watching the PBR Bud Light Cup World Finals, and there's a camera guy in the ring, all decked out like he's, well, like he's going to the biggest bullriding rodeo event of the year, thank you very much, and he's got a Glidecam, just like we used in France.

I know of at least one place where you can get Vitamin Water in Paris:

I forget the name, but it's a clean little deli on Rue Danielle Casanova, just north (and just east) of Place du Marche Saint-Honore (that's where the Commes des Garcons Perfume Shop is).

image of Isabella Blow in Yoshiki Hishinuma, by bill cunningham, via nyt 2002

"To be contemporaine de tout le monde--that is the keenest and most secret satisfaction that fashion can offer a woman."
- The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin

Apparent egalitarianism is the great appeal of the Street Fashion concept, especially in New York, and especially in the street photos of Bill Cunningham in the NYTimes. If you just be yourself --and that self is someone who's got a bit of the trend radar that puts you in cargo pants about six weeks before it shows up in Cunningham's Sunday street collages-- your embroidered jeans-wearing booty may just surprise you by turning up in the paper. Bill never put your name under your photo, not even if yours is recognizable; credit goes to the man with the camera, and your just appearing is reward enough.

But when someone like Isabella Blow --who's got "Muse" printed on her carte de visite --walks down the street, it's the street fashion equivalent of George Bush making a speech in a national park: the setting says "See, I < heart > nature," but be surprised if the clearcutters wait till FoxNews cuts back to the studio before revving up their chainsaws. Blow's not on just anyone on any street any time. She's a Muse. In Paris. During The Shows. Walking (or wafting, in this case) amidst photographers, designers, editors, stylists, and groupies. Fashion industry types. Just like her.

One of the designers Blow muses for is Jean-Paul Gaultier, who I once sat next to on the Concorde [that was totally uncalled for, I know]. Nice guy. And a brilliant miner of both the street-as-walkway and the street-as-runway. The Mixture, a new culture site with an old-school appreciation of editing, is streaming Gaultier's latest show in its entirety. It's worth watching.

Benjamin called the flaneur "a spy for the capitalists, on assignment in the realm of consumers." If so, in the lead of France's fashion industry (an "occult science of industrial fluctuations" if ever there was one. The Arcades Project is like a can of Pringles: once it's open, you can't stop at just one.) is just where Gaultier belongs.

France's fashion week definitely has an industrial air, with trade associations, official this and that, and weighty government sanction. It's like the Expositions Universelles that made Paris the center of the 19th century world, where innovations were unveiled: things like "electricity" ("The City of Lights") and "Photography," which debuted there in 1855. Benjamin again, on the group that re-defined the term, avant-garde:

The Saint Simonians, who envision the industrialization of the earth, take up the idea of world exhibitions...[They] anticipated the development of the global economy, but not the class struggle...World exhibitions glorify the exchange value of the commodity.

Nice work, if you can get it. Nobody knows better than Benjamin that the image and (the street) reality have a very complicated (business) relationship. When Bill Cunningham takes Isabella Blow's picture on the street in Paris, we have to know that the image is manufactured, constructed in a myriad of ways, some obvious and some not, by all parties involved. (Isabella, even the panhandling woman in my neighborhood changes into her garbage bag before starting work.)

And I found the same issues face the filmmaker, even/especially the documentary filmmaker. To what extent do you just "let something happen" and you "happen" to film it? To what extent to you "make something happen," or stage it? Can't stage it? Wouldn't be prudent? Wouldn't have street cred? Well, how about if you just go to the spots where you know what you want to shoot is gonna happen? Then, you can just "happen" to film it. It all involves choices; editing before, during, and after the fact; having an eye (and a camera), and deciding what to do with it. All things being equal, then, some things just look better. And that can make all the difference.

The Age of Street Fashion [nyt]

Camp Delta, Guantanamo, USA, Cuba
image via globalsecurity.org

Last month I wrote about art and architecture made from connex containers, the standard 40-foot steel boxes used for international shipping. #1 architects MVRDV proposed a complex made from them for Rotterdam, their home town (and a major port). As the discussion on this architecture message board shows, container architecture is an idea with a lot of adherents.

Now you can add the Department of Military Aesthetics to the list. Containers were used to construct Camp Delta, the more permanent neighbor of Camp X-Ray, on the military base under US control (if not jurisdiction) in Guantanamo, Cuba. Here's a description from Joseph Lelyveld's very long NY Review of Books article about the quandary of the Guantanamo detainees:

Delta was thrown together for $9.7 million by a private contractor, Brown and Root Services�a division of Vice President Cheney's old company, Halliburton�which flew in low-wage contract labor from the Philippines and India to get the job done, in much the same way that Asians were once brought to the Caribbean to harvest sugar cane. The cell blocks are assembled from the standard forty-foot steel boxes called connex containers that are used in international shipping: five cells to a container, eight containers to a cell block, with four lined up on each side of a central corridor where the lights and fans are installed. Welders cut away three sides of each container, replacing them with sidings of steel mesh, leaving the roof, floor, and one steel wall into which a window was cut. Floor-level toilets were installed�the kind requiring squatting, traditionally described as � la turque�and now these are sometimes mentioned as an example of American sensitivity to the cultural needs of the detainees.

In this article in Moviemaker Magazine, David Geffner lays out the latest crisis in independent film: distribution. Sure, DV and laptop editing may have spurred a renaissance in indie production (Hi, nice to meet you), but in the same period, a whole swath of veteran indie distributors flamed out or were bought out by studios.

Non-studio box office dropped as a pct of total [use whichever data source will get someone else to pay for your drink]: the-numbers.com says it's 7% in 1999 down to <5% in 2002. The Hollywood Reporter says it's down from 8.4% in 2000 to 3.4% in 2002. According to Moviemaker, while everyone else is dancing around My Big Fat Greek Wedding breaking plates, Indie Distribution is moping in the corner, wondering how little he can tip the valet parking guy.

Turns out it matters which numbers you use, especially if you look at B.O. receipts, which grew from $7.4b in 1999 to $9.7b (proj.) in 2002 (THR, Goldman Sachs). Using the-numbers' numbers, indie B.O. dropped from $521 to $468 million, the difference of a few films. THR shows a nearly 50% drop, from $645 (in 2000) to $331 million, the difference of a few companies.

But every year's take follows the 80/20 rule, with one or a couple of breakout hits (Crouching Tiger, Greek Wedding); so if one more independent film a year broke $100 million, the "crisis" could disappear. And on the company front, well, if Universal gobbles up couple of specialty distribs (and their releases get reclassified as studio product), it's the End of The World As We Know It.

So why do I feel fine? I read something about this in May. And I heard it was The End of The World when Miramax, New Line, and October got gobbled up. Hmm. Guess not. Peter Broderick (Next Wave Films, got slammed by IFC) issues the call for new distribution models, like the Internet. Seems like the Star Wars/Missile Defense approach to me. Turns out Indie distribution is like the campaign against Iraq: a lot of hysterics about a phantom menace, while the real problem, sitting in plain view, gets ignored.

Broderick laments, "Without a built-in core audience or a proven star, its tough to cover your P&A costs, let alone make money when you open one of these films." And producer Scott Macaulay says stars won't return your heartfelt calls, either: "The days of getting some movie star to work for scale plus 10 because they love the project are over. Actors and agents are savvier and have come to make more demands." [note to self: stop needling yoga instructor about passing script to Fammke Jannsen's brother.] That leaves "built-in core audience."

My Big Fat Demographically Targeted Wedding--with it's It's Not Just For Greek-Americans Anymore! trailer--did for roots-proud, middle-aged mothers what God's Army did for Mormons and what Gregg Araki's The Living End did for gay Gen-X'ers: it found a new way to identify a "built-in" audience. Once these new audiences pan out, they're movied to death, of course. (Kiss Me, Guido could've hit the trifecta if only a pair of missionaries had knocked on the door.) Even if the Net's power as a distribution channel is still imaginary, it's a very promising way to build an audience, especially for an independent film.

Online, audiences or communities don't necessarily build so much as grow or accrete. Whether it's through weblogs, smart mobs or Quake III, innovation will appear in unexpected ways. Check out the fascinating emergence of computer game-based filmmaking (also known as machinima). Ithis is a conference speech now, not a weblog entry. I don't remember hitting anyone up for a registration fee...

Even though I'm on the record (ad nauseum) as hating musicals, it's probably more accurate to say I hate most musicals or bad musicals. The shows I've seen by Adolph Green, who collaborated for sixty+ years with Betty Comden, don't fall into either category. Unbenknownst to me, they were sitting right in front of me at The Public Theater's 1997 revival of On The Town; right before the show started, an announcement was made and they stood to accept a round of applause. It was the first show for Comden, Green, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein.

In mid-November, Singin' In The Rain is screening at Film Forum in a new 35mm Dolby Stereo print. Adolph Green died today at his home in Manhattan.

First Sally Logo

Have spent most of yesterday and today writing, researching, annotating the AM script. As discussed before, it's based partly on a real-life crime story, so it's critical from a CYA standpoint to document the sources of characters, facts, events, and evidence in the publically available record. It's a rather laborious process, but fortunately, I've kept a fairly comprehensive file of source material for the last 2+ years. Obviously, I didn't imagine using it for a movie--much less an animated musical--until very recently. And to those with deep misgivings about an animated musical based on a true-crime story, bad Star Treks, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Citizen Kane, I say, welcome to my world.

In addition, I've been working on updated press kits, press screening copies of the movie, prouction stills, mailing lists, bios, PR ideas, and other planning for the MoMA Documentary Fortnight premiere. The Museum's releasing the full list of films to be screened this week. Stay tuned. And if you have any ideas or comments on PR/press, please chime in.

Untitled (Two Windows), 2002, Toba Khedoori

Drawing Now: 8 Propositions at MoMAQNS, for Toba Khedoori, Chris Ofili, Russell Crotty, Paul Noble, Kai Althoff [Roberta Smith's NYTimes review; Walter Robinson's artnet review] [There's a Toba Khedoori show at David Zwirner right now, too.]

Lazlo Moholy Nagy Color Photographs at Andrea Rosen Gallery: They look like they were made yesterday, not in the '30's/'40's. (Actually they were. Moholy Nagy's estate had them printed for the first time ever. Liz Deschenes did the printing. They're amazing and exquisite.)

Staged/Unstaged at Riva Gallery: for (Souvenir cinematographer) Jonah Freeman's entrancing new video work and a funny video piece by Maria Alos. Curated by Lauri Firstenberg. Chris Ofili and his crew climbed 11 flights of stairs for the sweaty opening.

The (S) Files Bienal at El Museo del Barrio: It opens tonight, but I figure if there's a little portrait of me by Maria Alos in the show, it must me good.

Shmoology at M3 Projects in Dumbo: Curated by Bill Previdi, who's 3 for 3 on shows he's done that I've seen. Go now. Ends this weekend.

Uta Barth at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery: for the photographs of the spaces between--sometimes between the camera and the background, this time between the branches out the artist's window.

Karen Kitchel at Cornell deWitt Gallery: for crisp, precise, beautiful paintings of grass.

Martin Creed at Maurizio Cattelan's Wrong Gallery: for something to talk about, since a lot of people are talking about it. [Same Walter Robinson review as above, just scroll down.]


Rem Koolhaas's Projects for Prada, Part 1, underneath a table-like sculpture by Wade Guyton

From the NY Post:

Firefighters had to rescue shoppers from a stuck elevator in the super-trendy Prada store in SoHo the other day. A mother and her two young daughters were celebrating one of the girls' birthdays at the Rem Koolhas [sic]-designed boutique at around 4 p.m. when they entered the high-tech, round glass elevator. The thick double doors jammed, trapping them inside for an hour and a half with a mannequin dressed in a see-through plastic raincoat. Since Koolhas neglected to include an escape hatch, the FDNY used a power saw to cut a hole in the steel roof big enough for a ladder. The store was closed for 45 minutes while sparks flew and onlookers gawked from the sidewalk. The apologetic manager presented the liberated shoppers with free cosmetics.

Prada representatives have not responded to requests for confirmation/information, and store employees have been asked not to comment.

For more of Koolhaas's views on current trends in retail, check his two most recent publications: The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping and Projects for Prada Part 1. stay tuned. [I particularly recommend the Prada book.]


Thinking about Koolhaas' Delirious New York again. This 1978 book, billed as a "retroactive manifesto," tells the story of Simeon deWitt, Governeur Morris and John Rutherford, who boldly mapped out the Manhattan Grid in 1811. "...Each block is now alone like an island, fundamentally on its own. Manhattan turns into a dry archipelago of blocks." The grid set the terms for Manhattan's future and foreordained--according to Koolhaas--NYC's vertical development (ie., the skyscraper). Apex Art had an interesting exhibit in 2000, "Block," which featured Austrian architecture students' responses to what Koolhaas called "Manhattanism."

My street was barely a twinkle in deWitt & Co's eyes then. In fact, the two buildings above both date from the 1920's, when Park Avenue got its first real upgrade (from putting the NY Central railroad below grade. It's the train to New Haven, you know). But like the rest of Manhattan, it's character is inexorably derived to the grid. But not in the way Koolhaas thought. It's the street, not the block, that's really wonderful. On approach my street's most interesting feature is the forest-dense trees that fill the space between the blocks.

John Cage was interested in the spaces between, whether between sounds or between notes or text on a page. It's one of the reasons I wanted to use Cage's music in Souvenir (November 2001). And Gustavo Bonevardi, a creator of Towers of Light (a project which played a role in my writing Souvenir and which has an indirect reference in the movie) said of it: "...in effect, we're not rebuilding the towers themselves, but the void between them."

babe.jpgTook a whirlwind trip to the Yale School of Architecture to see an exhibition (mostly) of the theoretical works of the Rotterdam architecture firm, MVRDV. Ivory tower academics? Nope. They actually build. A lot. And Yale dean Robert Stern rightly praises "their belief that invention grows out of knowledge is refreshing in a profession too often mired in fashion."

Through projects like Metacity/Datatown to Pig City to the 3D City Ballet, the firm's just-the-facts analytical approach to the problems of urban density have yield results that are inventive, increasingly sophisticated, and, yes, beautiful. It's fitting that the exhibit's in New Haven; after all, what is Connecticut, but a classically American "approach to the problems of urban density"? MVRDV's never met a sprawl it didn't want to render obsolete. Their "more-in-less-space-is-more" love of the city can be attributed in part to their early tenure with Rem Delirious New York Koolhaas (they were over him before he was ever kool). But it's also the hardearned appreciation of space that comes from living in a country which, according to Nature's logic, should be entirely underwater.

MVRDV's most-discussed theoretical project is Pig City, their turns-out-to-be-explosively-controversial proposal to concentrate Holland's massive (and land-intensive) pork industry into self-contained skyscrapers. The Dutch architecture site Archined has many heated comments about Pig City's moral/ethical implications.

Although Winy Maas (the M in MVRDV) told me about it in May, I didn't write about it here, but Pig City (and the firm) got caught up in the political upheaval and violence that shocked the Dutch last Spring. Pim Fortuyn had appropriated Pig City into his right-ist party's platform. The dam on the lagoon broke when Fortuyn was assassinated by an leftist (and animal rights activist), and Winy & Co. were faced with unexpected censorship and death threats.

America's probably a vapid, welcome respite for these guys. While a suburbanite couple in the gallery with me today sniffed, the guestbook was full of celebratory comments. Winy's gonna have groupies, too; he's taking the Eli's through the (s)paces next Spring, studying the urban mechanisms of New York.

All nice, but they also enjoy America's greatest reward for the contemporary architect, the adulation of Hollywood celebrities. Architecture writer David Sokol, reports in Metropolis (three times!) that "MVRDV, in case you haven't heard, is actor Brad Pitt's favorite architecture firm." Actually, no, I hadn't heard, so I looked it up. According to The Pitt Center, MVRDV are only Pitt's third favorite architects (after Gehry and that damn Koolhaas, FYI). Brad say's they're #3, I say they're #1. Write that down.

"Great web philosopher" David Weinberger weblogged several talks at PopTech 2002, which had the theme of Artificial Worlds. From his posts, it sounded like a lot of thought-provoking fun. But what's in it for me you ask? (Me meaning me, of course, not you.) Some speakers addressed stuff that matters to the Animated Musical (which now has a future-based flashback-to-the-present structure, as noodled over here):

  • Ray Kurzweil spoke about the future (of computing), where human brain power and computing power intersect in 2029 (he didn't give a date, so keep your calendars open).
    Bonus Weinberger question: "I said last summer I stood in a wheatfield that 100M stalks of wheat. If we take left-leaning is on and right-leaning as off, for 5 minutes, that wheatfield completely represented Casear's brain state when he was stabbed. So, I asked, it seems to me that hw-sw is entirely the wrong paradigm for the brain, intelligence, consciousness. (Unfortunately, I chose not to draw the explicit connection, in order to save time, and thus sounded like a lunatic.) "

  • Alvy Ray Smith, co-foundar of Pixar, presented the case against digital actors. Acting is founded in consciousness, and would be impossible to model/program without conscious computers. [And even if computers achieved consciousness, how many do you have to make to get one Emily Watson? -ed.] Oh, and Pixar's still at least two orders of magnitude away from modelling real humans satisfactorily.

    Bonus outside reading assignment: Dr. Antonio Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

  • Warren Spector, game god, said games are "part of the real world." Games as a story-telling medium, or a story-facilitating medium, really, with the explosion of continuous multiplayer games.
    Bonus video game-as-research:The Sims, duh, and Grand Theft Auto 3 ("reprehensible" but "revolutionary").

  • October 21, 2002


    Not being a rabid fan of Hunter S Thompson, Jerry Seinfeld, Beck, Leno, or their literary agents, I somehow missed the original brouhaha about Asterisk, the pranksterish pseudonym of some reasonably well-known writer/comedic person (rumors have/had it to be either Thompson himself or Jerry Seinfeld).

    A rant-filled fax sent--seemingly from HST--to HST's agent complained that some Asterisk was ripping HST off, but it turns out the fax itself was from Asterisk in the style of HST. Anyway, now 3AM Magazine has an interview with the as-yet-unidentified Asterisk. The Beck connection? A Spike Magazine reader named Andreas Gursky [thunk! Um, Spike, I think you dropped something.] pointed out a Fimoculous anecdote where Beck asked Seinfeld who Asterisk is during a taping of Jay Leno.

    As a media circle jerk, it's a bit tiresome, but because The Animated Musical has some pseudonymous characters in it, the idea's been on my mind. Recently, a greg.org reader and very respected editor [thunk!] suggested I employ a pseudonym to write on topics other than my film projects. With the advent of online communication, pseudonyms aren't just for Deep Throat anymore. In a world of complete Googlability, compartmentalizing one's thoughts/activities/output is probably not all bad. But after you've admitted you liked Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I figure there's nothing left to hide.

    While some people have emailed about the Animated Musical (specifically, how long the As-Yet-Unannounced thing'll go on), more than a few have pointed out that a string of bad-to-middlin-but-with-a-couple-of-classic film references is an unlikely/inauspicious beginning for a great movie. One kind reader suggested I should "write what [I] know, rather than cut and paste a bunch of other peoples ideas."

    I have angsted a bit over describing the script indirectly like this, but I'm gonna stick with it for a while, at least until I'm satisfied with it creatively and I have some more substantial business/development/legal traction for the project. But then I read an excerpt of a letter from Abraham Lincoln in John Perry Barlow's recently circulated Pox Americana. My script is based on the catalogs of movies I referenced in the same way South Park: The Movie was based on Abraham Lincoln's letter.

    Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose - - and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you 'be silent; I see it, if you don't.'

    Read Sen. Robert Byrd's Oct. 3 speech, which included this excerpt. Listen to it on MP3.

    Other highly relevant research/source material, Bruce Schneier's canonical Applied Cryptography. Last month in The Atlantic, Charles Mann wrote an interesting, disturbing article on Homeland Security, starring Schneier.

    punch-drunk love poster
    I'm watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture right now, and it's blowing me away. It's the first movie, the one with the original crew, the bald chick, and V'Ger, a cloud-like alien vessel with the Voyager space probe at its core. Anyway, wide swaths of the movie are a nearly psychedelic trance, which I never remembered. There's an incredible 10+ minute abstract FX sequence of the Enterprise entering the vessel. It's similar to Jeremy Blake's digital work and the passages he did for Punch-Drunk Love. Or, it's as abstract, at least. A very unexpected place for such a confluence.
    Syd Mead's rendition of V'Ger

    [The visual effects on STTMP were originally led by Richard Taylor, then Douglas Trumbull took over after overruns in the chaotic production's budget. So far, I think the V'Ger sequence was John Dykstra's and Trumbull's realization of Syd Mead's concepts. An interview with Taylor survives for now in Google's cache: page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. Charles Barbee wrote about lighting and shooting the V'Ger Flyover, including accounts of 10-pass in-camera composited shots and finding just the right "glare angle." Syd Mead discusses creating V'Ger.]

    While I mentioned before that elements of the Star Trek IV story inspired the latest script for the AYUAM, it turns out that several ideas from this Star Trek worked in as well. I'm not unaware that these are considered two of the lamest Star Trek films made ("The V'Ger flyby was interminable."). Combine this with the fact that I don't like musicals, and I find myself deeply engaged in something I should be hating, but instead, I'm loving it. Can someone explain this to me?


    "The city belongs to the hoodlums, the pimps, and the hookers. Bickle starts hoping that 'some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.'" [via]

    Tourists marveled at the multicolored glass skyscraper, but also gawked as evidence technicians took measurements and snapped photographs of the crime scene... "They might have cleaned up some of Times Square," said Jason Fallon, who picks up trash for the Times Square Business Improvement District. "But when I get to work at 6 in the morning, it's still all pimps and hookers and hoodlums."
    - "Old Times Square Surfaces in Brawl on Eighth Avenue", NY Times

    Gangs Of New York gets new release date, Dec. 20 (Miramax prexy Weinstein blinks: "The Souvenir November 2001 debut on the 19th made us nervous.")

    Last night, I talked about the
    artists and filmmakers post with an artist friend who passed through town. He pointed out Lars von Trier's collaboration with the Danish romantic painter Per Kirkeby on Breaking The Waves. Kirkeby created deeply romantic landscapes to introduce each chapter of the film. Von Trier points out that the movie's setting, the Isle of Skye, was a favorite destination of many 19th century English Romantic artists and writers.

    Interesting because it dovetails so nicely with my other current fixation, is how von Trier envisioned these painterly interludes to Kirkeby: "God's-eye-view of the landscape in which this story is unfolding, as if he were watching over the characters." (from the Journal of Religion and Film)

    Moving from interesting to unsettling, this JR&F paper discusses the parallels of Contact and Dante's Paradiso.

    Nevertheless, so much of the holy kingdom
    as I could treasure up in my mind
    shall now be the matter of my song.

    They should have sent a poet.
    -Ellie Arroway

    contact_jodie.jpgPalm recharging at home, I had a little red notebook with me on the train last night, and, still stuck on the entry from the other day, I wrote "Who are such mystics, astronauts, filmmakers, ?, people with a Knowledge, but limited means to convey that knowledge/experience?"

    Film technology and technique go so far in "accurately" communicating/realizing what is in the director's (realisateur, in French, you know) mind, but how long does it remain effective? Early filmgoers reportedly jumped out of the way when they saw an image of a train chugging toward them. The War of The Worlds usurped the medium of radio news reporting and scared millions of less alert listeners. Yet by 1998, the spare-no-CG-expense afterlife in What Dreams May Come had all the impact of a rendering demo at Macworld.

    There may be many paths to the top of Mount Fuji, but the techno-theocratic path seems to be leading off somewhere else. Seeing the earth from space may be a transformative experience for the engineer/colonel/astronaut, but their flatly telling us so doesn't change us that much. In Contact Jodie Foster's character is "reduced" to pleading for faith after her $600 trillion, globally engineered space trip appeared to go nowhere.


    So as I wrestle with how to realize my own vision, the simplest means seem the best. Hirokazu Kore-eda's brilliant film, After Life [DVD] not only portrays the next world as a shabby but genial bureaucracy, it contains documentary-style segments that celebrate theatrical geniuses who use the humblest means to re-create the happiest memories of the dead. For all Matthew Barney's baroque dazzle, a single Felix Gonzalez-Torres photo or a lightstring (components bought on Canal Street) strike a deeper chord. The vision is more perfectly realized/transferred.

    Three tidbits that I couldn't fit in:
    I thought it was scary enough when Alec Baldwin was the one saying, "I am God."

    On a Harper's panel about film/literary adaptations, Todd Solondz "defended" James Cameron when someone decried the soulless banality of Titanic: "Oh, I believe that Titanic did come from deep down inside James Cameron."

    The first book I read on my Palm was the 1841 Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds, by Charles MacKay, which we all should have read 3-7 years ago.

    deschenes_beppu.jpg Beppu, 1997, Liz Deschenes [image via artnet]

    I can't believe it's been five years since I saw photographer Liz Deschenes' first solo exhibition, Beppu, at Bronwyn Keenan Gallery. It's a show that has stuck with me ever since, and not just because I go to sleep and wake up looking at photos from it (the first one I got is visible in this installation shot. It's in the middle of the far wall, to the left of the monochromes.)

    Listening to Deschenes talk about photography and her work was a stimulating challenge; my eye&brain had to work hard to keep up. Needless to say, I vouch for the artnet.com reviewer: "I cannot help but think that Liz Deschenes has carefully considered the entire history of color photography." Looking at her deceptively simple, beautiful landscape photographs, her deep understanding of photography is quickly apparent; they're spatially complex, with no easy fore-, middle-, or background.

    In fact, they turn out to have a great deal to do with painting, especially the modernist's concern with the painting's surface, and the minimalist's interest with color, form or object. A later, nearly all-white photo of the salt-crusted sands of Death Valley could be a Ryman, at least until you figure out that's a rock there near the top. And of course, the print itself is so sleek and intentional there's no mistaking it for paint or canvas. The materiality of the photographic, printing, mounting process also matters, it turns out.

    Over the years, as my looking and collecting increased--and now that I've gotten into the imagemaking business myself, albeit in a far less accomplished way--Deschenes' work continues to be a touchstone for me. It's a demanding favorite of connoisseurs which I somehow stumbled upon early, and which I've been trying to live up to ever since.

    Just got formal notification, although I was contacted a couple of weeks ago. The Documentary Fortnight runs from Dec 13-23, and Souvenir will screen December 19th. From what I understand, they have put together a program of three WTC/September 11-themed films, including mine.

    The Director apparently heard about the movie after the preview screening of the nearly completed version in June.

    Needless to say, I'm stoked. Stay tuned for more info and updates, and start making your Christmas in New York travel arrangements now.

    October 17, 2002

    hello? Is this thing on? ...

    hello? Is this thing on? (sms posting) some gd disc 2 day, & nice emails re the movie. Thnx (gotta go. Opening. )

    According to this Washington Post article [via Boing Boing], Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" is Sadaam Hussein's campaign theme song for today's presidential referendum. Before it became a the most popular Valentine song in England, it was the love theme for The Bodyguard. I imagine somewhere in the Pentagon, a psyops playlist is being revised; Whitney'll have to find some other way of contributing to the (Bush, not Husseini) war effort.

    With Houston off the (turn)table, I wondered what does Operation MC Hammer play? Most accounts of the 1989 US invasion of Panama universally mention just generic "rock music" or "hard rock music"; in Iraq I, it was "grunge and death rock", but actual bands and titles are hard to come by. But not impossible. And the throwaway labels, "rock" and "grunge" turn out to obscure more than illuminate the actual operations.

    Piecing together the US Military and FBI Psychological Warfare Compilation Tape, it seems that they're programming more for themselves, not for their opponents. Like Robert Duvall's Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, who clearly relishes the Wagner he blasts out of his chopper, when the ATF plays "These boots were made for walkin'" in Waco, it's just a morale booster for their own guys. (Did it drive Koresh mad? Wasn't he already there? And how many people actually put on those boots and walked out?) When it comes to psyops, you have to wonder whose heads are really being messed with.

    The playlist so far:

  • Nowhere to Run, Martha and the Vandellas (Noriega/Panama)
  • You're No Good, Linda Rondstadt.
  • Highway to Hell, AC/DC
  • We're Not Gonna Take it, Twisted Sister
  • If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Bruce Cockburn
  • I Fought the Law, Bobby Fuller Four
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Flesh for Fantasy, Billy Idol
  • Metallica (Iraq I)
  • Tibetan monk chants (Branch Davidians/Waco)
  • Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus (reportedly a joke)
  • These Boots Were Made For Walkin', Nancy Sinatra (not a joke)
  • "Pop music and Christmas songs"
  • Clock ticking
  • Busy signal
  • Jet engines
  • Screams of dying rabbits

    [Correction: Two readers--neither of them Sandy Gallin--wrote to demand credit be given to Dolly Parton for that Whitney song. They were more worked up than the Klingons who corrected my (only other) previous error (ever). With fans like that...]

  • earthrise.jpeg.jpg earthrise [image via]
    Had a man been always in one of the stars, or confined to the body of the flaming sun, or surrounded with nothing but pure ether, at vast and prodigious distances from the Earth, acquainted with nothing but the azure sky and face of heaven, little could he dream of any treasures hidden in that azure veil afar off. - Thomas Traherne, The Celestial Stranger, mid 17-th c.
    Effusively compared in this Guardian article to the Apollo astronauts' first views of the earth from space, Christian mystic Thomas Traherne's writing "can turn your understanding inside out, thrill, surprise and exhaust you" with his revelatory view of the world.

    This is a review of Ronald Weber's 1986 book, Seeing Space: Literary Responses to Space Exploration (Amazon Sales Rank: 2.2 million. Let's help the guy out.) which wonderfully uses the last line of Thoreau's Walden to identify the greatest impact of space travel: " 'Our voyaging is only greatcircle sailing.' This is to say that the most important aspect of our travels, whether inward or outward, is that they bring us back to our point of departure with a new appreciation of that beginning place."

    Norman Mailer begins with a complaint that the whole space thing is closed to him: since he can't talk the techno talk or get inside those astronauts' heads, all he can do is watch dumbly "from the visitors' bleachers." He has an epiphany at the crassly commercialized Plymouth Rock (where only "an immense quadrangle of motel" marks the hallowed spot), and sees the Moon Rock anew. The whole adventure represents "the...reawakening of an older and non- mechanical view of life, one in which we are brought to 'regard the world once again as poets, behold it as savages."'

    These ecstasy-riven testimonies-- utterly self-contained, yet reaching out to (potentially) affect us all, something we must accept in imperfect transmitted form (unless you're John Glenn or Lance Bass. Actually, being Lance Bass doesn't do any good, either.)--may help in understanding Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle.

    This seriously ecstatic Guardian review (What IS in that tea, fellas?) attempts to affix Barney's work in the heavens. It is an omniscient, mysterious creation myth, ultimately incomprehensible to mere mortals. It is at once "dense," "rich yet fragile," "of our time," and "aspiring to be eternal."

    Like the "great American novels" (Moby Dick and Gravity's Rainbow are mentioned), Cremaster embodies the "desire to reawaken the language and imagery of ancient, organic patterns of thought [which is] central to modern American art and literature." Heady stuff. And there's Norman Mailer again, right in the thick of things, starring as Harry Houdini in Cremaster 2 (the most successful of the series, IMHO). But for all the praise and allusion heaped on it, does Cremaster take us "greatcircle sailing?" What does it say about the place we return to after seeing it?

    In Artforum, Daniel Birnbaum argues that "no one makes a stronger case than Matthew Barney for visual art today."

    All that the world most needs today is combined in the most seductive way in his art: Barney's work is brutal and highly artificial, as Nietzsche came to think Wagner's was, yet it also offers up the pure joy of the beautiful--which is, I think, not unrelated to what Nietzsche meant by "innocence."

    Whatever Barney's goal, his achievement is notable. But at what price? Buzz Aldrin wrote candidly of his most significant challenge: dealing with life after returning from the moon. His goal accomplished, his life suddenly lacking direction, his marriage unravelling, he grew frustrated that "there is no experience to match that of walking on the Moon." For Barney's sake, I hope he doesn't mimic Aldrin too closely, cursing his own hairy moon on the screen, "You son of a bitch, you're the one that got me in all this trouble."

    from to

    Finished the MemeFeeder project on time. The scene I thought I'd do turned out not to be the scene I'd actually been asked to do, although I only saw the email with the actual scene assignment yesterday. So, no sooner did I complete the shoot, then I found out I had to do it all over again, with a scene I'd never thought about. And, I'd have to do it in <1 day.

    This, after I completely rethought and shot the 1-minute scene (#3, titled "Commute") and shot it in a way that 1) didn't require going to CT and JFK; 2) didn't require editing, since my Final Cut Pro computer wasn't available enough, 3) fit the images in the storyboard, and 4) would be interesting. Wanna see what I came up with? Watch it here. (It's a crappy 1.1mb quicktime file).

    from to

    So, I had about 12 hours to come up with the scene above (#7, titled "Escape!"), with all the restrictions above, and on a cold rainy night. So I took a different take on the title, "Escape!" The story is, well, it's pretty self explanatory. I am pretty happy with it, frankly. I edited it entirely in the camera (using only the "Record" button). Watch the scene here (again, in crappy quicktime).

    I have no idea what the MemeFeeder folks'll think, but you should definitely check out the completed project (which launches Monday, Oct. 14). It's been nervewracking, but a lot of fun.

    Jason Kottke made a weblog on Susan Orlean's site about Adaptation, a movie Spike Jonze directed based on Charlie Kaufman's script about adapting a Susan Orlean book about orchid thieves. It's OK to go back and read that sentence again.

    From a Nerve.com interview with Bret Easton Ellis about The Rules of Attraction, his favorite adaptation of his (favorite) book:

    The most terrible thing about American movies right now is that people who love movies aren't making them lawyers and agents are. The deals are more important than the material. That's a huge change from the '70s, even the early '80s. I think it's affecting the independent film world too: the people who are making the decisions don't know anything about movies, or don't like movies and don't have any sense of movie history. And that's a problem.

    99cent_main.jpg 99 Cent, Andreas Gursky, 1999
    Watching Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler discuss Punch-Drunk Love on Charlie Rose. The overly bright 99-cent store in the clip looked familiar, eerily familiar, and, sure enough, it is the same as Andreas Gursky's photo99 Cent, down to the giant "99-cents" banners on the back wall.

    Anderson also tapped Jeremy Blake to create abtracted hallucinations experienced by Adam Sandler's character. Although Blake has become best known for his digitally animated abstractions, he is also quite fluent in film; he exhibited an illustrated screenplay, props, and digital "set" renderings in his first gallery show and has created at least one narrative animated short. [Thanks, Travelers Diagram.]

    Mark Romanek used a Philip-Lorca diCorcia photo to communicate to Robin Williams his character's situation in One Hour Photo. "This is everything in terms of warmth and connectedness that your character can never have but desperately would want." Judging from the pronounced lighting and extremely deliberate framing of the scenes I've seen, diCorcia references are not just limited to mood or motive.

    While you could chalk up the Bruce Weber-ish look of American History X to the general zeitgeist (If you're shooting muscly, shirtless Aryans in 1998, whose style would you appropriate?), it's something else when "important" but certainly not mainstream artists' work turns up. I don't know what that something is, though, and it's 1:30 in the morning, so I doubt I'll figure it out right now. I do know that we'd call the throwaway-sublime landscapes Richters, (but we were just kidding, I swear). And Jonah's shots got called Vermeers (or Vermers, to be precise) by a woman at our hotel in Albert.

    October 10, 2002

    On Arches, Now and Then


    Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, Renzo Piano, 1991-2004 [image via]

    The architect Renzo Piano is conspicuously absent from both the discussion and the process of rebuilding New York City. Conspicuous because he has already designed Manhattan's next important skyscraper, the headquarters for the NY Times [see the model]. Conspicuous because he is clearly one of The Times' critic Herbert Muschamp's favored architects ("Piano is a humanist, perhaps the leading exemplar of that tradition in our time.") Conspicuous because he developed the master plan for what is the only recent urban undertaking of comparable scale, Berlin's Potsdamer Platz. Conspicuous because his innovative, forward thinking design for extremely conservative clients (the followers or the controversial saint, Padre Pio) is being hailed as a miraculous masterpiece by the Guardian before it's even completed. (That Muschamp link above praises it, too. While I like Kansai Airport, my favorite Piano work is still the Menil Collection in Houston. It's subtly but completely transformative.)

    For this massive (6,000-person) pilgrimage chapel, Piano reinvented and reinvigorated the use of the arch--specifically the stone compression arch--a technique with a 2,000-year old legacy. Another interesting characteristic is the building's discrete siting; "In fact," Piano says, "it will not be visible until visitors are very close." These remind me of another "pilgrimage site."


    Memorial to the Missing, Sir Edwin Lutyens, 1932

    Lutyens' Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval has been called the "most imaginative and daring use of the arch form." According to Alan Borg's War Memorials, the venerable Lutyens took a thoroughly modern approach to an ancient form, infusing the Roman triumphal arch with the essence of even more ancient burial mound architecture. And like Piano's chapel, the Thiepval memorial is meant to reveal itself (and its lesson on the wages of war) only gradually.

    Last December, according to Muschamp, Piano said the architects who could design well for Ground Zero are now only 4 or 5 years old. I don't think that's right. Piano also said, (rightly) "Whatever is built, there should first be a great deal of thought and reflection. It's not only an economic issue but a cultural one. What is at stake is saving the soul of a city, its spirit."

    Lutyens completed Thiepval nearly 14 years after the war ended; he was in his sixties. Considering it's the exact opposite idea I had when I decided to make a movie about Thiepval, I surprise myself. I wonder if what Manhattan needs is a Lutyens, and if Renzo Piano is it. I hope I'm wrong, because he's nowhere near the place.

    Sent off entries to festivals in Rotterdam and San Jose, even though Rotterdam's short film deadline was last week (I got as close to special dispensation as they're willing to do in these circumstances, pleading and dropping the heavy name of the festival that accepted the film for December.)

    The memefeeder online film project doesn't have a upload deadline Monday, it goes live on Monday, so I'm scrambling to shoot, edit, digitize and upload that by Friday night. Net net: the storyline I posted a couple of days ago may only be released on the DVD...

    There are a lot of thanks to give out. First, Evan of Blogger, who kindly annointed this site and brought it to the attention of some people besides those Googling "Albert Maysles and Glitter"; travelersdiagram, Ftrain, Camworld and boing boing, where I've tapped some rich info veins lately; fellow filmmakers Ryan Deussing, Stefan DeVries, and Roosa, who've said very nice things; folks at themixture.com, who were also very kind; Tyler at MAN, whose site is a great read despite all the comments I post on it; Eric Banks and Nico Israel at Artforum for alighting (from the heights of print) on the net for a good exchange.

    If all these thank you's sound elegiac, don't worry; I'm only going to the gym.

    from to

    Currently prepping to shoot a 1-minute scene for an online collaborative film at Memefeeder.com. I'm doing Scene Three, "Commute," for which the first and last shot of the scene has been provided; what actually happens in the scene is up to me.

    The story: previous instances of missing his ride flash through the mind of a commuter worried about being late once again.
    shot 1: a failed attempt to hitchhike in Greenwich, CT
    shot 2: missing the bus
    shot 3: searching unsucessfully for a cab
    shot 4: missing a flight at JFK
    shot 5: running for the closing subway doors

    Web links I'm using: Planespotting.com's JFK runway guide, Cached maps of JFK. Apparently, original map images have been removed from the web. No telling yet if the planespotting roads are still accessible. The Pan Am (now Delta) terminal's rooftop parking most certainly is not

    James "Sweet Jimmy the Benevolent Pimp" Ponsoldt was a co-founder of Porn 'n Chicken, a Yale timekiller-cum-media spoof-cum-Comedy Central movie. (If that sentence doesn't get this weblog banned by your corporate firewall, it'll at least get you a reprimand at your performance review.) Tad Friend's New Yorker piece contains Jimmy's description of his latest project:

    "It's 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' set in rural Appalachia," he said, "with themes of rifts between generations, loneliness, becoming a man, and OxyContin addiction."

    Sound familiar? It took me a second, but it's Cyan Pictures' Coming Down the Mountain. Despite what the title may lead you to believe, it has nothing to do with Porn or Chicken. [For fun, try and match the other porny aliases in the article with the crew at Cyan!}

    October 7, 2002

    Readin', Ritin'

    Took a couple of short breaks from writing the as-yet unannounced animated musical (henceforth, AYUAM), just to read the paper:

  • David Kehr's profile of Paul Thomas Anderson. "[In Punch-Drunk Love, Emily] Watson plays one of the many guardian angel figures who populate Mr. Anderson's films: those caregivers who seem to appear out of nowhere and offer protection and redemption." Should all of one's movies be about similar things? Or have readily identifiable common themes or threads? Or is that just Mr Kehr's job to write about those things? [Other P-DL and PTA links: NYT's NYFF review; Cigarettes & Coffee, a gold standard for independent director fansites; greg.org posts from May on Magnolia and P-DL #1 and #2. After all, it is all about me...]

  • Stephen Holden writes inconclusively about the "latest" attempt to revive the movie musical. His thesis, that it's an "international salvage operation" (he cites Francois Ozon, Lars von Trier, and Baz Luhrman), forces him to ignore South Park, still the greatest modern musical for my movie (or DVD) dollar. I'll come back to this later.

  • An interesting account by John Rockwell on Tom Tykwer's new film Heaven, which was based on an unfinalized script from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and his collaborator, Krzysztof Piesiewicz.

    K&K's process: "Mr. Piesiewicz would propose an idea, he said, and then he and Kieslowski would collaborate on a short-story-like prose version of the eventual script. Then Mr. Piesiewicz would write the screenplay, with ample input from Kieslowski." Heaven was in the short story stage. Kieslowski's films have topped my list of influences and inspirations for a loong time. (search the site for Kieslowski, or go to the complete movie index for references. And I met Tykwer in 1999 when he was in the US for the run of Run Lola Run. Nice guy. very low key, very smart, and pretty old for a new director, something I don't think anymore, obviously. Bonus: The article includes a handy pronunciation guide for all three men's names. Clip it and put it in your wallet for party talk.

  • Frank Rich proclaims New York the real capital of America and uneqivocally slams Washington, DC in every possible way. Setting aside whatever truth the article may contain, it strikes me (an adopted New Yorker who happens to be in our other home, Washington, DC as I type this) as pretty gratuitous, self-serving, and unnecessary. New York shouldn't need this kind of boosterish bluster, just like it shouldn't need those stupid Chicago-did-it-first-but-we'll-do-it-third-anyway painted cows or whatever. Washington, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of company town that would have painted elephants and donkeys, art whose lame name betrays precisely what's missing around here: Post) and museums' chronic ignoring of said art scene.

    I don't say "plucky" as a pejorative; they're all examples of people who do something about it rather than just bemoan the gap. It seems to me, an arriviste, no doubt, that there's a little bit of conflation going on. Whatever good happens art-wise, at the Hirshhorn or the Corcoran, there is still only one professional gallery of any real relevance to artists who care about emerging (Fusebox, if you don't know). I can't see (or don't know? Please. Prove me wrong.) any other place for a DC artist to emerge to. It's a long road from a good first/second gallery show (where stuff gets seen, written about, sold) to the Hirshhorn, and right now, that road doesn't run anywhere near DC.

  • gilgal_pjf.jpg
    Joseph Smith Sphinx, Gilgal Garden, Salt Lake City [image via pjf]

    Unable to stay asleep, I read Paul Ford's excerpt of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, wherein I learn that Franklin's worth more than a Benjamin. At age 79, he recounts his clearheaded pursuit of Moral Perfection, determining that:

    on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, though they never reach the wished-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.

    Since it's much more fun to get (morally) high together, I invite you all to listen in to the semi-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which takes place this weekend. A well-spoken crop of 79-year olds (give or take a few years) will be imparting the Word from The Pulpit.

    This in turn brought to mind the shiny corporate newness of the giant conference center that recently usurped the more famous Tabernacle as the official seat of the Conference. And for a moment, I was sad to see only one Google citation of my preferred name for the center, the Meganacle.

    And which kindred wordsmith, laboring alone until now to propagate this term, accurately points out the building's resemblance to ancient Babylon or "government buildings constructed during Franco's era in Madrid?" Terry Tempest Williams, who's more Word Whisperer than wordsmith, I guess.

    Lacking a serene slate terrace and a morning dew-covered chair from which to watch the fawns scamper, I've never read TTW's books. (Although they sure love her over on the NPR.) But this essay--which includes an interesting story of visiting her ancestors' graves and "sharing genealogies, a typical Utah pastime," with fellow cemeterygoers--also gives a great deal of attention to Gilgal Garden, a brilliant and unusual work of Mormon artistic expression I'd always thought we weren't supposed to talk about. See more photos and the original brochure.


    My attention has been turned to the as-yet-unannounced feature I'm writing (unannounced because of the desire to confirm clear ownership of the story, because it's freakin' brilliant, and because there were some major plot questions in turning it into a kick-ass movie), an animated musical. On the train down to DC the other night, I had a breakthrough, facilitated by my decision to rewrite the script from scratch instead of waiting for the data-recovered version to arrive (or not) from my dead hard drive.

    This take-it-from-the-top approach opened the floodgates, let all the pieces fall into place, whatever the metaphor is, it's working. I laid out all of Act I, have about half the dialogue for Act I, and am now deep into Act II, which is unfolding in my brain with unexpected clarity. Within a couple of days, I should have a completed draft/outline, with some scenes, dialogue, and detail worked in. The questions, problems, or plot points that are still unresolved (or that arise from here on) should be pretty manageable. In a nutshell, it feels great.

    Just to show how deluded and misplaced my confidence is, here is a footnote I put at the end of the first paragraph. "Opening scene refs: Aeon Flux; Matrix, Star Wars, War Games, Snow White, Minority Report, Austin Powers, Terminator, a pile of RPG and FPS games." The Star Trek IV, Sound of Music, and West Side Story references don't show up until later.


    Albert, Somme, France 1920 [image via]

    The quote is from Christopher Woodward's book, In Ruins, which was sensitively reviewed in the New York Times. Cited near the end of the review, the line resonated with both the story in my short film Souvenir and my own experience. It reminded me of an overheard comment from almost exactly a year ago, "I just wanted to be a part of it." The great part of Woodward's book deals with the "pleasurable pain" ruins evoked as late as the 19th century, when "modernizing" civilization finally yielded a city larger than 4th century Rome or a building larger than the Colosseum.

    In the Somme (where parts of Souvenir take place), there are almost no ruins. Unlike Verdun, which the French quickly covered with a bell jar of remembrance, the Somme was pretty much rebuilt, monumented, or plowed under. In reviewing Woodward's book, Richard Eder writes that modern society (ie., weapons+tactics+building technology) may have made ruins obsolete, to our detriment: "With nuclear weapons or box cutters we are able to annihilate the past as well as the present."

    dospilas_woodward.jpg [image via]

    In the review (and presumably, in the book, too), these lessons don't really jump out, but instead come into view, like a Mayan temple engulfed by the jungle. On September 10th, archeologists reported a major discovery, carvings that reshape the history of Dos Pilas, a Mayan ruin in Gautemala. The carvings came to light after the country suffered widespread devastation last year from Hurricane Iris. Sometimes it's only in the aftermath of destruction that modern society even thinks to learn lessons from the past. Or as Woodward puts it, "When we contemplate ruins, we contemplate our own future."


    Just a few days ago, I stumbled onto the Blue Fugates, a Kentucky family with blue-skinned members sprinkled across the generations. Now, it turns out there's a "blue feller" running for Senate in Montana. [read on, via boingboing]

    October 2, 2002

    Like I said, the British...

    Every once in a while, I remember that the Guardian has this thing called The Digested Read, where books are reviewed in the style of the book itself. I'm sure every review sends some British demographic laughing to the floor, but with my limited book learnin' I can only understand a few. Some favorites:

  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young (just saw him at a friends' wedding)
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton ("No sooner had Baudelaire returned to Paris than he would dream of leaving. How alike we are.")
  • Statecraft by Margaret Thatcher ("Indeed, although this book was largely written before September 11, I have needed to change almost nothing. That's because I am right. Just like I always have been.")

  • October 2, 2002

    Great Minds, etc etc

    Arnolfo di Cambio et al, Basilica di Santa Croce, 1294-1442 [img via]

    As the Artforum.com discussion of Nico Israel's Spiral Jetty travelogue turned from my smug fact-checking to the romanticisation of contemporary art, E.M. Forster's A Room With a View popped into my head. Just as Forster's English followed Baedekers around Italy--from this altarpiece to that fresco, from Firenze to Rome to Venice to Ravenna--a Contemporary Art Grand Tour has taken shape where Artforum pilgrims can demonstrate their faith.

    judd_marfa_milled.jpg Donald Judd, Untitled, 1982-6 [image via]

    In addition to Spiral Jetty, the CAGT includes: The Rothko Chapel; Walter deMaria's Lightning Field; Michael Heizer's Double Negative; Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation; James Turrell's work-in-progress Roden Crater; the Guggenheim Bilbao; and my own heretical favorite, Richard Serra's Afangar.

    With Merchant/Ivory's version of ARWAV firmly entrenched in my own movie worldview, I saw a vision of a hipster artist roadtrip remake. Sort of Basquiat meets Thelma & Louise, with Reese Witherspoon as Helena Bonham-Carter, Josh Hartnett as Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis as, well, himself.

    ANYWAY, it turns out the fashion world's own Forster, English Vogue-er (and faux twin) Plum Sykes, may beat me to the intersection of Art & Film. Hintmag.com leaked the outline of Sykes' book, Bergdorf Blondes (which just got picked up by Talk/Miramax Books for $625,000, not including movie rights).

    The hot narratrix (calls herself "Moi") dates, gets engaged to, and breaks up with the hot it-boy painter "Dan" ("Our heroine consoles herself that there is one thing worse than being disengaged to a person in a GAP ad, and that's being married to someone in a GAP ad.") [NB: Sykes dated, etc. painter/Gap ad star Dam(ian) Loeb.]; receives confidence-boosting advice as she pines for the hot LA filmmaker ("You are not superficial, you just look like you are because you wear a lot of Gucci.") ; and hightails it home to En-ge-land, perchance to marry the Earl-next-door ("after bonking at the SoHo Grand"). Sounds pretty much like my movie idea.

    Should I go ahead and develop it? Or would it be like when there were those two Dalai Lama movies out at the same time?

    The way I read this NY Times article, Joseph Epstein is secretly hoping his advice is wrong. "As the author of 14 books, with a 15th to be published next spring..." he writes, "...don't write that book, my advice is, don't even think about it. Keep it inside you, where it belongs." [via camworld]

    Send as-yet unpublished manuscripts; self-published books; slim volumes of verse; literary or creative labors-of-love of all kinds, whether yours or not, to:

    Prof. Joseph Epstein (author, most recently, of "Snobbery")
    Northwestern University
    English Department
    University Hall 215
    1897 Sheridan Rd
    Evanston, IL 60208-2240

    NY Times account of "Monument and Memory," a panel discussion presented by the Columbia Seminar. Jewish Museum architect Daniel Libeskind cited his own powerfully programmatic work in arguing architecture's ability to deal with trauma and memory. TheNew Republic's Leon Wieseltier demanded a void and a flag, lashing back at Libeskind's (and, by proxy, Architecture's) reflexive "materialism" and egotism. (Libeskind apparently didn't win many points for rhetorically bitch-slapping the pensive philosopher on the panel, either.)

    While I tend to agree with Wieseltier's ideas, he also did say (just a couple of weeks ago) that "what rises from the abyss of Ground Zero will become the most revealing American urban expression of our times." Is that a void? I don't think so. And a "void with a flag" cannot avoid instilling a sensory/emotional/political experience on its visitors any more than a didactic monument can. In Souvenir (November 2001), these two ideas--the preserved void (Lochnagar Crater) and the programmatic Memorial (Lutyens' Memorial to the Missing)--are juxtaposed without finding a clearcut answer as to which "worked better." [Here's an account of shooting those scenes.] Libeskind turns out to be much more like Lutyens than I'd imagined. At least in architecture, there may be very little new under the sun after all.

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my 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.

    comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
    greg [at] greg [dot ] org

    find me on twitter: @gregorg

    about this archive

    Posts from October 2002, in reverse chronological order

    Older: September 2002

    Newer November 2002

    recent projects, &c.

    Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
    about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017

    Social Medium:
    artists writing, 2000-2015
    Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
    ed. by Jennifer Liese
    buy, $28

    Madoff Provenance Project in
    'Tell Me What I Mean' at
    To__Bridges__, The Bronx
    11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
    show | beginnings

    Chop Shop
    at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
    curated by Magda Sawon
    1-7 March 2016

    eBay Test Listings
    Armory – ABMB 2015
    about | proposte monocrome, rose

    It Narratives, incl.
    Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
    Franklin Street Works, Stamford
    Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
    about | link

    TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

    Standard Operating Procedure
    about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

    CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
    Canal Zone Richard Prince
    YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
    Decision, plus the Court's
    Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
    about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

    "Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
    Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
    about, brochure | installation shots

    HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
    Printed Matter, NYC
    Summer 2012
    panel &c.

    Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
    background | making of
    "Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

    Canal Zone Richard
    Prince YES RASTA:
    Selected Court Documents
    from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
    about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99