July 2003 Archives

Orient Station, Lisbon, 1991, Santiago Calatrava

In the NYT, Ed Wyatt reports that the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been selected to design the train station at the World Train Center site. Now we're gettin' somewhere. [Finally, Herbert Muschamp weighs in, too, and favorably.]

I've been a huge fan of Calatrava's sensual combination of organic form and hardcore engineering since seeing his competition-winning proposal for the Cathedral of St John The Divine in 1991, something of a departure from the train stations and bridges which have long been Calatrava's specialties.

The bridges were an inspiration for my own impulsive Pentagon Memorial sketch. And the philosophy that led to his being selected to create the Times Capsule would be a welcome addition to the WTC rebuilding dialogue.

What began as an off-hand suggestion turned into an elaborate, thoughtful exploration of what should be preserved for a thousand years, and how, practically, to preserve it. Rather than bury it (and hope people will find it --and open it-- on schedule, the capsule advisors suggested creating something attractive enough to draw people to it in any age. "Beauty might be its own defense," they figured. Counting on at least some degree of continuity in human civilization over the next 1,000 years, the Times noted, "Ultimately, we are throwing in our lot with culture." Sometimes, I wonder if that idea's already ancient history.

Gigli is getting some The Postman- and Battlefield Earth-scale bad reviews. In the Times, for example, A.O. Scott compares it to a Project Greenlight production.

It's directed by Martin Brest, whose last film was the glacial Meet Joe Black, (which I affectionately call Architectural Digest: The Movie). It was 20 years ago, but Brest did make Beverly Hills Cop, so go figure.

And, oddly, he's in the morgue scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is on my DVD at this very moment. Of course, practically everyone was in that movie, as it turns out. Seriously. check out the cast.

Some thoughts after watching Fast Times for the first time in over a decade:
1. We haven't--and I'm not saying this in a Judge Reinhold kind of way--we haven't seen nearly enough of Phoebe Cates lately.

2. Fast Times, Dead Man Walking and The Thin Red Line. We're No Angels, Shanghai Surprise and (the mawkish Ernest Borgnine chapter of) 11'09''01. Is Sean Penn really just a man?

3. At business school, I ordered pizza during a 4-hour marketing final one evening, a move which yielded me lasting, but dubious, acclaim.

Why I Hate DC just turned up on Aaron's site, and then David Ross just forwarded me I HATE New York City. Thanks to weblogs, I can now hate wherever I live, which is very convenient.

One thing I hate about DC: They take forever to tow a car, which means wrecked or abandoned cars line the roads, Mad Max-style.

New York, on the other hand, tows your car almost instantly, even if you just run into the post office for a few minutes. Bastards.

How'd I miss this? GreenCine has a lyrical article/review about Punch-Drunk Love, PT Anderson, and Jeremy Blake, by Tom Tykwer, the German director of Run Lola Run and Heaven.

Punch-Drunk Love is FINALLY available on DVD, by the way. And it includes Blossoms & Blood, a short Paul and Jeremy made with John Brion's music, which was previously only available to friends and family. And people on Paul's Valentine's Day card list.

From David@GreenCine's, Summer reading list (hint: print them out for the Jitney): Graham Fuller's 1999 NYT look at directors who make a city their own. For the more hardcore, try Michael Wood's London Review pretty followable, ecumenicist recap of anti-Deleuzian film analysis (you've been warned).

Via TMN: David Sedaris' tips for reading Moby Dick.

Not a read, exactly, but food for thought. In his Voice review of Boys' Life 4, Dennis Lim gets fed up with the splitscreen-because-you-can school of short film making: "Final Cut Pro: more curse than blessingódiscuss."

A bustling Manhattan mid-day. A female EVENTS PLANNER, 30 years old, shoulder-length brown hair, Barney's Label sleeveless blouse and pantsuit, stands at a glass display counter. She shops for silkscreenable trinkets with which to reward attendees for an impending business conference. A mid-30's SALES ASSOCIATE with not-so-recently applied blonde highlights makes smalltalk as she retrieves digital clocks and desk caddies for consideration.

SALES ASSOCIATE
Do you like your job?

EVENTS PLANNER
Wha--? Oh-- sure.

It's been so hectic lately.

SALES ASSOCIATE
What is your exact title?

EVENTS PLANNER
(hesitant, slightly confused) I plan special events.

SALES ASSOCIATE
Ah, so you're not in actual public relations, then.

EVENTS PLANNER
(getting up to speed, but not jumping fully into the conversation) No, I only do special events.

This one's been real tough. To get everything pulled together... And I worked through the weekend...

SALES ASSOCIATE
Oh, I know. I've had a rough few days, too.

I have breast cancer.

In the NYT, Stephen Kinzer easily pulls some horrible quotes from major publishers about how Americans don't want to read books translated into English. From a marketing hack at Harcourt: "We [Americans] are into accessible information. We often look for the story, rather than the story within the story. We'd rather read lines than read between the lines." And from a hack at Hyperion: "The hard fact is that given the reality of the world, we [Americans] simply don't have to be concerned about Laos, but people there might well want to be or have to be concerned about America."

Granted, it's not literature, but if a webful of kids can translate Harry Potter in German in two weeks [read Kottke comments here], why can't the world of people who don't work for ridiculous publishers start bubbling these things to the top and translating them collaboratively? Just to see what sticks.

If I were Jeff Jarvis, I'd say this was a project for webloggers.

a crowded train platform, familiar strangers, image: intel-research.net

Anne Galloway's on a roll these days. Until this Fall, I can't say exactly why I find her posts about Intel Research Lab Berkeley's Eric Paulos' work so highly relevant just now. I can say that it's very heartening to find an affinity with someone so smart and forward-thinking.

What the hell am I talking about? First is the social phenomena of the Familar Stranger, the people that you (don't) meet/ when you're walking down the street/ the people that you (don't) meet each day. Second is Paulos' interest in what he calls a "digital patina," a layer of information, laid over a physical space that communicates what/who has come before. Paulos suggests RFID technology might make this possible.

"In 1960 I began to experiment with the idea of constructing stories whose subject matter would consist of disparate elements and unrelated characters taken directly from life and fitted together as in a mosaic." That's Paul Bowles, in the preface to his collection of 1962 short stories, A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, which Anne Galloway heaped praised on recently. [Anne also posts Bowles' complete preface.]

Bowles' stories were intended as bridges or intersections between the "two worlds" spoken of by Moroccan kif smokers: the world of "natural laws" and the kif world, which each kifhead perceives "according to the projections of his own essence." To a nascent filmmaker, reading "projections of his own essence" is like a gateway drug for the rest of Bowles' ideas. Now I ever smoked kif--never had kif brownies, even--but I think I get what Bowles is saying here, man.

As we rushed to edit my first short, Souvenir November 2001, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog became an inspiration for a series of shorts exploring some aspect of memory. I'd need some thematic connection or other--Ten Commandments? Opera? Rooms in a hotel? All about Glenn Gould? Each one's 11:09 plus one frame long? Opera? Use the LumiËre's original camera?--right? As the title of my second short suggests, I'm settling on months. Does that mean there'll be twelve? In addition to the two, I've got six written or outlined. We'll see if the conceit holds up.

For some of the compilations above "uneven" is the best thing that can be said about them. For a one-director project (that's not Animatrix), it may not have to. Slacker's apparently random daisy chain reads as a Richard Linklater monologue (or the voices in his head). And Jill Sprecher's excellent Thirteen Conversations About One Thing shows a mosaic of stories can be successfully, er, interwoven.

In any case, though, Bowles' kifworld experiment sounds most like the serendipitously revelatory approach I've been not quite able to articulate. So now I'm bogarting a hundred camels for my wannabe Chekhovian slices-of-life film? I must be high.

According to a NYTimes article on the recent poor performance of several expensive, hand-drawn animation films, and the success of such CG films as Pixar's Finding Nemo, Dreamworks (with voice provided by animaster Jeffrey Katzenberg) is calling hand-drawn animation "a thing of the past."

Another nugget of apparently accepted wisdom: as the poor box office of Sinbad, Treasure Planet, and Titan A.E. demonstrates, animated action films targeted at boys will fail. Hmm. Or else, these three films blew chunks. As Final Fantasy showed, you can make a bad action movie with CG, too.

The major studio solution, comedies and sequels (Shrek 2, anyone?), betrays the blockbuster mentality that's ruining live action films, while ignoring the world where action and animation are thriving: anime. The gorgeously hand-animated, Oscar-winning Spirited Away cost only $12mm to produce and scored $10mm in US box office, $12mm in Europe, and like a hundred trillion dollars in Japan.

Animation can learn a lesson from both anime and indie producers. Danny Boyles' horror/thriller 28 Days Later has earned $33 million in the US, performance which means failure for a $140m juggernaut like Treasure Planet. For a DV production with an $8 million budget, though, it signals wild success.

[update from Saturday's NYT: animators Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt aren't taking this studio lameness lying down. They're touring The Animation Show around the country, setting out to drum up audience--and to make themselves the go-to guys--for indiemation.
And on Studio 360, Kurt Andersen basically gives you the audio version of this post.

Wired interviews director/etc. Robert Rodriguez, a young master of the atypical production process, for the launch of his new film, Spy Kids 3-D. It's less than a year since Spy Kids 2, when the NY Times' Rick Lyman looked at Rodriguez's one-man-band approach to movies. (Director is only one of seventeen different credit categories in his imdb profile. More than almost any other director, a Rodriguez film is literally, a Rodriguez film.)

But yet he's not really considered an auteur. Unlike more auteur-y directors (Steven Soderbergh comes to mind) who enjoy passionate followings among critics and film schoolers, Rodriguez' vision is far less rarified. I mean, he sets out to make westerns, teen and kiddie movies. But he makes them well, he makes them profitably, and he makes major production innovations that should have a farther-reaching influence.

Here's an early interview by John Connor, from just before El Mariachi's appearance at Sundance; not much has changed, it seems. Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez's production diary from El Mariachi, is a modern, entertaining bible of the behind-the-indie-scenes genre.

[update: Maybe more like the bible than I intended. Making a feature for $7,000 is as tough to duplicate as feeding 5,000 with a fish. Indie filmmaker Felix suggests that anyone who reads Rebel Without A Crew should also read The Unkindest Cut, movie critic Joe Queenan's hilarious failed attempt to replicate Rodriguez's $7k feat.

Also, the Ed Park's Voice review pegs Rodriguez for his "DIY monomania." If his DVD commentaries are anything to go by, he may be to annoying to become a guru. ]

Banksy's painted cow, a la Warhol's cow wallpaper, image: ananova.com[via WoosterCollective] Banksy, a prominent London street artist, has moved his work into a gallery for the weekend, and some people are pissed (in the American, not British, English sense of the word). Banksy tagged some live barnyard animals, and an animal rights protestor chained herself to the pen, temporarily leaving the foxes of England defenseless.

Meanwhile, in the US, when artist Nathan Banks painted words on the sides of cows and transcribed the poems they produced as they wandered the fields, no one raised an eyebrow.

July 18, 2003

For the calendar:

  • See group exhibitions at Greene Naftali, Tanya Bonakdar , [NYT reviews] and D'Amelio Terras Galleries [NYT review] in NYC.
  • Now that my gallery talk is past, it's safe to attend PS1's WarmUp series. Listen to it live online, in case long lines and borderline headcase non-hipsters aren't your thing.
  • See the exhibition, Trash to Treasure: The Production Design of Vince Peranio at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. Peranio has worked with John Waters since Pink Flamingos, and is currently PD on HBO's series, The Wire, which I hear is popular with the kids these days. Through Aug. 9.
  • See the Freer & Sackler Galleries' Made in Hong Kong Film Festival, which includes recent works by director Ann Hui. On Aug 15 and 17, they're showing Wong Kar-Wai's second film, the 1991Days of Being Wild. The film is Wong's first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and represents and rather ambitiously takes its title from the HK release of Rebel Without A Cause.

  • Honest mistake, but no, that's not me. Versace ad, nude dude ironingI'm off to the post office to launch a bundle of screener tapes of my second short, Souvenir January 2003, in the direction of festivals across the sea. This gives me a chance to see how my quiet meditation on ironing might go over with European audiences.

    As it turns out, Steven Meisel, the king of the appropriationist school of fashion photography, has already ripped off my poignant little film and turned it into a rentboy-meets-La Jetee ad campaign for Versace. Combine this with the recent influx of beefcake on Gawker, and my mental shores are awash with waves of self-doubt about my (fully-clothed) original version. Should I have exposed more than my emotional self? Oh, and I need to go to the gym.

    Meanwhile, in the land of Almodovar, on a new weblog, Republica de Catalombia, Mauricio writes intensely (and in Spanish) about his attempts to find ironing's deeper meaning. "I have the smooth impression that if the Greeks, that wise civilization like no other, had had the superfluous whim to iron, the labor of Sisyphus would consist of starching perfectly and folding the Egyptian cotton tunics of the entire population of Mount Olympus, bought by Zeus from the Colossus of Rhodes." [handcrafted Google translation]

    Mauricio ends up going to the gym, too (Damn you, Steven Meisel!), starts ironing with abandon on a Sunday afternoon, and experiences a vision "as frightening as Vincent Price in a Corman film."

    Hmm. Rather than spend money on international postage, maybe I should splurge on the dry cleaners instead.

    White House stage manager Scott Sforza better enjoy the attention while it lasts; when the Republican convention rolls into Manhattan next September, er, 1th, they'll be stumping in front of a George Pataki-crafted backdrop, construction of the foundations of the "Freedom Tower" on the site of the World Trade Center.

    What that Tower'll look like, and even where it'll be, are still TBD; these are, frankly, irrelevant details. The NY governor doesn't care what gets built by whom, just that construction starts in time for something impressive to be visible behind the GOP dais. And if it means locking two utterly incompatible architects with diametrically opposed visions in a room until they agree to work together, so be it.

    Postman delivering WTC Memorial submissions, image:renewnyc.com

    The LMDC announced today that 5,200 qualified entries were accepted into the Memorial Competition. That's a much smaller yield than I estimated earlier.

    Even so, it's the largest design competition ever (my previous quality/quantity estimate still stands). Reuters reports that the evaluation schedule will now be "open ended given the volume of submissions [the jury] would have to sift through." Finalists will still be announced in the Fall, but not necessarily by September.

    also via GreenCine: The indie mini-major studio Fox Searchlight Pictures has launched a weblog with the ambitious tagline, "All the independent and arthouse movie news that's fit to blog."

    Fortunately for what still feels like a one-man operation, the first post narrows the spotlight to Searchlight and news of their release slate. It seems intended to supplement the studio site's Weekend Read mailing list, where FS filmmakers write about their work.

    Welcome to the phenomena, kids. Now all you need to do is to move to New York.

    On MovieCityNews: Leonard Klady shares some insights and some great war stories about interviewing directors and actors, a useful (and timely) resource as I prepare for some upcoming junkets. [thanks, GreenCine, and for the mention, too.]

    Related posts: post-game post on Bingham Ray interviewing Alexander Payne at MoMA; Lily Tomlin and Will Ferrell-as-James Lipton interviewing David O. Russell at MoMA the year before (apparently involved some kind of pipe)

    Rebecca Traitser writes in the Observer that the tide has turned (again), and studios are coming back to New York to develop new films. As John Lyons puts it, "I think there is a little sense of exhaustion creeping in with all the high-concept action-sequel movies." Mr. Lyons, it turns out, was just named president of production for Focus Features (Congratulations, Mr. Lyons. Muffin basket's on the way.) , and is staying put in New York, where ex-Good Machiners David Linde and James Schamus are, rather than decamping for LA.

    Dreamworks and others are opening development offices here, mostly to scout books. But frankly, that doesn't seem like a huge story. If a studio didn't have a book person in NYC, the books just went west. Lyons' choice to stay just consolidates mini-major power in New York. New Line and Miramax have always been NYCentric; Bingham Ray keeps UA's center of gravity here (his reported brushoff line is, "Call me in LA."); Christine Vachon stays here; Soderbergh moved here. Why, it's the thinking person's Hollywood.


  • Jonathan Van Gieson has launched a team production weblog for his off-off-Broadway show, Buddy Cianci: The Musical, wherein "more than 20 people (10 cast members plus a sizeable staff) all working their asses off to get "Buddy" up and running by August 9th," will stop being polite and start being real. [via Lockhart Steele]

  • It's Wit Capital-meets-HSX. (i.e., sounds a lot like 1996) In the LA Times, Josh Friedman reports on Civilian Pictures' plan to fund Billy Dead, an $8m feature starring (and produced by) Ethan Hawke, through an IPO. [via Daily GreenCine]

  • Rustboy is Brian Taylor's gorgeous-looking animated short, which has an equally impressive production website. Taylor's use of off-the-shelf s/w and h/w should be a kick in the pants to anyone thinking about making films. [via BoingBoing]

  • From CG to as-real-as-it-gets video, a CNN story about artist Sam Easterson, who outfits various creatures great and small with cameras for his ongoing project, Animal, Vegetable, Video. Here's a Filmmaker Mag article on a recent installment, Where the Buffalo Roam. Here's an excerpt of a sheep stampede. [also via BoingBoing]

  • July 14, 2003

    Tax Law & Order

    Ah, summer, when screenplay-ready drama emerges from the investment banking industry. Last summer, it was CNBC's Mike Huckman, who, in a scrappy burst of journalistic energy not often seen during the analyst-stroking bubble years, chased Salomon's Jack Grubman into the street (Fifth Avenue) seeking comments on the breaking MCI Worldcom fiasco. And we all know how that turned out (hint: his kids are now at P.S. 6).

    This year, it's not street theater, but courtroom drama. At stake is a $56 million tax bill, not an eyebrow-raising amount by i-banking standards. But it's everything, if market reversals leave your entire net worth sitting well within the $112 million spread of the court's decision. And it's even more everything if the star is not a mere Master of the Universe, but An Architect of the Universe itself, Dr Myron Scholes.

    MBA's have the Black-Scholes model for pricing options burned into our heads. In hyperbolic shorthand (this is for a screenplay, remember?), Black-Scholes made modern capital markets possible, creating the common language of risk and return. Grubman's a cog in the machine. Scholes helped define. For all the good that'll do him. In a NYTimes article that'd make Dick Wolf proud, David Cay Johnston tells of The Architect's encounter on the stand with a crack federal prosecutor.

    The Guardian's Lee Roberts reports on Iranian film godfather Abbas Kiarostami's debut stage production of the Ta'ziyeh, a compilation of classic tales of the death of Mohammed's grandson, Hussein. The plays are a traditional part of fervent religious festivals in Iran, but are often considered vaudeville in the West.

    Kiarostami lets a troupe of Ta'ziyeh players do their thing on stage, while synchronized images of Iranian audiences' reactions to the same play are projected behind them. The result: the Roman audience sees both the play and the Islamic audience's more unabashed reactions to it.

    Kimberley Jones writes the scrappy tale of independent filmmakers who have to keep bootstrapping their films after Harvey Weinstein's check surprisingly fails to materialize. It's a fairly clear-headed, if mostly analysis-free, look at how promising films can be well-received, but still not "make it" into the "marketplace."

    Over at GreenCine, David Hudson puts these woes in context, though, pointing out that truly independent filmmakers have a long history of busking, throwing their print in the back of their car and hitting the road to show it wherever they can. More significantly, at least form my perspective, is the unexamined (here, anyway) potential for indie DVD distribution, using off- and online promotion to find a film's audience. I know from my own experience that the audience SN01 has reached through this weblog far outnumbers the butts in the theaters when it screened. And that's cool

    When Business 2.0 wrote about Netflix' potential as an independent film distribution channel, I kept doing a mental find-and-replace with GreenCine, which combines an independent sensibility with film-loving community. While Netflix may offer potential reach for an independent filmmaker, GreenCine's subscribers seem far more likely to actually care about (and watch) non-studio films.

    What Jones doesn't mention until the end is the...endgame for first films in the...first place. If you use them as calling cards, as a base for building your long-term career, as a tool for making better the films you need to make, then it ultimately matters a little less that Harvey's not yet returning your calls.

    July 11, 2003

    Bloghdad.com/Remnants

    Matt Taibbi takes a look at the semantic evolution of the people attacking US troops in Iraq. They're variously called "loyalists," "remnants of ____," and, of course, "terrorists." But that's just the tip of the descriptive iceberg.

    July 11, 2003

    Bloghdad.com/HBS

    Not the Heaps of BS they called apple pie when they wanted to go to war, and not the coverup for which Condoleeza Rice pushed George Tenet onto his sword. Go to Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo unimpeachable reporting on that impeachable offense. I'm talking about HBS, where Bush got his MBA. If he learned anything there, he's apparently keepin' it to himself.

    On NPR's Fresh Air yesterday, Terry Gross had a fascinating conversation with Edmund Andrews, economics reporter for the New York Times, who came back from Iraq with mundane, incredible stories of apparently unforeseen economic crises and chaos that are turning Iraqis' lives upside down.

    My favorites: the emergency $20 stipend paid to Iraqi civil servants causing wild swings in the dinar-dollar exchange rate. And near-riots when a shortage of small-denomination dinar bills leaves banks unable to make change. There's plenty more where these came from.

    July 11, 2003

    Well Hung

    When our DC neighbors' rather inconsiderately left their wireless networks turned off this morning, I ran over to the Hirshhorn to see their new, temporary installation of the permanent collection. It's pretty fresh, with room to breathe. A lot of wall and floor space is devoted to newer work, which had always gotten short shrift in the Hirshhorn's rather staid, historical hang (like a history teacher in May, having to cover "WWII-to-present" in a week).

    There are moments of real enjoyment, if not brilliance, but the limitations are the collections' (pretty good, with a few greats), not the curators'. Turning from the all-black wall (Ad Reinhart, Frank Stella, Richard Serra) to find a rarely seen Robert Smithson spiral sculpture perfectly framed in the doorway is awesome, even if it doesn't necessarily mean anything.

    Maybe it's my skewed NYC perspective, but the installation takes a luxurious approach to space; Wolfgang Laib pollen carpet has a huge gallery to itself. In an equally giant Ann Hamilton room, ceiling robots periodically sent sheets of white paper fluttering to the floor. Some tourists frolicked in the resulting paperdrifts, flailing goofily to catch the falling sheets. Their photosnapping attempts to capture what is, essentially, an experience, didn't fare much better.

    It's always good to see a Tobias Rehberger, even if it's taped off like a crime scene; and they thankfully purged a lot of the tchotchkes that made the sculpture hallways so avoidable.

    One thing I don't understand, though, is the Hirshhorn's embarassing practice of selling its old mail. Seriously. There are two milkcrates in the giftshop, full of minor auction catalogues, reports, and obscure 1970's exhibition brochures from other museums. Priced are based solely, it seems, on binding type. It's enough to make me take a stand, Tyler Green-style: lose the trash bins. Or, at least, start throwing out more interesting stuff.

    Bush in Africa, with Sforzian foreground, image:reuters/yahoo.com

    While looking through Yahoo News for a linkable photo of those elephants protesting George Bush's abstinence-driven AIDS program funding, I was happy to find that African Bush has the same production design team as White House Bush and Crawford Bush.

    Sforzian Backdrops is the term NYTimes reporter Elizabeth Bumiller coined (and I latched onto) for the made-for-TV-and-only-TV sets and wallpapers that White House image czar Scott Sforza deploys whenever Bush (and the White House press corps) goes anywhere.

    Bush on a dais from Survivor2:Africa, image:state.gov

    And that anywhere includes Africa. It's at once comforting and disturbing to see how consistent the White House's approach to image manipulation construction manipulation is. To feed the media's appetite for novelty and at-a-glance recognition of purpose and place, Bush's advance team repeats the same components and adapts them, with unintentionally revealing effect. [Go back for a quick refresher on the formal Sforzian image vocabulary if you need it.]

    Take, for example, Bush's speech at an AIDS Support Centre in Uganda. Sforza & co. went for a theme of low-tech authenticity, simple materials and visuals. AFP's Luke Frazza captured the window & kinte cloth curtain background; the elaborately "found wood" Survivor-meets-Frontierland dais; and a "local" wallpaper caption as bare-bones as PowerPoint allows, Arial-on-white, no 3-d shading. Meanwhile, the one that "came from" the White House, the one with Bush's "own" message on it, is rendered in proper First World 3-D

    Bush, with a background of freshly scrubbed African orphans, image:Reuters/Yahoo.com

    That other Sforzian favorite, the Human Wallpaper, shows up, too. (For other shots, see the Yahoo slideshow.) Since the 2000 Republican convention, Bush has been photographed regularly in front of rows of non-white people. So to let viewers know that these black folk are in Africa, an advance team stylist dressed the orphan choir in leopard skin. The Africa-as-imagined-by-Texan-administration look feels like a Sixties-era Tarzan movie, translated for a drill team competition on ESPN2.

    [related link: Elizabeth Bumiller profiles White House photographer Eric Draper, emphasizing how official photographs reflect the administration's bias. Totally different from professional journos' biased-by-the-administration's- stage-management images. Totally.

    Gerry, still, Gus van Sant

    Don't know how I missed this; in Feb., Gus Van Sant talked to The Onion A.V. Club about making his films. The sequential filming mode from Gerry was used again on Elephant; with a small, light crew, Van Sant was practically flying along, shooting whatever he wanted. It was an approach he'd missed since his first feature, Mala Noche.

    One review of Gerry deadpanned that Los Angeles is enough of a desert itself, why go to Death Valley; since reading it, I've wanted to do a shot-for-shot remake of Gerry, set in teeming east LA. After all, for a west-side anglo, being stuck on foot in East LA could be as alienating and threatening as an empty desert.

    [Update: I finally found it; It was a Voice interview with Van Sant, who said: "In the West, as soon as you get out of town, depending on which direction you go, you can hit desert, especially in L.A. I mean, L.A. is really a desert anyway."

    Unfortunately, there's something screwy going on with the DVD release of Gerry. Criterion is apparently handling it, but there's no mention of it at all on their site.

    Iran, Veiled Appearances, dir. Thierry Michel, image: sundance.orgThere's been a great deal of political turmoil in Iran lately, most of it homegrown and not driven by the US administration's "you're next" rumblings. Jeff Jarvis has trained a consistent blogging eye on Iranian weblogs, which provide varied and in-depth accounts of student and public protests against the hardline religionists. The ayatollahs and their militant supporters answer calls for reform with violence.

    Today, July 9th, is the four-year anniversary of student-led demonstrations at Tehran University, and politically explosive events were feared/planned/anticipated/rumoured as it approached. [As the BBC reports, they happened, too.] But you didn't learn that from any of the major US news sources. Oh, Iran led the news, but with the sappy story of conjoined twins dying on a Singaporean operating table.

    The timing and the ubiquity of this irrelevant tearjerker made me think back to, oh, Sunday, when the NYTimes ran an almost corny article on recently declassified State Dept. documents from the CIA's 1954 overthrow of the Guatemalan government. When the CIA's activities were discovered and reported in Guatemala, Headquarters recommended, "If possible, fabricate big human interest story, like flying saucers, birth sextuplets in remote area to take play away." If it ain't broke, I guess...

    But I was also reminded of an amazing film I saw in April, one which seems eerily important now. It's making the film festival rounds, and should be turning up on Sundance, the sooner the better. It's Thierry Michel's 2002 documentary, Iran, Veiled Appearances. Michel gives a clear-eyed view at exactly the forces at play in Iran right now: swelling numbers of youth grown tired of revolution, and tightly wound religionists holding back the tide.

    I spoke with Michel at length when his film screened as part of the Sundance at MoMA festival a couple of months ago. I suggested he might make a similar film here, in the US, and he admitted that he'd already become fascinated by the possibility. Turns out for a previous film, the excellent doc, Mobutu, King of Zaire, he had interviewed a friend/supporter/partner of the dictator, a man who left quite an impression on Michel. That friend: our own American ayatollah, Pat Robertson.

    July 8, 2003

    On the artist in Taos

    Untitled 7, 1999, Agnes Martin, image: zwirnerandwirth.com
    Untitled #7, 1999, Agnes Martin
    image: zwirnerandwirth.com

    Lillian Ross makes nice as she hangs out with Agnes Martin, master of minimalistic painting, in Taos.

    It sounds simple, but don't bother trying this at home: "You paint vertically, but the paintings hang horizontallyóthere are no drips that way.î

    In April, Zwirner & Wirth had a small show spanning Martins' five decades of work.

    Paris Plage is coming, July 20th. The city is closing a 4-km stretch of roadway along the Seine to cars, transforming it into a beach for a month, for the "millions of Parisians who don't go on vacation." Still the bobo's are complaining about the traffic, even though they'll be on the real plage somewhere.

    Related: these quais were the site of an excellent high-speed chase scene in John Frankenheimer's old-school Ronin.
    Juliet Binoche water-skiied through a giant "banks of the Seine" set, complete with a Pont Neuf, in LÈos Carax' film Les Amants de Pont Neuf . Carax had a permit to shoot on the real Seine, but he took too long. He also recreated the fireworks display from France's 1989 bicentennial.
    David Hudson (now of GreenCine) exposed the Euro Bobo as a faux Bobo.
    So how to moving around quickly in Paris, then? There's always the Trottoir Roulant Rapide.

    July 5, 2003

    On PS1


    First, thanks to most of you for not coming today. It was kind of nervewracking, but my gallery talk went okay. There was a group of a dozen or so people who stuck through the whole thing, but a small mob would materialize whenever we'd stop to talk.

    Two things that helped the crowd: Richie Hawtin didn't open the Warm Up Series, he headlined it. That, and many of the galleries were air-conditioned.

    James Turrell Sky Room at PS1, image: ps1.orgAnyway, I hung out for the whole show, listening in the VIP room as a couple of dj's compared notes on musician-friendly daycare. Then, as Richie went on and the and dusk arrived, I joined an eager crowd in James Turrell's skyroom. [Actually, I jumped to help a friend move some pedestals out of the room, and I had it to myself for a few minutes while everyone else cooled it in line.]

    Seventy-plus people, jammed, jabbering into the room. It took about twenty minutes, but peoples' energy changed, and the room grew quiet. For the rest of an hour, thirty or so people sat and watched the sky change color. To a scratchy techno beat.

    I drove home. At a light near the 59th St Bridge, I glanced around, and saw the man in the car next to me, a very normal-looking guy in his thirties, crying to himself. He caught me looking, I furrowed my brow in some kind of concern, and he nodded once. When the light changed, he turned, and I got on the bridge, wondering.

    If you're debating whether to join me at PS1 for my gallery tour among the selected exhibits, remember that many other things are going on at the same time:

  • at PS1: Richie Hawtin cracking open the Warm Up Series
  • at Film Forum: The Band Wagon, "the greatest of movie musicals" (it starts at 3:15)
  • at Anthology: La Commune (Paris, 1871), Part Two, "the Best Film of 2002" (3 hours, starting at 3)
  • Take this time to figure out Richard Linklater's Waking Life, then let me know what you come up with. I'm watching it right now, finally, on HBO6. The animation's interesting, but frankly, I there's no accounting for it.
  • The New York Times will be published and available throughout the day.
  • There's a rice pudding restaurant on Spring Street, too, which is open, but honestly, if you're debating between me and a bowl of friggin' rice pudding, do us both a favor and stay in Manhattan.

    Conclusion: unless you're a slave to movie musicals, documentaries or rice pudding, I'll see you there.

    [update: At GreenCine, David puts La Commune into annoyingly chilling perspective. If you're only going to see one 6-hour film this year, make it La Commune.]

  • Well, almost. I consolidated all my posts on The Atomic Revolution, the shockin' awesome Military Industrial Complex comic that artist Ethan Persoff re-discovered. Now it's a greg.org feature.

    If you haven't seen it yet, check it out online, Saturday at 3:30.

    via GreenCine, although I should be reading Indiwire more regularly anyway. We all should. Howard Feinstein pays homage to First Run/Icarus on the distributor's 25th anniversary. "Now officially hip, documentaries are gaining more and more converts among aficionados of fiction."

    I know what you're thinking. Hasn't Greg made started a series of Slacker-meets-¿ la recherche du temps perdu documentary-like narrative short films? Riiight. As if. You're actually thinking, so what's showing at the Anthology this Saturday at 3:30?

    Why, it's the theatrical premiere of La Commune (Paris 1871), Peter Watkins' critically praised, six-hour epic docudrama. J Hoberman rated it the best film of 2002. My suggestion: it's six hours long. Sneak away to PS1 for an hour, and be back before the movie ends.

    [Update: After reading Hoberman's review of La Commune, I think you should stay to the end. Why does it feel like I'm trying to direct everyone away from my museum tour?]

    A warehouse full of submissions for the WTC Memorial, image: Ruby Washington, nytimes.comFor a few days, anyway. I got my Memorial competition submission done, expensively printed at Kinko's, and delivered. (The official Competition Site forbade hand delivery and said couriers must be "listed in the phone book," a verification system clearly designed to thwart my plan if I missed the Fedex deadline: dress up as a bike messenger using gear from my Kozmo.com collection.)

    Until I saw Ed Wyatt's Times article about plans pouring in yesterday, I was pretty satisfied with my efforts. My idea's still great, but now, I think I didn't pack it carefully enough.

    Faced with actually producing a thing that could explain my idea in a (hopefully, at least remotely) compelling way, I holed up with the computer, but without the weblog. Trust me, at 2AM, scanning schematics drawn with fabric paint at the Alexandria, VA Kinko's, I longed for what The Gothamsts call the "all talk, no action" approach. (Scanning barely-dry paint is like washing your dog's blanket; it's better to use someone else's machine.)

    But webloggers can't stay quiet for long, even if the competition rules preclude publicly identifying oneself with one's design. Jeff Jarvis worked the competition into a sermon and kept posting (making me jealous of either his weekly magazine-crankin' production discipline or the team of elves he had working on his poster). So now that it's over, I'll tell you, not what I did, but how I did it. Inevitably, I took the ex-consultant and GMAT-taker's Princeton Review-like approach to the competition, imagining what the real goal should be and how the judging process would play out.

    Substance moves ahead of Style
    This stated objective for Stage I is not to choose The Memorial, but to choose "approximately five finalists" , who will develop their concepts in Stage II. If a design has enough substance, i.e., if it's promising, clearly thought through, and successfully fulfills the Mission & Principles, jurors will want to see it developed further. But the Final Five is just one possible goal. You could also set out to be one of the 100 concepts that'll probably be exhibited, or the 2-300 that'll get published in some book. Or you could hit a sacrifice fly, submitting a concept that tries to impact the juror's thinking/discussion. Imagine how 1,000 proposals to recognize firefighters separately might ripple through the selection process.

    About "clearly thought through"
    Maya Lin's nearly abstract rendering of her Vietnam Memorial proposal is repeatedly cited as a competition precedent, but that belies the understanding it actually represented. Lin said she spent far more time on her written concept than on her drawings. One juror noted that the submission showed that "(s)he obviously knew what (s)he was talking about." "Clearly thought through," then, applies to the concept and the experience. It specifically doesn't require deciding every detail, material, and elevation: that's Stage II. Get the right balance of concept images, descriptive text, and relevant, evocative references.

    Memorial is not Monument
    So many times, people have conflated the two things. It's understandable, given the monumental scale of the Towers. Last year, I quoted two German artists who said, "The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past.". I took Maya Lin at her word when she asked for "a new way of defining what a memorial can be."

    Design for yourself
    Maya Lin called for people to submit "what [they] truly believe needs to be done there." Handicapping the jurors to reverse-engineer the concept or designing to meet currently irreconcilable agendas, or playing it as a political game won't work.

    Produce for the process
    We talked about it at the Charette; I imagine the judging process will comprise a series of filters, each with different criteria:
    Sanity Check -- move crackpot schemes into the Outsider Art bracket. Pick a few fascinating ones for the exhibit.
    Elevator Pitch -- Can it pass the 30-second test and get the meeting? (i.e., Does it appear compelling and smart/effective/interesting enough to warrant fuller evaluation?)
    Clustering -- There are only so many possibilities under the sun. Group all the Put Bush and Giuliani on Mount Rushmore proposals over here, all the How About A Gift From the French? proposals over there. Best of Breed will move on. Anything remotely French will be saved for public burning at the Republican convention.
    Libeskind/Silverstein/Westfield Factor -- Does a concept play well with other uses and forces on the site? Does it break the rules in a net-positive way? I figured a concept that stayed entirely within the competition's parameters, that didn't attempt to inform other aspects of the site, was shirking its mission.
    Take the Heat -- A Final Five concept will be subject to incredible pubic/family/political scrutiny, but only after they're selected. I can't imagine the jurors selecting a straw man concept they know will get pilloried. Unlike the Port Authority's first attempt to redesign the site (which I, with forced idealism, choose to read as a negotiating ploy to gain public outrage-driven leverage over Silverstein and Westfield), playing hardball with the memorial won't be tolerated.

    Numbers
    The unweighted probability of a concept making it to the Final Five is extremely low, but back-of-the-envelope calculations reveal submitting to be a worthwhile exercise. That--and hubris--lead me to believe my concept will get relatively serious consideration by jurors. And if it influences their minds as they choose a memorial, it'll be well worth it.
    # of registrants: 13,683
    # who submitted: 10,000
    minus # who meet submission criteria: 8,500
    minus # of Outsider Art entries: 7,500
    minus # of "traditional monuments": 2,500
    % that are evocative--beautiful, even--but ultimately unrealizable: 10
    % that are conceptually interesting, but ultimately unrealizable: 10
    % that break the rules, but whose concept obviously can't survive to completion: 10
    % that are compelling, but that have some dealbreaking shortcoming in terms of Mission/Principle: 20
    % that are admirable descendants of the Vietnam Memorial, but which lack its refinement and staying power: 30
    # of Stage II slots going to such entries: 2/5 or 3/6
    Minimum percentile where I can, without agonizing arrogance, imagine my submission rankng among the 500 that are left: 80th
    Where I actually rank it now, without having seen any other entries: 99.9th

    Of course, I'm also sure (or at least I hope) there are proposals much better than mine.

    I'd say "Come to my museum tour this Saturday," but I just realized they booked my talk against Detroit Techno-god Richie Hawtin (aka Plakstikman), who's performing in the Warm Up Series. I have no illusions.

    On the occasion of the exhibition Site and Insight: an Assemblage of Artists, P.S.1 offers a series of museum tours, each led by an emerging collector or a curator for a private collection. Site and Insight is curated by Agnes Gund, one of New York's most prominent collectors and patrons. Ms. Gund's curatorial selections are informed by her experience as a collector and thus reflect her unique relationship to art and to artists.

    These museum tours invite young collectors or curators of collections to present their views on works in P.S.1's summer exhibitions and to provide insight into the processes behind collecting contemporary art. Led through the galleries by a collector, participants are introduced to the issues, questions, concerns, and inspiration which face a collector when viewing new work. The "collector's eye" will be a new lens through which to experience contemporary art at P.S.1.

    All events take place at 3:30pm and are free with museum admission ($6)

    Sat., July 5th: Greg Allen (collector)
    Sat., July 19th: Emily Braun (curator of the Leonard Lauder Collection)
    Fri., August 1st: Agnes Gund (collector and Site and Insight curator)
    Sat., August 16th: Anne Ellegood (curator of the Peter Norton
    Collection)
    Sat., August 30th: Bill Previdi (collector)

    Film Forum is presenting a 3-week series, The Freed Unit and the Golden Age of MGM Musicals. Stuart Klawans gives a preview in yesterday's Times and recommends the dark, slightly weird, The Band Wagon.. [By the way, it was written by Comden and Greene, directed by Vincente Minelli, and starred, um, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.]

    The Band Wagon opens July 4, which means my PS1 museum tour is booked against the 3:15 Saturday screening. At least I don't have to compete directly with Betty Comden, who's making a personal appearance after the 5:45 Monday show...

    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 July 2003, in reverse chronological order

    Older: June 2003

    Newer August 2003

    recent projects, &c.


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    Prince YES RASTA:
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