November 2003 Archives

3) tsa
2) starbucks
1) cinnabon

also, tsa doesnt know what a collar stay is.

November 30, 2003

On Cinema and a Sense of Place

In an excellent Times Arts & Leisure article, James Sanders looks at the way computer animated walk- and fly-throughs are changing the way architecture is anticipated and understood. Sanders looks specifically at visitor experiences depicted for each of the WTC Memorials; some are impossibly dazzling points of view, while other eye-level walkthroughs emphasize the key emotional moments of the designs. He issues a call to create virtual environments in which the public can wander freely, a la Ground Zero: the FPS game.

It's a case of the medium-as-message, and it's pretty compelling, as far as it goes. He mentions Hugh Ferris, the man who rendered New York as Gotham City (for a more in-depth look at Ferris, check out Rem Koolhaas's unparalleled Delirious New York). Rafael Vinoly, of Team THINK, dismissed Daniel Libeskind's trite, visually slick CG renderings as "graphic design posing as architecture."

In a similar vein, Andrew Johnston's editorial reveals the Lord of the Rings trilogy has changed the way New Zealanders look at their own country. "[New Zealanders] aren't accustomed to standing in a place and imagining what once went on there. 'The making of' ó the signature myth of the DVD era ó may have filled the need for places with stories."

First, a cautionary tale about the what "just-the-facts"-driven memorials (e.g., victims' tallies, 92 trees for 92 countries, etc.) inadvertently reveal about the times and people who made them. Muschamp, meanwhile, hits some right notes with what symbol-laden memorials inadvertently reveal about the politics and people who make them.

Related: My post last year on how the data in the Pentagon Memorial competition guidelines substantially dictated the designs.

Excellent story in the Guardian by Chris Payne about a film school outside Havana whose students' production--an actually independent feature film-- doesn't officially exist, but nonetheless is getting plugs for Sundance. There's more story here to be told.

Also from Havana, the Biennial. Maria Finn's Times article has an interesting angle: the economic impact of international art world attention on Cuban contemporary artists. Even emerging artist-level prices (ie, in the thousands or low five figures) enable artists to live like kings in the dollar-starved Cuban economy. But collector friends who just came back from Havana noticed how outsize success--or at least the trappings of it on the ground, which also often signal collaboration or acquiescence with the regime--polarizes artists.

From what I've heard, and from what Blake Gopnik's ecstatic survey in the Post says, the quality of the art was incredible. But alongside the disparities it creates, an internationalized Cuban contemporary art market runs the risk of exploitation. In the Outsider Art market, this meme is already too well established: art world slickster "discovers" a naive, native genius, buys up all his work, establishes some "gatekeeper" stranglehold on his production, and manipulates the prices to her own--not the artist's-- advantage.

one memorial with a name wall, image:lmdc

While I've been contemplating what to write about the WTC Memorial, most of the ideas I've wanted to write about have been put out there.

At least they have now that Clay Risen's article in the Observer lays into the stifling influence of Maya Lin's minimalist memorialism. It's a topic near to my heart (I complained last year that the Pentagon Memorial competition had "far too many Lins").

another memorial with a name wall, image:lmdc
yet another memorial with a name wall, image:lmdc

Even so, Risen pulls his punches, and I underestimated the spread of Linphoma the competition finalists reflect. I only estimated 40-50% of the finalists would be Maya Lin mimics, but it's more like 75-88%, depending on how you count. Six of the designs list"The Names" on a wall somewhere in their design. The three designs with alternate schemes (some have multiple elements; 6+3=8 here) go the OK City/Pentagon route, with individual "memorial units." Out of the minimalist frying pan, into the fetishy individualist fire.

a memorial with a wall AND memorial units, image:lmdc

What's most frustrating is the tremendous inspiration Lin has been to me and so many others; she was instrumental to the idea for my first film, after all. Still, whether its her juror's eye or her daunting memorial legacy, we all just need to move on. I'm just about ready to call for the LMDC to scrap the eight designs, plus at least one juror, and go back to the hopper for some more appropriate ideas.

[via GreenCine] Doug Cumming's got an account of Agnes Varda discussing a screening of her latest short film in Seattle. Also, an earlier bonus Varda discussion at Filmjourney.

My Google Ad, which used to read, "Damn you, Agnes Varda/The Gleaners made me make a film/it's showing at MoMA next month," wouldn't be allowed under Google's prissier, clean up for the IPO-style terms of service. feh.

Today, though, Doug's tells of an Errol Morris performance at a Fog of War screening. I disagree with Doug's negative read on the conclusions Morris draws (or doesn't, depending), but he's worth reading. I found the movie extremely revealing of McNamara's steel-willed self-delusion/preservation, and I think that self-righteous aggression rules the day in Rumsfeld's Pentagon. Long story short: If you're planning on feeling thankful for not having to relive the Vietnam war fiasco, I suggest you get a backup plan.

November 25, 2003

Shipping Containers, v. 4

Shipping container residence at the US Embassy in Kabul, image: csbju.eduIt's an inadvertent but recurring subject of interest here at greg.org: the architectural use of connex shipping containers. Sunday, NPR aired a puffy little interview with Zalmay Khalilzad, the new US envoy to Afghanistan; it turns out he'll be living in a shipping container on the heavily fortified grounds of the embassy in Kabul. He's not alone. According to this AP story on AfghanNews.net, over 100 containers were refurbished in Dubai to provide instant housing for the influx of US personnel. This picture comes from an account of someone posted to Kabul. Americans may have added microwaves, TV's, private baths, A/C, "some tentative-looking shrubs and bushes" out front, and in one case, a pink flamingo to their containers, but except for their fresh coats of paint, they'd blend right in to the Kabul skyline. Except, of course, that US containers are reinforced with sandbags and ringed with concertina wire.

Barnaby Hall's photo of shipping container shops in a Kabul marketplace, image: dukemagazine.duke.edu Don't let a construction industry devastated by 30 years of chaos get you down! Rebuild your marketplace with containers! image: Barnaby Hall's travelogue in Duke's alumni magazine.

Turns out you can fit a lot of irony into a 40-foot shipping container. And just when you think it's full, well, you can stuff in some more. Another Afghani-related compound, Guantanamo's Camp Delta, is built from shipping containers. But so, it turns out, is the Army/CIA's interrogation center at Bagram Air Base, the site of reported torture and human rights violations in the name of our war on terror. (As the WP quotes one official, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job.") They're also the structure of choice for expanding Israeli outposts in the West Bank. Containers, concertina wire, and conflict apparently go hand in hand.

With their adaptability, rapid portability, and instant utility, containers are the architectural embodiment of "Flexible Response," Donald Rumsfeld's doctrine of military transformation. Of course, "Flexible Response" isn't new; it grew from the Korean War, and Rumsfeld's predecessor Robert McNamara implemented his own quant-heavy interpretation in Vietnam. The 21st-century version is just air-conditioned for our comfort.

Here's the AP's glowing, realtor-like description of Khalilzad's new pad: "Three containers were used to create his relatively palatial hootch, with a formal dining room that can seat eight, a front sitting room and a side lawn. A wooden fence around the ambassadorial residence gives it privacy and a suburban hominess."

Terry Ritter's photo of Hootch Highway, image:ciphersbyritter.com

A hootch? If you have to ask--and I had to-- a hootch is soldiers' slang for instant housing, particularly the aluminum sheds they inhabited in Vietnam.

Related: the Darren Almond shipping container post that started it all, plus some unexpectedly moving memorial realizations.

In the magazine header, image: newyorker.com
The New Yorker used to not be able to be bothered to publish letters to the editor. For a time, Spy graciously stepped into the breach, printing and answering reader comments for them. Times and editors change, and now instead of letters, the magazine chooses to vex their readers by not offering indices of back issues online.

The magazine takes, from an information architecture standpoint, an uncommon approach to its old online content. The site's From The Archive offers only an editorially sanctioned glimpse of past pieces, not a searchable database. Once published, an article or review remains accessible but officially unlocateable. Maybe my Googlehacking's not what it should be, but I can't get past articles to appear in my searches. Once a piece is linked to, however, those links remain valid and free.

The result is an archiving approach that eschews specific searching, pay or free; discourages online rummaging ("If you want to flip through a pile of old New Yorkers, get a share house."), but rewards external linking and discussion. A New Yorker article without a link is like critic without a drink.

This is where I should offer to scrape the inside of the web for New Yorker links, mash them up with nutmeg, pour them into a php crust, and bake them into a retroactive index pie. Then I'd invite everyone to submit their cherished newyorker.com links, and we'd have a party. But I can't code any better than I can cook. Besides, my oven is full of old magazines.

Instead, I'll start this week, posting links to the stories in the current issue. It sure ain't much to look at now, but check back in five or ten years, by which time greg.org will have become either the WestLaw of David Remnick's digital handiwork, or the forfeited asset of a wrecked man upon whom the Princes of Newhouse trained that sliver of their ""$20 billion in attainable assets" earmarked for entertaining-as-a-coliseumful-of-christians litigation.

Issue: 2003-12-01
Talk of The Town
COMMENT/INSTITUTIONAL HEALTH /Malcolm Gladwell on protecting football and marriage

VERMONT POSTCARD/THE LIGHT OF SUNDAY/Ben McGrath visits the Reverend William Sloane Coffin. [also linked below. it's what gave me the idea. -g.]

YESTERDAYíS PAPERS/TIMES WARP/Alicia DeSantis on an avid reader whoís months behind. [Elizabeth Spiers: "Those of you not behind on your Times reading may be able to get a general sense of what it feels like to be Irving Tobin by picking up this weekend's issue of The New York Times Magazine. The cover on Internet dating will take you right back to late June, 2002."]

THE HIGH LIFE/CAIRO FRED/Dana Goodyear dines with Omar Sharif. [a press opportunity I forewent. -g.]

THE FINANCIAL PAGE/GET SHORTY/James Surowiecki on selling short.


Our Local Correspondents/Nick Paumgarten/The Noises/Whatís going on in the apartment upstairs? [that co-op board is warped, though. cf. the Met thing. -g.]

Shouts & Murmurs/Bruce McCall/Thanksgiving Rules Revised


The Critics
The Theatre/John Lahr/ìHenry IV,î ìAnna in the Tropics.î
A Critic At Large/Louis Menand/John Updike and the art of the story.
Books/Briefly Noted/Judith Thurman/Living in New York row houses.
The Current Cinema/Anthony Lane/ìIn America,î ìThe Triplets of Belleville.î

Subscribe to The New Yorker. I did.
Buy the New Yorkistan Shower Curtain. I didn't.

November 24, 2003

Talking like a gamer

I've been rewatching Gerry this past week, partly to prepare for an interview (stay tuned), partly to imagine a remake, and partly to just understand what Gus Van Sant & Co. were up to.

The dialogue keeps catching my ear, and not just because there's so little of it. GVS, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon wrote in esoteric language and wrote out all explication. Discussion of a Wheel of Fortune player's gaffe is specialized but recognizable to a TV audience. Other conversations are only comprehensible to much smaller populations, particularly gamers and the two Gerrys themselves.

Which made reading Greg Costikyan's article/glossary, "Talk Like a Gamer," so enjoyable. [thanks, BoingBoing]

"As old Hamlet said, 'the readiness is all.' I think Iím pretty ready." He laughed. "I feel strongly that Oliver Wendell Holmes was right. Not to share in the activity and passion of your time is to count as not having lived. I donít claim virtue. I claim a low level of boredom."
--Yale's Rev. William Sloane Coffin

there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all
: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is't to leave betimes?
--Hamlet, V:II

November 24, 2003

Art Roundup

Spums Stream, 2003, Gabriel Orozco, image: mariangoodman.com

You should feel horrible for missing Gabriel Orozco's latest show at Marian Goodman. His elegant, biomorphic sculptural shapes are recognizable at first as found objects: bones, husks, driftwood. In the rear gallery, though, less finished "sketches" of polyurethane foam extruding through fine wire mesh point to Orozco's material process. Gradually, it dawns on you that the artist didn't find the previous shapes; he created them by manipulating quick-drying foam on sheets of latex with a hard-to-fathom series of gestures and pauses. What looked so familiar becomes perplexing and unknown. At least it did until Saturday.

Start making it up by going to Sargent's Women at Adelson Galleries. It's a museum-quality exhibition of portraits, scenes, and studies by an artist whose paintings I like for their photographic influences, which I discovered at the giant National Gallery show in 1999 (which rocked). [via About Last Night]

Then, if you go to Feigen for the Joseph Cornell show, and then buy Robert Lehrman's unprecedented, awesome-looking catalog/DVD-ROM tour of the boxes, you'll be just fine.

November 22, 2003

Was Nathan Hale Here?

nathan_hale_was_here.jpg

This plaque is on the Banana Republic near my house. It's the first bronze plaque I've seen with a URL. It was put up 110 years after a researcher at the NY Historical Society determined that Hale was hanged near this spot in September 1776. The British Army camp where he was executed sat in front of The Sign of The Dove, a tavern on the Old Post Road, at the five-mile marker. Or, as it's known now, 3rd Avenue at 66th street.

Hale's dying words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," are part of the American Revolution's historical fabric. But I'm sure not one Banana Republican in a thousand knows they're shopping at the spot where Hale uttered them.

This comment in the Times reminded me of the plaque: "'[A memorial at the WTC site is] trying to remember something on the very ground where it happened.'" It is faced with an "inescapable specificity...meaning that people died here."

I fear--and the WTC memorial finalist designs make me even more certain--that a memorial centered on the twin towers' footprints marks precisely the wrong thing: the buildings, not the people. I hope it won't take 200 years for future historians to realize this error.

November 21, 2003

Factchecking Sofia Coppola

Francis Coppola and Akira Kurosawa on the set of Kagemusha, still from a Suntory whiskey ad in the WNET/NHK/BBC

While I was being protective of her, Sofia was opening up to me, revealing that her inspiration for the Suntory whiskey commercials in Lost in Translation was a photo of her father Francis and the emperor of Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa, who made Suntory commercials for years.

I reviewed a whole raft of these commercials, which are hidden on a Kurosawa documentary DVD. Coppola's nowhere near them, I concluded. I made it sound like I watched the entire doc, not just the easter egg commercials. Weeelllll, I only got around to watching the actual show a couple of days ago. Turns out a huge chunk of the doc's vintage AK footage comes, uncredited, from the ads, which is odd (frankly, the whole director-free NHK doc style feels like production lifestyle fantasy of a middle-aged civil servant/executive producer, i.e., Suntory's target demographic. But I digress.) All of a sudden, there's Francis Ford Coppola milling around the set of Kagemusha. I went back and updated the original entry with screengrabs and backstory.

I apologize for questioning Sofia's story and hope this won't upset the deep bond that developed in the 30 minutes we shared several months ago.

Protesters laying out in Olafur's The Weather Project, image: ananova.com

If not their effectiveness. One more picture of Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project at the Tate in London.

The piece I wish I'd written in immediate response to the eight WTC Memorial Finalists: Christopher Hawthorne's article on Slate.

What I'm on the record saying in the mean time: from my debut appearance in USA Today. [FWIW, I actually said, "30, 50, or 100 years from now." I'm more tweaked they didn't give the URL. Damned editors...] [Elizabeth, is that what you mean by "kicker"?]

REUTERS photo by Mike Segar of Greg Allen taking photos of the WTC Memorial designs for his weblog, image: yahoo.com

A man in need of a haircut--or at least baseball cap with his URL on it--taking photos of the WTC Memorial finalists for his weblog. Styling credits: neoprene sweater (Samsonite by Neil Barrett), Tyvek jacket (Mandarina Duck), insane amount of sweat that generated (model's own). Photo: Reuters/Mike Segar, Yahoo.com [update: my sister "congratulated" me with, "I saw the picture of you--on your website."]

Here are some pictures I'm not in.

Hide your peasant bread, people. the half-assedly Atkinsing Neil Labute just landed in New York, and he's loaded for bear claws. Yesterday in his Slate diary, Labute wrote about an eating a meeting for his next project, a screen adaptation of Vapor, the second novel from Amanda Filipacchi.

Amanda Filipacchi picked me up at the 10th Street Lounge many years ago, and we went on a date. We saw an HBO-sponsored movie at Bryant Park. It was pleasant, but there was no real connection. We parted in the park, and I went alone to meet friends for drinks at the Royalton. Some time later, she re-entered my life as the rather serious girlfriend of my now-wife's physics post-doc colleague at Columbia.

Without going into details, I have a feeling she found the right writer to adapt her book. [3/23/05 update: Of course, I could be totally wrong. Amanda emailed recently and alluded to the collaboration in the past, not-happening tense.]

Paths of people at the WTC, Plaza Level, concept drawing. image: greg.org

Tens of thousands of people pursuing lives, professions, dreams, duties, of their own choosing--following their own paths. Ordinary people in the course of a typical morning, going about their daily lives. Individual paths running parallel, for a time--familiar strangers with the same commute, travelers on an airplane, a close-knit rescue company. Paths converging on a common destination. 3,016 individuals whose paths were senselessly cut short by terrorist attacks. The space made sacred through tragic loss, space where they passed their last ordinary moments.

We who are left can retrace their paths--walk where they walked, go where they went, be where they were--and remember them.

Where did they come from? Where were they going? How did they get there? What was their purpose for coming? The paths people took reveal something of who they are.

They tell of exceptional circumstances, emergency response, unintended detours and daily routines. They point to lives and jobs and homes and families and friends.

Following these paths turns us all into pilgrims. The paths of those who died run right alongside the paths of those who survived; people who were there that morning will recognize their own experience in the paths of others. And people from everywhere will discover common bonds along these paths and come to recognize the ones who made them, keeping their memories alive.

Where paths intersect, intermingle, and converge, they reveal affiliations, associations, communities, commonalities. Where paths accumulate, they reveal the activity and flow of the city and the country. They reflect the experience of individuals in a city, in architecture, in places that no longer exist.

As the city regenerates, new places and new destinations will be created, new pathways will emerge. But the paths of those who died--the space made sacred--will continue forever.

Continue to: Memorial Elements--Paths, Portraits, Destinations

In the Guardian

Here's the thought: slice the world longways, along its lines of sensibility, and not straight up and down, through its geographical markers, and company will be yours, young film-maker.
Jarman's Blue is still one of my all-time favorite films. [via Recent Reads at GreenCine

Knowing what's going to happen to these peoples' Google search results tomorrow, I thought I'd take a little search engine snapshot, from before they were Finalists.

Plaza Paths, image: greg.org

Plaza Paths, image: greg.org

The Memorial will reconstitute the space made sacred, the actual and accurate paths taken by the 3,016 individuals killed on September 11, 2001 and February 26,1993. In Concept, it comprises three major elements: Paths, Portraits, and Destinations.

The Memorial's Form will be determined by mapping each individual's information--compiled from authoritative data sources, gleaned from family and survivor recollection--onto the plan and elevation schema of the original World Trade Center site. This Form will be transposed and integrated into all current and future uses of the site.

Portraits of the individuals killed at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania will be integrated into the Memorial.

It's a question Bush might ask, were he the inquisitive type.

According to the BBC Online (which often reads to me like USA UK Today) British protestors (redundant, I know) are putting down their papier mache puppets and picking up their moblogging tools, using SMS to chase Bush along his itinerary and disrupt the carefully crafted backgrounds of Bush's stage-managed photos.

""We have been described as a second generation smart mob," says co-organiser [sic] Richard Wilder. But he doesn't let that get him down. "We are trying to spoil the PR, so we are not doing anything directly, but encouraging people to turn their backs in press photos so they can't be used."

Wilder sweetly believes that the extras in the White House's Sforzian Backgrounds were not handpicked and hand-placed. What island has he been living on for the last three years? The URL for these protestors, who have bush-league written all over them: Interwebnet.org. [thanks, BoingBoing]

[Update: At the gym this afternoon, I caught a few minutes of FoxNews, and they were eviscerating some crumpet-nibbling, protesting Brit (not Hume). My prediction: UK protests may be entertaining, but hopelessly outmatched into irrelevance. Yet again, the rest of the world relies on the resolve of the American people to save its ass from the imperialist hegemonic threat.]

Salon ad for PBS's Oklahoma! starring Hugh Jackman

I may have a new tagline for my As-Yet-Unannounced Animated Musical: it's not Terminator meets West Side Story; it's Swordfish meets Oklahoma!

But I'm already too late. Starting Saturday, PBS will broadcast the Royal National Theater's 2002 revival of Oklahoma! starring hacker, mutant, and musical theater whore, Hugh Jackman.

Related Links:
Salon. For once, I didn't make it past the ad
Oklahoma! on PBS, starring Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman starring as Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli's gay husband (is there any other kind?) in The Boy from Oz (I'm leaving a whole HBO joke on the table there, you know.)
It turns out the National Theater revival was already the occasion for a post, but from an anthro/cult stud perspective.

It looks like Nick's not the only one building a portfolio of weblogs.

Variety has launched bowed three entertainment-related weblogs so far, and is looking to launch more. [I swear, writing my videocam felony post in feeble Variety style was not intended as an audition. Golly, Mr. Bart, just give me another chance; I know I can sing.]

The roster so far [Fimoculous featured the first one]:

  • Outside the Box by Jim Hames is the Gizmodo of movie swag, rating the promotional flotsam that washes up on Variety's shores.
  • Bags and Boards, written by Tom McLean and Jevon Phillips, follows the comic book business.
  • Wicked Little Town by Rob Kendt, in an ice-to-eskimos move, posts news of acting in Los Angeles.

    Where Nick's weblogs aim for the g-spots of online subject matter, Variety's weblogs are like some new playmates in the mansion. Either way, it makes for a great party. Meanwhile, my own little knot of weblogs are more a way to clean up my desk. Maybe I should steal some of the ideas Choire came up with as he was emptying his master's litter box.

  • Here's what I'm suggesting I do: For the next five days, I propose to allow you (the reader) into my processóin both the personal and professional sense. I'm going to work on a piece of new writing during these five daily diary entries, which will allow you (the reader) to see the creative process in action. Even if it's not very creative, at least you'll have a little something to read. At the same time, I'll be documenting my efforts at changing myself into a sleeker, fitter, and better-crafted animal. In other words: Yes, I'm trying to lose some weight.
    Such is the irresistible invitation of Neil Labute, writer, director, and only the second Mormon to grace the pages of Slate's Diary.

    Also in the Slate Mormon bonus pack: Chris Hawthorne on the "spooky charisma" of LDS Temple architecture. [Frankly, I'm irked that more than a few of the newer ones are decorated like Four Seasons Westins. Fosters the desire for that eternal upgrade, which is the point, I guess.]

    EXT. SATURDAY NIGHT - WASHINGTON, DC

    A WEEKENDING NEW YORKER approaches the entrance to Agua Ardiente, an "upscale," "hip tapas restaurant" on the "DC Latin circuit." He is wearing a vintage suede jacket, black cashmere turtleneck, black Prada Sport loafers with that silly little red stripe that he neverthless insists be cleaned with glycerine every time he gets them shined, and, embarassingly, the slightly weathered pair of Banana Republic khakis with the little black label carefully picked off the back that he'd been househunting in all day.

    Two skinny DOORMEN, dressed all in black, brace themselves in advance of a confrontation.

    DOORMAN 1
    Good Evening.

    NEW YORKER
    Hi.

    DOORMAN 2
    Sir, I'm afraid we can't let you in with sneakers.

    NEW YORKER
    No, it's OK. These are loafers.

    DOORMAN 2
    I'm sorry, sir, the policy is no sneakers.

    NEW YORKER
    But they're not-- they're loafers. Prada Loafers.

    I got them at Harvey Nichols.

    (An empty lie. But he'd rather get turned away for lying about Harvey Nick's carrying Prada than for not abiding with some obtuse provincial dress code. Besides, the man figures, it already can't get any worse than announcing your brands at the door.)

    DOORMAN 2
    I'm sorry, sir.

    DOORMAN 1
    You're welcome to come back without rubber-soled shoes.

    NEW YORKER
    So the definition of "sneakers" is rubber-soled shoes?

    DOORMAN 1
    Yes, sir.

    NEW YORKER
    What about the khakis? Should I change those, too?

    DOORMAN 2
    The khakis are fine, sir.


    The man walks back to his car, contemplates the parties he's missing in New York, and heads home to rewatch Gerry, now available for rent or purchase on DVD.

    I posted about this on my WTC Discussion sublog. An NYT article mentions the daunting challenge of exhibiting 5,201 poster-sized entries in one place. It's not about space constraints, it's about information architecture and the user experience. [Thanks, Gothamist!]

    November 14, 2003

    On Singing for My Supper

    First, singing for my lunch: I had a great time with Paul Myoda's media/technology/art seminar Wednesday at City College. A bunch of very cool folks. Paul, of course, is one of the designers of the Tribute in Light, and quite a bit more, as you can see at his NY gallery, Friedrich Petzel.)

    Then, singing for my supper: I was just checking my Amazon Associates reports, and I found some eye-popping results:

  • The Lost in Translation soundtracks are practically flying off the page. It's nice that people are digging it, but I didn't expect my Sofia Coppola material would be such a shopping catalyst.

    I can see how mentioning something more obscure, like A Notebook on Cities and Clothes (Wim Wenders' Yohji Yamamoto documentary), might tempt people to shop (or at least window shop). But the soundtrack seems like an intentional purchase; you'd just go to Amazon directly. No complaints, just many thanks.

    The real surprise, though, was seeing the impact of variations in commissions for a soundtrack or DVD (usually 2.5-3.0% now) vs a classic book (up to 15%). You're buying 20 soundtracks for every catalog of Matthew Barney's The Cremaster Cycle or every book/DVD of David Byrne: E.E.E.I. (Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information) about PowerPoint art, but those books easily rack up 10 times the commission.

    It almost makes me want to become the Gizmodo of art tomes.

  • November 14, 2003

    The World's 40 Best Directors

    The Guardian tallies up the 40 best directors in the world today, complete with ratings in Zagat-style (or beauty pageant-style) categories: Substance/Look/Craft/Originality/Intelligence.

    Setting aside the unavoidable grade inflation--seven critics rated them from 1-20 for each category, but the totals fall in a narrow range, from 89 (David Lynch at #1) to 73 (the Gus Van Sant "who didn't make Good Will Hunting" at #40)-- it's a pretty safe, festival-y list. But it does have it's share of Eurotrashing quirks (David Lynch is #1??? Michael Moore is on it at all????? ditto Samira Makhmalbaf, one of only two women).

    All in all, though, I'm glad to see so many of my boys made the list Missing, though: Agnes Varda, Hirokazu Kore-eda (a stretch, maybe, but more deserving than Makhmalbaf), the Amy Heckerling who did Fast Times and Clueless, Marc Forster, oh, I don't know.

    November 14, 2003

    Don't Shoot!

    Jon Routson, from Bootlegs, his April 2003 show at Team Gallery, image: teamgallery.com From Bootlegs by Jon Routson, image: teamgallery.com

    If camcorders are illegal, only criminals will have camcorders.

    Yesterday, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D for Disney) and John Cornyn (R-Tex, an anagram for T-Rex) held a press screening for their newest starrer, which they said is set for an early 2004 release. It's a pirate fiction fantasy directed by MPAA prexy Jack Valenti. Here's the one-line synopsis:

    They are sponsoring legislation that will make it a felony "to use or attempt to use" a video recording device to copy a film in a movie theater.

    The first offense would carry up to a five-year jail sentence, with up to ten years imprisonment for the sequel. If your state has a three strikes law--like California--recording a trilogy could get you life.

    As if you needed another reason to avoid Matrix Revolutions...

    Related:
    Baltimore-based artist Jon Routson, who uses camcordered copies of movies as his artistic medium
    my Times article about video art bootlegging

    November 14, 2003

    it's 4:15 on Amtrak...

    The Meadowlands are ready for their closeup, Mr. Malick...

    Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing, on Amazonstill her first one-woman show, Without You I'm Nothing. It's on Trio right now. Looks like I'll be up for another hour to see the grand finale, her cabaret rendition of "Little Red Corvette." (Complete with backup, it turns out, by Tori Amos)

    For years it was extremely and annoyingly hard to find; it's still not on DVD, but at least now you can buy it on VHS.

    Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, image: nationalgallery.co.ukI wonder if it's this amusing from the outside when New York acts as if its concerns are the most important in the whole wide world.

    The British art crowd's all worked up over a speech by Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate (and "the most powerful man in the museum world" WTF??), where he criticized the country's policy of "saving" art treasures (i.e., buying them so the Getty doesn't get them).

    Serota, with total disinterested objectivity, I'm sure, suggests using the £25 Million earmarked for saving Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks to buy modern and contemporary work instead.

    The Guardian polls a variety of BritArt grandees to see what they'd do with the money. The only one I can agree with is the Ikon Gallery's Jonathan Watkins, who wants to buy some On Kawara works. [Ikon had a highly praised On Kawara show last year. Coincidence?]

    My, er, two pence: Set up an endowment, which, if it threw off £1.25 million/year, would be plenty to commission and purchase a steady stream of projects by emerging artists all over the world. Rather than keep a crusty old Madonna in the country (as if there's any other kind in the UK these days), get works early by the Raphaels of the 23rd century.

    November 12, 2003

    outline for Wed. Seminar

    Ignore me. I'm making notes for a seminar at CCNY that Paul Myoda invited me to speak at and screen some of the films. I should probably make a Venn Diagram for this...

    Production diary of my own films
    Ideas behind my own films (including development of some scripts, why the hell I'm doing a musical)
    Influences and inspiration, whether filmmakers, artists, writers
    Subject matter, themes, background and continuing dialogue/unfolding events (death, grief, 9/11, memorials, architecture)
    Art & architecture I like, because it impacts me and my worldview
    Other peoples' filmmaking news, experiences
    Filmmaking trends I find relevant (DV, Machinima, Animation, DVD, documentary-style, video game-film dialogue)
    Topics that develop a life of their own (shipping container architecture, powerpoint, Liza Minnelli for a frightening minute there-blame Gawker-- Sforzian backgrounds and the entertainment techniques of politics, putting this war in context, religiosity, WTC Memorial Competition)
    Insights and interviews with filmmakers I think are worth paying attention to/learning something from
    Self-admittedly brilliant ideas I'm confident everyone in the world will benefit from reading (note: heavy overlap with other categories)

    George W. Bush, technically in the Texas Air National Guard, image: seanet.com/~johnco
    Slate points to an entire brigade of documentation of George W. Bush's military career during the Vietnam War, including his request for early discharge in order to attend HBS.

    As Bush so eloquently read today, "From the moment you repeated the oath to the day of your honorable discharge, your time belonged to America; your country came before all else. [And that dedication enabled me to disappear for a year without telling anyone and then check out early.]"

    Related: AWOL Bush, and Chasing George W. Bush and the F-102

    November 11, 2003

    Memorial to the Missing War

    Armistice Day ceremony at Arlington, 11/11/21, image: acusd.edu

    This morning I was in DC, so I thought I'd go to the WWI Memorial. [Veterans Day began in 1919 as Armistice Day. It was expanded two wars-to-end-all-wars later, in 1953.]

    Nice plan, except that there is no national WWI Memorial. On 11 November 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in a ceremony which was relayed by telephone to New York and San Francisco.

    ["In the open air the President's voice swept over the crowd in Madison Square," enthused The Times' man on the scene. "The Voice seemed to come from the chest of a giant...Carried by wire from Washington, [it] was heard more clearly that that of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and Martin Littleton, whose voices were amplified as they spoke from the platform in the Garden." God Bless America(n Telephone & Telegraph).]

    Presidents laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns became an Armistice Day tradition. But eventually, the soldier disinterred from Belleau Wood was joined by representatives from later wars, expanding he Tomb's purview. As a result, specific remembrance of the horrors and sacrifices of WWI were conflated into the larger struggles of the century.

    The traffic at Arlington was a mess; after sitting in misdirected lines for nearly an hour, I left without even a glimpse of the parking lot, much less the Tomb. Many in the crowd were veterans, though, families in tow. I went on to my second destination, across the Memorial Bridge, to the south edge of the Mall.

    DC War Memorial, cropped from someone online, who I can't remember....damn...

    The DC World War Memorial is located in a grove of trees midway between the new Korean War Memorial and the massive, so-new-it's-not-done-yet WWII Memorial. President Hoover dedicated the little temple pavilion in 1931 to the memories of Washingtonians who died in The War. Technically, then, it's a local memorial, created by the locals, who also happened to be the leaders of the country.

    I was the only visitor during the half hour I was there. Three Park Service rangers--two in WWI-era uniforms--were breaking WWI-era camp in the little temple. For three years now, they have taken it upon themselves to create a little interpretive history opportunity for any visitors. Last year, when detours for the WWII Memorial construction closed off many other pathways, the rangers had quite a turnout. This year was much quieter. The two rangers in period uniform participate in WWI re-enactments with the Great War Association. Unlike Civil War re-enactments, however, there is no audience; there are practically no spectators, only participants.

    Memorial to the Missing, image. bc.edu

    Britain created the Cenotaph as a Memorial to the Great War, and it has woven taught WWI into the national identity. They built The Memorial to the Missing--the subject of my first film, and an inspiration for Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial design just across the Reflecting Pond from the DC War Memorial--in France, an outpost for British memory. The names of just The Missing from just The Somme exceeded 75,000.

    DNA testing helped identify the Unknown Soldier from Vietnam, and his remains were reburied in 1998. Until September 11th, it was assumed there would be no more Unknowns or Missing, but that turns out not to be the case. The World Trade Center Memorial will hold the presently unidentifiable remains of those killed, in hopes that technology will someday match them up to the 1,271 individual names. The New Missing, on the other hand, are frequently those who have been wounded or killed in Iraq. Witness to the fresh horrors of war, it seems, must come from the unlikeliest of sources: Cher calling into C-SPAN with stories of brave 19 year-olds who've lost arms and legs, just a few of the 2,100+ GWII casualties who are shunned and obscured by the Administration.

    In Sunday's Washington Post, the playwright Norman Allen--an old man, I take it--lamented the fading of Armistice Day:

    I first heard tales of the war's devastation from my grandfather, who was 19 when he was wounded not far from Chateau Thierry, an hour's drive from Paris. In middle age, he spoke in generic terms of his heroic comrades, Iowa boys like himself. In early senility, he spoke in detail of struggling across a field under heavy fire. Glancing to the left, he saw a friend's head blown away. He told me, "Never go to war. No matter what." My generation is the last to hear these things firsthand.
    Well, his generation--and Cher.

    November 10, 2003

    W.W.G.D?

    Now you can find out. Gothamist has launched an Events listing page in collaboration with upcoming.org. Jason calls it the future of the web. I haven't been so aware of all the cool things I'm missing since Time Out came to town.

    November 10, 2003

    W.W.T.F.D?

    "I'd tell him make a short first, and finance it himself," [an unnamed] producer said. "He's got to have a reel. No financier is going to risk $30 million on someone who's never made a film."

    And, I would add, get a weblog, get your name out there, meet a few people. This unsolicited advice is meant for one Tom Ford, who is considering a new career in film.

    Fred Bernstein's Twin Piers Memorial, Feb 2002, image: slate.com

    [via Archinect] Fred Bernstein's proposal for a World Trade Center Memorial has been online for a while. (I first saw--and posted about-- it when Timothy Noah featured it on Slate way back in Feb. 2002.) . Back then, it was an unexpectedly restrained, welcome alternative to the maudlin or ludicrous ideas that were being floated at the time. (Remember that Max Protetch show in January? I'm sure most of the participants now hope you don't.)

    Now it turns out Bernstein's Twin Piers was the ninth finalist in the official WTC memorial competition. It was disqualified because, although it was submitted under a friend's name, it was readily identified as his idea, and he'd already submitted another entry. Interestingly, according to the NYPost, it was the "no two entries" rule, not the "publicly identified" rule that led to its exclusion.

    For a poignant flashback and a realization of all the possibilities that have since been foreclosed for the WTC site, the city, the country and the world, read Bernstein's November 2001 NY Newsday article, "United Nations should move to World Trade Center Site." Those were the days.

    November 10, 2003

    W.W.M.G.D.?

    Braveheart screencapture from the villagevoiceForget the Matrix-colored glasses; now it's time to look at films in terms of good old-fashioned medieval religion. Apparently, The Passion of Christ was prophesied as far back as Mad Max 3. In the Voice, Jessica Winters follows a trail of little mustard seeds through twenty years of Mel Gibson's films, which leads to the actor/director/producer's longtime-coming Messiah Complex. It makes for sinfully entertaining reading. If Gibson didn't already think I'm damned to hell for being Mormon, I'd be quaking in my spiritual boots for daring to question his piety.

    [While I'm on the subject, when, exactly, did shooting wrap on The Passion? Sometime before the screenings Frank Rich didn't get invited to, right? And when, exactly, did James Caviezel get struck by lightning on the set? Then why, exactly, is this getting reported now? Is Gibson actually God-baiting as well as Jew-baiting in the name of publicity?]

    November 9, 2003

    On Scripts

    Salon is not only still publishing, they're publishing the shooting script of the Ronald Reagan TV movie that the conservative closet cases wanted to see on Showtime (the Queer as Folk Network). It's an 8Mb pdf. Of a TV Movie. Starring James Brolin. About Ronald Reagan. You've been warned.

    [For an invigorating Reagan text, try Joan Didion's prescient 1997 review of DiNesh D'Souza's Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. It costs money, but it's worth it.

    For the definitive Reagan movie, buy or rent David O. Russell's Flirting With Disaster, in which Reagan has two cameos: on the wall of Mel Coplin's first adoptive "mom," and on the tabs of acid of his real parents.]

    In today's Movie Issue of the NYT Mag, Lynn Hirschberg convenes a "roundtable" with two screenwriters, Brian Helgeland and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, the Silver Surfer convo airdropped into the middle of Crimson Tide) "share some wisdom about the screenwriting life."

    1) We always knew Tarantino's too much of a loudmoth to pull off the Terence Malick thing. 2) How many participants actually constitute a roundtable? I want to know who couldn't manage to stumble over to the Regent and run up the Times's bar tab. 3) Reason enough to read it in print: the Favorite Screenplays Speed Round, which runs along the bottom of the piece. I may have my data entry lackeys in Madagascar transcribe it for your illicit online pleasure.

    Tarantino scripts online:
    Kill Bill
    Jackie Brown (pdf)
    Pulp Fiction
    Natural Born Killers early draft

    Brian Helgeland scripts online:
    Blood Work draft (pdf)
    LA Confidential draft
    The Postman early production draft (pdf) [heads up: think Kevin Costner, not Pablo Neruda]
    Assassins draft, with the Wachowskis
    The script's not online, but a A Knight's Tale is out on DVD. [Have a hard time keeping the similarly comical anachronism of A Knight's Tale ("An InStyle Editor in King Arthur's Court" starring Heath Ledger) and First Knight ("Ralph Lauren Camelot Collection" starring Richard Gere) straight? No problem. Amazon's selling them together. Supplies are supposedly limited.

    Think you can do better? Well, get Final Draft and start writing, script monkey.

    [links via Daily Script and Screenplays For You]


    As you'll never see it again... As B.Logman's photos and news reports indicate, The Tate Modern has a massive-crowd-pleasing phenomenon on their hands. Now suddenly this photo I took at the preview seems worth posting, if only because who knows if it'll ever happen again.

    Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project at The Tate Modern, 2003, image: greg allen, greg.org

    It's the meta-Tarantino that bothers me. (Lynn, I'm talkin' to you.)

    Over at GreenCine, David puts the Reagan TV movie in perspective; it doesn't sound like it's worth going to the mat for.

    And instead of reading the 213-page script, I just rebought Joan Didion's NYRB article, The Lion King, and I'm glad I did. I say rebought, because it's also included in her collection of essays, Political Fictions, which is sitting in a box in our storage unit.

    Didion's got an agenda, sure, but she backs it up with a screenwriter's eye for wicked detail and dialogue, and a relentless slog through the quagmire of firsthand accounts. She reads the right wing's literature, so you don't have to.

    Here's a timely but damning excerpt she pulls from Donald Regan's memoir, For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington ["585 used copies available, starting at $0.01"]

    As President, Ronald Reagan acted on the work habits of a lifetime: he regarded his daily schedule as being something like a shooting script in which characters came and went, scenes were rehearsed and acted out, and the plot was advanced one day at a time, and not always in sequence. The Chief of Staff was a sort of producer, making certain that the star had what he needed to do his best; the staff was like the crew, invisible behind the lights, watching the performance their behind-the-scenes efforts had made possibleÖ. Reagan's performance was almost always flawless. If he was scheduled to receive a visitor at ten o'clock, he would finish whatever else he was doing at 9:58, clear off his desk, clear his mind of whatever had gone before, and prepare himself for the next scene.

    The CBS hacks were criticized for putting words in the president's mouth. Didion shows us that's not their real crime; Reagan's "accomplishments" are his speeches, and his texts must be approached with enough infallible literalism to make an evangelical Christian proud. But this is also where he's vulnerable; he who lives by the word dies by the word.

    What Reagan demands, it seems, is a "making of" movie which hews tightly to the accounts of his crew. A Player, an 8 1/2 a Jour et Nuit, an Irma Vep, or an Adaptation, even. [A Project Greenlight? That'd hurt too much.] This isn't a network TV movie, or even a cable movie; it's DVD, with a pile of bonus disks.

    Finally, POV is back, and in a relevant way. By relevant, I don't just mean talking money. But that's what she's doing, with a post about fundraising for independent films. Liz reviews the Money Matters issue of The Independent, which is published by the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers.

    In a Guardian interview, Ennio Morricone talks about composing music for films. My favorite of his theories: "The music in a film must enter politely, very slowly," like an uninvited guest at a party. [Guess they raise a more genteel breed of gatecrashers in Italy.]

    I'm the first to cop to being influenced by Morricone. While still on location for Souvenir (November 2001), I considered using some of his music for our soundtrack. Once the post-production party got underway, though, it was obvious that the beautiful, loaded track didn't fit in at our gritty little party.

    With a new 4-CD set, Io, Ennio Morricone, the composer's not only looking to come in, he's planning to stay for a while.

    libeskind's building on top of the footprints.  don't get me started. image: nytimes.com Shocked, shocked that Libeskind wants to build over the footprints image:nytimes.com

    Welcome to the party, Herbert. Perhaps displeased with his own irrelevance in the design and rebuilding process of the World Trade Center site, the Times' Herbert Muschamp proclaims, "the time has come to examine in some detail the ground zero design process as it has unfolded in the last two years." [I was going to say he "quixotically proclaimed," but I'm a fan of Don Quixote; Muschamp wishes he was quixotic.]

    What roused Muschamp from his critical slumber: extremely specific and unpleasing drafts of Daniel Libeskind's "master plan," which would formalize many controversial elements of Libeskind's concept and foreclose a lot of future architects' flexibility for the buildings they're supposed to design.

    Libeskind's vision is for a skyline crowned with"glitzy, structurally inept towers," which would look more appropriate in Houston. That's not a compliment. Of course, it wasn't a compliment when Paul Goldberger talked about it in July 2002, and it wasn't a compliment when I flagged it last year as the endgame of a decade of the Houstonization of Manhattan.

    The Libeskind plan had significant flaws from the beginning, but it's the fruit of the poisoned tree that is Gov. Pataki and the Port Authority's commerce-laden program for the site. This has all been known, if ignored, by the critical powers that be. Muschamp's disingenuous cry is too little, too late.

    The last significant chance to influence or change these guidelines is the Memorial Competition. The only credible refutation for this impending Houstonization is a memorial design that demands a recalibration of the priorities set by PA/Pataki/Silverstein and Libeskind. It may hurt to hear it, but any memorial design that accepts the Libeskind plan on its face means the suburbanists have already won.

    November 7, 2003

    Herbert Muschamp, Leg Man

    Continuing in my apparent "interesting, but what does it mean for The Matrix?" vein, here's a quote from Herbert Muschamp's TMI review of the Men in Skirts exhibit at the Met's Costume Institute:

    I knew the Wachowski Brothers had lost it when Keanu Reeves showed up in their film The Matrix Reloaded dressed in that floor-length black soutane. If you're fortunate enough to have a leading man of Mr. Reeves's slim, agile physique, you do not ó not! ó cover up his legs.

    [STANDARD SPOILER ALERT] Despite what the global saturation ad campaign may imply, it's better to approach My Architect as a spinoff--like a feature-length installment the Animatrix--not as a sequel. (That none of the actors from The Matrix films were in My Architect should've been my first clue.) Once I made this distinction, I was able to appreciate the movie much better; it turns out to be a moving, well-told story which happens to have an extremely misleading marketing strategy behind it. It's the Shawshank Redemption of the Matrix Universe.

    Louis Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.comMy Architect is set in the previous iteration of The Matrix, slotting into the Timeline somewhere between 1963 and 1974, although it includes trips backward and forward in time. The One here is a filmmaker named Nathaniel Kahn and is also called The Only Son. And the movie follows him on his quest to understand the Big Questions about his existence and his relationship to The Architect, who doesn't look like Colonel Sanders in this film, but ressembles instead a somewhat homelier Danny Kaye, complete with big Architect glasses and a bowtie.

    While some characters in the film react badly to the idea, there's never any suspense about whether The Architect is The One's father. For one thing (no pun intended), his name is Louis Kahn. Frankly, I couldn't tell who is The Oracle. In a plotline taken straight from Star Wars, The One learns he has siblings, sisters--half-sisters, really--who also grew up thinking they were The One. It made for confusing family lives, and The Architect led a nomadic existence, hopping from house to office to building site to house, ultimately alone, even among his three "families." Unlike Star Wars, though, The One doesn't almost inadvertently hook up with his sister.

    Louis Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.comThe Architect has uncompromising visions of a perfectly constructed world; the film tells many stories of his mighty battles with the forces of evil (called Clients, or in one case, Urban Renewal Planners). Ultimately, The Architect has to leave The Matrix itself, traveling to the then-new country of Bangladesh, where he harnesses the energy of the most un-plugged-in population on Earth to build his Capital. [This is a direct reference to the Animatrix episode about how the machines founded their country, 01, in a desolate corner of the Middle East.]

    As we know from the movies, train stations figure prominently in the Matrix, and My Architect is no exception. The Architect dies of a heart attack in the men's room at Penn Station. [This is not really a spoiler since the whole premise of the movie is The One's search as an adult for The Architect/Father he barely knew as a child, his attempt to understand more about how The Architect spent his last moments, when, instead of being surrounded by at least one of his families, he collapsed alone in a bathroom.]

    In a plotpoint that reminded me a bit too much of Kevin Smith's Dogma, where God goes temporarily AWOL because he (she, actually, since God is played there by Alannis Morrisette) went unrecognized in a hospital ICU, The Architect went unrecognized at the morgue for several days because he's crossed the address off his passport. Nevertheless, both the enigma and emotional stakes faced by The One are touchingly conveyed, and this viewer found himself identifying freuqently with Nathaniel and his quest.

    Louis Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.comDid I say action scenes? Perhaps the most significant way in which My Architect varies from the Matrix formula is the utter and complete lack of action. Every time I thought, "here comes the big chase scene," it was, "here comes another serene pan of a museum, library, and/or hall of parliament." And while there were some tense moments, there weren't any real fight scenes. Aunt Posie got pretty worked up, though, talking about her sister running off and having a baby like that. Just drives her up the wall.

    Kudos, finally, to the set designers. The series has always been known for its production design, but the dreary technoworld of the previous movies is replaced here by a seemingly endless parade of luminous, inspiring spaces. Very Logan's Run. I wonder who did them.

    What Nathaniel learns--and what he teaches us, of course, even in the title of his film-- is that the quest isn't for The Architect, but for My Architect. While the other Matrix films seduce us with the threat of an insidious, all-pervasive, artificially constructed reality, Nathaniel shows how much more enmeshed we become in the reality we fabricate inside ourselves.

    Nathaniel's mother recognized the stigma of having a married man's child as an externally imposed social construct, and she rejected it. Yet her survival hinged inextricably on her belief that Her Architect was always just a passport edit away from leaving his wife. By definition, Nathaniel the filmmaker traffics in constructed, edited reality. He's aware of the wilfully childlike innocence of his objective (he included scenes of himself rollerblading around the Salk institute or chasing his paper yarmulke in the wind at the Wailing Wall, after all), and yet he spent five difficult, emotionally wrenching years pursuing it with his camera.

    Why get all worked up about The Matrix when My Matrix is more revealing and engrossing?

    November 6, 2003

    Understanding The Architect

    I attended a private screening of the film, My Architect last night at the Sutton Theater, followed by a sumptuous dinner in the Pool Room at the Four Seasons. Normally, I eschew the Four Seasons for reasons that Jake Brooks spells out clearly in the Observer: "Few V.I.P.ís want to risk not being recognized at the door and then having to wait at the bar with a crowd full of unwashed punks wearing nose rings." That, and they have a stack of Gotham magazines on the table in the foyer.

    Assured by the grand viziers of Time Warner, our host, that this would not happen, I assented to lend my credibility as a philosopher of The Matrix to this important event. Important by virtue of my being invited, seeing the movie for free, and consuming piles of sponored Four Seasons cuisine, of course.

    Forget any insinuations I made yesterday about "credibility" and the eagerness of screening invitees to sell/rent/loan it out. I indulged freely in the night spa that is a preview screening, and I have to say, I came away disappointed with the film.

    After The Matrix Reloaded, My fellow Kottke-ites and I spent hours trying to decode the Architect's speech. We cooked up all sorts of grand theories; we divvied up research topics (mine was determinism vs. free will within Tielhard de Chardin's noosphere) and eagerly shared our interpretations. Spoonboy had toyed with the idea that The Architect was The One's father and The Oracle was his mother. My Architect does allow for that interpretation, but it's a stretch. Basically, though, if you're looking for neatly packaged answers to the Big Questions that've plagued you since The Matrix, you won't find them in My Architect.

    Frankly, I was shocked, shocked disappointed, disappointed that a company as gracious and upstanding as Time Warner would build up our excitement and expectations to such a degree, and then put out a film that lets down so completely. (The filet and the herb-encrusted lamb were wonderful, however. And the service! When a conversation partner started down to pick up the caviar-laden potato chip he'd dropped, the waiter gently reminded him who/where he was: "Leave it there. We'll have someone pick it up." In a magnanimous show of respect for the someone who would come to clean up the crumbs at our feet, we stepped one meter to the side, so as to create a more dignified place for that man to labor.)

    My Architect, Nathaniel Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.com

    Anyway, saddened as I am, I feel obliged to sing a little for my supper and contribute to the "word-of-mouth" our hosts were seeking. I will try to explain My Architect and put it context with the other two films. This afternoon.

    If Jason hadn't put this in his sidebar, I might have missed it. Thanks for the heads up.

    Like many former adherents to a non-traditional religion, David Edelstein is disillusioned. From the sound of his review, the imagined endings from the Kottke-ites' comments thread are far more interesting.

    In the Observer, Jake Brooks writes shamelessly and entertainingly on the Tina Brown-imagined resurgence of private screenings as a means of marketing "specialty" films. Peggy Siegal, who "invented" these things like twenty years ago for Kevin Costner, features prominently into this "new trend" sop to the publicists.

    Siegal on the importance of "the mix":

    If Julian Schnabel is directing Before Night Falls, youíre going to have a larger contingent of artists coming. If youíre screening Pollock, itís real important to get Eric Fischl in there, and Ross Bleckner, because you want some credibility in that arena. [italics added to highlight the Ahn Duong-ist, Vogue-is-the-only-art- magazine-I-know, aesthetically and critically clueless generational bubble-ism that leads someone to go on record as thinking Schnabel, Fischl, or Salle have anything to do with art credibility.]
    Interesting, this publicist's quest for credibility. Tina Brown also wrote that "writers are in particular demand [for screenings] because they add credibility," but promptly admits that "The writers you see at parties are not usually the 'real' ones," who are "difficult" and "tend to have opinions." Credibility in the screening biz apparently means, "someone who assumes a film is good because they were invited to see it for free."

    IFP/NY members can rent out the Quad, the foreign/indie institution, for $250 to screen their films, as long as they're out before 12:30. (That's 30 minutes after noon, not midnight. That timing may be better suited for getting a distributor than for getting a writeup in People. Soho House's screening room rents for $200/hour, with the adjoining lounge included. Drinks are extra. Like a movie house, Soho House covers its nut at the concession stand.

    [update: The NYTimes gets into the act, uncovering an odd, Hollywood-meets-Beltway-mix screening of Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War at the Tribeca Grand. Credibility-granting sponsors in this case: John Podesta of his new Center for American Progress. You can buy a DVD copy of the movie--which will not screen in theaters, or you can get one free when you donate $30 or more to CAP.

    November 4, 2003

    Hajji doin?

    An update on Hajji, the Arabic term for "pilgrim" which has become the GWII term for "enemy": it looks like it's not just for GWII anymore. I found a Jan. 2002 usage in a short piece by Lisette Garcia, who writes,

    Tampons, alarm clocks and Kodak film were easy enough for me to negotiate at the local Hajji shop. But giving a regulation haircut was simply too foreign a concept in the middle of the desert.
    Garcia's talking about the original Gulf War, I think, which gives the term a bit of breathing room, at least as far as its original coiners are concerned.

    There are certainly some benign usages of Hajji around, and I can easily see how soldiers, hearing Arabs, Kuwaitis, or Iraqis address each other--or their elders--as "hajji," could adopt it with clean intent. Try justifying the phrase "mowing down some hajjis," though. I dare you.

    For the record, this has nothing to do with Gus Van Sant.


    Gus Van Sant's the center of the universe, you see, or you will see, by the end of this post. [Before, I'd been forced to the alarming conclusion that the universe revolved around Norman Mailer, so you'll understand if i'm eager for a replacement.]

    Anyway, if you were dazzled by my groundbreaking interpretation of Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Gerry you'll be double-dazzled by Scott Macaulay's excellent interview in Filmmaker Magazine with Van Sant on the inspiration, ideas, and making of Gerry, which was published, oh, in December 2002.

    Gerry Still, Savides/Van Sant, image: filmmaker.com

    GVS talks about the film's connection to video games, especially the appeal of the camerawork and sound design of Tomb Raider (GVS hittin' it home: "In some ways, Gerry is BÈla Tarr fused with Tomb Raider!" Not quite "Dude, where's my car? by Samuel Beckett," but still a good quote.) Turns out he cut dailies together in the desert using iMovie and edited the film on FinalCutPro, one of the first 35mm projects to do so.

    But even more than the video game visual language, GVS talks about the the cut and editing's relation to the "industrialization of cinema," to the codification of a process of storytelling. Sounds a bit like Peter Greenaway to me. Except that while Greenaway's preaching, Van Sant's moving things forward.

    According to the gracious Steve Gallagher, there's also a Macauley-on-Van Sant interview in the current issue of Filmmaker, but it's not online. I'm scheduled to have those insights in about a year. Stay tuned. The moral here, kids, is don't let your subscription lapse, or you'll end up like me, writing on movielit's third base, thinking I hit a triple.

    A nice seque for my next topic, GWB. MoveOn.org's sponsoring a presidential campaign ad contest called Bush in 30 Seconds. Make a TV ad about George W Bush, and if it wins the popular voting--and passes muster with the celebrity jurors--MoveOn Voter Fund will air it nationwide around the time of the State of the Union address. Among the jurors: Gus Van Sant.

    filmmaker mag coverThree ways to subscribe to Filmmaker, which, as you know, is published jointly by IFP/NY and IFP/LA (and which enters my Sofia Coppola magazine cover collection as #2:

  • Subscribe for $18.00 through Amazon (and throw a couple of quarters into my guitar case)
  • Subscribe for $18 and buy back issues (like Winter 2002) directly from Filmmaker (and throw all your quarters at the mag that deserves them).
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  • November 2, 2003

    Bloghdad.com/Hajji_Town

    From Jay Price's article in the Raleigh NandO: US Coalition US troops in Iraq have come up with this war's equivalent of "kraut," "slope," or "gook." They call everyone--everyone else, that is-- "hajji." It's pronounced the way one soldier scrawled it on his footlocker, "Hodgie Killer."

    The ever-present, locally run on-base souvenir shops are called hajji shops; when there are several businesses together, they call it Hajji Town. Iraqis out the window of a Humvee, hajji. Kuwaitis and foreign contractors, hajji.

    "This is more of a commonsense thing," said [a CentCom spokesman in Baghdad]. "It's like using any other derogatory word for a racial or ethnic group. Some may use it in a joking way, but it's derogatory, and I'm sure people have tried to stop it."

    The original Hadji, except for the billion-plus Muslims in history who've made the hajj, of coursePretty spin-free, for now. Killing Goliath, who pointed me to the story, got an imaginary spokesman's spin that we can only wish was true: it's like the brotherly love of Jonny Quest and his best friend. "but not in a pederasty sort of way," "said" the soldier.

    The real problem is that, to Muslims, hajji is not derogatory at all; it's Arabic for "pilgrim." It's a title of respect and faithfulness, signifying someone who's completed the hajj.

    Like gook and kraut, hajji is used to distance oneself and dehumanize the enemy. But unlike past slurs, including GWI favorites like "towel-head" and "sand n***er," hajji also religionizes them. So while Lt Gen. William Boykin preaches with impunity at home about this war against Satan, our unwittingly valiant Christian soldiers are faithfully "mowing down some hajjis" on the front. And intensifying Muslim distrust and hatred of the US.

    More later. I'm off to church to pray for forgiveness.
    [post-church update: Price's article ran on Oct. 2, and I can't find a single other media source who reports on hajji. Please prove me wrong. An earlier web citation is from August 17, when a Lt Rob Douglas uses it in his letters home, which get published in his local paper.]
    Further reading: War Slang: American Fighting Words and Phrases from the Civil War to the Gulf War by Paul Dickson and Paul McCarthy.]

    Call me irresponsible, but I/we really liked it. We'll never send our kids to public school now, of course, or let them out of our sight, ever, but we thought it was subtly and extremely well made.

    David Edelstein's already written a good review, some of which I can agree with: above all else, this movie is the result of directorial decisions and intentions. His take on the supposedly amoralist or non-judgmental approach to obviously abhorrent teen-on-teen killing is right on: "You need to complete it in your head." I think Van Sant's quite clear in his moral view; the onus gets pushed back onto the people who don't get it, or who need movies to shout at or preach to them.

    If there's a feeling of detachment in the movie, it's the shrugging silence which teenagers present to the "outside" or adult world. The obviously amateurish performances: a directorial choice; Van Sant had to know what he was getting, and he wanted it. My wife--a veteran of the high school Shakespeare stage--immediately read this as interpretive, not an attempt at realism.

    Elephant still, image: elephantmovie.com

    Van Sant chose to combine this artificial dialogue with hard core vÈritÈ framing, the consistent over-the-shoulder camera positioning, which forces the viewer into an uncomfortably intimate spot--if someone were standing that close to me when I was developing film, I'd freak out. Back up, man, personal space. Underneath it all is a decidedly complex, not-vÈritÈ sound design, which heightens the atmosphere and intensity of key scenes. The shy girl (and the audience) barely able to pick words out of gossip in the locker room, for example, but catching just enough to know it's about her and it's bad.

    Gerry still, image: viewlondon.co.uk a video game just like it

    I've written before (and before that) about seeing Gerry as a video game, and in case you don't believe me, Van Sant drives the point home in Elephant. As the killers loaf around, buying guns online, one plays a first-person-shooter game in which the targets are literally Gerrys: two guys, unarmed, dressed in clothing identical to Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, staggering through a featureless desert.

    Elephant still, image: elephantmovie.com and vice versa

    The hard, flattened hallways of the high school now read as the CG-levels in Quake. The over-the-shoulder camera reads as a FPS player's perspective. Even more than in Gerry--which, to me, is clearly a companion to Elephant--Van Sant is developing a new cinematic language, one which connects narrative filmmaking to the seemingly-mindless-yet-engrossing experience of video games. I have to say, it's working for me...

    [Heads up: Gerry finally comes out on DVD Nov. 11.]

    This is the shock-and-awe kind of awesome, not the SoCal kind of awesome.

    From the San Diego Union Tribune:
    Cedar Fire from Mt. Laguna
    Mt Woodson

    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 November 2003, in reverse chronological order

    Older: October 2003

    Newer December 2003

    recent projects, &c.


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

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

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

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

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

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    TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
    about

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    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

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    "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.


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

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

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