Abstract In Concrete (1952), The Making Of

Nayland Blake just posted this on his always eye-opening tumblr Knee-deep in the Flooded Victory. Abstract in Concrete is a 10-minute short film by John Aravonio, which pairs reflections of neon signs in the rain puddles of Times Square with a jazz/classical score by Frank Fields. The date given on this recent YouTube upload is 1954. And it is credited to the United States Information Agency.

Which is just nuts.

Continue reading “Abstract In Concrete (1952), The Making Of”

International Jarman Blue


I am so stoked to see Derek Jarman’s Blue in the 2nd floor galleries at MoMA. It is truly one of the most formative film experiences I’ve ever had, and it changed the way I thought of both movies and monochromes. And it captured and collapsed art and film and a moment of outrageous, despairing history, when the personal and cultural toll from HIV/AIDS seemed almost beyond hope. Which is a lot for any film to carry, much less one as unusual as Blue.
The last year and a half or so, whenever the radio gets too cloying or annoying, I’ve taken to listening to the soundtrack for Blue sometimes in the car. It’s weird that an angry elegy against indifference, AIDS, and death would be so pleasant. Maybe emotionally satisfying is a better term. But I can easily recall the first times I saw Blue, at the NYFF in October 1993, and then at the New Yorker Cinema during its release.
But enough about me, because there are important things that I still didn’t realize about Blue precisely because my own intense personal encounter with the film blinded me [sic] to them.
Like I knew that Jarman had chosen Blue‘s blue for its reference to Yves Klein, but I did not realize that Jarman had been contemplating a monochrome IKB film for Klein as early as 1974, as sort of a cinematic answer to the painter’s Symphonie Monotone. Blue went through many titles and Klein-centered iterations before becoming what it finally was: a poetic documentary of Jarman’s own life and illness. [A lot of this stuff comes from Rowland Wymer’s 2006 Derek Jarman biography, which is a good read, even if “colour field” doesn’t mean what Wymer thinks it means.]
It very much became a film about Jarman’s losing his sight, and the effective end of his career, even though that’s not at all what it had been before. Because before also meant before all that went down. Blue‘s unchanging monochrome field was able to accommodate whatever content changes Jarman brought to it.
jarman_bliss_book_chelsea_space.jpgWhen Blue was still called Bliss, back in 1987, and was a Klein-related companion film to The Last of England, Jarman filled a notebook with dialogue, poems, and IKB monochrome paintings. The Bliss Book and other Blue-related preparatory and archival material will be in “Almost Bliss,” an exhibition next month at Chelsea Space, London, England.
Blue really took its finished form beginning in 1991, not as a film, but as a performance/event. Jarman and Tilda Swinton first performed Bliss at a charity fundraiser for his hospital, sandwiched between a performance of Klein’s Symphonie Monotone and a screening of The Garden. [Which must’ve been quite a night: the Klein’s supposed to be 40 minutes, and The Garden‘s an hour and a half.]
A still of Klein’s IKB 71 (Californie), 1961, which, I have no idea what his film loop looked like, but this one seemed appropriately cinematic. It’s in a private collection, but was at the Met a few years ago.
At first Jarman used a film loop of a Klein monochrome. When the film jammed, Jarman switched to a blue gel. I don’t quite know why, but I find this easy passing between media and image to be fascinating. Bliss‘s blue began as a film of an object, but then the object disappeared, replaced by a light effect. Later, when Blue was complete, and aired simultaneously on Channel 4 and BBC radio, listeners were invited to send for a monochrome blue card they could stare at during the broadcast. A broadcast image replaced by an object.
The project evolved and funding came through in 1992, and Jarman’s own stories became the central theme. All along I figured that Jarman maybe didn’t film anything, that the blue was a chemical aspect of the film print itself. But Wymer’s book says the blue was “electronically produced.” I confess, I find this something of a letdown, even if it means MoMA’s probably OK to show Blue on digital projection rather than film. And it makes me want to do something around or to Blue and its visuals. I don’t know what yet.
#53 Almost Bliss: Notes on Derek Jarman’s Blue, curated by Donald Smith, 29.01.14 – 15.03.14, Chelsea Space [chelseaspace.org]
buy Derek Jarman (2006) by Rowland Wymer [amazon]
JUNE 2014 UPDATE In Issue 165 of Frieze (May 2014), Paul Schütze talked with Simon Fisher Turner about his longtime musical collaborations with Jarman, including the making of Blue.
Turner says they probably did six or seven live concerts of Bliss/Blue before the film. I wonder if any of them were recorded? Also this bombshell:

Derek and I had really big arguments about Blue, because at one stage people wanted to put images into it and I said, ‘You’re mad!’ By then my relationship with Derek was really good. I’d say, ‘Listen, this is really what I think.’ Then he suggested that it would be great to have some gold drifting down amidst the blueness, because he loved gold, or the occasional shadow of movement. I objected and said, ‘Please NO! It has to be pure.’


Less Filling, Looks Great: Doug Aitken’s Song1 On The Hirshhorn

We came out of the Hirshhorn tonight after the surprise [to me] screening of Space is Process, a 2010 documentary about Olafur Eliasson, only to find they were testing Doug Aitken’s Song1, a 360-degree projection on the barrel of the museum.
I had been worried about how well buff-colored aggregate would hold up as a projection surface, but I tell you, it looked pretty great. Amazing, even.
And seeing it suddenly makes you wonder–and by you, I mean me–why doesn’t the Hirshhorn project things on the surfaces of the buildings more often? You know what, why not all the time?
And that leads to the next logical question: what should be projected on the Hirshhorn?
Song1 is a hypnotic, laconic, melancholic sequence of closeups of an LA Basinful of people singing “I Only Have Eyes For You,” intercut with abstract CG motion graphics. Its narrative doesn’t seem anywhere as complex as the multi-screen Sleepwalker, projected on MoMA, but it seems thoughtful, and definitely works as a beautiful proof-of-concept.
But. So.
What else is going on the Hirshhorn Channel? The potential [or maybe the temptation] for agitprop and politically charged artworks seems either irresistible or anathema, depending no how involved one is in wooing Congress. The Hirshhorn and the Smithsonian at large are likely not interested in actually biting any hands that feed them.
And starting Thursday night at 8pm, that strategic non-engagement pact will be on view from the Mall in full, dazzling force.

The View Of Punishment Park From Zuccotti Park

Punishment Park? How did I not know about Peter Watkins’ incendiary 1971, anti-war, anti-fascist, faux-news documentary? I mean, it was the movie Rirkrit chose to broadcast on his unlicensed TV station in the Guggenheim. I sat in Anthology’s rickety seats for the entire 5+ hours of The Commune (Paris, 1871). Is it one of those things that just looks so completely, unrecognizably different in the light of Occupy Wall Street, that–no.
When Punishment Park was finally released on DVD in 2005, it was the peak of a globally unpopular war, which was tainted by torture, unlawful detainment and military tribunals, violations of basic constitutional and human rights, and polarized rhetoric within American culture. So no, I don’t think I registered what Watkins had done.
Which, holy smokes. Here’s how Holland Cotter describes Punishment Park in his 2005 review of Rirkrit’s show:

it is a docudrama about the brutal silencing of antiwar protesters during the Vietnam period. Many of the actors were amateurs. The people cast as activists were, in fact, real-life activists; the police were played by former police officers.
Their lack of theatrical training gives the film a curious tension, making it seem both authentically documentary and stagy. It feels something like that era’s political street theater, which was cropping up all over the United States and Europe at a moment when anger and paranoia were at flood tide. This aesthetic certainly suits the low-tech character of the broadcast facilities, which are pretty rudimentary.

Shooting in an army tent and the Mojave Desert, a British news crew follows two groups of activists/protestors as they are run through a sham tribunal and are given the choice between excessive federal prison sentences and an impossibly brutal three-day race across a vast desert reservation, aka “Punishment Park,” where they are hunted down by National Guardsmen training for the next Kent State.
It’s like Predator and The Tenth Victim gave birth to the sequel of Zabriskie Point, starring the Chicago Seven. It is not pretty.
Punishment Park may not be a great movie, but it is definitely a fascinating one, one which is difficult to watch, and apparently difficult to like. I think that’s by design, though; it seems calculated to antagonize and/or enrage basically anyone with a political opinion and a stake in the outcome of the American experiment. It deserved a little more credit than it got, though, and certainly better consideration than Vincent Canby was capable of:

Because all literature, including futuristic nonsense like this, represents someone’s wish-fulfilling dream, I can’t help but suspect that Watkins’s cautionary fable is really a wildly sincere desire to find his own ultimate punishment.

The freaky thing, I guess, is the way Punishment Park manages to both over- and under-predict the cultural rifts and abuses of power in American politicized culture over the intervening 40 years. I think had I seen Punishment Park in 2005, I would have distanced it as a historic, histrionic artifact. But given the last few years/months/weeks, I can’t help but see parallels and hear echoes between the film, its time, and today.
The other, less uncomfortable thing–I mentioned Zabriskie Point for a reason–is how Punishment Park alters the context of the 60s and 70s for me. I can’t help but see the counterculture and the desert, the military and the desert, war and the desert, art and filmmakers in the desert, quite differently now.
The New Yorker Films DVD release of Punishment Park is available on Amazon and Netflix.

I, For One, Welcome Our Black Mirror-Wielding Motion Control Camera Overlords

So you should really read Daniel Kasman’s review of the Venice debut of Mark Lewis’s awesome-sounding short film, Black MIrror At The National Gallery, because Kasman is sensitive to both the tone and surprise/reveal of the film in a way that the official synopsis, oddly, does not.
But if you’re not going to read either of those, I’ll just say it sounds like Russian Ark meets 2001, with the Marquis de Custine replaced by Martin Szekely’s silicon carbide “Black Sun” mirror, the Hermitage replaced by the National Gallery, and everyone and everything else replaced by Hendrick Avercamp’s Dutch Golden Era tondo A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle.
Sounds awesome.
Venice 2011. Art Is Terror from Any Other Angle [mubi.com]
Miroir- Soleil Noir, 2007 [galeriekreo.fr]
Avercamp’s A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle, 1609 [nationalgallery.org.uk]

‘Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Favorite Farmer’

Chiang Mai farmer/laborer Lung Neaw has worked with RIrkrit Tiravanija for several years now. He helped build the artist’s house. Tiravanija’s footage of him has appeared in various gallery and museum installations.
And Saturday, Tiravanija’s film, Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbors, will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Maybe there should be a spoiler alert somewhere, because from the synopsis, the title pretty much gives the entire 2.5 hour movie away.
In a Q&A on the Lung Neaw website the artist says he sees the film not as “a documentary and not a narrative, perhaps it’s more of a portraiture.”
He and his longtime Mexico City dealer’s brother Christian Manzutto shot a week or so at a time:

So we shot over a period of two years and another to edit and postproduction, the film was really made very simply and with very little by way of crew and equipment, in that relationship for me very much like a documentary but also very much like how an artist would approach the production, also with very small but cost-effective budget. We shot in film (super 16mm) so rather small and light unit but with frames and quality which was not video.

An interesting choice, and an interesting approach. Two of his galleries, kurimanzutto and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, have associate producer credit.
See the Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours trailer [vimeo]
Thai media article on the project: Lung Neaw goes to Venice [nationmultimedia.com]

Shh, Don’t Speak.

From Dennis Lim’s brief Q&A with Gus Van Sant at Cannes, where Restless is [finally?] debuting:

We did silent takes of almost every scene so we could maybe use them in the editing. Terry Malick apparently shoots silent takes so he can mold what he wants out of the scenes. But with our takes we actually created a silent version because we had enough material and we realized we could — maybe it’ll be on the DVD. Everything is there except the dialogue — all the sounds and music, and you hear all the footsteps, but there’s nobody talking and no lips moving. They’re the same scenes, but it has the distance of not being dialogue-driven. It’s the exact same love story but it plays like a different movie.

It’s funny, because Gerry and Elephant only have like 10 pages of dialogue between them anyway.
Previously: Gus Van Sant’s go-to guy, the greg.org 2003 interview with producer Dany Wolf

Know Hope

Producer Ted Hope is at least three installments into his solid post-Sundance, post-Toronto explication of what he’s calling “The New Model of Indie Film Finance.” It’s a pretty clear-eyed look at the challenges even a celebrated, experienced filmmaker faces in realizing a project–and a profit.

Clearly we are at a point in US film culture where the infrastructure is not serving either the investors, the creators, or the audiences. Good films are getting made but not being delivered to their audience. Last year I went to a film investor conference. Several other producers were invited and we all asked to pitch projects. None of us left with funding, but the investors said to me that I was the only one that addressed how we would deal with the reality of not just getting our film to market, but bringing it to the ultimate end-users — the audience. As artists build communities around their projects in advance of actual production, they are developing a plan to give domestic value to their films. It is hard to imagine that any artist will be able to do enough pre-orders to predict 20% of negative costs from the USA — unless they are working on microbudgets — but taking a step forward is still a better plan than surrender to the unknown.

With uncertain economic conditions, shifting revenue streams, and a continued reliance on admittedly outmoded valuation metrics, Hope describes indie finance as being in “an era of risk mitigation.”
Twas ever thus, though, no? Frankly, if 7500 features were actually made in 2010, the vast majority of which will never make back their production cost, much less turn a profit, it sounds like the film financing business could use more risk mitigation, not less. But I’d guess that exponential increase in production volume over the last decade correlates to the drop in digital/HD production costs. It’s just that those losses are distributed across many more microbudget filmmakers’ uncles than ever before.
Hope hasn’t gotten to the profit part yet, but I expect it has something to do with microbudgets, non-theatrical distribution, and filmmaker audience/community-building. And that the answer has something to do with scrappy, groupie-friendly directors like Ed Burns and Kevin Smith. Stay tuned.
Part 3: The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Domestic Value & Funding [hopeforfilm.com]

Slow Cinema vs. Art Cinema

On the occasion of Apichatpong Weerasethakul [1] winning the Palme d’Or, Frieze‘s Dan Fox has a incisive recap of the debate over Slow Cinema that erupted after Nick James’ Sight and Sound recent op-ed calling the genre out as a passive-aggressive dare to the audience to admit they’re bored.
The row among film critics and festivalgoers is as annoyingly insidery and lingo-obsessed as any art world argument. [Fox is careful to give equal time to competing terminologies. One blogger critic, Harry Tuttle, thinks Slow Cinema is pejorative, and proffers Contemporary Contemplative Cinema instead, which seems arbitrary. Might as well call it Minimalist Meditative Movies.]
Fox’s dead-on point is how insulated and blind these two systems of production and distribution–theater/festival/DVD vs gallery/installation/edition–are from each other. And this, despite the remarkable confluence of interests, strategies, and styles among filmmakers and artists on both sides of the divide:

Much as I admire Tuttle’s spirited engagement with his favoured genre of contemporary cinema, nowhere on his timeline of CCC/Slow Cinema is there anything that represents, for instance, the achievements of Structural cinema. This is curious, for if ‘plotlessness’, ‘wordlessness’, ‘slowness’ and ‘alienation’ are what he is trying to chronicle, where are Andy Warhol’s Empire, from 1964, or Michael Snow’s 1967 film Wavelength for example? Nor is there any acknowledgement of how these multiple strands of experimental cinema history have fed into the work of artists today.

Artists such as Tacita Dean, Sharon Lockhart, and Matthew Barney, for example. [On the other side of the fence, I’m not sure why no one seems to have mentioned my own personal favorite Slow Cineman, Gus Van Sant, who emptied Sundance theaters with Gerry and whose lingering, looming Elephant also won at Cannes.]
Barney has broken theatrical and festival ground with his Cremaster Cycle, of course. But I think Frieze, which has commissioned projects from Weerasethakul, has high hopes for him as a candidate for bringing the worlds of these two film traditions together. We’ll see.
Slow, Fast and Inbetween [frieze]
[1] yes, he’s in the art world pronunciation guide.

Roel Wouters’ Shiny Silver Balls

Suddenly silver mirrored balls are everywhere.
Music video and filmmaker Roel Wouters created the trailer for last year’s International Film Festival Breda:

A silver sphere on an endless checkerboard floor is the default for many 3D modeling applications. It can be seen as an icon for a sterile, makeable world. Reality though, is dirty and unpredictable. By recreating this icon in reality the beauty and imperfection of real life gets emphasized.
The recording was the result of 3 people controlling different parts of the installation, Roel controlled the speed of the balls, Benoit (Eurogrip) controlled the speed of the dolly and Sal focussed and zoomed the camera. It turned out to be a play were the 3 of us playing harmoniously together.

It’s awesome. Coincidentally–actually, several coincidentallies–a selection of Wouters’ work was screened just today in Den Haag, organized by a cinema club called Cinetoko. Cinetoko is a collaborative effort between Motoko, a motion and video design studio, and <>TAG, an art/tech/culture catalyst of some kind. It happens at the Zeebelt Theater, which is safely to the west of any Google Map camo or StreetView complications. [via manystuff thanks andy]

Putting The Fun In Fundraising–With Facebook!

Hah, Michael Govan’s kickback public engagement in LACMA’s decision to suspend its film program surprised me, but not as much as seeing the museum basically organizing its own netroots opposition.
Now, barely ten days into the LACMA Film Program Deathwatch, The LA Times hears from a vacationing Govan that “potential donors have stepped up, interested in helping underwrite the series.” the whole crisis starts to feel like a manufactured fundraising stunt.
The Times has all the pieces of the story, but can’t seem to put them together.
Govan had the film program on a three-year sink-or-swim timeline, which runs out now. The museum president said continued funding of the film department has been “an issue” in budget discussions for seven years, which means the board has been interested enough to keep the department around, but that the status quo hasn’t been sexy enough to attract dedicated funding.
By floating the idea of killing–sorry, “suspending”–the program, the museum is able to gauge the public’s interest. On the off chance that no one cared, the tough budget decision would be that much easier to justify. Meanwhile, an outcry–the louder the better–would bring attention to the program, and would transform a mundane $5 million ask for operating funds into an exciting chance to save and expand a vital, beloved film program. The naming rights of which can be had for–how much would you like, Michael? “I’d love to see $10 million.”
LACMA’s Govan says donors step forward for film program [latimes]
Previously: On LACMA killing its film program to save it


Open news conference at the Cannes Film Festival are such absurdist theatrical frenzy, I half wonder if movie publicists didn’t cook them up as a job security measure. The event serves up celebrities for an intense, dadaist interrogation by the world’s most randomest journalists, whose competitive, provocative questions are designed to elicit a controversial or “newsworthy” [sic] non-scripted quote, something they can use.
In a more rational world they wouldn’t be chopped up into meaningless squibs of quotes in the Hindustani Times; they would be televised in their entirety on a C-SPAN of the entertainment business, celebrity reality–no, celebrity verite–television.
The one or two quotes I’ve seen from the Oceans Thirteen conference, for example, are easily as entertaining as the post-scrum junket sitdown Time’s Josh Tyrangiel got with Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and Barkin. Freed from artistic pretense, seriousness, or faux populism, these people sound like what they are: giddy, privileged multi-millionaires who decide to have a good time while doing the more tedious or repetitive parts of their jobs.
That said, what jumps out at me in the Time interview is what’s apparently unsaid. Read the whole thing, but check out these parentheticals and tell me why they had to be there:

Are you worried Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney are going to start a pogrom?
BARKIN: I worry that every time I go to my hotel room, there are going to be areas that are cordoned off from me.
PITT: What’s a pogrom?
It’s an anti-Jewish riot. Pretty common in 19th century Eastern Europe.
CLOONEY: [Jokingly] You guys got a long memory. Jeez.

And what went under this one? “Whatsername”? “The Old Ball & Chain”? “Her”?

As we’re talking, there are paparazzi in boats out in the harbor taking pictures. Having just been through the celebrity muck of Cannes, who gets it the worst?
CLOONEY: There’s no question, it’s Brad.
PITT: Well, exponentially, with us together …
CLOONEY: But even before he was with [Angelina Jolie], we used to chum the water with him.
PITT: This is not a joke. They used to send me out to take the hits.

Lucky Stars [time via kottke]
[not disclosed anywhere because the company’s called Time Warner, I guess?: Time and its partner CNN and People and Oceans Thirteen‘s producer/distributor, Warner Brothers, are all the same company.]

Super Columbine Massacre NYT!

The constroversy over Peter Baxter’s decision to pull Super Columbine Massacre RPG! from Slamdance’s Guerilla Gamemakers Festival hit the New York Times this weekend, and Baxter has yet another explanation for his actions.
This time, it’s not complaints by a sponsor, hypothetical complaints by a sponsor, or even his own personal distaste for the game. It was, as he explains to Heather Chaplin,

because of outraged phone calls and e-mail messages he’d been receiving from Utah residents and family members associated with the Columbine shooting. He was also acting on the advice of lawyers who warned him of the threat of civil suits if he showed the game.

Chaplin writes of SCMRPG!’s “champions” and “detractors,” which I think misses a major point. In the glare of attention and the fallout surrounding the game, and certainly around the decision to pull it. It’s pure media Heisenberg: as events unfolded and garnered more attention, everyone–Baxter, Danny Ledonne, the game’s creator, other designers who pulled their games in protest, and observer/critics–adjusted their own positions and justifications for their moral stances in light of what new had transpired.
Greg Costikyan posted a reader’s refutation of his legitimating defense/review of the game which is at once perceptive [and not just for using the twee critspeak, “games qua anything”] and entirely beside the point. Whatever Ledonne’s ex post facto interpretations of his game, the argument goes, his earliest discussions of it were not ironic metacommentary; they were the rantings of a dumbass who was wallowing in the Columbine killers’ actions. The game isn’t a self-consciously retro exploration of society, but an amateurish hack by a guy who didn’t know how to change the default settings on his RPG gamemaking software.
Conclusion: SCMRPG! sucks as a game and should never have been juried into the competition in the first place. Which sounds true, but irrelevant to this situation.
Sundance’s jury let in an exploitative, sensationalistic, controversy-seeking POS starring Dakota Fanning this year, but you didn’t see Redford pulling rank and yanking the film. It just got the critical drubbing it deserved and will presumably slip into oblivion as it should.
Instead, the fact that a POS like SCMRPG! got into the competition at all should spur debate over the critical standards for judging games, which seem poorly thought through at best. Get a smarter jury, one which isn’t just interested in flamethrowing qua flamethrowing by introducing a crap game to the competition.
But the combination of as-yet unformed critical consensus about what makes a “good” game or a game “good,” combined with Baxter/Slamdance’s knuckleheaded, ass-covering conservatism only strengthens the case that games need a new, different venue of their own. Whether it’s a festival, a competition, whatever, is up to the gameworld to decide.
As for SCMRPG!, I’m still inclined to cut Ladonne some slack. If Trey Parker and Matt Stone had turned tail after their musical Cannibal! was rejected from Sundance, there may never have been a South Park. And there may never have been a Slamdance, for that matter.
Artists are not always clear or conscious of what goes into their work, and they’re certainly not in control of the response it engenders when it gets into the world. Whatever the merit (or lack thereof) in SCMRPG!, it still resonates because of its uncanny similarity to a scene in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. The two killers-to-be are loafing around a basement bedroom. One plays the piano [fur Elise] and one plays an RPG on a laptop. It was an effortless kill’em game set in an empty desert.
The targets were dressed like the characters from Van Sant’s Gerry. After expressing surprise that anyone had noticed, the producer of Elephant, Dany Wolf, told me that they had to create their own game [using the Doom engine], because they couldn’t find a company who’d allow their video game to be used in the film.
Video Game Tests The Limits. The Limits Win. [nyt]