A close reading of VH1's hilariously detailed countersuit [at The Smoking Gun, naturally] against David Gest and Liza Minnelli for sabotaging production of their "reality" show with (mostly his) obstructionist diva behavior yields an obvious, all-too-NYC explanation: Gest simply doesn't know how to deal with a co-op board.

Liza and David, image: thesmokinggun.com Sure, Gest's demands that VH1 put up his LA stylist in a nearby apartment for the scheduled duration of the shoot (6 months: $60K), that a VH1 staffer "stick her head inside the oven" to see if it's clean enough to shoot, and his refusals to appear when "he wasn't looking his personal best" get the media attention. But all VH1's real dealbreakers--the hours- and days-long delays getting into the couple's apartment; abruptly imposed shooting limits (from 30 shooting days per 10 episode cycle to 10 days per year [italics in original]); and constraints on their crew (restricted numbers, limited drilling/installation of equipment, etc.) can be traced back to the co-op board. Or more specifically, to Gest's failure to get the co-op board on board before signing the deal with VH1. How is this possible?

Co-op boards wield a lot of power over many New Yorkers' lives, most notably when they bare their lives (and financial statements) to be approved to buy an apartment. But boards also regulate a lot of how and what we do "in our own homes." Under the grandfathering clause, the dowager on the third floor is the only one allowed a dog. Construction work--even drilling a hole--can only be done in the summer, when the neighbors are in the Hamptons. Remodelling taking longer than five months? No problem, the $2,000/day fine meter is running. The oven thing sounds like pure Gest, but David's demand that a VH1 gaffer installing lighting vacuum the dust up immediately sounds like ducking a "no construction" clause.

Joan Crawford, image: reelclassics.com Kay Thompson, image: eloisewebsite.com Lizzie Grubman mug shot
Is this another example of "show business people" running afoul of co-ops? Maybe, if Liza's building was a serious co-op, on Fifth, Park, or CPW. But apparently, the only pre-req the Imperial House--on 69th between Lex and Third (Third!)--has for celebrity residents is bizarrely crafted eyebrows. Joan Crawford lived (and died). Kay Thompson lived there, with Liza. And before she took that, um, sublet in Riverhead, Lizzie Grubman lived there during her starter marriage.

A Google search of the building's address doesn't turn up any co-op board horror stories. But what it does turn up makes one wonder if David Gest had a reason to think video shoots in the building would be okay. According to the last search result on this Google page, an outfit called Regular J o e V i d e o also operated out of 150 E 69th (Sorry about the spaces; you'll have to Google it for yourself. Not the the kind of site traffic I'm after, thanks). A quick visit to RJV's (not work-friendly) site offers a distinctive genre of "reality" programming (I believe the industry term is "amateur"), one which involves digital video, the delivery guy, and the guest room. (No pun intended, I swear. These people'll sue anything that moves.)

Did Gest, who moved into Liza's apartment with his collection of Judy Garland memorabilia, get some neighborly advice that, "Hey, shooting video's no problem; I do it all the time. Wanna see?" Who knows? One thing is clear: A co-op board's power doesn't extend to pre-nuptial veto. for better or worse (and it's certainly debatable at this point), when Liza decided to marry again, her fiance didn't face a grueling co-op interview. But once he moved in and fell under their purview, the co-op board made it very clear who was wearing the pants in the Gest/Minnelli house.

NYPost cover, 2/10/03, slamming France for forgetting US image: nypost.com
In the cover story of today's Post, columnist and decorated war veteran Steve Dunleavy visits a military cemetery in France and proceeds to excoriate the French for "forgetting the sacrifice we (the US)" made in WWII. Never mind that he doesn't talk to a single French person in his journey, he does quote some Americans there, who say, unfortunately for Dunleavy, "surely they remember."

Although Souvenir (November 2001) is about a search for a WWI memorial, and although the French people in the film can't give directions to the British monument, they absolutely have not forgotten WWI, much less WWII. What does seem to be forgotten, though, is the goodwill and sympathy the world extended to Americans during the period in which Souvenir is set, the goodwill that has been squandered.

Dunleavy quotes an American student giving the simplistic advice that has served backpackers well for years: "We have been told that if we face any kind of a threat, we should say we're Canadians, not Americans." That's the fifth time in a week I've seen this tactic mentioned in the media. That's something worth writing home about.

February 7, 2003

Bill & Nada's Cafe

Bill & Nadas Cafe Meal Ticket, from SLC

Bill & Nada's Cafe was where I had my first script idea. It's not that the Salt Lake dance clubs were cooler than the ones in Provo, there were no dance clubs in Provo. (Don't talk to me about The Palace; that was like a church dance in Orange County). So we'd drive to Salt Lake to go out. Finding a designated driver was never a problem (think about it). Then after the clubs closed, we'd go to Bill & Nada's. Much cooler than Denny's. And full of characters, whether at 3AM or 8AM or lunchtime. Clubbies trying to be bad, punks, mothers with home-dyed hair, Willy Lomans, and always a few grizzled friends of Bill at the counter, truckers, probably. Or prospectors.

It was the time warp kind of diner that hadn't changed since the early sixties. Ancient country music on the jukeboxes (one on each table. There'd always be some jerk who'd order up Patsy Cline's Crazy ten times, just as he was getting his check. Damn college kids.) The most famous dish was eggs & brains, but I'd always get pancakes ("Breakfast served all day"), which were orange (fertilized eggs, they'd say) and tapioca pudding. Or a patty melt. Every hour, the head waitress'd saunter over and spin the wheel. If your seat number hit, your order was free (there are little stick-on numbers at each spot, it turns out). There's a vintage Field & Stream-like mural of a mountain lake on one wall, and a portrait of Bill, in full metal jacket and chaps, on his show horse. Just like in the Pioneer Day parade, every July.

There were stories, told on the way home, about why the pictures of Bill & Nada are so old, too. "Go ask where she is," some smart ass'd say, but no one ever did. Uncovering the urban legend we were sure lurked behind Bill & Nada's was to be my first documentary, I decided; So many characters! And so quirky! (I was running the International Cinema program at BYU my senior year.) Half-assed research and writing efforts in the following years yielded one problematic result: there was no mystery, nothing lurking behind anything at Bill & Nada's. What do you do when the reality turns out to be far less sensational than what you'd built it up to be in your mind? In my case, you go to business school, I guess.

I found this meal ticket from Bill & Nada's today while sorting through some tax receipts. I bought it for the clean design. Despite the slogan, Bill & Nada's closed at the end of 1999. On their last night in business, I took my DV camera down there and roamed around for a couple of hours, capturing the atmosphere, shooting detail shots, so I could recreate it on a set, when the time came. Looks like longtime patron Bert Singleton did the same thing before they tore the place down last January.

  • It is still feasible to have hope that the US won't start a war.
  • A major threat, one that goes unacknowledged by the US administration, arises from the global precedent set by a US "pre-emptive" war. [cue: North Korean claim of "right to pre-emptive strike"]
  • Met with one of the key players in the real-life international crime story which forms the basis of the Animated Musical script. We talked about it a bit; gonna talk about it a bit more.
  • Bill Clinton only drinks Diet Coke from a can, BYODC.
  • Admittedly, I do that on Amtrak and United, but because they're Pepsi-zone, not because the Secret Service tells me to.

  • Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages, Manzanar internment camp, photo by Ansel Adams image: loc.gov

    Richard Kobayashi, farmer and cabbages, Manzanar Internment Camp
    photo by Ansel Adams image: loc.gov

    In 1990, just out of school, I was transfixed by a copy of Ansel Adam's self-published book, Born Free And Equal, at a big antiques show. At $200, it was the most expensive book I'd ever wanted, and I choked. Almost five years of searching later, it was the first thing I bought online, from a collector on a photography newsgroup. [Of course, now you can almost always find a copy on Abebooks.] Adams' combined his photographs--signature landscapes, portraits and documentary shots--of the Japanese American internment camp in Manzanar, CA with his scathing text to condemn the US government's (all three branches) stripping of US citizens' and residents' civil rights.

    Published in 1944, Adams' book was poorly received, no surprise. Many copies were reportedly burned, and today, it is an exceedingly rare, little known work by a very famous photographer. Since the 1960's, the Manzanar collection has been at the Library of Congress. Tell Jack Valenti when you want to see his neck twitch: Adams put these pictures into the public domain, to assure their survival. View all 244 images here.

    Manzanar landscape with barbed wire fence, by Ansel Adams image: loc.gov

    Manzanar landscape with barbed wire fence
    photo by Ansel Adams, image: loc.gov

    Why do I post this now? Well, I have contemplated ideas for a film based in the camps. And a John Ashcroft deputy has suggested such camps for Arab Americans would not be illegal. But now, a Congressman from North Carolina (home state, thanks), the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Security, has defended the camps, proclaiming them "appropriate" and "for their [the Japanese'] own safety." Two branches down, one to go.

    February 5, 2003

    Powell: Pointed Presentation

    Pablo Picasso's Guernica; a tapestry version greets the UN Security Council.  Except when the subject is Iraq. image: pbs.org
    Guernica, Pablo Picasso's painting of the horrors of war

    At the UN today, Colin Powell's PowerPoint deck is expected to pull back the curtain, not on the alleged threat Iraq poses, but on Iraq's defiance of various Security Council resolutions. One thing you won't see, however: the tapestry version of Picasso's Guernica, which hangs at the entrance to the Security Council's chamber. A gift of Nelson Rockefeller (who also donated the land for the UN headquarters), the paintings iconic protest imagery says "Abandon war all ye who enter here" to UN participants. According to the Washington Times, when Iraq is being discussed, Guernica is covered by a UN-blue curtain and clusters of flags. [Thanks to BoingBoing, who reads the WT for me. The NYTimes has a brief report, too. For pinkos.]

    Not Afraid of Love, Maurizio Cattelan, image: artnet.com Not Afraid of Love, 2000, Maurizio Cattelan, image: artnet.com

    Of course, simply throwing a sheet over it doesn't make it go away; the message can still come through loud and clear. Picasso captured public outrage at the beta-test of the Nazi's then-new concept, aerial bombing, which destroyed a Basque village in a three-hour rain of terror. From that v0.9, we've moved to "shock and awe," the Windows XP of aerial bombing tactics, which, according to Pentagon leaks, would shower 3,000+ missiles on Iraq in the first 48 hours of war. The elephant is still in the room, no matter what it's covered with.

    As it turns out, UN spokesmen in both Times reports say they're covering Guernica, for logistical, not political reasons, no. According to the WT, when Colin Powell faces the throng of cameras outside the chamber, it appears there's a horse's ass behind him when he talks.

    [update: If you wonder why your day went badly, check and see if you wrote the same thing as Maureen Dowd. If she didn't include references to Maurizio Cattelan, there's still hope for your night. (via Travelers Diagram)]

    February 5, 2003

    On WTC Site Designs

    What I hope doesn't carry through from the plans the LMDC selected from Daniel Libeskind and THINK Team:

  • Needlessly symbolic height (1,776 feet) Why not two 911' high towers? Duh, because.
  • Single high-profile elements that completely draw attention away from the plan and architecture of the rest of the site.

    What I hope does carry through:

  • "The Bathtub" as part of the memorial (Read Edith Iglauer's 1972 New Yorker article about its construction, as discussed here.)
  • Paul Goldberger's called-for "Eiffel Tower for the 21st Century" (as discussed here.)
  • Memorials related/sited to the points of impact, an element of THINK's World Cultural Center which (New Republic architecture critic) Martin Filler attributes to Shigeru Ban.

    What Filler calls such a concept, which I personally favor: "unquestionably the most provocative." [I think he's talking about the latticework as Ban's, not the memorial. I like both.]

    Despite a lot of overwrought reaction, Filler wins the greg.org "smartest critic" award for agreeing with me on so many points: this memorial idea, the 1,776' tower, and (finally!) the Eisenman-as-ruin-as-memorial-instigator analysis.

  • when someone sneezes during the movie, six people-- from around the theater, as if in THX Surround Sound--say, not "SHHH!" but "bless you."
  • when you ask to see the manager about the sound that, annoyingly, kept shorting out, he thanks you, chuckles, and walks off, thinking you were trying to make a helpful suggestion, not complaining and expecting apologies and/or restitution.

  • Carson Daly's voice will be selling you things FOREVER Carson Headroom, image:ap/nytimes.com

    The Axis of Radio Evil, Clear Channel, has assembled a Carson Daly database of sound clips, phrases, jokes and gossip, from which they construct city-customized versions of "Carson's" top-10 radio show. Put down the vacuum cleaner, Mr. Astaire, and come out with your hands up.
    Read David Gallagher's fascinating/creepy article in the NYTimes.

    February 3, 2003

    CNN Reports The Hard Stories

    Heard on CNN this afternoon at 2:45:

    "[Newly charged murderer Phil] Spector's house is a PyrČnČes castle. But it's in L.A., so it's a faux-PyrČnČes castle."
    -- Anderson Cooper, CNN anchor/Vanderbilt, callin' it like it is

    "[Space Shuttle contractor] Alliant's stock sank like a rocket in early trading."
    -- Fred Katayama, CNN finance reporter talking about the impact

    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

    recent projects, &c.

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

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

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

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

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

    TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

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

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

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

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

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

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