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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • October 21, 2002

    Pseudonyms

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    taxidriver_still.jpg

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    They should have sent a poet.
    -Ellie Arroway

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

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

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

    felix_bed.jpg

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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    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.

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