January 24, 2003

Old Europe

Bill Mauldin Cartoon, image: pstripes.com
"Them buttons wuz shot off when I took this town, sir." (image: pstripes.com)

GI cartoonist Bill Mauldin dies the day Donald Rumsfeld apologizes for setting the value of drafted soldiers at zero ("no value, no advantage, really").

Then, Rumsfeld zeroes out "Old Europe," (i.e., France, Germany, the 75% of the population which doesn't want war), which sets off a firestorm of criticism.

When I began Souvenir November 2001 a year ago, it was an attempt to underline a feeling of unity--of empathetic understanding, painfully-earned through suffering, destruction, sacrifice--that I sensed was on the wane even then. By making a movie of a New Yorker visiting a battlefield in France, seeking to learn from a war in which one in ten British men were killed (draftees, except for all the volunteers); where French, British and German soldiers died in horrific numbers, for no justifiable strategic or military purpose; where freshly dedicated WWI memorials served as shelter and vantage points in WWII assaults; where the psychological weight of the violence can still be felt, eighty years later; I imagined it could somehow be a sign, a marker, something even slightly useful for recovering and progressing from the September 11th attacks. As the chasm between the US and the civilized world widens, though, I sometimes feel like a naive, idealistic idiot.

Then I read, of all people, Brian Eno's comments in Time, and figure I'm not entirely alone in seeing a better way: "There's a better form of security: reconnect with the rest of the world, don't shut it out; stop making enemies and start making friends. Perhaps it's asking a lot to expect America to act differently from all the other empires in history, but wasn't that the original idea?"

Hugh and Tina at the Golden Globes. image: eonline.comThe truth is, she never loved you. Not if you're a suck-up columnist for a foreign paper, that is. Tina Brown writes from her glass house, The Times of, um, London, En-ge-land (still a foreign country, but just barely): "One small perk of my new existence, for instance, is not having to go to Hollywood for the Golden Globe Awards...Waiting for valet parking to surface, you...stand in line with the stars of a thousand TV sitcoms you have never watched and wait for very small talents to climb into very big cars."

Bonus pick-up line (from Hugh Grant): " 'I donít know about you,' Hugh Grant commented to me one year, 'but underneath this tux I am sweating like a wolf.'"

One small perk of my existence: reading TB at The Times, cuz Salon now makes you watch Mercedes ads. photo: eonline.com

Act I: Setup

  • Chicago is being called "an attempt to revive the movie musical," a genre which has been woefully ignored by Hollywood since Moulin Rouge and South Park.
  • It apparently won a bunch of awards at the Golden Globes last week, and now lemming journalists are herding it to the cliff of Oscar plausibility.
  • Despite a general trepidation/disapproval of the genre (See exceptions here), I'm writing an Animated Musical.

    Act II: Action
    I went to see Chicago last night at the Ziegfeld (now a Pepsi theater, so no small sacrifice)

    Act III: Resolution
    IT SUCKED. Catherine Zeta-Jones' (aka, my phone pimp) was alive, and Queen Latifah had one good song (ok, great). But the film was emotionally and narrative...ly? flat. Feeling nothing, not caring what happens to any character, and not getting any sense at all from the film of where we were in the story, I almost left several times.

    Embarassingly, it was media hype of Richard Gere's earnestly-studied tapdancing that kept me there, until I realized I may have already missed it (I hadn't, and it wasn't worth it). After the surprising turns by Ewan MacGregor, Nicole Kidman and Jim Broadbent in Moulin Rouge, the bar has been raised; "Wow! [Insert unlikely star name here] is singing!" just isn't enough anymore. [Of course, Woody Allen proved it wasn't enough before, either.]

    Lastly, the editing. If Moulin Rouge's occasional 100-120 cpm (cuts per minute) were too much for some people, at least they held up as a creative choice. Some of Chicago's musical numbers reached at least 70-80 cpm, but to disjointed, not frenetic effect. A barrage of nearly indecipherable cuts might fit an orgiastic mob dance scene, but rapidfire cuts of two women dancing on stage seems just like a cheap attempt to liven things up (or, more likely, feeble cover for an actress's less-than-sharp dancing).

  • Charlotte Higgins writes about art (theater, mostly) as a "powerful force for peace" during the Vietnam War and wonders if it can happen now:

    We don't know everything about the Iraq situation; in fact, judging from the past, one of the few certainties is that we are being deceived. And yet to amass facts about the past is to find a framework from which to assess the present, and the future. And, now, surely this is what really matters.

    And so does art: I am the last person to doubt the transforming nature of drama, or the power of theatre as protest. But what I want, now, this moment, is not plays, not poems, not mythology, not art - but facts.

    Higgins' hook was "US Revisited," screenings and discussions of Peter Brook's 1966 play, US, which set off a firestorm of debate over British indifference to Vietnam. Another Guardian article quotes Brook:
    To use a play to fight a war is taking a taxi to the Marne...We recognised that no finished, formed work of art about Vietnam existed: we knew you can't go to an author, give him a sum of money and say, 'We order from you, as from a shop, the following masterpiece about Vietnam.' So either one does nothing or one says, 'Let's begin.'
    In his memoirs, Kissinger credits US and similar works for hastening the end of the conflict, which ended just nine years later, in 1975.

    January 23, 2003

    Get Your War Protest On

    Whatever's wrong with San Francisco, you gotta admit: they know how to throw a protest. Check out Tenny Press's gallery of protest signs from last weekend [via MSNBC's Jan Herman, aka The Juice]

    January 23, 2003

    Quick Sundance Notes

    Suzanne Bier's Open Hearts

    From Indiewire.com's excellent Sundance coverage comes the story of the screening of Open Hearts, by Danish director and Dogme groupie Susanne Bier:
    In the middle of this witty, winning Dogme 95-sanctioned melodrama about infidelity and mourning, the Park City projectionist accidentally screened the film in the wrong order: after the mistake was determined, the audience voted passionately to continue watching and piece together the narrative in their heads. One happy viewer was rumored to comment, "It's just like watching Memento." [One hopeful filmmaker was rumored to comment, "Then offer me what you should've paid Chris Nolan, dude."]

    Buffalo on the Montana Plains, Albert Bierstadt
    from the Collection of Ted Turner image:tfaoi.com

    Just two things about emerging filmmaker Richard Linklater's short film, Live from Shiva's Dancefloor, about that megalomaniacal kook from that double-decker tour bus movie: If you want to put buffalo on Ground Zero, check with that far more impressive megalomaniac, Ted Turner; he's got the biggest herd of in the world.

    Buffalo Commons, image: gprc.org

    According to the National Bison Association, you'd probably max out at a rather sparse 2.2 head/acre, or 35 buffalo total, on the 16-acre WTC site. Not quite the inspiring herds we've been promised. Not that returning land to the wild is too far-fetched: the Buffalo Commons concept has been floating around the Great Plains since at least 1987.

    In any case, if you're gonna go there, try Michael Ableman's farm idea, which he floated last month in the NY Times

    Ted Turner bonus quote: "Just because you don't hear him doesn't mean he isn't screaming," says author Richard Hack.

    Anne Truitt, image:danesegallery.com
    Installation view, Anne Truitt, Danese Gallery (image:artnet.com)

    Two shows of evocative new work by unrepentant minimalists are on 57th street at the moment, a moment when a pair of artists over 80 demonstrate the power and relevance of the minimalist mode, as well as the potential benefits of being in it for the long haul.

  • Agnes Martin is showing luminous new paintings at PaceWildenstein, (who doesn't have a freakin' website, hello, 2003).

  • Anne Truitt is showing several square column sculptures which give form and physical presence to color at Danese Gallery. [See installation views on artnet.com.]

  • Richter 858 Cover Also at Slate Joshua Clover writes a clever essay (very or too, depending on if those are exhibition posters or actual paintings on your wall) about Richter 858, a luxuriantly produced ode-- in book form, with specially commissioned poems and a CD (of Richtermusik, I guess) -- to a suite of Gerhard Richter squeegee paintings. Retailing at $125 and co-published by SFMOMA (who have been promised the paintings from an anonymous donor), Richter 858 is a "classic fetish item, beautiful enough that everyone might want it but priced beyond the reach of the great unfunded." And that's not the worst of it.

    Clover reveals that 858's editor, David Breskin, is an SFMOMA Trustee and "almost certainly" the donor of the paintings, facts which--despite a year of SEC reforms and disclosure scandals--go unmentioned in the book. "Whatever a given Richter painting, or a particular poem, might be about, Richter 858 is about checkbooks and culture--that is, it's a book perfect for decadent modernism, where the art of consumption has replaced the art of production; it's a book, finally, about collecting, that individualist art overseen by the twin muses 'Dollars' and 'Indulge.'"

    "Dollar": Last time I checked, what a Richter painting's about, is $400,000 - 1 million, depending on the size and the date. A suite of eight, then, is about, well, you do the math. By making the paintings a "fractional and promised gift" to the museum, our benefactor (let's call him "DB") gives a percentage of the title each year for a fixed term ( ex. 10%/year, 10 years), until they belong 100% to the museum. Why do this, O Muse?. "DB" spreads a large tax deduction out over several years, which is useful if his gifts exceed 30% of his adjusted gross income. "Indulge": "DB" is able to keep the art for a period of time each year in proportion to his percentage ownership.

    But there's another muse's fingerprints on this one. 858's not a catalog, it's an experience Compared to the essay- and information-packed Richter exhibition catalog written by "The Brain," (aka, former MoMA curator Robert Storr), Richter 858's multimedia melange is a work of the Heart.

    "Heart": SFMOMA says Breskin was "compelled by these works" to create this book. Talking about the project and his interactions with Richter, Breskin's giddiness ("As a sequence, these hung together and swung in a musical sense," "I wanted to create an alternative way of engaging with pictures.") sounds less like a trustee and more like a groupie.

    Trust me, that's what some of the most passionate collectors are, art groupies. Going to concerts (openings), getting backstage (in the studio), obsessing over some lyric (work) and asking arcane questions that betray how powerfully a it inhabits your mind. Groupie? Check out Breskin's 2-day interview with the Richter of 1987 rock-n-roll, Bono, for Rolling Stone. Breskin seems like the kind of guy--indulgent, clearly, but in a necessary way--who's trying to live an art-centered life, not just an "art-owning" one. And by placing the Richters at SFMOMA, "DB" seems like the kind of donor who believes that indulgent art experience should always be available to the public (but who agonizes over letting the paintings go too soon).

    And besides, 858's 30% off at Amazon. A serious collector looks for a discount.

    to Greggy from the blog.

    January 21, 2003

    Now Go Vote For This One

    Lots of Robots, directed by Andy Murdock

    This beautiful, entertaining Sundace Online entry, Lots of Robots is, amazingly, the product of one guy, animator Andy Murdock. Read about it at Wired. I love it, and not just because he has a website all about the making-of. Murdock's comments on the still above:
    This is the first shot I created fof LOR. I had just purchased my new machine for home and I wanted to take it for a spin. I looked out window into the garden and saw a humming bird. How saccharine is that? But who needs to see another cg humming bird, I'm not about to compete with Mother Nature in the beauty department, so let's make a robot humming bird and a whole story to go along with it. What else am gonna do anywayÖ watch TV?

    I find this to be the most enjoyable way to make art. You have no idea of what to do, but you start anyway. You put something down on the canvas to break the silence and just start reacting to what you see. Once you have a few critters walking around scratching their butts, you ask yourself, "What is that, and what's it doing there, where did it come from?" Now you have the beginnings of a story. Too many Hollywood stories come out of the "Formula." Want success, just change the names and fill in the blanks. I don't really want to know how this story will end until I get there. That way I get to enjoy it's flow along with everyone else. This is not the easy way, I know, but it's the way I like it. So thereÖonward.

    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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