Dateline, Malibu: Directin' ain't easy, even for Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Traffic, a man who has Steven Soderbergh on his Buddy List (and IM's him for advice on "Super-35 blown up to anamorphic" or not). He writes about his unblinking-but-not-too-pity-inducing directorial debut in the NYTimes. Gaghan also tells a good story (ahem, surprised? He's an O-winning screenwriter.) on the Criterion DVD for Traffic.
September 8, 2002
September 8, 2002
And speaking of composite films by collections of directors, MemeFeeder is a collaborative online movie I am participating in. Based somewhere in the aether (the use of the phrase "first in best dressed" makes me think at least one Australian is involved), MemeFeeder has invited ten directors (and other contributors) to each create a one-minute silent film based on a scene from the storyboard they've provided. The ten completed minutes will be runtogethertomake a ten-minute short, which will screen online in mid-October. Let me know if you're interested in participating on the film/scene.
September 8, 2002
Of course, I don't mean the whole world; just all New Yorkers. The terrorists' message would have gotten an auto-reply saying, "Sorry, you missed us. We're all in Toronto, eh?" Alas, it was not to be.
This year, however, everyone DOES seem to be in Toronto. And they're all making short films dealing with September 11th. Just look at the list of directors participating in 11'09"01, a collection of 11 shorts put together by a French director, Alain Brigand: Ken Loach, Claude Lelouch, Danis Tanovic, Sean Penn, Amos GitaÔ, Shohei Imamura, Samira Makhmalbaf, Youssef Chahine, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Mira Nair, and Alejandro Gonz·lez IŇ·rritu.
Each film is 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 frame long, as if the date were a timecode. Check this description of Sean Penn's short in a Guardian (UK) review from Venice:
Some avoid the politics completely. Sean Penn's beautiful and moving short film shows the ordinary early morning of an elderly New York widower. He shaves, he dresses, he talks constantly to his dead wife, tells her the apartment is just too dark. When he wakes up from a mid-morning nap, the room is flooded with sunlight and the dead flowers on the windowsill are blooming: the towers that had blocked out their light have crumbled to nothing.
The loft where we shot the New York scenes of Souvenir November 2001 was actually such a place (minus Ernest Borgnine, of course). The friends who let us shoot there had to cover their 14' high windows with butcher paper; with the World Trade Center gone, sunlight poured in from the suddenly empty southern view and threatened to damage their art. The films screen in Toronto on Sept. 11 and 12. Since originally writing this entry, an excellent article showed up in the NYTimes.
September 7, 2002
Walking along 23rd to the Chelsea Gallery Ghetto, I saw a helicopter, stationary, hovering straight ahead, over...it could have been shooting something downtown. A wreck on the West Side Highway? Another helicopter passed by, a totally unremarkable occurrence, except that it wasn't now. I walked on, forcing doomsday thoughts out of my head, resisting/refusing to become the kind of media consumer/junkie it's so banally easy to scorn. Anyway, when I got to the gallery, Andrea was on the sidewalk in front, looking up approvingly. The helicopter had been hired for the opening, to do just what it did to me. The show inside has some easily overlooked but similar elements. It rocks, classic Julia-style.
Speaking earlier in the week about collaborating with his mother, Robert said that she just loved the attention. With this in mind, I felt an odd sense of wanting to be polite and look at her, for her sake. I felt it even more in the moments when no one in the crowded opening was looking her way; ignoring her is rude and mean, so I'll look, make eye contact, so she doesn't feel bad. Of course, looking made me feel wrong and dirty and antsy/uncomfortable. These contradictory feelings continued all night.
It's that time of year, I guess. In Slate, Robert Pinsky has a "Guided Anthology" of poetry. The three works he highlights are all worthwhile examples, but Carlos Drummond de Andrade's "Souvenir of the Ancient World" resonated beyond just the title. I had re-read the entries from exactly a year ago, which seemed to resonate.
September 7, 2002
Herbert Muschamp "curated" a re-imagining of downtown Manhattan, a process where some of the world's best-known architects (and a few up-and-comers) collaborated on and thrashed out an overall plan, then divvied up the resulting projects. From the cursory scan I've done, the result it energetic, a breath of fresh air, an unequivocal rebuke to any and all of the "thinking" that's gone into the official process so far, and, in some cases, inspiring. (To be fair, a couple of the broadest strokes--the West Street Promenade, for example--were identified and retained from the LMDC/Port Authority/Australian Mall Developer's abortive attempts in July.)
Another question that has "already been settled," at least in the media's version of the "New York Street," is the preservation/reconstitution of the WTC footprints as open space. While I'm not necessarily gung-ho for building
Anyway, what I'd really meant to say was that one rather significant and almost radical element of the NYTimes' project is a delay of the memorial decision process, at least as it is currently perceived by the New York Street. I think this is bold, but right. According to an architect friend who is involved in the revamped LMDC planning process, public meetings frequently devolve into "kookville," where every cockamamie red-white-and-blue-flag-shaped-TRIPLET-towers-this-time scheme is entertained/endured ad nauseum.
Even going by the title, reimagining takes a lot of the pressure for getting the memorial right off of the entire project. It solves almost all the problems of the holy footprints and most of the rest of Ground Zero and focuses the memorial question there (while calling for a "vigorous public debate" on what to do), thereby allowing all of downtown to heal, to grow, even to thrive. Given the reputed arrogance of rock star architects like those in the project, it's fascinating, though, that not one wanted to touch the idea of a memorial, even to venture a sketch. Only Maya Lin was finally pressed, pressed into throwing out a few of the roughest ideas. Such is the suasive power of the New York Street, I guess.
September 5, 2002
An OFFICEWORKER wearing a beige dress and a thin, cream-colored cardigan talks on a phone while she gingerly picks up yogurt and carrot sticks. A MAN with bedhead and cutoff khaki shorts stands nearby, contemplating how many Diet Cokes to buy.
OFFICEWORKER (on phone)
...On top of that, a woman quit yesterday.
No, one you want to stay.
No, she told them yesterday, you know, gave them her two-weeks notice, and they threw a fit. Then she said, 'You know what? Just consider this my last day,' and walked out.
NO! That's how they are. And you know the worst part?
The officeworker moves toward the bagel counter, and the man decides to see how the bananas are and moves absentmindedly-looking in the same direction.
I think I'm becoming one of them.
September 4, 2002
Kurt Andersen and Andrew Sullivan are writing about weblogs this week on Slate. While leaving most of the smoke/fire debate to others more expert than I, I'll say that based on their presence and comments, if blogging were the web, it's now 1997. What caught my eye was this quote from Andersen, who I've taken issue with before, on the subject of Documenta, but who I've admired for years (except at NYMag. Off topic.):
Lately, however, thinking about blogs, I have entertained a retrospective fantasy about a kind of endowed blog model that would have been interesting to try with Inside.com: If we had put the capital we raised into Treasury bills, we'd have had $1.5 million a year in income, with which we could've employed and published our best dozen reporter-commentators forever.
KA's not alone in this notion of "retrospective fantasy," especially as it relates to the flood of capital and (ultimately ephemeral) wealth of the recent past. How often does he re-spend the money Inside.com burned through? Recently at drinks, a business school classmate I hadn't seen for a few years talked with assiduous wistfulness about "the day when [his] net worth hit $100 million." Every once in a while, I cash out near the top, or I go ahead with the heavy hedging strategy a lone adviser suggested after the IPO. It's like looking at a mark on a wall, which, even years later, shows how high the water was.
[image: american museum of photography]
September 4, 2002
The guys at Cyan Pictures are back from their location in Kentucky and have some hi-larious and endearing accounts of the shoot. Check it out, and compare it to the folies we had in France during the shooting of Souvenir. Ahh, the memories. Cyan & Co. are editing for the 9/27 Sundance submission deadline. I'll be taking Diet Coke to their editing suite in the middle of the night.
This article has an archetypical Canadian aura, basically about how the hype of (competitors for the admirable Toronto Film Fest) Sundance and Cannes aren't good predictors of success. (not as good as Toronto's audience awards, that is). But Sundance never sounded so bleak as when it's described by Premiere film critic Glenn Kenny. Here he talks about seeing a typical (and unworthy of hype (?)) Sundance film, In the Bedroom:
"The film is long, it's got really great performances, and it's definitely something that is conscientious...You walk out of there and it's dark and it's cold, and you're thinking about how profound the movie is and the fact that you're staying at a [bad] resort, and you think about how lonely you are, and about the human condition, and how you don't have anyone to be in the hot tub with." [emphasis for exaggerated effect]
To be honest, I haven't yet strategized how to play Souvenir with any critics; I'm still trying to finesse the festival selection committees. But now I do know to saunter over to the pale, lonely-looking guy (or the darker, dreadlocked one) in the hot tub and give him the feelgood experience of the festival.
Thanks to Rick McGinnis' Movieblog was the source of the Toronto article. He's quite prolific on the subject of film, cranking out reviews with such volume and quality you'd think he was getting paid for it...
September 2, 2002
This witty, informative page [via Anil Dash] about the miracle of 40-foot shipping containers reminded me of this great piece by Darren Almond in September 2000 at Matthew Marks, a shipping container with a giant digital clock in its side, synched to GMT via GPS. I remember the opening, on the 15th; the container had barely arrived, and the link wasn't working, so time (or the clock, anyway) stood still. And it was swelteringly hot; people would dart into the steamy gallery to check out the piece, then return to the ersatz street party, hoping for the slightest breeze.
The irreverent science fair tone of Cockeyed.com was endearing (a guy named Rob seem to be the main author), and after several long flights (where I cemented my disdain for rolling luggage, especially for kids, where it seems insidious), I blithely clicked on "Carry-on luggage," half expecting to find out who invented the offending suitcase. Instead, I found two lists, with photos: items the author felt should be banned from carry-on luggage, and items he felt should be permitted. He compiled them just two days shy of the anniversary of Darren's opening. Rob's concludes his analysis like this:
In addition to the items I recommend leaving in your checked luggage, I also recommend reacting violently to hijackers. Attack before the second sentence leaves the terrorist's mouth. Do not wait. Do not wait for people to be herded into a corner. Attack. Climb on top of the seats. Do not allow yourself to be penned in. Women and men should attack. Kids should attack.
Your acts may get you killed, in fact the entire aircraft may plummet to the earth, killing everyone on board. This is better than allowing the plane to slip into a madman's hands.
Things have changed.
I... This Artbyte article talks about Almond's show, and his work's allusions to stellar navigation during the voyage from London to New York. Then this sentence grabbed my eye: "Stih and Schnock are known for antimemorials, or nonmonuments, an idea which latches on to the inevitable change of time and context as our most fundamental reality." Wary of grand architectural gestures, Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock proposed a "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" for Berlin where visitors at the Brandenburg Gate climbed onto buses marked Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, thereby recapitulating the first leg of the death camp victims' journey. "The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past; nonmonuments instead create the memorial as process. Rather than distance the viewer, Bus Stop invites participation in that process..." I'll revisit this, obviously.
2009 update: seems that Artbyte's site has disappeared. I'm reproducing the article, "Voyeurschism" by Carly Berwick, from the Mar/Apr 2001 issue, below [via e-Xplo]:
The bus moves slowly east, away from the galleries, cafĂ©s, and shops that have sprung up along the streets of Williamsburg's north side, now a trendy artist and working-class enclave. Ten minutes into the quiet trip--there is no narration--a symphony of groans, clangs, and syncopated twitters, mixed live by two sound artists, issues from the back of the vehicle. The tour meanders past car-part lots, warehouses, and 24-hour delis to its promised land: blocks and blocks of waste-management treatment facilities serving New York City.
For four weekends this winter, the Dencity Bus Tour made its pilgrimages through the city's trash and raw sewage. The ride, says Rene Gabri, one of the three artists who conceived and produced the tour, was meant "to interrogate the format of the tour itself, which relies on verbal information that is often incorrect anyway." His collaborators, Erin McGonigle and Heimo Lattner, produced the live soundtrack, largely made up of samples taken from the industrial area itself.
According to Gabri, the tour evokes what wireless gadgetry promises to provide: "Moving through space, yet having a constant stream of information." But all tours do that, or at least they try. Unique to Dencity is the detachment and illusory sense of privacy encouraged by the atmospheric music and darkness. On the bus that night, one couple made out, another gossiped, while others stared out the windows. Without the unifying element of a tour guide to produce a sense of community, Dencity has hit on, perhaps accidentally, a lonely vision of a supposedly hyperconnected world where each person has electronic access to all varieties of data, anytime, anywhere.
The Dencity bus tour and several other art expeditions have recently been making the metaphor of mobility material. Mobility as lifestyle has become ever more common in the past half-dozen years as portable electronic inventions allow us to roam further, with greater frequency, for both work and play. At the same time, global tourism has taken hold as a major wage-earning sector for some and a regular pastime for others. Nomad-themed art plays with these two dominants of contemporary life: the international, wireless culture of businesspersons, artists, entrepreneurs, and writers shuttling between Los Angeles, London, and Lagos; and the booming tourist culture that at times seems infected with a case of "scopophilia," as Gabri puts itâ€ąpleasure in looking, particularly at others.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Culver City, CA, has also offered a series of on-the-road looks at waste-related scenery. The combination artists' collective/rock-collecting club launched a self-guided tour in 1995 with their project "Suggested Photo Spot." The "picture spot" was invented by Kodak, says CLUI director Matt Coolidge, "in order to put their logo up in national parks." CLUI's minimalist signs suggest tourists stop and notice more than the area's inherent beauty.
The project planted 50 signs across the country, from the Trojan Recreation Area and Nuclear Power Plant in St. Helens, Oregon, to the Kodak Waste Water Treatment Plant in Rochester, New York, where CLUI's sign informs visitors that "Kodak's industrial waste water is treated at this plant in the beautiful Genesee River" and that "local lore has it that film can be developed in this water." The satire offers pointed instructions to look beyond the "beautiful river" into its history within the landscape, both corporate and natural. Like many of CLUI's projects, "Suggested Photo Spot" transcends the limits of representational art to bring viewers to the actual site of confrontation, where myths of business and government neutrality, even beneficence, toward the environment are readily exposed.
Most recently, CLUI contributed to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles' Flight Patterns show, taking museum visitors on a bus two hours inland to their Desert Research Station. The Flight Patterns tours involved an official guide (although visitors could drive to the staffed station on their own), who pointed out land uses of the region, from the freeway to Fontana's steel industry. "We're talking about erosion, flood control, industrial development," says Coolidge. "Heading out into the desert, we try to read the physical vestiges of contemporary history on the landscape." CLUI's bus ride was more didactic than Dencity's, but, says Coolidge, they didn't "spoon feed" people. "It's important to initiate an interpretative process," he says. Additional CLUI tours have been "taken to ridiculous extremes," says Coolidge. "We've taken tours that cover over 500 miles in a day and kind of wear people out. It's kind of an adventure, an odyssey."
The voyeurism of the tourist on these buses, traveling past unglamorous, often desolate areas, can turn self-reflective. As the Dencity bus passes through neighborhoods where nearly as many people live as tons of waste are transferred on a daily basis, "you feel suddenly uninvited," says Erin McGonigle, the sound artist who recorded most of the samples for the electronic mix. "We were cautious about fetishizing the spaces," says Gabri. "There's a lot of power being able to be in this bus. Mobility is a privilege, people pay for it."
Of course, the inverse of the empowered, self-propelled tourist is the refugee, the person involuntarily displaced. Gabri himself is originally from Iran; his family fled the country during the 1979 revolution.
A bus project directly addressing the difference between choosing to move and having to move was proposed by artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock in 1995 for Berlin's Holocaust Memorial Competition. Bus Stop: The Non-Monument engendered controversy even though it was never produced. In the proposal, buses would pull up to the vast, empty space under the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin. There, a waiting hall would offer digitally displayed histories of the destinations, the names of which would also flicker across the buses: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, the death camps of Nazi Germany. A requirement for the competition was the inclusion of the official project name, which was "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." As Schnock has pointed out, placing this phrase on the buses would make it a memorial in perpetual motion. In effect, tourists would replicate the constant state of transit that the Jews endured during the Holocaust, as they either fled the Nazis or were shipped to camps. Although their proposal placed 11th out of 528 in the memorial competition (with Peter Eisenman's "real" monument chosen for construction), it was a public favorite. In 1996, the artists published a 128-page bus timetable that listed the sites that could be reached on current public transportation.
Stih and Schnock are known for antimemorials, or nonmonuments, an idea which latches on to the inevitable change of time and context as our most fundamental reality. Many have argued these structures don't remember events but bury them in myth. Writers and artists in Germany, still sensitive to the memory of Albert Speer and the Nazi fixation with grand gestures, are particularly aware of the loaded meaning colossal monuments can contain. The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past; nonmonuments instead create the memorial as process. Rather than distance the viewer, Bus Stop invites participation in that process which, like the Dencity bus tour or CLUI's ride to the desert, makes travel and the passage of time essential to the art. Tracking the hours, minutes, and seconds in a world where the pace of change seems to compress time itself is the theme of Darren Almond's Mean Time (2000), a shipping container with a digital display continually ticking off Greenwich Mean Time. The artist rode with the container, linked to a Global Tracking Satellite, from London to New York for his show at Matthew Marks Gallery last fall, documenting the journey with photographs, as well as drawings of the night sky. Almond's drawings allude to an older tradition of triangulating distance at sea by observing the sun and stars; after the 18th century, longitude was determined by calculating the time difference relative to Greenwich. Only in the past few years have mariners been able to rely on GPS. While Almond's outsized clock mechanically ticked off the time in England, he was honoring an ancient system of navigation, by taking notations on the sky.
Also journeying to New York City in a freight container was the art collective etoy, best known for the "Toy War" waged when an American online toy store tried to take the European art group's domain name. The etoy.TANK, one of four bright orange containers sent for a spring show at Postmasters Gallery, is "the office, studio, hotel, storage, and webserver at the same time," according to the group's Agent Zai. Members of the group, spread across Switzerland, Germany, and California, reside in these "walk-in webservers" when participating in exhibitions. While the tank provides a physical manifestation of the group's nomadic nature, the website hosts etoy. TIMEZONE, an online Twilight Zone where minutes count 100 UNIX seconds and a midday time embargo halts the clock for an etoy hour. "TIMEZONE," writes the group, "is the solution to the insanity of the continuous physical travelling through international time zones, for time shifts in international markets and to the problem of getting older." Through the eyes of artists like etoy, Dencity, CLUI, and Almond, nomadism today is as much about keeping up with a vision of ourselves and the time we're constantly losing as it once was about tracking basic thingsâ€ąfood, weather, waterâ€ąacross the land.
One need not be a member of etoy, however, to travel with attention to one's creature comforts. With the global traveler in mind, New York's OPENOFFICE and Denmark's cOPENhagenOFFICE / Tanja Jordan created the NorthousEastWest (NhEW). The NhEW is a portable dwelling unit, custom-designed for around $7,000, that makes almost as much sense in crowded Manhattan as on the cold expanses of Greenland, where it got its inspiration from Inuit dwellings. Made of an aluminum frame, wood base, aluminum and plastic paneling, with a sealskin rug optional, the entire house can be packed up quickly into a crate. Inside her NhEW, the mobile citizen is at home in the world, no longer a tourist moving through someone else's garbage-strewn, contaminated community.
September 1, 2002
The Spiral Jetty is back. Although it was submerged when we checked in July, my college senior sister said it was visible from the hill above it when she took a first date out to see it a couple of weeks ago (talk about a litmus test; it's a 3+ hour drive one way, half on rutty dirt paths.) Sure enough, the SL Tribune has an article about it (Thanks, Artforum.) Read Smithson's own comments on making the Jetty here.
Underwater or not, Geocachers have logged Spiral Jetty; it's not surprising, given its off-the-mapquest.com obscurity, limited-but-not-prohibitive access, and non-mainstream nature. Geocaching would suit Smithson fine, I think:
After a point, measurable steps...descend from logic to the "surd state." The rationality of a grid on a map sinks into what it is supposed to define. Logical purity suddenly finds itself in a bog, and welcomes the unexpected event...The flowing mass of rock and earth of the Spiral Jetty could be trapped by a grid of segments, but the segments would exist only in the mind or on paper. Of course, it is also possible to translate the mental spiral into a three-dimensional succession of measured lengths that would involve areas, volumes, masses, moments, pressures, forces, stresses, and strains; but in the Spiral Jetty the surd takes over and leads one into a world that cannot be expressed by number or rationality.
Geocaching examines the gap between the natural and the rational worlds, too, coming at if from the grid side. Spiral Jetty is locatable in grids, of course, including USGS satellite photos and via latitude/longitude coordinates, translated from GPS orbital data. But for geocachers, getting there is more than half the fun; the rush comes from "mapping" the "distance" between the two worlds.
Back in New York, Smithson sat down with friends to make his film about the Jetty.
Film strips hung from the cutter's rack, bits and pieces of Utah, outtakes overexposed and underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt buried in lengths of footage... And the movie editor bending over such a chaos of "takes" resembles a paleontologist sorting out glimpses of a world not yet together, a land that has yet to come to completion, a span of time unfinished, a spaceless limbo on some spiral reels...[Editor Bob] Fiore pulled lengths of film out of the movieola with the grace of a Neanderthal pulling intestines from a slaughtered mammoth. Outside his 13th Street loft window one expected to see Pleistocene faunas, glacial uplifts, living fossils, and other prehistoric wonders. Like two cavemen we plotted how to get to the Spiral Jetty from New York City.
Smithson uses the road, going forward and backward (in time as well as place) to tie his film together. "The disjunction operating between reality and film drives one into a sense of cosmic rupture. Nevertheless, all the improbabilities would accommodate themselves to my cinematic universe."
When I went to Spiral Jetty in 1994 (it's first reappearance in 24 years), I was overwhelmed by how different experiencing the work in person (glistening salt crystals, cotton candy pink water, and that drive...) was from seeing it in pictures (aerial B&W on the last page of the art history text). Now it seems that that was the point. Mapping the distance between two worlds is what filmmaking's all about.