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.


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 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.

Just got formal notification, although I was contacted a couple of weeks ago. The Documentary Fortnight runs from Dec 13-23, and Souvenir will screen December 19th. From what I understand, they have put together a program of three WTC/September 11-themed films, including mine.

The Director apparently heard about the movie after the preview screening of the nearly completed version in June.

Needless to say, I'm stoked. Stay tuned for more info and updates, and start making your Christmas in New York travel arrangements now.

October 17, 2002

hello? Is this thing on? ...

hello? Is this thing on? (sms posting) some gd disc 2 day, & nice emails re the movie. Thnx (gotta go. Opening. )

According to this Washington Post article [via Boing Boing], Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" is Sadaam Hussein's campaign theme song for today's presidential referendum. Before it became a the most popular Valentine song in England, it was the love theme for The Bodyguard. I imagine somewhere in the Pentagon, a psyops playlist is being revised; Whitney'll have to find some other way of contributing to the (Bush, not Husseini) war effort.

With Houston off the (turn)table, I wondered what does Operation MC Hammer play? Most accounts of the 1989 US invasion of Panama universally mention just generic "rock music" or "hard rock music"; in Iraq I, it was "grunge and death rock", but actual bands and titles are hard to come by. But not impossible. And the throwaway labels, "rock" and "grunge" turn out to obscure more than illuminate the actual operations.

Piecing together the US Military and FBI Psychological Warfare Compilation Tape, it seems that they're programming more for themselves, not for their opponents. Like Robert Duvall's Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, who clearly relishes the Wagner he blasts out of his chopper, when the ATF plays "These boots were made for walkin'" in Waco, it's just a morale booster for their own guys. (Did it drive Koresh mad? Wasn't he already there? And how many people actually put on those boots and walked out?) When it comes to psyops, you have to wonder whose heads are really being messed with.

The playlist so far:

  • Nowhere to Run, Martha and the Vandellas (Noriega/Panama)
  • You're No Good, Linda Rondstadt.
  • Highway to Hell, AC/DC
  • We're Not Gonna Take it, Twisted Sister
  • If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Bruce Cockburn
  • I Fought the Law, Bobby Fuller Four
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Flesh for Fantasy, Billy Idol
  • Metallica (Iraq I)
  • Tibetan monk chants (Branch Davidians/Waco)
  • Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus (reportedly a joke)
  • These Boots Were Made For Walkin', Nancy Sinatra (not a joke)
  • "Pop music and Christmas songs"
  • Clock ticking
  • Busy signal
  • Jet engines
  • Screams of dying rabbits

    [Correction: Two readers--neither of them Sandy Gallin--wrote to demand credit be given to Dolly Parton for that Whitney song. They were more worked up than the Klingons who corrected my (only other) previous error (ever). With fans like that...]

  • earthrise.jpeg.jpg earthrise [image via]
    Had a man been always in one of the stars, or confined to the body of the flaming sun, or surrounded with nothing but pure ether, at vast and prodigious distances from the Earth, acquainted with nothing but the azure sky and face of heaven, little could he dream of any treasures hidden in that azure veil afar off. - Thomas Traherne, The Celestial Stranger, mid 17-th c.
    Effusively compared in this Guardian article to the Apollo astronauts' first views of the earth from space, Christian mystic Thomas Traherne's writing "can turn your understanding inside out, thrill, surprise and exhaust you" with his revelatory view of the world.

    This is a review of Ronald Weber's 1986 book, Seeing Space: Literary Responses to Space Exploration (Amazon Sales Rank: 2.2 million. Let's help the guy out.) which wonderfully uses the last line of Thoreau's Walden to identify the greatest impact of space travel: " 'Our voyaging is only greatcircle sailing.' This is to say that the most important aspect of our travels, whether inward or outward, is that they bring us back to our point of departure with a new appreciation of that beginning place."

    Norman Mailer begins with a complaint that the whole space thing is closed to him: since he can't talk the techno talk or get inside those astronauts' heads, all he can do is watch dumbly "from the visitors' bleachers." He has an epiphany at the crassly commercialized Plymouth Rock (where only "an immense quadrangle of motel" marks the hallowed spot), and sees the Moon Rock anew. The whole adventure represents "the...reawakening of an older and non- mechanical view of life, one in which we are brought to 'regard the world once again as poets, behold it as savages."'

    These ecstasy-riven testimonies-- utterly self-contained, yet reaching out to (potentially) affect us all, something we must accept in imperfect transmitted form (unless you're John Glenn or Lance Bass. Actually, being Lance Bass doesn't do any good, either.)--may help in understanding Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle.

    This seriously ecstatic Guardian review (What IS in that tea, fellas?) attempts to affix Barney's work in the heavens. It is an omniscient, mysterious creation myth, ultimately incomprehensible to mere mortals. It is at once "dense," "rich yet fragile," "of our time," and "aspiring to be eternal."

    Like the "great American novels" (Moby Dick and Gravity's Rainbow are mentioned), Cremaster embodies the "desire to reawaken the language and imagery of ancient, organic patterns of thought [which is] central to modern American art and literature." Heady stuff. And there's Norman Mailer again, right in the thick of things, starring as Harry Houdini in Cremaster 2 (the most successful of the series, IMHO). But for all the praise and allusion heaped on it, does Cremaster take us "greatcircle sailing?" What does it say about the place we return to after seeing it?

    In Artforum, Daniel Birnbaum argues that "no one makes a stronger case than Matthew Barney for visual art today."

    All that the world most needs today is combined in the most seductive way in his art: Barney's work is brutal and highly artificial, as Nietzsche came to think Wagner's was, yet it also offers up the pure joy of the beautiful--which is, I think, not unrelated to what Nietzsche meant by "innocence."

    Whatever Barney's goal, his achievement is notable. But at what price? Buzz Aldrin wrote candidly of his most significant challenge: dealing with life after returning from the moon. His goal accomplished, his life suddenly lacking direction, his marriage unravelling, he grew frustrated that "there is no experience to match that of walking on the Moon." For Barney's sake, I hope he doesn't mimic Aldrin too closely, cursing his own hairy moon on the screen, "You son of a bitch, you're the one that got me in all this trouble."

    from to

    Finished the MemeFeeder project on time. The scene I thought I'd do turned out not to be the scene I'd actually been asked to do, although I only saw the email with the actual scene assignment yesterday. So, no sooner did I complete the shoot, then I found out I had to do it all over again, with a scene I'd never thought about. And, I'd have to do it in <1 day.

    This, after I completely rethought and shot the 1-minute scene (#3, titled "Commute") and shot it in a way that 1) didn't require going to CT and JFK; 2) didn't require editing, since my Final Cut Pro computer wasn't available enough, 3) fit the images in the storyboard, and 4) would be interesting. Wanna see what I came up with? Watch it here. (It's a crappy 1.1mb quicktime file).

    from to

    So, I had about 12 hours to come up with the scene above (#7, titled "Escape!"), with all the restrictions above, and on a cold rainy night. So I took a different take on the title, "Escape!" The story is, well, it's pretty self explanatory. I am pretty happy with it, frankly. I edited it entirely in the camera (using only the "Record" button). Watch the scene here (again, in crappy quicktime).

    I have no idea what the MemeFeeder folks'll think, but you should definitely check out the completed project (which launches Monday, Oct. 14). It's been nervewracking, but a lot of fun.

    Jason Kottke made a weblog on Susan Orlean's site about Adaptation, a movie Spike Jonze directed based on Charlie Kaufman's script about adapting a Susan Orlean book about orchid thieves. It's OK to go back and read that sentence again.

    From a interview with Bret Easton Ellis about The Rules of Attraction, his favorite adaptation of his (favorite) book:

    The most terrible thing about American movies right now is that people who love movies aren't making them ó lawyers and agents are. The deals are more important than the material. That's a huge change from the '70s, even the early '80s. I think it's affecting the independent film world too: the people who are making the decisions don't know anything about movies, or don't like movies and don't have any sense of movie history. And that's a problem.

    99cent_main.jpg 99 Cent, Andreas Gursky, 1999
    Watching Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler discuss Punch-Drunk Love on Charlie Rose. The overly bright 99-cent store in the clip looked familiar, eerily familiar, and, sure enough, it is the same as Andreas Gursky's photo99 Cent, down to the giant "99-cents" banners on the back wall.

    Anderson also tapped Jeremy Blake to create abtracted hallucinations experienced by Adam Sandler's character. Although Blake has become best known for his digitally animated abstractions, he is also quite fluent in film; he exhibited an illustrated screenplay, props, and digital "set" renderings in his first gallery show and has created at least one narrative animated short. [Thanks, Travelers Diagram.]

    Mark Romanek used a Philip-Lorca diCorcia photo to communicate to Robin Williams his character's situation in One Hour Photo. "This is everything in terms of warmth and connectedness that your character can never have but desperately would want." Judging from the pronounced lighting and extremely deliberate framing of the scenes I've seen, diCorcia references are not just limited to mood or motive.

    While you could chalk up the Bruce Weber-ish look of American History X to the general zeitgeist (If you're shooting muscly, shirtless Aryans in 1998, whose style would you appropriate?), it's something else when "important" but certainly not mainstream artists' work turns up. I don't know what that something is, though, and it's 1:30 in the morning, so I doubt I'll figure it out right now. I do know that we'd call the throwaway-sublime landscapes Richters, (but we were just kidding, I swear). And Jonah's shots got called Vermeers (or Vermers, to be precise) by a woman at our hotel in Albert.

    October 10, 2002

    On Arches, Now and Then


    Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, Renzo Piano, 1991-2004 [image via]

    The architect Renzo Piano is conspicuously absent from both the discussion and the process of rebuilding New York City. Conspicuous because he has already designed Manhattan's next important skyscraper, the headquarters for the NY Times [see the model]. Conspicuous because he is clearly one of The Times' critic Herbert Muschamp's favored architects ("Piano is a humanist, perhaps the leading exemplar of that tradition in our time.") Conspicuous because he developed the master plan for what is the only recent urban undertaking of comparable scale, Berlin's Potsdamer Platz. Conspicuous because his innovative, forward thinking design for extremely conservative clients (the followers or the controversial saint, Padre Pio) is being hailed as a miraculous masterpiece by the Guardian before it's even completed. (That Muschamp link above praises it, too. While I like Kansai Airport, my favorite Piano work is still the Menil Collection in Houston. It's subtly but completely transformative.)

    For this massive (6,000-person) pilgrimage chapel, Piano reinvented and reinvigorated the use of the arch--specifically the stone compression arch--a technique with a 2,000-year old legacy. Another interesting characteristic is the building's discrete siting; "In fact," Piano says, "it will not be visible until visitors are very close." These remind me of another "pilgrimage site."


    Memorial to the Missing, Sir Edwin Lutyens, 1932

    Lutyens' Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval has been called the "most imaginative and daring use of the arch form." According to Alan Borg's War Memorials, the venerable Lutyens took a thoroughly modern approach to an ancient form, infusing the Roman triumphal arch with the essence of even more ancient burial mound architecture. And like Piano's chapel, the Thiepval memorial is meant to reveal itself (and its lesson on the wages of war) only gradually.

    Last December, according to Muschamp, Piano said the architects who could design well for Ground Zero are now only 4 or 5 years old. I don't think that's right. Piano also said, (rightly) "Whatever is built, there should first be a great deal of thought and reflection. It's not only an economic issue but a cultural one. What is at stake is saving the soul of a city, its spirit."

    Lutyens completed Thiepval nearly 14 years after the war ended; he was in his sixties. Considering it's the exact opposite idea I had when I decided to make a movie about Thiepval, I surprise myself. I wonder if what Manhattan needs is a Lutyens, and if Renzo Piano is it. I hope I'm wrong, because he's nowhere near the place.

    Since 2001 here at, 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 that time.

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    find me on twitter: @gregorg

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