Category:making movies

August 13, 2013

Mao Hope

fahlstrom_mao-hope_march.jpg

I shouldn't have to explain, but it's just really important that this photo get out there even a little bit more. That it should be here. Because seriously, it's a 1966 march through New York City by people carrying giant head shots of Bob Hope, and one of Mao Zedong.

I've been kind of fascinated by different aspects of Öyvind Fahlström's work lately, so seeing this photo, a still or documentation from Mao-Hope March, on grupa ok reminds me of how few dots I've connected yet.

Fahlström was a contributor to 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, the ambitious-but-mixed-but-historic series of happenings, performances, music, and events organized by Experiments in Art and Technology. Folks like Rauschenberg, Whitman, and Billy Klüver kind of soak up much of the E.A.T. limelight, and John Cage and Bob loom especially large, in the remembering of 9 Evenings.

Which is all a way to say that I've never really paid attention to Fahlström's contributions to the program. The Langlois Foundation has a fairly detailed account of the 100-minute performance, titled, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, which strikes me as one of the most politically charged elements in 9 Evenings.

Performers in Kisses carried Mao and Hope placards live, but Fahlström also showed a short film of a Mao-Hope March shot on Fifth Avenue. No explanation for the demonstration was given to passersby, and none was made in Kisses. But New Yorkers were interviewed by a popular WBAI radio announcer on the scene about whether they were happy. That's it. [Fahlstrom.com has a complete transcript.]

Mao, of course, was the Communist hegemon looming over Vietnam, while USO veteran Bob Hope was the aw shucks face of the US military. Both, then, stood in for but were at least one degree removed from the actual war. But the associations and allegiances were clear enough that, even if the demonstration's agenda was not clear, people could easily, reflexively take sides. Me, I am mostly just in awe of the bold and gripping and ambiguous content of those placards.

Some years later Fahlström showed Mao-Hope March as an independent work. MoMA acquired the film in 2009.

Mao-Hope March,1966 [fahlstrom.com]

Öyvind Fahlström | Kisses Sweeter than Wine (performance)
[fondation-langlois.org]
A 20-second clip of Mao-Hope March playing at the Pompidou [youtube]

Jonathan Rosenbaum taught a seminar on American independent film at Bela Tarr's film.factory, the 3-year graduate film/filmmaking program he's begun in Sarajevo. How's that going?

I soon discovered that one of the main reasons why film.factory wasn't a school was that it was much closer to a film shoot, something Béla knew and understood a lot better. This meant that everything, my screenings and lectures included, was subject to last-minute revisions due to weather, equipment, health, sudden inspirations and other variables. And bearing in mind Orson Welles' definition of a film director as someone who presides over accidents - along with the dawning realisation that the same vicissitudes might even apply to film historians, and therefore to what we all know as film history - an important part of my own education over my 18 days in Sarajevo was learning how to roll with all the punches.
One good thing about being Bela Tarr is you're never at a loss for ways to fill a sudden gap in the schedule:
a screening of Béla's 450-minute Sátántangó one Saturday (the first time [f.f program mgr] Sunčica and nearly all the others saw it), introduced by me. This was followed the next day by Béla lecturing for four-and-a-half hours about how he made it, shot by shot and take by take, using a sort of post-it storyboard as his narrative thread. (As with the film itself, there were two intermissions.)
The workshop before Rosenbaum's was led by Carlos Reygadas. The one after was by Tilda Swinton, a Socratic dialogue about performers, and it sounds fascinating. Seriously.

a personal report on an adventure called film.factory [bfi via keyframe daily]

While huh, wtf? investigating the backstory of this tweet this morning, I was reminded of the time Strom Thurmond screened Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures at the US Senate in 1968:


Which, wow, has it really been two years since "Hide/Seek"? I found videos of the symposium presentations I was stunned by in 2011:

Jonathan D. Katz on Agnes Martin, abstraction & sexuality, and Zen ["and though she was not a practicing Buddhist, she did her best to both look and sound like one," strikes me now as a heckuva hook, but keep watching]:

Dominic Johnson on disgust and Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, and the context for the Senate hearings and screening, which had been "confirmed" by the courts as obscene:

I assume Johnson's book Glorious Catastrophe: Jack Smith, performance and visual culture, includes more information on the Thurmond screening. No reviews or discussion of the book yet? Really?

UPDATE With this recollection of that paragon of traditional virtue that was the late segregationist senator from South Carolina, we note the passing of Ms. Essie May Washington, 87, Strom Thurmond's secret daughter, who was born to his family's 16-year-old African American maid when Thurmond was 22.

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky's story of the making of Indie Game: The Movie is almost as awesome as the movie itself. They've done on an epic scale what I'd envisioned doing when I started this blog 11 years ago--and they've done much, much more.

And now they're in the middle of recapping their experience making, marketing & distributing IG:TM, and the tools and platforms they used to do it.

Indie Game: The Movie (IGTM) is very much a product of our times. This film could not have been made & released the way it was five years ago, heck, not even 2-3 years ago. The film, and us, are hugely indebted to the technology, tools and evolving audience attitudes that made all this possible.
Indie Game: Case Study: Tech & Audience

OK, wow, so this is a music video by Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the first/few things he shot on video. It's a song called "Fotoromanza" from "Puzzle," the first hit album by the Italian pop singer Gianna Nannini. As you can tell just by looking at it, it's from 1984:

Here is Antonioni discussing the music video with Aldo Tassone, in a 1985 interview that first ran in the French cinema magazine Positif, but which is published in English in The Antonioni Project's 1995 compilation, The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema

You have shot a feature film and a few shorts on video: how did you find that experience?

It was a very interesting experience, even if at the time, in 1980, the techniques of transferring videotape to film weren't highly developed. The copy--on tape--of The Mistery of Oberwald is very beautiful. I don't understand why the French television didn't distribute it more widely. In America, the commercial I shot for the Renault 9 [!? -ed.] was judged the best commercial of the year. It cost eight hundred million lire to make. For the video I shot for the rock singer Gianna Nannini (the song is called "Fotoromanza"), I only had forty million lire to work with--and in fact I don't much like the end result. To make intelligent videos you need seri­ous money.

I think video is the future of cinema. To shoot on video has so many advantages. To begin with, you have total control over color. The impor­tant thing is to work with a good group of technicians. Video reproduces what you put in front of the camera with almost total fidelity. The range of effects you can achieve is not even comparable to cinema. In the lab, you always have to compromise. On video, in contrast, you have complete control--you always know where you are because you can play it back at any stage, and if you don't like it you can redo it.

The Internet tells me this is Antonioni's spot for the Renault 9. Which looks to me like at least 600 million of those lire went to Jacques Tati:

Which, apologies to the professore, is only the second best driverless Renault commercial I've seen.

Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone drop mic and leave the stage.

[via @filmstudiesff and @Coburn73]

Three words: Oh my heck. [dissociativepress.com via @petcobra]

glaser_colorfuses_gsa.jpg

I've been wanting to write about Color Fuses, Milton Glaser's 1974-5, 27x672-foot gradient mural in Indianapolis, all week, ever since Richard McCoy's great Art21 post about the GSA's restoration of the work's 34 monochrome sections, and the realization, finally, of Glaser's original lighting effects.

glaser_colorfuses_gmap.jpg
image: google maps

Besides my well-documented fascination with monochromes and gradients, I found myself intrigued by Glaser's stated purpose for the mural, which wraps around the stark, ground-level loggia of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, designed by local modernist eminence and Philip Johnson alumnus Evan Woollen. Glaser wanted to create "a mural that would express a spirit of openness and thus a new sense of government."

The architect, for his part, hoped the mural would help make the building feel "cheerful, disarming, fresh, welcoming, and inviting." Which is, let's face it, a helluva thing to hope for your Brutalist, concrete, ziggurat superblock.

[Walking around the building on Google Maps gives a nice sense of the mural in daylight, including the backside, which is across the parking lot, and the bluish south end, which is largely blocked by privacy wall around the building's daycare center. Even ignoring the unfortunately undulating wall--an out-of-place motif picked up by the single, sad wave of shrubs on the building's strip of security plinth grass--the Minton-Capehart can only be my second favorite example of brutalism and daycare, way behind the playground on the plaza of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building.]

So I'm inclined to believe that the project went down a little differently at the time, a time when the GSA had revitalized and professionalized its Percent For Art program under the 2nd Nixon administration. [A distracting sop to the elites, he figured.] It's not clear, for example, whether Glaser came to the project under the new system, as a world-class, committee-reviewed pick, or the old way, in which case he would have been suggested by, and thus, subsidiary to, the architect.

Which would be interesting to know, because another benefit of not blogging about immediately, is reading Alexandra Lange's post about how modernist architects [occasionally] recognized that their severe forms might [just sometimes!] have needed a bit of humanizing.

But then watching the GSA's video of the original/new lighting scheme, which adds slow ripples [undulations!] of light/dark around the building, I immediately thought of art. Specifically, Paul Sharits, who had been making painting-like, flickering, multi-projector, monochrome film installations for several years already when Glaser created his mural. [Writing about Sharits' 1972 piece, Soundstrip/Filmstrip, Rosalind Krauss said it "muralizes the field of projection."]


Paul Sharits' Shutter Interface, first shown at ArtPark in NY in 1975, here at Greene Naftali in 2009.

And I wondered about the different ways art functions, and is treated, both at the time and through the lens of history and criticism. Partly because I'd never heard of Glaser's mammoth mural before. Or of any other art he's made. It seems to fall into this population of things people commissioned, made and showed, that are/aren't/look like/function as art, which are [happen to be?] made by designers. And which are excluded from consideration within the context of art and art history. And politics is at the center of this boundarymaking.

The clearest example of this is the US Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, the geodesic sphere designed by Peter Chermayeff and his exhibition firm Cambridge Seven Associates. Which had both spacecraft and satelloons and flag-like, Ellsworth Kelly-like supergraphics, and giant, commissioned paintings from the likes of Barnett Newman, Warhol, and Johns.

I don't know yet how to make sense of Glaser's mural, but I bridle at what I instinctively feel, that despite its awesomeness and Glaser's immense influence, Color Fuses is somehow a less significant work because it's art by a designer. Or art for the government. Or art the architect will put up with. Especially when I read Glaser's intentions for the piece, which, by 1974, transparency and a new form of government were certainly on a lot of peoples' minds.

And finally, last night, I found Hillman Curtis's video profile of Glaser on Brainpickings, where the designer talks about art's role in culture. It's "benign" and "pacifying," he says, and succeeds best when it creates "commonalities" by which "the likelihood of us killing each other is diminished."

Again, I don't think that perspective has been very prominent in the art world discourses of the day. It could be dismissed as hyperbolic, an at once idealistic and yet embarrassingly low bar. And yet, lately, the polarization in our cultural and political spheres make me wonder if not throttling each other is actually something we'd do well to focus on. Even if pacification by painting undulating rainbows on government buildings is not the best role demanded by the times for art.


Restored & Renewed: Milton Glaser's 1975 Artwork, "Color Fuses" [art21.org]
Color Fuses' Mural Restored at Minton-Capehart Federal Building [gsa.gov]
Art Matters To Architecture [designobserver]

stopover_dubai_scr1.jpg

As soon as I learned of Chris Marker's death, I went to look at what I'd written about one of his most recent projects, which I'd been so stunned by, only to find that I hadn't written anything at all, only tweeted about it, which is barely more persistent than thinking about it.

And I don't mean Marker's show of surreptitious Metro chick photography at Peter Blum last year, which was cliched to the point of embarrasment. It's the short Flash video Stopover in Dubai, which appeared almost unannounced on Gorgomancy, a pseudonymous Marker website. [I prefer the direct link to the .swf file]

stopover_dubai_scr2.jpg

For all i thought I knew and admired about Marker's work, from the touchstones of La Jetee and Sans Soleil, up to the improbable Immemory CD-ROM, Stopover In Dubai stopped me cold. But not [just] because of the content, though it is chilling.

Stopover in Dubai is the meticulous reconstruction of a Mossad hit squad's surreptitious mission to assassinate Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in his hotel room on January 19, 2010. The entire thing plays out silently, via CCTV surveillance video from all over the city. Not that anything actually ever "happens" in front of the cameras; the footage only shows the most seemingly banal images of people crossing hotel lobbies or waiting for elevators.

stopover_dubai_scr3.jpg

The footage was available because the show actually assembled, not by Marker, but by Dubai's General Department of State Security, as part of their investigation of Mahbouh's death. The riveting, 26-minute account of the hit, titled, The murder of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, was provided by the government to Gulf News TV, the video news service of the UAE's leading English language newspaper.

It was only after watching Stopover in awe, figuring out what it was, and then tracking down and watching the original version, that I realized Marker had appropriated GNTV/Dubai State Media's footage exactly as they aired it, edits, captions, graphics and all. And yet he had completely remade the film. Marker replaced the news program's generic, royalty-free, techno-lite soundtrack with a haunting, ominous string composition written by Henryk Górecki for the Kronos Quartet.

The music seems to fit perfectly, like it had been written, scored, or at least timed, to the film. Until I started digging, I'd assumed Marker had used segments of another film score, the way he'd mashed up this riot slideshow by the Times of London with music from The 400 Blows. But Marker actually just plays Górecki's piece, "String Quartet No. 3 ('...songs are sung')" straight through.

Where I'd once questioned my interpretation and response to the film, wondering who was actually responsible for the elements of its success-its narrative, structure, pacing, and suspense--I now marveled at Marker's ability to recognize how these two things existing in the world--the edited footage and the Kronos recording--resonated so powerfully with each other, and with himself and his artistic sensibilities. Marker didn't need to do any more than make this impossible connection; it was the slightest gesture necessary, and yet the result is no less remarkable.

I don't know if Marker saw it--maybe it's in the liner notes for the Kronos CD--but a Nonesuch text complicates the relationship between the Górecki composition and the Mahbouh assassination in unexpectedly poignant ways.

GNTV's opening titles tell us that the Mossad had been pursuing Mahbouh for years without success. Kronos, meanwhile, had originally commissioned Górecki to create a third work for them in 1992, and it was set to debut in 1994. But nothing came. For over 13 years. The composer finally delivered the work in 2005, with a dedication,

"To the Kronos Quartet, which for so many years has waited patiently for this quartet." In a commentary attached to the score, Górecki added that the work had been completed in 1995, "but I continued to hold back from releasing it to the world. I don't know why."
The quartet's title, meanwhile, "is inspired by the last line of a poem by the Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov, 'When people die, they sing songs.'"

Just as Kronos' long, patient wait for its song resonates with the Mossad's long-fruitless hunt for vengeance/justice/death, the suspenseful score of a found footage, real life spy thriller is revealed as the song the target--who barely appears in the movie itself--sings when he is drugged, paralyzed, and smothered in his hotel room, out of the cameras' view, but still within the auteur's reach. Who was, in this case, Chris Marker.

July 14, 2012

Mike Mills Photo-Murals

mike_mills_murals_thehundreds.jpg

So I start looking around for installation/shop shots of Aaron Rose's Storage Unit Fire Sale, which just opened at Known Gallery in LA, and what's the first thing I see? At The Hundreds?

That's right, not decks or kicks or posters. Photomurals. By Mike Mills.

They're vinyl prints, of course, as most giant images are these days, but they are rather awesome nonetheless.

Except technically, they're not by Mills, but of him, spraypainting his messages in his suit. There's "Let's all be human beings," and "Stop Hiding." I called about them, and learned there's are some other ones, "Love is worth it," and "Neither of us can get to heaven unless the other one gets in," somewhere. Ah, here's the latter, in Ann Duray's coverage at Juxtapoz. I like the way the low-res original fits with the vinyl inkjet. Meanwhile, yow, Duray's also got a picture of a larger-than-life full-length of Terry Richardson. Roll that one back up.

mike_mills_known_juxtapoz.jpg

And then that huge pink and white image up top on the opposite wall is also by Mills. Before the Known guy could look them up for me, I found the images on Mills' website; they're all from a 2004 show at the Mu Museum in Eindhoven titled, Not How When or Why But Yes.

Mills mentions the "cross-disciplinary work" of Charles Eames as an influence, but then only mentions furniture, "architecture, films, exhibitions and toys," not art per se. And he's expressed some wariness toward the gallery-centered confines of the art market. Though he's since married Miranda July, who has since been making sculptures that have turned up in public venues, the Biennale, etc.

mike_mills_mu_museum_inst.jpg

Which, it's not clear how he considers these awesome prints, but I bet he'd not think they're art objects in the commodity sense, just large prints, souvenirs from the show that were too awesome to trash in Holland. And then what was that giant, plush reclining Buddha sticking his/her head out of that Mu Museum installation, right? D'oh, no way, scroll down to the last photo there. It's in the show and for sale, too! Rose really stored that thing for eight years? That's gotta be $10k right there. Impressive.

It's kind of interesting to see things outside the "gallery system," though, and how they're considered and discussed--and shown and priced and bought and sold. In the case of these murals, they're unique, and pretty cheap--$1,400 or so, and the big pink one's like $5,000. They roll up for easy storage.

One Man's Treasure [thehundreds.com]
Aaron Rose Fire Sale at Known Gallery [knowngallery]
Graffiti, Mike Mills, 2004 [mikemillsweb.com]
Not How When or Why But Yes,

Four words that I, for one, ever expected to type in this sequence, but here we are.

After Long Resistance, Pynchon Allows Novels to Be Sold as E-Books [nyt]
Thomas Pynchon on Kindle someday, but not yet [amazon]

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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.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

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