Category:making movies

NYT Mag staffer Aaron Retica posted some childhood recollections from Akira Kurosawa of the horrible aftermath of the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, and the xenophobic hysteria that followed.

It makes me wonder, though, if Kurosawa ever spoke about his decision not to depict the earthquake in film.

What's that, dear? Oh, nothing, just some legendary but unknown drafts for the first film adaptation of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, by veteran Hollywood screenwriter Benjamin Hecht.

After reading various references to the early 60s script, Jeremy Duns decided to go looking for it, and whaddyaknow, there it was, sitting in Hecht's archive, which is at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Apparently, in the intervening decades, no one had ever bothered to actually look for it:

[T]hese drafts are a master-class in thriller-writing, from the man who arguably perfected the form with Notorious. Hecht made vice central to the plot, with Le Chiffre actively controlling a network of brothels and beautiful women who he is using to blackmail powerful people around the world. Just as the theme of Fleming's Goldfinger is avarice and power, the theme of Hecht's Casino Royale is sex and sin. It's an idea that seems obvious in hindsight, and Hecht used it both to raise the stakes of Fleming's plot and to deepen the story's emotional resonance.
It's exactly the kind of mind-boggling, serendipitous archive find that keeps me going on this Johns Flag hunt, even when the more skeptical part of me is saying, "Seriously, how could Jasper Johns' first flag painting have been stolen, and missing, and then resurface in his own dealer's office, and then disappear again, and no one knows where it is or even what actually happened to it?" But the more I dig and ask around, the more I find that, though plenty of people gossiped or speculated, almost no one has ever actually searched for it.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION/APOLOGY/&C. Ha, ha, I guess if I think about it, yeah, my meant-to-be-exciting-thrill-of-discovery-in-uncharted-archives anecdote below could make actual archive professionals cringe. And I guess I didn't think of that. OR mean it as any kind of criticism of the way the AAA works, just the opposite, in fact.

Fortunately, Barbara Aikens, the Chief of Collections Processing at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art took the time to correct some inaccuracies and clarify some of the wrong implications in my account. Which, I didn't really-- I mean, it was really meant to be kind of an amusing offhand story, not a transcript, which-- Anyway. My bad.


A few trips ago, while researching at the Archives of American Art, I opened a white cardboard box, indistinguishable from all the others on the outside. But instead of the neatly labeled, acid-free folders, I faced a mishmash of giant envelopes, ragged edges, and old, manila folders. And a rubber banded brick of old AmEx bills. And some matchbooks. What a mess. It was more time capsule than archive.

In the middle of a sheaf of clippings and tear sheets, interviews and reviews and feature articles about Robert Rauschenberg, I came across an odd little card. No, it's a transparency showing an Apollo alnding capsule. No, there's three. Blue, magenta, cyan, waitaminnit, this is taped together by hand. It's an object, maybe even a work, made of layered transparent sheets, similar to Rauschenberg's editions made from multiple sheets of plexiglass. Shades (1964) is one; I have a similar set of plexi discs somewhere from 1970-1, in a boxed set of multiples titled, Artists and Photographs. Here you go: Revolver.

rauschenberg_whale_detail.jpg

The other day, i recognized that space capsule image as the one in the Hirshhorn's big Rauschenberg screen/painting, Whale, which is also from 1964. Maybe Bob sent that little objet home after a studio visit or something. But should it really be in here, in the archives, hanging out with greasy-fingered riff-raff like me? Maybe I should say something.

A couple of folders later, I carefully extract a large, tattered, manila envelope with something about a group show or benefit scribbled on the outside. The first thing I pull out is a signed Jim Dine drawing. Then another. The next one is an Oldenburg. I pull out a piece of black paper, which turns out to be a chalk drawing. A little dust gets on my hands. At which point--I mean, fingerprints, right? I'm totally busted--I call the attendant over with a hearty, "Uh, did you know there's a bunch of original art in here?"

No, she did not, but yes, that happens, because, in fact, budget, priorities, low demand, &c., &c, some of this collection's boxes had not been processed yet. I was probably the first person to even look through this box since it had come in over 25 years earlier. She gave me a stack of acid-free paper to slip in between the various drawings, and I decided that, though it looked like a blast, the stuff in the packet was obviously not related to my research--at the very least, if Johns' Flag had been stuffed inside, I would've seen it--so I put it all carefully away.

I guess I'm just saying, there's stuff out there. And no one's been looking for it, so get cracking.

UPDATE I thought I was being helpful by not identifying the collection I was using here, but of course, Barbara knew right away what it was: the Alan Solomon Archives. The Solomon material had come into the AAA in waves, and the unprocessed box had actually entered the Archive in 2007, not, as I misunderstood, 25+years ago.

The presence of art, drawings, sketches, etc., while not a collecting goal of the Archive, is also not unheard of, and such material typically remains in accessible within the collection, where it is to be handled with care.

Barbara points out that while I made it sound like there I worked through a stack of acid-free paper, in fact, I only inserted three sheets between a couple of drawings. This is true. I was given a stack, but after replacing the works I'd taken out, I figured I'd leave the rest of the handling to the professionals, and so I closed up the box.

On the point of processing, I can't do better than Barbara's statement:

On average, we process and preserve about 500-700 linear feet per year; this includes writing full and detailed electronic finding aids that are available on our website. In addition, we are the only archival repository in this country that has a successful ongoing digitization initiative to digitize entire archival collections, rather than just selected highlights from collections. To date, we have digitized well over 100 collections, totaling nearly 1.000 linear feet and resulting in 1.5 million digital files. Archival repositories from across the country regularly consult with us on our large scale digitization methodologies, work flows, and infrastructure.

I would hate to think that users will think less of our major efforts here at AAA to increase access to our rich resources, or, worse, think that we do not care about the stewardship of collections. It is one of our ongoing mission goals and we devote considerable staff resources to our processing work. However, the work is never done to be sure.

And thank you for it. And for the clarifications. Carry on.

Casino Royale: discovering the lost script [telegraph.co.uk via daringfireball]

Warm nostalgia apparently equals d-bag public access video + time.

Reading Andrew's report from the Dependent Art Fair, I kept flashing back to the Gramercy, and all the art in the bathrooms, and on the beds, and the insanely crowded hallways.

And whaddya know, there's a link to a 1995 Gallery Beat episode from "the Gramery Hotel," where those asshats wandered in on work by unknown artists like Mark Dion, and Tracy Emin, who was not quite protected by the utterly baffled Jay Jopling.

I'd totally forgotten how much I hated that show. And now I'll probably end up watching the entire archive.

Classic Gallery Beat TV [gallerybeat.net via 16miles.com]

February 22, 2011

Know Hope

Producer Ted Hope is at least three installments into his solid post-Sundance, post-Toronto explication of what he's calling "The New Model of Indie Film Finance." It's a pretty clear-eyed look at the challenges even a celebrated, experienced filmmaker faces in realizing a project--and a profit.

Clearly we are at a point in US film culture where the infrastructure is not serving either the investors, the creators, or the audiences. Good films are getting made but not being delivered to their audience. Last year I went to a film investor conference. Several other producers were invited and we all asked to pitch projects. None of us left with funding, but the investors said to me that I was the only one that addressed how we would deal with the reality of not just getting our film to market, but bringing it to the ultimate end-users -- the audience. As artists build communities around their projects in advance of actual production, they are developing a plan to give domestic value to their films. It is hard to imagine that any artist will be able to do enough pre-orders to predict 20% of negative costs from the USA -- unless they are working on microbudgets -- but taking a step forward is still a better plan than surrender to the unknown.

With uncertain economic conditions, shifting revenue streams, and a continued reliance on admittedly outmoded valuation metrics, Hope describes indie finance as being in "an era of risk mitigation."

Twas ever thus, though, no? Frankly, if 7500 features were actually made in 2010, the vast majority of which will never make back their production cost, much less turn a profit, it sounds like the film financing business could use more risk mitigation, not less. But I'd guess that exponential increase in production volume over the last decade correlates to the drop in digital/HD production costs. It's just that those losses are distributed across many more microbudget filmmakers' uncles than ever before.

Hope hasn't gotten to the profit part yet, but I expect it has something to do with microbudgets, non-theatrical distribution, and filmmaker audience/community-building. And that the answer has something to do with scrappy, groupie-friendly directors like Ed Burns and Kevin Smith. Stay tuned.

Part 3: The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Domestic Value & Funding [hopeforfilm.com]

February 18, 2011

Warhol Invented Twitter?

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My Twitter feed is so complicated right now.

February 11, 2011

Exodus, 1997, Steve McQueen

exodus_steve_mcqueen.jpg

One of my absolute favorite Steve McQueen films is one of the first ones I saw, a one-minute super-8 called Exodus.

But until now, I'd never heard the making of story of this found scene. According to Carol Kino's profile of the artist last winter, McQueen became interested in film at Goldsmith's:

On the advice of a teacher he took to carrying around a Super 8 camera. But because film was so expensive, he rarely used it; he only shot a single, three-minute piece, part of which showed two black men carrying potted palms along a crowded East London street.
The Times incorrectly dates the piece to 2007, but it was included in McQueen's first US show at Marian Goodman in 1997.

Just a beautiful piece of seeing.

jarman_prospect_skywritings.jpg

Maybe it was me looking for Tacita Dean's Sound Mirrors that brought me there, but David Williams' 2009 post at Skywritings about Dean, Derek Jarman, Dungeness, gardens, Tehching Hsieh is pretty wonderful:

Everything here has been found, salvaged, re-cycled from this sea-edge place, and is both displaced and quite at home. A manifest testament to qualities of patience, economy, playful invention and a quiet contemplative thusness. For the garden stages a deep acceptance of being here in all modesty and attentiveness. Taking time to make space. Slow time, still moves. A bricoleur Picasso meets the Zen garden.

Jarman bought the house in 1986 for £750; he was scouting for bluebells with Tilda Swinton and Keith Collins for a film shoot. He called it his 'paradise at the fifth quarter', a place where he could walk in the 'Gethsemane and Eden' of his garden and 'hold the hands of dead friends' (Garden).

(Once, when my mother was very ill in hospital, she told me that her mother had just visited her, what a shame I'd missed her. She had knocked on the window, told her that she should 'come out into the garden', it was good out there, and it was time. Her mother had died more than ten years beforehand).

Still looking for that Sound Mirrors piece. I suppose I should just go to the gallery.

In fact, skywritings is good all over. [sky-writings.blogspot.com]

January 21, 2011

I'm An IBMer's Son

Rather sensibly, IBM tapped Errol Morris to create films commemorating the company's 100th anniversary. Even when a guy delivers slightly underwhelming lines like, "We changed the way the world shops," this one, They Were There, is pretty awesome.

My dad worked for IBM for decades, long enough for me to have a bias for white dress shirts ingrained into my psyche. And I did interview Errol Morris that one time.

And while I can understand why it's not in there, I do kind of wish the company would, when celebrating its history, acknowledge the longstanding, critical role IBM, its technology, and its German subsidiary played in the Holocaust. Because they were there. And that's certainly more important than changing the way the world shops.

IBM Centennial Film: They Were There - People who changed the way the world works [youtube via daringfireball]

Tom Scocca posted about the story just before Christmas, but apparently, Mao Zedong was a Bruce Lee fan.

That's how the Chinese press is reporting the story of Liu Qingtang, [刘庆棠], a ballet dancer and close ally of Mao's wife Jiang Qing, who, as the deputy minister, was put in charge of films at the Ministry of Culture.

Mao was encouraged because of cataracts to cut down on his reading, and to switch to film. Liu was charged with programming and procuring prints for Mao's private screenings.

Scocca picked the story up from Raymond Zhou in China Daily, but Liu's account was first published in November in the Yangcheng Evening News, a major daily out of Guangzhou. It was posted online a few weeks later. Here's the Chinese, "毛泽东有多迷李小龙?", and a choppy Google translation, "Mao Was a Bruce Lee Fan?" [It's remarkable how far Chinese-English autotranslation still has to go. We're barely at Babelfish levels here.]

Liu says his story is from 1974:

Mao Zedong's like to watch movies there are several categories: first, the international award-winning film; second film biography, "Abraham Lincoln", "Napoleon," he loves; third is like watching garden scenery film, like most British films. Often, Mao heard good movie, the file will be down to watch, watch movies right away, very happy.
. At some point, then, Liu traveled to Guangzhou, and on to Hong Kong, where he had not a little bit of trouble getting prints of Lee's films, The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon, from the wary movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw.

Where Mao would watch only a few minutes at a time, taking up to ten days to finish another film, he apparently sat straight through Lee's movies, and even demanded repeat viewings. Liu was afraid to send the prints back to HK, in case Mao asked to see them again.

The incorporation of Mao into the Bruce Lee fan club, the American-born, Hong Kong-raised, one-quarter German Lee [who is known by his given Cantonese name, Li Jun-fan (李振藩)] was timed with the premiere on CCTV6 of a documentary, "Legend of Bruce Lee," which debuted at Beijing University. It all serves to retroactively position Lee as an inspiring, nationalistic hero of all Chinese, including the Mainland, where he was unknown during his lifetime.

And it all makes me wonder what was actually going on film-wise in the PRC during the tumultuous waning days of Mao's rule. Because there are some contradictions and gaps in Liu's story as it's reported:

Wikipedia, which has the only actual date I can find so far, says Liu was installed as Deputy Culture Minister in February 1976.

Jonathan Clements' 2006 biography of Mao dates the cataracts to 1974, but also says that Mao was nearly blind, and his slurred speech could only be decoded by his nurse.

As Reeve Wong pointed out to China Daily, Bruce Lee's films were actually produced by Shaw's rival studio, Golden Harvest. It's not clear how or where, but Liu still insists that he got the prints from Shaw.

Given the difficulty in tracking down prints of Hong Kong's most popular films, I have to wonder what "international award-winning films" and biopics Liu was able to get his hands on. I mean, was there a copy of John Ford's 1939 film Young Mister Lincoln laying around a cinema after the Revolution?

And the big question, did he watch Michelangelo Antonioni's epic 1972 documentary Chung Kuo? Antonioni originally shot Chung Kuo/ Cina as a left-to-left cultural gift, with Communist Party participation and supervision. After it came out, though, Madame Mao & her cinematic comrades denounced spectacularly as a capitalist reactionary insult to the Motherland.

A lengthy bio of Liu Qingtang at hudong.com says that in 1976 as the Gang of Four maneuvered for post-Mao power, Minister Liu personally oversaw the production of three "hit films," Back [反击]、Grand Festival, [盛大的节日], and Fight [搏斗] which attacked Deng Xiaopeng.

After Deng regained and consolidated power and began undoing the effects of the Cultural Revolution, Liu followed the Gang of Four into public disgrace, trial and jail. But he's apparently out now, and doing fine, if not quite keeping his dates and titles straight.

You know what, I could try and just quote the awesome parts, or hold up for scrutiny or amusement the seemingly unquestioned assumptions about art, painting photography, and decoration that inform it.

But instead, I have just typed in all of Julien Levy's catalogue essay on photomurals from the Museum of Modern Art's 1932 exhibition, "Murals by American Painters and Photographers." It's after the jump.

Levy was a pioneering photography dealer who was brought in by Lincoln Kirstein to curate what would be the Modern's first exhibition of photography. It's really hard to overstate the importance of Levy's role in the history of art and photography. He saved, with Berenice Abbott, Atget's photos. He gave first shows in the US to Brassai, Cartier-Bresson, Moholy-Nagy. [He organized the US premiere of Moholy-Nagy's short film work, Lichtspiel in 1932 which, really? Because it barely premiered in Berlin in November 1932. That's hardcore.] He had the first surrealism show in the US. He promoted the found and anonymous photograph as readily as the known artist's work. And though he barely sold any actual photos in the 17-year life of his gallery, he was a remarkable and prescient advocate for the medium as art.

In 2006, the Philadelphia Museum staged an incredible exhibition of photos and material from Levy's archive, which they'd acquired from his widow. Check it out for more details and context of Levy's significance.

Levy opened his gallery in the fall of 1931. The Modern show opened in May of 1932. If nothing else, this essay reflects Levy's thinking of photography and art, cinema and pai.nting, at an early stage of his involvement with a nascent medium. Enjoy.

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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
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about this archive

Category: making movies

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Social Medium:
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Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
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Madoff Provenance Project in
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Chop Shop
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eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
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It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
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Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
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Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
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HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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Canal Zone Richard
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Selected Court Documents
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