Category:souvenir (november 2001)

It's too bad it's not online, becauseThe NY Times City section's feature, asking 14 prominent New Yorkers when the city's "Golden Age" was, makes for interesting reading. Counting the two who said, "Always," five people said "Now": John Leguizamo, Robert Stern, Laurie Anderson, Oscar de la Renta, and Yoko Ono.

But the choreographer Bill T. Jones said "Right after 9/11," which, I agree, was a unique time that's being lost and forgotten:

New York had a true reappraisal of itself at a tragic and introspective moment. New York had the attention of the whole world; it was a frightening moment. But the world was ready to follow, to assist.
It lasted a few months. We were vulnerable and open to the rest of the world, and we were ready for a change. There was a chance to ask questions, and it was a time when we were forced to do so.
But it didn't happen. There wasn't a true conversation about what America means to the rest of the world or about why New York was chosen. It was an opportunity. And then the politicians took it.
Glory Days [Thanks to Jason, a closer reader of the NYT, for the link]

September 22, 2004

Wong Kar Wai talks about 2046

2046 barely screened at Cannes, after the director hand-carried the not-quite-finished print to the rebooked theatre. Now it's being released in the UK, and it turns out Wong has actually re-edited it since May.

Read Howard Feinstein's interview with WKW and his recounting of the tortured making of in the Guardian

"It was like being in jail" [Guardian UK]

Related: I, too, delivered an unfinished film to Cannes, a fact I mention because of the deep, meaningful resonance between Wong Kar Wai's films and career and my own.

united_arch_moma.jpg, image: MoMA via
A correction: Reading Herbert Muschamp's review of MoMA's "Tall Buildings" show, which includes the United Architects proposal for the WTC site. [The 'Dream Team' proposal is in there, too, but I've said all I'll say about that.]

Coming after the pissed-to-be-publicly-accountable Meier, United Architecture's proposal was surprisingly moving that morning in Dec.2002. They had made a video (it's still on their site) with cuts of all kinds of happy shiny people looking up from the street, pointing at the new buildings, "like," I said, "they used to do." But it's not really true.

Unless you were a tourist wanting to get fleeced, or you needed to get your bearings, you didn't come out of the subway and look up at the World Trade Center, and you sure didn't point.

Except on that morning. It just occurred to me that Farenheit 9/11 opened with shots of people staring, looking up, pointing. Like an uninsidious version of the Dream Team, United Architects unconsciously incorporated the attacks themselves into its presentation.

Conceived after September 11th, in case the world needed a reminder, "Tall Buildings" makes the complicated psychic and emotional power of skyscrapers as its jumping off point. Which is about as complicated a phrase as I can come up with.

Like the road, the airport is a nonplace, something encountered on the way to going somewhere else, better measured in time - always too long - than in square feet. Now that it is unsafe to hitchhike, and affordable to fly, the terminal makes a better canvas for transition or self-discovery. As such, it is the setting du jour for our narratives of romance, longing, adventure and intrigue.

"It's unlegislated territory," Mr. Iyer said. "It's a psychological limbo that becomes a meeting place of the human and posthuman - people are meeting loved ones, sending them off to war, meeting for funerals, all in the midst of a network of Body Shops, Sharper Images and other stores whose names even speak of displacement."

-John Leland, "Unchecked Baggage: Our Airports, Ourselves", NYT

Related: Souvenir (November 2001) Shooting Day 1: Charles de Gaulle

November 30, 2003

On Cinema and a Sense of Place

In an excellent Times Arts & Leisure article, James Sanders looks at the way computer animated walk- and fly-throughs are changing the way architecture is anticipated and understood. Sanders looks specifically at visitor experiences depicted for each of the WTC Memorials; some are impossibly dazzling points of view, while other eye-level walkthroughs emphasize the key emotional moments of the designs. He issues a call to create virtual environments in which the public can wander freely, a la Ground Zero: the FPS game.

It's a case of the medium-as-message, and it's pretty compelling, as far as it goes. He mentions Hugh Ferris, the man who rendered New York as Gotham City (for a more in-depth look at Ferris, check out Rem Koolhaas's unparalleled Delirious New York). Rafael Vinoly, of Team THINK, dismissed Daniel Libeskind's trite, visually slick CG renderings as "graphic design posing as architecture."

In a similar vein, Andrew Johnston's editorial reveals the Lord of the Rings trilogy has changed the way New Zealanders look at their own country. "[New Zealanders] aren't accustomed to standing in a place and imagining what once went on there. 'The making of' the signature myth of the DVD era may have filled the need for places with stories."

November 11, 2003

Memorial to the Missing War

Armistice Day ceremony at Arlington, 11/11/21, image:

This morning I was in DC, so I thought I'd go to the WWI Memorial. [Veterans Day began in 1919 as Armistice Day. It was expanded two wars-to-end-all-wars later, in 1953.]

Nice plan, except that there is no national WWI Memorial. On 11 November 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in a ceremony which was relayed by telephone to New York and San Francisco.

["In the open air the President's voice swept over the crowd in Madison Square," enthused The Times' man on the scene. "The Voice seemed to come from the chest of a giant...Carried by wire from Washington, [it] was heard more clearly that that of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and Martin Littleton, whose voices were amplified as they spoke from the platform in the Garden." God Bless America(n Telephone & Telegraph).]

Presidents laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns became an Armistice Day tradition. But eventually, the soldier disinterred from Belleau Wood was joined by representatives from later wars, expanding he Tomb's purview. As a result, specific remembrance of the horrors and sacrifices of WWI were conflated into the larger struggles of the century.

The traffic at Arlington was a mess; after sitting in misdirected lines for nearly an hour, I left without even a glimpse of the parking lot, much less the Tomb. Many in the crowd were veterans, though, families in tow. I went on to my second destination, across the Memorial Bridge, to the south edge of the Mall.

DC War Memorial, cropped from someone online, who I can't remember....damn...

The DC World War Memorial is located in a grove of trees midway between the new Korean War Memorial and the massive, so-new-it's-not-done-yet WWII Memorial. President Hoover dedicated the little temple pavilion in 1931 to the memories of Washingtonians who died in The War. Technically, then, it's a local memorial, created by the locals, who also happened to be the leaders of the country.

I was the only visitor during the half hour I was there. Three Park Service rangers--two in WWI-era uniforms--were breaking WWI-era camp in the little temple. For three years now, they have taken it upon themselves to create a little interpretive history opportunity for any visitors. Last year, when detours for the WWII Memorial construction closed off many other pathways, the rangers had quite a turnout. This year was much quieter. The two rangers in period uniform participate in WWI re-enactments with the Great War Association. Unlike Civil War re-enactments, however, there is no audience; there are practically no spectators, only participants.

Memorial to the Missing, image.

Britain created the Cenotaph as a Memorial to the Great War, and it has woven taught WWI into the national identity. They built The Memorial to the Missing--the subject of my first film, and an inspiration for Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial design just across the Reflecting Pond from the DC War Memorial--in France, an outpost for British memory. The names of just The Missing from just The Somme exceeded 75,000.

DNA testing helped identify the Unknown Soldier from Vietnam, and his remains were reburied in 1998. Until September 11th, it was assumed there would be no more Unknowns or Missing, but that turns out not to be the case. The World Trade Center Memorial will hold the presently unidentifiable remains of those killed, in hopes that technology will someday match them up to the 1,271 individual names. The New Missing, on the other hand, are frequently those who have been wounded or killed in Iraq. Witness to the fresh horrors of war, it seems, must come from the unlikeliest of sources: Cher calling into C-SPAN with stories of brave 19 year-olds who've lost arms and legs, just a few of the 2,100+ GWII casualties who are shunned and obscured by the Administration.

In Sunday's Washington Post, the playwright Norman Allen--an old man, I take it--lamented the fading of Armistice Day:

I first heard tales of the war's devastation from my grandfather, who was 19 when he was wounded not far from Chateau Thierry, an hour's drive from Paris. In middle age, he spoke in generic terms of his heroic comrades, Iowa boys like himself. In early senility, he spoke in detail of struggling across a field under heavy fire. Glancing to the left, he saw a friend's head blown away. He told me, "Never go to war. No matter what." My generation is the last to hear these things firsthand.
Well, his generation--and Cher.

October 23, 2003

On Transit and Memory

Santiago Calatrava talks about his vision for the transit hub he's designing for the World Trade Center site. I'm a fan, although there doesn't seem to be a lot of design meat here.

And the New Yorker's Jane Kramer gets Berlin artists/memorial designers Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock to talk about a memorial for the World Trade Center. Their comments seem well suited to the discourse of a year or so ago, when entertaining the world of possibilities didn't feel so escapist as it does now.

In fact, last year, I was very impressed by their proposed Holocaust memorial.

Etaples anti-war grafitti, a BBC report: Protestors spray painted anti-war grafitti at Etaples in Northern France, the largest British WWI memorial cemetery in the country.

What it said (in order of increasing shock and awe) "Sadaam will win and spill your blood," "Death to Yankees (swastika included)," "Bush, Blair to the TPI [International Court of Justice]," "Rosbeefs [what the French call Brits when they hear 'frog'] Go Home," and "Disinterr your trash, it contaminates our soil." The French are suitably pissed, as are the British. [thanks, Buzz.]

""Had the public been able to see live coverage from the [first world war] trenches, I wonder for how long the governments of Asquith and Lloyd George could have maintained the war effort. Imagine the carnage of the Somme on Sky and BBC News 24."
-- Jack Straw, British Foreign Minister in the the Guardian. Read the full text. Remember that nothing remotely Somme-like has been seen on western TV.

See the Silent Cities site for the Etaples Military Cemetery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which administers Etaple (and Thiepval, the memorial at the Somme which was the object of Souvenir (November 2001)).

When Maciej started French Week ("fighting francophobia since wednesday"), Jason linked to the first installment, "Ten Reasons to Love France," which was a breezy response to the frivolous tone of the fries/toast/kiss gag.

It's not funny anymore. From day two, "WWII, the Real Story"

...But there's a more profound, indirect reason for the French defeat [in 1940], which explains why the German armies were able to score this tactical coup in the first place. And that reason is the French experience in World War I.

World War I has almost comical connotations in our own popular culture. American doughboys, kaisers and marshals in funny hats, the Red Baron. But for France, the Great War was the most traumatic event of the twentieth century. No country lost as great a proportion of its population in that war: 1,400,000 men were killed outright, two million were wounded. A million of the wounded had debilitating injuries, and could never work again. They were a lost generation, and a living reminder to others of what war really meant.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, image: shows that a war which follows on the heels of a Serbian assassination doesn't go well for anyone involved.

As I've written before, one reason I chose a WWI battlefield as an object of my first film, Souvenir (November 2001), was because it had been "forgotten." Practically speaking, there is no one left alive who has direct experience or memory of WWI in general and the Battle of the Somme in particular. At best, it's taught, analyzed, considered, memorialized, but it is not remembered.

Generally, in the US, if WWI's known at all, it's as dim, dusty, unfortunate history, where "history" translates as "has nothing to do with what's going on right now." In this absence of memory, attempts to liken the current political/military situation to WWI are countered with pious promises to "never let such a horror happen again." But those promises are almost never accompanied by an understanding of why or how WWI unfolded, or even what such a horror actually comprised.

Thiepval Memorial, image:firstworldwar.comSuch benign ignorance afflicts the New Yorker protagonist in S(N01), whose "search" for The Memorial to The Missing at Thiepval is driven by his own involvement in the "most horrible violence ever." He ambles in a naive daze across the modern era's first "most horrible violence ever," and finds not just one memorial, but hundreds: countless markers and cemeteries; fields still yielding up remains; razed and rebuilt towns; and rare, preserved sections of battlefied What's more, though, as he drives his German car across France, he finds people--French locals and British caretakers--who show the 80-years-on effects of the war, which--they're painfully aware--are nigh-unbearable, even when your side "wins." They also show the New Yorker a welcoming-but-pained sympathy, as if he's rushed home with bad news, only to find a passel of neighbors and friends waiting to tell him something even worse.

Lochnagar Crater, image:firstworldwar.comLutyens' Memorial to The Missing of The Somme is powerful; visiting can be an overwhelming experience. But its power pales in comparison to the concerted efforts to teach about WWI that take place in every school in the UK. The Lochnagar Crater now sits alone as a souvenir in the landscape, a scar that--according to those who visit it or live around it--still aches, recalling them of old wounds. But its influence pales compared to the effect of a lifetime where every errand you run in your entirely-post-war village takes you past half a dozen cemeteries, and where, spring after spring, you turn up mortars and rotted boots when you plant your flowers.

When I made S(N01) exactly a year ago, I was nervous about drawing false parallels between the attacks on New York and an "actual" war. Tragedy was tragedy, loss was loss, but a terrorist attack was not The Somme. 2001 wasn't 1914, I mean, how could it be, when the civilized world was united? I expected the need for S(N01)'s solace would pass: we'd learn to deal with the loss of September 11th, and move gingerly toward a safer, more peaceful future. The movie'd become a time capsule, a sad-but-nostalgic reminder of the moments of our resolve. Instead, I wonder if I've unintentionally remade someone's film, Souvenir (July 1914).

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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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about this archive

Category: souvenir (november 2001)

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Printed Matter, NYC
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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Selected Court Documents
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