Dance, Memory

I’m surprising myself by how much I feel the loss of Merce Cunningham, or more precisely, how much more acutely I’m feeling an appreciation for his work right now.
From the LA Times’ obituary by Lewis Segal:

“When you work on something that you don’t know about, how do you figure out what’s right for that moment?” he asked rhetorically in the 2005 Times interview. “Using chance can be a way of looking at what you do in another way without depending always on your memory. It helps something else to come out that otherwise you wouldn’t have known about.”

And from Alastair Macaulay, the NY Times dance critic who’s obviously been deeply contemplating for years having to write Merce’s obit at some point:

Mr. Cunningham often spoke and wrote movingly about the nature of dance and would laugh about its maddening impermanence. “You have to love dancing to stick to it,” he once wrote. “It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

On the other hand, there’s always this hilariously insipid interview by R. Couri Hay from a 1974 Cunningham-Cage party at Louise Nevelson’s place to lighten the mood. My favorite “question” is around 27:00: “Perhaps, Mr Cage can tell- can we ask you about– can you tell us some of the–interesting things that happen when you were working with–Mr Cunningham–tell us all about some of the–incredible little things that must have happened when you were working out some, uh, new–fabulous things?”

Prayer Flag Abstraction, Also Darren Almond’s Grandmother, Also

This gorgeous Darren Almond photograph, Infinite Betweens: Becoming Between, Phase 3, of an impossible-to-map landscape covered with Tibetan prayer flags is coming up at Philips in a couple of weeks. It reminded me how quietly strong his work is, and how his underlying interests in time, place, memory, and the human experience of them resonates with me. I just watched his Tate Talk from 2005 which, though it was a good primer on his film work, was pretty thin on insight. Almond is a pretty reticent guy on stage, and except for his discussion of his project of relocating Auschwitz bus stations into the gallery, it’s only at the end when someone in the audience asks him about memory that he kind of lights up.
While trying to track down a long, deep-sounding quote from his grandmother, I found Brad Barnes’ interview with Almond on Kultureflash, which was apparently conducted the next day:

BB: I think I know what you mean by seeking a “reassurance”. Is that the grandfather alluded to in If I had you?
DA: Yes it is. “A much loved man” as carved on his head stone. For me he supplied much of my early field of memory. The terrain of his own life’s experiences he passed on as we were very close. The whole notion of travel for instance came from him albeit that he was serving in the army during the WWII he then revisited the towns throughout Belgium, France and Germany after the war and maintained friendships with people he met through the war. During the procedure of trying to make If I had you my grandmother and I shared our feelings that we still had for him and in fact they were feelings generated by memory only so a shared local memory does provide a certain reassurance. I hoped that despite an increment of melancholia produced in If I had you I also hoped that it would provide a certain optimism. I like a statement that was produced to me last night at my talk at the Tate, “the vision for the future is not utopia it is a re-interpreted ‘telling’ of the now. Memory is not exactly the site of freedom, but the layering of identity and memory is a basis for moving forward. The limit for this is language itself.”

Previously from 2002: wow, family, travel, memory, Auschwitz bus stops. I just wanted to add a “Previous Darren Almond mentions” link, but it’s all kind of circling back.

Amar Kanwar’s The Torn First Pages

Last September was the first anniversary of what’s now called the Saffron Rebellion, where Burmese monks took to the streets to protest the military government. As a commemoration of that movement, the Stedelijk Museum showed the first of three parts of Indian artist/documentary filmmaker Amar Kanwar’s work in progress about the Burmese resistance.
The title of the project is The Torn First Pages, 2004, which is a reference to the private, anonymous rebellion of a bookshop owner named Ko Than Htay, who was imprisoned for tearing out the first page of everything he sold, pages which contained mandatory praise for the junta.
Parts of footage for The Torn First Pages come from Burmese democracy activists, who surreptitiously tape and smuggle their work to Kanwar in India.
Kanwar talks about the work with the Stedelijk curator above:

I felt that everybody who writes, be it a poem, be it a novel, be it a fashion magazine, whatever, in one way or the other is indebted or connected to Ko Than Htay, because he’s tearing the first page out from any author. It’s not necessarily a specific book. So in a way, I felt that artists of all kinds, writers of all kinds are connected to this. And in many ways what this is all about is your own relationship with authority and your own defiance. Your own need for defiance. Your own articulation. It’s not necessarily that this articulation is going to become public or recognized. So in some way, in order to understand Burma, if one can understand Ko Than Htay and this act of tearing the first page, you can understand what’s happening in Burma. And if you can understand that, you can understand your own life, regardless of where you are.

The Torn First Pages is about presenting evidence of a terrible series of crimes, evidence of amazing resistance. In a way, it’s about saying maybe poetry also has a presence, a validity, in a court of law.

Everything you remember, there’s a way to remember. If you remember in a particular way, if you look in a particular way, you’re looking only so that it clarifies you in the present. The purpose of clarifying you in the present is only so that you can take a step forward. In that sense, the act of remembering is really the act of moving forward in time.

Longtime readers of may remember my swooning at Kanwar’s work when I saw it at documenta 11 in 2002.
Amar Kanwar- The Torn First Pages (Part I), 5.09.08 – 1.10.08 []

On A More Conceptual Approach To Hair Loss

I’m not interested in the so-called PC aspects of discussing hair loss. The parody of an apologetically sensitive term like “follicularly challenged” is still of a piece with the negative connotation baked into the term, “hair loss” itself. Same with the self-affirming bald pride nonsense of the “God only made a few perfect heads. The rest he covered with hair.” variety with gets cross-stitched onto too many pillows.
I’m interested in the seemingly universal, unquestioning acceptance of the hair loss [sic] paradigm. Now there’s obviously a strong, pro-bald paradigm at work as well, thanks in large part to Michael Jordan and his shaved head.
But when it’s discussed at all, the language and perception of hair loss is consistently negative. It’s a loss, not “scalp expansion.” “Hairlines recede,” foreheads don’t “advance.” At best, it’s a “problem” that guys “deal with” or “accept.” At worst, they deny it, fight it, hide it. Whether it’s a transplant, a toupee, or a combover, the results are always unsatisfactory, or at least aesthetically sub-optimal. And yet, does anyone ever say anything to the guy about his self-inflicted hair mistake? Not likely. Whether it’s someone else’s or our own, hair loss is usually slow enough that most people pretend it’s not happening and move on.
When I was a little boy, my paternal grandfather wore a toupee. It was thick, dark, and carefully styled–immediately recognizable to the most casual viewer. To me, the most remarkable thing about it was that he’d take it off when he got home, like a hat. He placed it upside-down on the coffee table, where it looked Meret Oppenheim-esque, a furry candy bowl with a strip of double-sided tape running down the center. I don’t remember anyone in our family or beyond ever talking about it, or even acknowledging its existence. What my grandfather’s motivations were for wearing it, and how it related to his perception of himself and the image he sought to project once he stepped out his door, I don’t know. I wish I did.
Actually, what I really wish was that I had the guts and presence of mind to take a conceptual, dispassionate, but engaged view of hair loss. Specifically, I wanted to get–OK, I wanted to see someone get–a tattoo of his hairline.
The idea came to me in 1995, soon after seeing Alix Lambert’s photograph of a tattooed head on the cover of Open City magazine. Wouldn’t it be awesome, I thought, for a guy to periodically trace a tatoo along his hairline as soon as he saw that it was changing? Add a new line maybe once or twice a year. As his hairline moved back, his tattoo would grow, and it would take on some kind of chronotopographical shape, somewhere between ripples in the sand and hollows in a sandstone cliff. Like carving notches in a growing kid’s door jamb, the tattoo would become a portable, integral memento of a passage of the man’s life.
Obviously, as my own tattoo-less head proves, there are complications to such a project. The generally negative perception of hair loss means that a guy’s denial and anxiety are strongest when it starts; you’re ignoring your hairline is shifting at the exact moment you’d need to start documenting the migration. You wash your face, and your muscle memory fails to take into account your extra forehead. But it works out because when you shampoo, you still try to lather up the top of your head the most, even though that’s not where most of your hair is anymore.
Tattoos have become far more popular and destigmatized since 1995, but facial/head tattoos still seem to carry a taboo that can affect acceptance among the mainstream culture. A guy with a bad hair transplant could become Vice-freaking-President in this country, but a guy with a conceptual scalp tattoo would be unemployable.
A corollary project would be a conceptual approach to hair transplants that rejects the default “naturalistic” aesthetic which is the unquestioned ideal. I remember seeing a guy in that first Barnes & Noble on Broadway, up from Zabar’s, an Indian/Asian guy with a vast, smooth head with a tiny fringe and like ten hair plugs on top. It’s like he was determined to get something done, but he only had money enough for a dozen plugs. And yet some doctor took his money and arranged his plugs in bowling pin formation on the top of his endlessly bald head.
But what if a guy laid out his hair transplants in a design? A spiral, a fan radiating from his now-invisible widow’s peak? A lightning bolt? The Nike Swoosh? Any one of the thousands of designs that guys get shaved into their fades every day on Astor Place–only in reverse and permanent?

Civilian Conservation Corps, AKA The Earthworks Progress Administration

Over the holidays, I taped an interview with my great uncle Wayne. He is my paternal grandfather Champ’s older brother. [Yes, I did ask him about my grandfather’s name. His recollection was that my great grandfather Chester Jehiel Allen hated his own name so much, he was determined to give his kids one monosyllabic name apiece. But that’s not the point right now.]
Wayne told me as a young man growing up in central Utah, my grandfather had worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was one of the most successful Depression-era jobs programs; it put hundreds of thousands of men, mostly from rural areas, to work building roads, dams, bridges and national park fixtures, and doing other construction-type projects.
I’ve been surfing around on the history of the CCC in Utah, trying to get a sense for what his experience was like. From newsletters archived by the Utah State Historical Society, it sounds like it was run in a quasi-military style, with camps and barracks and ranks; it’s hard to imagine my grandfather fitting in well.
The USHS also has several collections of photographs taken by CCC members, though I couldn’t find any yet from the camps or periods Champ served. The photos show camps or the projects: structures in remote desert landscapes lacking any readily identifiable landmarks. Gabions and walls and foundations of stone in the middle of the desert. Not just bridges to nowhere, but bridges to, from, and in nowhere. Some of them unexpectedly reminded me of Earth Art sculptures.
Ashley A. Workman served in the CCC for seven years, 1934-41, in ten different camps. This undated, unsited photo from his collection of “some type of CCC bridge construction project.” What else could a minimalistic geometric structure, stripped of time, place, context, and utility be but a sculpture? [here’s another view of it.]
We know where Lamar Peterson took this photo, “”Dam on Santa Clara River, Shivcoit Indian Reservation,” [actually, I believe that should be Shivwits, a band of the Paiute tribe] but it still looks like it could be part of Michael Heizer’s City.
I have no idea what Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter deMaria, or any other earthworks artists thought or said about projects like the CCC’s. Maybe nothing at all, ever. We see these historical works from the other end of the temporal telescope now, but did they look different to people encountering them for the first time in the 1960’s and 70’s?
When these artists began conceiving massive sculptural interventions in the remotest desert landscapes they could find, the country was only a generation removed from the Depression. I expect there was a much greater general cultural awareness of the CCC and its built legacy. And then there’s the post-war construction and baby boom that saw American families taking cross-country roadtrips to national parks via new interstate highways.
If anyone’s seen Earthworks discussed well from this historical and aesthetic context, I’d love to know about it. And if anyone’s then looked even further back, with contemporized eyes, to explore the production of pre-minimalist and pre-Earthwork objects, I’d definitely love to know about it, too.
Images 2 of 1455 CCC photos in the Utah State Historical Society Collection []

“Topaz Carpenter”

I’d had the idea all worked out, and the script outline–or a draft of it, anyway–all ready for a couple of years, but my paternal grandfather Champ passed away before I was able to make the original documentary about him I’d envisioned.
In 2001, I rather impetuously set off to interview my grandmother Avis, his wife, about their life. Which is when I learned he’d been in a band. With outfits and everything. A dance hall country band that traveled the desert towns in Utah and thereabouts. It’s how he and my grandmother had met. I guess that made her a groupie.
As long as I’d known, he was only ever the gregarious, Center Street businessman, the guy who ran the dry cleaners where everyone took their Sunday clothes. But my childhood memories of him picking songs for me on his guitar changed as I imagined how, for him, playing music was also a reminder of the life he’d given up when he had a family.
I’d met my great uncle Wayne, Champ’s brother, twice. At Champ’s funeral, and then a little over a year ago at Avis’s. It occurred to me that I should talk to him, hear his stories, see his photos and mementos. Because he is only one of a few people left who can provide some sense of my grandfather as a young man.
And so over Christmas, I took a few hours to visit with him and his wife. And that’s when he told me in addition to a musician, my grandfather had been a hobo. In central Utah in the Depression [aka, the last Depression, -ed.], there wasn’t enough work in your tiny hometown, so you had to hit the road to find a job.
And in the Summer of 1942, after he and Avis married and had one, maybe even two kids, he left them and traveled to the desert town of Delta, where he got a job building the Topaz Internment Camp, where over 8,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned for up to three years.
Like most all the internment camps, Topaz Camp was built in a hurry, on a grid, using plans adapted from military barracks. Tarpaper-covered sheds were finished in sheetrock on the inside, and each block was divided up into apartments in a range of sizes–all too small–to accommodate different sizes of families. If they wanted any furnishings beyond the military cot provided, the internees had to build it out of the scrapwood the carpenters–including my grandfather–left behind.
Specifics of the camp’s buildings and design were collected by the National Park Service, which conducted a survey in 2005 of all the sites and artifacts associated with the imprisonment of Japanese Americans [pdf], in order to identify candidates for National Historic Landmark status. In their report, it says,

Local craftsmen were used, but the requirements were not always stringent; in Millard County, Utah, near the Topaz Relocation Center, “Topaz Carpenter” is still a derogatory term, since anyone who showed up at the site with a hammer would be hired.

And a damn good thing, too, I guess. It’s an odd feeling to suddenly find oneself–or one’s family–on the wrong side of history. On several wrong sides, actually, if the “Topaz Carpenter” dig were real. I don’t doubt that some people say/said it, but it so happens that my maternal grandmother grew up in Delta, and neither she nor her people seem to have ever heard the term.
Until I posted about it, the NPS survey was the only Google reference to Topaz Carpenters. It was someone’s insult generations ago in the middle of BF Utah, and it ended up in a government history survey, sounding pretty official. Part of me wants to defend my grandfather by disproving the term’s popularity, as if that would somehow change its accuracy. Because he really was a guy who showed up with a hammer, got hired, and who, in just a few weeks, built a prison camp for his fellow Americans.
After the camp was closed in 1945, the barracks were either torn down or sold to local farmers, who used them as barns, even a home or two. There was one left nearby–half of one, really, a 20 x 60 section, being used as a shed–which was donated and restored in 1991 to help create the Topaz Museum. [images:] Which is now on my list of places to visit next time I’m in Utah with a couple of days to spare.
This [Japanese] American [Internment Camp] Life [, 2007]
Ansel Adams Japanese American concentration camp photos from Manzanar [, 2003]

Well, I Remember The First Time I Visited The Spiral Jetty

Former NGA curator and Dia director Jeffrey Weiss writes about the state of Land Art in the latest issue of Artforum. His focus: T.S.O.Y.W., a 3-hour Earthworks road trip movie/installation by Amy Granat and Drew Heitzler shown in this year’s Whitney Biennial, and the Sculpture Center’s recent exhibition of feminism and Land Art in the 1970’s [which featured the Agnes Denes work, Wheatfield – A Confrontation in Battery Park City that I mentioned a couple of months ago.]

As Earthworks come of age, their fate has begun to look contingent and fragile. Those who are charged with caring for the sites are rightly doing what they can to forestall change; but a true poetics of Land art–given the very nature of the medium–must at least contend with the conflict between an ethic of preservation and the entropic pull of nature and culture that belongs to the content of the work. In this setting, Granat and Heitzler are melancholic visionaries. Their wheels, like reels, turn in order to draw a straight line and follow it: Their line is the road, a figure for unbounded space and inexhaustible time. But as their bike moves forward, their eyes gaze, historically, back; T.S.O.Y.W. shows us that memory has become a chief element of the temporal condition of the Earthwork. The film’s end is a running-down and out, a sudden shift from images of the infinite desert to scarred film leader, then, abruptly, to nothing at all. Forever turns out to be the ultimate conceit. [emphasis added]

Hmm, let’s ignore the conceit of a film ending abruptly while it’s actually screening on an endless loop in a gallery.
I’m intrigued by the idea that memory is a “chief element” of Land Art and its “temporal condition,” if it somehow equates to the divergence between the contemporary condition and experience of visiting the work/site and its various representations, whether in film, photograph, or documenting ephemera.
For most art audience members over the intervening decades–curators, critics, collectors and artists included– Land Art exists as books, photos, gallery presentations, and texts. At the Whitney’s Robert Smithson retrospective in 2005, one symposium panelist went so far as to argue that Spiral Jetty was primarily a film and photo work, as if the jetty itself were just a location, a bit of IMDb trivia. It sounded to me then like just the kind of critical reading that a New York art worlder would make who’d come of age when the Jetty was submerged, and who’d never bothered going to Utah in the 10+ years since it re-appeared.
With images and expectations formed in our head, actually visiting an Earthwork can be as disorienting as meeting your favorite NPR host. Or if, as Weiss points out, the work has deteriorated over time, it’s like meeting an author who hasn’t updated his bookjacket photo for a while. And the disconnect can be jarring; When Titus O’Brien made his pilgrimage to Smithson’s last work, Amarillo Ramp, he found the powerful sculptural form of the iconic 1973 photograph had become “a worn down, weed covered, neglected berm of dirt you’d just mistake for an old watering trough dam. A phantom.”
But memory is more than the gap between reality and what we think reality is; it’s the reconciliation and construction of the two. Weiss’s concerns about the complications Land Art curators face is right, but maybe not in the way he says. From Marfa to the Lightning Field to the Jetty to even Michael Heizer’s Double Negative and Turrell’s Roden Crater, the Earthworks Road Trip has matured in the last decade as both a real experience and a concept. As more people make the pilgrimages and have personal encounters with these works, not only do their memories of the works change, but other people begin to perceive the works not just as images in a book or on a wall, but as visitable sites.
I wonder how the perceptions and understanding of Walter deMaria’s Lightning Field change when they’re based, not just on John Cliett’s dramatic, official photos [via], but on firsthand accounts of the 24-hour visiting experience, very few of which appear to involve actual lightning? And how would that change if Dia and deMaria allowed visitor photographs? When it comes to Land Art in the present and future, there are still a few more conceits left to be addressed.

Love And Music

I’ve been working with a recent episode of WNYC’s Radiolab on in the background. The subject is memory, which also happens to be the subject of my series of short films, The Souvenir Series.
There was a typical brainy [sic] science segment on how memories are created–and blocked–in the brain, then a kind of random story about Joe Andoe’s paintings. The possibility that memory is metaphorically more like creating a work of art than filing a piece of data away is interesting, maybe even persuasive, though our metaphors usually turn out to be more revealing of us at a particular moment in our culture than accurately illuminating of what’s actually going on.
But it was the last story, about Clive and Deborah Wearing and an overwhelming amnesia that just stopped me cold. It started out as one more Oliver Sacks bauble before taking a remarkably poignant turn. Just listen to it, I can’t tell you how it goes.
Radiolab Show #304: Memory and Forgetting []

Alberto Burri’s Cretto


Like Pompeii in reverse, Gibellina has been remembered by its ghost-like burial instead of an unearthing.
In 1968, an earthquake devastated villages throughout the Belice Valley of western Sicily. The Italian government’s incompetent response to the disaster and the corruption that absorbed rescue & redevelopment funds turned “Belice” into a cautionary touchstone of Italian politics. It’s a scenario that might resonate today, even. In the United States. And/or in Iraq.
Anyway, in the mid-80’s, artist Alberto Burri proposed a memorial to victims of the earthquake. His plan: encase the ruins and detritus of the abandoned hill town of Gibellina in concrete, leaving the roads as a solid, labyrinthine palimpsest of the village’s public spaces. [The whole town had been rebuilt and relocated closer to the freeway soon after the earthquake. No preserve-or-rebuild debates there.]


The remarkable thing: the memorial was built. Cretto is now a 20+ acre piece of mesmerizing land art, the pathways of an entire town petrified in brutalist, post-minimalist concrete. Now, of course, in 2006, it looks like Peter Eisenman’s Berlin Holocaust Memorial, but with content. The other thing it reminds me of is an old NYT Magazine article [date? who knows?] about the challenge of designing effective warning signs for a Nevada nuclear waste dump. To get the “Keep Out” message across 10,000 years from now, someone suggested paving a giant desert quadrant with spiky black stone, which the heat alone would render nearly impassable. Haven’t heard much about that since.
Other things I haven’t heard: anyone–even the memorial experts–discuss Burri’s work in relation to the World Trade Center site, or even in the larger contexts of the evolution of memorial design, much less of Land Art. What gives?
Aleksandra Mir mentioned Cretto in her top ten list for this month’s Artforum [artforum]
Cretto [archidose talked about it, though. twice.]
09/2010 UPDATE Google Maps now has higher res images, and Street View. of BF Sicily.

This Thanksgiving Dinner Was Brought To You By…

Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish was what finally woke us up. Attributions are a vital ingredient to that get added after a recipe is passed along, often without the original chef’s knowledge.
We’ve been eating Val’s rolls at family gatherings for as long as I’ve been on solid foods, but once when my mother mentioned them to Val’s granddaughter–who then asked Val–Val said she wondered if she’d ever made such rolls. She doubted it.
Winifred’s granddaughter, meanwhile, called on Wednesday to ask my mother a recipe question. My mother–whose tenure as the food editor of the local paper followed and was dwarfed by Winifred’s–said, oh, you should have her bring something. Her cranberry relish. It’s Susan Stanberg’s recipe, but she gave it to me years ago. Within five minutes, Winifred called my mom to find out what her own cranberry relish recipe was, because she’d just been asked to bring it. When they’re passed along, recipes get marked and remembered by the recipient, and every taste ever after is a one-way mnemonic trigger of the connection.
Also on the table:

  • Doris Epps’ sweet potatoes
  • Grandma Mary’s sausage stuffing
  • Grandma Mary’s bread [which has since been commercialized by a distant cousin and is available fresh every day at a local bakery.]
  • Aunt Marilyn’s coconut bavarian cream pie [which, we suspect, actually originated on the back of an ancient bag of coconut flakes. Someone at Kraft needs to send Aunt Marilyn a check.]
  • “Films, like memories, seem to re-shoot themselves over the years”

    J.G. Ballard takes a new look at the films of Michael Powell on the centenary of his birth.

    I think of Powell as a prophet whose films offer important lessons to both film-makers and novelists, especially the latter, who are still preoccupied with character and individual moral choice. My guess is that the serious novel of the future will be serious in the way that Powell’s and Hitchcock’s films are serious, where the psychological drama has migrated from inside the characters’ heads to the world around them. This is true to everyday life, where we know little about the real nature of the people around us, and less about ourselves than we think, but are highly sensitive to the surrounding atmosphere.

    The Prophet [guardian]
    the National Film Theatre’s Powell retrospective continues through the end of August. []

    Going To Japan. Stay Tuned

    I’m heading to Japan for a month with the family. Tokyo this time, so there’s a lot to do and see. I’ve got a couple of projects I’m working on in and around Tokyo, and I’m going to shoot another installment of “The Souvenir Series,” my 12-part short film series about different aspects of memory.
    I’ll post more details later, but the idea is one I’ve had since freshman English in college. My teacher at BYU, a woman named Elouise Bell, talked about how the world she knew, knew firsthand, that is, was actually quite a narrow place: Utah, parts of Los Angeles, some small towns in France where she’d lived as a young woman… Ever since that class, I’ve seen the idea of “my world” as something ressembling a cell phone coverage map, but for a very crappy service provider: thin ribbons of well-traveled routes connecting small-to-largish zones of familiarity, but surrounded by unknown, uncovered territory.
    It’s like saying you konw New Jersey because you take the Turnpike. Trust me, get about 30 seconds off the Turnpike, and you’ll be in a foreign country, my friend.
    In the film, I’m going to retrace some of the paths I laid down in rural Japan almost twenty years ago, when I lived there as a bike-riding, 19-year-old Mormon missionary. The core idea is retracing, to document some attempts to retrace the routes I used to take every day, all the time. It may be like riding a bike, or it may not. We’ll see.

    “Memories are strange creatures…”

    …they appear uninvited, grab you by the throat, flood your senses and then shoot away in a microsecond, leaving few traces. Mr. Lelyveld explores some intriguing themes: How much do we really remember? Why do we forget? What would happen if we found documentary records or witnesses who could fill in missing pieces of our imagined family narrative? What hidden catastrophes would fly out?

    from William Doyle’s review of Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop, by Joseph Lelyveld

    A Journalist Investigates Memory, Family and Race

    Noah Baumbach on ‘The Squid and the Whale’

    The writer-director Noah Baumbach, 35, based the film on his own experience of his parents’ divorce. He said that he had struggled for years to find his voice as a filmmaker after making Kicking and Screaming in 1995 but had an epiphany at a screening of the Louis Malle classic Murmur of the Heart, organized by his friend Wes Anderson (a Squid producer).
    “I thought I should deal with this moment in my life,” he said after an early morning screening on Wednesday. “But it’s why it took me a long time to get it done. There was a censor in me, not in a literal way, more in general, wondering what people might think and who would care – it’s only my story. Letting go of that censor was really important; personally, it was a breakthrough.”
    Mr. Baumbach’s mother, Georgia Brown, was a film critic for The Village Voice, and his father, Jonathan, is a film critic and novelist who teaches at Brooklyn College. Neither parent, as portrayed in the film, is particularly sympathetic. Mr. Baumbach said it was all right with his real-life parents “because they’re writers.”
    The director had [Jeff] Daniels borrow some of Jonathan Baumbach’s clothes for his wardrobe. “I liked to use things that connected me to that time, in a Proustian way,” he said. [nice. -g.o]

    Discussion of an actual film, buried in Tony Scott’s nerdy “Sundance is all about scamming free stuff” article.

    On Remembering

    I started this weblog to document a documentary I was going to make, a remembrance of sorts of my grandfathers. That film has been subsumed into the souvenir series. This week, even though he was never the subject of that film, I’ve been thinking about my great-grandfather a lot, too. That’s because he died in 1982, at age 90. He had a shorter battle with Alzheimer’s than Reagan did. These men differed in other ways, too:
    Reagan: Cut a deal to keep US hostages in Iran until after his election. Incubated Islamic militarism and, ultimately, Osama Bin Laden. Armed Saddam Hussein. Sent Rumsfeld to offer support while he gassed the Kurds. OK’ed the invasion of Lebanon. Cut and ran after terrorists killed US Marines. Sold heavy weaponry to Iran to fund right-wing death squads in Nicaraqua. Prevented the government from addressing the AIDS epidemic. Invaded Grenada.
    Great-grandfather: Put a plow on a tractor and plowed under half a field of fullgrown corn next to his house before someone ran out to stop him.
    Reagan: Conflated speeches with actions.
    Great-grandfather: Never said much.
    One of my earliest memories of him was a visit we made one summer when I was 4 or 5. I was already too much a city kid, or a suburban kid, really; visiting the farm was already an exotic, scary adventure.
    He was wearing worn overalls and a tan shirt. We were kneeling under a giant willow tree in my grandparents’ backyard (they’d built just down the street; my grandfather had followed his father into farming.), and he was showing me the carrots growing around its base. He pulled one out and offered it to me to taste. It was small, too early to harvest then, but highly marketable as a baby carrot now, I’d imagine. It’s got dirt on it, I recoiled, you have to wash it first. He smiled and brushed some dirt off it, and started nibbling on it himself. Then he pulled out another one and offered it to me. Flush with thrilling fear, I ate an unwashed carrot straight from the ground.