The last two weeks, I

The last two weeks, I have been consumed by the task of writing a screenplay for a short film that has been percolating/eating at me/distracting me since the late fall. ( You do the math.) I’m thinking of posting either an in-process or a finished version of the script here soon; we’ll see. Shooting should take only about three days.

The format a short film takes–as dictated by various film festival submission requirements and a group called The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences— is proving to be at once constraining and liberating, maybe like writing a sonnet or something. There’s enough structure to give ready shape to the ideas and story I’ve got in my mind.

The movie is set in France (thus my last post about rental cars in France), and explores the lives and views of people living in the aftermath of World War I. It specifically looks at the Battle of the Somme, which was one of the most devastating, prolonged, and–in some ways–pointless acts of violence in the century.

At the time (starting in 1916), it was extremely difficult for people to adequately comprehend the scale of the killing that took place, and it was supposed that nothing could surpass it. Such views were, of course, proven wrong in WWII and since.

While The Somme lives on in metaphor and has specifically been invoked to describe Ground Zero and the killings of September 11, I think the contemporary view is quite removed from the experiences and perspectives that prevailed “in the wake” of 1916.

Hellfire Corner is a tremendous source of current and historical information about The Great War, which still seems to resonate in the UK far more than in the US (as far as I’ve seen, anyway). When I was visiting the UK for some friends’ art opening last October, I saw many Londoners wearing the Flanders Poppy on their lapels, a sign of remembrance for those lost in battle that seems to proliferate in the Armistice Day/Veteran’s Day season.

It’s odd and unexpected how this writing and pre-prod process is having such a cathartic, mind-clearing effect on my other, “main” project. Like gauging and mapping out a boulder that has been blocking the (clear, I thought) path.

A sign that 2002 is

A sign that 2002 is starting out to be a great year: I was looking for rental cars in France (more about that to come), and I found the site for Voditi, a specialty car rental company near Paris. Through their partnership with Europcar, their cars are available at other major French destinations as well. So what? They rent Citroen 2CV’s, the world’s greatest car. Here is a link to a usenet discussion thread in 1996, which was a fruitless search for 2CV’s for rent. Ahh, I remember it well. (PS I finally bought my 2CV in 1996 on Minitel.)

Janet Cardiff at P.S. 1

Janet Cardiff at P.S. 1 MoMA: It’s rare when a work of art has the power to transform, transport so completely. Forty-part motet is such a work. 40 speakers are arranged in an ellipse in the gallery, each playing an individually recorded member of a choir. The unaccompanied choir sings a work in Latin by Thomas Tallis, a 16th century English composer. [see this National Gallery of Canada link for a more detailed description.]

You move among the speakers, pausing in front of one, trying to hear two or three at once, then move into the center to hear them all. The wall text describes the artist’s interest in the role of the individual, the impression of the collective, and the individual’s ability to succeed as part of a whole.

Does this adequately explain why every person who entered the gallery became transfixed, practically held captive once they figured out how the piece worked? Or why nearly every single person there looked like their thoughts were a million miles away? Or why almost everyone was caught wiping tears away? I don’t think so.

Cardiff’s work creates a simultaneous, visceral feeling of both presence and absence. The members of the choir are right in front of us; we hear them, sense them, move among them. But they’re not. They’re gone. And the work, by its nature, lets us know that they’re not there. In this city, at this time (the show opened on October 14), a work that aspired to one level of impact has achieved something almost unimaginably transcendent.

How NOT to screen video

How NOT to screen video of farmers baling hay that you shot on your first day of your first location:

1) Watch Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, in which nearly every scene looks like a Vermeer, a Hopper, shot at “magic hour.”[note: this link’s a bit random; a blurb on magic hour from a home entertainment center dealer]
2)Watch your own. shot on DV.
You know, I have to say, I started writing this entry before I screened our tape, immediately after being blown away again by Malick’s daunting images. I was intimidated, and I expected the stuff we shot to be totally unwatchable by comparison. You know, it’s not the case. Our footage is certainly different, very rough in spots, and will probably not win the cinematography prize at Cannes like Nestor Almendros’ work did, but it’s not bad.
The first third of the tape were exterior shots of the barn/shed and the fields behind my grandparents’ house; their neighbor’s corral with its tired old horse; and the lawn, huge evergreen bushes and a willow tree in the backyard. (I remember when these bushes were small enough to see through, if not quite over.) There’s no sound, though. At all. I remember that.
The middle third is of my grandmother driving through Mapleton, discussing the town and their land and farming as we searched for hay being baled. We’d missed most of the harvest by a week or so, as it turns out, due to scheduling exigencies. She’s pretty good. Decades of teaching elementary school show themselves in her clear, descriptive manner.
The last third was new to me. We’d found a crew loading bales of hay onto a trailer, and Jeff got out to shoot them while I went back to get our car. There’s an interesting poetry in the footage. Two teenagers with T-shirts and baseball caps and a late 30’s guy with a walrus mustache, a paunch, and those glasses that darken automatically when you go outside. It’s hot (100+) and it’s clearly hard work. Every once in a while, you can see where the guys are hamming for the camera. No way are they gonna be caught on film struggling with a bale of hay. Jeff kept the tape rolling nonstop, so myriad adjustments and setups punctuate the footage. As he jogged towards my approaching car, he said, “that loud sound is the A/C. I could use some water.”
The mountains in the background, the cloud-streaked blue sky, the deep green field, these young guys doing essentially 100-year old work that’s not so different from that of Malick’s farmers. It’s encouraging. (and late. good night.)

When my grandfather was still

When my grandfather was still farming, the shed behind their house was where he parked his tractor and combine. It’s still where spare parts and empty grain bags hang at the ready and where tools fill the old kitchen cabinets.

This NYTimes article by Becky Gaylord talks about mens’ sheds in Australia. There’s apparently a book, Blokes & Sheds, by Mark Thomson, who’s quoted in the article. Some ideas I liked:

What looks like chaos to outsiders is easily deciphered by the master of the shed. A man can put down a wrench in his shed and know it will stay in the same spot until he moves it weeks, or even years, later…
Men speak of shed coal: layers of things that build up on the floor, shelves and workbench, reflecting the depth of their lives.

So we have bought one

So we have bought one car on ebaymotors, which I wrote about before. This morning, I surfed across the ad below while looking for our next vehicle, a Ford F-150 truck. My grandparents have gotten a new Ford truck every year or two for as long as I’ve been alive, and probably longer. We used my grandmother’s truck during our first location in August.

FOR SALE: 2000 Harley F-150
Sweet Truck, moving to dirt road, must sell. Asking payoff around $25,000 call or e-mail for current price. 22k miles, in storage.

It’s located in Michigan. Tempting, but unfortunately, even though the 2000 Harley edition has the desirable extended cab (vs. the 2001 Super cab, which is too big), the flareside short bed seems a bit too small, and–most importantly–it’s only 2wd. Did I mention I live on the upper east side?

This morning on NPR, there

This morning on NPR, there was a commentary about the Christmas Truce, a moment in the first year of WWI when British and German troops left their trenches, met in No Man’s Land, and exchanged cigarettes and jam, sang Christmas carols, and even played soccer. This ad hoc truce was unofficial and unsanctioned, and it obviously didn’t last, but it was a last vestige of a human, individual, moral approach to war that was rendered obsolete by WWI’s technological advances. Paul Fussell, a UPenn historian, called it “the last twitch of the 19th century.” Read firsthand accounts of the Christmas Truce here.

This story reminded me of a trip I made in early 2000 with Paul, a former colleague of mine, while we were working in Paris. We set out one cold Saturday to visit WWI memorials to the Battle of the Somme. We set out to visit the British Memorial at the village of Thiepval [note: link is in pdf format], designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. This arch is inscribed with the names of thousands of missing soldiers and was one inspiration for Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial [note: official Park Services websites are currently offline]. In November 2000, Maya Lin discussed Lutyens’ influence in an essay she wrote in 1982, right after completing the then-controversial memorial. Read it in the New York Review of Books.

Merry Christmas.

Got back last night from

Got back last night from a week in DC, sans video setup, in order to host an event at MoMA that turned out even better than I’d hoped.

The co-creators of Towers of Light, a proposal for an ephemeral memorial to the World Trade Center, discussed the project and its evolution. How it’s gone from independent, abstract ideas and visions springing from different needs and visions (restitution, ghost limbs, spatial composition and urban planning) to an emminently realizable, concrete and remarkably cohesive proposal.

The collaboration that has taken shape includes artists Julian Laverdiere and Paul Myoda; architects Gustavo Bonevardi and John Bennett; Creative Time; and the Municipal Arts Society. Given that I know all four instigators and have counted at least two of them as friends for years, I’m especially eager to see this powerful project happen. The Towers of Light link above has a place to share your comments and support (note: They don’t need money.)

Also, a photographer whose work I really admire, Philip-Lorca di Corcia, has had three shows, one in New York at PaceWildenstein [sorry, can’t find a good link], one in London at Gagosian, UK, and one in Paris at Galerie Almine Rech [flash prevents deep linking…], which was the first showing I know of of his highly influential (i.e., frequently copied) fashion photography work. Check it out.

Cold, drizzly Sunday afternoon=prime logging

Cold, drizzly Sunday afternoon=prime logging (and weblogging time). Here is some real-time video screening/logging before I run over to my in-laws’ apartment:

Tape 4: Closeups of my grandmother’s photographs. Jeff’s idea was to have her hold them rather than just to shoot them on their own, Ric Burns-style. Great images, nicely framed with her hands and sweater popping in from time to time. We can insert these cuts in her discussions of the various pics. One bummer: she’d tell some stories while we were shooting the photos, too (she was still miked up); some of these stories got cut off when Jeff’d stop taping a photo and request the next one. We weren’t aware enough of what we were getting, I guess.

Shooting along an irrigation ditch, the first one. It was concrete lined, so the water ran much more quickly. Jeff (the cameraman) was straddling the ditch. Several great shots, useful for voiceover, narrative breaks, whatever. Then he suddenly swears at the camera. He flips around, looking through the camera as the rubber eyepiece rushes downstream. “Sht, sht sht,” and then there’s me busting up laughing, knowing that this eyepiece, which never seemed to stay on anyway, wouldn’t be bothering us anymore. A slight, old guy with a straw hat and shaded clips on his glasses comes over to see what’s up. “That water comes out over to Center Street, if you want to go catch it,” he offers wryly.

First interior shots of one of the dry cleaners. A lot of tight, well-framed images of the various equipment stations, the clothes racks, etc. No people, really. (There were only two working at the time, and we’d made plans to go back the next morningto capture the hubbub.) Reminds me of shots from a smaller, less monumental Jane and Louise Wilson video.

gotta run.

A recently abused phrase:

A recently abused phrase: The terrorists have already won. Nearly 600 occurences on Google as I type, including at The Onion. I mention this at all because a neighbor and I were trying to figure out how The Daily Show had used it, and I just found the quote. From 18 October 2001.

“Let me get this staight, Jon.
Congress has been reduced to backing an 80’s novelty rap star (MC Hammer) on the steps of the Capitol?
The terrorists have already won, Jon.”

-Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show

Yikes. I feel like I

Yikes. I feel like I either must or must not watch the documentary, Project Greenlight, which premiers on HBO tonight. It’s the “making of” story of a guy from Chicago who won an online script contest by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s production company, Live Planet; top prize waw a $1mm budget and a distribution deal from Miramax. The NY Times review hinted at a couple of interesting and not-unexpected points: 1) Ben Affleck’s observation on the possible heinousness of the final product (an anxiety I share about my own project), “If Pete’s works, it’s `Stand by Me.’ If it doesn’t, it’s the after- school special I did when I was 13.” and 2) Caryn James’ observation that “though no one says this on camera, one of Mr. Jones’s assets was that his personality plays better on television than the runner-up’s.” As it turns out, then, was like acing the SAT’s or winning the first Survivor; there is a system to be understood and played. Just sign up for the Princeton Review of film making…

[added 18 Feb 02: Looking

[added 18 Feb 02: Looking for Madonna & Gursky? scroll down or click here.]

Just got this via email tonight:

Documentary Fortnight , a film and video festival at MoMA December 6-16. Most of the movies are in the “social documentary tradition,” meant to illuminate, motivate, and drive social change. Many relate in some way or another to September 11 and the aftermath, including a veritable A&E marathon weekend’s worth of Afghan- and Islam-related works. Hmm. Here are two films that look interesting to me:

The Fourth Dimension. 2001. USA/Japan. Directed by Trinh T. Minh-Ha. The Fourth Dimension is a multilayered work that utilizes visual metaphors to address its central themes: the experience of time, the impossibility of truly seeing, and the impact of video on image making.

Beneath the Veil 2000-01. United Kingdom. Directed by Saira Shah. British journalist Shah used a hidden camera to film the lives of ordinary Afghans under the Taliban. The result shows shocking footage of mass executions and insight into the oppression suffered by Afghan women. 49 min.

This second one reminds me of a docu I saw at Sundance in 1990 called H2 Worker, by Stephanie Black, which was also shot undercover (albeit in the sugar plantations of Florida, USA).

As this log grows, I

As this log grows, I hear it’s becoming tricky for new visitors to the site to get up to speed with the project; I hope the highlight links will be useful (they already seem to be getting some use). As it turns out, there are nearly as many entries about NOT working on the movie, about daily life, and, obviously, about dealing with the September 11 events and their effect on the city. These entries aren’t included in the highlights links, but they are integral to the site.

When I first conceived this documentary over two years ago, it was different in key aspects from what I intend it to be now. It’s a product of my mind, my family, and my surroundings now, which are all different than in 1998. And now is different than August. So for those of you who are new to this site, I’d recommend looking to the highlight links for the nuts and bolts of this documentary project, and to the rest of the site for the context that’s informing it.

On an unrelated, much lighter (and, given the “deep thought” seriousness of recent entries, much needed) note, I surfed out all the sites I regularly visit during the holidays. Rather than watch movies (see last post) over Thanksgiving, I checked in on some ancient sites that that were cool before the web itself was cool (i.e., in 1995-7).

Blair Magazine: Some of these guys used to work with some friends. Whaddya know, there’s a new edition, number 7, after almost a two-year hiatus.

Polyestuh, aka Pimpz.org: Unlike Blair, this site hardly seems to have changed at all since 1996. It even recommends you use Netscape 2.0, just to “stick it to the man.” Those were the days.

Netscape Browser Archive: So if you’re interested in getting Netscape 2.0, or any other release, for that matter, check here. It supports “Java,” after all…

At the beach in North

At the beach in North Carolina, camped out with the family for Thanksgiving. I’ve taken to traveling with my DV camera, AV cables, and a pile of tapes to screen whenever I can get behind a TV. Unfortunately, it turns out none of our TV’s has a compatible input, so I’m reduced to screening in the view finder, with no audio. Less than ideal, but a nice escape from the movies the other car picked: Best of Show; Legally Blonde; O Brother, Where art thou, and Finding Forrester.

So the first tape I put in didn’t have a label, just a date. I started watching it, and I didn’t recognize anyone in it at all. There were little kids running around, talking to the camera, shots of the sky, the camera set in the grass, some “dog’s eye view” running across a lawn, but nothing that could be identify what kind of occasion it was. Where had I gotten this tape? The handwriting of the date seemed familiar (my brother? my father?), but not really. As I tried to imagine what in the world this (silent) tape was and how it fit into my life, all sorts of worst case scenarios began popping into my head. I forwarded trough the whole tape. Nothing prurient, at least as far as I could tell. But you never know. What were they saying? Was the cameraman talking to them? Those Steven Meisel ads for Calvin Klein came to mind.

As I re-viewed the tape, more slowly, looking for a visual clue of who shot it and what it was, I caught a glimpse of the cameraman as he placed the camera in the grass to shoot up into the sky. Frame advance, rewind, rewind, rewind. Freeze. The happy mug of my friend and cameraman in Utah was upsidedown in the top of the frame. Whew. Now it made sense. He’d borrowed my camera package for a weekend to shoot some stuff at a family reunion. These were his cousins. I remember talking about his idea for a piece at the time (he’s an MFA student.) and the British artist, Gillian Wearing. This 1997 article from the CS Monitor mentioned an exhibit of Wearing’s where she video’ed adults lip-syncing the confessions of teenagers. A quote: “The video’s overall effect is to provoke a disquieting sense of confessionalism and voyeurism – of the private being made public in an inappropriate way.” This idea, or more specifically, the trepidation of my project falling into just that trap, has been a topic here on greg.org before (see the archives). Anyway, turns out none of my family (and at least one of my friends) is in a pedophilic photo club. Something to be thankful for, indeed.

It’s obvious to see how

It’s obvious to see how entertainment product has been superseded by reality since September 11; movies the country may have once flocked to are now recognized as fatuous and (potentially) consigned to oblivion (or straight-to-video, whichever’s worse). Today, I was made to wonder if the same thing should or would happen to so called “fine art.” Work of artists I both like and prefer to ignore has been pushed to the fore by recent events, and it’s a challenge to see how it holds up in the order-of-magnitude harsher glare. So many things aren’t abstracts or concepts any more; what happens to art that “addresses issues” and “explores limits” once these limits have been surpassed?
This afternoon I walked to Christie’s to preview the upcoming contemporary art auction. En route, I found Fifth Avenue to be completely closed for several blocks. I figured it’s UN week, Vicente Fox is at Trump Tower, that kind of thing. It turned out to be the funeral service of Donald Burns, the Assistant Chief of the NY Fire Department, held at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Nearly a thousand men and women in dress uniforms were standing at attention in the middle of the street, forming a line two blocks long and three to ten officers deep. [note: here is an image from a service one day earlier.] No one made a sound, including the spectators. Stores silenced their music. Burns’ casket and procession had just passed into the cathedral. After several minutes, the officers snapped to attention and began to file into the church. Two months did not diminish the overwhelming sadness and sense of grief the scene evoked.
BeecroftV_Intrepid_PAF2001.jpg
Vanessa Beecroft, The Silent Service, 2001, image via publicartfund.org
It also made me think of the work of Vanessa Beecroft, including a performance she staged in April 2001 on the Intrepid. Here is a photograph derived from the event. Especially when considered in concert with her earlier work, this seems almost as empty and wrong as a Schwarzenegger film. The emperor has no clothes, indeed.
At Christie’s I saw several monumental photographs by Andreas Gursky, whose work “presents a stunning and inventive image of our contemporary world,” according to MoMA’s curator, Peter Galassi. From the first week after the bombings, when I was in full CNN burnout, I wanted writers’ and artists’ perspectives, not Paula Zahn’s. The scale of the debris, the nature of the target, even in wire service photographs, it called for Gursky’s perspective to make some sense of it, perhaps. As it turns out, he was grounded in Los Angeles, where he’d been traveling with (and shooting) Madonna’s concert tour. The other end of the spectrum, it seems, now.
Irony and knowingness doesn’t work; sheer aesthetic, devoid of context or emotion doesn’t work; stunning monumentalism rings a little hollow. On the other hand, sentimentality, baring-all emotionality, sympathetic manipulation is even worse. What does it take to make meaningful art now? If it weren’t nearly 2 AM (and if I had any answers), I’d keep writing…
gursky-madonna-0913.jpg
[added 18 Feb 02: Here is Gursky’s photo from the 13 Sept. LA Madonna concert, which was unveiled at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris on 13 Feb. This has become one of the top five searches for my site.]