Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
He was the guest artist at this year's 2010 Monumenta at the Grand Palais in Paris. Earlier this year, he created a cavernous display described beautifully by British art critic Adrian Searle for the Guardian:
"First there is the noise, a clamour that fills the echoing vault of the Grand Palais like a great and distant crowd. It shifts as one wanders about Christian Boltanski's Personnes, his new project for Monumenta, the annual Parisian equivalent to Tate Modern's Turbine Hall commission. The roaring, sonorous boom of white noise separates into deep, regular thuds, and above it the croak of frogs or the alarm calls of unseen jungle birds. There are disco squelches and native drums.
These sounds are all human heartbeats. Visitors can make their own contribution by having their heart rhythms recorded by white-coated technicians in booths off the main space. Boltanski, one of France's leading artists, is compiling an archive of heartbeats that he intends to be housed, eventually, on a remote and inaccessible Japanese island. He has already collected over 15,000 individual recordings. One day, these beating hearts will all belong to the dead. If Boltanski's art endures, one might also imagine that the visitors who make it to the island in the future have yet to be born.
Boltanski's art is filled with tragedy, humour and a sense of the absurd. It's a hoot. It is also exceptionally cold. Monumenta usually takes place in late spring, but Boltanski delayed the opening to take advantage of lightless days and winter chill. Personnes is filled with intimations of the dead. To begin with, one is confronted by a long, high wall of stacked rusted boxes, each of them numbered, the contents of which are unknown. Beyond lies a field of old clothes, lain out in a grid running the length of the building, like municipal flower beds or a field of remembrance. There are old coats and anoraks, once-fashionable things and shapeless things, bright cardigans and children's sweaters, tatty jumpers and forlorn skirts – a rag-picker's field or the last day of the spring sales.
Rusted vertical posts divide the grid, supporting striplights slung between wires, whose thin glare gives the space a dismal carnival air – or the feel of some stadium in which detainees have been rounded up and sent to their doom. It is hard not to think of deportations and genocides, a recurrent theme in Boltanski's art.
A great mechanical grab suspended from a crane plucks at a mountain of more old clothes, repeatedly lifting quantities of wretched sweaters, dresses and coats towards the roof of the Belle Epoque building, only to drop them again in a flurry of flailing garments and clouds of dust, back on to the 50-tonne mound. The process is as pointless as it is interminable. Boltanski has said he thinks of the grab as the indifferent hand of God, or one of those fairground amusements where you try to grab a particular toy, and always fail.
Platitudes about death and absence are easy, however close to hand and present death always is. There are more people alive now than ever before. Ghosts have been crowded out and their voices drowned by the living, WG Sebald remarked somewhere. This thought also permeates Boltanski's art, which has insistently returned to the subject not just of death but of the anonymity death confers. He deals in traces rather than ghosts, with shadows and lists, photographs of the dead and piles of old clothes. His art, ultimately, is a memorial to nothing, to everyone and no one."
Boltanski himself is quoted as saying: "We are all so complicated, and then we die. We are a subject one day, with our vanities, our loves, our worries, and then one day, abruptly, we become nothing but an object, an absolutely disgusting pile of shit. We pass very quickly from one stage to the next. It's very bizarre. It will happen to all of us, and fairly soon too. We become an object you can handle like a stone, but a stone that was someone."
Thursday, July 29, 2010
She was once a Prince protégé. He co-wrote and produced her debut release, “May 19, 1992” on his Paisley Park label. I liked this album a lot and still have quite a soft spot for it and for her. Part spoken word over atmospheric sounds, part oddly gentle pop music, the album was pleasantly genre-defying.
And he cast her as his co-star in the most unfortunate film “Graffiti Bridge,” possibly one of the worst films ever made. No kidding.
But she went on to write “Justify My Love” with Lenny Kravitz (which became an enormous hit for Madonna), marry musician and singer/songwriter David Sylvian, have two children, cultivate a spiritual life following the Hindu guru Ammachi (or “Amma,” or “The Mother”), get divorced and move back to the frozen expanses of Minnesota.
And now sixteen years later, she has released her second full solo album, entitled “A Flutter And Some Words” and I am unexpectedly happy to hear from her again. Her soft, restrained vocals are still there but with more depth, and her imagery is just as sweet. This video for the first single, “By The Water” featuring a very David Sylvian-like intro is lovely.
I am captivated by the beauty, the snow, the solitude, the introspection--and by the string section!--in this trailer for her album.
"I'm goin' down,
I'm goin' under.
I'm returning to soil,
I'm returning to seed...
I don't know where I've been,
but it's not here where I belong..."
And if you're wondering, here is a 1991 video for "Hippy Blood," a track from her first release, produced by Prince.
Monday, July 26, 2010
With "Inception," we have a very rare occurrence in cinema: an intelligent action film. This is not to say that the film itself is about scholarly subjects or "high-falutin'" fancy topics. The structure of the film itself and the way it unfolds requires the VIEWER to be intelligent. And beyond that, the film requires a viewer who is alert and capable of recall and interpretation. Bless you, Christopher Nolan!
As someone who has been interested in dreams and dreaming my whole life (you may recall me mentioning in this post that I read Jung at sixteen), I was very excited to see an action film based on dreams. A team of elite specialists who can tap into people's dreams and manipulate the contents they find there are hired to plant the idea of dissolving a corporation into the subconscious of an heir to an energy empire. The mechanics of such a thing as controlled and shared lucid dreaming and how they learned to do it in the first place is presented as a fait-accompli in the film, but I really didn't care. I bought it and was along for the ride. With an absolutely fascinating story of dreams within dreams, layers and layers of consciousness and subconsciousness, and different rates of the passage of time along with spectacular special effects and marvelous action sequences that were never simply for the sake of an action sequence, this nearly two and a half hour film whizzed by for me and never hit a wrong note. I was particularly delighted to see how Nolan showed that external forces acting upon a dreamer can change the content of the dream; think of a time when you might have dreamt that a dog is biting your arm, for instance, and you wake to find that your arm is asleep because you have been laying on it! As one of the main characters in the film points out, dreaming is the only time where we are creating our reality while simultaneously perceiving it!
Recommend? YES, unequivocally.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
In front of a Nam June Paik-style pyramid of televisions, models in a variety of odd wigs wore a marvelous riot of plaids, checks, and stripes as well as paint-spattered or iridescent denim, and accessories (buttons, tee shirts, and umbrellas featuring the iconic Westwood "squiggle" design) emblazoned with slogans for causes supported by Westwood such as climate change ("Endangered Species") and her own Active Resistance to Propoganda movement (see my earlier post here).
Some ensembles had a retro vibe but what era it was emulating was hard to pinpoint--slightly 70s, slightly 80s, but cool and full of swagger.
Also shown were pieces featuring the phrase "Prince Charming" and a graphic design of ants. Is that a reference to a certain New Romantic act from days of yore (Adam)?
And finally, Dame Westwood, who has never been known to shy away from penis imagery, sews onto bathing suits a single long slim piece of mirror, pointing up, with two small round mirrors below it. Cheeky! AND hot!
Friday, July 23, 2010
In an interview for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Pabst, who hosts in his home many fundraisers for LGBT causes, said, "I like strong color, and I think the reason for that is that I grew up in households of painfully good taste: cream-colored walls, cream-colored upholstery. The color in a room was simply the art or a rug. The way I live now has a direct correlation to that, where I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. I love saturated color."
Of this fantastic painting, above, Pabst says,"The painting in my dressing room, [is] by Louise Lemp Pabst - she's my great-aunt. The subject was a Paris model. It's just a marvelous piece. She studied art in the U.S. and Paris. She did this portrait in the late 1920s, and she won an award for it in Paris."
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Manhattan is an island.
It is connected to my house.
First I have to drop
off my friends from the airport.
Then I have to find Tony.
He is by some mounds of dirt.
He wants a kiss and then he goes.
His mom won’t tell me where he is.
It’s a mean world.
Next I put some water in a book.
I do this backward so I
don’t need a freezer.
The water raises quickly and
composes itself into a block
on a photo of dental oddities.
This thing is just like
some other things but
it’s in disguise.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
This poignant French film stars Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling and Jérémie Renier as a trio of siblings dealing with the death of the family matriarch. Full of extremely valuable art and furnishings, the home they grew up in is home no longer. Only one sibling even lives in France anymore--Binoche and Renier live in New York and Beijing, respectively. Berling wants to keep the house and its furnishings intact, but the other two see no use for it.
It's difficult to sort through a lifetime of possessions, but even more difficult when that lifetime is associated with a legendary artist. The mother's uncle was a world-renowned Impressionist painter and it seems that the whole house and its contents are somehow an expression of this fame and brilliance.
Ultimately, this film is about letting go not only of objects, but about coming to terms with the idea that you will not live on, your treasures will not be someone else's treasures, and that there will come a time when you will be forgotten. Even if the objects live on, the specific memories and stories and feelings--the intimate value--will not. Memories and stories go with us when we die. Indirectly, this is a meditation on mortality, and what lasts, and how we deal or don't deal with it. Berling watches helplessly as his family legacy falls apart and slowly dissolves, not through malice on anyone's part, but simply through time, shifting tastes, changing values, and an upcoming generation that does not assign the same meaning to the past.
Produced in conjunction with the Musée d'Orsay, the film features actual art and objects from its collection: in the story, the family own two Corot paintings which were in actuality borrowed from the d'Orsay collection for the shoot. The art and furnishings occupy such a prominent place in the story, they become characters themselves. And although these pieces are featured so prominently, the film never feels academic or pedantic; it doesn't feel like an Art History course.
Recommend? Yes. It is a lovely, sad film that moves at a patient pace.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
How could I have been a college film major and missed seeing "The Bicycle Thieves?" I did however sit through hours and hours of Fassbinder, I have watched "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane," I have seen Kurosawa, I have watched "Jules et Jim," I have seen Cukor and Hitchcock and Hawks, and I have seen Buñuel and Cocteau and Renoir. But I missed this in film school. And seeing as I am on a sort of Italian Neo-Realist kick, I thought now would be a great time to see this cornerstone of the genre.
Directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1948, it follows Antonio, a poverty stricken, out-of-work husband and father who finally gets a job after a year of being unemployed (sounds like 2010 America instead of 1940s post-war Europe, doesn't it?). He is lucky enough to be picked for a job putting up posters around Rome. The only catch is, he needs a bicycle to do it. His wife sells their BEDSHEETS (think about that) in order to get the cash needed to get his bike out of hock.
The world seems rosy for a moment, as we see his pride and imagination rise up out of the squalor of the miserable tenement housing he lives in with his wife and children. But on his first day of work, his bicycle is stolen in front of him while he is on a ladder. He spends the rest of the film with his small son looking for the thief and for the return of his bicycle which comes to represent so much more than a piece of metal on wheels. It comes to mean salvation itself for Antonio and his family.
True to the Neo-Realist genre, this film is heartbreaking and painful. The tone and texture of the film is certainly helped by the fact that De Sica cast non-actors with no performance training. A breathtakingly subtle and unselfconscious performance comes from real factory worker Lamberto Maggiorani, as our main character Antonio.
Recommend? Yes. It is yet another important piece of film history.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
The first time I heard the Icelandic band Sigur Ros was in January of 2002. I was browsing in a store when a song began to play. It was a haunting, slow, otherworldly sound; a spacey lullaby. The singer’s voice was soft, high, and sounded neither male nor female. I was paralyzed by this sound that seemed to be coming from somewhere beyond this dimension. It actually shook me up pretty good—I was overcome with emotion. Once I calmed down, I asked a store employee what we were listening to and was told the name of the band and the title of the disc, “Agaetis Byrjun” (“A Pretty Good Beginning”). I went directly to the CD store and got a copy.
The song I heard is “Svefn-g-englar” which, in Icelandic, means “Sleepwalkers.” The literal translation of the title is quite touching: in Icelandic, the idiom for one who sleepwalks is a “sleep angel.” In the chorus of the song, lead singer Jón Þór (that's "Thor" for those who do not speak Icelandic) Birgisson repeats a word, “tju” (“tyoo"). When I was searching for a translation from the Icelandic, there was no equivalent for the word “tju,” so I searched on-line and discovered that the word is not really a word, but a sound that Icelanders make to comfort babies.
That was my introduction to the music of Sigur Ros ("Victory Rose" in Icelandic). I now own their catalogue and firmly believe that if The Universal Consciousness had a house band, it would be Sigur Ros; their music is calming, moving at a dirge-like pace, full of plaintive cries, low rumblings and echoes implying emptiness and infinite space, and Birgisson’s angelic vocals tremble with genuine emotion throughout. I have read many accounts of people who report the same experience I had: being overcome with emotion, and/or an outpouring of tears upon first exposure. Their music is an expanding experience, enigmatic, overwhelming, and transcendent. This makes me think of the archetype of Kuan-Yin, the Chinese mother of the cosmos, who does not cycle off to Nirvana, but instead, stays behind in this realm to comfort those suffering and in pain—or in Buddhism, Bodhisattvas, who do the same thing. I am connected to a universal well of endless tears and love in the music of Sigur Ros. It is the sound of ultimate cosmic empathy, sympathy, agape, and a deep compassion beyond this world.
Another aspect of their sound is that of pure joy or a “peak experience” as they say in psychology. Some of the uptempo songs vibrate with ecstasy and profound delight. It is precisely this sound that Jón Birgisson, now dubbed Jónsi, brings to his glorious first solo release, “Go.” For example, in a frenzied, thrilling swirl of energy, full of rapture and exhilaration, he sings in a song called "Animal Arithmetic":
"Wake up, comb my hair
Making food disappear
Riding bikes, making out
Elephants run you down,
You and I run away, blushing cheeks
Howling wolves, colorful fireworks,
Everytime, everyone, everything’s full of life
Everyday, everywhere, people are so alive"
All the songs are lovely, soaring and joyful. Below is a video for the first track, the highly energetic “Go Do,” in which he sings:
"Go sing, too loud
Make your voice break - Sing it out
Go scream, do shout
Make an earthquake..."
Monday, July 5, 2010
And after discovering Wonderwood, I came across this gorgeous promotional video titled "Mnemosyne" for a scent called Daphne, a 2009 collaboration between heiress, artist and fashion icon Daphne Guiness and Comme des Garçons. Co-directed with David Parker, Guiness says that the film is not strictly promotional but a stand alone art piece merely inspired by the fragrance since it does not show any graphics or logos and does not mention the perfume.
Comme des Garçons website
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I am always excited when Jonna Lee, a.k.a. iamamiwhoami, releases a new song and video in her seemingly endless trickle of brilliance. Fresh new sights and sounds arrived on her Youtube channel three days ago in the form of "t," seen and heard below. Love it. She is wearing another fabulous set of huge false eyelashes, and we can clearly see her face, hopefully putting to rest the controversy about the identity of this mysterious woman. It IS Jonna Lee.
Hot on the heels of my recent trip to Italy, I just watched “La Dolce Vita,” Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece and bridge between his Neo-Realism roots and the Surrealism fueled by dream logic and dream imagery that he later explored and embraced. I watched this film twenty-some years ago, at a time when I had yet to visit Rome (I had somehow managed to skip Rome and see only Florence and Venice). I thought that seeing the film now, after a fresh trip to the Eternal City would be fun and allow me to see familiar sights. But Fellini was very careful to limit shots of ruins or anything that identifies the city to the rest of the world. Instead, he shows us row after row of sterile, concrete apartment buildings—many still under construction—and entire new Mussolini-style areas on the desolate outskirts of Rome in an effort to show the financial revitalization that was taking place in an Italy that had been devastated by the war (and also, I suspect, as an effort to remove himself from the squalid concerns of Neo-Realism). There are however, some shots that are memorable and identifiable such as the opening sequence with helicopters flying an enormous statue of Christ over some ruins, the city, and finally to the Vatican. And then there is the iconic scene of two main characters in the Trevi Fountain (you can't get much more Roman than that) in the middle of the night. So all is not lost.
A loose narrative follows Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a photojournalist, through the celebrity and jet-set littered landscape of mod-era Rome. Often at his side is a photographer named Paparazzo, ready to snap pictures of celebrity fights and trysts. With this character, Fellini actually (and inadvertently) invented the term “paparazzi” to mean annoying and intrusive photographers.
We follow Marcello from the glamorous Via Veneto, to his stifling relationship with the suicidal Emma, to his affair with wealthy, world-weary Maddalena, to his flirtation with international sex symbol and actress Sylvia. Along the way, he realizes his life is not what he intended it to be. Longing for the life of a genuine writer and not a gossip columnist for newspapers, he sees the decadence and futility of the slick, glittery life surrounding him, but is unable to escape its pull. Along the way we encounter some truly magical episodes and imagery such as a sad clown in a nightclub being followed by a herd of balloons, two children literally leading a huge crowd of pilgrims on a wild goose chase around a field as they pretend to see an apparition of the Madonna, and a party of aristocrats in tuxedoes and Balenciaga gowns hunting ghosts in a dilapidated villa. At the end of our time with Marcello, we see that he has devolved into a bitter, cruel and helpless man. Like the dead sea monster the party-goers find on the beach at dawn in the final scene of the film, he is dead inside, bloated and useless, unable to communicate.
Recommend? YES! It is a classic film with iconic imagery and plays a huge role in the history of cinema. SEE IT!
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Thankfully, I started reading Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series before HBO premiered its hit show "True Blood," based on the very same books. In case you have been living under a rock, this story about a telepathic human girl (Sookie) and vampires in rural Bon Temps, Louisiana has been a runaway hit for HBO. Created by Alan Ball (he of the amazing "Six Feet Under," one of the best things on television ever), it brings to life all of the characters and situations in the Harris novels—and then some. But what the televised series doesn’t capture is the detective novel-feel of the books. Sookie may be telepathic, and there may be vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, witches, fairies and demons but ultimately, each book starts with some kind of whodunit that requires Sookie to use her powers and wits, along with help from her supernatural allies, to figure out.
Having said that, as the novels have progressed, the story has too. We have learned more and more about Sookie’s family origins, and relationships with vampires and werewolves have deepened and become more complicated so that the whodunit element has been moved to the back burner. Now Sookie must find out who is planning on doing something… to her. There is still a light element, almost kitschy (which is certainly part of the charm of the series), but this novel feels much more serious than any preceding it. It feels like the middle book of a trilogy where the plot has been set up, and now we have to delve into the how and why before we reach the final installment. Contributing to the heavier feel is the development of Sookie herself who has evolved from an outwardly happy-go-lucky Southern gal to someone with figurative and literal battle scars, and most likely some Post Traumatic Stress symptoms.
Recommend? Absolutely. And just like the Harry Dresden series I reviewed here, you really have to start at the beginning to learn all about the major players (those still in the series but especially those who have passed on) and what has happened. But don’t worry: it is fast reading. You’ll be caught up in no time. It’s tremendous fun!
Friday, July 2, 2010
First up: John Galliano is a madman. As creative as McQueen, but with more of a flair for a "theme," he has served as head of design at Givenchy and is currently head of Dior as well as his own label. His shows are always spectacles, as were McQueen's, but Galliano shows his hand more. Spring '11 was plainly inspired by the early years of cinema and its legendary stars Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. I love the runway show with its gears and big clock from "Modern Times" in the background, Chaplin from many differnt films, and Keaton, without explanation, in a veiled hat! The start of the show was quite literal with models dressed as both silent stars. But tight jackets and severely dropped crotches evolved into shapes that were modern and sexy.
The runway show starts with a marvelous sample of Chaplin from "The Great Dictator," and has a soundtrack featuring vintage Donna Summer!