Tuesday, August 31, 2010


“The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination, but the combination is locked up in the safe.”
--Peter De Vries

"Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; yet nothing troubles me less."
--Charles Lamb

"Do you remember how electrical currents and 'unseen waves' were laughed at? The knowledge about man is still in its infancy."
--Albert Einstein

"What one understands is only half true. What one does not understand is the full truth."
--Zen saying



I’m in all movies,
everything that was ever filmed,
just out of the shot,
just off the edge of the screen
in another room, eating, sleeping,
maybe many miles away,
but still here,
in the state, in the country,
on the planet.
We’re all in every film, in every photo.
I’m in all songs, everything that
has ever been recorded,
outside of the studio,
breathing, talking, laughing, crying,
living quietly or loudly.
We’re all singing over the lines of songs,
the bad and the good,
it doesn’t matter.
We are famous,
we are everywhere.
We can’t get away from ourselves
or our choices—whatever you do,
you have done and must live with
even if you don’t think so.
If you steal, you will be robbed.
If you hate, you will be abandoned.
If you love, you will be remembered
and will gain all creation, all dimensions
and will vibrate at the same rate as everything
and will be rewarded.

©JEF 2010

BEAUTY: Performance Art--Alessandro Sciarroni

Italian artist Alessandro Sciarroni creates theatrical/performance art pieces that include elements of avant garde dance and choreography. His newest piece, "Lucky Star," debuted last month. Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, it is a meditation on sameness, love, and, in Sciarroni's words, "to find another equal to oneself." Performed by identical twins Marco and Roberto Tarquini.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just watched...

..."The Time Traveler's Wife," released last year, and based on the Audrey Niffenegger novel of the same name.

This 2009 science fiction romance starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams is both touching and thought provoking, working quite well on both levels without feeling like a hybrid film of two different genres.

Bana plays Henry, a man who can travel in time. Unfortunately, he cannot control when he travels, the time or place he travels to, or when he is able to return. As you can imagine, this affliction makes life quite difficult for him. Added to this is the extra twist of being able to time travel only with himself, only his own flesh…he dissolves at random leaving behind a pile of clothing and anything he might be holding.

When Henry meets Clare, she tells him she knows him well even though at the moment, he has yet to meet her. It is his future self that has traveled back in time to visit Clare as a child and develop a relationship. Such twists in logic and plot require one to open one’s mind to the idea of fluid time.

Actually, all time is simultaneous. We know this. Physicists know it. Everything is happening at once—indeed, everything that has, is, or will happen has been done. There is no movement, only existence. We perceive time because we are in physical bodies on the physical plane. Once released from a body, we can perceive in a way that would shock us—and possibly drive us mad—were we to be presented with such a perspective while on the physical plane. From that place, there isn't even the idea of “simultaneous time,” but the absence of time itself. As I was watching the film, I could not help but feel for Henry who must have a very different perspective on life and the nature of existence. In a way, it is a sort of “enlightenment,” albeit a difficult, painful enlightenment to be able to perceive beyond, to have a bird’s eye view of existence. In the middle of such uncertainty (from a linear-time point of view), he is able to anchor himself only with what is important, and what is important is Clare. Of course the abstraction of that is relationship to others: love. There is a heartbreaking scene where Henry travels back to meet his now deceased mother (she died when he was a child) on the subway—he is only three years old in that time, but the adult Henry is able to speak to his mother as an adult and experience her presence and spirit. Such scenes and ideas bring up the reality of connections that exist beyond time or space. Our anchors, our reason for being here is the relationships we forge with others.

Recommend? Oh yes. It was lovely…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ingrid and David

I am thrilled! My copy of the four song CD "Litlte Girls With 99 Lives" by Ingrid Chavez and David Sylvian arrived in the mail today!
You may recall my earlier post about Ingrid Chavez here.

This is from Ingrid's official website:
"The four songs written and recorded by David Sylvian and Ingrid Chavez in the mid to late 90's, which were previously only available on the b-sides of various singles released by Virgin Records, are collected here for the first time. Available in a new digipak designed by Sylvian and, in keeping with some of the intimate themes addressed in the material, the artwork features images of Ingrid as a young girl. Each copy is signed and numbered by both Sylvian and Chavez and this pressing is strictly limited to 1000. There will be no reprinting of the edition once it has sold out. The edition is released on Ingrid's '10 Windows' imprint and is available exclusively from the DGM store."
I own copy 329 out of 1,000. You can see Ingrid's signature above the picture on the left of the inside of the CD and David's below the picture. The digipack and the CD itself are also numbered by hand.

And the music is lovely; some of it is unexpectedly and marvelously tribal (thanks to Sylvian) with Ingrid's diaphonous voice and words blowing through and over it all.

Here is the video for the haunting "Remembering Julia."

I'm remembering Julia
and little girls with 99 lives
she is standing in the road
sad eyes smiling
she is alone in a blue shirt
by a blue car
the sky is grey, forever grey
someone has come to visit
a father, a friend says goodbye
never to be seen again
he drives away, he just drives away.

She's laughing from the trees picking muscadines
she's crying in the pulpit waiting for a sign
she whispers a prayer as she is pushed beneath the water
promise to be a good soldier
to fight for what's hers

she's the changeling
the wrong cast
the tom boy who could run so fast
she's on her knees, on her back
the stone that couldn't be cracked
Julia is forgetting
but I am remembering
little girls with 99 lives

they are wounded but healing
quietly feeling
their loss of innocence
her fear is deep rooted
bred to the bone
an abandoned camp fire
of ash and stone
i am turning the soil
of the memories she's buried
lightening the burden of the shame she has carried
she is sinking into the earth leaving no trace
i slip into her shoes and ties the laces

i'm remembering julia
and little girls with 99 lives
we're chasing dandelions
making wishes
on four leaf clovers and falling stars

I'm learning to live
and Julia is learning to forgive.


Currently listening to...

..."Crazy In Love" by Antony and the Johnsons.
I am obsessed with this amazing live cover of what was originally a dreadful, ridiculous Beyoncé song. It was re-imagined as a trembling ballad, breathtakingly arranged for the Metropole Orchestra and sung by--well, it's not fair to say "sung" by Antony; it's more like he eviscerates himself, and reaches inside to pull out longing and despair from the depths of the collective soul of humanity.


Just watched...

...Tim Burton's "Alice In Wonderland."

Catching up on Blue-Rays from the Netflix queue...

This film was as expected, and as advertised. The digital imagery is pretty good... Helena Bonham has a head three times her normal size, Cripsin Glover is over seven feet tall and Johnny Depp's eyes are the size of dinner plates. Oh, and all the animals look wonderful.
Burton's version imagines a nineteen year old Alice returning to Wonderland after visisting when she was a small girl. She does not remember her first visit, but it comes back to her after being in Wonderland a second time. The story, at its essence, is a battle between good and evil (and what isn't, really...), and we follow Alice as she vanquishes the forces of the Red Queen. Burton's visual vocabulary is by now quite familiar to us. Among other things, we see the tree from "Sleepy Hollow," we see memory and flashback scenes in saturated color and bright light being blanketed by floating white, um, pollen (?), and we see wiggy hair like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Sweeney Todd."

Recommend? It was pleasant enough... see it if it seems interesting to you. Otherwise, go to Disneyland and ride the Alice In Wonderland ride. You might have a little more fun that way.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just RE-watched...

..."Easy Rider" written, directed by and starring Dennis Hopper with Peter Fonda.

This iconic American film was imagined by Fonda, fleshed out by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern, directed by Hopper, and stars Hopper, Fonda and Jack Nicholson… and a disturbing assortment of real rednecks and "backwoods folks."

"Easy Rider" was a groundbreaking film during its time and created a lot of controversy. It reflected the cultural and societal upheaval that was happening in the late 60s and early 70s. By this time, the Summer of Love was over, and a very different mood was spreading across the country—a mood of darkness and disappointment. Race riots, Black Panther shootings and violent protests shook major cities, the Vietnam War continued to eat up lives and resources, and the riot at Altamont and the Kent State shootings were literally right around the corner. A new and different country was emerging and no one was sure what that new country would look like. Middle America was terrified of the change and fought back with hysteria and ignorance.

“Easy Rider” is ostensibly a road film, about two buddies, Wyatt, a.k.a. Captain America (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) riding their customized motorcycles from LA across the southern United States, to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras. They encounter interesting, odd, unusual—and dangerous—characters and places along the way. One of the most striking encounters is meal time at a commune—the camera pans around inside the circle of people gathered to give thanks for the food they have grown in a stunningly beautiful tableau of faces, some bored, some spaced out, some focused on another. It is an inspired scene, done all in one take.
Wyatt and Billy smoke pot and drink along the way… nothing outrageous, nothing that unusual. Except this was 1968 and Middle America fostered an absolute, crazed hatred for anyone with long hair, assuming instantly that they must be menacing, revolutionary hippies out of their minds on drugs and out to rape all their daughters or sons, out to steal and destroy. But the Captain and Billy are just normal hippies, trying to experience freedom on the road, and to have a good time.

The camera work is at times raw, but always imaginative--especially the final shot from a helicopter. The editing method in between scenes jumps back and forth between the last and next scenes several times, creating a jarring, nearly psychedelic transition. The scenery is breathtaking as they cruise through Monument Valley in Utah and camp out at night under the vastness of the New Mexico sky. This was one of the first films to visually and therefore thematically explore the emptiness and hollowness that the counterculture was finding to be at the core of the American experience. The ultimate cinematic expression of this emptiness was released the same year: Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point,” nearly devoid of dialogue, echoing with cavernous desolation and scenes also set in the wasteland desert of the American southwest. The soundtrack was a very important part of "Easy Rider" too—one of the first films to use existing popular rock n’ roll songs to lend the film a sense of realism. "Easy Rider" certainly helped spawn the new "independent film" movement and usher in the "New Hollywoood of the 70s" with directors like Scorsese and Coppola.

Now, the frightening part is that Hopper and crew actually used real rednecks and “townsfolk” for the scenes in small towns. Hopper let them improvise their dialogue—“Go ahead, you can say whatever you want to say about us,” he told them. And they did. To be fair, to get them riled up, Hopper told them that Wyatt, Billy and George (Nicholson) had raped and killed a young girl on the outskirts of town. But their improvised dialogue does not address that...it takes an unrelated racist and homophobic turn instead. The vitriolic bile and contempt concealing their fear of “the long-haireds” makes these rural people seem like backward zealots—they are exactly the same kind of evangelical-American Taliban that exist in the same area today. So peculiar and disappointing to see how little has changed with racist “teabaggers” and insane Christians infecting that part of the country.

The first time I saw this film more than twenty five years ago, the sudden, explosive ending left me speechless. But that explosive ending could happen today, in the exact same way. Don't think it can't.

Recommend? Absolutely. It is a piece of cinema history and of American history.

Just watched...

..."Paranormal Activity."

Comparisons to “The Blair Witch Project” are inevitable when you make a cinéma vérité horror film using handheld techniques—and when the camera is held by the actors in the film. First-time director Oren Peli made “Paranormal Activity” in his own home for a mere $15,000 and it turned into a runaway hit.

With only four actors, Peli creates a tense tale about a young couple, Katie and Micah, terrorized in their San Diego tract home at night while they sleep by some kind of very powerful supernatural force. With few actual special effects, Peli mostly uses mood and a few well placed bangs and thuds to instill fear, along with bizarre, unexplained happenings like a long ago lost photo of Katie as a child showing up in their attic crawlspace. And just like “The Blair Witch Project,” the happenings compile themselves until there is no escape from what is about to occur.

The down side is that the film is not too original, with echoes of “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Exorcist” among many others. We’ve seen this all before, and frankly the whole “demon” thing doesn’t really work on me. There’s no such thing as “demons” since human beings can be plenty scary enough. But having said that, I cannot deny the chilling effect and goose bumps I had while watching. There is something very primal and basic about sleep and how powerless and vulnerable we are during the night.

Recommend? Yeah, go ahead… but don’t watch it alone at night. You’ll feel better with a companion to share the chills with…

Just watched...

...Michale Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story."

I like Michael Moore. I appreciate what he is doing and I like how he thinks. His methods can be a little a shticky sometimes, a little vaudevillian and over the top, but I give him credit for at least having a valid point to make.

There is really nothing new in this film, at least to those of us who have been paying attention to the last decade. We know all about how what we call “capitalism” in this country is actually “corporatism" (especially now that the Supreme Court has dangerously decided that corporations are just like individual human beings--oh, but without that pesky individual tax burden!), how unbridled greed from Wall Street/ the financial sector/ corporations destroyed the world economy and a way of life, how the stock market is simply a thinly veiled gambling casino (and when you bet against the house, you never win), how derivatives and credit default swaps are deliberately made so complex and complicated so as to avoid understanding and thus escape detection by the SEC or the government or any watchdog group (in the film, an actual former VP at Lehman Brothers is unable to even begin to explain what a derivative is), and how, left unchecked, capitalism will eat its own. Proponents of capitalism often ignore the sharks circling, waiting for looser restrictions and loopholes that allow them to abuse and ruin those they can without thought of consequences, even if it means that it will hurt themselves in the long run. These proponents naively think everyone is nice and will play by the fair rules of Capitalism--when it has been the American Way to cheat the rules whenever and however you can. And then they act shocked when the rules are vivisected... shocked I tells ya!

Moore’s valuable observations, insights, and telling interviews are bookended by his usual tricks like trying to approach a corporate headquarters in order to protest or to talk to an authority figure, only to be denied entry. It’s awkward and a tiny bit unnecessary but like I said earlier, at least he is trying to make a valid point and bring some understanding and justice to a situation that is, even in the best of times before the economic crash, grotesque.

It has since been pointed out that three facts in the film are incorrect having to do with Goldman Sachs’ return of bailout money, Wal-Mart’s “dead peasant” insurance policies, and Sen. Christopher Dodd’s possible involvement in questionable financial dealings. They are minor and do not in any way change the other indisputable facts or negate the main point of the film. Besides, even though Wal-Mart may have stopped the practice of “dead peasant” insurance policies in 2000, and Moore notes that in the closing credits, there are PLENTY of other reasons never to step foot in a Wal-Mart in your life.

Recommend? Certainly.

Just watched...

...“9” written and directed by Shane Acker.

This animated feature produced by Tim Burton follows a group of nine burlap rag dolls in a post-apocalyptic retro future. A war between AI (artificial intelligence) machines and mankind results in the destruction of every living thing on earth. During this war and shortly before the human race and indeed all life is destroyed, a scientist discovers a way to create life—or rather to impart pieces of his own life force into a set of rag dolls made of burlap and found objects. He wants life to continue. “We had such potential. Such promise. But we squandered our gifts. And so, 9, I am creating you. Our world is ending. Life must go on,” he says.

The little dolls must use their wits to battle a killer machine called The Beast and ultimately the source of all AI hostility and cause of the destruction of mankind, a machine called The Brain.

The look of the film is surely Burton-esque, and the animation is quite nice with a lot of lovely detail, along the lines of Pixar’s delightful and touching “Wall-E,” but despite the sweet earnestness of the little dolls, the story seemed a tad derivative. The war between man and machine reminded me of the premise of “The Matrix” series. Some of the machines in “9” even resemble the attack machines that characters in “The Matrix” called Squiddies. Setting the war in a sort of alternate past-future was a nice touch too, but that seemed to come from something else as well. World War I tanks and World War II planes battling deadly futuristic machines seems like the sort of mash-up that we saw in “Watchmen.”
Still the story was entertaining enough but lacked sufficient content to feel like an actual story. With a running time of seventy-nine minutes, it flies by, feeling more like a short film, promising more to come when it is fully fleshed out.

Recommend? Um…I guess so…if nothing else in your Netflix queue.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Own Proust Questionnaire

Tired of receiving forwarded email "personality tests," in 2008 I made up my own version, inspired by the famous "Proust Questionnaire." Although not invented by him, this type of get-to-know-you parlour game has come to be associated with Proust because he answered a set of similar questions in writing at a party he attended in 1890, when he was still in his teens.

Such questionnaires are intended to reveal a deeper level of the personality of the one answering the questions. Following are questions that I think reveal a lot about someone--or at least what is interesting.
Feel free to answer, re-post or send to friends.

1. What is the most important thing you have to do today?
2. Do you know the day of the week and the time of your birth? What is it?
3. What is your Zodiac sign? Do you think you fit the traditional characteristics of that sign?
4. What is your ethnic heritage? Can you trace your family tree back? How far?
5. What is your earliest memory?
6. What is your blood type? How did you find out?
7. Do you have any scars? What and how did you get them?
8. Have you ever broken a bone? How?
9. If you could change something about your physical appearance, what would it be?
10. If your mother were an animal, what do YOU think she would be?
11. If your father were an animal, what do YOU think he would be?
12. What is (are) your comfort food(s)?
13. At what age did you learn to swim? How did it happen and who taught you? Do you recall it fondly?
14. Can you open your eyes under water? If you can’t would you like to be able to?
15. What book are you reading right now? Do you like it?
16. Name up to 3 books that have had a great influence on you and/or changed your life.
17. Name up to 3 films that have had a great influence on you and/or changed your life.
18. What film can you watch over and over again?
19. Name up to 3 artists (living or dead) whose work you are strongly drawn to.
20. Who are your favorite heroes/heroines of fiction?
21. Who are your heroes/heroines in real life?
22. What cologne or perfume do you wear?
23. Name a singer whose voice makes you swoon.
24. Do you play an instrument? How long have you played it?
25. Poker or Tarot cards?
26. Pool or ocean?
27. Jungian or Freudian?
28. Sun or rain?
29. North or south?
30. Name a compliment someone gave you that made you blush.
31. When you fly in an airplane, you leave the earth for a while. Guess how long you have been “off-world” in an airplane (hours or days).
32. Out of your five senses, which one(s) do you think is (are) the strongest?
33. Although neither of these are “preferable,” if you had to lose either your sight or your hearing, which would you choose to lose?
34. Regardless of size or circumstance, what animal would you own as a pet if you could?
35. What famous view or monument would you like to be able to see from your bedroom window?
36. How many languages do you speak?
37. What language do you WISH you could speak?
38. Under what circumstances do you become impatient?
39. Does a photo of you naked exist?
40. Do you have a phobia? What is it?
41. Are your dreams important to you? Do you recall them? Do you keep a dream journal?
42. Name a recurring dream or nightmare.
43. Where is the most unusual place you have ever fallen asleep?
44. Do you think there’s life on other planets?
45. What in your life are you most proud of?
46. What emotion do you tend to hide the most?
47. Do you have a motto? What is it?
48. What was your last mystical experience?
49. What, to your mind, would be the greatest of misfortunes?
50. When and where was the happiest you have yet been in your life?
51. How would you like to die?
52. Do you want to be buried or cremated?
53. What do you want to have happen at your funeral/memorial (people, place, music, etc.)?
54. Do you believe in God? Describe God.
55. How do you picture the end of the world?

Travel Advisory

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
--Mark Twain

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."
--Kurt Vonnegut in CAT'S CRADLE

Men In Film

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Tyrone Power, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Quinn, Gregory Peck, Richard Burton, Jack Lemmon, Sean Connery, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Steve McQueen, Peter O'Toole, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, Warren Beatty, Dennis Hopper, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Harrison Ford, Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas, Christopher Walken, Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, John Travolta, Antonio Banderas, Tim Robbins, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, George Clooney

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Currently listening to...

..."Time Will" by Hercules and Love Affair. Wow.

The visuals for this video are from an Antony and the Johnsons video for their song "You Are My Sister."


BEAUTY: Installation--Pekka Jylhä

Finnish sculptor Pekka Jylhä creates haunting, enigmatic pieces using metal as well as real taxidermied animals. The results are touching and hypnotizing. These rabbits are messengers and these pieces whisper secrets...

Top to bottom: Tear Dryer; Lantern Bearer; I Would Like To Understand; It's Not Too Late; Albino; and two views of Revelation


BEAUTY: Man--Long Hair

Long hair is in.

Alexander Girard

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) was a talented and influential graphic designer. Born in New York, raised in Italy, he worked with Herman Miller and Charles and Ray Eames, created memorable designs for many restaurants and created branding for Braniff Airlines as well as creating works for Georg Jensen and John Deere.

A few years ago, Vitra reissued Girard's wooden dolls based on folk art designs. He originally made these objects in 1963 (part decorative element, part toy) for his home in Santa Fe and carved and painted them himself. They remind me of the the outside of the Disney ride IT'S A SMALL WORLD. Inside, the little mechanical dolls are too precious and common, but the building that houses the ride itself is adorned with block-like designs of fonts, shapes and faces that beautifully reflect its 1964-66 creation.

The tile company FLOR has created a set of carpet tiles based on Girard's designs for the New York City restaurant La Fonda del Sol. In 1961, Girard created over eighty different sun designs as well as well as menus, tableware, and floor and wall tiles for La Fonda del Sol, all based on a Latin American feeling. Notice the Girard dolls on the cocktail table in the last picture!

To see Girard's work for Braniff Airlines, visit this page:
It's worth a look to see how influential he really was!

“The hope of good design lies in those designers who believe in what they do and will only do what they believe…Contrary to hearsay, it is possible to make a living that way.”
--Alexander Girard

Friday, August 13, 2010

And From In Between The Broken Sounds

Stunning poem and beautiful art by Tel Aviv street artist this is limbo.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Stewart Hendler's beautiful short film "The Closet."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Make Known To Me"

Make Known To Me

The only color that
national flags fly:
the red one,
so relentlessly,
no escaping.
At the priests’ cabal,
he felt the
forbidden temperature,
he felt that they were
out to get him,
he felt that they
intended him to burn.

“Be practical, my brother,”
they said, “listen to us.”
But they only spoke of
a Father, never of a
Mother’s love
like burned ruins—
which they set on fire
with their own hands—
across the moss,
a fountain in the
now-burning sunlight.

I ask you, “Can all but a few
of us survive, my brother?
Think of all we
see from here,
the square,
the crying babies,
the interrogating policemen.
Then think before.
It was from awhile ago, this sound,
before men’s treaties,
before adventures, appearances."

The Universe so created
a presence,
a point unknown,
some other somewhere.
And this is what it comes to:
standing at a dented gate,
sprinkled at the
end of the day.
Notice those overly zealous,
fleeing through me, to the
memorial just beyond—
and do not follow them.

©JEF 2010


“The lessons of the Universe:
Truth comes from the observation of nature.
1. All things are impermanent (the inclination toward nothingness is unrelenting)
2. All things are imperfect (when we really look closely, we see flaws)
3. All things are incomplete (and in a constant state of becoming or dissolving)

The closer things get to non-existence, the more exquisite and evocative they become.

Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness. Beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. It can spontaneously occur at any moment. “
--Leonard Koren

"There's beauty in the breakdown."
--Imogen Heap

(Thanks, Judy.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Irrepressibles

This post was originally going to be titled "PAG."

A Tel Aviv-based production company, PAG, and director Roy Raz have made a startling, strange, engrossing, compelling, and beautiful video cryptically titled "The Lady Is Dead" to accompany the song "In This Shirt" by The Irrepressibles. I laughed, gasped, sighed, held my breath and widened my eyes the first time I saw it.

Since I had never heard of The Irrepressibles before, a quick search led me to their website where I discovered that they themselves are as wondrous and creative as this video. They are a ten-piece contemporary baroque orchestral group fronted by artist and musician Jamie McDermott who perform in front of mirrors and in giant cubes, adorned in costumes that combine Edwardian, Elizabethan and fantasy elements. I think they are my new favorite group. The two promotional videos that follow show them at live gigs... oh, how I wish I could have been there. Sumptuous...


iamamiwhoami: "y"

Oh, happy day. A new iamamiwhoami/ Jonna Lee video was posted to Youtube on August 4th and it is completely marvelous. Entitled "y," it finishes the word "bounty" spelled out by the titles of the videos preceding it.

The purring black cat is back from many other videos, along with the twisting man in underwear who sports a packing tape beard, and, once again, Jonna in wild false eyelashes. But unlike other videos in this series that were shot on location in forests and the ocean, here we are in a world entirely UN-natural. A forest of aluminum foil trees is lit by a phalanx of suspended fluorescent fixtures. Sheaves of paper cover the set too, as well as Jonna Lee herself, as she slowly returns to the black color she was at the start of the series.

Surely the series is telling a story. The clues seem to be well hidden but Wikipedia sheds some light on the first six videos: "The first six videos are titled with a series of numbers. When indexed into the alphabet, these spell out words such as 'educational,' 'I am,' 'its me,' 'mandragora,' 'officinarum,' and 'welcome home.' Mandragora officinarum refers to the mandrake root, which when fresh or dry may cause hallucination." The giant plant that bursts out of the roof of the house at the end of the sixth video ("Welcome home") is a mandrake. Regarding folklore about the mandrake root through the centuries, Pliny the Elder used Greek sources to write: "There are two varieties ( mandragora vernalis ) which is generally thought to be male … and the black ( mandragora autumnalis ) which is considered to be female." This could be why Jonna Lee's body is painted black during the course of the series. And the red dangling fruit that appear in videos 3, 5, 6, and in the video for "o" and which I misidentified as strawberries in an earlier posting are actually the fruit of the mandrake plant.
The number six also plays a large part in the series. Aside from the fact that only the first six videos are titled with a numerical/ alphabetical code, objects appear in groupings of six throughout (six dogs, crosses, leaves and tomatoes, girls on a station wagon, and place settings).
Much has been made of the drawings of animals which close each of the first six videos (goat, owl, whale, bee, llama, and monkey). The black cat that appears in several videos makes the noises of these animals instead of meowing when it opens its mouth. James Montgomery, a music journalist for MTV received an unmarked package by messenger after writing about iamamiwhoami. The package contained a lock of long blond hair, a piece of tree bark, and all six animal drawings in a row followed by the question, "says what?"
The phrase "To Whom It May Concern" makes several appearances. And finally, a website, iambounty.com, is registered to Jonna Lee. The only thing on the site is an illustration of the hand position for the letter "B" in sign language.

This whole mysterious and enigmatic project really plays into my love of symbolic meaning. The series is full of the kind of transfixing symbolic dream imagery and dream logic that I wrote about in my review of David Lynch's "Inland Empire" posted here. Off the top of my head, it seems that the series is following the spirit of a mandrake root (the "bounty" of the earth and plant life), half-plant and half-human as it makes its way from plant to mammal. Jonna Lee embodies this hybrid as she rolls around in mud, and licks tree bark and sap. But other forces come into play: the man in the underwear who is now a king, and Lee herself appears in "t" as royalty with a home-made tin foil crown, orb, scepter and Elizabethan collar (King and Queen of the Plant Kingdom?). In "y," a knight manages to infiltrate the forest and the death and resurrection of the King follows. Fascinating stuff.
iamamiwhoami has a Facebook page.
Or visit the iamamiwhoami Youtube channel to see all videos in order.

Or see my posts about past videos:
The numbered videos
"o" "u-1" u-2" and "n"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

BEAUTY: Interior--Nate Berkus

Nate Berkus did this home, featured in the July/ August 2010 issue of ELLE Decor, for Allison and Robby Adams. I like his disciplined design for his subtle use of eclectic materials and the tension and interest created by stylistic juxtapositions.

BEAUTY: Men--Silver Is In

Silver is in.

Just watched...

...David Lynch's 2006 film "Inland Empire."

After my previous post about “Meshes Of The Afternoon” by Maya Deren and her influence on David Lynch, it seemed like the perfect time to view and write about Lynch’s 2006 epic “Inland Empire.”
But writing about “Inland Empire” is proving difficult because the film exists in such a pre-verbal, pre-conscious state, but I have come up with a few things I want to point out.

First, the facts.
The film is three hours long. And I must hasten to add that I did not care.
It is about—and saying the film is “about” something is a little bit of a stretch—a Los Angeles actress (played by the phenomenal Laura Dern) cast in a remake of a cursed Polish film that was never completed due to the death of the two lead actors. As she shoots the film, she begins to lose herself in the role she is playing… quite literally. That is what “Inland Empire” is “about” in a very general sense. At least those are the lucid plot points that stick out, that one can grab onto.

Lynch shot the film in southern California and Poland over a three year period on a small hand held digital video camera (he has vowed never to work on film again). He had no finished script to work from. Instead, over this three year period, he would think up a scene, write it down and film it quickly. Using only a small hand held camera allowed him to work in this free, spontaneous way, translating what was in his subconscious directly to a finished product without a cumbersome crew and the traditional time-consuming method of Hollywood filmmaking.

The film is an interesting, deliberate mix of shaky, almost amateurish-looking hand held camera work, and, by contrast, long slow tracking shots that must have been filmed from a dolly. And here is another shocking fact: he often used available light—a no-no in traditional filmmaking—along with odd, unconventional lighting techniques like ordinary flashlights and strobes.

Now, on to the important things.
Lynch has created this film in his established and substantial Gothic, decaying-Los Angeles style. And like many other David Lynch films, the characters morph into other characters as the story twists and turns. But more than any other David Lynch film, and more than any other film I can think of period, “Inland Empire” captures the texture of dreams. It is the blueprint of a dream—of what it is to dream, what it feels like to dream. The action in the film is cyclical. Things happen again and again, perhaps slightly different from the last time they happened, but they circle around themselves nonetheless. And exactly like a dream, some of these things end up happening before or after other events that preceded or followed them the last time. Each segment has a life of its own and can be re-arranged; time in “Inland Empire” is malleable, just like a dream.

In films, dreams are traditionally shown as a dreamer floating through a foggy ground staffed with an odd assortment of people or objects. Often a dream sequence in a film can be some sort of obvious, heavy handed take on what the dreamer is thinking. Only one other time have I seen the medium of film get the texture of a dream correct: in an episode of the HBO series “The Sopranos” called “The Test Dream,” we see a twenty-minute dream sequence that accurately recreates dream logic and the succession of places, situations, feelings and people that dreams can present.

Here in “Inland Empire,” Lynch has captured these non-sequiturs, or rather what seem to be non-sequiturs to our conscious minds. The only way our subconscious minds can communicate with us is by showing us pictures…symbols. It can’t come right out and tell us something. The concept or the word for a thing is useless to the subconscious. That is not how the subconscious works. Everything—characters, events, places—is related in “Inland Empire” in this symbolic, picture-showing, pre-verbal, pre-conscious way. All these things are all linked, despite time and location shifts.

In this symbolic vein, he uses another element to conjure the feeling of a dream: dream logic. In one sequence, Laura Dern is told to “light a cigarette, burn a hole in the silk, fold it over and look through the hole.” She does so and is granted a view into yet another reality within this film. These cryptic instructions are exactly the kind of symbols our dreaming subconscious deals in.

Lynch fashions this dream of "Inland Empire" into a nightmare. Again, I have never seen a film so accurately capture the feeling of a nightmare. And this nightmare is about the psychological states of anxiety, confusion, despair and dread. He steeps his story in claustrophobia—his characters exist in small, tight spaces. He even manages to make a cavernous sound stage into something closed and pressing. Laura Dern is trapped in sparse, squalid rooms dimly lit by a single old table lamp or in long dark hallways with a faint sconce. As the film progresses, this claustrophobia, this feeling of being trapped gives way to a feeling of being imprisoned. Characters inexplicably cry throughout this film, infected with a sense of something wrong but not knowing exactly what. It’s the feeling you get when you are alone in an unfamiliar place, perhaps in the dark… the feeling that something is behind you. I felt this unease, this sense of something wrong as well as the claustrophobia. I had a subconscious recognition of these states and was tense and frightened during this film.

I must also mention the sound design and music since it contributed greatly to the free-floating anxiety and terror in the film. The far away howl of a mournful train, muffled and menacing machinery, echoes, and downright frightening, unidentifiable sounds swirl through “Inland Empire” ratcheting up the confusion and fear. And it should be noted that David Lynch composed sections of the film score himself.

Like a dream, I perceived “Inland Empire” as a whole, but the individual elements that make it up—the symbols—somehow remain greater alone than their sum.
I think David Lynch created the film in that same way. The ideas might have come to him one by one, but his subconscious was always in charge, weaving together seemingly unrelated fragments into a compelling, mysterious, tapestry of pictures and symbols. Just like a dream.

Recommend? Yes. Yes. Yes. The more I reflect on “Inland Empire” the more I am drawn into it, and the more amazed I am by it. But this abstract film is not for everyone. It is something that needs to be experienced, not “watched.” And it needs to be experienced for what it does, not what it is about or what it means. Indeed, I believe it cannot be interpreted or understood in a traditional sense. In this way, I think this is a truly revolutionary film… the first film in history that is not really a film. It only works if you encounter it out of the corner of your eye. If you look directly at it, it fades. Just like a dream.

Trailer for "Inland Empire"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Meshes Of The Afternoon"

On a visit to the Tate Modern in London in 2008, I was fortunate enough to encounter a showing of Maya Deren’s short film “Meshes Of the Afternoon” shot in 1943. I had never heard of Deren before but as I stood in the museum and read about her and her work, I learned that she was a key figure in the evolution of The New American Cinema and a very influential experimental filmmaker who influenced a slew of talented directors, including David Lynch.

“Meshes Of The Afternoon,” seen here, is a strange, cyclical story about a woman who is dreaming within a dream (considering my recent viewing of “Inception,” this seems apropos), starring Deren and her then-husband Alexander Hammid. Rife with symbolic imagery and objects such as a key, a flower, a knife, a Spanish-style Los Angeles house, and a cloaked figure with a mirrored face, this study of psychological states presents doubled characters and a sense of dread. A particularly favorite moment in the film comes when Deren floats up to the ceiling, seemingly unable to control her ascent (see “Inception”) which is absolutely dream-like. This version below does not feature the original Japanese-inspired soundtrack used by Deren. Any copies with the original score seem to be targeted for removal on any site. Instead, it has been left intentionally silent.

David Lynch lifted Deren's story pretty much intact—with some typical Lynch-ian additions—to make his 2001 film “Mulholland Drive.” The idea of split or doubled characters that Deren employs to great effect in “Meshes Of the Afternoon” can be seen not only in Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” (Naomi Watts plays Diane Selwyn and Betty Elms) which I reviewed here, but also in his films “Lost Highway” (Patricia Arquette plays double characters), “Inland Empire” (Laura Dern playing two roles) which I reviewed here, and the television series “Twin Peaks” (Sheryl Lee playing doomed Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy).

Deren’s film also spawned remakes in the medium of pop music videos! Below, we can see model/ singer/ actress Milla Jovovich in her 1994 video for her song “Gentleman Who Fell.”

Kristin Hersh recorded “Your Ghost” with REM frontman Michael Stipe in 1994 and the video features motifs and images from “Meshes Of The Afternoon” including a key in the mouth.

Turns out that Deren and Hammid were greatly influenced in the creation of “Meshes Of The Afternoon” by one of my all-time favorite avant-garde films, the legendary and brilliant surrealist short “Un Chien Andalou” (or “An Andalusian Dog”) made by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel in 1929.