Must rethink this…

If you stop by this page wondering why it’s not updated often, it’s not that I don’t buy records and CDs. In fact it’s the opposite. I buy, burn, copy, and devour music non-stop, so I’m stuck as to what I should write on. I don’t have the time to write on everything, so I’m thinking maybe I should just write on what I purchase. Just a thought.

Los Angeles Trip

Jessica had the day free, so we made an impromptu trip to Los Angeles. First stop, IKEA, to buy a mattress for the new Lillehammer bed we got a few weeks ago. The bed replaced this fall-apart-voodoo-kenny futon bed we’ve been sleeping on for ages, the joints of which had fallen out. Sleeping on this old bed sounded like the creaky deck of the Flying Dutchman. So first I bought the frame, and for a stopgap measure, we had been using the old futon mattress. Now that at last is gone and our bed is dead comfortable. Like the Poang chair, just lying on it for a few seconds sucks the energy out of you.
Next stop: the Chinese mall off of Del Mar down in San Gabriel. Here we saw many ladies wearing these ridiculous sun-visors, called the Sunee, or something like that. Imagine a plastic sun visor, six inches long, and with the ability to tilt downward and cover the face. Hey, ladies, excuse me. This doesn’t look cool, it looks like you are wearing a welder’s mask. I tried to get a photo while we were there, but no luck. It seems like when it comes to rich Chinese women, irony and taste are X, the unknown value.
We didn’t come to see masks, we came to eat Dim Sum, which we did, at Sam Woo’s Seafood, a regular hangout of ours when we’re in the area.
Then a trip to Pasadena and the Norton Simon Museum. The latest exhibit was Rajput Paintings from the Ramesh and Urmil Kapoor Collection, amazing Indian paintings of scenes from epic poems like the Bhagavatapurana. All the paintings were watercolors and about the size of a 8×10 piece of paper. But what detail! You really needed a magnifying glass to appreciate it all. Neither the exhibition walls, nor the accompanying book (from what I could see) explained how these were created. The brushes must have been like those modelers use, two hairs thick. We were disappointed to see that, though the museum store sold to-scale digital prints of some of these, the quality was dreadful.
Also on display was some prints by Ynez Johnston, which the curator wanted to juxtapose with the Rajput paintings nextdoor. Listen to this malarkey: “Johnston’s unique style is characterized by recurring figures and shapes derived from both Eastern and Western cultures and ancient and modern times. As with miniature Rajput paintings, illuminated manuscripts and Chinese scrolls, Johnston’s art is intended for intimate viewing and affords an endless voyage of discovery.”
Load of old blunt pencil scrawls to me. Talk about suffering by comparison.
Back in Santa Barbara, we went into Montecito and ate at the Italian restaurant VaiVai. Good pizza. In a rare celebrity sighting for me, Michael Richards (“Seinfeld”‘s Kramer) sat at the table next to us along with who I took to be his daughter.

Bo Knows Painting

Sunday was a day of lasts. It was last day at the S.B. Museum of Art to catch the Bo Bartlett exhibition, which I wanted to see again after a brief viewing a month ago. Bartlett is one of the latest in the new traditionalist (I’m sure there’s some better name) school of American painting. He paints in oil, on big canvases, and depicts modern Americans in sometimes surreal settings that reference religious paintings of the old masters. He’s modern, but the activities in his paintings seem timeless (there are no city scenes, no televisions, no consumer culture). His painting “Homecoming” (see above) shows a post-game bonfire at some high school stadium, but the activity seems like ancient ritual. A coach and a parent stand nearby, pointing off into the distance, discussing…what? The horizon is fields and water. Where are we? There are echoes of Hopper here, as well as Eakins. All his work has a great enigmatic quality to it, and they are very open texts. You bring what you want to them. His use of color is also astonishing, but the computer screen doesn’t do it justice.
Also in its last day was Contemporary Arts Forum‘s “Videodrome” show, a daily program of recent video art. I hadn’t been too lucky the days that I went in over the last month. Some video art is just atrocious–after patriotism, it is the last refuge of scoundrels. Only these scoundrels have DV cams and a few AfterEffects filters. Holly Mackay, whose title at CAF I’ve forgotten, but high on the ladder, invited me over for a final “best of” screening. Apart from a groovy short from Marco Brambilla called “Wall of Death” (various angles on a centrifugal stunt motorbike rider, looking like an old kinetoscope), I loved the collaborative shorts by Christoph Giradet and Matthias Muller (most recently known for their Hitchcock cutups). “Manual” cut together all these cutaway shots of scientific equipment, speakers, tape machines, and so on, from various 1950’s Technicolor films and created an alienating universe of control, while a disembodied female voice tries to communicate something about memory and time. I also liked “Scratch,” a similar set-up, this time using cutaway shots of record players from Hollywood films, looped like a runout groove. Both films were also good at fetishizing old technology. Holly and I agreed that we’ve definitely lost something when all machines lost dials and switches. Everything is run by a computer and a mouse these days.
Strangely enough, Muller’s own solo video work was dull, yet you could see what he brought to their collaboration (ideas of isolation and alienation).

While you are waiting…

In between feature movies (and Jessica just brought back a motherlode of them from Shanghai), we are currently stuck into the DVD box of The Sopranos, Season One. Yes, we’re finally getting around to watching it. Hey, don’t worry, we had never seen Sex and the City until earlier this year, and through the magic of DVD box sets, we’ve caught up (only the second half of Season Six to go). I prefer it this way too.

Late August, Early September

Dir: Olivier Assayas
1998
Late Autumn, Early September was such a realist followup to Olivier Assayas’s oddball and entrancing Irma Vep,
that it took me this long to getting round to watching it. But it’s has Irma Vep’s energy and comes alive onscreen in much the same way, that I realized that the director can handle both styles with aplomb. And for those who yearned for the experimentalism of Irma Vep, check out Demonlover.
Shot in grainy Super 16mm on handhelds, the film is a swirl of action and character, revolving around Adrien, a writer (Francois Cluzet), Gabrielle (Mathieu Amalric), his fan and sometimes assistant, Anne (Virginie Ledoyen), Gabrielle’s current lover, and Jenny (Jeanne Balibar), his former. Assayas drops in and out of the their lives over a period of about a year, with an elliptical method that makes us put together what’s happened in between. Adrien develops a serious illness but recovers, Gabrielle can’t seem to let Anne fully into his life, friends come together to help Adrian, and other events that don’t sound much on the page, but are fascinating to watch unfold. While Adrien sets the tone in an exchange on a train with Gabrielle (“I just turned 40 and I seem to be nowhere.”) it’s everybody who’s in transition, not quite rich, not quite poor, not fully in or out of love.
Late Autumn really points out how, when it comes to relationships, the French are on a different planet than the New Puritans. After Anne disappears from Gabrielle’s life for a while, she next see her enjoying a three-way between her workmate and an unknown man. An American film would have shown this excess as evil and an example of how far Anne had fallen. But Assayas treats it like a light afternoon daydream, scored with airy music. Anne and her workmate then have a conversation about how she still loves Gabrielle but still needs to explore her wider sexual needs. It’s all matter of fact. (By the way, Virginie Ledoyen is heart-stoppingly beautiful.)
Adrien keeps a young 15-year-old lover, the boyish Vera with her Jean Seberg-like hairdo. She’s treated fairly, not as some sign of Adrian’s prurience.
Lead actor Amalric has a frazzled intensity, and, like most of the cast, is very watchable and unpredictable. Nobody is cast into any type, and even though Jenny looks like she is going to be the “crazy ex,” she turns out to be stable as well. Maybe it’s me–maybe I’ve just been watching too much Hollywood.

Z

Dir: Costa-Gavras
1969
For some reason I have dim memories of trying to watch this in my early 20s and falling asleep.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Z is in fact a punchy political thriller with a deeply cynical ending. I would like to think this change is in part due to a certain political maturity (ha ha ha) on my part. Or perhaps I was just awake this time. Yves Montand plays an anti-war, anti-American/imperialist left-wing senator who is targeted for assassination by the militarist government. Though entirely in French, the film is based on the assassination in1963 of Grigorios Lambrakis, a professor of medicine at the University of Athens. The beginning of the film states “Any similarities between people living or dead is deliberate.” The gloves are off.
Montand’s character gets clubbed after a speaking engagement and later dies on the operating table. The protagonist role slowly shifts to the investigating judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who begins with a neutral assessment of events and then becomes convinced of a right-wing coverup in play. Fast-paced camera work (not to be confused with shaky, incomprehensible camera work) keeps the large cast of characters and their interactions clear as Trintignant’s judge builds a case.
The portrait of the explosive politics of the late ’60s resonates through to today, especially as we gear up towards the antagonism of the Republican Convention. Doesn’t that angry mob look just like the GOP bullyboys brought down to Florida in 2000 to stop the vote? Hmmm.

The Tricky Cad is Dead

I was surprised to hear, apparently several months late, that collage artist extraordinaire Jess Collins (later just known as Jess) had died this year. Jess is not very well known but his Max Ernst-meets-Lichtenstein cut-up of Dick Tracy comics, entitled “Tricky Cad” was a major influence on me as a teenager. You can find very small reproductions of the work in Pop Art books, but I’ve never the seen the thing close-up or in a decent reproduction. Surely these pieces are worth a reissue or a Taschen book of some kind. The one retrospective he had in 1993 produced a book that is now going for something like $75. Yikes.
Last month I traveled to San Francisco (I’m still working on the photo diary where you can see my journey) and in SFMOMA there were several large-scale works by him. At the time, however, I didn’t know that Jess and Jess Collins were the same. One work was something close to 4×5 feet and was a collage of black and white engravings that he had then drawn as a whole, organic work. It was “everything but the kitchen sink” collage of the first order.
Read 2Blowhard’s own blog entry on Jess, which is where I found the news.
I later wrote LACMA, where a number of Tricky Cad pieces are part of the collection, but the curator says that due to the fragile, all paper and glue nature of the work, they are not on display. I was happy, though, with the speed in which the curator got back to me (two hours).

Imagining a post-Imperialist world

Tom Engelhardt answers Jonathan Schell

As Chalmers Johnson has, to my mind, effectively explained in his book The Sorrows of Empire, from 1945 on, the United States pursued an imperial policy based on the military base rather than the colony. We would set up our bases — little Americas — in other countries, get extraterritorial rights for our troops, and with our economic power at our backs and close ties with local elites, go about our global business. Iraq, it seems to me, represents a striking deviation from this path. It is the closest thing in our lifetimes to a straightforward colonial land-grab (whatever pretty words the neocons may have woven around it). And it is clearly failing, hence all the military and intelligence officials up in arms and angry indeed. A Kerry administration would undoubtedly try to return us to our older form of imperial creep. The question is: Could it do so? Or rather, has the world so changed in the brief but wrenching interim that imperial policy in any form will prove bankrupt?