26 October 2017

What's up for two more days and an hour or so, v. III(c)

I have been offline for four days or so, which was, as usual, pleasant. Last week-end I visited the room of Carlos Ginzburg at Henrique Faria (35 67th, 4th Fl) which I had previously seen while it was being set up.  In it, he revisits his photographs from India and Nepal from 1982 ten years after moving to Paris and embarking on an anti-travel series inspired by Lévi-Strauss' Tristes Tropiques.  Having just read Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre’s new book Enrichissement: une critique de la marchandise, also heavily influenced by Lévi-Strauss, Ginzburg applies their critique to the foundations of conceptualism, likening current intensification of producing nothing, but linking third world producers and their regional heritage to consumers to Duchamp’s creation of the readymade.

21 October 2017

What's up for six more days

My tragic case of missing Stalker in the theaters was partially compensated for yesterday evening as the new 4K restoration of The Sacrifice is at Walter Reade, thrice a day through Thursday the 26th.

As the trailer suggests this is one of the great soundtracks of film, and in addition to the music and water dripping you get the wind rustling through the vegetation of the Swedish meadow while the characters discuss philosophy, like that scene in Andrei Rublev I think of every time I see wind blowing ferns. Critics have always viewed it as a Bergman pastiche while Tarkovsky's protests on the matter (Bergman is not mentioned in reference to the film in Sculpting in Time) are earnestly stuck on his perceptions of the religious and philosophical differences between him and Ingmar.  He uses Bergman’s island (or a stand-in), Bergman’s actors, Bergman’s cinematographer and production designer (whose interiors Tarkovsky meticulously tinkered with), and Bergman’s shots and soundtrack, mostly as I recognized: Persona and Through a Glass Darkly.  The foghorns of Persona and Through a Glass Darkly are heard constantly, as in Red Desert by Antonioni, also an influence on Tarkovsky. More than Picasso reworking Manet and Velazquez this is analogous to Rouault using Gustave Moreau’s palette and studio. von Trier's Melancholia is a mercenary copy of the surface elements and plot. Tarkovsky: "The Sacrifice is a repudiation of commercial cinema.. I have no doubt that the poetry of the film is going to be a specific reality, that the truth that it touches will materialize - will affect my life. Once (one) has grasped truths of that order.. they overturn all his earlier ideas about how the world is.. Pushkin saw the capacity to look into time and predict the future as a terrible gift, and his allotted role caused him untold torment."

19 October 2017

What's up for three more days, v. XXXVII

Lonnie Holley, The Seer
When I first set foot inside the High Museum in Atlanta, I could tell there was something wrong with it.  Of course one never knows the grisly details at those moments, but they are deftly supplied in Andrew Dietz’ The Last Folk Hero, a 342 page Piri’ Miri Muli’ recommended page-turner I was able to read in one sitting. Collector Bill Arnett made the mistake of going to a dinner for a Chinese porcelain collection garnered for Atlanta society by Kissinger et al because he was freeloading at a restaurant he liked, got conned into looking at the porcelain by a potential buyer, and when he told the truth about the overvaluation and misrepresentation of the works he faced universal scorn and imminent legal threats.  Arnett got a Smithsonian director-to-be to look at selected pieces in the plaintiff’s, Charles Abrams’, company, who verified Arnett’s appraisal, was thanked and had the lawsuit dropped, but became a ‘pariah’ in the art world that surrounded the High, his donations to the High placed on his porch in crates while he was on vacation.  Today the strength of the High is precisely Arnett’s main specialization: local outsider art out of which he nurtured and represented Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley.  A quick Google search of Arnett gets you Morley Safer’s smear piece on 60 Minutes without any rebuttals I could find save for Dietz’ book, which seeks balance and finds it imho.  Safer’s hit piece on Arnett offers nothing but the malice of a mediocre artist who made a lot of money being a mediocre TV journalist, who waxes righteous amid petty crooks that weren’t big enough to be protected by the network (the flick The Insider portrays the tip of this iceberg).  Dietz notes that Dial was bewildered by the 60 Minutes segment, as both artists have a strong relationship of trust with Arnett.

I saw the retrospective of Holley in Atlanta and a concert he gave there one evening with father and son Arnett in attendance, in which Holley’s music and keyboard was combined with soprano Jayme Alilaw.  I was skeptical of the collaboration but it worked.  I noticed a harmonious but understated relationship at the event between Holley and the Arnetts (father and son), like friends giving each other space, though I had no knowledge of their back story at the time.  The free event was somewhat crowded but most of the local audience left while Holley was performing, but Piri’ Miri Muli’ strongly recommends not passing up any opportunity to hear Holley perform, as there is no vocalist quite like him.  He is said to improvise all his performances, and I witnessed him preparing for it earlier in the day by listening to music on tape.

Holley, seventh of 27 children, reunited after a stint in reform school with his grandmother who searched scrap yards for saleable material.  He started making art out of the scrap immediately and brought works to the Birmingham Museum of Art in 1981, leading to a spot in a touring Smithsonian show. Arnett had heard of him and was reluctant to rep him, but upon visiting his residence was blown away.

I believe that one of the traps artists and writers outside NY, Paris, Berlin, etc. fall into is wanting to supply an easy explanation for their works, rather than produce something that initially eludes the audience in a way they nonetheless appreciate and sometimes revisit.  Most of the works in the Atlanta retrospective were accompanied by an stablizing description as to what they meant, often relating to character development, values, or political issues, but the ones I liked was the steel sculptures of faces interlinked in the manner of Picasso, which Holley relates to African traditions “A lot of these things I’m doing now is part of my appreciation of my ancestry..”  I said hello while he was listening to his audio recording and told him I liked these and that I liked his works that were harder to understand at first, hoping I may balance out the other feedback he gets.  He replied “Thumbs up! Thumbs up for Mother Universe!" correctly identifying me as a spirit of the universe. To my delight the Fuentes show (55 Delancey) contains several large scale steel sculptures of interlocked faces as well as wire sculptures which includes a fragile and visually pleasing model boat, all from this year.  Lonnie adds his voice to those who say in reference to the seasonal storms “we’re developing a sort of devastating development right now because of our Ozone layer” and wants the public to consider that the steel in US highways is “now rusted to pieces and it’s becoming an egg shell.”

14 October 2017

I applaud the sentiments of Michael Moore’s statement on Weinstein, as Godard touches on Howard Hughes’ antics in Histoire(s) du cinéma, among the precursors to and templates of Harvey’s fetishistic hotel suite A-List assembly line.  Not privy to what is going on with Moore’s Trump documentary which The Weinstein Company has rights to and the topics broached therein, Piri’ Miri Muli’ can nonetheless assume Michael was in a tough spot, adding to the fact that he’s performing solo on Broadway in the evenings. Weinstein had Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 on the Disney budget, and then got it out despite Disney trying to bury it.  Moore’s Trump documentary is going to get out somehow, and right-wing websites were trying to smear Moore by association. I have no idea what Harvey’s thoughts of Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 were during production, but taking a project that no studio would touch made Harvey a lot of money, and he no doubt relished having the final cut.  Seeing it on the first day in a packed suburban theater has not, so far, been forgettable for me, and the money it made was a boon to documentaries of different stripes.  Moore notes that he was the only director to sue Harvey after getting stiffed on the film, but they were able to do business again. Harvey donated to Liz Warren once, but was a big Hillary supporter, and Bernie and other progressives were nowhere in his funding radar.

My favorite films of 2000-2010 had relatively few US titles, but during the early-to-mid 90s a lot of talent was making use of Harvey’s Miramax and a lot of that was excellent.  The old intro, which I liked for some reason, triggers the memory of being in a cinema and thinking you were going to see something novel:

The films, though, were often male adolescent narratives that related self-referentially to the code of the latent or foregrounded fetish eroticism of Hollywood films. The Weinstein Company films I’ve actually watched were 2014's Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ documentation of the Snowden leak, 2013's Art of the Steal, a necessary intervention in the Philly art scene, one Woody, and Moore’s 2007 Sicko, which had an under-credited effect on American healthcare policy. Miramax’s last good year was 2008, three years after Harvey left, with Reprise and Happy-Go-Lucky making my list but the Disney division saw a quick quantitative and qualitative drop-off of titles after that. Mind you, I am sitting down to new films but mostly foreign and a few other US indies and sometimes sporadically enough to bring forth the tragedy of missing the Criterion restoration of Tarkovsky's Stalker in the theater, but I hopefully will see it projected someday and it looks great on dvd. The timing of actresses finally turning on Harvey may be vaguely related, as a few reporters have suggested, to where Harvey is in his career and the quality of his recent output... a Tom Stoppard script turned out to be a bubble in the last straw.  I'd like to see the actresses use their platform to focus on NBCUniversal burying the story, but NBCU is still in a position to retaliate.

Ronan Farrow’s revenge against Woody and Harvey is real-life drama.  Hollywood consists of monsters and formulas.  von Stroheim’s best films and megalomania methinks tops Woody’s and I don’t know whether Eric would fare better or worse in today’s world.  Harvey appreciated the French New Wave, which was in many ways inspired by Agnes Varda’s La Pointe Courte and the lectures of Henri Langlois, who said that the quality of audiences are formed incrementally by the quality of the films they’re watching.  During the 90s some good indies, many by Harvey, would do well in the box office but after 9-11 the studio junk took over, and box office data strongly suggests the American audience similarly declined. 

It’s possible that the outcome of this drama will be that the studios and the formula will choke what’s left of independent film.  This is where my own prescription would differ slightly from Moore’s.  We will no doubt see the media conglomerates trumpeting diversity and gender balance, but the potential of a new wave of female auteurs can only be realized through a de-monopolization of the distribution companies’ control of the theaters, television, and home marketing.

07 October 2017

Carlos Raquel Rivera, Puerto Rican, Huracan del Norte, 1955

02 October 2017

..if hope were little
and poorly drawn and if the word
were not an act, those these lines
would not be a poem.

-Joan Brossa

Sardana (Circle of Feet), 1972
"It would be easy and .. unjust to all of a sudden blame the ignorance of our past on those who, born after the civil war, might have never had the possibility to know exactly our special characteristics.. Catalonia, in the words of Nicolau d' Olwer, 'has the good fortune of being at once liberal and traditionalist, because its true tradition is freedom'.. An awareness of our spirit and the fight to preserve it and set it as a guide for humanity seems to us a proper and universal mission for an artist, and a fully progressive cause.. The best artists and writers of the world - a list would be interminable - have understood and loved the Catalans and have always stood in solidarity with them." (Antoni Tàpies, 1971)

The Catalan Spirit, 1971

01 October 2017