The other night I went to the opening of the Ex-is festival here in Seoul – a good experimental/avant-garde one that seems to have grown (up) in the past years. I was on their jury 3 years ago I think it was, and have gone the last few festivals for some of the screenings. For the opening they certainly snazzed up their lead-in trailer, a pretty slick intro to the various films they’ll show, all digitized now. They did their in-person intros, and then following a lovely item – quite different than in the past when the live aspect was anarchic noise music, or jazz, but this year they opted for a woman doing traditional Korean dance with music that I found, as I do a lot of traditional Korean music, lovely and itself rather jazz-like, just with very different instruments. Then they showed two films, one by Jonas Mekas, doyen of the aging New York avant garde, one from 1995 titled Happy Birthday John. Like the other films of his I’ve seen this was a slapdash, rhythmless assemblage, of, well, star-fucking circa 1970 or so. To say it was a sloppy slightly artyfied bit of home-movie-making of Jonas’ friends of the time: Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and assorted other attached lesser luminaries of the New York back-then scene. Bursts of single framing or undercranking, the odd in-camera superimposition, a lackadaisical wandering hand-held camera flitting about and alighting upon these figures of the fabled ’60′s. Or on a girl’s butt. Or… On and on. But, like home-movies, unless you are “in the family” these things have little interest as aesthetically and thematically they are usually terminally boring. If it were not for his famous friends, no one would look at Jonas’ haphazard movie-making for 3 minutes. And no one should call it “art”. Ah, but fame lurks, and seeing those mythical figures of the past, smoking a joint, being silly or worse, camping up for the camera, all provides a lurid little interest. At least for a few minutes. But on and on it goes until it becomes unintentionally aggravating. Who cares, Jonas?
At least this one was short, if not mercifully so (at 20 minutes it was way too much) – some of his opus of similar stuff runs into the Bela Tarr time zone, which I am sure no one could really sit through. EX-is is doing a retrospective of Jonas’ ouvre, and presented an introductory work, by Pip Chodorov, apparently done for French TV. The style was similar, if slightly more disciplined, and had required TV talking head shots. Pip is at the festival, 8mm camera in hand, doing similar such diary stuff. I’ve had a few acrid exchanges in the receding past with Pip and others on his Frameworks list-serve where film (celluloid) is fetishized and sacralized, and certain alleged filmmakers are deified – like Jonas’ favored now-deceased Stan Brakhage (who shows a similar lack of understanding for timing, rhythm, scale – all the elements which make music or any art form function – were one to transpose such work to music it would be unlistenable). In this adulatory paean to Mekas, Jonas is caught blurting that he was just filming his friends, and that they later on became “famous” wasn’t his fault. However in 1970 I think the Beatles et al were all well beyond having become “famous.” One senses the hint of guilt in his knowing that his work is basically star-gazing, with little else to recommend it, sort of a tabloid fanzine for the supposed hip set. “Oh, look, there’s Allen, there’s Geldzhaler, there’s Yoko, there’s …” as the camera wobbles and flits around sucking it up. It was, basically, a party, and looking at the fatuous famous of that long ago era, it is quickly evident why we shortly followed the trajectory of Nixon/Reagan/Bush/Bush & Cheney and all the ugly social, cultural and economic realities they embody: they were getting down to nasty business while the Mekas’ friends gang were essentially goofing off.
In the news along the same line is word that Annie Liebowitz, famed photographer of the famous, extracted a deal from Art Capitol Group to have some more time to pay off a 24 million buck loan, lest they yank her 3 or is it 4 homes, and sell off her photographs and all rights thereto. The late Susan Sontag’s companion apparently has tastes equal to those of her overly famous subjects and clients. I vaguely suspect that Jonas and Annie know each other…. Welcome to Vanity Fair.
In the tech department, there’s other advances, leaving Red perhaps in the dust, so fast does our electronic frontier move. I went with friend Alec the other day to the vast electronics mart at Youngsan, looking for a small HDV or HD camera for him. He’d researched the matter, and come up with indications that Korea’s Samsung had the most interesting cameras to see. So we checked them out, and came across this:
Lots larger than life-size
A full HD camera, about this size of a fat bratwurst. Records to SD/SDHC memory cards. The imaging chip is 1/2 inch CMOS, same size as on my fancy Sony XDcam. No mike inputs, and lux rate is 15, so not good in low-light. $500. But basically this will give you equal to very clean 35mm in image, and the large chip nudges the optical situation to the so-called “movie look.” For they-don’t-want-you-shooting it looks like a nice deal – hardly looks like a camera.
Along same line are the Canon has a still camera out which can shoot 5 minutes of HD video, and already there are companies providing accessories to movie-ize these cameras, with handles, rack focusing devices, etc.
Canon EOS 5D, $2500
Not to be outdone, the Panasonic company has a similar still camera, capable of HD video also:
Panasonic Lumix, circa $800
And a quick search on the web shows many other camera makers are following suit, at far lower prices. So prepare yourself for a tsunami of hi-res film look shit made with rigs like this (of course you could also make something wonderful):
Of course none of these cameras come ready-equipped with brain, talent or other requisites for making good films, or whatever one will make of these tools. The following, purportedly by octogenarian Chris Marker (itself a pseudonym) working under the monicker Kosinki, provides a proof that perhaps all this razzle-dazzle technical whoop-de-doo actually can lead those with brain and talent astray.
I’ve seen a few other recent Marker items which I find similarly dubious. Equipment problems, or perhaps the other equipment – the gray stuff between the ears showing a little wear and tear.
Yesterday I sat down and finally edited some material shot in the USA last autumn, a droll and clinical bit of “realism” in an Amtrak station in New Jersey and then on train. Present cut runs 35 minutes, which seems a bit long for a film in which little happens but it seems very interesting; we overhear the “she was terminated” conversation of a businessman. She was and in the following months so were many millions more.