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Last night was the screening of Coming to Terms here in Berlin, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.   Was a decently sized audience, and a very very positive response to the film.  Back when I lived here in the late 70′s, this structure – a modernist swooping concrete American gift to Berlin, ironically collapsed, and was rebuilt, hopefully with both design and construction improvements.  The setting in which it sits, along the Spree River, is now utterly transformed, as is the entire city.  The Wall is gone, the dingy grey world of East Berlin now glitters with new buildings and renovations of old ones, and it is as if a magic wand had waved, and everything seems completely reinvented.  Tourists swarm the city center, the old Reichstag building with its Foster cupola, beside it the new Federal governmental buildings, the Brandenburg gate and the totally revitalized Unter den Linden.   It is really another city, morphed from an isolated cell of the capitalist West nestled in the faltering collapse of the socialist East, into a humming magnet of late Euro-capitalism, a grand illusion awaiting the literal flood of the future – while at 114 feet above sea-level it is not at risk of inundation this century, in some more distant future, when and if all the world’s ice melts and the sea level rises to a projected 216 feet, well….

 

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When I lived in Berlin – 1979-80, and later in 83-5 – the Wall, and the political and economic world it represented, was an active and vivid part of the psycho-social, and economic, landscape.  After I’d been there a brief while I concluded that it – a thin concrete veil maintained with armed and deadly force, and representing a very recent, short-term ideological squabble – would soon be gone.  It would be overcome by the far deeper historical roots of the culture it had temporarily bifurcated.  So I thought.  My Berliner friends were of a different mind, 100% sure it would remain there throughout their lifetimes and beyond.  It was, so they felt, a permanent fixture.  And they had a financial incentive too – as a glittering outpost of the West imbedded in the drab East, it was heavily subsidized, and housing and transportation and many other things were relatively cheap. And there was something romantic about being trapped there.  So until the day the wall was being chiseled down and Honeker threw in the towel as the Soviet empire dissolved in the fog of glasnost, they were sure it would remain.  Not many years later I visited the USSR for a few weeks, in the company of rosy-glassed British left-winger film people, and I drew the same conclusion regarding the Soviet Union – that it was due for imminent collapse.  My traveling companions thought this ridiculous, as did my friends in America, along with the CIA.  Nope, the great Soviet monolith was forever.  It formally collapsed in 1991.  So much for the permanence of things.  Of course in Germany I was in a country which had not much earlier seen itself as in the early stages of a Thousand Year Reich, and I am the child of a country which allows itself a starry-eyed “exceptionalism” and seems to have imagined until very recently that it was exempt from the lessons of history (or telling itself truthfully its own history.)

 

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As an habitual transient, even within my own country, I have over my life become a perpetual outsider.  In a manner it is a privileged position, allowing one to see past the curtains of ordinariness which those who live a stable life accommodate.  Inside such a life – one of a job, home, a circle of friends and associates, and social/economic conventions everyone accepts  -  the horizon of one’s experience leads to a kind of certitude:  the walls will never fall.   Whereas from my constantly shifting vantage point, nothing appears fixed and stable, and the givens of another’s  life seem not at all so firm.  Be it assumptions about a pension, about the economy running along just so, or whether a vaunted empire will last another 1000 years, or 10 days.  To most of my friends a life with a thorough-going absence of “security” seems an impossible nightmare, and they often wonder out loud to me just how I can do it.  But for me, since my life has repeatedly shown me that such certainties, small and huge, which they entertain, nearly always fall apart, it confers a kind of psychological protection:  I am not surprised when the rug zips out from underneath, and I haven’t really placed many bets on it not doing so.   For me, whatever happens happens, and I will cope with it rather than panic at seeing my word-view shattered.  For some people this seems cynical; to me it is just realism.

 

volkshalle_by_teslapunk-d340iupAlbert Speer’s design for the glorious 1000 year 3rd Reichimage4Berlin, not many years later, in 1945

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These days, crossing Germany, as in the United States, one can see vast wind farms, the pristine white blades turning slowly (harvesting among other things, birds and bats).  Germany is one of the European countries seriously attempting – or so it thinks – to Go Green.  Berlin is busy with bicycle lanes, mini-car rental shares, well-insulated buildings, and, at least within the context of modern capitalism, an effort to be more efficient, all in the name of concern for the environment.  Of course these quite “aware” consumers of the feel-good ideology of “doing their part” to keep the coming flood at bay, hardly think twice when it is time to pop into an EasyJet or AirBerlin flight and run off to Majorca or Bangkok, nor do they really understand their massively mis-proportioned draw on the world’s material assets.  Of course they can always point to the United States, and say how its “carbon footprint” and consumption per capita is so much bigger.  And while the richest squabble over these matters, China, and, less successfully India, race to catch up – in exactly the same manner Europe and the United States did when they industrialized, spewing massive wastes and poisons into the environment.  Caught in the alluring material enticements of late-stage capitalism, all are too eager to have more.  Some “more” with a do-(feel)-good ecological bent, and some just plain old more.  Within the penumbra of the Capitalist Religion (one decisively demonstrated to be superior to Communism when the USSR collapsed), the concept of doing with less, a lot less, in the name of a future, is simply alien.  Nope, whatever the problems, the techies will figure it out, and we can continue to have more and more.  And we will have the Thousand Year Reign of Technofixes.

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Perhaps it is the extravagant history of Berlin which provokes such thoughts – to think that the culture that gave us Bach, Beethoven, and myriad other sublime cultural gifts, could have, in the same breath given us the mass frenzy which brought Mr Schickelgruber to power under his stage-name Hitler, and led this most sophisticated society over the cliff of the mass killing of Jews, gypsies, gays, and other suddenly (if also historically deep) anointed non-humans.  Under the sway of their Fuhrer Germany initiated the chain of events which led to the killing of over 72 million people in a single decade.  Towards the end of the war, German citizens mostly obeyed, as their whole world was pulverized before their eyes.  As they had done with the deportation of their neighbors, they firmly stuck their collective heads in the soft sands which Berlin is built upon.   And today, despite the best of liberal intentions  – the bicycle paths, the mini-cars, the farmers markets, the wind farms and all the rest – they are in deep delusion as the Spree slowly encroaches on this currently most civil city.

Flying here from Dusseldorf the view out the window looking down on the NordWest-Rhineland was of massive chimneys and cooling towers, (along with the windfarms) all the way to the horizon.  Germany’s economy is the best in Europe, and it is hurtling down the tracks to its own oblivion, with the rest of Europe looking enviously on.

 

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I’ve been familiar with New York since childhood, recalling a visit with my family, enroute doubtless to this or that military base, sometime in the early 1950′s, and visiting that wonderland of consumer lust, Macy’s.   I think I was given a choice of which toy to get and picked a somewhat elaborate plastic gyroscope, one with dazzling flecks of multi-colored paints embedded in it – one of extremely few memories of my childhood.  Since that time I’ve been back many times, for visits for politics (Newsreel 1967, IFP 1978), for screenings (MoMA with a selection of shorts in 1973 or so, later for a complete retrospective in 1991; 1987 for Whitney Biennial with Plain Talk & Common Senses; a number at Millennium); to visit friends.  And then I lived in New York from 1989-1991, before and while shooting All the Vermeers in New York.  I’d say I knew it pretty well but the truth is no one could possibly know New York (or any massive city) well, even if you spent your entire life-time actively investigating it every day.  I, like everyone else, know only the tiny little sliver I lived in or near, which represents not .00001 of the whole.  To think otherwise is to be deeply deluded.

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My experience of New York City, not hailing from the place, has been rather schizoid:  while I like its energy, its multi-ethnic polyglot street life, and all the good things of its density, I dislike its disproportionate sway over much of America’s social and cultural scales.  Long ago I surmised (and said publicly) that in the cultural world, if you make a piece of unmitigated pure shit in New York, as an “artist” (any kind – visual, music, writing), you are axiomatically 5 steps ahead of someone’s work of pure brilliance if, say, it comes from Kansas City, or some other city or town out in the vast hinterlands of the States.   Having been born in Chicago, and living there a brief while in my youth, I suppose I am afflicted with that “Second City” neuroses which functions to draw people from around the country to New York, like flies to, well, shit.  Except for certain realms where LA is the draw – movies mostly,  the lure of easy fame.

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In the very narrow world of arty/experimental films (and now, more broadly, “media”), the tilt of the cultural scales towards New York was, in my view, obscene.  The standard “canon” peddled around the world as to such work – “underground/avant garde” was essentially a list of Jonas Mekas’ friends – virtually all New Yorkers, or people who made the cultural pilgrimage to NYC, whether they lived there or not (Brakhage, Snow) way back then.  He blasted out over his column in the old Village Voice a weekly notice of whatever piece of celluloid fell out of their cameras and hastily anointed it a “masterpiece,” whereupon these were lapped up and sent off to the hinterlands to be screened in the film clubs, underground cinemas, etc. that littered small cities and campuses.  As 90% of Mekas’ Masterpieces-of-the-Week were cinematic dreck – as is, in my view, most of his own work, the interest quickly waned and collapsed, and, almost worse, was converted in academia into “film studies.”  Eager-beaver students were taught “avant garde” and made shitty versions of the shit which was foisted on them as “art.”  I sadly report that 50 years later this still persists as aging professors inflict their equally aged views on gullible students who then engage unknowingly in thrusts of a very derriere garde, mimicking the superficial aspects of films from 50 or 80 or more years ago.  Very avant.

Of course, one can say pretty much the same for all the arts – visual, music, theatrical – where the dead horses of 100 or 50 years ago are endlessly beaten, while academic scribes write arcane verbiage in a vain attempt to prop up this Emperor’s New Clothes world of empty fashion and pretend it is either “new” or “art” when generally it most certainly is not.  The announcements of the upcoming Whitney Biennial seem to underline this.   And New York City is the blazing navel of this vast fraud (just as with Wall Street).

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These days the arts, particularly the visual and plastic arts are indeed very big business – witness the immense bloat of MoMA’s real-estate, with paintings and sculptures selling for $50,000,000 and up (and down) for contemporary “artists” along with very recently deceased modern masters.  Jeff Koons is a good example, having his antennae finely tuned for the jejune tastes of the nouveau riche.  Other opportunists similarly sucker in these rubes of Gotham.

Switzerland ExhibitionJeff Koons and Michael and friendbruce_high_quality_foundation-hooverville~OMd87300~10000_20131113_n09037_2High Quality Bruce collective ersatz Warhol/Rauschenburg silk-screen sold for $5oo,ooo

Outside of Washington DC, New York would seem to exemplify the deep decadence and corruption into which the country has descended – though I am sure other cities might contest this: Silicon San Francisco, or LA.  Not that we weren’t cyclically corrupt before, just that in this time the numbers are exponentially greater and talk of millions is mere chump change.  We talk of individuals worth multi-billions and corporations worth trillions, which perhaps hints at the shift from “government” as our overseers (hypothetically in our service) to the dictatorship of corporations.  The many homeless people lining the streets of New York would seem to attest to this, as well as the schism between the obscenely wealthy (Soho, Upper East Side, and the usual haunts of old NY wealth along Park Avenue) and the obscenely poor.  If any place exemplifies this national tendency in its most visible form, New York is it.

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Squeezed out by the Manhattan high-rollers who have step-by-step bought up the former funky-arty quarters of Soho, the Village, the East Village and elsewhere, those locals and others drawn to the New York cultural vortex have shifted eastward, into the borough of Brooklyn.  There – if only for the moment – rents are lower, and the youthful “culture” (bars, boutiques, micro this and that) has bloomed in Williamsburg and Green Point.  The streets are crowded and Spike Lee, selling his Upper East Side place for a purported 35 million dollar price tag (a place previously owned by Robert Rauschenberg), has loudly (he seldom is less than loud) lamented the take-over of his former burg by “hipsters.”  These enclaves of Brooklyn in fact remind me of, oh, Portland, Oregon, where a similar generational culture has set-down, transforming the once drab working-class or black neighborhoods in NE and SE quadrants into strips of chic bars, bicycle shops, exotic ice-cream makers, micro-breweries and all the other accoutrements of a sector of entrepreneurial trust-fund kids.  In Portland it is a bit hard to figure out where the money is coming from to support this eviction scheme for the underclasses.   Similarly these Brooklyn neighborhoods sprout the same kinds of stores, and the sudden (lamented) new upper-middle-class condo’s now that the area has been ethnically and economically cleansed.  Spike is right, though what with his 1.5 million Kickstarter con, he tap-dances on a very loosey-goosey moral tight-rope:  whether he likes it or not he came out of the black upper-middle classes and now sits in the nation’s 1%, never mind his ghetto-mouth.  I have long since (We Cut Heads) found his rather aggressive assertions an obvious cover for his origins in relative wealth: he ain’t no real Bro.  So he uses MoFo a lot and puts on a street-wise air that seems phoney as a $3 dollar bill.  If he really wants not to be of the 1% he can easily divest himself of his wealth but I kinda won’t be holding my breath.  Though I am certain he has lots more rhetorical hot air left.

sleeBrooklyn’s ex-patriot finest

Falling way behind courtesy of the travel life, since scribbling the above while in New York, I’ve been to Columbus Ohio (via Amtrak and Greyhound adventures), Cleveland, and now I lie low a few days, whacked by a nasty cold/flu somewhere along the line.  Curled up like a sick dog in Miami (FL) realm.  Tomorrow northward to Gainesville and then St Petersburg before finally heading back to Stanberry Mo in the mid-west to grab the old Subaru, shoot a quickie film for Blake (and finish up one of mine shot there in November), and finally to head West toward Portland and then Butte.  Be good to take a travel break.

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Following the suggestion of friends, who’d been told it was good but hadn’t themselves gone to it, I visited Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art (MAMbo).  It had one exhibit of modest interest, gathered from the collection of UniCredit, one of their sponsors.  It was a grab-bag of things suggesting art is magic, and included clips of Lumiere and Melies, surrealists, photographic things and a hodge-podge of paintings and sculpture, all tucked under the title, La Grande Magia.  There were some interesting things among the mélange, though it seemed obvious it was a contrived way to haul UniCredit’s stuff out and show it, perhaps with the thought to pump up its alleged “value” for future sale.  Two cheers for capitalism….

arnulf rainer  SMArnulf Rainer’s “art”

That done, I went to the permanent collection, which was mostly Italian work of relatively recent vintage.  This comprised a lot of piss-poor copies of NYC of the 50’s, with fotos of the artists in trench-coats, hats, and smoking cigarettes as if posing as Camus in an “existentialist” play.  The paintings and their names were instantly forgettable, just as all too many American abstract expressionists and pop artists are.

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Tucked into this were some other things, apparently commissioned by the museum.  One was an alleged “installation” piece by current hot London “artist” Tacita Dean.  In a walled off space, an old 16mm projector showed on a little screen hung from the ceiling in back projection some very pedestrian shots of the studio of Giorgio Morandi, beloved artist of modern Bologna.  Another video projector showed static shots of some “drawings” by Morandi.  In both projections there was zero creative anything going on with video, 16mm, or anything else.  This sizable display was accorded two (empty) seats, time and space, and was utterly utterly worthless.  What fame will do….  I print later on Ms. Dean’s words on Morandi, none of the seeming intelligence of which was evident in the installation.

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1994Giorgio Morandi drawings in Tacita Dean’s Still Life

As my brain ossified from this display of the art world’s total corruption – from the pale Italian modern art of the 50’s-70’s (including “art povera” and all the rest), to the pathetic display of “young London’s”  current sway in the arts world, I wandered on, ever more resentful, to a gallery of hot new Bologna very young artists, who like their predecessors of the 50’s and 60’s aped the current international styles, and filled their space with a litter of collected things put on the floor, scrawls on the walls, and absolutely nothing showing a milligram of originality, creative passion, technical talent, or anything else I would stick the word “art” on.   As in other exhibits I have seen it was all academic by-the-book current art world s-h-i-t accorded space in a museum, lathered with utterly inane explicatory texts, and as empty as outer-space is, though lacking in outer-space’s philosophical promptings.  Yes, another museum full of complete crap masquerading as “art.”

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I could make a long list of famed so-called “artists” responsible for this: Beuys, Warhol, Twombly, and numerous others.  Certainly an academic scholar could make a case for the continuity from critical practice noting the differing “styles” of various artists of any period, flowering in our current era wherein one’s particular neuro-muscular twitching, attached to some graphic signature device (a pencil), begets “art.”  Tacita Dean could be an example, but there are literally hundreds of them who seem to imagine that if they call themselves “artists” and make a scrawl, it becomes “art.”  So much for the lessons of the present academy.

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And of our corrupted society which now accepts this, and lavishes money and space for its display.  I guess well-off kids who can’t hack university and get packed off to learn “art” instead need to have something to do and must be rewarded.  As in the case I just read of wherein the mysterious anonymous group Bruce sold a Warholian silk-screen for about $500,000 not long ago.  The question perhaps is whether in process “art” is debased or money?  Or both.

bruce_high_quality_foundation-hooverville~OMd87300~10000_20131113_n09037_2Bruce High Quality, Hooverville, sold for $450,000

On a practical level the museum was virtually empty except for the high number of guards, who admonished “no fotos” when I attempted to take one.  They appeared, justifiably, bored out of their minds as there were more of them, on a Saturday afternoon, than of museum visitors, and the “art” offered little in the way of reward for them to contemplate.  What they were guarding, at whatever the cost is for the people of the city of Bologna, was worthy of a hasty trip to the garbage dumpsters out on the streets.  Little wonder Italy, and other places, are undergoing the tortures of “austerity.”   The art in this place was, plain and simple, part and parcel of the vast fraud which 98% of contemporary (and recent “modern”) art represents.  Junk, cranked out by a corrupted system of schools which teach this crap, and a parasitic cluster of alleged “intellectuals” who parse the meaning of this now utterly decadent, empty, total s-h-i-t.  The kind of stuff which fills pavilions in Venice and Basel, where the utterly conformist art crowd disports itself in “hip” costumes and posturing, and fill the chic “art” hotels made by designer starchitects, (who to my direct observation are equally conformist, decked out in elegant silk black on black outfits).   Their tastes are measured in money, in hot names, and they flit from gallery to gallery like promiscuous bees, ever in search of the next hot vacuous thing with lots of $$$$-signs tacked to it:  Koons, Hirst, or other hyper-hot commodities, whose work is notable primarily for the price tags attached, which are proportionate to the “fame” attached to the “name.”

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[An aside: in my film Chameleon, about a “dealer” – drugs, art, scams – in LA in the late 70’s there’s a line said by a sleazoid dealer, that it’s “names that sell; I couldn’t get a dime for one of your things,” said as he twists an artist’s arm to come up with a fake of a “name” artist.  My very jaded and contemptuous view of the art-world is rather old.]

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GIORGIO MORANDI: STILL LIFE AND DAY FOR NIGHT -

by Tacita Dean

At a certain point, standing in the tiny studio of Giorgio Morandi, re-installed recently in the old apartment in Bologna where he lived with his sisters for fifty years, I knew I had to make a decision. His objects were everywhere, grouped on the tables and under the chairs and gathered together on the floor. They were as recognisable to me as if they had belonged in the outhouses of my own family, and aged with us into comfortable familiarity: face powder boxes, conical flasks, vases of cotton flowers, gas lamps and oil cans, pots, jars and bottles, and containers whose function we no longer recognise. Were they of his time or had he scoured the flea markets himself looking for them? We have only ever known them with dust. Giorgio Morandi was the painter who could paint dust.

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And then there were his interventions, like the cartons rewrapped in brown paper and the reflections whitewashed out on the bottles and the Erlenmeyer flasks, the artificial flower arrangements and the odd flourish to remake a dull vessel. It seems Morandi liked to paint what he saw. He did not choose, as I had always imagined, simply not to paint anything about an object that he did not deem necessary, but instead transformed them beforehand, making them the objects he wanted to see. It was not about denying detail because the detail he liked, he kept. The miraculous opacity of his painted objects is already there in the objects themselves. His was a double artifice. There, amongst the copper pans and the enameled jugs, I understood clearly what the Fluxus artist, Robert Filiou meant when he said, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”

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Giorgio Morandi’s compositions were far from arbitrary. The space between his objects was rigorously and mathematically worked out. Set squares, rulers and a knotted string hang on the studio wall. The table surface and the lining paper are covered with intricate markings and measurements, often initialed or marked with a letter when, you assume, a decision was finalised. They are like found drawings, unintentional but remarkable.

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Only when the light was identical to how it had been the day he set up a composition, did Morandi allow himself to continue painting. On other days, he would sit on the corner of his monastic bed, where there is a pronounced dip, and etch. He would draw at night by electric light. His brushes, that lie tied up in bundles, have been worked down to tufts, and in one instance, to a single hair. Was it parsimony or did he require them bald? Was it because his stroke was a non-frontal gesture, which approached from the side? His room was set-up for a left-handed man but no one particularly remarked this about the painter.

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Amidst his objects, which still held the aura of their depiction, I came at last to a decision as to how I could treat them. I filmed them singly, one by one, centred in my frame, and did as Morandi would never have done: made their composition random.

Temporarily housed in the MAMbo, there was a large collection of Morandi works.  I have been familiar with him for some decades, and never quite fathomed what the big deal was about him.  Several rooms and more of his work merely underlined for me my view that he is very much a very minor painter, though perhaps he highlights a certain phenomenon in the arts world which seems to be almost more prized than its results: doggedness, doing the same thing again and again and again, until your mark is firmly etched and, in a sense, you are a safe bet.  Like a trademark.  McDonald’s, Gucci – you are in for no surprises, you will get what you know you will get.  In Morandi’s case what you will get is modest – images of jars, bottles, in very muted non-color mostly, arrayed on a table.  The brushwork will be desultory, near “primitive.”  The result, like much of modern, is “nice” graphics, something comfortable and safe for a magazine illustration.  However, in the alchemic world of modernist art, if you do this long enough your work will turn into (marketable) art.  As with America’s beloved Norman Rockwell, and many others.

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10.-Estorick-Morandi-Still-Life,-1960Giorgio Morandi, ad inf (almost)

I left the museum to walk through the arcaded streets of central Bologna, decked in Christmas finery and markets, and wandered back to my friend Pina’s cozy apartment.  Along the way some graffiti by someone named “Blu” marked my way.

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There seems a developing fashion, certainly along the lines of PC-speak, that if you don’t have something “nice” to say about something – art, a movie, whatever – then it is better to stay silent.  I guess I’ll remain firmly out of fashion.

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The following is the text of a talk given at a conference in Rome, Italy, on the topic “Cinema, Virtual Reality, and the Body.”  In the same context I screened the 2007 Italian language film La Lunga Ombra (The Long Shadow).

I would first like to caution that despite my present title as “Distinguished Professor (retired)” I am not at all an academic or scholar.  I am a self-taught artist and I suppose a contrarian “thinker.”   This is by way of telling you that while I have a vague recognition of current and past academic fashions in the area of cinema, media and the wider arts, I really do not know much of the language you use.   I hope you will forgive me that, but after more than 50 years of casual acquaintance with both the academic and arts world, I know fashions are transitory and quickly change.   Though I have friends deeply involved in these trends, I have not followed them at all.

Our topic, “Virtual Reality, Cinema and The Body” is, in my jaded eye, a typically obtuse academic one which luckily offers a loose frame to talk about almost anything. So from that standpoint I wish to offer up an eclectic selection of observations.

2 POZZO STANZAStanza di S. Ignazio

Here in Rome, we have a very appropriate setting for a discussion of “virtual reality” as there are many vivid historical examples of just that surrounding us:  not far from here, in the historical center, on Vittorio Emmanuel, beside the Chiesa del Gesu, is the Stanza of San Ignazio – a small hallway adjacent to the modest room in which the Jesuit leader lived in the 1550′s.  The hallway is a barren, barrel vaulted space.  But from one central viewpoint it appears to be a well-accoutered Baroque room, with a flat coffered ceiling, statuary, and paintings and a sense of 3-dimensionality which gives the impression one could slip a hand behind the coffering.  It is all a very convincing illusion:  it is all painted.  It was made in 1680. If you go to the end of the space, the rectangular coffers of the ceiling warp into a Baroque version of a Frank Stella painting of the 1980’s or 90’s.

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A walk of some blocks away from this room is his spectacular ceiling of the Chiesa di S. Ignazio,  which sits on a lovely small piazza designed by another Baroque artist, Fillipo Raguzzini.  Each artist, in vastly differing ways, was busy constructing a very effective “virtual reality” – in the case of Pozzo, illusionary spaces which, in a very real way, appear to exist but do not exist at all.  In the case of Raguzzini, the spaces are very real, but orchestrated to shift the sensibility of those within it.

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9 POZZO DOME S IGCeiling of Chiesa di S. Ignazio, painted by Andrea Pozzos ignazio piazzaPiazza di S. Ignazio

[As an aside I’d like to note that Pozzo is largely disregarded as a “painter” owing to his trickery – I in fact find him a really excellent painter in his handling of color, paint and all the rest – his skill with perspective sadly worked against him.]

Rome is littered with similar examples – from Borromini’s compressed gallery in Palazzo Spada to Bernini’s colonnade at the piazza of St Peter’s , or in the layout of certain major streets intended to compress and unite the sense of space in the city as a whole.

15 SpadaBorommini’s Colonnade at Palazzo Spada18 roma_laquattrofontane_9872Via Quattro Fontane20 Via_del_Corso__Roma_in_M-20000000005851738-500x375Via del Corso

Each of these cases are instances of a conscious and deliberate making of a “virtual reality.”

SONY DSCS. Carlino at Quattro Fontane, by Borominni

The time was in the 1600-1700′s.  A long time ago.

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It was a time when Europe began to throw off a millennium and more of another socially imposed “virtual reality,” that of the Christian religion and the dominant Church which forced its views upon the populace of much of Europe: the Catholic Church. The Church too was a “virtual reality,” constructed of a mythic fantasy carefully calculated to psychologically appeal to an oppressed people, for whom the offer of an “eternal life” was, of course, the ultimate “virtual reality.”

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What can be more “virtual” than a proffered future life which does not exist?

This overturning was, I suppose ironically, visualized at the peak of the Church’s powers and celebrated in a circus of total corruption and decadence.

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The eruption of the art of the Renaissance is the product of that corruption.   Just as in our own time we can watch the same, though sped up, in our official religion of Capitalism – a system which really began more or less at the same time when the Church started on its decline, way back in the 1600′s.  In the language of the church, it was merely a shift in who the money-changers were.

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Jeff Koons

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34 Jeff Koons, Bourgeois Bust - Jeff and Ilona.746x560Jeff Koons, whose balloon dog recently sold for 58 million dollars, a living “artist” record

The Greeks, as seen in their temples and surviving sculptures, had a very well developed sense of perspective to be seen in the subtle shaping of the columns of the Parthenon, in the layout of the same with their various buildings shifted to enhance the spatial sense of the site.

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And in their sculpture where they played with proportion for dramatic effect. Little of their painting has survived though the glazes on their pottery give a hint of how they saw and depicted the world in two-dimensional form. Their surviving literature – in philosophy, in plays, in their mythic stories – fills out for us a sense of their way of being in the world. It is, we like to think, the foundation of “civilization.”

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Or at least “western” civilization. We tend to ignore that for some millennia before the flowering of Greek culture, the Chinese had already built a sophisticated and complex society, easily the equal of anything which flowered on the Mediterranean.

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The Romans largely adopted Greek culture, though turning it from the idealized “virtual” to the hard-core “realistic” and pragmatic – which we can see in Rome’s sculpture and architecture – in the adaptation of the arch and dome as primary architectural forms – whether at the Pantheon, the Colosseo, or the remnants of acquaducts tracing their way through the landscape.

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And, naturally, in their pragmatism, they developed an Empire which has left its mark throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia. And then a funny thing happened in one of its colonies in North Africa – and Roman society was up-ended, and incrementally a new religion crept through Rome’s holdings and beyond. That religion was Christianity, and once institutionalized it bent the cultures which it invaded and utterly changed them. One can see it in the art before and after:

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In Pompei (where they clearly had a grasp of perspective, and they lived their lives with a certain sensual elan).

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And then the curtain of ash descended and the frolicking stopped. Just as it was shoved behind the curtain of Christianity, and Europe’s sense of itself withered behind a veil of ideological fear – while promising goodies in the never-to-be future, the Church wielded a fierce dominance over how to behave in the here and now. The medieval ages arrived. At pain of burning at the stake, as Giordano Bruno did in Campo di Fiori, and other such pleasantries, one toed the Church line or was dispatched to hell or limbo or heaven, depending on how many coins, paintings, chapels, or contributions to the construction of great churches one had given. Paranoia or justifiable fear dictated the building of towns and cities on inconvenient hill and mountain tops; it suggested walls and moats and many defensive postures, generated by the more or less constant warfare in the valleys.

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Of course today tourists wax romantically about the wonderful views as they zip up the winding roads in cars and are served sumptuous meals and wine in these redoubts of utter fear. They seem never to think of what a huge chore it was to take all of life to the top of a mountain without machines and cars. It is of course interesting that on the basis of fear such beautiful things are made. Like weapons.

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In the social construct of the “Dark Ages” Europe lost its sense of perspective, crushed under the sway of an all-powerful church. The earth no longer spun around the sun, which the Greeks understood . And innumerable other “virtual realities” were built and enforced. And then in the early 1000’s European culture began to slowly find its way towards what became the Renaissance. The tracings of this, and particularly in the making of what became the mathematical construction of classic visual perspective, produced a range of curious images. One of my favorite – both for its visual qualities and for its seeming philosophical contents – is Duccio’s Christ at Emmaus, a panel from his now dismembered “Maesta” altarpiece in Siena, circa 1310.

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There, perched on its graphically generic for the time mountain-top sits Emmaus, its gated entrance door opening to….  Well, not very clear. Which is why I like it so much.

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Duccio Maestà back panels 1308-11.jpgLa Maesta, Siena

While grasping at a unified perspective, but fumbling into what is a kind of early cubism, Duccio and his contemporaries seemed to sense that the organization of space wasn’t as earlier work had it, but that there was some other way of showing “reality.”  Though one must wonder, as “seeing” is a highly culturized and trained phenomenon, whether in some sense Duccio actually “saw” in the manner shown in this and other works of his time.

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Massaccio, a century and some later (circa 1425), hot on the footsteps of Lorenzetti’s Annuncio of 1344, and Brunelleschi’s scientific refinements of the early 1400’s, finally caught up with the Pompeians, with his Trinity in Florence.

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In the same period Pier Paolo Uccello experimented deeply with perspective, with his Mazzocchi drawings,

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74 UCCELLO mazzocchio 1Uccello, Mazzochi

and the panels of The Battle of San Romano, the one in London’s National Gallery being one of my favorite paintings. I imagine I have stood before this work for 20 hours, each time learning new lessons. While the painting itself minimizes its perspective nature, at the same time it seems Uccello thumbs his nose at the spectator, with the fallen soldier to the foreground left side seemingly firmly place, laying solidly on the ground.  Except on a closer look he has reversed the perspective and the figure grows larger as it recedes – a trick I am certain Uccello did purposely. A little joke for the eye and brain.

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Another joke was that while The Battle of San Romano celebrates the Fiorentine victory over Siena, that isn’t quite how the Sienese or history saw it: it was more or less a draw. So the illusions were compounded with a bit of propaganda.

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From there on it was merely a hop, skip and a jump to the deliriums of Pozzo, and the spatial playfulness of the Baroque and Mannerist eras.

Since then, until the rupture of late 19th and early 20th century painting, the Western view hardly changed. And then, at least in painting, the unified field of traditional perspective was shattered with Cubism and related movements.

However, though painting remained culturally of interest, its public impact was overshadowed by a new medium: cinema. Here, suddenly, the old Renaissance perspective moved, and the spectator, later, with tracking shots, could move through it. Once the adjustment was made – the Lumiere’s original documentary image of a train arriving evidently scared spectators at first and they moved out of the way.

85 LUMIERE L'Arrivée_d'un_train_en_gare_de_La_CiotatLumiere brothers

Since that time, shackled to the optical nature of the camera lens which is an integral aspect of cinematic imagery, the cinema has spent well over 100 years elaborating stories (always the same stories), largely of filmed theater, and virtually always with the good old Renaissance perspective.

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In the last few decades though, digital technology has arrived at first in games with little 2D Pac-men,  and now in highly detailed action games in which one can kill innumerable people from the safety of your console,  all the while running through that good old 1600’s perspective.

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From my viewpoint, what a fucking bore it all is –from Titanic to Avatar (same old story of the “gone native” white-guy rescuing the helpless natives) to this years’ greatly lauded film, Gravity.

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There, while making an interesting and intelligent use of a very sophisticated CGI technology, in which in the opening no-cuts 20 minute sequence, we float above the earth, gravity free, and the virtual camera manages to slip in and out of Point-of-View, magically sliding behind the visors of our heroes, we are still trapped in the good old Renaissance perspective, however dressed up in space. In Gravity, following its opening sequence, we are quickly hitched to the Hollywood imperatives of a really stupid story, and literally and figuratively, it is all down-hill from there and the simple-minded film crashes to earth. Though in Hollywood manner: with thrills and chills heightening into a crescendo of fear, wherein Sandra Bullock survives all obstacles and lands back on terra firma, safe and sound. Gravity requires, of course, that most essential ingredient, total suspension of disbelief. Gravity, despite the oohing and ahh’ing of most critics, should not be taken with much gravity. It is as old fashioned as any Hollywood pot-boiler, not only in its story but also in its technology of vision – yep, that tired old Renaissance perspective all decked out in outer-space. Yawn.

What would really be interesting for a shift of perspective, and is perfectly possible with the digital tools now present, would be to develop a totally new spatial sense, not based on the optics of camera lenses, nor the hide-bound rules of a 700 year old perspective system. But, alas, our directors and technicians are all totally locked into the “virtual reality” of their society, in which making things for money is the base-line value, and that requires relying on the stupidity of an audience which merely wants the same old thing again and again, albeit dressed up with new stars, slicker technology, the latest fashions – but not anything actually new that might challenge their sensibilities in a deep way. Alas.

[As an aside, I’d note that in a manner the “light artist” James Turrell is one of the artists who is actually doing interesting things not based on that old view.]

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Which brings me to Plato, who talked of all of this 2,500 years ago in his fable of the cave. I don’t think I need to reiterate that story. Today we live inside a vast cave, a multi-tiered virtual reality, with people – especially younger people – enmeshed in myriad digital shadows, completely distracted and unaware of “real” things. Like how food is made, or how the society they are living in is destroying the little planet on which they live with almost everything we do. Especially with the technology with which we are so enthralled. So entranced are we with these shadows that flicker before us that we will surely die from the consequences of this distraction.

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I have for some decades felt that our species will arrive at some point, a collectively generated “Eureka,” when indeed, courtesy of our sciences, we will have totally figured out how the world and the universe works, from the smallest to the largest, and that this point will signal our end: the tools, the thinking, the processes by which we will arrive to that Eureka point will delete us from the universe. Of course there are many ancient fables and parables which say exactly that. Our distinction will be to actually do it. We will erase ourselves with an ancient – by our standards – Greek word: hubris.

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So enthralled are we with ourselves and our cleverness and intelligence, our capacity to manipulate the world to our own ends – like a video game – that we will fail to note we lack a singular and most important quality: wisdom. We are doing it now, lost in the maze of our technology, quickly doing, as many earthly “civilizations” have done before: ravaging our environment, destroying our world in our short-sighted pursuit of wealth and power. What is different now is that where once the effects were confined to local consequences, and when a Mayan or Anasazi culture collapsed, it touched only the nearby region, whereas now our pursuits and their consequences are global: the leveled forests of the Amazon, the damaged nuclear power station of Fukushima, the rapid economic and technological development of China and South East Asia and its concomitant consumption of energy and materials on a European and American “western” level, and myriad other effects of the political “globalization” of capitalism, all push us rapidly towards a global crisis which already threatens to wreak havoc on what we imagined “normal.” The full consequences are only hinted at with our concerns about “global warming” – rising sea levels, more severe weather and so on. When the real consequences unfold, the ancient fable of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will charge into our “virtual reality” with a force that will make the collapse of ancient civilizations seem puny.

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After all, we have globalized everything, and there are 7 and soon to be 9 billion humans on our planet. The coming disaster, while in good measure being orchestrated by the bytes of our digitalized world, will not be so benign and illusionary as the fleeting pixels of some grim but utterly fictional video game. It will not be virtual, but will be real. Very real.

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In a few months, come January 2014, I will finish 50 years of filmmaking, and trundle on, inshallah, to number 51.  Back in 1963, arriving with $50 to my name in Italy, and put up by a generous family, the Rebosio’s of Cassina Amata, Paderno Dugnano, in what is now the suburbs of Milano, I made my first film.  It was a portrait of their 12 year old daughter, Matilde.  Silent, 13 minutes, it has recently been restored by the Eye Film Institute of the Netherlands (their archival organization) and I will get to see it for the first time in some decades when it is shown at the St Louis Film Festival in November.

IMG_1419Matilde and her husband, 1012

I was 19 when I made it and had no thought or idea of a career, of making a living, or any such thing, nor did I know that I would become a filmmaker.  I was young and reckless and foolish and perhaps of a little minority of my era, diving into the “’60′s.”  In hindsight I think I was a bit crazy, and it seems by some measures I still am.  I vaguely knew I was some kind of artist, and I knew somewhat the price that would involve.  Fifty years on I’ve accrued a mixed reputation, as a person and as a filmmaker/artist.  That reputation wanders all over the map and for the most part was determined by people who never met me, and know very little of me.  According to some I’m chronically reported as the most unknown, under-appreciated, blah blah, filmmaker in America.  According to some I am a hot-headed homophobe, a loose-cannon, with a string of bad relationships in my wake.  According to some I am some kind of cinematic genius; others say my films are the most boring/worst ever.  Most of those with the loudest opinions know me little if at all, and those who speak well or ill of my films most likely have only seen a quarter of them, if that.

Pict0001DavidSecond from left, kinda young.

Most of this public reputation is, as usual, a tiny bit of truth and a large dollop of make-believe, all depending on whom, the ax they have to grind, and whether they know me beyond hi-bye at a festival, or whatever.  After some decades one learns that a public persona is not yours, but whatever others make up.  Something to ignore and perhaps to find amusing.  In my case it is of little consequence since I am of little consequence in that larger world – the little hot-house one of cinema and the arts.   For many reasons – experiential ones – I basically withdrew from that world several decades ago.   I’d had my look at it, and frankly wanted nothing of it.   The film world, whether that of Hollywood, or of the European artsy realm, or the avant garde academic one, is a place of angry (and often very insecure) egos, bombast, corruption, vanity, and all the same things that infect, say, big business or politics.  In Hollywood it is written big, and the tabloids show you the miserable result; further down the scale it’s smaller, but the psychological crap is pretty much the same.   Dog eat dog.  A mostly unpleasant world from which – with a few exceptions – I try to steer clear.  I hardly know anyone in the film or arts world, and those few I know are modest figures, if very serious and good in what they do.  And, most importantly to me, they are good people.  People with whom I like to share time because of who they are, not what they do – though it certainly doesn’t hurt when they make good art too.

jon and davidMy cousin David and me, on the left.

I suppose, in terms of the film-world, I hit my peak around 1993, at the age of 50 – I’d made a few 35mm films, one of which secured a modest theatrical release in the US, and others that were shown on European TV.  All the Vermeers in New York was the ice-breaker, though I’d done many features before and already had a little “reputation” in the narrow little world of avant garde “new narrative” cinema.  I was a festival regular in Berlin, Rotterdam and elsewhere.   Vermeers functioned that way because it was commercially shown, listed in Variety’s top 50 BO accounting (though if you are not in the top 5 it means you probably didn’t make a dime).  To this day if someone says they “heard of” me, and that perhaps they saw a film of mine, it was because of Vermeers – which frankly isn’t very representative of my over-all work.  I think among those in the film biz it meant that I was supposed to slip into the small realm of filmmakers who manage in the USA as sort of Euro-art house directors:  Jim Jarmusch, Alan Rudolph, or Terrence Malick, or even Gus van Sant.  And certainly I could have done that, if I were a different person and a different kind of artist.  But, alas, I could never have, as those I’ve listed have done:  cranking out more or less the same/similar films (narrative, actor driven, and – to my mind – rather conventional, and to me, boring films), and making a nice career of it.  My interests are much wider, and my artistic inclinations run all over the place, with equal weight.  And there are other mitigating things as well, having to do with money, the kinds of people often associated with money, and with politics and morals.  So instead of taking what likely would have been a comfortable safe living that way, I instead moved to Europe, had two unhappy experiences with filmbiz people in Italy and Austria, and as soon as DV materialized in 1996, junked any thoughts of making the kinds of films I’d (mostly) made before, and which the film world anticipated I would and should continue to make.

_L.Ehrlich2010_26711967, Chicago, foto by Linn Ehrlich, shooting LEAHjon-¬L.Ehrlich_2013_1In Chicago, 1971 or so, foto by Linn Ehrlich

Instead I began to do what I really wanted to do:  experiment and play with this new medium, DV, as well as take a serious shot at painting, pastels, and other arts.  For a handful of years following I was confronted with film-maker friends thinking I’d gone crazy, opting for this – as the critics repeatedly and ignorantly claimed – gritty, ugly, etc. medium.  Which it wasn’t, but instead could be incredibly beautiful, and artistically so much more elastic than film, though most using it were enamored of “the film look” and tried to shoe-horn it into looking like old fashioned film.  Few were interested in the new work I did:  the playful London Brief, the long and meditative Nas Correntes de Luz da Ria Formosa, or the essay film 6 Easy Pieces and the many which have followed them – easily as good as anything I did in celluloid.  These showed in a handful of festivals, and promptly dropped from sight – along with me.    In the same period the market-economy religion of America overwhelmed the rest of the world, and basically if it didn’t cost a lot of money or make a lot of money, a film was “worthless” and treated as such.    The once vivid interest in the cinematic arts evaporated into a few tiny academic redoubts, a few serious festivals, and an ever-shrinking little list of showplaces.  Meanwhile “indie” bloomed under various names, as it had since the 70′s – though it seemed mostly a matter of making rather conventional narrative films of kinds that had been made before (but much better) and imagining it was all new.  It wasn’t.  And then we all met the internet, and from Hollywood down to scruffy little artist sorts, we are still trying to figure it out and how it impacts us.  Computer games are now a much bigger business than Hollywood.

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So, yep, times do change, and from the rear-view mirror seemingly a lot faster than when looking the other way.  So while in a creative sense I’ve been more productive and prolific than I was in celluloid, and certainly from an artistic viewpoint far more adventurous, and in my certainly biased view, making even better work than those films that got such notices as “masterpiece” etc. etc., those many years ago, essentially for the last decade and more I’ve been ignored by the very same critics who lauded me before.  You can look up who those are.  I think in large part this has to do with the relentless commercialization of everything which has resulted in the collapse of alternative press, major media (NY Times and TV) requiring that a work be commercially released before giving space for reviews and comment, and so on down the line.  The small breathing room that existed for people like me 30 years ago has been squeezed out by the glorious globalized Market Economy, though as things are now developing the same forces are deleting jobs left and right, turning tenure into adjunct, and otherwise whipping all but the 5% on top into serfdom.   Just that some of we more expendable sorts had to play canary in the mineshaft.  But worry not – you too are getting shafted!

Jost1 - need dateSMCirca 1981, shooting Slow Moves – foto by Patricia Kelley

Which brings me, round about, to the heading above:

finis?

While I have no thought of giving up what I like to do – make things, be it video or painting or photography or music or writing – I do intend to give up this social matter of playing the festival/gallery/press etc. etc., game.   I’ll go on doing what I do, but I won’t be filling out festival entry forms, WithoutABox, or other such things.  I’ll be posting an open letter to festival directors, exhibitors, and the rest, informing them I’ll be working on, as usual, but if anyone wants to show my work, they can check FaceBook or my blogs and see if I have new things and ask me, cover the postage, see it on Vimeo or whatever.  Or they can write me.  If in turn they are interested, and it suits my situation I might take a trip or might not.   I’ll soon sort out putting things on line for VoD so my work is available and accessible (for a price).  But for holding back for festival glorious global premieres and all that – enough.  In brutal terms it really all doesn’t mean a thing for the work I do – being at a festival won’t make a dime of difference in the money I won’t earn.  The probable effect will be not much different than were I to play the game.  But after 50 years I just don’t feel like jumping through these hoops, filling out forms and all the other stuff attached to it.  And I will want to be paid for screenings, in fests and elsewhere, as it happens festivals have become the default public exhibition system, and like our corporate masters they now seem to expect one to labor for free, or worse, cough up a vanity-press submission sum, pay for all costs attached, and all in exchange for maybe a hotel room a night or two, or in a few remaining cases, the airfare to where ever.  Just not worth the candle, especially in the face of a non-existent “market” and a public in thrall to stars and all the rest.   So time to fold the cards.

jon-jost-1Portland, 2012, foto by Mark Eifert thats-all-folks-crpd

My first feature, Speaking Directly, (1973, done after 10 years of making short films) ends with this line, taken from the old Looney Toons.  Well, indeed, it’s been looney, though I gotta confess, the world has been a lot more so.

JON A

SD FRAME

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SD SUNSET

jon with hat croppedMontana, 2013

In the coming year I hope to do a new blog, which will chronologically cover my erstwhile career, a kind of autobio-filmography with notes on the making of each film, thoughts, self-critiques, and what not.  It’s sort of the kind of thing someone might do were they to have done a book on me, but I never seem to have attracted such interest.  Too much, it seems, an outsider, for our academic friends.

[Another little note: November 22-25 I'll be at the St Louis Film Festival showing Coming to Terms, along with my first film, Portrait.  In addition I'll be with my friend Blake Eckard at his screening of The Ghosts of Empire Prairie, which I shot for him and played a role in.  And while there I'll be given a Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Oliver Stone - whose done a lot better financially than I managed....  And in Lincoln Nebraska, at the Ross Media Arts Center, there will be screenings of my work Nov 14-17 or so.]

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July 28, 2013.  Butte Montana

A listless summer afternoon in the wake of the carnival air of Butte’s Evel Knievel days of bikes and beer-stoked mayhem  subsided into a Sunday quiet.  Up here in Walkerville dogs bark, a few kids can be heard in the nearby playground, and looking westward the sky is blanketed with smoke from a fire in Phillispburg, about 80 miles away.  Out in the far distant world the reverberations of large events seem to rebound, casting a similar gray blanket across the globe.  The Arab spring of not so long ago seems to have devolved into imminent multiple civil wars as Sunni and Shiite, and numerous other sects, recoil into terminal defensive stances as slaughters rip the giddy optimism of last years “spring.”  Elsewhere the Chinese economy seems to slow, sending fiscal ripples across the ocean, while worries build about their bubble and burst. The European community stutters along dragged by the rip-tides of “austerity” as pressures build on the streets and the famed post-war social contract shreds.

Here in America a mix of our usual self-administered shock and awe casts a sullen air across the summer landscape.  From wacky weather of too dry here, too wet there does in crops from West to South, to the after-shocks of  the Boston Marathon massacre and on to the “stand your ground” trial results in Florida, the nation seems transfixed and then numbed to the descending clouds of angst.     The revelations of Edward Snowden and the current trial of Bradley Manning, all these events combine to produce a vast self-doubt where not merely those of a radical bent such as myself (who called this shot long long ago), but now ordinary citizens as well as major political figures – such as former President Carter – mutter seriously of the fracturing of the American community and the faltering of our self-proclaimed “democracy.”  Calls are made to split the nation, and let the “red” states go and pay their own bills.  The Supreme Court rules still again to let money speak louder and louder, shielding corporations while assaulting voting rights in what is a blatant bit of racism on behalf of the GOP.  The summer calm carries a sullen tone, as it seems we await the next battering – a hurricane?  Fire?  Drought?  Flood?  The next revelation of our police-state reality?

James ClapperJames Clapper, Director, NIA, perjuror10leak2-articleLargeEdward Snowden82d8e21c-f33a-4b30-a220-fbb6dc525474-460x276General Keith B. Alexander, USA, Director NSABradley ManningBradley Manning

Lingering in the melange of this seemingly constant avalanche of frantic “news”  there seems an ever increasing sense of something having been lost, as if washed away in the fast moving currents of a flooded river.  What seemed reasonably certain now raises doubt, but so swift is the current that we almost forget immediately what trauma had preceded whatever the current one is.  The Sandyhook massacre in Connecticut, the furor over gun-control, the constant rancor sent charging through the public airwaves, the bombing in Boston — each new event folds in upon the next, numbing the mind and soul.   In the furious rush, too many things – whether one articulates it to one’s self or not – slip by, with a nagging sense of “forgottenness.”  Let’s take and example, the Boston Marathon bombing and its immediate aftermath.

You can try to ignore that the person who put this together is not a native English speaker and the cheesy closing.  But, indeed that was a man – even the police admit it – forced to strip, who looks very much like Tamerlan Tsarnaev and who, allegedly subsequently having been released, simply disappeared: no name from the police, no good old American suit against the police.  Nope, just disappeared.  And his body double then was dead, purportedly shot in a gun battle and then run over by his brother who managed to escape in a car and find his way to a hiding place miles away – or so said the police.  Or having found their second man, Dzhokhar, the police claimed a major gun battle with their target, only to report later that, well, uh, he didn’t have a gun.  Or whisking the now seriously injured man, who the police initially said had shot himself, away to a guarded hospital, he goes unheard and unseen for months while the “justice” system emits word that he’s admitted to the bombing, and then weeks after he was taken, that he’d scribbled last words on the interior of the boat, and those were released.  Or that an alleged associate of Tsarnaev was, gee gosh, just sorta accidentally killed by the FBI while being interviewed in his home in Florida.   Somehow the whole matter (never mind The Craft militarists seen at the site of the bombing, and too many myriad other fishy elements to dismiss out of hand) seems infected with the kinds of things which make one seriously doubt the word of our “authorities.”

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Following this spectacle, in which a major American city was essentially closed down in a boyhunt for an alleged dangerous terrorist, a grateful public flooded the streets with cheers for the assembly of militarized police who had saved them; following the filing of charges against him, the NY Times comments section was flooded with calls for skipping a trial, executing him, or better imprisoning him for life – Dzhokhar had long since been convicted by the press with more or less all the evidence, comments, and statements – much of it transparently false and much very questionable – coming from the police and FBI.  But it worked – a major American city closed down by a military occupation with nary a squeak.

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Not long afterward our attentions were yanked another direction.  Following in the footsteps of Bradley Manning, whose military trial verdict is expected today (found not guilty of “aiding the enemy”), another techie in the service of the government by way of an “outsourced” national security job at Booz Allen (spies for hire), Edward Snowden, absconded to Hong Kong, and now Moscow, having released through the UK’s Guardian, direct evidence of the National Security Agencies blanket surveillance of all American (and foreign) telecommunications.  All.  So much for the US Constitution in the hands of our corporatized security-state masters.  If they have the means – which they do – they will use all the tools at their disposal to “protect” us.  The ferocious response of the government and its security authorities suggests that they know full well there are many things which they have hidden from the citizenry which will cause major political problems, domestic and foreign, if revealed.  Indeed the response is already visible as the entire surveillance program has come under attack from left and right, including Mr. Carter who says simply that we don’t have a democracy now.  Snowden, in his public statements, has appeared eminently reasonable and sane, while the government and much of the press have sought to vilify him personally and deflect attention from the content of what he has revealed.  It is clear the government is truly scared of what he might further reveal.   Ironically, while the government has not hesitated to accuse Snowden of criminal and felonious actions, it’s own functionaries, have blatantly lied to Congress regarding their activities – lying to Congress under oath, which Mr. Clapper did, is perjury and a felony crime.  Yet nothing has been said or done to Mr. Clapper for this transparent public instance of crime, just as the crimes on Wall Street have been brushed aside.   It is such double-standards which have cast the grim cloud over America – one compounded by a long train of similar abuses instigated by our government – from the fake grounds for war with Iraq, to Obama’s executive decision that he is allowed to authorize drone attacks on American citizens by some magical legalistic mumbo-jumbo done in the back rooms.  Put simply, the US government has steadily undermined the source of its authority with its own actions, and in turn the public has steadily turned against it.  Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are hounded and prosecuted for revealing the truth of our government’s behavior; high up government and economic officials are absolved for serious crimes.   What were once considered the hysterical views of wild-eyed radicals now come from the mouths of former Presidents, Senators, and ordinary citizens who have had the wool removed from their eyes.

[Note: Mr Clapper, the perjuring Director of the NIA, back in 2000 was a government operative who proposed out-sourcing of the surveillance of the internet to private contractors; subsequently he became an executive of Booz Allen, such a contractor; now he is head of the NIA and lies directly in sworn testimony before Congress and is not prosecuted for this crime.]

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The case of George Zimmerman clarifies, as if it were needed, the heavy thumb of bias which animates the laws passed in numerous States regarding access to guns and their use, similar to the sudden surge of laws passed to govern voting rights – laws passed by and large by the same party.   Their purpose is in effect to license racism, in the old phrase of the South, “to keep them in their place.”

Mr. Zimmerman stalked his prey, did not follow a police department order to refrain from following Trayvon Martin, provoked an incident, and killed an unarmed 17 year old boy walking perfectly legally down a street.  Mr. Zimmerman walked away from his trial a “free man,” making a mockery of Florida’s laws and “justice.”   In many parts of the country there have been rapid attempts to construct a similar kind of justice for women,  workers, ethnic minorities; attempts built on political gerrymandering to assure that a majority is thwarted and that a social-political minority are able to deceitfully call the shots.  (Sound like Wall Steet?)

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But, worry not, Big Brother is watching (out for) you.  Trust in him and every thing will turn out hunky-dory, A-OK.  Meantime as glaciers melt, wild wacky weather does its number on you and yours, rest assured, the authorities know what they are doing, and are taking care of things.  You bet.

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“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate

So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower, 1968

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Ours is an utterly corrupt era, to be seen at the highest levels of our society – in government, in business, and in the ethical and moral standards which are normal to corrupt societies.   A few decades ago (or even earlier) those – including myself – who pointed to the trajectory which our society was on were ridiculed and shunted aside as weirdos, conspiracy nuts, and all the usual epithets reserved for those who don’t “go along to get along.”  Today as those views are confirmed, even “ordinary” citizens can see it, and pundits and would-be authorities dare to say it and ponder the consequences.  The disquiet is palpable, the becalmed sea hints at storms to come.  “There must be someway outta here.”

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Hot on the heels of the US Senate’s failure to pass any kind of gun-control measures, and President Obama’s comments on it, arrived, in the midst of what normally would be a joyous event – the conclusion of the famed Boston Marathon – a percussive note which has riveted the nation’s attentions a whole week:  the bombing in Boston.  In this event, for some days the “suspects” remained unknown and hence, “on the loose,” though at one point the forces of the law announced they had a suspect, and promptly withdrew it, raising for some certain suspicions.  At a later point the FBI named its suspects, two Chechen brothers, and Boston and surrounding areas were then put in lock-down, with residents told to stay locked in their homes as an invading force of highly militarized police – city, State, Federal – fanned out in search of their quarry.  Here is the FBI announcement, which interestingly insists that only its photographs are to be accepted as accurate and real.   The mainstream press largely accommodated this request, and parroted the official line.  On the internet another story was unfolding, in the exchanges of Reddit, 4chan, or Infowars, and replicated across the political spectrum from far right to far left.  In the case of the former, the Boston bombing was another false-flag set-up, staged to lay the ground-work for a governmental confiscation of guns which had been, at least for the moment, politically defeated.  In the latter, it was something similar, but to lay the groundwork for the imposition of martial law at some future point.  The mainstream press, with Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post providing the exception, hewed to the official governmental line.  And as usual, their pundits cranked out the appropriate levels of outrage and “reasonableness,” sticking to the comfortable and safe “middle-of-the-road.”   Amidst all this tumult, naturally, many truths were swept under the rug, disappeared, ridiculed, or otherwise dismissed.

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Ignored by press and television news were many things, among them the presence of a number of militarized persons from a private security agency, TheCraft, whose members sported black backpacks much like that which the FBI said had contained a bomb, and who had clustered around the finish-line area where the bombs exploded.  Immediately following the bombing, these people gathered around a very high-tech vehicle close to where the attack had occurred.   To my knowledge the Boston Marathon organization has not said it had hired TheCraft for security, nor has anyone else explained their presence.  Sure a “story” will be forthcoming.  The motto of TheCraft, as seen on their “skull” patch, is “Despite what your Mama told you, violence does solve problems.”  I don’t know who these guys are, or why they were there, but they look and sound and seem to act like some form of American fascists.  I await the explanation for their being there, or more likely, their erasure from the “story.”

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While the nation was totally focused, with the assistance of the mass media, on events in Boston, the Congress passed by unanimous consent a new little law, which rescinded previously passed law, which forbade members of Congress from using their information for “insider trading.”  President Obama promptly signed the measure into law.  Likewise the House passed on Thursday, April 18, a law (CISPA) designed to clamp down on the internet and give the government access to all internet communications.

Meantime the citizens of Boston, and at a distance the entire Nation, were treated to a full-scale example of a state-of-siege, while highly militarized forces in helicopters, tanks, and large groups of highly armed soldiers and police combed the city, looking for two suspects, one a 19 year old boy.  While asserting these were heavily armed and dangerous, the forces deployed were in all cases incredibly disproportionate to the reality.  But, perhaps, the point was not really to capture these two suspects, but to impress upon the populace the extent of the forces which could be brought into play, perhaps for some other rather probable and likely future event, such as the failure of the economy to generate jobs, or the collapse of the dollar.  Perhaps…

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Shootings In Cambridge, Watertown Draw Massive Police Response

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A member of the SWAT team trains a gun on an apartment building during a search for the remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings in Watertown

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Frightened into a supine compliance, Boston became a deserted place.  Of course one could say having heavily armed uniformed persons outside your window, and having been ordered to accept a 24 hour a day curfew, it was only common sense to obey.  I think this is a refrain we have heard in 1930-40′s Germany, in the USSR, and many other places.  What struck me was the seeming absence of complaint, and the utter lack of a sense of proportion to the supposed danger.  Two young men did not close down the city of Boston; rather the “authorities” – Federal, State, and city, working in collusion – closed down the city, and in a manner absolutely out of keeping with the purported threat.  Clearly something else was at work here.

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The FBI in short order “got their man.”  Though this perhaps has another meaning.  They have admitted to having, in 2011,  interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev supposedly at the request of an unnamed “foreign power,” (later revealed to be Putin’s Russia), and was supposedly found to be harmless.  Though his mother seems to see it otherwise, and says the FBI had been in contact with him over 5 years.  Naturally these little discrepancies have lit up the internet, though the mainstream press seems disinterested.  As they were in 9/11.   So, rather than question the very dubious official version – with one man dead, and the other now allegedly severely wounded but unable to talk – we are instead treated to that ever so American celebration of our togetherness, grit, and other wonderful traits that make us so exceptional.  And our heavily militarized police are being placed on pedestals for “protecting us.”

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Members of the public cheer as police officers leave the scene where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspect in Boston Marathon bombings, was taken into custody in Watertown

I am not a conspiracy theorist – the worst epithet tossed at anyone who does not go along with the “official” story promulgated by our government or other supposed “authorities,” though “nut-case” and others work just as well.   I am though willing to look at facts and figures and images directly, and to sift through them to see what appears to be valid.  I am also willing to listen to the rhetorical talk of ideologues, and to try to figure out the what and why of their behaviors.

In the case in Boston I think the story is far from over, though I am equally sure that both the government, and its compliant corporately owned mass media system will not be too interested in pursuing the matter much further, aside from in patting us all on the back for being so cooperative as a major American city, the veritable birthplace of the American revolution, was placed under martial law on the flimsiest of pretexts, and very likely, once and if the entire story is exposed, an utterly false pretext.   One that should recall other now infamous phrases: The Gulf of Tonkin, WMD, and the myriad other fraudulent claims made by our supposedly democratically elected officials, in order to prompt the nation to do what they wish us to do.

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Addendum:  (I will be adding URLs to interesting looks at the whole Boston bombing etc. as time goes along.)

http://www.juancole.com/2013/04/fathers-sons-chechnya.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/the-fbis-big-miss-boston-bombing-fugitive-shot-dead-was-on-radar-two-years-ago-8581570.html

http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/chechen-terrorists-and-neocons#.UXMRPV5Slto.facebook

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/20/how_boston_exposes_americas_dark_post_911_bargain/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/04/dzhokhar-tsarnaev-is-found.html

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09funicello1_cnd-popupAnnette Funicello

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People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

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The last months, traveling the western US, I’ve somewhat consciously sought to see as many of my old friends who are around this region as I could.  Consciously since it is likely I may well soon decamp for some distant place, perhaps never to return.  Consciously, as in many cases – my own included – the clock is running down, and this might be a last chance to see them, either because I or they will no longer be.  Such are the thoughts which the diminishing of time – as well as of muscle tissue, sight, energy and the blossoming of liver spots, lack of hair, and the other vicissitudes of aging – impose.  Seeing some old friends, I am struck, as surely they are likewise with me, by how much they have aged.

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Annette Funicello was in the first Mickey Mouse Show, which began in 1955.  I am sure that while Uncle Walt would be appalled at the thought (or perhaps perversely pleased) that Annette was the jack-off queen for a generation of suppressed 1950′s boys – she had visible tits and exuded a sensuality the other girls on the show lacked, she was our go-to girl.  I know because I asked friends if she were their fantasy of choice while pounding the meat – the restrictions those days being far more stringent than today.  Back then Elvis was cropped above the waist for some modest gyrations on the Ed Sullivan Show; today Lady Gaga can virtually lap-dance on your face and no one seems to raise an eyebrow.  But time indeed marches on, heedless of our wishes, and steadily grinds our bodies to bits.  Even those of stars, large and small, of the silver screen.  Annette dropped from social sight some time ago, a victim of time and MS.  She died today in Bakersfield, CA., 100 or so miles north of where I write in the San Fernando Valley where she once graced a sound stage, wearing the Mouseketeer ears with which the Disney Corporation made its global mark.  She was seventy.

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mag12JPG-2547289Maggie Thatcher, dead at 87les-art-bigLes Blank

The day before, on Sunday, April 7, Les Blank also joined the list of no-longer-here, hot on the heels of Roger Ebert, about whom I wrote only a few days ago.  Les was 77.  I met – and nothing more – Les a few times out on the festival circuit.  He was a well-known documentary filmmaker, a figure in the Bay Area film and cultural community, much liked by everyone I knew.  If I believed in such things, I’d imagine a raucous New Orleans wake going on now in his honor, for a life well spent.  But I don’t believe in such things, and know his spirit is now but a stiff piece of soon to disappear flesh, with everything that made him – like all of us – what we are in any way notable for, gone.  Sic transit gloria.

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I will in another place try to get around to writing a bit more deeply about this process of aging – of watching one’s family and friends grow fat or gaunt, hobbled by infirmities, ravaged by disease, and finally slipping off into death, whether done with grace or rage or indifference.  It is, to say the least, an interesting process, one which our culture seems to do its best to avoid confronting except in a frantic effort to escape it.  Our medical system, our consumerist life-style, our shallow public philosophy of life in general sends us in flight from speaking of it, or contemplating it outside the dumb legal necessities which property imposes.

Today there was an article by Susan Faludi published in the New Yorker, on my long-ago friend Shulamith Firestone – an article prompted by her death in August 2012.  I’d tried to provide some information for Susan, not just about what little I could remember about Shulie back in 1964-67, but also things trying to give her a little sense of flavor to the tenor of the times, so I suggested she see a few short films made back then, one of which, unknown to me, was based on a real-life friend of Shulie’s — who had committed suicide while I was in prison.  Reading the article, for the first time in a fair while, I wept – for Shulie, her sister, and many others, including myself.  I wept for all the needless pain inflicted on us all, and which in turn provokes us into inflicting pain in our turn.

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This Be The Verse

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
      They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
      By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
      And half at one another's throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
      It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
      And don't have any kids yourself.
            - Philip Larkin 

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

They were very young, and in a sense they had no idea what hit them.  Nor, unlike those older, did they really understand what had been taken from them – the joys, sadnesses, the every day hum drum of life and the occasional ecstasies, all the things that make up a human life.  Their families and community will be traumatized and in some ways will never recover – lives altered in ways unexpected, with little defense for this kind of sudden shift, even if our country offers up repeatedly the example of its possibility.  “Normalcy” is shattered, sent into pieces with the rapid fire of a high-powered rifle which throughout America can be readily purchased at a hardware store, pawn shop or myriad other places.  The right is allegedly enshrined in the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution.  Whether in response to this tragedy, and the many which preceded it, we will, as a society, confront and materially deal with it, is an open question.  We will be drowned in prayers, which do nothing aside from delude the praying that they are doing something.  Whether real, material, actions will be taken seems doubtful – especially in a time when a million small-time drug users languish in prison, and the extremely wealthy managers of banks, laundering billions of dollars in drug (and weapons) money, when caught red-handed, are lightly slapped on the wrist and let go.  Or when the same society sits silent while drones patrol the skies of far away places, loosing Hellfire missiles on alleged “terrorists” which often prove to be wedding parties, and other gatherings of a social kind, or schools, like the one in Newtown, Conn.

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It is an irony that will doubtless be pointed out many times, that Adam’s mother, his first victim, was a gun fancier, and it was with her own gun with which she was slain.  What compelled her to keep an assault rifle, and several pistols capable of shooting many rounds automatically, along with a few run-of-the-mill hunting guns is something we won’t ever know.  Nor why so many other Americans seem to feel the same need despite the massive statistics which show they will most likely be their own victims.  But then living in a country of 300+ million which spends more than all the remaining 6.3+ billion people on the planet on “defense” makes such behavior seem in some way logical.  It is something evidently deeply ingrained in the American cultural DNA that God and Guns go together.  As does our propensity for simply deleting those who inconvenience us – from native Americans to the endless list of “others” who in varying manners find themselves on the wrong side of “our” interests.  Usually far away, culturally rather different, and in some way an affront to “the national interest” whether in Guatamala, Venezuela, Chile, Viet Nam, the Congo, or of late in some middle-eastern locale such as Iraq or Iran.  Once we sent the Marines to sing “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli;” now we send them if the drones and black bases and special service ops don’t do the job.

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So the nation will weep some crocodile tears, the President may make some small tentative steps towards a modest bit of gun control (no, the 2nd Amendment did not authorize citizen owning of tanks or anti-aircraft missiles…), there will be the customary weeping and wailing, and the drones will drone on, the military-industrial complex will crank out more fantastical weapons and their corporate partners will peddle them around the globe, and likely we will follow the historical trajectory of an empire – over-extending ourselves, bankrupting the communal finances, and becoming decadent and corrupt along the way.  You need only turn on your TV set to have proof of the latter, see Federal and State budgets for the prior, and sneak a look at the “top secret” reality which is our government’s practice, and punishable, as Bradley Manning can tell you, with “legal” draconian treatment should you slightly lift the curtain on it, for proof of the the first.

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Rachel Davino, 29

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Dawn Hochsprung, 47

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Anne Marie Murphy, 52

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Lauren Rousseau, 30

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Mary Sherlach, 56

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Victoria Soto, 27

Teacher

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Our national press did not see fit to publish the names of the 47 dead of this Afghan wedding party, “collateral damage” of a drone attack.

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Mother of gunman

gty_bradley_manning_dm_121108_wgBradley Manning

While the Obama administration has seen fit to approve the treatment of Bradley Manning, when confronted with criminal actions on a huge scale by international bankers, laundering drug money in the billions of dollars, and trading with “the enemy” (Iran), the Department of Justice (sic) chose not to prosecute.  See this for full details.

It’s been a while since I was last here – 2003 – when I attended in competition with Oui Non.  Yamagata is a documentary festival, and they have had me here now 5 times.  I’m told that’s the most anyone has been here.  For me it is a kind of little homecoming, though I find it hard to perceive of myself as a “documentary” filmmaker.  I think of the films of mine they have shown here, very few other documentary festivals would consider them as proper “documentaries”: Oui Non began as a fiction and remains one, and is rather “experimental” in its aesthetics; 6 Easy Pieces, which won a prize here, is similarly far removed from normal doc modes and methods; London Brief most would consign to the “experimental” ghetto.  Likewise Plain Talk and Common Sense, shown here at their first festival, in 1989.   In their opening ceremonies they mentioned that it had been 22 years since then, which reminds that the clock is definitely (and defiantly) ticking.  Since that first festival Yamagata has grown as a town, and as a festival, now being regarded certainly as the premiere documentary festival in Asia, and up with the best anywhere else.

Image from opening film, a rather charming TV documentary made in Yamagata in 1963, about immigrant farmers going to Tokyo to work in a bread factory over the winter.  Very nice and so unlike anything that could be made today.

This year’s festival seems subdued, clearly impacted by what they have recurrently called The Great Eastern Earthquake.  Fukushima is only 100 kilometers away, over a modest mountain range.  While Yamagata itself did not suffer serious damage in the earthquake, the neighboring areas to the east were devastated, and for some time Yamagata was a place for refugees to stay.  Clearly their economy, as all of Japan’s, has taken a severe hit.   The festival organizers, in their opening ceremony and remarks, were happy that those of us who came did so – it seems some or perhaps many of the filmmakers did not come.

This morning I saw at 10 am a first film, from Swiss filmmaker Thomas Imbach, titled Day is Done.   I found it completely absorbing, despite its self-chosen restrictions.  Made from a compilation of 35mm footage shot over a period of 15 years, largely from the window and roof of his loft-like space in an industrial neighborhood of Zurich.  The imagery is often strikingly beautiful with rich skies, rain, snow, and dramatic light shifts over the same cityscape imagery.   The sound track is a mix of telephone answering machine messages, coupled with sections of a mix of songs, used somewhat aggressively, the verbal content being used to prod the film’s seeming message along.  The film, as read between the lines, could readily be titled “Self-Portrait of myself as an asshole.”   Indirectly it paints a picture of Imbach as a voyeuristic, self-involved, irresponsible person.  Part of its fascination is in this self-exposure, but also in his seemingly obsessive voyeurism, and his ethical utilitarianism.  Using the tape recorded messages as a major part of his content, the voices of friends, bankers, ex-wife, son, father, businessmen and others are clearly manipulated to form a jig-saw puzzle of Imbach’s life at this time.  His father talks, gets ill, dies.   His affair with his wife comes, along with a child, and goes.  A number of evident lovers talk and disappear.  His career zooms along with nice notices.   The visuals are repeated shots across the city, with a prominent modern industrial chimney shot again and again, with planes taking off or landing at the nearby airport, birds, snow, rain, light and dark.  Other images show trains zipping by in time-lapse which often changes speed and exposure in the shot; the camera jerks around finding its image.  Down on the street below he obsessively tracks in hyper-telephoto a woman who goes into the same door; he catches other drama there – some fires caught on fire, a major motor-bike accident, a club opening opposite, lovers wildly kissing.   A few sequences take the viewer out of this confined viewpoint – a visit to his mother, his (ex) wife, his child at the beach – sort of home-movie.    The film is often gorgeous.   And “T”, as he names himself, appears periodically next to his camera in the reflection in a window.

From Day is Done, by Thomas Imbach

I am not sure it is a good film – for me it began to wear out its welcome perhaps 20-30 minutes before it ended, though it was not then boring at all.  What made it fascinating was the internal cross-fire in your own mind as you questioned the ethics of using the answering machine tapes; the somewhat lurid-feeling and repeated shots of the girl walking down the street; the constant sense of voyeurism compounded by T’s evidently irresponsible behaviors with his friends, family, wife and son.   Combined with the repetitive imagery, these all collided into a rich internal intellectual stew in my mind, and which in a sense were clearly intended to be provoked.   At the conclusion there was a kind of sour emotional sense of questioning whether one should “like” a film by someone who seemingly is a lout if a person.  An old conundrum:   good artists can often be lousy humans.

The girl

Whatever my reservations, it was a film which I enjoyed, felt was a good wedge to press the viewer to think for themselves, and certainly made me wish to see some of his other work, documentary and fiction.

Still from Travis Wilkerson’s Distinguished Flying Cross

The other film I saw today, also in competition, was Travis Wilkerson’s Distinguished Flying Cross.  Running just an hour, it consists of a set-piece of Wilkerson on one side of a table, his brother across from him, and his father at the end.  Rigidly composed, and with a few other shots of a close up of a beer glass, and of his brother’s profile inserted for a slight change of pace, this shot is interrupted frequently by very brief title cards, usually accompanied with a percusive sound or noise.  Wilkerson’s father essentially tells the story of his Viet Nam days, and of receiving his Distinguished Flying Cross medal as a helicopter pilot.  Four or five times this tableau is disturbed by longer sequences of somel minute’s length of Viet Nam combat footage taken by soldier cinematographers.  One of those sequences is strewn with VC corpses.    I found the story-telling less than engaging, in part owing to the distanced and rigid imagery, which was amplified by the sons’ less than lively presence.  Also the miking/EQ made it a bit difficult to understand as the bass and boominess of the room managed to smother the sound frequently.   Cumulatively it didn’t seem to add up, in part because the story Dad had to tell was ordinary military stuff, and failed to arouse much emotional contact one way or another.  The tepid applause at the end suggested I wasn’t alone in this view.  Travis is participating in the Far From Afghanistan omni-bus film I am taking part in, so this criticism is diplomatically touchy, but I think honesty is always the best medicine – especially for artists among themselves.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

And then I had my own screening, first one, of Imagens de uma cidade perdida.   It was shown with an NTSC conversion of my PAL original, and apparently played off a Blu-Ray disk.  The cinema is very large and likewise the screen.  I must say it looked gorgeous, rather better than I thought it could, and sounded equally good.  The audience was not very large, and I think about 20-25% left after about 60-70 minutes.   Of those that stayed the applause was generous, and many came to a talk session in the lobby that went on 30 minutes or so, by which I’d guess the response was pretty positive.  Owing to a mistake of my own the version they saw was minus a few minutes of subtitles which should have been there, but….  My own error in sending an incorrect tape with no subtitles,  and while I said I’d send the correct one to festival they said they could take off the DVD I’d sent, which turned out to be an older one which I’d sent before changing the subtitles.  Not fatal, but, well, stupid. The price of haste when traveling.  Or an unraveling brain.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

Tomorrow I’ll find out if the thin attendance (in the audience, at the festival HQ) is owing to it being the first day, or it being a weekday, or if instead it is because the reverberations of the earthquake/tsunami and the fear of radiation.  I’m told of the 15 invited filmmakers, only 8 or 9 are attending.  In any event I recall in my previous visits much more hustle and bustle surrounding the festival, and my guess the seeming quietness this time is owing to the disaster of last February.    Of which I will get a close look after the festival as I’m arranging to go visit some of the area devastated by the tsunami.

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