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Category Archives: Travels

COMING TO TERMS BASIC EDIT_18sm

 

In the coming 2 months I’ll be having screenings of Coming to Terms as follows:

October 14

Salt Lake Film Society

FILMMAKER EVENT

TUES 10/14/14 @ 7PM
Broadway Centre Theatre
111 East 300 South
Salt Lake City UT 84111

And then, in Tempe AZ, a class screening but open to public, at Arizona State University.  Limited – around 30 – seats available for non-class members.  It’ll include a lot of talk, and maybe screening some other things to go with it.  The next day will be an all-day workshop, which might be open to a handful of outsiders.

October 17-18

6:00 – 10:00 PM on 10/17 – the location is Stauffer B111, which is adjacent to the 10th Street Parking Structure. (Guests can’t park in that actual structure – they can park across the street – but that is the lot closest to the Stauffer building). Link to that building on the ASU map:

https://maps.asu.edu/?id=120&mrkIid=63016

And then, moving eastward into New Mexico, there’ll be this (don’t know time yet):

October 23rd

Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts

1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87505

This screening will be introduced by Gene Youngblood (Expanded Cinema) and he’ll moderate post-screening session.

And after wandering the southwest and mid-west a few weeks shooting for new film (and I hope drawing and doing watercolors and of course lots of photography), I’ll land in Lincoln Nebraska where there’ll be a partial retrospective at the Ross Media Arts Center.  Films being screened on an on-going cycle from Nov 7-14, will be as follows:

Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center  |  313 North 13th Street, Lincoln NE

Friday, 11/7 – Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977) *interview with Bill and Jon

Saturday, 11/8 – Slow Moves (1983)

Sunday, 11/9 – Rembrandt Laughing (1989)

Monday, 11/10 – Oui Non (2002)

Tuesday, 11/11 – Passages (2006) / Parable (2008)

Wednesday, 11/12 – At Play in the Fields of the Lord [Nebraska] (2008) / Swimming in Nebraska (2010)

Thursday, 11/13 — Imagens de uma cidade perdida (2011)

Friday, 11/14 – Coming to Terms (2013)

There may also be sneak preview of a new film of mine, and perhaps a screening of Blake Eckard’s Ghosts of Empire Prairie, in which I acted and also shot the film.  The films will all be screened at least twice, during the week.

And then moving east, might be something at the Orpheum Cinema in Fairfield IO and/or in Iowa City.  Not yet fixed.

And finally, in Chicago:

22nd and 25th, at the Film Center, 8 pm.

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I note also that Coming to Terms will be screening at the American Film Festival, in Wroclaw, Poland, towards the end of this month.  The festival is Oct. 21-26.

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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….

 

IMG_6023The HKW after its collapse; below with its architect.IMG_6024

800px-HdKdW1HKW rebuilt.

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.)

 

nazi_brandenburg_gate_by_sheriselitz50-d5f0ckm VVT05 Nazi Reichsadler

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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RS_Web_EU_8M_v3Europe if all the ice melts.

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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The last time I’d visited the Grand Canyon – I don’t really remember how long ago, but at least 20+ years ago, it was already showing signs of the times: mass tourism.  Back then one had to get a permit to go down Angel Trail to the bottom, whereas in 1969, my first time, you could just go.  Now caravans of rafters can be seen as distant yellow dots going down the rampaging rapids, the parking lot at the visitor’s center is vast, and buses take you along the rim to the west of the old center whereas before you could drive yourself.  Outside the gate of the park sits an opportunistic town with motels and fast food places, along with a new “Western” steak house or two.   They all come to see the Canyon, or perhaps to have their pictures taken in front of it after a quick glance.  They stay a few hours, and one can overhear them as they mention having seen Zion, Bryce Canyon, and a few other places, “done” in the last few days.

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I came to do a “re-make” of a film I did in 1970 in 16mm, Canyon.  It was a five minute single camera viewpoint passage through a day, from sunrise to sunset.  It was very good, and garnered comment from Amos Vogel in his book Subversive Cinema (he died recently, some months ago), and laid the groundwork for much later work, from Muri Romani, to a passage in the most recent, Coming to Terms.  I decided to return, to shoot again in wide-screen HD, and with financial and temporal limits removed, make what may be a 60-90 minute version.  I certainly shot enough to do so – actually two of them since I shot with two cameras, looking in different directions.

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Given the new mass-tourism set up I was able to spend the night unnoticed, sleeping in the ’91 Subaru, in the parking lot of a large apartment rental complex, just a walk from where I could catch a 4 a.m. bus to set up some minutes before the dawn sky brightened.  Meant arousing myself at 3:15.   I stayed until sunset, around 8:30.  The price was a burned upper lip, conversations with a handful of kind people (who offered water and more), and a lesson in patience.  I was tempted to stay another day or two, and do it again from a different viewpoint, but the general haze discouraged me and I think I will apply for an artist’s residency of two weeks which the park offers – no pay or travel, but a place to stay and I imagine some assistance if needed.

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I moved then back northward, passing through the Navaho reservation to the east, up into Utah, and the towns of Junction and Circleville, where I’d spent an autumn in 1989, preparing and then shooting Sure Fire.  Like many, and perhaps most, of the small towns I’ve passed through in travels this last year, these places appear to be on their last legs.  Buildings for sale, collapsing; boarded up houses, and a general air of decay and abandonment.  The cafe I’d done the opening shot in Sure Fire was no longer there (though a new one was), some buildings I’d wanted to take shots of were gone, and everything seemed shabbier than 20+ years ago.  The spiel which Wes, the lead character in the film, had laid out to his banker, of cheap houses selling well to So Cal refugees had not played out – though it certainly did some 150 or so miles to the south in St George.  There a small city is now dwarfed by the upscale housing tracts of gated communities, in turn surrounded with the mandatory corporate big-box shopping malls.

I managed to find a space by an abandoned house to park and spend the night unhassled.  Awoke early in the morning and returned to Circleville for a breakfast and to take a mess of shots there and then in Junction.

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DSC02036SMCircleville, Utah

Back in 1989 when shooting the film, I’d noticed one house which seemed as if a minimalist had moved out West, having taken his house and simplified the facade to a blank white, and making everything on his property white with red trim.  Since he’s punched a window in the facade and put on a few little decorative items – patriotic American flag butterflies – and the place bears the wages of time.  Previously he had some seeming Kelley-like abstract panel sculptures in his yard; they’re not all there and those that are now sit outside, by his fence.  And on his car was a license plate which hints at the mindset.

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As I left Junction early in the morning I noticed chem-trails being laid out in the sky above, and as I drove northward, these same “clouds” drifted, with new parallel ones after them, on northward me, nearly to Provo.  I’d seen the same in the valley around Redding, Ca., though there they were criss-crossed carefully, like an overhead quilt.  These are not jet contrails,  which normally disappear by evaporating in a few minutes and are from 30-35,000 feet, normal cruising heights for commercial jet traffic.  These chem-trails last all day, widening as the wind moves them, ending the day as a smudgy sun-killing haze.  They appear to be more in the 10,000-15,000 foot altitude range.  Something is “up.”

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DSC01771SMChem-trails over the Grand Canyon.DSC02161SM

DSC02317 SM CHEMChem-trails over Junction Utah, and later in the day, more and dispersed, 150 north

And having spent enough time at this Sun Valley Starbucks to recharge batteries, clean up and wash hair, and do other internet chores, I’ll wrap up for the moment and head on up to the Sawtooth range.

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DSC00257smThe Jeonju Hanok Village outside the hotel window

Jet-lagged from the journey from Portland to Seoul, I arrived in Jeonju for what is maybe my 5th or 6th visit – I forget and don’t want to look it up.  I was here in 2000, with their first issue, a spanking new eager young festival out to put this small provincial Korean city on the map.  I recall that one, charmed by what seemed a modest provincial university town, suffering an inferiority complex which found them constantly inquiring of me if all was going OK, were they good enough.  They were. (I had experienced the same thing in my first visit to the Yamagata Documentary festival in Japan, in 1989).  Now it is 14 years later, and Jeonju has exploded, along with most Korean cities, with the standard issue concrete residential highrises (Lotte, Samsung, Hyundai, or another cheobol name signifying the brand painted on the side, along with a number – capitalist workers housing akin to the old Soviet ones of the USSR and eastern Europe, though built a bit better), stretching out from view, snaking up the nearby valleys, a version of soulless Seoul stuck in the midst of rice paddies, industrialized agriculture, and rural factories.   The modest charms of 2000 have pretty much vanished.  Similarly the festival ballooned, now a much bigger affair which takes over the downtown area,  has its own building, and after some kind of palace coup a year or two ago, is run by other people, and seems a little less organized than before, though the ticketing policies seem draconian now.

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Follies:  in a little error of idiot festival politics, I let Jeonju program both my new films, a failure on my part to think ahead and realize I was squandering one of my glorious “world premiers” by letting them show both.  So 120 or so people, off in little Jeonju, will see my films, and a large number of festivals will hence decline to show either of them because it isn’t a fkn premiere, a matter that no one except film festival directors/organizers could give a shit about.  So they trade a good film for a virgin of  dubious qualities.  Real smart…   While I know the ropes of the festival game I guess I find it all pathetic and indicative of some kind of warped cultural BS that those running these things should give another think.  There are a handful of larger festivals that show films that have shown elsewhere, but not many.  Those that insist on world premiers and such are merely slitting their own wrists, assuring that they fulfill my cynical view that festivals are by and large an institutionalized system for screening of a lot of mostly rather bad films under the least ideal circumstances for seeing good ones.

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So on Tuesday I showed The Narcissus Flowers of  Katsura-shima to an audience of 50-60, and got a look at the DCP of it and confirmed that the process only inflicts some damage on it (conversion from 29.97 fps to 24 fps). It was marginal damage, but visible and stupid, done only at the behest of Hollywood and its desire for a single uniform system for projection.  I am 100% sure the equipment here and any place that can show off computers could have as easily shown my original h.264 file and spared the motion quirks, color shifts and other crap the DCP conversion brought into play.  And spared me a $300 expense.  Put it this way: assuming the next audience is the same size, I had to pay about $2 per viewer to make their experience worse.  Ain’t that grand!

Even so, not having seen it for some time, and never having seen it on a good big screen projection, with good sound, I must say it is an impressive work – minimalist, beautiful, of measured (slow) pace, and intelligent – qualities which assure it will hardly be seen at all, and naturally I will never see a dime from it.  Which, after 50 years of doing this, draws from me some doubts – about the world I live in, about my sanity or at least my intelligence, about at this late date in my life persisting in this.  I recall a few years back seeing Raul Ruiz wandering the lounge space of the Rotterdam Film Festival looking inwardly lost, as if he were wondering the same thing I am: what’s the point? (Though Raul managed to make a decent living from what he did.)

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On May 1st I was present at the second screening of Coming to Terms here (hadn’t arrived for  first screening).  Packed house of 150 or so, which was a nice surprise, though as the film came up it was painful for me to see the damage inflicted in the DCP conversion: slow fades turned into digital waves of light jumps, all lateral movement (cars going by) now juddered in little jumps, even relatively slow human movements became jerky.  As I watched felt as if I’d been raped – another $300 to severely damage my film because the festival bought the Hollywood DCP con.  They will be getting a pretty harsh letter from me (and perhaps a request to pay for the stupid conversion they required though I told them before hand what it would do.)   Setting all that aside, and  some remaining sound tech matters, I was very happy with the film – certainly as good as anything I have ever done.   So coming full circle to Jeonju, where at a screening in 2006 my Yonsei teaching  job offer began and subsequently found me wondering if, after nearly 4 “dry years” of not making any new films when teaching  (I did edit previously shot ones) , I’d lost the creative moxie.   The two films here, made immediately after I quit in August 2011, seem to suggest the well is not yet dry.  Though I should hasten to state that it would be perfectly OK if it were dry – creative work is like that, and when the source runs out, it is fine.   I intensely dislike the critical view that  there is something wrong when an artist hangs it all up, or when, pursuing their work, it falters.  We get old.  We deplete our energies.  We curl up and die.  And that is as it is and as it ought to  be.

However, though I am happy to feel that this work can go on, I must say I am rather fed up with the other end of it: festivals, getting things shown.  And I think I will likely write an open letter to the festival and exhibition world, letting them know that while I continue to make films most likely, I won’t be sending in entry forms and jumping through all the hoops and idiocies required, and if they want to see my work, they can contact me.  Or perhaps I will post it on a private Vimeo channel and they can request to see it that way.  Meantime, given the nature of the cinema business these days,  in a few months – once I have the time to do so – I will be placing all my work on a Vimeo channel, to view for pay per the new Vimeo set-up.  However miniscule in the “real world” I do know there’s an audience for my work, and this will make it available for those who do wish to see it.

DSC01201smHeroic USSR-style sculpture of cinema-workers on Jeonju “Cinema Street.”

In another week and some I’ll head back to the USA, greeted more or less by a blank slate:  having called off the American essay film, and having screwed up the festival politics of a ticket to Europe, it appears wandering the west, or perhaps hunkering down to catch up a a large backlog of footage, fotos, and other things is in order until (and if) some screenings in the east draw me there, or an invitation for Narcissus Flowers, flies me to Japan (to stay a month).  Wait and see.  Though now that I think of it I did set in motion the wheels to shoot a feature in Port Angeles in September….  silly me!

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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.

Les-Blank-at-CC-meeting.-Photo-Emilie-Raguso-1024x768Les last year, being “honored” in Berkeley

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 

KC

I went to Kansas City for their small film festival, with a five day stay providing a respite from constant travels, and the chance to look around a bit.   As with other cities in the American mid-west there is the combination of a nearly brutal simplicity, of boxy buildings from the late 1800’s to the present, laid out in the customary grid, but counter-balanced with residential areas of handsome houses, and the occasional nod to a kind of showy opulence – in KC this would include the now restored, though not to its original use, train station.   And as in most of the cities I’ve been to of late, the centers are now marred with a disjointed mix of glassy contemporary skyscrapers, seemingly competing for some prize for worst amalgam of modernist/post-modernist design cliches.  The only virtue of these eye-sores is that they were built with modern day financially rooted intent, and will likely be torn down in 50 years or less, while their older companions, built to last, may survive them.  We can hope.

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The new Kaufman Center for the Performing ArtsWinstead’sAuthur Bryant’s BBQ

The architecture of these cities and towns seems duly reflective of the inhabitants:  a somewhat blunt and direct and practical people, who, with a small minority dissenting, vote Republican as if it were a religious duty.   What’s the matter with next door Kansas is the same thing that’s the matter with Missouri.

KC Airport

From Kansas City I flew on to Minneapolis and a few stops in small-town Minnesota – Northfield and St Cloud – before returning to the city.

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Randy Malecha at Willie’s Shoe Repair where “You Will Be Satisfied” (I was)Northfield Bank robbed by Jesse James (unsuccessfully)

Chip Demann, leader of the James-Younger gang (reenactment)Unsuccessful bank robbersSt Cloud, Minnesota

Minneapolis-St. Paul coming up next. 

Four days back, still a bit out of the local time, jet-lagged.  On arrival the four years absence seemed instantly erased, which seems my usual pattern: a life of travel and constant moves has made some kind of mechanism that really puts me in the old 60’s mantra, “be here now.”   Yesterday is obliterated, and LA, however changed since my last quick visit five years ago, seems more or less the place I lived in in 77-78, and 82-83.  Instant “home.”

Echo Park Film Center

Likewise, when I entered the Echo Park Film Center the second evening in town, to do my first screening (Chameleon, 1978), I felt instantly at home.  How could I not – it reminded of the funk and space of setting up the Chicago Film Coop long ago, in 1967, or the casual Santa Monica place, Focal Point Films,  I stayed in while editing Angel City in 1976.  Though this time the audience – a virtual full house in a space with maybe 36 seats – was a mix of young people and grayed souls of my vintage.   The screening went nicely (except for an over-bright projector), and the response and discussion was lively and long.  A very nice experience all around.

Bob Glaudini and John Steppling in ChameleonGlaudini and Winifred Golden

The next day to underscore the echo of time’s gone, I met with Mike Gray, who’d let me use his editing bench in Chicago back in 1967-8, and whom I’d known in 1977-78 in Los Angeles as he worked on The China Syndrome.  We had a nice talk over beer and wine, with intimations of our personal finality just off-screen.    In the evening, I had second screening, at Cinefamily in the Fairfax, not far from where I’d lived in 1978, in the old silent cinema theater.  Showed Angel City, to another mixed-age and highly appreciative audience.   Inwardly, both these two old films, despite naturally showing their vintage in the cars, clothes, lack of cell phones and other electronic gizmos, seemed to creatively dance circles around the last decade and more of supposed “indie” filmmaking which for me is almost (a few exceptions) all a tired old waltz around utterly conventional cinema, with its only “uniqueness” being that it is about the younger generation of the day, and done by them: mumble-core and other things.  But their cinema, whatever they imagine, is a tired old dead horse showing almost nothing that can’t be seen slicker on TV or Hollywood movies.  Cinematically DOD.   It was at these two screenings a pleasure to see a clearly positive response from younger viewers who seemed genuinely excited at their rather different approaches to filmmaking.  I hope for those it might rub off a bit.

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Glaudini, Golden, Roger Ruffin in Angel City

I hadn’t seen either of these films for some time, and was – as commented by some of the audience – struck by how pertinent to our current times they still are.   Chameleon, done in 1978, seems to have foreseen the coming decades of hustle and greed, while noting the acrid sourness by which such a life eats out one’s soul.  Angel City was a critique of capitalism’s tendencies in wise-ass detective-movie lingo, and remains as pointed and appropriate today as it was then.  Nothing changes?

Adam Hyman of the LA Film Forum

The last screening in LA was of Swimming in Nebraska (US Premiere !!), at the Egyptian theater in downtown Hollywood.   The audience was very thin, as I think such work is somewhat antithetical to the local community’s interests – AG films in the heart of the US filmbiz is a bit of an affront I suppose, and I think the people who live nearby are in the thrall of Hollywood’s offerings and mentality.  I hadn’t seen the film for some time, and found it quite strong – I have the tendency to have to learn to like my own work, and it certainly is the case with this one.    The density of Swimming takes some time to absorb, but now it seemed proper.  The audience seemed to like it very much, which was nice.

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Thanks to Adam Hyman for having set up these screenings in LA, and thanks to my friend Ryan Harper Gray and his girlfriend Tiffany for putting me up and getting me around town a bit.

Defunct American flagship airliner from Pan Am, flying over old Bay Bridge (also defunct)

Commencing in March, this life will take a turn, and leaving Korea, which has been “home” the last four and a half years, I’ll be taking to the road for a long trip of 18 or more months.  Initially a handful of days in Tokyo, to talk at the wrap up of an 11-film partial retrospective being mounted at the Athenee Francais.  This place stands in as the Japanese Cinematheque, since for some reason there is no Japanese thing like that, so this French cultural institute seems to have taken on the job.  A few years ago they did a Pedro Costa retrospective.  The schedule for my program is as follows:

ジョン・ジョスト監督特集2012
The Works of Jon Jost

Feb 28-Mar 3 2012

Feb 28
16:40-Speaking Directly
19:00-Last Chants for a Slow Dance (Dead End)

Feb 29
16:30-Bell Diamond
18:30-Plain Talk & Common Sense(Uncommon Senses)

Mar 1
16:50-Rembrandt Laughing
19:00-London Brief

Mar 2
17:00-6 Easy Pieces
18:30-Oui Non

Mar 3
14:00-Images of a Lost City
15:40-Special Screening & Talk ※Free
Screening: The Student Films of Digital Cinema Workshop at The Film
School of Tokyo
Talk: Jon Jost and Toshi Fujiwara

Ticket:
1000 YEN/ 2700 YEN (for 3 screenings)
Athenee Francais Cultural Center members: 800 YEN

Venue:
Athenee Francais Cultural Center
4F 2-11 Kandasurugadai Chiyoda-ku Tokyo
JAPAN 101-0062


That covers not quite a third of my work, though I guess these days a full retrospective would tax the scheduling time of the most lavish of such places.

Saddle ‘em up

And then come March 14, I’ll fly to Los Angeles to begin a 6+ weeks screening tour, as follows:

Los Angeles

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March 16, 8:00 pm   Los Angeles Filmforum at the Echo Park Film Center, 1200 N Alvarado St. (@ Sunset Blvd.) Los Angeles, CA. 90026 | (213) 484–8846, showing Chameleon
March 17,    4 pm     Cinefamily, 4 o’clock Saturday matinee (bring popcorn), showing Angel City
March 18,  7:30 pm, Los Angeles Filmforum, at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., LA, TBA
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March 28, Nashville, Tenn.
International Lens,  Vanderbilt University 310 25th Avenue South  Nashville, TN 37240, 6 Easy Pieces, and classroom workshops 27th
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Knoxville, Tenn.
March 29-31, Society of Media Arts, Over Here, and workshops on 29th and 30th
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Tampa, Fl.
March 4,  Tampa, Univ Southern Florida, TBA
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Chicago
April 6 , Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640  Over Here

April 7, Chicago Filmmakers Coop, Parable
Columbia College classroom workshop, April 9 or 10.
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Kansas City
April 11-16,    Kansas City Film Jubilee, Swimming in Nebraska
and Imagens de uma cidade perdida, and a two part seminar, Digital Dancing

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St Cloud, Minn.
State University, TBA
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Northfield, Minn.
Carleton College, screening of All the Vermeers in New York, and daytime meeting, classroom seminar.

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Lincoln, NE
Ross Film Theater, TBA
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Portland, Oregon
May 31, NW Film Center,  Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Parable
Workshop June 1-2
June 3, La Lunga Ombra, Imagens de uma cidade perdida

Seattle, Washington

June-July screening(s) and workshop, Northwest Film,  1515 12th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122, dates and film(s) TBA

[As I get more information, time/place/etc. I will update this post.]

The foregoing is but a prelude to an 18 month (or perhaps more), lingering, last American trip, zig-zagging the continent, shooting a new essay film, Plain Songs, along with a few fictional narratives.   The essay film I imagine will be a sprawling 6 or more hours long, a wrap-up to the sequence begun in 1973 with Speaking Directly (some American notes), and then Plain Talk & Common Sense (uncommon senses) made in 1987.  I’ll be doing some kind of blogging as I go, video and text.    I hope to raise some modest funding for this with Kickstarter or some grants, and try to avoid dipping into my small bit of savings, which, once this grand tour is done, must suffice to see me to “the end,” somewhere necessarily very cheap.   Needless to say, any help, of any kind – fiscal, places to stay, suggestions as to things or people of interest – will be much appreciated.

Whether for this spring trip, or in the upcoming 18 months after March, if you’d be interested in arranging a screening, talk, workshop, or other engagement, please contact me at http://www.jon-jost.com. 

Tokyo street

Yesterday I finished up the 6 day workshop at the Film School of Tokyo.  Given that it was really just 4 days as a hole was knocked into the schedule by the Christmas 24/25th days making no room available those days, I’d say it came out very well. 13 participants, all of whom tried, and last night, showing the rushed little films they’d made during the last day, I was very pleased at how good they were, and how much they’d learned in so short a time.  I come back at the start of March to give a talk at the Athenee Francais, which is doing a partial retrospective, and the last thing we’ll show is new films these people make in the 2 months at hand.  I am optimistic most of them will make something worthy of showing in public.  Anyway a nice time, even if I am a bit tired in consequence.

While here, at the behest of Toshi Fujiwara, who translated for me, and has his new film No Man’s Zone showing in the upcoming Berlin Forum, I screened for just a few of us, my last finished film, Dissonance.   I had, in fact, never actually sat down and seen it – instead I’d set it up on the computer, rendered a file of it, and since the conceptual nature of it didn’t really require I look at it there, and once finished I didn’t take time to sit and look at it, I never did look at it.  On finally seeing it I guess I’d say it confirmed my thoughts about what it would do – ruffle your psychic feathers in some undefinable manner.

The first sequence lasts 50 minutes: 3 panels, per above, each a single take.  As I thought, it doesn’t get boring at all – instead it slips under your radar and plays with your subconscious.  The remaining sequences do the same:

So I guess it will join the growing list of my unseen cinema.  I sent this one, and previous ones, out to enough festivals, but for some reason they don’t accept them.  I confess they’re not what one would call “audience pleasers” and it seems increasingly that is what festivals, bowing to the dictates of commercial pressures, require.  Don’t want to challenge or upset our audience.  Recently, while looking for screenings in US for the coming spring, I suggested to programmer in the mid-west that I’d like to screen my Iraq war trilogy - Homecoming, Over Here, and Parable.   She nixed the idea, saying that whenever she’d screened films having anything to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, the warm butts had not shown up.   I guess even the so-called liberal kind of people who go to art-house type cinemas would rather keep their heads in the sand about what America does, and what that does to us.   Nice for the government that does these things in our name that the citizenry, acting like good Soviet ones, makes censoring unnecessary: they do it themselves.

From Parable

At Toshi’s request also showed Parable, which I had not seen in quite a while – a few years perhaps – and it is one weird film too.  I guess in my dotage I am going off the deep end.

Homeless in Tokyo

Tomorrow back to Seoul, for a few more months.  Later perhaps some further ruminations on the rich texture of Tokyo, where a disembodied present collides with fragments of the past and sends signals of the future spiraling out.

Happy Gregorian Spin Around the Sun 2012 !

Asakusa Temple

Christmas, a day I normally evade as best I can, found me in Tokyo where I’m doing a workshop at the Tokyo Film School.  As it happened the space we were using there was not available on December 25, so it was a free day for me.  In the days before in the hyper-busy Shibuya district I’d noted the frenetic Christmas theme in the many young people dressed in red Santa outfits, hawking restaurant offerings and such.  Noxious seasonal songs pervaded the speaker systems, though it was clear that this country – unlike South Korea – is very minimally Christian, but they seem to have gone whole-hog on Christmas as yet another excuse for rampant consumerism – as if they needed one.   While Japan supposedly wallows in a now several decades long malaise of the economy, and was hit with the double whammy of the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster it caused – recently said by the government to be a 40 year long problem to clean up – one would be hard-pressed to note this on the streets.   Or when exchanging money, where the Yen seems to stand supreme, despite the alleged difficulties in Japan’s economic machinery.   Rather there seems a constant rush of well-dressed people, young and old, wrapped up in fashion (a wide range of often curious ones), and with the means to have it, as well as engorge themselves in the endless restaurants and bars, not to mention classier places which I can’t afford to enter.   As well “love hotels” hawk their space and time with notices of 1,000 to 4,000 Yen for “rest” (120 mins) or 6K for “stay.”   Yesterday during my random walk around Asakusa and Ueno I bumped into a street of these, nearby the Ueno station and across a railway track from the Tokyo National Museum, with appropriate ladies standing about on the street offering their wares.  No Christmas outfits though.     As it happened the museum was mostly closed, as was the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum and I found myself instead going to the National Museum of Western Art for a somewhat dismal collection of 2nd and 3rd rate works from major artists, and a larger assortment of lesser artists.  There were though a few good paintings – a Hammershøi being perhaps the best.   They did, however, have a very interesting exhibition of William Blake engravings.  At least they let in the elders for free.

Buddhist prayers

Tokyo seems a vast melange, a cyclotron in which the sublime and the crass are racing by one another at the speed of light, and occasionally they smash into one another and produce a hybrid of the two, spinning out in delirious design.  From their arts it seems they’ve been at this a long time.  I am sure Mr Blake would have found it all fascinating.

William Blake draws himself

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