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Monthly Archives: July 2009

IRISH YEAST DUBThe last days in Galway were a hectic rush to get the workshop pieces finished, and in typical film biz manner, it went on until the very last minute before the screening on Sunday afternoon, following a first screening for Marcella of her first feature, Landing in the Morning Calm, which did nicely – lost 2 of an audience of 27, got a respectful applause at the end; then my Mr Right, began and after five minutes stopped, a big digital dropout followed by no sound.  I’d made the tape just before we’d left and hadn’t checked it.  We jumped then to showing the workshop pieces as I ran to our temporary abode to find a replacement.  Too late, we skipped it, and we went with the people of the workshop for a beer and dinner.


Workshop came out quite well, with some nice pieces made, in some cases by pure 5 days earlier novices.  Experimental, narrative, doc, their choices.  It was rather a bit more work than we’d signed up for (10 am to 1 pm days that stretched instead to 3 or 5 pm instead), but that’s the usual for me.  For no pay…   Not sure why I still do this, but it seems to happen regularly.


We left Galway in a rental car – internet cheap deal morphed into costly one when I went to pick up the car, this and that charge mystically tacked on, and I fell for an insurance I’d usually skip.  130 Euro turned to 300.  We drove north, through extravagantly beautiful countryside – Galway, Mayo, Donegal – with great desolate valleys with gray skies pressing overhead; ocean views occluded with rain, sheep dimpled hillsides, and here and there the residue of the Irish building bubble – overblown second homes, out of scale to the landscape, ballooning in clusters across the landscape, For Sale signs weathered as the would-be buyers now scramble simply to weather the downturn: in Galway the local paper announced a 300% rise in business closures in the last months as the “recession” begins to take hold.  Empty houses are just one symptom.   We’ve been staying in B&B’s, 25-30 Euro a night, per person.  A beer runs 4 Euro.  All for me a bit pricey, though I guess most people have acclimated themselves to these prices.   Though I wonder as the easy money of the last decade evaporates just when the deflation will come to force prices down, or as seems to be the case, the closure of the pubs and restaurants and other “optional” pleasures.  No job, no beer. That’s life.  Should we come back in another year or two (possible), I suspect we’ll find a very different social landscape.  Just like in the US….

north most irelandcrp

Outside is a steady drizzle and rain, gray skies.  Inside there’s lots of bars, with Irish music emanating from them and banished smokers standing outside, pint in hand.  We’ve been here now 6 days, kept quite busy with workshop.  13 signed on, 12 have stayed.  Tomorrow’s the show, and they’re hunkered down behind Macs (equipped with Premiere Pro for Mac, though they also have Final Cut, but choice they made, PC’s sitting at home, is to learn Premiere fast) here, or at home with whatever they have.  After a few days of cram lessons on camera, play with digital effects, then hold the damn camera still, they opted to start making their films.  While I am not optimistic about any masterpieces showing up tomorrow evening, I am confident they’re all learning a hell of lot in a short time, and hopefully that’ll carry over for them in the future.

SameMoonMIFFUnder the Same Moon

Meantime we’ve seen a handful of films.  The opening night one, Under the Same Moon, Patricia Riggen (US-Mexico) was an almost OK US-Mexican immigrant film that caught something right, but got balled up in needless scripting contrivances that rang way too coincidental to believe, and had one glaring hole in the story which anyone familiar with El Paso or just the southwest would find unacceptable: a young boy being smuggled under the back seat of a car first isn’t found during a close inspection, and then when the car is hauled away, all windows up, and dumped in a tow-away lot, during day-time, the kid is not baked but emerges unscathed in the night, despite much heavy plot-play with how hot it was on the trip to the border.  Well, a locked car in the South West sun is lethal in a short time, as some really stupid parents have found out with their dead kids left 30 minutes to bake during a run into the mall.  However the film got a standing ovation, its do-good demeanor covering a multitude of sins.  Apparently it was rapturously received at Sundance, the director sold it for three times the cost, and another utterly conventional tear-jerker proves what the movie biz really cares about.


Next we saw Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, which has been around a while.  It was a very nicely done piece, shot at McMurdo Bay in the Antarctica – portraits of the quirky souls who sign up for a year of isolation, six months of night, six of day, at the desolate South Pole.  Needless to say those who gravitate to this setting are Herzog’s favorite sorts, eccentrics – be they scientists or artists or roustabouts.  His portrayal was loving, amusing, and thought provoking.  One of his better ones, of those I’ve seen.


Then Marcella got a bit of baptism under fire, our first real screening of Rant.  To 7 whole people….  It was a perfect introduction to festival screenings as what could go wrong, did.  The previous film had apparently required unplugging of a scaler in the projection system, and our film was shown in 4×3 format instead of 16-9, so everyone was a bit Giacometti-ized, and to obtain a sort of wide-screen format, the top and bottom were lopped off.  The audience saw the middle 2/3rds of the film….    Despite this butchery, they liked it, and my friend Joe Comerford, a filmmaker himself, said he found it very strong.  I don’t think he was bullshitting us – it is a strong film, if rather unconventional in its form.  It’s now been rejected so far by the Yamagata, Tofi (Poland), and Mexico City doc fest.   I hope some doc festival takes it though I acknowledge usually doc film people are not open to dickering with formal and stylistic elements – too “experimental” for them.  We’ll see.


Next for me was Sweet Crude, a documentary on oil companies, bad politics, and the Niger Delta.  A very nicely done film that spun out of a do-good project about a library (supported by an oil company) and became a deeper investigation into the politics of Nigeria, the complicity of global corporations and, of course, the US.  There is a pathetic sequence from TV of President GW Bush meeting the President of Nigeria, a classic example of the insanity of America having ever elected (?) this dufus to office.  Appalling.  At the conclusion of her shooting, the filmmaker, Sandy Cioffi of Seattle, was stopped on exiting the country and did a five day stint in prison there while her material was confiscated.  I recall hearing about it when it happened, and I think got an email asking I sign a net petition for her release.  A very nicely done, if utterly by-the-book, documentary that for the most part avoided becoming pedantic.  I had known most of the issues previously but gleaned a little bit more from the film.

mother and son

Then saw a bit of Sokurov’s 1997 Mother and Son, having sent Marcella to see it with the proviso that I didn’t like it, but she should give it a try as a sample of what many people regard as high film art.  I saw about 20 minutes this time, and we both left.  Sokurov is the Prince of Pretentiousness, and this film for me is an unbearable bit of ponderous artiness, with actors posing heavily, the imagery smeared with vaseline and an anamorphic lens tilting the shots this way and that.  The film suffocates itself under its absurd assertions of artfulness – just the kind of thing certain critics like to champion.  Having met both Sokurov and Peter Greenaway, they take my prize for most pretentious persons on earth.  And the films for me perfectly express their personalities.

We tried another Irish movie, Fathers of Girls, a film taken on by a famous Irish actor (I was told) Ray Winstone, for free, as he must have eyed a one-man tour-de-force show-off piece.  Unfortunately his acting wasn’t up to the ponderousness of the piece – daughter OD’s, daddy is wrecked.  In this case the film was a wreck.


And last night went to see a so-called US Indie film, Adventureland,  produced by Ted Hope ( who used to produce Hal Hartley), and directed by Greg Mottola.   It was a very good film, snappily written, well acted, excellently directed, quite funny and enjoyable, and outside of the banking there wasn’t a thing about it remotely “independent” unless showing kids smoking dope is the qualification.  A totally conventional coming-of-age film that in no manner pushed any envelope in content-style-cinema or anything else, however well executed it was.   Mottola’s film-biz ticket is punched and he can move to Hwd any time he wants.  Or he can sit outside and pretend he’s being “indie”.


After that we saw a really excellent Irish documentary, which was far from conventional, though its low-key manner might make one think it was.  His & Hers, by Ken Wardrop, examines the lives of women in mid-Ireland.  The always static camera shoots home interiors, all clearly middle-class, pristine and clean, the color schemes always a muted one of pastels and sprightly colors.   The compositions verge on minimalism, with a consistent use of doors, windows and mirrors to heighten a sense of discreet voyeurism.   The women sit in their setting and speak to camera for the most part, freely, without offscreen questions.   The basic concept was to coax from a sequence of women, aged just-born to dead, in chronological order, their intimate thoughts as they talked about the men/man in their lives:  Daddy, boyfriend, husband, son, daddy in death, husband in old age, and then stranded alone, the sons taking care to the end.  You never see or hear a man, until the very end when an old man hobbles by in the background.  The film was quite funny, revealing, sad, and thoughtful.  It attended to all the women with grace and kindness, though it hardly made them all sweet little ladies – some were acerbic and biting, some wistful, some silly.  A wonderful film which owing to its formalist manner is likely to be confined to film festivals.   I doubt any US TV would take it on, and certainly theatrical is out of the question.  A pity.

The Tate Modern’s turbine hall was empty, with only the scar, filled with concrete, of Doris Salcedo’s earlier floor crack to see:


I don’t think we missed much not seeing “the original.”  I’ve seen a handful of Turbine Hall installations and only two managed to meaningfully cope with the space – Anish Kapoor’s massive tube and Olafur Eliasson’s stunning mirrored sun.

kapoor tate


So we skipped the for-pay show on, Danish painter Per Kirkeby (10 pounds), and saw the museum’s collection as presently displayed – somewhat changed since it opened to some strong negative comments about the method of organizing it in categories.  It’s still done that way, but something was rearranged and it works better now.  More or less the standard modern canon.  Which, frankly, for me has grown tiresome and tedious in most cases.  I have seen these some forty years and more, scattered in museums across the globe, and sadly most have not grown well, but seem to diminish with each new viewing, with of course, some exceptions.

Another day led us to the National Gallery, where I went to re-see for the umpteenth time some of my most favorite and studied paintings:



degas circus girl

Paolo Uccello, van Eyck, Henri Rousseau and Degas, respectively.  These are works which do not diminish on looking again and again, but grow each time.  When I lived in London in 1996, a went repeatedly to the National Gallery and spent hours cumulatively in front of the Uccello, which step-by-step revealed its depths to me.   I did a tracing paper analysis of its elements, made an unfinished really lame pastel based on it, and consider it now an old friend and wise teacher.  Here is a painting from which one can learn an awful lot.  And likewise the stunningly simple van Eyck “Als Ich Kann” (As well as I can), presumed to be a self-portrait.  It sits besides the far more viewed Arnolifini Marriage, to which each day little hordes of viewers come, to be lectured. This time it was a Japanese cluster which arrived, and after the mandatory instructions, herded off in a few minutes, none stopping to actually look at the painting, and least of all to the little portrait to its left.   Going to museums – which not so long ago were usually sparsely attended, and now are almost all crowded – I wonder what these visitors see, or why.  It seems museum going has become an obligatory part of being a tourist, a fashion, and watching the listless teenagers, the husband-wife couples wander either aimlessly about, or if a bit more knowledgeable, going first to the name plaque to decide if the painting is worth 10 seconds – “Oh, a Rembrandt!”  “Oh, a Renoir.”  The latter being a particular bete noir of mine, a painter to whose work I have a visceral negative reaction.  Like Rubens.   I’d like to think those tourists, who make going to the museum these days far less pleasant, do learn something, but I rather doubt it is so. They learn only that they can rattle off, “We went to the National Gallery, and the Tate Modern, and the British Museum, and the V&A, and Madame Tussauds, and the London Eye, and Buckingham Palace, and…”  All in 3 days.  Then it’s on to Paris….

Our 9 days here was far too short.  As is life.  I must hope some day after the great collapse lowers the prices, except of airfares which will rise beyond reach, and thins the streams of tourists, to return on some gloomy winter for some months to peruse some final time these old friends.   And then take a long spring walk along one of England’s many country paths, far from the madding crowd.   For now though we join the low-budget hordes, and get our flight to Galway – with the bus to the airport being more costly than the flight – where a busy week awaits us before we take a slow meander along the West Coast, hopefully shooting landscapes in new HD.   But more on London later.

vermeer1woman at spinetVermeer, of course


In London, first time in four years.  Jet-lagged on arrival, of course.  Next day on feet and off to walk, see museums.  Started with walk to Whitechapel Gallery, East End where their major space was being filled with yet-to-open exhibition.  What was up not so interesting, aside from a piece or two,

and we strolled down Brick Lane towards the Hoxton area, now a full-tilt artsified area, the square full of the hipwasie on a lovely summer afternoon, tattoos and hairplay in full exhibitionist phase.  In the White Cube gallery they had a show of Raqib Shaw, whose work I’d seen before, though I don’t recall where or when, but in London.

raqib shaw2Raqib Shaw

These are ornate, intricately done works, dense in detail, using sequins, little fake jewels, and a painting technique with little raised edges and metallic liquids, all combining to make a somewhat overwhelming accumulation.  Figuratively the imagery draws on Indian and other mythologies,  and animals, insects, and a certain kind of morbid repulsiveness.  While conceding they constitute a hell of a lot of work I don’t like them at all, as they seem to traffic in what is apparently a current hot fashion for kitsch, coupled with the morbid/decadent, all celebrated (at a high price) as an act of epater le bourgeois who are its primary audience and buyers.  What is really perverse is not the “art” but the market-driven force which lies behind it all, as exemplified in the agent who stood in front of one huge panel, busily selling in art-speak some would-be clients for the Shaw pieces.  I assume in the current climate the numbers have dropped a bit.

Of interest to me with Raqib is that I had not known until the other day that he is in fact Indian, though living and working in London.  Which slightly altered my view, as the Indian motifs and kitschiness seemed somehow more acceptable as they were now “native.”   On the other hand I don’t like Indian kitsch either !  So it was win one, lose one.   Neither Shaw, nor the other shield carriers of this movement move me.   We’ll miss the Serpentine exhibit of Jeff Koons, one of the major sources of this fashion for kitsch.  I only wanted to go to recharge my acerbic batteries.

The next day we wandered down along the river, past Norman Foster’s London Mayor’s office helmet, which is now accompanied with a large glassy office/hotel complex just a step up river.

city-hallNorman Foster, Mayor’s building

Norman Foster and Richard Rogers seem to be the doubled Christopher Wren of these days, with the city liberally sprinkled with their buildings, from the now “aging” Lloyds of London building by Rogers, soon to be companioned with his new Leadenhall tower, and on to such as the flopped Millennium Dome.

lloyds-building-credit-steve-cadmanRichard Rogers, Lloyd’s BuildingleadenhallnewRichard Rogers, new Leadenhall BuildingleadenhallLeaden Hall, Sir Horace Jones, 1881

The Lloyd’s building, 1986, is aging nicely, its sleek elements now getting a bit banged up, streaked with the patina of time, and looking ever more proper in its setting beside the old Victorian market of Leadenhall, which echoes its structural ethos: show the works.   The new Leadenhall is not yet up, and will dwarf Lloyds and the quaint old one.

A few hundred yards away looms what is locally called the Gherkin, Foster’s biting rejoinder of roundedness rebuking the angular geometries of Rogers.

ghurkin foster

This architectural exuberance, mirrored in other places around the world – from Abu Dhabai to New York to Shanghai – is likely to come to a shuttering stop in the next few years, it all being the direct by-product of the great international “housing bubble”, a flim-flam game of fast money and doubtless fast girls.  The harbors of the world are now full of yachts for sale, and I read that the byways of Florida are littered with abandoned boats of all kinds, the owners unable to unload them for cash or pay parking fees, leaving them to the wiles of the sea.  My host in London, deep into business where his paper wealth has shed some 70% in value in the last 18 months, says the bottom is far away for the real estate market here, and as in effect the UK doesn’t really make anything any more, and its recent bloom of wealth was largely the flash of shuffled funny-money, when things settle down, Britain will revert to being Europe’s poor cross-channel relative.  But for the moment it remains beastly expensive, with a one stop move on the Tube costing a mere 4 quid, or about 6 dollars one-way!  A  1-2 zone day-pass is a mere $8.50 or so.  Other things are similarly tagged, and to this mind more or less out of reach.

Likewise the art, which if not in a commercial gallery, or part of the rich collection of the National Gallery or the Tate Britain or Modern, is priced at $15 or so an exhibition.  Art, for this presumptive artist, is just too expensive to see and experience.  Looking at the thin attendance at some of the shows we went to check out, it would appear we’re not the only skinflints these days.   To say we wandered to the Tate Modern on our second day here, past the Foster building, down along the South Bank walkway of the Thames, ducking into the lovely Southwark Cathedral for a bit, listening to choir boys practice. Cathedral