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The other night I went to the opening of the Ex-is festival here in Seoul – a good experimental/avant-garde one that seems to have grown (up) in the past years.  I was on their jury 3 years ago I think it was, and have gone the last few festivals for some of the screenings.   For the opening they certainly snazzed up their lead-in trailer, a pretty slick intro to the various films they’ll show, all digitized now.  They did their in-person intros, and then following a lovely item – quite different than in the past when the live aspect was anarchic noise music, or jazz, but this year they opted for a woman doing traditional Korean dance with music that I found, as I do a lot of traditional Korean music, lovely and itself rather jazz-like, just with very different instruments.   Then they showed two films, one by Jonas Mekas, doyen of the aging  New York avant garde, one from 1995 titled Happy Birthday John.  Like the other films of his I’ve seen this was a slapdash, rhythmless assemblage, of, well, star-fucking circa 1970 or so.  To say it was a sloppy slightly artyfied bit of home-movie-making of Jonas’ friends of the time:  Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and assorted other attached lesser luminaries of the New York back-then scene.   Bursts of single framing or undercranking, the odd in-camera superimposition, a lackadaisical wandering hand-held camera flitting about and alighting upon these figures of the fabled ’60’s.   Or on a girl’s butt.  Or…   On and on.  But, like home-movies, unless you are “in the family” these things have little interest as aesthetically and thematically they are usually terminally boring.   If it were not for his famous friends, no one would look at Jonas’ haphazard movie-making for 3 minutes.  And no one should call it “art”.  Ah, but fame lurks, and seeing those mythical figures of the past, smoking a joint, being silly or worse, camping up for the camera, all provides a lurid little interest.  At least for a few minutes.  But on and on it goes until it becomes unintentionally aggravating.  Who cares, Jonas?

jonas_mekasJonas Mekas

At least this one was short, if not mercifully so (at 20 minutes it was way too much) – some of his opus of similar stuff runs into the Bela Tarr time zone, which I am sure no one could really sit through.   EX-is is doing a retrospective of Jonas’ ouvre, and presented an introductory work, by Pip Chodorov, apparently done for French TV.  The style was similar, if slightly more disciplined, and had required TV talking head shots.  Pip is at the festival, 8mm camera in hand, doing similar such diary stuff.   I’ve had a few acrid exchanges in the receding past with Pip and others on his Frameworks list-serve where film (celluloid) is fetishized and sacralized, and certain alleged filmmakers are deified – like Jonas’ favored now-deceased Stan Brakhage (who shows a similar lack of understanding for timing, rhythm, scale – all the elements which make music or any art form function – were one to transpose such work to music it would be unlistenable).   In this adulatory paean to Mekas, Jonas is caught blurting that he was just filming his friends, and that they later on became “famous” wasn’t his fault.  However in 1970 I think the Beatles et al were all well beyond having become “famous.”   One senses the hint of guilt in his knowing that his work is basically star-gazing, with little else to recommend it, sort of a tabloid fanzine for the supposed hip set.  “Oh, look, there’s Allen, there’s Geldzhaler, there’s Yoko, there’s …”  as the camera wobbles and flits around sucking it up.   It was, basically, a party, and looking at the fatuous famous of that long ago era, it is quickly evident why we shortly followed the trajectory of Nixon/Reagan/Bush/Bush & Cheney and all the ugly social, cultural and economic realities they embody: they were getting down to nasty business while the Mekas’ friends gang were essentially goofing off.

In the news along the same line is word that Annie Liebowitz, famed photographer of the famous, extracted a deal from Art Capitol Group to have some more time to pay off a 24 million buck loan, lest they yank her 3 or is it 4 homes, and sell off her photographs and all rights thereto.   The late Susan Sontag’s companion apparently has tastes equal to those of her overly famous subjects and clients.   I vaguely suspect that Jonas and Annie know each other….  Welcome to Vanity Fair.

annie liebowitzAnnie Liebowitz

In the tech department, there’s other advances, leaving Red perhaps in the dust, so fast does our electronic frontier move.   I went with friend Alec the other day to the vast electronics mart at Youngsan, looking for a small HDV or HD camera for him.  He’d researched the matter, and come up with indications that Korea’s Samsung had the most interesting cameras to see.  So we checked them out, and came across this:

samsung cameraLots larger than life-size

A full HD camera, about this size of a fat bratwurst.  Records to SD/SDHC memory cards.  The imaging chip is 1/2 inch CMOS, same size as on my fancy Sony XDcam.   No mike inputs, and lux rate is 15, so not good in low-light.  $500.  But basically this will give you equal to very clean 35mm in image, and the large chip nudges the optical situation to the so-called “movie look.”  For they-don’t-want-you-shooting it looks like a nice deal – hardly looks like a camera.

Along same line are the Canon has a still camera out which can shoot 5 minutes of HD video, and already there are companies providing accessories to movie-ize these cameras, with handles, rack focusing devices, etc.

canon-eos-5d-mkii

Canon EOS 5D, $2500

Not to be outdone, the Panasonic company has a similar still camera, capable of HD video also:

panasonic-lumix-dmc-gh1

Panasonic Lumix, circa $800

And a quick search on the web shows many other camera makers are following suit, at far lower prices.  So prepare yourself for a tsunami of hi-res film look shit made with rigs like this (of course you could also make something wonderful):

captain_stubling_lgSee here

Of course none of these cameras come ready-equipped with brain, talent or other requisites for making good films, or whatever one will make of these tools.   The following, purportedly by octogenarian Chris Marker (itself a pseudonym) working under the monicker Kosinki, provides a proof that perhaps all this razzle-dazzle technical whoop-de-doo actually can lead those with brain and talent astray.

I’ve seen a few other recent Marker items which I find similarly dubious.  Equipment problems, or perhaps the other equipment – the gray stuff between the ears showing a little wear and tear.

Yesterday I sat down and finally edited some material shot in the USA last autumn, a droll and clinical bit of “realism” in an Amtrak station in New Jersey and then on train.  Present cut runs 35 minutes, which seems a bit long for a film in which little happens but it seems very interesting; we overhear the “she was terminated” conversation of a businessman.  She was and in the following months so were many millions more.

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7 Comments

    • Predrag Kovacevic
    • Posted September 12, 2009 at 8:26 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Hello Jon,
    Thank you for pointing out that Mekas’
    work basically sucks, or to put it more nicely, is way overrated. I had a chance to see several of his videos on You Tube and then on his website, and when I saw it, I thought to myself, wait a second! Maybe I’m missing something! But in reality, there’ isn’t much to be missed, because there isn’t much there to start with! If I were him, i wouldn’t even consdier posting that stuff online, cause people might be finally able to see for themselves!
    I do like his autobiography, but the cinematic/video part left me dissapointed. For someone of his stature
    in the history of American avantguard, his video work is unbelievably bad.
    In your post you mentioned the festival in Seoul, wher I sent a short video which they, as I expected rejected, and I was wondering if there’s
    much point,if you are totally unknown, to even bother sending stuff to the festivals around the world. Most of the
    times these places don’t even bother to acknowledge that they received your work or send a notification. The closest
    I ever got so far at being invited to a festival was this festival in Iowa, where they told me that I could “crash”, if I decided to come,even though they rejected my video.
    Anyway, I would like to hear what you think, but it seeems to me that the best thing is to try to show your work locally or at festivals fairly close to home.
    Thanks,
    Predrag Kovacevic

    • Re festivals and sending DVDs. Assuming I am not totally unknown (large assumption), you should know that I have sent dozens of DVDs to festivals never to have a word back. I begin to think some festivals are DVD collection-building scams. But, being realistic, since DV came along, I am sure most festivals are deluged with more submissions (often with a check enclosed) than they can actually deal with – look at, make intelligent/knowledgeable decision about, respond to, etc. But they can pocket the check or PayPal dough.

      However, if you don’t buy a Lotto ticket you are NEVER going to win the prize. If you do buy one, or a hundred, you have .00001 chance to win. Step up to the plate.

      I begin to think posting on YouTube or something like it offers a better option for some kind of audience.

      Or, you might just put your ego aside, calculate the $ involved and make a purely dispassionate decision based on economics if sending off 50 DVDs to get 1 or 2 festival screenings, is worth your bother. And what is the pay-off, really?

      Sorry to be so glum sounding, but the reality is that most festivals aren’t worth bothering even if you get in.

      Which reminds me that Parable is showing in Split in a few days – out of competition, which I had assumed it was in. Maybe – a very slim maybe – it will get invited to some more fests thanks to this single screening (after a year’s worth of tries), but I won’t count on it.

  1. Jon I don’t think that’s the work of Marker. The photos do come from what may be his flickr gallery (which in itself may just be someone’s reposting of his printed work) but the slideshow I doubt is his work.

    That Samsung looks interesting. It’s called the R10 appparently and any user reports of it or similar would be appreciated.

    Alan Stanley

    • Well, I too was skeptical this elegant bit of EFX play with the stills is his, and internet word hints maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Tom Luddy of Telluride sent me another one in an art gallery (also on page with this one) which I saw and thought, yuck, this is what Marker is doing with computer? And I fear maybe it is. It does vaguely match some of his computer graphics tastes in recent films, so maybe.
      Nevermind – he’s active, made some great films, and if a stumble late in the race comes, its more than OK. We all stumble sometime and some of us all the time !

    • Predrag Kovacevic
    • Posted September 15, 2009 at 4:03 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Jon, thank you for responding. I appreciate it. I understand how difficult it is to get into even a small, “insignificant” festival these days, considering the amount of submissions they get, but still it kinda of defies logic, or at least what one would want to believe. And then even if one gets accepted, what does it really change in the great sum of things?
    Congratulations on having “Parable” accepted in Split! I know some of the people there involved with the festival, or who were at one point, and
    one of them praised your work back in the Eighties when you had it shown at the FEST in Belgrade. They ran a retropsective of your films, if I’m not mistaken. So I am thinking that
    you might have “Parable”,or whatever other work you submitted accepted at the other festivals over there as well.
    The word of mouth and the good press will certainly help. Also a lot of older critics, those who were around in the Seventies and Eighties will certainly remember you. The only thing is, I am not sure how actively involved they are in running the festivals there these days. The film culture has changed for worse. I was in Croatia last Fall and was dissapointed to see to what extent the TV is dominated by the second and third rate Hollywood stuff. In the old days (70’s
    and 80’s) the film programming was much more balanced and they would run German, French, Italian, Asian,including
    East European cinemas.
    I am currently teaching a course on Italian cinema, and I really enjoy that.
    I am planning to show them a half an hour video of Split in which I played around with the sound, to see what they think. After that I am back to collecting teh remaining unemployment check. How depressing…
    To conclude, i was wondering-would you mind posting a couple of short clips from your DV work, on You Tube or Vuiimeo, say a minute of each one? Perhaps a clip of the video
    you shot in Venice, I forget now the title of the piece, but I thought I could show it my students (or perhaps a clip from Muri romani? whichever works) I would appreciate it,and (hopefully) my students too.
    Thanks,
    PK

    • Excuse my glum (realist) view, but so it seems to be. The film was 6 Easy Pieces, I think. Send me an address and instead of posting (now) on Vimeo or such, I can send you a DVD. Since you are collecting unemployment I won’t ask for a check.

        • Predrag Kovacevic
        • Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:01 am
        • Permalink

        Thank you, Jon! Will do, but I will
        send you money when I get my first paycheck (that will the end of the September). In January, I am going back on unemployment rolls…
        My adress is 536 Purcell Avenue
        Cincinnati Ohio 45205
        USA


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