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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Last night, invited by a young (and I mean young – 21 now) friend of ours, Dahci Ma, a filmmaker, we went to see a dance piece being presented in the context of a larger theater festival here in Seoul.   She had worked with the music composer, who did the score for a short film of hers, Mysteries of Nature (which won first prize in last years New York City Dance Film festival).

MysteriesofNature1Mysteries of Nature, Dahci Ma

So I pulled my head out of computer-editing, missing my self-appointed deadline for getting new film off to Rotterdam, and Marcella and I went to see the piece, Symphoca Princess Bari, (Note: the video clips in the link scarcely hint at the real vitality of the piece) at the Arko Theater located in the heart of Seoul’s theater district.  In a shift from my local neighborhood – working class and funky – those in attendance were clearly the arts crowd, dressed spiffy and including a fair smattering of us foreigners.

princess bariSymphoca Princess Bari, Eunme Ahn

Opening with a totally sexualized sequence in which the “dancing” was more a pelvis-forward face-up crawl, first by males, and then by legs-spread women, it broke then into a series of energetic, beautifully danced passages rooted in traditional Korean legends, as well as theater aesthetics, accompanied with music similarly based but breaking far from the traditions, and then leap-frogging to contemporary pop – Michael Jackson type moves.   Shifting back and forth from seemingly (though certainly not really) traditional sequences, to campy and kitschy ones, including a motor-scooter rolling on stage, the whole was a rollicking work, exquisitely danced (often verging on or actually acrobatic) from a troupe that was clearly top-notch, capable of seemingly everything. Speaking from a modest exposure to some of the best in dance, this group was first rate and very physical, as was the dancing asked of them.  Likewise the choreography, staging, lighting, music and costumes and everything were first-rate.   All in all, very impressive, though of course I had a few quibbles about some sequences and thought its descent into a kind of anarchic ending went on a bit too much, though isn’t that what anarchy is about, and when meant to reflect our contemporary world, maybe correct.  In my mind I saw an appropriate exit point about 15 minutes before it ended.  However it was really good and left me exhilarated on leaving.  I told Marcella as we walked to a place for a beer or wine, that it made me want to retire from making, and take up spectatoring.  Except I added that as spectator one had to be ready for 10 or 100 disillusioning experiences for each high.

While at this performance we ran into my fellow Yonsei colleague Seo Hyun Suk, who manages to get to a lot of such things.  He told me the choreographer, Eun-me Ahn was the most well-known and best avant-garde choreographer in Korea, and from what I saw I’d say her troupe would be very hard to beat.  And I told him about a gallery exhibition which David Hall, another Yonsei colleague (from Liverpool originally and teaching design in computerese) had told me about, an exhibition by Olafur Eliasson.  Having seen the Eliasson installation at the Tate Modern some years back, I suggested to Hyun Suk that it might be worth a look, and in fact I was off the next day to see it.   I’d report back.

eliasson_weatherOlafur Eliasson, Tate Modern’s Turbine Gallery

Unfortunately what was on display at the PK Trinity gallery in posh Gangnam did not remotely measure up to the Tate installation, which perhaps owed most of its grandeur to pure scale, and not to Eliasson’s artistry, or perhaps his lack of thereof.   On display were 3 “paintings” which were color spectrum wheels, with spokes of poorly painted color radiation from an empty circle, one was just the color, one had little white spaces between the colors, and one black spaces.  The painting was sloppy for a geometric-style item, lending nothing to it (unlike say Frank Stella), lacking the precision of a Bridget Riley or other such painters.   Beside these three dull exercises was something similar done with lights running the spectrum and making shadows cast by a semi-circle shape mounted perpendicularly to the wall.  Less than interesting.   In an adjacent room a large mirrored sheet of metal rotated, casting reflections and shadows to no interesting effect.

Eliasson WalleclipseWall Eclipse

In another room a sculpture in sharp angular shapes done in mirrored glass sat, inviting inspection which showed rather careless workmanship in something demanding perfection.  Not.   Three less than scintillating photographs of landscapes hung on one wall, and a circular ring hung from the ceiling, penetrated by a little color arrow-like rod.   Snore.

Downstairs were two more pieces, to which the staff gave directions – sit here and…

a prism was mounted before a shallow pool of water and light bounced off a mirrored strip on the floor, through the prism and at a shallow angle into the pool.  You sat before a screen, told to touch a pedal, and make waves, causing the colored spectrum of the prism to wobble a bit.   The attendant burbled, “Make your own rainbow.”



In a final room was a light installation of a vertical row of neon lights on each opposing wall, one red, one green, and between a heavily fogged space.  Entering induced coughing and the assurance of gallery personnel that it wasn’t toxic.  From either end of the room, the far wall faded into a haze of light, which when approached cleared and revealed the stripes of neon lights.  In the center both ends showed their lighting, and a mixture occurred (vaguely visible)  but of little consequence.   The ceiling tiling was visible, and an “exit” sign was readable at one end through the haze.

So Olafur works in light, but unlike James Turrell, his work seems mechanical and dead instead of having some spiritual reverberations.  He seems more like a guy with a fat budget and a kit full of nice toys – to say there’s no sense of depth beyond the immediate gimmick.  And further, his apparent interest in crafting these things – most of which are clinical matters – is indifferent and sloppy in instances for which exactitude is being begged.   Here’s some further examples:

eliasson falling waterFalling Water

eliasson waterfalls01More Falling Water

eliasson light curveChromo something



As my friend David commented, this isn’t really art, but rather design – and there is a difference, however difficult it can be at times to find the dividing line.   Working in a similar realm to Turrell, or for another example, Anish Kapoor, Eliasson seems a poor relative in almost all respects.  Where Turrell and Kapoor both edge to the sublime in many works Eliasson seems only to clump along in a workman-like fashion, cranking out toys for the arts industry.  And where their sense of craft echoes their artistic seriousness, Olafur’s indifference betrays his absence of it.   It is probably this very no-threat quality which makes him a darling of the curatorship, like Jeff Koons.

In hindsight I sense I was tricked by the Turbine Hall piece, letting the pure scale of it delude me into thinking the actual piece itself was grand.   The exhibition at the PK gallery convinces me this was an accident, and that Eliasson’s basic idea there was as tepid as the work here, and was given its grandeur sheerly by the size of the Tate’s hall.   I will give it to him that he is one of the few who given the hall as their playground managed to successfully occupy it so that the work was not dwarfed by the space. [The other person to do so to my experience was Kapoor, with his massive red form filling the entire space.]

As spectatoring goes though, it was a good week – one really wonderful work, and one disillusionment.  At that rate I’d venture out a lot more than my rule-of-thumb minimum 10 turkeys for each wonder.

Shepard_Tones_Spectrum_LogorithmicShepard tones spectrum logorithm


Finding out indirectly, via a letter to my blog by someone in Karlsruhe who saw it, I find out the Zentrum fur Kunst und Media has a show up now, in which my 7 screen installation work Trinity is up.   I wrote to inquire how long it’ll be there, and for some pictures of whatever form they’ve put it up.  A little odd to do so without letting me know, but…   Here’s some pictures from it:

GRAYSPIN4crp deint copy

GETHSEMANE YELLOW5crp deint copy

TRINCENTER5crpd deint

Otherwise a near-final version of Swimming in Nebraska goes off in the post tomorrow, along with a few other things, for the Rotterdam festival to consider.  Looking pretty good, I think.  Now on to Piccoli Miracoli for the coming month.

And planning winter break which looks to be perhaps hyper-busy – maybe two festivals, shoot a film in Italy in HD, get some transfers to digital of older films (Last Chants for a Slow Dance, perhaps The Bed You Sleep In and Frameup, both of which desperately need some kind of decent version as those made by Complex Corp are utterly horrible), and maybe a jaunt to Jerusalem for some screenings and a workshop.  Rather a lot in my book.

Of course it could all fall through.  Tomorrow a visit to a gallery here with some Olafur Eliasson works.  Maybe something to write about.

ciprianisCiprianis, Wall St., NYC

I don’t recall quite how long the word “independent” has been hung like an albatross across the neck of a certain realm of filmmaking, but somewhere long ago this became the all-purpose label to cover everything from wild (dull boring academic “taught”) avant-garde/experimental to anything not funded by a Hollywood studio, to something with (uh oh) subtitles from some furrin place far away. I do recall back in the late 1970’s (!) attending what became the founding conference of the Independent Feature Project, one called by a cluster of ex-New Lefties in NYC. Centered around Sandra Schulberg (related to Bud Schulberg, depending on your tastes one of the snitches of the McCarthy era – boy are we going back to prehistoric times) and her then boyfriend John Hanson (Northern Lights) and his then side-kick Rob Nillson, this orchestrated week-long meeting gave a fraudulent birth to the IFP. I say fraudulent because on the closing day, a conference manipulated with heavy neo-Stalinist hands emanating from those New Lefties organizers, was in such revolt that they were unable to get any consent from the souls gathered to establish any organization, or if so, who might run it. However, like any Stalinist rubber-stamp congress, the decision had already been made by the organizers, and hence, on the next Monday they held a press conference – location unannounced and from which, among others, I was excluded – and falsely claimed that their conference had unanimously voted to set up an organization, the IFP, to represent the interests of “independent” filmmakers, and had chosen none other than themselves to run it. And the IFP, soon to tentacle out to many cities, was off and running, the spawn of a totally illegitimate birthing. As I predicted at the time, in a mailing sent out to their own mailing list, the kinds of hard-knuckle poli-biz folks running it would doubtless show up later in the boardrooms of Hollywood. And indeed, not long afterward some did. And now, some 30 years later the IFP chugs on, with branches in NY, LA and a few other places I think. A look at the NYC branch website, currently touting their upcoming Gotham awards shows a cheezy and cheap graphics interface, with NY Times lead film critic A.O. Scott announcing their picks for awards for “independent” filmmaking. The list includes Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, Katheryn Bigalow’s The Hurt Locker and similar such films, including the obligatory subtitled one. None of these films wanders remotely from standard by-the-numbers filmmaking – actor-oriented plot-driven theatrical filmmaking of the standard sort that is business-as-usual.   But, in New York, at a fancy place on Wall Street, Ciprianis, these films will be celebrated as being “independent.”  From what, I don’t know, but certainly not from the basic premise that films are made to make money first, and hence must hew to strict formal guidelines dictated by film-as-business thinking.

beverly hills hotel 2Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, Ca.

For me this is all “deja vu all over again” as Yogi Berra famously once said. Back in 1991, I think it was, I was invited to the IFP (West)’s first such ceremony, to receive the first (and perhaps last) John Cassavetes’ Lifetime Achievement award at the tender age of whatever I was back then, late 40’s something.  Along with me getting this placard was Ed Pressman, producer of this list of films

* Thank You for Smoking * The Beautiful Country * Owning Mahowny * The Cooler * Judge Dredd
* Year of the Gun * Reversal of Fortune * Talk Radio * Conan the Barbarian * Das Boot (executive producer, director’s cut) * Phantom of the Paradise * The Crow * Wall Street * Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps * American Psycho * Street Fighter * The Revolutionary

[I note that missing from this list is a Charles Burnett film which Pressman also produced.]

The place for this, demonstrating the IFP’s one decade social ascent, was the Beverly Hills Hotel, and in attendance were luminaries such as Kevin “Dancing with Wolves” Costner, and his agent, at the time known as Hollywood’s “most powerful man” Michael Ovitz.  Ovitz since has tumbled to earth, and Costner seems to have been cut down some notches. Costner immediately preceded me on the rostrum, giving the keynote speech, extolling the wonders of tinsel town, and stating that the secret to making “a good film” was to have a “good script” and that “any good script got made.”  Like Dancing with Wolves.  I followed, an unknown, and said in my modest little thanks (for nothing) that I had to differ with Mr Costner, and that one of the problems with Hollywood and the film business in general was the thought that everything comes out of a script, and that in my view (and practice) it was perfectly possible to make a film – even perhaps a “good one” – with no script at all, as I had with the film, All the Vermeers in New York, which had catapulted me momentarily into the realm of the Hollywood mighty.   Prior to receiving my award I had been assured by the potentates of the IFP that surely studios would come knocking at my door in consequence of their anointing me my 15 minutes of fame.   Need I say, no studios ever sent a word, and just as well.

It was clear those decades ago that the trajectory of our special word “independent” was already corrupt, like the culture which coughed it up.  The herd was stampeding (again) for the big bucks.  Along the way any real sense of creativity in the film world was shunted aside, and now these decades later the “art houses” are shriveled to almost none, and those that still exist  mostly show commercial films with subtitles or so-called “American Independent Cinema” which might run from last years Gotham candidate, Frozen River or Ballast, both fine utterly conventional films done outside the fiscal, if not the aesthetic, box of humdrum film-as-business.  Or the Coen brothers latest.

What you won’t find are the scattering of films you might find at a more adventurous film festival, or that once would have been found at an art house – films like Alain Resnais’ Muriel, or an early Godard (or a later one), or anything showing a flicker of creative spark that hasn’t been worn to death in lame imitations and now celebrated as really going out on an aesthetic limb.   That kind of cinema has been bludgeoned fiscally to death – no big money in it hence no money in it at all.   So what we get is a corpse of cinema, usually state supported, the odd European or Asian film, floating free of the financial demands (ah, but the reality is another story, a small pile of corruption masquerading as an alleged artistic concern of the State to support an indigenous film industry) that govern our dear Hollywood.

And what we get are costly parties celebrating celebrity, thrown at Ciprianis and the Beverly Hills Hotel (or where ever the IFP West branch throws their just-bef0re-the-Oscars so-called Indie Awards thing).   From some people’s viewpoint it’s a demonstration of  just how far “indie” has come;  from my jaded one it shows just how corrupted our culture has become such that we honor cinematic necrophilia in the name of Mammon.


Deficit Hits $1.4 Trillion, Complicating Stimulus Plans

Published: October 16, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday the deficit for the fiscal year just ended was $1.4 trillion, the largest relative to the size of the economy since 1945, underscoring the challenge to shrink the fiscal gap even as the White House and Congress consider further steps to stimulate a slow recovery.

adam storch Sachs man at SECAdam Storch, 29, formerly of  Goldman Sachs, appointed director of “watchdog” agency of SEC

Dow 10,000, Goldman $3 Billion

For Goldman employees, it is almost as if the financial crisis never happened. Only months after paying back billions of taxpayer dollars, Goldman Sachs is on pace to pay annual bonuses that will rival the record payouts that it made in 2007, at the height of the bubble. In the last nine months, the bank set aside about $16.7 billion for compensation — on track to pay each of its 31,700 employees close to $700,000 this year. Top producers are expecting multimillion-dollar paydays.

lloyd_blankfein_0414Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO, giving Wall Street a good name

JPMorgan Chase Reports Strong Profit of $3.6 Billion
October 14, 2009

A year after accepting a bailout from Washington, a resurgent JPMorgan Chase reported a second consecutive quarter of surprisingly strong profit on Wednesday, solidifying its position at the pinnacle of American finance.


Dismal Foreclosure Numbers Could Be the Tip of the Iceberg

October 16, 2009 12:34 PM ET

By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

As the U.S. economy collapsed last fall, due in no small part to bad home loans made in the subprime market, the Democrats and the Republicans both made a lot of noise about the need to shore up the housing market to prevent further foreclosures.

Unfortunately, all the talk has produced little positive result. Figures released Thursday show that nearly 1 million properties went into foreclosure in the third quarter of 2009. That’s an increase of 5 percent from the previous quarter and nearly 23 percent from just one year ago.

So while Wall Street celebrates, and economists talk about having hit bottom, the recession is over, the hoi polloi lose their jobs, homes, and minds:

11brown_650died in sweat lodge for 9600 bucks

The above, Ms Kirby Brown, having shelled out $9,600 for some New Age enlightenment, was de-oxygenated to death, along with two others, in an ersatz native-American sweat lodge in ever trendy and rich Sedona, Arizona.  The sweat lodge was covered with plastic, and crammed with 50 (paying [9600 x 50 = 480,000]) clients.  Three died, and 20 others required hospitalization.  Nirvana is not cheap….  Ah, but James Arthur Ray, guiding guru at the Spiritual Warrior Course, had promised “harmonic wealth” – on a financial, mental, physical and spiritual level.  Hmmm… the old American snake oil salesman shtick is alive and well, in Sedona and on Wall Street.   It’s just that some of the clients aren’t.

bernanke and flagBen Bernanke, Chief Officer of the Fed, Harvard classmate of Lloyd Blankfein

God Bless America.

News from Tehran is, in the American press, skimpy, at best.  Lacking mass demonstrations or other TV- attracting elements, word from Iran is summarized in little supposedly dull reports:

Iran Facility 9025


According to the “experts” this is a uranium enrichment plant, dug into the mountains near the religious city of Qum, and on a basiji base.  It suggests that the Iranian authorities are endeavoring to place their facility in a hardened, “safe” setting, which in turn suggests their intentions are less than benign.  Of course another reading is that they are being prudently paranoid, given the behavior of their antagonists, both the USA and Israel, each of which have shown themselves capable of aggressive and damaging actions, sometimes based on less than real or honest information:


Alleged Iraqi Chemical Warfare plant


Powell’s alleged Iraqi chemical factory

syria site b4after

Alleged Syrian nuclear bomb building facility, before and after Israeli attack

Given the sources of these recent revelations, one should be reasonably skeptical.  Self-interest is a rather strong distorting lens, and the Israeli’s have shown themselves, along with the US, to have rather curious concepts of “self-interest.”  America’s apparently lies anywhere that there’s money to be made, assets to seize, or anything like that which can be dressed up as “in the national interest.”  Or, Why Are We In Afghanistan?  Why, because it’s in our national interest, you silly child.

Back in Iran, most recently have come reports that three demonstrators, arrested in the upheaval of some months ago, have been tried and sentenced to death.  They were said to be royalists, in support of the return of the/a Shah.  Several hundred others have been imprisoned, apparently beaten, raped, and a few killed, including the son of a high up authority within the clergy.   Homosexuals are also said to be sentenced to death for this supposed crime.

28lede_iran.2.480Demonstrators, Sept 28 2009

iranian rape victim

Imprisoned and raped (and leaving Iran)

[Note: Apparently when same-sex rape is done by a basij, it is justice and not the supposed crime of homosexuality.]

All told, this is thin gruel for making much speculation, but there is a bit.  It seems the basiji – originally a kind of university vigilante militia organized to support the Islamic revolution  but now composed of mostly working-class toughs – has morphed steadily into an altogether different institution.  It now runs many major components within the Iranian economy, and is more a combination of quasi-military force and corporate entity of considerable wealth and power.  It apparently is considering professionalizing its militia forces, perhaps better to enforce its economic diktats.  Depending on one’s point of view it might be considered a kind of mafia.  It seems it is supposedly under the control of the clergy, though this begins to look a bit less clear.  In any event, within the major power players of Iranian culture, it seems unlikely the military would take kindly to an intrusion on its turf of this kind.  Similarly some major economic power-players apparently are chaffing at its fiscal clout.  To say there are internal stresses within the fundamental power blocks which for the most part run Iran.  The addition of the electoral fraud, and the clear unhappiness on the part of a large segment of Iranian society would suggest the future is likely to be grim, at least for the moment.  The heavy-handed behavior of the government suggests not confidence and power, but fear.   As usual with dictatorships on their way out, there is a self-delusion involved which usually finds recourse to brute force:  they’ll love us if we hit them hard enough.  Of course the usual consequence is bloodshed, more violence, repression and, finally, collapse.  Those who do it always seem to think they will be history’s exception.   So while I now imagine my previous six-month guess on when the current Iranian regime will crumble was a bit optimistic, it is clear that whatever the clock, the train is headed over a cliff.

Back in the US(S)of A, one could weave a similar story, albeit it is a bit different.  Here the US military and its “civilian” service industry, of which Republican President Eisenhower severely cautioned us in 1960, has indeed done something like the basiji:  it’s morphed from being a citizen army into a private conglomerate largely dictating just what the national economy may and may not do (afford).  A look at the old facts and figures shows the military-industrial complex is indeed running most of the show:  America spends more money on military things than all the rest of the world combined.  It litters the globe with 700+ bases.  It infiltrates both US culture, and that of other nations – with propaganda, with bribes, with all the usual stuff of a vast bloated and corrupt entity.  Like the basiji.


US militaryUS Basij equivalents

As with the Iranian Basij, the US military is increasingly taking on domestic policing, has its own economic interests (golf courses, “socialized” medical care, retirement pensions, revolving door arrangements with military contractors, etc.) and of course a deep self-interest in expanding its range of influence and assuring its continuation in power.

eisenhower crpd

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Speech

This report is a consequence of the fact that Tehran remains a constant high in hits to this site.  I think that indicates something – don’t want to bet on just what but….

For more on Iranian circumstances of the moment see these:

YouTube IDBasiji BBC Iran Focus ParsTimes Autnews (farsi) IranianProgressives

and a few more Iranian blogs:   Madyariran Human Rights Activists in Iran (farsi) HRA in English

james benning

James Benning

Quite some time ago – must have been 10 years, maybe 11 – I had the dubious self-appointed responsibility to let James Benning know that his lab fresh new print of El Valley Centro* screening at the Rotterdam Film Festival had already been ruined after a whole 2 projections.  I’d gone to the first one with my daughter Clara, then only 2 or so, and she’d been a bit noisy so I left.  James’ films are often pretty quiet, and ask for concentration, not children’s cries.  A day or two later I went back to see the second projection, and now, running almost smack down the middle, was a through-the-emulsion scratch through the whole film.  His films would take such a scratch even worse that a child’s cry.  I found him later in the day and let him know the bad and pressed him to get the festival to replace the print, which he did and they did.  But I also pressed him to consider shifting to DV, which I’d been using since 1996.  I thought it would be suitable visually, though I had thought for some time it was a pity he couldn’t shoot in 35mm, though that was economically utterly absurd and impossible.  But I thought 16mm was as well – spending $10,000 in lab fees for films that would never sell to anyone, and could get ruined on one showing.  Some years later on seeing 13 Lakes I genuinely thought that my Sony PD10-Pal version (native wide-screen) would look as sharp as his film did, and shooting on DV would drive the costs (excluding his travels) down to $10 or so.  And no scratches, dirt, gate wobble, or change-overs as well.  And much much better sound.

10 Skies

A year and some ago, at the JeonJu film festival here in Korea where he was presenting RR and Casting a Glance, I saw him again, and he said he’d made his last celluloid film and would be shifting to the new SONY XDcam HD camera.  I was glad to hear that he’d finally made the shift, in part for the economics, but also for the aesthetics – this camera is equal to 35mm and better, and perfect for James’ pristine type of imagery.  Naturally I was curious what this new format would do in his hands, and whether it would change things for him in some way.  While I occasionally write him, his responses are New England terse, never mind he comes from Milwaukee originally.  He told me he’d gotten the camera and shot something in Germany with it.   So I was interested to find this on the internet, with him talking about shooting with the XD in HD:

I began filming on November 3, 2008 in a wooded area adjacent to the Dusseldorf International Airport. There was no wind. It was absolutely still, not one leaf was moving. The high definition captured every tiny twig, while the 16 x 9 aspect ratio allowed for a broader field of vision (lessening the need for a wider angle lens) meaning less distortion. I found the frame and pushed the start button filling two SxS cards with one take – a 114 minute shot. During that time 40 planes landed. The frame remained absolutely still, no registration movement, no dancing grain – a bit like projected slides (if you can recall slide projectors). I wasn’t sure this stillness would be acceptable, but then a plane passed through the frame providing momentary movement. Ten seconds later a wind vortex produced by the passing plane sang through the frame and disturbed one loose branch hanging from a nearby tree. It wavered slightly, and then a bit later a roaring wind followed. The frame exploded with movement. All of the trees swayed raining down their leaves. Then the wind passed and the frame slowly returned to stillness. When the next plane landed it started all over again. Each plane brought varying amounts of movement depending on its size and distance from the camera. When I looked at the footage on my computer that night I realized I had recorded an action that would have been impossible to capture on film.

— James Benning, “Knit & Purl”, Val Verde, August 2009, Cinema Scope 40, p. 39.

13lakes0113 Lakes

Leave it to James to opt for a near two hour take (he could get 32 gig cards and run it to 4 I think), and I suspect in due time he will (especially after I tell him how to make much cheaper SxS cards than Sony offers).   Here he says his shot would have been impossible to do on film, which isn’t quite true, though one would have to make a special magazine to hold all the footage and bargain with Kodak to make a piece of film X thousands of feet long.  But of course one wouldn’t go through all that hassle.  But then my query for James regarding his shot above – even giving that it would be impossible to capture on film – is, why would you do it?  Or, assuming it wasn’t just for his amusement, would you really ask someone to sit for 2 hours to watch it?   I suspect his answer will be “yes”.      [For a glimpse to another aspect of Benning, see this.]

Well, I wait to see his first film in HD, both to see what he does with the imagery, and hear what he does with the quantum leap in sound quality.  I kinda know what he’ll do with the duration possibilities…..  Whatever he does, I hope it turns up at JeanJu this year.  I have heard a rumor (?) that it is – or something of his is – an homage to Ernie Gehr which I’d be eager to see.  Also would like to see Ernie’s work of the last, um, whatever it’s been since he shifted to DV some years back.

GehrSWSmbErnie Gehr, SideWalkShuttle

Meantime for anyone near New York City there’s still a handful of days to run down to 179 East Broadway to see Leighton Pierce’s Agency of Time at the ViolaBankGallery.  Worth a big detour.

age o timecrpd



Irving Penn, fashion photographer, but also something else, has died at 92 years of age.  Elegant, fashionable – and hence acquainted with many of the famous figures of his time, and chronicler of same – his images often provide a concise collectively held impression of those he’s portrayed, however true or not:

pennslide4cocteauJean Cocteau

Pennslide5fransci baconFrancis Bacon

picassoPablo Picasso

Measured against his peer, fashion photographer Richard Avedon (died 2004), Penn wages an even battle.  Penn’s austere minimalism – the near omnipresent white background, the careful graphic orchestration, make for striking images.  Avedon’s less clinical approach seems a bit messier, if at the same time more lively.  Though it was when he branched away from fashionable things that he hit his best mark:  In the American West.  Here he provides a sequence of portraits of real westerners, but isolated against a flat white studio backdrop.  Somehow he manages to distill these people down to elemental truths:


richard_avedon_03From In the American West

cigar_stub_nov08 penn

To Irving Penn, the last cigar butt


Aaron Siskind

From NYTimes:
“An Education,” made for less than $8 million, won the audience award at Sundance and was, unusually, also accepted at the Berlin, Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Ms. Mulligan, with her ability to convey simultaneously naïveté and knowingness, vulnerability and strength, has been acclaimed as a future star, and the movie has been generating the kind of buzz that independent filmmakers dream about.

Isn’t it nice to know that for only 8 million bucks, you can toss your hat into the “independent” lotto game and come up a winner?  Hot damn, pony up them chips and get going.


Back in my own personal reality, plugging away editing – slow going – at Piccoli Miracoli and Swimming in Nebraska.  Lots of technical stuff, lotsa crashes….   And mulling things, I stopped shooting whatever the new Seoul film I had begun was going to be.  No money equaled dancing around the schedules of my actors (all 3 very good), of whom two are working jobs (coffee house and fashionista office), one going to school, and all seemingly unable to meet at same time same place except rarely.   I shot a few scenes, but the focus seemed diffuse  –  which it is enough working my way – and I thought more of this and the form would get completely lost.  I just sent them all an email to say I think it’s best we drop it, and if we do carry on, to work out ideas for another film that can absorb the fractured time apparently available.  I wait to see what they say.

Or perhaps its just another sign of my increasing disinterest in making films about people, or fictions about people, or talking heads, or “stories” or perhaps making films at all.  It would be a bit ironic as I’m now equipped with a fine camera, editing, etc. but at least of late it all seems a bit empty – more films for no one, and when there is a little “someone” it’s in a context – festivals – which are utterly unsuitable for seeing what I would like to be making.  And then I casually track the film business and feel as if there is an avalanche of noise called films, to which it seems folly to add more.   Late life crisis?  Artistic equivocating?  Boredom?

And then America is going through its own similar trauma, or some 7 or 8 millions out of their jobs are, and many millions more nervous about theirs are, and it makes for some kind of national nervous break-down, while the government and the corporate news folks make sly with the figures, not letting go with the, well, awful truth:

About 824,000 more jobs may be subtracted from the payroll count for the 12 months through last March when the figures are officially revised early next year, a Labor Department report showed today. The revision would be the biggest since at least 1991.

The bulk of the miss occurred in the calculations for the first quarter of this year, the Labor Department said. The economy shrank at a 6.4 percent annual pace in the first three months of 2009, the worst performance since 1982.

The figures raise the possibility that the government’s calculations continue to miss the mark.

“We are probably still underestimating job losses,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “There could be another 30,000 to 40,000” that the data isn’t picking up, he said.

That would mean the loss of jobs for September could turn out to be as high as 300,000, rather than the 263,000 reported today by the Labor Department. Today’s report also showed the jobless rate climbed to 9.8 percent last month, a 26-year high.

Elsewhere I read that the actual unemployment rate is already around 20% in the good old reality-based world.

job lose graph


Of late comes word that an oft-cited polling company, Strategic Vision L.L.C., whose director appears as an “expert” frequently on that eminent source of political truthiness, Fox News, has been chastised by a professional association for pollsters for apparently making its numbers up out of thin air.  Or more exactly out of air manipulated by certain Republican/Right Wing wishful thinking.   Would you have ever guessed that Fox would host someone who might want to bend the facts and figures to meet some ideological desire?   Of course the director of said concern, seemingly a husband-wife “business” alleged to be based in Atlanta, Ga., but in fact in a bedroom suburb some 50 miles distant, says its all not true, though he’s declined to be interviewed or otherwise probed.

Final Logo High Res SmallFigures and Fraud from Georgia

Meantime economists say the recession is over, and cited the mere loss of 263,000 US jobs in September as proof.  They murmur that that’s a hell of a lot better than the September figures a year ago, when it was 700,000.  Curious how in the passage of time a minus can become a plus, and the loss of only half as many jobs is seen as a big improvement.  On such improvements we’ll build an economic ladder to hell.   Of course still buried in the arcane facts and figures of the economists are many obscured dismal truths, such as the fraudulent happy-face method of counting the unemployed,  the domino effect realities of the credit card business, the impending commercial construction bubble, the endless sequence of defaults hidden in the juggled accounting books to forestall a really close look in the mirror.  Nope, the recession is officially over, and while we’re still falling in a deeper hole we’re also falling slower so if you look at it a certain way we’re starting to climb out of the hole we’re still falling into.  Get it?  Tell that to one of the falling figures of 9/11, that their descent is slowing so all’s just hunky-dory, no?



Mirage_Rick_Manning_1Diagram of mirage


Update: This morning’s job numbers are bad enough — 263,000 more jobs lost in September, and unemployment now at 9.8 percent — but look behind them and the news is even grimmer. The only reason the numbers don’t look worse is that 571,000 workers dropped out of the labor force. Remember, too, that the economy needs about 125,000 new jobs every month just to keep up with a growing population. So we’re even further behind. From Robert Reich, today.

Of such numbers games do we make catastrophes.  Global warming?  Over-population?  Water scarcity?  Or the little, personal ones:

In Elizabeth, N.J., Stephanie Wheeler, 56, has drained her savings down to $800 in the year since she lost her job at a data processing company.

“It’s terrifying,” she said. “I have an apartment. I’ve been here for eight years. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m petrified of being set out on the street.”