Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Tower Bridge, London

London.  Jet-lagged.  The view out my friends’ penthouse shows the four-year lapse since I was here: to one side, beyond Tower Bridge and the now dwarfed London City building, rises a Renzo Piano skyscraper, to be the tallest in London, a thousand and some feet.    Out another window in the City is the nearly-completed foil to Foster’s Ghurkin, a vertical slab to counter its bulbous form.  And there are too many other leaps of hyper-modernity to tally.  The South Bank, a dank and presumably dangerous area of my youthful stays in London – 1963 –  and still similar when I stayed in in 1978 and then again in 80-81 – then a place of abandoned warehouses, narrow alleys, cheap working-class pubs and drugs has been subject to total urban renewal and is now home to swank apartment buildings,renovated warehouses with costly lofts, glittering office towers, boutiques, classy restaurants, and a generalized Disneyfication which runs from the London Eye ferris wheel across from the Houses of Parliament all the way down river past Tower Bridge to the failed Millennium Dome.   It is a place of mass tourism, with such gems as the National Theater (an architectural bit of 1970’s ugly “brutalism”), the Tate Modern made of the revision of a massive mid-20th century power station, the hokey half-timber replica (sort of) of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, and endless pubs, restaurants, shopping malls and the like lined up along the Thames, crowded with tourists and Londoners.  The only risk of the neighborhood remaining is of joining the lemming herd buying the costly baubles on offer:  15,50 sterling to enter the Tate’s Miro exhibit, 3.75 quid for a beer, or 4 for a Brit style hot-dog.  A one-day Tube pass for Central London runs 6.50 Sterling, or 10 bucks.  Though it would cost more if you merely took 2 short rides.   (A pound is $1.40 or so these days.)  Everything else is similarly scaled, meaning to enter into the consumerist wallow assumes a very healthy income, or a willingness to run up a pile of debt.  I suspect it is this latter, which merely emulates what the large scale economy did on a personal level. I took a long walk today, a Sunday, and avoided buying anything, though mingling with the many tongued mass was inescapable.  Elsewhere across the city – in Chelsea and South Kensington near the mythic consumer temple of Harrods, or in Oxford Circus, or Soho, or Portobello Road, or myriad other magnets of this vast city, similar hordes checked out the things on offer, usually for a stiff price.   Thankfully the major museums remain, as yet “free” though large signs urge that you donate 10 Pounds or so at each doorway.  Few seem to do so.

On the way back, after a calming stop at Southwark Cathedral during a service, I passed over the once-wobbly Foster-design Millennium footbridge towards St. Paul’s done, and on then through parts of the Sunday becalmed City, the financial district.   It is surely this area which has accounted for the flush of wealth which saw this transformation of London come to pass.  Frankly Britain doesn’t make much anymore – it’s industrial base is withered, a ghost of its once busy self (something readily noticed in the cities of the Midlands and north) and while tourism is a major economic factor in London’s economy, it doesn’t nearly make the kinds of money which has essentially rebuilt the city in the last 2 decades or so.  It has been the financial industry which did it – though as elsewhere this rickety house of cards, though capable of generating wealth, does so in curious ways which seem to side-step most of the community.  And it does as elsewhere in the world, warping the economy so that prices shift to match the sudden new wealth, however unevenly distributed.  So that a friend of mine, living in her family’s house in the Portobello area, which some decades ago was run-down, a haven for artists, musicians, drug-users and the like, now finds herself surrounded by investment bankers and their BMW’s and other accoutrements.  The area is now busy with fancy restaurants, costly antique stores, boutique fashions and the rest of what the wealthy new inhabitants “need.”   The locals who previously were the neighborhood find themselves forced out by a silent economic dictum.  And now, with the new government of Cameron and Clegg, local amenities like the public library, swimming pool and other “commons” are being closed down or privatized.  Luckily my friend, at least for the moment, can hold on to her house, the value of which has sky-rocketed, as property taxes for residences in London have a cap on them, such that whatever the market value, the top rate is as if it were worth 350,000 pounds.  Or if unoccupied then it is zero.  So for the moment she is able to manage, though, as she has no job and lives frugally, friends suggest she should sell out.  I suppose her place is “worth” some million and more quid.  She insists on staying.

Southbank shopping arcade Millennium Pedestrian Bridge

Curiously on arriving here my hosts had just returned from the Edinburgh Film Festival, since a few years moved from its old slot in the midst of the August Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which in the decades since I was there last has ballooned into a massive affair in which the film folks seem to have gotten lost.  They now do their thing in June.  My friends brought with them a DVD of a film they hadn’t managed to catch, Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job.  It is a very well done “talking head” film, cross cutting nicely done such heads, aerial over-views of the canyons of Manhattan, and news footage (most more talking heads, though some of prostitutes and coke snorting), all done in a brisk manner, quickly delineating this heist of the new century.   It back-tracks in history to the Reagan first steps towards deregulation of our economic mechanisms, all in the name of the theory that the “free market” is self-correcting, and in effect always comes up a winner.   Then to the Clinton-signed nullification of the Glass-Stegal Act which long ago – in the 30’s – limited the kinds of investments banks could make.  And then on through the wild west ride of the last several decades, with bubbles growing and bursting – etc. – on up to the 2008 housing mortgage bust.  The main characters are put in the place – Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson, Geithner (the whole revolving-door system in which members of Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street titans go in and out of government service to the Fed or Treasury, rigging things for themselves) – and the steps by which the end-times Bush collapse came to be.  Then Paulson, Sec. of the Treasury, announced with a trembling Bush at his side that the global economy would simply collapse if the Federal government didn’t pony up a mere 800 billion dollars to the banks. Now!  No questions asked!   He did as commanded, and his successor, Mr Obama has done likewise, acquiescing to every wish of our financial titans.   The reason is simple: the financial community some time ago simply bought the entire governmental system – the Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary.  Hence, though as Inside Job clearly points out, while vast frauds and crimes were the root source of the economic crisis of 2008, virtually no one has been prosecuted or imprisoned, short of the sacrificial goat of Bernie, a small-fry Ponzi-schemer with good connections.   On watching the film clips of the sweaty, inarticulate likes of Angelo Mozilo (head of Countrywide mortgage outfit), or Lloyd Blankfein (CEO Goldman Sachs) during the mild Congressional questioning one could only think of mafioso dons, who these characters looked like, and seemed to act like, with their hands caught in the Fed’s fat cookie jar.   However, today they still masquerade in the same banker’s pin-stripes rather than in the other kind they properly should be wearing in the Big House.

Southwark Cathedral

Today, across the English Channel, comes the news that the French government is busy scrambling to salvage the nation’s banks from the effects of the looming Greek default.  As it happens they (along with other European banks, and by extension America’s – since the US banks loaned heavily their cheap .5% Fed loans to them for a far higher rate, a true cash-cow if ever there were one) are deeply enmeshed in the Greek situation, and should Greece default rather than bend to the extortionist’s demands of the banks, suddenly many a European bank will be minus hundreds of billions of Euro.  Poor dears.  Of course it is supposed to be that we should tremble at this word.   (Note:  Goldman Sachs was deeply involved in teaching the at-that-time right-wing/conservative government of Greece how to cook the books to meet EU community entry requirements.  Doubtless the same Goldman Sachs, knowing the truth, bought insurance on the collapse and will make a bundle when it happens.)  So the dominoes hidden from sight continue to tumble and the bankers and governments scramble to keep the illusion afloat.  And perhaps for some more months, or even a year or two, they’ll manage to juggle enough to do so.  Or perhaps not.

When it is all done, perhaps the Tube will cost a lot less since it is difficult to extract money from those with none of it.  Unless, of course, you’d like to borrow as some pleasant rate.

Yamagata, Japan

The first time I went to Yamagata, for their first festival in 1989, I submitted my film Plain Talk and Common Sense (uncommon senses), because I thought perhaps the Japanese would have a different idea of “documetary.”   While Plain Talk showed around – Berlin, London, the Whitney Biennial, and a mess of other festivals, it did so as a political/experimental film, but not as a doc.  At that time documentary festivals were rather staid, the cinematic side conventional, and something like Errol Morris’ Thin Blue Line was thought a severe transgression on the right etiquette of documentary making.  My film was beyond the pale “experimental.”  So I thought just maybe the Japanese might have a different view, and it turned out I was right.   They flew me to Japan, whisked me from Tokyo to Sendai on a bullet train, and up over a little mountain range into the valley where it is located.  I recall being struck by the multi-story glass box pachinko halls on the outskirts.

Plain Talk & Common Sense

At that time it was a small city, with a provincial air to it, which saw them scurrying to do everything right and asking was everything OK.   It was.   The festival was good, with a strong selection of films (I don’t recall which though) and my acquaintance Robert Kramer was there with his back-in-America film, Route One USA (a very long and I thought not very insightful left-slanted look at the US East Coast).  He sat beside me during the awards ceremony, palpably upset when the first prize was awarded not to him; he got second prize.  Robert and I had a story since 1968, not to tell here.  Also there was Johan van der Keuken, a very nice Dutch filmmaker.   I recall the festival organizing a little river-side picnic gathering during some local festival.  They made a nice spread, and then a professional group of dancer/singers did a show.  They then asked us, collectively, to get up and sing a song, in keeping with their tradition.  We were all non-plussed and I suppose we were very bad guests as we together, from many different cultures,  couldn’t sing a song for them.

London Brief

My next visit was in 1999, with London Brief, my first digital film.  I sent them 40 minutes of unedited material perhaps in April or May, and they said they wanted it in competition.   I think the minimal length for the competition is 70 minutes or so, so I said OK, and went to London for a week, and shot more material since I didn’t have enough good stuff to make a film so long.  Then edited in Lisbon with daughter Clara on my lap, aged 3 months, and sent finished film in July or so.    They announced it was in competition.  Then they said, aha, it must be transferred to film according to their regulations at the time.  I said I didn’t have $30K to do that, especially for a film most would say was “experimental.”   They then offered to loan me the money and buy the print for $15K.  I said I couldn’t afford to lose $15K doing that as I was sure the film wouldn’t sell anywhere (it didn’t, but then I didn’t try at all).  They were mortified as it was already announced.  I offered to withdraw it from competition, and they ashamedly said OK, and so I did.  But they invited me anyway, paid the airfare and showed out of competition.  I talked with them about it all and the next festival the rules changed:  digital video OK.  London Brief got a Fipresci pat on the shoulder.  Yamagata seemed a little bigger.

6 Easy Pieces

In 2001 I was again invited, with 6 Easy Pieces.  Again no Western idea of a documentary.   It won a runner-up prize, of which I think I still have the Yen (half of which was stolen by my landlord 2 years ago) which I’ll use when I get there this autumn.  Yamagata seemed bigger still.

And in 2003 I was again invited, with OUI NON, a film which is a fiction, though one that turned into a documentary about itself when it fell apart.  Again, I didn’t even bother to send it to Western documentary festivals.  Both aesthetically and thematically I was sure it was beyond comprehension for them.   And the city seemed still bigger.  As I recall this time around I met Aureaus Solito, Philippine filmmaker whose first film was there – in the worst 16mm print I ever saw.  I encouraged him to shift to DV, to which he was resistant, but I kept at him over the next few years, and he finally did, making The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros in DV, which was a big festival splash and made his career.  Since he made some more, and this year was in Cannes Director’s Fortnight with a new film, DVD of which he promises to send me once the sound is tidied up.

Oui Non

I haven’t been back since 2003, because they didn’t accept Rant 2 years ago, and I suppose I didn’t make something even I could call a documentary since then, until this time around.   I sent them 3 films:  Swimming in Nebraska (2009), Dissonance (2011), and Imagens (2011).  I got the reject notices for the former two today – and I admit they are weird/difficult.  Imagens, though slow, seems to go down easier.   While I don’t have the full data, from what I can figure, I must be the most invited to Yamagata filmmaker on the planet! Here’s the list for this year:

Images of a Lost City
   USA, PORTUGAL / 2011 / Portuguese / Color / Video / 92 min
   Director: Jon Jost

   CHINA / 2010 / Naxi Language / Color / Video / 145 min
   Director: He Yuan

   DENMARK / 2010 / Danish, English / Color / 35mm / 101 min
   Director: Janus Metz

The Collaborator and His Family
   USA, ISRAEL, FRANCE / 2011 / Hebrew, Arabic
   / Color / Video / 84 min
   Directors: Ruthie Shatz, Adi Barash

Day is Done
   SWITZERLAND / 2011 / Swiss German / Color / Video / 111 min
   Director: Thomas Imbach

Distinguished Flying Cross
   USA / 2011 / English / Color / Video / 62 min
   Director: Travis Wilkerson

The Embrace of the River
   BELGIUM, COLOMBIA / 2010 / Spanish / Color / Video / 73 min
   Director: Nicolas Rincon Gille

KANTOKU SHIKKAKU   ("Director Disqualified")
   JAPAN / 2011 / Japanese / Color / Video / 112 min
   Director: Hirano Katsuyuki

   FRANCE / 2010 / French / Color / 35mm / 70 min
   Director: Nicolas Philibert

Nomad's Home
   EGYPT, GERMANY, UAE, KUWAIT / 2010 / Arabic, English / Color
   / Video / 61 min
   Director: Iman Kamel

Nostalgia for the Light
   FRANCE, GERMANY, CHILE / 2010 / Spanish / Color, B&W / 35mm
   / 90 min
   Director: Patricio Guzman

Position Among the Stars
   THE NETHERLANDS / 2010 / Indonesian / Color / Video / 111 min
   Director: Leonard Retel Helmrich

Vapor Trail (Clark)
   USA, THE PHILIPPINES / 2010 / English, Tagalog / Color /
   Video / 264 min
   Director: John Gianvito

What is to be done?
   FRANCE / 2010 / Arabic / Color / Video / 152 min
   Director: Emmanuelle Demoris

The Woman with the 5 Elephants
   SWITZERLAND, GERMANY / 2009 / German, Russian / Color, B&W
   / 35mm /93 min
   Director: Vadim Jendreyko

A glance at these shows some I have read about before, some are in 35mm, and most rather long – just a few shorter than Imagens’ 92 minutes.  I’d take a bet that mine cost far far far less than any of the others.(*)  Say $100 or so.  Tapes cost about $3 back then and maybe I shot 20.  And a lot of unpaid time.  For Imagens I walked around the area I lived in in the years 1997-98 – the Alfama, Graca, Castelo, and sometimes in Bairro Alto and a few other areas of Lisbon, day after day, hours at a time, casually shooting.  I don’t really know how much I shot because I would go home and look and throw away the same day the material that wasn’t so interesting.  I culled out about 12 hours, from which Imagens was extracted.  There’s another film (or two) left in it I suspect.

I look forward to this year’s festival and a chance to see a little more of Japan, including the devastated areas near Sendai.  I will see if either I can find someone to take me around a bit, or rent a car and do it on our own (hoping Marcella will be along with me, though she has alleged obligations to 15th.)

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

Awaiting word from Venice (on other films), Vladivostok, DocSDF in Mexico City, Busan, DocLisboa, and Firenze.   And maybe another one or two.  Might – if invited and if decide to go – be a rather busy time of travel.

And then, no longer a professor, I look to return to Seoul to shoot a documentary of a kind of the development of a large scale, 90 minute dance spectacle by  Eun-me Ahn, whose work I have seen 5 times (all different things) and very much like.  About as unlike my work as you could get.  Yesterday she gave me the nod to shoot from late November on through putting on the show in late February.

(*)   A little exchange with Travis Wilkerson, working along with me and others on Far From Afghanistan, informs that his might be cheaper – says his was all shot in his living room and I guess using chips instead of tape.  Dang.  We’ll have to tally budgets in Yamagata and see who’s cheapest!

Underwood Hall, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

Some forty-nine years ago, having suffered 1 year of  “higher education” at the hands of the Illinois Institute of Technology, at the then-famed school of architecture (a factory for Mies van der Rohe clones), I quit, and was going to go to an art school to which I’d been accepted, unbeknownst to my parents, in Bath, England.  I visited Bath in June I think and immediately understood I shouldn’t be going there – a playground for upper-class kids who couldn’t hack college or university, but they could tootle around in their MG’s and play artiste.   I went hitch-hiking around Europe for the summer instead and didn’t show up in autumn for classes.

Now, nearly a half-century later, this morning I sent in my “I am resigning as Professor” note to Yonsei University, my employer of the last 4 years, and the only actual job in my life.   I’ve been in the Graduate Department of Communications and Arts, where I noted that the former was in scarce supply.  I didn’t see much of the latter either.  There was a fair bit of cookie cutter academic “art” preoccupied with the usual stuff.   I was here to fill in as the practical “guy who knows how to make films” and perhaps as a “famous name” to adorn the faculty.   Well, I do know how to make films/videos, and can teach that pretty well.  I demure on the other aspect.  However, in four years here in the grad dept., I’d say I had 4 or 5 students who were evidently talented, driven to work some, and actually made some very nice things under my guidance.  I think most of those were not, on the other hand, much at “scholarship.”   Which, for me, made it frustrating, along with the increasing problem of language – the first 2 years the majority of students had some or a good handle on English; the last two years most the incoming students have little or none.  In consequence for the last two terms no one signed up for the courses I offered, courses I was advised the students wanted.  So instead I did an undergraduate class (where in general the students are a bit better, more energetic and enthusiastic – some of them).  In turn the administration wondered why I was here, collecting my pay.  I did too.   Asking them 3 months ago to give me a solid yes/no on the coming year they lapsed into bureaucratic habits and inertia, though I’d told them I needed to know well in advance to plot my life in keeping with my reality.  A few weeks ago they said they’d let me know on Monday, the 20th of June, and other things hinted a likely no, or…?    So I talked with my wife Marcella, and decided to bring this little episode to an end, despite the fiscal and other benefits of being here (good pay, cheap city to live in, good hospital in case of need, and a very lax and easy job – day a week, on the absurd academic schedule Sept-Dec/March-June).  Given the global economy and all, one side was clearly tilted to suck on that teat.  However, such cynicism doesn’t sit well with me, and besides 4 years in one place is a very long stay for this soul.  So at 68 years of age, with little aside from savings, wits and some tools, I snipped the umbilical cord, kind of like I did 49 years ago.   Can’t say I am 19 anymore, but….

[Update a day later: school seems to be somewhat frantically trying to get me to stay on – maybe if they up the pay 50%, or give me carte blanche to go to autumn fests….  Marcella suggests staying one more year, but I really …..][ …. and a few days later, definitive – leaving.  I have felt so much better since informing them of my departure – invigorated!]

An hour or two after sending off my gone-fishin’ note, arrived in my email box a happy little notice: an invitation from the Yamagata Film Festival saying Imagens de uma cidade perdida, already shown in Rotterdam, has been selected for their competition.   I’ve been to this festival now four times before, starting I think in 1989 with Plain Talk and Common Sense (uncommon senses), which I sent to them thinking maybe Japanese culture sees things differently and a film like it might be considered, as I consider it, a kind of documentary-essay, instead of, as most Western places would have it, as an “experimental” film – a toxic word designed to say to most people, “you don’t want to see this.”  Later on they invited London Brief (1997), and then 6 Easy Pieces (2001) which won some kind of prize as I recall, and then OUI NON (2003), a film I am certain no Western doc festival would deem acceptable.   Yamagata has a nice hefty money first prize, and some good secondary ones as well.  Would be real nice to snare one and replace my now MIA income, but I think Imagens is likely too subdued and gentle for such things.  However it’ll be nice to be there.  And, as it happens, it is very near Sendei, the city that got pretty wasted by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the devastated nuclear plant area of Fukushima.  I hope to stay an extra week or so and nose around, as well as to do some screenings in Tokyo.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida

I’ve sent Imagens to a handful of other documentary festivals – Margaret Mead in NYC, the Festival dei Populi in Florence Italy, the Lisboa Doc festival, something in not-so-far-from-here Vladivostock, Russia, and I think another one or two.  Also sent the newest, fresh off the griddle “documentary” DISSONANCE to those, along as to Venice.  It is maybe too weird for any takers, but we’ll see.  And there’s another, of which later some words, also sent to Venice.


Now if anybody out there has a job kinda like the one here, but with sharp students eager to learn and work, and in some other place than I’ve lived or been in before, let’s talk !  Meantime I’ll plod along like an official 9.1 % of Americans, or an unofficial something around 20%, being unemployed.  However, in my case no government relief, etc.  Just like it always was.

While our politicians Twitter themselves into oblivion, and the national media feeds us a 24/7 cycle of circus circus circus, and talking heads salivate over the latest ploys of Ms Palin or Michelle Bachmann, and pundits weigh in on their bets as to the likely Republican nominee, life goes on.  Indeed it does.  Spring seems to leap-frog into summer, and the usual mayhem of cold air mass meets hot air mass swirls around The Bible Belt, giving glimpses of some kind of End Daze.   Naturally it is all God’s fault or God punishing us for our faults.  Were I a believer in a god, I’d have to conclude that the latter was the case and that we are just beginning to be punished for our errant ways.  No, not those of sexual inclinations for this or that, or running up debts, or such things, but for our communal unwillingness to take heed of our modern day Cassandra’s, the scientists.   The warning was made, now quite some time ago, about global warming, and US politics is still dominated by deniers, by oil-industry shills, by Congressmen and women and it appears even a President who are all swayed by the song of gotta-grow capitalism requiring a mainline fix of energy all the time.  So we construct our society around this religious totem and hold to it even when slapped in the face with the dire suggestions as to its consequences.

“We are seeing conditions that we normally don’t have until August,” said Jim Keeney, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “The heat has been pushed north all the way into Wisconsin, and in the North especially, we are seeing temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal.”.

A sampling of high temperatures from the past several days in places where early June temperatures are often in the low 80s: Washington, 99 on Thursday; Indianapolis, 92 on Wednesday; St. Louis, 97 on Monday; Richmond, 99 on Thursday; Minneapolis, 102 on Tuesday; Cincinnati, 96 on Thursday; Detroit, 95 on Wednesday; Kansas City, Mo., 96 on Monday; Philadelphia, 99 on Thursday but felt like 103; Baltimore, 103 on Thursday; Milwaukee, 97 on Tuesday; and New York, 96, on Thursday.

Out west the crackle of fires hints at worse to come,  the Arizona Wallow fire suggesting what the future likely offers. The great forests, or what is left of them, of the Rocky Mountain and Sierra ranges are decimated with a beetle infestation, caused, so all evidence indicates, by global warming.  The culprit, the Pine Bark Beetle, whose range once was firmly held to the south, now goes all the way up into Canada.  Why?   Because once it was held in check by cold winters, which its grub, planted under the bark of pines, could not survive.  But now, the winters are milder, and they get by.  And the trees die.  And dead trees make very impressive tinder.  So the real culprit isn’t the beetle, which is only doing what it can do, but we humans who have pumped gazzillions of tons of carbons into the atmosphere, and heated up the little membrane of gases that allows us to live.  And, alas, it is only starting.  A chain of further cause and effects lie in the wings, as in some profound Greek tragedy where we know where it will end, and that makes it all the more tragic.

Not so evergreen Evergreens

Dead forest, ColoradoRange of pine beetle infestation

So here’s a little scenario we could draw from this:  these forests die, and, in an area where forest fires are quite normal and part of the ecological system, this might not be so bad.  However here the massive die-off of trees is exceptional, and is going to make a very grand bonfire.  As the trees die and are burned, they will cease to work as a carpet to hold the soil in place.  The global warming, making for moist air in the winter, makes for more snow.  This year there were record snow packs in the Sierras and Rockies.  Where previously this was useful as the snow functioned as a slow-release water storage system, in the new weather pattern it is likely instead to be dangerous: melting faster owing to higher temperatures, it is likely to cause flooding, and owing to the damages to the forests, this flooding will wash away what tenuous top-soil there is.  In turn the kind of smaller plants that flourish will invade, blooming in the spring – plants of a kind that in the heat of summer will turn into very nice combustible tinder.  More fire.  More washing away of topsoil.  Worse flash-floods.   In fact the managers of the systems of dams and reservoirs that might normally cope with this have already expressed concerns that the snow-melt may overwhelm them.  In some places they are drawing down reservoirs now in anticipation of a fast snow melt.  In the Sacramento Delta they are having – as they have had earlier – serious question whether the system of levees that protects the low-lying valley areas will be sufficient (many of these once-farming areas are now covered with suburban ticky-tacky housing).    It is a form of the butterfly effect:  we inject some carbons into the atmosphere with industrialization and….

Weegee, family in pre-air-conditioner NYC heat-waveConey Island, 1950’s heat-wave

For the East Coast the weatherman promises a break on Saturday, a steep drop in the temperature.  Hmmm, that old cold air mass meets hot air mass.  Kind of like they got the politicians to shut their mouths for the weekend. Time to put on that old chestnut of the 30’s:

So while we all temporize, pumping those carbons into the sky, and we communally whistle in the dark, things keep going on.  Maybe this is the “change you can believe in” which we heard about not so long ago.

Looks to be a lively summer of meteorological events which like not-so-long ago Katrina will have political implications.   Just how many more summers of sweltering heat, tornadoes that flatten half a city, or floods of record levels, combined with winters of record snows, and all the other computer-predicted global warming weather patterns – no to mention that incrementally, each year the global average temperature does indeed go up – it will take to convince Americans and the world that indeed global warming is real, and has real tangible effects? Well…. who knows?

Sometimes I imagine it might take something as blunt as the kind of tornado that hit Joplin MO hitting instead a nuclear power station and ripping it to shreds and spreading radioactive contamination in a thousand mile radius.  Perhaps that would wake us up.  Perhaps….

Leighton Pierce, #1

In a manner now time-honored since the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the mavens of crass commercialism, be they on Madison Avenue or in the music or film biz, are still busy ripping off artists of the avant garde  –  no homage here, and no inclination to pay the laborers in the fields, as usual.   The old 60’s underground was harvested endlessly for what became advertisements, or “psychedelic” sequences in Kubrick or Dennis Hopper films.  More recently American Beauty shamelessly lifted a shot from a film of my friend Nathaniel Dorsky.  And today, detoured by a headline, I spotted the latest Lady Ga Ga and saw that my friend Leighton Pierce has now been so honored.  I would happily make a fat bet that the video-maker had a look at his #1 (see here).  And, as usual, managed to convert the sublime to the utterly crass.

No longer guided by my gonads, I pay little attention to the pop scene, which exists primarily in the service of – or more exactly, the exploitation of – adolescent hormones.   So aside from being vaguely conscious of the name and the occasional headline, I know Lady Ga Ga from Mata Hari not at all.  So when slipping into the cyber-ether of this latest post on the net of her hottest hit album, I got my dose.

So now I know that Lady Ga Ga is essentially a kind of up-date on the aging Madonna, trafficking in you-wanna-fuck-me song and dance.   As to be expected the tempo of our ever so modern times has picked up, and the video-maker has transformed Leighton’s delicate hints of sexuality into a combination of the female reproductive system, nice symmetrical vaginal canal, ovaries, and a sci-fi slit upon which our lady writhes a bit, not pole dancing, but razor-wriggling.   The primitive clitoral removal folks have nothing on us, except in our case the function is to excite and not subdue that old female hot stuff.   And then we slide into the standard song and dance routine, with our dear lady stroking her slot, kind of like, oh, Elvis, Prince, Jim Morrison, and a long list of “shocking” predecessors, including the previously mentioned Catholic slut from Michigan.

My “problem” with all this is its utter corporatization, with millions poured into extracting millions squared from the pockets of zombie teenagers, who in their utterly well-trained ignorance imagine this is something new.  Musically it is a 50 year old retread on its 10th set of rubber, with the side-walls popping hernias from wear.   Ah, but teen-rut music will sell as long as hormones rage, and guided by the scientific studies of Mad Ave, it will sell even better.  Ditto with the constant turn-over in styles, one generation’s long hair morphed to prizing baldness; “natural”  warped into urban primitive-total-tattoo.   I recall in the 60’s reading a book on Russian history and noticing that a mere 100 years earlier, the rebellious of Russia (who did manage to assassinate a Czar) looked pretty much like the hippies all around me.  What goes round, comes round.

Nothing new under….