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Category Archives: Travels



After a very early morning bus ride from Jeonju to Gimpo airport in Seoul it was on to Tokyo, so that Marcella might have a little taste of Japan, and to do a workshop, again, at the Tokyo Film School.  While here seeing a lot,  including friends, and in a few days we’ll have a meeting with Matsumoto-san, who for some years now has been dangling the prospect of coming to here to teach a class which would result in a portrait of this massive and vastly interesting city.  Find out more then.

Meantime a bit of echo from Jeonju – this review posted on-line a few days ago.  Makes me wonder which projection they saw, the mangled first one, or the second using H264 file.  Or perhaps at the DVD library. Anyway glad it got some nice ink.

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GENTRY CO. .Still022They Had It Coming

But then having sent a note to Pedro Costa to say how much I liked his film Horse Money, he replied saying his French and German supporters were no more, and it was back to the real cheap film process for the next one.  Doesn’t matter how good you are, if it isn’t calculatedly “commercial,” in the present world it is deemed worthless.  What an ugly world.

downloadHorse Money

But it is our world.  Brutal – especially if you are black-skinned in America, or poor anywhere – and dishonest, as with Obama approving arctic drilling and trying to slip the TPP “trade deal” over at midnight, or other such things.  For the moment the neo-liberal-con ideology has appeared to triumph, and the world is suffocating under its grasp.  Though as with all such things, seeming “victory” tends towards over-reach, and there’ll soon be a comeuppance.  The current US weather gives a hint of this future….






And then yesterday, in a BIC Camera store here, I saw the new Sony 4K Handicams, the larger one costing now about $4K.  Half the price of my XDcam a handful of years ago.   To add to the avalanche of unneeded imagery drowning the world.

DSC039744K, $4k


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Roxanne Rogers and Blake Eckard

For what seems like for the umpteenth time, headed to the Jeonju Film Festival in South Korea, this time invited to screen They Had It Coming.   This will give us a chance to see some friends, former students, have another taste of delicious Korean cuisine, and see how much things changed in two years.  Don’t yet know the screening dates, but was looking like May 3 and 5.  It’ll be the first public screening, though given that it is heavily talky and quite “American” I wonder what the largely Korean audience will make of it – a real subtitle marathon?   Not going to exactly provide a good reading of how the film works on viewers.

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Set in Blake Eckard’s home town of Stanberry MO (pop. 1185), we shot in two phases, which, if it were up to my brain to sort it out, I couldn’t say just when.  I think spring and then autumn, 2014 or was it 2013?  Dang if I remember.   While in Stanberry shooting and acting in Blake’s film Ghosts of Empire Prairie, he told us a handful of local stories, embellished in his story-teller manner, and finding these just too juicy to pass up, I asked if maybe we could spin a film around them and him.  Such was the genesis of They Had It Coming.  I tossed in a few things that had been lingering in my files for 20 or 30 years, we each wrote a bit more, and bang, we had a film.  Frank Mosley, Arianne Martin, Roxanne Rogers and Tyler Messner came in, and in pretty quick order (less than a week?)  it was mostly shot, in Blake’s mother, Susan’s, kitchen! Yep, that was the studio space where nearly 2/3rds of it was shot with window light and a black cloth.  While I was off on a trip to Europe Blake used my camera to snare shots (above) of locals when they came into Eckard’s Hardware to shop. Roxanne’s sister Sandy let me use one of her songs, I tossed in a few of my own, Stephen Taylor’s dad, Larry, lent his voice for a smooth TV announcer (he used to be anchor in Boise Idaho news program), and after a short bit of editing on CS6, out popped the film.  My thanks to everyone who helped.

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I sent an early cut out last summer, accruing a list of festival “no’s,” and getting the suggestion from Mark Rappaport, that I should change my title, which had been “True Gentry County Stories” to one of the lines in the film.  I took his advice. They Had It Coming, while itself being a fiction, is simultaneously a kind of tone-poem/essay on the process of “story-telling.”  In my view a rather strange little beast it is, that for some reason gathers towards the end to provide a visceral punch of a conclusion.  I don’t really understand quite how it manages to do so – adamantly skirting all the usual mechanisms used – but it does.

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Blake and Tyler Messner

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Arianne Martin and Blake

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Upcoming screenings include Coming to Terms in Houston TX, April 23, at the Blaffer Art Museum, and then on May 11 in Austin at the Austin Film Society; Last Chants for a Slow Dance will screen May 10 at AFS.  And something is cooking for Phoenix AZ, just when up in the air.  As is life….


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Down by train from NYC, arrived to a frozen Philadelphia, a state joined by many others, dipping deep down into South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and other places where a drop to freezing was a rarity, but now our wobbly New World Weather has let things plunge to zero F.   Brittle cold, enough to force one indoors – so no visits to historical patriotic sites here in The City of Brotherly Love, which for shooting would have been nice.  However a stroll to downtown was enough to put the kabosh on further such things.  Marcella’s Southern Italian mien turns mean as her toes turn to ice.

DSC01209 CCSMMarcella still under sway of jet-lag


Was here for a screening of Muri Romani, tucked into a series of films shown at the International House Philadelphia, the de facto cinematec here, and which I’ve visited a number of times before, going back to Linda Blackaby’s time. For some time now it’s been programmed by Robert Cargni-Mitchell, who greeted us and spilled out a long and fascinating personal history, perhaps prompted by the Italian blood running in Marcella’s veins.


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After a long little talk with a “fan” (had seen Last Chants for a Slow Dance, which had me wondering if such a drastic shift as the film he was about to see would change things), was introduced and cautioned the audience of 30 or so – a number which given the weather and my sense of a much diminished existence, seemed large – about the nature of the coming film.  I had anticipated 5 or 10.    I checked the first few minutes and went to do internet stuff while it screened.  Having given the viewers a spiel that when I had finished making this film I concluded I’d finally made a work that would clean out any cinema, and was in its first public screening at the Jeonju festival much surprised to find that it didn’t work that way, I was maybe not quite so surprised to find virtually all the viewers were still there when I came back at the end.  I was told a couple left.  Ensued a long and interesting discussion, at the end of which a handful of people who’d seen clearly a number of my films, who said they loved this one, came up to talk more and bought some DVDs of other films.   The kind of thing which tempts one to slog on.

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Muri Romani


Over a lunch the next day had a nice long talk with Peter Rose, commiserating over a compendium of seeming geezer complaints – about the dumbed-down state of students today (not their fault, but the fault of a purposeful mal-education imposed by our Market Economy system), and the fractured curiousity that seems to be prevalent among them; 3D (which he is working in these days); the demise of “the circuit” – that tiny little space where one’s work could be shown, and, if not a living, at least something could be “earned” for that work.  The places shrink, as has the modest pay, along with the audiences.  The grave beacons, so it seems.  Along with these parochial matters, we slipped in broader interests dancing around the state of the nation and the world.  The vista, matching the brittle weather outside, was grim.


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The White Dog Restaurant


A few very modest matters came along to underline the precariousness of my existence.  Like going out to a recommended place to have some cold-weather soup, so following Robert’s suggestion we went down the arctic street to The White Dog, which on entering clearly smacked of fancy, and ordered ourselves two soups.  Marcella also had a plate of 5 oysters, nada to drink except nature’s nice water.  Leaving = minus $40, which I can indulge in once in a long while, but….   Ditto the “let’s have a coffee” at which the tab ends at $10 for two.  Marcella immediately noted that in Italy better coffee and cornetto would have come to 3 Euro.  As we hit the road in the coming month, we’ll have to tighten our belts.

In a few more hours, back to NYC for another week and then, weather permitting, on the road.   Hope to come back to shoot some when things are more amenable.  And Robert has invited us back for a screening or two, likely in autumn.  And may show a few other films in the interim.


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Here’s a note, just in, from Bill Ackerman, the fellow I talked with before the screening and about whom I wondered how he’d take the shift from Last Chants to Muri Romani.  Posted here with his OK.


Hello Jon, You asked me to email you with my thoughts on MURI ROMANI. Well, I have to say, it took a while for my mind to stop racing, to settle into the trance that’s intended. And that lead me to reflect on how one’s mind can do that. I also noticed how often I thought I *almost* saw specific images and shapes in the patterns, and thought how that must be how many of us are wired. At some point, music drifted into the soundtrack, maybe from a passing car, and it occurred to me how different, how much more conventional, the film might be if it featured a musical score. I listen to a lot of different types of music, and ambient/experimental music is one I return to at different points in my life. MURI ROMANI reminded me of ambient music moreso than, say, LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE. Your comments about the sound being too loud and the dissolves coming a little too quickly make sense to me. I loved TANTI AUGURI too! I’m trying to imagine how it might have played without your explanation of how it was created, and I’m not sure how it would work at a much greater length, but it served as a nice opening act to the main feature. Best, Bill

And, purely by coincidence of the nicest kind, is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci, that I bumped into quickly scanning FB posts yesterday.

“Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colors. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles and figures in action, strange faces and costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose clanging you can find every name and word that you can imagine. Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of wars, the battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks (Trattato della Pittura, Codex Urbinas)
via Homilius

warhol-m.tifPeter Hutton, New York Portrait

One of the virtues of the otherwise costly nature of New York City (or many other such places) is that one can see things elsewhere unavailable. And so the other evening I went with Daniel Levine and John Murphy to go see Godard’s latest film, at the Waverly IFC.  Plunking down my $14 ($4 senior discount), grabbed my glasses and went in.

Saying “farewell to language” Jean-luc Godard pulls out all the stops, and within his particular small-bandwidth sandbox of ideas, cinematic tropes, conceits, and toys, he seemingly also says farewell to us. Adieu au Langage has the air of a terminal note, the signal of an old man, stogie permanently affixed in his mouth, playfully leaving his audience in the dust, to which he’s soon to be consigned, though film world rumor has it he is busy on another film. Here Godard as collagist deploys his cubist methods across the board: visually, aurally, spatially, intellectually. He leaves nothing at his disposal untouched by his simultaneous dyspeptic misanthropic cynicism and his joyful childlike play with his art. The combination is disarming, and begets a range of responses from “pretentious garbage” to “work of genius.”




a322f23_adieuaulangage“the ones without imagination take refuge in reality “

In his late period manner he releases a barrage of text, passages of lush music clipped off in mid-phrase, disorienting imagery, the customary naked young women’s bodies (men too, somewhat older), binary philosophical aphorisms, and his dog snooping around, pooping, and myriad other things delivered in rapid fire pacing, at times tongue deeply in cheek, at times profoundly “serious”.  Adieu au Langage is a delirious, defiantly “unprofessional” home-movie, which cocks his cigar-smoke ringed nose at the narrow conventions of what most people think of as “cinema.” The play with 3D is particularly striking on many fronts, from the minimalist compositions that exaggerate 3D’s spatial qualities, to distended angles that make bodies seem not connected to themselves, to the two shots in which he pans one of the binary cameras to simultaneously shift from 3D to superimposed 2D.  The second of these is much better for being less obvious – from what I have read many of our critics seem not to have even seen it.   He’s been doing this kind of thing since Breathless, which of course in these days now seems almost conventional itself as its strategies long since entered the now-normal grammar of the movies. One doubts though that much of his play in this latest (last?) work will have legs outside the avant-garde/experimental world (from which he has heavily borrowed here).






To see an old pro do his shtick with such consummate fun, is, for those those of us with a taste for such things, a profound pleasure. For myself I have found most of Godard’s work of the last few decades (yes, counting in decades now) an indigestible slog, but here there is an energy, a “joyful wisdom” that pervades those same old tropes he has deployed from the outset.  An on-slaught of quotes from famed intellectuals are played upon, binary oppositions are ping-ponged (male/female; birth/death, 3D/not3D) as Godard weaves an intricate mesh of associations in a manner more music and/or poetry than the usual ho hum of narrative cinema.  Though he persists on holding onto the hint of a slender thread of story, of theatrical devices, of boy-meets-girl, though the thread is so thread-worn that to find it takes far more than it is worth.  Like that other artist on the film radar of the moment, Turner, Godard seems unable to just let go and surrender to cinematic abstraction.  Better to skip trying to follow any “story” and simply let the images jar one’s eyes and mind, along with the willfully jagged sound that shifts left/right/stereo/silence/loud/quiet, and where the taboo’s of the professional cinema are ignored and windpops abound, electrical crackles slip through, a shot’s actor’s voice breaks up from digital mismanagement.  And this time around the tid-bits of philosophic meandering actually manage in this grand poetic gesamtskunstwerk to acquire a modest force and poignancy.  Perhaps it is the approaching end of life which coaxes this result, but here passion does indeed come rushing through the clutter of the artist’s looped obsessions.

In the latter half of the film the energy begins to run out, and Jean-luc shifts the burden onto his dog Roxy.  We see Roxy nosing around here and there, in shots less riven with creative spark, and we get a bit of pooch philosophizing, with the assertion that “dogs are the only animal that love others more than themselves.”  As with many Godardian aphorisms, from “cinema is the truth 24 times a second,” on, this one is snappy and quotable and simultaneously will not bear much examination.  It ain’t true, but that has never deterred Jean-luc from coining a snappy phrase.  While Roxy seems a nice enough dog – and I like dogs a lot – he isn’t quite hefty enough an artist himself to carry Godard’s weight on his back.   While lightly peppered with further mental meanderings, the last 15 or 20 minutes of the film begins to sag, and I ponder whether its brief 70 minutes seemed much longer owing the the opening half’s dense filling that required a sprint to absorb, or whether it was the latter part which left one with a sense of diminishing returns, which did so.  Or more likely the combination of the two.

But, if you can, my recommendation is go see.

 auldog    tumblr_inline_n62rvkBk761rkpkxx Goya


“Godard was ostensibly attracted to 3-D because it remains unencumbered by any rules to speak of, but he eventually breaks its one implicit rule by drawing attention to the separation between the right-eye and left-eye images, most spectacularly in a mind-bending shot that I have yet to fully comprehend on a technical level (believe me: you’ll know it when you see it) and that actually drew a round of applause mid-screening in Cannes.”   Kent Jones, Director NY Film Festival

Uh, there is nothing difficult about comprehending how the shot was done if you have even the most basic understanding of how 3D is shot: one of the two cameras panned, simple as that. Then it panned back.

Here’s a list of writings on the films I found of interest :


And here, an interview with JLG himself, talking on technical and other matters:


And, being in New York, serendipitously I was here for the opening of an exhibition of three “video installations” by James Benning and Peter Hutton, at the Miguel Abreu Gallery on the lower East Side (88 Eldridge St, and 36 Orchard St), which has rapidly been gentrified.  Orchard Street, where it is, is now lined with fancy-ass galleries.   I went for the opening so I could see both of them – hadn’t seen James since shooting Coming to Terms in August 2012, and Peter since maybe 2004 or 5.  The opening was the usual buzz of people, drinks in hand, saying “haven’t seen you since….” and other such things.  It was pretty full when I passed by and I am sure more than 300 showed up to socialize, get some free beer, and “network.”  Some actually sat to watch, though under adverse circumstances: openings are not a time to look at art.   I suspect most of those who materialized did not go back to see the work.   But I did.

Benning’s piece, Tulare Road, is three images from almost exactly the same place, as above, in a desolate valley in the central valley in California.  3 different days, one clouded as above, one foggy, and one with broken clouds.  The triple images make a broad sweep on the wall.  A car goes by in one; a lapse; truck in another.  Occasionally two go by on separate screens.  Owing to the atmospherics the sounds are slightly different.  The light scarcely changes under the gray cover.  I didn’t time but it is 20-30 minutes.  I sat through the whole thing.  I can’t say it was worth the time.  One the other hand I have sat through Jame’s film RUHR, which has a one hour static shot of a steel mill facility to end it, and that was worth the time.  Hit and miss.  This one missed me by a mile.  (I’d seen a glimpse of it 3 years ago I think in Jeonju where it was very poorly presented, with noise from adjacent things competing and light killing the image.)


Peter Hutton’s At Sea

Peter had two pieces, one which I had seen in early editing back in 2004 or so – At Sea.   It then showed at the Whitney Biennial, and went on to garner lots of praise in the art world.  When I saw it way back 10 years ago, I was far from impressed.  Whether as a film on a single screen, or an “installation” in “3 channel” format, this just does not work for me.  At risk of a friendship – I hope not – I must say I find the imagery here to be, at best, pedestrian (the only sequence approaching his earlier work is where some Indian ship-breakers approach his camera).  Compared to his Images of Asian Music (much shot on shipboard), or his many amazing earlier films (July ’71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon; New York Portraits 1&2, Lodz Symphony, Budapest Portrait, and others), At Sea is simply DOD.    Having it on 3 screens does nothing to enhance it.  The other film/installation, 3 Landscapes, suffers similarly.  3 places – Detroit, some place in the Middle East with people putting salt on camels, and then some farming area, I don’t know where.  Lackadaisical images strung together in something I could hardly call editing.  Like watching rushes from a just-competent student.

I know these are harsh words, and I know some differ with me.  But I know Peter’s early work, which was magic.  (I wrote for publication, the AFI Magazine, about his work in the early 70’s.)  And I know this recent work simply is not.  With my critic hat on, I wonder and think it was, in part, the shift from the Tri-X black and white stock, which he used to extraordinary effect (and hardly doing so properly – with my filmmaker hat on I know he drastically underexposed – 1.5 to 2.5 stops – to get a rich, dense array of very grainy grays, and an eye for what visuals would dance beautifully with the dance of the granularity and palette of black to gray), which accounts for the sudden change.  The magic relation to his medium is utterly absent in the color films, as is any sense of playing/using the qualities of those film stocks he uses now to secure some similar qualities.

indexNew York Portrait

As a filmmaker I am very aware of how critics see the world, and how summary their judgements tend to be.  I think in my life, since around 1995 or so, I’ve simply been written off, mostly because almost all previously sort-of supportive critics simply haven’t seen my work since I shifted from 35mm to DV.  This has in part to do with some major shifts in our total social cultural envelope in which Market Economy Neo-Liberal/Con values have come to dominate our society.  In practical terms this means if one’s work (as a filmmaker) isn’t opening in a commercial cinema, and isn’t concerned with making as much money as possible, one won’t get reviewed.  Twenty years ago had I come to New York, to show in some non-commercial place, I likely would have gotten a review from a handful of critics – Jim Hoberman, Amy Taubin, Manohla Dargis, or whomever was doing the off-Hwd reviews for the NY Times, or even in the NY Post.  Today, nada.  Nothing.  (This is, whether one agrees or not, an ideological and political matter – see this recent blog post: on-becoming-a-non-person-part-1/ .)

In turn, one simply is written off.  In effect one doesn’t exist.   In a similar manner, there is a tendency, when and if one’s work is actually seen, to judge, like Hollywood, by the last work – was it good, worse, etc.  Is the artist failing in his dotage?   There is the underlying thought that one should on every outing make a masterpiece.  And if not, holy hell descends. One is washed up, the creative well has run dry, and crap like that – and this is bad and reflects badly on the artist.  There seems almost no consciousness that art-making is very much an organic matter, and it is not a mechanical matter with an on/off button.  Some artists make something brilliant when they are 20 (Rimbaud) and shortly disappear; some make good things and get better, and then dwindle out; some do good work when young and persist deep into old age; some do nothing of note, and at 80 do something amazing.  It runs the full spectrum.  And there is nothing whatsoever bad/shameful to burn out, whether at 25 or 85, and hang up the spurs.   What, perhaps, is bad, is the pressure that exists to continue to produce when the spark is no longer there, and perhaps to fail to see that one’s time is done.

For myself, when that time comes, I’ll write the creative obit myself and be done.  Ironically given my recent work, I’d have to say I’m doing some of my best work, hands-down, in a world which could care less because that work isn’t calculated to make the loudest noise or the biggest buck.  C’est la fkn vie.



Momentarily (en)lightened in Spain, thanks to an early morning hit-the-groggy-white-haired-old-guy robbery in the Sants train station in Barcelona, I will shortly be heading westward to the East Coast,  NYC to be precise.  This minus a NEX 7 camera, some very nice lenses, my Toshiba laptop, and a mess of cash, all errantly kept together under the logic that if I had all the important things together Alz brain would not forget them.  I didn’t forget them, but the sleight of hand happened literally in front of me and I didn’t catch it until a bit too late.  Minus $6K or so in things and cash, not to mention headaches of computer info losses.  Live and learn. Getting kind of late for that!

At all events, I will be in NYC come Jan 16, with a screening of Coming to Terms at the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria – 2 p.m., Jan. 18.   See this for more info.

I’ll be out East until sometime in late February, with a classroom something lined up in Syracuse, NY, for February 2.  If you happen to be connected to a school, or anything, that could do a screening, classroom gig or workshop, for pay, it’d help me recoup the fun in Barcelona.  If so, contact me a.s.a.p. to see if we can arrange something.  Thanks.

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Jon and cousin David, a long time ago

Currently having an exhibition here in Nijar and Almeria, Spain, of watercolors, pastels, and video things.  Which, after a US jaunt in the past Autumn has left me pondering whether it makes any sense to continue working in film.  There is no audience left, it seems, as the world has shifted with the ideological winds and pure commercialism is totally triumphant.  If it doesn’t make money, and lots of it, it is in the present world literally “worthless.”  Not that what I did in my life was ever worth very much in the eyes of the world, but now it is clearly deemed worthless, in the crude sense of the financial system which governs our societies.  And, unwilling to properly bend to the dictates of the market, as they say, persisting in what I do seems ever more senseless.  Time to hang up the spurs?  Currently writing on this for



the end




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

October 14

Salt Lake Film Society


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

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

October 17-18

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

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

October 23rd

Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts

1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87505

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 11/8 – Slow Moves (1983)

Sunday, 11/9 – Rembrandt Laughing (1989)

Monday, 11/10 – Oui Non (2002)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, in Chicago:

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


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

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Last night was the screening of Coming to Terms here in Berlin, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.   Was a decently sized audience, and a very very positive response to the film.  Back when I lived here in the late 70’s, this structure – a modernist swooping concrete American gift to Berlin, ironically collapsed, and was rebuilt, hopefully with both design and construction improvements.  The setting in which it sits, along the Spree River, is now utterly transformed, as is the entire city.  The Wall is gone, the dingy grey world of East Berlin now glitters with new buildings and renovations of old ones, and it is as if a magic wand had waved, and everything seems completely reinvented.  Tourists swarm the city center, the old Reichstag building with its Foster cupola, beside it the new Federal governmental buildings, the Brandenburg gate and the totally revitalized Unter den Linden.   It is really another city, morphed from an isolated cell of the capitalist West nestled in the faltering collapse of the socialist East, into a humming magnet of late Euro-capitalism, a grand illusion awaiting the literal flood of the future – while at 114 feet above sea-level it is not at risk of inundation this century, in some more distant future, when and if all the world’s ice melts and the sea level rises to a projected 216 feet, well….


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

800px-HdKdW1HKW rebuilt.

When I lived in Berlin – 1979-80, and later in 83-5 – the Wall, and the political and economic world it represented, was an active and vivid part of the psycho-social, and economic, landscape.  After I’d been there a brief while I concluded that it – a thin concrete veil maintained with armed and deadly force, and representing a very recent, short-term ideological squabble – would soon be gone.  It would be overcome by the far deeper historical roots of the culture it had temporarily bifurcated.  So I thought.  My Berliner friends were of a different mind, 100% sure it would remain there throughout their lifetimes and beyond.  It was, so they felt, a permanent fixture.  And they had a financial incentive too – as a glittering outpost of the West imbedded in the drab East, it was heavily subsidized, and housing and transportation and many other things were relatively cheap. And there was something romantic about being trapped there.  So until the day the wall was being chiseled down and Honeker threw in the towel as the Soviet empire dissolved in the fog of glasnost, they were sure it would remain.  Not many years later I visited the USSR for a few weeks, in the company of rosy-glassed British left-winger film people, and I drew the same conclusion regarding the Soviet Union – that it was due for imminent collapse.  My traveling companions thought this ridiculous, as did my friends in America, along with the CIA.  Nope, the great Soviet monolith was forever.  It formally collapsed in 1991.  So much for the permanence of things.  Of course in Germany I was in a country which had not much earlier seen itself as in the early stages of a Thousand Year Reich, and I am the child of a country which allows itself a starry-eyed “exceptionalism” and seems to have imagined until very recently that it was exempt from the lessons of history (or telling itself truthfully its own history.)


nazi_brandenburg_gate_by_sheriselitz50-d5f0ckm VVT05 Nazi Reichsadler

As an habitual transient, even within my own country, I have over my life become a perpetual outsider.  In a manner it is a privileged position, allowing one to see past the curtains of ordinariness which those who live a stable life accommodate.  Inside such a life – one of a job, home, a circle of friends and associates, and social/economic conventions everyone accepts  –  the horizon of one’s experience leads to a kind of certitude:  the walls will never fall.   Whereas from my constantly shifting vantage point, nothing appears fixed and stable, and the givens of another’s  life seem not at all so firm.  Be it assumptions about a pension, about the economy running along just so, or whether a vaunted empire will last another 1000 years, or 10 days.  To most of my friends a life with a thorough-going absence of “security” seems an impossible nightmare, and they often wonder out loud to me just how I can do it.  But for me, since my life has repeatedly shown me that such certainties, small and huge, which they entertain, nearly always fall apart, it confers a kind of psychological protection:  I am not surprised when the rug zips out from underneath, and I haven’t really placed many bets on it not doing so.   For me, whatever happens happens, and I will cope with it rather than panic at seeing my word-view shattered.  For some people this seems cynical; to me it is just realism.


volkshalle_by_teslapunk-d340iupAlbert Speer’s design for the glorious 1000 year 3rd Reichimage4Berlin, not many years later, in 1945

RS_Web_EU_8M_v3Europe if all the ice melts.

These days, crossing Germany, as in the United States, one can see vast wind farms, the pristine white blades turning slowly (harvesting among other things, birds and bats).  Germany is one of the European countries seriously attempting – or so it thinks – to Go Green.  Berlin is busy with bicycle lanes, mini-car rental shares, well-insulated buildings, and, at least within the context of modern capitalism, an effort to be more efficient, all in the name of concern for the environment.  Of course these quite “aware” consumers of the feel-good ideology of “doing their part” to keep the coming flood at bay, hardly think twice when it is time to pop into an EasyJet or AirBerlin flight and run off to Majorca or Bangkok, nor do they really understand their massively mis-proportioned draw on the world’s material assets.  Of course they can always point to the United States, and say how its “carbon footprint” and consumption per capita is so much bigger.  And while the richest squabble over these matters, China, and, less successfully India, race to catch up – in exactly the same manner Europe and the United States did when they industrialized, spewing massive wastes and poisons into the environment.  Caught in the alluring material enticements of late-stage capitalism, all are too eager to have more.  Some “more” with a do-(feel)-good ecological bent, and some just plain old more.  Within the penumbra of the Capitalist Religion (one decisively demonstrated to be superior to Communism when the USSR collapsed), the concept of doing with less, a lot less, in the name of a future, is simply alien.  Nope, whatever the problems, the techies will figure it out, and we can continue to have more and more.  And we will have the Thousand Year Reign of Technofixes.


Perhaps it is the extravagant history of Berlin which provokes such thoughts – to think that the culture that gave us Bach, Beethoven, and myriad other sublime cultural gifts, could have, in the same breath given us the mass frenzy which brought Mr Schickelgruber to power under his stage-name Hitler, and led this most sophisticated society over the cliff of the mass killing of Jews, gypsies, gays, and other suddenly (if also historically deep) anointed non-humans.  Under the sway of their Fuhrer Germany initiated the chain of events which led to the killing of over 72 million people in a single decade.  Towards the end of the war, German citizens mostly obeyed, as their whole world was pulverized before their eyes.  As they had done with the deportation of their neighbors, they firmly stuck their collective heads in the soft sands which Berlin is built upon.   And today, despite the best of liberal intentions  – the bicycle paths, the mini-cars, the farmers markets, the wind farms and all the rest – they are in deep delusion as the Spree slowly encroaches on this currently most civil city.

Flying here from Dusseldorf the view out the window looking down on the NordWest-Rhineland was of massive chimneys and cooling towers, (along with the windfarms) all the way to the horizon.  Germany’s economy is the best in Europe, and it is hurtling down the tracks to its own oblivion, with the rest of Europe looking enviously on.


DSC04648 crp



heidegger crpd









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



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


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




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

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


DSC01991 SM

DSC02036SMCircleville, Utah

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






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


DSC01771SMChem-trails over the Grand Canyon.DSC02161SM

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

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



DSC02074 SM


DSC00257smThe Jeonju Hanok Village outside the hotel window

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


09funicello1_cnd-popupAnnette Funicello


People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)



The last months, traveling the western US, I’ve somewhat consciously sought to see as many of my old friends who are around this region as I could.  Consciously since it is likely I may well soon decamp for some distant place, perhaps never to return.  Consciously, as in many cases – my own included – the clock is running down, and this might be a last chance to see them, either because I or they will no longer be.  Such are the thoughts which the diminishing of time – as well as of muscle tissue, sight, energy and the blossoming of liver spots, lack of hair, and the other vicissitudes of aging – impose.  Seeing some old friends, I am struck, as surely they are likewise with me, by how much they have aged.


Annette Funicello was in the first Mickey Mouse Show, which began in 1955.  I am sure that while Uncle Walt would be appalled at the thought (or perhaps perversely pleased) that Annette was the jack-off queen for a generation of suppressed 1950’s boys – she had visible tits and exuded a sensuality the other girls on the show lacked, she was our go-to girl.  I know because I asked friends if she were their fantasy of choice while pounding the meat – the restrictions those days being far more stringent than today.  Back then Elvis was cropped above the waist for some modest gyrations on the Ed Sullivan Show; today Lady Gaga can virtually lap-dance on your face and no one seems to raise an eyebrow.  But time indeed marches on, heedless of our wishes, and steadily grinds our bodies to bits.  Even those of stars, large and small, of the silver screen.  Annette dropped from social sight some time ago, a victim of time and MS.  She died today in Bakersfield, CA., 100 or so miles north of where I write in the San Fernando Valley where she once graced a sound stage, wearing the Mouseketeer ears with which the Disney Corporation made its global mark.  She was seventy.


mag12JPG-2547289Maggie Thatcher, dead at 87les-art-bigLes Blank

The day before, on Sunday, April 7, Les Blank also joined the list of no-longer-here, hot on the heels of Roger Ebert, about whom I wrote only a few days ago.  Les was 77.  I met – and nothing more – Les a few times out on the festival circuit.  He was a well-known documentary filmmaker, a figure in the Bay Area film and cultural community, much liked by everyone I knew.  If I believed in such things, I’d imagine a raucous New Orleans wake going on now in his honor, for a life well spent.  But I don’t believe in such things, and know his spirit is now but a stiff piece of soon to disappear flesh, with everything that made him – like all of us – what we are in any way notable for, gone.  Sic transit gloria.

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

I will in another place try to get around to writing a bit more deeply about this process of aging – of watching one’s family and friends grow fat or gaunt, hobbled by infirmities, ravaged by disease, and finally slipping off into death, whether done with grace or rage or indifference.  It is, to say the least, an interesting process, one which our culture seems to do its best to avoid confronting except in a frantic effort to escape it.  Our medical system, our consumerist life-style, our shallow public philosophy of life in general sends us in flight from speaking of it, or contemplating it outside the dumb legal necessities which property imposes.

Today there was an article by Susan Faludi published in the New Yorker, on my long-ago friend Shulamith Firestone – an article prompted by her death in August 2012.  I’d tried to provide some information for Susan, not just about what little I could remember about Shulie back in 1964-67, but also things trying to give her a little sense of flavor to the tenor of the times, so I suggested she see a few short films made back then, one of which, unknown to me, was based on a real-life friend of Shulie’s — who had committed suicide while I was in prison.  Reading the article, for the first time in a fair while, I wept – for Shulie, her sister, and many others, including myself.  I wept for all the needless pain inflicted on us all, and which in turn provokes us into inflicting pain in our turn.

shulieShulamith Firestone

This Be The Verse

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
      They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
      By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
      And half at one another's throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
      It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
      And don't have any kids yourself.
            - Philip Larkin 

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