Archive for October, 2007

Gus Van Sant – Paranoid Park

October 30, 2007

still from Paranoid Park, by Gus Van Sant, 2007
still from Paranoid Park by Gus Van Sant, 2007

Went to see Paranoid Park tonight in Tours, France. It seems to me that a lot of films (especially American indie films) have earlier release dates here in Europe than they do in America. I hope to see Woody Allen’s new film, Cassandra’s Dream when it opens next week.

Anyway, the theater had a decent crowd of young French teenagers and young adults. The big suprise was the number of kids who were there with a parent. I wouldn’t expect to see that happening at an American multiplex screening Van Sant’s latest.

I have to say that I was really hoping to like Paranoid Park. The film opens with a beautiful yet moody still of a bridge shot in fast motion. The cars zip by as light plays off the surface of the structure. Just as I was starting to feel optimistic, Van Sant shows us some grainy and off color saturated super-8 footage of skateboarders skating at Paranoid Park (a real skating park in Portland, OR). He cuts back to this kind of ethereal footage over and over again throughout the movie and it just bores me to death.

There’s just a bit of a plot involving a teenager and an accidental death. The rest of the film is all atmosphere, but for me the whole thing could have been a twenty minute experimental short. It felt like the film was mining the entire history of American Avant Garde cinema from the 50’s or 60’s, but it just doesn’t work.

The actors (actually non-actors, the casting was done via myspace) have some great emotive faces (see the still above) but the actual acting is wooden, their line delivery stilted and completely unrealistic. This method seemed to work pretty well in a film like Elephant, but it falls flat here. The ending comes suddenly out of nowhere and doesn’t even feel like a true ending at all. I wonder what happens in the book by Blake Nelson that the film is based on.

The soundtrack and ambient sound design by Leslie Shatz are probably the most interesting and powerful elements of the film but again Van Sant resorts to cliché, using not one but two somber and depressing Elliott Smith tracks (although I do love his music) over slow motion imagery. I should not forget to mention that Chris Doyle’s great cinematography contributes quite a bit of that atmosphere I was referring to earlier.

Like I said before, I really wanted to like this film, I just wish it could have added up to a more fulfilling and meaningful experience.

I ♥ Joseph Cornell

October 29, 2007

Untitled by Joseph Cornell, ca. 1967
Untitled by Joseph Cornell, ca. 1967

I was so happy when I realized that the Joseph Cornell exhibition I missed at The Peabody Essex Museum was now showing at SFMOMA. It was a tight squeeze but I managed to fit in two hours at the museum to see the exhibition on Thursday evening, since the museum stayed open late.

Total sidetrack: I wish more art museums would stay open later than 5:45pm on more than one designated day a week, like on the weekends. I know people would love to spend Friday or Saturday nights loking at art, it would gives us something more to do besides getting drunk and stupid. The New Museum is supposedly planning to be open until 10pm on Thursday and Friday nights!

Anyway, getting back to Cornell, I am in awe of the immense heart and soul he poured into his poetic constructions. Here’s a guy who definitely wore his heart on his sleeve. His collages and shadowboxes are haunting, mysterious and memorable. I always find the juxtaposition of color (especially his use of blue) and found imagery to be surprising and bold, like where the hell did he come up with that? I walked around the exhibition with my mouth agape.

Cornell was also an experimental filmmaker. He didn’t know how to use a movie camera so he mainly used found footage together with parts taken from Hollywood B-movies. Supposedly Cornell was the first to use found imagery in films. For his best known collage film, Rose Hobart, made in 1938, Cornell chopped up pieces from East of Borneo made in 1931. Watching it, you realize how ahead of the times Cornell really was, this is 1938 folks. Although I would recommend seeing this on the big screen when it comes around (keep an eye on the Anthology Film Archives schedule), you can see it online in two parts, here and then here.

There is an interactive site related to the show, see it here.

I’ll leave you with this dream that Cornell had in 1976:

Exquisite dreaming – life size pastel (?) drawing or
painting of a young girl – browns high-lighted with
white on an easel – I was rubbing in the white
finishing touches – then it was as though the girl
came to life + was going away for good – very sad –
would she write to me?

San Francisco Sunlight

October 26, 2007

still from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, 1958
still from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, 1958

I’ve been driving around San Francisco for the past two days now and I have to say that the sun here is just goddamn blinding and sometimes painful for my eyes to handle. Maybe it’s because I’m pale as hell, redheaded and have blue eyes that makes me so sensitive to light but even wearing sunglasses doesn’t help.

I think I’m ready for a few clouds and cooler weather.

Flying & Reading

October 25, 2007

No matter what time I find myself on an airplane, I’m always disappointed when I fall asleep and lose out on valuable reading time.

Since I don’t work a regular 9-5 job with a daily commute, finding time to read books, let alone all the magazine crap I like to keep up with, is almost impossible (maybe I spend too much free time reading stuff online).

If I didn’t keep up with my magazine reading though I would never know that they put civet (which comes from the anal gland of a civet cat) into those tiny expensive bottles of perfume. It’s a strange world indeed…

Stan Brakhage – Window Water Baby Moving

October 21, 2007

Stills from Window Water Baby Moving, 1959 by Stan Brakhage
Stills from Window Water Baby Moving, 1959 by Stan Brakhage

If you are bored and lonely this Sunday night (which I usually tend to be), pick your ass up off the couch and go see Window Water Baby Moving by Stan Brakhage tonight at 8pm. It’s screening at Anthology Film Archives along with a collection of his early films.

Window Water Baby Moving is an intense, personal, poetic and graphic film exploring the birth of Brakhage’s first child. I haven’t watched it in a few years but I’ll never forget my first experience seeing it in film class. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Be prepared to ponder the beauty and complexity of life as seen through the eyes of America’s great experimental film poet.

Robert Bresson – Notes Sur Le Cinématographe

October 18, 2007


Selected quotes:

Master Precision. Be a precision instrument myself.

Metteur-en-scène, director. The point is not to direct someone, but to direct oneself.

Shooting. Put oneself into a state of intense ignorance and curiousity, and yet see things in advance.

Catch instants. Spontaneity, freshness.

What a human eye is capable of catching, no pencil, brush, pen of pinning down, your camera catches without knowing what it is, and pins its down with a machine’s scrupulous indifference.

Forms that resemble ideas. Treat them as actual ideas.

Shooting. Stick exclusively to impressions, to sensations. No intervention of intelligence which is foreign to these impressions and sensations.

Things made more visible not by more light, but by the fresh angle at which I see them.

The real, when it has reached the mind, is already not real any more. Our too thoughtful, too intelligent eye.
Two sorts of real: (1) The crude real recorded as it is by the camera; (2) What we call real and see deformed by our memory and some wrong reckonings.
Problem. To make what you see be seen, through the intermediary of a machine that does not see it as you see it.*

The things we bring off by chance – what power they have!

Although Robert Bresson’s collection of written reflections and working memos was really an exploration of his cinematographic thinking, much of it can easily be seen and understood within a photographic context as well.

Bresson only made 13 feature length films but if you aren’t familiar with any of them, don’t deprive yourself of one of the great visionary artists of the 20th century.

still from Robert Bresson’s Mouchette, 1967
still from Robert Bresson’s Mouchette, 1967

Mouchette, a beautifully sad and tragic film is my personal favorite. I never miss a chance to see it on the big screen whenever it comes around.

Dan Deacon Is My Idol

October 18, 2007


I barely caught a glimpse of Dan Deacon through the thick crowd while he was performing at Bowery Ballroom last night. That’s because he was right there on the floor with everybody else dancing away and playing his heart out. This guy is truly remarkable and amazing. If he plays anywhere near your city, just get your ass over there.

I feel bad for any band that has to follow his act. I love Deerhunter, but even they admitted how tough it would be.

Ernest Withers, 1922-2007

October 17, 2007

Memphis strike, 1968
Ernest Withers, Memphis Strike, 1968

I unfortunately hadn’t heard of Ernest Withers before today but I’m wowed by the photograph shown above. He was best known for documenting some of the most historic moments of the Civil Rights Movement but Withers also extensively documented black life in Memphis including the music scene and the Negro Baseball League.

View a portfolio of his photographs.

Read the NY Times obituary.

Theme Time Radio Hour

October 16, 2007


If you haven’t been listening to Theme Time Radio Hour hosted by Bob Dylan, then you are really missing something special. It’s about time you got caught up as he has been broadcasting since May 2006. Each one hour show is devoted to a single theme. In relation to that theme, Dylan plays music as well as old radio promos, recites poetry and doles out encyclopedic doses together with historic anecdotes. Some of my favorite shows are Coffee, Devil (Dylan plays Beck!), Dance (of course), Dogs and Eyes. I hope that a camera themed show is in the works.


Dylan seems to be having a lot of fun professing his love of music and it’s history (as well cultivating an intricate and stylin’ look). He has created quite a DJ character for the show or maybe this time around we get the “real” Dylan. Either way, it’s a total performance from start to finish that always feels heartfelt. His voice is deep and strange yet totally mesmerizing. After listening to one particular show where he played a Tiny Tim track called Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me, I found myself scrounging for any Tiny Tim I could find. You really never know what to expect but it’s all worth listening to.

Listen to some or all of those shows here.

Also don’t forget to Tip Toe Thru’ The Tulips with Tiny Tim.

Seeing The World Through A Photograph

October 15, 2007

Andreas Gursky, Avenue of the Americas, 2001
Andreas Gursky, Avenue of the Americas, 2001

On Saturday night I was walking towards the Ziegfeld Theatre to see Blade Runner: The Director’s Final Cut. As I approached the theater entrance walking south from 55th Street I looked up and gasped. I was standing in front of the subject of Andreas Gursky’s Avenue of the Americas from 2001. I wasn’t expecting to find the building nor had I seen the photograph in quite a while but I remember the curiousity I had about the building upon first encountering the photograph. Obviously, as with any photograph by Gursky, I wasn’t sure how real the building was nor had I ever noticed a building of such massive scale looking like that in New York City. Here it was in all it’s glory exactly as it appears in the photograph. As darkness approached the experience became even more vivid. Inside, as the movie began, I kept thinking about the Gursky photograph in relation to the cityscape I was seeing on screen:

still from Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, 1982
still from Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, 1982

I guess it wasn’t such a remarkable experience after all as we have all seen things in photographs before seeing them in person. I’m thinking of the Empire State Building or the Taj Mahal and how our experiences of those places are mediated by the photographs we know of them. Yet this was an entirely different occurrence, here I was seeing a real (non-touristic) place mediated through the eyes of an artist through a photograph (and through a film).

A similar experience occured over the summer while driving around Memphis. The sun was setting and we were searching for a location with a timeless sensibility to shoot a photograph. All of a sudden in the distance we saw the old sign post for The Lorraine Motel. Not realizing at first what it was, we drove towards it and parked the car on a side street. Once I got a closer look, the first thing that popped into my mind was that I was seeing this building through Joel Sternfeld’s photograph from his On This Site project (I can’t find a jpg of this anywhere and my scanner is busted). Only after that did I realize that I was standing on the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated. My girlfriend who was with me had an altogether different photograph in her mind:

Outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, 1968
Outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, 1968

Needless to say, both experiences were illuminating and had me thinking about the strange and perverse relationship between reality and it’s photographic counterpart. It’s amazing to think about all the images we have hidden inside our heads and how those images are constantly informing our relationship to what we see each and everyday.

On a side note, the screening of Blade Runner at the Ziegfeld was an amazing experience. Catch it if you can. It was by far the best experience I’ve ever had with the film and also the most complete official version of the film by Ridley Scott. It’s definitely ironic that I would be seeing Blade Runner and having all these thoughts in the course of a single evening.

Read a good interview with Ridley Scott where he talks about the new release.