collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
Václav Havel has died at the age of 75. I was privileged to spend a little time with him in 2006, and from what I was hearing at that time, it seemed like it would be a miracle for him to live much longer, so I feel blessed that he made it as far as he did, continuing to work and speak and be a great example of what an artist can actually do for society besides make art.
Greeting Havel  11/17/06

Most of the brief four or five times I got to speak with him was spent with Pilsner Urquells in our hands, with me leaning in to try and make out his soft-spoken words, and him seeming embarrassed by his perfectly fine English (I'm sure, of course, a man of his precision in thought would have preferred to be as precise in his speech). I still treasure those times. With all the great tributes going around today, the fact of him as "STATESMAN" suddenly struck me again as it hadn't since I first met him. My talks with him had very much been conversations between two theatre professionals talking shop (he SO obviously loved being around actors, directors, and all the people, places, and paraphernalia of theatre!), and I had gotten so used to thinking of him as a playwright first and foremost again that his other great accomplishment had comparatively faded for me until now.

Which was, to no small extent, the purpose of Edward Einhorn and Untitled Theater Co. #61's Havel Festival at The Ohio Theater and The Brick -- to remind everyone of Havel's work as writer. We presented his complete work in that festival, including some previous unproduced works, and a number being presented for the first time in English (and some in new, improved translations). I was lucky enough to direct Temptation in the festival, and do a pretty spiffy job of it with a terrific cast.

I am still, to this day, stunned, confused, and angry at the lack of press attention for the Festival. Every press outlet in the city KNEW about this, and apart from a preview piece in the Voice -- mostly a general summary about Havel, somewhat boring and not a great promo -- and some reviews at, there was next to nothing in the press about the Fest. There were, to be sure, a couple of dud productions in there, but otherwise it was work of high quality, and, again, the man's COMPLETE goddamned works were all being done.

I know Michael Feingold at the Voice was told personally four times about the Festival, twice before and twice during, and on each of the last three occasions he said he'd never heard of it and why hadn't he been sent something? Strange.
Vaclav Havel's Curtain Call  11/17/06

In any case, the Festival was still a marvelous time for us, and provided one of the most special nights of my professional life, when Havel came to see Temptation on the 17th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

My original post about that special night is HERE.

That's the personal stuff. For more on Havel . . . well, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of tributes and links to tributes, quotes, and speeches. You can find plenty out there.

But most of all, READ HIS PLAYS. Please. If you care to, and you can, PRODUCE THEM. I'm not sure any more of them are right for me (unless I restage Temptation sometime), but one of them must be the right one for everyone out there. THAT is the tribute he deserves most, to have his work live on, and alive, onstage.

Thank you very much, President Havel, it was an honor.

collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
I've been absent from here. This year's August shows have been bigger, more tiring, more angst-ridden, more EVERYTHING than usual.

We have only now, with the most-recent performance of each, got them to where they should be, at a minimum, in front of an audience, and I'm feeling okay about the whole season now. But it was pretty hard there for a while.

The shows are indeed huge. Huger than we figured in every way (except light and sound cues, which are on the small side for me, and thank god!). It was apparent that we had made a mistake in continuing with these shows, both of them, as our August season a while back, but unfortunately AFTER we were past the point of no return in being committed to them. So, we were committed to a mistake, and one we couldn't mitigate in any way - to make any of it work, we had to go full-bore on the whole thing.

A big rule we had learned in the last few years was that we SHOULD NOT do a June show in whatever festival The Brick was putting on AND and our usual August season. We had indeed been doing it for a few years, but the problems that came up were never good for us and the shows. So we stopped and had a MUCH easier and happier August. Well, with the Wedding happening in the Too Soon Festival this year for sure, we somehow convinced ourselves that we could handle all this again . . . and we were wrong.

We finished the Wedding-piece to discover that a lot of things we had thought (or rationalized) that we had in place for August weren't actually there, and we wound up spending more time recasting and fixing things than moving forward over July and the beginning of August, to the massive and deserved frustration of the companies of both shows, which just seemed to get bigger and longer and huger and more out of control (the shows, that is, the companies were already pretty big to begin with, and only barely under control).

So now we have two 3-hour-plus shows going on at The Brick (which makes them, with the original production of Harry in Love at The Piano Store, two of the three longest plays I've ever done). I'm far less concerned about the running time than a lot of other people on the shows are, but it's still hard on those of us doing the shows, sure (especially if you're acting in both and also have to deal with all the setup, etc., BELIEVE me).

It's obvious that with each of these shows, there will be people who will love it and people who will hate it, and only a TINY percentage of each of these would have their opinion changed by a shorter run time (in fact of the people who loved Spacemen, I've had a couple tell me they'd have been even happier with a LONGER run time! Ye gods!). There are people already at each performance of each show who have loved the show and others who despised it. So, they are what they are. I'm not ashamed of them at all, though it looked potentially close. I'm sure I'm happier with them than much of the cast on each, who had to go through all the problems caused by Berit's and my mistakes and who still feel down about it, but what's happening for audiences now is pretty much what should be, so while I'd like the casts to be more unified and cheerier, of course, it pales before the experience of the audiences.

We've had some reviews on Spacemen, and I'll link to and deal with those after the run. Interesting what people see or don't see in this show . . . If I cut it by an hour (which would mean eliminating the entire "Lavender Spectre" plot from it), added more songs and took out some of the more cutting satire (which almost no one notices anyway), it would probably be a successful Fringe show . . . but it would also not at all be the show I was interested in making in the first place, which does turn out to be a 3-hour endurance test of comedy (of course, people who like it never bring up the run time unless I mention it first).

So, it's been a hard August, that only now, with three shows left of Spacemen from Space and 5 of Devils seems to be all fine and good and coming together. But I still need to collapse and rest as often and as much as I can between shows.

Next year, we're going back to a very different way of working. Something more like we did with our plays Spell and Everything Must Go. I keep thinking to myself that maybe it's not the best thing for someone who makes beautiful miniature jewelboxes, Faberge eggs and the like, to keep trying to build cathedrals on the same skills and principles. It CAN be done, and even done well, but is it the best use of the skills and talents that are there?

So, fewer cast members, no big sets, lots more movement, lights, sound, and props. More about the figures against the ground than the ground being an equal element. Something like that. I look forward to the different kind of work again.

But this morning, all this seems very very small. For now, with everything else finally feeling somewhat positive and going well, my . . . well, I would say step-grandmother Rita Kabat died this morning at the age of 82.

Rita was my stepmother's mother, and has been in my life as long as any of my other grandmothers, and certainly as actively and constant a presence, so she has always been another grandmother to me, just like all the others. and I loved her just as much.

And she was wonderful. Berit loved her very much, too, and so it's rather gloomy about here today. We were both very unhappy that she was too sick to come to our wedding - we wanted her there so much - and we considered all kinds of ways to try to help her get to one of the later performances (or bring something of it to her). but none of them seemed practical, for her as well as us.

I've eulogized many celebrities I've cared about here, but the more this all (ie; life) goes on the odder I feel about that, and even more doing it for a family member, which suddenly seems unseemly.

In any case, even for what they call a "long illness," that is, one diagnosed with the end seen to be coming, this was a hard one. I've had quite a few family members go over a long period of time, which usually gives you the ability to spend time with them, and, in whatever way, say goodbye or have some kind of "ending" for yourself, but Rita went from diagnosis to gone much faster than I expected or was prepared for, and I haven't been able to process it all yet. The last time I talked to her - she was in the hospital, having had a bad fall - our conversation was mostly based on when we might see each other next, and catching up when that happened. And it never did.

She was wonderful, and sweet, and kind, and always thoughtful and energetic, and a joy to be around. Berit and I miss her, even as we try to keep ourselves upbeat and together for tonight's wild comedy, and the whole weekend of shows to come before we return to Rita on Monday for one more time.

And now, before I go collapse and nap again before tonight's show, a Random Ten from the playlist of 2,771 in the iPod that are from favorite artists, but have never gotten an actual spin . . . with video links, where available . . .

1. "Chinese Girls" - Wang Chung - Huang Chung
2. "What Do I Have To Do To Prove My Love To You?" - Marva Whitney - It's My Thing
3. "After Hours" - Roy Buchanan - The Hound Blog
4. "Coca-Cola Commercial 1969 #2" - Gladys Knight & The Pips - Coca-Cola Commercials
5. "Hummin' Happy" - The Strawberry Alarm Clock - Incense & Peppermints
6. "Duchess" - The Stranglers - Peaches: The Very Best of The Stranglers
7. "Eyeball Kid" - Tom Waits - Mule Variations
8. "Complex" - Gary Numan & Tubeway Army - Premier Hits
9. "Friday Night" - Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue
10. "Blow Out" - Radiohead - Pablo Honey

Hey, wow, SO close to finding all of the above tracks in YouTube form! All but one . . . the Roy Buchanan (the version of "After Hours" that came up in my playlist is NOT the one here on video, but an earlier - and, yes, better - single version). But here's the Random Ten+1, pretty much as listed above:

Okay, no more writing, or cats, or anything today -- I STILL have to finish some work on the projections for Spacemen from Space, and then try and nap for a bit.

collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
Alex Chilton died yesterday.

The online outpouring was immediate, astonishing, and moving. I've been a fan of Chilton since my dad played me his then-new EP Feudalist Tarts when it came out in 1985. Two years later, I picked up his new album High Priest, which included the EP and both sides of his "No Sex" single, and had it in constant rotation for many many years. Even now, almost every "general" playlist in my iPod contains at least five Chilton songs that I must have handy to sing along to at top volume in the car.

But my fandom was based mainly on his post-'85 work -- I was somewhat aware of the Big Star albums, and knew the big Box Tops single, of course. I was just getting around to getting more familiar with those periods (and some of the gaps in his later work I'd discovered) recently. Like just this month. If you'dve asked me, I would have thought that when Chilton died, the reaction would only be a bit more than what the great cult recording artist Jim Dickinson (who produced work by Big Star and Chilton and was in no small way responsible for the sound and feel of Chilton's later career) received when he died seven months ago. Cult artist. Influential. Barely listened-to. Chilton would get a bit more attention because of Big Star and The Box Tops (and singing "The Letter" when he was 16 years old), but not much.

I was stunned and moved to see dozens and dozens of my Facebook friends, not just the musicians and music geeks, but EVERYONE, eulogizing the man or saying goodbye or writing about what he meant to them. I didn't know how deeply the Big Star albums in particular had actually spread and penetrated the common consciousness. Wow. Lots of sad and beautiful words out there. It appears that the classic Replacements song "Alex Chilton" (which is also getting new life with a new generation as a track in the Rock Band 2 game) has caused a LOT of people to go back and find out why the hell Paul Westerberg was singing about this guy.

And I think people are also hard-hit by AC's death because he was fairly young, and not only that, he was still working. Not just the revival shows with the revived "Big Star" (which he apparently wasn't all that fond of, but tolerated) and occasional work with the revived Box Tops (the original lineup! - which he WAS very happy to do, his wife says), but there was MORE WORK for Alex Chilton to do. His last couple of albums weren't his best, though there are some gems there -- a few too many covers of too much varied quality, maybe, but hearing him take on standards by Stuff Smith, Allen Toussaint and Yip Harburg was worth it -- and he was certainly still changing and finding new things. His wife says he was more and more into classical music and classical guitar, and it would have been interesting to hear how he might have brought that into his own very distinctive style. But now we won't. I'm positive we could have had at least another couple of decades of interesting and valuable music from Alex Chilton, and I'm PISSED OFF that I won't get to hear it now.

But there's over four decades of his work past us to keep listening to. I put everything I have of his -- Box Tops, Big Star and solo -- in a big playlist (8 hours long) that I'm still working through. This is good stuff, and I'm glad to have it.

I posted a whole bunch of Chilton videos to Facebook last night, but there were more I wanted to share, so here they are (behind the cut -- and they won't be visible when this reposts on Facebook; you'll have to click the link to "View Original Post"). Enjoy . . .

Alex Chilton -- 11 videos )

And a classic story, which Adam Swiderski posted on Facebook this morning, from Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. This happened in the midst of a massive freakout by a drugged up Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers at a Dutch music festival:

Haynes then made a successful run for the dressing room and slammed the door behind him. Kramer could hear Leary and Haynes screaming at each other inside, and when he finally worked up the courage to open the door, he found the two of them smashing guitars, bottles and chairs in what Kramer calls “the most potent example of bad behavior I have ever seen. To this day, more than fifteen years later, I have no more vivid memory of the effect a life in music can have on a human being.”

Moments later a man entered the dressing room and asked if he could borrow a guitar. “BORROW A GUITAR??!!! WELL, WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU???!!! Haynes screamed, eyes flashing in delirious anticipation of forthcoming violence. But the man was totally unfazed.

“I’m Alex Chilton,” the man answered calmly.

Haynes was flabbergasted. After a long pause, he methodically opened the remaining guitar cases one by one and gestured at them as if to say, “Take anything you want.”

RIP Mr. Chilton. Take anything you want.

collisionwork: (crazy)
Having finished my work on Craven Monkey and Rudolf II, I spent the week organizing boring personal matters, mostly -- getting the car serviced, getting the cats their regular checkup, and so forth. And preparing for the first reading of Devils in a little over a week.

For that, we'll have 18 of the actors that I'd like to be doing the show reading 26 of the parts, and another 2 friends (Moira Stone & Robert Honeywell) have stepped in for two of the main roles where the actors can't be there (though, hopefully, they can do the eventual production). And I keep reading and rereading the script and having no idea if it will work or not. Need this reading. Desperately.

Some reviews coming in on Rudolf II already. I get nicely mentioned HERE and HERE. I won't link to the not-so-good review of the show, which doesn't mention me anyway.

Craven Monkey continues to get press love, which is great. I am a hair peeved (which is silly) that my lighting for this show, which I'm rather happy with and I think is more complex than Rudolf's (appropriately, as Rudolf all takes place in one room over many years, and in Monkey I'm having to create many, many locations with light only), gets no press love except for the word "evocative" in one review. Jules, the costume designer, who gets PLENTY of press attention on this (deservedly, the work is beautiful), apparently said I lit her costumes better than she'd ever seen before, so maybe I can (and should) just be pleased that I showcased the beautiful bodies, movement, and costumes quite well. Some nice shots of the show are HERE.

Also, work continues on the upcoming wedding, which becomes more and more like a really difficult production of mine with each week.

Well, here's the weekly Random Ten tracks out of the 25,443 on the iPod (with YouTube links to the songs where available or something related if not):

1. "Chocolate Sue" - The Moan - Nederbeat Dutch Nuggets 2
2. "Down In Mexico" - The Coasters - Atlantic Rhythm & Blues vol 3 1955-1957
3. "Down In The Alley" - The Jeff Healey Band - The Last Temptation Of Elvis
4. "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" - Wang Chung - Mosaic
5. "Sjungalaten" - Askadarna - Single
6. "Black Diamond Bay" - Bob Dylan - Desire
7. "Puzzles" - The Yardbirds - Little Games
8. "I'm Going to Memphis" - Johnny Cash - Unearthed
9. "Camarillo Brillo" - Frank Zappa - Overnite Sensation
10. "Got Love If You Want It (live 1964)" - The Yardbirds - Five Live

The iPod seems to be going through a Yardbirds phase recently (not just here, but all around). Fine by me.

As for recent photos, here's a "Holy Grail" prop that Berit constructed for Rudolf II from a Bed, Bath, and Beyond cotton ball-holder and cup from a bathroom sink-set, and painted:
Berit Makes a Grail

And here's Hooker, who somehow got himself all tucked in under the blanket next to Berit's leg (she complained later, "He stole the covers off me!"):
Tucked in on Berit's Foot

One of my favorite videos of the week -- Creed live in concert, "shredding":

And for a sad finale, here is Jean-Luc Godard's short eulogy-film for his friend Eric Rohmer (that is, if it's embedding like it should; it's not showing up in the preview -- if it isn't, it can be seen HERE). It is in French, of course, titles and JLG's narration. There are a number of attempts at a combined English translation HERE, which get most of it, but as Godard's narration is deliberately mumbled, even the native French speakers have trouble making some of it out (also, he refers to people and locations only he and Rohmer would probably recall, which doesn't help).

In any case, the titles flashed onscreen are almost all titles of reviews Rohmer wrote for Cahiers du Cinema in his (and JLG's) youth (sometimes under the name "Maurice Scherer," his real name), except the opening title, which seems to be the name of Godard's film here: IT WAS WHEN / NO / THERE WAS WHAT / YES.

He uses the interspersed "Yes/No" in his narration, as well, which seems to start as JLG trying to remember where he and Rohmer first met, and becomes a series of fragmentary memories of his friend -- the two of them as young men in love with movies, writing, listening to records, talking in cafes, etc.

In the final moments, as we see the 79-year-old Godard, he is paraphrasing the end of Flaubert's Sentimental Education: "Ah, those were the best times we had, says Frederic. Yes, those were the best times we had, says Deslauriers."

EDIT: Nope, not embedding. Follow link above . . .

Craig Keller at Cinemasparagus translates a passage by writer Jean-Marc Lalanne on this film:

Rarely have we heard Godard speak of such personal things, very simple and very exposed. The film closes with a furtive shot of the filmmaker, face slightly haggard in his webcam. With that, he's gone. You want to hold onto him. You want to hold onto both of them.

Argh. Rainy in Brooklyn today, and too much I want to do out of the house. And Hooker-kitty is hating me because of the eardrops I have to give him twice a day. {sigh}

collisionwork: (Ambersons microphone)
This past week, the usual pre-holiday stuff -- some shows to run or see over the weekend, some attempted house-cleaning that will have to be rush-finished in the next week, some attempted present-shopping, ditto, and cleaning up of business from this year -- finances, tax letters to send to donors to the company, etc. etc. And the first ramping up of the shows and other productions for 2010.

A fun day on Sunday of four shows at The Brick -- as Berit and I each had to run board on one show each, and wanted to see the other two shows, we decided to make a day of it and enjoy Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury, The Ninja Cherry Orchard, Butterfly, Butterfly, Kill Kill Kill, and Deck the Hallmanns. Now THAT was a fine day at the theatre! Tonight I'm going back to see Craven Monkey at its final performance and run lights again for Ninja Cherry Orchard, and it seems that more than a few friends will be there to enjoy the double-bill. Fight Fest at The Brick seems to have gone over gangbusters, and I guess we'll be doing it again -- which means I need to think about and write Fat Man Fall Down for the next one.

Two more days of work (including a 9.30 am call tomorrow, oy), and that's it for theatre this year. As for next year, we'll be going away to Maine for (I hope) much of January to work on Spacemen from Space for August, and as for something to run in rep with that one (I'd love to try and do them with the same cast, too), I'm thinking of John Whiting's The Devils, which was based on The Devils of Loudon by Aldous Huxley and was made into the film of the same name by Ken Russell. The problem is that what I'd really like to do is a new stage piece that combines elements of all three materials: Whiting's play, Huxley's historical novel, and Russell's film. I'll have to check into the legality of that . . . also, I'm not sure, but I think David LM Mcintyre may have had the idea to do that first, and may still be interested in pursuing that, and I wouldn't want to step on his toes (of course, he's in L.A., so maybe we can take the idea each our own way on opposite coasts).

And of course, the MAIN show for next year: The Wedding of Ian W. Hill & Berit Johnson: A Theatre Study (or whatever we're going to call it). I have a few pages of writing for this in a notebook I can't find, and need to get back to that as well. Rather one of the most important shows I'll ever do, so I'd better get it right . . .

In the meantime, as always, here's a Random Ten from the 25,459 tracks currently in the iPod (with associated links -- and dammit, I REALLY thought I'd achieve my goal this week of finding ALL of the tracks on YouTube or somewhere online so you could listen to the exact same tracks that came up for me, but the Adverts track at #8 broke the streak . . . maybe some other time . . .):

1. "Ooh Baby, Baby" - The Miracles - Motown Greatest
2. "I Want To Hold Your Hand (mono 2009 remaster)" - The Beatles - Mono Masters, Vol. 1
3. "Funky Boss" - Beastie Boys - Check Your Head
4. "She Said" - Hasil Adkins - Born Bad - Volume 2
5. "The Gorilla" - The Shandells - Lux & Ivy's Favorites Volume 3
6. "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)" - The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
7. "My Novel Idea" - Tom X. Chao - Micro-Podcasts
8. "Newboys" - The Adverts - Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts
9. "Come On" - Crispy Ambulance - Frozen Blood (1980-82)
10. "I Got A Right" - The Micronotz - Smash

Just read online that the writer/director/actor/etc. Dan O'Bannon died. There's a good obit/overview HERE and here's a favorite scene from his Dark Star:

And in the holiday spirit, Esther Silberstein passed on this fine rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" by Michael Lynch:

Okay, nap time before a sizable evening of theatre now . . .

collisionwork: (kwizatz hadarach)
Busy and satisfying week, for the most part.

Between Sunday and yesterday, Berit and I auditioned 17 actresses for the 7 female roles we had to refill in the four August shows (and we saw one man for one of the 5 male roles in one of them, Sacrificial Offerings, and he was good for one of the parts, so, great).

We saw a lot of good people, and have wound up with a list of people to ask, though I'm waiting a bit on informing them as Berit is still asleep, and I want to have one last discussion with her before I send out the "we want you for the part, do you want it?" emails.

For two of the parts, in two different plays, there were four different women who were all REALLY good for the part, in wildly different ways. I think B & I decided on who we most wanted for Lyuba Kovalevskaya in Little Piece of the Sun, but there was a time yesterday when we were weighing three different actresses and Berit was saying, "I wish we could have a combo of bits of the qualities of all three." But (I think) we went for a way that was VERY different from the way we originally cast the role, as well as the way it was originally cast and played back in 2001.

And I also have to wait until B is up to hash out who we want for "The Mistress" in Blood on the Cat's Neck. Again, a wealth of choices for that part, of vastly different types.

I may just email the two women we want for The Brundi Twins in George Bataille's Bathrobe right now -- we know who they are . . . okay (he typed a half-hour later), they've been emailed.

Now I'm in a holding pattern on emailing people, as the next steps are dependent on the first answers I get -- as in, if the first people I ask to play one of the Brundis from George Bataille's Bathrobe and Lyuba in Little Piece say no, then I have to move around the people playing The Model and The Mistress in Blood on the Cat's Neck to other shows/parts to get the mix right. Let's hope for all the first choices being on board . . .

Wow, everything seems to be going fine and full-bore ahead on the shows . . . B & I are just waiting for the other shoe . . . ANY other shoe . . . to drop.

Yesterday was a nice big 14-hour day at The Brick for B & I, but work was done and shows were seen, and the two sellout/near sellout house we had were good and easy to get in and deal with. Berit's on duty again tonight, and I'm hoping she'll be okay with me staying home.

And as for this week's Random Ten from the 25,596 tracks in the iPod (nothing has changed there for a while, no time to keep clearing the thing out and refilling it, though I have an iTunes playlist of 322 to put on there once I clear out some dross), here it is . . .

1. "Tacoma Trailer" - Leonard Cohen - The Future
2. "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" - Esquivel - Four Corners Of The World
3. "I Need You" - Eurythmics - Savage
4. "I've Been Crying" - Tommy Louis - Lost Deep Soul Treasures 3
5. "Mucha Muchacha" - Esquivel - Space Age Bachelor Pad Music
6. "Met a Girl on the Corner" - The Orchids - A Taste of Doo Wop Vol.1
7. "53 Miles West Of Venus" - The B-52's - Wild Planet
8. "Yeh-Yeh!" - Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames - Mod & Beyond
9. "Ain't Gonna Worry About You" - George Tinley & The Modern Redcaps - Club Au-Go-Go 6
10. "Reject" - Green Day - Nimrod

Well, that was an odd collection of pop songs that for some reason could all sound kinda mournful and elegiac on a cloudy Friday morn, following a long week and a whole bunch of surprising deaths that probably shouldn't have been (surprising, that is), which now lead to me dumping a TON of video on y'all.

Well, Michael Jackson is gone.

I can't pretend immense fandom of his work, but I can damn well support the more-than-a-handful of brilliant, timeless pop singles he created and co-created, which (I hope) will long outlast what anyone knows or claims to know about his life.

I was only going to post two videos of him that are the way I'd prefer to remember him, but some Facebook comments came up on the man that I wanted to mention.

Scott Williams noted, summing up my feelings quite well, that he was "getting sick, both of the bathetic sentiment slobbering wetly across the media and facebook over the recent death of certain talented (but increasingly irrelevant) people, and over the mean-spirited (but mostly humorless) haters who think that acting like they don't care shows their "rebellious" side. If you're gonna be a hater, you gotta learn to be witty, too, or you just look like an asshole." (Scott notes later he was also referring to Farrah and Ed McMahon with this).

And an old friend of mine, who I won't name, comes close to being in the latter category, but JUST not quite, when she notes that she "understands the 'MJ as life soundtrack' thing for some folks but she was listening to P- Funk, The Who and the Clash. And the pedophile thing was a turn off. Sorry, but there it is."

So I wrote a response to her and then didn't have the balls to post it directly to her on Facebook (I'm too Scandinavian at heart to deal with conflict I don't have to), though I surprised myself with being so red with anger:

You seem to be on the edge of a false dichotomy here, XXXXX. Some of us were listing to MJ, and all of the above you named, and a lot more, and whatever else, and a lot more whatever else. One does not preclude the other. And I sure as hell don't see his hideousness (which goes beyond "issues") being ignored anywhere, we're all well aware of it (though, hey, anyone remember the anti-semitic lyrics he wrote and got in trouble for at one point? "so-called chosen, frozen?" yeah, that seems to have vanished down the memory hole . . .)
UPDATE: D'OH! Speaking of memory holes . . . Daniel McKleinfeld points out on Facebook that I am misremembering my anti-semitic remark controversies -- it was PUBLIC ENEMY that had the "so-called chosen, frozen" lyric . . . MJ had the "jew me, sue me" lyric . . . ick . . . that's what I get for not listening to the little voice in my head that was saying I was making a mistake here . . .

And lots of personal things (about even some of the artists you name) were as big turn-offs -- look into the life of Keith Moon, which sure as hell isn't all good-natured fun as often presented, for a long list of unforgivable, immoral and criminal behavior. Or how about Mr. Peter Townshend's collection of child pornography?

Or the actually-convicted-of-crime geniuses that are Ike Turner, James Brown, Arthur Lee, and Chuck Berry, to name a few (where are the white folks? do they get off with a slap on the wrist and "boys will be boys" when they do hideous things? like Keith Moon did?).

But I will listen to "I'll Be There" and "Billie Jean" with as much pleasure as I do "Rocket 88" or "I Can See for Miles" or "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" or "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks" or "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing" (or for that matter "Song for Michael Jackson to $ell"). Sorry, but there it is.

His main criminal act for me personally was becoming artistically irrelevant the older he got, but then so do a LOT of artists.

Two other comments sum up much of my feelings on this, a balanced view from Matt Zoller Seitz and a fairly negative one from music critic Chris Morris which discusses the basic coldness and hollowness of even Jackson's better work (h/t Jim Emerson). In this, I agree with Morris' observations, but not necessarily his conclusions (I believe that "warmth" and "fullness" are nice things to have in art, but by no means automatic virtues, nor the absence of them automatic debits). And Crooks and Liars posts two amazing comparison videos of The Jackson 5 doing "I Want You Back" on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1970 and (unfortunately, a brief fragment) at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

And of course, The Onion has its own last word.

And - spending more time on the man than I would have ever thought myself caring to, and probably more than I've ever spent before all put together - here's three videos of MJ in ways I'd like to remember him, from Free To Be... You and Me (with Roberta Flack), the famous (and yes, COLD) performance from the Motown 25th Anniversary show, and a fan-made video that puts together the vocal tracks on "I'll Be There" with a TV lipsync of the song . . .

As for Farrah . . . I actually missed a lot of her cultural impact. For some reason, though I watched endless hours of bad 70s TV, Charlie's Angels never actually made it in there (at least while FF was on the show; I think I watched it in later seasons). I remember her instead, and happily so, from The Burning Bed, Extremities and Myra Breckinridge, the latter of which is one of those "bad" films I will defend tooth & nail, in which FF plays an apparently dumb blonde, who winds up with more layers than the title character figures on, and whose humanity and kindness winds up shaming Myra into realizing how cruel she has been . . .

Also gone, a man whose music is quite a bit closer to me than MJ's was, and who had his own odd and famous (to his cult audience) problems, Mr. Sky Saxon, lead singer of the great band The Seeds:

And as for Ed McMahon, let's end on a laugh . . . a piece of video that makes me crack up every single time I see it . . .

collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
Just found out from the great website Destructible Man, a place for the scholarly study of "the dummy death in cinema" (really!) run by The Flying Maciste Brothers, that one of the greatest photographers in all of film, Mr. Jack Cardiff passed away today at the age of 94.

The Maciste Bros' tribute is HERE, with the promise of more to come.

Cardiff began his career in film in the 1910s (as an actor, then clapper boy), and was STILL working as a DP as of two years ago!

He shot close to 75 films (and directed a few, including some good ones, notably Sons and Lovers), but will probably be best remembered and loved for his glorious camera work on the Powell and Pressburger films (three of my very favorites) A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes.

He also shot Hitchcock's Under Capricorn and John Huston's imitation Powell/Pressburger film The African Queen, and many other great films of that period. However, his career extended all the way to shooting such films as Death on the Nile, Ghost Story, Cat's Eye, Conan the Destroyer, and Rambo: First Blood Part II!

The man knew and loved film, and knew and loved light. He was a master, and he was a worker.

Sorry if you read this when it crossposts on my Facebook notes page, where the videos don't show up, but you can always come over to the blog, if interested enough. Here's 6 minutes of a TV profile of Cardiff, with a number of clips (unfortunately, part 2 seems to not be posted, dammit):

And, though it's a crime to reduce Cardiff's gorgeous work to a 480x385 pixel low-res YouTube reproduction (especially if you've been lucky enough to see any of these films in an actual dye-transfer 35mm print), even in this tiny form, amazingly, you get enough of a taste of his work, so here's the classic climactic sequence from Black Narcissus featuring Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron (SPOILERS, if you care):

And here's the opening to A Matter of Life and Death, with David Niven and Kim Hunter:

RIP Mr. Cardiff.

Kathleen Byron
Kim Hunter

collisionwork: (philip guston)
So, the writer J.G. Ballard died the other day. He was 78 and had been fighting cancer for a few years.

I’d call myself a big fan of his, though he was in fact gigantically prolific and I really only know a small fraction of his work. But what I do know I know well and love: the novels The Crystal World, Concrete Island, Running Wild, High Rise, and a number of short stories I’ve read in various anthologies, but especially the two great novels The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash. I’ve had a copy of Cocaine Nights for years (someone left a set of uncorrected bound galleys at Nada for some reason) but have only now started to read it, and am quite liking it as well. But actually I’ve been most often jumping around between all of the favorite works mentioned for the last few days, reading favorite bits and pieces of each from one, then jumping to another, back and forth, over and over. They all kind of become one work, in any case . . .

Crash was also, of course, made into a fine film by David Cronenberg that does a pretty damned good job of getting the story across onscreen, though it still can’t capture the real essence of the book, which is contained as much in Ballard’s narrative voice as in the plot (a film that got that voice completely would actually be – as Cronenberg once said an accurate film of Naked Lunch would be – banned in every country on Earth). Cronenberg may be a hair, just a hair, too sane (would you believe?) to really get the feel of Ballard. As a fan of the book, I also had distinct pictures in my head of what most of the characters looked and felt like, and while most of the casting was acceptable to my dreams of them, I just couldn’t see Elias Koteas, good as he is, as the hoodlum scientist Vaughan, who I had always pictured more as a scarred-up and badly plastic-surgeried Harlan Ellison, circa 1974, in leathers and denim.

I’m told that Jonathan Weiss made an excellent film of The Atrocity Exhibition. I have a copy of the screenplay, and it is a surprisingly good adaptation of a seemingly unadaptable novel. Oddly, I got the screenplay long before the film was made, or at least released, hanging out at Bar Bob on Eldridge Street sometime in 1994 or so, when it was still an “art bar,” and winding up in conversation with a stranger at the bar, which wound up turning to the subject of Ballard. He mentioned he was working in some capacity on this film that was being made of Atrocity ( a dubious proposition, it seemed to me), and left the bar to run to his nearby apartment and return with a copy of the script, which he gave to me. There seemed to be some implication that maybe I would want to work on the film in some capacity, but it was never stated and I had no opening to suggest it myself (it was all very Ballardian; it felt like a seduction of one kind or another, of me – not especially a sexual one – and I was blowing it). So I just wound up with a fine screenplay on my shelf for a few years, which I was actually surprised to find got made, though I still haven’t seen the final film.

Of course, the biggest film made of a Ballard book was Spielberg’s adaptation of his memoir-in-the-form-of-a-novel, Empire of the Sun, about JGB’s experiences in Shanghai as a child during the Japanese occupation. An almost-excellent film, horribly scarred by a maudlin and destructive John Williams score that screams at you what you are “supposed to be feeling” during the high emotional points and thus destroys any real feeling that might be occurring (a continued problem with Spielberg’s “serious” films – the horrible Williams scores that massively damage not only Empire but also Amistad and Saving Private Ryan -- I’d say that Williams should stick only to action, which he’s great at, but for some reason he does just fine by Spielberg on Schindler’s List and Munich, so I dunno . . .). Despite that score, the film succeeds, mainly because of the amazing performance of Christian Bale, still a child, but definitely not giving a “child actor” performance.

Ballard was quite happy with all three adaptations of his work, so he was a rather lucky author in that regard (not a lot of great or even really-good books work well onscreen; JGB’s prose was rather “cinematic” – he was a movie-lover, though I don’t seem to share his tastes too much – so that may have helped). Maybe someday someone will finally get to making a film of his intensely cinematic novel High Rise.

If anyone wanted a good intro to Ballard, I’d suggest above all issue #8/9 of RE/SEARCH, the magazine in book form that Andrea Juno and V. Vale used to put out, which was an entire JGB overview issue, containing interviews with and about Ballard, short fiction, novel excerpts, non-fiction, and – perhaps most valuably – his collages-as-short-stories (or perhaps short-stories-as-collages), some of which were published (as advertisements) in the magazine AMBIT, others intended to be “published” as billboards on English highways (unfortunately, this never happened). A rich collection of Ballard that can serve equally well as intro to the newcomer, and treasury for the fan.

There is plenty of other info about the man and his work, and tributes to him, at the Ballardian website.

The RE/SEARCH issue also includes, as a postscript, JGB’s response to a 1984 request from a French magazine to state “what he believed.” I don’t necessarily agree with all of JGB’s expressed beliefs (and I’d be surprised if he did much of the time, though I’m sure he did as he typed them), but I find them, like the best of his work, moving, provoking, and inspirational, so I reprint JGB’s “What I Believe” here, below behind the cut, in tribute. Enjoy, if that’s the word . . .

WHAT I BELIEVE by J.G. Ballard, 1984 )

collisionwork: (chiller)

Mr. Erich Lee Purkhiser, better and more properly known to the world as Lux Interior, lead singer of The Cramps, partner and/or husband of Cramps guitarist Miss Poison Ivy for 37 years, 3-D photography fanatic (most Cramps album covers are actually 3-D photos by Lux), possible coiner of the term "psychobilly," passed away this morning due to an heart condition in Glendale, California at 4.30 am. He had turned 60 this past October (UPDATE: Suddenly his birthyear has changed on a number of websites, and it appears he just turned 62 in October).

There's been a lot of change in the lineup of The Cramps over the years, apart from Lux and Ivy, but without both of them present, I'm pretty sure, that's it, no more Cramps. So here's four videos featuring six songs from across their career. Hope this gives you the taste for more; there's lots of it out there. Enjoy.

"Bikini Girls With Machine Guns":

"Muleskinner Blues":

"What's Inside a Girl?" / "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?" / "The Crusher":

"Naked Girl Falling Down The Stairs":

Vaya con dios, Lux. Best wishes to Miss Ivy, hope she's okay.

collisionwork: (mark rothko)
Berit and I had a lovely couple of Xmas days away with our families. Hope yours was as pleasant.

Now, back home, back to kitties, back to work.

And back to the Friday Random Ten, from out of the 26,108 tracks in the iPod, with links to songs and info:

1. "Synthesizer" - Electric Six - Fire
2. "Those Were The Days (Italian-Language Version)" - Mary Hopkin - Foreign Language Fun, Vol. 1
3. "Oh, What A Price" - Link Wray - The Swan Demos 1964
4. "Cage and Aquarium" - They Might Be Giants - Then: The Earlier Years
5. "The Big Surfer" - Brian Lord - Pebbles Volume 4 - Surf'n Tunes!
6. "Progress" - Mission Of Burma - Vs.
7. "(I Wanna) Testify" - The Parliaments - Testify! The Best of the Early Years
8. "Atlantis" - Les Baxter & His Orchestra - Ultra-Lounge 1: Mondo Exotica
9. "Stockings" - Suzanne Vega - Nine Objects Of Desire
10. "Misery Goats" - Pere Ubu - Datapanik in the Year Zero (1980-1982)

In the last two days we lost two very very different legends - well, except maybe for their outspokenness when it came to certain activities of the US government.

Eartha Kitt has left us. Oddly, my father and I had just been speaking about her yesterday briefly when her version of a Christmas song came on the stereo (and I don't think it was "Santa Baby," which isn't a favorite of mine, much as I love her), so she was somewhere fresh in my mind when I came home to read the tribute lines to her from friends on Facebook.

Here's a couple of videos of her in her prime from a TV appearance in 1962 (thanks [ profile] flyswatter for leading me to the first one):

There are SO many great clips of her on YouTube it was hard to limit it to this - go take a look there if you want more . . .

And also gone is the great Harold Pinter. I believe he was the greatest living playwright we had (who would it be now? I don't think I could pick another . . .) , and the second greatest (after Beckett) whose life has overlapped mine, and, like Beckett, his work just got better and better as he got older (while his early works, as good as they are, tended to get overrated in the long run). I can say no more.

Pinter started as an actor, and occasionally relapsed - I would have LOVED to have seen his Krapp's Last Tape in 2006 - and I think his deep understanding of the practicality of what works for the actor is a huge part of his inimitable style.

Rather than an excerpt from one of his own works, here is Pinter as The Director in Beckett's penultimate stage play, Catastrophe (dedicated to Vaclav Havel), also featuring John Gielgud in his last filmed appearance, directed by David Mamet (and I have some minor problems with the liberties Mamet took with Beckett's play - let alone the entire concept of filming a Beckett play - but for the basic staging and performances, I'm grateful for this film):

Back to the world of The Brick and the shows I'm to get up this year now . . .

collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite, motherfucker, is dead.

I'm not sure if I'd exactly call myself a fan, but damn I enjoyed his movies. I was introduced to them by my friend Jim Baker, who described Dolemite as "Plan 10 From Inner City," but RRM was several levels above most of Ed Wood's work.

Here are two trailers from RRM's best period and a brief clip from my favorite film of his, Petey Wheatstraw, The Devil's Son-In-Law:

If You Crave Satisfaction, This Is The Place To Find That Action )

B & I will be going to a Halloween party this year that's actually on Halloween, for once. There is a costume theme for the party (though it won't be strictly enforced) which is "Fine Art," as in "come as Jackson Pollock or come as a Jackson Pollock." I suggested to Berit going as some characters from a Philip Guston painting but she said no (I think perhaps wisely, as they wouldn't be good costumes to walk around in).

Not a lot of time to really figure out anything elaborate. Maybe I'll wear a red shirt and black pants and say I've come as Mark Rothko's No. 14.

Not sure what Berit will do - it seems that a woman these days doesn't just have to decide on a costume, but on a "sexy" version of that costume . . .

. . . and Frog )

And [ profile] queencallipygos posted a meme that got me because it made me immediately look around and follow the instructions, which are:

Grab the nearest book. Open the book to page 56. Find the fifth sentence. Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your journal/blog along with these instructions.

The only book within reach of the computer turned out to be Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, on loan from Matt Gray. So I'll leave you today with these words . . .

Margaret was living in fear of the Spiritualists, who had a great deal at stake and were threatened by her confession, and especially her older sister, the domineering force in the family. As Margaret stepped to the platform, she faced more than two thousand people, including a good number of devoted Spiritualists who greeted her with hostility. As she attempted to speak, she found that the words were rambling and disjointed; the strain was too great, and Margaret was completely unable to continue. The expectant crowd realized that she had lost her nerve. Perhaps the entire confession had been a hoax.

New Blue

Aug. 19th, 2008 12:52 am
collisionwork: (kwizatz hadarach)
When I was a fairly young film geek, my dad and stepmom gave me Manny Farber's classic collection of film writing, Negative Space.

I enjoyed a lot of it, but was often hung up by his negative opinions of films and filmmakers I held dear, who he could slight greatly with a brief, cutting remark. So I didn't go back to Farber much for years. Eventually, I did, at an age where I could defend, in my head at least, the artists I loved from Farber's disapprobrium while appreciating his insights, which were great.

His most famous essay, "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art" is one of the great statements of 20th Century criticism, and I can't recommend it highly enough (even if it too slams artists I revere - the argument is sound, if I think his examples are sometimes off).

Manny Farber died yesterday at the age of 91. The film geek world mourns.

A great overview of Farber and the many reactions to his death (and details of his life and work) can be found HERE at Movie City Indie.

Girish Shambu wrote a piece over two years ago on Farber's most famous essay HERE, and while he has the same problem with some of Farber's distastes for his favorites that I do, he starts a good discussion on the essay (with lengthy quotes) that continues into the comments.

Paul Schrader, film critic-turned-filmmaker, owns a painting by Farber, Untitled: New Blue, and made a short film about it, its creation, and Farber (backed by one of my favorite Philip Glass piano pieces, "Wichita Vortex Sutra"), which can be seen at his site HERE.

. . . [what] termite art aims at: buglike immersion in a small area without point or aim, and, over all, concentration on nailing down one moment without glamorizing it, but forgetting this accomplishment as soon as it has been passed; the feeling that all is expendable, that it can be chopped up and flung down in a different arrangement without ruin.

collisionwork: (eraserhead)
Finally, my body is getting the message. Woke me up at exactly 6.00 am this morning, kept me up about a quarter-hour, then let me fall back asleep until 8. About time.

Yesterday, excellent performances of Harry in Love and Spell (not that I don't have notes, but the shows were just great with good energy), and week two of the Gemini CollisionWorks August Trio at The Brick is down.

And Berit & I have two days off. Finally.

Except of course, for making a postcard run to the Fringe NYC venues, and doing some email work on the shows (notes) and the upcoming Clown Festival (technical arrangements). Tomorrow.

Today, we're hunkering down. The original plan was to arrange the day so we don't have to leave the apartment, but I think I have to go out for some groceries. I wanna go get myself a breakfast sammich from Alice & Ben's grocery next door, too.

Tomorrow, we go see The Dark Knight in IMAX. Just 'cause. We almost never see movies in the theatre anymore (when in Maine in Summer we've sometimes gone to a drive-in), so it'll be a nice change (in 2006, we saw INLAND EMPIRE twice in December, and that was it, in 2007, it was No Country for Old Men, also twice, also in December). Until I put on the new Criterion DVD of Mishima a few days ago, we hadn't had the TV on in weeks (and then we watched Vertigo two nights ago). Too much to do with plays to bother with others arts and/or entertainments right now.

But we just want to go somewhere cool and sit in front of a big screen right now and watch Big Things Go 'Splody. Well, I do and B is happy to join me.

We live so much at The Brick, it'll be nice to get away. How much do we live at The Brick? Well, I was amused to look up the space on Google Earth not long ago and see this exterior view . . .

Petey At The Brick on The Google

Yup, that's our good ol' Big Blue Plymouth (and I'm sure David Byrne didn't have a vehicle anything like this in size or form when he wrote the song of that name on The Catherine Wheel, but it's become our car's theme song anyway) - sitting, as usual, in front of The Brick (with our landlord's car that went up in flames right there directly behind us). Quite obviously, given the poster and signboard out front (for those who don't know The Brick, it's the little entranceway behind the tail of Petey) this was obviously taken during last year's Clown Festival, with the old door still on.

Yeah, it's just chance that Petey was there when the Google Car drove by, but it was a damned good chance, I can assure you.

Oh, and as that reminds me, just for fun, inside the cut, two videos: Talking Heads excellently performing Byrne's "Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)" live in England in 1982 - I wish there was more band footage and less artsy stock footage but whatever - and, apropos of nothing, Boris Karloff doing an ad for the Ronson Comet lighter in the late 60s.

Find a dangerous, windy place . . . )

In other news, the damned fine Bernie Mac has passed on, and the MAGNIFICENT Mr. Isaac Hayes has as well. He was the Duke of New York, he was A-Number-One (hey, maybe today's a good day to pull out Escape from New York, and then, by extension, a whole John Carpenter fun-fest!). He was also the artist behind the great Hot Buttered Soul album - which I can't access right now, as I only have it on vinyl - and, of course, he was Chef on South Park.

And he wrote the terrific "Theme from Shaft." Leonard Jacobs, over at his blog, does a great service by posting the entire opening title sequence from Shaft in honor of Mr. Hayes, which is valuable as you can see why Hayes' song was such a GREAT theme song for a movie, even more than just as a song on its own - the rhythms and sounds in that piece accompanying Richard Roundtree in his walk around a freezing cold Times Square (great period view of marquees and theatre posters!) are just beautiful (as is Roundtree's FINE coat). Beautifully shot by noted photographer Gordon Parks (here as director).

Okay, thunder outside - time to run and get the sammich and hunker down with some entertainment for the day. The "DO NOT DISTURB" sign is out.

UPDATE: Oh, right - We'll be posting some thoughts on the creation and meaning of the three current shows at The Brick's aptly-named blog, B(rick)log (and when I say, "we" it really means me but I'm hoping I can convince Berit to give her own point of view in an entry). An introductory note is up now. So that's something else I have to do tomorrow or the next day, write some more of these things . . .


Jul. 9th, 2008 09:10 am
collisionwork: (swinging)
The three shows proceed.

Harry in Love is rehearsing very smoothly, which is to be expected for this already fully-written, cut, cast well, traditional comedy. The biggest hangup I've had was when I had to go over an incredibly tiny moment over and over last night - it's a gag I love and the timing needed to be ABSOLUTELY PERFECT for it to work at all.

The structure of the moment is that two people are yelling at each other heatedly and a third suddenly comes out with a pertinent but unexpected piece of information - there needs to be a brief beat of silence, and then the other three people in the room look at the person who's suddenly spoken up. So the brief beat and the look have to be timed just right, and, even more importantly, fall together with one "bump" like a period, to make the laugh work. It was getting the bump right - if anyone's movement trailed off rather than just fell into place, the moment didn't work, and it took a while to get everyone on the same page with the movement - if Ken Simon (the person I'm yelling with in the scene) made a double gesture (arm, then head) it didn't work (arm and head together worked); if Tom Reid, the person interrupting us, moved his head around, looking at us, during the beat and look to him, it didn't work.

So about 10 or 12 minutes were spent on this tiny moment, which seems like a lot, but then 10 minutes of play can go by in rehearsal without me needing to fix anything, so it all works out - there's a very specific rhythm to the play, a comic give and take that resembles, at various points, the timing of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Edgar Kennedy with Harpo & Chico Marx in Duck Soup, and Zero Mostel & Gene Wilder in the second scene of The Producers. So when we all get the groove going and get that rhythm, the play really takes care of itself. But we have to get that groove, which gets easier and easier the more we do it.

Spell and Everything Must Go are okay except I need to finish the scripts, dammit, which is proving much harder than expected. I keep saying that, and then I have a day where everything just COMES to me on one script or the other, for one scene or another, and I think, "Now I'm on a ROLL!" And then I finish that bit and the next one . . . doesn't happen. I have a schedule of pages set for myself now which, if I can stick to it, will have Spell done before this coming Sunday's rehearsal and EMG before next Tuesday's. I have some new pieces of Spell for tonight, luckily, but not as much as I'd like.

I also had to recast a role in each show (besides the recent addition of Tory to EMG), so Samantha Mason is now in Spell and Sarah Engelke is now in EMG, which are good additions to the groups.

Spell looks good and I feel good about it, as long as I can keep the writing at the same quality I've had. Still, it's a bigger work than I imagined - I guess wider is the more appropriate term; it's about more than I thought, and as comments/thoughts come in from this very smart and thoughtful cast, I have to deal with the issues that are raised, which is daunting and the writing problem at this point. And I've been putting off the six hardest scenes for last (out of 32 scenes in the play), hoping I can get a better intellectual grip on the material I have to deal with before setting them down (in brief, Cuba, Palestine, the Peoples' Republic of China).

I think there's a good reason I've never dealt with serious political material in my work before except on the very metaphoric level. In the past I've always said of political art that generally that I wasn't fond of it because generally it meant that either the politics or the art suffered from being combined with the other. And I'd rather see great art with shallow politics than the other way around (there is SO much lousy art whose politics I agree with, but that is SO annoying - I hate hearing something like my own point-of-view being espoused by Bad Art). It has been this current Administration of the USA that has made me feel I had to say SOMETHING about this country in my work (leading to World Gone Wrong, That's What We're Here For, and the staging of my versions of Hamlet and Foreman's Symphony of Rats).

So . . . {sigh} . . . maybe the trick is to just let go of the idea of dealing with some of this in Spell at the level I've been getting to in my head. Just letting the Art go where it needs to and use the material within it, not force the play to take in more than it wants to.

Everything Must Go doesn't worry me as much as it did briefly. I had a momentary loss-of-faith in my abilities for this one, but got over it. Great rehearsal the other night, in which two dance sequences came together - one to "Slug" by Passengers, the other to "Handsome Man" by Barbara Pittman. Really nice, and I'm VERY happy with them. I think I got to the point of figuring out how to work with the dancers of the company and choreograph in collaboration with them, and use their varied abilities and styles.

Unfortunately, during the rehearsal at Champions Studios, big clumsy me, working with my shoes off, kicked a radiator nice and hard, resulting in my right little toe turning several rather spectacular shades of purple - which has continued for two days now, with pain that comes and goes in odd ways (sometimes just the toe hurts if I put pressure on it, sometimes that's fine but it hurts if I curl it, sometimes there's no specific pain in the toe but the whole front of the foot aches).

In this cut, a picture of my toe as it was last night - I'd generally not hide this, but maybe some people don't want to see my injured, mottled toe . . .

Maybe I'll Do a Photo a Day and Show the Progress . . . )

In the other world, the great film collagist and eccentric Bruce Conner has died at the age of 74. I was going to link to a whole bunch of videos of his work, but the fine fine superfine folks at Movie City Indie have already handled that better than I could, doing two wonderful posts about Conner HERE and HERE.

Excellent postings, those, and the first contains eight of Conner's films embedded in it, including his landmark A Movie (1958) and his videos for Byrne & Eno's "America Is Waiting" and Devo's "Mongoloid" - and a surprising collaboration with Toni Basil (or "Antonia Christina Basilotta" as she's credited here), "Breakaway," which features original footage of Basil dancing (most of Conner's work is made up of found footage) that gets into some NSFW territory (oh, just saw it's from 1966! so this was immediately post-Village of the Giants and pre-Head for Basil . . .).

Worth watching, all those films - though I can't say I've gotten through all of them yet myself. And here's A Movie inside a cut, as I'd like to have this handy and give you a taste of Conner's work, right here and now . . .

A MOVIE by Bruce Conner )

Now I have to get back to not only my writing of the shows, but getting out the next section of press releases for them, which takes time as well. I also have to deal today with finishing up some business with The Costume Collection and separate matters with Fractured Atlas. And Berit and I need to have a proper sit-down about the postcard designs for the three shows and making up prop/set/costume/sound/special lights/projection lists of what we will need for each show.

Just a couple of weeks of GETTING STUFF DONE every waking moment, and it'll all be fine . . .

collisionwork: (goya)
Yesterday at rehearsal, I was trying to demonstrate to Ken Simon the kind of tune I wanted him to be singing an aimless improvised song to, and what came out of my mouth was a bit from George Carlin, in which he demonstrated how while you weren't allowed to sing at the dinner table, you could stand next to the table and sing yer ass off . . .

I'm STAND-in' at the TA-ble . . .

This got into a brief Carlin discussion, and Ken said that Carlin's 2008 HBO special had been a step up from his previous one. I'm watching (or more precisely, as I have this window open on top of it, listening) to it now, and he celebrated being 70 in style all right.

And now he's gone. I'll miss not having any new Carlin material, but there's plenty of old material still to go over. PLENTY. My mom had Carlin's first seven albums or so in the house while I was growing up ("or so" because she was missing one - luckily it was the subpar Toledo Window Box), and I learned a helluva lot about life and language from them, I can assure you. And I still can't use more than one of the "seven dirty words" in a row without hearing the full list, spoken in Carlin's distinctive cadences.

I was going to embed some video playlists of his first and most recent specials, but the videos, while still up at YouTube, have suddenly become un-embeddable. But you can still link to the playlists.

So HERE is Carlin in 1977 (I dig the introduction from Shana Alexander needed by HBO in those times to "explain" Carlin's vulgar language from a "serious, historical, satirical" perspective, hah!)

And HERE he is in 2008 (I'm going to have to play this for Berit later - it sounds like one of our conversations in funnier monologue form, with all of the same pet peeves, or rather, as Carlin said, "I don't have pet peeves, I have major psychotic hatreds").

The person who posted these specials has posted a LOT of Carlin, which I can't embed, but which can be found HERE, including GC's best albums from the 1970s.

Damn, I'll miss the man.

collisionwork: (lost highway)
Ambersons opened on Sunday. It went well. I'm still a bit tired, but I spent yesterday getting over most of it. More on that in a moment; first the obits/links:

Bo Diddley was . . . well, great. He was Bo Diddley. I keep discovering that I have acquired more of his work than I imagined even existed (much of it on vinyl, and thus currently untouchable, unfortunately), and I return to it with more joy than most of the rest of early rock and roll - I don't know why. He wasn't the songwriter Chuck Berry was, or quite the performer/personality many of the others were (though he still gave an amazing show when I saw him about 10 years ago), but Bo just makes me happy (and oh, hey, dad - I lost the tape with "Please Mr. Engineer" on it that I made at your place - could you slip me an mp3 of that one? - and the rest of you, if you've never heard that song/monologue - with one of the most amazing guitar sounds ever recorded - find it).

I wrote a little about Bo when he had a stroke last year, and included some videos, but they're all a no-go now. HERE's a link to a replacement for one of them, Bo in The Big T.N.T. Show, 1966. Damn.

Robert H. Justman was a producer, assistant director, and production manager who was best known for his work on the original Star Trek series, though he did much more than that. He worked for director Robert Aldrich for years, including on the film Kiss Me Deadly, one of my very favorites.

I note his passing because one of his in-house personal gags has become a Gemini CollisionWorks tradition - Justman was known for his humorous scene breakdowns that would be given to the crew of any production he was managing - you get these writeups the day before or the morning of a shoot to let you know what the plan is for the day, and Justman had a smart-ass way of doing it that made everyone on set smile right at the point when they needed it. I wish I could remember what book his breakdown of the apocalyptic final scene of Deadly is in - I just remember that he titled the scene "Let's Go Fission" - but he was famous for his use of the obvious abbreviation "F.O.'s" to mean "exits" in his breakdowns (though I suppose it should really be "F.'s O."). A scene breakdown handed to the crew on Trek might read "McCoy enters, bitches at Kirk for a while. Spock raises his eyebrow. Kirk tells McCoy to shut up, go back to the lab and figure out a solution, but not so fast as to be before the act break. McCoy effoes to sickbay."

So "F.O.," and the advanced verb form "effoe," have become the standard GCW way between Berit and I and the actors of indicating exits (as in, "Laertes then effoes down center").

I'm pleased that Justman's gag continues on, as I heard Adam Swiderski using the term casually when he directed his episode of Penny Dreadful, and, even better, the actors all knew what he meant right away.

Justman and production executive Herb Solow also wrote a great book about the making of Star Trek that's fascinating not just because of its connection to the series, but as a description of how a TV show was made in the 1960s, how Hollywood was changing at that time, and what it was like then at a small, struggling production company like Desilu which barely had the money and resources to produce, as they were doing, Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix on adjoining, decrepit old RKO Radio Pictures soundstages, while being mismanaged by the brand-new MBAs who were coming in and knew how you were supposed to sell abstract widgets, but knew nothing about the entertainment industry.

Also among the dead now are two other people best known from Trek, but with important work elsewhere: composer Alexander Courage, who composed the theme and some music for the series (before having a nasty falling out with Roddenberry over royalties), who was more notable perhaps as an arranger/conductor for other composers (primarily Jerry Goldsmith).

Joseph Pevney was best known as a director on the original Trek, including the very best episodes of the series (at least 6 of the top ten, in my opinion), but he was an actor for many years before, and gave notable performances in three classic film noirs, Body and Soul, Thieves' Highway, and Nocturne, which I've written about elsewhere. I was stunned to see in looking at his IMDb listing that these three films comprise a full half of his film work as actor - a pity, as he's terrific in all of them.

The year of my birth was a nasty one, and the Summer got VERY nasty indeed - if the previous year had been The Summer of Love, 1968 was The Summer of Hate. The month of my birth got off to a rousing opening forty years ago today when Andy Warhol had a very very bad day at the office. Meanwhile, Haskell Wexler was filming Medium Cool, mainly in Chicago, and Jean-Luc Godard was in London spending the month of June filming The Rolling Stones as they put together their new single, which at this point, 40 years ago, contained the line "I shouted out, who killed John Kennedy . . .". The lyric would change within the next week.

(I originally used the word "shooting" instead of "filming" twice above, but that wound up coming off a little wrong in describing the events of '68)

And in old show housecleaning, Ian W. Hill's Hamlet has been mentioned in a fine piece by Leonard Jacobs as to why he's not seeing the new Hamlet from The Public. He seems to have a positive thing to say about the production, but I'm not sure it was the point I was going for. Whatever.

So, The Magnificent Ambersons by Orson Welles: A Reconstruction for the Stage opened and worked out quite fine. Ran smooth. Not perfect, of course. Most of the problems are things of mine or Berit's that need to be fixed (sound cues that run too short, light cues that need to be lengthened or put in slightly different places).

Some of the cast are still having problems with the immense number of costume changes, many of them quick changes. A couple of set changes weren't quite right (although at least one was improved in being slightly off, I think). I'll see what I can do to correct these through email.

I did a terrible job on my narration, unfortunately - as Michael Gardner noted, accurately assuming it was from exhaustion. I got better as I went on, but I was on auto-pilot for the opening, just doing the "sonorous narrator" tone that I, like so many honorary graduates of the Gary Owens Radio School for Big-Voiced Men, can just fall into if not thinking about it. I've worked very hard on the tone I want in the narration, a very subtle one (as did Welles, though I've taken pains to be as different from Welles as I can, except for a couple of line readings I can't improve upon), and I just didn't have it until after the long, long break where the narrator reappears after an hour or so. I'll keep working on it for Friday.

I'm typing up my notes at the same time as writing this - which is why it's been four hours since I opened both the email to send to the cast and this posting window - and my big repeated notes are "CUES!", "CUES AND LINES!", and "QUIET BACKSTAGE, DAMMIT!" The first and last being the biggest problems (the lines were pretty much all there and right). Though I may be wrong about some of the backstage noise, as I'm seated onstage directly below the window with the A.C. in it, and I can hear EVERYTHING going on across the alley in several homes and businesses.

It all came right together when it needed to. Berit and I spent an all-nighter getting everything set Saturday/Sunday - after attending Matt Gray and Dina Rose Rivera's (lovely) marriage and reception in Fort Greene and DUMBO, I dropped Berit off at The Brick at 10.30 pm to finish the set/prop build, and went home to finish the sound/projection design (and send notes to the cast on Saturday's run-thru). We kept in touch every couple of hours by cel, and both stayed fairly cheery all night, until Berit finished at 6.30 am and I showed up at 7 to go over the sound levels and other cues with her. It took us two hours of crankiness to get that done (Aaron Baker showed up around 8 to load the projections into his laptop for use in the show, and he said Berit sounded drunk - she was falling asleep at the board while setting sound levels; luckily, she could read most of her writing during the show). Once we got home, Berit got to sleep for several hours while I kept at work making up the program, getting it copied, and getting some last props for the show. I got two hours of sleep myself and then we went back to The Brick to get set up.

And it was all there and worked out just fine. First time I've felt that way in a long time on an opening night. Now to make it better for Friday. Back to the notes . . .

(And a great big CollisionWorks thank you to the current donors to our season: Luana Josvold, Daniel McKleinfeld, and Edward Einhorn! your names will be in the Ambersons programs as soon as I run out of the supply I've made already . . .)

collisionwork: (crazy)
Two more obits to pass on, and if you don't know much about these gentlemen, follow the links, and follow their work, where you can find it.

Larry Levine, regular engineer for Phil Spector and Eddie Cochran, occasional engineer for Brian Wilson and Herb Alpert, died at the age of 80. Idolator passed me through to a good obit at All About Jazz and a nice interview with Levine at CNN from 5 years ago. Levine was one of those engineers who took their job to a level beyond being just a technician, working hard to make the improbable and difficult-to-capture-on-vinyl sounds that their genius bosses were demanding (Geoff Emerick's recent memoir about his career, primarily with The Beatles from Revolver onward, does a good job of explaining just what someone like Levine or Emerick does, and why they are so crucial to good records).

I Knew the Style of this Drawing Was Different!

Also now gone, the great Will Elder, 86, one of the original artists on the Mad comic book, and probably the best interpreter of Harvey Kurtzman's vision for that book (and other, later work, though I'd rather like to forget Little Annie Fanny). The master of what came to be known as the "chicken-fat" school of cartooning (beloved first by the French nouvelle vague filmmakers, some of whom deliberately copied Elder's cramming of offhanded details and jokes throughout the frame in their films), a good obit is here in The Comics Reporter, and he is remembered by writer/comic book historian Mark Evanier HERE, and in two blogs with appropriate names, Edwin Hunter's Chicken Fat and Bhob Stewart's POTRZEBIE (Bhob also reproduces a classic Elder splash panel - for "Restaurant!" - in large form HERE).

Some of my favorite Elder work for Mad can be found online thanks to Gatochy's Blog, including "The Hound of the Basketballs" and "Dragged Net." I wish I could find "Starchie," or "Ping Pong!" or "Mickey Rodent!" or "Howdy Dooit!" somewhere on line to pass on to you, but here's all of "Restaurant!" as well, and you can see a nice collection of Elder pages at The Electronic Almanac of Dr. Derek Wisdom, Metaphysician.


collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
Beloved cult leading man/character actor (he was both, and sometimes at the same time) - and one of the most beautiful men ever to be in the movies - John Phillip Law has passed away. He was 70.

He acted in many MANY films in many MANY countries, but was most loved in this household for his performance in the title role of Mario Bava's crazed Italian 60s crime comedy Diabolik (USA title: Danger: Diabolik) - I think Berit has a little crush on him in that film, not as big as her one on young Terence Stamp, but something - and he was also Sinbad in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Stash in Skidoo, appeared in Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, and, most famously from his young, gorgeous days, Pygar the angel in Barbarella.

As an older character actor he appeared in Roman Coppola's CQ (a tribute to Diabolik and other movies of the same time and style), and, unfortunately, the hideous Space Mutiny - which was best (or only) known for being torn apart on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as was Diabolik, but the latter is a good, silly, fun film and the former is amazingly awful, and Law is surprisingly and unpleasantly unattractive in that one - I would have thought he had aged badly, but other photos show that not to be the case.

Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers named an angelic character after him in their show Wickets that was up for a brief run at HERE last year - they overheard Berit and I laughing about it during the intermission and said they were pleased that somebody got the joke. It was somehow an oddly appropriate name, even apart from the connection to his most famous, angelic role.

Nice thoughts, photos and personal recollections from Kimberly Lindbergs at CINEBEATS and Tim Lucas at Video WatchBlog.

The L.A. Times obit is HERE - and I was stunned to discover that Law and his brother Tom were the owners throughout the 60s of The Castle, the legendary 1920s Los Feliz mansion once owned by Bela Lugosi, where everybody who was anybody lived at some point in that decade - including a multi-year stay by Arthur Lee and Love during the time they recorded their first two albums (and wrote a song about the place) - and where some of Roger Corman's The Trip was shot. It turned up in some Manson Family connection too in Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter, which I just reread as research for Spell, but I can't remember where exactly - just that I was surprised at this location being a touchstone in yet another dark 60s L.A. drama.

CINEBEATS also led me to some fine YouTube video showing off Mr. Law. There seems to be a documentary made (or being made) about him, and an excerpt and the titles are up:

The Swinging Lust World of John Phillip Law - titles )

The Swinging Lust World of John Phillip Law - excerpt )

The US trailer for Danger: Diabolik, narrated by Telly Savalas:

Master sports-car racer, master skin-diver, master lover . . .MASTER! )

And here, Law shares his memories of making the very odd Skidoo:

If you can't dig nothing, you can't dig anything )

John Phillip Law - 1937-2008

(photo from his official site, where there are autographed photos for sale, while they last)

More Steps

May. 13th, 2008 09:50 am
collisionwork: (Ambersons microphone)
Since Friday, only one rehearsal for one show, which is going well, but not as fast as I'd like. I had to cancel a rehearsal on Sunday for one show and another last night for another (which was only theoretical anyway, if I could get enough actors together to make it worth it, which I couldn't).

There's a debate going on in some blogs and comments about how to, or even whether or not to, blog about the process while you're creating a play (at Isaac Butler's Parabasis and Mac Rogers' SlowLearner). My attitude, and part of the reason for this blog, is a qualified "Yes." I started the blog as a response to theatre blogs that I felt were all head and art-talk, to talk about the day-to-day nuts and bolts of making a show.

At the same time, I rapidly discovered I couldn't talk about everything, or even as much as I wanted to, when it came to the rehearsal process. It's just instinctual - there are some things that can be shared, and some things that can't, and not just when it comes to the work of the actors, but even for myself. I wouldn't mind throwing up some of a work-in-progress, but just some bare notes? No. And that is the state some of these shows are still at.

Again, though, it's all instinctual. I usually mention to the actors on any of my projects now (though I think I forgot it with some of the current ones) that I have this blog and unless they say otherwise everything is open game for me to write about, and I've gotten polite responses making it clear where the line is (one actress was very good in her emails back and forth, as we discussed her character for a show last year, in noting "THIS IS NOT FOR THE BLOG" when she didn't want something shared outside the two of us).

So I don't write about it as much as I'd like, because when I remove what I can't write about, what's left becomes "We had a good rehearsal last night" or "last night's rehearsal was harder than I thought, and we didn't get as much done as I wanted," and that just gets boring. I'll try to find new ways to write accounts of these things that aren't just that, promise.

Saturday we worked on Spell, which I've been writing more and more as it's been coming to me. The previous day I had written a difficult little piece, where I needed to have the Three Witches of the play, in the third scene, predict where the rest of the 32 scenes of the play would go, in abstracted rhyming couplets (which, I decided, should also never repeat a rhyme and all had to mention the scene number in some way). First then, I had to figure out what all the scenes of the play were actually going to be, which still had been up in the air, and once I had that, hacked away at the scene, which took the afternoon (the couplets falling into an anapest pattern, which is what I normally fall into if I'm not trying to do something else), and may need some revising, but worked well when spoken, and will do for now:

Scene 3: The Witches Predict the Rest of the Show )

Sunday night I went out in the car to pick up some dinner for Berit and I, and as I was making a right-hand turn I suddenly had a big "Eureka" moment that solved how I was going to write a scene between THE MAN and FRAGMENT 1 that had been driving me nuts - literally right in the time that I had the steering wheel turned. I never get sudden ideas like this plopping right into my head, and it so stunned me I missed my next turn and had to keep circling around, still nodding to myself, "Oh my god, yeah, that's it exactly, that's exactly how that scene needs to work!" I wish I had more moments like that, like a clear white light shooting into my brain; most of the time, it's pounding away hard at the words until the right ones become clear. I still haven't written the scene, but it's there in my head, waiting and ready. It's exciting, and I'm almost nervous about setting it down - but it solves several potential expositional problems with the play, and opens it up on one more meta-level.

In other nuts-and-bolts work, I've been dealing with all the Equity forms for all the shows, writing the Ambersons press release, revising schedules as more conflicts come in, and sending out emails for info that I need or reminders to the casts. And writing lists of what still needs to be done on Ambersons before we open on June 1, which is suddenly not very far away at all. Two weeks and five days. Yeesh.

In the rest of the world, Robert Rauschenberg is dead. The Times obit HERE calls him a "Titan" in the headline, and I couldn't think of a better word. Another obit, from the Chicago Tribune is HERE. I've always had a mixed reaction to RR - either he really hits it and I just LOVE a piece, or it's just "meh." Never really disliked anything I saw, I don't think.

I once got the freelance job of mounting the slides he'd created for a Trisha Brown dance piece at White Oak. They had been doing the dance for years with just RR's original slides, and had finally decided to make copies of them to use, and put the original slides away in storage. So they were delivered to me from the lab that made the copies, but I was surprised to have the original RR slides delivered to my little office in The Piano Store theatre on the LES, as well as the roll of copies, and I had to give my dad and stepmom a kind of hysterically giggly call about how I had a box of Rauschenberg originals sitting next to my foot in my crappy little office. I kept them very safe for the week or so that I had them.

Back to work now on forms I need to fill out for the AEA Showcase. More rehearsals tonight and every night for a while. More here when I get to it.

collisionwork: (Laura's Angel)
I had been thinking of posting some cute funny videos today, when I opened up the Times Arts section in my blogreader and was hit in the face by an obit headline for Paul Arthur.

That Times obit is HERE.

Paul was a Cinema Studies teacher at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts during my first two years there. I had two classes with him and spent a lot of time in discussion with him after his lectures. He was a terrific teacher and lecturer, a funny guy, who loved loved loved film and loved to talk film. I used to occasionally run into him at film screenings in the late 80s, after he left NYU - he always seemed to be present at any screening of films by George and Mike Kuchar, as I also was at that time, so we'd say hi and check in. I probably last saw him around 1990, but I've never since seen his name in print, on an article or mentioned in passing, without smiling and thinking fondly of him.

He was the lecturer in my first Cinema Studies class, the basic class that all students in the Cinema Studies and Film Production departments had to take (I was in the latter). He showed a mix of classic Hollywood, some foreign films, short subjects, and experimental films, and it was the last that especially caused him to be either endeared or hated by his students - mainly, the freshmen Film Production students, my classmates, who turned out to be some of the most closed-minded people around when it came to film.

This was late 1986. That doesn't seem like such a great time for film, maybe, but in my first term at NYU the films playing in New York that many of us students were running to see included Wenders' Wings of Desire, Cox's Sid & Nancy, Jarmusch's Down By Law, Laurie Anderson's Home of the Brave, David Byrne's True Stories, X: The Unheard Music, Lech Kowalski's D.O.A. (which apparently was from 1980, but it seemed to be getting some kind of "big release" again that term, taking over at the Bleecker Street Playhouse after Wings had left), and, of course, Blue Velvet. As well as the many many great double bills going on at all of the rep houses around NYU (there were more than there were first-run houses in the Village at that time, with Cinema Village, Film Forum, Thalia Soho, and Theatre 80 St. Marks all going strong, and the Waverly and Bleecker Street also joining in with midnight shows).

Now, besides the early negative reaction to some of what Paul Arthur was sharing, the other sign that many of my classmates were rather conservative when it came to new experiences in the filmic arts was how many of them just plain despised the Lynch film, and wanted everybody to know this, in as many classes as they could find a way to bring it up. It became apparent that while some of us were rushing out to see the films above, many of my classmates were having a fine time at other things that year like Ruthless People or Down and Out in Beverly Hills or Platoon or Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Aliens - some of which I really really like, but . . .

So, Paul showed a mix of things. At our first lecture, he showed Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows as an example of how a big, glossy Hollywood entertainment could actually have a lot going on on many levels. He also started the lecture by pulling out a reel of 35mm movie film he had found discarded on the street, and encouraging us to come down at the break or after class and touch it, grab it, rip a piece of it off and take it home, taste it - saying that you couldn't really understand and love film unless you understood and loved the actual physicality of film, the actual strip that moves through a projector (to feel, as Tim Lucas once called it in another context, "the emotion of the emulsion"). I wound it in my hands and tore off a strip with deliberate brutality; I think I still have it in a box somewhere (it appears to be nature footage of a turtle crawling through grass). I think he showed an experimental short before the Sirk, but nothing that caused anything but bemusement in the majority of students (wait a minute, I just remembered - it was Stan Brakhage's Mothlight! - and he showed it twice because it's so short).

That changed the following week.

Before the feature on week two, Paul showed a short film by Peter Kubelka, and noted that we were going to see most of Kubelka's films over the course of the term - as he had made so few films, and most of them were very short, it would give us the chance to see almost all of one filmmaker's work, as well as the variety of other films we'd be seeing.

He then showed us Kubelka's film Arnulf Rainer. Now, Kubelka was commissioned to make a film about the painter, however, as was apparently the pattern in his career with almost all of his films, he got the money and commission by swearing he wasn't going to go off and do another abstract film, and then he went off and did another abstract film.

Arnulf Rainer consists of black leader, clear leader, white noise, and silence, cut into precise metric patterns (I believe the pattern in the sound is the reverse of the pattern in the images). Amazingly to me, someone has actually put it up on YouTube, though it's a pretty lousy print and copy (and there's absolutely no way that can replicate the sensory experience of seeing this projected on film on a great big screen, which is really the point of the piece):

Peter Kubelka's ARNULF RAINER )

Well, that didn't go over too well with the film students who wanted to be watching something a little more plot-driven (and Paul showed this one twice in a row, too, to audible groans). The fact that even if you don't like the Kubelka, you could learn something from it didn't occur to many of them - at a pure, basic level, it can teach you how suspense can be built through editing with nothing but black and white as images ("wait a minute, the screen's gone black for a while now - will the white come back? AH! There it is!").

Excerpts from some emails this morning to and from friend since 1986, and roommate 1986-1988, Sean Rockoff, who took Paul's intro course one year after me:

ME: . . . I remember you got Rear Window at your first class, and I'm trying to remember whether he showed Duck Amuck with that or not (I know that he showed that cartoon to both of our classes, and one of us got it before Citizen Kane, but I'm not sure which one of us it was).

I also remember he left halfway through the term while you were taking his course, and there seemed to be the feeling it was because he was being asked to dumb down his course for the film production students.

SEAN: . . . I know I got to see Duck Amuck in his class, and before I read the rest of your sentence I'd recalled it being paired with Citizen Kane, but I don't remember seeing Kane in the class. So I'm either remembering you telling me about it, or I've seen Kane so many times I just don't remember that specific one. Or, we both had the experience.

I do remember most of the class seemed to have an antagonistic relationship with his ideas of film as art (and he occasionally got angry with them as well). He tried to get across, in a frightfully short period of time, all the various concepts film could carry and all the different ways one could see and read any particular piece of film, and most of the class seemed to be there to learn how to make a commercial three-act movie. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, but they refused to see any value at all in Arthur's not-exactly-revolutionary view that film could be so much more, and as students we should be exposed to as many different and challenging examples as possible. This reached a peak when we saw

Wavelength; there was very nearly a riot. I loved it, but the near-constant catcalls added a level to the soundtrack I don't believe was intended.

Of course, all those kids who saw absolutely no value in

Wavelength, being forced to watch it, any of society's resources being expended in archiving it, that the filmmaker was allowed to breathe the planet's air while making it, those kids are probably all making small fortunes producing sitcoms, and here I am, er, not. Still trying to raise funds to shoot a romantic comedy entirely on Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if he left because he was asked to dumb down the course, in response to complaints from those very students.

ME: Thanks - I'll include some of your thoughts in the post (your second paragraph puts a lot of what I was hoping to say together in a pithier way than I probably would).

Yeah, I think you got Duck Amuck with Rear Window at your first class, and I got the Jones cartoon with Kane halfway through the term - and we both got a riot during Wavelength (though I recall mine from the year before being more violent - people were throwing things at the screen and in the air by the end).

I remember Harry Elfont posting two pieces of photo paper on the wall in the first term 35mm photo class (where you and I met) - one unexposed and white, one exposed to full black, and saying it was a tribute to Peter Kubelka . . . which wound up becoming a mocking discussion of experimental film and Paul's "pretensions" from the class (in which, I'm sorry to say, Daniel Kazimierski

[Sean's and my teacher] joined in), and which made me want to rabbit punch our classmates in their respective necks.

Of course, as you basically note, Harry Elfont is now off in Hollywood making the candy-colored happythings he always planned on and we've got integrity and not much else. I think I've reached a state of peace about that at least.

SEAN: No Commercial Potential! The Present-Day Formalist Refuses To Die!

(I should note, in fairness, that Harry Elfont was always a really nice guy and I enjoy some of his candy-colored happythings a lot - and the photo paper joke was actually pretty funny, even if the feeling behind it wasn't)

And, yes, as mentioned above, about three-quarters of the way through the term Paul showed us Michael Snow's classic 1967 film Wavelength.

If you don't know the film, you can follow the wikipedia link in the previous sentence, or go HERE for more info, though there's some inaccurate information in both descriptions (the latter page also seems to include multiple clips from the film - only one of which I could get to work). Sorry, but I'll also have to describe it at some length to have some context for the reaction of Paul's class to it.

Basically, the film consists of "one shot" (which is really many many shots, broken up, shot on different days with different film stocks, exposures, and filters) - 45 minutes long - starting with a wide shot from across an 80 foot-long loft on Canal Street towards the wall and windows opposite:
from Wavelength by Michael Snow

Gradually, the frame moves across the length of the loft, coming in closer and closer to a picture on the wall, which was just barely a dot in the opening frame. Over the course of the move (some of which is done with a zoom, some with new camera placement) there are four "human events" which occur - two workmen bring in a bookcase and put it against a wall; two women enter, turn on a radio and listen to it ("Strawberry Fields Forever" - which I just realized had to have been deliberately put in later, as it wasn't released at the time the film was shot - I always figured it was what was actually on the radio), then leave; a man (filmmaker and theorist Hollis Frampton) enters in distress and falls on the floor, apparently dead; and a nervous woman enters and calls "Richard" on the phone to tell him about the (now unseen) dead body on the floor - she is played by critic Amy Taubin, who was married at the time to Richard Foreman, who (FUN FACT) told me personally that yes, he's on the other end of that phone call.
also from Wavelength by Michael Snow

The camera keeps moving. Night has fallen. Images are overlaid, repeated. The whole things is scored with the sound of an electrical tone - a wavelength - rising and falling, in pitch and volume, from almost inaudible to earsplitting. Eventually the frame reaches the other wall where (SPOILER ALERT!) the photograph fills the frame entirely - it is a photo of waves crashing on a beach that we have traveled the length of the loft to look at.

9:55 from near the end of Michael Snow's WAVELENGTH )

Okay. This isn't a film for everybody. I am aware of that. I completely understand why many, maybe most, people would be bored stupid by this. Fine. But I'd have thought a group of NYU film students would maybe be a tad more open-minded.

I had first seen Wavelength two years prior, when it was shown in a film class at my boarding school. I wasn't in the class, as I was a Junior and the class was only open to Seniors, but I was friendly with the teachers and they let me watch it as I had heard of it, was fascinated by the idea of it, and really wanted to see it. I sat through two classes and watched it twice in one day, loving it. And in fact, the students in the class all appreciated it as well, and it played great. The teachers were playing it in conjunction with two films they were showing in the course proper that they felt were referencing it in their respective final shots; The Passenger and The Shining. I think the comparison to the Antonioni film is dicey and pushing it, but once you've seen Wavelength next to the final shot of the Kubrick film it's pretty clear that Stanley was aware of the earlier film (especially in the way that once the photo in each film fills the frame, there are several slow dissolves to details of the photo).

So a bunch of Massachusetts boarding school students looking to get an easy grade by taking a film class as an elective Senior English class all liked the film. How about some NYU film students?

By 10 minutes in they were audibly upset. By 15 minutes in they were yelling sparsely. By 30 minutes the walkouts started, often accompanied by cries of "Bullshit!" Then things started being thrown at the screen (which was just a big concave concrete wall painted white in this basement lecture hall) - some empty coffee cups, a cup of ice, and a number of shoes and notebooks. Crumpled paper flew through the air. People started yelling nonsense sounds in a "la-la-la-la-can't-hear-you" manner.

The film ended and most of the audience walked out and didn't come back after the break. Some did and yelled at Paul during the discussion period ("That was just masturbation!"). After that and the class was over, I went down to talk to Paul (as a number of us always did at the end of class - we'd all usually wind up walking out of the building and on to 4th Street together, still talking over the evening's viewing). He was a bit stunned, and very disappointed, but it also seemed he was kind of amazed and pleased, with a glint in his eye, that a film - a film, for chrissakes, and one made almost 20 years ago at that point, a classic of the avant-garde, even quaint in 1986 - could cause such a visceral, violent reaction. There was something of joy in how we all felt - those who loved the film - that somehow this really really showed how powerful a film could be. It made you love the medium even more.

When I ran into Paul in the years after at the Collective or Millennium or where ever, he'd always take a moment to try and remember where he knew me from, and eventually get it with a smile: "Right, you were there at the Wavelength riot!"

As alluded to above, there were rumors around the school that Paul was being pressured to simplify his course and be a little less extreme in his film choices, for the sake of the poor delicate film production students - I have NO idea how true this was, but I do remember, even if he doesn't, Sean's account from the time of Paul's final lecture, where he said a few words about the film, a few words about teaching, then said, with some bitterness, "Well, that's that" and walked out of the lecture hall as the film started, never to come back.

But there were some of us who appreciated Paul Arthur, certainly, at that time and place. He helped me understand the JOY of film - of making, watching, appreciating, writing about, whatever, film with a great love of it in your heart, never distanced from it, never critical without empathy, never sneering at passion. His class also introduced me to Renoir's Rules of the Game and Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives, as well as Peter Kubelka and Hans Richter's Ghosts Before Breakfast, for which I'll always be grateful.

I will miss the feeling I got when seeing his byline on a new piece in some film journal, and smiling, and remembering him. I'm glad I knew him when and where I did.

UPDATE: There is also a lovely classified notice from his family in the Times HERE - being from those who knew and loved him best, it captures the man I knew far better than I could. I had intended to describe Paul as "bearlike" at some point above and forgot, so I'm glad to see the bear listed here as his "talismanic animal." Extremely appropriate.


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