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Kathryn Bigelow: A Great "Problematizing" American Movie Director
(Near Dark, Strange Days, K-19: The Widowmaker)
1. Her IMDb bio: "A very talented painter, Kathryn spent two years at the San Francisco Art Institute. At 20, she won a scholarship to the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. She was given a studio in a former Offtrack Betting building, literally in a vault, where she made art and waited to be criticized by people like Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Sontag. She later graduated from Columbia's Film School. She was also a member of the British avant-garde cultural group, Art and Language. Kathryn is the only child of the manager of a paint factory and a librarian."
2. Excellent article on K-19: The Widowmaker. In a nutshell, this is the true story of the maiden voyage of the USSR's first nuclear sub with missile launching capability, in the early 60s. The reactor sprang a leak and the ship almost exploded--World War III narrowly avoided. The captain and crew were heroes for saving the ship but Russia hushed it up till the end of the Cold War.
Excellent movie, beautifully, kinetically filmed, as with all of Bigelow's work. Not a big commercial hit, and how could it be? Aside from the presence of bankable stars Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson (the latter way better than the wooden former), it's contrary to every Hollywood formula and enfatuation. All male cast--no submariners' wives back home, crying and clutching hankies. Female director, like, there's about two of those, and as the article above discusses, this was entirely Bigelow's project. She went to Russia, did the research. Doomed ship: People die horrible, pointless deaths because of bureaucratic stupidity. Russian subject matter: the US Navy lent very little assistance, like they do for Top Gun and all that crap, because it wasn't about the great American military.
We've seen a lot of K-19's moves in Das Boot--the "other side of the war," men on boat undermined by civilian leadership back home. The latter very relevant now with our troops getting chewed up in Iraq because of bad leadership by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith. What's unique and very Soviet is the nuclear theme, with its resonance to Chernobyl--the possibility of death and disfiguration from unseen radiation, caused by the negligence of your own side, is much creepier than just running around evading Allied depth charges.
I read somewhere that women, in polls, say they hate movies like Crimson Tide where two men butt heads to see who has the greater authority. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman basically bicker throughout that entire dreadful film. "Mutiny" is a subplot of K-19, too, but it plays out in a less expected, more anticlimactic way.
When I first saw the work of painter Kara Hammond, she was drawing Precisionist style graphite drawings of old Russian satellites and spaceships. The "other" of Soviet tech piques a fascination of American artists who are forcefed images of our own wonderful gear. K-19 is a (cinematically centripetal, ever-changing) museum of old Russian tech. See paragraph one about Bigelow's background. More needs to be written about the artistic subversives running silent and deep within the Hollywood system.
Image from IMDb. One quibble, and another big reason for the film's lack of box office buzz: the title. "K-19: The Widowmaker" sounds like a combo of some scientifically formulated dog food and a lethal bar drink.
My essay on painter Kara Hammond appears here, along with some images of her work (link at upper right), a couple of which were previously shown on this blog. The occasion for the writing is her show at the Halsey Gallery, College of Charleston, South Carolina, the school where she is now teaching.
More from my essay on Kara Hammond, completed and sent off this week to the gallery where she is showing: "The understated subject matter, willfully provisional style, and a whiff of mid 20th Century 'populuxe' kitsch all work in concert. When it comes down to it, putting a jetpack--a personal 'rocket belt' built but never mass produced in the Ď60s--in the same show with a Johnny-on-the-Spot, still the state of the art in portable evacuation, is just funny."
Below are some raw notes towards the essay I'm writing on Kara Hammond's work. These will change as as the writing is fleshed out. The image above is Tyvek Beach House, oil on canvas, 2005.
Kara Hammond describes the imagery in her paintings and drawings as "scenes of everyday human existence." Thatís as good a summary as youíre likely to find of this straightforward but strangely varied collection of suburban homes, airport buildings, storage sheds, space vehicles, office complexes, freeway ramps, trash receptacles, outdoor toilets, and other artifacts of the consumer-inflected landscape.
The work is "post-" quite a few things, to use a bit of art historical jargon. They are post-commodity art in the sense that they are not preaching about humankindís intrusions into the natural environment but merely recording them as factually as possible. They are post-appropriation in that the recording more or less takes for granted artís manipulation of signs, and the curious relationships that arise when painterly subjectivity meets the photographic record.
But the term post- usually implies a residue of what came before, and one still sees a skeptical, theoretical bent at work in these placid, some might say traditional-looking subjects. Images as reductive and open-ended as haikus on the individual level reveal their critical drift when seen cumulatively.
Five by Kara Hammond, an artist who showed and worked in New York for many years and recently relocated to South Carolina, where she is teaching. I'm writing an essay about her work and am using the blog as my notepad. Top to bottom (these are her descriptions accompanying the photos she sent--actual titles, dimensions, etc. pending): Airport Roundabout, Boat for Sale, Bozeman Storage Units, Jetpack (In Progress), Tybee Island Toilets. Some earlier writing on the artist is here.
New York painter Kara Hammond has a new show opening April 18 and running through May 16, 2001 at Joseph Rickards Gallery, 1045 Madison Avenue (between 79th/80th). She made her debut at Bronwyn Keenan Gallery a few years ago, and is known for her weirdly calm depictions of obsolete space technology, strip malls, and views from suburban freeways. The sense of charged emptiness in her paintings recalls Stanley Kubrick's cinematography: the image below could be Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Sheeler trysting in the Pod Bay. This 4 x 4 foot, oil-on-wood piece is called Space Station, it's dated 2001, and remember you saw it here before it got reproduced in Time Out!