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At long last, the Matthew Barney backlash has begun! I don't know about you, but about halfway down the Guggenheim ramp I started looking at my watch, and I don't wear a watch. I mean, the guy's had some good sculptural ideas (I like all the Cronenbergian organic stuff) but seriously needs an editor. He's enjoyed a miraculously bump-free ride since he got out of Yale--certainly the art world's never given him any serious whacks. Every new Cremaster release received a respectful magazine spread, no matter how slow-paced and taxing they were to watch. I heard through the grapevine that Barney was mad when Michael Bevilacqua started appropriating those silly orange-coiffured characters in his paintings. This is like Bush's recent complaint that the press was devoting too much attention to the California election and not enough to him, at least in terms of eliciting our sympathy. Anyway, back to the backlash. First, here's a PreReview of the Cremaster cycle, and as you may know, you don't get those published if you've actually seen the movies. Also, Michael Atkinson offers some amusing Suggestions for Future Cremasters in the Village Voice. Here's the prospectus for Cremaster 8:
Wearing a bronze jockstrap, an astronaut's helmet, and a coat of mango-peach latex paint, Barney scales Angkor Wat while the Green Bay Packers sit in an empty swimming pool, taking turns blowing up a used-car-lot balloon figure of Uncle Sam through a valve on its crotch. Cambodians slowly fill up the pool with cups of guacamole. By the time Barney finishes his climb and sings "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' On It," the Packers are immersed.It's surprising a film critic finally took Barney on; most have been too intimidated by the aura of art to risk making fun of the movies as movies. I'm tempted to say Atkinson's is a philistine take on Barney, but he kind of captures the air of total indulgence that's so annoying. ("I know! I'll bring in the Rockettes and they can do a routine on the ramp, and it'll be like conflating art and showbiz, an' critiquing-patriarchy-but-not-really, and..." "Yes, Matthew, I'll call Rockefeller Center this afternoon [he'll bite my head off if I say it's stupid].") Also, I seriously doubt MB is "sittin' on" much of his art at this point. Or is that just the hype working its magic on me?
More exciting, barely-informed opinions have been posted recently at PreReview. Joe McKay does some detective work and tells us what happens in the The Lord of the Rings Part 3. Also predigested by Sally McKay, Matt King, yrs truly, and others are 2Fast2Furious, Freaky Friday, The Order, Kill Bill, The Cat in the Hat, Britney Spears movies, Tron 2.0, The Enforcer, The Annoying Guy, Crappy Kevin Costner Movie, That Pixar Fish Movie... Read up, it could save you a trip to the theatre.
I just talked to my friend Bill, one block over, who's still without power. NYC subways aren't running, a lot of stuff's out. We've both been listening to the benign porridge on the radio, and wondering "Where's the out(r)age?" Apparently the European press is really playing this up, with 24-hour coverage and tabloid headlines like "Blackout Hell." Over here, we're getting an endless string of government officials and media types praising the good nature of New Yorkers and telling one stupid human interest story after another. If I hear another official say "We got people lookin' in on the seniors in their neighborhoods and doing other nice things," I'll gag.
This is a lot like 9/11 in that no one is accountable. Apparently New York's Republican Governor Pataki took a lot of regulatory heat off the state power companies, but he admits no culpability. ("The chickens came home to roost...and all George Pataki [can] do [is] squawk," says Wayne Barrett in the Village Voice.) On the radio, Pataki speaks with anger in his voice trying to blame other regions for this mess. Lately it's "the Midwest," he won't say where, and for a while the media was working a US vs Canada angle.
An intelligence/law enforcement shakeup should have occurred after 9/11: it was a blatant, obvious failure by the people who are supposed to be protecting us. As far as I know, no one got fired except critics of Bush's various irrelevant war plans. The same will happen here, I think: some lower echelon schmuck at one of the power companies may ultimately take the fall, and the Republicans will espouse their usual "It's just life" attitude.
UPDATE 8/16/03: Okay, everything's back to normal now. Just one heat-related death and millions in lost sales, spoiled food, etc. Nothing to get mad about, really. All those people at the power companies mean well and are very nice folks--it's not like they wanted this to happen.
This big eastern seaboard power outage has affected me only somewhat. I'm having brownouts on my block, but on the next block over there's no power at all. I'm OK in any event. More when service is a bit more reliable.
UPDATE: Very weird. It's night now, and looking out my back window, all the buildings on Montgomery are dark. The view out my front doorstep is completely different: streetlights are on, lights are on in apartment windows, and the chi-chi restaurant down on the corner has people sitting at the sidewalk tables like everything's normal. One block down, to the left, where Bill lives, it's dark. I'm beginning to wonder if the President of PSE&G lives on my block.
UPDATE 2 (Fri, Aug. 15, 1:00 pm): My Internet cable connection was down from 12 am to 12 pm. Since it worked fine for the first 8 hours after the power outage, I figure Comcast was just takin' a breather, or doing repairs for pre-existing problems under the cover of the "crisis." "Hey, if no one else is giving service, why should we?"
I realize that last comment didn't sound very FAIR AND BALANCED, something this weblog strives for. I guess I should qualify it by saying it was my opinion.
Canyons in Crawford? Ri-i-i-iight.
The following paragraph appeared in the LA Times, concerning Bush's and Colin Powell's recent trip to the coffee shop in Crawford, Texas (via Hullabaloo):
Unlike Washington, this is an environment Bush knows and loves, from the canyons on his ranch to the patrons of The Coffee Station. And, here, far away from the partisan capital, the warm feelings are mutual.And here's my response to that nonsense, originally posted in the Hullabaloo comments, which I am personally qualified to make having lived several years in the county where Crawford is located (McLennan) and still having kin nearby:
To anyone who knows that part of the country well, "ranch" is a stretch, and "canyons"--no way. The words evoke the extreme terrain in the western part of Texas, but the center and east are much more like the American South. The countryside around Waco--where Bush bought his property--is mostly rolling hills and farmland (cotton, oats, sorghum). To find drier, rockier, thornier "cattle country" you have to go further west. There is a line down the center of the state where the ecology begins to change dramatically to a "Southwestern" climate and terrain, but Crawford is east of that line. This is not to say there aren't cows in eastern/central Texas, but it's hardly the rough open range of the cattle drives. Bush may have stream beds or gullies on his property, but not canyons (a Texas source tells me he has a limestone sinkhole, but that doesn't count). The real canyons are even further west, in the Panhandle (Palo Duro Canyon) or Big Bend National Park. Pictures of the not-very-rugged terrain around Crawford can be seen here, in case you're looking for a nice "ranch" in the half-million range.So what's the point of all this? That the property in McLennan County isn't really a "ranch," even though the press keeps saying it is over and over. It's just ordinary "rural land," purchased within the last three or four years and called a "ranch" to give the President a hardy "western" image. Bush's people are banking on press ignorance of Texas ecology and terrain, and so far it's working.
Wandering around Hell's Kitchen, my old hood, today, I noticed a sickening thing: a 20 story residential building going up at 55th and 9th, where the A&P used to be. A complete eyesore, all out of scale to the neighborhood. In the past, Clinton neighborhood groups had been vigilant about the incursions of greasy developers: what happened this time? Midtown continues its inexorable march west, bye bye funky old neighborhood.
An inspiring sight at Barnes and Noble at Broadway and 67th: three kids camped on the carpeted floor of the graphic novel section, completely lost in the big manga comics they were reading. All were sitting, the two boys with backs resting against the shelves (right where I was looking for something, of course) and the girl with arms and legs twisted in a tight pretzel of total concentration in the middle of the floor. An airplane could have hit the street outside the building and not pried their eyes away from those books. This is the sort of behavior that would have made my own mother question my mental health back in the day, so I silently saluted them.
Lastly, two movies worth seeing: Buffalo Soldiers and Dirty Pretty Things. Regarding the first, which was delayed in release several times, I think we can handle a black comedy the message of which is (1) the military is stupid and wasteful, and (2) recruiting volunteer soldiers as an alternative to prison results in violence whether there's a war or not. This was true in 1989, when the movie was set, and it's still true. In a "terror war" who needs a friggin' permanent Army, anyway? New kind of war, new kind of defense response: having an army and bases all over the world without an actual, tangible, global military enemy (like the good ol' USSR) just encourages adventuring, such as we've seen in Iraq. And please don't talk to me about "Islamofascism," or "Islamic Nihilism," as Christopher Hitchens now likes to call it. Nothing's going to change, though, till the twisted, paranoid generation of the Cold War dies off (including, unfortunately, young fogeys like Bush).
The excellent blog erase steered me toward an interesting body of film criticism lurking in the crevices of the Internet Movie Database. The prolific reviewer Ted G (or "tedg") reviews movies almost exclusively in visual terms and by Orson does he have a viewpoint! (Sorry, I've also been reading Alan Moore lately.) Ted G's core philosophy can be found in his review of Panic Room: "Ambitious directors have two holy grails: mastery of the self-referential narrative and establishing a new grammar of space, usually with architecture." Almost every review cycles back to these points, relentlessly. Here's a quote combining the two principles, from his review of De Palma's Snake Eyes ("the most ambitious mainstream film that explores the architecture of narrative"):
A central question in most art concerns the role of the viewer. This dominated easel painting, then was the center of evolution of the novel and now sits at the core of thought about film. Is the viewer an omniscient God, or can the viewer be fooled like a person? Is the viewer a passive observer, or does she 'walk' with the participants as an invisible character? [...]To Ted G, actors are only interesting to the extent that they can command or project into filmic space, or riff on narratives outside the movie's frame of reference (he also has a weird thing about redheads). Writing and stagecraft are subordinate to the "hungry," "curious" eye of the camera. I've said similar things, but not as singlemindedly. I fired off an angry letter to Salon over its visually illiterate review of De Palma's Mission to Mars (which Ted G puts into a elegant dialogue with 2001: A Space Odyssey), but my screed was probably just too strange for them. Didn't "everyone" hate that movie?
De Palma thinks the camera is a whole new thing, The camera is a type of character, part narrator, part actor, part god. It can lie, be fooled, search curiously, document, play jokes. So this is a film about the camera's eyes. `Snake' both because the camera can snake around following [Nicholas] Cage, going places that Cage cannot, but also `snake' because the camera sees with forked tongue.
Besides De Palma, Ted G also reveres Atom Egoyan's Exotica (me, too! me, too!) as well as a thousand things you'd overlook if you only care about story and acting. Here's more from that Panic Room review, just to give you the flavor:
Ambitious directors have two holy grails: mastery of the self-referential narrative and establishing a new grammar of space, usually with architecture.He likes Hulk, too.
[David] Fincher is an ambitious, intelligent director who in past projects has explored the first of these. This time around, he explores the second. Hitchcock did this in `Rear Window,' a film often compared to this one. It has NO commonality at all except the architectural aspiration.
One can see these architectural ambitions in the team he assembled: writer David Koepp did the amazing `Snake Eyes' [...]. Cinematographer Darius Khondji is one of the recent fellow travelers of this emerging expertise. See the poetic underwater architecture in `In Dreams.' See what he did for master Polanski in melding image and narrative in `Ninth Gate.' Look at how his camera creates a city in `The City of Lost Children.' He is not master of this yet (not like Welles and Kurosawa) but he is familiar with what can be done, and willing to take risks. Khondji was fired from the film by barbarian financiers because of his expensive pains. Some of his work remains, especially in the first third.
[mean stuff about actors snipped for space]
One knows from the first that what Fincher has in mind is an architectural exploration, starting with the titles. Each credit assigns a name to a building. Each name except Fincher's who is notably suspended in space.
Slap, slap one is quickly introduced to the building in the part of the film where one normally meets the characters. The characters here don't matter: they are furnishings. What matters is the physical relationship of spaces: four floors, stairs, elevator, etc. Right away we are also introduced to the bank of video monitors. This house is not only seen, but sees. (Shades of both `Fight Club' and `Snake Eyes.')
Then we are given a remarkable tracking shot that outdoes De Palma, Altman, Anderson. This starts out with various angles on Meg in bed, then goes out the room, between the balusters and down the stairwell. It eventually takes us all through the house as the baddies break in. On and on it goes, in and out of a keyhole, through the handle of a coffeepot, through floors and walls. Each moment thrills.
Then Khondji is fired and the tiresome wheels of the story grind and the requirements of the genre force us into bankable cliche. But that first third is nice.