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American Splendor, the new movie about underground comix writer Harvey Pekar, is Crumb Lite. It's funny (funnier than the one Pekar comic I've read--#15), but the filmmakers have succeeded mainly in domesticating a talented crank. The actor who plays Harvey is smoother, dopier, more like a sitcom actor; the actress who plays his wife is fetching even with ironed hair and nerdygirl glasses. Think back to Crumb for a sec: the unstinting, voyeuristic interviews with the artist's damaged brothers, the excruciating footage of Crumb talking to an ex-girlfriend, the whole porn magazine/acid casualty vibe of a failed counterculture. That film took you to the edge. By contrast, the edgiest moment in Splendor is footage of the real Pekar appearing on Letterman. He's unkempt, he's unpredictable, he fights back.
The most compromised moment in the film is the restaging of Pekar's final appearance on Late Night, where he told off Dave and launched into a jeremiad against NBC's military-contractor owner, GE. As the movie sets it up, it's all explained as a byproduct of Harvey's personal problems. The scene is filmed with the camera behind his chair, looking out at the shocked reactions of the audience. His actual rant is sliced into bits and pieces, to "denote the passage of time" but also making it less intelligible. Worse, the scene is intercut with shots of Harvey's friends and co-workers watching their TVs at home in dismay. You can't help thinking this is how the infotainment world (indie film division) processes someone just a little too individualistic. They give him the world (this'll do more business than Crumb, I expect) but none-too-subtly muffle his voice.
In my spare moments I've been upgrading my online exhibition scrapbook, and just finished retooling the "Polygamy" and "Byte Size" pages (two shows with overlapping subject matter). I talked about the problematic "Polygamy" in an earlier post. [This post has been self-redacted. I decided it was giving too much away about the work.]
"Hug" emoticon: deviantART
(Kind of like John Simon only cuter.)
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.