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The trailer for Gus Van Sant's new film Elephant is like a Hemingway short story. The action is all in the margins, revealed through hints and implications. Even as a tease it's sketchy, postmodern in that it knows audiences will map another well-known story onto it to complete it. Mostly it consists of pretty shots of pretty kids lollygagging in the halls and playgrounds of a modern suburban high school. You see a car crash into another car and think maybe the movie's going to be one of those jackass-themed comedies. But then one of the kids gets out and says "Dad, you shouldn't be driving." Brief shot of a wasted, forlorn businessman behind the wheel. Later, the same kid sees two of his classmates walking into the school dressed in fatigues and carrying heavy canvas bags. He spots a teacher about to go into the school and tries to warn him: "Don't go in there, trust me, you don't want to go in there." In the last shot the kid is at home crying, and his girlfriend gives him a kiss, thinking he's just sad.
Attended a party last night where each person brought clips from 3-5 science fiction films, each cued to a specific scene of up to 10 minutes. One could introduce the clips or not, and no one knew what anyone else was bringing. It was kind of fascinating to see the range, and that there was no duplication. (The 1970s predominated, however.) Food and booze were consumed. Below is each person's list, captioned by theme rather than the individual's name:
Rollerball (1975). James Caan explains the importance of using your ears and humiliates a cocky new team member.
Death Race 2000 (1975). David Carradine: "It's euthanasia day at the geriatrics ward. They do this every year."
Tron (1982). Light cycle race.
Bonus: An mpeg of hardcore role-players, in medieval costumes, calling out their powers and hurling tinfoil lightning bolts at each other.
Design Theme. Clips emphazing design and art direction.
Brazil (1985). The sliding desk scene.
The Fifth Element (1997). Leeloo drops into Bruce Willis's cab and a race through the multilevel city ensues.
Andromeda Strain (1971). Scientists are ritually humiliated as they descend through a succession of color coded "clean rooms."
Existenz (1999). Jude Law assembles the gristle gun in the Chinese restaurant.
Alien (1979). Opening scenes of the Nostromo chittering back to life.
Science Fiction is a State of Mind.
Land of the Lost (1974). Cute stop motion dinosaurs Grumpy and Alice menace kids in this Sid & Marty Krofft Saturday morning adventure.*
Waiting for Guffman (1996). Eugene Levy in a papier mache Martian costume.
Rushmore (1998). In a parallel universe, the Vietnam war is reenacted on a middle school stage.
Sleeper (1973). Miles Monroe escapes from the cops with an intermittently functioning helicopter pack.
John Carpenter is God; Going Crazy in Space; Forest Themes
Silent Running (1971). Bruce Dern plays poker with the maintenance drones Huey and Dewey.
Dark Star (1974). Talby breaks the communications laser and the bomb countdown begins.
They Live (1988). Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on special sunglasses and sees reality for the first time.
Castle in the Sky (1986). Sheeta and Pazu meet the forest keeper robot on Laputa.
*Script by Norman Spinrad (Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream). Other scripts in the series were by Larry Niven and Theodore Sturgeon. Who knew?
Hmmm. Whether to see Olivier Assayas' art film Demonlover. In the plus column, Roger Ebert pronounces it "completely amoral" and means it as a criticism (this from the screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls!) On the other hand, a thumbs-up from Charles "I Love Actresses" Taylor in Salon signals the camera will probably be making love to the stars for the better part of two hours (Connie Nielsen, Chloë Sevigny, Gina Gershon). Well, maybe that's okay. So I went.
Report: Paul Virilio and half the regulars at Index magazine seemingly served as script consultants, but the movie's not so bad. Mulholland Drive for cyber-wankers. The score a too-busy encyclopedia of art-noise moves from the past 20 years, too much damn electric guitar trying to put the punk in the cyber (when the credits come up at the end: "Oh, of course, Sonic Youth.") Lots of topical references to anime, vidgames, and the Internet. Not so topical regurgitation of Videodrome. And geez, the pixel-bleeping of penetration shots from nasty hentai cartoons just to get an R-rating lacks a certain...courage. But then there's that scene of Sevigny lying on her stomach on a hotel bed, nude, playing an ultraviolent wireframe kungfu game. *heart melts*
One would be tempted to think this is a dot-com relic arriving late after being held up in some petty distribution tiff. The sense of indispensability and edginess it tries to give the Internet often feels tacked on. The last shot is brilliant, though, keeping the film humble and positioning it squarely in the here and now of diminished expectations. At least for me. And Connie Nielsen, the thinking dude's Jennifer Connelly, does have a lot of screen time. Even though she's really too nice to be noir. Sorry if this is breezy; I'm out.
Plamegate: Cutting Through the Crap
Josh Marshall and others are tryin' to be responsible, dancing around the conclusion we all already know:
Blowing Valerie Plame's CIA cover was the act of vindictive, small-minded people.
George Bush Jr. and Karl Rove are vindictive, small-minded people.
One thing that's clear in all this: how susceptible everyone is to BushCo's sleazy memes. Even liberal columnists keep putting the Plame affair in terms of the importance of the "sixteen words." Everyone talks as if it's the only troubling statement the Administration made in the run-up to war, and that's why Wilson's debunking of it was so critical. Crap, the speech (and Powell's speech to the UN) were full of inaccuracies, half-truths and innuendos; it wasn't just one problematic sentence. The al Qaeda link, nukes, anthrax, SCUDs: all lies to whip up the monkeymass. Here's an AP article listing all the claims about Saddam that turned out not to be true.
A few weeks back I commented on an Artforum interview with the art historian Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, a teacher of mine in college. I've been rethinking what I said about the following paragraph, on photorealist (or what he calls Hyperrealist) painting:
This insistence on the literal copy is the most caustic aspect of Hyperrealism, undoing what had been the basis of art for five hundred years: the judicious imitation, which was sought by the painter Zeuxis, who chose what was most beautiful in nature. In a word, let's call it artistic idealism. This was Hyperrealism's most decried aspect from the outset: the truly useless character of this painting. Why paint paintings of this sort when they are closest to what they are copying? From this point of view, Hyperrealism completes the modernist destruction of classical aesthetics.By "closest to what they're copying" I assumed he meant the original subject matter (and said some stuffy things about painting already doing that) but now I think he means the photo itself. Why go to all the trouble to reproduce something that's already documented, usually more accurately, by a photo? It's kind of a meaningless Dada gesture, and I suppose that's what he means about the destruction of classical aesthetics. I guess I should track down his catalog--hopefully it'll be translated.
Thanks to Walter Robinson for the link from his Weekend Update column on artnet.com. The post on Claire Corey, ChanSchatz, and Millree Hughes he mentions is here, or just scroll further down this page past the posts about redacted porn art and equality-minded capuchin monkeys. Another page that recently linked here is this description of the shinth tour, featuring Los Fancy Free, Twig Harper (of Nautical Almanac), Fashion Flesh, and Peter B. "Shinths" are plain circuit boards with no inputs or outputs; to use them, tour musicians must "come with alligator clips and break, coax, or otherwise force sounds out." Tour organizer and shinth inventor Peter B. belongs to an emerging group of sculptor-musicians for whom electronic instrument design is as integral as the blurps, hums, twitters, and shrieks that emerge from them. Other noteworthy practitioners include Delia R. Gonzales and Gavin R. Russom, whose inlaid quasi-board game with functioning sound modules was a highlight of Daniel Reich's recent show at D'Amelio Terras, and Nautical Almanac, whose homemade instruments of recycled guitar parts, cheap '80s synths, and hairballs of wire evoke a certain skronky, shorted-out arcade sound before the first note is played. More on the trend later.
UPDATE: I changed "inlaid board game" to "inlaid quasi-board game" in the next to last sentence above. The slightly recessed wood tabletop suggested a chess or backgammon board with electronics-kit knobs instead of markings; I seriously doubt it functioned as a game.
A friend thinks there's too much artwork out there using redacted porno (see my earlier post discussing the work of Laura Carton, Istvan Szilasi, Jon Haddock, and Kathy Grove). She just forwarded a couple of e-announcements for exhibitions on this theme:
Michel Auder, opening Thursday, September 25, 2003, 7-9pm, at PARTICIPANT INC, 95 Rivington Street, NYC. "Auder will exhibit two bodies of recent photographic works, 'Orchard Street,' and his ongoing series, 'Details.' [...] 'Details' are conscientiously rendered minutiae, anthologized fragments from pornography websites. As if he has become indifferent toward the central action, Auder looks toward the peripheries, bringing into focus lush yet mundane details of décor and surface texture."Returning to my friend's criticism: certainly, in the late '80s/early '90s we learned what happened when you don't edit sexual content: artists lose funding and museum directors get hauled off to the hoosegow. The Republican Senator jerking off to 4-star hotel porn will freak out utterly if the same content appears in a museum. Is editing out the good stuff a way for artists to talk about a rival image-based, consciousness-shaping industry without getting in trouble? Or worse, do artists have an inherent bias towards good taste that makes them bypass the sweaty main attraction and concentrate on the decor? As mentioned earlier, Laura Carton does a good job of connecting porn to other aspects of Western life, showing the amusing range of locations where doin' the nasty takes place: rural mail drops, dentist's offices, miniature golf courses, whitewater rafts. Otherwise, I'm not sure how much can be learned from an endless succession of empty motel interiors. "Damn, there's a lot of pile carpet and fake wood paneling in the world!"
SMART Project Space, Amsterdam, September 26. "A multiple projection program of historical sex films from the dark vaults of Martha Colburn’s personal film collection. A special humorous addition to the program is a section of specially re-edited pornographic films whereby the many sex scenes have been deleted. These are mostly silent films and will be accompanied by 45’s dj-ed by Colburn and trombone/electronics by Hilary Jefferies and Felipe Waller. For the most part this is an ‘R’ rated show. XXX will be optional later in the evening."
My own contribution to the genre was a piece called Web Cam Girl, 2000, which I displayed in an Open Studio Tour that year. I deleted the "hot" photos capped off a paysite and showed 25 pics of a very normal, vivacious Canadian girl mugging for the camera. Reactions from my walk-in visitors were interesting. Many had to be told what the pictures were. Men tended to look down at the floor, and one woman needled her husband with "Is that one of the sites you go to, honey?" Women were very curious about the logistics of camming for cash (the phenom being still relatively new) and I answered like I knew something--I was bullshitting, honest! My standard rap included a discussion of self-empowerment, removing the predatory male shutterbug from the loop, a discussion of the tropes of mugging and, yes, background decor and the capper: that these pics were just as significant as Cindy Sherman's. Erudite as the discussion was, most polite listeners had the same thought balloon over their heads: "Pornhound!"