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My favorite Christmas movie, and the best Frank Capra movie IMHO, was on TCM last night: Meet John Doe (1941). Robert Osborne introduced it as a "delightful comedy"--what has he been smoking? Sure, it's funny, Capra earned his chops doing Mack Sennett one-reelers, and whenever the plot lags, which is never, someone is always falling over a chair or, in one notable bit, messing up a hand painted sign on a new newspaper executive's glass door. But the theme is pure dystopian science fiction: What if the Second Coming of Jesus were a plot engineered by Hitler?
Jesus is Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a down and out minor league baseball player who becomes a love-thy-neighbor speechifying "John Doe" to millions of Americans without hope. Hitler is D.B. Norton, who has his own personal police force (shades of Bush and Blackwater) and owns as much major media as Rupert Murdoch. Norton secretly underwrites the "John Doe Clubs" that spring up around the country in the wake of a popular radio speech by Willoughby (shades of Cindy Sheehan's grassroots appeal), and although the clubs are supposed to be apolitical and anti-politician, the media tycoon plans to have the bought-and-paid-for baseball bum announce the "D.B. Norton for President" campaign at a national "John Doe Convention" (shades of Promise Keepers, Million Man March, etc.).
Willoughby is a media creation, the brainchild of a cynical reporter played by Barbara Stanwyck, who has Rovian instincts for tapping aggrieved populism, while Norton supplies the dirty tricks. According to an interesting Capra bio I read, Willoughby is a stand-in for the director, who became enormously popular after the success of the populist films Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington but as a well paid Hollywood functionary was always uncomfortable with people's expectations that he would "stand up to the system" or be a general champion for socialist causes, particularly as Hollywood's politics started to shift rightward after the Depression. The bio points out that Capra was slightly fixated on suicide. As in It's a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe's plot hinges on a character about to jump from a high place.
Like the better-known and loved Jimmy Stewart movie, Doe is dark, it's deep, and it's great.
"Crickets" [mp3 removed].
No. 10 in the suite "10 Songs for Analog Drum Machine and Sidstation."
"Curtains for You" [mp3 removed].
Revised and slightly expanded version of a piece previously posted. I essentially made all the changes I said I was going to make: the Farfisa organ now has wah-wah pedal (after the break), the melody has more variations and syncopations than the original placeholder riff, and delay pedal and percussion effects have been added. I'm sure I could keep thinking of little refinements, but it's past the skeletal phase at least.
Juan Downey and Fred Pitts, Against Shadows, 1968
Jude Tallichet, EMPR, 2005, on view in the Superlowrez exhibit at vertexList in Brooklyn.
"Superlowrez" is an editioned series of Jim Campbell-like, or ahem, Downey-and-Pitts-like LED boxes. The 8 invited artists had the next-to-impossible task of distinguishing themselves as unique creative entities with a pallette consisting solely of a 12 X 14 pixel matrix, 8 levels of brightness for each pixel, and 1984 frames of animation (what each lightbox's chip holds). One of the more phallo-logo-ideographically punchy works, Tallichet's EMPR, is based on Warhol's Empire State Building film. The rest tended to blur together in the viewer's mind--in fact the 8 boxes looked like a rather handsome (if derivative) solo show. Lots of Space Invader-y looking stuff, as you might gather.
The sheer insurmountability and inadvertent bubble-popping anti-pretentiousness of the project reminded me of a piece from the '80s--PM Summer's 100 Photographers (Aborted). In that work, Summer gave a polaroid SX-70 camera to a range of different photographers--artists, art directors, photojournalists, product photographers, paparazzi--and asked them to photograph a small locked wooden box with a slot in the top. The polaroid was dropped in the slot and at the end of the project, the photos were removed and exhibited in a grid with no indication of authorship. It was amusing and sad to see how everyone struggled to be "original" with such a limited set of parameters: shooting the box from the ground looking up (check--several), shooting it blurry (bunch of those), extreme closeups (you bet), all black, all white, and not very many more strategems. Sorry to cast the pall of despair on the vertexList project, but I found the sociology, and the way the boxes got fractionally more interesting through learning the anecdotes and back stories about what each one actually was, to be more compelling than the visuals themselves. And since I'm in the "experience trumps narrative" camp--that's a criticism. Now, if I'd done one it would have been kick ass. No it wouldn't.
John Zoller, Shearing Sheep In Nevada, 2005, 48" x 60", acrylic, glitter, pom poms on canvas. From the series United States: Color & Learn.
Some pros and cons on the NY transit strike can be found on the News Blog--Steve and Jen disagree. Jen says it's not about race and this is not the strike to make us think about union solidarity--people's jobs and incomes are at stake. I'm lucky because I just went on Christmas break but just want to say that it *should* be bigger than just the problems of the transit workers. When Reagan fired the air traffic controllers it pretty much broke the clout of unions in this country--gains for workers it had taken decades of folks getting clubbed on the head by company goons to obtain. The flip side could be a major, publicly supported strike that begins to stop the slide of unchecked power accruing to the owner class since the early '80s. Solidarity with the union means you stop pretending that you will eventually join the bosses and admit that you're next in line for the ax while they lead lifestyles of the rich and famous. In theory I'm on the side of the transit workers against their undeniably crooked, or crookedly inept bosses ("Oh, we just found a billion we didn't know we had!"). But ask me after several weeks of no subway. It would be nice if we could all get through this and still send a message to the oink squad.
Update: Fox News, playing in a deli near my apt where I can't avoid it, has their tag line in place: "Capitalism Held Hostage," with clips of Saint Ronnie firing the controllers, and the Mayor threatening jail. Definitely increases sympathy for the striking workers.
"Curtains for You" [mp3 removed]
Sometimes the first draft is the freshest. I don't know if that will be the case here. I can think of a half-dozen other things I can do to this piece, such as adding little syncopated breaks and wah-wah filtering to the organ riff, using sustains or fades to smooth over seams in the rhythm, possibly adding some percussion floating over the drum loops, and I plan to do all of them, but they take time, and there's always the risk that spontaneity will be lost, even in a piece where the "playing" is already all done by the computer. It's pretty catchy as it is, so I'm posting it, with the usual torrent of exculpatory verbiage.
Revised version here.
More items available for reasonably-priced consumption today and tomorrow, Dec. 17 and 18, at La Superette, the annual sale of useful items and artistic gimcracks organized by Tali Hinkis and Susan Agliata. This year the sale's at Exit Art, 475 10th Avenue at 36th Street, New York. Hours are Saturday 2pm-10pm and Sunday 1pm-6pm. Images top to bottom from the online catalog: Jill Killjoy (mini wallets), Jill Killjoy (chart t-shirts), Jonathan Rockford (holiday hand grenades), Lisa Bennett (it).