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Contrary to the terrible reviews, The Hulk is an inspired comic-book film--just not much of a crowd-pleaser because it's so damn melancholy. Danny Elfman's somber Middle Eastern score sets a mood, and the kinetic use of digital collage, splitscreen, and unpredictable cutaways is more alienating (in a good way) than seat-gripping. The shots of ol' Greenskin bouncing across the western desert like a 20-ton grasshopper take your breath away, no matter how silly, and there's another wonderful effect where his howling visage is superimposed on lightning-impregnated thunderclouds. Right before that barely comprehensible passage, Nick Nolte and Hulk-as-human Eric Bana do a strange little one act play about morality and Oedipal conflict on a starkly-lit dais between giant Defense Dept. electromagnets--Nolte literally chews the scenery by biting into a live cable and turning into a roiling anime demon. 33 years ago special effects guy Dennis Muren brought an unforgettable flying devil to life in the Jack Woods drive-in howler Equinox; it's great to see he's still accessing his inner Harryhausen in the digital age. Ang Lee continues to look East for ideas and atmosphere: substitute science for the supernatural and The Hulk isn't that far from Onmyoji, a live-action Japanese sorcery film that enjoyed a minuscule theatrical run a few weeks back. Major beef: it's time to retire the "recovered childhood trauma" theme. Hitchcock's Spellbound premiered in 1945 and screenwriters are still revisiting it!
Anyone who's ever been to an electronic music concert featuring laptop performers (we often have them here in NYC at Tonic) knows there ain't much to look at. Paper Rad, the Providence-based art collective, went through the entire repertoire of stage moves last night at the closing event for "Blinky," an exhibition at New York's Foxy Production. Concentrating intensely--check; nodding sagely--got it; leaning over to look at a band member's screen--several times; avoiding eye contact with the audience--consistently. The only problem with all this sincere, scientific-looking activity was it had nothing to do with the sound coming out of the speakers: the "laptops" were Fisher Price toys with colored yarn for cables and the music was a prerecorded mishmash of stop-and-start drumming and desultory, singing-in-the-shower vocals--all completely non-digital. You gotta admire a group willing to exhaust an audience's patience to make a point.
Considerably more exuberant was the act that preceded it: the reunion concert of New Yorkers Cory and Jamie Arcangel, who last performed together as hockey-mask and fright-wig wearing metal teens in Buffalo (their band, Insectiside, is documented on a hilarious home video). The duo, now civic-mindedly decked out in Sabres T-shirts and caps, demonstrated a Nintendo Duck Hunt game scrambled to electronic hash with a Game Genie, and then challenged Williamsburg's vaunted electroclash scene with an infectious tribute to Miami Bass titled, yes, "Booty." While an 8-bit computer pumped the bass, Jamie rapped through a heavily-distorted microphone, Cory played electric guitar on his back, and the crowd got down. The last performer, Towondo Clayborn of Occasional Detroit, had a hard act to follow after all this insanity, but did an extended, intermittently dazzling set of hip hop electro noize that had people wandering in off the street (and also leaving--the philistines!). Think a bipolar union of Anti-Pop Consortium and Detrechno, with inspired segues between the two modes, plus off-the-top-of-the-(hot)head lyrics that gave new meaning to the term "loose."
A couple of other photos of this event are here.
Very brief update on my Nancy post, after having read most of Brian Walker's The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Zen, schmen, the strips are all about the gag, and many of them are funny. Clearly artists are drawn to Bushmiller's visual wit: until I saw a large collection I had no idea how devoted he was to puns and sight gags; they're almost half of his output. Here's my theory on the Nancy revival (with help from Mr. Wilson), adapting Kubler-Ross's "stages of grief" for comedy:
Denial. Boomers in the '60s see Nancy as a legacy of the "square" '40s and '50s--no way it could be funny.
Anger. Hipsters start looking at Nancy in a new way, saying it's "zen" or "so stupid it's good." This is still a putdown.
Bargaining. The generic, "anyone can make Nancy" gags start to appear.
Depression. Artists begin appreciating the strip for its craft, and for Bushmiller's "visual intelligence." (OK, my analogy doesn't work so well here.)
Acceptance. Boomers (and younger) read Nancy and laugh their asses off. Yes, I know, it's not that funny.
I reviewed the film One Hour Photo after seeing it once in the theatre; I recently rented the DVD and made a slight correction to my text. (Caution, semi-spoilers.) The film tells you, but not in a way that clearly sinks in, that Sy (Robin Williams in a great performance) took two rolls of film in the hotel, near the end of the story. One roll captured exactly what smutty-minded idiots are currently searching the internet for, the photos of which we don't get to see: "These are not pretty pictures," the cop says. Here's how I (now) describe the other roll:
The audience assumes that the photos he keeps asking for in the interrogation room are his [STARK RAVING NUDE!!!!!!!!] shots of the husband and girlfriend. Turns out they're photos he took in a nearby hotel room, before the police found him, on a separate roll of film. When a sympathetic cop finally hands them over, Sy patiently lays them out on the table and we can see they're images of the sofa, clothes hangers, bathroom fixtures, and the like, shot at odd angles and strangely cropped. He seems quite content looking at them. (sarcastic bracketed language added for this post only)In the original writeup I described the second film roll as being taken only in the bathroom. Aside from this goof my interpretation stands. Oh, and one other bit of trivia, which also hasn't escaped internet comment. A couple of scenes involve a Neon Genesis Evangelion action figure that Sy purchases for the little boy, Jake. The kid describes the figure as "a good guy that can fly, and he has a silver sword that can kill bad guys, and he's sixty feet tall." Evangelion nuts recognize the figure as a Mass Production Series 5-13 Eva, from the End of Evangelion movie, and that it's not a "good guy" but a monster (actually one of a group of monsters) that slays the flawed heroine Asuka and helps usher in the Apocalypse. The commentators I read thought that One Hour Photo erred to include this, because the toy likely wouldn't be sold in US stores (extensive Japanese writing on the box tends to support this) and it's a villain. I'd call it poetic license: yes, if the kid was an Evangelion fan he'd know it wasn't a "good guy," but since the director's obviously a fan, he knows that nothing in that Japanese TV/movie series is black and white--even the "bad" Evas have a role to play in human evolution--and his inclusion of the figure in his own shaded scenario makes sense.
The scenes raise another flaw, I suppose. In real life, if a near-stranger showed up unannounced to watch a young boy's soccer practice and attempted to give him a gift without parents present, it would undoubtedly be found out, and in our current hysterical climate about molestation (see Capturing the Friedmans) that would be it for Sy. Yet the movie keeps moving forward with its own relentless, dreamlike logic. The film is quite amazing in its ability to provoke a squirming sense of discomfort almost from the first frame. Beautifully shot, too.
Stephen O'Malley, a designer and musician in experimental outfits such as Khanate and Sunn O))), recently posted the above piece by Seldon Hunt, an Australian artist and graphic designer (a few more images are here--click on the link to "words" and scroll down; still more pics are in the news archives). Hunt has created record sleeves for the German label Drone records, among other projects. I'm pretty sure this work, which has a nice sci-fi lyricism to it, is done in Adobe Illustrator; it's definitely vector-based (drawn by means of defined curves) rather than pixel-based. This piece in particular is reminiscent of the work of New York artist Marsha Cottrell, who recently showed at Henry Urbach Architecture. Cottrell's work is much denser, limning an endless futuristic space in the vein of Rem Koolhaas's "delirious" urban spectacles. (The image below, completely packed with linear bizness, is a detail of a much larger piece.) While Cottrell's work is oddly controlled for something so "out there"; Hunt's evokes the spirit of Abstract Expressionism (or at least Rauschenberg) in its energy and formal variation. It may ultimately have more to do with the eye-grabbing immediacy of album graphics than Cottrell's ultra-refined, analytical architecture critique, but one can see an interesting dialogue between the two bodies of work. (Thanks to Brian Turner for the O'Malley link(s).)
The exhaustive Homestar Runner fan site I mentioned here is now a dead link. This is really too bad; it represented hours of fan contributions on all the cross
references, easter eggs, and trivia about Homestar & Co. I wonder, though: was it shut down through threat of litigation? The fine print at the bottom (still cached) says, in so many words, "greasy lawyers, go away; this is just a fan site." I hope it's not the case that they
were officially warned off, since the Chapman brothers seem very generous in their approach to internet marketing.
One bit of trivia is how to find the Nintendo game endings, which I mentioned to someone recently. These are small screen shots of the last panels of various games, including Mario lying in bed dreaming of the Princess at the end of Super Mario Bros 2.
1. Click (and watch) the Strong Bad email "Japanese Cartoon."
2. At the end of the short, click the words "Japanese cartoon" on Strong Bad's computer screen and watch a short title sequence for "Stinko Man 20X6."
3. When you are returned to the Strong Bad email, click the words "Japanese cartoon" again to see Homestar watching the show on TV and mumbling along with the theme song.
4. While Homestar is watching his TV, click on the videotape on his shelf that says "NES endings".
5. When the first NES screen shot pops up, click it repeatedly to see more NES endings.
"I'm a blade man, man!"
The photo at the top is a detail from Dearraindrop's installation at John Connelly Presents, 526 W. 26th Street, NYC. The full-color psychedelia never lets up--the walls are covered floor to ceiling with crude, slightly brain damaged painting, collaging, knickknacks, and inflatables--but I prefer the dense sticker/product collage such as the area depicted here to the painting, which is mostly sub-high school in execution. Ironically, the most sophisticated work is the video by the youngest member, Billy Grant, who did just graduate from high school. Maybe video is a better medium than painting for this kind of A.D.D., media-overloaded consciousness? I recognized some of the footage from Psych-Out 2K3: scenes of Ronald McDonald leading a pair of ecstatic youngsters through a solarized psilocybin world. Two floors down in the same building, at Greene Naftali, Jim Drain & Ara Peterson present a more minimal, scientific version of the psych experience: the video kaleidoscope shown in a cropped view below. The viewer looks through a triangular window into a mirrored tunnel, the cross reflections of which create an astounding illusion of a large, hovering geodesic sphere, covered with ever-changing patterns. This is completely cool.
Last night was the opening of "Outpost," an exhibition curated by Ada Chisholm at Smack Mellon (50 Water St, Dumbo, Brooklyn). Highlights were Joe McKay's big screen video game (pics here) where players achieve heights of competitive blood lust in order to...match colors, and Cory Arcangel's power-point-presentation-with-Van-Halen-guitar-solo. In the McKay piece, players sit at a console and work simple RGB sliders (levers raising and lowering the amount of red, green, and blue light). Each player is arbitrarily given a "starting color" and must shift the levers until a "target color"--say, a large dot moving around the screen--is duplicated. When one player hits the exact hue (and it takes some concentration), he or she is declared the winner of that round and the game resets. Each new game has a different "op art" pattern--circles, stripes, spirals--and the color-combinations are often quite dazzling. The installation does something often claimed for color field painting that invariably never happens when you look at it: that is, it teaches you about the physical properties, relativity, and context-specificity of color. A few rounds of the game are equivalent to a short Bauhaus course with Albers and Itten, and I love that the competition is centered around Kandinskyesque harmonics rather than blowing apart zombies or whatever.
Cory Arcangel was also in the education mode last night, giving one of his trademark nerdy laptop slide lectures, but instead of explaining some obscure point of 8-bit computing, he delved into a pop-cultural moment of the type geeks enshrine on the internet in mind-boggling detail: specifically Eddie Van Halen's Paganini-like 1978 guitar solo "Eruption." With amusingly clunky graphics Arcangel explained to a somewhat skeptical, slow-to-warm audience how Van Halen put the pickups from a Les Paul into a Stratocaster body so he could play "up high and nerdy," wired his amps to think they were playing at a lower volume than they were, and got Floyd Rose whammy bar effects with a stock, Strat-style whammy bar. (Simulating the sound on his own guitar, Arcangel momentarily got the wrong vibrato and said "Whoops, that sounds more like Steve Vai.") As the minute fanboy details kept coming and coming, the crowd finally started getting the joke, and then was roused to cheering applause when Arcangel ended his lecture with a blistering note-for-note recreation of the solo. Trips to art galleries should always be this fun.