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Matthew Geller's urban earthwork Foggy Day, which I posted about here, made the front page of the New York Sun today, with an evocative photo. The conservative rag did some digging and figured out that a small percentage of the funding came from (gasp) public sources so they went to town, with the headline "Fog, Art, or a Waste of Tax Money?" and an outraged editorial in the back. C'mon, Republicans, the Culture Wars are over and you won, man! Compared to the glory days when they complained about crucifixes in urine and photos of men fisting, the Culture Cops are like high school hall proctors now, swooping down on the few remaining dimes occasionally changing hands for a piece of atmospheric installation art. The old "is it art?" question has even been dusted off from the early 1960s. Pathetic.
UPDATE: The pile-on continues: Geller is being interviewed and the fog piece will be featured on Fox News, Wednesday, October 15, at 7:00 pm EST.
"The world of Knight Realms takes place in a fantasy/medieval setting. It is a time of knights, wizards, monsters, and treasure. Suit up in your armor and grab your sword, for this is fantasy role-playing at its absolute best. Become a fearless warrior, a mystical magic-user, a mysterious rogue, a benevolent priest, an alchemist creating potions in a mysterious laboratory, or any of the other forty plus possibilities. We create an entire world for you to explore, complete with adventures and a thick plot. Imagine yourself acting out the part of a hero or heroine in a good fantasy novel, except it's not a novel, you are experiencing it at a much closer degree." Be sure to visit the video page. (Hat tip to Joe of Cimmeria)
Zerg Moderne, MSPaintbrush drawing, 2003.
Brian De Palma's Scarface is enjoying a limited theatrical run in connection with the 20th Anniversary DVD; it packs a wallop on the big screen. It's still over-the-top on every level: opulent set design, scenery-chewing acting, bloody violence, all mediated through Giorgio Moroder's disco dirge score, Oliver Stone's then-sharp politics (in the screenplay), and De Palma's meandering camera eye ("This is the first time that his camera's swoops and pans start to emote, to add substance to the narrative, to actually paint," says critic Ted G--although I'd say it was doing that as early as The Fury). If you're looking for your early-'80s fix, Scarface electrifies like a big, obscenely tall mound of blow (as opposed to Blow) shoveled toward the nose with the flat of the hand. Accept no substitutes (e.g, Kill Bill).
In any event, be sure to read Armond White's smart discussion of the movie's cult following, that is, the influence it had on a generation of youth more or less abandoned by the system who took it to heart as the template for the gangsta lifestyle:
On the new DVD, a 20-minute documentary made by music video director Benny Boom lets a platoon of hiphop-culture icons comment on what Scarface has meant to their lives and careers. P. Diddy, Method Man, Geto Boysí Scarface, Eve, Outkast and more express their admiration for Tony Montana, the Castro exile played by Al Pacino who took advantage of the 1980 Mariel boatlift and Miamiís Cuban criminal class to enter the drug trade, grasping after the vaunted American dream with brutal tenacity. This drama was the beginning of "gangsta" as an appellation for ruthless bravery. [...] (Def Jam has released a CD of songs by various rap artists influenced by Scarface. Itís a funny, melodramatic array, although it omits Public Enemyís "Welcome to the Terrordome" in which Flavor Flav imitates Tonyís "Who I trust? Me!")White's film criticism, which appears weekly in the New York Press, gets better and better. He's one of the few critics tackling race and class issues in movies; his only major soft spot is an inexplicable devotion to Steven Spielberg. Check out his review of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, an "A"-list film that just sounds horrible.
Digimon: The Movie (2000). Don't get me wrong, this is a terrible film. You might as well hit your kids upside the head with a rolled-up newspaper as let them watch it. There's a lot of beautiful stuff in it, though, once you turn off the white-rapper-heavy soundtrack. Basically it's a k1ddy version of Neuromancer: children fight viruses and worms in the Internet with monster-avatars. Typical of the Japanese, though, there's a lot of confusion between the digi-world (which technically could only exist in computers or the Net) and the plain old garden-variety-anime "spirit world." Taxing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point, the digi-monsters constantly manifest themselves on a huge scale, in the middle of cities, etc. In the scenes above, the animators visualize the Internet as a graphic "clean room" environment, with superimposed pastel ferris wheels and parabolic merry-go-rounds suggesting a toddler's wallpaper rendered by parallel Crays. Avatars fight in this disembodied zone while their human masters watch on popup screens. Nice!
Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1963), an incredibly faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson's novella "I Am Legend." In that classic '50s science fiction story, a plague turns the entire population of Earth into vampires; it was later remade somewhat ridiculously as Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, and strongly echoed in the recent 28 Days Later.* Spoiler: Robert Neville (Price, called Robert Morgan in the movie) thinks he's all alone in the world, killing vampires by day and sharpening stakes at night inside his boarded up house. Turns out the plague has mutated; some people can survive with a pharmaceutical cocktail of defebrinated red cells and a bacillus-killling drug. In his ignorance, Price has been slaying these non-vampiric day sleepers, and they view him as the most unspeakable monster of all. As Stephen King wrote in his excellent culturecrit book Danse Macabre:
For a nation whose political nightmares still include visions of Kent State and My Lai, this is a particularly apt idea. The Last Man on Earth is perhaps an example of the ultimate political horror film, because it offers us the Walt Kelly thesis: We have met the enemy and he is us.Actually, I'd say Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are our latter-day Robert Nevilles. The poor deluded Cold War relics truly think they're doing some good in the world by killing thousands of Iraqi civilians. Unlike Neville, though, they aren't horrified when they discover Iraq is WMD-less, and even think getting rich is their reward for being so "noble." Talk about a monster movie!
*Hat tip to Sally for reminding me of this movie--the DVD retails for six bucks!
UPDATE: The brilliant blurb writer(s) over at Atomic Cinema believe that "[t]he real plot [of Last Man on Earth] is that an aging man loses everything dear to him, and finds whatever purpose to his senseless existence he can." I've been emphasizing the story's politics, but it's the undertow of melancholy and loss that makes it so powerful, an aspect of the Matheson story that the movie captures very well.
Art Fog in Tribeca
New York artist Matthew Geller is presenting Foggy Day in a section of Cortlandt Alley between White and Walker Streets in Lower Manhattan, Oct. 3-Nov. 14, 2003. The "urban earthwork," as the artist terms it, shrouds the street in fog at selected times during the day, with "a regular pea-souper that grows and dissipates as wind and weather conditions change." The picturesque Cortlandt Alley has frequently served as a set for film and photo shoots; in Geller's real-life version, the alley is enhanced with translucent rubber puddles on the sidewalk and trees growing from building niches, turning "a normal walk through the city into a kind of temporary cinema." The mysterious fog is activated at lunch and early evening Tuesdays through Sundays; for more info see the artist's website. (from artnet news)
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.