Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cut, print

I went to the Harry Potter movie the other night with Farrah and her niece -- her parents have been in town, hence the hiatus in posts -- and enjoyed it too much to join the general hoot. Afterwards, though, what stayed with me regarding the basically decent directing job from British TV guy David Yates was the weirdness of the it'll do edits, specifically in one scene with Robbie Coltrane talking about his giant half brother. It seemed almost glaringly obvious that the scene had been pared down, probably for time reasons though just as possibly to excise some gaffe or invisible issue. It made for a certain emotional hiccup, as I felt like the emotional beats seemed suddenly to speed up, or skip over the information needed to convey them. This is perhaps more generally the feeling that an adolescent Harry Potter reader might have as certain scene bits suddenly glide past wonderful or even crucial details too necessary to the shape of the experience to lose. And yet there is the obvious other argument for time's winged chariot, and the feeling of the well-oiled machine, even one missing a few aesthetic but not technically necessary parts, churning forward. Better a two hour movie where a few plot holes sag on the drive home from the theater than a three hour movie with a third hour ostensibly about the wish to drive home.

One of the weird things about deleted scenes in the DVDs from movies - an effect which is almost always unsettling and delirious in equal parts, as if there is this possibility that with more scenes one could eventually have a special, special DVD experience that would actually contain the entirety of the beloved character's life, perhaps lived in a equal or even longer span than the viewer's own (like Borges' map with a 1:1 scale to reality) - is that they are almost always bad. That is, the director was almost always right to take them out, to substitute the desire for completeness with the wish for speed. These scenes show the lines in some weird state of overstatement, or the actors' flu not quite makeup-ed over, or the camera not quite so. And then the cut says to the viewer: get on with your life, there is something more important than this and yet this is all you need to know. You don't need everything in order to have everything; you can split the difference after all between a Platonic realm of the imaginary deleted scene and the reality of the impeded view.

Still from the seat at the editing suite it is only about telling the most pared and efficient story, I assume, or at least the most believable and effective one, which usually comes to the same thing. And so movie after movie (especially in its Hollywood, test-screened incarnation) has this deliberate feeling of adulteration, of those moments when a corner has been cut because it should have been cut but one imagines the next, impossible take of the scene that could have incorporated this knowledge better, more fully, more truly. As if the producers are cheating the actors, or the actors the characters, or the characters the format they deliver themselves in. Is this to say the difference between good bad filmmaking and bad good filmmaking? The quality of invisibility? At the same time one must appreciate these moments for their window into the process even as the actual process remains cloaked. Like performances by certain actors whose stardom ups the ante on their "acting" to impossible degrees of sweat, the work is more important than what it produces. One has to appreciate, someone is trying.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Just finished reading Rebecca Solnit's brilliant piece in Harper's magazine while waiting for my shower to heat up after a morning pulling up invasive European buckthorn from the woods here in Massachusetts. It appears that the buckthorn (small, woody undergrowth) grows much faster than I could possibly uproot it, and my activity well rhymed with Solnit's evocation of "arcadian" Detroit returning to a quasi-wilderness, still inhabited but even post-post, after the rhetoric of Devils Night arson gangs seems to have passed from crisis into a permanent lore. My Sisyphian gardening seemed to foreground the weirdness of nature as a construct, all of these plants growing wildly amid the question of containment, beauty, utility, etc. And of course yesterday and the last few days I was running around feeding sheep, who need constant care it seems not to wander, scare, or eat themselves to death. Nature is half what survives and half what is let to survive, though obviously making someone let you (wool, milk, cuteness) is as much tactic as accident. Or tactic as accident, accident as tactic.

As if the Grand Canyon does need us after all, contra the very silly Imax movie I saw at the resplendant Boston Museum of Science last night. (To my great relief, Leonard Nimoy still gives a magisterial introduction over John Williams's out-coplanding copland New England hymn that was even better than I remembered from being ten years old.)

And meanwhile, Detriot is changing. Solnit describes the heroic atempts to turn the abandoned urban landscape into new farms, farm schools, sustainable eating infrastructure, etc. She rightly pauses to note the disturbing echo of sharecropping that so many people moved to Michigan to escape in the new "improved" Detroit tomorrowland. And yet-- and this is what I think makes Harpers magazine's naysaying easier to take than other paper political rags like the Atlantic Monthly's chicken little Neo-isms -- there's hope in that tomorrow, as if the apocalypse might already have happened, and no one has noticed yet, and it's going to be ok.

Should art do this, be the bitter pill as consolation for the bitter pill? Speaking of apocalypses, I saw the new Die Hard movie and was, as expected, fairly entertained by the incompletely averted apocalypses that the movie seemed to be admitting had already happened. I jibed against the predictable conservative government-as-good-once-we-weed-the-arrogant-bad-apples bit but was left with a weird feeling that somehow the scrim is thinner than it looks. At the Mugar Omni theater they shine lights behind the screen to reveal a network of speakers, pipes and braces and I always try to figure out whether I'm seeing the real back or a projection of it, and if it is a projection, whether it's accurate. Or if it's not accurate, is it ideal? Detroit for the alien as a complicated greenhouse or a neighborhood full of squatters...

Right now a hummingbird is humming in the flowers in the window watered by the rain.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How to rescue a reputation

I had dinner last night with a Boston musician who brought to my attention the strange case of French composer Germaine Tailleferre, who was a member of the French circle of composers known as Les Six. Somewhat unlike Milhaud or Poulenc, who seem to have some lasting visibility, Tailleferre has never even entered my consciousness, one of the most accomplished female composers practically ever. The fact is, I could probably name all the female composers I could think of on one hand-- which is not to say that many incredible composers do not exist, just that I haven't been informed of them or successfully sought them out, and not for lack of trying. But beyond say, Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelsohn, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Hildegard von Bingen my well runs near dry. I can think of the recent film composer Rachel Portman, or I don't know, Joanna Newsom? and I start to struggle. Wow. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I am surprised.

I tried to do the same thing with visual artists recently and found that, excluding the last three-quarters of a century in which the contributions of artists like Frida Kahlo, Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse, Georgia O'Keefe, Louise Bourgeois (who I'm not as personally fond of), and abstract expressionst painters (Frankenthaler etc.) it's equally hard. It makes a discovery like Gego's artwork at the Drawing Center in NYC right now especially exciting for me because the depth of my awareness seems suddenly so depressingly minimal. And if I try to start before, say, 1920 it gets almost blindingly murky. A friend of my mother's responded with the British artist Jessie Marion King, who is certainly another excellent example of yet again a brilliant female artist whom I had not been aware of. So maybe the story if my own failure here, but I wonder how pervasive this problem is.

This very post seems to resort to a terrible tokenism, as if reducing these artists to their femaleness in a way that would be as epistemology un-useful for men. It becomes a shorthand for "outsider" in a way I'm not sure to be helpful. The story may be one of lack of access to resources; perhaps this is why there are plenty of well-known women writers going back a few centuries (let's see, from the top of my head - Frances Burney, Helen Hunt Jackson, George Eliot, Louisa May Alcott, Baroness Orczy, Lafayette, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, etc.). Perhaps here there has been a stronger and more concerted job to refocus attention? Or is it easier for a woman to be accepted for her writing? I would postulate the need for prohibitive insidery art school or music school educations perhaps except then I would expect more well-known visionary 'outsider' artists like Grandma Moses or Charles Ives, which I'm not totally aware of. Certainly with the case of music so much depends on navigating the limited outlets for performance-- Tailleferre in fact even composed for Diaghilev, so she clearly was able to achieve enormously on this front, though might she be the token-ish exception?

How do you even rescue a reputation -- and do you want to? One of the great pleasures in life must be discovery, and then sharing. It's hard to share discoveries of the obvious; that's why they call it obvious. But then again, no one has any problem still taking pleasure from the good old pleasures.

So I guess the final question is what I want to have happen through increased visibility for women artists of the past, or what I want to happen to me. I don't much think that there is a women's way of seeing the world I want access to (eww) and even those French feminist ideas about "women's" writing I think have offered tools and new approaches that have become wonderfully available to everyone, myself included. (Feel free to accuse me here of being part of a force of gentrification; capitalism has its ways of using well-meaning creative people to clearcut the danger zones, then raise the rents...) Even some idea of eventual fairness reeks of something like retroactive religious conversions or victor's justice. Just a richer canon of choices? One life to live. One life... But then there's the idealist who lifts up a head (his or her, hmm) and says at varying volumes:

Here are some metaphors... Whack away.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A pack of

The pronunciation eludes me. It appears that west of the Mississippi they are two syllables but a third syllable is added as the animal has drifted eastward, like some parvenu pretension. Recent experience demonstrates not their innate tricksiness, as they are unable to recognize people who are aboard tractors or trailers behind tractors as such. In circumstances such as me this is intelligent as I have no desire to hurt one, though I'm sure there are those who would take advantage of this curiosity. For now the coyote (three syllables) lopes beside the machinery, hoping for a stray rodent, none the wiser.
Still I wouldn't sit down in the field and wait very long.

Observations from spent

I have been on a farm for the last three days herding sheep and hoisting haybales. (It turns out that sheep farming is basically a grass maintanance job. Pasture versus meadow versus field. Another issue where synonyms are not quite synonyms. When I was screenwriting last month it seemed everything always might be sorted out with a voluminous enough thesaurus. Because of the differences...) In any case, my chain gang education is a detriment to the brain part, hence my driving home exhausted and not much reading and not much writing. Inauspicious maybe to the theory of the Well rounded man.

But this will do for now.

I am still getting use to the public forum-ishness of this public forum. There are perforations and these are always interesting. After my last post on Anne Boyer's Good Apocalypse it appears she has re-out-shouted me. Which is odd, and good. Or is it strange and poignant? Synonyms for good are not much. Out here there may or may not be rules.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Apocalypse flavors

One of the challenges in life is to replace other people's prejudices with your own prejudices. I've been spending the last couple years deciding what I think of chapbooks, which some voice in my head told me a long time ago to be wary of. Or maybe it was someone else's voice, it's so hard to tell the difference anymore. But on one hand, they disappear into the bookshelf, wedged between books and on the other, they can be so handcrafty and pleasing to hold. And far better to travel with also.

Yesterday afternoon I spent reading Anne Boyer's Good Apocalypse, from Effing Press - which I made the unusual effort of ordering after reading her totally inspired hilarious trans-Marxist contempo piece "I Love LIterature" on a blog or somewhere.

And the chapbook is totally great and I know a lot of people know that already but why not reinforce the chorus. I first accidentally typed "Bad Apocalypse" when I was writing in the book's title in the last paragraph and my slip shows how much more unusual and great her perspective on this takes us. There's a creepy brilliance in her lightheartedness dealing with Problems, call it hate as glee maybe, or meant irony, or the ecstasy of smarting. She's posing this great question about culture throughout and how it's consituting us internationally, emotionally, etc. She brings up Omar Sharif in one poem, who is a great example of this, the arab/Russian/heartthrob/exotic/mustachioed man etc. The etcetera, say. That's what she's talking about.

Zizek says that the problem is we're living now in this obscene age where it appears that the revolution has been thoroughly discredited, that we're past choice, that the free market global economy capitalism is simply how it is and how it always will be. And if we're dreaming of the revolutionary, they are simply part of the order, either as outgrowable stage or hipster entertainment. And here's Boyer slyly quoting Guy Debord over the picture of a platypus "The grand style of an era can always be found in what is governed by the secret yet obvious necessity for revolution."

So it needs to be done... but that doesn't mean anybody wants to do it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Clouds, picnics

Tonight the weather turns out to be not awful, though the outdoor movie night in Brooklyn Bridge Park is cancelled. Up in my building sometimes I have to check the Internet to find out what the weather is outside: a little fog looks like a little rain. Out in California on the coast, you stand in fog and ten miles inland it can blaze blue. Technology keeps giving us a sense of other people telling us what is happening right now. And of course jobs are about not right now but almost right now, believing in next week's check and tomorrow weather. The rain after the armistice. Blue sky over the gallows.

And of course nobody knows at the same time as it's better to assume. This won't be the moment when the cat starts telling secrets to the houseguests. This won't be when, as in Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (seen last night) when we start getting murdered by some metaphors. A little fissure and the whole system floods. So the continuum slips.

Picnic at Hanging Rock was a brilliant movie because it held out all the pleasures of narrative without its conservative fulfillment. So silly to ask a bunch of why. I have to remember that. Belief in gravity (qua physics) is actually keeping the person down. As if there's a belief in maths, and a belief in Garibaldi.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fireworks, Sigmund Freud

I just walked in the door from watching the July 4 fireworks, which this year included (as, hopefully, always) a new ingenious firework that floated slowly like a ghost not so far off the ground, letting off a spectral trail of shimmering light and then, touching ground, *bounced* off and headed back into the air for an encore flight. Amazing. There are so few universal vestiges in the modern of magic that really seems like magic. Who are our wizards? In the movies, the wizard profession seems so frequently to be the psychoanalyst, who has special knowledge and possibly dark, Svengali-ish powers. There's a whole cottage industry in simply locating the epistemology of psychiatrists in film who are either powerful wizards or hapless con men. (Or both.)

But the fireworks specialist remains something apart, kind of a mystical offshoot of the mad inventor/entrepeneur (Tucker, Hughes). I found myself flashing back to two fireworkers I remember, watching tonight's display from the hallway window: 1) the righteous fireworks terrorist in RAGTIME, unveiling the secret radicalism underneath the bonding display of American patriotism and 2) a childhood vacation in early July on Martha's Vineyard when we watched the - as I recall - award winning French brothers' display off Oak Bluffs, their daunting French-ness suggesting some other secret Euro-wizardry informing the celebration of independence.

And of course there is the fact that something is exploding up there.

a picture of me

This is me

first blog entry

Here is my new blog. I hope to soon have a more interesting (though fast loading) template up soon. For now, it is 'minimal' which I can justify as my nod to the last truly named ism of the arts. Has it been said enough how weird that contemporary art now seems to start in 1960 and go until the present day, and thus that contemporary art includes fairly long dead people? I still feel like there's some weird cut off between people who died before I was conscious - say, 1980ish - and those afterwards who have died in the Era of Now... Which is like not dying at all, or dying but remaining part of the Conversation. But perhaps, conveniently many call 1980 the last year when all the Moderns died, so that's very convenient. Coincidence? Or does someone like Andy Warhol mean something more and different than, say, Robert Smithson? Samuel Beckett, Joan Miro, etc. The Early Eighties....

Farrah was just complaining about all the older, established poets we compete with for poetry contests. And then the dead keep popping up with new, contemporary work. WCW's new poem in the Paris Review, say. Where do they find this stuff? The attic from the Goonies? Margins of the poet's library installed at the Research Library of Young Turk's University? My mother has been requesting that I try to write a book "based on research." Who needs glasses? and who will?