21 December 2016

Islands of the Colorblind




Presently scrounging through texts, attempting to sort through Romanticism's various pushbacks against the tides of Enlightenment, Utilitarian, and Positivist thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and encountered the following. Not unlike Jane Jacobs, but 120 years before the fact...

"It is not disputed, that in any land where there are flourishing cities, the territorial aristocracy will be distinguished as patrons of the beautiful in art. But whence has this aristocracy derived the wealth by means of which it indulges so largely in the gratification of those tastes ? Whence has it derived these tastes themselves? And whence came the men of genius possessing the power to minister to those tastes ? On these questions, it is not too much to say, that as the town has made the country, giving to its lands a beauty and value they would not otherwise have possessed ; so the citizen has made the noble, by cultivating in him a taste for art, which would not otherwise have formed a part of his character. For it must be obvious that the countrv which should be purely agricultural, producing no more than may be consumed by its own agricultural population, must unavoidably be the home of a scattered, a rude, and a necessitous people, and its chiefs be little elevated above the coarse untaught mass of their dependants. Burgesses produce both the useful and the ornamental, and minister in this manner both to the need and the pleasure of nobles and kings. What they sell not at home they send abroad. In either case, wealth is realized; lands become more valuable; public burdens can be borne; and along with the skill which produces embellishment, come the means by which it may be purchased. [...]

"We only maintain that the successful patronage of the fine art depends less on the existence of noble families, than on the existence of prosperous cities. Without the former kind of patronage, art may be wanting in some of its higher attributes; without the latter, it would cease to have existence."
- Robert Vaughan, "On Great Cities in their Connexion 
with Art," from The Age of Great Cities (1843).


Or, as a friend of mine said of San Francisco a few years ago, "[It's] been officially pronounced dead. It's a good city to consume culture, but in a very short time it has become one that is completely inhospitable to those who produce it."


*image: Attributed to Tom Sachs. First spotted by the author in 
an alleyway of the Soho district of Manhattan, circa 1997.

10 December 2016

Notes Toward a Theory of Depressive Resublimation




"One of the operations of power is to deflect the critique of capitalism onto the terrain of a more limited cultural critique. The condemnation of arrogant elitism or dumbed-down consumerism, of the detached art object or the degraded commodity form, has value. But, being partial, such critiques are always liable to overshoot their mark, and become their opposite. In the end, you have to keep your sights on transforming the system that produced such contradictions in the first place."

- Ben Davis, "Connoisseurship and Critique", e-flux journal, April 2016

04 December 2016

On the Exhaustion of Something of Other





Christian Viveros-Fauné, writing at artnet News, on "Containers and Their Drivers," the Mark Leckey mid-career retrospective presently on view at MoMA PS1:

"Fiorucci [Made Me Hardcore] achieved cult status at almost viral speed, thanks in large part to its timely anticipation of the YouTube generation’s breezy manipulations of digital sources. This accident of history lent the North England-born artist the veneer of being the Cezanne of the interwebs—in today’s artspeak, post-internet art’s analog pioneer. A gifted but ultimately trivial sculptor, filmmaker, poster-maker, installation-designer, lecturer, musician and general jack-of-all-0-and-1-art-trades, Leckey seems to have never recovered from the pigeonholing. [...]

"Traipsing through Leckey’s multiple rooms at MoMA PS1, consequently, comes across as a spiritually exhausting, Reagan-era throwback experience. As captured in his first US survey...Lecky’s life’s work takes physical shape as a concatenated set of new media reworkings of Jean Baudrillard’s 1980s-style vaporings. The majority of Leckey’s current installations, in fact, deal with some unacknowledged version of hyper-reality. Were Leckey American, no doubt this exhibition would have featured the DeLorean from Back to the Future. [...]

"'I see myself in a tradition of Pop culture,' Leckey told artnet News contributor J.J. Charlesworth in 2014. 'I'm a Pop artist – I believe in the idea that you’re essentially a receiver, that you open yourself up to, and you allow whatever is current to come through you and absorb it into your body and somehow process that, and that’s how the work gets made.'

"The work's chief revelation is as simple as it is uncritical: in our era of data glut, everything is everything is everything. Leckey’s replicas (or are they simulacra?) accrue on repeating shelves and pedestals, one after the other, in ongoing, insistent, recurrent, nearly endless succession."





The gist of Viveros-Fauné's critique is hardly a new one. If anything, it very much echoes that of Julian Stallabrass's YBA bollocking of some years hence, High Art Lite. That being, that "pop conceptualism" rapidly degenerated into a a default modus in which postmod irony, long having lapsed into a state of rhetorical depletion, becomes a form of passively (if not somewhat masochistically celebratory) fatalism. We are all merely receptors, culture is effectively like a pinterest page,  and "thinking isn't cool -- shit and stuff is cool."

The prevalence of 1980s tropes, themes and cultural references in Leckey's work is apropos in a way. For those old enough to remember the art of the '80s, this sort of installation art bound to seem so tiresomely familiar, because it's little more that the eternal return of Haim Steinbach -- endlessly reused and recycled and diluted into a thinner gruel with each iteration, a cultural product that exceeded its shelf life with the close of the prior century, a salon art that now signals aesthetic inertia and little else. Except, I suppose, some would argue that in his day there was something about Steinbach's work that seemed simultaneously both humorous and ever-so-slightly horrific. Whereas much of the stuff of this latest generation too often comes across as thoroughly anesthetized.

28 November 2016

The Day I Disconnected The Erase Head And Forgot To Reconnect It




I suppose by this point I should quit occasionally popping up to say "please pardon my absence," as I've been doing more often than anything else (here) in many months. But I only recently discovered that this blog had been knocked out by a tech glitch. It seems google did some sort of update and the tweaking rendered some html meta-tag coding on the blog's template unparsable, thus taking this thing off the air. Which has since been remedied.

At any rate, a belated RIP is in order for e-music pioneer extraordinaire Pauline Oliveros. Admittedly, I don't own nearly enough of her work (although, if I had the money to spare, I imagine this collection from a few years back would've done nicely). But back when I used to do the free-mixing session for an experimental music radio show that aired late in the Chicago p.m. , what I did have of her work often filled the bill for providing one element or another to an hour-long multilayered mix.

So, with that in mind, here (link below) is one such mix that dates back to about a decade ago, with Oliveros taking the lead...

Flotsam on the Ocean of Sound (Radio mix no. 12)
Primary material includes:
Pauline Oliveros - “Something Else” (Pogus)
Brutum Fulmen - “Spore” (Crippled Intellect)
Miko Vaino - “Vaihtuja” (Wavetrap)
Robert Normandeau - “Tangram” (Empreintes Digitalis)
John Wall - “Construction III” (Utterpsalm)
Joji Yuasa - “Projection Esemplastic for White Noise” (Neuma)
Douglas Quin - “Canada Glacier/Wind Harps of Taylor Valley" (Miramar)
Merzbow - “Tatara" (Manifold)
Pimmon - “Bettler Kempt” (Fat Cat)
Stillupsteypa - “Nice Things to File Away Forever” (Mille Plateaux)

[  :: drone, phase, flux ::  ]

07 October 2016

Art Decade (Redux))





Yes, so that last bit was re-post of something written five years ago, originally hammered out for the "the 1970s blog" team-effort thing. At the time, I didn't originally set out to write about David Bowie, per se. Rather, I'd been thinking about the American popcult fascination with many things German, particularly Weimar-era Berlin -- a common fetishizing of its decadence, of its status of a place teetering on the edge of an historical abyss that it would soon topple into. And then, reading something about Bowie's time in Berlin and the events that led him there, I decided to use the Bowie angle as a thread on which the loosely hang a number of other themes and thoughts.

And I was prompted to go ahead and re-post the piece this back while I was reading Paul Morley recent volume, The Age of Bowie. When it comes to Bowie's Thin White Duke year and what followed, Morley takes no discernible interest in Bowie's drug habit and near crack-up, focusing instead other aspect of the the artist's work and career. But he does mention, more or less in passing, something else that seldom comes in most accounts -- something far more pragmatic and less romantic that might help cut through the fog of mystique that long ago coalesced around Bowie's "Berlin trilogy" of albums.

That being the artist's business deal with manager Tony Defries and Mainman, Ltd.. In 1975, Bowie apparently realized that the arrangement was stacked too heavily in Defries's favor and fires him. But he still has some years left to go before his contracts with Defries and RCA expire. So he spends the next several years doing what wants, working with whom he wants, recording where he wants -- releasing darker, more esoteric and "experimental" albums that RCA is increasingly vexed to wring any singles out of; and when they do manage to do so, the tunes don't chart as highly or as frequently as earlier work (thus perhaps insuring that Defries's royalties from newer work dwindles).

So, with those three albums -- as well as a second live album, two "best of" collections, plus a children's record by way of an adaptation of Peter and the Wolf on which Bowie provides the narration -- he finally fulfilled his contractual obligations for RCA when he handed over 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

But his contract with Defries didn't run out until 1982. Something that Bowie had clearly been anticipating and planning around, when you consider the way he steered his career in a more commercial direction with the album he released the following year.

04 October 2016

Look Good in Ruins

(or: Twenty-five Tangents about Bowie in "Berlin")


Archival post, originally posted at ...And What Will Be 
Left of Them?April, 2011. Same I can't re-pots the 
amusing comments sections that followed...




1.

By all accounts, he had to get away from L.A. That much is a matter of undisputed public record. Some claim it was little more than a tax dodge, but others argue it was Bowie's attempt at breaking the maeslstrom of drugs and increasing psychosis that was consuming his life -- the obsession with Aleister Crowley, the traffic, escalating paranoia, the $500-per-diem cocaine habit supplemented by a diet of milk and peppers. Or maybe it was all of the above. But it had to start with leaving, getting out and getting away, extricating oneself from certain endangering circles, breaking with destructive habits and everything that fuels or enables them, and hopefully changing course and salvaging what's left of one's creative energies before it's too late. First to Switzerland, then -- eventually -- to Berlin. Leaving Los Angeles and all of its snares and poisonous associations behind. To hell with it all. Looking back, he would later say of Los Angeles, "The fucking place should be wiped off the face of the planet."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.

No big surprise, really, that Bowie would inevitably wind up in Berlin. He'd been enthralled with Germany for some time -- fascinated, as some recent recorded comments and reputed gestures suggested, to a worrisome or problematic degree. He was deeply taken with its art and its music, with the decadent cabaret culture of the Weimar era, and -- more alarmingly -- with a certain sordid chapter of its 20th-century history.

But mainly it seemed like a good place to go to detox and collect one's wits. Bleak, depressed, somewhat coldly (and dingily) modern, furtively wrestling with its own history in the most repressed of ways, physically divided, socially and politically adrift in the throes of its Cold War limbo. That was the impression of the place as it existed at the time, anyway – the picture that the word "Berlin" commonly painted in a person's mind. A "come-down" city if ever there was one. You wander down a given city street, only to come to its sudden and abrupt end, the point of stoppage at which you find yourself facing the Wall. Some histories aren't so easily left behind, some histories leave harsh reminders.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.

It was Christopher Isherwood who put the idea of moving to Berlin into Bowie's head. Bowie had long been a fan of Isherwood, whose Goodbye to Berlin had undergone a recent revival in popularity from loosely providing the inspiration for the musical Cabaret. Attending the Los Angeles stop of the Station to Station tour in 1976, Isherwood and artist David Hockney had made their way backstage to converse with the singer afterward. The topic of Berlin came up. Isherwood would later claim that he tried to disabuse Bowie of the notion of going there, going so far as to dismiss the city as "boring." No matter, as it prompted Bowie to decide that a lack of distractions and some anonymity were what he needed to clear his head, and it wasn't much later that he started packing his bags.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .




4.

Bowie wasn't the only one fascinated by Berlin in the 1970s. Far from it. A quick survey of the American cultural landscape revealed that a certain number of people in the U.S. shared a similar interest. Lou Reed's Berlin LP might've played some small part in the matter, with the way it sketched its setting in the gloomiest and starkest of tones. And there was also the popularity of the Broadway and film productions of Cabaret. Plus, the novels of Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass sold modestly well, with the films of Herzog and Wertmüller and Fassbinder and Wenders drawing crowds at the cinema in New York and reviews from urbane film critics.

As far as how the idea of Berlin was conceived and held in the American public imagination -- it represented something, must've served as some kind of metaphor. But a metaphor for what? Nobody ever said precisely, and perhaps nobody actually knew. Something having to do with trauma and unthinkable sins, with atonement and the weight of history, about rebuilding from the wreckage without looking back, of not being able to speak of the past, of living in a historical limbo. And about modernity. Because Berlin seemed deeply modern, but in a way that was as hard-won and enburdened as any form of modernity could be.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

5.

"Amerika kennt keine Ruinen," art historian Horst Janson reputedly wrote in 1935. America knows no ruins. Ruins, as such, serve as a marker of history; of the past, of civilization having peaked and waned. In its sui generis exclusivity, America in the 20th century say itself as the embodiment of modernity. History was for the Old World, something that effected various elsewheres -- deeply European in its fatalism and determinism. To acknowledge it, to speak its name, meant playing the defeatist's card -- an admission of falling victim to causal forces beyond one's control. Never, never, never. America isn't shaped by history, America makes history. America knows no ruins because it is continually razing the grounds and building anew.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6.

Unlike the projects that preceded it, Bowie's Young Americans blue-eyed soul schtick seemed like an aesthetic dead-end from the start -- conceptually limited, not the sort of thing one could build on, could take in any further direction. Transitioning into his European, world-wearied proto-New Romantic persona as the Thin White Duke the following year, Bowie would revisit the formula on Station to Station, albeit in a revamped, more dense and shadowy form.

Case in point, Station to Station's "Stay." Abetted by the chops of a couple of former members of Roy Ayers Ubiquity, the song showcases Carlos Alomar and Dennis Davis tucking deeply into the groove, getting louder and more open than they did on most of Ayers's recorded outings. "Stay," Bowie croons, although it sounds more like a suggestion than a plea. He sounds numb or placidly transfixed to the spot, while the band piles in a car, stomps the accelerator pedal, and screeches off toward their own destination, all but leaving the frontman in the dust. Stay? The singer was already in the act of grabbing his coat and heading toward the exit.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Left: Victoria Station, 1976. Right: Martin Kippenberger, Ich kann beim Besten Willen
kein Hakenkreuz entdecken ("I Can't for the Life of Me See a Swastika in This"), 1984.

7.

At Victoria Station in London, the camera shutter snaps and catches Bowie waving to fans, his arm in mid-sweep. The photo then runs in a number of tabloids, each claiming that the singer was seen giving the Nazi salute. Of course, that's just the tabloids being the tabloids. But it certainly didn't help that at about the same time he would make a remark in an interview about how Britain could really "benefit from a fascist leader." It was at that point that people started to wonder about the depth and the nature of the singer's Teutophilia, or if all that cocaine hadn't irreparably fucked his brain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .




8.

In 1969, the artist Anselm Kiefer made a series of excursions across Europe. It was the earliest stage of his career, and the journey was the basis for a project -- a photographic travelogue titled Occupations. In each of the resulting photos, we see Kiefer at each of his stops giving the fascist salute.

There's something deeply, ironically comical about the series, as we see the artist as a lonely pathetic figure isolated within the frame, standing at attention with his arm held stiffly in the air. In Rome, at Arles and Montpellier, facing the ocean à la Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Misty Sea. An isolated and abject figure, a bathetic caricature of nationalist sentiment and imperial hubris -- ciphering away in empty and indifferent spaces, dwarfed by the surrounding landscape and architecture, repeating a delusional and ineffectual gesture ad absurdum, summoning the spectre of a lapsed and doomed history again and again and again. As if to drive the issue home with a visual pun, in one shot we see Kiefer in the same pose while standing in silhouette against the window in a trash-strewn apartment. Lebensraum. Of course.

All irony aside, the series still managed to piss off a lot of people at the time.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


9.

Albert Speer knew the value of history, and he also knew the importnace of ruins. During the 1930s, Speer was developing and promoting his own Ruinenwerttheorie ("Theory of Ruin Value") as the overarching principle for the imperial architecture of the Third Reich. The power of the state was to be exemplified in its architecture, he argued; architecture which would stand and sprawl boldly and proudly, endure for a millennium, and then look good in ruins as "relics of a great age." As the Reich's chief architect, Speer was most notably responsible for designing the Nuremberg Zeppelin Field and the German Pavilion for the 1937 World Exposition in Paris. But by dint of their grandiose and unrealistically ambitious character, most of Speer's projects never made it beyond the drawing-room stages. Among his grand, unrealized visions was that of overhauling the capital city of Berlin in a monumentally neoclassical fashion, in the process rechristening the new megalopolis Germania.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

10.

Reputedly, Bowie's interest in Berlin was mainly artistic in origin. As an aspiring painter, he'd always admired the German Expressionists. And in the middle of the 1970s, in the blur of cocaine and fame and things going off the rails, he was gravitating again to that initial interest in putting paint to canvas; devoting more time to doing so, if only as a means of (re)focusing his creative energies. Some stories have it that before he left for Berlin, he'd been discussing the possibility of doing a film called Wally -- a film based on the life of the Viennese proto-Expressionist artist Egon Schiele.

Nothing ever came of that project, so eventually he had to settle for being in Just a Gigolo instead. But looking at the cover of "Heroes", you might think Bowie was having a flashback to his early days as a street mime. If not that, then maybe he was running through a series of contrived and contorted poses reminiscent of Schiele's numerous self-portraits.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .




11.

Common side effects of advanced cocaine use: Possible neurological and cerebrovascular effects, including but not limited to, subarachnoid haemorrhage, strokes of varying aetiologies, seizures, headache and sudden death. Symptoms might also include chest pains, hypertension, and psychiatric disturbances such as increased agitation, anxiety, depression, decreased dopaminergic signalling, psychosis, paranoia, acute and excessive cognitive distortions, erratic driving, writer's block.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .




12.

A severe and minimal stage setting, Kraftwerk piped in over the p.a. before the performance, followed by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's surrealist short film Un Chien Andalous being screened above the stage. Bowie would claim that the idea for the stark black-and-white stage design was inspired by German Expressionist cinema, especially Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. All of it signifying the "shock of the new" -- the adversarial tradition of modernism and the avant-garde in twentieth century art, complete with its aesthetic credo of relentless progress and innovation, of perpetual revolutions in artistic form and content.

The Third Reich, however, had no truck with the avant-garde. Goebbels (the failed novelist) had tried to argue with der Führer (the failed painter) about the nature of the regime's cultural policies, making the case that the ideas of a dynamic and forward-thinking society should be embodied in art and literature that was boldly and unapologetically modern. But Goebbels lost that argument, and was given the order to abolish all traces of the avant-garde -- to rid the culture of all art that Hitler deemed "degenerate" and "foreign" and poisonous to the constitution of a "pure" German culture. With that decree, all enclaves of modernist art, literature, and film in Germany were abruptly and sweepingly shut down, wiped out, or driven into exile.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

11 September 2016

Strungout on Jargon (Slight Return)




TEMPLATE 6: The Disneyland/ Dystopian Paradise/Planned Utopia Artist Statement $21.99:
Step 1: talk about how your interest in planned communities came from interrogating the assumptions of the following:
  • the American dream
  • the failed narrative of progress
  • conflicts that inhere in postmodern urbanism
  • experimental geography
Step 2: talk about ambiguous futures, suspended temporality and the destabilization of the reality principle
Step 3: rail against a too-perfect repressed 'paradise' that is really a simulacra of XYZ
Step 4: bring in Buckminster Fuller, Brazilia and Celebration (planned community in Florida)

TEMPLATE 7: The Deconstructed Architecture/Unmonumental Sculpture Artist Statement

Step 1: talk about how your work began with a preoccupation with 'haunted spaces,' 'aporia' and 'liminality'
Step 2: talk about how your installations render visible what the built environment has naturalized or obscured
Step 3: tell an anecdote about how your 3 month artist residency in a Third World country (i.e. South/Central America, Eastern Europe, Africa, etc.) awakened an awareness about how ethnography is embedded in place in a way that the homogenized metropli of the First World never allowed you to perceive that allows you to simultaneously:
A.) off-handedly brag about how you were at a residency
B.) show that despite your impenetrable wall of accolades, you are still a sentient aware person capable of being effected and transformed by lived experience (they LOVE that!)


From "Top Ten Words I Am Sick of Seeing on Artists Statements" by Andrea Liu [ # ]


image: Thomas Struth

10 September 2016

04 September 2016

Speculation Rules the Nation


Robert Del Naja, Bristol, 1985


Dubious hypothesis of the week, "street art" edition: According to a blogger in Glasgow, Banksy is really Robert "3D" Del Naja of Massive Attack. After all, if the Daily Mail deems that a dog worth chasing, then it must be true.

News of which has me walking to my book shelves and pulling out a couple of old volumes. First up, 3D as he appeared in the 2-page spread devoted to Bristol in the Henry Chalfant & James Prigoff title Spraycan Art, Thames & Hudson, 1987...




The other half of the spread being devoted to a young, pre-Metalheadz Goldie.

Next up is the volume Scrawl (1999, via Booth-Clibborn Editions), which features exactly one piece by Del Naja, but also depicts four graffiti murals by up-and-comer "Robin Banks," aka Bansky...





Comparing the two, I'd say that Banks's can control and and compositional sense in 1998 weren't quite as nuanced as Del Naja's had been some 12 years prior.

Bansky has said in the past that the work 3D had originally inspired him to pick up a spraycan and stencils. What's more, in the  Booth-Clibborn title, he's quoted as saying that members of Massive Attack were among the first clients to buy some of his canvases. (Meaning that Banksy haters can blame Del Naja & co. for helping the guy get a leg up.)

The Glaswegian sleuth Craig Williams cites as evidence that Banksy murals have a habit of popping up in various locations that seem the follow Massive Attack's international tour route. The only thing this prompts me to wonder is: Who, then, is the more obsessive Massive Attack fan -- Banksy, or Mr. Williams? Either way, I'd assume Del Naja already has a lot on his plate between the demands of his music career and also continuing to produce visual work in a variety of other graphic mediums. Enough so, that I image it'd be difficult to access the surplus time and energy it'd take to maintain a third career as a stealthy, nocturnal, internationally-renowned hit-and-run graffiti artist.*

23 August 2016

"The Artistic Temperament"





Verdict of the Peter Doig case that I posted about earlier. As well as a befuddlingly hilarious recap of the closing argumennts.

16 August 2016

Because















RIP, Bobby Hutcherson


^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

{ Post-posting afternote: Yeah, I know, I exclusively drew from Hutcherson's early career. Shrug. There are a number (low number) of other notable vibraphonists throughout the history of jazz. But as far as depth, range, and flexibility, Hutcherson may've been the one who best demonstrated it's full potential as a non-novelty/surplus component of a jazz ensemble. Especially the way he used the instrument to bridge the melodic/percussive vs strictly-percussive properties of the piano and drums...best exhibited when he was working between an eccentric pianist/composer like Andrew Hill, and a drummer/composer (yes, that's "a thing," although very rarely) like Joe Chambers. Wonderfully guiding things in the right stretches and spaces; at others times -- espec as a sideman -- adding accentuations and highlights, or (as on the Henderson and Patton pieces above) helping drive the whole joint into rhythmic overdrive. }

07 August 2016

Dysattribution







"Last summer Woodridge resident Doug Fletcher was visiting his older brother, Bob, in Canada, when Bob mentioned that an artist he'd purchased a painting from in 1976 might now be 'kind of famous.' At least, that's what a friend had told him. [...] 
Bob now does construction work; Doug is a health-care recruiter and interfaith pastor. Neither of them is schooled in art, but upon viewing the painting Doug said he'd do some googling when he got home. A search for 'Pete Doige' came up empty. But as Bob's friend had suggested, Peter Doig—who was born in Scotland, lived in Canada as a teen in the 70s, made his name as an artist in London, and now lives in Trinidad —- was in fact very successful. Among other things, he'd broken the auction record for a living European artist when his painting White Canoe sold for $11.3 million at Sotheby's in 2007." [ from ]
* * * *
“Mr. Doig and his lawyers say they have identified the real artist, a man named Peter Edward Doige. He died in 2012, but his sister said he had attended Lakehead University, served time in Thunder Bay and painted. 
‘I believe that Mr. Fletcher is mistaken and that he actually met my brother, Peter, who I believe did this painting,’ the sister, Marilyn Doige Bovard, said in a court declaration. She said the work’s desert scene appeared to show the area in Arizona where her mother moved after a divorce and where her brother spent some time. She recognized, she said, the saguaro cactus in the painting. 
The prison’s former art teacher recognized a photograph of Ms. Bovard’s brother as a man who had been in his class and said he had watched him paint the painting, according to the teacher’s affidavit.”    [ from ]
* * * * 
"[Co-plaintiff/art dealer Peter] Bartlow, who helped bring the case against the artist, told artnet News in a phone interview that he believed Doig’s motive in disavowing the work is not to deny a criminal past but to disguise the fact that 'he can’t draw.' 
The Chicago dealer insists that Doig relies on using projections on the canvas. 'No critic has ever written this about it,' he acknowledged. 'The only reason I did is that I have this book of his by Phaidon of the painting in the Canadian National Gallery, and I was looking at it upside down. There’s a couple of shapes in it that are the same shapes located in our painting. I could see what he did.'"    
"Bartlow told artnet News in a phone conversation that Doig’s legal team has 'produced nothing of substance' since they first filed the suit in 2013. He continued, 'After all is said and done, we’d like to be awarded damages of at least $7 million and we want the painting declared a genuine Peter Doig painting. We have a very fair and smart judge.'" [ from  1 / 2 ].

Equalling: The potential of a bafflingly absurd legal precedent  being set in a Chicago courtroom on Monday.

03 August 2016

New Maps of Purgatory

Archival post: First published at ...And What 
Will Be Left of Them?, August 2011


A partial, off-the-cuff survey of middling 'Seventies science fiction films, in no particular order...




Logan's Run (1976)

We've seen the future and it's a shopping mall in Dallas, Texas. And yeah yeah -- it's better to burn up than to fade away. Effectively what we have here is the previous decade's generational war slogan of "Never trust anyone over thirty" extrapolated in to an extreme, resulting in the dystopic dénouement of the premise for Wild in the Streets.

Yet how humbling, how Romantically fatalistic -- in this, the year of the American bicentennial -- to see the nation's capitol as ruins, strewn with vines and all sorts of flora, patinaed by the elements to which they've returned. And Sir Peter Ustinov's wrinkles are a marvel to behold and to touch; the very embodiment of nature itself, if not of the authority and experience so thoughtlessly discarded by the cult of youth.

But nevermind the ageism angle, because Richard Pryor has the last word: "Looks like white people aren't counting on us being around."



Rollerball (1975)

The excesses of empire, sans vomitoriums. Key concept: Bread and blood circuses (by way of a popular bloodsport). Considered by some to be very thematically profound and excessively violent at the time, but funny how relative such things are rendered within a few years. What it gets wrong about the future: International corporation have abolished war, poverty, hunger, disease, and all other curses on humanity. And that the year 2018 will see that early '70s-style leisure-wear and manly chest hair will never go out of fashion. And that the cradle of futuristic architecture (via shooting locations) will look like Munich. What it kinda gets right about the future: The black-white ratio of cast members/Houston rollerball team kinda-sorta suggests what the future demographics of Houston, TX will be like.

As far as it's "social critique" angle in concerned: The thing as a whole is tedious, hazily simplistic,  often ludicrous, and a waste of time even as limited-options drunk-watch. Massively upstaged by Death Race 2000; which, as irony would have it, came out the same year.





Westworld (1973)

The excesses of empire, alternate take; but perhaps this with vomitoriums (since the robot-populated adult amusement park had an Ancient Rome division). One of the advantages of this empire being that -- artificially, and merely for the sake of leisure -- one can colonize the past. Key concept: Hostile objects.





Phase IV (1974)

Effectively this borrows a premise that was put forth some years earlier in 2001: A Space Odyssey, that the human race is overdue to make an developmental leap, and that it need help from an outside party -- of extraterrestrial origin -- in order to take that next step in its evolution. And as in 2001, it puts that thesis across in a confusingly oblique way.

Exactly what the nature of this impasse might be, who can tell? But noted that the mathematician believes that everything can be quantified in numbers, and the ants -- in their own way -- prove him correct by demonstrating the power of collectivity. But don't look to a movie that pilfers much of its "action" from a nature documentary for any sort of clarity or coherence.


30 July 2016

Everything Falls Apart, Pt 2

Archival post: First published at ...And What 
Will Be Left of Them?, January 2011





A Sum of Possibilites: Gordon Matta-Clark and the Urban Landscape

When the artist Gordon Matta-Clark moved to New York City in 1969, the city as a whole wasn't in the best of economic shape. Declines in post-War manufacturing and shifts in the labor market, loss of jobs, economic stagnation, flight to the suburbs and a shrinking tax base, municipal mismanagement -- all of the problems that were affecting a number of major American cities were beginning to take a severe toll on the city of New York. Nevertheless, artists of every stripe continued to move into Manhattan -- visual artists, writers, and musicians who would play an instrumental role in shaping the City's cultural landscape over the next decade or so. With the real estate market in an extended freefall, many of them had no problems finding cheap and available places to live and work.

Such was the case with the neighborhood of the SoHo (then called the South Houston Industrial Area), a former sweatshop district where obsolete and derelict property was plentiful. Since the late 1950s, scores of artists had settled into the neighborhood, the property owners often letting many of them live there in an off-the-books capacity. This situation allowed Matta-Clark and his peers a number of unusual opportunities, the means of establishing and developing their own interconnected and mutually supportive cultural community. The anarchically-run co-op exhibition space at 112 Greene Street, which allowed artists to stage their own exhibits and performances, was one such example. Another communal anchor was the artist-run restaurant FOOD, which Matta-Clark -- along with his partner Caroline Goodden and several of their friends -- opened in 1971.


L-R: Tina Girouard, Caroline Goodden, and Gordon Matta-Clark 
in 1971, at the storefront that would soon become FOOD.


For Gordon Matta-Clark, making art was a fairly recent pursuit. He’d spent much of the 1960s unenthusiastically earning a degree in architecture at Cornell University. His grades throughout had been consistently poor, perhaps owing to the fact that in the course of this studies he discovered his own deep antipathy for the Modernist tenets of architecture and city planning that his professors adhered to as gospel. Only so much sterile formalism and blindly reckless idealism, Matta-Clark had reckoned. If there was any single experience that proved instructive and inspirational to him during his time at Cornell, it was when he met and spoke with the visiting artist Robert Smithson in early 1969 -- just one year before the latter would create his ambitious Spiral Jetty earthwork on the Great Salt Lake in Utah.




Robert Smithson was a voracious reader across a baffling broad array of disciplines and interests, not the least of which were geology and science fiction. He held a perverse aesthetic fascination for the vagaries of accelerated urban sprawl -- with terrain vague and rough-edged "non-place urban realms" where hapless juxtaposition of prefab modern civilization and the natural landscape resulted in curious new forms of desolation, upheaval, and disfiguration. ("Ruins in reverse," he'd called the suburban developments of his own native New Jersey.) A central idea for Smithson in the course of his own work and theorizing was that of entropy – the second law of thermodynamics that decreed that all entities and systems inevitably gave way to degeneration, decay, and disorder. As in nature, so too with man-made systems. Speaking in a 1973 interview, Smithson explained:

"...It seems that architects build in an isolated, self-contained, ahistorical way. They never seem to allow for any kind of relationships outside of their grand plan. And this seems to be true in economics, too. Economics seem to be isolated and self-contained and conceived of as cycles, so as to exclude the whole entropic process. There's every little consideration of natural resources in terms of what the landscape will look like after the mining operations or farming operations are completed. So that a kind of blindness ensues. ... And then suddenly they find themselves within a range of desolation and wonder how they got there."

His own art, he asserted, was the product of his own efforts at creating "a dialectics of entropic change." In many ways, his ideas coincided with a larger aesthetic shift that was transpiring in the late 1960s and early ‘70s -- new artistic practices and strategies in which artists favored Bataille over Kant, contingency over autonomy, the temporal and indeterminate over the transcendent. Instead of formalism, formlessness; instead of purity, dissipation.

It was Smithson's ideas on entropy and site-specific art that fascinated Matta-Clark when the two conversed in 1969, and it was those ideas that played an instrumental part in the latter's development as an artist. But whereas Smithson was interested in creating "new monuments" in the open expanses of the American landscape, Matta-Clark's prior education steered him in the direction of the nation's urban centers -- to the physical environment of the city itself.

Having grown up in New York City, Matta-Clark returned after an extended absence to find the city in the throes of decline. Speaking in a later interview, he recalled of his youth in Robert Moses’s Manhattan:

"As the City evolved in the Fifties and Sixties into a completely architectured International Style steel and concrete megalopolis. By contrast, great areas of what had been residential [space] were being abandoned. These areas were being left as demoralizing reminders of 'Exploit It or Leave It.' It is the prevalence of this wasteland phenomena that drew me to it."

As an artist Gordon Matta-Clark quickly gravitated to the idea of making art works that were connected to (and more often, arose from) urban topology, mutable space, communal life and cultural memory, property, the disconnect between architectural form and architecture as surplus commodity, as well as the varied economies of expansion and waste that existed in the urban landscape.



Top: Gordon Matta-Clark, "Pig Roast," at the Brooklyn Bridge Event, 1971
Gordon Matta-Clark, photo from Walls Paper series, c. 1972


In 1972 he began to set out to the city's blighted neighborhoods, seeking out the blocks of condemned and abandoned buildings. Sneaking into these buildings with saws and chisels and blowtorch, he made a series of precise and scattered incisions -- carving them up, rearticulating the architectural spaces, exposing their structural and material components. His friend and fellow artist Ned Smyth accompanied him on many of these excursions, helping lug tools and equipment and keeping an eye out for the police. As Smyth described it years later:

"We would break into abandoned buildings in the South Bronx and cut large, geometrically shaped pieces out of walls and floors, opening up the spaces. ...This was always scary, with blocks and blocks of empty, boarded-up buildings, haunted by junkies who would steal copper wire and pipe to sell as scrap to get money for drugs. ...We would haul all his saws and other tools, including a power generator, up into these building shells. Sometimes the apartments looked as if the occupants had simply walked out on their lives, leaving their furniture just as it was, their clothes hanging on hooks behind the doors."

Many of these early "cuttings" were done without permission and amounted to criminal trespassing. As early as 1970 Matta-Clark had drafted a proposal for such work and had been sending it out to various organizations and public officials, presenting himself as an artist who aimed to "make sculpture using the natural [sic] by-products of the land and people."



Top: Conical Intersect (Paris,1975) artist's execution & schematic.
Bottom: Conical Intersect, and Office Baroque (Antwerp, 1977)


Within a few years, however, Matta-Clark would gain permission to realize some of his projects, and during the years of 1972 to 1978 executed a number of site-specific dissections in several cities -- in  locations around New York and New Jersey, as well as in Genoa, Chicago, and Antwerp. Utilizing buildings that had been condemned or slated for demolition, the works were intended to exist for a brief period of time, fated -- like the structures themselves -- for a temporary existence.

On a symbolic or theoretical level, Gordon Matta-Clark's engagement with the discarded architecture of the contemporary city comprised a form of “urban reclamation.”5 As such, one might read it an inquest into the dialectical gaps between (use-)value and obsolescence, surplus and salvage; of architectural space as mere material and property and its role in framing or containing and channeling the intricacies of human activity, interaction, and experience -- cycles of births and deaths, moments of private joys or shared sorrows, of everyday life -- that transpired or are carried out within the spatial boundaries of a brute physical environment. In the end, it operated as an inquiry into the production of social space --- as it was perceived, conceived, and lived.6

Initially, Gordon Matta-Clark's proposal letters met with little response. He'd continue to send them out over the years. When he approached real estate developer Melvyn Kaufman in 1975, seeking to "collaborate" on a series of projects, Kaufman sniffingly responded:

"Someone said that dying gracefully is an art. Perhaps it is. But I do not like funerals, either as sad occasions or celebrations. I believe in the great demise but I believe in life more, and I resent the infringement of death processes prolonged as a devitalization of the living."

The castigating tone is amusing, as it seems Kaufman considered Matta-Clark's request as being part of a cynical and reprehensibly exploitative enterprise, accusing him of something akin to "playing in (or with) the ruins" of an ailing metropolis. Given the conditions at the time, one can imagine the reasons for Kaufman's consternation. After all, it was hardly an ideal time to be a real estate developer in NYC -- what, especially seeing how 1975 was also the year of the fed's famous "drop dead" decree. Hence Kaufman's pilings-on of funereal analogies. Morbid metaphors for a morbid and entropic time.

Neither Robert Smithson nor Gordon Matta-Clark would live to see the end of the decade. Smithson would die in a helicopter crash in 1973 while surveying the location for his next major project; and Matta-Clark died in 1978 of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 35, scarcely six years after he had begun his series of urban "cuttings" and fully embarked on his work as an artist. By that point, SoHo was already well on its way to becoming a different place than the one Matta-Clark and his friends had known and inhabited. New businesses would begin to move in, and shortly the neighborhood would start to "turn around." And in the decade that followed, it would become a cultural hub -- sweeping with restaurants and boutiques and a number of high-end art galleries that would all help fuel the moneyed-up, inflated art boom of the 1980s.


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5. This idea of urban reclamation more or less falls into step with certain claims that have been made about graffiti -- that graffiti in the act of marking, tagging, and bombing constitutes a recuperative gesture against an alienating and anonymous environment. By some accounts, this sort of connection wasn't lost on Gordon Matta-Clark. He was enthralled by the tags and murals that he saw proliferating throughout New York City in the early 1970s. At one point in 1973, he drove his truck to a street festival in the South Bronx and invited residents to decorate the vehicle with spray paint as they saw fit. He later cut up the truck's body with a blowtorch, and exhibited select segments at a group exhibition. In the same year, he would also document murals on the city’s subway trains for a series of works called Photoglyphs.

6. In the two decades that followed his death, Matta-Clark's work received only fleeting and limited attention among art critics and historians. He did, however, become something of a mythic figure in architectural circles, where his work was viewed as an act of "deconstructing" architecture -- as a wholly aesthetic exercise. In more recent years, that narrow reading of Matta-Clark's work has been challenged by overdue accounts from art-historical quarters, with a number of critics pointing out the social ideas that fueled much of the artist's work.

29 July 2016

Everything Falls Apart, Pt. 1

Archival post: Originally published at ...And What Will Be Left of Them?,  January, 2011.





Certainly the End of Something or Other, It Seemed
"Do you think a city can control the way people live inside it? I mean, just the geography, the way the streets are laid out, the way the buildings are placed?"
"Of course it does," she said. […]
"Yeah...But thinking that live streets and windows are plotting and conniving to make you into something you're not, that's crazy, isn't it?"
"Yes," she said, "that's crazy--in a word."
- Samuel R. Delaney, Dhalgren

“Architects tend to be idealists and not dialecticians.”

- Robert Smithson

In 1975, science fiction author Samuel R. Delaney published his eleventh novel, Dhalgren. Weighing in at 800-plus pages, knottily metafictional, equally praised and reviled by readers and critics alike, Dhalgren would prompt comparison to another similar novel that had appeared only two years previously -- Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Commenting in an interview years later, Delaney countered, "Gravity's Rainbow is a fantasy about a war that most of its readers don't really remember, whereas Dhalgren is a fairly pointed dialogue with all the depressed and burned-out areas of America's great cities. ...To decide if Gravity's Rainbow is relevant, you have to spend time in a library. ...To see what Dhalgren is about, you only have to walk along a mile of your own town's inner city."1

In many respects, Dhalgren was very much a product of its time. The setting of Dhalgren involves a city -- a fictional city called Bellona that lay somewhere in the American Midwest, a city that has been cut off from the rest of the country by some mysterious and unexplained rupture in the space-time continuum. Post-apocalyptic, ethnically diverse, gang-infested, and pornographically rife with all nature of pansexual couplings, Bellona embodied the cultural phobias that many Americans held about the nation's metropolitan centers at the time -- represented many of the reasons that the white middle classes had fled in ever-increasing numbers to outlying suburbs over the two preceding decades. It was the sort of setting that would appear again and again in the years that followed, often in films of the "urban exploitation" nature; films like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York, The Warriors, Fort Apache: The Bronx.2  If this setting would had become a predictable cliché by decade’s end, it was a cliché that hinged on an underlying Hobbesian-Darwinistic dread that much of America had about the fate of its urban centers. As Richard Nixon had reputedly mused to his aides at some point in 1972, "Maybe New York shouldn’t survive. Maybe it should go through a cycle of destruction."




Another artifact of the era was the 1979 documentary 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s. Focusing on life among black and Puerto Rican gangs of the South Bronx, the film graphically illustrated the advanced urban decay and socio-economic breakdown that afflicted the South Bronx in the late 1960s and the 1970s. The film's very title is curiously awash in ironic implications. Firstly, in its highlighting of distance and economic disparities, but second in the way these disparities invoked a specter that haunted the history of modern urbanization from its very origins -- pointed to a social legacy that could be traced back to the "Haussmannization" of Paris in the previous century.

Eighteen years in the offing, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann's redevelopment of Paris was the most ambitious and expensive undertaking of its sort in modern history, requiring inconceivable amounts of leveraged financial backing and a labor force that employed upwards to one-fifth of the city’s working population. It amounted to an infrastructural overhaul that completely transformed the city. The project required the dislocation of thousands of the city’s citizens, the course of which resulted in the destruction of numerous poor and lower-income neighborhoods (those potential pockets of political unrest in the Second Empire); in the end pushing much of that population into slums on the city’s margins. In the place of some of these demolished neighborhoods arose housing for the city's more affluent and middle-class residents, districts in which the broad avenues converged on a series of arrondissements and commercial hubs that included such newly-built department stores as Le Samaritaine and Le Bon Marché. Another artifact of the era was the 1979 documentary 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s. Focusing on life among black and Puerto Rican gangs of the South Bronx, the film graphically illustrated the advanced urban decay and socio-economic breakdown that afflicted the South Bronx in the late 1960s and the 1970s. The film's very title is curiously awash in ironic implications. Firstly, in its highlighting of distance and economic disparities, but second in the way these disparities invoked a specter that haunted the history of modern urbanization from its very origins -- pointed to a social legacy that could be traced back to the "Haussmannization" of Paris in the previous century.

Eighteen years in the offing, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann's redevelopment of Paris was the most ambitious and expensive undertaking of its sort in modern history, requiring inconceivable amounts of leveraged financial backing and a labor force that employed upwards to one-fifth of the city’s working population. It amounted to an infrastructural overhaul that completely transformed the city. The project required the dislocation of thousands of the city’s citizens, the course of which resulted in the destruction of numerous poor and lower-income neighborhoods (those potential pockets of political unrest in the Second Empire); in the end pushing much of that population into slums on the city’s margins. In the place of some of these demolished neighborhoods arose housing for the city's more affluent and middle-class residents, districts in which the broad avenues converged on a series of arrondissements and commercial hubs that included such newly-built department stores as Le Samaritaine and Le Bon Marché.


Robert Moses: 'Look upon my works, ye haterz...'

Haussmann’s Paris would become a modern model city for urban planners the world over, and an inspiration to American twentieth-century men of vision such as Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Robert Moses. Hailed as a "master builder," it was Moses who presided over the extensive projects of city planning and urban renewal in New York City from the late 1920s through the 1970s. It was also his Cross-Bronx Expressway -- begun in the late 1940s and completed in 1972 -- that many critics blamed as the primary factor in the demise of the South Bronx. Between the Expressway and the compounding factors of "white flight," strained social services and budget cuts, and the city's policies of municipal redlining and "planned shrinkage," the neighborhood entered a steep downward economic spiral. Within the span of a few years, the blighted South Bronx would become -- as a sort of idée fixe in the public imagination -- the epitome of an "urban wasteland," a testament to the dysfunctionality, failure, and obsolescence of the modern city.3

By some accounts, the mid-1970s may well have marked the official end of the Modernist social vision. The demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project by the city of St. Louis in 1972 was framed by many as de facto evidence of the failure of modern urban renewal and social engineering. That same year, architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour published the first edition of their anti-Modernist decree Learning from Las Vegas. The following year brought Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. And in 1975, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker appeared -- a comprehensive and deeply critical account of the life and career of Robert Moses that met with a broad readership and would eventually land a Pulitzer.4  The ground was shifting, all that was solid was melting into air.


President Jimmy Carter visits the South Bronx, October, 1977.

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1.   No doubt Delaney’s dismissive remarks will rankle some readers. So perhaps it should be pointed out that numerous critics have argued that Gravity’s Rainbow couldn't have been more crucial and timely. Publishing in the midst of the Watergate disclosures in 1973, the book's unstable narrative unfolds in a densely intertwining sprawl of conspiracy theories, shadowy global alliances, conflations of actual and speculative histories, the irresolution of its narrative and structural slippage embodying the paranoia of its milieu. As author and historian Andreas Killen summed it up, Gravity’s Rainbow is ultimately about how "the loss of historical consciousness becomes a function of image culture...and its rewriting of the past" in contemporary/postmodern America.

2.  To name just a few notable examples, admittedly.

3.  Sociologically, this all shaped up in a very tautological fashion. Advocates and apologists for increased suburbanization routinely pointed to the decline of inner-city conditions to argue for the increased relocation of jobs and families to the suburbs, conveniently ignoring the very same relocations were in part responsible for the conditions in question.

4.  Adding another pivotal book to this stack, Gayatri Spivak’s English translation of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology appeared in 1976.


13 June 2016

Blows Against the Empire

(Because the Audience Always Cheers for the Rebels)


Archival post: Originally published at ...And 
What Will Be Left of Them?, February, 2013.




Insert obligatory Leni Riefenstahl reference here.


Yes, K-punk – we know, we know.

Why would anyone be surprised by this? And what’s the purpose of harping about it? Seems obvious enough. But look at how that comments section stacks up. Not that it isn't a valid thesis, but really – it isn’t the sort that’s likely to go over well with that venue's readership, is it?

But maybe it's just a matter of perspective. For instance...

* * * *

When the first Star Wars film was released, I was eleven years old. Some six years later when Return of the Jedi came out, I was about to begin my final year of high school and wasn't feeling any pressing need to rush out and see the latter movie during its premier weekend. Me and a friend had a conversation about it; about what we knew from the adverts and the advanced promotion, and about our waning enthusiasm. What could we expect this time, the third, time around? I offered a list of predictions, based on a pattern that seemed to have already been set in concrete with the first two films:
1.  Han Solo will get a bad feeling about something,
2.  Darth Vader will will at some point proclaim that something-or-other "is now complete",
3.  There would doubtlessly be a gaggle of short, cloyingly cute aliens of some new variety or other, and
4.  R2D2's gonna get shot. 
We'd been of the ideal age when the first one - or the fourth one, or whatever - came out in 1977, and we'd been some of the first in line. Not only that, but we then ran out and bought the action figures when they began to arrive on store shelves, collected the several series of baseball-style cards that followed, and even went so far at one point as to buy issues of the dodgy cash-in extrapolatory Marvel Comics series that followed in its wake. But now we were a little older, and - as happens in mid-adolescence - our interests had drifted into other areas. We were "aging out" of what had become the franchise's target demo.

And perhaps we were also becoming prematurely jaded. But fuck it, we also remembered being subjected to that wretched Star Wars Christmas TV special – so who could blame us?

* * * *




Some sixteen year later, a good many other people would get a strong dose of that same "aged out" and left-behind feeling when the Star Wars "prequels" arrived in theaters. By reviving the series for a second trilogy of films, Lucas and company were looking to appeal to a new and younger generation of viewers. What’s more, the studio and its licensees trotted out an extensive array of tie-in merchandise well in advance of the release of The Phantom Menace, more and more people – far more than usual – started to take to the notion that the films were becoming little more than thinly-disguised, mega-inflated toy commercials.

* * * *




One thing about K-punk’s article that sparked some comments-section incredulity: the claim that Lucas was originally slated to direct Apocalypse Now. Yes, that’s true, although perhaps not widely known. Lucas had been Francis-Ford Coppola’s co-instigator when the latter decided to start up his own production company, American Zeotrope. Since the idea for the film started out between Lucas and writer John Milius, Coppola originally had Lucas in mind to direct the film.

The founding of American Zeotrope had been a "New Hollywood"-type upstarts' venture – the result of Coppola and Lucas bristling against the sclerotic and stifling pressures of the major studios. Speaking to an audience at the Rotary Club in his hometown of Modesto, CA in May of 1973, Lucas reputedly said, "The future is going to be with independent filmmakers, ...It's a whole new kind of business. We're all forging ahead on the rubble of the old industry." He would later decree:

"The studio system is dead. It died fifteen years ago when the corporations took over and the studio heads suddenly became agents and lawyers and accountants. The power is with the people now. The workers own the means of production."

But for various reasons, Lucas lost interest in Apocalypse Now, drifting off (after the dismal reception that greeted the Zeotrope-produced THX-1138) to make American Graffiti, and eventually pitching his dream project that would become Star Wars to various producers.




Both films, as many have noted are products of both personal and cultural nostalgia. American Graffiti was a winsome revisitation of the 1950s, to a prosperous and supposedly more carefree time before the turbulence of the 1960s; whereas Star Wars' basis in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials of Lucas’s own childhood. If they seem – when compared with problem like Apocalypse Now or Coppola's The Conversation – as "escapist," audience-pleasing fare, then it was by design. On his decision to walk away from Apocalypse Now in favor other projects, Lucas would later say:

"Before American Graffiti, I was working on basically negative films – Apocalypse Now and THX, both very angry. ...We all know, as every movie in the last ten years has pointed out, how terrible we are, how wrong we were in Vietnam, how we have ruined the world, what schmucks we are and how rotten everything is. It has become depressing to go to the movies. I decided it was time to make a movie where people felt better coming out of the theater than when they went in. I became really aware of the fact that the kids were really lost, the sort of heritage we built up since the war had been wiped out since the '60s and it really wasn't groovy to act that way any more, now you just sort of sat there and got stoned. I wanted to preserve what a certain generation of Americans thought being a teenager was really about – from about 1945 to 1962."

Lucas didn't want to be dark or angry, apparently; and just wanted audiences to enjoy themselves. Speaking to American Film magazine in 1977, he would say something very similar about his idea behind making Star Wars, couching it once again in some socio-cultural context, complete with even more dubious assertions...

"Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film, I realized that there was another relevance that was even more important – dreams and fantasies, getting children to believe there is more to life than garbage and killing and all that real stuff like stealing hubcaps – that you could sit still and dream about exotic lands and strange creatures. Once I got into Star Wars, it struck me that we had lost all that – a whole generation was growing without fairy tales."

So he did that first Star Wars film for us – for my generation. For me, effectively. Even though I know I already had a highly developed and active imagination as a child, and – to my recollection – was in no danger of going directly from The Six Million Dollar Man and Marvel Comics to stealing hubcaps or some other form of juvenile delinquency.

Sure, Lucas's remarks above might sound pretty self-aggrandizing, but I don't doubt he was speaking in earnest. Because ultimately, all he did was what any savvy artist or entertainer or businessperson aims to do. That being: You spot some gap or vacancy in a market or the culture at large – look for something that’s missing, for a need or a desire that's not being met. Look for a stimulus that's lacking and that people might be hungry for, and to then try and make or provide something that might satisfy that hunger. And judging from the response he received, he was pretty astute in sizing up the situation.1

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