Photo by Joe Carducci
Alice in Wonderland
(Introduction written for the premiere at The Microscope Gallery 5/7/11)
by James Fotopoulos
Let me preface by saying that for me attempting to describe any of my work is a difficult process. The approach I take is as someone that has pursued his own path in attempting to merge both practice and theory through a highly personal labyrinth of curiosity and whatever knowledge I have obtained through the act of filmmaking itself. So I come to this discussion not from the outside, not from the intellect alone, but from the point of developing my ideas though the peaks and valleys of actual production. I often fail to fully understand exactly what I have intended or what I was doing with a piece until years after it is completed. Only then can I look at it with some sense of cold distance. But even then, the reality that I have frozen a period of my life is always apparent and it often becomes a process of painful re-examination. When I look back on my very first films, I often say to myself: “This was made by another person.”
I find with every film there is an alchemy that is part of the creation, where every aspect of my life is influencing what is being done from start to finish. I feel that, at least for now, three main factors come into play: the first is a personal primordial element – which is furious and somewhat out-of-control. This emerges completely from a personal, emotional and psychological terrain and has to be harnessed into a structure. Second, there is the language of the medium’s history, and then finally the current technology that I am dealing with. I separate this last element from the second because the way in which I am trying to discuss it here, it’s more what the market is forcing on you at the moment. For example, I sense a return to optics that was sort of subdued over the last ten years, most likely because of the quality of high-definition. So this is more trying to process and understand, if possible, the very rapidly changing tools. This might level out and change more slowly in upcoming years.
• Christabel – Method
In the early 90s I became interested in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “Christabel.” What immediately appealed to me were the stylistic shifts of the poem’s two parts, and the fact that the poem itself was incomplete and had two “conclusions” at both endings. The unusual rough structure of the piece combined with the primal subject matter and themes offered me a challenge with which I could use video to explore the organs, tissues and skeleton of the piece’s body – in a way performing a surgery, to not merely adapt another person’s work, but to return it to a contemporary relevance using modern tools. I tend to think of this as restoring a certain level of emotional tension or a trigger back to a place of unknowing or re-learning. The approach is to create rules of juxtaposition between elements within a set structure during the planning of the production. This structure once in place can induce conflict between the different elements involved during the execution. The structure if properly balanced both provokes and harnesses the ensuing chaos. Often the technology itself provides this or even the budget (or lack of). If successful, the perception achieved can be one of thrusting a largely recorded and written history of a medium back into a place of the unknown.
In this case the subjects directly influence the forms. The subjects are destroyed or fractured during the various stages of production and key pieces are collected and then unified. These pieces = images, sounds and so on, then repeat and vary, creating hopefully a strangeness in perception. I try with all my work to be completely inclusive, letting everything in, and not pushing things out, then modifying and shaping it all to fit as one. So the work is a cluster of fragments or little appendages – sometimes this may be messy or strange, but these appendages or capsules contain a combination of history and personal psychology playing off each other. With this, I can understand what has remained the same throughout history instead of what is different = which I feel is most important in attempting to understand life and death.
By letting in everything, I mean the problems of production, the complexities introduced by actors, people showing up late, issues that arise from problems with technology, but most importantly, issues that come from the subject itself that may pose an awkwardness in the medium’s grammar or form, so instead of cutting elements out I prefer to solve a way to keep them in – everything that the act of throwing a film into production has to offer. This interlocking of the variations and problems of subjects and forms and taking all these elements and making them into a unified whole, is, if successful, a whole which may appear simple, while the act of making it and the ideas at play may be complex.
I remember when I made my first film ZERO in 1995 and I showed people scenes I had cut together, not only did everyone have a different interpretation of an image in a sequence, but also a different perception of that image after it repeated or was slightly varied. This for me at 18-years-old was a very freeing moment. It in a sense allowed me to unleash myself creatively with no sense of fear.
With all this being said, there is an unconscious unknown aspect to the process, which is directly related to the personal psychological ingredient I mentioned before. This mystery is the very core element of that first primordial factor. Without this personal root I couldn’t work myself up into that force of will power required to fracture and unify all the other external subjects. One may call this a style or maybe themes that wind through a body of work. But whatever it is, it seems to have more control over me than I have control over it - an out of control force, which I try to trap and structure. This can account for the same images or sounds I seem to gravitate towards in my work over the years, or how I shoot, edit, the colors I choose and so on. It is this emotional power combined with my rational self, trying to shape it into an evolving historical grammar of the medium.
When I made my third feature film Back Against the Wall, I thought I had made a film completely different from my two prior features. (I still tend to think this way about every new film I make) Then when I saw it, I thought “I could cut this into the other two prior films.” This realization seems to always occur when I see something I’ve made over the years, whether it is sound pieces, films, videos or drawings. I’ve accepted that as a human I exist in a decaying cube of compressed time, repeating and working on the same visual and sonic landscape. Life is so brief that everything can be learned in a microcosm and only a few personal images are needed to create (And now with the internet this takes on a whole new dimension of continually unfolding information on an inward plane). For example, I can ask myself – “why the frozen face image?” in all my films. Recently an art professor in Philadelphia mentioned this to me after watching a number of my films. She noted this image reoccurs frequently. And I have no answer other than – I have gravitated to that for so long so naturally – it seems to me like a portal – the open mouthed face – a portal of all life and death. But this also, as I will mention later in Alice, due to the personal need for that image, the reworking of it over the years, the neutralization of it – can serve as a visual portal to transmit themes of the chosen subject it is brought to. Like an alien object laid in front of a swirling river of fractured ideas which then pass through it.
• Alice - Origins
In 2003 I was invited to an opening of an art exhibit and while wandering in the museum’s lower level, I stumbled upon a Lewis Carroll photography exhibit. A number of images struck me in what at the time they were created was probably perceived as amateurism and how now in the 21st century, this sense of the amateur was erased. It evolved into something completely different and not just because the technique used was unique, fragile and antiquated – but I felt a certain level of mastery in the repetition, construction and choice of the images. This fusion of both amateurish approach and mastery was at the heart, from my own experience, of the creative process – in a way the territory of the artist and his personal space – through this perception, this sense of the uncanny that I mentioned earlier is revealed. A line is created through time that emotionally connected me to the past (I had a similar sense of this when I saw Chaplin’s The Circus and I could see very clearly the makeup on his face and it filled me with a strange sense of horror) – revealing the similarities of the human experiences of the past – and through the images, sounds, colors – the ever present sense of decay and death.
To illustrate, in 2007 I made a film Sleep Weep (The Zookeeper) where I show an image of a rabbit painting by Albrecht Dürer and then a shot of text stating: “This painting erased thousands of years.” In an interview I did about the film I was asked about the use of terror footage – I made the comment that I think Caravaggio would have used beheading footage if he were alive today. Again, the strange line I was speaking of that moves through history, revealed through the grammar and the new technologies. To emphasize this point further in the film and underline our preoccupations with similar thematic obsessions throughout audio-visual history (and touching upon real versus staged footage and the evolution of this with video) - I chapterize the piece with Edison’s films of the electrocution of Topsy the elephant, a cockfight, the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and the execution of Czolgosz. Again = what has remained the same. But I leave the full issues and ideas of that film for another discussion.
The image from the Carroll exhibit that left the greatest impression on me was of actress Marion Terry dressed in chain mail, standing in front of a thick blanket hung against a brick wall. The hanging of the sheet had the strongest affect on me. Perhaps it was because it was something I have done myself over the years. I could somehow relate to the simplicity of the act. In the past I always obscured the sheet – turning it into a black void through the photography. But upon seeing this sheet so crudely hung something was stirred up and brought out that I had been playing with = doing away with the pretense of hiding it (with Alice I would return to hiding it with only selected parts revealing the hanging sheet, revealing the truth). My first attempt specifically with this type of exposure was in a 2004 video I created titled The Pearl.
There were no direct references to the image in that piece, but it manifested itself in an unpolished performance-based public-access approach. Realizing that the perception of something transmitted would be perceived visually, in a completely un-transmitted manner at a not too distant future date, created a deliberate artifice – a deliberately “dead” work using the very much “alive” aspects of performance. The perception would be one of a bodiless sculpture – in a similar way with the photographic evolution as I mention above – the former a dead synthetic object and the latter a dead synthetic performance. In a couple of short videos I made in 2007, direct reference to the sheet image is made using digital paint software and CGI figures.
As with most of my work, fragments of images or pieces of stories and characters will linger in my mind for years and then slowly but suddenly come together into a structure. This was the case when I read about the Henry Savile Clark and Walter Slaughter 1886 opera of Alice in Wonderland: A Dream Play for Children. Around this same time I grew tired of using digital images and animations. I had been drawing in a traditional manner mainly with graphite and charcoal. I say “traditional” because I always considered the act of drawing a larger root of the creative act. For example, drawing can occur within composition, structure, and construction of various media – more of an overall hand-eye-coordination and for me the root of all creative intelligence.
• The Drawings
Drawing in the manner with which I had been doing for the last few years – a combination of the figurative, abstract, scrawls, cartoons – an overall exaggeration or caricature – and blending all these modes together - had become a kind of foundation of all my creation. And so finished drawings, sketches and plans were blending together. Because I work mainly in film and video – which are highly conceptual by their very nature – I tend to think of my work and process as a pyramid, film and then video being at the more evolved tip, and at the base, were the drawings.
In Alice the drawings occur during the songs from the 1886 musical and act as anchors of the original musical. More so, they are the personal seeds of the video itself, since they are of the Carroll photographs I first saw in 2003. In the video they follow Carroll’s chronology. Each song has an even number of drawings of the photographs and then variations of the photographs fractured into drawn abstractions, which fall in-between the figurative drawings.
As I stated earlier, I had no interest in actually using pre-existing visual images themselves – whether photographs, found footage and so on. I felt my own wholly synthetic interpretation and creation of an image, in this case the drawings, had to be made in order for the use of the photographic images to have any relevance in trying to create a unified work. I felt if it was seen or heard, it shouldn’t be seen or heard again. Even if performed or previously recorded or documented, it should not be re-created or restaged. At this point in history that is creatively bankrupt. I would not even manipulate a pre-existing image through a technological advancement, such as film by way of video or with computers. It had to be a creation within space. This personally meant for me returning to the very base of my creativity: drawing figurative images. This would in a sense relate to the three main subjects of the piece – Carroll, John Ruskin and Thomas Eakins – and both their actual creation of and ideas on drawing itself.
Now, with this being said – I have made a great deal of work doing these very things I am talking about turning my back on. I also like a great deal of work like this made by others. But for me, by the time I made the video The Ant Hill in 2004 I felt, for example, that we can all see sex so easily the image meant nothing for me – it had to be real or a whole new way of communicating it – a new symbol. The same went for violence – especially now with the Internet and the availability of death images. Children could access these images and it would affect the way they saw the world. This was something new being introduced into the grammar. Therefore, “re-creating” or “acting out” these actions meant little. It was like child’s play never elevating itself to the level of art.
• The Music
The music appears in three tracks or layers. The first – is the score from the original 1886 musical. I had tracked down an original copy of the manuscript and had it photographed. I asked Ben Hanna of the band Grandpa’s Ghost, with whom I had worked on a number of projects over the years, if he was interested in taking on the music. I knew that he had the discipline needed to put the time and effort into reinterpreting it. I also knew he would work with what was there, remain respectful to the score and the subject matter and not intentionally pervert it. I assumed, correctly, he would rework it with a feel of both an American folk sensibility and electronic element, while retaining the core of the original. And most importantly we discussed trying to achieve the slickest and most polished soundtrack we could get.
The second layer features the parts between the original passages. Here I discarded the play and wrote my own text. I then gave this to the noise band ONO. I had been working with them the previous year on a project in which they had done test recordings for me. I knew their interpretation of my script would be more ambient, more of a soundscape than the original score, but not fully - there would be concrete elements buried within. I also knew that the way they recorded it would be done live, most likely in one take - rough and murky. They would leave in all the imperfections of a live performance – which greatly appealed to me. I also knew it would be dominated by the singer Travis’ voice and persona. This was a contrast or variation to Hanna’s voice in the original score. So I gave ONO instructions and the duration I needed the piece in and let them record it. They gave me a recording that I was very impressed with – it was extremely raw, very sparse and primal. Two of the musicians in the band Rebecca Pavlatos and Shannon Rose Riley, asked me if they could record additional parts and do a mix of it. At first I hesitated but then agreed because I wanted to hear what they would do and I’m not one to censor anybody. The new mix they handed me I used in the final piece and it would actually serve as a sonic-link to the third layer. Shannon adding additional instruments and vocals cleanly over the murk of the original recording created a middle ground between the Hanna and the Nate Archer music – the final layer.
I needed something that could fill in the gaps between the Hanna and the ONO music - in a way, to create a foundation, the primal ooze of the piece. I had worked with Nate Archer in the past and he had given me a number of CDs. One was from a film of his brother’s Wild Tigers I Have Known where Nate did songs. The other discs were of long noise performances. One of the things I liked on the Tigers soundtrack was how he achieved something that was in-between a movie music soundtrack and clean atmospheric sound effects. This same feeling appeared in other longer pieces, although in those he leaned more toward music, where these movie-type elements crept in from within the pieces or wrapped around them. I discussed the project with him and he supplied me with material, but he was in Bali or someplace and there was an issue with the CDs so he sent these early mixes of the pieces I wanted and they were very savage sounding - which I loved. It added a third critical type of recording that had no polish to it at all and that could exist in a sense - between the cracks.
The Alice video uses more text than anything I have done. For many years I used no text at all, not even credits and my early films had very little dialogue. But I began to create videos consisting of heavy dialogues, usually between two characters, and often the text was spoken through voice software. By 2007 I began to use actual text in the videos such as Ty Cobb and Tape 1. This probably was as a result of my increasing focus on writing in the films (or the figurative nature of the drawings).
In the case of Alice dealing with a video that was a balance of music, an actress, video images, drawings, sculptures and having much of that stemming from the various subject’s writings – I felt the perception I aimed for worked best in communicating all of this by having a viewer feel the various stimuli all at once - hearing music, hearing the lyrics, seeing the images and also reading the words. And this being a piece that deals in content with the work from the machine age, but created with tools of an information age, I imagined the words like digital hieroglyphs projected on a wall – information on a surface that was not a page or a stone – but words on a moving screen on the side of the building you would see on the street – like a modern pyramid.
• The Acts
Discussing my work is a difficult process because the force to make it is somewhat unexplainable. It always exists to some extent in the moment and I seldom look back at past pieces. The root of the process is in a way a constant exploration of my life, an endless evaluation shrouded in an always looming sense of death from the moment I wake till the time I sleep – a sense of it physically in my body, combined with some type of underlying rage, a furious sense to move forward at all cost. So when I get into the making of a piece, one element will spawn many other elements – like a giant web. Also many of the decisions I make take their own path and perhaps years to take shape. But it is never “inspiration,” it is simply work, working everyday like a machine and this spawns further ideas.
Often it is difficult for me to predict when all the various pieces come to a point and it is the right time to begin a project and spin it into a whole. It is like a thousand shifting plates in my mind, moving fragments of ideas, sliding together, being worked like a muscle around me and sometimes enough of them slide and fit together enough for me to begin. But it is also very easy for me to take something, or come into something, or be asked to do a project and trigger it all into action – this is about having command over the different levels of the process – the blend of the slow moving idea-stew that comes together over time and the lethal precise implementation of the craftsman-skills that one develops making work.
I stated earlier how a number of these shifting plates started the process of Alice in Wonderland. Now as I have said when I initiate a project more and more doors start opening – one thing leads to another. In the case of Alice the combination of subjects lead me to Carroll’s friendship with John Ruskin and his book The King of the Golden River which inspired the Alice books.
I explored Ruskin’s writings on art and his own drawings. From that thread I moved into my own drawings, into Carroll’s photographs then into Thomas Eakins as a whole. His use of the camera, which I felt was in many ways similar to Carroll’s in what could be seen as amateurism combined with a sophisticated construction of scenes within a private personal space. Much of this a result of new tools colliding and merging with the previous older creative techniques or culture, such as using the camera as a painter in both setting and execution and how that exposes the personal space of the artist in a new way, using the camera in the creation of his actual painting by photographing and then projecting onto canvas, isolating and editing parts of the images and tracing. This process is a creative investigation that multiplies the ideas one threads together – like pulling all the pieces through the eye of the pin – into a unified piece.
Now, when I say “amateurish” I am in a way juxtaposing this against a contemporary sense of professionalism in the industries of film or art. “Amateur” is an aspect of the creative process that is always present, even in the most allegedly “professional” situations. There is always an attempt to have it masked and denied or completely crippled and destroyed. The ruthless sanitizing of it has been going on for a long time, but it always remains and leaks out both in the relationships involved and in the execution of production and it should be embraced. It gets more exposed at certain periods of intense transition = as with the camera in the hands of the painter at the end of the 19th century or currently the film production in the hands of the person with a website online.
Let me try to summarize what I focused on in the acts themselves:
In the first Act, I focused on Ruskin and his The King of the Golden River and by the end the Act evolved into ideas about his drawings and then into the work of Étienne-Jules Marey. Here I took the moving image – for example birds or cats dropped in front of a sheet – and instead of reinterpreting them through a drawing – I did it through a sculpture.
My sculptures first emerged through special makeup effects I did for my early films. Over the years I shaped the method into what you see in Alice. For me, it is in a way another foundation of my process that hovers slightly above the drawings in my personal creative hierarchy. These appear in the sections of the video where I use my own text – the sculpture is a compliment to the drawings. This compliment within the space of the video, as opposed to the flatness of the drawn images, functions as synthetically reinterpreted balance.
In the Second Act, I focus on Eakins and Eadweard Muybridge. With Eakins as the subject the process becomes easier in a sense, because his methods were somewhat akin to my own. For example, he made casts, sculptures and wax dolls, photographed models in his studio, fragmented images and so on. Therefore the subject allowed a much easier breakdown and unification into a final form.
Now some of these creatures, as well as some text, are completely my own creation and not references to the pre-existing works at all. They sprung from the working process or were unlocked from my mind from something I read, from listening to the music or a combination of these things. And if I felt they fit into the overall piece - I used them.
When I thought of the idea of a musical and what that could be in relation to the 19th century images progressing from painting into photography and then into moving images all within the studio space or the private work space I was brought back to the original images and ideas of Carroll’s photographs that started all this - the idea of the private space, the tension and relationships that exist within it and what associations they can trigger. How in that space the professional dissolves and fades away no matter how much one pretends to put on a mask of professionalism, and in a sense always returns to what could be the personal relationship of amateurs. That inevitable breakdown in the minds of many on the outside, can lead to problems such as the model and the photographer or painter in the Eakins’ studio or the nude painted children of Carroll. Here we have the personal human tension stemming from the principles involved in the creative act and then followed by the public’s perception of the artist themselves. Both of these individuals were condemned – Eakins I feel far worse than Carroll and in a more complex way – for his actual methods of production would come into question. In the case of Muybridge, he killed a man.
In regard to the performance, the actress in the film went into a space and performed the text. This was done as I do much of my work – alone with the actors as a painter would do in a studio. I then take the footage and freeze it, fragment it and try to capture specific moments of it. Doing this my mind imagines a tone – not in a musical way but in a visual way – a sound and an image pushing and twisting off each other. I often think of wordless solos of Carl Nielsen’s 3rd Symphony – but as an image in relation to the sound or music and impulsively for me the image of the frozen face fits that.
Ultimately, I think what hovers over the whole piece, as I touched on earlier, was the similarity between a merging of the arts and sciences at the transition of the 19th into the 20th century and then the 20th into the 21st. I imagine mechanical appendages from the past extending into a landscape of information, retaining capsules of human experiences that have remained the same throughout history - through repeating images, movements and sounds that although fractured and altered by new tools, ultimately remain the same. Through these new technological developments we come to realizing the synthetic visions and imagination pursued in that earlier time. I think this feeling is why I tried to make the texture of the film as organic as possible through the digital tools. In a sense a false film, a false glass and a false paint.
• New starting point
The creation of this piece for me was a restarting of a certain way of working. When I look back, I see my life going through some type of change every five years and this follows that pattern. I had from 2005 through 2009 become involved in several time consuming projects, which were either never made or completed in some mutant form. A cycle began of trying to save the last failed production with a new production.
I also think a certain level of exhaustion set in – mentally and physically. On the set of my 2007 video The Sky Song I felt a great physical strain and illness by the whole production. After this my way of working became very isolated from the outside world. But through this sort of isolation I questioned a great deal of what I had been doing. I began drawing heavily and reorganizing a manner of working that I felt was a way of figuring out what happened at the very root of the failed productions. And I mean this by trying to solve the problems at the very core of filmmaking itself and not trying to patch the problems over with money or an infinite delegation of creative power – which I felt was an excuse.
In 2009 I finally had enough. I drew a line and went back into a mode of working and writing that I had not done in a number of years since my first four or five feature films in the 1990s. Much of this was the total focus on completion of many of my projects I had backlogged for many years. Alice was the first of these I embarked on. I think of them as small films, micro-films or sparse-narratives to varying degrees, some more narrative than others.
Don Krim and Kino International c. 1990 (and beyond)
by Alan Licht
In David Dinkins’ New York, West 39th Street between 8th and 9th avenues, one short block south of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, was pretty rough (if not quite as dire as West 40th, where mugging was practically de rigeur). The Blimpie on the northwest corner of 8th played host to every methadone patient in a ten-block radius, and crack was enjoyed in every doorway from nine to five (and surely beyond), day in and day out. Located halfway down the block, five floors up, were the offices of Kino International, a film distribution company and the site of my only successful job interview. If I had to characterize the atmosphere of Kino when I started working there in September 1990, the phrase that comes to mind is one borrowed from Jimmy Page, who used it to describe a particular Led Zeppelin performance: tight but loose. My first day I wandered in at half past nine, having momentarily blanked on the address, but it soon became apparent that no one was getting there much before then anyway. Dress was casual; my new associates were arguing about John Ford movies and semi-surreptitiously working on personal projects and extracurricular pursuits. There were only seven of us employed there then: two non-theatrical sales people (one of whom doubled as the art director), a receptionist, a video sales person and his assistant (yours truly), a theatrical sales person, and the head of the company, the late Don Krim. In the 70s Don had brought foreign film to United Artists (and apparently to his classmates on the Columbia University campus before that), and the firmness of his vision of a culturally diverse independent film catalog, buttressed by the Janus and Korda collections of perennial film classics, was really what was holding everything together. Don would buy an Israeli film, for example, for a song at a film festival, release it theatrically to a roaring silence, and then get it shown non-theatrically at every Jewish Community Center in America for the next decade, ultimately turning a profit on his initial investment. It was the salespeople’s job to transmit Don’s determination into the marketplace, to convince people to show films they had never heard of by directors whose names they couldn’t pronounce. Fortunately, like Don, they were rabid film enthusiasts, naturally allergic to post-Spielberg/Lucas Hollywood fare but not necessarily indie zealots either (indeed Don told me early on, when I expressed my admiration for John Cassavetes, that “if I had known that, I never would have hired you”). One employee was hell bent on instigating a complete Robert Aldrich retrospective, at a revival house to be determined; another had an autographed photo of Eddie Deezen tacked up in his cubicle and was a Tod Browning scholar. The week that Robert Altman’s The Player was opening, I overheard one of my co-workers on the phone securing passes to the premiere (“I worked in Mr. Altman’s office in the 70s and I still take great interest in his work.”) “Wow,” I said, “I didn’t know you worked for Altman!” “I never worked for Altman,” he replied, with a quiet smile. “A little chutzpah now and then never hurts.” A little chutzpah now and then never hurts; you couldn’t ask for a better summation of the Kino enterprise.
Kino on Video, as the video division was then called, had only released about 30 titles when I arrived; now they number in the hundreds. There were also a few Maysles films, mostly the Christo ones, that Kino was distributing on video in a low-key fashion, and the late Bruce Ricker’s Rhapsody series, a treasure trove of blues and jazz documentaries including Bruce’s own classic film of a late 70s reunion of Kansas City jazz old-timers, Last of the Blue Devils. I was only coming in to the office every other day until 1993, when I went full-time. Of course I was also playing in bands back then, and when Love Child and later Run On would go off on tour for a month Don was fully supportive—not only would my job still be there when I got back but I had been working there long enough to accrue four weeks of paid vacation time per year, which I invariably used to go on the road. I think any musician would tell you that this is an impossibly rare position for a day job boss to take.
I lasted until early 2000, when I left to work at Tonic, where I often found myself trying to convince audiences to come see musicians they had never heard of before whose names they couldn’t pronounce. I had previously programmed a film series there with Will Oldham, including a night that paired one of my favorite Kino releases, Martin Scorsese’s American Boy, with Tony and Beverly Conrad’s Coming Attractions (it should be noted that the Kino staff had little taste for the avant garde). We also showed my friend Kelly Reichardt’s film River of Grass alongside 92 in the Shade, and I introduced her to Will. And to Don--shortly before I left I got Kelly a job there. A few years later Kelly made Old Joy, starring Will and distributed by Kino. At the opening night party, I was amazed to see my old officemates mingling with members of Yo La Tengo, who did the soundtrack—two formerly parallel worlds I had inhabited now coalescing. Over the past year I’ve been editing a series of interviews I did with Will in late 2009 for a book that Faber and Faber will publish next year. I made it a point to read him an excerpt from a piece by Nicholas Ray, “I Hate A Script”, regarding Ray’s notion that a script provides “a foundation for improvisation,” something that I found echoed in Will’s approach to making music. “I Hate A Script” was published posthumously in a book of Ray’s writings called I Was Interrupted—given to me in late 1995, as a holiday present, by Don Krim.
Christopher Hitchens -- 90% Atheist / 10% Socialist
by Joe Carducci
I hadn’t identified Christopher Hitchens’ name as a writer when I first saw him on television. It was C-SPAN I think, maybe the morning call-in show back when he was still writing mainly for The Nation here. You couldn’t fail to identify him once you saw him on television. He’s what the three networks were determined to under no circumstances put before the camera -- a “hot” personality. He looked angry-hot back in the nineties like he might fly off the handle at any moment, and let’s just say that among the over-groomed air-brushed news-borgs he seemed to get by with a weekly shower. That he could marshal historical support for his arguments on the fly and lay them out with zero diplomatic skill made him someone to look for. Chris Matthews turned on Bill Clinton in the mid-nineties and nobody eviscerated Clinton like Hitchens. He was a regular through the 9-11 Bush years until Matthews turned on the Iraq War as a war-crime. I remember thinking after one Hitchens defense of that war that he’d just turned Matthews’ stomach and would never be back. MSNBC was becoming what it remains.
Every new book Hitchens writes he appears on C-SPAN’s “Book-Notes,” and when that show ended and one rarely sees Brian Lamb on-air anymore, Lamb makes himself available whenever Hitchens comes around. Each time he famously has asked Hitchens whether he is still a socialist. He had come to the U.S. in the early 80s to report on the Reagan tyranny, so he always forthrightly answered “Yes” until just a couple years ago when he finally answered “No.” Lamb was of course struck initially that Hitchens was a Trotskyite. In Europe they still have those. It wasn't the implosion of the other tyranny, the one that had offed old Leon, that changed Hitchens' answer, it was apparently the Left's fumbling of a response to Ayatollah Khomeini's call for the death of novelist Salman Rushdie that sent him rightward. Hitchens has a relationship to literature akin to that of the old New York Left; it’s the only metaphysics he recognizes and respects. Unfortunately it can’t quite do the job of religion because one can’t believe, or even merely use literature in the same way. There aren’t enough Dostoevskys and Shakespeares to suspend disbelief in all the Pynchons and Wallaces. Hitchens writes on literature in Vanity Fair and it reads like a great relief for him and a way to recharge himself from mere politics.
Hitchens in his review of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg in the new issue of The Atlantic seems at pains to rescue some kind of base legitimacy for Left totalitarianism due to its literature (theory, propaganda, argument), which though wrong is apparently not quite mendacious when compared to Right totalitarianism. As he puts it, “This convergence or symmetry does not automatically translate into a strict moral equivalence.” That he concedes the communist Gulag “consumed” more people than the Nazi “lager” system might indicate that such a well-educated and prolific writer is simply too invested in language to countenance that all those miles and miles of bound, dust-covered theory might as well be mulched as read. Can you imagine reading the collected works of Trotsky today? The fall of the U.S.S.R. changed nothing in the realm of ideas though quite a bit out in the world.
Of Right literature, Hitchens has it that “it is quite impossible to imagine any terms in which they (Céline, Heidegger, Gentile) could ever have formulated a critique of Hitler or Mussolini as having betrayed the original ideals of their respective movements.” Well, since international socialism proved merely a good rap (all that theory) which inspired global fifth columns to volunteer treasons in the autoventriliquistic service of Russian national socialism, maybe that’s not as true as it seems. Perhaps a kind of enlightenment bias of the West makes it seem so likely. In fact all the Left literature can easily serve as Right literature and did. Mark Lilla’s The Reckless Mind traces just that porridge of surviving Left-Right political theory (Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, Jaspers, Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida) as it/they/we tried to make whatever relevant in postwar western Europe. Much of this was irrelevant in America, but continued to bear on the static and brittle class-structures of Europe. I’m surprised there’s no sense in Hitchen’s piece that Left totalitarianism could be considered “more damnable” because of the ease which it seduced far more of the educated, cultured class -- Rosa Luxemburg among them. Right totalitarianism destroyed itself with German efficiency compared to how Left totalitarianism managed to spread and destroy all those bonus millions. Some theoretician might insist that Mussolini was not a Hitler and could have tried to duck out of the cataclysm as Franco did, or perhaps applied his radical nationalism to development as China is doing today. I’m not arguing this because after all what can even a dictator do with a nation full of Italians? Though perhaps more than one communist Chinese emperor’s vizier has thought the same of his nation full of Chinese.
If Christopher is slipping he has a right considering what he’s going through. The wonder is that any weakening of his output merely puts him in range of the other important writers.
Sheppardia Gabela by James Fotopoulos
From the Desk of Joe Carducci…
Steven Rosen in NYT, "A Moment in Time Preserved 163 Years, Newly Accessible.".
“Katrina Marshall, the digital services team leader of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, was awestruck by the sight of a pair of 163-year-old bloomers on a balcony clothesline, a detail in the library’s newly conserved daguerreotype of two miles of Cincinnati riverfront. The cityscape was photographed by Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter on a Sunday in September 1848. At a ceremony on Saturday, after the daguerreotype spent decades in storage, the library returned its jewel to public view, where it will be permanently displayed alongside new touch-screen computer displays that can zoom in on its details. In its day and now, ‘The Cincinnati Panorama’ has been considered one of the finest examples of North American cityscapes from photography’s earliest decades. It is also thought to be the oldest surviving example of such a work.”
Stephanie Simon in WSJ, "In a Beef Over Branding".
“Branding, brought to the New World in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez, is today common across states like New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming. The marks can be seen from a distance and help ranchers settle ownership disputes when cattle trample fences and mix with a neighbor's herd. Many states keep a registry of brands, so there won't be two ranchers using the same Lazy J or Triple Dot. State brand inspectors say the practice also deters rustling, as thieves can't remove the identifying mark. And on many ranches, branding day is a communal affair. ‘The cultural tradition can't be overemphasized,’ said Taylor Haynes, a fourth-generation rancher outside Cheyenne, Wyo. On the Bledsoe ranch in Eastern Colorado, family members spent a morning castrating, vaccinating and branding calves in practiced motions that took just 60 to 90 seconds an animal. ‘When government steps in, they like to make things more complex,’ Mr. Bledsoe said. ‘Branding's the simplest, most efficient way to do it. Why change?’”
Benn Steil & Manuel Hinds in FT, "Keynesians are complacent about the dollar".
“A few days before the famous Bretton Woods monetary conference in July 1944, John Maynard Keynes, the UK’s lead negotiator, had one of his legendary dust-ups with his American counterpart, Harry Dexter White. It was over the role of the US dollar in the postwar world. White was determined to make the dollar the sole international currency; legally a surrogate for gold itself. Keynes, whose country was effectively bankrupt was equally determined to ensure the dollar would have no such special status. The survival of the British empire itself could hinge on Britain’s ability to salvage some measure of international acceptability for the pound sterling or, at the very least, access to an international medium of exchange not controlled by the Americans. Britain was a desperate debtor with no cards to play, and Keynes lost that battle. Some 65 years later, the governor of the Chinese central bank issued a public statement lamenting the fact that Keynes had not got his way. America’s exorbitant privilege had produced an unstable international monetary system. The country had reneged on its commitment to keep its currency redeemable in gold and, predictably, had made its domestic priorities paramount over international ones.”
David Gardner & John Brown in FT, A sovereign’s debt.""
“‘Irish Republicans used to talk about their gallant allies in Europe, who would always come to our assistance against the oppression of the imperial power,’ says Prof Ferriter. ‘But now we‘re being crucified by Europe and we‘re looking to our firm friend in London for real support,’ he says, echoing the Queen’s reference to ‘firm friends’ at Dublin castle.’”
William Wallis in FT on Stephen Ellis’ book, Season of Rains: Africa in the World.
“Nicolas Sarkozy surely rues the day he gave his first speech on the African continent as French president, at the university in Dakar, Senegal. ‘The tragedy of Africa is that the African has never really entered history,’ he said, to open mouths in the audience and later a barrage of outrage on websites from Johannesburg to Abidjan. ‘The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words. In this realm of fancy there is neither room for human endeavour nor the idea of progress, he said.”
Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, "Border Town Incursion Poses Big Risk for Sudan".
“The calculus goes something like this: If the south were to stage a counterattack or up the ante militarily, the north could accuse it of violating the peace treaty, signed in 2005, that set out the terms for southern independence. Analysts say the north would then refuse to recognize the south’s independence come July 9, when southerners are preparing for a huge celebration, the birth of their new nation. A bitter contest between north and south could quickly emerge, both on the battlefield and on the global diplomatic stage. Some nations would probably recognize an independent southern Sudan while others would back the government of Khartoum, in the north, and treat the southerners as renegades.”
Yoichi Funabashi in FT, "Tokyo has no option but to cleave to China".
“At a recent dinner in Tokyo, senior business leaders posed an intriguing scenario for Japan’s recovery -- if not revival: this is the moment for Japan to break with the past and move closer to China. As one executive at the dinner said, with his supply chain disrupted he had little choice but to expand his business and export base in China. He would also urge his parts suppliers to move to China, he added, as some of their factories had been devastated.”
Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Chinese Student Takes Aim, Literally, at Internet Regulator".
“The authorities are seeking a college student who sneaked into a lecture hall at one of China’s most prestigious universities on Thursday and tossed eggs and shoes at a computer scientist both lionized and reviled as the architect of China’s strict Internet controls…. With his talk interrupted and the classroom in chaos, Mr. Fang appeared to have cut short his lecture and left for the airport. In the hours that followed, a firestorm of approving sentiment ricocheted across the Chinese Internet — much of which was promptly deleted by censors. Postings hailed @hanunyi — a student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology — as a hero and promised all manner of recompense, from iPads and designer shoes to carnal rewards offered by admiring women of the sort that China’s Internet guardians would likely deem harmful to the nation’s morality.”
Max Colchester & Ruth Bender in WSJ, "France Puts Internet on G-8’s Agenda".
“On Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy will host executives from large Internet, telecommunications and media companies at a conference to discuss how governments can boost growth of the online economy while simultaneously regulating it. Those scheduled to attend, including Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg, #Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt and Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, are expected to weigh issues ranging from taxation to intellectual-property protection. The conclusions of the conference, which has been dubbed the e-G8, will be presented later in the week to heads of government at the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations in Deauville, France. ‘The Internet has become something essential in our lives, yet there is no governance of it,’ says Stephane Richard, chief executive of telecom operator #France Télécom SA, who will be attending the conference. ‘There is an absolute necessity to find some form of global economic governance of the Internet,’ Mr. Richard said.”
Michael Wines in NYT, "China’s Rich Try to Fly Around Red Tape".
“‘For us, a workweek is 80 hours or more. So you know what we need? Fast,’ said Mr. Guan, a gold-necklaced, yacht-sailing titan who made a fortune as a trader. To relieve the stress of making vast sums of money, he said, there is nothing like zipping around in a copter. ‘Only then can I truly relax,’ he said. ‘It’s that simple.’ If only it were legal, too. Mr. Guan and his friends are black fliers — part of a minuscule group of wealthy Chinese who fly, quite literally, in the face of the law. The first Chinese rich enough to own their own aircraft, they have collided in midair with the Chinese military, which controls the country’s airspace and never contemplated such a fantastic development, much less authorized it. Just asking for permission to take off can involve days of bureaucratic gantlet-running, and still end in rejection.”
Kathrin Hille in FT, "Beijing looks to nation to roll up sleeves and surpass west".
“One way the Chinese government has tried is making ownership of local patents and brands a precondition for access to public contracts, triggering an outcry from foreign rivals against protectionism. The government is also pressing foreign companies to set up joint ventures with local, often state-owned, enterprises. Under this scheme they must share or release proprietary technology as a precondition for wider market access -- a pattern that has appeared in the rail sector, in nuclear power plants, the wind turbine sector and commercial aviation.”
Simon Schama interviews Henry Kissinger in FT, "The history man".
“Kissinger talks about this momentous shift in global alignments as though it could only be accomplished through the kind of personal interaction customary to classic 19th-century statecraft. But at the centre of it all (not to forget the strange, turbulent, contorted personality of Nixon) was, after all, Mao, whose magnitude, for good or ill, Kissinger never wants to sell short. What about the deranged contradictions in Mao‘s imperial fiats: decreeing a Great Leap Forward that condemned millions to die in an engineered famine, or unleashing the trauma of the Cultural Revolution only to slam on the brakes once it threatened to bring down the state itself? ‘They were a rebellion against mortality,’ Kissinger says, a little gnomically, but offering an interesting addendum. It was Deng‘s generation -- and Deng himself, twice purged and who lost a son to the fury of the Red Guards -- which has been permanently scarred by the ‘unimaginable abomination’. But their children are beginning to think that perhaps Mao ‘was on to something… but as always pushed it too far’.”
Samantha Pearson in FT, "Lessons in cultural awareness".
“Since China displaced the US in 2009 as Brazil‘s biggest trading partner, Brazilian company executives and politicians have been scrambling to understand better the Asian giant in their midst and work out the best way to deal with it. BM&F Bovespa, for example, has long wanted to list Brazilian stocks in Shanghai -- as it has done in places like Hong Kong and Paris -- but wooing the Chinese mainland has proved painfully slow. ‘They’re not like the Americans or the Europeans,’ Edemir Pinto, the exchange’s chief executive, explains in exasperation. ‘Sometimes, you have to sign a memorandum of understanding just to have lunch with the Chinese.’”
Joe Leahy in FT, "Drawn into an ever closer embrace".
“The Vale Brasil, commissioned by Vale, the Brazilian miner and the world’s largest exporter of iron ore, is the first of a new breed of bulk carrier, known as the Chinamax. With a capacity of 400,000 tonnes and measuring 362m in length and 65m in width, this goliath can carry twice as much iron ore as most vessels now plying the route between Brazil and China. Just as the caravel symbolized the age of discovery and early colonial trade between Portugal and Brazil, the Chinamax encapsulates China’s growing hunger for the natural resources of Latin America’s largest economy. As these two leading emerging economies draw each other into an ever closer embrace few doubt that the world is witnessing the birth of one of the great commercial relationships of the future.”
Mary O’Grady in WSJ, "Peru’s Election: A Vote on Modernity".
“Chavismo has a limited capacity to ‘organize insurrection’ in Peru, PKS says. But that capacity is strengthened by the state's failure to counteract radicalism. The army is ‘indifferent, bordering on complicity,’ the National Intelligence Agency is ‘inefficient,’ police administration is deficient, and police intelligence is starved for resources. Meanwhile, there has been ‘a permissive attitude’ in the prime minister's office and at times cooperation with militant activists from regional authorities. Mr. Humala's history is tied up in all this. He is an ex-army officer who has built his political career by tapping into the resentment of the disenfranchised with demagogic speeches against liberal economics and threats of violence against the establishment. Mr. Humala even attempted his own military coup in 2000, and there are credible allegations that he took money from Mr. Chávez in his 2006 presidential bid. Last week he tried to distance himself from this past by publicly swearing on a Bible to refrain from dismantling the country's democratic institutions if elected.”
Elisabeth Malkin in NYT, "Guatemala to Restore Legacy of a President the U.S. Helped Depose".
“After winning the presidency in a landslide election in 1950, Mr. Arbenz began an effort to modernize the economy, including a land-redistribution program that angered American corporations and the United States government. President Eisenhower, convinced that Mr. Arbenz was giving the Communists a foothold in the Americas, authorized a coup that ousted the Guatemalan president in nine days. The deposed president died in 1971 at the age of 57, a broken man in Mexico, leaving his widow, children and, later, grandchildren to fight unsuccessfully in the Guatemalan courts for his reputation and their confiscated property.”
Pankaj Mishra in NYTStyleMag, "Beyond the Melting Pot".
“Malaysia attracted Asian merchants and Arab adventurers long before the Europeans arrived to trade in the 16th century and before workers from China and India came in the 19th century to plant rubber and mine tin. A few hours south of Kuala Lumpur, the famous city of Malacca still speaks of its Dutch, Portuguese and British past. To the east of the Malay peninsula lies the island of Run, which the British officially ceded to the Dutch in 1667 in exchange for an island in the New World that was then called New Amsterdam. But the sense of being embedded in history, which never leaves you in India or China, vanishes in Kuala Lumpur. Built pell-mell, the city lies thinly on the ground, radiating out from a small historical downtown and business district into hilly suburbs. There is something Los Angeles-like about its snaky freeways and bad public transportation. The promiscuity of its architectural styles is very L.A., too. It’s not what one expects in a major Asian city, which either wears a patina of its premodern past (Delhi, Beijing) or carries the clear impress of its founders (Mumbai, Hong Kong).”
Heather Timmons in NYT, "India’s Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled".
“India spent 2 percent of its gross domestic product, or $28.6 billion last year, on social programs to alleviate and prevent poverty, the World Bank said, a higher percentage than any other country in Asia and about three times China’s spending. The programs, central to the Congress party’s platform, include food distribution and health insurance initiatives that are supposed to reach hundreds of millions of households. The report was written at the ‘request of the government of India’ and with full participation from various government bodies, the report said.”
Lorraine Adams in NYTBR on Deborah Baker’s book, The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism.
“Liberal assimilated Jews, they raised her and a sister in the Westchester County village of Larchmont, ‘a wealthy suburb of mock-Tudor homes.’ Her mother went to Smith, and her father worked in his family’s tie business. Jameelah didn’t begin speaking until age 4, but when she did, her mother told her, it was in complete sentences. At 10, she was drawing Arabs based on photographs in the National Geographic magazines at the school library and planning to live in Palestine or Egypt as a painter. At 15, while her friends were listening to Frank Sinatra, she was buying records by the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. After dropping out of New York University, she spent years reading Muslim texts in the public library’s Oriental division. At 27, she converted to Islam with the help of a Brooklyn imam, and the following year, in 1962, boarded a freighter for Pakistan, never to return to the United States. Before she departed, she donated an unpublished novel and accompanying drawings to the Oriental division, where she had spent so much time. From Lahore, where she still resides, Jameelah continued to send documents to the library through 2005. In the days I spent reading through the files Baker used, I felt transported to a now lost version of Lahore, but also to Jameelah’s New York. Her affectionate letters home contrast sharply with her tendentious books, many of which are fixtures in madrasas around the world. Jameelah's parents were dumfounded by her zigzagging fixations and flirtations — first with Holocaust photographs, then Palestinian suffering, then a Zionist youth group and, ultimately, fundamentalist Islam.”
James Lamont & Farhan Bokhari in FT, "Taliban raid in Karachi humiliates military".
“The militants’ targets were two P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, the ‘eyes and ears’ of Pakistan’s navy in anti-submarine warfare, supplied to the country by the US during the past year…. Ghazanfar Ali, an analyst and former brigadier, said the militants were trying to create alarm about the security surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. ‘The choice of target was to emphasise nuclear vulnerability,’ he said. ‘They are trying to hurt Pakistan’s reputation as a nuclear weapon state.’ Shaukat Qadir, a retired senior army officer, said it was striking how the militants had deliberately chosen to destroy hardware rather than create havoc or inflict maximum casualties. ‘Most terrorists go for people, not for assets,’ he said. ‘The first rocket that was fired was at the P-3C.’”
Farhan Bokhari & Kathrin Hille in FT, "Pakistan asks China to build a naval base at south-western port".
“‘We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,’ Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan’s defence minister, told the Financial Times, confirming that the request was conveyed to China during a visit last week by Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister. Until now, the Chinese government has shied away from moves that might alienate the US, the incumbent global military power, and Beijing’s neighbours, such as India, Malaysia and Indonesia.”
John Eibner at Middle East Quarterly, "Turkey’s Christians under Siege".
“The brutal murder of the head of Turkey's Catholic Church, Bishop Luigi Padovese, on June 3, 2010, has rattled the country's small, diverse, and hard-pressed Christian community. The 62-year-old bishop, who spearheaded the Vatican's efforts to improve Muslim-Christian relations in Turkey, was stabbed repeatedly at his Iskenderun home by his driver and bodyguard Murat Altun, who concluded the slaughter by decapitating Padovese and shouting, ‘I killed the Great Satan. Allahu Akhbar!’ He then told the police that he had acted in obedience to a ‘command from God.’ Though bearing all the hallmarks of a jihadist execution, the murder was met by denials and obfuscation — not only by the Turkish authorities but also by Western governments and the Vatican. This is not wholly surprising. In the post-9/11 era, it has become commonplace to deny connections between Islam and acts of violence despite much evidence to the contrary.”
Steven Lee Myers in NYTMag, "The Hot-Money Cowboys of Baghdad".
“As we ate, Al Jazeera murmured on a flat-screen, broadcasting the protests in Egypt that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Yahya watched the scenes, riveted. ‘Arab investors used to think Egypt was the most stable,’ he said. ‘Now we are.’ The war in Iraq is widely seen as a colossal blunder of American hubris that killed tens of thousands and displaced many more, leaving a shattered, sectarian wreck of a country. Even now, as President Obama withdraws the last of nearly 50,000 American troops by the end of the year, the insurgency simmers and the state is neither stable nor fully democratic. The government is rife with corruption and paralyzed by an ossified bureaucracy. And yet also, undeniably, Iraq has turned a corner. After years of war, looting, sectarian bloodshed and political infighting, Iraq’s economy is beginning to take off, fueled by a resurgence in oil exploitation — and soon natural gas — and an influx of foreign capital that has swelled despite the protracted political impasse that followed Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March 2010. The International Monetary Fund recently estimated that Iraq’s gross domestic product grew 2.6 percent last year — nearly as much as the struggling American economy did — and it projected astonishing increases exceeding 11 percent this year and next. Some say Iraq’s economy — estimated at roughly $80 billion today — could expand six or seven times in the next decade as it increases oil production to a level rivaling Saudi Arabia’s.”
Tarek Osman in FT, "The battle for Egypt’s national identity is joined".
“Egyptian Christianity is marked by assertiveness, victimisation and the supreme role the Church has played in its followers’ lives. Assertiveness reflects the decisive part playing by the Alexandrian Church in shaping Christian theology. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Church’s fathers fought off the Arian and Nestorian ideologies held to be heretical, and largely determined the thinking that came to dominate Christianity. Suffering and victimisation came at the hands of the Romans and of some Islamic rulers. It was no coincidence that monasticism -- blending seclusion with a sense of victimhood -- was born in Egypt. In the centuries when Alexandria was a centre of Christian learning and Egypt the hinterland of the Christian faith, the Church in effect became the country’s ruling institution. In the centuries after Islam’s conquest, as most Egyptians converted to Islam, the Church still played a dominant role in Christians’s lives, as a theological guide and a haven from a society that had become conspicuously and unremittingly Islamic. Egyptian Muslims have almost the opposite experience. Islam came to Egypt as the religion of its new rulers….”
Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Hockey-loving EU states oppose Belarus championship ban".
“Meanwhile, a recent European Parliament proposal to make the International Ice-Hockey Federation (IIHF) in Switzerland pull the 2014 world cup finals in Minsk is getting some traction. The Lithuanian foreign ministry likes it. Switzerland is also interested. ‘A possible stop of the hockey championship is being examined,’ foreign ministry spokesman Georg Farago said. The move has the capacity to hit President Alexander Lukashenko where it hurts. The president loves ice hockey and uses sport for propaganda. Lukashenko cronies run most of the country's sports associations and are involved in multi-million projects to build new highways, a stadium and luxury hotels to host the games.”
Joe Mullen at Paidcontent.org, "Wall Street Journal Reporter Takes Heat Over Tone Of Privacy Series".
“A questioner from the audience, Morgan Reed of the Association for Competitive Technology, agreed, noting that the WSJ series had directly influenced the comments made by Congressional representatives. ‘The question addressed to me [by Congress] was, ‘Look at these apps the Wall Street Journal found — so you, app developer, tell us why we shouldn’t be afraid of these,’ said Reed. ‘What we’re doing is reporting the facts,’ Angwin responded. ‘The fact is, we tested a bunch of apps, and this is the data they were sending,’ she said. ‘And this is pretty revolutionary in the news business.’ (Laughter in the audience.) ‘Most often, data written about in the newspaper is provided to them, as in, ‘a Brooking Institution report says this.’ We decided to test things ourselves. It was expensive, it was difficult. And it turns out, we now have the best data available about what apps are doing. It’s hard to replicate that study. You have to hack the phones, and measure the traffic.’ She continued: ‘There are some loaded words in those stories, I agree. But I also think that this is actually what is happening — you are being tracked,’ she said. ‘How did this all get turned onto me?’”
WSJ: "The Children’s Crusade".
“This month the green lobby, led by an outfit called Our Children's Trust, sued the federal government and 10 other states, with 40 more on the way. Much like public nuisance, the new claim is based on an obscure doctrine under common law known as the public trust, which dates to the Roman empire and protects property of communal value. Throughout history, that has mostly meant navigable waters or shorelines, and it has mostly been used to prevent states from converting coastal property to private use. Public trust law has never been applied to the atmosphere, despite some novel environmentalist attempts in the 1970s to use it for traditional air pollution. The greens aren't suing to right a wrong or seek damages as in ordinary lawsuits, but rather they are demanding that the courts annex quintessentially political decisions. Anyway, ubiquitous carbon mixes evenly over the globe, and as a practical matter, Montana (one of the states being sued) can't do anything to protect its ‘public trust’ any more than the U.S. can amid rising Chinese emissions.”
Joel Klein in Atlantic, "Scenes from the Class Struggle".
“The extent of this ‘no one gets fired’ mentality is difficult to overstate — or even adequately describe. Steven Brill wrote an eye-opening piece in The New Yorker about the ‘rubber rooms’ in New York City, where teachers were kept, while doing no work, pending resolution of the charges against them — mostly for malfeasance, like physical abuse or embezzlement, but also for incompetence. The teachers got paid regardless. (To add insult to injury, these cases ultimately were heard by an arbitrator whom the union had to first approve.) Before we stopped this charade — unfortunately by returning many of these teachers to the classroom, as the arbitrators likely would have required — it used to cost the City about $35 million a year. In addition, more than 1,000 teachers get full pay while performing substitute-teacher and administrative duties because no principal wants to hire them full-time. This practice costs more than $100 million annually. Perhaps the most shocking example of the City’s having to pay for teachers who don’t work involves several teachers accused of sexual misconduct — including at least one who was found guilty — whom the union-approved arbitrators refuse to terminate. Although the City is required to put them back in the classroom, it understandably refuses to do so. And the union has never sued the City to have these teachers reinstated, even though it knows it could readily win. It has also never helped figure out how to get these deadbeats off the payroll, where they may remain for decades at full pay, followed by a lifetime pension. No one — and the union means no one — gets fired.”
James Taranto at WSJ, "The Christian Al Gore".
“Doomsday superstitions seem to fulfill a basic psychological need. On the surface, the thought that God or global warming will destroy the world within our lifetimes is horrifying. But all of us are doomed; within a matter of decades, every person alive will experience the end of his own world. A belief in the hereafter makes the thought of death less terrifying. But so does a disbelief in the here, after. If the world is to end with us -- if there is no life for anyone after our death -- we are not so insignificant after all. To reject traditional religion is not, as the American Atheists might have it, to transform oneself into a perfectly rational being. Nonbelievers are no less susceptible to doomsday cults than believers are; Harold Camping is merely the Christian Al Gore. But because secular doomsday cultism has a scientific gloss, journalists like our friends at Reuters treat it as if it were real science. So, too, do some scientists. It may be that the decline of religion made this corruption of science inevitable.”
Ben Casselman in WSJ, "Facing Up to End of ‘Easy Oil’".
“When people talk about how we're running out of oil, they're not counting the heavy oil,’ says Amy Myers Jaffe, who runs the Energy Forum at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. ‘There's a huge amount of resource there…It's just a question of developing the technology.’ To get to Wafra's thick oil, workers are injecting steam into the ground to heat the oil and make it less viscous, allowing it to flow to the surface. The technique is tricky, expensive and unproven in the type of rock that holds Wafra's oil. For their half of the project, the Saudis have enlisted the help of #Chevron Corp., which has decades of experience extracting heavy oil from fields in California and Thailand. It is a rare chance for a Western oil company to get a piece of the world's biggest oil reserves.”
Horst Bredekamp at Signandsight.com on Josef Reichholf’s book, The Origin of Beauty: Darwin’s Greatest Dilemma.
“Well-meaning critics struggled to conceal their perplexity, behind which laid a thick wall of denial. The second part of Descent of Man published in 1871 contained Charles Darwin's treatise on ‘sexual selection’, which presented perhaps his greatest failure. Darwin was confronted with the problem of not believing that nature, which was literally exploding with variety and diversity, could be explained solely with the aid of ‘natural selection’. To resolve this conflict he came up with the theory of ‘sexual’ selection, making the female eye the agent of evolution. ‘Female choice’ as he called it, was in no only way solely obligated to follow a commitment to strength and guaranteed survival; the female interest essentially followed another principle, one that could be described as the desire for variation. This meant that Darwin was defining nature, to a certain extent, as a history of erotic form – or even art. In regarding the bodies of animals as self-produced images, he defined his second pillar of evolution as an astonishing pictorial theatre which arose out of the interplay of the female eye in the search for variation and the readiness of the male to mutate.”
Andrew Ferguson in Weekly Standard, "Converting Mamet".
“The belief that government is essentially a con job run by con artists comes naturally to Chicagoans. In Chicago, where Mamet was born not long after the Second World War, the natives simply assumed that politicians were in the game to enlarge their own power — which was fine, so long as everyone else got his piece too: a ham at Christmas, a fixed parking ticket, a job in the Department of Sanitation for a dipso brother-in-law. For Mamet this bit of innate Chicago wisdom has only been reinforced in Santa Monica, the leftwing, paradisiacal community where he has lived since 2003. It’s the same game in Santa Monica as in Chicago, except with an unappetizing lacquer of self-regarding piety from the pols. Not long after moving to the city, Mamet undertook his first foray into civic activism, when the City Council revived a 60-year-old ordinance and tried to force Mamet and his neighbors to cut the hedges around their homes, in accordance with a newly articulated ‘public right to the viewership of private property.’ ‘They just made it up,’ he told me. We were having lunch at his usual noontime haunt a few blocks from his office and a mile from the beach. The Hedge Wars, as the local press called the controversy, were the first thing he mentioned when I asked about his move rightward. He joined protests, testified at hearings, and wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times. His side eventually won. The ordinance was amended, but not before the city got to impose a raft of new foliage regulations and create a new hedge commission to enforce them.”
Tim Harford in FT, "Lessons from war’s factory floor".
“Although the success remains fragile and there were other factors involved, a complete transformation of US military strategy deserves much credit. How did it happen and what are the lessons for other organisations that need to turn around? The easy answer is that the solution was a change of leadership. Thanks to behind-the-scenes campaigning and a drubbing in the midterm elections for President George W. Bush, Mr Rumsfeld was replaced, and General David Petraeus was put in charge of the war in Iraq. But this would be to miss the lessons that had been learnt at far lower levels within the army. Typically, when a troubled organisation reinvents its strategy, we assume the solution was developed in the executive suites. But the US experience in Iraq suggests that middle managers, who can see the rot up close, may be far quicker to adapt. Senior leaders may find their most appropriate role is to enable and encourage this process of bottom-up change. Early glimmers of a new strategy came in Tal Afar, near the Syrian border. US forces had repeatedly driven insurgents out of the ancient city but each time withdrew to their desert bases, which then allowed the insurgents to return and kill anyone who had co-operated with the Americans. By the end of 2004, Tal Afar was a Sunni extremist stronghold. When Colonel H.R. McMaster was assigned to Tal Afar in 2005, he decided to try something new. He put an end to the useless sorties into Tal Afar – ‘day-tripping like a tourist in hell’ was how one counter-insurgency expert described them – and committed his 3,500 men to holding Tal Afar, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, operating out of 29 small outposts. If there was a coherent strategy in Iraq then, it was based on the belief that the Americans were losing a popularity contest with the insurgents. Col McMaster believed that view was wrong: the problem, instead, was that locals were refusing to help the US because they knew Americans in isolated desert bases could not protect them from reprisals.”
Carducci interview on Enter Naomi at New Books Network by Matt Smith-Lahrman.
Dave Markey interviewed by Tony Rettman at Viceland.com on his Black Flag 1986 tour doc Reality 86’d, since removed by Vimeo at Greg Ginn’s request.
“The mountain footage in the film seems particularly fucked. Where was that? Colorado?
That was the top of the Rockies. Most of us on the tour would try and enjoy the days off and break up the monotony of the road by getting out and seeing and experiencing nature. Even if it meant singing John Denver songs in the process. There’s a shot of Davo jumping peak to peak. If he landed wrong he would have surely died in a horrible fall.
Where is Davo these days?
Apparently in Tempe, Arizona running a pool cleaning service. I haven’t spoken to him in over a decade since his self-imposed exile. I miss him.
I saw this tour when I was 13. I lived in Trenton, New Jersey and saw gigs at City Gardens. I always thought that place was a total craphole, and then I watched the film last night and thought “That place was a palace compared to these dumps! They were probably psyched to be there!” I know Black Flag were already seasoned veterans of this kind of stuff, but how did you feel at the time, playing places where the marquee was under ads for prime ribs and peep shows?
It was unreal to be a part of this tour and a part of SST, hence the title of the film. It was an honor and a pleasure to be there everyday, no matter what dump we were playing. For me, growing up in LA and worshiping Black Flag since 1980, it was more than a dream come true. I mean, if you told me in 1981 that I would eventually go on the road with Black Flag for half a year I wouldn’t have believed you. If I didn’t have this document I would probably wonder if it ever happened.”
C'est la guerre : Early Writings 1978-1983, by Byron Coley. “Frontline writings from the music war.”
Cosmic Couriers / Ash Ra Tempel, Switzerland 1972 (Eurock Archives)
Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, The Cosmic Couriers, and Ohr Music by Archie Patterson at Eurock.
“For the record, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser’s beginnings were as a Dutch pop journalist who made a name for himself by interviewing and writing books in the late 60s, early 70s that were published in Germany. One of the first was on Frank Zappa during the Mothers of Invention’s heyday, OVER HET BEGIN EN HET EINDE VAN DE PROGRESSIEVE POP MUZIEK. Among others, was a social look at (The New Pop Music) DIE NIEW POP MUZIEK, as well as UNDERGROUND? POP? NO! COUNTER-CULTURE! Kaiser also was co-organizer of the ESSEN INTERNATIONAL SONG DAY 1968, the first gathering of the youth-culture music tribes in Germany. In 1969 he founded OHR Music Production Ltd. Germany’s first independent rock label OHR (Ear) with the help of Berlin music publisher Peter Meisel. OHR dared to release German music that operated outside of that countries conservative Schlager tradition. The bands recorded were not simply Anglo-cover bands, some sang in German, others were experimental sonic explorers, agit-rock politicos, and folk-culture freaks. The music OHR released was considered by those in the business to have no commercial potential. The label was the first to specialize in indigenous rock music productions in Germany, in effect creating a kind of underground scene. Kaiser also served as manager of some of the bands, which at the time was illegal in Germany. That got him called before government officials and fined 30,000 DM.”
Sam McPheeters at Viceland.com, on Horseshit magazine.
Ronald Radosh in Weekly Standard on Lawrence Epstein’s book, Political Folk Music in America from Its Origins to Bob Dylan.
“Epstein begins with Woody Guthrie and ends with an appreciation and new assessment of Bob Dylan, who began as a folkie and ended up transcending the genre that gave him his start. Guthrie (actually a middle-class Oklahoman) grew up on the music of Jimmie Rodgers (the Singing Brakeman) and A.P. Carter and his family -- who were not rebels but religious folks and patriots who suffered in ‘quiet dignity because of their optimism that each day would be better and their certainty of reaching Heaven as a final reward after their hardscrabble life.’ God and family were enough; they did not need politics, especially of the leftist variety. Their music was personal, familial, and communal. They sang of the woes of the heart, not of the economic and political system. But Guthrie, hit hard by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, found that the music of his mentors was not enough. He discovered the didactic yet influential music of the Wobblies -- the Industrial Workers of the World -- and their martyred songwriter, Joe Hill. The legend of Hill was made especially famous when Joan Baez sang the Earl Robinson and Alfred Hayes song ‘I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night’ at Woodstock -- in retrospect, a highly retro note at America‘s biggest rock festival…. Years later Bob Dylan wrote his own takeoff -- ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’ -- which, Epstein points out, ‘was a direct slap at Hill’s antireligious attitudes and the legacy of the song among leftists.’”
David Bordwell in Film Comment, "The Great Divide: Why Academics and Critics Won‘t Play Nice".
“Grand Theory drove a wedge between scholars and cinephiliac intellectuals. As academics suspended evaluation, some of them became suspicious. For many, entertainment, even art as a whole, was part of a system of domination. Films enacted ideology; to experience a classic Western is to buy at least partly into its racist assumptions. At best, a film like The Searchers could enact the contradictions seething within the genre or the culture at large. Hence the rejection of the all-powerful auteur: the most a Ford could do was create disturbing cross-talk among the dissonant voices in a film. The real action, some researchers came to believe, lay with the spectator, who grasped any film through her or his own cultural assumptions. Thus began the viewer’s liberation movement known as Reception Studies. Ironically, despite the suspicion, evaluation crept into Grand Theory. As McBride notes, Grand Theory created a canon of good auteurs, directors who somehow escaped ideological oppression long enough to confront or subvert it. And few academics seem bothered by the possibility that interviewing Chantal Akerman or Pedro Costa granted some role to intentions and personal expression. Explicitly, however, a great many academics turned away from the artistic and humanistic dimensions of cinema. In the process they alienated cinephiles.”
Dave Kehr in NYT, "Start Your High-Def Engines".
“Stylistically, the most distinguishing feature of Grand Prix is the pioneering use of split-screen techniques to cover many of the racing scenes, most likely the contribution of the great graphic designer whose baroque credit here reads ‘visual consultant; montages and titles by Saul Bass.’ The flash and flair of these sequences seem almost the calculated opposite of Frankenheimer’s long-take, deep-focus style, developed in the days of live television drama (and impressively on display in his most revered film, The Manchurian Candidate, recently released in Blu-ray by MGM). Where Frankenheimer is concerned with placing the actors within an articulated, expressive space, Bass is more focused on bold compositions, quick cutting and other forms of immediate visual gratification.
Although Frankenheimer, who died in 2002, went on to direct many more features, and Bass directed only one (and a handful of shorts), it is Bass’s high-concept, attention-grabbing style that has prevailed. If so many of today’s popular films (particularly those drawn from graphic novels) seem more designed than directed, perhaps the transition begins in part here.”
The Wyoming Film Festival.
“Call For Entries for the 2011 Wyoming Film Festival in short and feature length films that showcase stories interpreting the U.S. Rocky Mountain West. All filmmakers working in all genres including narrative, documentary, and animation are welcome. The Festival is held in Saratoga, WY August 26-27, 2011 at the Platte Valley Community Center. Submission deadline, July 1, 2011.”
David Kirby in WSJ on Bob Riesman’s book, I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy.
“Born in Lake Dick, Ark., in 1898 and put to work early, he first made a kind of fiddle out of cornstalks and then another from wooden boxes and bits of string. Eventually, Big Bill moved to Chicago, drawn in part by the writings in the Chicago Defender, the weekly newspaper that lured black workers north before and after World War I with questions like: ‘If you can freeze to death in the North and be free, why freeze to death in the South and be a slave?’ In 1925, he bought a guitar for a dollar and a half, started learning how to please a crowd at parties, and even cut a couple of records. More important, musicians like Georgia Tom and Tampa Red showed him how to write and sing hokum, a jokey, sexy type of blues guaranteed to make the dancers shimmy. (‘Uncle Bill came home 'bout half past ten / Put the key in the hole but he couldn't get in.’) From there, Bill moved up. When producer and talent scout John Hammond realized that he couldn't sign the late Robert Johnson for a blockbuster concert in New York, he found another ‘primitive blues singer,’ Big Bill Broonzy. Gutbucket blues got the mommas out on the dance floor, but progressive politics was the theme for the December 23, 1938, concert, and the adaptable Bill fitted in with the other performers when he performed a new song he'd written called ‘Just a Dream,’ in which the singer dreams he visits the White House, sits in Franklin Roosevelt's chair and shakes the hand of the president, who thanks him for coming.”
Obituaries of the Week
• Don Krim (1945 - 2011)
“The story of the summer day when Don first fell for the magic of the movies is a treasured family memory. The film was the 1950 Disney animated feature Cinderella. Arthur Krim had taken his little brother to the one o’clock show at the Surf Theater on Boston’s North Shore. That evening Arthur came home, alone, to a surprised Norman and Beatrice. Back at the theater, Don, then a five-year-old, was well into the third viewing of Cinderella, smitten for life. Future favorites were to include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and all the grand Technicolor films…. After law school, Krim began his career at United Artists, first becoming head of the 16mm nontheatrical film rental division, then working on the formation of United Artists Classics, the first major studio-owned, art house division – and the model for today’s Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics. Eventually, UA Classics also began to handle distribution rights to the MGM library, including films like The Wizard of Oz, and pre-1948 Warner Brothers titles, including Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood. The company started distributing new foreign films shortly after. While Krim was at United Artists, his colleague Bill Pence was working at Janus Films, a company that held the rights to classic films like Fritz Lang’s M, Fellini’s La Strada, Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Beauty and the Beast. While working for Janus Films, Pence founded Kino International, and in 1977, Krim purchased the one-year-old company and immediately started to expand.”
• Bill Skiles (1931 - 2011)
“Skiles and Henderson were never quite headliners like Martin and Lewis. But their antics fueled an enduring run, starting in 1958 when they were booked at Disneyland: singing, dancing and playing homemade instruments like a tin-can xylophone, a washtub bass and tuned skillets. Mr. Skiles’s father had built and played those instruments with his vaudeville band, the Bob Skiles Haywire Orchestra, in the 1930s. Over the years, Skiles and Henderson were the opening act for stars like Andy Williams, Trini Lopez, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Eddy Arnold and Roger Miller. They toured in the 1960s with the folk group the New Christy Minstrels and in the 1970s with Rowan and Martin. Their many television appearances included performances on shows hosted by Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, David Frost and Merv Griffin. Skiles and Henderson last performed in March 2010, with a 27-show run in clubs throughout southern Arizona. William Al Skiles was born in San Antonio on July 5, 1931, one of three sons of Bob and Nellie Skiles. He began performing — using the instruments made by his father — soon after graduating from high school.”
• Mark Haines (1946 - 2011)
"Haines served as a news anchor for KYW-TV in Philadelphia, WABC-TV in New York, and WPRI-TV in Providence, before joining CNBC. Haines held a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and was a member of the New Jersey State Bar. In 2000, he was named to Brill’s Content’s 'Influence List.' His death quickly reverberated through the financial community. Traders at the normally bustling New York Stock Exchange paused for a moment of silence. 'He worked his way into this community very well. When the news popped out this morning it swept across the floor in a manner usually reserved for some large geopolitical event that moves markets,' said Art Cashin, director of floor operations for UBS. 'Everybody was riveted.' Dave Lutz, managing director of trading at Stifel Nicolaus, emailed clients to remind them of the famous 'Haines bottom,' as dubbed by his former broadcast partner, Erin Burnett. Haines called the financial crisis market bottom on March 10, 2009, just a day after the market did, in fact, bottom before the 90 percent subsequent rally. 'Nice call, Mark. RIP,' Lutz wrote. Burnett shared an emotional goodbye with Haines when she left the network earlier this month (see video). She fondly remembered her first day on air with Haines when he implored producers to 'give the girl something to do here.'"
Thanks to Steve Beeho, Andy Schwartz.
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