Category Archives: Art

Michael! Michael!

What with all of the bands and all of the art and all of the dance I’ve seen over the past few years, nothing matches Michael Clark’s madman choreography from 1984, featuring The Fall. Mark E. Smith doesn’t sing better – and he doesn’t sing differently today.
It’s hard to believe. In 1984, I was listening to The Fall, but also the Smiths, R.E.M. (with the period spacers), the Cure, and a bunch of Brit bands like Tears for Fears that I probably shouldn’t have.
Much thanks to dS, of Mopemusic, for turning me on and on to it.
It is my promise to be writing more in near future.
Don’t hold me to anything.
P.S. Related, I’m not going to my Brown 20th anniversary reunion next weekend. It’s not a huge loss for the Brown community, though I am feeling pangs of regret and angst from my friends V.S. and N.F., who apparently will be attending in my absence. In 1985, I had not outgrown the above arty music habits; in fact, they become overdetermined at university (nee college), settling into musical preferences that I’ve yet to shake – additional friends like Sonic Youth, N. Cave, the Pixies, and Throwing Muses, R.I. throwbacks. Oh, and my own band, headed by dS himself, Mendesfrau. Those were good years, “Totally Wired” for the right reasons: “You don’t have to be weird to be wired. You don’t have to be strange to be strangled.”
And, oh goodness, this is beautiful:

A Photo.

If a “Photo speaks 1,000 words,” then a panoramic photo of every important American political figure (and a lot of other folks) during Obama’s inauguration speech speaks one million or so.
Check out the pursed lips on former President Bush and the sleeping Clarence Thomas. Mr. Cheney looks a bit anxious and Mr. Clinton looks a bit miffed. Mr. Gingrich seems bored. Ms. Obama’s got a bible. The Secret Service appear as if they have nothing to do.
Hey, who are all those people that got front-row seats before the Marine band? And there’s a nice automated stitching error that the photographer notes well.

My Winnipeg.

I got to see an advanced view of My Winnipeg, last year’s biopic by the inimitable Guy Maddin, among friends this evening. It was a sad joy to watch.
Alternately claustrophobic and wide open, Winnipeg, the central character of the film, does a fancy dance with Maddin, its anti-hero. The film, constructed out of black and white, old and new, and real and unreal imagery, tells the comi-tragic life of the city as seen from a particularly wary set of eyes. The cold predominates throughout, snowflakes littering every scene and people (a.k.a. “sleepwalkers”) scuttle through the streets amidst piles of snow and ice, litter, and bright lighting from above. In almost every scene, a person inhabits the landscape, which is remote, flat, relatively ugly, and luscious at the same time.
Maddin describes my now almost-three-year experience here perfectly. It’s a pleasure to get out. Escape is nearly impossible but when it happens, a kind of weary joy sets in that is inexplicable. Yet, despite the grim complexity of leaving the city, it’s always a delight to come back to Winnipeg. Maddin implies that there is a double, magical set of tributaries beneath the main rivers, the Red and the Assiniboine, that cross near our home. The muddy rivers rock back and forth during spring, sometimes high and other times (like today) low, but they offer up a magic that’s hard to describe; perhaps Winnipeg’s being “Paris of the Plains” originates, in part, from the Seine-ish energy traversing the heart of the city.
And the city does have a heart or a few of them and I think Maddin showed this clearly. His city, and my adopted one, doesn’t wish to be anything other than what it is. It’s this lack of pretense, which can be found in other cities like Toronto or Los Angeles, that helps define Winnipeg for its inhabitants. Beyond friendly, Winnipeg lives as a place located, as Maddin indicates, in the center of the center. And like, Albany, where I lived many years ago, it’s close to everywhere but near nothing.
The movie, like all of Maddin’s movies, is romantically endowed and generous to those it critiques. The film goes so far as to criticize the city’s leaders and then wishes upon it a savior of sorts, a love for the world of which Winnipeg is a very small, cold part.
Oh, and the film is very funny, making light of the hard winters and the frozen landscape but also the odd, particular history of the city’s growth from places like Garbage Hill. It’s a loving tribute to a place that is easy to hate, easier to love, and humble to a fault.

Brand on the Brain.

Tonight, I saw Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain. As the rappers say, I’m going to break it down because it was perhaps the most coherent and gorgeous aesthetic spectacle I’ve ever seen.
I describe it, yes.
Brand Upon the Brain was performed tonight as part of the annual New Music Festival here at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra here in Manitoba. The primary visual focus consisted of a huge screen of Maddin’s visual narrative of a guy named Guy who lives in a lighthouse and pines after his sister’s lesbian friend, despite the fact that that friend plays a man, who goes by the name of Chance and who is not as lovely but is more loving than the sister of Guy the character. Chance, who seems miscast at first (and this is my only criticism of the entire event), turns out to be a key figure in the distraught, anxious, and very unhappy young life of the orphan Guy who, as we watch all 12 chapters begin and end, comes back to visit his once and future home, that being this island with a lighthouse not far from the mainland and which feels very, very isolated. The mother, through various kinds of sexual and verbal escape, becomes old and young again while the father goes back to work, even as an old man, a naked resurrected corpse, and a young torturer, not in that order. Meawhile, the pining third-wheel Guy is a romantic witness to the unfolding story, occasionally surrounded by imprisoned orphans of numerous races dressed in white. But the story is the easiest part to tell and, despite the above, it makes sense and holds its own visual logic throughout every Oedipal twist and lesbian turn.
The beauty of the piece came with the three live satellite features of the event. The inimitable, gorgeous, and understated Isabella Rossellini narrated the entire drama. Introduced by the charming and gentle Guy Maddin, Rosselini wore a sleek, black, Italian suit which matched her slicked down, curled-out hair, looking as engaged with the drama as she could possibly be, smiling and then scoffing, waving and then yelling. In front of her, she watched the drama unfold on the monitor and her lines were flawlessly read, nay, formed around the drama. At one point, she screamed and my elation reached new heights.
To her right was a ten-piece orchestra, pulled from the fantastic WSO. Their synchronicity with the silent film poised above them was exacting and lent the entire affair an emotionality that could never be felt via soundtrack, despite the fact the score, by Jason Staczek, was masterful. The conductor, Rei Hotoda, was so fully on, so completely engaged with the towering images that the music, when it wasn’t soaring, blended, perfectly, lovingly, joyfully, and tearfully.
To the very right of the orchestra were the Foley artists; three musician-cum-sound-effect-artists, they played their buckets of water, slamming doors, creaking stairs, screaming babies, rubber chickens, popping bubble wrap, chopped cabbage, crushed celery, electronic horn, smashed cantaloupes, silent clockers, barking foghorns, lapping paper waves, and painted books with panache and sweat-filled attention. Imagine the Blue Man Group quietly orchestrating a return as normal people who loved the symphony, fresh vegetables, and German Expressionism.
This brings me to the next full-on ramble, which is Maddin’s glorious imagery. I’m sitting here in jealous, loving rage at the director because the dude’s captured many of the critical images and moments that I, in my profound hope, would pull into a film that I would make. These include:

  • Lighthouses and rotating periscopic chairs
  • RCA-brand Victor Talking Machine-era voice-scopes
  • Major Tom men, as beautifully rendered as they are evil
  • David Bowiesque Pierrot figures, walking amidst lapping waves
  • Laboratory instruments, framed against a window as continual darkness

Aesthetically, Maddin pulled together the very best yet disparate strands of one hundred and twenty years of cinema into one, single 94-minute film. Black and white throughout, with touches of harrowing and strangled color, the film calls upon every Surrealist, Expressionist, Soviet, and American Avant-Garde visual trope in the very best of ways. It does so with gallows humor and an inherent sorrow for the loss of those forms. The shapes and shades and shorts throughout make more than a nod to the beauty of simplicity and directness of emotional content – they resurrect the innocence of the times when films were made to directly impact, and not just manipulate, our very real feelings for the characters and the scenery in which they thrive and deny and dream.
The scratched and deprecated medium is present throughout, as it is in most of Maddin’s work. It’s as if the visual impoverishment of the film stock helps Maddin enrich our connection with our love for the medium. Interestingly, at certain points during the film, strange digital rectangles flickered across the screen, remnants of the modern medium being broadcast above our heads. I don’t know if these are modern-day effects intended by the artist or they’re reminders of our own media’s mortality.
I do know what it was when Wagner coined Gesamtkunstwerk , the total artwork that fulfills every sense and fills every space. The 1980s saw many fake versions of this in the contemporary art world, what with electronic lights and voices and bright imagery. But Maddin is the true heir to the form and I can only wish that he’ll continue onward.
My thanks to my friends D.C. and L.D. for organizing the evening. After the event, we noted that it will never be the same, this Brand Upon the Brain construction that is now memory. Despite, or rather because of it being a massively historical aesthetic event, it can never be repeated for better or worse. The monstrosity of the entire endeavor moved me terribly.


Holy cow. I saw Cloverfield on Sunday night with a my friend, D.C. Basically, it scared the hell out of me. I realize that the director was using all of the Blair Witch and You Tube tropes available to him: handheld camera, first-person narrative, minor sightings of major monsters, screams and hysteria, and lots of good, all-purpose suspense, plus a little true romance to drive the story forward. It had all of those things in spades.
But what really scared me was its ability to tap deep into my primitive consciousness, pushing around memories of my experiences of 9/11 in lower Manhattan and mixing the imagery up with modern nightmares. At a certain point, perhaps 20 minutes in, I couldn’t quite breathe and I had a minor epiphany along the lines of “Andy needs to take better care of himself. Going to a replay of 9/11, even if fictive, is not a good mental health break.”
What more? Well, another friend, V.S., has started a fantastic new blog with his friend A.D. dedicated to the cinema and, well, movies and films and reviews of films. It’s called Cineblog and I urge you to give it a read. You might start with the review of Cloverfield.


This was funny for the first one point five minutes. Andy Sanberg is quite brilliant, in the vein of othe American Jewish schtick actors starting from Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine. My prediction is that he’s on to very big things soon.
Importantly, I can’t figure out how Andy’s fist connects so well with these willing participants. There must be a bit of filmic transitioning going on in the editing room.

% ! $.

I’m back.
I’ve been really enjoying the new ABC series Dirty Sexy Money. The show, about a fictional Darling family living (or perhaps residing) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, have all of the flavor of cardboard flavored with cheese, cinnamon, and good dialogue. It’s as if the writers decided to have animated people speak great lines around a semi-fascinating torrid story about sex, lies, and videotape.
In fact, it’s completely pleasurable watching a group of spoiled characters screw each other into oblivion while the main character, a straight man strawman named Nick George (played by Peter Krause), tries to keep it all together at the price of a $10 million salary. The priest is positively awful and impossibly secular. The twin brother and sister act like lovers working out their petty jealousies and love lives in semi-public. The patriarch, played lovingly by Donald Sutherland, acts like menschy schmuck, bent on compassionate (moral) conservatism.
Underlying everything is a mystery about the untimely death of Nick George’s father that is slowly unraveled, a la Twin Peaks, a series that is almost as comparatively funny, dark, and sinister.


I’m super-excited about the supposed movie supposedly called “1-18-08” by JJ Abrams. The trailer scared the sh*t out of me. In fact, it brought back such strong 9/11 memories that I’m not sure I can delve too deeply into the imagery. My hunch: Godzilla.

I Saw A Mighty Heart.

Despite its not very good title, the new Angelina Jolie vehicle, A Mighty Heart is a surprisingly good movie. I received an advanced screening of it last night and, though I wanted to write up my quick thoughts then, I felt a need to wait one day to let the physical processes crawl into something coherent, which, it turns out, didn’t happen:

  • I didn’t quite grok all of the visuals because the theatre (note Canadian spelling) was so crowded that we had to sit in the second row. I don’t think I’ve had to do this since I was 14, watching The Jerk.
  • Angelina Jolie, no matter what anyone will say, plays a (pretty) believable wife of Daniel Pearl. We, in the witness chairs, view her slow but brave collapse as her husband is first missing, then hostaged, then murdered.
  • I worried at the start that A Mighty Heart would play up the huge cultural differences between Pakistanis and foreign nationals and, in particular, Americans. It did and, despite its somewhat hamhanded approach (the country is shown as one completely overpopulated hellhole), it succeeds in defining the phenomenal differences in privilege Pearl and his family have over nearly the entire world.
  • The last little point: The depiction of massive use of cell phones, email, and just-in-time news throughout the movie truly made the movie. It’s hard to imagine what the entire harrowing experience would have been like without trace-back routes, IP detection schemes, photo interpretation, intelligence sharing and interpolation, and lost cellphone calls. Were it a kidnapping depicted in 1947, we would have had 90 minutes of conversation and the reading of daily news.