Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Hipsters Move

My friend Katie just sent me this picture:

Bwahaha! Hilarious. As you can read in this brief article, FlatRate Movers decided to mock their clientele in their latest ad campaign. Amazing.

Of course this is mostly funny to kids who live(d) in New York. Funny, I knew quite a few art school students living in both Bushwick and Williamsburg...

My favorite? Definitely: "Separate Proust, Nietzsche, and Freud collections in specialized FlatRate book boxes." Oh I would definitely do that. Nietzsche and Freud especially. Also, don't forget Marx, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Montaigne, Woolf, Arendt. But of course the crazies go first.

Godard Article

Another article for you all, from today's Columbia Spectator. Unfortunately they did quite a bit of editing on it, which is a little annoying, especially because of its already short length. They also capitalized "Silkscreen" when I was trying to say Lichtenstein silkscreen. Or maybe I'm just used to French grammar when virtually nothing but French people are capitalized. Also, the title's cheesy (thanks Spec?). Regardless I'm pretty proud of it.

Here it is:

Jean-Luc Godard became a cinematic legend 50 years ago. Director of the 1960 film Breathless, Godard virtually launched the French New Wave movement and revolutionized cinema as we know it. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in Godard, and Film Forum is currently showing two lesser-known Godard films until Feb. 24—Made in USA and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her.

To show these two films instead of more popular films like Breathless or Contempt indicates something entirely different and new­—both of these movies could probably be considered Godard’s “B-sides,” and investing such interest in two films that weren’t very successful at their release is a sign of a revitalized fascination with Godard and with New Wave cinema in general.

In the movie theater I worked at this past summer, the walls were covered with Godard posters—not because it showed Godard’s films, but because the manager was positively obsessed. In March, ZooZoom Magazine will launch a fashion shoot inspired entirely by the women of Godard.

This Godard mania isn’t a new phenomenon, and New Wave cinema has influenced movie buffs since the 1960s, inspiring the “New Hollywood” generation of Coppola and Scorsese. Yet it seems that 50 years after it burst onto the cinematic sphere, the New Wave—or Nouvelle Vague—movement is more relevant than ever.

Columbia Professor Philip Watts, who teaches the French New Wave course, agreed. “It’s true that there’s a real interest in his [Godard’s] work today,” he said, adding that his work has relevance for two reasons. “First, more than any other filmmaker, Godard ties together intensely emotional stories with a theory of cinema. The second important aspect of Godard’s work is how deeply he has engaged with the history, the ethics, and the politics of his times.”

These two unique aspects can be found in Made in USA and 2 or 3 Things, which are both cinematically inventive and intensely political. Made in USA alienates audiences even more than Godard’s usual fare. It is essentially a deconstruction of American film noir genre like The Maltese Falcon, though ironically in vibrant colors that mimic a Lichtenstein Silkscreen. Anna Karina, the then-wife of Godard, plays a journalist who looks for her missing ex-boyfrien, only to find out that he has been murdered. The film deals with communism, capitalism, and Franco-American relations while bombarding the audience with abstract visual and audio effects.

The same goes for 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, addressing war, consumer culture, and the rise of the Parisian banlieues(suburbs). A woman is encouraged by her husband to prostitute herself in order to earn money, but her manner of doing so is cold and apathetic. Although it is more melancholic and sensual than Made in USA, it touches upon the same themes of cinematic abstraction and politics that make Godard so relevant to the world today.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and Made in the USA are showing through next Tuesday at Film Forum (209 W. Houston St. at Varick St.). Tickets are $11.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cuban Cinema

Hey all, I have an article in today's weekly Columbia "Eye" magazine on Cuban Cinema. Enjoy!

Full issue here: http://eye.columbiaspectator.com/issues/B_02-12-09.pdf

Cigars and Cinema
Films that open a new dialogue about Cuba

An elderly woman returns home to her childhood sweetheart after fifty years, vowing her undying love with a fiery zeal—then promptly, and somewhat hilariously, dies. A student rebel holds a white dove in his hands, walking ceremoniously through the streets of Havana as a crowd of thousands gathers behind him. Different images? Very. And yet both are examples of Cuban cinema.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the revolution in Cuba, the IFC Center has launched a weekend series of films, “After the Revolution: Cuba on Screen,” showcasing some of the best works of both Cuban cinema and international cinema focusing on Cuba. Films included run the gamut from poetic to satirical. These films, coinciding with the release of Steven Soderbergh’s two-part Che, introduce us to a Cuba that can no longer be ignored, drawing back the veil that kept Cuba hidden from the general public’s eye for so long.

It would be an understatement to say that Cuban-American relations since the revolution in 1958 have remained tense—famed exploding cigars and the Bay of Pigs invasion come to mind. Yet in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, particularly in recent films like 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries—not to mention that dumb kid on your floor with the Che t-shirt. Continuing this trend, the IFC Center’s series brings to light a Cuba of prolific creativity rather than the threatening and oppressive Cuba of American legend.

Columbia’s Professor Richard Peña emphasizes the diversity on display, saying, “Cuban films have addressed issues such as sexism, homophobia, class prejudice, racism and other topics in a perceptive, provocative manner ... People interested in seeing how art might deal with such issues in a meaningful way should be inspired by Cuban cinema.”

This weekend’s choice is a Cuban-Soviet collaboration from 1964: Soy Cuba (I am Cuba), a cinematographic marvel that film critic J. Hoberman called “a Bolshevik hallucination.” Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and with a script by famed Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soy Cuba is probably one of the most poetic works of propaganda ever. It describes the state of Cuba during the days leading up to the revolution, using four beautifully-shot vignettes to spin a tale about the lives of four selfless working-class citizens oppressed by the nationalist (and Americanized) regime. At its release, Cuban and Soviet officials considered Soy Cuba to be “ineffective propaganda” and the film was barely released. Soy Cuba remained relatively unknown until the 1990s, when Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese rediscovered it. Though clearly glorifying communism, it is also both an enticing tale and a marvel of filmmaking. The acrobatic camera and clear black-and-white footage of endless cane sugar plantations, fires, and sweeping shots of the city are impressive even by today’s standards.

An American film, Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls, gives an alternate perspective on Cuba in the 20th explores the life of the openly homosexual Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas. Its stance toward Cuba is more critical than the others selected by the IFC—Arenas finds his work and life in danger due to his writing. He is judged dangerous by the government for living a lifestyle that the Cuban leaders condemn. century. Released in 2001 and starring Javier Bardem, the film explores the life of the openly homosexual Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas. Its stance toward Cuba is more critical than the others selected by the IFC—Arenas finds his work and life in danger due to his writing. He is judged dangerous by the government for living a lifestyle that the Cuban leaders condemn.

The dreamlike film puts panoramic shots of nature in the forefront and combines them with Bardem’s voiceover narration. Before Night Falls is a film about sexual and political revolutions: it begins with Arenas as a preteen during the 1958 revolution, which he initially supports, and follows with his personal sexual liberation. Linking sex to poetry, Arenas grows to detest and fear a government that equates homosexuality to capitalism and mental retardation—a story both fascinating and difficult to stomach.

Not all of the films are quite so serious: Guantanamera, a Cuban film from 1995, is a dark comedy that is as ridiculous and bizarre as it is moving. Directed by Alea and Tabío, Guantanamera is a satire about love, death, and Cuban society in the 1990s. An aunt visits her niece in Guantanamo, who is trapped in a loveless marriage, and then suddenly drops dead. The family must then make an absurd journey to Havana to bury her. On the way, the funeral procession encounters a few truckers, and hilarity ensues. Not just another romantic comedy, Guantanamera is at times a full-out critique of the communist system: the woman’s husband comes to represent the bureaucratic and stubbornly patriotic status quo. This film proves that critiques of Cuba can also come from within.

It might seem surprising that such a film was released in Cuba at all. But by showing films like Guantanamera that continuously defy our expectations, the IFC is portraying the many facets of Cuba lost to the American public. It’s a far cry from the closed-minded contempt or radical idealization (à la Michael Moore in Sicko) with which Cuba is usually treated. Perhaps now in the 21st century, we are finally ready to start seeing Cuba in different ways

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Godard's Women

My new goal in life is to dress like the women of Godard's films. I definitely have an unhealthy obsession with Godard, and especially his representations of women, mostly because: 1. I'm a sentimentalist so I really should like Truffaut better (and before summer I thought I did), and 2. Godard is extremely sexist. Godardian women look at themselves more than at others; they are obsessed with mirrors and how the world sees them, they are entirely aware of the power of their sex and their beauty and seem to wink haughtily at the audience.

But BOY do I love their clothes!

That's Brigitte Bardot in Le Mepris, which was my favorite Godard movie and definitely on my top ten list of all time... before today. Today I watched Une femme est une femme and was mesmerised. Not only because of the clothing, but... the color! The cinephiliac references! The style! And I always did love style more than content. It is almost as if Godard had painted the movie. Just beautiful! So powerful and abstract. And Anna Karina! The bright blues and the intense crimsons... that is how I should (and currently, to and extent) dress. Wow do I love this movie, misogynistic and all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Daily Dose of Beauty 2

One of those entries that should be titled, "Art I'm Currently Into"

I'm amazed at this work by Antonio Laguna Cabezuelo, which I found on woostercollective. It took me a few minutes to realize there are sculptural elements involved-- the boxes on the right, and the corner shelf. It's nothing if not inspiring.

This is by XENZ. See more of his stuff here. I love motifs! Even if it's as simple and perfect as butterflies.

In other news, I spent a large part of the day compiling quotes from Unica Zürn's diaries, and was fascinated. It was a 4 hour + project for the Drawing Center, and yet I was practically sitting at the edge of the chair the entire time. Perhaps research on artists' autobiographical writing is in the near future?

Unica Zürn is a German surrealist artist. Like most artists, she was completely and utterly crazy. Raped by her brother as a child and faced with a father who was continually absent from her life, Unica led a tragic and guilt-ridden life. At one point her husband at the time joined the Nazi party; Unica never recovered from her guilt. Although she did become quite famous, had a meaningful relationship with Hans Bellmer, another surrealist artist, and was brought into the same circle as Miro and Ernst, the last years of her life are a string of hospitalizations and incarcerations. Depressing, fascinating, brilliant. I tried to create a drawing inspired by Unica and never could; I figured I simply wasn't crazy enough. She is perhaps the only example of automatism that I ever liked (then again, it certainly has aesthetic qualities, and it's certainly a display of talent and what my Figure Drawing professor, and Hemingway, would describe as "her own personal truth").

Examples of Unica Zürn's work:

And then there are her diaries, her experiences in the mental institutions. Even translated from German her writing is so compelling! Some of my favorite quotes:

“On the morning of her seventeenth birthday, the princess went walking in the park. She was not at all content […] When suddenly she felt a strange, tingling restlessness, beginning in her fingertips and spreading all the way to her toes. She lost all sense of reality and suddenly found herself with a long neck and, before she could stop herself, she bent her head towards the ground and began to tear out the grass, chewing and swallowing it, and this brought her a pleasure so enormous […] that she began to lick her chops […] The princess was transformed into a handsome animal with a long, brown, silky coat. It had happened in the wink of an eye. And now she looked like an Irish pony, with only the huge pointed ears vaguely suggesting a little donkey.” (The Wondrous Animal, radio piece, 6. 205)

“Since 1949 threatening, distressing things have been happening in my dreams. A mountain of events crushes me, night after night. I’ll never get it cleared away. That’s how you end up feeling like a fool. That’s it, that’s my basic attitude. But for the last six months I’ve been taking sleeping tablets, even though I have such a gift for sleep. And surprise surprise! The little drug cuts out my dreams, those strands that bound me for eight whole years and made me dance sinisterly at night. Since then my esteem for the pharmacopoeia has just kept on rising. The drug: Supponeryl. Sleep without dreams, live without pain. You can do it for only two hundred francs a pack.” (Notizen einer Blutarmen)

“As there was to be a lunch with Michaux, I really dolled my-self up: A black pleated skirt Hans had given me, a very delicate organdie blouse—a present from Man Ray’s wife—and a little black velvet ribbon around my neck. My hair was piled up in the 1900 style. Michaux had invited us to a Chinese restaurant. I ate sweet fish and bananas fried in butter, and while I was smugly eating away, my monumental hairdo collapsed.” (Letter, 4.2. 562)

“They take her away in silence and a long journey begins behind the mesh of a police van. She does not know where they are taking her. The journey has ended. She is led into a house, in front of a group of silent men in white. Could they exude a greater melancholy? Their eyes are full of a dark, mute sadness. Has some mishap taken place here? And who is the victim?” (The Man of Jasmine)


I cannot think of a sadder thing than the inability to dream. A little part of me wonders whether it is the lack of dreaming that caused insanity. Perhaps that's what dreams are for: to keep us sane, to keep those random bursts of electrical energy in our brains from getting misappropriated elsewhere.

Monday, February 2, 2009


During a show, how much of the greatness is the sound, how much is the performance, how much the set list, and how much the spectacle? Devotchka's show at Webster Hall in the Lower East Side if Manhattan succeeded immeasurably at the latter. The entire concert was one beautiful spectacle after another, much having to do with the venues and the music style in general. Originally starting as a backing band for burlesque shows, Devotchka kept many elements of the strange and quirky opulence that burlesque is known for.

What is DeVotchKa? Are they gypsy punk? General indie rock? Folk? Or random instrument-crazy goodness? Devotchka is named after A Clockwork Orange's nadsat word for girl (it is the same in Russian except for the pronunciation; Burgess pronounces it Deh-VAHtch-kah instead of the Russian DYEH-votchka). There are only four members in the band and more than twelve instruments, running the gamut from the general guitar/piano/drums to accordion, violin, trumpet, double bass, organ, theremin, bouzouki, a sousaphone (which during the show was wrapped in blue twinkle lights). Clearly, this is an extremely talented band, and the members switched between instruments nearly every song. DeVotchKa is indie rock infused with all sorts of international fare, from the Iberian peninsula to the Balkans to France and Italy, giving each individual song its own particular je-ne-sais-quoi. And then, of course, there are the lyrics-- mythical, beautiful, and poetic, each song a story in itself. The Undone lyrics are my personal favorites.

The venue contributed greatly to the show, and emphasized how truly indiosyncratic DeVotchKa is as a band (the only other similar band out there might perhaps be Beirut, if only for the influences). Webster Hall is small and intimate while maintaining a sense of the grandiose, which might have been due to the burlesque quality of everything. Even a deaf mute would have enjoyed it-- it was quite simply a beautiful concert. DeVotchKa incorporated not only a twinkle-light-wrapped sousaphone but also a background of twinkling stars that lit up during certain choruses, as well as one of my favorite parts of the evening: an enormous disco ball!

Then there was something so out of the ordinary for concerts and so characteristically burlesque: a rope dancer! I forget the exact song (probably Vengo! Vengo! off of Una Volta), but at some point a scantily clad dancer/gymnast performed on a red rope that before just seemed to be a makeshift curtain. The crowd (laid back, vaguely artsy twenty-somethings) went wild.

And then there was the set list. DeVotchKa opened with Head Honcho, one of my favorites off of the new album, A Mad and Faithful Retelling, following up with the loud and spectacular Devotchka! off of their debut. One of my favorites of the night was Queen of the Surface Streets, and especially Basso Profundo, which they played third-- the catchy intro song of the new album. During Transliterator, the disco ball spun, and the room was covered by lights that moved with the tempo of the song-- simply magical. During the encore they finally played Undone, which I had been waiting for all night. The last song, How It Ends, was not one of my favorites, and though the title is very appropriate it left the concert on a melancholic note. Regardless, a whimsical and highly memorable set.