Archive for December, 2010




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11 classics to kick off 2011…

from LACMA

In conjunction with the exhibition William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, the Film Department will screen eleven classic road movies that typify the nomadic spirit of a rebellious generation. Drop outs, drifters, outlaws, hobos, hippies, and vets, they’re itinerants of all sorts united by a desire to outrun their past and drive their destiny. Launching with Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, in which the archetypal couple-on-the-run is stylishly portrayed by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, cementing its status with Dennis Hopper‘s trippy, counterculture vision quest Easy Rider in 1969, the road movie became a popular genre for the individualistic filmmakers of New Hollywood. This series showcases the work of these filmmakers—Penn, Monte Hellman, Michael Cimino, Jerry Schatzberg—and of their collaborators: exemplary cinematographers (Vilmos Zsigmond, László Kovács, Conrad Hall), iconic stars (Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Peter Fonda, Karen Black, Tuesday Weld, Jeff Bridges), cult writers (Joan Didion, Rudolph Wurlitzer, Terry Southern) and musicians making their big screen debuts (James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Dennis Wilson).

Seen together as a single body of work, the road movies of 60s and 70s offer a vibrant portrait of a vast, multifaceted country shaped by violence—the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, the Kent state shootings of 1970, the constant carnage of Vietnam, the atrocities at the Munich Olympics—and of a generation haunted by broken dreams—Nixon’s election in 1968, and the acid burnouts that followed the utopian visions of Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury. Road movies also provide a sharp look at the mundane yet colorful details that make up modern life-truckstop diners, stock car raceways, trailer parks, dive bars, oil fields, highway bottlenecks. From inhabited deserts to empty city centers, the American landscape has never been more astutely rendered than in these films.


“True Grit: The Golden Age of Road Movies” 1.7 -1.21.11 — find the entire schedule here




the holiday archives countdown…

from WNYU

We’re counting down to the new year by posting one of our favorite classic archives each day. These are recently digitized tapes that haven’t been released since the day they were broadcasted. Stay tuned!

#1 – The Sugarcubes, 1988, #2 – LL Cool J, 1986, #3 – Morrissey, 1984, #4 – Billy Idol, 1981, #5 – The Dictators, 1981, #6 - Smashing Pumpkins, 1990#7 – Sonic Youth, 1984#8 – Swans, 1989#9 – Ultramagnetic MC’s, 1989#10 – Meat Puppets, 1984#11 – Vernon Reid & Corey Glover, 1988#12 – The Misfits, 1981#13 – The Lemonheads, 1987#14 – Kool Moe Dee, 1987#15 – Jonathan Richman, 1980#16 – Richard Linklater, 1991#17 – Glenn Branca, 1981#18 – J. G. Thirlwell, 1987#19 – Popealopes + Naked Raygun, 1989#20 – The Flaming Lips, 1986#21 – Pylon, 1980, Music View#22 – Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark, 1981#23 – Devo, 1988#24 – The Feelies, 1980#25 – Afrika Bambaataa#26 – Ramones, 1980#27 – Kid Creole, 1980#28 – Lubricated Goat, 1989#29 – White Boys, 1987#30 – Flipper, 1982#31 – ESG, 1987#32 – Reverb Motherfuckers, 1988

(WNYU  12.1.10)

89.1 fm NYC — rock!!!


2010 in photos…


some big pictures…

Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from an Icelandic volcano in Eyjafjallajokul April 17, 2010. The volcano spewed ash into the air for weeks, wreaking havoc on flights across Europe. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


As the year 2010 approaches its last few days, it’s time to look back on the previous 12 months. In the first third of 2010, Millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, several massive earthquakes wreaked havoc worldwide, Vancouver hosted a successful Winter Olympics, and so much more. Each photo tells its own tale, weaving together into the larger story of 2010.

A US army soldier with the 101st Airborne Division Alpha Battery 1-320th fires an AT-4 as Combat Outpost Nolen on the outskirts of the village of Jellawar in the Arghandab Valley came under Taliban attack on September 11, 2010. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A tremendous sinkhole caused by the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Agatha in Guatemala City was estimated to be 30 meters wide and over 60 meters deep. As the sinkhole formed, it swallowed a clothing factory about three miles from the site of a similar sinkhole three years earlier. The clothing factory had closed only an hour before it plunged into the Earth. (REUTERS/Casa Presidencial)

After a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Yushu, Qinghai, China on April 14, 2010, killing over 2,500 residents, praying Tibetan monks are seen through flames, distorted by the heat shimmer above the mass cremation of victims of the earthquake on April 17, 2010. (AP Photo)

The collapsed Borde Rio apartment building is seen in Concepcion, Chile, Thursday, March 4, 2010. On February 27th, a devastating magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. (AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)

The Guizer Jarl or Chief of the Jarl viking squad stands before the burning viking longship during Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Scotland on January 26, 2010. (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korean Marine Corps’ amphibious vehicles and the Navy’s Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) ship “Dokdo” (background) take part in a mock landing operation in the sea off Incheon, west of Seoul, September 15, 2010. The operation marked the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-led United Nations troops’ Incheon Landing Operations during the 1950-1953 Korean War. (REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak)

(BOSTON.COM  12.14.10)

find all 120 photos in 3 parts – part 1, part 2, part 3



an exploration into the Warrior Gene…


When I was first made aware of the Monoamine oxidase A gene, also known as the “Warrior Gene,” and that it potentially pre-determines aggressive or violent behavior in 30% of males, I became very interested in learning more.

My questions were many. Were there any studies being done to generate a better awareness and understanding of symptoms to create preventative measures? What about young males and school, socialization and all that comes with living amongst other people in a society? What would the courts make of this gene? Would the justice system tolerate more science coming into their longstanding institution of moral constructs like the law and the Constitution?

On a personal level, could this gene perhaps be the thing that makes me prone to anger and aggressive behavior? Since the age of ten at least, I have had a constant level of anger and continually have to monitor myself to retain my composure. Could I have this gene? Could that explain why I am the way I am?

One is tested for the gene by an examination of their DNA. As part of the Born To Rage special, I submitted samples of my DNA, gathered by scraping the inside of my cheek with a stick, inserting it into a tube and sending it in.

Over the period of two weeks, we interviewed men in our test group who had submitted their DNA to be checked. We asked them about their levels of aggression, how they resolved conflict, if they thought they had the gene, did they want to have it, and would they be disappointed to find out that they didn’t.

rollins skates

Almost every one of the men we asked thought they had the gene and hoped they had the gene. That said to me that this thing needs some re-branding. What man doesn’t want to be considered a warrior? Obviously there are some but if given the choice between the warrior gene and the flouncing nellie gene, I think most men would chose the former.

What does it mean to you if you have this gene? Does it mean that your aggressive behavior is excusable? Is it a hassle, like your trick knee or your shoulder that aches before it rains? ‘The warrior gene ate my homework’ won’t cut it in major markets. You are responsible for your actions, warrior gene or not.

So, what is society supposed to make of the fact that there are potentially millions of men all over the world who are predisposed to aggressive and violent behavior? It’s not as if it’s a new gene and, therefore, neither are its symptoms. Perhaps we have unwittingly sought to deal with this occurrence. Perhaps that’s why football stadiums are built to accommodate so many people, guns are so easy to shoot, and beer is so readily available.

I think it’s a good thing that we as a species have been given more information as to how we tick. We are, ultimately, social creatures. You will have to deal with a human eventually — if you have noticed, they are all over the place. For the good of our bright future, we should know all we can about ourselves.

I am a tattooed man of middle age who often raises his voice. Do I carry the Warrior Gene? There’s one sure way to find out. I hope you enjoy the show.


“BORN TO RAGE?” with Henry Rollins is part of the National Geographic Explorer series…


best films of 2010…


the Village Voice/L.A. Weekly film critics poll…


And the winner of the 2010 Village Voice/L.A. Weekly Film Critics Poll is… The Ghost WriterBlack Swan, Greenberg, Bluebeard, Mother, Exit Through the Gift Shop and Enter the Void.

Just kidding. There’s only one movie of the moment: The Social Network.

Listed on 52 of 85 ballots cast (the largest percentage of any poll-topping movie since Todd Haynes‘ Far From Heaven won in 2002), David Fincher‘s Birth of a Cyber Nation, directed from Aaron Sorkin‘s script, took the 11th annual Voicepoll, just as it captured critics’ awards in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Old media acknowledges new. The last time a newly anointed Time “Person of the Year” like Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg got the simultaneous Hollywood treatment was back in 1943 (Joe Stalin, Mission to Moscow).

Truly, 2010 was the year of the globalistic rogue — runner-up to the Zuckerberg story was Carlos, Olivier Assayas‘ five-and-a-half-hour saga of the most notorious international terrorist of the 1970s, while Exit Through the Gift Shop, by art-world mystery man/prankster Banksy, handily won both Best Documentary (or “documentary”) and Best First Film.

Jesse Eisenberg‘s Zuckerberg defeated Édgar Ramirez‘s Carlos for Best Actor (although in the real world, both their Google numbers combined — plus Banksy’s — are but a ridiculous fraction of the 131 million citations for global rogue Julian Assange, whose biopic is surely to come).

The poll’s top three movies all but swept the table. Sorkin overwhelmingly won for Best Screenplay; Assayas edged Fincher for Best Director. Meanwhile, third-place Winter’s BoneDebra Granik‘s indie backwoods thriller, collected a pair of awards: Feisty teenager Jennifer Lawrence pirouetted past Black Swan’s Natalie Portman for Best Actress and John Hawkes out-blustered The Fighter‘s Christian Bale for Best Supporting Actor, although in the battle for Best Supporting (lowlife) Actress, Bone’s Dale Dickey lost to Animal Kingdom‘s Jacki Weaver.

The rest of the Top 10 are a decidedly mixed bag: Roman Polanski‘s absurdist political thriller The Ghost Writer finished fourth, followed by a couple of surprise foreign films, Maren Ade‘s acerbic relationship comedy Everyone Else and Giorgios Lanthimos’ allegorical family drama Dogtooth. Darren Aronofsky‘s madcap Black Swan came in seventh, just ahead of Alain Resnais‘ even madder Wild Grass, tied with Bong Joon-ho‘s Hitchcockian murder mystery Mother and followed by the year’s top-grossing movie, Toy Story 3.

The poll has a few anomalies. Three critics named movies as the year’s best that figured on no one else’s ballots: the Nicholas Winding Refn viking fest Valhalla Rising, documentary The Tillman Story and Rodrigo García‘s adoption drama Mother and Child. But these are proudly declared individual statements. Movies are more generally a collective art and social phenomenon.

As box office receipts measure popularity, polls manifest consensus. What’s really fascinating is intensity of feeling. Each poll has a hidden story, revealing those movies that are not only liked butreally liked or even passionately lurved. Carlos may have appeared on significantly fewer ballots than The Social Network, but it garnered more first-place votes and had a higher average score. To quantify this sort of intensity, we’ve derived a primitive algorithm (factoring a movie’s average score with the percentage of voters listing it first or second) known as the Passiondex™.

Application of the Passiondex™ to movies listed by at least three critics yields a somewhat different list of winners, headed by the bleak, violent Red Riding Trilogy (No. 26). Substantially trailing that critical cult winner are Manoel de Oliveira‘s blandly eccentric Strange Case of Angelica (No. 29); Carlos; Chang-dong Lee‘s epic crime drama Secret Sunshine (No. 16); Todd Solondz‘s dark comedy Life During Wartime (No. 35); Jessica Hausner‘s deadpan religious satire Lourdes (No. 24); Miguel Gomes‘ not-quite music doc Our Beloved Month of August (No. 20); Toy Story 3; and Dogtooth. (That Lourdes, Dogtooth and Life During Wartime all received votes as the year’s worst film just enhances their cult status.) Tied with Dogtooth, and just ahead of Greenberg (No. 18) on the pash list: The Social Network.

(LA WEEKLY  12.23.10)




the U.S. has the world’s third largest populationChina is the most populated at a little over 1.3 billion, India comes in second with about 1.2 billion…  an updated daily estimation by the U.S. Census Bureauputs the world population at approximately 6,903,700,000 — and counting..!

from U.S. CENSUS

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the 2010 Census showed the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2010, was 308,745,538.

The resident population represented an increase of 9.7 percent over the 2000 U.S. resident population of 281,421,906. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Acting Commerce Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank and Census Bureau Director Robert Groves unveiled the official counts at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. resident population represents the total number of people in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The most populous state was California (37,253,956); the least populous, Wyoming (563,626). The state that gained the most numerically since the 2000 Census was Texas (up 4,293,741 to 25,145,561) and the state that gained the most as a percentage of its 2000 Census count was Nevada (up 35.1% to 2,700,551).

Regionally, the South and the West picked up the bulk of the population increase, 14,318,924 and 8,747,621, respectively. But the Northeast and the Midwest also grew: 1,722,862 and 2,534,225.

Additionally, Puerto Rico’s resident population was 3,725,789, a 2.2 percent decrease over the number counted a decade earlier.

(U.S. CENSUS  2010)




eleven rounds — six chess, five boxing…


Along Santa Monica’s Ocean Front Walk sits a haven for geeks of the game of chess. The International Chess Park, comprising a giant chess set and dozens of regulation-play chess tables, draws people from all walks of life. Including men, who, three days a week, will stand between the 2- to 3-foot-tall chess pieces and physically beat the crap out of each other. Legally.

In the midst of this strange scuffle, a giant bearded man will suddenly blow a whistle, and the two opponents will dash over to a chess table, remove their gloves and sit down to continue a game of chess.

Spectators will stop and stare, some even snapping a few pictures. But what they don’t realize is that they are witnessing the birth of a brand-new sport in the U.S. — a unique mashup of boxing and chess.

The bearded man, 6-foot-9 photojournalist Andrew McGregor, runs the Los Angeles Chessboxing Club, the first group in North America sanctioned by the Berlin-based World Chess Boxing Organization (WCBO). He stages competitions, teaches classes at the Chess Park and even competes. He hopes to help spread the sport to the rest of America, promoting brains and brawn by making both boxing and chess more approachable.

But Santa Monica pedestrians don’t know any of that. They just keep their distance.

“I don’t think they truly get that we’re doing both,” McGregor says with a chuckle. “I haven’t actually been spoken to by anyone.”

McGregor’s interest in chess boxing began seven years ago when he was in Budapest and spotted a flyer advertising an upcoming bout. The subject was intriguing. He was already a chess geek at school — and unbeatable among his circle of friends — but he just shrugged and walked on. The concept stuck in his head, though, and over the next six months, he would occasionally Google the subject.

Then, in 2008, while McGregor was on assignment in Africa, a chess friend of his e-mailed him a Wikipedia link about chess boxing along with the note, “You could be their Muhammad Ali.”

He kept following the sport through various European websites, and after grad school, he tried his hand at boxing. Unfortunately, it was a difficult discipline to grasp, but after former heavyweight champion George Foreman answered McGregor’s e-mail and passed along encouragement, McGregor was more motivated than ever.

“I asked around the boxing community [to find out] where the best gym was in L.A. I basically went in there, with all these hard-core fighters around, and said, ‘Hi, I want to do chess boxing! One round of boxing, one round of chess.’ They were like, ‘What?’ and pointed me to a trainer. ‘He’ll train you, whatever.’ ”

McGregor persisted, though, regularly working out at the gym; his boxing improved, and eventually he was sparring with pros. By this time he was also communicating through Facebook with chess boxers in Europe, and he had launched a website for his new chess-boxing club, which eventually partnered with the WCBO.

Intrigued by the enthusiasm, WCBO representative David Pfeifer flew to Los Angeles in early 2010 and met with McGregor. After the two chatted, McGregor said, “Let’s do an event. You’re here.”

McGregor sent an e-mail out to his friends, the local media picked up on the story, and more than 70 people showed up to watch the L.A. debut of chess boxing. Final outcome? Andrew “the Fightin’ Philanthropist” McGregor, the fledgling who became a boxer because of an e-mail from George Foreman, actually checkmated the established German competitor, David “Dr. King Kong” Pfeifer. Now McGregor was thoroughly hooked.

Pfeifer then explained to McGregor more about the origins of chess boxing, and the American finally learned how the sport began. Chess dates back some 1,500 years, and boxing may have emerged as early as 3,000 B.C. But the combination of the two is only seven years old. The sport’s roots lie in modern Europe, and they are an unlikely synthesis of Yugoslavian comics, French apocalypse, Dutch performance art and lager-fueled German nightlife.

As a young man growing up in Amsterdam in the late 1980s, Iepe Rubingh was introduced to comics via his father’s collection, and he read with great interest the 1992 graphic novel Froid Équateur (“Equator Cold”), by a Yugoslavian artist named Enki Bilal. Within the sci-fi tale of a futuristic Paris steeped in violence, panels depicted a 12-round boxing match, followed by an equallybrutal game of chess.

Rubingh eventually moved to Berlin, where he established himself as the artist Iepe, a performance-artist prankster. But he never forgot Bilal’s powerful images.

One day in 2002, during a conversation with art friends about their mutual hobby of boxing, it suddenly occurred to Rubingh that one could appropriate Bilal’s concept and stage a match that combined both boxing and chess. They all agreed it couldn’t be a performance-art stunt. The two sports had to fuse together in such a way that either could decide the outcome.

Rubingh and his friends practiced the concept among themselves and mapped out a general rule book. A match begins with a four-minute round of chess, after which the chess table is removed from the ring, and fighters put on gloves and wale on each other for three minutes. The bout alternates between the two sports for 11 rounds, with one minute of rest between each. A win is determined by either a knockout in the ring or a checkmate on the board.

The Platoon cultural development center in Berlin staged the world’s first chess-boxing match in 2003, between Iepe the Joker and his friend, Luis the Lawyer. In addition to the traditional boxing announcer and ring girls, a chess expert provided play-by-play commentary, and the audience followed each chess move on video screens throughout the club.

Rubingh emerged victorious by checkmate, and shortly thereafter, he set about founding the World Chess Boxing Organization. When the WCBO’s first-ever world championship was staged a few months later at a sold-out concert hall in Amsterdam, between the same competitors, he won that also, as Luis the Lawyer ran out of time during the final chess round.

Publicity came naturally to Rubingh; as Iepe, he had already engineered massive art pranks that had stopped traffic in the streets of both Berlin and Tokyo. Promoting chess boxing was not going to pose a problem for him.

the article continues





the ten commandments of playing guitar…


1. Listen to the birds. That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush. Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush dosen’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil. Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out. If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone. Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key. That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty-making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument. You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place. When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine. Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

(WFMU  3.30.09)




the best unproduced screenplays of 2010…


One day a year, Franklin Leonard transforms from midlevel studio executive mired in development meetings, script readings and note-taking into Hollywood’s most important soothsayer.

The 32-year-old  is the mastermind and compiler of the Black List, a compendium of the year’s best unproduced screenplays. Today marks Leonard’s sixth annual metamorphosis, and when he presses “send” on his e-mail — shooting the list around Hollywood and beyond — he may again change the fates of scores of screenwriters looking to crack the big leagues.

The Top 10 screenplays on the list:

49 votes: “College Republicans” by Wes Jones. Aspiring politician Karl Rove leads a dirty campaign for College Republican chairman under the guidance of Lee Atwater. Anonymous Content producing.

47 votes: “Jackie” by Noah Oppenheim. Jacqueline Kennedy’s life immediately after her husband’s assassination. Darren Aronofsky directing for Fox Searchlight.

45 votes: “All You Need Is Kill” by Dante Harper. A new army recruit in a war against aliens finds himself caught in a time loop. Set up at Warner Bros. Doug Liman may direct.

43 votes: “Safe House” by David Guggenheim. A young man at a CIA-run safe house must help a rogue ex-agent escape assassins. Universal Pictures to produce with Daniel Espinoza to direct. Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington to star.

39 votes: “Stoker” by Wentworth Miller. After the death of her father, a teenage girl must deal with a mysterious uncle. Fox Searchlight purchased the script.

32 votes: “999″ by Matt Cook. A gang of crooked cops plans a major heist that requires them to shoot a fellow officer. Anonymous Content producing.

31 votes: “Margin Call” by J.C. Chandor. A fictional account of the final 24 hours of Lehman Brothers. Chandor has directed stars Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany. Film will debut at Sundance Film Festival next month.

30 votes: “American Bull—-” by Eric Warren Singer. The true story of the FBI’s 1980 undercover sting operation of Congress, dubbed Abscam, which was designed to root out corruption and was the brainchild of a con man. Sony Pictures has optioned the script.

28 votes: “Argo” by Chris Terrio. The true story of how the CIA, with help from Hollywood, used a fake movie project to smuggle hostages out of Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Optioned by Warner Bros.

24 votes: “The Last Son of Isaac Lemay” by Greg Johnson. An aging outlaw, convinced that there’s evil in his genes, goes on a journey to kill his offspring. Gore Verbinski’s company producing.

(LA TIMES  12.13.10)

the entire list at THE BLACK LIST




the dark secrets the Atacama desert


Nostalgia for the Light is concerned with bodies both celestial and physical; it’s a film whose subjects couldn’t be grander, yet which couldn’t feel more personal. A metaphysical, ethnographic, and, of course, political cine-essay, Patricio Guzmán’s film is a work of immense power—of profound ugliness and beauty, of the unthinkable occurring somewhere deep within a universe unknowable. It feels different from several of Guzmán’s other films in the way that it locates something nearly mystical surrounding the harsh truths of recent Chilean history. It’s a film that Guzmán spent many years preparing and then making—a dream project, then, but also in that it takes the form of a dream, one filled with scattered memories, musings, and philosophies. But finally, as always, we wake up to hard, cold facts. It’s a circular film, both in the way it constantly loops back on its own ideas, deepening them with each new added ring, and also in its visuals: it begins with images of the enormous spinning wheels of the German Hayde telescope located in an observatory in Santiago. It is a film of close inspection, but also of introspection.

At times early on, Nostalgia for the Light seems a fairly straightforward memoir, narrated commandingly by the director himself, who, after waxing mysteriously about space and time, takes us back to the pre-revolution Chile of his childhood, when Patricio was simply a kid who loved science-fiction stories and astronomy, and when his world was “a haven of peace, isolated from the rest of the world.” But instead of relying on old photographs or home movie footage to take us back, Guzmán lays his voiceover on a series of elegant, Malickian images, close-ups of napkins and tablecloths, stained glass windows and dishes, in rooms drained of people yet filled with floating stardust, glistening like jewels. This is the unattainable past, a lost paradise, a place Guzmán has rarely attempted to show before. As the title implies, this film looks backwards as much as it points ahead, watches the skies as much as it burrows through the ground—the calcium in the stars is the same as that found in our bones.

Despite the moral devastation wreaked by Pinochet’s ascension, Guzmán tells us, Chilean astronomers kept working in their outposts, searching for life’s origins. Not far into the film, the director introduces the first of many supporting characters, a young astronomer named Gaspar, born after the coup. (There is a talking-heads doc aspect to the film, but they’re such disparate people and so ingeniously woven into the whole that the guests seem more like voices from the ether than authorities trotted out to provide theses or evidence.) Gaspar, who under Pinochet’s regime studied diffuse galaxies (which often appear as though gas and dust), reminds us, powerfully, that “science is never resolved.” One might say the same of history, of course, and also of Guzmán’s career-long endeavor to force his country to confront its past through the cinema. Gaspar further provides Nostalgia for the Light with a central theme, that of the past intruding upon an impossible present: if physics tells us that there is no now, and that, thus, we don’t actually see things the instant we look at them, then how can a nation, or a person, be freed from the shackles of history?

Guzmán proceeds to dig further back into that history, and he has fertile ground in which to do it. Chile’s still thriving mining industry (very much in the news, as recent happier events proved) was in the nineteenth-century an excuse to use the nation’s Indian population as slaves. The countless bodies of men, women, and children, buried somewhere in the desert, and the abandoned, rusted machinery of the mines in Atacama, mark the land as a graveyard of sorts. The tortured history of this place extended to the 1970s at least, when Pinochet established a concentration camp for dissidents at the Atacama nitrate town of Chacabuco. Here, despite the starvation and desperation, some prisoners continued to stargaze, fashioning makeshift telescopes in the hopes of witnessing something sublime—anything to transcend the suffocating space of their cells, the measurements of which are recounted by Miguel, who Guzmán calls the “Architect of Memory” for his lasting commitment to never forgetting the conditions under which he, and other prisoners, lived, through drawings and memorization. This man is clearly some form of hero to Guzmán, who was recently quoted as saying, “The absence of memory produces a global suffering.”

One subject leads to another, in a teeming free associative structure that nevertheless always philosophically and historically coheres; Guzmán also often uses repetition of images (of moon craters, of floating stardust, of the Solar System, of Atacama, of telescopes) to create a forceful sense of eternal return. The director’s accumulation of images and thoughts is powerful; history repeats itself (for instance, the fact that the names of political prisoners were etched on the concentration camp walls may recall an earlier rumination on the mysterious ancient carvings high in the desert rocks, keys to unlocking the secrets of lost civilizations). With its parallels and recollections, Nostalgia becomes an increasingly dialectical work. Late in the film, when Guzmán introduces us to Chilean exile Victor’s mother, a masseuse, he overlays shots of her putting healing hands on a patient with voiceover explaining the 30,000 recorded instances of torture during the regime. The disjunction between sound and image here creates a poignant moment—there is occasional solace in physical connection, but it perhaps requires a spiritual disassociation between body and spirit.

This expedition to outer space and inner Chile may take as its subject nothing less than the universe, but it’s really about the smallest creatures swarming within its incomprehensible boundaries. The most essential here might finally be the women of Calama, Victoria and Valeta, tireless in their quest to find the remains of their lost loved ones, resolute in never giving up the ghost. As one of them says, finding him is all that would give her a sense of finality before death. As with every other being on this planet, the present moment, if it exists at all, is fragile—a mass of contradictions, of particles bouncing off of each other with disregard. The choking knot of the past is what gives Guzmán, and all of us, the irreparable curse of nostalgia.

(REVERSE SHOT  issue 28)

the entire article here

“NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT” 2010 directed by Patricio Guzmán

an interview with Patricio Guzmán


execution by elephant…


“no nation currently uses execution by elephant as a punishment; however, accidental deaths by elephant still occur…”


Execution by elephant was, for thousands of years, a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, and particularly in India. Asian Elephants were used to crush, dismember, or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, both able to kill victims immediately or to torture them slowly over a prolonged period. Employed by royalty, the elephants were used to signify both the ruler’s absolute power and his ability to control wild animals.

The sight of elephants executing captives attracted the interest of usually horrified European travellers, and was recorded in numerous contemporary journals and accounts of life in Asia. The practice was eventually suppressed by the European empires that colonised the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. While primarily confined to Asia, the practice was occasionally adopted by western powers, such as Rome and Carthage, particularly to deal with mutinous soldiers.

The intelligence, domestication, and versatility of elephants gave them considerable advantages over other wild animals such as lions and bears used as executioners by the Romans. Elephants are more tractable than horses: while a horse can be trained to charge into battle, it will not willingly trample an enemy soldier, and will instead step over him. Elephants will trample their enemies, hence the popularity of war elephants with generals such as Hannibal. Elephants can be trained to execute prisoners in a variety of ways, and can be taught to prolong the agony of the victim by inflicting a slow death by torture or quickly killing the condemned by stepping on the head.

Historically, the elephants were under the constant control of a driver or mahout, thus enabling a ruler to grant a last-minute reprieve and display merciful qualities. Several such exercises of mercy are recorded in various Asian kingdoms. The kings of Siam trained their elephants to roll the convicted person “about the ground rather slowly so that he is not badly hurt”. The Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great is said to have “used this technique to chastise ‘rebels’ and then in the end the prisoners, presumably much chastened, were given their lives”. On one occasion, Akbar was recorded to have had a man thrown to the elephants to suffer five days of such treatment before pardoning him.  Elephants were even sometimes used in a kind of trial by ordeal in which the condemned prisoner was released if he managed to fend off the elephant.

The use of elephants in this fashion went beyond the common royal power to dispense life and death. Elephants have long been used as symbols of royal authority (and still are in some places, such as Thailand, where white elephants are held in reverence). Their use as instruments of state power sent the message that the ruler was able to preside over very powerful creatures who were under total command. The ruler was thus seen as maintaining a moral and spiritual domination over wild beasts, adding to their authority and mystique among subjects. Crushing by elephant has been done in many parts of the world, by both Western and Asian empires. The earliest records of such executions date back to the classical period. However, the practice was already well established by that time and continued well into the 19th century.

the article continues





South Bronx street life circa ’79…


The roots of the film lay in a lengthy 1977 Esquire article written by Jon Bradshaw about two gangs who operated in the South Bronx – the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads. “I’d always liked non-fiction and I read that piece,” Gary Weis tells the Guardian down the phone from California. “Bradshaw was a guy who wrote about Baader-Meinhof, went to Angola … one of those hard-drinking journalists who went to crazy places. I hadn’t really thought about doing it as a film, but then one week Raquel Welch was the guest host on Saturday Night Live (Weis was the show’s in-house film maker) and her manager was Carolyn Pfeiffer, who was living with Bradshaw. And later that summer I was asked by NBC to do three longer films for their late-night time slot, so I did a couple of comedy shows and then suggested we do this piece on gangs.” This was quite a change from his best-known previous work, The Rutles’ Beatles spoof All You Need Is Cash, co-directed with Eric Idle. Weis’s original route into the gangs’ milieu was via community organiser Joan Butler and Bob Werner, leader of the NYPD’s Youth Gang Task Force and the kind of cop you would generally assume only existed in the imaginations of late-70s screenwriters and the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage video. Sporting a bandit moustache and Aviators, he’s first encountered unwinding on a firing range, claiming that he’d requested a transfer to his current precinct because his previous stomping ground was “too quiet”. At one point later he’s cheerfully advising an aspirant felon as to why his theoretical plan to kill a cop and “just do seven years” is fundamentally flawed: “Because your life would end right on the scene.” And yet, despite his position, Werner seems able to stroll around the area, even being invited to the block party that closes the film. “When we first went to meet them,” Weis recalls, “Werner would climb into their building with his gun drawn, then bring the guys out for us. He’d leave us in the car. It looked like Dresden.” Even Butler describes her own neighbourhood as “a land of nowhere”. Neither of them are exaggerating. If nothing else, 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s serves as an excellent corrective to all those complaints you started hearing about 10 years ago that the city had been “totally cleaned up and lost all its character”. The film is a stark reminder of the damage that had been wreaked on parts of New York throughout the 70s; the depopulated districts, burnt-out buildings and human waste serving as the end point for a decade of mismanagement and unaddressed social problems. The spirit of these dark, troubled times was captured in a Daily News front page from October 1975 after the president vowed to veto any attempt to bail out the city from bankruptcy – “Ford To City: Drop Dead”. (In reality, Ford never actually said those words and two months later would approve federal loans, but the sentiment stuck in the popular memory.) And while announcing the 1977 World Series from Yankee Stadium, commentator Howard Cosell supposedly declared that “the Bronx is burning” as roving cameras panned over streets alive with fires. In the 1981 cop film Fort Apache, The Bronx, Paul Newman came to a similar conclusion. More than 30 years on, Weis still recalls leaving Manhattan for filming. “It was really like a foreign land. We gave it that title because it was 80 blocks away from where Tiffany’s was on Fifth Avenue and these guys never, ever left the Bronx. All the buildings were boarded up, a lot of the buildings were burned down.”

Left living in the wreckage were two predominantly Hispanic gangs – the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads. Decked out in a strange combination of biker denim and bandolero chic, both gangs now look anachronistic, almost romantic. “I think the look all derived from biker stuff,” muses Weis. “They called themselves a motorcycle club, but didn’t have the money for motorcycles. I did feel scared around them on occasion, but really it was a different time. Now it’s about money and drugs, but to me the film looks more like West Side Story. They were tough guys but it almost looks nostalgic.” To a modern audience, much of the film’s impact comes from Weis’s light touch. There is nothing in the way of narrative or moral judgment imposed on the film: cleaving more to the Direct Cinema techniques then being pushed by the likes of the Maysles brothers (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter etc), Weis simply records the Skulls, the Nomads, the police and the citizens as they are. “I just went in,” he says. “I didn’t have an agenda, no social commentary, and they picked up on that. They weren’t stupid.” Indeed, it was the few parts of the film where Weis deviated from these principles that ultimately proved to be its undoing. “Obviously, we couldn’t film them actually breaking the law, as they wouldn’t do anything in front of the camera that was a robbery. So what happened was, when we heard those stories about what they’d done, we recreated them and filmed them pretty quickly, so we had a dramatisation to put in there.” Nowadays, this sounds like fairly standard reconstructive documentary behaviour. But these vignettes saw the film embroiled in an internal dispute over the fact that it had been made by the entertainment division rather than the news division, and it was duly shelved. “It was frustrating,” admits Weis with magnanimous understatement. Much of the fascination in watching 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s lies in seeing a selection of now-lost worlds. The gang culture portrayed may be violently amoral, but it precedes crack and the routine carrying of guns. The film also sits just before hip-hop arrived and self-documented much of the city around it; a street party is soundtracked by Chic’s Everybody Dance and the Bar-Kays’ Let’s Have Some Fun, along with some embryonic MCing. But perhaps the most striking difference between now and then is that the director benefited from having subjects who weren’t precociously aware of a need to “perform” for the camera, manipulate their emotions to grab a few more minutes of the final edit or contrive their own story into a predetermined “journey”. For the most part, Weis’s ultimate success as a film-maker rests in the fact that the people in 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s look like they couldn’t care less whether he filmed them or not.

(THE GUARDIAN UK  11.27.10)

“80 BLOCKS FROM TIFFANY’S” 1979 directed by Gary Weis

go to Classic NY Street Gangs for lots of info and photos from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s…




a failed attempt to bring main street to the Amazon…


In the early 20th century, a cartel of Dutch and English rubber barons had a stranglehold on the vast majority of the world’s supply of rubber. At that time the sole source of rubber was the South American tree Hevea brasiliensis, whose sap is natural latex. In the 1870s a gaggle of entrepreneurial smugglers had secreted a stash of wild rubber tree seeds out of the Amazon rain forest, which they used to establish sprawling plantations in East Asia. These smothered the output of Brazil, causing their owners to eventually enjoy the majority of the world’s rubber business. But by the late 1920s, the infamous automobile tycoon Henry Ford set out to break the back of this rubbery monopoly. His hundreds of thousands of new cars needed millions of tires, which were very expensive to produce when buying raw materials from the established rubber lords. To that end, he established Fordlândia, a tiny piece of America which was transplanted into the Amazon rain forest for a single purpose: to create the largest rubber plantation on the planet. Though enormously ambitious, the project was ultimately a fantastic failure. In the year 1929, Ford hired a native Brazilian named Villares to survey the Amazon for a suitable location to host the massive undertaking. Brazil seemed the ideal choice considering that the trees in question were native to the region, and the rubber harvest could be shipped to the tire factories in the US by land rather than by sea.

On Villares’ advice, Ford purchased a 25,000 square kilometer tract of land along the Amazon river, and immediately began to develop the area. A barge-toting steamer arrived with earth-moving equipment, a pile driver, tractors, stump pullers, a locomotive, ice-making machines, and prefabricated buildings. Workers began erecting a rubber processing plant as the surrounding area was razed of vegetation. Scores of Ford employees were relocated to the site, and over the first few months an American-as-apple-pie community sprung up from what was once a jungle wilderness. It included a power plant, a modern hospital, a library, a golf course, a hotel, and rows of white clapboard houses with wicker patio furniture. As the town’s population grew, all manner of businesses followed, including tailors, shops, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and shoemakers. It grew into a thriving community with Model T Fords frequenting the neatly paved streets. Outside of the residential area, long rows of freshly-planted saplings soon dotted the landscape. Ford chose not to employ any botanists in the development of Fordlândia’s rubber tree fields, instead relying on the cleverness of company engineers. Having no prior knowledge of rubber-raising, the engineers made their best guess, and planted about two hundred trees per acre despite the fact that there were only about seven wild rubber trees per acre in the Amazon jungle. The plantations of East Asia were packed with flourishing trees, so it seemed reasonable to assume that the trees’ native land would be just as accommodating.

four times the size of Rhode Island…

Henry Ford’s miniature America in the jungle attracted a slew of workers. Local laborers were offered a wage of thirty-seven cents a day to work on the fields of Fordlândia, which was about double the normal rate for that line of work. But Ford’s effort to transplant America– what he called “the healthy lifestyle”– was not limited to American buildings, but also included mandatory “American” lifestyle and values. The plantation’s cafeterias were self-serve, which was not the local custom, and they provided only American fare such as hamburgers. Workers had to live in American-style houses, and they were each assigned a number which they had to wear on a badge– the cost of which was deducted from their first paycheck. Brazilian laborers were also required to attend squeaky-clean American festivities on weekends, such as poetry readings, square-dancing, and English-language sing-alongs. One of the more jarring cultural differences was Henry Ford’s mini-prohibition. Alcohol was strictly forbidden inside Fordlândia, even within the workers’ homes, on pain of immediate termination. This led some industrious locals to establish businesses-of-ill-repute beyond the outskirts of town, allowing workers to exchange their generous pay for the comforts of rum and women.

workers clearing the jungle, 1934…

While the community struggled along month-to-month with its disgruntled workforce, it was also faced with a rubber dilemma. The tiny saplings weren’t growing at all. The hilly terrain hemorrhaged all of its topsoil, leaving infertile, rocky soil behind. Those trees which were able to survive into arbor adolescence were soon stricken with a leaf blight that ate away the leaves and left the trees stunted and useless. Ford’s managers battled the fungus heroically, but they were not armed with the necessary knowledge of horticulture, and their efforts proved futile. Workers’ discontent grew as the unproductive months passed. Brazilian workers– accustomed to working before sunrise and after sunset to avoid the heat of the day– were forced to work proper “American” nine-to-five shifts under the hot Amazon sun, using Ford’s assembly-line philosophies. And malaria became a serious problem due to the hilly terrain’s tendency to pool water, providing the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. In December of 1930, after about a year of working in a harsh environment with a strict and disagreeable “healthy lifestyle”, the laborers’ agitation reached a critical mass in the workers’ cafeteria. Having suffered one too many episodes of indigestion and degradation, a Brazilian man stood and shouted that he would no longer tolerate the conditions.

the dance hall…

A chorus of voices joined his, and the cacophony was soon joined by an orchestra of banging cups and shattering dishes. Members of Fordlândia’s American management fled swiftly to their homes or into the woods, some of them chased by machete-wielding workers. A group of managers scrambled to the docks and boarded the boats there, which they moved to the center of the river and out of reach of the escalating riots. By the time the Brazilian military arrived three days later, the rioters had spent most of their anger. Windows were broken and trucks were overturned, but Fordlândia survived. Work resumed shortly, though the rubber situation had not improved. A British journalist writing for the Indian Rubber Journal visited in 1931, and wrote, “In a long history of tropical agriculture, never has such a vast scheme been entered in such a lavish manner, and with so little to show for the money. Mr. Ford’s scheme is doomed to failure.” The intervening months offered little evidence to counter the journalist’s grim depiction. In 1933, after three years with no appreciable quantity of rubber to show for the investment, Henry Ford finally hired a botanist to assess the situation. The botanist tried to coax some fertile rubber trees from the pitiful soil, but he was ultimately forced to conclude that the land was simply unequal to the task.

a Lincoln Zephyr stuck in Fordlândia mud…

The damp, hilly terrain was terrible for the trees, but excellent for the blight. Unfortunately no one had paid attention to the fact that the land’s previous owner was a man named Villares– the same man Henry Ford had hired to choose the plantation’s site. Henry Ford had been sold a lame portion of land, and Fordlândia was an unadulterated failure. Never one to surrender to circumstance, Ford purchased a new tract of land fifty miles downstream, establishing the town of Belterra. It was more flat and less damp, making it much more suitable for the finicky rubber trees. He also imported some grafts from the East Asian plantations, where the trees had been bred for resistance to the leaf blight. Starting from scratch, the new enterprise showed more promise than its predecessor, but progress was slow. For ten years Ford’s workers labored to transform soil into rubber, yielding a peak output of 750 tons of latex in 1942– far short of that year’s goal of 38,000 tons. Be that as it may, Ford’s perseverance might have eventually paid off if it were not for the fact that scientists developed economical synthetic rubber just as Belterra was establishing itself. In 1945, Ford retired from the rubbering trade, having lost over $20 million in Brazil without ever having set foot there.

A company press release announced the abandonment of Belterra with a bland epitaph: “Our war experience has taught us that synthetic rubber is superior to natural rubber for certain of our products.” The Ford Motor Company sold the land back to the Brazilian government for $250,000– a token sum. The solid structures of Fordlândia and Belterra were left largely empty for the decades following the towns’ demise. Teams of Brazilian workers were tasked with maintaining the areas to preserve the buildings, but their remote locations left the Brazilian government wondering how it could possibly take advantage of the modern facilities. Until recently the resources have gone largely untapped; today the plantation towns are being marketed as stops on Amazon tours. At Belterra, a building once used to coagulate rubber was briefly reanimated for the purposes of producing surgical gloves and condoms, but it was a short-lived enterprise. Much of the plantation land is now used for local agriculture, producing crops such as beans, rice, and corn. Many of the towns’ residents today are squatters. Henry Ford’s losses in Fordlândia and Belterra are equivalent to $200 million in modern dollars. Certainly he was unable to buy his way into rubber royalty, and his efforts to spread his American “healthy lifestyle” were met with resentment and hostility… but history has repeatedly shown that obscene wealth gives one the privilege– perhaps even the obligation– to make bizarre and astonishing mistakes on a grand scale. From that perspective, Fordlândia could not have been more successful.


check out Fordlândia on Google Maps




Finland’s plot to take down the evil empire…


You won’t see another documentary all year long that packs quite the same combination of pure fun and eye-opening information as “Disco and Atomic War,” a strange and delightful work of historical collage from Estonian filmmaker Jaak Kilmi. No, I know — I can feel you slipping into a coma out there: O’Hehir is trying to convince me to watch an Estonian documentary! But hang on a second while I fling a pitcher of ice water in your face and explain that this particular Estonian documentary features David Hasselhoff (in his classic “Knight Rider” phase) and dueling Finnish- and Soviet- made instructional videos about disco dancing. And you have not lived, my friends, until you have seen a bunch of 50ish Finnish people in mid-’70s leisure wear completely giving up the funk.

Composed in roughly equal parts of interviews, dryly amusing re-creations of real events and an extraordinary amount of archival footage, “Disco and Atomic War” portrays an unlikely front in the Cold War, little noticed at the time. Or at least little noticed in the West; Kilmi presents evidence that the KGB was well aware that the pop-culture frontier between Finland and Estonia was gnawing a crucial hole in the Iron Curtain. There were other places in the Eastern bloc where citizens sometimes encountered Western media, of course. But listening to West German radio on the east side of the Wall was a dangerous and clandestine affair, whereas Finnish television poured into homes in Soviet-occupied Estonia virtually unrestricted.

As the film documents, there was a thriving industry in adapters and antennae that allowed Soviet-made TVs in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, to pull in the signals from Helsinki, 50 miles north across the Gulf of Finland. No doubt it helped that Estonia was a cultural backwater (from the Russian point of view) and at best a reluctant component of the Evil Empire. Furthermore, Finnish and Estonian are closely related languages understood by pretty much no one else. (Which didn’t stop Finnish broadcasters from running faux-Soviet comedy sketches with stodgy announcers speaking mock-Estonian gobbledygook.)

Even if it didn’t have a significant historical wow factor, “Disco and Atomic War” would stand as a wonderful work of Baltic deadpan humor, in the long and honorable tradition of small countries and minority cultures making fun of themselves so the outside world won’t have to. But Kilmi builds a pretty persuasive case that when Estonians started to watch episodes of “Dallas” and commercials for Helsinki supermarkets — where you could buy actual steak — a fateful Rubicon was crossed, and there was pretty much nothing the Soviets could do about it. Samizdat videotapes of Finnish broadcasts, dubbed or subtitled into Russian, circulated throughout the Soviet Union; collective farms wrote letters to Moscow announcing that they had met their soybean quota for socialism and now they wanted to know who had shot J.R.

Now, just to be clear, the Soviet Union’s collapse was social and institutional and economic. It was a long time coming, and it wasn’t caused by a Finnish-dubbed David Hasselhoff any more than it was by Ronald Reagan. “Disco and Atomic War” is a droll Estonian fable disguised as a history lesson, and vice versa. It’s an ingenious and masterful film, so funny and so heartbreaking it may leave you giggling and crying by turns, and it reminds us that pop culture, even at its most venal and idiotic — perhaps especially then — is the gooey, delicious sauce that comes on top of Freedom fries.

(SALON.COM  11.12.10)

“DISCO AND THE ATOMIC WAR” 2009 directed by Jaak Kilmi




the unbuildable Temple of Death…


‘One night in the mid 1790s the architect Etienne-Louis Boullée took a walk in the forest at full moon. Suddenly he noticed his own shadow moving among those of the trees. ‘What did I see?’ he wrote in his memoirs. ‘A mass of objects detached in black against a light of extreme pallor. Nature seemed to offer itself, in mourning, to my sight.’ Boullée began to imagine an architecture of naked walls, ‘stripped of every ornament… light absorbing material should create a dark architecture of shadows, outlined by even darker shadows’.

A taste for the monumental unadorned tombs of the Pharaohs may have been prevalent at the time but it was probably no coincidence that Boullée dreamed up his Temple of Death (c. 1795) shortly after Robespierre’s Terror had forced him to withdraw from Parisian public life. His earlier design for a Monument to Sir Isaac Newton (c. 1785) is like a giant, unadorned white balloon, about to rise skyward. The Temple of Death, in total contrast, is sunk into the ground. It looks like a photographic negative, and its ornamentation is a mere punched-out absence – a series of black, square window openings. What was new about Boullée’s design was that instead of being based on living nature it was based on nature’s fleeting, distorted image: its shadow. What Boullée imagined was a monolithic plainness, dark surfaces swaying between flatness and endless depth. More than just romantic horror vacui, this was a premonition of the plain, smooth surfaces that would embody the rationalization of space in the dawning Industrial Age.

‘In the Modern Age it is usually the kaleidoscopic, shiny surfaces of the objects surrounding us that are most eloquent about our desires and fears. The indifferently plain, matt, monochrome, silent surfaces ubiquitous in modern society – industrial finishes in black, grey and anthracite; polished steel, sheets of plaster, pressed wood, plastic and aluminium; walls, streets, machines – are silently taken for granted as being neutral amid the glittering turmoil. Ever since Boullée, however, the reality has been that plain surfaces are not simply neutral objects in social space, but the very materialization of that space.’ — Jorg Heiser, Frieze

Boullée promoted the idea of making architecture expressive of its purpose, a doctrine that his detractors termed architecture parlante (“talking architecture”), which was an essential element in Beaux-Arts architectural training in the later 19th century. His style was most notably exemplified in his ‘Project for a Cenotaph for Isaac Newton‘, which would have taken the form of a sphere 150 m (500 ft) high embedded in a circular base topped with cypress trees. Though the structure was never built, its design was engraved and circulated widely in professional circles.

‘Newton’s cenotaph was designed to isolate, to reinvent, the huge movement of time and celestial phenomena. Inside, the viewer is isolated too, on a small viewing platform. Along the top half of the sphere’s edges, apertures in the stone allow light in, in pins, creating starlight when there is daylight. During the night a huge and otherworldly light hangs, flooding the sphere, as sunlight. During the day, the “night effect.” During the night, day.‘ — The Ingoing

Boullée’s ‘Monument intended for tributes due to the Supreme Being’ is an expression of the metaphorical, emotional, and symbolic aspects of the architecture’s purpose. Function, shape, setting, lighting, and even scent were all considered in an effort to realize the unique character of the monument within a defined aesthetic environment. Boullée believed that a building’s “character” should be poetic and evoke an appropriate feeling in those who experienced it. For example, the strong use of symmetry in his drawing – not only in the buildings, but in the pyramid-shaped mountain as well – is intended as an image of clarity, order, and perfection. The monument thus becomes a metaphor for the divine nature of the Supreme Being. In a passage of his treatise Boullée also describes the setting for this monument:

…the whole would be decorated with all that is most beautiful in nature; the buildings would be mere accessories, the base of the repository formed by a superb open-sided Temple crowning the mountain top. The Temple precincts would consist of fields of flowers exuding their sweet smell like incense offered to the Divine Being… This beautiful place would be the image of all that ensures our well-being; it would fill our hearts with a sense of joy and would be for us a true earthly Paradise.’ — James Wehn, My Art Canon

Boullée’s ideas had a major influence on his contemporaries, not least because of his role in teaching other important architects such as Jean Chalgrin, Alexandre Brongniart, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Some of his work only saw the light of day in the 20th century; his book Architecture, essai sur l’art (“Essay on the Art of Architecture), arguing for an emotionally committed Neoclassicism, was only published in 1953. The volume contained his work from 1778 to 1788, which mostly comprised designs for public buildings on a wholly impractical grand scale.

‘Boullée’s fondness for grandiose designs has caused him to be characterized as both a megalomaniac and a visionary. His focus on polarity (offsetting opposite design elements) and the use of light and shadow was highly innovative, and continues to influence architects to this day. He was “rediscovered” in the 20th century.’ – Helen Rosenau

In Peter Greenaway’s 1987 film The Belly of an Architect, the main character Stourley Krackite is not only obsessed with celebrating an architect (Etienne-Louis Boullee) who never finished a building, but he is also consumed with representations of the body part whose rebellion will lead to his eventual demise: his belly. Kracklite photocopies the stomachs of representations of architectural greats (the emperor Hadrian, Boullee) and draws his ailments in order to illustrate his pain for his doctors. Kracklite’s fascination with Boullee seems appropriate in that it mirrors his own creative impotence; in the scene in which Kracklite catches Caspasian in the act with his wife, one cannot tell if he is enraged because his conjugal property is being stolen, or because Caspasian is using his model of a Boullee lighthouse as an enlarged surrogate phallus.

‘The fact that his two image obsessions somewhat mirror each other in form (as the repeated form in Boullee’s sketches is a dome quite reminiscent of Kracklite’s bloated belly) marries his creative life and impending death and solidifies the reality that it is likely Kracklite will go the way of Boullee and die without many major constructions to carry his image forward into the future.’ — Caitlin Mae Verite

(DC’S  6.6.10)




celebrating 33 years of public art…


Borrowing a title from the New York Dolls, “One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This”, seems exactly appropriate for Creative Time’s citywide project that celebrates places and events that marked our lives over the past three decades. Who cares where Eleanor Roosevelt slept? This is where Gordon Matta-Clark opened his SoHo Restaurant FOOD; where there was a sandy beach in Manhattan for 7 years; and where the Mudd Club once ruled the night!

This May as Creative Time celebrates 33 years of transforming the city with public art, we are installing plaques at 33 sites chosen by a range of artists and writers, who have made a mark on New York themselves, granting these sites the legacy and prestige that only a public plaque can denote.

Lest the city’s artistic legacy be erased by the ever-proliferating chain stores and condos, Creative Time, in its signature irreverent yet thought-provoking way, is giving the public an art project that celebrates NYC’s contemporary cultural history. Appropriating the formal language of plaques (“At this place once stood…”) each plaque will have a short explanation of the site, project(s), artists, title and date, the telephone number to call for an audio story, and the person who chose the site.

The plaque project will be expanded to a virtual map of the city on to include the many additional sites we couldn’t physically mark. The general public will be invited to participate and propose sites that they deem worthy of a plaque.

Submissions can be sent to…

Below is a list of 32 plaque locations also listed and mapped on

• DOWNTOWN DRIVE-IN (Edison Parking Lot @ John and Front St) • CUSTOM AND CULTURE (Old US Customs House, Bowling Green) • FUN GALLERY (229 East 11th St) • LINCOLN CENTER (Construction Wall near Vivian Beaumont Theater) • PLAIN OF HEAVEN (820 Washington St. – SE corner of building) • SONIC GARDEN (Inside the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center) • DREAMLAND (1208 Surf Ave – next to entrance of Dreamland Artists Club) • TRIBUTE IN LIGHT (Fence of new Goldman Sachs Building) • BATTERY MARITIME (7 South St. – Gate closest to SI Ferry Terminal) • BLACK SHEEP (First Park, 1st St. and 1st Avenue) • SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABS (Shea Stadium, wall north of Gate C) • FISCHLI AND WEISS (Times Square, Astrovision Screen) • PROJECTS AT THE PRECINCT (NYC Police Museum, Old Slip) • JENNY HOLZER – ST. JOHN (St. John Cathedral, 10th St. and Amsterdam Ave) • LOCAL FREQUENCIES (Muddy Cup, Staten Island) • GRAND CENTRAL/MURAKAMI (Central kiosk in Vanderbilt Hall) • LEAP (2 Columbus Circle) • TOUCH OF SANITATION/MIERLE (One Gansevoort Pier, Pier 52) • EVERYBODY/42ND STREET (North face of 7 Times Square) • THE HELLFIRE CLUB (675 Hudson St, on the opposite side of the building) • LIGHT CYCLE (Around the reservoir in Central Park) • COMBAT ZONE (Now a boutique called Seven, 110 Mercer St) • DAY’S END (Also at Gansevoort Pier) • STRANGE POWERS (64 East 4th St.) • NEEDLE EXCHANGE (953 Southern Boulevard, Bronx) • MAX’S KANSAS CITY (213 Park Ave. South / 2213 Park Avenue) • ART ON THE BEACH (Battery Park City Landfill) • ART ON THE BEACH (Midway to Hudson River Park) • FOOD – Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Gooden’s Restaurant (northeast corner of Prince and Greene, 127 Prince Street) • THE MUDD CLUB (77 White Street) • ART IN THE ANCHORAGE (The Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, Dumbo) • THE 59TH MINUTE: VIDEO ART (Astrovision Screen, 1 Times Square)


lots of eyewitness audio commentary on the website — and a New York Times article on the project…




“a different kind of band and a different kind of music…”


Demon Fuzz was a group of seven young musicians who came together after emigrating to London in the early 1960s. Since 1948, the British government had been encouraging people in the Commonwealth to settle in England, in hopes of replenishing that country’s war-depleted work population; a happy by-product was that before long, many a West Indian riddim could be heard emanating from the clubs and street corners in big cities like Birmingham and London. British kids soon had a different beat to shuffle to. Of course, these times weren’t without their problems: in 1958, just three years before Demon Fuzz members (and brothers) Winston Joseph and Blue Rivers arrived in England, London’s Notting Hill neighborhood had erupted in race riots.

Paddy Corea arrived in London in 1963, and soon took up playing the tenor saxophone—his weapon of choice for irking neighbors. One day, he answered a want ad Winston had placed in NME, the British music magazine that many budding musicians bought in order to scour the classifieds. Corea auditioned, and Winston and Rivers recruited the saxophonist for their band. Organist Ray Rhoden joined up shortly after, and he brought in his good friend Clarance, a Jamaican musician who had studied trombone with Rico Rodriguez. A second saxophonist came on-board, and they began performing as Blue Rivers and the Maroons. “[We] didn’t play only ska, we were a raw soul band,” explains Corea in an interview with Koldo Barroso for “Not the Motown soft string soul that BBC peddled. We did a lot of material from the small labels of the South. The kids from out of town were a bit confused. They were looking for the stuff they heard on BBC radio, and we didn’t play that. Rivers prided himself in trying not to be like the rest. At that time in London, every Black man who had a voice wanted to be a ‘soul’ singer, and very few of them could cut it.”

Every weekend, the Maroons would perform to dapper-looking crowds at clubs like the Roaring Twenties, and the Q Club, owned by Count Suckle, the West Indian DJ who possessed the deadliest sound system outside of Kingston. “We used to get a lot of write-ups in the West Indian press,” says Crosdale proudly. “We were sort of the best band around really.” “Ziggy [Jackson, the band’s manager] had some contacts, and he booked just about every town hall in London,” remembers Winston. In 1968, Ziggy acquired some time at Regent Sound, a room on Denmark Street that had been the studio of choice for the Rolling Stones to record their first record in 1964. The session resulted in the LP Blue Beat in My Soul. But barely two years after recording Blue Beat, the Maroons would part company with Rivers, and take a left turn in style and attitude. Paddy Corea reflects on what prompted the decision to move away from their ska and soul roots.

“It was while in Morocco that my idea for a different kind of band and a different kind of music was born,” says Corea. “I was at this time exposed to a new kind of music that didn’t have a Western European scale. I learnt the Sufi Arabic scale and the pentatonic scale there. I heard all these tribal musicians from the interior playing various drums, reed instruments, and a kora, which is a stringed instrument with a calabash as a resonator. These chaps would play the hell out of this thing, as good as a Yehudi Menuhin. All this synthesized into what influenced me to try a different approach to my music. Some of the members of the Maroons understood and appreciated my ideas, and were thinking of similar things, so we formed Demon Fuzz on our return to the UK.”

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