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Monthly Archives: March 2011



ART IN CINEMA part 1: pre-cinema color instruments…


Since its origins, Occidental Europe has been teeming with theories that link aural sensation to visual sensation, music to painting. Music theorists were the first to approach the idea. They tried to create a “fusion” of music and color by creating an instrument that could produce different colors for different musical notes.

The first attempt at “painted music” was in 1725 and 1735, when the Jesuit Louis-Bertrand Castel introduced the clavecin oculaire (ocular clavichord). The instrument was meant to paint sounds with corresponding colors in such a way, claimed Castel, that a deaf person could enjoy and judge the beauty of a musical piece through the colors it created, and a blind person could judge colors through the sound.

The instrument functioned like a traditional clavichord, excepting that each note was associated, in accordance with Castel’s own exhaustive studies, with a particular color that would be displayed upon the playing of each note.

On the 16th of January 1877 Bainbridge Bishop patented a coloring organ that simultaneously played music and projected colored lights through illuminated windows.

In 1893 Bishop published “A Souvenir of the Color Organ, with Some Suggestions in Regard to the Soul of the Rainbow and the Harmony of Light,” a short pamphlet in which he describes his experiments and ideas on the relationship of notes and the primary colors of a rainbow.

In 1895 the Englishman Wallace Rimington conceived of a small music box that contained many apertures with colored glass and an electric wire. The apertures could open and close  projecting colors on a white screen  by playing a soundless keyboard.

The construction of such instruments continued throughout the 19th Century in the attempt to discover the “scientific” link between sound and color, but the period that saw the greatest experimentation was the first three decades of the 20th Century. In that period, everything was tried: organs that produced music or color, or keyboards that created colors without making a sound. Nevertheless, the marriage between music and color could also be made by endowing the picture with a temporal dimension like that of music. This concept saw a flowering of experimentation and theoretical hypotheses in Europe in the 10 years preceding the Great War.

the clavecin oculaire: a six foot frame containing mounted above a normal harpsichord with 60 windows each with a colored-glass pane and a small curtain attached by pullies to a specific key — each time the key was struck, that curtain would lift to show a flash of corresponding color…

Influenced by the experiments and research of Bishop and Remington, in 1909 the Russian composer Aleksandr Skrjabin wrote the symphonic poem “Prometheus,” in part of which the notes are meant to correspond to certain colored lights.

Skrjabin wanted to create a keyboard of lights; colors would correspond to traditional keys according to his own visionary idea of a cosmic synthesis of sound and light. Skrjabin commissioned Alexander Mozer to build the device. Mozer, a photographer and electro-mechanics teacher at the Technical Institute in Moscow, completed the device in a few months time to be ready for the first demonstration of Prometheus (15 March 1911). The device had a fundamental component all Mozer’s own: 12 colored lamps placed in a circle on a wood base were lit up by pulses. It is currently on display at the Museum House of Skrjabin in Moscow.

Arnold Schonberg must have had Skrjabin in mind when he began composing Die Gluckliche Hand (The Happy Hand) in 1909. The score specifically outlines plans to project colors on a screen that move with the music: “The game of light and colors is not based only on intensity, but on values that can only be compared to the heights of sound. Sound and color mingle freely only when their relationship is, at root, reciprocal.

In a letter to the Viennese publishing house “Universal Editions,” Schonberg declared “What I’m looking to do is the exact opposite of what cinema normally hopes to achieve. I demand the greatest unreality! The general effect doesn’t have to be dream, but something similar to music, to harmony. “

With the Futurist brothers Ginanni-Corradini, better known as Arnaldo Gina and Bruno Corra, conceived of chromatic music while they were studying Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. They declared their idea in the manifesto Arte in 1910, claiming that colors create both a harmonious music and a sonorous one. They could, they exclaimed, express feeling and states of being with notes and equally compose harmonies, motifs and symphonies.

Corra sought to put the idea of music to color into practice; he built a piano with 28 keys that correspond to 8 differently colored electric lamps. By pushing one key, a color would be projected over a background. By pushing many keys, the colors would form a harmonious light.

This method soon revealed its simplicity: the effects were pretty, but lacked an emotional core, the fusions were arbitrary, little intensity and nothing of true “orchestral effect.”

Dissatisfied with his first music-color experiment, Corradini decided to venture into new territory: abstract cinema. This time, colors were painted directly onto film in the hopes of creating a chromatic symphony capable of visually reproducing feelings and emotions with music that inspired the compositions.



the Los Angeles International Film Exposition — the original film fest in L.A

“Filmex was, for many of us, the introduction to alternative film in Los Angeles,” recalled producer Tom Pollock, who served as chairman of the board of trustees of Filmex in those early years.

The first Filmex was launched on Nov. 5, 1971, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with the premiere of “The Last Picture Show” and featured a circus-like opening night with a tightrope walker, a fire-eater and an elephant greeting the guests.

Pollock said the elephant was the brainchild of the late Gary Essert and the late Gary Abraham, who ran Filmex and were fondly referred to as “The Garys.” “Filmex was a different kind of film festival,” Pollock added. “You wouldn’t see elephants at Sundance.”

Filmex featured a 24-hour movie marathon at the El Rey Theatre one year. Snow globes were given away as favors in 1981. There was a special license plate on the second official vehicle of Filmex, used in 1985 for transporting prints and guests.

Director Alfred Hitchcock arrived for the premiere of his film “Family Plot” in 1976 driving a Universal Studios tour bus and was later seen dining with Jimmy Stewart and Hitchcock’s wife, Alma.

By 1987, Filmex had morphed into AFI Fest, which in 1990 honored the Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar, for his film “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”

(L.A. TIMES  11.1.06)


1971: Gary Essert (along with partner Gary Abraham) founds the Los Angeles International Film Expo (a.k.a. Filmex). The festival’s first edition, opening Nov. 5, featured The Last Picture Show (dir. Peter Bogdonovich) as its opening-night film, in addition to 40 other filmic selections. L.A. Times critic Arthur Knight reported that year that the L.A. Filmex could be an excellent avenue for garnering prestige for challenging and creative American films, which were largely being ignored on the international festival circuit and by American audiences (unfortunately, in its early years, few American films were entered). New films (by the likes of Pasolini, Demy, Chabrol and Bresson) screened at Grauman’s Chinese Theater alongside retrospectives of silent comedy icons like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, film noir and Alfred Hitchcock. At its inception, the festival was non-competitive.

1972: Despite strong attendance, Filmex ends its second year with a budget deficit.

1974: Filmex moves from Grauman’s to the Paramount Theater in Hollywood. Films by Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain), Orson Welles (Fake) and Paul Verhoeven (Turkish Delight) have their American premieres at Filmex.

1980: Ten years on, the festival’s annual budget rises to about $600,000. At this point, Filmex is, as Charles Schreger writes in the L.A. Times, a film festival for the film industry (or, as Schreger writes, a festival “for the cineaste who would rather burn his copy of ‘Agee on Film’ than admit he enjoyed ‘Star Trek'”). Schreger estimates that 50,000 filmgoers were in attendance. In 1980, Essert boasts that Filmex is second to none.

1983: Personality clashes lead to Essert being ousted from the festival he created. Essert goes on to create American Cinematheque.

1985: Jerry Weintraub elected director by Filmex’s board. Weintraub announces plans to introduce compeition into Filmex by 1987 and plans to make Filmex more populist. Amidst other ambitious claims, Weintraub claims, “I’ll go head-to-head with Cannes for films.”

1986: Saddled with debt, Filmex merges with Essert’s American Cinematheque. Jerry Weintraub steps down as director.

1987: Filmex becomes the AFI Fest, in the wake of Filmex’s financial struggles (an estimated debt of over $300,000). AFI Fest, held at Hollywood’s Los Feliz Theater, is declared a success, despite lower ticket sales, reaching new audiences.

1992: Filmex (and American Cinematheque) founders Gary Essert and Gary Abrahams, partners for over 20 years, die of AIDS within a week of one another.

1993: AFI Fest’s budget is around $400,000. Its new incarnation is trimmed down and less flashy.

1995: Festival changes names again (it becomes simply the L.A. Film Festival).

(EXAMINER.COM  6.28.10)

GROUP f/64…

photography in the raw…


On November 15, 1932, at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, eleven photographers announced themselves as Group f/64: Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Preston Holder, Consuelo Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, Brett Weston, and Edward Weston. The idea for the show had arisen a couple of months before at a party in honor of Weston held at a gallery known as “683” (for its address on Brockhurst Street in San Francisco)—the West Coast equivalent of Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery 291—where they had discussed forming a group devoted to exhibiting and promoting a new direction in photography that broke with the Pictorialism then prevalent in West Coast art photography. The name referred to the smallest aperture available in large-format view cameras at the time and it signaled the group’s conviction that photographs should celebrate rather than disguise the medium’s unrivaled capacity to present the world “as it is.” As Edward Weston phrased it, “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.” A corollary of this idea was that the camera was able to see the world more clearly than the human eye, because it didn’t project personal prejudices onto the subject. The group’s effort to present the camera’s “vision” as clearly as possible included advocating the use of aperture f/64 in order to provide the greatest depth of field, thus allowing for the largest percentage of the picture to be in sharp focus; contact printing, a method of making prints by placing photographic paper directly in contact with the negative, instead of using an enlarger to project the negative image onto paper; and glossy papers instead of matte or artist papers, the surfaces of which tended to disperse the contours of objects.

Such methods transformed the role of the artist from printmaker to selector: it was the photographer’s choice of form and his or her framing of it that made the picture. The use of a view camera enabled the photographer to preview his scene on the ground glass (a flat pane of glass on the camera that reflected the scene from the point of view of the lens), the view camera’s equivalent of the viewfinder in the 35mm single-lens reflex camera, before he snapped the shutter and developed the print, and the extensive employment of this device was a hallmark of Group f/64. Weston dubbed its effective use “previsualization.” Group f/64 photographers concentrated on landscape photography—notable examples include Adams’ Winter Yosemite Valley and Weston’s Dunes, Oceano —or close-up images of items from the natural environment, such as plants and pieces of wood, subjects that highlighted the photographer’s creative intuition and ability to create aesthetic order out of nature’s chaos. In addition, a significant number of Group f/64’s photographs were of industrial structures, quotidian objects from the modern world (such as Weston’s Bedpan), and nudes (particularly exceptional ones exist in the oeuvres of Weston, and Cunningham). While at first glance, these subjects seem to have nothing in common, Group f/64’s photographs of them do. The photographers’ meticulous concern for transcribing the exact features of what was before the camera bound them together and rendered the emotional experience of form the primary feature of their photographic art.


the Group f/64 Manifesto


“I don’t give a fuck what anybody says. If you don’t have time to see it, don’t. If you don’t like it, don’t. If it doesn’t give you an answer,  fuck you. I didn’t make it for you anyway.” — J. C.


In preparation for our month-long retrospective, I’ve been steeping myself in the subject of Cassavetes: reading interviews and biographies, watching documentaries, and most of all, viewing his films. Like many a film lover before me, I’m going down the rabbit hole, because the more deeply you go down, the more rewarding it is.   And I’m having a blast.  In fact, it’s only by doing this that I’m just now I’m realizing what we’ve done here at Cinefamily, and why I think you should really participate this month: this retrospective is a kind of “master class” in the work of one of America’s most fascinating directors.

To start with, I think Cassavetes himself would appreciate my honesty when I say I’ve always had mixed feelings about his work before now; there are scenes and moments that destroy me (in a good way), and other moments that feel false, bombastic, or just seemed sloppy.  I had trouble grasping the films as a whole, and long chunks would consequently bore me as I floated adrift on the sea of emotion, until some undeniably explosively awesome moment would happen.  But the films always haunted me.  What I see now is how his films improve over repeated viewings — from seeing them consecutively, getting on his wavelength, and learning to speak his language. These films are like people, interesting and complicated people. You don’t always understand them at first, but as you get to know them, all of their quirks make more and more sense. They reveal themselves.

Rewatching his films, I often have an epiphanous moment when the code cracks, and suddenly the whole crazy experience falls into place. I immediately want to see the whole movie again, or at least revisit it in my mind, now that I know how it’s all working.  His films are like relatives; my feelings towards them change as I get older, and as I understand them better. I may still hate the way my mother screams like she’s witnessed a murder just because she drops something in the kitchen, but more and more it becomes inextricably interwoven with my deeper understanding of who she is, and why I love her.

If I had to sum up one thing I’ve gotten out of all this, it’s a knowledge of the incredible focus Cassavetes had.  Truffaut once said that all great directors must sacrifice some aspect of filmmaking to achieve something brilliant — in essence, the bedsheet never covers the whole bed.  And no one has worked harder to go as deep as possible exploring the complexity of human interrelationships than Cassavetes, and while he did love other aspects of film, he would give up anything — the framing, the editing, the continuity, the smoothness of the story, paradoxically even his own understanding of the characters — to reach a certain ecstatic emotional depth.   He wanted you to feel as intensely and thoughtfully about his films as you did about your own life, and sometimes (perhaps by definition all the time) that means you can’t fully understand them.

As I said before, here’s your chance to have a “masters class” in John Cassavetes. We’re showing not just every film he directed, but films he starred in, his rare television work, and even films made with people he just worked closely with — ’cause we know what it’s like when you get obsessed: everything and everyone he touched takes on a certain interest. We’ve got restored prints from UCLA, rare trailers, and lectures.  We’ve got sidebar tributes to Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel and Gena Rowlands — all appearing in person — where we’ll tour through their own careers as actors. We’ve rounded up virtually every guest that could be had. This is the best chance you’ll ever have to do this right.

The whole shebang starts tomorrow with Shadows, screened from a gorgeous restored 35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film &Television Archive. After the film, join us for a  conversation with its star, Lelia Goldoni, the memorably gorgeous face turned on its side in the film’s signature image. She’s still gorgeous, charming, and as one of the last remaining members of the Shadows cast, an important link to one of the most historically significant films of the 20th century (virtually the first truly successful independent film).


3.10 @ 8pm — “SHADOWS” 1959 directed by John Cassavetes.  Co-star Lelia Goldoni Q&A after the film…

3.11 @ 7:30pm — “TOO LATE BLUES” 1961 directed by John Cassavetes.  @ 9:30pm — the best of “JOHNNY STACCATO”

A New York counterpart to the crime-solving hipsterism of its contemporary “Peter Gunn”, “Johnny Staccato” is still riveting in ways long removed from its lone ‘59/’60 season. Cassavetes-lovers can get hours of our main man as a moody jazz combo pianist who moonlights as an unorthodox detective, and the style points go through the roof from there: amazing wardrobe, fakey sets, and superb jazz music on the soundtrack, all bubbling within overblown plots and chewy dialogue. The young, mercurial Cassavetes is a blast, updating the old ‘40s noir detective fighting a confused world to the ‘50s fresh jazz era — and the series’ parade of guest stars is equal fun, as the show’s run included one-off turns by Dean Stockwell, Cloris Leachman, Martin Landau, Mary Tyler Moore and even Gena Rowlands! As well, Cassavetes even got to direct some of the episodes, giving him the opportunity to hone the skills he would simultaneously use on the production of Shadows. Join us for a program of J.C.-directed episodes from this hidden treasure of golden-era television!

3.12 @ 7:30pm — Ben Gazzara Q&A.  @ 9pm — “HUSBANDS” 1970 directed by John Cassavetes…

3.13 @ 5:30pm — Gary Oldman Q&A with Ben Gazzara.  @ 6pm — “THE STRANGE ONE” 1957 directed by Jack Garfein.  @ 8pm — “THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE” 1976 directed by John Cassavetes. @ 10:45pm — “SAINT JACK” 1979 directed by Peter Bogdanovich…

“The Strange One” is an odd little movie, an allegory of evil that seems made by a studio that only exists in an alternate reality, and beamed onto a local TV station late into the night. In his first starring role, Gazzara immediately proved he had serious acting chops, oiling up the screen with his creepy, charismatic portrayal of a Machiavellian military cadet who’s rotten to the core. Looking dapper in a sailor cap and robe, a casually manipulative Benny spews out his hyper-articulate lines with the coolness of a proto-Buddy Love type, sadistically getting pleasure out of destroying the lives of everyone he touches. Directed by fascinating film footnote Jack Garfein (a teenage Holocaust survivor cum successful Broadway theater director who only directed two films) and largely populated with fellow skilled Actors Studio members including George Peppard and Pat Hingle, is not quite like any other film you’ve seen, and is not easily forgotten. The Strange One is indeed a strange one.

3/15 @ 8:00pm — Seymour Cassel Q&A.  @ 9:00pm — “MINNIE & MOSKOWITZ” 1971 directed by John Cassavetes…

3/18 @ 7:30pm “FACES” 1968 directed by John Cassavetes.  @ 10:15 — “A CHILD IS WAITING” 1963 directed by John Cassavetes…

In one of her final dramatic roles, Judy Garland stars as an unorthodox teacher of special-needs children who stands up against Burt Lancaster’s stern, by-the-book mental hospital psychiatrist in A Child Is Waiting, Cassavetes’ nouvelle vague melodrama that was to be his last for-hire feature directorial gig until the tumultuous production of Big Trouble almost 25 years later. A Child Is Waiting has all the trappings of a standard “social issue” movie, but in Cassavetes’ hands, the focus is shifted most interestingly onto its young characters. Cassavetes insisted on casting real-life mentally-challenged youngsters, whose intriguing performances at times even upstage the mighty Miss Judy, and are the true heart and soul of the film. Along with the stylistic touches (tight close-ups, handheld camerawork, long takes) that would later become his hallmarks, Cassavetes infuses the film with an elevated level of genuine tenderness and sadness rarely reached by other studio pictures of the day.

3/19 @ 7:00pm Gena Rowlands Q&A.  @ 8pm — “A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE” 1974 directed by John Cassavetes.  @ 10:45 — “GLORIA” 1980 directed by John Cassavetes…4

3/20 @ 5:00pm Cassavetes-As-Actor.  @ 5:30 —  film TBA.  @ 8pm — “MIKEY AND NICKY” 1976 directed by Elaine May.  @ 10:30pm — “MACHINE GUN McCAIN” 1969 directed by Giuliano Montaldo…

This delirious Vegas gangster saga, featuring Cassavetes as an ex-con offered a too-good-to-be-true casino heist gig, is a major rediscovery. J.C. had already earned a critical reputation for directing pioneering works like Shadows and Faces, which he largely financed by taking surprisingly good paycheck roles in films like The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary’s Baby and this crackerjack Italian production with a cast to die for. The co-star here, Peter Falk, immediately hit it off with John, beginning a partnership that continued with Husbands, A Woman under the Influence, and Mikey and Nicky. Gena Rowlands also appears in a key supporting role, while the gorgeous Britt Ekland is seen in her prime as the female lead. Meanwhile, Eurocult devotees will get a huge kick out of the infectious Morricone score, and ‘60s aficionados will thrill to plenty of terrific on-location footage of Vegas in its swingin’ prime. The fact that McCain is a really solid crime film to boot is just icing on the cake!

3/24 @ 7:30pm — “LOVE STREAMS” 1984 directed by John Cassavetes.  @ 9:30pm — “OPENING NIGHT” 1977 directed by John Cassavetes…

(CINEFAMILY  3.8.11)

The Cinefamily — 611 N Fairfax Avenue, 323-655-2510…


excerpts from a 1985 Playboy Magazine article…


I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to explain “the thing” to you, though I believe that I understand it perfectly after spending some time with Kinski. It is not so much any specific thing he said, any one word he uttered; it is the accumulation of many words, images, metaphors, examples that he used, but also gestures, facial expressions, tone, the settings in which we talked and, above all, the moods he can generate when all those arc combined. During one of our conversations, I tried to pin Klaus Kinski down for a name, and he reminded me of the fairy tales in which people die when they find out a forbidden name.

KINSKI: “There can be no word to express this thing, this secret. Because this secret, which is not actually a secret, it is very simple, but it includes, includes, endless, endless, almost everything, you know. The thinking about it and being conscious of all this means at the same moment changing everything, like in nature, changing and changing and changing, endless, always, never-ending movement, you see…”

Kinski speaks elliptically.  He calls it “telegraph style.” Sometimes his meaning is clear only by inference. But in talking with him, I soon understood how skillful he is, by instinct, at leading one to leap from an image to an idea. I realize now that Kinski could have talked to me in this seemingly inexact manner about the quantum theory and I would have learned a great deal of physics. In fact, in a way, that is exactly what he talked to me about: the emission and absorption of energy in nature. This was my first important lesson about what it is the actor does. In trying to convey its essence to me, Kinski sometimes also called it “the force,” or the power, or nakedness, or receptivity, or “the incarnation of all that is alive.” Sometimes he used the phrase “participation in the universe.” Indeed, Kinski admits that certain of the states he sometimes enters resemble meditation and embody some of the tenets of yoga.

“But, I don’t need anybody to tell me how to be alive…”

I’d become accustomed to his yelling. Tricks of the print medium cannot – capital letters cannot – convey the intensity of Kinski’s voice when it rises, as it often does. And in the several long telephone conversations we’d had before I went to see him in Northern California, I’d been frightened by it.

“Why should I do any interviews? It is all shit. Why me? Because I am what they call an actor? It is me or someone else, a murderer or a conductor, or anybody, anybody, anything, that can be consumed. They consume everything – art, executions, hamburgers, Jesus Christ. It is all supermarket talk. It is consumer SHIT to fill up their pages.”

You can witness Klaus Kinski having a mood Swing within a minute, within a sentence, as his mind conveys him from an infuriating image to a soothing one to a humorous one. If you watch his face while he speaks, you will see it become a mask of ire, his glance menacing as he spits out words of contempt and outrage. Then, suddenly, there’ll be a smile so gentle that something will constrict in your chest. It is impossible not to respond. He’s so close to the surface, I had thought during one of our first long telephone conversation. But after I’d spent some time with him, I sometimes felt there was no surface at all. I think of him now as exposed consciousness, as fragile as a human organ taken from the protective case of the body. I think that’s why, between films, he lives alone, in a cabin in the middle of his 40 acres of forest in Northern California.

“Freedom! Freedom! That’s what every shitty ruler promises you before he takes over!”

He won’t drive a car other people have driven. He won’t read a copy of a book anyone else has read and that, in fact, one of the reasons he hates old houses and hotel rooms is that he can sense the lingering presence of their former occupants.

“Fun? There is no fun.”

Eating a chili dog: “These beans are disgusting, they are hard. Look at this sign, HOMEMADE. What does this mean, ‘home’? Does it mean that the beans are even more disgusting than others? I don’t understand their signs. I don’t WANT to understand their signs. This HOMEMADE, it’s supposed to tell you these disgusting beans are good. These fucking signs! Signs everywhere that lie.”

Kinski often goes for weeks without speaking to another human being. He reads no newspaper. He watches no television. “I climbed up to the roof and smashed down the antenna.” He keeps few possessions. When he has finished reading a book, he uses it to start a fire in the hearth that is his sole source of heat. He cuts his own hair. He grows his own vegetables so that he will not have to drive into town. The animals in the forest do not threaten him as do people and their societies, nor do the storms, the wind, the trees. In the cabin, surrounded by vegetation through which there is no path save that made by the passage of his own body, and in his forest, he is safe. Except from “the thing.”

“I am like a wild animal who is behind bars. I need air! I need space!”

Kinski was about five years old when he first felt this thing. He says he can recall looking at a dog or a tree or a whore on the streets of Berlin and hurling his own consciousness into the creatures or even the inanimate objects, not pretending to be but becoming the dog or the tree or the whore. “Incarnating” is what he came to call it later, not playing a role. Being, not acting. He detests the word entertainer. He also hates the word actor and mocks the European critics who have called him the greatest actor of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, he loathes all critics and refers to them as “the masturbators.”

Directors in general understand shit.”

On Herzog: “He is a less big asshole than the others.”

On doing another take: “ASSHOLES! Do you ask a car crash for another take? Do you ask a volcano for another take? Do you ask the storm for another take?”

On method acting: “Completely worthless shit.”

“I am like a wild animal born in captivity, in a zoo. But where a beast would have claws, I was born with talent.”

On films: “I make movies for money, exclusively for money. So I sell myself for the highest price. Exactly like a prostitute. There is no difference.”

“Why do I continue making movies? Making movies is better than cleaning toilets.”

On awards: “(rejecting them) if they’re not changeable into cash money. It is the Nobel Prize I want, It’s worth $400,000.”

On the girl behind the McDonald’s counter who says “next”: “I will NEVER be next!”

On traffic signs: “There is a sign that says, RIGHT LANE MUST EXIT. Right lane MUST exit! MUST! And I say to myself,  MUST? Fuck YOU!”

Of course, I had no control over these conversations, which Kinski conducted entirely according to his fancy. He followed none of he rules of the interview situation – not one, not even the most basic. “I don’t want to talk too much about myself.” He refused to sit in a quiet room with a tape recorder; all of our conversations took place in cars, at the beach, in noisy restaurants. But, to be precise, he didn’t refuse anything: I never had a chance to ask him. He would simply announce our schedule for the day. And I soon realized that it was almost always hopeless to ask him any direct questions; if he didn’t interrupt them, he argued with their wording or with their relevance, or would simply digress to another topic.

“You have to protect yourself, your body, your being. You cannot treat it badly; you have to keep it, not only to keep it but to make it sensitive, as sensitive as possible. Since I was born I have been like this, till today. Nothing changed. Even more, even worse. Once, about 25 years ago, I was in an apartment or somebody gave me a room to live in, I don’t know what, and next door, they put on the radio, so I struck the wall with my fist, but they did not put the radio down, so I took a tool and banged and banged until I made a hole through the wall. It was like a comedy movie. I didn’t laugh then. And then I left, of course, the apartment, because they didn’t let me live there anymore. When I come back here from the airport… most of the time, when I travel, I leave my car at the airport, even some weeks it costs me some hundreds of dollars; I don’t care. But once, I took a taxi. I hate those, what do you call them, limousines. They stink and their drivers have been driving dead people to the cemeteries. I hate those. OK, I took a taxi, and now this guy had a radio on. First of all, he had this thing EE-AAAH-UGGHH-ACHHHHHHGGG – these machines, how can somebody all day long hear this? He must be already deaf. I don’t know what. And then I say — Do you need this? I say — this machine? And he looked at me, like maybe I am crazy or whatever. I say, I just come from Tokyo, Hong Kong, long flight, I am exhausted. I said, look, just half an hour. Do I have to listen to that crap? Can you turn the radio off?. And he was even willing. He turned around, and he said — but it’s the news. I say, I don’t need this. I say, I don’t want to, I have never listened to it, never in my life,OK? I am almost on the border. I need to stop. I have to get out of your car. And he switched it off, but saying, as though really surprised and almost sorry for me. How can you know what’s going on?’ There, you see: THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I DON’T WANT TO KNOW!”

“No, no. I never said money is freedom! I said money buys freedom. BUYS! What does that mean, money is freedom? This is ridiculous: money is freedom. It means nothing. What do you think, that a dollar in a savings account is freedom? Maybe you have understood nothing I have said. You are trying to make me sound like an American average citizen.”

His arguments in response to my questions were often semantic. Kinski hates words; he resents having to use them to express himself, he finds them untrustworthy, confining, reductive.

“Experiencing the ocean is an experience of liberty. When you talk about the ocean, is it liberty? Even looking at the ocean is not liberty. It is like a wounded bird looking at the sky and saying, ‘Why are my wings broken?’ Or even worse: putting a bird cage near the window so that the bird can see the sky. But, of course, it’s much better to look than not to, even if it hurts. But words – words are not enough! It is true what Rimbaud said once; It’s absolutely true; I proved lt. He said, ‘If you think a book is strong enough, try it at the ocean, in the wind, at the waves. If the book can resist the ocean, the elements, then it exists. Otherwise, throw it away.'”

Afterward, I tried to write what he had told me when he’d started explaining this thing to me. He had given me examples, images that he thought I would grasp. The “thing” was comparable, by analogy, to the power of kung fu, he had told me. He had mentioned Bruce Lee, for example, and how it is possible to observe that the concentration, the energy that the kung-fu artist taps into begins long before the point of impact and continues afterward. He talked with me also about how this thing that enables you to create is the thing that makes you suffer, suffer so much that you hate your fate, which has driven you to it, because it is not a choice. You start doing it and then you cannot stop, and the more you do it, the more it makes you suffer. And you cannot get rid of it once you have felt lt. You cannot kill it, no matter how much you hate it for making you suffer. You try to kill it, but it is like the snake with 100 heads; there is always another head. “But you need a framework,” I said.

“You need a framework? What is this, a framework? You don’t need a framework. They told you you need this. You don’t need this. You need a painting, not a frame. You are going too slow. Just go.”

“It should not be necessary to explain things, I don’t know… maybe it comes from this fucking occupation that they call art. I don’t know what the meaning of that is. And they call me ‘actor’ and I know this is shit, OK, because it just means that some idiot, absolutely imbecilic, cretin, illiterate director can say what he wants to me, can even harm me. So I say to him — FUCK OFF! Or I go home or whatever. And then they say ‘He is mad, he just happens to be an artist.’ These people who do not see the terrible things and therefore do not see the beautiful things, either. But I cannot dump, dump this thing. They think you can dump all this and be an actor. Then they say ‘Good job.’ Do you say ‘Good job’ to an earthquake?”

“I don’t know. Why have I had this life? If I knew, I wouldn’t have done it. Do you know what I mean? You cannot even say, I cannot even tell myself, why did I do it? I shouldn’t have done it. It’s ridiculous. It wasn’t a choice? It wasn’t my choice.”

For the first time in his presence, I felt afraid. Not of him but of the furor of that younger self he was reincarnating in the small, cramped space where we sat, yet another cage to be filled with that power and rage that I finally understood to be his furor at his own fate. And I saw that same vein stand out on his forehead that I had seen on Aguirre’s, and the same intensity in the set of his jaw: It was not the rage of helplessness, it was the rage of defiance.

“So it means, the only thing I can say is — OK, shit! Just like saying — Shit! to yourself. You say SHIT ten times when you hurt yourself. You say SHIT. Nobody is there. You just say SHIT. So I could tell myself — Oh, shit, why, WHY, why did all that happen to me? Why was I not a bird on the ocean? You know? Instead of this, you know? This I could say, but just to myself. SHIT! It doesn’t even make sense after a while when you say SHIT from morning to evening, but there was a time when I could not stop. It was like a tic. I said SHIT all the time. SHIT!”

Kinski opened his eyes, which had been clamped shut, and then looked away at the ocean. In the car, the silence seemed new. Well, it wasn’t a silence. There was still the wind, the sound of a sea gull’s wings flapping. It only seemed like a new silence to me, because I had watched a man say “Fuck you” to his own pain. Kinski stared steadfastly at the ocean.

“Yes, love is the salvation. I didn’t choose to be alone. But I cannot explain this. I could be with a woman in a bed, for weeks even and it would seem to me like three seconds. Or 300 years. There is no time sense because of things that are going on in you. I don’t know, there is no explanation of this. But every time, even with someone I…. But whenever I was with a woman, I always sort of want another one. So there was always another one. I can’t explain this, but it means that these women, they were not sharing my solitude. I wanted to stay with somebody, but I couldn’t, it wasn’t possible, because of this thing moving in myself. I had to learn this. I didn’t want to be alone, but I had to learn that the dimensions of my feelings are too violent. I had to learn this. It is what I was just telling you before. Why? Why am I like this? It is the same as — why wasn’t I born a fisherman? This is not a choice. There is not a why. Look at this bird there. Why does he fly to the left? Why?”

We watched as the gull flew out of our sight, toward the mountains. A few hundred feet away, on the road leading to the beach, a truck pulled up and some men got out, carrying pneumatic drills and jackhammers. They set to work, and it was the sounds of the drills and the hammers that now reached the car.

“Look at them! They are not happy if they don’t hammer. They hammer, they hammer; it is unbearable. That is why you have to go away. It is not a solution, but you have to go away, to protect your feeling of life, where people won’t shock you and hurt you. They hammer everywhere! Everywhere they can possibly hammer! They hammer in your brain! Hell, these idiots, they come with their hammer, where people are sitting, to hammer, to hammer, to hammer! LET’S GO!”



from the Travisanutto Giovanni SRL Studio in Italy…

selections from “Hollywood Highlights” 1994 a collaboration with Margaret Nielsen for a Percent for the Arts project at the MPAA offices in Encino (photos SCRIBBLES FROM L.A.)…

and from the Washington D.C. National Airport gallery walk, a collaboration with Frank Stella — one of eight installations teaming with various artists…


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