Archive for April, 2011




one of five astronomical observatories built in the early 18th century and a masterpiece of Indian architecture…


A unique structure raised in 1724, now lies in the heart of Delhi’s commercial centre near Connaught place. This is the Jantar Mantar, one of several astronomical observatories raised by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur. The various abstract structures within the Jantar Mantar are, in fact, instruments that were used for keeping track of celestial bodies. Yet, Jantar Mantar is not only a timekeeper of celestial bodies, it also tells a lot about the technological achievements under the Rajput kings and their attempt to resolve the mysteries regarding astronomy. The Jantar Mantar of Delhi is only one of the five observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh II, the other four being located at Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain and Mathura. All of these were built as far back as AD 1724-1730 during the period generally known as the dark age of Indian history, when the last great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had died and the Mughal Empire was rapidly declining. During this period of turmoil, Muhammad Shah ascended the throne of the Mughal Empire. As many enemies surrounded him, he sought the alliance of the Hindu rulers. Of these, the most notable was Sawai Jai Singh II of Amber, who came into limelight since the days of Aurangzeb. When Jai Singh ascended the throne of Amber in 1699, he was barely eleven, but sharp and shrewd far beyond his years. The then Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was so impressed with the young ruler that he gave Jai Singh II the title of ‘Sawai’, meaning one and a quarter of an average man in worth.

As Jai Singh repeatedly proved himself a worthy ally of the Mughals, Muhammad Shah, who was seeking a dependable ally, zeroed in on Jai Singh and duly raised him to the rank of governor of Agra and later, of Malwa. Legend Behind Jantar Mantar Jai Singh was passionate about two things-arts and the sciences, chiefly astronomy. Once, at the court of Muhammad Shah, he found the Hindu and Muslim astrologers embroiled in a heated argument over certain planetary positions. It was imperative that the positions be known accurately to determine an auspicious hour for the emperor to set out on an expedition. Jai Singh offered to rectify the then available astronomical tables, an offer that was readily accepted by the Mughal emperor. The result was an onsite Jantar Mantar in Delhi, an astronomical observatory where the movements of sun, moon and planets could be observed.

Jai Singh’s idea was to create a rebirth of practical astronomy among the Indian masses and practicing astronomers. However, the lofty ideals of the Jantar Mantar remained unfulfilled as the country at that time was in chaos and the full potential of this observatory was never realized. In the beginning, Jai Singh tried to use brass instruments in this observatory, but soon gave them up because of several inherent flaws. They were too small, for one thing, their axes were unstable so the center often got displaced. He then decided to follow the style adopted by the renowned Arab astronomer, Prince Ulugh Beg, builder of the famous 15th century observatory at Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The massive masonry instruments at Samarkand suited Jai Singh’s architectural tastes and promised to be more accurate because of sheer size. In 1730, Jai Singh sent a mission to the king of Lisbon.

On its return to Jaipur, the mission brought back a telescope and the court astronomer by the name of Xavier de Silva. The Observatory This unique observatory was completed in 1724 and remained operational only for seven years. Astronomical observations were regularly made over here and these observations were used for drawing up a new set of tables, later compiled as Zij Muhammad Shahi dedicated to the reigning monarch. Jai Singh named his observatory Jantar Mantar, which is actually pronounced, as ‘Yantra Mantra’, yantra for instrument and mantra for formula. A huge sundial known as “Samrat Yantra” or ‘Prince of Dials’, meant to measure accurate time of the day within half a second and the declination of the sun and other heavenly bodies dominates it.

Jai Singh himself designed this yantra. Other yantras were also meant for the study of heavenly bodies, plotting their course and predicting eclipses. The two pillars on the southwest of Mishra Yantra are meant to determine the shortest and longest days of the year. Interestingly, in December one pillar completely covers the other with its shadow while in June it does not cast any such shadow at all. After the completion of the first Jantar Mantar and with a view to verifying astronomical observations made at Delhi, Jai Singh built similar, even if smaller observatories, at other important Indian cities-Jaipur, Varanasi, Ujjain, and Mathura. The Jantar Mantars may have fallen into disuse but they remain an integral part of India’s scientific heritage. It presents that the spirit of scientific enquiry was not dead in India and would have yielded rich results if only an opportunity of research and development had been given to it.


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under the bridge downtown (Encinitas between Vulcan and 101)…


Where else but in Encinitas would you get a surfing Madonna? The city famous for its catchable waves and funky public art now has a new piece apparently installed by a brazen crew of bogus construction workers. On an afternoon shortly before Earth Day and a few days prior to Easter, a group of men in hard hats installed a 10-foot square stained-glass mosaic of a surfing Our Lady of Guadalupe, complete with booties. “Save the Ocean” runs along the side of the mural. On the nose of her surfboard is the face of Saint Juan Diego who, according to legend, saw the Virgin Mary near Mexico City in 1531. On Monday, the identity of the artists was a closely-held secret among a select few in Encinitas.

The city already is home to the “Cardiff Kook,” a statue of a young surfer that’s often festooned in outfits and the subject of national headlines. But this time there’s a difference. The “Kook” pranksters operate clandestinely in the dark of night. These mosaic artists worked in broad daylight in an intersection that 18,000 cars pass every day. On Monday, officials debated whether the part of the bridge was owned by the city of Encinitas or by North County Transit District. Jack Quick, who owns an arts supply store right near the train bridge, said he saw the group of hard-hatted men installing the piece. Quick estimated the piece cost at least $1,000 in raw materials and 100 hours of labor.

Officials say the mosaic that mysteriously appeared over the weekend may disappear just as quickly as it came to light. The Lady Guadalupe mosaic, no matter how aesthetically pleasing to some, is an unauthorized use of public property, said Encinitas Planning Director Patrick Murphy. Howard Whitlock, the city’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Works, said he’s received a few complaints about the religious overtones of the art piece on public property. He’s also gotten calls saying the piece should be kept.

While Encinitas has a welcoming arts community, the pieces now standing on city property were approved after a formal public-review process. In February, the City Council approved a project to turn the stump of an infested Torrey pine tree into a statue of an Easter Island head. The mosaic seems to be affixed to 5-foot by 5-foot plaster boards and then glued to the concrete bridge wall.

(SIGN ON SAN DIEGO  4.25.11)




revealing Kubrick’s colossal capacity for research…


The journey to the Kubrick house starts normally. You drive through rural Hertfordshire, passing ordinary-sized postwar houses and opticians and vets. Then you turn right at an electric gate with a “Do Not Trespass” sign. Drive through that, and through some woods, and past a long, white fence with the paint peeling off, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and you’re in the middle of an estate full of boxes.

There are boxes everywhere – shelves of boxes in the stable block, rooms full of boxes in the main house. In the fields, where racehorses once stood and grazed, are half a dozen portable cabins, each packed with boxes. These are the boxes that contain the legendary Kubrick archive. I notice that many of the boxes are sealed. Some have, in fact, remained unopened for decades.

Tony Frewin started working as an office boy for Kubrick in 1965, when he was 17. One day, apropos of nothing, Kubrick said to him, “You have that office outside my office if I need you.” That was 36 years ago and Tony is still here, two years after Kubrick died and was buried in the grounds behind the house. There may be no more Kubrick movies to make, but there are DVDs to remaster and reissue in special editions. There are box sets and retrospective books to oversee. There is paperwork.

Tony gives me a guided tour of the house. We walk past boxes and more boxes and filing cabinets and past a grand staircase. Childwick was once home to a family of horse-breeders called the Joels. Back then there were, presumably, busts or floral displays on either side at the bottom of this staircase. Here, instead, is a photocopier on one side and another photocopier on the other.

Tony takes me into a large room painted blue and filled with books. “This used to be the cinema,” he says. “Is it the library now?” I ask. “Look closer at the books,” says Tony. I do. “Bloody hell,” I say. “Every book in this room is about Napoleon!” “Look in the drawers,” says Tony. I do. “It’s all about Napoleon, too!” I say. “Everything in here is about Napoleon!”

This room full of Napoleon stuff seems to bear out that comparison. “Somewhere else in this house,” Tony says, “is a cabinet full of 25,000 library cards, three inches by five inches. If you want to know what Napoleon, or Josephine, or anyone within Napoleon’s inner circle was doing on the afternoon of July 23 17-whatever, you go to that card and it’ll tell you.” “Who made up the cards?” I ask. “Stanley,” says Tony. “With some assistants.” “How long did it take?” I ask. “Years,” says Tony. “The late 1960s.”

Kubrick never made his film about Napoleon. During the years it took him to compile this research, a Rod Steiger movie called Waterloo was written, produced and released. It was a box-office failure, so MGM abandoned Napoleon and Kubrick made A Clockwork Orange instead.

“Did you do this kind of massive research for all the movies?” I ask Tony. “More or less,” he says. “OK,” I say. “I understand how you might do this for Napoleon, but what about, say, The Shining?” “Somewhere here,” says Tony, “is just about every ghost book ever written, and there’ll be a box containing photographs of the exteriors of maybe every mountain hotel in the world.” There is a silence. “Tony,” I say, “can I look through the boxes?”

I’ve been coming to the Kubrick house a couple of times a month ever since.

I start, chronologically, in a portable cabin behind the stable block, with a box marked Lolita. I open it, noting the ease with which the lid comes off. “These are excellent, well-designed boxes,” I think to myself. I flick through the paperwork inside, pausing randomly at a letter that reads as if it has come straight from a Jane Austen novel:

Dear Mr Kubrick,  

Just a line to express to you and to Mrs Kubrick my husband’s and my own deep appreciation of your kindness in arranging for Dimitri’s introduction to your uncle, Mr Günther Rennert.  

Sincerely, Mrs Vladimir Nabokov

I later learn that Dimitri was a budding opera singer and Rennert was a famous opera director, in charge of the Munich Opera House. This letter was written in 1962, back in the days when Kubrick was still producing a film every year or so. This box is full of fascinating correspondence between Kubrick and the Nabokovs but – unlike the fabulously otherworldly Napoleon room, which was accrued six years later – it is the kind of stuff you would probably find in any director’s archive.

The unusual stuff – the stuff that elucidates the ever-lengthening gaps between productions – can be found in the boxes that were compiled from 1968 onwards. In a box next to the Lolita box in the cabin, I find an unusually terse letter, written by Kubrick to someone called Pat, on January 10 1968: “Dear Pat, Although you are apparently too busy to personally return my phone calls, perhaps you will find time in the near future to reply to this letter?”

(Later, when I show Tony this letter, he says he’s surprised by the brusqueness. Kubrick must have been at the end of his tether, he says, because on a number of occasions he said to Tony, “Before you send an angry letter, imagine how it would look if it got into the hands of Time Out.”) The reason for Kubrick’s annoyance in this particular letter was because he’d heard that the Beatles were going to use a landscape shot from Dr Strangelove in one of their movies: “The Beatle film will be very widely seen,” Kubrick writes, “and it will make it appear that the material in Dr Strangelove is stock footage. I feel this harms the film.”

There is a similar batch of telexes from 1975: “It would appear,” Kubrick writes in one, “that Space 1999 may very well become a long-running and important television series. There seems nothing left now but to seek the highest possible damages … The deliberate choice of a date only two years away from 2001 is not accidental and harms us.” This telex was written seven years after the release of 2001.

But you can see why Kubrick sometimes felt compelled to wage war to protect the honor of his work. A 1975 telex, from a picture publicity man at Warner Bros called Mark Kauffman, regards publicity stills for Kubrick’s sombre reworking of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon. It reads: “Received additional material. Is there any material with humor or zaniness that you could send?”

Kubrick replies, clearly through gritted teeth: “The style of the picture is reflected by the stills you have already received. The film is based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel which, though it has irony and wit, could not be well described as zany.”

I take a break from the boxes to wander over to Tony’s office. As I walk in, I notice something pinned to his letterbox. “POSTMAN,” it reads. “Please put all mail in the white box under the colonnade across the courtyard to your right.”

It is not a remarkable note except for one thing. The typeface Tony used to print it is exactly the same typeface Kubrick used for the posters and title sequences of Eyes Wide Shut and 2001. “It’s Futura Extra Bold,” explains Tony. “It was Stanley’s favourite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant.” “Is this the kind of thing you and Kubrick used to discuss?” I ask. “God, yes,” says Tony. “Sometimes late into the night. I was always trying to persuade him to turn away from them. But he was wedded to his sans serifs.”

Tony goes to his bookshelf and brings down a number of volumes full of examples of typefaces, the kind of volumes he and Kubrick used to study, and he shows them to me. “I did once get him to admit the beauty of Bembo,” he adds, “a serif.” “So is that note to the postman a sort of private tribute from you to Kubrick?” I ask. “Yeah,” says Tony. He smiles to himself. “Yeah, yeah.”

But this attention to detail becomes so amazingly evident and seemingly all-consuming in the later boxes, I begin to wonder whether it was worth it. In one portable cabin, for example, there are hundreds and hundreds of boxes related to Eyes Wide Shut, marked EWS – Portman Square, EWS – Kensington & Chelsea, etc, etc. I choose the one marked EWS – Islington because that’s where I live. Inside are hundreds of photographs of doorways. The doorway of my local video shop, Century Video, is here, as is the doorway of my dry cleaner’s, Spots Suede Services on Upper Street. Then, as I continue to flick through the photographs, I find, to my astonishment, pictures of the doorways of the houses in my own street. Handwritten at the top of these photographs are the words, “Hooker doorway?”

“Huh,” I think. So somebody within the Kubrick organization (it was, in fact, his nephew) once walked up my street, on Kubrick’s orders, hoping to find a suitable doorway for a hooker in Eyes Wide Shut. It is both an extremely interesting find and a bit of a kick in the teeth.

It is not, though, as incredible a coincidence as it may at first seem. Judging by the writing on the boxes, probably just about every doorway in London has been captured and placed inside this cabin. This solves one mystery for me – the one about why Kubrick, a native of the Bronx, chose the St Albans countryside, of all places, for his home. I realize now that it didn’t matter. It could have been anywhere. It is as if the whole world is to be found somewhere within this estate.

the article continues

(THE GUARDIAN  3.27.04)

“STANLEY KUBRICK’S BOXES” 2008 directed by Jon Ronson

watch the trailer here




the noisiest art gallery in the world…


The Stockholm Metro, or Stockholms tunnelbana, is the metro system in Stockholm, Sweden. The system has three main lines and one hundred stations, 47 of which are subterranean and 53 are above ground stations.

The first part of the metro was opened in 1950, when an underground light rail line opened in 1933 was converted to metro standard. This line ran south from Slussen station. Over the following years, this line was expanded to three lines going south from the inner city. In 1952 a line from the inner city to the western suburbs was opened.

In 1957 the two line were connected via the central station and old town. This system consisting of three lines now forms the Green line. The Red line was opened in 1964 with two lines going from northeast to southwest. The final system, the Blue line, was opened in 1975 with two lines going northwest from the city center. The latest addition to the Green Line was carried out in 1994.

Stockholm’s metro is well known for its decoration of the stations; it has been called the longest art exhibit in the world. Several of the stations (especially on the Blue line) are left with the bedrock exposed, crude and unfinished, or as part of the decorations. At the Rissne station, an informative wall fresque about the history of Earth’s civilizations runs all along both sides of the platform.

The metro system is owned by the Stockholm County Council, which presently has contracted the operation to Connex. The Stockholm Metro was the site of distribution for the first edition of Metro, now a world-wide chain of free newspapers.

(ARCHIBASE  8.2.07)




ART IN CINEMA part 4: wartime revolutions…


When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, 17-year-old James Whitney was in England studying painting, while his 22-year-old brother John Whitney was in Paris studying new music with Rene Leibowitz.

They came back to their hometown, Los Angeles, which turned out to be a lively intellectual center at the time due to the influx of European refugees, ranging from Man Ray to Arnold Schoenberg (Leibowitz’s teacher). Picasso’s Guernica was on display at the Stendhal Gallery, and a few weeks later Oskar Fischinger had a show of his abstract paintings and a screening of one of his films there.

The Whitney brothers were excited by the technical brilliance of Fischinger’s films, but somewhat disturbed by his use of symphonic music, which seemed old-fashioned to them. John constructed an animation stand and other equipment in the apartment they shared in Pasadena. James designed geometric shapes on small index cards and created positive and negative stencils that could be painted or air-brushed onto the cards. They intended these modular elements to function like tones in Schoenberg’s musical theories, and submitted them to musical permutations (such as inversions, counterpoints, chord clustering and retrogressions).

John worked on inventing a mechanism to create sound, while James continued to make visual Variations, through hundreds of hours of hand animation. This work culminated in the 1942 Variations on a Circle, a film that achieves a truly musical beauty, ranging from dynamic flickers of contrasting colors to sinuous movements cutting through circular shapes.

The brothers never actually collaborated on a given film. In fact they hardly saw each other, since John worked a night shift in an aircraft factory, and James worked a day shift at the California Institute of Technology drawing fine details of machine parts that were being invented there — work he was assigned to do as a conscientious objector to the war.

By 1942, John had developed a system of pendulums that could be carefully calibrated to swing at a certain frequency. Attached to the top, a variable slit exposed the precise vibration equivalent directly onto the soundtrack area of a film strip, thus creating music directly without instruments. This pioneer electronic music could produce pure tones, gliding chromatic glissandos and reverberating pulsations unknown to ordinary musical instruments.

John also constructed an optical printer and an animation stand that allowed them to film the pure direct light shining through openings in stencils rather than the reflected light from drawings. John made two films with this system, Film Exercise No. 1 and Film Exercise No. 5, while James made Film Exercise No. 2 and 3 and the masterpiece Film Exercise No. 4, which during eight minutes develops not only a powerful visual sonata of violent fluctuations, glaring neon colors and cool nocturnal blues, but also a haunting musical composition that reflects the terrors of war.

James took the Film Exercises to New York, where they were screened at the Guggenheim Museum. But during the screening the Baroness Hilla von Rebay screamed for the sound to be turned off, assuming that the projector was simply malfunctioning. Despite this setback, the Film Exercises went on to receive the prize for best sound a few years later at the Brussels Experimental Film Festival.

At the end of the war, James was devastated to discover that at his Cal Tech job he had been drawing plans related to the atomic bomb project. He withdrew from filmmaking for several years while he came to terms with his feelings of guilt and responsibility.


for more ART IN CINEMA see part 1part 2 and part 3




in the early 1900s, Essanay shot six movies a week, producing about 2,000 films in Chicago and California… 


Two days before Christmas 1914, on a windy and bitterly cold Chicago day, a small, scruffy man with tousled black hair descended from a train just arrived from California. He wore no overcoat, and his luggage totaled only a small bundle of clothes. No one in the station’s bustling crowd gave any indication that they recognized the man-assuming they took any notice at all of the diminutive tramp.

His companion, on the other hand-a well-built man with heroic features, named Gilbert M. Anderson may have elicited some gasps of recognition. In scores of short silent film Westerns, Broncho Billy, as Anderson was known, had become the movies’ first cowboy star. Seven years earlier, in 1907, he had paired up with a budding film producer named George K. Spoor to form a Chicago-based movie studio called Essanay, a name derived from the initials of the men’s surnames (“S and A”). Now Anderson, who shot most of his movies in Colorado and California, had come home to Chicago, bringing along Essanay’s newly signed star, a brash cockney comic named Charles Spencer Chaplin.

The British-born Chaplin had first visited Chicago in 1910, while touring the American West with a vaudeville troupe. Then (as Chaplin would write in his 1964 autobiography), he had found Chicago “attractive in its ugliness, grim and begrimed. . . . It had a fierce pioneer gaiety that enlivened the senses, yet underlying it throbbed masculine loneliness”-a loneliness Chaplin assuaged with visits to the local burlesque halls and a libidinous longing for the showgirls who roomed at his small Wabash Avenue hotel.

When he arrived in the Windy City in 1914, Chaplin stayed with Anderson and his wife, Mollie, at the couple’s apartment at 1027 West Lawrence Avenue, just a few blocks from the Essanay studios. The product of a broken home-his parents, London music-hall entertainers, had separated when he was a baby-Chaplin delighted in the An­der­sons’ holiday domesticity, and in their little daughter, Maxine. “A Christmas tree, a baby, a Christmas tree,” he exclaimed. “It’s wonderful!”

On New Year’s Eve, the Andersons took Chaplin to the Hotel Sherman (at Clark and Randolph streets), home to the fashionable College Inn restaurant and its burgeoning jazz scene. Appalled, Mollie realized that Chaplin had his pajama bottoms wrapped around his neck, and she managed to find him a scarf. At the restaurant, an enthusiastic vaudeville performer picked out Chaplin and made him stand on his chair. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the vaudevillian cried out to the festive crowd. “I want to introduce you to the funniest man in moving pictures-Charlie Chaplin.”

On Argyle Street  just west of Broadway, two red brick buildings stand as a monument to the early days of film, when Chicago reigned as the country’s movie capital. Home today to St. Augustine College, the buildings (at 1343-45 West Argyle), seen from the street, look a little rundown, though their rear façades, augmented by new entryways topped in faux red tiles, have a California mission feel. But it’s the main entrance to the western building (at 1345) that catches the eye. Tall letters spell out essanay, and the doorway is flanked by the terra cotta heads of two Indians in colorful feathered headdresses, the studio’s trademark.

One of the studio’s former sound stages, housed in the building on the east (at 1343), is known today as the college’s Charlie Chaplin auditorium-though there’s hardly a chair in sight. The big, high-ceilinged room is virtually empty, its walls unadorned but for a poster for The Kid, a film Chaplin made in 1921, five years after he had left Essanay. Catwalks crisscross overhead. In My Auto­biography, Chaplin insisted that, along with his tramp persona, he needed only a pretty girl and a policeman to produce a movie comedy. Add a couple of klieg lights to those modest ingredients, and filmmaking might easily resume at any moment inside this Uptown auditorium.

But sadly, a century after Essanay made its first movie-a simplistic one-reel comedy filmed in 1907-the lights have gone out on Argyle Street. Over ten quick years, though, Essanay (here and at its sister studio in California) made some 2,000 movies. Along with Chaplin, stars such as Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery, and Francis X. Bushman frequented the Argyle Street studio-that is, when they weren’t shooting scenes in the streets around the city. They enjoyed romance, sparked scandal, and, in general, previewed the Hollywood lifestyle of the future. Ultimately, though, the business packed up and moved west, driven away in part by the brutal Midwestern winters.

Chicago’s central role in the movies’ nascent history had probably commenced around 1895, when George Spoor-a Chicago newspaper vendor and the box-office manager at the Waukegan Opera House-partnered with the mechanically-inclined Edward Amet to develop the Magniscope, an early movie projector. Waukegan audiences thronged the opera house to view those first magic-picture shows, but Amet thought the novelty was only a passing fad, and he sold his rights to the invention to Spoor.

A 20-something Highland Park native (he was born there in 1871) with the calm reserve of an expert poker player, Spoor established a company to distribute projectors and movies nationwide. (In 1907, two of Spoor’s employees, Donald Bell and Albert Howell, would start their own movie-projector company, Bell & Howell.) The public clamored for more flicks, and Spoor realized there was plenty of money to be made. All he needed was a partner with some moviemaking savvy. Broncho Billy to the rescue!

Born Max Aronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1880, Gilbert Anderson had begun his movie career in 1903, the year he appeared in The Great Train Robbery, the first movie with a plot. He had made a few films at Selig Polyscope, a Chicago studio led by the self-styled “Colonel” William Selig, but now he longed for more autonomy. He and Spoor joined forces to create the Peerless Film Manufacturing Company, which they renamed Essanay in August 1907. The studio was “probably the MGM of the silents,” says William Grisham, the Evanston movie historian who in the 1960s interviewed Mollie Anderson and some of the Essanay principals. (Academy Chicago Publishers expects to publish Grisham’s book about the local movie scene later this year.)

What’s more, the Essanay movies-and those made by Selig and others-established film as a dramatic and entertaining new art form. “They built the foundation for an industry that didn’t exist before and changed the world,” says David Kiehn, the historian for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (in Fremont, California) and the author of Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Com pany. “Unfortunately, 1907 to 1918, when they were all thriving, is a black hole in film history.” Fortunately, some of Essanay’s movies have survived, including its first picture, a quickie comedy featuring a mustachioed, cross-eyed man named Ben Turpin, who would also emerge as one of the medium’s first stars.

the article continues…





Ian MacKaye’s take on the night Belushi got FEAR on network television


Nardwuar: When Fear played on “Saturday Night Live” Ian (1981), did you go down to “Saturday Night Live” and check it out in New York with Rollins and the gang?
Ian MacKaye: Rollins was not there. I’ll tell you the story if you’d like to hear the story about that. At eight in the morning, some point in October, I got a call. I was driving a newspaper truck for The Washington Post at the time, so eight in the morning was brutal. It was (Dick Ebersol)’s office, (Dick Ebersol) being the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” and I get this woman, “(Dick Ebersol)’s office, please hold.” I was completely delirious. (Dick Ebersol) gets on the phone, “Hi, Ian, it’s (Dick Ebersol) of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I’m calling you because I got your number from John Belushi. He says that you might be able to get some dancers up here ‘cause we want to have Fear on the show.” I was completely baffled by this. “Pardon me?” “Hold on a second.” John Belushi gets on the phone and he says, “This is John Belushi. I’m a big fan of Fear’s. I made a deal with ‘Saturday Night Live’ that I would make a cameo appearance on the show if they’d let Fear play. I got your number from Penelope Spheeris, who did ‘Decline of Western Civilization’ and she said that you guys, Washington DC punk rock kids, know how to dance. I want to get you guys to come up to the show.” It was worked out that we could all arrive at the Rockefeller Center where “Saturday Night Live” was being filmed. The password to get in was “Ian MacKaye.” We went up the day before. The Misfits played with The Necros at the Ukrainian hall, I think, so all of the Detroit people were there, like Tesco Vee and Cory Rusk from the Necros and all the Touch and Go people and a bunch of DC people – 15 to 20 of us came up from DC. Henry was gone. He was living in LA at this point. So we went to the show. During the dress rehearsal, a camera got knocked over. We were dancing and they were very angry with us and said that they were going to not let us do it then Belushi really put his foot down and insisted on it. So, during the actual set itself, they let us come out again. If you watch the show – have you seen it?

N: Yes I have.
IM: If you watch it – during the show – before they go to commercial, they always go to this jack-o-lantern. This carved pumpkin. If you watched it during the song, you’ll see one of our guys, this guy named Bill MacKenzie, coming out holding the pumpkin above his head because he’s just getting ready to smash it. And that’s when they cut it off. They kicked us out and locked us out for two hours. We were locked in a room because they were so angry with us about the behavior. I didn’t think it was that big of deal.

N: They locked you in a room?
IM: Yeah, we were locked in a room. They said they were going to sue us and have us arrested for damages. There was so much hype about that. The New York Post reported half a million dollars worth of damages. It was nothing. It was a plastic clip that got broken. It was a very interesting experience and I realized how completely unnatural it is for a band to be on a television show – particularly a punk band – that kind of has a momentum to suddenly be expected to immediately jump into a song in that type of setting. It was very weird. Largely unpleasant. Made me realize that’s not something I’m interested in doing.

(NARDWUAR.COM  7.7.01)

watch the show here — rough at first but smooths out after (2:00) Beef Baloney…




the rise and fall of the southwest camel train…


One of the most interesting military experiments of the American West involved 77 camels and a Syrian named Hi Jolly. The story of Hi Jolly began in 1855 when Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was told of an innovative plan to import camels to help build and supply a Western wagon route from Texas to California. It was a dry, hot and otherwise hostile region, not unlike the camel’s natural terrain in the Middle East.

Davis, convinced of the idea, proposed a Camel Military Corps to Congress. “For military purposes, and for reconnaissances, it is believed the dromedary would supply a want now seriously felt in our service,” he explained. Congress agreed and appropriated $30,000.

Major Henry Wayne was sent to the Middle East where he bought 33 of the animals. With much difficulty, they were loaded onto a Navy ship (with part of its deck modified to accommodate the large creatures) and transported to Texas. There Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale took over. Forty-four more camels arrived later. Hadji Ali and another foreigner were hired to teach the soldiers how to pack the animals. The Americans had a hard time pronouncing Ali’s name so they nicknamed him Hi Jolly.

Beale left on a Western expedition in June, 1857, with Hi Jolly along as chief camel driver. Camels were loaded with 600 to 800 pounds each and traveled 25 to 30 miles a day. If the animals fared well, a series of Army posts could be set up later along the route to relay mail and supplies across the Southwest. After reaching California the expedition returned to Texas, a success — at least to Beale.

“The harder the test they (the camels) are put to, the more fully they seem to justify all that can be said of them,” Beale wrote. “They pack water for days under a hot sun and never get a drop; they pack heavy burdens of corn and oats for months and never get a grain; and on the bitter greasewood and other worthless shrubs, not only subsist, but keep fat.”

He concluded, “I look forward to the day when every mail route across the continent will be conducted and worked altogether with this economical and noble brute.” But perhaps he was too optimistic. What he didn’t say was that the camels didn’t take to the West’s rocky soil. And prospectors’ burros and mules — and even Army mules — were afraid of the odd-looking creatures and would sometimes panic at their sight.

Still, in 1858, then-Secretary of War John Floyd told Congress, “The entire adaptation of camels to military operations on the Plains may now be taken as demonstrated.” He urged Congress to authorize the purchase of 1,000 more camels. Congress didn’t act, however, as it was preoccupied with trouble brewing between the North and South.

With the first shots of the Civil War, the Camel Military Corps was as good as dead. Most of the animals were auctioned off, although a few escaped into the desert where most were shot by prospectors and hunters as pests.

Hi Jolly kept a few and started a freighting business between the Colorado River ports and mining camps to the east. The business failed, however, and Jolly released his last camel in the desert near Gila Bend. Years later, after marrying a Tucson woman and fathering two children, Hi Jolly moved to Quartzsite where he mined with a burro. He died in 1902 at age 73 and was buried in the Quartzsite Cemetery.





the original leather girl…


Tura Satana, born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi, July 10, 1938, in Hokkaido, Japan, grew up in an Italian, Jewish, Polish neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, IL after her family were released from the Manzanar relocation camp for Japanese-Americans after the war. Asians didn’t mix well in the neighborhood and Tura found herself constantly fighting with the African-American girls on her way to and from school, skills that would serve her throughout her life. At age nine an a half Tura was brutalized and raped by five boys from the neighborhood. She then formed a girl gang with her Italian, Jewish, and Polish girlfriends called the Angels. After her parents placed her with an abusive uncle, Tura walked away to start her own life, becoming a cigarette girl at the Moulin Rouge on Hollywood Boulevard.

By age 15 she was a burlesque dancer with a fake ID. She was discovered by Turk Prujan who hired Tura for his Trocadero nightclub, also on Sunset. She also earned money modeling, becoming a favorite of famed actor Harold Lloyd, with results printed in Harold Lloyd’s Hollywood Nudes in 3-D. During her tour in New Orleans, Tura performed down the street from Lili St. Cyr before working for Harold Minsky, who was married to Lily’s sister. While performing in Chicago at the Follies Theater, Elvis Presley became infatuated and the two started an affair resulting in a marriage proposal. She declined, but kept the ring.

While working the Follies Theater in Los Angeles, a Warner Brothers scout approached Tura and she earned her Guild card on Hawaiian Eye. Subsequent television roles including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Burke’s Law. While working at the Pink Pussycat in West Hollywood, Billy Wilder and his wife came in one night and enraptured with Tura’s performance realized they had finally found the girl to play Suzette Wong in the Shirley Maclaine-starring Irma La Douce. Tura’s performance earned her additional roles as the nightclub dancer in Dean Martin’s Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? and the job of Carol Burnett’s choreographer for the film.

Tura earned her most visible role while performing in “Irma La Douce.” She got a call from her agent to come read for Russ Meyer. She didn’t have time to change so she showed up in the wedding dress she was wearing for Irma La Douce. Russ handed her the script for “Leather Girls,” the original title of “Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill!” and asked how she would play her. Tura replied, “I’d make her kind of feminine, but also a bitch on wheels.” After her cold reading Russ told her, “You are definitely Varla.”

Ted V. Mikels gave Tura two more classic roles in Astro-Zombies, and Charlie’s Angels precursor The Doll Squad, where she starred alongside Francine York and Michael Ansara.

Deciding to spend her time raising her two daughters, Tura left show biz and returned to her nursing career which she first studied while in high school, and continued to go to nursing school while dancing. One night, a druggie who had been turned in to the police by one of the doctors came looking for him and shot Tura twice but only hit her once, in the stomach. In 1981 she was hit by a driver without a license, heading at her at 60 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone. She spent two years in the hospital. They told her she would never walk again but she told the doctor, “Not only will I walk again, doc, but I’m going to do everything else I used to do.”

“The one thing you’ve got to remember is that you just never accept defeat. Remember to never let life get you down, because there is always something new to learn tomorrow. Life is to be lived, and lived well.”

(INDIE WIRE  2.5.11)

the New Beverly Cinema Grindhouse Film Fest pays tribute wednesday and thursday with screenings of “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and “The Doll Squad”




the infamous and ultra-rare film has its first screening in four decades…


In the 1960s, the Pop artist Wynn Chamberlain often toyed with making a movie and spent time visiting various avant-garde filmmakers on their sets. In 1963 he bought 10 rolls of 16-millimeter film, only to come across Andy Warhol using them, on a visit to Mr. Chamberlain’s country house, to shoot the poet John Giorno sleeping for the early “anti-film” “Sleep.”

When Mr. Chamberlain finally did make a film, “Brand X,” in 1969, it did not turn out to be the sort of hard-to-penetrate work that friends like Mr. Warhol had been creating.

“We thought we were making an art film,” Mr. Chamberlain, now 83 and based in Morocco, said in an interview recently. But eventually “we realized that it was a populist film.” A satirical take on television, with fake programs and commercials, “Brand X” anticipated TV and movie comedies of the next decade like “Saturday Night Live,” “SCTV” and “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” though in a more absurdist vein and with a more political view.

The film, which featured Abbie Hoffman, Sam Shepard, Sally Kirkland and the Warhol superstars Ultra Violet, Candy Darling and Taylor Mead, was released in 1970 in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. Vincent Canby endorsed it in The New York Times as “a tacky, vulgar, dirty, sometimes dull, often hilarious movie” with the tone of “a liberated college humor magazine.”

After that initial run, it turned up for a while on college campuses, and then it vanished, never to be screened again or released on video. Even Mr. Chamberlain did not have a copy. He believes it was the victim of a Nixonian conspiracy to suppress its countercultural message; New Line Cinema, its on-campus distributor, says the company simply moved on from underground film. In any case, “Brand X” gained a reputation as a lost relic of its era — something many underground film fanatics have read about but few if any have actually seen.

But now Mr. Chamberlain, who reclaimed a print of the film from New Line in 2007, has brought it to New York, and on Saturday afternoon it will be screened for the first time in nearly 40 years, at the New Museum on the Bowery ( A panel discussion will follow.

“To finally see a film like that is very exciting,” said Jed Rapfogel, the film programmer at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. “It fills in a kind of gap.”

“Brand X” was born on a snowy weekend in early 1969 in Staatsburg, N.Y., where Mr. Chamberlain and his wife, Sally, had a weekend cottage.

“We couldn’t get out; the only thing to do was watch television,” Mrs. Chamberlain recalled during an interview at the Upper East Side apartment that the couple is borrowing during theirNew York stay. “We hadn’t watched much daytime television, and Wynn was immediately struck by its banality and superficiality.”

Mr. Chamberlain was by then an established Pop-realist painter and a fixture in the New York art scene, with work in the Whitney Museum of American Art and what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum and a social set that included Allen GinsbergFrank O’Hara and John Cage as well as Warhol and the Factory denizens. He was also, like most of his friends, enamored of the counterculture and dismayed by the conservatism of mainstream culture, as embodied by the television he watched that day.

He wrote a script, cast Mr. Mead as his lead and cobbled together $10,000 from supporters. Much of the rest of the cast came together “sort of by osmosis,” Mr. Mead, now 86, said in a telephone interview. “There were just 100 of us downtown hanging out at Max’s Kansas City,” he said, “and we melded.”

The 87-minute film that resulted follows the on- and off-air shenanigans of Mr. Mead’s Wally Right, the manic head of a television station. It takes on President Nixon, the Vietnam War, sex, drugs, technology and advertising, alternating between vignettes riffing on TV programming — an exercise show, a soap opera, a financial report — and Dadaist commercials like one for “Food,” in which the film’s cinematographer, John Harnish, is seen sitting with a naked blond woman at a table covered with fruit.

“Eat more, think less,” he quips to the camera. Abbie Hoffman plays a corrupt cop who bathes in a tub full of money; Mr. Mead portrays an indignant American president holding a news conference; and Ultra Violet gives an off-key performance on “The Tomorrow Show.”

The film was shot over several months in the spring and summer, in and around places where the Chamberlain family lived and worked: Bard College, where Mr. Chamberlain taught art history; the Staatsburg house; a loft in the Bowery building where Mr. Chamberlain kept a studio. The process, according to Mr. Chamberlain, was “always chaos.”

“It wasn’t like nowadays when you have a project, and it’s all orderly,” he said. “We worked as far away from Hollywood ideas as possible.” There were frequent delays, he added, as when shooting at Bard was held up because students and members of the cast “were all having a big orgy in the kitchen.”

“Brand X” had its debut at the Elgin Theater on Eighth Avenue (now the Joyce) in 1970, to throngs of appreciative downtowners.

“These sort of potpourri parodies were very popular among the underground set,” said Robert Shaye, who founded New Line Cinema in 1967, at 27. “‘Brand X’ was a parody that kids responded to — that I responded to; I was a kid too.”

the article continues

(NY TIMES  4.8.11)




if only we knew for sure…


Earthquake weather is a type of weather popularly believed to precede earthquakes. From the ancient histories of Herodotus to the modern writings of David Lance Goines, the notion that weather can somehow foreshadow coming seismic activity has been the topic of much discussion and debate. Geologist Russell Robinson has described earthquake weather as one of the more common pseudoscientific methods of predicting earthquakes.

The USGS website states that, In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were caused by winds trapped in subterranean caves. Small tremors were thought to have been caused by air pushing on the cavern roofs, and large ones by the air breaking the surface. This theory led to a belief in earthquake weather, that because a large amount of air was trapped underground, the weather would be hot and calm before an earthquake. A later theory stated that earthquakes occurred in calm, cloudy conditions, and were usually preceded by strong winds, fireballs, and meteors. A modern theory proposes that certain cloud formations may be used to predict earthquakes, however, this idea is rejected by most geologists.

Geologists maintain that there is no connection between weather and earthquakes. They are the result of geologic processes within the earth and can happen in any weather and at any time during the year. Earthquakes originate miles underground. Wind, precipitation, temperature, and barometric pressure changes affect only the surface and shallow subsurface of the Earth. Earthquakes are focused at depths well out of the reach of weather, and the forces that cause earthquakes are much larger than the weather forces. Earthquakes occur in all types of weather, in all climate zones, in all seasons of the year, and at any time of day.





ART IN CINEMA part 2: Walther Ruttmann and the medium of the future…


The term “Absolute Film” was coined by analogy with the expression “Absolute Music,” referring to music like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos which had no reference to a story, poetry, dance, ceremony or any other thing besides the essential elements – harmonies, rhythms, melodies, counterpoints, etc. – of music itself. Cinema even more than music seems dominated by documentary and fiction functions, both of which relied on film recording human activities which had their primary existence and meaning outside the film theatre. Absolute Film, by contrast, would present things which could be expressed uniquely with cinematic means. Other terms for this film genre sprouted everywhere: “Pure Cinema” (which was purely cinematic), “Integral Cinema” (Germaine Dulac’s phrase, using “Integral” in the French sense of “Wholly and completely”) and finally the two socio-political terms “Avant-Garde” and “Experimental,” the first of which unfortunately implies military scouts invading enemy territory and the second of which sadly implies the filmmaker groping for some unclear result.

The most unique thing that cinema could do is present a visual spectacle comparable to auditory music, with fluid, dynamic imagery rhythmically paced by editing, dissolving, superimposition, segmented screen, contrasts of positive and negative, color ambiance and other cinematic devices. Already in the 1910s, the Italian Futurists Arnaldo Ginna and Bruno Corra made at least nine films, painting directly on the filmstrip not only non-objective pieces (the gradual takeover of the all-green screen by a red star, playing with afterimage) but also taking a divisionist painting by Segantini (a girl lying in a field of flowers) and re-painting it on frame after frame of the film to allow the colored dots to vibrate even more brilliantly than on the canvas. Unfortunately these films are all lost, as is the German Hans Stoltenberg’s film painted directly on the filmstrip about the same time. Other artists made plans for abstract films that were never realized: Leopold Survage (Parisian-based friend of Picasso and Modigliani) painted several hundred sequential images, Colored Rhythm, in full color on paper, with the hope that they could be filmed, but he was unable to find an adequate color process before World War I put an end to his project. Likewise the Polish artist Mieczyslaw Szczuka drew numerous sequential images on scrolls of paper, and published two fascinating samples in 1924, just a couple of years before his death, but was apparently not able to get them filmed.

Walther Ruttmann was the first filmmaker to finish an Absolute Film and distribute it in public cinemas. A painter and musician by training, Ruttmann renounced his abstract oil painting in 1919, declaring film to be the art-medium of the future. He mastered the techniques of filmmaking, and prepared his first film Movie Opus I with single-framed painting on glass and animated cutouts. The film was colored by three methods – toning, hand-tinting, and tinting of whole strips – so there was no single negative, and each print had to be assembled scene by scene after the complex coloring had been done. An old college buddy Max Buttingcomposed a musical score for the finished film, and Ruttmann himself played the cello in the string quintet that performed live with each screening at several German cities in the Spring of 1921. Ruttmann made three more Opus films, but used simpler tinting and did not prepare special music so that the films could be more easily and widely screened.

On May 3, 1925 the UFA Theatre on Kurfurstendamm in Berlin hosted an historic matinee screening, The Absolute Film, which included a live performance of three Color Sonatinas by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack of the Bauhaus, using a “color-organ” instrument he had constructed called the Reflectorial ColorPlay. Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony received its public premiere (Eggeling was unfortunately in the hospital, unable to attend). Walther Ruttmann screened his Opus 3 and Opus 4. (Hans Richter‘s 30-second Film is Rhythm had been listed on the program, but when Richter realized the scope and complexity of Ruttmann and Eggeling’s films, he withdrew his little test). Rene Clair’s film Intermission had been shot as an intermission feature for the Dada ballet No Performance Today designed by painter Francis Picabia with music by Eric Satie (both also appear in the film, along with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and the lead dancers from the Swedish Ballet, who had given No Performance Today its premiere in Paris in the fall of 1924). Rene Clair used every sort of cinematic device to give Intermission a zany Surrealist improbable logic, and it certainly qualifies as absolutely a film – something that could only be done by cinematic means. Similarly the film Mechanical Ballet used imagery in non-realistic fashion as rhythmic and satirical collisions of ideas. It also passed through a number of different hands before it was finished, also in the fall of 1924.

Two Americans began it: Man Ray had produced the superb Return to Reason (a witty collage of all things “movie”) which screened at a Dada happening, “An Evening with the Bearded Heart”. Dudley Murphy, who had filmed about 10 “Visual Symphony” live-action shorts synchronized with music, as well as a comedy feature and an animation film, saw Man Ray’s film and proposed that they collaborate on a larger work. The title came from a Francis Picabia satirical artwork published in his magazine 391 while Picabia was living in New York in 1917 – in an issue which also contained artwork and a poem by his friend Man Ray. Dudley Murphy and Man Ray set out to gather footage in the streets of Paris, animated stocking-model legs to do the Charleston, made scenes of Murphy’s lovely wife Katherine posed in greeting-card banalities, and set up scenes in a studio room where they filmed Man Ray’s mistress Kiki (and various other things) through special beveled lenses that Murphy had developed, which gave an automatic “cubist” quality to the image. They also shot footage of kitchen goods and plunging machine parts which were meant for an ironic intercutting with pornographic footage. Then they ran out of money. The painter Fernand Leger offered to finance the completion, but Man Ray dropped out and asked that his name not be used on the film. It is unclear what if any of the footage Leger had a part in filming (the Charlie Chaplin puppet is a Leger sculpture, though he would not know how to animate it), but the editing was accomplished by Murphy, since Leger had no actual filmmaking skills.

The first surviving abstract film, Walther Ruttmann’s Light-Play Opus Nr. 1, was shot in 1919 and 1920, had a musical score composed for it and premiered in April 1921. It makes brilliant use of color. Ruttmann had been a painter and his last abstract canvases were characterized by many delicate nuances of painterly brushstrokes and fine gradations of unmixed colors. In moving to film, Ruttmann tried to capture some of the same variety and dynamics by using three coloring techniques: tinting, toning and hand-tinting, that is, coloring the emulsion so dark areas have a hue, dying the film strip so the light areas have another color, and adding touches of other colors to specific shapes by painting directly on each film frame. This meant that each individual scene had to be printed separately (from black-and-white negative pieces), and each projection print of the film had to be assembled from a hundred fragments. The surviving copy of Opus 1 was somewhat incomplete, but one can reconstruct the film quite accurately because Ruttmann drew color pictures in the musical score (with precise indications of repeats and changes of color) so that the musicians could synchronize exactly. Ruttmann limited the imagery to a confrontation between hard-edged geometric shapes and softer pliant forms, and allowed the colors not only to characterize certain figures, but also to establish mood, as in the long blue “nocturne” of the second movement. When Ruttmann followed this with subsequent abstract Opus films, he avoided the complex color effects of his first film. He gave general orange and green tints to scenes in Opus 2 and Opus 3, but the all hard-edged, optically-vibrating Opus 4 remained black-and-white for maximum contrast.

read the entire article here


for more ART IN CINEMA see part 1




monumental set design on the water…


One year after the end of the Second World War, the first Bregenz Festival was held: the week-long Bregenz Festwoche. The inaugural performance was staged upon two barges moored on Lake Constance – one carrying the stage structures for Mozart’s early work Bastien et Bastienne, the other the orchestra. In a town that did not even possess a theatre, the idea of mounting a festival seemed eccentric; but the initially makeshift solution of choosing the loveliest part of the town – the lake – as the stage proved to be a hugely successful one. Visitors from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France made the Festival an international event in its very first year. The Festival orchestra from the outset was the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which has made a major contribution to the evolution and success of the Festival.

"The Death of Marat" by David (detail)...

In 1950 the Bregenz Festival acquired its first home: an off-shore stage erected on wooden piles, on which mainly operettas and ballets were performed. The open-air auditorium had a capacity of 6,500 seats; in the event of rain, a sports’ hall seating 1,000 people could be used instead. The previous year, 1949, had seen the foundation of the Patrons of the Bregenz Festival, a Bregenz residents organization which subsequently became the organizer of the annual Festival. Stage designer Walter von Hoesslin, with director Adolf Rott, took the first steps towards a distinct Bregenz production style, in that he dispensed with the conventional proscenium stage when designing the Seebühne. For him the lake was not just scenery, but a central element of the productions.

In July 2007 a team from EON Productions, the production company responsible for the James Bond movies, visited one of the last rehearsals for Tosca. Producer Barbara Broccoli and director Marc Forster were impressed – by the unique location on the shore of Lake Constance, the imposing stage set with its hi-tech capabilities, and by the modern architecture of the Festspielhaus. In the first week of May a film crew came to shoot scenes for the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace and stayed for ten days. In the film Bond discovers his adversary for the first time during a performance of Tosca during a seven-and-a-half-minute, high-action sequence shot in the Festspielhaus and on the Seebühne. Director Marc Forster has incorporated the opera intriguingly into the action of the film: the chase through the Festspielhaus is at the end like an apocalyptic silent film – interspersed with dramatic scenes from the Bregenz Tosca.


Opera on the Lake 1946 – 2006




the Mexican pointy boot craze…


Last month we went to the dusty city of Matehuala, Mexico, in the northern state of San Luís Potosí on the high plateau of the Huasteca Potosina, in search of the pointiest long-toed cowboy boots ever made. Over the past year, the botas vaqueras exóticas phenomenon has overrun the rodeo dance floors and clubs of this area, much to the dissatisfaction of Mexicans who critique the fashions of their countrymen on hotly trafficked style blogs.

But we were told we were too late, that the wrongly maligned wearers of what are by far the most wondrous footwear we’ve ever seen had been replaced with short, square, “pig-nosed” boots by stubby contrarians.

We’d seen the occasional report about the exotic pointy-boot trend making its way stateside, spreading into Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and other places where big groups of immigrant Mexicans have taken root, and we expected that the odds were pretty low that the style had phased out of Mexico completely. So we made our way to Mesquit Rodeo and Desierto Light, two cowboy venues in Matehuala, where party promoters host dance-offs to music known as tribal guarachero. Essentially, this sound is a combination of thumpy house music, ancient Hispanic chants and flute work, and Colombian dance songs known as cumbia.

In Matehuala, guarachero has become an unlikely style of music where a bunch of people who in theory should not get along come together and get along. It’s also the music preferred by the men and boys in the long and pointed boots.

Participants in these dance contests spend the days and weeks prior choreographing intricate footwork routines and fabricating their own outfits with cheap paint and fabric. The grand prize, beyond the enthusiastic crowd’s affection, is either a bottle of whiskey or a few bucks.

A separate contest, we were pleased to discover, is held for the longest, most ornate and pointed boots, which are also spotlighted in public song-and-dance programs. The exotic boots are made by modifying boring normal ones with materials bought in local hardware and craft stores. The fanciest are adorned with LED lights or mirrors, while others incorporate paint and every color of sequins. They all get the glitter treatment no matter what. It was explained to us that some boots have measured upward of five feet in length.

So maybe the rumor that people were bored of these boots was nothing more than hateful slander by jealous losers with no long boots of their own.

Gabriel Amaro Barajas, aka Minri, told us that it is in part a competitive argument, that the people of Matehuala wrongly took credit for the creation of the botas vaqueras exoticas. He explained that when Matehualan creations were unable to keep up with the sparkly likes of his own, they pretended to be done with the scene altogether. Minri appears in a picture on, a site dedicated lousy fashion, and is identified as having “the most pointy boots of 2010.” There are more than 100 comments railing on his five-foot winners, which in person are so long that he is forced to tie them to his belt in order to walk. He assured us that his crew, Barrio Apache Hyphy, started the trend—not in Matahuala but in the small neighboring community of Zaragoza de Solís.

“Those from Matehuala don’t use these boots anymore because they couldn’t compete,” Minri said. “They can’t beat us.”

We asked him what he thought the opinion of the general public might be.

“When people see someone walking with pointy boots,” he said, “they say, ‘No way, that guy is insane! Why do you wear those boots?’ But I say that everyone wears his own style, right?”

Minri introduced us to a few others from his crew. There was Francisco the Cell Phone Guy, a group called Los Pachangueros, some kids from Guadalupe, and a couple guys called Los Carnales, from the ranch of San Francisco. They were all sporting pointy boots.

We also met a different Francisco, an 18-year-old kid who, together with his wife, sells prepaid phone cards and cases for mobile phones in a tiny store in a market nearby. Usually he can be found strolling around proudly downtown wearing aqua-colored skinny jeans and spectacular boots decorated with red beads. They’re at least a couple feet in length, maybe longer.

Besides making his own boots, Francisco also crafts boots that he puts up for sale—he’s created more than 100 pairs to date, by his estimation. He’s even seen his creations in the US in pictures on websites.

We asked him what he thought about the dustup between pro- and anti-pointy-boot factions.

“Everyone does his own thing,” he said. “To me, these are the best boots—that’s it. I like these very much, and I dance with them. I don’t care what people think. As long as I like it, I don’t give a damn. That’s what I think.”

(VICE  3.11)


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