Archive for August, 2011




the ultimate noir cast…


Stanley Kubrick’s labyrinthine 1956 heist flick The Killing—an exploded rethink of John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and eventual template for the narrative convolutions of Reservoir Dog—became an instant facet in the jewel that was film noir, even as it refracted many of the cinematic crime bedazzlements that had preceded it. Much of its pleasure lies purely in its casting of an array of filmdom noir’s familiar faces, the movie’s every heavily shadowed curve and intentionally left-rough spot tricked out with class-act fillies and brick-headed galoots from Hollywood’s brightest galaxies of second- and third-rung heroes. Not even Sterling Hayden—one of the brashest, snarlingest leading men the screen has ever known—could have muted the charisma that surrounded him on The Killing’s set, not even when it came from men like Elisha Cook Jr., who seemed half his size, or frails like Coleen Gray, so meek she threatens to dissolve altogether under pressure of mere proximity to the man she loves. Everyone gets their own ripe mouthful of hard-boiled dialogue in The Killing, much of it supplied by a modern master of the form: Jim Thompson, pulp fiction’s furthest-out practitioner of stream-of-cracked-consciousness and creeps-giving conversation. Thompson had recently relocated to Hollywood after the publication of two of his magnum opera, The Killer Inside Me and Savage Night, when Kubrick hired him to collaborate on a screen adaptation of novelist Lionel White’s racetrack caper, Clean Break. The first product of the reportedly strained, multifilm collaboration between Kubrick and Thompson, their incendiary script for The Killing remains cinematic legend, lightning trapped in a jar—and their cast conspires to breath sulfur and sadness into every line. Could any other group of actors have come together as such a finely calibrated machine of mirth and menace, or imbued the film’s fractured narrative and hell-forged moral nuances with as many scents of poison or shades of existential disarray?

Sterling Hayden (Johnny Clay)

Born Sterling Relyea Walter in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, in 1916, then adopted at the age of nine and renamed Sterling Walter Hayden, the swaggering, six-foot-five-inch leading man once acclaimed as “the most beautiful man in the movies” came to Hollywood from a seafaring background, and returned to the sea repeatedly throughout his career, including sailing supplies from Italy to the Balkans for the OSS during World War II, for which he was multiply decorated. He remained close to the sea throughout his life, penning a lengthy account of his love of sailing in his 1963 memoir, Wanderer, while living in one of the pilothouses of the mighty ferryboat Berkeley, then docked in Sausalito (the North Bay city where he would spend much of the rest of his life.) Both gentle and gigantic, Hayden could easily have dominated any film in which he appeared but always remained a thoughtful and carefully modulated performer, paying tremendous attention to—listening to—the actors who worked with him. No wonder he produced most of his greatest work for directors known for eliciting unsettling, off-kilter performances from their actors: Kubrick (as The Killing’s luckless Johnny Clay, and later as Dr. Strangelove’s loose atomic cannon, General Jack D. Ripper), Nicholas Ray (as Johnny Guitar himself), John Huston (The Asphalt Jungle, where he furiously demands of people, “Don’t bone me!”), Francis Ford Coppola (as the corrupt cop in The Godfather), and Robert Altman (as The Long Goodbye’s outsized, unhinged, and unavoidably Haydenesque fading writer, Roger Wade). One of the greatest of Hollywood’s twentieth-century leading men, Hayden made a number of appearances on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Show in the seventies, fascinating—nay, altogether addictive—clips from which can be found scattered on YouTube. Hayden died in Sausalito in 1986.

Coleen Gray (Fay)

Born Doris Jensen in Staplehurst, Nebraska, in 1922, Coleen Gray became a contract player for 20th Century Fox in 1944, stopped acting for a couple of years after having a child in her midtwenties, then rushed back on-screen with a series of standout (if largely underplayed, as was her wont) roles at the forties’ end. Though she shot her scenes as John Wayne’s ill-fated betrothed for Howard Hawks’s Red River in 1946, the film wasn’t released until ’48, by which time Gray had been featured in two 1947 favorites: with Richard Widmark in Henry Hathaway’s snickering Kiss of Death, and with Tyrone Power in the geek noir milestone Nightmare Alley. In the fifties, she continued down noir’s crooked highway in The Sleeping City and Kansas City Confidential, and supported Ronald Reagan in the Allan Dwan western Tennessee’s Partner. By 1960, she was reduced to sucking men’s pineal glands dry in search of eternal youth as The Leech Woman. Though she worked in television for several decades, Gray increasingly turned her attention to her religious and political beliefs in the sixties, testifying before Congress in 1964, as part of “Project Prayer,” in favor of prayer in schools, and later working with born-again Watergate crook Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship; she also appeared in the Reverend Billy Graham’s 1986 production, Cry from the Mountain. Gray currently resides in Los Angeles.

Vince Edwards (Val Cannon)

Though eventually better known as the suave, pensive surgeon Ben Casey (the title character of one of early sixties television’s most popular medical dramas), Vince Edwards—a former national championship swimming star from Ohio State University (born in Brooklyn, 1928)—kicked off his headlining screen career as Hiawatha in Kurt Neumann’s 1953 western of the same name, and could occasionally be found playing handsome, cold-sweat psychopaths in crime thrillers throughout the fifties. The pair of films Edwards made with director Irving Lerner—Murder by Contract and City of Fear—are both masterworks of late-model noir: in the former, Edwards is a contract killer with the pathological patience of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman and a mortal fear of murdering women; in the latter, he’s a feverish escaped con carrying what he thinks is a container of dope—though it’s actually full of radioactive powder that’s slowly causing his innards to mutate and melt. (Martin Scorsese has professed his fondness for both of these low-budget, stylistically inventive Lerner sleepers.) Ben Casey had been a Bing Crosby television production, and Crosby encouraged Edwards’s singing career throughout the sixties as well. Edwards also directed several episodes of Ben Casey, and later directed episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica. He died in Los Angeles in 1996.

Jay C. Flippen (Marvin Unger)

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1899, and billing himself as “the Ham What Am” by the midtwenties, the craggy, snaggly-faced Jay C. Flippen—veteran vaudevillian, early radio sportscaster, jazz singer, blackface comedian, and friend of the great African American performer Bert Williams—cut a broad if little-recognized swathe across much of twentieth-century culture. A stage performer infrequently seen on-screen until the late forties, he appeared as “T-Dub” in Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night and soon became a familiar Hollywood face, working with director Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart in Winchester ’73 (where he’s kissed by Shelley Winters), Thunder Bay, and The Far Country. (The palpable homoerotic dimension of Flippen’s love for his former cellmate Sterling Hayden in The Killing lurks only barely beneath the surface of many of those Mann/Stewart films as well.) Flippen shared the screen with Marlon Brando (The Wild One), John Wayne (Jet Pilot, Hellfighters), and Henry Fonda (Firecreek), and sang in Fred Zinnemann’s Oklahoma. He turned up often in early sixties television, on sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Ensign O’Toole. A leg amputation left Flippen in a wheelchair in his later years, but he continued acting at the peak of his powers through his final, and perhaps most memorable, role as the Manichean Nixon-era power broker Luther Yerkes, in Russ Meyer’s (woefully undersung) censorship satire The Seven Minutes. Flippen died in 1971.

Ted de Corsia (Policeman Kennan)

As blocky and imposing as an onrushing Mack truck, Ted de Corsia, born in Brooklyn, 1903, began his film career fairly late in life, debuting in 1947 as a sneer from the shadows in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai, and famously fell to his death from a steel-girdered bridge in Jules Dassin’s The Naked City the following year. He became a regularly featured film noir nightman and frontier badass for the remainder of the fifties. De Corsia worked for directors as varied as Vincente Minnelli (Kismet), Joseph H. Lewis (the same year’s The Big Combo), and John Sturges (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), and had appeared in André de Toth’s Crime Wave along with his Kubrick costars Timothy Carey and Sterling Hayden in 1954; in 1956, the year he appeared in The Killing, he performed in at least six other features and more than half a dozen TV shows. Bat Masterson, Rawhide, Green Acres, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, The Monkees—the burly, often comedic but always potentially brutal de Corsia continued to be an omnivore of television guest slots until his death in Encino, California, in 1973.

Marie Windsor (Sherry Peatty)

“I don’t think I’ll have to kill her,” Sterling Hayden muses with a grin over Marie Windsor’s pretending-to-be-sleeping body in The Killing. “Just slap that pretty face into hamburger meat, that’s all.” More than a few film noir fellas have felt that way about the characters that the strikingly big-eyed Marie Windsor specialized in: gold diggers, two-timers, doe-eyed spider women, lethal dolls. (“I know you like a book, you little tramp,” Hayden later snarls at her. “You’d sell out your own mother for a piece of fudge.”) Born Emily Marie Bertelsen in Marysvale, Utah, in 1919, Windsor—a onetime Miss Utah who studied acting with the immortal Maria Ouspenskaya (sayer of The Wolfman’s immortal “Even a man who is pure at heart . . .” sooth and also acting teacher to, among others, Elaine May)—has become one of the legendary figures of film noir, an O.G. queen of the Bs best remembered for films like The Narrow Margin and Force of Evil. In fact, she appeared in genre nuggets of every stripe, from straight-up westerns like R. G. Springsteen’s Hellfire (one of Windsor’s personal favorites) to Preston Sturges’s western farce The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, the 3-D science fiction hokum of Cat-Women of the Moon, old Hollywood wheezers like Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, and Roger Corman no-budget drive-in quickies like Swamp Women. She even played Josephine to Dennis Hopper’s Napoleon in Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind; the Marx Brothers and Vincent Price are in it too. Windsor won a Look magazine award for best supporting actress for her part in The Killing, and remains a favorite of noir aficionados everywhere. Though largely retired from screen acting by the midseventies, she stayed busy as a painter and sculptor and was active in the Screen Actors Guild. Windsor died in Beverly Hills in 2000.

Elisha Cook Jr. (George Peatty)

The quintessential American character actor, Elisha Cook Jr. (Cookie to his friends) held center stage at the fringes of Hollywood cinema for decades, appearing as all manner of bug-eyed mugs and heat-packing psycho-sidekicks in hundreds of film and television classics. The word gunsel seems carved to fit Cookie, as John Huston must have seen at a glance when he cast him as the slapped-around pistol punk Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon. Cook got his first big break in theater, anointed by Eugene O’Neill himself for a memorable part in Ah, Wilderness! in 1933. His first picture was shot in New York in 1930, but his film career proper began in Hollywood in 1936: by 1941, the year he appeared in The Maltese Falcon, Cook had already worked for directors Mervyn LeRoy, Robert Florey, Tay Garnett, and John Ford (in Submarine Patrol). Endless inimitable turns in film noir staples ensued: across from Humphrey Bogart again in The Big Sleep, seconding Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill, and perhaps most indelibly as the speed-freak drummer in Robert Siodmak’s extraordinary Phantom Lady. (Cook would later claim Barbara Stanwyck as the foremost influence on his acting.) An encyclopedia would be required to trace Cook’s myriad TV appearances from the sixties to the end of the eighties, and he continued in features nearly as long: slain in Shane and deformed by Boris Karloff in Voodoo Island in the 1950s, back in Rosemary’s Baby, Blacula, Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Robert Aldrich’s Emperor of the North Pole and Wim Wenders’s Hammett. A lifelong outdoorsman, Cook was born in San Francisco in 1903 but for much of his life kept a residence far from the film business, in a cabin in the High Sierras; he died in Big Pine, California, in 1995.

Joe Sawyer (Mike O’Reilly)

“Tough-looking, square-faced, fair-haired, large-headed, solidly built American actor who played top sergeants, taxi drivers, crooks, sailors, and sundry denizens of working-class districts” is how David Quinlan’s once-indispensible Illustrated Encyclopedia of Movie Character Actors sums up Joe Sawyer (born Joseph Sauers in 1906 in Guelph, Ontario)—not a bad description at all, never mind that Sawyer was Canadian. My parents’ generation grew up knowing Joe as Sergeant Biff O’Hara in the Rin Tin Tin dog-adventure movies and radio and television shows. John Ford used Sawyer (then still Sauers) often in the thirties and forties, in The Informer, The Grapes of Wrath, and many other films; so did Raoul Walsh and Charles Vidor—indeed, it would be difficult to find a major Hollywood director from the Golden Age who didn’t direct Sawyer at one time at or another. IMDb lists more than two hundred film and television appearances, many of them uncredited, and there were probably many more: Sawyer appeared in sixteen films in 1936 alone. Sawyer died in Oregon in 1982.

James Edwards (Parking Attendant)

A forerunner of Sidney Poitier in the struggle to bring dignity to Hollywood roles for African Americans, James Edwards (born in Indiana, 1918) earned a B.S. in dramatics at Northwestern University but turned seriously to acting only after being wounded in combat during World War II; his first big break came from Elia Kazan, who directed him in the controversial Broadway hit Deep Are the Roots, where he costarred with Barbara Bel Geddes. He had a beaming, sometimes glowering countenance and a lush sonority in his delivery that riveted the viewer to whatever he was doing—a talent that led to a standout turn in Mark Robson’s Home of the Brave in 1949, which should have made Edwards a star but instead, after much critical praise, left him feeling embittered and betrayed by Hollywood’s high racial walls. He continued acting—in Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet, Douglas Sirk’s Battle Hymn, Anthony Mann’s Men in War, and as one of Lawrence Harvey’s ill-fated platoon buddies in John Frankenheimer’s paranoid masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate—along the way becoming friends with Woody Strode, the athlete turned John Ford mainstay with whom Edwards would share many of his struggles in the industry. Though his final role was as George C. Scott’s valet in Patton, Edwards never lost the poise and bearing he’d carried with him throughout his career—or the intensely human seething that seemed always just below his placid surface, raging to break free. Edwards died in San Diego in 1970, only fifty-one years old.

Timothy Carey (Nikki Arcane)

One of the most gargantuan and adorable scenery chewers the cinema has ever known, the six-foot-four Timothy Agoglia Carey had a growl so loud and a grimace so creepy he could have frightened Beelzebub off a toilet seat—and a warm if slightly warped grin so goofy and infectious he could charm a kitten out of a tree. A beatnik/hepcat/margin dweller before there were terms for such things, Carey was born in Brooklyn (are you sensing a pattern here?) in 1929. He was fired from the set of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (for scene-stealing as an extra) almost before his career began; appeared across from Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward in Henry Hathaway’s White Witch Doctor, with Brando in The Wild One and One-Eyed Jacks, and, uncredited, in André de Toth’s Crime Wave and Elia Kazan’s East of Eden; got mercilessly stomped (for real) by Richard Widmark in a scene for Delmer Daves’s The Last Wagon; and showed up as the face of evil in Bob Rafelson’s Monkees’ trip Head and on a hundred other oddball occasions, from Mermaids of Tiburon (a.k.a. Aqua Sex) to Beach Blanket Bingo and Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy. Carey’s career cornerstones include his work for Kubrick in The Killing and Paths of Glory and for John Cassavetes in Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. In 1962, Carey wrote, directed, and starred (as God) in The World’s Greatest Sinner, a monomaniacal vision of scuzzball grandeur with a soundtrack by Frank Zappa; his years-long plans to complete and market a TV sitcom pilot called Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena never came to fruition. In recent years, outtakes from the photo shoot for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album have revealed an image of Carey, posed holding his rifle in The Killing, positioned directly behind, and entirely occluded by, George Harrison’s head in the finished LP sleeve shot—lurking, once again, in the shadows of the glamorous, at once present and gloriously little-known. Carey died of a stroke in 1994.

Kola Kwariani (Maurice Oboukhoff)

“Kola (Kwariani), 280 [lbs.], was a brutal Georgian who learned wrestling from his mother, a six-foot-three-inch 205-pounder. Kola’s mother learned wrestling from her mother.” So wrote Gay Talese in the New York Times in 1958 of Kola (Nicholas) Kwariani, who was known in New York chess-playing circles simply as Nick the Wrestler. Born in Kutaisi, Georgia, in 1903, Kwariani spoke eight languages and wrestled Gene “Mr. America” Stanlee in a famous golden era match. Though his film career was confined to his work in The Killing and a 1952 episode of Columbia World of Sports entitled “Rasslin’ Rogues,” Kwariani’s outsized presence, innate intelligence, and extraordinary cauliflower ears made a lasting impression. Moreover, Kubrick gave him one of the best speeches in the film, and it’s well worth remembering here: “You know, I have often thought that the gangster and the artist are the same in the eyes of the masses. They are admired and hero-worshipped, but there is always present an underlying wish to see them destroyed at the peak of their glory.” Kwariani died in New York in 1980.

Jay Adler (Leo the shark)

Born in New York City in 1896, Jay Adler—brother of the famous teacher, Stanislavskian, and Group Theater founder Stella Adler—came from an acting dynasty and enjoyed a long and varied career on Broadway, in Hollywood, and on television, with bits and standout small parts in Robert Wise’s Three Secrets, Joseph H. Lewis’s The Big Combo, Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life, Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, and Jerry Lewis’s The Family Jewels. He died in Los Angeles in 1978.

Tito Vuolo (Joe Piano)

“Squat, voluble, and Italian-born, Tito Vuolo could not avoid being typecast as the jolly Italian in office,” writes IMDb minibiographer Guy Bellinger of the actor behind The Killing’s motel operator Joe Piano. So thoroughly does Bellinger seem to grasp the Vuolo gestalt that we’ll quote him at greater length: “Vuolo portrayed dozens of Italian barbers, pizza makers, vendors, grocers, waiters, hotel or restaurant proprietors. He played them well, but he was at his best when he was not restricted to stereotypes, particularly in films noirs where his good nature created a powerful contrast with the atmosphere of moral decay prevailing in such films as Kiss of Death, The Web, T-Men, The Racket, and, what is probably the best of them all, The Enforcer, as the taxi driver witnessing the murder at the beginning of the film.” Little more need be added, other than to note that Vuolo was born in 1893 in Gragnano, Italy, worked (often uncredited) for directors Michael Curtiz, Stanley Donen, King Vidor, and Anthony Mann, and died in Los Angeles in 1962.

Joe Turkel (Tiny)

Joe Turkel worked thrice for Stanley Kubrick (tying with Philip Stone for most credited appearances in a Kubrick film): first here, in what amounts to a glorified if pivotal bit as second gun in The Killing’s climactic shoot-out (you’ll glimpse him in one other scene too, if you’re quick), then as Paths of Glory’s Private Arnaud, and finally—and perhaps most famously—as Jack Nicholson’s chimerical bartender Lloyd in The Shining. Born (like so many of his Killing castmates) in Brooklyn, in 1927, Turkel is also intimately familiar to his many fans as Blade Runner’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the replicant industry pioneer and power broker who meets a squishy end at the hands of one of his proudest creations: Rutger Hauer. Deep genre divers will also remember Turkel as Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik in Roger Corman’s great 1967 pop art/gangland mashup, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Now retired from acting, Joe Turkel lives in Southern California.

Rodney Dangerfield (Onlooker)

The thirty-five-year-old Rodney Dangerfield (born Jacob Cohen in Babylon, New York, in 1921) received neither respect nor screen credit for his legendary (if peripheral) “role” as an onlooker during Kola Kwariani’s racetrack dustup in The Killing. Fans of the harried-to-the-point-of-hallucinations comic genius’s Easy Money and Back to School—and even hard-core Rodneyists who go all the way back to 1971’s The Projectionist—must, however, now admit that the Dangerfield filmography truly begins here, in these few fleeting frames from The Killing, back in 1956. Dangerfield died in Los Angeles in 2004.

Art Gilmore (Narrator)

You may not know Art Gilmore if you fell over him in the dark, but if you were going to the movies or watching TV in the mid-twentieth century, you’ve heard his voice a hundred times. The narrator of countless coming attractions trailers and educational shorts, and the voice of dozens of unseen radio announcers in movies (Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, for one) and on TV shows, Gilmore (born in 1912 in Tacoma, Washington) finally began to come out from the sound booth and appear on-screen around the time he started working for Dragnet creator and entertainment mogul Jack Webb in the early fifties; in the sixties and seventies, he appeared frequently as police captains and lieutenants on the Webb-produced hits Adam-12 and Emergency. Gilmore’s voice also introduced Ronald Reagan’s career-changing speech “A Time for Choosing,” in support of Barry Goldwater at the 1963 Republican National Convention. Sonically inclined liberal cineastes have been searching for ways to forgive him ever since—even as we admit that classics like The Killing couldn’t possibly have been the same without him. Gilmore died in Irvine, California, in 2010.


“THE KILLING” 1956 directed by Stanley Kubrick

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three projects…


Wind Shaped Pavilion

The Wind Shaped Pavilion is a design proposal for a large fabric structure that can be used as a public or private pavilion. As a lightweight fabric structure, the wind slowly and randomly rotates each of the six segments around a central open support frame. This continually alters the shape of the pavilion, while at the same time generating electrical power for its nighttime illumination. The shape of the structure starts out as a relatively symmetrical form. Then the wind begins to alter that shape randomly, with only a slim chance of ever returning to its original symmetry. If the structure’s scale and the materials were to change, it could become an apartment complex, and or some other commercial building. In this case, the occupants could take control and rotate the segments to adjust to changing desires or needs, such as weather conditions, best views, etc.

Orbiting Eco-House

The Orbiting Eco-House is a conceptual design that explores ways in which the movement of certain segments of a house relative to one another and the surrounding landscape can improve its eco and aesthetic functionality. The house consists of two separate structures, the lower structure contains space for general living, bath /laundry, food preparation, and dinning. The upper level structure contains space for sleeping, studio/office, and bathing. Each of these two structures can be rotated in any direction relative to one another around a center stationary utility core, which also contains a staircase.

On top of the center utility core structure is a large funnel shaped rainwater collection ring that catches and directs the water down into a series of holding tanks for use in and around the house. At the center of the rainwater collection ring, there is a large vertical axis wind turbine. Around the wind turbine there is a series of photovoltaic solar cells and a solar domestic water-heating panel. The wind turbine and the solar cells are used to generate electricity, which is stored in batteries and used to power the house.

Since the two separate structures are movable around the center utility core, each can be continually reoriented for the optimal position relative to the sun and wind. As an example, each segment of the house can face the sun at the appropriate time of day or year, and/or face away from the sun. Each segment can be turned to catch the prevailing winds and/or turned away, and of course each segment can easily be turned toward the most desirable view.

Each segment of the house has a large skylight built into the center of the roof. These skylights have insulated panels built in underneath that can be closed or opened to control heat loss and/or heat gain. They can also be used to exhaust hot air through perimeter vents, which draw in cooler air from under the elevated floors. All of the windows in the house and the large series of sliding glass doors, have built-in insulated panels that can be closed or opened over them from the inside in order to control heat loss and/or heat gain.

Lightweight phase change materials can be installed in the floors of each segment in order to store passive solar heat in the winter. In addition, earth pipes can be installed at the site to aid in the heating and cooling of the house through the center utility core. Waterless toilets are to be used, and all plumbing and electrical hook-ups are controlled through specially designed rotatable connections. The primary construction technique would investigate the use of structural insulated foam panels, with an appropriate monolithic coating of a lightweight concrete composite.

Malibu Video Beach House

This conceptual proposal for a weekend beach house would be constructed on a vacant lot sandwiched in-between two existing houses along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu California. Here the houses line up side by side along the road with only a thin sliver of the ocean and beach visible between them.

The facade of the Malibu video beach house facing the highway is covered with thin gas-plasma television screens that create a full-size video interface with the real world. These screens display images and sounds of the real beach that is obscured by the house itself. The beach can be shown in real or recorded time. Day recordings can be played back at night; sunny day recordings can be played on cloudy days; summer days can be shown in winter. Over scaled detailed images of the beach and ocean can be shown as well as digitally altered images.

A board walk leads guests up to the video beach wall where they can walk in through a mirrored doorway. The interior of the video wall is partially covered with a grid of mirrors that reflect the real beach back into the house. Some of the mirrors are actually plasma TV screens that can display real-time full sized or detailed images and sounds from the outside. Again, some may be prerecorded and some may be of the previous occupants.

Three walls of the house are made of structural concrete, surfaced with beach sand. This sand texture inside and outside, suggests that the house may have been formed from the beach like a child’s sand castle. Real beach sand also covers much of the interior floor area and all of the open deck on top of the house adjacent to a shallow wading pool. The rest of the floor area inside the house is covered with weathered wood planks.

The design of all of the facilities inside the house that accommodate basic living functions like, bathing, sleeping, eating, working and entertaining are symbolically based on images of objects associated with the beach environment. The food preparation module refers to food carts seen at the beach. The bath, toilet, storage and closet modules suggest the portable toilets use at the beach. All of the furniture suggests beach furniture. The upper level office loft structure looks as though it might be part of a lifeguard stand. A replica of a concrete beach fire pit sits on the lower level on the sand. Instead of a real fire, the pit contains various plasma TV screens showing fire images and sounds along with some real fire word and a bit of heat available on demand from a hidden electric heater. A smaller second video fire place sits on the sand in the upper level sleeping and office space.

The two side walls of the house are fitted with various sized thin flat plane plasma TV screens that are hinged to fold flat against the wall or swing out. These screens could be considered video “windows” to view the local environment (and the rest of the world). They create a real time interface with the beach as seen through the atrium. Cameras would be installed at various locations around the house and would send real time images and sounds to the video “windows”. Selections could be made for display from an ever changing menu including information from other parts of the world via the Internet. They could be used for security and for conducting business, teleconferencing , etc.

The house would have its own Web sight on the Internet and could be accessed in real time to , among other things, share the ocean view and sounds. Various audio environments could be created within and around the house by way of strategically planted microphones. These would record sounds from the local environment and play them back in various forms to create the desired effects. A large screen mounted on a roller near the top of the atrium can be lowered for sun shading or privacy. It can also be used as a video screen showing prerecorded images of the beach providing a beach view at night. Four thin plasma screens displaying images and sounds of various birds as they fly over the beach are hung from the top of the glass atrium.  Some images and sounds are shown in real time, some are prerecorded.

At the base of the atrium is a small water pool with a wave machine. It produces real waves that wash up onto the real sand inside the house. A bridge spanning it is made of glass covered video monitors displaying images of fish swimming in the ocean. Sometimes the images are sent in real time from cameras mounted in the ocean in front of the house, and sometimes they are prerecorded.

The top of the atrium is covered with photo voltaic cells that supply most of the electrical needs of the house. They also heat the water. Solar heat is also passively stored in the thermal mass of the floor and walls during the winter for space heating. Heat is vented to the outside during the summer.

The house’s ceilings are made of curved, translucent, back lit fiberglass panels and are punctured by three skylights. One skylight is built in under the top deck level pool, so the light is diffracted through the water. The other two (one on each level) are made of video screens. The screens are showing views and sounds of the sky, (either real-time or prerecorded) and sometimes show fish swimming in the ocean, viewed from underneath looking toward the sky.


see HUMAN SHELTER for lots more…




secret talents revealed…


Until now, Michael Jackson’s art collection was shrouded in mystery. It was said to be stuck in a legal dispute over possession. Then, people speculated that buyers such as Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberté were interested. It’s been valued at the staggering (and slightly unbelievable) sum of $900 million.

One crucial fact: Jackson’s art collection isn’t art by other people — it’s mainly drawings and paintings that he created himself. So what does that art look like?

Yesterday, LA Weekly was the first to visit the (until now) top-secret Santa Monica Airport hangar that Jackson used as his studio and art storehouse. The collection is currently owned by Brett-Livingstone Strong, the Australian monument builder and Jackson’s art mentor through the years, in conjunction with the Jackson estate.

Though the entire art collection has been mired in disputes and battles for rights, Strong claims that he is working with everybody — the family, the estate, as well as others — to exhibit and publish as much of Jackson’s work as possible.

According to Strong, he and Jackson formed an incorporated business partnership in 1989, known as the Jackson-Strong alliance. This gave each partner a fifty-percent stake in the other’s art. In 2008, Strong says, Jackson requested that his attorney sign the rights to Jackson’s portion of the art over to Strong. Now, Strong is beginning to reveal more and more of the art as he goes ahead with Jackson’s dream of organizing a museum exhibit.

Strong gave us a tour of the hangar, beginning with the Michael Jackson monument that Strong and Jackson co-designed several years ago. It’s perhaps bombastic, but designed with good intentions and the rabid Jackson fan in mind. Strong explains, “He wanted his fans to be able to get married at a monument that would have all of his music [in an archive, and playing on speakers], to inspire some of his fans.”

the studio...

The current design is still in the works, but it’s conceived as an interactive monument — fans who buy a print by Jackson will receive a card in the mail. They can scan this card at the monument, and then have a computer organize a personal greeting for them, or allow them to book it for weddings. Jackson initially thought it would be perfect for Las Vegas, but Strong says that Los Angeles might have the honor of hosting it — apparently, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently paid a visit and made a few oblique promises.

As for Jackson’s art, the contents of the hangar barely scratched the surface of the collection, as Strong estimates Jackson’s total output at 150 to 160 pieces. A few large pieces hanging on the walls had been donated as reproductions to the L.A. Children’s Hospital last Monday, along with other sketches and poems.

In all of his art, certain motifs kept cropping up: chairs (usually quite baroque), gates, keys and the number 7. His portrait of Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee, shows a monkey-like face vanishing into a cushy, ornate lounge chair. “He loved chairs,” says Strong. “He thought chairs were the thrones of most men, women and children, where they made their decisions for their daily activity. He was inspired by chairs. Rather than just do a portrait of the monkey, he put it in the chair. And you see, there are a few sevens — because he’s the seventh child.”

Jackson, who was a technically talented artist — and completely self-taught — fixated on these motifs, elevating everyday objects into cult symbols. Strong added that Jackson’s sketchbooks are completely filled with studies of his favorite objects, in endless permutations.

But Jackson also created portraits: a small sketch of Paul McCartney, and a large drawing of George Washington, created as Strong was working with the White House to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution back in 1987. He also sketched self-portraits — one as a humorous four-panel drawing charting his growing-up process, and a darker one that depicts him as a child cowering in a corner, inscribed with a sentence reflecting on his fragility.

one of an unfinished series of the U.S. presidents...

As an artist, Jackson preferred using wax pencils, though Strong adds, “He did do a lot of watercolors but he gave them away. He was a little intimidated by mixing colors.” Some surviving pencils are archived in the hangar; Strong moves over to a cabinet on the far wall of the hangar and pulls out a ziploc bag containing a blue wax pencil, a white feathered quill and a white glove that Jackson used for drawing.

Jackson turned to art as times got hard for him. “His interest in art, in drawing it, was just another level of his creativity that went on over a long period of time,” Strong says. “It was quite private to him. I think he retreated into it when he was being attacked by those accusations against him.” The sketches and drawings certainly reveal an extremely sensitive creator, though it’s clear that Jackson also had a sense of humor.

Jackson’s art was kept under wraps for such a long time simply because of the pedophilia scandal, which erupted right around the time that he was looking for a way to publicize the works. “A lot of his art was going to be exhibited 18 years ago. Here’s one of his tour books, where he talks about exhibiting art. He didn’t want it to be a secret,” Strong says, pointing at a leaflet from the 1992 Dangerous World Tour.

Prior to that period, Jackson and Strong had met and become fast friends. This marked the beginning of Strong’s mentorship, in which he encouraged Jackson to create bigger paintings and drawings, and exhibit his work. The idea behind their Jackson-Strong Alliance was that Strong would help Jackson manage and exhibit his art. Notably, the alliance birthed Strong’s infamous $2 million portrait of Michael Jackson entitled The Book, the only known portrait Jackson ever sat for.

In 1993, everything blew up. At the time, Jackson and Strong were both on the board of Big Brothers of Los Angeles (now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters), a chapter of the national youth mentoring organization established in L.A. by Walt Disney and Meredith Willson. They had planned out a fundraising campaign involving Jackson’s art. Strong explains, “We thought that if we would market [his art] in limited edition prints to his fans, he could support the charities that he wanted to, rather than have everybody think that he was so wealthy he could afford to finance everybody.” When the pedophilia scandal erupted, Disney put a freeze on the project. The artwork stayed put, packed away from public eyes in storage crates.

As for the spectacular appraisal of $900 million for Jackson’s art collection, Strong says that it derives from the idea of reproducing prints as well. The figure was originally quoted by Eric Finzi, of Belgo Fine Art Appraisers. “The reason somebody came out with that was because there was an appraisal on if all of his originals were reproduced — he wanted to do limited editions of 777 — and he would sell them to his fan base in order to build his monument, support kids and do other things. You multiply that by 150 originals, and if they sold for a few thousand dollars each, then you would end up with 900 million dollars.” Fair enough, though now Strong says he has gone to an appraiser in Chicago to get that value double-checked, and they arrived at an even higher estimate.

The story of Jackson’s art ends up being quite a simple one, though confused by so much hearsay and rumor. Strong and the Jackson estate will slowly reveal more works as time passes, and an exhibit is tentatively planned for L.A.’s City Hall. Negotiations with museums for a posthumous Jackson retrospective are still underway, but Strong has high hopes. He’s even talking of building a Michael Jackson museum that would house all of Jackson’s artwork.

We’ll leave you with Strong’s own description of Jackson at work, during the time where they shared a studio in a house in Pacific Palisades:

He was in a very light and happy mood most of the time. He would have the oldies on, and sometimes he’d hear some of his Jackson Five songs. He’d kind of move along to that, but most of the time he would change it and listen to a variety of songs. He liked classical music. His inspiration to create was that he loved life, and wanted to express his love of life in some of these simple compositions.

I came to the studio one day, and we had a Malamute. I came into the house, and I heard this dog barking and thought, Wow, I wonder what that is. I go into the kitchen, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I see Michael up in the pots and pans in the middle of the center island. He’s holding a pen and paper and the dog is running around the island and barking at him, and he says, “He wants to play! He wants to play!” He’s laughing, and I’m laughing about it as I’m thinking to myself, “I’m wondering how long he’s been up there.”

Michael Jackson’s dedication to art: so strong that he’ll end up perched on a kitchen island.

(LA WEEKLY  8.17.11)




one of Scorsese’s favorite rock-n-roll films ever….


You might not know the name but you know the face. One of the most eccentric character actors in American cinema, he has had the rare distinction of working with everyone from James Dean and Elia Kazan (in East of Eden) to Marlon Brando (on The Wild One & One-Eyed Jacks) to Stanley Kubrick (on The Killing & Paths of Glory) to John Cassavetes (on Minnie and Moskowitz & The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) to The Monkees (on their feature debut Head, co-written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson) to Mr. T, Bill Maher and Gary Busey in D.C. Cab…and I’m leaving out Clark Gable (Across the Wide Missouri), Francis the Talking Mule (Francis in the Navy), director Curtis Harrington (What’s the Matter With Helen?) and god knows who else. We’re talking about Timothy Carey and probably his greatest role is the one you’ve never seen – The World’s Greatest Sinner.

Written, directed and starring Timothy Carey, The World’s Greatest Sinner truly qualifies as an underground movie in more ways than one. Not only did it never receive an official theatrical release, making it practically impossible to see unless it was at one-off screenings organized by Carey, but the film defies practically every convention of commercial filmmaking, inventing its own film language as it goes along. Is it a Dadaist prank? (Carey was a huge fan of Salvador Dali) Is it an allegory about American culture and society? Is it a Beat Generation rejection of conformity? Or is it some kind of crackpot masterpiece about self-actualization? It’s probably all of the above and then some.

Here’s the basic concept of The World’s Greatest Sinner in a nutshell. An insurance agent named Clarence Hilliard suddenly has a revelation at work and discards his nine-to-five existence for streetcorner sermonizing. But he doesn’t preach the gospel. Instead he espouses his own spiritual beliefs after making a pact with the Devil (the voice of Paul Frees in the guise of a snake) - “There’s only one God, and that’s Man.” Soon, he changes his name to God and begins to attract a following of new converts through his live rockabilly performances and impassioned rabble-rousing. His promise to make everyone a “superhuman being” brings him into the political arena where he runs as an independent for President of the United States. As his power and influence grows, so does his delusion that he is invincible. He seduces 80-year-old women and 14-year-old girls alike in his blatant flaunting of taboos, incites riots, and eventually challenges the real God to a showdown.

As audacious as it sounds, the execution is decidedly un-Hollywood in presentation. The film, featuring a cast of non-professional actors with few exceptions, has a home movie feel to it, with scenes shot in Carey’s home, his neighborhood, in and around Los Angeles and on cheap interior, low-budget sets. The sound recording is inferior and some of the dialogue is hard to hear, the cinematography (by Ray Dennis Steckler of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living… fame, among others) is wildly uneven from poorly lit scenes to an obvious fondness for the odd detail,  and the editing is haphazard, resulting in occasional incoherence that is closer to stream-of-consciousness musings than a conventional linear approach to narrative.

The musical segments, in particular, are especially memorable because Carey recruited a young, unknown-at-the-time Frank Zappa to compose the score – and it’s one reason for the movie’s cult fame. Zappa would later dismiss the movie, according to Carey, stating that The World’s Greatest Sinner was “the world’s worst film and all the actors were from skid row.” But the same accusations would later be leveled at the films of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Multiple Maniacs) which shares so many sensibilities and renegade filmmaking tactics with Carey’s opus.

Of course, the main reason to see The World’s Greatest Sinner is to observe Timothy Carey with the brakes removed. He’s mesmerizing in every scene but subtlety is not his speciality. Some critics have accused him of being a total ham and his scene chewing has an excessive, bigger-than-life quality. But just try to tear your eyes away from the screen. Watch him shake like a bowl of radioactive jello as his Elvis-like alter ego dressed in gold lamé (There’s a little James Brown thrown in as well – “Please! Please! Please! Please! Please! Take My Hand!” –  and maybe even some Tiny Tim). See him transform before your eyes into a hell and brimstone evangelist or play it sweet and low-key as an insurance salesman who’s just “seem the light.”

Carey has always had his own “style” of acting and when you start to consider all of the parts he’s played, he stands out in every movie, even in films where a director like Stanley Kubrick tightly controls every detail right down to an actor’s performance. Among some of my favorite Carey performances are his scary whorehouse bouncer in East of Eden, the shellshocked, emotionally damaged soldier facing execution in Paths of Glory, the creepy gangster assigned to watch over hostage Phyllis Kirk in Andre de Toth’s Crime Wave, one of the hell-raising motorcycle gang members in The Wild One and his racetrack marksman in The Killing. Now you can add God Hilliard in The World’s Greatest Sinner to your list of favorite Carey roles. If you want to know more about Carey, there are countless web sites about him on the internet but I recommend you start with his son Romeo Carey’s site – Absolute Films.


“THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER” 1962 directed by Timothy Carey




Peter CookMichael Webb, David Greene, Ron HerronWarren Chalk and Dennis Crompton…


The Archigram Group came together in the early 1960s.  Peter Cook’s cartoons in the Archigram Story tell something of how it happened.  There was only a short period of about two years between 1962 and 1964, when we were all in the same place at the same time.  This was when we produced our first major exhibition, “Living City” (shown at the ICA in London in 1963).


see the Archigram Archival Project for an incredible collection of images relating to the group’s magazines and projects…

an index of Archigram projects here




the art of ancient astronomy…


The astronomer ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Umar al-Sufi, commonly known as al-Sufi, was born in Persia (present-day Iran) in 903 A.D. and died in 986. He worked in Isfahan and in Baghdad, and is known for his translation from Greek into Arabic of the Almagest by the ancient astronomer Ptolemy. Al-Sufi’s most famous work is Kitab suwar al-kawakib (Book of the constellations of the fixed stars), which he published around 964. In this work, al-Sufi describes the 48 constellations that were established by Ptolemy and adds criticisms and corrections of his own. For each of the constellations, he provides the indigenous Arab names for their stars, drawings of the constellations, and a table of stars showing their locations and magnitude. Al-Sufi’s book spurred further work on astronomy in the Arabic and Islamic worlds, and exercised a huge influence on the development of science in Europe. The work was frequently copied and translated. This copy, from the collections of the Library of Congress, was produced somewhere in south or central Asia, circa 1730, and is an exact copy of a manuscript, now lost, prepared for Ulug Beg of Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan) in 1417 [820 A.H.]. The Bibliothèque nationale de France has a manuscript of the Kitab suwar al-kawakib that was prepared for Ulug Beg in 1436.






author as director…


Norman Mailer wrote and directed this demented film noir, which takes place in a Provincetown of perpetual twilight. Most of the tale, based on his best-selling novel, is told in flashback as Dougy Madden (Lawrence Tierney) pays a visit to his son Tim (Ryan O’Neal). Dougy, a tough ex-bartender, is ravaged by cancer and decides to see Tim one last time in order. But Tim is suffering both from writer’s block and from the effects of too many years of drink, drugs, and sex. His sexy wife Patty Lariene (Debra Sandlund) has recently left him and disappeared. Even worse, one morning he awakens from his stupor to find the front seat of his car covered with blood and a severed head inside his drug stash. He tries to rekindle a relationship with his ex-wife Madeleine (Isabella Rossellini), now married to the psychotic Provincetown police chief, Alvin Luther Regency (Wings Hauser), and he re-acquaints himself with old prep school friend Wardley Meeks III (John Bedford Lloyd), who was also married to the missing Patty Lareine. As the murders pile up and Tim’s psyche takes a beating, Dougy decides to help Tim put an end to this chaotic mess of murders.


“TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE” 1987 directed by Norman Mailer





a stab at Bukowski…


The film is centered around the character of Harry Voss and chronicles his life in three parts— starting at age 12, continuing at age 19, and finally at age 33. As a child, Harry Voss idolizes fairy tale notions of romantic relationships. These are the ones where a dashing prince fights for the hand of a pure-hearted princess, and they end up living happily ever after. While Harry strives to find his own little bit of romantic happiness, life’s little moments maliciously conspire to put him and his romantic ideals through the ringer. Harry as a child, a teen, and a man is slowly suffocating in a sea of all-encompassing loneliness, and any fleeting hints of romantic affection appear to only delay the inevitable.

Crazy Love is a portrait of loneliness and longing that I believe that some people can and will identify deeply with. The film is a hellish fever dream of youthful longing where life’s major and minor disappointments are isolated, exaggerated, and twisted into something of profoundly delicate beauty. The experience is akin to having a good deal of childhood trauma wrenched out of your chest and having every jagged, stabby bit molded into a perfect snowflake.

There are elements to Crazy Love that, on paper, seem incredibly seedy and disturbing. Even indie films made for audiences today don’t dare to pull off some of the same shit that this little known film from 80’s did. Even so, the objectionable content is never, ever portrayed in an exploitative manner. With the amount of disturbing stuff I’ve seen over the years, I should know. Everything is motivated by the character traits the film carefully establishes. This character development moves the plot briskly forward. (Speaking of brisk pacing, the Crazy Love clocks in at a svelte 86 minutes.)

Crazy Love is a forgotten classic and I consider it one of the best films to come out of the 80’s. Although I have nothing but the highest regard for the film, Crazy Love is definitely not for all audiences. Those who are depressed or are on the verge of depression should avoid it, as well as those with more delicate sensibilities. For those whose film tastes run more towards the bold and adventurous, this picture may be tailor-made for you.


“CRAZY LOVE”  (aka “LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL”) 1987 directed by Dominique Deruddere





and Henry Miller’s final stay in Paris…

by RC

The film of Tropic of Cancer will be definitively produced and directed by Joseph Strick, who made Ulysses (by Joyce). He’ll do it the same way. No castration, no modification. Bravo for him, I say!

– Henry Miller in a letter to Brassai 1968

Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic Of Cancer, was adapted and released as a feature film in 1970. Although the film maintained Paris as its locale—as it had been in the novel—the action was shifted to contemporary times (1969). Although it remains the only film adaptation of Miller’s classic novel, it had not been the first attempt to do so.


Joseph E. Levine’s Embassy Pictures distributed foreign films in the U.S., most notably Godzilla (1956) and Fellini’s 8½ (1963). It was around this time that Embassy decided to get into the film production business, and in 1962 Levine bankrolled a film version of Tropic Of Cancer. In January 1963, Henry was looking forward to going to Paris for 17 weeks as a “consultant” on the film, which would also yield a substantial payday. But by June 1963, the production was bogged down in litigation, with production partners and an actress suing Levine. Due to these troubles, Henry’s contract as advisor was terminated at the end of the year. In June 1964, the conflicts were settled out of court and Levine was ready to forge ahead again with Tropic, but, by the following summer, Henry expressed his concern to Brassai: “I’m increasingly convinced they’re going to massacre my Cancer. What can be done? The author counts for nothing”. The project eventually lost steam and died in development.


Famed Hollywood producer Robert Evans has many saucy stories to tell in his memoirs The Kid Stays in the Picture. Although the dialogue exchange he provides between he and Henry seems apocryphal to me (maybe it isn’t, but it remains otherwise unsubstantiated), Evans tells of a friendly ping-pong game that turned into a hustled wager in which Henry bet him to turn Tropic Of Cancer into a film if he won. The balls fell in Miller’s favor. As the head of production at Paramount Pictures, Evans had the clout to get it made, but, writes Evans, the top brass were less than impressed, and threatened to fire him and burn the negative. “It played in one theater and disappeared for good,” writes Evans. “Because of Henry Miller, I traveled a back elevator for the next two months. Henry, you got the last laugh, wherever you are, and I’m sure it ain’t heaven”.

In another telling of this same story, Evans makes no mention of a wager, but instead quotes Henry as challenging him verbally: “’You don’t have the guts to make Cancer.’” Is any of this true? In fact, Joseph Strick’s production company Tropic Film Corporation (half backed by a Swiss film corporation) produced the film in 1969, while Evans’ Paramount seems to have been involved only as far as picking up distribution rights.


On December 8, 1968, the New York Times reported that director Joseph Strick would be attached to direct. Strick had previously earned an edgy reputation for his film adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1967), whose raw language caused much controversy, including a ban in Ireland that would last 33 years. Henry initially felt encouraged by the vision of the 45-year old director, whose unorthodox approach got him fired the previous year by the Hollywood honchos who were paying for a conventional adaptation of Lawrence Durrell’s Justine.

After a visit to London, Miller was sent to Paris in the summer of 1969 as a consultant on the film, an experience he wrote about for a article called “Tropic Of Cancer Revisited,” published in Playboy’s June 1970 issue: “I had hardly arrived at my hotel when I was summoned to the shooting of a scene in a night spot on a narrow little street called Passage du Depart off the rue d’Odessa”. The chauffered ride to the set gave Henry a flashback of his bike rides from Porte de Clichy to Louveciennes in 1932-33 to see Anais Nin. Paris “looked better to me than it ever had,” wrote Miller, despite the “ugly modern apartments,” but he seemed resigned to the fact that “there would be no attempt to re-create the Paris of the Thirties” for the film. Henry’s impressions of Paris was to be the most-asked media question during his nearly-two month visit. He would never return to Paris again.

James Decker’s essay “Literary Text, Cinematic ‘Edition’: Adaptation, Textual Authority, and the Filming of Tropic of Cancer” (2007) covers details about the filming of Tropic Of Cancer as well as offering analysis of its adaptation: “Strick attempts to preserve as much of Miller’s language as possible, but he hardly follows the novel word-for-word or scene-by-scene, choosing instead to alter those parts of the book that would not translate well to the screen. Strick, moreover, consciously chose to emphasize the book’s comedic elements.”

Decker quotes Strick admitting that he “doesn’t write well enough to do an original screenplay.” Although Strick is listed as a co-writer–along with associate producer Betty Botley–Strick’s Ulysses writing partner Fred Haines was originally assigned the task. According to Haines’ obituary in The Independent (he died this month, on May 4th), the two men “disagreed on the shape of the screenplay, [and] Haines simply asked that he not be credited as the writer.”

Although Henry uses the Playboy article to express admiration for Strick’s directing demeanor, Rip Torn’s vitality (playing Henry 30 years younger), and Ellyn Burstyn’s penetrating understanding of Mona/June (whom she portrayed), Henry was most pleased to socialize with a short, hunched French bit-actor named Alfred Baillou, who played a minor part as a night watchman at the lycée at Dijon (a role that essentially ended up on the cutting room floor): “the most interesting person I had the pleasure of conversing with during my visits to the set,” wrote Miller. “We talked as people talk who have known each other for years […] like myself, he was drawn to the arcane and the occult”.

Henry also had the company of his son Tony, who got some work on the film. His young wife, Hoki, was to join him in Paris, but chose to stay away most of the time, even though Henry got Strick to call her to offer her a small part in the film. Henry was invited to view the raw, unedited film dailies, but he found the process “tedious and confusing”. He also made a fleeting appearance in the film as a “spectator” in a wedding scene. His tenure as advisor ended around August 10th.


“Cancer film opened in N.Y. at the Paris Cinema on 58th & 5th Ave. last week. Mixed reviews by critics,” wrote Henry to Lawrence Durrel on February 27, 1970. Some critics felt that the faithful narration slowed the action down; parts of the film were considered unintentionally funny, or even sexist. Pauline Kael, however, seems to have appreciated it: “This series of vignettes and fantasies, with bits of Miller’s language rolling out, may be closer to Russ Meyer’s THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS than to its source, but at least it isn’t fusty. It makes you laugh”.
To make matters worse, the film was saddled with a “X” rating. Strick, as the Producer, immediately took antitrust legal action against his own distributor, Paramount Pictures, who refused to release the film without a rating (which Strick wanted); being branded with an “X” severely restricted its sales potential.
Regardless of the accuracy of Robert Evans’ ping-pong anecdote with Henry, perhaps he had made a bad wager after all; perhaps he was hoping to cash in on the “X” cachet that had reached its peak with the Academy Award wins for the X-rated Midnight Cowboy in 1969. The Paramount publicity packets for theatre owners in 1970 reveals their eagerness to cash in on scandal: “One of the things that you can do to heighten [the] controversy, thereby bringing attention to your engagement, would be to screen the film for a number of local dignitaries, judges, lawyers, college professors, and students and let them debate on their pro and con feelings”.
I am not clear that the film was originally X-rated due to sexual portrayals or for language. However, when re-classified in the 1992, Tropic Of Cancer was labelled with the new NC-17 rating: “for strong language and sex-related dialogue.”
Miller, 1970: “[It’s] possible that a public that has been feeding on raw meat will find [the movie] Tropic Of Cancer tame, even innocent, like the author himself. One thing that I suspect audiences will not find tame, however, is the narration, taken word for word from the book”.


“TROPIC OF CANCER” 1970 directed by Joseph Strick


from the Brooklyn waterfront…


NYC 8.12.11…




preserving New Orleans tradition…

from BCM

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is home to collections of costumes, artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, films, and other materials important to New Orleans’ African American culture. Our collections inform and enlighten visitors of all ages. The collections continue to grow with donations of new objects that incorporate unique influences while simultaneously maintaining traditional styles.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum’s permanent exhibits, from displays on Mardi Gras Indians, to social aid and pleasure clubs, and jazz funerals, reveal a particular view on life.  The exhibits illuminate African American history in the struggles against slavery and disenfranchisement and for freedom.  The artisans who created the objects know hardship, yes. But they also know how to live triumphantly and express the beauty of life; something that no hardship can ever take away.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum’s exhibitions explore the creative achievements, improvisational brilliance, and collective spirit of New Orleans’ African American society.  The exhibits provide opportunities for all visitors to embrace the rich legacy of African American culture.

Film Collection

Museum founder Sylvester Francis began filming New Orleans’ African American parading culture in the late 1970s.  Since then, he has amassed films and videotapes that document over 500 jazz funerals.  This collection also records more than thirty years of New Orleans’ African American Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras Indian public performances, and the second-line parades of social aid and pleasure clubs.

The museum’s film collection is available for the public to access. Videos from the collection are shared with a wide audience at the museum’s annual exhibit during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The museum regularly screens its films at schools and other venues in the Tremé neighborhood.

Mardi Gras Indians

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is proud to host an extensive collection of Mardi Gras Indian regalia, including suits of Big Chiefs, Queens, Flag Boys, Wild Men, and more. The Mardi Gras Indians are one of New Orleans’ greatest cultural treasures.  Every year, the tribes take to the streets, bringing generations of history right along with them.  Each suit is an elaborate design of beads, feathers, plumes, and stones: the result of a year’s worth of labor, time, money, and creativity.

The Mardi Gras Indian tradition is rooted in a legacy of resistance.  Enslaved Africans, escaping the dehumanizing violence of the plantation, found hospice with Native Americans. The Mardi Gras Indian tribes are noted for their exquisite costumes, public performances at Carnival, and their musical contributions. The Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans endure as the preservers of a distinctive cultural legacy.

Skull and Bone Gangs

The museum’s holdings include costumes and objects related to the North Side Skull and Bone gang, one of the oldest African American processional traditions of New Orleans. The Skull and Bone gangs serve to bless Carnival by stirring the spirits, thus warding off sickness and injury and ensuring a safe celebration. In the early hours of Mardi Gras day, the Skull and Bone gangs roam the streets, walking with stilts, wearing handcrafted skulls, skeleton suits, and carrying animal bones.  With harmless mischief—knocking on doors, beating drums, shouting and singing—they alert the community that Mardi Gras has arrived.

Baby Dolls

The Baby Dolls are a New Orleans’ African American Carnival tradition that dates to the first half of the twentieth century. The Baby Dolls are made up of women wearing fancy dresses who parade through Tremé and other largely African American neighborhoods. After decades of being inactive, the Baby Dolls tradition was revived in 2004 and is growing stronger each year. It is a beautiful sight to encounter Indians, Skeletons, and Baby Dolls gathering at the Backstreet Cultural Museum on Mardi Gras Day.

Jazz Funerals

There is an African American proverb that advises us to cry at birth and laugh at death.  No tradition better exemplifies this than the jazz funerals of New Orleans. Jazz funerals are an important ritual that sustains the community and links it to the ancestors. The jazz funerals of New Orleans date to the beginning of the twentieth century. Many jazz funeral processions are held each year, often to honor musicians or members of social aid and pleasure clubs.

After the church ceremony, the casket is led to the cemetery by the slow, somber dirges and hymns of a brass band.  After the burial, however, to signify that the time for mourning is over, the band picks up the tempo, followers of the procession break into dances, and the second-line parade begins: a celebration to send the loved one’s spirit into the afterlife.

Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs

The Backstreet Cultural Museum’s collections include costumes, decorated fans, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, and other finery from New Orleans’ social aid and pleasure clubs. You can rest assured that at any second-line parade in New Orleans, the social aid and pleasure club members will be the best dressed, with flamboyant, impeccable, matching outfits.  They are invariably the pride of the parade.

These clubs are about more than just fun, however.  They emerged during a period in which segregation severely limited the resources available to African American families and communities. Today’s social aid and pleasure clubs developed from benevolent societies that were created to provide members with support and benefits, such as insurance, funeral coverage, and educational assistance. The clubs participated in charitable works and offered an outlet for entertainment through social gatherings—parades, picnics, and dances.  The benevolent societies were organized for the collective good, and helped to foster a more unified community. The modern social aid and pleasure clubs continue this tradition and build pride in the local cultural community.


1116 St. Claude Street, NOLA…




the Cacophony Society, Clowns on the Bus, Santacon and the Palahnuiak connection…


Early member John Law interviewed by V.Vale

VALE: When did the Suicide Club start?

JOHN LAW: 1977. I was just an eighteen-yearold juvenile delinquent who didn’t know anything about anything! I was fortunate to join the Suicide Club, which introduced me to a world of adventure. Our motto was: ‘To live each day as though it were your last.’ It was about challenging your fears. The club lasted about five years.

V: Now, who started the Suicide Club?

JL: Five people started it. Gary Warne [pronounced 'Warn'] was definitely the avatar–the central driving force. He was a truly unique, brilliant character, but very low-key in his demeanor. He was soft-spoken and looked ‘normal.’ However, he had these crazy ideas that he would implement in the real world, and get people to come and do events based on his ideas. The Suicide Club was one of them.

Gary was heavily influenced by the Surrealists and the Dadaists. He introduced us to the concept of ‘synaesthesia’–e.g., to taste a smell, or to feel an image. He wanted to create experiences that would be like living out a fantasy or living out a film. Climbing the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog with a group of people is a surreal experience. The Suicide Club could create an other-worldly, surreal environment. Getting naked on the cable cars was a surreal experience. He wanted a disconnect with ‘reality’ and a connection with ‘super-reality.’ ‘Cuz knowing you could fall off the bridge and die is a super-real feeling.

Going out to the drawbridge of an abandoned ghost town and almost being run over by a train coming out of the mist made you realize how ‘real’ the experience was, even though it seemed so unreal and phantasmagoric. Because when a light came toward the group out of the distance, no one could hear anything, and everybody thought it was just some guy on a hand-cranked railroad car. But suddenly it became a train going fifty miles an hour bearing down only a hundred yards away. It was like Daffy Duck opening a door and suddenly a train zooms into your room!

At that time, Gary was a chief administrator for the ‘Communiversity,’ which started in 1969 at San Francisco State College. It was part of a sixties hippie concept called the ‘Free School Movement,’ where people could actually exchange ideas and information without exchanging money. But around 1974, S.F. State started objecting to certain Communiversity classes having to do with jokes and pranks, like ‘How To Do Clown Make-up.’

Gary and a few other people decided to separate from S.F. State and run the Communiversity as a California state non-profit. However, Gary’s interests became more arcane and bizarre. He was interested in hosting events based on fear, sex, lying, and other human interactions. He was interested in the way cults test people¹s freedom of will, especially in light of the cultural brainwashing that we get every day.

Then Gary came up with the idea for the Suicide Club, a group which would seek the most outrageous, extreme and frightening adventures– both physically and psychologically, and push their limitations to the extreme. He set up a phone tree so that members could mobilize to do something on very short notice. Our plan was to visit Fort Point during the next huge Pacific storm.

Finally, around January 20, 1977, a gigantic tempest hit San Francisco. Four people got together: Gary Warne, David T. Warren (a carny; he¹s a whole book in himself), Adrienne Burke, and Nancy Prussia. The fifth person, who didn’t make the trip but helped plan it, was Kathy Hearty. So, four people convened at the west side of Fort Point, which faces the ocean. (It’s now closed off because of ‘Homeland Security.’) There was a huge, heavy-duty sea chain acting as a protective barrier.

In the middle of this huge storm, with eightymile- an-hour winds and giant waves crashing, the four people ran out, grabbed the chain and held on really tight. They held on tight because the sea was hitting below you on this wall, and right in front of your feet was a drop-off that went thirty or forty feet. So the waves would hit this wall and send up a massive wave that crested and fell down on you. If you had taken the full force of the wave, it would probably kill you and sweep you away. But the force of the wave was broken by the wall, so you could hold onto the chain and not die. But it was still very dangerous. Because if you let go of the chain or were knocked unconscious, you’d be swept out to sea and probably never be seen again.

So the four founders of the Suicide Club did that and survived. They were so invigorated and blown away by the experience that they sat down and decided to start the Suicide Club right then and there.

V:So it was a quest for an intense group experience?

JL: Absolutely. And the core of the philosophy was inspired by that statement, ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ (William Blake). The Suicide Club was a secret society, but it lacked any dogma that you had to adhere to (except secrecy)–you didn’t have to sign anything in blood…


JN: We collaborated with Ron English, whocame in from the east coast, to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of McDonalds. After some reflection, we realized that McDonalds’ ultimate goal was ‘to serve man.’ We decided to do our part by putting up a billboard close to one of the highest-volume McDonalds retail stores in San Francisco.

People dressed up as ‘Ronald McDonald’ and showed up for our billboard ‘christening.’ Ron painted a backdrop of a fat, sardonic Ronald McDonald on the left, a giant alien on the right, a McDonalds gateway arch in the middle, plus a caption, ‘To Serve Man.’ In the center we put a life-sized, live-action animatronic Ronald McDonald with a giant Big Mac in his hand, perpetually pushing it into the face of a corpulent eight-year-old kid kneeling in front, like he was taking Communion. There was a live-action tableau on the platform in front, with the billboard painting behind it.

Our press release reflected the fact that we¹re supporting McDonalds in their 50-year effort to fatten up humanity, to better serve them to the aliens that are coming down!

V: Where do you get Ronald McDonald outfits?

JN: You can get a cheap red wig at a costume store. [Ed. note: Ron English and his wife Tarssa made Ronald costumes; BLF associates made their own, as well as three compelling 'Hamburglars!'] Then you need white leggings and a red-and-yellow striped shirt. Our website might list stores where you can get these. I pre-wired the billboard, so all we had to do was put the dummy on a pre-set stand, plug him in, and he started punching the kid in the face with the hamburger.

V: What an idea–

JN: This was inspired by an old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, ‘To Serve Man,’ [Episode 89] where these happy, friendly, aliens arrive on earth and start helping humanity. They have a book they’re reading, and a suspicious woman steals a copy and starts translating it. She finds out, to her horror, that it¹s actually a cookbook! This McDonalds hit was in the middle of the day, on a Sunday afternoon–Memorial Day, actually–near Golden Gate Park. There were a million people in the street, cops driving around, bicycles and cars constantly going by. We had a van with Viacom stickers on the sides (which is the company that owns the billboard). Four of us were working on the board, and until we put up the animatronic figures, nobody looked askew at us. Our ground crew was watching to see if anybody was suspicious, and if it looked like they were getting on a cell phone to call the cops, they’d try and stop them.

The hit was in a Cala Foods parking lot, and one of our spotters was inside the store. He overheard one person go, ‘Hey, do you think that’s an ad for that movie Supersize Me?’ He automatically thought it was a legitimate image, even though it was the most bizarre image you could conceive of. As a distraction, we also had about thirty people dressed up as Ronald McDonald–their job was to show up at the last minute and take away attention from us when we were finishing up the billboard.

So we finished, got into our van and escaped a few blocks away. We parked, put on our Ronald McDonald costumes and returned to join the crowd of other Ronald McDonalds. By this time the police had come; the CALA Foods manager had called ‘em. The police showed up and couldn’t do anything about the billboard. The Fire Department came later and took down the two manikins. But they’d already been up for several hours, and we’d filmed the whole thing. Then the police put the manikins in a paddy wagon, but they couldn’t close the rear doors, so their feet stuck out.

Basically, the cops came, arrested Ronald McDonald, threw him in a paddy wagon, we filmed this and it became part of the feature film Popaganda, a film documentary about Ron English–the finale of which is the BLF and Ron English doing this billboard hit. It couldn’t have worked out more beautifully–the cops arresting Ronald McDonald was beautiful! For my money, this was the greatest billboard hit I ever heard of, because it was the only one that used live animatronic figures; the only one where we had an entire street theater piece using thirty Ronald McDonalds on the ground, and the police who showed up were part of the event. And we left a good bottle of Scotch on this Ronald McDonald billboard for the sign workers.

Now for me, the best pranks are whimsical and humorous. You could spray-paint ‘Fuck McDonalds’ on a billboard, and people who are already Greenpeace or Adbusters or anti-globalist types will nod their heads in agreement. But that’s like preaching to the choir. It’s the people who don’t necessarily think that way that I want to get to. I like it when people pause and look, especially if it’s confusing. There’ll be that second when they’re thinking, ‘What the hell does that mean?’ . . . a little glitch that makes people think about where they are, and question what advertising really is.

There is a ubiquitous, non-stop barrage of corporate advertising and imagery everywhere we go, and we need to yell back at ‘em! There are many groups around the country who alter billboards, and we’re all just telling people, ‘Advertising is a language. You’re being spoken to constantly through these ads. But you can talk back to them! You can make it a dialogue. And you don’t necessarily have to climb on up and alter a billboard. So every time you see a Nike swoosh logo, in your mind you can change it to a dildo or something you find humorous.’ So in our billboard alterations, we’re simply having a dialogue with the advertisers…


The first Cacophony event in Portland took place in a gigantic abandoned Greyhound bus repair facility. People dressed in costume and did theatrical things.

Chuck Palahnuiak joined in ’94 and became good friends with Chuck Linville and Marcy McFarland, some of the Portland Cacophony organizers. I met him when we did the third Santa Claus event, which was in Portland. The first was in ’94 in San Francisco, the second one was in ’95 and turned into a mob scene‹several Santas were arrested, so we decided we wouldn’t do it again. (The thing about ‘annual’ events is that they tend to become too predictable and encrusted; often there¹s not a lot of creativity the second or third time you do something, and certainly not by the fourth or fifth.)

The third Santa event in 1996 took place in Portland‹that seemed like such a nice, quiet town. We advertised this in the S.F. Cacophony newsletter and Reverend Al, the Cacophony avatar of the Los Angeles group, put the word out. We ended up with a planeload of seventy Santas leaving San Francisco. One of the Cacophony members was a travel agent, Nancy Freiburg, who was also a member of the Bolt Action Rifle Club. Thirty more came up from San Francisco in Chicken John’s bus, there were thirty from L.A., and easily a hundred from Portland. So there were more than two hundred Santas altogether.

Somebody ratted us out. The Portland police contacted the San Francisco police and got the police incident report from our Santa event the year before. So they were prepared for us. They sent flyers to local merchants saying that Santanarchists were planning to trash the town, and the police may have even tapped our phones or were monitoring our emails. We got off the plane and were met at the airport by three officers of the Portland Police Intelligence Bureau. We said, ‘Look, we’re like the Elks Club. We’re gonna spend money in Portland. We’re not here to trash businesses. It’s just a fun event. We’re just a bunch of morons in red suits; give us a break!’ They ended up following us around for the entire weekend. There are a lot of stories because some of the groups split off and did different things. My group, which had about thirty people, decided to take a public bus to a roller skating rink near outer Portland, and there were two cop cars following the bus. There were cop cars following each group; they must have deployed fifty to sixty cops following Santas this weekend.

Then we took the bus to Chuck Linville’s house, who’s one of the main Portland organizers. He¹s also an Art Car guy, and works for the Post Office. We decided to see if we could ditch the cops. So the bus stops a couple blocks before Chuck’s house, and as soon as the door opens, everyone runs like hell and hides behind a wall. The cop car squeals around the corner, doesn’t see thirty Santas, and starts going two miles an hour, looking for us. Then we all jump out from behind the wall and go, ‘Surprise!’

All these Santas convene on Chuck’s suburban lawn, while four cop cars are parked at surrounding intersections, watching us. Finally, the cops start to realize that we¹re just partying; we¹re not some hardcore black bag anarchists. Some Santa girls are going up to them, asking, ‘Have you been naughty or nice?’ The beat cops are thinking, ‘This is a waste of time; why are we following these Santas?’

The culmination came at sunset, when all the Santas were going to meet at the giant Lloyds Center mall in downtown Portland, with this ice skating rink where Tonya Harding skated. By this time the police had been following all of us for a day and a half, and now there was a line of police cars parked, completely blocking our entrance to the mall. We tell the cops, ‘Look, we want to go into the mall and sing Christmas carols. Think of the wonderful image of all these Santas in your mall.’

They said, ‘The mall is private property. We don’t care if there’s two hundred of you; if you go in, we’ll have to arrest all of you.’ So all the Santas were despondent: ‘What are we gonna do? We gotta do something.’ There was a line of cops standing there in body armor and truncheons, so we formed a line and started singing ‘Jingle Bells’ to them. Then we yelled, ‘Merry Christmas!’ and turned around and took the train downtown.

To me, the Santa event in Portland was the greatest thing Cacophony ever did. The visual image of two hundred Santas facing a line of riot cops was amazing; nobody had ever seen that before. You’re messing with and subverting this commercial icon. We knew that the cops weren’t our enemy; they’re just working class Joe’s doing their job, which is protecting property. And having a phalanx of cops protecting a suburban mall from Santas who really weren’t a danger to them (they’re a danger to the symbol, but not the mall) I thought we pointed something out, there. It was a pretty brilliant moment, and it was fun…





tell it..!


The strangest thing about this movie, which covers the 1972 concert of the same name put on in Los Angeles by Stax Records on the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots, isn’t that I’d never heard of it before it was rereleased in 2004. It’s that it seems that nobody had. I looked it up in a bunch of rock histories and record guides, and despite an attendance of 100,000 people, a movie and two soundtrack albums, I didn’t find a single mention of it.

Now, I’d never go so far as to say that nobody anywhere ever discussed the event; I only looked through my own smallish library. But for there to be NOTHING, not even a one-line reference or footnote in, for instance, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll’s section on Stax or the chapter on soul music in Robert Palmer’s Rock And Roll: An Unruly History? No entry for either of the two soundtracks in, among other record guides, the 1992 edition of the All-Music Guide, back when it was a ludicrously overstuffed book rather than an indispensable website? If a search on his website is to be believed, even Dean of Rock Critics Robert Christgau didn’t mention it until… 2004, on the occasion of the rerelease. This is peculiar, to say the least.

True, Woodstock (to which Wattstax was, perhaps obviously, viewed as an African-American analogue) boasted an audience five times as large, and Stax was on the decline in both cultural impact and sales by then. But the Staple Singers, who performed very nearly at the start of the concert, were smack in the middle of their run of nine Top 40 hits (and between two chart-toppers, 1972′s “I’ll Take You There” and 1975′s “Let’s Do It Again”), and closer Isaac Hayes had won an Oscar for “Theme From Shaft” less than two years earlier. That’s two large acts at the height of their powers, bookending a concert that seemed to vanish from the historical record. As I said, peculiar.

The movie itself is a curious, sometimes frustrating, sometimes delirious amalgam. Rather than a straight concert film or even (like Woodstock) an attempt to chronicle the event as a whole, it intercuts the music with a series of man-on-the-street interviews. Actually, “interviews” might be pushing it; many of the folks we meet show up in small groups of friends involved in what seem like conversations on civil rights and black culture that they’ve been having since well before the cameras ever showed up.

Director Mel Stuart (yes, the same Mel Stuart who made Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory) constantly toggles back and forth between these conversations and the music. The aim is to connect the concerns of members of the community with the songs themselves, and one result is that Wattstax is far more political for even having these discussions in the first place than, say, Woodstock. But while there’s a bit of the intended cross-illumination, it prevents both the conversation and the concert from picking up the momentum they’d generate had each gotten its own movie.

But, to quote Footloose, I thought this was a party! None of the performances in Wattstax are worse than good, and some are spectacular. Curiously, the two biggest stars fall into the former category. Neither the Staple Singers nor Hayes are bad at all, but they just don’t pop. Hayes in particular has no excuse, arriving as if borne on a golden chariot, bedecked in gold chains instead of a shirt, and performing “Theme From Shaft” so woodenly that all the excitement (and there is plenty of excitement, don’t worry) comes from the stadium full of people going berserk. (Caution: In discussing Shaft, Shaft-appropriate language is used.)

Earlier, in fact, the Bar-Kays showed how it’s done with “Son Of Shaft,” turning what should have been a cheap, house-band knockoff of a massive hit into a raucous, screaming jam. On the other end of the style spectrum are the Emotions, singing “Peace Be Still” from what sound like the pits of their guts in a storefront church, one of a handful of offsite performances included in the film. The Rance Allen Group‘s “Lying On The Truth” falls somewhere between the two, gospel righteousness mixed with soulful funk. I can’t understand why this movie was overlooked for so long.

(NPR  7.16.10)

“WATTSTAX” 1973 directed by Mel Stuart

screening 8pm 8.20.11 @ the BILLY WILDER THEATER, L.A..!




art about war…


Otto Dix was born in 1891 in Untermhaus, Thuringia, the son of an ironworker. He initially trained in Gera and at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts as a painter of wall decorations and later taught himself how to paint on canvas. He volunteered as a machine-gunner during World War I and in the autumn of 1915 he was sent to the Western Front. He was at the Somme during the major allied offensive of 1916.

After the war he studied at the academies of Dresden and Dusseldorf. Together with George Grosz, he was one of the leading exponents of the artistic movement Die Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity], a form of social realist art which unsentimentally examined the decadence and underlying social inequality of post-war German society. With the rise of the National Socialists in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his teaching post at the Dresden Academy. He moved south to Lake Constance and was only allowed to continue practising as an artist after he agreed to relinquish overtly political subject matter in favour of landscape painting. Dix was conscripted into the army during World War II and in 1945 was captured and put into a prisoner of war camp. He returned to Dresden after the war where his paintings became more religiously reflective of his war-time experiences. He died in 1969.

Der Krieg [War] 1924 arose out of Dix’s own experiences of the horrors of war. As outlined above, he had volunteered for service in the army and fought as a machine-gunner on the Western Front. He was wounded a number of times, once almost fatally. War profoundly affected him as an individual and as an artist, and he took every opportunity, both during his active service and afterwards, to document his experiences. These experiences would become the subject matter of many of his later paintings and are central to the Der Krieg cycle.

Der Krieg itself, as a cycle of prints (51 in total), is consciously modelled on Goya’s [1746–1828] equally famous and equally devastating Los Desastres de la Guerra [The disasters of war]. Los Desastres detailed Goya’s own account of the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion and the Spanish War of Independence from 1808 to 1814. Goya’s cycle of 82 etchings, which he worked on for a decade after the Spanish War of Independence were not, however, published until 1863, long after his death.

Like Los Desastres, Der Krieg uses a variety of etching techniques and does so with an equally astonishing facility. Similarly, it exploits the cumulative possibilities of a long sequence of images and mirrors Goya’s unflinching, stark realism in terms of its fundamental presentation. GH Hamilton describes Dix’s cycle as ‘perhaps the most powerful as well as the most unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art… It was truly this quality of unmitigated truth, truth to the most commonplace and vulgar experiences, as well as the ugly realities of psychological experience, that gave his work a strength and consistency attained by no other contemporary artist, not even by [George] Grosz…’  It has become a commonplace to see this cycle as an admonition against the barbarity of war. And there is no doubt that as a human document it is a powerful cautionary work. At a psychological level, however, its truth goes deeper than this. Dix was both horrified and fascinated by the experience of war.

In 1963, explaining why he volunteered for the army in the First World War he had this to say:

I had to experience how someone beside me suddenly falls over and is dead and the bullet has hit him squarely. I had to experience that quite directly. I wanted it. I’m therefore not a pacifist at all – or am I? Perhaps I was an inquisitive person. I had to see all that myself. I’m such a realist, you know, that I have to see everything with my own eyes in order to confirm that it’s like that. I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths of life for myself…

In the same interview, he also had this to say:

As a young man you don’t notice at all that you were, after all, badly affected. For years afterwards, at least ten years, I kept getting these dreams, in which I had to crawl through ruined houses, along passages I could hardly get through…

This nightmarish, hallucinatory quality pervades all of the Der Krieg images. Paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail, which indicates that there was perhaps, in Dix’s case, an almost addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war. In terms of the general corpus of Dix’s work, Der Krieg occupies a central place amongst the large number of paintings and works-on-paper devoted to the theme of war. The work is astonishingly powerful and, as stated above, it remains one of the most powerful indictments of war ever conceived. It is universally regarded as one of the great masterpieces of twentieth century. Dix’s oeuvre as a whole, and Der Krieg in particular, was hugely influential on a number of other twentieth century artist such as Ben Shahn, Pablo Picasso and Robert Motherwell.

The etchings were printed by Kupferdruckerei O. Felsing in Charlottenburg on BSB Maschinen Butten and Kupferdruck paper under Dix’s supervision. The portfolio was published by Karl Nierendorf, Berlin, as five separate folios each of 10 prints in an edition of 70 in 1924. The edition the National Gallery of Australia has acquired is numbered 58/70. The portfolio also includes the impression of Soldat und Nonne [Soldier and nun], depicting the rape of a nun by a soldier, which was suppressed in the published version of the suite.

Otto Dix is one of the greatest artists of the first half of the 20th century and his visual legacy, including his Der Krieg cycle, with its still relevant contemporary echoes, is one of the most powerful documents of man’s inhumanity to man that we have available to us today. Its acquisition represents a major coup for the Gallery having been on the Department of International Prints desiderata list for years.


examples of Der Krieg can be see on display through 12.31.11 @ The NY Public Library, NYC

all images Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, The Poynton Bequest 2003 © Otto Dix, Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia




understanding the fictional moon-sized-super-weapon-space-station…


Death Star Basics

The Death Star’s main purpose is to function as a mobile platform for its main weapon – the Superlaser. The Death Star’s structure is basically an enormous housing for the Superlaser and the reactor that powers it.

It takes a lot of technicians to operate and maintain the Superlaser. And although it’s the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, it’s completely defenseless if attacked directly. So the Superlaser also needs military support to defend it. To address these issues, the designers of the Death Star equipped this enormous housing to serve two purposes: It is both a mobile weapons platform and a fully operational battle station.

Of course in order for the Death Star to be a real threat, it has to be mobile. To accomplish this the Death Star features a complex network of real-space ion engines and hyperdrive field generators that allow it to travel like any other interstellar space craft. So basically the Death Star is made of four major components: the battle station, the Superlaser, the propulsion system and the hypermatter reactor that powers it all. Let’s look at all of these components.

The Death Star Surface

A Turbo laser turret on the Death Star’s surface tracks enemy starfighters.

In the original design, the Death Star measures 120 kilometers (roughly 75 miles) in diameter. A huge equatorial trench splits the surface of the station into two hemispheres. This trench is used to house many of the Death Star’s main systems: Landing bays, Drive thrusters, Sensor arrays, Tractor beam systems.

In addition to the main trench there are two supplementary trenches halfway between the equator and each pole that are used mostly for maintenance and secondary reactor ventilation.

There are thousands of weapons emplacements scattered all across the Death Star’s surface, including: 10,000 turbolaser batteries, 2,500 laser cannons, 2,500 ion cannons, 768 tractor beam projectors.

Most of the surface of the Death Star is covered with buildings of varying size and purpose, so that it closely resembles a sprawling metropolis. Now let’s look inside.

Inside the Death Star

Most of the space inside the Death Star is devoted to systems required to maintain the Superlaser, propulsion system and hypermatter reactor. Of course the largest space is the main reactor chamber at the core of the Death Star. The rest of the interior is made up of a honeycomb of decks for personnel and equipment. This space is designed with two separate layouts each with a different source and orientation of artificial gravity.

The “layer” closest to the surface is laid out in a series of concentric decks with artificial gravity generators pointing towards the Death Star’s core. Below this are thousands of levels of sprawling stacked decks dotted with vast, deep shafts that all link to the reactor’s main chamber. This section of the Death Star makes up the bulk of the interior and has gravity pointing toward the station’s southern pole.

The two interior sections of the Death Star are divided into 24 zones, 12 per hemisphere. Each zone is organized into six sectors: General, Command, Military, Security, Service, Technical.

All the sectors are run by an officer who answers to a zone captain, who controls his or her zone from a zone bridge. The entire Death Star command structure answers to one Death Star Commander. The Commander operates from the overbridge. The overbridge is the nerve center of the Death Star and is located just above the top edge of the Superlaser dish. Governor Tarkin was acting commander of the first Death Star. The station’s military forces fell under the command of General Tagge (ground forces) and Admiral Motti (naval forces).

The Superlaser

If you’ve ever burned a leaf with a magnifying glass you understand the basic principle behind the Superlaser. When a magnifying glass is held at the correct angle between the sun and a leaf, the sunrays are focused through the lens. These rays intersect under the lens and at the point of intersection a beam of heat is created that burns the leaf. The sun is the source of power and the lens is the focus.

The Superlaser has a massive lens built around a huge synthetic focusing crystal. The lens is known as “the Eye” and is surrounded by eight tributary lasers. There are also four back up lasers in case any of the main eight tributaries fail. All of the tributary lasers can be angled for targeting. This allows the Death Star to aim the Superlaser within a certain field of fire without having to turn the entire station. The main cannon and eight tributary lasers fire beams that converge at the outer perimeter of the Superlaser dish in an amplification nexus. A main beam then blasts from the nexus to the intended target.

The Death Star’s Superlaser derives power directly from the hypermatter reactor. The lasers convert and focus the full power of the reactor to create the beams. So going back to our magnifying glass example, the Superlaser is like a series of large magnifying glasses focusing the entire power of the reactor (which is like a small sun) into one huge beam to destroy a planet, rather than a few rays of light to burn a leaf.

Firing the Superlaser

There have only been two instances where the Death Star fired its Superlaser at full power while targeting a planetary body. The Death Star’s first test firing destroyed the remote and uninhabited planet Despayre. The first Death Star was built in orbit around Despayre, making it an ideal choice to test the Superlaser’s power as well as destroy the evidence of the Death Star’s construction. The second instance was the highly publicized destruction of Alderaan.

The Superlaser’s power needs to be recharged between blasts, limiting it to only one planet-destroying beam per day. The output of the Superlaser can however be scaled to fire at smaller targets such as capital ships. The Superlaser can produce a scaled beam at a recharge rate of one per minute.

It takes 168 Imperial gunners to operate the Superlaser. There are 14 gunners manning each tributary laser while the remaining crew operates other systems. The Superlaser can only be fired under direct orders from the station commander or the Emperor himself.

Power and Propulsion

The greatest challenge in designing the Death Star was not creating a cannon big enough to fire a beam that could destroy a planet, nor was it creating a battle station the size of a small moon. The greatest challenge was always powering a cannon big enough to fire a beam that could destroy a planet and moving a battle station the size of a small moon. The answer to both of these problems was solved with the invention of the hypermatter reactor.

The hypermatter reactor is the heart of the Death Star. The Death Star’s hypermatter core is based largely on early Sienar Systems hypermatter implosion core that was the power source of the Confederacy of Independent Systems’ Great Weapon (the early inspiration for the Death Star — more on this later). Little is actually known about the details of the highly classified reactor design, but we do know that it is a massive fusion reactor fed by stellar fuel bottles that line the periphery of the main reactor chamber.

The Death Star’s real-space propulsion system is made up of a network of ion engines that use converters to transform reactor power into thrust. The engine thrusters are primarily lined along the equator of the station.

Hyperspace travel is made possible with linked banks of hyperdrive field generators. Each bank contains 123 hyperdrive field generators. They are all tied together into one navigational matrix that is controlled from the overbridge.

Life on the Death Star

It takes more than a million people to operate the Death Star and there is room for over a billion people on board. There are always at least 1,161,293 Imperials stationed on the Death Star at any given time. The standard complement of personnel includes:265,675 Station crew, 52,276 gunners, 607,360 troops, 25,984 Stormtroopers, 42,782 ship support staff, 167,216 pilots and support crew. The station also carries: 7,200 starfighters, 4 strike cruisers, 3,600 assault shuttles, 1,400 AT-ATs, 1,400 AT-STs, 1,860 drop ships and a variable number of support, recon and assault droids.

Tours on the Death Star last at least 180 days and usually much longer. Personnel are often in deep space without leave for months at a time, and since the location of the Death Star is always classified, contact with family or friends is strictly prohibited. This can make life on the Death Star very difficult. To ease the burden of this duty the station is outfitted with many civilian amenities. The general sector of each zone in the Death Star has a park, shopping centers and recreation areas that include restaurants, a cinema and fitness centers.

Death Star History

The Death Star battle station was the brainchild of Imperial bigwig Grand Moff Tarkin. It was the centerpiece of Tarkin’s Doctrine of Fear proposal that created sweeping reform in the structure of the Empire. It was also the final step in solidifying the Emperor’s total authority. The largest change to the Empire made by the Doctrine of Fear was the dissolution of the Imperial Senate. Tarkin’s policy put power directly in the hands of the regional governors. The governors, who ruled over several planetary systems, now answered directly to the Emperor under the Doctrine of Fear. This new organization greatly reduced the bureaucracy in the Empire and greatly increased the power of regional governors like Tarkin.

Opponents to the Doctrine of Fear (and there were many in the Empire) claimed that this new policy would rip the Empire apart and that planets would revolt without direct representation in the Senate. Tarkin’s answer to any potential dissonance was the Death Star. Tarkin intended to make an example of a rebellious system as soon as the Death Star was capable. He believed that after the total annihilation of a planet, fear would spread throughout the galaxy and maintain order. The development and construction of the Death Star had begun long before the first debate ever took place about the Doctrine of Fear. In fact, the Doctrine of Fear was ratified by the Emperor the very same day the second successful firing of the Death Star destroyed the planet of Alderrann.

Visionary scientists and engineers like Qwi Xux, Tol Sivron and Bevel Lemelisk were conscripted by the Empire to develop the space station. They all worked in a top secret facility, code-named Maw, hidden deep in one of the most inhospitable regions of the galaxy. A prototype Death Star was built at Maw but was little more than a spherical frame with an untested Superlaser. It was much smaller than the Death Star would eventually be and had no propulsion system.

The construction phase of the Death Star project took place in orbit around the planet Despayre and was primarily handled by defense contracting company Sienar Systems. Sienar had worked on a prototype of a similar space station many years earlier for the CIS, was contracted by Tarkin to do work on the Death Star project. (It should also be noted that Sienar Systems CEO Raith Sienar was “coincidentally” an old friend of Grand Moff Tarkin). For years, the Empire used prison labor to mine Despayre for materials. Prison laborers also handled the more menial and dangerous aspects of the station’s construction.

The inspiration for the Death Star came from a Separatist super-weapon called the Great Weapon. The Great Weapon was a moon sized-space station with a large laser cannon developed by the Trade Federation, Geonosians, and Techno-Union for use in their war against the Old Republic. It was never put to use and was captured by the newly formed Empire after the Clone Wars. The Great Weapon was never completed. The original Death Star was destroyed in the Battle of Yavin by rebel pilot Luke Skywalker. Skywalker fired a proton torpedo into a reactor vent shaft. The ensuing chain reaction caused a critical overload of the reactor, destroying the entire station and killing everyone aboard.

Death Star II

After the destruction of the first Death Star, the Empire immediately began building a second Death Star. Death Star II was placed under the command of Moff Jerjerrod and was a larger (160 km/99.5 miles in diameter) more powerful version of its predecessor.

Many of the design flaws of the first Death Star were corrected in Death Star II, including its Achilles heel — the thermal exhaust ports. Instead of relying on several large vent ports that led directly to the station’s main reactor, Death Star II was designed with network of variably angled millimeter-wide heat dispersion ducts. This design made it impossible for a projectile to reach the reactor via the vent system.

Another costly oversight was corrected in the layout of the new stations defenses. The original Death Star was only designed to repel an attack from large capital ships. Because of “loose” net cast to catch attackers, Rebel fighters were able to easily penetrate the Death Star’s defense grid. The design of Death Star II almost doubled its surface defenses and triangulated them so that both capitol ships and fighters could easily be gunned down.

Death Star II was designed with: 30,000 turbolaser batteries, 7,500 laser cannons, 5,000 ion cannons. The Death Star II also featured a larger and more powerful Superlaser that was capable of firing more frequently and more accurately.

Death Star II was under construction in orbit around the forest moon of Endor. While under construction, the new Death Star was protected by a large energy shield, projected from the nearby moon. Despite this, the Rebel Alliance destroyed the unfinished Death Star II in the Battle of Endor.

So What Happens if You Blow Up a Planet?

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Death Star. Besides the obvious issues associated with destroying an entire planet, there are also the concerns for the effects that the destruction of a planet would have on other planets in the same system. So what does happen to other planets in the same system as a planet that is completely destroyed by the Death Star?

To answer this question HowStuffWorks went to F. Todd Baker, Physics Professor at the University of Georgia Department of Physics And Astronomy. Here was his answer: To answer the question you must assess which other bodies are significantly affected by the presence of the planet before it is destroyed. In most cases, you will find that only the moons of that planet fall into that category. Effects of planets on other planets are generally only noticeable for the very large planets; for example, the planet Neptune was discovered after the orbit of the planet Uranus was found to be not exactly the orbit predicted using Kepler’s laws, which assumes all planets move under the influence of the gravity of the sun alone. Regarding the moons of a planet, the subsequent motion would be determined by what happens to the debris from the planet. Of course the “destruction” of a planet does not mean that its mass disappears, it is just redistributed.

A couple of scenarios: 1. Suppose the earth became a cloud of debris with 10 times the radius of the present earth. Then this cloud would continue orbiting the sun as it does now (the length of a year would be the same) and the moon would continue orbiting this cloud as it does the earth now (the length of a month would be the same). This supposes that the cloud of debris were roughly spherically symmetric. 2. Suppose that the annihilation were so catastrophic that the debris completely dispersed in a spherically symmetric way. As soon as some of the debris passed the moon’s orbit, the gravitational force on the moon would begin decreasing and the moon would change its orbit in a continuous way until, finally, it would be orbiting the sun in an orbit more or less the same as the earth’s current orbit. All the debris would also end up orbiting the sun in many different kinds of orbits much as asteroids and comets do today; some would end up in orbits which resulted in their hitting the sun.





the making of a time machine…


High on a rocky ridge in the desert, nestled among the brush, is the topmost part of a clock that has been ticking for thousands of years. It looks out over the ruins of a spaceport, built by a rich man whose name was forgotten long ago. Most of the clock is deep inside the mountain, below the ridgeline. To get there, you hike for days through the heat; the only sounds are the buzzing of flies and the whisper of the occasional breeze. You climb up through the brush, then pass through a hidden door into the darkness and silence of the clock chamber. Far above your head, in the darkness, a massive pendulum swings slowly back and forth, making the clock tick once every 10 seconds. No one knows who built it, or why. They built it well, and even now it keeps perfect time. All we know of these strange people is that they were obsessed with the future. Why else would they build something that had no purpose except to mark time for thousands of years?

at a site in West Texas, a spiral staircase will lead underground to the 10,000-year clock...

The rich man is founder Jeff Bezos, and he has indeed started construction on a clock that he hopes will run for 10,000 years. For Bezos, the founder of, the clock is not just the ultimate prestige timepiece. It’s a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. His hope is that building it will change the way hmanity thinks about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have. For starters, Bezos himself is taking a far, far longer view than most Fortune 500 CEOs. “Over the lifetime of this clock, the United States won’t exist,” Bezos tells me. “Whole civilizations will rise and fall. New systems of government will be invented. You can’t imagine the world — no one can — that we’re trying to get this clock to pass through.”

To help achieve his mission of fostering long-term thinking, Bezos last week launched a website to publicize his clock. People who want to visit the clock once it’s ready can put their names on a waiting list on the site — although they’ll have to be prepared to wait, as the clock won’t be complete for years.

It’s a monumental undertaking that Bezos and the crew of people designing and building the clock repeatedly compare to the Egyptian pyramids. And as with the pharaohs, it takes a certain amount of ego — even hubris — to consider building such a monument. But it’s also an unparalleled engineering problem, challenging its makers to think about how to keep a machine intact, operational and accurate over a time span longer than most human-made objects have even existed.

Consider this: 10,000 years ago, our ancestors had barely begun making the transition from hunting and gathering to simple agriculture, and had just figured out how to cultivate gourds to use as bottles. What if those people had built a machine, set it in motion, and it was still running today? Would we understand how to use it? What would it tell us about them? And would it change the way we think about our own future?

this stainless steel Geneva wheel is one of 20 which make up the clock's chime computer, generating a different tune almost every day for the next 10,000 years...

The idea for the clock has been around since Danny Hillis first proposed it in WIRED magazine in 1995. Since then, Hillis and others have built prototypes and created a nonprofit, the Long Now Foundation, to work on the clock and promote long-term thinking. But nobody actually started building a full-scale 10,000-year clock until Bezos put up a small portion — $42 million, he says — of his fortune.

Last year, contractors started machining components, such as a trio of 8-foot stainless steel gears and the Geneva wheels that will ring the chimes. Meanwhile, computers at Jet Propulsion Laboratories have spent months calculating the sun’s position in the sky at noon every day for the next 10,000 years, data that the clock will use to correct itself. This year, excavation began on the Texas desert site where the clock will be installed deep underground. And just last month, the Smithsonian agreed to let the Long Now Foundation install a 10,000-year clock in one of its Washington museums, once they can find someone to fund it. It seems that the time for millennium clocks has arrived.

The Project

Making a clock that will run for 10 millennia is no small undertaking. In Texas, the builders have started drilling a horizontal access tunnel into the base of the ridge where the clock will live. They’ll drill a pilot hole, 500 feet straight down from the top of the ridge, until it meets the access tunnel. Then they’ll bring a 12-foot-7-inch bit into the bottom and drill it back up, carving out a tall vertical shaft as it goes. Afterwards, they’ll install a movable platform holding a 2.5-ton robot arm with a stonecutting saw mounted on the end. It will start carving a spiral staircase into the vertical shaft, from the top down, one step at a time. The clock, with massive metal gears, a huge stone weight, and a precise, titanium escapement inside a protective quartz box, will go deep into the shaft. A few years from now, the makers will set it in motion.

Some day, thousands of years in the future, when Bezos and Amazon and even the United States are nothing more than memories, or less even than that, people may discover this clock, still ticking, and scratch their heads. Bezos says, “In the year 4000, you’ll go see this clock and you’ll wonder, ‘Why on Earth did they build this?’” The answer, he hopes, will lead you to think more profoundly about the distant future and your effects on it.

the article continues…

(WIRED  6.23.11)


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