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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


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