Posts Tagged ‘Bronx’

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GRAND WIZARD THEODORE…

11/25/2011

an interview with the inventor of the scratch…

by BILLY JAM

For me, someone who lives for scratch music, visiting legendary DJ Grand Wizard Theodore—the creator of the scratch—at his Bronx, NY home could only be compared to an Elvis Presley fan making a pilgrimage to Graceland to visit the King of rock’n’roll in his day. I had met Grand Wizard Theodore (GWT) once before a few years earlier when he had been flown out to San Francisco to receive an ITF award. Our meeting was brief so I really had no idea what kind of person he really was. And after years of interviewing hip hop and other music stars I had admired, I was used to discovering that some of the greatest artists were the biggest assholes in person. But such was far from the case with GWT. When my disoriented white face emerged from the “D” subway station deep in the Boogie Down Bronx among a sea of black and brown faces, GWT was there to pick me up in his sturdy but old American car. You can’t have a fancy new car in the Bronx, he explained in his soft-spoken but firm voice as we drove the fifteen blocks back to his modest Bronx apartment. Like many of the great pioneers of hip hop that created the genre here on these Bronx streets three decades earlier, GWT was not rich from a culture that he helped shape and form. But unlike many of his contemporaries from hip hop’s seminal years, who are embittered by the fact that they live in comparative poverty/obscurity while so-called “hip hoppers” like mogul Puff Daddy are making millions off something they created, GWT is not at all bitter. In fact he is a warm and humble man who is gracious to be a part of a cultural movement that he never thought would spread from these Bronx, NY streets to every other corner of the world.

BILLY JAM: How did you first create the scratch 26 years ago in 1975?

GRAND WIZARD THEODORE: I used to come home from school and go in my room and practice a lot and this particular day I came home and played my music too loud and my mom was banging on the door and when she opened the door I turned the music down but the music was still playing in my headphones and she was screaming ‘If you don’t turn the music down you better turn it off’ and I had turned down the speakers but I was still holding the record and moving it back and forth listening in my headphones and I thought ‘This really sounded something….interjecting another record with another record.’ And as time went by I experimented with it trying other records and soon it became scratching.

BJ: At that time Kool Herc was around here doing his thing but he wasn’t doing anything like scratching, was he?

GWT: Well Herc is like an old school DJ. Basically he would put a record on and let the record play. He might have both on at once but the cross-fader was on one side only. I think many people were on the verge of discovering it back then but I happened to be the first.

BJ: After you discovered the scratch who did you show first?

GWT: Well actually I didn’t show anyone. I just did it. I was always the type of DJ who wanted to be different from everyone else coz everyone else was playing the same records the same way. So after a time people started to notice that I played different records and was scratching the records and interjecting different records and needle dropping coz I also invented the ‘needle drop’ and basically I would just display my talents when it was time to do a party. At first I would only scratch maybe one or two records during a party but as time went by I would scratch more and more and soon I would scratch on every track I played.

BJ: So what kind of parties would these be and how did people initially react?

GWT: These would be house parties and big parties here in the Bronx and people loved it when they first heard it. It was raw and they appreciated it!

BJ: What was it like in the very early days of hip hop?

GWT: I had an older brother named Mean Jean and he was down with Grand Master Flash. They were partners and I was like the record boy for them and I would carry their records for them or go downtown to Downstairs Records and pick up 45’s for them. But Flash and my brother had different ideas about music so they split up and Flash formed the Furious Emcees and my brother and me and my other brother Corleo we formed The L Brothers since our last name is Livingston and everybody was like ‘The Livingston Brothers’and for a while they called us the ‘The Love Brothers.’ And we took on two emcees… and later on my brother quit DJ’ing and I went on and formed my own group… and back in those days it was not just Blacks but Latinos as well who helped form the culture of hip hop: like a lot of the graffiti artists and break dancers were Latino. We were all down together

BJ: Does the fact that hip hop is so popular all over the world today amaze you?

GWT: It does and it doesn’t but really I just did it for the love. The money was good but I did it all coz I love music. My mother and my uncles and my family growing up would always gather around and play good music and eat good food so I was always surrounded by music so I had the love for it and when I would DJ parties I would always try to make it a good time for people to forget about their problems.

BJ: How important is the DJ in hip hop?

GWT: The DJ sets the tone for the party. He has the records, the speakers, the amps—he has everything. The b-boy couldn’t come out and break until the DJ was playing the music. And the rapper: all he has to do is show up and pick up the mic and just start rapping, but not until after the DJ had set everything up. Back in the day with someone like Kool Herc, he was the DJ and he had rappers with him but he was the one out front and they just backed him up. But as time went by the rappers started phasing out the DJ as they became more and more popular and moved to the front. So I think it is great that the DJ is now making a comeback coz the DJ played a major, major part in this hip hop culture.

BJ: What do you think of all the new techniques being developed by today’s ‘turntablists’ and how companies are streamlining DJ equipment for scratch DJs.

GWT: With all of these new developments, like say the new needles made just for turntablists, it means that the art form of DJ’ing is going to keep evolving and I think it has a little further to go until it is fully evolved.

BJ: What are you working on nowadays?

GWT: I am working on a new CD called The Nights of the Round Table coz the turntable is round and when you think of a DJ he does his work at night… And I do a lot of traveling to other places like Europe. I just want people to know that I am still out there and I want to educate people on the culture coz a lot of people do not know about the culture.

BJ: Which brings us to Heineken beer’s recent TV ad campaign in which they got their facts all wrong and misinformed people saying that scratching began in 1982, seven years after you created it.

GWT: I don’t know if they knew what they was doing and just decided to make a spoof out of it or whatever but they have to realize that this is a culture and that this culture affects a lot of peoples’ lives and we want people to understand the truth of a culture so it won’t be misinterpreted. Like back in the days we never called women ‘bitches’ or ‘hoes’ but nowadays you’ve got guys calling women these things and rapping about ‘my big car this and that’ and ‘selling drugs this and that.’ But back in the day hip hop wasn’t about that. It was only about ‘clap your hands’ and ‘stomp your feet, you know?’ People have to learn the culture.

BJ: Do you think that the new documentary Scratch that you are featured in is a fair portrayal of the scratch DJ?

GWT: Yes I do.

BJ: And where do you see the scratch DJ in the future?

GWT: I see scratch DJs getting more and more recognition and winning awards like Grammies just like rappers and any other type of musician. And nowadays you have a lot of bands with DJs in them so I see the DJ evolving and getting the type of recognition that they have always deserved.

(HIP HOP SLAM)

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SPRAY PAINT…

11/05/2011

a history…

by HILARY GREENBAUM and DANA RUBINSTEIN

That a paint salesman from northern Illinois created the tool through which rebels, gang members, artists and anti-Wall Street protesters alike have expressed themselves merely confirms that inventors can neither control nor predict the impact of their innovations. After all, Jack Dorsey never imagined that Twitter would facilitate Anthony Weiner’s self-immolation.

The spray-paint can, however, has eminently practical origins. Ed Seymour, the proprietor of a Sycamore, Ill., paint company, was in search of an easy way to demonstrate his aluminum coating for painting radiators. His wife suggested a makeshift spray gun, like those used for deodorizers. And so, in 1949, Seymour mixed paint and aerosol in a can with a spray head. As it turned out, compressing paint in a can made for a nice finish.

THE EARLY YEARS

Seymour’s humble creation quickly proved so popular that Seymour of Sycamore began customizing its own manufacturing equipment and eventually expanded into new businesses, including the auto and industrial-machine markets. Soon afterward, home-furnishing heavyweights like Rust-Oleum and Krylon jumped in. And by 1973, Big Spray was producing 270 million cans annually in the U.S., according to the Consumer Specialty Products Association. Last year, U.S. spray-paint manufacturers produced 412 million cans.

By this time, of course, aerosol spray paint had begun to forge an industry beyond home improvements and quickie D.I.Y. projects. As the safety pin did with punk, it eventually transcended its utilitarian roots. Early nonradiator-painting devotees tended to split into two camps: protesters and vandals. While it is impossible to determine the first student or activist to aim an aerosol paint can at cardboard or buildings, forefathers of the latter include Cornbread and Julio 204, the Philadelphia- and New York-based artist-defacers, who took advantage of the technology to make their tags (né names) well known in the ’60s and ’70s. Spray paint, after all, was the ideal medium for this form of branding. It came in small, easy-to-conceal, easy-to-steal cans. It was paint and brush in one. It dried quickly. It worked well on building materials and subway cars. More important, perhaps, the imprecise application lent it an inherent disregard. Its inability to be perfectly controlled also made it an apt metaphor for rebellion. In other words, it was pretty badass.

THE RECKONING

Public outrage, and laws restricting spray paint sales to teenagers, ensued. Though not all enthusiasts were deterred. “There was a Red Devil spray-paint factory in Mount Vernon, which is near where the 2 and 5 trains end in the Bronx,” says the graffiti artist Caleb Neelon wistfully. “There are a couple of great, legendary stories about breaking into that factory for the ultimate shoplifting.”

According to Neelon, who, with Roger Gastman, wrote “The History of American Graffiti,” there were not a lot of options for high-quality spray paints in those days. The American spray-paint giants like Krylon and Rust-Oleum resisted tapping into the graffiti-artist market, refusing to upgrade their colors or valves to allow for more creative tagging. In recent years, however, graffiti’s outlaw status has been softened a bit through the auction circuit’s embrace of guerrilla art. In 2006, Angelina Jolie paid $226,000 for a painting called “Picnic,” by Banksy, an artist who made his name through graffiti. The painting features starving Africans watching a white family picnic. Banksy’s “Keep It Spotless” sold for $1.8 million two years later.

THE EUROPEAN REVOLUTION

In the late ’90s, serious graffiti writers noticed the influx of higher-quality paints made by European companies. “Honestly, if you win the graffiti prize and you get to take home a palette of different colors of either American or European spray paint,” Neelon said, “you’re taking the European.” The European paints now come in colors with names like quince and Mad C Psycho Pink and attributes like weather resistance and UV-protection.

Companies like Montana, based in Spain; Molotow, based in Germany; and Ironlak, based in Australia, were pleased to associate with street artists. They offered professional-grade enhancements too, like different kinds of valves that emit different types of mists. (Some artists now complain that American alternatives are like buying a tube of paint with only one brush.) “The control you can get with the can, from the pressure, is phenomenal,” Gastman said.

Such innovation is not without blowback. Some spray writers dismiss the European brands as “fancy paint,” and in pursuit of lost authenticity, stick to Krylon, which is based in Ohio, and Rust-Oleum, which is located outside Chicago. “American writers really want to be loyal to Rusto,” Neelon said. “Rust-Oleum is like the Ford F-150 of spray paint. It’s the workingman’s paint.”

(NY TIMES  11.4.11)

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EDISON’S “FRANKENSTEIN”

07/03/2011

where horror film began…

by RICH DREES

One of the most sought after short films by fans of the silent era is the 1910 production of Frankenstein from Thomas Edison’s Edison Studios. For many years the only image thought to exist from the 15-minute feature was a single photo of wild haired, shambling monster grimacing at the camera. Fortunately, recent years have revealed that it’s not as lost as one would think.

Frankenstein was filmed at Edison Motion Picture Studios located on the corner of Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in the Bronx, New York, one of several dozens pictures the studio produced that year. The studio was built between 1906 and 1907 in response to the growing demand for films. Edison had been the leading pioneer of first kinetoscopes and then projected motion pictures. His first film studio, located near his laboratories in Orange, New Jersey, was too inconvenient to the majority of actors based in New York City. A studio opened on the roof of a building on 25th Street in Manhattan proved too small to keep up with the demand. The Bronx location was designed to be a state of the art facility to handle all of the Edison Company’s production requirements. It’s proximity to the end of the recently constructed Third Avenue El subway system is believed to have been so actors could slip away to make films without attracting the attention of their peers who may have disapproved of participating in the new and vulgar medium.

By 1908, the studio was in full operation, putting out several short, one-reel films a week. The motion picture arm of Edison’s business was also quickly becoming its most profitable- pulling in $200,000 plus an additional $130,000 from the sale of projectors. Still, Edison was losing his grip on being the sole technological innovator for the new medium as more studios sprang into existence with legitimate rights to certain patents.

To combat the problem, in 1909 Edison and his lawyers approached nine of the other top studios with the plan to form The Motion Picture Patents Company, commonly known as The Trust, to share patents, pool resources and keep control over everything from the manufacture of production equipment like cameras to film production itself. The Trust then set up the General Film Company to buy out the 52 leading film distributors, just so they could control the distribution of their films. Theatre owners were forced into paying a $2 a week fee for the rights to screen Trust films. (Never mind the fact that Edison’s company was earning almost a million dollars a year on from the other Trust members through patent royalties.)

As the popularity of motion pictures grew, so did the attention they received from moral crusaders and reform groups, who decried the new medium as being dangerous and encouraging of immorality. Some called for strict laws governing film content and some communities banned theatres all together. Knowing that these groups could pose a serious threat to his bottom line, Edison ordered that not only the production quality of his films be improved, but also their moral tone. The Trust even set up the first Board of Censors, consisting of film executives and religious and education leaders.

Frankenstein was the perfect choice to kick off production under this new moral banner. It’s a story that deals with the extremes of the human condition, life and death, and the dangers of tampering in God’s realm. Plus, Edison made sure that publicity stressed that some of the more sensational elements of the Mary Shelly’s novel had been toned down. The March 15, 1910 edition of The Edison Kinetogram, the catalog that the Edison Company would send to distributors to hype their new films, described the film as such-

“To those familiar with Mrs. Shelly’s story it will be evident that we have carefully omitted anything which might be any possibility shock any portion of the audience. In making the film the Edison Co. has carefully tried to eliminate all actual repulsive situations and to concentrate its endeavors upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale. Wherever, therefore, the film differs from the original story it is purely with the idea of eliminating what would be repulsive to a moving picture audience.”

One of those changes made to the narrative concerns the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. While Shelly’s novel did not go into specifics about the monster’s creation, the creation scene in the film certainly owes more to alchemy than science. The film certainly didn’t stress the danger of unchecked scientific experimentation, not when the boss has transformed the world with his own scientific marvels. Instead, the monster is cast more as a reflection of Frankenstein’s baser instincts and dark reflection of a mind that presumed to meddle in God’s domain.

the article continues

(FILM BUFF ON LINE)

“FRANKENSTEIN” 1910 directed by J. Searle Dawley

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“STANLEY KUBRICK’S BOXES”

04/25/2011

revealing Kubrick’s colossal capacity for research…

by JON RONSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr Kubrick,  

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

Sincerely, Mrs Vladimir Nabokov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the article continues

(THE GUARDIAN  3.27.04)

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

watch the trailer here

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