Thursday, March 30, 2006

Interesting Movie?

As I seem to be the only person reading this blog lately I might as well use it as a scrapbook holder of stuff in the arts I want to follow up on. This from the NYTs yesterday reminds me how much I'd like to go home to San Francisco to visit this summer...

March 29, 2006

'Drawing Restraint 9,' a Film Steeped in Ritual, With Whales and a Wedding

Near the end of Matthew Barney's visually spellbinding film "Drawing Restraint 9," a work that might be described as his "Moby-Dick," the voice of his co-star, Bjork, repeats a life-affirming motto in broken musical phrases: "From the moment of commitment, nature conspires to help you."

Those are some of the few words heard in this stately, ritualistic film, which takes place mostly on the Nisshin Maru, a Japanese whaling ship afloat in Nagasaki Bay. The ship looms as a metaphor both for a whale and for Japan. "Drawing Restraint 9" is steeped not only in Japanese seafaring lore but also in centuries-old Japanese ritual, which is compared in the film's earliest scenes with more frivolous examples of contemporary pageantry. Frivolous or not, all human activity in the film is informed by a ceremonial formality, and no task is undertaken casually.

A good part of the film follows Mr. Barney and Bjork, who are welcomed aboard the ship as Occidental guests and undergo elaborate preparations for a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony. Their union, however ecstatic, quickly leads to a solemn, stylized Liebestod that embodies the film's depiction of life as a series of passages in a relentless cycle of creation and destruction.

These scenes infuse "Drawing Restraint 9" with an overt spiritual dimension that is a new element in Mr. Barney's work. If that spirituality is an outgrowth of his relationship with Bjork, it is a welcome addition in an oeuvre whose obsession with athleticism, competition and fertility rites has sometimes taken on fascistic overtones. Bjork's chant encapsulates the film's call for human beings to recognize, revere and surrender to the principle of change.

Like Mr. Barney's "Cremaster Cycle," "Drawing Restraint 9" is a cinematic component of a larger exhibition, opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on June 23, that will embrace videos, sculptures, drawings and photographs. The complexities of such a multimedia work will perhaps be best scrutinized by art critics and historians. But the theatrical release of "Drawing Restraint 9" as a feature film now invites its contemplation as a stand-alone movie. And as a mostly nonverbal series of interconnected images with a soundtrack composed by Bjork, "Drawing Restraint 9" represents a significant advance from "The Cremaster Cycle." The uninitiated viewer can admire it simply for the majesty of its visual poetry.

Its rhythms are solemn but never static; the color glowing; the largely ambient score evocative. Even the most enigmatic images, shot from many different angles, are arresting. The camera repeatedly returns to the deck of Nisshin Maru, where sailors in a choreographed assembly line fill a mold with 25 tons of hot petroleum jelly that hardens to resemble a giant hunk of cheese that is later sliced. Vaseline has been a constant (and, to my mind, witty) symbol in Mr. Barney's work. For all the solemnity surrounding the preparation of this mutable sculpture, it lends "Drawing Restraint 9" an undertone of zany humor.

Everything that happens on deck is reflected in what happens below. After the wedding ceremony, Mr. Barney and Bjork cling together while a thunderstorm gathers. As the ship is tossed on the water, liquid petroleum jelly begins to leak into their cabin. As the newlyweds, still completely in each other's thrall, become immersed, they pull out flensing knives and slice away pieces of each other's lower bodies, which mutate into creatures with whale-like tails. The storm subsides, the sculpture is reassembled, and the ship is last seen among ice floes approaching Antarctica.

That describes just the shell of a film that acquires more layers the more familiar you are with Mr. Barney's work. If his auspicious collaboration with Bjork has little in common with that of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who met on the border of pop music and fine art, there is one fundamental similarity. Bjork infuses Mr. Barney's architectural concepts with emotion in much the same way that Lennon's emotion warmed up and helped popularize Ms. Ono's abstractions.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Place Holder

Tonight I had the best tea by brewing up some fresh ginger root, a tiny bit of lemon juice and honey. Spring here is happening under cloudy skies and a world of work. Both Andrew and I are putting in overtime. I managed to finish the Lee Miller biography yesterday and watched Renoir's French Cancan this last weekend. That was fun. I even wrote a poem. Va Savoir from 2000 is my next movie... Stay tuned for a review.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Golden Handcuffs

Lately I’ve been getting the Guggenheims and the Gettys mixed up. The whole time I was watching an interview with the director of The Met talk about the change in vetting procedure for the acquisition of antiquities I had the image in my head of Peggy Guggenheim living out her later years alone in Venice with her dogs.

(The same couple that "cared" for her at the end of her life also "cared" for Olga Rudge, Pound's long term mistress at the end of hers, important assets were "sold" at bargain prices in both cases.)

I read about that in The City of Falling Angels and was surprised when I found out it was The Getty that was in hot water about stolen Italian art.

It was in the movie Pollock, of course, when this recent round of thinking in particular about Peggy Guggenheim cropped up. I was absolutely fascinated by Jackson Pollack when I was eleven. My parents used to take us out to the LA Museum of Modern Art (long before the Contemprary was built) by the tar pits and leave my brother and I there for hours.

I started painting “Pollocks” straight away.

Anyway, I was reading in the Lee Miller biography last night about her reunion with the lover that preoccupied her imagination just before the war in 1939, Roland Penrose. He was a wealthy English artist and art collector.

He had been able to meet with her briefly months before in Assyut (She was living in Cairo with her husband) and he had brought her as gifts the first edition of his book The Road is Wider Than Long and a pair of handcuffs made of gold from Cartier’s.

Who was it that said, “The rich are not like us, they have more money?”

This all comes back to Peggy Guggenheim who had a “rather indifferent (his term) affair with him in the interim.

“Roland made up for his lack of passion with charm.., When he slept with women he tied up their wrists with anything that was handy…It was extremely uncomfortable to spend the night this way, but if you spent it with Penrose it was the only way.”

Now I wouldn’t have read that in a biography when I was eleven.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Odd and Disturbing Beauty

I could write about the odd movie I saw last week Swimming Pool with the mesmerizing Charlotte Rampling. I saw her interviewed for this film three years ago, which led to an interesting discussion with Andrew about her movies. This then led to a yearlong search for a copy of The Night Porter which I had to watch in bits I found it so disturbing…unforgettable, difficult and darkly beautiful.

In Swimming Pool I loved Ludivine Sagnier’s voice. I am a straight woman so the rather frequent shots of her sans clothes were neither here nor there but her voice…

I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a pretty high-end resort in the Caribbean twice and her character in the movie reminded me of some of the French girls I saw there. Charlotte Rampling reminded me a bit of…well…me, when I am feeling unhappy. I so admire her ability to play not particularly sympathetic characters.

And speaking of beautiful but unsympathetic characters I am reading Lee Miller — A Life — by Carolyn Burke. This book seems to exist to make one feel like one has led a dull life. I am most interested in her as a photographer but her story has much to say about being a woman in the arts, a stunningly lovely woman at that.

Unlike the reviewer linked to above I am not all that crazy about the way the book is written but she did do amazing research and I am enthralled. My oldest sister was into Surrealism in a big way when I was growing up and I read a great deal about it when I was too young to fully comprehend the raging libidinous qualities included. Reading this book is like visiting long lost friends and seeing them in a new light. Speaking of light I love the description of Lee and Man Ray discovering the process of “solarization”.

I could write about Renoir’s French Cancan, which I have but haven’t watched yet. Andrew has, and has interesting commentary on it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Comfort and Awareness

The Borders reading I did last night was lots of fun. There was literally no place to sit as people were sprawled on the floor and standing in the back. My idea of a comfortable audience that gives great feed back is one where folks are sitting on the floor. I'll give this one an A+.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Shameless Self Promotion

Here is a link to some Early Spring Photos I've taken over the last few weeks.

The chapbook is done. It is beautiful. I cried this morning writing a dedication in the copy I sent to my oldest sister.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Good Work

I was a cat in a former life. I know this because I was born with the perfect imprint of a cat’s paw as a birthmark on the bottom of my right foot and I have a thing for birds. Can’t imagine life without them. I love listening to them and for them. A bird makes an appearance in almost every poem I have ever written, and in the last eight years I have lived in Portland, rain appears in numerous poems as well.

I have two poems written years apart that have the same rhythm and image of a clear vessel or vase shattering.

I have a cousin who is a poet. He is older than me by 25 years or so, (my dad was the youngest and was older when I was born). My cousin published his own chapbook when he was a young man. I have sworn all along that I would never stoop to self-publishing, that it was a vanity of vanities, that my poems were worthy of a prestigious imprint and a well-known editor.

That was before I figured out that the poetry publishing business in the United States is totally rigged and there is no room for an “outsider”.

Now I have the reading at Borders Downtown coming up on the 13th of March I decided I could hold out no longer and swallowed my displaced pride and prepared a chapbook manuscript. Andrew did this last November for his reading and our Copy Editor extraordinaire David Matthews did it a few years back.

I had a huge amount of resistance to actually getting started on the project, and then this funny reaction when going through my body of work I found all kinds of things I wanted to read but nothing I wanted to commit to the page.

This process was actually simplified by the fact that last year, Andrew, who is an amazingly talented editor, went through literally every poem I had written and still possessed a copy of either hard or online, and put together a full length manuscript for me. A terrifying process that was, I tell you.

Except for adding in two additional poems I worked with that document to come up with both what I am putting in the chapbook and what I will be reading. Some things that read well are just flat on the page and the smaller poems don’t work for a reading at all.

It was rough breaking through the dreaminess of remembering where I was and what I was doing when I wrote the poems and all that source material and inspiration that came flooding back to that first insecure place of being alone with the work itself.

Building an arc in the book is a challenge. Structuring the flow so together the poems become more than they are singly is a gift. I chose the poems and then Andrew ordered them and I am happy with the result. Poems that I didn’t think could go together, do.

They are all about the big things, sex and love and death. There are bones, and chess games and cups of tea to move it all along.

The legacy, if any, I wanted to leave in the chapbook… because it most likely is the only book I’ll ever see published... is spiritual and highlights my Unitarian outlook.

The take away I hope from the poems I am choosing to read, and must practice again and again over the next few days, is the expression of my imaginative gift.

Things that momentarily appear normal are not. Just because I use the first person does not mean that the poems, are actually about “me”.

In the end, now ready to do paste up tomorrow and get the beast off to the printer I find the process has been worthwhile. I feel a kind of joy and sense of accomplishment that while fleeting, are a balm to a world-weary and battered heart.