Friday, September 04, 2009

 

Photo courtesy of Jacket

It’s not news that Tom Clark & I have not always seen eye-to-eye, tho the attentive reader of my work will note a gushingly positive review by yours truly of Neil Young that appeared in the pages of Rolling Stone in July of 1972, the one time I’ve written about his poetry. In recent years, since New College went belly up, Tom & his wife Angelica have lived quietly in North Berkeley – on the very same block where I used to base my lawn-mowing business as a teenager – and Tom has been writing, mostly poetry. Starting in February, he began to put a lot of it up on a blog, Tom Clark: Beyond the Pale. As of this morning, there were over 290 entries, a vast amount of writing. Of late, he’s also interspersed excerpts from his 1986 novel The Exile of Céline, published originally by Random House.

There are a lot of blogs that publish the poetry of the blog owner, but virtually none of the others are by Tom Clark, a man who has been a master of the post-avant lyric for some four decades that I can remember. And if these are mostly current work – they’re mostly not dated unlike, say, much of Larry Eigner’s verse – it represents an intense outpouring at a time in one’s life when many other poets have tended to drift off into silence. Without even getting into the fact that Clark’s the first NY School poet of his generation to make great use of the web (he’s also a major contributor to the Vanitas blog), it’s well worth checking out at least once a week.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

 


Henry Goodman, Demetri Martin & Imelda Staunton: the family Teichberg

Taking Woodstock is a sweet, little film, surprisingly unambitious coming from Ang Lee – one of the few directors who could get this many extras & such gigantic sets for what really is a coming-of-age / coming-out story. The film follows Elliot Teichberg, a budding New York City painter who’s returned home to White Lake, NY, where his parents run a decrepit motel, after the Stonewall Riots. The narrative is that Elliott, nominally the head of White Lake’s Chamber of Commerce, reaches out to the Woodstock promoters after they’re turned down for a permit to play in another upstate hamlet, introduces them to Max Yasgur, another Brooklyn Jew gone rural, & before you know it a half-million hippies are tripping in the mud.

It hardly matters that nobody else remembers it the way Teichberg (now Tiber) tells it in a co-written memoir Lee uses as the basis for the film. What nobody disputes is that the motel functioned as the headquarters for the crew as they put the festival together. Which meant massive reconstruction to bring the place up to code while people were staying there – sometimes with rooms divided by hanging sheets – helicopters were landing in the front yard & hundreds of thousands of vehicles and foot travelers passed by on the street.

All of which is essentially a backdrop for the family story that is the heart of the film, a tale of the kid who may be gay in the city, but is closeted at home – at least until he hires the butchest drag queen ever for security during the event. Played by Liev Schreiber, Vilma is one of two characters who function principally to enable narrative & meaning, the other being Tisha, played by Mammie Gummer, the female friend of Michael Lang, the music promoter who is handling all of the details of the event on Max’s farm. Tisha & Vilma periodically step forward to tell Elliot what Ang Lee wants us to be thinking. The other principal characters in the plot don’t add much. The best are Billy, the Vietnam vet with a bad case of PTSD (played with great intensity by Emile Hirsch) and VW guy & gal (Paul Dano, the “baby-faced preacher” of There Will Be Blood) & Kelli Garner (whose prior career consists of not much) who give Elliott some acid principally so Lee can evoke a sense of the grooviness of it all via CGI of patterns of hippie batik and, a smidgen later & to better effect, the entire field of Yasgur’s farm undulating in the music.

Oh, and the music. There’s relatively little of it, virtually all in the background & much of it deliberately inaudible – probably the most realistic effect of all. What this movie is not about is the concert. Narratively, the concert is irrelevant, or at least relevant only as an excuse to set things into motion at the motel.

At the movie’s start, the hotel is in greater danger of foreclosure than the sheets are of getting washed. Woodstock Enterprises take care of that, and the mortgage is paid off. But Elliott’s parents, Jewish immigrants who’ve moved up from Brooklyn to take advantage of the Catskill traffic, hardly live in the United States. His mother, in particular, played brilliantly by Imelda Staunton (the lead role in Vera Drake, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, Dolores Umbridge to Harry Potter fans), is a Russian Jew who still is haunted by every harmful thing since the pogroms (and the neighbors, upset at all the hippies descending on the town, paint swastikas on some of the motel buildings, just to keep the paranoia real). This is a woman entirely governed by fear & loss & grief & anger – and Staunton gets her exactly right. If there is a single reason to see Taking Woodstock, it’s to watch Staunton, who lights up every scene & is unpredictable in all the right ways. This is a film in which there are two types of scenes. Those with her in it, and those without. Those without are never nearly as good. Henry Goodman, another British actor, plays her husband by channeling Peter Falk, rather the way Martin plays Elliott as a younger version of Zach Braff. They’re nice, inoffensive characters but that’s hardly what you go to the movies to see. All of which makes Taking Woodstock a curious trip indeed.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

 

 

Recently Received

Books (Poetry)

Seth Abramson, The Suburban Ecstasies, Ghost Road Press, Denver 2009

Amanda Ackerman & Harold Abramowitz, Sin is to Celebration, (treated version of Sinistro and Celebration, by A.E.T. [apparent pen name for Al Taylor], 19 poems in chapbook form printed in 1956) House Press, Arrow as Aarow series, Chicago 2009

Roberta Beary, Nothing Left to Say, Kings Road Press, Pointe Claire, Quebec 2009

Norma Cole, Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988 – 2008, City Lights, San Francisco 2009

Matthew Gavin Frank, Sagittarius Agitprop, Black Lawrence, Brooklyn 2009

Marco Giovenale, CDK, Tir Aux Pigeons, Bainbridge Island, WA 2009

Marco Giovenale, Chalk, La Camera Verde, Rome 2009

Barrett Gordon, Bartimus: Alarms and a Leg, House Press, multiple locations, 2006

John Koethe, Ninety-fifth Street, Harper Perennial, New York 2009

Joanna Rawson, Unrest, Graywolf, Minneapolis 2009

Jared Stanley, Book Made of Forest, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, UK 2009

Sarah Trott, Planned, There Press, Oakland 2009

 

Journals

6x6, no. 17, Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, Winter 2009. Includes James Copeland, Lucy Ives, Megan Kaminski, Mary Millsap, Zachary Schomburg & Mathias Svalina, Kevin Varrone.

6x6, no. 18, Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, Summer 2009. Includes Srečko Kosovel, Maureen Thorson, Deborah Wardlaw Pattillo, Rebecca Guyon, Paul Hoover, Guy Bennett

Abraham Lincoln, no. 4, Ashland, OR, Winter / Spring 2009. Includes David Larsen, Clark Coolidge, Franklin Bruno, Rob Halpern, Kristen Gallagher, Mel Nichols, K.Lorraine Graham, Lanny Quarles, Sandra Simonds, Sharon Mesmer, James Wagner, Gary Sullivan, The Unknown Flarfist, more.

The Emohippus Greeting Card, Third Series (Greeting Cards #`11-15), eohippus labs, Los Angeles, 2009. Includes Teresa Carmody, Honey Crawford, Darin Klein, Dolores Dorantes, SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS (sic).

Hot Gun, no. 1, Godalming, Surrey, UK / Brooklyn, NY, 2009. Includes Josh Stanley & Ryan Waller, Justin Katko & Jow Lindsay, Marianne Morris, Amica Dall, Emily Critchley, Kate Riley, J.H. Prynne, Neil Pattison, more.

Kadar Koli, vol 1, no. 11, Habenicht Press, San Marcos, TX, Spring 2008. Includes Valerie Coulton, Stephen Vincent, Noah Elio Gordon, Sotére Torregian, Michelle Detorie, David Kirschenbaum, Susan Gevirtz, Rusty Morrison, Joseph Massey, more.

Or, issue two, Los Angeles, 2008. Includes Amy Allara, Luigi Ballerinie, Guy Bennett, Juliene Blaine, Brother Anthony, Mohammed Dib, Ray DiPalma, Mark DuCharme, Gary Gach, Marco Giovenale, Andrea Inglese, Young-moo Kim, Ko Un, Carol Lettieri, Douglas Messerli, Renata Morresi, Ryan Murphy, Yan Perreau, Dennis Phillips, Martha Ronk, Standard Schaefer, Laura Soloman, Nathaniel Tarn, Emilio Villa, Noura Weddel, more.

Peaches and Bats, no. 3, Portland, 2009. Includes Jennifer Bartlett, Stephen Collis, Elaine Equi, Lauren Likely, Will Owen, Kaia Sand, Brandon Shimoda, Luvsandorjin Ulziitugs, What are We Learnng, Deborah Woodward, more.

Peaches and Bats, no. 4, Portland, Summer 2009. Includes Marcella Durand, Laynie Browne, David Shapiro, Eléna Rivera, Mickey O’Connor, more.

Process: The Basement Tapes, Boat Train, Gloucester, Spring 2009. Includes James Cook, Donald Wellman, Mark Scroggins, Craig Stormont, Ewa Chrusciel & David Rich.

String of Small Machines, no. 4, House Press / Chicago, 2009. Includes Melissa Severin, Carrie Hunter, Daniel Borzutzky, Andrew Hughes, Gustave Morin, Raúl Zurita (translated by Anna Deeny), Brenda Iijima, cover by Angee Lennard.

The Hat, no. 8, New York, 2009. Includes Laura Carter, Drew Gardner, Merrill Gilfillan, Heather Green, Mike Hauser, Martins Iyoboyi, Devin Johnston, Genevieve Kaplan, Becca Klaver, Michael Loughran, Hassan Melehy, Ange Mlinko, Maggie Nelson, Charles North, John Olson, Dawn Pendergast, Tomaž Šalamun, David Shapiro, Jordan Stempleman, Mathias Svalina, Maureen Thorson, Geoffrey Young, more.

 

Still a big stack of books
waiting to be noted here

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

 

The end of summer is notoriously the dumping ground for motion pictures that nobody knows quite what to do with, the Terry Gilliam projects of this world. Sometimes there are gems to be found in August – Vicky Cristina Barcelona, released August 15, 2008 because the name Woody Allen has itself been enough to keep some of his former fans from the theater, contained numerous fantastic performances. The Illusionist was technically a September release, coming out 9/1/2006, a film that depended on its complex plot & various twists, but didn’t spin them out as effectively as it needed to. But summer is really when the world tends to divide into boy films & chick flicks, as theaters (and film distributors) concentrate on younger demographics out of school with disposable income. Occasionally, there will be a great example of the genre – The Bourne Ultimatum was as well-executed action roller coaster as has ever been made. But generally, August is when you get the Hellboys of the world.

This year there are two films that noticeably want to achieve more, a lot more, within the traditional genres of the guy flick – The sci-fi film District 9, which gives you aliens, exploding humans & chase scenes that aren’t quite as athletic as a Bourne or Bond venture, but certainly more paraoid, & Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a “Dirty Dozen” fantasy on how WW2 should have ended. Both films are well worth the effort, unless you’re the squeamish sort. As I’m writing this, viewers are currently rating District 9 as no. 37 on IMBD’s roster of the top 250 films of all time, Inglourious Basterds as no. 35.

District 9 is well done & its premise – the fate of a bureaucrat, Wikus Van De Merwe, played by newcomer Sharlto Copley¹, placed in charge of a massive, coercive movement of a huge population, displacing the aliens for the benefit of the locals, in spite of the fact that he is entirely unqualified for the position. Not unlike, say, Michael D. Brown, the head of FEMA as it failed to cope with the population of New Orleans & Hurricane Katrina. Wikus is picked only because his father-in-law is the head of the mercenary/consulting firm, MNU, selected by the South African government to do the job. But Wikus is also picked because MNU & earthlings in general have no respect for the prawns, as they call the aliens. The aliens may have tremendous technology – their massive spaceship hovers like a dark cloud over Johannesburg for decades – but they’ve lost the command module that would enable them to escape earth’s atmosphere & they arrived so listless & sick that their superior weaponry proved useless. Humans can’t even use it because it requires “prawn dna” to operate the guns. Nonetheless, there is a speculative black market dealing in such weaponry, run by a parasitic group of Nigerians (who also supply prostitution services to the prawns). All of this is told in the seedy, handheld camera mode of a documentary, the sort you might find on MSNBC on the weekends, or on the History Channel in off hours.

District 9 does a lot with its unstated allusions – the word apartheid never is uttered, Katrina is never referenced & the role of the Nigerian gangs as a cipher for the fate of failed nations is never explored. There is a scene early on when the supercilious Wikus has a building housing alien eggs torched. He notes that it sounds like popcorn, literally giggling at the “abortions” taking place as eggs explode behind him. Yet he is the person, ultimately, with whom we are to identify as an accidental exposure to alien chemicals begins to turn into one of them. I don’t know how much the aliens are puppetry & how much pure CGI – none are listed in the credits, not even Christopher whom we get to know pretty well after he rescues and befriends Wikus. Once Wikus & Christopher realize where the container with the necessary chemicals to resurrect the buried command module are, the film rapidly focuses on their attempt to fetch it and Christopher’s attempt to get the ship going so that he can go back to his original world for help. Meanwhile, MNU steps up its efforts to get Wikus – the father-in-law has no hesitation in eliminating Wikus to achieve MNU’s goals, tho Wikus’ sudden ability to fire alien weaponry has them intrigued as all heck – and the film very quickly narrows into a chase film a la Bourne.

It will be interesting to see, three years hence, when presumably Christopher will return with his friends to rescue the prawns & turn Wikus back into a person, if director Neill Blomkamp (who has mostly been a 3D animator throughout his career), can sustain a film that doesn’t have a fundamental chase roller coaster dynamic to it.

Inglourious Basterds is by far the richer movie. It is, in fact, flat out a great film, the second I’ve seen this year (the first being Up). All of this has to do with Tarantino, who not only is smarter than his peers in the directing community by some order of magnitude, but who is capable of showing it off in ways that strengthen the film. Detail: Brad Pitt as Aldo Raine first addresses his volunteers. You notice that there is a scar on his neck from ear to ear, exactly what you would expect from someone who survived having his throat cut. It is never once referenced or explained, but it is totally “in character” with Pitt’s role, the best he has ever had. Detail: the “Bear Jew,” so called because he clubs Nazi’s to death, turns out to be baseball-obsessed (shades of Hank Greenberg). Detail: Col. Hans Landa, one of the creepiest villains ever, has film star Bridget van Hammersmark reach into his coat pocked to extract a shoe that he then places on her foot, thus proving to them both her role as a spy, not one mention of Cinderella ever having been made. Tarantino makes the flammability of old film stock a plot point, brings in both the director & star of the 1978 Quel Maledetto trendo Blindato – released in the U.S. as The Inglorious Bastards – for cameos &, to top everything off, gives us an apocalypse that echoes everything from the fires at numerous clubs & theaters where panicked patrons found the exit doors locked to gangster movie massacres right up until all that dynamite that’s around Hitler’s bullet-riddled body goes off in one Big Bang.

Told in a series of “chapters” – key characters never come together until the final one (“The Revenge of the Giant Face,” surely the best chapter title ever in the history of cinema, especially once we realize just how literal it is) – built around two parallel plots of different conspiracies to blow up &/or burn down the same theater on the same night, and focusing on four key players, only one of whom is Brad Pitt – Inglourious Basterds is one of those films that just makes you happy cinema exists. You will have to watch an inordinate number of scalpings, not to mention one scene in which Aldo Raine sticks his finger into the bullet hole in Bridget’s leg and just pokes around a bit to make her scream, but much of this occurs amidst the richest film dialog since the last good Tarantino flick.

Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa has been foregrounded in a lot of reviews as being Oscar worthy (he is), but really all four of the principals (Pitt, Waltz, Diane Krueger & Mélanie Laurent) are terrific here. Waltz’ creepiness as a villain is surprisingly close to Wikus’ role as a “hero” in District 9, especially once the plot twists toward the end cast him in a fuller (albeit even sleazier) light. The difference being that Wikus knows he’s a silly little doofus where Waltz takes enormous satisfaction in his sadistic games. Pitt’s general hokeyness is used, as it was in Burn Before Reading & even all the way back in Thelma & Louise by directors who got it that he was an offbeat figure who wouldn’t work in any role you might offer to Tom Cruise or Christian Bale, to enormous good effect by Tarantino. And the women, especially Laurent, are better than the men.

 

¹Copley’s most significant prior credit was producing the visual effects for the cult film What the #$*! Do We Know?

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

 

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