Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paul Goodman Changed My Life

The film “Paul Goodman Changed My Life” pays tribute to a man — poet, teacher, social critic, and guru - who was once widely read, but has since fallen into an unmerited obscurity. It is that fall from public awareness that this documentary seeks to overcome.

Goodman was a member of the generation of Jewish intellectuals who made their way from the margins to the center of American cultural life. Born and raised in New York, he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, a founder of Gestalt therapy and a member of the faculty of Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the institution that was home to such thinkers and artists as Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley and Robert Rauschenberg, and birthed the American avant-garde. Not only a public intellectual, Goodman was also an active participant in the movements that aimed to change society and not just reflect upon it.

Though married twice and the father of three children, Goodman was open and unapologetic about his sexual attraction to both men and women. “Paul Goodman Changed My Life” is a fascinating film that paints a composite portrait of a complex man who never stopped thinking and who was incapable of anything but honesty in thought and deed.

At the SIFF Cinema from December 2 through December 8, 2011.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Makin' it Last

Part of what makes graffiti so compelling is it's incredibly contradictory nature. Whatever manic and aggressive aspects an individual piece of graffiti can posses, its impermanence gives it an inherently fragile quality. Graffiti is all about the moment that you happen to see it - one day it's a blank wall, the next day it's a masterpiece, and the day after that it's gone again. Bam.

Despite that here-today gone-tomorrow quality, graffiti- and hip hop in general - has attained a cultural longevity that no one would have predicted 35 years ago. Some of the artists who appeared like bursts of flame, and may have been expected to disappear just as quickly, are now revered as elder statesmen. Photos of their pieces have become cultural icons, and in the rare situation where an original piece has survived, they have become pilgrimage sites.

So it's only natural that a number of thoughtful projects have surfaced that mean to preserve some international graffiti landmarks.

Photographer and film director Henry Chalfant is spearheading the restoration of the 30 hours of unseen outtakes from the classic graffiti and hip-hop culture documentary Style Wars. The film is an indispensable document of New York Street culture from the early '80s, and there are about 30 hours of film shot between 1981 and 1982 that have almost never been seen. Chalfant, who co-produced the original film, is trying to preserve that footage and re-edit it into a second full length DVD. Here’s a great little video from Chalfant about the project.

While Style Wars was screening for the first time in NYC, Keith Haring was being flown over to Australia to paint a mural on an outdoor wall of the Collingwood Technical College in Melbourne. The mural is one of the few remaining outdoor murals by this influential and brilliant artist who died in 1990, and it's been sitting exposed to the sun and rain for the last 27 years. Finally there's effort underway to save it, going on right here.

Giving a little cash to a project like these is a personal choice - what's more interesting is the growing awareness that these ephemeral works form a part of our culture that is worth keeping.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Aono Jikken from the Gimli Hospital

Seattle’s Aono Jikken Ensemble has been in New York working with otherworldly film director Guy Maddin on a re-boot of his debut feature Tales From the Gimli Hospital. The film, originally released in 1988, tells the “true story" of Icelandic immigrants who arrive in a plague-stricken Canadian village. Already weird and imaginative beyond description, the film has been completely re-edited and dubbed with new narration and dialogue, and Aono Jikken Ensemble have spent months composing a new score featuring an all-star group of Icelandic string musicians and vocalists. AJE’s wonderful unique combination of traditional Asian, western and world instruments, combined with the Icelandic strings and voices, together with found objects, children’s toys and specially created sound devices should create a whole new sound world for Maddin’s epic film. The whole shebang appears at the Walter Reade Theater of Lincoln Center on November 18 & 19 as part of Performa 11 – New York City’s New Visual Art Performance Biennial. Who knows if this will ever tour, so for God's sake see it in New York if at all possible. If you're a supporter of AJE (and who isn't?) you get a discount if you buy online and use the discount code "member11." Full ticket details right here.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Hard to believe that the timing is a coincidence. Today, November 11th, marks the 123rd anniversary of the execution of the Haymarket Martyrs - eight anarchists and labor organizers who took part in the struggle for the 8 hour work day and the May Day uprising in Chicago in 1886.

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (Now the AFL) began loudly calling for a great movement to win a national 8-hour workday. The plan was to spend two years urging all American employers to adopt a standard 8-hour day, instead of the 10- to 16-hour days that were then prevalent. Beginning May 1886, all workers not yet on an 8-hour schedule were to cease work in a nation-wide strike until their employers met the demand.

Accordingly, on May 1 of that year great demonstrations erupted across the country. The largest was in Chicago, where 80,000 people marched, much to the alarm of Chicago's business leaders who saw it as a foreshadowing of "revolution," and demanded a police crackdown.

A mass meeting was called for the night of May 4, 1886 in the city haymarket. A large force of police arrived to demand that the meeting disperse, and someone, unknown to this day, threw a bomb. In their confusion, the police began firing their weapons in the dark, killing at least four in the crowd and wounding many more.

In the aftermath of the event, unions were raided all across the country. The Eight-Hour Movement was derailed and it was not until passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1935 that the 8-hour workday became the national standard, as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.

Albert Parsons and seven others associated with radical organizations were prosecuted in a show trial. None were linked to the bomb thrower, and some were not even present at the time, but the charges against them alleged that their public criticism of corporate America, the political structure, and the use of police power against the working people, inspired the bomber.

Governor John Peter Altgeld subsequently found the trial to be grossly unfair. On June 26, 1894, Altgeld pardoned those defendants still alive and in prison; but five of the martyrs had already been hanged, on November 11, 1887, and one was dead of an apparent suicide.

In July 1889, a delegate from the AFL attending an international labor conference in Paris, urged that May 1 of each year be celebrated as a day of labor solidarity. With the notable exception of the United States, workers throughout the world now celebrate May 1 as "Labor Day."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Short Run

If you're reading this blog, you've probably got a taste for old school media - ie. beautiful handmade objects and actual printed books. The Short Run Small Press Fest is in Seattle a first-of-its-kind small press expo featuring dozens of handmade literary journals, comics, zines, and small-press books, along with a fancy bake sale and screenings of recent work from Seattle Experimental Animation Team. Uniquely beautiful handmade books are a joy unto themselves, and the kind of thing you'll never be able to download onto your Kindle. At Seattle's all-ages Vera Project this Saturday starting at 10:30 am. Admission is free free free.

And if you want more, the show continues with an party and exhibit at the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle. The party begins on Saturday after the Short Run show and the display continues through December 10.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner

A new radio play about composer Julius Eastman will premiere this Saturday, November 12, at the Performa Biennial in New York.

Eastman is a compelling though little-known figure in American composition. He was a gay African-American composer, hailed as an incredible vocalist and pianist. Eastman is probably best known for singing on the 1973 Grammy-nominated Nonesuch recording of Peter Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King. Raised in Ithaca, New York, he started studying piano at fourteen and was playing Beethoven after only six months of lessons. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music as a piano major under Mieczyslaw Horzowski but soon switched to composition. In 1968 he moved to Buffalo where he was a member of the Creative Associates, under the leadership of Lukas Foss and later Morton Feldman.

While in Buffalo, he performed and toured music by many prominent contemporary composers, as well as had his own music performed. He eventually moved to New York City, where he was associated with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and worked with downtown composers like Meredith Monk, Peter Gordon, Arthur Russell and Evan Lurie. Once he left Buffalo, the titles of his pieces started to change, from poetic and evocative titles like "The Moon's Silent Modulation" to much more confrontational themes like "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich," and "Evil Nigger."

A 1980 piece for Eastman's voice and cello ensemble, The Holy Presence of Jeanne d'Arc, was performed to wide acclaim at The Kitchen in New York City, and in 1981 Eastman recorded with Meredith Monk's ensemble for her influential album Dolmen Music.

However, success was fleeting. Desperate for paid work and despondent about what he saw as a lack of professional opportunities, Eastman began using drugs heavily. At one point he was evicted from his apartment, his belongings confiscated by the sheriff, and he took up residence in Tompkins Square Park.

A job teaching music theory brought him back to SUNY Buffalo, but his music career never recovered. Eastman died alone at the age of 50 in Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo. No public notice was given to his death until an obituary by Kyle Gann appeared in the Village Voice eight months after he died.

In 2005 New World Records released a 3-CD set of Eastman’s music.

The radio show, called "Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner, features several pianists and voice-actors, and will be broadcast live twice before being archived. It should be a fascinating event. Below is a recording of Eastman's piece “Evil Nigger” from 1979, here played on four pianos, including one played by Eastman himself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Yelping with Cormac McCarthy

Did you know that novelist Cormac McCarthy reviews his favorite shopping spots on Yelp? For example, here he is at the local Whole Foods:

The riders watched as the women left their station wagons and strollers and encircled the outlaw. As if some ancient instinct united them. Silent as wolves and staring intently at the broken man standing there. He saw his mistake and called out to the riders reaching toward them with his one good arm but was struck down with a savage blow from a rolled yoga mat.

Heaven help me, but this is why the internet was invented. Much more here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Best of Henson

Of course pretty much everyone from my generation has a great reverence for Jim Henson. We grew up watching Sesame Street, moved on to the Muppet Show, and watched Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal so many times that huge swaths of our population have memorized the dialogue. Henson's creativity was legendary and his mastery of television has influenced everything that came afterward.

What's interesting is that in the years since his death, no one has come close to claiming his niche. I can't think of a single popular artist today who speaks to children and adults with such equal fluency, and whose work has such huge commercial appeal without ever being trite, saccharine or downright mercenary. We all knew Henson was unique at the time - it's looking more and more like he was true genius.

Starting tomorrow, November 5, the new SIFF Cinema at the Uptown is celebrating the work of Jim Henson by screening including the three original Muppet films, the fantasy classics The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and eight different collections of classic shorts featuring from The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and rarities from the Henson vaults.

The series runs through November 22, and the full schedule is available here.

And if you haven't seen this in a while, it's a perfect moment to re-visit Henson's 1966 short film Time Piece. Brilliant, anti-authoritarian, and not a single muppet. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

State Route 99%

Closer to home, Seattle artist No Touching Ground has pasted a series of lifesize portraits of Occupy Wall Street protesters on the columns supporting the monorail on Fifth Avenue. Good strong medicine that can't be ignored. The art police are very quick to remove ornamentation from these particular columns, if you want to see them in living color before they disappear try to make the trip to Belltown before too long. You can see them eternally on the web of course, here and here.

By the way, NTG has been doing some really powerful work all over the place. For example, check out this piece that appeared in Brooklyn, NY over the summer. Nice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Guy Denning

Guy Denning is a self-taught English artist currently living in France. Mostly known for his gritty and brooding paintings, Denning has heartily embraced various internet outlets including YouTube where he demonstrates how he paints, as well as a terrific blog and Facebook page where he posts a new drawing each day. Denning has been paying close attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests and is busily posting images inspired by the New York conflagration as well as capturing moments seen via the internet in Oakland, London and elsewhere. His uncanny ability to illustrate powerful emotion in the simplest gestural sketches is incredible, and the recent wave of protests have served as an explosive outlet for his deeply felt cynicism and world weary politics. Absolutely worth a look.