Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, July 02, 2010

How To Survive a Night in Jail

    Happy Fourth of July weekend everyone!  Fourth of July represents a high point for dui arrests- lots of special funding for check points, etc.  That means, statistically speaking, you have a better chance of ending up in jail this weekend then any other.  Now, I counsel a lot of people AFTER they've been to jail, and I always think to myself, "Gosh- I wish could talk to people about this experience BEFORE they went to jail."  Here are my tips:

  1.        Be aware of how your behavior while you are in jail effects your loved ones.  Hey, everyone knows that being in jail sucks, but being in jail overnight is not the end of your world, and you should not be baby when you are calling your wife, husband, girl friend, boyfriend, etc.  Take a deep breath and grow a pair because....
  2.       95% of the time you are only going to be in jail one night.  The Cops can hold you for up to three days, but in most standard dui scenarios, it's just the one night, then you get out.  Trust me, I see people getting released out of jail almost every day- usually in the mid morning.
  3.        Be aware of your specific type of jail environment.  There are two main types of jail- the first is the big city central lock up- lots of drunk people, some hobos and a few guys/gals who are regulars.  The other type is the small town lock up.  You need to figure out which of these you are in, because if you are in a big city lock up, the guards will be your friends and the inmates potential problems, whereas if you are in the sticks, you need to watch out for the guards.  Small town jail personnel can be big time assholes.
  4.        Enjoy your time!  For most people, that one night will be the only time they see the inside of a jail cell- don't spend your time being a cry baby bitch- you want an anecdote that will stand up over time.
  5.        Do not talk shit.  To anyone, about anything.  Winning an argument inside jail is worthless and potentially life threatening. 
      Have a happy and save July 4th weekend- if you are going to be out indulging take a spin on the internet for dui checkpoints in your area before you go out- they are often made public right before the weekend starts.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Review: Pandora's Box d. GW Pabst *1929*



PANDORA'S BOX directed by G.W. Pabst *1929*

     Inspired by Netflix streaming service, I've decided to make a move into film writing.  I'm not going to review contemporary releases, nor am I going to bitch about Hollywood.  I don't see the point in telling the world about crappy Hollywood movies.  I do see a strong link between film/cinemas/movies and other subjects I write about on this blog: the production of cultural objects, the relationship of artists and audiences and the nature of creativity in the world of mass media.  As a forum for discussing those subjects, film actually surpasses music in that the film industry both proceeded AND directly inspired the music industry.  For example, the practice of calling a cultural product a "hit" was INVENTED by film and ADOPTED by music decades later.  Thus, movies are relevant to the project of this blog, and Netflix streaming service is the break through I need to carry out my project.

      I wanted to start by discussing how I watched Pandora's Box- I started at my office, watching it in two twenty minute increments while I waited for people to arrive for their free consultations.  Netflix actually keeps track of where you start and stop the film.  I noticed right away that the prospect of not having to sit in front of the television to watch a two hour plus silent film cheered me immensely. When I went home, I had dinner, then my wife had a business meeting, so I watched the remaining hour and forty five minutes in two more blocks, interspersing the watching with reading a book.  This was so revolutionary for me that I wanted to write about it, even though it is 'boring' material.

    If you are going to address film in a comprehensive manner, you need to understand the pre-talkies era.  Perhaps the most important fact to understand about the era is how the commonly used "SILENT FILM" term is hugely inaccurate.  Films where never "silent."  The introduction of characters talking on screen was a technical innovation, but films were accompanied by sound from almost the very beginning. Popular films were typically presented with a live orchestra.

   The technical achievements in this era were in no way primitive, but the preservation of the master films was primitive, and that impacts the ability of the audience to appreciate the merit of "silent" movies.  I can personally attest to having seen multiple silent era films that were so poorly preserved as to make them literally unwatchable- and these were commercially available dvd's put out by major film studios.  Also, when watching a silent movie you need to have some concern for the audio soundtrack which accompanies the film.  Silent movies worked because you saw them in a live setting, with people playing instruments.   The "quiet theater" aesthetic of the talkies era was not shared with the silent film aesthetic, which more resembles a circus or vaudevillian show.

   Might I suggest watching silent era films released by Criterion Collection?  Whatever the film, you know Criterion Collection is going to do a bang up job on the re-release.  Pandora's Box (Criterion Collections Spine #358) was released in 1929, directed by G.W. Pabst.  The first talkie was released in 1927.  The thing to understand is that Pandora's Box represents the end of the silent era, and thus the techniques used and themes are as sophisticated as any in silent film.  The film looks beautiful- no small task for a 1929 movie produced in Germany and Criterion has provided four separate sound tracks.  I believe the track that Netflix uses is track one, an "orchestral score similar to what was heard at the big European music palaces of the day."

  It was the first time I had ever been blown away by the sound accompanying a silent film and it made quite an impression.  How can you be fair to these films without considering the impact of a live orchestra on the audience?  It makes for a significantly different product.

  The second fact to understand about Pandora's Box is that Pabst made it in the pre-code era.  It has a frankness and openness about sexual relationships that is in many ways more insightful then the pablum one gets in contemporary rom-coms.

    The third and final fact to know is that Pandora's Box made Louise Brooks a fucking star.  The story of Pabst "discovering" Brooks playing a circus acrobat in a Howard Hawkes film is the ur-Hollywood Starlet story.  I'm not going to lie: I found parts of Pandora's Box extremely tedious.  I could NOT have watched it on DVD- ever- ever- I would have turned it off after twenty minutes.  However, given the opportunity to cut it up into smaller segments over the course of a whole day, I found the viewing experience to be close to exhilarating.  As I watched Pandora's Box, I had plenty of time to think about silent films, Louise Brooks and G.W. Pabst.  All those topics are worth some quiet contemplation.  Louise Brooks: one of the first Hollywood starlet/it girls; G.W. Pabst- a filmmaker sophisticated beyond his place and time; Silent movies- not that annoying if they have a kick ass sound track and you break them up a little.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Museum Review: *Calder to Warhol* Introducing the Fisher Collection @ The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Andy Warhol-Triple Elvis
Triple Elvis by Andy Warhol (1963): Modern Art Triumph.

From Calder to Warhol:
Introducing the Fisher Collections
@ The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

   This exhibition is notable because it acknowledges a collection accumulated in a single "person," "Donald Fisher."  It's important to observe in passing that "David Fisher" likely represented a combination of four or more people, the Donald Fisher, his wife, their agent and the museum itself.  The market for fine art is cultural economics 101:  high level of interest in the audience, high level of attention from specialists, and, most importantly, a s*** ton of money.  What is it about the successful capitalists' soul that he or she seeks solace in painting, sculpture and architecture?   Historically, "art" was limited to those three subjects.   If you are talking about fine art subjects, it's important to recognize that the discourse for the three subjects has developed in tandem.  It is proper to speak of the philosophy and history of art being wholly concerned with painting, sculpture and architecture.

    It is well known that the original use of "post modernism" was in the field of architecture.  It was a term that was developed, by the artists and critics of architecture, to describe specific groups of buildings built in the twentieth century.  From architecture, it's use spread to anthropology, sociology and the other social sciences.  From those disciplines, it spread through college education to the general public.  Post Modernism represents what you might call a "Kuhnian Paradigm Shift" that goes MODERNISM---POST-MODERNISM.  Now, after a generation of post modern everything, perhaps it's appropriate for a shift back to MODERNISM or an updated version.

   If one was looking for institutions to participate/lead in this shift BACK to Modernism, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a good place to start.  First of all, it has "Modern Art" in the title.  Second of all, it showcases other fine arts and is itself an interesting example of architecture.  Therefore, it is a place where a total discourse about art and meaning can occur.  Donald Fisher founded the GAP, and as such he represents a later day Medici or Pope, using his vast resources to accumulate large quantities of fine art.  Much of this work is painting, but the presence of Alexander Calder as a major feature brings sculpture into the mix.

  Although most of Calder's corpus precedes World War II, everything else in the collection is post War World II paintings, starting at abstract impressionism and running strongly through pop (the triumphant "Triple Elvis" that anchors the last room of the exhibition is a true stunner.)  It left me with a distinct sense of what was in and outside the canon of Modern Art/Painting.  The presence of so many Alexander Calder mobiles left me craving a little space between the works.  It's hard to really observe a three dimensional Alexander Calder mobile when there is another one right behind it.  The exhibition notes mentioned that Fisher has about 50 of these mobiles which brought to mind the car warehouses of comedians like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.  I'm sorry, is that like a mental disorder or something with these rich guys?  Are they "proud" of buying so many objects?  If you can figure that psychology out you should be able to become rich.

   But I think the most important to take into the Fisher collection is some well collected thoughts about the relationship of the artist, collector, critic and museum and how they interact to create the experience you have as you view a Roy Lichtenstein painting a the SFMOMA.   Such observations are particular valuable to those who work in the popular cultural arts world.  While it is no longer accurate to talk about "high" and "low" art (how bourgeois can you get?) the distinction between "fine" and "popular" art markets is, if not a full dichotomy, an easily described continuum.  On the one end you have: painting, sculpture, architecture, on the other end:  advertising, commercial signs, consumer product design.  In the middle, movies, music, literature.  You can use the same disciplines to talk about all of them: history, art criticism, economics and they share a common critical vocabulary.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Museum Review: Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces of the Musee D'Orsay @ The De Young Museum in San Francisco

The Birth of Impressionism:
Masterpieces of the Musee D'Orsay
at the De Young Museum
San Francisco, CA.
May 22- September 6th

   A critic is a lot like a surfer.  The surfer sits in the ocean, on his surf board, assessing the waves.  The waves come in groups or "sets."  The first task of the surfer is to assess which set to pick.  Once the set is selected, the surfer selects a wave within the set, and puts herself in position to ride the wave.  This involves being in front of the wave and paddling away from it so that the combination of forces carries you to the top of the wave.  Then the surfer stands up and rides the wave to shore.
   For the critics, the ocean is the universe of things he can write about.  The sets of waves are the specific discourse the critic chooses to have opinions about.  Riding the wave is the act of criticism.  In both scenarios, the person standing on the shore, watching the surfer, is the audience.
   Aside from the analogy itself, the comparison offers other insights.  For example, the figure of the person watching the surfer is key.  That person might be there just to watch the ocean, specifically to watch the waves or even to watch the surfer.  Also, the same person might argue first, that the person on the shore doesn't matter to the surfer AND that the audience doesn't matter to the audience.
   What can a critic say about the impressionists?  Only that they are the most financially significant group of artistic products produced in the 19th and 20th century- at present, in fact, impressionist paintings dominate the top painting 100 sale prices of all time.  A materialistic take on great art for sure, but the impressionists are the most appropriate group of cultural products to subject to economic analysis because the records are so clear.

  This fact stems from the nature of the art market in Paris, France in the second half of the 19th century.  The market was made by a royally designated art show called "the Salon."  The Salon was a yearly show where individual patrons decided how to buy art.  These patrons are what you would call "institutional" purchasers: government officials, city fathers, church officials.  The Salon was a fully developed culture industry institution, and though it antedated the rise of bourgeois art market as well as market capitalism,  it none the less directly influenced painters working then through it's all pervasive roll as the arbitrator of what patrons would buy.

     In addition to being the market maker, the Salon also had it's own art-presentational aesthetic.  All readers are familiar with the contemporary museum aesthetic in current art museums: low lighting, one painting for x amount of wall space, etc.  That was not the style of the Salon.  The Salon filled every available inch of the wall surface (and these were big walls) with huge canvases in ornate frames.  In that sense the Salon represented the taste of the patrons: looking to fill wall space, pretty vulgar, etc.  The prominent time period of the Salon was from 1725-1890s, when modern art really got it's game on.

     The Museum Audio Tour manages to incorporate the voices of various Impressionist figures, though obviously read in English and not French.  I think, actually the speaker was Claude Monet (1840-1926).  Anyway, he complains that people won't buy his art because his art isn't in the Salon show. The Impressionists as a group became known as such because they were the first group of artists to D.I.Y.  Specifically, in 1874 the Impressionists had their first art exhibit in a photographer's studio in Paris, and the rest is fucking magic.

      Strolling through the Birth of Impressionism exhibit, I was struck by how thoroughly the individual artists just  nailed it.  These guys... understood what the bourgeois purchasers wanted to see.  Dark colors, realistic themes, interesting use of color, abstraction.  It's not like these intellectual themes were somehow unique to French painters, they were just anticipatory, they were in the right place at the right time and they had the technical ability to integrate techniques utilized by sophisticated "Salon" style painters in the service of their own modernist vision.
      Through staging their own art show, they managed to create their own market, outside of the salon.  This move coincided with the emergence of the industrial class as art purchasers.  Wealthy French, British and Americans, in some cases the children of wealthy industrialists, in other cases the industrialists themselves, had money to spend and they didn't give a FUCK about the Salon.  In fact, you could say they hated it, seeing as it was directed toward the pre-capitalist aristocrats and autocrats of French society.

    Ultimately, success validates itself, and at this point, as the Impressionists continue to sell museum tickets and paintings at the highest level of the art world, there isn't anything left to do but ask "how?" and "why?"  A viewer in 2010 doesn't need to see impressionist paintings AT ALL to appreciate their splendor, since their own advances in technique were incorporated by subsequent modernist artists and THOSE art works were hugely successful.  It's not like "Impressionism" has any possible current relevance to the world except to just say, "Man, what a hit."  but that is surely enough, since Impressionism is such a huge smash.  Furthermore, the triumph of impressionism is so utter complete that it could serve as the basis for observing a documented change in the culture taste of the entire world.  That makes Impressionism a worthy subject of thought, as indeed, it has been, almost literally since inception.  As it continues today, and as it will be for as long as this particular world is still around.


Blog Archive