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Monday, January 30, 2012

The money will roll right in...

I went to go see "Under the Big Black Sun", the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's exhibit of modern art from 1974-1981 on Saturday. It was a free day for most of Los Angeles' museums, so I figured I would make the most of it with a journey downtown, via train, through the barren wastelands of Downtown LA on the weekend, to Little Tokyo.

Now, with an exhibition named after an album by LA punk band X, and scheduled events involving Henry Rollins and another one involving X performing with the Dead Kennedys and the Avengers, you'd think this would be a very punk-centric exhibit.

Well, actually, if you know much about punk, the fact that MOCA is honoring the LA arts scene in the punk era with performances by two SAN FRANCISCAN punk bands would probably be a warning that we're going to get a very selective and self-serving exhibit.

And that's exactly what we get. The main portion of the exhibit is devoted to the expected modern art conceptual pieces, recordings of performance art and video pieces, strange abstract stuff, and borderline tongue-in-cheek anthropological photography.

And then, shoved into two rooms in the very back of the building, hidden behind an unrelated exhibition on Theaster Gates and Civil Rights, are the majority of the punk pieces.

Which amount to two Gary Panter pieces, some random collective propaganda art (for benefits or protests, etc.) and a wall of Raymond Pettibon art.

So MOCA has basically segregated the punk rock culture items from the rest of the modern art. And I don't totally blame them.

Because while one or two pieces of the main exhibit are "creative" or "interesting", most of it disappeared from my mind the instant I walked away. But the Gary Panter art and the Raymond Pettibon art stuck. Pettibon's pop-art/Chick-tract/comic book-damaged art especially is a million times more shocking, scary and witty than anything in the rest of the exhibit. If you put any Raymond Pettibon flyer next to a series of matches placed on top of quarters representing the Soviet armored cavalry (no, I'm not joking), I doubt you'd really care about the latter.

And, strangely enough, MOCA must realize what the real draw is, because in addition to a marketing campaign trying to springboard off of punk, 9/10ths of the gift shop is given over to punk memorabilia. You don't see any coffee table books about left-wing post-modernists who white out newspaper headlines or take blurry stills from inaugural videos. You see copies of Black Flag's discography and oral histories of punk.

I don't think there's any question that punk is an art form, not a revolution, at this point. But it's hilarious that, even as co-opted and compromised as it is, it still has more lifeblood than your average piece of contemporary art.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Quick "I'm still here post"

Just wanted to say "hi" to all you out in blogland. I haven't forgotten you, I swear!

This blog isn't going to go live on a farm with Firefly and Community and mainstream horror movies that aren't found footage.

So I'm just going to post some of the crazy search terms that get people to my blog:

"psychedelic prison" - probably because of my post on Joseph Losey's Modesty Blaise post. Or that's what the internet thinks my blog is.

"united trash" and "united trash movie" - well, there probably aren't many reviews of this movie, especially since it doesn't appear to have received any official American release, much less one with accurate subtitles.

"cornucopia wow" - either I mentioned World of Warcraft at some point, or people are just really impressed by this blog.

"galactus vs celestials" - I'm going with the Celestials, since they can hold entire worlds in their dreaming subconscious.

"it rains on the just and the unjust movie" "it rains on the just and the unjust alike" - because of my thoughts on Watchmen and my love of that quote, I guess.

"silver surfer 1970s" - well, John Buscema's art is definitely still amazing, but Stan Lee's scripts haven't held up as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The past is a foreign country...

I recently watched the two hour pilot of Showtime's The Borgias (I know, welcome to 2010, Mr. K) and the first two episodes of Roberto Rossellini's Age of The Medicis, which was produced as a three part miniseries on Italian television in the 1970s.

Both shows dealing with politics in the Italian Renaissance, both helmed by talented directors (Neil Jordan serving as the show-runner for the Borgias, as well as director for the pilot), and the two could not be more dissimilar.

The Borgias wavers somewhere between crime drama and sumptuous, sexy costume melodrama. It certainly has its moments (Irons is a little uneven, but he plays Pope Alexander as a charismatic, corrupt man who is utterly sincere about his belief in the power of the Church and God), but, as my Lovely Girlfriend put it, "well, at least during the boring parts, there's something pretty on screen to look at."

Which definitely sums up the aesthetic of The Borgias. Lots of beautiful naked bodies, lots of beautiful clothing, artwork and architecture, plus lots of sex and blood (which is usually deployed in beautiful ways). But also frequently boring.

And while it's never easy to figure out how accurately a pilot represents the rest of a series, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that The Borgias is going to totally do away with the Bloody Sexy History. What's most disappointing about the approach is the way that it just sort of flattens the lechery, venery and blood-lust, when it's all sex and violence, all the time.

In contrast, Rossellini's Age of the Medicis is a much more austere and glacially paced production. Rossellini's favorite device is to stage scenes like tableaus out of Renaissance artwork, with the actors merely an element of mise en scene. Unlike The Borgias, where everyone is usually manipulating or murdering or making love, but rarely working, the majority of the action in Age of the Medicis takes place while people are going about their daily work.

Even as Cosimo de Medici is making his triumphant return into Florence, for example, someone still has to go down to the local pawn shop and redeem his supporters' goods from the pawnbrokers. At one point, the Weaver's Guild commissions an assassin to do away with someone in a nearby town who is infringing on their patents. But that only happens after a scene where they analyze what production technique is being used, who had patented it, examining the recordbooks to see who could have passed along the information, etc.

The Age of the Medicis often feels closer in kinship to one of Peter Watkins "You Are There"-style faux-documentaries, where he approaches hypothetical or historical situations with the austerity and impartiality of a modern-day documentary film-maker.

That's not to say The Age of the Medicis doesn't have beauty. Rossellini's Florence is less ornate than Jordan's Rome, but Rossellini has a better eye for detail in the positioning of groups of actors, the atmosphere of their settings, and he is more adventuresome with his camera, sending it roving through a workshop, or panning across the various factions attending a funeral.

Perhaps the one aspect in which The Age of the Medicis suffers compares to The Borgias is, oddly enough, in its treatment of the female characters. The Borgias' female characters are not given as much to do or as much depth as the male characters, and too much of their characterization depends on their sexual desires. But women are really only extras or bit players in The Age of the Medicis. My guess is that, given that Rossellini's script seems heavily based on primary sources and focused on day-to-day business, it's bias towards the masculine sphere is understandable. At the same time, given the effort put into portraying not only the power-brokers but also the common men and bourgeois, it is disappointing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

This is the end, beautiful friend, the end...

So my talented and funny friend Brock Wilbur has just started an amazing series of reviews on movies about the apocalypse or post-apocalypse (though he missed out by not calling it the A-Brock-Alypse). You can see the first post here.

But it reminded me of how many post-apocalyptic films there are, even if you exclude zombie movies totally.

Off the top of my head, here are some interesting post-apocalyptic films I've seen:
Pulse (the Japanese version, not the American remake)
Virus (the Japanese film starring Chuck Connors and Toshiro Mifune, not that American film about a possessed ship or something)
Panic in the Year Zero (a rather fascinating '50s examination of the aftermath of a nuclear war, hidden in a B-movie)
The War Game (the Peter Watkins faux-documentary that got commissioned and then banned by the BBC)
The Mad Max films
Six-String Samurai

Here are some post-apocalyptic films I have yet to see, but want to:
On the Beach
When the Wind Blows (supposed to be really really heartbreaking)
Quintet
Steel Dawn (Fistful of Dollars in the post-apocalypse!)
The Road
The Day After
Defcon-4 (though the title is misleading. Defcon 1 should be the one that makes you scared)...

Brock is going to be reviewing some 52 films in total! I'm looking forward to seeing what he reviews, as such a large number will require going beyond the usual suspects, as well as zombie films and Italian Mad Max rip-offs (I'm looking at you, Warrior of the Lost World!).