When Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara was approached by Okuzaki Kenzo — the subject of his 1987 The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On — and asked to film him committing murder, Hara strongly considered it before turning him down, more than anything because he “had become really sick of Okuzaki.” Or so he told an interviewer. This sounds like bullshit, and it may be, but the filming approaches and content of Hara’s body of work make you think that maybe he could have done it. (Okuzaki, incidentally, is currently serving time for the unfilmed murder attempt.) Hara has captured on film, in a doc that is essentially the sanctioned stalking of his ex-wife, the full frontal birth of her child. This was in 1974, understand, way before the Learning Channel or even The Cosby Show. He has followed a head case who once slung pachinko balls at Emperor Hirohito as the leader traveled around Japan accusing ex-soldiers, not without reason, of cannibalism. He has filmed the assaults of old men being accused, not without reason, of cannibalism. This is a filmmaker who might very well show up to a murder if he could still stand his subject.
Two of Hara’s docs will be showing this week at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Goodbye CP (1972) was his first film and caused quite a fuss in Japan for its uncensored look at the lives of people with cerebral palsy. It’s been called sadistic, and it almost broke up the marriage of its main protagonist, but it’s applauded by civil rights groups and is still shown to social service workers as a not-too-gentle reminder that those with CP aren’t anatomically smoothed-over dolls.
A Dedicated Life (1995), about the life and death from cancer of Japanese author Mitsuharu Inoue, isn’t as gonzo as most of Hara’s other films, but it’s one of his fullest and most mature. The transgression of the biography (beyond a fairly fruitless preoccupation with Inoue’s playboy persona) is Hara’s gruesome admission that he was basically waiting for the man to die so that he could get more candid interviews from those who knew him. This information, taken from an interview with professor Kenneth Ruoff, adds menace to the scenes in the doctor’s office and muddies the poignance of conversations Inoue had with his wife about his illness. But the poignance is always there, in this and Hara’s other films. It just usually has to share the spotlight with the creepy methods of the man behind the camera. SFBG
NO BOUNDARIES: THE TRANSGRESSIVE DOCUMENTARIES OF KAZUO HARA
A Dedicated Life, Thurs/16, 7:30 p.m.
Goodbye CP, Sun/19, 2 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, screening room
701 Mission, SF
Johnny Ray Huston
Staunch characters — S-T-A-U-N-C-H. That description applies to Grey Gardens devotees, who’ve found their unwavering dedication and commitment rewarded with a new Albert Maysles movie about the Edith Bouvier Beales. Still, another look at the original 1975 Grey Gardens will probably always be the best way to honor and commune with Big Edie and Little Edie — if ever a classic rewarded repeat viewings, it’s this one. All the Maysles brothers (Albert and the now-deceased David) had to do was bring the film. What they saw was amazing: Little Edie racing toward the camera — that final, perfect gentleman caller — in her best costume for the day; food and animals gathering around Big Edie’s throne room; a deep “sea of green” (Little Edie’s words) on the estate threatening to block out an ocean of blue. At one point Little Edie says she is “pulverized” by new things, but she doesn’t have to say that she’s buried alive by old ones. A single shot late in the movie turns a banister into her prison bars so effectively that Douglas Sirk would be jealous.
In recent years, Capturing the Friedmans and especially Tarnation have ventured into the same family-gone-wild domesticity as Grey Gardens, but neither comes close to matching its direct bravery or complex humanistic profundity. Today, as Drew Barrymore and others come a-calling with rip-off projects, the lesson that film and Broadway actors and producers should’ve learned from the Edies is right there in the lyrics of one of Big Edie’s favorite songs. Don’t throw bouquets at them, let them throw bouquets at you. That’s exactly what Little Edie — dressed in a Jackie O red ensemble (worn backward, of course) — literally did to the audience at the film’s premiere, and it’s what she and her mother metaphorically do to everyone who watches any minute of the movie, which immortalizes their one-of-a-kind offhand wit and poetry. When Little Edie heard that someone wanted to make a movie about her starring Julie Christie, she plunged deep into playing the role of her life — with acute, revelatory self-consciousness — for the Maysles brothers. When will Hollywood learn? (Johnny Ray Huston)
Dogmeat, Nazi Hillbillies from Paraguay, and The End of Time: The Vice Guide to Travel Makes Rick Steves Look Like a Big Pussy
Provocative intern Justin Juul weighs in with a seethingly envious assessment of the latest creation belched forth from the land of Vice:
I wish I had more hands — and the ability to lie through my teeth — so I could give this travel DVD from Vice magazine four thumbs down. These jerk-offs are just too much, man. First they took a crappy Canadian ‘zine and turned it into a pop-culture phenomenon, and then, instead of selling out to the highest bidder, they reinvested their money into other creative outlets. They now have a monopoly on “cool,” with a record label, clothing line, and flawlessly designed website constantly reminding the rest of us how uncool we are in comparison. As if all this weren’t enough, the founders of the Vice empire have recently decided to change their image completely. Their publication, once easily ridiculed as a tragically hip fashion catalog masquerading as a subversive youth culture magazine, has suddenly morphed into a monthly ethnographic study of obscure subcultures with art, music, and fashion coverage thrown in as an afterthought. Those Vice fuckers are always one step ahead of the rest of us — and for that they suck — but put your jealousy aside and check out their newest venture.
Before I ever met Darin Klein I used to see him: this cute-hot, friendly-looking, tall skinny guy with eyeliner and tattoos who’d show up and have fun at Q-Tip (Queers Together in Punkness) events back when the Epicenter by 16th and Valencia still existed. Then, as years went by, I’d hear about him: one friend would talk about something Darin had made for her, another about an event Darin put together. Sometime around 2000, Darin threw a one-night show of book arts at New College, and that’s when I knew for sure he did awesome things. Others definitely agree, because some people who took part in that largely buck-for-a-book party have gone on to sell works for hundreds or thousands of dollars (or sell thousands of works).
(Friendly Skies by Young Chung, from Darin Klein’s book/box compilation Exes Editions: Relationships I’ve been in usually ended with a break-up).
Now that I’ve had a few chances to hang out with him, I can say for sure that I admire the damn funny, unpretentious, and whip smart Darin Klein. No one has better stories about mistaking Gwen Stefani for a drag queen or attempting to give Kenneth Anger customer service. He lives in LA now, so I recently emailed him about some of his video curating and book projects, including his most recent compilation, the staple-bound penis art collection Thing.
A good photograph captures an instant of life within a fraction of city space. The oft-awesome paintings of Yoon Lee — on display earlier this year in a solo show at the Luggage Store — condense seconds, days, and weeks of urban life into images of striking movement and color. Blurs from passing cars; a person glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye; the liquid shifts of Vampire Princess Miyu anime dreamscapes on a TV screen — these are a few of the everyday materials within Lee’s alchemy. Glimpsed as scaled-down versions on a computer screen, her pieces seem purely digital or neo-geo, but in person there is no doubt that her paintings are the result of a lengthy, meditative, and labor-intensive process.
“I know some artists who take a whole year to produce one piece, and I’m not up to that point,” Lee says over hot drinks at Farley’s on Potrero Hill. Her comic strip T-shirt and black leather motorcycle jacket reflect the mix of commercial color and rougher, real-life currents within her paintings. “My 8-feet-by-20-feet scale works usually take about six months. I start gathering images in my head and take photos. I make little sketches. I take things from comic books, newspapers, anything — I’m just an image scavenger.”
From there, Lee uses Illustrator or Photoshop to play with images and forms. “I use it as a mixing board to bring everything together and then edit, real fast,” she says, adding with a laugh, “in the old days you had to use canary paper and transparencies, then mess up and start all over again.” Actually, Lee’s “real fast” edits can last a month or two, but they are indeed quick in comparison to her painting process, a complex, kinetic, and at times astonishingly layered use of Golden acrylics. It’s there that she transmutes her gadget-fiend tendencies and love of shiny plastics into work that swirls with fierce ambivalence about those aspects of modern life and more.
For Lee, the frustration that comes from trying to translate computer compositions into flesh-and-blood paintings isn’t just worthwhile — it’s exactly what she’s seeking. “Sometimes I have to really invent a new process,” she says. “Every time I do a piece there’s something completely different I have to introduce or change so I can produce an effect that’s similar to the original sketch.” That kind of challenge has led Lee through many areas of study (philosophy and computer science, to name two) and fields of employment (she’s sold cars), though all the while she’s never lost focus on painting.
Someday a writer might explore and explain why op art has played such a major role in San Francisco art at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. Though Lee is part of an upcoming exhibition of San Francisco artists in Leipzig, Germany, curated by “Pierogi” Joe Amrhein, it’s debatable whether she is even influenced by the legacy of Sol LeWitt — or has a kinship with the LeWitt-loving Mission School artists who favor certain rainbow gradations. If her work shares some of their color schemes, its scale and sense of movement explode into a realm apart from the smaller cubic formations and prisms associated with recent Bay Area art. A casual viewer might note as much action as in a Jackson Pollock painting, a kid on the street might recognize an accidental kinship with graffiti. The artist herself names Julie Mehretu and Benjamin Edwards as partial guides.
Lee’s art is slick — but only in a literal sense. To put it another, more paradoxical way, her paintings are deceptively slick on the surface. Beneath the attractive gloss, that shininess that she enjoys and wants to share, are layers that you can get lost in — that is, when you aren’t arrested by the intensity of her observation. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Earlier this fall Funkanometry SF celebrated their fourth anniversary at the same place, 111 Minna Gallery, that is hosting this year’s Goldies ceremony and party. They packed the joint. Between then and now the company has been places. Six core members — including directors Emerson Aquino and Gina Rosales — answered an invitation to travel to Bogotá, Colombia. There, as part of the city’s Festival de Danza Urbana, they taught classes, were interviewed on the streets for radio and television, and gave performances.
Funkanometry SF is traveling these days — this month includes a trip to Chicago — but their heart remains in the Bay Area, where every Sunday night they take over the Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City. In one large room company members and new students might run through eight counts while in another, smaller classroom veteran dancers hone an upcoming performance. Before, after, and in between the dancing, everyone hangs out in the courtyard, where kids and parents stop by to see what’s up.
“I really started choreographing when I was 14,” the soft-spoken Aquino explains one such Sunday, as he, Rosales, and cofounder Kyle Wai Lin good-naturedly attempt to break down the group’s history, kidding each other all the while. “To me, choreography is about making pictures. Once you realize the amount of people you have [to work with], you can maneuver them to make pictures.”
The pictures the group creates aren’t just captivating still images — they form waves of energy as friends in the audience shout encouragement to dancers on the floor. That type of flow is no small feat, considering Aquino and the 20-some-member group tap into many different genres of music. The ladies are as slyly, stylishly sexy-tough as Amerie and Aaliyah, and the gentlemen aren’t buried under baggy clothes — they’ve got debonair flair. In other words, Funkanometry SF aren’t solemn hip-hop snobs — they’re just as likely to draw from J-pop, house, or rock as they are Bay Area hyphy. “The art of choreography involves movement that is clear,” Aquino says while discussing the fact that Janet Jackson is a dancer’s pop singer if there ever was one (an axiom that extends to Timbaland as producer). “But a lot of people focus on movement at the expense of feeling. You can just move, but if you’re not feeling the music, you’re not dancing.”
Like Aquino, Funkanometry SF’s other codirectors started dancing in high school. Before joining Funkanometry SF the energetic Rosales captained a high school team and was part of another local crew, Xplicit. Lin and Aquino are friends dating back to childhood; these days Lin oversees the business and Web creative side of the group (www.funkanometrysf.com and www.funksters.org), letting Aquino guide the dancers. “Both of us wanted to create a foundation to serve the community, to challenge dancers, and create an outlet for youth,” Lin says. Judging from the huge response to the group’s Funksters youth program — overseen by Mary Jane Huang — they’re succeeding on all fronts.
Each fall the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest rolls around, and along with another community-based local company — Oakland’s Izzy Award–winners New Style Motherlode — Funkanometry SF can be counted on to represent. This year Aquino and company are preparing a new show, Funk’s Boutique, for Micaya’s annual Palace of Fine Arts event. “It’s set in a trendy boutique, and it showcases the versatility and diversity of the company,” Aquino explains. Versatility and diversity — those are just two of the qualities that make Funkanometry SF unique. Each dancer brings another reason to check out their boutique. (Johnny Ray Huston)
FILM FESTIVAL After a week of stealth watching at the Vancouver International Film Festival, you wonder about odd things. Such as: what’s with the trend of naming movies after post-punk touchstones? Jia Zhangke probably started it with 2002’s Unknown Pleasures. In its wake came All Tomorrow’s Parties by Jia’s cinematographer Yu Lik-wai and the Smiths-inflected twist of Lee Yoon-Ki’s terrific This Charming Girl. The 25th annual VIFF brought So Yong-Kim’s In Between Days (title swiped from Cure single) and one of this year’s best movies, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth (English title courtesy of classic Young Marble Giants album). As Costa explained during a candid Q&A that included a pointed Hou Hsiao-hsien dismissal, his film’s extraordinary look and atmosphere derive from the fact that mirrors are its chief nonnatural light source.
A more perplexing minitrend might be the sudden return of ’80s MTV vixen Kim Wilde via art films — not as an actress but as set decoration or spectral presence. Wilde posters dominate the walls of the title character’s apartment in last year’s Cannes un Certain Regard winner The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and this year a 45 by the “Kids in America” songstress becomes one of manic-depressive Romain Duris’s last lifelines in Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré’s vastly improved and new wave–inflected follow-up to his debut, the Georges Bataille adaptation Ma Mere. Though Duris’s walk on the Wilde side might not be the most convincing evidence, Dans Paris makes wonderfully inventive use of music.
I love Paris in the springtime, I love it in the fall, and for the most part I love ’Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, Raymond de Felitta’s video mash note to the late, underknown jazz singer — a work of fan devotion that ultimately uncovers uncomfortable facts about its subject. Most of all, I love Vancouver when ’tis autumn, because it’s home to the most impassioned and inventive strains of commercial cinema, partly due to VIFF programming associate Mark Peranson, who edits the excellent journal Cinema Scope.
This year’s VIFF showcased the Slavoj Zizek–guided The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, which places the psych theorist in lecture settings such as Melanie Daniels’s Bodega Bay Birds motorboat. Rarer treats included the North American premiere of Jacques Rivette’s 743(!)-minute new wave touchstone from 1973, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere. I caught most of it but missed a six-hour excerpt of Stan Douglas’s endlessly variable new installation, Klatsassin — to my regret, since one of Douglas’s previous projects warps Dario Argento’s Suspiria and this latest connects North American Indian history to a score by the excellent Berlin electronic dubster duo Rhythm and Sound.
If such disparate ingredients can have a bond, then so can Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Tsai Ming-liang, to name just one of the better-known directors commissioned to make movies for the “New Crowned Hope” film series in honor of the composer’s 250th birthday. Tsai’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone is his first feature set in his birth country of Malaysia, but its near-silent strains of lovelorn pathos and comedy fit alongside past works. The movies made thus far for “New Crowned Hope” are uniformly and individually superb. A case could be made that Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa — in which powerful waves of sound might even be overshadowed by gorgeous costume and set design — is the best. That is, if one discounts Syndromes and a Century, the latest miracle by Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul — an improvement on Tropical Malady that condenses all the director’s unique gifts into a fine mist.
Apichatpong was on the jury for this year’s Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema, a prize that thanks to programmer Tony Rayns has helped make the name of directors such as Jia — primarily because Rayns’s trailblazing broader Dragons and Tigers selections have introduced Miike Takashi, Bong Joon-ho, and others to North American audiences. This was Rayns’s last year in his current capacity at VIFF, where he’s offered a peerless example of what a festival programmer can do for filmmakers and filmmaking. Through happenstance on my last night at the fest, I wound up at a spontaneous Rayns-thrown dinner that included documentarian Amir Muhammad (who has a way with a wickedly funny Keyser Söze punch line) and the respective directors of what would soon be the Dragons and Tigers winner, Todo Todo Teros, and honorable mention Faceless Things. That the meal took place immediately after the genuinely scatological latter film — a provocation that moves postteen Kim Kyong-Mook beyond the Sadie Benning–of–South Korea realm of his earlier short Me and Doll Playing — was just one of the reasons it was memorable.
I wound up seated next to Todo Todo Teros director John Torres and his friend — as well as one of the first faces glimpsed in his movie — Alexis Tioseco, who oversees the outstanding Web site criticine.com. Tioseco’s site currently features a poignant Paris diary by the talented young filmmaker Raya Martin, whose A Short Film about the Indio-Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) hints at Apichatpong-level brilliance and is at the vanguard of a new Filipino cinema powered by friendship and inspiration rather than the country’s film industry or government funds. It was a pleasure and in some ways a revelation to talk movies with the Andrei Tarkovsky–loving Tioseco, who likes to kid Torres, though he’s perceptively respectful of his friend’s filmmaking efforts in a current Criticine interview. The reward of such a meeting wouldn’t be possible without Rayns — here’s hoping whoever takes the VIFF reins will follow his example. SFBG
For more extensive reports on this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, go to the Pixel Vision blog at www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision.
The Film Arts Foundation turns 30 this year, and to celebrate it’s throwing a party at the Castro Theatre. One-minute movies are a major element of the FAF’s birthday bash — 60-second efforts by some of the organization’s filmmaking members will be shown as part of an evening program MCed by Peter Coyote and Nancy Kelly. Considering FAF members include Les Blank, Debra Chasnoff, Nathaniel Dorsky, Rob Epstein, Sam Green, George Kuchar, Amanda Micheli, Jenni Olson, Jay Rosenblatt, Caveh Zahedi, and Terry Zwigoff, the result promises to be exciting.
Normally, in early November the Film Arts Festival rolls around, but this is an important transitional year for the organization, with recent changes such as the hiring of executive director Eric Hayashi. The Film Arts Fund for Independent Cinema continues to award money to filmmakers whose visions are individual and who aren’t — unlike the vast majority of directors today — following the dictates of TV markets. This year Green (currently working on a movie about utopian visions) and recent Guardian profile subjects James T. Hong and Michelle Silva (“Wild Eyes,” 5/18/05) are among the grant recipients. (Johnny Ray Huston)
FILM ARTS FOUNDATION’S 30TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Wed/8, 6:30–8 p.m. reception; 8 p.m. screening; 10 p.m. after-party
429 Castro, SF
HALLOWEEN BEAUTY The Oakland salon and boutique Down at Lulus is copowered by members of Gravy Train!!! and the Bobbyteens. Seth Bogart of the former and Tina Lucchesi of the latter got together with me recently to first discuss the greatness of Davines hair care products from Italy (“If you have dry hair, they will blow your mind,” Lucchesi says), then get down to ghost boobs, hot sweet and sticky treats, and other things Halloween-y.
SFBG What are your best or worst Halloween experiences?
TINA LUCCHESI None are very memorable because I’m always pretty wasted. A funny one was seeing the Phantom Surfers open for the Cramps at the Warfield after Bill Graham died. One of my friends dressed as Dead Bill Graham and got us kicked out. Everyone was so pissed off about him stepping out of a coffin and slagging off Bill Graham and Ticketmaster. But I did get to hang out with Lux Interior and Ivy Rorschach.
SETH BOGART It’s funny to go trick-or-treating when you’re old. One time my friend was dressed up like Michael Jackson, and this lady answered the door with a baby and was disgusted that we were still trick-or-treating. He made comments about her baby, and she slammed the door in our face.
SFBG What to you is a sexy Halloween costume or look?
TL I hate all the typical ones like French maid, naughty nurse, or Catholic schoolgirl. Why can’t there be a look like sexy crack whore?
SB I think the only appropriate sexy costume is when a guy is wearing it. When a girl does, it’s so played out. A hot straight guy you never get to see naked, wearing a bikini — that’s my fave.
SFBG What’s your idea of a fun Halloween night?
TL Probably playing tricks on little kids and scaring them. I’ve always wanted to set up a crazy graveyard in front of my house.
SB No one comes to my house because it’s kind of dangerous, and I think I’m over trick-or-treating, finally. My ideal Halloween would be to experience something haunted, like a séance.
SFBG Do you have a favorite scary movie?
TL So many. I love The Wizard of Gore. I love Herschell Gordon Lewis movies and Mario Bava movies like Black Sunday and Castle of Blood. Texas Chainsaw Massacre — classic. The Last House on the Left — classic.
SB I love horror movies, but I also love haunted houses. Every year I go to, like, five. The best one is in Hollister in a cornfield — it’s so scary. When the chainsaw man comes, we all run, and a lot of people get hurt just from falling.
SFBG What are you going to dress up as this year?
TL Either Dolly Parton with extreme boobs and hair, Cyndi Lauper, or a vampire bloody majorette.
SB I think I’m going to be Teen Wolf. But I’m not sure yet. One year I was Nancy Reagan, but the mask was hotter than hell and it was making me sick. I had to take it off. (Johnny Ray Huston)
DOWN AT LULUS
6603 Telegraph, Oakl.
Call for appointments
This Halloween’s colors aren’t orange and black — they’re emerald, sapphire, and gold, because ESG is coming to town for the first time. One night after what people in the English village of Hinton St. George call Punkie Night, San Francisco will celebrate Funky Night, as sisters Renee, Marie, and Valerie Scroggins (and Renee’s daughter, Nicole Nicholas, and Valerie’s daughter, Christelle Polite) get everyone feeling moody, amped to tell off no-good lovers, and ready to keep it moving.
Rip it up and start again? That old Orange Juice lyric and new Simon Reynolds book title would have to be twisted to apply to ESG. It’s more like start again after being ripped off in the case of the Scroggins sisters. Sample credits don’t pay their bills, but they’re doing quite fine, thank you, due in part to Soul Jazz, the awesome crate-digging UK label. While Soul Jazz is best known for its archival work, in ESG’s case it’s proven to be just as interested in the group’s current music as in their influential early recordings, such as the oft-sampled instrumental “UFO.” On the eve of ESG’s local visit, I got on the digital horn with Renee, who lives in Georgia these days but still carries her Bronx accent and pride with her wherever she goes.
SFBG: This is our Halloween issue, so I have to ask you about ESG’s cameo appearance in the movie Vampire’s Kiss. What was that whole experience like?
RENEE SCROGGINS: Oh my god, it was fun. I was always a big fan of Nicolas Cage. He had lunch with me. He treated us so well.
SFBG: Is your family into Halloween?
RS: My daughter enjoys going out to costume parties. The best thing about Halloween is putting on a crazy costume and letting loose some inhibitions.
SFBG: Speaking of crazy costumes: ESG played the Paradise Garage. What was that like?
RS: We played there several times, but people always note that we played the closing party. That was a very sad time in ESG’s life, because the Paradise Garage was always very supportive.
SFBG: Did you have many interactions with [Paradise Garage DJ and legend] Larry Levan?
RS: He loved our music, and we loved the fact that he loved our music! When we brought in something new, he would check it out, and if he liked it, he’d give it a spin.
SFBG: Back then, there may have been women in bands, but there weren’t a lot of all-female groups. I’m wondering if it felt like you were confronting barriers or whether it just felt natural because you’re a family band.
RS: We never really thought of ourselves as a female band — we just thought of ourselves as a group of sisters. If I had younger brothers, it would have been a band with them. My mom always taught us, y’know, that we could do anything we want to do. When we wanted instruments, my mom didn’t say, “No, that’s not for girls.” She said, “You want a drum set? Here you go.”
SFBG: Did you ever encounter Klymaxx and Bernadette Cooper or like their records? It seems like they were trying to do a similar thing to ESG in a way, but on the West Coast.
RS: You mean “The Men All Pause”? Two days ago my daughter and I were playing on the radio and we talked about them. I always thought they were trying to say some important things, especially about women and dating.
SFBG: When did you first start to play music?
RS: Oh boy — at eight or nine years old. That was many moons ago [laughs].
SFBG: Do you remember what music you most loved as a kid?
RS: Sure, James Brown! The principle style that ESG writes in is the James Brown school of funk. James Brown would take it to the bridge. When he took it to the bridge, you’d lose your mind — you just wanted to dance, and you never wanted it to end.
I was a big Queen fan, still am, and so are my kids. The B-52’s, Etta James …
SFBG: She’s got family playing with her too — her sons are in her band.
RS: I know. That’s so cool. It’s good to bring the family into something you love so much. I know my daughters and nieces enjoy it.
SFBG: It makes sense that you mention James Brown as an all-time fave, because ESG is sampled almost as much as James Brown in hip-hop.
RS: I read that in a book; it said the most sampled artists were James Brown, George Clinton, and ESG. I was laughing. It wasn’t funny — for real — but it was interesting.
SFBG: Yeah, we have to discuss sampling. A track like Junior Mafia’s “Realms of Junior Mafia” on their Conspiracy album practically samples all of “UFO.” Did Puffy and Biggie pay you for that?
RS: We were paid. Junior Mafia did come to us correct. If you come correct and we’re able to negotiate, I’m happy. But if you take [ESG’s music] and I have to chase you down, and then you argue, I have issues with you.
I’m having this problem less and less, because we have a company and we went after all the people who weren’t paying us.
SFBG: Ultimately, though, you’re not really into sampling as a practice.
RS: I’m not into it all. We write original music — what comes from my heart, what comes from the inside. That’s a good feeling at the end of the day. One of the reasons why I’d stopped writing is that if people weren’t sampling one song by ESG, they were sampling another. I was scared to even put out an instrumental — I’d think, “I don’t want to leave too much loop space because they could snatch it.”
SFBG: I have to ask about “Moody,” because it’s one of my all-time favorite dance tracks. What was it like recording with [producer] Martin Hannett?
RS: I had a lot respect for him. He may have added a little reverb, but he really kept our natural sound. When we go and perform the song, we sound like the record. He didn’t molest or twist the songs or make them sound crazy.
SFBG: Having had so much experience playing live over the years, did you want to go back to that direct approach when recording [2004’s] Step Off and [this year’s] Keep on Moving?
RS: Absolutely. Every time we’re recording we want to be able present the same thing live.
SFBG: You’ve been writing songs at a fast pace these last few years.
RS: I have a lot going on in my life. When my sister Valerie [Scroggins] and I write, we write about things going around us, and I see so much since I’ve moved down to Atlanta. Atlanta reminds me of living in New York. That big-city thing has got me busy again.
I guess I like busyness, being a native New Yorker. Places like Pennsylvania and Virginia were just too quiet for me.
SFBG: What are you liking musically these days?
RS: Right now I’m working on production with some new artists. I listen to hip-hop. I listen to Mary J. Blige — Mary’s another woman who is always getting down and talking about real issues. About five minutes ago I was listening to Ice Cube. I listen to the Killers and Fall Out Boy. My heart is always going to be with whatever’s funky. SFBG
With CSS/Cansei de Ser Sexy and Future Pigeon
Fri/27, 9 p.m.
444 Jessie, SF
Back in the late ‘90s I lived in Portland for a brief spell. At the time, Old Joy writer Jon Raymond was editing the magazine Plazm, and I contributed some articles on subjects such as a band with a robotic drummer. Occasionally, he and I would have lunch or go to a party or a movie, sometimes with Miranda July, who was just beginning to make short films. Intelligent and easygoing, Raymond was thinking about art and writing in ways that contributed something new to the local culture.
I am beyond tardy with my Vancouver reports. An endless array of office tasks leaves me to merely imagine writing them while (cue violins) riding the bus to or from work.
But an hour or two of “free” time has opened up, and today, as the 25th VIFF winds down, is as good a time as any to talk briefly about this year’s Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema. I spent an extra night in Vancouver last week, a decision that proved fortuitous, because I saw the recently-announced winner and another film singled out for praise — and wound up at an impromptu dinner for the directors of both movies — during my last twelve or so hours in town.
This weekend brings a major event: the rare return of Bruce Baillie — whose visions of San Francisco are just as brilliant and uncanny, if not as famous, as Alfred Hitchcock’s — to a movie screen in the city. Contemporary filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the director making the most revelatory commercial features today, cites Baillie as his favorite experimental filmmaker. Though Baillie primarily made short films, the philosophical rivers of beauty that run between their works are deep. The moment seemed more than right for a conversation between Baillie and filmmaker Michelle Silva, who helps run Canyon Cinema, one of the two organizations (along with SF Cinematheque) that Baillie founded. They got on the phone and let the tape roll. SFBG We’re recording. BRUCE BAILLIE How do they say that in the industry? SFBG “For quality assurance, we’re recording this conversation.” BB Well, for the recorder’s sake, I might be mumbling a little, because I’m still eating my second bowl of cereal. It’s the famous Dr. Bish’s elixir, which all filmmakers require. SFBG You’ve built a monumental body of cinema now housed in our Library of Congress. You’ve also founded two distinguished organizations, the avant-garde film distributor Canyon Cinema and the experimental film and video exhibitor San Francisco Cinematheque, which both began in your own backyard over 40 years ago. At the beginning, did you have any forethought about the significance of your work and the movement you would initiate? BB To give a generic response, probably not. People don’t operate that way generally. Adolf Hitler probably had a pretty grand idea at the beginning, but it was ill founded. Theater was always one of the bases. I was very taken by Balinese theater and Noh theater. Also [Jean] Cocteau’s admonishments that all theater must arise from local familiarity. We had all those ingredients there, almost like baking bread, and it did arise very nicely and warmly and simply. We had a theater in the woods with the neighbors coming over and putting up park benches. There was a big old willow tree by our house and conveniently, a hill behind that held the big surplus screen nicely. I always say to myself, “What is theater made of?” and it really is any collage collection of sticks and stones. It can be highly technical or it can be like the charred bones and the fire out in the desert of Mongolia. If it’s done with that kind of ancient mind-set, that kind of respect and adulation of the content — and also the Irish tradition of the manner of presentation — then you’re all right. It could be under the apple tree that I’m looking at now while we speak. I’m not too worried about all the modern stuff, aside from the problem of the way semiconscious people identify with the mere technology of it and become two-dimensional. Then you don’t have theater, you have President Bush at Harvard taking business administration. SFBG When I watch your films, such as Here I Am, the tightly framed faces reveal unconventional beauty. Could you talk about the people who do appear in your films? BB I will try … I’m going to have to wash the Bishery off my teeth. The only trouble with the Bish formula at breakfast is that it not only gives you thick ankles eventually if you keep eating it, but it’s also hard on the dentures or teeth. We don’t like to admit it on the labels. We have a big business shipping this stuff out of the house in a dehydrated form to all the filmmakers in the world. Especially in Asia, it’s very popular. We sent a batch to South Korea for a festival. I just got their booklet back, from a Dr. Kim. I didn’t realize she was such an esteemed colleague of the doctor here. Apparently the huge batch of dehydrated Bishery was rejected by most of the younger people there, who prefer their own diet, so they sent it up to North Korea. I don’t know what’s going to come of that. I might be able to save us from the bombs and everything they’re trying to throw over here. Anyway, avante, as my old friend would say — on to the question. There’s all kinds of references in our literature, especially, I suppose, in the holy works like the Gita and the writings of the Buddha, which run across the idea of direct perception. Just seeing. Or in the Bible, the Old Testament. Or the Tibetan teachings for the acolytes who were becoming monks and priests — they used to sit up above the road, maybe one at a time, and observe the faces coming up from the world below. For some reason, when most people take a camera in hand and click on a face, all they get is a two-dimensional representation. I don’t see why I’d wanna be satisfied by that. When you photograph, you photograph what is, not what is merely apparent or not. That’s the assignment, really, and it’s not completed and shouldn’t be exceptional. SFBG The spiritualism in your films, like Mass of the Dakota Sioux, Tung, and On Sundays, seems to be combined with a little bit of disdain for modern civilization. There’s that mixture. BB Well, there’s what Jesus called hatred of the world — which is something one might be able to teach his or herself along the way, to give up all the appearances and become one with the continuity of life flow itself. That’s a whole process. Some people, like myself, are born with a disdain, yes, for the world in that other sense. For example, my totem animal is a wolf, and I’ve never liked my neighbors. That’s a horrible thing, but I was born with that in my portfolio and I work with that every day. Some people really are very fond of going to the supermarket and the malls and are able to behave themselves when they’re buying a pair of shoes. Actually, whether they believe in it all or not doesn’t seem to come into any question, and overall it’s quite wonderful that they’re able to be not only very kind but loving with all of these comings and goings. To me, going to the aerodrome to pick up the Alaska Air number 387 is the most frightening kind of experience that anyone could have devised in purgatory. In my own case, since you’re asking me, this person, not someone else, about the images they project, the images are contaminated with not only a great universal love but at the same moment a great hatred for the goings on of worldly affairs and events and shapes and forms. So as I get into nature I find it less contaminated by man’s touch, but it’s also frightening in its own way, of course, with all the monsters at the edge of the world that are ready to devour you when you’re out on your sailboat in the Atlantic. And the tigers in the night and the ragings of the great beasties. SFBG In your work there will sometimes be a shot where the subject is the mist or the fog. Those two aspects cut together create a tension that has an emotional effect. How would you say your palette developed and matured over time? BB I lived my life with the camera and I deliberately took on nothing else. No family, which is the main thing one gives up to live that kind of life, and I lived en route, always on the move. Living in my car, just seeing and trying my best to get it through that little eyepiece, that little Bolex viewfinder — the first version, which was half the size of the later version. I can’t see through it anymore, it’s so small. There’s no reason at all to settle for anything less than a grand attempt at bringing back from the unknown what is there. The what is of this. Part of it can kind of humorously involve a practice that I used to throw out when I was teaching, that is, to learn to become invisible. I would line all my students up and say, “OK, everybody close their eyes,” and then I would run around the corner [laughs] and disappear. We’d go into it a little further, where I’d say, “What I really meant was we have to learn not to use the camera, just the way a policeman has to learn not to use his or her pistola.” It’s a weapon, a medium, that exists between self and other. One must become selfless, invisible, in order to relate to the other or vice versa. “When you meet the tiger on the trail, you become one with him instantly by your training so that there’s no fear.” Rather than ignorantly involving one’s self in confrontational relationships, one intelligently unifies the selfhood between the two appearances and it becomes one reality. That’s how you work with a Bolex. (Intro by Johnny Ray Huston; interview by Michelle Silva)
Check out Ron Dorfman and Peter Nevard’s 1970 documentary Groupies, a fave amongst employees at at least one adventurous record shop that ain’t afraid of soul.
REVIEW There are different doors through which one can enter dunya dinlemiyor (the world won’t listen), a 2005 video installation by British artist Phil Collins. One can chart the many passages that lead from Collins’s work to the music of the Smiths, whose vocalist Morrissey chose an image from Andy Warhol’s Trash to adorn the cover of the group’s second attempt at creating a proper first album. In turn, those doors lead to Warhol’s earlier screen tests, which Collins deliberately invokes through dunya dinlemiyor’s song-length portraits of Smiths fans in Istanbul. These connections form more than one circuit — in fact, they do more than a figure eight. Even when out of fashion, pop art has a three-degrees-of-Warhol relationship to contemporary art. Is it really so extraordinary?
In this case the answer is yes. Whereas Warhol’s screen tests are powered by the egos of his superstars and other art movers and makers, Collins’s portraits shock through their anonymity and most of all, their unexpected emotional profundity. “15 minutes of shame,” reads the T-shirt of one of the two girls who sing “Panic” at the beginning of dunya dinlemiyor’s karaoke box versions of the songs that make up The World Won’t Listen, a 1987 Rough Trade compilation from the Smiths’ last year of creative life. The time-based phrase plays off both an oft-repeated — and garbled — Warhol quote and an early Morrissey lyric. But most of dunya dinlemiyor bypasses such referentiality to lay bare the perhaps singular universality of Smiths songs.
There are some other knowing nudges early on, as when a young man performs “Ask” in the manner of 1983–84 Morrissey, shirt unbuttoned and flowers sprouting from his ass pocket. Even in this pantomime or imitation, the gender liberation of Smiths songs — the way in which Morrissey-worship has allowed straight and gay men to enact or express unconventional forms of masculinity — is apparent. But this liberation takes an even more revelatory form with some of Collins’s female subjects. Their performances engage with and bloom from the lyrics in a manner quite different from the traditional courtship roles when female fans respond to words written by a man.
The most joyous, spine-tingling example has to be a pair of girls who hold hands while duetting on “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Here, the substitution of someone else in the Morrissey role works wonders. Absent the frontperson’s overbearing persona, the music takes flight in unexpected directions. Using generic vacation-spot photos as a backdrop, Collins separates these Smiths fans from any stereotypes viewers might attach to Turkey. The closest thing to a culturally specific Old World reference is the twist of a woman’s muezzin prayer-wail approach to the finale of “Rubber Ring,” with its “Don’t forget the songs” litany.
The best door through which to enter dunya dinlemiyor is that provided by Collins, a simple passage surrounded by the flypapered advertisements that attracted his collaborators. This show is the absolute opposite of American Idol. Its most haunting and sublime interpretation has to be “Asleep,” sung by a young man with fresh scars on his forehead. His face is framed in extreme close-up in a manner that admires his beauty and aches to reach out to him, as if Carl Theodor Dreyer were lusting for Maria Falconetti. The Smiths have inspired no shortage of books, movies, and music, but this might be the best response to their songbook I’ve encountered.
In “Neopopular Demand,” Atlanta artist Fahamu Pecou takes a rather more acidic view of popular music and Warhol’s pop legacy, specifically the decadent Interview years. His large paintings depicting himself as a magazine cover star were partly inspired by the almost action-figure aspect of 50 Cent’s rise to rap fame. Which is to say, Pecou’s work is both a response to 50’s exaggeration of a hip-hop hypermasculine bravado (a front that toys with and embraces caricature) and a commentary on the enthusiasm with which American culture consumes thug routines. Don’t get it twisted: Pecou loves hip-hop. He just doesn’t worship it.
The presence of imitation Jean-Michel Basquiat chalk scribbles at the edges and sometimes centers of Pecou’s paintings brings recent art history into the equation — in a manner that taunts potentially clueless buyers. Pecou possesses a post-Basquiat dandified flair (as with another compelling artist, Kehinde Wiley, it manifests in self-portraiture) and a skepticism that can only come from viewing the fatal footsteps of such a talent. He is in the process of making a film about his own self-creation as an art and media star, an endeavor that isn’t as revealing about his bright future as the edges of his canvases. That is where handsome paint renderings of magazine photos and fonts give way to shades of white that more than hint there are many other areas that he wants to explore. After painting himself into commercial boxes, Pecou leaves a space open so that he might perform a Harry Houdini–like escape. SFBG
“NEW WORK: PHIL COLLINS: DUNYA DINLEMIYOR (THE WORLD WON’T LISTEN)”
Through Jan. 21, 2007
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
$7–$12 (free first Tuesdays; half price Thursdays after 6 p.m.)
“NEOPOPULAR DEMAND: NEW WORKS BY FAHAMU PECOU”
Through Nov. 20
Michael Martin Galleries
101 Townsend, suite 207, SF
To read an interview with Fahamu Pecou, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
The weekend is a time for perversion and penance, so what better way to begin mine at the Vancouver International Film Festival than with The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, a Slavoj Zizek-guided psychoanalytic tour through the works of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, and others? And what could be a more monastic way to end the weekend than with the devotional cinema of Jacques Rivette’s 12-plus hour long Out 1: Noli me tangere? In between, I caught Shortbus and witnessed the full frenzy of a Beatlemania-like response to Bong Joon-ho and his totally awesome monster flick The Host.
My second day at the Vancouver International Film Festival brought white lines of thin girls, silent film shadows, a Unabomber web, and American telemarketing Mubai-style. But before all that, it might be best to begin with life outside the movie theater. It does exist, after all, even if film festival obsessiveness sometimes make it easy to forget.
Toronto presents North America’s mad mad mad world fall film fest option, while Vancouver gives post-Hollywood cinemaniacs a quieter, more contemplative choice. Thanks to Tony Rayns, who is marking his last year of programming the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Dragons & Tigers section and competition, the fest has blazed trails: directors such as Hirokazu Kore-Eda and Jia Zhangke have won early and influential awards here. But there are other secrets about VIFF. One irony: it might be a better showcase of independent movies from the US than any actual US fest. Experimental features and documentaries that move beyond issue-based hectoring thrive here.
A poodle-permed Rosie O’Donnell horrifying John Ritter? John Walsh in full effect? It’s all in a day’s tele-trawling for Derrick Beckles, aka Pinky, of TV Carnage. Beckles recently agreed to talk about the madness behind his method for this week’s cover story on pixel piracy.
Pinky, some of us here have a crush.
Guardian: Earlier this week I was showing the Rosie O’Donnell meets John Ritter part of Sore from Sighted Eyes to another writer at the Guardian and she was crying from laughter. How did you fall into making the TV Carnage videos, and how much time goes into crafting one? I’d imagine it takes more than a while to put one of your comps together.
Derrick Beckles: It’s a multi-leveled task of insanity. I moved recently, but I have mounds and mounds and shelves and shelves of tapes. Stuff I’ve been taping off of TV with a VCR. It’s not so much that I’m always in front of the TV set. I’d just say that I have this divining rod for shit. I just have these psychic premonitions when I turn my TV on.
I have years and years of footage, and some stuff that is more subtle. I pull all of it into my computer and have this mountain of footage there and say, “Now what?” Then I take a swig of whiskey and go, “You’ve got yourself into it again.” I’ll start randomly piecing things together. Sometimes I have a bit of theme already decided on, and other times it comes to me as I go. After that, it takes over my life, and I do its bidding as long as it takes. I have no idea how long each compilation is going to take. The process ends up being a good portion of a year at least.
Dick Cheney surveys the teeming white crowds at the 2004 Republican National Convention. With their Cheney Rocks! placards and stars-and-stripes Styrofoam hats, these people worship him, but he still looks like he wants to spray them with buckshot. “You’re all a bunch of fucking assholes!” he sneers. “You know why? You need people like me — so you can point your fucking fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’”
OK, maybe Cheney didn’t use those exact words in his convention speech, but we all know he was thinking them, so bless Bryan Boyce’s short video America’s Biggest Dick for making the vice president really speak his mind — in this case, via Al Pacino’s dialogue in Scarface. The title fits: Boyce’s two-minute movie exposes the gangster mentality of Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration, perhaps giving his subject more charisma than he deserves. Ultimately, Cheney gets around to admitting he’s the bad guy — after he’s compared the convention’s hostile New York setting to “a great big pussy waiting to be fucked” and speculated about how much money is required to buy the Supreme Court. “Fuck you! Who put this thing together? Me — that’s who!” he bellows when a graphic exhibition of his oral sex talents receives some boos.
One might think the man behind America’s Biggest Dick might be boisterous and loud, but Boyce — who lives in San Francisco — is in fact soft-spoken and modest, crediting the movie’s “stunt mouth,” Jonathan Crosby (whose teeth and lips Bryce pastes onto Cheney and other political figures), with the idea of using Brian de Palma’s 1983 film. “I knew I wanted extensive profanity, and Scarface more than delivered,” Boyce says during an interview at the Mission District’s Atlas Café. “But I was also amazed at how well the dialogue fit.”
The dialogue fits because Boyce masterfully tweaks found material, particularly footage from television. It’s a skill he’s honed and a skill that motivates the most recent waves of TV manipulation thriving on YouTube, on DVD (in the case of the Toronto-based TV Carnage), and at film festivals and other venues that have the nerve to program work that ignores the property rights of an oppressive dominant culture. “It is, admittedly, crude,” Boyce says of America’s Biggest Dick, which inspired raves and rage when it played the Sundance Film Festival last year. “It’s a crude technique for a crude movie matched to a very crude vice president.” As for the contortions of Crosby’s mouth, which exaggerate Cheney’s own expressions, Boyce has an apt reference at hand: “The twisted mouth to match his twisted soul — he’s got a Richard III thing going on.”
America’s Biggest Dick isn’t Boyce’s only film to mine horror and hilarity from the hellish realms of Fox News. In 30 Seconds of Hate, for example, he uses a “monosyllabic splicing technique” to puppeteer war criminal (and neocon TV expert) Henry Kissinger into saying, “If we kill all the people in the world, there’ll be no more terrorists…. It’s very probable that I will kill you.” All the while, mock Fox News updates scroll across the bottom of the screen. “That footage came from a time when Fox thought that Saddam [Hussein] had been killed,” Boyce explains. “That’s why Kissinger kept using the word kill. Of course, no one says kill like Henry Kissinger.”
In Boyce’s State of the Union, the smiling baby face within a Teletubbies sun is replaced by the grumpier, more addled visage of George W. Bush. Shortly after issuing a delighted giggle, this Bush sun god commences to bomb rabbits that graze amid the show’s hilly Astroturf landscapes — which mysteriously happen to be littered with oil towers. With uncanny prescience, Boyce made the movie in August 2001, inspiring fellow TV tweak peers such as Rich Bott of the duo Animal Charm to compare him to Nostradamus. “Even before Sept. 11, [Bush] was looking into nuclear weapons and bunker busters,” Boyce says. “His drilling in the [Arctic National Wildlife Reserve] led me to use the oil towers.”
Having grown up in the Bay Area and returned here after a college stint in Santa Cruz, Boyce — like other Bay Area artists with an interest in culture jamming — calls upon Negativland (“I thought their whole Escape from Noise album was great”) and Craig Baldwin (“He’s kind of the godfather of cinema here”) as two major inspirations. In fact, both he and Baldwin have shared a fascination with televangelist Robert Tilton, whose bizarre preaching makes him a perfect lab rat on whom to try out editing experiments. “He speaks in tongues so nicely,” Boyce says with a smile. “He’s just so over-the-top and sad and terrible that he lends himself to all the extremes of the [editing] system, such as playing something backwards.”
Boyce believes that the absurdity of “an abrupt jump cut between incongruous things” can “really be beautiful.” And the TV Carnage DVDs put together by Derrick Beckles might illustrate that observation even better than Boyce’s more minimalist tweaking. In just one of hundreds of uproarious moments within TV Carnage’s most recent DVD, the wonderfully titled Sore for Sighted Eyes, a sheet-clad John Ritter stares in abject disbelief at a TV on which Rosie O’Donnell pretends to have Down syndrome. At least two different movie writers at this paper (yours truly included) have shed tears from laughing at this sequence.
“I just picture a conveyer belt, and there are just so many points at which someone could press a big red stop button, but it doesn’t happen,” Beckles says, discussing the source (an Angelica Huston–helmed TV movie called Riding the Bus with My Sister) for the O’Donnell footage. “There’s this untouchable hubris. It blows my mind that people are paid for some of these ideas. Crispin Glover told me that the actors with Down syndrome in [his movie] What Is It? were offended by [the O’Donnell performance], or that they felt uneasy. It is uneasy to see Rosie O’Donnell do a Pee-wee Herman impersonation and think she’s embodying someone with Down syndrome.”
Beckles’s interest in manipuutf8g TV — or as he puts it, “exorcising my own demons” by exorcising television’s — dates back to childhood. But it took several years in the belly of MGM to really fire a desire that has resulted in five DVDs to date. “TV Carnage is my way of screaming,” he says at one point during a phone conversation that proves he’s as funny as his work. Like Boyce and audio contemporaries such as Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk (see “Gregg the Ripper,” page 69), he filters “mounds and mounds and shelves and shelves” of tapes and other material through his computer.
“It’s not so much that I’m always in front of the TV,” Beckles explains. “I’d just say that I have this divining rod for shit. I have these psychic premonitions when I turn on my TV. I have years and years of footage. I pull all of it into my computer and say, ‘Now what?’ Then I take a swig of whiskey and go, ‘You’ve got yourself into it again.'” On Sore for Sighted Eyes this approach results in eye-defying montages dedicated to subjects such as white rapping. (Believe me, you have not lived until you’ve died inside seeing Mike Ditka and the Grabowskis or the Sealy Roll.)
Overall, mind control is TV Carnage’s main theme. One segment within the release Casual Fridays looks at children who act like adults and adults who act like children — two plagues that run rampant on TV. “Kids are like al-Qaeda,” he says. “They’ll shift their plans every day to keep you wondering. [Meanwhile], you can just feel the adults who host teen shows thinking about their mortgage payments: ‘What are kids doing now? Slitting each other’s throats? Great! Let’s do a show about it!’” An infamous “swearing sandwich” sequence within TV Carnage’s When Television Attacks encapsulates Beckles’s worldview. “People who are into self-help — they might as well be taking advice from a sandwich.”
Breaking from the more free-form nature of TV Carnage — which isn’t afraid of running from Richard Simmons to Mao Zedong in a few seconds — Beckles is working within some self-imposed restrictions to make his next project. The presence of rules has some irony, since the project is titled Cop Movie. “I’m taking 101 cop movies and making a full-length feature from them,” he says. “The same script has been used for hundreds and hundreds of cop movies — they just change the characters’ names, using a name that sounds dangerous or slightly evocative of freedom.”
“The reason I’m using 101 movies stems from this ridiculous mathematical aspect I’ve figured out,” he continues. “If I take a certain number of seconds from each movie, it adds up to 66 minutes and 6 seconds, and the whole construct of 666 makes me laugh. I’ve already cut together a part where a guy gets hit by a car, and he goes from being a blond guy to a black guy to a guy with red hair to a guy with a mullet. It flows seamlessly. It’s a real acid trip — and kind of a psychological experiment. After I finish it, I’ll probably just pick out a casket and sleep for a hundred years.”
The encyclopedic aspect of Beckles’s TV Carnage sucks in more recognizable footage such as American Idol’s Scary Mary and a musical number from The Apple. In contrast, the duo who go by the name Animal Charm tend to work with footage that few, if any, people have seen, such as corporate training videos. “Our interest from the beginning has not been to turn to a video we love or have a nostalgic connection to,” says Jim Fetterley, who along with Rich Bott makes up Animal Charm. “We were looking for things that were empty that could be used to create new meanings.”
Those meanings are often hilarious — the new Animal Charm DVD, Golden Digest, includes shorts such as Stuffing (in which a real-life monkey watches animated dolphins juggle a woman back and forth) and Ashley (which turns an infomercial for a Texas woman’s Amway-like beauty business into a bizarre science fiction story). But if reappropriation brings out the political commentator in Boyce and the comedian in Beckles, for Fetterley it’s more of a philosophical matter. Pledging allegiance to contemporaries such as Los Angeles’s TV Sheriff and the Pittsburgh, Pa., collective Paper Rad, he talks about Animal Charm’s videos as “tinctures” he’s used to “deprogram” himself and friends. “Our videos can make an empty boardroom seem like the jungle or something very natural,” he says when asked about his use of National Geographic–type clips and dated-looking office scenes. “In the videos, the animals are like puppets. You could say it’s like animation but on a more concept-based level.”
While Boyce, TV Carnage, and Animal Charm most often work with found material, their cinematic practice — jump-cut editing, for example — is more imaginative and creative than that of many “original” multimillion dollar productions. “We’re not predetermining any space we want to get into,” Fetterley explains, “other than most often that level of disassociation and absurdity where you are almost feeling something like the rush of a drug.” For him, generating this type of “temporary autonomy” is liberating. “With massive paranoia and war going on, it’s so easy to control a lot of people with fear and paranoia. We like to think if we can sit down and show our videos to our friends and others and have a laugh and talk about it seriously, it might help take everyone out of that mind frame.”
Because of the popularity of YouTube and its ability to create a new type of TV celebrity (and also the recent notoriety of musical efforts such as Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album and Girl Talk’s Night Ripper), reappropriation is reaching the mainstream. But even as Animal Charm’s and Boyce’s clips proliferate on the Internet, a veteran such as Fetterley looks upon such developments with a pointedly critical perspective. “There’s a general tendency right now to get excited about things that are unknown or anonymous,” he says. “Accountability is almost more important than appropriation nowadays. All of a sudden, if something is anonymous, it makes people feel very uncomfortable.”
For artists with names, censorship is still very much an issue. Boyce recently found America’s Biggest Dick (along with Glover’s What Is It?) cited during a campaign to withdraw funding from a long-running film festival in Ann Arbor, Mich. But Fetterley sees a troubling larger picture. “Danger Mouse’s Grey Album is a very solid conceptual project — it’s gray,” he notes. “In comparison, if somebody is doing a New York Times article about something current politically or globally, there are red zones and flags that will be brought to others’ attention whether you or I know it or not. Those are things making this moment dangerous, in terms of not being able to be anonymous. With ideas about evidence dissolving and accountability hung up in legalities, it makes the culture around music or aesthetics or youth culture pale in comparison.” SFBG
LAMPOONS AND EYE-TUNES: BRYAN BOYCE’S CULT JAMS AND MUSIC VIDEOS
With launch party for Animal Charm’s Golden Digest DVD
Oct. 7, 8 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
For complete interviews with Derrick Beckles of TV Carnage, Bryan Boyce, and Jim Fetterley of Animal Charm, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
Dick Fucking Cheney is uncensored and exceptionally ornery in Bryan Boyce’s short video America’s Biggest Dick, which someone other than Boyce posted to YouTube, where it’s gotten 18,000 views and counting. The popularity of the clip isn’t surprising — it’s fucking great. In putting together this week’s cover story about TV tweak tactics, I recently spoke with Boyce — who will be showing new work at Other Cinema soon — about many of his videos. We also talked about the Wiener Dog National Championships.
Guardian: Can you tell me a bit about when you first began working with TV footage?
Bryan Boyce: Back when I was in college the way I would learn a new editing system was with televangelists – Robert Tilton in particular. He just lends himself to all the extremes of the system, such as “How do you make something play backward?”.
No I’m not taking about the late Crocodile Hunter, I’m talking about Jim Fetterley of the duo Animal Charm. Along with Rich Bott (and occasionally some other friends), Fetterley has been making confounding, perplexing, vexing, hexing, and comically scathing short videos for almost a decade. On the eve of the SF release party for the Animal Charm DVD Golden Digest — and in conjunction with this week’s cover story — I recently talked with Mr. Fetterley about what happens when animals and boardrooms attack. Check out Golden Digest. You’ll never see family basketball games or Meatballs the same way again.
Guardian: What other people working with video material do you find inspiring?
Jim Fetterley: There’s so much — recently the saturation level is at a point where the connections between receivers to producers to producers to receivers form one big loop. There’s a general tendency right now to get excited about things that are unknown or anonymous.
Everyone is looking for something that will up the ante, whether it’s left field or straight from the entertainment cultural industry.
I’d have to cite friends. Most closely, TV Sheriff, our friend Davy Force. A year ago in April we finally got to meet in person a collective of people from Paper Rad, and Cory Arcangel – people who are trading and exchanging ideas.
Most recently, I don’t even know the names of some of the things being presented online. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Blazin Hazin tapes — a friend introduced us to them at an Iowa conference in 2002 or 2003. We contacted him and he sent us nine more videos. Notoriety or making more money isn’t as interesting [to me] as exploring some of the other possibilities that can come from this type of practice.
Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, is coming to SF in November. In conjunction with this week’s cover stories on audiovisual hijacking, I recently had a phone conversation with him that included a mention of CeCe Peniston. Enjoy.
Guardian: What’s the inspiration behind the title of Night Ripper?
Gregg Gillis: It comes from a t-shirt I’ve had for years that shows this skateboarder dude with all these fluorescent colors and skulls everywhere. It’s a loud t-shirt I’ve always liked, and it just says ‘Night Ripper’ on it. For a while some people called me Night Ripper because I wore the shirt a lot. But I also wanted an aggressive name that also had a party feel because for me the album was the most serious-toned album, even if it seems fun and crazy. It’s the most focused effort. I wanted something that had a badass edge, but also a night ripper can just be taken as someone who is partying through the night.
You’re walking down the street in the dark. You can hear the steps of a beast with many feet behind you. Every second it’s getting closer and bigger. One minute it’s got the juicy spirit of a young Biggie Smalls and a waterfall piano melody that inspires visions of a tiny dancer. The next, its Ciara-stamped “O” pulses over the metric bump and grind of an Elastica connection. Just when you think you have its ID down, it changes again, shifting sounds and songs at a rate of a dozen a minute. It’s tapping you on the shoulder. It’s gotten inside your brain. It’s Night Ripper, the newest album by Girl Talk.
Gregg Gillis has made three albums under the Girl Talk moniker, but this year’s Night Ripper (Illegal Art) is the one that’s making that moniker famous — maybe because it’s a monster of an album that leaves most mashup ideas and practices in the dust. And to think that the title comes from a simple T-shirt. “There’s this shirt I’ve had for years that shows this skateboarder dude with all these fluorescent colors and skulls everywhere, and it just says ‘Night Ripper’ on it,” Gillis, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., explains via phone before a Friday night show. “I wanted an aggressive name [for the album] that also had a party feel.”
Night Ripper’s 16 tracks add up to a seamless 42-minute burst of manic energy. It’s no surprise to learn that Gillis composed the album as one big song. “I built it in three different chunks, so in case I got stuck in one area I could move to another,” he says. “Eventually, I had this whole piece.” The result possesses the type of megamix acceleration you’d find on the late-night Detroit radio stations that bred the likes of DJ Assault. But Gillis says that while he’s heard his share of CeCe Peniston–style techno pop and has nursed a childhood passion for New Jack Swing, neither count as a direct form of inspiration. “In high school I was into John Oswald and People Like Us and Evolution Control Committee and Plunderphonics-y experimentation. I fell into this mode of making megamix-style music through that.”
On his first album for Illegal Art, 2002’s Secret Diary, Gillis drenched Lil’ Romeo and others in static white noise. His flair for harshly comic juxtapositions was already there, present in a track (“What Iff”) that — thanks to Big Tymers — changed Joan Osborne’s infamous “What if god was one of us?” query into “What if god were a project bitch?” One track on 2004’s Unstoppable, his follow-up for the label, the jaw-dropping “Bodies Hit the Floor,” forecasted where Gillis was headed. Over frenzied beats, he ricocheted the “you say” verses of two radically different girl pop songs — Kelly Osbourne’s “Shut Up” and Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” — off each other and threaded Ludacris’s “Move Bitch,” Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” and a ghostly Bone Thugs ’n’ Harmony warrior ode through them.
“I think if you put Secret Diary and Night Ripper together, it’s kind of like Unstoppable,” Gillis says, his analogy suggesting an incessant urge to combine and fuse material. “I’ve made an experimental album, then more of an IDMish album, and now a pop record.” A berserk record that swallows pop music whole. It’s easy to imagine The Simpsons’ sometime market researcher and sexual predator Lindsay “be warm — but edgy-cute” Naegle having an aneurysm upon hearing it. Night Ripper is packed with funny split-second moments, such as a transition in which the hooting synth melody of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” is answered in a birdcall manner by the keyboard hook of Mariah Carey’s “It’s Like That.”
Yet for all its Dirty South meets AOR meets soft rock meets alt-rock meets gangsta meets grunge meets ’80s bubblegum appeal, don’t assume Night Ripper is a Frankenstein built only from other people’s parts. One of its purest blasts of adrenaline stems from Gillis’s own instrumentation, when he adds an accelerating guitar track to the “Girl, shake that laffy taffy!” chorus of D4L’s “Laffy Taffy.” The factoid masters at Wikipedia have already compiled an extensive list of Night Ripper’s samples, nabbing 190 sources. But their efforts can’t convey the sheer goofy your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate joy of Young Jeezy colliding with Nirvana or a magnified version of Biggie’s trademark beat-fucking “uh” sound (from “Hypnotize”) giving way to an equally exaggerated bump and grind burst from Billy Squier’s onanistic “Stroke.”
With Night Ripper, Gillis has built a popular culture landmark somewhere between a Stars on 45 hit and the copyright-flouting 1987 United Kingdom chart attack of the Justified Ancients of Mumu. He uses a Plunderphonics-like practice to create something that might have mass appeal. “I’m making this music that is challenging yet pop,” he agrees. “I could have gone over the edge and doubled the number of sources and made it insanely crazy to listen to as an experimental piece or I could have slowed it down and made this easy-to-dance-to sort of record. It was a fine line, and I wanted to make something that was fun but at the same time interesting to listen to as a composition.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
For a complete interview with Gregg Gillis, go to Noise at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.