Monthly Archives: December 2006

Christmas exchange game

K___, M______ and I play a Christmas exchange game. Each has to lend the other a DVD, book or other artifact, which is to be returned after Christmas.

K____ exchanges an original video of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, and a copy of the original Mummy and the The Devil Thumbs a Ride; The Norton Anthology of English Literature and Tony Hillerman’s People of Darkness.

I offer K___ Le Sexe qui parle and Astrid Lindgren’s My Nightingale Is Singing (1984). For M_____ it was Serge Gainsbourg‘s CD compilation Du Jazz dans le ravin (1996).

As she stalks through the night …

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) – Louis Malle
[FR] [DE] [UK]

As she stalks through the night, she is a vision of tortured heartbreak, her woeful eyes and lush, sensuous lips illuminated by neon signs and baleful streetlamps.

I watched Ascenseur pour l’échafaud with G___. This 1958 French film stars Jeanne Moreau and is directed by Louis Malle. The score is by Miles Davis and the film belongs to the film noir category. The film is about a woman who cheats on her husband and persuades her lover to kill him. Like in Fargo, things go horribly wrong. Other comparisons to be made are The Postman Always Rings Twice (lover-husband-murder theme) and Scorsese’s 1985 After Hours (its unity of time is constrained: the action takes place within 24 hours or so). The film is a celebration of fifties modernism with scenes playing in a motel, on a motorway and in a modern office building. Two cars are featured: a Cadillac and a Mercedes 300SL.

New figurative art

By new figurative art I mean art since about the 1980s which depicts people in a realistic/fantastic way. Another term for this kind of painting might be “new pictorality” (see below), examples of which are John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage and Odd Nerdrum. The term figurative art was coined after the acceptance of abstract art in the early to mid twentieth century. Before that, all painting was figurative (notable exceptions by Whistler and near-abstract work by Turner notwithstanding). I think I first became aware of the power of allegory by seeing — at Art Brussels — a painting of a man in a trench coat weeping: out of his handkerchief came tears, these tears formed a puddle at his feet, which subsequently became a brook, a river and finally to the right of him: a waterfall. A terribly funny picture. Humor is one of the things I appreciate most in contemporary art. It’s wonderful when a painting has the power to make you laugh out loud.

What follows is a review by Matthew Rose of a travelling exhibition (Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt) entitled “Dear Painter, Paint Me…”. The superscripted links are image links.

The age-old profession of applying paint on canvas may have simply been overshadowed by the plethora of art strategies begun as early as 1917, with Duchamp’s “Fountain,” the overturned urinal signed “R. Mutt.” Interestingly enough, Duchamp’s very good friend, Francis Picabia, was a tried and true painter, although his approach to the canvas was anything but conventional. The flamboyant French artist (1879-1959), immensely talented and outrageously brazen, mapped out a world of tongue-in-cheek kitsch works in a prolific explosion that spanned the middle parts of the 20th century.

Picabia’s late work from the 1940s [1] [2], the fulcrum of this exhibit, borrowed generously from soft-core pornography and other photographic sources, and does more than inform the direction these artists have taken. Combining the comic, kitsch, popular culture and adding a jigger or two of surrealism, Picabia undoubtedly had a great deal more influence on pictorial subject and style than he’d ever dreamed.

“Dear Painter, Paint Me…”, (the title taken from Martin Kippenberger’s 1980s series) is a travelling exhibition (Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt) turns the spotlight on contemporary figurative painting since the Frenchman’s heyday painting pin ups in the 1940s.

Among the 18 artists in this expansive show, modern figurative masters such as Alex Katz, Luc Tuymans and even the droll French outcast Bernard Buffet, are complemented by the sexy and often grotesque contemporary worlds of John Currin, the surreal pop worlds of , and the dreamy romantic ones of Elizabeth Peyton. Kippenberger [1, nsfw], a strong influence on the group, is well represented, as are a handful of single-minded, dyed-in-the-wool painters of a younger set: Kai Althoff, Glenn Brown, Brian Calvin and Peter Doig. Sigmar Polke, perhaps the most Picabian of the group, appears with several mid-1960s masterpieces, works that are funny, skilful and acid, laying bare the bones of 20th century man (and woman). –Matthew Rose via [Dec 2006]

American art critic Craig Owens (1950 – 1990) and new pictorality:

One of the key texts about this new pictorality of pictures was Craig Owens‘ ‘The Allegorical Impulse’ published in 1980, then propagated in the central organ of postmodern esthetics, the ‘October’, founded in 1976. Owens is offering six notions, to catch on to the new complexity of pictures, which, following the then rather trendy Walter Benjamin, he summarizes in the title ‘allegorical’, (the only one outdated notion in Owens’ conceptuality is, accordingly, this collective term). –THE PICTORIAL IMPULSE Rainer Metzger, 2004 via [Dec 2006]

Quotes from The Allegorical Impulse:

“This deconstructive impulse is characteristic of postmodernist art in general and must be distinguished from the self-critical tendency of modernism. Modernist theory presupposes that mimesis, the adequation of an image to a referent, can be bracketed or suspended … When the postmodernist work speaks of itself, it is no longer to proclaim its autonomy, its self-sufficiency, its transcendence; rather, it is to narrate its own contingency, insufficiency, lack of transcendence.”

Visual culture

Click the pictures

Geltenbachfall im Winter (1778) – Caspar Wolf

Le jeu des vagues (1883) – Arnold Böcklin

Grotesque Head [detail] (1878) – from “Magazine of Art Illustrated”

Ruhender weiblicher Akt (1886 – 1887) – Lovis Corinth

The Lair of the Sea Serpent by Elihu Vedder

The Lair of the Sea Serpent () – Elihu Vedder

The American artist Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) is little known in contemporary art circles, although one of his paintings, The Questioner of the Sphinx (1863), has entered the late-20th-century image bank via a parody by Mark Tansey. His other best-known images depict such fantastic scenes as The Lair of the Sea Serpent (two versions, 1863 and 1889), in which a giant serpent lies coiled along an otherwise unremarkable stretch of beach, and The Roc’s Egg (1868), a scene that could have furnished Ray Harryhausen with inspiration for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Such images were Vedder’s most peculiar and establish him as something of an eccentric in 19th-century art, but his present obscurity has more do with the fact that, as modernism swept through galleries and exhibitions at the turn of the century, Vedder’s allegorical subjects and Italian landscapes were old-fashioned the day he painted them. –March, 1999 by Charles Dee Mitchell

Let’s Kill All The Uglies (1948) – Boris Vian

Et on tuera tous les affreux (1948) – Boris Vian

Et on tuera tous les affreux [Eng: Let’s Kill All The Uglies] is a French detective novel by Vernon Sullivan, the pseudonym of Boris Vian, first published in 1948 by Scorpion. The novel, like many others (the most famous of which is I Spit On Your Grave), was supposedly written by a certain American writer called Vernon Sullivan, of which Boris Vian pretended to be the translator. [Dec 2006]

I know only a little bit about Vian. He was one of those infinitely connected nodes. Amazing how much we know about Jamaican Culture in Britain but how little about that of our (extremely wonderful and interesting neighbours). If I was the editor of The Wire I’d look into things like this. Vian was the dude who fixed up all the Jazz for Paris in the 40s and 50s. He brought Ellington over to France … He’s the early reincarnation of that perennial French figure, the Afro-American culture importer. In the late 60s we have Daniel Caux bringing over the Free crew for the Shandar stuff [and also here] and in the 90s we have Laurent Garnier getting the Detroit lot over. — Woebot on Vian [2003].

See also: Boris Vian

Padre Padrone (1977) – Taviani brothers

Padre Padrone (1977) – Taviani brothers
This is the scene where Gavino is hauled away from school at the age of 7, and wets his pants.

Padre Padrone (1975) – Gavino Ledda
A cover of the autobiographical novel on which the story is based

I watched the 1977 Padre Padrone on Canvas last night. This slow and surreal Italian artfilm is typical of 1970s government-funded cinematic modernism, with its emphasis on alienation, sordidness and loneliness. Although not without its merits the film is an unpleasant viewing experience. Some of the highlights included talking sheep, swelling music, on screen text, boys molesting animals and weird sound effects. For a similar but more enjoyable portrayal of Italian rural backwardness, check Christ Stopped at Eboli. [Dec 2006]

Jim Gay of Amazon notes on the minimalism and theatricalness of the film which make it an excellent example of the contemplative cinema category:

… the Tavianis have abstracted their characters past all recognition. There is no time in the film when a scene is not a carefully controlled abstraction. Now the characters are all gestures and tableaux, swallowed by pastoral landscapes, markers in its historical sweep rather than flesh-and-blood people. While this might appeal to an audience’s sense of intellectual cool, it also deprives them of the richer joys of being allowed under a character’s skin. –Jim Gay

More notes on government funding and art films:

Independent media production in the U.S. illustrates most vividly the clash between commerce and art. As last winter’s stalled GATT negotiations over Hollywood’s dominance of European film markets illustrates, the European model of filmmaking has always viewed films more as cultural than commercial products. From the very beginning, there were “films d’art,” which often documented great performers such as Bernhardt, Loie Fuller and Pavlova. Private patronage allowed many artists, including Man Ray, Picabia and Duchamp to create films. State-subsidized filmmaking provided the impetus for the careers of many European filmmakers, among them Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut and the Taviani Brothers. –by Daryl Chin, 1994 via

See also: patron

Remakes in literature II

Back story:

Last August I had wondered if there is such a thing as remakes in literature. I stumbled on the the case of Régine Deforges rewriting Gone with the Wind.

In my previous posts (one where I quote Kierkegaard saying that Faust is a reproduction of Don Juan and one which contends that horror fiction and erotic fiction do not need great writers to perpetuate themselves) I tried to prove a theory by Georges Bataille which says: “If, as it appears to me, a book is communication, then the author is only a link among many readings.” These positions are summarized at my intertextual page.

Today I stumble across a document which parallels the 19th century social adventures saga novel to 21st century software. The page states that today it would be impossible/forbidden to write such novels if they had been patented in the 19th century the way much software is patented now:

“… if Eugène Sue, with Les Mystères de Paris and Le Juif Errant, Alexandre Dumas, with Le Comte Monte Cristo, or Honoré de Balzac, with Splendeur et Misère des Courtisanes, had patented [the social adventures saga novel] being based for example on very broad claims like those:

    • Communication process between a writer and a reader characterized in that the narration runs on numerous pages.
    • […] in that its structure sometimes seems to be like a fugue, even like improvisation.
    • […] in that the intrigue is articulated around the confrontation of some characters setting traps in turn.
    • […] in that the narration has the ambition to describe all the layers of the society and also its hidden wheels, leading to topics of conspiracy, leading also to social exoticism. —

Greencine and grindhouse cinema

Over the next six weeks Greencine will be serializing Eddie Muller’s 1996 non-fiction book Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema.

Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema (1996) – Eddie Muller
[FR] [DE] [UK]

From the beginning of the book:

Grindhouses have always churned away in a seamy corner of the American psyche. They glowed through the fog on the bad stretch of Market Street in San Francisco. They used dizzying neon to bewitch New Yorkers, even in the bustling depravity of Times Square. From First Avenue in Seattle to Canal Street in New Orleans, if you wanted to see all the sexy stuff that the Purity Patrol kept from the mainstream, a grindhouse always beckoned.

The best online definition of the grindhouse genre is by Brian Camp:

Grindhouse was a term coined and perpetuated by the trade paper, Variety, to describe theaters on big-city downtown movie strips, like New York’s 42nd Street or San Francisco’s Market Street, which ran double (and sometimes triple) features of films continuously, practically around the clock, with little or no time between films (i.e., the films ‘grinded’ up against each other). Such theaters don’t exist anymore. When we talk about ‘grindhouse movies,’ we refer to the types of action and exploitation movies that played at these theaters (blaxploitation, Italian westerns, kung fu, slasher, etc.).” –Brian Camp , 09/28/2003, 08:56:54 via 

See also:

exploitation filmgrindhouse cinemasex filmsexploitation