Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pittsburgh Art Events: 8/1-2/08.

The summer season is flying by, but we still have another month of sweat and sun. In most other cities, the art world is on hiatus in August, but here in the' Burgh we keep rolling right along. Of course it's the first Friday of the month, and you know what that means... Unblurred along the Penn Avenue Corridor.

This time around I'd like to shine a spotlight on Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn Ave), where teen prodigy Dean Cercone is having his first official solo show of paintings and drawings. Dean was once a student of mine, and is the nephew of one of my all-time favorite Pittsburgh painters- Rick Bach. While his uncle's influences certainly showed in the young Cercone's "early work", he has increasingly developed his own idiosyncratic style. And his experimentations are not limited to the visual realm... his music performances are innovative and unfettered by traditional conventions. Make sure to stop by between 7 and 10PM.

Over at Modern Formations, there is an exhibition (4919 Penn, from 7-10PM) of artwork by survivors of emotional and physical trauma ("SIGNS OF SURVIVAL: THE ART OF LIVING AFTER TRAUMA") . I have no idea what to expect, but I plan on having a few drinks before I hit that show. On a lighter note, MOXBOX (5014 Penn Ave) is having their second open house with artists from both the Moxie Dada and Boxheart Gallery stables. Mark Traughber, Dean Beattie, TK Mundok, Shari Lynn Bennett, and Maria Napoli are among the creators represented.

Also on the bill are two new venues- Sandidge Photography Studio and Gallery (5515 Penn Ave) and Passports: Art Diversity (5110 Penn Avenue). Apparently photographer Ahmad Sandidge will be giving away free 5 X 7" color portraits. Can't beat that. And don't miss Gene Fenlon and Jesse Zito at Sauer's Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery (5015 Penn Ave), as well as the photographic documentation of a Haitian orphanage by Laura Petrilla and Eva Mueller over at the International Children's Art Gallery (5020 Penn Ave).

As much as I am loathe to promote any happenings going on in Shadyside, I do want to give a shout-out to Gallerie Chiz (5831 Ellsworth Avenue), which is to my mind the main spot worth checking out in that neighborhood. The proprietor (Ellen Neuberg) consistently shows work by local artists that I respect and enjoy, and I would like to see her gallery stay open for many more years. Unfortunately, with the economic times the way they are (and no signs of imminent improvement) nothing should be taken for granted. If you can make time to stop by on Friday night, I'm sure Ms. Neuberg would appreciate it. She is currently running an "ARTISTS' STUDIO CLEAN-UP OFF-THE-WALL SHOW & SALE", and it features work from 45 artists, including Bill Miller, John Eastman, and Laura Jean McLaughlin. That runs through August 30.

Finally, this weekend sees the opening of the 98th Annual Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Show at the Warhol Museum. However, I couldn't find any mention anywhere of a reception. I'm assuming it's probably an invite-only deal. You can stop and see it during ordinary museum hours until September 14.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Competitive Spirit.

Sometime within the last several years I gradually came to an informal resolution to minimize competition in my life. Obviously I understand that I live in a society driven by a tradition of competitiveness, and that it's impossible to entirely avoid- but I just wanted to tamp down my natural competitive drive. I don't know whether it's some sort of genetically inherited trait, or whether I picked it up somehow during my upbringing. But the fact is that I always want to win at everything I participate in, and I have a history of getting distraught when I lose. It's a trait that I find fairly unattractive whenever I am objective enough to catch a glimpse of it. On top of that, I realize that I no longer enjoy the stress that comes with wanting so badly to win.

So I quit participating in the activity that carried the most personal baggage for me. When I was a kid, my father and brother played a lot of chess together. They are both highly analytical people, and that trait along with the benefit of age made them virtually unbeatable for me. It bothered me that I couldn't win, so I gave up trying to learn the game. In my thirties I started playing again, and continued to do so for several years. But there came a crucial point when I realized that I couldn't hang with a certain level of player. I had reached a plateau that I couldn't transcend without a significant commitment to studying the game. And I wondered why that bothered me. I couldn't just relax and continue losing.

When I decided to stop playing chess, I extended my resolve to anything with a clearly defined winner and loser. I started thinking about the philosophical ramifications of those terms. I wanted to broaden myself and become more balanced. There were a lot of things that I was decent at that I only really liked participating in if won- Scrabble, darts, pool, team sports, etc. I just refused to engage in any of those contests. I threw my energy into creation and self-expression instead. I even tried to excise any voyeuristic forms of competition. This wasn't much of a sacrifice since I only watched one sport. But I even stopped following hockey for a year (which was easy because the season was canceled due to a player's strike).

For the most part I have been happy with my new focus. I have an improved self-regard, and feel like I've become a more nuanced and patient person. I came to the realization that any satisfaction I ever got from winning only lasted to the next time I lost at something. That's an extremely frustrating way to live. Now I'm more concerned with self-actualization. Yet I still have moments when I realize that my competitive spirit has not entirely disappeared. I throw myself at challenges as if beating them is more important than engaging in the process of confronting them. However, it's becoming more clear to me that life is more about the journey than the attainment of any specific objective.

Once in awhile I give in, and try to have a sense of humor about my attitude. Last night I played soccer, which is a sport for which I lack the necessary experience and ability to excel. Because my expectations are so low, I don't suffer much due to my lackluster performance. It was actually a lot of fun because no one cared who won. I could honestly appreciate the play of my teammates and my "opponents". Still there was a part of me that wanted to keep score, and to root for my side to prevail. Old habits evidently die hard. This point was further advanced when I beat all of my friends at ping-pong at the bar after soccer. I was crowing and strutting like a bantam rooster. It was self-parody, which always seems to contain a seed of inconvenient truth.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Should We Judge Obama By His Associates?

I caught myself in a humorous misconception the other day- I was outside taking a smoke break, and it occurred to me that the national political scene was quiet this summer. Of course this is a ridiculous idea. Upon a bit of reflection, I realized that I would have no idea how much is happening on the national news front. During the hot season I don't listen to hack radio. I don't watch television, nor do I read the newspapers. I don't even surf the net for current events. And because I'm learning nothing about what is going on outside of my localized personal bubble, I don't start conversations about politics. I remain oblivious unless something happens that is so dramatic that people are talking about it on the street.

I guess that's more common in the United States than I realize. Whenever I bring some topical matter up during the rest of the year, and I am met with blank stares, I wonder how it is possible to be that out-of-touch. The truth is that I forget my own state of ignorance from the previous summer. This whole phenomena has been brought home by recent inquiries about how I feel about Obama. I have many friends who are passionate in their support for his candidacy, and they are aware of my own history of investment in his prospects. I've been quite vocal in my advocacy. So in the face of apparent controversy over his ongoing statements and positions, I guess they look to me for reinforcement.

The reality is that, from the little news I have heard, there is reason for concern. Some of the people he has surrounded himself with are shifty at best. For example, Cass Sunstein (close Obama adviser and University of Chicago Law Professor) recently made comments rejecting the notion of holding the Bush Administration legally responsible for such crimes as illegal surveillance of citizens and torture. Supposedly he is concerned with the "criminalization of public service". He says that Democrats should "avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton — or even the “slight appearance” of it." His position is that only "egregious crimes should not be ignored".

Naturally this leads me and my friends to be a bit suspicious of Sunstein's mental processes. What exactly does he mean to insinuate by his remarks? If Bush should find (beyond any reasonable expectations) anyone in the White House willing to blow him, then we shouldn't raise much of a fuss? Sure, I'll go along with that. Anything capable of distracting him from the strenuous pressures of leading the nation should be heartily encouraged. Hell, I'd be happy to see him pick up the bottle again if it would make him embrace his lame duck status. An inactive Bush Administration is about the best we could ever expect. But I don't think Sunstein is limiting his proposal of retroactive immunity to sex acts.

Only a complete idiot, or someone who believes the executive branch should be above the law, would characterize the activities of Rove, Cheney, Wolfowitz, etc. as "non-egregious". The most relevant question is how closely do Sunstein's expressed sentiments reflect those of Barack Obama? Has our would-be leader taken the investigation and prosecution of a rogue White House off the table? If so, we need to take a close critical look at a prospective Obama presidency. Now I admit that judging the man based upon his associations is a bit unfair. I held that conviction when the conservative hate machine started talking about Jeremiah Wright- but in the case of Sunstein, we have a guy that could be considered for a high level position in an Obama cabinet. That's a genuine threat.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Good Samaritan.

Today I had the opportunity to consider providing assistance to a complete stranger. M., E., and I were walking home from the new cafe in the neighborhood next to ours, when we came across an old woman who appeared to be perturbed. She began talking out loud before we even reached the proximity necessary to distinguish her words. At first I made the flawed assumption that she was addled in some way, and considered ignoring her. But I soon discovered that she wanted specific information about the patterns of public transit. She wanted to know if the bus stopped on the corner that she was standing on. We advised her to walk down to a nearby corner that was demarcated with a "Bus Stop" sign.

As we slowly accompanied her down the street, she began complaining about the public transportation in Pittsburgh. For anyone in town this should come as no surprise. The city has been flirting with bankruptcy for years, and there has been some obvious mismanagement of the Port Authority. Anyway, they've cut routes and the remaining ones don't seem to fit any obvious logic. This woman was bewildered about the fact that she would have to go all the way downtown to catch a transfer, just to get to the neighborhood right over the bridge from ours. She made the point that it is especially difficult to get around with all the road closings that somehow coincide with the 250th anniversary of the city.

Here was a 91-year old woman who just wanted to get to her home... a mere mile or so from where she was stranded. No one could look her in the face and then complain about having to pay taxes for public transit. After we walked her the block or so to the nearest stop, the entire situation began to gnaw at me. We picked up our pace, as I resolved to come back with my car to see if she still needed a ride. Fortunately she must have been picked up shortly after we parted ways. I just missed out on my chance to play the "Good Samaritan". And then naturally I started to think about the etymology of that term. Was it truly appropriate to characterize today's situation under that term?

The concept itself originated in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 10 verses 25–37). Some anonymous lawyer wants to justify his behavior, and interrogates Jesus about the way to heaven. He asks what should be expected of him in order to gain entry to paradise. Jesus speaks of "loving thy neighbor", and this puzzled the lawyer, who asks for additional clarification on that point. The Christ relates the "Parable of the Good Samaritan". Some dude gets the beat down by some highway robbers and lies bleeding on the street. A Priest and a Levite pass by without helping, for their own individual reasons. But then a Samaritan stops by, ministers to the victim with "oil and wine", and then drops him off at an inn with funds for further assistance.

So who is this "Samaritan", and what relevance does his ethnicity have in the exchange? Apparently the Samaritans were the first outsider sect of Judaism. They are basically Jews*, except with the important distinction that they believe that God has already revealed himself at Mount Gerizim. Without going into unnecessary detail, this group became despised by conventional Jews because of this theological discrepancy, and because the group was later perceived to be actively collaborating with the Hellenization of the Holy Land. That's the crux of the story right there- this anonymous Samaritan was blessed even though he wasn't one of the "Chosen People" of the Hebraic faith. The guy stepped up and earned himself a place in the afterlife. I think its a revealing tale, given the self-righteousness by a lot of the modern-day faithful.

* As of November of 2007, there were reportedly 712 Samaritans left, primarily living on Mount Gerizim and in the settlement of Holon, near Tel Aviv. Historically they have not allowed intermarriage, which has caused a disproportionate amount of genetic diseases.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chuck Zito, "Street Justice" (2002).

Chuck Zito is a quintessential tough guy. He might even be the premiere hard-ass of our times. As a young Italian-American boy in Brooklyn, he hardened himself into an amateur boxer, and even won a few rounds of the Golden Gloves Tournament. He's also a self-proclaimed expert in several martial arts. But it's his associations as much as his physical prowess and street sense that have led to his fame. Once the president of the New York Nomads Chapter of the Hells Angels, he gradually insinuated himself into the world of celebrity, becoming the bodyguard of such luminaries as Liza Minelli, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone (who he bears more than a passing resemblance to).

I first became aware of Zito through his work on the HBO series OZ. He plays "Chucky Pancamo", a mobbed-up enforcer who takes absolutely no shit. And apparently he carries that reputation beyond the screen. As he seems fond of pointing out, Zito knows the difference between "reel life and real life". While his pedigree as a guy that "walks the walk" is clearly impressive, he's not an altogether admirable character. That becomes clear in his "autobiography", as told to reporter Joe Layden. Street Justice is a paean lovingly dedicated to Zito's perception of himself. He often comes across as self-righteous. His values appear a bit murky. At one point in his book, he fervently insists that he is not a bully.

Yet even by his own account, he has played the bully role on the streets. He shares anecdote after anecdote about incidents where he initiated violence because he believed someone was "disrespecting him". The litany of his victims is outlined in Street Justice. Rival outlaw motorcycle gang members seem to get the worst of it. However he doesn't limit himself to that sort of turf competition. In fact he notably beat down Jan Claude Van Damme at a strip club for talking trash about him. Anyone that looks at him cross-eyed, or dares to challenge him verbally gets popped. He even beats down a twenty-something who makes the mistake of "name-dropping" a NYC gangster. That specific beat-down serves to underscore another one of Zito's personality flaws- he's a bit of a hypocrite.

Zito is an inveterate name-dropper himself. He's constantly referring to the parade of movie stars and professional fighters he has been involved with. The photo section included in Street Justice is inundated with posed shots including a smiling Zito with diverse luminaries. Additionally, you can't find a single scene in his book where he is at some restaurant or club when he is not reminding the reader of his associations. If you were ever curious who owned this or that trendy New York or L.A. nightspot in the 80's and 90's, look no further than this book. Zito's palled around with them all, despite his contention that he has never touched drink or drugs. Still he's earned his bonafides, and spent plenty of time with the outcasts. Not only has he been tight with his bike buddies (who he has since apparently disassociated himself from since publication of his bio), but he's also served six years in federal prison on conspiracy charges*.

The strange thing about Zito is that despite his tendency to come off as a preening blowhard, it's hard not to like the guy at least a little. He does seem to value loyalty to his friends, and he's obviously garnered enough good-will to befriend a lot of prominent public figures. He's got an adopted daughter and a wife that he would do anything for, and he doesn't seem especially apt to hold grudges after his temper dies down. He's also led a truly interesting life, despite lacking many of the advantages of his colleagues in show business. To top it all off, Street Justice is a rip-roaring page turner. It's essential summertime reading. Besides, this reviewer wants to extend him due credit. The guy's personal motto is, "Treat me good, I'll treat you better; treat me bad... I'll treat you worse." I certainly wouldn't want to get on his bad side.

*Random trivia: Zito claims to be the only one associated with the series OZ to have actually served substantial time in prison.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Steven Millhauser, "Little Kingdoms" (1993).

Sometimes when I develop a taste for a certain author, I decide to read his works over a long span of time, in the hope of making a good thing last. In the case of Steven Millhauser, circumstances have led me to make my way through a few titles in a relatively short period. While this has given me a clearer understanding of the continuity of his perspective, I think it may have also led to a subtle fatigue. I still feel that he is an interesting and talented writer, but I found myself continually checking to see how many pages were left in Little Kingdoms. However it's not the case that it contains inferior tales. Maybe Millhauser is simply better appreciated in the depths of winter. While his themes are accessible, his style is often fairly dense.

Regardless of whether or not Millhauser is appropriate beach reading, there is much to savor in Little Kingdoms. It contains three novellas of wildly divergent settings and approaches. The first is entitled "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne". The titular character is a young man from Cincinnati who steadily distinguishes himself as a newspaper cartoonist. He gets married and finds his way to Manhattan in the first decade of the 20th Century. While he continues to turn out editorial cartoons and Sunday funnies, he labors into the night working on an animated cartoon distinguished by tedious precision and unfettered fantasy. As he does so, his marriage slowly dissolves. Still he manages to create an art that is truly out-of-time.

"The Princess, the Dwarf and the Dungeon" occupies the middle portion of the Little Kingdoms. For this tale Millhauser abandons his typical turn-of-the-century urban milieu in favor of medieval towns and castles. It describes a tale of palace intrigue between a prince, a princess, and a visiting noble. When the sovereign finds himself suspicious of his beautiful wife's fidelity, he decides to engineer a test. He urges her to offer herself to the noble (who happens to be his longtime loyal friend) and report the results of the situation back to him. Obviously this is a no-win situation all around, and the reader sees the eventual outcome as inevitable. The dwarf of the title is particularly treacherous, and perhaps a slight to "little people everywhere".

The final installment is "Catalogue of the Exhibition", and perhaps the most fascinating from a structural standpoint. It is divided by descriptions of various paintings the main character (Edmund Moorash) completed during his lifetime. The notes on the content and style of these works are supplemented by the kind of historical context you might see in curatorial statements. They gradually unveil a story of two pairs of siblings that spend time together in a rural idyllic setting, and the ramifications of their intensely formed individual bonds. Ultimately the developing plot takes on a tragic quality, as we see Moorash increasingly affected by the relationship between his artwork and the events of his life.

I was particularly struck by some of the formal experimentation of Little Kingdoms. As noted above with "Catalogue of the Exhibition", Millhauser has chosen to employ some atypical means to relate his stories. While I found "The Princess, the Dwarf and the Dungeon" fairly trite in terms of the plot-line, I was mildly intrigued by Millhauser's choice to have an anonymous townie as the narrator. He uses this device to examine the nature of folktales in general, with mixed results. Obviously "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne" hews most closely to the traditions of Millhauser's most celebrated works. While I found the other two included novellas to be a bit contrived, I still enjoyed the author's consistent mastery of the language and his amazing facility for description.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Luc Sante, "Kill All Your Darlings" (2007).

I first became aware of writer Luc Sante when I stumbled on a used copy of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (1991). His grasp of late-1800-era Manhattan led me to believe he was a perpetual scholar of that time and location. Low Life is chock-a-bloc full of stories of political corruption, gambling, boozing, and the entire milieu of a now vanished sporting life. As a relatively uncommitted student of 19th Century American history, I found it refreshing to find an unsanitized version or urban existence in our nation's most important cultural center. I resolved to track down some of Sante's other works on the subject. I was surprised to discover that there was nothing else along these lines by the author.

Anyway, when I saw an opportunity to pick up another one of his titles cheap, I did so without even paging through it. Such an impulse buy is not my normal modus operandi, but in the case of Sante I felt it was justified. Fortunately I wasn't at all disappointed. Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005 is a collection of essays Sante wrote for such notable publications as The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and The Nation. His erudition has been praised by such writers as Greil Marcus (who wrote the introduction) and William Gibson. He has been awarded the prestigious Whiting Writer's Award (1989), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1992-23), and a Grammy for album notes for a re-issue of a folk music anthology.

Simply put, Luc Sante comes across as absolutely brilliant. I was continually astonished to find his immense expertise in a wide variety of subjects. I kept wondering how a fifty-something, Belgian-born college professor could possibly have his range of knowledge. Whether writing about riots at Tompkins Square Park, or famous contemporary criminals like John Gotti and Rudy Giuliani, his NYC bonafides are clearly evident. But get him on the subject of smoking cigarettes, or worldwide New Year traditions, and his eloquence turns into poetry. Paging through Kill All Your Darlings is a satisfying adventure. His engagement with his subjects is absolute.

While there is very little possibility that any single reader will be interested in each and every one of his topics, it's easy to appreciate his rigorous approach to background research. If you let yourself go, you could end up taking numerous digressions of independent study inspired by each and every piece. When he gets on the subject of Bob Dylan's career, or the history of the American Blues, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the details. But still you won't be able to stop yourself from marveling at his cultural lexicon. And while you might be tempted to skip ahead to an essay about something you are already drawn to, you'll likely find yourself scouring every paragraph for the next vital anecdote he intersperses quite liberally.

For where else are you going to hear the story of how an obscure juke-joint musician named Buddy Bolden made an inspired exclamation that led to the musical definition of the term "funk"? In what other book can you turn the page from a humorous critical analysis of the transgressive art of Robert Mapplethorpe, only to find an in-depth analysis of Walker Evan's photographic work for the Farm Security Administration of the Depression-era 30's? What other author is going to outline his personal histories with such figures as Arthur Rimbaud, Allan Ginsberg and Tintin? Sante has packed an education into this 299-page volume, and delivered it with an elegant precision of prose.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pittsburgh Art Events: Weeekend of 7/25-27/08.

You'll have to excuse the late notice of this weekend's events, but truthfully I didn't think I'd get around to posting today at all. Through most of the year I've carried a backlog of a few entries that I can resort to if I don't feel up to writing. If I had a spare today, I would have posted it and called it a day. I've had a stomach ache that's been brewing since a particularly nasty interchange with a neighbor a couple of days ago. But an inspired trip to the local ice cream chain for a milkshake has given my gut other things to think about, so here I am with a late night post. Please forgive me its shoddiness.

On Friday evening from 4-9PM, the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (located at 1815 Metropolitan Street on the North Shore) is having their "Family Day". You can see a live hot metal pour, or create a personalized superhero in the Digital Lab. And if you stick around, you can also be part of the reception for Space and Place, an exhibition of works from the Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors. There are plenty of artists featured in this show, including two of my favorites- Dennis Childers and James Rettinger. I'm a bit embarrassed to say I've never been to MCG... perhaps this would be the time to make my inaugural visit?

Well, that's only going to happen if I don't get caught up at the Encyclopedia Destructica Release Party for the first issue of Volume Coatlicue. The folks over at ED have been putting out this high-quality art "zine" for several years now. The books are hand-bound, alluring and quite collectible. The event (which includes music) is going to be held at 146 41st Street in Lawrenceville. It starts at 7PM.

Saturday brings us a long-awaited opening at La Vie Gallery (3609 Butler St., in the L-Ville). Shortsleeved includes work by Mike Budai, Jon Carling, Dan Chainer, Ben Kehoe, Melissa Kuntz, Danny Paracat, Thommy Conroy, James Maszle and Jairan Sadeghi. Not only will there be wall-hung work, but there will be wearable pieces as well. I was actually going to submit something, but never got my act together. Regardless, I'll certainly be there (it runs from 7-11PM). If you still haven't seen this space, you better make it a point to do so while you still can. Who knows how long great things like this can last?

If you want to get out of the East End, you could do worse than a trip to the Brew House (in the South Side) for a party celebrating "the success of Citywide Salon" (7:30-11PM). Have you noticed the presence of posters displaying artwork in the bus shelters around town? Well, here's you chance to see some of the original works. If you want to learn more about the project first, check out this article. They are promising food and drink. That in itself should compel a few of you.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Proposal For the Pittsburgh Arts Scene.

I had a nice long conversation with John M. the other night about the state of Pittsburgh art. John is an artist who has achieved a fair measure of success in the NYC arts scene, and the former owner of a locally-established gallery of high quality. As usual with our conversations, our sentiments were mostly lamentations colored by a faint tinge of hope. For several years we have discussed the potential and possibilities of Pittsburgh as an art market. I think we'd both agree that there is a lot of great art being made in town, but John's experiences here have discouraged his initial belief that the 'Burgh could actually develop into a major arts destination. His thoughts on the matter are compelling, but I won't attempt a synthesis of them here.

Our exchange did however help me focus my own perspective of Pittsburgh's past, present, and future. I've now been an inhabitant of this city for twenty years, and over that time I have seen plenty of change. When I moved here in 1988, there was no Andy Warhol Museum. There was no Sprout Fund... no downtown gallery crawl... no Unblurred along the Penn Avenue Corridor. The Mattress Factory was only a decade old. Hardly anyone seemed to care much about the Carnegie International. Pittsburgh was still trying to get its bearings after the long decline of the steel industry. It seemed to my Northeastern-bred eyes to be a cultural wasteland. Perhaps it was just my lack of familiarity with the scene, but the Steel City appeared barren.

Much has developed since. People who would have had little interest in galleries during the early 90's are now participating in the many events held around town. Granted that many of them are likely involved for the cute girls and beer, but the artwork itself is almost unavoidable. If you would like to show your work in a gallery, it's easy to do it here. Many neighborhoods have a couple of spots to do so, and a few of them have multiple venues. If you simply love making art, this is the place to be. Property is excessively cheap, and there are many interesting alternative spaces serving as platforms. You don't need to work your ass off to make time to do your artwork, as the cost of living is low.

Still the scene has its problems. There aren't many collectors of local art in Western PA. Coordination between galleries and with institutions could be significantly improved. To a large degree, local art is unfairly dismissed as inferior. This is a reflection of the way this city views itself. As John says, there's a certain ghetto mentality. The looming question remains how to garner respect for Pittsburgh artists. One way to do it is to engage out-of-town artists, and display their work alongside that of local folks. But I have an idea that could be complementary- why not build a museum dedicated to the past, present, and future of Pittsburgh art? I'm sure that a physical facility could be procured with relatively little expense.

The way I envision such an institution is in three parts. One section could display a constantly rotating selection of work (drawn from permanent holdings) created throughout Pittsburgh's history. I bet that collectors in town could be convinced to bequeath their collections to such an enterprise (the Carnegie certainly doesn't seem all that interested). The second component could be a sampling of art currently being made in the region. This could draw a lot of interest if it was made into a competitive process. And finally, I would like to see other cities' guilds and organizations invited to display temporary exhibitions of their work. This would give such a museum a national flavor and create a buzz outside of town. The culmination of this enterprise would be increased respect and visibility for Pittsburgh creators, and an enhancement of the local scene in general.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Questions Behind the Issues.

The more I talk to people of different political bents, the more I realize that the entire political dialog in this country is radically stilted. I'm not saying that folks understand how indirect their communication is, but rather that they inadvertently avoid any discussion of the underlying reasons for their beliefs. There is an entire substratum of assumptions that goes unacknowledged. I believe the reason for this is media manipulation. Our corporate "news" purveyors would much rather reinforce the wedge issues that keep our citizenry divided. These are "safe" subjects because there is a tacit agreement among all parties that they regard issues that will never be resolved. They keep everyone distracted.

I've noted a few examples of this in earlier posts. Republicans and Democrats fight over issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and drilling in ANWR. The intention is to keep things as they are, in order to prevent any real challenges to the status quo. If the power brokers can keep us focused on issues of very little significance to them, then they can continue business-as-usual. Naturally that benefits those currently at the top of the heap. And don't get me wrong- 95% of us would act the same exact way if given the chance. Examine your own personal life... if things are going well, do you feel motivated to allow changes that would shake up your life? I can say that I feel no such compulsion.

Now then, if you don't like the way things are going, then you really have your work cut out for you. You have to cut through all of the bullshit just to communicate frankly with your fellow (wo)man. I'll give you an illustrative example using an aforementioned wedge issue- abortion. Say for argument's sake that you are against abortion. Why? Is it because your priest told you it was a sin? Do you believe that fetuses count as humans? And how does that affect your position on this issue? I think there's a deeper core to this question. It goes beyond queries of sin and soul. The elemental foundation of this political distraction is the belief that there is something inherently special about the species.

If you don't think that humans are "special" or "sacred", then why would you consider abortion wrong? Maybe you are of a religious faith that values all creatures equally. If that's the case, then forgive me, because you have a valid philosophical basis for your opinion. But likely you have formed your thoughts about abortion based upon the Christian principle that humans are meant to exercise their dominion over God's creation. And that somehow leads you to believe that a single human life is invaluable. The rational extension of this type of localized compassion should lead you to oppose the death penalty, war, and policies that privilege one segment of humanity over another. Be honest with yourself. Are you being consistent in your views, or are you a hypocrite like the rest of us?

Do you honestly believe that those who profess to oppose abortion are confronting the underlying premises of their positions? Or are they simply using this emotional issue for expediency and exploitation. I'd like to hear them say instead that all humanity is sacred. Because then we could really assess the integrity of their character. We could hold these coyotes responsible for their decisions. I understand that governance involves complexity and nuance, but I have no sympathy when a politician misleads the flock into thinking that he/she is the "Good Shepherd". I'll gladly embrace the flaws of a human being as long as he/she acknowledges them in him/herself. But the old smoke-and-mirrors trick has made me irredeemably cynical, and I would guess that a lot of others in this nation feel the same way.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

More Self-Referential Blogging Bullshit.

When I first started this blog over two years ago, I resolved to avoid becoming self-referential. There's something about a writer that takes as his/her subject "writing" that suggests an overwhelming self-absorption. How many authors have you read who have written novels about their lives as college professors? There are certainly a lot of them in your local library. While it may be justified as authentic, since the academic life is a home for many scribes, this type of theme has the tendency to become fairly mundane. Granted there are certain folks who have completed memorable fictional accounts of this milieu (a notable example is Richard Russo's Straight Man), and others have built successful careers on it (see David Lodge).

Obviously blogging itself has a narrower tradition, simply because people have only been doing it for about fifteen years. Yet as of December of 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs (a fact which frankly makes me feel a bit better about my ranking on that site). A common complaint I have run into while talking to people about blogs is the perception that the vast majority of them simply constitute opportunities for self-absorption and navel-gazing for the bloggers themselves. That's unfortunate because the range and variety of subject matter to be found within the blog spectrum is enormous. Still I don't want to perpetuate that impression, so I'll try to keep my own inclinations contained.

But the reality is that I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about this phenomenon, and what it means in my personal life. I made that clear with yesterday's post, yet I think I have more to communicate on this subject. Blogging has become a daily activity as much as an abstracted pursuit. It has changed the way people interact with me. For one thing, it provides fodder for conversation for those who read Serendipity regularly. I find that it often cuts through a lot of the small talk that I would normally encounter with these readers. They don't have to ask general questions, such as "So what have you been up to lately?" I've had quite a few discussions that start with a pinpoint observation about something I've written about recently.

It's also interesting how things happen on the periphery... things I'm not even aware of. I often proceed with the assumption that no one I am writing about will read my blog. This has turned out to be naïve. Not long ago I mentioned the title of a local art show, and later discovered that the artist who came up with it read my opinion and took mild offense. Even though I stuck behind my convictions on the matter I couldn't help feeling a bit bad about being critical. I was taken aback by the experience because of my veneer of anonymity, and the realization of just how thin it actually is (especially on a local level). It makes it tough to avoid being a simple cheerleader for the local scene. I don't enjoy hurting people's feelings.

On the other hand, I have been pleasantly surprised by comments and e-mails from those I don't know who have stumbled upon my site. Just this past week I received a gracious note from an author who had read my review about his nationally distributed book. It made me wonder how many other individuals I have mentioned have found my blog via internet searches. At one point last year I was getting regular correspondence of a vaguely threatening nature from the lawyer of someone I had vilified in a post. They weren't talking about legal action, but rather invoking spiritual and more immediate worldly damnation. Believe me that makes continuing this project extremely interesting.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Keeping a Blog: Unintended Audience.

Although I didn't have any specific goals in terms of readership when I started writing Serendipity, it would be disingenuous to claim that I haven't give much thought to numbers. When I set up the blog, Susan Constance was kind enough to give me pointers and introduce me to a site called StatCounter. She reasonably suggested that I would eventually be curious as to who was tuning in. Of course she was right. I do indeed have the kind of competitive nature that makes me want to put a score to every endeavor I participate in. Actually typing this admission gives me pause and makes me mildly depressed. After more than two years of virtually daily writing, my audience remains discouragingly small compared to my original expectations.

It's all really a matter of perception. The fact that I can pretty much count on at least fifty unique visitors daily is impressive when I think about it in terms of pre-Internet assumptions. When I was in my early twenties and started writing poetry, I was lucky to convince five or ten folks to either read or hear my work. In retrospect I suppose there was a sort of mercy in this fact, since the stuff wasn't especially good and the relative ignorance of what I was doing couldn't shame me. I surely would have been shocked if someone then would have told me that I'd actually have strangers intentionally reading my future thoughts. In a way I guess it's sort of surreal.

Before the age of blogs, there were only very limited ways to put yourself out there into the world. You could write a letter to the editor. You could start a "zine", make lots of photo copies at retail cost, and pass it out by hand. There was no way to access a potentially unlimited and anonymous readership. Now all of that is changed, and there is a viral tool at my disposal. There's a real sense of possibility, and a feeling that anything can happen. In reality the chances that you will be "discovered" by legions of unknown viewers is increasingly slim in the modern saturated media environment. Yet that dream exists as something with a corollary in reality. People actually have become famous doing this.

I do know what limits I labor under. There is no specific reason for anybody to regularly visit my blog. I fill no specific niche. There is no special demographic that would be interested in what I have to say, other than those who wonder what I am currently thinking about. Do you like to read reviews about films or books, or enjoy poorly informed political rants? Well... then you might enjoy yourself here. Do you occasionally get a hankering to visit some obscure and strange tourist destination? I've got a few ideas on that as well. But if you are searching for specific information that can help you live a better life, then you'd do better to seek out Cursor or Martha Stewart Living (sorry, you can find that one yourself).

You may wonder why I decided to address this topic today. Well, the other day another site linked to an old post I did about John D, Rockefeller, Standard Oil and alcohol-based fuels. I am no expert on this topic- but I had heard a strange story in an unlikely place, did some online research, and put together some basic thoughts. Lo and behold someone did indeed find my blog, albeit a year after I posted this particular entry. They linked to it and all of a sudden my site came up temporarily as the third option on a Google Search for "alcohol-based fuels". I don't know how that works... I guess it is "magic". But I tripled my numbers the next day. It's just a passing boost but I find it fascinating. Who knows what surprises the future holds in store?

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jeff Stimmel , "The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not for Sale" (2008).

About a week ago a friend told me about an HBO documentary called The Art of Failure. The subject of the film is a Pittsburgh native named Chuck Connelly, who found success in the New York arts scene in the 80's alongside such names as Basquiat and Schnabel. Truthfully I despaired of having the opportunity to see it, since I don't have cable. Fortunately on my recent trip to Eastern PA my host had plenty of channels. Although I kept myself busy with other stuff, I did get an hour here and there to surf the tube. One night after returning from a long walk I plopped down on the sofa and started scanning the program guide. I was pleased by serendipity when I discovered that I would get a chance to watch The Art of Failure from the beginning.

Right from the start it was clear that Chuck Connelly was a bit unstable. He paced through the screen nervously, ranting and raving against his perceived enemies and the injustices of his life. He was shown haranguing a woman who I soon figured out was his ex-wife, and it was clear that being around Connelly must be a trial. He is the true manifestation of the artist as L'enfant terrible. He drinks incessantly, and becomes increasingly agitated until the point of violence. This isn't surprising as he is said to view himself as a Jackson Pollock-type, outside the realms of polite cultured society. Apparently he learned quite early that he would be allowed a certain amount of self-indulgence, given his profuse talent.

But evidently Connelly miscalculated the reception his act would generate. At one point he looked assured to attain the lofty ranks of art-stardom. He was represented by Annina Nosei, and courted by collectors and celebrities. He sold millions of dollars in paintings. Martin Scorcese even used him as his subject in his segment of New York Stories. According to the tale that director Jeff Stimmel spins, this tribute actually led to his downfall. After New York Stories (starring Nick Nolte as the infamously truculent artist) was released, Connelly was asked for his reaction to the film by The New York Post. He called the portrayal mundane and cliché, and made a rather unflattering comparison to Scorcese's masterpiece, Raging Bull.

While Connelly's remarks about New York Stories were obviously impolitic, this viewer found the premise that they singlehandedly sabotaged his career a bit implausible. Connelly had clearly built a track record of being recalcitrant. No matter how things were going for him, he seemed to have the belief that he deserved better. But there were other factors that may have kept him from being as prominent as he would have liked. It's clear that from the many examples of his paintings shown in The Art of Failure that his style was far from consistent. His subject matter and aesthetic approaches were all over the map. No doubt his talent was prodigious, but there doesn't seem to be any real cohesion that would tie his work together.

Nonetheless I would certainly love to get my hands on a few of his artworks. His expressionist brushwork lends an undeniable charm to the most challenging of subjects. One specific piece has a portrait of a particularly ugly Santa Claus overlaid with the word "Ho-mo". There are also post-apocalyptic cityscapes and a cavalcade of freaks. No doubt the exposure that The Art of Failure is likely to bring to Connelly will go some length in reviving his career. He has alienated a lot of people, but his most grievous sins are now buried in the past. The current media environment has a very short memory. Reportedly Connelly is achieving a measure of success now. Who says there are no second acts in the Twenty-First Century??

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Doylestown and Henry Chapman Mercer.

Every time I visit Eastern PA, I get tempted to go up to NYC for a day. There's some kind of magnetic pull that draws me to that city like nowhere else. When people periodically ask me where I daydream about living, it's always the first place that occurs to me. But I've never had a particularly good reason to move there, and in the absence of a compelling objective, it's a dangerous and costly place to call home. There are too many temptations and it would require too much compromise. Yet it remains my premier destination to visit. However with a six-month old baby in hand, it just didn't seem logistically possible this time around. Having already hit Philly, we tried to brainstorm another day-trip.

We decided to go to Doylestown. This borough is the county seat of Bucks County, and is situated about 34 miles north of Philadelphia. Why would anyone want to go to this sleepy little village? Well, you could ask a sophisticated urbanite of the early Twentieth Century that very question, and you'd learn about the "Tools of the Nation-Maker" museum, which was run by the Bucks County Historical Society. The building that houses its collections was constructed from poured concrete by donor Henry Chapman Mercer. This eccentric archaeologist would eventually bequeath a castle (where he lived out his life) and the Moravian Tile Works ( an operation started when he left academia) to the town.

Mercer was a world traveler who loved collecting artifacts and believed that American society was imperiled by the Industrial Age. He became intensely involved with the American Arts and Crafts Movement and created the cultural institutions that would bear his name. Fonthill (Mercer's home) was originally considered a folly, as it was built by its owner with a haphazard design and off-kilter sensibilities. Many of his neighbors considered him a loon, and he did nothing to discourage those perceptions. He used to have roaring bonfires on the roof of his castle to underscore the fireproofing advantages of using concrete as a building material. He decorated its 41 rooms with objects from around the world, the vast majority of which still reside within Fonthill's walls.

We got to see a good portion of Mercer's domicile on our hour-long tour. Our guide (despite being new) was a great source of information, and didn't shy away from the more salacious details of Henry Mercer's life. Her favorite feature of Fonthill is a series of tiles, located in the "woman's bedroom", that depicted the adventures of Bluebeard and his last wife. It was an interesting decorative touch for a guy that was never married. Mercer did however have associations with the fairer sex. Apparently he contracted gonorrhea as a young man... an affliction for which there was no cure during his lifetime. Fonthill is a living monument to the energies and passions that Mercer sublimated into his many odd pursuits.

The Mercer Museum is certainly worth a visit as well. At one time this odd amalgamation of the tools and objects used in nearly every profession imaginable was thought to be one of the best museums in the entire country. In fact Henry Ford cited it as a major inspiration for his own material legacy in Dearborn, MI. It's an odd jumble of stuff that you could stroll through in an uninspired half hour. Conversely you could spend half a day marveling at its copious treasures. It all depends on how much you are fascinated by objects of daily work-life from a bygone era. The major advantage that it has over the "house tour" mentioned above is that you are allowed to photograph the Mercer's holdings. Obviously that appealed to me.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The City Of Brotherly Love.

Walking around Philadelphia yesterday it struck me just how much an environment can leave its imprint on people. The inspiration for this thought was the amount of ugly people on the streets of the "City of Brotherly Love". I do realize that this sounds awful. It's not a politically correct observation to make. Perhaps I feel entitled to make this judgment since I am no superstar in the looks department myself, and because I grew up damn near Philly. But the fact remains... there are legions of unattractive folks running around that city. And I'd say it makes a lot of sense that it should be that way, since its inhabitants are surrounded by such an unlovely setting. Have you ever been there? If not, maybe you should reserve judgment.

When I first announced my decision to move to the 'Burgh,the most common reaction I got was bewilderment. The populace of Eastern Pennsylvania has a collection of very skewed notions about Western Pennsylvania. I guess in their minds they imagine a cross between a post-industrial apocalyptic wasteland and a scene out of Deliverance. In their collective mind's eye, they saw Pittsburgh's citizens as toothless rednecks with the grime of the steel mills forever caking their skins. They pictured rivers on fire, and lines outside of soup kitchens. And naturally everyone was running around with goofy foam Steeler hats (well, of course that one just happens to be an accurate depiction).

Meanwhile I found Pittsburgh to be much more beautiful than anywhere in the Northeast. The rivers are clean, there is an abundance of interesting architecture, and the mountains and bridges form postcard-quality views in almost every neighborhood. The garbage men don't go on strike, and there's not much litter. Indeed there are some individuals who look like they stepped out of the 70's, but they move slow enough to be mistaken for your garden variety zombies- simply step around them and on to your destination. The reality is that Pittsburgh is yours for the taking. It's not jam-packed with human vermin trying to claw their way to the top of the social heap by way of your bent back.

In considering the general unsightliness of much of Philadelphia, one has to acknowledge the demeanor of Philadelphians. The place is corrupt, congested, and unclean. Living in such an atmosphere has to take a toll on people. That's likely why many of these urban dwellers get that pinched and sour look so permanently affixed to their skulls. They are always on the very brink of falling into the vast mire of their city. One stutter-step could make them lose their footing, and they'd be in the prone position in a dirty gutter, sleeping in their own piss. In order to avoid such a fate, they are at any time only a second away from planting their knives into the backs of their fellows.

All this should be kept in mind when visiting Philly. It's not an especially welcoming town. They don't want tourists because they don't need another body to push aside. Don't make eye contact. Don't try to make idle conversation. Don't ask for directions from anyone not acting in an official capacity. Don't make the mistake of asking a cop for help. Exhaustive planning before your visit will benefit you greatly. Get in, do your business, and get out. There are good reasons to go (cheese steaks, the Flyers, a robust and quality art scene, etc.), but Filthadelphia constitutes about 75% of the total area. And remember... the natives don't stay in place, but freely roam. Just because you are in the "good" 25% doesn't mean you are safe.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Philadelphia Freeedom, Fraternity and Freaks.

We have found our way, baby in tow, into the breach. We're not trying anything exotic, but rather visiting relatives. Yet we are indeed hours from home. The anxiety that we had about a long road trip with a six-month-old kid turned out to be only partially justified. It's absolutely true that babies will cry. There's no getting around it. At the same time it is also the case that riding in a moving vehicle can calm an infant, as the sensation resonates with memories of prenatal life. Perhaps that explains the fact that I often slip into a deep drowsiness when I drive. Anyway, when all was said and done we only had to put up with about half an hour of sustained crying. We did (of course) spend much more time at rest stops.

Arriving safely and sanely at our destination was a small victory. The next objective was planning for a day or two of activities that might suggest vacation-like conditions. That's not particularly easy to do in the Lehigh Valley. However, this area benefits from its proximity to more interesting locales. I quickly identified Philadelphia as a worthy destination. This morning we packed Baby E., his stuffed entourage, and his accessories into the car, and made the hour and fifteen minute drive south. Our guide was adept and we arrived at our first stop with little difficulty. I had decided that I'd like to visit the Grand Lodge of the PA Freemasons, of which Benjamin Franklin was a charter member.

Not surprisingly this frat house is located only steps away from City Hall. It would present an impressive facade if it wasn't currently obstructed by sidewalk-to-sky scaffolding. The innards are a wonder to behold. There are a series of increasingly larger and more ornate meeting rooms where the 42 chapters in the region gather to look important and tweak their plots to control the world. There are waterproof altars above troughs where the spilled blood of virgins can collect at the feet of the brethren. There is also a force of half-beast, half human slaves that await their masters every order. Just kidding... but there is a cloak room that served conveniently as a place for M. to breast feed Baby E. in peace and privacy.

Our second site of interest was Eastern Penitentiary, a large and relatively ancient prison that once held notorious criminals like Willie Sutton and Al Capone. I had wanted to visit in order to collect images of the deterioration of the buildings and grounds. Compared to the prison in Moundsville, WV and the reformatory in Mansfield, OH, this facility was like a museum. Portions of it have been restored, and other areas have been utilized for a Halloween haunted-walk-through and art installations. There's a helpful audio tour with Steve Buscemi, but I didn't listen to much of it. It only took me about an hour and ten minutes to stroll the sections that are open to the public- and I would have been done a lot quicker had I not been taking photos.

To cap off the day, I finally made my pilgrimage to the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. For those of you who are unaware of this odd little museum- it's chock full of human abnormalities and wax models of victims with horrendous diseases. The collection was first put on display after Thomas Dent Mütter, retired Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College, donated it to the CPP. Its highlights include a plaster cast of Chang and Eng Bunker (history's most famous Siamese Twins), a huge presentation of human skulls, the tallest skeleton on exhibit in America, a handful of authentic shrunken heads, and a freakishly huge distended and constipated colon. Good stuff... eat right before you go for maximized enjoyment. But don't bring your camera because you aren't allowed to use it.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sean Penn, "Into the Wild" (2007)

A few years ago I stumbled upon a copy of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (1996). It takes for its protagonist a young man named Chris McCandless, the son of a prosperous family who decides to take it on the road after his graduation from Emery College in Georgia. For one reason or another he has become disenchanted by his post-grad prospects, and turns down the opportunity to study law at a prestigious Ivy League College to live his life as a vagabond. He takes his impressive savings account and donates it to OXFAM, drives out to the desert, and abandons his car after being inundated by a flash flood. Then he burns the remainder of his money and sets off in search of "high adventure".

It's clear from Krakauer's account that McCandless was idealistic and often quite foolish. He embarked on a number of challenges in the wilderness without adequate preparation or knowledge, and met his ultimate fate in the Denali National Park. He failed to bring along with him the most basic essentials. He hitchhiked his way to the very edge of the wilderness with a ten pound bag of rice, a 22 rifle, and some rudimentary camping supplies. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have a map of the area he planned to camp in, nor did he have a compass. It was only by stroke of luck that he managed to find shelter in an abandoned transit bus that had served as a base camp for moose hunters.

McCandless' death was officially recorded as a result of starvation, but Krakauer wasn't quite convinced. The author speculated that the young man had poisoned himself by foraging a toxic plant that looked quite like an edible one. This was the main thing I remembered years after reading the book. It seemed like a tragic and unnecessary end. McCandless had planned to recross a river to hike out after a hundred days, but found his way obstructed by ice melt that had swollen the river. Little did he know that there was a makeshift tram a mere quarter mile away meant to assist the crossing. There were also a number of hunting cabins, some of which had been ransacked (possibly by McCandless).

Sean Penn's film adaptation of the story has much more to do with the romance and free-wheeling spirit of youth than the reality of events leading up to McCandless' demise. It's filled with wistful camera work focused on the natural beauty of the settings, and scored by an appropriately complimentary acoustic soundtrack performed by Eddie Vedder. Scenes from McCandless' last few weeks in Alaska are interwoven with vignettes from the remainder of his travels. Our hero (played competently by Emile Hirsch) hangs out with a hippie couple on the beach, nearly seduces a 16-year old girl, works in a grain silo, and befriends an old man (Hal Holbrook). These portions of the film are meant to convey McCandless' ambivalent feelings toward human relationships.

Your reaction to this tale (both book and film) is likely to be determined both by the roles you occupy, and the attitudes you carry toward life. If you are nostalgic regarding youth, you'll be touched by McCandless' innocence, and inspired by his rejection of the materialism and compromises so endemic in our society. If you are of a more cynical bent, you'll probably invoke the Darwin Awards and decide that McCandless got what he deserved. While Penn clearly leans toward the former interpretation, his approach doesn't completely preclude the latter opinion. Finally- if you are a parent... you'll definitely feel for the boy's family. No matter how inclined Penn might have been to lionize McCandless, he makes sure to underscore the grief that his father, mother and sister felt about his disappearance. That's an important core for this story.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Neither Cold Nor Hot Am I.

I can't say that I am a particularly-informed student of the Bible. Like many other dispassionate readers, I've always had trouble following through in my intentions to read the thing cover-to-cover. I guess it's a bit of a cliché to have been stymied by the "Jehosaphat begat Jeremiah and Jeremiah begat Titus and Titus begat Lulu and Lulu begat Lil' Kim... and on and on, ad infinitum"-chapter that seems to have been created merely to test the faith of anyone seeking to encounter the Holy Word firsthand. But in my case, it is honest-to-God true. I realize that section's role in helping the faithful determine the actual age of the Earth, but I do think it lacks spice. How is it that the original author (ostensibly the Great Father) never familiarized himself with the concept of footnotes?

You see, if you end up getting stuck in that genealogical no man's land, it's easy to believe that the Great Book is as lively as a driver's training manual. However, that's not the case at all. In my limited experience I have found there to be a bounty of provocative and perplexing nuggets hidden within the Holy Scriptures. I have to admit that I became aware of the bulk of them by passing the countless pre-fab evangelical houses of worship that dot the landscape and advertise daunting Biblical quotes on letter boards. Like anyone else, I have collected my personal favorites. They are particularly interesting in their state of being presented completely without context, like Zen koans.

One little passage that has endeared itself to me is Revelations 3:15-16. It reads, "3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. " Don't get distracted by the outdated spellings and syntax. Indeed these words hold an inordinate amount of relevance in our modern age. Aside from the understandable reservations one might have about being placed in Jehovah's mouth, the expressed sentiment should give one pause. What exactly is being suggested? Again, I am by no means a Biblical scholar, but it is reasonable to draw certain elementary conclusions.

A brief internet search led me to this site that attempts to explain Revelations 3:15-16. It basically says that God prefers to eat his followers and deniers at extreme temperatures. Obviously He prefers that adherents be hot with passion for him. Those with fervid zeal are the most beloved. True disciples must burn with devotion. On the other hand, those who are cold freely acknowledge their lack of faith. Everyone knows where they stand- for they represent the "them"... the non-believers and secularists. They are especially convenient for the missionaries, as they make it clear where their efforts are most needed, and where the fires need to be lit. They will either be baked to the Lord's taste, or await the eternal scaldings of Hell.

And that leaves us with the "lukewarm". In God's eyes these are the double-dealers, capable of tepid support or overt treason. They have dared to form a nuanced version of belief that threatens to call into question the blind loyalty of the converted. In this view, it is better to embrace overt denial and declare yourself an enemy than to question divine authority. The "lukewarm" are the bane of fundamentalist existence. As I mentioned previously, this is an especially timely concept. Try to engage a "true believer", whether in the realm of politics, economics, or religion, and you'll see the obvious parallels. This is a black-and-white society that abhors shades of gray. God help those who refuse to take sides.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Underground Comedy Night @ The Brillobox

On Tuesday night I did something that I rarely ever do- I went to see live stand-up comedy. The last time that I saw such a thing (in a formal context, of course) was several years ago when I went to see Neil Hamburger play the Rex Theater. Don't quote me, but I think I may have gotten in for free due to knowing the doorman and organizer of the event. I had mild fun, and seeing a national comic was an experience for me. If you're not familiar with the stylings of Hamburger, he affects a naïve and painfully shy demeanor while delivering a string of cringe-inducing jokes in a monotone voice. It's supposed to be uncomfortable to watch him work his way through his routine. Regardless I wasn't sad that I went.

What made me consider going to the Brillobox for Underground Comedy Night was the inclusion of a guy that I recently met through a friend. It's not something that I would typically patronize because I tend not to share prevailing attitudes regarding humor. In short, if I was trying to be funny on-stage, I would definitely not want to face myself in the audience. I'd be working extra hard trying to provoke a smile on my face, as I stared at myself with a mild look of disgust. Suffice it to say that I'm a tough crowd. But I got a good feeling from meeting this friend-of-a-friend (whose name, by the way, is Tom Henry), and resolved to break my pattern and spend my weeknight in an unconventional way. I even prepared to pay a cover.

I was frankly delighted to arrive on the second floor of the bar and notice that no one was collecting for the show. I had nothing to lose but time, which is at less of a premium now than it would be during my work year. I greeted Tom and could tell that he appreciated my presence. We grabbed a booth up front and settled in for the performances. Apparently the event is held semi-regularly on Tuesdays throughout the year at this venue, and is always hosted by local comic Gab Bonesso. As an MC she is garrulous but animated, and tries to set a tone of respectful attention for the performers. Actually she does so by haranguing anyone she notices talking during the individual sets. But that's understandable given the nature of the presentation.

There were an unusual number of comics signed up to take the stage this week, and so everyone got about ten to twelve minutes to strut their stuff. Much of it was about what I expected from a locally-produced free happening. I was mildly amused as folks ran through the typical material about blacks, gays, Asians and perverse sexuality. Naturally there were a few that stood out, and strangely enough a couple of them happened to be the fat white males. It seems that being socially marginalized adds an element of hilarity to our contemporary experience. Perhaps that's why the nerds, minorities and homosexuals get the best receptions. I realize that's a stereotype, but such assumptions seem to be particularly embraced within that circle.

I felt fortunate to be able to say that I truly enjoyed Tom Henry's jokes. He was the only comic that assumed an entirely manufactured persona. Oddly enough, he just happens to be heavily influenced by Neil Hamburger (and Steven Wright, for that matter). But Henry also manages to include absurdist elements that seem wildly creative as he delivers them. He even made me laugh out loud at one point, which I consider quite the achievement. I noticed that I wasn't alone as he drew some of the best audience reaction, along with a young dude named Tim Dimond. After all was over, I was glad I went. The only downside was having to sit through the "best political humor" in Pittsburgh, as delivered by local gadabout and radio host John McIntire*. The scene still has plenty of room to grow.

* Perhaps I am not being altogether fair in my assessment of McIntire's set. Maybe he just couldn't get it up on this particular night. Or otherwise, maybe he just had his "dumbing-down" meter set too high for this particular venue. If I had to confront the unsophisticated listeners of the local talk radio set, my approach might suffer as well.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Highlights From a Whirlwind Tour of Pittsburgh Art.

Despite an attack of some virulent infection and/or virus I was able to make it around town on Friday night to check out the art offerings. I really didn't think I'd get out because I actually ran a fever on Thursday night. For some reason I always seem to get sick a few days after visiting the dentist. Supposedly my mouth and teeth are in great shape- and if that's the case I don't understand why my gums and glands swell up after a cleaning. All I can come up with is the possibility of the hygienist puncturing the gum lines, and getting bacteria into my bloodstream. At any rate, it's nasty being sick during summer. And it doesn't seem fair. But despite the exigencies of fate, the show must go on, and I with it.

So I started with the Downtown Crawl. Despite my expectations that I might be pleasantly surprised during my first stop at Wood Street, it wasn't to be. The work was as cold and antiseptic as usual. I don't mean to be overly critical, but I'd think that a gallery with Wood Street's international draw could come up with a more varied and compelling series of presentations. I'm getting bored with their technology fetish. Still... what do I know? I don't have an MFA. Maybe I'm just missing the point. On the other hand I was impressed with the show at SPACE. I was familiar with the name Clayton Merrell, but I had never seen his work. While I wouldn't necessarily purchase it for my walls, I enjoyed it. And the rest of the roster was proficient as well. Well done, Mr. Robert Raczka!

I can't necessarily isolate any other highlights downtown, other than the Kathleen Lolley painting that arrived for Sylvania after the "soft opening". Though small in scale, it was enticing in its woodsy charm and exactly the kind of thing I'd love to add to my collection. Having gotten my fill of the crawl, I headed to the North Side for the "Gestures" robot-themed show. I didn't stick around long enough to see the results of Kim Beck's uncompleted interactive-grid piece. I guess I'll have to return. I did however get a nice long look at Chris Lisowsky's roto-tilling locust. Did you know that a locust is simply a more social grasshopper with a black suit? (I'm almost positive that you didn't know that rice was magnetic) By all accounts, the nearly 6-foot tall insect was a wild hit.

Another hot spot at the Mattress Factory Annex was the laptop survey that patrons could take in order to receive a robot-designed, customized cupcake. Somehow these formerly mundane treats have captured the imagination of hipster society. There was a line for them that extended past the entrance. After pondering the rather byzantine electronic workings of Adam Shreckhise's distinctly non-humanoid creation, I made a hasty exit and quick visit to Moxie Dada, where the proprietors were putting the finishing touches on tomorrow's group show. Particular standouts include Amy Casey and Deanna Mance.

I had seen Casey's work at Garfield Artworks several years ago. Her paintings tumble with residences, buildings and other urban detritus that we usually take for granted in our daily travels. Her execution is clean and illustrative, and her composition is almost breath-taking. It's a shame that she is completely out of my price range, because I would love to own some of her work. I wonder of she ever does trades? Deanna Mance is a veteran of the Digging Pitt. Her flattened cityscapes throb with byzantine architecture and odd perspectives. They are maps of places one might stumble upon in an illuminated manuscript of some oddly imagined future, when things might be less precise, yet more fanciful. The work of these two artists alone would justify a trip to the North Side.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

John Huston, "Fat City" (1972).

Sometimes you watch a movie, and by the end of it you get the feeling that it was rather slight or insubstantial. But then you sit on it awhile after putting it aside somewhere deep in your subconscious, and it starts to resonate. This is particularly likely in the case of films that find their raison d'etre in conveying the mood of a particular environment. Perhaps the plot is circumstantial, and there are no memorable plot twists to occupy the front part of your brain. The actors seem to sleepwalk through the settings and there is no cue to indicate a sudden and startling revelation. Naturally such a film is an anomaly in our modern era of simplistic Hollywood blockbusters. The audience that once existed for such work has all but disappeared.

Such is the case with John Huston's Fat City, which is an obscure flick out of what was once the era of the "New Hollywood". It's interesting to note that this film was in accord with a lot of 70's-era American cinema that was being touted as revolutionary. Perhaps it has been overlooked because it represents an atypical creation from what had been a prototypical old-school studio director. This was not the work of one of the highly-touted Young Lions of the time, like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Peter Bogdanovich or Billy Friedkin. This was output from an old master that everyone likely expected to fade into irrelevance. However, such assumptions turned out to be unfair.

The narrative of Fat City (loose as it is) concerns the budding relationship between Tully (Stacy Keach) and Ernie (Jeff Bridges). The former is a washed-up boxer that has fallen on hard times. Tully drifts from cold-water walk-up to seedy dive, dreaming of what he has lost and stumbling about trying to reconstitute himself. While making a half-hearted attempt to get back into fighting shape, he meets the youngster Ernie, and ends up playfully sparring with him. He sees a bit of his former promise in the young man and decides to take him up under his damaged wings. What this entails is passing the boy off to his former trainer Ruben (played sympathetically by Cheer's cast member Nicholas Colasanto).

The film proceeds at a desultory pace, as we see Tully fall into further dissolution and Ernie engage the tough world of low level pro boxing. The two threads remain largely disconnected, and Huston introduces a "love" interest for Tully, in the form of the alcoholic barfly Oma (played convincingly by Susan Tyrell). By this point the viewer figures out that every single endeavor pursued by these characters is destined to fail. While this is a depressing realization, it doesn't take away from the sneaky power of Huston's direction. At the time that Fat City was made, it was rare to have experienced such bleak blue collar realism in American film. Flicks like Barbet Schroeder's Barfly and Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66 were still decades away.

It's easy to see why a modern filmmaker, discouraged by the sensationalism and big-budget gratuity so pervasive on today's movie screens, would feel drawn to the cinéma vérité of Fat City. It's the perfect antidote to Hollywood's candy-coated sensibilities. Huston apparently felt no need to idealize the settings and characters he wished to portray, and the results of this approach are all the more interesting for that fact. There are several moments in this tale that are mystifyingly opaque (an extended freeze frame at the end is the most glaring example), but rather than seeming like evasions or flaws, these choices provoke curiosity and wonder. That's an altogether rare phenomenon in today's media environment.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pittsburgh Art Events 7/11-12.

Rick Byerly ain't just shuckin' and jivin' (over on his Pittsburgh Gallery Blog) when he says that this weekend is a "hot spot" for art in the 'burgh. There's no possible way that you can see everything there is to see over the next couple of days. You're going to have to pick-and-choose just like the rest of us. Frankly I'm not even going to mention everything that's happening, but rather the things that I'm considering attending. So without further ado, here's the breakdown...

The biggest concentration of receptions tomorrow evening are part of the Downtown Gallery Crawl (5:30-9:00PM). I have to admit being underwhelmed by the last couple of these, but I have reason to believe that this one will be an improvement. It's not just personal bias that drives me to recommend a stop down at 709 Penn Avenue for the Sylvania show. You'll get to see a preview of some of the artists who will be appearing in the next Unicorn Mountain publication (tentatively entitled Black Forest). I'm going to be in it, I have a photo in the exhibition, and there is a good amount of strong work to peruse. Plus all the hipsters will be there. Yum! If you do show up, ask me where the "after-party" is that Curt's been talking about for a month (if he's not just blowing smoke, of course).

Of course you're going to want to plan to hit SPACE Gallery for curator Robert Raczka's You Are Here. It's a group show including 11 artists riffing on the concept of place. Meanwhile Wood Street Galleries, Inc. is always worth a quick run-through. OK... I meant to say "seldom", but what the hell? The image posted for this exhibition is actually intriguing. And Jairan Sadeghi has a SOLO at 707 Penn. I dig her illustrative musings enough to own a piece. If you are into high-falutin' chamber music, you can see Chatham Baroque at Future Tenant.

If you don't want to mess with the "Golden Triangle", you should definitely head over to Millvale for 91-year old artist Sid Kweller's opening at Panza Gallery (6-9PM). Apparently it's the Merry Green Dog creator's birthday, so stop by and say "Hi". While you're at it, you should have a refreshing draft beer with the estimable Mark Panza, owner and operator of the gallery. For the first time in awhile he's scheduled a reception that's not on his band practice night. He won't be distracted.

Then there's your opportunity to see Eric White's display of 'monoprints' over at Modern Formations in Garfield (7-10PM). With all the other stuff going on, you'd think the artist could come up with a more compelling tagline for his show than "An Exploration of Technique". That work is usually done in the studio well before showing its results in public. But I have confidence in proprietor Jen Q.'s tastes, so it's likely to be worth a visit. While you are at it, why don't you check out her fancy new website.

Finally we have the 11th installment of the Gestures series over at the Mattress Factory. It's called Meet the Made and the opening reception is 6-8PM tomorrow night. Not only will the participating artists be displaying their creations, but they will be working on them too- in real time. Appearing will be my buddy Christopher Lisowski, along with Kim Beck, Adam Schreckhise and 13 others. This is tied in with the whole Robot250 initiative. Meet your future masters!

Take a pause for the cause overnight, because Saturday has its own enticements. I've already mentioned Urbanic: Sightlines and Microcosms over at Moxie Dada. I mentioned a "soft opening" last week that never happened (thanks, Kyle!). Anyway the official reception is definitely two evenings hence, from 7-10PM. I'm tempted to boycott it, but I expect it to be too good to miss.

And I'll be doing my damnedest to get over to the Zombo Gallery's first anniversary celebration (Stubble and Smoke) featuring the illustrations of noted cartoonist Wayno. My presence is still up-in-the-air though, as this happens to occur simultaneous to my gay friend's annual outdoor summer tiki party- and after all... how could I possibly miss that?! And while we are on the subject of private affairs... Saturday night also offers Jason D.'s bash complete with Spelling Bee- but if you don't know what I'm talking about, I guess you aren't invited.

If none of this appeals to you, you can try Doodah Days in the Allegheny Cemetery. Or brave the weekend carnage of SouthSide Exposed (Rick will be there). Or go crosstown to the monthly Bellevue Art Crawl. Have fun.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Satoshi Kon, "Paprika" (2006).

Despite my fascination with most pop culture phenomena, I have a record of snubbing anime. There is something about its predominant illustrative style that strikes me as perverse. It has something to do with the wide-eyed characters that marry a subtly Asian look with the stereotypical portrayal of a Western fashion model, and cross it with a pre-pubescent. These creations come off as simultaneously alien and ageless. I have a difficult time investing any amount of compassion or empathy in these creatures. Similarly I find the themes of most of the work inapproachable and vaguely unsettling. For the most part the stories are presented with a heavy dose of science fiction. That's a genre I know little about and have relatively little interest in.

So when I come across a promotion for an anime film (a term which is in fact technically redundant), I tend to discount it. I'm just not that excited to explore the art form. I expect to see heroes that are sexualized little girls being forced to fellate octopi. No thanks, I'll pass. I'm already inundated with ample perversion by my own culture. The last thing I need to see is the embodied id of a generally repressed people that have succumbed to the thrall of their own dark fantasies. I always picture a bunch of middle-aged Japanese men clad in T-shirts featuring videogame icons from the 80's, sitting around the table and dreaming up plot points during their breaks from whatever arcane role playing game has captivated their attentions.

And yet... I realize that I am giving in to my most stereotypical perceptions and biases. Perhaps I'm making the mistake of confusing all anime for hentai. After all, it's more of a "medium" than a genre. There's nothing inherently limiting in Japanese cartooning. It can be about anything. This realization gives me enough pause that I occasionally give in, and seek to learn what all the fuss is about. I've purchased Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, and been captivated by it. Its like a wholly original Alice in Wonderland, without the not-so-subtle undercurrents of pedophilia. Additionally I bought Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies on a whim, and am just waiting for the appropriate mood to watch what I have heard is an extremely depressing work of art.

My point is that once in awhile an anime breaks through to a wider consciousness and is recommended as being atypical (i.e. something that the novitiate can appreciate). Such is the case with Satoshi Kon's Paprika. Somehow the film struck a chord with Western art-house adherents. I bought it pre-viewed at Blockbuster, and popped it in last night. It's certainly a wild ride. Kon adapted it from a novel by "avant-garde" sci-fi author Yasutaka Tsutsui, who actually approached the director at a convention and requested his famous novel be adapted for the screen. Predictably, Paprika has many of the off-putting convolutions one might expect from such futuristic material. Yet there is more to it than that.

Tsutsui's work was fraught with intense dream imagery. It can be appreciated best by letting the plot assume the background. As Kon points out on the interviews included as extras on the DVD, he started with the visuals and attempted to work an entertaining plot around them. He succeeds completely in his endeavor. Apart from the meandering and vaguely comprehensible plot lines, Paprika is absolutely overwhelming. It has a look that avoids the aforementioned clichés that put me off the bulk of anime. The surreal fantasy elements are unencumbered by weird sexual overtones and mind-numbing action sequences. It doesn't rely on making sense to be entertaining. That's why it succeeds at the level of quality art. In this respect it is indescribable, so I'll merely recommend you give it a chance despite whatever assumptions you might have.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Peter Biskind, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" (1998).

As someone who loves film, it would be hard to deny the power and influence of the American directors who came into their own during the 1970's. Young men like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, George Lucas, Brian DePalma, Robert Altman, and Steven Spielberg are among the filmmakers that developed their identities and reputations within that decade. But there were a whole host of other young lions that made their mark, only to burn out as the 1980's loomed. Bob Rafelson (5 Easy Pieces-1970), William Friedkin (The Exorcist-1973, The French Connection, 1971), Paul Schrader (Hardcore-1979), Hal Ashby (The Last Detail- 1973, Harold and Maude- 1971), and Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show-1971) were among a large group that made their bid for cinematic eternity.

Why was it that so many folks with so much promise burnt out while The New Hollywood was still in its incipient stage? Why did the movement flare so brightly, only to be overtaken by the "high concept" blockbusters that raged in the 80's? What legacy did these figures leave on the industry? To find out some answers, Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is a good place to start. Not only does it document the adventures of the aforementioned directors, but it gives ample attention to the producers, studio executives, editors, screenwriters and actors who contributed to the creation of an incredible body of work. Some of these people you'll recognize (Barry Diller, Robert Towne, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, etc.) and some you will not.

The fact is that there was virtually no end to the crazy bunch of characters helping to push the celluloid to its limits in the 70's. And not only did they work together, but they fought, played and fucked one another as well. Before reading Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, I had no idea just how incestuous the scene was. Still I probably should have gleaned some hint from the book's subtitle- "How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood". Truth be told this is an incredibly salacious account. Biskind doesn't spare his reader the blow jobs, the back-stabbings, nor a single gram of coke. Of course these details help its 439 pages proceed at a very brisk pace. There's nothing like blood and other bodily secretions to keep the reader piqued.

Frankly there were times when I felt downright dirty reading this. The sordid tales of infidelity among these Hollywood couples were particularly unsettling. The women in the circle were often treated no better than cold cuts shared at a Super Bowl party. They were consumed, marginalized, passed around, passed over, and taken for granted. Nobody is spared. The antics of guys like Warren Beatty, Dennis Hopper and producer Robert Evans are widely documented by other sources. The deeds of those silver screen wild-men are indeed notorious. But who would have known the extent of exploitation, emotional abuse and betrayal guys like Coppola, Shrader, Friedkin, Bogdanovich and Scorcese heaped on their spouses, lovers and friends?

Don't get me wrong. There is a lot more in Biskind's book than scandal and whore-mongering (although there is a hell of a lot along those lines). I felt like I got a much better understanding of the insider perspective of movie-making during one of the most exciting times in the medium's history. I don't know how Biskind managed to collect all of this information (much of it obviously quite damning), but I'm glad he did and happy that I found it. I'd say that it's indispensable for the modern-day film connoisseur. It's important to know why everything worked out the way it did, and why it couldn't possibly last. It also serves as a potent warning to any artist who dreams of quick success and unbridled liberation. Such conditions cannot possibly last long, given human nature.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Peter Fonda, "The Hired Hand" (1971).

A few days ago I started reading Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1998), a book delivering all the salacious details of the American film industry in the 70's. With my enduring interest in film, you'd think that I might have already gotten around to this title. Finding it for a quarter last Sunday certainly helped pique my interest. Anyway, it's a great summertime read. It's light enough to be tremendously entertaining, but at the same time there is enough meat between the slices to keep me from feeling ashamed of the empty calories. I'll probably get around to posting a review whenever I finish.

If nothing else, Biskind's book has rekindled my desire to revisit my shelves, searching out the gems that cannot wait. I thought I had a lot of 70's classics, and perhaps I do- but there aren't many that I haven't watched yet. However, one flick that I've kept in the plastic for a couple of years already is Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand (1971). There is plenty of gossip about Fonda in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, so it seemed particularly appropriate that I finally break the seal and watch it. Obviously Fonda is primarily known for his acting career, so I had no idea what to expect from his directorial foray into the Western genre. I suppose I imagined something completely over the top... like a postmodern, psychedelic trip through the desert.

To my surprise The Hired Hand is remarkably restrained. Regardless of how it must have seemed during its theatrical release, Fonda's movie demonstrates some reverence for the traditions of the American Western. It has a very simple plot. Fonda plays alongside frequent collaborator Warren Oates, riding across the beautifully-depicted landscape (photographed in stunning fashion by legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond) and getting into sketchily-drawn shenanigans that are largely beside the point. Fonda's character Harry is getting a bit road weary, and feeling an urge to reunite with the wife and daughter he abandoned seven years previously. Oates (Arch) plans to continue on his ride to the coast to get his very first glimpse at the ocean. But circumstances conspire to send both Harry and Arch back to the old homestead together.

Hannah Collings (Harry's wife, played by Verna Bloom) is predictably unsettled to see her phantom husband return after all of the intervening years. Her daughter is now sufficiently grown-up to be disturbed by the revelation that her Daddy is not dead, as she has been told since she was old enough to understand what that meant. Hannah has become hardened out of necessity, and the local townies pass up no chance to let Harry and Arch in on what she has had to do to survive. It's a bitter pill that Harry must swallow, but he'd be a pretty small man not to own his responsibility for those circumstances. He's decided he's sticking around. Meanwhile Arch is feeling the vibes from Hannah, and realizes that he must be on his way.

The film is ultimately about the conflict between a man's duty to his family and his competing desire to run with his friends. It pits filial against familial loyalty. Fonda has managed to convey this complex dynamic in a way that is at once minimalistic and (even) tender. In this respect he has strayed far beyond the traditional borders of what was typically a hyper-masculine milieu. While there is a hint of awareness of the secondary status of women in many Westerns, it is often reduced to a joke or a cliché. Given the prevailing attitudes of the 70's (and the presumptive influence of his pro-feminist sibling), I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that Fonda worked against the stereotypes. In the process he created a poetic document that transcended the genre, without the self-consciousness that might have distracted from its power.

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