Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The 'F' Bomb

Mark Wallace and I are Thinking Again about "flark," pre- & post-, & those annoying hard-to-reach spaces in between ...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dept. of Monday

"I don't recognize myself in your management techniques."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Diary of a Nobody

Don't believe the rumors; this blog has not, repeat not, converted to a Kevin Killian fansite (yet). But this report on Art Basel 38, "the Olympic Games of the art world," can't be missed. It's like his legendary Orono reports but with Europeans and money.

(Portland's lucky to have Kevin and Dodie reading here on Thursday, Aug. 9.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The story of The Hugs is kind of hateful. Pasty teen garage rockers post songs to MySpace, randomly catch ear of English A&R wizard behind The Libertines and Strokes. Contrails from London to Portland and back, ink fresh on a deal with 1965, the boys too young to drink in the clubs they'll play.

Amazing that despite all that, the amazing “North” is the only single on the new PDX Pop Now! compilation transcending the decent. Carnac sez: "Probably Not Long for Portland."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Music, Man

I miss Chris Stroffolino. I miss the turretgun piano, the Costello-y smoker's rasp, the unstanchable mania for all things musical-trivial, and of course, the poetry, which I see less often than I used to.

Especially great then to see "Chris Stroffolino" perform at The Waypost in Portland last Tuesday. After a power romp through the Continuous Peasant catalog, he went out to smoke, find youth to jam with over the rest of his stay, and identify an audience worthy to receive arcana like whatever happened to the piano player for The Left Banke? (Turns out he had a minor hit in the '70s with a Hot Chocolate number.)

When the music talk reached Brennpunkt, Chris spied the piano, free at last, and banged out a half-hour sing-along to the remnants of the semi-circle like it was the Royal Albert Hall, if royal halls had sing-alongs. I miss Chris Stroffolino.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

8 Fun Facts

For Joseph “Tune Out” Mosconi:

1) For five minutes in my early teens, I wanted to go to Annapolis. (Cured by a tour of the Air Force Academy.)

2) Lived in Barrington Hall, Berkeley’s Wikipedia-worthy co-op, for last two years of its existence. (Was there when news crews descended after notorious ‘acid punch party’ of ’87, which passed for a national story in the dog days of Reagan.) *ONNGH YANNGH*

3) The home language of my grandparents, third-generation Americans, was Plattdeutsch.

4) Roomed in Cambridge, England with co-creator of Malament-Hogarth spacetime. Saw Ben Friedlander read that same year in a gargantuan hall designed by William Morris.

5) My dad knew the son of a prison guard who watched Dick and Perry while Capote interviewed them for In Cold Blood. Dick—a “nice guy” who politely asked about local football scores and farmers’ favorite topic, the weather—stopped talking to Capote, which I think is in the movie, so it’s not such a family secret now why he comes off so much worse than Perry in the book. For many years, this story was my sole living connection to literature.

6) Missed having Chelsea Clinton in my Humanities section at Stanford by the draw of a chit. (She ended up with my friend the writer & political emigre from Ceausescu's Romania.)

7) Worked the catering van for Top Dog—I wrapped too slow for the store—and manned a small chain of gift shops at the Musee Mecanique, SF City Hall, and foggy wastes of the Beach Chalet (right under that verse from Ina Coolbrith I think painted over the north arch) that same dark dot-bomb year.

8) Lost my volunteer spot selling merch for Lesley’s band after a squabble over table space with gangly goth T-shirt guy for Papa Roach.

I tag: Eileen Tabios, Tim Peterson, Jess Rowan, Howard Junker, & Maryrose Larkin.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tales of the Benshi (3)

Neo-Benshi, SF, 7/7/07, FIN:

Konrad Steiner’s performance to a scene (the scene) from “Minority Report” was a phenomenal blend of deep cultural riffing on celebrity cipher Tom Cruise and philosophic reflection on the ontological status of the image. While Cruise pulled and ‘directed’ images across a futuristic screen, Steiner read text that fused puns about “Tommy” (deaf, dumb, and blind) with quotations from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, whose instructions for navigating the “between” state separating life from death chimed eerily with Cruise’s frantic search for himself—his self—in the news feed.

Steiner’s own status as the benshi, narrating and controlling events on the screen framing Tom’s screen, grew progressively more complex as the audience realized that some of the pictures Cruise was manipulating had been slipped into the movie from other sources: the local news, CNN Iraq footage, the notorious 'Tom Cruise episode' of South Park.

This is the third neo-benshi I’ve seen Steiner do; all of them are very funny and entirely serious meditations on the dynamics of manipulation and control involved in the filmmaker's art. I hope sometime he’ll present them together as a trilogy.

David Brazil used the languorous black-and-white tableaux of the Coen brothers’ neo-noir barber picture, “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” as a sort of narrative wallpaper for a dense collage of philosophical texts running from Derrida to Bertrand Russell, whose classic “Barber of Seville” paradox cropped up, happily enough, just as Billy Bob Thornton surveyed the hairscape of another middle American head.

Brazil delivered his lines in a speedy whisper that amped up the cereberal in a movie that's essentially about the cranium and what it sprouts: hair, ideas, and an inexhaustible desire to gaze at its own productions. The scene where Thornton casually shaves Frances McDormand's leg while she's reading in the bath, already sexy, never looked half so smart.

Wayne Smith turned the party scene from Julie Christie breakout picture “Darling” into a droll study of identity confusion. As she moves through the ever nuttier shenanigans of a chic Parisian soiree, the guests recognize her not as her character, but as “Julie Christie,” and address her with all manner of remarks on her once and future fame—Zhivago, her “face like a diamond,” etc. Christie’s in her full ingénue glory, and her uncertainty about how to behave at this bohemian gathering becomes a kind of metaphor for the dislocations of celebrity. (It’s also an excuse to gather up armfuls of fan facts about Christie.) The piece ends with a wild party game involving a march in a circle in African masks, with each guest taking on the role of another. When one male partygoer dons a wig and becomes “Julie Christie,” the crowd begins asking “her” questions about her career. Christie, dressed in a man’s dress shirt and tie, finally comes into her own as someone else, maybe as the benshi of her own life. I can’t really do justice here to Smith’s wit and timing, which made this piece the flat-out funniest of the night.

The evening opened with a creatively re-subtitled Bollywood collage from Brandon Downing's new DVD, Dark Brandon/The Filmi, which defies all description and you'll just have to get when it goes into wider release this Fall.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tales of the Benshi (2)

More from the neo-benshi show in San Francisco on 7/7/07:

Amanda Davidson transformed trash-Eighties period piece "Firestarer" into a parable of the American MFA industry, with Drew Barrymore as the would-be Acker-toting experimentalist crushed by "the program" intent on reducing her to a nice, quietudinous little girl. Her performance repurposed a middling kitchen sink coming-of-age suburban wreckage fantasy to satirize the infantilization and patriarchal privilege implicit in the mentor/student relationship the MFA generally peddles. When Drew let loose at the end with the "fire of inspiration" (industry standard value-add), you could feel the heat all the way back in the nosebleeds.

Jennifer Nellis also deflected a film to matters literary, using an obscure made-for-T.V. episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to ventriloquize an imaginary debate between Hans Arp, Tzara, and Dali over the likely market future of Surrealism. The drama featured a male patient in a hospital gown whom Nellis figured as a pregnant Tzara trying to "give birth" to a new artistic movement. Some of the dialogue was drawn from manifestos Surrealist and Dada, and radiated the thunderous pomposity that renders that particular era of the future so endearingly quaint. Nellis matched the language to the drama in a way that skewered male avant-garde pretentions while honoring (envying?) their earnestness about art. Her slyly ambivalent treatment of yesteryear's avants seemed symptomatic (it was a doctor flick, after all) of where we are now vis-à-vis the drive for an "art of tomorrow."

The high point of the piece was when a doctor with a powerful resemblance to Salvador Dali appeared on screen as, you guessed it, Salvador Dali. Poetry, least celebrity-prone of the arts, seems to find a deft way to work out its perpetual inferiority complex with neo-benshi, which gives it a chance to imagine an alternate reality where artists are important enough to star in movies.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tales of the Benshi (1)

For poets used to reading to twenty other poets on a good night, facing the audience at a neo-benshi event can be a heady thing. Brandon Downing's film + poetry night sucked nearly 100 into the heatbox of St. Mark's in late May; Konrad Steiner followed suit this month in San Francisco with a neo-benshi program that drew a line down the block. (The theater at ATA holds close to 80 when the fire marshal's dozing; another 40 had to be turned away.)

I'm not sure what it is exactly that accounts for the excitement around neo-benshi, which puts writers in front of films both pop and obscure, sound muted, to fill in the silence with their own dialogue. My hunch is it's the film part that warms the seats. For jaded poetry audiences, it's a chance to see writers whose work on the page they probably already know, or could easily find without going to a reading, stretching to fit their skills to a more accessible cultural form. For the filmies, it's a safe zone to see new poets, who are kept within the familiar conventions and time sense of the movies. (I haven't seen anyone perform to an experimental film yet—not sure how well it'd work without a celluloid bourgeois to sort of épater—and few performances go much past 10 minutes.)

Konrad's event did an especially good job of showcasing the vastly different approaches the form's managed to accommodate so far. The films themselves stretched across the century: one from 1920, two from our aughts, one each from the Fifties, the Sixties, the Eighties, and the Nineties. Each film—this may also be part of the form's appeal—had a strong narrative pull, or at least a pregnant dramatic situation (a man sick in bed, a woman sobbing on a park bench) that evoked the shape of a story for the performers to color in.

Stephanie Young took on probably the most 'de-storied' film of the night. Her clip opened with a hyper-dramatic incident from an Audrey Hepburn picture (what's the late one where she's in the Alps, eating lunch on a terrace, and the camera pans in one clean sweep from the indifferent winter peaks, to Hepburn in sunglasses and chic toque dining alone, to a sinister Lüger thrust from a sun umbrella, releasing a jet of water full in her face when the trigger's pulled?), then cut to a scene from Tsai Ming-liang's "Vive L'Amour," where a woman simply walks briskly across the terrain of a bleak modern city to Young's interpolated sounds of modern combat, over which she read text on the green zone in Baghdad; film crit comparing Tsai to Western filmmakers like Antonioni; and a portion of Judith Butler's Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence.

After setting these multiple frames around the action, she gave over the last third of her performance to a long, wordless scene in which the woman sits down on a park bench and cries, digs a tissue out of her purse, lights a cigarette, all with the sound off, so that the benshi has to cry for her, or through her, a kind of proxy grieving that seemed to express our own helpless distance from the tragedies we see every day on screens. The force of the performance was in the way Young used the benshi’s conventional detachment from the movie, her putative function as the narrator or ‘film-teller,’ to reflect on our own remove from the war in Iraq, and from the consequences of violence generally.

For his neo-benshi piece last year, Alan Bernheimer took a scene from a Charlie McCarthy/Mr. Ed film and simply delivered the dialogue for the characters exactly as it appears in the movie. I was impressed at how powerful an experience it was to hear a live voice synched with a moving image, even (especially) where the voiceover would seem to be redundant. Young used "Vive L'Amour" in a similar way to explore the ambiguities of mediated grief by surrendering the narrator’s right to say anything for the character on screen at all. As she cried with the woman, she made the represented present by performing the act of mourning—and, by the end of the piece, just breathing—for someone else. It was the one of the most original takes on the film-telling genre I’ve seen, and those minutes will be with me for a long time to come.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Killian's Read ...


He is the poet of heartbreak, and the shadow figure enslaved by the more vigorous and together figures in his life, like Olson or Creeley, feeling himself hardly human in his pale remnants of a life.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007


The post that exists to push other posts down, mimicking history.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Image Nations

The country that agrees to stop being the theater of other people's pleasures.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crimson Datum

The end of the fashion for hose comes ill to the hosier.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Dept. of Monday

Silence is the pornography of the terrible.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wear a Flower

Going to San Francisco this weekend for the event below. If you're in or around the Bay Area, hope to see you at ATA on Saturday.
SATURDAY, JULY 7, 2007. 8PM $10
THE NEW TALKIES: hijacking Hollywood
Live Film Narration

presented by kino21

Our Neo-Benshi Cabaret finds its way back to ATA, where it all started at Other Cinema in 2003 when intrepid writers and performers first tried to revive a latter day art of live film narration.

Since then the neo-benshi format has caught on from coast to coast to become a vehicle for taking over scenes from feature films by muting them & re-directing the images with words alone. OK, and maybe some musical and editorial embellishment, too.

Tonight's program will include cuts off Brandon Downing's new DVD, Dark Brandon, which uses a subtitled form of neo-benshi. Then the cinema will leap off the screen propelled by these overdubbers extraordinaires featuring concocted narration to scenes from the following unsuspecting films:

*Amanda Davidson Firestarter

*Rodney Koeneke The Golem

*Wayne Smith Darling

*Stephanie Young Vive L'Amour

*Jen Nellis Poison

*Konrad Steiner Minority Report

*David Brazil The Man Who Wasn't There

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Poetry of Rolex

Just spotted this ad for Rolex. (It's a picture of international piano sensation Lang Lang with the tag line: "Some people create poetry without ever PICKING UP A PEN.")

A poetry without poems. Cool.

Correction for Ad Dept.: we still use quills.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Yeats the Blogger

"I print the poem and never hear about it again, until I find the book years after with a page dog-eared by some young man, or marked by some young girl with a violet, and when I have seen that I am a little ashamed, as though somebody were to attribute to me a delicacy of feeling I should but do not possess. What came so easily at first, and amidst so much drama, and was written so laboriously at the last, cannot be counted among my possessions.

On the other hand, if I give a successful lecture, or write a vigorous, critical essay, there is immediate effect; I am confident that on some one point, which seems to me of great importance, I know more than other men, and I covet honor."

--from The Bounty of Sweden (1925)