Friday, September 28, 2007

Ansel Adams Tribute

I'm working on a few photographer tribute pages... This is one I just put together.

A few more are on the way as well. Wish I were somewhere so beautiful hiking today...

"To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things."
--Ansel Adams

The Lumière Brothers - the birth of cinema

I updated The Lumière Brothers tribute site this evening with some photos and videos (in the blog section). Enjoy.

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895) - The 1st Film

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scorsese's Taxi Driver

I've honestly accumulated enough material and art on my computer to spend a lifetime sharing things... I could post 100 things today, and 100 more tomorrow.

I never understand when someone says "I'm bored" ... I could spend my entire life reading books & newspapers, watching films and documentaries, looking at beautiful images, creating pages in dedication, and sharing all of it with those curious and interested... without even leaving my apartment.

One of my recent finds from a Belgian site.

Who knew a pepper could look so beautiful!!

This photo is by the great American photographer Edward Henry Weston. It is titled Pepper #30. Most of Weston's work was done using an 8 by 10 inch view camera. Even though he was a celebrated photographer he survived selling his photos for a humble price of $7-10. Now, they have gone up over 1,000,000% in value. (Naturally... such is the life of an artist :-/)


PS. (My concentration this week has been on photography, particularly great American photographers... as such, I may be creating a few tribute sites to those I love the best... to showcase their work and life.)


"Photography to the amateur is recreation, to the professional it is work, and hard work too, no matter how pleasurable it may be."

"The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh."

"I cannot believe I learned anything of value in school unless it be the will to rebel."
--Edward Henry Weston (1886-1958)

Mark Rothko Tribute

I just updated the tribute page I created for Mark Rothko in honor of his birthday, with a biography from Wikipedia and a slideshow I put together. A couple of months ago I watched a documentary about his work. The images he created, the life he led, and the way he expressed himself and communicated with the world completely blew me away. I ended up spending an entire weekend in my apartment, scanning the internet for quality images of his paintings... and reading up on him further. Finding the larger images of his paintings took a lot of digging around. The end result of that experience, perhaps as many as 50 hours worth of investment, is this page:

Enjoy, and celebrate the life of a great master...

I posted a larger version of this slideshow at the bottom of his page. I urge you to view it there.

"I am not an abstract painter. I am not interested in the relationship between form and color. The only thing I care about is the expression of man's basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny."
--Mark Rothko (September 25, 1903 - February 25, 1970)

* In the June 13, 1943 edition of the New York Times, Rothko, together with Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, published the following brief manifesto:

"1. To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks.

"2. This world of imagination is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense.

"3. It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way not his way.

"4. We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.

"5. It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted." [Rothko said "this is the essence of academicism".]

"There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing.

"We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ingmar Bergman Tribute

I'm happy to announce that I've updated the Bergman tribute page with some gorgeous photographs all along the left-hand side. It was high on my to do list. I think I'm nearly satisfied, and it could end up being one of the best pages I create -- rightfully so for such a brilliant man, who I relate to on artistic, philosophical, existential, and moral levels.

...and don't forget you can check out the videos I posted of his films at this link:

The Ingmar Bergman Channel

"Our social relationships are limited, most of the time, to gossip and criticizing people's behavior. This observation slowly pushed me to isolate from the so-called social life. My days pass by in solitude."

* "Isak Borg" (Victor Sjöström) in Wild Strawberries (1957)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Woody Allen Tribute (update)

It's almost 5am in New York City. I just finished updating the fairly new Woody Allen tribute I created... I posted a series of photos. You can find them at this link:

I'm a fan of Woody's films, especially Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes & Misdemeanors, Stardust Memories, Love & Death, and Sweet & Lowdown... There are still many of his films I haven't seen, especially the earlier ones. Overall I relate closely to his writings about life, religion, and relationships... as I do with Ingmar Bergman's, Luis Bunuel's and Federico Fellini's, who were also atheists, provocateurs, and great philosophers... as was Charlie Chaplin for that matter, and countless other remarkable artists.

Random people I've come in contact with over the past few years, as well as 2 or 3 friends, have routinely compared me to Woody Allen and Larry David... I'm sure it has to do with my inherent and at times extreme neuroses (i.e. excessive or irrational anxiety or obsession combined with my inability to keep my mouth shut), which may or may not come across through my profile(s) (half-grin). One of those things that's gotten me in plenty of trouble on dates (slight, half-grimaced chuckle)... Regardless of how beautiful you are on the outside, I have a difficult time keeping my mouth shut, when common sense and clarity are needed.

Oddly enough, the Groucho Marx quote also shows up in the Aquarius description someone pointed me towards a couple of years back -- posted on my profile page... I'm not disputing its veracity in my own experiences.

Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There's an old joke - um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life - full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly. The... the other important joke, for me, is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud's "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious," and it goes like this - I'm paraphrasing - um, "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.

[Alvy addresses a pair of strangers on the street]
Alvy Singer: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?
Female street stranger: Yeah.
Alvy Singer: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?
Female street stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
Male street stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.
Alvy Singer: I see. Wow. That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

Bonus video ---

Allen's homage to Fellini's 8 1/2 in Stardust Memories:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Ecstasy of St. Theresa

"Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1647-52), it hardly needs saying, is no middle-aged nun rising up the wall in her habit like an untethered balloon, nuns clinging to the hem. This woman is unforgettably beautiful, a match for the beaming seraph. They are, in their way, a couple. We see his exposed breast, infer hers. How could Bernini make visible the tide of ardent feeling washing through Theresa? Here he has the crucial conceptual insight of the entire drama.

He turns her body inside-out so that her covering, her habit, the symbol of chastity and containment, the symbol of her discipline - becomes a representation of what's going on inside her. It's the accomplice of her helpless dissolution into a liquid bliss.

It is, in fact, the climactic shudder itself, a storm surge of churning sensation, cresting and falling as if the marble had been molten. And these billows pour themselves from the smiling angel directly into Teresa's robe, where they join an ocean of heaving waves that folds into hollows and crevices, like surf breaking on a shore.

There's nothing furtive about any of this. Bernini wants us to look and look hard.

Why is this his greatest masterpiece? Because he's managed to make visible, tangible actually, something we all, if we're honest, know we hunger for, but before which we're properly tongue-tied. Something which has produced more bad writing, more excruciating poems than anything else you can think of.

No wonder, when art historians look at this, they tie themselves in knots to avoid saying the obvious. That we're looking at the most intense, convulsive drama of the body that any of us experience between birth and death. Which is not to say that what we're looking at is just a spasm of erotic chemistry. It's precisely because it isn't just that. Because it is somehow a fusion of physical craving and, choose your word, spiritual or emotional transcendence, that Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Theresa is a sculpture that possesses the beholder completely, the longer we stare.

So perhaps when that 18th-century French connoisseur said, "If that's divine love, I know it well," he wasn't making a sly joke at all, but doffing his hat to Bernini for using the power of art to make the most difficult, the most desirable thing in the world: the visualization of pure bliss."

© Simon Schama, 2006

Click here for new tribute to Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Man Who Set Film Free

August 12, 2007
The New York Times

The Man Who Set Film Free

NINETEEN-SIXTY-ONE ... a long time ago. Almost 50 years. But the sensation of seeing “L’Avventura” for the first time is still with me, as if it had been yesterday.

Where did I see it? Was it at the Art Theater on Eighth Street? Or was it the Beekman? I don’t remember, but I do remember the charge that ran through me the first time I heard that opening musical theme — ominous, staccato, plucked out on strings, so simple, so stark, like the horns that announce the next tercio during a bullfight. And then, the movie. A Mediterranean cruise, bright sunshine, in black and white widescreen images unlike anything I’d ever seen — so precisely composed, accentuating and expressing ... what? A very strange type of discomfort. The characters were rich, beautiful in one way but, you might say, spiritually ugly. Who were they to me? Who would I be to them?

They arrived on an island. They split up, spread out, sunned themselves, bickered. And then, suddenly, the woman played by Lea Massari, who seemed to be the heroine, disappeared. From the lives of her fellow characters, and from the movie itself. Another great director did almost exactly the same thing around that time, in a very different kind of movie. But while Hitchcock showed us what happened to Janet Leigh in “Psycho,” Michelangelo Antonioni never explained what had happened to Massari’s Anna. Had she drowned? Had she fallen on the rocks? Had she escaped from her friends and begun a new life? We never found out.

Instead the film’s attention shifted to Anna’s friend Claudia, played by Monica Vitti, and her boyfriend Sandro, played by Gabriele Ferzetti. They started to search for Anna, and the picture seemed to become a kind of detective story. But right away our attention was drawn away from the mechanics of the search, by the camera and the way it moved. You never knew where it was going to go, who or what it was going to follow. In the same way the attentions of the characters drifted: toward the light, the heat, the sense of place. And then toward one another.

So it became a love story. But that dissolved too. Antonioni made us aware of something quite strange and uncomfortable, something that had never been seen in movies. His characters floated through life, from impulse to impulse, and everything was eventually revealed as a pretext: the search was a pretext for being together, and being together was another kind of pretext, something that shaped their lives and gave them a kind of meaning.

The more I saw “L’Avventura” — and I went back many times — the more I realized that Antonioni’s visual language was keeping us focused on the rhythm of the world: the visual rhythms of light and dark, of architectural forms, of people positioned as figures in a landscape that always seemed terrifyingly vast. And there was also the tempo, which seemed to be in sync with the rhythm of time, moving slowly, inexorably, allowing what I eventually realized were the emotional shortcomings of the characters — Sandro’s frustration, Claudia’s self-deprecation — quietly to overwhelm them and push them into another “adventure,” and then another and another. Just like that opening theme, which kept climaxing and dissipating, climaxing and dissipating. Endlessly.

Where almost every other movie I’d seen wound things up, “L’Avventura” wound them down. The characters lacked either the will or the capacity for real self-awareness. They only had what passed for self-awareness, cloaking a flightiness and lethargy that was both childish and very real. And in the final scene, so desolate, so eloquent, one of the most haunting passages in all of cinema, Antonioni realized something extraordinary: the pain of simply being alive. And the mystery.

“L’Avventura” gave me one of the most profound shocks I’ve ever had at the movies, greater even than “Breathless” or “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (made by two other modern masters, Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, both of them still alive and working). Or “La Dolce Vita.” At the time there were two camps, the people who liked the Fellini film and the ones who liked “L’Avventura.” I knew I was firmly on Antonioni’s side of the line, but if you’d asked me at the time, I’m not sure I would have been able to explain why. I loved Fellini’s pictures and I admired “La Dolce Vita,” but I was challenged by “L’Avventura.” Fellini’s film moved me and entertained me, but Antonioni’s film changed my perception of cinema, and the world around me, and made both seem limitless. (It was two years later when I caught up with Fellini again, and had the same kind of epiphany with “8 ½.”)

The people Antonioni was dealing with, quite similar to the people in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels (of which I later discovered that Antonioni was very fond), were about as foreign to my own life as it was possible to be. But in the end that seemed unimportant. I was mesmerized by “L’Avventura” and by Antonioni’s subsequent films, and it was the fact that they were unresolved in any conventional sense that kept drawing me back. They posed mysteries — or rather the mystery, of who we are, what we are, to each other, to ourselves, to time. You could say that Antonioni was looking directly at the mysteries of the soul. That’s why I kept going back. I wanted to keep experiencing these pictures, wandering through them. I still do.

Antonioni seemed to open up new possibilities with every movie. The last seven minutes of “L’Eclisse,” the third film in a loose trilogy he began with “L’Avventura” (the middle film was “La Notte”), were even more terrifying and eloquent than the final moments of the earlier picture. Alain Delon and Ms. Vitti make a date to meet, and neither of them show up. We start to see things — the lines of a crosswalk, a piece of wood floating in a barrel — and we begin to realize that we’re seeing the places they’ve been, empty of their presence. Gradually Antonioni brings us face to face with time and space, nothing more, nothing less. And they stare right back at us. It was frightening, and it was freeing. The possibilities of cinema were suddenly limitless.

We all witnessed wonders in Antonioni’s films — those that came after, and the extraordinary work he did before “L’Avventura,” pictures like “La Signora Senza Camelie,” “Le Amiche,” “Il Grido” and “Cronaca di un Amore,” which I discovered later. So many marvels — the painted landscapes (literally painted, long before CGI) of “Red Desert” and “Blowup,” and the photographic detective story in that later film, which ultimately led further and further away from the truth; the mind-expanding ending of “Zabriskie Point,” so reviled when it came out, in which the heroine imagines an explosion that sends the detritus of the Western world cascading across the screen in super slow motion and vivid color (for me Antonioni and Godard were, among other things, truly great modern painters); and the remarkable last shot of “The Passenger,” where the camera moves slowly out the window and into a courtyard, away from the drama of Jack Nicholson’s character and into the greater drama of wind, heat, light, the world unfolding in time.

I crossed paths with Antonioni a number of times over the years. Once we spent Thanksgiving together, after a very difficult period in my life, and I did my best to tell him how much it meant to me to have him with us. Later, after he’d had a stroke and lost the power of speech, I tried to help him get his project “The Crew” off the ground — a wonderful script written with his frequent collaborator Mark Peploe, unlike anything else he’d ever done, and I’m sorry it never happened.

But it was his images that I knew, much better than the man himself. Images that continue to haunt me, inspire me. To expand my sense of what it is to be alive in the world.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Thomas Hart Benton

The artist's life is the best in the world, if he can get through the first 40 years.
--Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)

I NEEDED to hear that after an emotionally and physically exhausting day!

PS. The NYC public library is gonna be the death of me. I picked up 18 new dvds today (for free)... mostly art & history documentaries. :-)

Benton, Thomas Hart, regionalist American painter, known for his vigorous, colorful murals of the 1930s, mostly of rollicking scenes from the rural past of the American South and Midwest. Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and then spent three years in Paris. Living in New York City after 1912, Benton turned away from modernism and gradually developed a rugged naturalism that affirmed traditional rural values. By the 1930s he was riding a tide of popular acclaim. Benton returned to Missouri, taught at the Kansas City Art Institute, and continued to paint both panels and murals. His mural in the state capitol in Jefferson City (1935) stirred protests because of its open portrayals of some of the seamier facets of Missouri's past. Benton's most famous student was Jackson Pollock, who studied with Benton at the Art Students League in New York City from 1929 to 1931.

Monday, September 3, 2007

People die at 21

"In this country, people die at 21. They die emotionally at 21, maybe even younger now. For those of us who are lucky not to die at 20, we keep on going. And my responsibility as an artist... is to help people get over 21."
--John Cassavetes

"The films are a road map through emotional and intellectual terrains... that provide a solution to how one can save pain. As people, we know that we are petty, vicious... violent and horrible. But my films make an effort to contain the depression within us... and to limit the depression to those areas that we can actually solve. The resolution of the films... is the assertion of a human spirit."
--John Cassavetes

The more I read and learn about the life and thoughts of filmmaker John Cassavetes, the more I feel a deep, personal and intellectual connection to his ideas and feelings about life and art. For many years, I've been saying that people graduate from college or high school, and put themselves out to pasture. They stop growing emotionally, intellectually, socially, etc... I've lost a great many acquaintances and potential relationships from my youth because of this. They stagnate, and I keep moving. They take jobs, make money, and pursue the standard path of consumption and possession. I seek answers, meaning, resolution, beauty, inspiration... I'm not saying it's easy, but I don't think life is supposed to be. Mine has never been.

Please contribute: