This is a documentary about vogueing, and the extremely refined and detailed aesthetic sensibilities it reflects, shot in New York City around Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Harlem in the mid- to late-80s. The city has changed in dramatic ways since then, to say the least.
The characters of the film are complete outsiders with, at the same time, a deep understanding of the world they are outside of. As Terrence Rafferty wrote in The New Yorker, “the material is almost too rich, too suggestive. Everything about the ball culture signifies so blatantly and so promiscuously that the movie induces a kind of semiotic daze.”
It is certainly hard to view human behavior the same way after watching this film. I hope this low-quality version will be interesting enough to inspire you to rent the real thing.
(The video player embed here should allow you to watch all 11 segments of the film.)
The Crystal’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)“, caused a storm of protest when it was released in 1962, and its ambiguous sentiment underlies ‘It Felt Like a Kiss’, Adam Curtis’ new film. It is a portrait of America between 1958 and 1965, a period when radical individualism emerged with superficial freedom and underlying entrapment. The film has been conceived of as much as a multi-media art piece, as a TV documentary, the BBC having given Curtis an unusual degree of freedom, possibly because they are not quite sure what to do with him.
Curtis is like the Malcolm Gladwell of film making, there is a nagging doubt that what is being argued isn’t science but the delivery is so masterful and thorough that its utterly compelling. It Felt Like a Kiss looks stunning from the trailer (look out for the full version), but perhaps its rhetoric will elicit similar mixed feelings as inspired the subject. Regardless, Curtis, who creates movies that are like the conspiracy theory films that clog Youtube (except that they produced with intelligence), will no doubt become a web celebrity when his next film, which deals with the Internet itself is released combining the meme like qualities of his format with a self-referential subject.
The BBC, in their infinite wisdom, have regionally restricted everything including trailers of It Felt Like A Kiss, so I am linking to the Guardian. A full version of the film is on Curtis’ web site, but is also UK only (I cannot watch it, because I’m in France).
A short film made in the early 1950s about the elevated rail line that traveled from the base of Manhattan, up the Bowery and 3rd Avenue, to Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.
New Yorkers, how many places do you recognize as they zoom by? What brewery was that on 3rd Avenue?
The characters are an arty type, a drunk, a little girl, a young couple, and the drama or plot, such as it is, revolves around a nickel stuck in the wooden floorboards of the train (also notice the padded seats). The main characters here are really the subway and the city.
Sorry for the lack of posting – I’ve been on holiday (by mistake), in Provence. A million miles away from the scene of this clip which Hunter Gatherer has once again sifted from the pile of crap that is the reality of the once great British television.
For Memorial Day, Hunter Gatherer posted an excellent piece on the 1963 war film, The Victor. I recommend reading what he has to say in full, but here is the snippet that accompanies the clip above:
“The particularly strong portrayal of the less heroic side of war’s consequences was shocking given the year that the film was made. One scene in particular, purportedly inspired by the execution of Eddie Slovik, set the execution of a deserter in the last months of the war to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Christmas’.”
This is an absolute gem and an almost forgotten one – a documentary version of Alvin Toffler’s classic 70s book, Future Shock presented by Orson Welles.
The premise of Future Shock was that the pace of human progress had achieved a level which would create a pathological reaction, a metaphorical motion sickness caused by the fact that nothing seemed permanent.
Unlike most past views of tomorrow, which look hopelessly obsolete (‘nothing dates like the future’), the premise of Future Shock can only get stronger since not only progress itself, but the derivative of it, its increasing rate of change, exacerbates the core phenomenon.
Stylistically, however, Future Shock is a definitively dated period piece, an early 70s, Jumbo Fonted, psychedelic trip full of deliciously obsolete technology that conjures up wistful nostalgia where it is intended to do exactly the opposite. Even the poor quality of this video with its wavering audio track and bleached imagery actually adds to the effect.
Future Shock is both a perfect piece of vintage cultural nostalgia and still relevant scientific prophesy. It’s Everything retro-futurism should be.
Above is the trailer for Errol Morris’ most recent film, Standard Operating Procedure, which is now available as a watch on demand feature at Netflix.
It takes the premise that all that will be remembered of the Iraq war in decades to come will be the photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib and dissects the role of photographs in how what went on there was ultimately judged.
Lynndie England, the person often held most culpable, because of her appearance in photographs appears least guilty under analysis. She was a child below the legal drinking age who was easily influenced by another reservist, the sadistic alpha-male, Charles Graner, who was often behind the camera in the most incriminating images.
No matter how horrifying the imagery of Abu Ghraib the people interviewed point out that the real violence was perpetrated by CIA interrogators who murdered prisoners during questioning, but whose crimes were not photographed or prosecuted.
The underlying point is that images will always carry more weight than written testimony, but that they are often taken at face value. The most iconic image of Abu Ghraib, the one which turned public opinion more than others, is the crucifixion-like image of a prisoner standing on a box with his head in a sack and arms outstretched. The electric wires hanging from his fingers are fake and the exercise in sleep deprivation rather than physical violence is deemed ‘Standard Operating Procedure’. But the image, with its religious overtone, speaks of something else. .
(BTW for those that wonder why I am posting a link to Netflix. The aim of this site is to point to great TV/movies that are available directly via the Internet. I’m a particular fan of Netflix’s watch it now service, which has increasing good movies available, after a slow start).
This documentary is an absolute gem, in the tradition of Errol Morris it finds the profound in the utterly banal, without resorting to postmodern sneering. The subject is a sleepy English seaside town, one of those places where uptight, keeping up appearances, Edwardian sensibilities hang by a thread, appropriately enough at the nation’s edge. This is a culture that was satirized in Dad’s army as being obsolete 40 years ago and which Orwell railed against even earlier in Keep the Aspadistra Flying, but it still lives in Frinton on Sea.
This calcified culture that has only recently begun to emerge in America, where middle class people, or to paraphrase Evelyn Waugh, ‘upper lower middle class’ people emulate the veneer of respectability displayed by the public face of the powerful, without enjoying the private debauchery. Its a sick joke that is played by the rich on the modest, the world over, where ordinary people suffer humdrum in exchange for a caricature of dignity.
When people talk about the hypocrisy of suburbia, as if the few people who are secretly sleeping around and snorting coke after church on Sunday are proof of endemic problems, they miss the point. Where I have encountered it, this Janus like culture seems to be the norm in the upper echelons of society, from the Hamptons to Hampshire, whereas in places like Frinton-on-Sea there are many people who actually live the lives that the Victorians pretended to. Its a raw deal.
Here, a BBC team pokes back at the ‘twitching net curtains’ of exburbia, to examine the traumatic impact of the decision to automate the town’s railroad crossing and the resulting local outcry. The result is a small socio-anthropological masterpiece.
When I was working for the architect, Norman Foster he came into the office after having seen Koyaanisqatsi and raved about it. Every sycophant, like myself, promptly went out and saw it.
In many ways its an architects film, with architect music by Philip Glass, repetitive and jerky like a Rotring penned plan. But there’s something that doesn’t quite fit, like the new age Hopi name and some of the more cliched imagery that looks like its from a stock library. These make it a flawed masterpiece but one which is a must see, nevertheless.
Quite often, I hear people complaining that New York has lost its edge and that it has been ruined by gentrification and Yuppies. The people that I hear this from have tended to be middle class white people.
Here are some pictures of New York in the 70s and 80s, when I remember visiting the South Bronx and it looked worse than my early memory of Beirut. Not much to romanticize about, unless you look back wistfully on poverty rarely seen outside of the ‘developing’ world and people shooting up through bloody, shoeless feet. The gritty creativity of downtown New York, was a theme park hell, whereas further north there was the real thing.
There is a consensus these days, that rising oil prices spells the end of suburbia. However, few people under 40 in global cities such as New York and London have any memory other than the improvement of inner city areas. Here real estate costs soared through tenement and terrace gentrification, rezoned industrial building conversions and more recently cartoon loft condo dwellings. But in a country with few socialist programs outside of free tennis courts, and a financial services crash which will lop a sizable chunk of New York’s local government revenue, the Brownstone and brick frontiers could easily retreat as they have done in the past.