The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Stupor Tuesday All's I care about is art (and whether this beard makes me look too old)

Me at the opening of Jillian McDonald's Fanatic
exhibition at 1708 Gallery, via Brad Birchett. Brad
addresses Jillian's obsession by describing me as
sporting a Billy Bob Thornton beard. Y'know, he's
right. I dunno yet if I want to keep the fuzz; five
years ago I looked like Trotsky. I don't know if this is
image inflation or deflation, but I know which Jillian

Billion-eyed audience, fatigued as you are between Super Bowl elation and Super Tuesday depression, or vice versa, I'm not tonight discussing either. This is, after all, Mardis Gras. I've had two Hurricanes.

So fortified, I'm taking up a rather laggard brief summary of the past weekend and the cultural exploration of Richmond in which I'm able to partake.

The rains during February's First Friday subsided by afternoon making the later evening comfortable and suitable for the high art hike. We strolled into a.d.a to partake of the whimsical and perverse fantasyland of Yuliya Lanina with her wicked little creatures and landscapes that seduce the eye and titillate the senses. And made me feel weird. That the editor of Vanity Fair bought one of her pieces made me feel strange; just like when I buy one of the magazines almost every other month. It's People for people who think they are above people. I guess Richmond DNA dampens my sense of ironic fun. But Lanina is having fun turning the Teletubbies, and the Smurfs, and what ever else, inside out.

Between a.d.a and 1708 I got quite a dose of Chelsea. Not Clinton. The New York arts district. But without the art aquarium sensation. The other Chelsea, well, I saw her by Hillary during one stump speech or another and she was wearing black slacks, and observed, well, the audience behind her, all the way up. I thought at first I was seeing wrong; the camera switched to Hillary waving, then back, and yup. If you know what I'm saying. She's a tall, redheaded young woman.

Jillian's installation is dynamic and busy and fun. Plus, she was giving people fake Gothic type-face Billy Bob tattoos. This provided much enjoyment that I abstained from, but that's my issue. The Partner In Art For Life got one, as Brad Birchett via the 1708 blog shows.

Jillian had a steady stream of customers for the entire evening.

Besides here fascination for Billy Bob, Jillian also works in the idiom of...zombies. In one instance, she taped herself while riding on a New York subway transforming into a zombie. This is quite famous. I read about her in the New York Times some time ago, thinking she was one of those types circulating in the arts firmament, who wouldn't be caught dead, much less zombified, in Richmond. [Subway image via NYT, and Jillian]


I was quite wrong.

Here I could offer a dull discursis on how Jillian's art is an extension of vanitas, and embracing the fleeting and fickle nature of fame--what it does to those who experience the expansion of recognition and the audience that appreciates or becomes downright fanatic about that individual's greater presence.

I might go on about how Jillian's examination of the zombie is an understanding of our culture's death-in-life characteristic, and how we are both preoccupied by fatality, yet unable to come to terms with finality.

No matter how true (or not), such a recitation would drain the fun out of the experience, just as fluids seep out of a dead body.

We later had the delightful opportunity to hang out out with Jillian at Tarrant's, and found her to be unassuming, funny, smart, and from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and that's as in Canaday, bay-bee.

Her video pieces about she and Billy Bob, and zombies shorts, have provoked questions about how many were in her film crew. For the most part, it was just her and a camera, or a computer. She doesn't have much ambition to do videos and such things. Not her art, though part of the form she pursues. Wow. That was refreshing.

But prior to sitting down with Jillian, I took the shuttle bus provided by the Valentine Richmond History Center to see Shanna Merola's Tell Me Where You're Marching, Tell me Where You're Bound.

This is an eerie collection of images that seek to capture both the distance and immediacy of Richmond's slave-trading history. Little physical remains of the slave internment cells and wharves and auction houses, so Merola presents moods and poems about these places. She's from Connecticut, and studying here, which again demonstrates to me that those who come to Richmond from outside just see the place as we cannot. I hope she can figure out a way to stay and that I'll see more of her work.

Now amid all this, we also went to the third anniversary of WRIR 97.3 held at the Renaissance Conference Center, built in the 1880s as a Masonic meeting place. This was a big, good time, though the beer line proved lengthy and the service there a bit dilatory, but hey.

As is presented in these images from WRIR, and photographer Monica Marusek, the independent spirit was in full flower.

We arrived in time to see Tulsa Drone, a real treat. They describe themselves as ambient punk, which seems just destined to go into a the film score for an Edgar Allan Poe bio-pic, should one ever get made.

Amie and I enjoyed seeing the whole group under lights. We've been audience members most often in dark, crowded venues, and this night's line up was worth seeing. They had I think seven for so musicians performing, including horns -- a punk ambient big band.

They played, and were loud, and the space suited them, and I noted how several of the players turned away from the audience, so though I had plenty of light to view them, I couldn't see their faces.

Those rock and rollers.

The Richmond Moving Image Cooperative's Fifth Annual Italian Film Festival returned with its roster of classic Italian cinema to the Firehouse Theatre on Satuday. As usual, with every year, I become wintry and wistful in my mind, recalling the nights when I was young and walking to the late and lamented Biograph Theatre nearby on West Grace Street. A whole series of curling waves bearing sensations like lost objects in the water bob up. Of leaving a film and ambling with a friend, or alone, to the old Village Café while amid the raucous and debauched roisterousness of Grace in those days (and brought back to life with vivid impressions by Greg Hershey here.)

Having made it to a little round table, or a squeaking booth with wood darkened by a patina caused by the smoke of several thousand cigarettes, you'd sit there and talk about the film while the Village and Grace Street roared and clamored around you. There was nothing like this experience anywhere near Richmond at the time. This was the mid-1980s when Reagan was the perpetual president--he smiled, got elected; he smiled again, got elected; by then, I was tired of Reagan's smile. But we sort of knew where we stood. There was still a Soviet Union. I protested contra aide. Rent on my Grove Avenue upstairs room was a $135 a month, and I was hard-pressed to come up with the sum.

And the Biograph was an oasis--though an overused metaphor--but this was the truth of the matter. Seeing the latest Woody Allen, or a classic like Abel Gance's Napoléon (five hours cramped in a Biograph seat that sat at a slight backward and awkward incline, like an ancient astronaut's couch), or Rembetika about "the birth of the Greek blues." And you could go out into the evening with a girl and feel good about life. Man Facing Southeast's screening kind of changed my life. An incident that occurred to a friend of mine as we were making our way to The Village embarked me on writing a novel. Not published, but written -- you get my meaning.

Anyway, that the Richmond region is bereft of a true art house, like Charlottesville's Vinegar Hill, is preposterous. The Bow Tie Boulevard theater complex may fill this lapse, but we'll see. At least we'll be able to walk there. And that, too, was half the pleasure, of going to the Biogarph with anticipation, and leaving satisfied and perhaps hand-in-hand, meandering through a warm Fan night checkerboarded by the lit windows of apartment buildings, and townhouses lining Park Avenue, like Edwardian sideboards. Though still absurd, the world appeared to make more sense then, than now.

That the RMIC doesn't have a permenant space frustrates me, knowing that the exact place they needed, the 1926 Capitol Theatre (thank you Cinematour!) a few blocks from the Firehouse at Robinson and Broad, was ripped down with callous glee in September 1995 a mere four years prior to the group's organization under Mike Jones, and three before the arrival of James and Katie Adams Parrish, and Flicker. (I have a brief account of the Capitol's foreshortened life in True Richmond Stories.)

Enough of that: don't look back, as the song says.

At the Italian event was per usual the delicious offerings from Mama 'Zu and 8 1/2 restaurants, red wine, and even an Italian coffee cart parked out front. But there was no Sophia Loren. Due to the scarcity of film prints and even tighter presentation requirements, the anticipated 2 p.m. showing of Mario Monicelli's 1972 La Mortadella (Lady Liberty) starring La Loren wasn't available. So, instead, we were treated to Ettore Scola's 1974 C'eravamo tanto amati (We All Loved Each Other So Much).

This year, the festival utilized rear screen projetion via DVD that prevented silhouettes of wine-drinkers and bathroom-goers from blocking the screen, but also can't give the richness of color that film provides. There was an amusing technical problem at the beginning that caused Mike Jones to soldier through a vamping introduction. The film is told from several perspectives and has three different beginnings. Well, as one of the protagonists is halted midway into a swimming pool dive, a narrator says that we'll return to his splashdown in 30 years. At this point the movie stopped and Mike and James futzed with the set up. I jibed that this is a meta cinematic concept,all we'll see is the three separate introductions, over and over. A woman in the audience laughed, "It's Groundhog Day after all!"

Loved that reference.

Still. The film prefigures a much worse 1983 Hollywood version--The Big Chill, or perhaps, John Sayles' 1980, The Return of the Secaucus 7. Less is at stake in those two than in the Monicelli film.

We All Loved is an epic, really, that embraces friendships several men and women from their days as partisans fighting the Germans in the snows during World War II. Woodstock it wasn't. And the vast themes of politics, of communism, the choice of moving into the middle class and respectability at the cost of shutting oneself off from a more radical past, and how compromise becomes necessary for living, the splendid evocations of love and loss and friendship and betrayals great and small-- they're all in there. And there's plenty of slapping. Men flathanding women, women backhanding men, and screaming and crying and attempted suicide. And the importance of the post-World War II film, and a leif motif of The Bicycle Thief (which I experienced for the first time at the festival, last year).

The audience for the second film, Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits, packed the place and there was much joyous eating, with the food line backed out the door. Also grand was seeing so many friends, and a few whom I'd not seen in a while.

Watching an original after the greater culture has so absorbed its themes and moods is jarring. The camera angles, the hyperreal colors, the antic dream like nature of the film, have been taken and put into films by lesser directors ever since 1965. Was it really that long ago? The hairstyles--in particular the character of Adele played by Luisa Della Noce--and even some of the fashions--and situations, seemed far more contemporary. This causes disorientation of a cinematic nature; the film is old, but it's been so plundered, you can think you're seeing either an hommage or a parody.

This was Fellini's first color project. And wow, was I astonished to see Valeska Gert as a nutty Far Eastern hermaphrodite seer! Members of the billion-eyed audience may recall her as the repressed lesbian overseer of the girl's reformatory to which Louise Brooks gets sent in Pabst's Diary of A Lost Girl.

Amie and me couldn't stay for the final film of the evening, Divorce American Style. But I have to say, the festival was a tremendous success for us, and I hope for the RMIC.

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