Saturday, August 27, 2011


by Steven Boone

[Editor's note: Don't bother reading all this until you've watched both chapters of the Matthias Stork masterpiece Chaos Cinema: The Decline and  Fall of Action Movies.]

"This is what happens when you lose your eyesight. Your other senses try to compensate."

Matthias Stork's thrilling two-part video essay Chaos Cinema tells us that the state of the art in modern action filmmaking is unsound. He blames a chaotic style of covering the action that has proliferated wildly over the past decade.

His presentation has had the effect of a schoolmarm busting in on a cocaine orgy to tell the half-naked, moaning participants that what they're engaging in isn't exactly healthy. No shit? You'd think they'd be grateful, but the reaction from those who happen to enjoy the action movies Stork trashed has been, essentially, "Shut up, nerd! And close the door!"

But I'll bet each of those cokeheads staggers home from the bacchanale only to lie awake in bed, wondering whether there was something to what the kid was whining about. After all, their nostrils are raw and bleeding, their mouths are dry and they have pounding headaches. What's worse, they can barely remember all the fun they had. Just a blur of dildos and Tasers. All they know is that they have to go for some more cocaine and erotic asphyxiation just as soon as they can sit upright again.

Stork's video is an intervention. The addict is any moviegoer who believes that what Stork calls Chaos Cinema (and which I refer to as Snatch bullshit) represents a mere stylistic preference or, even worse, an evolutionary leap in film storytelling. Or, even worse, base-level nutrition, in the manner of  a ghetto child raised on Pizza Rolls and Skittles.

The backlash has been predictable but surprisingly passionate. "Styles change and cinema moves forward," writes somebody at The Week. Scott Nye hisses: "What's next, aim for people who turn away because of widescreen? Steadicam? Color? Sound?" Mr. Nye, I hope you can elaborate on how action sequences slapped together to convey nothing but shock and panic are drawing us closer to the Promised Land. After that, let's hear about how the robber barons of neo-3-D are actually living up to the innovative spirit of the French New Wave. (I picture a bunch of portly Disney executives running free like those kids in Jules and Jim.)

Over at PressPlay, Ian Grey scolds anti-chaos zealots by calling us Barry Goldwater:

It’s depressing that the ultra-conservative pro-classicists will not even consider that there might be something valuable occurring through these “chaos” films, planting the seeds of a new movement and establishing a new, valid way of seeing things for a new generation. Can it be possible that those young people born after the advent of 8-bit video games experience everything faster, harder, more intensely and more vaguely than the generations that came before it, on multiple levels, in both ecstatic and numbed-down ways? Whatever the explanation, classical cinema is not and never again will be their answer. It doesn’t match the experience of a generation of Facebookers, Tweeters and Call of Duty players. It just doesn’t. No amount of hectoring will change that.

Grey's rant (like most of the ones I've read that step forward in defense of a storytelling style born in the hectic control rooms of TV news companies and the editing suites of ad agencies) uses the children as a human shield. No, chaos cinema could not be helped. This is what the kids want, because they play video games and they can't sit still. Kids today are said not to have attention spans sufficient to engage with stories that unfold rather than crash down. But even hyperkinetic first-person shooter games are closer in effect to vintage Roman Polanski than to Shoot Em Up. Many of the most popular video games on the market are sprawling role-playing games that reward concentration and spatial awareness. An immersive RPG like Shadow of the Colossus? Pure cinema:

The kids didn't create--or ask for--Chaos Cinema, no more than little Johnny asked for the neighborhood pusher to move onto his block and offer him some new sneakers. Kids just want to escape boredom. They want to feel alive. Chaos Cinema came along at a time when young people and adults alike had learned to expect instant gratification from their DVD players and cable boxes. The kind of spontaneous montage I created as a child couch potato of the '80s, armed only with a cable dial and a slothful VCR, acquired exponentially greater firepower by the late '90s, with thousands of satellite channels and the random-access of DVD chapter stops to draw from.

Concurrently, AVID (and later, Final Cut Pro) non-linear editing systems gave professional film editors the same freedom to make instant selections from their pools of footage.

Meanwhile, the Internet went from a convenient tool for interpersonal and business correspondence to a direct telecommunication and commerce channel. This quickened the pace of everything. Once digital video became widely accessible, it was even easier to feed the beast, 24/7. Finally, cheap portable media devices and Internet screens of varying diminution reduced the amount of information we could be expected to retain in a single image, lending shots the quality of flash cards. Car. Man. Smile. Pile of shit.

In the movie business, this quickening became an opportunity: Storytelling in mainstream movies would get faster and more furious with each year of the last decade, in the style of product upgrades. Let's think of the movies in the aughts as Dell desktops. Each new movie packed more RAM (more footage to draw from, and from a wider variety of camera angles), faster processors (editing that obeys fight-or-flight impulses like a channel surfer) and bigger hard drives (more screen time devoted to densely-packed expository dialogue, like Wikipedia clippings in an undergrad's netbook). Except that, unlike computers, these increasingly tricked-out flicks narrowed our selection of applications (visual styles) to ones with cluttered, user-unfriendly interfaces. This phenomenon was sold as a sign of the times by Ho'wood's de facto publicity outlets and happily/resignedly indulged by consumers who came to think of movies as perishable items. Slurp, burp, next.

And so, corporate filmmakers have found a way to seize young people's attention with relentlessly jarring montage where beguiling storytelling has always done the job more effectively. Kids now get what corporations want them to want. In this scheme, a focus group or test screening functions as a kind of standardized test to confirm that audiences know how to panic. It's also quality control against movies that don't panic sufficiently.

Stork's essay arrives after the movie business has already established cocaine cutting as the new classical and is pushing neo-3-D as the next must-have product line. Oh, just wonderful. We are approaching a decade anniversary of imperial wars in the middle east. Violent flash mobs are storming American groceries, and tea party rednecks are keelhauling minorities from the backs of SUV's. Children are uploading their barbaric street crimes to YouTube. Shattered ex-soldiers are slaughtering their entire families before running onto the highway with samurai swords. Everybody is sucking down energy drinks and lattes to keep pace with this century's greedy, gossipy stock ticker, the Twitter feed. Katy Perry, Lil Wayne and Drake are providing the real-life soundtrack, jingles of vanity, sociopathy and Rolex watches. Panic and complacency bump uglies in every public space. To say that Chaos Cinema reflects the times we live in is accurate, but the times reflect the temperament of constant mania and caprice set by Chaos Cinema and her media cousins, a warped hall of mirrors.

This is not progress. It is the language of hard-sell advertising subsuming the movies. Stork is right to call it out and name names, especially those filmmakers whose intelligence and discernment supposedly exempt them from the anti-chaos firing squad. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) are the worst offenders. Their films, whatever they are about textually, move through space and time with the inhuman ferocity of (to quote another rabid screed of mine) a Rwandan radio broadcast circa 1994. The editing of such films induces us to accept agitation as our default state.

The reason for this trend is clear, old as dirt, and anything but revolutionary. Chaos Cinema puts us in our place. In action movies, it makes the world unintelligible and morality actionable only by its implacable onscreen hero, who can plow through concrete walls without ever losing his soft-spoken Matt Damon-ness--his superficial connection to us civilian lambs. Chaos Cinema is not the New New Wave. It is John Wayne back from the dead, proclaiming liberal sympathies while hiding a bloody bowie knife behind his back. In other genres, CC draws our concern away from the principal business of human drama--namely, the humans--to stupid flash card theatrics: Frown. Retch. Shout. Flail. Cry.

This is the visual grammar of the Tea Party, Crips and terrorists.

What serves to keep movie audiences simultaneously docile and hostile also makes for voters who fail to see beyond the personal emergencies and must-buys that big business tailors for their demographic. The New Wavers spoke up for human frailty and the most delicate, evanescent of emotions. Their jump cuts and violations of the 180 rule were humanism standing up to inane certainties and conventions. They opposed the same shape-shifting corporate orthodoxy that now brings us Jay-Z and Kanye rapping about luxury products as if they were Anna Karina's smile.

Never mind what the screenplay says. Cinema lives by its flow of images onscreen, as experienced in the dark in real time. To dismiss the way a film moves as secondary to plot is akin to insisting that a Brother Theodore monologue would be just as mesmerizing if read verbatim by Michael Cera on club drugs. (Well, actually....) In a common dismissal that mocks this grievance as a mere peeve, Ian Grey misses the point by kilometers: "Another critic could include [as an example of Chaos Cinema] Black Hawk Down, which, instead of being despised for its racism, is despised because its missiles aren’t fired in sufficiently elegant fashion." Form can transform content, Mr. Grey. Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks contains eruptions of violence that positively gasp at the fact of brutality, of all tragic departures from this earth. It's a crime saga in which a simple dissolve from Kitano's frail, cancer-stricken wife gazing up at an explosion of fireworks blossoms with compassion.

When you watch a movie primarily with your eyes and heart rather than your fears, your social ambitions or your bank account, you might see that Chaos Cinema is neither a fad nor a spontaneous youth movement. It's a business decision. Those jumpy teenagers at the head of the march are child soldiers. They get their orders from the limos in the back, via the same technology that might free them.


To give an example of an anti-chaos classic, Stork's essay highlights a movie that John Wayne would have have enjoyed, the John McTiernan blockbuster Die Hard. One could go on forever dissing Chaos Cinema, but I will let my cheesy music video below express why a hyper-violent siege picture from 1988 expresses a love of light and life that today's lightest romantic comedies could learn from. Never mind the snarky, reactionary plot. Pay attention to the movement within--and of--the frame. Die Hard's camera nurses a schoolboy crush on life itself. In contrast, Chaos Cinema says it serves at your pleasure while, in truth, it would kill you for the insurance money.

For more on this phenom, go over to Jim Emerson's Scanners and Cinema Blend.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Those Southern Folks Sure Got It Maid

by Odienator

The Help has been kicking ass at the box office for 2 weeks, and in that time, I’ve read numerous articles defending its subject matter and its storytelling device. Some of these pieces have been extremely condescending, with the writer expressing shock—SHOCK!!!!—that some people (uppity Negroes and “liberal” Whites, this means you) would find the film either patronizing or more of the same “Black story told through White characters shenanigans” Hollywood is known to pull.  Equally condescending have been some of the conversations I’ve had, both online and in person, with people who love the film. I’ve been told that I don’t know how to watch a movie, that I went in looking for problems, and that I was just too Black to enjoy the movie. My personal favorite piece of wisdom came from a White colleague of mine, who looked me dead in my redbone face and told me that Kathryn Stockett, The Help’s author, knew more about the Black experience than I did. Granted, Black women had a hand in both our upbringings, but unlike Ms. Stockett’s influential mother figure, mine repeatedly made it clear that she was not my goddamn maid.

I don’t know anyone who read The Help, and I haven’t picked up a book on the South since I read The Secret Life Of Bees. Guys, if you want to see what the universal hand signal for vagina is, bring some chick lit on a plane. Even the flight attendants were throwing up the pussy dubs to mock me. Since I haven’t read The Help, I can only assume that, with the luxury of over 500 pages of reading time, Ms. Stockett presented her characters and their situation in a deeper fashion than 137 minutes of screen time could. After all, Miss Sofia just loved it to pieces and put it on her Book Club.

This was the original Abbey Road album cover.

Entertainment Weekly, a magazine that somehow keeps coming to my house despite the fact I cancelled it 5 years ago and moved twice within that time trying to outrun it, did a big write-up/interview section on The Help the week it came out. The piece, which featured the film’s three main actresses, Stockett and the film’s director, Tate Taylor, took pains to constantly remind me the movie had the Good Housekeeping Seal of African-American Approval. Tyler Perry loved it! The NAACP blessed it! A Black audience in Chicago danced the Hucklebuck after a screening! Pictures of Black Jesus were weeping at grandmother’s houses everywhere! (OK, Black Jesus and the Hucklebuck are slight exaggerations on my part.) But Stockett and Taylor discussing their influential maids in EW made my skin crawl, as both of them are my age and I unrealistically didn’t want to think that someone of privilege could have a Black maid raising them in the 70’s and 80’s. I suppose that’s my problem.

As I read the EW article, I thought to myself “they’re trying pretty damn hard to head off any backlash! This must be off-the-chart offensive! Now I have to go see it!” You know I just love a good movie Negro stereotype. Until I read that article, I was content to leave The Help out of my viewfinder, as it seemed like a run-of-the-mill extension of the White character tells Black story feel-good genre that includes Cry Freedom and Mississippi Burning. In truth, having the story told through a White device is actually more insulting to White people than to us. It’s as if Hollywood is saying “you can’t put yourselves in the shoes of an ethnic character, so here’s Kevin Kline! He’s JUST…LIKE…YOU!!!” At least Hollywood thinks minorities are smart enough to relate to the White characters.

I’m tired of these movies, and even more tired of getting into discussions with people who insult my intelligence about these movies’ intentions. But  EW’s coverage made me wonder if The Help were going to be Mammy Writer: The Movie. It was now a must-see.

Well, contrary to what some have said, The Help isn’t racist as hell. In fact, the only thing racist as hell in The Help is Bryce Dallas Howard’s character. More on her in a second, as she is my secret weapon, the character I’ll be throwing back at those who pretend this movie avoids the “congratulations, White people!” trappings of its genre. She brings the Paul Haggis Crash element to this film, except instead of having a magic racism-curing staircase as Crash had, The Help has a Noble Negro Water Closet.

The Help also has some intriguing things going for it, and its problems are not insurmountable, which makes it all the more aggravating and disappointing. It features three actresses knocking their stereotypical roles out of the park, and an original subplot I wanted to see more of than the main plot. The main plot (spoilers from here on in) is, in Cliffs Notes fashion: White grad from Ole Miss returns to Jackson, realizes her friends and her Mama are snooty racists, falls in love with a sexist, racist jock pig, writes a Peyton Place of a book using stories from the neighborhood maids, discovers the whereabouts of her own Mammy, gets a publishing job in NYC and gets the hell out of Mississippi, but not before  indirectly getting her lead maid storyteller fired. As the fired maid walks up the street toward the closing credits, like Richard Pryor does at the end of Which Way Is Up? (coincidentally, both characters have lost everything by the film’s end), Miss Thing is in New York City turning into Samantha Jones from Sex and the City.

That’s right, folks: The bad guy (I mean, girl) wins. Post-comeuppance, the villain returns to commit one final dastardly deed. Let’s talk about this bad girl, an over-the-top figurehead of bigotry played by the consistently horrible Bryce Dallas Howard. She is so extreme she makes the Grand Duke Wizard of the Klan look like Eldridge Cleaver by comparison. Howard is the Statue of Liberty of racism, a symbolic Incredible Hulk zapped with tons of gamma racism. If Howard's villainous Hilly Holbrook had a mustache, she'd twirl it wildly before ripping it off her face and eating it like Cookie Monster. In other words, she is completely unidentifiable as a real human being. Not even the gang of White men who chased me in Hamilton, Ohio, throwing bottles and slurs at me a few years ago were as racist as Hilly Holbrook. In keeping her a caricature, she belongs in the same cardboard box as the characters from Crash; she makes you feel good for not being that racist. 

"I'm a witch! I'm not you!"

The Help is confused as to whether Holbrook is a comic foil or a serious threat. She’s the butt of a seemingly endless joke about her eating a pie made of Pure T. Shit, but she manages to get people arrested and destroy their livelihoods with false allegations of theft. Hilly gets so many maids dismissed from jobs in Jackson that she should have been crowned Miss FireCracker 1963. She also presents a problem for us as she relates to Skeeter (Emma Stone), the main character of The Help. Hilly and her bitchy friends didn’t turn this way overnight, so Skeeter’s idea to write the book seems more an act of self-promotion than a means of getting some justice. As nasty as Hilly gets, Skeeter still hangs out with her, and even falls for the guy with whom Hilly hooks her up. That last item blows away any notion that The Help is not meant to be seen through Skeeter; this courtship is boring, eats up time, and is a useless way to keep the story on Skeeter rather than the more interesting maids. 

Unlike some of the film’s detractors, I don’t have a problem with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer playing maids. Black people were maids in the 60’s, and many of them raised White children just like the Mammys of yore. Plus both actresses are fantastic, with Davis speaking volumes with her eyes and a stone face, and the comedic Spencer knowing where the minstrelsy line is and slyly threatening to go over it. Davis’ Aibileen is a character that deserved to be the lead of this movie. She narrates the film, but it is not her story. Yet Davis at times threatens to steal it from its segregated gaze.  Early in the film, Skeeter asks her if she wanted to be something other than a maid. Davis gives her a “bitch, are you fucking crazy?” look (watch her eyes) before answering yes.

Skeeter’s follow-up question “how does it feel to raise White children while your children are at home being raised by someone else?” is left unanswered. To Aibileen’s story, it’s very valid, but to Skeeter’s, it’s just another interview question. I wanted to hear the answer to that question, but The Help doesn’t. Aibileen does note that the White kids who loved their maids as children eventually shat on them when they became adult members of society. This is a plotline worth fleshing out and explaining. Even the maid who is integral to Skeeter’s story, her beloved, missing Constantine, is given no back story besides appearing  as Super Mammy in flashback.  My depression at the misuse of the great Cicely Tyson was jolted when Tyson looked at the camera with a mix of devastation, anger and hurt after being fired. “Damn, Cicely!” I said to myself. In that moment, she told me so much more than The Help had time to explore.

The other actress who does wonders with her stereotypical role is The Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain.  The movie pairs Chastain’s lower class Miss Celia with Spencer’s Sassy maid Minny after Hilly fires Minny for using the White house toilet instead of her Colored outside one during a tornado.  I’m surprised Hilly didn’t appear in a window flying on a broom before handing Minny her pink slip. Due to Hilly’s influence, Minny can’t get another job anywhere but at Miss Celia’s. Miss Celia is hated by Hilly, and by extension, the women in Jackson, because, as Minny notes “they think you White trash, Miss Celia.” Miss C. has the ill nana, which led her to marry Hilly’s ex-boyfriend. Minny becomes something of a Magical Negro by way of the Food Network; she helps Miss Celia cook on the down low so Miss Celia can impress her man. What I liked about this subplot was the way it comically handled the class issue. Both Miss Celia and Minny are the town outcasts, but the film doesn’t try to compare Miss Celia’s ignorance of the rules to Minny’s skin color-related troubles. Instead, Minny is constantly correcting Miss Celia, whose bubble-headed naïveté leads her to all manner of societal faux pas.

I liked Spencer and Chastain’s interplay so much that I was willing to forgive how their storyline is resolved: Minny’s happily ever after involves a lifelong membership as Miss Celia’s maid. Still, I could have watched an entire movie of their interactions. I hadn’t seen a relationship like this before in a movie, with Minny almost having to teach Miss Celia how to treat her like a maid. This is ripe with Skin Game-like comic and satirical potential. When I mentioned my desire to see the Minny and Miss Celia movie instead of The Skeeter Story, I was told that I should go watch 48 Hrs. You can figure that one out for yourselves.

The Help is going to be a huge hit, which means Hollywood will make 6 million more maid movies. Its influence is already being felt in the real world: I have seen three different stories about Southern White women looking for, and being reunited with, the maids who helped raise them. Everybody cried, syrupy music played, and the newscaster narrated the story in hushed tones. I wondered if a) I’d see a story where the maid went looking for her ward and b) if I’d see the found maid slap the Calhoun Shit out of the ward looking for her, saying “you ungrateful heffa, where the hell were you all these years? You’re just looking for me NOW?!” Neither a nor b was going to happen on my TV.

I sat next to an older Black couple at my screening of The Help. The theater was nearly full, with a mixed crowd of old and young, male and female, Black and White. Crammed and uncomfortable, slumping in the second row, the couple stared at the screen with rapt attention. I detected a slight Southern accent from the woman, who occasionally muttered something brief to her husband. I guesstimated they were my parents’ ages, not just from their appearance but from their manner of speech. They sounded like an old married couple, with her comments met simply by her husband’s “um-hmms and yeah’s.” Occasionally, they both would laugh at something comedic, and at one crucial point, the woman gasped along with much of the audience. I heard the faint rustling of a pack of Kleenex during a moment of high drama, with the husband making a sympathetic noise of support. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to who’s sitting next to me at the theater, but whenever I’m that close to the screen, I have to look around on occasion to keep my neck from becoming stiff.

As the credits rolled, the audience broke into enthusiastic applause. The couple next to me did too. Immediately, I wanted to talk to them, to ask them why they felt this film warranted ovation. They were older than me, and their opinions on the period would carry much more knowledgeable weight than mine. How did they feel, and what light could they shed for me? I was momentarily distracted by the person on my right, a teary-eyed teenage girl who suddenly stood up to continue her applause. She looked at me in surprise, her face asking “why aren’t you clapping?” I found myself contemplating the weird look she gave me, sort of a “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” look. When I shook myself from my distraction, I turned back to my desired task: a discussion with my elders.

Unfortunately, they were gone.

It was a fitting end, for like the film itself, I wanted to see The Help through the eyes of the people who would provide me a different perspective than Hollywood wishes to entertain.

 "Hi, Hollywood wants to make The Help II: Electric Boogaloo. I'll need to order more Negroes. Oh, and some Kung Pao Chicken! Thanks!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A New Aktionist Eruption Taken To The Pathetic Pathological Cubicles and Corporate Boardrooms:

by Dirk Schlaf

With the pervasive extension through social media and mobile platforms of an almost wholy neutered corporate aesthetic, one of the anihilation of freedom and individual will and revolt, an anti Situationism, a suffocation of the plane of action where freedom and manifestations of non-control erupt and manifest and forced neurosis and sublimation are pervaded through "marketing" and advertising media injecting into the blood and swamping the floor with the watered down broth derived from the unsalted sweat of eunichs. You know all the choked off voices with their flip "in jokes" like the Orwellian duck speak.
Wholly convulsive and relentless aktions of physical self evisceration which will unsulllyingly and unsublimatedly mirror the self annihilation practiced daily in the managerial plantation, chained slaughterhaus, constricted sex, raped consciousnes, branding, branding, branding...
A direkt new extension of Aktionist art and confrontation should fill the finance gulags and cubicle cells. Ritual annihilation manfiested viscerally like the ritual evisceration in the Aktions of Brus. The self castration manifested in the submission to late capitalist, globalized finance hegemony for 9 10 hours a day of the voluntarily cubicle celled drone will be made unsublimated and in direct cruel light and convulsion. Right there in the cubicle, in the conference room, in the faces of the overseers and Management stasi class of finks and slave overseers. The necktie, a voluntary self mutilation and masochistic dog collar ( curious the news stories of collar bombs, people collared to their own potential immolation) will be the means of hanging, a performance of decapitation, ritual lobotomies as Powerpoint presentation. A tablet devise stretched in the lip, stretching the lips of the marketing assistant high end prostitute or suburban ex frat boy dad, his khakis painfull hitched to the navel to contrict his useless loins and intestines, stretching the lips of the colonized daily internees like in the fashions and ritual of the ubangee tribes.
The corporate and capitalist word is one of Nietzchean power and sexy sexy sexy is it? Let's make it Nitschean! Hermann Nitschean!! Well let's have mass orgiastic copulation on the desks and self slaughter at the same time!!! Let's have intestines smeared on the loins of voluptuous interns like in the Vienna Aktions. Let's splatter the corporate logos and reception desks with gallons of ritual semen!!! Sexy Sexy Sexy!!!! Power Power Power???? Let's show the cubical dweller hogtied with his headset with the apple in his mouth fresh to be cannibalized so as to pay his credit card interest his neighbor tearing his face off and ripping his skin like Brus did, slashing his skull and removing his tortured brain and consiousness polluted for years with buzzwords and stupd sports culture and throwing it against the glass of the boardroom where the creatine and steroid addled no necked salesman fight bare knuckled and bare arsed. The music will be that of the constant jackhammer and buzzsaw of needless and pointless overdevelopment, the sick urbanism and prison architecture not even foreseen by Debord in his worst delerium tremens. Personal branding? The Aktionists will brand them like cattle : SLAVE, LARDASS KAPO, COLLABORATOR, SHILL, LICKSPITTLE, CHARACTERLESS DOG, RANDIAN UNTERMENSCH, PUSSYWHIP, PAINTED SHAUFENSTERPUPPE DEVOID OF GRACE AND SEX.
Investment Fands? Investment Fands? Bend over for the VC capitalist dressed as as SS officer. Do the Obama bongo and the Tea Party piss ritual. They yap like mangy little chihuahuas the Tea Party. Little doggies fed with fish, not fed with fish but only the assholes of fish, deep fried in batter. Drinking cheap piss beer. The unventilated torment of the debt ridden mutation in slave holds with no natual light. Bring Bauhausian design and airy open space!!!!
First is Der Neue Aktionismus! Branding? Brand the ass of the next coworker who appeals to you ravish them on the desk. Corporate Fascist training? Show some films of Nuremburg criminals hanged. Show how you treat Mussolini. Macho Macho Wall St. Tough Guys eh? eh? big swinging schlongs sexy sexy sexy huh? Madmen real visionaries. Real St. Augustines huh??? Hahahaha! The Aktionists will infiltrate your cloud computing seminar like von Stauffenburg! The only corporate message will be Artaudian opium ravings. We all drop our pants like centaurs when asked for ID in the lobby. The Fleisch mob will make Pol Pot look like your spinster aunt. This isn't Jonestown Mr Jobs! Put those tablets in Ubangee lips. Throw raw red meat to the insatiable whores and empty vats of wine down the corporate corridors and pipe in the opiatic fumes of madness.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


written and photographed by Steven Boone

smurfs poster, east village
 Junior secretary filmmaking. Neat and legible, to the point. Nice haircut. How much did it cost? Nice weather we're having. A firm handshake. Let 'em know you mean business. Business. That's what we're here for, not to go climbing in trees, nekkid, howling. Fight the temptation. Stay on the job. It'll all pay off someday.

"tree of life" ripoff poster for "life in a day", Ave D

A few days after I delivered the love packet, Annette asked me how I was able to draw her so well from memory. I shrugged. She seemed impressed, but I had no idea where to go from there. I couldn’t say in words, in person, what I so easily, crazily set down on paper. So nothing came of it.

Two years later, I was in film school when I got a phone call from Annette. I had left my family’s house number in the love letter, but this was the first time she ever used it. She said she’d seen me walking in Mt. Vernon as her bus passed on the street. I looked so different, she said. Bigger, tougher. I still hadn’t yet acquired any clue of how to respond to genuine female interest aside from shock and awe, so I am sure I sounded bored and distracted to her ears. And at one point I was distracted: “You got your TV on?” I asked her. Mine was on MUTE, but the picture showed an aerial shot of Los Angeles on fire and people fighting like mad dogs. The word LIVE in the corner of the screen. “Something’s going on in L.A.” I said. “Oh, yeah?” she said, in a tone that my self-flattering memory interprets as disappointment that I would take more interest in the TV than the girl I once offered my heart.

But she couldn't see there was a riot going on.

1990. I looked in the newspaper for something to watch. I had a little cash from my work-study gig to blow on a movie. I was 18 and positively addicted to flicks. Still, there was nothing too appealing in the paper.

Wait: Goodfellas, a Martin Scorsese Picture. It was playing at the Quad, a small theater in the Village. The tiny ad, featuring an inky image of Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, made it look like a a low-budget TV movie. Blech. But it was a Martin Scorsese Picture. Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours. Plus it had gangsters in it. How bad could it be? I hopped on the subway to Union Square and rushed over to the 9 o’ clock show. The theater was a little shoebox, with about ten other people in the audience. Travis Bickle watched Swedish porn in a more auspicious setting.

But when the movie came on, from the moment Pesci and DeNiro finished off the dying man in the trunk of the car and Liotta slammed the hood, I could not blink. Not until the very end, when Pesci shot me in the face. What a thing to see in your first semester of film school, at the start of a crazy decade.

And from that night on, going to the movies after a long day at School of Visual Arts film department became a habit. It didn’t matter that in school I often saw two or three films a day anyway. I often came out of there so thirsty for more stimulation, more inspiration. But whereas as most of my classmates went off in groups to hang out, I usually went solo, making up some excuse or other. Anything to disguise the fact that, having severe social anxiety disorder,  I hated groups. Actually, the only groups I enjoyed were the ones gathered in the dark of a movie theater. It was as close as I came to having a church.

I had a few churches I could rely on back then. One was the Film Forum on Houston street, where classics were always running. That’s where, at the behest of Georgia Brown’s sweeping write-up in the Village Voice, I spent a life-changing day watching Val Lewton classics in dreamy, inky, silvery prints. The Leopard Man, Isle of the Dead, Ghost Ship, Cat People. Such quiet, despairing, sepulchral films, the template for any filmmaker who wishes to create suspense and atmosphere with a human heart.

The Angelika  Film Center, a venue that I didn’t particularly like because of its yuppie coffeehouse slickness and similarly upmarket selection of movies, surprised me in 1992 by offering both Bad Lieutenant and Reservoir Dogs.  Those crime sagas were actually enhanced by the real-life subway noise that routinely interrupts screenings at Angelika.

But it was Cinema Village that had my heart. Not much bigger or any prettier than the Quad, it screened whatever foreign, classic and indie films it could get its grubby hands on. It often ran features that had already played at other venues, last stop on a Manhattan run. That’s where I saw both Visconti’s The Leopard and Caligula: The Director’s Cut. Cinema Village also hosted Kung Fu Christmas, which showed classic martial arts films. I’ll never forget the madness that ensued at screenings of Once Upon a Time in China, A Chinese Ghost Story, Fist of Legend and Iron Monkey.

I didn’t take nearly as much advantage of The Anthology Film Archives, the venerable institution at Second Avenue and Second Street, as I would have If I weren’t in film school. At SVA, I was already seeing so many of the “Essential Films” Anthology regularly screened. It made me ponder, somewhat bitterly, what if I’d just saved my tuition money and bought an Anthology membership…? Still, catching trippy screenings of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Tsui Hark’s Green Snake there were enough to make it worth keeping the Anthology calendar close by. The place was also good for palate-cleansing (or shattering) experimental films.

One couldn’t just stay in the Village to feed the habit, though. Sometimes I was tempted uptown by such offerings as a brand new print of Seven Samurai at Symphony Space (packed house, raucous applause when stoic swordsman Kyuzo came back from slaying the bandit scouts), or the African films at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. The “no” heard round the world at the end of the shattering anti-apartheid tragedy Mapantsula. MoMA offered rare treats on pay-what-you-wish Fridays, like Kon Ichikawa’s eye-popping cinemascope sex comedy Odd Obsession. (The colors and compositions in that film defy description.)

On an unassuming floor of the Adam Clayton Powell office building uptown, the annual Harlem Week Black Film Festival showcased edgy stuff you couldn’t find even at Anthology, such as the blistering NYPD expose, The Police Sell Drugs, Too! and the black revolution epic The Spook Who Sat by the Door. 

Midtown was still the essence of New York City movie grunge back then. As late as 1995, Times Square still looked and felt like the classically dangerous, charismatic place enshrined in Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver. The hookers and drug dealers still milled about openly. The porno marquees kept equal claim on  your field of vision as the legit theaters. After my brother dragged me to see Pulp Fiction at a multiplex in suburban Yonkers, I had a yen to re-watch it in the “proper” setting. Paying it forward, I dragged my girlfriend to a dingy old converted porn palace on Times Square, where Pulp played on a huge, slightly warped, filth-gray screen. We sat so close to the buckling screen that the image of John Travolta’s heroin needle and then of his woozy face top-lit in the darkness  took on an ecstatic glow. The surf music strumming along. I wanted to cry: At 21, I didn’t want much more than this, to look over at my girl, who was grinning up at sublime movie images, joining me in movie heaven. It was one of many movie-going experiences we would share and reminisce about and quote, to the dismay of friends. Poor girl. I had turned her into a rabid geek in a matter of months.

The following year, as demolition on 42nd Street loomed, we grabbed a hot dog at what must have been the very last old school lunch counter in the area before crossing the street to another converted porn theater, where you got to see two movies for $4. First we watched Get Shorty in an auditorium no bigger than your living room, grimy print. Perfect. Then we went downstairs to watch Se7en in a room just as small as the first one. I didn’t realize it until years later, but the projectionist must have had the light bulb turned down low, because as dark as Se7en is, this presentation was dark. Since this was our first time seeing the film, we just took it as director David Fincher’s diabolical genius.  No subsequent screening of that film has been as terrifying or mysterious. The reek of ammonia and bleach probably also helped.

We had a similar geekout in the last days of old Midtown, at what I still consider New York’s last great People’s Cinema, the Cineplex Odeon Worldwide at 50th Street near 8th Avenue. It was known as the $3 house. There we saw Boogie Nights in 1997, with an SRO crowd from all walks of life. Such was the genius of the Worldwide. The low ticket prices made people take all kinds of crazy chances on movies they would otherwise not give a second glance in the listings. In the case of Boogie Nights, it meant that an  eccentric little Indiewood film about the porn industry got a shot at a mainstream audience, which went crazy for it. Watching gorgeous prints of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures and David Lynch’s Lost Highway with similarly universal crowds at the Worldwide taught me that there is no such thing as an “indie” film. A great filmmaker can reach anybody with the sting and lilt of his images.

Down the street from the Worldwide was a little shop called The 43rd Chamber, where one could mainline pulp thrills via VHS bootlegs of Hong Kong laserdiscs. There I copped beautiful dubs of HK classics like Black Cat, The Blade, The Killer, Hard Boiled, City on Fire, Peking Opera Blues, Chungking Express, Comrades: Almost a Love Story and Drunken Master. The clerks boasted that Quentin Tarantino and Wesley Snipes were regulars there. Cool. It's long gone now, the space currently occupied by a $1 pizza joint.


BARROW NULL, a black man in his mid-fifties, sits on the edge of his bed, picking through a wallet.

The wallet is fat, the thickness of a King James Bible, overstuffed with receipts, business cards and plastic consumer cards, its fold maintained only by rubber bands that seem eager to snap. He peels off the rubber bands and unfolds the wallet to reveal one wrinkled dollar bill and some change inside.

He pours the change onto the bed.

After a moment of staring blankly at the money, he sorts it, counting to himself in a whisper.

When he finishes counting, he scoops up the money and shovels it into his pants pocket as he gets up, grabbing his coat from the back of a chair.


Barrow peruses the snack selection:

Various 50 cent snack cakes, chips and candies.



He zeroes in on a bunch of chewy granola bars marked 25 cents.




A pile of chocolate chip granola bars land on the countertop, followed, after a beat, by Barrow’s hand slapping that crinkly dollar down next to them. Then an avalanche of loose change.


                                             That should be two dollars precisely.

The CASHIER just stares, heavy-lidded.


Barrow leaves the store, tearing a granola bar wrapper open with his teeth and digging in while stuffing the rest of them in his coat pocket.

A TEENAGER passes him, muttering:


                                             Trees, trees, trees…


                                             Thank you, no.

Barrow continues on his way…

A MIDDLE AGED MAN passes by, muttering:


                                             Loose, loose, loose…


                                             Don’t smoke, thank you.


                                             Aw, nigga, ain’t it time you started? You ain’t

                                             getting any younger.


                                             You have a point.

He continues on his way.

A man wearing a sandwich board advertising a jeweler:


                                             We buy gold,all kinds brother, caaaasssh



                                             Never bought gold in my life.


(leans in, lowers voice)

                                             They don’t got to know that. You go in there—

                                             just going in—and my boss sees, good for me,

                                             na mean? Go in there. They got lots of shit might

                                             interest you. And you’d be helping a needy child.


Barrow looks inside the store:

It’s a typical jewelry/electronics/bootleg ripoff joint. A church lady and her grandson are haggling with the salesman behind the counter over a laptop.

Barrow pats the hawker on the shoulder.


                                             I will help you, young man.

He heads into the store.


Barrow goes along the display counter, past the jewelry, past the bootleg CDs and DVDs, up to the case of cell phones beside the computer area where the GRANDMOTHER and GRANDSON bargain poorly with the SALESMAN.

He seems absorbed in perusing the cell phones while craning his head to listen to the transaction:


                                             And you say for two hundred more we get what?


                                             You get wireless internet. That means you get internet

                                             right out the air, no cables or special equipment. This other

                                             one is cheaper, yeah, but it doesn’t come with wireless.
                                             And for school and whatnot, he’s gonna need


                                             If he needs it, he needs it, I guess. (sighs) It’s just—


                                             It’s just that it seems a bit steep, yeah?

They turn to Barrow, who is now wearing shades. He takes them off almost robotically and folds them.


(to the salesman)

                                             What is the meaning of this?


                                             What’s the meaning of what?

Barrow stuffs the shades into a jacket pocket and comes up with another granola bar. Peels the wrapper.


                                             I haven’t time for this.  You know precisely what I


The salesman just stares.


                                             Or shall I bring in my interpreter? He can put it in

                                             plainer terms for you. Would you prefer that?


                                             Man, I don’t know what you’re—


                                             What are you charging for this machine?

He points at the laptop with his granola bar.

The grandson speaks up ahead of the salesman:


                                             Four hunned and seventy five, but
                                             with the wireless—


                                             Almost seven hundred. For this
                                             three hundred dollar machine?


(smiling to the grandmother)

                                             This your husband? Brother?


                                             I don’t know this man.

Other salesmen approach from behind Barrow.


(to salesman)

                                             She doesn’t know me. But I know you. And I know what

                                             you’re trying to do here, just so you can continue to live

                                             beyond your means in Astoria or Bayside or wherever.


                                             Man, they got a psych unit just down the street.

                                             I think you

                (to grandmother) I’m sorry, we get some—


(to Barrow)

                                             This thing is really worth only three hundred?


                                             Tops. And every laptop comes with wireless, standard,

                                             these days.


                                             That’s not what he said.


                                             He’ll tell you anything to get your money.