HE HELD RADICAL LIGHT The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art By Christian Wiman
With all the stonings, smitings, beheadings and bear maulings in the Bible, it is easy to miss the rather staid death of Eutychus. As recounted in the Book of Acts, the young man nods off during a long sermon by St. Paul, and falls three stories from a window in Troas. In a reprieve for dozing parishioners everywhere, Paul resurrects him.
Poor Eutychus comes and goes in only a few verses, but I thought of him while reading the poet Christian Wiman’s curious new book, “He Held Radical Light” — not because it’s in danger of putting anyone to sleep, but because, like Acts, it’s an episodic account of equally strange encounters, in this case, with apostles of verse. A. R. Ammons shows up for a reading in Virginia but refuses to read, telling his audience, “You can’t possibly be enjoying this”; Seamus Heaney winks before stepping into a cab in Chicago; Donald Hall orders a burger for lunch, then confides to Wiman, who was then 38: “I was 38 when I realized not a word I wrote was going to last”; Mary Oliver picks up a dead pigeon from the sidewalk, tucks the bloody carcass into her pocket and keeps it there through an event and after-party.
Wiman had met a few poets by the time he finished college at Washington and Lee and completed a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford, but he really started to collect them at Poetry magazine, where he was editor for 10 years. The most straightforward version of those years would be a literary tell-all, along the lines of the former New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb’s “Avid Reader.” But “He Held Radical Light” is something else: a collection of private memories, literary criticism and theology, plus an eccentric anthology of poems Wiman holds dear, all drawn into an argument about art and faith.
The HOPE Outdoor Gallery (HOG) is a three-story educational art project located at 11th & Baylor Streets in Austin – one of the largest outdoor galleries in the USA. This project was developed to provide muralists, graffiti artists and community groups the opportunity to display large scale art pieces driven by inspirational, positive and educational messaging. In addition, the project activates and beautifies a dynamic yet underutilized space with a great view of Austin! The project was officially launched by the HOPE Campaign in March 2011 with the support of Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant Art.
Mary Kaye Schilling of New York Magazine has a quite interesting interview with Steven Soderbergh, who is about to quit making films to paint. I’ve long been an admirer of Soderbergh, probably since his first film came out when I was taking film classes at UT1 I don’t love every film Soderbergh has made, but he often does interesting stuff.
A few excerpts, in case you are too lazy to click the link. For instance:
MKS: You’ve talked in the past about obsessively viewing films for inspiration—like The Battle of Algiers and Z for Traffic. What did you watch for Magic Mike?
SS: Saturday Night Fever was our model. It’s one of those movies people remember differently than what was actually true. Going back, we were startled by how dark it gets. This girl is being raped in the back seat of the car, and Travolta doesn’t really do anything, he just drives around. He does things that you probably wouldn’t want your protagonist doing today.
MKS: But you’ve shown an incredible ability for getting films made, particularly the mid-level, character-driven, superhero-and-vampire-free films that conventional wisdom says don’t get made anymore—from the esoteric sci-fi film Solaris to, yes, even a somber, black-and-white movie about post–World War II Germany. How do you account for that?
SS: On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”
SS: Music has become another of the most abused aspects of filmmaking. I’m mystified by the direction scores have taken in the last ten years. It’s wall-to-wall—it’s the movie equivalent of the vuvuzelas from the last World Cup! I don’t understand it at all. For me, it’s ideal when you can get the music to do something that everything else isn’t doing.
MKS: I’ve always appreciated how you don’t use the soundtrack to telegraph emotions; your scores are remarkably subtle. The Informant! was one of the few times you used music conspicuously, but it really worked for that film.
SS: A lot of people had mixed feelings about that score. Look, it was a very specific choice in the sense that—what I said to [composer] Marvin Hamlisch was, this music is not for the audience. This music is for him [Matt Damon’s character], it’s his soundtrack. For the movie, it worked. But that’s not typically what you’re doing with a score. I think that’s why people reacted ambivalently.
I was saddened to hear that the Confederacy of Dunces script is dead, again:
MKS: Are there many films you wanted to make that didn’t happen?
SS: Less than a handful. There are tons of excuses you can make for something not happening. It’s a very imperfect process, getting a movie made. And I’m one of those people who just ignores that stuff. The film doesn’t have to be perfect. The deal doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ll reverse engineer into whatever box we have so that we can do it and do do it—less money, less time, whatever. I’m looking for reasons to say yes. But, sometimes, nothing works.
MKS: Like Confederacy of Dunces. Whatever happened to that?
SS: I ended up walking away. We had this lawsuit over the rights [against Scott Rudin and Paramount pictures in 1998], and we got the project back, and at that point—it was a good lesson to learn, actually, because I realized once we got it back that my enthusiasm had been beaten out of me. Now it was an obligation, as opposed to something that I wanted to do. I don’t know what’s happening with it. I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it.
Ok, one last bit relevant to this blog’s interests:
MKS: That’s a 180-degree turn from fifteen years ago, when you called the film business the silliest in the world.
SS: After making a lot more films, I realized that the movie and TV business is, for all its inefficiencies, one of the best-run big businesses we have. It’s very transparent, financially, and the only business I know of that successfully employs trickle-down economics: When movies and shows make money, the profits go right back into making more movies and shows, because the stock price is all about market share. And these people excel at problem-solving—that’s 99 percent of the job. I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, “Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of,” we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do. A big movie involves clothing, feeding, and moving thousands of people around the world on a tight schedule. Problems are solved creatively and efficiently within a budget, or your ass is out of work. So when I look at what’s going on in the government, the gridlock, I think, Wow, that’s a really inefficient way to run a railroad. The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. The very idea that someone from Congress can’t take something from the other side because they’ll be punished by their own party? That’s stupid. If I were running for office, I would be poaching ideas from everywhere. That’s how art works. You steal from everything. I must remember to tweet that I’m in fact not running for office.
A Walk Through H is a film I saw years ago 1, and haven’t seen again, but still remember vividly, at least on an emotional level. A powerful film in other words. See it if you can. Looks like it is available via Netflix, I’ve just added it to my queue.
A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist was the culmination of Peter Greenaway’s 1970s short-form work. It is a 40-minute abstracted journey film, told almost entirely through the use of a series of 92 “maps,” a set of drawings and patterns gathered together in a museum by the mysterious Tulse Luper, a character who has wandered through many of Greenaway’s films. The narrator (Colin Cantlie) drolly describes each map in turn, recounting a journey through “H,” though the meaning of this journey or what “H” stands for is never explained outright. Instead, as Greenaway’s camera pans across the surface of each drawing, following the maze-like paths that lead from one map to the next, the narrator describes how he came to possess each of these maps, and what his journey is like. Greenaway occasionally intercuts images of birds and sunsets, the only figurative images in the film with the exception of the bookend sequences in the museum where all these maps are framed and displayed. Otherwise, the film is “set” entirely in the world of “H,” which is represented only by Tulse Luper’s maps, an elaborate guide through a mystery region, with a mysterious purpose as the goal.
This film is a culmination of Greenaway’s tendency towards lists and repetitions, a motif that would soon be elaborated on even further in the three-hour epic of The Falls. Here, Greenaway’s deadpan wit is comparatively concise, and about as mordantly funny as he’d ever be. The narrator is entirely straight-faced, but his bizarre, offhand descriptions of people and places and incidents — all of it tossed off with a tone that suggests he expects his audience to know exactly who and what he’s talking about — are often hilarious non sequiturs. Some of these characters and ideas would later show up in Greenaway’s feature films, and it’s not surprising: A Walk Through H suggests a thriving, fully populated world beyond its narrowly defined borders, with a great deal of intrigue and activity leading up to the gathering of these maps. The entire journey is driven as well by the propulsive, looping score of Michael Nyman, a chiming, hypnotic piece of music that accelerates to a frenzied crescendo for the breathless conclusion, in which an ornithologist is (possibly?) reincarnated at the journey’s end. This is a strange and unforgettable film, an imaginative mental odyssey, a map leading into the creative jumble of Greenaway’s fertile mind.
BOSTON—Art collectors who need some quick cash and happen to own a work by Andy Warhol may be in luck. A new Web site has appeared, called Cash for Your Warhol, which promises to quickly sell your piece by the famed Pop artist “regardless of the size, price, or condition.”
“Our nationwide network of investors has helped lots of art collectors in situations like yours,” the site reads. “They can often make you a written offer within hours of contacting us, regardless of economic conditions, and have your problems solved within days.”
Is it real? Too good (or crass) to be true? Well, maybe. Created by Boston-based artist Geoff Hargadon, the site was inspired by the “Cash for Your House” signs that Hargadon has seen in neighborhoods hit particularly hard by the recession. He commissioned the same Texas company that produces the “Cash for Your House” signs to create “Cash for Your Warhol” signs, which he has posted around Boston, including near Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, whose future remains uncertain after the president of Brandeis announced in January that the school would dissolve the museum and sell off its collection.
A few interesting links collected January 5th through January 8th:
Letters of Note: Art is useless because… – Included in the preface to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the now famous and often misconstrued line, ‘All art is quite useless’. In fact, following the novel’s original publication in 1890, Oxford undergraduate Bernulf Clegg was so intrigued by the claim that he wrote to Wilde and asked him to elaborate. The following handwritten letter was Wilde’s response.
The Airport Scanner Scam | Mother Jones – Beyond privacy issues, however, are questions about whether these machines really work—and about who stands to benefit most from their use. When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same.
Buddyhead’s Best and Worst Records Of 2009 | BUDDYHEAD – Animal Collective – “Merriweather Post Pavilion”Lazy music journalists tried to act like these nerds armed with bongos and delay pedals were the second coming of The Beatles or some shit. Everyone from Mojo to Rolling Stone to Pitchdork seemed to have these fruitcakes somewhere in their top five records for 2009. These dudes couldn’t write a song if their lives depended on it, they are to songwriting what “Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is to cinema.
Music video by William S. Burroughs performing A Thanksgiving Prayer with Gus Van Sant [Video Director], Wade Evans [Video Editor], Bob Yeoman [Director of Photography] (C) 1990 The Island Def Jam Music Group
Frame it? Look, the same thing so-and-so writes in the checkout line at Target is on my wall, where a painting or a photo might be!
Fondle it? Oh, that downward stroke is so sensual, like we would be together if only we had the chance.
Tuck it away in hopes of someday selling it to one of the folks who would frame or fondle it? That may be as realistic as any answer, but it’s pretty cynical.
I absolutely do not get autographs, especially in the broader sense of the term. Seeing them sought and signed strikes me as one of the most absurd rituals we have, a time waster on the magnitude of airport security or “The Price Is Right.”
Matthew Weiner Talks Mad Men Finale. An Update On His Film You Are Here. Plus, an Essay on Season Three | /Film – “I’ve read PG-13 fan discussions pertaining to whether Don and Peggy would ever bang. As Weiner states, it’s more of a brother-sister relationship, though one couldn’t help notice the similarities between Don promising to “spend the rest of my life trying to hire you,” and Henry Francis forever offering Betty everything she ever wanted in life. When Don tells Peggy, after visiting her at her semi-new apartment, that he doesn’t know if he can make it without her, the similarity to Henry’s line about eternity is obvious. If Draper really cared about saving his marriage, this is the type of selfless confession he’d have to make to Betty. Whether she would accept it (probably not) is beside the point.”
The Footnotes of Mad Men. – When they showed the shot of a Farmer Whitman arguing with the farm co-operative it looked like it could transposed over the 1885 Potato Eaters painting by Van Gogh.
Fascinating, long piece on the Carl Jung book known as Liber Novus, or The Red Book. There are a couple of sample pages in this promotional piece (PDF)
This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.
And yet between the book’s heavy covers, a very modern story unfolds. It goes as follows: Man skids into midlife and loses his soul. Man goes looking for soul. After a lot of instructive hardship and adventure — taking place entirely in his head — he finds it again.
Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.
Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.
So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.
Which is why one rainy November night in 2007, I boarded a flight in Boston and rode the clouds until I woke up in Zurich, pulling up to the airport gate at about the same hour that the main branch of the United Bank of Switzerland, located on the city’s swanky Banhofstrasse, across from Tommy Hilfiger and close to Cartier, was opening its doors for the day. A change was under way: the book, which had spent the past 23 years locked inside a safe deposit box in one of the bank’s underground vaults, was just then being wrapped in black cloth and loaded into a discreet-looking padded suitcase on wheels. It was then rolled past the guards, out into the sunlight and clear, cold air, where it was loaded into a waiting car and whisked away.
THIS COULD SOUND, I realize, like the start of a spy novel or a Hollywood bank caper, but it is rather a story about genius and madness, as well as possession and obsession, with one object — this old, unusual book — skating among those things. Also, there are a lot of Jungians involved, a species of thinkers who subscribe to the theories of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and author of the big red leather book. And Jungians, almost by definition, tend to get enthused anytime something previously hidden reveals itself, when whatever’s been underground finally makes it to the surface.
So for me, the important question is, when is the thing going to be published? And how do I get a copy of my own? Looks like the book is scheduled to be released in October of this year.
ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH the Red Book — after he has traversed a desert, scrambled up mountains, carried God on his back, committed murder, visited hell; and after he has had long and inconclusive talks with his guru, Philemon, a man with bullhorns and a long beard who flaps around on kingfisher wings — Jung is feeling understandably tired and insane. This is when his soul, a female figure who surfaces periodically throughout the book, shows up again. She tells him not to fear madness but to accept it, even to tap into it as a source of creativity. “If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature.”
The Red Book is not an easy journey — it wasn’t for Jung, it wasn’t for his family, nor for Shamdasani, and neither will it be for readers. The book is bombastic, baroque and like so much else about Carl Jung, a willful oddity, synched with an antediluvian and mystical reality. The text is dense, often poetic, always strange. The art is arresting and also strange. Even today, its publication feels risky, like an exposure. But then again, it is possible Jung intended it as such. In 1959, after having left the book more or less untouched for 30 or so years, he penned a brief epilogue, acknowledging the central dilemma in considering the book’s fate. “To the superficial observer,” he wrote, “it will appear like madness.” Yet the very fact he wrote an epilogue seems to indicate that he trusted his words would someday find the right audience.
Not supposed to take photos (for some blasted reason), but somehow a few dozen photos managed to make it onto my camera.
Steamboat Films, a French documentary film company, is planning to use this image in a documentary they are working on about Dan Flavin. Hope I eventually get to see the film, but international documentaries are sometimes hard to get a copy of. Anyway, more details as I know them (name of the film, release dates, etc.).
Serge Bromberg, C.E.O. of LOBSTER FILMS, a well-known, 22-year-old film restoration and stockshot sales company, created STEAMBOAT FILMS in November 2006.
STEAMBOAT FILMS is an independent film production company, which handles all of Serge Bromberg’s production activity. The company is currently producing documentaries and developing magazines, shorts and feature films.
Serge Bromberg and Marianne Lère oversee operational direction on the company. Claire Gadéa act as production manager on the various on-going productions. Pauline Pasquier and Flavie David joined the team in November 2007 as Production Assistants.
Currently playing in iTunes: Slow And Low by Beastie Boys