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David Byrne, Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg on Arthur Russell


 
It’s cellist/composer Arthur Russell’s great triumph that his influence became so massively widespread, and his great tragedy that he never knew it. His AIDS-related death in 1992 happened before the world caught up with him, but his vision impacted genres as widespread as acid house, jazz, minimalism, ambient, folk, hip-hop, dub… this could go on, as a concise summation of Russell’s improbable career is just flat out impossible. DM’s Niall O’Conghaile did an insightful post on Russell about a year and a half ago, and frankly, I can’t touch it. If you want to know more, I strongly recommend you have a look at it. Now is fine, I’ll wait.

There’s a lot of GREAT personal and musical background on Russell here in this rarely seen video. It features his friends and collaborators David Byrne, Philip Glass, and Allen Ginsberg, and it was recorded in 1994 as a video press kit for the posthumous Another Thought, a collection of unreleased late-career recordings. Bonus: David Byrne’s heroic pony tail.
 

 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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The Outsider: Colin Wilson’s Glass Cage
08.06.2014
02:01 pm

Topics:
Belief
Books
Thinkers

Tags:
Colin Wilson

colinwpospic.jpg
 
Colin Wilson, who died last December, produced a phenomenal number books during his lifetime. He wrote on such diverse subjects as criminality, the occult, philosophy, religion, the supernatural, biography and psychology. He also produced an impressive array of fiction ranging from the “Metaphysical Murder Mystery” to works of science fiction. In total over 150 books over almost sixty years of writing.

Yet, throughout all of this prolific output, Wilson developed his own unifying system of beliefs where (as understood by the central character in The Glass Cage):

...everything that happens is connected with everything else, so you have to try to get to the root of things to understand them, not just concentrate on minute particulars…

Colin Wilson was born in Leicester, England, in 1931. He left school at sixteen, taking up a variety of jobs, before marrying his first wife, becoming a father, separating, and then traveling around Europe. On return he developed the tentative idea for his first book The Outsider:

It struck me that I was in the position of so many of my favourite characters in fiction: Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge, the young writer in Hamsun’s Hunger: alone in my room, feeling totally cut off from the rest of society. It was not a position I relished… Yet an inner compulsion had forced me into this position of isolation. I began writing about it in my journal, trying to pin it down. And then, quite suddenly, I saw that I had the makings of a book. I turned to the back of my journal and wrote at the head of the page: ‘Notes for a book The Outsider in Literature’...

Wilson famously slept outside on Hampstead Heath while writing this book during the day at the British Library. When The Outsider was published in 1956, it launched the 24-year-old Wilson to international fame. However, his follow-up books were less well-recieved, and Wilson began to disseminate his ideas through a series of fictional crime novels starting with Ritual in the Dark in 1960.

In this mind-trip of interview with Jeffrey Mishlove for the program Thinking Allowed, Wilson explains how he has written on the same theme throughout his career. He cites an essay by Isaiah Berlin that explained how writers can be divided into two groups—foxes and hedgehogs:

The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows just one thing. So, Shakespeare is a typical fox; Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are typical hedgehogs. I am a typical hedgehog—I know just one thing, and I repeat it over and over again. I’ve tried to approach it from different angles to make it look different but it is the same thing.

The “same thing” Wilson alludes to here is his world view of our inter-connectedness, which he expounded in his favorite novel The Glass Cage, which told the story of a William Blake-quoting serial killer to explain “the abuse of human potential.” This is part of the theme Wilson develops in this interview, where he suggests humans are 51% robot, and 49% essence, and it is only in moments of extremity that the essence takes over, allowing individuals to experience their potential.

Wilson’s books offer a greater understanding of the positive human existence. He was averse to the “negative” view of life promoted by such writers as Samuel Beckett or Jean-Paul Sartre and believed in a philosophy that would actively promote a positive engagement with life.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Karl Marxio Brothers: An 8-bit ‘Marxism for Dummies’ for the digital generation

marx8bit1.jpg
 
Dialectical materialism as explained by 8-bit philosophy, a kind of “Super Marxio” or “Marxism for Dummies” for the digital generation. Why bother with boring old Das Kapital when you can bluff your way through the exam with this four-minute video?

More low resolution gems of useful information on Plato, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Zeno, Descartes and Kierkegaard can be found here, or better still, read the books.
 

 
H/T Nerdcore

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘The Black Man in the Cosmos’: Sun Ra teaches at UC Berkeley, 1971
07.18.2014
06:48 am

Topics:
Music
Race
Thinkers

Tags:
Sun Ra


 
The first thing I’d do with a time machine is point it to Berkeley, California, 1971. Those are the spacetime coordinates of the Afro-American Studies course Sun Ra taught at UC Berkeley. I’ve never been able to find an image of an original syllabus, but the reading list reportedly included the King James Bible, Blavatsky, Ouspensky, Radix by Bill Looney, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, LeRoi Jones’ Black Fire, The Real History of the Rosicrucians, The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians, The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries, OAHSPE, and In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom.

According to John F. Szwed’s scholarly biography Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra, when students complained that some of these books were impossible to find, their professor “merely smiled knowingly”—of course the books that disclosed the secret history of the world were hard to come by. Szwed describes the class:

“Every week during the spring quarter of 1971 he met his class, Afro-American Studies 198: ‘The Black Man in the Cosmos,’ in a large room in the music department building. Although a respectable number of students signed up, after a couple of classes it was down to a handful (‘What could you expect with a course named like that,’ Sun Ra once chortled). [...] But it was a proper course—Sun Ra had after all trained to be a teacher in college—with class handouts, assignments, and a reading list which made even the most au courant sixties professors’ courses pale.

[...] In a typical lecture, Sun Ra wrote biblical quotes on the board and then ‘permutated’ them—rewrote and transformed their letters and syntax into new equations of meaning, while members of the Arkestra passed through the room, preventing anyone from taping the class. His lecture subjects included Neoplatonic doctrines; the application of ancient history and religious texts to racial problems; pollution and war; and a radical reinterpretation of the Bible in light of Egyptology.”

Apparently, the Arkestra’s agents failed to prevent the taping of Sun Ra’s May 4 lecture, a recording of which surfaced on the double-CD set The Creator Of The Universe. Though the recording starts and ends abruptly in mid-sentence, it’s actually of higher fidelity than much of the master’s officially sanctioned musical product (just listen to the tapping of the chalk on the board). The whole thing is worth listening to, but for me the climax comes around the 37-minute mark. “If you’re not mad at the world, you don’t have what it takes,” Sun Ra told his musicians, and towards the end of the lecture, the questions of a tardy student seem to touch a nerve. Prof. Ra’s improvised response is an impassioned summary of his militant, gnostic philosophy:

“I’m thinking about the future of black Egypt, which is outside of the realm of history. History has been very unkind to black people, so actually what I’m always talking about is the myth, and nothing that has ever been is part of what I’m talking about, because I’m saying that black folks need a myth-ocracy instead of a de-mocracy. Because they’re not gonna make it in anything else. They’re not gonna make it in history[. . .]

You see, that’s what’s wrong with y’all. Now here you walk in, the last man to get in here, and you gonna ask questions. But honesty is not what I’m talking about. You’re not in a place where truth can do you any good. So you gonna have to come to me privately, and we’ll talk about things that can help the black race. Truth has been abolished, so any truth you say is not permissible in here, because it never done anybody any good. Now, I’m dealing with things that can do you some good. If I come across the biggest lie in the universe, if it can help the black race, then I’m gonna use it. That’s fair warning to anybody, any nation on the face of the earth. I’m gonna use anything I find, and any weapon that I find.

Now I find that the truth is not permissible for me to use. Because I’m not righteous and holy; I’m evil. That’s because I’m black. And I’m not a striver to any righteousness. I never been righteous, I’m never going to be righteous. So now I’m evil. I’m the incarnation of evil. I’m black. I’m following their dictionary. Now I’m dealing with equations. I can’t go around and tell you I’m ‘right’ or ‘good’ when the dictionary is telling everybody in the world everything black is evil and wicked, so then I come and say, ‘Yes. So what? Yes, I’m wicked. Yes, I’m evil.’ I’m not gonna be converted. I’m not gonna strive to righteousness. I don’t wanna go to heaven, because good folks don’t never do nothing but be good, and they always failing, and they always getting killed, and they frustrating. So all I see on this planet is something evil like the white man being successful, and successful, and successful, and successful.

And I see evil killing black men every day, destroying him. Why should I be good? No, it’s better for me to come up to the white race and say, ‘Yes. We evil people should sit down to the table and talk together. You’re evil, I’m evil too. Now, them other folks that you’re dealing with are good black folks. I’m not good, and you’re not good. We understand one another.’”

This is before he gets to explaining that white people are evil and wicked because “they were made evil and wicked in imitation of the evil and wicked black man,” but you should really just listen to the whole thing.

Listen to, or download the entire thing at Sensitive Skin

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Brain-dead, redneck diesel lovers brag about how much toxic smoke their trucks can spew

Rollin' Coal
 
I’ve long since stopped being amazed at the mental knots that white, male conservatives (usually white and usually male, anyway) will tie themselves into as a reaction to their rage that other voices are permitted to participate in the political process and even occasionally combine to form a consensus that might infringe on their god-given rights to be a malicious dickwad. In the last month or so we’ve seen the phenomenon, in reaction to some 2nd Amendment infringements that are mostly imaginary, of shotgun-toting fellows deciding that Home Depot as well as various chain eateries might be a appropriate venues to bring portable machinery expressly designed to kill living organisms. The pushback on the part of Chili’s, Sonic, Chipotle, and Starbuck’s have largely been successful.

Valorizing guns is stupid and rude. When you enter a restaurant with lethal weapons, the best-case outcome is that everyone else in the establishment feels threatened and must cower in the face of your cheaply purchased superiority (it’s not that difficult to carry a gun, after all, any dummy or old fart can usually accomplish at least that much). Even to mention the disheartening statistics is a sure sign that you support Obummer’s incipient Orwellian police state, but here goes: In the United States, deaths due to firearms occur on the order of 30 a day; over a 99-day period in 2013, 215 children were killed, the vast majority as a result of accidents.

Anyway, the latest display of inconsiderate mouth-breathing bullshit has to do with climate change. It’s become common for the proud owners of diesel trucks to champion the unpleasant black spew that emanates from their vehicles as a key blow struck in the name of freedom, against the liberal elite that seeks to save the planet from climate-related catastrophe. The keyword for this, er, “movement” is “Rollin’ Coal.” There’s a “Rollin’ COAL” group on Facebook that has 15,000 likes. The commenters who push back against the fossil fuel stupidity routinely invoke the modest penis length of the “Rollin’ Coal” crowd:

“I’ve never seen a larger collection of men with tiny dicks over-compensating than on this page.”

 
Truck Yeah
 
One of the favorite tropes of the “Rollin’ Coal” groups is a little poem that goes like this:
 

Roll, roll, rollin’ coal
Let the hybrid see.
A big black cloud.
Exhaust that’s loud.
Watch the city boy flee.

 
Here’s a brief description of the trend, from “‘Rollin’ Coal’ Is Pollution Porn for Dudes With Pickup Trucks” by Elizabeth Kulze:
 

In small towns across America, manly men are customizing their jacked-up diesel trucks to intentionally emit giant plumes of toxic smoke every time they rev their engines. They call it “rollin’ coal,” and it’s something they do for fun.

-snip-

Aside from being macho, the rollin’ coal culture is also a renegade one. Kids make a point of blowing smoke back at pedestrians [see the video at the bottom of this page], in addition to cop cars and rice burners (Japanese-made sedans), which can make it dangerously difficult to see out of the windshield. Diesel soot can also be a great road rage weapon should some wimpy looking Honda Civic ever piss you off. “If someone makes you mad, you can just roll coal, and it makes you feel better sometimes,” says Ryan, a high school senior who works at the diesel garage with Robbie. “The other day I did it to this kid who was driving a Mustang with his windows down, and it was awesome.”

 
I haven’t figured out a way to embed it, but Kulze’s article features a video that makes the resentment-based roots of the diesel enthusiasm explicit, with its tittering references to “Prius driving socialists.” It’s really worth a look.

What’s most astonishing about the “Rollin’ Coal” folks is that, I mean, surely the highly visible black smoke tends to make the climate change case, doesn’t it? Is there any way that that smoke could be good for the environment? Have these diesel drivers ever seen a fish, a pond, a leaf, or a tree? Do they think that bees, trees and tadpoles can just withstand the toxic fumes with no consequence? It’s difficult to figure out what they’re thinking about or if they are even capable of thought at all. At best the practice is a way of saying “I get to do whatever I want, and any bad things that occur are your problem.” Lovely. I gain some comfort from considering that these types of particularly stupid good ol’ boys often graciously volunteer to remove themselves from the gene pool with drunk driving and other fun activities.

Below, a compilation of asshat diesel truck drivers intentionally releasing their smoky coal-black smoky on pedestrians, bicyclists, children and so forth. Surely this meets the definition of “assault” wouldn’t it? It’s as bad as spitting in someone’s face…
 

 
via Lawyers, Guns & Money

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Ayn Rand ‘objectively’ explains to ‘Cat Fancy’ that cats are awesome, 1966
06.16.2014
05:47 am

Topics:
Animals
Books
Thinkers

Tags:
Ayn Rand
cats

Ayn Rand
 
It’s difficult to think of something—anything—that could endear Ayn Rand to me, but the news that she was a cat person certainly would be in that unlikely ballpark.

That said, I’d peg this curious missive she sent to Cat Fancy magazine on March 20, 1966, as an obvious hoax if it wasn’t right there in the volume dedicated to her correspondence.
 

Dear Miss Smith,

You ask whether I own cats or simply enjoy them, or both. The answer is: both. I love cats in general and own two in particular.

You ask: “We are assuming that you have an interest in cats, or was your subscription strictly objective?” My subscription was strictly objective because I have an interest in cats. I can demonstrate objectively that cats are of a great value, and the carter issue of Cat Fancy magazine can serve as part of the evidence. (“Objective” does not mean “disinterested” or indifferent; it means corresponding to the facts of reality and applies both to knowledge and to values.)

I subscribed to Cat Fancy primarily for the sake of the picture, and found the charter issue very interesting and enjoyable.

 
It’s especially great that even when writing Cat Fancy about her fondness for cats, she still can’t help getting into a nitpicky semantic debate over the word “objective”! Cat Fancy apparently set out the bait, and she went for it, like, well, a cat goes after a sardine…...
 
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand swooning over the heroic properties of the American industrialist with an especially adorable Objectivist pal
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Anarchism in America


 
As the title promises, Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher’s Anarchism in America is a documentary survey of anarchism in the United States. The film presents an overview of the movement’s history, such as the Spanish Civil War, the 1917 Revolution, Emma Goldman, and the deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti, and takes these as the points of departure for what were then (1983) contemporary observations from the outside looking in on Ronald Reagan’s America. Whether viewed as a time capsule or as an able introduction to the various forms of anarchism, the film makes for fascinating viewing and has held up well after 31 years.

What’s perfectly obvious is how much of a libertarian or individualistic route the American strain of anarchism takes—let’s call it “free market anarchism”—in stark contrast to European-style communal living experiments (such as squatters’ groups or farm co-ops). They’re just not quite the same school of thought, although if you were to draw a Venn diagram of what they do have in common, it would be significant but also… probably equally incompatible for the things which they lack in simpatico. Does anyone in Anarchism in America have any hopes for a revolution? Seemingly not in their lifetimes. (Many of them were right, of course. I’ve read that the filmmakers are planning a sequel, so I’d suspect that post-Occupy, post-Piketty, there would be more positive prognostications to be found along those lines today.)
 

Emma Goldman will not attend your revolution if she can’t dance….

The film also offers anarchist or anarchist-leaning thinkers uninterrupted camera time to make their points. Like Murray Bookchin, who says this:
 

I had entered the communist children’s movement, an organization called the Young Pioneers of America, in 1930 in New York City; I was only nine years of age. And I’d gone through the entire ’30s as a—Stalinist—initially, and then increasingly as someone who was more and more sympathetic to Trotskyism. And by 1939, after having seen Hitler rise to power, the Austrian workers’ revolt of 1934 (an almost completely forgotten episode in labor history), the Spanish revolution, by which I mean the so-called Spanish civil war—I finally became utterly disillusioned with Stalinism, and drifted increasingly toward Trotskyism. And by 1945, I, finally, also became disillusioned with Trotskyism; and I would say, now, increasingly with Marxism and Leninism.

And I began to try to explore what were movements and ideologies, if you like, that really were liberatory, that really freed people of this hierarchical mentality, of this authoritarian outlook, of this complete assimilation by the work ethic. And I now began to turn, very consciously, toward anarchist views, because anarchism posed a question, not simply of a struggle between classes based upon economic exploitation—anarchism really was posing a much broader historical question that even goes beyond our industrial civilization—not just classes, but hierarchy—hierarchy as it exists in the family, hierarchy as it exists in the school, hierarchy as it exists in sexual relationships, hierarchy as it exists between ethnic groups. Not only class divisions, based upon economic exploitation. And it was concerned not only with economic exploitation, it was concerned with domination, domination which may not even have any economic meaning at all: the domination of women by men in which women are not economically exploited; the domination of ordinary people by bureaucrats, in which you may even have welfare, so-called socialist type of state; domination as it exists today in China, even when you’re supposed to have a classless society; domination even as it exists in Russia, where you are supposed to have a classless society, you see.

So these are the things I noted in anarchism, and increasingly I came to the conclusion that if we were to avoid—or if we are to avoid—the mistakes in over one hundred years of proletarian socialism, if we are to really achieve a liberatory movement, not simply in terms of economic questions but in terms of every aspect of life, we would have to turn to anarchism because it alone posed the problem, not merely of class domination but hierarchical domination, and it alone posed the question, not simply of economic exploitation, but exploitation in every sphere of life. And it was that growing awareness, that we had to go beyond classism into hierarchy, and beyond exploitation into domination, that led me into anarchism, and to a commitment to an anarchist outlook.

 
Worth noting that Bookchin left anarchism behind, too, due to what he saw as the antisocial element to American style anarchist thought.

There’s one particularly amazing piece of footage (among several included in the film) that I wanted to call to your attention. It’s the demonstration of how a policeman’s truncheon fares against various food items such as an egg, squash, and an eggplant before moving on to a Yippie’s head. That clip comes from an “answer” film made by the Yippies in the aftermath of the Chicago riots that was played on television there due to the “equal-time” rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political parties who request it. When Mayor Richard Daley got to tell the city’s side of the story in something called “What Trees Did They Plant?” the Yippies got to tell their side in an extremely whacked-out short film scripted by Paul Krassner. That starts at 30:50 but if you want to see the entire thing, click over to archive.org, they’ve got it. (The guy with the truncheon is Chicago-based lefty humorist and radio broadcaster Marshall Efron, who played one of the prisoners in George Lucas’ THX 1138. He was also the voice of “Smelly Smurf” and works as a voice actor in animated films to this day.)

Toward the end of Anarchism in America, Jello Biafra and Dead Kennedys are seen onstage performing “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now,” while in the interview segment a level-headed young Biafra suggests that anarchy, or some sort of revolution in the USA, is probably a long, long way off. If they do make the sequel, he’s one of the first people they ought to interview for it. I’d be curious if he still feels that way. I would suspect that he’s much more optimistic these days.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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God save the teens: the insane YouTube channel of mall goths Raven and Tara
06.09.2014
09:22 am

Topics:
Amusing
Stupid or Evil?
Thinkers

Tags:
goth
Raven
Tara
Hot Topic

fighiw
 
Raven, Your Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness and her pal Tara are on a goth-lite freakout!
 
Meet the new store-bought modern angst. The truth found herein is something even Marilyn Manson probably couldn’t have predicted. Amazingly, these girls were lucky enough to find each other, their short-lived cohort Azer, and YouTube. And now we can look into their black fishbowl and see what goes on in the deepest recesses of the mall goth’s bedroom. Watching them strangle themselves, bitch each other out and desperately try to lip-sync while losing themselves, busting out with grunts & out of tune screaming is a revelation! Not from The Satanic Bible though, but more from a redecorated-in-black Barbie comic book. Having been in Danzig for a bunch of years, I had met tons of demented teens with good & bad ideas, but this is a whole new thing. I would put money on the fact that Raven, Your Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness and her pal Tara have never heard of The Church of Satan. Anton LaVey’s photo would surely bring a collective “ewwwwwww.” Their taste in music (and their terrible Harry Potter fan fiction) is appalling and their motivation is quite skewed (to me). It’s new! It’s now! It makes no sense! Gotta love it.
 
In this early video that they made with their friend Azer, Mime of Satan’s Bidding (whose father wouldn’t let him be on YouTube, but then didn’t care, so they posted it), we have a perfect introduction to our new “serious as death” friends:
 

 
If they weren’t so young & so real it could be a Saturday Night Live sketch, but as much as I don’t get their motivation, I love how happy and in-the-moment “the darkness” makes them. When they really let go and forget they’re lip-syncing and the grunts of joy burst forth it’s like a cute exorcism.
 
tyrhftd5er
 
“We like” (together) “BEING GOTH! It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle.” Their relatives think Hot Topic is a devil store. “AFI & My Chemical Romance saved my life!” they scream desperately.

Azer, Mime of Satan’s Bidding got caught going into the “prep mall” while they were being goth across the street at Hot Topic, causing his ousting, explained here:
 

 
Death to false goth! Easy come, easy go. See ya Azer, Mime of Satan’s Bidding! These girls are so insane & so funny I just hope that there’s a lot of them out there! Haha! Tara’s mom comes in at one point and tells them to be quiet just before they sing “Hate will kill us all!” Then Raven accuses Tara of stealing her moves. I could watch this all day. Oh, I have! This was all uploaded five, six years ago, so I wonder—what are these two doing now?
 
rugjvers
 
And finally this last message, probably the best video I’ve seen in years, the poignant “A Message To The Haters.”
 

 
Hail Satan.

Posted by Howie Pyro | Discussion
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‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

Tags:
Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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DM interviews Alex van Warmerdam, director of the surreal thriller ‘Borgman’
06.05.2014
01:03 pm

Topics:
Movies
Thinkers

Tags:
Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam

namgrob11pos.jpg
 
With his latest movie Borgman, award-winning Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam has created a dark, comic, incredibly thrilling, and haunting tale that holds the attention long after the final frame.

The film opens with a caption that reads like a quote from the Old Testament:

“And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks.”

Van Warmerdam has described this as a “perfect summation” of what is to come. But his explanation may quickly be forgotten as the audience is drawn into a tale that is by turns fable, comedy, drama, and horror, leading up to its chilling and inevitable denouement.

Once the caption has gone, we are thrown into a sequence where we witness a priest and two hunters seeking out the mysterious central character Borgman and his two accomplices, who lie sleeping in a giant underground burrow. It is like a dream, a nightmare, where the trio hunt out their quarry by plunging long metal rods into the ground. Nothing is explained (who are these strange men? what have they done?), and we are quickly and cleverly brought straight into the story, pulled along by this thrilling opening.

Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of childhood tales of trolls, or Stoker’s vampires buried with their earth, or even Satan being cast out by the Archangel Michael. These associations may seem intentional and it is easy to connect van Warmerdam’s film with a variety of religious and literary themes, but as he explained to me via email:

“No, that was not my intention. But if you start with [what sounds like] a Bible quote and you immediately show at the beginning a priest who hunts a man under the ground then you should not be surprised if people have these kind of associations.”

Adding by way of explanation:

“I was raised a Catholic, was an altar boy, that is an attractive source to draw from.”

Religious parables can offer inspiration, but there is also another influence at work here, as Van Warmerdam, who writes, directs and stars in his own films, is also an artist—he has been painting since he was a child—and it is this painterly quality (as can be seen most obviously in the reference to Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare”) that adds to the quality of van Warmerdam’s cinematic vision.
 
namgrob2.jpg
 
From his first movie, the tragicomedy Abel (1986), which examined the strange relationship between a father and son, to his next, The Northerners (1992), a wonderfully surreal black comedy set on one street, up to Waiter (2006), van Warmerdam has developed a delightfully dark, often brutally funny, and absurd vision of the world.

When I asked him, who or what had influenced his directing style, van Warmerdam replied, “Jean Pierre Melville, Buñuel, Hitchcock, Laurel and Hardy.” This could be an almost perfect definition of what to expect from an Alex van Warmerdam movie.

All those elements are present in his latest film Borgman. Van Warmerdam has created an utterly fantastic, brilliant, unsettling thriller that examines the insidious nature of evil. It revolves around the eponymous Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) who inveigles his way into one middle class family’s life (Hadewych Minis and Jeroen Perceval) with horrifying results. The film suggests that every action, every ill-considered desire, has an inevitable cost—which here is often fatal. On the one hand, the film is like a modern parable, a mix of demonic, domestic satire and violent thriller, as seen through the prism of van Warmerdam’s imagination.

The casting and acting throughout are superb, in particular Bijvoet’s chilling performance, as well as those from Minis and Perceval, and Tom Dewispelaere and van Warmerdam as the accomplices.
 
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How would you descibe the character Borgman?

Alex van Warmerdam: He is an evil version of myself. He does what I would do If I were him.

What was your inspiration for writing the film Borgman’?

AvW: I read an interview with Buñuel in which he tells about one of his great inspirations, the Marquis de Sade. Buñuel: “de Sade commited his crimes only in his imagination as a way to free himself from his criminal tendencies. The imagination can afford all the liberties. It’s something different if you committed these crimes in real life. The imagination is free, man is not.”

In a way this opened my eyes. So I start writing with a bigger feeling of freedom then ever before. I really felt the need to descend into parts of my brain I had never been.

If you see my movie it’s not all that bad. I guess I have nevertheless limits of taste and morality. I have read de Sade, sometimes it’s really disgusting. Compared to him, I am a toddler.

Anyway, the understanding that the imagination can afford all the liberties was a great help during the writing.

What do you hope an audience will take away from your movie?

AvW: I’m not a messenger. It is sufficient for me if they have a good time. Even better is if they are still working on it afterwards.
 
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What are you working on next?

AvW: I start shooting a new film coming in July. It’s called Schneider vs. Bax. It’s a story about a contract killer who has to kill a writer in a little house on a lake. It seems like a simple job, but it appears to be a misconception.

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival ‘Borgman’ is an incredible film, which goes on release from Drafthouse Films in America from June 6th.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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