This beautiful 1944 silent film from husband-and-wife team Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid is quite possibly the only evidence we need that cats are the ultimate well-spring of creativity.
Deren and Hammid were both staples of the 1940s Greenwich Village avant-garde art scene. Deren, in particular, is considered a pioneer of film (and about 1,000 other artistic pursuits). Using their own cats in their own apartment, they chronicle the interior world of a cat “family,” and it’s just insanely compelling, even outside of the cat-lady milieu! A few short title cards loosely structure the trials and challenges of (and for) the new kittens. The tightness of the shots and attention to movement creates an intimacy with the viewer and the “performers.” While Deren and Hammid are most known for their first avant-garde film, Meshes in the Afternoon (which David Lynch cited as a major influence for Lost Highway), this lovely and weird little short is not to be overlooked.
Although credited solely to Hammid, it’s thought that Deren was more the director of the film, while Hammid did the shooting and the editing.
Ken Russell had thought about making a film on Debussy for some time. He was ‘hovering on the feature film fringe,’ having just made his first movie French Dressing, in 1964. But it had sadly flopped and he had returned to work as a producer and director for the BBC’s arts series Monitor.
Making a feature film had encouraged Russell’s ambitions, and he now had a revolutionary idea for a new kind of documentary arts film, but he wasn’t quite sure how best to achieve it. This was when Russell met Melvyn Bragg, a young Northern writer, who was also working in the Monitor office.
At twenty, Bragg had decided to become a writer, but thought ‘quite rightly as it turned out,’ that he wouldn’t be able to make a living from it. So, he got a job, to support his literary ambitions.
‘I got a BBC traineeship when I was twenty-one,’ Bragg told me in 1984. ‘Went into radio, which I liked an awful lot. Worked in Newcastle. Worked in the World Service, Bush House. Then I worked in Broadcasting House, in the Features Department. I was going to stay there—I didn’t like television, except for Monitor—and I said I’d only go into television if I could get an attachment onto Monitor. Eventually, one came up, and I got it.’
Russell wanted to share his idea with Bragg. He met him in a cafe, and told Bragg about Debussy and his plan for a new kind of arts documentary—a film-within-a-film. Together they wrote a script, and Bragg turned it into a screenplay.
‘When I did Debussy, Ken’s first talkie on television, nobody had done that before I did that as a screenplay as a way to make it work. The real problem you’ve got with biopics about people is that there is no structured drama in anybody’s life. You’ve got to make it.
‘What you’ve got are pits, which are very good, all over the fucking shop, and you’ve got to have that bit because [they’re] terrific, and you’ve got to have that bit because there’s hardly any relationship between them. Where, if you write a play, or write a book, there is a relationship because you’ve written it like that. But in people’s lives, something happens there, and 7 years later, something else happens. This enables us to dip in-and-out.’
It was a lunchtime in May, and I was interviewing Bragg in his office, at London Weekend Television, where he worked as editor and presenter of the (now legendary) arts series, The South Bank Show. Bragg sat behind his desk, dressed as usual in a suit (‘Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person that I am talking to’), eating an apple for his lunch.
Bragg said he thought Russell ‘a very brilliant, eccentric and erratic talent, he can be marvelous.’
The Debussy Film was the first of several highly successful collaborations between Russell and Bragg—as director and writer. A partnership that lasted until The Music Lovers (‘I had a big row with [Ken] on that which is fairly public. I hated it.’) The pair later worked together again on several documentaries for The South Bank Show .
It was also Russell’s first collaboration with actor Oliver Reed, who later described the director as:
Jesus is not Christ, only Russell.
Reed was a rare talent, who had been slightly over-looked by film producers because of a scar on his face, which he had received on a drunken night out. But Reed was more than just a feared Hell-raiser, he was a brilliant actor who brought an incredibly complex and emotional depth to the role of Debussy.
‘Debussy was an ambiguous character,’ Russell told one of his biographers, John Baxter in 1973.
...and I always let the character of the person or his work dictate the way a film goes. Also, one was a bit critical of artists like Debussy and I thought the time had come to ask questions, and the natural way for me to ask questions was to have a film director [Vladek Sheybal] talking to an actor [Oliver Reed], because an actor always asks questions about the character he’s playing and the director usually had to answer them, or try to, often to keep him happy. And when I found Debussy was friendly with an intellectual named Pierre Louys from whom he derived a lot, it seemed an analogous relationship to that of a film director and an actor. There are some points in the film, I think, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the director talking to the actor or Louys talking to Debussy—passages of intentional ambiguity.
Born in his music and his life, Debussy was a great sensualist. There’s a line of his in the film: “Music should express things that can’t be said,” which simply means to me that music is something which, the moment you talk about it, disintegrates and becomes meaningless. That’s what I mean by sensuality—something that’s felt rather than reasoned.
Ken Russell directing ‘The Debussy Film’ (1965)
While The Debussy Film may at first appear a film that is “felt rather than reasoned,” it has to be understood that every element of it is based on fact, taken from letters and personal details of the main characters. Also, by presenting inter-linking narratives, Russell was able to question, examine and comment on Debussy’s creative life, and the damage it caused him to those he loved.
With Debussy I felt it was important to say something about his music and attitudes to it as well as relevant facts of his life. A good example of this is his relationship with his mistress Gaby, and her inability to understand either him or his art. There’s a scene where the actor playing Debussy goes to a party with his girlfriend (playing Gaby) and puts on a record of Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. He wants to listen to it, to be immersed completely; he sees in it images of art nouveau. But everyone else in the room, instead of carrying on talking, or dancing to it, or giving it half an ear, all become silent and listen to the music with a mixture of duty and piety, which is all too often the case. His girlfriend, who just sees him as being perverse, does a strip-tease to it and ridicules both the man and his music. People are very wary of the heightening of experience, and want to knock it down. It’s fear as much as anything that makes her do the strip dance, fear of something she doesn’t understand and so can only get level with by ridiculing. A lot of people still do that, not just with art but with life.
I wasn’t totally on Debussy’s side; in a sense he had no right to disrupt the party. But artists are dogmatic and pig-headed, and they over-ride people. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in films have quite dispassionately sacrificed someone in their way who understood them. It’s not nice but that’s how it works. The end of the film, the music from his unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, with Debussy alone in the castle and his ghostly mistress—whom he drove to attempted suicide—rising up, was an analogy of the lost romantic ideal he had destroyed by his disregard for people. You can be an egomaniac up to a point but in the end it can destroy you, or your work, or both.
The Debussy Film is Russell developing the style and technique that would make him internationally recognized as one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. His approach was revolutionary and brilliant, and The Debussy Film changed television and cinematic biography for good. It also revealed another side to Oliver Reed (who is quite brilliant) and Vladek Sheybal, who was usually typecast as KGB agents. The film also contains cameos form artists Duggie Fields and Pauline Boty.
By now, I’m sure you’ve all read about the “controversial” 1991 painting “Bea Arthur Naked” by artist John Currin that sold for $1.9 million at Christie’s yesterday. It’s been all over the blogsphere.
Well, if you linked to Currin’s now infamous image on your Facebook page and featured Bea Arthur’s naked breasts, for all to see, you might have received a notice from Facebook implementing a 24-hour ban from posting on your page.
The Daily Beast is reporting this happened to them and so are a few other websites and journalists.
According to The Daily Beast when they contacted Facebook they were told by a spokesperson, “Our policy prohibits photos of actual nude people, not paintings or sculptures.”
The spokesperson laid the blame on the company’s “dedicated User Operations Team,” and reviewers in “several offices around the globe,” who look at “millions of pieces of this content a day.”
“As you might expect,” she concluded, “occasionally, we make a mistake and block a piece of content we shouldn’t have.” She said Facebook has an appeals process in place for anyone who thinks they’ve been wrongly banned, and directed me here.
The Daily Beast’s Facebook page was back to normal as of 2pm Tuesday.
“Bon Anniversaire” to Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. The polymath musician, intellectual, visual artist and noted pornography enthusiast was born on this day in 1948, making him now officially a senior citizen.
Below, Brian Eno interviewed recently in New York as part of the Red Bull Music Academy. Of special note, his notion of “scenious” or the special kind of creativity that happens when there are large numbers of collaborators in a particular “scene.”
Francis Bacon indulged the myths about his life. All those tales of Bacchanalia were always far more preferable to the hushed reality of his rising at 6am and working till early afternoon, while his drinking buddies slept-off hang-overs in the watery, morning light. Bacon was no slacker, but he tended to hide his industry and discipline behind endless tales of excess. As for the drinking, well, I have been told that often while out boozing Bacon would pay a visit to the gents, where he would tip the contents of his glass down a sink. Bacon preferred to watch others disintegrate, rather than fall apart himself.
That’s not to say he wasn’t reckless, no, Bacon was often in debt to casinos, and painted pictures to pay off his losses. His studies of Vincent Van Gogh in the late 1950s, were rushed out to help pay his massive gambling debts. The canvases were still wet when first exhibited, and it was claimed by Bacon’s friend and biographer, Dan Farson, that at the exhibition’s preview, as the drink flowed and the legs stumbled, some became so drunk that they leant against the canvases and left with fresh Bacon’s imprinted on the back’s of their jackets.
It’s worth pointing out that most of Bacon’s canvases are exhibited behind glass, though this may have only started after he joined the Marlborough Gallery in the 1960s. Whether true or not, it’s the kind of tale Bacon would have enjoyed. Yet, Bacon was incredibly serious about his art, which can be seen from this documentary Francis Bacon: Fragments of a Portrait, from 1966, which gives an excellent insight into Bacon’s working processes, obsessions and influences, as discussed by the artist with writer and critic, David Sylvester.
Simply sublime. If you haven’t seen Japanese dance artist Miyoko Shida’s hypnotic performance on the Spanish TV program Tú Sí Que Vales—it’s been making the rounds for a while now—it’s well-worth the seven minutes you’ll spend on it.
You’ll feel like you took a Xanax afterwards, trust me…
As someone points out in the YouTube comments, “I would not like to play this woman in Jenga.”
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The iconic phallic “Rocking Machine,” as seen in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, has been reproduced by Medicom Toy Life Entertainment for $1,836.05 and is for sale on eBay. It’s three-feet long and little over a foot wide.
Everyone needs a penis-shaped murder weapon, right me droogy buddies?
Marko Mäetamm is a multimedia artist, who works within the mediums of video, photography, drawing, painting and the Internet. Over the past 2 decades, Marko has established himself as an original and provocative artist, and his work has been exhibited across Europe.
Born in South Estonia, Mäetamm ‘grew up without any artistic influences,’ and did not consider becoming an artist until he was 18.
‘The first time I thought doing something creative was through this friend, who was a great fan of Prog Rock and Heavy Metal,’ Marko explains. ‘And the first time I felt I really wanted to do something visual or artistic was when I was looking at the these Heavy Metal and Prog Rock album sleeves at his place.
‘This was at the beginning of the 1980s, when Estonia was part of Soviet Union and you couldn’t legally buy any Western music in stores. It was all smuggled in somehow, so you had to know people who knew people who knew other people to get access to original albums of any kind of Western music. It was more common to share tape-recorded copies of the albums rather than to have the original vinyl.
‘So, my first “serious drawings” were copies of all of these album covers and bands.’
Marko jokes that these were ‘terribly bad drawings,’ but it was still enough to inspire his interest, and after 2 compulsory years in the Soviet Army, he studied study printmaking at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn.
‘It was still the end of Soviet regime, so we didn’t get much information of what was happening in the world of contemporary art. My first influences were all these great modern artists we had to study—Rousseau, Matisse, Chagall, Picasso and so on. That was until I discovered Pop Art, at the end of my studies, and got really into it.
‘This was all happening around the same time the new wave of Young British Artists jumped on the stage, but then nobody was talking about it in Estonia. So it shows you how huge a gap there was between the art here in Estonia, and international art. It took the whole 90-s to cover this gap.’
Dangerous Minds: How would you describe yourself as an artist and how would you describe your art?
Marko Mäetamm: ‘It is always difficult to describe yourself. It is kind of a tricky thing. We never see ourselves the way like the other people do, even when we look in the mirror we actually see our image in a mirror – the eye that we think is our right eye is actually our left eye for other people and so on. And our voice we hear coming from inside us is totally different from the voice other people hear us talking with.
‘But to try to say something - I think I am quite obsessed by my work and I probably need it to keep myself in balance. I say, “I think” because I do think that it might be like that, I don’t really know. And I think that I may not function as good if I didn’t have that channel – art, to communicate with the world. I have come to recognize this by thinking of my own projects during my career. And how my ideas change. People have asked me if I have a therapeutic relationship with my work, and I have always answered that it is absolutely possible. But I really don’t know and I don’t even know if I would need to know it. I don’t know if that would make my work better.’
Cleveland resident Stephen Munhollon explains why he got a portrait of Charles Ramsey tattooed on the back of his calf (right next to his Chuck Norris tat, natch):
You could ask the question, did I want to get Charles Ramsey tattooed on my leg, and the obvious answer is no. The real question is, was I willing to get Charles Ramsey tattooed on my leg, and the answer was yes…In society, a lot of times people choose not to get involved in situations. I think what’s really grabbed people in regards to Mr. Ramsey, is he’s an average, everyday guy. He’s an ordinary person, he was put in an extraordinary situation that he could have walked away from. But he chose to do something.
Apparently this all started when tattoo aritist Rodney Rose offered a free ink job—but it had to be of Ramsey—to anyone who was up for it. Munhollon took him up on his offer.