Tag Archives: anthology film archives

if i can make it there

I don’t think I’ve ever given Liza Minnelli enough credit.

Yes, maybe her money notes have an unmistakable edge to them, and yes, maybe she has grown up in the shadow of her mother’s talent and tragedy, but after watching Scorsese’s New York, New York at Anthology Film Archives for the first time last night, I really do appreciate Liza.  (I’ve always been on a first-name basis with her, mostly due to my having picked up somewhere in my youthful musical theatre career an impression of her that consist of drawing out her first name in what I thought to be a decent version of her voice, a rather unfair and entirely ungrounded in actual knowledge of Liza Minnelli performances.)

Martin Scorsese's 1977 tribute to my new home.

Sometimes I doubt myself as a CAMS major, but watching this movie reminded me how I always remind myself why I love movies.  You devote 155 minutes to Scorsese, and to Liza, and by the end you care so hard about Francine Evans that you are sitting in a dark, half-filled theatre with hipsters and academics and nostalgic aging New Yorkers and snappily-dressed queer dudes from the Village, and you are sobbing as you listen to that iconic number.  The words mean things to you that they would never have meant a week ago, but now you have moved to New York, if only for the summer, and all the time you have spent thinking “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?” is made into a needle by those words, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”  It pierces the left side of your chest and you feel yourself swelling and deflating at once, tears streaming down your face, and it feels SO GOOD.  Films that make you realize how you know yourself remind you why you wanted to spend your life studying these strange little miracles called movies.

Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro as lovers and musicians in New York, New York.

New York, New York is built on a love story, but it is at its heart, a love story about this city.  Francine and Jimmy don’t last.  But each of them finds success (sort of), which we see through Scorsese’s brilliant contrasting of their respective final renditions of the theme song.  You end up alone, but you have this city, and your art, and your self — three things that speak, in concert, directly to my own fascination with psychogeographic practice.  But most of all, the film, which is beautiful in spite of (because of?) the rampant drug use and sexual intrigue that went on behind the scenes in its production, spoke to the way that I am rapidly falling in love with this place — madly, head-over-heels in love.  It inspires passion like no other location I have ever encounter; New Yorkers, a motley and lovely band among which I aspire to count myself, all seem to have incredibly strong feelings about the city.  About the bagels, the pizza, the water that makes the bagels and the pizza the best in the world, and in particular about themselves.  So many of the residents have pet theories about what makes New York ‘New York’ or what New Yorkers are or ought to be, and so many of them seem willing to discuss this with me, from the fervent recommendations from the lady ahead of me in line in the bagel shop a few mornings ago on Long Island, to the pleasant surprise of an animated conversation with a high school girl from Senegal on the 1 train heading to 86th Street.

Maybe this is all a sort of glorified narcissism, and this self-absorption is what underlies both the on- and 0ff-screen dynamics of New York, New York.  But it is perhaps our selves that we know best, and in creating art and thinking critically about what we know, these lived experiences as New Yorkers and human beings, perhaps we can find by induction some small bit of truth or clarity that sheds light on the human condition.  This, I think, is what Scorsese and Minnelli achieve in last night’s film, and what I ought to be trying to achieve in my time here.  So forgive me for doubting you, Liza, and keep on singing your anthem to this eternal metropolis of misguided dreams and minor miracles.

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post-transitory thoughts

I have now officially been a New Yorker for three days.  After a week spent getting over a surprisingly tough round of post-Denmark jet lag and the overwhelming joys of seeing everyone I love on the Carleton Campus, I have again moved on, this time to THE BIG APPLE, where I am interning at Anthology Film Archives and hopefully helping (and documenting) fellow Carls Gabe and Henry as they make a feature film.

In many ways, being here is like beginning yet another study abroad program — although I have visited the city as a tourist about five times previously, actually living and working in New York is as foreign to my experience thus far as being in Japan or Denmark was.  And living in Bushwick, which is heavily populated with Puerto Rican families, the predominant language is even Spanish, so I may have to brush up on my language skills here as well.  So if you count New York, by the end of this summer, I will have spent 9 of the past 12 months ‘studying abroad’ — which is strange to think about, and perhaps underlies the sense of constant movement and exhilaration coupled with a lack of permanence that I have been feeling.  I am very transient, on the cusp between student and tourist, between theorist and traveler.  And this, in large part, is what is drawing me so strongly to psychogeography — an awareness of the necessary motional state of being that is my life for now, and my youthful and energetic and perhaps over-eager desire to discover and create and postulate and explore.  Because the essence of psychogeographic exploration is really to explore with curiosity — with an open mind and open eyes.

Admittedly, my approach to New York still feels very star-struck, in many respects, from my realization that the “Goings on About Town” section of The New Yorker is now actually applicable to my daily life to my giddy disbelief at simple things like jogging in Central Park or buying tofu and milk and Gushers with Theo at The Food Emporium (cue RENT reference…).  Incorporating “Bleecker St” and “The Bowery” into my vocabulary is kind of thrilling.  And while I was first struck by the so-called ‘sketch factor’ of my living arrangements (and have been struggling not soundtrack all aspects of my life with further RENT references), a little bit of unorganized psychogeography this afternoon revealed the charm and character of my Bushwick neighborhood (and at the risk of generalizing, gave me the feeling that I had been plunged into a Spike Lee film).  I went out in search of a library card and a set of sheets, and ended up walking Bushwick Avenue at least 15 blocks or so, and meandering back until I reached Knickerbocker Avenue, which the Bushwick BK had informed me would be the panacea for all my shopping needs (which it was, since I only need sheets, and I found those, but was disappointed to learn that the Spiderman pattern only comes in twin size…).

On my walk, I learned a few things about the visual culture of the area — or rather, what one can learn about the area itself from visual presentations therein.  There are quite a lot of flags flying in the area, and while a few of these are standard stars and stripes, the vast majority are Puetro Rican flags, which is an obvious but interesting feature of my walk today, given the shocking lack of racial diversity among which I have grown up living.  Next: I have a habit of pretty much always wearing a bandana or keffiyeh around my neck, and I tend to choose the color or pattern based on a combination of what is clean and what will go well with whatever shirt or other articles of clothing I have on.  Today I opted for green, and while strolling through the further reaches of Bushwick, I was engaged in conversation regarding the color of my bandana — “You like green?”  “Green in good, right?” “We like green, but green don’t like yellow.” etc.  Luckily I was wearing the ‘right’ color for my brothers in the hood this afternoon, but I could just as easily have pulled out my yellow bandana, which is a sobering thought.

I was reminded quite suddenly of the different meanings of something as simple as a single color (or less simple, perhaps, when it carries the gang-related baggage that has become attached to the bandana as an article of clothing within areas of major cities) — and, once out of sight of the kids commenting on my neckwear, promptly removed it in case I ran into any ‘yellows’.  The inner-city semiotics of self-presentation are a perfect case-study for the specificity of culture in the meaning of any visual that becomes proscribed as a ‘symbol’.  This is also a fascinating case of reader-response criticism (and the integral nature of cultural context): as the ‘author’ of my outfit, my intended meaning of “I am a hipster look at my thift store ironic fashion and film-related t-shirt with this cool green bandana” was not read that way.  I’ll probably reserve my neckwear for Manhattan, where I know my audience will be a much higher hipster-to-normal-person ratio, so as not to prove Roland Barthes right once and for all.  But really, Bushwick is quite safe — just an excellent spot to meditate on medium specificity and knowing one’s viewer.

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’