NEWS ON THE MARCH
THIS SECTION IS FOR NEWS ABOUT ARTIST JOE WAKEMAN.
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Se[termber 21, 2021-"All the News that's Fit to be Tied"
Wow, August and September are Newsie months! Have I got some things to report to you....
First off, I'm excited to announce that I am now officially a member of the Film-makers' Cooperative, with 4 of my films now available from their catalog, including 'THE SHOPLiFTERS', 'THEY READ BY NIGHT!', 'PEA ISLAND' and 'BLONDE ROSES'. It's really quite an honor to be included in an organization which handles distribution for such filmmaker-idols of mine as Hollis Frampton, Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren. Here's a link to my profile on their website with info about my films available from them: (LINK) On September 12 was a screening at the Film-makers' Coop that I helped put together as part of a curatorial workshop conducted by Devon Narine-Singh, the program was titled 'Not To Be Missed' and if you missed it, well I'm sure sorry for you.
While the meaning of this video should be obvious to anyone who views it, I'll add that reviewing the footage to this video + doing the first cuts was one of the last times I ever got to spend time with Sanne working together on some weird shit and it's really special to me for that reason. There's a secret 35 minute "unravelled" version of this featuring some ultra-raro Spermchurch demos among the video roulette on the splash page, I'll also be adding this video to the roulette as well.
Acrylic Gesso made our stage debut August 28 at Rockaway Brewing Co as part of the No Cover New York Mini Fest put together by Jamie, made possible by a NYFA City Artists Corps Grant. The set list for our show was as follows:
August 20, 2021-"Sick with Consumption"
You know, once upon a time people used to come down with consumption and they'd be quarantined. Now, people are quarantined and then they come down with consumption. I'm not coughing up blood though, I'm merely consuming media, films art books etcetera. It's actually precious little different from life before the plague but feels somehow more dire. One of the first things when I was a teenager that really activated my cinephilia was this book somebody gave me called:
"1001 Movies to See Before You Die". This book has been published in several editions, updated from year to year etc. always with a different still on the front cover, but mine had a picture of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" on it, which sort of made you feel like you were going to die, and that Jack Nicholson was going to kill you, and that you'd better hurry up and watch these movies because he's bursting through the doorway and laughing sadistically right this instant, brandishing an axe. Maybe this worked some kind of subconscious magic on me, because I was entranced and instantly hooked on films in a way I hadn't quite been before. I think I must have gotten this book when I was maybe 15; I'm 31 now and according to this Letterboxd List, which compiles all entries from all editions, I've seen about 53% percent, or 665 of 1235. One way of looking at this is that I'm now a little over half-dead I guess.
The book really did have 1001 entries, and in addition to the sort of canonical Hollywood fare you might expect, it was replete with descriptions of foreign, obscure, and even avant-garde films that had never even entered my imagination before. Even more incredible were the stills, full-color (when they were color films anyway) representing about a third of the movies in the book. Sometimes just seeing the still and knowing the image existed meant more than the meaning of whatever movie it was. Often when I'd see a film that I was aware of only through the still in the book, the full experience might fail to capture the feeling of mystery the still filled me with. Or I'd see a film and have no idea where it was in the experience of watching it the image from the book occured. A memorable instance of this was in the entry for Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 influential classic of lefty guerilla cinema, 'The Battle of Algiers'. The entry contained, in extra small scale, this following still, representing the scene early in the film where the lead character, Ali La Pointe, is radicalized at the moment of viewing from his prison cell the execution of an Algerian comrade by guillotine:
That is, this sequence appears in the film as a series of shots positioned as POV from Ali observing through the barred window of his cell. We see these horrible hooded men lead a human being to his beheading, and then, via a zoomed in shot, from the same high angle, they prep him for his execution. But the moment of execution, depicted starkly by the straight-on framing of the still in the book, is instead a cutaway to the prison walls, a sound effect, and the cold stare of Ali. It's a brilliant montage, but the absence of the image as I'd seen it in my mind's eye based on the still from the book confused me the first time I saw it (I was 18 or 19 I think.) It made this specific image more mystic--If it's not in the film, then where did it come from? Was this pulled from an alternate take? It seems unlikely it would have been a promotional still. I even had trouble tracking it down for the purposes of this blog. The true story of it is probably a bit more banal, just a photo snapped on set while filming--this film is particularly famous for seeming completely real while being entirely staged. (This also suggests a subconscious effect of seeing this and connecting it in my head to the real-life visions of Al Qaeda beheading videos which were being sent to the news at that time, and to this day I don't know whether I actually saw them or merely imagined them based on what I'd read.) But for me, experiencing this film through the power contained in this still first and carrying its mystery had a personal resonance that continues to this day.
The above still is another from the book which captivated me. It appeared grainy and small, in black and white despite the fact that the film it depicts is in color. I have probably seen Kenneth Anger's 'Scorpio Rising' at least a dozen or more times, but have never been able to locate this precise moment--probably, however, owing more to the density of the montage in that specific film, as well as the low quality of the way the image was printed in the book. It's hard even to understand what this image is--you can tell it's a human face with some kind of mask on, but if you've never seen the film, you might assume it was some kind of underground superhero film, something akin to Andy Warhol's legendary 'Batman Dracula' (a film which still to this day carries the mystery of hearsay of its existence and grainy stills depicting nothing clear being all we have to go on). 'Scorpio Rising' and its mysteries endure because the film really does contain a melange of mystic pop imagery so mishmashed it makes unpacking virtually impossible, but I'm grateful that the weird decision to include a still like this one instead of something which might more commonly represent the film, probably led me to seek out and approach the films of Kenneth Anger at an early age with a hungry, lusty mind.
The last still from this film guide I want to discuss features in a film I just saw for the first time this week, Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Mirror' (Зеркало) (Russian titles are fun). This was an instance where hte still I remember from this book translated to the moment in the film in a transcendent way that both recalled the feeling I felt when I initially saw the still and brought with it a host of other associations. To be sure, 'Mirror' is unique for its dreaminess even amongst the dreamy filmography of Tarkovsky's work. It'd be useless and sort of incorrect to try and excavate direct meaning from all of the imagery from this film, which in its entirety is a meditation on personal history, inherited familial trauma, within and without Russian history, and inherited cultural-historical trauma. The book showed the above frame, the woman levitating above her bed in one of the film's many sepiatone dream sequences woven inextricably into its storytelling. In my teenage mind I was looking at something which obviously recalled 'The Exorcist' but this was incongruous with the vague description of the film the book offered (I can't really remember what it said but it certainly did not characterize it as a horror film). I hadn't seen any Tarkovsky films and in my imagination he was sort of the Soviet Union's answer to Stanley Kubrick, knowing that 'Solaris' existed and figuring that might be similar to '2001: A Space Odyssey'. I've now seen all of his movies, and know that while often people do tend to characterize him as such, their interests as filmmakers are not quite similar (though they are both big-idea perfectionist camera gliders).
I wonder if Tarkovsky had seen 'The Exorcist'? He was devout believer, I wonder if he would have found the film silly or even scary. It seems his taste was much more serious. Maybe he hadn't seen it and this is simply an image from a collective unconsciousness of images. Is it that in an American film this kind of phenomenon is evidence of groteqsue demonry, and in a Russian film it is meant to invoke the sublime? This is an instance of an image where the occurence of it in context only expands on the power and mystery of seeing it with uninitiated eyes as I pored over this book at the age of 15. It's a beautiful thought.
July 2, 2021-"Oh, it's a comedy!"
Most years I like to take on a large-scale reading project, usually some classical or titanically huge canonical work that will add to my cultural literacy and academic knowledge in some appreciable way. This year, starting in January I elected to read Dante Alighieri's complete 'The Divine Comedy' (Anthony Esolen translation). I had this weird feeling it would somehow inform my script for 'Love in the Year 2064', even though obviously the story has next to nothing to do with this film. (If you're not aware of it somehow, the Divine Comedy is an epic poem written around 1300, in which the author is guided through the three realms of afterlife in Christian mythology-Hell, Purgatory, and finally Paradise.) I used to flip through a big tome of the first part, 'Inferno' that was in my school library when I was a teenager, mainly to look at the sick Gustav Doré woodcuts of elaborate Hellscapes on every other page, and I'd barely glance at the text of the poem. I'm still into Hellscapes, so I made sure to get a paperback edition that had some of these Doré illustrations in it, but this time I felt it was important to actually read it and try to understand what it was saying instead of just basking in the dark light of cool demon shit.
It's interesting to realize just how much 'Inferno' is preoccupied with worldly issues of contemporary politix. Most of what Dante writes about this in the first volume is the creative tortures that Italian politicians and corrupt popes, cardinals etc. of the day would undergo once banished to Satan's realm. It's as if someone today wrote a book about paying a visit to Hell and there they saw Donald Rumsfeld getting his limbs flattened by hot boulders. What really puts it in perspective is, you read it now and think, "Very cool tortures Dante, but who the fuck are these people?" Thankfully the Modern Library edition includes a lengthy footnote section letting you know who these obscure historical personages are, but whats fascinating to me ultimately is that the only figures described in the book that most people who aren't scholars of Medieval Italian aristocracy would recognize today are Dante himself, and the even more ancient poet Virgil, who is his guide through Hell and Purgatory. I imagine, like Rumsfeld, the names and exploits of all those recently dead evil men were probably known to the readers of 1300, but 700 years later, what survives and continues to enjoy relevance is the poet and the poetry, fittingly because the real substance of the work is in matters of the eternal. But what matters are those, really?
Like I said, this is my first time experiencing anything of the Comedy beyond the obviously cool Hell stuff, and unsurprisingly, 'Purgatorio' and 'Paradiso' have a much different tone from 'Inferno', and from each other respectively. The figures Dante meets while climbing the mountain of Purgatory tend to have led simpler earthly lives than the power brokers who dwell below. Many are just his friends, family, and fellow poets. The pacing is somewhat more languid, and everyone appears to be in a good mood, in spite of the fact that some have had their eyes sewn shut, for instance, or they are on fire. (purifying fire, distinct from hellfire). At the top of the mountain lies Eden, and this is actually where the most breathtaking imagery of the whole Comedy is described-Dante witnesses a psychedelic parade of Apocalyptic imagery--and once he is washed of his sins, he is taken away to Heaven by the person who I think is the real subject and animus of the whole opus, his lost love, Beatrice.
The scholar whose translation I read, Anthony Esolen, seems to have mostly approached the material from a theological perspective. I can't fault him for this, obviously it's a hugely influential work of theology, and the verses expounded on points of praise to God, Jesus, cardinal virtues, etc. are numerous and make up a bulk of the work, particularly in the latter two parts. But I also feel that there's something, which I learned from Esolen's notes that he maybe doesn't place enough emphasis on: Dante, before the Comedy, was primarily known as a poet in a contemporarily popular style of love poetry. Beatrice was a real woman, Beatrice Portinari, who existed, that Dante knew in life and was in love with, and the whole story begins with a depressed, lost Dante, wandering aimlessly, feeling his life rendered meaningless in the face of her death. Virgil comes to him, sent by Beatrice, to guide him through the Hell of grieving to return him to her side in Heaven. The whole poem, in effect, is a paean to Beatrice, a way for Dante to describe his love for her over the course of hundreds of pages and verses, which talking about absolutely everything in the world and ascribing it all meaning and value in relation to her and her love and glory. Even when he reaches the tippy top of heaven, the Empyrean Primum Mobile and the face of God etc., Beatrice takes her seat at the center of it all--the only women with a better seat in Heaven, in fact, are the Virgin Mary herself, and Eve, the first woman--for Dante, Beatrice might as well be the last.
I don't doubt Dante was Christian and that he had genuine theological aims in his writing. But I also think, much the same way queer painters of the day would choose St. Sebastian or the nude Christ as subject matter so they could get away with eroticizing male nudes and still not be excommunicated by their churchy patrons, Dante is kind of appropriating Christian mythos in order to dress up his real pre-occupation, his unrequited romantic love for this woman Beatrice (that apparently was married to somebody else and that Dante only actually met on a few occassions before her death, but he was so fundamentally taken with her that he wrote this enormous epic which ends by placing her literally at the center of the whole universe, an epic so profound that people still read it to this day!!) That's some eternal love shit!
In the dubious category of "News about Me" which is supposedly the point of this silly blog, my music project Acrylic Gesso has our debut performance up now on youtube, on 'Main Drag Live with Jamie Frey. The band's a trio with Brendan Winick and Dylan Peterson who were also in Toyzanne (Essentially the Toyzanne-Gesso dynamic is not dissimilar to the distinction between Parliament and Funkadelic.) We actually shot this about a year ago, so it's a little like a neat documentary of a certain time and place. We have a bunch of songs written and zero shows planned, but we may make a record soon in any case. In here you can enjoy our performances of 'Dryer Fires' and 'Met in the Bathroom', as well as a sick cover of 'I'm Afraid of Americans' just in time for the 4th of July.
I've also been spearheading some robust and ambitious programming with Millennium Film Workshop-We're launching our streaming channel on our website tonight with a 24 hour livestream of material screened at Joey Huertas' 'HIJACK!' film club between 2017 and 2019--I have some work in this program, including a Cinestesia performance, and also the complete film THE SHOPLiFTERS will show at some point. (That film premiered at Hijack in 2018). I'm also excited to share the poster for a screening event which will take place on July 16th, that I've been working extremely hard the last few months to put together and is finally coming together. This is aretrspective screening of the works of Japanese experimental filmmaker Takahiko Iimura. We'll be showing all 16mm prints of 10 of his films, and a 20 minute zoom interview I was privileged to conduct with the artist. Brendan designed the poster and it's some of his best work ever:
Hope 2 see U there! <3
May 14, 2021-"Did you have a love affair with her?""No, just with her hands."
I'm really into filming hands recently so I thought today I might hand over some pics of some of my favorite cinematic hands (mine and others). See if you can pick em all out!
April 17, 2021-"This map is very old, but it is always current-it is a living thing."
This month I finally got to watch all of 'TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN'--late to the party, I know, an unforgivable sin for a lifetime David Lynch die-hard, but I just wasn't ready for it when it aired in 2017 and I wanted to wait until I was. I'm glad I did, too. After all, "That gum you like" is something you're meant to chew on. And so, chewing on the beauty, complexity and sadness of the 18-part project of this serial film, what stands out for me most is less any kind of statement and more the moments of abstract feeling throughout. (Maybe this is the one thing you can always for sure "expect" from a Lynch film.) There's a horror in the woodsman's intonations of "Got a light?" and "This is the water, and this is the well..." that cuts to the core and keeps you up all night wondering why. (The last few nights I've been looking over my shoulder in my home at night, imagining these dark woodsmen all over my apartment like I was a kid with nightmares.) There's a deeply affecting kindness too in Harry Dean Stanton's trailer park manager Carl, whose unassuming role is to look after his neighbors with empathy, and the well of love that erupts from Big Ed and Norma kissing at the Double R Diner, the consummation of 30 years of silent passion. And of course, the incredible gravity of the atomic detonation in the much-celebrated "Part 8".
The whole thing has the feel of that type of late-career culmination of an artist's work, particularly this moment from "Part 17", after the false happy ending where the mystery is solved and BOB is defeated in a ludricous superhero film fashion (with a literal HULK-HAND!). The director wades into the abyss alongside Dale Cooper and Diane a.k.a. Kyle Maclachlan and Laura Dern, avatars of Lynch's masculine and feminine preoccupations since the days of 'BLUE VELVET', to exit the dream and confront an uncompromising reality, and the truth that Laura Palmer can never really be saved. Seeing the three of them in this moment together, with total uncertainty in their eyes, carries the weight of not only the whole of the series before it, but the entirety of a body of work. It's very moving.
For fun, I checked out a video by a YouTuber named Twin Perfect called 'Twin Peaks ACTUALLY EXPLAINED (No, Really)'; a four and a half hour dissection of the chronology, mysteries, central concepts and meaning of the show (as interpreted by Twin Perfect). It's a very fun and impressive video for the obsessive fan, and most interestingly goes very deep into the complex symbolism behind the inhabitants of the Black Lodge and just what it is they may be meant to represent. I'm not gonna spoil what he says here, but I commend Twin Perfect, he's really done his homework--however, to paraphrase Saul Kripke, his fan theory has one thing in common with all fan theories: It's wrong!
Don't get me wrong, He's probably not incorrect about a lot of the points he makes and his video is quite entertaining; but what he gets wrong entirely is the notion that genius artists have some secret master plan, operating on a higher plane that some of us can access if we can only pay attention to the right details and piece together the clues in the right order. This is the same sort of thinking behind the discussions in 'ROOM 237', an equally entertaining documentary by Rodney Ascher that indulges every outrageous fan theory about Stanley Kubrick's 'THE SHINING'. (a film famously influenced by David Lynch!) But artists are not puzzlemasters...they draw images from the unconscious and if they do it well, the images carry meanings and they speak a language that speaks to people. David Lynch isn't leaving you clues to a secret map to get his "real point" across. The real point isn't something conscious, it's a feeling that exists in, through, and because of the work itself, and it morphs and changes over time. If there's a map at all, it's more like the one Deputy Hawk shows to Sherriff Frank Truman in "Part 11"--"always current, a living thing."
Meanwhile, I've had my hand in a couple new releases this month. First of, debuting at Ears to Feed is a new music video I directed with Jamie Frey for NO ICE - 'ALL NIGHT' that we shot in a real quick and fun off-the-cuff style, improvising with Jamie in his apartment and getting some Lower East side Kool Guy hustlin' around in. The song is a hit and half so check it üt:
March 13, 2021-"(NO) BREAKFAST WITH ANDY"
I've got a new video out for MPHO, debuted on February 12 thanks to Tom Gallo at 'Look At My Records' (LINK). I loved doing ths video because I love the song (and the person singin' it ;p). Holly wrote the lyrics based on something Andy Warhol said in his 1975 book "From A to B and Back Again: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol."
I've always had a strong affinity for Warhol's films. My first experience with them was seeing 'CHELSEA GIRLS' at Anthology Film Archives back in 2010. I find it interesting that, as a painte,r hes known for reducing the form into something infinitely repeatable, sellable and commercial, a transformation which has continued to have a profound effect on the art world and business of fine arts ever since--This much is clear from my experience working in NY galleries. In his films, however, the effect was something quite the opposite--he produced countless film experiments that were about as far from commercial products as movies could get, inverting the capitalism of the Hollywood style, while simultaneously bringing quintesentially cinematic concepts, its inherent voyeurism, and most famously, its star system, to their logical zeniths. That this was the work of an artist so easily identifiable with ironic detachment and unironic capitalism, suggests that in examining the film work, as opposed to the paintings, one gets a lot closer to Warhol's hidden, personal truths.
While developing THEY READ BY NIGHT! I kept trying to write a conventional screenplay for it and was consistently disappointed in everything I produced for it. I knew that I wanted this cast of characters who were hyper-literate hooligans, and so I kept looking to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE for inspiration, and found myself writing pages and pages of obnoxious stylized dialogue that all sounded oh-so-clever and not at all what I was looking for. I sought out Warhol's VINYL, knowing it was based on the same material (the novel by Anthony Burgess), and that Andy's aesthetic couldn't be less like Kubrick's. the film takes place in one crowded room in two unedited 33 minute 16mm reels, with Gerard Malanga as Alex, professing his juvenile delinquent's manifesto in soliloquoy while S&M scenes real and fake are enacted all around him, with him soon playing the sub. Incredibly, if you're looking for it, you can actually follow the story and understand that the gonzo theatre being played out before you is indeed 'A Clockwork Orange' but in its execution, the film also feels like so much more--a vibe encapsulated, a documentary of a real 'scene', and personas frozen in time - most famously, Edie Sedgwick seated nearby smoking dispassionately. This became my new template for the film--dialogue would be improvised based on threadbare guidelines, or read out loud from cue cards hidden in books (a technique borrowed from another great Edie-Starring Warhol film, KITCHEN) and plot and editing would take a backseat to the natural personality of the actors, turned superstars by the grace of the camera lens.
I think most people's understanding of Warhol's cinema unseen comes from the fame of conceptual films like 'EMPIRE' and 'SLEEP'. Those movies are of course awesome, but I hope more people might get opportunities to see the less famous films with his casts of superstars, especially the ones scripted by Ronald Tavel. For further reading on those films I can't recommend highly enough the wonderful book by Douglas Crimp, 'Our Kind of Movie: The Films of Andy Warhol', which has great things to say about the unique character of raw artifice in the performances in his films, and how sensibilities from queer experiences such as shame find their way into his work.
For a fun Warholly treat, here's another little video I made back in 2013, a 'SCREEN TEST' starring Kyle Avallone, Rock Musician:
January 31, 2021-"FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE"
January 2021 has certainly been an eventful month--and I'm not just talking about the Capitol Riot and the Gamestonk situation--this month my work was featured in an excellent video art showcase via Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center,. The clip featured in the program (about 11 minutes in) is from Sannety: Solo Electronics. The full program is presented here, lots of great stuff from VX Bliss, Roxy Farnam/Wetware, Mike Sidnam (who curated) and Yiyang Cao.
In other news, I completed the first draft of LOVE IN THE YEAR 2064 and am currently hard at work tailoring a second draft, hopefull to be rounded out by spring. Most advice I've gotten tells me I ought to work on my narrative economy and character development, in spite of that I find myself inceasingly drawn towards making it ever more Jacques Rivette-esque. Could be also because this past month I've finally gotten to see OUT 1: NOLI ME TANGERE, my cinema holy grail, the infamous 13 hour, essentially plotless Rivette film. It's beautiful to me how in his films, "character development" is somethign internal, generated by the actor; what's communicated instead of "necessary" narrative constructs, is something more imaginative and living! OUT 1 is a very extreme experiment in this technique; its impossibly complicated, unresolved conspiratorial plot comes extremely secondary to free exercises in letting the actors explore (and when I say "free exercises," this extends to actual, living theater-style improv acting exercises, some of which go on and on and can make for some of the most arduous, challenging viewing in the film.) But seeing Juliet Berto, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Michael Lonsdale, and Bulle Ogier letting their creativity run loose can also be a source of unparalleled cinematic pleasure, reaching dizzying heights in its best moments.
this scene occurs almost 6.5 hours into the film and its so funny
In other news, Ben Hozie's PVT CHAT, starring Julia Fox and Peter Vack, hits streaming platforms this Friday (2/5/21)--Congrats Ben, Nikki and all other pals involved (almost too many to name)! Quite excited for its inevitable huge success, and somewhat excited for everyone on shudder to see me cameo as a nude performance artist covered in flour (there's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment where you glimpse me in the official trailer from Dark Star pictures:
For some bonus pleasure, I took some test photographs with Nikki to start the creative wheels turning on LITY2064...this costume I designed myself as a prototype for the way the futuristic uniforms of the clones in the film will appear. Have a look, it was fun going out and modelling the costume, and just doing something creative outside the house for once in a long time!
December 3, 2020-"JLG L'ANNÉE NINETY NINE ZERO"
Happy 90th Birthday to Jean-Luc Godard! JLG has a had a profound influence on me as a film+video maker since I first discovered his work while at the age of 18--that winter at Film Forum in New York City they were showing a double feature of À BOUT DE SOUFFLE with BANDE À PART. I went with some friends and emerged from the screening, my conception of cinema itself and my own identity as a filmmaker fundamentally and irreversibly altered. Under the influence of Godard, I firmly rejected the focus on perfection and polish and classical notions of "storytelling" that was being taught to me in school and that never truly captured my interest. JLG taught me that there were philosophical mysteries to be found within sound and image that could be explored by taking a reflexive approach, and by doing so integrate more fully the personal and political into filmmaking. That all of this could be done and still produce films that are genuinely fun to watch, that are romantic, hilarious and beautiful like Hollywood films, I found intoxicating and relevatory.
In the years since that screening that had such a profound effect on me, I've attended Godard retro screenings + premieres obsessively, and this habit resulted in some of my fondest memories at the movies--back in the days when you could go out to the movies. (feels so strange to type that)
The 'FILM SOCIALISME' premiere at the NYFF in 2010 I'll never forget, myself 20 years old giddy with love and cinema. Lincoln Center did a retrospective in 2013 where I attended screenings virtually every day despite being broke--I would borrow money from friends to go to the films (thanks Nikki). This included the religious experience of the complete'HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA', and the incredible 12-hour marathon screening of the complete 'SIX FOIS DEUX', where I first forged a lasting friendship and collaboration with Ben Hozie, one of the few other die-hard JLG acolytes in attendance. A screening of 'WEEKEND' in 2016 awoke a new courage and energy in me, having sunk into a creative and emotional stagnancy. And on the occassion of my pilgrimage in 2018 to the Cinématheque Français, fitting that the matinee screening that afternoon was 'UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME'.
At 90, Godard manages to soldier on in his cinema--at a Q+A with his collaborator Fabrice Aragno in 2018 following the NYFF premiere of 'THE IMAGE BOOK', Aragno jokingly suggested that only cinema and cigars were keeping him alive, but he will live long after he's gone. He has integrated his life with the cinema, and I'm grateful that he's inspired the same in me.Below, the complete 'BRiTiSH SOUNDS', one of the experimental political films made with Jean-Pierre Gorin and The Dziga Vertov Group in the early 70s, that were a key influence on my 'THE SHOPLiFTERS, and a few stills from great JLG films (and videos).
November 30, 2020-"Reading List"
It might seem like I haven't been writing much the past month and a half, but actually I've been writing a lot; I've been working on a new screenplay, titled 'LOVE IN THE YEAR 2064.' This project, a Utopian-science fiction romance has been gestating in my head and heart for several years--One of the fun things about embarking on a large ambitious project like this one is curating my influences, assigning myself a reading list and films to riff on as ingredients in what will become the unique form of my film. This list will be updated as the film develops.THOMAS MORE UTOPIA TONY PIPOLO BRESSON: A PASSION FOR FILM
October 11, 2020-"L'Eclisse"
Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse. I watched this about four times last week- particularly struck by sequences where Monica Vitti's character Vittoria gazes with uncertainty at strange modernist architecture in various Roman locales. (First after ending a relationship we know little about in the opening scene). I feel these moments, the feeling I get when I see the Hudson Yards, for instance, or the Oculus station, or the increasing and ongoing parade of luxury living units increasingly sprouting up across the city over the last eleven years, like fresh pubescent hairs. I wonder if this is to be the eventual fate of my hometown, Kingston NY, which has, due to the COVID pandemic, seen a massive population influx of city dwellers fleeing for the countryside, and with them a host of developers with dollar-signs in their eyes. It's incredible to imagine a small city in upstate New York, known for its colonial dutch stone houses and quaint picturesque districts suddenly dotted with futuristic high-rises across the horizon--certainly it hasn't happened yet, but it could. It could really be the future for everybody.
L'Eclisse contains a lot in a deceptively minimal package. Alain Delon plays a cocky stock trader, indifferent to the ebb and flow of dollar value in the marketplace, interested mainly in the thrill of the game--there's a lack of meaning apparent in the reality of economics at that level; that is, it's apparent to him, but to a character like Vittoria's Mother, who dabbles in the market via Piero as her broker, and is an older person unacquainted with the new reality; a crash like that has a much more serious emotional and distressing impact. Another character, an old, experienced stock trader has a more wistful reaction, retreating to a nearby bar to draw flowers on a napkin, as Vittoria watches at a distance, trying to understand. Vittoria and Piero, both beautiful attempt a love affair--it provides them with some pleasure but little passion. The movie star leads disappear from the film altogether during the apocalyptic last seven minutes. Using very little but the small detail of an allusive newspaper headline and the musical tension of Giovanni Fusco's score, the dread of imminent nuclear doom is made visceral, drawing a bold underline beneath the text of the entire film proceeding.
The film confronts its gorgeous European ciphers with the worthless emptiness of the European legacy of colonialism when Vittoria visits a new friend who has recently returned to Rome from a colonial home in Kenya. They drink, and, getting in the African spirit of things, Vittoria dons blackface and does an African dance across the apartment. Tellingly, this is one of the rare moments that Vittoria exhibits anything like physical joy in the film. The new friend, Marta, tersely asks Vittoria to stop, barely hiding a mixture of shame and racial hatred. They complain later of the African people, expressing disgust and referring to them as monkeys--but physically communicating insecurity all the while, and when the implied annihilation of the film's ending comes, it puts the lie all the more to their presumed convictions of superiority. The depiction of Monica Vitti's blackface dance feels different from blackface scenes in American cinema; Vittoria has no self-awareness, but the film here does, it is as much a judging spectator as the audience is.
"Hudson Yards" Joe Wakeman 2018
August 5, 2020-"Sannety: Solo Electronics"
July 11, 2020-"My 30th Birthday"
Today is my 30th birthday! I'm premiering a new short video we made in February at Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. The video is called 'Sisters of the Swampland'. starring Eliza Diamond of 'They Read By Night!' fame, and milady Holly Overton. All we had a was a camera and Eliza's amazing outifts, and after watching 'A Streetcar Named Desire two or three times, we improvised a five minute pseudo Tennessee Williams parody about a wild boar.
June 25, 2020-"CiViL WAR OPTiCS and Bi-OPiCs"
I had a dream recently (and wouldn't be surprised to hear others have too) that a civil war had finally broken out. I was in some kind of farm building upstate which had been turned into a field headquarters combined with refugee area. The uniforms looked like the ones from the original Civil War, but Bernie Sanders was there as some kind of general, pacing and planning something important. With the massive social unrest of the day and the miles wide gap between ideologies amongst the people of our country, some of the more excitable people have begun discussing the possibility that another Civil War could break out in our country to settle the divisions between reason and discord. I can't predict the future, I've been surprised by so many things this year that now I only know that I know nothing. But the dream anyway, and everything else going on sent me on a bit of a movie kick trying to understand at least parts of the cultural legacy surrounding our original civil war. The first stop for me, to get the basic facts and details, was Ken Burns' classroom staple, the eleven hour documentary 'The Civil War'. Of all of Ken Burns' great PBS documentaries, this one is probably the most well-known, and the sound of 'Ashokan Farewell' and the sights of HD photoscans of 1860s life accompanied by V.O. should immediately recall its audiovisual pleasures and its breadth of information (though, the documentary is largely focused on the particulars of battles during the war, and it ends with the war, leaving out details about Reconstruction, the to me the more important and inteesting period. (I'm reading now that apparently a Ken Burns documentary detailing Reconstruction is underway, to be completed sometime in the next decade.) There's a lot of big personality historians, and strangely, a great deal of screen time is given to the colorful personality but questionable viewpoints of historian
Shelby Foote, who comes off as a serious Confederate sympathizer. For a word about Foote, Ta-Nehesi Coates said that he "gave twenty years of his life, and three volumes of important and significant words to the Civil War, but he could never see himself in the slave. He could not get that the promise of free bread can not cope with the promise of free hands. Shelby Foote wrote The Civil War, but he never understood it. Understanding the Civil War was a luxury his whiteness could ill-afford."
The documentary's treatment of Lincoln is somewhat godlike, something I find a little irking, though commentary from historian Barbara Fields highlights his real-life complicated and problematic racial views. After the documentary, continuing down the civil war optics rabbit hole, I felt myself compelled from this jump-off point to examine the 2012 Steven Spielberg Abe Lincoln film. There's something frustratingly obvious about the very concept of 'Lincoln', the biopic of the most famous president by the most successful director Steven Spielberg and starring The World's Greatest Actor™ Daniel Day-Lewis as the great man himself. It's like something out of this movie trivia board game for reel movie nerds that I had when I was a kid that featured fake but plausible-sounding titles of films attached to well-known Hollywood names. Unsurprisingly, the film does very little to dispel the notion that Lincoln was a god among men, though sometimes humanizing him superficially via scenes of marital discord, father-son conflict, and a penchant for joke-telling at cabinet meetings. To me, the real joke is that Daniel Day-Lewis famously lives his roles on and off-set, which conjures the bizzare image of Lewis as Lincoln at a lunch counter, awkwardly paying for a 5 dollar sandwich with a 5 dollar bill bearing his own likeness. (I'll pay 5 dollars to anyone who can find me an image of Daniel Day-Lewis dressed as Abe Lincoln in an everyday setting; at present all I can find is this weird painting:)
June 1, 2020-"THE SHOPLiFTERS"
I made this film two years ago genuinely believing at the time it was a fanciful work of exaggerated satire. I'm afraid it turns out there was more truth in it than I'd hoped. IF YOU ARE A WHITE PERSON, this is NOT your opportunity to cosplay Ché Guevara and appoint yourself leader of a revolution-your actions will be used against you, and more so against the black and brown people at the center of this crisis. Stand in solidarity-the cause for protest is legitimate and necessary--BUT KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THIS: the violence is being incited by police (in many instances, enacted by undercovers infiltrating the crowds) and used as justification for their authoritarian escalation of the conflict. That conditions in this country would come to this feels sadly inevitable--Take care that your actions do not cause harm to come to very people who you wish to defend.
May 26, 2020-"Halloween Trick'r'Trio"
I don't undestand how its possible that so many people seem to sincerely make horror movies that are completely unscary and of low quality. This week I watched the first three 'Halloween' films. The first one is, of course, a classic and a major accomplishment and still scary and way cool etc. , and unsurprisingly, the law of diminishing returns applies here to the second film in a pretty serious way. But I think also what's going on here, is something that I noticed in the third movie, which has little to do with the first two. In the confusingly titled 'Halloween III: Season of the Witch', (which sadly also has nothing to do with the classic Donovan hit, and precious little to do with witches in general) a doctor uncovers a halloween mask conspiracy involving androids, TV-transmitted electric witchcraft via a section of stonehenge situated in a novelty factory and a town full of security cameras and people tearing each others faces in half and kids turning into piles of snakes and spiders.
It's funny how, when you describe it that way, it actually sounds like a great movie, but in execution it really just feels dumb ond overcooked and pretty far away from what anyone would consider "scary" (also how i feel about 'In the Mouth of Madness'). I think this must be the reason that this movie got made in the way it did, and also probably the reason why it doesn't work as a horror movie. Nothing that is that complicated really comes off as that scary, at least not in the visceral way that a horror movie ought to be. You might get scared if you stay up all night readng conspiracy theories, but it's not likely to make you "not go back in the water" or think twice about babysitting on Halloween. I think this also explains why, 'Halloween II', in spite of being a basically good idea for a sequel (picking up the moment the first leaves off), is not as scary as the first, because it complicates the premise by adding backstories and more locations and twists and more unnecessary nonsense. Michael Meyers is simply more scary as an unexplainable force that can't be killed or ever totally escaped, like the real evils of the world that exist just out of our realm of understanding. I, too, have a concept for a horror movie, and it's pretty simple, so I think that's a sign I'm on the right track.
THIS FRIDAY I have a new music video coming out!! Sean Spada's 'Taking It Slow', which will be premiering at Look At My Records but maybe if you click around on the home page before then you might see it ; p
The video concept I had awhile back watching Sean perform at Secret Project Robot, and this track "Taking it Slow" sounded like something I wanted to hear an airline pilot soothingly tell us we're doing over the in-flight loudspeaker. It has a chilled out Burt Bacharach vibe, which conjured images of Pan-Am, which I can't afford to do so I spent 6 months collecting materials and then did the best I could to build an airplane by myself in Sean's living room. A few weeks after we shot the video, Tasha Lutek, who was enormously helpful building my airplane, built her own airplane for the single cover, and I think it looks much better than mine, so I guess (maybe thankfully) I'm no Howard Hughes.
(The last one, the single cover, is Tasha Lutek's)
May 10, 2020-"Cast Away and Fed Ex: Our Brand Could Save Your Life"
I'm a big fan of Karina Longworth and her podcast, 'You Must Remember This,' an extremely well-written, researched and produced collection of tales of (mostly) Old Hollywood, and was pleased to hear she had a new podcast, 'It's The Pictures That Got Small', with another critic Nate DiMeo, where the movie buffs watch well-known films they haven't seen before and discuss their relative merits. From listening to a few episodes the other night, it was vindicating to learn, among other things, that Ms. Longworth and I hold the same low opinion of Martin Scorsese's 'Casino.' In another episode of the podcast, Longworth & co. discuss Robert Zemeckis' 2000 Tom Hanks desert island survival epic 'Cast Away.' After listening to the podcast I learned that Holly also had never seen this movie so we dug up a putlocker online and checked it out.
The joke I've always made about this movie (which is really pretty good) is that it's a 3 hour FedEx commercial, and in revisiting, it's a little shocking just how accurate that assessment can feel in certain scenes. Zemeckis claims that no money was proferred by FedEx (or Wilson, for that matter) for product placement; however obviously FedEx provided airplanes, trucks, facilities, etc. Who needs $100,000 in production cash when you can just get a whole fleet of airplanes? Of course, the element of the film which most aggregiously smacks of FedEx commercial propaganda is the mysterious Angel Wings package which gives Tom Hanks hope throughout his ordeal, and which, in the film's closing scenes, Hanks returns to its rightful owner as a dutiful employee of the FedEx corporation, meeting a beautiful Texan artist in the process and hinting at the probability of future love for our courageous hero now that Helen Hunt has moved on and married a schlubby dentist.
This scene almost feels like it was insisted upon by FedEx, like it's important to send the message that FedEx will get you your package, no matter what.
After my initial cynical appraisals of the way corporate interests are rolled up inextricably into the fabric of this movie, I began to reflect a little bit about how, in a certain sense, 'Cast Away' is one of the rare movies that illustrates just how deeply intertwined corporate interests are with our day-to-day lives. If you think about it, Tom Hanks, is an upper-level shipping and receiving efficiency expert for FedEx, a real job that real people must have. In his life he must be inundated with FedEx's propaganda, and as his livelihood, must take their corporate line pretty seriously (as must his real-life counterparts). But in a larger sense, when you look at the scene in the film's opening minutes which tracks the path of a FedEx delivery from Texas to Moscow, and you see the trucks passing through rural and urban, international regions, it's apparent that what's going on here, is not that this movie by itself is a 3 hour FedEx commercial, but in fact, we all live in a continuous FedEx commercial in real life. Branding is ubiquitous, it can't be escaped, even on a deserted island, and there's a certain truth inherent in this film's depiction of that reality. In fact, theres a prescient element (given weight by the timing of the film's release, the year 2000) when you consider the angel wings emblazoned acrosss the motivational unopened package, a laid-on-thick symbol of "hope" obviously, but also, within the movie, revealed to be the personal brand of an individual artist, something which has become de rigeur today in the Instagram age. Branding here has saved Tom Hanks' life, and offers a path for his future with a woman communicated in her short appearance as a truck-driving rugged individualist, that All-American brand.
May 6, 2020-"PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN GLASS HOUSES"
This week on the Millennium Film Workshop site, we're featuring one of my own videos, "People Who Live in Glass Houses" which I completed in January. It's on rotation currently on the homepage, but here's a fresh link to the featured page on the MFW site: "CLICK HERE"
There's a brief interview with me there that I conducted myself, I hope that's not too obvious to most readers but I don't really mind if they figure it out. Tonight another series that I curated via Millennium Film Workshop begins on the Spectacle Theater twitch channel, at 7 PM. The movie tonight is 'Satori' by our friend Erica Schreiner. I'm excited because I've been saving up the experience of watching this movie for this event, which was postponed and switched to streaming because of the pandemic. Here's the trailer for fun, and if you miss the broadcast, the whole movie is on vimeo on
Erica's vimeo channel
APRIL 25, 2020-"The '70s"
Last night to kill some time I watched a few episodes of 'Mrs. America,' the new miniseries starring the Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, Republican anti-ERA crusader and foe of the Gloria Steinem, portrayed improbably as a chic glamorous hippie babe here by Rose Byrne. The show was mostly boring and I kept zoning out, though I liked the stuff about Shirley Chisolm's presidential campaign, it felt very current re: 2020 election, Bernie and Liz and the historically diverse field being narrowed down to a doddering old white man Joe Biden. BUt while my mind wandered I began really to focus on the 1970s signifiers at play in the show-bellbotoms, disco, anti-war pins and the like, and I stumbled upon an idea that I've been fixated on since:
Is it possible that the collective movie we have been making about the 70s for decades is longer, in hours, than the actual historical decade of the 70s?
For instance, I added up the length of all 200 episodes of 'That 70s Show', and that equals 4700 (assuming theyre all about 22 minutes long). By contrast, in a span of ten years there are 87600 hours. With that in mind, it seems distinctly possible that our imagination of the 70s has produced a span of time realer and more substantial than the real-life ten year period we think of as "the 70s."
I brought this concept up with my brother Billy (who, sidenote, just released an excellent EP this week, 'HENRY HUDSON') and he pointed out that likewise, the number of films made and being made about WWII probably add up to longer than the span of time of the actual war, and that interestingly, many films and TV about the War made by the generation that fought it, such as 'The Dirty Dozen' or 'Hogan's Heroes' tends toward the fantastic, whereas a film like 'Saving Private Ryan,' made by Spielberg, a filmmaker who was born in 1946, tries so hard for realism that it's said to have given veterans D-Day flashbacks while watching it. Returning to the '70s, something like 'Boogie Nights' seems even stranger, since its made by Paul Thomas Anderson, born in 1970, but seems to be a vision of the period based more on Robert Altman and Scorsese films than a lived experience of the decade (after all, it's most likely 10 year old PTA wasn't doing blow with porn stars too regularly in that time.) It could be then that we are still in the 'Hogan's Heroes' age of films about the 70s, but it seems that via our infinite engine of culture and nostalgia which fires at all cylinders and ramps production exponentially every year, the fantasy has already eclipsed the reality in terms of substance. Then again, is Spielberg's realism merely a complex fantasy of violence handed down from his father's generation that made a reality of it?
More on this subject another time, perhaps could be the basis of a conceptual art project. (Christian Marclay, if you're reading this, fuck off, I'm copyrighting this idea here and now ©JOEWAKEMANMOONGOGGGLESFILMS).
In other news, I just completed a new website for Holly this week, and you should check it out to get a comprehensive taste of her amazing music and paintings. I'm also pretty proud of the coding job, which I'm new to and had to learn how to execute a whole bunch of concepts to make the site function according to her wishes, and I think it's a great success: HOLLYOVERTON.COM/
APRIL 22, 2020-"The Dog, Cambia Tutto, They oughta call it copy-wrong"
So it appears that the video from 'Beau Geste' that I published last week was swiftly blocked by the cruel copyright lawyers at NBC Universal, who appear to own everything. I do not see how watching a one-minute clip from a film is in any way a substitute for viewing the whole picture (Gary Cooper has about 5 seconds of screen time in that clip!) but we are powerless to stop the AIs and pencil-pushers that keep us under their fat thumb. I'm only disappointed because the clip was really for my Dad's entertainment and mine.
On the Millennium Film Workshop site today there's a new entry in my online screening series, 'Cambia Tutto', a photo-animation shot in Italy by Ana Mouyis, an old school friend of my cool girlfriend Holly Overton, check it out if you have 5 minutes.
APRIL 17, 2020-"Laugh, you human Jackal!"
Have you ever seen this film, 'Beau Geste'? It was based on an adventure novel about young men running off the French foreign legion, that was filmed a few times, (Marty Feldman did a 70s farce version called "The Last Remake of Beau Geste" which I think also really was the last remake.) Anyway, The version I'm most familiar with is the 1939 Hollywood version with Gary Cooper as Beau and Robert PReston as Digby, his brother-in-arms. My dad used to watch it a lot when we were kids, and still does, I saw it with him as recently as last year. The film is notable for this bizarre scene, where the sadistic Sergeant Markoff compels his men to laugh and make merry, to attract the ire of the arab hordes laying seige to their fort. (this is after he giddily forces them to prop the corpses of their own dead against the ramparts to artificially inflate their numbers).I upploaded this clip to YouTube at my Dad's request because it was somehow missing from there and I felt the world had to hear the unthinkable giggling of pig-mouse-rat-man lookout Radzinoff. Enjoy, you human jackals:
APRIL 15, 2020-"ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS, 'sweet pie'"
I've been curating a weekly shorts showcase for MILLENNIUM FILM WORKSHOP on our website, and new entry went up today,
"sweetpie-or,goodbyetoLoathing-(or,goodbyetoMetrograph)"by a filmmaker named cherry brice, jr who was recently introduced to me by Molly. You can view the film (or any films included in the series as they go live each Wednesday) at the following link: ISOLATED EXPERIMENTS
APRIL 14, 2020-"NEWS ON THE MARCH"
APRIL 14 2020-A NEW WEBSITE
I HAVE A NEW WEBSITE, JOSEFWAKEMAN.COM. HOWEVER IF YOU ARE READING THIS BLOG ENTRY, I SUSPECT YOU KNOW THAT. IN ORDER TO TAKE UP SPACE INSIDE THIS BLOG ENTRY, (MAINLY SO I CAN TEST THE SCROLL FUNCTION IN THE HTML) I AM GOING TO WRITE A LITTLE BIT TO INTRODUCE YOU TO THE FUNCTIONALITY OF THIS WEBSITE. ON THE MAIN PAGE, IN THE VIDEO PLAYER THERE IS AN ASSORTMENT OF MY WORKS ACCESSIBLE AT RANDOM, BY CLICKING THE REFRESH BUTTON LOCATED IN THE CENTER OF THE PAGE BELOW IT. THIS WAY, IF YOU GET BORED OF A PARTICULAR VIDEO, OR IT IS ONE YOU HAVE ALREADY SEEN, JUST RELOAD THE PAGE AND A NEW ONE WILL REPLACE IT. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE VIDEOS THEMSELVES WITHIN THE PLAYER, CLICK THE "VIDEO GUIDE" OPTION IN THE SIDEBAR MENU ACCESSIBLE BY CLICKING THE ARROW SYMBOL ON THE MAIN PAGE (THE ONE YOU CLICKED IN ORDER TO REACH "NEWS ON THE MARCH."