April 28, 2005

I Missed Everything...

Taxi Driver, again: excruciating, unbearable, riveting, I can't avert my eyes… What I missed the first time — the beautiful grainy textures and light, the dim greens and reds, the angled reflections and moving lights, the lingering shots, the young DeNiro and Shepherd, Marty Scorsese in the back of the cab, the raw street scenes, side-tracking scenes (the pre-MTV use of detached tracking), the taxis as both individual characters and anonymous passers-by, as bubbles of isolation … this is the film that gave me most of my latent images of New York, lingering even a decade later, lasting until I first actually went there. Bickle seems to be the only character who isn't in some way tied to that era, the only one not dated.

(The first time I saw it I missed everything).

(Part of Flix).

April 24, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

Robb's biography of Rimbaud: I avoided reading Rimbaud in Sydney because of the stupid romantic myths, the blind self-absorption and anti-hero worship that always seemed to be part of the package, that always seemed to be justified by the legend... Rimbaud was an excuse, an excuse particularly for those without the wit to see the studiousness, the hard work, the intellectual rigor in the original. I steered clear, to my loss.

April 19, 2005

Room For Rent

When I was trudging around London looking for a room to rent in the mid 1980's, I started noticing something a little odd: if I mentioned that I played guitar and bass (which I did (and still do)), and the people interviewing me for the room were even vaguely aware of the London music scene, their eyes would light up and they'd tell me some anecdote involving a famous musician and the place I was looking at.

I lost count of the number of times I was told that the Cure had stolen the doubled bass idea from the raven-haired woman passed out over there on the floor (or from the guy who'd recently lived -- and in one case, at least, died -- in the room they wanted me to rent), or that Madness's bass player had lived "just next door" (in one place off the Holloway Road this actually seemed plausible...), or that the young Geordie propped up (comatose) against the couch over there had taught Johnny Marr everything he knew about guitar playing. Such a wondrous town, London. Everyone knew everyone else, apparently. Everyone was so connected...

April 13, 2005

Defeated By Landscape

Sidewinder Rd, Mojave DesertBarstow and the Mojave: this landscape defeats me every time. Junk-strewn foregrounds, immense and beautiful mountains in the background, the desert floor all stony glare, sagebrush, dunes, and spent cartridges... for nearly fifteen years now I've tried to capture it in photos, using everything from a little Nikon digital to my old Sinar 4x5 view camera, and every time the results mostly miss the point. The point is the context, the juxtapositions of the everyday and the alien, the way people go on living here as though they were in suburbia. Which, of course, they are now, by sheer force of will. The images can't convey the strangeness of a shiny factory outlet mall in the middle of a desert with any real force -- the sight's even more unreal than Las Vegas, where the unreality is the whole point, and where it's entirely self-conscious and calculating (here it's just the Triumph Of The Will again). Single images can't do much justice to the reality of stumbling across a discarded sofa or fridge in the middle of nowhere, in front of a beautiful granite peak or set of sand dunes. Static images can't do justice to the way the desert is nearly always seen on the move from the freeways (I've started using video for this...). And in the desert the drama's in the distance (in all senses), which doesn't work so well with my wide-angle street-honed approach.

Everywhere the introspective domestic architecture of the High Desert, the windowless clapboard walls, the small shuttered windows... what strikes this (semi-) Australian is the lack of verandahs and houses up on stilts, the lack of awnings around shops and stores...

April 10, 2005

Into Landscape

Into Landscape again, the Westside Story, sharp ridges, long valleys... For all its huge flat size, its ploughed fields, its two-lane black-tops and tractors, it's a mistake to think of the Central Valley as rural -- it's industrial. The industry just happens to be agriculture -- on a huge and intensive scale. This isn't farming.

Just off the Rosedale Highway, Bakersfield, CA (2001)The Rosedale Highway into Bakersfield, only a decade ago one of those classic dust-haunted stretches on the edge of Industry (oil, big agriculture), all powerlines, tumbleweed, sand drifts, refineries, swing-arm oil pumps in people's back yards or next to the road, scrappy little truck repair businesses, seedy bars, carnicerias and supermercados, clapboard houses with dead cars in dirt-lot front yards, huge clapboard churches -- all this now infiltrated and increasingly swamped by estates of three-garage houses, large malls, generic fast food outlets, shiny SUVs, tidy parking lots. This new version could as easily be Sacramento, or Denver, or Atlanta.

Bakersfield: Merle Haggard country, Buck Owens Blvd, Oildale, Weedpatch, Arvin, Edison... oil and agriculture, refineries and silos, a beautiful brooding backdrop of the Tehachapis and the Grapevine (both snow-covered at this time of the year).

April 08, 2005

Welcome To California

There's a huge California for whom public self-absorption is a right (even a duty) rather than something shameful or mildly repellant.

A billion years ago on my first trip to California (a Pan Am 747 from London to San Francisco) I watched in amazement as a flaky-looking forty-something woman in bad tie-dye clothes got up mid-flight and spent thirty minutes or so earnestly doing rather self-dramatizing Tai Chi excercises in the middle of one of the aisles towards the front of the cabin. People struggled to get around her, people struggled to see the movies past her, but she seemed oblivious to everything but her own performance. I tried to squeeze past her once with a meek "Excuse me..." (in my best British accent) before accidentally hitting one of her outstretched arms. My little "Sorry!" was met with a careless flick of the hand and a loud imperious "That's OK."

I didn't know it then, but she was saying Welcome to California...

April 05, 2005

Slow Dreams

Dangerous soft-edged sensations, sharp sense memories, slow dreams of words in the arms of last night, mocked by tumbling dreams of surfaces, soft edges, indistinct languages... memory's never slow...

(An Obsessogram)

April 03, 2005

The Polish Dream

A couple of years ago I listened as the president of Poland was asked during an NPR interview what the Polish equivalent of the American Dream -- i.e. "Polish Dream" -- would be. He said it's an interesting question, thought for a few seconds, then gave an answer articulated entirely in collective terms -- national security, cultural recognition, etc. It'd almost be treason to articulate the American Dream in anything but purely individual terms.


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