December 29, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Andy Fish’s new graphic novel, “Fly: A True Story Completely Made Up” is a dark comic tale about a grotesque but sincere little fellow who wishes he could fly. It’s not that simple a story, though — Fish takes his readers on a journey through Fly’s self doubts and doomed love life, implicating him in the woes of others and blaming him for his own, all with unlikely doses of affection and laughs
Earlier this year, Fish released the equally grim and delicious The Tragic Tale of Turkey Boy: An American Love Story, the tale of a dead celebrity and his biggest fan.
“Turkey Boy is a little bit darker and little more cynical than Fly,” said Fish. “Fly is a much more likable character. I don’t think he killed anybody intentionally.”
« Read the rest of this entry »
December 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
What the world needs now — and what it has been lacking for far too long — is a character who walks in the realm of the supernatural but doesn’t take it so damn seriously. You could never tell from most TV shows and movies and books and comics, but the supernatural can be pretty funny. Really funny, actually — but we’re moving through a period in American culture when darkness rules in our preoccupations, and the supernatural cozies itself with not only our spirituality, but also our notion of romance and rebellion. What’s funny about all that?
Thank goodness for the 1960s. Even as an era of political and social turmoil, popular culture’s obsession with ignoring everything that was wrong with the world created some utterly goofy delights, and this collection of “Nemesis” comics captures that silly, exciting era. The creation of comic book veteran Richard E. Hughes for the American Comics Group in order to capitalize on the superhero craze wrought by the Batman TV series — Hughes’ most famous work of the era was Herbie, the Fat Fury — Nemesis is a dead superhero in striped pants who regularly passes from the spirit realm to protect humanity. The cover of “Adventures in the Unknown” — in which the Nemesis stories were run — promised “gripping tales of suspense,” but it delivered light-hearted tales of fun, and that’s the key to its charm. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
As both a labor of love and an unabashed public display of total goofiness, “Bat-Manga” is the result of designer Chip Kidd’s quest to uncover something that hasn’t been seen by fans in our country in decades — if ever.
Back in 1966, Japanese comic book publishers got a license to publish original comic stories while the TV show was a major hit on Japanese television. Kidd has gathered as much of this material as he can find into this collection — which means some of the stories are incomplete, although it honestly doesn’t put a damper on the reading at all.
Nowadays, the darker, more brooding Batman has seized control of all others — it started 25 years ago, and it’s been the rule for the character in all venues. Not only gone are the days of the vibrant pop art of the television show, but also the science-fiction strangeness that infected the comic in the 1950s. “Bat Manga” is a literary time machine back to those days, a resurrection of a little corner that we didn’t know existed as filtered through great book design. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 26, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Just because it hangs on a wall, that doesn’t mean art has to be static — just ask artist Adam Chapman, whose marriage of nature and technology refuses to sit still.
A number of works at Chapman’s show at KidSpace — “Illuminations,” which runs through Feb. 22 — features drawings that move by digitally fashioning the actual flight of migratory birds into an abstract, kinetic video loop.
Chapman got the idea from a friend in Texas who invited him down to witness the crazy patterns formed by hundreds of thousands of birds. Chapman’s plan was to visit after a year in Rome, but coincidence canceled that when, one day, he looked up in the sky and saw masses of starlings doing the same things that his friend had described.
“I just happened to be in the middle of a migratory path of a large group of starlings,” Chapman said. “They go from North Africa all the way up to Northern Europe, and November and December is their high point in Rome. I was just really lucky to be there at that time.” « Read the rest of this entry »
December 23, 2008 Comments Off
Here’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving — a fresh array of Christmas music to replace the standards of old.
I’ve collected Christmas music for over 20 years, and when I’ve shared it with people, the most common response I get is that they are happy to finally hear some different Christmas music after hearing the same stuff again and again over the years.
It’s the one area of music that I have found people’s minds open up to oddities and weirdness that they would never be easily accepting of at any other time. It’s also the one circumstance in which ordinary people have expressed to me a musical interest in the unfamiliar. In everyday life, music is aural comfort food for so many people, but during the holidays, I think they like to be astonished a little bit. It’s some of that Christmas magic in the form of song.
December 22, 2008 § Leave a Comment
I confess: I’ve never much liked the ending to “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Any given Christmas movie has the theme of redemption and “It’s A Wonderful Life” is no different. It’s always bothered me, though, that an angel had to prove Stewart’s worth to himself instead of having one of those moments of personal clarity. I just never understood why a supernatural element was needed for the character to see himself and his importance in the world.
Then again, it was good enough for Scrooge, so it’s probably good enough for Jimmy Stewart.
My favorite holiday movies, however, don’t involve influences from beyond the sphere of humanity. The idea that humankind itself can transcend not only the life that surrounds them but their own selves is as magical as any creepy old Ghost of Christmas Future.
Matters of the heart offer redemption for many of us and Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) captures the triumph excitingly. Centering around a small Budapest department store, Jimmy Stewart plays an officious manager maintaining a secret romantic correspondence with an anonymous girl. Margaret Sullavan is the flighty, sarcastic coworker he spars with, and she is hiding an identical relationship. You can see where this is headed. The fates of these two spirals out of control, barreling headfirst into a finale on Christmas Eve that features one of the most cathartic movie kisses that you are likely to encounter. This was remade as “You’ve Got Mail,” but I suggest sticking with the original.
Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” (1960) is a darker love story, but no less charming, with a bittersweet tone that aims toward the heartbreaking truth of love. The film winds through the holidays, from pre-Christmas to post-New Year following the pathetic bachelor life of Jack Lemmon as he latches emotionally onto Shirley MacLaine as a cute but mysterious elevator operator in his office building and becomes entangled in some of presumptuous boss Fred MacMurray’s extracurricular marital intrigue — it’s a true American classic.
The most unlikely Christmas movie I can think of is Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” (1985) a dark comedy which tells the tale of one man’s clunky rebellion in a totalitarian world of civil servants and relentless terrorism during the holiday season. The surprise is how well the film works as a tribute to the optimistic imagination of mankind and how that very trait has as much to do with Christmas as anything else. Not only is it a time of universal goodwill, but the bountiful legends that have come to surround it — from the fable of the birth of Jesus to the Island of Misfit Toys — have made it a glittery counterpoint to Halloween. Both holidays are about giving, both holidays are about the celebration of storytelling, and both celebrate human imagination as a tool to tame darkness and explain the unknown in whatever arena such needs arise.
Bill Forsyth’s “Comfort and Joy” (1984) stands as my favorite Christmas movie ever, a quiet, almost mundane film that mixes personal anguish with absurd comedy. Starring Bill Paterson, one of the best underlauded actors I can think of, the story involves a lonely Scottish DJ who is trying to find purpose after his girlfriend leaves him at Christmastime. He discovers it in a very unlikely place—the war between two local ice cream businesses who battle things out in their ice cream vans. This is a fable of inciting peace told on a small, personal scale, that observes that important rebirths can occur in ways you might not consider.
My most recent favorite Christmas movie is Danny Boyle’s “Millions” (2004) in which a young boy, played stunningly by Alexander Nathan Etel, stumbles into a bagload of British pound sterling that is on its way to be destroyed as the country is switching to euros in the New Year. As he and his brother wrestle over what to do with the money — they only have a few days to spend it and Etel is leaning toward the charitable — Etel has dialogues with a litany of Catholic saints on the matter, as well as avoid a creepy guy. Filled with fun and intrigue, Boyle’s film addresses the mythical side of Christmas and contrasts it with what most of us would call the true meaning of Christmas — in which the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated by following his example and showing selflessness and charity in regard to others.
Now that’s something you can’t buy with a Target gift card.
December 20, 2008 § Leave a Comment
A lot of reviewers choose to bury “The Starlost,” but I’m here to praise it. This four-DVD collection of all 16 episodes of the show may be one of the most awaited releases ever — at least among a certain crowd.
The Canadian television series is largely known as being a high-profile disaster — not a financial one, but a creative one, thanks to the loud mouth of legendary science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who created it. Ellison had a bad break-up with the show’s producers (after writing the first episode), and he began to cry artistic compromise, brandishing the finished product as just south of loathsome.
The show — run in Canada in 1973, followed by a late-night stint in the United States on NBC — has been an obscurity since. In that time, it gained a reputation for being a lifeless, cheap piece of junk, a laughable disaster deserving ridicule. Does it deserve that legacy? I don’t think so.
The set-up is inspired. The show begins in a weird Amish/hillbilly community called Cyprus Corners, where Devon (Keir Dullea) finds himself on the wrong side of the town elders when the girl he loves, Rachel (Gay Rowan), is promised to his friend Garth (Robin Ward).
Rebellious and shunned, Devon makes his way to a site of local worship — a dark cave protected by a massive steel door. He manages to get past the door and discovers that his world is merely one biosphere of 53 onboard a giant spaceship called the Ark, which was launched from Earth 500 years before. It is now without a crew and hurtling toward a sun. Eventually, Devon, Rachel and Garth all find themselves wandering the ship, moving from biosphere to biosphere in an attempt to find someone with the ability to correct the doomed course.
This journey sometimes results in stories that are pretty intriguing — check out “The Goddess Calabra,” which has Rachel captive as the only woman capable of breeding in a biosphere ruled by cryptic religion, or “Gallery of Fear,” which has the trio stumble upon an art gallery where their memories become part of the installation. Other times, the story can be admittedly a bit silly — witness “The Beehive,” in which the travelers discover a biosphere of giant bees. It’s hardly ever boring though.
The show is realized via clunky but sincere performances and sets that look good but suffer thanks to the use of video, which adds little ambiance to the surroundings — scenes are often just way too well lit. The production is comparable to British science fiction of the same era — often it looks better than “Doctor Who.”
“The Starlost” seems less like a professional television production and more like a spirited public-access show, but that’s really part of the charm. Slick production values often mask old ideas and this shows’ contemporaries — “Battlestar Galactica,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” and “Man from Atlantis” — only drive that point home. “The Starlost,” by contrast, was a low-end maverick among standard television fare. If it doesn’t quite match an episode of the new “Battlestar Galactica,” it certainly beats every episode of the original one, and that’s the comparison that counts.
Admittedly, “The Starlost” is not for everyone, but I found it to be every bit as eccentric and diverting and exciting as it was to me as an 8-year-old. If shallowness is the biggest scourge of much of today’s screen science fiction then “The Starlost” stands up very well. The DVD set is a great bit of video archaeology.
December 19, 2008 § Leave a Comment
For film fans, box set DVDs are great holiday gifts, but it’s often hard to find collections that will actually surprise as well as delight. Frankly, there’s just not a lot off of the beaten path. If you know any animation buffs, though, you might want to check out the four-disk “Landscapes of the Mind: The Films of Larry Jordan” — in this era of CGI swagger, Jordan’s sometimes dark, sometimes funny and always clever cut-out work might open up some new worlds from the past. Leastwise, art film animation is not the highest profile these days — kid-oriented storytelling is still the standard.
Jordan’s work offers a look into a whole other way to view animation — rather than something merely to delight or divert, it can also exist as moving art.
Straddling a consistent line between elegance and absurdity “Duo Concertantes” sets the tone for his work. Jordan plays around with circular constructs and swirling objects — juxtaposing them with lonely searchers beset by their two-dimensional but highly mobile imaginations — they seem to grapple with serious creative malaise, but an egg with butterfly wings reveals their innermost lurkings as mostly silly despite the calm and solemn soundtrack.
“Gymnopdies” offers more of the same and is equally alluring — the music of Eric Satie gives the piece a gentleness that undercuts the wackiness of so much of the imagery creating mystery from mischievous tomfoolery, as so much of Jordan’s work does.
These are abstractions plain and simple, and Jordan reveals the beauty in flying bottles and bouncing eggs, a mad world where object are filled with life even as the humans stand still.
In “Our Lady of the Sphere” Jordan employs superimposed images to great effect, combing them with washes of color and jarring sound effects, some downright intrusive and proving that he doesn’t merely exist to lull you into a dream Jordan wants to shake you up a bit and his use of circus imagery may well provide a fruitful comparison to the energy behind his animation.
December 12, 2008 § Leave a Comment
British artist Simon Starling will show his new work, “The Nanjing Particles,” as part of a new show at Mass MoCA — an installation that has a direct historical connection with the Mass MoCA complex.
“The Nanjing Particles” was inspired by a photo of Chinese workers grouped in front of the Samson Shoe Co. in 1870 — they were brought in to break a strike that was taking place at the time. While Starling’s interest in the photograph is wrapped in its historical value, he is also taken by the idea that a photograph is also a physical item — a cluster of particles brought together to create what amounts to an optical illusion.
The images on a photograph aren’t flat, nor complete, but the result of three-dimensional metal particles grouped together via chemical reactions to represent an image captured by directing light into a camera. In the nano world, photographs are more like sculptures, and each particle that constitutes that work is a shape unto itself. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 12, 2008 Comments Off
Without even the back story, the faces in “A Procession of Them” will kill you. They are the faces of people imprisoned — behind walls and behind the eyes staring out at you.
The photographic project of former social worker and reporter turned human-rights advocate and photographer Eugene Richards, the book documents Richards’ travels through psychiatric hospitals in Mexico, Armenia, Paraguay, Hungary, Kosovo and Argentina. Richards gained intimate access to the inmates through the advocacy organization Mental Disability Rights International and uses that passport to bring these lost lives to the forefront.
Richards’ images capture the blank faces and wandering bodies, displaced nudes and huddled spiritless husks of humans, screaming, staring, fretting, standing around. He shows the filthy walls and sturdy bars that frame the world these people live in and the homemade shackles that sometimes keep them there. It’s a powerful realization of a world, both the one that lurks inside the disabled and the one they inhabit. Rather than compiling a series of portraits in which the reader is invited to decipher what lurks behind the eyes, Richards ushers in the world that the eyes themselves see every day. The book offers a multi-leveled, kinetic presentation of the way people exist in these hidden worlds.
The book is accompanied by a DVD containing a short film with Richards speaking about his experiences in these hospitals. It’s an abstract poetic assault, jarring in its use of the photos in the book and mixing these with primal music and a distressing soundscape that brings Richards’ images into full — and disturbing — evocation.
It’s been a recurring issue in our own country — the mentally ill as abused, lost people who need dignity through protection — and we are not alone in the struggle. Richards’ work is hard to look at, but it’s a truth worth witnessing.