Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Random Post #4 (N.Y.C.'s Like A Graveyard)

A Real Man - Sleater-Kinney

Tears Stupid Tears - Half Japanese

I recently got back from a trip to New York City. The Big Apple. The greatest city in the world. Blah blah blah. I had a great time and I understand better now what all the hype’s about, i’st an amazingly huge and intricate city with a million neighborhoods and a million scenes. Every night there’s some new art opening, or indie film, or off-off Broadway play or hip hop show to check out. But visiting New York City made me realize something very important; namely that I don’t want to live in New York City. New York is the center of the world, the only place to be if you want to catch the nation’s attention as an actress or a playwright, or an artist, or whatever. But being surrounded by some many doomed pre-failures gives the city a real sinister atmosphere. I have no desires to be at the center of the world’s attention, or to live on the fringes of an art empire, existing as a perpetual tourist and casting-couch whore, surrounded by people who make it clear that they are richer, hipper or smarter than you. I have to admit, I don’t understand the stubborn hubris to move to the most competitive art scene in the world, when there is so much great art and music being created in America’s smaller cities. These former industrial and agricultural centers, which have put a state-funded premium on creativity and expression in the last few decades, ground an art scene potentially much more free from the restrictions of the urban canon and top-heavy notions of what is currently ‘hip’, or even what is currently ‘art.’ More importantly, these smaller metropoli like Minneapolis or Denver or Milwaukee, provide an art world that is more penetrable, and more malleable, and hopefully less viscous.

All this being said, I did have a great time in New York, and was indeed exposed to some things much harder to come by in the fly-over cities. Like this film, The Cats of Mirikatani, which will be playing next month at Madison’s own 8th annual Wisconsin Film Fest. Linda Hattendorf’s documentary both recounts the past of Jimmy Mirikitani, a classically trained artist living on the streets of Manhatten, and chronicles his journey and that of the filmmaker as she open her small NYC apartment to him and begins to help him search for his family and citizenship. What struck me most about the movie though is not only its use of consumer grade hi8 digital video, but its fore grounding of a hands-on digital only aesthetic. The use of intercuting only between Hattendorf’s hand held handicam and shots from unobtrusively placed cameras in the small apartment they share, gives the movie an immediacy and grounded realism missing from most contemporary celluloid documentaries. This fore grounding of the apparatus by leaving in the camera shakes and off-camera interjections of the filmmaker, ironically makes us trust the images more than if we were watching a smooth undisturbed and perfectly exposed celluloid image by alerting us that we we're seeing is a more direct and personal experience. Whereas many digital videomakers are trying to legitimize the medium by mimicking film aesthetics, Mirikitani achieves its power by grounding its form in the rawness and accessibility of small-scale digital cameras and editor systems. It’s force comes from the feeling of inclusion and penetration only possible with the cheapness and duration of video cameras, along with the feelings of hands-on personal contact between the videomaker and the work, only possible with home computer editing. Such personally penetrating documentaries, done so well in the 60’s and 70’s by such filmmakers as the Maysles Brothers, D.A.Pennebacher, and Errol Morris, are no longer that possible in film because film stock and equipment has blown up to such high prices. The lack of affordable light weight equipment or flatbed editiors, as well as the high price of film stock make the feeling of being right alongside something achieved by Mirikitani much harder to do on film. It forces most contemporary documentarians to rely heavily on the Ken Burn’s technique of still photos and omniscient voice over. Further, the amount of money involved in even small scale film productions involves further creative oversight, often diluting any personal vision on the part of the filmmaker, who in a digital documentary is more free to be involved in every step of the process (Hattendorf for example is listed as director, camera, sound recordist, and editor). This powerful feeling of personal vision and actual experience achieved in her work is one solely possible through the possibilities of digital cinema.

The flip side of this random post inspired by the big apple is THIS TRACK by now defunct Portland punkers Sleater-Kinney, off their self-titled debut. Despite the shit I talked about New York, finding something like this at a used record store wouldn’t happen much in the midwest. It’s interesting to note that the lyrics on this track, Real Man, which rail against the assumptions of heteronormativity, are being spat out by the now happily married young mother, original riot grrrl Corin Tucker.

In his last post, ohmygodimmike challenged us, his co-bloggers, to post some covers. Well HERE'S MINE, outsider genius Jad Fair of Half Japanese covering outsider genius Daniel Johnston, with Tears Stupid Tears, off 92’s Fire in the Sky.

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