Andy Lock at Eastman House

I went to see Andy Lock speak about his Orchard Park: Utopia's Ghosts exhibit at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) He said that he thought the Eastman House presentation was the best he's seen, capturing the essence of the work. The exhibit is a series of images taken at a housing project called Orchard Park just prior to its demolition; from there, he projected them onto a wall of glow-in-the-dark paint and photographed the fading result. The green tint of the paint gives it a "radioactive" feel and evidence of brushstrokes in the phosphorescent paint gives it a pastoral feel as well.

Thematically, I agree that it captures the notion of "idealism lost" — that these buildings were made to provide some kind of idealized housing to folks, but as the buildings aged, that veneer was worn off completely, leaving the stark reality of really quite basic housing. Plus, the exploration of modern ruins is a running theme in modern photography.

Since he had explored this subject so deeply, I asked him why the ephemera was so exciting while the actual inhabitants probably were not? — that an artist will seldom have interest in the people who lived there, yet be fascinated by the vague shadows of their existence.  He said that the appeal is that we can project ourselves into a fantasy of what was rather than the detailed reality of what is. So, for instance, when a couple chairs are placed at odd angles to one another, they tell a certain kind of story, but there was probably little similarity between the placement of the chairs and the relationship of the people who used them.

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A documentary about Hunter S. Thompson

I arrived at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) a bit early and was instructed to segregate myself around a barrier. On one side was the line of souls waiting to buy tickets for this night's screening Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. I stood on the other, alone — at least for the moment.

Since it was the first Friday in May, I was celebrating No Pants DayMySpace link. I was wearing a dress shirt, sport coat, black socks, Italian leather shoes, and black boxer shorts. A laminated pink card dangled around my neck. I had lazily acquired from a volunteer at the office of The Rochester High Falls International Film Festival (RHFIFF) at the last possible moment. It said "Press".

To be perfectly frank, I'm not a follower of Thompson — I had heard of his "gonzo journalism" style and had read little of his blunt, often insightful style but knew little else. I even had a crummy, expensive burger at his former haunt, Woody Creek Tavern (2858 Woody Creek Rd., Aspen, CO), and knew several people living in and around Aspen when his ashes were blown out of a cannon.

We shuffled in to the theater once it was emptied of its former contents. I sat in the back corner of the lower area as I often do to avoid having to confront any obnoxious audience member. I watched as each person found their place. Younger hipster sycophants drifted to the upper, more secluded level while their older counterparts avoided the stairs and stayed on the lower level. Each group was desperate to acquire vicariously what can truly only be done in person: to have an interesting life.

That said, the movie itself was fascinating and fantastic, covering a an engaging subject with lots of archival footage, great music, great editing … the whole deal. Afterward they revealed it would be given a mid-sized theatrical release around July 4.

But I was more interested in the concept of shooting big guns. It seemed like a great way to relieve stress or something … there really isn't another way to put it because shooting guns is like a core experience unto itself. Just like there isn't another way to explain what it's like to smash something with a hammer. I figure guns are the same kind of thing, only you get to do it from farther away.

And there's fire involved.

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The Man Who Would be King at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see The Man Who Would Be King. Despite the snowstorm, there were quite a few people in attendance — the movie was excellent and well worth the risk. Basically it tells the tale of a couple con-men. They head to a country called Kafiristan (which is a fictional place north of Afghanistan) where they intend to become kings. The plan is simple: based on the notion that the warring tribes are largely without solid leadership, bringing a bit of British army leadership would make it easy to take over tribe-by-tribe and eventually take over the country.

Well, they almost die on their treacherous crossing of the high mountains. [In fact, I wondered if they did indeed die at that point and the rest of the film is just fantasy — something to think about.] Once in Kafiristan, they get into one of the first tribes they find, get a translator, and succeed in defeating the neighboring tribe. In the battle, Danny is struck by an arrow that — by luck — doesn't even scratch him yet stays in place as he rides around, continuing to fight. The people start rumors that he's some kind of god and he quickly ascends to the status of the second-coming of Alexander the Great — Alexander's son, to be exact.

So now Danny is king and god, ruling with a commoner's wisdom and absolute authority. Danny's Earthly-anchored partner Peachy notes that they should cut-and-run: they made it to the top, and the best thing they could do is to pack up a lot of riches and quietly slide out of the country. Danny has other plans — he's realistically gripped by power. He is believing what his followers are telling him: that he actually is the son of Alexander.

I'll leave it at that in case you want to find out for yourselves how things resolve.

But the thing about the whole movie is that it's so solidly realistic. It's not like Danny becomes evil through his power — he is overcome by the power. The pragmatic man he was is swept away in the current of illusion. He becomes falsely anchored in "the now" because he's averaging between an infinite past and an infinite future. His delusion comes from his followers elevating him ever higher: an equally destructive position as to being thrown down a deep chasm. It is a lucky man indeed who can survive either fate. Very lucky.

I greatly enjoy pondering the significance of the movie. It's good and sticky … something that will continue to haunt my personal philosophy.

But then on the way out of the theater, I come upon a most peculiar scene. A man is lying on the ground on the side of the driveway with another one on a cell phone summoning help. It turns out the guy was walking home and slipped on the ice. He said he heard something pop in both his legs — a police officer with medical training suggested he probably dislocated his hip. After a few minutes an ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital. The small crowd that had formed — thankfully a few people were his friends that he asked me to try and locate — stood around impotently while experts treated him. I felt bad that I couldn't do anything to help him. It looked to hurt like hell, but rolling him around to make him more comfortable would have only made things worse.

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The films of Len Lye at the Dryden

Ali and I headed to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) but we arrived early, and we got to join the tail-end of Jim Healy's coffee chat in the cafe. I'd like to have attended, as I only got to really listen in on other people's comments.  I'm still stuck on trying to think of a romantic comedy in the past 10 years or so that Jim would like, as he was at a loss to think of one off hand.

Anyway, the films that night were those of Len Lye, an experimental filmmaker in the 1930's through 1960's. His technique was to "compose motion" by drawing directly onto film stock. A Colour Box was one of his earliest and I immediately recognized the tiny nuances of hand-painted and stamped images magnified hundreds of times. He also incorporated innovative music — typically Cuban music in his early films and jazz in his later ones.

It was amusing that some films were created as advertisements — such as The Birth of the Robot and Colour Flight, but they were so abstract that it was difficult to tell what the point was. Well, The Birth of the Robot was rather direct. In it, a guy dies in the desert and is resurrected by Shell oil into a robot that operates the mechanisms of the cosmos. Rhythm had interesting story: it was a commercial for Chrysler that got rejected by the company because it used African drumming and included a "knowing wink" from a black worker (although IMDb's trivia says it was because the film was "too abstract" rather than that Chrysler opposed racial equality in 1957). This also meant that an advertising reward for it was revoked because it was never actually shown.

Two of his last films: Free Radicals and Particles in Space were both excellent. Completely abstract in their artistry — and created from scratching white lines in black film — they conveyed the magic of motion and dimensions. I thought the hand-scratched titling that was animated to move in some warped spacial way was really innovative. The films also incorporated that technique, as if it were the film of objects dancing in a way unnatural to our orthogonal 3-D world.

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Great World of Sound at the Dryden

I got a chance to see Great World of Sound at the Dryden on Thursday. Writer/director Craig Zobel introduced the film and was on hand afterward with starring actor Pat Healy (who is also Jim Healy's brother). I rather enjoyed the movie. The trailers I had seen made it out to be somewhat whimsical but it really got pretty serious at times. Basically a couple guys who are looking for odd jobs stumble upon an opportunity to become record producers. They are excited to sign people up and welcome all kinds of talent — solely based on how much money they can come up with as a good-faith deposit. Slowly they come to realize the whole thing is a scam — nobody actually gets a viable record out of it.

The discussion afterward was rather interesting. I think a lot of people — and one woman in particular — were a bit disturbed that to film the audition scenes, they used an advertisement for producing records in a local paper to lure real musicians to a hotel room. They auditioned and secretly filmed then brought behind the scenes and shown how things were run, and asked if they wanted to participate in the movie. Craig Zobel said he had developed a relationship with all the people who arrived so he didn't have any qualms about how he approached it. He admitted that some of the worst and most embarrassing acts were actually actors hired to play musicians. Pat Healy said he and co-star Kene Holliday had to handle improvising for an hour at a time — staying in character — to create those scenes. It also created rapport and a thorough understanding of what it took to do that kind of job.

Craig Zobel said that he got into it because his father got involved in a real "song sharking scam at one point in the 1970's. However, once he realized it was a scam and got out far earlier than the Pat's character Martin did. Zobel had researched other scams and was well versed on how they work. At one point in the film, Kene Holliday's character Clarence gives a climactic diatribe that sometimes you get desperate enough for money that you'll do this kind of thing — that the world isn't fair and that when it's not fair to you, you can't realistically be fair to it.

It's sad that there are people who get to the point that they feel the need to turn on their fellow humans.

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