Lucia Berlin reached world-wide recognition eleven years after her death with the publication of selected semi-autobiographical stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women. The book made the New York Times best-seller list in its second week and Berlin subsequently became one of America’s most influential short-story writer. From Alaska to Albuquerque, Kentucky, Mexico, New York City, California or even Chile, the author spent her life on the move and lived a life full of experiences and adventures that makes up the great tales in her books. She has been married three times, has had four sons, worked many odd jobs and had a weakness for alcohol that led her to rehab a couple times.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux is simultaneously publishing two new books by Berlin: the short-story collection Evening in Paradise and a memoir with selected photographs and letters Welcome Home.
Evening in Paradise brings together twenty-two stories not included in A Manual for Cleaning Women. These fictions share the same voice, warmth, depth and humor of the best work from prior collection.
Welcome Home is a book of previously unpublished autobiographical sketches Berlin was working on before she died in 2004. This memoir consists of more than twenty chapters, structured around each of the places she called home during her lifetime, beginning in Depression-era Alaska and ending (prematurely) in 1966 in southern Mexico.
Margaret Kilgallen was born in 1967 in Washington D.C. She was a painter and a graffiti artist living a bohemian lifestyle, she could be found surfing a longboard on a beach south of San Francisco, collecting old books or playing banjo. Early on she developed a fascination for lettering and printing techniques as well as southwest and Mexican artists. Her work shows a strong influence from those artists as well as the folk art from whom she borrowed a warm color palette and bold letters.
Through her work Kilgallen explored her own inspirations: subculture, the lives of women who lived in the margin and nature. She was going against the current, against the mainstream.
18 years after she passed away from breast cancer, the Aspen Art Museum is honoring the Bay Area artist with an exhibition of her key works alongside never-before-seen works, examining her roots in printmaking, American and Non-Western folk history, and feminist strategies of representation. The exhibition is titled after this extract from an interview she gave to Art21: “I don’t project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always be imperfect because it’s human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting, that even if I’m doing really big letters, and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I’ll never be able to make it straight. From a distance, it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.”
We were fortunate enough to have a moment with AAM Senior Curator Courtenay Finn, who curated the exhibition in consultation with Heidi Zuckerman, CEO and Director of Aspen Art Museum.
What was the process like of curating this exhibition, how did you pick the pieces and what was your intention with this posthumous retrospective?
As the research around Kilgallen’s work developed, I decided to use her exhibition history as a chronological tool. I formulated the checklist for the AAM’s show from her pivotal and important exhibitions—both group and solo—to start with her first solo show at the Drawing Center in 1997 and end with her last installation, Main Drag (2001), which was created for the ICA Philadelphia’s group exhibition East Meets West: Folk and Fantasy from the Coasts. The exhibition also includes works made during her time working as a book conservator at the San Francisco Public Library, her first print edition with Berkeley’s Paulson Press (now Paulson Fontaine Press), and a piece saved from her large-scale commissioned installation in the parking garage as part of Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity at theLos Angeles County Museum of Art.
I wanted the exhibition to trace both the development of her work over time, revealing her tendency to reuse pieces and aspects of her installations in different forms, while also showing changes in scale, technique, and material. Examining Kilgallen’s roots in the histories of printmaking, typography, American and Non-Western folk history and folklore, I wanted the collection of works to illustrate her belief in a direct connection between art and life, and her commitment to scratching against the larger grain of culture to give space for alternative stories.
Kilgallen fervently believed that women should be more visible within the visual landscape and was committed to inspiring a younger generation of women. She wanted her work to “change the emphasis on what’s important when looking at a woman.” The act of reclaiming space for women is especially timely in today’s sociopolitical climate, and Kilgallen’s evocation of women as strong and multifaceted offers a poignant reminder that diverse adventures, narratives, and ways of being are possible.
Kilgallen had much respect for self-expression through craftsmanship, could you explain the importance of hand making things in a world where everything is now massively and mechanically produced?
When Kilgallen moved to San Fransciso in 1989 it was right at the height of the dot.com boom, where technology and development were irrevocably changing the landscape of San Francisco. In her Art21 interview given in 2001, she talks about how confounding it is that people see graffiti and street art as ugly or a nuisance without investigating or considering the barrage of advertising in public space. One is an expression of an individual while the other’s intent is commerce. Kilgallen’s respect for the mark of the hand, be it a train tag, a public mural, or a hand painted sign, acknowledges the importance of what it means to make a mark on the world. We live in a world bombarded by visual information and layered with images, many of which are tied to commercialism and capitalism. For me, the importance of the handmade in today’s commercial world is that it reminds us that there is a person behind the work. It advocates for a quality of time, celebrating the impact that can come from hard work, while also reminding us of the inherent joy that comes from being present, alive, and expressive.
The exhibition is titled ‘that’s where the beauty is’ in reference to an interview Kilgallen gave where she was talking about how beauty actually lies in imperfection. What’s your interpretation of the title?
Kilgallen said, “I like to see people’s hand in the world, anywhere in the world; it doesn’t matter to me where it is. And in my own work, I do everything by hand. I don’t project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always
be imperfect because it’s human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting, that even if I’m doing really big letters, and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I’ll never be able to make it straight. From a distance, it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.”
My interpretation of the title is rooted in this idea that beauty and joy can be found outside mainstream narratives and definitions. There is more than just one way to exist in the world, to make one’s mark, and to live. In Kilgallen’s work we are reminded that there is beauty to found in imperfection, in the seemingly ordinary, and in the everyday. In her hands a found piece of wood becomes a canvas, a torn piece of paper just the beginning of a new story. Kilgallen’s work asks us to look closer, and once we do, a whole new world of possibility has suddenly opened up.
Can you talk about Mission School, the art movement that started in the early 90’s in the Mission district of San Francisco and which Kilgallen was a central figure of?
The term Mission School was first used by Glen Helfand in 2002 to describe a common thread occurring between artists working in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late nineties. Focusing on the use of found objects and materials, street art, and an embrace of folk and craft techniques, many of the artists involved have been internationally recognized and celebrated. Yet as with any movement or designated community, the artists within it also openly discuss that the Mission School itself wasn’t limited to just the neighborhood of the Mission District and included a more diverse and widespread community than is often included within the larger narrative. In terms of Kilgallen, she was intimately engaged within the larger community of artists working around her, not to mention very active within the larger fabric of the city itself. For example, Kilgallen participated in a series of community-based public art projects, including working with other artists’ works to create new handmade store signage for Andy’s Locker and Mail Services with the Luggage Store Gallery/509 Cultural Center, San Francisco.
Kilgallen, like the many others working around her, worked both inside and outside, making her work accessible to larger audiences. She would create site-specific pieces for exhibitions, but also outside in public space, directly onto train cars, and for friends and colleagues. She used the bottoms of skateboards, made T-shirts, drew record albums, and created her own zines and artist books, believing that all modes of expression and dissemination were equally important.
Kilgallen’s work is also intrinsically and undoubtedly influenced by the city of San Francisco, and the larger California landscape at large, yet what stands out within her work is how she created her own culture of characters, symbols, and a means of storytelling that celebrated ordinary people with dignity.
Is there anything else you feel the audience should know about this exhibit?
In addition to the exhibition, the AAM is producing a fully illustrated, comprehensive catalogue of Kilgallen’s work. It will include full-color images of artworks, archival images of previous exhibitions and installations, as well as newly commissioned essays on her work. Filled with new imagery, ephemera, and scholarship, the publication willprovide a comprehensive introduction to this important twentieth-century artist, especially for those coming to her work for the first time.
Margaret Kilgallen at Aspen Art Museum from January 12 to June 16.
A year ago I moved from my native little Bordeaux to one of the biggest cities in the world, Los Angeles. Once settled in, it didn’t take long for me to venture on dating apps to see what this city is made of. After carefully avoiding any guy posing proudly with an American flag or, holding a gun while sporting a red hat, I finally dived into that stinky, filthy green-colored pool that is dating in Los Angeles. Even though you’d be right to assume that guys are guys anywhere on the planet, whether they are having a croissants or a burritos for breakfast, I did found some cultural differences I wasn’t quite prepared for.
LESSONS ON FRENCH FLIRTING.
We have very different ways of showing to someone that we like them. When I first arrived in the U.S. and still today, I have trouble distinguishing if someone is flirting with me or if they are just being friendly. I’ve had a couple encounters when I mistakenly assumed a guy was gay when he was in fact flirting with me. It only hit me that I was being flirted with when the person tried to kiss me. More often than not those attempted kisses came out of the blue for me as I had no idea these persons had any interest in me. With a French guy it doesn’t take me more than a few minutes to understand that he is interested. I would describe it as French people being a more direct when Americans are more implicit. I feel like there is that grey area with American people where you’re not sure if you are being hit on or not, you kind of have to guess, be instinctive. On the contrary when a French person is flirting with you, you’re very unlikely to doubt they are. In France we have this expression “faire du rentre-dedans” which means seducing with ostentation, or even with abruptness. I guess you could talk about aggressive flirting? We like verbal flirting, playing with words and their meaning and being straightforward regarding our intentions, it’s a game. You’re flirting in a very obvious way and it’s fun to see the other person being destabilized by it.
GETTIN’ READY FOR THE FIRST DATE.
This is the primary difference between French and American dates. I’ve noticed that an American girl getting ready for her date will try to put all odds and her side, putting her best makeup skills at work, highlighting, contour and even some glitter (No offense, they do look magical). An American girl will show up to a first date looking like she’s about to be cast for the next Victoria’s Secret show. I showed up to my first ever American date wearing jeans, converse, and no more make up than usual, which means mascara and foundation.
Culturally in France, you don’t arrive to your date dressed like it’s New Year’s Eve, we’re too proud to let the guy think we’d even try to look our best just for him, so we stick to the mantra ‘less is more.’ One might say we try hard to make it look like we didn’t try hard. It’s actually more about finding the right balance between ‘I’m wearing my most expensive clothes, putting on all of the makeup I own on my face and may I just find one last thing to throw on! Gosh, I hope he likes it” vs ‘This is the sweatpants I slept in, where is the beer at?’
Now after a few drinks and hopefully a good talk the barman/waiter, no question asked, hands the check directly to the guy. That’s downright offensive to me. French women are independent women or at least trying to be and someone paying for your drink can be seen as going back to when we had to rely on a man to buy something. During my first night out in LA every time a guy would ask to buy me drink I would answer: “No, I can pay for my own drink.”
American feminism is more like “I’m a pretty girl and I know my worth, the least this guy could do is buy me a drink.” In Los Angeles it seems like a standard for the guy to pay for the first drinks or the first restaurant but even after that it’s very common for them to try to pay for everything. In France the norm is equality, everyone pays for their own drink or food. We simply don’t like to feel like we owe the guy something because he got the drinks. At the beginning I was very embarrassed to let a guy pay for myself. To a French girl, it feels like the guy is trying to show his financial superiority if he doesn’t at least let you reciprocate the gesture. To be fair, that’s the one thing that wasn’t so hard to adjust to. It’s pretty easy to abandon your “I’m an independent woman” flag when you’re working two unpaid internships and a decent enough looking stranger offers you a drink.
THE. FUCKING. TALK. (THAT NO ONE EVER WARNED YOU ABOUT)
Eventually you end up developing feelings for each other and fall into that grey area where you’re not sure that you’re in a relationship, yet you don’t feel like it’s ok for either of you to see someone else. And that’s where our two countries diverge.
In the U.S., as long as two people do not SAY they are exclusive, each of them are free to see other people, even if they’ve been seeing each other for months. If they don’t put a word on the relationship, if it’s not clearly defined, you two are not exclusive. And that’s where I’d like to thank no one because no one told me about this. In France, you don’t have to talk about it to know that at some point, after a couple months of dating, it’s definitely not ok to see someone else. You just know. After months of hanging out and just naturally shifting from solely nighttime activities and bedroom fun to seeing each other in plain daylight and meeting your respective friends. It would make sense that you’re now more than hookup buddies and are implicitly, without having to talk about it, not seeing anybody else.
As a French person, it just sounds absurd that you have to say things when all you have to do is observe. If you know how you both feel toward each other, you know it’s time to not fuck around, no talk needed.
FAIRE are very serious about not taking themselves seriously. Their shows are infused with a raw improvisation that makes every performance a completely unique experience. They just play with the vibe given by the audience and then do their best to push the limits of that relationship. The images from their shows speak for themselves, filled with overflowing energy and rage. Romain, Raphael and Simon make up the French trio Faire, a band emerging from the Parisian underground music scene. Self-labelled as “Gaule Wave,” the band mixes opposing sounds, from ‘80s synthesizers, to punk power chords, to the lyrical stylings of pop chanson.
We had a chance to chat with Faire just before their highly anticipated second show in Los Angeles. They play tonight at Madame Siam in Hollywood, catch them live at 10:00pm for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
AGATHE PINARD: First of all, how did you all meet?
FAIRE: We met at school, we were about 12 years old. There we were, the only guys listening to rock, wearing leather and boots. So we easily found a subject of discussion.
PINARD: What’s your first experience with making music?
FAIRE: A basement in the center of Paris where we experimented with lots of anger, love, a few cries and lots of laughs. We took it very seriously, being musicians. We were rehearsing between class at least twice a week and started playing live shows pretty early on.
PINARD: Have any of you ever had any ambitions outside of music?
FAIRE: Not really, except the fact that we love to customize/make clothes, and making videos, drawing, painting and writing.
PINARD: What’s the meaning behind the name Faire? Did you have any other names you were also considering?
FAIRE: First we thought about “la GAULE” which is the old name for France and it also means to have a boner. It ended up becoming the name of our music: “Gaule Wave.” But we wanted to explore a maximum of different musical horizons. We thought that with FAIRE (meaning “to make” or “to do”), we could mix all kinds of music that we like, surfing between rock, yéyé, Eastern music, trap, techno and more. Also it’s a simple way for us to make music without thinking too much, and just go with the flow of our spontaneous ideas, like a manifestation of sorts.
PINARD: Do you have any major musical influences?
FAIRE: Yes! We started playing music together while listening to Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf… and the Motown Records really inspired us when we were younger. Later we let go of the stigma that we had of drum machines and were really inspired by ‘80’s cold wave, and especially Martin Rev of Suicide. French Pop culture influences us too, think Michel Polnareff, or all the old ‘50s songs with those incredible lyrics. Swinging by the US, people like R. Stevie Moore just transcend us. But for real, the list is really long, we’re not even talking about all the African, Indian or South American influences!
PINARD: Are there any non-musicians who inspire your work?
FAIRE: We met the incredible Charlie Le Mindu, the French hair designer who also does exhibitions of clothes made with an infinity of hair. His work is absolutely amazing.
PINARD: What’s your personal process of creating an album like?
FAIRE: We like to be really isolated in a countryside or on a rooftop in Mexico, as we did with “Le Tamale.” Notice that we never really put out any albums, it was only EPs that we self recorded in our computer. Now we are preparing the recording of our first album, which we want to record live with someone capable to catch our live energy, because that’s where our potency lies.
PINARD: You seem to like using old women’s names as titles, Mireille, Sisi, Christiane, Marie-Louise, is there any particular reason?
FAIRE: We just love our grandmother’s stories and the era that they lived.
PINARD: You released a very psychedelic video clip of Noizette a month ago, what’s the story behind it?
FAIRE: Some student from l’ECAL, an art school in Switzerland, asked for a song to do a video clip, then pitched the idea and we liked it! For the first time we just let them do what they wanted and received 6 different versions. We had the luxury of choosing the one we thought was the best. This battle between our faces and the Prince was exactly the kind of trip we liked.
PINARD: Is there a show you gave that you will remember forever?
FAIRE: Wow, when we released our EP « Le Tamale » in a Parisian bar people were so excited, and it was so overcrowded that the public was making waves falling down every two minutes on the little three-by-three-meter stage that they kept us from playing long. All our machines got disconnected and fucked up at the same time (it was also because of some spilled beer.) And we had 20 kilos of confetti flying around everywhere. It was two years ago, but we still have some in our synthesizers. It was definitely the best show/non-show.
PINARD: You’re all super wild and insanely energetic on stage, how do your rehearsals differ from your live performances?
FAIRE: (Laugh) that’s a good question. We take it really easy and chill, the exact opposite of our live shows.
PINARD: How do your audiences affect the performances?
FAIRE: We started being crazy on stage after some shows in Mexico where people were getting totally crazy, and thanks to them we took that energy, and it morphed us into these uncontrollable beasts. Now even if the crowd is really chill we get into them with all our passion and love, and push them to dance by jumping into the pit.
PINARD: What was it like to play in LA for the first time?
FAIRE: Really great, people were really into the fact that we got the mosh pits going. They weren’t accustomed to it or prepared for it at all. So we were kind of exotic with our craziness.
PINARD: How was your experience with the city of LA, the American culture?
FAIRE: Pretty interesting, lots of cool vibes and a beautiful mix of various world cultures over there. People were lovely with us, and we met great artists there. Also Simon’s dad is from LA so we had a good introduction to the city.
PINARD: It’s been more than a year since the release of your last EP, C’est L’été, what are you working on at the moment? You said there is a new album in the making?
FAIRE: Absolutely, we are now preparing new songs to record our first album. It will be released next year, but the date is still a secret.
PINARD: What are you listening to right now? What was your summer ’18 soundtrack?
FAIRE: Escape-isms, HMLTD, Lil Pump and les Charlots.
Connan Mockasin is the musician, composer and record producer from New Zealand who collaborated with MGMT, James Blake and Mac DeMarco. After his latest collaboration with Sam Dust on Soft Hair (2016), Mockasin is back this year with a new and third record called Jassbusters accompanied with a five-part film. The album is said to have been recorded live in less than a week in Paris at Studios Ferber during the summer of 2016 while Bostyn ’n Dobsyn, the film, allegedly took 20 years to develop and only took 10 days to shoot in Los Angeles.
“Con Conn Is Impatient” is the first single from the record and comes with a video clip from the film in which Mockasin plays fictional music teacher, Bostyn, and his friend Blake Pryor plays the music student, Dobsyn. Seeing them both in the video wearing what you could only define as very bad wigs is pretty funny but the song is perfectly silky smooth and mellow. You can watch the video above.
Below is the second single from the record, Charlotte’s Thong. One might wonder if the title refers to Charlotte Gainsbourg as Mockasin composed a song for her 2011 album, Stage Whisper, before going on tour with her. I’ll leave you with that impeccable, smooth as peach skin, nine-minute track.
Nestled in the Griffith Park hills, the Greek Theater seems like a perfect fit for LA-based band The Neighbourhood. California native, the group is composed of vocalist Jesse Rutherford, guitarists Jeremy Freedman and Zach Abels, bassist Mikey Margott, and drummer Brandon Alexander Fried. Their recent self-titled album released earlier this year has been subject to bad press review but the band can count on the generous support of their fans, the hoodlums. “Scary Love”, the first single from the album reached over 3 million views on Youtube.
Unfamiliar with the band’s sound, I start to do more online digging and it looks like The Neighbourhood’s music is hard to label, from alternative rock to hip-hop to urban pop. I’ve seen many attempts at describing their genre-crossing style. Arriving at the show, I didn’t know what to expect but a few minutes in and it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a rock show. The lead singer, Jesse Rutherford, used a voice-transforming microphone to obtain that autotune-like vocals during the whole performance which kind of took me by surprise, I’ve seen playback singers before but never live autotuned ones. I guess you can easily feel like an outsider at a Neighbourhood performance, the crowd is actually more of a big mass of young fans singing, sorry I mean screaming, every word along with Rutherford, sometimes even covering his amplified voice during the hits. After the few first notes of every song, a wave of screaming follows. The scene is a mix of screams, Rutherford’s seductive moves and more screaming. Rutherford swings by a vintage microphone hanging from the scaffolding, he flies above the first rows and I wonder if he is going to jump. He doesn’t. You can tell the show comes to an end as the band is blasting their more popular tunes. Is there any song those kids don’t know all the lyrics to? It feels almost rude to not sing along but here I am, a quiet outsider surrounded by young people having the best time of their lives.
Los Angeles-based, rock ‘n’ roll band Easy formed in early 2017 by Josh Landau from The Shrine, pro skateboarder Don “Nuge” Nguyen, Run The Jewels’ producer Wilder Zoby, Amoeba Records’ Jordan Jones and Ben Brown on synth, debuts a video for “Nothing New” shot by Chris Blauvelt. The track comes off the group’s debut EP ’Nothing New’, released earlier this year.
The 16 mm film footage is inspired by Gus Van Sant’s film ‘Gerry’ intro scene; Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in a lone car rolling for it feels like forever into the desert, into emptiness, before stepping out of the car in the middle of nowhere. ‘Nothing New’ captures this sense of evasion except this time, it’s the beautiful French model and actress Camille Rowe that we observe. Camille had never really driven before but somehow it feels easy to watch her roll away in her total red outfit matching Landau’s. “Nothing New is about feeling someone you love slipping away into a downward spiral out of your control and dealing with not being able to help them anymore,” explains Landau.
“Nothing New” arrives as the band preps for a hometown show Friday September 7th at The Echo. The evening features some of the best of LA’s current crop of musicians including The Entire Universe, Crush (Cole & Zumi from The Black Lips), DJ set by Blake Anderson & Atiba Jefferson.
French artist, painter, bestselling author, designer, teacher, mother but also lover and artistic muse of Pablo Picasso, Françoise Gilot, was a woman of multi-talents. Born in 1921 at Neuilly-Sur-Seine, just west of Paris, she was introduced by her mother to watercolor and India ink at only 6-years-old. After graduating from the prestigious schools of La Sorbonne in Paris and Cambridge University she abandoned her studies in Law at age 19 to devote her life to art. Gilot found inspiration through her numerous travels and despite sharing her life with famous artists she developed her own, unique organic style.
Taschen is dedicating a set of three sketchbooks to the French artist. They are made on Gilot’s travels between 1974 and 1981. Collecting direct impressions and abstract reflections, they are suffused with the distinct atmosphere of Venice, India, and Senegal.
The three sketchbooks are accompanied by an additional booklet containing an introduction by Hans Werner Holzwarth, a conversation between Gilot and Thérèse Crémieux on the artist’s work and travels, and translations of the handwritten text within the drawings.
After nearly 20 years of silence the composer Midori Takada reappeared to present a collaboration with the musician Lafawndah for a Kenzo produced film, Le Renard Bleu. Directed by Partel Oliva the film showcased krump artist Qwenga hypnotically dancing against the beautiful score. Now a vinyl of this ethereal soundtrack has just been release on K7. In honor of its release we got to spoke to Lafawndah about the project which saw the old and new worlds of avant garden colliding.
How did you feel like working with Midori Takada knowing she hadn’t release any music in almost 20 years?
Anxious, excited, honored, blocked, freed.
How did the collaboration come along ?
Partel Oliva, the filmmakers and creative directors at Kenzo at the time asked me if I’d be down to collaborate on a music piece with Midori Takada, which would be use as the point of departure for a film they would write around and about the music. I choked and when I was back to life, I said yes.
You wrote the lyrics, what is your personal process of writing like?
Depends. But for this project in particular there was a lot of special circumstances. One of them is, I don’t really sing on other people’s tracks. Just because what makes me wanna sing is to compose the music first. So I was a bit nervous about that. I also have never worked with someone who is such an inspiration to me. Also, she is the one who decided about the theme and asked me to write about it which is also unusual for me. Then, Partel Oliva are my favorite directors and the idea of making a piece of music for them to write a film was a lot of pressure. So I started reading a bunch of things about the fox in the Dogon mythology and also in Japanese folk and started to find a thread I was interested in, a point of view for the story and a feeling. Then I asked my partner Brian, to come help me cause I was blocked from all these impressive mountains I was surrounded by. He unblocked me and we wrote the lyrics together.
The title of the film is Le Renard Bleu meaning The Blue Fox in French, can you explain what does this fox represent?
Takada san is very interested in the Dogon mythology and in particular in the figure of the fox. People have different interpretation of it. For me it’s the good chaos. It’s the one who comes and destroys everything in order to start better, stronger, more intentionally. It’s also a divination figure, the one who knows things we don’t because it lives between two worlds so it can be used as an advise giver. It’s just a different kinda wisdom you know, the chaotic wisdom.
What are you working on next?
Music more music more and more music, a film, a documentary, a performance, a recipe book, a line of cosmetics, a dance movement. a lot of exciting things coming your way!
Le Renard Bleu by Midori Takada and Lafawndah is available on vinyl nowW
Paul Thomas Anderson did not need Joaquin Phoenix to be brilliant, but he films Phoenix brilliantly.
After the evident success of Phantom Thread, nominated Best Picture, and before the release of the next movie starring Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here, directed by Lynne Ramsay -, I thought it would be nice to take a look at the earlier association between director Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix. The duo’s first project was the sublime The Master in 2012 – also starring the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie might be the best work of both Anderson as a director and Phoenix as an actor, and Anderson says it’s his favorite work.
For Inherent Vice (2014), the second Paul Thomas Anderson/Joaquin Phoenix movie association, Anderson is highly unpredictable, alway going where we don’t expect him to. Boogie Nights (1997), The Will Be Blood (2007), Phantom Thread (2017), it is hard to find any stylistic or other correlation, beside the fact that they were all Oscar nominated.
“He’s the greatest screen actor of his generation, but also a reluctant celebrity,” wrote Bret Easton Ellis about Phoenix for the New York Times in a article titled “The Weird Brilliance of Joaquin Phoenix.” This is one of the rare interviews that seems to have truly captured Joaquin Phoenix’s personality. The actor reveals the fragile soul of the characters he embodies; poor guys, thugs, cops. He gives them all a tragic grace and a melancholic side. But what he is, above all, is fair. He plays fair, he is in tune with his characters; he’s not doing too much, or to the contrary, too little; he is simply fair. But then we encounter a second dimension of Phoenix: the madness. We leave the fairness for the incredibly twisted, the tense. The scene of the prison in The Master where he smashed the toilets, and when he ends up tearing the sink off the wall in Walk The Line, neither was scripted, it was all Phoenix.
The authenticity of his performances is probably enhanced by the fact that the actor stays very private about his personal life, and maintains his mystery. We wonder who is really Joaquin Phoenix, which leaves more room for his characters. He is famously known for being hard to interview, constantly lying, making things up when he is not interested, and clearly demonstrating that he would rather be anywhere else than there doing a promotional appearance. His reluctance for celebrity and his attitude, the way he plays with media, could well be perceived as arrogance; he is in fact the contrary. Phoenix, during the rare times when he opened up, revealed himself as more of an insecure artist. He is, for example, unable to watch his own performances because he is too self-aware. He is the anti-hero of Hollywood.
Inherent Vice is a drug infused, LA neo-noir, mystery film taking place in 1970 and adapted from the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon is considered an “LA writer” and Anderson did succeed in reflecting LA’s early seventies atmosphere. It is the kind of movie you either really like or really don’t due to its format. In an effort to preserve the nature of the book while translating it to the screen, Joanna Newsom is narrating all along the movie as Sortilège. The beginning of the movie is indeed word-for-word straight from the book, and then some details get lost in the way – but we all know how hazardous a task adapting books into film can be.
Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator who lives in a fictional California coastal town, Gordita Beach (which bears a striking resemblance with Manhattan Beach, where Pynchon lived in the late sixties). Doc is the kind of loser-stoner we’ve already seen and liked in The Big Lebowski. The story begins when Doc is being involved, against his will, in a series of mysterious disappearances. And, Inherent Vice is a world where “disappear” means either possibly dead, or hiding somewhere. The movie revolves around this plot; Doc in what seems like a permanent state of confusion and paranoia tries to solve a conspiracy involving local real estate baron Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), surf-rock saxophonist Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) and ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston).
Inherent Vice, as much in the movie as in the book, is a “classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there” (this sentence is written on the back cover of the book). The movie explores LA’s late sixties and its hippie “groovy” culture, the surging drugs consumption, Californian beaches and surf-rock bands, Topanga Canyon, cult and post-Manson era but also politics, Nixon, the Vietnam War, and the early stages of LA’s gentrification history (Wolfmann bulldozered a whole black neighborhood in South LA to build his Channel View Estates). It also features the eternal war between cops (Lieutenant Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, played by Josh Brolin) and hippies (“Doc” Sportello), counterculture and capitalism.
Doc shares his confusion with us; we start losing track of what’s happening when something named the Golden Fang might as well be referring to: a boat, a rehab center, an Indochinese heroin cartel or a syndicate of dentists. The film runs out of steam midway, and the two and a half hours feel longer than they should. Inherent Vice might be quite dysfunctional sometimes, but the acting is great, the cinematography so neat and eye-pleasing that every shot is worth saving, and the late sixties atmosphere so well depicted you’ll want to watch it twice. Maybe a second viewing is necessary to fully comprehend the movie – and it is quite possible that Inherent Vice only makes total sense after a lighting up a joint.