Saturday, February 04, 2006

Some of the worst B.C. weather I've ever seen, piled on top of a cold that won't quit, has kept me pretty much housebound this last week. Thank god for the public library (and an apartment located two blocks from it's main branch.)
Here's what I've been spending time with, with some highlights.

How You Look At It-Photographs of the 20th Century.
Edited by Thomas Weski and Heinz Liesbrock.
An overview of the work of some of my favorite artists of all time, including Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Robert Adams and Stephen Shore. Shore seems to get special attention here, with a hefty amount of colour plates and lots of essay time.
Gerry Badger's introductory essay "The Art that Hides Itself" puts perfectly into words so many of my own convictions about photography that I just kept shaking my head as I read it.

"So what exactly do I mean by the term "quiet" photograph, or 'quiet' photographer? It is a difficult notion to define with any exactitude, partly a question of style, more a question of voice. To begin with, it means essentially what it suggests, that the photographer's voice is not of the hectoring kind, that his or her artistic persona from first to last is modest, self effacing. The egotistical mediation of the determinedly expressive 'auteur' is politely shunned. The quiet photographer focuses upon modest rather than determinedly grand subjects, eschews quirky tricks of technique or vision, and (perhaps crucially) presents the work in a modest way. It is difficult to consider a photograph two meters wide to be a 'quiet' photograph, no matter how calm, meditative, unadorned or quiet its subject matter, no matter how much it meets the criteria in other ways. The American Photographer Lewis Baltz defined the principal criterion when he talked of photographs that appear to be "without author or art."

Herzog on Herzog.
Edited by Paul Cronin.
One of the funniest (and most inspiring) books of interviews I've ever read. Herzog's artistic convictions are like massive, immovable boulders - each as steadfast and solid as the last. His rant on money in filmaking should be mandatory reading for film school students everywhere.

"If you want to make a film just go and make it. I cannot tell you the number of times I have started shooting a film knowing I did not have the money to finish it. Financing of the film only comes when the fire ignites other fires. That is what happens when you are into filmmaking. It is a climate that you have to create, one that has to be there otherwise nothing is going to happen. I am not into the culture of complaint. Everyone around the world, whomever I meet, starts to complain about the stupidity of money. It seems to be the very culture of filmmaking. Money has only two qualities: it is stupid and it is cowardly. Making films is not easy; you have to be able to cope with the mischievious realities around you that do everything they can to prevent you from making your film. The world is just not made for filmmaking. You have to know that every time you make a film you must be prepared to wrestle it away from the devil himself. But carry on, dammit! Ignite the fire. Create something that is so strong that it develops it's own dynamic. Ultimately, the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with it's tail between its legs."

Afterglow-A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael.
by Francis Davis
A short interview with Pauline Kael recorded shortly before her death.
Kael hated most of my favorite films from the seventies (Badlands, Don't Look Now, Star Wars!) but she was always so good at telling me why that I didn't care. She also understood, on a very profound level, the absolutely essential role that good criticism plays in culture.

"It's painful writing about the bad things in an art form, particularly when young kids are going to be enthusiastic about those things, because they haven't seen anything better or anything different. I mean, if you were writing about 'The Perfect Storm,' you would have to consider that for many kids it's the first time they've ever seen something like that, and they're all excited about it, and all of their buttons have been pushed. They're going to be very angry if they read a review by someone who doesn't respond to it. I got a lot of that kind of mail from young moviegoers, high-school and college kids, who couldn't understand why I wasn't as excited about things like 'The Towering Inferno' as they were. And there are 'Towering Inferno's coming out all the time. The people on television who got excited last week about 'The Patriot' are getting excited this week about 'X-Men,' and they'll get excited about something else next week. But if you write critically, you have to do something besides get excited. You have to examine what's in front of you."