photo manipulation by nacrowe
when i was in graduate school at TEACHERS COLLEGE we were asked to come up with a metaphor for how we ran our classroom. my response: my classroom was like an ORNETTE COLEMAN record in that from the outside it sounded unstructured and chaotic, but underneath it all there was an effective classroom with purpose and communication.
COLEMAN was the foremost purveyor of what became known as FREE JAZZ. much like in FREE VERSE poetry (WALT WHITMAN, T.S. ELIOT, WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS) words are left untethered by expectations regarding rhyme, meter and structure, FREE JAZZ was unshackled by notions of key, mode, pace, rhythmic structure, etc.. in essence participants were forced to listen to each other which with intent since there was no road map or safety net to rely upon. in my opinion this is the very defining characteristic that makes jazz JAZZ: improvisation.
its basically chaos theory in practice: out of chaos comes order.
that was one of my organizing principles regarding lesson plans in my english classes. make things messy. i always felt that learning should be about discovery. give them the tools and let them learn to apply. supplemental instruction only after being forced to work with peers through a problem first. in my opinion this reflects REAL LIFE.
unfortunately at the moment in american education it is more about memorization or far worse, the attempted deduction of the most appropriate answer based on reverse-engineering the intent of a test writer. everyone i know that still teaches does test prep consistently in class a matter of not committing career suicide. we are developing a generation of test takers and not practical problem solvers. breaks my heart but i loss that war.
but i still look to COLEMAN as a beacon of that beautiful chaotic noise of discovery.
art by nacrowe
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC which explored the golden age of country and the modern americana movement that rediscovered that rootsy appalachian vibe. under no conditions did we ever consider playing any of that commercial pablum that passes itself as modern country. that stuff is utter shit.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
it's funny. there's a lot about writer ERNEST HEMINGWAY that i don't like or identify with; his killing of animals for sport, macho sense of white privilege, womanizing, etc. that being said he was of his time for better or worse.
but for my money for a 30 period from the 1920s through to the 1950s he was one of the most adventurous both in terms of his wanderlust and his editing. yes i said it. when i think of what i like about HEMINGWAY, its his ability to showcase complex psychology using concise declarative sentences with minimal superfluous decorations like fancy adjectives and obscure references. in essence, the opposite of my writing style.
i am aware that this style came about from his time as a journalist both stateside and abroad as a war correspondent for the KANSAS CITY STAR during the spanish civil war of the 1930s. he is a case study in economy. to say the most with the least. its not minimal in the sense of a WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS poem where he is playing with the form itself, for HEMINGWAY i believe he was more interested in the conveying a thought like a straight line to the heart. in a way its kind of a similar ethos to punk rock, three chords and the truth except with him its a subject, verb, object and a typewriter.
i've read and taught HERMAN MELVILLE's MOBY DICK (1851) in my prior life as a secondary english teacher. what's intellectually stimulating about it is its breadth of knowledge about nearly every aspect of whaling in northeast america in the late 18th century. it's encyclopedic. the exercise in reading that book, beside its volume, is trying to surmise which religious, cultural, economic, political allusion to attach to a given part of the narrative. several times the actual plot works on several of these levels simultaneously, which gives the book depth. so basically MOBY DICK is both massive in terms of its breadth and depth.
HEMINGWAY isn't interested in that with THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1952). to me the plot is more of a rorschach test where you can enjoy it for whatever you want it to be. the biblical story of job, sure. a treatise on the hardships related to aging, absolutely. an expression of HEMINGWAY'S depleted vitality and interest in life, maybe. to me HEMINGWAY presents something to project onto, as apart to MELVILLE where it feels more like an endurance test, like a marathon. love them both, but i feel the superior trick is to view the reader as an equal partner in the creation of meaning through the written word.
this was HEMINGWAY's calling card and gift as a writer. respecting his reader.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
WILD STRAWBERRIES (SVENSK FILMINDUSTRI, 1957) by legendary Swedish director INGMAR BERGMAN is my vote for most depressing film of all-time. straight up.
the conceit of the film is an elderly professor traveling to his alma mater to accept an award for his life's work, when he is besieged by regret for the choices of his life. the opportunities he didn't take as they would've competed with his academic ambitions.
the idea of regret at a point in which you have no agency to do anything about it was deeply affecting to me when i saw this back in high school as part of a film class. essentially this film was my introduction to the concept of impotence, which is genuinely devastating to think about too long.
i never got into horror films in general, other than pre-1970s suspense films (ALFRED HITCHCOCK, BILLY WILDER) and early german expressionist films and their immediate adherents (FRITZ LANG, ROBERT WIENE, F.W. MURNAU, JAMES WHALE), partly because the idea of immediate death really isn't that terrifying. it's almost a relief. the idea of slow contemplation over years mulling over bad decisions is psychologically far more devastating and torturous in my opinion.
BERGMAN in this film effectively showcases this existential dread ironically through beautifully composed, hazy impressionistic dream sequences of sun-drenched, never-ending midsummer afternoons in the Swedish forests where as a youth he'd bask in young love. too bad his ambitions left her in the rear-view. these delicately shot scenes of youthful naivety bely a much darker edge in the context of the film, as seeing the college students only further reinforces his internal struggle. essentially this film is a CHARLES DICKENS' A CHRISTMAS CAROL except no hope of changing your ways. only option afforded you is to wallow in the misery of your past decisions.
only BERGMAN could make such a beautiful film that is so depressing! and thats why i love him. definitely worth checking out his filmography, especially this film or THE SEVENTH SEAL (SVENSK FILMINDUSTRI, 1957) . can't go wrong, both are highly contemplative films where characters are caught in an internal conflict asking life's most consequential questions.
listen in HERE to the latest episode of NOWHERE FAST as TOM spins vintage vinyl 45s from his collection of all classic rockabilly. this is a real treat.
past episodes of NOWHERE FAST as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like DEER GOD RADIO, MAKE HER SPACE, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
when i used to go on interviews for high school teaching gigs i would almost be guaranteed to be asked if given the choice what book i'd want to teach. my answer was always ALAN SILLITOE's novel about working class masculinity SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1958) of which the legendary KARL REISZ film was based.
british kitchensink dramas of the 1960s tended to deal with working class-related themes such as class and domesticity, which for me makes them far more interesting and real than their american counterpart films. there is rawness to the subject matter as well as the production, as it is obvious these were made quickly at low cost.
but what drew me to both to the film and the book was this idea of exploring the performative nature of masculinity. in working class midlands england in the post-WWII period, where this films takes place, the main character ARTHUR SEATON struggles to come to terms with how to transcend his repetitive factor job and womanizing ways. for he doesn't get any satisfaction from his work and the only avenue for being dominant was swooning the bored housewives of what he deemed "slow husbands." its as if his conquests was more of a badge of honor to his male mates than an expression or projection of his will. essentially this behavior was a ironically a form of impotence.
i'm almost certain this dynamic, as well as the geographical and cultural similarities of nottingham (where the film takes place) to manchester are what drew a young MORRISSEY to transpose the line "why don't you ever take where it's lively and there's people" into THE SMITHS' iconic song THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. just saying.
i saw this idea of male identity defined through work almost everywhere growing up but especially in the arab world, where at times you would see young men of immeasurable means doing dangerous things out of sheer boredom. this was in kuwait and since their financial, social and political connections were bulletproof, it was as if they had to develop a new pissing contest to set themselves apart. as a foreigner it was fascinating to watch and mock but at some level i really pitied them and their circumstance. it was like they were neglected and were in a dead-end.
this book and film present to me a dead-end scenario that is transcended through hard fought self-reflection. and for me that concept is one meaning that both the novel and film explore effectively: the need for self-analysis apart from your circumstances.
artwork by nacrowe
sometimes there is art that cuts so deep that they inevitably remold your worldview. i count MARTIN SCORSESE's 1988 film THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST on that list. it makes me question the root of any belief i hold. it compels me to examine the nature of doubt each time i watch it.
based on the NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS 1955 novel, this film like its source material explores the dual nature of christ: the idea of him being fully human and divine at the same time. the film really gets at the heart of the origins of faith and the struggle that comes with the weight of power and responsibility, as jesus would've felt when learning of his fate that he had to be sacrificed for the benefit of all humanity. its that struggle that continually draws me back to the story, not so much the religious overtones. but if you are of the religious persuasion, as KAZANTZAKIS (greek orthodox) and SCORSESE (catholic) most definitely are, the film is a helpful dissection of the root of belief since the film asks what happens if jesus had chosen NOT to die on the cross, but fulfill his human desires of connection by finding love and raising a family. if anything the film explores and answers that "why."
now i don't want to give the film away, more just to say most emphatically that if you haven't seen it you must. it is expertly acted by WILLEM DAFOE as jesus christ and HARVEY KEITEL as judas iscariot. DAVID BOWIE even makes a masterful appearance as pontius pilate. the dialogue was masterfully written in the modern vernacular of the time, which gives the film a raw edge that allows the themes to cut deeper as opposed to using king james english as other films by CECIL B. DEMILLE and others had done before (think THE TEN COMMANDMENTS), which is equally a construction. there is no doubt that during that period a common carpenter would've spoken a common pedestrain form of aramaic, so the dialogue choice is beyond apt.
the film also has one of the most evocative scores ever courtesy of PETER GABRIEL which i would put up their with anything ENNIO MORRICONE or BERNARD HERRMANN ever produced. the score infuses vocals and instrumentation from the region into a lush evocative soundscape that instantaneously draws you into the world of the film. PASSION: MUSIC FOR THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is required listening.
months ago the DEER GOD team had the pleasure of attending a joint exhibition at LAST RITES GALLERY in manhattan put on by METAL BLADE RECORDS for polish painter SYLWIA MAKRIS and sculptor TOMASZ GOORNICKI and the artwork they produced for polish metal band BEHEMOTH's recent I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST record.
i had the pleasure of speaking with GOORNICKI about his sculpture (pictured below) depicting an uncrucified christ and no doubt, he was quick to state it was influenced by both the KAZANTZAKIS novel and SCORSESE film. he felt in poland that faith unfortunately was a matter of national identity and that inherent in true belief is a sense of doubt. his sculpture was an attempt to draw people into examining the dual nature of christ and the significance of his sacrifice by invoking doubt (no cross, no stigmata = no sacrifice). some would call that heresy, as the sculpture could not be exhibited in poland apparently due to fear of retribution, but i would say that his work requires self-examination and thoughtfulness for it to bear fruit, which is the sign of any good art. at least in my opinion.
check out the film and if this topic sparks an interest, you must read the novel.
photo by lj avalos
artwork by nacrowe
first full disclosure: my senior honors thesis in college was on this guy. so i'm biased. like really biased when it comes to film director BILLY WILDER.
the guy had a gift for dialogue, specifically his ability to portray the rhythms, cadences and spoken vernacular of the era, which was unrivaled and utterly baffling as he was an emigre who came to the america speaking german. the man who wrote DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) and ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) had barely a decade of speaking english under his belt when he began directing his english language scripts. that accomplishment alone is astonishing.
i love all of his early films and some of his later comedies, think films like STALAG 17 (1953), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE APARTMENT (1960), but what i really appreciate about the man was his edge.
being a displaced austrian jew that watched the dismantling of his childhood when europe fell under the spell of the nazis and their anti-Semitic sycophants, WILDER had an instinct for calling out injustice, even in his new homeland. at the early peak of his career he created two films that i hold in the highest regard, SUNSET BOULEVARD and ACE IN THE HOLE. both provided a mirror to a growing celebrity-obsessed media culture that favored gross spectacle over human decency. both went after two aspects of mass culture goliath: film and newspapers.
SUNSET BOULEVARD is a case study of the corrosive effects of celebrity-culture, from those attempting to maintain relevancy to those attempting to achieve it. in a total master-stroke, WILDER casted silent-film era siren GLORIA SWANSON as essentially herself in NORMA DESMOND, with her butler/man-servant played by german silent-era director ERICH VON STROHEIM. not trying to spoil this film, but essentially using a has-been to play a has-been to make a commentary on an industry that both worships and discards its icons in equal measure was utterly brilliant and biting at the same time. pure wilder.
while SUNSET BOULEVARD goes after the film industry, ACE IN THE HOLE focuses its ire on that of the general public in the age of a burgeoning mass media culture. this film is essentially the first to question the responsibility of the media in producing a mass spectacle for ratings. a washed-up east coast beat reporter played by the iconic KIRK DOUGLAS finds himself reassigned to new mexico when he comes across the story of a local man that gets caught in the cave. rather than assist the victim or provide help, he milks the story for all that its worth with week's of exclusives designed to gain him relevancy and a shot back at regaining his reputation as a journalist. much like SUNSET BOULEVARD goes into the toxic horse-trading aspects of celebrity-culture, ACE IN THE HOLE digs deeper and exposes how we are all accomplices to the process. by following coverage we are tacitly responsible for the methods and means by which that information was acquired.
nothing has changed. at all. ACE IN THE HOLE was a flop, but in my mind it was WILDER's greatest moment made only the more incredible given his emigre status in the united states.