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Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train is a Portrait of America

Paul Fusco (1930-2020) was an acclaimed photojournalist who covered some of the most influential figures and seismic political and cultural events of the 20th century, from the activism of Cesar Chavez to the apocalypse at Chernobyl and the ravages of the 1980’s AIDS epidemic. But some of his most indelible images were made on June 8, 1968. That’s when Fusco boarded the “RFK Funeral Train” — a slow-moving engine carrying the assassinated candidate’s body from New York City to its burial place at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

Now James Danziger and Peter Fetterman have joined forces to present the first Los Angeles showing of the newly minted master suite of RFK Funeral Train pictures — 22 images once at risk of being lost to history’s dusty archives. The exhibition, perhaps surprisingly, comprises large-scale color prints — surprisingly because we have become so accustomed to thinking of history in terms of black and white pictures. Fusco used Kodachrome film, and the contemporary masters who minted this new master set used all their skills to replicate the stock’s effect and keep its promise for vibrance, depth, and warmth.

Paul Fusco, Untitled from the RFK Train Portfolio, 1968. Signed and numbered by the artist. Archival digital C print

The images each have a unique emotion, almost a personality, and the array of views of the American people and their landscapes feels both intimate and collective. Fusco shot for the entire eight hours it took for the train to make the usually four-hour journey. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the tracks of this train as it made its way, in huge crowds, small groups, and alone. The tracks pass through urban courtyards, suburban lawns, dirt roads, and old fence posts, along bridges and byways and secluded patches of nature, farms, and even boat docks. People gather with signs and cameras and American flags, they wave and stand at attention, they cry and hug one another, they stay stoic and solemn; they’ve walked and biked and driven; they’ve been waiting all day.

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All these differences between visions of America are celebrated and gathered in this selection; it is impossible not to notice the racial make-up of the crowds and think about 1968 on the East Coast. But it is equally impossible to miss how throughout these differences, these people are nevertheless standing united — in grief. And they are not only grieving the loss of one man. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed the same year, and America was in trauma from the violence at home and the war abroad. Fusco’s one-day journey yielded timeless, empathetic, and masterfully composed images which it is profoundly resonant to revisit.

Paul Fusco, Untitled from the RFK Train Portfolio, 1968. Signed and numbered by the artist. Archival digital C print

As it happens, the photographs have taken something of a journey of their own. In 1968, Fusco had been on assignment for LOOK Magazine, but as the publication came out bi-weekly, he got scooped by LIFE, and none of the nearly 2,000 images he captured that day were published. When LOOK folded they donated their overall archive of something like five million photographs to the Library of Congress, which included Fusco’s in an “in there somewhere” kind of way. The artist’s own reserve of 100 pictures were also in danger of being forgotten — until an editor at Magnum showed them to JFK, Jr. who in 1998 published them in his magazine GEORGE.

It’s fitting that these exceptional pictures be rediscovered and shown now, at a time in U.S. history plagued by so many of the same persistent problems — racism, poverty, division, oppression — which RFK was so keen to combat, and at a time when taking a fresh look at history is so urgently required to reshape the future with the power of the truth.   ❖

[Editor’s note: We missed reviewing these photographs when they were shown in New York some years back and so are glad for the opportunity to share them with our readers now. More information and images can be found here: peterfetterman.com ]

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Last Refuge of a Rock Critic: A Bicentennial Search for Patriotism

Editors’ note, July 2, 2021: There was so much happening in New York City during the Bicentennial all those years ago that the Village Voice spread its coverage over two issues, spanning June 28 to July 12, 1976. The Big Apple was ready to party: King Kong had just left town and the Democrats were rolling in, preparing for their quadrennial convention two years after a Republican president — a liar, cheat, and bully who attempted to use his office to punish political and personal enemies — had resigned in disgrace. There was some sort of cosmic justice in Richard Nixon flaming out after winning re-election in a landslide but before he could preside over the Bicentennial, that nationwide celebration of American democracy’s survival after one civil war, two world conflicts, and countless cultural battles.

It was in the Spirit of ’76 that Greil Marcus, author of the previous year’s Mystery Train — a monumental collection of essays delving into the heart of rock ’n’ roll to reveal a luminous chunk of America’s soul — undertook a wide-ranging disquisition on the meaning of patriotism in the pages of the Village Voice. (Mark Alan Stamaty’s boisterous, labyrinthine cartoons added to the wild and woolly mood.) As they do in Mystery Train, Marcus’s references, digressions, and footnotes shoot off like fireworks. Radiant as a rocket’s red glare — think of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” aurally transmuting Francis Scott Key’s “bombs bursting in air” into bombs dropping on screaming Vietnam civilians — Marcus’s Voice article asks us to look at America’s full history, both glorious and savage. He finds beauty in “an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared,” but also quotes Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered shortly before the Civil War reached its bloody end. The president, who would be assassinated just 42 days later, was acknowledging that the carnage was penance for allowing slavery to have been a part of the nation’s founding. “Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

Marcus also quotes W.E.B. DuBois from 1897, when America’s freed slaves were still waiting for the forty acres and a mule that had been promised to help them start new lives more than three decades earlier. “One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

And in typical Marcus fashion, we get a bonus line of dialogue from Claude Rains, in his role as Captain Renault in 1942’s Casablanca: “Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.” Marcus was in some ways less concerned with whether patriotism is truly “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” as Dr. Johnson so famously put it, than with the divisions that were fracturing the nation into the broken mirror we gaze further into today. “America may be breaking up into separate ‘patrimonies.’ The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does the widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities.”

In November 1972, shortly after he’d won re-election, Nixon — whose somber Quaker facade in public was belied by the profane conniver heard on the Watergate tapes — discussed cabinet changes with an adviser, noting that he might keep one lawyer on to be the “house Jew” and to “handle the Bicentennial and all that nonsense.” Such nasty cynicism has long permeated the political right — consider Coolidge’s desiccated view, “the business of America is business” — because it cannot reconcile lust for unfettered profit with government’s role of legislating for the common good. Marcus worked on Mystery Train as the Watergate scandal was unfolding. In his author’s note, he points out, “To do one’s most personal work in a time of public crisis is an honest, legitimate, paradoxically democratic act of common faith.” Although this book about the music that bound America together across generational, racial, class, and political divides was not published until 1975, Marcus signed his note with a precise date: “August 9, 1974.”

Certainly not coincidentally, that was the day Nixon resigned the presidency.

So, sometime this week, between helpings of apple pie and baseball games, take a few moments to revisit the 200th birthday of a great, if forever flawed, nation as seen through the typewriter of an ever-thoughtful writer grappling with the meaning of patriotism in these United States. Note how he praises conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who voted for the impeachment of a conservative president whose lies, capriciousness, self-aggrandizement, and intimidation tactics they could no longer stomach: “They made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country.”

My, how times have changed. —R.C. Baker

***

In America Even the Humblest Harmony Is an Incredible Dream

By Greil Marcus
July 12, 1976

…In America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” 1922 (1) 

“Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot!”
— Claude Rains to Humphrey Bogart, at the close of Casablanca, 1942 (2)

To claim patriotism in America, where the thing is so undefined, is to claim a very great deal. It is to claim, in one way or another, to embody the republic. So as I thought about what I might say regarding patriotism, which seemed to me an appropriate subject in a week that falls between the Fourth of July and the opening of the Democratic Convention, one conviction that took shape very early was that one could not claim to be a patriot and that anyone who does should be instantly suspected.

This no doubt sounds familiar — patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” (3) as Dr. Johnson put it — but that is not at all what I mean to get at. Rather it is what I mean to get behind me, and to do that it’s necessary to deal at least briefly with the People’s Bicentennial Commission.

The PBC, organized by activist Jeremy Rifkin, presupposes to offer the real, people’s, revolutionary-at-its heart America, as opposed to the official America promulgated for Bicentennial purposes by various hucksters and governmental agencies. The PBC has received some media coverage for its “counterdemonstrations” held alongside various commemorative exercises and dress-up shows.

PBC members are self-described “New Patriots”; you can become a “New Patriot” simply by joining the PBC. According to the PBC line, America is divided into “Patriots” and “Tories” — in fact, all American history, and the American present, can be seen this way. “Patriots” past and present are those the PBC aligns on the side of social and economic justice, defined in the usual radical/liberal manner; Tories are all those who are perceived by the PBC to have resisted such goals. Thus Alexander Hamilton, despite his role in the Revolution, was really a “Tory,” as are Republicans, bankers, factory foremen, and mean high school principals (I’m not making this up).

This approach is indistinguishable from that of the American Legion. There’s nothing troublesome or ambiguous about PBC patriotism; all it takes is a correct stand on the issues, and maybe a membership card. What’s the PBC program? “Patriots” should publicly expose “Tories.” Political candidates should be forced to sign oaths affirming their loyalty to the creed of the revolution.

The PBC makes me think of James Mann of South Carolina, Walter Flowers of Alabama, and Caldwell Butler of Virginia, three conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who were crucial to the successful impeachment votes against Richard Nixon. In PBC terms they are quite obvious “Tories”; in a PBC America is it irrelevant that in working out their decisions on impeachment they made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country. (With Mann there was perhaps no “effort” — that line may have always been visible to him, as it clearly has been to, say, Sam Ervin and William O. Douglas.)

Though the PBC is not to be taken seriously (“Have your political club ask that the Declaration of Independence be displayed at the polling place, so that citizens may spend their time thinking about self-evident truths,” they suggest), the PBC mode of thought is to be taken seriously, if only because it is a mode liberals and radicals often fall into. These days especially, we want our political affairs simple, clean and above all pure. Politics may be many things but it is narcissism first and foremost, because there is more safety in the certainties of separation than in the contingencies of wholeness.

The belief that patriotism is a question of the correct stand on vital social and political issues is not only the most hollow but the most invidious version of the concept; it empties the concept of all possible meaning. The truth is that patriotism makes stranger bedfellows than politics.

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Rather than something that can be easily fixed on individuals for the asking or that adheres to issues because of their necessity, and rather than something that can be claimed, awarded, or withheld, patriotism in America is a conundrum. Most who consider themselves sophisticated in their politics think patriotism is something to outgrow, preferably by the age of 12; many more Americans of all sorts, as John Scholar has written, “are simply without patriotism.… They do not think unpatriotic thoughts, but they do not think patriotic thoughts either. The republic for them is a vague and distant thing.” Yet it seems to me that patriotism should be explored, evoked, doubted, acted, and written out. The language of patriotism needs to be retrieved, invented, nurtured, and spoken, but we should not be too quick to decide who is a patriot and who is not, nor be too careful about establishing standards for the virtuous to meet. It isn’t my purpose here to prove my patriotism to you nor to provide guidelines with which you can prove yours to yourself — should you wish to. Instead I simply want to make the idea real; and I will try to do that by focusing on two themes central to an understanding of the possibilities of the patriotic spirit in America: wholeness, or harmony, and division, separateness.

***

Three texts:

One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
— W.E.B. Du Bois (4)

When I think of Greenwich Village, it is almost with tears. For there this battered battalion dress their guns against a whole nation… From the darkest corners of the country they have fled for comfort and asylum. You may think them feeble and ridiculous — but feebleness is always relative. It may require as much force of character and as much independent thought for one of these to leave his Kansas home and espouse the opinions of Freud as for Wagner to achieve new harmonies or Einstein to conceive a finite universe. The thought of them makes me respond with a sharp gust of sympathy, precisely because they are ridiculous and yet stand for something noble. And one is touched by something like reverence when one finds among this strange indifferent people, to whom the rest of the world is a newspaper story, history a tedious legend, and abstract thought a form of insanity, a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast. By his realization he makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting: for the drama of humanity, in a sense, no setting can be trivial or mean. Gopher Prairie itself, in all its ludicrousness and futility when the human spirit rears itself there, has its importance and its dignity. 

And now that a breach has been made what a flood might sweep off the dam! — what a thundering torrent of energy, of enthusiasm, or life! Things are always beginning in America; we are always on the verge of great adventures. History seems to lie before us instead of behind.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” The New Republic, March 12, 1922 (5)

…The patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts: One is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods, memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines who he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its hopes and fears goes from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those will come after. 

But… we are not taught to define our lives by our debts and legacies, but by our rights and opportunities. 
— John. J. Schaar, “The Case for Patriotism,” American Review 17, May 1973

I suggest that to truly “read” these passages, which is what I will be doing for the remainder of this piece, it’s necessary to pay as close attention to the voice of each writer as to his words. Du Bois, meditating on truths that predated his time and which he does not seem to expect to change, is stymied, perplexed, quietly angry, yet full of a sort of determination that perhaps suggests the bridging of gaps he is telling us cannot be bridged. Schaar, with his eyes on the past (not merely the American past, but the past per se, the past as something that constantly informs the present), speaks in tones of regret; his cadences are measured and restrained, and what is measured out is the pain of loss, the loss of the “way of being in the world” he is describing. All this is evident well before his final disclaimer: that we are not taught the rich and complex values that make patriotism possible but cheaper values that imply the separation of each man and woman from every other as the positive basis for American society.

But Schaar and Du Bois speak as realists; their words communicate an almost tragic refusal to grant a single assumption they do not see as justified by the disappointments and betrayals of the American story. They will not speak a word they cannot prove. But they will whisper. Wilson’s “in America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream” — and not harmony as consensus, or lack of crucial disagreement, but an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared — is at the heart of what both men are saying. They are saying that whatever the American reality, or even the American fate, the possibilities of such harmony cannot be decently abandoned; that harmony is an absolute necessity if Americans are to keep the promises on which America was founded: the promises that flowed instantly from the original justification of America in 1776 as something new under the sun, and perhaps even the promises as they were reclaimed in 1865, with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, when he incorporated the truth that the betrayal of those promises in fact preceded the promises themselves into the fabric of official American thought, where it has been officially buried ever since. (See box.)

To turn from the fundamental gloom of Du Bois and Schaar to late-night meditations of a young Edmund Wilson, thinking of America from a distance, where a good deal of the best of such thinking has been done, is a shock. One may have to read what he wrote carefully to appreciate how bizarre it is.

When I first came to Berkeley, in 1963, a campus veteran told me that Berkeley and Greenwich Village were the only places in America where a person could be really free. Wilson begins with this cozily embattled fallacy; a farther shore from the kind of patriotism Schaar speaks of can hardly be imagined. And yet — or perhaps, “and so” — Wilson then drives straight back into the “darkest corners” of the country, to what Fitzgerald called “the dark fields of the republic,” and embraces them with all the restraint of a Fourth of July orator. Suddenly he has delivered himself from the repression of the American present, as only the future is of any consequence. But there is the slightest hint of condescension in Wilson’s “Gopher Prairie itself” — and, perhaps in flight from doubts that not even the most visionary moment can banish, Wilson abandons the fatal pull of specifics for a virtual manifesto of American mysticism. It’s as if he is seeking, against the terrific odds he has been careful to establish in advance, to fix precisely those things Americans can recognize — those attributes by which they can recognize each other — the feeling that “things are always beginning in America,” blown up suddenly with exclamation points into images of a great dam breaking and a flood of — not ideas, not justice, not even freedom (which was what Wilson started with, but which is somehow no longer exactly the question) — “energy, of enthusiasm, of life!” And this is because what Wilson was working out of in Paris was not a “feeling,” but a leap of faith — a leap straight across what were to Lincoln the almost predestined American crimes and divisions, the crimes and divisions that were the source of Du Bois’s torment.

The desperation in Wilson’s voice is as palpable as the joy. A moment later in the essay he will pull back again; America will become a monster of banality. But he can’t quit with this. He returns as an American St. George come not to slay the dragon but magically to transform it. The passage continues: “Our enemy offers huger bulk than the enemy in Europe, but he is much less firmly rooted. Two generations might rout him. To arms then! Let me return; I shall not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword rest in my hand till intolerance has been stricken from the laws, till the time-clock has been beaten to a punch-bowl!”

In the great tradition of John Wesley Harding, who never made a foolish move, Wilson does not choose a foolish word. The struggle he is lining out is a matter of spiritual life or death for him, and — in the sense that a true patriot, one who truly perceives and accepts a patrimony, embodies the republic — for the country equally so. Thus Wilson’s language is overblown, with every pretension undercut by self-parody (“my sword” a seemingly absurd weapon for a “mental fight”; “till intolerance has been stricken from the laws” taken down a peg by “till the time clock has been beaten to a punch bowl”). Only with a frame of the ridiculous can Wilson get away with the absolute and discomforting seriousness of every word he is speaking. He is dedicating — like Lincoln in 1865, rededicating — himself, and his country, to the liberating destiny that his country, like no other before it, set out for itself; he recognizes and affirms that the republic, along with itself, invented a birthright each American would, in a way of his or her own determining, have to accept, as a burden, before he or she could fully claim to be American.

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This overblown way of speaking is the language, or a language, of American patriotism, and its affirmation also a settling of affairs. It sweeps right by Du Bois’s analysis of what cannot be resolved, even though Wilson’s words do not quite leave Du Bois’s statement of the facts out. “How far can love for my oppressed race accord with love for the oppressing country?” Du Bois wrote at another time. “And when these loyalties diverge, where shall my soul find refuge?” (7) Here and above, Du Bois speaks of black people, but the question he insists on contains all Americans who have been, and are, systematically refused America’s promises and excluded form its patrimony. That exclusion has been and is more widespread in terms of class than of race — and it is equally as subtle, as debilitating, and as resistant to fundamental change. As Du Bois would have said, the question of racial oppression is also a question of class. My attempt to follow the meaning of Du Bois’s idea applies, as metaphor, to Americans of all kinds who are excluded — and given that America was once known as “a good poor man’s country,” there are many whites who were included in the past who are excluded now.

Du Bois says that any resolution a black man or woman can make of Wilsons’s contradictions will by necessity be very different from and properly fall far short of, the glorious unity Wilson saw. The black American patrimony is separation and division; not simply because the “American” side is so full of horror and crime, but at least partly because it is so alive with promise. As Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Daughters, the life of Ned Cobb, a black Alabama sharecropper, makes clear, a full recognition of “the injustice of the laws” does not preclude the deepest recognition of that promise nor the determination to fulfill it precisely on its original, 200-year-old terms. But the laws refuse to recognize Cobb’s claim to his “American” patrimony, and without that double recognition Du Bois’s words hold.

It is very questionable whether the burden I spoke of Wilson accepting, or the debts and obligations of which Schaar writes, can be set forth by me, or anyone, as a necessary part of the patrimony of a black man or woman in America. Black men and women have made their own history in America, which America ignored or did not even see, and the evidence is strong today that it is in that specific history that black men and women are finding their patrimony — their debts, obligations, promises, possibilities — finding what it is they have to live up to, finding a way of being in the world. In Lincoln’s terms of crime and punishment, it is a measure of the price white Americans of any sort must pay for the forced odyssey of black people in America that a black American patrimony, which grows out of an altogether different kind of heroism and resourcefulness than white Americans draw on — different in kind and in quality — may not only be impossible for whites to connect to, but wrong for them to connect to. With Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, Lucille Clifton’s family memoir Generations (which begins with the story of Clifton’s great-great grandmother, born in Dahomey in 1822, brought to the New Orleans slave markets and made to walk to Virginia at the age of eight, whose message to her family, into this century, was “Get what you want, you from Dahomey, women”), Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland, or the film of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a white American may feel that he or she is somehow violating these tales simply by responding to them. To say, this is part of my legacy, my patrimony, too, which is to say that the “American” patrimony is, or should be, that of a black man or woman is to go much farther than any white can decently go.

Because of such history, and because the language of patriotism in America has not flourished — because it is not easily spoken nor easily understood when it is spoken; because the “way of being in the world” of which Schaar writes is foreign to most of us, so foreign as to be hard to imagine clearly — ­America may be breaking up into separate “patrimonies.” The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does a widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities. I don’t mean such groupings are always in explicit conflict, but that people are locating their primary loyalties away from “America,” as a place, a society, a republic, an idea, a promise, whatever. Historian William Appleman Williams’s recent Bicentennial book, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, takes this movement apart to one conclusion: He argues that America can best be true to its best self by returning to the Articles of Confederation, and fragmenting, by secession (violently if need be; “I will meet you on the barricades,” he says) (8), into regional socialist republics. This is a bad moment in the work of a valuable historian. But there is some truth in the book — as a skewed metaphor for retreats from America that are already well advanced.

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It may be that this is not a problem to “solve” but a reality to accept or struggle against, on an individual level, at least in the beginning. Schaar writes of America, an invented political and moral society, as a place where patriotism is not simply a matter of inheritance or lack of it — in America, patriotism is an earned choice, an earned recognition. Wilson, 51 years earlier, agreed when he spoke as baldly as he dared of a “mental fight,” of a battle he would carry on, in American letters, as a critic and a reporter, to rout the enemy, to make the wisp of American harmony he glimpsed one night in Paris more real.

When we speak of patriotism in America we must recognize an inevitable division of self in the very act of speaking, and in that sense Du Bois’s statement can serve for anyone. America is big, conformist, monolithic, faceless, cruel, and its economic game is rigged. For any sense of freedom the first impulse is to separate oneself, either following the trail of countless American lone-wolfs, solitaries, and Ishmaels, or settling for the homogeneous familiarities and protections of “one’s own”: family, religion, nationality, race, region. Yet America is still astonishing — too big, too complex, and too various for any mind to take in, and in that astonishment, in the realization of an enormous place finally justified and held together by little more than a few phrases from an old document, comes the yearning to make America whole by seeing it clearly; by pursuing that patrimony, discovering it, retrieving it, inventing it, or simply affirming it. What is it that Americans share? In what images, of crime or beauty, do Americans uniquely recognize themselves as no others would, recognize that in an essential way they are linked, that they can carry on certain conversations about certain things that others could not or would not think to enter?

One probably cannot raise such questions without realizing that if they are asked with the utmost seriousness of intent there may be no encouraging answers. But one cannot wear such questions out either. Schaar’s statement, like Wilson’s, points toward a way of being in touch with America; com­bative, suspicious, and yet deeply accepting of something like a common fate, that cannot, and should not be avoided.

***

There are two ideas around which this piece revolves, no mat­ter how erratic the orbit has been.The first is the idea of the patriot as one who embodies the republic. This is not as grand or pretentious as it might seem. A civil rights worker linking people to the re­public by convincing them to vote is embodying the republic, in many ways. Many of those on the House Judiciary Committee, by what they said and the manner in which they said it, embodied the repub­lic, for a time. James Agee, writ­ing Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, embodied the republic, in all of its mystical and factual complexity. Those who honestly and visibly refuse to let the repub­lic stop short of itself embody it.

Visibly — publicly — is the key word. Wilson spoke almost mys­teriously of “a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast,” who “by his realization… makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting.” To say that this can mean anything is to point to the strength of what Wilson said, not its weakness; Wilson himself took this conviction to its extreme only 21 years after he first set it down. He wrote of Lincoln, in “Eight Essays”: “It was as if he had not only foreseen the drama [of the war] but had seen all around it, with a kind of poetic objectivity, aware of the various points of view the world must take toward its protagonist. In the poem that Lincoln lived, Booth had been prepared for, too, and the tragic conclusion was necessary to justify all the rest. It was dramatically and mortally inevitable that this prophet who had overruled opposition and sent thousands of men to their deaths should finally attest his good faith by laying down his own life with theirs.” The patriot is a man or woman, who, in embodying the possibilities of American life, dramatizes them in view of others. That is both an instinct — the yearning for and affirmation of wholeness — and a role — the act of wholeness.

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The second idea is that of “a whole way of being in the world.” Schaar has defined it in the lines I quoted; I cannot really set it forth more fully without a long, close consideration of how specific indi­viduals, or a group of people, made their choices and lived their lives. It is both the treasure of patriotism and the key to it. It is a constant, renewing sensitivity to questions I asked earlier: What do Americans share, what is essential and unique, in their history, experience, fate? It is a state of mind that Edmund Wilson caught as well as anyone.

In Paris, in 1922, he began his meditation on America thinking of Futurism, “born in Italy, where the weight of the past lies heaviest.” “But I can scarcely adore the locomotive,” he wrote. ” I know it all too well.” He went on to wonder at his dreams of America, to criticize America as brutally as he could manage, to pull away, back and forth, back and forth, the double vision of the American pa­triot at work, searching for at least a night’s truce with itself. Wilson turned back finally to that image of the rails: “Where there is a petu­lance and a sadness in the piping of the French engines, I shall hear in the American ones an eagerness and a zest: They have elbow room here for their racing; they can drive on as far as they like; they have an unknown country to explore, a country that no one has ever heard of — What sort of men are these who live in nameless towns? At a distance, they seem, neither intelligent nor colorful nor fine — scarcely members of the same race as the beings who have built civilization. But I know that in the wide spaces of all that wilder­ness, in the life of that loose abun­dant world, for all the reign of mediocrity and the tyranny of in­tolerance, there is a new freshness and freedom to be brought to the function of mankind — the function which, in the long run, we shall never be able to get out of: staring out in wonder and dismay at the mysterious shapes of the world, either to ask ourselves what laws move them or, combining those shapes anew, to makeshift to create a nobler world in which our souls may find a home.”

Footnotes 

  1. In Keywords, Raymond Williams’s recent book on the etymology of fundamental con­temporary social concepts, the word “patriotism” is missing (so are “roots” and “fraternity”). But because I like Williams’s idea, if not his choices, I have pulled out words from the quotes I refer to that seem to me keys to an Ameri­can language of patriotism — words that in some way signify an aspect or element of “patriotism.” Here, the keywords are “humblest,” “harmony,” and “still.”
  2. Keyword: “sentimentalist.”
  3. Keyword: “refuge.”
  4. Virtually every word in this statement is a keyword. Still: “two-ness,” “souls,” “ideals,” “dogged,” “keeps it from.”
  5. Keywords: “tears,” “against,” “nation,” “corners,” “comfort,” “character,” “inde­pendent,” “home,” “espouse,” “new,” “harmonies,” “finite,” “sympathy,” “stand for,” “noble,” “reverence,” “indiffer­ent,” “history,” “legend,” “drama,” “spirit,” “dignity,” “enthusiasm,” “beginning,” “adventures.”
  6. Again, since essentially Schaar is writing a brief on the keywords of patriotism, only a few of the less obvious: “a whole way of being in the world,” “defines life by,” “one acknowledges,” “men­tality,” “tone,” “rhythm,” “shapes,” “texture,” “taught.” The grace and civility of Schaar’s writing tells one as much about patriotism as any of his words.
  7. Keywords: “how far,” “accord,” “loyalties,”
  8. Keyword: “I will meet you.”     ❖

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Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives Uncategorized

How Makeup, Murder and Dark History Turned Bailey Sarian into a Social Media Superstar

There’s a YouTube show for every interest and fandom these days, but the best tend to be less about the concept and more about the creator. A charismatic star/host can make almost anything interesting and when they find the right niche and it all clicks, followings grow, sometimes into the millions. For Bailey Sarian it was not one, but two niches that helped her do just that – makeup and murder!

With 5 million subscribers on YouTube and 2.4 million Instagram followers, Sarian has melded two seemingly unlikely types of content — beauty tutorials and true crime tales — into a very successful series and brand. The California-based professional makeup artist has always loved reading and talking about crime investigations and one day she simply decided to do both at once on her YouTube channel.

After working with Santa Monica-based IPSY as a social media creator, Sarian started also experimenting with her own YouTube output. “Then 2018 came along and the Christopher Watts story came around; it was this man who killed his two kids and his wife and then put them in oil bins at his work,” she tells us by phone interview. “I was following the story, and I was staying up til like 4 a.m. reading articles about it, trying to solve the mystery. I was like, ‘I don’t have anybody to talk about this story with, so I’m just gonna sit in front of my camera and talk about it and do my makeup.’ I didn’t know how it’d be received, but decided to just try it. In January of 2019 I finally put it up and as soon as it was posted I was getting view counts like I had never gotten before, and within 24 hours I had gotten 60,000 views. To me that was fame. Then I was like, ‘maybe this isn’t a one-off, let me try it again with a different story.’ I’ve just kept going and I have not stopped growing since that first video.”

Copycats trying similar content melds notwithstanding, Sarian’s series “Murder Mystery & Makeup,” feels different from most makeup guide shows. She’s dishy but refreshingly down to earth, and watching her feels like spilling the tea with an old gal pal while you’re both getting ready for a night on the town. She makes the most macabre murder stories go down easy, presenting a compelling narrative rollout with subtly comic commentary and gorgeous cosmetics work.

Sarian’s eye for color and contour are highlighted each week via edgy applications, and she uses looks and transformations that tout her favorite products for lids, lips, and skin, illustrating techniques anyone can follow along with. Still, it’s the stories that keep you engaged. And though her videos feel freeform and effortless, she tells us she does do some pre-planning.

“I write a script for myself which has the whole story start to finish and then when I start filming, I just start explaining,” she shares. “I try not to overwhelm the audience with too many names or too many addresses and I strip the story down to what happened. I just keep it true to myself and make it like a conversation.”

Though she doesn’t necessarily connect makeup looks to the stories she tells, her videos always feel symbiotic between subject and visual. Sarian’s charm is enough of a connection. “Once I sit down, I kind of just decide what I want to do that day,” she says. “I don’t think about the makeup too much because I want to be comfortable. I’m so consumed with the story, the makeup is always an afterthought.”

With subjects covered including everyone from Jeffrey Dahmer (her most watched at 14 million views) and “The Nightstalker” Richard Ramirez to lesser-known criminals like “The Scream Killers” (the Cassie Jo Stoddart case) and the “chocolate killer” (Cordelia Botkins), her YouTube show is a bonafide hit. Now Sarian is ready to conquer new formats.

Joining forces with Wheelhouse DNA and Audioboom, the social media star just launched a new podcast called “Dark History,” on which she’ll go beyond true crime to explore other kinds of strange and menacing real-life stories from U.S. and world history. The show will also have a video component that will be released after each podcasted episode, filmed on a special set in Los Angeles.

No cosmetics lessons are featured on the Monday weekly podcast but a video companion debuts every Thursday, and Sarian, whose colorful tattoos and facial piercing complement her dramatic facial art, still gives face, and in some ways more personality minus the makeup-minded distraction. So far she has aired episodes on the DuPont Chemical scandal and the Zoot Suit Riots, and future subjects will include the Armenian Genocide and the Birth Control Trials of Puerto Rico.

Chatting on the phone with Sarian is no different from watching her on the computer screen — she’s warm, funny and expressive both ways. We discovered “Murder Mystery & Makeup,” organically while scrolling videos on Facebook and we’ve been addicted to Sarian’s stuff ever since. With two fan groups on FB for her work, we are clearly not alone. Podcasting is a natural progression that should further her success and value as a social media figure.

“I’m doing something I’m really passionate about. I get to research true crime and do makeup which are my two favorite things,” Sarian says, gratefully, noting the downside and upside of online notoriety. “There are some times where you’re looking for constructive criticism and people don’t know the difference between that and being an asshole. Of course there is an influx with trolls as you get bigger. But I’ve found an audience that’s super into everything I’m into and I love engaging with my fans. I’ve learned how to find a balance to it all.”     ❖

Bailey Sarian’s “Murder, Mystery & Makeup” is on YouTube and Audible.
Dark History” is available on Apple Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.
More info on Bailey at linktr.ee/baileysarian.

Categories
Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Islands in the Stream: Music Streaming Services and the Race to the Top

Islands in the Stream: While the world continues to open up in pretty much every other way, it’s fair to assume that streaming and downloading will be the standard means of listening to recorded music for the foreseeable future. This was true long before the pandemic hit, and it will remain true afterwards.

But where to go for our music? The days of one or two choices are long gone; nowadays, the competition is fierce. Each service offers something a little different, be it simple familiarity, better sound quality, ease of use, or compatibility with our existing devices. 

The main players in the game right now are arguably SpotifyApple MusicAmazon MusicYouTube Music, and TIDAL. Others, such as SoundCloudPandora and IHeart Radio, are still around and working to keep up.

Neal Gorevic, global head of consumer marketing at Spotify, says that his company is the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service, armed with 70 million tracks and 2.6 million podcast titles. He’s keen to point out that, as well as a vast array of subscriptions to choose from, the free Spotify service ain’t to be sneezed at.

“No matter if you’re a Premium subscriber or a Spotify Free user, we exist to introduce you to audio we know you’ll love through best-in-class personalization,” Gorevic says. “Our signature combination of human curation and algorithmic insight helps us build a personalized music experience that’s unique to you. Plus, Spotify is available on more than 2,000 different devices. From home and car speakers to gaming consoles, Spotify offers countless convenient ways to listen and discover no matter what you’re looking for or where you are.”

Amazon Music, a relative new kid on the block, says that they aim to expand premium music streaming to new customers with innovative products, like voice features with Alexa, high-quality sound with Amazon Music HD, Twitch live streams and artist merchandise in-app, and podcasts.

“We’re always working to introduce innovative new features that create a richer, more immersive experience that connects our customers with the artists and creators they love,” says an Amazon spokesperson. “We wanted music fans to be able to hear music the way artists recorded it, that’s why back in September 2019 we were the first major streaming service to introduce a high-quality streaming tier with Amazon Music HD. And in May of this year, we announced that going forward, our high-quality streaming tier, Amazon Music HD, is available to all Amazon Music Unlimited customers at no extra cost, unlocking access to the highest-quality streaming audio for even more music fans.”

Amazon purchased Twitch in 2014, and in September 2020 they partnered to add Twitch’s live streaming functionality into the Amazon Music app. That, in combination with their new DJ mode, proves that Amazon are serious players in this game. Meanwhile, YouTube has long been a valuable resource for listening to beloved songs and discovering new artists. The dedicated YouTube Music makes the whole process a little more convenient.

“YouTube Music is the only music streaming service with official singles, albums, playlists, remixes, music videos, live performances, covers, and hard-to-find music you can’t get anywhere else,” said a YouTube spokesperson. “With YouTube Music, you can listen to the latest hits, find songs that you love, stay connected to the music world, and discover tons of new music to enjoy on your devices. YouTube Music Premium ($9.99/month) allows fans to listen ad-free, in the background and on-the-go with downloads.”

Apple Music and TIDAL are also considered big guns in the streaming game, though recent years have been tougher on Soundcloud. Many have moved on, but there’s a determination at SoundCloud and they shouldn’t be counted out quite yet.

“What differentiates SoundCloud amongst other music streaming services is that music streaming represents only one part of our business,” says a SoundCloud spokesperson. “Only SoundCloud runs two businesses, a music streaming service with one of the world’s largest and most diverse catalogues and an artist services business, empowering artists to build and grow their careers by providing them with the most progressive tools and services like monetization, distribution and marketing.”

••

Naturally, the various employees at the various streaming services are keen to point out the positive traits that they have to offer. And it’s difficult to say that one is “better” than another because it’s all very subjective depending on what the listener wants out of a service, what device they listen on, etc. Apple devices, for example, are now very much geared towards Apple Music which integrates iTunes with the streaming and downloading app. The recent COVID lockdown essentially forced all of the companies to consider what users might want and need.

“We know over the past year both creators and our users have been looking for new ways to feel connected, and we’ve seen audio bring people together like never before,” says Gorevic of Spotify. That company launched a COVID relief fund to aid members of the music community, as well as virtual concert listings, and more.

L: Spotify’s Neal Gorevic / R: Tidal’s Lior Tibon

“Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we saw artists turn to live streaming as their preeminent outlet to connect with fans while they were unable to tour,” says an Amazon spokesperson. “Twitch has long been at the forefront of connecting creators and fans through live streaming experiences, and Amazon Music recognized prior to the pandemic that this technology represented a new frontier for artists looking to combine live with on-demand streaming experiences. Our relationship with Twitch made us uniquely able to go even further, and make their live streaming capabilities available to even more fans by adding the feature to our mobile app.”

YouTube hosted virtual shows and launched a new activity bar feature. Pandora, too, hosted shows, playlists and personal stories. Pandora was also the first to have integrations with leading smart home products from Apple’s HomePod to Amazon’s Echo devices. In addition, Pandora was recently purchased by SiriusXM, allowing for cross-platform features. SoundCloud livestreamed through its own channel on Twitch, and introduced a direct support feature and a $10 million artist accelerator fund.

Meanwhile, Norwegian subscription-based streaming service TIDAL was purchased by Square and founder Jack Dorsey.

“The acquisition by Square only strengthened TIDAL’s commitment to supporting artists and strengthening the artist to fan connection,” says COO Lior Tibon.

Some users might feel frustrated when Spotify adds songs to a user-selected playlist, but Gorevic says that they are committed to helping users discover new music.

“There isn’t just one Spotify experience, but rather 356 million+ different Spotify experiences unique to each user,” he says. “Our algorithmic recommendations are personalized to each listener’s unique taste, taking into account a variety of factors: what you’re listening to and when, which songs you’re adding to your playlists, and the listening habits of people who have similar tastes.”

••

So nobody is resting on their laurels – not the industry leaders and certainly not those currently playing catch-up. One area being explored as a potential means of getting ahead is sound quality, with Apple Music now offering Dolby Atmos and hi-def as a free upgrade.

“Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity that comes from all around and from above the listener,” reads an Apple statement. “Beginning today, subscribers can enjoy thousands of songs in Spatial Audio from some of the world’s biggest artists and music across all genres. Albums that are available in Spatial Audio will have a badge on the detail page to make them easily discernible and Apple Music is also offering a special set of editorially curated Spatial Audio playlists to help listeners find the music they love and enable further discovery.”

“Earlier this year at Spotify’s Stream On virtual event, we announced our plans to unveil Spotify HiFi, our new high-quality music experience,” adds Gorevic. “High-quality music streaming is consistently one the most requested new features by our users and at Spotify, we will continue to go all-in on the limitless power of audio and provide the best audio experience for our users.”

Amazon says that they’re pushing the evolution of the industry, “by offering our customers the ability to hear 3D Audio, which includes both Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 RA formats. Available to Amazon Music HD customers with an Echo Studio, 3D Audio allows artists and creators to deliver immersive listening experiences by placing music objects – such as vocals and instrumentals – in a three-dimensional space, creating a listening experience unlike any other.”

TIDAL’s Lior Tibon says that his company is focused on the experience of music.

“Since 2016 TIDAL has been nurturing and building a community of audiophiles, and more importantly, has prioritized the mission to bring the most advanced and quality experience to listeners through both high-fidelity and immersive audio,” he says. “As a pioneer in audio technology and experiences, TIDAL offers the largest variety of audio formats – including MQA, as well as Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.”

••

Things are starting to open up, and it’s probable that there won’t be such a great focus on virtual events moving forward.

“[Spotify is] excited to get back to live events as parts of the world begin to open up,” says Gorevic. “Our Spotify for Artists app provides valuable data to help creators understand listening habits, see where they’ve built their fanbase, and plan tours based on the momentum and excitement that’s been building up around their music over the past year.”

“It’s still day one for us at Amazon Music, and we’re very excited about the future,” adds an Amazon spokesperson. “It’s the most exciting time there has ever been in the music industry and we will continue to innovate, creating new features and content that will help music fans and artists connect in ways we only dreamed about a few years ago.”

YouTube says that they’re going to continue meeting listeners where they are:

“We aim to provide fans with the most seamless, all-in-one music experience and YouTube Premium provides just that – a seamless, ad-free experience that lets you effortlessly move between YouTube and YouTube Music to explore the world’s largest catalog of songs, music videos, live shows, culture, and everything behind the beats.”

Similarly, SoundCloud says that they’re looking forward to getting back out and communicating directly with their community.

“We launched the SoundCloud Forum a few years ago, which is an experiential platform that brings everything you love about SoundCloud directly to the core communities pushing music culture forward. This past year we took the forum online, though the year prior we held events in Toronto, Miami, Atlanta and Amsterdam.”

“We believe the future is hybrid and connecting audiences digitally and IRL will be the future of how entertainment helps to bring communities together who share the same love of music around the world,” adds TIDAL’s Tibon. “We’re looking forward to TIDAL driving how our members experience concerts and festivals through on-site experience and virtually.”

••

So what does the future hold? Who will retain a place at the top table and who will fall away? Will any of the current strugglers force a glorious comeback? It remains to be seen.

“This is an interesting point in time when music services are evolving to become more than just a music store,” says the Amazon spokesperson. “You can see this in the moves Amazon Music made over the last year; adding live streaming brings a new dimension to a music service, as does adding podcasts and in-app merch. Amazon Music is enriching the user experience, and adding a new listening experience to one customers already enjoy.”

“We‘ve always been focused on connecting creators and fans – it’s rooted in our mission as a company,” adds Spotify’s Gorevic. “Whether we’re providing fans with exclusive content from their favorite artist or incorporating features that allow fans to directly support podcasters’ careers, we’ll continue creating new ways to deepen that creator and fan relationship through our platform. This is a major space to watch in the coming years.”

TIDAL’s Tibon says that there has been a seismic shift in the last few years in how music is consumed and valued.

“Technology advancements have allowed fans to have the highest music quality in their pockets,” he says. “We’re hoping to see continued advancements for the listening experience, and more importantly we hope to see artists properly compensated for their art across the board. Both of these elements are incredibly important to TIDAL’s mission and we’ll continue to push this forward across the industry.”

The competition will be fascinating.    ❖

Categories
ART 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES NYC REOPENING Uncategorized

Beware Strategizing Painters Bearing Gifts

Sure, the world was turned upside down by COVID. But as we gladly return more and more to museums and galleries and “normal,” we still gotta take the bad with the good.

Case in point: the six paintings recently gifted by Georg Baselitz to the Metropolitan Museum. For business reasons — collectors love that institutional cachet — we can guess why Baselitz gave them away. But the real question is, why did the Met accept these bland, enervating canvases?

First, some boilerplate from the Met’s website about this clumsy body of work: “Made in 1969, they are among the first works in which Georg Baselitz (b. 1938) employed the strategy of inversion, an approach that continues to be of interest to him. The paintings mark a critical moment in the artist’s career as he sought to expunge narrative content and expression — elements present in his earlier work — in order to focus on painting itself.”

Indeed, judging by the sludgy paint handling, wan colors, flabby limbs, and doughy faces on view here, Baselitz successfully jettisoned engaging “content and expression” — his “strategy” of presenting topsy-turvy figures conveys little interest in his sitters. By 1969, painting for painting’s sake was far from revelatory, and there is precious little abstract dynamism or formal innovation to be found here.

Excepting of course … he turned his figures upside down.

Maybe Baselitz should’ve taken a page from Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter and portrayed his figures at an angle. A viewer would be hard-pressed not to commune with Peter as he contemplates the spike driven through his left hand, the weight of his powerful torso beginning to bear on pierced flesh, the executioners’ faces obscured by their own heaving limbs — shadowy lackeys of murderous empire — all of their separate agonies beautifully frozen within the composition’s wrenching equipoise.

But I forget that Baselitz was not painting sitters who were actually upside down, he was painting portraits in which they appear in that position. Such a distinction may or may not flutter the conceptual pulse, but after the artist achieved his goal of expunging “narrative content and expression,” he left viewers with … what, exactly?

And to be fair, comparison to practically any of Caravaggio’s tableaux — every bit as dramatic as his compeer in the Baroque zeitgeist, Shakespeare — is a tall order for even the greatest of painters. So here’s an experiment you can perform yourself at the Met — something that wasn’t so easy to do when Baselitz’s blunt innovations were first hung: Take a cell phone shot of one of these clunkers and then rotate the image on your screen. Is it, at least, a compelling figure? A captivating portrait?

Only if you like desiccated paint surfaces, deflated patterns, and lazily proportioned figures. It doesn’t matter if Baselitz is a righty or a southpaw because he could not be more cack-handed.

But you’re at the Met, so don’t let the day go completely awry. In a nearby gallery you will find a portrait of Saint Ambrose (1465–70) by Giovanni di Paolo.

Go ahead: Click. Flip.

Whoa. No doubt this Quattrocento master had his problems — like Baselitz — with hands and faces. But he had compositional chops to spare. Start with that bowed white trim encircling his robe, bisected by the surreal knuckle-like knots of his flail, which, doing a 180, rise like bony smoke, the totality revealing an underlying awareness of the abstract marrow necessary to give any painted image a sense of life.

But perhaps it is still an unfair comparison — too many props and too much gold leaf. Well then, another gallery or two along and we come to El Greco at his most splendiferously mundane: Portrait of an Old Man (ca. 1595–1600). Do that 21st-century-phone whirl and here’s what you get:

El Greco’s “Portrait of an Old Man” given a new look

Just the racing flourishes of that ruffled collar spanning burnished wedges — a swooping matrix reminiscent of one of Ed Clark’s abstract helixes — is worth the price of admission.

But if a skeptic out there thinks this is a case of comparing Old Master apples to post-war oranges, truck on over to the Alice Neel show, which is up until August 1. After all, it was Baselitz who not long ago proclaimed that women can’t paint, so go ahead and pick one of Neel’s paintings, whip out your phone, take your shot, and hit the rotate icon. You’ve got nothing to lose.   ❖

Georg Baselitz: Pivotal Turn
The Met Fifth Avenue
Through July 18

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives

Gay Generational Divide Explored in Low-Key Israeli Drama ‘Sublet’

Arriving in Tel Aviv, Michael Green (John Benjamin Hickey), a 56-year-old American travel writer, finds the apartment he’s arranged to sublet still occupied by its owner, Tomer (Niv Nissim), a 20-something student and budding filmmaker. Tomer and his friends shoot scary movies in his apartment and the cluttered, disorganized space is clearly a bit of a horror to the buttoned-up Michael, who decides to go find a hotel. Alarmed, Tomer grabs a bottle of cleanser and begins using his feet to scrub a towel across the floor before admitting that he really needs Michael’s sublet cash. Travel weary and charmed by this handsome gay man, Michael agrees to stay.

Sublet is the first film in seven years from the New York born, Israel raised writer-director Eytan Fox, whose 2002 debut feature, Yossi & Jagger was a sensation the world over. Detailing a love affair between two men in the Israeli Army, it remains a daring and much-admired film. In subsequent movies, including the excellent Walk on Water and The Bubble, Fox has continued to draw nuanced performances from first-time actors, while clearly drawing inspiration from Tel Aviv’s youth, many of whom prioritize sexual freedom and personal expression over politics and tradition.

When it becomes clear that Tomer doesn’t have another place to stay, Michael invites him to sleep on the sofa. Equating Michael’s sight-seeing itinerary to “a Jewish princess on her birthright tour,” Tomer begins showing Michael the city, and eventually takes him to meet his mother (Miki Kam) at a kibbutz in the countryside. It is there that the tightly-held Michael will reveal the recent trauma that’s led to a depression he’s done a poor job of concealing.

Michael’s reality, in which the pains of the near yet distant past lay against nearly every moment of his present, runs counter to Tomer’s insistence that life be sex-filled and complication-free. He’s young, in other words, and Fox and co-writer Itay Segal have fashioned for Hickey and Nissim  —a consummate pro and a gifted newcomer — a series of conversations that lay out the classic generational divide. Typically cavalier, Tomer dismisses AIDS out of hand  (“It’s so depressing. Why does everything always have to go back to that?”) only to be left speechless when Michael tells him he lost his first boyfriend to the disease.

Despite their continuing debates, it’s in their silences that the two men ignite change in one another. Tomer’s kindness loosens the knot within Michael, while the visiting writer’s soulful presence appears to move Tomer to feel more deeply than he usually allows. Like Michael himself, Sublet is almost painfully restrained — you might long for a stirring speech or two by the end, but both men would surely hate such a thing. Real friends don’t need speeches.   ❖

Quad Cinema

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ART 2021 COMICS ARCHIVES Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives

Freddie Mercury Gets the Superhero Treatment – REDIRECT 2

TEST The universe of comic books and graphic novels expands far past the superhero genre, but the world-changing, life-givingly radiant genius of Freddie Mercury still qualifies. His voice, passion and charisma definitely count as superpowers – and Z2 Comics is about to give Mercury the royal fanfare he deserves, with Freddie Mercury: Lover of Life, Singer of Songs.

From his youth in Zanzibar and India, through his early life in England and his ascension to the rock pantheon, to the demons he faced down toward the end of his life, the book follows the classic hero’s journey narrative arc evocative of mythological origin stories. Its writer, Tres Dean, is careful to present the stories through Mercury’s words and perspective, recently thoroughly explored in both film and nonfiction anthology. With a personality as large as his and an intoxicating flair for fearless poetry and radical living out loud, Mercury’s own words are as rich a primary source as a storyteller could wish for, and the energy he brought to living comes through in an epic way.

Richly and lovingly illustrated by Kyla Smith, Robin Richardson, Safiya Zerrougui, Tammy Wang, and Amy Liu, with a majestic cover painting by David Mack, and a further limited-edition print by Sarah Jones, the artistry takes its flights of fancy seriously. The visuals are grounded in the expressive rendering of salient actions and events but also exuberant in the freedom of interpretation and expression afforded the artists to bring their own visions to inform the fullness of the book’s vision. This is, in its own way, a heartfelt tribute to Mercury, who himself studied visual art and illustration in London before the gods of music found him in 1971 – 50 years ago this year.

Freddie Mercury by Sarah Jones

The book not only paints moving biographical details with honesty and emotion and an eye for effective detail, but is in its own form also flush with Mercury’s own love of all creative expressions, from visual arts to opera, ballet, theater, cinema and fashion. Z2 Comics itself has pioneered the genre of graphic novels enshrining the lives of music legends from Elvis to Beethoven, the Doors to the Dead. Their softcover and hardcover editions are gorgeous and affordable; their deluxe editions include fine art prints and, in this case, a limited vinyl – touching on all the things that gave Mercury, Queen, and their legions of adoring fans such joy in their work.   ❖

Pre-order for November 2021 release at z2comics.com.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives

Love Conquers All in ‘I Carry You With Me’ – REDIRECT

Not long after Iván (Armando Espitia) meets and shares a passionate kiss with Gerardo (Christian Vasquez) in a gay bar outside the small Mexican town of Puebla, he talks on the phone to his mother, who tells him, “You sound different. I can almost hear your smile. Tell me who the lucky girl is.” It’s the mid-1990s, and the 20-something Iván, who has a son his ex-girlfriend is reluctant to let him see, dare not tell his mother, or anyone at all, that he’s falling in love with a man. The smile his mother senses is real but its source must remain a secret.

For I Carry You with Me (Te Llevo Conmigo), Oscar-nominated documentarian Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) creates an imperfect but moving narrative feature debut, finding inspiration in her friendship with the real-life Iván and Gerardo — footage of whom she cuts to extensively in the film’s final third. This structural leap is daring but it’s also jarring enough to throw you out of the film, unfortunately. The real-life couple, bless them, can’t quite compete with the glow cast by their fictionalized counterparts, played with quiet, haunting grace by Espitia and Vasquez.

In the most mundane of ways, Iván’s ex-girlfriend discovers he’s gay, prompting him to risk an illegal border crossing to America, and to New York, where he’s convinced he’ll quickly make enough money to be able to return to Mexico and not only fulfill his dream of owning his own restaurant but win custody of his son. Recognizing this plan as muddled and naive, Gerardo refuses to go with Iván but promises to remain true to him, a pledge he’ll end up going to great lengths to keep.

The film is at its best in its first hour, as Ewing and the gifted cinematographer, Juan Pablo Ramirez place the couple’s love against the shadowy half-light of clubs, rooftops, and one-lamp apartments. Their first kiss, the one that sets Iván to smiling, is framed by the filmmakers against the night sky, as if to suggest that these two men, and their burgeoning love, are an integral part of the natural landscape. It’s the most sensual kiss in recent film and the power of it carries Iván and Gerardo, and the film Ewing has made about them, forward through all the complications that follow.

Those complications include the lingering damage done by a father dismayed at having a gay son. “Aren’t you a man?” asks Gerardo’s enraged dad. Powerful too is the moment when Iván’s friend Sandra (Michelle Rodriguez), who accompanied him on the terrifying journey to America, admits that she’s miserable and longs to return to Mexico. “They hate us here,” she declares.

Thanks to Ewing’s gift for drawing deeply felt performances from a cast of relative newcomers, as well as an achingly plaintive score by the great Jay Wadley (Driveways), I Carry You with Me casts a dreamlike spell that not even the abrupt home stretch infusion of documentary footage can break. A love as deep and abiding as the one Iván and Gerardo share is destined, it would seem, to surmount all obstacles be they political or cinematic.    ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives

Herzog Found the Real Midwest in His Surreal ‘Stroszek’

Herzog tells it this way: He and Errol Morris, sometime in the mid-70s, decided to meet in Plainfield, Wisconsin, and rendezvous at the Plainfield Cemetery under the cloak of night, where they would dig up Ed Gein’s mother once and for all, to settle what was apparently unsettled business: whether Gein had or not already dug her up himself. (Which is what Robert Bloch, in the story for Psycho, hinted.) Morris shrugged it off and never went; Herzog, of course, showed up in Plainfield on the appointed date, figurative shovel in hand. Uninterested in performing his Geinian task alone (“I was kind of scared, because people open fire easily in this town”), Herzog loitered, tasted the plain, totemic American-ness of Plainfield, and decided to make a movie.

 Stroszek (1976), showing in Metrograph’s Whole Lotta Herzog series, is Herzog’s Amerika, just one of his 70s masterpieces, and possibly the greatest film a European ever made about America. From a fart lit on fire to a compulsively dancing chicken, it is Herzog’s most bittersweet film, in which everything utterly ordinary in the  Midwest feels outrageously absurd and bruisingly sad on celluloid. Typically, Herzog relies on encountered reality to do a lot of his strange-planet legwork, beginning with the central personage of Bruno S., a mentally impaired street musician who spent a good chunk of his life in institutions, and who Herzog had cast in the lead of Kasper Hauser two years earlier. 

Here, in a role written for him that uses aspects of his actual life (including his own accordion and bugle), Bruno is that miraculous Herzogian figure, something so disobediently authentic and un-self-consciously unpredictable that we’re glued to his every discombobulated glance and gesture. He’s not acting, yet he is, pungently, in symphony with both experienced actors (especially Fassbinder vet Eva Mattes) and real Wisconsinians essentially playing themselves. (That includes, uncomfortably, randy mechanic Clayton Szalpinski, whom Herzog on his Geinian sojourn met when his car broke down.) Bruno’s is the greatest of non-performances, a Herzog specialty (which, when you think about it, suggests that Klaus Kinski wasn’t a pro in Herzog’s cosmos so much as another haywire found object).

The film’s tale follows Bruno, fresh from institutional release, trailing along with Eva (as a prostitute getting battered by her pimps) and the diminutive Mr. Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz), as the three abandon a brutal Berlin for Scheitz’s nephew’s Plainfield spread. The story is all texture, familiar stranger-in-a-strange-land beats executed with Herzog’s distinctively freakish eye and appetite for crazed detail, from the rifle-armed tractor drivers to the bizarrely jabbering auctioneer (very real, featured in a Herzog short made the same year, How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck) to that pathetic chicken, trapped in her arcade prison. 

In fact, Herzog could’ve pushed the American surrealism if he’d had a mind to, but he’s too much of a realist — his Wisconsin is as indelible as the midlands of native-made ‘70s road movies, from Easy Rider to Two-Lane Blacktop to Scarecrow, all “looking for America.” Yet here we’re stranded in just another territory of Werner’s World.

Is it a comedy? There’s nothing funny, only something Herzogian, about the preemie ward Bruno visits early on, with a kindly doctor demonstrating a wailing neo-human’s defiant grip instinct. By the film’s square-dance-like ending, a choreography between runaway tow truck, frozen turkey, hunting rifle, and ski lift, the film attains the kind of mundane majesty Herzog mustered as effortlessly from the Amazon and the Sahara.   

Metrograph and online through July 4

 

“Stroszek’ arrives on the pages of the Voice in the July 18, 1977 issue, alongside ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau,’ ‘Cousin Cousine,’ and film smorgasbords in the rep houses.
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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives

Nights of Alienation in the Noir Classic ‘Le Cercle Rouge’

However supercool and desperate and retroactively magnificent it is, American film noir rarely had — film for film — much deliberate philosophical torque. They were mass-made factory product, and came by their collective resonance after the fact, first in the hearts of French cineastes, and then for everyone. It was Jean-Pierre Melville, looking from the outside in, who transformed the noir paradigm into a self-conscious night of modern alienation, and he did it coldly, remorselessly. He never winked. His thieves and crooks and nowhere men are all resigned to their dooms, and never see any reason to get upset about it.

Melville was a one-man filmmaking combine who famously lived in an apartment above his own studio; both Bertrand Tavernier and Volker Schlondorff schooled there, and the Cahiers du cinema crowd loved him. Le Cercle Rouge (1970), his penultimate film, is something of a summation, slicing through its overcast, uncaring, starkly capitalist world by way of Alain Delon’s weary shark-like gaze. He’s a hood released from prison on the condition of a corrupt warden’s idea for a heist. Simultaneously, Gian Maria Volonte (looking every bit of Joaquim Phoenix a few years from now) is an escaped crook chased by a massive manhunt led by grimly toast-dry detective Andre Bourvil (ending a long career as a comic playing against type). 

Diners, rainy street corners, winter fields — the fraught paths meander and cross, but neither the film nor the characters are in a hurry; fatalism is, after all, the long story. Eventually, Yves Montand, as an alkie sharpshooter (suffering the DTs in a cheap, oddly Lynch-like room), is recruited, and the silent jewel thievery begins, but the spirit of the film hardly gives us hope that they will succeed — even when they do — because the trouble comes around again, as it must. In Melville’s trenchcoated nexus (a suite of eight films, over 17 years) the social crisis of noir becomes a steely fable of Godlessness.    ❖

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