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Writing Funny!

I’ve signed on for a creative writing course at Kwantlen Polytechnic University on “Writing Funny!” that starts in January 2019, and I’m at best, both excited and terrified about it. I’ve always loved to laugh, joke around and overall in life, I generally try not to take things too seriously. As such, over the next few months, I hope to post a number of journal entries about my exploration of trying to write funny. With this first post, I want to briefly define the term “humour” and explore what humour from different forms of media have influenced myself over the years.

Make ‘em laugh!

Many of us love to laugh, and it’s amazing how old of a concept of humour actually is. Wikipedia traces the term back to the ancient Greeks. Psychologists Polimeni and Reiss, in their article, The First Joke: Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Humour not only confirms this, but traces the origins of the concept back to the Greeks, where they state how "...Humour has been part of the behavioral repertoire of modern Homo sapiens for thousands of years" (Polimeni & Reiss 348) and even longer, as they also trace a line going back to the Australian Aboriginals, where, "...if genetic factors dictate the fundamental ability to perceive or produce humour... then 35,000 years may reflect a minimum age for humour in Homo sapiens" (348). In terms of the etymology of the word humour itself, both Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology Dictionary confirm Wikipedia’s crediting of the ancient Greeks as being the ones who: “...taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humours (Latin: humour, 'body fluid'), controlled human health and emotion.” More specifically, the Online Etymology Dictionary refers to this notion of emotion as representing a state of mind.

The idea of an altered state of mind certainly holds true today when one explores a more concrete definition of the term that fits our modern sensibilities. Going back to Wikipedia one finds a specific definition of humour as representing "...the tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement;" whereas Merriam-Webster describes humour as "...that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous... a funny or amusing quality."

Make me laugh!

Personally, I've found many things to be humourous. Growing up, I remember watching TV-Shows such as THE HONEYMOONERS (1955-56), GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964-67), ARE YOU BEING SERVED? (1972-85), FAWLTY TOWERS (1975-79), SCTV (1976-82) THREE’S COMPANY (1977-85), CHEERS (1982-93) and NIGHT COURT (1984-92). I remember staying up late to catch CHEERS, which was on past my bedtime, but I could watch it by carefully cracking the door to my room open where I could get a clear view of the television in my parent’s bedroom if they had their door open.

I’ve also gotten a kick over the years from movies such as anything by Charlie Chaplin, such as THE KID (1921), to HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), THE JERK (1979), AIRPLANE (1980), POLICE ACADEMY (1984), WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1986) as well as BRAIN DONORS (1992) which was a film that was conceived in part by the Zucker Brothers as a homage to the old Marx Brothers comedies such as A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935). But aside from these and probably hundreds of other comedy films that I've seen I'll always remember one comedy in particular, one that I saw with my Dad. As a medical doctor, he didn't often go to the movies with me as he really didn't have the time. But he saw this one with me during a high school drama trip to New York City way back in 1992. 1992. It feels so long ago, but in many ways it feels like yesterday. My Dad had decided to go with us as a chaparon, and as a teenager, I was miffed by this. Most teens, like myself at the time, want distance and independence from their parents and I viewed the New York trip as being one way towards that independence. It could have been my first trip without my parents. So when he did decide to come, I felt like he was being a helicopter parent of sorts (even though that term probably didn't exist then - it feels like it fit the bill for how I felt). But looking back on it now, I know he wasn't. He was just older, in his mid-60s at the time and likely knew he should do what he could with his son while he was still healthy and well enough to do it. Because 10 years later he wasn't really able to travel anymore, and 12 years later he would be gone. And looking back on it now I really do wish I had appreciated that chance and opportunity to spend time with him more than I did. But seeing this one movie, MY COUSIN VINY, during a free afternoon we had when the city was experiencing a torrential downpour, would be something I would appreciate and remember. It's something I'll probably remember until the day I die. MY COUSIN VINY was a 1992 film starring Joe Pesci, Marissa Tomei, Ralph Macchio and Fred Gwynne. It was about a pair of young men who get accused of committing a robbery and murder of a convenience store clerk in the deep south of the United States. There only hope is their cousin Viny, a new lawyer who barely passed the bar exam to practice law. The film is a great example of humour as it created an interesting situation within which a myriad of interesting characters have to navigate. The film draws on a number of types of humour including situational comedy, wit, sarcasm, slapstick and even a bit of satire. But for me, most importantly, it made my Dad laugh and laugh a lot. The only times I remembered him laughing as much was when we used to watch reruns of the television show, ALL IN THE FAMILY. You can see several clips from MY COUSIN VINY on YouTube, such as this one:


During that same trip to New York City I also got to experience live improv for the first time when we attended a performance of the CHICAGO CITY LIMITS improv group. Being a drama trip, our class had done our own improvisational games as a part of our drama classes but we had never really seen it up close. This was in the days before WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY? hit the airwaves as a means of promoting improv. But it was from seeing CHICAGO CITY LIMITS that had me later discover comedic plays such as THE BOOK OF MORMON and countless smaller productions as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, as well as improv on the VANCOUVER THEATRE SPORTS LEAGUE on Granville Island where I've seen countless shows, and in 2018 got to meet one of my improv heroes, Colin Mocheri when he came back to Vancouver last month to do a number of shows with the VTSL which was one of the venues where he got his own start performing improv.

But my early experience with humour and comedy moved beyond the experiences I've described above, both in New York City and Vancouver. For example, as a young teenager I fell in love with stand-up comedy. I remember watching Caroline's Comedy Hour on A&E with my Mom whenever it was on. That show played host to so many stand-up comedians who I would fall in love with. I remember two of the first comedy albums I ever purchased were by Robin Williams, THROBBING PYTHON OF LOVE and LIVE AT THE MET, both on cassette tape, which I must have listened to hundreds of times to the point where they were so engrained in me that I could recall lines from them at a drop of a hat. I also remember making a copy of a comedy album I stumbled onto at my high school’s library - TEN CLASSICS IN TEN MINUTES by John “Mighty Mouth” Moschitta,  simply so I could listen to it again and again. I also got to share with my Mom a number of live performances as we went to see stand-up comics such as George Carlin, Jay Leno, as well as my Mom's all time favourite comic, Joan Rivers.

My Mom has often described to me how she followed Rivers's career from her days doing standup on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where she later served as a guest host. Rivers also eventually had her own late night talk show, and later a daytime show, both of which my Mom watched religiously. I think my Mom liked her comedy so much because Rivers was never afraid to push the envelope - her comedy was sharp, edgy and witty. She was both a shock comic and an insult comic. But she could also weave interesting stories that always paid off with a good laugh. My only regret was never being able to secure the chance for my Mom to get a meet and greet with Joan - which was something the local casino regularly organized whenever she came to town. But thanks to YouTube, you can also see many bits of Rivers's work, such as this one:


As I've become my own man, I've come to purchase and listen to so many different comedy albums, from Russell Brand to Russell Peters to Richard Pryor to Bob Newhart to Steve Martin and so many others. One of my favourite documentaries about humour and comedy is a movie called THE ARISTOCRATS (2005) which follows an infamously dirty joke of the same name which is known by almost every stand-up comic, as a kind of right of passage.

I've also been fortunate enough to meet some of my comedy heroes, such as Conan O’Brian, who I met in 2010 when he went on tour following his exit as the host of The Tonight Show:

Late night comics of the early 90s had a big impact on me. I started watching Letterman on his Late Night program which used to air as re-runs on A&E every afternoon at 4pm. Then, in the evenings I would record Letterman and O’Brian, and during the lunch hour me and another friend would watch them in the art room while eating lunch (the best recording was the infamous 1994 episode featuring Madonna). Overall though, I loved his cheeky irreverence, and his assorted skits, from ordering hot dogs to having fun with Rupert Jee of the Hello Deli (when I visited NYC on the same high school trip I described above, I got to see them hanging the LATE SHOW signs outside of the old Ed Sullivan Theatre). O’Brian too had a similar feel to Letterman with a similar oddball world view.

More recently, I’ve developed an appreciation for Russell Brand. On stage, he has a similar energy to comics such as Robin Williams, but he also crafts well thought out pieces that can be funny as hell. I still remember when my former and I went on a road trip across parts of the Southeastern United States in 2009, when she nodded off I’d pop on a different CD of Brand’s BBC show. Since that time, I’ve seen him live a couple of times and got to meet him each time. After each of his shows, he goes out into the lobby of the venue he’s playing so fans can get a chance to meet him and get photos with him. So the first time I saw him, I ended up in the lobby and somehow ended up right next to him. But I couldn’t snap a photo as my iPhone was full - so I was trying to make room, while others were getting photos with him, mainly young women, and I remember ending up pressed against him with many women pressed up around me. It was awkward but fun, and eventually we did get a photo. A year or two later, I got to see him again, and won a meet & greet package, where I could get a photo without being caught in a sea of people:

That same night I was going to try and get back to the front to meet a friend, as during the first show I saw him at he did say he would sign anything - even body parts. So I thought it would be great to have him sign my friend’s ass cheek with Brand, and mine with Russell, so we could stand side by side and you could read his full name across both of our cheeks. But somehow, Brand was able to get to the front of the theatre after the meet and greet before guests could. And then I couldn’t get through the crowds to get to my friend, as there were too many people - but he did sign her ass and she got photo evidence that she’s proudly displayed ever since it happened:

And I’ll never forget how I got asked by Don Rickles to get up from my seat and move to the other side of the theatre, just so he could safely hit on the girl I was dating at the time, similar to how he does in this clip I found on YouTube:


Ultimately, I think we all can respond to humour. It truly is a mind-altering mechanism, especially when you see how it can provide a means of breaking tense moments by putting people in those moments at ease.  It also provides us with memories - we could be at a funeral, crying in grief over the loss of a loved one when someone says reminisces about something the deceased said, or did, that was so silly and stupid that we just can't help but laugh through the tears. Humour is something that can connect all of us as it not only has the power to put just the slightest bit of a smile on our faces, but it can also make us break out in belly aching fits of laughter. And that's why humour is so transformational and wondrous.

On the power of an awkward silence...

On July 11, 2018, I took part in a presentation on comedy and we started our presentation with a two-minute silence, which created an awkwardness to everything and a lot of nervous laughter. Following the presentation, I decided to craft this journal post as a brief overview of some of the best examples of how silence has been used in comedy and comedic performances.

The main idea or inspiration for starting our presentation with an awkward silence was primarily rooted in how actor and comedian Craig Ferguson (the host of the CBS LATE LATE SHOW from 2005-2014) used to end his interviews by asking his guests if they want to end the segment with an awkward pause or mouth organ (harmonica). A compilation of the best of these awkward pauses can be found on YouTube:


In terms of a more direct comparison to Ferguson, you can watch how comedian Andy Kaufman uses silence in an almost performative manner in this 1975 bit he performed on Saturday Night Live:

And you can see how Kaufman goes for almost two minutes without uttering a word on David Letterman’s old morning television show in 1980:


Kaufman was always able to effectively use silence in his routines to create an awkward tension in audiences which did nothing but make them break out in giggles. If you’re interested, Jim Carrey portrayed Kaufman in the 1999 biographical film, MAN ON THE MOON, as shown in this clip from the film, which recreates the famous Saturday Night Live sketch:


But these kinds of silences weren’t unique to Fergusson and Kaufman however. Today’s comedic magician duo Penn & Teller showcases Teller as essentially being a mime-like silent partner to the energetic antics of his partner Penn Jillette. In 2015, Teller discussed his silent role with the UK news magazine, THE DAILY MAIL. And if you’ve never seen Penn & Teller, here is a short clip of an appearance they made on THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON. Notice how Penn does all the talking:



But if you want to go back and look at what may have influenced Teller, you might find that you could likely draw comparisons to how Harpo Marx acted in the movies by the Marx Brothers with how Teller acts when he’s on stage with Penn. The Marx Brothers were a comedic team who made many movies between the 1920s and the 1950s. Like Teller, Harpo had a face that could convey so many emotions and ideas, as can be seen in this clip from the 1933 film DUCK SOUP:


Harpo Marx was also a master at physical comedy, all the while not saying a word:




Through what’s been shown already, you can also begin to see how the humour and comedy of one generation can be influenced by what came before them. For example, when one watches the work of comedian Martin Short, they can likely see how Short probably learned a lot from watching Harpo when Short was growing up. What Short learned by watching the Marx Brothers was likely used in creating his own assortment of comedic characters, such as the leading title role he played in the 1994 film CLIFFORD:


Did you notice the similarities in the range of facial expressions used by Short, and Harpo Marx? Finally, Jim Carrey has also been able to master the ability of using a plethora of facial and body movements in both his stand-up comedy routines as well as in his comedic acting. In Carrey’s stand-up comedy, one can see how he is very adept at using silence and pauses to allow his audience to finish laughing so that they’re composed for just a little bit before he unleashes another part of his routine on them:

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about Craig Ferguson’s stint as the host of the LATE LATE SHOW, and how his style of comedy compares to the style of other late-night talk show hosts, this YouTube video does a great job of doing just that:

Nature's Layered Geometry

This past week I spent time at a small part of Elgin Creek, which winds its way through South Surrey, British Columbia. This specific area is actually near my Mom's house, which wasn't far from where I spent most of my time as a teenager often walking or biking through different paths that line the creek. Over the weekend I spent time clearing blackberry bushes and other weeds from the roadside near this part of the creek. It used to be clear when I was a teenager, but over the years became so overgrown that last week you couldn't even see the street sign that identified 31a Avenue turning into Northcrest Drive. It also provided a good cover for youth to drink and homeless to camp in the creek bed. And finally, the mess of bush also became a spot for people walking on the sidewalk to deposit trash, treating the bushes as nature's garbage receptacle which just isn't cool. As I peeled back the layers of the brush, I found many plastic candy wrappers, lids for coffee cups, some compact discs, a bicycle wheel and many plastic doggy poop bags, as partly seen here in this photo from Saturday, June 9, 2018:

I didn't plan on the order in which the garbage fell, it just sort of ended up splayed around the discarded bicycle tire. I spent about two days clearing the area, and this stuff was stuff I found on the first day. In an odd sense it feels like an artwork in and of itself, hailing to the traditions in sculpture and painting where found objects can become art objects. It also harkens back to the old saying of how one man's trash can be another man's treasure. In Andy Goldsworthy's new film, Leaning Into The Wind, Goldsworthy describes this idea as representing "...two different ways of looking at the world," which Goldsworthy describes as being "...the beauty of art that makes you step aside off of the normal way of walking or looking."

With the area cleared, the side of the road now looks a lot cleaner and you can now see down into the creek bed easily.  I did this not just for a cleaner visual aesthetic but to also When I took breaks during the work, I kept looking down at the creek, listening to its flowing water, birds chirping and the leaves rustling. I remembered hanging out and exploring the creek bed as a teenager, including one time when I walked it from 32nd Avenue up to 24th Avenue. And it's this mix odd mix of remembering and reminiscing that made me decide to venture into the creek bed when my work was done, to spend time there reflecting and building my small project.

I loved how Goldsworthy is able to spend a lot of time in a few specific places, both within the urban and rural landscapes that surrounds him in his local community. The film documents his time spent in these places and also revisits places he spent time at in the past and I enjoyed watching this interplay between the actions of the present with memories of the past. As I walked into the bed from the roadside, over the branches and leaves I'd cleared and spread out over the ground to decompose, I was amazed at the landscape, how the creek undulated and flowed unencumbered through a layered mess of geometry - curves, rocks, fallen and decomposing trees. I was amazed at how similar it was to the places Goldsworthy explores half a world away.

One spot in particular appeared to be a wall of wood, but still the creek had found a way under that diversion and kept on flowing. The mess of branches and the large tree that had fallen and likely once blocked the creek, causing it to alter its path and dig under it amazed me. In many ways it felt as though the mess could represent the challenges we face in life, and in particular the challenges I've been facing as well. We each chose how we deal with these challenges and we can either let them bury us under or we can find ways in which to bury under them and push through them to the other side.

For awhile, I simply walked around this area until I decided to start picking up some of the branches that lay all around me. At first, I only touched branches that were already there, a little further away from the ones I had added to the area on the weekend. Some of these were in varying states of decay. Some were strong but many were weak. Some had moss or other moulds and fungus growing on them. At times I was a bit afraid to touch them, but after awhile I just instinctively started to grab them without any kind of forethought. In the moment, I had let go. So I simply piled them on top of each other, on top of the main log and on top of the side of the creek bed closest to me. It felt natural to do this. Eventually the shape of an isosceles triangle started to suggest itself, and as I thought about the triangle, I thought about the natural strength inherent in it. The shape mirrored the flow of the creek, which flowed from a wider area to a more narrow area, mimicking the shape of a triangle or an arrow as it pushed under the debris. In some ways the creek was leaning into the wind by its very act of pushing through. Just like how Goldsworthy has done and just like we do in our lives. My layered geometric shape lay above the creek but as I created my Earthwork I also found myself placing the larger sticks I found right into the water and allowed them to enter into the top of the triangle, while not quite reaching the other side of it, as illustrated here:

I didn't want it to connect, I wanted it to give the suggestion of connecting, of reaching towards each other but also providing a space for escape. I also found myself subconsciously wanting to mimic how the water flowed and passed through a seemingly immovable object:

I was also attracted to the idea of layering an ordered stack of sticks onto layers of unordered stacks of wood, sticks and debris that had built up in the area over time. There are so many layers to everything we do in life, and there's so many layers to what can be found in nature and in our man made environments. And I also liked how the finished object pointed towards the direction the creek was going in, and just how far the creek continued in the distance (which I'm not sure I was able to capture very well in my photographs):

I also like how Goldsworthy is able to document his work both photographically and through a visual medium such as film or video. To this end, I shot my own short video, which I think helps provide a better context and feel for the area I played in, including all of its various sounds from the water flowing to the birds chirping, frogs croaking and even to the sounds of my own footsteps crunching the leaves and twigs on the ground below me as well as of a plane flying somewhere high overhead:


Finally, as I left the space, back through the way I came into it, I stopped and turned around and found I could see it through the leaves from the road. Here's my attempt of photographing what I saw, and I apologize for it being a bit blurry as it was getting late and the light was darker and shooting through the trees made it difficult to focus in on my Earthwork in the low light:

I do like how it's not completely visible from the road, you can only catch glimpses of it through the brush and the Earthwork is not totally visible in its whole from any particular spot on the road. I'd like to revisit it and perhaps add to it, build it up more and layer it more to make it seem a bit more imposing or even noticeable from the road. Finally, I like the idea of how this could be there for awhile, at least until some teenager comes and kicks it aside or in the winter or spring, when the creek water is higher, it simply washes away like one of Goldsworthy's pieces. What will become of it is ultimately a mystery, and I've found that creating Earthworks teaches an artist how to let go. This can certainly be seen in LEANING INTO THE WIND as there is no way any artist can control an Earthwork once you leave it (or even when making it), and I've found that can be both terrifying and liberating at the same time.

Ron Long and the art of flower photography

Tonight I attended the first Thursday Night Artist Talk of 2018, as hosted by held the Surrey Art Gallery Association at the Surrey Art Gallery. These talks take place on the first Thursday of each month, and the Association’s website describes the events as being a:

...monthly program of illustrated talks and demonstrations by local and regional artists. The talks provide an opportunity for artists to expose their work and ideas to the public, and offer the public a chance to see work in a variety of media by artists in their communities.

February's featured artist was Ron Long, whose discussion was titled: The Art, Technique and Challenge of Flower Photography. The description of the artist talk read:

It takes more than a pretty flower to take a good flower picture. Join professional wildlife photographer Ron Long for an illustrated talk to learn tips to improve your own pictures, whether you've been snapping away for years or are just starting out.

The presentation took place in a small conference room of the Surrey Art Gallery. About 35-40 people were in attendance, seated in comfy black stackable chairs facing a large white screen onto which Long's images were projected.

On Photography...

Long began his talk with a brief introduction to himself. He had been a photographer with the Simon Fraser University Biology Department for over thirty-six years before he retired in 2004. And during this time, Long developed his passion for photographing flowers, something he started doing in the 1970s, first with flowers you might find around the house and shortly thereafter with wild flowers.

Long finds that one's photography skills improve as one takes more photographs. "My objective is to make the best pretty pictures of wild flowers that I can." His experience has led him to always want to "...find the best option, as the best shot might not always be obvious. Take the time until you get the shot." For Long, this is particularly important with rare, hard to find flowers:

The more rare the plant, the more time you need to take in photographing it. Take lots and lots of photos. Ask yourself, how can it be better? Always look for different options... explore all the way around a flower, from every angle you can think of. Keep photographing until you can't think what might make a better photo.

For Long, the most interesting compositions are ones where:


  • time is taken to find the best shot;

  • the flower fills the frame, eliminating most empty space; and

  • the most interesting part of the plant is isolated.

In terms of dealing with the composition of a photograph's background, Long discussed how he works to ensure that:


  • any distracting elements in the background are removed;

  • the background is blurred in order to make the flowers look sharper; but

  • allowance is made to let some background details pop (as you don't always want to go for a completely black background).

Throughout his talk, Long emphasized again and again how a photographer should always ask how a plant can be photographed from more interesting angles and viewpoints.

Camera Settings...

A correct combination of exposure settings – shutter speed, lens aperture, and ISO sensitivity – will give bright, contrasting pictures. Long noted how he likes to primarily use an 85mm macro lens, although he does use other lenses from time to time. Long never uses a polarizer on flowers but does use them when photographing other subjects. Finally, Long noted that he never uses vibration reduction as he finds it doesn't work well with macro lenses.

Long noted that he uses shutter priority as "...a proper shutter speed will give you the beautiful photos you desire." In terms of lighting, Long revealed how he tries to keep this consideration as simple as possible. Long doesn't use any reflectors or any other lighting devices as they are difficult to deal with when you're by yourself out in the field. Long sometimes uses a built in flash to help make the flower visually pop, but noted that it must be balanced with the available ambient light. Sometimes he will turn the camera upside down to help aim the camera's built in flash to the areas where he wants it. Long never uses a ring flash as it can produce a ring of white light on his subjects. Long also described how he never uses exposure compensation, choosing instead to expose for the lightest, brightest petal in the photo frame to ensure he captures a detail throughout the image.

Long generally sets his ISO at 400, but if it's nice and bright he select an ISO of 100 as he never uses auto ISO. "With today's cameras you can go up to ISO 9000 or higher and still get good results."

Research...

Before heading out to an area to photograph, Long noted that he will research what kind of flowers might be found in an area he is visiting  so he will know what to look for, especially when it comes to searching for rare flowers. He always knows the names of the kinds of flowers he might encounter as he's found that helps dictate the kind of compositions he will create (his examples included flowers known as a steer's head, and another known as a monkey orchid). For Long, over time similar types of plants from different parts of the world make for an interesting series that he's always looking to expand.

On Computers...

Long approaches his photography in such a way as to produce images that require little to no post processing, "...so I don't have to do anything on the computer... on a recent trip to Africa I shot over 10,000 photos but none needed any post processing as I made sure I had what I needed in camera, especially making sure I had a uniform exposure throughout, as you must have something you can work with."

When Long does use the computer he only does so to crop any distractions that may be taking away from the main subject. He also crops to create a panorama that again helps to provide more focus for the main subject. But when cropping, Long noted that he only crops to either the top or bottom of a photograph or to the sides, but never to both. Nevertheless, Long continued to emphasize that life is much easier if you can do all of this in camera.

Finally, Long discussed how he has adopted photo stitching techniques to combine, for example, four rows of ten exposures from a telephoto lens in order to make a large photograph of certain scenes.

Closing thoughts...

Long encouraged his audience to always have fun. "Enjoy every second of it. Stay with it and keep exploring a flower until you can't think of anything that can be done. The longer you spend increases the possibility of producing interesting photographs." Long ended his talk with a brief question and answer period, which allowed the audience to ask him questions on a range of topics from technical to creative considerations, from appropriate clothing in the field to dealing with changing weather conditions. Finally, Long noted that he also photographs landscapes in addition to florals.

Overall, it was a very interesting artist's talk that had a strong focus on a very specific subject matter. I personally haven't photographed many flowers but I do try to photograph the various things I plant in my own yard, so his talk definitely gave me new ideas for how I approach that. His thoughts on composition will also be helpful as I have taken photos of flowers in the pttast with the intent of drawing or painting them later in my studio, using my photos as a reference. If I can ultimately produce more interesting compositions in camera, it should translate to more interesting compositions for my drawing and painting. Long’s enthusiastic passion for flower and wildlife photography as well as with travelling was contagious and I found I wanted to start photographing again right away. And I would love to hear him talk again!

Brillo Box (3¢ off) (2016)

Last fall, I was wasting time channel hoping when I stumbled onto an HBO Documentary Films title called Brillo Box (3¢ off). More than anything else, what immediately jumped to mind was, “Oh! Andy Warhol!” and after watching it for a few moments my suspicions were confirmed as this was indeed a film about Warhol and his famous artwork sculptures. But as the film was more than half over when I stumbled onto it, I decided to use my PVR’s feature to “view upcoming times for this title” to find a future airing which I set my PVR to record. And like so many things I record, I then promptly forgot about it.


I'll be honest that I didn’t know anything about this film before I sat down to watch it. But after a quick Google search I learned from Wikipedia that Brillo Box (3¢ off) was a 2016 documentary short film written and directed by Lisanne Skyler. Specifically, her film was made to basically follow the provenance (the history of ownership) for the Warhol Brillo Box sculptures her family had owned.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of modern art or have never taken an art history course, you’ve nevertheless probably heard of Andy Warhol. Warhol was one of the major players in the pop art movement that swept the art world during the late 1950s into the 1960s. Pop art became attractive to emerging artists as it was new and marked a pushback to the kind of artwork that had been produced before it, such as work by American abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock. Specifically, the movement was famous for appropriating and playing with imagery from popular culture such as advertising, comic books, packaging and other objects of ordinary or banal origins.

In viewing Brillo Box (3¢ off), I was looking forward to learning more about a more personal history behind what has become one of the pop art world’s most famous works.

The film opens with a short segment that quickly introduces the audience to the themes of the film and its main players. A catchy score plays over imagery of Brillo metal scouring pads being produced and packaged on an automated factory production line. It then immediately cuts to an image of Andy Warhol, who Lisanne Skyler, the film’s narrator says in “…1964 shocked the artworld by making hundreds of replicas of supermarket cartons and presenting them as art. His most notorious were the Brillo Boxes (1964)” (Skyler).

Skyler then introduces the audience to her parents, Martin and Rita Skyler, who got engaged that same year and started to collect artwork. One of the first artworks starting with one of the Brillo Boxes. Her mother Rita gives some insight into why they acquired it, “It was the fact that it was so out of context and it was a new form of art. I loved it. I absolutely loved it” (Skyler). She also says how her Father didn’t hang onto the Brillo Box very long, choosing instead to trade it for a work by another artist “…and the Brillo Box left our living room and went on a journey of its own” (Skyler). The introductory segment then ends by moving 40 years later to show how “…the same yellow Brillo Box (that) my parents acquired for $1,000 went on to sell for over $3 million” at a Christie’s auction in 2010. The film then plays out this story in greater detail over the course of the next forty-five minutes by interviewing various players in the history of their Brillo Box.

The film is great in how it concisely presents both the story of the Brillo Box alongside the context in which it was created and alongside the context of the ever changing artworld and art market of the 1980s to the present. For example, terms like Appropriation are introduced and defined by various experts, such as Eric Shiner, the director of the Andy Warhol Museum, who explained how:

Appropriation is a term that we use in art history to talk about how an artist will borrow something from mainstream culture or from a book or from another artist or from something. How it differs from the term copy I think when you appropriate something you tend to change it in some way. Warhol by far and away was the biggest and most successful appropriation artist. And we have cease & desist letters from Campbell’s and Coca-Cola but they realized very quickly that these were the most talked about artworks in the entire country and they should back off. (Shiner)

It was also amazing how Skyler was able to trace the sculpture's impressive provenance, as it passed from the hands of prominent collectors such as the UK advertising executive Charles Saatchi to Robert Shapazian, the founding director of the Gagosian Gallery in LA, among others. Further, Skyler was able to track down and interview many people who knew the different owners of the piece over time. Each interviewer was able to add to the tapestry of the story being told, and reveal the importance of the piece to a number of its owners. It's nicely done and it helped keep me captivated as the film moved along at a quick, crisp and steady pace to its poignant conclusion.

Overall, Brillo Box (3¢ off) is a great, short introduction to not only the history and importance of Warhol and his work, but of the larger art world and art market as it's existed over the last sixty years.

Grade: A

Brillo Box. Dir. Lissane Skyler. Perf. Lissane Skyler, Rita Skyler. HBO Documentary Films.

2016. Documentary.

Francis Bacon, Painter

Like many artists, I've always been fascinated by the painting of British artist Francis Bacon. I love the raw horror that's present in so many of his works. Near the end of his life, Francis Bacon was widely held as one of the world’s greatest living painters. In 1985 he had been given the honour of a second major retrospective at the Tate gallery in London.  Here, Damien Hirst discusses his own fascination with Francis Bacon:


A Short Biography

Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 of English parents and his father was a breeder and trainer of race horses. At the outbreak of the First World War, his family moved to London where his father worked in the war office. Throughout his childhood, his family would move back and forth between Dublin and London. Bacon never had a normal schooling as he suffered from asthma and was tutored privately. In 1925, at the age of 16, he left home, living in London for awhile and then travelling through Europe, including Berlin and Paris. After seeing an exhibition of Picasso’s, he decided he wanted a life in the arts and returned to London where he first began working as a furniture and interior designer.

In the early 1930s he turned to painting and was featured in several books and exhibitions. Bacon was not formally trained at any art school and developed his own techniques through trial and error. His first works were surrealistic in their execution, but he found little success in that. His first shows were not successful, and his work was rejected for inclusion in the 1936 surrealist exhibition. As a result, he did turn to drinking and gambling, and in the early 1940s he destroyed almost all his early work. It was at this time that he turned to the style of painting for which he would become largely famous for.

How to paint like Francis Bacon

In terms of his painting style, Bacon drew inspiration from Van Gogh, Velazquez, as well as photographers such as Muybridge, “…I like the movement, and watch the movement of the body.” Bacon liked to paint onto unprimed canvases, which soaked in the oil paints he used. He went straight to the canvas with his paint, and rarely did any drawing beforehand, “…I like to attack the canvas with the paint…” In 2016, the Canvas YouTube channel, sponsored by the Art Council of England, posted a short video on how Bacon approached his work:


Inside Painting 1946

In terms of its form, Francis Bacon's Painting 1946 is a very large oil on canvas measuring 6’6” x 4’4”. The painting suggests a bit of depth even though it appears largely flat. The background of the painting features pastel colours of pinks, purples and salmon colours which move down into dark blocks of black. The carcasses in and of themselves are largely a palette of greys with the exception of the red blood which stains the meat and bones. The central figure forms the main focus of the painting and the face of the figure largely emerges from a black void of darkness, as does parts of his coat in a colour scheme that is reflective of the carcasses surrounding him. The history of portraiture in painting, as well as in photography seems to be referenced in the way the figure is centrally seated in the painting. The blood stained upper lip is contrasted with the yellow corsage on the figure’s chest. However, none of the painting appears soft or comforting, not even the corsage itself, as the paint appears to have been applied quickly in a sketch like manner that leads to an overall unsettling effect.

In term's of the work's content, or the story Bacon is conveying, Painting 1946 is the study of a powerfully primitive, deformed and brooding figure who presides over a scene of slaughter. Firstly, the large carcass hanging behind the figure appears to be reference crucifixion. This slaughter is seen as represented in a number of images, such as:


  • a large beef carcass hangs centrally in the painting behind Bacon’s central figure;

  • meat in the background which disappears into the darkness behind the central figure; and

  • a stand, or a fence of some type which serves to hold more bloodied and beat-up carcasses of meat which protrude out in front of the central figure.

The figure itself seems to be seated on a carpet, which reflects many of the same colours as seen throughout the rest of the painting. The grim authority of the central figure itself is highlighted by a huge neck and an upper lip seemingly stained with the blood of the raw meat that is all around him. Finally, the umbrella could be a kind of reference and homage to the artist’s own admiration of surrealist painting as well as of his experience of daily life in England, which often experiences rainy weather.

In term's of the paintings greater context, it's easy to see how much of Bacon’s work from this period of war grapple with notions of death, horror and destruction. The central figure could easily be Bacon's way of representing dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, among others, who oversaw much of the destruction of Europe as well as of the slaughter of it's citizens. Finally, the reference to the crucifixion seems to reference an absence of compassion, which has been utterly lost to the horrors of war. Bacon specifically said of Painting 1946 how:

I tried to paint a bird falling into a field of grass, and the only kind of marks I made on the canvas suddenly suggested this painting which had nothing to do with it. How it came about I can’t tell you, but I started to paint the meat and the great image of a kind of dictator and the meat around him evolved very, very quickly. It was one of the most unconscious paintings I have ever done. I used to think of how marvelous these grand carcasses were hanging on the wall of the butcher shop and thought how beautiful they look…. We are born, we die and that’s it.

Today, the painting hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In the 1970s, the Museum was infamous because it almost did not lend the painting out for the artist’s first retrospective at the Tate. As such, the artist painted a second version of the painting in the 1970s, which critics have described as being much more mellow and less violent in its feeling.

In conclusion, I think its interesting to again see how other artists view the work of Bacon. In the following YouTube post, filmmaker Christopher Nolan discusses how he has explored the work of Francis Bacon as a way of providing him with visual cues for representing violence and the horror of war in his own films:

On a definition of 'comedy'...

Why define comedy?

Defining comedy seems like an impossible task. Or an annoying one. Or an unnecessary one. I mean, we know what makes us laugh, right? Maybe. But maybe not. American cartoonist Saul Steinberg once said that: “…trying to define humour is one of the definitions of humour.” E.B. White also said something similar: “Analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Chris Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey, in his introduction to screenwriter Brad Schreiber’s book, What are you Laughing at? also plays with the idea that defining comedy is a Herculean task when he said how: “There are two things to remember about comedy. No, three. Comedy is funny. Dying is hard. I forget the other two” (Vogler xi)." But perhaps the most important and poignant idea in Vogler’s brief introduction that I found resonated the most with me, is this: “People have forgotten how to be funny” (xi).

And that’s why I’m here - I want to know more about how to be funny. I want to scratch the surface of what defines comedy at its most basic level. And I hope to do that by summarizing and presenting different quotes and ideas from various books, interviews and online resources that I’ve recently come across while thinking about what comedy really is.

So without further adieu, here we go…

Technically speaking…

The Merriam-Webster dictionary explains how the term comedy was first used in the 14th Century, where it was defined at the time as “…a medieval narrative that ends happily.” Merriam-Webster notes how the etymology for the term comedy has its roots in Middle English, from Medieval Latin comoedia, (from Latin, drama with a happy ending), from Greek kōmōidia, from kōmos (meaning ‘revel’) or kome (meaning ‘village’) + aeidein (meaning ‘to sing’).

Merriam-Webster defines comedy as ‘…humorous entertainment’ and as ‘…a drama of light and amusing character, typically with a happy ending.” By comparison, the Oxford dictionary defines comedy as a humour invention, or ‘…professional entertainment consisting of jokes and sketches, intended to make an audience laugh.’ Wikipedia states that: “In a modern sense, comedy refers to any discourse or work generally intended to be humourous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, television, film, stand-up comedy or any other medium of entertainment.” Wikipedia defines humour as “…the tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement.”

Some synonyms and words related to the word comedy include, but are not limited to: amusement, banter, burlesque, comicality, circus, drollery, enjoyment, farce, foolery, fun, high & low comedy, hilariousness, horseplay, humour, improv, jocularity, jokiness, parody, persiflage, playfulness, satire, shenanigans, slapstick, stand-up, waggishness, and wit (I plan on exploring these and other types of comedy in a future journal post).

Moving past the technical…

So, at its most basic level, it’s safe to say that comedy is any kind of entertainment that makes us laugh. But is there more to it than just that?

Maybe.

Matthew Bevis, in his book, Comedy: A Very Short Introduction, describes comedy as being a movement from drama to life where comedy can be viewed as both a literary genre and as a range of non-literary phenomena, experiences and events. To this end, Bevis asks his readers to consider several questions related to this line of thought, such as:

…how can humour be used? …when do we laugh, and why? …(and) what is it that speakers as well as writers enjoy - and risk - when they tell a joke, indulge in bathos, talk nonsense, or encourage irony? (Bevis 2).

Peter McGraw, in his TEDxTalk, What makes things funny addresses some of these questions when he notes how:

…answering (this) question is important for a few reasons - Humour is pervasive, people of all ages and culture experiences humour on a daily basis. Humour influences your choices, from the movies and television you watch to the people you date and mate. And humour is beneficial as it makes you happy and helps you cope with pain, stress and adversity (TEDxTalks - McGraw).

You can see the rest of McGraw’s TEDx here, where he explores what is funny, and what makes something funny as well:


Schreiber also emphasizes how: “..the curative power of laughter cannot be over praised” (Schreiber 2).

Making people think…

There was another quote by Bevis that aptly explored what might be the most important idea behind the idea of what comedy, where: “…jokes are one way of inviting us to think about what we know —- and what we think we know” (Bevis 3). Along this line, Bevis also notes how:

The surprise that accompanies getting a joke can prompt us to wonder about the expectations that were toyed with to get us there, and what these expectations may tell us about ourselves (4).

Comedian Ricky Gervais also believes that comedy is: “…about making people think” (Big Think - Gervais), as seen in this short interview:


In further exploring this idea, author Baratunde Thurston talked about how one can “…attack a serious topic with humour…” (TEDxTalks - Thurston) in order to make them think, in his TEDxTalk called Hacking comedy :


Further, John H. Foote, in his article for The Cinemaholic called Comedy Genres, Explained , traces the idea of using comedy as a tool for socal commentary back to:

Chaplin, who understood how to make comedy great, sneaking in his powerful social messages among the gales of laughter or happy tears. His gift for slapstick was genius, but he merged that with his ferocious social awareness to create some of the finest comedies of all time (Foote).

Making it personal…

Comedian Jonathan Winters once said: “Just tell the truth and people will laugh.”

So now I think we can add to the definition of comedy as being something that not only makes us laugh but makes us think not only about ourselves but about the world around us. And to do that, comedy should be relatable and from what I’ve read it seems the best way for a comedian to do that is to keep their work grounded by making it personal. That is, to make it about their own experiences, observations and interactions with the greater world around them.

The late great comedian George Carlin, in an interview with Larry Wilde, also emphasized similar ideas about how comedy can be used as a means of not only providing a forum to express individual opinions that were thought provoking but also had a kind of social commentary built in, when he said:

All comedians are interested in justice. It seems to me that the whole reason for standing up and screaming even about your mother-in-law or crabgrass or these kids today, is justice. You’re looking to square the world, to make the world make sense to you. you’re trying to figure out this world and so you give a twisted version of it to people because the version you’re getting through your eyes doesn’t suit you, so you say ‘look at this, I can do this with it!’ So all comedians try to do that (Carlin).

In the first chapter of What are you Laughing at? Schreiber discusses how he views comedy as representing a kind of “…skewed vision” (Schreiber 1) of life, events, people and possibilities. To this end, it’s not at all a stretch to equate Schreiber’s skewed vision with Carlin’s twisted vision, one that is unique for every comedian and for every listener.  For Schreiber, humour and humorous writing “…has few rules” (1) simply because “...humour is as personal as how we dress” (2).

Michael Young, in the introduction to his book, Become a Stand-Up Comedian in 1 Week, also describes how a comedian’s skewed vision can be rooted in the personal, as:

…comedians are just specialized introspective psychiatrists… pretty average people with an acute ability to analyze, dissect, and point out the eccentricities of the world (where) …creating and learning comedy is a rigorous exercise of self-exploration (Young).

Young also notes that:

Comedy is all about being a unique person, and stand-up comedy is all about taking your personal nuances, flaws, fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations, annoyances, pet peeves and sharing it with the audience.

In Hitting your Funny Bone: Writing Comedy & Other Things That Make You Swear, Geoffrey Neill discusses the idea of a worldview, noting how:

Wikipedia says that a worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point of view. When you begin answering (questions about your worldview), you find what drives you (Neill).

Neill also explains how:

Comedians have their eyes open to worldviews that are determining the pull of most of society’s eye and ear. They understand those worldviews and the cues that society is taking from these general philosophies… You hear laughs and “That is so true!” when someone is surfing the waters of worldview… Comedians tap their own passionate voice and react strongly to truth… Within the swells of a larger worldview, your funny bone is a compass that allows you to give your opinionated commentary on reality. It allows you to point out your true north when the larger worldview might be heading south.

I also liked how Neill emphasizes an important point, that while:

The funny bone can be commentary; however, it is less interested in changing someone’s mind and more interested in making them laugh.

Writer Kelly Carlin, daughter of George Carlin, reinforces this idea, that comedians just need to provide commentary – that is, the comedian has no direct responsibility on whether audience members actually think about any given act:

…a lot of people would question my father, saying ‘…you tried to change the world and make people think,’ and he would say ‘…no! that would be the death of it. I want to make people laugh and I’m here to express myself, to entertain and decide what’s funny and if (an audience’s) mind changes about something, that’s not my fault, it’s not my problem” (Carlin).

I think a comedian’s work ought to be well written and provide the opportunity for further reflection and thought. And this is true for any artistic endeavour in which an artist or writer puts something out in the world for others to interact with. Some will love it, some will hate it, some ideas will go right past some audience members and others will eat it up and talk about it for days. But there’s one last thought I think is worth mentioning when considering a definition of how good comedy works. And this was brought up by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, in an interview with Larry Wilde, where Seinfeld emphasized the importance between the audience and a writer in developing a dialogue from which laughter can thrive:

(There was) a rerun on Letterman the other night that I watched, and (my) pacing was completely off. I was completely out of rhythm with the audience… It’s like a conversation. The laughs and the comedy have to have a nice balance to it. And if the comedian pushes his act too much into the laughs, it hurts them. So you have to let the laughs breathe, and then the comedy breathes. And every performer has his own organic rhythm and you have to know it and be true to it… (and that night) I wasn’t paying attention to the audience. To me, really good comedy is a dialogue, it’s not a monologue. There laughs are just as important as what I’m saying because laughs contain thought. They have different shapes, sizes and sounds and colours, and each one says something. So that’s there part and I say my part and it has to have a nice rhythm to it. That’s how you develop a roll (Seinfeld).

Finally, comedian Phyllis Diller echoed a similar sentiment when she said, in an interview with Kelly Carlin, how comedians needed to have: “Sensitivity to the audience… you must learn from the audience, you must learn who you are and how to take them with you” (Diller).

Ultimately, at a fundamental level, it is a given that the best comedy will always attempt to make people laugh. But if that same comedy also makes people think, explore ideas and personal worldviews held by both individuals and societies, as suggested by and explored with an audience by a writer-comedian, then that’s even better!

A comedy as old as time?

To end this piece, I think it’s important to note remember that while the idea that comedy can be rooted in a comedian’s thoughts about the world around them seems old to us, it is actually a fairly new concept. Specifically, in the introduction to Kliph Nesteroff’s book The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy, I found that prior to the 1950s, comedy was not rooted in what was personal for the writer as it was simply a series of one liners and jokes, “…stuff now associated with Fozzie Bear…” Specifically, Nesteroff notes that:

Eventually men like Lenny Bruce, Mort Saul and Jonathan Winters came along and led a revolution by developing their own material, derived from their actual personalities (Nesteroff).

I’ll talk a bit about this history in later posts, with a view towards exploring censorship in comedy but I’ll end this post by saying this - while the 1950s was only around seventy years ago, it was still a relatively slow progression to our contemporary world today where the barriers of what comedians and comedic writers can explore seem almost limitless.

Works Cited

Bevis, Matthew. Comedy: A Very Short Introduction. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2013. 1-5. Print.

Big Think. “Ricky Gervais: The Principles of Comedy.” YouTube. 20 Jun 2011.

Carlin, George. “Lenny Bruce.” George Carlin on Comedy: Interviewed by Larry Wilde. Laugh.com, 2002.

Carlin, Kelly. “George Carlin.” Phyllis Diller on Comedy: Interviewed by Kelly Carlin. Laugh.com, 2009.

Diller, Phyllis. “Tool Kit for Comics / Confidence.” Phyllis Diller on Comedy: Interviewed by Kelly Carlin. Laugh.com, 2009.

Foote, John H. “Comedy Genres, Explained.” The Cinemaholic, https://www.thecinemaholic.com/sub-genres-of-comedy-explained/. Accessed: 17 Jan 2019.

Neill, Geoffrey. Hitting your Funny Bone: Writing Stand-Up Comedy & Other Things That Make You Swear. 2015. Amazon Kindle e-Book.

Nesteroff, Kliph. The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy. New York: Grove Press, 2015.

Schreiber, Brad. What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Humor for Screenplays, Stories, and More. New York: Allworth Press, 2017. 1-11. Print.

Seinfeld, Jerry. “Technique.” Jerry Seinfeld on Comedy: Interviewed by Larry Wilde. Laugh.com, 2001.

TEDxTalks. “Hacking Comedy | Baratunde Thurston | TEDxKC.” YouTube. 27 Aug 2014.

TEDxTalks. “What makes things funny | Peter McGraw | TEDxBOULDER.YouTube. 12 Oct. 2010.

Vogler, Chris. Introduction. What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Humor for Screenplays, Stories, and More. By Brad Schreiber. New York: Allworth Press, 2017. xi-xii. Print.

Young, Michael. Become a Stand-Up Comedian in 1 Week. DoStandUpComedy, 2017. Amazon Kindle e-Book.

Pollock (2000)

I recently revisited Ed Harris's Pollock, released in 2000, a dramatic biopic about the life of American abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock. In revisiting the film I was curious to see if the film had held up and whether it would have the same deep resonance for me as it did when I first viewed it almost 17 years ago in theatres on May 1, 2001.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmoUIfcrfIE


At the time of its release, Pollock was positively received by critics and is still “certified fresh” on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with an overall critical score of 81%. The film’s actors, Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden would both be nominated for Academy Awards – Harris as best actor in a leading role for his portrayal of Jackson Pollock, and Harden as best actress in a supporting role for her portrayal of artist Lee Krasner, Pollock's supporter, manager, wife, and a significant artist in her own right. Harden would go on to win for her part in the film:

Pollock was a passion project for Harris. And although Pollock was actor Ed Harris’s directorial debut, it was not the first biopic Harris had been involved in. As an actor, Harris had previously portrayed contemporary figures in films such as 1983’s The Right Stuff, 1995’s Nixon as well as 1995’s Apollo 13. As illustrated in Carol Strickland's 1993 New York Times article, The Race Is On to Portray Pollock, Pollock was one of a number of productions that were trying to make it to the big screen and would ultimately become the only one that made it to the big screen. In the DVD commentary for the film, Harris explained how he wanted the film to be "...not about cinematic tricks, (but) about the guy painting..." To that end, Harris explains how:

"...I really worked on my paintings from the late 1980s as I committed myself to wanting to play this guy. I had a studio built on a little part of my property and started experimenting... It’s got rhythm it’s got harmony, it’s got balance."

As a historical figure, Pollock would become known as one of the pioneers of American abstract expressionist art, a post-World War II art movement developed by artists working in New York City. The movement was significantly important as it helped establish New York as the center of the art world, displacing Paris which was still reeling from the impacts of World War II at the time. At the heart of abstract expressionism was an emphasis on the automatic, subconscious and emotional feeling that artists drew upon in the creation of their work.

Ultimately, Pollock would become renowned for the development of his drip style of painting, a process which critic Harold Rosenberg would define as being a form of action painting. It was "action" because Pollock as an artist used his entire body in the process of making his drip paintings. He would lay his canvases on the ground and stand above the canvas's surface, moving above, around and across it as he dripped, flicked and flung paint onto the the canvas. One of the strengths of the film is in illustrating the more quiet moments when Pollock painted, and Pollock's discovery and evolution of his drip process was nicely portrayed in this scene, one of the film's key moments:


In the DVD commentary for the film, director Ed Harris reveals how due to time and monetary constraints they chose to omit scenes that would have explored Pollock’s early life, being born and initially raised in Iowa before crisscrossing America as his Dad moved his family in pursuit of work. The film also ignores Pollock’s artistic training alongside his brother Charles Pollock under the tutelage of artists such as Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York. Harris further justifies these omissions in the commentary stating that the film “…was much more of an emotional journey than a historical document.”

Instead, the film opens approximately ten years prior to Pollock’s own death, at a time when Pollock was living with his older brother Charles in New York City. The first scene opens showing an inebriated Pollock returning home late one night. The next morning his brother’s wife reveals that she’s pregnant and she strongly suggests that it’s time Pollock moved out on his own. When she leaves, the film reveals a wonderful unspoken tension between the brothers, as Charles is clearly filled with angst and frustration with his younger brother’s antics. It’s through scenes like this that the film really delves into the psychology behind Pollock, who wasn’t emotionally stable or even that much of a nice guy. Rather he was a deeply troubled individual – introverted and haunted by unspoken demons which he tried to suppress both with his art and his drink. As Harris explains in the commentary, “…he’s desperate, he’s not good on his own, Pollock never lived by himself, ever… his mother, Charles, his brother, Sandy and Lee. And when he did, obviously at the end, he was alive for two weeks (before) he was dead.”

During these early scenes the film also quickly introduces Lee Krasner, one of the most important people in Pollock’s life and they quickly develop an interesting relationship as she becomes his mother, muse, lover, wife, supporter, manager and confidant.  But she’s not just subservient to Pollock, and the film doesn’t ignore the fact that she too was an accomplished artist of her own, as Pollock visits her in her studio apartment early on in their relationship and they later paint together and discuss each other’s work together. The film also takes time to explore how Krasner introduced Pollock to many of the key people who would help shape and influence Pollock’s career, from critic Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor) to art collector Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan) as well as other New York artists Pollock spent time with, such as Willem de Kooning (Val Kilmer).

At times the film does seem to perpetuate several Pollock myths. In some scenes he seems to reject the more formal and philosophical discussions about the work he created, but from what I’ve learned about Pollock he did understand art, art history, and the discourse surrounding it. Instead, the film seems to want to present him as the stereotypical troubled artist - a man who simply creates for the sake of creating. This is illustrated in one early scene where he’s talking with Krasner about his latest work when he proclaims, “I am nature!” before totally rejecting any of Krasner’s justifications for the work by telling her “…why don’t you paint the fucking thing?” as he left her and walked out of the room.

Overall my impressions of the film haven’t changed since my initial viewing in 2001, which I expressed in a short review I wrote and posted to the epinions.com website which was popular at the time:

Sometimes one sees a film that really hits close to home, a film that really hits close to the soul, somewhere deep down inside. Tonight, for me, Pollock was that film. Ed Harris's new biopic has left me shaken and scared. During the screening I sat in awe at the beauty of the artwork and at the tragedy of the man. But what I perhaps found to be the most unsettling was how I saw it with a group of friends who seemed unaffected by the film, revealed with comments like: "…it was ok, well acted, but I didn't really like it." I cringed on the inside hearing it but simply said nothing as I drove us home.

To be honest, I don't know how to attack this critically. I loved the film for what it has done for me, which is made me really question who I am as a person and as an artist. I don't like talking about this openly, like Jackson Pollock himself, I never really talk about what really inspires me or what drives me, I just do it (not to put myself anywhere near his level of brilliance though). But Pollock isn't the first movie or work that's made me question where I am in life. Having recently read and studied Death of a Salesman, I became quite depressed over the idea that I could possibly end up like Biff, not knowing what I truly want in life, working hard to please others but not really doing anything to please myself.

One thing is certain though, Ed Harris has made an incredible film with Pollock. It follows the life of a painter I myself have always admired (and for a stint in my own artwork, many of my paintings followed the drip style of painting that he so easily laid out and developed out of his own emotions, feelings, inner-turmoil and pleasures). I think back and remember when I took my first painting courses in college, I've always been one to paint more "traditionally" or "classically" with a strong sense of realism in the vein of nature artists like Robert Bateman and Dale Gehrman. But in university, I was encouraged to open up and explore other arenas of painting. With a tinge of resentment and frustration, I went to the library and spent the day in the art section, flipping through all the books I could, and finding the work of Jackson Pollock and Willem DeKoening. I remember signing out half a dozen books that focused on these two painters, and I headed home at about 9pm after being at school all day. I sat in my room, my many canvasses in front of me, leaning against the wall, a blank one in front of me tightly secured to my easel. I sat there looking at the books and staring at the blank canvas for what seemed hours. Finally, around midnight I just picked up a brush and started painting. Something inside hit me and I painted my first abstract paintings. When I did all I could on one painting, I started another. When I ran out of blank canvases I took one of my unfinished mountainscape and turned it into another abstracted composition. This went on for hours and it wasn't until late morning, well after 10am, that I finally went to sleep. And it was seeing Pollock tonight that I was reminded so much of those days from years ago, which suddenly felt as though they happened yesterday.

The film Pollock itself is like a painting of visual imagery, and the way Harris has framed it and set up various visuals reveals the emotions behind the various characters who are explored on screen. At times there is a real sparseness which has been captured here on screen, with moments and characters to savour, appreciate, study and question. Be it through the undressing of a man and a woman standing in a doorway before they make love for the first time, to Pollock himself lying in a field staring up at the sky, with nothing around him for miles on end, but nature itself. Visually, Pollock the movie is an achievement in and of itself, a strong representation of the man whose work had a profound impact on art history.

I'm still shaky a bit inside, I don't really follow what I'm writing right now. It's 1:22AM Pacific Standard Time, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I just came in from the 10pm showing of Pollock. It started just after 10, and I got to my car at 12:20pm. I didn't look at my watch once, I just silently sat there, a little crammed in the packed area of the theatre, eating my popcorn, a girl I care for so much by my side, my other friends sitting next to her. A tear rolled down my cheek near the end, at the stunningly sad and violent way in which Pollock's life came to a close. And as the credits rolled I didn't realize that my friends were already up and leaving. All I could do was wonder, where will I be? It was my creativity calling to me. How torn he was inside, the myth of the tortured artist with the weight of what he has created bearing down on him, how to refine the direction of his new artworks all seemed to drive him to literally ruin his life on so many levels and it seemed so very tragic.

But one thing is certain, I won't soon forget this movie going experience. In fact, I don't know if I'll even see this film ever again. I know, it sounds cliché to say that, and I know I will see it again, by myself, in a theatre, if only to see how I react to another viewing. I don't think it'll be like tonight, but I know I'll appreciate it more. But that's the wonderful thing about movies, they can make you feel and they can stir thoughts, ideas and emotions inside you that sometimes you forget you had. Pollock may not be for everyone, but for me, it's one of the best films of the year.

Grade: A+

The Genius of Picasso

This looks so good:

http://ew.com/tv/2018/01/12/genius-picasso-trailer-antonio-banderas/

Trailer Number 1...

From January 12, 2018:



Trailer Number 2...

From March 23, 2018. I'm still not certain I'm used to hearing Antonio Banderas but I'm still really looking forward for this new miniseries:

el pastor & a musical interlude...

A number of months ago, on September 7, 2017, at about 8:20pm in the evening I was eating dinner at a restaurant called Little Ass Burrito Bar on the the east beach of Marine Drive in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada. I know the date and time because of the music that was playing. It wasn’t in English but I remember how it’s melody and rhythms flowed over me like the gentle running water of some forgotten but still meandering creek. The vocals and rhythmsvwere clearly Spanish or Mexican in origin but that’s about all I knew. Thankfully the Shazam application let me know exactly who it was I was listening to. And today that same application let me know when I first heard it.

In fact, I can still remember pulling my iPhone from my pocket, typing in my passcode to unlock it and opening the Shazam application. I worried for a moment when it took longer to load than usual, but eventually I had it listening as I held my phone up in the air like I was holding a lighter up in the air to a slow song at a concert. And after the app listened for what seemed like eternity, after it spent mere seconds calculating and breaking the sounds of the song I was listening to down into ones and zeros that it sent out over the air to find its match out on some Shazam server somewhere, it sent back to my screen the information I was looking for: the music I was listening to was by a group called Chambao. The song, Verde Mar.

Armed with this information I bought their album, Esencial Chambao on iTunes and as I ate my Burrito al Pastor (pineapple and pork tacos), I continued listening to their sound that had drowned out most of the other sounds in the mildly busy restaurant from entering my mind.

But after hearing them for the first time that night, I didn’t interact with them again. Not until tonight.

And for whatever reason, laying here in bed at just after 10pm, I decided to open iTunes and press play again while Wikipedia told me this about them: Chambao is a flamenco-electronic band originally from Málaga, Spain, known for a Flamenco Chill soun2d that fuses flamenco sounds and palos with electronic music. The name of the band is taken from an improvised form of beach tent that is constructed as a means of sheltering from the wind and sun.

And I’m enjoying the music. I’m enjoying the memory of that night at the Burrito Bar. I can remember parking my car across the street. I can remember the dying heat of the day. I can remember how I jaywalked across the street. I can remember reading the specials on the sign in front of the establishment. I can remember entering the small restaurant. I can remember reading the menu but instead ordering the special described on the sign outside. I can remember the one other couple who was there when I went in but gone before I left. I remember the other couple come in and order takeout while I ate. And I can remember the cinnamon churro I had for desert.

Now it’s well after 11:30pm as I pick up my phone again to type some more into this random blog posting, almost an hour and a half since I started listening to this album. And to be honest I’m surprised it’s still going as I started listening to it tonight a good 12 or 13 songs in on the Verde Mar but it’s still going strong. In scrolling through the track listing I see that this essential album would fit on two CDs if it was a traditional & tangible thing that I could pick up, hold, take a disc from and pop into a CD player to listen to not even ten years ago. More specifically I notice that Esencial Chambao has 31 songs in its track listing and iTunes also tells me the album is just over two hours long.

As I lay hear I find myself feeling lost, in a good way. Lost in that I have no idea what the music is about as I don’t speak Spanish. But I like it. I can infer a lot about what the music might be about just from the vocals, the rhythms and tempos. Some slower songs bring to mind thoughts of Garcia Lorca’s Poem of the Deep Song and the deep seeded waves of emotion inherent in those oral movements; while other more upbeat songs make me want to dance, and I find my right foot tapping along to the beats.

In the near future I could see myself seeing if I can find translations for the songs lyrics that are floating through my room right now. But not today, I’m a bit too tired for that. No, today I just want to enjoy this music. I want to get to know it, like a lover I’ve met in a bar in some foreign land. A lover with whom I share an undeniable attraction even though we don’t speak much of each other’s language. A lover who I’ll spend time with tonight, and return to again from time to time to recapture the moments and the memories. But for now I’ll sleep.


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