27.6.14

Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes Photographs

Actor Richard Beymer captures the making of the final episode
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
Photograph: Richard Beymer
All photographs via Welcome to Twin Peaks.

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Playing Chess With Stanley Kubrick

Jeremy Bernstein remembers his games with the American filmmaker
Stanley Kubrick (right) plays chess with George C. Scott on the set of Dr Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
From Jeremy Bernstein (The New York Review of Books):
I told him I had a date with a chess hustler in Washington Square Park to play for money. Kubrick wanted the name. “Fred Duval” I said. Duval was a Haitian who claimed to be related to Francois Duvalier. I was absolutely positive that the name would mean nothing to Kubrick. His next remark nearly floored me. “Duval is a patzer,” is what he said. Unless you have been around chess players you cannot imagine what an insult this is. Moreover, Duval and I were playing just about even. What did that make me?

Kubrick explained that early in his career he too played chess for money in the park and that Duval was so weak that it was hardly worth playing him. I said that we should play some time and then left the apartment. I was quite sure that we would never play. I was wrong.

I wrote a Talk of the Town on my meeting with Kubrick, which he liked. I was thus emboldened to ask if I could write a full scale profile of him. He agreed but said that he was about to leave for London to begin production of what became 2001: A Space Odyssey. Still better, I thought: I could watch the making of the film. Our first meeting was at the Hotel Dorchester in London where he was temporarily living with his family. Kubrick brought out a chess set and beat me promptly. Then we played three more games and he beat me less promptly. But I won the fifth game!

Seizing the moment I told him that I had been hustling him and had deliberately lost the first four games. His response was that I was a patzer. All during the filming of 2001 we played chess whenever I was in London and every fifth game I did something unusual. Finally we reached the 25th game and it was agreed that this would decide the matter. Well into the game he made a move that I was sure was a loser. He even clutched his stomach to show how upset he was. But it was a trap and I was promptly clobbered. “You didn’t know I could act too,” he remarked.

The scene now shifts to the spring of 1972. I was spending the year at Oxford, and spent some Sundays with the Kubricks. Our interest again turned to chess but this time it was with the imminent match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Iceland. One Sunday, Kubrick and I watched Fischer’s interview with Mike Wallace for “60 Minutes.” It was around the time of Fischer’s birthday and Wallace had come with a cake. “I don’t like that kind of cake,” Fischer said graciously. Then he told Wallace how he had learned to play chess. His older sister had taught him the moves. He soon began beating her so he spotted her pieces. Then he said that that no longer worked so he began playing with himself—Fischer vs. Fischer. “Mostly I won,” he commented with no trace of humor.  [Read More]

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Sonny Rollins on Philosophy, Yoga and Buddhism

Legendary jazz innovator talks to NPR
Sonny Rollins in 1957
From NPR:
There's a track on Road Shows, Vol. 3 called "Patanjali," and that's the name of the great Hindu philosopher of yoga. You studied Indian philosophy and yoga in India, right?

Yes I did, and I'm still studying Indian philosophy.

I can see how yoga, with its emphasis on breathing, could be useful even on a technical level for a saxophonist. What has yoga brought to your playing?

Well, it's the concentration level. A lot of people think of yoga as the exercises — hatha yoga — which is only one form. There are other forms of yoga, and they are more contemplative, introspective, meditational. The thing is this: When I play, what I try to do is to reach my subconscious level. I don't want to overtly think about anything, because you can't think and play at the same time — believe me, I've tried it (laughs). It goes by too fast. So when you're into yoga and when you're into improvisation, you want to reach that other level.

When you went to India — this was in the late '60s — it was at a time when you famously took sort of a sabbatical from playing and recording. What was it that triggered you to reach out in these other directions in that way?

I was into many things. I was into Rosicrucianism, I studied Buddhism, Kabbalah, even — I was really into those philosophies of life, as were some of my compatriots. We were trying to find a way to express life through our improvisations. The music has got to mean something. Jazz improvisation is supposed to be the highest form of communication, and getting that to the people is our job as musicians.

I'm not supposed to be playing, the music is supposed to be playing me. I'm just supposed to be standing there with the horn, moving my fingers. The music is supposed to be coming through me; that's when it's really happening.

It's hard to think of anything that you haven't accomplished, in terms of music. Is there something else out there that you still want to do?

I think there's always something to do. There are things that I've thought about — nature recordings, listening to new people coming up and being able to relate to them. Music is an open sky; it's vast. I wouldn't be so foolish as to ever feel that there isn't more music to be done, because it is out there. And I want to do it. [Read More]

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Angelo Badalamenti on Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks

Film4 talks to David Lynch's long-time musical collaborator
Angelo Badalamenti
From Film4:
How did you come to work on Blue Velvet?

One of the film's producers, a friend of mine, mentioned to me that Isabella Rossellini was having trouble with the song Blue Velvet in the film. He asked if I would come and coach her, so I did. We worked for about three or four hours and got one great take with her singing and me on piano. We took this to David Lynch – it was the first time I had ever spoken to him – and he listened to it and was just astounded. Then we collaborated on Mysteries of Love, my score and his lyrics, which was another great experience. When I first got David's lyrics, I was appalled because there were no rhymes or hooks. I mean, I'm a songwriter. I was looking for something to latch onto, and there was nothing. So I asked him what kind of music he wanted with it, because I had no clue. He said, "Oh, just make it like the wind or the ocean. Let it float and put a little plastic in it." I had no idea what he was talking about, but I wrote Mysteries of Love and he loved it.

[...]

Tell us about the score for Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The film was greeted with derision when it was released but now has a great following.

We had a few themes from the TV show, which had a really popular 1950s sound with little jazz overtones, but the haunting quality of the music in the TV series was the thing that captured everybody's imagination. The movie gave us opportunities to do other material which still has a lot of that flavour in it.

There is an extraordinary contrast in Twin Peaks between a cosy vision of 50s Americana and a postmodern sense of the world falling apart. This is reflected in your score, which is nostalgic but very brooding and unnerving. How did you achieve this?

There are two basic elements: melody and harmony. The melodies have a warm, simplistic feel, but then you take those melodies and you harmonise them in a certain way; I'm a sucker for suspensions, which are dissonances that are held over and rubbed, you know? A lot of times you think you're going to hear it go one way and then it jumps to someplace that is totally left field. I got into suspension by studying Bach. I fell in love with his use of suspensions. They have a kind of dissonance that resolves. The harmonies that I use are also dissonances that resolve, but sometimes as they resolve another dissonance comes up, and so you've got this weaving and overlapping that creates a beautiful tension. [Read More]

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Joe Henderson on Modern Jazz

An interview conducted in the mid-1990s
Joe Henderson in 1963
From a 1994 interview with jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson (link via Elsewhere):
A broad freedom of expression was available in the jazz vocabulary. And Henderson says he misses it these days.

“I’ve done some free things because there’s a part of me that is a bit of an iconoclast and was especially so at that time. Part of the spirit then was just to reject all that stuff like bar lines and key signatures. We didn’t want to know about it.

“So part of the thing then was just to get up on the bandstand. I became a little self-conscious about people coming in with their own music and parts written out for everyone to play and totally displacing what others might want to bring. I just said, ‘Let's play' and didn’t want to interfere by even suggesting a title for a tune.

“We'd just start playing and see what came out of it. We'd be able to deal with it and figure out afterwards what we did. It was such an interesting time and I don’t understand why that spirit didn’t have a longer life.

"People like Albert Ayler [the seminal avant-garde tenor player who died in 1970] aren’t around any more, of course. But Ornette still is, although he’s much more traditional and conservative than he was . . . and I‘m surprised by that. I was asking someone just a week ago, ‘Whatever happened to ...’ and a whole list came out of people who were connected with that free movement who just seem to have evaporated ir vanished.

"Today there doesn't seem to be too much interest in that free spirit of jazz where you just play and you don’t have to have gone to this or that university to ensure we all know similar things so we can make music together.

“That idea of saying, 'If you play saxophone, come on up and we’ll figure out something’ seems gone now," he concludes ruefully. [Read More]

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26.6.14

On Miles Davis' Bitches Brew

Revisiting the seminal jazz/rock fusion record
Artwork for Miles Davis' 1970 album, Bitches Brew
From Paul Tingen (Jazz Times):
August of 1969 marked Miles Davis’ boldest venture yet into undiscovered country. This time there was no more holding back, no more tentative experimentation, no more “walking on eggshells.” The album that emerged, Bitches Brew, was groundbreaking, beginning with its stark title and Abdul Mati Klarwein’s memorable cover painting. Made on Miles’ personal invitation, Klarwein’s expressionistic work captured the zeitgeist of free love and flower power, depicting a naked black couple looking expectantly at an ocean, a huge vibrant, red flower beside them. The background of the title is unknown, but a clue is provided by the absence of an apostrophe at the end of the word “bitches,” making “brew” a verb, not a noun. Carlos Santana speculated that the album was a “tribute” to “the cosmic ladies” who surrounded Miles at the time and introduce him to some of the music, clothes, and attitudes of the ’60s counterculture.1 Gary Tomlinson, on the other hand, assumed that “bitches” referred to the musicians themselves.2 Just like “motherfucker,” the term “bitch” can be used as an accolade in African-American vernacular. Whatever the title meant, it sounded provocative. Teo Macero remarked, “The word ‘bitches,’ you know, probably that was the first time a title like that was ever used. The title fit the music, the cover fit the music.”

The music on Bitches Brew is indeed provocative, and extraordinary. For Miles it meant a point of no return for the musical direction he had initiated with the recording of “Circle in the Round” in December of 1967. Until August of 1969 he had remained close enough to the jazz aesthetic and to jazz audiences to allow for a comfortable return into the jazz fold. But Bitches Brew’s ferocity and power carried a momentum that was much harder to turn around. The hypnotic grooves, rooted in rock and African music, heralded a dramatic new musical universe that not only gained Miles a new audience, but also divided it into two groups—each side looking at this new music from totally different, and seemingly unbridgeable, perspectives. In the words of Quincy Troupe, these two groups were like “oil and water.”

Bitches Brew signaled a watershed in jazz, and had a significant impact on rock. In combination with Miles’ fame and prestige, the album gave the budding jazz-rock genre visibility and credibility, and was instrumental in promoting it to the dominant direction in jazz. The recording’s enormous influence on the jazz music scene was bolstered by the fact that almost all the musicians involved progressed to high-profile careers in their own right. In the early 1970s, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter (with percussionist Airto Moreira) were involved in Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and Bennie Maupin set up Mwandishi, John McLaughlin (with Billy Cobham) created Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea founded Return to Forever with Lenny White.

Bitches Brew was not a sudden dramatic move in a completely new direction for Miles, though. In line with his long-standing, step-by-step working methods, the recording was maybe a large, but nevertheless logical step forward on a course he had set almost two years earlier. In terms of personnel, musical conception, and sonic textures, the album was a direct descendant of its predecessor, In a Silent Way. Teo Macero remarked that with the latter album, the music “was just starting to jell. [In a Silent Way] was the one before [Bitches Brew]. Then all of a sudden all the elements came together.”

Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way are both dominated by circular grooves, John McLaughlin’s angular guitar playing and the sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano. However, Miles related in his autobiography how he wanted to expand the canvas on Bitches Brew in terms of the length of the pieces and the number of musicians. While In a Silent Way featured eight musicians and was recorded in one single session, Bitches Brew included 13 musicians and was the result of three days of recording. On the third day the rhythm section consisted of as many as 11 players: three keyboardists, electric guitar, two basses, four drummers/percussionists and a bass clarinet. Miles had pulled out the stops in his search for a heavier bottom end.

Uncharacteristically, Miles’ live quintet also influenced Bitches Brew. Miles’ live and studio directions were strongly diverging around this time, with the studio experiments pioneering new material—incorporated elements of rock, soul and folk that only gradually filtered through to the live stage. But in July of 1969 Miles’ live quintet began performing “Spanish Key,” “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Sanctuary,” all of which would appear on Bitches Brew. (“Sanctuary” had, of course, already been recorded by the second great quintet on February 15, 1968.)

Having broken in this new material, Miles felt confident enough to book three successive days of studio time. He began by calling in the same crew that had recorded In a Silent Way: Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin and Dave Holland; only Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock were missing. Miles gave preference to live-band drummer Jack DeJohnette because of his “deep groove,”6 invited Lifetime organist Larry Young instead of Hancock, and also added session bassist and Columbia producer Harvey Brooks. Together with Zawinul and McLaughlin, Young and Brooks had played on a session Miles organized for his wife, Betty Mabry, a few weeks earlier to record her first and ultimately unsuccessful solo album, They Say I’m Different. Miles also summoned 19-year-old drummer Lenny White who, like Tony Williams, is reported to have been brought to his attention by saxophonist Jackie McLean. Drummer/percussionist Don Alias had been introduced to Miles by Tony Williams, and brought along percussionist Jim Riley, also known as “Jumma Santos.” Tenor saxophonist and bass clarinettist Bennie Maupin was recommended by Jack DeJohnette. A finishing touch, and a stroke of genius, was Miles’ instruction to Maupin to play only the bass clarinet, adding a very distinctive and enigmatic sound to the brew. [Read More]
Miles Davis
From Langdon Winner's 1970 review in Rolling Stone:
Miles' music continues to grow in its beauty, subtlety and sheer magnificence. Bitches' Brew is a further extension of the basic idea he investigated in his two previous albums, Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. In a larger sense, however, the record is yet another step in the unceasing process of evolution Miles has undergone since the Forties. The man never stops to rest on his accomplishments. Driven forward by a creative elan unequaled in the history of American music, he incorporates each successive triumph into the next leap forward.

The wonderful thing about Miles' progress is that he encourages others to grow with him. Within the context of his sound there is more than enough room for both his musicians and his listeners to pursue their own special visions. Looking back on the history of Miles' ensemble, we find the likes of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and Wayne Shorter. He always seems to select the best young jazzmen in the country and then gives them the freedom to develop their own unique modes of playing. Miles is known to be a stern disciplinarian, but never a tyrant. When a man has performed with the group long enough to gain a firm footing, he leaves as a recognized giant on his instrument.

[...]

The freedom which Miles makes available to his musicians is also there for the listener. If you haven't discovered it yet, all I can say is that Bitches' Brew is a marvelous place to start. This music is so rich in its form and substance that it permits and even encourages soaring flights of imagination by anyone who listens. If you want, you can experience it directly as a vast tapestry of sounds which envelop your whole being. You'll discover why fully one third of the audience at Miles' recent Fillmore West appearances left the hall in stunned silence, too deeply moved to want to stay for the other groups on the bill. As a personal matter, I also enjoy Miles' music as a soft background context for when I want to read or think deeply. In its current form, Miles' music bubbles and boils like some gigantic cauldron. As the musical ideas rise to the surface, the listener also finds his thoughts rising from the depths with a new clarity and precision. Miles is an invaluable companion for those long journeys you take into your imagination. [Read More]

On the Cover Artwork


From Kyle Fowle (Esquire):
Mati Klarwein, a German painter, created the gatefold cover for the original LP, which works to not only represent the music inside, but also the thematic elements. There's the push and pull of the light and dark worlds Klarwein depicts on the cover, part examination of racial tensions, part illustrated depiction of jazz fusion, where seeming opposites are brought together to form a new whole. While it's easy to see this album cover as an exercise in contrasting opposites to expose contradictions and illuminate similarities, Bitches Brew, the music and the cover art, is more about tandems than dichotomies, about how shared experience coupled with the acknowledgement of individual perspectives can create an otherworldly experience — and what could be more otherworldly than the 20-minute "Pharaoh's Dance" that opens up this album? After all, jazz music has long been about (as much as a very broad genre label can be about anything) how disparate elements can be connected through creativity and imagination.

The contrasting images that adorn the cover — the heads, the hands, the scenery — also seem to foreshadow much of the critical reaction to the record. Some saw the album as Davis abandoning his jazz roots, adopting "white" rock music signifiers for commercial success. Others saw the album as a way forward, with Davis navigating the shifting political climate through bursts of electric guitar and piano. "Forward" may be the best word to describe what was happening with this album: There's a sense of movement and significance throughout the record, and Klarwein's cover hints at the creation (or destruction) of worlds and histories, of reinterpreting how we view boundaries, be they social, political, or musical. The art aims for monumental, as if Bitches Brew is a historical landmark, a reading made all the more poignant by that tiny byline above the album's title: "Directions in Music by Miles Davis." A fitting description for an album and artist that mapped out the possibilities of genre experimentation in the early '70s. [Read More]

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The Production Design of Lynch, Malick & Anderson

An interview with Jack Fisk
Jack Fisk
Jack Fisk is a production designer perhaps best known for his work with David Lynch, Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson. Fisk agreed to share rare sketches and photographs with Trevor Hogg, who interviewed him back in 2012. Their conversation reveals some interesting insights into Fisk's working processes, and into what it's like to collaborate with some of Hollywood's most revered filmmakers.

On David Lynch

David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999)
Jack Fisk appears as Man in the Planet in Eraserhead (1977)
David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001)
From Trevor Hogg (Flickering Myth):
“David [Lynch], I have known since 9th grade, and he is a complete original in a world of his own design – as much a painter and furniture maker as a filmmaker. I know that David cannot stop creating and if he is not making a film, he is painting, drawing, printmaking, making furniture, composing music, or writing. To work with David you need to embrace his style, but he is a kind and fun to be around.” A break in the routine was to make a movie with Lynch which was grounded more in reality. “It was fun to watch David take a real story like the one of Alvin Straight and make it his own. I think he was able to draw from his real life to find quirky original moments for Alvin and the film. Working together on The Straight Story [1999] was fun as David would often paint and build on the sets; he loves to work.”

[...]

“It seems that it was completely by accident that I became a production designer, but now after 40 years in film I see how everything I learned and experienced before working in film has helped me be a better film designer,” says Jack Fisk. “I moved to Los Angeles with David Lynch who came to attend the first classes at the American Film Institute. Having seen an impressive show of James Rosenquist’s paintings at the Met in New York, I was looking for work as a billboard painter. There were no jobs available painting billboards, but I learned of a small biker film hiring assistants and signed on to that for $100 a week. I remember on my first day I was holding traffic on Topanga Blvd about a quarter of a mile from filming. I became curious about filmmaking and met a network of young people working on non-union films around Hollywood; that’s how I first started working on films. On each film following I worked to get closer to the action and began working in what became the Art Department. At that time there were few film schools, however, we worked for Roger and Gene Corman and learned a lot about making films.”

[...]

I am very familiar with David’s style as I have been around him since we shared a painting studio in high school. I work with David by designing in the ‘style of’ Lynch. It can be fun and refreshing to work in someone’s style, especially a style as unique as David’s. [Read More]

On Terrence Malick

Fisk's photographs of set construction for Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)
Fisk's photographs of set construction for Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)
Fisk's photographs of set construction for Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)
A still from Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998)
A still from Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (2011)
A still from Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (2011)
From Trevor Hogg (Flickering Myth):
Terry Malick and I have been working together for 40 years, since his first feature Badlands, and we have developed a style together. The minimal style first started because we had tight budgets and I started choosing dressing carefully because we could only afford a few things. This led me to an appreciation of painters like Edward Hopper who has a great economy to his images and to minimalist artists. Now, having worked with Terry so long we can communicate pretty well as we have many reference points in our history together.”

[...]

When we finally found the location for Days of Heaven [1978], I learned that because the Hutterite farmers were going to harvest the wheat in 6 weeks I would only have four weeks to design, build and dress the house and buildings around it. We were too young to know it couldn’t be done! We did it with some great carpenters, design shortcuts and a lot of luck. I hired a lot of young Hutterite boys to work every Sunday after church to help in construction. Other challenges that come to me are: the ships in The New World [2005], the airplanes and landing craft in The Thin Red Line [1998], the whole film Phantom of the Paradise [1974] was a challenge, and the fires in Badlands [1973] and Days of Heaven. Building a village in Guadalcanal with native women was a fun challenge; they are hard workers, but the men chewed betel nut and watched.”

[...]

For Terrence Malick, Jack Fisk has always been his production designer of choice. “His films are made today with his select crew, which he describes as like a jazz band, or fingers of the same hand. Of course he is the only one with the music; we all contribute the best we can.” As for what has led Malick to make three films in two years, the resident of Charlottesville, Virginia remarks, “Two things have propelled Terry into making so many films in the past few years. First he has found an enjoyable way, for him, to make films, with a crew that is in synch with his new methods. Secondly, I think Terry has ideas that he wants to put into film and doesn’t know how much time he will have to do it. He works constantly. I asked him why he didn’t take a day or week off once in a while and Terry answered, ‘I took fifteen years off.’” [Read More]

On Paul Thomas Anderson

Jack Fisk's draft design for the oil derrick in Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007)
A still from Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007)
A still from Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007)
A still from Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012)
From Trevor Hogg (Flickering Myth):
“I search to find the challenges in each film I do,” reveals Fisk. “As much as designing settings solving problems is an important part of the job of a production designer. Sometimes it’s the miniscule budget and sometime it is the scope of the film. Each challenge has a solution and finding it is one of the fun parts of film design. I remember PTA [Paul Thomas Anderson] asking me how I was going to build the derrick in There Will Be Blood [2007] and me replying, ‘I have no idea.’ He seemed to like the honesty of my answer but I needed to figure it out. My solution was to build it real just like they would have in 1916. I found plans for an 1896 wooden derrick at the oil museum in Taft, California which I purchased for $3. I added a staircase and put it on the side of a hill, but it was the 1896 derrick.

[...]

After working on There Will Be Blood for about two months, Paul asked me one day, ‘Why are you picking all of the colours?’ I gave him a new Benjamin Moore paint swatch book and said, ‘Okay, you pick ’em.’ I watched him carry that colour book around for a few days. When finally he came up and handed me back the swatch book, Paul said, ‘You pick ’em.’ When Paul called me to work on There Will Be Blood we started an interesting creative journey; his first design related comment on that film was, ‘Let’s not have any signs.’ I liked that idea; it fit well with my minimal approach and the design evolved from that. We didn’t look for easy solutions choosing to shoot in West Texas because it was so inhospitable and rough. We worked to keep it real but a stylized real eliminating all the clutter of the actual world. Paul shared his writing research so our sources for the visuals of the film were the same.

[...]

“The strength of the design of There Will Be Blood is that every part of it was designed and constructed. We rented a 50,000 acre ranch in West Texas and created our world there. Paul and I would walk around dreaming and designing where we would put the church, the town, and the derrick. It is easier to design everything and can make for a more cohesive film.” In regards to the visual research he conducts, Fisk remarks, “I usually try to find photographs and writings of the subject and the time period when researching a film. Much like a detective I approach writing skeptically taking in account the human factor. I love to see period drawings, paintings, photographs and documentary films, if they exist. I usually avoid looking at commercial films for research. I don’t want to be confused by other designers and directors take on a story. By the time we start building the sets I have a feeling for the time and place; I have left the research, and work on instinct and gut feelings.”[Read More]
Jack Fisk has also spoken to the Paul Thomas Anderson site, Cigarettes & Red Vines, on his experience of working on The Master [Read More]

Also at A Piece of Monologue:

Jackie McLean on Musical Influences

A 2000 interview conducted by Steve Lehman
Jackie McLean (left) pictured with John Coltrane (right) in 1957. Photograph: Esmond Edwards
From Steve Lehman (Do the Math):
The following interview took place on April 3, 2000 at Jackie McLean’s home in Hartford, CT. I’ve idolized J-Mac since I was about twelve-years old, and his concept of music continues to be an incredibly important point of definition for my own work. I began studying with Jackie in 1997 (auditing classes at the Hartt School of Music), and I also taught saxophone lessons to young children at the Artists Collective (cultural center he co-founded with his wife, Dollie, in 1970) from 1998-1999.

As I recall, my original “plan” for this interview was to try and focus on aspects of J-Mac’s career that had been somewhat overlooked in his previous interviews with people like Ken Burns, Terry Gross, Gil Noble, Ben Sidran, A.B. Spellman, and Valerie Wilmer, especially his work as a composer and his ability to keep his playing in a constant state of evolution. As a twenty-one-year-old “kid” studying at Wesleyan University and writing a senior thesis about my idol, I wasn’t particularly well-equipped to steer the conversation. But, in typical fashion, J-Mac was very generous during this somewhat sprawling interview. Needless to say, this is a precious memento from the years I spent studying with Jackie, and I’m so pleased to have it hosted here and to share it with everyone for the first time.


---

Steve Lehman: If I asked you who some of your influences were as a composer, would some stuff come to mind at all?

Jackie McLean: OK. Alright. It would be like, I guess…it’s a funny combination of people whose music I can get a feel for. Thelonious would be one of them. Thelonious, Tadd Dameron, kind of, and then a little later on, Gil Evans, his interpretations of some of that harmony and stuff. But all of them come from Duke, I learned that later on, you know, that they all come from Duke. But I had never thought of Duke as my inspiration for writing. I mean, I always loved his stuff. The more I learn about music the more amazed I am at what he was doing so early.

SL: His concept.

JM: Yeah, you know. But for the time that I came along, it was Thelonious, and then Bud and Bird together, kind of their compositional style.

SL: Stuff like “Quadrangle,” the opening where it’s two horns and just a drummer, or maybe just drums and bass, it made me think a little bit of like the beginning to “Ko-Ko.”

JM: “Ko-Ko.” Right. Yeah, those kind of things. And then of course, there’s some harmony that I draw from, like for instance, on that piece that I did….I think it was (on the chord changes to) “Star Eyes” on “Capuchin Swing,” on the bridge, I stole that right out from Bach: a direct line from him.

SL: Wow. Another thing that made me think of possible Classical influences...the chord, the voicing for “A Fickle Sonance”, that stacked harmony. Or is that something you just heard?

JM: No, I think I just heard that. But I did steal from Poulenc on “A Ballad for Doll.”

SL: On Jackie’s Bag.

JM: Yeah, the second to last section, that harmony at the end of the melody, those chords coming down I took from Francis Poulenc, a French composer that I liked a lot.

I can’t explain what it is about him that I like. He’s got a little sense of humor or something in his classical concept.

SL: He’s hard to categorize.

JM: Yeah [laughs]. [Read More]

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25.6.14

Comparing Terrence Malick and Andrew Wyeth

A look at artistic inspiration and critical reception
Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World (1948)
Andrew Wyeth, Turkey Pond (1944)
Andrew Wyeth, Wind from the Sea (1947)
A still from Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)
A still from Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)
A still from Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978)
From Dulwich on View:
[...] But it is more interesting to see from a wider perspective how Wyeth and Malick share an important socio-cultural position. Both men straddle the artificial division between ‘High Art’ and ‘popular / commercial’ culture. Wyeth merits display in such an august artistic institution as the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Yet his work has been dismissed by some critics as “sentimental”, “mere illustration”, “emotional”, “formulaic stuff”. Wyeth was known as the “Painter of the People,” due to his work’s popularity with the public.

This divided reaction mirrors the fallacious division of cinema into two rigidly separate realms, the worthy one of the “arthouse” and the despised one of the “popcorn multiplex”. Malick’s films are fascinating in how they challenge the misguided and snobbish assumption that all American cinema belongs in the latter category. Like all his films, Days of Heaven is a Hollywood film, featuring Hollywood stars, and made via the Hollywood system, albeit an off-centre strand. Producer Bert Schneider was also a cross-over figure. Co-creator of plastic pop group The Monkees. But then an avid supporter of the New Hollywood via Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and, later, Days of Heaven.

At times Days of Heaven looks and feels like a Western, structured narratively as it is around two common themes of that genre, the parallel battles of man (sic) versus nature, and civilisation versus man’s (sic) lower, passionate nature. A battle for “order” on both levels.

The “art” v “popcorn” fallacy rests heavily on another myth, that of the “auteur” as solo filmmaker, responsible alone for a film’s entire artistic and literary content. Malick is often claimed as a rare example of a Hollywood auteur. Not surprisingly given the signature trademarks which run through his films. All of which are present in Days of Heaven: strong visual narrative; shot almost entirely outdoors; use of minimal electric lighting; characters often backlit and filmed towards late afternoon / early evening; much on the spot improvisation; use of almost disembodied voiceover to drive narrative. The result is a series of films often described as ‘hypnotic’ or ‘transcendental’. A long way from standard Hollywood fare.

Malick’s auteur persona reflects how unusual he is as a Hollywood filmmaker. He studied philosophy at Harvard and Oxford, then taught at M.I.T. Since his first feature, Badlands in 1973, he has made a total of just 5 features in 37 years. Compared to the 31 films directed by that undisputed Hollywood auteur, Clint Eastwood in a similar period. In between films Malick has continued to teach. Clearly a man not driven by standard Hollywood motivations of fame, wealth or ego.

On the other hand, Malick is in some ways a quintessential American filmmaker. Born in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum into a family of middle-eastern (Assyrian) background,. Brought up as a farm boy in Oklahoma and Texas, neither known as hotbeds of High Art. Established in his Ivy League career the lure of Hollywood drew him from the East Coast via the not unusual route of journalism then scriptwriting.

Like Wyeth, Malick has been criticised from two directions. To hardline arthouse fundamentalists his films are “superficial” and “sentimental”, not far enough from mainstream Hollywood. While users’ comments on IMDB by members of the multiplex demographic who have stumbled on his work via DVD rentals frequently include the words “boring” and “pretentious”. [Read More]

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Sharing the Met on Instagram

Leslie Kaufman traces a new social networking phenomenon
Zach Glassman receives off-hours access to the Met as an Instagram user
Zach Glassman receives off-hours access to the Met as an Instagram user
Instagram users are being given free reign in major cultural centres, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. From Leslie Kaufman (New York Times):
Leveraging his nearly 50,000 followers at @dave.krugman and a deep network of influential photographers using Instagram, Mr. Krugman has become a go-to guy for New York libraries and museums. The New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, among others, have all used Mr. Krugman to find their voices on Instagram and attract a coveted younger demographic.

“I just have a belief in the platform,” Mr. Krugman said. “So as smartphones democratized photography, I was able to quickly see the opportunity for institutions to connect with a whole new generation of creative minds and was excited to help them harness the power.”

Mr. Krugman acts as a combined referral service and consultant. The institutions maintain control of their primary accounts, but deploy Mr. Krugman in creative ways to attract more followers and a youthful audience. The Metropolitan Museum, for instance, allowed Mr. Krugman and his band of Instagram stars into its halls outside of normal business hours, and used a hashtag — #emptymet — that collects all of their photographs in one stream.

Their Instagram posts also link to the museum’s main account, @metmuseum, which drives traffic to the museum’s Instagram account. “Had a great time wandering the halls of the #emptymet,” reads one Instagram caption. “Thanks to @metmuseum for the opportunity!” [Read More]

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Nat Hentoff Documentary: The Pleasures of Being Out of Step

Larry Rohter reviews David L. Lewis’s new documentary
Nat Hentoff
From Larry Rohter (New York Times):
Early in “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” a documentary about the writer, critic and record producer Nat Hentoff that opens on Wednesday, Mr. Hentoff declares that “the Constitution and jazz are my main reasons for being.” That may seem an odd pairing to anyone unfamiliar with the man or his work, but Mr. Hentoff has nurtured those twin passions since the 1940s.

“Duke Ellington used to tell me that ‘we gave the world the freest expression ever in the arts,’ so I always thought there was a natural tie there,” Mr. Hentoff said in an interview last week at his Greenwich Village apartment. “The whole idea of the Bill of Rights and jazz,” he added, is “freedom of expression that nobody, not even the government, can squelch.”

Mr. Hentoff, who turned 89 this month, is the author of books like “Living the Bill of Rights: How to Be an Authentic American” and “The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America.” Initially, though, he built a reputation in the jazz world, interviewing artists like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and turning the writing of liner notes for albums into something approaching an art form. [Read More]

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Flannery O'Connor on Ayn Rand

From a letter to a friend
Flannery O'Connor
From a letter to a friend, dated 31 May 1960 (via Open Culture):
I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky. [Read More]

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Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst

From a review by Joshua Rothman
Sigmund Freud
From Joshua Rothman (The New Yorker):
“Becoming Freud,” by the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, is short for a biography—less than two hundred pages—and it contains no startling revelations. But, in its own way, it’s an audacious book. It’s a revisionist history of Freud and his enterprise; its implicit goal, never stated but always clear, is to help us salvage the best parts of Freud’s work while leaving behind the rest—the outmoded theories and unwieldy jargon that make Freud a caricature rather than an intriguing thinker. (Whether that’s a worthy goal is an open question.)

Phillips is probably today’s most famous psychoanalyst, and a quietly controversial figure. For seven years, he was the principal child psychologist at Charing Cross Hospital, in London. (He’s now in private practice.) Famously, he spends most of the week with his analysands and writes only on Wednesdays; somehow, on that schedule, he’s produced eighteen books. Phillips is obviously brilliant—John Banville has called him “an Emerson of our time”—and yet it’s never quite clear how seriously you should take his writing. Like Emerson, he seems to regard much of it as exploratory or performative. (“When I write something and it sounds good, I leave it in, even if there’s doubt about it,” he has said, because he’s curious to see what readers will think.) He’s the editor of Penguin’s new series of Freud translations, even though he doesn’t speak German; last year, reviewing one of his books for this magazine, Joan Acocella wrote that “Phillips loves Freud. He cites him again and again. But his Freud sometimes doesn’t look much like the Freud we thought we knew. He looks more like Adam Phillips.” How much that bothers you depends on how seriously you take Freud. There are some people who would rather have Phillips.

It’s especially easy for the Freud of “Becoming Freud” to look like Phillips, because, in the book, the facts of Freud’s life are largely absent. “One of the first casualties of psychoanalysis, once the facts of our lives are seen as complicated in the Freudian way, is the traditional biography,” Phillips writes. Phillips doesn’t trust in the ability of a conventional “life story,” with its procession of names, dates, and places, to tell us what anyone, least of all Freud, was really about. Anyway, he thinks, the most important story about Freud’s life is psychoanalysis—that’s the story Freud himself chose to tell the rest of us about our lives and his. And because, as Freud knew, “whatever story we are telling, we are always also telling the story of our own wanting … at any moment in Freud’s life we can ask, encouraged and legitimated by his own work, what is Freud wanting from psychoanalysis? What is the pleasure he seeks? What is he doing it for and what is it doing to him? What about himself is he seeking to sustain and enjoy, and what would he prefer to ignore?” By starting with the flower, in short, you might get an idea of the root. [Read More]

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Horace Silver 1928-2014

John Fordham pays tribute in The Guardian
Horace Silver (right) pictured with Miles Davis (left) at the piano
From John Fordham (The Guardian):
From the mid-1950s on, the perfect antidote for jazz fans to the grumbles of the jazz-averse (that it was a wilfully obscure music, made by introverts who didn’t know the meaning of "entertainment") was to spin them a Horace Silver record. Silver, who died on Wednesday at the age of 85, was one of the most accessible and exuberant of all the jazz artists inspired by the revolutionary bebop movement of the 1940s. If some found bop byzantine and baffling, Silver’s compositions and piano-playing began offering arrow-straight routes through it in the following decade - characterised by R&B and gospel-inflected tunes, earthily funky grooves, and powerful soloing that rarely let the main theme slip far out of earshot. He was also powerfully influenced by the Afro-Portuguese music of the Cape Verde Islands, his father’s birthplace.

Silver’s method came to be known as "hard-bop", and its whiplash backbeats, rootsy rhythms and anthemically chant-like songs made it one of the most widely popular of all jazz styles. He wasn’t its only architect, but he was one of its most widely influential - because he not only focused jazz on fundamentals, but defined the classic small-band lineup of the 50s and 60s (trumpet, sax, piano, bass and drums), talent-spotted rising stars (notably trumpeters Donald Byrd and Dave Douglas and saxist Joe Henderson), and in developing a largely original repertoire, gave the jazz world a raft of new standard-songs still widely played today. Moreover, Silver was the co-founder - with drummer Art Blakey - of the famous Jazz Messengers, the archetypal hard-bop band that under Blakey’s later leadership was to include Wayne Shorter and a teenage Wynton Marsalis in its three decades on the road.

With his genial manner, bent-double playing posture and unorthodox clawlike fingering (the better to hit emphatic chords and make individual notes crack like gunshots), Silver was also a riveting presence on a stage. He undoubtedly turned on many jazz players and listeners who discovered the music over the past half century, and it’s hard to imagine the dancefloor-oriented "acid jazz" movement of the late 1980s happening without him. [Read More]

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Flann O'Brien & Modernism

A collection of essays edited by Julian Murphet, Rónán McDonald, and Sascha Morrell
Flann O'Brien & Modernism
A new title from Bloomsbury:
Flann O'Brien & Modernism brings a much-needed refreshment to the state of scholarship on this increasingly recognised but still widely misunderstood 'second generation' modernist. Rather than construe him as a postmodernist, it correctly locates O'Brien's work as the product of a late modernist sensibility and cultural context. Similarly, while there should be no doubt of his Irishness, and his profound debts to Irish language, history and culture, this collection seeks to understand O'Brien's nationally sensitive achievement as the work of an internationalist whose preoccupations reflect global modernist trends.

The distinct themes and concerns tracked in Flann O'Brien & Modernism include characterization in branching narrative forms; the ethics and paradoxes of naming; parody and homage; lies and deception; theatricality; sexuality; technology and transport; and the inevitable matter of drink and intoxication.

Taken together, these specific topics construct a mosaic image of O'Brien as an exemplary modernist auteur, abreast of all the most salient philosophical and technical concerns affecting literary production in the period immediately before and after World War Two. [Read More]

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