Saturday, October 29, 2011

The View from Saturday's Vantage

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

I woke up this morning to the sight of snow drifting past my window, which was not entirely surprising. After all, the forecast had predicted a combination of snow and rain for today. What was not expected was how much it was sticking to the rooftops stretching out before me. Later when I ventured downstairs for my daily paper, I would note that the snow did not survive along the well trod streets and sidewalks of Bay Ridge. Regardless, watching the gently falling flakes set against a grey sky was quite lovely, especially as I could enjoy the moment from the comfort of my bed. Eventually, though, I roused myself so that I might snap a few shots of the vista from my apartment.


photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

Still, I am glad that I was invited to a Halloween party last night, instead of tonight . . .

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ruminations of The End

I have watched the world end three times in the past few months -- not in any metaphorical sense, though, the circumstances of my life are not the best at this moment. No, I mean, this subject seems to be reoccurring in some of the films I have viewed lately. During this year's New York Film Festival, I saw five films (a sixth I was forced to skip due to illness), out of which there were two separate speculations on what The End might be like. (There was an additional third on the roaster, though I chose not to see it). 

The first of these was Lars von Trier's Melancholia. Split into two parts, the second half of the narrative occurs against the backdrop of an asteroid hurtling perilously close to Earth. Scientists proclaim that there is no cause for alarm, though there are others who fear for all. This is not a huge disaster film with a cast of thousands; you could count on one hand the number of characters who appear during this section of the story. Instead, the narrative is focused on a single family, and how they react to unfolding events, as well as to each other. There are no grand heroics, though there is some kindness, what might be allowed under such circumstances. When the end does arrive, there is a bang, though it is not a prolonged one.

In The Turin Horse Bela Tarr limits his focus even further: a father & daughter living alone in a one room cottage in the midst of a stony, desolate, and constantly wind-swept landscape. One man stops by long enough for a drink and a speculative monologue on where everything went wrong (or if it was ever right to begin with); later there is a brief appearance by a wagon of roving gypsies. However, they all seem beside the point -- the father's horse is a more prominent character than any of these visitors. The father and daughter go through their daily routines, trying best to keep to their usual paths. Eventually the weight of it all bears down on them. Eventually, the film argues, one's energy is simply depleted, at which point, you gently fade away.

My thoughts on these two films, naturally led me back to Tree of Life which I saw towards the end of the summer. The concluding point of Malick's film is less clear than Melancholia yet the consensus does seem to hold that it is some vision of the End of Days, an interpretation that would fit within the scheme of a narrative whose range stretches all the way back to Creation. Malick differs from von Trier or Tarr in presenting a more mystical vision of the end, a moment filled with reunion of those previously departed, along with a sense of transcendence. My reading of Tree of Life is that Malick wishes to take as his subject the entire scope of the human condition -- indeed the entire scope of life itself.  Thus, the story of a boy coming of age in 1950s Texas is bracketed between the early days of creation and the final ones. His experience is a universal one: through his seemingly mundane adventures, we may learn of ourselves, and hope to find solace through that knowledge.

Which led my thoughts to The Mill and the Cross. This outstanding film, by Lech Majewski, is a speculation on the painter Pieter Bruegel and the making of his The Way of the Cross. The movie is not, however, a standard bio-pic of an artist at work. Instead, the filmmaker recreates the 16th Century world in which Bruegel moved, imagining the daily events which may have provided the inspiration for his canvas. Bruegel was an artist also interested in the entire range of the human condition, which is reflected in many of his greatest works, including The Way of the Cross. Majewski, in turn, follows this thread, weaving a tapestry that is worthy of Bruegel in both image and content. "Here too," Majewski seems to claim, "is a view of all the elements that make us who we are." Then, in a deft slight of hand I have no desire to spoil, the film admits that this one canvas of Bruegel's can merely be one component of his prolific imagination, which itself is the product of one artist among many who wish to examine what makes us who we are.

Which, in a way, is what von Trier and Tarr are up to as well. The first half of von Trier's film takes place during the course of a wedding reception. Here we watch the ebb and flow of a party, the jerky starts and stops of interpersonal relationships, while a marriage falls apart over the course of a single evening. Similar to Bruegel, von Trier wishes to distill a vast variety of experience into a single night. (I doubt that it is any coincidence that von Trier features Bruegel's painting The Return of the Hunters prominently in his film). In the same manner, Tarr has explained that he wished in The Turin Horse to make an allegory of life; within that battered cottage, he saw the essence of who we are. Indeed, when asked after the screening why he is choosing this moment in his career to retire, his response was, more or less, to point at the now empty screen and ask "what else could I say?"

Except, of course, that we will continue to trudge on, despite whatever our personal toils, in search of some additional nugget of wisdom, until we reach whatever end there is.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Praying to the Wind

Sometimes a piece of music may speak to you of a particular time & place even if it had been recorded decades prior, even if you already possessed an established relationship with the piece of music. You hear the lyrics, you feel their meaning and are able to relate them to your own circumstances. Such was the case with me and "We Came Through" in the days following the attacks of September 11.

"We Came Through" was written and recorded by Scott Walker for his 1969 album, Scott 3. I have long held Walker in high regard as one of my favorite musicians, as well as being fond of "We Came Through" as an outstanding song from a record full of stellar tracks. My own interrpretation of the song is that within it, Walker is taking stock of his historical moment, examining the state of the world. What he sees is not encouraging, painting a vision filled with war & flames, dead heroes & expired hopes. What has been accomplished, what has been purchased with all this sorrow? Not much. The singer can merely claim that "we came through." That is his generation's great achievement: we survived it all.

Or "salute the men who died for freedom's sake [but] we won't dream, for they don't come true for us, not anymore. They've run far away to hide in caves, with haggard burning eyes. Their icy voices tear our hearts like knives."

Listening to these lyrics in the days after September 11, I gained new associations that ten years later, I am still unable to shake whenever I hear the song. In the immediate aftermath of the day's events, those "icy voices" hiding out in caves, cutting through us like knives took on fresh faces. As the shadows of the attacks grew longer, as I myself grew more pessimistic, the more strongly I felt as though Walker's words could relate to my own historical moment. Witnessing yet again "our kings and countries raise their shields . . . as Luther King's predictions fade from view" I would be left wondering often during the years ahead if all that my generation could claim for our own time was simply that we had survived it as well. 

There's one other song that I associate with that day, but, in a more positive light. When eventually it grew late, and the time came to switch off the TV and attempt to sleep, I needed something to clear my mind of all the horrible images of the day. I reached for music, as that is what most reliably sooths my spirits, something of beauty to remind me of the good things that people can produce, the happiness that we can spread instead of hate. In this instance, I chose John Coltrane:

Peace, everyone.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sometimes simple is best . . .

While on Governor's Island yesterday, I stumbled upon an "electronic art festival" in the island's chapel. Thinking "what the heck" I decided that it might be worth a peek inside for a change of pace. The installation, Blue Morph, is credited to artist Victoria Vesna & scientist James Gimzewski. An investigation of nanos shifting within a Blue Morpho butterfly, the work itself within St. Cornelius is relatively sparse: soft ambient sounds, blue tinged windows and backscreen projection of light patterns which overlap masked stained glass. Cushions and seats are scattered about inviting viewers to sit and soak up the atmosphere. Simple. Yet, effective. I found the space to be a welcoming contrast to the humid external bustle of free bike rental day. Or, perhaps, I'm simply a sucker for flickering light effects . . .

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

photo by
creighton blinn,
all rights

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Twenties, on an Island

Sorry that I have been a bit silent of late, but the lazy days of summer have not been so laid back for me, which is not entirely a bad thing. For example, back in June, my nestmate and I were out on Governor's Island for their Jazz Age Lawn Party, where you camp out on the grass, savoring the period flavors of old cars, clothes and tasty St. Germain cocktails. Live music comes courtesy of Michael Arnella & His Dreamland Orchestra. There's also a dance floor, for those who are so inclined. Oh, and for the foodies(you know who you are ;)), a pie baking contest with free samples . . . All in all a good time. Each one of these events I have attended has been more populated than the previous with the most recent outing seeming especially so. (I could credit that Woody Allen film, however, it's more likely the word getting around). Governor's Island hosts two Lawn Parties each summer, and we were planning to venture out for the second installment this weekend, only the weather has not been promising so far. Tomorrow may be another day, but for now, here are three black and white images, bracketed with two shots of color, from earlier this summer:

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

Best wishes for your weekend. Cheers. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Video of Some Summer Verses

photo by creighton blinn
all rights reserved

A few weeks back, I read my poem "Day after May Day" at DDAY Productions' Summer Solstice celebration at the Yippie Cafe in Manhattan. We had a few difficulties that evening, though, as they say, the show did go on, thanks in large part to our hosts Puma Pearl and Big Mike (you can hear him for a moment when I exit the stage). As it turned out, however, this was DDAY's last event at the Yippie; the series is moving to the Bowery Poetry Club starting in August, and I know I am looking forward to the new home . . .

In addition, not only did my nestmate, TC, deliver a superb featured performance, but, she also served as model for the photo at left. Thanks, TC.

Thanks also to videographer, Joe Coppa for sticking it out with us throughout the reading. 

So, enjoy the video, and, as always, feel free to let me know what you think.    


Monday, July 11, 2011

Gunnar Fischer & the Art of Cinematography

It seems to me that cinematographers often do not get the respect they deserve, which is a shame as film is at its heart such a visual medium. Most cinematographers tend to go unremarked upon, except by the truly devoted film buff. There are exceptions, of course, such as Christopher Doyle today (even though he is reknowned for his distempter as much as his talent), or Sven Nykvist before him. Nykvist, like the actors von Sydow and Ullmann, gained fame through a long and fruitful collaboration with Ingmar Bergman; his own career became synonymous with the director's. Nykvist even earned enough prestige to win not one, but two cinematography Oscars for subtitled films. You may draw whatever conclusions you wish from the fact that Doyle, despite lensing some of the more influential films of the last two decades (i.e., his own bountiful collarboration with Wong Kar-Wai), has yet to receive a nomination from today's Academy.

Yet Nykvist was not the first cinemtographer to enjoy an extended working relationship with Bergman; that honor goes to Gunnar Fischer, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. At age 100, he expereinced not only most of the twentieth century, but most of the history of cinema as well. His training took place during the silent period, an era of vitality for Scandanavian film in general; Fischer even collaborated with Carl Dreyer, one of that period's masters. Fischer and Bergman formed a partnership that lasted a little over a decade, before splitting for unspecified reasons. Working together, they produced many of the most iconic images of Bergman's career in films, such as The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and Smiles of a Summer Night. In addition to these acknowledged classics, he shot two of my favorite Bergman films: The Magician and Summer Interlude.

In honor of Fischer's passing, I recently rewatched Summer Interlude, an excerpt of which I have included below. The film was made during the early phase of Bergman's career, and was once refered to by the director as the first movie he made in his own voice. This fact is instantly recognizable in the themes (art, love, death) that preoccupy a narrative that tells the story of a ballerina and her first youthful brush with love. The ballet sequences are shot on a sparse stage illuminated by striking beams of light. The focus is entirely on the dancers moving as one. It is only after they leave the stage that our heroine, Marie, is separated from the company. Marie meets Henrik during summer vacation, and there is a superb lightness of touch to their carefree revels. There is also a great charm within the lackidasical manner in which Marie goes about her morning routine, and the tranquil beauty of waters so calm that we may glimpse below as Marie's boat drifts along. Towards the end of the clip, take note of the extensive grounds stretching out behind Marie and her uncle as they have their post-dinner chat; Fischer's admiration of Gregg Toland's deep-focus work is clearly on display.

Overall, the film is a remarkable achievement by all its participants (as always, Bergman's coaxes first-rate performances from his entire cast, though especially from Maj-Britt Nilsson as Marie). It is a film that deserves to be better known. However, there is satisfaction to be found in the fact that other works of Fischer's have so far stood the test of time, and it is quite likely that his images shall still be recognized, even if his name is not.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Week Ago (out on the town)

Last Wednesday, my nest mate and I attended a reading at the Ding Dong Lounge. While located uptown, this latest installment in the Tract 187 Culture Clatch series also fell under the umbrella of the annual Underground Howl Festival. We each took a turn reciting some verse as part of the open mic, as well as hearing some good performances given by others. In addition, I had my camera with me that night and was able to snap some photos. I was taking both black & white and color that evening, though the former seem to have come out better on a whole. Here's a sample:

photo by Creighton Blinn, all rights reserved

photo by Creighton Blinn, all rights reserved
 And, naturally, what evening would be complete without a little . . .

photo by Creighton Blinn,
all rights reserved

Cheers all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ruminations after Midnight . . .

So, last week I went to see the new Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. As a longtime Allen fan, I shall admit that I was leery as I approached the film. After being underwhelmed by the critically dubbed "return to form" of Vicky Cristina Barcelona I had taken the praise heaped upon the new film with a few grains of salt. Still, I expected to be amused for a couple hours, enjoy some good acting, and even if annoyed here and there, at least not dislike the movie. A reaction similar to Vicky Cristina Barcelona if you will. Indeed, I shall entirely fess up to my own longstanding fondness for the culture of the '20s--though if pressed, I may have prefered hanging out in the cafes & cabarets of Berlin with F. W. Murnau but I digress . . . the point is, Allen had a sympathetic viewer in me. Instead, I found myself groaning more than laughing, and finding few things of pleasure to latch on to . . .

In the plus column, there is Owen Wilson, who I thought made a fine stand-in for Allen. Opinion has been split on this matter, but I think that he handled his role quite well. He had that same bumbling charm that Allen could have at times. If his performance faltered in places, it was because the writer had failed to give him a script of any quality.

My nest-mate has a longstanding theory that Woody Allen basically hates women, which is why they often come off so badly in his films. Well, this may the best example of this to date. Wilson's character is engaged to Inez, the most two-dimensional, bitchy, unsympathetic female Allen has written yet. All you need to know about their relationship is that he wants to live in Paris and write novels, while she wants him to keep writing the Hollywood blockbusters that have made them rich and enabled them to live in Malibu. In case you missed the subtle cultural commentary, Inez is accompanied by her parents whose only function I could tell was to walk around with the label Ugly Americans stamped prominently on their foreheads. Oh yeah, and her dad is Republican, so we know that he must be unredeemable. Wilson's character, Gil, seems to be the only sane American in a wilderness of right-wing, superficial, materialistic, uncultured wackos. That issue aside, though, at no point in the film does Woody Allen allow one ounce of a sympathetic trait for Inez, or even give any indication of what attracted these two characters to each other in the first place. I guess that they could have had good physical chemistry, though naturally, any hint of that is long gone by this point in the relationship.

There's also a smug, know-it-all, name-dropper named Paul who is the butt of many a joke. More on him below.

As for the sections of the film that meander into the '20s? I simply was not that captivated by them. Yes, the frocks were pretty, and the sets nice. Yet, I wasn't sitting there going, "Oh my god, that art deco recreation is amazing." Hemingway shows up as a one-joke parody of himself that was funny until I realized that Allen had nothing more interesting about the man to say than that. More troublesome is the portrayal of the Fitzgeralds. It seems that in Woodyland Zelda was the parasite who held back Scott, and prevented him from achieving greater things. She is the flighty airhead, all fun & games distracting the Artist from his true work. I mean, it is such a nuisance when our loved ones go all diva and threaten suicide on us. Luckily we men of the present have valiums to keep our women calmer. La-de-da.

Finally, this parade of famous names starts feeling like Allen is showing off everything he knows about the period. When Gil runs into Dali, it's cute. When Dali promptly calls Bunnel and Man Ray over to the same cafe table, it gets a little tiresome. Later Gil suggests to Bunnel the plot for one of his most iconic films. What could have been a clever subtle joke is entirely heavy-handed. One gets to the end of these sequences wondering what the difference between the character Paul and his creator Allen is? They both seem rather self-satisfied with their own superior taste and intellect (cue cheap laugh at the expense of the Tea Party).

I shall grant the film does make a good arguement for why one cannot live in any Golden Age, as a Golden Age is never contemporary, but perpetually in the past, where it may be safely sanitized. (Though it takes an appearence by not one, not two, but three iconic late 19th-century painters to illustrate this concept). As I have observed on other occasions, the problem with wishing to live in the '20s is that eventually you pass 1929, and reach a decade that was decidedly not the best of times.

Some may say that I'm getting way too nitpicky about a silly comedy, and I would say "you're right" if I had been amused by any of this. However, I laughed rarely during this film, so I can't even recommend it really on the strength of escapism. It's got some great music in it, though buying a CD of Django Reinhardt tunes may be a better investment of funds.

Nope, I hate to say it, but I'm calling "the emperor has no clothes" on this one. I don't always agree with David Thomson, but on this one he's right: the saddest thing about all this is that Allen has demonstrated little wisdom gained with age and experience. Perhaps, the true problem, as is often the case with arrested development, is that the same old routines eventually cease being funny.

Or at any rate, that's how it seems to me . . .


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday's Poem (Set at Twilight)

Sorry that I've been away, but the time has gotten away from me of late. I have been productive, however, both reading & writing poetry, as well as inching forward on a play. On Monday I debuted a recent poem at the Yippie Cafe, and am posting it here for my readers on this gray-skied Saturday in Brooklyn. Enjoy.

Twilight’s Dance

For a moment,
You may own the setting sun,
As you hold your beloved in your arms,
Experiencing waves
Of high & low
Streaming through you as the light
Gleams past the window pane,
The CD shifting from staccato morbidity
Into a lush romanticism,
You lay in bed
Drying tears
And savoring how now,
After all those stumbling attempts of the past,
Everything finally feels right,
Converging on this moment
That you know is pure luck
That can never be repeated exactly as it is:
Enfolding both past and present
As well as the promises of the future,
The good that shall come out of us,
Flowing from this twilight’s dance.

Friday, May 20, 2011

views from Bay Ridge (before the apocalypse)

I woke up Monday morning to a foggy sky, which was quite striking.  Thus, before I had to rush out to work, I decided to snap a few photos.  As a sign of simply how hectic this past week has been, I am only now getting around to selecting a couple good ones for sharing.  That said, it has been pretty grey and overcast all week here in New York, so the atmosphere still matches the pictures. . .   

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

  . . . any blending with any potential Doomsday occurring (or not) on Saturday (though hopefully not until after teatime) is purely coincidental. Unless, of course, you believe the whole thing's a scam, in which case . . . so it goes.

As for me, I plan to be around to post some more after the weekend. 


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spread Your Wings & Fly

On May 7th, the singer/musician John Walker (born John Maus) passed away. Not a household name, on this side of the Atlantic at any rate, he was one-third of a trio of young, unrelated Americans, who banded together, rechristened themselves in London and achieved a level of pop fame often compared to the heights of their fab contemporaries from Liverpool. (Beatles' fans were either better behaved, or their objects of affection hired superior security, as Walker Brother concerts were known to be aborted after a song or two due to an inability to keep the screaming gals off of the stage). Working within the pop styles of their day, the trio's signature sound was filled with swooning, lush melodies, belted out amidst the ever popular "wall of sound."  After three albums, they splintered into divergent solo careers, crossed paths again for a reunion (which produced, numerology geeks take note, another three albums), before drifting off in separate directions yet again . . .

I first came to the group several years ago through my love of the solo work of Scott Walker, who sung the lead vocals on the majority of the group's recordings. Scott Walker is one my favorite musicians, whose work I am continuously returning to for both comfort and inspiration. His presence dominates the trio, yet, John's contribution, singing the harmonies, should not be ignored. In addition, he did receive a handful of solo songs, which demonstrate a talent for singing in his own right. My personal favorite of these tracks is his rendition of "Blueberry Hill", which does not appear to be available on youtube. So instead, I'll offer a clip that I received from a friend yesterday with the news of John's death:

Now returning briefly to those Liverpool Lads, I have been told that George Harrison's difficulties with his group grew out of having to share the stage with both a Lennon and a McCarthy. Without the presence of that pair of dominating personalities, Harrison may have more naturally shifted into the central focus -- on the other hand, it may have been that sense of competition, which motivated him to become a stronger artist in the first place. Might the same be said of John Walker, who was the original lead vocalist of the trio until a Scott song shot up the charts? Perhaps. Regardless, he was a talented singer, who shall be missed.

Rest in Peace, John Walker    

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In Honor of the First of May

Photo by creighton blinn,
all rights reserved

 . . . and as there is not enough room in this apartment for constructing a Maypole, I thought that I would observe the holiday with some verses. I did write something new this morning, however, it's still in revisions. So, for now, we'll need to make do with a piece I wrote last year. Regardless, I feel that it fits well with the occasion:


Hearts beating quicker
And arms gripping tighter,
Our moist lips clasping,
Drawing us closer,
Pulling me further,
Filling all available space
As boundaries melt
Along warm wetness
Welcoming, guiding,
Voices gasping,
In the heat of passion,
Bursting . . .

Cheers all. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Last Night at Reggio's

Last night I preformed a poem at the Cornelia Street Cafe Son of a Pony poetry series. I had been away from the venue for a few months, and it felt good to return again. I put in a strong showing, as did my dear TC, who read as well. In high spirits, we felt up for a little celebrating before heading home. (By chance, it also happened to be the one year anniversary of when she moved into her current apartment). Without much difficulty, we settled upon Cafe Reggio's for our simple, though no less tasty, feast. I snapped a few photos of the Village at twilight, some of which, I may post on another occasion. For now, however, I shall focus on the pictures I took inside the cafe. Cafe Reggio's is an establishment with much of what is usually referred to as character, which in this case consists of many antique art objects densely installed throughout the space.  In theory this might sound claustrophobic, but, in practice, it is not, creating instead a favorable atmosphere for their good food.  I did not chose to take any photos of this overall effect though, as my taste in framing tends more towards details than the overall picture. I sometimes suspect that it is so that I might focus in on an object, in an attempt to capture more fully a sense of mood or personality: 

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved


photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

There was a melancholy feel to these two pieces, which were placed near our table, especially the top one, as if the bust were of a saint silently accepting the beatings inflicted by the not so innocent seeming coat rack.  Indeed, the shape of the figure suggests to me a reliquary of martyr as much as the portrait bust of a young noble.  Meanwhile, his lady watches apprehensively, near at hand, yet still, powerless . . . 

Then there was this plate with its ghostly glare about it: 
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

Of course, I do not always need to read a narrative into an image; I can also simply enjoy the beauty of pools of lights:

photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

All in all, a good end to what had been a rather hectic week, as well as a good start to the weekend. 


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Poem/Painting Pairing

I have some more verses for you this evening. Tonight's piece has been previously published in the Irish journal Census. The poem runs as follows:

My Aunt Asleep

My Aunt is a rather proper woman:
Her hair always so neatly coiffed
That every strand stays in its prescribed place,
Matching the distinct modesty of her dress,
Plain garments of perhaps a generation ago,
Which declare her a lady
Uninterested in all that “nonsense,”
A verdict proclaimed in that voice of calm reason
With which she so typically speaks.

Yet if you observed her in her slumbers,
You might glimpse a hint of something else:
Visions haunting her senses,
Filling her mind with wild thoughts
Of caution tossed to the wind,
Reveling in the charm and humor of that old family friend,
Dear Mr. Reynolds,
Who no longer acts the pure gentleman,
My Aunt no longer holding her tongue,
Or acting in decorum,
Her body shifting restlessly in her sleep,
A smile spreading across her face,
Signs which will immediately vanish
Upon the light of dawn . . .
*   *   *

I often find my inspiration within a diverse set of disciplines, including the graphic arts; indeed, one of the projects I am working on at the moment draws from seventeenth century painting and sculpture. The specific spark in this case was a figure from a more recent century: James Ensor. I shall confess that I first met Mr. Ensor through a They Might be Giants song (more interdisciplinary overlay). However, the more I have seen of his art over the years (especially superb shows at the Drawing Center & MoMA this past decade), the more my fondness for the artist has grown. This poem came out of my first of two visits to MoMA's exhibition in 2009. There is also a second piece from, you guessed it, my return trip to the galleries, though, while I have been working at it again, the poem still has not been revised into an entirely satisfactorily form. As for "My Aunt Asleep," I do not claim that it is either "about" or an explanation of Ensor's drawing, as much as an articulation of the images that his picture conjured in my mind . . .

James Ensor, My Aunt Asleep Dreaming of Monsters, c1890

 . . . still, I do believe that the theme of repression/duality is common enough in his output to link together the two pieces. 


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Drifting through the Evening

I was in St Martin (French side, merci) recently.  I had never been there before, but had a great time.  I brought my camera with me on the beach a couple days and got some good photos of the scenery(land & skyscapes) as well as the passersby.  For tonight, I shall offer up a few pictures featuring clouds.  For a long time now, I have found clouds particularly lovely, and can be counted on to snap pictures of them whenever possible.  Also, as the sun gets ready to set over Brooklyn this Sunday evening, it seemed appropriate to turn my sights to the sky. Enjoy.

Grand Case Beach, St. Martin March 2011
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

Grand Case Beach, St Martin March 2011
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

Grand Case Beach, St. Martin March 2011
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved

Grand Case Beach, St. Martin March 2011
photo by creighton blinn, all rights reserved
Good evening all. 


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Forms of Education (& their discontents)

"And how could I resist the old misogynist
Who brought me up according to a fantasy?" -"Bishonen" Momus

The Greek film Dogtooth centers on the lives of three young adults: two sisters and a brother, who are being subjected to a rather extreme sort of upbringing (or "homeschooling" as netflixs not so helpfully puts it). They have been denied nearly all contact with the outside world, or what little they do receivee, such as a Frank Sinatra song, is delivered to them only through their parents' filters.  Even everyday objects, such as table salt, are given new names that sound as much nonsense to the viewer.  (Not recalling my high school Greek, I do wonder if the film contains puns or wordplay which are lost on my foreign ears).  The three children know nothing except what they have been taught by their stern, cold parents.  They are physically well kept, healthy and living in a spacious modern home.  For their exercise they have a small outdoor pool, resembling a pond more than anything else, as well as a large, lushly green yard.  This yard is surrounded, of course, by towering walls. The parents employ tales of certain death outside this gated paradise in order to keep their children at bay.

While stories of deadly cats may sound fantastic, the parents are not above including violence among their tools of discipline.  When the eldest daughter is caught with contraband videos of popular Hollywood films, her father savagely beats her over the head with a video cassette.  These foreign objects were acquired from Christina the only outsider allowed inside their home.  Christina is hired by the parents in order to service the sexual needs of their son.  (A sure sign that you are watching a European film -- no American movie would so frankly acknowledge their child's sexual drives).  That said, no consideration is given to the daughters' desires.  Nor does Christina herself seem to take much pleasure from the arrangement.  Thus, she offers a deal to the eldest daughter: "lick" her, Christina, between her legs, and the daughter will receive gifts from the outside world.  The eldest daughter, in turn, coerces her younger sister into licking her.  Late in the film, it is suggested that the youngest is about to offer a similar enticement to her father, before he wakes up and nudges her aside.  For his part, the son is shown to have no emotional connection to his partner, caring for nothing but his own pleasure, which, naturally, is what sends Christina searching for other forms of satisfaction. 

Thus, each child learns from those with authority over them, thoroughly assimilating the only power structure they know.  Deeply ingrained within this perspective is the threat of violence overshadowing the children.  Ultimately, the eldest child will attempt rebellion against this system, only, she lacks any of the tools necessary to envision a type of life different than what she knows.  Without any means of escape from the home, literally or otherwise, she turns her anger inwards, internalizing her father's stories into self-mutilation.  She may not be aware of what she is doing, however, her only act of resistance, it turns out, is self-destruction.
The singer Momus has also explored such states of minds in his work, which follow similar patterns.  First, there is his song "Bishonen" which tell the story of a boy adopted at a young age by "an old Italian bachelor."  This stepfather is obsessed with the legends of the ancient East in general, and, in particular, with the idea of beautiful youths dying gloriously.  He trains his new ward for this archetype, conditioning him with "words [which] were to cut down and to kill the muscle-bound/[And] swords to fell my intellectual enemies."  Every facet of the boy's development is controlled.  He is groomed to be effeminate in his beauty, to outshine an inferior gender of women ("charm is essential to misogamy").  When the hero protests that he wishes a female for his bride, the stepfather instead insists on a male "retainer" for his companion.
As the decades pass, the stepson, now twenty-eight, begins to gain his independence.  (It is never stated how this occurs, though, I have always assumed that his elder simply died of old age).  He settles down with both a wife and a successful job at a merchant bank.  Yet, he is troubled.  He cannot shake pangs of guilt for abandoning his stepfather's path, for failing to die young and beautiful, as he was always taught was his destiny.  Laying awake at night, while his wife sleeps, he can only find one solution: to have a son of his own, one whom would be more deserving of this great honor, and who the hero will raise "to die young/
And lay him in the grave that you[the stepfather] prepared for me."  As in Dogtooth, the father's programing remains until the end.  The cycles of violence keeps spinning, while the indoctrination of the next generation is ensured. 

 Finally, in "Pygmalism", a riff on the legend of Pygmalion, Pygmalion the play, and, presumably, My Fair Lady, there is a portrait of direct confrontation with the tormentor.  Here the singer is a creation of a certain Herr Professor Pyg.  He has obliterated any trace of her previously existence, leaving behind only what he wants her to be.  He is so entirely successful that she is left with only "memories [which]have been implanted/No ancestors you can trace/An accent from no place invented."  Here is fulfillment of all the wildest dreams of the parents of Dogtooth or the stepfather of the Bishonen: complete mastery.  This child knows nothing, but what her father has taught her, has no frame of reference outside of the teacher's.  He is her lover as well, filling her with the breath of life, as well as more sticky substances.  Simply put, she is nothing more than "a figment of his huge imagination."

Or is she?  Even within the limited knowledge she has, she can find an outlet for rebellion.  Her spirit lashes back while her hatred simmers.  At night she finds herself alone, singing the songs of conditioning he has taught her while "Cutting up with scissors/All the stupid sexy clothes he's bought me."  Unlike the daughter of Dogtooth this woman is not willing to simply turn her rage inwards, but outwards, back at her tormentor.  First she vows to prove her intellectual superiority, beating him at his own games, before driving a blade into his chest, reminding him how "the things we whip can whip us."  A bloody liberation it may be, but it remains a liberation nonetheless.

Or does it?  After the creator is dead, is the creature any better?  Is the poor soul any less scarred or haunted than the other conditioned children?  How can a figment survive outside the mind which dreamt it?  Or has she become now even more truly her father's child?

(B., if you're reading this, and I never said it before, you are so right about Grant Morrison ripping off this song for his own purposes.  You'd think then that he could at least meet his deadlines . . . ).

"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" indeed . . .

And, next time, I'll try for something not quite so disturbing.
Cheers all


Friday, March 25, 2011

A Handful of Verses

So, I have been thinking over a few things, which I would like to share; I even jotted down some notes during the commute to work this morning, only now is not the time for lengthy ramblings.  Hopefully, you'll be hearing more from me over the weekend.  Until then, I wanted to share with you a poem.  It was the first piece of my verse to be published, and I would like to thank the good people at Scars for selecting it for their print magazine Down in the Dirt.  The piece may also be viewed on their website,

What I Have Learned from Quiet Americans and Incensed Brits
Embrace doubt.
Revel in questions,
While being wary of answers—
Avoiding catch-all prescriptions
& most essentially:
Ignore idealistic preachers with simple answers
                                    (for their visions always ring hollow in the end).

My fellow Graham Greene devotees are correct in assuming that my title is a reference to one of his novels.  Regardless of literary allusions, however, I hope that you enjoyed the poem.  Good luck with your Friday, and pleasant plans for your weekend.