Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dystopia parkway

For those of you looking for proof that the project of art criticism (i.e. the effort to represent and explain in words something that exists beyond the verbal realm) stands about as much of a chance at consensus and descriptive success as trying to bake a cake that tastes like E# major, look no further than critical appraisals of mid-twentieth century surrealist Joseph Cornell:

There isn't a sexual image, let alone a trace of amour fou, in his entire output. The most he would permit himself was a gentle fetishism. If, as some have thought, Cornell's imagery had to do with childhood, then it was one which no child has ever known, an infancy without rage or desire. Sometimes he would crack the glass pane that protected the contents of the box, but that is all he allowed in the way of violence - it suggests that the sanctuary of imagination has been attacked.

-Robert Hughes, American Visions

His works, relying almost completely on strange and powerful juxtapositions of everyday objects or elements, are small in scale...but they speak to us in the rich vocabulary of human desire. They whisper about idealized memories of childhood bliss, about smoldering romantic hopes, about dreams that hang by only a slender thread.

-Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

So which is it? Is there angst or desire or isn't there? To deny that there is, I think, misses the point of the shadow box medium that Cornell so expertly cultivated. The people represented inside his boxes--Medici princes, Marie Taglioni, Lauren Bacall, Natalie Wood--are fetishized objects but also subjects that reflect Cornell's own sense of claustrophobia, unnaturally preserved innocence and enforced stasis in the realm of the child. The glass isn't smashed because an attacker is violating the sanctuary; it's smashed because the person on the inside is trying to get out. The darkest boxes are so powerful as to be almost vocal, calling out to the viewer in whisper-screams for contact and escape.

But judge for yrself:

Caravaggio Prince, Medici Slot Machine Variant

Untitled (Medici Boy)

Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall)

Untitled (Medici Princess)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Kiss me, Bess!

Why is there something unavoidably camp about Elizabeth I movies? Is it the farthingales? The wigs? The angsty shouts of "You will never know my heart!" delivered on horseback? HBO clearly appreciates this proud tradition because it cast Jeremy "World's Campiest Man" Irons in its new hellcat virgin queen miniseries. Here, Irons gets to chew up groaner lines like, "Do I not live in the sun of your favor?" and spit them out again studded with rhinestones and silver glitter. In a fantastically feminist move, HBO has also cast Dame Helen Mirren as Lizzy Tudor and ignored the Hollywood law against using actresses over 25 in romantic roles. This means that instead of Keira Knightley trying on her "mature" face we get 60-year-old Dame Helen, hot as hell and with enough career/life experience to maybe carry the part with some class and realism, making out with the baby-faced and hilariously-named Hugh Dancy (30!!!) as Essex. Yes, HBO! I don't even care that all you've done is remake Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth without quite as many overhead shots and heads on pikes--give me Helen Mirren wearing armor and teasing pretty boys and I am sold.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

She's so unusual

31 flavors of OH MY GOD YES:

NYT: You were raised by your mother and grandmother in a Sicilian-Catholic home in Ozone Park, Queens.

Cyndi Lauper: My mother wanted to be a singer. She ended up working as a waitress in diners, and that was so heartbreaking for her. I wanted to save her. I wanted to save everybody.

NYT: Are you suggesting that there is an autobiographical impetus to your best-known song, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"?

CL: Yeah, my mother and grandmother never had any fun. They just scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. And what do you think happened? I saw three generations of women coming to my concerts — grandmothers, mothers and their daughters. And that felt like an achievement.

NYT: I think of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" as the first feminist-backlash song. It came out in the 80's and goes against the preachy and high-minded tone of 70's feminism.

CL: That's not true! It's totally feminist. It's a song about entitlement. Why can't women have fun?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ground floor perfumery, stationery and leather goods

"I hear you are having a hard time getting the shoes on the mannequin," he says. This is not some fantastic new euphemism; he is being literal. So we crawl up into the display window together to where the plastic lady lurks, shoeless, but in a sundress and with an Easter hat under her arm. There is a basket by her side filled with too-large speckled eggs, more dinosaur than chicken. He hoists her by the boobs while I kneel and shimmy her feet into the white sandals with silver buckles. We are totally exposed to the sidewalk and streetscape in front of us except for the panel of glass. It is like red-light Amsterdam, only without the prospect of tricking.

"Have you ever seen Are You Being Served?" I ask, buckling.
"Oh. Well, they were always dragging mannequins around on that show. BBC. It's really, um, great."
"My wife and I collect mannequins."
"You do?"
"Yeah. We set them up in our house and put them in outfits, like, cheerleader outfits and stuff."

This toes a creepiness line. Not crosses, just approaches and regards, thoughtfully. Can we talk about how much you like Bratmobile instead? Or how Ladytron clearly intended "Paco" to be an homage to AYBS? Or at least the charm-weirdness of being asked to make window displays when we do not work in a department store?

"I think she's crooked."
"Oh. Who?"
"The mannequin. Doesn't it look like she's leaning to the left?"
"Yeah, actually, it does."

Monday, April 10, 2006

You're so audio/ don't remove me/ to a movie

Dear Nina Gordon and Louise Post,

When you wrote the song "Victrola" for American Thighs, did you realize that it was the perfect soundtrack for watching a wasp fly around the back of a crowded Minneapolis bus? Because it is. The wasp hung out on the pane of window next to my head for a while, then panicked and started suicidally dive-bombing the girls behind me. Some guy yelled, "Wasp! Wasp! There's a wasp on the bus!" and everybody started yelling and running around while you keened "I am grooving, Victrola" in my ears and yr guitars kicked in loud and deep and fuzzy with that unmistakeable 1994 Chicago squall that you and the Pumpkins used to do so well. It was beautiful. Thanks for making that record in the first place, and for those essays you had in Grrrls--those were awesome, especially the one where Nina talked about identifying as a feminist and having a big nose. I will never say that you ripped off the Pixies or that getting Bob Rock to produce Eight Arms was a bad idea. You can ride on the bus with me any time.

Still can't fight the seether,
Lizzie Pogo

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jem is truly outrageous

Sharpie yr calendars, Minneapolitans: the Walker will be premiering Jem Cohen's new film Chain, starring Mira Billotte (of Quix*o*tic and White Magic loveliness), Miho Nikaido and some empty parking lots, on April 26th at 7:30 pm. "Stark!" promises the Walker. "Disturbing! Universal resonance!" Cohen also made the epic Fugazi chronicle "Instrument," so they're probably not that far off. Cinema Scope, flexing its thesaurus, tagged Cohen "a bricoleur by intuition" and called Chain a "synthesis of the real and the imagined, the poetic and the pedestrian...a very personal response to the impersonal forms of late-capitalist culture." Holy Brett Vapnek! I am there with Marxist bells on.

Cohen is also doing a free public talk at the Walker on Thursday the 27th but I cannot go, because I will be at EMP Pop Con talking about a vastly different Jem. The paper is slouching towards half-finished. There are outlines, and quotes from Gaar, Raha and Shepherd, but the operose, world-on-pause, fingernails-in-mouth writeration has yet to slalom in earnest. In regard to which--if you are a feminist musician/fan/critic/ writer/observer/aerobics instructor and you have been influenced by Jem & the Holograms, I would love to hear from you. Tell me what you thought of the show as a kidlet and whether it affected yr perceptions of female musicians and I will shimmy you into my paper, all eleventh hour-style. Yodel at dancingvioletsnail@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

So where were the spiders?

I had a dream. It was one of Bowie's last-ever shows as Ziggy Stardust, and he was dressed like it--painfully beautiful in black maribou feathers and red vinyl, all coy glances and swinging hips, an otherwordly, cocksure ice nymphet for the ages. He wasn't alone, though. He was singing a duet with a disembodied head sporting a combination medieval princess coronet and flying nun wimple. They were singing "I Got You Babe" terribly sweetly to each other, and after a while I realized that 1) everyone involved was fantastically stoned, and 2) the disembodied head belonged to Marianne Faithfull, awkwardly caught in the long limbo between her "As Time Goes By" and "Broken English" eras. Bowie looked ready to spontaneously combust from his own hotness, Disembodied Nun Wimple Marianne threatened to float up towards the ceiling in a cloud of smack bliss, but the song stumbled on to its heady, horny finish amid superfluous backup singer rump-shaking and the slack-jawed disbelief of all.


Monday, April 03, 2006

On the playground

w/ Spider Fighter, Panther
The Triple Rock, Mpls, 4/1/06

As a study in contrasts, this show didn't just take the cake, it stole it from a maximum security cake protection facility in San Quentin after months of devious planning. The lineup was so staggered in terms of quality, genre and intent that the crowd started to look mildly disoriented after a while, as if the walls were changing color and getting alternately closer and farther apart from each other. Because the moment Spider Fighter started setting up, things were beautiful--like, time-warp-to-Olympia-circa-1991 beautiful. Four women up front (including Arzu from the Selby Tigers), three on guitars, one on keyboard, shiny and nails-tough in dresses, boots and "Fuck with me, yr spleen is jelly" scowls of macho-rock feminist reclamation. Axes gunning for seismic, crossing into transcendent, nudged by Teenage Whore Courtney screams, elated WUH-OHs and demi-hardcore, slam-danceable, epiphanic sonic glory. It's Bratmobile, it's the Third Sex, it's early Sleater-K, it's why punk will save yr lost girl life and everything good and true and holy in this world. It's also beyond facile comparisons and breathless fanzine gushes--LISTEN FOR YRSELF. NOW. SALVATION IS HERE AND ITS NAME IS SPIDER FIGHTER.

And so it was on the crest of this wow-that-was-like-seeing-Heavens-to-Betsy-at-IPU! euphoria that the girl riot was cruelly shuffled away and replaced with...Panther. Ah, Panther. How do I explain the donkey dung that was his set? First, let me say that, as a rule, I think artists deserve the benefit of the doubt. Most critical pans are lazy, self-satisfied and snark-driven and don't help anybody, especially the artist, who has gone through the labor and general scariness of public performance in order to share her art with other people. However, sometimes the artist in question is so far gone, so egregiously, fist-eatingly off it and painful to watch that it becomes necessary to speak up in order to prevent the suffering of others. Panther, in addition to inspiring some of the deadliest audience glares this side of James Frey on Oprah, is the Anti-Spider Fighter--not good, not girls, not a band. He is one white dude, alone on an empty stage, recycling three or four dubious "dance" sequences and some krump moves he jacked from Rize over rancid cat food un-beats upchucked from his iPod to the PA. Sad highlights: pacing, wheezing, crouching, orgasm-faking, the caveat, "I know, this is awkward." And how, darling.

Ed.'s note: Anjanette liked Panther. She argued he was satirical, and like Har Mar Superstar. She has a point; I just don't want to see the dude's butt crack again.

When it was all over there was much blinking and frowning and brow-furrowing as people struggled to remember why they had come to this show in the...OH YES! THE GOSSIP! It was a long climb up out of post-Panther lethargy, and Beth, Hannah and Brace/Nathan hadn't soundchecked yet, but dammit if Goxxip magic is not so potent, immediate and irresistible it couldn't overcome a hundred missed soundchecks. They ripped up about half of Standing In The Way of Control, a couple from Movement, old standbys Ain't It The Truth and Sweet Baby, and an acappella-ish cover of Aaliyah's Are You That Somebody? Beth said she was on her period and getting over a cold, but roared and thundered like a force-10 hurricane nonetheless. The floor was queer danceteria afterlife, roiling with happy bodies sweaty and free and fat and thin, tranny and non and tiny and tall. My dancing neighbor rushed the stage during the encore and boogied with pals, who looked like they had been born for this very purpose. Panther? Panther who?