I can never get enough Bjork. I interviewed her recently for LA Weekly and could have talked for hours. I’ve interviewed her several times, including once in Iceland for a cover of Request magazine, and I always admire her intellectual curiosity and open heart. Plus, we both love Beyonce. I’m looking forward to checking out her Digital exhibition that opens at the Magic Box this weekend, and seeing her at the Disney Concert Hall May 30. Enjoy the story!
I wasn’t expecting laughter and tears when I went to the Hammer Museum yesterday to see “At the Center of the World,” an exhibition of the art of Jimmie Durham. I knew little about Durham, except for some intriguing banners I’d seen around town featuring his sculpture of an Indian princess: an odd assemblage of snakeskin, feather and wood that’s disconcertingly life-like, its mismatched eyes staring, accusing. I didn’t even know the maker of Malinche was of Cherokee heritage, though that became immediately apparent in the first room, with its totem poles of animal skulls on top of sticks — clever, bizarre, strangely powerful, like the videos, drawings, sculptures, and writings filling the Hammer gallery.
Born and raised in Arkansas, Durham has been making art since the 1970s (when he was also involved in the American Indian Movement). But for the last 20 years, he has lived in Europe. This is the first show of his work since his self-imposed exile, and it’s mind-blowing. Durham, who is also a poet, can be hilariously funny and brutally dark. I repeatedly found myself laughing out loud, but I also at one point burst into tears.
I don’t even know where to begin, this show is so astounding in both its craft and content. David Hammons, Jose Bedia, Brancusi, and Fluxus are all explicit influences. I also see Judy Chicago in the cultural commentary and, again, the humor. His self-portraits, like the one above, are hilariously self-deprecating, while at the same time poking holes in cultural stereotypes – check out his “Indian penis.” Needless to say, this show is also timely and necessary, what with our liar in chief paying homage to his genocidal predecessor (Indian killer Andrew Jackson). I’m going back and I’m taking the family.
I’ll be on a panel addressing the horror of “fake news” and “alternative facts” at Wikipedia Day at the Ace Hotel Feb. 18. For more information, check the Wikipedia page, of course.
A few days ago my Peedrow buddy Tim and I went paddling off Point Fermin. It was the first time I had gone out on the ocean since my failed landing in August. The Pacific lived up to its name: peaceful, flat, calm. Our journey started with pelicans by the tide pools. Then the sea lions greeted us at the buoy. Looking toward Point Fermin, I saw fins breaking the surface. A family of white-sided Pacific dolphins — my favorite porpoises — came to greet us. An adult led the way, followed by a smaller dolphin shadowed by a baby. This breed of dolphins are smaller and more active than the common dolphins that we typically see off San Pedro; usually they travel in groups, not nuclear units. This trio headed straight for us, parting around us then coming back for more. I felt welcomed back to the water I cherish, home again.
We were heading north when we spotted something floating between us and Catalina.”Let’s check it out,” I urged Tim. We paddled toward Twin Harbor, and the dark spot on the ocean turned out to be a giant sea lion, taking a siesta in the quiet ocean. It lay on its side, side flippers and tail in the air, as we quietly circled around it. I have been working as a volunteer with the animals at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, so I wanted to make sure it was okay. It seemed more than okay: beatific in fact, Zen and in bliss in its moment of still harmony in the Pacific. We circled this floating, breathing sculpture quietly, then said goodbye. On we paddled, past garibaldi and kelp, where nature meets city — San Pedro.
I haven’t posted any sunrises or sunsets for a while, but tonight’s was so spectacular I feel compelled to share. It had a been a stormy day, inside and out — torrential rain followed by piercing sun. Alexander Hamilton (the dog) and I took a walk out on Cabrillo pier; the foot of a rainbow waited for us at the end.
My grandmother used to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas. During the several years in which she lived with us in our ranch house in Wisconsin, Mama would usually retreat to her basement bedroom so she could view her favorite movie without all the noise of grandchildren and pets that surrounded the TV in our family room. After she moved out, it would strike me how dark and cold the room that was now used for storage was, when I would go grab something – one of Mom’s 1950s dresses, maybe — from it. Mama made the dank space warm and grandmotherly, with her constant crocheting and her love of old Frank Capra movies or TV shows starring Barbara Stanwyck.
The woman born Guyla Duncan didn’t have the easiest life; her World War I veteran, jack-of-all-trades husband had trouble staying in one place, and away from the bottle. They moved constantly, from Florida to Kentucky to California then back to Florida. So Guyla wasn’t too picky about her surroundings; a basement in the cold Midwest kept barely tolerable by the orange glow of a space heater was fine by her.
Mama survived the Depression, two world wars, six children, breast cancer, and her husband, so she had a pretty realistic view of the world. She knew damn well life wasn’t always wonderful. And yet she loved this sentimental holiday movie, with its beyond-happy ending and steadfast faith in bucolic small-town America. I came to love it too, once I got beyond my adolescent snobbiness. In fact, the screwball comedies of the golden age of Hollywood are one of my favorite things in the world, up there with Brazilian music, feminist art, and whiskers on kittens.
Using the tools of urbane high jinks, slapstick comedy, and witty romantic banter, filmmakers such as Capra, Howard Hawks, and Preston Sturges offered social commentary dressed up as popcorn entertainment. Stanley Cavell has written about how these comedies of remarriage reimagined the relationships between sexes, with women given equal footing with men as smart, classy, independent creatures — Katherine Hepburn was as adept at cutting repartee as Cary Grant. Many of these movies also flipped class structure – the department-store owner hanging with his employees, pouring coca cola into a glass of rare wine and discovering it really does taste better. It’s a Wonderful Life offers a blistering critique of Big Money and corporate banks and a plea for small, family-owned businesses. This is not old-fashioned mawkishness: In the TV show The Newsroom, Olivia Munn’s character uses Capra’s film to explain to Emily Mortimer’s the basis and importance of the Glass-Steagall Act.
It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 – scarcely a wonderful time in world history. It pretty much bombed back then, but it has become perhaps the most beloved movie in all of American cinema. That was the decade Mama’s son Leon was injured at Iwo Jima and she survived a double mastectomy. This movie, like all the screwball comedies, offered a vision of the way things could, and should, be, not the way they were. It provided relief, comfort, a good laugh, and hope, all while pointedly critiquing the evil of capitalism gone awry.
That was 70 years ago. On Friday night, you can relive that first run, when the San Pedro International Film Festival shows It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at the historic Warner Grand Theater. I probably don’t need to point out how appropriate this film is to this moment in time, how it’s an example of art that speaks to, and not down to, multiple constituents who feel disenfranchised in our current society, while always keeping its thumb firmly on the real villain. Or how we need its humor, its love, its screwball hope.
I used to see Mama watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but I never once sat down and watched it with her from start to finish – just as my son never watches it with me. I wish I had asked her what she got from it, if she felt keenly its affirmation of rootedness – of characters who may dream of the travel they see in posters – of lassoing the stars — but in fact never leave home, and live happily ever after.
The sun finally broke through days of gray skies yesterday morning.