Archive for the 'Who is it?' Category

Study Hall Detention Art Class

Welcome to Study Hall Detention. I want books open…and pens, pencils and paper out on desks…and NO TALKING! Or you’ll receive another detention. I ask you to please not forget why you’re here, so please think about it. Today, we’ll be learning about three important artworks, created during the mid-to-late 20th century.

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First up is the collage (left) Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, done in 1956. To many, this work is considered one of the very first to fall under the classification, or movement, known as Pop Art. It was created by Richard Hamilton, John McHale, and John Voelcker (all using the name Group 2), who submitted the work as a trio to the This Is Tomorrow exhibition, held in London that same year. The piece was seen prominently by the public, as its image was used for the exhibition poster, and was featured in the catalog… soon spreading around the world via reproduction. Today, the work is credited to Richard Hamilton only, who technically designed the collage alone, using images from John McHale’s files (Richard Hamilton’s side of the argument can be read here). Historically, John McHale is known as an important art world figure with a visionary appreciation of mass-produced images in popular media and consumer culture, and is known for coining the phrase “Pop Art” (in 1954). Art historians often refer to him as “The Father of Pop Art.” This fact is blatantly represented in this work by the use of the word “Pop” on the Tootsie Pop candy label being held by the body builder.

Regardless of the small controversy over ownership, this piece became quite popular with the general public, mainly due to its colorful and humorous imagery (and its use of the naked female form, which appears unapologetically pornographic rather than artistic), and the piece encapsulated — and perhaps was even seen as parodying — the characteristics of modern art, and eventually Pop Art, which back then was still perceived by most people as “wacky.”

I personally encountered this work for the first time as a child, in an old issue of Mad magazine - which had enthusiastically reproduced it for a gonzo satire of the art world. The collage has been parodied and mimicked throughout the later 20th century, even by Richard Hamilton himself.

As stated, many consider this one of the — if not the — very first important Pop Art piece (the main argument being one of assembled mixed media vs. painting, or sculpture - or even appropriation and copyrights). Chronologically, Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey cartoon strip painting would not appear until 1961, and Andy Warhol’s much-heralded Campbell’s Soup Cans paintings would not be created until 1962.

Today, the original collage itself, which measures a mere 10 x 9 inches, resides in the collection of the Kunsthalle Museum, in Germany.

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Our next work is the black and white short animated film Bambi Meets Godzilla, created by Marv Newland in 1969. Less than two minutes long, the film derives its humor from a clever twist on the tradition of long film credits, and also gets a lot of mileage out of its title (the perceivably crass pairing, in a dual, of the popular Godzilla and Bambi characters, and their respective campy images). This audience-pleaser was shown at a few festivals when it was created, and amassed a small following over time. During the 70’s, it began running as a short to precede feature films, mainly in art house theaters, and sometimes was shown as an oddity on local variety television programs. In the early 80’s, it also began airing on local public television stations, and some UHF channels, as a time filler or sometimes as a late night “going off the air” closer. A colorized version of the short appeared sometime in the 70’s, and over the decades many copies, even plagiarized or uncredited recreations, have appeared (the YouTube link above is the original). Several intentional sequels have also been made over the years, but none by Newland himself.

The film was written, directed and produced by Marv Newland, on a small budget, and it’s initial exhibition was hustled by him alone without the aid of a studio or backers. So, it is therefore thought of as a very early example the independent animated film. The film’s tongue-in-cheek mood can obviously be traced back to other comic book, animation and comedy sources from the 50’s and 60’s, but it’s aesthetic standing as “cartoon short” was unprecedented. Animation continued to expand as a medium for underground or “fringe” comedy expression through the 70’s, but a decade later, in the early 80’s, the popularity of the independent animated short exploded (exemplified and kicked into gear Wesley Archer’s influential Jac Mac & Rad Boy Go! short from the early 80’s, which aired to great demand on late night network shows like Night Flight, and MTV) and soon, several different annual “film festival” series, each comprised of new and expectedly outrageous animated shorts from around the world, began popping up regularly as feature films in art house cinemas.

Arguably, wryly sarcastic and satirical animation like Matt Groening’s The Simpsons (begun in the very late 80’s), and that of John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy (the early 90’s), could be traced partially back to the popularity of Bambi Meets Godzilla. Today, its influence in animation is omnipresent.

Marv Newland went on to create many other animated shorts, and have an extensive and lucrative career in animation, working mainly in television and in the film industry.

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Next is…PAY ATTENTION! Next is the performance art piece Shoot by Chris Burden, done in 1971. The work consisted of Burden getting shot in the arm by an assistant, with a .22-caliber rifle, from a distance of thirteen feet. It was performed in front of an audience at the F Space gallery in Santa Ana, California, on November 19th, 1971. The plan was for the bullet to just graze Burden’s left arm, but the shooter missed and the bullet penetrated his arm, though he was not badly hurt. Semi-filmed footage of the event can be seen in Burden’s Documentation of Selected Works 1971-74 film (viewable at UbuWeb - it’s the second piece in the short, after the long intro by Burden). Shoot became hugely popular in the art world at the time, and in the press, and is regarded as a cornerstone of the performance art scenes that flourished during that decade. In 1976, Laurie Anderson wrote a strange song about it called “It’s Not The Bullet That Kills You, It’s The Hole” (you can hear an mp3 here, track #15). Burden was known for creating death-defying work even before this piece, and continued to create work of this type afterwards (like Deadman, where he lay at night in the middle of a busy La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angelos, covered by a tarp with two flares by his head…or in 747, where he fired a pistol at a Boeing 747 just after it took off from LAX airport). Important to remember: Chris Burden’s work and its relevance to our world today is obvious, now more than ever. That will be on the test. Later, Burden became a professor of art at UCLA in 1978. However, in a ironic twist, he resigned in 2005 in protest to a fervor (or lack thereof) created by one of his students, who surprised his class with a similar piece to Shoot.

Ok… Study Hall Detention is dismissed. You can go now, AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU DID!

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Who is it?


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John Friedrich (part 2)

actor John Friedrich in The Thorn Birds (left), filmmaker Marc Moody on set (right)

When I wrote about the career of 70’s and 80’s film actor John Friedrich in my “Actors Who Have Fallen Off the Face of the Earth” series last November, I was pretty sure that my fandom was probably in vain. I know these actors haven’t really fallen off the face of the earth, but are just obscured by time and events - victims of the “if it’s not on the internet, it doesn’t exist” syndrome. However, it turned out that John Friedrich has even more fans than I imagined, ones that could were willing to dig deeper. In April, I received an email from the other side of the globe. Accomplished filmmaker (Almost Normal) and professor (University of Hawaii at Manoa) Marc Moody had been on a lengthy quest of his own to track down Friedrich. Through a series of events that he calls “connecting the dots,” Moody eventually found Friedrich, and sent him a letter asking him to come speak at his university. And he said yes! Marc answered a few questions for me:

Me: Why John Friedrich?

Marc: Good question. Still asking that myself. John was someone who I remembered, yet had no memory of his name or his films. I just knew that there was this actor I remembered who appeared in a lot of films I saw as I was was growing up, and his performances were riveting. I remember thinking a few times; “I’m never going to be able to know who this guy was. There is just not enough information for me to look anything up on him. That all changed when I caught Thank God It’s Friday airing on television. There, walking into frame, was the guy I’d always remembered.

What is your favorite film of his?

His most solid performance - acting, story, film budget - is The Wanderers. His most endearing performance is The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. If that story were to be done today, the story would (or should) be about Roy Slater and Todd Lubitch. An example of where he could have been groomed as a diversified Sean Penn-type dramatic actor is the character Squeeze, in Fastwalking. An example of where he could have been groomed as a leading boy-next-door star is Thank God It’s Friday. If you’re talking about John Friedrich, it’s not about his films, but his roles and what he delivered in these films.

Please tell me the story of how you tracked him down.

Doing research. Connecting the dots.

Being a fan… detective work… research… stalking. Where do you draw the dividing lines between each?

When I thought I might have found John, I specifically approached him in a straight forward, business manner - with a letter. I first let him know I was a filmmaker. All he had to do was Google me and he could find my films, and articles on me and stuff. The same goes with my other line of work as a professor. I also told him exactly how I came about looking for him.

Why did you arrange to have him come speak at your university?

Because I strongly felt that if I was going to contact him, I had better have some type of professional offer. I don’t believe, nor do I recommend, anyone trying to contact someone for purposes that cannot be explained or beneficial to the other party. If it’s only for the sole purpose of tracking them down to become their friend or meet them, whatever, don’t do it. It’s not worth your time or theirs.

What if one of his fans couldn’t hi-jack a plane and make it all the way to Hawaii? Will the event be documented?

The event was filmed. Having it distributed is probably not an option, but it will be running on the Olelo channels here in Hawaii!

So *gasp!* tell us, where is John Friedrich now and what in the world is he up to?

John lives in New Mexico. He has a beautiful family. He is happy, devoting his energies and time invested in many things (acting is one of them). The best thing I can say about him after we’ve spent time together… is that we’ve laughed a lot!!

Lots more information can be found in two nice articles (and interviews with John) written by the Hawaii Star Bulletin’s Katherine Nichols before the event, and then one reporting on it. In subsequent correspondence with Marc, it seems that there may be some other things in development in John’s career. I’ll keep you posted. Here are the posters (1, 2) from the event at UofH, which apparently was heavily attended. Here’s an excellent eight minute collection of clips of John’s work, that was put together by Marc for the event. Here is John Friedrich’s ongoing imdb listing.

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Darth Nadir

I recently watched the very funny Darth Smartass on YouTube, a waggish re-edit of that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader’s clamshell pod chair is opening just as that guy is coming in to give him a report. YouTube is unsurprisingly filled with gonzo Star Wars video parodies, re-edits and spoofs - which range from the shockingly homemade to the shockingly good homemade. They often focus on Darth Vader - probably because he’s the easiest character to dress up as and look exactly alike. The hysterical Chad Vader (pictured above) downgrades Vader’s ruthless hand of rule to that of an ordinary grocery store manager. The self-explanatory Darth Vader Taking a Bath is surprisingly effective - a fan’s obsessive private moment (in the bathtub?) painstakingly filmed, edited and dubbed into reality. Space Knights puts The Phantom Menace through a 1930’s trailer filter. This elaborate parody of Revenge of the Sith has great sets, effects and editing… but I wish some of the comedy acting was better (here’s some by the excellent Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders‘ BBC show). This Vader of the Opera take-off is a clever idea, which turned out okay. This CGI-animated clip of Vader and fleet as an orchestra of little toys performing the film’s theme is …odd. Darth DJ is funny but but I hope it was made in the 1990’s. Want claymation? This is a good stop-motion piece imagining a nervous Darth Vader calling the Emperor to let him know the Death Star has been blown up. This overdub of James Earl Jones’ voice over Vader’s is a little disjointed, but is often works. There’s something peculiar about this fan in a Darth Vader costume, who taped himself walking around the strip mall area where a bunch of fans are camped on the sidewalk of an LA movie theater, waiting for opening day of Revenge of the Sith. As is this science class-ish clip of some guys trying to blow-up a paper mache model of the Death Star, which is worth the wait (check out the slo-mo footage at the end too). Star Wars, in particular Darth Vader, has been one of the most pardy-able things since it’s debut in 1977 (check out this way-70’s clip of Vader and Wolfman Jack on The Midnight Express variety TV show). Of course for sheer ha-ha’s; Mel Brooks’ 1987 film Spaceballs needs a mention, as does that weird Star Wars Kid accidental online video (and eventual lawsuit) phenomenon from a few years ago. But I must say that Mad Magazine’s original 70’s and early 80’s print parodies; “Star Roars,” “The Re-Hash of the Jedi” and “The Empire Strikes Out” were some of the first - and are undoubtedly my nostalgic favorites (don’t scans of these in their entirety exist anywhere online?)

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The 2006 Biomedical Image Awards

and the award goes to...

Ever browse through celebrity magazines or watch entertainment award shows and secretly wish the camera would get closer, closer… closer to your favorite celebrities until you could see the ganglia and amoebas on their skin, and judge them for what occurs in that microscopic world on their epidermis? Personally, it’s all I can think about. Imagine the hype and drama on that landscape! Wellcome Trust, a UK independent charity that “funds research to improve human and animal health,” just unveiled their nominees in their annual 2006 Biomedical Image Awards, a competition of microscopic images culled by scientists while researching things like biology, medicine and disease. Many of these subjects are so small that normal lightwaves are too large to capture the images, so they’ve been immortalized using “microscopy” lighting techniques (Transmission electron, Scanning electron, Fluorescence, etc.) Take a look at the gallery of contending microbes and vote for who you think scores highest overall in each category, and click on each one’s image and learn about what they’re really like in real life.

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