June 4 catching up
My last day in Madrid was poignant and tugging on the heart strings as the last day of things are. After a week of fighting off jet lag I finally arrived on the solid earth and then, suddenly, it is time to go. Using my day pass I walked down to the Prado and went in to look at just two or three paintings for about an hour or so before meeting Edith’s friend at the Madrid Cinematheque for a tour and perhaps lunch before getting a ride from my hotel to the airport to fly to La Coruña. I went to the the rooms of the paintings from the 1400’s only. Again I spent a lot of time with the Van der Weyden Deposition. This painting, which is filled with so much to discover for the eye in terms of patterning and criss cross overlapping of clothes and limb textures plus its very effective emotional validity, especially when so often The Deposition can be played a little melodramatically, well it IS a rather dramatic moment, is newly surprising and powerfully real with each viewing. The semi-three dimensional quality which manifests at quite a distance is endlessly fascinating. Here we are at the intriguing fulcrum point of the medieval and the Renaissance world. Almost a bas relief of sculpture and painting simultaneously. It is the 3-D curvature of the naked body supported by the flatter, rather well dressed helpers of the descent that endlessly fascinates and involves us emotionally. Someone looking at the painting next to me mentioned that it is one of the first oil paintings. I do not know if that is true, but the size of it, and the intensity of it, may come from this among other things.
Then I went to see the Bosch, or as he is called in Spain, El Bosco, Temptation of Saint Anthony, which is also a super star painting and never being observed as The Garden of Earthly Delights draws the crowd. This depiction of Anthony is one of the most extraordinary composition in the all-over sense I have seen from that period or any period. The color range of browns and coppers and olive greens and magical blues (used on the water and a building) is to die for…. I can think of no better words to describe it. And the all-over effect comes from the presence of tree branches with surround and caress the various multiplicity of details in such a way that you do not even quite see it at first and then suddenly see it all. I do not know if this painting is effective in reproduction, but seen in the real, it is unbeatable.
Another painting I took notice of and got involved with for the first time on this last visit was a rather large triptych by Memling of The Adoration of the Magi. I do not know how to describe this, as Memling can be envisioned. There is so much to talk about in every detail of this masterful work that I almost cannot begin. The tiny tiny perspective placed pedestrian figures on the streets of the city in the far far far background beyond the columns of the foreground scene, the GREEN angel in attendance, the black king and the exact luminosity of his face in relation to his surround, not to mention his shoes, the quality and intensity of reds and oranges and on and on and on. I know I have seen a number of these both at the Met, the National and in Saint John’s Hospital, but this seems exceptional. As Jerry once said to me about Picasso, doesn’t he ever have a bad day?
Hans Memling, Adoration of the Magi (to see big double click image or see this.)
And finally I spent my last energy with the Fra Angelico Annunciation, a great cleaner and enlightener, and went on out into the crisp sunny air of the streets I was beginning to love in an unsuspecting way.
Fra Angelica, The Annunciation (to see big see this.)
The flight to La Coruña was short and sweet. The airy architecture of the Madrid airport also help remove that airport hysteria and dehumanized necessity of security and claustrophobia. The landscape as we descended was greener and more mountainous and the ride from the modest and well designed airport was along charmingly modern and well done highways winding through valleys and hills. The Spanish seem to have the most elegant sense of how to be in the modern world that I have witnessed in my small range of travel. Everything seems so well done and understated but eye catching and right for the real needs of the human psyche. I will save the arrival in La Coruña and what followed for another entry.
If your Spanish is OK, here’s an article from El Mundo, a conservative right-wingish national newspaper. I found it a rather odd and somewhat self-cancelling item. The juxtaposition with the other filmmaker made no sense at all, and in the meeting the critic himself disappears and we have no idea what, if anything, he thinks.
Now, I am finally finished with all my obligations or shows and interviews. A free Sunday… and this early morning it is pure SF fog but warm. The other days here have been pure SF also with bright sun and cool sea air, crisp light, etc. (where is my Bolex!!) I wish I could describe to you the feeling of this northern Spanish architecture of this seaside small city. The many storied porticos, which they call galleries, of white painted wood and glass, so that whole side of buildings, perhaps 6 or 8 stories high are ALL glass but in an old fashioned, genuinely 19th century style of framed painted white wood. I have never seen any thing even remotely like it in my very limited life. Maybe I can find a picture of it on the internet that has some feeling for it. So I have today free and most of tomorrow as I do not fly back to Madrid untill about 8pm, but then must after the hour or so flight get to my hotel (there will be a driver) and then get up early for the 11am flight to Chicago. Well, that is a lot, but here we go, as they say. But first, two days of rest in this very Spanish seaside resort. I was going to go back to Santiago, but I do not think I can, it was so depressing to me, but here is beauty and tons to explore by foot. I could also just take a train to somewhere, let us say two hours, and come back. The trains and stations are awfully pleasant.
Yesterday morning three fine young men (so intelligent and knowledgeable about film) did a video interview with me for 3 hours for their e magazine which contains long video pieces. They also recorded all my audience q and a’s. They came all the way from Seville. Many people here told me that in Spain there is a big interest in the post P Adams Visionary Film generation, especially me and Peter Hutton and James Benning. It is hard to believe, but true in some small sense, amongst the film buffs at least. In talking about film, there was nothing these earnest young guys did not know.. I mean they knew at what age Ford directed Straight Shooting. And when we discussed shooting that had the two to three layer principle, they were able they were able to point out many examples form Ford and Hitchcock.
Oh well, these two retrospectives have taught me a little about my own work and I see what I might be interested in at this point. I feel something a little different (but the same) coming. I am even a little tired of images for the moment. Spain is so very nice and interesting and so different in a very specific, but non-exotic, exotic way than I could ever imagine. My only regret is not going to a bull fight as when we past the HUGE arena de TORO… one got a little excited to say the least. The sports pages here have photos everyday from the bull fights along with the other more familiar activities of the field.
I am concerned about the missing negative for my two shots in my film. It is the only thing keeping me from printing right now as the title has arrived at the neg cutter. The neg cutter is confident that I will find it in my apt. but I wonder. Well, we will see what will happen. She says, do not worry, it always turns up… but where is my concern. How could I have the WP and not the neg?
Peter Hutton (who is very much loved in Spain) has sent news a day or so ago of the death of Adolfas Mekas, and last night sent on the enclosed email.
Love to you and thanks
Peter to follow:
N: We put Adolfas in the ground yesterday.I had the honor of carrying his casket w/ jonas and his son Sean. It was touching, sad, yet a beautiful day. I shot a roll of plus X on a 1920’s camera. Ken and Flo were there as well as a bunch of Ny geezers and students from 10,000 years ago. We dropped lemons into his grave, there was a film reel nailed to his simple pine coffin. Time and tide….. smell the earth.
Dear Battered and Abused,
Sorry my letters are winding down… I think I sent the one of the final visit to the Prado before leaving or these pleasant but less electrifying place. I expressed my surprising disappointment and dead on or dead head or dead me take on it all. Not even inspired to detail that. I am quite tired now as I had two evenings of the Spanish one, two punch…. dinner at 1am plus and film shows the next day with extensive interviews… one, a three hour one done by three touchingly dedicated and knowledgeable young lads who had traveled all the way from Seville. (Now , suddenly, I think I wrote to you about this… you can see I am losing it.) They will prepare and edit the three hour conversation with Spanish subtitles and also my q and a’s from the presentation on their website or web magazine. Whatever it is, I will be sent a link, so if I do not self destruct as I was forced to do sitting along side your noble and handsome presence in Rotterdam, I will pass it on.
So now crash time and a whole day lying around my hotel room in and out sleep and dreams… this afternoon I fly back to Madrid (what I would do to have three more days there!) for a quick overnight and then I will be canoned off to Chicago and slam dunked into SF….. YIKES….
Your Eurobud… nathaniel….
and thanks again for the illustrated presentations… I hope you soon put up more of the letters so that I can catch up with myself.
June 18, San Francisco
I awake at dawn’s gray light. It is warm and foggy and moist and the birds have begun to sing. My job is in a place I have never mentioned to you because I so seldom think about it. It is a small city across the Bay called Oakland. I have not been to its downtown area in many many years. The editing room is in an office building on the fourth floor with many large windows facing out in several directions. Each of the windows had a very thin Venetian blind that was down but open. Through these parallel horizontal slats one could see the most beautiful array of buildings from the earlier part of the 20th century. Art Deco or some such period of very ornate modernism and dignity. They are much more like the older buildings in Manhattan with elaborate cornices and noble facades expressing the very essence of being a building rather than our more no nonsense contemporary sense of efficiency and minimal human spiritual concern. Every time we had a little break I went out into the hallways to look through the many windows in the varied directions they faced. Oh, I wish I had my movie camera, I felt so inspired by suddenly coming upon something so magnificent that is only a half hour from my apartment that I have never given any attention to. It made me feel a little ashamed of my limited habits of looking around. Well, I can always bring the camera again.
Today was clear and sunny and the light was beautiful. I had my toes done by the toe ladies after breakfast (the nail is getting healthier) and then went to my camera store to pick up the reels and cans for the prints of my new film and then went home. I was supposed to go to either Walkere or drive over to Berkeley to the PFA to see great films by the Kuchar brothers, but by about 4 pm I got overloaded and life seemed too be getting too abstract and mental and I felt I was losing my grounding in a serious way. So I decided to just take a big four or five hour walk in the park, which I did. I need so much to ground myself in the company of natural forms. I think that yesterday, after 7 hours of working on a video documentary on the horrors of Burma and then suddenly plunging into the 2 and a half hours of intense standing/viewing at Rheingold had left my delicate brain a little disconnected from the world that I am now occupying.
Going to the park for the last hours of the sun was a good thing to do. In the late afternoon the fog began blowing in with the cool air of the sea and dissolving into the clear blue sky right over where I walked. So breezy cool and with a warm sun to soften butter. I found one of my favorite benches in the arboretum that is surrounded by baby Alder trees. Their heart shaped leaves are green on one side and a silver on the other and they flutter and flap and rustle in the wind like the little rattles of a shaman. They are real allies and always pull me toward the deeply magical, so purifying. Anytime my mind spirals into the lower or sticker realms, this chorus of young spirits begins to shimmer in the the wind, the leaves vibrating their double color and the light cascading in their love. I had a chance to have my first small smoke in almost three weeks. It was so good to really relax and begin to feel and smell and see the place I am in. These weeks of travel have been wonderful for my vanity in a simple and basic way, but my life was such a passing scene of airports, time zones, airplanes, new cities, new people, airplanes, and then my home life again. I was able to begin as an animal to feel a little present in the place that I now am. In short, it was good to relax amongst the trees and blowing winds and light.
I came home as it got dark and put away the very last things from my travel. I do not have to work again tomorrow, so I will do other little things. Perhaps I can look for the remnants of the black leader film I have been thinking about. I can feel that I want to start working on something, but money is scarce.
[The Return will be screened in Toronto, London, and New York this autumn. He'll be in Toronto and New York to present it.]
Thanks Nathaniel for letting me post this sequence of letters here – for me they are a lovely revelation and insight, and I am sure there are many others who share this sense. A real pleasure and privilege. Love, Jon