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Category Archives: Pleasure of Friends

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[Resuming Eli Elliott’s tale of riding the Hound]

DETROIT to DENVER (and onto BOISE)

(1Day, 7Hours, 45Minutes)  + (18 Hours, 45 minutes)

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PART 1 : “TATTERED”

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ANN ARBOR and Jackson, Michigan, we picked up a guy with an old green army style duffle bag which had a million little trinkets, or “souvenirs” as he later called them, sewn onto the bag. One trinket I took note of was a small toy bus resembling that of a Greyhound bus, only the inside was gutted, or had slowly fallen apart, and only the silver shell remained.

I noticed how the guy, around mid 50’s or so, how his face resembled his self designed duffle bag, as his face was covered with tattoos. Just like the trinkets, the tats themselves were old and faded. Since  his skin was black, you may not see the dull green ink upon first glance. But look a second time and your gaze becomes locked in; the intensity strong.

On board the Greyhound the guy sat in the very back. A younger guy sitting across from him took a glance at the busyness of his bag, the inked up face, and right away said to him,

“So… you just living life, eh?”

Tattered oddly responded with, “Uh no I dropped out of college, joined the circus, then the carnival….” His voice trailed off in mumbles…

The young guy then made a drug reference assumption, saying,

“So you going to see the Wizard?” Which meant was he taking a trip to get some dope of some sort to get high on for a stretch.

Tattered responded, “No, I’m going to Texas.”

Tattered would spend much of the ride gazing out the window, occasionally talking to himself. At one point during our trip, the younger guys in the back included Tattered in a card game of Gin Rummy, which I thought was nice. Tattered seemed to hold his own, win a hand or two, but eventually got bored and said “I’m out.”

At our next bus layover I would speak briefly with Tattered, admiring his bag and all the knicks and knacks attached.  I asked him if he was an artist. He modestly responded, shyly, a bit soft spoken sweet even, “Not really…”

He told me that he just sewed a lot and all of the little trinkets were souvenirs of some sort. I pieced together that the decorated bag probably used to be his carney bag. I thought about how that bag must’ve seen some serious seedy  mileage, having been around the bizarre underbelly of the American Carnival racket.  About 20 hours later I would meet another Carney worker and his girlfriend aboard the Hound who just finished up the season working the southwest circuit. He would sum up the carnival scene to me with the following:

“You know the difference between the circus and the carnival? In the circus they keep the animals in the cages.” (Meaning that in the carnival circuit, the workers were the animals).

I think Tattered liked that I had thought he was an artist, and the way he responded hinted to me that perhaps no one had ever asked him that before; all the frowns and frustrations and put-off’ness I observed on peoples faces as they reacted to the presence of Tattered – bus drivers, passengers in line, and riders aboard — the souvenirs and symbolism’s permanently sewn all over his bag, and all over his face – it all spoke volumes on the difficulties faced now having to transverse through mainstream America, aboard a Greyhound, no longer protected by the  bubble of the traveling Carnival life. Retired now, responding to the seasons, going South for the winter, forced to carry his past with him, the only bag he owns, the only tattered up face he can wear…

hound3Woodmen of the World Building, downtown Omaha, Nebraska

PART 2:  THE ORGANIZER

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In Benton Harbor Michigan we picked up an outspoken guy, “The Organizer,” who hadn’t been back home to Benton for over 10 years, “been gone ever since I got out of ‘the P’.”  The P as in Penitentiary. I’ve noticed a common tactic used upon entering and establishing yourself aboard The Hound, is that you immediately make reference to jail time spent. The thinking is that a sort of instant respect towards the other hoodlums and back of bus no gooders whom one tries to impress will occur.

At 29, The Organizer was a contradiction in both sight and sound. He had dark corn rolled/braided hair, contrasting his pale white skin.  The dialect out of The Org’s mouth was as street black as street black can get. I frequently turned around wondering if the words I was hearing were really coming from a white guys mouth. Others also took double takes; his put on slang was so thick and admittedly very smooth.

The Org talked about how his last girlfriend was half black and half Mexican, “which is jus about as close to a white woman intimacy wise as I’ve ever gotten”, he boasted. He talked about how he grew up in the Benton Harbor “slums”, and now lives in Texas, occasionally going to New Orleans for work.

“My brutha in New Orleans who was called MONEY CLIP just got killed not long ago.”

The Organizer dominated back of the bus conversation. He seemed to now be trying to involve himself into politics. He seemed to want to be a “community organizer” of some sort like Obama once was. Perhaps there were presidential aspirations as well.

He spoke in vagueness and generalities which caused a few back of the bussers to challenge his stories at times. While Obama had already won the election a week prior, The Org claimed that Romney could still become the president as all the votes haven’t really been counted, referencing the electoral college system as well.

“I just attended a Democratic party meeting last night.  Romney could be our next president.”

Another bus passenger, “Bro, I’m pretty sure Obama won the election and Obama is the president.”

“Well like I said, I just got back from a Democratic party meeting last night and we won’t know until November 17th.”

After being challenged a bit too much he came up a few seats to where me and a short black man from Memphis named Ernest had been conversing.

“I’M AN ORGANIZER”, he declared to me and Ernest. He told us how he was concerned with the youth and schools not paying enough attention to the kids, and how he wanted to organize some accountability and steer schools in a better direction.

A mysterious text suddenly came in to The Organizer, from someone who said they were being “threatened by a bunch of brutha’s.”  In reaction to the text, The Organizer turned to me and said:

“Well now, I may as well just curl up into a ball. What’s he expect me to do for him – he aint give me no information whatsoever about this situation. C’mon, I can’t do nothing with no information – I may as well just curl right up into a ball…”

He told me the text came from a pilot in South Carolina.

I couldn’t figure out The Organizers angle. It was as if he was a call center for distressed brutha’s needing advice on how to deal with, or organize, situations which arise on “the streets”. Can’t call the cops? Can’t get your family involved? Well then, drop a text message to… The Organizer.

In Chicago, I had a couple hour layover and hoped for more mad conversing with The Org, but his Texas bound Hound was already lining up to board. Off he went…

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hound6Car in Denver, bullet hole, Bradley Manning.

 

ON BOARD the Denver bound Hound were a couple of “young 20 sumthing guys,” who mainly talked about various kinds of drug use, losing drivers licenses, and fantasies of blowing marijuana smoke into the face of Colorado cops as the new law to legalize the green had just been passed in both Colorado and Washington.

One of the guys was trying to make it to his sisters in San Diego and had gotten his 92 dollar Denver Greyhound bus ticket from a waitress at a truck stop the previous night whom he had just met while trying to find something to eat for under 4 dollars on the menu.

“Wow, not many people like that in the world,” commented the other young guy regarding the generosity of the waitress.

Arriving in Denver, I stayed with my friend Jonathon. The night I arrived there were big news reports of a UFO sighting in town. The next day me and Jon poked around to “investigate”. I put together this little field report video.

 

PART 3:  Dumped In LARAMIE

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Upon leaving Denver, on our way to Idaho, the bus driver announced to our nearly full bus that a woman and her young child needed to sit together, and then requested to those individuals with 2 seats to themselves, if someone would give up their seats, and sit with someone else, so as the mother and daughter could sit together.  In typical Greyhound fashion, complete silence suddenly took hold. No one responded. Granted I was guilty, having of course already secured 2 seats to self, but I was hoping for someone in the front to step up so the mother and daughter didn’t have to be subjected to the usual back of bus swear word, drug use bragging debauchery.

The previous trip to Denver, the twenty sumthin clan in the back spent hours going through their laundry list of drug use and experiences from bath salts to 7 year crystal meth use. Seated just a few seats up were 2 young pre-teen daughters with their mom, who all got an unwanted “drugs are fun” sermon (to some credit, at one point the twenty sumthins woke up and realized who was audibly exposed to their drug diatribes and frantically started inserting lines like “don’t do drugs, drugs are bad,” all of which came off  in a too late comical haste).

Again, the driver asked a second time for someone to give up their seats for the mother and child. And once again, silence.

Finally myself, and some guy across from me spoke up at the same time. “BACK HERE, BACK HERE.”

I moved out of my seat and sat next to the other guy. Throughout the 20 plus hour ride the driver would thank me repeatedly, as not only he seemed to know the rarity of such a volunteered act, but was all to familiar with human nature, and specifically the character of the typical Greyhound Bus Rider.

I sat next to the other guy who had offered up his seat as well. He was Cody, a 145 pound mixed martial arts fighter, who preferred mostly to keep to himself.

“I generally try to just keep to myself on these things. People always ask each other ‘so where are you going’ and my attitude is like what kind of business is that of theirs!”

Cody was an interesting cat of sorts, having lived in Hawaii for a bit where he turned me on to the secret little hippy stretches where you could live good for 3 dollars a day. A few fights in Alaska and elsewhere, but originally he was from an isolated part of Oklahoma, an Indian res it sounded, as his mother was part Native American. Now he was on his way to Seattle to settle down some and train. He just learned his ex gal pal had also coincidentally moved to Seattle and there was the nervous boy/girl hook up excitement in the Greyhound air as Cody wondered how that situation was going to play itself out.

 hound8Bus break at the Petro Mart. Ogallala, Nebraskahound9 Dead Bucks, just shot. Ogallala, Nebraska.

 

We arrived in Laramie Wyoming at 4:30 a.m. for a scheduled 15 minute break, which ended up stretching into an unscheduled 45 minute episode.

Back in Denver I had noticed a young guy, middle eastern, 2 back packs on him, one in front and one on this back. He sat in the very far corner of the station, trying to keep to himself, which of course has the opposite effect, as isolating in a corner draws more attention.  On the bus, he did the same, went to the very, very back, last seat. A few behind me.

In Laramie I went to take a piss in the convenience store,  young bearded middle east also went in to whiz, then left quickly. I went outside and a few moments later I noticed Wyoming’s finest was casually cruising up to the convenience store in patrol car.  The officer got out and went to the side of the building, where middle east had decided to go after his quick whiz to light up some reefer to smoke.

Another cop car arrived and both officers began taking out bags of pot from middle east’s possession. Then they cuffed him up and took him away in the 4 am Wyoming night.

Greyhound ride ending, and Laramie troubles beginning for the failed middle eastern drug mule.

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Another stop in Wyoming, Kik’s convenient store, where two young “Lizards” (slang for truck stop hookers), approached men while their boyfriends sat in their pickup truck with a sign on the window scrawled something to the effect of “Help Need $ Gas”…

In Salt Lake City we picked up a carney couple who hauled onto the bus a giant purple walrus stuffed animal that was to be thrown away by the Carnival crew, but the couple managed to proudly rescue the stuffed animal, promising they would sew it back up.  It seemed to be missing a leg.

Scotty and Mary were on their way back to Idaho as the not too lucrative Carnival season had just wrapped up. They were going to live with Scotty’s mother, and with her help they were going to try to get some disability checks going for Scotty, who proceeded to tell me:

“Physically I’m fine, my problems are all upstairs.”

This was confirmed throughout the trip.

Scotty was a truck driver and very smart in many ways, A.D. D. in others, and simply unaware the rest of the time. Remarking at one point how “all the Mexicans in North Las Vegas are just plain STUPID, period!” my gaze shifted directly behind Scotty where a well dressed Latino woman was sitting; now slowly and disgustingly covering her hand over her face at that remark and many others that would follow.

Scotty spent his time aboard the Hound alternating from trying to sneak his hand between his girlfriends legs to play with her pussy, then at times a dedicated nose picking session would take place where boogers would go from nostrils to tips of fingers, and just like his fingers would slip into his girlfriends pussy, his now booger laced fingertips slipped right in between his lips, as the tongue lapped up the tiny dried strings of mucous.

At one point a backpack was brought down from the overhead bin and when opened an enormous grocery store bought pumpkin sour cream streudle CAKE in plastic casing was revealed. It had already been nibbled on extensively and much of it was crushed and crumbled. Scotty would break off large chunks with booger stained hands, feeding it to himself and hand feeding to his girlfriend.

  hound11Scotty and walrus.

After manic phone calls to a manic mother, mad conversations with other Hound riders, eventually Scotty and his Girl attempted some shut eye, using the big purple walrus as a pillow.

I wondered how the two of them were going to make it. Then wondered how anyone was going to make it anyway. I thought how it may just take a lack of “upstairs” over thinking to plunder through the upcoming mystery landscape…

Arriving in Boise, Idaho and the two familiar Boise brothers, oddities of sorts in their own right, greeted me in the parking lot as I appeared wearing fake buck teeth, symbolizing the likely weirdo filmmaking we would engage in for the next few weeks.

Some of which is mentioned, and can be seen here.

Onto the familiar California terrain next..

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[ Along with his journey report, Eli sent along a little extra personal note:

A bit behind in the transcribing to story, this was a decent length run to Denver a few weeks back, and then quickly on to Boise, Idaho, where I just left several days ago and GreyHounded it into California. Currently I’m committing “GreyHound Adultry” as I’m on an Amtrak, where it seems a quarter of everyone is drunk (they serve alcohol), a Jehovas witness is preaching the good word, and the next to tracks shanty town living squabble scenery makes me reconsider the train for the interesting sociological observings etc. Thanks as always for looking.]

[Resuming Eli Elliott’s tale of riding the Hound, here’s installment two, departing from Detroit.]

Second installment, a round trip Greyhound, from Detroit to Chicago and back. A ride which normally would take 4.5 hours or so by car ride, with the Greyhound you are looking at at least 9 hours each way, along with a bus change in Lansing, and if your bus doesn’t make the transfer, which seems a likely occurrence, your trip could then take you late into the night, or early morning, as you await the next coach to arrive.

“CHICAGO ROUND”

PART 1. “Two Seats To Self”

The goal of any Greyhound bus rider is to secure two seats for yourself. No matter who you are, when you have the coveted two seats to yourself arrangement, and you watch as a new passenger is walking down the aisle, you pray in your own way that the individual will keep moving and NOT sit down next to you. Two seats to oneself offers a substantially more comfortable and relaxed ride than having someone sitting next to you, forcing an upright cramped seating position for the grueling several hours to come.

In the past I have utilized a few screwball, if not shady, tactics to secure the two seats to self position. I’ve engaged in noticeable “mumbling to myself” behavior when new passengers were boarding and deciding where to sit. Usually this moves them right on past my two seats. If the stakes seem extra high, I would even throw in a few “nervous twitches” for good measure. Guaranteed, the newly boarded would always pass me up.

Our next stop would be Ann Arbor, which is typically a college town, as well as having a longtime reputation as a hippy haven. The dynamic aboard the bus changed as suddenly Detroit was forced to meet Ann Arbor. An Asian student politely makes his way to the back of the full bus asking a Detoiter if he may sit next to him as there are few seats available. The Detroiter frowns but obliges. The young Asian student says, “Thank you sir, thank you.”

A young 20 year old pasty white blond girl also is forced towards the back. She sits down next to  a pants pulled down Detroiter.  A few “aging hippies” find their place in the front. A young white hipster male initially had begun his way toward the back and after visually scanning the scene it was almost as if he slowly started walking backwards, then turning around frantically looking for a vacant seat in the front, which he did end up finding to his relief.

The mixing of Ann Arbor and Detroit was interesting to me. It was something specific to Greyhound bus travel. An uncomfortably forced situation where the two demographics have to share intimate space.

After a few hours people started opening up. The Detroiter across from me was convinced that we had just done one big circle and questioned whether the bus driver knew what he was doing. The guy sitting next to me finally opened up some as he checked a voice-mail message on his phone, then turned to me and said “the dude don’t wanna do 200 bucks for series tickets, damn they’re going for four hundred, four fiddy, this dude don’t wanna do 200…you know what I’m saying…damn..” I shook my head in agreement with him. The Detroit Tigers had just won the finals the night before and were now headed to the World Series. What I gathered was that this guy was trying to unload some tickets for 200 bucks and the would be buyer wasn’t buying, despite the alleged bargain…

In East Lansing the dynamic changed even further, with more college students boarding from the nearby Michigan State University. The conversations went from ticket scalping cheapskates to “I’m an Engineering Major” as two students introduced themselves to each other. For the past few hours when cell phones would go off, the musical ringtone would be that of a hardcore rap song. Now when cell phones were going off, the musical ringtone was 80’s pop music.

PART 2. Dreams.

We had switched buses in Lansing proper, and those of us Chicago bound travelers boarded an “Indian Trails” Bus. Indian Trails is apparently now part of the Greyhound service, but still run some of  their own separate routes, doing casino runs and charters. They operate out of Greyhound Stations, but seemingly are able to keep intact their own rules, along with a more laid back demeanor. While some of their buses looked very modern and slick, the one’s they use for Greyhound service seemed much older. The rejects perhaps.

Small video screens hung from about every 5th seat. None of them were operational. The bus driver wasn’t required to rattle off the usual “rules of the road” as is mandatory for the Greyhound drivers. Instead a barely audible recording is played.  For all intents and purposes I’ll still refer to Indian Trails as the Hound, as technically the two are in a way merged, and are essentially the same as far as bus travel goes.

Kalamazoo Gospel Mission directly across from the Greyhound Station.

Each Indian Trails Bus is “christened” with the name of a Native American Michigan Indian Chief.

The communication between the two bus companies proved to be poor. In Kalamazoo we waited 45 minutes for a Greyhound bus with passengers that would never end up showing.

While waiting outside the bus in Kalamazoo, I met Kenny.

Kenny, a young guy maybe 19 or 20, asked me where I was going, and I told him “Chicago”.  I asked him if he was going there to and he said “no”. I then said “where to”.  Kenny said “Salt Lake City”. For some reason it took me a moment to remember where I was and where his destination was, so after a few seconds I finally responded “Jeezus, Salt Lake City!” (as in that’s a long way).

Kenny smiled as if he’d been baiting me this whole time, waiting for an opportunity to tell me the following..  “Yep. You see that guy there inside the bus? Me and him… We’re headed to Truckin’ School.”

Fuckin’ Truckin’ School I thought. Wow. Always having a somewhat “if I had it to do all over” fascination with the idea of  “Truckin’ School”, I prodded further and asked Kenny about the specifics.

He told me that Truckin’ School basically broke down to 17 days of training, classroom and otherwise, then you have to put in 150,000 miles of road time, riding with someone else (which Kenny estimated would only take a week “considering you’d be driving all over the country”). Then you have to work for the company for 6 months. And then you get your own rig.

I was fascinated by it all and I told Kenny, “Wow man, that’s really great.”

And then Kenny replied back.

“Yeah, it’s really great…seeing as it’s always been my dream, to be a trucker.”

It was a young man, on his way towards his training. Training for his dream job.

I was kind of taken by this. His enthusiasm was subtle and soft spoken, but very genuine. He was excited inside and enjoyed sharing his Salt Lake sojourn with someone. I fended off the back of mind thoughts that lurked within, i.e. peak oil, rising gas prices, fairly recent and likely future trucker strikes, realizations that 3000 mile Caesar salad deliveries were no longer sustainable.  Instead I stayed in the moment and let the dream of road job romanticism wash over me.

After talking with me Kenny seemed more comfortable and at our next stop he told someone else, “I’m headed to Salt Lake City…I’m going to Truckin’ School.”

Nightfall arrived and we were, finally, out of Michigan. Somewhere just past Gary Indiana a swash of light suddenly appeared out the window off the elevated freeway. I rose up from a failed attempt at slumber, looked out the window and saw huge bright lights shining down onto a field. It was a high school football game. A play was in progress and the young men clamored about in all seriousness on the field. Even in the quick passing one could see the tension and energy taking place below; the bright lights, the people in the stands cheering and the young guys themselves embroiled in gridiron battle. It was Friday night in Autumn America.

Not but a mile or so later we passed by another slice of classic America, a small corner bar, recognizable from it’s old time brightly lit sign which read something like “BILL AND NICKS TAP”. Clearly a bar that’s been there for some years now.

These two back to back brightly lit situations in their own right, spurred on an immediate connective thought; I wondered how many men whom once had clamored on that same football field years ago, were now semi-permanently residing a mile away, inside Bill and Nicks Tap. The Gary Indiana glory days long gone, and never having found anything to really replace them with. Never leaving the city, always staying close to that one time glory, but not too close. A stool to forever reminisce a mile away at Bill and Nicks, would have to suffice. For so many in America the peak of popularity, grandeur and glory resides and remains forever, in those short, fleeting high school years. I thought about how their dream dies, when the “13th grade” arrives…

(CHICAGO INTERLUDE)

My presence in Chicago actually had a purpose as it was mainly to attend the Chicago International Film Festival where a documentary film was playing, and I was to cover it, make a little rough film about the response and reception of it, as it had to do with the subject of Cold Fusion technology, something I’m an advocate for; giving myself a save our ship purpose of sorts, though likely it could be more for the next ship that rises, as ours seems to be sinking quick.  Anyway, a look at that can be found here.

It was also a visit to see my brother, Matt, and newly hatched nephew, Jake, whom I would hang out and stay a few nights with. A quick immersion in the bustling, active and energetic Chicago City way of life…

Meanwhile, back on the Hound…

PART 3. The Recently Released.

An absolute staple of Greyhound character is “the recently released inmate”. Ride the Hound enough and you’ll eventually come across the recently released.

“I just got out of the clink”

My return trip to Detroit featured a not so stereotypical recently released. This was a young 20 year old almost suburban looking white male who apparently had spent the last few years inside, though at one point he said he had escaped from one correctional institution. After a short time on the lam, with the authorities hassling his family for his whereabouts, he decided to turn himself back in.

“I turned myself back in. I called them right up and said, ‘you guys want me, then you can come and pick me up. I’m on the corner of so and so street, smoking my last blunt, and I’ll be waiting…”

He talked about his various “cellies” (cellmates) a few who had 100 years to serve, some of the politics of prison in regards to the different factions; that even if your Latin and get your weed from the Aryan nation, if you diss an Aryan they have to mess you up on principle, despite the business arrangements and dealings otherwise.

The bits and pieces I picked up from his own troubles seemed to stem from 50 thousand dollars worth of settlement money that he had received, in which he proceeded to completely blow over the next 2 months compliments of high end hotel suites and an alternating habit of injecting bath salts and methamphetamine. He said he’s now clean, and will remain clean, just sticking with marijuana only.

But with the veracity, energy and eagerness to pour out and sometimes romanticize his troubles, this led me to wonder if when telling this saga over and over eventually got old, would the temptations to dive in and create more drama, a new story, overwhelm and lead to more use, and in turn more trouble?

PART 4. “Two Pints”

This deceiving appearance of the “normal looking guy” again played itself out at the Battle Creek, Michigan stop, when we picked up a late 30’s average looking joe white guy, whom I wouldn’t have thought anything about, if I had not noticed  that when he sat down in his Greyhound seat the back of his T-shirt rose up, revealing two glass pints of whiskey tucked between his underwear and skin. Basically one pint just above each ass cheek. He would spend the next hour or so sneaking sips from the two pints and then washing it down with a 20 oz. bottle of PEPSI.

He eventually had to use the chemical toilet bathroom at the back of the bus. This was during a stretch when our bus driver was frantic about trying to make our downtown Lansing stop, where many of us needed to switch buses and make our transfers on time. We were already 25 minutes late, and our driver frequently warned us on the overhead speaker how our connecting bus “may or may not” wait for us. She had no answer when asked what we would do if they didn’t wait for us.

At one point, in the rush to make the transfer on time, our driver attempted to go through a yellow light, but then quickly put on the brakes when it became apparent the light was going to turn red and she wasn’t going to make it.  The bus jolted forward as the brakes were applied, and from the bathroom in back we heard a very loud “Whoooaaaaa” followed with a long drawn out, “Whaaaat the fuuuuuck!?”

It was Two Pints. He was still in the bathroom. The entire bus began laughing out loud.

Knowing he had been drinking heavy, I was likely the only one who wondered if he had actually been vomiting in there. In which case, the sudden lurch forward of the bus could have forced his head right into the toilet bowl, while the blue chemical liquid laced urine and poo would have washed all over his face…

Five minutes later, Two Pints emerged from the latrine, a bit embarrassed and shaken, and now seemingly cleaned off.

In and unusual move, the other Greyhound bus that many of us needed to transfer onto, actually waited for us and didn’t leave despite our 20 minute tardiness. We hurriedly entered the other bus where a bunch of disgruntled passengers were already seated, waiting to leave.

By the time Two Pints got on the bus he couldn’t seem to find himself a seat, and ended up having to sit directly behind the drivers seat. I shuddered at this move and almost felt like motioning him to come sit back here with me, as I’ve seen it before with the alcoholics aboard, one whiff of whisky breath and you’re thrown off the Hound.  I thought he was a goner for sure as the bus driver entered , sat at the stern and began pulling out of the station while stupid Two Pints started talking to the driver in his loopy half drunk manner, not to mention the whiskey stench.  But when nothing happened and the driver didn’t give him the boot from the bus, this further convinced me that the chemical blue face-wash had indeed occurred, as it likely had caused a masking effect to the alcoholic odor.

I actually talked to Two Pints outside at our next stop about the quick breaking bathroom incident, but all he would say about it in a still semi drunk demeanor was, “that sucked… that really, really sucked”.

I noticed a thin wallet with a bill or two sticking out of his back pocket practically screaming for a pickpocket. And here Two Pints was headed for downtown Detroit, 10pm at night, half drunk. Jesus.

I finally got off the Hound back in Southfield,  9 plus hours after I’d boarded, and it felt as if I had traveled back all the way from New York City, and not the relatively close Chicago. But that’s The Hound.

It was Monday night and I thought about how Kenny had likely just finished up his very first day of Truckin’ School…

Miguel Vargus, Florida, 5th bust, going back for more time

[If you wish to see Eli in one of his other roles, he has a Vimeo channel and you can find him on Facebook as well.]

Eli Elliott

The last time I saw Eli was in Tampa, back in the spring, just after I’d returned to USA, and was doing some screenings and such to round up some bucks.   He’d driven down there, slowly, losing his traveling companion, a cat, in some trailer home place near St Louis.  He was staying in Tampa at a place someone in the family had.   We had a Mexican meal downtown and he gave me a ride back to my friend Charles Lyman, out by a river.   I got some pics of him and his rig:

Eli’s bumper ornamentEli rides again (with his minimo-x)

On my trip I had occasion to take the bus a few times – from Nashville to Knoxville, and from Owatonna, Minnesota to Omaha, and, back in 2002, when I’d returned from 10 years out of the country, I took one from Tampa to Columbus, SC.  Talking with Eli I described the experience as riding with “the other America.”    Not the same folks as the planes, for sure.   As it happens his rolling converted emergency vehicle has mechanical problems, and recently his father, in Detroit, had a heart attack, so to go up to see him and perhaps be of help, he took the bus.  He sent me and some other a “collective  send” about it and I liked a lot and asked if I could print here.  So here’s installment one.   Later he’ll be heading to Boise, Idaho.

THE GREYHOUND CHRONICLES (1)

I’m back on the Hound for now, possibly on/off for next 2-3 months. As some have mentioned in the past that they’ve  missed my Greyhound stories (2 or 3 people) I present them as they unravel, via email for the selected. Please email back “SPARE ME” if not wanted. A brief update on other things in general I will also squeeze in between, but for now here’s a first string of notes and ramblings from THE GREYHOUND, also called by friend Jon, “The Other America”.

ST. PETE TO SOUTHFIELD

 (36 Hours – Fri. Night Depart – Sun. Morning Arrive. Numerous 1-5 hour Bus Station layovers involved)

 Our Coach, outside Atlanta, I think…

PART 1 :  “GARY”

“PFFT.. YEAH RIGHT..”

Upon arrival at the Tampa Florida bus terminal on the first short stretch of otherwise long Greyhound travel to Southfield Michigan, our Greyhound driver informed us that our under the bus bags would be automatically shuffled over to the proper coach in which we were transferring onto. I turned around to the guy behind me muttering a mocking comment at the announcement.

This baggage shuffle routine is notorious for scenarios where folks show up at their final destination only to discover their bags hadn’t followed them. 36 hours later I would  meet such a guy who’d been traveling the same route as I, and upon arrival, was 1 bag shy. “Goddamnit now I’m gonna have to deal with a shitload of red tape tryin’ to git my damn bag back”

In the meantime my knee jerk mutterings landed to the ears of the guy behind me. A guy named GARY.

Around 60, very worn face, full beard with nicotine stained ‘stache, Gary had some trouble reading the departure times on his ticket and asked if I could help. Gary was on his way to Boston, where he had a Doctors appointment scheduled.  I noticed on his forearm what looked liked a ping pong ball stuffed under his skin, which expanded and further disguised the image of his dull, faded green forearm tattoo.

While in Boston Gary also hoped to visit his only son who was a HELLS ANGEL, the Sergeant of Arms for that particular chapter, and who was currently incarcerated, awaiting court proceedings where it looked as though he could be facing a life sentence. We never discussed the crime and I knew better than to ask, since Gary wouldn’t have let on anyway if it was Angels related, which I suspected. His sons ordeal clearly pained Gary and while passing by freeway lights in the 3 am near pitch black bus I’d catch glimpses of him wiping his eyes when the conversation came back to his boy.

Me and Gary would end up talking throughout most of the night, and into the beginnings of the next day.

Gary was one of those unsummed American hellraisers who had lived a wild life consisting of muscle cars, motorcycles, frequent intoxications and numerous stints inside prisons; “workouts” he would call his time inside. The worn face had marked his own cheats on death, many of which he told me, while at the same time signified the now potentially soon arrival towards death.  I told him it sounded like he’s had a helluva ride. Upon reflection, “Well, yeah, I sure did have a lotta fun (in life)”.

He lived a far and wide life as well. From workin’ an oil rig in Texas to the pipeline gig in Alaska to Los Angeles drug running via Maui, and to what he called “Gypsy Asphalting” which consisted of working for a group of con men who would  lay down asphalt every month in a different state; as Gary explained: “after a month, all the asphalt we laid would eventually come back up, but by then we’d be moved on to another state doin’ it all over again…”  Gypsy Asphaltin’.

None of this was bravado, but more humble. His stories unfolded natural, with a bit of subtle prying on my part. This needs to be said as many Hound riders can be compulsive in their braggart story tellings.  Gary would’ve been just some guy with a doctors appointment had I not listened and shown some interest which he picked up on.

Before hopping aboard the Hound, I had just learned that the movie premiere of Kerouacs novel ON THE ROAD was screening somewhere tonight. Rather than having gone see it I realized I was celebrating it by undertaking Jack’s favorite form of travel, the Greyhound Bus. And I was meeting Gary who provided his own verbal rambling novella, and would likely never have a movie made on him, though probably could, maybe should, but no, never would.

A glimpse of Gary

PART 2 :  “BOB”

Swaggering steady through the Tampa bus terminal was a man with a full suit on, yet the tie was undone, the shirt unbuttoned, and the hair disheveled; a bad day on Wall Street perhaps. But since this was a Friday  in Western Florida, inside a Greyhound Bus terminal nearing midnight, Bob’s story was a bit different.

Bob, 70, was headed all the way back to El Centro California where he owned 100 acres in the desert, 12 miles from the Mexico border.  He prided himself in his sharing of the land, by allowing travelers or passer throughs to stay there for a bit while he would feed and fix meals for them. “And I’m not talking no rice and beans…When I prepare a meal for someone…I prepare a MEAL.”  Bob talked to me further about his willingness to help out folks due to his own on edge situation and not knowing how much longer he had in life to live, and not having anyone to really give the land to as an inheritance when he was gone. So I guess he was giving a little of it to everyone while he was still alive.

The journey ahead of Bob was a ridiculous 3 or 4 day Greyhound ordeal shooting him in all kinds of roundabout directions, anything from the straight shot route one would think to travel to Southern California if looking at a map. And one wondered, if his suit and disheveledness as it was after only day 1, what would become of Bob after a day 3 or 4. Would he even make it.

That thought became stronger as he held up his only carry on luggage which was a casino plastic bag which had the advertisement image of  hundreds of clumped together dollar bills on the front along with the name of the casino.

“This is my pharmacy”, he told me. Dozens of various medications filled the plastic bag as Bob described his ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease to a number of psychological conditions.

Bob had been in southern Florida visiting some relatives but also settling an insurance claim in which he had just yesterday received 7 thousand dollars for.  It had involved a car that had hit Bob while he was on his bicycle last June. Bob had threatened to sue for 250,000 dollars and ensured the insurance company that his story would be printed in every major news publication in the United States.  He said the company then offered up the 7 grand settlement the very next day. Bob took it.

On smoke breaks Bob would heatedly argue with Greyhound employees who would tell him he couldn’t smoke outside the building and had to go to the designated area. “This is public space…I can smoke right here where I’m at.” One time a nearby policeman was called in and threatened to arrest Bob in 2 seconds if he came back out here to smoke. “HA – Yeah and  then I’d be out after 2 minutes officer”.  The cop stupidly retorted for the sake of stupidly retorting, “No you’d be in for 2 weeks.. and you’d miss your bus.”

Later I would look for Bob to ask him for his address if I was ever that far South when in California. But when I found Bob he was already seated on board his next bus which was about to leave. I told myself and for some reason felt confident that all I’d have to do was go to El Centro and I would somehow run into Bob within an hour or so.

“Bob”

PART  3 :  “STRANDED STRANGER AND THE LITTLE K EPISODE”

A little town in Tennessee we pulled into to have our 10 minute break at a small convenience store. Grab some food or smoke a cig then rush back onto the bus.    And back aboard the all too familiar post 10 minute break scene begins to unfold; once all settled in and the bus takes off down the road, an object or two will be noticed on a now vacant seat, and the question arises “wasn’t there someone sitting there like 10 minutes ago”?

In this case a lone pillow remaining on a now vacant seat told the nightmare scenario of a passenger getting left behind during our 10 minute break. I’ve seen it happen a number of times in the past and not once did the driver attempt to turn around. This time was no different as the drivers denial response upon telling her was “people leave pillows behind all the time”.

A few minutes later we discover what we determine to be the guys backpack in the overhead rack. At our next passenger pickup stop 25 minutes down the road, the driver must’ve gotten a call as she had to, coldly, confess, “Yeah he got left…”  Left in the middle of Tennessee at some convenient store.

But there was now a new situation emerging in the form of a 5 foot 1, 20 something year old Korean girl. She was getting on the bus as a new passenger but there was some squabbling outside over her ticket that apparently she hadn’t fully paid for. It was all unclear what the situation was all about, but the driver seemed to allow her entry and began aggravatingly throwing her bags inside the lower luggage compartment, but then little Korean gal began yelling and grabbing the driver trying to prevent the bags from going in for whatever reason. After the grabbing the driver took her bags out from underneath and then refused her entry on the bus altogether. The driver then quickly tried to drive off which prompted Little K to throw herself in front of the bus causing the driver to brake as not to hit her. She then would give a little gas, go forward a few inches hoping to prompt her out of the way. Little K didn’t budge.

A standoff ensued.

The Standoff…

It was Little K standing firmly in front of our bus and the driver becoming infuriated not knowing what to do, knowing she was stuck. Back and forth yelling occurred and I of course attempted to film the event whereas the driver became pissed at me shouting, “Stop filming this.. I don’t want to be on YouTube!” I lowered my camera but then raised it back up.

Passengers started getting unruly as they worried about missing their transfers and such. Some racist humor was also attempted. One comment from a guy in front was, “Not to be rude, but CHINA is in the other direction”. From the back of the bus another comment was something to effect of “problem with these damn Chinese people is you can’t understand em”.

The Tennessee cops arrived and diffused the situation by coaxing Little K out from her standoff position, and then oddly explained to her how she was smaller than the bus and wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact of a large moving vehicle while standing in front of it.

Within 30 minutes this driver had managed to leave a guy behind in the middle of Tennessee and allow a situation to explode into a complete standstill requiring police intervention.

 

PART 4 : BRIEF/RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

-AN AMISH FAMILY, man/woman, small boy, smaller girl and an elder male, all in full Amish regalia including the 2 small children hats and all, on board the Greyhound. We  take an exit around midnight in Tennessee and pass by a BP gas station, go a couple hundred more yards, pull into the Sonoma Farm store and there waiting is a horse tied to a post with a carriage attached to horse. The Amish exit, the elder waves bye to the rest, turns and disappears into the night while the woman and children enter the carriage and man dismounts horse from post and they begin there sojourn home. Various contrasts enter mind, i.e the passing of BP gas contrasted by a tied up waiting horse powered unit only short distance away; the presence of Amish aboard the gas guzzlin’ Greyhound in the first place; the Amish dress, in particular the woman and young baby girls ridiculous head dress which seemingly blinded their view from left and right and I wondered if it was more symbolism than function.

-NO ONE CARES ANYMORE/HONESTY EMERGES. The whole Greyhound system running off of a surprising theme of blunt honesty; everyone is miserable and they don’t bother hiding it anymore. No one wants to be here, passengers and in particular the drivers as after my first stretch our driver didn’t try to hide his comments to the greasy spoon bus station cashier as he ordered 2 big burgers to fight off his famine as he repeated slow and a bit too serious “..it took EVERYTHING I HAD IN ME, to make this run tonight…”

Two other incidents, separate bus station cafeterias, one cashier admitting to all within earshot that buying the overpriced food here was “highway robbery”, the other made sure to inform me to “keep that coffee cup, bring it with you to every stop and you can get a 25 cent refill, they don’t want us telling you that but I always tell everyone that during these times…otherwise you have to pay another 2 dolla’s…you keep that cup..”

And that cup I may just try to keep for all future trips. Next is a Chicago round trip.

Eli on the road.

A big thanks to Eli for letting me publish this and I look forward to the next installments.  If you wish to see Eli in one of his roles, he has a Vimeo channel and  you can find him on Facebook as well.

Downtown Madrid

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.

.

Hieronymous Bosch, The Temptation of St. Anthony

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.

Your, Nathaniel

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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.

.

Castle, La Coruna
Praxa Maria Pita, Coruna


Dear folks,

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

Nathaniel  *****

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.
Love,   Sailor

Marisca

6.06

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.

San Francisco in fog

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.

Paramount Theater, Oakland Ca.Cathedral Building, Oakland Ca.Paramount Theater, interior

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.

From Nathaniel’s most newest film, The ReturnThe Return

[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

Water seeking its level

Following the earlier Back Steps and Wood, the next of Leighton’s digital works expands on the aesthetics he was developing for this media, while the subject remained the same – the magical realm of childhood, and of the growing consciousness therein.  Water seeking its level, seen from one aspect, is again as simple as the earlier two works – a young boy stands in a rushing stream, the water dazzling, the rush of sound immersing us in some mystical world of impressionist’s color.  The back yard has moved to a park in southern France (though we don’t know this and little beyond the not-Iowa colors at the stream’s bottom suggests it, and the title note “St. Pons”).  Leighton swiftly orients us with his musician’s use of sound: we hear a rush of water, of a few steps into it  – audibly instantly recognizable, though the imagery which comes next is a swirl of abstraction which the sound “describes” and gives us our bearing.   A fluid passage of color quickly delineates the essential elements – a young boy’s leg, his touseled blonde hair, the boy’s feet standing as the water distorts them and the stream’s floor into a dazzle of color, a hand thrusting down, grabbing beneath the water and then holding a small stone, his small voice saying, “Daddy, look.”  

Daddy has indeed been looking, and looking deeply – not only at the little scene before him, but at the tools he is using to depict it.  Here a flourish of rich muted reds, modulated by the optical warping of water, blonde flesh and hair, are shown, but by the artist’s intervention with how he uses the camera and editing techniques he transforms the mundane into the cosmic in the most gentle and unpretentious of manners  (though using no corny “effects” menu items – all is done  organically directly with the image itself, in a manner more akin to a graphic artist’s multiple printing of the same basic image – say, see a series of woodcuts of Munch’s Madonna, or lithographs by Helen Frankenthaler).  The image caresses his son, the nape of his neck, his arm and leg, and embraces him in what is transparently a parent’s love.   Daddy is looking passionately.

And listening.  The water rushes by, the child’s hand is immersed in it, and his small voice comments how cold it is; the hand makes the water leap, and then clenches, the water stopped, and with it the sound.  Gentle hints of water drips, and in the subdued quiet slowly sound of liquid rushing builds, presaging a cut to the lip of a small waterfall, presented in almost pure abstraction but instantly identifiable.   And then slowly this crisp rush of water dissolves into a muted image not so readily understood – debris settling to the bottom of a lake?  Or….  it is snow, falling gently to the branches of a tree.  Water, in its varying forms, seeking its level.

Water seeking its level is a cinematic poem of a disarming simplicity of “content” which expands out to suggest the whole of a life,  our whole universe.  It is awash in love and stunningly beautiful.  Technically it is simply masterful in all aspects from its seemingly casual camera work, to its hidden and dazzling editing of both image and sound.  In five minutes it compacts, with a complete lack of pretentiousness or ponderousness, a whole poetics of life – its beginning, its future, its meaning.

Never once saying so, or pointing to the metaphoric possibilities of its primal source in water, Leighton’s film is drenched with the pathos of love, of our being here, of a parent’s deepest feelings and sensibilities for his child.   This is what makes this small five minute cinematic poem so rich, along with its truly masterful aesthetic and technical control.   He does not say so except in purely poetic terms, but within this joyous work there is the acknowledgement of Heraclitus’ wisdom:

πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης”
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei … kai … dis es ton auton potamon ouk an embaies
“Everything changes and nothing remains still …. and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”



Hendrik ter Brugghen, Heraclitus

With Evaporation Leighton extends this theme, in which vapor and fog collude invisibly to suggest the ephemerality of childhood and youth, and by implication, life itself.   Here a young boy, who in this brief film becomes a young man, is seen looking out a window toward the sea, then near a harbor, walking on a pier, then gazing from the rails of a small ship.  A rush of liquid abstractly rushes over a fall, the shifting fractals of waves move mysteriously, a boat sets out from the mouth of a river into the hazy infinity beyond.   The boy looks pensively from the deck of a boat, the water rushing swiftly by.  And we return to the window which looks out upon the sea, now empty.



Evaporation

In a second passage we find the boy in a field, with grasses lit by the sun, on a pathway glistening with wetness.  He hesitates, turning to look towards the camera, and then turns to go forward.   Our gaze is directed to the swaying, wave-like motion of the grasses, from which emerges, in another time and seemingly place, a glimpse of a grown boy, seen intermittently, walking away.  His image at first is lost in the blurred shifting of foliage, and then we see him, clearly older, and, with a painful poignancy, receding to the distance, taking off upon his own life.  It is a father’s poetic farewell to his son, who now is on the path of his life, receding from the parental embrace, lighting out to his fate.   With Evaporation Leighton Pierce gracefully acknowledges this parting, and the film is a gesture of pure love, lovingly crafted, and a profound gift to both his son, and to us.

In a culture besotted with celebrity and bombast, where artists are advised, whether directly, or by the insistence of the clamor of the world around them, that to be heard they must make a grand splash with aggression and transgression, Leighton Pierce – like Nathaniel Dorsky – offers instead a counter-current of beauty and love of the world expressed in the greatest gentility.


Happiness

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

                                      Raymond Carver

[I am happy to relate that after 20 some years at the University of Iowa, Leighton is taking over the reins of the Media and Film Department of Pratt Institute in NYC.  I hope being in the vortex of America’s creative navel he’ll finally get the attention long overdue to him.  I hope to hell one of the major museums finally gives him the space to put up some of his extraordinary installation works.]

[Series to be continued as time permits.]

Lightening over Madrid

5.31        yes yes yes
Last night was fun in that we had a dramatic thunder and lightening storm for many hours.  I kept my glass door open to the little balcony and a big towel on the floor so I could enjoy the energy of it all.   So much fun, lying in the semi-dark. This morning was almost a little chilly.  One could have worn a pull-over but not really.  I took a walk in a new (for me) section of Madrid a few major avenues over from my normal routes as I was going to another important museum which the internet Miss Informed of it being open on Monday…   The Academy.    The avenue it is on is so grand and noble that I am glad I was forced into seeing the city. The buildings along it, and on other smaller circular squares nearby are so wonderfully and childishly imaginative that you cannot stop smiling upon coming upon them.  The day was perfect as the sky was dark and low but the a strong fill light was coming in under the heavy cover.  This made everything seen, seen at its best.  The buildings have facades which contour with the public space they face. Some curved beautifully or wedged or sometimes forming a series of curved shapes one after the other.  The real joy is the over the top sense of grandiosity and power.  When are they from?…  The 1920’s or so?  They are designed like a kid let loose in a soda fountain and allowed to pile on all the ingredients gravity could bear.  Huge, and I mean huge, chariots pulled by sets of four horses, riding on top of huge gold orbs that are resting on wedding cake columns and presenting angels, winged naked woman, puti two stories high, parapets medieval or more English ornate gothic flamboyance, etc, etc…  So many of them and so crazy with grandeur.   I guess a lot of them are banks or other government facilities. There seems to be no over riding style that I can name, only how many things can one pile up to the point right before falling over. Very very charming, at least to me.

The morning was a  battle between rain and sun with sun sparkling showers, dark pouring moments,  and glistening cobbles.  I took shelter under a long, long canopy of fully mature sycamores that went on for blocks interspersed with public fountains, statues, etc.  These trees in late May are so deeply green and the barks so alive with the multitudes of grays and and browns and yellows.  They so transmute the light into healthy air, nutrition for themselves, and a deep psychic peace for the creatures that move through and under them.  A zone of  green aura’d air and light.   Then the rain took the day, or I should say, the hour, as now it is quite hot and sunny,  and I went into the modern museum again.

They have a wonderful collection of French poetry/artist books and seem to specialize in surrealism and cubism.  There are also rooms of  Spanish contemporaries we know so much less of.  God, I wish I could be hired to patrol museums and give tickets, if not jail sentences, to curators.  They need to be policed!!  Don’t they know the unpleasantness of threesomes in bed?   Perhaps they are from another more prudent age.  I mean, does every room of paintings have to be  overwhelmed with audio from either audio sculptures (I prefer the ball game) or sound tracks from early surrealist films dvd’d onto white walls in the wrong ratios in broad daylight.   Think of Miro with Tristan blaring and you get the picture. That in itself should be a 4,000 euro fine.  But, I have fun complaining, as actually the museum is wonderful and full of spaciously presented things and the crowd of  all nations, a respectful and fun to look at joy.  None of that DIN which dominates the Modern in NY.  Guards who actually ask people to speak more quietly, can you believe that… and they do.

I have learned so much about painting this trip…  so much… from all periods…   but always the same thing:  there are those that show and then there are those that are… I have put my money on the ares….

Well I am back in my hotel room taking a rest.  I know people here are waiting for night time as so many walk and talk the entire night through till dawn hits the sky.  I had heard about it, but so nice to experience.   Well, tomorrow at 8pm is my first show.

Love,  Nick

I share Nathaniel’s amazement and amusement at the outsized grandiosity of the ornamentation decorating – if that’s what one can consider things so huge – the buildings in the center of Madrid.  Rather wacky, but strangely, despite the melange of styles piled on top of each other on such a scale, enjoyable and fun.  Makes you smile.  They in their fashion seem to have been doing “post-modern” about a hundred and more years ago.

May 31  a PS to yesterday

Dear Folks,

I finally (the fifth night of being here) fell asleep through the night.  It was the same in Rotterdam, four almost sleepless nights before I was able to move the arms of my clock into a relatively synchronous position.  This morning I have awoken at 7am.  The internet which seems to go off about 10pm every night has not yet gone on… at least the hotel guest connection.  (Ahh, I see it now goes on at 8am)   I notice that across the street from me there are some working offices, and at least there, people seem to work till 10pm and then, I imagine go home or out for diner.  There are so many cafes here…  tables spread out onto wide sidewalks and plazas everywhere and many, many of the city streets given over to pedestrians.  Most of them seem full all day long.  Are people just waiting for the night?   It seems that way. (Please excuse my complete out sidedness of all this).

Upon waking at seven (finally the streets are quiet…  the vampire tradition of running for cover with the first dawn of the sun seems quite real here) I wanted to say a sentence or two more about the work I saw at the Reina Sofia, the modern art museum I spoke of yesterday.   Oddly enough, their collection of early 20th century art was most touching to me in their coverage of the Paris scene and people who painted or wrote poetry there, and especially those whose social relationship seemed to be painting/poetry.  As I mentioned, their collection displayed of little books of poetry illustrated by painters was so moving.  Of course, we in SF are so fortunate to have experienced this often at our Legion of Honor.

But besides this there is a very nice room of Miro and other mixed rooms of Picabia and Schwitters etc.  They have many rooms completely full with paintings by Dali.  There are one or two that are really excellent and truly successful as “dream” landscape.  These seem in the spirit of Yves Tanguey.  One,  I liked so much, but I cannot remember the name of,  from the early 30’s….  perhaps when the internet goes on I can find it.  It is kind of painting that inspired Kate Sage (the wife of  Tanguey…excuse my early morning memory and spelling skills)…    a large abstract shape, rising into a gorgeously painted sky of the strangest of mixed colors.  The perspective goes way, way back to some blue mountains with some populace and in the semi-foreground before the large shape is the most subtle depiction of a small rock on the smooth surface of the earth its  most touchingly subtle shadow. This one painting for me made it with two other whole rooms of more showy works which again where “showing (off)” rather than being.  It is interesting that paradoxically, to genuinely include yourself you have to be completely absent (I mean so that there is space to see all there is including self) and to include the self by including the self it pop all potential for depth and transmutation.  I know these things maybe self-evident, but it is the main theme I am experiencing in seeing all these glorious paintings here in Madrid.

I am ashamed to say that I did not check out the two or three floors of contemporary work….    black and white photos of spray painted grave stones and other such politically poignant knee jerking.  I know this is not good on my part as in Cinema…  if one never saw any experimental film but only knew the more classic cannon, I would say one was missing something very vital (overwhelmed of course by hideous works in those areas).    Well enough of me, me, me for the moment…  I guess being here alone and without my Bolex has put my excess energy into writing these emails.  Perhaps in the future I should travel with my camera and not my macbook.

Love to you,  Nath

Dali

6.01  rolling on

dear friends and lovers….    The film curator from the Reina Sofia came to the show and seemed blown away and tonight the curator from the Madrid Cinematheque will come…  so maybe there is a chance of return…      show was DEEPLY appreciated by the audience. I only wish the projection was a little better…   book selling really well and talk of a Spanish translation…  went to the Academy museum yesterday and saw more Goya….     this place is just too much for painting…   no time to write as I have to bathe and meet someone in the lobby here at the hotel.

love to you  from the hot blue days of spain  n.

more of you can take it… be well

Dear Friends,

Today I went to the Thyssen Museum here. They seemed to have started collecting in the 1980’s and have spent more money than the entire populace of the USA just on paintings.  I wonder who their buyer was. Now, finally, I am truly humbled.  Just when I thought I was getting some sense of what Madrid had to offer in terms of painting, I go to this museum opposite the Prado and come upon more paintings than I ever seen in my life.  From Duccio, Piero della Francesca, Memling, Breugles (real ones)  etc. through all the Dutch painters we know so well, there must be 6 Jacob von R’s, to the entire 19th and 20th century of French painting, including pre-Paris van Goghs and gorgeous impressionists, through to the Americans of Gorky, Rothko, Pollack,  even Clifford Still, boxes by Cornell, great box-like collages by Schwitters, and amazing  Hopper of a sail boat passing a sea-gulled sand bar off Wellfleet to all the Russian avant-gardists, to the cubists (and I must step gladly on my own tongue to say they have some Gris to make Picasso kneel) and Mondrian and great Klee’s on and on and on and on…..   three floors, all wall painted a salmon pink (you truly do start to go mad), room after room after room after room after room and this not one of my usual exaggerations.  I think more paintings than exist in NYC all together, just in this one place which sits in the shadow of the Prado….  I mean one would have to spend two weeks here to take it in without sublime-rectangle-syndrome causing an unmovable scar from the psyche.

What is so sweet here, which have not mentioned at all are the school groups touring all the museums of have been to.  So often one sees 20 or so 4 or 5 years olds sitting on the floor, raising their hands and being coached on by the most loving for female teachers.  It is so touching you could cry.  And then, of course, their are the adolescents going crazy with lack of concentration, but the woman who lecture to them are so alive and humorous and intelligent.  I saw a group get won over to a Rothko and Mondrian by one these super loving guides to beauty.  The small kids, though, are to die for.  I have only seen this in France, but here there seems to be more love in the whole thing, rather than learning the manners of vanity.  Oh well…..   the Spanish seem to have true sense of the value of culture.Tonight is my second show.  There will be a TV interview of a half  hour or less before hand for the government public station that will be broadcast next week.  And what is amusing, an interview before that from the right wing newspaper and then tomorrow from the left wing paper.  I have been told by most hosts that it is better for the arts in Spain when the right wing is in charge because they do not meddle with the arts. (I am prepared to talk of the nobility of montage).   When the left gets in they begin to tell the arts organizations what to do, ie. show more Swedish films as we have many tourists from there…. they are obviously better capitalists. ( I am prepared to speak to them of the lack of hierarchy in my montage). So if I have enough energy for all this, I hope to do a good job.   And I hope I can improve the projection a little.  I will also see how many more books I can sell…  I may hit thirty here in Madrid alone (and there is more talk of a Spanish translation).  And as I mentioned the curators from the Reina Sofia and Madrid Cinematheque will be present…  the former deeply loved the work last night).

The day is crisp and clear.  I do not know if I can look at another painting.  The street and many many promenades are quite walkable and there is a place to sit down and have something every 20 feet, so  survival is possible. Tomorrow at four I fly to A Coruna and then train to Santiago..  and have three shows.

Love to you (before I drop),  Nathaniel

Juan Gris greets Nathaniel

[More letters to follow.]

I hope these little informal glimpses into the sensibility of an artist like Nathaniel are as delightful and informative to some readers as they are to me.    As his friend it has of course a different caste for me, but I think his spirit, which is lovely, spills out clearly from these words, and I am happy he agreed to let me put them here.

Nathaniel in Rembrandt Laughing, 1987Nathaniel’s feet and miso soup

16th Century helmet, Landeszeughaus, Graz

Leighton tells me we met in a bar in Iowa City back when I had long hair.   I am not certain when that would be, but a long time ago – it’s been a long time since I had much hair, much less long.  In any event I don’t recall it, but I suppose there’s a lot of bars and what went on in them that I don’t recall.  1985 or so he says.

I do remember meeting him in Graz, Austria, during some kind of little media festival, in 1996 or 7.  What I recall mostly of that, aside from the provincial charm of this small university city, is that the lady who organized it asked for and got a mess of my old VHS tapes (long ago !) and never returned them, despite a few repeated requests to do so.  And also going to a wonderful museum there full of old armor, since Graz once long ago was a maker of medieval armor.  Hundreds of clanging knight’s costumes, lances, helmets – an entire vast warehouse of them.  Very impressive and told a lot about our societies.   It helped me understand Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac much better.

I was showing London Brief, my first foray into DV, and Leighton was showing his 16mm 50 Feet of String.  I don’t recall too much of the films shown, but only of having a little chance to talk with him, and liking him a lot.  I think I asked him to send me some of his films, which he did.   He was still working in celluloid, and finished Glass afterward.  After it – a marvelous film, a near magical summation of true filmic intelligence – he switched to DV.    See this article which I wrote for Senses of Cinema almost ten years ago (2002) for some thoughts on Glass and other earlier work.

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The Back Steps

The first time I saw The Back Steps I was unable to understand or figure out what I was seeing for a few minutes.  There was a flurry of gorgeous color, movement, the murmur of wind-chimes and distant voices, perhaps the sound of ocean waves.    The colors shifted, and a blackout came, and then in variations these colors returned and slowly I discerned it was two little girls sitting on the steps of a porch in some kind of costumes, Halloween or something.  They began to stand, sat again, and were interrupted repeatedly by long blackouts.   Each time they seemed to rustle more, advancing a bit further in time; voices of very young children became faintly audible, and finally they actually stood and went a bit into the yard, and then were restrained by an even longer blackout, and finally they went into the yard where one could see some people gathered at a barbeque.   It was so devastatingly simple, a single shot shown again and again, but modulated exquisitely.  Unlike most structuralist films, which might use a similar repetition, this one does not feel mechanical or cold, but instead gently builds a tension, and leaves a space in which the anxiety and excitement of childhood is opened for the viewer.  The little child inside us is full of wonder at the black space before us, the adventure that this little backyard party offers.  Life unfolds and beckons.  Leighton Pierce captures this in the most subtle of artistic manners.

The Back Steps was his first DV film, and unlike most others, who used this new camera technology merely as a substitute for a film camera – which for some years begot comments from ignorant critics about the gritty/ugly nature of digital video – Leighton immediately saw that this instrument and its aesthetics were entirely another thing, and he promptly exploited it to gorgeous effect. Of those who used digital video as ersatz film and made substandard work with it, it had solely to do with them and their failures, and not with the medium at hand.

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Diego Velazquez

What Leighton seized upon was the flexibility of digital video cameras which allowed, among other possibilities, using a slow shutter speed, and in tandem with the nature of computer editing systems opened up a kind of painterly imagery simply not possible in celluloid.   I had, in varying ways, done much the same myself, finding in this new tool a kind of liberation, not only fiscally, but aesthetically.  To see Leighton so quickly and decisively perceive this, and then to immediately be able to execute a work far removed from his prior cinema, yet using all he’d learned before, was as a spectator, enthralling.  Here was someone who really understood.  This sense of excitement was no doubt amplified by the long trail of negative discussions I’d had with many filmmakers, some of them friends, who regarded digital video as some kind of lesser thing than celluloid.   It was in a way as if I had found a missing brother.

His next work in DV was another deceptively modest piece entitled Wood.  Ironically I have used this film as an example of how digital video can be, within its limits, just as good or even better than 16mm if one is looking for resolution, detail and clarity.  Though this film, too, is also uniquely digital in its aesthetics.

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Wood

Wood is a film of utter simplicity and brevity,  a poem of a kind of childhood domestic bliss.  Through the distortions of the heat of a fire we glimpse very briefly a young boy, looking out a window.  A black out.  Along the way we hear the crackle of fire, and later various other sounds – the sawing of wood, a creaking noise, the gurgle of water coming from a hose, wind-chimes, the snapping of a dried branch.  Interspersed with blackouts and some fades, we are shown a kind of family-snapshot sequence of a boy sawing wood, water dripping off a table, a chair rocking, glimpses of someone walking, a swing describing an arc.  Described, it is almost nothing and I suppose most would be hard-pressed to see such a scene and imagine anything could be there beyond the most mundane of things.  But Leighton is a fine-tuned poet of this world, and what he sees, and how he sees it, and then orchestrates it in time, and composes the sounds for his images makes this ordinary backyard scene anything but ordinary.  He does not use the actual sound, but records sound as its own process and very carefully composes it so that every sound is distinct and chosen,  in such a way that it amplifies the imagery in a sense by counter-point.  And his use of sound is such that when he makes a blackout, we find our ears in a state of heightened awareness hearing the most discreet of sounds when no image is on screen.  A visual/audio counterpoint that enhances both senses.  Likewise his sense of detail, of what he shows us, makes a kind of miraculous mosaic out of the seemingly most ordinary of things.  And his editing of these simple elements is truly exquisite, bringing the two elements of sound and image together into a delicate minuet of time.  I like to show this film to my students for a lesson in how to see, how to show, how to edit.  I doubt they get it, to tell the truth.  Too sublime.  No crashing cars.

In these two films, Leighton Pierce works small, and they are like gems, perfectly cut.   They do not press themselves upon you, but rather invite you in.   For all their simplicity they bear repeated viewings, each time revealing some new facet.  Only art of a very high order does this.

THE GRASS so little has to do,—
A sphere of simple green,
With only butterflies to brood,
And bees to entertain,

And stir all day to pretty tunes
The breezes fetch along,
And hold the sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything;

And thread the dews all night, like pearls,
And make itself so fine,—
A duchess were too common
For such a noticing.

And even when it dies, to pass
In odors so divine,
As lowly spices gone to sleep,
Or amulets of pine.

And then to dwell in sovereign barns,
And dream the days away,—
The grass so little has to do,
I wish I were a hay!

                                 Emily Dickenson

In some more days (or weeks it seems) I’ll continue this, moving on to some of his subsequent works, which gain in complexity, as well as his installations which perhaps thanks to his being located in the alleged cultural wasteland of the mid-west, have only been seen “out in fly-over land.”  A pity since they are the best installations I’ve ever seen, by far, making the big names of that realm look small and empty despite their usual bombast.  He deserves a setting like MoMA or the Tate Modern.  So far he got the basement of the University of Iowa Museum. 

To contact Leighton go to his web-site at www.leightonpierce.com, or to see his work on-line, go to this.

Triste, by Nathaniel Dorsky

Nathaniel Dorsky Retrospective at the Rotterdam International Film Festival

January 27th 28th 29th 30th 31st
Five shows in person and then the cycle will be repeated in a  slightly different order for five more days beginning on February 1st.  Approximate time for all shows: 4pm

Thursday, January 27th and repeated on Tuesday, February 1st
Titled: The Two Sides of Light

Variations
Pneuma
Love’s Refrain

FridayJanuary 28th and repeated on Wednesday, February 2nd
Titled: Songs of the Earth

A Fall Trip Home
Alaya
Arbor Vitae

Saturday, January 29th and repeated on Saturday, February 5th
Titled: Songs of Another Time

Song and Solitude
Pastourelle
Threnody
The Visitation

Sunday, January 30th and repeated on Friday, February 4th
Titled: The Late Quartet

Sarabande
Compline
Aubade
Winter

Monday, January 31st and repeated on Thursday, February 3rd,
Titled: The Hours and the Days

Triste
Hours for Jerome

Link for Rotterdam Festival

I met Nathaniel sometime in the mid-1980’s, when moving back to the Bay Area which I’d lived in during the late 1960’s and start of the 70’s. Back then he was already a fixture in the San Francisco film world, known for his films (17 Reasons Why, Alaya, Pneuma), but also for being a “film doctor.”   He was famed for his uncanny capacity to be able rescue a film, so that if someone shot a hopeless mess, he could give it a once over, find some editorial thread, and stitch it together, if not into gold, at least into something watchable, and if the stuff was there to do the trick, maybe more.  He was pretty busy at this trade.

I frankly don’t recall how we met – I assume some modest film event, but I really don’t remember. What I do remember is becoming his dealer – well, a kind of dealer. As a bottom-of-the-fiscal-barrel filmmaker I had a habit of buying up cheap, out-of-date, or otherwise odd or undesirable film stocks. When I had a weird emulsion, or old film carton and can, Nick would eagerly snap it up.  Or I gave it to him.  He was a kind of celluloid fetishist, enamored of the actual stuff – the celluloid base, the emulsion, the label, the can.  I was just a crude opportunist looking to save some money I didn’t have, and he was a lover of the stuff.  He tells me Triste was made of those rolls he got from me.  He would hand process stock, and in one of my own films he gave me a minute of outs of some beautiful hand-processed work, flashing blue.  Also some sections of outs from Alaya, sand shifting in the wind.  And he let himself be in that film, Rembrandt Laughing, a filmic valentine to one of the qualities that makes San Francisco such a pleasure.

Dorsky’s hand processed film, mangled on his living room rug

Frame grabs from Rembrandt Laughing

Along with himself as “actor,” and the blue, torn-emulsion film and the shifting grains of sand, he also became in a sense embodied in the film through his persona, which materialized in his scenes, in my use of his collection of sand, and in echoes that reverberate throughout the film of a certain sensibility which he is, and which I hope I faithfully reflected.   Nowadays thoughts of that film caste another tone as I am prompted to remember Jon A. English, the lead actor/musician, and composer for many of my films, who died 14 years ago.  And Roger Ruffin, in this film and 3 others of mine, who died this past year.  And as well thinking of the difficult time some others have had since then.  So it is a saving grace that I also have Nathaniel to think of, a glimmer of the serious joy which the film was about. Though we are very different souls, Nick and me, along some very fundamental places we share a deep kinship.

My life took me away from San Francisco, and a few years later, in Italy (a place Nick loves) the Pesaro Film Festival, (once a very lively and good one, perhaps still is), invited me to program some films for them.  One I chose was Nathaniel’s Alaya – 30 minutes of silence and sand.  For me it’s a gorgeous film, in its utter simplicity, its masterful editing, and I’ve seen it maybe 5 or 6 times.  One minute into it and I am in a meditative state, wandering in my home-grown kind of Buddhist thought.   Anyone who knows me at all knows how hard it is to get me to watch a film once, much less twice, and five times, well….!   However, programming it I thought it was likely a hard film for most viewers, and I suggested they place it last in line, lest people leave and miss the other films.  The screening was on a hot Italian summer day, the cinema had no air conditioning, and was packed.  It was like an oven.  The projector rolled and… and Nathaniel’s film was first despite my suggestion, and my thoughts went gray as I thought of the empty cinema to come.  Half an hour later though I was elated – almost no one left, and later, when the discussion time came, the film drew very positive comments.  I’d miscalculated something seriously – my trust in the audience?  my trust in Nathaniel’s artistry?  I learned a good lesson.

 

A dish of stones in Nathaniel’s apartment, shown in Rembrandt Laughing Frame grab, Alaya

The last time I saw Nathaniel was in Portland, Oregon, 5 years ago.  He was doing a screening for a small group, the Cinema Project.   The setting was a small art gallery, on the east side of the Willamette, and Nathaniel, as usual, was concerned with the projection – the color temperature, that the machine ran smoothly, at 18fps, focus.   He seemed a bit harried, and there wasn’t much chance to talk.  If I recall properly he, and a cluster from the screening, afterward went to a cafe, and Marcella and I joined, but it was a bit too much to actually have words.  Since then we’ve corresponded here and there, and I’ve watched with a warm pleasure as his work has found screenings around the world – in Paris, New York, London.  I’m trying to get him here to Korea, not only for the selfish reason to see his films, and to see him, but also he’s never been to Asia.  At least not physically.  He might like, and it would be good for his work to get seen in this part of the world.

 

“In film, there are two ways of including human beings. One is depicting human beings. Another is to create a film form which, in itself, has all the qualities of being human: tenderness, observation, fear, relaxation, the sense of stepping into the world and pulling back, expansion, contraction, changing, softening, tenderness of heart. The first is a form of theater and the latter is a form of poetry.”
Nathaniel Dorsky

PastourelleAubadeComplineSong and SolitudeThe VisitationLove’s Refrain Triste

As it turns out, one of my own films has been invited to Rotterdam as well so I’ll be able to catch up with Nick there, see the new films I haven’t and see some others again.   And if things work out, I suggested we go on the train to Den Haag for him to see the gorgeous View of Delft, and a few other Vermeers there at the Mauritshuis.   And if very lucky, perhaps the canals will be frozen and we can go ice-skating!

 

Nathaniel, photo by Jerome Hiler Threnody Variations

 

For further thoughts and reading see these:

Making Light of It

Art Forum article by P.F. Sitney (PDF, good pictures)

About Nathaniel Dorsky, website

Mubi interview

Scott McDonald interview

IndieWire, Dorsky and Brakhage talk

Review, Redcat screening, 2006

Review, Toronto 2010

Review of Devotional Cinema

 

Bowl of miso soup, Nathaniel’s feet, in Rembrandt Laughing

 

Nathaniel’s films are certainly not for everyone – in truth for a little minority of people who are open to a kind of rarified experience rather remote from the hurly-burly of our society, and most of the cinema it produces.  But if you’re of the inclination to enjoy, say, a Persian or Indian miniature, or marvel at the exquisite perfection of van Eyck’s “Als ich kann” or simply let the wonder of a flicker of light against a wall stun you, then his discreet and subtle work just might be your ticket.   So if at Rotterdam, or somewhere near, this is a rare chance to see this work.

 

Nathaniel skating, Alaya out-take, big bang: Rembrant Laughing

[Added March 8 2011: Marcella’s Video of Nathaniel on a little trip, talking and shooting.]

[March 14, 2011: new article and interview with Nathaniel.]

 

Linn with borrowed Hasselblad, 1958

I met Linn back in the mid-60’s, as Viet Nam and the civil rights movement boiled to the front pages.  I was a hippie, I guess, and Linn, a few years older, was more stable, had a nice loft, and a kind of job, and his huge studio, in OldTown on Chicago’s near-north side, became my crash pad. He’d converted it from a defunct 3000 sq. ft. restaurant. I shot a film when there, Leah, in 1967.  His places – he seemed to move every handful of years, with an eye to the next hot neighborhood – were always spacious and beautiful, with items others threw away, this and that, salvaged and turned into elegant decor. Since those first days Linn’s always been a reliable friend, and when transiting Chicago, a place to stay, a friend to see.  I stay in frequent touch in between these not-very-often visits.  Forty plus years now.

Through Linn – though it had been a serious thing for me earlier – my interest in photography was enlarged.  I liked his work back then, and we shared similar tastes: Frank, Lyons, Davidson, and of course, Walker Evans. His own work was usually very clean, direct, and he printed beautifully.  Although he made his living from photography most of the time, he had other talents too. He designed and converted loft spaces, physically doing all the work himself.  They were always beautiful his particular manner and I thought of them as being “Linn-ized.”  He was a partner in a retail gallery of American Indian Art and Artifacts and often traveled to the Southwest USA to buy jewelry and rugs and things, and in process he became an authority, consultant and appraiser of Native American art and artifacts. Later a 5 year stint as an equine photographer would again take him back and forth to the Southwest.

Over the decades, he said he longed to leave Chicago, and move to New Mexico. I confess, I never thought he would, never believed a word of it:  he was Chicago-bound, and his series on prostitutes and other disenfranchised people – low-life realities of the Windy City (or anywhere) kept his head stuck in the big city.  It’s in his blood, like it was in Saul Bellow’s.

His active photographic coverage of the ’68 Democratic convention and later the Conspiracy Seven trial, and then of the SDS Days of Rage in Chicago in the fall of 1969, which got him a Pulitzer nomination, all managed to keep him deeply connected to the city as well.

But his road trips, through America and particularly the American West, tempered his vision and expanded his viewpoint.  He always loved the “snapshot,” the way elements seem to come together on their own, waiting for someone to put a frame around them, and he grabbed them wherever he found them.

Though not ambivalent about photography at all, making a living in the field was always a bit elusive for him. He grabbed onto photography, like a life preserver he told me, at the age of 17, 2 years after he dropped out of school, and he never let go, never walked out the door without a camera over his shoulder.  He still does, even with his new bionic knee!

From our meeting in 1966 to the 68 Chicago Convention mayhem, through my days in California, then Oregon, then my Montana hippy-dropout days, and on to years abroad or in LA or NYC, right up to now, Linn was always my mid-west touchstone.  His door was always open, and cumulatively I probably stayed with him and his lady friends, more months that I could keep track of – and have a good handful of very memorable experiences from them.  Stories for another day.

We look to see him our next swing through America – in another year and some it seems.

Linn’s shot of me, late 1968 or maybe 1969

All photographs copyright Linn M. Ehrlich 2010

Above photographs by William Farley

As an habitual traveler, someone who’s lived in a long line of cities and towns (and country), each long enough to call it “home,” I have an equally long string of friends spotted around the world.  Most of them, settled unlike me, have lives like most people centered on a cluster of nearby family, friends, work associates.  In consequence it’s me who does most of the maintaining in these scattered relations – I write, sometimes I probably seem to badger, I drop by once in a while, sometimes in a very long while.

Owing to the tenuousness of these relationships I have the pleasure of being surprised  – seeing how we change with age, or in some cases, seem not to.  Some of these friends are artists, or writers, or otherwise creative sorts.  Some not.   In the long absences they do things I don’t get to see, so visiting often includes the joy of seeing what they’ve been up to – photos or paintings, or things written, or films made.  It is I think a kind of pleasure that those who see them more often don’t get – a little explosion of happiness in seeing the pent up work of a friend.  Kind of like an little emotional earthquake, but positive.

So I’m going to start a little series here, posting some things gathered from friends – maybe old, maybe new, but tracings of their lives through their work.

The above photographs are by William Farley, whose website has more information on his work.  I met Bill long ago, we both don’t seem to recall – maybe 1980 or so, and probably through our mutual friend Rick Schmidt (of Feature Length Films for Used Car Prices fame).    At the time I was living in the Bay Area and I’d see Bill once in a while at a screening, or at one of Rick’s croquette games.  I can’t say Bill and I were close friends, but we were friends.  He was a filmmaker, at the time one of the Bay Area’s better known independents, with a nose for what was going on in the cultural world.  One of his earlier films had Whoopie Goldberg back before she became well known.  Since I left the San Francisco area back in 1993 we didn’t really correspond, though here and there I kept in touch, and if I recall properly the last time I was through – some 5 or 6 years ago – I went by his offices down on a pier on the Bay.  Recently he sent me a commissioned video piece he did on an older artist there, Elaine Badgely Arnoux.  It was very nicely done, though of course constrained a bit by the purposes of the commission.  Along the way he also pointed me to the above photographs, a series titled Fog@Night.  I found these quite stunningly beautiful, and it made me wonder why in the past he hadn’t done his own camera work on his films. (He had done so on some earlier short works.)   And looking at these, I find myself wishing to see a film of such imagery.  Something without a story, simply tonality and mood.   How about it, Bill?

You can see all the photographs in this series and other information about William Farley at his website.  High quality prints are available for sale if interested.


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