Sunday, 13 April 2014

Dreaming of Warmth

1 - Masses Magazine F/W 2013, Comme des Garçons Archive shoot
2 - Vintage Comme des Garçons Shirt ad
3 - unknown
4 - Viviane Sassen
5 - Mt. Nakadake lake, Aso, Japan

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Very Fassbinder Day

From somewhere deep down came the need this week to revisit Rainer Werner Fassbinder's world. It's been a year since a friend sat me down in front of the close-to-the-bone Fox and his Friends (where Fassbinder stars as a working class gay who wins the lottery), and my thirst for the director's caustic eye had been building up ever since. 

Fassbinder himself in Fox and His Friends (1975)

Which is why I went ahead and swallowed three of his films in 24 hours.

First, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1971). This three-woman drama about possessiveness and class shows the very thin Margit Carstensen as Petra, a Bremen-based fashion designer, who falls for commoner Karin Thimm (the very stunning Hanna Schygula).

Hanna Schygula (20 years before Jean-Paul Gaultier's cone-bra dress for Madonna, anyone?) and Margit Carstensen

The entire film unfolds in Petra's room. There is no music, and the atmosphere is tense and fabulously ritualistic, like a Greek drama. Of course the Petra-Karin liaison goes tits up and Petra ends up crying very bitter, gin-fuelled tears. In Fassbinder's world, someone always gets exploited. But you can't help but feeling they deserve it a little.

Next I stumbled upon Bremer Freiheit, a play Fassbinder wrote and directed just a year before he made Petra von Kant. And there are some hints at that: Margit Castensen plays Gesche Gottfried, the 19th century serial killer from Bremen (I had no idea Fassbinder was so smitten with my city of birth).

Scene from Bremer Freiheit, a play written and directed by Fassbinder

Over a period of 15 years, the working-class Gottfried (whose maiden name was Thimm - like Karin in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), poisoned her entire family, including mother, father, her children and two husbands. As a child I remember spitting on the official Gesche Gottfried spit stone on the market square where she was finally executed, but Fassbinder flips the story around. He makes it about repression, about a woman's desire for emancipation. You end up rooting for the poor murderer.

Bremer Freiheit (1972), in German

Finally and after much female drama, someone very dear recommended me Querelle. Which, really, should be called Queerelle: Based on a novel by Jean Genet, featuring art by Andy Warhol and starring Brad Davis as a sailor being sodomized by Fassbinder's ex-lover Günther Kaufmann, this is arguably the gayest film ever. It is also bold, strange, fantastic and unpredictable, a bit like walking on deck of a rocking (queer) boat.

A scene from Querelle

Fassbinder, Brad Davis, Andy Warhol

Sadly, Fassbinder did not live to see Querelle in its final version. He died three months before its premiere, from a drug cocktail, aged 37. In a career that lasted fewer than 15 years, he completed 40 feature films, two television film series, three short films, and 24 stage plays. And there I was, worrying that watching three films in one day was excessive. There is still so much to do. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Queer Magic

On a recent visit to Warsaw's MoMA I got lost in the maze that lies behind the museum's interior walls. Suddenly I found myself alone in a dark room with a very calm film.

Slow-motion, next to no movement. Water, the sky, a forest, a curly boy. It was puzzling to me how a plotless video, with long black-screen breaks in between medidative scenes, managed to not only keep my attention (who finds most videos in museums utterly boring) but to captivate me.

Sure, there is the simple beauty of Wojcieh Puś' Magic Hour: When do we ever take 50 seconds to observe a cloud in the crucial moment of sunset? 
But what really kept me sitting in the dark for over twelve minutes was the mix of nature and the camera's homoerotic desire. The boy's face as it appeared from the water, a wet shirt stuck to his torso, his back as he ran through a forest: Everything suggested an admiration for nature that necessarily included him, and that was intensely reminiscent of Alain Guiraudie's excellent Stranger by the Lake (2013). 

Stranger by the Lake (2013) trailer

Like Guiraudie, who has declared that porn should by no means have a monopoly over sex, Puś likes to go beyond mere allusions. And so, in between clouds and dandelion seeds, Magic Hour includes jets of sperm flying through a baby-blue sky. In slow-motion. Is it the curly boy's, or that of a stranger he met by the water?

Either way, its flight is very graceful. And it can only make one look forward to the coming of summer. 

Watch the whole of Magic hour here or its trailer here.  

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A Palace for the People

The first time we came to the city and drove past it was sometime in the early 90's. We stuck our faces against the window and screamed. It was the tallest building we had ever seen, and it made us think of cities we actually wanted to go to. Like New York.

Our parents, who should have been happy their children expressed enthusiasm about anything in this drab country, did not empathise. They hated the Palace. Its monstrous size, its brutal shape monopolising the ground and the sky. They could not forget that it had all been Stalin's idea: to mark a country that suddenly somehow belonged to him.

1955 - Fot. Władysław Sławny

Once the Wall fell and the country was returned to itself, plans to knock down the monster appeared and fizzled out. Capitalism arrived and thrived, and spouted private towers much larger and shinier. These did not pretend to be for the people. Like New York.

But in the meantime Varsovians learnt to tame their behemoth: In it they lived and fell in love. It houses museums, theatres, cinemas, bars. But more importantly, the Palace is no longer a victim of history. It has found its voice. And today it speaks out for those who are are as vulnerable as this country was not so long ago. 

In support of the Ukraine

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Hipster Cinema

Last night, record hipster densities at Warsaw's MoMA for the opening of film festival Kinomuzeum (remember Larry Clark last year?) and a special showing of Matt Wolf's Teenage.

The film was an astonishingly apt reflection of the audience: a good-looking, humorous and slightly repetitive collage of youth sub-culture (between 1905 and 1945). It also highlighted the truism that whatever their name and purposeteenage movements are rebellions frequently hijacked by convention and corporatism.

But there are antidotes to cultural cynicism - like the month of free independent cinema ahead of us. And once you've seen Grace Ndiritu's shamanic video performances and Maria Callas as Passolini's Medea, it will almost be Spring. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

New Openings

Museums used to be hermetic, both in space and in mind. Little light came in through the columns and curtains, and little came out. But things are changing.

Last week I finally made it to the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) in Antwerp. Housed in a surreal stack of brick and curved glass panels, it combines the previous collections of the maritime, ethnography and folklore museums. Once you enter it is hard to decide what is more spectacular: viewing the inside or viewing the outside. And why shouldn't museums compete with the outside world?

Speaking of which - the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Although set just in front of the memorial where chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees in 1970 in recognition of Germany's responsibility for the war, it refuses to be another Holocaust museum. Instead, it traces the entire history of Jews in Poland, from a millenium ago until today.

The building - seemingly simple from outside yet curved and complex on the inside - reflects this openess. What could be better for the new museums than visual and intellectual osmosis? Let the sunshine in.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Architectural Nudism

Maybe it's because it's winter and everyone is covered up that all my recent contributions involve nudity. Or maybe it's just a coincidence that the only artist that truly kept my attention at Warsaw's Zachęta exhibition on contemporary Brazilian art was Fabiano Rodrigues.

Rodrigues takes photos of himself skating through beautiful buildings, sometimes naked. I like that. It may seem gratuitous, but it highlights both his vulnerability and the buildings' allure. What's not to like?

Check out his tumblr too. More variety soon (maybe).