Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

The cult of actors has been an irritant for me. In the mass media they have been avatars for the exigencies of daily life, surpassing the anonymity of most folks at such a melodramatic height that we're supposed to think it is somehow special. Besides finding it meaningless, it is also a distraction. One forgets one's own position in such a dynamic.

Besides the macabre aspect of actors seen as real as they pantomime reality w/ their reported daily lives, I am also interested in their utter uniqueness in a technological culture - would they exist without tabloids & now the internet? While I can covet the CDVs or cabinet cards of Sarah Bernhardt or Edwin Booth - I can appreciate their reality as a kind of cultural fantasy. & Hollywood as factory of illusions has produced an array of equivalents, along with appropriate shadows, such as Kenneth Anger's volumes of Hollywood Babylon I & 2. But why do I find it otherwise so irritating & useless?

As far as marking the death of the actor Dennis Hopper, what comes to mind primarily for me is his role in the Curtis Harrington film Night Tide, released in 1961. I first saw Night Tide in my adolescent outlet of, under various titles, The Late Late Show, Scream Theater, Thriller Theater, etc on late night TV. Before the advent of cable TV, or into its first years, cheap horror movies found a time equivalent in late nights for the melancholy insomniac, including my teenaged self.

Night Tide, in retrospect, includes a panorama of what would be interests for me: B-movies, lounge & exotica music (a performance by Chaino), the literary supernatural (one could argue the references including both Poe's The Oval Portrait & Goetbe's The New Melusina), allusions to Hollywood satanic cults (the inclusion of Marjorie Cameron in a small but emphatic role), the louche, beatnik culture of LA (keeping in mind the satirical estimations of Caroline Blackwood), the hyperreal aspects to California culture (going to the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo followed by a day at the "Hearst Castle" thanks to Umberto Eco & Karen Pinkus), as well as the supreme erotic aspects of young smooth tight Dennis Hopper who may or may not be consumed by a monster from the deep.

Night Tide gave me a taste of what I would encounter later w/ much delight in the formerly tawdry aspects of Coney Island, as well as tolerance for the extremes of the occult (as well as a skepticism of such). In a way not dissimilar from 19th century German romanticism - the cult of the ruin & the fragment, the object which would transverse time & space in an uncanny way, is all too familiar in this cheap B-movie nostalgia.

Speaking of Coney Island, I am reminded of the years I spent reading there. Going to & fro from the subway, & then on the boardwalk. This was a Julio Cortazar phase - translations of The Winners, Hopscotch, & innumerable stories. We Love Glenda So Much comes to mind in the context of the late Dennis Hopper. How lucky I have been in fairly squalid circumstances to nevertheless find myself "one-on-one" w/ the books of Julio Cortazar. There used to be a bar in the BMT station, the Hollywood Bar & Grill, where I would linger before taking the subway back to the Lower East Side.

Thank you, Dennis Hopper, for aiding & abetting my erotic appetites.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Charles Fréger, Empire

Charles Fréger's work is known in the US primarily through his books, collections of portraits of collective social roles (such as legionnaires, wrestlers, water polo players, majorettes, performers in Chinese opera). To use a term used by dealers & collectors of 19th century photography, Fréger's images would be occupationals - the subjects of the portraits are looked at for what they do. The viewer can see the difference between each face, but the interest is in the repetition of their bearings, not their aberration. Although there is more to be said about that, later, & any fascination which may result.

The book Empire is of various European honor guards (excuse my lack of more precise military terms) in uniforms now so antiquated that they have become exotic kitsch, magnets for tourists, ignorant, like me, of any more precise symbolic meanings. Fréger's photographs are done with a brilliant even lighting of high professional skill, as well as attention to detail in the format, focus & color. This has a bewildering effect in using photography in a very classic descriptive way, which can seem almost retrograde; yet in the intense repetition in the various projects, as well as their unpretentious specificity, I find something which seems different which I would like to explore more.

Fréger's methods which are for the most part frontal, central, posed calls to mind a common technique of commercial photography, as well as serial work by artists such as Rineke Dijkstra, early work by Katy Grannan, or recent work by Deana Lawson. Fréger's subjects are much more distinctly sociological (specific types of athletes or soldiers). Fréger can seem less artistic, more photographic, as a result. But I would argue that that is what gives his work it's particular strength. If looked at as a style only, the subject can seem too heavy, too literal & also weirdly uncanny. This is where my association w/ Deana Lawson comes about as she works with genres which can seem outmoded & highly recognizable & yet the images are so strange to look at & contemplate.

Viewed historically, Fréger's projects bear a strong resemblance to the loose but voluminous archives of August Sander, or the vernacular 19th century portraits of street types & trades, or ethnic types, seen in cartes-de-visites & lantern slides. Such imagery has a pre-photographic history in graphics depicting the same sorts, which was for a cosmopolitan clientele who could view these things from a level of sophistication far from such everyday quaintness.

While the pre-modern "street types" were for an aristocratic audience, the introduction of photography into daily life could emulate the forms yet w/ its unusual emphases on its specificities, it's reality-effect, the photograph would transform a hackneyed social type into something more ambiguous & threatening.

What comes across in the near-taxonomies of Fréger is both a general form & its discrepancies. Any sort of ideal isn't in the person but the trappings which cover or transform him or her. Especially w/ military figures Fréger is unheroic & unsentimental. & yet rather than appearing as meaningless types the subjects have a dignity in their monotonous shells, a kind of nobility that isn't in what they are doing but what they seem to endure.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Judge David Groner's sentencing statement to Kwame Kilpatrick May 25, 2010

Let it be clear that this entire proceeding was precipitated by the actions of you, Mr. Kilpatrick. You were convicted after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and no contest to one count of assaulting and obstructing a police officer, all because you lied under oath about your relationship with your then-chief of staff, Christine Beatty.

That lie at the whistleblower lawsuit was part of a broader attempt to cover up your misdeeds while serving as mayor and which led to the wrongful termination of two police officers who tried to perform their sworn duties.

That lawsuit ultimately cost the City of Detroit $8.4 million when you perpetrated a fraud on the city and its citizens by deceptively inducing the Detroit City Council to accept a settlement offer in the case because of your wrongdoings.

Your inexcusable behavior continued when you assaulted a police officer who was trying to serve a subpoena. Third, you, Mr. Kilpatrick, are the one who initially raised the issue of your inability to pay restitution as prescribed by this court, which led to the restitution hearing, the probation violation hearing and ultimately to today’s sentencing hearing.

To use legal parlance, Mr. Kilpatrick, you opened the door to this issue when you contested the restitution payment schedule. However, during the course of the restitution hearing, when this court sought to get a complete and accurate picture of your financial status, it was met at every turn by your continued attempt to thwart the fact-finding function of this court. To quote from the May 8, 2009, order, quote, “The main goal of the order is to ensure that the defendant complies with the terms and conditions of his probation and makes reasonable payments towards restitution. In the interest of full disclosure in determining defendant’s personal obligations and his ability to pay restitution, the court finds that disclosure of defendant’s assets and those of his spouse, is warranted. Therefore the court will reaffirm its order that defendant make those records available to the probation department.” End quote.

You represented to this court that you were the sole bread-winner and responsible for paying the household expenses and, after covering those expenses, your net monthly income was only $6. You then challenged this court’s authority to examine the finances of your family, including your spouse. You attempted to utilize semantics and exploit technical loopholes in the court orders in order to conceal the fact that you and your wife had received a quote-unquote loan, and I use the term loosely, in the amount of $240,000 and a separate gift of $50,000 from various business leaders here in Detroit. As this court explained, under the law, this court is entitled to examine all aspects of a defendant’s finances in order to ascertain the ability to pay restitution, including any and all assets or obligations of a defendant, a spouse and any dependents.

To this day, you’ve continued to assert that this court violated the law by requiring to disclose those funds and that in any event they were intended to benefit your family and not for restitution. Had the court known about those funds, it would have immediately ordered their application towards the repayment of your restitution. Or, at the least, the court would have ordered that you pay 100% of your after-tax income towards the payment of your restitution. In fact, those funds have still never been accounted for. The broader context of this issue is, of course, that your family living expenses including living in a million-dollar home, driving brand-new Escalades, shopping at high-end designer stores and purchasing elective surgery for your wife. You have made it perfectly clear that now it is more important for you to pacify your wife rather than comply with my court orders. The court doesn’t know what your plans were regarding the restitution, however the court does know that when it determined a reasonable repayment schedule, you balked, feigned poverty and misrepresented your financial status. This contemptible behavior was in clear disregard in both the letter and the spirit of the court’s orders, which sought transparency to comprehensively examine your financial status and determine your ability to pay your restitution obligation to the City of Detroit.

Fourth, under the terms of your probation, you were ordered to comply with various conditions, which you failed to do. If you will recall, at the time of your original sentence, you were forewarned about the consequences of violating the terms of your probation. This court explicitly stated, quote, “You need to consult with your lawyers. They will tell you do not violate my probation, because I take my mandate as judge very seriously. And I will not hesitate to impose the penalty of prison if you violate my probation or any order of this court.” End quote.

In reviewing the pre-sentence investigation report submitted by the probation department, this court does not agree with the sentence recommendation of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Sir, you were trained as a lawyer. You served in the state Legislature, where you were entrusted to make the law. And you were the chief executive of Detroit, a major U.S. city, charged with enforcing and carrying out the law. In this case, the court strongly believes that to allow a defendant situated as you are to blatantly disregard the orders of this court, a defendant who was a former public official who violated his oath of office in an obstruction of justice case, who desecrates the basic tenets of our system of justice and seriously undermines the credibility and legitimacy of our legal system, does not fit within the sentence guideline range.

Mr. Kilpatrick, you have asked not to be treated any differently than any other defendant who appears before this court. The problem is, you are different. You were a public servant, and because of your status as a former high-ranking public official, we expected you to set an example. Yet, despite this, you continued to engage in obfuscation and obstruction. You continued to be defiant. And in your letter to this court, you have failed -- actually it was a letter that was sent to the probation department, which is attached -- you have failed to sincerely accept responsibility for your actions. Frankly, your continued attempt to cast yourself as the victim, your lack of forthrightness, your lack of contriteness and your lack of humility only serve to affirm that you have not learned your lesson. Clearly, rehabilitation has failed. You have not adjusted well under probation. Probation is no longer an option. This court must now sentence you in a manner that assures that justice will be served. The terms of your earlier probation no longer apply. That ship has sailed. That plea deal was negotiated by your attorneys and the prosecutor. I only approved what I thought was a lenient sentence because everyone, not only your lawyers and the prosecutors, but also the City of Detroit, urged this court to accept the deal so the city could move on. The city wants to move on. You want to move on. So today we will move on.

This court is satisfied that there are substantial and compelling reasons for a departure that are objective and verifiable. And those reasons are hereby articulated:

• In the present case, defendant Kilpatrick violated the terms of his probation by failing to pay $79,011 by Feb. 19, 2010, which included defendant specifically failing to provide complete accounting of his family finances, failing to surrender his tax refunds, failing to disclose gifts and benefits, improperly accepting dollars from political funds. Furthermore, one of the most troubling aspects of defendant’s conduct occurred during the restitution hearing. You raised your right hand and swore to tell the truth. But many answers you gave were not truthful. When asked about the nature of your spouse’s employment, you replied that you did not know if she worked. When asked about your rent payment, you feigned ignorance. In the court’s opinion, this lack of candor, while under oath, dangerously approached the very crime for which you were already under sentence for. Moreover, the point of the restitution hearing was to determine defendant’s ability to pay the restitution and to ensure that the citizens of Detroit were compensated – at least to a small degree, for the loss they suffered at the hands of you. During the hearing it was abundantly clear that over the course of your probation, you certainly had the wherewithal to substantially pay down the balance of your restitution, which you failed to do and which you clearly misrepresented to this court.

• Again, this court finds that there are substantial and compelling reasons to depart from the sentencing guidelines. Violation of probation, wherein you failed to comply with the sentence agreement to turn over your tax return. You took gifts without disclosure and deposited into marital accounts and never paid 30% to restitution as ordered. And you accepted funds improperly from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund. You lied in your affidavit to this court that you only had $6 per month after expenses to pay restitution when your bank records indicate you had hundreds of thousands of dollars going through the joint bank account. You violated this court’s order to disclose all your bank records, my signed order. But you redacted and provided incomplete records omitting accounts altogether and the court would never have known of your attempts to mislead the court had the people not issued subpoenas. Your testimony in this courtroom amounted to perjury when you stated, “I don’t know if my wife works. I don’t know the amount of rent. I don’t know who pays the bills.” Most substantially, most compelling, is that you lied to this court. You continued to lie, after pleading guilty to lying in court! Obviously, there has been no rehabilitation. You have not changed. So to continue you on probation is not an option. You must understand your crime and consequences now.

This court is satisfied that the initial 120 days incarceration did nothing to rehabilitate you, Mr. Kilpatrick. Because you have violated probation, you lied in the affidavit, your documents were not fully disclosed, you lied in this courtroom. This court is satisfied that incarceration must now correlate to reflect the above substantial compelling reasons to deviate.

Therefore you will serve a maximum of five years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. Further, you will receive credit for the restitution you have paid and the balance of the restitution, $860,000, shall be paid as a condition of parole. What that means is that your obligation … to pay back the city does not go away with this incarceration.

You will receive 120 days credit on the minimum sentence of one and a half years in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

At this time, Mr. Kilpatrick, I’m going to advise you that you have 42 days in which to file an application for leave to appeal this matter. If you wish to appeal and you can’t afford a lawyer, a lawyer will be appointed to represent you. Are the forms available for the defendant to sign?

Mr. Schwartz … could you assist your client, because otherwise I’ll have him sign it in the back. It’s just an appellate rights form…

Sergeant, could you secure the defendant please and take him in the back. Put your hands behind your back, sir. This concludes the matter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Graffiti artist Banksy leaves mark on Detroit and ignites firestorm


Banksy was here. But what’s really fascinating is what happened after he left.

The British-born art world celebrity and provocateur, who hides behind a cloak of anonymity and whose graffiti paintings have made headlines from Los Angeles to London, has tagged Detroit -- most prominently a crumbling wall at the derelict Packard plant.

Discovered last weekend, the stenciled work shows a forlorn boy holding a can of red paint next to the words “I remember when all this was trees.” But by Tuesday, artists from the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios, a feisty grassroots group, had excavated the 7-by-8-foot, 1,500-pound cinder block wall with a masonry saw and forklift and moved the piece to their grounds near the foot of the Ambassador Bridge in southwest Detroit.

The move -- a guerilla act on top of Banksy’s initial guerilla act -- has sparked an intense debate about the nature of graffiti art, including complicated questions of meaning, legality, value and ownership. Some say the work should be protected and preserved at all costs. Others say that no one had a right to move it — and that the power and meaning of graffiti art is so intrinsic to its location that to relocate it is to kill it.

Detroit’s unique profile as a kind of laboratory of extreme urban dilapidation and nascent revitalization adds yet another layer of complexity. “This may be unprecedented, because in most other cities, you wouldn’t be able to take a wall home,” said Luis Croquer, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, which specializes in cutting-edge art.

“What does it mean to move a wall? And beyond legality, who does the wall really belong to, and now does the art belong to the gallery? To everybody? To nobody? We’re operating in this space where there’s this lawlessness that opens up possibilities that would be much harder to encounter in other cities.”
Stewards or thieves?

The folks at 555 Gallery and Studios know that not everyone agrees with their decision to move the mural, but they’re adamant they did the right thing. They don’t want to sell it or squirrel it away like a keepsake. They want to protect it and keep it on display for all.

“It’s about preservation for us,” said volunteer executive director and co-founder Carl W. Goines. “We’re watching this beautiful city crumble around us and we can’t do anything to stop it. So with this fine-art piece -- and it’s not just everyday graffiti that you might whiz by -- here was our opportunity to do something. It would have been destroyed if we didn’t make the effort.”

Banksy has become famous for his controversial graffiti works around the globe and stunts like sneaking a parody of the Mona Lisa into the Louvre. Some consider him nothing more than a trespassing vandal and publicity hound with a can of spray paint. Others think he’s a substantive artist, clever satirist and savvy trickster, whose mysterious urban legend persona has become an indivisible part of his aesthetic. Some of his works have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction or in galleries.

Free Press attempts to contact Banksy have been unsuccessful, but it’s possible that his sweep through town was related to the documentary about him, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” now showing at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. What appear to be new Banksy pieces have also been found recently in Toronto and Chicago. Arts and culture blogs are speculating that he created as many as four works in metro Detroit, including a signature rat image at 28661 Van Dyke in Warren. But only the Packard plant piece has appeared on his Web site,

It’s unclear when it was painted, but the 555 artists were tipped off May 8 by a friend who saw the work on Banksy’s site and recognized Detroit. By Monday, they had assembled a posse of five to 12 workers and began digging out the work. It took two full days to complete the job.

As photos of Banksy’s Detroit handiwork spread through the blogosphere this week, critics began questioning the 555 group’s removal of the Packard plant painting. At the photo blog, one commentator called them thieves rather than rescuers and wrote, “Banksy put it there for a reason, for anyone who cared enough to enter the death-trap to see it.”

“It makes me cringe that so many are applauding this,” wrote another commentator. “The point of ‘street art’ is for it to exist in its natural environment. It is by nature temporary. Disappointing when a good piece fades away? Yes. But that’s life.”

These arguments cut to the core of almost any discussion of graffiti art, as well as the legality and ethics of trespassing and defiling private property. There is also the complicated question of ownership. The Packard plant, a massive haven for squatters and scrappers — 3.5 million square feet of almost total urban destruction and decay — has been at the center of an epic legal dispute between the City of Detroit and a land speculator dating back more than a decade. News reports have identified Romel Casab as the owner. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

The artists at 555 who engineered the move call themselves “stewards” of the work, but admit they have little idea of what Banksy would think of their actions. For now, the painting, lovingly encased in a makeshift wooden frame that surrounds the wall, is on display outside the gallery on a gritty stretch of West Vernor Highway in the shadow of I-75.

Staff member Eric Froh said that while the painting’s meaning has shifted outside of the Packard plant, it retains an expressive power akin to Renaissance religious artifacts or antiquities uncovered by archeologists and now seen in museums. He also noted that the controversy has already become part of its accumulated meaning.

“The work can now live on for many years,” said Froh.