Beautiful Experience: Chelsea Girls

I went to see Chelsea Girls at the Harvard Film Archive last night. It’s Andy Warhol’s cinematic masterpiece, and a film that should be as widely available and well known as Casablanca, The Godfather, or The Lord of The Rings trilogy.

I had projected the film when I was a TA for a class on Warhol’s films at BU five years ago. But with dual projection, twelve 16mm reels, and a complicated list of instructions, what I saw of the film was limited as I frantically threaded projectors, rewound reels, and kept close track of their order.

I don’t believe the film has been screened in the Boston area since I moved here (I could be wrong), and sure enough, the HFA sold out last night. I arrived twenty five minutes early to encouragingly find the theater already more than half-full.

Chelsea Girls may be a masterpiece due to its sheer scope, length (210 minutes!) and ambition. It consists of 16mm reels shown two at a time, side by side. It kicks off with black and white footage of blonde European songstress/elusive ice princess Nico on the right side of the screen. She sits at table, studiously cutting her bangs while glancing into a compact mirror while an androgynous blond man (Billy Name?) washes dishes as her young child cavorts about. Superficially, it resembles a nuclear family going about their daily routine, although whether this is fiction or fact (a question in nearly all of Warhol’s films) is debatable.

Within minutes, the left side projector starts up with footage of Ondine, in his favored papal guise, speaking to Ingrid Superstar in his makeshift confessional (consisting of just two couches!). The sound is obliterated from the Nico footage as rapport develops between Ondine and Ingrid, and the two scenarios play out until the Nico reel ends. The right half of the screen goes blank until the projectionist puts on the next reel, which in this case consists of zaftig, bitchy Brigid Berlin. The Ondine/Ingrid reel goes silent, ends within a few minutes, the left side of the screen goes blank until a new reel starts, and on and on until black and white eventually gets consumed by vibrant color reels until we finally see Ondine in his confessional on the right side, and silent footage of Nico (near tears as Warhol’s camera and lighting scrutinizes her) on the left.

Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Chelsea Girls would never work in the same way if seen on video or DVD. Warhol always noted that it was all about the viewing experience more than the content. Depending on the speed in which a particular projectionist changes the reels, the film plays out slightly differently each time it’s screened. This time, during the final two reels, a brief, synchronous moment came into view when both Nico on the left and Ondine on the right sat with their arms raised, hands resting on their foreheads as if they were symmetrical opposites.

Throughout, Warhol parades what may be his most diverse array of “Superstars” ever. Gerard Malanga lounges on his bed with his hideous whip-lashing “mother” at his side while a silent, red-haired, slightly bewildered Mary Woronov (dressed in shirt and tie!) looks on. Ed Hood lies in his bed with an unidentified male hustler as drag queen Mario Montez (and other assorted queens and actual women) drop by to tie up, blindfold and debauch the hustler.

On two occasions, the same figures appear on both sides of the screen. First, on the right, tall, blond, violent Hanoi Hanna sits with three other women, shouting at and bossing them around. Then, eventually on the left, footage appears of the same four women in the same room, only silent and much more subdued. We’re left to ponder whether the footage on the left occurred before or after the confrontations on the right.

Later, lanky, blond-haired Eric Emerson appears on the right, delivering a hilarious, drug-addled monologue as Warhol bathes his increasingly naked body in light, color, and an assortment of trippy effects. Eventually, a scene of Eric and friends at a club appears on the left, and at times, they cast their glances to the right, as if they’re watching the other footage of Eric.

With Warhol, it’s always hard to tell whether he constructed his films to experiment with time, or to enable two films to comment on each other while being shown simultaneously, or if he just thought it was cool that anyone could do all these things with a movie camera. You get the sense it was the last reason, and his writings and demeanor were always so cryptic and impenetrable that debate on the purpose and merit of his films will never cease. But like Empire, Blow Job, Lonesome Cowboys, and even the Paul Morrissey-directed Trash, Chelsea Girls is like nothing else, and I doubt anything will ever capture its spirit, style, or vibe.

All through the film, I kept thinking of this Warhol quote:

“The lighting is bad, the camera work is bad, the sound is bad, but the people are beautiful.”


Hallelujah, I'm A Bum!

That is, if bum = unemployed. I'm equally thrilled and horrified at all the free time that I now have. I'm proud to say I did not sleep in today (at least not past 9) and went out for a little run. I felt pretty miserable afterwards--it'll take some time before I can make it all the way 'round the Pond--but I'm feeling good now.

Apart from one concession to daytime TV (Ellen DeGeneres, which puts all other daytime TV to shame), I've been doin' stuff: kitchen cleaning, bedroom straightening, laundry, and of course, a little job searchin'. I have so much to do--learn how to write cover letters again, bring my printer back to life, weed out which websites aren't gonna do me any favors--so maybe I really do need all this time.


I'm not even gonna try any Oscar predictions this year. Too many publications have already beaten me to the punch with their "will wins" and "should wins" and frankly, I agree with most of the former (and a few of the latter). It's pretty certain that The Return of the King will sweep nearly every category it's in, and Lost In Translation's only chance for an upset is in the Original Screenplay race. Charlize Theron and Tim Robbins are highly likely (and deserving) to win, and it could go either way with Murray vs. Penn or Zellweger vs. Aghdashloo. Anyway, no one could've predicted Adrien Brody or Roman Polanski last year, so who knows...

Personally, Lost In Translation is ten times the film The Return of the King is (and make that fifty for Mystic River), Tim Robbins gave the best performance in his film by far, I wouldn't mind seeing Sean Penn lose for a fourth time; nor would I mind Renee winning for the first time, either.

My dream wins (however unlikely) would be American Splendor for Adapted Screenplay and "A Mighty Wind" for Best Song. However, I'll be happy if they keep the show under four hours (do I hear three?) and especially giddy if normally affable host Billy Crystal doesn't sing another one of his lame nominee medleys.


I have some of their weinies in my fridgie, and my roommate had bologna for lunch.

Thanks to James Lileks, a product you most definitely should ask for by name.

Also, one that you should thank George Rector for.

Best John Mayer (middling pinup singer/songwriter) rumor I've heard to date: He's a member of the Oscar-Mayer family and heir to the processed meat conglomerate's fortune. Given how his new album is sinking, maybe he could use a little hot dog dough (though I doubt it.)


Twelve Months to Thirty!

Turned 29 yesterday. Let's see if I can whittle out 29 random thoughts/observations/predicitions without putting y'all to sleep...

1. I will get a new job before I turn 30.
2. I will finish Ten Thousand Words before then, too.
3. LOTR: The Return of the King will win at least 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director.
4. Billy Crystal will make at least one Janet Jackson exposed titty reference on the Oscars telecast.
5. Carrie Bradshaw will remain single at the end of the Sex and The City finale.
6. Bubble tea will only get bigger.
7. Next Altoids flavor? Something fruity!
8. Dogville will divide audiences as sharply as Elephant (not to mention Dancer In The Dark).
9. Demi and Ashton will break up, and neither will have a hit movie this year.
10. I will make it back to New York City.
11. I'll start jogging regularly when it gets warmer (I swear!)
12. Lost In Translation will sweep the 10th Annual Chlotrudis Awards.
13. I'll get a review published somewhere other than Splendid!
14. I'll run into my ex again.
15. I'll finally make it to Minneapolis to see old friends.
16. I'll finally read The Satanic Verses and A People's History of the United States.
17. I'll finally watch The Right Stuff.
18. Magenta will be the new pink.
19. Kate Bush will set a release date and title for her first new album in over a decade.
20. The film adaptation of A Home At The End of the World will be better than The Hours.
21. David Sedaris' new collection of essays will not fail to please.
22. New England will have an early Spring.
23. I'll meet a celebrity (or at least a famous indie-film director).
24. I'll see fireworks somewhere...
25. I'll try a burrito other htan my beloved carnitas at Anna's Taqueria.
26. The Presidental Race will be nearly as close as it was in 2000.
27. The concept of marriage will be redefined.
28. I'll keep up this blog.
29. I'll worry about turning 30, but not too much.


I deleted the Places I've Traveled map... it took to much space and only served as a glaring reminder of the vast expanse of this lovely land that I haven't seen.

Just bought a new laptop (grumble, grumble), hoping it arrives before my last day at work. In the meantime, Ten Thousand Words is indefinitely on hold, given that I don't have a back-up copy of my list to work from and must reformulate just excatly what my 100 favorite records are (today).

Florida was gorgeous and fun (and unseasonably cold at first, too). The mere sight of palm trees is still a novelty for me. The hotel was a half-block away from a Krispy Kreme... I got to see my friend perform an '80s revue on the cruise ship he works for. Had a cosmo-enhanced Grammy viewin' time, and between lots o' drink and that truly stupefying Outkast performance (loved the two-word acceptance speech, tho'), I passed out immediately afterwards.

Charlotte York Rosenblatt is not the only owner of an adorable tiny dog named Elizabeth Taylor. My friend's uncle has a shiz-tzu (sp?) that goes by that moniker.

On Monday, drove down to Miami and South Beach, took in the tropical delights as we strolled up and down Collins and Washington Aves. in the historic art deco district. I could have hardly asked for a more soothing, blissful day.

I've been mightily movie deficient as of late, apart from a second viewing of Lost In Translation one week ago. By god, five months after the first time, it holds up so well, expressing a lot about conversation, loneliness, disillusion, dreams, uncertainty, and love. I doubt Bill Murray will win out over Sean Penn for the Oscar, but as much as I respect Penn, his turn in Mystic River is a hammy, foaming at the mouth piece of acting! whereas Murray is soulful, believable and all too vulnerable.


I Wuz Robbed!

Arrived home from Florida yesterday afternoon to see my bedroom windows smashed and the bars torn off one of them. The bastards took my DVD player, a few movies (Including Y Tu Mama Tambien), my cheap-ass translucent blue boombox and (*sniff*) my laptop. I've never felt so fucking violated... but at least Florida was fun! More on it later...


Random Thoughts In The Face of Chaos…

I’ve been weary and angry about the job situation (and it’s only just begun!). Further, I’m angry that I’m so angry about it. Why should I let an impersonal twist of fate bring me down? It was making me crazy, and not crazy enough at that.

Went to a Bogart double feature Monday night at the Brattle: The Desperate Hours and High Sierra. I thought I’d only seen two other Bogie flicks (The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen) until R. reminded me of a certain little gem called Casablanca.

The Desperate Hours (which I believe was somehow transmogrified into the Denis Leary/Kevin Spacey (sounds like Dirty Larry, Crazy Mary?!) Ted Demme-directed comedy The Ref). In the Bogie film, Humphrey leads a trio of escaped convicts who take an all American/suburban Father Knows Best family hostage. Of course it’s dated, but for a ‘50s suspense melodrama, pretty sparse and effectively suspenseful. I wish Fredric March (as the family’s father) could’ve bypassed that rigid, ever-souring frown he wore throughout the entire film, but Bogie is grand as a weathered scoundrel. He was a damn bastard, but I couldn’t help feeling for him just a bit when his number was up.

As for High Sierra, which was made 14 years earlier, it was jolting to see Bogart instantaneously much younger and more handsome. This was made pre-Falcon, so Ida Lupino has top billing. It’s easy to see why the Brattle paired this with The Desperate Hours—here, Bogie is another escaped convict, only a somewhat kinder, gentler one who offers to pay for a young woman’s leg operation instead of taking her family (headed by Henry Travers (Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life) hostage. The climactic chase anticipates the ending of North By Northwest. There’s also googly-eyed Algernon (oh, those early ‘40s and their racist stereotypes!) and Pard (not Pod) the dog. It’s all a glorified B-movie (especially considering Lupino's presence), but again, Bogart makes it all worth watching.


Also caught Tom Dowd: The Language of Music, a fascinating documentary about a music engineer who has recorded Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, Derek and the Dominoes, and (with incredible archival footage), Aretha Franklin in her absolute prime. Dowd has a friendly, energetic persona, and his particular story (which also involves, um, The Manhattan Project) is a must-see for anyone captivated by contemporary music and the recording process.


Belle and Sebastian were once the most notoriously shy and elusive of indie-pop collectives, rarely touring, never appearing in photos on their CDs, releasing only 1,000 copies of their first album, Tigermilk (on vinyl!). So the new Fans Only DVD is a revelatory shock. Incorporating videos, concert footage, interviews and miscellany in a feature-length documentary format, what emerges is a collage/portrait of a truly unique band more interested in being themselves and simply making music as good as Cockney Rebel’s “Make Me Smile” than being rock gods or appearing on Top of The Pops (although a performance from that show is included.) Despite the title, I can’t imagine a more perfect introduction to the band (that is, apart from their immortal second LP, If You’re Feeling Sinister).


Finally, it’s happened again. I’ve found a new candidate for album of the year after the year has passed. In 2001, I thought it was Steve Wynn’s Here Comes The Miracles until I heard The Avalanche’s Since I Left You months into 2002. Despite a few good records here and there, 2003 was pretty subpar, with only Rufus Wainwright’s Want One and The White Stripes’ Elephant serious contenders. Now, I think Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism (which I purchased this week) could easily knock Rufus off the top. I need more time to absorb it before I attempt a full review, but for now, it’s gorgeous, exquisite, lush rock with all the crucial elements gloriously in place, highlighted by Ben Gibbard’s angelic, yearning, elastic voice. It’s even better than The Postal Service, his electro-pop side project. And in these tough times, it’s like a gift from the heavens, like watching Rushmore over and over again and finding more solace and joy and beauty in it with each viewing.


The corporate ax has finally fallen; I’ve been Work Force Reduced!

My last day at Ceridian will be February 25, just three days after my 4th anniversary as a full-time employee. Four co-workers and I have been let go not because of any performance issues. No, this is strictly a BUSINESS DECISION. Our positions are being re-staffed at the company’s headquarters in Minneapolis. This will save them a precious few thousand dollars a year… should provide a nice bonus for the upper executives, don’t cha’ think?

Anyway, it’s a mixed blessing. Now I have a swift kick in the pants to pursue other careers and leave dreadful Corporate America once and for all. I was shocked at the decision, but given all the lay-offs here over the past three years, not at all surprised. Not sure what I’m ultimately gonna do to pay my bills, but this, severance, and the dole will give me ample time to think about that.

I’m not sad to leave my job, just a little angry at the way the reasoning behind the decision. (As an aside, now more than ever, Bush needs to go.)

Hmmm… maybe now I can free-lance and eat lots and lots of ramen! Woo-hoo!

Regardless, I will not neglect the blog. This is just the beginning, people.