December 10, 2007


This was a week in which I was inspired to think beyond the borders of my own country and my own experiences, at the very time it seemed like the leaders of my country were refusing to do any such thing. By early 2002 Scottish peace advocate Rory Stewart had already walked literally from one end of Asia to the other, but had found himself unable to enter Afghanistan due to Taliban-related visa troubles. With the fall of the Taliban after 9/11 access was granted, and he took a month to walk due east across the country from Herat to Kabul. The Places in Between is his own amazing account of that journey. He tells of both the kindness and ambivalence of the people he encountered along the way, of the beautiful and challenging landscape, of some close calls with death. I was delighted that he folded in the narrative of 15th-century emperor Babur, whose memoirs I was reading as a form of therapy at this time of the year exactly four years ago. I also admired Stewart's willingness to challenge himself and seek out a unique perspective on Afghanistan, recording the complexity of his experiences instead of falling back on grand generalizations about the country.

Another eye-opener I recommend is Iranian director Jafar Panahi's 2000 film The Circle. It follows a day in the life of a trio of women who have just left prison as they struggle to navigate the second-class citizenship members of their sex are granted in contemporary Iran. Each new scene builds upon previous ones until the powerful final moments link directly back to the opening. It is daunting to imagine how Panahi managed to make the film inside of Iran. It has consequently been banned there, but it deserves to be seen if only to better understand this "axis of evil" country that is in the news every single day right now.

In another example of using a movie to get into the mind of a stranger, I went to go see John Huston's Fat City at SFMOMA Saturday afternoon. The museum is screening a series called True and False in conjunction with their Jeff Wall exhibit, featuring all films that the artist picked out himself. These titles influenced his art practice when he was really getting going in the 1970s, so I watched Fat City not so much for the booze-tinged story of two boxers in Stockton but more for the cinematography by Conrad L. Hall. A few frames stick out in my mind as being particularly Wall-like, when in a wide shot a very young Jeff Bridges crosses the canvas created by the wall of a building on a glaringly sunlit day to enter the door of a boxing gym. I was really interested by how light worked in the film, emphasizing the bleakness of the characters' environs. I'll be spending the rest of my Saturday afternoons in December trying to make more connections to the enigma that is Jeff Wall, and there's still Fassbinder, Bergman, and Eustache to come.

Later that evening I went to go hear Scott Berman, more commonly known as Prefuse 73, at Slim's in the hopes of being transported by some good left-field hip-hop. The video for "The Class of 73 Bells" off his new album Preparations has been in heavy rotation for me for the past several months, with its Yellow Submarine-style graphics married to ethereal voices and groovy beats, so I was interested to see how he would recreate such sounds live. His set-up at Slim's included an iBook (adorned with Battles sticker, natch) and a guitar slung around his neck, and then a live drummer and additional keyboard player. Their initial wall of noise quickly resolved itself into something danceable after a few minutes, and the musicians then proceeded to crank out the glitch with barely a pause during the entire set. The bulk of the crowd consisted of visibly stoned young men with their hoodies pulled up over their heads, and they were going crazy bouncing to rhythms I wasn't quite picking up myself. Clearly I needed more intoxicants to relate. Maybe next time.

Posted by nightfall at December 10, 2007 10:42 PM