Sunday, January 3, 2010

JK kicks down a Top Ten....

So, I have this friend, Jennifer Krasinski. She is pretty brilliant. She contributed this astounding top ten list for yours truly. Do yourself a favor and follow her on's like a free guide to all the best stuff out there! Thanks JK!

10 Rediscoveries of 2009

I always think that a portrait of a particular time (say, 2009) should include a list of its rediscoveries. It seems useful to mark eruptions from the margins – or reignited interests, or recovered histories – to angle the light a little differently on a year’s productions. Of course, sometimes the impetus for rediscovery isn’t terribly noble (death, distribution deals), but in other cases it’s a particular passion or a strong will that turns our attention to something we audiences have overlooked for too long. Although many of the following artists, writers, musicians, or artworks have always been near and dear to some, this year they were made known to far more than before. I can only hope a growing interest in their work will gain greater momentum in the years to come.

In no particular order:

1. Stuart Sherman
Performance artist Stuart Sherman passed away in 2001, but the first retrospective of his work, Beginningless Thought/Endless Seeing, was held this past autumn at 80WSE in New York City alongside an exhibition of work inspired by Sherman titled Stuart Sherman: Nothing Up My Sleeve at PARTICIPANT Inc. In addition, film historian Bérénice Reynaud curated an evening of his films and videos, and EAI held an evening’s screenings that included a by Paul Chan and Richard Foreman – celebrations that attracted other luminaries such as Vaginal Davis and Yvonne Rainer. Who wouldn’t want to join the ranks of that kind of audience?

2. Jacques Demy’s THE MODEL SHOP (1969)
The finest (and perhaps the most accurate) portrait of life in Los Angeles was filmed by a Frenchman, and until this year was largely unavailable for viewing. Cinephiles previously had to wait for Demy retrospectives, and were rewarded for their patience with a faded, crackling print. Now out on DVD, this film not only “holds up” but also proves to be one of the master’s masterpieces. (Also, look out for an appearance by Spirit, a California psych-rock outfit from whom, some say, Led Zepplin stole all their best grooves from).

3. Chick Strand
With the passing of experimental filmmaker Chick Strand this past July, tribute screenings popped up everywhere allowing many people (including myself) to see her avant-ethnographies such as Anselmo (1967), Guacamole (1976) and the groundbreaking Soft Fiction (1979) in all their projected glory. It seems that the woman who Jonas Mekas famously “really wanted to like” was creating films so outside the prescribed boundaries of The California Avant-Garde that we’re only starting to catch up now.

4. Clarice Lispector
Although arguably the most important Brazilian writer of the 20th century – whose works have long been available in English – it was the publication of Benjamin Moser’s Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector that piqued the lit world’s interest again. Recommended reading : Near to the Wild Heart (1943), and The Passion According to G.H. (1964). Not-so-recommended reading: the biography. It’s not nearly as dazzling as her work.

5. Witchfinder General
Full disclosure: this one’s personal. A friend of mine had been wearing one of their t-shirts for years, and though I always complimented him on the cool graphic, I knew nothing of their music. This year, I finally tracked down their records Death Penalty (1982) and Friends From Hell (1983) – and I wasn’t sorry.

6. Hans Jürgen Syberberg
This German director never received the acclaim in the US that contemporaries like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog did, but three of his films are now available on DVD: Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (1972), Karl May (1974), and Hitler, A Film from Germany (1977), which Susan Sontag claimed was the greatest film she’d ever seen. And when was Sontag ever wrong about anything?

7. Vladimir Nabokov’s The Original Of Laura
Although hardly forgotten, Nabokov made a comeback this year when his son Dmitri published the author’s unfinished novel, The Original of Laura. Although the critics have been less-than-kind about his posthumous contribution, it must be said that no one who reads it will ever think about ‘The Novel’ in quite the same way again.

8. Ree Morton
The artist who came to art-making later in her life and then died too early received a survey at the Generali Foundation in Vienna earlier in the year as well as a catalogue of the works she made over her career that spanned from1971 to 1977 – tremendous, delicious treats for her devotees, old and new.

9. Ronald Tavel
Playwright, poet and screenwriter Ronald Tavel passed away this year amidst gossip that it was his devil-worshipping ways that led to his demise – a prurient (and fictitious) detail that put his name in the New York Post for the first time in a long time. In December, Anthology Film Archives honored his extraordinary collaborations with Andy Warhol with a series titled Beyond the Absurd: Ronald Tavel and Andy Warhol. Seeing The Life of Juanita Castro or Vinyl or Kitchen (all 1965) and paying closer attention to Tavel’s words will hopefully inspire other screenwriters to write as tightly…and also to loosen the f*ck up.

10. Grace Jones
Although her album Hurricane came out in 2008 (the first since 1989), her 2009 tour brought Miss Grace Jones back onstage showing the kids how they could be doing it (see: Of Montreal, Lady Gaga). Pop music’s greatest swan knew no bounds of swagger and style, especially as she stormed around the stage wearing the extraordinary costume designs of Eiko Ishioka. Come back again soon. Please.

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