The de Young’s Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art: Imperilled by the Auction Block

I have to confess: I had to be escorted out of the space dedicated to the Jolika Collection of New Guinea art in San Francisco’s de Young musuem.

Not for wrongdoing but because the spirits in that space possessed me.  And I hasten to add: as a film professor, author, and modest art collector, I have my feet on the ground.

On more than one occasion a piece in the collection has riveted me in place.  Energy passed between us and I could not move.  The first time it happened I could not pass out of the room on my own and asked a Pacific Islander, serving as a museum guard, to escort me. He did and I was able to leave. I told him what happened and said to him the space was extremely spiritual and he replied, “I know.”

To me, the Jolika Collection is the greatest treasure in the museum.  Not just for its stunning beauty and remarkable range but for its deeply spiritual quality as well. I have seen Maori pass through talking among themselves, in their native language, in what were clearly tones of awe.  I imagine many others have had comparable experiences but perhaps not the museum staff.

They plan to deacquisition significant pieces from the collection at auction to raise funds fofr the museum, which feels a bit like selling off your first born child to add another bedroom for future children.  How can a museum maintain its stature if it undercuts its own strengths with sales of great art?

Deacquisitioning any of this collection would be a huge loss and could easily imperil its unique qualities, aesthetic and spiritual. The auction date is set but there may be time to try to make reason, and spirit, prevail.


Les Blank

Les was a great filmmaker and friend. He will be missed.

I had the honor of hosting his reception of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Mendocino Film Fest, a little fest up the N. CA coast, and doing a q/a with him.

Having done this with Haskell Wexler the year before and worrying more about getting a word in than getting him to open up, there was just a bit of anxiety with Les who is prone to the laconic but after a clip from The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins and a little appreciation of his subtle, non-verbal thematics, he lit up and talked freely of his wilder days of parties and partying and his film aesthetic of respect, appreciation and open-endedness. It was a great event and one I will cherish now that he is gone.

Roger Ebert

I miss Roger already.  Whenever I go to IMDB and want to find reviews of a film, his name appears first, if it appears at all, every time.  And I usually don’t go further.  His reviews invariably gave me what I sought: a clear sense of the film’s quality and virtues, some sensitive exploration of the issues it might raise, and an appreciation of its place in the larger picture of things. Be it a trashy B movie or a prestigous Oscar candidate, a difficulty foreign film or a topical documentary, Roger had something insightful to say.  His prose flowed easily, without affect, without the incendiary quality of Pauline Kael but also without the snide, my wit is more interesting than the film I’m reviewing snideness of Anthony Lane. His passion for the cinema stood out.  His clarity of vision and consistency of voice were remarkable.  He is clearly missed by many and the obituaries that have turned up everywhere, from the White House to the trade papers, are a tribute to his success in making movie reviewing an art of real use value to so many.

I met him at the Hawaii Film Festival years ago when he gave a more or less shot by shot analysis of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe and I thought to myself, I’ve been doing shot analysis in classes for a decade or more but I’ve not turned into a story telling form the way Roger has.  He led the audience through the film with a sense of drama and suspense, as we anticipated what the next insight would be as another shot appeared on screen.  he didn’t disappoint; he invited us to enjoy and even revel in the art of discovering and appreciating what makes a great film great.  That was his gift; if only more had it, film reviewing might be in much better shape than it is today.


Mad Men again

Catching up on Season 5 on dvd I am again amazed at the quality of this show.  The scripts are incredibly well-crafted. Within a minute or two we go from initial encounter to serious stuff.  Don comes in as Joanie goes beserk at receptionist.  He asks what’s up. Joan withholds, then, in her office, she admits to heartbreak: hubby served divorce papers.  Don, gallant guy he is, takes her to test drive Jaguars, a potential new client.  They wind up drinking and confessing long suppressed feelings.  She intimidated him; he didn’t send flowers like all the others. She found him hot but would never act on it.  A man eyes her. Don, still in early love with Megan, his new and incredible wife, takes his leave. We don’t know what Joanie does but can guess, knowing how she is. But Don gets hell at home for coming in late and drunk and not calling. Megan can’t stand his cavalier way but they clearly love each other.  All this in minutes.  And when Joanie gets flowers later in the program, guess who sent them?

For a tv show where dragging things out is often a key ingredient, ala the classic soap operas, Mad Men leaves little waste, little hesitation. Within a line or two we expose character flaws and deep yearnings, weaknesses and strengths. And every character has more than one side, none are set ups for the others.

If only every show were this complex, and others are too–Game of Thrones for one–I’d reconsider dropping my Direct TV service soon given that so much is a wasteland. Can you imagine a restaurant where, if you order steak, are told Great and that comes with mashed potatoes, french fries, potato chips, baked potato and potato au gratin.  I don’t need the fries. Sorry, that’s not an option.  It won’t be long before someone figures out the Hold Them Captive So We Can Pay Exorbitant Prices for sports events and other things, will crumbe in the face of a reasonable, appealing, affordable alternative.