Monet’s Early Years, as seen in San Francisco

What Monet did to get rolling isn’t all that different from what he did later on. But it is already powerful and raw in a way his later, more contemplative images aren’t always.

The streaky strokes that build the water contrast sharply with the dabs he uses for reflections elsewhere

the streaky strokes that build the water contrast sharply with the dabs he uses for reflections elsewhere

He did this image from memory obviously; otherwise he’d have no doubt drowned. And it’s powerful; you worry about the sailors and wonder about their fate.
He surely loved water and the artistic challenge it presented. Social status and labor were of far less interest than nature, but this was so for most of the Impressionist work.

The water ripples center on the raft and its well dressed population of "bathers." This is just part of the painting.

The water ripples center on the raft and its well dressed population of “bathers.” This is just part of the painting.

Compare the “finished” work above with the sketch quality of the one below. He manages to depict a crowd of folk in the water with almost no delineation at all; and the water ripples have an amazing power.

Here is repose compared to the storm at sea and yet his ability to give character to his three figures on the quai demonstrates a love of specificity, as do those incredible ripples.

Here is repose compared to the storm at sea and yet his ability to give character to his three figures on the quai demonstrates a love of specificity, as do those incredible ripples.

Copies don’t go justice but Monet’s painting, Boats at the Port of Honfleur, can give you chills. Just dabs of paint tossed onto the canvas, these reflections of boats and trees are only that; but their weight, coloration, proportion and placement render the rightside up world of what floats perfectly in its upside down world of reflection. It’s an amazing work and possesses, and exudes, a vitality that the great later works of waterlilies and the like do not (despite their rhapsodic beauty). it has to be seen in person. It is a perfect painting.
Then there’s dad. Dad didn’t approve of son becoming a painter. The placard says this is a calm, respectful portrait of dad in the park, with no hint of the familial tension. Nope. Look, if the reproduction allows, at dad’s posture. Stiff as a rifle, jaw jutting forward, left leg almost levitating as he “reads.” Monet captures a tight, strict figure of black and white that contrasts sharply with the painting of his wife that follows.

He's not only tense but totally alone, Monet's Moses with the commandments the son will disobey.

He’s not only tense but totally alone, Monet’s Moses with the commandments the son will disobey.

This “shot” of his wife on a cold day outside the house, passing the glass panelled door, imbues her with a melancholy look that may relate to the enforced poverty his not yet successful painting career and his lack of paternal support imposed. A look of sadness, fleeting, perhaps, and yet the room is large, the glass clear, the day bright and Monet pays homage to the woman who endures what must be endured with and because of the very work that honors her.

Note how little facial detail Monet needs to paint to capture her expression. He possesses an economy few achieve.

Note how little facial detail Monet needs to paint to capture her expression. He possesses an economy few achieve.

Some paintings capture another maturing style in the early work: smoother, softer, with less obvious traces of brush strokes and paint dabs. This painting, done, I believe, in the Netherlands, is representative and feels “nice” to me in a more familiar and comfortable way. Yet the reflections–those perfect gestural reflections–are there to remind us of the degree to which Monet’s early work possessed a rawness and perfection, a magic and defiance that slowly gained recognition and acclaim, enough to erase the poverty of these early years.

Compare this work to the boats at Honfleur; the tonality and gentleness here seems closer to Renoir than some his more dramatic early work

Compare this work to the boats at Honfleur; the tonality and gentleness here seems closer to Renoir than some his more dramatic early work

Snowden the fiction film

We’ve had Citizenfour, the documentary film, and now Oliver Stone gives us the true story as a dramatic fiction.  Laura Poitras is there, as a character, filming Snowden in Hong Kong, and it is from this scene that we flashback over his life.  That concept works well; between his own recollections and what Laura draws out (which is everything of interest about his transition from gung ho CIA operative to whistle blower; the Guardian reporter and Glenn Greenwald are only interested in The Big Story, not in Snowden’s story), we get a well developed portrait of what it takes to induce repugnance and indignation in someone who wants to serve his country.

As far as I can make out, the only real justification for the surveillance is that the enema is everywhere, security is paramount, and secrecy is vital to security, hence spying on everyone all the time. That’s what Snowden’s CIA mentor tells us and it feels like a half-baked half-truth; in  other words, as Stone tells it the whole program is a fantasmatic effort to find needles in haystacks that could be better spent pursuing specific leads and launching counter-offensives.  There is no discussion of how to promote democracy or how to build democratic institutions  among our middle east “allies,” or how to rely on “good” Muslims to help feret out the bad, etc.  There is a “hide inside the fortress” mentality to the CIA and NSA that makes effective action almost inconceivable.

All in all, an excellent complement to Poitras’s portrait of Snowden and a film with more suspense than I would have imagined.

Women in Abstract Painting

 

The King Is Dead (Hamilton?)

Grace Hartigan, The King Is Dead [Hartigan said The King is Picasso]

The Denver Art Museum hosts this show of over a dozen women artists, from San Francisco and New York, primarily.  Some are quite well known (Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner), others less so (Perle Fine, Mary Abbott) but all are impressive. Each gets a space of her own. Each has 4-6 paintings judiciously selected.  The placards downplay, if they mention at all, their connections with male abstract expressionists, rightly so, since the work clearly stands on its own, and may, in fact, in cases such as Frankenthaler’s Color Field paintings, have influenced other women, and men, as much as Rothko or Still influenced the women.

Of course there is a publication with all the paintings and there is a quite good 15 minute film that has interviews with the women in the show or those who knew them. The candid photos the women in their studios and at play suggest that were  “out there”: smoking, partying, working hard and having clear, engaging thoughts about their work and the work of others.  Several state that San Francisco was a far less macho, discriminatory work for women than New York City.

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Perle Fine’s small abstraction. Most of the work in the show is quite large.

It may not be possible to “pop” over to Denver but if you find yourself here, it is a terrific show. And right next store, in the Clyfford Still Museum, is a room dedicated to work he made in San Francisco while a teach at the San Francisco Institute of Art where he served as a mentor for some of the women in the show, someone to learn from but hardly imitate as these women artists found voices of their own.

Budapest Daze

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The roots of the city

Exploring and discovering. I’m mainly in a little, hot classroom in an old building with 25 other people discussing documentary but the films we see are taking us around the world and then there’s the wandering in Budapest too.

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Once upon a time, craft displayed itself more openly, as in the manhole covers that dot the city streets

The main streets bustle like main streets everywhere but the small side streets outnumber them and one can wander the city away from cars for the most part and discover things like:  Music

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Or: Decorative friezes four stories in the air

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And Street Artists too, along the Danube in this case

Speaking of which, here it is: the Danube, the Buda side Castle that tourists flock to, the #2 tram that runs along the river, and the sun in late afternoon.

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There is also loss. This used to be Cafe Alibi, a wonderful little cafe/restaurant with delicious food and a lot of classic atmosphere, with piano music and tables for about 20. Now, it’s something else entirely:

Former home of terrific bistro

BYE BYE ALIBI, HELLO STARBUCKS

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The language of signs: “The Ministry of Human Capacity” has a limited capacity for the handicapped; they have to enter around the corner.

And the people. I always wonder what their stories are: where do they live, what do they do, where are they going?

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Some announce what they are doing now, but what will they do later tonight? And what are they guarding?

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This is what they guard: Parliament, on the Danube. No assaults from the river are anticipated…

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That’s the almost fairy tale part of an old city.

Meanwhile, there’s today and dinner. And I return to a restaurant I visited four years ago, as good now as it was then:

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Salaam Bombay from my table: the gems beneath the glass and the view of the front of the restaurant, but the food’s about to arrive, so it’s time to step back out of the Daze… for now.

Budapest in Spring

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Stay tuned; more on the opera below

Here for a week to do a course for documentary nomads, grads specializing in doc films who start in Barcelona, come here, then finish in Brussels. Today was Get over Jet Lag day.

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Always start with a cappuccino in a nice little cafe.

The cafe ceiling has quite stunning details.  Actually it’s a bookstore, opposite the Opera House, but it’ll do.

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The U.S. is just not old enough for all this glorious trimming

Having a coffee here, by the way, took me past the shrine to Nespresso, also near the Opera and shrouded in reverence for one of the most environmentally wasteful products yet conceived: the single shot of coffee pod.

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The many flavors of Nespresso, a few are here

And if you need a box or two…

Nespresso

Yes, that colorful array is box after box of Nespresso pods

And then there’s the Opera itself, or the entrance, all I could do today.

opera 4 stairs

I wondered if Escher had a hand in designing this

And don’t forget the floor:

opera 5 floor

But Buadpest has a lot of history and nearby is the House of Terror. Not the usual Inquisitorial torture devices, but a painful history of traitors and killers, spies and betrayals, mostly after World War II, during the Soviet era. It was closed today but these photographic tributes to some who were killed are on the exterior wall:

House of Torture ext

There’s more to come and later in the week I plan to go inside to learn more about the terrors.

Science, Fraud and Documentary

Tribeca film fest plans to show an anti-science, fact-denying hoax that actually costs lives. VAXXED, akin to Dinesh DeSousa’s OBAMA 2016, denies scientific evidence, established fact, makes fraudulent claims, and is utterly indifferent to the truth. It claims vaccines cause autism and the Festival wants us to think this is a “controversy” rather than a fraud. The Festival has it on its program.
Maybe the FACT of climate warming is a controversy in need of a good forum like Tribeca when the issue is what to do about it.
What to do about this film is to protest, boycott, and warn others. Children’s lives are at stake. The unvaccinated can and do die of preventable diseases and they allow those diseases to persist and spread. The film’s claims are wrong. It’s main “champion” is a doctor who lost his license for his failure to abide by the scientific method and promoted bogus research as true. Tribeca’s failed to do the least bit of fact-checking and seems eager only to draw a crowd, no matter how misguided the message.
This Festival is heading for the recycling center, which is where the wayward and deluded go now that, in this election year, all the handbaskets to hell are overflowing.
Let Tribeca know those of us in documentary film study do NOT support hoaxes, lies and frauds masquerading as “controversy” and exploiting documentary conventions to do it.

2 Knock Out Films

So what are they?  Where to Invade Next and Room.  One doc one fiction and both tremendous.

Michael Moore has taken his boat ride to Cuba with 9/11 rescuers who couldn’t get adequate medical care in their own country and find what they need in Cuba, from Sicko, and made that gesture into a film. Did you know Italian workers can get 8 weeks of paid vacation time/year, 5 months of maternity leave, paid, and a 13th month of salary routinely? Did you know that half of the members of corporate Boards of Directors have to come from the workers in Germany? Or that Finland is far ahead of the U.S. in achieving educational goals by spending less time in school, requiring little or no homework, having no standardized testing, and relying on innate curiosity to drive students to learn?

How about Norway’s prisons, even for murderers, where prisoners have apartments with their own keys and freedom of movement as they learn how to become responsible member of society? Or Slovenia’s free university education for anyone, including foreign students? (It’s just one of dozens of countries to do so.) Or the gourmet meals Moore enjoyed in France, 3 or 4 courses, with scallop appetizers and fantastic main courses, followed by cheese and desert, not at a restaurant, but at a middle school? Or the Constitutional right to equity that women enjoy in Tunisia but not in the U.S.?

The list goes on. Moore has gone to numerous countries, not to expose their corruption and failures but what they do right. And they do a lot that we don’t even know about, even though in many cases, the idea first came from here. Penchants for insularity and attitudes of superiority have cost us dearly. Presidential candidates lie about our greatness when most of the industrial world, and beyond, is doing better than we are with such basic issues as health, education and welfare. The film is a genuine eye opener and could easily form the platform base for Hillary or Bernie, if they were brave enough to say we can actually learn from people different from ourselves.

Room is a different kettle of fish. A young woman and her five year old son have been confined to a single room for seven years when the film begins. We learn she’s been abducted and help captive, that her son has no clue what the rest of the world is like. It is, in fact, only the pretend world he sees on TV, and the view from the too high to reach skylight is like the Reality that Plato’s prisoners fail to turn around to see.  But they are not duped by illusions; they are held captive by a pervert.

The film’s power resides in 1) the fact that much of it is told from the pov of the five year old boy who is just beginning to grasp what lies beyond his room, 2) the incredible performance by Brie Larson as the fiercely protective mother of a son whose father is not to be spoken of, trusted, or believed for a moment, and 3) from the totally not fairy tale aftermath to freedom when Joy and Jack, the captives, must contend with friends and family and media that cannot comprehend or accept what these two brave souls have gone through. The film packs a visceral punch far beyond that of most films. It hits at our wounds from childhood and how we are all trapped inside the rooms and stories we are given and create. It forces us to ask how hard are we willing to struggle to escape, what price we are willing to pay, with what risk to body and soul? It’s no wonder Larson is up for an Oscar and very likely to win, but even more, this is a film up for consideration as one of the most painful, probing, disturbing, and emotionally powerful films of recent years.  It operates in a zone far beyond the formulaic dimensions of the otherwise truly best films of the year, Spotlight,  The Big Short and Revenant. And, perhaps because of that, it’s not an Oscar nominee, but it is one  of the most memorable films I’ve seen in quite some time.

Primaries and Primates

They’re all primates, these candidates, even if some don’t seem much more evolved than our evolutionary predecessors. But they all have a way of tapping into hopes and fears, for better or, more often, for worse.

The Republican candidates are a gang of teen-age trouble makers, eager to mock their elders (one of whom has already been elected President), denounce their peers, and denigrate their opponents. No integrity, decency or wisdom limits their thoughts. They are invincible, invulnerable, immortal, and dumb as all teens with a not yet fully formed brain are, especially males (and some females, think Carly) who aspire to be one.

The Democrats have a woman who we’re told we better vote for or else if we ever want to see women burst through this particular glass ceiling (but maybe think Carly again before you get down for that one). We also have a shoot from the hip, tell it like it is outsider who, like some of the Republicans, thinks it’s all rigged and needs radical overhaul, but not dismantling so much as democratizing.

He, Bernie, just won in New Hampshire. And what does Hillary’s camp do? Congratulate him and say how much she looks forward to more intense debate on issues and principles? Nope. More like, Yeah, he won, but it’s only New Hampshire. After she too spent huge amounts of time and money there.  Does that sound a wee bit peevish and disingenuous?  Isn’t that part of her problem: she sounds like she says what’s convenient or opportunistic or what votes have heard before and she thinks they want to hear again.

A news report said, “One troubling sign: Mr. Sanders was the choice, nearly unanimously, among voters who said it was most important to have a candidate who is “honest and trustworthy.””

There you have it in a nutshell. Bernie may not have all the answers and may not have the experience and expertise of a Clinton, but he has heart, and soul, and honesty. And voters can’t get enough of it. And if they start out Republican, they think the bluster puss with New York values has it too. But his racism and elitism and contempt for others will bring him down eventually.

It’s really a question of what can the Democrats do to win back Congress more than how to sweep aside the juvenile delinquents who think they belong in the White House.

All in my humble opinion, of course.

Art at Stanford

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Just a short drive down the Peninsula from San Francisco the Cantor and Anderson Art Museums are well worth the trip. Or a visit from elsewhere. Cantor is the older museum, with the cafe, and Anderson a newer one devoted to the collection of the Anderson family. Anderson is entirely modern and contemporary art, from Ellsworth Kelly and Sean Scully, as in Scully’s stunning Red Ascending, below, to a rich array of contemporary work, also below.

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Sean Scully’s Red Ascending, one of the gems in the Anderson collection.

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The red post in the background is entitled, gallows, which has an ironic link, of course to the three police officers to its right. The cube captures light in fascinating ways.

At the Cantor Rodin is always on view as is a good sample of the permanent collection. Right now, a special exhibition features two new acquistions: an Edward Hopper,  Corner Store, and the notebooks of Richard Diebenkorn, a trove of amazing detail, some repetitious to be sure but often surprising.

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A page from notebook 39 in the new acquisition of Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks

With SF MOMA still closed, Stanford makes a very worth while destination.