Saturday, February 28, 2009

Picture of today

Chuckling copy edits the Times

From one of today's editorials:

By defining Negroes not as human beings but as beasts, the nation rationalized subjugation and cruelty — and justified laws that stripped them of basic human rights.
Should read:
By defining some people not as human beings but as...
The Times, in that context, demonstrates the same mindset as those they criticize, though, granted, not anywhere close to the same degree.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Notes on photography

This was just one of those days when I was sick of New York and totally bereft of creative ideas. On those days I often spend a few hours walking around the cemetery, which is the quietest place in town and has a lot of interesting trees. So rather than do nothing, I worked on photographing the color brown. I don't know what it is about digital cameras, but they typically just don't get brown. I think I made a little progress.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Clowning around

In the space of twelve hours, I came across two references to The Day the Clown Cried, an unfinished and unreleased 1972 film directed by and starring Jerry Lewis--allegedly one of the worst films ever made. In addition to sounding interesting, the clown-in-Nazi-Germany angle reminded me of a real life clown I met who had worked the Nazi circuit back in the day.

The plot synopsis sounds great. A washed up clown in Nazi Germany gets sent to prison for making fun of Hitler. He's so bad he can't even make his fellow prisoners laugh, but the Jewish kids at the camp find him funny and he has a creative rebirth. The Nazi's, of course, don't like this so they simultaneously punish him by sending him to Auschwitz and offer him freedom if he is willing to put the kids in the gas chamber. As he's about to close the door on them, he has an epiphany and joins them in the chamber. He does his shtick as the gas envelopes them. They all die laughing.

Audiences, reportedly, were not so amused. Harry Shearer (Bassist for Spinaltap), said this about it in Spy Magazine:

With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring,in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. Oh My God! - thats all you can say.

The backstory is as interesting as the plot. The financial backer couldn't cover costs, they lost the rights to the script during shooting, and Lewis was going broke and strung out on Percodan the whole time. So it's got an Apocalypse Now on prescription pain killers thing going on as well. It was never released due to the intense loathing it created in everyone who saw it. Lewis, however, considers it his lost masterpiece.

Sounds like my kind of movie. I hope to see it someday.

On a loosely related note, that reminded me of a clown I met in Italy a few years back. I was living in a VW Bus with a friend and his father. We were stuck in Genoa waiting for a boat to North Africa. In those days I would just drive off into random parts of cities to find a place to eat, drink and sleep. That night we ended up camping outside a small bar/restaurant in a working class part of town. Dry red wine was served in earthenware jugs on long wooden tables. The wine was so cheap it was almost free. Spaghetti was the only thing on the menu. The crowd was old and generally hostile towards us. We drank a lot of that wine.

An old man joined us with an empty glass and introduced himself as Tony. We were happy to share. He spoke English and, according to him, seven other languages. He said he had been a circus clown and as the jugs of wine came and went he told us stories of his travels around the world. Of particular interest were stories he told about traveling circuses in Nazi occupied parts of Europe during the war. Of course the chief problem with heavy drinking and storytelling is that it's very difficult to actually remember the stories. Unfortunately, the only thing that's stayed with me is that they were fascinating.

Well, not entirely. By the end of the night we were so drunk Tony had us practically weeping into our glasses. We could barely get our heads up off the table to wipe our eyes and have another drink. At the end, Tony summed up his life by waving his hands toward heaven and declaring(imagine heavy Italian accent): "It is all remember. It is all so beautiful."

It is all remember. It is all so beautiful. Now them's some words I want carved on my tomb. At the time I was thinking I could say the same thing, but then I made the mistake of moving to New York. And yes, now that I think about it, I remember a little dream I had when I fell asleep on the road while driving here. There was a clown, he had buck teeth and a nasally whine, and he was leading me into some kind of room, and some kind of smoke was enveloping us, and I was laughing...