Andrew Hultkrans

  • diary July 22, 2013

    For the Record

    LIKE SUN RA, George Clinton, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, hip-hop originator and DJ Afrika Bambaataa is a “brother from another planet” whose retrofuturist aesthetics conflate Garveyite motherland-yearning and outer-space science fiction. Despite his background as a prominent member of the Warriors-era Bronx gang the Black Spades, his 1980s stage outfits were “ancient alien” avant la lettre—Ming the Merciless robes and custom Viking helmets accessorized with wraparound New Wave shades and Egyptian ankhs. He was the most musically polyglot of the holy trinity of Bronx block-party DJs (Kool Herc,

  • film July 03, 2013

    Star Crossed

    IT CAME FROM MEMPHIS… but it wasn’t blues, rockabilly, or soul. It was, in some ways, a second coming of the Beatles, though without sales or notoriety. It was a 1972 album called #1 Record by a band dubbed Big Star, names at first hopeful and then—as cocksure fantasy slid into disappointing reality—bitterly ironic. It became a locus of tragedy and the cornerstone of a cult (built up by rock critics and musicians), and it remains, along with two further LPs (barely) released under the band’s name, some of the best, most timeless music made in the 1970s.

    Big Star was born in 1971 when the trio of

  • film May 26, 2013

    Curious George

    DESPITE OUTWARD TRAPPINGS OF SUCCESS, George Plimpton’s life was a fugue of failure, beginning, as we learn in the affectionate new documentary Plimpton!, with his inability to obtain any varsity letters at—or to even graduate from—Exeter, the elite New Hampshire prep school. As a scion of a prominent WASP family in an era when that still mattered, he nevertheless managed to matriculate to Harvard and complete graduate studies at Cambridge. None of this made any positive impression on his father, a New York lawyer and supreme exemplar of the Protestant ethic, who constantly sent the young George

  • diary April 23, 2013

    Future Past

    PITY THE WRITER who coins a term or phrase that becomes a cliché, part of the culture (e.g., “the global village,” “Catch-22,” “cyberspace”). Not only are you asked to revisit and account for this eureka moment for the rest of your career, but you’re also often consigned to ignominious or obscure fates. If you’re Marshall McLuhan, you end up parodying your own ideological ubiquity in a Woody Allen film; if you’re Joseph Heller, you recede into the landscape and disappear. If you’re science-fiction novelist William Gibson, author of Neuromancer (1984) and prime mover of the “cyberpunk” subgenre,

  • film February 08, 2013

    Poetry in Motion

    VARIOUSLY CALLED AN “OLD-ASS ANARCHIST” (Amiri Baraka), “the most popular modern poet” (Michael McClure), and a “romantic idealist who accepts living in an imperfect world” (Nancy Peters), poet/painter/publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti is that rarest of birds, a creator-impresario-activist whose tireless dedication to radical literature and politics changed the course of postwar cultural history. His best-known book of poems is the proto-Beat lyric collection A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), but his legacy is better described by the title of his 2007 volume Poetry as Insurgent Art. Through his

  • film November 28, 2012

    Beat Generation

    “THE DEVIL TAKES CARE OF HIS OWN.” So says the first wife of legendary jazz/rock/African drummer and world-class hellion Ginger Baker to explain the man’s highly improbable longevity. Best known for his work with British “supergroups” Cream and Blind Faith, in which he created and broke the mold of the hard-rock stickman in under three years, Baker is also—as we learn in the penetrating, often gasp-worthy documentary Beware of Mr. Baker—a ferocious madman who has consumed truckloads of substances; made and spent fortunes; and alienated scores of family members, friends, and musicians on several

  • diary November 05, 2012

    Mean Streak

    BLOOD FROM A STONE. A kind, patient stone, but a stone nonetheless. The stone was Don DeLillo, novelist and elder of postmodernism, and the designated bleeder for the evening was Jonathan Franzen, novelist and acolyte of Don DeLillo. Watching Franzen try to draw out DeLillo on the “meaning” of his work on a pre-Sandy night at the New York Public Library, I felt the type of vertigo-by-proxy one feels when reading a particularly unrewarding interview with Bob Dylan, where the questions are longer and more complex than the answers, and the answerer, when answering at all, comes off as the cat who

  • film October 30, 2012

    Stop Making Sense

    NATIVES OF SUBURBAN PHILADELPHIA who have lived for decades in England, the Quay Brothers are identical twins. Originally inspired by Polish poster art and animation, they emerged (not unlike David Lynch) from an ordinary American childhood to create a dreamlike, unclassifiable body of work that is proudly anachronistic and (dare I say) European. Their flummoxing, unforgettable animated shorts—infernal machines of staggering complexity and detail—are the products of visual artists who chose film as a medium, not of arty filmmakers. Indeed, that is what they were and are—gnomic illustration

  • film October 10, 2012

    Search Engine

    IN CRONENBERG ON CRONENBERG, the Canadian director said that his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone (1983) was, for him, primarily about Christopher Walken’s face. Similarly, Holy Motors (2012), French writer-director Léos Carax’s bold return to feature filmmaking after more than a decade, is largely a multivalent study of Denis Lavant’s body. It is also a brilliantly metatextual, multigenre meditation on what Jean Baudrillard called “the disappearance of the real” in the face of the encroaching digitization of everything, as well as a fictional realization of Erving Goffman’s 1959

  • film July 06, 2012

    Senior Trip

    THERE’S SOMETHING UNCANNY about seeing—on film—the parents of a screen actor of your own era: watching a Kirk Douglas or Lloyd Bridges movie, say, if you came of age in the 1970s and ’80s with Michael and Jeff. Not only do you immediately start cataloguing similarities in appearance and mannerisms (odd in itself, as both parent and child are playing characters), but you feel compelled to make extracinematic judgments about the real-life individuals; how, even as an old man, Michael seems callow, baby-faced, and reptilian next to the craggy, eagle-like intensity of his father, who wouldn’t look

  • diary July 01, 2012

    Movie Magic

    AH, PATRONAGE. Where would we be without it, especially in these days of extreme income polarization? For good or ill, if a certain subset of the wealthy didn’t help fund the arts in this country—whether motivated by genuine affinity, the tax code, or evil-billionaire image management—all that would remain available for mass consumption would be endless analogues, for every artistic medium, of American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance?, Project Runway, Project Greenlight, etc. One of the primary modes of arts fund-raising—the benefit, often with awards attached—can nevertheless be deadly, with

  • film March 19, 2012

    Stalker Talkers

    OK, I CONFESS: I went to the Wikipedia page for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) to double-check something for this piece. I did this despite the fact that, ontologically speaking, Tarkovsky and Wikipedia couldn’t be more incompatible: one man’s brilliant (if at times gnomic), expansive, autocratic vision vs. a mediocre, bite-size, consensus version of reality hashed out by a virtual rabble of bickering volunteer librarians. I wouldn’t risk admitting this if the page didn’t contain something as unbearably perfect for its subject as this generic Wiki admonishment: “This article’s plot summary

  • diary March 16, 2012

    Mic Check

    IN THE THIRD MAN, the soulless black marketeer played by Orson Welles considered the relative merits of the Swiss approach to life and politics: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love—they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” That’s not entirely fair; they also produced Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the eighteenth-century political philosopher, novelist, composer, and citizen of Geneva

  • film January 06, 2012

    Insight Joke

    IN PORTLAND, OREGON, where I’d gone to attend an old friend’s wedding a few years ago, I witnessed two hipsters in their natural habitat, just around the corner from a Stumptown coffee shop on Belmont, silently and with great efficiency performing what can only be described as a dance ritual (on weathered fixed-gear bikes, natch). Not a word was spoken, but this streetside roundelay was pregnant with pointed looks, twitchy body language, and, of course, the mutual sizing up of clothes, hair, and accessories. The boys were impeccably styled—Williamsburgers would abandon OkCupid and chuck their

  • film December 14, 2011

    All the Old Dudes

    NAMED AFTER AN OBSCURE NOVEL by Willard Manus about a circus freak, Mott the Hoople were one of the emblematic rock bands of the early 1970s, their many stylistic phases—hard rock, singer-songwriter, country rock, glam—paralleling the genre shifts of the period. Like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, Mott were a cult band before the category existed, and like Lou and Iggy, they enjoyed a midcareer resuscitation from the original fan–rock star, David Bowie.

    Originally a semimanufactured group consisting of four yobs from Herefordshire and a minor genius from Northampton, Mott were put together

  • film November 18, 2011

    Scream Memories

    THE ARC OF DAVID CRONENBERG’S career as a director mirrors that of an idiosyncratic underground band that slowly finds mainstream acceptance, its skills improving as its aesthetics plane out to inoffensive craftsmanship. Formerly a true innovator in the disreputable genres of horror and science fiction, the Canadian filmmaker was for a quarter century perhaps the greatest living example of the auteur theory, his films exploring extreme physical and psychological mutation with the single-mindedness of an obsessive still-life painter, examining and reexamining the same source material from every

  • diary November 08, 2011

    Trial and Errol

    ERROL MORRIS IS FASCINATED by the unreliability of images, memories, and the symbiotic, if often deceptive, relationship between them. It seemed fitting, then, that his mere appearance at the New York Public Library last Wednesday night served (for me) as an object lesson in one of his obsessions. While I had been aware of Morris and his remarkable, idiosyncratic documentaries since at least The Thin Blue Line (1988), I’d somehow gotten it into my head that he looked like the subject of his 1999 documentary Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (the titular Mr. Leuchter—bespectacled,

  • diary October 20, 2011

    For the Record

    FROM A CRAMPED NYU DORM ROOM to an SRO event at the New York Public Library, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin have come a long way. So too has the culture. When the men responsible for introducing hardcore hip-hop to a thoroughly unprepared Reaganite America are honored at one of this city’s most venerable institutions, things have changed. And Simmons and Rubin can lay claim to the title of prime instigators of that change, having racked up an impressive array of firsts: first white rap group (Beastie Boys), first B-boy teen idol (LL Cool J), first rap-rock hybrid (Run-DMC’s “Rock Box”), first

  • film September 30, 2011

    Roman Holiday

    “HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE,” the money line from Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit (1944), could easily serve as the subtitle to the latest film by Roman Polanski, master director and controversial exile. Based on the award-winning 2006 play Le Dieu du Carnage (God of Carnage) by French playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza, Carnage is a minor, stagey film that returns the Polish filmmaker to the physical and emotional claustrophobia of the boat in Knife in the Water (1962) and the apartment in Repulsion (1965), as well as to the misanthropic gallows humor of Cul-de-sac (1966). The narrative draws on

  • film August 05, 2011

    More the Merrier

    IT WAS ONE OF THE GREAT UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES in American history: Hoping for a truth serum or psychological weapon, the CIA tested the powerful, still-legal psychedelic LSD on human volunteers during the late 1950s and early ’60s in research hospitals and mental wards across the country. The project, it was later revealed, was called MKULTRA, and one of its unwitting subjects was the young, soon-to-be-famous novelist Ken Kesey, a creative writing grad student on a fellowship at Stanford. Kesey also worked the night shift at a local “nut house,” as he put it, and his experiences caring for