Gary Indiana

  • CLAIM TO FAME

    ABOUT SAM McKINNISS: He is so out of the ordinary, and so unusually well-equipped to write about himself if he cared to, that writing about him feels presumptuous. And truthfully, most of what’s been written about my own work, including by me, has always seemed alien to what I had in mind. How something is made, and why something is made, is a matter that often gets lost in the public reception of that thing. Quite often, artists forget why they made something: It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Nothing is ever about one single thing, and impressive works of art are often about

  • the Steilneset Memorial

    IN FINNMARK, at the Arctic tail end of Norway that lops over Sweden and Finland, American artist Louise Bourgeois and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor collaborated on a monument to the ninety-one persons burned there as witches in the seventeenth century. On June 23, a year after Bourgeois’s death, the Steilneset Memorial was opened to the public by Queen Sonja of Norway (that rare thing, a monarch people actually like) in a dedication ceremony that drew what appeared to be most if not all of the surrounding population.

    The witch trials, tortures, and executions that took place at Steilneset, on

  • GARY INDIANA

    GARY INDIANA

    “I DIDN’T KNOW HOW I would feel about it”: The thought, ready-made for Wittgenstein to parse, kept looping in my mind, on the subway, before I even got to the Whitney Museum, where the elevator doors opened at the fourth floor onto a milky, unblinking ghost face, obviously an Andy Warhol Screen Test of Paul Thek.

    But I suppose I did know some of what I would feel: the heavy, awkward pull of a faraway world full of vanished people, including Paul, whose lives had rubbed up against mine; regret over things we didn’t see coming; a melancholic determination to walk through all the rooms.

  • The Baader Meinhof Complex

    ULI EDEL’S BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX is a hypercompressed, epic, tile-work rendering of Stefan Aust’s definitive 1985 book of the same name. Aust, before becoming editor of Der Spiegel, covered the activities of the Red Army Faction as a young reporter, from the RAF’s inception in 1970. His exhaustive account begins at the end—with the death of Andreas Baader in his Stammheim Prison cell on October 18, 1977. Edel, director of such films as Christiane F. (1981) and Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), begins his narrative, on the contrary, before the beginning of the story, with two vignettes establishing

  • GOGOL IN SEOUL: THE FILMS OF BONG JOON-HO

    Before he began working on The Host, thirty-eight-year-old Korean director Bong Joon-ho had made only two feature-length films: The first was, at the time of its release, a critical and box-office failure; the second, despite its grim true-to-life narrative, was a major hit. Even so, no one could have predicted—indeed, no one did predict—the staggering success of Bong’s third film, a low-budget monster movie that premiered last May in Cannes to rave reviews before going on to become the highest grossing film in Korean history.
     
    Godzilla was famously the projection of a postwar Japanese psyche traumatized by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the nameless monster of The Host is likewise the product of environmental disaster at the hands of the American military. But whereas Japanese films of the genre allegorized broadly the horrors of modern technology, The Host is a caustic—and quite specific—critique of American power: The monsters of our creation pose far less a threat to the world than our militarized overreaction to them.
     
    In anticipation of The Host’s arrival in American theaters on March 9, novelist and critic Gary Indiana reappraises this small body of work—intriguing for its encoding of deep social commentary in popular genres—that has decisively established Bong Joon-ho as a vital force in the newly resurgent Korean cinema.

    The three feature films Korean director Bong Joon-ho has shot to date—Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), Memories of Murder (2003), and his monster- movie masterpiece, The Host (2006)—suggest what Gogol might have done with a movie camera. Bong pictures the absurdity of our time as the mess generated by unlimited idiocy, “the human condition” as an unstable mixture of bad conditioning and decent instincts. His films heap shrewd, witty ridicule on all forms of authority, particularly the military and the police; his work is witheringly hostile to the United States’ presumed guardianship of South

  • Kiyoshi Kurosawa

    I DISCOVERED Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Cure (1997) while working on Pariah, a film about Ulrike Meinhof that deals with the “spell” cast by leaders over followers and with the conditions that promote violent solutions to social problems. Meinhof, a widely respected journalist and social critic, had not only depicted these conditions in a fictional girls’ reformatory in the television film Bambule (from which my film takes extensive footage), but turned to violence herself, under the ideological influence of Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. On May 14, 1970, Meinhof literally leaped (with Baader,

  • Richard Linklater

    LOQUACITY IS Richard Linklater’s métier: Regardless of how much or little action occurs in the course of his films, his characters talk incessantly, sometimes brilliantly, about what flumes up from their brainpans and how they perceive what goes on around them. Their emotional composition defines itself in the timing of cross talk, interruptions, witticisms, asperities, and perfunctory displays of affection. At times, they almost resemble real people, in films like Dazed and Confused (1993) and The School of Rock (2003)—zany people, equipped with one or two signature habits, tics, idiosyncracies.

  • Gary Indiana on Los Angeles Plays Itself

    THOM ANDERSEN’S film essay Los Angeles Plays Itself—which opens in New York, at Film Forum, in July—would seem to confirm a view that many of us who’ve lived all or part of our lives in Los Angeles have held as a matter of course: to wit, that LA’s a great place to live if you have nothing to do with “the Industry,” in which thirty-nine out of forty Angelenos are neither employed nor especially interested.

    The film’s opening sequence illustrates the bogus and silly qualities of “Los Angeles on film,” with footage from B movies like The Crimson Kimono (1959), He Walked by Night (1948), Pushover

  • Leni Riefenstahl

    NOW THAT SHE IS authentically dead—at 101, felled by a curse from the ghost of Ernst Jünger, who lived two years longer—Leni Riefenstahl has joined the shades she often conjured during a career of ardor, mystification, and, perhaps, subliminal expiation.

    What good would it do to apologize? she asks in the 1993 Roy Müller documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. Apologies don’t turn the clock back or raise the dead from dust. The sensible tactic, in the face of speeding time and mass amnesia, is to move on and hope that everybody forgets about it. But Leni knew they never

  • Gary Indiana on The Fog of War

    I WILL BEGIN BY ADMITTING that I fell asleep five times during a morning press screening of Errol Morris’s The Fog of War—which received its US premiere at the New York Film Festival last September and is currently playing in theaters around the country—and I left the auditorium with precious few impressions besides that of the spectacularly bad dental work that Robert S. McNamara, the former secretary of defense, exposed each time he was featured in close-up. Having now viewed the documentary three additional times, while fully awake, what ultimately seems most impressive about Morris’s skewed

  • Colin de Land

    IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, and I was standing, freezing, outside American Fine Arts, Co., when a shiny new purple pickup truck arrived with its ferocious cargo: The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Naked save for a coat of brightly colored body paint, seven band members leaped from the vehicle and paraded into the packed gallery for their performance. Inside the space, visitors were greeted by a photo in which bandleader Kembra Pfahler was seen prancing on a bed with another naked body—that of Colin de Land, the proprietor of American Fine Arts, painted completely blue and topped with a

  • PROSE AND CONS: PAULINE KAEL

    Pauline Kael, the New Yorker’s film critic from 1968 until 1991 (save for a brief hiatus in 1978, when she took a short-lived job at a Hollywood studio), died on September 3, 2001. With all of the predictable eulogizing behind us, we asked five critics—Gary Indiana, Annette Michelson, Geoffrey O’Brien, Paul Schrader, and Craig Seligman—to step back and take the long view on Kael’s celebrated if contentious career. Contributing editor Greil Marcus leads off by introducing Kael’s first published essay—inexplicably excluded from her eleven collections of reviews—which we reprint here in its

  • OPENINGS: CAMERON JAMIE

    YEARS BEFORE I SAW ANY OF CAMERON JAMIE'S WORK, the artist Larry Johnson had told me about “this guy who does 'apartment wrestling'”—or at least performance that takes that softcore-porn subgenre as its point of departure. Eventually I met the artist and he agreed to send me a copy of his film BB, 2000, but it would be months and many missed connections-before the eighteen-minute extravaganza of suburban teenage acting-out would arrive in the mail with two shorter videos, La Baguette, 1997, and The New Life, 1996. Wildly different from whatever I'd imagined, they were truly odd, riveting

  • ROBERT BRESSON: 1901–1999

    On December 22, 1999, Robert Bresson, the director of thirteen lapidary feature films, died at the age of ninety-eight. Over the course of a career that spanned half a century, Bresson honed a laconic, intensely personal style that has influenced filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to Jim Jarmusch. Here, novelists Gary Indiana and Dennis Cooper and artist Stephen Prina assess the significance of Bresson’s art in their own lives and work, while film historian David Bordwell discusses the French master’s place in the history of cinematic style.

  • Movie Rites

    EVEN BEFORE ROBERT BRESSON DIED, an elegiac note had begun to sound in various essays and articles written about him. Elegiac not for him personally, but for his whole conception of cinema. The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, for instance, worried that Bresson’s films, in which the meticulous composition of shots and the precise spatial location of sound effects are of paramount importance, translate unusually poorly to home video; and, since video is where today’s would-be cineast gets acquainted with film history, the persistence of Bresson’s vision is called into doubt. In Robert Bresson,

  • Gary Indiana

    1. The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (Ray Müller, 1993) It doesn’t answer the eternal question, “Did she sit on Hitler’s face?” but this hilarious portrait proves that evil doesn’t have to be banal: It can also be insane entertainment.

    2. Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998) Marks the welcome return of Louise Lasser to films that can match her anguishing drollery.

    3. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999) Anybody who doesn’t adore this movie is brain-dead.

    4. Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996) A banquet of prosthetically augmented homoerotica and disfigurement fetishism that made me want to

  • Crime and Misdemeanors

    THERE WAS SOMETHING NEVER QUITE CREDIBLE about the explosion of galleries and artists that happened in the East Village in the mid-’80s. It had a feeling about it suggestive of a feral swarm, a feeding frenzy that somehow overwhelmed the thing it supposedly was about, this “art” thing that in Manhattan had always been neighborhood specific or even bar specific—I mean Cedar Tavern specific, or Max’s Kansas City specific, or SoHo specific; an element of contrivance had slipped in, something “simulacral,” to use a word very popular at the time. When you looked at the East Village before and after,

  • Gary Indiana

    1 The Horror Vacui Effect If 1997 had anything particular about it—doubtful—it may have been the baleful evolution of the horror vacui effect in what we call “mass media”: television, magazines, newspapers, and radio, working in synchronicity, refined the techniques of mass manipulation in ever-more capital-intensive ways. When a promising item began taking shape—JonBenet Ramsey, Marv Albert—it instantly became the story, cynosure of all talk shows, leviathan gobbler of all attention, churned into thrilling, earnest-yet-pornographic twaddle, by the likes of Geraldo Rivera, Barbara Walters,

  • Gary Indiana

    I saw a lot of Jack Smith during a period when I was basically a speed freak. Speed gives you fantastic obsessive energy but also enables a junklike stasis, the ability to sit in the same place for five or ten hours listening to scratched 45s and looking at photos of Maria Montez. Jack lived in an apartment on First Avenue full of colorful garbage. He could spend hours readjusting some peripheral aspect of a pile of debris, puncturing long silences only with occasional cryptic non sequiturs about penguins or a startling piece of extremely bad nutritional advice. If one could sum up Jack’s