PRINT December 2000

Dennis Cooper


1 Errol Morris, First Person (Bravo Network) To my mind, Morris has evolved into the most subversive, forward thinking of American filmmakers, harmonizing fiction and fact, offbeat personal interest and surgical objectivity, narrative and its opposite, into a poetic, überdocumentary style that outperforms the bulk of films whose wellspring is little more than imagination. This year he tried “the television series” on for size. Ostensibly a collection of one-on-one, half-hour, talking-head-style interviews of ten “Morriss-esque” (i.e., unusually self-absorbed yet unusually unself-conscious) men and women, First Person was also an unfolding self-interrogation of the filmmaker. The program’s tried-and-true format was slowly inverted until its subject became his own fascination with the variety of mind-sets and behavioral patterns operating within the so-called obsessive (i.e., his own) psychological “type.” Morris’s most personal and revealing work to date; television has rarely seemed more multiplex, inelegant, and wide awake.

2 John Waters, Cecil B. DeMented Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Set Design, Irving Thalberg Award. (Seriously, Waters’s unique, evolving, and massively influential art is alternately so taken for granted and so subjected to critical namby-pambying by Pink Flamingos nostalgists that when he made quite possibly the best movie of his life, far too few people seemed to realize what they were witnessing.)

3 Torbjörn Vejvi (Richard Telles Fine Art) This year, the LA art scene’s much discussed creative outburst only intensified. Established figures such as Raymond Pettibon, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Liz Lamer, and Paul McCarthy did some of the strongest work of their careers. A plethora of emerging artists had exciting, successful debuts locally as well as in New York and/or Europe. (I’d single out Jason Meadows, Amir Zaki, Evan Holloway, and Francesca Gabbiani, to start.) But it didn’t get any better than the first solo exhibition by the young LA-based Swedish artist Torbjörn Vejvi, whose quiet, complicatedly introverted sculptures struck me as profound and potentially important.

4 Ray Davies Antiques or not, The Kinks’ albums of the late ’60s and early ’70s—Something Else by the Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, The Kinks Kronikles, The Great Lost Kinks Album—sounded mightier than ever this year. While Davies’s contemporaries milked their legends in stadium oldies fests and tell-all memoirs, he “joined” Yo La Tengo for a few Kinks-related club dates and let his greatest work breathe again. At a time when clever hybridists like Moby and Beck are routinely misdiagnosed as geniuses, and bona fide contenders like Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard and Richard D. James are dismissed as eccentrics, it helped to remember how transcendent and voracious a traditional pop song can sound.

5 Luc Tuymans in “Apocalypse: Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art” (Royal Academy of Arts, London) This gentrified “Helter Skelter” knockoff theme show for die-hard YBA enthusiasts had its artful moments, but it was mostly a last-ditch attempt to legitimize the big-budget, low-concept fashion-plate sculptures of preservative-free British art stars like the Chapmans and Tim Noble and Sue Webster. In suggesting significance by association with the most room-filling work its curators could find by non-Brit superstars like Jeff Koons, Mike Kelley, and Gregor Schneider, “Apocalypse” came off rather desperate and air-headed. It will be remembered, if at all, as the trendily garish, incongruous frame within which Tuymans showed the year’s most astonishing, odd, and deeply painted paintings.

6 Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Hyperkinetic memoirist Dave Eggers’s (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) vibrant, tastily designed literary journal gathers together a broad mix of adventurous current writers—Lydia Davis, David Foster Wallace, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Lethem, to name a few. When Eggers’s book became a shock best-seller, he diverted as much media attention as possible to McSweeney’s and, in the process, helped ignite widespread critical and popular interest in experimental fiction for the first time in more than two decades.

7 Napster (pre-BMG buyout) For suggesting a practical application for the great, impractical anarchist principles of nonownership and power equalization. For forcing cool rock bands to reveal themselves as political reactionaries and despots. For ending my fourteen-year quest to find a copy of Gemini’s obscure 1987 single “Just Like That.”

8 Jim Jarmusch, Ghost Dog never cottoned to Jarmusch’s archly casual, neat-freak films, at least until Dead Man. Even then, the collusion between Robby Müller’s densely bleak cinematography and Neil Young’s bleakly swirling score seemed like the entire show. But in Ghost Dog, Müller and Wu-Tang Clan composer RZA seemed to decompress Jarmusch’s self-consciousness. Add the inspired concept of “gangsta mysticism,” and the trio managed to produce a serenely comical wonder work.

9 Sonic Youth Except for a handful of curious skirmishes (say, the genre-tweaking work of Jurassic 5, Goldfrapp, Pole, Blonde Redhead, Godspeed You Black Emperor!), popular music had a dull-as-dishwater year. Hip-hop self-administered another layer of polish, rock tried going artsy-fartsy again, and electronic music discovered lo-fi and generally putzed around there. But it was a great time to fall back in love with the magnificent Sonic Youth, whose rumbling, supernaturally sweet NYC Ghosts & Flowers put the tiptoeing efforts of their elders, peers, and offspring to shame.

10 Brett Leonard, Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box Forget the well-established camp value of these stalwart, Liberace-plus Vegas entertainers. Their IMAX vanity project, with its hyperactive 3-D effects, maniacal narcissism, Nickelodeon-on-LSD computer graphics, and (unconscious?) story line, wherein S&R cross time and space to put the moves on their twelve-year-old selves, was the most extreme single thing I saw all year.

Dennis Cooper, a contributing editor of Artforum, is a Los Angeles-based critic and novelist.