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Sunday, Dec 2, 2007

In the hierarchy of UK punk rock debuts, Damned Damned Damned ranks behind only Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols and The Clash in terms of its impact on the music world. The trio of bands behind those albums ushered in the first generation of punk, like motley pied pipers attracting misfit followers everywhere they played. Those not fortunate enough to catch these groups live must have been astonished when, in 1977, all these great new records began popping up in the bins. Sure, the Pistols started the whole thing, and the Clash were the Clash. The first albums from those two groups were great, and everybody knows it. Amazingly, the Damned’s debut has hovered just below the radar for these last three decades. While it couldn’t exactly be called obscure, Damned Damned Damned deserves to be regarded as a true classic, must-have record alongside the others. Castle’s three-CD 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition of the album should help this cause considerably. This is a beautiful package, full of pictures, essays, interviews and detailed track information. The arrangement of the material is smart, too. Disc one contains the original album, and nothing more. All of the bonus material comes on the bonus discs.


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Sunday, Dec 2, 2007


It’s time to call out the carnal color guard and get the bugler to blow a rather trashy and tawdry Taps. After nearly seven years celebrating the best of exploitation, Something Weird Video has parted ways with chief home theater distributor Image Entertainment. It was a split fans long felt was coming. Where once a regular schedule of releases would offer between 24 and 36 titles in a year, 2007 saw five. Even more telling, directors the Seattle based company used to champion - Joe Sarno, Doris Wishman - were suddenly finding new homes at places like Seduction Cinema. To drag out the “whore-y” old cliché, a change was definitely in the wind. To continue the truisms, it marks the end of an era.


Ever since its inception as a fan-oriented tape trading collective (back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s) SWV has marched to its own dare to be bare drummer. Head honcho Mike Vraney took his love of the actual grindhouse (not the reimagined version being propagated today) and channeled it into a solid cinematic cause. He wanted to rescue and preserve as many of these fascinating film artifacts as possible. In addition, he wanted the input from as many of the still living participants as possible. Making important connections with such powerful producers as David F. Friedman and Harry Novak, Vraney saw his private collection swell from several dozen to several thousand.


Originally, SWV stayed within the VCR marketplace. Cassettes were cheap, and the low end technical specifications meant that many of the age and damage issues surrounding a title could be ignored. But when DVD became the rapidly evolving film fan format, the company faced a dilemma - remaster all their titles, or be selective in what they released. Working with new partner Image, Vraney decided that every Something Weird disc would fulfill two functions. First, it would offer the best possible print he could find (by this time, he had access to many original negatives), but more importantly, each release would act as volume in an overall exploitation encyclopedia. Commentaries from creators would be added, when possible. Sans said supplement, short films, archival publicity material, and other contextual elements would be provided.


The first few releases - the infamous Blood Trilogy from Godfather of Gore Herschell Gordon Lewis, Doris Wishman’s work with the wonderful anatomical anomaly Chesty Morgan - would be considered bare bones by today’s SWV standards. Usually containing nothing more than a trailer or a discussion with the filmmakers, these first DVDs began an important process. Ever since hardcore pornography stole its audience, exploitation has been marginalized as moviemaking for the lecherous lowest common denominator. Rightfully described as a genre geared toward nudity, naughtiness, and the more notorious aspects of existence, said categorization allowed prudes and pundits to turn the trendsetters into nothing more than incredibly savvy smut peddlers. But the truth is far more revelatory.


What most movie historians fail to fully recognize is that exploitation gave the filmmakers of the ‘60s and ‘70s a model for the post-modern movement. Where standards and practices kept certain “undesirable” facets off the silver screen, the truly independent producers and directors were pushing the very limits of acceptability. While the mainstream watched in amazement, the grindhouse took on censorship, community standards, the MPAA, the government, and the US Supreme Court. It was the exploitation kings who got nudity declared “not inherently obscene” and that challenged local organizations who tried to dictate what could and could not be shown. They paved the way for the frank, honest depiction of life - warts, wantonness, and all. And for their efforts, they got critically keelhauled, diminished as disgusting sleaze for the dirty minded.


No matter if the assessment was accurate or not, exploitation was more than simulated sex and overly aggressive violence - and Something Weird understood this. They fought to maintain the integrity of their product, even deciding to withdraw certain titles when Image suggested certain ones were “unfit” for general consumption. The company never once thought it was going to turn the forgotten legacy of the past into something celebrated in the present, but for the most part, they were convinced that preserving these early efforts provided insight and instruction to those born too late to experience the genre first run.


Over the course of its mainstream marketing - SWV now offers DVD-Rs of almost everything in their massive, multifaceted inventory - the company resurrected the careers of fallen idols Lewis, Wishman, Joe Sarno, Barry Mahon, Bethel Buckalew, and other unknown directors. It also reintroduced Friedman and Novak to contemporary audiences, explaining how important their efforts were in championing unusual and provocative productions. Sure, some of the films were nothing more than tired titillation attached to equally turgid storylines. Others explored the differing cultural dynamic - hippies, drugs - that was slowly changing the shape of society. With their filmic finger consistently placed on the pulse of an expanding motion picture demographic, exploitation also expanded merchandising, advertising, and other financial aspects of the industry. There was definitely more to the grindhouse than T&A.


Yet time and the growing trends within the format were not kind to SWV’s mission. Since most of the films were ‘loaned’ to the company (Vraney had issues with copyright and ownership from the start), holders of the property often looked for green pastures when it came to releases. While Image claims brisk sales (they will keep all Something Weird product in print for now), it was obvious that the glut of available titles on DVD would eat into the various niche providers. But SWV faced an additional problem - the limited availability of recognizable names. While their catalog contained thousands of unheralded gems, those that would translate into profit became few and far between.


Still, the company’s heritage should be celebrated. In fact, film fans should rally in support, hoping that Vraney finds another partner to help him spread the word. It was through his efforts that proto-classics like Year of the Yahoo, Murder a La Mod (Brian DePalma’s forgotten foray in the perverse), and She-Man were finally found, and the company’s international network of archivists and historians have uncovered more and more members of the “lost forever” alumni. Some may call them the Criterion of Crap, but Something Weird has more in common with that famous aesthetic watchdog than many would realize. They remain the seedy standard bearer.


For now, anyone looking to continue their old school arthouse addiction can call up the company’s website (http://www.somethingweird.com) and order up any number of tantalizing titles. There’s also Image’s back catalog, and that distributor has been very good about cutting prices and creating economical box sets of SWV’s product. Still, it won’t be the same…the anticipation of wondering what new notorious wonder Vraney will unleash next…the speculation on what special features will be offered…the chance to hear Roberta Findlay dish on her dead husband, or listen to Friedman regale Vraney with tales of the original exploitationers - the 40 Thieves. Granted, this could be a very premature burial, but it’s still sad to see the company that made the grindhouse a post-millennial institution walking away from the standard business pattern.


We here at SE&L salute the efforts of Mike Vraney, Something Weird Video, and the distributor Image Entertainment. Over the course of their time together, they have created some of the finest, more informative, and downright fun DVDs in the format’s equally short history. Where else would you find an entire two disc collection devoted to the theatrical spook show presentation, or a massive collection of goofy burlesque films? Who else would give the goona-goona movie the same respect as the kitschy b-movie monster? Years from now, when perspective is more objective, the work of this important cinematic sanctuary will be rightfully celebrated. For now, all we can do is reminiscence, and say “So long, Something Weird.” It’s been a great ride - one many a film fan will remember for the rest of their exploitation filled lives.


 


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Sunday, Dec 2, 2007

The Dyson Airblade is launched in Sydney and the wild new world 21st century design writers must come to grips with.

The Dyson Airblade

The Dyson Airblade


James Dyson was in Sydney last week for the launch of the Airblade, a hand-dryer with touch free operation that removes 99.9% of bacteria from the air used to dry hands, whose filter is integrated with antimicrobial additives that reduce bacterial and fungal growth. Since its blade of air isn’t heated it uses up to 80% less energy than conventional hand-dryers.


When I went to meet James Dyson the press-kit I was given contained three things: a series of documents about the Airblade and photographs stored on a removable USB device embossed with the Dyson logo, in a small metal box. And James Dyson’s autobiography:


My own success has been in observing objects in daily use which, it was always assumed, could not be improved. By lateral thinking—the ‘Edisonian approach’—it is possible to arrive, empirically, at an advance. Anyone can become an expert in anything in six months, whether it is hydrodynamics for boats or cyclonic systems for vacuum cleaners. After the idea, there is plenty of time to learn the technology. My first cyclonic vacuum cleaner was built out of cereal packets and masking tape (like some grotesque Blue Peter spaceship),long before I understood how it worked. After that initial ‘Eureka!’ it was a long haul to the Dual Cyclone—so called because an outer cyclone rotating at 200 m.p.h. removes large debris and most of the dust, while an inner cyclone rotating at 924 m.p.h. creates huge gravitational force and drives the finest dust, even particles of cigarette smoke, out of the air.


James Dyson. Introduction. Against the Odds: An Autobiography.


And a small booklet that’s a compendium of contemporary design icons selected by James Dyson. It includes cars, lamps, furniture, the Sony Walkman and the John Hancock Centre in Chicago. Some objects are considered great design beauties, Le Corbusier’s B306 Chaise Longue and Issey Miyake’s clothing created with his A-POC manufacturing method, for instance. “Design used to mean bridges, railways, purpose,” Dyson writes in the booklet. “Personally, I don’t see the difference between designers and engineers. They are one. Most people only consider how something was designed if it doesn’t work. Real design works. The best products evolve as part of a design process, in which the technology on the inside informs the way they look on the outside.”


The Dyson Airblade

The Dyson Airblade


Function Informing Journalists


Magazines have a long lead time in Australia, as much as three months, so it will be a long time before most of the stories about the Dyson Airblade surface. A search of Google News turned up reports on the Airblade launch on technology websites.


Dyson said that: “Instead of painfully slow evaporation, the Dyson Airblade wipes hands dry with high velocity blades of air. It’s very quick and it’s very clean”.  He also explained that conventional hand dryers either don’t work or simply take too long, with most people giving up waiting and wiping damp hands on their clothes instead as they walked out. Boasting clever design, energy efficiency, speed and hygiene, the Airblade is clearly another unquestionably “21st century technology” that is a radical departure from the old way of doing things. Dyson explained that his Dyson Digital Motor (DDM), the motor inside the Airblade, produces an air stream flowing at 640km per hour. He continued that this unheated air is channeled through a 0.3 millimetre gap, no thicker than an eyelash, and acts like an invisible windscreen wiper to wipe moisture from hands; leaving them completely dry.


IT Wire. 30 November, 2007


But the Murdoch newspapers online editions reported only the findings on the Dyson fact sheet, under the headline, “One Third of Men Don’t Wash Hands in Toilets”. And the Sydney Morning Herald ‘s online edition reported on James Dyson attending the Australian premiere of Eric Idle’s Spamalot, based on Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.


Excellent manufactured products are in museum collections because, as art does, they say something about how societies live and regard themselves and their times. (Dyson products are in museum collections around the world, including a Dyson vacuum cleaner in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.) The most insightful design writing places these products in context within the culture that created them and records their influence as successive generations of people continue to use and even adapt them. The design icons selected by James Dyson are mostly from the early and mid twentieth century and celebrate a comfortable life and ease of travel in the world. His Airblade is among 21st century design products that belong to a different culture in a different world. These products are a form of self-defence against a world we’ve made toxic and that’s buffetted by wild weather.


In the 21st century design magazines engage as well as reflect on the world. New York’s Metropolis Magazine became involved with an initiative to help provide mobile retail outlets that give residents of New Orleans, still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, access to basic goods and services that include “groceries, clothing and telephone and other communications services/equipment”.


ReDI structures are being designed to be quickly deployable, highly functional, attractive, durable and sustainable. All of the structures will employ sustainable materials and have self-contained power, water and telecommunications sources. The firms involved are donating their skills and resources and working closely with community organizations and local government officials leading the region’s recovery efforts.


Deckard's kitchen in Blade Runner

Deckard’s kitchen in Blade Runner


Enormously Distracted By The Environment


Ridley Scott has released a new version of Blade Runner. The movie was a box office failure when it was released in 1984 but it slowly gathered influence and momentum as a credible cautionary tale about humankind’s destruction of earth’s environment and the sinister implications of microbiology and creating robots with organic components and trying to infuse them with consciousness. It’s been a gargantuan influence on designers and artists. In an 1995 interview with science fiction writer William Gibson published in The Guardian, Martin Walker wrote: “When he first saw Blade Runner, Gibson staggered from the cinema in despair, fearing that someone else had already cornered his nightmare future. Slowly, he realised they had the street scenes and the landscape but not the mindscape, not the alternative sensory universe of the Net. Gibson saw a future where nation states rotted beneath a new triumph of corporate feudalism, where the matrix of the data banks and computer networks was the sharp reality.”


Ridley Scott: I knew I’d done a pretty interesting movie which, in fact, was extremely interesting but was so unusual that the majority of people were taken aback. They simply didn’t get it. Or, I think, better now to say they were enormously distracted by the environment.


Wired: What do you mean, “enormously distracted by the environment”?


Ridley Scott: Well, we — I mean I had new ground to address: the idea of doing a film that is not necessarily futuristic in the sense of the, futuristic science fiction, but actually more as a look into the future, and the future possibility, which can be more interesting. Because then you’re touching on various possibilities of, like, replication, which now are quite commonplace, but 25 years ago they were barely discussing it in the corridors of power where you have to — you know, like the Senate and things like that. They hadn’t even gotten to that point. I’m sure it was firmly in biological institutions and laboratories, but they hadn’t yet gone for permission. It was almost 10 years or 15 years after Blade Runner that I read about replication. Now, the film is not really about that at all, it’s simply borrowing that possibility and addressing it and putting it to making a sort of unusual protagonist or antagonist that will be leveraged into a Sam Spade or one of those detective, film-noir kind of stories. So people will be familiar with that kind of character, but not at all familiar with the world I was cooking up. Which, again, really came from what I’d seen. And what I’d seen was quite a lot of Hong Kong at the time, pre-skyscraper, where the actual harbor was filled with junks, so Hong Kong was remarkably, darkly romantic. And also a lot of New York at that time, which always seemed to be a city on overload.


Ridley Scott. Wired. Interview by Ted Greenwald. 6.29.07



Industrial designer Syd Mead created the environment for what Ridley Scott describes as a cop and a bad guy movie. “In this instance, I was doing a cop and a different bad guy,” he told Wired. “And to justify the creation of the bad guy, i.e., replication, I had to justify that the outside world would support that idea. So, then, it has to be in the future. ...So, it was a challenge to say — it’s the same as trying to do a monster movie it’s, like, Aliens is a monster movie. Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by it being well done and a great monster. If it hadn’t had that great monster, even with a wonderful cast, it wouldn’t have been as good, I don’t think. So, in this instance, my special effect, behind it all, would be the world.”


Syd Mead created a mishmash of architectural styles that gave the movie depth. But the central character, the blade runner, Deckard, lives in an apartment building heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s pre-cast concrete block houses built in Los Angeles in the early 1920’s. Concrete is characterless and malleable Lloyd Wright said, and a lowly material. “Why not see what could be done with that gutter rat?” he mused. But it was the interiors, Deckard’s appliances and furniture that made the movie seem like it was happening in a real world. “..the big test is saying, draw me a car in 30 years’ time without it looking like bad science fiction,” Scott said. “Or draw me an electric iron that will still be pressing shirts in 20 years’ time without it looking silly. That’s the stretch, that was the target: that I wanted the world to be futuristic and yet felt — not familiar, because it won’t be — but feel authentic. I could buy it. One of the hardest sets to design was his kitchen. It’s not Tyrell’s room, which is easy because we fantasize about a giant super-Egyptianesque, neo-Egyptianesque boardroom. But the idea of saying, what is his bathroom and kitchen like in those particular times — that’s tricky. Nevertheless fascinating. I love the problem.”


In an interview with Dalya Alberge in The Times of London on August 30, Ridley Scott said that he believes that The Matrix, Independence Day and The War of the Worlds, and other contemporary science fiction movies that feature stupendous computer-generated effects are inferior to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Made at the height of the “space race” between the United States and the USSR, 2001 predicted a world of malevolent computers, routine space travel and extraterrestrial life. Kubrick had such a fastidious eye for detail, he employed Nasa experts in designing the spacecraft” wrote Alberge. “Sir Ridley said that 2001 was “the best of the best”, in use of lighting, special effects and atmosphere, adding that every sci-fi film since had imitated or referred to it. “There is an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines,” he said of modern sci-fi films.”


Sony's Aibo and Qrio

Sony’s Aibo and Qrio


Not Getting Sentimental About Machines


We relate to Blade Runner’s replicants as creatures with a life force but the Tyrell Corporation conceived of them as household appliances and industrial machinery and their consciousness was a feature to make them more interesting for the humans who would use them.


Since machines began to be able to operate themselves and computer technology gave them the ability to reason for themselves about the tasks they were carrying out they’ve been created on two parallel paths, with consumer robotics mostly being skewed towards machines that ape humans and animals. The Tyrell Corporation’s replicants are several generations of product iterations down the line from Sony’s (now discontinued) Aibo robot dog—“man’s next friend”—and Qrio, the humanoid robot, that made guest appearances on Astro Boy, the Japanese animated television program whose hero is a robot with a human heart.


NASA’s Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity might resemble Sony’s robot dogs, but there’s a branch of scientific and military robotics that tends towards the symbolism of the mission rather than giving the machines themselves character. When Opportunity rolled off its landing pad onto the surface of Mars it played “Born To Run”, Bruce Springsteen’s hymn to escape and the romance bound up in automobiles. The song expressed nostalgia for a vanished age, and similarly the Mars program wasn’t powered by the shiny and optimistic view of space as the final frontier but infused with the sobering reality, introduced by Philip K. Dick into the novel that Blade Runner was adapted from, that space may be our last refuge. In “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” earth’s environment had been destroyed, all of its animal and plant life killed, and humans had relocated to colonies on Mars.


Dr. Robert Ballard is most famous for his 1985 discovery of the wreck of the Titanic, undertaken as a side project when he was part of the U.S. Navy. He has given telerobotics a mythological aspect, reworking Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey of discovery. And Ken Goldberg, a professor with the School of Engineering at Berkeley, and now head of Berkeley’s New Media Center, creates conceptually profound and physically beautiful art projects around his telerobotic research, some of which has been involved with advancing assembly line manufacturing. This branch of robotics can create machines that are aesthetically pleasing to humans but this is a secondary concern, the function of the machine determines its appearance. This becomes a different design problem with machine and computer components shrinking to the molecular level. Envelopes have to be created to make the machines usable by humans.


flw. Ken Goldberg's 1/1,000,000 scale model of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

flw. Ken Goldberg’s 1/1,000,000 scale model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater


Ken Goldberg tackled the problem of how industrial designers might think about and find metaphors for the design process at an atomic level in his 1996 project flw. IBM demonstrated ultra high precision lithography technology, that allows people to manipulate individual atoms, with corporate graffiti—the IBM logo, but Ken Goldberg built a one to one millionth scale model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, from silicon atoms.


In 1936 Frank Lloyd Wright began construction on the house that he built into a waterfall in Pennsylvania. He was looking to express harmony between man and nature through a building with an integral, structural connection to its surroundings. Wright used modern technology to construct the building and it’s based upon cantilevers, beams supported only at one end.


The unmediated world is a country we can’t return to, William Gibson said in the documentary “No Maps for these Territories”. Ken Goldberg’s flw expresses that if we’re building a structure now to connect us into the natural world it would be through a computer. Silicon has been the most predominant building material for computer chips and it’s also the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, after oxygen. “Miniature cantilevers are used to measure forces in devices etched from silicon,” he says.


“The next wave of high-value products will require assembly at the micro and nano scales, where manual labor is no longer an option. These trends suggest enormous opportunities,” Ken Goldberg wrote in an Op-Ed piece in the San Jose Mercury News on October 24.


Just as the method to add two numbers together doesn’t depend on what kind of pencil you use, manufacturing abstractions can be wholly independent of the product one is making or the assembly line systems used to assemble it. Another precedent is the Turing Machine, an elegant abstract model invented by Alan Turing in the 1930s, which established the mathematical and scientific foundations for our now-successful high-tech industries. Without Turing’s theoretical work, the system that typeset this line wouldn’t exist.


What’s needed today is an analogy to the Turing Machine for design, automation and manufacturing. Recent developments in computing and information science have now made it possible to model and reason about physical manufacturing processes, setting the stage for us to “put the Turing into Manufacturing”. The result, as was the case with databases and computers, would be higher quality, more reliable products, reduced costs, and faster delivery.



Ken Goldberg’s Op-Ed piece draws attention to the fact that two American products, Apple’s iPhone and Boeing’s 787, are being admiringly received globally but are built elsewhere. The iPhone is manufactured in Taiwan and the Boeing 787 is assembled in Japan. “America, birthplace of the modern assembly line, is losing ground when it comes to putting things together” he writes. “Driven by short-term savings and ignoring the close relationship between innovation and manufacturing, America has relinquished this responsibility to ambitious foreign competition, who are investing in fundamental research that improves manufacturing processes.” China and India produce vastly more engineers, he writes, and lure bright engineers away from America, but quality control weaknesses in their manufacturing industries have led to the recall of dangerously malfunctioning products.


Issey Miyake's APOC manufacturing method

Issey Miyake’s APOC manufacturing method


Reporting on Manufacturing


The proliferation of lifestyle magazines on television and the internet has diluted design writing. How we value a product and its valuation are two different things. Consumers demand lower prices and more choice and a glitzy luxury-worshipping culture values, at the high end, an i-Pod studded with diamonds , the celebrity association of the U2 i-pod, and an aeroplane interior designed by Marc Newson for the cachet the brand infers on the buyer.


The Japanese fashion designers who entered the global market in the early 1980’s through showing their collections in Paris have done something radically different, infusing the narrative and character of their clothes into specifications for fabric manufacturers and the artistry is in the manufacturing. Almost thirty years on Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcon’s label still expresses a powerful existential commentary on the role of clothing in society and the messages it conveys through collaborations with architects, artists and photographers. Yohji Yamamoto’s clothing has a deep, soulful beauty that reflects on the traditions of couture and dressmaking and classical beauty with radical materials and construction. But it’s Issey Miyake who has put manufacturing itself in the foreground with his A-POC (a piece of cloth) garments.


Miyake has so far kept the patent-pending process a closely guarded secret. But fashion insiders recognize that the technology behind A-POC - the process of melding thread into clothing, seamlessly - represents an entirely new way of making clothes, one that has less to do with the needles and bobbins of a garment factory than with rapid prototyping methods used in manufacturing. The real effect of A-POC has yet to be felt.


Textile manufacturing has a long history of sparking social and technological change. Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s automatic loom, introduced in 1801, caused riots among the hand-weavers it began to displace, and later inspired Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine and Herman Hollerith’s punch cards. Likewise, the demise of cut-and-sew could have significant impact, allowing manufacturers to save time and money by eliminating work usually done by skilled laborers. “Miyake is weaving garments that don’t need to be sewn,” says Jack Lenor Larsen, an internationally renowned textile designer, “and that is the wave of the future.”


But A-POC isn’t just a new way to make clothes - it’s a process that can be used to create all kinds of goods. Any material that can be turned into a fiber can work in the A-POC process, which gives Miyake the opportunity to produce anything from shoes to portable shelters. The A-POC team already has developed a series of colorful beanbag-like chairs and sofas that will come to market this year. The studio is also interested in a new corn-based fiber that could be used to construct other types of furniture, and it recently developed a resin-linen blend that a University of Tokyo lab found to be as strong as steel. To branch out, Miyake is looking into partnerships or licensing agreements.


Jessie Scanlon. Wired. April, 2004


Issey Miyake fashion show photograph from notcot.com

Issey Miyake fashion show photograph from notcot.com


Reporting on Products in the Marketplace


The yellow beasts stretched their long necks and gave a dragon roar as the wild wind tugged at coats, dresses, hair. The cluster of people struggled to wrap themselves in protective coats as they faced off with one of the world’s iconic machines: the Dyson power vacuum.


The Issey Miyake show was a tour de force of man against nature - and not just because the drama of those magisterial air vents caused the inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson to be pulled on to the runway to take a bow. The designer Dai Fujiwara succeeded in bringing energy and imposing coherence in his second season at Miyake.


“The Wind,” as the show was titled, did not just refer to the famous “wind coat,” Miyake’s invention in the days before microfibers had hit the closet. Fujiwara said backstage that he had both an ecological mission to support carbon-neutral efforts (printed on denim and on T-shirts) and also a philosophy. “Wind doesn’t have any shape. It comes from nothing - it’s similar to fashion,” the designer said.


International Herald Tribune. October 4, 2007


The Dyson vacuum cleaner that's an homage to Issey Miyake

The Dyson vacuum cleaner that’s an homage to Issey Miyake


To celebrate his collaboration with Issey Miyake James Dyson’s named a Dyson vacuum cleaner, the DC16 Issey Miyake model. On the box there’s a photograph of Issey Miyake’s design museum, built by Tadao Ando, and a quote from James Dyson praising Issey Miyake’s manufacturing vision and prowess.


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Sunday, Dec 2, 2007

Sorry for the self-promo but I only do this six times a year… In the latest issue of Perfect Sound Forever online music magazine, you’ll find (among other things):


ARAB ON RADAR
(Not so) Sweet Providence Noise


NANCY ELIZABETH
UK folk tales- interview


IPECAC
Mike Patton’s wooly label


KALAHARI SURFERS
South African avant-protest


JIMMY MILLER
Classic rock producer supreme


PARADISE LOST
English Doom Metal masters


SUZI QUATRO
Proto-punk and grrl


QUEENSRYCHE
Progressive, political metal


SAD AMERICANA
Not quite Achy-Breaky


SHARPIES
Aussie fashion, music and violence


SOLO PERCUSSION
Not just boring drum solos


RALPH TOWNER
Part III of ‘Sergovia’s Mutant Brother’


TRUNK RECORDS
Reanimator of obscure soundtrack music


VINYL ANACHRONIST
2007: Year of Grumpiness


PORTER WAGONER
RIP- a tribute


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Sunday, Dec 2, 2007


In retrospect, it does feel like the beginning of the end. For most of the decade, the fresh perspective offered by a growing set of filmmaking mavericks was reshaping the stogy cinematic ideals. Risks were the creative norm, and this one played like the biggest daredevil stunt ever. In an era still smarting over the ambiguities of the Vietnam War, the leading motion picture provocateur - multiple Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola - was headed to the Philippines to re-envision the conflict via an analogy to Joseph Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness. A long dormant project of his independent production company Zoetrope, Apocalypse Now would be the director’s ultimate artistic statement. In the end, it became much, much more. 


Perhaps the greatest behind the scenes documentary ever offered on the making of a movie, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse provides acute aesthetic insight and personal perspective into what, for most of the cast and crew, would be a descent into motion picture madness. Long missing from the DVD format (for reasons that become clear on this new digital presentation from Paramount), it stands as a Holy Grail gratuity for fans and scholars of the Godfather auteur’s troubled career. Indeed, those looking to rationalize Coppola’s eventual fall from grace - it’s a bumpy road from The Conversation to the Robin Williams waste Jack - saw all they need in the maelstrom of megalomania that seemed to surround this troubled shoot. From the replacement of one leading man to the near death of another, Now remains the director’s answerable albatross.


Beginning with the late ‘60s formation of Coppola’s self-started Zoetrope Studios, one of the most amazing things about the original concept for Now remains how ambitious it was. With friend John Milius scripting, and pal George Lucas directing, the production envisioned a bizarre kind of ‘guerilla’ guerilla shooting style. They wanted to insert themselves along with the actual troops, creating the film within the actual war playing out around them. And they actually got Warner Brothers’ interest. Though they eventually balked at the proposed technique, the studio sent a strong message to the brash young guns - this idea had potential. It was a predestination that would drive everyone involved over the near decade it took to realize said vision.

From another perspective, Hearts of Darkness also stands as the ultimate violation of trust. When Now was finally greenlit (back-to-back Academy Awards can change a lot of soured suits), Coppola hired his wife, Eleanor to head up a small documentary team. UA wanted some footage to use in their pre-release promotional campaigns, and being a photographer herself, her husband gave her the job. Who knew that the 12 week shoot would blossom into months, that private conversations between the couple (taped for inclusion in Eleanor’s diary) would become public knowledge, and that during the making of Apocalypse Now, Coppola would turn catastrophe and ego into a modern masterpiece. It set the foundation for all the mythologizing and criticism to come.


In these days of multi-disc DVD presentations, packages that strive to illustrate every minor moving making element with microscopic detail, one forgets how shocking Hearts of Darkness was. Backstage drama was, in 1991, an aspect of the medium usually left to magazine features, tell-all books, and the occasional film festival anecdote. Most productions weren’t proud of the rifts and ridiculousness that went on during a shoot, and it was rare when anything that did happen warranted further reflection. Even with laserdisc illustrating the appetite for this kind of insight, a mechanism for capturing and creating this material wasn’t firmly established. In many ways, Eleanor was ahead of her time. She could see what Now was doing to her man, and wanted to have a record of it…just in case he didn’t come back from the edge. How outsiders George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr came into possession of this material is a story for another day. How their award winning documentary was hijacked by a legacy sensitive auteur is very much at the center of this recent release.


Over the last few years, as Paramount has prepared various digital incarnations of Apocalypse Now, fans have wondered if Hearts of Darkness would be offered as a supplement. It is, after all, the yin to that bravado spectacle’s yang. Yet even when the supposed ‘final word’ on the film was presented - under the less than truthful title The Complete Dossier - this film was nowhere to be found. Rumors swirled that Coppola, angry about the secret wiretapping by his spouse and the eventual release of all of the material to the media, was purposefully holding off on the rights to Now footage. Without it, Hearts was sunk. To make matters worse, both Hickenlooper and Bahr have claimed strong arm tactics from the filmmaker, pointing to parts of this new, stand-alone disc as evidence of Coppola’s disdain for what they did.


On the surface, this seems to be a lot of meaningless chest-thumping. The wonderfully restored film still has the no budget production standards that Eleanor was forced to deal with, but the rest of the image is cleaned up and appealing. The actual makers of the movie are nowhere to be found however (they were ‘not invited’ to participate), but both Coppolas are present and accounted for. On the commentary track provided, Eleanor decides to wax nostalgic, discussing the time, the skyrocketing celebrity achieved by her spouse, and the numerous behind the scenes anecdotes that make these contextual additions so special. But it’s her husband’s conversation that’s the most telling. For Francis Coppola, it’s time to set the record straight.


You’d think that a man with as many awards as he has, who has significantly challenged film classicism with his demanding, endearing early films, would have a little thicker skin than the defensive dermis he exposes here. While begging for both perspective and circumstance, he makes it very clear that Hearts turns frequent fits of anger, frustration, and black humor into signs of inflated selfishness. Even worse, he feels used by individuals who’ve coattailed his creative genius for a sensationalized story. Still, even when he’s defending the film, you can tell that something about Hearts continues to rattle the director. It’s almost as if he’s attacking the exposure of any movie “magic” - whether it be how certain effects were achieved…or the creative element’s emotional turmoil.


It’s a contradiction that the Coppolas try to re-explore with Eleanor’s “new” documentary (though again she did not direct Hearts - she only provided the material) focusing on her husband’s latest film, the supposed return to form Youth Without Youth. Following her older, mellower spouse around Romania as he kvetches, jokes, swoons, and contemplates, it’s the love letter his wounded spirit supposedly needs. At 68, Coppola remains a larger than life presence on set, carrying most of his undeniable mythos in every action, each remark. Unlike Hearts, there are few flame-ups. Instead, we see the same spark that drove Now to its eventual status as an undeniable masterwork being muted by age, approach, and ambition. In fact, while it’s clearly meant to be a pliant portrait of an aging idol, the oddly named Coda is actually a con. The real Coppola is the manic, idealized dough boy, giggling almost insanely as he describes his movie as not being “about Vietnam. It IS Vietnam.”


Statements like these, some thirty years later, don’t really need the forced reinterpretation that the new Hearts of Darkness DVD demands. When the film was released in 1991, it was an epiphany. It was an “I told you so” moment. Just because fans and film buffs believed Coppola was an out of control madman doesn’t diminish what he accomplished. If anything, such a warts and all approach humanizes someone who, for most of his life, loved to view himself as above the fray. If the one time post-modern giant would simply embrace his flaws and fall in love with his art all over again, returning to the big picture romanticized ranting about the Philippines government, his leading man’s heart condition, or his own fragile sanity, perhaps we’d be celebrating the newest canvas from this cinematic master. Unfortunately, it still feels like the ‘70s celebration of film found its last legitimate entry with Apocalypse Now. Hearts of Darkness explains the reasons for this all too well. 


 


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