Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For Your Viewing Displeasure.

c. David Grim (taken 10/16/10)

Well, now that it's the holiday, I have some time off. It's strange how quickly I get back into my routine of obligations, so that when I get a block of free time again I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to spend it. I've already done my rather extensive research on what is happening around town during this break, and I'm sad to say that the schedule is rather thin. Obviously I'd love it if there was a lot more happening on the arts scene, but traditionally these holidays see a marked slowdown. No doubt I'll find myself at home on my couch watching some movies. After all I still have a significant backlog of DVD's to watch.

Yesterday on my way home from work I stopped at a friend's house, and found myself sticking around for some entertainment via "On Demand". I'm not sure why I thought it was a good idea to put "Strangeland" on, but I ended up seeing it through its full running length. And it was as bizarre as advertised. I remember years ago hearing about a horror film with Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, and wondering how it could be anything other than a cheesy mess. But the fact is that this movie ended up being genuinely disturbing.

It starts out with an extremely outdated screen shot of a chat room on a computer desktop. Two teenage girls are about to get lured into a devious and horrifying trap. I was amused to watch one young woman's astonishment upon encountering 'Instant Messaging' for the very first time. But there were probably quite a few viewers who were unfamiliar with the technology in 1998, when "Strangeland" was released. In fact this video nasty has a lot of surprises embedded in its ugliness. Snider plays an acolyte of "modern primitivism", and doles out quite a bit of ham-handed philosophy to accompany his sadistic torture of his captive teenagers.

If you have any taste at all for forward-thinking horror leavened with dark heavy metal music and lots of piercings, you might want to give this thing a watch, if only for the experience of seeing something altogether different from the ordinary popcorn-and-blood flicks that the mainstream is usually given to feast upon. I have no idea who the filmmakers thought would be the proper demographic for this thing, and I really wouldn't want to hang out with anyone who would want to watch this on a regular basis. But at the same time, from a sociological perspective I think this can be informative. If nothing else it can serve as a great cautionary tale about internet chat rooms and the predators that stalk them.

Sure, it was an odd way to start my vacation from work. Still I'm glad I got this viewing out of the way, and I don't have to wonder why some reviewers recommend "Strangeland". There are some truly fucked up people out there, addicted to cruelty and sadism. I'm not certain whether or not the people responsible for this movie fall into that category or not, but I'd be wary of anyone who would cite title this among their favorites.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jimmy Cvetic's "Secret Society of Dog".

c. David Grim (taken 8/19/08)

A week ago I did something I rarely ever do- I went to a poetry reading. I am a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction, but I rarely take the time to read poems. I suppose if I put the time into it I could find several poets worth reading, but I haven't made much of an effort. Besides Russell Edson and Charles Bukowski, I've never found any favorites. The former is 75 years old and the latter is dead. I don't see anyone on the horizon that is likely to assume their respective places in my interests. Still I suppose it's possible.

Even up to the last moment I wasn't certain I was going to make it out to the reading. It was at Hemingway's Cafe in Oakland, and I hadn't been down to that part of the city for a night out in a long time. Hell, the last time I was at Hemingway's was probably 15 years ago. I once saw Lewis Nordan read some of his stuff there. But I had it in my head that the place had closed up. I certainly didn't realize they still had their reading series going. Besides, trips to Oakland are always confounded by parking hassles.

Ultimately I felt obligated to go see Jimmy Cvetic do his thing because a friend of mine had recently put together a concise collection of his work, and he was making some efforts to publicize it. I had the chance to skim over some of the guy's poems in rough draft form. I was intrigued enough by the working class realism of the writing to impulsively agree to buy a copy of the book whenever it came out. Cvetic 's long career with the Allegheny Police in Pittsburgh included a substantial stint as a homicide detective. He's seen a lot of the grittier side of local humanity, and has an ear for the street argot of the urban environment.

Cvetic has recently had hip surgery, but that didn't keep him from soldiering through a pained reading of a good chunk of material from "Secret Society of Dog". The title refers to his professional handle, given to him as he worked to keep our streets safe from killers. He didn't shy away from including some of the more extreme experiences he had in the pursuit of criminals. Sure, there was a healthy dose of irreverence in his tone and a fair amount of humor to leaven the darker themes... but Cvetic included some notes of intense melancholy as well. He's a genuine tough guy whose not afraid to share his heart with his audience.

It's amazing that a guy as active in his community as Cvetic can remain relatively anonymous on the local scene. Along with hosting the reading series at Hemingway's for several years, he has invested much of his post-retirement efforts and energies in working with young at-risk men in the boxing ring (with the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League) . Indeed he's promoted a number of fight events and mentored local celebrities including Paul Spadafora and Monty Meza Clay. Yet he still finds time to drop the street smarts on the page. I enjoyed his writing enough to purchase a copy of his poetry collection, just as promised.

And I had enough fun to consider attending poetry readings in the future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reading Out Loud.

c. David Grim (taken 10/24/10)

One of the things I've really grown to love about being a father is reading to my son. He crawls up on my lap and stretches out, and I narrate story after story until his patience wears thin. E.'s only about three years old, so I'm impressed when he sits for multiple books. The benefits are not limited to whatever cognitive development he gets from attending to this practice. It encourages his curiosity and imagination, and heightens his observational skills. He becomes habituated to books. And he seems to genuinely enjoy the intimacy of hanging out with his father on a big comfy armchair.

Although I know that he would often choose television over hearing me read, I make it a point to put ourselves in situations that favor books instead of the tube. We go to our favorite coffeehouses and hope for the availability of our favorite seats. I tote around a huge army surplus rucksack filled with his portable library (along with a selection of his toys). I shop for his books at garage sales, rummage sales, and Half-Priced Books, and thus he already has several decent-sized shelves full of literary gems. I just rotate the stuff in our travel bag, hoping against hope that he doesn't request one we've left at home.

Sometimes E. makes me read a title repeatedly and I groan just a bit before appreciating that he has found something he really likes. The other night we went through "Save Brave Ted" several times in a row, and if anyone reading this is aware of this interactive adventure, he/she will realize how monotonous this could be. Still I end up loving every minute of it. E. tends to like when we choose something that allows for his active participation as well. And of course that is extremely entertaining for me, as a Dad who finds everything his son says amusing and even adorable. Possibly we end up annoying our neighbors sipping their lattes... but (selfishly perhaps) I don't really care.

It's a shame that modern technology has replaced the intimacy of reading to each other aloud. Likely the only opportunity most will have to engage in this activity will be with their pre-literate children. Can you imagine a group of guys getting together and reading their favorite passages to each other? Surely they'd be in for some ridicule once discovered by their contemporaries. Even many couples would likely stare at you vacantly if you suggested they could find stimulation in sharing a book. Yet I feel that in not "getting it", these people are missing out on a truly special opportunity.

As for me, I'm going to continue reading to my kid as long as he'll allow me to. When the time finally (but inevitably) comes when he wants to be by himself with a book, I'm going to be a little sad. Until then you can find me speaking in strange voices in between sips of my coffee drink a few times a week at the local cafe.

Here are some of E.'s favorites (so far):

Eric Carle, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?"

Esphyr Slobodkina, "Caps for Sale"

Pat Hutchins, "Goodnight, Owl!"

Laura Numeroff, "If You Give a Moose a Muffin"

Kurt Futterer, "Emile"

Charise Mericle Harper, "When Randolph Turned Rotten"

Jack Tickle, "The Very Busy Bee"

Tracy McGuinness, "Bad Cat"

Julie Aigner-clark, "Baby Einstein: Jane's Animal Expedition"

Antoinette Portis, "Not a Box"

Tomi Ungerer, "Snail, Where are You?"

Lane Smith, "Pinocchio, the Boy: Incognito in Collodi"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 11/19-20/10.

c. David Grim (taken 10/31/10)


It's that time of year again- the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is celebrating its Artist of the Year. Brian Dean Richmond has been a familiar face to anyone who's been on the Pittsburgh arts/music scene for the past couple of decades. Now you have a chance to understand the full scope of his creative output.

I've mostly associated Richmond with some of the best local bands of recent history- The Johnsons and The Working Poor among them... what I didn't know was that he is a prolific visual artist as well. Over the years I've seen him out, and he once shocked me by buying an unsolicited beer for me at Gooski's (I have no idea why). Still I've never had a conversation with him. I'm sure I've seen a few of his short films at Film Kitchen over the years, but I haven't really paid close attention to his paintings. Now I'll have the chance to remedy that (5:30-8PM, $5). Alongside Richmond, Gregory Witt will be honored as Emerging Artist of the Year.

If you make it downtown during the (newly-copyrighted) Light Up Night, stop in at the Space Gallery (812 Liberty Ave.) for a group show curated by Ally Reeves, with the rather unwieldly title "Scale: Aesthetic Turbulence and the Search for Lifestyle Panacea”. Artists featured in the show include Bill Daniel, Dana Bishop-Root, Derk Wolmuth, Teresa Foley, Gordon Kirkwood, Heidi Tucker, Jon Rubin and Caleb Gamble. The reception runs from 6-9PM.

And WildCard in Lawrenceville has turned over their walls to Kim Fox. She's made screen-printed box frames of her illustrations. The show is called "Prints Charming" and focuses on domestic and other pleasant themes. For free refreshments, show up at the store (4209 Butler Street) between 7-9PM.


I wouldn't normally do this, but I'd like to mention Bobby Porter's wake at Kopec's
Corner in Lawrenceville (3523 Penn Ave, 9PM). I knew Porter, iconic frontman for the Thin White Line. He was a friendly guy with a large spirit and a lot of talent. Thanks, Bill D. for memorializing him in the City Paper this week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who is Mikhail Kalishnokov?

c. David Grim (taken 11/14/10)

I've never been all that interested in firearms. If I'm forced to take a position on something like the 2nd Amendment, I'll usually just state my belief that citizens should be allowed to arm themselves. But I do believe that government (both local and national) should retain the authority to regulate weapons. I'd rather that people keep their guns at home, and I am generally against concealed weapons of any type. If you have a good reason to carry a pistol, then you shouldn't have any resistance to making that fact obvious to everyone.

I'm certainly not in favor of folks toting around automatic rifles. The only valid reason to have an M-16 or an AK-47 is for purposes of armed struggle. So if you own one, then that must be what you are considering. Regardless it doesn't impress me. Any idiot can save up and acquire one on the black market. It doesn't make you special. I'm certainly no fetishist. And that's why I really had no idea what Mikhail Kalishnikov meant to the development of violence in the last century. I guess I might have made some connection to the military issue Soviet-era rifle if pressed. But maybe not.

Anyway, it turns out that this former Russian Army officer is actually still alive. He lives an unassuming life at the foot of the Urals. People from all over the world remember him, and try to contact him. In fact many parents have even named their children after his invention. I learned all of this in the book "Gomorrah" by Roberto Saviano. It tells the story of the Camorra, which is a loose association of clans, kind of like the Costra Nostra mafia in Sicily. But these organized crime outfits are situated in Naples, Italy on the mainland. Apparently they are completely ruthless, and are responsible for rampant international corruption and heinous violence.

In Saviano's book, he tells the story of a white collar Camorrista who has one great wish- to travel to the former Soviet Union and meet Kalishnikov. He gains entry and brings a gift of fancy Buffalo brand mozzarella cheese. They break bread together and sip vodka, and the visitor even gets a glimpse of the very first prototype of the AK-47. Reportedly Kalishnikov relishes the attention he receives. In fact he keeps a prominent collection of photographs of the little namesakes mentioned above. Throughout the world his fanatics are eager to make a connection with this "great man". Yet he comes off in the account as a banal functionary who was fortunate enough to do something of great import.

What Kalishnokov achieved is nothing short of atrocity. He developed a weapon that is portable, lightweight, and easy to clean and operate. It has democratized the business of killing, and thus led to uncountable deaths. His invention is the preferred tool of terrrorists, criminals, and bullies throughout the world. Additionally, a number of genocidal rampages owe their success to the AK-47. And none of this seems to phase the man himself. As Saviano measures him, he is the "man of the market: he does what he has to do to win, and the rest is none of his concern." Except unlike a "great Capitalist", he developed his product for a socialist nation, and thus has nothing to show for his achievement but refracted glory. And a tsunami of blood.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Butler Institute of American Art.

c. David Grim (taken 11/14/10)

On a lark a couple of friends and I decided to drive to Youngstown, Ohio to see a bunch of Ronnie Wood's paintings. While I have been known to enjoy a Rolling Stones song now and again, I have never been a fan of their mid-career rhythm guitarist. That might be because I don't really like any of the albums released after the departure of Mick Taylor. I don't know if it's fair to lay the blame at Wood's feet, but by the mid-70's the Stones were headed full-on into their cheesy destiny. perhaps it was just the times.

But anyway I had nothing else that I wanted to do on a gloomy Sunday afternoon and I decided to drive to the Butler Institute of American Art and check out the scene (apparently the very first American exhibition of "the artist's" work). Fortified by talk and good cheer, we arrived a bit dazed by road-head and espresso, linked up with the rest of our party and milled about. It didn't take too long to find the Wood exhibit. There was a sign at the front stairwell directing our way.

To be brutally honest, I like Ronnie Wood's paintings just about as much as I like the Woods-era Stones. He's painted what I suspect he considers iconic images of his bandmates. In one particularly unfortunate work, he's depicted what looks like Mick J. taking Keith from behind while the latter swoons through one of his solos, a goofy ecstatic grin plastered across the lead singer's mug. Other selections contain similar straightforward depictions of former rock-and-roll glory. The ability is there, but there is simply nothing about the work that compels me to stand in front of it for any substantial length of time.

Meanwhile a series of early drawings shows the early promise Wood had as a comics artist before he fell in with the hedonism of England's most famous rockers. If you must go see this show before it's taken down, make it a point to check out the small enclosed glass cases in the side room. Any hints of Wood's creative talents are evident in those pieces. Still, my disinterest in the main act left much time for me to wander through the galleries and check out other stuff.

I've been in a lot of regional art museums, and as far as these go the Butler Institute is solid if not exceptional. There is a nice variety of stuff, representing most of the major movements of 20th Century art. We had a lot of fun checking out the gallery of holograms and other visual trickery, although I wouldn't characterize that work as "great art". Overall this was a worthwhile destination as a day trip from Pittsburgh, but I wouldn't cross the country solely for the likes of what's included at the Butler. However there are plenty of sights of abandonment and degradation in Youngstown, and I'd consider returning to shoot some of that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Heard in the Workplace.

c. David Grim (taken 10/31/10)

There's usually not a lot of belly-laughs to be found in a full work day of department meetings. I don't expect to be entertained. The best I can usually ask for is to find enough of interest to keep me awake. To be honest today wasn't even that bad. There was plenty of insight into the current state of the profession, and I realized that I could look forward to the impending shifts bolstered by a sense of my own competence and ability. And I even got a few hearty chuckles along the way.

I had noticed that our first presenter was sporting some sort of medal around his neck, over top of his necktie. It was pretty gaudy, so I naturally wondered what he was thinking with that strange accessory. After awhile he chose to explain what the thing represented, but I believe he probably stepped over some kind of line by repeatedly assuring us that he wasn't a "Special Olympian". Now don't get me wrong- his insistence made me laugh... still I suspect it wasn't his intention to amuse me in the way that he did. I appreciated the situation in the same way I might enjoy a particularly embarrassing Larry David moment. However, he never should have returned to that well again.

Then another colleague shared a catch-phrase that our co-worker (not the same one mentioned above) used to be famous for. He used to say (quite often) that people have three basic needs- food, shelter, and someone to blame. Not only is that entertaining, but there is definitely a certain truth embedded in the quip. The world of work is fraught with opportunities to draw attention to ourselves. What we so often find ourselves looking for is deflection. That kind of thing doesn't stop when we graduate high school.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Tanzania to the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

c. David Grim (taken 10/17/10)

Sometimes it's odd what sticks in my head. Listening to the news on the radio while driving can be a very passive enterprise for me. I have to admit that a lot of the stories go by with as little lasting impression as the traffic surrounding me. But occasionally there will be something that strikes me in a particularly poignant way, and I'll be thinking about it on an off for the rest of the day. That happened a couple of days ago when I heard about a man who had been imprisoned in Guantanamo that is having his trial in civilian court, here in the United States. Apparently this is the first such case that will not be decided by a military tribunal.

It's not the controversy surrounding how the fates of suspected terrorists are decided that interests me. Certainly I prefer that the accused receive fair trials (regardless of their point of origin), but I'm not going to lose any sleep worrying about that if it doesn't happen. I'd reserve that kind of concern for US citizens. I'm not at all confident that our justice system works the way it is intended to in a democracy. Still, that's not what I was pondering the other day.

Instead I was imagining what it must be like to be incarcerated in a foreign nation and awaiting a trial. It's one thing to be kept with a group of your comrades in a military stockade, and quite another to be in 'gen pop' with another country's ne'er-do-wells. I don't know whether the man in question is kept in solitary, or whether they've got him with everyone else at Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. If it is the latter, it must be extremely weird to be among a group of hardened criminals who speak a different language and have been saturated by a radically different culture. Personally I'd be disconsolate, and (probably) soiling my pants regularly- especially if I had been accused of trying to attack the nation that had me in custody.

Yikes. What a sense of isolation that man must be feeling. And what a future he faces if he is found guilty. The chances of him returning to his home are likely slim, given the way those who have had association with al-Qaeda are viewed here in the US. What makes it even more tense is that there is no precedent for this. Any sentence short of death will meet heavy resistance from the extremists in this country. No matter what stress I might feel in my own life right now, I'm glad I'm not Ahmed Ghailani from Tanzania.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

William Wesley's "Scarecrows".

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)*

Lately I've been starting to catch up on the huge backlog of DVD's I bought over the years and never took the time to watch. Several different factors have led to this eventuality. Over the past year I have become extremely conscious of money, and I'm just not buying movies (and other pop culture detritus) with the same easygoing manner that I used to have. Usually I make a couple of bulk purchases from Amazon every year, but I didn't do it this year. Additionally, a lot of the video rental outlets that used to put interesting stuff on their pre-viewed shelves have since closed. And that's a shame.

But I have had fun seeing some of the stuff I have been saving for a "rainy day". I've been going through the whole run of McSweeney's DVD magazine of shorts entitled Wholphin. My friend and I will get together and I'll pop in the disc with no idea about what we'll be seeing. the accompanying hint of being on a voyage of discovery is fun. I'd recommend the series without reservations, especially since all of the volumes are still readily available at reasonable prices.

The season has also prompted me to watch a horror film I've been sitting on for awhile. "Scarecrows" was made in 1988 by William Wesley- a man who has made exactly two feature films over his career. It involves a group of bank robbers in paramilitary gear who hijack a plane and then parachute into a rural area once one of their number attempts a betrayal. they spend a lot of time hovering around a mysterious backwoods house that has been 'abandoned', and running around a spooky cornfield while trying to catch up with their erstwhile colleague. Obviously there are a number of scarecrows placed haphazardly throughout the landscape.

"Scarecrows" definitely has quite a bit of cheese to choke on. The acting is pretty bad, the writing is disjointed and often sophomoric, and the editing leaves a lot to be desired. The atmosphere, much commented upon in the Amazon reviews I initially read about the movie, was actually sort of tainted by poor lighting and the sense that the actors were running around a remarkably small set. Yet there was still something about this flick that kept me from being pissed for having eagerly awaited its release on the DVD format, and spending the 80 minutes (or so) to actually watch it.

I'm not exactly sure how to characterize Wesley's intention. There is more than a little suggestion of ol' fire-and-brimstone Christianity in this script, and in the visual symbolism. The Golgotha-like placement of the crosses that hold the scarecrows is a bit ham-handed, but it makes the viewer suspect there is a bit more concept in all of this than in your typical 80's slasher. Some folks might be put off by the lack of concrete answers and explanation for the odd events that occur throughout, as well as the complete evasion of any attempt to explore an origination story for the monsters. But others will simply marvel at the cheap special effects that somehow give the impression that the filmmakers want to make you shrink away in disgust.

* Not that I ever feel particularly compelled to draw a strong connection between the posts and the images here... but today they share very little in common.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Only Time.

c. David Grim (taken 10/17/10)

"Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only
time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking."

-Narrator, "Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson

It's not often anymore that I am so bowled over by a quote in a novel that I actually take the time to pull it from the text and record it elsewhere. But when I read this I was happy that I found a copy of this book at a garage sale for a buck this past weekend. It was on my radar, but I probably would have never taken the chance on this title if I had to pay much more than I did for it. I came across the author on Amazon after reading something that the site's search engine considered similar. Still I hadn't really been convinced that it was a "can't miss" selection.

Anyway... so far I'm enjoying the read. It's quiet and contemplative and gentle. But those words themselves are not. In fact they resound with authority, especially now that I am 40 years old. I've explained to others how I first experienced a serious sense of imminence when I turned 30. Nowadays that sense is almost overwhelming. One of the worst fates I can imagine is wasting time. I find myself structuring my days, and making deliberate choices about how to best spend my hours.

I don't want my life to pass by unnoticed. God forbid that I should reach the age of 80 and wonder what I did with the last several decades. Within the last couple of years I have learned how things might look when I view them with regret. That's not to say that I think I have made terrible choices, but rather that I want to make sure to avoid doing so in the future. And to cede intentionality in the favor of temporary amusement or consumption seems like a lousy decision to me. I just feel like I'm in a phase of considerable reassessment.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 11/5-6/10.

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)


It's once again time for the critical mass of the arts scene on First Friday. Of course enough is packed into this one day to fill the social calendars of discriminating viewers for the entire month, but we'll take what we can get and try to jam as much as possible into our limited hours.

Start with Unblurred in the Penn Avenue Corridor. As always it's a great opportunity for you to see a lot of stuff by a lot of different artists in one compact area. Check out Fumino Hora's installation at the Pittsburgh Glass Center- "The Way of Samsara" has to do with the cycle of reincarnation. Perhaps that's just the angle of perspective we need going into another cold season. Or maybe William W. Wade's non-characteristic attempts at experimental photography is more your speed? You can see that at Imagebox (4933 Penn Ave).

"Round 5: An exhibition of the Brewhouse Distillery Art Program" will be opening at C Space: Collective (4823 Penn Ave), and highlighting the efforts of Aimee Manion, Meghan Olson, Jaci Rice, Kara Skylling. and Ryan Woodring. And Unblurred veterans Jason Rosemeyer & Christian Breitkreutz will display their stuff at Modern Formations (4919 Penn Avenue). Meanwhile Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn) is jam-packed with work by Dennis Warner, Obsolete, Tom Jefferson, Ian Green, John Fox, Gnome, and Elma.

You could also head over to swellsville and check out Gallery Chiz (5831 Ellsworth Avenue). They have a selection of ceramics artists to honor the AAP Centennial. Perpetual favorite Laura Jean McLaughlin is one of the featured participants (along with Jane Freund, Marcia Winograd & Jordann Siri Wood). That runs from 5:30-8:30PM. The one-word descriptions included on the press material should be all you need to understand what each artist is up to. Meanwhile the German-born Jens Jensen is showing his colorful abstract paintings at the Steve Mendelson Gallery (5874 Ellsworth Avenue) from 6-8PM.

Did you check out the Three Rivers Arts Festival this year? If you did you likely saw the work of prize-winners Deanna Mance and Maria Mangano. And you can see it again at the 709 Penn Gallery (Downtown) at their opening reception between 6-8PM. But if you want to step off the beaten path, go to Point Breeze for an exhibition of Steve Hankin at his studio space (408 Lloyd Street). His realist style of painting can be appreciated from 6-8PM.


Unfortunately some venues seem so far removed from the center of activity on the local arts scene that events tend to be neglected. Don't let that be the case forever. Get out to Hopmestead to visit Artspace 105 (105 East 8th Street) and see the drawings and watercolors of Rachna Rajen. The artist was a refugee from the first Gulf War, and is reputedly interested in electronica and other"aspects of modern life". This gets underway at 7PM.

Yelena Lamm unveils her sharply rendered paintings at Panza Gallery (115 Sedgwick St, Millvale) in an opening reception for "Forbidden Fruit" from 6-9PM. Naturally I'll be looking forward to that.

The Christine Frechard Gallery (5871 Forbes Ave) over in Squirrel Hill is also hosting a reception from 5-8PM. Jane Haskell and Jeffrey Schwarz are the featured artists.

All weekend

Will this year FINALLY be the one that marks my long-awaited return visit to the films of the Three Rivers Film Festival? Who knows? But YOU can check out the entire schedule at the official site.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Got Crime Literature?!

c. David Grim (taken 10/24/10)

After watching the HBO series "The Wire" last year, I'm always on the lookout for other works by those involved in the show. I've made myself pretty clear on this subject before, but it's worth repeating- "The Wire" is absolutely one of the best television shows ever made. I'm not even into police procedurals. They generally leave me bored. I don't know why that is, but I suspect it has something to do with tone. The characters always seem to sleepwalk through the cases and act out their parts in very stereotypical ways. I guess it's because the average media-consumer prefers that.

"The Wire", on the other hand, was densely constructed and consistently absorbing. It explored not only its specific locale (inner-city Baltimore), but also presented social themes which permeate the entire nation. The series was epic and featured fine performances by a cast of actors who were only vaguely recognizable from previous work. For most of the players, their roles on "The Wire" will define them in American pop culture throughout their careers. That's how iconic this show is/was.

Possibly the most essential elements to the success of "The Wire" were its conception and articulation. David Simon is a near genius producer, and his work on "Homicide" set a baseline of expectations for every projsct he's been involved with since (his latest series is "Treme"- an examination of culture and life in post-Katrina New Orleans). For "The Wire" he assembled an excellent group of crime writers, including luminaries like Dennnis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Richard Price. I was impressed enough with their efforts to track down some of their individual works.

In fact I recently finished Price's "Lush Life"- an exploration of tragedy, crime, and social class on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He has enough talent to balance the varying perspectives of the "hip denizens" of Giuliani-era gentrification, the ethnic pioneers who have been living on the Island for decades, the project kids who struggle for survival and street glory, and the gritty cops who try to negotiate a workable peace between these factions. His ear for authentic dialog is just about unparallelled in the genre, and serves to elevate the material to the realm of quality literary fiction. At the risk of sounding cliché, I might call his style "Dickensian".

It really shouldn't be any surprise that I enjoyed "Lush life" as much as I did. The writers who contributed to the complexity and trenchant social commentary of "The Wire" all seem to shy away from the pat conclusions, easy answers, and moralistic certainties that so many other creators tend to embrace and rely on. Richard Price is certainly no exception, and I plan on picking up more of his titles in the future.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just Folks.

c. David Grim (taken 10/10/10)

On the way to work I heard some folks talking about the election. The interviewer was asking them how they felt about the current direction of government. One guy commented that he thought that Washington was out-of-step with the mainstream. That made me consider the definition of the word. What is the actual "mainstream" of the United States of America? It's like trying to define the word "normal". Haven't we all already agreed that it is impossible? Sure, there exists some statistical aggregate of the "average". But for every such formulation you have to substantially limit your variables to attain any clear impression.

You might be "normal" when it comes to the house you reside in, or the number of children you have, or the amount of fat you eat every day... but I guarantee you I could find just as many abnormalities that apply to you as well. So how can anyone presume to really represent the "mainstream", or have any idea what "it" believes? A more appropriate question to ask is just how broad a sampling of the population any one individual can relate to. Because whoever has the ability to expand his/her empathy to the widest spectrum has the best ability to ascertain what the "mainstream" is.

I've been thinking a lot about this in different ways over the years. I live in an urban area- which means I'm surrounded by a density of people with a large and diverse cross-section of social classes, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. And to add to that, I work in the exurbs where I encounter an entirely different group of people with an entirely disparate set of perspectives. I spend an almost equal amount of my waking hours in these two settings. Additionally, on my way to work I alternate listening to conservative talk radio and NPR. I could therefore make the case that I am exposed to multiple sections of the population regularly, and thus have some ability to compare and contrast.

Still I can't tell you what the "mainstream" is, and I expect that you can't either. And I'm damn sure that the person who claims to represent that fictional construct is talking out of his ass in the service of persuasion. But I'm not certain whether or not he knows that he is making this crap up. The assertion that he is truly representative of "the middle" is delivered in such a sanctimonious way that I suspect he hasn't really given too much consideration to the accuracy of his claims. No... instead he has the unthinking audacity to speak for "America" when he is merely parroting a set of ideas and opinions that have been force fed him by whatever media outlet he follows.

Perhaps I'm overreacting to what amounts to a very common subconscious process. Still I've had about as much as I can stand from these jerk-offs who insist that they embody the "just-folks-iness" that everyone who disagrees with them so clearly lacks. If we haven't learned the very real dangers of this kind of populist crap by now (especially in the wake of the violence of the 20th century), then we will never see our situation clearly enough to aspire to any serviceable consensus. We might as well draw the new borders right now. What's the point of continuing the false pretense of a "United" States when so many are so clearly addicted to the us vs. them mentality?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Casting a Narrow Net.

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)

I read something strange in Richard Price's book "Lush Life"- "A deer never travels more than a mile from where it was born and always walks in the path of its ancestors." Now, I have NO idea whether such a claim is true, and after a five-minute internet search I suspect that it is not. However it is a very fascinating claim nonetheless. Perhaps it's simply received wisdom among those that grew up hunting. Price grew up a middle-class Jewish kid in the Bronx, and stayed there for college, so if I had to guess I'd say that he wouldn't know for sure. But of course I could be mistaken.

I guess this contention makes some sense. After all, the wilderness in this nation is so denuded that there aren't many tracts of unspoiled land for deer to roam free in. Furthermore, what unspoiled areas remain are interrupted by roads. Animals often find their ends as moving targets for automobiles, so evolution could slowly be selecting for the wily deer that stick to the known paths. But I'm sure scientists would say that there is no way that natural selection can work so quickly. I'm as much a scientist as I am a hunter.

Anyway, it's a poetic conceit nonetheless, regardless of its accuracy. We see deer as leaping freely and bounding through a world of wooded possibility. We generally don't view them as circumscribed by tradition. Nor do they emanate from our imaginations as symbols for attachment to place. The idea that there is something substantial to learn about their migration patterns is enticing. After all, they are the largest mammal to regularly choose to place themselves on the periphery of human activity.

Ultimately Price's claim serves simply as a contrast/comparison to human behavior. He employs it to comment on the phenomenon of urban criminals typically carrying out their misdeeds close to home base. Maybe the layperson would suggest engaging in unsavory acts far from one's domicile. I can't attest to the relative worth of such a suggestion, as I have generally managed to keep my nose clean. But in the end maybe we are simply animals, and there is something to be gained by examining the habits of those creatures closest (at least in proximity) to us. Folk storytellers have been doing so for centuries.