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#171 June 12, 2013

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Roger Ebert

The agony of the body artist

In 1975 an artist named Chris Burden announced that he would lay down on the floor beneath a large sheet of plate glass on the floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He did not say what he would do then. I covered that story for the paper, not because it was assigned, but because the concept held an eerie fascination for me. It still does. I have no idea what he was trying to prove. But, surely, he was proving something?

I recently had occasion to read The Hunger Artist, by Franz Kafka. It involves a sideshow performer who goes without food for long, long periods of time. This becomes a futile exercise, because while he's starving there's nothing much to see, and most people assume he isn't really starving; a man need only be thin to lock himself in a cage and say he is fasting. Who watches him at night or when the show is moving to another town? The story has a famous ending that is savage in its implacability. I've linked to it below.

Bloodletting man, from the Calendar of Regiomontanus (1475)

Reading Kafka, I was reminded of the article I wrote about Chris Burden, and looked it up. It engaged and perplexed me. I will quote from it here, and then in italics I will think some more about Chris Burden.


The Hollywood studio mentality in one paragraph

Kimberly Peirce.

The first time I interviewed Martin Short (one of my "SCTV" idols) in 1987, he told me an anecdote about his experiences in Hollywood. A typical encounter with studio executives would begin with something like, "Wow! We love you! You did this and you did that and we think you're great!" Followed, almost immediately, by, "And now that we've hired you, don't do that stuff anymore because that's not what we want from you. Just do it our way."

Here's director Kimberly Peirce on why nearly ten years elapsed between her last feature, "Boys Don't Cry," and her latest one, "Stop Loss": ... After "Boys Don't Cry," Hollywood came and offered me some very expensive projects, some very good stuff.... I had one project that I got almost to fruition, "Silent Star," about the unsolved murder of [the silent movie director] William Desmond Taylor in the 1920s. It was wonderful - the story of how Hollywood was built on an unsolved murder and a cover-up. We had it cast and ready to go, and the studio ran the numbers and they said, "We want to make it for x amount of money." And I said, Uh, all right. But then they said, "We don't want to spend that much, we want to spend 10 million dollars less." I said, Well, I don't know if that's a good idea, but I'll go ahead and make the adjustments I can. And they said, "Well, we don't want to see the version of the movie that we're prepared to pay for. We want to see the version we're not willing to pay for."Perfectly circular bureaucratic logic -- so beautiful in its impeccable shape that Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller must be laughing so hard they're crying....