Last night I was looking forward to settling down and enjoying part one of Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary, No Way Home, on PBS, but had the opportunity to catch a screening of Michael Almereyda’s William Eggleston in the Real World. Thank god for DVR! I look forward to immersing myself in a whole interrupted evening of both parts of No Way Home later this week – Scorsese is a master when it comes to these experiences and the subject can’t be beat!
The Eggleston documentary, which is being released by Palm Pictures, isn’t for everyone, especially those with limited attention spans and no interest in the creative process. Almerevda’s portrait of the acclaimed photographer is quite slow-moving at times and requires a good deal of “filling in the blanks.” With a passing familiarity of Eggleston’s body of work and biography, I found the film fascinating and rather poignant. The portrait, filmed over the course of several years, observes the artist at home and follows him on the road, and includes clips from his pioneering video project the mid-seventies, succeeds in illuminating an almost Warholian aspect to Eggleston. At the fore, is Eggleston’s gift for making the banal and commonplace extraordinary and pregnant through his art and the deceptively detached and off-hand manner in which he captures his images. Quoting the film’s press materials: “What does it mean to see the world so differently that "common" images are converted into unforgettable photos?” I think this documentary is probably the closest one can get to understanding what goes inside the photographer’s elusive head and as much as the subject will permit in his lifetime.
In a very Pop Art way, Eggleston uses processes ordinarily used for commercial or advertising work to develop his prints. Like Warhol, Eggleston is also known for his rather unconventional coterie of friends and family, through art world reputation and also as documented in his photos and infamous video project. A true iconoclast but very mush a gentleman of the South, Eggelston as a subject is laconic and brilliantly thrift with words in a manner rivaling Warhol’s famous pithiness.
There are some real heartbreaking qualities to William Eggleston in the Real World, no matter how cool subject seems to present himself to be. Though little imbibing appears on camera, its pretty clear the guy has a frightening history of drink. The camera often captures the artist stumbling around incoherently and one has to wonder how much of it is an act. Midway through the film, in Eggleston’s home base in Memphis, the filmmaker follows the artist through the night to his mistress’ house; a stopover to the liquour store, to conduct some “business” is mentioned. Capturing at uncomfortable and candid angles what appears to be a typical evening together, with REM’s annoying “Shiny Happy People” blaring in the background, Almereyda films Leigh Haizlip deliver a wet-brained monologue on her own mortality while childishly sucking a lollipop on the couch, as Eggeleston produces a furious and incoherent sketch of his mistress, presumably to burned as previous efforts according to the boozy exchange. While he draws she drawls: "I watched my mother die of cancer, and believe me it's not worth it….better to shoot your fucking brains out." Haizlip as the viewer learns, does indeed pass away from substance-related illness a few years later, sending Eggleston into a deep depression and rehab stay. The more recent footage of Eggleston had me even more gravely worried about his health, but apparently the Good Ol’ Boy is fine, according to this New Yorker Talk of the Town piece from last week. (Full text after the jump, worth checking out for illumination).
Anyways, fascinating film.
So…. what else…
I caught Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride the other day. I was quite looking forward to it since I relish the Nightmare Before Christmas (and the Burton-produced James & the Giant Peach) so much and I admire Burrton’s art direction and his influences. While Corpse Bride was enjoyable, it didn’t quite live up to Nightmare. The score and the songs weren’t as inspired, the fairly simple story was milked a bit thin, and the wicked humor that was peppered throughout Nightmare made but a few weak appearances. Also the collagen-lipped, busty corpse bride looked an awful lot like the recent onslaught of plastic surgery-enhanced actresses (yikes – Lara Flynn Boyle, Meg Ryan – you have irrecoverably destroyed your looks!), celebrities, and make-over victims and that has been a lingering pet-peeve of mine. Maybe that bit was intentional on the creator’s behalf in retrospect. I suppose the last quarter moments of Corpse Bride (the film is rather brief), when the dead rise up to join a wedding celebration, were the most brilliant and fun. I don’t think its going to be a big classic.
Saturday night I met some friends who were staying at a “boutique hotel” near my house downtown called Helix. I must say I wasn’t too impressed with the place – although it has a decidedly fun vibe – I think I’m just way over kitsch and the décor seemed kind of obvious – neon colors, tulip chairs, lava lamps, pop art-ish posters, etc… (like Urban Outfitters were the design firm) - and, even worse, slapped together. It just seemed all a bit self-consciously “hip” and forced and without seams and flow and discovery as one might expect from a pricey boutique hotel experience. The lobby scene, however, was priceless and full of hilarity as this weekend was a big protest get-together in DC so it was filled with out-of-town guests returning from the jamboree, haggard from marching and shouting in the streets in their dusty shorts and tees and still carrying their signs, some sporting mullets. So much for style. Even more of a trip was that, at the same time, a crew was filming an episode of MTV’s Sweet Sixteen in the hotel bar!
We headed down 14th to check out Bar Pilar, which I hadn’t been to yet since I haven’t been out all summer. Bar Pilar is charming and is a real boon to the neighborhood and I’d like to go back on a non-protestor weekend just because it would nice to pretend I’m in a real European bistro. Afterwards, we went next door to her big sister, Saint-Ex, where the music was unusually sucky (like late 80s Malaysian nightclub sucky) and the protestors were in full-force, dressed to the nines, of course.On Sunday I went to Baltimore again to check out the neighborhoods and admire a friend’s freshly and handsomely refinished house. I tell ya, it’s a real surge for me to get out of tired DC - I feel great energy in Charm Cityand hope to be relocated there by the holidays!
William Eggleston, the supposedly reclusive photographer, was in town the other day from Tennessee, having a grand time seeing and being seen. On the agenda was the première of a documentary, “William Eggleston in the Real World,” and a reception for a new show of old portraits that he had taken, in the seventies, of the Memphisdemimonde—backsliders, barflies, easy women.
Earlier that afternoon, Eggleston, who is sixty-five,was at El Quijote, the sangria-and-lobster joint in the Chelsea Hotel, where he lived, on and off, for a couple of years with the model and Warhol protégée Viva. (Eggleston has been married to Rosa Dosset, a childhood friend, for forty-one years but has openly cultivated relationships with other women.) It’s a little-known fact that he has spent a significant amount of time in New York, where, in 1976, MOMA gave him its first major one-man show of color photography. “It’s my favorite place, almost,” he said of the Chelsea. “We go way back.” He pointed toward an interior entrance to the restaurant. “See those double doors ? They only open one way now, so that if you go out of here into the lobby you have to go out to the street to get in again. Back in the days, the hotel was full of undesirable people.” Like who? “Me and the Sex Pistols.”
Eggleston was dressed fastidiously: navy-blue suit, white shirt, slim navy-and-red spotted tie, leather lace-ups. He is exacting and gallant—he bowed upon greeting a woman, and took her hand in both of his—but is not averse to mischief. He appreciates back talk and expects to be entertained. When he isn’t, his eyes go milky and he becomes quiet, his efforts at being amusing withering in direct proportion to the extent to which he is not amused. “I couldn’t say” is a typical comment.
Suddenly, in a strong voice, he summoned a waiter: “Bring me a glass of champagne, please.
“I love a midafternoon drink,” he said. “When I was growing up, we called them ‘nooners.’ ” The waiter returned with a half-bottle of Moët, and Eggleston instructed him again. “Bring me, please, a tiny, tiny shot of crème de cassis.
“That’s what I used to order,” he said. “My favorite bartender here had a secret formula for a champagne cocktail. He would always turn away so I couldn’t see what he was putting in.” He was barely audible over a burst of flamenco guitar.
“Here’s looking at you,” he said.
He went on, “Viva and I are very close still. She’ll call me and say, ‘You won’t believe what happened.’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh, I can’t imagine.’ And she’ll tell me about some household disaster, some fight with her landlord, or something.”
Later, during a question-and-answer session at the movie’s première, at Film Forum, Eggleston got shy again.
Q: “What do you think of New York?”
A: “Well.” (Almost a minute went by.) “It’s on the map.”
The audience broke into indulgent laughter, humoring the rube savant. Eggleston’s Southern-boy persona is almost as artfully constructed as his images—actually, he’s travelled around the world. This year, he plans to visit the Far East, which he decided to see after dreaming about riding around Thailandin a taxi. “I’m headed to Bangkok,” he said. “My son Winston and I, Nan Goldin, and Juergen Teller. It’s gonna be a hell of a crew.”
After the session, admirers swarmed to the front of the theatre. A man presented Eggleston with a deli bouquet of white tulips, and a woman, in a fit of either idolatry or entrepreneurial inspiration, asked him to take her picture with a cameraphone. He obliged.
Later, at the reception, at Cheim & Read gallery, things got loud and crowded, and Eggleston and some friends retreated to a private room. There was a low table set with a round tray: miniature cheesecakes (untouched), wine, water. The men were chain-smoking, lighting up cigarettes before they could stub out the old ones, talking about which woman in the world had the most beautiful underarms. It was a colorful picture.