Sunday, October 19, 2014

All of the Above

Five years.  When I think about it, it's kind of dumbfounding and inevitable at the same time.  Bill and I have been doing Thunder-Sky, Inc. for five years.  We've had a lot of help from a lot of great people, but we've kind of been the ones who push and prod this whatever-it-is (gallery/studio/fan-club/clubhouse/limbo) forward, very slowly forward, the way Raymond kind of moved:  intent, focused, but also nonchalant, maybe insouciant, not caring and yet caring, building and demolishing simultaneously because he knew how the world works. 
Above is a photo from October 30, 2009.  That was the debut gig at Thunder-Sky, Inc., when we opened a show called "Raymond Nation."  Looks like a stalwart ghost dangling in a walk-in freezer.  I love that chill Raymond imparts.  He never really let you know exactly how he was feeling or what he was thinking; he was cryptic in the best possible way.  I respect that so much looking back, how he just followed through on his own strictly self-determined purpose, how he built a life out of demolition and fury and happiness, how it all became what he wanted it to become till the very day he died. 
And that's why I keep beating this dead horse.  Because Raymond's purpose was to make something out of nothing and to do it without a lot of bull-shit or a lot of attention.  He had a purpose beyond all that and yet he wasn't above any of it.  He relished obscurity as much as relishing those tiny moments of appreciation he was allotted at the end of his life (a few shows of his work at Base Gallery, Visionaries + Voices, and other places we were able to find to exhibit his drawings).  But he also understood the joke of his existence so much so that the joke became his kingdom.  He played it all up -- clownishness, construction-worker-ness, his strangeness and alienness given superhero qualities by his own hand.  And in those drawings he left behind you feel him laughing, sneering a little, letting us know he does not give really a shit, except for the big things like prisons crumbling and being replaced by card-tricks and clownishness, a whole industry of trickery and sarcasm.
He was punk.  He was innocence.  He was experience.  He was a freak who made that freakishness a route to grandeur and hilarity and self-knowledge.
Most of all he was what he was, without apologies.  He was scary in the way clowns can be scary.  He was lovely in the way clowns can be lovely.  He was hard-working, he was mysterious, he was very simple. 
And so this is why we keep doing Thunder-Sky, Inc.:  because I truly can't find any other role-model, any other reason, to organize/coordinate artistic endeavors outside of that stream of light.  Maybe it's obsession or stupidity or stubbornness (probably all of the above), but somehow Raymond's life was too elementally metaphoric and wildly outlandish and secretively productive to forget, to be placed in a pile of other file-folders marked "outsider art" or "people with disabilities" or "folk hero" or "mysterious stranger."  He deserves his own little hall of fame, and so here it is, at least for a little while.  At least another year. 
This is a year to year thing.  It has to be.  We don't want it to become bigger than it needs to be.  So Thunder-Sky, Inc. has an under the radar quality, a homespun do-it-yourself-ness that tries to run away from being labeled or even being appreciated.  It is a little place that does not want to be anything except exactly what it is in the very moment you see it.  And for most of the year it's doors are closed anyway.  Open only on weekends, and on the Fridays we have opening receptions (6 times a years), or when someone wants to do a poetry reading, or any other special occasion that seems worth it. 
Thunder-Sky, Inc. is a non-profit ghost in the machine.  We do what we have to do to make things move, but not a lot of anything else.  Like Raymond and his drawings:  elemental, precise, completed, on to the next thing.
We're celebrating the five year anniversary next Friday, October 24, 2014, with a show called "The New Clownville Amusement," with Raymond-inspired works by Robert McFate, Curtis Davis, artists who use the Visionaries + Voices studio, artists from Able Projects, Antonio Adams, the Waldecks and friends, and many wonderful others.  This show came together like all of the other ones we do, things piling up and then somehow organized into a semblance of order through just doing it.  The five year anniversary means Raymond has been gone for ten years.  Ten years.  Good Lord.  He won't disappear.  Even if Thunder-Sky, Inc. disappears Raymond won't.  He is building and destroying things in all kinds of ways right now that we can't even fathom, which is the way it always was anyway.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Prison Life

I went for a tour of a prison this week, as part of a chamber of commerce leadership training class thing I'm doing.  It's a weird industrial kind of faded sadness the place evokes.  Everything in the architecture and d├ęcor is spare and metallic and rote, but there's a feral smell wafting through the air, a smell of sleep and old socks and sore throats and rainy afternoons in trailers.  It's the smell of an Arby's uniform after work, a stink that goes undetected mostly because it's never allowed outside of its vicinity, its distinct zone.  You are trapped with that odor if you have any connection to it though.  It's yours.  And the prison pods I toured with other professional types had that stink but it was captured so you could breath it in without having to live through it, so it almost becomes a sort of souvenir, a sense memory, a joke. 
But I've lived with that smell many times in my life.  I'm from lower-income stock, have lived in Section 8 apartments, have worked a number of really crappy jobs.  I know what that smell is, and it really made me feel connected to something you don't really want to be connected to, but you have to get used to because its who you are, not so much a destiny as an element, a chemical vapor.
When we toured the pods, you could see a few prisoners waiting out our visit in their cells.  We even were told we could look into a cell or two, and what we saw was what you'd think we'd see.  A silver metallic sink and toilet, bunk beds, linoleum, cinder-block blankness.  It was not horrifying in anyway, just routine and drab and on the edge of total disappearance, that exact moment before everything gets taken away. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Piece of Cake

Gone Girl is a zeitgeist-fueled masterpiece of exurban, media-drenched, cynical, creepy, hilarious, 21st Century, true-crime-porn, all of that fermenting and fomenting inside a McMansion straight out of a Sominex commercial, with a backyard shed filled with man-cave accoutrements as if Santa Claus has had a bipolar episode.  It is maximally vicious and empty-headedly blissful at the same time.  You watch with a sense of dread and also a strange giddy anticipation.  David Fincher has directed it as a grotesque yet hyper-elegant gloss on film-noir, as well as a shiny-switchblade parody of Lifetime TV movies.  It moves effortlessly toward a bunch of conspicuously unbelievable yet completely realized revelations that shed light on nothing but what movies can be when they are ridiculously well-constructed.

Ben Affleck's Nick is in a shitty marriage to Rosamund Pike's Amy, and the movie begins with her supposed abduction.  I think the conceit the movie is based on (from a bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn who also did the screenplay) is that you don't know who is telling the truth.  But that conceit within a minute or two of the movie is completely vanquished:  the conceit in fact is deliriously deceitful.  It's obvious from the get-go Nick is victim and Amy is victimizer, and that Gone Girl is a charged-up reboot of the old-school femme-fatale plots of  potboiler books and movies like James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and/or Double Indemnity.  While Nick is not really innocent (he has an affair with his young creative-writing student for Pete's sake), he is framed in the movie as a goofy but sweet, five-o'clock-shadowed loser, playing board-games with his twin sister while downing late-morning bourbon in a bar his wife purchased for him.  In the first five minutes of Gone Girl his put-upon stature is cemented:  he arrives home to make sure his pet cat is okay only to find evidence of a break-in and the disappearance of his beautiful blonde wife, an effete, over-schooled knock-out who had to move back to Missouri with him because Nick's mom was dying.

From that initial scene of surprise to a rush to judgment to Nick having to find a defense attorney, the movie's elegant race between back-story (Nick and Amy's first kiss in a "sugar storm" outside a bakery at night, Nick and Amy getting married, Nick and Amy's first fight over money, and so on) and the churn of present-day abduction-story to-dos (Nick and Amy's uptight parents holding a press conference and vigil, suspicious police detectives pursuing the truth and so on) culminate halfway through the movie to a point-of-view switch.  We find out -- guess what? -- Amy has not been abducted or killed or anything like that.  She's just plain pissed and by pissed I mean she's created and executed a whole abduction narrative so detailed and fierce it's obvious this bitch is crazy.  She makes up diary entries to incriminate Nick, draws her own blood to splatter in the kitchen, befriends an idiotic pregnant lady next door so she can steal her pee for a fake pregnancy test.  And on and on and on.  Amy obviously is a femme-fatale Fincher and Pike have assembled as a collage of Madonna in all the videos Fincher made with her, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and a plethora of other blonde-haired, steel-eyed super-sexy ladies who do really terrible things and look fantastic doing it.  Pike's performance is gorgeous and stony and joyous to watch.  She's a robot Medusa, and her voice-over sections as she lets us in on  all her secrets are venom and music combined.

Fincher is the superstar here though.  This is one of those movies you watch knowing how meanspirited and pissy it is and yet the style overcomes the substance, and you are in the presence of true movieness.  And by "movieness," I mean this is a movie that is not about real life in any way shape or form:  this is a work of art referencing (i.e. stealing from) other movies (including Fincher's own back catalog classics like Zodiac, Panic Room and Seven) and spectacularly using those references in pursuit of pure, stupid, cinematic ecstasy.  Fincher, like Hitchcock, understands that movies are not pieces of real life.  They are pieces of cake, and this movie is a morally rotten yet deliciously decorated wedding-cake.  You enjoy every slice not as a reflection of reality, but as an orgasmic joke on it.  Movies like this make going to the movies an experience beyond verisimilitude or an exercise in getting blown away by computer-generated images of oceans toppling over skyscrapers.  Style is Fincher's goddess here; he worships it with every shot, and you follow him wanting to be awestruck by his audacity and dedication to doing what he needs to do.  By the end of Gone Girl, you understand nothing about male-female relationships or 21st Century America or any of that.  You're just grateful Fincher made a movie that makes you feel somehow enchanted, even overcome by, what movies can be and do, no matter what they are about.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Comedy Is Not Pretty

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig do something in The Skeleton Twins, their new movie, that a lot of other comedic actors can't do:  they take what they do best and merge it with a sensibility that helps them transcend their shtick.  Call it the The Robin Williams Syndrome, I guess, but when many great comedians try to make dramatic turns they often bring along their old stand-up/sketchy baggage with them, and the dramas they are in "make room" for this, or try to erase it all together.  Think of Will Ferrell in Everything Must Go, or Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, or Steve Martin in Pennies from Heaven, or Robin Williams in most anything, and you get the idea:  their "funny" personas take over the atmosphere and what results is a movie about them trying to alter who they are, without maintaining a sense of what the actual movie is trying to get at.
Hader and Wiig maintain their off-kilter freakish comedic selves in The Skeleton Twins, but they use their Saturday Night Live skills to hone in on how actual off-kilter, freakish human beings interact, damage and sometimes save one another.  It's a movie that starts with two suicide attempts, and ends with one, and yet there is a light touch to Craig Johnson's direction and writing so that the drama, even though it's pretty melodramatic, becomes integral to the comedic undertones, to Hader's and Wiig's skills at being weirdos trying to figure out how not to drown in their own weirdness.  They play a brother and sister who haven't spoken to each other in over ten years, and are reunited after Hader's character winds up in the hospital after slicing his wrists.  Through the course of the movie, they become entangled yet again in each other's lives and revert back to their old selves.  Somewhere in there are other fantastic performances by Luke Wilson, as Wiig's goofy sweet husband, Joanna Gleason as their pseudo-loving, New Age mother, and Ty Burrell as Hader's weak-kneed ex-lover (who seduced him in high school while he was his English teacher).  
The Skeleton Twins moves forward effortlessly, and its pleasures come from both moments and the momentum it takes to make those moments feel actual and earned.  But the main scene I recall, the one that truly gets at how Hader and Wiig escape themselves and become actual people, is halfway in, when Wiig, a dental hygienist, cleans her brother's teeth.  She gives him some laughing gas to get over initial fears, and the scene unfurls from that, with Wiig cleaning Hader's teeth and then both of them getting in on the gas, until finally they wind up in the records room of the dental office, sliding down to the floor and remembering who they used to be and how easy was to be that.  There's some ad libbing, some face-making, some shtick, and yet it all feels completely necessary, even organic.  You feel like you're eavesdropping instead of watching a movie, and that intimacy makes the whole film snap to suddenly.  Wiig and Hader become true brother and sister right before your eyes, and the ache of their love and torture becomes not just stylized "hurt," but something you can connect with, even compare to real life.
That's not comedy or tragedy or drama -- it's art.