Category: politics

Blurring Man!!!

Blurring Man is an hilarious, well-made and very human movie.
It’s quite difficult to categorize. It’s an adventure story for sure. It is a thoughtful cross cultural exploration – the story of a free spirited man living in the moment, pores wide open, ready for anything. It is also a lighthearted parody of an extremely popular Yanqui cultural phenomenon. It surely is a Very Large Post Hippie Festival in the Remote Desert that is fabulous, ridiculous, positive, exploitive, empowering, silly, hypocritical and life changing in equal measure.
In Blurring Man, an hispanic day laborer hooks up with some colorful L. A. characters and is spirited off to this uniquely American festival. This unlikely journey is paralleled throughout the movie by the dangerous adventures of the protagonist escaping war torn El Salvador – risking life and limb to eventually cross the border into the open opportunity available, or at least advertised, for him in Estados Unidos. The juxtaposition of these two Campbellian journeys is what makes the tale.
The hero of the piece, Elmer embraces this now iconic American Very Large Post Hippie Festival in the Remote Desert enthusiastically, immersing himself in experience. His journey parallels that of the typical middle-class caucasian American that is the target audience for the event. After decades of entertaining (some say enlightning, some say deluding) Silicon Valley kids, old hippies, young ravers, Mom & Dad, tourists, well healed survivalists, the Hollywood elite, political figures , the occasional criminal, as well as a few hand-to-mouth stagehand/roust-a-bout types, this festival has developed several particular types of experiences, experiences that so many attendees share – so many and so often that they have become clichés finally:
– There is the initial shock and astonishment and often unbridaled joy at the incredible large scale art – and:
– The hedonistic yet playful social structure, and the seemingly pure (and well advertised) non commercial nature of the event opens eyes.
– Very intense and genuine human interactions with random people along the way are common.
– Sensual episodes, potentially threatening stable relationships back home, occur more than at your average swingers conclave.
– There are the occasional instances of unsolicited psychotropic episodes.
– Then there is a point of overwhelming strangeness that begins to alienate a bit.
– Assault by nature in the guise of a massive overwhelming dust storm, can almost be guaranteed.
– Many who attend eventually (until they retreat into their well appointed recreational vehicles) reach a point of exhaustion and stress due to the extreme nature of the experience.
– There are the penultimate and then the ultimate performance/rituals, fully embracing the hedonistic primordial nature of these communal spasms involving powerful archetypes and fire.
– The participants finally head for home, some energized, some ecstatic, some defeated and disollusioned, all exhausted and all with a lot to think about. Quite the experience!
Elmer inhabits these arctypal involvements just as so many other attendees do, the difference being his viewpoint and strong identification with his cultural experience as an El Salvadoran.
Elmer is ultimately very much himself after the journey, with a better understanding of the nature and culture of his new Country.
There are thematically divergent and often humorous interludes throughout the movie, including one where the owners of the event threaten the filmmaker for daring to tread on their trademarks and “intellectual property”. Very funny.
I saw the first draft of the movie when filmmaker Matt Boman showed it to me a year and a half ago at my retrospective art show in Oakland. That earlier version of the film was funny, whimsical and good-natured and had considerably less material critical of the event than the finished version (which you can access through this post). Matt evidently got a cease and desist and was expected to abandon his film which he had been working on for several years. The threat compelled this young, and clever filmmaker to develop a singular and I think brilliant tactic in order to finish and present his film with less chance of existential legal repercussions for his movie.
I must say such a large and thoroughly successful ongoing cultural phenomenon (and corporation, both private originally, and later nonprofit) should be able to take a joke, a little good-natured ribbing and some pointed criticism as well. As Charlie Sheen said so emphatically and successfully: “Winning, WINNING!!”.
Well, this Very Large Post Hippie Festival in the Remote Desert has been winning for decades. So let’s hope they’re good natured enough to let a young, enthusiastic and brilliant filmmaker show his take on their thing without facing unpleasant and poor sportsman like repercussions.
I’m going to guess it would’ve probably been better for that organization to have let Matt run with that original, less critical version. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the movie!

The Gift

#Giving Tuesday

In a world where everything has a price, the most priceless things are free.


I have the honor and pleasure of introducing a new film by Robin McKenna called “The Gift” at the Castro Theater this Thursday November 29th. This movie is a visually delicious sampling of personal stories that illuminate some of the philosophy behind the popular and influential book by Lewis Hyde published in 1983.

Robin showcases four examples of “gifting” as manifest in some very different cultural settings. My favorite is the story of a anarchist(y) squat in a giant abandoned commercial swine abattoir.  Roma gypsys, immigrants and struggling artists conjured Metropoliz out of a derelict property on the outskirts of Rome that no one seemed to want. This experiment ran into some bumps when the real estate started rising in value. A clever counter to this inexorable tide of property greed we have all had to contend with in some fashion was for Metropliz to emphasize the (soon internationally recognized) artistic contributions that famous artists have painted on the various huge walls of the complex. The stature of this new museum has helped fend off eviction attempts by real estate concerns and their political servants to date. The Gift here is an ongoing sharing of the space with the occupants and the outside world of art and culture afficianados.

Another of the four samples of “Gift economies” finds Robin and crew documenting a native potlatch Kwak’wakwala community in Alert Bay in Pacific Northwest Canada. The idea of “The Gift” in some form or other is a part of many tribal and indigenous cultures going back to pre-history. Gifts are not always accepted and often weighted significantly with social and cultural obligations; the unifying factor is simply that the The Gift must not be held. It must be shared with others who in turn are obliged to pass it along.

The Gift also follows the work of artist Lee Mingwei who’s work is a “life meets art/art is life” in the Zen tradition.  His work is influenced by Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, a book he carries the book around with him when he travels. Hyde has wrote an introduction to Mingwei’s work, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Last but not least in the quartet of lovely of Gift vignettes is Michelle/Smallfry who created a “circular gift” camp, art car (giant bee called Beezus Christ Supercar) and crew of busy bee pals that took gifted honey from SF beekeeper acquaintances and passed along for free on the playa at Burning Man.

I enjoyed these four symbolic and literal tales, each illuminating the concept of “The Gift” in different though related fashions. Our world, western culture, is driven in large part by the great and valuable philosophies of the spirit of the individual, freedom of will and self determination ruled by “none other.” Unfortunately, we have swung too far in that direction, abandoning the balancing power of community, sharing of resources, the idea that some things must remain free. The Gift is a timely message in this world where literally everything has a monetary value, a price – whatever “the market” demands. If we cannot return to a balance between the individual and the communal, we are surely doomed to a future of even more greed and inequality.