Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Mitchell’
May 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The fourth chapter of Big, Bent Ears, Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” pulls back the curtain on the art of documentary, and on one facet of that art in particular: chaos. As Weiss tells it, their attempts to capture Knoxville’s Big Ears festival were impeded at nearly every turn: interview subjects went AWOL, keys failed to open doors, and a search for an errant projector cord culminated in a late blitz to Walmart. Fortunately, at the end of the week the Rock Fish Stew team had documented a lot of great musicians; that’s here, too, including footage of Swans, the Kronos Quartet, and Holly Herndon, among others.
Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:
- Chapter One, There Are No Words
- Chapter Two, Borderline Religious
- Chapter Three, Nazoranai, a Documentary
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review
April 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Günter Grass, best known for his novel The Tin Drum, has died at eighty-seven. “Grass learned a lot from Rabelais and Celine and was influential in development of ‘magic realism’ and Marquez,” Orhan Pamuk said about him. “He taught us to base the story on the inventiveness of the writer no matter how cruel, harsh, and political the story is.”
- Joseph Mitchell was on staff at The New Yorker for decades—and yet the magazine has suspiciously few of his bylines. What was he doing all that time? “Mitchell had no idea he was embarking on one of the most celebrated writer’s blocks in American letters. In fact, at the time he was juggling a variety of ideas, hoping—assuming—that in his reporting one of them would logically emerge as his next New Yorker piece.”
- Distracted? Of course you are—this is 2015. It’s in the nature of contemporary society “to manipulate our attention and to profit others … repetitive pseudo-actions create patterns of satisfaction that progressively disconnect us from the world.” And for this preponderance of pseudo-actions we can blame one Immanuel Kant, whose “insistence on autonomy … reads as a denial of mutual entanglement.”
- Toby Barlow on Derek Walcott and Star Trek: “If any other show had as many scenes in an elevator as Star Trek did, we would have talked about it, complained about it.”
- On the Anderson Valley Advertiser, which dubs itself “America’s last newspaper” and reads like “Our Town on bad Mendo meth, a Norman Rockwell scene painted in the midst of a weed-wine binge and given a makeover by Hunter S. Thompson.”
April 3, 2015 | by The Paris Review
The hysteria and mystery surrounding the Germanwings crash have led me back to Johan Grimonprez’s Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a 1997 film collage that traces the history of plane hijackings—and, just as important, the media fixation on those hijackings. When Tom McCarthy presented Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y at Film Society of Lincoln Center last month, he praised its presentation of “media as a crypt from which history is leaking out” and “terrorism as a theological condition.” The film’s macabre footage captivates, in no small part because of Grimonprez’s shrewd, ironical editing. In one sequence, a grinning boy just rescued from a hijacked plane tells reporters, “I had a good time, I guess”; in another, a girl, still violently crying, is hustled off a recuperated aircraft only to be led into the klieg lights of a press junket. As McCarthy pointed out, the project hasn’t aged well—it came before 9/11, after all, and its focus on television can feel quaint in the age of the smartphone—but as a meditation on the codependency of media and terrorism, it remains invaluable. Sprinkled throughout the film are spoken excerpts from DeLillo’s Mao II, which feel, whenever they’re incanted, truer than ever: “In societies reduced to blur and glut, terror is the only meaningful act.” —Dan Piepenbring
Someone who has “a lasting liking for the cryptic and the ambiguous and the incantatory and the disconnected and the extravagant and the oracular and the apocalyptic” might turn out to be pedantic and self-absorbed, but chances are, they’re the sort of person you want to know deeply but are never able to. The person in question here is Joseph Mitchell, the rather enigmatic subject of a new biography that is itself the subject of a review by Janet Malcolm in the latest New York Review of Books. (See also our series “Big, Bent Ears,” which takes Mitchell as a subject.) Malcolm is an obvious choice for the assignment, but that doesn’t detract from how fun it is to read her on Mitchell. “Where the hell is this going?” she asks about a rambling conversation between Mitchell and one of his subjects. “As in all of Mitchell’s pieces everything is always going somewhere, though not necessarily so you’d notice.” Malcolm is admiring of Mitchell’s work, reverential even, but astute. When Thomas Kunkel, Mitchell’s biographer, discovers that his subject invented portions of his nonfiction stories and makes excuses for these fabrications, Malcolm puts him in his place: “Few of us have gone as far as Mitchell in bending actuality to our artistic will. This is not because we are more virtuous than Mitchell. It is because we are less gifted than Mitchell.” —Nicole Rudick
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March 25, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“Every now and then, when I’m tuning, I can make myself cry,” he said at one point. How can a piano tuner make himself cry? I thought to myself. What in the act of tuning would cause someone to do that? When I reviewed this footage months later, I could hear how dumbstruck I was. “When do you make yourself cry?” I asked, baffled.
Tim came back with an explanation that, in one fell swoop, answered the question, created a bigger mystery, and effectively ended that part of the conversation.
“This is getting sort of borderline religious here,” he said, “kind of with the f-word mixed in with it … When you say, God, I’m here—I’ll do the motions, you do the work.”
The second chapter of Big, Bent Ears, Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” is available now. We launched the series earlier this month; it’s a combination of video, audio, photography, and writing in various arrangements and states of completion. This week, Sam and Ivan talk to Tim Kirkland, a piano tuner in Knoxville, and to the members of Nazoranai, an improvisational noise band. Read the piece here, and stay tuned for the next chapter, which comes next Monday, March 30.
March 11, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
We’ve posted the first chapter of Big, Bent Ears, Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” If you missed it, we launched the series last week; it’s a combination of video, audio, photography, and writing in various arrangements and states of completion. This week, Sam and Ivan examine the overlap between two of their projects, one focused on the writer Joseph Mitchell and the other on the Big Ears Music Festival, featuring the musician Jonny Greenwood and the Wordless Music Orchestra, among others:
At some point that week, though, the word ear began, well, ringing in ours. The Knoxville music festival is called Big Ears, recalling Mitchell’s “bent” ones. We now wonder whether the type of careful, concentrated sonic experience on display at Big Ears—where the audience is invited to move outside their comfort zones and immerse themselves in new sounds—is analogous to Mitchell’s old-fashioned manner of venturing out into the back alleys of New York to hear people talk.
Read the piece here. The next installment comes in two weeks, on March 25—stay tuned.
March 4, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Many of you know Sam Stephenson from his excellent contributions to the Daily over the years. But he also has, with Ivan Weiss, a documentary nonprofit called Rock Fish Stew—they’ve worked on projects about everything from jazz to baseball. And starting today, they’re collaborating with The Paris Review on a new series of multimedia pieces called “Big, Bent Ears: A Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” As they explain in the prologue,
We pursue hunches, welcome distractions, give ourselves space to associate freely. There’s something indulgent in this approach—childlike, some might say—but we try to balance our impulses with learned rigor … We’ll offer combinations of video, audio, photography, and writing in various arrangements and states of completion.
So why the name? Whose ears are both big and bent, save perhaps certain breeds of dog? Sam and Ivan explain:
The name Big, Bent Ears derives from our two current projects, the Joseph Mitchell Project and the Big Ears Documentary Project. Joseph Mitchell, the midcentury chronicler of the back alleys of New York City, was renowned for his uncanny ear … his first collection was called My Ears Are Bent.
Big Ears is one of the country’s preeminent experimental music festivals. It features the likes of composer Steve Reich, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, music-art icon Laurie Anderson, tUnE-yArDs, Nazoranai, and the Kronos Quartet, among many others … In an age of quick hits and attention deficits, Big Ears focuses on long listening and the noncommercial craft of music and sound.
Read their prologue here, and check back on March 11 for the first chapter of their story. We’re looking forward to seeing what they come up with, and how far afield they roam.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.