Amar is an observational documentary that follows the day of a 14 year-old Indian boy from a teeming slum in India, who is at the top of his class in school and who also fantasizes of someday becoming a professional cricketer. In addition, Amar happens to be his family’s main breadwinner, working two jobs six-and-a-half days a week. On its surface, the film is presented as a quiet celebration of the human spirit, of a boy whose tenacity and quiet resolve carry him through every day.
But on a deeper level, Amar presents the sad and haunting echoes found in earlier seminal works, such as: Alan Sillitoe’s Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner, Carson McCullers’ The Ballad of the Sad Café and Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms. Beneath the film’s face of optimism lurks a deep well of solitude, a life that is always surrounded, yet always alone.
The Shower Series (Paani) is a remarkable series of photographs by Manjari Sharma, who was born in Mumbai, India, and now lives in New York City. The photographs offer up both intimate and awesome perspectives on a basic human need. Over a period of months, Sharma invited people to visit her apartment and photographed them in a very intimate space, her shower. Bathing is an ordinary routine for most of us, but Manjari Sharma’s shower became more than a place for a daily lather and rinse. It became a confessional, a temple, and, for believers, an incarnation of the river Ganges.
As Sharma describes it, “The walls that somehow surround us and restrict us came down in the shower and made people say some very personal things about their life to me. In my artist statement, I attribute it to the intimacy of standing in the same bathtub, the washing down of the water, and the shower thereby transforming into a confessional. In some ways every time we take a shower and indulge in the act of shedding, pouring, coming undone, cleansing, we partake in renewing ourselves.”
The artful design of a plea for help,
The curves, posture, angles, wrinkles,
The amazing cupped hand,
Speaks a language of its own.
Those of us living in the Western world know relatively little about deeply severe conditions of dire poverty. Photographic sites seem to pay little attention to and look less than highly on journalistic images that depict the dismal life of those who have been born into a state of devastating poverty. Photography should educate, enlighten and help to ameliorate the plight of these unfortunate souls, but most of the time it censors it.
The photographs presented here center on the large population of mercilessly impoverished people living in India, an amazing assortment of disenfranchised humans who are begging just to eat and survive another day. If more people can view the malignant and horrible plight that so many millions of impoverished persons endure, it’s possible they eventually will be more able to offer the empathy and human support such populations require in order to survive. However, if we continue to shun painful imagery of the dreadfully appalling conditions in our world, we will continue to condone its existence and never offer the assistance that is required.
Simon and Garfunkel Live in Madison Square Garden (2009)
“The Sound of Silence” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
(This Stunning Performance is Best Experienced Here in HD Full-Screen)
The Dancer: The Resilience of a Young Orphan in India
What good is dancing,
If you have no music,
Or if you have no one to dance with?
The Dancer is a very touching narrative documentary short film directed by Seth Stark, which explores the life of a young orphan in India. The film is a moving testimony to the resilience of children who are forced to cope with extremely difficult living situations, as well as to the potential contributions of benign, compassionate forms of group care for children.
The Dancer: The Resilience of a Young Orphan in India
Sita Sings the Blues: An Inspiration to Warm the Heart
Sita Sings the Blues is an astonishingly original 2008 animated feature film written, directed, produced and animated entirely by the American artist Nina Paley, primarily using 2-D computer graphics. Sita Sings the Blues was awarded the Cristal Grand Prix for Best Feature at the 2008 Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Crystal Bear-Special Mention in the category of Best Feature Film at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival. Paley is also the producer of the highly acclaimed animated short filmsFetch! (2001) and The Stork (2002), both of which I have posted earlier.
In his rave review of Sita Sings the Blues, Robert Ebert wrote:
“To get any film made is a miracle. To conceive of a film like this is a greater miracle. How did Paley’s mind work? She begins with the story of Ramayana [an ancient Sanskrit epic, depicting the righteous duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king], which is known to every school child in India but not to me. It tells the story of a brave, noble woman who was made to suffer because of the perfidy of a spineless husband and his mother. This is a story known to every school child in America. They learn it at their mother’s knee. Paley depicts the story with exuberant drawings in bright colors. It is about a prince named Rama who treated Sita shamefully, although she loved him and was faithful to him.”
But there is another story told within the movie, a contemporary tale that runs parallel to the ancient epic of Ramayana. In the film, we are introduced to an American couple living in San Francisco, young and in love, named Dave and Nina, and their cat, named Lexi. They are deeply in love, but Dave flies to India in order to take a “temporary” job. Nina longs to be with him and finally flies to join him in India. However, while in India, he is abrupt and cold to her, and when she returns home to America she receives a cruel message: “Don’t come back. Love, Dave.” Nina despairs and moves to a decrepit apartment in Brooklyn. Cockroaches crawl all around her apartment, but she’s so stricken with grief that she hardly notices them. One day in her deepest gloom she picks up the book Ramayana and starts to read. Inspiration begins to warm the cold embers of her heart. In her autobiography, Paley reveals that her own then-husband “terminated” their marriage while he was still in India. Paley’s ex-husband has inspired a great cultural contribution.
Now, without broader distribution of the outstanding reviews for Paley’s film, it doesn’t initially come off as having the ring of box office gold: An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. Once people read that, they’re like: “Uh, huh.” And if you were to read that description in a mailer sent to you by your local art house, would you drop everything and race through driving rain see it? “Uh, uh.”
But Paley was faced with an even greater obstacle when she tried to get “Sita Sings the Blues” licensed. Partly because of the Annett Hanshaw musical soundtrack, licensors came back with the “bargain” estimate of about $220,000. It was simply not possible for her to acquire that kind of money, so instead Paley gave Sita Sings the Blues to her audiences. Paley stated, “Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show ‘Sita Sings the Blues.’”
The full version of Sita Sings the Blues is presented below in HD video. The film is comprised of 10 parts; at the end of each part, please click on the arrow at the bottom-right of the video to proceed to the next section. Sita Sings the Blues is best viewed in HD and Full-Screen Mode.
The Full Movie: Sita Sings the Blues
(Click Arrow on Right Side of Video for Next Part)
Aspen: The Multimedia Magazine in a Box (10 Issues, 1965-1971)
Aspen: the Multimedia Magazine in a Box
Aspen was conceived by Phyllis Johnson, a former editor for Women’s Wear Daily and Advertising Age. While wintering in Aspen, Colorado, she got the idea for a multimedia magazine, designed by artists, which would showcase “culture along with play.” So in the winter of 1965, she published her first issue. “We wanted to get away from the bound magazine format, which is really quite restrictive,” said Johnson.
Aspen published 10 issues between 1965 and 1971. Most of the issues arrived in a notebook-size box stuffed with articles that had been printed individually rather than stapled together. But it was the nature of its contents that made Aspen magazine stand out like a ski lift in a cornfield. Each issue was as likely to hold postcards, posters and phonograph records as essays. Among the magazine’s 235 contributors were many prominent figures on the 1960’s cultural landscape, including: Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsburg, John Cage, Philip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham, John Lennon, Marshall McLuhan, Yoko Ono, Lou Reed and Andy Warhol. Each issue had a new designer and editor. “Aspen,” Johnson said, “should be a time capsule of a certain period, point of view, or person.” The last Aspen, issue number 10, was devoted to Asian art and philosophy.
If Aspen was an art director’s dream, it was also an advertiser’s nightmare. The ads, stashed at the bottom of the box, were easily ignored. And although Aspen was supposed to publish quarterly, in reality the publication date of each issue was as much of a surprise as the contents. “All the artists are such shadowy characters,” publisher Johnson said, “that it takes months to track them down.” After issue 5+6, there were no more ads in the magazine. Perhaps Aspen was a folly, but it was a vastly pleasurable one, with a significant place in art history. The list of contributors included some of the most interesting artists of the 20th Century. And as a paragon of creative publishing, Aspen was a true wonder. Its contents, however, are all but lost; few copies of Aspen have survived.
The Asia Issue contained fifteen numbered items, no advertisements and no editorial credits. It was published in 1971 by Aspen Communications Inc., NYC.
Music Audio: Peter Walker/White Wind:
Aspen Magazine’s Final Issue: The Asia Issue (1971)
Clearing Autumn Skies Over Mountains and Valleys, Kuo Hsi, China 11th Century
A Mountain Village In Clearing Mist, Ying Yu-chien, China, 11th Century
Tagasode (Whose Sleeves?), Anonymous, Japan, 17th Century
Noh and Kyogen Plays, Three-Panels, Anonymous, Japan, 17th Century
Waves, Two-Fold Screen, Ogata Korin, Japan (1658-1716)
Thou art That, Hindu Temple Sculptures, India, 11th Century
Vaishnava Painting, Indian Miniature Paintings, Northwest India, 18th Century
The Yama Tanka, Hanging Scroll, Tibet, 18th Century
Aspen Magazine’s Final Issue: The Asia Issue (Number 10, 1971)
Aspen: A Guided Tour of the Multimedia Magazine in a Box
Kenneth Goldsmith, the founding editor of UbuWeb, gives us an audio guided tour of Aspen Magazine, which is now housed permanently on UbuWeb. The tour includes an in-depth look at the films, recording, sculptures, writings and images that this remarkable publication produced. Published 10 times between 1965 and 1971, Aspen billed itself as the first three-dimensional magazine. Most of the issues arrived in a notebook-size box stuffed with articles that had been printed individually rather than stapled together. However, it was the nature of its contents that made Aspen magazine stand out like a ski lift in a cornfield. Each issue was as likely to hold postcards, posters and phonograph records as essays. And among the magazine’s 235 contributors were many prominent figures on the 60’s cultural landscape, includingAmong the magazine’s 235 contributors were many prominent figures on the 1960’s cultural landscape, who included: Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsburg, John Cage, Philip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham, John Lennon, Marshall McLuhan, Yoko Ono, Lou Reed and Andy Warhol.
An Audio Tour by Kenneth Goldsmith:
Aspen Magazine (Artists, Authors, Audio, Movies, Interactive Exhibits and Advertisements): The Complete Index