Tag New Zealand

Notes on America

Ilgaz sent me this great piece written by an American living in Istanbul. She writes on her revaluation of her personal identity through college and her stay in Istanbul. It’s thought provoking!

Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence

Suzy Hansen writes about the first time she understood that identity is created when reading James Baldwin:

“I’d had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past.”

This rung my bell, as I had a similar experience in college, specifically an American Literature class I took in Wellington while reading The Great Gatsby. The class was entirely Kiwi except for me, and a lot of the lectures and discussions focused on American cultural identity in relation to a Kiwi cultural identity. I was the first time I’d heard anyone discuss American Culture from the outside looking in.

I was used to criticism of American culture. Through high school I was a fan of the Beat writers, American Transcendentalists, Fight Club’s Palahniuk, and Robinson Jeffers. I had a punk rock, Adbusters attitude of cutting through bullshit and focusing on who really benefits from any given cultural form.

These authors offered an alternative to the bland consumerist conformity that forms the background of middle-American life, and I embraced them. My choice to study in New Zealand was an attempt to take “the road less traveled” as the famous poem goes.

The Kiwi professor and TAs approached America as a foreign culture and from the outside they were able to thoughtfully criticize problems with the American dream with a clarity I had never heard before. The arguments were familiar but the perspective was new, and it rattled me.

I had never considered myself a nationalist but I found myself reflexively defending cultural values I didn’t realize I’d internalized.

Goals ARE achievable, “where there is a will, there is a way.” Social mobility IS REAL. People grow up poor and work hard and send their children to college. That happened in MY family so I know it’s true. Cars and driving, road trips, moving across country, these things have a psychological effect, there is freedom in that. I’ve experienced it! These ideas weren’t manufactured in me, they are real!

But looking into American literature from another cultural perspective, I saw that these are not universal truths, they are American ideas local to a place and a part of a system of myth-making, national brand building. From this perspective even rebellious American authors questioning of the status quo became status quo and are absorbed into the brand. A snake biting it’s own tail.

There was some business man in the 80s-90s trying to decide whether to take a job at Apple Computer or at Coca-cola. Steve Jobs asked him, “do you want to put sugar into water or do you want to change the world?” The guy started working for Apple.

But think, he could have changed the world.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

That’s the last bit of The Great Gatsby. The urging, the stretching-out-for, the pretension, reaching toward a goal, but inevitably reaffirming the place they started from. (There are big resonances here in the 20-movements and neutrality work: seeking neutrality of movement we discover the clown.)

So what? Do you give up and quit? Do you cynically sit back, criticizing the efforts of others? Do you say, “Fuck it all! This is who I am now?” These questions were right in the middle of all the texts I was reading back then how couldn’t I have heard them?

The White Shadow

Early Hitchcock Film Found In New Zealand

Film preservationists say they’ve found the first half of The White Shadow, the earliest known surviving feature film on which Hitchcock has a credit.

The first three reels of the six-reel film made in 1923 were discovered by the National Film Preservation Foundation at the New Zealand Film Archive.

Thanks Mom for the link!


Five Years Ago

Here are some old photos from life in Wellington that were taken five years ago this month. The view from the picture window in my old apartment. Me at the Paramount waiting for the cue. My old bag and scooter helmet. My overdue student visa.

Five years seems like no time at all and forever ago all at once.


Zhenya in Detroit

I met Gene (AKA Zhenya, Euvgene) in 2005 when we both worked at the Paramount in Wellington. We were fast friends and collaborated on a few projects together. (Maybe you remember this?) We’ve been in intermittent contact since I moved off the Long White Cloud.

Gene’s visited the U.S. a few times since then, but every time he’s been stateside I’ve either been too far away or too broke to see him. But a few weeks ago Gene ventured outside of New York City and went on an impromptu tour of some great American cities, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago.

I jumped on the chance to meet Gene in Detroit, a city that looked close enough on the map to justify jumping in without much of a game plan. I meant to spend a day with him but we ended up spending the long weekend together.


Gene filled me in on what he’s been up to for the past few years. Back in Wellington he had been performing a little, collaborating on a few shows, he started a theater company, produced some plays and even flew a director in from New York out for a production. But he told me, “I made a hundred bucks man, it just wasn’t worth it.” He swore theater off and focused on making music.

After several months of producing music and DJing in Wellington, Gene found himself in a Commedia del’Arte workshop given by this mad man. The work was powerful enough to inspire taking a significant risk, so after talking it over with Giovanni (the mad man) and Gene’s long time partner Erin, he took the plunge and for the past six months has been studying at Helikos, a small physical theater program in Florence, Italy.

As it turns out, the woman who gives the amazing red nose workshops I’ve been taking in Chicago, Paola Coletto worked with Giovanni to develop the previous incarnation of the school in the early 2000s. Small world right?


The Projectionist

Here’s a short film my good friend Gene Alexander put together way back when I was living on Aotearoa, that other island. Gene and I worked together at the Paramount, a great movie theater downtown Wellington. We filmed this over a few weekends and off-work evenings. Unfortunately I  was in Helena before the project was done, that left Gene and his editor without much to work with. “It reads more like a trailer,” Gene wrote in an e-mail to me.

I hope you enjoy the show!

Those Old Machines

Watching this again brought me right back to my last weeks in Wellington. The projectors at the Paramount were so much fun to work with. We we’re the only theater in town that could run reel to reel, so just like the old days you had to watch for the “cigarette burns” to que to for a changeover. (I never heard another projectionist call them cigarette burns, always “que dots” or “changeovers”.) A changeover takes place when you fire up the second projector just as the reel of film on the first runs out. The projectionist’s goal is making as smooth a transition as possible, no gaps, no overlaps.