Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Youtube Joy

Traditional Home of the Way Out

The Human Be-In, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967. I would love it if someone could help me find out who took this photograph.

As I’ve said in the past, I sometimes feel uncomfortable about the place/travel aspect of this blog. I live where I live and am the person that I am. I have the culture that I’ve been brought up with. So to me, everything else is “other” and thus fair game for this website. This is why I like to talk about New York culture, and why I hope to come across an excuse to talk about the South Louisiana/Cajun culture I grew up in. I feel like if I’m talking about my own stuff as often as I’m creating a window on Vietnam or Nigeria or Turkey, at least it’s fair. But then I’m constantly worried that the goal of my blog is to other people through the arts.

I found out this week that someone has already done that. And they’ve done such a good job at it that the piece of American culture they chose to highlight feels not just like another place and time, but another planet.

I’m referring to the BBC documentary series Whicker’s World, in which British journalist Alan Whicker covered social issues in places as diverse as Haiti, Paraguay, and Hong Kong.

In the summer of 1967, Whicker cast his camera lens on San Francisco, and the resulting film is one of those odd examples of earnest British reportage in a world that is decidedly un-earnest — in the case of the UK press reaction to Bob Dylan shown in D. A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back — or maybe too earnest, in the case of this Whicker’s World thing. The honest, straight ahead, unironic treatment of the Haight-Ashbury scene is wilder for the fact that the hippies are completely honest in return. The documentary doesn’t flinch or attempt to exploit the titillating subject matter, which somehow makes the subject matter seem even stranger.

Poster from the Human Be-In designed by Michael Bowen, with photography by Casey Sonnabend. This event kick-started the Summer Of Love and alerted the media and the wider world to what was going on in San Francisco.

In reality, that world isn’t that far away from me. Yeah, it’s the other side of the country in a city I’ve never actually visited, but it’s a cultural moment that backlit everything that was to come in American culture. My mom had Janis Joplin records as a kid. LSD, not Crack, was the real spectre behind the curtain of After-School Specials and the Just Say No Club. Growing up in America in the eighties, The Sixties was the basis of everything. I don’t think The Summer Of Love stopped being relevant until probably September 11, 2001. And in a lot of ways it’s still relevant. But in Whicker’s documentary, it seems a million miles away. Is this my culture? Is this where I’m from? Worse, what about the society the hippies rejected? If the hippies look bizarre, the larger American culture — as described by the BBC, in any case — feels outright foreign.

I wonder if this is the feeling that inspired Gita Mehta to write Karma Cola?

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The Man Who Saves The World

Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam: the limit of my knowledge of Turkish culture before visiting Istanbul. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I have a confession to make.

A few months ago, when I bought a ticket to Istanbul pretty much on a whim, I knew only one thing for sure about Turkey. Was it the fact that the Ottoman Empire brought Islamic culture almost to the gates of Vienna in the sixteenth century? Was it the sacking of still-Byzantine Constantinople by their fellow Christians during the fourth Crusade? Was it the beauty of Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace?

It was none of those things.

I knew that, in the 1980’s, Turkey made its own version of Star Wars. The special effects and John Williams’ score were ripped directly from the genuine article, because (this part of my research is a little shaky) apparently Turkey hadn’t signed some international copyright treaty that would explicitly ban such behavior. Or maybe that isn’t true, maybe the Turkish film industry just thought, hey, you know, we’re Turkey. Hollywood has no idea we even make movies. Our language has lots of umlauts in it. We can do whatever we want.

Turkish Star Wars action figure. Image via the Starswar Collector Archive.

For a long time, Turkish Star Wars existed for me in a web of rumor. It was discussed in hushed tones over bong rips and rounds of Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 in the dorms my freshman year at Emerson. A few people boasted of having seen it, and yet nobody could produce a copy. We had no way of verifying any of it in this barely-internetted era, so the stories got more and more ridiculous. Some insisted that there was a whole movement of Turkish copycat films: Turkish Jaws, Turkish Superman, Turkish Wizard Of Oz.

 

And then one day, after I left Emerson for New York, I was digging through old VHS tapes at Kim’s Video in the East Village. It was there: a Radio Shack brand blank tape with a moldering label scrawled with the words TURKISH STAR WARS, a bootleg of a bootleg of a bootleg. I took it home. I’m not sure if it was the cheap production values, the seizure-inducing jump cuts, or the fact that it of course had no English, but it was completely inscrutable. I watched twenty minutes or so, grew bored, and switched it out for The Happiness of the Katakuris, which I’d also picked up that day.

By the time I bought that ticket to Istanbul a decade or so later, the internet had changed everything. Nothing will ever be shrouded in as much mystery as Turkish Star Wars — which Wikipedia now reveals is actually titled Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam — used to be. The world is now laid out in explicit facts and fictions. This film was made; here’s its IMDB page and a clip from YouTube. The kid from the Life Cereal Box did not die after mixing pop rocks and coke; that’s an urban legend. There are obvious benefits to the new way of seeing the world through a constant stream of information. I don’t think Barack Obama would be president if it weren’t for the good people at Snopes. And, hell, I wouldn’t have bought a ticket to Istanbul on a whim if the internet hadn’t laid bare the details of Delta’s winter fare sale.

But a part of me is nostalgic for a time when you could believe that Turkish filmmakers had created a shot for shot reproduction of Star Wars down to the pastries in Princess Leia’s hairdo, and that they might have even done the same for E.T., The Excorcist, and Gone With The Wind.

Side note: I would really love it if someone could explain the existence of these ripped off Star Wars action figures from Turkey. Clearly they are not relevant to Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, which doesn’t much resemble Star Wars at all and wasn’t branded as Star Wars in Turkey. And yet they share the same bootleggy mistranslated weirdness with the phenomenon of Turkish Hollywood ripoffs. I think this is just a coincidence allowed for by the time before the internet allowed everyone to share the same mass culture and also allowed huge megacorporations to make serious bank by enforcing mass culture uniformity. But who knows?

Disclaimer: Turkish Gone With The Wind does not exist. As far as I know…

In Which I attempt to connect all my crushes to Portland, Oregon

Robert Mapplethorpe has nothing to do with Portland. I just love this photograph more than everything in the world. Photo by Mapplethorpe, of course, via the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

I’ve had a crush on Portland for a long time. Thanks to its use as the setting for the Ramona books, it wouldn’t be hyperbolizing to say I’ve always wanted to go to Portland. After reading this Cool Hunting feature on Ampersand Gallery, Portland is back at the top of my list not just because it’s the dream of the nineties, but also as a place to look at art.

Ampersand Gallery, Portland, OR. Image yanked from coolhunting.com.

Sorry, guys. I have to post this. It’s a credit to Carrie Brownstein that this song is not just funny and true, but actually good:

 

In other art and video news, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about art collectors lately. Who even knew there were multiple docs about art collectors?

The classic choice is Herb & Dorothy, the story of a postal worker and a librarian who became major collectors of minimalist art in the 60’s. In addition to the powerful narrative, there are interviews with art world megastars like Donald Judd and Chuck Close.

And then, suddenly, Netflix was recommending arts documentaries right and left. Due to my obsession with Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the downtown scenes of New York in the 1970’s, I had to watch Black White + Gray, a doc biography of Sam Wagstaff, who was an important photography collector and Mapplethorpe’s lover. In addition to scratching my Just Kids itch, I was fascinated by the way that people from different parts of Wagstaff’s life had such oppositional views of who he was. There were homophobic Society types, art historians who thought Mapplethorpe was a total gold digger, and Patti Smith being her usual awesome self. It’s rare that docs about relatively uncontroversial figures like Wagstaff convey conflict that way, so I thought that was an interesting approach.

Both of the above films — and many more arts documentaries! — are available streaming on Netflix.

P.S. In researching this post, I discovered the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which has a website full of beautiful images.

The Art of Work

Photo by Sara Clarke.

I got a little lonely in Istanbul, so I started taking portraits of people who work on the street. It began with the fishermen on the Galata bridge which spans the Golden Horn. Then there were the roast chestnut sellers. Finally, I discovered that your average roving bread vendor will pose for you for the price of a simit.

Photo also by Sara Clarke.

For true street vending artistry, though, you have to go to China. It makes me a little sad that we never see this genius’ face:

(Stay tuned for more of my Turkish Street Vendor photo series.)

Steam On The Window Screen

M.I.A. makes me want to run wild. There’s an immediacy to her music, a whisper of an undertone murmuring, NEVER GROW UP. NEVER GET BORING. QUIT YOUR JOB. DRIVE FAST. LAUGH TILL YOU PEE YOURSELF. RUN!

If you take that whisper and combine it with her global outlook, it’s not surprising that setting images to her music makes me Want To Go To There. Even when “there” is a the roof of a train speeding across the Indian countryside or an Arabian desert seemingly empty except for a few beat-up cars.

Also, the fact that M.I.A. dances like a seven year old standing in front of a mirror singing into her hairbrush makes me endlessly happy. Terrible dancers unite!

Here’s some footage of the Saudi car stunt trend — called Hagwalah — featured in “Bad Girls”. While there are some cool moments in the first minute or so (check out the 360-degree spin through traffic past a schoolbus full of kids!), if you fast-forward to the two minute mark you get a good stretch with some rad middle eastern background music. Around 5:40 you get the in-vehicle perspective, complete with bitchin’ Arab pop soundtrack.

Three Things I Like Right Now

Design*Sponge visits The African Queen. I’m kind of dying to install a mosquito net over my bed. As a teenager I thought it would be incredibly romantic, and when I traveled to India it was everything I thought it would be and more. Not that dengue fever is romantic, of course.

Speaking about India, did you know there are psychic robots there now? What I want to know is, when are these coming to Queens?

Speaking of the borough I happen to be sitting in right now, this Das Racist video gives me hope for humanity:

Das Racist | EK Shaneesh from Stephen Boyle on Vimeo.

 

If Loving Bad Pop Music Is Wrong

The most stereotypical "Bollywood" image I could find. This is a still from the wonderfully melodromatic Devdas, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, and Aishwarya Rai. Madhuri and Aishwarya are pictured.

My love of Hindi-language film manifests in several ways. Some are tasteful, even cool, like the vintage posters I brought back from Mumbai. Others are understandable, like my affection for Jackson Heights’ Eagle Cinema, an art-deco movie house retooled in filmi style down to the samosas at the concession stand. And who doesn’t enjoy a cheesy love story featuring the likes of Kajol or Amitabh Bachchan?

But then there are the more embarrassing manifestations of my Bollywood fandom. Like the dance numbers. The cool thing to do these days in Indian films is to feature at least one Western-styled clubby dance number, preferably with a catchy English-language chorus. These songs are like the worst thing on any Ke$ha or Soulja Boy album, minus a million cool points. And since English is a second language for most Indians, the lyrics are terrible. Just throw in a lot of “Dance With me Baby” and “Party” and “Rock Star”, and that’ll make 90% of South Asians* pretty happy.

And yet, I can’t get enough. Throw one of these bad boys on my workout playlist and I’ll run a mile without thinking about how shitty this stuff is or how much I actually hate exercise.

Maybe I should look into K-Pop next.

*On the other hand, take any traditional Hindi-language Bollywood soundtrack and throw in words like “Zindagi”, “Dil”, and “Hai Allah!” (“Life”, “Love”, and “Oh God!” in Hindi), and this English speaking Bollywood fan is happy. So I guess it’s all the same fetish for the Other.

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