Tag Archives: movies

Central Park

Among the annoyances of having to work for a living (aside from having to work for a living) is the getting to where your workplace is – and, assuming that, as in most American locales, short-sighted politicians with lobbyist bucks in their PACs have helped to eviscerate your town’s public transportation, then the getting requires driving. And driving requires a place to park. And, if you do not work in the ‘burbs or on the prairie – where fine arable soil now lies, out of sight and out of mind, beneath flat, parched and blacktopped acres painted with corralling lines and illuminated by buzzing light poles, offering free parking within stroll distance to your office/factory/shop/cell – then you pay to stow your vehicle on a razed-building footprint that’s now a lot, or in a multi-story garage building within some city’s limits.

ParkingGarage

For the past seven years, I’ve been doing just that – committing my car to minimum-security lockup for eight hours a day while I do somewhat the same for myself. Two parking garages have been involved, and to me they seemed, though structurally different in subtle but noticeable ways, very much the same in personality and affect: floor after oil-stained and grimy floor, dark (even in day), barren (even when parked solid), echoey down its low-ceilinged/vaulted-concrete claustrophobia-inducing corridors illuminated with dim and flickering and green/yellowish rods and protuberances that give every inch the quality of the lighting employed in snuff films, and all tied together with a spiral bow of ramps, and home to the funkiest stairwells and slowest elevators since Otis installed his first emergency-alarm button.

Grim eyesores of our car culture, ugly over-charging profit machines of politically connected and corrupting developers – this is what I have thought of these ubiquitous and obtrusive storage boxes. Personality-less. Places without placeness, and certainly without art.

But, lately, for no good reason, I find myself having a change of heart.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking at these lurid architectural layer cakes as some sort of black-sheep member of the Guggenheim Museum family – a twisty path leading to landings on which are not paintings but Priuses – but I have come to realize that these garages are not devoid of placeness, as I thought. In fact, quite the opposite. Especially if American mass media is any gauge, these undistinguished buildings are central to a kind of basic American placeness. In fact, they are redolent of placeness.

Scorpio

It is uncountable how many times in movies that parking garages – whether over- or underground – have been used as the arena for screeching car chases (those echoes, those hairpin turns, those bowling-alley-like high-speed head-on approaches) or foot chases, or muggings, or shootings – way out of proportion to their actual danger or the role they seem to play in our waking lives. Cars race into them, out of them, around and through them; cars with secreted bombs blow up in them, and cars explode out of them, sailing through the air to the ground or water or whatever lies below – an exhilarating propelled dive from imprisonment to freedom without having to surrender the time card and pay the inflated fee to the under-interested drone in the booth.

all-the-presidents-men

Do we hate and fear these places so much that we impose our nightmares on them? Or are we drawn to them because they are the most closed of public spaces, and anything can happen in them – placeness tofu, bland in and of itself but taking its piquancy and identity from added spices? Structural Zeligs that blend in but are present at key events? It was in a parking garage that Deep Throat met with Bob Woodward. It was in a parking garage that Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer were lost in a Pirandellian episode that was among the most existential in television history. Deborah Sorenson, of the National Building Museum, suggests  that, depending on the structure, they are either cliff or cave, and she lists dozens of films and series that have used parking garages as the focus of plot points.

Seinfeld

Maybe they had no placeness until the movies gave it to them. But they have it now. Maybe 20 bucks for an all-day piece of this uber-American mass-media theme park is not a bad admission price … and you get to park your car, too.

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In Dreams

Every night of this past week I have had dreams, all very different, but all occurring in the same location. Not the same house, exactly, or the same room, but in each dream, or string of dreams, I found myself in the same town – a locale I am familiar with, one I have come, in the past year and a half, to consider a home away from home and, perhaps, some day, simply home.

I can’t tell you what’s happened, precisely, in these dreams – not that I don’t want to but because I can’t quite recall them in enough solid detail so that recounting them to you won’t make me sound like an idiot, or someone who knows a joke but forgets the punchline. Like most dreams, they were like exploded diagrams, full of familiar pieces that, reconnected, don’t combine to build anything that is recognizable or makes sense – fragments floating downstream, forming a porous whole.

I can’t begin to explain why I’m having these dreams. It could be because of a longing to be there, or because I’m working something out in my mind that’s related to it; maybe it’s just a fantasy of a play on words that’s got me in a vortex; or maybe it’s something murkier. Or maybe it’s just nothing, just one of those things, signifying nothing, sans sound and fury.

But there they are, these dreams of mine, and there it is, that location. The what and the why of it all, frankly, doesn’t engage me as much as does thinking about what a dream is, and what I am in it.

When it comes to these dreams, and others, the operative word, I think, is not what and why, but “where.” And that is because all dreams occur somewhere, and we are there then. And when we are there, being there is as real to us as my being here now writing this, and you being where you are, reading this. In fact, our location-consciousness may be greater in dreams, because we always seem to be extremely conscious of and impacted by and linked to where we are in our dreams, and often more so than in waking life, when we are so task-focused or self-focused that our surroundings recede to somewhere outside our sphere of self-consciousness. Where we are in dreams is often the point of the dreams themselves, and rarely too far off the point.

I would suggest, then, that a dream is not a mental state, or a process, but a place – a place that we are removed to, and one that is so with us at every moment we are there, intense beyond waking life’s intensity, bound only by its own rules, its own laws, its own physics, grounded only by our need to be awake and alert and integrated even when we are asleep and susceptible to exterior threats and fragmentation. Dreams are the essence of placeness.

But more: When we dream, we create. Even those who, in their waking lives, will admit to being uncreative will create magnificent dreams. We create places, sometimes out of nothing, other times out of pieces of “reality”; in this, we are like set designers. We create characters, some based on people we know, others from who knows what, and we give them lines to say, and we create “scripts” for them to follow, and plot lines that put most movies to shame (except those movies that are based on the belief that the more dreamlike or nightmarelike, the more effective the experience; see Hitchcock, Alfred). In this way, we are writers. The way we see our dreams – the angles, the movement – are like the way a director envisions his play or frames his shots. Like improvisational geniuses, we take sounds or smells that exist just outside our dream world – that is, in the so-called “real world” – and work them seamlessly into our dream scenarios, turning the storyline in a new direction instantaneously. In our dreams, we write autobiography, and fiction, and Greek drama and, unlike so many in Hollywood, actually get them produced. And when we awake, the “real” world seems drabber than anything we experienced during the night, like the way we feel when leaving a great museum, or a theater.

I would suggest, then, that to dream is to be an artist. And that the dream itself is art, but art with the life of one of those newly discovered elements that exist for a millisecond, noted solely by tailings recorded on a sensitive receptor. Dreams, as dreams, cannot be exhibited in galleries, although some physical art is based on dreams, nor will we see them on pages, though dreams can inform a written work, or jumpstart a creative process. But, despite their ephemeral nature – or, maybe, because of it – dreams’ impact on our waking lives can be as profound as any art of any form we put ourselves in the way of. They are our own portable, hard-wired creative suite.

This blog will not become a place for dream analysis, or ruminations on the supernatural (although we here tend to believe that nothing is supernatural, just not yet apprehended). But, if the term arslocii is designed to represent the idea of placeness as art, then dreams can not be thought of as – excuse the pun – out of place here.

And though I still don’t quite get why I am having those dreams of mine, and may never understand why, exactly, I do know that they are, at the very least, a creative effort, a form of personal art that can do nothing more or less than express something in me completely, with no intermediate medium to dilute the essence. And, knowing that, I am somewhat awed, and oddly comforted. And can’t wait to dream, to create, to be in a place of art and be an artist again tonight.

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Stop and Yo!

OK, a question (and it is, perhaps, of the trick variety, so think carefully before answering): To one side of you is a collection of some of the greatest art ever produced, all there for the viewing and, if you play your cards right, you can even see it all for free; to the other side of you, mere feet away from the previously alluded to fine-art cornucopia, is a larger-than-life bronze, of competent but pedestrian quality, atop a pedestal and sculpted to look like an idealized, classical heroic version of the lead character in a series of hit movies – indeed, it was created as a prop for one of those films.

The question: Which one – the great art, the movie prop – would you stand in line to see and have your picture taken with?

The answer is not so obvious.

Let’s fill in the blanks. That art collection? It’s the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the world’s finest repositories of humans’ greatest endeavors.

That statue? It’s of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, fashioned for the movie “Rocky III” by A. Thomas Schomberg.

Depending on which touring shows arrive at the museum in any given year, its annual attendance hovers around 800,000 visitors. There is no official tally as to the numbers of tourists who want to see and be seen with the Rocky statue (and how many of them who never venture past the statue to enter the museum), but they are there, in queues, all day and into the night, with a curiosity and a passion that many of the museum attendees do not have; it is not uncommon to drive by the museum at midnight or later and see, out of the corner of one’s eye, the flash of a camera, and in that momentary brightening, spy groups of people standing in front of the Rocky statue, striking a similar pose to the figure’s aggressively victorious stance.

And it is impossible to know how many tourists and even city residents climb or run up the art museum’s grand steps not with an eagerness to see the new Monet show or Eakins’ “Gross Clinic,” but, rather, to emulate what has, amazingly, become a global, iconic action based on a moment from a 35-year-old movie: standing at the top, arms raised, bouncing weight from foot to foot, staring out at the Parkway below and the city spread out beyond, hearing in one’s head the trumpet-y “Rocky Theme” and saying, to one’s self or aloud, “Yo, Adrian!” You probably know what we mean.

To these people, the art museum is a mere backdrop – it has become the movie prop (the museum steps are even now referred to as the Rocky Steps – just Google it), in a supreme example of the reality-distorting power of popular culture and iconography, the defining image and the empathetic moment: we are all “Rocky,” but we are not all that Jasper Johns in the hall, or those Duchamps in the back room, and we are not all what many in the “Rocky” contingent think that that building represents: an elitism, keeping the uninitiated at arm’s length. Though this is not true – there is far more deep identification and emotion in any gallery of the museum, and a greater opportunity for life-changing sudden awareness, enlightenment and growth there than can be had by posing with the Rocky statue – it is, however, a truism, a “truthiness” felt by and strongly held by many, if not most, “regular” people.

What is it, in terms of placeness, that draws people to the Rocky statue? Is it more fascination with all things movie-ish, or does it have something like the presence of a shrine, or, in the manner of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, with its collection of stars‘ hand- and footprints, is it – within its context – representative of both? Why does it attract so many when superior sculptures nearby get nary a notice? And, the question has to be asked, what is it that makes those others “superior”? Who says they are, and why? Is the Rocky statue “art”? By what definition of “art” is it not? And who says nay or yea? Does it come down to the difference between what’s good for you and what’s fun for you? Is it a flashpoint in the people’s art vs. snooty art divide? Or is it something more profound: Does the little area at the foot of the art museum steps, with the gladiator-ish bronze boxer installed there, have more placeness, make us feel better to be there, than the museum, with all its value and importance? Or is it simply a matter of context and siting: Would there be as much interest in this semi-artless creation if it had remained at the Spectrum arena, where it was ensconced for a while, or more interest had it stayed at the top of the steps, where it was positioned for the movie and then left there until enraged art aficionados booted it off, calling it an insult? In other words, are the lines of snapshooters there because the statue is there or because the steps are there, and that the steps give the statue a life that only its association with the building and its idealized vision of it in the movie can bestow? Is Rocky the draw, or is it our cultural memories? Rocky or “Rocky”? Is it actual placeness or, like a contact high, contact-placeness – the thing it’s in “contact” with being a totally fictional entity?

We heard someone say, recently, that when they have out-of-towners visit them here in Philadelphia – a city that offers venues for great theater and music and art, and sports, too – the only two places they are sure to take them are the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue.

Yo.

 

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