NOVEMBER, 2002…

Ten years ago — 2002 — right about now: 70,000 free copies of the 56-page Arthur Magazine No. 1 somehow hit the streets across North America.

Thank you to everyone who helped get this train rolling.

Thank you, publisher Laris Kreslins and art director W.T. Nelson. Thank you, adfellow Jamie Fraser.

Thank you, senior advisors Mark Lewman, Paul Cullum and Shawn Mortensen (RIP).

Thank you, contributors Paul Moody, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore, Geoff Mcfetridge, Spike Jonze, Neil Hamburger, David Berman, Ian Svenonius, Dame Darcy, Eddie Dean, Joe Carducci, Camille Rose Garcia, Jason Amos, Joseph Durwin, Daniel Pinchbeck, Alan Moore, Pat Graham, Dave Brooks, Steve Giberson, Mike Castillo and John Henry Childs.

Thank you, all the agents in our improvised guerrilla distribution network across the continent.

Thank you, all the entities that spent money to advertise in our untested pages.

Thank you to everyone thanked on Page 3 of the mag: Brendan Newman, Kreslins Family, Oma, Kristaps, Gary Hustwit, Chris Ronis, Kate Sawai, Janis Sils, Bernadette Napoleon, Vineta Plume, Fred Cisterna, Richard Grijalva, Ned Milligan, Lizzy Klein, Robin Adams, Jack Mendelsohn, John Shimkonis, Prolific, Chris Young, Ed Halter, Mike Galinsky, Jim Higgins, Plexifilm Family, Alie Robotos, Domainistudios, Fistfulayen, Natalie and Zach, Janitor Sunny Side Up, Yasmin Khan, Rachel Stratton, Lady Montford, John Coulthart, Henry Childs and Joshua Sindell.

Thank you, Sue Carpenter.

Thank you, Darcey Leonard.

Thank you, John Payne and Andrew Male.

Thank you, Robin Turner.

Thank you to the bands that played Arthur’s launch party at Spaceland in Silver Lake (thank you, Jennifer Tefft): Fatso Jetson, Chuck Dukowski Sextet… I’m not sure who else.

Thank you, Matt Luem.

Thank you, Steve Appleford, for being a real journalist.

Thank you to everyone who played a role who I’ve forgotten or neglected to post here. (Please be in touch!)

And thank you to everyone who found the magazine, picked it and read it.

We’re coming back.

A tribute to Eagle Pennell by Paul Cullum (Arthur No. 1/Oct. 2002)

first published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
By Paul Cullum

“Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Like punk legends, indie film pioneers are going to start dying off soon. And in a microcosm defined by perpetual youth, dissolution and decay don’t have much room to ramp up, making it harder to get used to the idea. I guess it’s never pretty.

Eagle Pennell was politely called a regional filmmaker by those unaccustomed to his kind, and like many in his native Texas, he had an outsized impression of his own identity that ultimately destroyed him. In 1978, when A-list Hollywood was made up of veterans of Roger Corman’s shoestring epics, and everyone else in America with dreams to burn now worked for Corman to replace them, the first inklings of what we now think of as independent film came courtesy of people who were too clueless or inept to follow that simple protocol. One of them was Eagle, whose shaggy dog buddy comedy The Whole Shootin’ Match pioneered that Austin-specific sort of epic underachieverdom that Slacker later turned into an anthropological treatise. But Eagle’s laconic dreamers, drunk as a lord and impossibly balanced on the thin line that separates ambition from nostalgia, were more than just literary conceits. They were Eagle in a nutshell. Like we used to say about him, the man belonged in the Alcohol of Fame; he put pop alcoholics like us to shame.

The Whole Shootin’ Match, based on an earlier 16mm short called Hell of a Note, starred Lou Perry (nee Perryman) and Sonny Carl Davis as a couple of perpetual fuck-ups trying to work as insulation blowers or something equally improbable, and retiring to the comfort of cold beers and fevered dreams once the going gets tough. (In Hell of a Note, they laid asphalt, until they were fired for not realizing you weren’t supposed to pee on it until it had cooled off.) This woozy testament to the comically disenfranchised, made for twenty grand in borrowed money, was also historically significant in that it was the film that Robert Redford was famously watching at the 1978 inauguration of the U.S. Film Festival in Park City, Utah when he had the epiphany that it was strays like this who could best benefit from such a festival, or something like his soon-established Sundance Institute.

Continue reading

PAUL CULLUM on LARS VON TRIER's more obscure work

larsvontrier

The Rules of the Game
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

Originally published in Arthur No. 11

Discussed herein:

The “Kingdom of Credibility” Trilogy:
o The Humiliated (De Ydmygede) (1998), directed by Jesper Jargil
o The Exhibited (De Udstillede) (2000), directed by Jesper Jargil
o The Purified (De Lutrede) (2002), directed by Jesper Jargil

And:

o The Five Obstructions (2004), directed by Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier
o Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier (1997), directed by Stig Björkman (available on the Criterion DVD release of von Trier’s The Element of Crime)

“In the rain forest of the Cameroon in West Central Africa lives a floor-dwelling ant known as Megaloponera foetens, or more commonly, the stink ant. On occasion, one of these ants while looking for food is infected by inhaling a microscopic spore from a fungus of the genus Tomentella. After being inhaled, the spore seats in the ant’s tiny brain and begins to grow, causing changes in the ant’s patterns of behavior. The ant appears troubled and confused; for the first time in its life, it leaves the forest floor and begins to climb. Completely spent and having reached a prescribed height, the ant impales the plant with its mandibles. The fungus continues to consume first the nerve cells and finally all the soft tissue that remains of the ant. After approximately two weeks, a spike appears from what had been the head of the ant. This spike is about an inch and a half in length and has a bright orange tip, heavy with spores, which rain down onto the rain forest floor for other unsuspecting ants to inhale.” —The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Were he not already so ubiquitous, this might seem like the season of Lars von Trier. Dogville, the first part of his “USA Trilogy” (to be differentiated from his “Europa Trilogy”—The Element of Crime, Epidemic and Europa/Zentropa; and his “Golden Heart Trilogy”—Breaking the Waves, The Idiots and Dancer in the Dark) appeared earlier this year to begin the excoriation of the American character by European cinema, a process just put to decisive referendum by the awarding of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Stephen King’s The Kingdom Hospital, an adaptation of The Kingdom I and II, von Trier’s successive miniseries on Danish television, appeared as a much-touted ABC series and suffered mightily by comparison. And The Five Obstructions, co-directed by von Trier and his mentor Jørgen Leth, equal parts documentary, experiment and intervention, currently scuttles its way around the arthouse circuit.

The latter presents von Trier at his comical best. Resembling Fassbinder refashioned as a Muppet (Fassy Bear?), he is at once imperious and cuddly, using his private empire to force Leth, his former film instructor at the Danish Film Institute, into repeatedly remaking The Perfect Human, the film von Trier rates closest to perfect. “This little gem,” as he calls it, is a 12-minute 1967 black-and-white short that marries an insouciant formal abandon to a faux anthropological take on upscale hipsters, in the manner of Peter Sellers’ The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (which handed Richard Lester his directing style on a platter) or, more pointedly, title designer Saul Bass’s Why Man Creates. Leth is the one who famously introduced “the rules of the game” into von Trier’s way of thinking, the intense penchant for order which, as we know from Tranceformer, a 1997 documentary by Stig Björkman, implicitly appealed to this son of radical academics who was raised free of restraints of any kind. (Tranceformer also informs us that at age 12, “Lars Trier” was the child star of Clandestine Summer, a winsome Swedish-Danish TV series, and that he added the “von” in film school—as in “Erich von Stroheim,” Teutonic tyrant and classical sadist—in much the same way Francis Ford Coppola appended his signature to exchange the quotidian for the epic.) The Five Obstructions is justified as homage and a form of therapy, von Trier’s magnanimous gesture to force his mentor out of his “provocative perverse perfection.” Yet it ultimately borders on autobiography, as von Trier judges and rejects not only his patriarch, but his own aesthetic foundations, subjecting them to outsize pressures as if to test their structural worthiness—like Steven Soderbergh did in interviewing his mentor, Richard Lester, in Getting Away With It.

This is the Lars von Trier—whimsical ideologue, benevolent autodidact, goofball despot—on display in three documentaries by Jesper Jargil, which he collectively labels “The Kingdom of Credibility Trilogy.” Continue reading