Monday, 3 January 2011

Berlin Symphony of a City

I have already included one entry for Ruttman that shows one of his abstract films Lightplay Opus I. Ruttman would collaborate with the animator Lotte Reininger. Ruttman’s reputation as a film maker however, is based on the above documentary Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. It is such an innovative example of cinema that it “remains a model for subsequent urban portraits throughout the world” (Kostelanetz, 2001 p.534). The rhythmic nature of the film puts me in mind Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance from 1982 and other earlier films by Man Ray.  

Ruttman is not without his critics: “within twenty years” argues David Thomson, "Ruttman had moved from being a proponent of absolute cinema to a leading propagandist" (Thomson, D., 1975 p. 501). Ruttman's pure cinema "was always sterile and formalistic" and was "waiting to be exploited by a totalitarian message" (Thomson, D., 1975 p. 501). Indeed, Berlin does feature rhythm and motifs, "the large scale integration of single effects" that is similar to the hypnotic ornament of Celtic design, tattoos or a military parade. Is Ruttman, as John Grierson has argued "meretricious and dangerous"? (Thomas, D., 1975, p.501).


Kostelanetz, R., (2001) Dictionary of Avant-gardes 2nd Edition, New York and London: Routledge. 
Thomas, D (1975) A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema, London: Secker and Warburg

Peter Halley

Peter Halley at Mary Boone, NYC (Sept 2009). Originally uploaded by ballenato63 on Sep 22, 2009

Robert Longo 5

Bottega Veneta - Robert Longo Photo Shoot - Fall / Winter 2010 - 2011 Advertising Campaign

James Chance and the Contortions

Jimmy Chance heavily influenced Robert Longo's Men in the Cities. Long live No-Wave.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Robert Longo 4: REM "The One I Love"

Robert Longo's video for REM's first hit single from 1987

Robert Longo 3: New Order "Bizarre Love Triangle" (1986)

In this video for New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" Longo uses elaborate layering of imagery and "toys with the small screen by splitting it in highly inventive ways" (Diekmann, 1990 p.136)

The "screen divides vertically into four panels, each with a different moving picture struggling for attention against its neighbor" (Diekmann, K, 1990 p.136). He does this through the imagery being "shredded" in which "a random, time-based pattern, generated through a computer", making the "images of the performers appear striated and 'torn'" (Diekmann, 1990 p.136). Other elements of the video are "relegated to a small, horizontal strip at the bottom of the screen" (Diekmann, 1990 p.136)
Diekmann, K, (1990) "Small-Screen Stimulus: The Film and Video Work" in Fox, H., Robert Longo New York: Rizzoli pp.129-141.

Robert Longo 2: The Golden Palominos - Boy (Go)

The Golden Palominos - Boy (Go), Featuring Michael Stipe. Video directed by Robert Longo.

Longo music video combine live and found footage "mixtures of black-and-white and color and, particular in the case of 'Boy (Go)' .... (a) sophisticated image construction that adheres to and riffs away from musical rhythmns" (Diekmann, K., 1990 p.130).

The experimental nature is informed by his knowledge of the cinematic avant-garde: "Longo was greatly influenced by experimental filmmaking, and his first music video, "Boy (Go)" is in some ways an homage to that visionary tradition, with its emphasis on the evocative power of the single shot. Exercising the 'Kino-Eye'that Dziga Vertov developed in Man with a Movie Camera (1928), Longo creates an oppositional montage by blending found and live imagery to present a diffuse (and occasionally nostalgic) picture of natural and machine life- a horse galloping, a jet plane ascending, a ferris wheel spinning, a tree slowly falling, junkyards, and verdant fields, all caught in a swirl of circular movement" (Diekmann, K., 1990 p.130). These swirling motifs bring to mind Berlin: Symphony of a city (1928) by Walter Ruttman or Man Ray's Return to Reason (1923)

Diekmann, K, (1990) "Small-Screen Stimulus: The Film and Video Work" in Fox, H., Robert Longo New York: Rizzoli pp.129-141.

Robert Longo 1

Robert Longo, Untitled (Men in the Cities), 1979/2009, set of three black and white photo, 20 x 16 inches (paper), 50.8 x 40.6 cm.

Robert Longo (1953- ) bridged any gap that was left between art and popular culture. He made sculpture, paintings and music videos. Before Julian Schnabel became a film director Longo was making feature films. He made was has come to be known as the proto-Matrix film Johnny Mnemonic (1995) based on the short story by William Gibson.

Longo was associated with a group who arrived in New York from Buffalo in 1997. Among them were Charlie Clough, Nancy Dwyer, Cindy Sherman and Michael Zwack (Stangos, N., 1994, p.221).

Longo has created works in several media on contemporary situations. 


Installation View - "The Pictures Generation"


 The Great Hall
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY
Installation View - "The Pictures Generation"

 Men in the Cities - Men Trapped in Ice


 The writer Richard Price suggested that Men in the Cities "reads like a warning. The dancers  dressed in dropdeadchicless chic, are literally in danger of dropping dead" (Price, 19 p.87)

 Installation View - Men in the Cities


This  is Richard Price's description of this series of work: "The vacuum sealed  cityscapes now look like post neutron (real estate) bomb vistas. Dancing, dying, dancing- the figures remind me of hipped-up Brueghellian revellers in face of the plague; of Pompeiian lava casts of blasted silhouettes on Hiroshima walls  as we all increasingly dance to the ticking of the nuclear clock" (Price, 1986 p.87). Longo's work is full of violence. 

 Men in the Cities: Final Life


"Longo pulls his images from magazines, newspapers, movie stills-  images we see so often we fail to see them any more. He exploits the image, monumentalizes it ties a D.O.A ticket to the big  toe and offers us a potential vision of the near future" (1986, p.87)

Men in the Cities - Untitled


The dancing figures emerge from the same cultural space that Longo occupied. The New Wave/No Wave scene and punk informed his work. He felt, in the late seventies part of same cultural fabric as bands like Talking Heads and "seeing bands like The Contortions fronted by James Chance  . When he's on stage in new ways, moving hot and fast... It seems like the gestures in Men in the Cities are very much about the time we live in" (Price, 1986 p.88). The imagery of performances connects us to Allan Kraprow and Harold Rosenberg's reading of Jackson Pollock, the action painter. 

From An American Soldier

The work grew directly from a film still from a Fassbinder film called An American Soldier taken at the end of the film where two gangsters are shot : "In its image is embedded a high impact kind of bang; at the same time it has this incredibly fluid grace, the speed of grace" (Price, 1986, p.88).

Installation View - Men in the Cities

Men in the Cities - Untitled


Longo's figures seem to suffer a kind of disruption or pain. 

 Men in the Cities - Untitled


It all sounds close to my memory of Ballard's writing.

There is something aggressive, apocalyptic and sometimes biblical and close to something that is now. It seems like some terrible prophecy.

Men in the Cities: Final Life (detail)






"Men in the Cities were white people, no ethnic groupings just doomed souls. They're people who built the building that would eventually fall on them" (Price, 1986 p. 91).

Untitled (White Riot)


When first confronted by Longo's drawings, I did not see people but saw something closer to a Franz Kline. Abstract rather than representational. A black abstract shape in a white space.

Longo was also a fan of Joy Division. In one of these drawings do we not see Ian Curtis?


Longo, R., Robert Longo:

Price, R., & Longo, R.,(1986) Men in the Cities 1979-1982 New York: Narry N. Abrams

Stangos, N & Read, H., (1994) The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists  London: Thames and Hudson

On Contemporary Painting (Sean Scully & Robert Hughes)

The above is from "The New Shock of the New" where Robert Hughes interviews the painter Sean Scully.   Although my interest has shifted slightly away from abstraction, within Scully's work there is something representational and he seems to engage with the language of urban environments without resorting to the visuals of mass media.