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Monday, February 28, 2011

NYC 1: So much promise

"The question of the archive is not, we repeat, a question of the past. It is not a question of a concept dealing with the past that might already be at our disposal or not at our disposal, an archivable concept of the archive. It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive: if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come. Perhaps. Not tomorrow but in times to come, later on or perhaps never. A spectral messianicity is at work in the concept of the archive and ties it, like religion, like history, like science itself, to a very singular experience of the promise. And we are never far from Freud in saying this. Messianicity does not mean messianism."
Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever

The Barefoot Princessa


When I worked for CNET as a News.com reporter, my fellow employees and I were informed that one of our corporate values was "passion." Having spent the previous twenty years studying late-19th and early 20th-century violin concertos, and English poetry, I found this a hard sell in the realm of product rollouts and quarterly earnings statements. But I was passionate about some aspects of my job and one of them was the News.com search box. Every time they tweaked it I freaked out, because they invariably made it worse, and my sense of the search box and the simple, efficient rules that originally governed it held that little white rectangle to be the portal on an archive that would provide future generations with a detailed, daily account of the rise of the World Wide Web. If I didn't entirely hate my professional life for the nine years I spent as a technology-news reporter, it was because I could hang onto this sense of responsibility to the future, and the notion that my name would be on this obsessive first draft of the Web's history, which would be more easily and immediately and universally accessible than any archive in the history of first drafts. Though Derrida's lecture went to press the year before I got to CNET, I didn't discover it in time to wield it against the cretins at Search, who were perpetually making it harder to find news stories and easier to find product reviews, thereby fulfilling another element of our corporate mission, "bringing buyers and sellers of technology together." Passionately.

A specter haunts the World Wide Web and accounts for the emphasis on redundancy at sites like Google which are warming the planet with their server farms. It haunts my dog, who thought the earthquake had come this morning when I went to make the bed with him still in it. It haunts me, who bought two homely 2TB LaCie drives for the new film instead of a single sleek RAID device because what good is a back-up or any other archive if it sits on the same side of Twin Peaks as the original? We archivists, who live through messianicity, are the victims of messianism, but also of nature, also of crime and mishap; mostly we aim to lose a little less badly to time.

By now you will have guessed that I am trying to apologize for missing two consecutive weeks of Paul Festa's Archive Fever. My promise to tomorrow was to give you fever "every Monday in 2011," and "every" can't mean very much if it doesn't include Feb 14 or Feb 21. I even planned ahead for my two weeks in New York, front-loading the posting cue with the Glass materials and stills from the 22 Short Films. But when the trip got extended by three weeks, and I found myself without a computer bigger than my iPhone or a break in my shooting schedule for the new doc, a different tomorrow won out.

Fortunately for the blog and its promise to present and future Mondays, a photographic archive of the trip grew in my absence.


Justin Sayre - splitting sides at The Duplex the week
following his terrific interview for the new doc.


With Curtis Harnack in front of the Petrossian Bakery
where we conducted a stealth almond-croissant tasting.


Margot Patisserie on West 74th Street is one of those West Side institutions
that doesn't even bother putting up a sign. It's on the south side
of the street, in the Ansonia, near a cleaners. Margot's
almond croissant is the second best in New York.

The Petrossian almond croissant - second to Margot's in texture,
but first in flavor.  The jury was unanimous in all its judgments
but especially on one point - no croissant in New York City
holds its own against Mrs. London's in Saratoga Springs.


Interviewing John Kelly at his digs in the Park Ave. Armory felt like
walking into Albert Fuller's studio for the first time - breathtaking.
John's rear balcony overlooks the Armory, an old dark stadium
for art and performance. Dig his self-portraits:






People don't believe it when I say that
Grindr has made me a more cultured homosexual
but in fact it was a Grindr friend who
took me to The Milk Train Doesn't Stop 
Here Anymore starring Olympia Dukakis -
the first time I really got or liked Tennessee Williams.


The impetus for the trip was my cousin Gabe's bar-mitzvah
(an archival extravaganza), but I came a week early for my friend
Miranda's 60th birthday party. She's shown here with her partner Charlotte.


At Miranda's party I was seated at a table with author and
Russianist art historian Nicholas Nicholson. He later sat for
the Tchaikovsky documentary, and subsequently introduced
me to the Princess Marina Salamandrova, a truly extraordinary
woman who gave a kick-ass interview for the film.


The princess with make-up artist Drew Krake,
whose expertise in beauty is deeply personal.



The Princess was born in 1840 at the age of 30
(her mother died in childbirth) and has remained
that age ever since. I found her very intimidating
and didn't really have the courage to correct
her when she persisted in calling me "Meester Siesta."



For such a formidable presence, the princess had a surprisingly winning sense of humor,
and won the hearts of every crew member. Here she is with her extremely handsome and charming hairstylist.


Several chinchillas were harmed in the production of my new film.

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des R├ęcollets.

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