Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adam Hartzell on Ari Marcopoulos

Did you know that skateboard technology has been a boon for indie filmmakers as well? Skateboard wheels have become a common fixture on dolly set-ups, putting a wider range of smooth camera movements within reach of cinematographers working under small budgets. It's just another reason why movie lovers who ignore skateboarding culture and the films that have captured it are limiting their grasp of the motion picture medium. Ari Marcopoulos has been a key figure in documenting this so-called "sub"-culture, and his films, many of which depict artforms other than skateboarding, come to Berkeley's premiere screening venue this Wednesday and next. Adam Hartzell has viewed several of them, and contributes the following piece:

Being from Ohio, I have long held to the truth within a comment made by fellow Buckeye Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. (I swear I heard her say this in an interview I saw televised once.) Growing up in (pre-internet) Akron, she spoke of how she found herself longing for information about the rest of the world via music, books, newspapers and movies. Eventually, she made her way to London where the world came to her, where she said she no longer had to seek it out.

In a way, this speaks of Ari Marcopoulos as well. Born in the even-smaller-than-Ohio Netherlands, he found himself yearning for cultures other than his own. He too began seeking music and art from elsewhere, listening to the likes of John Coltrane and David Bowie, watching the films of Fassbinder, Godard, and Scorsese.

Like Hynde finding her way to London, Marcopoulos sojourned to New York City where he immersed himself in the lives and lofts of musicians such as Eric B. Rakim and Public Enemy and artists such as Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He had arrived as an artist himself at a vibrant, creative time in New York City for musicians and contemporary artists.

Marcopoulos' career is surveyed at its midpoint this Fall by both the Berkeley Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archive at the University of California, Berkeley. BAM is displaying two gallery rooms of his documentary photographs, while the PFA will screen two collections of Marcopoulos' documentaries of musicians immersed in their work, artists musing in their studios, and athletes exploiting their kinesthetic capital in what has been co-opted under the moniker of 'Extreme Sports'. "Black Eyes and Blue Skies" (Nov. 11) begins with Dave Muller's intense manipulation of sound waves in what appears to be his apartment, whereas "Loud & Clear" (Nov. 18) begins with Kim/Thurston, that is, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth distributing discerning displays of distortion behind the veil-ish bangs that cover their faces. Also screening on the 18th is Claremont, a complete rush of adrenalin that follows skaters Noah Sakamoto and Patrick Rizzo racing down a California road appropriated for their artistic pleasure rather than transportation. Part of what Marcopoulos demonstrates here is how the natural sounds of the bullet-like trajectories of these human projectiles is so much more powerful than any other soundtrack could provide.

Marcopoulos’ films are not just for cinephiles. Hip Hop Heads, Indie Rockers, Skater/Snowboarders, visual artists, and those who find their muse in any of these, each will find much to take away from Marcopoulos' documentation of these artists at the height of the games they play.

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