“Dinotasia” (2012) ; When Bad Films Happen to Good Directors

Bad things happen when Werner Herzog is involved in films he doesn’t direct. “Happy People” maybe have started this terrible pattern back in early 2012 of a film directed by a novice film maker Dmitry Vasyukov and narrated by Werner Herzog. Now Netflix Instant Watch features the film “Dinotasia” produced by the Discovery Channel, and narrated by Werner Herzog. “Dinotasia” seems to follow in this terrible, terrible, pattern of mediocre films narrated by a great man, which is unfortunate because the last time the Discovery Channel and Werner Herzog teamed up they made “Encounters at the End of the World“. This film, however was funded by a sizable grant, no doubt, from the National Science Foundation.


When I heard news of “Dinotasia” I, like any good Herzog fan, was excited. But then I saw the preview, with the dinosaur sex scene, and I got all sorts of weirded out. The special seems to rely on “dinosaur slapstick”. There’s one sequence where a herbivore ears a couple hallucinogenic mushrooms. The dinosaur then has a weird dino-drug trip, where it almost dies.

To his credit, Herzog probably only has a dozen lines throughout the hour and a half special. Again to his credit, this is one weird dinosaur special, fit for a weirdo/existentialist like himself.

In the end of the film, 13 years after the meteor strikes, the bird dinosaur makes a nest in a giant dead lizard dinosaurs mouth. We zoom into the dino-birds eyeball, zoom out and BOOM! Pigeon eye nesting on the Chrysler Building. Herzog reminds us that “life is fragile, and we too might disappear”.

Earlier in his career, Herzog leant his voice and narration to a short called “Plastic Bag” by Futurestates.

This short film by American director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo) traces the epic, existential journey of a plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) searching for its lost maker, the woman who took it home from the store and eventually discarded it. Along the way, it encounters strange creatures, experiences love in the sky, grieves the loss of its beloved maker, and tries to grasp its purpose in the world.

In the end, the wayward plastic bag wafts its way to the ocean, into the tides, and out into the Pacific Ocean trash vortex — a promised nirvana where it will settle among its own kind and gradually let the memories of its maker slip away.

Jay Defeo Retrospective Review

defeo_the-rose_e1000_150_600The Jay Defeo retrospective comes to the Whitney February 28th. Jay Defeo is an artist after my own heart, a local girl from San Francisco and a UC Berkeley alum. Celebrating her artwork across the country brings me an incredible sense of home-town pride.

Jay Defeo was originally born Mary Joan DeFeo Jay she adopted a gender-neutral pseudonym.

De Feo’s work is dark and she struggled with mental illness most of her short life.

The retrospective was on view at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from November 3rd to February 3rd, 2012 and the exhibition opens at the Whitney February 28th.

Modernity, Impressionism, and Fashion, a Successful Exhibition at the Met

Modernity, Impressionism, and Fashion at the Met

The newest show to open at the Met begins Tuesday, February 26th. “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” has been a highly anticipated show. Before making its American debut, the show was exhibited at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. Since the Met has hosted more than it’s share of flops, I kept my expectations low for this show, and having previewed the exhibition earlier this week, I was pleasantly surprised by the smart, beautiful work by curators.

imgres-5The exhibition features approximately one-hundred-and-forty Impressionist-era artworks, including those by dedicated fashion portraitist. In light of the rise of the department store, new working methods for designing clothing, and new social and technological changes that led to the democratization of fashion are also highlighted. Many artists and writers from the period, including Charles BaudelaireÉmile Zola, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir,  became interested to the search for new literary and visual expression through depicting fashion.

The fashion and art exhibition is comparative, which comes with its own set of pros-and-cons. On the positive side, the show is incredibly comprehensive. It’s easy for viewers to see the amount of research curators needed to put in to find these pieces and assembling them in a way that makes sense visually and historically. This effort is pulled off with great success. The show itself, unlike many other exhibitions, is obviously educational. By having physical pieces next to famous depictions of them, it’s easy to excited visitors and feels like an all-inclusive effort. Indeed the work of the curators is all-inclusive, along with the paintings and gowns,engravings depicting the role of clothing in Europe around this time, as well as other mediums of art are included. Aside from the dresses, curators also included gloves, fans, and other fashion accessories. ONe of the most interesting displays of the exhibition is a case of four corsets wore by women at this point in history. Men’s fashion too is lightly touched on, although there could have been more effort to include a suit or coat jacket, rather than just men’s hats.

There’s been a lot of talk around the office, by senior staff members who I assume wouldn’t be so brave as to label themselves “feminists” about how this is a “woman’s show” and appeals to a certain “feminine sensibility”. The idea of curating “mens shows” or “woman’s shows” in the 21st century is absolutely ludicrous. Not only do these assumptions reenforce antiquated gender roles, these labels further the inaccurate and  false gender binaries. Notably, this kind of preposterous assumptions and labels have not come from the curators themselves. But these kind of statements go to show just how far up ignorance in a nonprofit can reach.

“Happy People: A Year in the Taiga”: a first-time W. Herzog Disappointment


Bad things happen when Werner Herzog gives up creative control of film. “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” is the latest film from Werner Herzog in collaboration with Dmitry Vasyukov, and the first real disappointment the German director has released in recent years. The film follows the lives of the indigenous people of the village Bakhtia at the river Yenisei in the Siberian Taiga. Those who enjoyed the movie described it as a “Walden-like quest”, which may be a bit generous and romantic for the difficult lives these people lead. “Happy People” followers a few trappers as they go into the wilderness for the hunting season. By following a couple different hunters, filmmakers compare the different techniques the fur trappers. The more traditional methods of fur trapping such as weighted traps, are maintained by the older generation as opposed to the more “modern” techniques of the younger hunters like dynamite fishing. Each hunter brings a dog out with them, but their relationship to the animal varies greatly. All hunters rely on them one way or another but some lean more for companionship than they do for function. Others view the animals as a purely utilitarian tool.


The film is an hour and a half long, but feels much longer and seeing it theaters may have been a mistake. Most of Herzog’s other documentaries feature sweeping landscapes and beautiful cinematography “Happy People” looked subpar, grainy, and pixellated in theaters. In true Herzogian-documentary fashion, the film features a grand and sweeping soundtrack which moves its narrative along.


The most impressive scene of the film shows some of the last truly indigenous people of the area making a canoe. Canoe making is a dying knowledge in the area, and requires a lot of skill and craftsmanship to accomplish.

I’m not sure what has gotten into my beloved Werner Herzog as of late, I’m afraid to see his career go into a slow decline. I was shocked and appalled to learn the Herzog would be directing a 3-d concert of The Killers performance. But then I read his proposal letter. It seems, Werner Herzog will always get the best of us. I applaud him for having to privilege to pursue the projects he wants, in the way he wants to accomplish them. Whether it be fine art and sound installations, bleak documentaries, or 3-d concerts, Herzog my love, you still have my heart.

The Politics of Curation


With contemporary art, context is everything. Rarely do works of art exist within a vacuum, where they do not speak to trends or politics of thier time. This is a message that the Metropolitan Museum of Art seems to miss time and time again. As an encyclopedic institution first and an art collection second, choices in exhibition are often made to support the encyclopedic reputation of the museum rather than a contemporary art institution. This does a great disservice to the art works the Met shows. Between the Warhol exhibition and choices in exhibition in the main collection, it’s clear that the Met has a new vision when showing contemporary art. These “new idea” have some very serious implications. Most art has is political, art work considered with in the “Art historical canon” certainly is, and these are the pieces museums are most interested in collecting. Contemporary and historical artworks need to be understood by the historical context they were created.

The museum recently acquired a piece by Kohei Nawa, titled “PixCell Deer #24“, the piece can and should be considered “contemporary art” as Nawa is an artist who is still very much alive. Yet, rather than putting the piece in the contemporary and modern art wing of the museum, curators and directors alike chose to have to piece installed with “Asian Art” on the complete the building.

In addition, the Met features a “catch all” indigenous people’s wing, formally titled “Primitive Art”. This wing of the museum still reads as a bigoted conglomeration of culture because little to no effort has been made to re-arrange the objects so they no longer reenforce the “primitive” grouping.

In contrast, “Washington Crossing the Delaware“painted by German artist, Emanuel Leutze, hangs proudly in the American wing. If grouping paintings by the artists nationality is such a concern, why isn’t the Leutze masterpiece included in the European painting section also located on the second floor? It seems that this drive of separating artists by nationality is a new trend at the Met, in a way to “change our curatorial style”, or to make these “less popular” wings seem new and exciting. Unfortunately all these choices in curating do is reduce the art work down to the nationality of the artist.


“In Cold Blood” and Violence in Rural America

ImageI have just read Truman Capote‘s non fiction masterpiece, and it got me thinking about the recent surge of violence in rural America. Certainly, the murders of the Clutter family were not the first acts of mass violence, and we know they weren’t the last. What is it about our society the drives young men in the country to needlessly and senselessly murder? In Cold Blood began the “narrative of the killer”, focusing on the lives, upbringing and mental health of the killers, rather than supporting the victims or their families. This focus heighten’s the public’s morbid curiosity, and creates a tradition of journalism which is hurtful, and only exacerbates the problem. In a way, this kind of sensationalist media encourages others to “out do” the last national tragedy. The media focuses on the latest catastrophe. There’s a particularly on point passage in the book, where Capote points to the difficulty we have reconciling with these crimes;

The article, printed in The American Journal of Psychiatry (July, 1960)… states its aim at the onset: ‘In attempting to asses the criminal responsibility of murderers, the law tries to divide them (as it does all offenders) into two groups, the ‘sane’ and the ‘insane’. The ‘sane’ murderer is thought of as acting upon rational motives that can be understood, though condemned, and the ‘insane’ one as being driven by irrational senseless motives.

Either way, these crimes are tragic and inconceivable.