What is it you want to write about here, Kip? It’s Summer. Nobody wants to read about an old man’s love life.
A while back, I heard sociologist, Howard Becker, play the piano and I wept. How do these seemingly divergent interests in his life influence one another? I wanted to know.
I am known for banging on about how Performative Social Science (PSS) must be both art and social science, not one or the other. Then I went and invited some artists to present/perform at our upcoming Qualitative Conference: a jazz trio, an African drummer, a theatre director. I wanted to experiment and see how close to the edge (of art) we can go and still find meaning for social science pursuits. It will be interesting to observe the response/reaction of informal gaggles of conference-goers to this diversion from the expected. Audience is everything in my personal performative social science these days. The data and the audience. The researcher/scholar/performer simply acts as the vessel between the two, but also the interloper, the gadfly.
‘Prime Cuts’: I am compiling and editing short pieces from films and TV shows into a kind of montage/mash-up for my presentation at our conference in September, entitled, ‘Prime Cuts’. I am attempting to play with the auto-ethnographic by creating a montage of visual memories; not images from my life per se, but rather, images that heavily influenced my life and its work. This time, it will not be strictly ethnography through the lens of the personal observer or her/his experiences. It will be recollections of the graphic itself, those images from our pasts which compress and compel the personal forward and eventually transform into part of our own individual visual arsenals.
As we observe throughout life, certain cultural images become private and iconic. They twist and turn and eventually morph in various ways to be included as our own graphic memories (I shall always remember Mary Gergen’s recounting of Midwest grain storage towers in her interview with me). These images are truly Ethno-Graphic. These visual memories become imbued with both intense cultural and personal meaning. (A single example, previously written about here, is the notorious Kylie curtain, almost as personally iconic for me as her gold hot pants are to many by now.)
I plan to present my short film montage in a gallery setting at the conference. I want the environment to feel like one of those small rooms that you happen upon in museums where a film is playing on the wall in semi-darkness. You watch some of it, or all of it, or just walk by to the next exhibition/installation. I want to see if this contrivance from the curator’s toolbox has resonance for social science. I want to watch the audience watch the film (or not).
Busby Berkeley’s films were dark and aggressively sexual. What? I thought they were light and fluffy, chorus girls tapping to tunes from Broadway and silly story lines. If you think so, I suggest you revisit some of them, especially 42nd Street.
When I had finally decided that the gay world and gay bars themselves were not necessarily the ‘dens of inequity’ that I had been warned against, I ventured into my city’s most popular one, The Allegro, frequently. Because the bar didn’t get much business on Tuesday nights, they would show Busby Berkeley’s films on the third floor, using an old-fashioned projector. We would sit on the floor, sipping beers and watch that week’s Gold Diggers or other Berkeley films.
I became entranced with Berkeley’s intricate choreography and his particular way of filming it (and, of course, Ruby Keeler). The highpoint of 42nd Street however, is the longish title number. Dark and menacing, it tells a story of 1930-something New Yorkers out on the town, but also the darker side of the Depression, the casting couch, recreational drug use—all these things with the usual showgirl crotch shots which Berkeley became famous for. I was left with a lasting impression of how the presentation of seemingly light musical numbers could also tell a second, much darker story. A short clip from 42nd Street will be in Prime Cuts.
The editing of the clips themselves will not only reflect personal choices of meaningful images, but also, by the nature of montage, re-invent or ‘re-memorise’ the past through image to create something entirely new. Images from 1930s New York (I hadn’t been born then), for example, will ‘mash-up’ with more current footage. These montages will reflect, but deconstruct their originals, showing how remembered image can morph, change and enter the realm of the personal over time.
Compelling and repetitive, images of water and the sea will also be pervasive in Prime Cuts. Rather than representing specific memories, they become iconic and representational of particular personal emotional states. Derek Jarman’s use of a couple frolicking in the sea, for example, transfigures into more current footage of the sea with more private memories. Without my visual memory of Jarmon’s film, however, my own footage of the sea would not be imbued with the same meaning.
I have recently returned to the sea, or metaphorically that lake that I spoke about earlier, or at least the pool. Not actually, but figuratively. I have realised, somewhat late in life, that the love-sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs is the same, whether seventeen or seventy. The only difference now is that I have the visual reference points with which to tell that story again. If you observe Prime Cuts closely, Nureyev morphs into him, dancing enticingly.
Enjoy the rest of your Summer. ‘September Song’ can wait for September.