Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Adventures of Electric Rod Boy”

Tsukamoto made his breakthrough with Tetsuo Iron Man, and then went on to Tokyo Fist and A Snake in June. But here’s where it all began with “Adventures of Electric Rod Boy.” (Okay, it was his second film.) You can see that his obsessions were already in place. And you can see over the years that he’s tried to keep that Super 8 aesthetic.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

By way of Robot Action Boy

Nothing soft about it – ‘The Pillowman’ disturbs, but might be Genesis West’s best production

Katurian (Jeff Mills, seated) is questioned by officers Ariel (Tom Hinshaw, middle) and Tupolski (Dirk Blocker, right) about crimes he says he did not commit.

April 23, 2008 8:52 AM

Theater director Maurice Lord might have a thing for torture. Not that he likes it. Rather, he seems to have been shaken to the core since the 2004 revelations at Abu Ghraib prison. Or maybe it is just the tenor of the times. Either way, since Genesis West’s resuscitation in 2005, the plays he has directed for his company have been colored in various shades of black, with a sheen of bitter, gallows humor. Sam Shepard’s “The God of Hell” featured an electro-shock chastity belt and a hyper-patriotic salesman/torturer. Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” featured public humiliation and execution as a backdrop for factory workers discussing their tedious jobs.
With Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” — having premiered Thursday at Center Stage Theater — Genesis West has produced one of its best shows, if not one of its darkest. Read the ingredients on the box: patricide, child murder and torture (with and without a quick death to follow).
But — and with Genesis West there’s always a but — “The Pillowman” delivers laughter and some profoundly moving moments. How is this possible?
Playwright Mr. McDonagh has become a familiar name to filmgoers with his recent film, “In Bruges,” which manages a similar blend of comedy and violence and insists on being serious about both. In fact, the two officers we meet at the beginning of “The Pillowman” — one a detective, one a policeman — remind us of the hit men duo featured in his film. Here, though, Tupolski (Dirk Blocker) and Ariel (Tom Hinshaw) interrogate, torture and threaten to kill their main suspect, Katurian (Jeff Mills), for crimes he says he did not commit. As Tupolski reminds us, this is a totalitarian police state, so forget the trial. (Mr. McDonagh never sets the play in a real location, instead placing it in some odd blend of Ireland, big-city America and Eastern Europe.)
Tupolski and Ariel suspect Katurian of a series of gruesome child murders, and their methods come directly from short, unpublished horror stories Katurian has written. The detective has a box-file of Katurian’s collected works, and Ariel has a car battery with a set of electrodes ready to be used to extract a confession. They also have Katurian’s mentally challenged brother, Michal (Matt Tavianini), in a separate cell next door, and they have an incriminating confession from him.
“The Pillowman” — the title comes from one of Katurian’s stories — uses its police-state setting to pitch its ideas about guilt, authorship and child abuse at a desperate level. Katurian’s ability to spin horrific narratives out of a complicated and difficult childhood, and the intersections of reality and fiction that weave in and out of the play, serve to both save and damn him. “The Pillowman” is not one of those plays that intentionally muddles a real and an imaginary storyline, however, but one that precedes like detective work, uncovering clues and reshaping what we believe is the truth as the play proceeds forward in time and backwards in remembrance. It also asks if a miserable life can be worth living and if shreds of hope and love are enough in a life laden with abuse and violence.
But as aforementioned, the play manages to be quite funny, from Tupolski and Ariel’s strange and codependent working relationship to Katurian’s short stories, which taken as literature might never make it out of a writing workshop. Tupolski responds later with a story just as improbable and allegorically confusing as that of the accused. Mr. McDonagh’s banter reveals shades of Irish slang and inflection, but Mr. Lord chooses wisely to keep things in varying shades of American accents.
Jeff Mills and Matt Tavianini both come from Boxtales, their usual theatrical stomping ground, and while playing brothers, they seem well suited to a play centered around storytelling. When Katurian isn’t stuck in a cell being grilled, he is off to the side in a chair telling us stories about his childhood, which are illustrated dumb-show-like on a raised, recessed area of the stage, with Leslie Gangl-Howe and Howard Howe playing abusive, Gothic parents, and Rudy Martinez and Amanda Berning playing the children. Tim Burton would approve of the devilish glee in which Mr. Lord stages these horrible tableaux. (And thanks goes to set and lighting designer Theodore Michael Dolas for making it so mesmerizing).
Mr. Mills and Mr. Tavianini form the emotional core of the play, but Dirk Blocker and Tom Hinshaw are equally delightful to watch. Mr. Lord has worked with Mr. Hinshaw in nearly every Genesis West production — having him play a torturer with a tender streak is one of the director’s most clever choices. Mr. Blocker, who does most of his work in television and film, begins as a stereotypical detective, but then reveals multiple shades and facets.
All of which makes the final moments in “The Pillowman” so jarring, unexpected and grimly satisfying. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.


When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 1-3
Where: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, upstairs
Cost: $25, $20 students
Information: 963-0408,

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

John Stezaker

Film Portrait (Incision) I

John Stezaker collects postcards, movie portraits, stills and lobby cards with an archivist’s zeal. But the way in which they are re-functioned as art is not at all congruent with such an approach. One of the things that makes Stezaker’s practice so intriguing is the extent to which the works more or less follow Conceptual art orthodoxy up to when he makes his ‘cut’, bringing the two images together, after which all other decisions are intuited. The ‘idea’ of the works is straightforward and consistent, and Stezaker has constructed them in much the same way for more than 20 years: two different images are brought together, each destroyed in some important way in order to birth a new one. Yet the logic, or meaning, of the new images remains mysterious.

Written by Dan Kidner from

Some more Stezaker galleries at MoMa, and the Saatchi Gallery.

And here’s some art grant writing:

Through his signature use of photographic collage John Stezaker identifies mankind’s desire to portray an enhanced self and explores our acceptance or our suspicion of others’ personas and the denial of our own.

Arrrrgh. Like fingernails on chalkboard. Here’s some more of that from the Tate:

John Stezaker is fascinated by the power of images and questions the authority of pictures found in books, magazines, postcards and encyclopaedias by directly intervening into their ordinary status.

Owwwwww! Sweet pain of art-grant writing! Why do you hurt me so?

The Revisionism of Dr. Wertham

A few issues back, the New Yorker had a book review/story about the comic book hearings of the 1950s and how horror comics were blamed for juvenile delinquency. What followed was a “Comics Code” that was even more puritanical than the one that censored Hollywood films in the 1930s. The first half of the article by Louis Menand sums up the history fairly well, the second half dives into David Hajdu’s book on the subject (“The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America”) and finds some interesting revisioning of history. Dr. Wertham, for example, seen as somebody’s conservative stern uncle, was nothing of the sort. He was, rather, more of a progressive, and saw the relationship of comics to kids as mass consumerism to those least likely to ward it off and the most impressionable.

He was against the code. He did not want to censor comic books, only to restrict their sale so that kids could not buy them without a parent present. He wanted to give them the equivalent of an R rating. Bart Beaty’s “Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture” ($22, paper; University Press of Mississippi) makes a strong case for the revisionist position. As Beaty points out, Wertham was not a philistine; he was a progressive intellectual. His Harlem clinic was named for Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law. He collected modern art, helped produce an anthology of modernist writers, and opposed censorship. He believed that people’s behavior was partly determined by their environment, in this respect dissenting from orthodox Freudianism, and some of his work, on the psychological effects of segregation on African-Americans, was used in the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education.
Wertham thought that representations make a difference—that how people see themselves and others reflected in the media affects the way they think and behave. As Beaty says, racist (particularly concerning Asians) and sexist images and remarks can be found on almost every page of crime and horror comics. What especially strikes a reader today is the fantastic proliferation of images of violence against women, almost always depicted in highly sexualized forms. If one believes that pervasive negative images of black people are harmful, why would one not believe the same thing about images of men beating, torturing, and killing women?

Somewhere in this tale is a lesson about getting more than what you wished for, and how a desire to protect can be manipulated by those in power to satisfy their cravings to repress and contain.


My main homey Jon Crow has a new blog. What’s that, you say, a new blog? I didn’t know he had an old blog. Well, that’s where you’re wrong. But I forgive you.

WITMOT deals with: movies, James A. Garfield, traveling, James A. Garfield, kvetching, and for those who don’t like James A. Garfield, there’s sport. Here’s a sample of his writing:

Back in 1998, after I graduated from U of Michigan with a Master’s Degree in Japanese Studies that I knew would prove to be worthless, I panicked. I wanted to go back to Japan, but I really did not want to teach English again. I taught it for two years between 1994 and ‘96 and I felt my brain softening a little more with each day I worked there. The few job leads that I had in Japan fell through and suddenly I had no clue what I was going to do with my life. The future looked confusing and uncertain and I was overwhelmed. So I did what any red-blooded lad hailing from the stout state of Ohio might: I sold my car and traveled around the world. Along the way, I wrote a series of mass emails detailing my adventures with included climbing Himalayas, getting chased by a Rhino and getting naked with a room full of Russians. I thought of them as a sort of proto-blog though blogs were at that point a good five years away. So now, ten years later, I finally have these missives in a blog format. You can read the first entry here.

Please do check it out, even though he only paid me $10 to give him a plug. He’ s a good guy.

Welcome back, it’s me.

Dengue Fever live!
Sure have been gone a long time, folks! And I should keep up with posting, after all I have thousands of devoted fans I can’t let down. Well, maybe not thousands, but hundreds. Okay, maybe not hundreds, more like my mom and a few friends. But still I can’t let them down!!
I took Spring Break in Vancouver and Portland and the Canada photos are already up. I’ve been busy writing and teaching.
I’m always nervous to get behind a candidate, but I’ve come around to Obama over the last months. I’ve more and more impressed with his speeches and his attitude. The man seems genuine. I’ve also stood back, impressed, as he’s used every negative moment as a chance to go on the offensive. Last night was the unbelievably shitty and moronic travesty of a debate on ABC. But tonight I saw this footage:

OMG!!! Did you see that? He referenced Jay-Z! To wit:

I’m not saying that I’m voting for Obama because he likes Jay-Z, but this is just to show that he knows some great political Aikido and a reference like this just shows how this is a totally different game we’re in now. This isn’t politics as usual.
Lastly, I went to go see Dengue Fever play SOhO tonight and it was excellent. More photos soon. My friends Sami and Doug were there, along with tons of peeps that I know, so it was a good night out.
Here’s my favorite song from the night, the groovy and hypnotic “Seeing Hands,” which could have gone on 20 more minutes for my taste.