Kellie Morgan, Community Outreach & Marketing Manager
Our final program for 10th anniversary season of the Wex Drive-In continues on Thursday, August 17th with the concert film, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which brilliantly documents the artist’s final performance as this gender-bending, red-mulleted alter-ego at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1973. The evening will begin with a live performance by the Columbus band Future Nuns, a group composed of five music, film and art cognoscenti about town. Below, Future Nuns guitarists Alex Mussawir and Aaron Miller talk about music and movies that inspire them and where they’re headed next.
Kyle Bergamo, bass Danielle Gagliano, drums Aaron Miller, guitar Alex Mussawir, guitar Laura Payne, keyboard
What artists inspire the Future Nuns sound? Alex: There are five people in the band and we all like different things. Often times somebody will tell me that we remind them of a certain band, but that's not something we do intentionally and a lot of the time I haven't heard the band the person is comparing us to. Some artists I like are Harvey Pekar, Lydia Davis, Steven Wright, and the band Crass.
What music films have had an impact on you? Alex: I really like Leningrad Cowboys Go America directed by Aki Kaurismäki. I know one of Danielle's favorite movies is McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Leonard Cohen composed the soundtrack, so I think it can be considered a "music film."
What's your favorite Bowie record/period/moment? Aaron: The Berlin period is probably my favorite, mostly because of Low and the work he did with Iggy Pop, but Ziggy Stardust is still my favorite album because the songs are all good, and it was the soundtrack to a lot of AIM conversations I had in middle school, and it was one of the first records I remember showing my little brother that he liked.
If you had an on-stage alter-ego (like Ziggy Stardust), what attributes would you have? Aaron: If I had any kind of alter ego, it would either be something along the lines of Chris Gaines or something animatronic that I could control from somewhere backstage.
What is next for Future Nuns in the few months? Alex: We have been going on short tours every couple of months, and we will continue doing that until I have enough money to buy a van. Once that happens we will go on a long tour.
This week, we're proud to share the first Columbus screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power with Columbus audiences. Co-directed by the husband-wife team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the sequel to one of the most successful and influential documentaries ever made catches up with Al Gore as he continues his research on our changing climate, focusing on workable solutions to protect the planet. The couple has a personal history with the Wex, having visited the center with earlier works The Rape of Europa and The Island President. Their busy schedule in the days leading up to the release of An Inconvenient Sequel prevents them from attending our sneak preview ("The Wex stands for such incredible values of great art that shines truth on important issues, and we regret we can’t be there in person," Jon said), but Jon will be taking questions from the audience after the screening via Skype, and he took a few minutes last week to answer some questions from me for the blog. If you missed out on tickets to our sold-out screening, you can catch the film in wider release starting this Friday. Click here for more info including theaters and showtimes.
I was just reading an article in the LA Times about the making of the film, and how the process started with a long meeting between you, Bonni and Al Gore. How did you feel about getting involved with the project after that meeting?
Bonni and I, when we first met Al, we sat down for a 10-hour version of his slideshow. It was just an amazing experience. We learned about what he’s been up to in the last 10 years, since An Inconvenient Truth. He patiently gave us an update on the climate science and what’s been going on – the effects of climate change. In the film, you’ll see that there are so many incredible ways in which Mother Nature is screaming at us now about the climate crisis. Once-in-a-thousand years floods happening year after year. Droughts, wildfires, weather patterns shifting, sea level rise, ice melt in Greenland happening at a rate that’s shocking to scientists, and then water ending up on the streets of Miami Beach during high tide. Unfortunately, you don’t have to go far and wide to see these effects.
On the other hand, we were kind of blown away with how far we’ve come with what Al Gore refers to as the “sustainable energy revolution.” In the movie you’ll see this incredible thing that’s happened – the cost downturn of solar and wind. It’s happened so fast and furious that it’s now as cheap, if not cheaper, to get energy from renewables in many parts of the world as it is fossil fuels. So there’s incredible hope in the story, and at the end of that day that we met with Al, we were actually kind of heartened that there’s a way out of this problem, things that were once on the horizon that are actually here now as viable options.
It seems like this film would require a heck of a balancing act—you have some tough info you have to convey to get the gravity across before you talk about solutions. Maintaining that balance of reality and hope, was that something you struggled with throughout?
Another thing we leared that first day – we were kind of amazed at Al’s energy. You think about Al Gore, his life trajectory, the disappointment of losing the 2000 election and how, for so many people, that would’ve been the end of their public life. But one thing we were reminded of, and maybe this has become more vivid as he’s gotten older and become more of a post-political figure, is his capacity for optimism. His energy to educate and lead on this issue that he cares so much about was so palpable when we met him. We realized that this is a guy who gets up every day and, one way or another, he’s working on this issue. That kind of led to an approach for the film which is really quite different from the first one: He agreed to allow us to have this incredible amount of access to his working life. So we followed him for about a year-and-a-half as he goes to Greenland to meet with scientists and learn about the ice melt there, but also to areas of the world that have been devastated by hurricanes that are much more powerful in the past because of the energy they pick up on warmer oceans. And the climax of the film takes place in Paris, where he gets involved in negotiations for the G20 agreement. He wanted to let the world see through his eyes and be a passenger on his train for a while. And we were just thrilled with the access he gave us. In a funny way, I think [audiences will] feel like they're meeting the real Al Gore for the first time in this film.
Was there a particular moment or episode that really sticks out for you in the production, where you just knew this was going to be a great moment in the film? Or were there too many of them to single out one?
There are so many. I have to say, we had to pinch ourselves because of the opportunities we had. One of the first things we did was travel with Al to Greenland. Oh my God, it’s one of the most incredible wonders of the world, these incredible ice sheets that go on and on, and we were there in the summer so you have nearly 24 hours of daylight. It’s just an incredible thing of natural beauty on the planet. And yet, simultaneously you look at this and realize, oh my god, we’re destroying it, it’s literally drifting away. We pull up with these incredible shots with camera drones of rivers of water penetrating these ice sheets in such a powerful, destructive way. And then of course to be there with Al Gore who’s been trying to stop this very thing, and it’s very emotional for him. He says so; it’s hard for him to see this because he’s been working hard to prevent it. And again, for most people that would be devastating, but he takes that energy and pivots toward a solution.
One thing he said that really stuck with us is that the world is about to undergo a revolution in energy that’s kind of like the industrial revolution. It’ll be very far-reaching and it’ll change the way people get their energy, but the speed is going to happen more along the lines of the computer revolution because it involves state-of-the-art technology that gets better every year. So you start thinking, 20 years ago we did not have smartphones, and then you start thinking, wow, solar efficiency and price – the efficiency’s gone up every year and the price has gone down.
I know you’ve gotten the chance to see the film with an audience at least once. Any scenes that audiences are responding to particularly strongly?
We are just amazed at the audience response in general. One thing I think audiences are surprised by is how funny and human Al is. You find yourself 10 minutes into the sequel of An Inconvenient Truth laughing. When you get to Paris, you get involved in a political thriller, behind the scenes of bilateral negotiations between countries about how to solve the crisis.
Later on, one of the scenes we’re most excited about is when Al meets with a Republican conservative mayor in oil country in Texas. This mayor has transformed his city of 65,000 people to 100 percent renewable power. He did it originally for financial resons, (then the sherriff explained that) once they did it, they took a lot of pride in that they’re no longer polluting the air and they’re leaving a better planet for our children. Ironically, that's one of the most conservative values – be good stewards of the environment and leave the campsite better than we found it, like the Boy Scouts. To see Al Gore, who’s lived his life in partisan politics, shaking hands and chuckling with a Republican mayor of Texas in 2017, I think really gives audiences a lot of hope. So much of our time these days is all this tribal debate between conservatives and liberals and it’s so frustrating because nothing gets done. People back into their corners. Al has really stepped out of that. He just does whatever he can to move the needle on the climate crisis.
(Photo: Jon Shenk at the Wexner Center in May 2012)
"Goodson chose a simple formal conceit for Gray Matters: It is a group show featuring 37 [women] artists working almost exclusively in shades of gray. Considering that the show was both a rigorous exercise in finding balance among so many monochrome visions…Goodson turned out a dazzling exhibition.”
—Hyperallergic (Read more here.)
Bill Morrison uses antique, disintegrating film as a foundation for his award-winning work. Focusing on the fragility and organic beauty of highly unstable nitrate film stock as it decomposes, Morrison creates uniquely lovely works that combine lessons in history with meditations on going the way of all things, accompanied by contemporary scores by artists such as Jóhann Jóhannsson, Dave Douglas, and Bill Frisell.
Morrison's latest film, Dawson City: Frozen Time, tells the story of a 19th century gold rush in a small Canadian mining town through film images that were once thought lost forever—until they were found in the late 1970s, in a cache of over 1000 film reels buried under a layer of permafrost below the town's abandoned ice hockey rink. In advance of the film's exclusive Columbus engagement at the Wex July 21-22 at 7 p.m., Bill, a past Wex visiting filmmaker, connected with Film/Video Director David Filipi to share a little more about it.
The story of the Dawson City cache is so romantic, almost mythic. Did you have a sense that the story would inform the structure of the film or did it reveal itself as you went through the footage?
I understood that the film would be both a history of cinema, and a history of Western civilization in the 20th century, as seen through the specific history of Dawson City. The premise of the film going in was to tell the story of this film find using the contents of the discovery, along with other supporting archival material, to make a silent film about a silent film collection. I didn’t know what I would find, but I felt there was probably enough material there to do it.
I also knew I had to tell the history of the Klondike Gold Rush if audiences were to understand how the town of Dawson City came to be a singularly remote location that was heavily invested in entertainment. The fact that gold was discovered in the Klondike the same year that commercial cinema was established meant that I had a starting point for both subjects from which events could more or less unfold chronologically.
There were many twists the film took in response to what I found. The 1919 World Series footage was of course an imporant find in the collection, but it only found a place in the film as part of a larger narrative about labor. The use of Eric Hegg’s photographs is an essential visual record of the Gold Rush, but the story of how his glass plate negatives were uncovered in a cabin outside of Dawson was one of my film’s key discoveries that echos the film find. I found imagery, people and themes that recurred, and built the film around them as they resurfaced in time.
Probably the element that has been discussed the most is the discovery of the footage from both the 1917 and the notorious 1919 World Series. Beyond the obvious, it strikes me what a special find the baseball footage represents. First, we know the footage existed at some point. World Series were covered by multiple film companies making the utter lack of footage both telling and devastating as it relates to the loss of early film. Second, not only do we have pretty good documentation of nearly all 20th century games, these games were played in the World Series and they were incredibly well documented. So, when a contemporary viewer gets his or her hands on the footage there is a historical record for comparison. We can tell a lot about it even though the game footage is shot from a distance. It’s an amazing nexus of factors and it wouldn’t necessarily be true of another historical event. And that it happens to be the most notorious series in history...incredible. When did it sink in?
It is incredible, and that story is only one example of what is true for every reel in this collection. I knew right away what it was and that probably no one else knew that it was there. The 35mm reference prints of the Dawson City Collection at Library and Archives Canada were in absolutely pristine condition – clearly not a lot of folks had been coming up there to view them over the years, and they hadn’t yet been digitized. As a lifelong White Sox fan, I was thrilled to find both the 1917 World Series (which the Sox won) and 1919 World Series represented in the collection. “White Sox” was one of the first things I searched for. But, in addition to the labor implications mentioned above, the footage also serves as a way to distill the unbelievable role chance plays in this entire story, for the whole collection.
It is firstly remarkable that a camera caught the same play in the fourth inning of Game 1 that was a year later used as testimony in the indictment of the players. That film was not submitted as evidence at the time. It is also curious that an otherwise unremarkable play (a single hit, and a failed double play attempt) was deemed important enough ito make it into the newsreel edit that was intended to represent an entire eight-game World Series. That a copy of this newsreel, containing four other completely unrelated stories, found its way to the Yukon, probably years after the scandal broke, is astounding. And then that that same reel was stored in a library basement, and not thrown in the river or otherwise disposed of, and then that it was buried in a defunct swimming pool, under a theater that would itself burn down in a nitrate fire on top of the very ground where this reel was buried is amazing. And there it rested for 49 years, while all other known copies of the same reel perished, before it was recovered in 1978 and shipped to Ottawa, where it was then restored, catalogued, copied to safety film, and archived in a vault. The fact that it sat in this vault for another 36 years before I came along and typed the words “White Sox” into their database (in 2014) is probably the least remarkable part of the film’s journey, and that was only possible because the reel had been thoroughly catalogued and archived by LAC.
When I showed the film to archivist Paul Gordon at Library and Archives Canada, we were both keen to tell the world what we had found. Paul uploaded it to YouTube on the LAC account, and I alerted (you because you) curate a rare baseball films program every year. In an article about that program, Terry Mikesell of the Columbus Dispatch first wrote about the newly discovered 1919 World Series footage. The story was later picked up by other journalists as well. A few weeks later I was doing 4-5 interviews a day about the “baseball film” I was making. But to my mind it is just as incredible and more ironic that a newsreel of Alice Guy Blaché’s Solax Film Factory on fire survived—a newsreel chapter that had an equallly circuitous route to reach Dawson City, and was buried in the the same frozen ground while, for one evening in December 1937, a movie theater engulfed in the flames of the films that arrived after it raged above ground, over it. Yet it was safely frozen.
Could you talk about the music for this film? Though you rely on older, often deteriorated, film footage, your scores are always utterly contemporary. How do gather your ideas for a score or how are conversations with the composer shaped?
In this case I was looking for an epic, ethereal, Northern-feeling score, and I thought of the band Sigur Rós. Alex Somers and Jonsí made a few scratch tracks that really informed my edit. The film became much dreamier and fluid as a response to their music. When I finally had a rough cut in Spring of 2016, I sent that to Alex and he sent me back a first draft of the soundtrack. From there I made a detailed log of what I liked and didn’t like, and we went through the entire film referring to those notes. I remember I really had to write down what the film meant to me at that time—that I viewed it as a tragedy, and that I needed to hear more strings, more cello. Then he wrote more music, hired more musicians, and booked another recording session. We went back and forth a few more times before we both found the film score we were looking for.
It was a really rewarding experience working with Alex, and also his brother John Somers, who did the sound design. Alex suggested John, and Alex and I talked about how the sound should behave like another element of the score. We imagined a musique concrete soundscape where sounds that were implied by a scene could become the notes in a grand sound composition that was attuned to the music. John also had the idea of writing a program to “watch” the film for decay or water damage, and then feed that data into the soundscape, so that you hear noise that is a direct aural translation of the decay on the frame.
(Photo: Bill Morrison during a 2012 visit to the Wexner Center's projection booth, shot by Blair Perry)
Our 10th anniversary program for Wex Drive-In continues on Thursday, July 20 with the concert doc Wattstax, about the 1972 concert organized for L.A.'s Watts community by Stax Records on the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots. The show will get going with an opening set by Liquid Crystal Project, a "jazz hop" outfit led by local hip hop legend J. Rawls. Below, Rawls shares some info about the group, along with some of the musicians and music movies that inspire them.
(Photo: Duddy R'chi)
Jason Rawls "J. Rawls," DJ/producer
Brandon "B Jazz" Scott, keys/producer
Rob Riley, drums/producer
Eddie Bayard, saxophone
Mike Ealy, bass
Charles Cooper, saxophone
How do you define “Jazz Hop”?
Jazz hop is the marriage of hip hop and jazz music. It is the combination of hardcore hip hop drums and feel with jazz finesse and style.
What artists inspire your work on this project?:
J Dilla, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane.
What music films have had an impact on your sound?
Everything from Wild Style to Beat Street, to Mo’ Better Blues by Spike Lee
The artists in Wattstax participated in a music event that helped bring a community together. Can you talk about a time when you've had a similar experience?
We try to do that every time we perform. We also embody that with the music and topics that we cover and create. We are advocates of service to the community.
Before you catch them live on the Wex Plaza, check out video from LCP here, here, and here.