Sally Berger interviews documentary filmmaker Les Blank on the occasion of his MoMA film retrospective Les Blank: Ultimate Insider
Posts in ‘Viewpoints’
As a regular contributor to Inside/Out, I endeavor to bring topics related to MoMA’s Department of Film and cinema history to you, the reader. I am always interested in talking and writing about films, debating their aesthetic merits, content, form, performances—and I am also very curious to know which films my colleagues across the Museum are seeing, and why.
While Dame Helen Mirren was in New York to film her movie Arthur—a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore classic—she graciously agreed to do a video interview at The Museum of Modern Art. Truth be told, I’m a huge fan of the dame. In addition to being a fantastic actor, she’s beautiful, smart, and completely unpretentious. She’s an art lover, and she is especially enamored of the pioneering abstract paintings of Vasily Kandinsky, whose work is represented in MoMA’s collection and whose “Four Seasons” were very fortuitously on view on the day of her visit (and they still are).
I never visited the Warehouse, the Chicago club where legendary Frankie Knuckles was DJ (and where the moniker “House Music” was born), but I was lucky enough to dance all night at the Power Plant, the club he opened there in the early 1980s. Later, during a visit to NYC in the summer of 1983 (before I moved here in 1987), my friends took me out for a delirious pilgrimage to hear the mighty sounds of Larry Levan at Paradise Garage. This former garage at 84 King Street was a place of few words. Dance was the message.
My father strolled, my uncles strolled, and so does Fluxus. The word “stroller” is not my own. I heard it at my uncle’s funeral. A strange woman said it. I did not know her. I suppose my uncle did. He knew a lot of people. When it came time for folks to say a few words about the deceased, the woman stood up and said, “He was a stroller.” Everyone laughed. At first I thought she was calling him a baby carriage but I knew what she meant.
Having a job as Senior Library Assistant at The Museum of Modern Art Library has been a big influence on my artistic practice. I use the library for research and inspiration, and as a site of investigation. In early 2010, I began the performance “Smelling the Books“, which consists of me smelling every book in the MoMA Library collection. This performance was recently highlighted in New York Magazine as one of the many reasons to love New York.
Sometimes I just wish I were a printmaker. While I’ve embraced being able to familiarize myself with our department’s collection, mostly through preparation for study center visitors, it’s hard to avoid envying the person who gets to work in the studio and master the technical elements of printmaking. A work recently acquired by MoMA, Richard Dupont’s etching Phantom (2007)—which was among the artist’s earliest print projects—reveals the kind of artistic processes I am especially drawn to.
When Hermes and Aphrodite had a son, Hermaphroditus, who was fused with a nymph, Salmacis, the resulting person possessed the physical traits of both male and female—hence the term “hermaphrodite,” used in biology as a description of similarly dual reproductive traits in both plants and animals.
In conjuction with the Museum’s Modern Women initiative, PopRally presents An Evening with the Raincoats at MoMA on Saturday, November 20. Today’s guest blogger, Kathleen Hanna—founding member of Bikini Kill, co-creator of the zine Riot Grrrl, and lead singer of the dance-punk band Le Tigre—will DJ the event.In 1990 I was given a mixtape with The Raincoats’ “Fairytale in the Supermarket” on it. It was the first time I’d ever heard them, and to this day it remains one of my favorite songs. As a 20-year-old who had just starting touring with a band, the song opened up a whole new world to me—one where I didn’t have to play guitar solos or make music the same way my male peers did.
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