Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Krazy Kat, Jim Jarmusch and William Randolph Hearst

April 16, 2014
   Some artists are an acquired taste. In my own case these would include, John Prine, Van Gogh, Jim Jarmusch and George Herriman.

   John Prine won me over with one song: "Angel From Montgomery." And once I got that tune, I realized nobody does song lyrics better than Mr. Prine. Nobody.

   I hated Jim Jarmusch movies after seeing "Dead Man," with Johnny Depp and Robert Mitchum. In my opinion it's one of the worst Westerns I've ever seen. Neil Young does the music and it's just a series of distorted twangs and open chords, perhaps inspired (Hey, I love The Horse!) but ultimately just really, really irritating. I think I gave him another try on a winter Western about gold, but it was so bleak and non-narrative I just couldn't enjoy it all.

  For some reason, after reading a positive review of his new movie, "The Last Lovers" I decided to try "Broken Flowers." So, last night Kathy and I watched Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers," with Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Julie Delpie and Chloe Sivegney. Prepared for its odd flow (from the review), I actually enjoyed it and after watching a special features on the making of the movie and hearing Jarmusch talk about his method I am slowly, acquiring a taste for the artist, although I still hate "Dead Man." Here he is talking about his process:

"Filming is like sex. Writing the script is like seduction, then shooting is like sex because you're doing the movie with other people. Editing is like being pregnant, and then you give birth and they take your baby away. After this process is done, I will watch the movie one more time with a paying audience that doesn't know I'm there, and then I will never see it again. I'm so sick of it."
—Jim Jarmusch

"The beauty of life is in small details, not in big events."
—Jim Jarmusch

   Meanwhile, I'm doing a True West Moment on another dude who's an acquired taste, at least to me:

One Crazy Cat
    George Herriman was born in New Orleans in 1880. His parents were Creole (their marriage certificate labeled them as "mulatto") and although it seems obvious George was black, he passed for white his entire life (many assumed he was Greek). He was said to wear a hat inside and outside to cover his "kinky" hair.

Daily Whipout, "George Herriman, Comic Strip Genius"

   The family moved to California allegedly to escape the increasingly harsh Jim Crow laws of Louisiana.

   Mr. Herriman created a very eccentric comic strip that first appeared in 1913 and ran to 1944. People didn't get it (I was one of them) and, at best it was "likeably absurd." Krazy Kat is set in the ever changing landscapes of the imaginary deserts of Coconino, Arizona and the plot is simple: a doofus cat of hazy gender (referred to as both "he" and "she") is in love with Ignatz Mouse, who, in turn, despises Krazy and constantly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy's head, which Krazy interprets as a sign of affection, uttering grateful replies such as "Li'l dollink, allus f'etful". Meanwhile, Offissa Pupp, as Coconino County's administrator of law and order, makes it his unwavering mission to interfere with Ignatz's brick-tossing plans and lock the mouse in the county jail. And this premise ran for 31 years.

   So I went home for lunch today and took a try at Herriman's distinctive abstract style:

Daily Whipout, "Ignatz slings a brick at Krazy Kat in front of the Monument, a well-known butte near Monument Valley"

   Supposedly Woodrow Wilson and Picasso were fans of the strip, but not too many others. In fact when the strip fell below 50 newspapers (the threshold to cancel a comic) William Randolph Hearst would not allow it. when editors mentioned they wanted to kill it he yelled at them. When Hearst tried to give Herriman a raise, the artist refused saying it was too easy to draw, but Hearst forced him to take the raise. I dare you to name another business situation where a capitalist of Hearst's standing (Citizen Kane!!!!) not only supported an artist to do what he wanted to do but demanded raises because he appreciated the art and humor so much. I dare you!!!!!

   Known for its offbeat surrealism and poetic, idiosyncratic language, the comic strip Krazy Kat, was more influential than popular. Herriman empolyed idioyncratic language. Here is an example:

"Agathla, centuries aslumber, shivers in its sleep with splenetic splendor, and spreads abroad a seismic spasm with the supreme suavity of a vagabond volcano."
—George Herriman, in Krazy Kat

The actual Agathla Peak north of Kayenta during a dust storm

   And here's my take on the same scene but with a lone hogan at the bottom, a scene I remember as a kid traveling through the area with my folks.

Daily Whipout, "Dust Storm at Agathla Peak"

  And here's another take:

Daily Whipout, "Agathla Peak Dust Storm #3"

    The strip Krazy Kat features other characters, Mrs. Kwak Wakk, "Bum Bill" Bee and Don Kiyote, and the ever-changing landscapes of the imaginary desert of Coconino County, Arizona.

   Picasso was reputedly a fan. But the artist's most ardent supporter was William Randolph Hearst who refused to drop Herriman's Krazy Kat even when it was carried by fewer than 50 papers. Hearst kept the strip alive and It was Hearst who ordered the strip to be cancelled in 1944, when Herriman died of "non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver" and, at Herriman's request, his ashes were scattered over Monument Valley, Arizona. In Hearst's opinion, no one could replace the artist and Krazy Kat was possibly the first strip to die with his creator.

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don't bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 'It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to.'"
—Jim Jarmusch