Friday, May 18, 2007

And to Think it All Started Here...

Yep, that's James Sturm and I moving his studio across the street to what was, in the summer of 2005, the new Center for Cartoon Studies building. Hard to believe it's been two years, but here we are -- the first graduating class, about to graduate -- tomorrow.

It's been a heady, at times heavy week at the Center for Cartoon Studies. We've completed the senior thesis review sessions, and I'm savoring a little breather between that intense block of work (the prep in particular, though I loved reading and re-reading the thesis projects -- pretty stunning group of cartoonists going out into the big, bad world this Saturday!). Tomorrow is graduation, and I've got a little work to do to prep for that.

The intensity has been in part revolving around the mounting finality of this transitional period. It's been sad to say goodbye to some folks, and that will accelerate tomorrow, as many of the folks who have been absolutely central to our day-to-day lives together are leaving after commencement to their respective family homes. I had lunch with Rich Tommaso yesterday; Rich has become a great friend, we've bonded over a number of shared interests and Rich was an invaluable part of the Drawing Workshop I helmed for the Freshmen class this spring. Rich and graduate Caitlin Plovnick are moving to Brooklyn on Sunday, and I sure am going to miss them. Of course, we'll all keep in touch, and be seeing each other in the years to come, but the reality of the community of the past two years going through inevitable, here-and-now change that necessarily revolves around the departure of so many key community members is a real roller-coaster ride.

That said, part of the transition, too, is the evidence of the new incoming freshman class of 2009 -- CCS discussion board posts from incoming fall students has been ongoing all month, and soon we'll see a new community arrive, merging with the standing CCS community and bringing all the excitement, change and transformation that implies.

Ah, CCS; I'm now part of a college community, and all that entails. I love it.

I saw Paul Verhoeven's new film Zwartboek/Black Book last night, and I can't recommend it highly enough. This is Verhoeven's best film in years, and a genuine return to form -- what The Pianist was for Roman Polanski, Zwartboek/Black Book is for Verhoeven.

For fellow Verhoeven fans (Steve Perry, take heed!), it's absolutely critical to note that this film isn't just his return to his Dutch roots, but also reunites Verhoven and writer Gerard Soeteman, who was absolutely central to Verhoeven's often brilliant pre-Hollywood body of work. In fact, Soeteman was Verhoeven's primary collaborative partner in the whole of the director's pre-Hollywood career arc, scripting and co-scripting what remain Verhoeven's best films, beginning with Verhoeven's debut feature Wat zien ik/Business Is Business (1971) and blossoming with Turks fruit/Turkish Delight (1973) and Keetje Tippel (1975), which in many ways provides a blueprint for Zwartboek, as did Soeteman/Verhoeven's breakthrough international hit Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange (1977). Zwartboek is almost a perfect fusion of Keetje Tippel and Soldaat van Oranje, chronicling as it does the often harrowing experiences of a Dutch Jewish woman (Carice van Houten, giving a powerhouse performance) struggling to survive WW2 in Holland, and the convoluted tangle of loyalty, deceit, devotion and corruption that entails.

Soeteman and Verhoeven built upon the success of Soldaat van Oranje with the excellent Spetters (1980), the marvelously delirious De Vierde Man/The Fourth Man (1983, which also introduced actor Thom Hoffman to international audiences; Hoffman features prominently in Black Book), and concluded this ripe collaborative streak with Flesh+Blood (1985, aka The Rose and the Sword), which sadly led to an acrimonious split of the team as Verhoeven rushed to Hollywood and launched that phase of his career by directing an episode of HBO's The Hitchhiker ("Last Scene," 1986) and the classic Robocop (1987).

That Soeteman and Verhoeven are back together is something to celebrate; that they are also hard at work at a second 21st Century collaborative effort, Azazel, is tremendous news, and promises Verhoeven may at last be free of the restraints Hollywood placed on his creative life (his last American film, Hollow Man, 2000, was derivative and disappointing at best). As already noted, this new work also reunites Verhoeven with Dutch actors from his classic Soeteman era: Thom Hoffman (who was Herman, the central object of desire in De Vierde Man), Derek de Lint (Alex in Soldaat van Oranje), Dolf de Vries (Turks fruit, Jack in Soldaat van Oranje, Dr. de Vries in De Vierde Man), etc. are familiar faces to Verhoeven fans, and it's exciting to see the chemistry onscreen anew.

All this makes Black Book the theatrical sleeper of 2007 thus far. Don't miss Zwartboek/Black Book if it's playing near you, and I'll post a review proper next week when I start squirting those overdue Cine-Ketchup packets all over the keyboard. It stands, along with Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others and El Laberinto del fauno/Pan's Labyrinth, as the best film I've seen thus far this year.

Sorceror's Apprentice: Bush, Gonzales (NY Times photo)

Speaking of "loyalty, deceit, devotion and corruption," in real life,
  • this week's Congressional testimony yesterday of James B. Comey, former Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft, was a real jaw-dropper
  • and demonstrates the monstrous extremes that the Bush White House pursued to carry out its illegal, secret spying program against the people of the United States. I'm no Ashcroft fan, mind you, but it's startling to see how vast the ethical gulf between Ashcroft's reign and Gonzales's dynasty in the Justice Department really is, and how far we've fallen.
  • If you're clueless on this, it's time to catch up (" account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source...") --
  • -- there's no more damning evidence of the corruption rampant in the Justice Department, and how irresponsibly current Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's behavior has been (and how fiercely he has exercised and exercises his loyalty to his President, placing that above US law and our Constitution).

  • Bye, bye, Wolfowitz (if you have the computer/high-speed access, also check out the two 'related videos' on the left menu bar at the Yahoo News site, particularly President Bush's gobsmacked incredulity); hello whatever next uber-corrupt crony President Bush appoints --
  • -- and we wonder (like children) why American credibility is so shot in the eyes of the world.

    Have a great Friday, one and all...

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