Ungrateful Faggots

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I was asked to write an article-length response to Paul Aguirre-Livingston’s Dawn of a New Gay. This initial (and rather first draft-like) version was rejected for not focusing enough on Calgary, but there’s still some things in it that I like, and many things in it I’d still like to say that simply won’t fit in the rather different article which will run next week.

DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON US
Aguirre-Livingston’s supposed Dawn of a New Gay comes off more like an empty twilight

Twenty-something self-defined “post-mo” Paul Aguirre-Livingston has found himself in the non-enviable role of persona non grata within the queer world he so clumsily attempted to summate in his recent Dawn of a New Gay cover-story for Toronto’s weekly The Grid. Profiling today’s urban homo as young men opting to cut ties to their wider queer community and dismiss the role of gay Pride – going so far as to dismiss the notion of even identifying as “gay,” and instead preferring the suggestion that we’re simply dudes who “just fuck dudes” – Aguirre-Livingston makes grandiose, sweeping claims from his privileged viewpoint nestled in the safe zones off of Toronto’s Queen West.

According to Aguirre-Livingston, “my generation has the freedom to live exactly the way we want. We have our university degrees, homes and careers. In Toronto, we’ve abandoned the Church Wellesley Village. […] We vacation with our boyfriends in fabulously rustic country homes that belong to our parents, who don’t mind us coming to stay as a couple. Hell, we even marry our boyfriends, if we choose to, on rooftops overlooking Queen West. […] We don’t torture ourselves to fit in with other gays. In fact, most of us have come to resent the stereotypes and the ideals associated with preceding gay generations. It’s not that we hate gay culture; we just don’t have that much in common with it anymore.”

Throughout the rest of Aguirre-Livingston’s sloppy treatiste, he insists that the work done by our queer foremothers and fathers has done its part, and can now be swept under the rug and overlooked. Considering this supposed “post-mo” generation as the living embodiment of what they were working towards, Aguirre-Livingston’s net stretches no further than a few streets’ radius in Canada’s biggest city. It focuses squarely on privileged bearded white boys decked out in ties and button-up shirts, a supposedly modern rejection of ‘typical’ homo fashion. (Please – I’ve been kicking the beard and tie look for close to two decades, and know full well I’m in no way original with it).

Despite finding all the action he could possibly want online and via Grindr (a GPS-driven iPhone app, showing displaying who’s in the neighbourhood, and how many metres away from you they are), Aguirre-Livingston also admits he hasn’t “held a guy’s hand in almost three years.” (One of his on-line dating profiles has been passed around the internet – his user name, an ironically fitting UNTOUCHED). He casts off the Pride parade as little more than chiseled buffoons gyrating atop gaudy floats, and proclaims, “I’m not fighting the good fight. It was never mine to fight.” He closes by suggesting we can even call his clique “faux gay, straight-acting, bitter queens,” but hey, they’re the “lucky ones.”

Were Aguirre-Livingston simply writing from the viewpoint of ‘this is my life’ vs. speaking for the rest of us, Dawn of a New Gay would in some ways be a worthy viewpoint for consideration. Despite his arrogance, we should be able to find at least some joy in knowing how free and un-obstructed this young gay man feels in his life in Canada, shouldn’t we? As it stands, the piece’s overwhelming sense of ignorant entitlement remains tragically arrogant and ill-informed, and the queer corners of the internet have erupted with commentary, seldomly pro, primarily con.

And yet, I’d feel dishonest if I didn’t admit that I can, in some ways (emphasis on only some, and very few at that) relate to where Aguirre-Livingston is coming from. While he fails by classifying his experience as one common to everyone, I can offer up my gay experience as purely mine (and those I’ve long traveled with) alone, and realize there is at least one rickety bridge between us.

Growing up in Forest Lawn – where the go-to term of male-to-male rejection is easily “faggot” – I only first felt comfortable with living a purely out life when I did what many of those in my age group did, and left for greener (as in, gayer) pastures. My path took me from Edinburgh to New York, between Paris and the UK’s seaside gay capitol Brighton. There, I worked in a two level gay club called Envy (our biggest competition was Revenge, right around the corner) as the coat-check. As I was always reading behind the desk, I was soon referred to as “The Student,” in photographs in the local gay magazines (of which Brighton has a surprising amount, all printed on glossy paper). Customers started bringing me their old books, and at the end of each night I’d walk home along Brighton Beach as the highest-tipped member of staff. Perhaps a visit by the coat-check was the one space in the club where the patrons weren’t being sized up or judged, the one spot of relief in that strobe-lit meat market. Or perhaps my role as the first ‘hello’ and the last drunken ‘good-bye’ at the end of the night propelled the pocket-change into my jar (the fit bartenders in their underwear didn’t really have anywhere to put it).

Yet, like Aguirre-Livingston, that particular gay world was not one I was particularly interested in engaging in any further than as a job, particularly after my first Pride in Brighton which played out as an exercise in debauchery seemingly disinterested in the word Pride itself. I went to Brighton searching for some form of Queer Utopia, and didn’t find it. But this is where our similarities in how we each choose to engage with GLBT culture stop. What truly changed and molded me at the time was a movement centered on a series of parties and clubs primarily in London, referred to as Gay Shame. Despite the name, for me this was a major cause for celebration.

We weren’t ashamed of ourselves or our history in the least, and in fact looked to celebrate the people we were and those who had come before us. We wore T-shirts silkscreened with portraits of Christopher Isherwood, Quentin Crisp, and Harvey Milk. Books like Matt Bernstein Sycamore’s That’s Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation were passed around and dog-eared. Gay Shame was simply a rejection of what we saw as Pride events rapidly transitioning towards corporate-sponsorship and targeted marketing. Assimilation into mainstream straight culture – what is often referred to as appearing ‘normal’ – wasn’t of interest. Rather than fitting into anyone’s mold of acceptability under some multi-national corporation banner, we wanted instead to be accepted for exactly who we were, and continue the good work that had come before us. In forgetting our history, we knew we’d be doomed to repeat it.

The brightest light of inspiration, however, came from Aguirre-Livingston’s hometown of Toronto. With a scene based around the enterprising work of Will Munro and his revolutionary club Vazeline, and the band The Hidden Cameras, it looked – at least from my vantage point across the pond – as though we weren’t alone. My mother, of all people, sent me the Cameras’ first album The Smell of Our Own, still a life-turning piece of work to my ears. Even up until his death from cancer last year, I’d wanted to write Will Munro a letter, thanking him for creating a world that I was able to witness first-hand when visiting his city.

What was going on in Toronto seemed (at least for this visitor), above all else, inclusive and welcoming. The normal-bodied go-go dancers wore balaclavas, and the clubs were stuffed with boys, girls, and those posing as either. It was fun and non-judgmental, and you can still feel that presence in present-day Toronto venues like The Beaver and The Henhouse. Aguirre-Livingston walks freely down those streets because of people like Munro and the Cameras.

When asked for his thoughts, lead Camera Joel Gibb (now splitting his time between Toronto and the queer utopia of Berlin), is succinct. “It’s an opinion piece charading as reporting,” he says. “A fantasy piece. Those guys who maintain that their sexuality doesn’t define them and that it only comprises a small percentage of who they are – it’s internalized homophobia.”

My current Calgary housemate Mathew-John Chyzyk is the same age as Aguirre-Livingston (I’m presently 32 – not exactly who he’s talking about), and Dawn of a New Gay has been a point of household discussion since its publication on June 9th. When we first met, he prefaced a comment with, “It’s different for gay men of my generation than of yours, Mark,” so who better to ask for feedback?

“He’s putting out his own hate as the voice of his generation, and in turn my generation,” he says. “I may not agree or get along with all gay men, but at least I play nice. I’ll continue my fight to represent the community in a positive light, support worthy causes, hold my boyfriend’s hand, make community connections, and dance my face off at gay dance parties.” At least in Mathew, it’s comforting to see how far off-base Aguirre-Livingston is in attempting to speak for all gay men of his generation.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting that my queer experience thus far is how one’s queer life should be lived, and I know that my interpretations and self-set boundaries of what it means to be a gay man living in Calgary (or Edinburgh, or Berlin, or Paris) won’t be the same as others who live in the same places. I too am middle-class and white, and I come from a decidedly non-religious family – within the GLBT world, I know there’s far more difficult scenarios to deal with than mine. I know there’s still work to be done – I live much of the year in Calgary, and it’s still the only city I’ve been to in the world in which I’ve been called “faggot,” as recently as this spring on my bicycle in Ogden. Surely, Calgary is not yet entirely like Queen West (and I’d doubt that other bits of Toronto are either).

For Aguirre-Livingston, clearly ignorance is bliss, but I can’t help feeling that it’s got to be a rather empty form of it. The history of queer culture is one worthy of attention and familiarity. Besides the struggles and the tragedies, there’s a beautiful world community that he’s missing out on. Still, rather than discard his club card as so many others seem frothing at the mouth to do (reference, for just one example, the internet’s Ungrateful Faggot meme targeted directly at him), I’m more prone to hope he’ll wake up and take a deeper look at the community which has built the safety nets he so clearly enjoys.

Created to commemorate the lives and actions of Canada’s gay (and gay-friendly) community of activists and tireless workers, the Vancouver-based Q Hall of Fame has inducted Canadians like Mark Tewksbury, Janine Fuller, and Pierre Eliot Trudeau for their work in advancing the rights of GLBT people in Canada. Still a brand new initiative, the Q Hall of Fame gives hope that those who have fought for the lives we presently enjoy here – in our incredibly lucky and free First World developed nation of a country – will not be forgotten. Their simple slogan, however, puts it best: Pride starts with knowledge.

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Casting the net wider to friends across North America (and, at the suggestion of FFWD, even some straights), some further reactions:

Matthew Fox, author, Toronto/Berlin, 30s: “[It’s] an irresponsible stance to take for a journalist, especially since there are huge numbers of 20-somethings that flock to the Village on a regular basis. But really, someone writes an article, book or manifesto of this kind every seven or 10 years as a new generation comes out of the closet. […] He’s just trying to legitimize the homo subculture to which he belongs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just don’t find his arguments interesting or compelling or new – and I move in the same circles he does.”

Erin Woodward, gay-friendly manager of Purr, Calgary, 30s: “I’ve recently been going on rants about what I see as non-productive feminism: women who are so busy complaining about every perceived slight they see to be gender inequality that they fail to see the equality around them – a woman who only sees herself as a Woman as opposed to a Person. The more you marginalize yourself as a minority, the more society as a whole will view you as someone to be marginalized.”

Gordon Sombrowski, author, Calgary/Fernie, 50s: “It’s clear that the writer has not followed the discourse in this country about the affect of assimilation and normalization of homosexuals in society. This dialogue now revolves around ideas that talk about the intersection of ‘queer’ and ‘gay,’ for example. There are homosexuals or gay people who no longer consider themselves to be queer, and there are straight people who consider themselves to be queer. While these are to some degree tricks of labeling and semantics they are indicative that there is a segment of society which does not either wish to be normalized or feel that it has been assimilated.”

Kevin Allen (spouse of Gordon Sombrowski), arts administrator, Calgary/Fernie, 40s: “He sounds kind of sad and lonely.”

Jessica Dollard, Fairy Tales, Calgary, 20s: “When it comes to Pride marches, that’s sacred shit. I feel that due to the lack of equality that many queers face in the world, you need to be at the Pride march. You go to show respect for the work that’s been done to gain the rights we currently enjoy. You go to stand up for those in other parts of the world that so need a Pride march but can’t go because they’ll be killed. Hey navel-gazing A-Gay Twink: you’re damn lucky. Good for you. Now show some compassion for your fellow beings.”

Dallas Barnes, Pride Calgary, Calgary, 20s: “Regardless of where you feel comfortable, be it Church Street or at a hockey game, the fact of the matter is you are an equal part of the queer community. If things are perfect in the author’s life then congratulations – let us know how we can attain this perfection. My world and the world of most people in the queer community is not perfect. To state publicly that we do not need to fight for our rights and to maintain a safe space for all queers is dangerous. It tells the world that we are ok with being substandard. It tells the youth that it does not get better. And for his information, Calgary does not have a Village. We barely have an address. Things are not that easy even in your own country.”

Kevin Persaud, creative, Calgary, 30s: “I believe that every time I answer the ‘are you gay?’ question truthfully, I make one more step forward for the GLBT community. […] Fighting and sacrificing of lives has and will happen still, but I am glad I don’t have to do it for myself, here. It doesn’t mean I can’t support others who need to fight for the basics and still smile for young Torontonians who don’t.”

Jason Cawood, artist, Regina, 30s: “Being gay in 2011 is still ‘a thing’ to a lot of people, it can still do a number on your self-esteem, and no, not even the power of Will & Grace can change that. […] My lack of interest in mainstream gay culture – the bars, the dance music, the fashion, etc. – doesn’t constitute a rejection of it. I’m simply not that interested in any mainstream culture, straight or gay, and I’m under no delusions that this makes me a more advanced person. It’s simply a matter of taste. Unlike Aguirre-Livingston, I have no desire to frame myself as a role model for the New Gay Male, and I can identify the arrogance in over-determining one’s own preferences as a broad social phenomena.”

Trent Marinelli, vintage store owner, Chicago, 20s: “The real problem I had was that a major publication in the biggest city in Canada would give a soapbox to a narcissistic, small minded snob and parade his very unoriginal idea around as a revolutionary viewpoint in the gay community. […] It parallels the whole movement that Keith Herring was a part of in the 80s to keep the stereotypical, masculinity-obsessed gays out of the artsy gay parties / neighbourhood. It’s not a new fight, it just has some new faces.”

Lee Allard, social worker, Calgary, 30s: “He doesn’t even know what post-modern really implies! He’s also racist and classist – even though he would probably try to defend that – which indicates his lack of analysis and understanding of wider social issues.”

Matthew Jimmy, Calgary, 20s: “I don’t agree with degrading ’stereotypes’. If someone chooses to act the way they want to no one has any right to pick them apart. Our individuality makes us a diverse community. […] I would never want to consider myself a Post-Mo – gay is just fine.”

Matthew Lowe, editorial assistant at Butt Magazine, Amsterdam / Calgary, 20s: “Perhaps Aguirre-Livingston has chosen to ignore the 1970s clone culture – Tom of Finland or Quaintance, anyone? – that forms the basis for his current lustings. If one naively distills homosexuality to its carnal roots – the desire to have sex with men – this ideal becomes completely asinine. You’re still having sex with men, so no matter how straight-acting the two of you are, you’re as gay as they come.”

Mason Hastie, queer-friendly creative, Calgary, 30s: “This kid is pretty much speaking from a point of entitlement, because white middle-class gay males have very similar opportunities to the same straight kid. But that’s pretty much it. If you make any of those words more complicated – black, lesbian, transgender, for example – you still have a notable amount of stigma, hate and discomfort. These – along with the out gay man at his law firm – are the people that the Pride is still for.”

Hanna Kassa, host of That’s So Gay! on CJSW, Calgary, 30s: “We’ve got it pretty good, but being out and proud is about being present and counted. […] His apathy is immature and I’m thinking he might grow out of it. Maybe he’ll also grow a pair and actually meet someone beyond his computer screen and stop resenting the hot guys at the bar.”

Travis Eby, architect, New York City, 20s: “He never acknowledges that the struggle isn’t over for some. Certainly no-one will begrudge anyone enjoying the freedoms born of previous generations’ struggles, but it’s sad and naïve to assume that the battle is won. There’s still a lot of liberating to do. And when you’ve been given privileges in this world – and do nothing to use your position of privilege to raise up others who haven’t been so lucky – then you’re no better than the fake-tanned, hair-gelled gym bunnies you complain about. All you are is a bourgeois, apathetic consumer – with a beard.”

Everett Holden, Shanti Project, San Francisco, 30s: “Some of us have the great privilege of enjoying the freedoms the ghosts of our ancestors have made possible for us. Lucky is the man who embraces his privileges and is grateful to those who have made it possible to be GAY. Lucky are those who use their privilege to help others who don’t have the freedom to be who they are. Lucky is the man that knows and acknowledges those who gave their lives to create a community we call gay.”

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MASH NOTES.

on my way to the post box, i watched the fire department using the jaws of life to pull a woman out of her crunched-up car. she’d run a red light and was hit by a c-train, but looked like she would be just fine. not a drop of blood on her.

i took it as a sign of worlds colliding, and put my letter into the post box, considering first whether or not i should kiss it for luck. (i didn’t. i feel lucky enough at the moment as it is).

man, it feels good to write again.

Light Shining Through – Look at What the Light Did Now

Anthony Seck’s Look at What the Light Did Now follows Feist’s process lovingly

You’d be mistaken in thinking that the only rock documentaries truly worth a viewing are those capturing artists at their most dysfunctional – Metallica’s psyhiatric meltdowns in Some Kind of Monster, or The Dandy Warhols vs. The Brian Jonestown Massacre in Dig! as just two recent examples that need to be seen to be believed. Anthony Seck’s visual Valentine to Feist, Look at What the Light Did Now, on the other hand, makes a strong, beautifully poetic claim for the absorbing power of simply watching a true artist hard at work.

Filmed during both the recording and subsequent touring of Feist’s world-wide hit album The Reminder, What the Light Did Now spends much of its time not focused strictly on the star performer herself, but rather on the support net and team of collaborators Feist has gathered around her. Surely Seck has created the sole rockumentary in existence where the live lighting team receives just as much camera time as the film’s primary subject, in the process acting as the central metaphor that moves the entire film forward.

Granted, there are no major revelations or Radiohead’s Meeting People is Easy-style borderline psychoses beyond the small reveals that Feist’s a little bit shy about getting her photo taken and isn’t all that fond of bright spotlights on-stage. But what What the Light Did Now does take unveil expertly is the sights and sounds of true talent at work. Whether tucked away in a gorgeous French villa studio near Paris (we watch as Feist records The Reminder stand-out ‘The Park’ in the cricket-croaking backyard) or whispering sweetly to a packed stadium of pin-drop silent believers, it’s all clearly done with the same dedication to detail and love for the art of songcraft. (Just wait for the sequence demonstrating a rapid-edit montage of just how many album art designs were tried then dropped before settling on the near-iconic shadow profile actually released).

That those involved in the Feist machine are just as absorbed and dedicated to their roles as she is – there’s never been a lighting director quite so happy, for one – is what makes their interview segments truly interesting and worthy of inclusion. These aren’t merely staff members there to collect a cheque at the end of the tour, nor are they starry-eyed fanboys/girls (a merch girl-turned-lighting assistant even asks if she has to refer to Feist as Feist or by her first name Leslie), but fellow artists all collected in the name of a common goal.

As a peek behind the curtain, Look at What the Light Did Now is a beautifully filmed, edited, and poetic tribute to one of Canada’s finest contributions to the international stage, as well as a beautiful call to teamwork and co-operation every bit as calming and composed as Feist’s music itself.

Back to the Future – Metropolis Restored

Fritz Lang’s restored Metropolis gets the classical treatment it deserves

In this, the age of Blu-Ray special editions and behind-the-scenes Electronic Press Kits, it’s hard to imagine the concept of a “lost film.” Yet the history of early cinema is marked by many examples of films existing as little more than stray promotional frames. Even more frustrating for film buffs is the belief that several of these are considered by many to potentially be the greatest works in the canon of film. Next to Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (from which nearly eight hours of footage was cut from his original 10-hour edit), and Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (also cut to ribbons by RKO following disastrous test screenings), Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterwork Metropolis has long been presented in truncated form, short-changing viewers from a full experience of Lang’s original dystopian epic.

There is also, however, the occasional movie miracle in which a random print of a lost classic re-emerges. Nearly as exciting as the 1981 discovery of what is believed to be the sole remaining original copy of Carl Dreyer’s definitive The Passion of Joan of Arc (found in the janitorial closet of an insane asylum in Oslo, of all places) was the 2008 announcement of a print of Metropolis found in Argentina with 30 minutes of previously lost material still intact. Of the 153 minutes initially missing, only eight remain un-accounted for following the Argentine discovery, an event not only monumental for Lang lovers, but just as inspiring for those lost film hunters still on the look-out for other missing greats. Premiered in Germany this past February, this, the closest-known vision of Lang’s eternal masterpiece, serves as one of cinema’s greatest experiences and a virtual film school of the leaps and bounds made in the dawn of the cinematic age.

A virtual blueprint for all science-fiction that follows it, Metropolis tells the tale of a brutally class-driven society of the future – the workers toiling underground, while the upper classes reside in monolithic high-rises above. Since its release, much has been made of Metropolis as a sharp parable on the effects and results of societal control, and its lessons have remained strong and true for following generations. An early film with such power, imagination, and technical prowess made at the very beginnings of cinema technology is astounding – that Metropolis is even more captivating as a universal narrative is still truly breath-taking.

In and of itself, the viewing a complete Metropolis on the big screen, the Calgary Cinematheque is presenting local audiences with the even rarer opportunity to experience Metropolis with the live musical backing typical of the early silent cinema. While period audiences in Alberta were most-often treated to live organist accompaniment, the multi-talented Alloy Orchestra will be providing a somewhat fuller musical odyssey to accompany Lang’s mind-blowing visuals.

Unlike any screenings since those very first showings in 1927, Metropolis has never been closer to the way Lang wished for all of us to see it. Consider this one wrong in the cinematic history books set back completely to right.

Elliott Smith – An Introduction

Perhaps I’m getting old, but considering his impact and influence on independent music from the late 1990s through to his early, unexpected tragic death in 2003, the notion of listeners needing An Introduction to Elliott Smith comes as a bit of a surprise. For here we have the man who created some of the 1990s finest indie folk records, taking his lo-fi melancholic shuffles all the way to the Oscars, performing Good Will Hunting‘s ‘Miss Misery’ with an orchestra in an ill-fitting battered white suit. Nevermind one of the primary reasons I picked up a guitar in the first place was because I wanted to learn how to play ‘Angeles’ (which I still haven’t mastered), but doesn’t everyone already hold Elliott close to their hearts? My Mother remembers where she was when the news broke that John Lennon had died, and I carry an equally clear memory of when I heard of Elliott’s demise. (I was working in a record shop in Edinburgh. Coincidentally we’d just installed a poster art show featuring a couple of posters for Elliott, and that very morning I’d put on Figure 8 for a listen, until a fellow co-worker asked me to take it off for being “too depressing.” A few hours later, a tearful co-worker came down the steps from the upper floor office and shared the news).

Getting realistic though, the speed at which the zeitgeist moves through music (mere disposable content for our iPods by this point) means there are indeed a legion of young’uns who’ve never even heard Smith’s complicated finger picks and honeyed sighs. Putting aside personal favourites (in my opinion, you want an introduction to Elliott Smith, go out and buy it all) An Introduction makes for an auspicious entry point into Elliott’s oeuvre, albeit one heavily skewed towards the high peaks of his 1997 masterwork Either/Or, nearly half of which is included here.

Signed to Kill Rock Stars (at that point, almost uniformly a loud, scrappy, Pacific Northwest punk label) in the hey-day of Alternative Mainstream Rock, Elliott stuck out unlike any other. And while this collection skims quickly over his post-Oscar major label pop epics XO and Figure 8 with one track pulled from each (Elliott’s abilities as a world class pop arranger pushed to the sidelines) what remains is a gorgeous document of a discography cut short all too soon. The same is true for his final work, From the Basement on the Hill, a planned White Album-style double-album chopped to a single record and released amid controversy as to its closeness to Elliott’s wishes when released after his death.

Despite its shortcomings, An Introduction still proves there’s a lineage leading from Paul Simon through Cat Stevens and ending with Elliott Smith — all folk pop masters capable of the most uplifting of melodies and transformative lyrical abilities. While some find his music uniformly miserablist, I’ve always found it overwhelmingly redemptive.

Elliott Smith remains a unique artist, one of the few with whom it’s capable of feeling a personal relationship with despite never having met — I’m noticing now, for example, that without thinking, I’ve even used his first name throughout this review. Admittedly, I was lucky and managed to watch him play on a rainy evening in Vancouver in the late 1990s. After the show as the crowd filtered out, I noticed Elliott smoking a cigarette in a darkened doorway. Walking over to say hello, I noticed the guy looked a bit sad, so I thought it best to just leave him be with his final few puffs. One can hypothesize endlessly about his inner turmoil, ending in the gruesome act of stabbing himself in the heart — not once, but twice — but much like that night in Vancouver, it’s best to just leave the guy be and let the music speak for itself. The masterpieces in miniature scattered across An Introduction ensure he’ll be remembered always as a musician first, foremost, and forevermore.

From Holiday to Playtime

M. Hulot’s Holiday (dir. Jacques Tati, 1953, France)

Long an enduring cornerstone of international cinema, the on-screen debut of Jacques Tati’s beloved Monsieur Hulot is as much a loving Valentine to the bygone age of silent comedy that preceded it as it is to the Riviera vacations the film gently, lovingly mocks. Tati’s already impeccably steady hand as director (this, just his fourth film credit as such) and star (instantly iconic, with trench coat and smoking pipe) created one of cinema’s most enduring characters and marked the start of one of film comedy’s most beloved and original series. Rarely one to set up laugh-out-loud slapstick set-pieces, M. Hulot’s Holiday also hides beneath its surface a satirical look at the French middle class, perfectly timed and expertly relalized. Over the course of three decades (Tati was never a quick producer, his films separated by years of planning in-between) Hulot’s adventures would take him from Holiday’s coastal bliss to the somewhat more socially critical – and in many ways, shockingly experimental – Playtime (1967) and Trafic (1971). But here already, at the saga’s very beginning, Tati already had his formula perfectly in place. Start to finish, this is how it feels to smile knowingly for 87 minutes.

Playtime (dir. Jacques Tati, 1967, France)

While M. Hulot’s Holiday gently mocked the middle-class summer crowds on France’s Mediterranean beaches, by the time of Playtime (the third full-length Hulot film), writer and director (plus the actor behind Hulot himself) Jacques Tati’s focus had changed to the broader landscape of life in a modern city. While the epic production of Playtime left Tati penniless (and without much choice but to bring back Hulot for his final go before the cameras in the somewhat less pointedly topical Trafic), in retrospect what emerges is a fanatically perfectionist master filmmaker’s grandest statement. In a world of cubicles populated by a working class unmoving on escalators, Playtime makes a case for the widening distances between the citizens of closely shared spaces. Filmed in stunning 65 mm, Playtime is both hilarious and melancholic, equal parts full of life and suffocating. Experienced in the digital age, in which the majority of our relationships are fulfilled via the internet and mobile telephones, Tati’s hypothesis on the growing gaps between people casts an even darker shade on modern city living. Completed following the bittersweet writing of The Illusionist (a script intended to heal the battered relationship between Tati and his daughter, it remained un-filmed until Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated adaptation also showing this year at CIFF), Playtime is a comedic mourn for the simple seaside life displayed so ideally in M. Hulot’s Holiday just 13 years previous. 43 years on, there is still much to learn from Tati’s greatest undertaking.

A SEARCH FOR THE AUTHENTIC IN THE DIGITAL AGE

We live our lives permanently attached to our computers, the Internet our primary source of information and communication. Students of the arts no longer need make the arduous trip to the Louvre to experience the Mona Lisa – they can simply click on a link and download her visage to their desktops. The end of an arts exhibition no longer signals its true finish – the digital variant remains available online for all who care to see it. The history of literature and intellectual thought is at our fingertips, a mere mouse-click away. Should one wish to walk the streets of London, re-tracing the steps of Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, or The Beatles, they can do so via Google Maps’ Street View. The latest Hollywood films are instant piracy fodder, even the earliest premieres and preview screenings captured on digital videotape and uploaded as torrents of 1’s and 0’s. The experience of “Seeing it First” is no longer dictated by place, but instead by bandwidth. The element of “Being There” is no longer a necessity.

But what then of our human need for real experiences, tactile objects, a relationship with the Authentic? By this point, a bootlegged live performance of a band playing in Europe can make its way to a super-fan at his or her home in middle-America before the audience actually present has fallen asleep in their beds after the show. The experience of listening and engaging with that performance on the other side of the world is seen as almost equal in importance to the actual event. Furthermore, what impact does a work of art like the Mona Lisa (or for that matter, the Sistine Chapel) have on those taking it in with their own eyes for the second, tenth, or thousandth time? By familiarizing ourselves with the Authentic before actually experiencing the Authentic first-hand, we dilute that in-person experience? With the proliferation of digital media and digital dissemination, we are further separating ourselves from the actual. While it’s arguable that this separation from artworks and experiences has also impacted the way we view our social lives – if we can relate to the Mona Lisa via a computer screen, we also seem to believe that we can relate to countless others worldwide via virtual friendships and networks, quite often with people whom we never actually meet face-to-face. For some, these virtual approximations of the Authentic are enough. There are those to whom a Second Life is more interesting and fulfilling than a First one, but for many of us, the absolute opposite is true. Throughout the course of this paper, focusing particularly on examples from film and music, I will explore several attempts at achieving an Authentic experience with mediums that, given their inherently replicable nature, are as a rule Inauthentic. In the age of digital film and the .mp3, that connection becomes even more difficult – and in the process, some of the definitions of what constitutes an “original” begin to change.

Any exploration of the wide dissemination of art through means not directly tied to the artist’s fingertips calls upon Walter Benjamin’s influential The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. For Benjamin, the Utopic filmed visions of Nazi superiority (see: Leni Riefenstahl’s Der Sieg des Glaubens / Victory of Faith, 1933, and Triumph des Willens / Triumph of the Will, 1935) were a mis-use of the Aura inherent in film (and therefore a fake Authenticity given film’s very form as a mechanically reproduced medium), and drove him first to writing his most eternally influential of works, and secondly out of fear of anti-Semitic persecution propelled by these mass-produced images, arguably to his suicide. While certainly a supporter of the idea that the power of art now lay in the hands of the wider populace (no longer belonging only to those who could make the lengthy travels to see these works first hand), Benjamin’s deepest fear was the use of these powers of faked Authenticity used for evil. By this point, however, we’ve reached an age of nearly full equality in terms of media accessibility – Benjamin’s hopes that the playing field would even out have come true. Alternate voices and viewpoints proliferate on the Internet. False news and slanted mis-information is instantly attacked by a group of watchful pundits free to comment and self-publish whatever they see fit. Yet, while there are definite positives in this evened playing field, the sanctity of the Authentic is one almost altogether lost. While supporting the ability of mass-reproduced work as a potential force for good throughout the world, Benjamin simultaneously mourned the depletion of the true power of an Authentic work of art – what he termed the Aura – through its reproduction.

“Quantity has been transmuted into quality,” Benjamin claimed, continuing that, “The greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation.” Surrounded by negative images propelled by Riefenstahl and the Nazis, even Benjamin fell prey to the overwhelming power of reproduced works in promoting a flawed ideology as the almighty truth – a series of images so powerful that they not only convinced the German public to willfully enter one of the darkest periods of modern history, but also struck fear in the hearts of the rest of the world in their presentation of this new Germany as an unstoppable force. To avoid death at the hands of the Gestapo, the ill-fated Benjamin overdosed on morphine, his biggest fear the power of reproduction having fallen into the hands of Hitler’s fascist regime and used for ill.

But, of course, we’ve come a long way from 1930s Germany, and our search for the Authentic is far less life-and-death than Benjamin’s was. For the purpose of this essay, I will examine how we as modern audiences relate (and in some ways struggle to do so) with what I find to be the two primary replicable art forms of film and music.

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Film as a medium is one that’s intended to be copied – it can’t exist otherwise. Whether we first experience a film from a celluloid print, videotape, DVD, or digital download, we are watching something removed several generations from what could be considered the film’s “original.” Copies of copies – an origin-less simulacrum of identical moving images – flash before worldwide audiences in identical formation. This very reproducible nature of film in large part prompted Benjamin’s writings, yet also one that makes the search for the Authentic in film a somewhat more interesting process than with other art forms. Visual art, more often than not, has an original on display that can be experienced first-hand. Living musicians can be observed in person. Interacting with an Authentic in film, however, is a somewhat more tenuous idea – perhaps it is this difficult nature of the relationship that sends certain film lovers on life-long quests to get as close to an Authentic as possible.

In his landmark work What is Cinema?, André Bazin writes on the power of photography vs. the other arts (in this case, specifically painting), “A very faithful drawing may actually tell us more about the model but despite the promptings of our critical intelligence it will never have the irrational power of the photograph to bear away our faith” (Bazin, 162). Echoing Benjamin’s sentiments on the power of a falsely created Authentic, Bazin acknowledges that we as viewers readily believe what we see on film as true given the innately factual foundation of photography.

Furthermore, Bazin comments on the effect of mass-produced images in full embrace of Benjamin’s ideals in proclaiming:
“This production by automatic means has radically affected our psychology of the image. The objective nature of photography confers on it a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making. In spite of any objections our critical spirit may offer, we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced, actually re-presented, set before us, that is to say, in time and space. Photography enjoys a certain advantage in virtue of this transference of reality from the thing to its reproduction” (Bazin, 162).

Where Benjamin occasionally writes from a somewhat more frantic viewpoint (and considering the backdrop within which he was writing, who could blame him), Bazin’s reconsiderations of his thoughts are laid out in an ordered, somewhat calmer manner, and during a later moment in the development of film. Despite the differences in tone, however, both Bazin and Benjamin are saying the same thing – and in the process making a strong case for the supposed truth that audiences seek in the darkened halls of the cinema.

On Dubbing, the Argentinian film critic Jorge Luis Borges’ concise damnation of the act of dubbing films into alternate languages suggests that it is not only via the image that the audience can be duped, but also its sound. Written in the 1930s during the early era of film sound, Borges focuses on the possibilities of film fakery through alterations in elements other than the image itself. “The central fault,” he says, “[is] the arbitrary grafting of another voice and another language. The voice of Hepburn or Garbo is not accidental; it is, for the whole world, one of their defining attributes. Similarly, it is worth remembering that miming is different in English and Spanish” (Borges, 216). Snobbish (although they would consider themselves instead to be “true” rather than “snobbish”) film aficionados refuse dubbed films, the belief that a cinematic work should be viewed (and more importantly heard) only in its birth language – a more Authentic experience. (Could it be that we also associate the Authentic experience with one that is somehow more difficult, as though struggling through an encounter with as work of art makes our interaction with it somehow more worthy?) Furthermore, Borges insists, “I would never resign myself to seeing Alexander Nevsky again in any language other than the original, and I would see it eagerly, for the ninth or tenth time, if they showed it in the original version or one that I believed to be the original” (ibid, 217, italics mine).

It is here where we come to an important distinction in the present age of art consumption – the self-defined and proclaimed Original. While we as viewers have very little opportunity to view an actual work print touched by the hand of the auteur responsible (arguably the closest we can ever come to a true Original film work), we do make our own definitions of what comprises an Authentic or Original film viewing (again calling on the suggestion that it is the more difficult experience that somehow counts for more – the added activity of reading subtitles a more genuine viewing than one dubbed easily into English). Or, as Borges continues, “This last point is important: worse than dubbing, worse than the substitution that dubbing implies, is the wide-spread awareness of a substitution, of a deception” (ibid, 217).

Our search for the Authentic in film comes in both the content of the film and how it is presented to us as an audience, as well as in the actual physical version of the film with which we interact. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece La passion de Jeanne d’Arc / The Passion of Joan of Arc in many ways marks a note of transition in film towards a realist strain of filmmaking. Staggering in its simplicity and realist touches, the film has long been lauded as a foundation stone of cinema. Set out in his short introduction piece Realized Mysticism in The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer somewhat contradictorily claims, “I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life. […] In order to give the truth, I dispensed with ‘beautification.’ My actors were not allowed to touch makeup and powder puffs” (Dreyer). Even while heralded as a realist work, Dreyer’s Joan is one not composed to strict guidelines of historical accuracy, yet given the style in which it’s made and the brutality of much of its scenes, we as an audience are given an artifact that, despite its liberties with the truth, feels like the truth enough to convince us of it.

Including La passion de Jeanne d’Arc within the context of searching for the Authentic in film, however, goes deeper than simply its on-screen content. Following a series of tragic events in post-production, a history “almost as tortured an existence as Joan herself, being twice lost to fire” (Chandler), Dryer’s version of the film was believed lost for decades. Upon its discovery in the cleaning closet of a Danish insane asylum in the 1980s, however, the response of the film community was akin to the discovery of the Holy Grail – the ultimate Authentic film experience. Acting as a beacon of possibility, the Jeanne d’Arc discovery has also acted as a push behind the search for several other “lost” Originals, for what could make for a more Authentic viewing experience than that of a long-lost initial print?

The most famous film search surrounds Orson Welles’ 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons, the original cut of which has been missing since initial preview screenings to bored audiences proved unsuccessful and a panicked RKO Pictures took the film out of Welles’ hands and re-edited an over two-hour epic into a messy 88-minutes. Quoted in David Kamp’s lengthy 2002 Magnificent Obsession piece for Vanity Fair, chronicling the Ambersons legacy from the film’s troubled 1940s production to today’s on-going search for a completed master copy, film director and Ambersons-hunter William Friedkin says, “If somebody had a sense of what was at stake, they might have secreted away a copy. Like Theo van Gogh’s wife kept all of Vincent’s paintings and got dealers to store them in warehouses when no one, no one, wanted to buy a van Gogh. You hope that there’s a Mrs. Van Gogh out there” (Kamp).

Given Welles’ first appearance in the international spotlight followed his successful radio ruse War of the Worlds (in which his Mercury Theatre company faked an alien landing that sent large numbers of middle Americans into panic mode; his surviving masterpiece Citizen Kane opens with the similarly faked Authentic of a falsified newsreel), it makes for almost poetic justice that the most active of searches for the ultimate Authentic in the medium of film is for one of his projects. So obsessive is the search for the Authentic Ambersons that several filmmakers have dedicated pieces of their career to its discovery – and in some cases, even it’s re-construction. While Martin Scorsese was the first to come closest to fulfilling a directorial fantasy pet project with a proposed shot-by-shot re-make filmed from Welles’ original script pages and notes in the 1970s (see: Kamp), it was Alfonso Arau who helmed the A&E network’s miniseries-length remake in 2002. Filmed in Ireland and intended to “bring long overdue restitution,” (Curran), the televised Magnificent Ambersons, however, failed to live up to expectations, and even prompted some reviewers to reconsider the original’s reputation as a masterpiece. “Sitting through the television movie, it’s difficult not to wonder whether Welles’s original script was wildly overrated,” writes Montreal critic Peggy Curran in her aptly titled piece Unfulfilled Promise: Remake of Welles’s Legendary Magnificent Ambersons Rights No Wrongs, wondering if it all, “would have been better off left to the perfect peace of what might have been.”

In the case of The Magnificent Ambersons’ re-creation at the hands of another director, an attempt to get as close to the Authentic as possible undeniably failed for many viewers. (Previously to the Ambersons’ re-make, director Gus Van Sant also undertook a shot-by-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, ostensibly in part to re-create the complicated camera moves that Hitchcok wasn’t able to achieve with the 1950s television equipment he used in making the original. The critical and audience reaction to Van Sant’s remake was uniformly negative, insisting that any attempts to re-create a beloved original – one of our most cherished Authentic works of film art – are viewed with both suspicion and derision).

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Any discussion of repetitious images, an artistic dilution of the Authentic, and film would be incomplete without at least a cursory mention of the master of all three, Andy Warhol. In the mid-1960s, after bursting onto the art scene with a series of Pop Art masterworks ranging from paintings of Campbell Soup Cans to wooden boxes silkscreened as Brillo boxes, Warhol announced his movement from gallery pieces to film. Throughout the rest of the decade, Warhol filmed hundreds of hours’ worth of material, most infamously the two-screen epic Chelsea Girls and Empire, an eight-hour un-moving shot of the Empire State Building.

Warhol arguably built his name on artificial dis-connected visage, or, as Stephen Koch proclaims him, as the Tycoon of Passivity. Stargazer, Koch’s book-length exploration of Warhol’s films, includes a description of Warhol as the ultimate successful culmination of the ideas of Baudelaire, whose original writings also held sway over the later writings of Benjamin. “Transforming himself into the object celebrity, Warhol has made a commitment to the Baudelairean ‘resolution not to be moved’ – an effort to ensconce himself in the aesthetic realm’s transparent placenta, removed from the violence and the emotions of the world’s time and space.” Much like with his paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and Brillo boxes, Warhol elevated the mundane into the realm of art – and in the process created a new angle from which to view and interact with an Authentic. (When we go to see a Warhol artwork, for example, there remains the very real possibility that the Authentic work we’re viewing is one which Warhol himself may not have even touched, instead merely overseeing the reproduction process in his New York City studio space, fittingly referred to as “The Factory.”)

When it comes to Warhol’s films, the cumulative effect of focusing a lens on the Empire State Building for over eight hours, or turning his camera on the motley crew of hangers-on and the “Superstars” of the Factory (Warhol’s attempt at an old Hollywood studios style star system) and simply letting them converse, is one that moves beyond mere documentary. Much like the Brillo boxes and Campbell’s Soup cans, the end result is an elevation of the banal to art – in part interesting because of Warhol’s involvement, as though he is the definite Authentic, despite even his own self-proclaimed plastic exterior. It is as though what we see through Warhol’s camera lens is somehow realer than real, and at times almost uncomfortably so.

Two particular moments from Warhol’s oeuvre serve as proof of this status of a filmic work of art becoming uncomfortably real – as if they are almost too Authentic to handle, thus maintaining the placement of these films as truly Authentic experiences. During one of the “Confession” sequences of Chelsea Girls, in which the Factory mainstay Ondine (or Pope Ondine) shoots up methadrine and hears the confession of a string of Warhol’s starlets, Ondine loses his temper upon his confessor’s suggestion that she “can’t confess to you because you’re such a phony. I’m not trying to be anyone” (Koch, 95). Losing his temper, Ondine thrashes the poor girl until she runs crying from the set. In these moments, Ondine breaks through the veil of film and unleashes a truly terrifying temper tantrum – despite his confinement to the screen, one almost expects him to jump out of the frame and slap us around too. As Koch comments on the scene:
“The moment of truth begins to function at precisely the moment the cowering girl’s face comes to the realization that this is not, after all, just a movie; at the moment when, understandably enough, the presence of the camera ceases to have any importance to her and she re-asserts herself, eyes closed: ‘Stop it. Stop it. Don’t touch me.’ Poor child, she was ill-equipped for her job. Trying to be ironic, trying to be authentic, she could do neither, and she found herself in big trouble instead. For that particular game, she had sat down at a table with pros” (Koch, 96).

Through daring to suggest that what was unfolding in front of the camera was not Authentic, this nameless star-hopeful was soundly thrashed for daring to suggest anything otherwise. Unsurprisingly, she was never seen again, and in Koch’s book is never even named.

Another infamous chapter from Warhol’s filmography is the 1964 35-minute short film Blow-Job, an un-moving close-up of a Manhattan hustler receiving the titular gift out-of-frame. Koch suggests “the appreciation of how a reality alternate to the thing seen is constructing itself and falling away in the mind as we pass through the charade of observing, of witnessing. The work may be cryptic, introverted, unresponsive, absurd. It does not matter: Its whole life resides in the displaced responses it provokes” (Koch, 49). Again, Warhol is hitting at things realer than real – without showing us what we’ve all tuned in to see, we as viewers are forced to create our own Authentic vision of the event. With Blow-Job, Warhol has skirted around full display of the Authentic, and created a version far more powerful.

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In the words of André Bazin, “Although the final result may reflect something of his personality, this does not play the same role as is played by that of the painter. All the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage of his absence. Photography affects us like a phenomenon in nature, like a flower or a snowflake whose vegetable or earthly origins are an inseparable part of their beauty” (Bazin, 162). The notion of watching an original print of a work of film art is enough to convince us that we’re experiencing something of the utmost Authenticity – regardless of whether or not its construction has from start to finish been due solely to the activity of machines.

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Bob Dylan’s May 17th, 1966 show in Manchester, UK’s Free Trade Hall is arguably the most famous live concert recording in history. While the performance itself is blistering, notable as a high-point of one of Dylan’s most documented tours – the controversial period when “Dylan went electric,” often touted as no less than the breaking-through point of a new era of popular music – the definitive moment comes not during one of the set’s songs but instead from an audience member’s perfectly timed heckling. With his single shout of, “Judas,” 20-year-old Keith Butler entered into rock & roll history – a moment endlessly written about, and even considered by some as, “the watershed moment in Dylan’s career” (Nelson). Dylan’s response was two-fold: first, into the mic, a proclamation of “I don’t believe you – you’re a liar,” and then, off-mic to his backing players The Hawks (soon to become The Band), “play it fucking loud,” breaking into what still stands as the definitive performance of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.

But what Butler’s intent wasn’t simply to annoy – “Can you imagine what it’s like as a 20-year-old kid? You were just crushed. I was totally embarrassed when he shouted back,” he recalled in 1998 (Nelson). Like many in the audience, he felt alienated by Dylan’s new direction – a move away from the pure folk music that made him famous. “We were just really disappointed. […] That wasn’t the Bob Dylan we’d been used to listening to” (ibid). The night at the Manchester Free Trade Hall was one following several instances in which the previously-worshiped Dylan was met with boos, and came a year after a near-mythical appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival during which it’s long been rumoured (albeit unproven) that folk traditionalist Pete Seeger attempted to cut the power cables with an axe. What those early “Dylan’s gone electric” audiences were searching for was the previous connection they experienced with simply a man and his guitar. The additional layers of instrumentation (and from many reports, bad sound that drowned out the lyrics) created the sensation of separation from what was previously considered an Authentic art form, and an Authentic artist-audience relationship.

When it comes to our relationships with the Authentic in terms of popular music, our sole method of true connection is via live performance. The tales of Dylan’s tumultuous transition from folk artist into electric rocker has provided fodder for countless books and in many ways forms one of the primary backbones of rock & roll. While Dylan’s audiences recoiled from the noise in 1965 and 1966, other audiences embraced an altogether different experience at a series of shows presented by Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, named the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Featuring the first major rock light show (composed of strobes, large mirror balls, spotlights, and superimposed projections of Warhol’s films), along with the earsplitting volumes of the Velvets, the end result was equal parts confusing, angering, and hypnotic. Quoted in Richie Unterberger’s White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-by-Day, Chicagoan Susan Pile recalls the overwhelming effect of the show as, “Utterly cool. The experience of dancing with all of the strobe lights, the other colored lights, the film in a very small space was just transcendent. We just couldn’t stop coming back for more. We were addicted; I think we went every night” (Unterberger, 103).

Between Dylan’s transitional struggles and the Velvets’ explorations with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the earliest forms of the modern rock concert take shape. While both groups experienced confrontational audiences (the Velvets just as often cleared rooms as filled them), these moments of change in how rock music is presented remain influential and still copied. In many ways ahead of their time (the sound systems available at this point in the 1960s were largely incapable of handling such volumes – something also experienced by the Beatles, drowned out by screams at their own concerts), these formative examples formed the basis of what we understand as the Authentic in popular music. Only when we’re in the same room, blinded by the lights, the artists on-stage in front of us, are we experiencing the Authentic musician (lip-synched pop starlets be damned). While these earliest reports suggest mass confusion – and in many cases, a lack of enjoyment due to over-stimulation – our present experience with live music performance is one formed by decades of what can be considered training and conditioning. The earliest film audiences in Paris were noted to scream or even faint at the sight of the Lumiere Brothers’ approaching train on the screen, and similarly the rock concert was also an innovation requiring some adaptation on the audience’s part.

It’s fitting then that bootlegged live recordings would take such a prominent place in music collections – albeit one that has changed drastically in just the last decade. In an article published on the Canadian Recording Industry Association’s website, the seizure of hundreds of live bootlegs by the RCMP in 2004 is described as a success for the working Canadian musician. Quoted in the article, Jann Arden goes so far as to claim, “Touring is an incredibly important part of my career as a singer/songwriter – it’s my job and how I connect with people […] I’ve spent years creating my show and relationships with the fans […] The illegal recording and distribution of live concerts is theft on many levels. Something special was taken from me and my audience” {Allman). Oddly left out of Arden’s thinking circa 2004, however, is the reasonable consideration that the only people interested in these products would be her most ardent supporters. There’s an element of “true fandom” that is measured in how far one goes beyond what is officially commercially available by an artist – besides the status of relationship with an artist this sort of elevated collection promotes, the rabid appetite for live bootlegs furthers the suggestion that our primary Authentic relationship with a recording artist is through a live performance. While a bootlegged CD, however, is but a digital copy of a past event, we can relate to the other audience members present and engage with the event vicariously in a way that presents to us a version of the Authentic that, in some cases (given how many “live” albums are added to, edited, or re-mixed in the studio before release), might even be better than the real thing. Much like Bazin’s comparisons between painting and photography, we invest a deeper belief in these recordings because they are presented to us as a live document, whether or not what we hear is falsely adjusted.

While the 2004 attitude towards bootlegged live recordings was one of fearful disdain, many artists have since come to realize the importance in forming a stronger bond with their fanbase by allowing, and often promoting, the taping and digital dissemination of their live performances. The Smashing Pumpkins’ profile page at the massive Archive.org website (featuring thousands upon thousands of live recordings) features an official sanction from the band. Dated June 2007, the Pumpkins’ Taping Policy reads, “Everyone is welcome to tape at our shows in whatever capacity they see fit […] Anyone is welcome and invited to document using audio, video, or picture cameras (cell phones are welcome)” (Archive.org). Furthermore, “All Smashing Pumpkins live recordings are allowed to be uploaded to archive.org regardless of when the date of performance is (i.e. ALL shows are OK, not just the new 2007 performances)” (ibid). What was earlier considered a threat by the working musician is now considered a powerful promotional tool. Through the opening up of these policies, those of us searching for a real connection with the art we consume and listen to are presented with what appears to present a direct link to the Authentic. One can argue about the alienating effect of horrible sound quality and .mp3 degradation, yet the primary response to a bootleg recording when consumed by a fan is one of deeper connection to the artist themselves – ironically, the worse the sound quality, the closer we feel to the bands responsible. Part fan-friendly document, and part rite of passage (only a true fan would struggle through the murk that is an early live recording of the Velvets, for example), I believe our mass embrace of live recordings to act as proof of our search for a connection with an Authentic above and beyond the polished studio sheen of an album. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s just like it. Sometimes, in our search for the Authentic, that’s enough.

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Delmore Schwartz’s 1937 short story In Dreams Begin Responsibilities imagines a situation in which Schwartz’s 1909 narrator watches a film of his parents’ courtship. In a darkened theatre, he watches as his father arrives at his mother’s house, meets her parents, and takes her out to Coney Island. Mid-way, Schwartz declares, “I watch […] with thirsty interest, like a child who wants to maintain his sulk although offered the bribe of candy” (Schwartz, 391). We absorb art similarly, our “sulk” that of looking for an Authentic connection and relationship with the works in front of us, yet forever masked by the candy dangled in front of our eyes. By the end of the imagined film, Schwartz’s narrator is shouting so loudly at the screen – so convinced of its Authenticity – that he is escorted from the theatre. Much like our own experiences – our truest, deepest, and most life-altering experiences with mechanically re-produced works of film and music for which there is no real true Original within our grasp – what remains of utmost importance is that believed relationship between ourselves and the artwork in question (and we hear echoes here of Borges’ preference for original language films above all other versions).

Through attempting to connect with duplicated music and inherently-reproduced film, I can only conclude that it’s our definitions of what counts as an Authentic through which we can form these bonds. It’s a world away from Benjamin, no doubt, yet one – despite its simplicity – that already makes this overloaded content-driven world seem so much easier to approach.

W O R K S C I T E D & R E F E R E N C E D

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Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Marxists Internet Archive. Ed. Andy Blunden. N.p., Feb. 2005. Web. 5 Feb. 2010. .

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Nelson, Chris. “Fan Who Called Dylan ‘Judas’ Breaks 33 Years Of Silence.” SonicYouth.com / Lee Ranaldo’s Dotsonics Site. Ed. Lee Ranaldo. N.p., 1998. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. .

Quinto, Frank. Archive.org. N.p., 23 June 2007. Web. 1 Mar. 2010. .

Schwartz, Delmore. “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” Movies. Ed. Gilbert Adair. London: Penguin, 1999. 386-93. Print.

Unterberger, Richie. White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-by-Day. London: Jawbone Press, 2009.

Ward, Ossian. “Banksy Interview.” Time Out London. N.p., 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. .