- Double Homicide
- Early Mendo Entrepreneur
- Alley Bricks
- Calfire Aircraft
- Ecstasy & Timelessness
- La Donna e Mobile
- Greek Pudding
- Signs of El Niño
- Catch of the Day
- Winehouse & Cobain Documentaries
DOUBLE HOMICIDE IN LAYTONVILLE
A frenzied midnight knife attack two miles northwest of Laytonville has left a 17-year-old boy and a 52-year-old man dead. Two other persons at the Meadow Lane home of a prominent Laytonville family were also stabbed but are expected to survive.
19-year-old Talen Clark Barton, 145 pounds and six feet tall, is the presumed assailant. He made no effort to flee the residence and did not attack either of two teenage girls in the home. Barton is believed to have been enrolled as a student at Humboldt State University and had attended the Willits Charter School.
The two injured persons surviving Barton's attacks were a second 52-year-old-man and a 54-year-old woman. They had apparently tried to stop the mayhem when Barton turned on them. A deputy, as yet unnamed, was able to stanch the neck wounds to the 54-year-old woman until emergency responders arrived, said Sheriff Tom Allman in a 4pm Sunday press conference at his Ukiah headquarters. All four victims were repeatedly stabbed by Barton wielding what the Sheriff described as "twelve-inch kitchen knife."
Barton was booked into the Mendocino County Jail early Sunday morning on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Sheriff Tom Allman said the alleged killer himself made the first and only 911 call at about 12:45am at the request of a teenage girl in the home. The Sheriff said that after the attack that killed two people and left two others near death, Barton changed his "blood-soaked" clothes and smoked marijuana while he waited for deputies to arrive as the 911 dispatcher kept him on the line. Barton told deputies that he is a heavy marijuana smoker.
First reports, unconfirmed, say that Barton was placed in the home by an outside foster agency. The Sheriff said that North County deputies had a previous "contact" with Barton as a juvenile in January of 2013, adding that another youth had said that Barton had talked about "killing someone."
Les Crane, a well-known marijuana advocate, was murdered in a bloody home invasion robbery northeast of Laytonville in November of 2005.
A LITTLE HISTORY FROM THE KELLEY HOUSE MUSEUM IN MENDOCINO
On Sunday, July 19 in 1852 the brig Ontario arrived at Big River. It carried the men and equipment for building the first sawmill in Mendocino. Passengers included David Lansing, William Kelly, J. E. Carlson, and E. C. Williams. Jerome Ford must have been glad to see the ship; he had been waiting for nearly a month.
One of the men on board was John Edward ”Charlie” Carlson, a native of Sweden. He helped build the sawmill and worked there until 1857, when he built a hotel.
Carlson owned and operated the City Hotel, also known as the Carlson Hotel. The hotel was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the building in 1870. In its later years, the hotel was rented as apartments and rooms. It was demolished in 1923. The photographs show images of Carlson and his hotel.
ALLEY PAVING PROJECT IN FORT BRAGG
Between Oak St. and Harrison Street
(Photo by Susie de Castro)
FIRE PROTECTION, NOT POT PATROL
There has been an increase in wildfires in Humboldt-Del Norte Unit. CAL FIRE uses aircraft as a critical element of our initial attack efforts. Our key to safety in the aviation program is use of an Air Tactical plane. The Air Tactical serves the air resource coordinator, keeping the aircraft working the fire in sync. Additional help form the Air Tactcal goes to support the firefighters on the ground as an observer, as well as reconnaissance for early detection of fires when they are small. Our area has long response times for ground resources so aircraft is imperative for the fire fight.
CalFire does not use the Air Tactical plane to participate in marijuana eradication. The Air Tactical Plane is used as a firefighting resource to spot fires, route incoming resources and organize the incoming aircraft. This includes coordinating water drops from helicopters as well as air tanker retardant drops, safely and effectively. The increase of wildfires in the Pecwan, Johnson and Weitchpec areas is directly related to the increase of arson in those areas. CAL FIRE continues to investigate each fire and therefore its cause. Other incidents have been directly related to large marijuana grows, started by incorrect wiring of generators or other non-permitted construction. The CAL FIRE Air Tactical plane does respond to all wildfires but DOES NOT aid in marijuana eradication.
CAL FIRE urges the public to take extra precautions while recreating this summer especially since we are in the fourth year of a drought and the fuel moistures are lower than normal. Visit us at www.ReadyforWildfire.org to be ready for a wildfire and follow us on twitter @CAL FIRE_HUU and get local updates on our webpage www.calfirehuu.org.
(CalFire press release)
“I CONFESS I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness ― in a landscape selected at random ― is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern ― to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.” —Vladimir Nabokov
LA DONNA E MOBILE
Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind,
She changes her voice and her mind.
Always a lovely, pretty face,
In tears or in laughter, she is always lying.
Always miserable is he who trusts her,
He who confides in her his unwary heart!
Yet one never feels fully happy
Who on that bosom — does not drink love!
Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind,
She changes her words and her thoughts.
— Verdi (Rigoletto)
by James Kunstler
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, the old saw goes. This one, alas, is a mélange of several old shit sandwiches bound in a liaison of subterfuge and seasoned with political absurdities. Having been fooled in this bistro before, citizen-patrons leave the table resigned to yet another bout of food poisoning as the music of universal upchuck rings across the European Union from Helsinki to Lisbon
What is on display more brightly and clearly than ever, though, is the utter fakery of international banking. The players have lost faith in their own shenanigans. They simply go through the motions now awaiting the political fallout, which is to say the revolt of the people who can still do arithmetic. So, now Greece can supposedly expect another $90 Billion - equivalent in new loans on top of the $350 Billion - equivalent already racked up. That’s rich. The loan repayment schedule must look like a map of Middle Earth.
Most perplexing — especially for those on summer hiatus in which time seems to be suspended — is the fact that the rescue package will take weeks, perhaps months, to gin up while Greece is right now so utterly paralyzed in bankruptcy that no goods can move, no bills can be paid, and the economy cannot deliver the necessities of daily life. The old refrain, “your check is in the mail” may not be so reassuring to folks who haven’t eaten for three days. Personally, I would expect the gasoline bombs to be flying around Syntagma Square before the end of the month.
Has anyone noticed the eerie paucity of news emanating from the other hard-luck nations of the EU, namely Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland? The money hole that these deadbeats are in makes Greece look like a dimple in the sand. What, I wonder, is the message to them from the Greek negotiation melodrama? (Lend more money to real estate developers to build more houses and condos that will never be sold? That’ll work!) No, the entire EU debt fiasco harks back to the original meaning of “ring around the rosie” — a theme song of the Black Death. The eventual implosion of the European Union, and the banking system hugging its face vampire squid style, will be the financial equivalent of the Black Death. Kingdoms will fall and social systems will be turned upside down.
The agonizing wait for that outcome is obviously fraying the nerves of all concerned to the degree that all their exertions seem like little more than tragic and pointless exercises in futility — for instance, the terms arrived at in last weekend’s negotiations. Nobody has a shred of faith that they can or will be carried out. In effect, what they’ve done is put together a Potemkin framework allowing them to go just give up for a month or so and go on vacation.
That would, of course, set things up for a mighty financial convulsion in the autumn — history’s favorite season for ruin — when all the ministers and their factotums venture back to the dismal realities they left fermenting at the office. Of all the many things apt to happen, we can count at least on the current Greek government falling and a failure of Greece to make any gesture of repayment in their just-negotiated loan schedule. That would leave the “Troika” (the EU, the ECB, and the IMF) with zero credibility and initiate the epochal widespread repudiation of the entire EU loan structure — in short, the collapse of Europe.
That wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but it would be the end of nearly seventy-year period of peace, prosperity, and stability. The sorting-out would be epic. The standard of living across Europe would sink to the level of the 1830s. The fundamentals of banking and currency would have to be rebuilt from ashes. More nations will break up into smaller units. Western intellectual life would suffer immense shock as all the certainties of the Enlightenment project seemed to go up in a vapor of insolvency and political upheaval. You have to even wonder whether Europe could defend itself against an onrushing Jihad.
But these are admittedly gloomy thoughts for a morning so early in summer. Myself, I’m going to shop for an outfit to wear to Diddy’s annual party in the Hamptons. Coonskin caps may be oddly coming back in style as people all over America try to emulate Donald Trump and the furry creature that lives on the top of his head. Something tells me that the ladies will not be buying many Hillary-style pantsuits. Wouldn’t it be cunning if Diddy’s caterer came up with something like miniature Greek Pudding bites? That would bring a real frisson to the doings, something to chat about besides the marketing genius of Kim Kardashian.
WORD FROM THE WILD: EL NIÑO’S COMING
by Tom Stienstra
The parade of exotic southern-based critters — spiked by three full breaches by great white sharks off Seacliff State Beach — continued last week along the Pacific Coast.
Based on wildlife, not the forecast, there’s strength in the premise that an El Niño is gaining muscle this summer.
In recent years, early El Niños were waylaid in midsummer by changes in Pacific sea currents. Tracking the migration of exotic southern species to northern waters along the Pacific Coast could be a better way to forecast long-term weather patterns. Who could know better than the animals?
The big El Niño of 1982-83 was forecast by the arrival of bonito in San Francisco Bay, a sailfish at the Farallon Islands and barracuda in Monterey Bay. California then received flooding rains and huge snowpacks.
By contrast, in the years when there were only a few wildlife anomalies in summer, the El Niños that were forecast didn’t take hold and there were no massive shifts in the weather that followed.
Many factors, not merely a developing El Niño, influence wildlife migrations, of course. Yet a series of verified anomalies over a wide area adds up to something very weird:
Jumping sharks: At midweek, Eric Mailander reported seeing three great whites breach next to the cement ship at Seacliff Beach in Aptos. That’s right, three jumping great whites. A solo event is rare enough, but three? Fourteen juvenile great white sharks — apparently with one additional large adult — repeatedly were seen near the pier at the state beach in Monterey Bay, the northernmost great white rookery ever recorded, according to several accounts.
Basking sharks: Fifty basking sharks, a near-extinct species, were reported Friday offshore in Big Sur, according to marine biologist Giancarlo Thomae. We’ve never heard of something like this in NorCal waters.
Marin needlefish: On a salmon trip last week near buoys 5 and 7 off the Bay Area coast, salmon were gorging on needlefish, a fish common in subtropics yet unheard of in local waters, reported Dick Warner. “We also saw 50, 60 whales,” he said, “with krill boiling in a 15-foot diameter on the surface.”
Flying fish: Flying fish, common in Mexican waters and occasionally seen near the Channel Islands off Oxnard, were sighted in Monterey Bay, the first sighting verified by marine biologists in more than 20 years, reported Thomae.
Dana Point whales: In Southern California, Bryde’s whales, a subtropical species, were sighted last week off Dana Point. Thomae said that scientists estimate there are only 12 Bryde’s whales in all of California, Oregon and Washington.
SoCal crabs: In a widely reported event, tiny tuna crabs from Mexico, which look like tiny lobsters, have washed up by the thousands on Southern California beaches, including in San Diego Bay and Orange County. At some beaches, it looked as if the sand had been coated red. At others, the crabs formed a red band along the high-tide line.
Bay blobs: Stephanie Manning was the first to report the giant purple blobs that have washed up during low tides on the Berkeley flats (opposite the exit for Ashby). The sea slugs are from Baja and called sea hares, verified Mary Jane Schramm of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, who said they die and wash up after mass mating events.
Catalina blue marlin: A 462-pound blue marlin was caught just south of Catalina Island off Los Angeles, 1,000 miles north of its typical range, reported Anthony Hsieh of the boat Bad Company.
Black skimmers: Tern-like seabirds marked by a bright red band at the base of a long black beak, black skimmers breed in the subtropical Pacific and are occasionally seen off San Diego. Thomae, a captain with Elkhorn Slough Safari, verified seeing them last week out of Moss Landing.
White pelicans: White pelicans, which can range to a 9-foot wingspan and weigh 25 pounds, are rare on the Pacific Coast, but up to 300 per trip have been seen in Elkhorn Slough. The first arrivals started three years ago, and since May, they have arrived and provided amazing shows.
Other weird stuff: El Niño might not be the cause, but nobody can explain why salmon suddenly staged along the inshore Marin coast this month, as if it were September and they were preparing for their spawning run through the bay, delta and up the Sacramento River. Likewise the influx of krill, anchovies and mackerel off Southeast Farallon Island that led to the sightings of 93 humpback whales, 20 blue whales and one fin whale in a single hour, the highest ever verified, by a land-based researcher at the island.
Last year’s exotics: The arrival of southern exotics started last year, when researchers with the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation out of Santa Cruz verified both triggerfish and needlefish in Monterey Bay. Out of Eureka, albacore arrived in early summer instead of their traditional date in fall, and in Oregon, fishing for albacore in fall had some of the best-ever catches.
Bump in the night
Joining the club: Matt Kerby was driving into Yosemite Valley and at 2:30 a.m., sighted (and photographed) a mountain lion near Sentinel Bridge. “We saw eye reflection. An adult mountain lion stood up and calmly walked back into the forest.”
Food nabbers: In the Yosemite wilderness, Caitlin Lee-Roney reported that several hikers had their packs destroyed after failing to store their food in the required bear-proof canisters, and in other episodes in the middle of the night, bears stole unattended canisters.
Half Dome thump: A massive slab of granite, 100 feet by 200 feet, fell off Half Dome in the middle of the night (somehow, nobody heard it) early this month. It will make a climbing route up the face, one of the top 50 climbs in North America, more difficult than ever, according to Yosemite officials.
Can’t make up this stuff
Magnet power: On TV this year, an expert explained what causes low tides: “The tides of the ocean are the result of the interaction of the magnetic fields of the Earth and the moon.” Thanks to Greg Han for that gem.
(Courtesy, the San Francisco Chronicle)
CATCH OF THE DAY, July 19, 2015
DANIL BAGMET, Spokane Valley, Washington/Boonville. DUI.
TALEN BARTON, Laytonville. Murder (two counts), attempted murder (two counts), false imprisonment.
JOHN BOLTON IV, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
MANUEL BRAGA, Calpella. Pot possession for sale, sale, transport, furnish, possession of smoking/injecting device, suspended license.
DARRELL CREAMER JR., Possession of controlled substance and paraphernalia, vandalism, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
TRACY DODSON, Paradise/Fort Bragg. Petty theft.
RYAN EDINGTON, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
RICHARD HILL, Ukiah. Under influence of controlled substance.
BENJAMIN HUFF, Laytonville. Drunk in public.
MARY SCHAEFER, Ukiah. Child abuse/endangerment.
BRANDON STONE, Willits. Suspended license, community supervision violation.
JORGE TAFOYA, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
DANILO ZACAPA-DIAZ, Philo. Pot possession for sale, armed with firearm, ex-felon with firearm.
TWO MUSIC DOCUMENTARIES
Amy Winehouse & Kurt Cobain
by Kim Nicolini
I watched two music documentaries back-to-back this past weekend, and found myself rather exhausted from the experience. Perhaps that’s because by watching these, I went on a four-hour tour through Dead Rock Star Porn. Playing the role of tourist by watching the despair and tragedy of others’ lives can be a taxing experience.
The first film was Amy (2014), the much anticipated documentary about Amy Winehouse. The second was Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) – the Kurt Cobain documentary compiled largely from his personal archives (videos, artwork, notebooks).
Neither of these films is great, but it’s interesting to compare them both. The first film Amy has received critical acclaim for being deeply moving and “heart breaking” (as the trailer touts). The documentary claims to be a portrait of the girl behind the name. In reality, it is anything but that. Like the Cobain documentary, Amy is a montage, but what it collects is endless video footage documenting the tragic side of Amy that was so exploited in the tabloid press. We get very little sense of any person other than another dead celebrity and the train wreck of her celebrity life.
A few small glimpses of Amy Winehouse lurk underneath the construction of Amy Winehouse, but mostly the film is an exploitive compilation of video clips of Amy, some filmed with her permission, but most without. Combined, these clips create a kind of filthy Dead Celebrity Porn made by the record company to garner a few extra dollars off Amy’s dead body. Montage of Heck also combines archival material of Kurt Cobain, but this film was made by his family, with his daughter playing a critical role. While the film itself is far from a masterpiece in documentary filmmaking (and at times feels like an infomercial on Kurt Cobain), there is an emotional tension knowing that the movie was made with the endorsement of his daughter.
Kurt is allowed a place to be a “real person” in the film. He owns his addictions, his emotional problems, and his complexities as a person on his terms, not through images from the paparazzi intruding on his life, but rather from the archives of materials he left behind. We see him through footage from home movies and live performances, and interviews with a handful of people (mother, ex-girlfriend, band members, wife) who were close to him in his personal life, not through industry talking heads.
Amy, on the other hand, remains an object presented largely through the lenses that turned her into an object for consumption. The vast majority of footage presented in the film was captured without her permission or with the sole purpose of exposing her addiction and train wreck life for the entertainment of the masses. Nothing the general population likes more than to watch a public figure fail. It makes them feel better about themselves. Sure, Amy is presented as an object for public empathy, but that empathy is ultimately self-serving. It is not about empathizing with a real person’s pain and struggles, but rather making the audience feel good about itself for feeling bad about this bulimic pop star addict who died of a heart attack at age 27.
What both these dead celebrities shared in common is that they always had cameras focused on them, constantly turning their life into a “show.” Whether in Amy and Kurt’s personal life or public life, the cameras always seemed to be rolling, turning their subjects into objects and underscoring that one of the major tragedies of the celebrity life is the lack of privacy. There is no cover for the pop star who always has to be ON. While Amy often finds the cameras intrusive on her privacy and her personhood, Kurt talks directly to the camera, accepting it as part of his life and playing into it, even when he pines for a “normal life” (one without being a public figure constantly under scrutiny by the lens) which he will never have.
It is rather ironic that when I searched YouTube for the Amy trailer, the first thing that came up was the trailer for a movie called Trainwreck. The Amy documentary is just that. It is the train wreck of Amy’s life. Watching it, the audience participates in a kind of tawdry voyeurism. While the movie promises to deliver the girl behind the name, what it really delivers is pretty much everything that was fucked-up and tragic about Amy Winehouse in a linear train wreck, until she dies and we are given a vivid description of her dead body (looking like she was asleep). It takes us on a rollercoaster ride with Amy’s depressed, starving and drug addicted image giving us a vicarious thrill of empathy and compassion that only serves the audience and does nothing to make Amy into a real person.
By the time, I got to the end of Amy, I felt like I had spent 90 minutes flipping through tabloid papers at the checkout stand, including feeling smudged and dirty by what I just watched, especially since so much of the footage presented was taken without Amy’s consent: Amy ducking under a blanket; Amy hiding her head from media while walking down the streets; Amy being filmed by her father even when she directly tells him not to.
In other words, Amy, as a dead person, has no voice and no say on what material can and cannot be manipulated to present her life and death. Dead celebrities have no voice. The very media that turned them into larger-than-life objects, strips them of their core humanity in both life and death. In her death, Amy becomes voiceless, even though her voice is what propelled her to fame and death in the first place.
The same could be said for Kurt Cobain, except the Cobain documentary is largely compiled of his own art and writing, material from the life that he actually lived and the ephemera he created. All the video images are ones where he clearly consented to being photographed (concert footage, public interviews, home movies), even though it was mostly the media and Courtney Love doing the filming. Also, the Cobain documentary stops time a month before Kurt’s death. Printed words on the screen tell us he died, but the film does not exploit that footage of his death that has been played to death in the media. (That timeless celebrity image of Kurt’s jeans and sneakers in the out building where he blew his brains out in his Seattle home are never shown in the film.)
I am an artist currently working on a Dead Rock Star series of drawings and accompanying book. I have always said that Amy Winehouse is very difficult to draw because there are so few images of her available where she is not hidden behind the construction of her celebrity – the eyeliner, the hair and the cakes of makeup covering any blemishes or scrawls of humanity. The film also has very little to offer below that surface. The Cobain doc also addresses the artifice of celebrity, but Kurt confronts his role as pop icon with self-aware irony, as he awkwardly dyes his hair and dons wigs mocking his own position as a pop star.
One authentic moment in Amy occurs when Winehouse talks about her depression. She is very young, and she says that playing music and writing songs is the only thing that helps her fight off her demons. She loved playing guitar and singing. Interestingly, when she became a pop star, she lost the guitar as she became more and more of an object. Kurt Cobain says similar things – that music was an outlet for his dark emotions – but he got to keep the guitar and the voice. Is it a gender thing? Boys with guitars versus bulimic girls in eyeliner? Whatever the case, someone using artistic expression to cope with emotional depression and anxiety being thrown into the constantly gazing public eye can be really destructive. Kurt and Amy aren’t the only casualties of gifted people propelled to stardom, only to find that they are strangled by it. Neither Amy nor Kurt were cut out for celebrity, yet both were also destined for it… It’s a lose-lose battle. Just like the addiction that killed both of them.
Other moments of “authenticity” in the Amy doc include when she performs with Tony Bennet and he talks about her as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. Bennet openly says, “Jazz singers aren’t supposed to perform in front of 50,000 people.” Amy wanted to be a jazz singer. She ended up being a pop star which in turn ended up being her death ticket. This movie is just an extension of the pop star created by the music industry and which ultimately destroyed her as a person.
Certainly in the vast quantity of footage of Amy that we are given, we can glimpse a girl who is struggling, a tragic mess of a human being. And the film hammers that into the audience, repeating over and over and over again the catch words: ADDICTION and BULIMIA – the two things that killed Amy. As the trailer states, the film is “a heartbreaking journey.” But it is also an exploitive one. Amy falls into that realm of art that barters in tragedy as spectator sport. People can watch it and feel bad for Amy and then somehow feel good about themselves for feeling bad about her. It’s a kind of Tragic Death Tourism, and the audience rarely considers why the movie was made, how it was made, where the proceeds are going, and what it actually is accomplishing.
Basically the movie resurrects Amy’s dead body to line the pockets of record company executives and probably her dad who suddenly reappeared in her life once Amy got famous. He wanted his piece of pie, and clearly he is still getting some.
The one time dad intervened and forced Amy into rehab was so she could appear on the Grammies. In other words, there was self-interest for him. But as we know from Amy’s song “Rehab” (They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no . . .), no junkie can be forced to rehabilitate. It has to be a personal choice.
I was curious about what Russell Brand had to say about Amy, since he makes a brief appearance in the film but never speaks. The only thing I found was a Facebook entry where he states that the movie made him cry and brought back all the pain. Yes, that’s what this documentary does. It turns Amy into an object of pain. Watching someone consumed by and die from addiction is devastating. It is a hopeless enterprise, and I personally feel that the movie pounding the addict’s hopelessness into the audience’s heart and heads is disgustingly exploitive.
The tribute Brand wrote right after Amy’s death is a true, tragic and touching reality check on the disease of addiction. I always say addiction is the great leveler, and Brand hammers that point home:
All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but unignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his speedboat, there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.
Brand knows addiction well, and what he says also could be applied to Cobain. Montage of Heck pulls no punches when it comes to Cobain’s heroin addiction or his destructive relationship with Courtney Love. However, we see much more of a “real person” in the Cobain doc. Even the crazy footage of Kurt and Courtney (filmed by Courtney, of course) shows two people who were drawn to each other and fed off each other (just like Amy and her former husband junkie Blake Fielder-Civil). Both documentaries expose co-dependent addictive relationships. However, in the footage in the Amy documentary, when she is getting wasted with Blake, Amy is not particularly a willing participant and does not want to put on a show for the camera. These scenes seem particularly violating to me, filmed for the sole purpose of making Amy’s demise a public spectacle. Footage in the Cobain documentary shows a wasted couple joined in their mutual fucked-upness and embracing it together. Love and Cobain seem like two kids who never wanted to grow up and who were playing for the camera . . . willingly. There clearly is CONSENT in the Cobain footage, not in the Winehouse footage.
Since Kurt and Courtney seem like out-of-control kids (when they are filming themselves), when a real kid enters the picture – Frances Bean –, the film becomes emotionally tense and uncomfortable, especially since we know that Frances Bean helped make the movie. Courtney is continuously pulling off Frances Bean’s clothes and shoving her daughter’s young body and face into the camera. The film captures the couple as they go from doting parents to relapsed junkies trying to play house when they can’t even hold their heads up. Montage of Heck is also a train wreck of a movie, but somehow because the daughter is also behind the camera in the making of the film, it has a raw emotional authenticity lacking in the Amy doc.
The primary difference between the two pop figures plays out in the films. Amy quickly lapsed into constructed identity in her music career while Kurt constantly skirted the line between celebrity and authenticity. Amy sung in an affected voice, one remove from the raw emotions that were behind the lyrics; Kurt spat out his unabashed feelings with no mask. The films reflect this split. One film (Amy) is an overt construction of a construction; the other (Montage of Heck) takes personal ephemera to show the tortured soul who founded Nirvana and then died in a state that was quite the opposite of the name of the band. Amy died when her heart stopped beating, her constructed image frozen in time. Kurt’s death, with his brains blown out by a shotgun, was as messy as the life he never hid from.
Both movies can be seen as exploitive because we always want MORE MORE MORE of these celebrities, especially after they tragically die. A dead pop star is infinitely more interesting in the public eye than a live one. (“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” says Neil Young in words Kurt Cobain lived and died by and which were the final words of his suicide note.) Pop stars become bigger in death than in life (when they were already too big for the world), and music documentaries tend to play on this dilemma. This makes it hard to discern where to draw the line between serious documentary filmmaking and exploitation.
Maybe I am projecting, but I feel that Montage of Heck, which is literally a montage of the materials that Kurt left behind with a few interviews with friends and family, is something that Frances Bean felt she had to make in tribute to her dead father, some kind of act of reconciliation or closure that could not have been easy. Amy on the other hand features footage of Amy (with and without consent) and mostly interviews from industry people. There are snippets from friends and family, but mostly it is an industry film. There is a lack of true emotional investment that we get in the Cobain documentary.
The Amy documentary does show Amy’s handwritten lyrics superimposed on footage of the artist performing, but it rarely delves into the sources of those lyrics. Kurt’s lyrics and notebooks are included in the film, but we also find out more about the source of those words from close friends and family rather than industry representatives. In fact, Kurt spends a lot of time lifting his middle finger to the industry, flipping off the corporate culture that made him and broke him. It makes sense, actually, that Amy’s lyrics are on the surface, super-imposed on her image just like everything else in her career, while Kurt’s hand-scrawled words stand alone with all their raw intensity.
Also, Kurt was a multi-faceted artist, so we see his own art (including his collages and drawings) brought to disturbingly animated life and adhering to his “living” aesthetics, with his guttural screeches of outrage punctuating his images. The film is largely constructed from artifacts made by Kurt and offered by his daughter, not from unconsented footage captured by paparazzi.
The trailer for the Cobain documentary opens with question: “Who are you?” I guess that’s what we want to know when we watch these kinds of films, but really we have to remember that documentaries are not truth. We will always be watching constructed identities, composed of materials with the intent of the filmmaker and not the artist represented. The movies are constructions just like the artists who they document. Therein resides the tension – assuming something or someone is real – when media will always mold the truth for hidden intent.
Montage of Heck is not great, but it left me with a lot of complex emotions and questions. Amy is also not great, but it left me feeling dirty like I was part of the problem that destroyed her. I think INTENT is the bottom line. Clearly both films were made with the intent of making a profit on the artists’ legacies, but I think that Frances Bean’s intent goes far beyond dollar value. There is no price tag on coming to terms with having really fucked-up parents, one of whom is now dead. She pays tribute to her dead dad and has to acknowledge her living mom (the nightmarishly clownish and narcissistic Love), and witnessing Frances Bean’s need to make her dad’s story public through the evidence he left behind is more heartbreaking than the stories of two junkies who died.
(Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She is currently completing a book of her artwork on Dead Rock Stars which will be featured in a solo show at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA this summer. She is also completing a book of her Dirt Yards at Night photography project. Her first art book Mapping the Inside Out is available upon request. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)