Calling Kim Ki-Duk (전화 김기덕): incidental endorsements, synchronicity, self-indulgence & the continued virtues of hermits
We interrupt this accumulating series of interruptions to bring you another random aside. Speaking of incidental popularity & hermitting, Chiara Barzini alerted me to this bizarre anecdotal squid sighting ....
In 2011 the Korean director Kim Ki-Duk made a movie called Arirang .. an autobiographical documentary (or not) essentially answering to why he hadn't made a film in the few years after the making of Dream in 2008 (in which one of the actors almost died (for real) while acting out a hanging scene). In Arirang, he acts (or doesn't act, you decide) as himself living as a hermit in a tent within a ramshackle shack somewhere in South Korea. But what's astonishing and/or puzzling to me is that he is wearing a Calamari Press T-shirt in a few of the scenes .... while he is cutting wood, while he is roasting & eating chestnuts & squash in his tent, while he is making himself espresso (with some sort of home-made contraption) ....
Why or how he came to be wearing a Calamari Press T-shirt is beyond me .. i can only assume it is incidental. I have never made any shirts, so it had to be something he had made himself (or someone in South Korea is making Calamari Press shirts).
According to the wonderful wayback machine of archive.org, this logo is the one i used between Oct 2007 & May 2008. I also used this logo in stationary for written correspondence (something i haven't done for a long time, but just yesterday i had to write a real letter & when i dug up the last template used, the blue squid was still there). Either way, Ki-Duk would've had to have the t-shirt printed using a 500 x 215 jpeg (the original of which lives here). I have a bigger scan somewhere on my computer (or the 'real' copy in a drawer somewhere) but pretty sure i have ever posted or sent that around.
To what honor does Cal A. Mari deserve such an endorsement, coincidental or not? Did he read one of the books? Land of the Snow Men was translated in Japanese, but as far as i know none have been translated into Korean. And according to you, The Internet, Ki-Duk doesn't speak English. Is it possible (in light of my last post regarding Sugar Man & incidental fame in far-fetched places) that some Calamari Press books have been translated into Korean & that they are popular there, maybe even in North Korea? (그것은 몇 가지 칼라 마리 프레스 도서를 한국어로 번역 된 것을 & 사람들이 한국에서 인기 있다는 (부수적 명성에 대한 마지막 게시물의 빛)을 할 수 있습니까?)
There's a scene in the film where Ki-Duk eats from a big fish he has hanging from a rusty nail & then hangs the fish back up .. did he read The Singing Fish by Peter Markus? Did he read Robert Lopez or Michael Boyko or any of the other Calamari authors from around that time? The protagonist in Miranda Mellis' The Revisionist lives in such a hermitting, reflective situation observing the world—did he get his hands on a copy of this for inspiration? You can start to see connections if you look deep enough into anything, but once you find out the truth (perhaps he just likes calamari (the edible kind) & googled 'calamari' & found this image & had it printed onto a shirt) then all these other possible serendipitous connections collapse away & only the fabric of dull truth remains. It's these lingering unrealized tendencies which make the world interesting, that gives me hope.
To make things even more random & strange, everything in the movie is random. His lifestyle is completely random. He doesn't live in a rustic or secluded cabin like Thoreau, but some random run-down shack in a semi-urban, not so scenic small town (with surely the means to do better). There's junk scattered all over, tools & heavy machinery mixed in with his food & old movie posters & hanging laundry. He uses burlap sacks for rugs (& also as a dish to feed stray cats). He sleeps in a tent within the shack (which i actually used to do in high school, just for the idea of it). He shits outside in the open. He boils snow for water, eats straight out of his pots & pans. And while he doesn't seem to have running water or gas or electricity, he has a computer, so he is not totally 'off the grid,' nor does it seem he is trying to be. He has a nice car & other 'nice' things. It doesn't seem he is trying to live in any particular way, i think this is just how things turned out .... if indeed this is truly how he lives & it's more documentary than staged drama.
Also strange is what he is talking about in background in the main scene where he is wearing the Calamari Press shirt (sorry the subtitles didn't come through in the clip i posted) .. he is talking (to himself) about the randomness of everything & how «some things have meaning, some don't». Also strange is the way he is holding his hand in the above screen capture, like he is imitating the squid (it's actually a cuttlefish).
The movie is self-indulgent for sure, just like this post. The Brown Bunny came to mind while i was watching it (when i wasn't wondering how the fuck he came to be wearing a Calamari Press T-shirt) .. perhaps the epitome film of turning the camera around on yourself. Though Vincent Gallo got a lot of crap & criticism for that movie, i sincerely thought it took guts (& cajones) to make a movie like that, just like it took guts to make Arirang. It can't be easy to film yourself & make it interesting, knowing that perhaps millions of people will see you in such a vulnerable state & will likely criticize you. And Ki-Duk often looks straight into the camera, which really makes people uncomfortable .. in my opinion this is more unsettling than what Gallo did. But why is this so unsettling? Is it because we realize that the camera is stealing something from the soul of the actor .. & that we are just as responsible as Ki-Duk for demanding such films .. for demanding that artists forget themselves & pour their souls into a work (if that is even possible)?
Kim Ki-Duk is the only 'actor' in Arirang. He has conversations with himself or his shadow, or watches himself on screen. The only time others appear is when he is watching his own movies (most notably the scene in Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter .... & Spring where the monk drags the stone up the mountain .. probably because this is how movie-making feels like to Ki-Duk, like a penance, like he is putting his life on the line, like he is nailing himself to the cross for our sakes). At times he is crying, sobbing or yelling, or pitifully drunk singing the title track .. & it doesn't seem like acting.
The other thing that came to my mind was the Foxy Fresh vegetables (or maybe it was Topless vegetables?) ad campaign (that was before your time, Internet, so i'm going off memory here ....). Foxy Fresh is/was a vegetable company from Salinas i think that used to have ads, or maybe they were calendars, with hired models in bikinis posing with the fruits & vegetables. Of course all the feminists in Santa Cruz (where i was in school at the time) got all up in arms about it. When confronted about it, the guy behind Foxy Fresh calmly said he didn't mean to offend anyone, that he thought people would rather look at pretty models then himself .. & then for the next campaign/calendar he himself posed with the product, laying (with shirt off, exposing his hairy beer gut) spread-eagle in a pile of fruits & vegetables. You have to wonder if similar reasoning drove Ki-Duk to only put himself in this movie. In the movie before he had an actor almost die 'acting out' something that he had scripted. He felt responsible for her & it made him realize the absurdity of film making, of using real people to act out your dramas. Just like some scientists (ones with guilty consciences) take it upon themselves to use themselves as guinea pigs in their own experiments (again, see the post before this). And Ki-Duk has also been criticized in the past for killing or hurting animals in his films, to which he calmly answers that they respectfully ate the animals after & that Americans & Europeans (those that eat animals anyway) should look into their own backyards before judging the Korean way of doing things. True that.
Of course Fellini's 8 1/2 also comes to mind .. the quintessential movie-makers mid-life crisis movie. But Fellini doesn't act as himself in his crisis movie .. he gets the ever courteous & hen-pecked Marcello Mastroianni to answer to the public demand .. to answer where his next (what would be his 9th) film is (Ki-Duk's crisis comes between 13 & 14 (the mathematician in me noting that 8 & 13 are successive Fibonacci numbers)). And rather than withdraw into guilt-ridden seclusion like Ki-Duk, Marcello (acting as Fellini) lets himself get swept up into the chaos, embraces the public's expectations head-on as part of his shtick.
Whether you want to call it self-reference or self-indulgence, it is a crisis many film-makers seem to go through at one point or another .. after years of playing this game, of directing these dramas, of having others, real people, act out your subverted will. Ki-Duk is addressing, confessing, something that apparently more film-makers perhaps need to talk about .. this notion of film-makers playing god at others expense.
And does it matter if something is fiction or not? Does it matter if something is intentional or co-incidental? Does it matter whether it's a squid or cuttle fish? Or if Foxy Fresh vegetables really exists? Did i remember that anecdote or invent it to illustrate a point? I honestly don't know & it doesn't matter. The only shit that matters is the intangible stuff behind the screen/paper/canvas that—try as me might—we can never put our greedy, grubby fingers on.
And as 'fiction' writers, why do we invent characters to act out what we are really trying to say? True literature, any writing that counts as art, should be first person narrative. Stand behind it or sit down & watch others do it. And whether it's fiction or not shouldn't matter. No matter how you slice it, writing books is self-indulgent. Any art where you demand an audience to pay attention is self indulgent. Why hide behind the facade of fiction? Why not just tell it like it is? Why not just turn the camera back on yourself?
As usual, i never even got to what i set out to write about in this post, which was Derrida & Basquiat amongst other things. But since i don't 'flash' my quotidian anymore, perhaps these posts will get shorter & more frequent. Thanks for listening & archiving me, oh holy Internet .. & for producing such random & wonderful synchronicities.
|>> NEXT: The art of Carlos M. Luis (1932—2013)|