• The Arabia Steamboat Museum is one of the true treasures of Kansas City

    In 1856, a southbound steamboat chock-full of Victorian-era goods hit a tree and sunk beneath the muddy waters of the Missouri. For 150 years, locals speculated as to the whereabouts of the once-mighty ship. Treasure enthusiasts petitioned farmers to let them scour the land along the riverbank. Sure, they said, many have tried, but no dice. Impossible. Professionals were unable to find the boat, let alone dredge it up. The river changes course, the current picks up and deposits tons of mud far from where it started all in a matter of hours.

    Prior to hearing talk of buried treasure, the Hawley family ran an air conditioning repair company. Bob Hawley's interest was piqued after a brief conversation with a passing lore enthusiast. He and his sons asked the same farmers who had been petitioned time and time again over the years if they might be able to run a metal detector over their land. Sure, they signed, but again, you're not going to find anything, no one has.

    But by some combination of luck and determination, the detectors went off a half-mile away from where the Missouri currently resides. Thus began the Hawleys' heroic effort to raise the ship from its watery grave. A self-financed amateur endeavor driven by genuine curiosity, the family and their friends spent many months and an ungodly amount of money pumping, dredging, sifting, and heaving mud, water, and crates up from 45 feet below the earth.

    What they found, they cleaned and put on display at their own Arabia Steamboat Museum. Contained within are extraordinarily well-preserved luxury and general goods frozen in time from 1856, significant chunks of the steamboat itself, and on occasion, people hard at work carefully cleaning off the century-and-a -half worth of mud caked onto those goods. The docents are often the Hawley family themselves, who are only too happy to tell you about their story. "Hey," says Matt Hawley, "I love what I do, and  it sure beats working in air conditioning."

    I'd say that the museum is one of the true treasures of Kansas City. The Arabia is a unique and charming cultural and historical landmark not too far from the downtown KC  bend of the Missouri river. It's a complete surprise in a city famous for football and barbeque. Unfortunately, the city is aiming to demolish the museum to make way for some sports-related structure or other. Before they relocate (or, ideally, the KC government abandons this fool's endeavor and appreciates the diversity of attractions it can offer out-of-towners!!), swing by and interrogate Matt well past closing time like I did.

  • Introducing Oboy, an anti-antihero origin story

    Shaheen Beardsley's comic book Oboy is the story of an alcoholic failed karaoke country singer who drunkenly devours an alien, bestowing him with superpowers. In the traditional model, our protagonist would take his newfound abilities and direct them toward the greater good. Oboy attempts this, but his aim is off, and his gifts are instead used to acquire more alcohol and sabotage his competition. Powers don't necessarily net morality, selflessness, or women. You're just yourself, but unstoppable, and this is probably for the worse. Beardsley understands this.

    Funny and somewhat bleak plot aside, Beardsley's exceptional drawing talents make Oboy a compelling piece of sequential art. His linework and forms have a confidence to them that is uncommon in underground comics and outshine most of the factory-made narratives in the mainstream.

    Beardsley's work, amongst others, will be on display and for sale at Permanent Records Roadhouse in Los Angeles at the Permanent Damage Comix Show on December 4th. Music, art, and ruckus!

    Shaheen's work can be seen on Instagram

  • The inner machinations of Mucha in Prague

    You've probably wracked your brain trying to answer this one before — what do I DO in Prague?

    What am I supposed to do, after I've looked at an entire city's worth of the most beautiful architecture, promenades, and public sculpture? I've already seen the astrological clock set into motion by a symbol of death! I've walked the Charles bridge at sun up, sun down, and midday just to see how the light hits the water at all hours! I've eaten delicious and reasonably priced food at Havelská Koruna cafeteria and polished it off with novelty desserts, too! And I've visited all 4,500 cathedrals this predominantly secular city holds dear! I've seen every puppet show, ballet, and contact improv extravaganza in town!

    I repeat, what DO I do in Prague?

    And I answer, get your nose out of that exquisitely carved depiction of Famine Eviscerating a Village or something and consider Alphonse Mucha!

    Alphonse Mucha is no unknown, he's widely regarded as the key figure of the Art Nouveau movement. Samplings of his artistic output can be found throughout all of Prague in building facades, lettering, and design motifs. His images are familiar to many, so a recommendation to visit the Mucha Museum may not come as a surprise. Hopefully, an idle consideration of passing by the gallery will now become a definitive plan.

    The key to gaining a deeper understanding of an artist's work is, obviously, to see it in person. The Museum boasts not only the original lithographic gigantic prints of the images that made Mucha famous but a great deal of lesser-known work and preliminary drawings as well. Mucha established an enormous vocabulary of design motifs, clearly visible throughout his work. Every figure is flanked by ornate and symbolic patterns, some of which are so compositionally pleasing that they seem sublime. A particular sketch of a stylized orchid comes to mind, wherein the petals are elongated and curled to perfect proportion. Seeing the artist work out design problems is endlessly fascinating and deepens the appreciation of the artistic process. Sketches of jewelry, furniture, stamps, interior design, and more are all on display. Digital reproductions don't do his color palette justice, nor can you fully appreciate the grandeur of his images in a coffee table book. (Though I still want one, don't get me wrong)

    Mucha's early work is what made him famous, and while his depictions of Sarah Bernhardt are beautiful, it seems that his compositions ripened over time, his figures became bolder, his compositions stronger, and his use of symbolism became more pointed. Mucha's life's work culminated in the creation of The Slav Epic, which, while the half-kilometer painting isn't viewable in Prague, the Museum does an excellent job of showcasing his artistic life that led up to it.

  • Instead of "Triangle of Sadness," try "Gilligan's Island." It doesn't think so highly of itself

    Years ago, I came across an inaccurate description of the plot-to-be of a future Ruben Östlund film. "A disgruntled yacht captain deliberately sabotages his luxury vessel to teach his wealthy clientele a lesson," or something like that. My initial thought was, that sounds on the nose, but, knowing Östlund's previous work (Force Majeure, The Square), he'll handle it in an interesting way. It was an exciting prospect.

    A few years later, I saw the trailer for the film, titled Triangle of Sadness. The jokes fell flat. I forced a laugh. I thought, well, it's probably hard to convey slow-build Scandinavian humor in a trailer cut for Apatow-reared Americans. 

    A few weeks later, I watched the film. Why it was so heavily awarded at Cannes, I do not know. While there are some interesting set pieces, they work only as set-ups and aren't followed through. Consider the first act, wherein our moderately likable central characters start to bicker over a bill. The boyfriend finds it off-putting that he's always expected to pay even though Yaya makes more money than him and because she said she would pay. He's upset with the implicit gender dynamic in this arrangement and wants them to be equal. Yaya sees it as a mode for survival, knowing that her career will end, she'll have to rely on a mate to provide for her. It's a test. Ultimately, he feels bad for bringing up the bill in the first place. He capitulates, clearly not wanting to lose her. This could easily be a deleted scene on the Force Majeure DVD.

    It's an interesting build to some larger critique of the old vs. the new, regarding equality, survival, expectation, practicality, etc. Then we get a hard cut to the next act, where we see the couple on a yacht. I expected, in keeping with boyfriend's prior capitulation, that he got them a yacht trip as an apology. It would make sense. A cab driver who heard their fight even encouraged him to "fight for her," so perhaps boyfriend followed the advice? No such luck. Yaya, we learn much later, got the cruise as a perk of being an influencer. An influencer? The most salient critique we get of this oft-mocked profession comes from lingering shots of Yaya's selfie-taking. And boyfriend taking pictures of her mimicking eating. She doesn't actually eat the food. It's all about the image! It's vapid! Get it?

    We meet an elderly British couple who politely discuss the family business of weapons manufacturing over dinner. Later, they are blown up by one of their own products. Get it??

    In an unlikely turn of events, (in every sense of the word, there's no consistent writing to make any of these situations likely), a lowly cleaning lady becomes the only competent person, while the rich (and someone from the engine room, why he's there is unknown, his presence does nothing to sharpen the metaphor. Perhaps he's there to toy with the idea of subtlety? It's not clear) are useless and have to follow her orders. This occurs immediately after the Marxist boat captain reads Marx and Chomsky over the loudspeaker. It's role reversal! Workers seizing the means of production! Get it???

    The rich throw up their golden food! Get it????

    If you fancy a coherent ham-fisted leftist film, try something mid-career Ken Loach, or the second half of Parasite. Or for island fun, try Gilligan's Island, it doesn't think so highly of itself.

    We go from tightly-focused character piece to ambitious and obvious boat set piece to irrelevant and sprawling island act without gleaning much of anything. Instagram/modeling is vapid. The rich are evil or something. Working people know how to survive. Sure. Eh. Stylistically, Östlund seems to want to say more. Unfortunately, the big budget set the clock to amateur hour.

  • The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things, and other delights

    On your inevitable drive through the center of the United States helping a friend move, seeing something other than the Grand Canyon, or fleeing the cult you accidentally joined trying to "find yourself" in New Mexico, you may not consider exiting I-70 off a nondescript off-ramp in Wilson, Kansas. You may not notice the billboards directing you towards the "World's Largest Czech Egg," or some amateur signage indicating that you are about to pass one of the Seven Wonders of Kansas. There may be other things on your mind, as miles after miles of flat farmland are prone to put the semi-occupied brain into a state of mild hypnosis. I'd encourage you to look up from the median, adjust your mirror, and whether or not you're still in white robes, take exit 206 to KS 232 North. The intrepid traveler may take note of signs for the Garden of Eden. Yes, the very one. No, not another cult. Follow them. And rest easy, as this artistic sanctuary only asks that you pay for admission, and you're free to leave whenever.

    The Garden of Eden is the decades-long work of S.P. Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran, adamant Populist, and undeniably eccentric sculptor. His Wikipedia page even lists him as such. The man built and maintained his home as a museum up until his death. In fact, he's interred in a symbolic concrete pyramid that he made in the backyard. You can see his blackened, mummified corpse if you ask nicely. His first wife was also laid to rest there. At first, the city had her forcibly buried in the local cemetery, so he dug her up and entombed her remains in the concrete pyramid. See, I told you it was interesting. Why would I lie? Stop driving and reading at the same time.

    Dunsmoor's work and writings are on display throughout the property. The front yard contains the agreeable stuff — fantastic, striking depictions of biblical creation, the influence of Satan. Things your parents warned you about as a kid. The backyard displays his political work regarding the importance of labor and collective bargaining, the villainy of bankers, capitalism, etc. More things your parents warned you about as a kid.

    Across the street from The Garden are the remnants of a very kind couple's endeavor to beautify the lives of passersby and quench their thirst simultaneously. 

    A few blocks west is the wonderfully exhaustively titled Home of the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things. Formerly a one-woman show in a traveling art car, the now-permanent home of the collection showcases not just the objects in question, but the character of the mastermind behind it all as well in a colorful, circus-lettered, old-timey music-playing storefront. As seen on Conan, in Lucas, Kansas, and back country roads all over America. Don't knock; the door's probably open.

    Cattywampus to World's Largest, we have a beautifully tiled public toilet. If, for no reason other than being at the mercy of your bowels you stop here, then so be it. Even the loo is worth a peek.

    And across the street from that, we have a museum dedicated to outsider and folk art from locals. Featuring otherworldly collages, yarn horror vacui, and very sweet docents, it's well worth the low admission to see what the eclectic population of Kansas is up to. The docent may also be inclined to direct you to a last stop in Lucas. Someone's unmarked backyard, in fact. Another concrete sculptor made her home here, and it's currently in the process of being restored by none other than the creator of World's Largest herself.

    The streets of Lucas, Kansas seem to be empty at the moment. Perhaps you, in all your berobed, Birkenstocked glory can change that.

  • Monsterkabinett, an eccentric and essential Berlin offering

    Those fresh to Berlin might look upon the €20-€400 pieces of the Berlin wall for sale opposite the Hard Rock Cafe at Checkpoint Charlie and despair. It may feel like an indication that you've arrived a decade too late. Dismal though that may be, I'm happy to report that you're wrong! Berlin has plenty of unexpected offerings, including an animatronic monster show called Monsterkabinet. 

    Monsterkabinett is a Dead Chickens creation and is situated, fittingly, in Dead Chicken alley, deep beneath the earth. During open hours, your guide to the underworld will wear a black hat and cheerily bark at you for €10. If he's not there, wait for instructions from the docent guarding the gate. In the bowels of Berlin live several mechanical monstrosities, each with their own personalities and proclivities. One sings, one doesn't. One may bite. All are inventive and introduced to you by the most chipper psychopomp this side of the Styx.

    Upsett that both the Monsterkabinet website and this article are vague? Get yourself a one-way ticket to Brandenburg Airport and see this unique spectacle for yourself.

     Bring cash for your passage. But know that inflation is world and underworld-wide. Two gold coins on the eyes just won't do it anymore.

    Check the website for open hours.

  • Moonage Daydream is a cosmic portrait of Earth's favorite relatable alien, David Bowie

    Brett Morgen nails it again!

    Morgen's previous certified hits include Jane, The Kid Stays in the Picture, and most famously, Cobain: Montage of Heck. The former, a project awarded to him mostly by the merits of his fanboy enthusiasm, surely launched him into this equally ambitious project of encapsulating the decades-long career of a modern-day mythic figure into a single film.

    Morgen's portrait of David Bowie, Moonage Daydream, is painted with psychedelic strokes in a loose, impressionist manner. This isn't a traditional documentary wherein the subject is seated primly opposite the camera and explains the circumstances of his life, play-by-play over Ken Burns — edited images of his childhood, exclusively. Nor is it a classic post-mortem featuring his closest friends offering heartwarming anecdotes and carefully curated tales of inexplicably flattering rock star debauchery. Instead, Morgen shows Bowie as Bowie via Bowie in all his incarnations.

    With the exception of a few questions for context from interviewers and a collage of pop culture soundbites, we are treated to Bowie offering insight into himself in his own words. David Jones enthusiasts are likely already familiar with his discography, various personalities, and antics, and they need not fear a rehash of the same topics. The viewer is encouraged to piece together their own interpretations of Bowie's life, as lesser-known songs, interviews, performances, and paintings are juxtaposed against relevant media snippets. Was this song a reaction to that pop culture event? Did he write this lyric to address this personal issue? Or is the personal-sounding issue a metaphor for some broader timeless experience?

    Morgen treats the audience to the wonderful, relatable alien of Bowie's personality, both on and off stage. Where the distinction ends is really up to the viewer, but the effect is the same. Moonage Daydream is a bright, intelligent and fully human portrait of a man who made a myth of himself.

  • "Fuzz and Pluck" is a beautifully absurd series that belongs in your comic collection

    If you happen to have the 2009 or 2018 issues of The Best American Comics lying around like some of us do, flip to any excerpts in there by Ted Stearn. Hopefully the appeal is instant. But for those who are limited to search results and the attached images above and below, let's dive a little deeper. Reading "Fuzz and Pluck" is a bit like being stuck in a semi-lucid dream where you suspect something is a bit off but the world carries on as it was, indifferent to your suspicions. Flip to just about any page and you'll find speech bubbles caressing character's heads, panels cascading into each other and a cantankerous plucked chicken (Pluck) bullying his best friend (Fuzz) into doing mostly horrible favors for him. More often than not, these errands result in grievous, though by the next chapter, reversible cartoonish bodily harm to Fuzz.

    While Fuzz and Pluck is Stearn's best-known and most highly acclaimed work, the "The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef" from Zero Zero is also worth taking a long look at. All of Stearn's work is lovingly rendered in pen and ink and utilizes an impressive academic application of hatching, crosshatching, and masterful linework. The whimsical design of the characters provide a really funny, offbeat contrast to the absurd and sometimes disturbing storylines.

    Unfortunately, Stearn passed away earlier this year. He left behind a great body of work that was much loved by Matt Groening, Chris Ware, Gary Panter, and hopefully you, too.

    If you have room in between your Daniel Clowes and Jim Woodring comics, consider adding Ted Stearn's Fuzz and Pluck to the shelf. The Moolah Tree is available from Fantagraphics here.

  • Dredging Up What's "Under the Silver Lake"

    Did you see this trailer for Under the Silver Lake about a year ago and think nothing of it? Lots of people did and dismissed it as a generic hipster-centric snoozefest. But a few interested people stuck around and read the checklist as a piece of comedy. Vinyl? Yes. Ridiculously nice apartments with one sole occupant? Yes. Struggling actors trying to make it in Hollywood? Yes. Pretentious bars? Yes. Violent Femmes? Sure, yes.

    As much as these elements might seem like they'd make for a bland 30-something-centric film involving thousand yard stares and brunch, director David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) lampoons mumblecore, Los Angeles and "the male gaze."

    The story in Silver Lake starts off innocently enough, wherein our protagonist Sam (Andrew Garfield) is caught staring at his sunbathing neighbor through binoculars and later notices signs of a neighborhood dog murderer. Perpetually unemployed (and unperturbed), Sam tracks down clues surrounding a disappearance and gets rapidly sucked into the lavish, oddball world of the Hollywood adjacent.

    Though the plot reads a bit like a noir, it's difficult to describe this world as an "underbelly," seeing as the parties and high teas Sam goes to on his mock-chivalric quest are neither clouded in cigar smoke nor shot through shuttered blinds. The real hook of this film comes in the barrage of red herrings, corner-of-your-eye subplots and ridiculous clues that sometimes pan out, sometimes don't, and sometimes turn out to be redundant at best. In addition to all that, the film's (for lack of a better word) meta narrative allows you to go on a hunt for clues that parallel Sam's adventure. What did the "E=EE" on that billboard mean? Why are the barbie dolls arranged like that? Why the focus on Janet Gaynor? Is Sam being followed? Am I being followed? What's going on?

    That this film got next to no distribution and poor critical reception when it first came out seems like a conspiracy in itself, especially considering that the film satirizes the Hollywood elite in such a biting way. But make no mistake, Under the Silver Lake deserves any and all renewed interest it receives. Give it a look, but get too close and you might fall in.

  • Oculus headset giving you a headache? Come see ye olde analog virtual reality in Los Angeles!

    Image: Forest Casey

    If you're hankering for an unusual outing in Los Angeles, look no further than the Velaslavasay Panorama. Home to the only panorama west of the Mississippi and the only one painted since the nineteenth century, the Velaslavasay is the art form's newest entry in its long and illustrious history. Panorama paintings were antiquity's preferred immersive medium, predating film, VR and a much cheaper sightseeing trip than hopping aboard a train.

    From the Velaslavasay Panorama website:

    The Velaslavasay Panorama panoramic exhibition encircles the spectator within a fully enveloping atmosphere; a vast painting of a continuous surrounding landscape, accompanied by sound stimulation and three-dimensional elements, affords the viewer an opportunity to experience a complete sensory phenomenon. Historically, the panorama was an immersive 360-degree painted environment, often including a three-dimensional faux terrain in the foreground of the painting to enhance the illusion of depth and simulated reality. An early ancestor of the motion picture, the captivated public would visit these paintings-in-the-round as an entertainment or novelty, much along the same lines as the cinema is seen today.

    Panoramas were widely accessible, extremely popular (and were lambasted for being so by art critics) and immensely entertaining. The decline in the proliferation of panoramas came about following the spread of cinema and became largely forgotten about, at least in the United States. Enter the Velaslavasay Panorama, first founded by Sara Velas in Hollywood and now located in West Adams. The Velaslavasay has both preserved and updated the medium, incorporating light and sound for a completely immersive panoramic experience.

    Come see the precursor to virtual reality and film in person! The current installation is a painting depicting the city of Shengjing, China from 1910-1930 featuring a miniature 3D terrain. The Velaslavasay Panorama also features a living garden, a theater and additional auxiliary exhibits.

    The layout of the Shengjing Panorama. Photo courtesy of Velaslavasay Panorama

    The Velaslavasay Panorama
    1122 West 24th Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90007

    On View Weekly
    11 am 'til 5pm

    Suggested donation of $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors

  • In the mood for a different kind of horror movie tonight? Go see Parasite

    If you're in the mood for an intelligent, unconventional thriller of sorts, get out on the town and treat yourself to Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite. Come for the promise of nail biting class tension, struggle and all-out war, but stay for the interpersonal relationships, architectural allegories and shocking scares that emerge over the course of Bong Joon Ho's latest film.

    The film is essentially about class relationships, yes, but unlike some recent (American) films that try to tackle the subject, the dynamic between the rich and poor isn't cut-and-dried black and white. Parasite doesn't just look at the poor as hopelessly depressed and the rich as cruel and greedy. The well-to-do in this film are moderately benevolent, living their own lives and oblivious to the destitute conditions of their hired help. Though we might cheer on the impoverished Kim family, they seem borderline sociopathic at times (most likely exacerbated by economic circumstances outside their control). We see the Kims pitted against a worse-off family and tensions escalate.

    That the Kims don't register that they have common interests with the other family isn't a flaw on their part. And that the Parks don't understand their role in maintaining the cycle of poverty isn't a damnable offense either. Parasite doesn't proclaim individuals to be the root cause of inequality. Instead, Bong focuses on the individual members of the families as a metaphor for the larger, systemic problems that heighten economic disparity and keep the working class pitted against itself in a continual cycle of poverty. It's a nuanced, oddly comedic piece, and though the third act seemed like it belonged to a different film at times, it works as a whole. I'd recommend Parasite whether you're a Halloween thrill seeker or a Marxist professor.

  • The Beach Bum should start a cult — and not just the midnight movie kind

    Director Harmony Korine's newest feature, The Beach Bum, seems the likely follow-up to his 2013 candy-coated crime caper Spring Breakers. Substitute your Vanessa Hudgens for Zac Efron and your James Franco for Matthew McConaughey and the casting decisions to break away from type seem borderline formulaic. Tonally, the films are similar, with wandering, boozy shots and dialogue seemingly lifted right from your acid casualty neighbor and color cues taken from him as well.

    Where Beach Bum diverges, however, is in substance. While leisure and pleasure seem the ultimate goal of both McConaughey's Moondog and the girls of Breakers, the method of getting there differs wildly. Crime sprees and social climbing are the girls' preferred method. Laying back and taking the world in one toke at a time is Moondog's. While heavy smoking and sleeping around might seem like a philosophically void path to enlightenment, it's really the only way there in an America who's ethos is to constantly tell you to want more, buy more, be more.

    Every Hollywood movie builds up this idea, from foundational kids' animation to aspirational teen drama to middle-aged career comedy and beyond. And what better way to respond to that constant pressure than to do and be nothing at all? Sure, Moondog has written fairly successful poetry and given the odd public speech, but the practice he preaches is the one he lives, a sort of contagious cosmic hedonism. Partying with him will leave you a happier, more content person, even if you happen to lose a foot, a husband or a few million dollars in the process. Even the worst possible outcome has some sort of humor to it, and it's really only a crisis if you give it credit, or at least so says Matthew McConaughey, on his character's philosophy.

    In keeping with Korine's original approach to filmmaking, each scene is distinct. His older films, Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy, cut from shock to shock and feature no obvious plotline, character development, or enlightening lesson. Beach Bum is the 21st-century update, still without a Hollywood screenwriter's favorite "character arc" or sunset ending. Now, Korine relocates his infamous shock treatment to the pleasure center— boobs and butts galore! — and happy endings are instead distributed throughout, right from the very first scene. Moondog wanders from situation to situation, cameo to cameo, and no matter how dire each set up appears, none of them impact him for much longer than his last toke did.

    It's easy to read Korine's recent works as plain ol' silly, and maybe it's over-analysis to argue that his shift in tone from 90s pessimism to this decade's indulgence is perfectly in tune with the changing times. But! Maybe it's not, and Korine's Beach Bum is at once both critical of the devil-may-care lifestyle and lauding it as an exemplar of the best way to live life. The world feels so serious these days and everything seems like it's falling apart, getting exponentially worse or going to end entirely.

    Of course, the world is serious and you should care, but rather than submit to the ultimate bummer, try your hand at pursuing nothing at all, and doing it happily, Moondog style. Preferably in a captain's hat, joint in hand and setting off a money-laden explosion for the tourists in the Florida Keys.