AMERICAN POMPEII


It’s wonderful how one idea can lead to another even greater idea. The human brain is remarkable in its ability to shift gears without actually stripping the original intention.

The young George Lucas, had lost the confidence of the movie studio after the cool reception of his first movie. For inspiration he looked to an Italian movie about four teenagers from a small town who talk about leaving for Rome but never do.

Tempting as this might be, the 29 year old was also dreaming about making a new Flash Gordon” movie. He thought about how great it would be to see Flash Gordon on the big screen in full living color. It had been filmed in black and white several times.

As a young child the Flash Gordon game was a favorite. Since I was the only girl in my neighborhood, I was relegated to being Dale Arden with the ice-cream cone chest, when I really wanted to be Flash Gordon.

One night Lucas and his friend producer Gary Kurtz were at a diner and talking randomly about how the science fiction movies hadn’t really been enjoyable since Forbidden Planet” in 1955. They all seemed to have gone to genre horror movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon” or alien invasions. They both decided that none of that was fun any more the way “Flash Gordon” and Buck Rogers” had been.

Lucas made a trip to New York in 1971 to visit King Features to inquire about the film right to “Flash Gordon”. The King executives were thinking about the film rights too and mentioned the Italian director Frederico Fellini who was also a known Flash Gordon fan. Lucas knew he could not compete with Fellini at this point in his career.

As in so many creative right turns, this set off a lightbulb in Lucas’s brain, and he began dwelling on the vague notion he had had for years of making something even better than Flash Gordon. If he couldn’t do Flash Gordon he would just invent his own.

American Graffiti
George Lucas on set of American Graffiti in 1973

In the meantime though, Lucas needed a way to make a more bankable movie in order to pay for a movie about space flight. If Fellini was to take Flash Gordon” maybe he could take something from Fellini—for instance, the idea behind the movie I Vitelloni, about the four teenagers in the small town who talk about leaving for Rome but never do. What if you followed a bunch of guys on the cusp of leaving a small town, and follow them through one night of cruising—a ritual that had died out in the last decade?

Lucas would set his version in the summer of 1962, the moment everything changed for him at the ago of 18, and end it with a car crash. Set in a small town much like his own boyhood Modesto, California, it had flavors of autobiography.

He came up with a semi-Italian title: American Graffiti. It sounded odd to contemporary ears. The Italian word had not yet gained common currency. New York subway trains were about a year away from spray-painted signatures. Lucas hadn’t intended that debased usage of the word in any case; he meant the word invented at Pompeii in 1851 that means nostalgic etchings. He wanted to record the legacy of a lost decade: an American Pompeii, frozen in time forever.

Lucas’s encapsulation of space journeys were still to come.

HOW THEY SEE THINGS–THE OUTSIDERS


bill traylor_0003

bill traylor_0001

Bill Traylor’s talent surfaced suddenly in 1939 when he was eighty-five years old and had ten more years to live. By then he had left the plantation in Southern Alabama where he had been born a slave in 1854.

After Emancipation, he scratched out a living as a sharecropper before moving to Montgomery, the state capitol where he slept on a pallet in the back of a funeral home and spent his days watching the world pass before his eyes on Monroe Street, the center of the city’s black district.

One day he picked up a pencil stub and began to draw what he saw and what he remembered. He ultimately produced hundreds of drawings and paintings. He was a born storyteller who pushed images of the life around him toward abstraction with no loss of vitality.

His work exists because of Charles Shannon a young white artist and admirer who watched him drawing on the street. He began visiting him every day and while hearing stories about Traylor’s life, he watched him recreating scenes still vivid in his mind as well as that of passing strangers. Shannon brought him art supplies, and buying some and taking others for safekeeping he saved the memories of a long life.

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“Outsider” art encompasses all sorts of art which lies outside the boundaries of official culture, otherwise thought of as those on the outside of the established art scene. Typically, though not always, an outside artist doesn’t move in the mainstream of the established art world. The sculptor Beatrice Woods might have been thought of as an outside artist, and surely her lover, the artist Marcel Duchamp, would have been seen as part of the movement (if the term had been around then).

See my blog NAUGHTY LADY for more about Beatrice Wood. She wrote a book called “I Shock Myself”. I’m not sure which was shocking to her, her art or her sex life! Her favorite reply when asked to what she attributed her old age (103) was “I like young men and a piece of chocolate every day.” Either way, she was a grand old lady.

Beatrice fell in love with the French artist Marcel Duchamp when she went to Paris as a young woman first starting out in the art world. She quickly formed relationships with Duchamp and his friend Henri-Pierre Roche, two of the avante-gard artists of the time.

Duchamp bounced around trying any number of art styles, never really settling on any one type. He liked to think of himself as a Dadaist or conceptual artist, or anything which challenged the conventional thought abut artistic processes.

In 1917 he submitted an upside-down urinal to the Society of Independent Artists show. It was titled “The Fountain” and signed “R. mutt”. It was rejected even though the rules clearly stated that all works would be accepted if the fee were paid. Instead it became even more famous than it would otherwise have been when he had his friend the photographer Man Ray photograph it, and then take it to New York where it was celebrated as a huge joke by the reigning artists of the day. Clearly Duchamp would qualify as an “outside” artist even though he had been classical trained.

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The na├»ve art of Grandma Moses, another artist with latent talent, falls into the category as well as some of the following type of art. These paintings by Henry Taylor, a Los Angeles artist, and some of the art we classify as folk art are by those considered “outsider” artists.

Henry Taylor
Painting by Henry Taylor

Banksy, a pseudonymous of an England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director and painter is also considered an outsider artist. His satirical stenciled street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti. Banksy’s work can be seen on streets, bridges, and walls in cities throughout the world. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher in Bristol, but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980’s.

Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti directly himself, however, art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder.

Banksy