Nomaville: Art Thief

Sleeping Nude with Open ArmsBlack market art world – bad news. First there are the art thieves, a hoary bunch of lycra-clad thugs who believe their chosen line refines them beyond the specter of criminality. When they’re not plucking paintings off museum walls, they’re in the gym doing Pilates, their steel eyes far-away and dull, hypnotized by the electronica pulsing in their iPods. Then, there’s the endless chain of middlemen, a motley assortment of aficionados and malcontents, generally European, always impeccably dressed – they’re the sacrificial lambs when the bullets begin to fly. Each has a philosophy with which they rationalize their particular brand of crime – some are Robin Hoods for the jet set, others claim a grudge against bureaucratic intrusion into the art world. Others have a knack for tracing everything back to the Nazis and have convinced themselves that they’re righting some wrong or other. Most of these middlemen are welterweight scholars with undergrad degrees in art history, forensics or economics though I’ve met at least two who studied journalism. This brings me to “Hal,” my J-school contact, now courier, who phoned last week with an alarming offer.

His voice was staccato over the line, sentences broken as if he were looking over his shoulder while speaking. Even through the static of his pre-paid cell I knew his breath was rank with coffee and cigarette smoke. I was sure he hadn’t slept in days. Couriers never do. They’re always on the run, whether they’re working or not.

“‘Sleeping Nude with Arms Open.’ You in?”

“You’ve got five seconds to change the subject before I hang up.”

“I just need your bed for a few days,” Hal hedged. It took a moment before I remembered “bed” was art thief slang for stowing a hot canvas. Credit that to Vincenzo Perugia, the Italian who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911 and kept it literally under the covers for a couple of years.

“I’m hitched, Hal. Went legit.”

“Thanks for the invite,” he hissed, “Where do I send the flowers?”

“Wasn’t a funeral, Hal.”

“Forgive me, I get confused. ‘Specially when a buddy of mine leaves me off the guest list, I figure he must have bought it.”

“Five seconds, Hal.”

He clucked his tongue.

“Modigliani, mate. Just two nights. She’ll never know.”
I heard his rust whiskers scrape the receiver, pulled tight by a leather smile.

Amadeo Modigliani painted “Sleeping Nude with Arms Open” in 1917, three years before he died, both tubercular and poor. Contrary to his miserable end, the painting (alternately known as “Red Nude”) is lush with life – a woman, supine, atop a red duvee, her arms open and above her tousled dark hair, her pose sensuous, knowing. It never seemed she was sleeping as the title suggests. I think she’s faking it. I like that about her. The painting first caught my eye as a postcard I purchased in a stationary shop while skulking in Abbot Kinney. I needed wall art at the time and seeing as my digs were small and my decorating budget smaller, five and half by four and a quarter, was a fit. The nude in question, however, appealed to me most because she was a dead ringer for a woman I’d known briefly back home in Lumaville, a woman whose orbit I’d later have the good fortune of intersecting again. A woman, in point of fact, I married several years later. I’m just sentimental enough that Hal’s call with the real deal put a slow fade on my better judgment. More later…

Nomaville: Exposure Exposé Exposed

Like what you see?There is an image I chanced upon as a child, which left an indelible imprint on my mind. Captioned “Expose yourself to art,” R. Myerson’s famous photograph depicts a man in a trench coat flashing an outdoor sculpture. I dug it for the multiple-entendre and whispers of Zen that curled around the corners of the frame like so much pipe smoke. Remembering the photo brought to mind the varieties of public exposure I’ve been encouraged to avoid in my wee media career – “indecent” and “over-exposure” are the two I am told can wreak the most professional havoc. The former is easily eluded: I’ve learned (finally) that keeping one’s pants on in public is nearly as effective as keeping them on in private when it comes to skirting scandal (the best scandal usually comes in skirts). The latter, however, has proven tricky of late given my recent turn as host of the Second Annual Sunnys Community Awards Celebration (with some help from Tommy Smothers and a cavalcade of Three House MultiMedia personnel) and as a sideman in The Revolt, the ersatz “all-star” band helmed by J.M. Berry that played councilman Ken Brown’s 60th birthday on Sunday.

Hosting a black-tie event is rather like conducting a train from the dining car. The machine has its own velocity and there’s nothing one can do about it except raise a glass occasionally and pretend to be in charge. Fortunately, we suffered little in the way of derailments; the only casualties were a damsel or two tied to the tracks of our timeline, but altogether we managed to avoid the proverbial wreck (and the damsels were actually dudes in drag, so here the brakeman gets a break).

Brown’s sexagenarian birthday bash (which sounds far more risqué than it was, despite the full moon and lush hips swinging on the dance floor) was the inaugural outing of The Revolt (I’ll resist listing the band’s entire membership, which would be like handing out “Hello, My Name Is…” stickers at a revolving door with a complimentary drink ticket). The principals I can recall from our two and a half rehearsals include J.M. Berry, Bob Taylor, Smokin’ Joe Herrschaft, King Daddy Murr, Cliff Z, Mike Kelley and myself – as motley a crew as ever, but effective in its impersonation of an actual band.

I was advised by my brand manager, Kit Fergus, to adopt what he calls the “contact lens approach” to comporting myself in the public eye: change frequently and never leave in too long. I expect said eye to go bloodshot with the upcoming Sonoma Valley Film Festival, which includes director pal Raymond Daigle’s flick “Replica,” a night-in-the-life of copy shop employees on the verge of revolution – featuring moi. I won’t plug any more of my involvement here (I begged columnist Kate Williams to do the dirty work for this edition). After the festival (and the inevitable drinking binge that comes with it), I’ll likely go underground for the remainder of April (or into rehab, depending). If you happen to see me lurking about between now and then, kindly send me home. Or I’ll have to expose myself to you – artistically.

Nomaville: Exposure Expos? Exposed

Like what you see?There is an image I chanced upon as a child, which left an indelible imprint on my mind. Captioned ?Expose yourself to art,? R. Myerson?s famous photograph depicts a man in a trench coat flashing an outdoor sculpture. I dug it for the multiple-entendre and whispers of Zen that curled around the corners of the frame like so much pipe smoke. Remembering the photo brought to mind the varieties of public exposure I?ve been encouraged to avoid in my wee media career ? ?indecent? and ?over-exposure? are the two I am told can wreak the most professional havoc. The former is easily eluded: I?ve learned (finally) that keeping one?s pants on in public is nearly as effective as keeping them on in private when it comes to skirting scandal (the best scandal usually comes in skirts). The latter, however, has proven tricky of late given my recent turn as host of the Second Annual Sunnys Community Awards Celebration (with some help from Tommy Smothers and a cavalcade of Three House MultiMedia personnel) and as a sideman in The Revolt, the ersatz ?all-star? band helmed by J.M. Berry that played councilman Ken Brown?s 60th birthday on Sunday.

Hosting a black-tie event is rather like conducting a train from the dining car. The machine has its own velocity and there?s nothing one can do about it except raise a glass occasionally and pretend to be in charge. Fortunately, we suffered little in the way of derailments; the only casualties were a damsel or two tied to the tracks of our timeline, but altogether we managed to avoid the proverbial wreck (and the damsels were actually dudes in drag, so here the brakeman gets a break).

Brown?s sexagenarian birthday bash (which sounds far more risqu? than it was, despite the full moon and lush hips swinging on the dance floor) was the inaugural outing of The Revolt (I?ll resist listing the band?s entire membership, which would be like handing out ?Hello, My Name Is?? stickers at a revolving door with a complimentary drink ticket). The principals I can recall from our two and a half rehearsals include J.M. Berry, Bob Taylor, Smokin? Joe Herrschaft, King Daddy Murr, Cliff Z, Mike Kelley and myself ? as motley a crew as ever, but effective in its impersonation of an actual band.

I was advised by my brand manager, Kit Fergus, to adopt what he calls the ?contact lens approach? to comporting myself in the public eye: change frequently and never leave in too long. I expect said eye to go bloodshot with the upcoming Sonoma Valley Film Festival, which includes director pal Raymond Daigle?s flick ?Replica,? a night-in-the-life of copy shop employees on the verge of revolution ? featuring moi. I won?t plug any more of my involvement here (I begged columnist Kate Williams to do the dirty work for this edition). After the festival (and the inevitable drinking binge that comes with it), I?ll likely go underground for the remainder of April (or into rehab, depending). If you happen to see me lurking about between now and then, kindly send me home. Or I?ll have to expose myself to you ? artistically.

Nomaville: All the President’s Mensch

Wormwood and BarnstormWhen I was a small-town reporter on the eve of a five-year stint in the Hollywood trenches, I used to fret about the motion picture of my life. How would the cast and crew behind my own personal biopic bridge the continental divide between my years as a newspaperman and those I foresaw as a mogul? Fortunately for the History Channel, I never became a mogul as such – despite my time skulking the back lots, enduring pitch meetings and suffering the remonstrations of my agents, manager and attorney. This merry band, I now recall with a modicum of hmmph, represented a 25 percent interest in my paycheck. The fact that much of this work was written with a partner meant that after our split and our reps’ fees, we were both left with about 30 percent of the pie, half of which went to taxes. It soon became clear that we should forgo the Herculean effort of writing and simply become agents ourselves. Our reasoning was that we would make the same and like everyone else in Hollywood, we could take credit for the work regardless who had labored on it. My partner and I set up shop as a literary management company but, in time, grew resentful doing other writers’ legwork. In the end, we convinced one of our clients to rep us and now he gets 10 percent of our take and we get 10 percent of his. That this client is my partner is only mildly confounding, but no less absurd, I suppose, as underwriting my writing career with a day job as a writer.

Indeed, I’ve long endeavored to braid the wisps of my professional pursuits into something more substantial than so much macramé. How does one unite the disparate lines of filmmaker and newspaperman (the Contessa made me quit the “international playboy” gig – must have been the commute)? The facile answer has always been “be a film critic.” Alas, my film reviews were rife with phrases like “This is what I would have done,” which my editors thought too telling.

“Damn right, they’re telling,” I’d retort. “I’m telling them how to make a movie.”

“And who are you to presume how to make a movie?”

“Trust me, I’m right.”

“Okay, Mr. Right, go rewrite your review. This time in third-person. And by the way, no one cares that Han Solo should have died in ‘Empire Strikes Back.’”

“Lawrence Kasdan cares.”

“Lawrence Kasdan doesn’t read your column.”

(Whether or not “Empire” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan reads my column could not be verified by press time.)

At first glance, making movies about the newspaper business seems an apropos alternative. The relative dearth of such flicks, however, suggests that audiences respect the genre as much as canaries do cage-liner.

I asked managing editor Tim Omarzu, “Which newspaper movie do you prefer, ‘All the Presidents Men’ or ‘Fletch?’”

“I never saw ‘Fletch,’” he responded. “But I saw ‘Caddyshack’ a bunch of times. In terms of getting the most for your entertainment dollar ‘Caddyshack’ is way better than ‘Lost in
Translation,’” he said sagely. “It’s got great social commentary about class struggle and…”

“Dude, we’re talking about newspaper movies, man.”

“Yeah, but remember the Baby-Ruth in the pool? Comedy gold, my friend.”

I actually began writing a newspaper movie, but due to my yen to explore the interiority of the characters, it amounted to a bunch of people sitting at desks staring at computer screens under a heap of voice-over. I’ve since reshaped the project as a novel, which has led to some social unease between my colleagues and me – especially when I try to capture their snappy repartee in my notebook and ask them to repeat their better lines.

An actual exchange:

“I’m saving my money for when the revolution comes, man.”

“I’m hoarding cigarettes. After the economy collapses, tobacco will be worth way more than your paper money.”

But what does a filmmaking newspaperman horde for the revolution? A sap would say “moments,” a realist would say “cigarettes.” I’m inclined to think I’d be part of the revolution or, on the flipside, one of its casualties (guys like me are usually rounded up at the start of such endeavors) so I’ll leave the hoarding to my newsroom pals. And take a 10 percent commission.

Nomaville: Kir Royale and Aftershave

The first one's free.My stylist, or at least the design school dropout who calls himself my stylist, has tried vainly in recent months to get me to affect the mien of a 1970’s rock promoter. “That’s your look,” he assures. “Mildly dissipated with an artful sense of showmanship but vaguely villainous.”

Most days it’s a near miss, but then I never bother with the spangled accoutrements that Chauchat (he borrowed his name from the World War I-era French machine gun) says would make my get-up au courant. Make that “Oh, currant!” which is what they put in a Kir Royale, the champagne cocktail that a 19-year-old girlfriend of mine would order to seem sufficiently sophisticated not to card. In point of fact, the main component of a Kir Royale is blackcurrant liquor or crème de cassis, which my wardrobe also resembles because the stuff stains worse than Lady MacBeth’s conscience and I’m a sloppy drunk. Also compounding my fashion woes of late is the fact that when I forget to shave for a few days and I’m in the action-figure outfit (rumpled blazer, jeans, un-pressed fitted shirt and unkempt hair) I tend to look like the kind of sleaze that cruises hotel bars for divorcées and cigarettes. Be assured those days are long behind me. Since I quit smoking again, I only go to hotel bars for breakfast and confession.

Last week, the Contessa pointed out to her unbridled horror that I hadn’t shaved prior to a black-tie American Heart Association shindig she and Jean Arnold Sessions (and a raft of other very capable people) had helped organize at the Ritz Carlton. In a pinch, I bummed a shaving kit off a porter at the Sir Francis Drake where we were staying, tipped him $20 and did a quick clean up in the mezzanine men’s room (our room was on the 11th floor and I wasn’t yet boozy enough to overcome my vertigo). I very nearly looked like a 1970s rock promoter were it not for the fact that, in my haste, I missed several spots while shaving and consequently had an archipelago of mange dotting the underside of my jowl. This I discovered while adjusting my collar while en route in the cab and feeling the grit of a three-day beard shamefully sanding my knuckles.

Unlike the Sir Francis Drake, the vastly more chichi Ritz has a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy about toiletries. I didn’t even have to ask – the kid at the front desk simply handed me a razor when I crossed the lobby – so obvious was my predicament. Shaving in my second mezzanine men’s room of the evening was a pure delight. I even made some quick edits to my sideburns just for the pure thrill of shaving with an actual blade rather than that sharpened spoon rusting away at home in the medicine cabinet. A guy in a better jacket than mine even handed me a warm towel afterward as another dressed my wounds.

The Contessa, meanwhile, was tied up working the floor so I sauntered off to the hotel bar to kill time before the gala officially kickoff. I rediscovered that champagne cocktails are the eighth through 10th wonders of the world. Their enjoyment was only slightly marred by the divorcées offering me cigarettes and commenting on my aura of mild dissipation. Damn you, Chauchat! I said to myself as I slugged the last drops of my Kir Royale. Make that the last second to last drops. The final splash, of course, found its way to the front of my un-pressed shirt. Thank God, I wasn’t wearing a tie.