TRAILER: “From There to There – Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet” (2024)

Bruce Ario (1955 – 2022) was a poet and novelist from Minneapolis. A car accident and traumatic brain injury in his mid-20s forced Bruce to drop out of law school, which was followed by a period of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. His health began to improve with a religious awakening, therapy, volunteer work (which included time in Haiti), and, most importantly to Bruce and his legacy, a lifelong interest in writing.

From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet is an upcoming (2024) documentary film on Bruce’s life and work. It will be shot in Minneapolis, where Bruce Ario spent his life, and will include footage of scenes described in Bruce’s writing. It will also feature interviews with artists and those who knew him. Our GoFundMe fundraiser will help cover some costs associated with the project: video equipment, travel expenses, advertising, labor and production. Any additional money raised will be used to fund the publication of Bruce Ario’s books.

The trailer can be found here.

Another trailer can be found here.

You can contribute to the fundraiser here.

A poet first, Bruce Ario created the “ario” poetic form, which includes 3 stanzas of 3 lines each, followed by a final line. His poems tap plain speech and startling juxtapositions of image and thought, giving his poetry an “everyman” feel that many readers have come to prefer. Bruce is also author of the coming-of-age novel, Cityboy, which his literary executor, Dan Schneider, has painstakingly reconstructed to its original, rarely-seen version from the 1990s.

Cityboy, Bruce Ario’s Selected Poems, and his Final Poems will be released in 2024 alongside From There to There.

An extended discussion of Bruce Ario’s life and work with Bruce’s literary executor, Bruce’s brother, and the filmmaker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycAD9s57Re8

A sampling of Bruce Ario’s poetry: http://www.cosmoetica.com/UPG.htm#BRUCE%20ARIO

About the filmmakers:

Alex Sheremet is a poet, critic, novelist, and videographer from New York City. He runs the automachination YouTube channel and the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine, for which Bruce Ario wrote.

Joel Parrish is a poet and photographer from Michigan. He is also providing voice work for the film. Joel’s poetry and photos can be found on his website.… Continue reading →

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Like The Last Words Of A House Cat (Lord’s Story)

[This is a transcript for Alex Sheremet’s video essay about Lord, a Scottish Fold cat who recently passed. It originally appeared on the AUTOMACHINATION literary website.]

After Lord had made his decision, he wished to see the world a little. One might as well, he thought. Ever since the arrival of Cookie, he felt agitated, if only with himself. Lord had never been a jealous cat, but watching King—his older brother—groom Cookie, and chase her, and beat her up, he suddenly missed the rough of King’s tongue. He missed the sound of Dad cleaning loosened hair. He missed how Mom would separate them, for he never took this as a punishment. After all, Lord loved to think, and right now, the season was pensive. Yes, summer was ongoing, but the longest day was long behind, and each sunrise felt a little colder. It would soon be Grandmother’s birthday. Had it really been that long? A cat uses up its days so quickly, though there is still so much to do. Lord understood he would not have time to start anything new, but why, he wondered, is everyone obsessed only with beginnings? His mind was of one project—one map—and he intended to complete it.

No time is the right time to leave home. Once Lord accepted this, his definition of home enlarged a little. His map, which marked out a garden, or a tree, now had fences to contend with. He was too old to jump past them, but wise enough to know that all fences doggedly followed lead to termination. Outside, leaves greened the sun and blew its light westward. Bricks assembled seemingly overnight. He would test himself against them, but concluded this was too close to his own domain. Lord needed to go further. He needed to smell strange dirt. To fend off the black snake. To squeeze through things—but what? A rose bush picked on him. Hot gravel insinuated. Not much of a city cat, a neighbor’s shout spooked him into the street, while the sound of engines spooked him out of it. And then there was the struggle with Dad—the comfort of Dad. Seeing Dad’s face, Lord’s instinct was to run to it. He nudged a paw forward and stopped. No—the instinct for happiness was unlike the instinct for knowledge. Dad had always seemed all-knowing, but Lord sensed an opportunity to learn things not even Dad could know. His heart pacing, Lord turned not from Dad, but towards his task.

Lord was not used to the wilds, yet the more time they spent within him, the more he understood. Ants arbored in the grass as well as he did. Mice ate what they could find, then Lord would find them. Now that something big was looking for Lord, he felt decisions more acutely. He learned earthworms hid not from humility, but pride. He learned not every flower was a friend and that this was for the better. He learned instinct was as much honed as … Continue reading →

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Art As Masculinity In “The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie” (1976)

[This review of John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine.]

Though I’d been watching John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie quite regularly the past decade – had reared my second childhood upon it, as a fact – I only recently understood the import of a key anti-noir scene. As Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) breaks into a triad compound, he is not confronted by a benumbed gangster taunting him to shoot, but by an old man splashing water in a pool. It is as if he has regressed to adolescence, down to his childlike interest in the much younger woman bathing him. This much I’d already known, but this time, I realized Benny Wu’s (Soto Joe Hugh) mumbling wasn’t mere sound. “I’m real bad. Real bad,” Wu suddenly confesses to his killer. “I’m so sorry.” The triad is then shot dead, yet it is not so much the death that is tragic as is Cosmo’s inability to digest it: he was sent with a task, and is thus precluded from engaging with its largest moment. And how could it be otherwise? Time is money, the film suggests, whether it’s the time it takes Cosmo to get out of debt, the unconscious zeal with which he is once again indebted, or the fact that, as a private enterprise, criminality is as wasteful as any other – down to its paring away of “useless” self-indulgence, like pondering death and death’s dimensions. The triad knows he has wasted his life, but has been so pampered by hierarchy and habit that waste is the only logical outcome. Having lived transactionally, even his young lover shows no emotion and quietly slips out after he is killed, for she seems to understand this was but a business decision among a thousand other business decisions which may or may not erupt in mayhem.

Now, it would be wrong to blanch The Killing of a Chinese Bookie of its totalizing “point”, yet there is so much else moving in and out of the film’s outskirts that reducing it to aphorism is even worse. John Cassavetes plays with subterfuge, tension, winding trails that lead to dead ends and dead ends that fraction into avenues, down to the film’s enigmatic title. I mean, who is the ‘Chinese bookie’, if not – as Mort (Seymour Cassel) suggests then denies – triad boss Benny Wu? Yet the triad is too powerful to be a mere bookmaker and has almost certainly engaged in murder, himself. If anything, the film’s ‘bookie’ is both concept and adumbration, and it is telling that critics, who panned the film upon its release, never bothered to analyze its inner mythos. “They’re very resentful,” an Italian gangster says of the triads, “because they don’t know whether they’re Chinese-American, or American-Chinese…” Of course, the gangsters are shown to be correct – Wu has failed to cultivate a meaningful life-purpose – but the irony is that their words are just … Continue reading →

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DEEP WEB (Alex Winter, Ross Ulbricht) Is Libertarian Hypocrisy

 

Ross Ulbricht lies in grass

Let’s get aesthetics out of the way, first. If a film about a drug boss starts with an anarchic proclamation, it needs- at a minimum- for that proclamation to be well-phrased. This will at least offset some of the political clichés surrounding drug prohibition, and might make it easier to repeat them without hurting the film on more substantive grounds. But if after engaging with the writing- “giant Fuck You to the system”, “fascists”, “real base of power lies with us”- one wonders WHY the film was even made, that question IS a relevant lens through which to view the film’s subject. I mean, just consider any other work on any other drug dealer: from the experts’ self-pillory in Mr. Untouchable, to the dread and ennui of Mean Streets, to the dum-dum brutality of American Gangster, the world’s mobsters are rarely presented as unequivocal heroes. In most cases, they aren’t allowed to have childhoods, nor to wax philosophical from home videos (although, in the coming decade, some will). They do not earn science degrees, and certainly were not nurtured by a loving family driven to exonerate them. In fact, if they were street-peddlers, their stories simply gain no traction at all, and cannot, on an individual basis, ever be the face of a grassroots political movement. That Ross Ulbricht, the incarcerated founder of darknet website Silk Road, gets to enjoy all of these things, and more, is a story far more interesting than Alex Winter’s Deep Web allows it to be. Indeed, one ought to ask why Ross Ulbricht is a cult figure for so many libertarians, if only because the answer sheds light on how awful the parsing of more important questions has become. The war on drugs, I’m afraid, attracts dupes and hypocrites on both sides, and by stripping his film of all artistic appeal, Alex Winter gives an inadvertent glimpse into how both sides conduct themselves.

But, even more than these glimpses, I am interested in their framing- what makes it in, what is omitted, and the order in which each element gets polemicized. The story proper opens with the shuttering of Silk Road and an explanation of the deep web, which the narrator (voiced by Keanu Reeves) makes sure to differentiate from illegal activities on the darknet. We learn of the website’s sophistication and massive sales: over $1 billion at its peak, with additional details provided by journalist Andy Greenberg, the trope ‘voice of reason’ made more sympathetic to Ross Ulbricht than it perhaps is. He discusses Silk Road’s community of anarchists, while another expert opines that the website was not really about selling drugs, but “a political statement”. A former Silk Road dealer is brought in to corroborate this, as the over-voice primes the viewer for the film’s main argument- that there is insufficient proof tying Ross Ulbricht to the site’s admin, the Dread Pirate Roberts, or, failing that, at least insufficient proof that … Continue reading →

Review Of “Donald Trump’s THE WALL” (2016)

Donald Trump's The Wall splashed across Pink Floyd album cover.Having now watched the anonymous pseudo-documentary Donald Trump’s THE WALL a few times since its 2016 release, I am even more convinced of the future of multidisciplinary art and the slow asphyxiation of the written word. This is not because one is better than the other- there will be no greater art than writing for centuries to come- but because of how easily these art forms tap into sensory experience, and how naturally they cohere into small, digestible narratives brandishing just one or two core ideas. No, they are not ‘serious’ in the way that- say- John Banville’s trite, overmodified prose is serious, but what of that? One of the worst elements of contemporary art is how self-aware it tends to be, yet how little it feeds off of this awareness: how little, for example, it wants to work with its own constraints and re-define the ‘how’ of how good stories are told. I mean, just compare the tired cultural commentary of The West Wingdown to quoting Leviticus against the religious– to a three-minute video from Vic Berger which similarly attacks religious hucksters, but does so with humor and fresh narrative tricks. Or consider this interpretation of Ted Cruz, which- while polemical- does more than critique a politician: it offers up a startling image of American zealotry, and even manages to invert familiar tropes. The real question, however, is if such pieces can sustain themselves for any appreciable length, which Donald Trump’s THE WALL tests across an hour-plus of historical footage set to Pink Floyd’s album of the same name- a clue as to why it’s been removed so many times from video platforms, even as the film itself is a boon to an otherwise forgettable record.

The first few minutes are a summary of Donald Trump’s public persona- his business ventures, media appearances, and personal wealth- cleverly synchronized with Pink Floyd’s “In The Flesh?”, as the album morphs into Trump’s own biography. Not all of this is explicitly political: a lot of time is spent building Trump by other means, such as photographs from youth, newspaper clippings of his rise and fall, and Trump’s implied dependence on his father’s wealth (set to “Daddy, what did you leave behind for me?”) with politics serving as just one extension of a damaged character. Now, the film does get more declamatory as it goes on, with extended footage of migrants and of war played against Trump’s infamous reading of Al Wilson’s “The Snake”, which is itself inverted as Trump becomes the subject of his own recitation. Yet the film remembers to give characters their own little arcs, as well, with shots of the ridiculous post-Trump Ivana (set to “Vera”: “what has become of you?”), and even offers some emotional reprieve by making Trump a pitiful figure (“Nobody Home”) rather than a merely evil one. It is no coincidence that- although released before the 2016 election- Donald Trump’s THE WALL is still able to project … Continue reading →