Artists of the Year

Hurricanes, war, avian flu, locust plagues, that annoying song you couldn't get out of your head. It wasn't the greatest of all possible years. Nor was it halfway decent. But to prove that it wasn't all bad, we asked 29 writers to rave about the ar

Asmussen fills his strips with caricatures, photos, collages--the panels are busy, they move fast, and when they work they are so close to the front page you can forget what you're looking at. When he hits dead air, it's painful, because when he scores it's like a bomb going off in your head.

Maybe because he's working in a daily newspaper, Asmussen's work translates effortlessly. What he puts on the page is no different from Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Colin Powell when Powell was secretary of state, calling Dick Cheney "a moron, an idiot, or a nefarious bastard" in a November interview with the Associated Press--or stating the next day, in an interview with the Guardian in London, that Cheney may himself be guilty of terrorism for affirming the right to torture. You read this, in black and white, on newsprint, or on your computer screen. Has this man lost his mind? you say, not because you necessarily think anything Wilkerson is saying is crazy, but because you know it's crazy to think that any such words work in mainstream media discourse as anything other than evidence of dementia. With Asmussen, fooling around on the back page of the entertainment section, you just supply the smile he doesn't permit the faces in his strip, and go about your business, confident that all's right with the world, that it's other people who are nuts.

Greil Marcus'sThe Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice will be published next fall by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

Eugene Hutz
By Keith Harris
Mustachioed, bug-eyed, and slavering, Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz revels in a Gypsy stereotype that hasn't haunted American pop culture since the heyday of classic Universal horror flicks. To paranoid nativists, of course, them swarthy types all look alike, and even with the volume set on a neighborly three or four, the frenzied Balkan rock of Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike would keep Lou Dobbs awake till dawn. "I am a foreigner/And I'm walking through your streets," Hutz declares with playful menace, casually spotlighting the sketchy side of the neo-liberal dream, where porous borders and unchartable immigrant undesirables are the price "we" pay for the easy transfer of capital.

Plenty of off-white cosmopolitans are floating similar boats: Sri Lankan art-rad Maya Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) tweaks images of third-world insurgency, Algerian rai dervish Rachid Taha invokes fears of skeevy Eurotrash lasciviousness. But Hutz integrates these twin strands of postcolonial pop into a rollicking vision of dark-skinned loudmouths who penetrate Western cities and Western daughters alike, and he parties harder than either. When it comes to cross-cultural mix-and-match, after all, Gypsies were proto-pomo long before anyone in the Third World or the Bronx, and Gogol Bordello anchors an NYC immigrant scene intent on unraveling the seams of Middle Eastern and Balkan culture already stitched into hip hop and jazz.

There's a melancholy undertow to this blare of accordions and violins, reflecting an awareness that, as Hutz puts it, "Nobody learn no nothin' from no history." But there's a breakneck drive, too, a two-step thrash of fierce determination that threatens to collapse into drunken anarchy. Eugene Hutz claims the future in the name of all mongrels and mutts for whom racial, cultural, and national purity haven't been an option in generations. Then he grabs your girlfriend's ass.

Keith Harris is a Philadelphia-based writer and a frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Michael Haneke
By David Ng
"You disturb me to the point of insanity. There. I am insane now." --Mike Meyers as Dieter,SNL's East German film critic

Director Michael Haneke was never a guest on Dieter's show "Sprockets." Yet the Austrian mega-auteur, best known for such unsmiling Euro-cinema award magnets as The Piano Teacher and Time of the Wolf, would've been a dream interviewee. Like Dieter, Haneke is pale, perpetually black-clad, and arguably "pretentious." His fashionably bleak films typically catalogue the slow, bloody unraveling of a bourgeois family. In his latest movie, Caché (Hidden), a literary journalist (Daniel Auteuil) receives anonymous surveillance tapes detailing his daily life. The videocassettes gradually expose a childhood memory that threatens to bring his domestic semi-existence to a brutal end. To which Dieter might enthuse: "Your agony is beautiful!"

Haneke's movies are so recognizably chilly that they constantly flirt with self-parody, which may be where they derive much of their destabilizing power. Is he joking? If so, who's the joke on--his pathetic characters? Or us? An über-Hanekian masterpiece, Caché bundles the director's usual elements (a sterile E.U. megalopolis, cloudy weather, actors in a bad mood) together with salient obsessions from his past films: Code Unknown's simmering racial hostilities, Funny Games' comic sadism, and Benny's Video's media-induced aggressions. The result is both grim and maliciously humorous.

Though it opens in most of the U.S. this January, Caché debuted in France three weeks before the country's November riots, serving as a prescient warning of the Western world's colonial sins coming home to roost. The reverse-snob detractors who snicker at Haneke's grave worldview are finding themselves oddly speechless in the face of such horrific real-life corroboration. "Did you mean for me to scream?" Mike Meyer's Dieter was fond of asking his guests. Haneke would probably say no, and then slice his host's jugular in one swift stroke.

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