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Hi, I’m Colin Marshall

… a Seoul- and sometimes Los Angeles-based essayist, broadcaster, and public speaker on cities and culture.

I write for Guardian CitiesOpen Culturethe Los Angeles Review of Books (including its Korea Blog), and I’m now at work on the KCET series Los Angeles in Buildings, the crowdsourced urbanist-cultural-travel journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and a book called A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City.

I’ve also written for Boom: A Journal of California (and guest-edited its issue on architecture, infrastructure, and the built environment), Bookforum, Boing Boing, Put This On, The Japan Foundation, The Millions3QuarksdailyThe Quarterly Conversation, and Maximum Fun.

Each month I appear on a Seoul urbanism radio feature on TBS eFM’s Koreascape. Previously, I hosted and produced the world-traveling podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture [RSS] [iTunes], which evolved from the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas. 

My video essay series The City in Cinema examines cities (especially Los Angeles) as they appear on film.

My public speaking, which I’ve done in places like Portland’s Hollywood Theatre, the San Francisco Urban Film Festival, Yonsei University, Chapman University, California State University Long Beach, and the Seoul Book and Culture Club, usually covers this same suite of cities-and-culture-related topics.

You can also keep up with me on Twitter and Facebook as well.

Korea Blog: When Chris Marker Freely Photographed, and Briefly Fell in Love with, North Korea

Even though I live there, I still only with difficulty perceive Northeast Asia through any lens not borrowed from Chris Marker. This owes mostly to the influence of dozens of viewings of Sans Soleil, his 1983 fact-and-fiction cinematic travelogue through places like Iceland, Cape Verde, San Francisco, and especially Japan, a feature-length realization of the peripatetic form of “essay film” he invented with 1955’s Sunday in Peking. Between that and Sans Soleil, he’d gone to Tokyo during the 1964 Olympics and come back with the materials for a 45-minute documentary about the titular young woman whom he happened to meet in the street there. Le Mystère Koumiko came out in 1965, just three years after his best-known work: La Jetée, the short drama of apocalypse, time travel, and memory made almost entirely out of still photographs.

But Marker also made it, camera in hand, to the Korean Peninsula as well — and the northern half of the Korean Peninsula at that. He’d accepted an invitation in 1957 to join a delegation of French journalists and intellectuals including Claude Lanzmann, Armand Gatti, and Jean-Claude Bonnardot: Lanzmann, so the legend has it, fell in with a nurse there. Gatti and Bonnardot, more productively, made the feature film, the first and only North Korean-French co-production, Moranbong (not to be confused with the North Korean girl group of the same name). Marker took the pictures that would, in 1962, appear as the photobook Coréennes, titled with the feminine form of the French noun meaning “Koreans.” It brings to mind — or at least brings to my mind — Marker’s quotable quote: “In another time I guess I would have been content with filming girls and cats. But you don’t choose your time.”

Had Marker’s time been the 19th century of travelers like Percival Lowell, he would have enjoyed nary a glimpse of Korea’s hidden-away womankind, let alone its strictly hidden-away young womankind, but this “prototype of the twenty-first-century man” (in the words of collaborator Alain Resnais) paid his visit in the middle of the twentieth. While he could and did photograph plenty of girls (though, apart from historical representations of Korea’s much-mythologized tiger, no cats), he also captured the images of a host of other North Korean citizens besides: children, scholars, soldiers, vendors, pranksters. The title of Coréennes‘ Korean edition, 북녘사람들 or “Northern People,” thus more accurately reflects the content of the book, although its English-language edition stuck, as many of the English-language releases of Marker’s movies have, with the original French one.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

콜린의 한국 이야기: 홍상수 영화의 힘

나는 지난주에 한국영상자료원에서 홍상수 감독의 최신 영화 <당신자신과 당신의 것>을 보면서 내가 로스엔잴래스에 살 때를 떠올렸다. 왜냐하면 한국어를 얼마 공부하지 않은 그 때 나는 로스앤젠네스에 본사를 둔 한국 신문 기자로부터 인터뷰를 요청받고 흥쾌히 응했다. 기자는 나에게 왜 한국에 대해 관심을 가지고 있냐고 물어봤고 나는 처음 본 한국 영화들 때문이라고 대답했다. 아버지께서 한국 영화 평론가라고 소개한 기자는 다음 번 질문으로 내가 어느 한국 감독을 가장 좋아하냐고 물어봤고 나는 자연스레 홍상수라고 대답했다. 나는 그 기자가 쓴 신문 기사에서 내가 “홍상수 작품이라면 닥치는 대로 보았고 영화제를 찾아 다니면서 홍상수 매니아가 됬습니다”라고 쓰여진 것을 보았다.

내가 그 기자가 쓴 말 대로 그렇게 말하지는 않았지만 기사에 쓰여진 말을 전부 거짓말이라고 부인할 수는 없다. 나는 로스엔잴래스로 이사오기 전에 살았던 조금 멀리 떨어진 산타바바라에 거주할 때도 홍상수 영화를 보러 몇 번 로스엔잴래스에 간 적이 있다. 그렇다면 나는 왜 홍상수의 작품들을 그렇게 즐기는 걸까? 그의 영화들은 흔히 볼 수 있는 액션도 없고 대스타도 없을 뿐만 아니라 특수효과도 전혀 없지만 그러한 것들이 없기 때문에 오히려 좋다고 할 수 있다. 하지만 그의 영화는 그러한 블록버스터 같은 요소 대신에 독특한 유며 감각을 지니고 있다. 홍상수는 그의 영화를 통해 평범한 삶자체와 그 평범한 삶을 사는 인간들의 행동과 태도의 부조리함에 대해 역설적인 즐거움을 보여 준다.

홍상수의 영화들이 거의 다 한국을 배경으로 촬영되었고 그 영화 속 인물들이 거의 다 한국인이지만 나는 한국어나 한국 문화를 잘 알지 못 했을 때도 그의 영화를 보면서 마음껏 웃을 수 있었다. 그렇지만 나는 그가 단순한 코미디 영화의 감독이 아니라고 확신한다. 그는 영화를 만들 때마다 일반 코미디와 달리 특이하거나 실험적이라고 말할 수 있는 구조를 사용하며 그 구조 속에서 그 만의 이야기를 풀어낸다. 예를 들면 한 영화에서 자세한 내용이나 시점을 달리하면서 그는 지루함 없이 같은 얘기를 두세 번 반복한다.

홍상수가 쓰는 시나리오들이 매우 사실적이고 촬영된 영상도 단순하지만 결과들은 의외로 예술적이다. 그 영화 속에 있는 술을 마시고 담배를 피며 서로 싸우고 모든 것을 얻으려고 하는 남자 인물과 여자 인물들은 많은 역경을 겪으며 서로 다른 그 역경의 배경 속에서 살아간다. 구체적으로 남자 인물들은 절대 진리나 절대 윤리와 같은 굳은 믿음을 신봉함으로 인해 그들의 삶자체가 고난이 되고 너무 쓸데없이 적극적이여서 낭비적인 삶을 살아간다. 이와는 반대로 여자 인물들은 어떠한 믿음이 부족하기 때문에 매 순간마다 뭘 해야 될지 알 수 없어서 남자 인물들에게 의존하며 수동적인 삶을 살아간다.

홍상수 영화 장면들의 대부분에서 인물들이 믿음의 유무와 상관없이 서로 피상적으로 대화한다. 그러한 대화로 인해 홍상수가 각본 없이 즉흥적으로 영화를 만든다고 짐작하는 사람들이 있을 수도 있지만 사실 그의 영화 제작 기법은 아침마다 그 날에 촬영할 장면의 대사를 꼼꼼이 쓰는 것이다. 그러한 그의 노력의 결실로 홍상수 영화 속 대화들은 다른 영화의 대화들과 달리 평범한 한국인들이 일상에서 나누는 대화처럼 자연스럽다. 그가 창조한 인물들은 마치 현실 속에 실존하는 사람들이 할 수도 있는 단절된 대화의 형태를 지니고 또한 아무 의미 없이 나열된 공허한 어리석음을 내포한 대화이거나 술 취한 상태에서 나올 법한 언어 일수도 있지만 어떻게 보면 이와는 상반적으로 제일 이해하기 쉬운 영화 대화라고도 말할 수 있다.

홍상수 영화에서 들리는 대화의 자연스러움은 나로 하여금 한국어를 공부하는 다른 사람들에게 그의 영화들을 추천하게 만들며 영화를 볼 때마다 한국어 표현들을 쉽게 습득할 수 있을 뿐만 아니라 서울에 대한 다양한 지식들도 알수 있게 해준다. 홍상수는 한국 지방과 프랑스를 배경으로 한 영화들을 만든 적도 있지만 대부분 서울에서 촬영해서 한국에 처음으로 온 나에게 그 동안 배워온 한국어의 익숙함 뿐만 아니라 서울의 친숙함도 선사했다. 한국에 이사오자마 처음으로 간 극장에서 본 영화가 그 당시 홍상수 감독의 최신 영화인 것은 재미있는 우연의 조우였다. 해마다 한 번쯤 새로운 작품을 만드는 그의 영화 주기로 인해서 그의 영화를 본 횟수를 더하면 내가 한국에 산 기간을 알 수 있을 뿐만 아니라 앞으로 있게 될 기간도 가늠할 수 있다. 한국에 오기 전보다 살면서 매일 한국어와 한국 문화에 대해서 새로운 걸 훨씬 더 많이 알게 되지만 홍상수 영화를 볼 때마다 내가 느끼는 감정은 그가 나에게 여전히 가르칠 게 남아 있음을 말해준다.

Five years at Open Culture

As of today, I’ve been writing for Open Culture on a variety of ever-more-interesting subjects, from wherever in the world I can get wi-fi, every single weekday for five years. My total post count now comes to over 1,300, but here are twenty of my hand-picked favorites to give you a sense of both the site itself and the sort of cultural figures, works, and concepts I’ve spent much of the past half-decade considering:

The Korea Times: Discovering Seoul’s Urban Fabric by Bus

I’ve seen ― and learned ― so much about this city from the windows of buses. They’ve shown me the hillside urban villages normally blocked from view by high-street towers; the less-developed and lower-key but nevertheless fascinating urban spaces between well-known districts like Hongdae and Insadong, Myeongdong and Itaewon (all filled with tourists who seldom stray outside their boundaries); and the veritable hidden labyrinth of covered market streets threaded through the neighborhoods between where I live in Sinchon and downtown.

Soon after I first came to Korea, I made the effort to better understand the nature of Seoul’s distinctive and ever-changing urban fabric by avoiding the subway whenever possible ― no matter how much I admire it.

Veteran subway riders may know the subway map intimately, but that hardly translates to knowing the city itself; they may grow familiar with many individual neighborhoods, but without much understanding of how those neighborhoods connect to one another and what lies between them.

The seeming complexity of the Seoul bus system, in not just its extent but variety of routes and the shapes, sizes and colors of the vehicles that run them, can intimidate potential riders, especially foreign ones. But even a basic understanding of how the buses work enables ― for tourists and longtime residents alike ― the discovery of Seoul, not in fragments, but as a whole.

Read the whole thing at the Korea Times. See also the broadcast on Seoul by bus I did one of the monthly urbanism segments on TBS eFM’s Koreascape.

Seoul Urbanism on TBS eFM’s Koreascape: Euljiro Underground Shopping Center

Each month I join Kurt Achin, host of Koreascape on Seoul’s English-language radio station TBS eFM, for an exploration of another one of Seoul’s urban spaces. This time we head down into the Euljiro Underground Shopping Center, a nearly two-mile-long subterranean street running beneath downtown from the City Hall to the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Line 2 subway stations. Initially opening for business in 1983 at the same time Line 2 itself did, its ever-changing selection of shops supply everything from tailored clothing to computer equipment to medical supplies to punch clocks to electronic cigarettes to freshly baked bread and freshly roasted coffee — not to mention a safe haven from the weather during cold winters like this one. The Euljiro Underground Shopping Center can feel like a part of the city time forgot, but now that it has begun providing space for art installations and hosting exhibits like those of the recent Seoul Architecture Festival, what does its future hold?

Stay tuned for further explorations of Seoul’s architecture, infrastructure, and other parts of the built environment. You can hear our previous segments here.

Korea Blog: Haruki Murakami Has More Books in Korean than He Ever Will in English

Whenever someone has made progress studying a foreign language and asks which author they should try reading in that language, I always recommend the same one: Haruki Murakami. Though perhaps an obvious choice for students of Japanese, his mother tongue and the language in which he writes, his work has now made it into about fifty different languages in total. His stories’ globally appealing style, their abundance of non-Japanese cultural references, and their translation-ready prose style (legend has it he overcame an early bout of writer’s block by writing his first novel in what English he knew, then converting it back to Japanese) make them work just about as well in French, Polish, Turkish, Hebrew, or Mandarin as they do in the original.

When first reading novels in a foreign language, it helps to start with ones you already know from your own; undistracted by the plot, you can then focus exclusively on the mechanics of the words and sentences delivering it. Given Murakami’s enormous popularity (not to mention the evangelical nature of many of his readers) most enthusiasts of current fiction will already have read or at least encountered a few of his books. I first found my way into his work, as many do, through his first big bestseller Norwegian Wood, the vaguely autobiographical tale of a college student in 1960s Tokyo caught between two young ladies, one his dead best friend’s countryside sanatorium-committed ex-girlfriend, the other a lively and independent urbanite. From there I went on to read all of Murakami’s books available in English, then started over again with Tokio BluesNorwegian Wood in Spanish.

During that re-reading of his oeuvre — or rather, obra — Murakami published a few more novels. The year before I moved from Los Angeles to Korea, I showed up at Skylight Books for the midnight release of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, his most recent. My girlfriend managed to snag the last signed copy they had, but I think the effort still establishes my own fan credentials. All of us around the world thrilled to the news that Murakami’s next novel, a “very strange story” called Killing Commendatore, will go on sale in Japan just a few weeks from now. Translations  will surely follow over the next year or two, and the English one will bring that language’s Murakami book total up to twenty: fourteen novels, three short story collections, two non-fiction books, and a novella. That number makes Murakami look decently prolific, or at least I thought it did until I came to Korea.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

日本の随筆:福岡

去年11月、彼女と福岡に旅行しました。私は韓国にすむようになってから日本によく行きますが、彼女は日本に行ったことが全然ありませんでした。大阪は私の一番好きな日本の都市ですが、長い間、韓国からとても近い福岡にも興味を持っていました。そして福岡に関する雑誌を買って、福岡についてよく知っているアメリカ人の友達にオススメを聞きました。

私たちが着いた日は雨でした。エアビーアンドビーアパートを見つけるとすぐにけんがくしました。まず行きたかった所の<屋根裏貘>という喫茶店で赤ワインをゆっくり飲みました。そして、友達が推薦した地下にある回転寿司店に夕食をしに行って、そのビルで買い物をしました。彼女は日本のほうが韓国より可愛いしなものが、よりずっとたくさんあると不思議に感じました。

私は日本に行くたびにジャズを聴くことができる場所を見つけます。一番好きなジャズライブ会場は沖縄で見つけましたが、福岡にある会場で楽しく夜を過ごしました。サントリーウィスキーを飲みながらギターを二重奏で弾く音楽を聴きました。そのアーティストのCDを買いたかったのですが、そこで既に1万円ぐらいを使いました。

私は日本の建築に興味がありますから、福岡に見たかった建物がいくつかありました。太宰府という街でも面白い建物をみました。大部分の人は有名な神社を見に行きますが、私はスターバックスを見に行きました。なぜなら、太宰府のスターバックスは建築家の隈研吾によって設計されました。彼女が神社を見学している間、私はスターバックスの写真を撮りました。

ある日、福岡にある大きな駅の一つ前に、交差点全体ほどの大きさのシンクホールが、突然現れました。駅からたくさんの人々がシンクホールの写真とビデオを撮影していました。数日後に直りました。アメリカでは、そんなに早く復興しないでしょう。

韓国で和食をあまり食べませんので、福岡で豚カツとしゃぶしゃぶとオムライスを食べました。そして、ラーメンやデパートの試食も食べました。最終日の夕食は、友達が知っている夫婦が運営している居酒屋に行って、福岡について話しながら楽しく過ごしました。居酒屋の経営者は福岡は住みやすいですが ちょっとつまらないと言いました。福岡に住んでいる人にとって、本当の事かもしれませんが、私にとっては福岡は相変わらず面白いです。とにかく、次の機会に見たい建物と食べたい食べ物がまだたくさん残っています!

Los Angeles in Buildings: the Braly Block

LAIB Braly Block

I once took a Los Angeles Conservancy architecture tour whose leader, having brought us atop Bunker Hill, gestured toward an old building over on Spring Street and told us a story from his former career as a city employee. One day he needed a ride home and a higher-up in his department offered it. Generous though that act might make him seem, this man’s job, as our tour guide described it, required the opposite of large-heartedness: he spent most days at the office finding reasons to reject as many of the building or rebuilding proposals that crossed his desk as possible, and spent the entire hour’s drive to Long Beach laying acerbically into the developer responsible for the latest pile of paperwork in his inbox: some guy who wants to do a residential conversion of some empty offices downtown, a dreamer so delusional that “he actually believes people are going to live on Spring Street!

That developer, as anyone with an eye on the transformation of modern Los Angeles will have guessed, was Tom Gilmore, the gregarious New Yorker now widely credited with sparking the return of a large residential population, and the varied day-and-night activity such a population brings, to a largely forgotten downtown. That anecdote gets a reliable laugh in the midst of a boom that makes its starring city official look like a blinkered record label executive sending away the Beatles or investor passing on Facebook. But by the late 1990s when Gilmore launched into his mission in earnest, longtime Angelenos had grown accustomed to hearing rumors of a coming downtown revival at least once a decade, rumors that never seemed to produce much enticement to go there, let alone move there. Yet at some point in the 2000s, it became undeniable that this one had actually taken.

The Spring Street structure the Conservancy guide pointed out was the Continental Building, first known when it opened in 1904 as the Braly Block. “That’s L.A.’s first skyscraper,” says Tom Hansen, the young aspiring architect protagonist of Marc Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer,” gesturing toward the building from his own Bunker Hill perch beside his titular romantic interest. That movie, one of the first set amid the renewed (if occasionally exaggerated) street life of 21st-century downtown Los Angeles, prominently features the architecture of the central city, or at least its architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century. Though he goes unnamed in the dialogue, no single architect had as much responsibility for the look and feel of Los Angeles’ built environment at that time than John Parkinson, designer of the Braly Block.

Read the whole thing at KCET.

Axt: 구원과 JM 쿳시의 <엘리자베스 코스텔로>

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 8.15.50 AM

이번 (타와다 요코 표지가 있는!) 호 Axt (1월/2월, #010)에 내 첫번째 한국어로 쓴 서평은 나온다. 구원과 JM 쿳시의 <엘리자베스 코스텔로>에 대한 것이다.

My first print article in Korean, on redemption and J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, in this month’s issue of Axt (January/February 2017, #010) — and one with a Yoko Tawada cover, no less!

Korea Blog: How “Seopyeonje” Went from Tradition-Fueled Passion Project to Art-House Megahit

kb-seopyeonje-1

One singer and one drummer on an otherwise nearly bare stage, expressing the pain of Korea for four or five hours: the prospect, to a great many foreigners, does not immediately appeal. Then again, despite its deep roots in the culture, the traditional form of musical storytelling called pansori (판소리) didn’t much appeal to a great many Koreans for a long stretch of the twentieth century, if not due to  distaste then to unfamiliarity. But “Korea’s opera” has seen a revival of interest in recent decades, due in part to the massive success in 1993 of a movie about, and only about, the then seemingly dying art and the emotion that drives it: Im Kwon-taek’s Seopyeonje (서편제).

The prolific Im, still working today after 102 films and counting, directed in the first years of the 1990s  a trilogy of popular gangster pictures, General’s Son (장군의 아들) and its two sequels. (You can watch the first of them on the Korean Film Archive’s Youtube channel, as well as Im’s 1976 Wangsimni, My Hometown, the last movie we featured in this series.) Their considerable box-office return gave him a free hand to make a passion project, and on paper Seopyeonje looks like the very definition of one: a middle-aged filmmaker who remembers a very different time in his rapidly developing homeland tells a story, in the form of a period piece within a period piece, of a wandering pansori master and his two young charges whom history has already left behind, but whose suffering only enriches the tradition to which they have dedicated their lives.

That suffering produces an emotion much written about as unique to the Korean people: han (한, often written with the Chinese character 恨), variously explained in English as “lifelong regret,” “a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds” connoting “aspects of lament and unavenged injustice,” the “sentiment that one develops when one cannot or is not allowed to express feelings of oppression, alienation, or exploitation because one is trapped in an unequal power relationship,” and an “acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong.” Fictional United States President Josiah Bartlet, on the episode of The West Wing when he has to turn away a North Korean asylum-seeker, explains it as “a sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there’s hope.”

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.