26 décembre 2007

Crimen Falsi Redux, Part 1: The Theory of the Image

"General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon" by Eddie Adams

"The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths... What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?'" - Eddie Adams


"a photograph does feel more like a verification of an event than an eyewitness statement (often for good reason). A story is just a story, and it's as easy to make them false as true, but a photo, or a film recording, is a literal imprint of the world (until it gets altered, of course -- the epistemological difficulties that photo manipulation cause for, e.g., consumers of the daily newspaper, are an interesting problem). Without very aggressive framing, it's hard to communicate to an audience that what they're seeing might not be true ... We're trained to think of the camera's eye as impartial, unless we have good reason to think otherwise." {emphasis mine} - Crimen Falsi

"Seeing is believing" - proverb

A photo or film recording is not a literal imprint of the world. In the capturing and transmission of the image much is lost. We can call this lost material context, which is the supplement to the image: both the missing piece, and the extra one.

An image is framed, chosen, represented; it lacks history, smell, sound. All this serves as alteration whether or not what lies inside the frame is "manipulated." "Manipulation," though, also exists in choices most viewers aren't conscious of. Lenses - which affect depth of field, among other things; the size of the image (a combination of lense choice and distance from camera from subject); the angles chosen (is the camera above or below the subject? are speakers shot head-on, at a slight angle, or at a greater one? Is a conversation shown by a shot / reverse shot patter, or in a two shot? What does lighting emphasize/deemphasize/obscure?) These choices create emotional resonances in images that do not mirror the world itself. The camera does not see as the eye sees. The eye shifts attention along with consciousness, adjusts to varying lighting conditions, grabs peripheral information without directing attention on it. The tricks of the filmmaker or photographer can attempt to mimic these perceptual schema. The tools of cinema (focus, editing, lighting et al) can be controlled to simulate human perceptual conditions and construct the perception of a narrative.

Filmmakers create meaning and context through montage. The image, like the word, contains meaning only in the interplay between context and image, whether the context is intrinsic or extrinsic to the image itself.

"Montage means the assembly of pieces of film, which moved in rapid succession before the eye create an idea." - Alfred Hitchcock

The basic psychological principles of montage have been known since at least the late 1910s, when Lev Kuleshov showed how juxtaposed images cause audience members to assert certain relationships between the two images (Hitchcock explains this process in his third example in the video clip).


"The cinema is truth 24 times a second." - Jean-Luc Godard

"The cinema lies 24 times a second." - Brian DePalma

Godard is almost universally skeptical of the truth-value of the image (strictly defined, by which I mean: the kind of truth that Mike assigns to the photographic image in his post). Godard's "truth" is the revelatory impact of the image, but for Godard the truth and the lie of cinema is it's ability to represent the material conditions of reality. If my turn of phrase sounds explicitly Marxist, it's because Godard's political radicalism informs his ideas about the truth-value of the moving image with increasing directness as the 1960's progress. After the near-miss of revolution in France in 1968, Godard's work becomes more explicitly didactic. His work as part of the Dziga Vertov Group sets itself up as a lesson plan but rather than obfuscate the manipulations of the image, Godard and his comrades (Jean-Pierre Gorin, among others) foreground the manipulations of the image so as to undercut them. He's laying bare the structures by which this manipulation takes place, undercutting the cinematic illusion as a lesson in radical media literacy [Godard's use of the image to this effect begins well before this, but 1968 is the breaking point, the moment when his ideological agenda moves to the fore]. The final Dziga Vertov Group film, Letter to Jane, explores the process of assigning meaning to a single photograph of Jane Fonda with a North Vietnamese communist soldier.


"Look however in Kapo, the shot where Riva commits suicide by throwing herself on electric barbwire: the man who decides at this moment to make a forward tracking shot to reframe the dead body – carefully positioning the raised hand in the corner of the final framing – this man is worthy of the most profound contempt." - Jacques Rivette's “Of Abjection”, a review of Gillo Pontecorvo's Kapo for Cahiers du cinéma, June 1961; cited by Serge Daney in his seminal essay The Tracking Shot in Kapo

"Tracking shots are a question of morality." - Jean-Luc Godard

The choices of presentation of an image are moral concerns precisely because they are images and not the world.


If Godard is interested in the truth as a lie, DePalma seems intent on creating truth by using lies as his raw material. DePalma understands all images as considered, i.e., "fictional," even (especially?) documentary ones. His newest film Redacted follows through on his previous work by addressing the 'reality' of images as images; it ends with a montage that takes "true" (i.e., documentary) images and combines them with a culminating "false" one (i.e., created by DePalma rather than documentary) that supports the 'truth' behind his political point. Why didn't he use a "real" image here? Were there no appropriate "real" images to be had?


"Art is a lie that tells the truth" - Pablo Picasso

"There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization." - Werner Herzog; from Minnesota declaration: truth and fact in documentary cinema


"We know that behind every image revealed there is another image more faithful to reality, and in the back of that image there is another, and yet another behind the last one, and so on, up to the true image of that absolute, mysterious reality that no one will ever see." - Michelangelo Antonioni (via)

DePalma's best work, Blow Out, remakes Antonioni's Blow Up and stars John Travolta as a Hollywood sound man who accidentally records the sounds related to the "accidental" death of a politician. DePalma's film, unlike Antonioni's, arrives at certainty about the mystery at the film's core. Antonioni's film is not about sound but about image; a photographer captures an image that provides evidence of a murder. Or perhaps the image offers illusions instead of evidence; the image is too hard to analyze, the photographer doesn't know all the facts, and the physical evidence is not verifiable (or rather, it is verifiable but not reverifiable). In Blow Up, Antonioni explores the creation of ambiguous images and the roots of meaning in the physical, contextual world.

Update: For more from Blow Up, see this spectacular post at Hot Love in the time of Cold War

Antonioni's is frequently a cinema of ambiguity for the viewer, as his films create images whose meaning can't be discerned at first glance - or even upon closer examination. Rather than emphasize the illusions of the image as moral concerns (a la Godard), Antonioni focuses on the epistomological dilemmas of the uncertainty of the process of image-making. See, for example, the incredible final shot of The Passenger. We see only ambiguous evidence, the leadup and aftermath of the climactic moment. Antonioni calls forth the unimaginability and unrepresentability of death; he shows us things we cannot know by emphasizing the fact that we cannot know.


“We translate every experience into the same old codes.” - David Locke, in Michelangelo Antonioni's Professione: reporter / The Passenger (via)


Hitchcock makes flawless use of these codes into which we translate experience, manipulating his audience by way of tension and misdirection. His characters, like Shakespeare's, frequently misapprehend the narrative of which they a part. Hitchcock differs from Shakespeare because in Hitchcock's narratives we see through the eyes of these characters and misapprehend what they misapprehend. Take Suspicion, one of his myriad masterworks of subjective point of view. Hitchcock's creation of point of view isn't limited to subjective camerawork; it's the creation of a worldview in which knowledge is constructed through one person's understanding. Our information is incomplete but suggestive enough to allow us to draw conclusions; only later will we be presented with enough information to make sense of events in a concrete way.

Some suggestive stills from Suspicion:


Mike's point is not about the actual fact-value of the cinematic image; he asserts that audiences have a "greater susceptibility to moving-pictures-plus-sound than words"; and that "the degree of processing that needs to occur between the art and its consumption is higher with novels, leading to a greater opportunity to audit for a sense of falseness." There's no comparison here; it's like comparing apples and Chicago. The modes of procesing might be more conscious in literature, assuming the cinematic illusion is well-kept. The mode of cinematic storytelling that sidesteps any the sense of 'artificiality' draws on a preexisting set of codes that signal verisimilitude. We may be "trained to think of the camera eye as impartial," but this is a lie. The cinematic image is not a priori more capable of creating the illusion of reality than any other form is. Most cinema situates itself within a certain Regime of Truth (Foucault) that represent reality using certain forms. These forms qualify as 'realism' in the cinema because viewers have been trained to accept these codes as real; David Bordwell has done extensive formalist work on the develoment of the codes in Hollywood's Regime of Truth. [To counteract the Hollywood Regime of Truth, "art cinema" has created (itself as) an alternate Regime of Truth with codes of its own. I'm not sure that this is a positive development]. The establishment of any artistic Regime of Truth consists of the codification of a set of approaches toward the representation of truth. What begins as an exercise in appearance-making (as opposed to copy-making, the two types of artistic endeavor in Plato's The Sophist) becomes instead hyperreal, dependent on the Regime of Truth for its truth value. The problem of hyperreality is one of quidditas: Does an image have quidditas any more than a word does? Do 24 images shown in rapid succession contain an essence? Can an image ensconced in a Regime of Truth reveal truth?

For Heidegger, truth (ἀλήθεια / Aletheia) is a process of revealing, an uncovering. The image at once covers and uncovers. In Heidegger's The Origin of the Work of Art, art reveals the thingliness of things [Heidegger doesn't say 'quidditas,' though he might]; Heidegger considers this revealing to be the purpose of art. A pair of shoes painted by Van Gogh differs from the shoes themselves in that they serve different purposes: the shoes themselves cover feet; the work of art reveals the nature of shoes ("lets us know what shoes are in truth"). A work of art differs from its subject even when the image is exact, for it takes its place as an image, a tool of uncovering.


"What the moving pictures lack is the wind in the trees." - D.W. Griffith


Another essential commentary to refute the radical reality of the camera’s eye:
Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris examines 2 iconic images from the Crimean War to determine in which order they were shot. A fascinating, multifaceted, essential series, taking place on his blog Zoom at the New York Times website.
(Part One)
(Part Two)
(Part Three)
Cartesian Blogging, Part One (in which Morris answers reader questions on the first three parts)


Or, I could have just suggested you see Rashômon.

listening abstractly

"In order to hear a bare sound we have to listen away from things, divert our ear from them, i.e., listen abstractly."
- Martin Heidegger, The Origin of the Work of Art

22 décembre 2007

false stones and shards of glass

"As soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way. We think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it comes. We delude ourselves that we have discovered a wonderful treasure trove, and when we return to the light of day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered."
- Maurice Maeterlinck

18 décembre 2007

The Furies

coming soon to Criterion...

Komedie om geld

The Trouble with Money (or, as the Dutch title would have it, A Comedy About Money) is perhaps my favorite Ophuls film, and one of the richest of his films precisely because it is thematically uncharacteristic. Ophuls' only Dutch film is concerned mainly with systems of exchange and the moral taint they leave on those who participate in them.

Themes of performance and deception in money matters become the heart of the film, but this is not an exploration of the means necessary to avoid poverty (though at times we get glimpses of this). Instead, the most frequent and serious deceits come from those who are successful with money. The performance of deception by the moneyed classes is Ophuls' focus, though it's hard to tell if they deceive because they have money or if they deceive in order to achieve their position. The film explores the problems of the mechanisms of exchange by asserting that money itself is inextricably tied with deceit.

The film is introduced by a ringleader in heavy makeup, shown in a traveling shot in which the ringleader travels with the camera against a static background. This artificiality - along with meta-presentational song that serves as a preface - clues us in to the film's themes of performance, class, money, and morals. The first scene in the film proper confirms what the song only references: a man walks along a pier, trying to sell his dog to a wealthy couple on a boat. He haggles with the couple, and brings the dog aboard, making them promise to take good care of him, and explaining that he doesn't want to sell the dog but he does need the money. The man then goes safely away and whistles, signalling the dog to run away and back to his original owner. The scam seems to be one he's repeated, not just because it's executed so fluidly, but also because the security men who call the police mention that these victims are only the latest.

The man relies on his brother-in-law Brand, an upstanding, moralistic bank runner, to keep him away from trouble (even the police know that Brand is above suspicion). But when Brand loses 50,000 pounds he's charged with delivering to another bank, he is accused of embezzlement. Acquitted, he's nonetheless fired by his bank, which can't afford the damage to its reputation. In the world of money, impression is more important than reality.

Unable to find work, he attempts suicide but is saved by an offer he can't refuse: to run a company that develops housing for the poor. He is offered the job - far above his previous station - because all assume that Brand has hidden the 50,000 pounds and has it at his disposal. This, according to his new boss Mr. Moorman, constitutes "credit," which will allow the debt-ridden company to take on new investments. As Moorman explains, by denying that he has any money to offer, financial partners will assume he does in fact have the money; on this basis they will invest in the project.

This notion of credit, in which financial knowledge is predicated on guesses about unknown information, depends on the abstraction of credit into 'money' (i.e., into a medium of exchange). Ophuls criticizes this abstraction at a moral level, because 'credit' then becomes another opportunity for misrepresentation to further one's financial benefit. Credit is based on confidence - as in: 'confidence man.' It's also important to note that the confidence instilled in Brand is based on the assumption that he is an embezzling thief. Ophuls implicates the system of money exchange as morally tainted, and confirms this with the final song from the ringmaster who introduced out story. [I've left out much of the plot, by the way.]

The rich cinematography is less self-consciously poetic than most of his work, but this is to the film's benefit. Even the most dramatic shots fit easily in the narrative without falling prey to an overt romanticism. Narrative structure and juxtaposition makes Ophuls' moral arguments points deftly: on either side of Brand's nightmare-montage, we hear comments about the worries of money and how they affect sleep; the dream itself is about the affects of, rather than the cause of, his worries. The Trouble with Money may currently be seen as a 'minor' Ophuls due to its rarity, but it is anything but. instead, it is one of Ophuls' major statements, an examination of the way participation in a system of exchange is both dehumanizing and de-moralizing. A chance to see this fine film is not to be missed.

17 décembre 2007

to remember better, to part with less pain

Let us touch each other
while we still have hands,
palms, forearms, elbows . . .
Let us love each other for misery,
torture each other, torment,
disfigure, maim,
to remember better,
to part with less pain.

from Four Poems by Vera Pavlova

02 décembre 2007

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore 1927-1948

Read this blurb:
I'm sorry, but any record that opens with a vintage rebetika track is pretty much sold for me, and since this record does, the rest doesn't really matter, it's already awesome. Yep the first track on this killer re-issue is from Marika Papagika and sets the pace (and standard) for the rest of the album, which is a showcase of music recorded in the USA between 1927 and 1948 but rooted in other cultures. So from the initial blast of gorgeous Greek folk, we're thrown into Calypso, Appalachian folk, Cajun, Gospel and even Chinese influenced folk music and every moment is as breathtaking as the last. This is a truly shocking collection of American primitive music and concentrates on the oft-ignored section of American culture, the immigration which has made it what it is today. In this we hear what shaped American music at this time and we can hear clues as to how it has influenced the development of what we hear from America now. This selection is just so important, from the instrumentation down to the sentiment behind the lyrics, giving a real focus on how secluded and ignored these people must have been feeling in their new 'home', and mirroring the journeys we read about time and time again. If you had any interest in the American Primitive series of compilations, or more importantly in the Nonesuch Explorer compilations, this strikes in a place where the two meet and is breathtaking from start to finish. Essential listening!
- a UK website that carried record
A vinyl-only release of 800 copies that's now out of print, this is too amazing not to share. Follow this link and click on "try it" to download mp3s and cover art. This is indeed essential.

27 novembre 2007

Trail of the Lonsesome Pine


but first, a prologue.

AMMI's Glorious Technicolor! Series - which is fantastic, by the way - kicked off on Nov 17 with a double feature introduced by Wesleyan film professor Scott Higgins. The series is in conjunction with the publication of Scott's book Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow (which I wrote about briefly here).

Becky Sharp was the first film shown (preceded by The 1932 Disney short Flowers and Trees).
Note: I had written up some notes on Becky Sharp, but they've disappeared. Keep an eye on the comments here and I may write them up again in briefer form.

Trail of the Lonesome Pine, though, was a revelation. Starring Sylvia Sidney, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda, it's a romantic drama set amongst feuding families in an isolated rural area that begin to encounter the outside world via a railway company's interest in their land. Sidney is captivating, and both male leads are impressive, already fully inhabiting their screen personae. With assured script and direction, this is an effectively stirring classical Hollywood drama that, sadly, is on the verge of being lost (the print we saw of this rare film was from a private collection). Lonesome Pine is notable for its restraint where color is concerned. Instead of using color to paint emotion or abstraction, the palatte here is full of desaturated browns and greens. The color score bursts out at a few moments, however, to punctuate drama and emphasize the centrality of Sidney's character (A 'color score' is like a musical score that uses color design rather than sound). Trail of the Lonesome Pine is impressive for its natural, understated use of color, and also for the success of its drama.

The film shares some strange cultural points of contact with Shohei Imamura's The Profound Desire of the Gods, itself about the tension between isolated rural mores and the encroachment of technological modernity. In both films the railroad brings 'progress,' which brings a different set of concerns and a total shift in social mores among the formerly-isolated residents. Both films are ambivalent toward 'progress,' but this progress is in both cases portrayed as inevitable. The forces of economy march forward, changing the landscape through a series of individual actions by the people to be affected. Trail of the Lonesome Pine is a love story, a story of loss, and a story about the dissolution of a community and its rebirth as something entirely new.

26 novembre 2007

that which I had always only felt or suspected or been told

"How flight happens - for birds, insects, people - has always occupied me. My understanding of it was limited to theory; my empirical proof was based on deduction, and a few sensations - a hand out the car window, or on the controls of an airplane - that provided me with tangible evidence that the air was out there doing the things the theoreticians said. This technology, Digital Particle Image Velocimetry, has been much more that an analytical tool; it is providing me with the powerful experience of seeing that which I had always only felt or suspected or been told. In that such experiences are the intent of the filmmaker's art, my colleagues and I are pleased to share the artistry of the rufous hummingbird."
-- Douglas R. Warrick
via Invisible Cinema

20 novembre 2007

"When there are no more people, then the stones will rise up"

I Am Cuba is rightly celebrated for it's incredible camerawork, and sometimes for its effectiveness as agitprop, but one thing that's not frequently talked about is the structure of Kalatozov's cinematic argument. What's most impressive about I Am Cuba is how effectively dialectical the film is.

Helicopter flyover shots of Cuba's forests are accompanied by pastoral music and a voiceover description of her betrayal and rape for her sugar.

Next scene:
That shot, the energetic travel through the high life of Cuba on display for foreign money (including the implied prostitution/exploitation of her natural resources as leering men surround woman in bikinis who are literally on display). Next we go inside, exploring the prostitution thesis literally, as American tourists select Cuban women from a selection (the seedier, more complete version of the modeling that takes place in the light of day). American money = tourist mercantilism: "In Cuba, anything goes if you've got enough dough." The women are merchandise, subject even to the drawing of straws for possession thereof. The lone resistant tourist also falls prey to his ability to purchase a Cuban for the night. He's a sort of vision of capitalist liberalism: interested in a black Cuban woman, he wants to see where she lives before going to bed with her. He purchases an exotic experience, a faux-connection with those he exploits when playing within the rules of no-rules capitalist freedom. Everything is for sale in Cuba, even the illusion of 'authenticity' in a sexual encounter.

Next scene:
The heroism of field work is contrasted by the rights of landowners - with guns at their side - to keep workers off the land. Labor power is equated with value here: the kinetic energy of chopping sugar cane is shown from the outside and then - with the camera as the machete itself - from inside the physical motions of the process. The camera becomes the workers' tool, the object of force wielded to change the landscape, the blade that cuts what must be cut. This instrumental subjectivity seems like a manifesto for Kalatozov, and calls to mind Eisenstein: "I don't believe in kino-eye, I believe in kino-fist."

The farmer burns the sugarcane field in an attempt at revenge, and smoke blocks the sky. Then - an edit. Batista propaganda turns out to be a movie screening; a molotov cocktail is thrown and burns the screen (fire, then, is a tool of reclamation for the oppressed and the revolutionaries). The student revolutionaries have ideological debates about action and support of Fidel, but they are secondary to the actions themselves, which consist of resisting colonial oppression (American sailors chasing after a young woman) or institutional repression (police violence against a peaceful demonstration). As protestors march against the water cannons, the camera itself takes a point of view, aligning itself with the protestors as a sympathetic character. Again, the camera is tool of the revolution, but this time the weapon is solidarity. The final shot of this section is of the body of this section's main character, a now-murdered student radical.

The cut from this body bridges a transition to rebel fighters, trudging through a swamp in water up to their waists. When confronted by government troops, the troops threaten teh guerrillas with guns and ask where Fidel Castro is hiding. In a great Spanish-language double entendre, each answers with "Yo Soy Fidel" - which means "I am Fidel" - or "I have faith."

The next scene is of a haggard rebel finding refuge in a humble country home, but the rebel's support of violence as a necessary means leads the farmer to send him away. A violence done to the farmer's family by warplanes leads him to the rebel encampment, where he himself takes up arms - though he's told that each man earns his rifle by stealing it from a government soldier. And then we watch him fight...

Kalatazov's structure mirrors the Marxist dialectical approach to history. Each section transitions to another that more fully realizes the problems and possibilities brought out by the last. Look again at the trajectory of the narrative: the ideal state contrasted with it's corruption; colonial oppression; landowner oppression and peasant rebellion; student rebellion and sacrifice; guerrilla sacrifice and faith; farmer hesitation towards violence; farmer victimization; farmer joining the struggle. This series of concrete historical situations flows one to another. The oppositions are more than just battling historical forces, they are forces that create the next step in the progression to revolutionary victory. Each section is a personal narrative, but the film places them in a social context by establishing the historical conditions present in these personal narrative and then linking them together. It's every bit as sublime a narrative build as When A Woman Ascends the Stairs or even Flower of the Last Chrysanthemums, films where individual cuts have incredible narrative power (especially the final cut in Flower of the Last Chrysanthemums) and powerful images present an analysis of social relations (the final image of When A Woman Ascends the Stairs). But in I Am Cuba, what's being examined is the historical necessity of revolution. The film's final shot is the perfect culmination of what's preceeded it, the presentation of our present stage of history and the necessity for radical action. It's a dramatic call to arms that creates in the viewer nothing so much as the overwhelming desire to pick up a rifle.

19 novembre 2007

in this manner, we, like them, will have met

-"I know that tonight we'll make love and that soon afterwards I will die, but I know we'll see each other again."

Amazed, the young man asks her:
-"We'll meet after our deaths?"

-"Of course not," she replies. "I don't believe in such things. We'll meet in a different way: you, or another man, will come across another woman, not me, like we have tonight, and they will live the same story, and, in this manner, we, like them, will have met."

- from Raúl Ruiz's The Lost Domain, via his Poetics of Cinema 2, via acquarello

13 novembre 2007

"... our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor"

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:"

- from The United States Declaration of Independence


"If someone comes and occupies another man's home and takes away his food, money and property, how could he not defend himself? A person who doesn't fight for himself or his country shouldn't be called a human being."
- Iraqi insurgent (from Meeting Resistance, via CNN)

NYTimes Op-Ed: Know Thine Enemy
by Molly Bingham & Steven Connors, directors of Meeting Resistance

An Interview with Steve Connors and Molly Bingham at Counterpunch

the Meeting Resistance website

Voices of Uncertainty

via Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily, the essential source for all things WGA Strike related.

07 novembre 2007

our own responsibility and nobody else's

1. We owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring a profit, not a loss.

2. Every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgment.

3. When we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.

4. No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for no other reason than her nakedness.

5. At any time, the self-respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on. They will fight to work on a subject they feel is urgent or contemporary, and fight equally hard to avoid working on a trivial or pointless subject.

- from a letter written by Emeric Pressburger to Deborah Kerr, asking her to appear in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
Via Stylus Magazine's Bluffer's Guide to The Archers

27 octobre 2007

Two or Three Things I Know About Fontainhas: No Quarto da Vanda

Assorted thoughts on Pedro Costa's No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda's Room):

The similarities to Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her are striking.
Costa, like Godard, spends a lot of time observing the physical infrastructure of the place, not as an existent reality, but as a process, laying bare the essential components of construction/destruction involved in the realization of physical structure. In these films, we mainly see the machines involved in these processes, revealing their impersonal, structural basis (as in: the structures of capitalist development). The negative effects of this 'development' are explored in greater depth in Colossal Youth.

One interesting architectural component of the neighborhood was the mixing of public and private space. The ad-hoc construction of the neighborhood's buildings created porous boundaries between these spaces; Vanda's room is separated, in lieu of a fourth wall, only by a blanket. The result is a community connected by more than location or history, but also by the everpresent publicness of even private space. [This architectural structuring of community is lost by the demolition of the neighborhood and the residents' re-placement in public housing. One flaw of the bourgeois individualism enforced by the government's housing policy is the forced loss of this intimate sense of community.] The fluid lines between inside and outside are especially present in Costa's sound design, which is nowhere near as 'realist' as it seems; much of the construction noise heard offscreen was recorded separately and added after the fact (Note: I recollect Costa saying this, but don't have this in my notes. If you can confirm or deny, please weigh in. Update: see comments). Costa emphasizes the liminality of space in part through this sound design, which lacks the dialectical opposition of Godard's Two or Three Things in favor of creating a porous boundary between interior and exterior. Costa's construction and emphasis of this porosity focuses our attention on the Fontainhas community being lost by the 'upgrades' given to their physical environment. This community is rooted in their shared familial-historical-linguisticultural-socio-economic situation, but also in the solidarity created by the physical facts of their liminal situation.

Costa's interest in doors/rooms/liminal spaces is just one extension of his interest in the mixture of public and private space. Streets, per Costa, "can be more secretive than houses." The residents feel connected to their homes, to their space - a connection lost by the time of Colossal Youth. The neighborhood itself is like a secret world, harder to see than to look at. Costa approaches this world like a student, seeing oppositions - Vanda and the women in one world, the boys in another - that both insiders and outsiders would miss. As someone who has integrated himself into the community, but who can never fully lose his 'outsider' status for reasons of education, socioeconomics and profession, Costa is uniquely positioned to see both forest and trees.

Costa shot for 2 years and spent another year editing the footage to make the film. The story developed over the course of shooting, based on things that happened (Costa: "I dont have ideas for films"). Then a scene would be performed once, though the first take was always, according to Costa, bad. A week later they would shoot the same scene again, and it would be funny, interesting. Costa never wrote anything down; it was instead a mental editing process, an effort at improving what had been done before. One scene details the reactions of Vanda and another character to the death of Geny, who lived in the neighborhood. The first take, shot on the day of the event, was too emotional, full of too many tears. The scene was shot many times, once every week or so. The take used in the film was shot 6 months after the event. (The take used was emotionally understated, and Vanda was unhappy with it; she preferred the more emotional first take.)

Costa is allowed these liberties because he has integrated himself into the community. The neighborhood is, in a way, his office, where he goes every day to work. Costa told us about his dream of starting a TV station in the neighborhood, one that caters to and produces content from Fontainhas itself. But the neighborhood itself is moving toward the point when it no longer exists (the end result of the 'development' we see in No Quarto da Vanda is the transplantation and resettlement so central to Colossal Youth). Costa hopes to "test this impossibility" of continuing to work in the neighborhood: "the main work, I think, is still to be done there for me."

"Je ne sais pas d'autre bombe, qu'un livre."

"Je ne sais pas d'autre bombe, qu'un livre."
("I know of no bomb other than the book.")
- Stéphane Mallarmé

22 octobre 2007

Hannah Takes the Stairs

Hannah Takes the Stairs
is one of the finest American independent films I've seen. A perfect distillation of Mumblecore "realism" into actual realism by way of the presentation of people as they are, Hannah Takes the Stairs refuses to adopt the tics of adultescence as a raison d'etre, instead exploring a progression toward adulthood in which these tics are details on a larger canvas. Unlike the work of Bujalski thus far or Katz's Quiet City, Hannah takes place in a world that verges on the responsibilities of life begun in earnest. In their careers and their personal lives, these characters aim at something, even they fall short. Adulthood seems attainable, if we can just finish trying out the selves, jobs, and relationships that don't seem quite enough.

Joe Swanberg's camera is incredibly effective (if not formally rigorous). He occasionally zooms from 2-shot to closeup to extreme closeup, playing off of the performances and improvising along with his actors. The looseness of this style is a virtue, reflecting the 'playing it by ear' sensibilities of his not-quite-adult characters. Swanberg's shooting style and direction encourage a depth of performance by his (non-)actors that reaches a level of emotional authenticity rarely found in amateur acting. He's helped by a cast of filmmaker comrades and the luminous Greta Gerwig, who earns every frame of closeup she's given.

In his New York Times review, Matt Zoller Seitz called Hannah an "incidental swan song," a "graduation photo in motion" for the Mumblecore movement. It's at least partially true; unlike their predecessors, these characters seem to be taking the initiative in their own growing up. Where confusion and lack of direction were major themes of Mumblecore films (and defining traits for their characters), Hannah concerns itself with this as a jumping off point. It's episodic, three-part structure works as 3 (nontraditional) "acts": Mumblecore uncertainty, tentative commitment, and let's-see-how-this-goes near-maturity. Over the course of the film, Hannah sheds her adultescent insecurities and her own image of herself as a partially realized human being, becoming more confident in her own skin. Her final acceptance of human beings as works-in-progress seems beyond the grasp of previous Mumblecore characters; perhaps it's a signal that graduation is the beginning of the rest of your life.

19 octobre 2007

Don't Miss: El Verdugo

Luis Garcia Berlanga's El Verdugo screens at MoMA tomorrow (Sat Oct 20) at 7 PM and again on Thursday Nov 1 at 8 PM. This is a must-see.

El Verdugo is hilarious, politically important, and also tragic. It is Berlanga at his best, and should be on any short list of Spain's best films. Don't miss it.

Victor Erice calls it "Berlanga-Azcona's masterpiece" (thanks to Harry for mentioning that). Azcona is a screenwriter who worked extensively with Berlanga, and together they made a number of films that qualify as masterpieces. El Verdugo is tops on that list. Essential viewing.

16 octobre 2007

NYFF: The Man From London

Following the brief comments made by David Bordwell, I'd like to note some of the stylistic approaches that Tarr experiments with in The Man From London.

In Tarr's previous 3 films, the camera mostly has a viewpoint of it's own. It moves with often unmotivated zeal around its subjects, or trails them as they move. The duration of Tarr's shots heightens this sense of the camera's independent point of view, pulling us out of traditional methods of story-reception. Tarr's camera never hides behind montage to approximate psychological reality; instead, he approximates psychological reality through the act of seeing, and through this process identifies our consciousness as a viewer with the autonomous travels of his camera.

The Man From London finds Tarr's camera (literally) drifting closer to the realm of the subjective. While still autonomous, it resembles the viewpoints of his characters with a greater fidelity and frequency. There's also a greater commitment on Tarr's part to representing the mechanisms of observation, which also brings us closer to the subjective realm in that we approach information from the perspectives of the film's characters. [Here I point you to Bordwell's beautiful description of the first shot of the film, and his thoughts on the continuity of composition over Tarr's last 4 films.]

In spite of this more frequent near-subjectivity, moments of this film strengthen Tarr's use of the camera as a limited objective narrator. When Maloin walks to a hut late in the film, the camera follows him on the approach. After a lengthy traveling shot, the camera pauses as Maloin goes inside, leaving the viewer outside with no (literal or figurative) window inside the hut. The camera's trailing of Maloin seems to play by the rules of Tarr's previous work; by halting before the 'climax' to this journey, Tarr withholds information to amplify the narrative strategies (and mood) of the Noir genre he's drawing on.

Overall, though, I agree with Danny that Man From London is a minor film by a master filmmaker. At times the style felt too deliberate, as if Tarr were trying to make a "Bela Tarr film." On a formal level, his shifts in camera dynamics were not matched by the story, and elements of the film felt like self-pastiche (one comic dancing scene in particular reads as an artless ripoff of a beautiful scene from Sátántangó). Tarr may have stepped into a zone of self-conscious auteurism, but I've seen other great filmmakers fall into that trap and emerge with a better understanding of their own work. The visually stunning Man From London is by no means a failure, but from a titan such as Tarr it does come as a disappointment. I hope that Bela Tarr will soon return to the natural filmmaking grace so evident in his previous recent work.

04 octobre 2007

Important Books by People I Know

Jeanine Basinger's new book The Star Machine is being released later this month. It is likely to be essential for anyone interested in the mechanisms of the classical Hollywood star system.

That's certainly great news, but not quite as exciting as the fact that her Anthony Mann book is back in print as of November. As far as I can tell, it's the definitive Mann monograph, period. A welcome return for a terrific book on a true master.

In a more specialized aesthetic vein, Scott Higgins' book Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s will available Dec 1. For someone (like me) who is interested in the development of the use of color by Hollywood's top filmmakers, I can only imagine that this book is essential (I've studied many of the films in question with Scott, but have read only small bits of his writing on the subject).

Scott's next book will be Blood and Thunder: Form and History of the American Action Film, which I am looking forward to, but his next next book is the one I'm truly awaiting: "a book-length auteur centered study of "colorist" directors with chapters on Sirk, Minnelli, Jacques Demy, Yosujiro Ozu and Wong Kar Wai."

Finally, Lisa Dombrowski (whom I ran into at the Man from London screening this past weekend) is completing her Sam Fuller book as we speak (literally - she left me so she could work on the index). There's a surprising lack of good writing on Fuller, but I expect Lisa's book to help change that when it comes out in 2008. Unless the title has changed, it'll be called If You Die, I’ll Kill You! Samuel Fuller In and Out of the Studio System - which is both a quote from Steel Helmet, and quite possibly the best book title ever.

02 octobre 2007

NYFF: 'Preview'

A preview of posts in the works (New York Film Festival and otherwise):


The Man from London

Secret Sunshine*

Stellet Licht*

* pending my ability to get a ticket. If you've got one you can offer me - especially for Tuesday's show of Secret Sunshine - please let me know.
Update: Ticket concerns resolved for Secret Sunshine.

other posts in the pipeline:

No Quarto da Vanda

Where Does your Hidden Smile Lie

Hannah Takes the Stairs

Yugoslavian Black Wave:
The End of the World Is Coming

Yugoslavian Black Wave:
Early Works
Black Film

Honor de Cavalleria


The Birds

400 Blows

Antoine et Colette

I would love to be writing about more films, and to catch up on the backlog, but my current job is not writing about movies (If you've got one you can offer me - please let me know). Over the next few days I'm busy with Festival screenings, and then I'm off the San Francisco for a week. So blogging may be light here for a while, but I'll try to get my NYFF coverage up soon, at the very least. As for the rest, leave a comment if you'd like to see any particular posts first - I'll take your votes into consideration when I sit down to write.

27 septembre 2007

The Monomyth, or, mysterious adventures and the knowledge transmitted by art

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

related: Cinema today . . .

Quiet City

Aaron Katz's Quiet City is a very, very small film. Like his characters, it seems content to make small statements that barely hint at their real meaning. It's a disservice to Katz to compare his style to Malick, as has been done. I don't see that much in common, filmically, except that this film is sporadically very, very beautiful. Katz is interested in the specific placement of characters in a physical environment, but his methods - and moods - are very different than Malick's. I'm not sure how to describe the differences - perhaps they are ones of scale. Quiet City mostly succeeds in its minor ambitions.

Quiet City is a key film for understanding the Mumblecore attitude toward narrative and filmmaking. It spends most of its 78 minute runtime with only two characters. Their relationship builds but never gathers momentum; it simply simmers. This simmering, this observation of people as they are, is less sparse than it sounds. QC has moments of beauty that flower in and around their quotidian wanderings, but the film ambles a bit too much, while lacking direction (as the characters also do). If the characters are afraid to create tension for fear of expectations that will lead to disappointment, the film follows suit, limiting our ability for deep emotional investment.

Quiet City is, on one level, a Mumblecore romantic comedy. Jamie and Charlie have moments of meet-cute - necessarily delayed by their insecure beginning. These moments are hugely understated, and feel honest and real rather than necessary (see: Eric Rohmer on verisimilitude and the necessary). Their moments of romance are so slight as to be missed under the sound of your popcorn (I consider that high praise). Some moments in the film are absolutely stunning: the race-running in the clip above, the falling asleep on the subway that can be seen in the trailer below. The film is beautiful also in its sense of place and the way the characters interact with Brooklyn. It's exciting also to see a low-budget independent American film use "pillow shots" for pace and for creating a sense of magic and beauty.

Still, the pillow shots sometimes seem a bit too disconnected from the narrative; the scenes containing other characters distract us from the relationship between Jamie and Charlie; there were too-few moments of beauty - perhaps pillow shots included - to interrupt the monotony of the real dialogue and interaction.

Rohmer's exploration of the tension between “verisimilitude” and “the necessary” is particularly apt here; Quiet City, more so even than most Mumblecore features, relies too much on the former while infusing too little of the latter. I don't think these two things are mutually exclusive, even in the same words - anyone aware of my current project has heard me talk about this - but it's very difficult to sustain any level of fusion between these two 'types' of writing. Katz succeeds intermittently; when he does, he achieves greatness, but this great success happens only intermittently.

If I sound ambivalent in this writeup, it's only because I am. Quiet City is a very good film, but not a great one. The seeds of greatness are in it, though - and a movie made with this much ambition, by someone with passion for making a movie, by a true amateur, is something to be commended.

Reading back over this, this seems like notes for a review, but I'll let you fill in the blanks. Perhaps that's appropriate.

Extra note:
The subway stop in the opening scene is my subway stop.

26 septembre 2007

I'm your huckleberry

[...] I’ve only caught glimpses in these films of the wanton playfulness and voracious need to experiment that characterized the Nouvelle Vague or early 80s American indie. Maybe this desire isn’t there, and maybe it doesn’t need to be, but forgive me if I wouldn’t mind an American filmmaker standing up and announcing him or herself as the heir to Jacques Rivette or Alain Resnais.
Jeff Reichert's Reverse Shot piece on Quiet City is the most relevant discussion of the place of the "Mumblecore" films in contemporary American cinema.

25 septembre 2007

verisimilitude and the necessary

"We are familiar with the Aristotelian distinction between “verisimilitude” and “the necessary.” Corneille speaks of this in his Discours and applies it to the action, but not without extrapolating. Extrapolating in turn, we shall allow ourselves to apply it to the text and shall say: Everything in the text that is indispensable to the clarity of the intrigue is necessary. All that the characters say among themselves in a given situation that is not concerned with informing the audience is verisimilitude. For example, in Racine’s Andromaque, the fragment of the first verse, “…since I find such a faithful friend again,” is absolutely necessary (it informs us that Orestes and Pylades are friends and were separated) but not very true to life, as the interlocutor does not need this information: It is meant only for the reader. The “yes” that beings the verse makes the rest of the sentence seem like the continuation of a conversation that has already begun and is there to provide, among other things, the verisimilitude that is lacking.

“Thus, we see that in theater, the necessary takes precedence over verisimilitude and that its presence, even diffused, limits the sphere of the true-to-life. A film’s dialog, on the contrary, must use the necessary only as a last resort. Information is presented in an inoffensive manner, cloaked by pure verisimilitude. It reaches the attentive spectator, whose vigilance increase as he learns more, by a ricochet effect. Film dialogues from before 1960 seem unencumbered with necessary lines that modern film has left as commentary, monologues, or graphic signs, with an ease that is beginning to seem dates as well.

“Nothing goes out of style more quickly than the necessary—except verisimilitude, whose excess in the 1970s is beginning to show. In order to give free rein to the true-to-life, we have done away with written texts and have actors say “just anything.” It was believed that from this absolute contingency, a new necessary would be born, without any reference to the “rules” of the theater that were always lurking in the background. It did happen, sometimes felicitously, with Rouch, Godard, or Rivette. The true killed the true-to-life: The stopgap realism of the scriptwriters become unbearable. And here we are once, again, faced with the demands of the necessary."

---From “Film and the three levels of discourse: indirect, direct, and hyperdirect” by Eric Rohmer, Cahiers Renaud-Barrault 96, October 1977.

Thanks to Danny for finding this for me.

23 septembre 2007

The birth of the man-crush romantic comedy

My friend Justin Shubow wrote an interesting piece for the National Review Online called:
"When Harry Met Sal: The birth of the man-crush romantic comedy"
I think you should read it.

a new politics is practical and necessary

"May '68 demonstrates as well that spontaneous action can erupt quickly and surprisingly, that it can provide alternatives to standard politics, and that a new politics is practical and necessary. The initial inability of established Left political parties and unions to support the students and workers suggests the irrelevancy of politics as usual and the need to go outside of ordinary political channels and institutions to spark significant contestation and change. The Events also suggest the primacy of social and cultural revolution, of the need to change individuals, social relations, and culture as a prelude to political and systemic transformation. The total nature of the rebellion reflects the totalizing domination of the system which must itself be transformed if significant change is to take place."
- May '68 in France: Dynamics and Consequences

20 septembre 2007

Further Notes, Karpo Godina

I just discovered this excellent essay on the Karpo Godina shorts I posted on previously (1, 2), featuring a treasure-trove of still frames and a more in-depth description of the films -- written by someone passionate enought no cross the country for the screening! A great read with terrific visual evidence.

19 septembre 2007

18 septembre 2007

I Miss Sonja Henie

I Miss Sonja Henie: The Making of a Film kicked off the second segment of the Karpo Godina program. This 16mm making of doc (proected via dvd for the screening) is a loose compilation of often-humourous anecdotes from the shooting of the film. Not much to be said for this beyond a few interesting moments of these directors at work, some very vague hints at the ideas at play in the film to come, a few funny anecdotes, and a great Miloš Forman moment where, his body wrapped entirely in gauze and just before his face is to be covered, he requests a final sip of brandy.

I Miss Sonja Henie (1971)
Directed by:
Karpo Godina
Tinto Brass
Miloš Forman
Buck Henry
Dušan Makavejev
Paul Morrissey
Frederick Wiseman

These directors were recruited at the 1971 Belgrade Film festival. Godina intercepted them at the hotel and handed them a 1-page set of instructions, thus recruiting them to direct a segment of the film.
The rules for this film were simple. Each director would make a 3 minute film. The film was to take place in one room, with the camera in a single position. No changing of lenses, framing, angle or position would be allowed. The camera position and room were the same for all segments, though props could change scene by scene. During the film, someone must say "I Miss Sonja Henie" (a Snoopy reference, actually).
All shooting was done at night or early in the morning during the festival, on 35mm.

Dušan Makavejev's segment leads off the film. This segment was my favorite, in part because it was the only one that was not cut apart and cross-edited with the others. It is a closeup of a man and a woman facing each other, framed very tightly around their faces. They make the funniest faces they can for a bit, before sticking their tongues out as part of these faces, eventually drawing close and touching each other in a strange kind of kiss. Makavejev's segment is an exploration of physicality, intimacy, the barriers between bodies and the possible modes of communication between them. A rich, rewarding near-silent short (the required sentence is spoken through the man's closed mouth). The other segments were sometimes witty but generally lackluster, in part because there was not enough communication between the pieces to justify the cross-cutting, which detracts from each segment's momentum. One exception was the series in which a man comes racing into the room, which is occupied by a woman frantically scratching at her skin. The scene is repeated 3 times, and each time the man has a different essential physical need to be sated (to sh_t, to eat, to f_ck). In each case, when he has fulfilled his need, the woman reclines in itch-free, post-coital bliss. This was another meditiation of the role of the body in our interactions and in driving our behavior, a step above the somewhat-witty jokes of the other segments (Makavejev's excluded). As an example, the Buck Henry segment (for which Miloš Forman was wrapped in gauze) was a combination Johhny Got His Gun remake and extended penis joke starring Miloš Forman, Buck Henry, and Catherine Rouvel. Yes, for real.

After the film, Buck Henry, Paul Morrissey and Miloš Forman joined Karpo for a brief panel about the film. Miloš called it "a very beautiful, deep sophomoric joke." Buck Henry's first comment was that the political climate of Yugoslavia created a game of "who could get away with what." Buck asked karpo if the directors were chosen at random; Karpo spoke, and his translator replied: "You were the only ones he could find." Karpo defended the cross-cutting by arguing that it makes the films communicate with each other, before asking his collaborators their opinions. "I say chop 'em up," Buck replied; and after a pause, Miloš chimed in: "I'm still recovering."

The best story from the panel was from Miloš. In that year, a former Czech minister had recently been kidnapped abroad and brought back to Czechoslovakia. At the end of the festival, at 2:30 AM, Dušan Makavejev knocked on Miloš's door to inform him that the Russian have arranged with the Czechs to kidnap him (Miloš). Looking out the window, he could see Czech embassy cars in front of the hotel with people asleep in them. So Makavejev snuck Miloš out the back door and got him on late-night train, escorted by a friend of Makavejev's. This friend was very nervous from Belgrade until the Austrian border, but they arrived safely in Austria.

One final note: Godina has apparently compiled a 100-minute cut of the film also; I saw the original 20-minute version. I would be very interested to see the longer cut of the film.

Blow Out

Blow Out clarified, for me, why DePalma is so celebrated by a segment of cinephiles... on a shot by shot basis, there is some very interesting camerawork; closeups are frequently used to great, intense effect; there's a referentiality in the film that goes beyond playfulness to support the narrative force of the film; at times, the montage/composition/sound design/lighting is in perfect service to the emotional response the viewer should have. Yet I am still unconverted to DePalma as a master, because his craftsmanship is successful only on the shot or sequence level. In Blow Out, at least, he doesn't do an effective job of maintaining narrative momentum from scene to scene, and the necessary build of suspense falls short. In a movie that should been more intense than The Conversation, I still end up feeling a bit flat. For someone who frequently works in a Hitchcockian vein, the element that is most clearly missing from DePalma's work is the one that forms the basis of every frame for Hitchcock - the emotional narrative of the film.

15 septembre 2007

short films by Karpo Godina

Karpo Godina, the Yugoslavian Black Wave cinematographer, editor and director, was on hand this week at BAM to present a program of his short films, including the collaborative film I Miss Sonja Henie. Three of his I Miss Sonja Henie collaborators were on hand as well: Buck Henry, Paul Morrissey, and Milosz Forman. I will write soon on I Miss Sonja Henie, as well as Godina's making-of film. First, some brief notes on the other films shown at the screening.

"We were standing in the water during the day, and a lot of things happened also during the night." - Karpo Godina

The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk (1970) struck the most nuanced and rebellious notes of the three shorts that began the program. The camera maintains one position, though there are lots of edits; due to composition and movement in and out of frame these rarely register as "jump cuts" beyond the changing character of the light. The film begins with a shot of a body of water, with houses in the distance, as a topless young woman swings on a swing on the right side of the frame. When she reaches the forward part of her swing she is in frame; when she swings backward she is out of frame. In numerous versions of the same shot - at different times of day - she is the only person in the frame. Eventually she is joined in the frame by 5 men, who only rarely interact with her. They face the camera - sometimes as far back as she, sometimes in extreme closeup. They stand still, they frolic, they are covered in mud or clean. Intertitles with various graphic design elements - including Serbo-Croatian (or Slovenian?) text describing various phases of life: "life," "death," "dictatorship," "swallow LSD" - sometimes flash between shots. The LSD taken at the end of the film - introduced by the only title card that appears twice in the film - was real LSD.

The film is in color, but here's an idea of the mise-en-scène:

The use of a single camera position accentuates the visual and temporal changes bridged by each edit. It also emphasizes time in a broader way; the moments captured on film are somewhat disconnected, so watching becomes in part a process of situating events in a time before the "next" time comes (not edited sequentially, "next" might just as often refer to "previous"). The film's successful avoidance of the "jump cut" (as an emotional phenomenon rather than a technical one) is a triumph of blocking and editing, and shows a deep understanding of the ways that mise-en-scène affects our understanding of an image. While all of Godina's work shares a core playfulness, Pupilija Ferkeverk does this most effectively because Godina's playfulness extends to his onscreen collaborators. Inside the limits of his frame, he seems to have created a zone of liberation in which young people can explore themselves outside the pressures of imposed power (hence: film was banned for showing the decay of moral values).

The symbolic representation of frustrated sexual expression of
The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk turns to literalism in On Love Skills or A Film with 14,441 Frames (1972). This film was commissioned by the Yugoslavian Army after Karpo was transferred to the Army's film department. He was authorized to make an offical military film about the problems of a military barracks and the nearby village of women with whom they never crossed paths. Instead, he made a pacifist film - "make love not war." The army approved - and even actively loved the original script, which was different than the film that was produced, though Karpo did not make it seem that his script had been a ploy to finance a pacifist film. In any case, the finished product led to his prosecution by a military court, a near-brush with a 7-year prison term, and the destruction of the film by the military with an ax (!). One print was saved, however, and that's what we saw.

The film relies on a basic opposition between the women of the town - workers at a women's factory, or girls at a school - and the young military men who do not interact with them. Godina emphasizes the sheer numbers of both groups in wide shots containing multitudes. The women stand together as one of them speaks, but it isn't immediately obvious which, presenting the illusion that they all speak, that the one voice speaks for all. The men, on the other hand, are shown in military exercises or simply standing in uniform. Some of choreography of the exercises makes them look silly. Funnier still are the few scenes where military men and throngs of women exist in the same frame: shots near the end of the film when a single soldier holds the slate before a group of assembled women. In each case, he appears timid, frightened, unsteady, as if all his practice with his gun and his time spent in the barracks has left him unsure of his masculinity. Karpo explained after the film that 20 tanks and 60 airplanes were left at his disposal for use in the film (he shot them but they didn't make it into his final cut). For me, the overtly ironic juxtapositions of On Love Skills or A Film with 14,441 Frames were a disappointment after the more elusive meanings of
The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk, but it is a fine example of montage in the service of political activism.

Healthy People for Fun (1971) is a portrait of Vojvodina, a community full of different ethnic groups. This film is ethnography by way of political commentary on the supposed unities asserted by the Yugoslavian government. Godina makes ironic use of the modes of presentation common in pastoral celebratory propaganda (extending tendencies nascent in 14,441 Frames). In spite of the film's curiosity about the individuals in Vojvodina, I couldn't help but see this as a minor film for Godina, one that combines irony and ethnographic seriousness without exploring either in any great depth.

10 septembre 2007

The Shock Doctrine

more info

training them not to think

"Russian television has come a long way from the staid, politically tinged fare of Communist times, and these days there are many channels offering a steady diet of movies, dramas, game shows, soap operas and reality shows — some locally produced, some imported and dubbed.

News programs, which are tightly overseen by President Vladimir V. Putin’s administration, are another story. As in Soviet days, they rarely divert from the Kremlin’s point of view. Barbed political satire, which thrived after the fall of the Soviet Union, has been suppressed.


Daniil B. Dondurei, editor in chief of Cinema Art magazine, said he saw a darker significance in the success of shows like “Schastlivy Vmeste.”

“Today, people are becoming accustomed to not thinking about life,” he said. “The television is training them to not think about which party is in Parliament, about which laws are being passed, about who will be in charge tomorrow. People have become accustomed to living like children, in the family of a very strong and powerful father. Everything is decided for them.”"
- NYTimes

Post-Mumblecore, pt. 2

"I think that if Mumblecore is more than just a flash in the pan, it is precisely because it will inspire filmmakers around the world to make it their own."
- Matt Riviera, in a comment on a post at Spoutblog

"Only five thousand people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band."
- Brian Eno

05 septembre 2007

25 Best Non-English language films

In response to Edward Copeland's Choosing the best non-English language films, I present my ballot (my top 25 out of the nominated films):

1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)
Flat out the most romantic movie of all time, Umbrellas bursts forth at the seams with exuberant color and all the freshness of youthful visions of the world. The final scene's saudade is eviscerating not because it's tragic, but because it isn't. An unrivalled emotional experience.
2. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)
An intimate epic of resistance that details the codes by which people live under occupation. The opening shot is as powerful and artful as openers get - Nazis marching, triumphantly, in front of the Arc de Triomphe. An epilogue that turns the story of a few individuals into the story of a nation. Tragic, brutal, and human.
3. The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
The mastery of this film is beyond my capacity for speech.
4. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
5. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
What really thrills about Battle of Algiers after all of these years is not that you feel in the midst of events; that's been done too much since to feel freshly radical. Battle's amplified intensity comes from being in the midst of events. It's not spectatorship but intimacy here; Pontecorvo's camera gives up showing in favor of participation. This goes for both sides of the fight - we're as intimate with the general giving a press conference as we are with the young woman cutting her hair to slip past security checkpoints. This is radical, because filmmakers mostly align themselves with the watchers. Pontecorvo, instead, implicates us in both sides of the conflict.
6. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
After seeing this for the first time, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said "If it was playing again right now, I would definitely stay."
7. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979)
The opening shots of mummified human remains, as my friend said to me afterwards, is like the secret of vampire lore unlocked. "We all die, and these are the stories human beings tell ourselves to help us make sense of the fact that we die." There's nothing left but for me to agree.
8. Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967)
The perfect comic exploration of the "man vs. nature" archetype, where nature is the artificial world that man has created.
9. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
10. Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
11. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
12. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
Though it occassionally teeters on the verge of cloying, it consistently comes out on the right side by virtue a real emotional intimacy with wounded characters who need a bit of a push to have the courage to pursue their happiness.
13. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
Mein Gott! That opening sequence! Rivalled only by the apocalyptic insanity of Kinski as Aguirre.
14. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
15. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
Not the film people think it is, but a much better one: a sweet mini-romance.
16. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
A medieval morality play both set in and a product of a world in dire need of such stories. A tale of sacrifice and the resurgence of life, of mankind's possibility for goodness in a world run amok with evil. Simple and sublime.
17. Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)
A few clues for latecomers: The Madison. The Louvre, quickly. Anna Karina.
18. The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
19. The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
20. Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
A film that builds and builds and builds and builds... until the final edit, a moment of sublime, impossible loss - and beauty.
21. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2001)
Like every time I ever fell in love, only so much more beautiful (if just as tragic).
22. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
Lang's balloons floating in the air and shots of empty stairwells are a masterclass in suspense and the horror of the viewer's imagination. M turns "In the Hall of the Mountain King" into the every parent's worst nightmare.
23. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
24. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
25. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)


and the 25 best that didn't make the nominees list (in rough order of my preference)*:
An Actor's Revenge (Kon Ichikawa, 1963)
Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)
Tesis (Alejandro Amenábar, 1996)
The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973)
The Hunt (Carlos Saura, 1966)
In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000)
Pepi Luci Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pedro Almodóvar, 1980)
L'Âge D'Or (Luis Buñuel, 1930)
Queimada (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969)
Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
A Woman is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri, 1970)
When A Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960)
Sauvage Innocence (Philippe Garrel, 2001)
Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2000)
The Closet (Francis Veber, 2001)
Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)
The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
I Am Cuba (Mikheil Kalatozishvili, 1964)
Two Women (Vittorio de Sica, 1960)
Even Dwarves Started Small (Werner Herzog, 1970)
Sicilia! (Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, 1999)
Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem, 1998)
Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
Tuvalu (Veit Helmer, 1999)

* I'm not including La Jetée because it's technically not a feature.

To say nothing of Pather Panchali, Flowers of Shanghai, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Viridiana, Vacas, Charulata, Sholay, The Kingdom, and LOADS of films I've forgotten or haven't yet seen.

Update: Results!