30 avril 2007


“Our technological civilization is not sustainable on this planet. Nature is going to regulate us very quickly. . . .We’ll be the next ones [to go extinct]. But that’s okay. Let’s enjoy movies and friendship and beer.”
- Werner Herzog
[via Kristin Thompson at Observations on film art and Film Art]

29 avril 2007

Passio (Paolo Cherchi Usai, 2007)

El Greco's The Burial of the Count of Orgaz

Immediately after the lights came up in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the people behind us asked, "You seemed to be clapping a lot, can you tell us what you saw in it?"
"Well," I said, "I think it was about the split between the spiritual and the physical world, and the inability to represent he physical. I think the black is really important as a lack of representation of the spiritual world; for me the film put me in the mindset of that divide, and really augmented the experience of the music."
"Oh," said that man. "We didn't get that all." He meant that they hadn't felt that. "Well, uh, thanks."
After they left, I mentioned El Greco and his representations of the physical and spiritual world as very separate elements. I emphasized the importance of the black screen as counterpoint to the (possibility of) representation of the physical world. I contrasted the sufferings of the flesh - the limitations of life as corporeality - with the possibility of spiritual transcendence, the cameras and film we see on screen demonstrating the essential representability of the physical world.

On the subway after the screening, we ran into Jason Kohn, whose documentary Manda Bala just won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature at Sundance. Jason led off with "Were you just at that piece of sh*t?" I told him that I liked it. He did some more ranting about Passio's (lack of) quality. He countered my arguments with the valid criticisms was that the footage seemed arbitrarily chosen and was artlessly integrated into the film. I had enjoyed the project of the film, but Jason's criticisms were of the film's execution. We were both right.

I'm intrigued that Paolo Cherchi Usai has cited among his influences for this work the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. I'm no expert on Gurdjieff's philosophies of the physical and spiritual worlds, but it seems that he views existence as a problematic distraction from the work of understanding but also the necessary site of that work, calling to mind the incarnation and corporeal suffering of Jesus. Gurdjieff is also impenetrably sloppy and confused as a writer, possibly on purpose. The purpose? Confusion can obscure the illusion of knowledge, leading us toward our own reflections and a deeper understanding. Whether this strategy has the desired effect is up for debate.

Manda Bala will be at the Sundance at BAM series in May+June; Jason will be there for both screenings. All dialogue above is approximate. It's no surprise that Danny beat me to posting about the film, and that his reflections are far more eloquent than mine.

25 avril 2007

Freedom Day

In Portugal, April 25 is Dia da Liberdade (Freedom Day), commemorating the start of the Carnation Revolution.

After my recent re-viewing of Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, I have a lot to say about political contexts and timeline in the film (some specific to April 25). I haven't seen most of these discussed in English, so hopefully I can help bring these issues and contexts to better light. Some of these ideas were addressed by Costa in 2 recent interviews excerpted at Ainda não começámos a pensar. The interviews are in Portuguese, and I don't have time to translate now, but I will reference them again in my upcoming post on Colossal Youth.

22 avril 2007

The Seashell and the Clergyman (Germaine Dulac, 1928)

From a scenario by Antonin Artaud, Germaine Dulac's masterpiece and the world's first surrealist film (and don't let Buñuel tell you otherwise).

Or, watch it bigger here.

18 avril 2007

Brief Notes

A recap of short reflections that I haven't found time to expand into full-fledged blog posts over the past month or so.

On the Town is really, really fun. Early on, the film's narrative logic resembles an Animaniacs episode. Its naivete and childlike wonder is infectious.

The Seventh Seal is even philosophically richer than I remembered, but what makes it special is the utter simplicity of the story. Like a morality play from the era depicted (and of the type performed by the troupe of actors), it brings simple allegory and personified mystical forces into human conflict. Sublime.

Gladiator seemed successful the first time I saw it, but gets less so with each successive viewing. It now seems cliche-ridden and a bit of a slog. Certainly my tastes have changed since first watching it but, but I think the core issue is its lack of philosophical and thematic depth.

The most scarily prescient Hollywood film I can think of:
Enemy of the State is a film about surveillance, paranoia, and an irresponsible government, where privacy legislation is at stake, government officials lie and battle with other agencies, and 'security' is used as a cover for a high-level power-grab - all that with a villain born on 9/11. It's a disturbing experience watching this film and realizing it was made in 1998. Dystopias are supposed to be cautionary, not prophetic.

Bela Tarr's Damnation is a bit too rigidly formal. The camera movements are so slow that they mainly convey a sense of stasis, leaning closer to the boring rather than the affecting (easy to say compared to the arresting camerawork of Sátántangó). the film is quite dark (thematically) and rainy (on screen). The rain is clearly the product of a rain machine, whose usage just barely calls attention to itself as artificial (intentionally?). I enjoyed sequences from this movie very, very much, but it seems a training exercise for his later brilliance. Certainly worth a watch for students of Tarr (and we should all be students of Tarr), but not up to the level of his later films.

The Lake House is narratively complex enough to confuse viewers not practiced at juggling complex chronologies, but is essentially a very simple love story. A unique take on time-travel cause-effect relationships makes it more confusing than it ought to be - because without that, there would be no narrative engine. The film's ending is strong because it toys with the ending I wanted to see before restoring the possibility of romance. The ending should have referenced what I recall as the closing shot of Tsai Ming-Liang film (The Hole?... it might not be a Tsai film, or not the closing shot - I haven't seen this mystery film in 5 or 6 years. Please post theories in the comments). In any case, The Lake House carries a premise screaming for an oblique arthouse remake.

Hannah and Her Sisters is nearly my favorite "Woody Allen film" of Woody Allen's films (Manhattan is a shade better, Sleeper is funnier and higher concept, Match Point is better drama). It goes deeper than most of his "Woody Allen films" because Woody himself is an ancillary character, allowing Michael Caine to invest in the tortures of misdirected, confused love without also being his own comedic counterpoint (if you're wondering why I like Manhattan better, it's the cinematography, mostly. Also, Hannah and Her Sisters end with the optimism of resolution, while Manhattan ends with a future-directed optimism that understands the passage of time and the changes we go through in our lives).

I intend to put together posts on Werckmeister Harmonies, The Mother and the Whore, The Host, The Funeral, and Woman is the Future of Man. Look for those soon.

Also, I'm looking for a new format for the 'Cinephile NYC' feature. It may be on a dedicated blog, or perhaps an online calendar application... I'm currently in the research phase, but I do expect it to return in some form. I'll keep you posted.

17 avril 2007


"We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten." - Cesare Pavese

10 avril 2007

What I'm reading...

Responding to Girish and Darren:

Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych (to be followed by The Kreutzer Sonata, Master and Man, and Family Happiness).

Edgardo Cozarinsky's The Bride from Odessa (which I will resume adapting to script form once I convince my computer to function again).

I'm not much for embroiling myself in multiple narratives at the same time, so that is mainly it. Though I might list the score to The Host also; I tend to 'read' music much as books or films rather than turn to it/them for the enjoyment of the familiar.

After these things are finished I will select one of two dozen or so books stacked on my shelves as possible 'next reads'... My guess is the winner will be Giorgio Bassani's The Garden of Finzi-Continis (and no, I haven't seen the film). When I get home I will list the rest of the books in the pile (computer willing).

Let me add that if I could find a copy of Tarkovsky's diaries I would drop everything and devour them.

"I have four razors and a dictaphone." - Andrei Tarkovsky

Do not miss Girish's post, which closes with an amazing Peter Wollen excerpt on the philosophical and stylistic differences between Von Sternberg and Rossellini that's too lengthy to copy here in good faith.

Here's the list of books vying for 'next to read' status on my shelf. Note that for me, almost all of these books are somehow film-related:
Petrolio - Pier Paolo Pasolini
Making Pictures: A Century of European Cinematography
My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk
The Brothers Karamazov (reread)
Mila 18 (reread)
The Wretched of the Earth
The Cave - Saramago
Death in Venice
Notes from Underground
Journey to the End of the Night (reread)
The English Patient
Refelctions on Violence - Sorel
Bread and Wine (reread)
The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918
Wine - Andre Domine
The Hot Zone
Everyman and Other Morality Plays

Impure Aesthetics

"War is war, l’art pour l’art, in politics there’s no room for compunction, business is business, — all these signify the same thing, all these appertain to the same aggressive and radical spirit, informed by that uncanny, I might almost say that metaphysical, lack of consideration for consequences, that ruthless logic directed on the object and on the object alone, which looks neither to the right nor to the left; and this, all this, is the style of thinking that characterizes our age."

— Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers

via Alex Ross at The Rest is Noise

03 avril 2007

All Happy Endings are Counterrevolutionary:
Theory, practice, image consumption, and knowledge in Minority Report

This is a response to Ted Pigeon's post on Minority Report from March 2, Minority Report: Shameless Product Placement or Scathing Social Commentary?

Read it first.

Ted discusses the contradictory politics of Minority Report's view of the fascism of the market, and the way that consumer society takes over our lives to the exclusion of dissent. Minority Report's use of product placement as the embodiment of this market fascism is undercut by the film's use of real advertisements and product placements. Ted asks, "Is it not possible to use the elements of an unacceptable system to in a sense comment on it and potentially reach the people that it manipulates? Call me an optimist, but I think so." I think Ted's most astute comment in the article might be his summation of the opposite viewpoint: "any act we do to work within these massive systems of the corporations that run the 'free' market to turn their own elements against them is just playing into them further."

Here is why the second statement is closer to the reality of image-consumption:

Spectacle functions by way of presenting knowledge for consumption. The consumption of knowledge sets up a disconnect between large-scale dissent and small-scale assent. Capitalism is a series of small transactions, where the "wisdom" of the market is the aggregation of individual decisions made by consumers at specific moments. Even when we all "agree" on the large-scale solutions in theory, we can still sabotage them through our actions. Global thoughts are subverted by local action.

The commodification of rebellion increases this hierarchy of knowledge above action.
In a movie about the creation of reality and factual dissent, the viewer is given the illusion of intelligence about the (film's) world through MR's 'critique' of the film's social order. This critique is false because it is limited to the realm of knowledge.
Rebellion is not seeing, but doing. Critique does not exist without action.
"The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living."
- Guy Debord

"Theory" is the failure of the process of theory. To call something "theory" is to condemn its failure as praxis, to describe it as revolution tangled up in means. Film that functions as theory sets itself up as "an object of mere contemplation" when it ends its critique before the final frame. This is the realm that the cinema resigns itself to when appending a resolution to the narrative of a previously critical film. All happy endings are counterrevolutionary.

In watching a movie, we enter a world which resembles our own (often as a negative/pessimistic image). In the counterrevolutionary pseudo-critical film, the film then resolves the conflict that allows for the pessimistic association, leaving us its obverse optimistic image. It resolves the dilemmas of the negative image, expunging them in favor of the positive image - and that's how you walk out of the theater.
"Thought must play a catastrophic role, must itself be an element of catastrophe, of provocation, in a world that wants absolutely to cleanse everything, to exterminate death and negativity."
- Jean Baudrillard

A film is an emotional journey for the spectator (in most films, mirroring that of the character(s)). The happy ending of the pseudo-critical film restores order and resolves the conflict of the society's flaws. Whatever allegory may have existed in Minority Report is lost in the psychology of resolution. The criticism lives only in the realm of theory, which remains "theory" insofar as it is the failure of praxis. A film with a resolutionary epilogue eliminates the need for action (praxis).

This is Baudrillard called a "trompe-l’œil negation" (in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur discussing The Matrix). Like The Matrix, Minority Report traffics in these illusions of antagonistic criticism that by their nature as spectacle -- and the audience's fascinated adherence thereof -- forbid any true praxical alternative.