31 décembre 2008

2008: A Year in movies

The best films I saw for the first time in 2008, in rough order of preference.
[My official list of the Top 10 new releases of 2008, with accompanying commentary, is now up at The Auteurs]

Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1994)
Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
Je vous salue Sarajevo (Jean-Luc Godard, 1993)
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
Le Fond de l'Air est Rouge (Chris Marker, 1977/1993)
Céline and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
Andrei Rubylev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1969)
Sarabande (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2008)
The Return to Work at the Wonder Factory (Jacques Willemont, 1968)
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank, 1972)
In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerin, 2007)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947)
Mes Petites amoureuses (Jean Eustache, 1974)
Ne Touchez pas la hache (Don’t Touch the Axe, Jacques Rivette, 2007)
Éloge de l'amour (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001)
The Passionate Friends (David Lean, 1949)
French Can Can (Jean Renoir, 1954)
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986)
Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) / Dancing (Matt Harding, 2008)
U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis, 1994)
Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (John Gianvito, 2007)
Bush's War (Michael Kirk, 2008)
The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, 1940)
J'entends plus la guitare (Philippe Garrel, 1991)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
Still Life (Jia Zhang-Ke, 2006)
Une catastrophe (Jean-Luc Godard, 2008)
Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, 2006)
Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943)
Far From Vietnam (Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda, 1967)
Le Gai Savoir (Jean-Luc Godard, 1969)
The House is Black (Forough Farrokhzad, 1963)
Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007)
The Avenging Conscience: or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (D. W. Griffith, 1914)
How Merrily I Shall Laugh. Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub and Their Film "Class Relations" (Manfred Blank, 1984)
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1965)
Charlie Wilson's War (Mike Nichols, 2007)
Synechdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
Ryan's Daughter (David Lean, 1970)
Music video for "Bright Tomorrow" by Fuck Buttons. (Andrew Hung, 2007)
Chrisopher Columbus, The Enigma (Manoel de Oliveira, 2007)
Too Early, Too Late (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1981)
Class Relations (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1984)
Un film comme les autres (Jean-Luc Godard, 1968)
Picnic on the Grass (Jean Renoir, 1960)
Ms. 45 (Abel Ferrara, 1981)
Report (Bruce Connor, 1967)
High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968)
Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
A Movie (Bruce Connor, 1958)
"Aliens in a Spaceship" episode of television show Bones (2006)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008)
The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1968)
RR (James Benning, 2008)
Mary (Abel Ferrara, 2005)
Vagabond (Agnes Varda, 1985)
Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946)
Le Premier venu (Just Anybody, Jacques Doillon, 2008)
Breakaway (Bruce Connor, 1966)
Winter (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2008)
Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937)
The Dark Room (Marie-Christine Questerbert, 2000)
Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962)
A Politician's Love Story (D. W. Griffith, 1909)
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Le petit theatre de Jean Renoir (Jean Renoir, 1970)
Mother of Tears (Dario Argento, 2008)
Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks, 1965)
Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait (Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, 2006)

19 décembre 2008

Futures of Film in the Age of Digitally Infinite Reproduction (#1)

Roger Erik Tinch of CineVegas has a great post today on 'Distribution & Consumption in 2009.'

Here's a salient tidbit:

Short form content is online king

Duh, right? Then why are companies still trying to push for feature film distribution through widgets and the like? Who wants to watch a two hour movie on a 2-inch by 2-inch size player? Go to what’s this year’s success story, Hulu, and see what the top 20 viewed videos are. Most are between 10 - 20 minutes with a smattering of 44 minute episodes. The first feature film doesn’t show up until #27 with the THE FIFTH ELEMENT. The fact that a big Hollywood film on a popular video site that’s being shown for free can’t even break into the top 20 reveals a lot about our viewing habits.
(thanks to Harry for sending this along)

The feature film's market dominance was a historical contingency, a result of combining the facts of distribution and production with the facts of the market. We're often fooled by this dominance. This dominance covers the majority of cinema-time, but an eye-blink in human time. Human narrative forms long predate even the novel.

The future of cinema online is closest in format to advertiser-interrupted television. Think of any tv show - any show at all - and format it for air with advertisements, and you get neat little 8-minute segments, each with a narrative arc all its own. The relationship between segment and show is something like the relationship between one episode of Mad Men and the season in which it appears. What online content does is increase the importance of the miniature narrative arc.

One of the brilliances of The Da Vinci Code is the way in which it creates another cliffhanger on every third or forth page before breaking away to another portion of the narrative, changing perspectives or introducing new information. Dan Brown's chapters are perfectly suited to the reading format of the present age. A cinema of the future will need to embrace this format to be (financially) successful.

This comparison to The Da Vinci Code should not be mistaken for pessimism. This format of the future, this future of cinema, can also be thought of as a variation on the structure of Out 1.

05 décembre 2008

change one word

"Most of the world’s 'democracies' stay in power by implicitly or explicitly bribing a wide circle of social, economic, governmental, and military elite. This requires an ever growing pot of loot."

(slightly changed from the original)

21 novembre 2008

passion such as can exist nowadays

"I want to write the moral history of the men of my generation-- or, more accurately, the history of their feelings. It's a book about love, about passion; but passion such as can exist nowadays--that is to say, inactive." - Gustave Flaubert, on L'Éducation sentimentale
(according to Wikipedia)

18 novembre 2008

the optimism/pessimism of recession

"It’s possible that the downturn will produce a profusion of Hugo Chávezes. It’s possible that the Obama administration will spend much of its time battling a global protest movement that doesn’t even exist yet."
- David Brooks, 11/17/08

07 novembre 2008

"Look at the stone, the story comes afterwards..."

"Ora, quando vimos Trás-os-Montes — e já o tínhamos pressentido nas aulas — percebemos o lado documental. A mim deu-me uma outra segurança, porque fez — e continua a fazer cada vez mais — com que, ao começar a pensar num filme, seja sempre começar a pensar a partir de alguém real, um rosto, uma maneira de andar, um sítio, mais do que uma história. E era mesmo isso que ele proclamava: "Olha para a pedra que a história vem depois — e se não houver história não é importante.""

("When we saw Trás-os-Montes — and we had already sensed it in school — we understood the documentary component. This reassured me, because it makes it — and continues to make it more and more each time — so that when you start to think about a film, it always starts with something real, a face, a way of walking, a place, more than a story. And that was exactly what he stated: "Look at the stone, the story comes afterwards — and if there's no story, that doesn't matter."")

- Pedro Costa, on António Reis
Interview conducted in Lisbon on July 28, 1997 by Anabela Moutinho and Maria da Graça Lobo; published in António Reis e Margarida Cordeiro - a poesia da terra (António Reis e Margarida Cordeiro - the poetry of the land).

Many thanks to Cristina at Dias Felizes for providing this quote, and for assistance with translation.

05 novembre 2008

Election Day 2008

My neighborhood last night:

Screaming and celebration for hours. Hundreds of people in the street. Car horns honking, in celebratory rhythm. High-fiving strangers. "We Are The Champions" singalongs in the bars. Car radios, turned all the way up, playing Obama's speech. Fireworks in the street.

I love Park Slope.

Update: I should have been on 5th Avenue!

03 novembre 2008

You have to see things clearly: the struggle between the idea and the matter

“The form of the body gives birth to the soul. I’ve said that a hundred times. …When someone says, ‘Yes, the form, it’s the form, the form, never mind the idea’, that is a sell-out. It’s not true. You have to see things clearly: First, there is the idea, then there is the matter, and then the form. And there is nothing you can do about that. Nobody can change that! …And through this work, the struggle between the idea and the matter, and the struggle with the matter, gives rise to the form. And the rest is just filling material. …The same goes for the sculptor. He has his idea and gets a block of marble and he works the matter. He has to take into account the nervures in the marble, the cracks, all the geological layers in it. He just can’t do whatever he wants.”
- Jean-Marie Straub, in Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?

“Um ponto de vista sobre o mundo é um ponto de vista sobre o cinema”

“Um ponto de vista sobre o mundo é um ponto de vista sobre o cinema”
– José Manuel Costa

(“A point of view on the world is a point of view on the cinema”)

28 octobre 2008

Contra-Imperialism Single Feature

Tuesday in New York -- today! -- features 2 very rare and very political screenings -- sadly, scheduled so as to be mutually exclusive (insert joke about leftist infighting here). I'm not sure you can go wrong with either call, but I'll be at the latter.

Film Comment Selects presents Richard Fleischer's 1969 biopic Che!
Tuesday, October 28 at 6:35pm

Far From Vietnam
A film by Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnes Varda
16mm, 1967, 120 minutes
Tuesday, October 28 at 8:00pm
at Light Industry

10 octobre 2008

the ingenuity of the market

[Don't be distracted by the humor - these are the actual facts of the subprime crisis, the first domino in our present situation. This is the closest thing to a nonideological analysis I've seen, presented with absolute clarity. Please share.]

Thanks to André Dias and Margarida Carvalho for passing this along.

08 octobre 2008


I've been MIA from this blog for 3 reasons:
1. I'm obsessed with the financial crisis.
2. I have a film project that might be launching soon.
3. I have a new job.

If you follow my shared items feed then you already knew about #1.

Once I get a bit of free time... someday... I hope to write a big **FINANCIAL CRISIS!!** post. Until then, these links will have to do:

Sad Guys on Trading Floors



02 octobre 2008

Ask Ken Jacobs

Tank.tv, an online moving-image gallery and curated series of experimental film and video art, is hosting 20 works by Ken Jacobs in October and November. Click the link to watch!

The works will also be screened at Tank.tv events in the UK; Screening schedule and general info on the Jacobs series available here, including Ken Jacobs in person in London at the end of November. Also keep your eyes peeled for Tank Magazine's new issue, featuring a discussion between Jacobs and Mark Webber on Star Spangled to Death, and an essay from Jacobs on contemporary American politics entitled "Failed State."

Ken is also answering questions via email in an extended Q+A session. You can email your questions to the artist at ken@tank.tv.
A regularly updated transcript of the dialogue will be online at www.tank.tv/askken.

21 septembre 2008

a sense of place screening

This coming Tuesday Sept 23, my most recent video work a sense of place - currently available for viewing on The Auteurs - will screen as part of the New York Experimental series at The Tank, along with work by Daniel Butler, Alexis Powell, Gina Telaroli, Jack Beck, Kate Pelling, Brian DeLevine and Isshaela Ingham, Akosua Adoma Owusu & Romulo Alejandro, and Elizabeth Riley. The screening starts at 8 PM. This will be the first screening of a sense of place outside of The Auteurs; I'm excited to see it with an audience for the first time.

The Tank @ chashama is located at 217 East 42nd Street, NY, NY, between 2nd and 3rd Aves.

16 septembre 2008

A Brief Encounter

She stood in line, reading the New York Review of Books; first finishing an article by Oliver Sacks on manic depression, then beginning an article on Emily Dickinson written by Joyce Carol Oates. She seemed like the kind of woman waiting for her Byron, or perhaps that was just the confluence of the pieces she was reading and the romantic film that she was in line to see. She wore her light brown hair in an easily-pinned chignon, not quite done up in a bun and with the ends just a bit loose. A black demi-cardigan covered a black vintage dress that might instead have been only designed with a long-past age in mind. She was slim with lively light eyes and a feminine air that she doubtless encouraged by dressing as if she lived in that now-eclipsed time when women and men lived largely in separate cultures.

Next to her stood a man of about the same age, dressed perhaps a bit too casually and colorfully for her to notice, holding a small, well-worn copy of The Age of Innocence in which he held his ticket. Both stood silently at the end of the line - which snaked, in their wake, out the door of the theater - for longer than expected as the previous film ran just behind schedule. Before picking up her NYRB issue, she had read the program for the rest of the David Lean films playing those two weeks. He had nearly recommended one in particular ("If you like David Lean, you should make a point of catching The Passionate Friends tomorrow evening"), but had hesitated. Just after his hesitation, his heart began to pound a bit more heavily than it should, and he thought of Newland Archer.

In the silence that followed his hesitation, he noticed her hair, and the small spots on the back of her neck; he caught just the outside of her eyes' brightness from his oblique angle. As the line began to move, he decided to sit in her row, or at least nearby, to offer himself another chance at conversation after the film. Before making it into the theater, he spotted a friend exiting from the first half of the double-feature; this friend suggested they sit together near the front, his usual preference. The woman in the black dress entered a row just behind the middle of the theater, which our prospective Byron noticed as he walked to the front. When the lights came up at the film's end, he turned to see her begin to walk out, but the theater's crowd kept them well-separated. He tried an alternate exit but found himself stuck in a narrow hallway behind a slow-moving older couple, angling for an opening through which to cut them off. When it finally came at the hallway's end, he hurried outside as if to catch her. Not seeing her in any direction, he returned inside, hoping that she had gone the restroom after the film's end. Standing as best as possible between the crowds of the lobby - entering, exiting, buying tickets, queuing for concessions - he looked for her. After a few moments, she walked toward the exit, and he and she saw each other, briefly, in the way one sees a person and perhaps, if one has already decided to notice, notices deeply but without betraying this depth.

A moment later he traced her path out the door and turned to catch sight of her direction. She walked briskly west. He had waited long enough that she was far away, or at least seemed so, by the time he had walked outside. He had wanted her to turn, to turn and smile for a moment and then keep walking, but she couldn't have known that he was looking toward her, and besides it would have broken the reserve that both had shown thus far and so clearly admired. If she had known he was standing there she wouldn't have turned, and if she had known he was standing there and she had wanted to turn she wouldn't have turned. So she walked all the way to the train without turning as he lost sight of her, and after waiting for his friend he walked to the same platform, barely missing the train she had taken and unsure whether she had taken the train at all.


The Passionate Friends plays tonight at Film Forum in New York. It is unmissable.

Brief Encounter is unquestionably the greatest English-language film ever made.

A Summer of Madness By Oliver Sacks
The Woman in White By Joyce Carol Oates

30 août 2008

"which serve all the more strongly to confirm the validity of the system"

"“Whenever Orson Welles offends against the tricks of the trade, he is forgiven because his departures from the norm are regarded as calculated mutations which serve all the more strongly to confirm the validity of the system.” The apparatus may reinforced—not threatened—by auteurists, who perpetuate the illusion of choice."

- Nick Rombes, in the comments to this post at The Auteurs' Notebook, citing Horkheimer and Adorno's The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, in response to a critique levied by (the writer formerly known as) DPR.

10 août 2008

in the presence of absence

"I have defeated you, death
All the beautiful arts have defeated you
The songs of Mesopotamia, the obelisks of Egypt, the carved tombs of the pharaohs on the altar have defeated you, and you are vanquished."
- Mahmoud Darwish (March 13, 1941 - August 9, 2008)

"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet."

25 juillet 2008

Remembrances of Marie A.

Remembrances of Marie A.
By Bertrolt Brecht

On a certain day in the blue-moon month of September
Beneath a young plum tree, quietly
I held her there, my quiet, pale beloved
In my arms just like a graceful dream.
And over us in the beautiful summer sky
There was a cloud on which my gaze rested
It was very white and so immensely high
And when I looked up, it had disappeared.

Since that day many, many months
Have quietly floated down and past.
No doubt the plum trees were chopped down
And you ask me: what's happened to my love?
So I answer you: I can't remember.
And still, of course, I know what you mean
But I honestly can't recollect her face
I just know: there was a time I kissed it.

And that kiss too I would have long forgotten
Had not the cloud been present there
That I still know and always will remember
It was so white and came from on high.
Perhaps those plum trees still bloom
And that woman now may have had her seventh child
But that cloud blossomed just a few minutes
And when I looked up, it had disappeared in the wind.


16 juillet 2008

16 juin 2008

independence, colonialism, Kenyatta

"When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible." - Jomo Kenyatta

A Response to Imperialism, aka Gentlemen of the Jungle by Jomo Kenyatta:
Once upon a time an elephant made a friendship with a man. One day a heavy thunderstorm broke out, the elephant went to his friend, who had a little hut at the edge of the forest, and said to him: "My dear good man, will you please let me put my trunk inside your hut to keep it out of this torrential rain?" The man, seeing what situation his friend was in, replied: "My dear good elephant, my hut is very small, but there is room for your trunk and myself. Please put your trunk in gently." The elephant thanked his friend, saying: "You have done me a good deed and one day I shall return your kindness." But what followed? As soon as the elephant put his trunk inside the hut, slowly he pushed his head inside, and finally flung the man out in the rain, and then lay down comfortably inside his friend's hut, saying: "My dear good friend, your skin is harder than mine, and as there is not enough room for both of us, you can afford to remain in the rain while I am protecting my delicate skin from the hail storm.

The man, seeing what his friend had done to him, started to grumble, the animals in the nearby forest heard the noise and came to see what was the matter. All stood around listening to the heated argument between the man and his friend the elephant. In this turmoil the lion came along roaring, and said in a loud voice: "Don't you know that I am the King of the jungle! How dare anyone disturb the peace of my kingdom?" On hearing this the elephant, who was one of the high ministers in the jungle kingdom, replied in a soothing voice, and said: "My Lord, there is no disturbance of the peace in your kingdom. I have only been having a little discussion with my friend here as to the possession of this little hut which your lordship sees me occupying." The lion, who wanted to have "peace and tranquility" in his kingdom, replied in a noble voice, saying: "I command my ministers to appoint a Commission of Enquiry to go thoroughly into this matter and report accordingly." He then turned to the man and said: "You have done well by establishing friendship with my people, especially with the elephant who is one of my honorable ministers of state. Do not grumble any more, your hut is not lost to you. Wait until the sitting of my Imperial Commission, and there you will be given plenty of opportunity to state your case. I am sure that you will be pleased with the findings of the Commission." The man was very pleased by these sweet words from the King of the jungle, and innocently waited for his opportunity, in the belief, that naturally the hut would be returned to him.

The elephant, obeying the command of his master, got busy with other ministers to appoint the Commission of Enquiry. The following elders of the jungle were appointed to sit in the Commission: (1) Mr. Rhinoceros; (2) Mr. Buffalo; (3) Mr. Alligator; (4) The Rt. Hon. Mr. Fox to act as chairman; and (5) Mr. Leopard to act as Secretary to the Commission. On seeing the personnel, the man protested and asked if it was not necessary to include in this Commission a member from his side. But he was told that it was impossible, since no one from his side was well enough educated to understand the intricacy of jungle law. Further, that there was nothing to fear, for the members of the Commission were all men of repute for their impartiality in justice, and as they were gentlemen chosen by God to look after the interest of races less adequately endowed with teeth and claws, he might rest assured that they would investigate the matter with the greatest care and report impartially.

The Commission sat to take the evidence. The Rt. Hon. Mr. Elephant was first called. He came along with a superior air, brushing his tusks with a sapling which Mrs. Elephant had provided, and in an authoritative voice said: 'Gentlemen of the jungle, there is no need for me to waste your valuable time in relating a story which I am sure you all know. I have always regarded it as my duty to protect the interests of my friends, and this appears to have caused the misunderstanding between myself and my friend here. He invited me to save his hut from being blown away by a hurricane. As the hurricane had gained access owing to the unoccupied space in the hut, I considered it necessary, in my friend's own interests, to turn the undeveloped space to a more economic use by sitting in it myself; a duty which any of you would undoubtedly have performed with equal readiness in similar circumstances."

After hearing the Rt. Hon. Mr. Elephant's conclusive evidence, the Commission called Mr. Hyena and other elders of the jungle, who all supported what Mr. Elephant had said. They then called the man, who began to give his own account of the dispute. But the Commission cut him short, saying: "My good man, please confine yourself to relevant issues. We have already heard the circumstances from various unbiased sources; all we wish you to tell us is whether the undeveloped space in your hut was occupied by anyone else before Mr. Elephant assumed his position?" The man began to say: "No, but_" But at this point the Commission declared that they had heard sufficient evidence from both sides and retired to consider their decision. After enjoying a delicious meal at the expense of the Rt. Hon. Mr. Elephant, they reached their verdict, called the man, and declared as follows: "In our opinion this dispute has arisen through a regrettable misunderstanding due to the backwardness of your ideas. We consider that Mr. Elephant has fulfilled his sacred duty of protecting your interests. As it is clearly for your good that the space should be put to its most economic use, and as you yourself have not yet reached the stage of expansion which would enable you to fill it, we consider it necessary to arrange a compromise to suit both parties. Mr. Elephant shall continue his occupation of your hut, but we give you permission to look for a site where you can build another hut more suited to your needs, and we will see that you are well protected."

The man, having no alternative, and fearing that his refusal might expose him to the teeth and claws of members of the Commission, did as they suggested. But no sooner had he built another hut than Mr. Rhinoceros charged in with his horn lowered and ordered the man to quit. A Royal Commission was again appointed to look into the matter, and the same finding was given. This procedure was repeated until Mr. Buffalo, Mr. Leopard, Mr. Hyena and the rest were all accommodated with new huts. Then the man decided that he must adopt an effective method of protection, since Commissions of Enquiry did not seem to be of any use to him. He sat down and said: "Ng'enda thi ndeagaga motegi," which literally means, "there is nothing that treads on the earth that cannot be trapped," or in other words, you can fool people for a time, but not forever.

Early one morning, when the huts already occupied by the jungle lords were all beginning to decay and fall to pieces, he went out and built a bigger and better hut a little distance away. No sooner had Mr. Rhinoceros seen it than he came rushing in, only to find that Mr. Elephant was already inside, sound asleep. Mr. Leopard next came in at the window, Mr. Lion, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Buffalo entered the doors, while Mr. Hyena howled for a place in the shade and Mr. Alligator basked on the roof. Presently they all began disputing about their rights of penetration, and from disputing they came to fighting, and while they were embroiled together the man set the hut on fire and burnt it to the ground, jungle lords and all. Then he went home, saying "Peace is costly, but it's worth the expense," and lived happily ever after.

[Note: this is not an endorsement of Kenyatta's political career, but it should be clear from the above that Kenyatta at least understood the nature of colonial power.]

10 juin 2008

"She does her hair like Anna Karina, and she says 'No.'"

Anna in Wonderland by Joshua Clover, at Moving Image Source

an article that contains the entire 10-minute runtime of the film in question, The Return to Work at the Wonder Factory (1968)

Here's a portion of the central exchange:

Woman: We’re in worse shape now with what these agents have done. You gave in. You gave in.

CGT#1: All your friends, your fellow workers have decided to go back in. Go back in with them.

No. I’m not going back to get fucked again. I’m not going to work in there. I’m not walking back in that place. I’m not putting a foot back in that cell.

You go back in, you can see what a shithole it is. It’s disgusting, we’re all black from it. The pretty boss is in the office. It’s good for him…

Okay, it’s okay.

Oh, it’s okay? It’s finished for you now. You’ll wash your hands of it. No way—it’s just not true.

I insist that you read the piece, and watch the video.

Also, you should be keeping up with JC's (brilliant) pseudonymous blog jane dark's sugarhigh!

02 juin 2008

history, community and freedom

Many residents agree that while they’re happy to get away from the decaying buildings and the violence, their biggest losses are the invisible support systems that made their lives livable—favors exchanged in a kind of social bartering, shared child care, extended family within shouting distance, church pastors who had been there for 35 years, friendship. This loss, too, is part of the Plan’s legacy.
- Two Tales of One City (Good Magazine, March/April 2008)

"So, these may be the last days for Dharavi. If so, much that is wretched will be lost. And, who knows, maybe something better will arise. Most of the slum-dwellers doubt this. And a few high-rise blocks, scattered across the slum, do not inspire great hope. Many are half-built and slowly mildewing. Lots of their residents, it is said, have already sold up illegally, and moved back to the slums, seeking things that town-planners cannot provide: a sense of history, community and freedom. Dharavi has these, as well as many horrible problems. It is organic and miraculously harmonious. It is intensely human. Unlike the random tower-blocks, Dharavi makes sense."
- A flourishing slum (The Economist, Dec 19 2007)

28 mai 2008

The Brechtian Aspect of Hölderlin-derived Radical Cinema, Part 1

Clips from 2 films by Straub and Huillet adapted from Hölderlin's adaptations of classical works/themes:

Der Tod Des Empedokles


(pity about the promotional bits at the end)

26 mai 2008

A Kalahari Family (trailer)

Trailer for John Marshall's A Kalahari Family, a 6-hour documentary on the changes in Ju/'hoansi society in Nyae Nyae, shot from 1951 to 2001 (!).

"There are two kinds of films. Films that show us in skins are lies. Films that show the truth show us with cattle, with farms, with our own water, making our own plans." -Oma Tsamkxao

17 mai 2008

May 17, 1968

May 17, 1968

Considering that a free cinema and television don’t exist in the current state;

Considering that a tiny minority of authors and technicians have access to the means of production and expression;

Considering that the cinema today has a capitol mission to fulfill and is gagged at all levels in the current system:

The directors, technicians, actors, producers, film and television critics determined to put an end to the present state of affairs, have decided to convoke the Estates General of Cinema.

We invite all of you to participate in these Estates general, whose date will be specified later.

– The Revolutionary Committee of Cinema-Television

published in Cahiers du Cinéma, August 1968; via

16 mai 2008

According to Shakespeare, men are involved in history in three ways

According to Shakespeare, men are involved in history in three ways: Some create history and are its victims. Others think they create history, and are its victims also. Others yet do not create history, but they too are its victims. The first are the Kings, the second are their assistants who carry out their orders, the third are the simple citizens of the kingdom.
- Un Film Comme Les Autres

08 mai 2008

Bambule, terrorist ethics, and journalistic integrity

“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It's absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”
- Marguerite Duras

"Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more."
- Ulrike Meinhof

Sexy as all get-out: Ulrike Meinhof in 1964

"Bambule was the TV movie that Ulrike Meinhof had written about a group of girls rioting in their youth home. It was scheduled to air on Sunday, 24 May [1970], at 8:15 PM. But Meinhof had helped free Andreas Baader from prison custody two weeks earlier, and Bambule never aired. It was eventually aired on German TV in 1997. The script was published in book form in 1971."

"The attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke on 11 April 1968 provoked Meinhof to write an article in konkret demonstrating her increasingly militant attitude and containing perhaps her best-known quote:
"Protest is when I say this does not please me.
Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.""

"Perhaps her last work as an individual was the writing and production of a film titled Bambule in 1970, urging female revolt and class warfare; by the time it was scheduled to be aired, she had become a wanted terrorist and its broadcast was delayed until 1997. More specifically, by that point she had participated in the breakout of Baader on the 14 May 1970. During this assisted escape (from a research institute Baader was visiting rather than a prison), a 64-year old librarian was shot (several times with a pistol, resulting in critical liver damage) and two law enforcement officers were wounded. Baader and the three women involved were accused of attempted murder and a 10,000DM reward was offered for Meinhof's capture."

How does this violent conclusion arrive from the events prior to her revolutionary actions?
"Later that year [1968], her writings on arson attacks in Frankfurt protesting the Vietnam War resulted in her developing an acquaintance with the perpetrators, most significantly Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. She left her job at konkret in the early part of 1969 (later returning to vandalise the offices in May) and began her life as a self-styled guerilla."

konkret is a radical leftist magazine whose motto is "reading what others don't want to know" (lesen, was andere nicht wissen wollen).

Remember that Karl Marx integrated his radical politics with a career as a journalist, editing and writing for radical papers such as Rheinische Zeitung, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, and Vorwärts. [While Marx was editing the paper, RZ published a series of dispatches from Engels that were later collected as The Condition of the Working Class in England]. After fighting censorship and launching the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, his closing statement in the NRZ's last issue could easily have been written by Meinhof: "We have no compassion, and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror."

"The Red Army Faction’s Urban Guerilla Concept is not based on an optimistic view of the prevailing circumstances in the Federal Republic and West Berlin" — from The Urban Guerrilla Concept by Ulrike Meinhof (April 1971)

Meinhof suggests that the "optimistic view of the prevailing circumstances" is the dominant one, and that her view is an oppositional one. Why is her understanding of the prevailing circumstances so different? Is this difference factual, ideological, or both?

What is the relationship between "what others don't want to know" and Meinhof's factual/ideological understanding of the prevailing circumstances?

Is Meinhof's critique a version of the 'if youre not outraged you're not paying attention' (here rewritten as 'i am paid to pay attention and I am indeed completely outraged')?

“Either you are part of the problem or part of the solution. There is nothing in between. The whole shit has been researched and examined from all sides already. I’m of the opinion that the majority of things in this country are not in need of any more analysis or study.” (Cleaver*) — as quoted in The Urban Guerrilla Concept

"If you want to know a certain thing or a certain class of things directly, you must personally participate in the practical struggle to change reality, to change that thing or class of things, for only thus can you come into contact with them as phenomena; only through personal participation in the practical struggle to change reality can you uncover the essence of that thing or class of things and comprehend them.

"Marxism emphasizes the importance of theory precisely and only because it can guide action. If we have a correct theory but merely prate about it, pigeonhole it and do not put it into practice, then that theory, however good, is of no significance."
— Mao Tse Tung: On Practice (as quoted in The Urban Guerrilla Concept)

The Maoist approaches to action that Meinhof adopts springs from an understanding of German society as, effectively, a fascist regime (in which the oppression of fascism is both an economic and a political force). The title of her essay means to extend the principles set forth in Carlos Marighella's Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, which sets forth rules of engagement for Brazilian urban resistance to the dictatorship that followed the 1964 coup. But Marighella's introduction seems to invalidate terrorism as a legitimate strategy of 'resistance' in the West:
The accusation of "violence" or "terrorism" no longer has the negative meaning it used to have. It has aquired new clothing; a new color. It does not divide, it does not discredit; on the contrary, it represents a center of attraction. Today, to be "violent" or a "terrorist" is a quality that ennobles any honorable person, because it is an act worthy of a revolutionary engaged in armed struggle against the shameful military dictatorship and its atrocities.

RAF terrorism fails this test on two counts. It's primary effect is to divide and discredit their cause, and lacks the legitimacy of resistance of the Brazilian struggle.

Meinhof's understanding of power structures and their corrosive effects on freedom might well be noticed by watching Bambule. If the world of the girls reformatory/prison is for Meinhof representative of society at large, than certain segments of the world outside can be seen as a post-revolutionary space in which authority is escaped and self-actualization is possible. One component of this self-actualization is the basic sexual liberation that many of the girls enjoy; away from the repression of the reformatory their lesbian impulses are unrestricted. The prison is a place of unrealized desire, but one with which the escapees maintain a strong solidarity. It's also notable that the power structures of the prison seem inescapable even at film's end, as if the measures taken were no match for entrenched power.

I would speak further on the film, but it's not strong in my memory (and was watched without English subs).

The meaning of "Bambule"

The opening scene - including the 'cinematic' first shot - available here (scroll down)

My copy of Bambule was erased in a recent hard drive crash; it was by no means a revelation, nor a key to understanding the RAF's politics of action, but it does offer a window into Meinhof's ideas on systemic oppression and the battles necessary for freedom.

Some of you can look into downloading it here.

More info on the RAF here.
German speakers, help translate primary sources here.

[I'd love to read a good translation of Meinhof's April 1968 article on the Frankfurt department store bombings, for one - that article seems an essential window into her ideological trajectory]

Excellent and related: Pacze Moj explores the relationship between Michael Haneke's aesthetics, "repressive tolerance," and the ethics of West German left-wing terrorism.

07 mai 2008

unbelievably horrible repercussions

Often corruption is just seen as a crime of theft. And the major point of the movie actually is that corruption is not a victimless crime. Corruption is actually one of the most violent crimes in the entire world, especially when the victims of this theft are amongst the poorest and most impoverished people in the world. You can't steal $2 billion from people who are hungry and don't have enough food to eat without there being unbelievably horrible repercussions. It's akin to war crimes, just in its scope and in its scale.
- Jason Kohn

01 mai 2008

Haymarket, May 4, 1886

"The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!"

- August Spies, November 11, 1887

15 avril 2008

learning at work

"Every film of the Cinema Novo begins at zero, like Lumiere. When filmmakers decide to begin at zero, to create a cinema with new kinds of plot, interpretation, rhythm, and poetry, they begin the dangerous and revolutionary adventure of learning at work, of uniting the parallel activities of theory and practice, of reformulating theory at the outset of each practical move, of behaving according to Nelson Pereira dos Santos' appropriate phrase, when he quotes a Portuguese poet: "I don't know where I am going; but I know where I am not going.""
- Glauber Rocha, Beginning at Zero: Notes on Cinema and Society

14 avril 2008

Sturges Rules

"In between the release of Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story, Preston Sturges compiled 11 rules for the box office. Like some of Sturges's dialogue, the faster the list is read, the funnier it is:"

1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.


12 avril 2008

reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory

There has been an ongoing conflict between market values and other, more traditional value systems, which has aroused strong passions and antagonisms. As the market mechanism has extended its sway, the fiction that people act on the basis of a given set of nonmarket values has become progressively more difficult to maintain. Advertising, marketing, even packaging, aim at shaping people's preferences rather than, as laissez-faire theory holds, merely responding to them. Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better. The value of a work of art can be judged by the price it fetches. People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor.

- "The Capitalist Threat" by George Soros

Exchange value could arise only as a representative of use value, but the victory it eventually won with its own weapons created the conditions for its own autonomous power. By mobilizing all human use value and monopolizing its fulfillment, exchange value ultimately succeeded in controlling use. Usefulness has come to be seen purely in terms of exchange value, and is now completely at its mercy. Starting out like a condottiere in the service of use value, exchange value has ended up waging the war for its own sake.


Use value was formerly understood as an implicit aspect of exchange value. Now, however, within the upside-down world of the spectacle, it must be explicitly proclaimed, both because its actual reality has been eroded by the overdeveloped commodity economy and because it serves as a necessary pseudo-justification for a counterfeit life.

The spectacle is the flip side of money. It, too, is an abstract general equivalent of all commodities. But whereas money has dominated society as the representation of universal equivalence — the exchangeability of different goods whose uses remain uncomparable — the spectacle is the modern complement of money: a representation of the commodity world as a whole which serves as a general equivalent for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is money one can only look at, because in it all use has already been exchanged for the totality of abstract representation. The spectacle is not just a servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself a pseudo-use of life.

- The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord (46, 48-49)

Update: see comments for further material relating to Dziga Vertov, poetry, and my ambivalence about this post.

07 avril 2008

Things I thought of while watching 3 films by Ernie Gehr {Shift (1972-74), Signal – Germany on the Air (1982-85), Side/Walk/Shuttle (1991)}

Kasmir Malevich
Le Corbusier and the Congres International d’Architecture Moderne
Eisenhower and the creation of the US Interstate system
Straub and Huillet (sparseness, the geographic camera movement)
Eisenstein's montage - and Lang's (e.g., Metropolis)
Russian Constructivism
Leni Riefenstahl
America's postwar economic boom
1960's avantgarde architecture (for the people) (i.e., Brutalist geometries)
the grid
the scale of humanity vs. the scale of society
human development vs. humanity

the total failure of this work to address the material or emotional conditions of life on earth.

and, after further reflection:
an understanding that this last point is of course false, that Gehr's work addresses (among many formal concerns) the structural issues of a developed society by way of an ambivalently* humanist/antihumanist critique of 'development' as the opposition of humanity.

* Marxist humanism concerns itself with the alienation of the individual due to the structures of modern society (for Marx, these are mainly structures of work and servitude, but one could easily extend the concept to physical structures - though for Marx these physical epiphenomena would be superstructure rather than base).
Marxist antihumanism sees individualism as an ideological position, and instead re-emphasizes the role of social forces over the abstractions of individualism.
Both of these positions can be reconciled with Gehr's work, which among other things explores the dehumanization of mankind through the social constructs of society, as exemplified in the linear principles and constructed environments of urban life.

Interestingly, in a piece I hadn't read until now, Michael Sicinski compares Gehr's Side/Walk/Shuttle to Marx in an entirely different way.

Shift and Signal – Germany on the Air available here

02 avril 2008

Five Amongst Our Enemies / Down With Existing Society!

a (late) contribution to a prizeless contest presented by Infinite ThØught

Five Amongst Our Enemies:

1. the commodification of everyday life:
a - memory, time, culture, life receive all value from their exchange value
b - the amnesiac society; the supremacy of a consumption which exists in an eternal ahistorical present
c - the sociality of social life having been replaced by coordinated consumption amongst adjacent individuals

2. the ideological dissolution of shared value(s) in favor of individual value(s)

3. the triumph of ideology as anti-ideology; the invisible takeover of 'things as they are' (according to Imperial rules) rather than 'things as they could be'

4. the primary optimistic assumption on the part of those who support 'things as they are' - without recognizing reality as a dangerous proposition

5. the lack of general recognition that this assumption (4) reveals the ideological biases of "anti"-ideology.

29 mars 2008

Four Theses on Contemporary Art

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn't exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn't exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.

- from Alain Badiou's Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art. Longer excerpt here

25 mars 2008

fixed firmly on the object in view

"We must try to keep the mind in tranquility. For just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, now turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up or down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it, but the sight must be fixed firmly on the object in view if one would make his vision of it clear; so too man's mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth."
- Basil of Caesarea

cross-posted to Unspoken Cinema

23 mars 2008

Nights and Weekends (trailers)

Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig's new film.

"co-written, co-directed and co-stars Greta Gerwig, [...] and it was shot by Matthias Grunsky, the man behind the camera on both of Andrew Bujalski’s features." - Spout, where you can also find a brief Q+A with Greta

These are beautiful:

22 mars 2008

escaping our proud and lonely immensity

"The magic of the microscope is not that it makes little creatures larger, but that it makes a large one smaller. We are too big for our world. The microscope takes us down from our proud and lonely immensity and makes us, for a time, fellow citizens with the great majority of living things. It lets us share with them the strange and beautiful world where a meter amounts to a mile and yesterday was years ago." - Mites of Moths and Butterflies (via)

17 mars 2008

ambition and the young actor

“I don’t know how long I’ll live,” he said when asked what his own future may hold. “But I’d like to make communist films with Ken Loach, libertine films with Almodóvar, esoteric films with Kaurismaki. That’s not bad for a start.”

- Louis Garrel (via)

29 février 2008

On the Unification of the Yin and the Yang

for Jen

Joseph Campbell's Ten Commandments for Reading Myth

1. Read myths with the eyes of wonder:
the myths transparent to their universal meaning,
their meaning transparent to its mysterious source.
2. Read myths in the present tense: Eternity is now.
3. Read myths in the first person plural: the Gods and Goddesses
of ancient mythology still live within you.
4. Any myth worth its salt exerts a powerful magnetism. Notice
the images and stories that you are drawn to and repelled by.
Investigate the field of associated images and stories.
5. Look for patterns; don't get lost in the details.
What is needed is not more specialized scholarship,
but more interdisciplinary vision. Make connections;
break old patterns of parochial thought.
6. Resacralize the secular:
even a dollar bill reveals the imprint of Eternity.
7. If God is everywhere, then myths can be generated anywhere,
anytime, by anything. Don't let your Romantic aversion to
science blind you to the Buddha in the computer chip.
8. Know your tribe! Myths never arise in a vacuum;
they are the connective tissue of the social body
which enjoys synergistic relations with
dreams (private myths) and rituals (the enactment of myth).
9. Expand your horizons! Any mythology worth remembering
will be global in scope. The earth is our home
and humankind is our family.
10. Read between the lines! Literalism kills;
Imagination quickens.


Free Time

Apologies for the unplanned hiatus, but there's been some major uncertainty in my life of late. I've (temporarily) settled into a busy schedule of not working (which entails heavy amounts of trying to work mixed with bits of actual working). As for where I'll land, it's all unclear, but it's certain to be in the realm of moving pictures in the broader sense. I'm open to suggestions...

05 février 2008

Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1994)

Above: Paul (Julian Rassam) and Michèle (Circé), the young girl of the title.
Image courtesy: Arte.

Last night, MoMA played two installments from the series "Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge...", a series of one-hour television episodes "in which French directors were asked to contribute films based on their recollections of adolescence" (BFI). The first episode shown was Chantal Akerman's PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG WOMAN AT THE END OF THE 1960S IN BRUSSELS, followed by Claire Denis's U.S. GO HOME. Denis's film (which was co-written by Anne Wiazemsky) is a rich portrayal of the emotional components of being on the cusp of maturity, of the moments of striving for your maturity to be recognized - and of the moments when both that recognition and its lack leave you wounded. It's a film to be savored.

Akerman's episode is an achievement of an entirely different level. It moves beyond being one of the great coming-of-age films; it is simply one of the great films. A moving, multifaceted, and magical hour, presented with honesty and subtle artistry.

The film's nuances are beyond summary. So, some sketches:
A girl has decided to ditch school forever; she tears up her report card. At the movies, a boy next to her touches her leg with his; they talk, they kiss. They spend the day together. The girl makes plans to attend a party. They steal a Leonard Cohen record. She breaks into a relative's house so the boy has a place to sleep.

Things happen beyond these sketches, but I will leave them aside. These simple events are full of poetry, of confusion, discovery, ambivalence, insecurity, beauty.

The title character is played by Circé Lethem (who, incidentally, is the daughter of Belgian filmmaker Roland Lethem). She is luminous. Her character thinks that her friend is much prettier, but even though she's right she's also wrong and it's the boy who's right, the boy who thinks she's beautiful.

I'm overwhelmed by everything in this film. It's the film I'd like to watch, the moments I'd like to remember, the movie I want to make. It's perfect.

And it's playing again on Wed, Feb 6 at 6 PM at MoMA in New York.

30 janvier 2008

violence to the cinema

The specificity of the medium must not be forgotten: the sculptor who works with wood has to know about the features and behaviour of the wood he is working with, to even be aware of chance. But everything has a limit; the specificity of the cinema, like that of video, goes beyond what we have been given to understand so far. I think that a deep knowledge of the most specific nature of a language is the only system that allows a genuine work. That allows it to be violated. A poet must have a deep knowledge of language… In the cinema the best films are the ones in which violence to the cinema itself is perpetrated; Dreyer violates cinema, just as Artaud violates writing. That raises a final question: what does mastering the specificity of a language mean, what does knowing a medium mean?
- Pere Portabella, from Introduction Pere Portabella, 1980

Die Stille vor Bach / The Silence Before Bach opens January 30 for a two-week run at Film Forum

26 janvier 2008

Je vous salue Sarajevo (Jean-Luc Godard, 1993)

In a sense, fear is the daughter of God, redeemed on Good Friday night. She's not beautiful, mocked, cursed and disowned by all. But don't get it wrong: she watches over all mortal agony, she intercedes for mankind.
For there's a rule and an exception.
Culture is the rule, and art is the exception.
Everybody speaks the rule: cigarette, computer, t-shirt, television, tourism, war.
Nobody speaks the exception. It isn't spoken, it's written: Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. It's composed: Gershwin, Mozart. It's painted: Cezanne, Vermeer. It's filmed: Antonioni, Vigo.
Or it's lived, and then it's the art of living: Srebenica, Mostar, Sarajevo.
The rule is to want the death of the exception. So the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.

When it's time to close the book, I'll have no regrets.
I've seen so many people live so badly, and so many die so well.

17 janvier 2008


The prisoners of infinite choice
Have built their house
In a field below the woods
And are at peace,

It is autumn, and dead leaves
On their way to the river
Scratch like birds at the windows
Or tick on the road.

Somewhere there is an afterlife
Of dead leaves,
A stadium filled with infinite
Rustling and sighing.

Somewhere in the heaven
Of lost futures
The lives we might have led
Have found their own fulfilment.

- Derek Mahon


14 janvier 2008

There Will Be Blood

American cinema offers a dual narrative of great men. American films are frequently about "America," an individualist ideal tied up with capital and personal liberties. These films are about the "great men" at the center of American history, even when these "great men" are unsympathetic. Some American films become "Great American Films," movies that capture the heart of America's meanings and contradictions by way of the stories of these "great men." The flip side to these stories are the filmmakers whose project is to explore the ambiguities of "America" the myth and the realities of America - the Great American Filmmakers (think: Griffith, Ford, Capra, Hawks, Welles). These filmmakers are frequently mirror images of their subjects - take Orson Welles, the great American showman, the overambitious entrepreneur, the man who achieves early greatness and chases it forever more. Or Griffith, whose self-mythologizing is at least as epic as his filmmaking.

With There Will be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has made a self-conscious bid to join the ranks of the Great American Filmmakers, choosing as his starting point the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! and adapting it very loosely for the screen. His protagonist, Daniel Plainview, is a silver prospector turned oil man who's introduced in dramatic form: a stunning, dialogue-free 20-minute opening sequence shows just how physical the hunt for wealth was in this older America. Daniel Day-Lewis offers another rich inhabitation of character to add to his intense reputation. His primary adversary is Paul Dano as Eli, a preacher who makes demands of Plainview for his own purposes. If Dano sometimes feels out of his depth, it seems that the level of religious fervor required is a bit beyond his grasp. Or perhaps it's something else that's missing - Dano's character, like Day-Lewis' Plainview, seems written without a full concern for cohesive character psychology and the relationship between character and events. Day-Lewis's performance is excellent, but Plainview's psychological wounds aren't explored so much as exposed through set-piece action. Plainview's development can be pieced together in retrospect, but Anderson does little to help this process, letting us infer motivation from action. Eli's strength and weakness seem intertwined, but it's not clear how, nor why each extends so far. It's telling that the one moment of subjective storytelling in the film uses subjectivity to explicate plot rather than bring the audience in to a character's psychology.

These characters, written without being truly observed, are a weakness of the film but also an odd strength that contributes to the complicated moods and resonances in There Will Be Blood. Anderson elides significant details that then are transmitted by hints and subtle clues. Some of these clues are ambiguous enough to include alternate possible readings, or to encourage the hint of other meanings that add richness to character. This ambiguity is a double-edged sword - what works on one level as artistic elision and metaphorical possibility also bleeds into unclarity (witness debates about whether Paul and Eli are twins or split-personalities; Anderson and Dano have always talked about them as brothers, and Dano was originally cast as Paul while another actor played Eli). This brother relationship, like the relationship between Plainview and his "brother," or Plainview and his adopted son H.W., hints at biblical themes in ways that seem almost accidental. The title comes from Exodus 7:19, which offers another confused resonance: Moses, adopted grandson of Pharaoh (or his adopted son, according to the Qur'an) is the one who calls plagues upon Egypt with the help of his brother. But in There Will Be Blood the father-son and brotherly relations don't work that way, the main conflict is religiously inspired but not familial, and the "blood" mentioned consists of violence between individuals. It's as if Anderson chose the line for these four words alone. Karina Longworth has nailed the reasons why these four words work so well: "Blood is oil, blood is family (and family is at worst a scam and at best an Achilles heel), but blood is also blood. If nothing else, the title is a spoiler for the final scene." She's right, but she doesn't address the Biblical significance of the passage because Anderson himself ignores it. While some Biblical resonances are important to the film, the parallels are oblique. It's more that the film has a sense of being "Biblical" in its epic conflicts (between religion and capitalism; between fathers and sons; between brothers or false brothers).

In short, Anderson's film seems largely like a series of ideas rather than a set of interwoven ones. Anderson's focus on visuality and tableau dims his characters' psychology. While there are moments of beauty aplenty in both the scenery and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance, Anderson's focus on them to the exclusion of character development overtakes both narrative tightness and dramatic observation. [Both Zach Campbell and Daniel Kasman speak to these flaws; Danny, like me, seems to find a positive side to some of them. Dan Sallitt takes a somewhat harsher view of Anderson's missteps in character development.]

The ambiguities in There Will Be Blood are one component of what makes it the best American film of the year*, and also what keeps it from truly being a Great American Film.

[* I've missed some highly-acclaimed American films this year. I'm still trying to catch up with some of them.]

There Will Be Blood strives to be a movie about America in a grand sense, a portrait of a nation with a frontier and frontiersmen. But Anderson's films fails to capture the essence of the frontier, the conflict between civilization/progress and the outlaw spirits who tame the wilderness to make it safe for development. It also fails in part because its ambiguities sometimes seem unintentional. Anderson's film isn't a deft enough in controlling the information and emotional trajectory that informs the viewer's experience. This isn't, in the long run, a criticism; unlike countless contemporary filmmakers, he is reenvisioning his methods of constructing movies. This return to the zero of his narrative approaches very nearly succeeds in There Will be Blood (so nearly, in fact, that on second viewing I wouldn't be surprised to find it holds up quite well). Anderson's quest to make an American masterpiece fails only because it is too ambitious for Anderson as a filmmaker at the present moment. It's ironic that Anderson's ambitions cause him to fall just short of success, as if he were a Great American Filmmaker already himself.

I've only seen the film once; I would like to see the film again to solidify (or change) these reactions. It is full of impressive elements and beautiful moments. The cinematography is impressive, and Day-Lewis delivers some of the most memorable lines in movie history. For all of its momentary glories and visual intensity, There Will Be Blood never makes it past the point of interesting project and failed reach for the title of Great American Film. It's a near-miss, but a miss nonetheless. For the time being it may look like a masterpiece, if only for the lack of ambition of other contemporary American filmmakers. But we shouldn't let this illusion get in the way of a more substantive truth: Paul Thomas Anderson might well have a Great American Film in him after all.

08 janvier 2008

On Pointing the Camera

"Before familiarity can turn into awareness, the familiar must be stripped of its inconspicuousness; we must give up assuming that the object in question needs no explanation. However frequently recurrent, modest, vulgar it may be, it will now be labeled as something unusual." - Bertolt Brecht

cross-posted to Unspoken Cinema

02 janvier 2008

Contributions requested (x 2)

Comrades at Kino Fist have announced an open call for papers for their next issue on Film and Fashion:

KINO FIST Call for Contributors

DEADLINE 14th January 2008

KINO FIST will return in the New Year on Sunday 3rd February with a screening of Slava Tsukerman's LIQUID SKY and others at 2pm at the E:VENT Gallery, 96 Teesdale Street
London E2 6PU.

We will be producing a magazine, but this time we are looking for outside contributions in the form of articles, photos and illustrations.

The theme for this issue is Film and Fashion. Pieces on Liquid Sky will be particularly welcome, though broader pieces on the topic will also be considered. Limit: 2000 words.

We can't promise to use all contributions, but we'll do our best. Pieces will also be published on the Kino Fist website. Those contributors who live overseas or can't make the screening will receive a mailed copy of the magazine. We don't have any funds for paying contributors unfortunately, but I'll send you a book or something.

Please send all texts and images to infinitethought[at]hotmail.co.uk.

"I don't believe in kino-eye, I believe in kino-fist." - Sergei Eisenstein


And don't forget that the second (hopefully annual) blogathon on Contemplative Cinema takes place from Jan 6 - Jan 13 at Unspoken Cinema. This year's suggested topic is "Narrative strategies in plotless films," but that's intended only as a loose point of contact for entries.


I would very much like to contribute to each of these, but still don't have any ideas what I could write on. Any suggestions?

Media Strategy (Essential Reading)

I don't even know which bits to excerpt, so much of it so good.

"You Don't Understand Our Audience"
What I learned about network television at Dateline NBC

By John Hockenberry