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.