Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Spring 2013: ENG 282: International Film Studies

(In Development)

In a globalized world it is imperative that we begin to develop a broader awareness of the interconnected cultures and societies that influence and shape world events. Anyone remotely aware of the American social landscape must recognize that many of our citizens are unaware of the broader relations and connections of the world in which they live in. Many Americans tend to have a narrow understanding of world history, filtered as it is through ethnocentric American textbooks and mediatized narratives filtered through the lenses of the dominant center, which effectively ignores the realities of the margins (culturally, economically and socially). Many concerned citizens struggle to carve out meaning in the contemporary data stream and suffer the neglect of a mainstream media that limits itself to predigested dualistic positions. In this simplified media environment, vast regions of the world are presumed to be unable to speak for themselves and rarely, in the mainstream corporate media that serves as the news for a majority of American citizens, do we receive sustained and in-depth critical analysis of issues through the voices and experiences of multiple interested parties.
--Michael Benton, 2006

As a teacher, I'm not interested in just reproducing class after class of graduates who will get out, become successful, and take their obedient places in the slots that society has prepared for them. What we must do--whether we teach or write or make films--is educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world. (15)
---Zinn, Howard. "Stories Hollywood Never Tells." The Sun #343 (July 2004): 12-15.

"The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated egos."
-- Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (1966)

What are “thoughts,” and what are “things”? and how are they connected?… Is there a common stuff out of which all facts are made?… Which is the most real kind of reality? What binds all things into one universe?
-- Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)



"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness."
-- Turner in the film Performance

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward path had been lost.
--Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy: Inferno, Song 1

Anyone who believes that every individual film must present a "balanced" picture, knows nothing about either balance or pictures.
--Edward R. Murrow

Democracy is a great conversation, a community defined by the scope and substance of its discourse.
--James David Barber

"Believing is seeing and not the other way around."
--Errol Morris

"There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.”
--Raymond Williams

"Art and humanities research begins with a desire to understand the human condition."
--Masoud Yazdani

Film matters because film is us. We as a society use the filmic form to tell stories about who we are and our society - they are a record of what makes us human and what concerns us in the everyday. ... The film form, narrative and styles with which we are so familiar, from Hollywood blockbusters to the avant-garde, shape our own personal narratives. Film offers us a language to speak to each other across national, class, economic, and racial lines - film is a phenomenon that allows us to understand cultures and people.
--Lincoln Geraghty

Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.
-- African proverb

"So you lie to yourself to be happy. There's nothing wrong with that. We all do it."
--Teddy in Memento (2000)

My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.
-– Michael Haneke, “Film as Catharsis”

The question isn’t “how do I show violence?” but rather “how do I show the spectator his position vis-à-vis violence and its representation?”
-– Michael Haneke

As a scholar of transnational/eco-critical cinema, it is increasingly clear to me that cinema is one of the most efficient ways to debate political and cultural issues in a global society. This is especially the case with cinema's potential to visually capture the transnational and even global scale of ecological problems, and engage with them in a way that reaches wide global audiences. Cinema is not only a communicator of ideas and an essential component of the culture industries. It is also a crucial pedagogical tool that facilitates efficient learning and motivates participation from new generations of audiences. It can help audiences, 'old' and 'new', to rethink their place in the world, and crucially, it can also motivate them to do something about the injustices and exploitation to which they are witness.
--Pietari Kääpä

Openness exists . . .not only for the person to whom one listens, but rather anyone who listens is fundamentally open. Without this kind of openness to one another there is no genuine human relationship. Belonging together always also means being able to listen to one another.

--Hans-Georg Gadamer Truth and Method (Source)

Our human existence is rooted in sex. .... It lies at the very heart of love. Though conservatives reject the very idea as dangerous, I would say that the way to save us from our own perversity is by confronting sex courageously. ... Sex brings relief from tension and enmity and leads to harmony in human relationships--husband and wife, [friends] and strangers. (109)

Kaneto Shindō, qouted in McDonald, Keiko. "Eros, Politics, and Folk Religion: Kaneto Shindō's Onobaba (1963)." Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006: 108-121.

‘We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten’
Narrator of Chris Marker's film Sans Soleil (1983)

"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘emergency situation’ in which we live is not the exception, but the rule.”
--Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

"What is focus, and who has the right to say what is legitimate focus?
-- Julie Margaret Cameron, late 19th Century Photographer

"Death is never the end of the story, it always leave tracks."
-- Notary Jean Label in Incendies (2010)

"We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations."
-- Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin Vol. 4 (1971)

"Power fears poetry... Poetry resides somewhere else, somewhere inaccessible to power; it evokes sentiments, touches being, and speaks in a strange tongue." (163)
--Andy Merrifield, Magical Marxism: Subversive Politics and the Imagination (2011)

"Like religion, a good movie really does answer the only three questions worth asking in life: who you are, where you come from, and what you should do. In its essential narrative arc, a movie gives you clues as to your ultimate identity, the nature of how the world really is, and your mission in life. And if you learn the basics of screenplay writing, you discover very quickly that almost every film script follows a dramatic formula identical to the formula of the standard religious sermon. In the screenplay, the writer’s task is to create an emotionally sympathetic character who is nevertheless guilty of some form of misbehavior, who then must, through an escalating series of forced crises, confront his or her misbehavior and overcome it. Likewise, in your standard sermon, the preacher’s art is to describe, through personal, historical, and anecdotal evidence, the universal sin (read: misbehavior) of the human species, and how God alone can solve this basic problem, and happily, how he does. Both sermons and movies (in America at least) thus, have the same theological bias that favors a happy ending."
--Read Mercer Schuchardt, "Cinema: The New Cathedral of Hollywood" (2001)

Unlike other forms of artistic expression, cinema is an "industrial form of art": in order to express itself fully, it needs ever-greater financial investments. This means that the author's artistic expression is conditioned right from the start--and it would be hypocritical not to admit this--by the capital invested. These capital sources can be motivated not just by the simple and legitimate desire for expression, but also by power groups, concentrations and lobbies of all sorts and backgrounds, who can use cinematographic media in instrumental way to advance particular interests that that have little or nothing to do with the noble--and general--principle of the freedom of expression.
--Vittorio Giacci, "Cinema, Responsibility, and Formation" (2007)

In the end, confusion is not a lack of understanding. It's more understanding. Mainstream reporting and some people in power want to make everything clear to people--at the expense of the very issues and people they deal with. They can't. If it's complicated. leave it as complicated. Give people a chance to think.
--Kal Kim-Gibson, "Dreamland and Disillusion." (Film Quarterly: Fall 2011)

Film is often just business -- I understand that and it's not something I concern myself with. But if film aspires to be part of culture, it should do the things great literature, music and art do: elevate the spirit, help us understand ourselves and the world around us and give people the feeling they are not alone…
--Krzysztof Kieslowski, "Kieslowski’s Three Colors." (Salon: June 10, 2002)

"When a morally compromised author claims the field of aesthetics as a value-free area it should make his readers stop and think."
--W.G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (1997)

“In an age when reality is insufficiently real, how much reality can a fictional story possess?”
-- Haruki Murakami (2011)

"In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form."
-- Haruki Murakami (2011)

"I think the whole point of OWS is encouraging people to reinvent democracy from different angles and from their own terms," he says. "On one hand, it's a very communal project and on the other hand, it's about individuals who are not necessarily in agreement finding ways to see things anew."
-- Chris Marker, quoted in Steve Dollar's Occupy This (2012)

“Why should an artist’s way of looking at the world have any meaning for us? Why does it give us pleasure? Because, I believe, it increases our awareness of our own potentiality.”
— John Berger, Permanent Red: Essays in Seeing (1960)

"How can I overcome the prejudices of the bits and pieces of mysteries that reside within me, and how can I break through the prejudices that are anchored in the mysteries of others, so that together with them we may create something beautiful out of something that is ugly?"
-- Vilém Flusser, The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism (1994)

“This time the invaders aren’t armed, but they have more damaging weapons than cannons: dollars! So that everything they touch turns to garbage. The whole country is rotten.”
--The Haitian maître d’ Albert, Heading South (2005)

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”
-- M.M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1984)

Realism? Me? I’ve not a damn thing to do with it. The religious attitude to reality has never concerned me.
-- Theo Angelopoulos, cited by Raymond Durgnat in “The Long Take in Voyage to Cythera: Brecht and Marx vs. Bazin and God.” Film Comment 26.6 (November/December, 1990): 43-46

Again and again, I was forced, as any reader is, to return to my own reality, to analyze everybody's reality. A criterion, by the way, by which I would measure any work of art.
--Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1980), in The Anarchy of the Imagination (1992)

One problem with the word “shaman,” which traces its origins to the Siberian steppe, is that it is popularly employed by people more interested in fantasizing about some alternate reality than squaring their shoulders to bear the mundane burdens of this one. However, in cultures where such an office exists, the job of the shaman is primarily to foster the interrelation of two groups or positions that have hardened into such stubborn opposition that the survival of the society is at risk. For life to go on, the two camps must overcome their polemic, and the shaman acts by throwing himself into the fray—mentally, bodily, and emotionally, sometimes at personal risk. The result of his labors typically constitutes a paradigm shift rather than a compromise: the rules, though not necessarily undone, are re-contextualized and the system changes, including the position of the shaman himself.
--Matt Kirby, "I Heart Huckabees Premodern Help for Postmodern Times." (2004)

Many film-makers, including Orson Welles and the avant-gardists Maya Deren, Harry Smith, Stan Brakhage, and Kenneth Anger, identified their practice with magic – albeit in varying ways. Welles had extensive experience as a stage magician and made his last feature, the faux documentary F is For Fake precisely about cinematic sleight of hand; Deren was a serious student of Haitian vodoo; Smith considered his cut and paste animations a form of alchemy; Brakhage referred to "trick" as the medium's fundamental rule; and Anger was a disciple of Aleister Crowley, who considered making a film akin to casting a spell. (Walt Disney would have agreed.)
--J. Hoberman, "Hugo and the Magic of Film Trickery" (2012)

"I understood writing could be dangerous. I didn't realize the danger came from the machinery."
--William Lee in David Cronenberg's film "Naked Lunch" (1991)

“You know, films are a world within a world. And maybe it’s a world within a world within a world – within another world. It’s a really beautiful thing how lost we are, and we want to get even more lost sometimes.” -- David Lynch

It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary? Does my other half have what I don’t? Did he get the looks? The luck? The love? Were we really separated forceably or did he just run off with the good stuff? Or did I? Will this person embarrass me? What about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again?” — Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Now look again at that list of effects -- horrific, tragic, epic, comic, pathetic, sublime, absurd, intriguing, disgusting, shocking, thrilling, and wonderful -- a list that's not even a fraction complete. When we're talking about these effects achieved by the art we are talking about affects manifested in the audience, emotional responses of horror, awe, pity, amusement, intrigue and so on. When we're talking about an aesthetic as the set of principles underpinning these responses we're talking about a system which evaluates experience itself. We're talking about our tastes and distates, desires and fears, prejudices and perversions, the basic rules and relationships which shape our affective response to not just art but life itself. Our aesthetic sits at the very heart of our personality. When we respond with horror to a car crash, real or imaginary, it is an aesthetic reaction. When we respond with awe to a sweeping vista of canyons and mountains, it is an aesthetic judgement. When we respond to the image of two men kissing with appetence or abhorrence, that evaluation is defined by and defines our personal aesthetic. Good taste and appreciation of beauty? Screw that. An aesthetic is the set of principles that make you want to fight or fuck.
--Hal Duncan, "The Art of Life" (February 10, 2007)

"All the animals come out at night: whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."

Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)

"Another Day witnessing existence in bewilderment."
Grandma in The Great Match (2006)

"There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe that they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous."
--Wednesday, in Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods (2001)

"There are no dangerous thoughts, thinking itself is dangerous..."
-Hannah Arendt, "Thinking and Moral Considerations"(1971)

The disruption and transgression of the normative and conceptual frameworks of everyday experience, and the provision of a space within which it is possible to imagine not just the satisfaction of familiar wants unmet by existing society, but to envisage wanting something other than the satisfactions which that society endorses and simultaneously denies: above all, to desire in a different way. -- Ruth Levitas, "For Utopia: The (Limits of the) Utopian Function in Late Capitalist Society" (2001: 38-39)

The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.
Brian O'Blivion, in Videodrome (1983)

"Although the assembly of the shots is responsible for the structure of the film, it does not, as is generally assumed, create its rhythm; the distinct time running through the shots makes the rhythm of the picture, and the rhythm is determined not by the length of edited pieces, but by the pressure of the time that runs through them. The pieces that 'won't edit', that can't be properly joined, are those which record a radically different kind of time" -– Andrei Tarkovsky, "Sculpting in Time" (1987: 2nd edition)

"The camera exists to create a new art and to show above all what cannot be seen elsewhere: neither in theater nor in life. Otherwise, I'd have no need of it; doing photography doesn't interest me. That, I leave to the photographer." -- Max Ophüls

“When I say this is the most important motion picture you’ll ever attend, my motivation is not financial gain, but a firm belief that the delicate fabric that holds all of us together will be ripped apart unless every man, woman, and child in this country sees this film and pays full ticket price, not some bargain matinee cut-rate deal. In the event that you find certain sequences or events confusing, please bear in mind this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again until you understand everything.” —Steven Soderbergh in Schizopolis (1996)

“The process of coming to know oneself, confronting one’s contingency, tracking one’s causes home, is identical with the process of inventing a new language—that is, of thinking up some new metaphors.” -- Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989)

"If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there's no way we could prevent him." -- Christof, The Truman Show (1998)

"The artist seeks to destroy the stability by which society lives, for the sake of drawing closer to the ideal. Society seeks stability, the artist—infinity. The artist is concerned with absolute truth, and therefore gazes ahead and sees things sooner than other people.” ­ -- Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (1987: 2nd edition)
"It is the particular distinction of Denis’ cinema that sets it apart from – almost, indeed, in opposition to – the work of many of our most celebrated ‘arthouse’ directors: Bergman, for example, or Fellini or Antonioni. Their films are rooted in autobiography – not necessarily in any literal sense, but in terms of personal introspection – whereas Denis left autobiography behind with Chocolat, and even that film is notable for its poise and critical distance, its objectivity. Where Bergman or Fellini seems to be saying to us ‘Come with me and I’ll tell you my secrets, share my experiences – how I feel about things, my thoughts about existence’, Denis issues a very different invitation to the spectator: ‘Come with me and we’ll play a game, albeit a serious one. Let’s see how much you can notice in what I decide to show you, how you interpret what you see and hear, what connections you can make, how much can be explained and how much remains mysterious and uncertain, as so much in our lives remains unclear. I’ll allow you a certain leeway of interpretation, because I don’t always understand everything myself, not even my own creations, though I’ll be as precise as possible…’" -- Robin Wood, "Only (Dis)Connect; and Never Relaxez-Vous; or, ‘I Can’t Sleep’" (2011)

"I owe Armenia a cinematographic confession. A sort of personal bible: my mother, my father, my childhood, my imprisonment. My vision of dreams... the ghosts seek shelter with me, their living heir. But I can’t take them in. I have to tell the police that they’re staying with me. They know neither electricity nor insurance agents. They know no evil. They want to stay with me. I have to prove I love them." -- Sergei Parajanov, quoted in "Deep Red: Joanne Nucho on The Color of Pomegranates (2004)

"In the old days, when you couldn't show sex on film, directors like Hitchcock had metaphors for sex (trains going into tunnels, etc). When you can show more realistic sex, the sex itself can be a metaphor for other parts of the character's lives. The way people express themselves sexually can tell you a lot about who they are. Some people ask me, 'Couldn't you have told the same story without the explicitness?'. They don't ask whether I could've done Hedwig without the songs. Why not be allowed to use every paint in the paintbox?" --John Cameron Mitchell, "How to Shoot Sex: A Docu-Primer" (2007): Shortbus Region 1 DVD release (Th!nk Film)

"The character of any age is tellingly revealed in the popular representation of intimacy. For all the sexualisation of our culture, we live in strangely repressed times: a late-night, infrared fumble on Big Brother is front-page news. While the online porn industry, with its humourless siliconed stereotypes, is worth a reported $10bn a year - more than the cumulative box-office receipts of Hollywood - real human sexual relationships, vulnerable and fun, are hardly anywhere to be seen." --Tim Adams, "Everbody's Doing It..." (2006)

Porter's experiments, however fumbling they appear in hindsight, point us to a curious quandary at the heart of filmmaking: what is it that makes cutting work? How is it that we accept such a violent transition — whether it be from a wide shot to a close-up, from Paris to the Sahara desert, or from the seventeenth century to the present — as a cut? "Nothing in our day-to-day experience seems to prepare us for such a thing," Walter Murch observes. "From the moment we get up in the morning until we close our eyes at night, the visual reality we perceive is a continuous stream of linked images: In fact, for millions of years — tens, hundreds of millions of years — life on Earth has experienced the world in this way. Then suddenly, at the beginning of the twentieth century, human beings were confronted with something else — edited film." What prepared them for this? Not painting, not theater, not even literature, cinematic as some of Dickens's scenes now appear. Murch speculates that it was dreams. "We accept the cut because it resembles the way images are juxtaposed in our dreams," he writes. "In the darkness of the theater, we say to ourselves, in effect, 'This looks like reality, but it cannot be reality because it is so visually discontinuous; therefore, it must be a dream.'" Director John Huston saw it differently. Cinema, he said, was not just a reflection of our dream lives but the very essence of conscious thought, with its fitful jumble of visuals and sound: "To me the perfect film is as though it were unwinding behind your eyes, and your eyes were projecting it themselves, so that you were seeing what you wished to see. It's like thought. It's the closest to thought process of any art." Watch the final moments of his film The Dead (1987) and you'll have some idea of what he's talking about. As Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) gazes out the frosty filigree of his Dublin window, somberly musing on the emptiness of his life, the film, with no more than a few simple cuts, slips aboard his stream of consciousness as it glides from thought to thought: from past memories to future projections to the lonely churchyard on the hill where his wife's lover lies buried.
--Graham Daesler, "Cutter's Way: The Mysterious Art of Film Editing." (2012)

A TV show can’t hold people and institutions to account like good journalism can. But if I can make you care about a character, I may make you think a little longer about certain dynamics that might cause you to reconsider your own political inertia or your own political myopia. You might be more willing to accept a critique of the prevailing political and social systems.
--David Simon: quoted in Julia Leyda, "'This Complicated, Colossal Failure': The Abjection of Creighton Bernette in HBO's Treme." (2012)

The moment of violence in films is never arbitrary or innocent. Yet, there is no singular reading or simple yardstick that can be used to either condone or condemn how violence is represented, taken up by diverse audiences, or used to maximize pleasure so as to give it a liberatory or fascist edge. Cinematic violence can be used to probe the depths of everyday life in ways that expand one's understanding of tyranny and domination; it can also be used to maximize the sleazy side of pleasure, reinforce demeaning stereotypes, or provoke cheap voyeurism. Cinematic violence operates on many registers and any theoretical and pedagogical attempt to deal with complex representations of violence must be discriminatory in taking up such distinctions. As widespread as the culture of violence might be, it is especially imperative that educators, parents, citizens, and cultural workers challenge the representations of violence that have become a defining principle of the visual media. Such a challenge needs to be enunciated critically as part of a broader public policy to both protect youth and to enable them to discern between the violence of the spectacle and a representational violence that allows them to identify with the suffering of others, display empathy, and bring their own ethical commitments to bear.
--Henry A. Giroux, "Racism and the Aesthetic of Hyperreal Violence: Pulp Fiction and Other Visual Tragedies." (1995)

“The concept of ‘obscenity’ is tested when one dares to look at something that he has an unbearable desire to see but has forbidden himself to look at. When one feels that everything that one had wanted to see has been revealed, ‘obscenity’ disappears, the taboo disappears as well, and there is a certain liberation.”

--Nagisa Oshima, quoted in Oshima in Words and Images

“To the leaders of the cinema still to come, I can offer only a few words drawn from my modest experience. You must ceaselessly formulate and sharpen your critical views, both of others and of yourselves.” --Nagisa Oshima, quoted in Oshima in Words and Images

"Film matters, among other things, because it has an extraordinary capacity to expand our reality, to deepen our moral sensibility, and to shape our self-understandings, sometimes by moving us closer to cultures, problems, and realities that are distant from those we know well. That said, I think it is far from being the case that all films matter. The task, I think, for film scholars in the future will be to help to ensure that films that genuinely do matter continue to get made, and that they receive the attention they deserve."--Matte Hjort, "Film ... has an extraordinary capacity to expand our reality." Why Does Film Matter (Intellect Books, 2008)

"Sex is just another brushstroke in the painting of life. Fear of sex is at the root of many problems that aren't directly connected to sex."--John Cameron Mitchell discussing Shortbus (2006)


The Nasty Girl (West Germany: Michael Verhoeven, 1990: 94 mins)

Code Unknown (France/Germany/Romania: Michael Haneke, 2000: 118 mins)

The Cuckoo (Russia: Aleksandr Rogozhkin, 2002: 99 mins)

The Edukators (Germany/Austria: Hans Weingartner, 2004: 127 mins)

8 1/2 (Italy/France: Federico Fellini, 1963: 138 mins)

Harakiri (Japan: Masaki Kobayashi, 1962: 133 mins)

Rang De Basaanti (India: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2006: 157 mins)

Incendies (Canada/France: Denis Villeneuve, 130 mins)

The Skin I Live In (Spain: Pedro Almodovar, 2011: 120 mins)

The Seventh Seal (Sweden: Ingmar Bergman, 1957: 96 mins)

Shortbus (USA: John Cameron Mitchell, 2006: 111 mins)

Election (Hong Kong: Johnnie To, 2005: 101 mins)

Moolaade (Senegal/Burkina Faso: Ousmane Sembene, 2004: 124 mins)

City of Life and Death (China: Chuan Lu, 2009: 132 mins)

Even the Rain (Spain/Mexico/France: Icíar Bollaín, 2010: 103 mins)

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