Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reverse Shot: Deep Red -- Joanne Nucho on The Color of Pomegranates

Deep Red: Joanne Nucho on The Color of Pomegranates
Reverse Shot

Steeped in religious iconography, The Color of Pomegranates is a deeply spiritual testament to director Sergei Parajanov’s fascination with Armenian folk art and culture. It is also a controversial work, which, coupled with another of his films, Shadows of our Forgotten Ancestors, led to his arrest and imprisonment in a Soviet Gulag for four years. The Soviets insisted he was guilty of selling gold and icons illegally and committing “homosexual acts.” In reality, his only crime was offending the tenets of socialist realism, both in his daring surrealistic form and in his choice of subject matter. While many of the popular films of this era in Soviet cinema were largely propaganda designed to serve the ideological interests of the regime, Parajanov chose to focus on the ethnography and spirituality of the Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia.

The Color of Pomegranates is a poetic, dreamlike film that sought to portray the life of Armenian troubadour Sayat Nova through images inspired by his life and poetry. Born Haroutiun Sayakian, he is remembered as Sayat Nova or “king of songs.” Raised in the Georgian city of Tiflis (as was Sergei Parajanov himself), Sayat Nova performed in the Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Persian languages. This brought him fame beyond the Armenian community and he was summoned to serve as Court Musician and Poet by Heracle II, the 18th- century king of Georgia. After falling in love with the king’s sister, Princess Anna, he was expelled from the court. He spent the rest of his life as a monk where he continued to write poetry and music. To the Armenian people, Sayat Nova is considered a martyr because he was executed by the invading Persians for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

Parajanov’s decision to make a film about the life of an Armenian poet and martyr was a dangerous one. Armenian national identity was not to be prioritized—it was viewed as only a part of the Soviet Union. The idea of Armenian independence and secession from the Soviet Union was still dangerous and punishable by death. The lack of a Soviet presence, or any other typical themes of the propaganda films of the time, marked The Color of Pomegranates as a subversive work.

The text of the film, the poetry of Sayat Nova, and the life of director Sergei Parajanov are all reflections of the Armenian national identity, which is itself deeply connected to the Christian faith, as they were the first “nation” in the world to adopt the religion, in the year 301. Surrounded by largely Muslim populations, they were an easy target for invasion and subjugation by their neighbors. The paradigm of Christianity, the images of the suffering of Christ and subsequent salvation—most recently exacerbated by the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey at the beginning of the last century—are at the core of Armenian individuality.

So what is the color of pomegranates? As the film opens, we see thorns intercut with images of pomegranates soaking a white cloth with their juice, a deep blood red. Then we see a dagger resting upon this same, stained cloth. A voice reads from the poetry of Sayat Nova: “I am a man whose soul is tormented.” In Armenian mythology, the pomegranate was a symbol of fertility, literally fruitfulness—it is said that a ripe pomegranate contains 365 seeds, one for each day of the year. The thorns are those of the crown that Christ wore as he suffered on the cross. The two are inseparable, bound closely by the image of bloodshed, the inevitable fate of the Armenian people—here there is only sacrifice and suffering. Later in the film a priest wearing the traditional black garb of the Armenian apostolic church utters “heaven has deemed that sorrow be our lot.” With the camera set at a distance, the monks gather before him, also cloaked in black, shroud-like robes fall on their knees. Everywhere there is death, darkness, disaster—and yet, a feeling that the biggest disaster, the ultimate catastrophe is still to come.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Michael J. Anderson on Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
by Michael J. Anderson

A gesamtkunstwerk or 'total art work' constructed from American folk and craft traditions much more than the classical arts, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom (2012), from an original screenplay by Anderson and Roman Coppola, builds its diegetic world of hobbyist watercolors and kitsch nautical prints, primary school literature and amateur theatrics, homemade costuming and mass-manufactured Davy Crockett coonskin, Protestant church architecture and stained glass, Hank Williams and children's records. Moonrise Kingdom, however, is also dominated by mid-century English composer Benjamin Britten, who provides the most conspicuous exception to the picture's cultivated, if still semi-fictionalized 'Americanness,' not to mention its clear preference for more popular lower forms. In fact, it is Britten's modernist art foremost that provides Anderson's film with its governing aesthetic principles and climactic subject matter.

As to the former, it is Britten, along with the name-checked Gilbert and Sullivan - Moonrise Kingdom largely is set on the fictional island of New Penzance - who offers a model for artistic synthesis in the operatic form that is presented in the in-film production of Noye's Fludde. (Britten also composed original music for that other total art, cinema, with his collaborations on Alberto Cavalcanti's 1935 Coal Face and Basil Wright and Henry Watt's 1936 Night Mail being the most notable.) Likewise, it is the diegetic presentation of Britten's pedagogical-experimental Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, early and late in the film, which telegraphs Moonrise Kingdom's own quasi-Brechtian separation of elements, with Mainer-type Bob Balaban, for example, presenting the film's narration in omniscient, on-screen direct address rather than in the more traditional voice-over.

With respect to the film's subject, it is Noye's Fludde, a "miracle play" that the director acted in during his adolescent years - in this sense it provides a means of accessing the filmmaker's personal history; a means of conjugating the aesthetic with the autobiographic - which is refashioned in the image of Anderson's arch narrative: the broken, in one sense or another, family unit that is reaffirmed if not actually reconstituted at picture's end. In Moonrise Kingdom we have both examples - however tentatively in the case of the former - with twelve year-old runaway "khaki scout" Sam (Jared Gilman) ultimately finding a new foster father in bachelor police-captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Anderson indeed recomposes his new family following "the region's worst meteorological disaster of the second half of the twentieth century," a 1965 hurricane of Biblical proportions that comes as the small island community is preparing for its annual production of the Britten opera. In Max Fischer lookalike Sam and the clear-rimmed spectacled Captain Sharp (see the director), Anderson seems to be replaying both his own biographical-cinematic past, while also filtering his personal experience of divorce during his childhood years through the young lead. Moonrise Kingdom certainly qualifies as a deeply psychoanalytic cinema, though a cinema that has been displaced not only onto a faux-New England setting, but also four years before the Texan Anderson's birth.

Moonrise Kingdom is no less notable as an emblematic narrative for Anderson's "Generation X," both in terms of that familial breakdown that disproportionately impacted the children of the 1970s and also of the post-modern culture that would reach its cinematic apogee amid and immediately after the peak of the VHS era. Anderson's postmodernism to be sure is ever apparent in Moonrise Kingdom's constituent combination of high art and kitsch, in his narrative taste for inventory (and letter writing) and what amounts on some level to his construction of joke diegetic worlds. In his exploration of the latter, Anderson shows a predilection for fluid, metronymic camera movements, flash pans and hard comedic cuts, whether he is mapping the dollhouse-like space in which the lead Bishop family resides at Summer's End or showcasing Camp Ivanhoe to the rhythmic beat of a snare drum. As with Rushmore (1998) and the four features that would follow it, Moonrise Kingdom emphasizes the artifice which provides the major-key for Anderson's art; there is in his latest, as ever, a very strong sense of an extrinsic narrator behind this fetishized, if still largely invented world. His is a cinema of aesthetic mediation.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Chris Marker: 1921 - 2012

Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg: Chris Marker, Filmmaker Behind LA JETÉE, Dies at 91

Jaime N. Christley: Great Directors -- Chris Marker

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Radio West: Amy Kalafa -- Lunch Wars

Lunch Wars
Radio West (KUER: Utah Public Media)

The average American kid will have some 3,000 school lunches by the twelfth grade. But what are they eating? When filmmaker and author Amy Kalafa went into school cafeterias, she found lunch trays laden with chicken nuggets and French fries, but little in the way of healthy choices. The question she kept hearing from parents though was "What do we do about it?" Kalafa has written a book called "Lunch Wars," and ... she joins us to explain how to start a school food revolution.

To Listen to the Episode

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fall 2012 Bluegrass Film Society

[Tentative schedule]

August 22: Sound of Noise (Sweden/France: Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, 2010: 102 mins)

August 29: Naked Lunch (Canada/UK/Japan: David Cronenberg, 1991: 115 mins)

September 5: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (USA: Joseph Sargent, 1974: 104 mins)

September 12: Dead Man (USA/Germany/Japan: Jim Jarmusch, 1995: 121 mins)

September 19: Entranced Earth (Brazil: Glauber Rocha, 1967: 106 mins)

September 26: Kill List (United Kingdom, 2011: 95 mins)

October 3: My Neighbor Totoro (Japan: Hayao Miyazaki, 1988: 86 mins)

October 10: Sleeping Beauty (Australia: Julia Leigh, 2011: 101 mins)

October 17: The Devils (UK: Ken Russell, 1971: 111 mins)

October 24: Before Stonewall (USA: Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, 1984: 87 mins) [with the Alliance Project]

October 31: Beyond the Black Rainbow (Canada: Panos Cosmatos, 2010: 110 mins)

November 7: Le Havre (Finland/France/Germany: Aki Kaurismäki, 2011: 93 mins)

November 14: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (UK/France: Peter Greenaway, 1989: 124 mins)

November 28: Amateur (USA/UK/France: Hal Hartley, 1994: 105 mins)

December 5: The Elementary Particles (Germany: Oskar Roehler, 2006: 113 mins)

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)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Robert Farrow: The Wicker Man -- Games of truth, anthropology, and the death of ‘man’

The Wicker Man: Games of truth, anthropology, and the death of ‘man’
by Robert Farrow

The Wicker Man, a cult classic of 1970s British cinema, portrays the investigation of an authoritarian police officer (played by Edward Woodward) into the mysterious disappearance of a young girl in the remote Scottish island of Summerisle. It becomes apparent that the islanders observe various ancient pagan traditions, and Sgt. Howie—a committed Christian—becomes increasingly suspicious of them. Eventually, he comes to suspect that she is somewhere imprisoned, earmarked as a human sacrifice for the Mayday festival of Beltane.

As the mystery unfolds, Howie comes to realizes the awful truth: the missing girl was a mystery fabricated in order to lure him to Summerisle, and it is in fact he who is to be burnt alive in the Wicker Man as an offering to the renewed cult of the old gods. This sinister ending has ensured this film a place in the annals of horror despite its divergence from the tropes of most horror films of the 1970s. The Wicker Man presents no bogeymen, no vampires, and no sinister music; its ending is all the more shocking, in fact, for the twee charm of the villagers and the folk-music score, which lead the audience into a false state of complacency that mirrors Sgt. Howie’s own vulnerability. And in a further departure from other examples of the genre, the antagonists are in no way demonized.

So, if The Wicker Man breaks so many of the genre rules, why is it such an unsettling film? One answer is illuminated by the complex matrices of truth, power, and knowledge made familiar by the French historian and philosopher, Michel Foucault: The Wicker Man presents us with an alarm call to wake us from “anthropological sleep,” and to tear down and burn our own false conceptions of “man.”

Foucault, a noted critic of the social sciences, rejected all positive notions of objectivity and human nature. For Foucault, we exist trapped within a kind of postmodern labyrinth (or “archive”), where truths are relative to the societies and practices that develop them. This is not a facile cultural relativism. Instead, we are invited to understand truths as problematized, colored by the contexts and subjects that produce them. The power structures that (so to speak) restrain us are also what makes our freedom possible, conditioning our thought at a collective, unconscious level.

Foucault’s own diagnosis of the present took the form of investigations into (often obscure) historical documents that aimed at exposing the implicit “truths” that underlie social practices and norms, thereby supporting his position as a thinker of social and historical relativity. As his work developed, it became clear that the driving force behind his work was an interest in how senses of identity are formed when the self is essentially a product of certain power/knowledge relationships, discourses, and games of truth.

Foucault’s early works—and The Wicker Man—offer this message: identity is best understood as an amorphous, shifting fiction, an “anthropology” that is to be exposed. When the full import of this becomes understood, the effect is rather more unsettling than the fraternity gorefests that typify many later horror films.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, July 20, 2012

Michael Koresky: Consider the Source -- On The Passion of the Christ

Consider the Source: On The Passion of the Christ
by Michael Koresky
Reverse Shot

I opened my wallet for Jesus. And then, after paying the ten dollars and twenty-five cents, sitting through the ear-splitting, retina-scalding Regal Cinemas’ 2wenty (“Remember to arrive at the theater early!”), ads for Eclipse breath-freshener and Coca-Cola, bulbous oversized M&M men and a TNT “We Know Drama” sensory overload, I was ready to be saved. Lifted out of my seat, perhaps, and brought back down into my chair just in time for the beginning of lent.

Alas, in the end, it was a movie. A mere movie. Mel Gibson’s brilliantly cynical marketing strategy, buoyed by the ADL’s advance work, lured even us non-believers (sinners) into the theater; certainly we didn’t expect to emerge as right-wing Christian fundamentalist converts, but we had every right to think we would be witnessing an honest representation of human and artistic faith, a spiritual roadmap to the psyche of a filmmaker and actor who felt driven, even instructed by God, as he has claimed, to create a cinematic likeness of the divine. It’s not essential that a moviegoer agrees with the political or religious implications of the images emblazoned on the screen, but that the images translate as a response from the filmmaker’s soul, that we believe we are witnessing the gospels as Mel himself sees them. The sheer divine force offered by Pasolini, Scorsese, by Bresson and Burnett and Spielberg, by Alexanders Payne and Sokurov, manifest in images that relinquish themselves to whatever artistic means necessary, not in shameless grandiosity that wishes to pummel the viewer into submission, into terrified acceptance. Gibson may find disingenuous the earthy benevolence of Pasolini’s Christ and the psychological torment of Scorsese’s, the lyrical allegory of Bresson’s Balthazar and Spielberg’s E.T., the spiritual personification of Payne’s Warren Schmidt or Sokurov’s cancer-ravaged saint-mother; he wants a more direct address, to make you feel every thrust of the rusty nail as it’s hammered into Jesus’s palms, to clutch your own shoulders as Jesus’s arm is ripped out of its socket, to cover your eyes in gratitude when the crucified thief’s eye is plucked out by a vengeful crow, to reverently ooh, aah, and shriek when Jesus is scourged, his back torn and ripped open into a hundred fleshy strips. Apparently to Gibson, there is no metaphor in religion; faith manifests itself as a spiritual dead-end, a believe-it-or-be-damned expression of finality. Of course Gibson, progeny of his fundamentalist missionary father’s terrifyingly stubborn outmoded beliefs, ended up a Hollywood actor—that particular “dream factory” churns out endless expressions of American complacency every year, cheerless damning spectacles of moral righteousness and unambigious carnal pleasures. Of course Mel Gibson, though a self-avowed man of endless spiritual vitality, can only depict the divine through the employment of hundreds of buckets of stage-blood. With its ludicrous, Hollywood-fortified conviction (not the same thing as faith, incidentally), Passion may be the world’s first completely banal Jesus Christ film. And though it’s remarkably, hopelessly literal, it was certainly waiting to happen. It had to happen.

If 2000’s Gladiator ushered in the new Bush regime, then perhaps Gibson’s blockbuster is the new 21st-century’s first true coercively conservative “classic.” Rarely has a film with a fundamentalist core been so blatantly conceived, so forthright in its admissions. Every decade of American film, though never preoccupied with anything grander than itself, nonetheless ends up a product of its own political backdrop. First Blood and its subsequent sequels became emblematic of the Reagan era, literally winning Vietnam back from the liberals, reasserting the swaggering machismo of the American hero that Seventies Hollywood attempted to all but decimate. And just as Stallone enacted Reagan’s cloudy-headed right-wing version of recent history, Gibson’s Christ—“compassionate” Conservative, deliverer of that old-tyme religion—emerges from the tomb at just the moment of the Bush administration’s attack on civil liberties, and the attack on the Civil Rights of American gays launched by Dubya himself with full-on, unabashed old-testament condemnation. Those who speak out against Gibson’s film are automatically stigmatized as leftist rabble-rousers and hapless atheists; to deny its physical impact or so-called technical grandeur is to supposedly denounce Gibson’s personal belief system. What’s more essential is to realize that when Gibson’s savvy propaganda piece, meant to inflict a tough-love Jesus on the nation’s wayward souls, floods into 4,000 screens, another dam between Church and State begins to crumble. The youngsters of the Clintonian Nineties, finding solace in the emergence of a truly multicultural pop mainstream, need to be reclaimed by the right, shorn of their piercings and tattoos, and brought back to Sunday school; who better to do that than Jesus himself, this time, like Rambo, stripped to the waist, chained and whipped, flesh torn and limbs broken, but never down for the count?

To Read the Rest of the Essay More: Jeff Reichert: Jesus Christ Superman

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ken Chen: Chilly, Obstinate Memory -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Chilly, Obstinate Memory: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
by Ken Chen
Reverse Shot

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could be one of those precious, necessarily rare things: like Breathless or 2001, a paradigmatic film for a generation. The film’s conceit is ingenious in its genre-ductility: Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s characters (respectively: boyfriend, memory-of-girlfriend) flee across the landscape of his memory while it’s being forcibly forgotten—thanks to Lacuna, a therapeutic brain surgery service that offers to erase all those unpleasant thought-crumbs of ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and the recently deceased. What makes screenwriter Charles Kaufman and director Michel Gondry’s film consequently so intimidating is how it is able to think like many different films simultaneously: a romantic comedy by Alain Resnais, a listlessly unbeautiful indie flick, a formalistic trick movie like Memento, a self-consciously aesthetic art film, suffused with strange imagery (the faceless people in Sunshine are straight out of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another), a hedonistic teen flick replete with inebriated, tank-topped girl, a screwball drama, a black comedy satirizing the intrusive efficiency of machines, and a love story whose characters brim with more reality than a reservoir of Mystic Rivers. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s willingness to trot across the borders of genre, its syncretistic way of unifying all these narrative modes—all these things make it at once poetic and spiritual. The film is a metaphysical chase movie—the villain we flee from is forgetting.

But what exactly about Eternal Sunshine is spiritual? This question demands another preliminary question: what becomes of spirituality in a scientific age? And if there can be a secular spirituality, how is it distinct from sociology or psychology? Once we become bereft of God, spirituality becomes privatized, shunts inward, molts off the social, longs for private rather than profound truths. Spirituality forks away from philosophy because (perhaps to philosophy’s credit) philosophy is too comprehensible; spirituality has no moving parts, no planks of argument: it is necessarily ineffable, interpretive and “intuitive” rather than analytical—it is the roadless road that arcs over chasms unbridgeable by syllogism. Instead, in a non-metaphysical age, the subject matter of secular spirituality ceases to be truth; the subject matter of spirituality becomes the self. As Richard Rorty writes in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, “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.” Our version of spirituality, therefore, asks us to interpret life—to invent our life’s own story, its unique descriptive language—rather than propose an answer for it. Our preexisting tools of interpretation—the rich cultural density of the novel and the abstracting truth of poems—thus becomes analogous to spiritual searching. Our life becomes a story and the supple, mystic emotions we associate with love and longing, regret and desire, start to seem somehow more profound than the puny omnipotence of God. This is why when D.H. Lawrence writes: “Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over,” to describe the desperate life of a poor coal miner’s wife, he seems “spiritual” (though not theological) in a way that “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands/ Sing forth the honor of his name/ make his praise glorious” (Psalm 66; King James) does not. What we require of our modern spirituality is intimate content—the wisdom of usefully idiosyncratic thought.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind feels spiritual because of the way it imbues film with this specifically literary content. It is the foremost example of what could be called avant garde realism—which might also describe films such as Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time and Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole, a type of realism that solves, dissolves, and welds together the intellectual resources of surrealism and its opposite, cinema verité. The fault of surrealism is that its mysteriousness arises from its irrelevance—surrealist images have a hard time creeping into meaning, a hard time becoming pertinent to our identity, because they resist paraphrase and explicit meaning; the fault of cinema verité is that, while it is full of life, it is a factless life, a life jailed to the moment: this is the image- oriented psychology of film rather than the thought-dense introspection of novels. Eternal Sunshine solves these genre maladies through its conceit: the first two-thirds of the film occur within the protagonist’s memory, so the otherwise “realist” film can deploy any number of non-realist conventions (a character meta-fictionally aware that she is only a memory; people disappearing as they’re forgotten; Jim Carrey surrounded by giant furniture, stuck in the memory of his baby self) without them actually becoming non-realist: they are real to their context, the way that a dream is a real dream.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fall 2012: ENG 281 Weekly Supplements

Fall 2012 Weekly Supplements: Written

1) Giacci, Vittorio. "Cinema, Responsibility and Formation." Cinemascope #7 (2007)

2) Eig, Jonathan. "A Beautiful Mind(fuck): Hollywood Structures of Identity." Jump Cut #46 (2003)

3) "Cinematic Storytelling" Mystery Man on Film (June 11, 2007)

4) "Difficult Cinema." Girish (February 23, 2011)

5) Ebert, Roger. "How To Read a Movie." Chicago Sun-Times (August 30, 2008)

6) Gamman, Lorraine. "If Looks Could Kill: Gangster Suits and Silhouettes." Moving Image Source (May 8, 2012)

7) Video Essays: Archive

8) Ethics: Peace and Conflict Studies Archive

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Erich Kuersten: An American Rohmer -- Clint Eastwood's Breezy

An American Rohmer: Clint Eastwood's Breezy
by Erich Kuersten

If you were ever a girl on a date with Clint Eastwood and he wanted to sleep with you, chances are--based on his rep, artistry and ouevre--there wouldn't be a much you could do to resist. He'd play the perfect music at all the perfect times, on the piano, himself; he'd get the door for you, hold out your chair; speak huskily of Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, and when he finally smiled wide enough to show his teeth, you'd find yourself making the first move, despite your best judgments, or maybe because of them. After all, he's done this before. He believes what he's saying now, but the morning is bound to bring a whole different Eastwood.

As a director, Clint seemed to never quite recover his sense of the romantic after the whole Sondra Locke thing, but prior to then he had at least two romantic classics, only one of which is a slasher movie.

In order to find an American director/auteur who captures that pre-Locke longing, the slow rhythm by which real seduction occurs, one must go as far back as Nicholas Ray and Frank Borzage. Or one could just go to France, to Eric Rohmer. Rohmer wouldn't break his Bazin-influenced naturalism by playing a '70s soul-folk ballad over a beach at dawn holding hands montage, or setting a languid park-side tryst to Roberta Flack's "The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)" as Eastwood does in Breezy (1973) and Play Misty for Me, respectively, but the potency would be the same. It would be 'real' in a way that makes you weak at the knees, even sitting down. But where angels fear to tread, Eastwood just advances more slowly and inexorably, like a mongoose on a cobra. His Flack montage works because he really is a romantic, and feels these things listening to Roberta Flack. You can tell by how fine and deeply it sits in your gut that it's not just groupthink treacle and cliche. There's a world of difference between manipulation--trying to make an audience feel some emotion--and the art of pleasing oneself. What makes Eastwood or Rohmer swoon? No one needs to ask such a thing, for we have their films.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

J. Hoberman: The Single Antidote to Thoughts of Suicide -- Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s American friends

The Single Antidote to Thoughts of Suicide: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s American friends
by J. Hoberman
Moving Image Source


My thanks for inviting me to participate in this event as well as facilitating that participation by having this part of the program in a foreign language, English. I hope I won’t offend you if I begin by observing that for an American of my generation, born shortly after World War II, the sound of conversational German emanating from the screen was uncanny and even menacing, a vehicle for barked Gestapo torturers or sneering East German spies. As late as 1976, Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris would cite "a commercial jinx against German-language films in the New York area, at least partly for reasons that are too painfully obvious to mention."

"Jinx," which connotes "bad luck," is too coy a word to account for this provincialism, as is the reference to the New York area. The German language was stigmatized by powerful negative associations particularly but not exclusively among Jews and political leftists. German silent cinema was enshrined but the entirety of German talkies was reduced to a single letter M, which also happened to be a movie about the worst sort of human monster, a serial child killer. M opened up on the void and there was nothing like it…until Fassbinder. He dispelled the jinx.

I’m talking from the perspective of a civilian filmgoer rather than a professional movie critic. I did not review any of the movies I’ll be citing. In fact, the first thing I ever wrote about Fassbinder was an obituary for a no-longer extant journal, American Film. But I did follow Fassbinder’s American career from the cheap seats. I saw The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Merchant of Four Seasons, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Fox and His Friends more or less in that order in the mid-’70s when I was in my mid-twenties. What I remember impressing me was their strange affect. The language was part of it but, more generally, it was unclear whether the movies were funny or sad. They were certainly not bittersweet. There was a lugubrious quality that was also disconcertingly, irresistibly comic.

Not understanding the language or appreciating the context can sharpen other forms of attention. I was struck by Thomas Elsaesser’s comment [in the preceding presentation] that Fassbinder seldom included the German landscape because one of the things that initially impressed me about his films was their emptied-out, blandly paranoid urban settings. I thought these were a humorous invention until I spent a few days in Frankfurt in 1979. Then I discovered that these stylizations were actually a form of documentary truth. [silence]

Now, Fassbinder was not entirely unique. Between 1967-71, which is to say at the height of the ’60s, the New York Film Festival showed nine German-language features, three by Werner Herzog, two each by Alexander Kluge and Jean-Marie Straub, one by Volker Schlöndorff and one by Fassbinder. I did see most of these. Kluge appeared to be a more pedantic Godard, Straub seemed a lighter Bresson. Herzog was too freakish to be anything other than himself—definitely strange but not necessarily German—which is to say that the dwarfs were more striking than the language they spoke. In terms of the so-called New German Cinema, Fassbinder was something of a late addition, although Susan Sontag would later maintain that New York Film Festival director Richard Roud turned down her suggestion to show Fassbinder’s first feature Love is Colder Than Death.

Fassbinder made his debut two years later at the 1971 New York Film Festival with Recruits in Ingolstadt. Response was dismissive, even hostile. The lone exception was the New York Times lead critic Vincent Canby, whose review linked Fassbinder’s direction to "the methods and the manner of early Brecht" (a good and very fashionable German whose name was strategically dropped in the NYFF blurb). Canby deemed Recruits to be "an oddly unfocused satire but one that has many lovely moments….The movie fails, but it’s a failure of concept, not of intelligence, nor of style and performance." In sort, he recognized something.

To Read the Entire Presentation

Friday, July 13, 2012

Severine Benzimra: Jean Marais -- Dream Lover

Jean Marais: Dream Lover
by Severine Benzimra

Jean Marais was a dream figure. An absolute hero. Americans had Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster, with whom to learn about history through westerns or peplums, we had a gay perfect blond male to learn about our history through swashbuckling adaptations from Alexandre Dumas or Théophile Gautier, classic theater plays by Racine, Corneille, Edmond Rostand or Victor Hugo.

Marais was une force qui va, a force that could quote Victor Hugo (Hernani). A force of nature who introduced generations of teenagers to the poetry, the ravishing quest of beauty and the incestuousness of Jean Cocteau. He became the ideal mature lover in the 50s. He incarnated the handsome, noble father, from whom young girls had to fly away to look for love, thanks to Jacques Demy.

Every French person might well have his/her own inner image of Jean Marais. He could make fun of himself. He played an evil green-skinned Fantomas, but unfortunately refused the part of the killing monk in The name of the Rose, Jean-Jacques Annaud's film. He had many faces, man/god, ancient/modern, lover/brother/father, artist/muse, actor, sculptor, etc. The fragrance the male, created by Jean-Paul Gaultier, might well be an homage to Jean Marais. He played in about 90 movies; eight TV series, 30 plays: his beauty and energy never faded, unlike Alain Delon's, like Burt Lancaster's. Like Lancaster, he played for Luchino Visconti. Lets be honest: impossible to imagine him as Il Gattopardo, Burt Lancaster imposed himself on Vischotni for that film, as well as in Gruppo di Famiglia in un interno and so did Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice, though the role of Gustav von Aschenbach was firstly proposed to Jean Marais.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Monday, July 9, 2012

Kim Morgan: You Have 30 Seconds to Leave the Theater" - Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone

You Have 30 Seconds to Leave the Theater" - Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone
by Kim Morgan
Sunset Gun

I have missed Gaspar Noé.

The French enfant terrible who helmed one of the greatest pictures of the 1990’s, I Stand Alone, and who, with Irreversible, placed Monica Bellucci in a situation that angered even those OK with Susan George’s episode in Straw Dogs, had been absent from the screen far too long. Yes, he made a short for the sexually explicit Destricted project, and yes there are the condom commercials from years back, but Mr. Noé needed another full length feature under his (whipping) belt. To say I'm greatly anticipating his newest, Enter the Void would be an understatement.

The director, heavily influenced by '70s cinema, William Castle shock-a-tude, pornography, Godard, Céline, Nietzsche and (as I have argued, whether he knows this or not), even Thomas Hardy, was the great Gallic hope for a new generation of savage filmmaking. Unlike some current filmmakers who traffic in mere shock, or art house directors striking a transgressive pose, Noé is a genuine artist, but unpretentious -- a man who loves nothing more than upsetting his audience (or, in the case of Irreversible, making some faint), while injecting his screaming compositions with substantive thought, intelligence and philosophy.

So hearing that Noé will be releasing a new Noé vision got me excited, and in the mood to re-visit his debut blast of brilliance, over ten years later, 1998’s I Stand Alone. This is the movie that caused a daily critic to walk out during the screening I attended, this is the movie that bonded me with my sister (long story), and this is the film that I told a colleague to see on a date. That advice didn’t work out so well.

When first reviewing the blisteringly brilliant picture, I quoted an anecdote by director Paul Schrader. Schrader said:

“I had an interesting lunch recently with a French director named Gaspar Noé who wanted to do a film with me, something with violence and pornography and all that. And I said to him, 'I don't think anyone's shockable anymore.'"

Now I admire, sometimes revere Paul Schrader, and I would probably agree with him at that moment, but with I Stand Alone (and the latter Irreversible) he was positively wrong. For Noé had not only made one of the most shocking pictures in decades, but also one of the most stylistically impressive, emotionally challenging, thematically intimidating, astoundingly touching and, in its own warped way, weirdly funny. I Stand Alone, or Seul Contre Tous (Alone Against All) is a hair grabber that drags you around the muck and pushes your face into its world so far that -- and this is rare with such hard cinema -- you’ll experience moments of such bizarre, hideous beauty that you’re left significantly moved. It attacks one's senses with such transgressive power that by its end, one feels flustered, simultaneously full and empty. I Stand Alone rattles in your brain long after the movie's disquieting end.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, July 8, 2012

David Kalat: Ring Around J-Horror

Ring around J-Horror
by David Kalat
Movie Morlocks

J-Horror don’t get no respect. The long-haired ghosts have become a cliché to be ridiculed, and the tragedy of it is that the audiences perhaps best attuned to appreciate what J-Horror had to offer in its heyday are those least inclined to give it a chance. I know—I speak from experience. My love affair with J-Horror began, as all the best movie love affairs do, with opposition.

I grew up on horror movies—but to grow up on horror movies in the 1970s meant to grow up on a diet of gothic chillers. It’s an extinct animal these days, hounded off the earth and replaced by a coarser, ruder, more grisly genre that has changed what “horror” means.

The horror movies I fell in love with as a child were films about dread, free-floating fear, and abstract ideas. Fear of sex, fear that science was reaching hubristically too far, fear of the foreign, fear of one’s own inner demons—these were the themes underlying the best of the gothic chillers. Modern horror movies reduce it all down to the simplest element: fear of being killed.

The change in horror movies is not necessarily a bad thing—just because my tastes run one direction doesn’t mean my tastes are right. The gothic chillers I cut my teeth on were crafted in a different, more innocent age. Horror had to change, because the world in which the audience lived changed. In Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, Boris Karloff plays himself, more or less, an aging star of monster movies whose personal appearance at a drive-in coincides with the arrival of a gun-toting madman who takes to killing the audience for no clear reason. In the 1960s and 70s, the real-life horrors of assassinations and riots and wars made it impossible to feel the same shivers from monsters of a more innocent age.

The summer after September 11, 2001 I was at a monster movie convention. The attendees, all of them fans of gothic chillers and creepy monsters, shared a dazed bewilderment at the unutterable horror the real world had too recently become. If the traumas of the late 1960s had rendered Frankenstein and Dracula obsolete, then how could Jason and Freddy and Leatherface possibly compete with real-life madmen who could vaporize thousands of innocent people in an instant?

It was at this event in 2001 that I was first introduced to The Ring.

A colleague was running a booth selling Japanese horror imports, and he tried to get me to watch Hideo Nakata’s The Ring—but I kept resisting. The problem for me was that the guy trying to convince me was running a stall selling bootlegs of various Japanese shockers such as the Guinea Pig films, and Guts of a Virgin. If you don’t recognize those titles, then you’re a happy lucky person. These are sadistic exercises in video cruelty that even gorehounds find extreme. In my mind, that’s what Japanese horror was: everything that was wrong with modern American horror films, but even more vicious, misogynistic, and depressing.

I wrongly pre-judged Ring to be something gaudy and rough. I almost missed the fact that, halfway around the world, the suspense-driven gothic thriller had been brought back from extinction.

Meanwhile, the Ring spread. At that point, Hideo Nakata’s 1998 motion picture had not yet been officially released in the United States. So it circulated instead through an underground subculture of fans who made copies for each other. “Here, ya gotta see this.” Ironically, that’s the same thing that happens in the movie: people make copies of a scary video for each other. Reportedly, if you watch this cursed videotape, exactly seven days later you drop dead. When a group of teenagers simultaneously die of unknown causes at different places around Tokyo, an investigative reporter traces their lives back to a common point when they watched a scary video together. She watches it herself, and realizes in horror she now has just one week to solve the mystery of the tape and save her own life.

One of the underground copies wound up in the hands of a man named Roy Lee, whose destiny was soon to become intertwined with Hideo Nakata’s. Lee was overwhelmed by the movie—no surprise, really, since everybody who saw it responded by a) loving the movie; b) recommending it to a friend; c) trying to make their own version; or d) some combination of the above. Since Lee worked in Hollywood, his ability to take action was substantially more advanced than the average fan. He made a copy for a development executive at Dreamworks Pictures, Mark Sourian. “Here, ya gotta see this.”

Sourian immediately phoned producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald: “Here, ya gotta see this.” Sourian copied the tape and sent it along to his producers. They watched it, and had the same reaction. They then copied the tape and mailed it to up-and-coming director Gore Verbinski (whose major credit at that time was Mousehunt).

And so, Dreamworks hired Verbinski to render Nakata’s film into English, with an explicit agenda of maintaining as much of Nakata’s atmosphere as possible. It arrived in theaters around Halloween-time 2002, and sported a decidedly low-key marketing campaign. Whatever I had mis-expected of the original, the remake was obviously aimed at—and attracting—a crowd of serious adults, who didn’t come out talking about the splatter FX but instead made comparisons to the early films of Luis Buñuel. My interest was piqued, and off to the theater I went.

I kept my expectations low—but as the film unspooled, I was enthralled, mystified, intrigued, and genuinely scared.

There is a moment towards the end when the entire cramped auditorium erupted in simultaneous shrieking. It’s been a long time since was genuinely shaken by a movie, and it set me out on a project of researching its history and coming to some kind of understanding of the genre.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, July 6, 2012

John Bredin: 2 or 3 Ways Godard Taught Us How to Speak and Live

2 or 3 Ways Godard Taught Us How to Speak and Live
by John Bredin

I highly recommend Jean Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her to shy people. To those poor souls who, like my former self, have had their speaking agency crippled, reducing them to verbal mice. Such radical withdrawals from the speaking world are often the result of being smothered by a patriarchal, authoritative and oppressive family, school system, or society. In my case, it was all of the above.

Mindful of the healing and transformative power of art, for the reticent of speech I bring a message of radiant hope: a nugget of cinematic wisdom distilled from what critic J. Hoberman calls Godard's greatest masterpiece. (As founder of the French New Wave movement in modern cinema, Godard is, arguably, one of, if not the most important, avante garde filmmaker of all time.) Deciphering lessons from Two or Three Things which, in a burst of validation from the zeitgeist for its continuing relevance, Film Forum in New York City screened both last fall and this spring you might be inspired, like I was, with the epiphany that it's not too late for you to achieve the exalted state of verbal freedom; the intoxicating, liberating, yet simple pleasure of being able to share (in a calm, thoughtful and nuanced manner) the cognitive and affective music of your soul with others.

In Two or Three Things Godard offers humanity nothing less than a filmic template for bold and authentic communication in the world: an aesthetically rich and pedagogically fertile piece of language curriculum that bears repeated visits. Without exaggeration, I'd call it a Linguistic Declaration of Independence. Notice, if you will, how the film celebrates the miraculous potential of spoken language, while at the same time interrogating it in what linguists refer to as a meta-talk, or talk about talk fashion often through the power of amazingly simple, wonder-provoking phrases.

For example, whenever Juliette the bored housewife who moonlights as a prostitute addresses a person, the camera, or thin air with a random thought that just popped into her head (I know how to talk; Let's talk together; Together is a word I like.) or when Robert, Juliette's husband, engages in that remarkable see-saw dialogue with a strange woman in the café (Say words; Do you know what talking is? Talk about something interesting.); or the pretty girl at the bar, whose deer-in-the-headlights narration of the simple details of her life startles us with its unassuming transcendence (I like to take walks, ride my bike for fun, go to the cinema two or three times a month. I like books); or when Godard himself, intoning with his whispery, philosophical voiceover, decides to interject a thought or two because he's the auteur (filmmaker as author) and can talk whenever he damn well pleases we're treated to a model of the magical possibilities of human speech.

Shy people, take notice.

Sometimes we become shy (and I myself still feel shy at times, depending, naturally, on who I'm with, or the situation), better still, let me phrase it a different way: we say that we're shy, or inarticulate, or afraid to talk, when in reality we're simply numbed by over-exposure to the prepackaged speech of movies and television shows: talk that's fakely fluid in the Hollywood sense. After watching actors speak brilliantly, dashing off hilarious applause lines as if they were talking naturally when, in reality, they spent days or weeks memorizing a pre-written script by comparison, our own conversational offerings might appear flat and boring to us. Certainly too, in a media-saturated age such as ours, because of our overexposure to glib, slick, oily-tongued, sonorous anchor people and celebrities, one could easily see how a person might get the false, even monstrous impression that this is how real people should talk. Unable to achieve such a bizarre standard of faux eloquence in our own speech, we clam up.

Philosopher Maxine Greene, critiquing such indurations in the mundane, talks about the need to resist passivity, to, partly through reflective art encounters she says, escape submergence in the everyday, the routine, the banal. Such submergence ought to include our current mass drowning, if you will, in a sea of pop cultural and media kitsch: a filling up of our heads, like the white cream inside a Twinkie, with a combination of advertisements, pop cultural fluff, and the grave pronouncements of the talking heads. Might such an inexorable assault on our cognitive and aesthetic apparatus tamp down our capacity to generate our own unique and creative thoughts, disabling our ability to write (and speak) our own essays to the world?

Godard offers us a cure to such a paralysis of language in Two or Three Things: an extraordinary pastiche of verbal and visual images, philosophy, and politics, that many critics have likened to an essay on film. As essays go, of course, it's worth noting that the traditional, written kind from the celebrated classics of Montaigne (Of Experience) and Emerson (Self Reliance) right up through today's brilliant NY Times pieces by Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and occasionally I'll grant, David Brooks offers one of the most powerful and flexible vehicles to tell our stories and richly express the complexity of our thoughts, questions, wonderings, and theories on any given topic.

To Read the Rest of the Essay