Monday, December 31, 2012

Julia Leyda: "Something That Is Dangerous and Arousing and Transgressive" - An Interview with Todd Haynes

"Something That Is Dangerous and Arousing and Transgressive": An Interview with Todd Haynes
by Julia Leyda
Bright Lights Film Journal

JULIA LEYDA: You've done several movies that are very clearly woman's films, but the movie that I am most fascinated with in terms of gender is Velvet Goldmine, which is not usually interpreted in that context.

TODD HAYNES: No, except it's probably gotten the strongest female fan base of any of my films. And what's wonderful for me is to see new generations of young women, even as we think we progress as a society and there are new options available to each new generation that seem to be catering to that market more acutely, still Velvet Goldmine offers that market something that they're not getting elsewhere. I always love it when girls come up to me at festivals and that's the one, that's the movie that really turned them around.

JL: I'm interested in how you use the trope of playing with dolls in Superstar and Velvet Goldmine as a way to figure gender, embodiment, desire, identification. You said in an interview that playing with dolls is what you're doing in Velvet Goldmine, using it as a metaphor for the filmmaking process, to play with the characters of the idols more than making an actual biopic about bisexual pop stars. So what about the female characters in Velvet Goldmine? Fans, rock and roll girls like Mandy — talk a bit about them.

TH: Interesting question. The character of Mandy was probably one of the hardest roles I've ever had to cast. We did a really thorough, international search for who could play Mandy. When I look back on the experience, I'm amazed at how many actresses agreed to read for the role who don't often do so. I think what was difficult about Mandy was that she, and the Angela Bowie template for that character, harkened back to a kind of performative femininity of which there are very few contemporary examples anymore. I see it as the Patti Smith divide in terms of rock and roll and public depictions of femininity, whose image emerged finally, after so many variations on the codified mannerisms that were available to women in midcentury American film, for instance, and popular music (although there have always been interesting deviations from this). I think over time a lot of the affectations associated with performing femininity had fallen away, to the point where you came to this iconic figure of Patti Smith, whom I see as similar in a way to the Jude figure in I'm Not There, a very androgynous, more masculine-identified figure. For young actresses reading the role of Mandy it became clear that recent examples of that kind of almost camp presentation of an affected, theatrical persona were very hard to locate; I think of Liza Minnelli, and maybe Parker Posey was one of the later examples, of almost a gay male idea of femininity.

One thing that was very interesting about Angela Bowie is the way she navigated the English and American influences and her accent would come and go, and that was one of the things we wanted to incorporate into the performance, but that's very tough on an actor. We wanted to make it understood that it's a mutable way of fixing into each culture with some fluidity. I mean, there's no question that Angela Bowie was a central driving engine — her autobiography is amazing, and it's supported by most of the documentation and oral histories of those years — in the transformation of David Bowie, who was experimenting with different kinds of feminine representations but ultimately fixed on this Warhol-infused figure of the Ziggy Stardust character. It was really Angela Bowie who championed these kinds of characters, part of the second-generation Warhol clan, who made their way to the UK and appeared in this play Pork in 1971. They just loved her and she loved them, and in a weird way Bowie was sort of a spectator, an observer of this love and energy. And I think, based on what she wrote in her book and other documentation, she was very interested in the gay liberation movement that was burgeoning at the time and she wanted to appropriate it, take it on, and become the spokesperson in a rock and roll vernacular for those ideas.

I don't know if this relates directly to doll-playing except that it really might be the last time that you see an active female figure freely utilizing artificial terms of self-expression and persona in an unembarrassed, unabashed, almost radical way. That was in a way the fascinating counterpart to the more aloof, silent, objectified figure that Bowie assumed as Ziggy Stardust. Of course, there was also that hardcore influence from the American music that he loved — the Stooges, the MC5, and the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed — as the final ingredient to give it that kind of duality, the cross between English musical traditions and this American hardcore, a direct assault. He needed both of those, but there was still a kind of passivity and object-ness of that figure that seemed more quiet, and more comfortable being an image, an idealized beautiful façade that people could project onto; whereas Angela Bowie was active, pulling the strings and moving the levers — in that way, I think, making him up so that he was the doll that she was playing with. So a lot of that energy and that fire and fearlessness I think could be attributed to her.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ingrid Fernandez: Visions of the Other: The Return of the Abject in Roman Polanski's The Tenant

Visions of the Other: The Return of the Abject in Roman Polanski's The Tenant
by Ingrid Fernandez
Bright Lights Film Journal

Perhaps one of the highest achievements — and casualties — of Western philosophy lies in its complete denial of the body as a conduit for knowledge and self-discovery. The body has been excluded from discourse, always positioned as a threat to the higher instincts of the intellect. It is an unwanted part of the self: the polluted, the irrational, the animalistic that mars the path to enlightenment. It has thus been sentenced to represent the space of the abject, that which is always pushing the socially constructed subject to the edge of the abyss and hence threatens the law. However, a higher truth can be sought in the order of Nature. If we embrace the corporeal, we no longer negate death, decay, sickness — the filth burgeoning inside the self and forever constituting its powerful force. I accept my frailty, the instability of my identity, and I mourn for what I have lost when I achieved the status of subject. For that part of myself always creeps back into my existence as a shadow, a hidden desire I can never satisfy, that of life and death merging into pure being. I mourn the Other. I carry it within me but can never access it in life, for it might destroy me, I have been told; or perhaps it might complete me once it undoes all I have learned to be. Julia Kristeva describes fully experiencing the body as causing a rupture within signification, unacceptable because it eradicates the socially constructed boundaries regulating identity. She states:

A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, does not signify death. In the presence of signified de'ath — a flat encephalograph, for instance — I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live . . . My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border . . . It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. (Kristeva)

It is precisely in this foreign land, in this dark continent shunned by rational thought, that we might best find ourselves. The real truth of life is most acutely revealed at a corporeal level, where primal vulnerabilities such as the fear of illness and decay, the violated body, and the body in pain constitute the essence of being human, of being a part of a larger world where "the Other" is a reflection of the self. Moreover, our very physical existence and relation to others stem from a common bond of blood that predates the social apparatus. After all, social identity is easily stripped, uncovering a universal truth — the fact we are all mortal and subject to the violation of our physical space. At its most basic, the bond between humans is forged by the organic — sinews, muscle, bones, and the burden of the body. The instability of physical existence lies in its constant metamorphosis, its ability to simultaneously enrich and destroy intellectual activity, and the presence of elusive desire and the remnants of a fear that remain locked in the moment prior to our existence as social subjects. These concepts are best illustrated in cinema because of the power of the image to enter the viscera, elide intellectual resistance, and elicit an authentic and unmediated, sometimes even involuntary, reaction. The cinematic image penetrates the space of the abject and brings it to life. It is the return of the repressed and allows us to once again inhabit "uncomfortable spaces" we thought were closed off to our senses. Starting from these premises, I propose to revisit the concept of knowledge gained through the saturation of the body by outside stimuli, in this case film images, and how this experience results in a form of transcendence, a deeper understanding of our relation to ourselves and "the Other."

Roman Polanski's 1976 film The Tenant can be seen as a meditation on the fate of the abject body and how it is marked, regulated, and finally obliterated by the social apparatus. However, it also emphasizes how the repressed eludes the symbolic law and allows us to encounter its terrifying shadow, the periphery of existence that always manages to break through. Additionally, Polanski brings in the concept of bare life as stipulated by critics like Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler, inquiring into the way a social subject is constituted and given a voice or utterly silenced and excluded from the circle of the human. The film's main focus remains on the body as undesirable, non-ideal, open to external aggression and pollution. In typical Polanski fashion, the audience is trapped in an "uncomfortable visual space" where the concept of a stable individual identity is never a matter of choice, but instead constituted by our surroundings and forces well beyond our grasp. The Tenant's crowning achievement is its use of the subjective camera, to the extent the audience is literally involved in the action through the vision of its main character, Trelkovsky. We see what he sees, fear what he fears, and eventually become him. Through this process, we experience the frailty of subjecthood and the ability of the cinematic image to rouse in us a dialogue with the innermost recesses of ourselves, the abject within us that, when we acknowledge it, sets us on the path to enlightenment and self-discovery.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chris Hedges: The Unsilenced Voice of a "Long-Distance Revolutionary"

The Unsilenced Voice of a "Long-Distance Revolutionary"
by Chris Hedges

I am sitting in the visiting area of the SCI Mahanoy prison in Frackville, Pa., on a rainy, cold Friday morning with Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner and one of its few authentic revolutionaries. He is hunched forward on the gray plastic table, his dreadlocks cascading down the sides of his face, in a room that looks like a high school cafeteria. He is talking intently about the nature of empire, which he is currently reading voraciously about, and effective forms of resistance to tyranny throughout history. Small children, visiting their fathers or brothers, race around the floor, wail or clamber on the plastic chairs. Abu-Jamal, like the other prisoners in the room, is wearing a brown jumpsuit bearing the letters DOC—for Department of Corrections.

Abu-Jamal was transferred in January to the general prison population after nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row and was permitted physical contact with his wife, children and other visitors for the first time in three decades. He had been sentenced to death in 1982 for the Dec. 9, 1981, killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was recently amended to life without parole. The misconduct of the judge, flagrant irregularities in his trial and tainted evidence have been criticized by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

Abu-Jamal, who was a young activist in the Black Panthers and later one of the most important radical journalists in Philadelphia, a city that a few decades earlier produced I.F. Stone, has long been the bête noire of the state. The FBI opened a file on him when he was 15, when he started working with the local chapter of the Black Panthers. He was suspended from his Philadelphia high school when he campaigned to rename the school for Malcolm X and distributed “black revolutionary student power” literature.

Stephen Vittoria’s new film documentary about Abu-Jamal, “Long Distance Revolutionary,” rather than revisit the case, chronicles his importance and life as an American journalist, radical and intellectual under the harsh realities of Pennsylvania’s death row. Abu-Jamal has published seven books in prison, including his searing and best-selling “Live From Death Row.” The film features the voices of Cornel West, James Cone, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and others. It opens in theaters Feb. 1, starting in New York City. In the film Gregory says that Abu-Jamal has single-handedly brought “dignity to the whole death row.”

The late historian Manning Marable says in the film: “The voice of black journalism in the struggle for the liberation of African-American people has always proved to be decisive throughout black history. When you listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal you hear the echoes of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and the sisters and brothers who kept the faith with struggle, who kept the faith with resistance.”

The authorities, as they did before he was convicted, have attempted to silence him in prison. Pennsylvania banned all recorded interviews with Abu-Jamal after 1996. In response to protests over the singling out of one inmate in the Pennsylvania correction system, the state simply banned recorded access to all its inmates. The ban is nicknamed “the Mumia rule.”

“I was punished for communicating,” Abu-Jamal says.

Cornel West says in the film: “The state is very clever in terms of keeping track, especially [of] the courageous and visionary ones, the ones that are long-distance runners. You can keep track of them, absorb ’em, dilute ’em, or outright kill ’em—you don’t have to worry about opposition to ’em.”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Maximilian Yoshioka: Technocratic Totalitarianism: One-Dimensional Thought in Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville

Technocratic Totalitarianism: One-Dimensional Thought in Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville
by Maximilian Yoshioka
Bright Lights Film Journal


These two mechanisms of symbolic coercion, the arrow and the equation, refer to a broader phenomenon of mindlessness in Alphaville, or what Herbert Marcuse calls "one-dimensional thought," meaning basically an inability to think critically or "negatively" about the conditions of one's own existence. For the person who thinks one-dimensionally, affirmative statements about what already exists (i.e., political institutions, class/wealth relations, dominant ideologies) are all that is possible; consequently, any thought or desire that transcends those existing structures is inconceivable. For Marcuse, the existence of this type of thinking is not so much intrinsic to human beings as it is a socially constructed mechanism built by those in power to reinforce the forms of domination particular to their existence. The dogmatic repetition of the commandment "One should never say why; but only because" by the inhabitants of Alphaville is the ultimate realization of such a system of thought control. Marcuse was writing about contemporary society in the 1960s, the same period in which Alphaville was released. While Marcuse tasked himself with describing the society he saw in front of him, Godard decided to imagine its logical consequence.

Signs of this mental indoctrination, of the subordination of critical thought and agency to rules, regulations, and ideology, are everywhere present in Caution's travels across Alphaville. When he first arrives at his hotel from the "Outlands," he is immediately hassled by staff offering to carry his luggage, direct him to the elevator, guide him to his room, all of which he bluntly refuses, thereby establishing an initial distinction for the viewer between the robotic behavior of the locals and Caution's brash individualism. He is escorted into his room by an attractive but lifeless woman who constantly asks him patronizingly if he is sleepy, if he needs to rest, and so on. Without even asking she begins to undress and offers to take a bath with him. Upon questioning, she reveals herself to be what is known in Alphaville as a "level three seductress," essentially a glamorized prostitute. The apotheosis of this type of mechanical conformism is the way that the locals say "I'm very well, thanks for asking" whenever they meet Caution, even though he never actually asks for such information. The traditional linguistic relationship between question and answer, where one waits until one is asked a question before responding, is replaced with preprogrammed utterances. What one observes here, in a form highly reminiscent of the brainless constant comfort of Huxley's Brave New World, is a society of total convenience and omnipresent guidance, where the strains of independent decision making are now relics of an unscientific past. As Caution himself aptly laments, "People have become slaves of probability."

The one-dimensionalization of thought in Alphaville is also implemented in a more direct fashion, in the control over language and concepts through ideology. As mentioned earlier, one of the main dogmas repeatedly uttered by the scientists and citizens of the city is that one must not ask why, only because. As one of the head scientists tells Caution, "All is linked, all is consequence." He describes the task of Alpha 60 as simply to calculate the consequences and chains of causality that Alphaville will then be bound to follow; in such a system of deterministic logic, there is no room for a "why" to emerge. When Caution responds that he is a "free man," the expression of utter confusion on the scientist's face is truly priceless. By forbidding the use of "why," the technocratic elite of Alphaville is able to insulate its self-contained ruling system from challenge or criticism. Along the same lines, one frequently hears, either from Alpha 60 or from equally robotized humans, the claim that "no one has lived in the past, and no one will live in the future. The present is the form of all life." It is instructive to return again to Marcuse, who in One Dimensional Thought describes the dehistoricization taking place in contemporary technological society, where an ahistorical attitude toward the past is slowly replacing a more holistic perspective that values and interprets the moral and intellectual contributions of historical individuals. Instead, an ideologically driven positivism suppresses the past in favor of a short-term, quantitatively driven measurement of neutral variables. Questions of where or how technological rationalism fits into a broader historical and political narrative are consequently ignored.

To Read the Entire Essay

Charles McGrath: Abe Lincoln as You’ve Never Heard Him

Abe Lincoln as You’ve Never Heard Him
By Charles McGrath
The New York Times

“Now he belongs to the ages,” Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, said at the president’s deathbed. “And to the studios,” he could have added.

The latest in a long parade of screen Abes, coming right on the heels of Benjamin Walker’s ax-swinging, martial arts version in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” is Daniel Day-Lewis, who, though he grew up in England and Ireland and had to learn about Lincoln almost from scratch, plays the lead in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which opens Friday.

Mr. Day-Lewis, 55, has already won two best actor Oscars, and his performance here, tender and soulful, convincingly weary and stoop-shouldered, will almost certainly earn him a nomination. He’s neither as zombified as Walter Huston in D. W. Griffith’s 1930 biopic “Abraham Lincoln,” nor as brash and self-assured as Henry Fonda in John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939), nor as stagy and ponderous as Raymond Massey, a year later, in “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” in which he sounds, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, a lot like the television evangelist Harold Camping proclaiming the end of the world once more.

Tall and thin, with big hands and a long neck, Mr. Day-Lewis physically resembles Lincoln more nearly than many of his predecessors — more, certainly, than Kris Kristofferson, who in the 1995 television movie “Tad” had to wear platform shoes to boost him to Lincolnesque stature. Yet the first time Mr. Day-Lewis opens his mouth in the movie, he’s also a little startling. His Lincoln speaks not in Massey’s stentorian baritone, or in the echoing, ballpark-announcer tones of the Disneyland animatronic Lincoln first heard at the 1964 World’s Fair, but in a voice that is high, earnest and folksy.

Mr. Day-Lewis is famously fussy about what parts he takes, sometimes waiting years between films while spending time in both Ireland and America with his wife, Rebecca Miller (the daughter of Arthur Miller, whom he met while filming “The Crucible”), and their two sons. (He has a third, older son with the actress Isabelle Adjani.) For a while he seemed to give up movies altogether and apprenticed himself to a cabinetmaker and a cobbler.

Mr. Day-Lewis is even fussier about what he calls “the work”: his process of preparing and then inhabiting a part. For “The Last of the Mohicans” he taught himself to build a canoe, shoot a flintlock and trap and skin animals. For the opening scene of “My Left Foot,” about Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy, he taught himself to put a record on a turntable with his toes; he also insisted on remaining in a wheelchair between takes and being fed by the crew.

He learned to box, naturally, for “The Boxer,” in which he played a prizefighter and former member of the Irish Republican Army and in the process broke his nose and damaged his back. To play the gang leader Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York,” he took butchering lessons, and to play Abraham Lincoln he half-convinced himself that he was Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Day-Lewis, who has a deep voice and a British accent, not in the least Lincoln-like, prefers not to talk much about his method of acting. He doesn’t entirely understand it himself, he says, and doesn’t want to. “There’s a tendency now to deconstruct and analyze everything,” he said during a recent interview in New York, “and I think that’s a self-defeating part of the enterprise.”

He added: “It sounds pretentious, I know. I recognize all the practical work that needs to be done, the dirty work, which I love: the work in the soil, the rooting around in the hope that you might find a gem. But I need to believe that there is a cohesive mystery that ties all these things together, and I try not to separate them.”

To Read the Rest of the Profile

Friday, December 7, 2012

A. Loudermilk: Last to Leave the Theater

Last to Leave the Theater: Sissy Spectatorship of Stalker Movies and the "Final Girls" Who Survive Them
by A. Loudermilk
Bright Lights Film Journal

She's a virgin who won't get stoned (Sleepaway Camp II). She does get stoned and plays strip Monopoly (Friday the 13th). She's not a virgin and wears a tie (April Fool's Day). She's a pregnant sorority sister holding tight to her little gold cross (Black Christmas). She's teacher's pet and basketball star (Slumber Party Massacre). She's prom queen, head of dance club and all-around athlete (Prom Night). Yet she wasn't invited to an important party (Happy Birthday to Me). She knows how to fix a car and disparages capitalism (Hell Night). She's majoring in psychology (Friday the 13th II). She's a divorcee who writes an advice column (Schizoid). She's a naval officer with a mysterious position overseas (Graduation Day). She's the one who says, "We're supposed to be mature adults" (House on Sorority Row). She's the one who says, "We should be prepared to fight" (Hide and Go Shriek). She's the one who says, "I'll put the gun down when the police get here" (Hard to Die). In order to protect herself, she pulls the Stalker's knife from a dead friend's back (Friday the 13th III). "I don't feel any safer here with you," she weighs her options: "I can run cross-country. I'll get to the highway and call for help" (Blood Sisters). She drags herself down corridors to save herself from the Stalker (Halloween II). She saves herself and her wounded boyfriend from the Stalker (Mutilator). She's not the Stalker though she seemed to be the Stalker (Curtains; Nail Gun Massacre). She is the Stalker (Night School) and not exactly a girl (Sleepaway Camp). She's upset about forgetting her chemistry book (Halloween).

Since Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), the survivor figure in horror has been female. "We belong in the end to the Final Girl," declares film theorist Carol Clover in her groundbreaking book Men, Women, and Chainsaws (1992). Clover refers to the Final Girl as a "victim-hero," a character who shifts between these traditionally gendered roles — increasingly toward the masculine (in her argument) as the story culminates. A smart and observant girl who either fights off the killer long enough to be rescued or kills the killer herself, the Final Girl is not typically feminine in her interests/skills, experiences an apartness from other girls, and possesses an active gaze that registers signs of danger others ignore (35, 39-40, 44, 48). For instance Halloween's Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), teased by her sex-obsessed peers as the bookish virgin1 who doesn't date, is first to see the blankly masked man watching from the hedges.

In the opening scene of the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), one now might spot Barbara as Final Girl. Director George Romero positions us to identify with Barbara more so than her brother who jokes about the strange man in the cemetery who's "coming to get her." He is coming — to get both of them. While her paranoia saves her, her brother's flippancy gets him killed. After Barbara's initial ingenuity evading the zombie, alas, she goes catatonic and a male character assumes the hero role. For Tom Savini's 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, scriptwriter Romero, responding to feminist criticism of Barbara's hysterical passivity, revises her as Final Girl. She is now "an active, assertive character, not only within the diegesis but as a narrative agent as well." In other words, according to Barry Keith Grant's essay "Taking Back the Night of the Living Dead" (1992), she not only takes action to save herself in the story, those actions impact the direction, outcome, and meaning of the story (200).

At large in horror, a revision of the damsel as survivor marks a new era for the genre, and much has been written about it. What's yet to be addressed, though, is a specifically "sissy spectatorship" of the Final Girl during an era of intense homophobia and misogyny. I grew up with the Final Girl, or maybe I should say that I grew up with the genre fans who primarily witnessed the Final Girl. And I want to embrace fan subjectivity to help elucidate my own queer relationship with horror as framed by the straight audience I sat with. To come back, ultimately, to the very theater in which I sat — watching and being watched.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, November 30, 2012

Connor Kilpatrick: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
by Connor Kilpatrick

Whatever Spielberg says — there’s no comparing an empty-suit like Obama to a radical like Lincoln.

I thought about writing a critique of Aaron Bady’s mostly very good review of Lincoln for a long time this morning. It was a tough call: I do have some enamel left on my teeth and I can think of nothing else that could threaten to grind it all down to dust than publicly saying anything —anything at all — that could be construed as a defense of either Steven Spielberg’s politics or Barack Obama.

So I don’t want to defend the movie, which I thought was fine for what it was. Actually, by the standards of Hollywood history flicks, I thought it was more than fine.

Bady’s right to call out Kushner and Spielberg as card-carrying Obamaphiles. And it’s more than clear, particularly through interviews, that Kushner and Spielberg want us to connect the dots they’ve carefully laid out between Abe and Barack. Obama himself has done everything possible to encourage the comparison—even being sworn into office on Lincoln’s very own bible.

In their shared liberal revisionism, the Thirteenth Amendment becomes ObamaCare. The Emancipation Proclamation becomes a return to the marginal tax rates of the Clinton era. Thaddeus Stevens morphs into a fantasy of Bernie Sanders “doing the right thing” and sitting down with the prez to cut healthcare for the poor and elderly.

It’s laughable. But instead of calling them out, too many leftists concede this characterization of Lincoln and the Republicans to the Obamaphiles. They seem to believe that the first crop of Republicans did little more than press an official rubber stamp on “history from below” which had already delivered its verdict across the land.

The argument seems to be: “Spielberg says Lincoln and Obama are rubber-stampers. They are. But he’s wrong when he says that such men are the true makers of history.” Then they go looking elsewhere for the real revolutionaries, who can’t possibly have anything to do with these mere ‘stampers.

The question is why are we letting Spielberg, Kushner, and Obama get away with this?

Abraham Lincoln and the early Republicans (to say nothing of the Liberty Party or Free Soilers before them) shared a vision of a radically different society. Wiping out slavery — either through immediate abolition or through the “cordon of freedom” policy of the Republican Party — was hardly a technocratic reform.

And when it became clear that the only way to get there would be through revolutionary means, they took it without flinching: slaves were being emancipated as “contraband” by the summer of 1861, with the first Confiscation Act — written and debated in Congress explicitly as an emancipation act — signed into law that August, less than four months after the start of the war. The endgame of military emancipation had long been on the minds of antislavery politicians, all the way back to John Quincy Adams who first laid out such a scenario in 1836.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Final Papers for ENG 281 Papers -- Final Date and Turn In Instructions

Just a reminder that your paper must be turned in by 4PM on Tuesday, December 4th. Bring it to my office Oswald Building 236B, If I am not there, slide it under my door.

Here is some musical inspiration:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Maximilian Yoshioka: History or Humanity? On Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death - A Nietzschean Perspective on Nanjing

History or Humanity? On Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death: A Nietzschean Perspective on Nanjing
by Maximilian Yoshioka
Bright Lights Film Journal

In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army stormed into the city of Nanjing in China, causing massive physical and human devastation, in what is now known as the "Rape of Nanjing." The incident, and the broader scheme of Japanese militarism and imperialism in which it took place, is today still a constant source of political tension between the two nation-states and their respective citizens. The 2009 film City of Life and Death, by Chinese auteur Lu-Chuan, is a bold attempt to dig up and redefine the specter of Nanjing that continues to haunt the East Asian consciousness. But instead of ideologically measuring one side or the other on a Manichean scale, Lu chooses to focus on the instances of human compassion and solidarity that are able to manifest themselves even in the mindless, brutal atmosphere he so effectively creates within the cinematic world.

What one comes to grasp after seeing the film is the ultimate importance of history as first and foremost a study of the human condition, and of the art of living itself, as opposed to scientifically detached observation and categorization. The continuities of human consciousness and memory mean that our experiences of the past are necessarily intertwined with those of the present; as individuals inescapably grounded in a specific historical period, we are unable to avoid this contemporizing process. Furthermore, it is something that must be embraced, for it allows us to incorporate these historical "peaks" (and crevasses) of human experience into our future actions and values. But in this integration of the present with the past there is the danger of a selective blindness toward the past that must be understood and overcome. However, the purpose of history as a guide to the present and the future, to "life," must still be emphasized over the "neutral," "objective" study of history as "fact," "statistic," or what Nietzsche, in his essay "The Use and Abuse of History, refers to disparagingly as the "World Process" — that is, an attitude of detached passivity toward a historical narrative that is falsely seen as predetermined and unalterable.

City of Life and Death's narrative shifts between several characters on both sides of the conflict, which allows the film to largely transcend distinctions of nationality and ideology and focus on the more basic human tragedy underlying it. One is never informed of the strategic or ideological Japanese justifications for the various massacres and battles throughout the film; there is no attempt to rationalize the violence. Instead the viewer is presented with a war that is absurd, irrational, and pointless, and this nonpartisan alignment allows for the emergence of a more universal, humanistic perspective that links the various key characters in the film through their shared ethical commitments. These include Kadokawa, a Japanese soldier (Hideo Nakaizumi), Lu Jianxiong (Liu Ye), a Chinese resistance fighter, John Rabe (John Paisley), a German who ran a demilitarized safety zone within Nanjing, his assistant, Mr. Tang (Fan Wei), and several female characters of both Japanese and Chinese origin, all of whom are faced with sexual violence and slavery due to the notorious Japanese "comfort women" policies.

This humanistic impulse manifests itself in various ways, but is mostly emphasized in authentic moments of kindness, empathy, and bravery that shine through the madness. At the end of the film, Kadokawa, under orders to execute two Chinese civilians, one of whom is a young boy, instead decides to release them into the wilderness, much to the amazement but also admiration of his inferior officer. Yet even this act of compassion is insignificant in comparison to what he has previously been required to do and see; under the weight of an intolerable conscience, he kills himself. Earlier in the film he also falls in love with a Japanese prostitute brought in to satisfy the soldiers' animalistic needs; his genuine feelings of care and affection for her contrast strikingly with the objectifying and dehumanizing attitudes of the other soldiers. John Rabe, the only nonfictional character in the film, was a member of the Nazi Party, a group, like the Japanese, condemned for its role in the Second World War. Along with several other missionaries, he saved large numbers of Chinese civilians by instating a safety zone within Nanjing, and his inclusion further demonstrates the director's commitment to a study of war centered on individual human beings rather than political identities.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Marilyn Adler Papayanis: Sex on the Beach - The Yin Yang of Female Sex Tourism in Two Films

Sex on the Beach: The Yin Yang of Female Sex Tourism in Two Films
by Marilyn Adler Papayanis
Bright Lights Film Journal

With the recent screening of Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Love at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, the spectacle of female sex tourism has washed up, once again, on the shoals of popular culture. According to reviewers, it is not a pretty sight. Women who travel to the spaces peripheral to "modernity" and, by the way, have sex with the natives are not rare; however, in the continuum of capital expansion that stretches from colonialism to globalization, such practices tend to lose their luster as a kind of radical cultural immersion. For men, of course, such sexual adventurism would hardly qualify as a narrative with anything new to say. The notion, however, that women would travel to remote or less developed parts of the world for the express purpose of having sex with men who are, in many cases, younger and poorer than they are seems to cut against the grain. Yet many studies show this to be the case. Whether characterized as "sex" tourism (commercial sex with the locals) or "romance" tourism (commercial sex with the trappings of a "real" relationship), this practice has inspired a good deal of academic research in the social sciences and in popular literature as well. In her 2006 book Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men, journalist Jeanette Belliveau describes her subjects as "sex pilgrims." According to the Amazon review, her book is "the complete reference for anyone who wants to learn about a hidden phenomenon that affects hundreds of thousands of traveling women and foreign men: Instant vacation love affairs that banish loneliness, provide cultural insights, offer one-on-one, hand-to-hand foreign aid to the world's poor, create international children and sometimes even change the course of history."

Who can beat that? I believe, however, that the representation of female sex tourism in the cultural imagination is also worthy of study, as such depictions reveal a great deal about the anxieties aroused by the "aging" woman's sexuality. The staging of this cultural moment is explored in two radically different films, both, coincidentally, derived from works of fiction: the breezy How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), based on the book by Terry McMillan, and the far more disturbing French film Heading South (2005), based, in large part, on a short story by the Haitian writer Dany Laferrière. Both films indulge the notion that sex in the tropics with a dark-skinned exotic youth is all it takes to cure the malaise of the older woman. In one sense, the autonomy of the woman traveler is a real marker of progress. Sadly, though, the representation of female empowerment in these films is either complicit with racist attitudes still fraught with the lingering spirit of colonialism (Heading South) or in thrall to patriarchal norms (Stella.) In the former, sex tourism is punished; in the latter, it is celebrated.

We learn from the literature that women who sleep with the locals are not a uniform class. They vary in age and in their choice of destination; they vary in terms of their motivations and attitudes toward both their exotic partners and the imaginative geographies in which their partners are embedded. Improbably, for example, the Sinai is a popular venue for cross-cultural couplings. Some "ethnosexual" boundary crossings appear to pass unnoticed, while others are more disturbing, usually because they involve pairings between privileged white tourists of a certain age and marginal youths who navigate the interstices of the official institutions of tourism. Joane Nagel first used the term "ethnosexual" to describe "the intersection and interaction between ethnicity and sexuality and the ways each defines and depends on the other for its meaning and power" (10). In the Americas, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica are popular venues for the pursuit of ethnosexual adventurism. These are destinations where the opportunity for women to have sexual or romantic liaisons with exotic Others further complicates the shadowy social relations in the "contact zone" where, for centuries, sexual commerce between male travelers and the natives, male or female, have followed, roughly, the contours of imperial power. The term "contact zone" was coined by Mary Louise Pratt in her groundbreaking study Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation to describe "social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination, like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today" (3).

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aaron Bady: Lincoln Against the Radicals

Lincoln Against the Radicals
by Aaron Bady


In short, if you widen your field of view, you will discover that W.E.B. Du Bois argued a century ago—and as the historical scholarship has increasingly come to agree—that slavery was already all but dead by the time Lincoln got around to declaring himself an abolitionist, far less because the North gave slaves their legal freedom than because they had already effectively taken it, because it had become the new status quo that would have required force to dislodge. At the end of the Civil War, with the South defeated, the choice for the north was not to end slavery or leave it; the choice was to ratify the fact that it was already dead or to re-impose it by military force.

In short, the idea that the white north “gave” freedom to the slaves draws from and reinforces an attractively simple and flattering myth, one which formed around the old historiography of the period like a noose cutting off oxygen to the brain: the myth that black slaves were rendered passive by their condition, and that—absent an outside force interrupting their state of un-freedom—they would simply have continued, as slaves, indefinitely. It’s only in this narrative that freedom can be a thing which is given to them: because they are essentially passive and inert, they require someone else—say, a great emancipator—to step in and raise them up.

W.E.B. Du Bois was already chipping away at this myth in 1909, but when scholars in the post-Civil Rights era started taking him and his 1935 Black Reconstruction seriously, the historiographic mainstream turned this myth on its head. Slaves were not and could not be “given” their freedom because they had always had it: it had required a great deal of violent force and political work to keep them enslaved, and when that force was removed—as the South collapsed politically and militarily—they began to act like the human beings they always already were, organizing, moving, and seizing their destinies in their own hands. At this point, the game was up; just as the institution of slavery had always depended on substantial governmental enforcement and support, it would have taken a substantial amount of violent force to re-impose it, a concerted project to re-establish slavery that no one in the north had any particular stomach for. At the end of the Civil War, to put it simply, the North had a simple choice: re-imposing slavery by force or accept the new reality. They chose the latter.

If you read these books, however, you’d gain a sense of perspective that the film works to make impossible. Spielberg and Kushner are interested in a kind of scrupulous (almost farcical) accuracy about things that do not matter, while working very hard to place everything else that was going on in the period—and everything else Lincoln was responding to—off camera. “The nation’s capital was transformed by the migration of fugitive slaves from the South during the war, but you’d never know it from this film,” as Kate Masur points out, and Lincoln’s own servants were leaders and organizers in this community, something of which Lincoln simply could not have been unaware. But the film makes a point of not showing any of this: while the vast majority of the movie takes place in cramped and smoky rooms, even the exterior shots (usually of conversations in moving wagons) show us very little of what was going on in the streets and neighborhoods of Washington (much less what was going on in the South). Which is to say: they give us the illusion of perspective without giving us its substance. They show you the elephant’s tail quite accurately, and then they declare, on that basis, that the entire beast is a snake.

In the big picture, the Thirteenth Amendment, on its own, just isn’t that important, and much of the forced suspense of the movie—will they pass it?—comes from an artificial sense that more is at stake in a single congressional bill than there actually was. As Eric Foner pointed out when he was asked about the movie, if it hadn’t passed when it did, Lincoln had pledged to call Congress into special session in March; “[a]nd there, the Republicans had a two-thirds majority and would ratify in a minute…It’s not this giant crisis in the way that the film’s portraying it.” This is important because the small picture is not the big picture in miniature, and taking it to be—taking the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to be 19th centuries democratic turning point, as this movie clearly does—will cause us to subordinate the big picture to the small picture.

To Read the Entire Essay

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Norman Ball: The Power of Auteurs and the Last Man Standing -- Adam Curtis' Documentary Nightmares

The Power of Auteurs and the Last Man Standing: Adam Curtis' Documentary Nightmares
by Norman Ball
Bright Lights Film Journal

Before this essay interrogates Adam Curtis' hidden vestibules, gimpy tripods, and grassy knolls, I'd like to say that any book or film that keeps me thinking a year after I encounter it passes my substantiality test. The Power of Nightmares and The Century of the Self easily fit this category. (I saw All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, The Living Dead, and bits of The Trap only last week.) To survive the immediate frame of the modern attention span is to escape the charge of empty spectacle. You can't fake sustained recollection.

Substance need not equate to wholesale affirmation, however. A good polemic dusts off the thinking caps even of its opponents. Curtis' films provide, at the very least, dialectical lightning rods for alternate narrative threads. Can the same be said for (insert any American TV show)?

In recent weeks Curtis has been arguing for television (BBC being the originating medium for his documentary films, though an American audience can view them on Youtube and Vimeo) to refashion its storytelling techniques ("Adam Curtis Argues TV Needs 'New Tools' to Tell Its Stories," The Guardian, August 22, 2012). It should be fascinating to see where Curtis' films conduct television in the coming months and years. Now, if we could only get American TV to mosey on over to where Curtis has already been, that would be advancement indeed. Right now, stateside viewers are All Kvetched Over by Whole Reams of Will and Grace, but only on DVD due to some contractual disputes that preclude syndication and broadcast. Curtis offers many of his films for free on the Internet. Need I kvetch more?

The award-winning The Century of the Self (2002) offers a devastating critique of our subliminal cooptation from a lifetime's exposure to "father of public relations" Eddie Bernays' propaganda techniques. Whoops, did I just say propaganda? Bernays' most diligent pupil, Josef Goebbels, is rolling over in his hell-pit right now. Let's leave it at public relations. I'm particularly fond of Bernays' quote (very crudely paraphrased here) that democracy is a wonderful system so long as he, Bernays, exerted final subliminal pull over the lever pulled inside the voting booth. Historian Carroll Quigley (mentor of a certain Rhodes Scholar, Bill Clinton), upon being made privy to the papers of the American elite, realized that nothing was left to chance, not even 50-50 propositions. In what's often referred to as the Quigley Principle, this Georgetown professor torpedoed the notion of a vigorous two-party system. Both levers are vetted and fixed. Here he is paraphrasing the mindset of the government behind the government: "The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy" (Carroll Quigley, from Tragedy and Hope).

This is not a call to embrace monolithic conspiracy theories. There often is, as Quigley went on to suggest, dissension at the highest levels of power. Jealousy is after all a facet of power. Bernays too saw the value of ostensible choice in a democratic-capitalist system where everything boils down to packaging anyway. A typical Bernays adBy the end of WWII, needs in America had, by and large, been put to bed. Desire was the ultimate lever, a grail of incalculable dual potential. Freud's irrational man, with his limitless storehouse of appetites and anxieties, would furnish economic growth ad infinitum. Never mind that natural resources such as oil and copper are ultimately finite. For the moment, sustainment models such as that proposed by Jay Forrester and the Club of Rome's 1972 Limits to Growth (covered extensively in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace) loomed in the near-distance.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

More Resources on Adam Curtis:

The Guardian: Adam Curtis argues TV needs 'new tools' to tell its stories

Monday, November 26, 2012

Graham Daesler: Cutters' Way - The Mysterious Art of Film Editing

Cutters' Way: The Mysterious Art of Film Editing
by Graham Daesler
Bright Lights Film Journal


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."11 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.'"12 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."13 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.

The first person to truly discover this cinematic language was D. W. Griffith, who was to early cinema what Jane Austen was to the English novel. He saw what Porter failed to see in The Life of an American Fireman: that you could crosscut between different points of view in a scene to create suspense. Perhaps his most signal technique, for which he is still remembered today, is the accelerated pace of cutting that he used during moments of heightened tension, as in The Lonely Villa (1909), The Lonedale Operator (1911), and The Birth of a Nation (1915), rapidly cutting between heroes and villains during chases and rescues. In this manner, he showed that, with some clever editing, he could subjugate time to his demands, either drawing it out for suspense or speeding it up for sudden denouement. Likewise, he dispensed with the custom, so reminiscent of the stage, of beginning a scene when a character enters a room, cutting instead at the moment of the important action, thereby accelerating the pace of the story. To show characters in thought, he used close-ups and cutaways (from a man's face, for example, to a shot of his sweetheart miles away) rather than the cartoonish dream balloons employed by previous filmmakers. Not only did this last technique prove that simple cuts could simulate consciousness, it established a dividing line between screen acting and stage acting that still exists to this day. In a tight close-up, a good actor need only think a thought to express it, rather than histrionically projecting to the back rows of the theater.

Early film cutting was a sometimes excruciating process. Editors viewed their movies in negative, making it difficult to tell one take from the next. Lacking any numbers on the film to guide them, they were forced to pore over millions of frames by hand, using minute alterations in the image to find their bearings. "Sometimes there'd be a tiny pinpoint on the negative and then you knew you were right," Margaret Booth recalls. "But it was very tedious work. Close-ups of Lillian Gish in Orphans of the Storm would go on for miles, and they'd be very similar."14 Most prohibitive, though, was the equipment, or rather the shocking lack of equipment. The essential tools of the trade consisted of a rewind bench, a magnifying glass, and an ordinary pair of scissors. The only way you could see the film in motion was to screen it, so editors took to pulling the film through their fingers to simulate movement. The work must have been exceedingly tiresome, yet it evokes a wonderful image, like some kind of strange tailor's shop, with reams of footage dangling from the walls and the editors, strands of film clenched in their teeth, unspooling bolts of celluloid before their eyes. If they wanted three seconds of footage, they held the film to the tip of their nose and pulled it out to the length of their arm. If they wanted to view it in progress, they hauled it into the projection room and screened it, then carried it back to the editing table to get chopped up some more.

All this changed with the invention of the Moviola in 1919. A chunky, frog-green machine with foot pedals to run the film and a four-inch spy hole to view it, the Moviola was the brainchild of Iwan Serrurier, a Dutch-born electrical engineer who designed the contraption on a whim, as a diversion from his job at the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in Pasadena. Originally, Serrurier tried to sell his gadget as a home-entertainment device (the name itself, Moviola, was chosen for its happy harmony with Victrola, the popular phonograph), but, at $600, it was too expensive for most families in 1920 to afford. Then in 1924, Serrurier ran across an editor at Douglas Fairbanks Studios who suggested he adapt it as an editing table for the movie industry. Serrurier "roughed together" a model that very weekend, turning it on its side and attaching a viewing lens and a hand crank he'd lifted from a clock.16 With that, the first editing machine was born. It arrived just in time, too. With the coming of sound, there was no way an editor, no matter how sharp-eyed, could sync sound to silent lips. To accomplish this aural feat, the Moviola was simply fitted with an additional sprocket for the soundtrack to run on, making possible the explosion of talkies that burst from Hollywood, beginning in 1927. After that, the device changed little. It was hefty, ugly, noisy (more than one editor compared the clanking it made to a sewing machine) and, because of its tilted viewer, required the user to sit hunched over all day at a forty-five-degree angle. Yet it remained the mainstay of the film industry for the next seventy years, an unequivocal, if curious, testament to its durability, almost as if the Model T had persisted as the car-of-choice until the new millennium.

To Read the Entire Essay

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Films We Want to See #18: A Royal Affair (Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic: Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)

Robert Fowler: Artifact - A musician’s struggle against a giant corporation

Artifact: A musician’s struggle against a giant corporation
By Robert Fowler
World Socialist Web Site

Jared Leto is perhaps best known to the general public for his work as a film actor, most notably in David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000). However, in recent years he has devoted his attention to the world of music, as the lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars.

Artifact, directed by Leto himself, under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins (of Dr. Seuss fame), revolves around major record label EMI’s decision to sue the band for $30 million in August 2008. The film was screened November 8 as part of the New York City documentary festival DOC NYC and previously, in September, at the Toronto film festival.

The “crime” committed by Leto’s group was simply wanting to excuse themselves from their existing, demonstrably illegitimate contract. EMI, however, claimed that Thirty Seconds to Mars had failed to deliver the three albums required by their agreement.

Leto and his band mates were understandably aggrieved at the fact that having sold over 2 million albums at the time of being taken to court, they had not received a penny in royalties and … were still $1.4 million in debt to EMI. This, as the film makes clear, is the standard operating procedure of the record companies, who are in the business, as one commentator notes, “of not paying musicians.”

Leto explained the predicament on the band’s web site: “We had been signed with them [EMI] for nine years. Under California law, where we lived and signed our deal one cannot be bound to a contract for more than seven years. …

“Yes, we have been sued by EMI. But NOT for failing to deliver music or for ‘quitting’. We have been sued by the corporation quite simply because roughly 45 days ago we exercised our legal right to terminate our old, out of date contract, which according to the law is null and void.

“We terminated for a number of reasons, which we won’t go into here (we’d rather not air dirty laundry) but basically our representatives could not get EMI to agree to make a fair and reasonable deal.”

Thirty Second to Mars’ struggle with EMI commenced just as the financial crisis erupted. The filming of what would become Artifact also began at that time and Leto, with a certain degree of self-importance, draws parallels between the plight of the band and global economic crisis. “As we are trying to make a deal with EMI the world is falling apart,” he comments. Nonetheless, insofar as the musician denounces the record giants and Wall Street as part of the same problem, he is on to something.

To Read the Rest of the Review

George Lucas: On Complete Control as an Artist

[MB: is this an artistic or a political statement?]

Before, once you've photographed something, you were pretty much stuck with it. Now ... you can have complete control over it just like an artist does, and that to me is the way it should be ... You can make shots conform to your idea after the fact, rather than trying to conform the world to what your idea is.
--George Lucas, in Magid, Ron. "George Lucas: Past, Present, and Future." American Cinematographer #78 (February 1997): 49-52.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Democracy Now: Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone on the Untold U.S. History from the Atomic Age to Vietnam to Obama’s Drone Wars

Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone on the Untold U.S. History from the Atomic Age to Vietnam to Obama’s Drone Wars
Democracy Now

Academy Award-winning Oliver Stone has teamed up with historian Peter Kuznick to produce a 10-part Showtime series called "Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States." Drawing on archival findings and recently declassified documents, the filmmakers critically examine U.S. history, from the atomic bombing of Japan to the Cold War, to the fall of communism, and continuing all the way through to the Obama administration. Contrary to what’s taught in schools across the country, the filmmakers found the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were militarily unnecessary and morally indefensible. They also suggest the Soviet Union, not the United States, ultimately defeated the Germans in World War II. And, they assert, the United States, not the Soviet Union, bore the lion’s share of responsibility for perpetuating the Cold War. The filmmakers also found U.S. presidents, especially in wartime, have frequently trampled on the Constitution and international law, and they note the United States has brought the world dangerously close to nuclear war by repeatedly brandishing nuclear threats. The first episode of the series aired Monday night on Showtime. For more about this series and the companion book, we are joined by Stone and Kuznick.


Oliver Stone, three-time Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter. A Vietnam War veteran, he has made around two dozen acclaimed Hollywood films, including Platoon, Wall Street, Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon, W., South of the Border and Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. Oliver Stone has now co-written a 10-part Showtime series called Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States. The first episode launched Monday night on Showtime. It also features a companion book with a similar name.

Peter Kuznick, professor of history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University. He is the co-writer on a 10-part Showtime series called Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.

To Watch the Episode

Margy Rochlin: Who’s That Man in the Iron Lung? John Hawkes Brings Years of Film Work to ‘The Sessions’

Who’s That Man in the Iron Lung? John Hawkes Brings Years of Film Work to ‘The Sessions’
By Margy Rochlin
The New York Times

EARLY last year the director Ben Lewin was looking for an actor to play the lead in “The Sessions,” a film he wrote based on the true story of Mark O’Brien, a journalist and poet who had contracted polio as a young boy and spent most of his life in an iron lung. The casting director, Ronnie Yeskel, mentioned John Hawkes. “This is your man,” she assured him.

Unfamiliar with his work, Mr. Lewin watched “Winter’s Bone,” the drug thriller set in the Ozarks that won Mr. Hawkes an Oscar nomination. In it he plays a hard-mouthed meth dealer named Teardrop, a far cry from the severely disabled man of Mr. Lewin’s film, who with equal parts terror and courage seeks out a professional sex surrogate in order to lose his virginity. “What?” Mr. Lewin remembered thinking. “That creepy guy?”

Only after Mr. Lewin decided to check out some of the actor’s other films did he catch John Hawkes fever. “I thought, this guy’s incredible, just the diversity of what he can do.”

Mr. Lewin wouldn’t be the only one to have spent years seeing Mr. Hawkes in untold film and television appearances without being able to put a name to his thin, expressive face. Mr. Hawkes has worked steadily since the mid-’80s (his TV credits include “Wings,” “24” and “Deadwood”), yet when he received his dark-horse supporting-actor Oscar nomination in 2011, one headline seemed to sum it up: “Who Is John Hawkes, Anyway?”

Today it’s a different story: on the many blogs and Web sites devoted to predicting the winners of the 2013 Academy Awards, Mr. Hawkes’s name comes up frequently in conversations about best-actor nominations along with gold-star competition like Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”).

Mr. Hawkes likes to think of himself as an “overpreparer,” and he certainly went the distance for “The Sessions,” in which his character spends much of the film encased in a huge metal apparatus with only his head showing. To approximate Mr. O’Brien’s condition — he had feeling in his body but was paralyzed except for one muscle in his right foot, a muscle in his neck and one in his jaw — Mr. Hawkes did everything from studying Jessica Yu’s Oscar-winning documentary short (“Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’ Brien”) to devoting a week stretched out on a couch teaching himself to punch in a phone number using a stick held in his mouth. Then there was the actual shoot, which required spending long days completely still with his neck craned at a 90-degree angle while co-stars like Helen Hunt and William H. Macy hovered over him. “Lying down and literally not having movement below your neck?” Mr. Hawkes said. “It was a particular challenge.” Mr. Hawkes did not see a finished version of “The Sessions” (a Fox Searchlight release) until its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where audience members leapt to their feet at the end. But Mr. Hawkes said he was most moved by what followed the applause: the sight of Mr. Lewin, who also had survived polio, coming to the front of the house for a postscreening discussion.

To Read the Rest of the Profile

David Bordwell: Return to Paranormalcy

Return to Paranormalcy
by David Bordwell
Observations on Film Art


The broad task that Peli faced when he began work on Paranormal Activity was clear: How to make a diabolic-possession film different from the others? By then, and still, that variant of horror was pretty well-defined. And indeed the film Peli came up with wasn’t that original in outline. A couple is disturbed by mysterious noises and actions in their house. They call in experts and try to find the source of the disturbance. Eventually the woman becomes possessed and kills her lover.

Throughout, the conventions of the supernatural film rule: sudden blackouts, bone-shaking noises emitted by offscreen fiends, and characters exploring basements, closets, moonlit yards, and other scary spaces. Special effects are invoked to levitate victims or drag them by unseen hands. Occasionally we’re faked out by scares launched as pranks that some characters pull on others. As usual, normal, i.e. bourgeois American life, is devastated by supernatural forces. Cozy domestic surroundings, including an array of consumer goods, become menacing. Much of all this was pioneered by The Exorcist (1973), so the tradition has plenty of cobwebs on it.

Shooting in seven days on a small budget, Peli settled on a formal framework that borrowed from another tradition, that of the pseudo-documentary fiction film. This too goes far back, to This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and Bob Roberts (1992), and before to Stanton Kaye’s Georg (1964), Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary (1967), and Mitchell Block’s No Lies (1972) , and Peter Watkins’ Culloden (1964) and The War Game (1965). More distant predecessors might be Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, or even the fake memoirs we find in the early years of the novel. Today the pseudo-documentary mode, used for comic or dramatic purposes, is familiar to us from television shows like The Office. This mode has its own conventions, such as to-camera interviews and the occasionally awkward framing, most noticeable in the recurring image of a fallen camera.

The pseudo-documentary approach had been tried in the horror film in the 1980s, but it gained attention at the end of the 1990s with The Last Broadcast (1998) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). No surprise: Horror films tend to be low-budget items, and shooting in a run-and-gun manner, with handheld shots and awkward sound, was both cheap and realistic-looking. A cycle emerged, exemplified most notably in the bigger-budget Cloverfield (2008).

The problem of the pseudo-documentary is to motivate the fact that someone is filming these dramas. Various solutions have been worked out. You might make the protagonist a filmmaker exploring a subject or creating a diary. Or you can pretend that the people being filmed are celebrities (as in Spinal Tap). Or make the act of filming an effort to document dramatic occurrences. Filmmakers face a second problem as well: motivating how the film has been made public. You can, for instance, present it as a TV or theatrical documentary, as Spinal Tap purports to be. More recently another solution has been found. You can suggest that this film has been discovered after the events were over.

Because of this rationale, the approach is sometimes called the “found-footage” treatment, or in Varietyese the “faux found-footage film.” I’m not delighted by this term because for a long time “found-footage” has referred to films like Bruce Conner’s A Movie or Christian Marclay’s The Clock, assembled out of existing footage scavenged from different sources. So I’ll call fictional movies like Blair Witch and Cloverfield “discovered footage” films.

One reason for this name is that these films hark back to an early tradition of literary fiction, that of the “topos of the discovered manuscript” or “the old oak chest.” Here a tale is presented as a manuscript found and prepared for publication by other hands. The purpose, at first blush, is to give the story an air of authenticity. The same urge prevails in the discovered-footage horror movies, which use this blatant artifice to play with the possibility that these weird happenings really took place. As the image surmounting this blog entry suggests, Peli linked his film to this tradition, even letting the all-too-real company Paramount Pictures attest to the veracity of what we’re going to see.

The development of the Paranormal series took place under the sign of rivalry. A great many horror films of the late 2000s and early 2010s used the pseudo-documentary approach, sometimes marking the footage as recovered. After the success of Peli’s original film, intense competition emerged. There was a blatant ripoff (Paranormal Entity, 2009), followed by many others, including the subtler pseudo-doc The Last Exorcism (2010), which seems to presume that we’ll take it as a found-footage item too.

Just as important, in making successors to the original film, Peli and his colleagues had to compete with themselves. So they freshened up their plots. Paranormal 2 features not a live-in couple but a family; Paranormal 3 centers on an unmarried mother, her live-in boyfriend, and her two daughters. Paranormal 4 features a family whose neighbors are a possessed mother and son.

Interestingly, the subsequent films supply relatively little mythical or doctrinal backstory. Although there are always one or two scenes in which the characters launch on some research, the plots mostly minimize exposition about the hows and whys of possession. (Contrast The Exorcist.) We get just enough hints to assume that there’s a demon who offers women worldly goods in exchange for innocent boys’ souls. Mostly the films concentrate on the characters’ responses, chiefly their quarrels about whether the weird happenings are supernaturally caused. Each film needs at least one blocking character, somebody whose skepticism, obstinacy, or cluelessness keeps the plot going and prevents the characters from simply getting the hell out.

The films also vary protagonists and the characters we’re attached to. Micah moves the plot forward in the first entry with his urge to document the weird happenings, while in the second, the father Daniel and his daughter Ali take turns probing what’s going on. In the third film, again it’s mostly a male filmmaker, Dennis, who propels the inquiry, while in the latest iteration, the narrative momentum is passed to the inquisitive teenage girl Alex.

Perhaps the most up- to-date way the filmmakers refresh the franchise is by making the various films interlock. The films set up a chronology that positions the original release as the third phase of a larger action. Paranormal 2 occurs just before the events of the first one, and Paranormal 3 flashes back eighteen years to supply some preconditions for the previous entries. Moreover, some portions of the plots overlap, so that scenes from one installment are replayed in another, explaining how the time frames mesh. This sort of shuffling with time and perspective is nowadays common both within films and across them; the second and third Bourne films offer good examples.

Above all, the filmmakers have created a new ecological niche by virtue of some initial stylistic choices Peli’s first film made. They were striking but exceptionally constraining. To produce more Paranormal films created a very specific set of problems: How to respect those initial constraints and yet rework them in unpredictable ways?

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

ENG 281 Last Class Film Voting -- Student Choice

Remember -- you can vote for up to three films and you can suggest two films (do this in the comments at the bottom of this post). I will put films up in this post as they are suggested by students. If your suggestion is a difficult film to find, you should be able to get a copy so we can show it. I'll list some of my generally ignored or unavailable (non USA region DVDs) as options. Suggestions of films end 11/20. Voting will end at 5pm on 11/28.

8 1/2 (Italy/France: Federica Fellini, 1963)

Black Cat, White Cat (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/France/Germany/Austria/Greece/USA: Emir Kusturica, 1998)

City of Life and Death (China/Hong Kong: Chuan Lu, 2009)

The Devils (UK: Ken Russell, 1971)

The Dove's Lost Necklace (Tunisia/France/Italy: Nacer Khemir, 1992)

Election (Hong Kong: Johnnie To, 2005)

The Forgiveness of Blood (USA/Albania/Denmark/Italy: Joshua Marston, 2011)

Gadja Dilo (The Crazy Stranger) (Romania/France: Tony Gatlif, 1997)

The Holy Mountain (Mexico/USA: Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)

Howl (USA: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010)

Incendies (Canada/France: Denis Villeneuve, 2010)

Land and Freedom (UK/Spain/Germany/Italy: Ken Loach, 1995)

La Vallee (France: Barbet Schroeder, 1972)

Marketa Lazarova (Czechoslovakia: Frantisek Vlácil, 1967)

Mon Oncle Antoine (Canada: Claude Jutra, 1971)

The Music Room (India: Satyajit Ray, 1958)

The Organizer (Italy/France/Yogoslavia: Mario Monicelli, 1963)

Quest for Fire (Canada/France/USA: Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1981)

Ran (Japan: Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

The Silence (Germany: Baran bo Odar, 2010)

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

Videodrome (Canada: David Cronenberg, 1983)

Current votes
: 8 1/2 1
City of Life and Death 2
Dove's Lost Necklace 1
The Forgiveness of Blood 1
Holy Mountain 1
Incendies 1
The Music Room 1
The Organizer 1
Ran 1
Videodrome 1

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

ENG 281 Week 12: Gomorrah (Italy: Matteo Garrone, 2008: 137 mins)

Gomorrah (Italy: Matteo Garrone, 2008: 137 mins)

Bochenski, Matt. "Gomorrah." Little White Lies (October 10, 2008)

Curti, Roberto. "File Under Fire: A brief history of Italian crime films." Offscreen (November 30, 2007)

Greenburg, Kathryn Elizabeth. "Rewriting Historical Neorealism in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah." (A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the Department of Romance Languages, 2010.)

Ivey, Prudence. "Gomorrah Actors Arrested." Little White Lies (October 13, 2008)

Ming, Wu. "The New Italian Epic." Opening talk @ the conference "The Italian Perspective on Metahistorical Fiction: The New Italian Epic." Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, UK. (October 2, 2008)

Stephens, Chuck. "Gomorrah: Terminal Beach." Criterion (November 23, 2009)

The Godfather (USA: Francis Ford Coppola, 1972: 175 mins)

Freedman, Carl. "Hobbes After Marx, Scorsese After Coppola: On GoodFellas." Film International (2011)

---. "The Supplement of Coppola: Primitive Accumulation and the Godfather Trilogy." Film International 9.1 (2011): 8-41

Gamman, Lorraine. "If Looks Could Kill: On gangster suits and silhouettes." Moving Image Source (May 8, 2012)

MacDowell, James. "John Cazale: Stepped Over." Alternate Takes (June 12, 2012)

Goodfellas (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1990: 146 mins)

Freedman, Carl. "Hobbes After Marx, Scorsese After Coppola: On GoodFellas." Film International (2011)

---. "The Supplement of Coppola: Primitive Accumulation and the Godfather Trilogy." Film International 9.1 (2011): 8-41

Gamman, Lorraine. "If Looks Could Kill: On gangster suits and silhouettes." Moving Image Source (May 8, 2012)

"A Life in Pictures: Martin Scorsese." BAFTA (April 6, 2011)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Freedom Rides (USA: Stanley Nelson, 2012: 117 mins)

I was working with this documentary with Peace Studies students last week and I was amazed, inspired and awed at the courage and passion of the students who participated in the Freedom Rides.

To watch it online

Monday, October 29, 2012

2013 Spring Bluegrass Film Society Schedule

1/28: Tron: Legacy (USA: Joseph Kosinski, 2010: 125 mins) [Family Film Night]

2/4: The Producers (USA: Mel Brooks, 1968: 88 mins)

2/11: The Duellists (UK: Ridley Scott, 1977: 100 mins)

2/25: Putney Swope (USA: Robert Downey, Sr., 1969: 84 mins)

3/4: The Loved One (USA: Tony Richardson, 1965: 122 mins)

3/6: Videodrome (Canada: David Cronenberg, 1983: 87 mins)

3/18: Holy Motors (France/Germany: Leos Carax, 2012: 115 mins)

3/25: Never Cry Wolf (USA: Carroll Ballard, 1983: 105 mins)

4/1: Chicken with Plums (France/Germany/Belgium: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, 2011: 93 mins)

4/4: Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare (USA/China/Germany: Susan Frömke and Matthew Heineman, 2012: 95 mins) [Requested by Becky Barnes and sponsored by Our Time]

4/8: The Organizer (Italy/France/Yugoslavia: Mario Monicelli, 1963: 130 mins)

4/15: Turn Me On, Dammit (Norway: Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, 2011: 75 mins)

4/22: The Forgiveness of Blood (USA/Albania/Denmark/Italy: Joshua Marston, 2011: 109 mins)

4/29: Howl (USA: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010: 84 mins)

5/6: Eating Raoul (USA: Paul Bartel, 1982: 90 mins)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ENG 281 First Class Trip: Cloud Atlas (Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, 2012)

[Michael: I'm currently working on two guest lectures for the coming week (on the Civil Rights Movement and Biotechnology/Ethics). When I come up for air I will start collecting the wave of thoughts, associations and impressions I have about this brilliant film. In the spirit of the film please share your thoughts and engage us across time/space.]

Cloud Atlas and Bound." Sound on Sight #337 (October 28, 2012)

Hemon, Aluksander. "Beyond the Matrix: The Wachowskis travel to even more mind-bending realms." The New Yorker (September 10, 2012)

McGrath, Charles. Bending Time, Bending Minds: Cloud Atlas, as Rendered by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis The New York Times (October 9, 2012)

Sicinski, Michael. "Star Maps: Wachowski/Tykwer/Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas." Cinema-Scope (2012)

Wachowski, Lana. "What it Means to Be Transgendered." Women and Hollywood (October 24, 2012)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Visual Essays Collection

[Teaching collection]

Vigilante Man: Eastwood and Gran Torino

Analysis of Blade Runner

The Substance of Style: Wes Anderson, Pts 1-5[use pt. 1 and 5]

Chaos Cinema, Pts 1-3 (Watch pt 1)

The Prototype of Noir: Fritz Lang's M

Hugo and the First Movie Magicians

Devil's Spawn: The MTV legacy of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising

Open Source Epic: Sita Sings the Blues

Deceptive Surfaces and the Films of Christian Petzold

Looking vs Touching

Establishing Split: Requiem for a Dream

Takashi Miike's Mutations

Flooding With Love for the Kid

Steve McQueen: Too Cool

All Things Shining: The Thin Red Line

Unreliable Narratives: JFK and the Power of the Counter-Myth

McCabe & Mrs. Miller: A Video Essay

Audiovisualcy-Videographic-Film Studies (left off on Matt Zoller Seitz's second link

The Soul of Spock

Razzle Dazzle: Fame and the Movies, Pts 1-6

BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, INCEPTION, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and Spielberg: Five Video Essays by Steven Benedict

Outlaw Vision: Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker

Insomniac Dad Videos (Seitz)

Moving Image Source: Matt Zoller Seitz

Moving Image Source: Kevin B. Lee

Fandor: Videos

Video Essays on Film: Steven Santos

Women and Hollywood: Lana Wachowski Speaks About What It Means to Be Transgendered

[Discussion in another forum:
JV: Goddamn, what a fucking hero. It's not just the act but that she took the time to frame the social, ideological problem in such a vivid and remarkable way. One more [quote] I can't stop turning over: "the fundament upon which all our knowledge and learning rests is the inexplicable."
MB: That brief quote you highlight hits on what I have long been wrestling with in my own thoughts and writing. Developing the ability, creativity and courage to not fear the inexplicable (different), but instead engage with it to learn news ways of perceiving the world and as a method of making strange that which is familiar to me. I see a lot of the world's pain/violence as an inability to grapple with the inexplicable/different, especially when the reaction is fear/angry.... I really hope people take the time to listen to this whole acceptance speech -- it is very important.

" Invisibility is indivisible from visibility. For the transgendered this is not merely a philosophical conundrum, it can be the difference between life and death.

I am here because when I was young I wanted very badly to be a writer. I wanted to be a filmmaker but I couldn't find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others.

If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value."

Women and Hollywood: Lana Wachowski Speaks About What It Means to Be Transgendered

James Udden: Child of the Long Take: Alfonso Cuaron’s Film Aesthetics in the Shadow of Globalization

[Warning: the clip of the scene below gives away major plot details]

Child of the Long Take: Alfonso Cuaron’s Film Aesthetics in the Shadow of Globalization
by James Udden


Given his Janus-faced career, it was hard to know what to expect stylistically from Cuaron in Children of Men given the direct involvement of Universal. He answers almost right away in the third shot of the opening scene as to how far he is now willing to go. Expertly introduced in this single shot is a grim, dying world in which the Clive Owen character is but one small, languid part. It is a tour de force in terms of its set design, lighting, camera movement and most of all its daringly intricate orchestration of multiple animate and inanimate elements. Yet the most telling sign is the duration of the shot: this is a long take of over fifty seconds, which with almost devious subtlety leads to a most unexpected denouement, an explosion segueing to a title shot with uncanny effect. It is an impressive beginning to a film which overall deeply impressed select viewers, critics and scholars alike. Alfonso Cuaron has accomplished the seemingly impossible: he proffers a dystopian message concerning globalization, yet he does it under the auspices of one of globalization’s key cultural players — Hollywood. Yet he also accomplishes this in indelible aesthetic terms. After seemingly reverting back to more conventional form with The Prisoner of Azkaban, the long take makes a roaring return in Children of Men, with an average shot length of just over sixteen seconds per, an astonishing figure for a present-day Hollywood feature which sometimes can average less than two seconds per shot (Hollywood 122). Moreover, even if slightly shorter on average than its Spanish-language predecessor a half a decade earlier, these long takes are more complex and more accomplished in their design. As we shall see, they are too good to be true. Indeed, these long takes are contrived spectacles in their own right.

There is an overall pattern for long take in Children of Men: the more action and violence a particular scene possesses, the longer the shot duration generally becomes. This does run counter to current Hollywood norms. Many have recently noted how big-budgeted, Hollywood action films in particular tend to lead the way in faster cutting rates which are often employed for maximum impact (Bordwell, Hollywood,122, 58-159; King, New Hollywood, 246). Children of Men, of course, is not a traditional action picture, but a science fiction work with deep philosophical underpinnings. Yet during its non-action scenes often involving conversations between characters, Cuaron is more likely to use conventional editing schemes, most of all the ever reliable shot/reverse shot. Cuaron saves his most audacious long takes for the sequences where violence and action are at their highest pitch, with the longest reserved for the prolonged battle at the refugee camp at the end. Despite their reliance on long takes in lieu of “impact” editing, it is these moments in the film which seem to be most memorable.

What is most telling is how these long takes give the appearance of taking place in “real” time and “continuous” space. Cleverly disguised is how they are often multiple shots melded together digitally in post-production. The above mentioned opening scene, for example, was shot over two days, the first day covering the indoor portion in the café, while the second day involved the complicated section outdoors. However, in the finished product, the third shot begins indoors and then proceeds seamlessly outdoors, meaning somehow a single, “continuous” long take was shot over two days time. Using the café doorframe at the moment Clive Owen leaves the frame, the camera is deviously slow to catch up, and the special effects crew disguised the cut digitally in post (Fordham 34). In short, the opening scene is not three shots, but four shots disguised as three with the last being a long take under false pretenses.

This is not an isolated instance in Children of Men. The now famous scene in the automobile took two months to plan, eight days to shoot on three separate locations. The camera’s impossibly free movements in the car were in fact impossible — they were only realized by being filmed in six separate sections where often not all of the actors were present at certain stages. Once again, this was all amalgamated into a single artificial long take by digital means (Fordham 39). Claiming to replicate the feel of a documentary, this shot is also impossibly precise for any documentary shooting as events transpire. True, they did use mostly available light in a real setting, allowing every flare and reflection on the glass to remain, much like in a documentary. But no documentarian has ever had the luxury of a twin-axis doggicam rigged above a missing car roof which is then digitally filled in during post-production. The resulting camera movements would also be impossible for a documentary — in fact in a way that has never been done by fictional filmmakers either. Particularly noteworthy is the powerful effect of that moment when the camera returns to the front and Julianne Moore reappears at the right edge of the frame, now undeniably no longer among the living. Documentarians are rarely able to be that measured, and are hardly that lucky.

The longest take in the film is over seven minutes in duration, occurring during the climatic battle at the refugee camp when Theo Faron attempts to rescue the kidnapped baby. Being one of the most complex long takes ever attempted, it is in fact too complicated to be a true “long take.” Instead, this was shot at two exterior locations plus a studio; the first major section was filmed at Bushey Hall, while the second part was shot two weeks later at Upper Heyford. This particular transition was digitally disguised using the corner of a building, much like what they had done with the doorframe of the café in the pre-credit sequence (Fordham 42). Additional elements added to the seemingly real but impossible spectacle: for example, no documentarian has been so fortuitous as to follow someone just as Theo Faron passes a soldier dying in his half-severed body, yet reaching out for him with one last moaning grasp at life. The three sections combined comprise a highly calculated, and remarkably well-orchestrated game of lost and found where Theo loses the mother and child to the engulfing chaos, only to find them again in that same chaos, all within this same faux long take. Meanwhile, by scanning this dense, dreary mise-en-scene, Cuaron and Lubezki not only disguise cuts, they continue a deeper strategy seen also in Y tu mama tambien: to show a much larger world than merely the characters themselves, a world that becomes almost hyper-real due to the careful construction of the long take coupled with other stylistic devices. So spectacular are these long takes that they become spectacles themselves which became endlessly talked about by reviewers, scholars and film aficionados alike. And that appears to have been precisely the reason why they are employed in the film during those particular sequences which proved to be the most challenging.

To Read the Entire Essay