Friday, December 31, 2021

Magnolia (USA: Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)


Magnolia (USA: Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999: 188 mins) 

Bernstein, Arielle and Nelson Carvajal. "The Inherent Vice in Paul Thomas Anderson's Films: A Video Essay." Press Play (January 2, 2015)

Boyer, Lanny. "Paul Thomas Anderson: Four Basics." (Posted on Youtube: October 19, 2015)

Cassidy, Brendan and J.D. Duran. "Magnolia / Punch Drunk Love." InSession Film (January 2018)

Congdon, David. "Reconsidering apocalyptic cinema: Pauline apocalyptic and Paul Thomas Anderson." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 24.3 (2012)

Flight, Thomas. "The Evolution of Paul Thomas Anderson." (Posted on Youtube: December 21, 2021)

Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. "Magnolia: A Savage Attack on Masculinity and Whiteness." Senses of Cinema (February 2015)

Goss, Brian Michael. "“Things Like This Don’t Just Happen”: Ideology and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard EightBoogie Nights, and Magnolia." Journal of Communication Inquiry 26:2 (April 2002): 171-192

Holt, Ryan. "82: Magnolia." Arts and Faith Top 100 Films (2020)

Jack's Movie Reviews. "Paul Thomas Anderson - Finding a Purpose In Life." (Posted on Youtube: March 11, 2017)

Lee, Kevin B. "The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots." (Posted on Vimeo: 2013)

Nayman, Adam. Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks. Abrams, 2020.

Ratzlaff, Jeremy. "Paul Thomas Anderson: A Chronological Timeline." (Posted on Vimeo: November 2015)

Sperb, Jason. Blossoms and Blood: Postmodern Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson. University of Texas Press, 2013.

Toles, George. Paul Thomas Anderson. University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Warren, Ethan. "The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson: American Apocrypha (Columbia University Press, 2023) New Books in Film (March 29, 2023) ["Paul Thomas Anderson’s evolution from a brash, self-anointed “Indiewood” auteur to one of his generation’s most distinctive voices has been one of the most remarkable career trajectories in recent film history. From early efforts to emulate his cinematic heroes to his increasingly singular late films, Anderson has created a body of work that balances the familiar and the strange, history and myth: viewers feel perpetually off balance, unsure of whether to expect a pitch-black joke or a moment of piercing emotional resonance. The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson: American Apocrypha (Columbia UP, 2023) provides the most complete account of Anderson’s career to date, encompassing his varied side projects and unproduced material; his personal and professional relationships with directors such as Jonathan Demme, Robert Altman, and Robert Downey Sr.; and his work as a director of music videos for Fiona Apple, Joanna Newsom, and Haim. Ethan Warren explores Anderson’s recurring thematic preoccupations―the fraught dynamics of gender and religious faith, biological and found families, and his native San Fernando Valley―as well as his screenwriting methods and his relationship to his influences. Warren argues that Anderson’s films conjure up an alternate American history that exaggerates and elides verifiable facts in search of a heightened truth marked by a deeper level of emotional hyperrealism. This book is at once an unconventional primer on Anderson’s films and a provocative reframing of what makes his work so essential."]

Paul Thomas Anderson & The Long Goodbye from Philip Józef Brubaker on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

10 Books That Influenced Me by Michael Benton

Rules: list 10 books (or other works of art) that have stayed with you. They don't have to be the celebrated great works, just the ones that have touched you.

If you are reading this and if you are inspired, make your list and share them in the comments, so I can learn more about you and the books that are important in your life.

Random off the top of my head. These books are all vital in my dialogic (as opposed to monologic) conception of culture/reality. At an early age, The Bible rigidly framed for me an important, but dangerous/limited conception of the world/reality... all of the important works (art/literature/film/music/etc.....) since that early age that I value have challenged/expanded that limited frame. To be clear, although I am not a Christian now, I value that early education/experience, nothing could have taught me more clearly about how stories structure our sense of reality/the world. Reading it so closely and using that knowledge as a kid to confront lazy interpretations (or even those that had not read it spouting their uninformed interpretations as wisdom) and manipulations/distortions by preachers, politicians, and dogmatic laypeople of the Bible's message taught me the value of close readings and to not assume that people have actually read about/learned what they are talking about:

1 The Bible - I read multiple versions, seven times straight through, often aloud, by my mid-teens, taking notes, in different colored pencils each year, memorizing sections, and engaging in conversations with people of the faith about what was written, using biblical concordances and encyclopedias. It was a great training ground as I was an avid believer and was encouraged to question through dialogue everything I read and what others said about what they did (or did not) read in The Bible. I became very attuned during that time to recognizing those that were parroting other's ideas about the book/faith and to the hypocrisies of powerful interests that sought to manipulate the faithful. Ironically my close attention, seeking out of multiple editions/commentaries, and constant questioning of church authorities led to my leaving the Church/Christianity.

2) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. It taught me about the importance of objects in the formation of identity and the problematic nature of memory/remembering. Most important was the maxim throughout the book: if they tell you this is a true war story, you know it is not. Eviatar Zerubavel's Social Memories is a non-fiction book that would be a good companion to O'Brien's fictionalized memoir.

3) A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. It changed the way I thought about and taught historical movements and the people involved - with Michael Marchman I explain the influence of Zinn's book on our lives

4) Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography by James Allen. The first time I came across this book was in an Ann Arbor, MI, Borders and as I read the book on the floor of the store I became increasingly distraught. I drew a crowd because I started asking questions of those around me of what they knew about this history and was passing the book around to others. Some engaged me in discussion, some sought to comfort me, and some were angry at me for what they saw as pissing on their holiday atmosphere. Eventually I was escorted from the store because of the increasing commotion. Without Sanctuary is a collection of photographs detailing the visual legacy of American lynchings. Most people know that lynchings took place in the U.S. (although few realize the extent), but they are often recounted as temporary lapses of collective sanity. This book documents how lynchings were a socially sanctioned activity used to keep a section of society in check and fearful. Just as shocking and horrific as the desecrated bodies of Black Americans are the smiling, joyous faces of the White Americans in the crowds. The Equal Justice Initiative provides a contemporary project that ensures we will not forget this history

5 Understanding Power - Noam Chomsky This is a series of lectures by one of America's most important dissident political philosophers. It changed the way that I understood the operation of politics/power and the way that history/representation is intertwined with the former. I've read it and listened to audio versions multiple times.

6 Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I stumbled upon this book, and later the BBC documentary, early in my education and it pushed me to understand how art/culture frames certain realities that emphasizes certain aspects/people in a culture/society and marginalizes/excludes others. An important initial book that initiated my understanding and analysis of 'framing.' It also pushed me to investigate issues of gender.

7 Project Censored's Annual Books on the Top 25 Most Censored News Stories of the Year. Can't just choose one, carried out by hundreds of scholars and students every year for over a half-century, they publish an annual book detailing the stories that were ignored by the mainstream media each year and even more important are their detailed, in-depth, thematic reports of important issues all media scholars and concerned citizens should be aware of.....

8 Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play by James C. Scott. I have witnessed many times otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, critical people become unrelentingly & willfully reactionary and unreflective when this subject comes up. If only they could take the time to read this clear and concise look at how anarchism is actually a part of our daily lives (the whole book is available for free online ). A great counter to the extensive propaganda aimed at getting us to think that we need super-powers (egos) to lead us through life.

9) The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollen. It led me to rethink my/our relationship to the plant world and how they shape us just as much as we cultivate them. Four sections on potatoes, apples, tulips and marijuana. There is also a documentary based on this book.

10) Tie: The Xenogenesis Trilogy (Dawn/Adulthood Rites/Imago) and The Parable of the Sower/The Parable of the Talents - both by Octavia Butler. These books radically rewrote my mind to be fully conscious of the importance of being open to difference (ways of being and ways of seeing - we can never truly understand ourselves until we are able to understand others) and the destructive nature of the fear of difference. I wrote a poem in remembrance of her impact on my life on the anniversary of her tragically early death - I ache at the loss of other great works, but I am grateful for what she gifted us with. I would like to see both works adapted as series (perhaps to radical for that).

A Celebration of Alterity by Michael Benton

Slippery word
Whose meaning is
Not decipherable
Never stated clearly,
Nor fixed firmly
The nerve of the word
It may be approached,
Though, if one dares,
Through networks
Of associations
Altar, Alter
Alternative, Alternation
I yearn to sacrifice
Myself upon the
Altar of your difference.
Yet, I hold back
Fearing that the pleasure
May somehow alter me.
Your scent and taste
Seizes the roots of my soul
What alternative is there?
I vacillate, between pleasure and pain
Ceaselessly resonating between
Yawning gaps of reason
Even the meaning of alterity
Precipitates a crisis
Symbol of difference
Naming of the OTHER
Its power mocks
Conformity’s lack
Resist the conservative urge
To embrace sameness
Explore those who differ
Open up closed circuits
Rise up to celebrate
The eros of alterity

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Hard Eight (USA: Paul Thomas Anderson, 1996)


Hard Eight (USA: Paul Thomas Anderson, 1996: 101 mins)

Bernstein, Arielle and Nelson Carvajal. "The Inherent Vice in Paul Thomas Anderson's Films: A Video Essay." Press Play (January 2, 2015)

Boyer, Lanny. "Paul Thomas Anderson: Four Basics." (Posted on Youtube: October 19, 2015)

Ebert, Roger. "Hard Eight." Chicago Sun-Times (February 27, 1997)

Flight, Thomas. "The Evolution of Paul Thomas Anderson." (Posted on Youtube: December 21, 2021)

Goss, Brian Michael. "“Things Like This Don’t Just Happen”: Ideology and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard EightBoogie Nights, and Magnolia." Journal of Communication Inquiry 26:2 (April 2002): 171-192

Jameson, Richard T. "Flying Dutchman: Hard Eight." Film Comment (March/April 1997)

Jack's Movie Reviews. "Paul Thomas Anderson - Finding a Purpose In Life." (Posted on Youtube: March 11, 2017)

Jeffrey, Paul. "Hard Eight and the Isolated Actor." Senses of Cinema (February 2015)

Lee, Kevin B. "The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots." (Posted on Vimeo: 2013)

Ratzlaff, Jeremy. "Paul Thomas Anderson: A Chronological Timeline." (Posted on Vimeo: November 2015)

Warren, Ethan. "The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson: American Apocrypha (Columbia University Press, 2023) New Books in Film (March 29, 2023) ["Paul Thomas Anderson’s evolution from a brash, self-anointed “Indiewood” auteur to one of his generation’s most distinctive voices has been one of the most remarkable career trajectories in recent film history. From early efforts to emulate his cinematic heroes to his increasingly singular late films, Anderson has created a body of work that balances the familiar and the strange, history and myth: viewers feel perpetually off balance, unsure of whether to expect a pitch-black joke or a moment of piercing emotional resonance. The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson: American Apocrypha (Columbia UP, 2023) provides the most complete account of Anderson’s career to date, encompassing his varied side projects and unproduced material; his personal and professional relationships with directors such as Jonathan Demme, Robert Altman, and Robert Downey Sr.; and his work as a director of music videos for Fiona Apple, Joanna Newsom, and Haim. Ethan Warren explores Anderson’s recurring thematic preoccupations―the fraught dynamics of gender and religious faith, biological and found families, and his native San Fernando Valley―as well as his screenwriting methods and his relationship to his influences. Warren argues that Anderson’s films conjure up an alternate American history that exaggerates and elides verifiable facts in search of a heightened truth marked by a deeper level of emotional hyperrealism. This book is at once an unconventional primer on Anderson’s films and a provocative reframing of what makes his work so essential."]

Guillermo Del Toro (Ongoing Archive)

Munoz, Gabriella. "Great Directors: Guillermo del Toro." Senses of Cinema #90 (March 2019)   

Cronos (1993)

Mimic (1997)

The Devil's Backbone (2001) - DVD at BCTC Newtown

Blade II (2002)

Hellboy (2004)

Pans Labyrinth (2006) - DVD at BCTC Newtown

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Pacific Rim (2013)

Crimson Peak (2015) 

The Shape of Water (2017) - DVD at BCTC Newtown

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Shape of Water (USA: Guillermo Del Toro, 2017)


The Shape of Water (USA: Guillermo Del Toro, 2017: 123 mins)

If I spoke about it – if I did – what would I tell you? I wonder. Would I tell you about the time … Or would I tell you about the place … Would I tell you about her? The princess without voice. Or perhaps I would just warn you, about the truth of these facts. And the tale of love and loss. And the monster, who tried to destroy it all. - Giles, The Shape of Water (2017)

Anderson, Jake. "The Shape of Water." Letterboxd (August 29, 2018)

Blair, Iain. "Guillermo del Toro - The Shape of Water: On Creating a Visually Dazzling, Emotionally Daring, Genre Mash-Up." Post 33.3 (March 1, 2018) 

Corbeil, Gilles. "The Shape of Water: The Art of del Toro." Society of Camera Operators (2017)

Digravio, Will.  "How Guillermo del Toro Uses Color to Create New Worlds." Film School Rejects (February 16, 2018)

Duran, J.D. "The Shape of Water is a Weird, but Beautiful Love Story." InSession Film (December 1, 2017)

Gerwig, Greta, et al. "63 Minute Directors Roundtable Talk." The Hollywood Reporter (Posted on Playlist: January 22, 2018) ["Angelina Jolie (“First They Killed My Father”), Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour”), Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”), and Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”)."]

"Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) Talks with William Friedkin (The Devil and Father Amorth), Part 1." Talkhouse (April 17, 2018) ["In the first part of their enthralling two-part conversation for the Talkhouse Podcast, the pair discuss winning big at the Oscars, surviving award season, how to stay a scrapper despite success, del Toro’s apprenticeship under makeup legend Dick Smith, the remarkable story of Friedkin and the Pazuzu statue in The Exorcist, the plagiarism controversy surrounding The Shape of Water, and much more."]

"Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) Talks with William Friedkin (The Devil and Father Amorth), Part 2." Talkhouse (April 19, 2018) ["Here, the longtime friends discuss the genesis of and remarkable stories surrounding Friedkin’s compelling new documentary about the Vatican’s exorcist,The Devil and Father Amorth. In the process, they tackle some of the most substantial topics imaginable, including: Christ, Hitler, religion, evil, reason vs. emotion, empathy vs. fear, free will, the impending apocalypse — and how filmmakers can make a difference in a world on the brink."]

Lane, Anthony. "The Genre-Fluid Fantasy of The Shape of Water."  The New Yorker (December 11, 2017)

Liu, Rebecca. "Of River Gods and Women: Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water." Another Gaze (February 23, 2018)

Marshall, Nowell. "Inverting Lovecraftian Racial and Sexual Monstrosity in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water ." Supernatural Studies 8.2 (Summer 2023) ["This essay reads Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning 2017 film The Shape of Water as a rewriting and inversion of key racial and sexual tropes about H.P. Lovecraft’s Deep Ones. Rather than abjecting interracial/interspecies and queer forms of desire as Lovecraft did in “Dagon” and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, del Toro’s film deploys an oppositional gaze to recenter the narrative on diverse characters and sexual experiences, ultimately representing Elisa as a hybrid woman who finds a place to belong."]

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. " Room for (Materiality's) Maneuver: Reading the Oppositional in Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water." Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 58.4 (June 22, 2019): 150-156.

Nayman, Adam. "The Uses of Disenchantment: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water." CinemaScope #73 (2017)

O'Falt, Chris. "The Best Cast Films of 2017, According to Top Casting Directors." IndieWire (December 4, 2017) ["15 casting directors explain the brilliance behind their peers’ work in “Lady Bird,” “Get Out,” “The Post,” "The Shape of Water," and more."]

Renée, V. "How Guillermo Del Toro's Classic Cinema Homages Add Depth to The Shape of Water." No Film School (February 27, 2018)

Scott, A.O. "The Shape of Water is Altogether Wonderful." The New York Times (November 30, 2017)

Sturm, Rudiger. "Guillermo Del Toro: 'I'm Not Meta, I'm Really Earnest." The Talks (March 7, 2018)

Swinney, Jacob T. "The Final Shot: Fading to White." Fandor (November 30, 2018)

Buy, Thai. "The Shape of Water (2017)." Psychological Perspectives 62.2/3 (July 3, 2019): 309-313. 

Thrift, Matt. "The Shape of Water." Little White Lies (February 14, 2018)

Wilkinson, Alissa. "The Shape of Water, from Guillermo del Toro, is a beautiful adult fairy tale about a fish-man." Vox (March 5, 2018)

Wood, Michael. "At the Movies: The Shape of Water." London Review of Books (March 22, 2018)

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Crimson Peak (USA: Guillermo del Toro, 2015)

Crimson Peak (USA: Guillermo del Toro, 2015: 119 mins)

Basciano, Oliver. "Crimson Peak: How Guillermo del Toro sketched its visual style." The Guardian (October 10, 2015)

del Toro, Guillermo. "The books, TV, films and music that brought me to Crimson Peak." The Guardian (October 10, 2015)

"Jessica Chastain Discusses Her Acting Process In Recent One-Hour Conversation." The Film Stage (March 24, 2015)

Kamm, Frances A. "A ‘FASCINATING CONUNDRUM OF A MOVIE’: GOTHIC, HORROR AND CRIMSON PEAK (2015)." Revenant #4 (March 2019) ["When Crimson Peak was released in 2015, reviews of the film reflected upon the difficulty in categorizing Guillermo del Toro’s latest project, with one critic concluding that the film’s complex generic referencing made it a ‘fascinating conundrum of a movie’. Of particular significance is the film’s relationship to horror, a debate underlined by the director’s insistence that the film is ‘not a horror movie’ but, rather, a ‘Gothic romance’, the latter of which is anchored in del Toro’s contextualization of the film within the traditions of the Female Gothic. However, Crimson Peak’s evocation of the Female Gothic is, this paper will argue, particularly complex: in contrast to the clear distinction del Toro suggests exists between horror and the Gothic in relation to this film, I argue that Crimson Peak ambiguously combines both, complicating its own employment of Female Gothic tropes through the inclusion of ghosts and, most significantly, in coding these supernatural occurrences as moments of horror. This blending is evident on narrative and stylistic levels and has several consequences: in particular, the use of tactics more usually associated with horror re-defines the alignment between heroine and spectator central to a Female Gothic story; disgust and fear are aligned with other female characters; and the story’s depiction of the villainous male is ambiguously concluded. Through the close analysis of the film’s story, tone and visual address, this paper will illuminate some part of the ‘conundrum’ which is Crimson Peak – a mystery rooted in the film’s relationship to the Gothic."]

Kindinger, Evangelia. "The ghost is just a metaphor: Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, nineteenth-century female gothic, and the slasher." NECSUS (Autumn 2017)

Musap, Emilia. "Monstrous Domesticity: Home as a Site of Oppression in Crimson Peak." Sic 8.1 (2017)

Newman, Kim. "Houses of horror: A rambling, teetering, crumbling brief history of gothic cinema." The Guardian (October 10, 2015)

O'Malley, Sheila. "Crimson Peak." Roger Ebert (October 16, 2015) 

Patterson, John. "Guillermo del Toro: ‘I try to tell you a story with eye-protein, not eye-candy.’" The Guardian (October 10, 2015)

Salazar, Andrew J. "Crimson Peak Is Quintessential Guillermo Del Toro." Discussing Film (October 16, 2020)

Scott, A.O. "Crimson Peak," a Guillermo del Toro Gothic Romance in High Bloody Style." The New York Times (October 15, 2015)

Sims, David. "Crimson Peak: A Gothic Romance to Die For." The Atlantic (October 16, 2015)

Hands of Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015) from Igor Fernández on Vimeo.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Sunshine (UK/USA: Danny Boyle, 2007)

 Sunshine (UK/USA: Danny Boyle, 2007: 107 mins)

Dargis, Manohla. "On a Mission to Replace the Sun, Fighting Demons From Inner Space." The New York Times (July 20, 2007)

Ebert, Roger. "2057: A Sun Odyssey." Chicago Sun-Times (July 19, 2007)

Grierson, Tim. "This Week in Genre History: It's No Surprise People Didn't See Sunshine's Brilliance." SYFY Wire (July 21, 2021)

Hoffman, Quentin. "Why ‘Sunshine’ is a Misunderstood Masterpiece." Movie Musing (January 13, 2017)

Like Stories of Old. "Sunshine – A Visceral Experience of Life, Death and Meaning." (Posted on Youtube: September 28, 2018) ["An examination of Sunshine and its visceral presentation of themes of life, death and meaning." Book discussed: Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.]

Lim, Dennis. "Sunshine: Danny Boyle's latest visit to a vast new world." The New York Times (July 10, 2021)

Maskell, Emily. "Sunshine and the existential dilemma of space travel." Little White Lies (July 16, 2019)

Newell, C.H. "Danny Boyle’s Sunshine Takes Its Sci-Fi Seriously." Father Son Holy Gore (June 2, 2016)

Subissata, Andrea and Alexander West. "Stardust: Event Horizon (1997) and Sunshine (2007)." Faculty of Horror #61 (April 26, 2018) ["Andrea and Alex reach for the heavens and find the furthest reaches of hell with two films about space exploration and the darkness therein. Event Horizon and Sunshine explore the different reasons humankind would dare try to conquer space and the horrors that might await us there."]

Monday, November 29, 2021

20th Century Women (USA: Mike Mills, 2016)


20th Century Women (USA: Mike Mills, 2016: 118 mins)

Adams, Amy, et al. "Watch Isabelle Huppert, Emma Stone, Amy Adams & More Discuss Acting in 50-Minute Roundtable."  Film Stage (January 30, 2017) [" Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Emma Stone (La La Land), Amy Adams (Arrival), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Annette Bening (20th Century Women), and Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures)."]

Barton-Fumo, Margaret, Molly Haskell and Violet Lucca. "Women in New Hollywood." Film Comment Podcast (February 7, 2017) ["Road-tripping crises of masculinity soundtracked by classic rock, Harvey Keitel making up for his sins in the streets—a laundry list of 1970s New Hollywood highlights can tend to lack a nuanced female presence. But the ’70s also gave us Wanda, Puzzle of a Downfall Child, Girlfriends, A Woman Under the Influence, and even Five Easy Pieces, all of which explore female identity in the era of second-wave feminism. This episode of the Film Comment podcast spirals outwards from From Reverence to Rape author Molly Haskell’s essay on Mike Mills’s 20th Century Women and accompanying interview with Annette Bening, in the January/February issue, taking a closer look at depictions of women in New Hollywood. Some of these were “neo-women’s films,” dealing with disillusioned housewives fleeing the domestic sphere; others took on female friendship without turning a blind eye to its messiness, a line that runs through Thelma and Louise, Frances Ha, and Broad City."]

Bloom, Julie. "A Boy Raised by a Few 20th Century Women." The New York Times (November 4, 2016)

Chang, Justin. "Annette Bening is the Pitch-Perfect Centerpiece of 20th Century Women." The Los Angeles Times (December 27, 2016)

Chocano, Carina. "'I Got Beat Up For Wearing This Shirt': Filmmaker Mike Mills shares seven objects that inspired 20th Century Women." The Cut (January 4, 2017)

Ehrlich, David. "20th Century Women Review: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning Star In Mike Mills’ Best Film." IndieWire (October 7, 2016)

Formo, Brian. "20th Century Women: Mike Mills on the Story’s Response to Beginners, the Necessity of DIY Spaces." Collider (December 27, 2016)

Fujishima, Kenji. "20th Century Women." Paste (October 11, 2016)

Garcia, Mandie. "20th Century Women: 'Can't Things Just Be Pretty.'" Letterboxd (March 5, 2017)

Gilbert, Sophie. "20th Century Women is an Ode to Female Resilience." The Atlantic (January 13, 2017)

Hoffman, Jordan. "20th Century Women: Mike Mills New Film is Poignant and Delicious." The Guardian (October 7, 2016)

Loofbourow, Lili. "20th Century Women, and the Movie as Mixtape." The Week (December 26, 2016)

Mills, Mike. "On Filmmaking." The Close-Up (December 29, 2016)

O'Malley, Sheila. "20th Century Women." Roger Ebert (December 23, 2016)

Rooney, David. "20th Century Women: NYFF 2016." The Hollywood Reporter

Warne, Jude. "Authenticity in Many Forms: 20th Century Women." Film International (January 4, 2017)

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Guide to Louisville Eats

August Moon (Chinese) *

Bar Vetti (Italian)

Con Huevos (Mexican Breakfast/Brunch) *

Dragon King's Daughter (Asian-Latin Fusion)

El Mundo (Mexican)

Everyday Kitchen (Regional Farm-to-table)

Grape Leaf (Mediterranean)

Grassa Gramma (Italian)

Havana Cuba (Cuban)

Jack Fry's (American Fine Dining)

Kashmir (Indian)

La Bodeguita De Mima (Cuban)

Le Moo (Upscale Steakhouse)

Louisville Cream (Premium small batch ice cream)

The Mayan Cafe (Mayan/Latin)

Merle's Whiskey Kitchen (Southern/American)

Mussel and Burger Bar (American)

Pizza Lupo (Pizza/Pasta)

River House (Seafood)

Roots (Vegetarian)

Seviche (Latin)

Simply Thai (Thai & Sushi)

Vietnam Kitchen (Vietnamese)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Michael Benton: Quicksilver Dreams & Hidden Realities

 Quicksilver Dreams & Hidden Realities

Standing on the shore of Quiddity I cast my consciousness to catch quicksilver dreams that will nurture me with glimpses of hidden realities.

Recognizing that there are other realities, other possibilities, other journeys, other methods, is the path of wisdom. Learning how to engage with them is the essence of Art in all its manifestations.

The possibility for any kind of peace is only ever realized when differences learn to co-exist. No need to assimilate, conquer, conform, or convert. Crusades are for the insecure; instead we need to create an environment in which people will be encouraged to continuously become what they would be.

Peace and love,

Michael D. Benton

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

12 Years a Slave (USA: Steve McQueen, 2013)


12 Years a Slave (USA: Steve McQueen, 2013: 133 mins)

Aitkenhead, Decca. "Steve McQueen: My Hidden Shame." The Guardian (January 4, 2014)

Berlatsky, Noah. "How 12 Years a Slave Gets History Right: By Getting It Wrong." The Atlantic (October 28, 2013)

Clark, Ashley. "Alien abductions: 12 Years a Slave and the past as science fiction."  Sight and Sound (April 14, 2015)

Conrath, Ryan. "Interview: Editor Joe Walker on 12 Years a SlaveHungerShame, and More." Bright Lights Film Journal (April 30, 2014)

Karp, Matt. "A Confederacy of Kidnappers." Jacobin (November 4, 2013)

Kellner, Douglas. "The horrors of slavery and modes of representation in Amistad and 12 Years a Slave." Jump Cut #56 (Winter 2014/2015)

Livingston, Jay. "The Revenge Fantasy: Django Unchained vs. 12 Years a Slave." Sociological Images (November 4, 2013)

Mackey, James. "12 Years a Slave: Verso’s essential reading list on slavery and race relations." Verso (October 23, 2014)

Nayman, Adam. "Atrocity Exhibition: 12 Years a Slave." Reverse Shot #33 (2013)

Rich, Frank. "Liberal Echo Chamber." New York (November 3, 2013)

Suebsaeng, Asawin. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Fact-Checks 12 Years a Slave." Mother Jones (October 12, 2013)

Wickman, Forrest. "How Accurate Is 12 Years a Slave?" Slate (October 17, 2013)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Halloween 2021 Recommendations: 21st Century Horror

The Devil's Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001) [A subtle exploration of individual and collective trauma. Del Toro is a master of horror and insightful explorer of childhood explorations of the dark side of adulthood.] 

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) [I remember seeing an image of Donnie in the theater with the freaky rabbit head creature in a short review in a paper. The film disappeared quicker than I could get to see it and I was pleased to discover it when it was released on video. It quickly became a cult favorite and one of those films that you can rewatch.]

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001) [One of the great pleasures of Claire Denis' unique & powerful films is the coterie of dedicated artists that work in her films (and her ability to attract other similar one time participants). This can be seen in her work with Agnes Godard her long time cinematographer (they met while working for Wim Wenders), to Tindersticks providing the soundtracks, and through the great acting collaborators that artfully manifest as different characters in mutliple films. Denis and her collaborators seem to develop a space for fearless filmmaking that challenges the artists involved and the later audience to (re)conceive the possibilities of different ways of telling stories through films (and in the case of Trouble Every Day -- the hoary conventions of a sanitized and exhausted vampire mythos).]

Save the Green Planet (Jang Joon-Hwan, 2003) [Are you curious about the QAnon believers, this bat shit crazy Korean film is an interesting glimpse into the possible mindset of those that spiral down conspiracy rabbit holes. Great ending ;)]

Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004) [Shaun just wants to rescue his doomed romance, then all hell breaks loose. The start of Wright's brilliant Cornish Trilogy.]

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) [A masterpiece touchstone of 21st Century horror and brilliant exploration of the role stories play in our lives during difficult times. One of the best production design and creature creation films! The ending has led to many debates in my film classes.]

The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006) [I tell my students this is Little Miss Sunshine's family meets Godzilla.  I would take this over a million Godzilla reboots.]

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) [Long, intense discussions about this film at the end of The Kentucky Theater midnight movie screening. That night I had an intense dream about it and woke up to scribble this down  "Be Me, for Awhile" -- Ideological Becoming and Future Objectivity in Let the Right One In."  A great re-imagining of the vampire story and exploration of the monster in all of us.]

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008) [My tagline would be: The only way to survive is to resist understanding. A great vehicle for Stephen McHattie to do what he does best :) A counter to the mindless hordes of brainless zombie films/TV.]

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008) [Even when del Toro is paying the bills he hits some great notes. Leaves me crying at the fact that his adaptation At the Mountains of Madness has not come to fruition.]

Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve, 2009) [An attempt to examine a deeply traumatic, misogynistic, mass shooting in Canada. One of the best attempts to do something like this. Unique narrative.]

The Temptation of St. Tony (Veiko Õunpuu, 2009) [This Estonian films opens with this epigraph: from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Midway upon the journey of life / I found myself within a forest dark / For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” What does it mean to be a middle manager, losing all sense of morality, in a culture that has long abandoned any scraps of right/wrong.]

Jennifer's Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009) [I fully agree with the theme that crappy, pseudo-independent, boy hair bands are the devil's work ;) Great fun!]

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010) [I remember during the last 20 minutes of this film I was wringing my hands so tightly I feared I would break the fingers. A great exploration of consciousness and identity. Don't read about it, see it.] 

The Silence (Baran bo Odar, 2010) [I'm not a fan of serial killers, and I wonder about the obsessive fascination of others about them, although it does seem to be the monstrous archetype for capitalistic individualism. This film really tries to explore the compulsion behind the serial killer and left me wrecked at the end.]

Stake Land (Jim Mickle, 2010) [It is an amazing experience when you watch a favorite film years later and it still has the power to thrill you. Even more frightening in its message and story after 4 years living through a pandemic in reactionary Trump'merica. Just as redemptive in the struggle and journey of the characters. Engaging, intense narrative!]

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011) [Ostensibly an exploration of the damage a small, controlling cult can wreck on the individual, but I would make the case that it is equally and importantly a parallel exploration (intentionally or unintentionally) of mainstream social strictures. Brilliant!"]

Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011) [Wheatley's 'A Field in England' sent me on a pleasurable orgy of tripping imagistic weirdness (that seemed so damn real), so I was worried if 'Kill List' could match that film... it did... intertwining the cliched hit man charcters embroiled in domestic drama into a twisted horror scenario - brilliant, deconstructive film. Combine that with the fully committed, intense, and improvisational acting of the four leads -- yes! You should go into this with as little information as possible....."]

A Cabin in the Woods (Drew Godard, 2011) [My favorite metacinematic film exploring the nature of horror on a societal level while providing a rip-roaring narrative. Another film you should go into completely uninformed.]

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011) [Good monster/alien invasion film. Place your bets - street kids vs alien invasion.]
You're Next (Adam Wingard, 2011) [Definite flaws, but a candidate for the final girls hall of fame.]

Kiss of the Damned (Xan Cassavettes, 2012) [My favorite 1970s arthouse erotic vampire film - four decades later!]

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012) [A fascinating, spooky homage to Italian giallo films, sound effect techniques, and analogue sound."]

American Mary (Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, 2012) [It is difficult paying for college these days! Not really contemporary horror, more like classic grand guignol (and I say that admiringly). I've heard about the Soska sisters for a couple of years and was going to watch this film during the last Directed by Women global event. I'm very intrigued by how they developed this story of the extreme measures taken by a female medical student to fund her expensive education and her reactions to the abusive patriarchy/authorities of her institution. Also an interesting and disturbing alternative society seems to be developed (Lance's comment near the end is key?) ............ but it seems equally abusive and centered around capitalist relations of money. More questions than answers. Deeply problematic film, but shows a lot of promise - I would like to see what their next film will be.....  This ranks with Abel Ferrara's The Addiction as one of the great academic horror films.]

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) [A great meditation on coming to terms with aging and ones place in the world at that time. Also a great soundtrack, I have it on vinyl (blood red, of course).]

Under the Skin (Johnathan Glazer, 2013) [The first time I watched this I was stymied by my expectations based upon an earlier reading of Faber's novel. I had picked it up during my first trip to Europe and the book entranced me with its social and political allegory told through the reflections/experiences of the protagonist. Maybe it took on an added depth of meaning due to my own feelings of alienness on that trip. My second viewing was approached with an awareness that I need to set aside those expectations and open myself to a new interpretation of the story. I was rewarded with a stunning visual masterpiece of imagistic storytelling - potent and powerful, even if a bit ambiguous.]

A Field in England (Ben Wheatley, 2013) [Mycelium horror. After a series of dreadful/banal film viewings it was a pleasure to be enveloped by Wheatley & crew (love the extras on the DVD that emphasize the collective effort that went into this film) into a strange, distant, and confusing world -- all working to provoke this viewer to ask why, how and could ... and ask those questions multiple times, but always engaged and interested.]

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) [Profoundly weird (in the classic sense) -- don't want to say anything else :)]

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014) [Amirpour made a splash with this unique take on the beautifully shot and scored vampire film.]

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 20140 [Interesting homage and reworking of the horror films of my youth (esp. John Carpenter). Great concept for the initiation of the horror.]

The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015) [Kusama returns to the heights of her first film Girlfight with this intense, highly-watchable, keep-you-guessing, slow-burn thriller. The less you know about it, the better - seriously, don't even watch the trailer, but definitely check this film out, preferably with some friends over food & drinks ;) The audience I saw it with had a great, loud time and we were literally buzzing afterward! That ending, on the cusp of 2016 - wow.]

Final Girls (Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2015) [A lot of fun for horror fans that like metacinematic explorations of the genre."]

The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczyńska, 2015)   [A horror musical? Yes. Also rescues the mermaid from Disney.]

Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015) [I'm concerned by those that believe this film does not contain enough "horror"]

A Dark Song (Liam Gavin, 2016) [Painstaking attention to the details of traumatic grief, magic rituals, and ... (can't spoil it) brings this effectively written, acted and directed two-hander to life - I was riveted throughout!]

The Neon Demon (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2016) [I drove to see The Neon Demon and stopped into the corporate faux-British pub for a bite/drink beforehand. Made conversation with a stunning bartender in a tartan skirt. In the spirit of the high-fashion, excesses I expected from the film, I asked to try a dram of a high end bourbon (which I had not tried before) and she laughingly told me she would have to get on a ladder to get a new bottle and then proceeded to do so right in front of me. A bit stunned and exhilarated, as little was left to the imagination (this was not me gawking - the tartan skirt was barely covering her), I was for a moment a bit speechless. A few minutes later we struck up a conversation and she discussed her sideline of schilling alcohol samples at regional venues - she asked me if I knew Jay-Z and his new line of 'healthier' alcohol brands (she works for them). She was interesting and engaging, but it was clear her 'beauty' was the skill she used to make a living. I left wondering/wandering about the vagaries of beauty (of those that have it and those that want to use it) and the ways in which society defines it, distributes it, defiles it and discards it. Needless to say I was primed for the film ........... As I left the film - the first song I heard on my car radio was Meghan Trainor's 'Me Too' (a singer and song I was unaware of - the line "If I was you I would want to be me too" was what stuck) and when I changed the channel, almost immediately, Monty Python's Money Programme came on. Obviously this doesn't describe the film - I recommend you see it. Tagline: "Beauty is vicious"]

Train to Busan (Yean Sang-ho, 2016)  [Nice to see a film(maker) rise to the challenge of making something new in the very overworked Zombie sub-genre. An action, thrill ride!]

Raw (Julia Ducourau, 2016) [I decided to watch this during a 24 hr fast - good decision ;)]

31 (Rob Zombie, 2016) [This film... what the fuck, such a mess (the script), but rescued by other aspects of the film, and at times a bit of brilliance.]

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) [A perfect social horror film to cap the Obama era's liberal self-patting.]

The Endless (Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson, 2017) [Both a great cult and cosmic horror film that keeps one engaged throughout without losing an essential ambiguity that allows your mind to fill the open spaces.]

Tigers are Not Afraid (Issa Lopez, 2017) [The setting for this realistic narrative of orphans on the streets is scary enough, then there is the interjection of magical realism which gives it an otherworldly sensibility.]

Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, 2018) [Remake of Dario Argento's 1977 film. I know this will bother fans of the original, but I think this is the superior film and I was riveted throughout. Great dance scenes, a mindbending ending, and great female cast headed by Tilda Swinton.]

Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) [One of the best cosmic horror films. Maybe mycelium horror, depending on your interpretation. Stellar female ensemble playing scientists and soldiers. Visually intense and beautiful.]

Cam (Daniel Goldhaber, 2018) [What could be more frightening to a social media influencer than to have their online, branded identity, hijacked by unknown forces... and they may be even better at it than you in your tireless efforts. Could have been so bad, instead it rises to be a prime film examining our online obsessions about our performative identities.]

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) [Unique, highly effective, even some well-earned jump scares - had me squirming at times.]

Tales From the Hood 2 (Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff, 2018) [Hanging with a friend she chose this film and I had very low expectations. It was better than I expected and had me chuckling and shocked at times.]

Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2018) [I hated the excruciatingly painful Hereditary (maybe that means it was effective?), so I avoided this second film for awhile, then I was in the early days of the pandemic and gave it a try. I thought it was a fascinating exploration of fraught relationships, insular communities, cultural arrogance, predatory academics, masculine posturing, and ... I don't want to give it away. I thought it was brilliant.]

Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan, 2018) [What an impossible task, making a sequel based upon two twin masterpieces, Stephen King's novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's adaptation. To make matters worse, King hated Kubrick's adaptation, which by many is considered to be a masterpiece of horror filmmaking and might have superseded the original novel. Flanagan engages both versions, while creating his own unique vision. I have much admiration for how this turned out and can see myself revisiting it soon. A classic of psychic vampires and evil places!]

Us (Jordan Peele, 2018) [In two years Peele released two great and successful horror films. I had to watch this a second time to fully grasp the intricacies, mostly because I was distracted the first time, and I was fascinated by the social horror of individuals trapped in a social situation definitely not of their making and the blase comfort of those that, knowingly or unknowingly, benefit from their Omelas-like oppression. Everyone is good in this, but Lupita Nyong'o is stellar! That ending ;)] 

In the Earth (Ben Wheatley, 2021) [Mycelium/cosmic horror - understated, cerebral and trippy (kind of like Wheatley's A Field in England). Martin seemed like a wimp from the beginning, but the man held up through some seriously messed up shit. Made during the intense phase of the COVID-19 pandemic - impressive!]

Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond, 2021) [A rigid, moralistic censor during the heyday of the British video nasties censorship period, sees a film that dislodges painful memories and ... don't want to reveal that ;)]

Grilled Carrots w/ Avocado and Mint

Makes 4 servings

1 tsp cumin seeds
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp honey
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 serrano or jalapeno, seeds removed, diced 
1 inch piece ginger, peeled finely grated 
Himalayan Salt
6 good size carrots, halved or quartered, lengthwise
1 - 2 avocados, cut into good size chunks
1/2 cup mint leaves

You can do this on a grill - I roasted them in the oven.

Preheat oven 400

Toast cumin seeds, tossing often, until fragrant for 2 mins. Crush coarsely in mortar and pestle (or on a cutting board with flat side of a chef knife)

Transfer to a large bowl. Add lemon juice and honey. Whisk in a 1/4 cup of oil, jalapeno and ginger. Add salt to taste. Let sit while you cook the carrots so ginger & pepper infuse the dressing.

Toss carrots in remaining 2 tbsp. oil and put on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast under burner 14 - 18 mins (turn over half way).

Let cool for a couple of mins. Toss in bowl with dressing.

Arrange carrots and avocados on a platter. Spoon leftover dressing over it. Top with mint.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia/Venezuela/Argentina: Ciro Guerra, 2015)


Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia/Venezuela/Argentina: Ciro Guerra, 2015: 125 mins) 

Benton, Michael Dean. "Notes for Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia/Argentina/Venezuela: Ciro Guerra, 2015) - Presentation for International Film Festival: Hispanic Heritage & Latinx Culture 10/19/21." Dialogic Cinephilia (October 19, 2021)

Berghahn, Daniela. "Encounters with Cultural Difference: Cosmopolitanism and Exoticism in Tanna (Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, 2015) and Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015)." Alphaville #14 (2018)

Brennan, Collin. "Embrace of the Serpent: A Surreal, Transformative Journey Into the Heart of Darkness." Consequence of Sound (March 10, 2016)

Cadena, Nicolas. "Embrace of the Serpent: Reframing the Colombian Amazon." NACLA (April 8, 2016)

Dahan, Yaron. "Lost in the Jungle: Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Embrace of the Serpent." Notebook (June 20, 2016)

Franco, James. "Embrace of the Serpent Documents a Lost World." IndieWire (February 19, 2016)

Guillén, Michael. "Embrace of the Serpent: An Interview with Ciro Guerra." Cineaste (Spring 2016)

Harvey, Sophia. "The Seven Most Compelling Characters of the Year." No Film School (December 20, 2016)

Holden, Stephen. "Embrace of the Serpent: Where Majesty Meets Monstrosity." The New York Times (February 16, 2016)

Kermode, Mark. "Embrace of the Serpent: You Will Be Transported." The Guardian (June 12, 2016)

Kiang, Jessica. "Cannes Review: Embrace Of The Serpent Is A Soulful, Strange And Stunning Discovery." IndieWire (May 17, 2015)

Like Stories of Old. "Venturing into Sacred Space | Archetype of the Magician." (Posted on Youtube: April 21, 2018) ["In this conclusion of my Archetype Series based on the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, I examine the archetype of the Magician and explore some related concepts such as initiation, ritual process and sacred space." Other sources discussed:  Carol S. Pearson – The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By; Robert Moore – The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Personal Transformation; Mircea Eliade - The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion; Victor Turner – The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure.]

Luna, Maria. "The Films of Ciro Guerra and the Making of Cosmopolitan Spaces in Colombian Cinema." Alphaville #14 (2018)

Mallik, Santasil. "The Native Eye: Re-Embracing the Serpent with 'Chullachaqui.'" Bright Lights Film Journal (June 15, 2017)

Mathiesen, Karl. "Embrace of the Serpent Star: 'My Tribe is Nearly Extinct.'" The Guardian (June 8, 2016) ["Their land was plundered for rubber while they were enslaved or killed. As Embrace of the Serpent tells the shocking story of the tribespeople of Colombia, its star relives a moving screening in the heart of the jungle"]

"No Film School's Top 10 Indie Films of the Year." No Film School (December 22, 2016)

Nord, Liz. "The Most Stunning Cinematography of 2016." No Film School (December 23, 2016)

Ponman, Bruce E. and Rainer W. Bussmann. "Medicinal Plants and the Legacy of Richard E. Schultes." (The William L. Brown Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden: 2012)

Shaw, Deborah. "Falling Into the Embrace of the Serpent." Mediático (July 21, 2016)

"Watch an 80-Minute Talk with the Directors Behind 2016’s Best Foreign Language Film Nominees." The Film Stage (January 14, 2016)

Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia/Argentina/Venezuela: Ciro Guerra, 2015) - Presentation for International Film Festival: Hispanic Heritage & Latinx Culture 10/19/21


A 2015 internationally produced Colombian film directed by Ciro Guerra. It is based upon the field notes & travel diaries of the German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872 - 1924) and American pioneer of the field of ethnobiology Richard Evans Schultes (1915 - 2001). I originally learned about these explorers in anthropologist/ethnobotanist Wade Davis' intoxicating recounting of his own travels in the Amazon region interspersed with a recounting of Schultes 1940s explorations. It was a favorite book of mine and I have gifted it to two students with interests in the field:

As great as I find Wade Davis' book, it had a fatal flaw, in that it was solely from the viewpoint of the European/American scholar-explorers.  While these explorers were motivated by the quest of knowledge about the people /cultures and fauna/flora of the region, we should recognize that is was in the context of a larger colonizing project. By colonizing, I mean outside powers/forces that invade an area/region in order to profit from or extract the natural resources and human labor.  It should be noted that Davis later addressed these missing perspectives, in his books/research, including Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures (National Geographic, 2001) and The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (Anansi Press, 2009). You can also see his lectures online of the importance of ancient wisdom.

I heard about Embrace of the Serpent in 2015, the year of its release, and when I watched the trailer I immediately recognized that the film was following the early explorations of Koch-Grünberg and Schultes, but with the twist of an imagined shamanic character, Karamakate, that accompanies/guides the two explorers in the 1920s and 1940s. 

Santasik Malik, on the film, states: "Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent (2016) can be read as a brilliant subversion of the colonising role that the camera plays in appropriating native cultures in favour of Western narratives. The film ... was influenced by the ethnographic accounts of ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg (in 1909) and American biologist Richard Evans Schultes (in 1940), yet it deviates from uncomplicated transliteration of those accounts and weaves in various indigenous narratives to critique the colonialist discourse."

As an African saying illustrates: "Until the lion has a historian, the hunter will always be the hero."  This reminds us that history is a living, ongoing dialogue, and the more ways in which we can see the world through a plurality of narratives and interpretations, the better we will understand the complexities of human interactions. In the film, the shaman Karamakate states that the only way the sick American explorer could heal is to dream, perhaps that is a message to all of us. 

When watching this film, think about how we all construct a sense of our shared reality on this planet and our place in the universe. This is not disparaging in the sense that I am saying that our perceived realities are just fantasy, instead it is an encouragement to open ourselves up to how different cultures, different languages, different places, different identities, different eras, different truths, act as vast unexplored regions in which we can learn about new ways of seeing & being.

The film can challenge our rigid understanding of time as a linear process and Euro-americans fraught relationship with the natural world which they seek to solely control/exploit. Use these two challenges to anchor you during your journey through Embrace of the Serpent.

Lastly, Catherine Grant, writing in Mediático: 

Every so often a special film comes along and slaps us in the face and demands our attention. A film that reminds us why we became and remain academics, critics and teachers. We take on these roles because we love films that teach us about the world we live in, and because we want to share our enthusiasm and that knowledge. Learning and sharing knowledge is one of the central themes of Embrace of the Serpent. ... Embrace of the Serpent is a film that is simple and beautiful, yet also epic, ecological, mystical, cosmic and extra-terrestrial. It presents us with a vision of how broken people can be made whole again. It is visually gorgeous, unusually shot on film in black-and-white by cinematographer David Gallegos. In addition to its visual splendour, it provides an example of the kind of ethical filmmaking which could teach some directors a thing or two.

I look forward to discussing your responses to this film and it will also connect with Iciar Bollain's 2010 film Even the Rain that I am screening tomorrow at 1PM.


I have a sizable archive of resources on Embrace of the Serpent - come up to me afterward if you would like to have it sent to you.

Embrace of the Serpent won many awards, including the Sundance Film Festivals inaugural Sloan Award for Science in Cinema, 7 of the 8 major categories in the Platino Ibero-American Film Awards, and was nominated as Colombia's entry for the best foreign film category at the Oscars (the first time a Colombian film made the final five list).

Yakruna is an invented plant-based drug, it was done out of respect for native cultures in the Amazon basin that use these plants in their rituals.  In Wade Davis' book One River  he relates how Richard Schultes was seeking information about Ayahuasca.

Ciro Guerra says he chose to film in Black and White because he wanted to represent how the indigenous Karamakate (and the indigenous perspective he represents) views everything as interconnected and in order to do that he wanted a similarity of representation.  Santasik Malick, again, explains: 

The reason why director Guerra chose to shoot the film in black and white illustrates the futility of the camera as a Western eye. He learned that the Amazonians have fifty different names for the colour green. Realising the inability of the camera to articulate the varied details, textures, and nuances of greenness, he decided to abandon the idea of shooting it in colour. This strategy invites the audience to fill the frame with their imaginations regarding the greenness of the Amazon, for the director claimed, “what we imagine would certainly be more real than what I could portray.”