Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mise en Scène Multiplicity



Over the last week I’ve been enjoying Adrian Martin’s new book Mise en Scène and Film Style: From Classical Hollywood to New Media Art. (Full disclosure: Adrian is a close friend; we founded and co-edit the journal LOLA together.) It’s a wonderfully ambitious and erudite work—and I’m quickly realizing that it will require multiple re-readings for me to absorb and retain its generous profusion of ideas. For the moment, let me simply try to describe, in a nutshell, the interests that animate the work. This book is trying to do at least four things.

First, it wants to broaden the notion of mise en scène beyond its customary parameters. The book begins with a close analysis of the great split-screen ballet set-piece in Brian De Palma’s Passion (2012), revealing the film’s similarities with 21st century multimedia, installation art. Many filmmakers of late have been involved in creating (in Adrian’s words) a “spatialised cinema” in the art gallery, one that brings together multiple screens, points of view, soundtracks, etc. By collapsing this dispositif—or arrangement of elements—into a single screen and making it part of traditional, theatrical cinema, De Palma pushes us to go beyond (as Adrian writes) “the sum of operations we have conventionally regarded as gathering under the rubric” of the term mise en scène. This in turn prompts Adrian to ask:

Did we collectively take a wrong turn in film studies by grasping the work of mise en scène or style in cinema as a matter – at least in the first instance – of wholeness and fluidity, of organic coherence and singular fictional worlds, of a certain ‘transparency’ or invisibility? And what would it mean, now, to shift gears and retrace our steps over the ground of mise en scène, trying to reconfigure its classic moves in a new and different way?

Second, Adrian writes about being raised, as a cinephile, in a particular historical tradition of mise en scène: that of the British school of stylistic analysis that is associated with luminaries such as V.F. Perkins, Robin Wood and Andrew Britton, and publications such as Movie. He names this the “expressive school of critical analysis”. But what this school envisioned as mise en scène was (he points out) only one among many conceptions of the term. He invokes a number of far-flung critics—from Harun Farocki and Frieda Grafe in Germany to José Luis Guarner in Spain, to Shigehiko Hasumi in Japan, to Guillermo Cabrera Infante in Cuba, not to mention the original Cahiers du Cinéma critics in France in the 1950s—each of whom had something a little different in mind when they mobilized the term. The book sets out to provide a global sense of “the history and diversity of traditions in international film criticism” as it relates to mise en scène in particular and film style in general.

Third, the book holds dear and advocates for a certain sensibility: “that before it conjures a world, conveys a story or elaborates a theme, what we think of as mise en scène, in its primary sense and effect, shows us something; it is a means of display.” This means bestowing a certain level of importance upon the

immediate, surface level – the gestures, the moves, the rhythms, the colours – of what constitutes any mise en scène … We should be careful not to depart, too brusquely, for the ‘higher order abstractions’ that we regularly translate the evidence of our senses into: meanings, symbols, metaphors, allegories, directorial intentions, ‘world views’ … Part of the argument of this book is a plea to always attend closely and full-bloodedly to this type of materiality in cinema.

Finally, the book is concerned with laying bare two parallel histories:

There is mise en scène as the global history – still to be fully, comprehensively written – of how filmmakers made their films, what structures and effects of style they created in their work; this could be called a history of forms in cinema. Then there is mise en scène as the history (again, global) of what critics, theorists and commentators have said, written and thought in their quest to define and use tools to understand the films they see, study, analyse and transmit to others.

The result is a work that “gives equal weight to these dual histories of film and criticism – because the idea of mise en scène, if it is anything, is the attempt to build a bridge across the gap between them …”


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More recent reading:

-- The new issue of NECSUS: The European Journal of Media Studies takes "War" as its theme, and includes a special section on audiovisual essays edited by Adrian and Cristina Álvarez López. Also: a video of Adrian's lecture "Warhol's Aquarium," delivered at the Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt; and Cristina's text "Five Haunted Cities," at Fandor.

-- Michael Sicinski: "The Deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner: Documents of Barbarism".

-- Kevin Duong at Jacobin: "Conservative scholars and Catholic activists in France have been denouncing a 'theory of gender' that they believe is guiding the decisions of François Hollande’s Socialist government ... the crisis is bringing into focus ugly, neglected dimensions of contemporary French politics, touching on gender, immigration, reproduction, and the limits of secularism and universalism."

-- Sad news: the new issue of the journal Experimental Conversations might be its last.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum's films of the year. Also: an updated version of Jonathan's 1976 piece, "My Favorite Films/Texts/Things"; and a post on two horror films, The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1963).

-- The theme of the new issue of the feminist film journal Cléo is "Party!"; and the latest issue of Offscreen focuses on "gender and horror".

-- Ignatiy Vishnevetsky: "Neither lost nor found: On the trail of an elusive icon’s rarest film".

-- J. Hoberman: "David Lynch's Bad Thoughts". (Via David Hudson.)

-- Abbas Kiarostami's Homework is on YouTube. (Via Neil McGlone on Twitter.)

-- Lawrence Webb: "Remapping The Conversation: Urban Design and Industrial Reflexivity in Seventies San Francisco". (Via Catherine Grant.) See also: Catherine's Thanksgiving Roundup of dozens of links.

-- Travis Wilkerson's 5-minute video, Now! Again! (2014), "a reenactment of a classic radical film, Now by Santiago Alvarez, staged this summer in Ferguson, Missouri by the cops themselves."

-- The website Voices on Film contains several videos of interviews with the scholar Charles Barr on Hitchcock, Robin Wood, etc. (Via Doug Pye on Twitter.)

-- Amelia Smith: "Eyal Weizman on understanding politics through architecture, settlements and refuseniks".

-- Alexander Galloway reviews Steven Shaviro's new book, The Universe of Things. Also: an interview with Steve about his book.

-- The video of a lecture by Dudley Andrew titled "André Bazin's Dark Passage". (Via Catherine Grant.)

-- Iain Sinclair on being offered the chance, on his 70th birthday, to program 70 films to screen at various venues around London. (Via Tim Barnard of caboose.)

-- There's a new issue of Desistfilm.

-- Available for download on PDF: Mark Rothko's collection of essays, The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art, written in 1940-41 and published in 2004.

-- An essay by David Brancaleone from a couple of years ago: "The Interventions of Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker into Contemporary Visual Art".

-- Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on "Gothic Textures in Found Footage Horror Film".

-- Jacqueline Rose on Marilyn Monroe, "A Rumbling of Things Unknown". (Via Frederick Veith on Twitter.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

TIFF 2014, part 3: Short Takes



To conclude my TIFF coverage: some impressions and ideas sparked by ten films ...

National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, France/USA). One quiet but persistent theme in this film is the tension between the separateness of an artwork—its identity firmly associated with a single art form—and its connectedness and co-existence with other art forms. So, for example, the gallery that Wiseman chose to document is unusually small for its international renown, and focuses exclusively on paintings. There’s a brilliant shock cut in which he transitions abruptly from shots of several paintings seen in close-up, to a shot of bright fluorescent lights. This edit carries a wonderful dissonance: it instantly evokes Dan Flavin’s famous fluorescent-light pieces—and is also an immediate reminder that such work is outside the narrow, focused ambit of the National Gallery. At several other instances, the film pulls away from the exclusive focus on painting. A docent, addressing a group of children, breaks off from the work he is describing to talk about the differences between painting and literature. At another point, Nicolas Poussin is analyzed as a painter who strives for an imitation of sculpture. A surprise musical interlude features a piece played live by a pianist in the gallery; and the film climaxes with a dance performance …

P’tit Quinquin (Bruno Dumont, France). Dumont reminds me (never more so than in this lengthy, sustained work) that cinema is an art form of the exterior: of surfaces, of the visible. In other words, cinema shows us with unequalled vividness and detail that no two surfaces are alike, no two bodies, no two faces. Thus, cinema in Dumont’s hands becomes actualized as a medium of radical difference. But Dumont is not a ‘documentary’ filmmaker; he is a self-described expressionist. Which means that his films accentuate and amplify difference, doing it through deformation of all that is ‘normal’, all that is ‘expected’. In his own words: "I think if there’s no distortion or no alteration, there can’t be expression … The distortion has to be either the way you’re going to design the character, the way you’re constructing the dialogues, the type of the faces of the people, the way they move; this is what I like. I like working on making these modifications. Because only with these alterations reality becomes interesting … that’s how it gains the sense and the meaning and it becomes cinema.”

Pasolini (Abel Ferrara, France/Italy). Nicole Brenez’s study of the films of Abel Ferrara came out seven years ago; I revisit this book more frequently than any other director study in my collection. There are hundreds of ideas, insights, and allusions here—but they have revealed themselves to me only gradually over time. Each year I sink a little deeper into this book. Brenez writes in the opening pages that the stylistic principle uniting Cassavetes, Fassbinder, Pasolini and Ferrara is “the exclusive privilege accorded by these filmmakers to the description of human behavior via gestural, actoral, and emotional invention.” Save a few scenes depicting Pasolini’s domestic life—which I found spellbinding—this film lacked the moment-to-moment ‘behavioral inventiveness’ and surprise that I prize so much in Ferrara. When Pasolini’s death arrives, it is rendered conventionally, without a single unpredictable note in any of its detail. Still, it’s not a movie I dislike, even if it feels a world away from his great run of the 1990s …

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, France). I have very limited knowledge and experience of 3D—confined entirely to commercial cinema—but it came as a surprise to see 3D being used dissonantly here. (In my naïveté, I’ve never thought of 3D as being anything but a consonant effect, one that attempts to ‘enhance’ perception without obstructing or problematizing it.) At certain moments, it hurt my eyes to continue watching, I had to look away, take off my glasses for a few seconds, rub my eyes. This effect is very much intended, of course, which brings the meta-cinematic/meta-3D aspect more sharply into focus. In this vein, there is a great, laugh-out-loud formalist joke when the text “3D” is superimposed over the text “2D”—but the latter is distantly in the back, receding, while the former is vibrantly, over-eagerly upfront, ‘in your face’. There is an interesting interview with Godard’s cinematographer Fabrice Aragno at Film Comment.

Voila L’Enchainement (Claire Denis, France). An interracial couple: he’s black (Alex Descas), she’s white (Norah Krief). The decline of their marriage occurs—as it always does—not at a single instant but as a chain of events, thus the title. In one scene, she wants him to tattoo her name on his body. He patiently explains that he can’t do that. He doesn’t want to be branded—like slaves used to be. This 30-minute short feels like minor Denis because of two reasons: it lacks richness of settings (because of budget constraints it was filmed mostly against blank walls, in bare rooms, and in close-up), and, equally important, it lacks movement.

Tales (Rakshan Bani-etemad, Iran). Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote that a key function of cinema is to generate and disseminate news reports from different parts of the world. (Alas, I can’t remember the piece from which I’m taking—and paraphrasing—this idea.) Tales is often a blunt and heavy-handed film, but in one electrifying scene that is a single ten-minute take on a bus filled with factory workers, we hear about: inflation, drugs, suicide, AIDS, labor unrest, worker exploitation and male domination. What is shocking is that this discussion takes place in an Iranian film. There are characters and situations in this movie that hark back to Bani-etemad’s previous fiction feature, Under the Skin of the City, from over 10 years ago; here is Laura Mulvey at The Cine-Files on that film.

Eden (Mia Hansen Løve, France). In some respects, this bears some similarities to another biographical work, Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air. Both feature a flatness of tone, a lack of modulation of emotional register. Eden is composed of short, low-key scenes: one thing happens, then another, then another—but the film accumulates little dramatic impact as it unfolds in time. It makes for a certain monotony, a lack of intensity. But music goes a good way to restoring life to the film. I liked that it wasn’t about dance music in general but garage in particular. As a character puts it, garage is a combination of ‘cold’ (electronic beats) and ‘hot’ (soul vocals). I particularly appreciated one rare but memorable glimpse into an invisible component of dance music creation: the scene in which a series of electronic drum beats are auditioned on the computer, characterized, evaluated, chosen or dismissed ...

Alleluia (Fabrice du Welz, Belgium). The ‘termite-art’ highlight of the festival. Every frame of this film seems to simultaneously carry a fierce awareness of its meager resources and an imaginative response to it. Most of Alleluia (and almost the entire first half) is shot in close-ups of never-ending invention: partially and playfully lit frames, frames divided into zones, expressionist pools of color, bold graphic strokes, starkly inscribed silhouettes. The shots are brief; they don’t linger and flaunt this profusion of creativity. The film is a remake of The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1969) and Deep Crimson (Arturo Ripstein, 1996); Lola Dueñas, whom I’ve only seen in minor roles in two Almodóvar movies, is indelible as the female lead. In the Q&A, du Welz traced his love of horror to his teenage discoveries of (in the same breath) Hitchcock, Buñuel and Bacon …

The Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina). As with its predecessor Viola, I really enjoyed this but feel like I can’t say anything about it until I’ve seen it at least one more time. Piñeiro gave a scintillating Q&A, leaping from one thought, one association to another. He likened his films to constructions such as Alexander Calder’s mobiles (“made of iron but the wind comes in by chance and moves them one way or the other, unsettles their structure”). On the fast-paced rhythm of his films, he said something paradoxical: that the thought of slowing them down never enters his mind, that their speed “provides a freedom to the viewer” because “you [the audience] are at least as smart as the film”. On Facebook, Piñeiro is a voracious cinephile with a broad taste and an eye for arresting frame-grabs, which he posts regularly. Three interviews with him: at Cinema Scope; Film Comment; and Brooklyn Rail.

Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal). The single most beautiful image of the festival was a close-up of Ventura’s nails: long, smooth, delicate and ivory-pink. This film feels like a formidable work—but it resists immediate ‘assimilation’ and ‘critical processing’. Every image here is majestic, unhurried, stone-like: with a silent weight. The stunning opening features a series of Jacob Riis black-and-white photographs of working-class and poor people. In the next ten films I see after I’ve seen a Costa film, I think I am unconsciously more sensitive to the sculptural possibilities of cinema, the way light occupies, models, shows and hides a given space—and it was true here too. Costa gives great interviews; here are some recent ones that allude to Horse Money: at Cinema Scope; Film Comment; and Twitch.


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Recent reading:

-- An exciting, recent personal 'discovery' for me has been the work of British filmmaker Joanna Hogg. All three of her films (highly recommended) are now streaming at Netflix. See: an interview with her by Paul Dallas at Cinema Scope; and Rachael Rakes' piece, "Interior Life: Space in the Films of Joanna Hogg". An interesting detail: the end credits of Hogg's new film Exhibition name-check this issue of the cinema journal Screen with providing inspiration.

-- On the occasion of the release of the Essential Jacques Tati box set, several essays on Tati are now available at the Criterion site: by Jonathan Rosenbaum; James Quandt; David Cairns; and Kristin Ross.

-- The new issue of the journal e-flux is devoted to Harun Farocki.

-- A new Jonathan Rosenbaum essay, "The Future is Here," on science-fiction cinema.

-- Cristina Álvarez López on "second chances" in cinema, at Fandor.

-- Foster Hirsch and James Bell on the "method acting" style at Sight & Sound.

-- A blog post by Steven Shaviro: "Art/Money".

-- The film section of this month's Brooklyn Rail includes pieces on Derek Jarman, the avant-garde program of the New York Film Festival, and the documentaries of Eduardo Coutinho.

-- The entire staff of the Moscow Film Museum has resigned in protest against the newly appointed director who replaced long-time director Naum Kleiman. An open letter has been sent to the Russian Prime Minister.

-- A petition to stop making "smooth motion" the default on all HDTVs. Via Farran Smith Nehme.

-- A short video demonstrating the restoration work done on Hiroshima Mon Amour. Via Corey Creekmur.

-- Blog discovery: Menthol Mountains, via Leo Goldsmith.

pic: Bruno Dumont's P'tit Quinquin.

Monday, October 27, 2014

TIFF 2014, part 2: Loznitsa, Alonso



Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa). If the interaction of aesthetics and politics is a key theme that runs through the history of film criticism, less has been written about the place, in cinema, of aesthetics in politics. Leni Riefenstahl’s films immediately spring to mind but I’m struggling to think of other well-known examples.

Maidan is an interesting entry in this discussion. It is a documentary that captures the events of the Ukrainian uprising at Kiev’s Independence Square over a period of a few months from late 2013 to early 2014. The film has a deliberate and conspicuous style: it is constructed almost entirely of observational, fixed-frame long shots and long takes. There is no voiceover commentary; there are no ‘talking heads’, no individuals singled out for attention, and only a few, minimal explanatory inter-titles. It also helps, no doubt, that Loznitsa—who directs here with rigor and authority—was raised in Kiev and lived there for years.

What I found most striking about the film was the role played by aesthetics in the spectacle of revolution. Protesters chant and sing rousing revolutionary songs, often with inventive up-to-the-minute lyrics (the singers are almost never seen onscreen; the source of the singing is usually outside the frame); music, frequently percussive and rhythmic, surges up from the crowd; and what appear to be ordinary people—i.e. non-artists—come on stage to recite poems at the microphone. In an awe-inspiring moment, a riot rages on the ground while fireworks explode in the sky.

The film miraculously catches this festive, celebratory quality of revolution, even in the midst of violence and death. (Over a hundred people were killed by riot police at the Maidan.) Cultural theorist Gavin Grindon has written about the idea of the ‘festival-as-revolution’, and how, in recent decades, it has marked several radical social movements from Seattle’s WTO Carnival Against Capitalism to Occupy’s Debt Jubilee. He traces the idea back to one of its sources: French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, specifically a book he wrote about the Paris Commune being a kind of festival. (There is an interesting scandal surrounding this book: the Situationist International accused Lefebvre of stealing their ideas and publishing them in the aftermath of a friendly meeting and conversation between Lefebvre and the SI.) Maidan shows us not only the unfolding of the Ukrainian revolution, but also how this revolution looked and sounded over the period of a few months. And the moment we ask the question ‘how’, we are already in the realm of ‘style’ …

Speaking of style, the film features an intriguing aesthetic choice: a profound but by no means obvious split between image and sound. We see ‘pure’ documentary images, in that they show, without re-creations, computer-enhanced imagery, etc., actual footage of the Maidan during the uprising. But what we hear is a dense and layered post-synchronized soundtrack built up, painstakingly, of over a hundred individual tracks. Now that I’ve learned this from interviews with Loznitsa (like the informative one that Richard Porton did with him), I am eager to see the film again, this time to pay closer attention to this rift along the fault-line of image and sound that has now opened up for me in my recollection of the film.

It gives me pause that I did not suspect this radical disjunction—‘unaltered’ images vs. deliberately and artificially constructed soundtrack—while I was watching the film. Why was this so? As a long-time cinephile interested equally in classical and modern cinema, I wonder: Why did I blithely take for granted the artificial ‘unity’ of image and sound in a formally bold film such as Maidan?

As I ponder this question, I am reminded of film-sound theorist Michel Chion’s experiment in his book Audio-Vision, in which he takes scenes from two films, cutting out the sound track from one (Bergman’s Persona) and the image track from the other (Tati’s Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday), demonstrating in the process that our perceptions are altered dramatically when sound is stripped away from the image, and vice versa. He calls this mutual influence of image and sound the ‘audiovisual contract’.

But image and sound, Chion points out, are not equal in this contract. Instead, even though sound enriches the image in an important way, it also appears as if this ‘added value’ comes ‘naturally’ from—is contained in—the image itself. As Chion puts it, “Added value is what gives the (eminently incorrect) impression that sound is unnecessary.” Steven Shaviro explains further: “We rarely pay attention to film sound in and of itself; we always regard it as secondary to the images of the film. And yet it turns out, again and again, that sound endows those images with a potency, a meaning, and a seeming self-sufficiency that they never could have established on their own.”

Shaviro adds that, surprisingly, the terms of this ‘audiovisual contract’ also apply in the case of modernist, formally audacious films—such as Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her or Duras’ India Song—that play boldly with disjunctions between image and sound. Even as sound energizes images in these films, it continues to remain subsidiary to them. Shaviro proposes that recent digital ‘post-cinema’ (such as the Massive Attack music video Splitting the Atom, which he analyzes in detail in his essay) is giving birth to a new audiovisual aesthetic, while also changing the terms of the ‘audiovisual contract’ that have been in place for nearly a century.

So, how might these ideas help me make sense of my experience with Lozintsa’s documentary? First, they remind me that modernist cinema can, in its own way, be no less illusionistic than classical cinema. Second, a viewing lesson: no matter how close my attention to sound design and the soundtrack, I’m still under-estimating the complexity and importance of sound—and always unconsciously subordinating it to what is visible …

NOTES: Steven Shaviro's essay “Splitting the Atom: Post-Cinematic Articulations of Sound and Vision” will be published in a volume on ‘post-cinema’ currently being edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda; it will also appear as an ebook in early 2015.


* * *

Jauja (Lisandro Alonso). It is a peculiar fact that the merits of a film are not necessarily correlated with how generative it is in terms of critical writing. There are certain acclaimed films (e.g. Mulholland Drive, Beau Travail, The Act of Killing, the work of Godard or Marker) that seem to inspire superabundant outpourings of writing, but there are others—solid, strong, potentially rich works—that, for whatever mysterious reasons, under-stimulate (or overpower) the critical imagination or the critical will to engagement. Andrei Ujica’s The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu might be a recent example in this latter category; Jauja shows some early signs of making a modest bid for the former.

When I first saw Jauja, I found it impressive and engaging, but it has grown enormously in my mind thanks mainly to the critical reading I’ve done on it since. (Three of the essential pieces on it so far are by Quintín in Cinema Scope and in Film Comment, and by Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot.) The basic outline of Jauja is probably well known at this point to most cinephiles who follow festival reports. The film has three sections. The first finds a Danish engineer (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his 15-year-old daughter in 1880s Patagonia, where he is part of the larger Argentine effort to conquer this land and wipe out its indigenous population. In section two, his daughter elopes with a young soldier, and he goes out alone in search for her, finding himself in increasingly desolate and hallucinatory landscapes. The final section is dream-like and enigmatic; the less I say about it the better.

Jauja is the first Alonso film with anything resembling a conventional screenplay—written by the poet and novelist Fabián Casas—and many have pointed out that the first section of the movie contains more dialogue than all of Alonso’s previous feature films combined. Classical Hollywood and, more specifically, the genre of the western, are clear reference points here. Alonso uses a square Academy ratio, and the edges of the image are gently rounded as if they were photographs in an old album. The plot echoes The Searchers in section two, and the use of a Hollywood star is so striking that it becomes impossible to forget this fact—to make Mortensen ‘disappear’ into his character—while watching the film.

All of this pulls the film into an interesting conversation with classical cinema. What emerges from this encounter is an overwhelming sense of all the frictions—all the multiple points of abrasion and resistance—between this film and the studio-era works that partly inspire it. I registered these frictions most acutely when Jauja was, paradoxically, closest to classical cinema.

So, for example, the dialogue scenes, which take place mostly in the first section, lack a ‘smoothness’ of staging and cutting; they are disconcerting in their awkwardness. The staging is theatrical, with characters often rooted to the spot, their bodies stiffly angled non-naturalistically toward each other. Further, this theatrical aspect is rendered faintly ludicrous by the fact that the film takes place mostly in exteriors. Adding to the lack of seamlessness are the overt gaps of linguistic communication: the young lovers respectively speak only Danish and Spanish, and cannot understand each other at all.

Even outside the realm of speech, the force of the ‘real’ erupts in small but striking ways. When Mortensen tries to mount a horse, the film emphasizes what a Western usually tries to play down: the frequent difficulty and gracelessness of the act, with repeated attempts, heavy breathing, grunting, all accentuated by the sound design. What happens ‘naturally’ in a Western is ‘de-familiarized’.

When Mortensen stops at a work site to get a drink of water, he has an uneasy, unresolved conversation with the engineer overseeing the site, then quenches his thirst by drinking water with the help of a ladle. Meanwhile, the wind blows powerfully, we hear the tent and his clothes flapping (the pinpointed sound design again), and the water spills clumsily every so often on his uniform. Even a simple act such as drinking water becomes charged with maladroitness. This feeling comes to a head in the second section of the film, when Mortensen, now without horse or rifle, has to make his way by foot across a harsh and forbidding terrain of rock. He struggles across the landscape with painful slowness, slipping frequently, his boots sliding, not taking hold on the smooth stones. At moments like these, I had a strong feeling of cinema’s ‘missing images’—of all the roughnesses smoothed out, rendered invisible, in all the classical cinema I love …

There was a terrific and unpredictable joint Q&A with Alonso and Mortensen; they clearly have a great affection for each other. Alonso gave a lovely, succinct reason for why he makes films (“in order to learn about places and about cinema”), and Mortensen praised Alonso’s modesty, the sharpness of his eye and ear, and, most interestingly, “the luck he attracts while shooting,” by which he meant Alonso’s ability to catch or nail a shot even when so much depended on elements, such as the weather, that were outside his control.


* * *

Recent reading:

-- At this time of the semester when faculty are grading furiously, here is Jon Wu's classic McSweeney's piece, "A Generic College Paper". (Via Sudhir Mahadevan.)

-- Great news: A critic I admire, Christoph Huber, has started a film blog. (Via David Hudson.)

-- A 2010 conversation between Chris Fujiwara and Pedro Costa. (Via Abhirup Maitra.)

-- Adrian Martin on Mike Hoolboom at Filmkrant; and on Truffaut's Day for Night at Desistfilm. Related: Michael Pattison interviews Hoolboom at MUBI Notebook.

-- A 2009 essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum, "Sexism in the French New Wave".

-- James Quandt's essay on Godard, part of the programme notes for the massive TIFF retrospective, "Godard Forever: Part Two". (Click on the link labelled "Programmer's Essay".)

-- Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on David Cronenberg's first novel, Consumed. Also: Calum Marsh interviews Cronenberg about his book.

-- Brad Stevens on novelisations of films.

-- Matt Zoller Seitz remembers the recently deceased L.M. "Kit" Carson.

-- Michael Sicinski on Peter Watkins' 14-hour-plus documentary The Journey (1987).

-- Boris Nelepo's piece on Alain Resnais' Life of Riley, from a few months ago, now that the film has arrived on these shores.

-- At The Guardian: "Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century?" (Via Scott Balcerzak.)

-- Roy Andersson's commercials, on YouTube. (Via Richard Porton.)

-- Dave Kehr has co-curated MoMA's latest festival of film preservation, which features a number of rare and interesting items.

-- A recent discovery: The Third Rail Quarterly.

-- In the Washington Post: "If you’re lucky enough to earn a living from your art, you’re probably white". (Via Jonathan Thomas.)

-- In the New York Times: "The Disheartening GamerGate Campaign".

-- At Jacobin magazine: "In Mexico and elsewhere, neoliberalism isn’t a retreat of the state. It’s using the state to enrich the wealthy." Also at Jacobin, two critiques of the new "sharing economy": "Sharing and Caring"; and "Against Sharing".

-- On a personal note, I am looking forward to this concert by "experimental hip-hop" artists DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist in tribute to Afrika Bambaataa; I've long admired their work. From DJ Shadow's website: "Using only vinyl pulled from Bambaataa’s historic collection – over 40,000 strong and permanently archived at Cornell University – DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist aim to present Bambaataa’s legacy in all its genre-busting and socially-minded complexity."

Monday, October 06, 2014

TIFF 2014, part 1: Dardennes, Hausner


Some thoughts on a couple of films I caught in Toronto ...

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium). In the first few minutes, I was reminded of a joke. A CEO, a Tea Party member and a union worker are sitting at a table. A plate of twelve cookies appears. The CEO grabs eleven of them, looks at the Tea Partier and exclaims, pointing to the worker, “Watch out—he wants your cookie!”

I encountered this joke as part of a Facebook meme in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. The situation in the joke resonates with the film’s story—even though the Dardennes said in their Q&A that they first had the idea for the project ten years ago. The plot is simple, even schematic. The sixteen employees of a firm that makes solar panels (a nice irony) are given a choice between receiving a 1000-Euro bonus or preventing the layoff of a fellow worker (Sandra, the protagonist, played by Marion Cotillard). They vote for the former option, and Sandra spends a weekend tracking down several co-workers one by one, pleading with them to change their vote so she can keep her job.

This film hit me especially hard because of a personal reason: in the last year, I have been trying to use the phenomenon of neoliberal capitalism—and its wide-ranging, calamitous impacts on society and the environment—as a master paradigm to structure some of my courses. The situations, contradictions and ironies put in place and developed by the movie speak powerfully to our present moment: this is ‘contemporary’ cinema at its most urgent and jolting.

If the film was merely illustrative of neoliberalism and its effects, it wouldn’t be very interesting in aesthetic terms. But the Dardennes have designed a work crammed with detail—a lot of it open and suggestive but not conclusive. For example, Sandra has been marked for layoff because she has recently returned from sick leave due to struggles with depression. Can her depression itself be traced to alienated labor or did it pre-exist her work? Why exactly is she being fired? Is it because she might be, due to her recent illness, a less than perfect ‘working machine’? Questions such as these are quietly signalled by the film and left suspended.

The Dardennes have spoken in interviews about the influence of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas on their work. I’ve not read Levinas but accounts of his philosophy repeatedly stress the ethical and affective importance of the encounter—specifically face-to-face—between one human being and another. It is important (and moving) that Sandra travels and seeks out her co-workers one by one and has a personal meeting with each one. (In a quietly humorous instance that comments upon her quest, she arrives at a co-worker’s house to find that he’s not home, speaks to him through his wife’s cell phone, and then accidentally runs into him in person later—the encounter now ‘complete’.) Each meeting and each worker are subtly, imaginatively individuated, and the film succeeds in great part because of this sustained inventiveness.

Early in the film, Sandra’s husband Manu, a fast-food worker employed by a chain named Lunch Garden (a perfectly generic and globalized name for this real-life Belgian corporation) urges her to use a particular line when she sets out to implore each co-worker for her job: “I’d rather be together with you than alone on the dole.” An audience member asked the Dardennes if Sandra was simply an updated version of Rosetta, fifteen years later. They said no. Rosetta, for them, was “a good capitalist soldier” who would do anything—including betraying a friend—to survive. But Sandra was different in that a sense of solidarity was important to her. It’s ironic: conditions around the globe have deteriorated in many ways in the interval between the two films, and yet the new film ultimately feels more hopeful than the older one …

Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner, Austria). The most ‘perfect’ film I saw in Toronto. There were others that were more complex and challenging (Goodbye to Language, Horse Money) but this one struck a certain droll balance between aesthetics and politics: between a carefully detailed form and a quiet but insistent political analysis.

The film is a satirical comedy set in the early 1800s in which real-life German writer Heinrich von Kleist attempts to convince a housewife to join him in a double suicide. This narrative pretext permits Hausner to evoke a world—that of the Prussian bourgeoisie in Berlin—and sketch, beneath the narrative, a diagrammatic view of a society, its structure, and its invisible lines of hierarchy. The formal design of the film is distilled and exact: every image contains an idea—or gestures toward one.

Amour Fou’s strategy is to tightly connect film form to social formality, thus expressing something about—commenting upon—the world it depicts. The film opens with a close-up image of a bright shock of yellow flowers: Henriette the housewife is arranging them meticulously, but because of the camera angle, she is almost totally obscured by them. The film is full of formal rituals that also simultaneously stage the playing out of social roles and distinctions: dinner parties (with solemn musical performances following), decorous parlor conversations, a ceremonial dance.

A hierarchy is outlined not just through the visual dimension of this film’s social mise en scène, but also in speech: specifically, when certain people get to speak for others. Heinrich, in trying to convince Henriette to die with him, declares to this woman he barely knows, “You love nothing; nobody loves you.” (She is silent in reply; her circumscribed and regimented life as a housewife also means that there is a grain of truth to this presumptuous assertion.) When she falls ill, and is treated by a doctor and a hypnotist, she does not speak; she is merely an object, a surface, upon which ‘science’ is imposed and practiced. At a dinner party, a wealthy Prussian bemoans the harmful after-effects of the French Revolution, and announces that peasants will not know “what to do with their freedom”. The finale (I won’t reveal it here) literalizes the erasure of a woman’s speech by a man, by way of a sly allusion to Bresson’s Le Diable Probablement.

This is also a great film on the theme of ‘the artist as narcissist’. Heinrich wants Henriette as a partner in suicide not because of some spiritually or erotically exalted reason but because of pure selfishness: his ego craves the satisfaction of having a woman give him her most precious possession, her life, for no other reason than that he asked her for it. Here is a good interview with Hausner in which she points out what interested her about the real-life story on which the film is based: "Kleist had apparently asked several people whether they wanted to die with him–his best friend, a cousin and then ultimately Henriette Vogel. I found that a little grotesque. He gave this romantic, exaggerated idea of double suicide for love a banal, slightly ridiculous side."


* * *

Recent reading:

-- The latest (and third) issue of the journal [in]Transition is edited by Catherine Grant, and features curatorial pieces by her, Cristina Álvarez López, Adrian Martin, Ian Garwood and Miklos Kiss. Also check out the great comment threads with Cristina, Adrian, Pam Cook and Christian Keathley (among others).

-- Another wonderful gift of reading, watching and listening from editor Catherine Grant: the new website The Audiovisual Essay, featuring Cristina, Adrian, Catherine, Christian, Vinzenz Hediger, Carlos Losilla and others.

-- The new issue of Senses of Cinema includes a large and terrific tribute to the Australian scholar/critic/cinephile John Flaus.

-- RIP Peter von Bagh, cinephile par excellence. "Masters of Cinema Under the Midnight Sun," a big book of interviews conducted by Peter von Bagh over the years, will be released soon.

-- From the Film Comment archive: Kent Jones on Hou Hsiao-hsien, "Cinema with a Roof Over its Head". Also, J. Hoberman on Hou at the New York Review of Books.

-- Tony Zhou's latest video essay, "David Fincher: And the Other Way is Wrong".

-- "The Pedagogies of Reading and Not Reading" by Jesse Stommel at Hybrid Pedagogy, via Katie Bird on Twitter.

-- The Cinéastes de notre temps episode on Robert Bresson is on Youtube, with English subtitles. Thanks to Catherine Grant for the tip.

-- Matt Zoller Seitz: "Why my Video Essay about All That Jazz is not on the Criterion Blu-ray". Also: some reports on degradation of Criterion Blu-rays, via Brad Stevens.

-- Darren Hughes and Michael Leary have a conversation about the films of Claire Denis at the site To Be Cont'd. Here's part one; part two; part three; and part four, which is an interview with Denis herself.

-- Ricky D'Ambrose on "immersive theater" at The Nation (via David Hudson).

-- An interview with Rosi Braidotti about speculative realism, at Frieze Magazine.

-- "Liberalism and Gentrification" by Gavin Mueller at Jacobin.

-- Finally: I want to send my best wishes to a friend, Lina Rodriguez, whose first feature film, Señoritas, has just been released. It was set and shot in Colombia; here is an interview with her at Film International.

Monday, September 15, 2014

TIFF 2014: The Round-Up



I returned from Toronto last night, and will put up a couple of posts later in the week on some of the films I was able to catch there. Meanwhile, here's an overall round-up.

Best-of-the-Fest:

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal)
Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner, Austria)

Excellent:

Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Indonesia)

Strong:

The Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina)
Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)
Li'l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont, France)
National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, France/USA)
Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang, France/Taiwan)
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden/Norway)
Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium)
Heaven Knows What (Benny & Joshua Safdie, USA/France)
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine)

Good, But I Had Some Reservations:

Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany)
Voila L'Enchainement (Claire Denis, France)
Timbuktu (Abderrehmane Sissako, Mali)
Pasolini (Abel Ferrara, France/Italy)
Natural Resistance (Jonathan Nossiter, Italy/France)

Interesting, But Didn't Work For Me:

Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)
Tales (Rakshan Banietemad, Iran)

Spellbinding But Category-Resistant:

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, France)

Disappointment of the Fest:

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson, Sweden)

Surprise of the Fest:

Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium)

Cried Out for Immediate Rewatching:

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal)
The Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina)

Shamelessly Wowed by a Star Performance:

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
Viggo Mortensen in Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)

Best Non-Star Performance:

Arielle Holmes in Heaven Knows What (Benny & Joshua Safdie, USA/France)
Lola Dueñas in Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium)

Film That Really Messed With My View of a Director I Thought I Knew:

Li'l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont, France)

Best Scene:

Opening: The Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina)
Closing: Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany)

Best Q&A:

Matías Piñeiro
Lisandro Alonso and Viggo Mortensen
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Films I Most Regret Missing:

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, UK)
Two Shots Fired (Martin Rejtman, Argentina)
La Sapienza (Eugène Green, France/Italy)
Letters to Max (Eric Baudelaire, France)


* * *

Recent Reading:

-- There's a brand new issue of the video essay journal [in]Transition, edited by Catherine Grant.

-- "Inside, Around and About Notorious," a chapter from Adrian Martin's 2006 PhD thesis, now available at 16:9. Also: two recent video essays by Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian: "Paratheatre Without Stages" (on Jacques Rivette's Out 1); and "Felicity Conditions: Seek and Hide" (on Fritz Lang's Secret Beyond the Door ...).

-- Tributes to Harun Farocki gathered by David Hudson.

-- Sight & Sound's "The Greatest Documentaries of All Time" poll.

-- An interview with Jean-Claude Carrière at Public Books.

-- A 60-page excerpt available on PDF from a recent book that collects global film manifestos, at Film Quarterly, via Neepa Majumdar.

-- "Phil Karlson Confidential" by Bill Krohn, at Kinoslang.

-- Erika Balsom on "cinema as a performing art," at Artforum.

-- Tony Zhou's 5-minute video, "A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film".

-- I re-read Alexis Tioseco's moving letter to Nika Bohinc after listening to Lisandro Alonso talk about how news of their death inspired him to begin working on his new film Jauja.

-- Recent blog discovery: The Mongrel Muse, run by Tanner Tafelski.

pic: Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2014).

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Looking Forward to TIFF 2014


This blog is now 10 years old. I started it on the eve of a trip to TIFF, and here I am, headed to TIFF again—for the 16th straight year.

Here is the list of films I’m planning to see in Toronto. If you have any suggestions to make, I’ll be happy to receive them. Thank you! I want to note that Cinema Scope has begun its customary, vast coverage of the festival, and I'll be checking the site daily to help me fine tune my schedule in real time ...

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal)
National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, France/USA)
Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Indonesia)
The Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro, Argentina)
Voila L'Enchainement (Claire Denis, France)
Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)
Li'l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont, France)
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
The Old Man of Belem (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg, Canada)
While We're Young (Noah Baumbach, USA)
Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang, France/Taiwan)
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden/Norway)
Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
Trick or Treaty? (Alanis Obomsawin, Canada)
Pasolini (Abel Ferrara, France/Italy)
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)
Heaven Knows What (Benny & Joshua Safdie, USA/France)
La Sapienza (Eugène Green, France/Italy)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson, Sweden)
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine)
Letters to Max (Eric Baudelaire, France)
Natural Resistance (Jonathan Nossiter, Italy/France)
Two Shots Fired (Martin Rejtman, Argentina)
Tales (Rakshan Banietemad, Iran)
Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner, Austria)
Girlhood (Céline Sciamma, France)
Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz, France/Belgium)
Taprobana (Gabriel Abrantes, Portugal/Sri Lanka)
The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees (Joana Pimenta, USA/Portugal)

pic: Li'l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont, France)

Monday, July 07, 2014

On Video Essays, Cinephilia and Affect



Even though I don’t teach in the cinema studies discipline, I have made a habit, in the last few years, of traveling to the SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference each year. It allows me both to socialize with cinephile scholars (which I have come to enjoy deeply) and to get a sense of the directions in which scholarship appears to be headed in the discipline—akin to what traveling to TIFF each fall does in acquainting me with new directions in “world cinema”.

At this year’s SCMS conference in Seattle in the spring, the single best session I attended was devoted to video essays—and their emergence as a new and exciting mode of scholarship. Specifically, I am intrigued by the connection between video essays and cinephilia. It has long been noted that when cinephiles engage in practices such as talking or writing about cinema, they are trying to prolong the experience of cinema—and thus, sustain and extend the special affective states produced in the cinephile’s acts of engagement with cinema.

I am wondering about how video essays fit in here. By which I mean: Is there a special, cinephilic, affective charge that the critic/scholar derives from making video essays? And, correspondingly, that the viewer derives from watching them? What accounts for the allure, the pull, of the video essay both for maker and viewer?

There are some valuable clues to the first question in Catherine Grant’s essay “The Shudder of a Cinephiliac Idea?,” in which she describes the process of making her first video essay, Unsentimental Education (2009). Grant invokes the artist/theorist Barbara Bolt, who advocates for a “practice-based research” in which new knowledge is generated through process, through practice, rather than through “talk”. Bolt draws on philosopher Martin Heidegger’s notion of “handlability,” which refers to a special form of understanding that is achieved “with hands and eyes,” through handling, doing, making.

Grant’s account of making video essays is remarkable for the way it foregrounds the role of affect in generating criticism and knowledge. She signals this with the title of her essay, which quotes Bolt: “the new emerges through process as the shudder of an idea” (my emphasis). Bolt calls this process “material thinking”.

Grant confesses that she had taught Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) for years, and thought she knew the film well. But once she began working on a video essay on the film, she realized that her motivation to do so was being fed by a very specific desire: to engage closely “with this film’s strangeness—its beguiling yet disturbing affect—a quality to which I have always been (perhaps obsessively) drawn, and one that neither I nor my students had been able to account for effectively in words…”

By using non-linear editing and the ability of technology to reorganize, juxtapose and play with audiovisual material from the film, Grant arrived at a personal critical breakthrough. In particular, reworking a key shot in the film by reframing it caused her to reach a deeper understanding of this moment—and the “implacable logic of the films characters’ captivity in human (and cinema) time.” The conclusion of her essay is touching: she is gratified to have found “knowledge that she once would have disavowed, or denied, as she searched for much more “acceptable” scholarly objects.”

Taking a step back, we can view the affective appeal of video essay production against a wider horizon. In the mid-1990s, an affective turn took hold in the humanities and social sciences. It spread through several disciplines—like history, sociology, women’s studies and cultural studies. In brief, the turn to affect was inspired by a dissatisfaction with earlier theoretical approaches such as post-structuralism which did not allow sufficiently for non-linguistic factors and for individual difference. The move to affect meant a move away from large scale-analysis and social structures, and towards a focus on relationships and encounters with other individuals, technology and the world—and how these relations impact, shape and form us. The multi-disciplinary appeal of affect was also significant: it struck a chord that rippled across the entire field of the humanities—and beyond.

The brilliant, young film studies scholar Eugenie Brinkema has now performed an intervention in this landscape of affect studies with her new book, The Forms of the Affects. In setting the stage for her critique, she recalls the reasons for the ascendancy of affect: its resistance to systematic thought and its recovery of “contingency, possibility and play”. But, she wonders, “have accounts of affects produced more nuanced, delightful interpretations of forms in texts – and have they recovered the dimension of being surprised by representations?”

She notes the powerful attractions and seductive negations involved in taking up affect: “not semiosis, not meaning, not structure, not apparatus, but the felt, visceral, immediate, sensed, embodied, excessive”. But Brinkema also criticizes this turn because it has generally been accompanied by a suspicion of close analysis and of sustained attention to form. For her, a great deal of work under the sign of affect “evades the slow, hard tussle of reading texts closely” and is “incapable of dealing with textual particularities and formal matters”. She admits drolly: “There is a perversity to this [the call she is issuing in her book]: if affect theory is what is utterly fashionable, it is answered here with the corrective of the utterly unfashionable … the sustained interpretation of texts” – something that needs to take place via close reading and deep sensitivity to form.

I think video essays—and videographic film studies in general—might be one modest way to respond to this call. If affects are connected to forces that are released during encounters (as Gregory Seigworth and Melissa Gregg claim in their introductory essay to The Affect Theory Reader), then the extended encounter of working with audiovisual material in a close and sustained manner can be channeled, as Grant’s essay shows, towards the creation of new knowledge through “material thinking”. Laura Mulvey, in her remarkably influential book Death 24x a Second (2006), has proposed the key role that delay plays in engaging with and critically opening up a film or film segment. By prolonging the encounter with moments in a film—through repetition, stopping, resequencing and comparison—the critic/scholar is also able to open up, sustain and extend a special, affectively charged space that leads to thought, all of this occurring in close contact with the formal and stylistic complex of the work being analyzed.

So, I am very curious to hear from you: Is there a special affective charge that is released in the process of making a video essay or of watching/listening to one? How does creating (or watching/listening to) a video essay feel differently to you from writing (or reading) a piece of criticism or scholarship? I'd love to know. Thank you.


* * *

Links:

-- Christian Keathley has edited the latest issue of the journal [in]Transition, a collaboration between Cinema Journal and Media Commons. I have contributed a short piece to the issue, along with Corey Creekmur and Chiara Grizzaffi.

-- In her latest post, Catherine Grant features a half-hour interview she conducted with Adrian Martin in Milan recently. The post also rounds up a lot of great reading.

-- A review-essay, by scholar Ingrid Rowland, of the new book Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School by Emily J. Levine.

-- At Photogénie: the essay "The Use of an Illusion," co-authored by Catherine Grant and Christian Keathley. Also: the Photogénie blog features several reports from Il Ritrovato in Bologna.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, who has long been on the DVD jury at Il Ritrovato, posts from Bologna on this year's awards.

-- David Bordwell from Bologna: "Reporting on the magnificent Cinema Ritrovato festival at Bologna has become a tradition with us, but it’s become harder to find time during the event to write an entry. The program has swollen to 600 titles over eight days, and attendance has shot up as well [...] In all, Ritrovato is becoming the Cannes of classic cinema: diverse, turbulent, and overwhelming. How best to give you a sense of the tidal-wave energy of the event?"

-- Leo Goldsmith at Artforum on this year's Flaherty Film Seminar; Adam Thirlwell on Pasolini's poetry at Bookforum.

-- Several filmmakers offer short video tributes (subtitled in English) to Henri Langlois. (Via Surbhi Goel on Facebook.)

-- Barbara Hammer on film projection at the caboose website, part of a series that is an oral history of projection: "I never agreed with the makers of the Pathé film camera and projector that defined projection as rectangular [...] I can imagine a camera/projector that takes in images and spills them out in a multiple of graphic configurations that could be manipulated by twisting a dial. Let’s say I’m projecting a moving CT scan of a brain in a circle format and now I’m slicing through space with a sideways triangle much like a head of an arrow. Cézanne would be happy!"

-- Many films by Mani Kaul are available to watch online at the Films Division of India website. (Via Frederick Veith on Twitter.)

-- Jacques Rivette's L'Amour Fou (1969) is now on YouTube with English subs. (Via Brad Stevens on Facebook,)

-- Recent website discoveries: Cine Notebook; and FilmGrab.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Godard and Other Reading



Big news: the long-awaited collection of Jean-Luc Godard's 1978 Montreal lectures and discussions is now available from caboose. Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television collects fourteen one-hour talks given by Godard at Concordia University. The talks were originally published in French in 1980, fell out of print, and have now been corrected, revised and translated for the first time into English by Timothy Barnard, who writes:

In the book, Godard sets out a philosophy of the image—in the process disproving his own thesis that words are prison, for there is nothing more liberating than this book—and outlines a theory and practice of ‘making’ film history through the act of viewing films. The Montreal talks were the forerunner to his video series Histoire(s) du cinéma. While some critics have described the latter as his Finnegans Wake, the True History of Cinema is his Arabian Nights: page-turning true stories of the movies whose idiosyncratic views, leavened with Godard’s famous caustic wit, will delight all readers. Never has Godard been as loquacious, lucid and disarmingly frank as he is here, holding forth, in an experience he describes as a form of ‘public self-psychoanalysis’, on his personal and professional relationships, working methods, aesthetic preferences, political beliefs and, on the cusp of 50, his philosophy of life.

The announcement coincides with strong reviews from Cannes of Godard's latest film, Goodbye to Language.


* * *

Recent reading:

-- Cannes 2014: David Hudson's invaluable collection of reviews for each film; and Blake Williams' fine-grained, rank-ordered ratings, which I find enormously useful when I'm scheduling for TIFF. Also: two critic ratings aggregator pages, at Todas Las Criticas; and at Critic.de.

-- The first half of the book Découpage, by Barnard, is available to read at the caboose website. Also: Catherine Grant has put together a post of links around Barnard's text.

-- Tom Paulus on cinephilia: part one; and part two.

-- Robert Bresson interview with Ronald Hayman first published in Transatlantic Review in 1973. Via Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

-- Cinema Guild has put online all of the essays that accompany its DVDs.

-- I've just sent away for this Jean Epstein box set from France that includes 14 of his films.

-- Alain Bergala's "The 208 Films That You Must Have Seen", via Adrian Martin.

-- Jean Eustache's great Mes petites amoureuses (1974) is now on YouTube with English subtitles. Via Vahid Mortazavi.

-- A fascinating piece on film criticism by Serge Daney from 1991. At Diagonal Thoughts, via Adrian.

-- A translation, by Adrian, of a Raymond Bellour masterclass on Daney and Trafic. Also: an interview at Transit with Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, directors of Leviathan, by Cloe Masotta and Miguel Gil, translated by Adrian into English.

-- A video of Laura Mulvey's lecture, "Becoming History: Spectatorship, Technology and Feminist Film Theory," part of the Kracauer Lectures in Film and Media Theory in Frankfurt.

-- A conversation between Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore on early Kubrick.

-- An interview/conversation between Nicholas Elliott and Stéphane Delorme, editor of Cahiers du Cinéma.

-- At MUBI Notebook: "Discovering Cinema in the Digital Age: A Roundtable with Dudley Andrew".

-- J. Hoberman on the films of artist Sigmar Polke, at Artforum.

-- Pasquale Iannone: "The 10 Greatest Films Set in Glasgow".

-- The next international Deleuze Studies conference will be held in Stockholm, with the theme "Daughters of Chaos," and will be preceded by a "Deleuze Camp".

-- A new book on Hou Hsiao-hsien, edited by Richard I. Suchenski, has been published by the Austrian Film Museum, and is being distributed in the US by Columbia University Press.

-- Joe McElhaney's essay "Terrence Malick: Moving Beyond the Threshold" is now available online.

-- Michael Sicinski has put up a page of his reviews of the films that played at Cannes last year.

-- David Bordwell on Kenji Mizoguchi; and "The Rhapsodes: Afterlives," the final post in his series on American film critics of the 1940s.

-- Rachel Kushner on Alberto Grifi and Massimo Sarchielli's Anna (1975) at Artforum.

-- At Jacobin: "The Rise of the Voluntariat".

-- Richard Porton interviews Sergei Loznitsa on his new documentary about the Ukrainian uprising and about Putin's regime.

-- Tim Deschaumes on Miklós Janscó at Photogénie.

-- "Academic citation practices need to be modernized." Via Steven Shaviro.

-- An interview in the Washington Post with documentary filmmaker Astra Taylor on "how digital culture is hurting art". I've been reading Taylor's new book, The People's Platform, a fascinating critique of the techno-utopian fantasies engendered by the Internet. It sets out to show how the Internet extends and exacerbates real-world inequalities rather than reducing or doing away with them. A very timely analysis of the economic and social justice issues (including gender issues) surrounding the Internet.

photograph by Michael Witt.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Lots of Reading



Links:

-- RIP, Alain Resnais: David Hudson and Catherine Grant.

-- RIP, Stuart Hall: Verso Books; The Guardian; Isaac Julien; Dissent; John Akomfrah at Frieze.

-- Catherine Grant has put together a tribute to Eduardo Coutinho at Mediático. At Catherine's, a Richard Linklater post called "The Flâneur on Film". Also: her new essay "Becoming 'Arturo Ripstein'?"

-- A conversation with Nicole Brenez, at Cinética.

-- Kent Jones' piece on auteurism, "Critical Condition".

-- Adrian Martin on Philippe Garrel's Jealousy; Nicholas Ray; Miguel Gomes' Tabu; Mark Rappaport's Mozart in Love; and a new book of film theory by Sergi Sánchez. Also: Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian: "All Tomorrow's Parties".

-- Steven Shaviro: "The New Cinematography"; and "Liking vs. Wanting".

-- "Blue Ruin: Totality and Acceleration" by McKenzie Wark. An interview with Wark on accelerationism.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum has put up a post with links to several of his pieces on Alain Resnais. 

-- The Siren: "Let's Talk About Kim Novak". 

-- Luc Moullet, "The Mask and the Role of God" (translated by Ted Fendt). 

-- David Bordwell: "Agee, Farber, Tyler and us"; "Agee & Co.: A Newer Criticism"; on some recent books including James Naremore's; and more on James Agee.

-- Fantasy Double Features of 2013 Poll at The Notebook.

-- Paul Ramaeker: "Dr. Mabuse, Our Contemporary"; and on supernatural romantic melodrama and surrealism.

-- End-of-year lists and reflections at Lumière by many critics including Matthew Flanagan, Maximilian Le Cain, Andy Rector, Filipe Furtado, Christopher Small, Marcos Uzal, and others.

-- Michael Sicinski on Jodie Mack.

-- Pasquale Iannone's 10-film primer on Italian neorealism.

-- Jill Godmilow offers one of the rare dissenting opinions on The Act of Killing. (I've not seen the film yet.)

-- "On Fredric Jameson" by Alex Carp.

-- This new collection of essays on Nick Ray's films, edited by Steve Rybin and Will Scheibel, looks great.

-- Some interesting fragments of unfinished pieces by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky now up at his blog.

-- Will Self on Patrick Keiller's new book.

-- Matthew Dessem, "Film Preservation 2.0".

-- Peter Monaghan, "China Girls, Leading Ladies, Actual Women". (Via Corey Creekmur.)

-- Regina Bradley on "the dichotomy of urban and suburban in the context of sound (noisy and quiet) versus hip hop". (Via Corey.)

-- Readings to accompany the interesting film series "The Devil, Probably" at Yale Union. (Via Matthew Flanagan.)

-- Stuart Jeffries, "Alain Badiou: A Life in Writing".