I’ve been reading Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz’s book Poetics of Cinema, and in light of the recent announcement for Harry’s ironically titled ‘Boring Art Films’ blog-a-thon, I thought I’d bring up some of Ruiz’s thoughts on boredom and the cinema.
Ruiz believes that mainstream cinema operates by the “central conflict theory” (“a story begins when someone wants something and someone else doesn’t want them to have it. From that point on, through various digressions, all the elements of the story are arranged around this central conflict.”) Today’s filmmakers find themselves commanded by the marketplace to employ this theory and capture the attention of the spectator for two hours, their objective being: to avert boredom.
Ruiz—a genuine polymath—reaches far back into the 4th century AD and cites the example of monks in their cells beset by the Eighth Capital Sin, tristitia (sadness), caused by boredom. A monk might be tempted by a “noonday demon,” an apparition that offers to take him away from his bored state:
He is transported to faraway lands. He’d like to stay but it’s already time to go home. Back in his cell, he’s astonished to discover that traveling has only made things worse. He’s even more bored than before and now his boredom has ontological weight. We will call this dangerous new sentiment melancholy. Now every trip out of the cell, every apparition of his virtual friend, will make his melancholy more intense. [...] Soon the cell itself, his brother monks, and even communion with God becomes an illusion. His world has been emptied by entertainment. Some one thousand two hundred years later, in France, Blaise Pascal, in the chapter of his Pensées devoted to entertainment, warns, “All the evil in men comes from one thing and one thing alone: their inability to remain at rest in a room.”
Ruiz offers a productive use of boredom: not spending the present moment preoccupied with past or present concerns, nor being distracted by restless ennui, but instead using the present moment to capture and anchor oneself to “an intense feeling of being here and now, in active rest.” The moment of boredom thus becomes a “privileged moment”:
This privileged moment, which early theologians called “Saint Gregory’s paradox,” occurs when the soul is both at rest and yet turns on itself like a cyclone around its eye, while events in the past and the future vanish in the distance. If I propose this modest defence of ennui, it is perhaps because the films I’m interested in can sometimes provoke this sort of boredom. Those who have seen films by Michael Snow, Ozu, or Tarkovsky will know what I mean. The same goes for Andy Warhol, or Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.
Now the embarrassing part. David Hudson’s recent entry reminds me that I’ve seen nothing by Ruiz. (Actually, I saw a Dutch-subtitled print of his French-language film Time Regained at the Rotterdam filmfest a few years back, but considering it's Proust, and I understood little of the dialogue or voiceover, it doesn’t count.) Rouge devoted an entire issue to an annotated Ruiz filmography, and I noticed that several of his films have recently arrived on DVD: Hypothesis Of A Stolen Painting, That Day, Three Crowns Of A Sailor.
So, I’d like to ask the Ruiz-experienced among you: What are his films like? And what Ruiz films might you recommend?
Let me nominate, as one of the great jazz-pop records of the seventies, Michael Franks’s The Art Of Tea (1975). Franks can turn a rhyme with sophistication (“I hear from my ex/On the back of my checks”—what a line!) and even has a PhD in comparative literature. The lyrics on the album are full of frisky double entendres: metaphors for sex include cooking (“Eggplant” [mp3]), world geography (“Popsicle Toes” [mp3]), even cinema (“Nightmoves” [mp3]). But the secret weapon here is the backing band, especially Larry Carlton on guitar, Joe Sample on keys and Larry Bunker on vibes.
I'm especially intrigued by all the ways in which this album is un-jazzlike, particularly if we think of jazz in terms of its dominant, bebop-derived strain. Carlton plays a ‘jazz guitar,’ a warm-toned Gibson ES-335 semi-hollow-body (made famous as B.B. King's "Lucille") but he plays it quite unlike your orthodox bebop-based guitarist. He likes to bend and sustain melody notes as a rock guitarist might, e.g. the opening bars of “Nightmoves”. (For some reason, bop players like to either hit the melody notes head-on or slide into and out of them rather than bend them; I'm not quite sure why.) Instead of acoustic piano, Sample plays a splashy Fender Rhodes. And Wilton Felder wields not a stand-up bass but an electric. Incidentally, all three were members of the Crusaders.
Also thrilling is the way three instruments (guitar, vibes, Fender Rhodes) weave in and out of each other’s melodic paths, coming together for unison passages—impromptu? arranged? It’s not always clear—then diverging to either fall into silence or vamp discreetly or inject fills into the interstices when other instruments are soloing. This acutely sensitive interplay clearly owes much more to jazz than it does to pop.
Once a year, I spend a weekend making a handful of home-made T-shirts. It’s taken a few years of trial and error (lots of error) to refine this process, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.
For images, I usually raid my sketchbook but also use CD artwork or reproductions of paintings or film posters or stills, all scanned at a fairly high resolution (200 dpi), and reduced to approximately the dimensions of a CD case. The colors are denser and faster when the images are reduced; the doodle pictured above was a full 8 1/2 by 11 size in the original. I buy white T-Shirts (100% cotton, brand: Merona) for $5 apiece at Target. For the iron-on T-shirt transfers, I’d recommend paying a little extra for a name brand (Avery), because it can make a big difference. They run about a dollar per shirt, and you can get them at your local Officemax. Oh, and make sure to wash the T’s, without fabric softener, beforehand. Easy, inexpensive, customizable, and a creative outlet to boot—I recommend giving it a try.