Archiveology: Five Hungry Men
Philippe Garrel's Sauvage Innocence
I know the blogosphere values currency, so as a small gesture against our impulse to only highlight the links du jour, I’m starting up a new feature called Archiveology devoted to unearthing valuable writing on the web that is not brand new. Today: an homage to five voracious cinephiles whose curiosity, open-mindedness, energy, intelligence and appetite I find truly inspirational. Reading them is like catching a bug that galvanizes me: to watch more, read more, think more, write more. Now to share that bug with you—in alphabetical order:
Zach Campbell: Yes, he’s only 23. And no, I’m not kidding. I’d say more but Zach’s a friend and I wouldn't want to embarrass him with my praise. Links: Ten underrated films; Key cinephile texts; Peter Greenaway; One of his favorite filmmakers, John Ford; Circumnavigating the cinema; On certain long movies; Ruiz, De Palma and Allan Moyle's Times Square; Argument, treatise, experience; and here's a list of his non-blog writings at his site Elusive Lucidity.
Raymond Durgnat: One of the all-time great film critics, the Swiss-born Durgnat died in 2002. Here is a large festschrift in his honor at Senses of Cinema, which contains links to several essays on him by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, Chris Fujiwara, etc. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote about Durgnat a while back. Durgnat's Films and Feelings is one of my favorite movie books; unfortunately it's out of print but can be picked up used for a few bucks.
Adrian Martin: See Matthew Clayfield's terrific recent post about Martin. Links: Rotterdam '02 festival report; John Cassavetes; Roman Polanski; Samuel Fuller; "Bressonian"; On short films; "Delirious Enchantment". Martin co-edits the amazing Rouge.
Olaf Möller: Based in Cologne, he writes for Film Comment and Cinema Scope and has an admirably vast field of cinephilic interest. Links: Nigerian videofilm culture; Torino '05 festival report; Venice '03; Berlin '04; British filmmaker Laura Waddington; German film magazine Filmkritik; and a "Books Around" column on Japanese cinema in Cinema-Scope.
Michael Sicinski: One of the hardest-working—and best—film critics in America today! (No exaggeration.) His website, The Academic Hack, contains a small mountain of great, thoughtful writing on film. I love how Sicinski wrestles, on a nearly daily basis, with every single film he sees (and he sees a lot), using it as an occasion to reflect both about cinema and larger issues, aesthetic, social and political. And he has a biting self-deprecating wit. I wish I had a tenth of his discipline, not to mention his erudition. Links: Toronto '06 festival report; A letter to his students about Peter Kubelka and Craig Baldwin; NYFF '06 Avant-Garde films; A letter to Caveh Zahedi; An example month of reviews.
Sicinski's latest review, of Fred Worden's Everyday Bad Dream, begins thus:
Isn't there anybody out there who isn't afraid of pissing off his or her audience? Of doling out what at first may seem like "punishment," that in fact is just forceful re-education of the senses? I can't believe I need to say this in 2006, but here goes: powerful cinema must not only address our minds. It has to engage our bodies, and while sometimes that physical challenge can be lyrical and poignant, sometimes it has to pierce our eyes with a light we simply cannot shut out. Within this aggressive modernist logic, only by diving into the wreck of our previous perceptual habits can we round the corner into a new, skull-shaking version of beauty. Brakhage knew this. So did Sharits, Menken, Harry Smith. Peter Kubelka and Rose Lowder and Luther Price and Lynn Marie Kirby still know this. And by God, so does Fred Worden.
The first chapter of the book Movie Mutations (2003), co-edited by Adrian Martin and Jonathan Rosenbaum, consists of letters exchanged between a half dozen cinephile/critics around the world. The following passages from Martin's letters struck a profoundly inspiring (and liberating!) chord in me. I've re-read them many times:
It is hard to recapture, to describe adequately, the overwhelming shock that came with key movie events [...] like Marker's Sunless (1983), Wim Wenders' The State of Things (1982), Godard's Passion (1982), Chantal Akerman's Toute une nuit (1982), and Raul Ruiz's Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978). Suddenly here were the films playing right outside the maps of 70s' theory: free, lyrical, tender, poetic films, but also tough, savage, cruel, perverse, sometimes violent; films that were open diagrams, unashamed to link up raw fragments of human (or humanist) experience with the most severe or expansive kinds of experiments with form.
[...] Later, my love for an open cinema, for the ideal of a truly open, inclusive and above all impure cinema form, came to be crystallized in my personal discoveries of Cassavetes and Garrel – the single screenings in my hometown of Melbourne of Love Streams (1984) in 1985 and Les Baisers de Secours (Emergency Kisses, 1989) in 1994 count as primal scenes in my cinephile life. Cassavetes and Garrel stand for one sort of extreme that I love and cherish in cinema: a kind of arte povera fixed on the minute fluctuations of intimate life, on the effervescence of mood and emotion, and the instability of all lived meaning. A cinema which is a kind of documentary event where the energies of bodily performance, of gesture and utterance and movement, collide willy-nilly, in ways not always foreseen or proscribed, with the dynamic, formal, figurative work of shooting, framing, cutting, sound recording. A cinema open to the energies and intensities of life – and perpetually transformed by them.
I have always sought such life-affirming, life-enhancing energies and intensities from cinema, but I’m aware that the energies that I like, the energies which feed me, do not come in just one form, from one stream. The arte povera of Cassavetes and Garrel gives me a quiet, clear, minimalist intensity. But I get a different kind of energy, no less necessary for the soul's survival, from a completely commercial kind of cinema, a cinema of spectacle decried still today by so many of even a slightly Situationist bent. I mean a kind of pop cinema that includes De Palma's Mission: Impossible (1996), Tim Burton's movies, Joe Dante's Gremlins 2 (1990) – kinetic, sometimes cartoonish, extremely artificial and technologically mutated movies with no small claim on the cinematic language of tomorrow. I have cultivated my own particular, somewhat minor taste (in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari's notion of a troublesome, minor literature) within the halls of contemporary pop cinema – a taste for teen movies, from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) to Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997), films completely comprised of pop quotes, clichés and stereotypes, but blessed with the will and the inventiveness to animate these tokens, to combine and revive and spin them at dizzy rate.
[...] There is a recourse to the high moral ground – and to a certain lamentable purism – in a lot of film criticism today, even some of the most advanced. We read or hear far too often that there are only half a dozen directors working today who fulfill – or might one day fulfill, if we’re all lucky – the potential, the promise of this dazzling medium. We keep getting familiar-looking canons of the greatest Top 100 titles worth preserving, even as we pretend to have gotten beyond all canons, hierarchies and evaluations. We keep looking for the authentic personal voice in film, the true lone poet, the accursed seer and the discarded rebel, decades after the movies let us know that even the sleaziest, most ideologically compromised fantasies of Blake Edwards are also – and who can doubt it? – beautiful, moving, lucidly autobiographical testaments.
[...] I like the sentiment of Deleuze’s casual prefatory remark in Cinema 1: The Movement-Image: ‘The cinema is always as perfect as it can be'. Meaning that its potentiality, its virtuality is, in some ways, right here now – if we know where to look for it, how to maximize it, why it matters, and how to make it dance, for us and in us, like Rouch's privileged, shamanic figure of the dancing Socrates.