In Tamil Nadu
Chennai is hot as blazes and punishingly muggy but it's good to be reunited with my parents, whom I only see once every couple of years. Every afternoon we stir out for a walk on the beach when the sea breeze picks up but otherwise we mostly stay indoors. We've been watching lots of classic Bollywood, Keaton and Ozu, 2-3 films a day. Having nearly forsaken Bollywood cinema when I moved to the States over 20 years ago, I've had a small epiphany reconnecting with it in the last few months. It's a vast cinema, rich and strange, worthy of serious, careful attention (not to mention joyous cinephilic appreciation) but I don't see a huge amount of it out there, either in print or on the Net, at least in comparison to that other large cinema, Hollywood. One of my resolutions this year is to write more about Indian cinema, looking at it through at least two key lenses: (1) film form; and (2) as social/cultural artifacts. There are so many pleasures and treasures here, waiting to be rediscovered, to be thought about and talked about...
Lots of good reading to catch up on:
-- Some year-end list-posts: Acquarello; Darren; Filmbrain; Listening Ear; Mubarak; and Zach.
-- Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's post "Happy birthday, classical cinema!" includes a best-films-of-1917 list.
-- The 2007 Village Weekly/LA Weekly Film Poll and the critics' ballots.
-- Mark your calendars for two upcoming blog-a-thons: Contemplative Cinema 2 at Unspoken Cinema, Jan 6-13; and Val Lewton at Michael Guillen's The Evening Class, running the week of Jan 14.
-- Dave Kehr on Harry Langdon in the NYT.
Adrian's new column at De Filmkrant refers to blog posts by Sandrine Marques, Mubarak, and Zach, and discusses comparative iconography, "finding the similarities and tracing the evolution of a pictorial motif, a style of composition or an arrangement of colours across works, periods, nations":
Art history, as it is classically and sometimes too conventionally practiced, has its trap: the literal-minded emphasis on direct 'influence': which style influenced another, which artist studied and emulated another. Of course, many filmmakers have indeed been directly inspired by paintings and other artworks, handing reproductions to their cinematographers and production designers.
With 'Décadrages' ('deframings'), the 1985 book by French critic-screenwriter-director Pascal Bonitzer, however, another approach to tracing the relation between art and cinema was born: in the best Warburgian spirit, it is not about explicit influences or borrowings, but more mysterious and unconscious echoes, resonances, transmissions, 'eternal returns' of certain gestures, shapes, visual ideas - The subsequent critical work of Jacques Aumont, Alain Bergala and Nicole Brenez has traced many tantalising 'networks' between images that the old-school iconographers would probably have never allowed.
Whatever theoretical or methodological approach is used, one thing is certain: the critic who wishes to compare visual instances and forms needs to have a 'good eye', and an even better visual memory - even a 'photographic memory'! And the Internet has proved to be a fertile ground for a renewed 'iconophilia' ranging across art, cinema, still photography, advertising imagery - particularly in the copyright-indifferent blogosphere.
A page of Michael Sicinski reviews including I'm Not There, Black Book, The Band's Visit, Quiet City, and No Country for Old Men. Here's an excerpt from the write-up on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:
I've never been quite sure how to feel about Julien Schnabel. Hailing as I do from the Marx / Barthes / Foucault / October side of the art history world, I was sort of coached to loathe the guy, since his neo-Expressionist canvases and macho posturing and most-favored-nation status in the Saatchi Collection and his bon vivant persona all marked him out as the enemy. ("Go study Barbara Kruger photocollages like a good boy!") And while I did find more than a few of Schnabel's paintings almost comically overbearing ("Portrait of God," anyone? "Muhammad Ali"?), I also quite enjoyed their chutzpah a lot of the time. Their swagger was refreshing in an anti-aesthetic age, they displayed an often misunderstood sense of humor, and the broken-crockery textures struck me as a logically impoverished, look-ma American answer to various forms of European refinement, from classical Italian frescoes to the contemporaneous Teutonicisms of Anselm Kiefer. Of all the 80s art stars, it makes sense that only Schnabel has really succeeded as a film director (observe the sad crash-and-burns of Cindy Sherman, David Salle, and Robert Longo), but it's odd that his three films have been so utterly pedestrian and undistinguished, as though the film medium were nothing more than a convenient way to sell nominally visual storytelling to the high-middlebrow masses. Although Diving Bell is his most formally ambitious film, in certain ways it's also his most conservative, surveying modernist terrain in order to claim it for hackneyed narrative and received wisdom.
Tamil Nadu map: from here.