Around & About
There are many ways, in cinema, to tell the story of youth. One can tell it as a reassuring ‘rite of passage’ that takes us safely (with a few thrills and tears along the way) from childhood innocence to adult maturity. One can tell it nostalgically, as an adult reminiscence of the ‘days gone by’, the world as a simpler place back then ... One can show teenagers slowly integrating themselves, becoming part of a family, a community, a nation, a world.
Or we can tell another story: the story of Teenage Wildlife. The story of teenagers living in an eternal present moment, like a savage, roaming pack of animals. Living violently, impulsively, on their wits and instincts. Without ties to family, to adults, to any kind of civilised society. Teenagers in a world apart, their own, separate universe which is incomprehensible to the concerned adults (parents, police, social workers, politicians) who look on, aghast. Teenagers who (in the immortal words of the Surrealist Robert Benayoun) exhibit all the ‘normal qualities of youth: naiveté, idealism, humour, hatred of tradition, erotomania, and a sense of injustice’.
Alluding to Marcos Uzal on Jerzy Skolimowski, they write:
Skolimowski remained fixed, according to Uzal, on ‘awkward adolescents and immature adults, on the insolence of sons and the disillusionment of fathers. What do we gain and what do we lose in leaving our youth?’ There is an intensely physical struggle betrayed by each youthful body, as Skolimowki’s beloved author Gombrowicz put it: a fight between the ‘inconsolable boy’ and the ‘made man’. At stake, at all times, is the difficult – perhaps impossible – entry of youth into the larger ‘social body’, the certified world of maturity and ‘experience’ (as Benjamin mocked it). For many constituent members of the teenage wildlife, that passage will not be achieved at all; the bubble that defines their tumultuous eternal present will be burst only in the instant of death.
Other recent web reading:
-- David Lowery, whom we have long known as a presence in the film-blogosphere, has made his first feature film. It's called St. Nick, and the trailer looks tantalizing. I wrote a post about David's short films a couple of years ago.
-- Anthony Kaufman has a piece on the demise of VHS at Moving Image Source. Some of the responses to it include: Craig Keller at Cinemasparagus; and a discussion around Peter Martin's post at Cinematical.
-- Do you google up every film you see, new or old? I do, and that's why one-stop collections of links to writings on a film are so invaluable. Here are two recent excellent examples: Michael Guillen's round-up on Chantal Akerman's Je Tu Il Elle; and Kevin Lee's links post with hefty excerpts on Frank Borzage's Moonrise.
-- Chris Fujiwara on Paul Schrader: "It feels cold to write of someone who has been directing for 30 years that his first film is his best, but I have little hesitation in declaring BLUE COLLAR (1978)...Schrader's strongest and sharpest movie to date. One of the few American commercial films to take a sustained, insightful, and informed look at the problems of workers, Blue Collar is stringent in its treatment of the dehumanization and occasional violence of an auto-assembly line, the financial pressures on the middle class, the need to escape through alcohol and cocaine."
-- Dave Kehr in the NYT on the newly released 26-film DVD set Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film 1947-1986: "Movies are among the most fragile of art forms, and avant-garde films are among the most fragile of movies. Usually made on delicate, narrow-gauge stock (16 millimeter, 8 millimeter and Super 8, formats made virtually obsolete by video), printed directly from the original camera materials and distributed informally in a small number of copies, many of the avant-garde films of the 20th century have become difficult to see in anything like their original state."
-- Also on this DVD set: Ed Halter at Moving Image Source. I noticed recently that Halter has put together a most useful webpage of experimental resources.
-- More at Moving Image Source: Jonathan Rosenbaum on Cinéma Cinémas, a French TV series devoted to cinephilia. Also: Jonathan on Molly Haskell's new book, Frankly My Dear: Gone With The Wind Revisited: "I’m glad that Armond White gave this book a favorable review in the New York Times, which it clearly deserves. But I wish he hadn’t muddied his kindness with lazy misinformation and lazier prose."
-- A 'Film Festival Research' bibliography gathered by Skadi Loist and Marijke de Valck for Universität Hamburg. Via Adrian Martin's new column at Filmkrant, which is on web film resources and film festivals.
-- There are hundreds of film essays available to read at the Criterion website.
-- At The Auteurs' Notebook, Danny Kasman, Ry Knight and Andrew Grant interview Film Comment's Gavin Smith.
-- I've been catching up on some great blogosphere reading lately, especially new posts at: Vinyl Is Heavy; Film Studies for Free; Tativille; and Serge Daney in English (new links to two Daney pieces);
-- A 1928 interview with King Vidor from the British film magazine Close Up is reproduced at Man Without A Star.
-- David Bordwell has a terrific piece on documentary:
People tend to think that documentary films are typified by two conditions. First, the events we see are unstaged, or at least unstaged by the filmmaker. If you mount a parade, the way that Coppola staged the Corpus Christi procession in The Godfather Part II, then you aren’t making a documentary. But if you go to a town that is holding such a procession and shoot it, you are making a doc—even though the parade was organized to some extent by others. Fiction films stage their events for the camera, but documentaries, we tend to think, capture spontaneous happenings.
Secondly, in a documentary the camera is seizing those events photographically. The great film theorist André Bazin saw cinema’s defining characteristic as its capacity to record the actual unfolding of events with little human intervention. All the other arts rely on human creation at a basic level: the novelist selects words, the painter chooses colors. But the photographer or filmmaker employs a machine that impassively records what is happening in front of it. “All the arts are based on the presence of man,” Bazin writes; “only photography derives an advantage from his absence.” This isn’t to say that cinema can’t be artful, only that it offers a different sort of creativity than we find in the traditional arts. The filmmaker works not with pure imaginings but obstinate chunks of actual time and space. [...]
Film theorist Noël Carroll defines documentary as the film of “purported fact.” Carl Plantinga makes a similar point in saying that documentaries take “an assertive stance.” Both these writers argue that we take it for granted that a documentary is claiming something to be true about the world. The persons and actions are to be taken as representing states of affairs that exist, or once existed. This is not something that is presumed by The Gold Rush, Magnificent Obsession, or Speed Racer. These films come to us labeled as fictional, and they do not assert that their events and agents ever existed.
pic: From David Lowery's St. Nick (2009).