Notes on Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday
by Ivone Margulies.
Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist
Everyday, Ivone Margulies provides a comprehensive examination
of the minimalist visual imagery, deliberate pacing, and recurrent
themes of disconnection, wanderlust, isolation, and longing that define
Akerman's intensely personal cinema.
Citing Akerman's penchant for filming the rhythm of everyday life,
and her de-emphasis of unique and significant events, Margulies proposes
that Akerman does not attempt to reflect the social realism of the
human condition but rather, seeks to create a heightened sense of
hyperreality and what Margulies describes as corporeal cinema.
According to Margulies, "Akerman's boldness as a filmmaker
lies in her charging the mundane with significance."
In the masterwork, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai
du Commerce, 1080 Brussels, Akerman's preferential focus on the
minutiae of Jeanne's household chores over the conventionally
more intriguing premise of capturing the protagonist's seemingly
incongruous dual life seems an odd choice. As Margulies comments, "In
Jeanne Dielman, both long takes of everyday tasks (the kitchen scenes)
and nontakes (the elided sex scenes) stand for a radical new visibility." Furthermore,
by visually ingraining Jeanne's systematic performance of household
rituals in the film, Akerman reflects the protagonist's
aberrant psychological dependency towards control and predictability,
and the irrational chaos that results from a divergence from an innate
sense of logical order.
Margulies also explores Akerman's use of distended, monologuistic
delivery of character speech and protracted silence in the chapter,
Forms of Address. The failure of connection between Anna and the
whom she encounters in Les
Rendezvous d'Anna, Akerman's monotonic, inexpressive reading
of her mother's alternately affectionate and guilt-inducing letters
Belgium in the hybrid documentary News
from Home, and the near silent episodes of profound human interaction
une nuit manifest Akerman's recurring themes of alienation and
emotional detachment. Juxtaposed against the visual symmetry of Akerman's
rigorous framing, the dispassionate narrative, like the incongruous
imagery of Jeanne Dielman, becomes a poignant and powerful statement
on the place of the artist as a perpetual exile and outsider.
Observation: The connected themes and repeated (or, at times,
complementary) imagery of Akerman's films further reflect a commonality
within Akerman's oeuvre: the methodical ritual of chores in Saute
ma ville and Jeanne Dielman; the
cyclical chronicle of dusk to dawn in Toute une Nuit and
Night and Day (also illustrated in
the temporal progression of News from Home);
the subversion of the musical genre in Window Shopping
and The Eighties;
and the nomadism and transience of News
from Home and D'Est.
In essence, the repetitive nature of the visual (and aural) motifs
and ideological themes illustrated in Akerman's earlier and later
films seem to reflect Akerman's instinctual need for internal symmetry
within her own body of work, as if to attempt to contain the chaos
and irrationality of human experience.
on DEFA East German Cinema, 1946-1992 edited by Seán
Allan and John Sandford.
East German Cinema, 1946-1992 retraces
the unique achievements and continued relevance of the East German
national film studio, Deutsche Film-AG (DEFA), from its origins as
a Soviet-assembled group of experienced postwar filmmakers called
filmaktiv tasked to draft a plan to revive the German film
industry, to the sale of the studio to the French conglomerate, Compagnie
Général des Eaux (CGE) in 1992 after the fall of the
Among DEFA's earliest missions were to expose and reconcile with Germany's
fascist legacy. The first DEFA feature film, Wolfgang Staudte's The
Murderers are Among Us, provides a compelling and poignant exploration
of culpability for the atrocities committed by ordinary citizens during
World War II. DEFA would also prove to be an international film studio
when it provided assistance to Roberto Rossellini for the filming
Year Zero, the third installment of Rossellini's Trilogy
In Discussion With Kurt Maetzig, Martin Brady documents a fascinating
transcript of a Question and Answer session with Kurt Maetzig, a founding
member of filmaktiv and one of the most prominent DEFA filmmakers
as he provides an honest reflection of his experiences during fascist
Germany, his commitment to create social realist films (Gegenwartsfilme,
or contemporary screen drama), and his determination to work within
the state run DEFA studio. Maetzig's The
Council of the Gods examines the moral
crime of economic opportunism, and is based on real-life accounts
documented after the Neuremberg trials. In 1947, Maetzig's deeply
personal film, Marriage in the Shadow,
became the first German film to broach the subject of Jewish persecution.
The film was based on the true account of a popular, Weimar era actor
named Joachim Gottschalk, who committed suicide with his family in
1942, unable to prevent the deportation of his Jewish wife and twelve
year old son during fascist Germany.
The egalitarian status of women in the Germany Democratic Republic
as socialist workers manifested in the Frauenfilme dramas of
the DEFA studios and presented a realistic image of the female worker
that proved to be antithetical to the idealized archetypal heroines
of Hollywood and Western European films. Andrea Rinke's essay, From
Models to Misfits: Women in DEFA Films of the 1970s and 1980s
examines the distinctively independent and "feminist" characterization
of contemporary women in DEFA films. However, in examining the responsibilities
and gender relations of the modern working woman, the inevitable consequence
was often to expose the marital discord and social alienation that
resulted from the dichotomy between the traditional domestic roles
of women and their advancement in social class.
DEFA East German Cinema, 1946-1992 provides
a fascinating and comprehensive insight into the state sponsored film
industry of East Germany during the Cold War. Inspired by idealistic
goals to remove the vestiges of fascist ideology and restore democracy
in Germany, the DEFA filmmakers sought to reeducate the public through
humanist films that examine the social issues of contemporary life
in postwar Germany and, in the process, help to rebuild the country's
tarnished cinematic legacy after World War II.
Notes on My Years With Apu, A Memoir by Satyajit Ray.
Years With Apu, A Memoir reflects the
lucidity, compassion, and humility of the versatile and immensely
talented humanist filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. The book is prefaced by
his wife, Bijoya Ray, who describes her attempts to faithfully recapture
Ray's memoir from his first draft, after his final draft was stolen
at a hospital shortly before his death. Ray recounts with self-effacing
modesty his initial exposure to the Bengali novel Pather Panchali
by Bibhuti Bhusan Bannerji while seeking employment at a British advertising
agency. Ray made the acquaintance of an erudite company manager named
D.K. Gupta who later tasked Ray to illustrate the abridged version
of the novel for his own publishing company, Signet Press, and suggested
the suitability of adapting the story to film. As a result, Ray began
to devise creative ways to shoot his envisioned low budget, independent
film: nonprofessional actors, natural lighting, no makeup, location
shooting. His approach would later be validated after seeing Vittorio
de Sica's neorealist film, The
Ray's affection for "serious" cinema led to the creation
of the Calcutta Film Society in an attempt to elevate the artistic
and technical standards for the Indian film industry. In his article
for the Statesman entitled What is Wrong
With Indian Films?, Ray remarks:
should be realized that the average American film is a bad model,
if only because it depicts a way of life so utterly variant with our
own. Moreover, the high technical polish which is the hallmark of
the standard Hollywood product, would be impossible to achieve under
existing Indian conditions. What the Indian Cinema needs today is
not more gloss, but more imagination, more integrity, and a more intelligent
appreciation of the limitations of the medium."
Ray's desire to instill cultural pride through the creation of a
distinctive, native cinema and develop his own knowledge on the potential
of film as an artistic medium were further cultivated during a sought
after meeting with revered humanist director, Jean
Renoir (who visited India in 1949 in order to scout locations
and interview actors for the filming of The
River), where the awestruck Ray instinctively remarked that he
was working on the Pather
Panchali film project. This non-binding declaration to his hero
and cinematic mentor, followed by a subsequent traveling foreign film
festival, which featured such classics as Miracle in Milan, Open
City, Rashomon, and Jour
de Fete, cemented Ray's commitment and determination to become
a filmmaker. After taking a leave of absence from his employer, Ray
embarked on the filming of the historic masterpiece that would launch
his life's work and propel him to international acclaim - the first
installment of what would evolve to be a chronicle of the life and
travails of a poor Bengali boy named Apu at the turn of the century
- The Apu Trilogy.
Notes on Japanese Film Directors by Audie Bock.
Bock presents a collection of perceptive, knowledgeable, and comprehensive
critical essays on the most influential and distinctive filmmakers
of Japan in Japanese Film Directors.
Bock chronologically explores the personal influences and cinematic
contributions of several acclaimed film directors, and in the process,
provides an intelligent observation on the profound effects of changing
political, social, and cultural climate on the evolution of the Japanese
The Early Masters: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse
"You must put the odor of the human body into images...describe
for me the implacable, the egoistic, the sensual, the cruel...there
are nothing but disgusting people in this world." - Kenji
Audie Bock defines Kenji
Mizoguchi's feminism through the nuance of the Japanese
language by characterizing him as "indulgent toward women",
rather than assigning political implications of the traditional, Western
definition to his romanticized, and largely unrealistic, view of women.
Using this semantic definition, Bock explains that Mizoguchi was not
necessarily concerned with the improvement of women's social status,
but rather, was fascinated by their ideal. Bock explains, "All
of the admiration, exploitation, fear and pity concerning women shown
in his life would find expression in his films."
"It is after all, the human drama, isn't it?" - Yasujiro
On the subject of Yasujiro
Ozu's use of a peculiar low height stationary camera, Audie Bock
refutes Donald Richie's explanation
that the effect on the viewer is that of a person sitting on a tatami
mat, countering that in medium shot, the resulting height translates
to one to two feet above the ground. Rather, Bock proposes that Ozu's
camera position is one of reverence for his characters. In essence,
the point of view is one of appreciation, perhaps even inspired awe,
for the common man - for the mundane and unalterable passage of time.
"From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in
betrays us; this thought remains with me." - Mikio Naruse
In contrast to Ozu's resigned acceptance of the transience of life,
clinical and dispassionate view of existence is pessimistic, hopeless,
and inescapable. Like Mizoguchi, Naruse identified this profound despair
with the plight of women. However, unlike the self-sacrificing Mizoguchi's
heroines, Naruse's women are often flawed, stubborn, and embittered.
According to Bock, "Naruse heroines retain the dignity of
evaluating their acts to the end, and the persistence for their search
for happiness, despite accumulating evidence of its nonexistence,
becomes the terrifying statement of all of Naruse's work."
The Postwar Humanists: Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Kon Ichikawa,
"I believed at the time that for [postwar] Japan to recover, it
was important to place a high value on the self. I still believe this."
- Akira Kurosawa
Following Japanese defeat in 1945, the postwar generation found themselves
reevaluating their obedience and culpability for their country's actions.
This sentiment was further exacerbated by an American occupation policy
that sought to suppress the cultural heritage of feudalism that led
to Japan's isolationism and aggression. As a consequence, several
established filmmakers could not (or elected not to) create films
after the war. However, the universal themes, egalitarian values,
and altruism of Akira
Kurosawa's films made him an ideal ambassador for Japan's cultural
reintroduction to the West. As Bock illustrates, "The choice
of situations - Meiji Period martial arts competition, work for the
war effort, persecution of Communists and bureaucratic stagnation
- and of the young and old, male and female protagonists from varying
social backgrounds, reveals a dramatic focus that is bound neither
by politics, age, nor sex, but by existential challenge to the individual."
"I have always believed since I was a child that beautiful things
were true." - Keisuke Kinoshita
Keisuke Kinoshita was a prolific filmmaker
who showed great versatility in genre, narrative, social statement,
and technique. Bock expounds on Kinoshita's range: "He has
excelled in both comedy and tragedy; the 'home drama' of the contemporary
family in isolation from social problems, and period films exposing
social injustices; 'all location' films and films shot completely
in a one-house set, he has pursued a severe photographic realism with
the long-take, long shot method, and he has gone equally far toward
stylization with fast cutting, intricate wipes, tilted cameras and
even medieval scroll-painting and Kabuki stage techniques." In
fact, Kinoshita has employed at least one innovative technique in
each of his films. Nevertheless, despite his constant experimentation,
Kinoshita's idealistic themes of innocence, purity, and beauty pervade
his films, reflecting his genuine sincerity, humility, and interminable
"I don't have any unifying theme - I just make any picture I like
or that my company tells me to do." - Kon Ichikawa
career is marked by great versatility and varied subject matter, from
darkly comical social satire to profoundly humanist war films to compelling
documentaries. " My own life experience was not very rich,
[so I decided to] absorb other people's ideas in my own way, and see
what sort of answers emerged from putting them on film."
Initially trained in animation, Ichikawa's films bear the distinction
of his training - from rapid editing, selection of transition shots,
and exaggerate action of his films. His wife, screenwriter Natto Wada,
was a frequent collaborator in adapting literary works to film scripts,
until her retirement after Tokyo Olympiad.
On Wada's retirement, Ichikawa explains, "She doesn't like
the new film grammar, the method of presentation of the material;
she says there's no heart in it anymore, that people no longer take
human love seriously." Bock further observes, "And
indeed, if one compares a Wada scenario like Harp
of Burma or I Am Two to any Ichikawa has directed since 1965,
it becomes apparent that while humor and feeling for the human condition
remain, some of the warmth of affirmation and optimism is gone."
"I would have gone on [with art studies], but the Pacific War had
begun. In art history, I knew it would require many more years of
painstaking research for me to make a contribution, and the (Pacific)
war made the future too uncertain. But with film, I thought there
might be a chance of leaving something behind." - Masaki
A protégé of Kinoshita, Masaki Kobayashi was drawn to
film with a sense of urgency to create a legacy through art. With
his fledgling career in filmmaking interrupted by the war, Kobayashi
returned to the medium with a somber reflection for social justice,
wartime responsibility, and meticulous aestheticism. Bock observes,
"He denies that he is pessimistic, but admits 'it is easy
to become so after examining the history of humanity. You have to
try hard to be optimistic.'...The history of humanity, in other words,
reveals oppression and lack of human feeling in every age..."
The New Wave and After: Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro
"You may think all that [image of hurried urbanites] is real, but
to me it's all illusion. The reality is those little shrines, the
superstition and irrationality that pervade the Japanese consciousness
under the veneer of business suits and advanced technology."
- Shohei Imamura
Irreverent and darkly comic, but also compassionate of human frailty,
Imamura celebrates the underlying vitality and behavioral idiosyncrasies
that constitute the real Japan. Of the archetypal Imamura woman, Bock
explains, The creative eccentricity that can be ascribed to Imamura
lies in the realm of cinematic genre, for he rejects both the slow
pace and the long-suffering image of the 'woman's film'. His women
not only hold their own, they increase it, and they fight dirty with
no pangs of conscience."
"You may not think so to see me sitting here smiling and laughing,
but that dark, oppressed side of me is always there." -
Profoundly influenced by nouvelle vague, Nagisa
Oshima's revolutionary approach to filmmaking has been described
as difficult, inaccessible, and controversial. Yet despite his unconventional
style, his underlying themes - injustice, repression, personal responsibility,
violence - are contemporary social issues that reflect his concern
for humanity. Bock observes:
than Godardian alienation, it is a personal anguish that infuses the
deadpan acting in Oshima's films as well ...Their blankness is a cover
for their pain, as Oshima's own early development of an emotionless
mask was to hide his sorrow and loneliness. ...He regrets his own
tendency toward sentimentality. He prefers a more complex structure
that hides his feelings at the same time as it reveals them."
"Reality for its own sake is not what interests
me. If my films had to be perfect reconstructions of reality, I would
not make them. I begin with reality and see what higher idea comes
out of it." - Masahiro Shinoda
Masahiro Shinoda sought to understand the essence and peculiarity
of the Japanese that led the country to war. His academic studies
in drama and theater led him to reconcile the origins of Noh, whose
tales of vengeful ghosts served as reassurance for the persecuted
outcasts living under military aggression during the Middle Ages.
From this, Shinoda derived a realization that the art, violence, destruction,
and ideals are somehow interconnected into the formation of the Japanese
character. Bock expounds, "Masochism and murder for the sake
of the ideal, pure, beautiful love as mapped out in the horrifying
symbolic acts of these contemporary dramas carries through all of
Shinoda's works, extending even to his recent period films."
Notes on Shohei Imamura (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 1)
edited by James Quandt.
"I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the
human body and the lower part of the social structure."
Imamura is a compilation of reflective,
analytical, and appreciative essays on Imamura's idiosyncratic and
critical, yet compassionate films that examine the dichotomy of human
behavior in the structured, conformist, and highly ordered society
of Japan. According to Donald Richie's essay, Notes for a Study
on Shohei Imamura, Imamura was primarily interested in the theater,
but turned to film for employment opportunity. Although he served
as an assistant director to Yasujiro
Ozu, Imamura does not subscribe to Ozu's aestheticized view of
Japanese life but rather, celebrates the everyday chaos as the reflection
"Imamura resented what he thought
was Ozu's lack of concern for reality. Actually, Ozu was equally concerned
with the real, but this was something which the resentful assistant
director could not then know. We may now see Imamura and Ozu as very
alike in several important ways. Though their style and technique
could not more differ, their concern for the natural, for the real,
for the truth, is identical. So is their moral concern, with the difference
that while Ozu saw the truth and beauty of the real slowly being eroded,
Imamura sees it as healthy, alive and vital as ever."
In an interview with young Japanese filmmaker, Toichi Nakata, Imamura
describes his assistantship for Ozu with respectful reflection:
"My mother died of a cerebral haemorrage while I was working
on Ozu's Tokyo
Story. When I got back from her funeral, I found Ozu in the
sound studio dubbing the scene in which the grandmother [played
by Chieko Higashiyama] is dying, also from a cerebral haemorrage.
I could not stand watching the scene over and over again - it reminded
me so vividly of my mother's death - and so I ran out of the dubbing
theatre... But Ozu followed me... 'Mr. Imamura,' he asked, 'is that
what a cerebral haemorrage looks like? Have I got it right?' At
the time I thought him incredibly cruel, but I later realized that
a great filmmaker sometimes has to behave like that."
In contrast to the creative differences that distanced Imamura from
Ozu's technical approach to cinema, Imamura's style was greatly influenced
by Yuzo Kawashima, an underrated director (outside of Japan) of eccentric
comedies. In a series of essays, My Approach to Filmmaking, Traditions
and Influences, The Sun Legend of a Country Boy, and My Teacher,
Imamura fondly recounts his professional association and ideological
connection with the hard drinking and undisciplined, yet intensely
focused Kawashima who eventually succumbed to degenerative muscle
By capturing an objective and compassionate portrait of instinctual
human behavior, Shohei Imamura is often described as a social entomologist
of modern Japan. "Insects, animals and humans are similar
in the sense that they are born, excrete, reproduce and die. Nevertheless,
I myself am a man. I ask myself what differentiates humans from other
animals. What is a human being? I look for the answer by continuing
to make films. I don't think I have found the answer." For
The Insect Woman, Imamura selected the title after observing that
the actions of the film's heroine mirror the behavior of an insect
endlessly circling his ashtray.
Imamura further reinforces his image as a social scientist through
his fascination for the study of homo ludens - the insular
Southern provinces of Japan that share a common, primal ancestry more
closely associated with South East Asia than with the rest of Japan
(Edo). This is the basis for the mythical, dysfunctional civilization
reflected in the film, The Profound Desire of
the Gods. In The
Ballad of Narayama, his first film to be awarded the Palme
d'or at Cannes, Imamura combines the setting of a primitive, mythical
civilization, with the juxtaposition of the instinctual behavior of
humans reflected in the behavior of the animals to create an austere,
unsettling, yet compassionate and ultimately triumphant portrait of
aging and death.
Despite his privileged class, Imamura strongly identifies with the
lower classes whom, he believes, reflect the true soul of Japanese
culture: instinctual, primitive, and resourceful. Similar to Kenji
Mizoguchi and Mikio
Naruse, the women in Imamura's cinema are resilient, confident,
and vital despite their social and economic marginalization. However,
unlike Mizoguchi and Naruse who idealized their heroines as eternally
suffering and self-sacrificing, the Imamura woman is obdurate and
independent, and inevitably responsible for her course of action and
Notes on Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History
edited by Arthur Nolletti Jr. and David Desser.
Japanese Cinema provides a comprehensive
and varied perspective on Japanese cinema through a series of essays
on a director's signature style (authorship), culturally representative
film genres, and historical evolution of the Japanese film industry.
Of the three sections on Authorship, Genre,
the articles on Authorship
provide the most revealing insight into the evolution of Japanese
film. Articles are presented for Heinosuke Gosho's Woman
of the Mist, Kenji Mizoguchi's Life
of Oharu, Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru,
an overview of themes of Nagisa Oshima, and an examination of the
narrative structure in Yasujiro's late films (Late
Story, Early Spring,
End of Summer,
Heinosuke Gosho is considered to be one of the greatest Japanese filmmakers,
despite his relative obscurity in the West. His shomin-geki
films (everyday lives of the lower class) gracefully merge comedy
and pathos, humanity and social conscience. In Woman
of the Mist and Gosho and the 1930s,
the author, Arthur Nolletti, Jr., explores the maturation of Gosho's
style in the 1930s through an in-depth analysis of the film, citing
his use of narrative ellipses, mise-en-scene, irony and reversal
of expectation, and framing and space.
In Why Does Oharu Faint? Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu and the Patriarchal
Discourse by Robert N. Cohen, the author
presents an alternate, if ultimately, unconvincing, perspective on
the plight of Oharu as a result of neurotic distortions from the heroine's
own flawed memory. Cohen attempts to correlate the episodes in Oharu's
life that represent her search for love as scenes that repeatedly
show her objectification, and concludes that her fainting at the end
of her narrative flashback was a culmination of her own subconscious
anxieties over her identity and perception of independence.
David Desser's essay, Ikiru: Narration
as a Moral Act, proposes that the mastery
of Kurosawa's early humanist drama rests, in part, due to the director's
successful reworking of styles, themes, and images previously developed
Citing the use of multiple narrative perspective and the consequent
actions of the elder protagonist (Takashi Shimura) in both films,
Kurosawa's thematic approach to Ikiru
becomes a recurring exploration on how a human being can conduct his
life in a world devoid of absolute truth, when only death is certain.
The essay, Oshima Nagisa, or The Battered
Energy of Desire by Max Tessier traces
the turbulent career of Nagisa Oshima through his rebellious, provocative,
and idiosyncratic films, and provides a fascinating discourse on the
evolution of Oshima's style. Profoundly influenced by the French new
wave, Oshima filmed Night and Fog in Japan,
(an homage to Alain Resnais Night
and Fog) that featured a Resnais-influenced, complex narrative
structure to document an episode of political embarrassment in Japanese
history. In the lean years that followed Oshima's ouster from the
Shochiku Company, he created a still photograph montage film entitled
Diary of Yunbogi,
which presented the audience with another provocative issue: the status
of Korean minorities in Japan. In
Violence at Noon and his subsequent masterwork,
In the Realm of the Senses,
Oshima further pushes the envelope of provocative filmmaking by exploring
the psychological interrelation between sexuality and violence in
crimes that evolve out of the protagonist's mental aberration of "uncontrollable
Kathe Geist's essay on Narrative Strategies
in Ozu's Late Films examines the seemingly
incidental and mundane scenes of Ozu's mature films (characterized
by minimal plot and limited social interaction outside of the family
home, office, or local bar). Geist argues that Ozu's particular attention
to seemingly inconsequential events, while, at the same time, providing
cursory introduction to significant characters and events, do not
reveal an inconsistency in style, but rather, serve to foreshadow
the eventual narrative and thematic development. In essence, by varying
the shot length of specific events, Ozu concurrently reveals the relative
importance of the episode to the eventual outcome of the film.
Notes on The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, and
Notes by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Anarchy of the Imagination is a compilation
of interviews, essays, and notes by the talented, self-confident, and
versatile provocateur filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Driven by
an inexhaustible compulsion to entertain as well as provide social criticism,
Fassbinder sought to elevate the role of contemporary German cinema.
An avid cineaste, he developed his unorthodox approach to cinema as
much through his voracious habit of viewing three to four films a day
as through his formal training in film school, where he was quickly
singled out as both a gifted artist and an iconoclastic, opinionated
Fassbinder's reverence for the films of Douglas Sirk (who, as he proudly
reminds the reader, is a German of Danish origin named Detlef Sierck
before changing his name and becoming a Hollywood filmmaker) is revealed
through a series of appreciative essays on Sirk's cinema. In an interview
with Hans Gunther Pflaum in Ali:
Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder explains:
"Yes, actually ever since I saw his
films and tried to write about them, Sirk's been in everything I've
done. Not Sirk himself, but what I've learned from his work. Sirk
told me what the studio bosses in Hollywood told him: a film has
to go over in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Okinawa, and in Chicago
- just try to think what the common denominator might be for people
in all those places. To Sirk, something still mattered that most
people in Hollywood don't care about anymore: make sure his work
was in tune with himself, with his own personality, that is, not
just produced 'for the public', like in those films in Germany that
none of us like: those sex and entertainment films that the producers
think the public likes, but they don't like themselves."
In an Ernst Burkel interview with
Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk, Sirk is equally impressed: "Before I
met Rainer I sensed something, and then when I saw him I recognized,
with that eye every filmmaker has to have, a personality of great originality."
On the subject of the luminous, yet often inscrutable lead actress,
Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder reflects:
"Hanna Schygulla and I hardly spoke at these [student] gatherings;
mostly we observed those doing the talking and, I think, were probably
both trying to analyze what was said... On one of those evenings
it suddenly became crystal clear to me, she would be an essential
cornerstone possibly, maybe even something like their driving force."
However, this interdependence proved to be antithetical to Fassbinder's
idea of a cooperative work group. Schygulla steadfastly refused to
dedicate herself completely to Fassbinder's projects, and consequently,
he learned to accept the reality that she would only appear in his
films if a substantial role was offered.
What is revealed through these fragmented thoughts is a prolific artist
of great imagination who approached life and creation with the same
intensity of emotion and reckless abandon. A schoolchildren's query
to Fassbinder summarily portrays his uncompromising carpe diem philosophy:
How do you picture your old age?
-I don't expect to experience it.
How do you visualize your professional and private future?
-There isn't any past, there isn't any present, so there isn't any
Notes on The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation
by Andrew Horton.
Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation
is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an intelligent, compassionate,
and devotedly Hellenic filmmaker. At the core of Angelopoulos' films
lies an emotional honesty and profound sorrow for the increasing dissolution
of the Greek village - the neglected rural area that Andrew Horton
calls the "other Greece". For Angelopoulos, to portray Greece beyond
the modern, cosmopolitan city of Athens is to represent the true soul
of the Greek people: to capture, with an underlying sense of desperate
urgency and reverent nostalgia, the rapidly vanishing customs, Orthodox
religion, and traditional family that define their cultural identity.
"The village is a complete world in miniature.
The old Greek villages had a spirit, a life, full of work and play
and festivity. Of course, Greek villages began to depopulate by the
turn of the century, but it was really World War II and the subsequent
civil war in Greece that completely destroyed the reality and concept
of the Greek village. Our whole way of life was changed by these two
Of course villages would have changed anyway. But not so drastically.
The changes would have been made in a much more gradual and gentle
way. You have to understand that part of the result of these wars
was that in the 1950s over 500,000 village men went to Germany in
particular, but also America and Australia, etc., to become guest
workers. That meant a big shift in village life. Suddenly the men
were gone and the women remained. With all these changes, the spirit
of the villages began to die."
It is this rootlessness, migration, and transience that is reflected
in Angelopoulos's early films: Reconstruction,
Travelling Players, Voyage to Cythera,
in the Mist. Horton further proposes that Angelopoulos finds a
sense of kinship and personal responsibility with the Balkan states
because of their shared cultural history of Turkish occupation, and
it is this empathy that compels him to capture the tragedy of the
Balkan crisis, as illustrated in his latter films: The
Suspended Step of the Stork, Ulysses'
Gaze, and Eternity
and a Day.
"It is a very difficult time for artists of all kinds and
writers of course too in the Balkans today. Nobody wants to listen.
Nobody. With the killing, the wars, the struggles, troubles, no
one can listen, and art, true art, demands listening. So, in the
midst of all of this, what am I to do? Simply, I can make films
for those who do appreciate my work."
Greek literature proves to be an integral
aspect of Angelopoulos' narrative. Ulysses'
Gaze, as the title suggests, is inevitably,
the story of a filmmaker's personal odyssey to find meaning in his
life and reconnect with his cultural past. In The
Travelling Players, the actors remain
distant and inscrutable, and it is their name association to the characters
in the Aeschylus Oresteia
trilogy that will provide clues to, if not predestine, their ultimate
course of action in the film. Moreover, Telemachus' search for his
father, Odysseus, becomes a recurring subject in Angelopoulos' films:
the children, Voula and Alexander, searching for their unknown father
beyond the German border in Landscape in
the Mist; the director searching for
an actor to cast as the father for an autobiographical film in Voyage
to Cythera; and the lost Albanian boy
in Eternity and a Day.
Andrew Horton presents a reverent, insightful, and intelligent analysis
of Angelopoulos' body of work. By citing the filmmaker's influences
from Greek literature and mythology, as well as the personal relevance
of specific scenes and events in Angelopoulos' own life experience,
Horton demystifies the idea that Angelopoulos' films are impenetrable,
distant, and abstruse. Rather, what Horton reveals is a compassionate
examination of a proud Greek national who seeks to capture and preserve
his dying cultural heritage; a conscientious activist who understands
the overreaching and devastating toll of war and divisive politics;
and a sincere humanist who strives to break down artificial borders
and "counterbalance the fragmentation of our world".
Notes on Double Vision: My Life in Film by Andrzej Wajda.
Vision: My Life in Film by Andrzej Wajda
provides an informal, accessible, and concise glance into the creative
process of one of Poland's most renowned filmmakers. Through a series
of humorous, honest, and insightful anecdotes, Wajda presents an animated
reflection of his pioneering, and largely self-taught, experience
as a fledgling director during the nascent development of the film
industry in Poland.
In the absence of formal training early in his career, Wajda relied
heavily on observation and personal experience, not only to serve
as a basis for developing the narrative, but also to recreate the
emotional honesty of the story. By drawing from his environment, it
is inevitable that Wajda's films reflected the political evolution
of Poland. His first film, Ashes and Diamonds,
chronicles the final hours of a fictional young revolutionary who
inadvertently assassinates the wrong man. But more importantly,
what Wajda documents on film is a historically accurate and tragic
portrait of the postwar lost generation accustomed to the turbulence
of war who find themselves unable to adjust to the "uncertainty" of
It is Wajda's ability to convey historical truth through fictional
storylines that illustrates Wajda's commitment to elevating the role
of cinema from serving merely as a vehicle for entertainment to creating
a more universal and accessible public art form. On the subject of
film schools and its effect on the creation of art, Wajda remarks:
"The formation of any artist
ought to be accomplished through a single discipline, if the future
artist's goal is to learn the art, not simply the technique. My advice
to young, would-be filmmakers is to apprentice themselves in three
arts: music, literature and painting. Each one of these areas has
a link to the world of film and through these related studies the
student can draw his or her own conclusion.
Film schools pride themselves on teaching their students all three
disciplines, once over lightly. The only problem is, music appreciation
is not music, the history and theory of literature are not literature,
the awareness of the graphic arts is not painting."
Double Vision: My Life
in Film presents a clear, honest,
and unencumbered introduction to the evolution of a film, from the
germ of idea to its realization at the premiere. Wajda's infectious
energy and social conscience resonates throughout the book, and provides
a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an optimistic, personable,
and dedicated artist. Humble and self-effacing, Wajda's personal integrity,
humanism, and creative passion are revealed through his candid thoughts
on the importance of interweaving reality and dreams, complexity and
accessibility, and art and life.
Notes on My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Theodor
Dreyer by Jean Drum and Dale D. Drum.
title of the book, My Only Great Passion:
The Life and Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer
refers to a quote from a 1950 Dreyer interview:
"On October 23, 1950, Carl Dreyer was interviewed for the
radio program New Perspectives on the Arts and the Sciences. He discussed
Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath and talked about his proposed film on
the life of Jesus. At the conclusion the interviewer asked, 'What
is film for you?' Dreyer replied, 'It is my only great passion.'"
With such a preface, it seems inevitable that
any biographical account of Carl Theodor Dreyer would revolve around
the venerable filmmaker's body of work, and yet the authors, Jean
and Dale Drum, succeed in presenting a fascinating and complex portrait
of an exceedingly polite, intelligent, mild mannered, introverted,
singularly focused, and uncompromising human being who was driven
as much by his heart as by the perfection of his craft:
by a father who would not accept him, always yearning for a beautiful
young mother who was kept from him
by death, made to feel unwanted and unimportant in his adoptive home
- these were real and they were strongly felt by Dreyer, even in
later years. The drive with its furious intensity that both terrified
and captivated people (and also created great motion pictures) was
due at least in part to his desire to prove that he was better than
his adoptive mother thought he was, that he was, indeed, worthy of
his real father's acceptance, and, perhaps, most strongly, to prove
to his true mother that he really loved her. All these, among other
things, probably provided an overwhelming need to prove himself,
create something of worth - and the very insecurity of their origins
in him probably produced a rigidity that a more truly confident man
might not have needed."
Dreyer's image of his elusive birth mother - affectionate, suffering,
exploited - instilled in the filmmaker a determination to expose intolerance,
persecution, and human cruelty. It is this idealized female image
that invariably manifests itself in all his films, not only in the
oppression of Joan of Arc (The
Passion of Joan of Arc), Ida Frandsen (Master
of the House), and Anne Pedersdotter (Day
of Wrath), but also evolved into the intransigence and emotional
repression of Gertrud,
and Peter Skraedder's inhumane curse on the pregnant Inger in Ordet.
His tireless campaign to promote tolerance and advocacy for the oppressed
proved to be a formidable ideology during the German occupation of
Denmark during World War II.
The authors also dispel the myth of Dreyer as a tyrannical, difficult,
and financially excessive filmmaker, and instead, cite excerpts from
personal interviews conducted with several actors and production crew
members. Renee Falconetti described him as "the ideal director"
by whom she was "astonished at his industry, patience, and
strength of will." His infectious pursuit of perfection and
polite demeanor often inspired actors to a similar level of dedication
to the film and implicit trust in Dreyer. Einar Sissener, who made
his film debut in Dreyer's film, The Bride of Glomdal, recounts how
Dreyer convinced him to perform in a physically dangerous scene:
"I was the story's young hero and at the
end of the film I was in a stream. For this a Norwegian swimming champion
was hired. But when the scene was to be shot, he didn't care to do
it. I was at that time at the National Theatre in Oslo. Suddenly the
telephone rang. It was Carl Th. Dreyer. 'Sissener, hello. Do you have
life insurance?' 'No,' I answered. 'Go and get insurance right away.
Say goodbye to your family, bring two flasks of cognac with you and
say nothing to the theatre manager. You must act in the waterfall.'
I went. The shooting took five days in September. It was forty-four
degrees in the water. Dreyer gave the cognac to the horse. I only
got cough medicine. Yes, Dreyer could get people to do anything he
wanted. Long may he live."
Jean and Dale Drum present an impartial, accessible, and comprehensive
biography on the intensely private and relentlessly perfectionist
visionary filmmaker. The authors trace Dreyer's life from his nebulous
parentage, to his early career as a journalist and pursuit of adventure,
to his dedicated life in the motion pictures, and ultimately, to his
death from pneumonia in 1968. It is a reverent portrait that echoes
the unbiased chronicle and social realism of Dreyer's own cinema -
a search to find emotional truth and profound humanity behind the
Notes on Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s by Donald
In the book Patterns
of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s,
Donald Kirihara recounts a legendary episode at the Venice Film
that sets the tone for Kenji Mizoguchi's unique and unforgettable
"When in Venice in 1963 for the festival
screening of Ugetsu,
he spoke of the film as a representative of Japan's aesthetic tradition.
To underline that, he and star Kinuyo Tanaka wore traditional kimono
to the film's premiere."
is revealed through these memorable, fragmented images of the enigmatic
Mizoguchi is an artist of singular focus, profound social conscience,
unsentimental vision (Masahiro Shinoda describes Mizoguchi's camera
as "an unhurried gaze"), fickle studio allegiance,
deep reverence to cultural tradition, and a staggeringly prolific
body of work (rivaling even the output of Rainer
Mizoguchi's technique continued to evolve throughout his career,
producing an estimated 85 films from 1922 to his untimely death from
in 1956. Kirihara focuses his in-depth analysis on Mizoguchi's films
from the 1930s, a turbulent decade marked by profound social and
change, and demarcates the turning point of Mizoguchi's "mature
style": The Downfall of Osen, Naniwa
of the Gion, and The
Story of the Last Chrysanthemum.
In defining an external frame of reference, Kirihara cites several
catalysts for the evolution of Mizoguchi's work. The increasing westernization
of Japan and the popularity of Hollywood films compelled Japanese
filmmakers to adapt, if not imitate, the structure and feel of western
films. Mizoguchi, in turn, decided to incorporate some of the techniques
of western films, such as montage and extended, fluid camera movement,
but retained the familiarity of traditional settings and customs.
As Japan became increasingly isolationist in the years preceding World
War II, censorship guidelines for the motion pictures were enacted
and the exhibition of western films were largely suppressed. Mizoguchi
was again compelled to adapt in order to survive both creatively and
financially, but continued to subvert the ambiguity of the regulations
to create films that, despite their historical settings, provided
an accurate and socially relevant glimpse of contemporary Japan.
Observations: Although Kirihara provides a comprehensive portrait
of Mizoguchi's chaotic environment during his pivotal creative transition,
the author does not provide a historical biography of the inscrutable
filmmaker. Mizoguchi was born into a working class family, the son
of a carpenter. When Mizoguchi's mother died at an early age, his
father, unable to care for their two children, sold his sister to
a geisha house. When Mizoguchi's father passed away, it was his sister
who supported him through school. It is this devotion and sense of
duty between the two siblings that is reflected in Mizoguchi's compassionate
portrayal of women, and the guilt of separation caused by their social
inequity that underlies the bittersweet and often tragic endings of
his intensely personal films.
Notes on Ozu by Donald Richie.
always tell people that I don't make anything besides tofu and that
is because I am strictly a tofu-dealer." - Yasujiro Ozu
In the book Ozu,
Donald Richie examines Yasujiro Ozu's films by following the common
steps for constructing a film: the script, shooting, and editing.
Of the three elements, Ozu places primary importance in the script,
where every action and mise-en-scene is meticulously storyboarded,
and dialogue is precisely composed with no room for improvisation.
A distinctive style in Ozu's films is the relative autonomy
of individual scenes. Ozu approached the script as a series of episodic
modules that may be rearranged and interchanged to suit the themes
that he wanted to convey and to maintain the pace of the film. Hence,
commonality of events are often found among Ozu's films: a parent
encouraging a child to marry; children showing discourtesy to their
parents; an older man is unable to cope with his retirement. Although
Ozu's films are reserved and "formal" (Richie uses the Japanese
word, enryo), his approach was hardly formalistic. Richie amusingly
describes Ozu's screenwriting retreats with longtime collaborator,
"Their method of work was always the same:
to go someplace and stay up late drinking until the ideas began to
In fact, Ozu and Noda often judged the success of
their script by the amount of alcohol they had consumed during its
creation. An entry in Noda's diary punctuates the completion of the
script for Tokyo
as: "Finished, 103 days; 43 bottles of sake."
Ozu's precision in script writing does not extend to his shooting
philosophy. Richie notes that Ozu often sacrificed continuity in favor
of composition, rearranging furniture and props in between takes in
order to achieve the desired image. In Tokyo
Story, a close inspection of the aging couple sitting on a sea
wall at Atami actually reveals that they have exchanged places in
Richie briefly postulates on Ozu's stationary, low camera as a familiar
Japanese viewpoint when seated from a tatami, and suggests that the
distinctive position is conducive to reflection. Richie also compares
Ozu's approach to acting to the rigorous style of Robert
Bresson. Specifically, Ozu did not subscribe to method acting,
and expected his actors to deliver their lines without emoting. On
Ozu's instructions for There Was a Father, Chisyu Ryu remarked:
"Ozu told me to stare at the end of my
chopsticks and then stare at my hand and then speak to my child. The
simple act of doing these things in that order conveyed a certain
feeling. Ozu did not explain the feeling; the actions came first.
He told me what to do and let me discover the feeling."
Ozu did not rely on editing in order to stylize or shape the final
course of the completed film. Rather, Ozu faithfully followed the
script and filmed the scenes in sequence. There are few extraneous
scenes shot during the course of filming. His use of "pillow
images" (shots of nature or the characters' surroundings) and
extended shots of inanimate objects are not used in order to camouflage
discrepancies in continuity, but to reinforce the statis and "even"
tone of the film.
Donald Richie presents a fascinating, sincere, and reverent portrait
of Yasujiro Ozu, often called the "most Japanese director".
By characterizing Ozu's style as a reflection of Japanese ideals,
Richie refutes the stigma of being "old fashioned" often
associated with his films. Rather, Ozu's films achieve a higher level
of human understanding and inner peace - an enlightenment beyond the
mundane inner workings of existence - a state of transcendence.
Notes on Childhood Days: A Memoir by Satyajit Ray.
Days: A Memoir is a compilation of a
series of articles for the children's publication, Sandesh,
and best serves as a supplement to his autobiography, My
Years With Apu or the Introspections interview by K.
Childhood Days: A Memoir
flows like a contemplative, familiar, and accessible stream of consciousness
of Satyajit Ray's fond memories and fascinating experiences. Although
Ray does not directly cite his inspirations for his films, specific
personal events clearly influenced Ray's incomparable body of work.
The first half of the book deals with Satyajit Ray's childhood.
Ray was born into a prominent family of intellectuals and artists.
His father, Sukumar Ray, a renowned satirist and writer, was already
ill when Ray was born, and died when Ray was only two years old. His
grandfather, Upendra Kishore Ray-Chaudhary, was a prominent writer
of children's literature who passed away before Ray was born. In fact,
it was his grandfather who created Sandesh, which evolved as
part of the family's printing and block-making business. Ray lived
in his ancestral home until the age of six, when his family left North
The latter half of the book are recollections and anecdotes on the
filming of The
Apu Trilogy and the children's stories (such as The Adventures
of Goopy and Bagha and The Elephant God). Pather
Panchali, his first feature film, took 2-1/2 years to complete,
primarily due to lack of funding. Essentially, Ray and his film crew
would shoot until the money ran out, then go on fundraising activities,
then return to the film. This sporadic funding presented several problems:
(1) the critical storm sequence with Durga and Apu was delayed due
to late funding, causing them to miss the monsoon season; (2) the
death of the actor who played the candy vendor, Chinibash, during
the course of the extended shooting (his scenes were intercut with
back views of a stand-in); (3) the changing seasonal topography and
regional setting (Ray recounts an amusing episode regarding the exquisite
kash-filled meadow scene. After returning to the field a week later,
the crew found that the kash flowers had all been eaten by cows. Ray
had to wait another year for the flowers to re-grow in order to complete
filming the scene.)
Observations: The untimely death of his father, and his mother's
determination to provide Ray with a well-rounded education clearly
influenced Ray's compassionate portrayal of the strong, resilient
women in his films. The themes of loss of heritage and cultural transition
in The Apu Trilogy
are invariably tied to Ray's own experiences with leaving his ancestral
home (especially, Pather
Panchali). His early involvement in the family business is reflected
through (1) Ray's great love for publishing and graphic arts, as symbolized
by the characters' fascination with the printing press in films such
(Apu) and Charulata
(Bhupati); and (2) his fondness for adapting children's literature,
such as The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha and The Elephant
God to film.
Overall, what emerges from Ray's animated passages is a great love
for the arts, knowledge, and humanity. It is this passion that defines
his simple, yet profoundly moving films on the quiet observation of
© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.
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