September 25, 2011
A New Chapter
After struggling for the better part of the year to get back into the habit of film writing, I realized that somewhere along the line of getting healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I had mentally already moved on from what had become a self-imposed, formalized ritual of criticism. That said, I am returning to my roots as a film buff ...one who writes in a journal to capture and wrestle with (fragments of) ideas and ambiguity instead of crafting statements of conviction.
Thank you for reading this site (and its earlier incarnation) for the past 14 years. I'm looking forward to attending this year's NYFF as a spectator.
June 21, 2010
Film Comment's Best of the Decade Avant Garde Poll/21st Century Limited Program
I was asked to participate in Film Comment's recently published A Decade in the Dark: Avant-Garde Film and Video 2000-2009 poll, and I'm happy to see that in addition to the poll, the FSLC is also curating a series of avant-garde programs based on the results of the poll over the course of three Sundays in July, which includes several films that were on my submitted list. Here are the programs on tap. My list is appended at the end:
Program 1: Pictures of Quiet Light
Song and Solitude (Nathaniel Dorsky)
The Great Art of Knowing (David Gatten)
Pitcher of Colored Light (Robert Beavers)
Program 2: Breaking the Waves
Observando el Cielo (Jeanne Liotta)
At Sea (Peter Hutton)
The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him (Stan Brakhage)
Program 3: I'll Keep It With Mine
She Puppet (Peggy Ahwesh)
Nest of Tens (Miranda July)
Poetry and Truth (Peter Kubelka)
Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (Peter Tscherkassky)
The General Returns from One Place to Another (Michael Robinson)
Rehearsals for Retirement (Phil Solomon)
Program 4: Some Velvet Morning
Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (Daishi Saito)
Easter Morning (Bruce Conner)
False Aging (Lewis Klahr)
Black and White Trypps Number Three (Ben Russell)
Light Work (Jennifer Reeves)
Lumphini 2552 (Tomonari Nishikawa)
Horizontal Boundaries (Pat O'Neill)
Program 5: Liberty or Death
Ah Liberty! (Ben Rivers)
Star Spangled to Death (Ken Jacobs)
Footnotes to a House of Love (Laida Lertxundi)
The Fourth Watch (Janie Geiser)
An Injury to One (Travis Wilkerson)
Program 6: Confidential
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (Apichatpong Werasethakul)
Tabula Rasa (Vincent Grenier)
Dwarfs the Sea (Stephanie Barber)
Let Me Count the Ways 10...9...8...7...6... (Leslie Thornton)
Great Man and Cinema (Jim Finn)
Second and Lee (Kevin Everson)
Something Else (Kevin Everson)
Memory of It - Three Related Documents (The Speculative Archive)
Best of the Decade Avant-Garde Poll Submittal
Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" reel 2 Gregory Markopoulous – Robert Beavers, Greece, 2004
Respite – Harun Farocki, Germany/South Korea, 2007
13 Lakes – James Benning, U.S., 2005
A Trip to the Louvre (Une Visite au Louvre x 2) - Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet, France, 2004
When It Was Blue– Jennifer Reeves, U.S., 2008
At Sea – Peter Hutton, U.S., 2007
War at a Distance – Harun Farocki, Germany, 2003
Song and Solitude – Nathaniel Dorsky, U.S., 2006
Kolkata – Mark LaPore, U.S./India 2005
Michelangelo Eye to Eye – Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 2004
Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine – Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2005
Poetry and Truth – Peter Kubelka, Austria, 2003
Star Spangled To Death – Ken Jacobs, U.S., 2003
Sense of Architecture – Heinz Emigholz, Austria, 2005-2009
Hide – Matthius Müller and Christoph Girardet, U.S., 2007
Letter to Uncle Boonmee – Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/UK/Germany, 2009
RR – James Benning, U.S., 2008
Schindler’s Houses (Photography and Beyond Part 12) – Heinz Emigholz, Austria, 2007
Let Me Count the Ways Minus 10, 9, 8, 7… – Leslie Thornton, U.S., 2004
Capitalism: Slavery – Ken Jacobs, U.S., 2006
January 5, 2010
Film Comment Selects 2010 Partial Schedule
Thanks to FSLC's new bimonthly calendar format mailer, viewers now get a sneak peek at the Film Comment Selects schedule in February. FCS runs into March this year and according to the mailer, the tail end will also include Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death, which is bound to be a highlight. The series is running from 2/19 to 3/4. Here's the list of screenings through 2/28:
4:00 Nucingen House (Raúl Ruiz)
6:00 Accident (Soi Cheang)
8:00 Over the Edge (Jonathan Kaplan)
3:30 Godard Rarities (Jean-Luc Godard)
5:30 Perfect Life (Emily Tang)
7:30 Applause (Martin Zandvliet)
9:15 [Surprise Film]
3:00 The Revenge: A Visit from Fate (Kiroshi Kurosawa)
4:45 The Revenge: The Scar that Never Fades (Kiroshi Kurosawa)
6:30 Be Good (Sois Sage) (Juliette Garcias)
8:30 Nucingen House
[No FCS Screenings]
4:15 Be Good
6:15 Air Doll (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
8:45 Be Good
4:00 Sombre (Philippe Grandrieux)
6:30 La vie nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux)
9:00 Un lac (Philippe Grandrieux)
[No FCS Screenings]
4:30 Persecution (Patrice Chéreau)
6:30 Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza)
1:30 Air Doll
4:00 The Land of Madness (Luc Moullet)
8:00 Tales from the Golden Age (Cristian Mungiu, Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu, & Constantin Popescu)
1:30 A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang)
6:15 Be Good
November 25, 2009
Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), 1961
Composed of three stories based on Rabindranath Tagore's short fiction that span a range of ages, each shot in a different narrative genre - a social realist drama, a ghost story, and a romantic comedy - Satyajit Ray's Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) is a lucid panorama on the lives of society's referential daughters and their relegated place in a deeply class-conscious and patriarchal culture. The first story, Postmaster, is equally a commentary on the cycle of poverty and social invisibility that relegate girls to subservient roles, and an indictment of the armchair liberalism that helps perpetuate these inequitable and disenfranchising institutions. Set in a rural outpost that is still plagued by malaria, the segment chronicles newly hired postmaster and urban transplant, Nandal's (Anil Chatterjee) struggle to adjust to provincial life, endeavoring to cultivate a sense of culture in the remote village by continuing his poetry studies and teaching an orphaned servant girl, Ratan (Chandana Banerjee) to read and write, until a crisis causes him to re-evaluate his circumstances. In capturing Nandal's superficial attempts at assimilation (in one scene, he humors a group of local musicians by finally attending a performance after sidestepping an earlier invitation) and charity towards the villagers, Ray explores the notion of enlightened goodwill as an assertion of superiority that reinforces social division.
Similar to Postmaster, the social imprinting of economics also provides the framework for the second story, Monihara, a gothic tale within a tale told by a village schoolmaster (Govinda Chakravarti) on the events that led to the haunting of a seemingly idyllic mansion across the river. Having inherited a country estate, successful businessman Phanibhushan (Kali Bannerjee) returns to his ancestral village with his attractive, commoner wife, Manimalika (Kanika Majumdar), where she is invariably visited by a desperate relative eager to exploit marginal family ties to curry favor from her husband. Manimalika's reluctant encounter with her long abandoned past provides a glimpse into her relationship with her husband as well. Childless and insecure over his wife's affection, Phanibhusan is quick to indulge her whims, lavishing her with jewelry from his many business trips over the years. It is a token affirmation that soon consumes Manimalika, a dislocated sense of adoration and loyalty that is strained when her husband is compelled to take an extended trip to stave off financial ruin, and she is faced with the possibility of losing her newfound privilege. In its critical examination of transaction as a surrogate for human connection, Monihara represents an intriguing corollary to the status of women in Postmaster. By presenting a paradigm in which social mobility is more fluid (albeit through marriage) and the balance of power is shifted, Ray illustrates the insidious - and intrinsically artificial - nature of class stratification, where the fear of erasure itself becomes a crippling, self-fulfilling prophesy.
As in Postmaster and Monihara, the final installment of Teen Kanya, entitled Samapti, also begins with a journey from the city to the province as a metaphor for reframing cultural norms from an outsider's perspective - and specifically, a modern point of view observing outmoded traditions - in this case, a recent university graduate, Amulya (Soumitra Chatterjee) who has returned home to visit his widowed mother, Jogmaya (Sita Mukherjee). From the comical opening image of Amulya falling into the mud while disembarking from a boat (after stubbornly refusing assistance from the locals) as a spirited Mrinmoyee (Aparna Sen) amusedly looks on, Ray implicitly links the two characters in their strangerness - one, a transplanted native who is no longer accustomed to the village's quaint ways; the other, a poor, displaced young woman who is too old to lead the life of a carefree child, but has also cultivated few skills to cope in a world of adults. Rejecting his mother's notions of a suitable wife - one who invariably comes from an upstanding, middle class family and is equally adept around the kitchen as she is with embroidery hoops - Amulya instead has set his sights on the wild and unpredictable Mrinmoyee, a decision that brings the family much consternation when she decides to climb out of the window on their wedding night. In contrast to the dysfunctional relationships inherent in the previous stories, Samapti confronts the social paradigms that contribute to the inequality and polarization. Juxtaposed against a young couple's search for love and validation, the friction represents the difficult, but necessary process of cultural revolution in its painstaking negotiation of accepted roles and asserted individuality.
November 15, 2009
With its rockabilly-infused title sequence coda that segues to medium shots of industrial interiors and, later in the film, a desolate winter landscape (not to mention a running motif of Farrel [Juan Fernández] taking occasional swigs from a vodka bottle that he has stashed in his duffel bag), Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool, on the surface, suggests a more straight-laced variation of Aki Kaurismäki's proletariat films (in particular, Ariel) than Alonso's recurring theme of internalized journey. From the opening image of an obscured Farrel looking on in the shadows of a dimly lit recreational lounge as a pair of gamers compete in the foreground, Alonso establishes a sense of distance and peripherality surrounding the film's reticent, inscrutable protagonist. Having spent much of his working life adrift at sea, traveling around the globe as a merchant sailor aboard commercial freighters, Farrel decides to seize the opportunity one day to request leave during a scheduled docking in Usuhuaia on the southern tip of Argentina in order to visit his hometown and check on his ailing mother. Having reached the figurative end of the world, Farrel's journey intriguingly represents both a fugue and a homecoming.
This oppositional image is subsequently reinforced in his disorienting return to his native village, whether trying to navigate the now unfamiliar geography of the town, peeking into the window of his home to see a young woman, Analía (Giselle Irrazabal) he has never met, or spending the night camped out at a neighbor's barn unable to go home, only to be dragged inside his parents' house to an anticlimactic reunion with his father (Nieves Cabrera) who is perplexed by his return and seems eager to see him leave. (Note an earlier juxtaposition of Farrel riding alongside harvested timber in the back of a logging truck - a shot that recalls the image of the impoverished woodcutter hitching a ride in La Libertad - that illustrates their mutual displacement and uprooting.) Curiously, Alonso introduces an ambiguity in his father's muted reaction to his homecoming that may not be the result of strained family relations, but rather, financial motivation, implied by Analía's nagging demands for money that reinforce his role as breadwinner for the family. It is this implicit connection between alienation and economics that incisively reframes the pathology of Liverpool in its distilled, allusive closing image, diverging from the notion of human idiosyncrasy towards a globalist indictment of its garish tokens of materialism and disposability.
November 1, 2009
History Repeating Now Posted at AFI Fest Daily News
Just a quick note to mention that the article, History Repeating, a theme piece on the use of refigured prewar history in Sabu's Kanikōsen, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, and Marco Bellocchio's Vincere has been posted at the AFI Fest Daily News.
September 23, 2009
Wife! Be Like a Rose!, 1935
In Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano cites the contradictory delineation between urban and provincial life in Mikio Naruse's Wife! Be Like a Rose! as an example of interwar Japan's amorphously defined domestic and social spaces that arose from society's ambivalence towards the rapid pace of modernization in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. In Naruse's film, this nostalgia for a distant, idealized hometown is embodied by Hirao Village, where the estranged father, Shunsaku (Sadao Maruyama) has gone to prospect for gold in the mountains (a paradoxical emigration from Tokyo that is antithetical to the idea of moving to the city to seek one's fortune). Having settled into a new life with a former geisha named Oyuki (Yuriko Hanabusa) and their children, Shizuko (Setsuko Horikoshi) and Kenichi (Kaoru Ito), Shunsaku's new life reflects a return to a more traditional way of life even as it represents a rejection of another tradition - his marriage to Etsuko (Tomoko Ito) who, along with his now grown daughter, Kimiko (Sachiko Chiba), were left behind.
In turn, the seeming modernity of Tokyo with its Western-dressed workers and bustling streets (made all the more kinetic by the establishing shot of offices closing at the end of the work day) is contradicted by Etsuko's anxiety over being asked to act as a go-between for a former student in Shunsaku's absence. Channeling her loneliness and heartbreak through poetry, Etsuko ostensibly plays the role of the devoted, long suffering wife waiting for her husband to return - a reunion that seems at hand when Kimiko decides to go to Hirao village to fetch her father in order to attend to family obligations. However, inasmuch as Shunsaku's trips between Tokyo and Hirao Village reflects what Wada-Marciano describes as the cultural negotiation of space, the separation also reinforces Naruse's familiar themes of perpetual disappointment, stubbornness, and perseverance that would resurface throughout his body of work. For Etsuko, the poems express a romanticized longing for the absent Shunsaku, an image that evaporates when the idealization converges with the reality. For Oyuki, a life of sacrifice and shame are the price of her devotion to the feckless Shunsaku. For Kimiko, the desire to reunite her family is undermined by her parents' self-absorption. In this respect, Naruse's social observation transcends the contemporaneity of interwar society and converges towards a broader commentary on the human condition, where the quest is elusive and grace lies in the longing.
August 23, 2009
Paria opens to a Felliniesque shot of a man suspended between earth and sky: in this case, a vagrant - perhaps under the influence - swinging from pipes along the walls of a subway station tunnel. But rather than a metaphor for the struggle between the body and the soul, the suspended state in Paria is one of social uncertainty - a sense of limbo that is also reflected in the disembodied, back of the head shot of a state worker seemingly floating as he looks out from the windshield of a social services van, cruising the evening streets in search of homeless people to transport to the local shelter. The first installment in what would become Nicolas Klotz and screenwriter Elizabeth Perceval's provocative and impassioned trilogy of modern times (along with La Blessure and La Question humaine) - named in homage to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, a satire on mass production (and by extension, the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s) - Paria also presents a collective portrait of lives that have been figuratively caught within the cogs of a monolithic, dehumanized system at the turn of the century. One such story is Victor (Cyril Troley), a farmer's son who moved to Paris in search of better job opportunities, only to end up living at a tenement (and makeshift hair salon) eking out an existence as a video store courier. Already behind on his rent, his circumstances become even more precarious when his motorcycle is stolen during a visit with friends. Another story is cocky, silver-tongued Momo (Gérald Thomassin), a homeless young man who spends his idle hours prowling commuter stations. Presented with an opportunity to earn some money by entering into a paper marriage, he begins to insinuate himself into his prospective bride's bemused family.
Proceeding in flashback, the interconnected plight of Momo and Victor (who is first seen struggling with him, resisting attempts to be loaded into the van) seems destined - a fatedness that is revealed in an earlier episode in which Momo steals Victor's shoes after he falls asleep on a train platform, in essence, demonstrating their physical - and socioeconomic - interchangeability. The shot of an African immigrant girl passing Victor in a hallway illustrates another point of intersection among the disenfranchised, alluding to a sense of shared station (note a similar passing encounter in La Question humaine in the interstitial image of immigrants - including Adama Doumbia from La Blessure - being targeted by police for a random identification check). Similarly, Momo and Victor's encounter with an ailing homeless man, Blaise (Didier Berestetsky) on New Year's Eve seems fated, bound by the community of resigned marginalization. Within this context, Victor's search for Annabelle (Morgane Hainaux) in a crowded café and Momo's celebration of his nuptials also represent a paradoxical juncture, converging towards a fleeting glimpse of respite and normalcy, even as they reinforce their increasing distance from them.
August 16, 2009
La Vie moderne, 2009
In an episode in Richard Copans's autobiographical essay, Racines, an elderly man provides Copans with a tour of his grandparents' house in Picardy, explaining that, like the expression "to put under glass" something that is cherished, he was inspired to convert the modest, turn of the (nineteenth) century home into a museum as a means of capturing the essence of a way of life that no longer exists. In a sense, La Vie moderne, the third chapter in Raymond Depardon's pastoral work in progress Profils paysans, expresses a similar sentiment of admiration and nostalgia. Returning to the farming village of Le Villaret in the mountainous region of Cévennes in the Massif Central, Depardon first visits the remote farm of cattle ranchers, brothers Marcel and Raymond Privat who, both already in their 80s, find the physical demands of their livelihood an increasing challenge, even with the begrudging addition of a family member, Cécile, the new wife of their middle-aged nephew Alain, who left the city life of Calais to live as a farmer after meeting her future husband through a personal ad in the newspaper. Struggling to adjust with unfamiliar household dynamics caused by Cécile and her teenaged daughter, Camille's introduction into what had been a bachelors' home for decades - and perhaps more subtly, their waning authority over family matters as a result of Cécile's influence on Alain - Marcel and Raymond bristle at the idea of a generation gap that has widened since Cécile's arrival, even as they complain of a general lack of deference to elders and the old ways.
Incorporating recurring, seasonal images of long, winding roads that weave the farms together into a collective portrait of isolation and obsolescence - a theme that is insightfully prefigured in the landing shot of Marcel grazing a flock of sheep with his Occitan-trained dog, Mirette - Depardon further juxtaposes images of death that implicitly correlate the fate of these ancestral farms: a visit to the reclusive Paul Argaud who is watching a televised broadcast of Abbé Pierre's funeral; the rapidly declining health of Raymond's prized cow; the news of Marcelle Brès's death, who had been the last inhabitant of the neighboring hamlet of Lhermet. However, the crisis of a disappearing way of life is not only relegated to an aging rural population, as a younger generation of farmers also echo similar tales of hardship and a limited future: Brès's former tenant farmers, Jean-François and Nathalie recount their struggle in the previous year with a virulent parasite that killed several cows, providing not so subtle encouragement to their son to study hard in order to have better opportunities and not follow in their footsteps; Germaine and Marcel Challaye, planning for their retirement, are resigned to selling the family farm after their children expressed a lack of interest in assuming control; Abel Jean and Gilberte Roy have entrusted the farm to their youngest son, Daniel who, in turn, resents being rooted to one place, and prefers the itinerant life of a seasonal worker; a young mother, Amandine Valla, eager to try her hand at farming, cannot afford the added maintenance of raising livestock and is forced to abandon her avocation. Closing with the shot of a sunlit narrow road that now leads away from familiar pastures, Depardon abstains from a direct commentary on cultural extinction and instead, captures the ephemeral moment under his own preservative glass, casting a lingering, reverent gaze over a gradually transforming landscape that is distant and sublime.
August 2, 2009
On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time, 1959
The panning shot of an anonymous city street establishes the tensile, yet integral relationship between citizen and environment in Guy Debord's dense and minimalist essay On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time, describing the rows of generic apartment buildings as places of refuge from the constant social immersion imposed by the shared spaces of urban living. Like the market-based industries that propel the economy of these interchangeable cityscapes, social progress has also come to be measured by the mechanism of consumption, and by extension, leisure and recreation have also become commodities. In a sense, culture is not only a reflection of the present but an ingraining of the past, and as a consequence, cannot objectively reflect on the problems of the environment - the society - that cultivates it. This symbiotic relationship between culture and civilization is also contained in Debord's comment that one cannot challenge an organization without challenging its medium of exchange - its language. Visually, Debord reinforces this idea of language as currency through repeated use of interstitial blank screens that suggest both the hollowness of the mediated image and its implicated role as an instrument of social whitewashing. Perhaps the most telling of this compromise is the refiguring of the concept of social gathering from a forum of interaction to a marketing tool for selling beverages and reinforcing the notion of public (and often commercial) spaces as venues for exchanging ideas.
However, mediated images are not only relegated to the fiction of commercial advertisement, revealing itself in the realm of non-fiction in the way a filmmaker defines the scope of a documentary, where the subject is strategically (if arbitrarily) bounded into titrated, consummable sub-doses of a larger, unfilmable reality - a correlation that is reinforced through a similar suturing of a white screen with documentary footage of "real life". Within this paradigm, filmmaking - whether fiction or non-fiction - may also be seen as inherently a construction that, like the urban landscape, is created in the image of the society that consumes it, and therefore, is a tainted medium for creating social revolution. Rather than breaking away from the cinèma de papa that a liberation of cinema represents, the liberation of society requires the destruction of cinema itself as an enabling medium of social language, dismantling an apparatus of projected ideals in exchange for the tabula rasa of an amorphous and indefinable social ideal.