Thursday, July 28, 2005

Random and Informal Notes

- If one wants to see third-rate 1960s Preminger imitation, check out Richard Fleischer's The Boston Strangler (1968).

- Claire Denis' No Fear, No Die (1990) is a near-masterpiece that I wish I'd seen long ago. So effortlessly complex. Wow! So aside from this and Hellman's film, what other great cockfighting movies are there?

- Film scholarship I've read and liked lately: Paul Willemen (on Amos Gitai), Robert Ray (selections from How a Film Theory Got Lost), Nicole Brenez (on forms of questions in Godard from For Ever Godard). This is what I like and want to emulate well: rigorous but not programmatic, willing to propel itself forward, to go down tangents, but always on the heels of its query, never letting it or itself get lazy or predictable.

- If I could take a week off from the real world and just sit and watch 35mm prints in a private screening room, at the moment I'd be interested in looking at the oeuvres of Jack Arnold and Takashi Miike. Even if it was a full-time gig, I'd need more than a week, though, huh?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Genre Films

I've been thinking about some things currently debated a little on a_film_by. I wonder if there's something substantial and cohesive to be said about impersonal genre cinema, or to put it in more genealogically precise terms, a 'termite cinema' for today--and not one redeemed by auteur politics generally understood. There's no uphill battle insisting that the films of Romero or Mann or Cohen are authors of their own distinct cinema (well, OK, for Cohen there's a battle in some company). At any rate, defenses mounted for filmmakers like these are usually done in service of their collective oeuvres which bear a distinct personal stamp, stylistically and thematically, very much in the spirit of Sarris and 1950s Cahiers.

But what about John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, Paul W.S. Anderson, et al.? (I realize these are all 'masculinist' directors of action and sci-fi films: I don't want to give the impression though that this is the only kind of commercial/genre cinema where this kind of thing can happen.) Auteurism understood in a really broad, catholic sense can include filmmakers like these, but auteurism as the thing which most people now implicitly accept does not, because the films of these "authors" are quite often unsigned--someone like Anderson isn't, I suspect, so much the cine-writer of texts which are expressive of his vision as he is the modestly gifted enabler of films which are expressive purely or primarily unto themselves.

Where's the dividing line between the two types of commercial narrative cinema? I'm not entirely sure. Maybe there's not one. But recently as I've thought about this question it certainly feels like there is one. Resident Evil and Event Horizon don't seem quite like authorial expressions, but their expressivity is nonetheless there. I think of these as films which produce something extra, some kind of quality of vision that goes above and beyond (or beside) the requirements of the moneymaking apparatus. (Insofar as we can define 'excess,' I think there are basically two kinds, consumptive excess and productive excess. In commercial genre cinema, at least, he former tends toward reactionary-capitalist ideas because it accumulates experience and things into a massive, mountainous point [ > ]: to me this is Michael Bay's cinema. The latter tends toward breakages because it proliferates and comes undone [ < ]: perhaps this is Takashi Miike. I'll think more on how tenable this kind of distinction is, though.) There's a remainder or a dividend in these films that can't be fed into an easy equation of these films' material function as commercial products, but isn't easily understood as part of an authorial vision, either. Accidental interest? Maybe, maybe.

This artistically viable impersonal genre cinema (IGC for short?) has got to be one of the more neglected areas in film criticism. Where is our Manny Farber, the Manny Farber of this era and my generation, who will turn his or her attentive eyes and ears upon the messy, modest, occasionally thrilling joys of this kind of film? Doing so would involve seeing heaps of awful films, and practically no masterpieces, with a lot of attentive love in the process, so maybe it's an historian's task more than a proper critic's.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Docteur Chance (1997)

Dan Sallitt once made a statement (one whose sentiment I share 100%) to the effect that after seeing Esther Kahn there is a period in which other films seem inadequate; 'Why can't this film be more like Esther Kahn?' Is it a coincidence that maybe a week after I revisited Desplechin's film (on DVD this time) I should see another great film that I suspect will have the same temporary, ruinous effect on my movie-watching?

F.J. Ossang's Docteur Chance: France/Chile; 1997. I don't think this film was released in the United States; no reviews for it exist on the IMDB (where it has a ridiculous rating of '4.6' or something.) or MRQE. But it is on VHS and DVD, so see it! It stars mostly some actors I don't know, though Marisa Peredes and Joe Strummer (!) are among the more recognizable names in the cast. Set somewhere (everywhere?) in mostly desolate South American locations, we've got a slightly obscure tale of crime and intrigue--art forgery, guns, stolen cars, liquid currencies, a drug cartel. I can't say that I got everything that was happening plotwise. That will come with subsequent viewings, perhaps: I was intoxicated on the dark, lonely l'amour fou on display here, where Ossang has that touch for interiors that makes human dwellings look like insect tunnels, and exteriors that communicate naked, arid expansiveness. (And as if trapped by this life on the ground, the film's end is decidedly "uplifting.") History and geography collapse upon themselves, so that we feel we're watching elements of every decade of the twentieth century (and more than a single continent) adhere together. Who the hell is Elvire, the woman who plays the female lead, Ancetta? (She's great!) Why hasn't this film gained more of a cult following? Fans of Vigo, Feuillade, Ruiz, Hellman, Lynch, and Ferrara (among others) should love this movie ... or at least I would think so.


OK, so I've wanted to do this for a few years, ever since Jaime started seeing cool stuff there, but now I will take advantage of the New York Public Library, including the Donnell Media Library's videos. For free. Just today I picked up two VHS tapes of films I had yet to find anywhere else: Walerian Borowczyk's Story of Sin (1975) and F.J. Ossang's Doctor Chance (1997). I've been trying to find the latter (without buying it online) for something like six years. The former, which I watched just a while ago with Megan, was a slight disappointment given that my expectations were so high. It's not as good as La Marge or Blanche. The NYPL have got more impressive things, too--Makavejev, Ripstein, Yevgeny Bauer. For free. Given that my future job status (meaning: pay status) is still frustratingly uncertain, the fact that these slightly-worn treasures are free is no small detail.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Idle Thought

I would hate to jinx myself, but I think that I'm about to enter a productive writing spell. Lately I've been enthralled by the work of Walerian Borowczyk and the issues it brings up, centrally or peripherally, including the history of Eastern European literature (I know almost nothing about it!), Surrealism, and a lot of the concerns brought up by Walter Benjamin.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Few Comments on Surrealism

Part of me wonders if Surrealism (probably better: surrealism), broadly defined, is not the most laid-bare pulsation of modernity in art: the thing that sits most comfortably with all of the modern era's trappings (urbanization, psychoanalysis, work and capitalism, symbolism, advertising, religion, etc.). Of course I'm being deliberately shaky as far as what I'm referring to vis-a-vis Surrealism/surrealism. I generally do speak of the two in their distinctive senses, one a distinct historical movement (with mini-movements within it), the other a thread that moves through a lot of art. But can we open up that historical Surrealism and apply it to larger and more diverse things (i.e., bridge it with small-s surrealism)? Because what I ultimately would like to find more of is an art as well as a critical approach that takes into account the material content of modernity and postmodernity, but which still gets at those moments in which one has no presence of mind, to paraphrase Breton from Nadja. Psychoanalysis, strains of academic Marxism (Marxianism?), they don't quite seem satisfactory to me as far as scholarship goes.

Now here's a question: what happens when a Surrealist/surrealist vision and what we might call a postcolonialist vision collide? Surrealism, a movement at its peak relegated to a few cultural epicenters in Europe (as far as I know ... maybe I'm way off?), what might it have to say about the colonial tradition and the postcolonial existence of young nation-states and peoples? In short, can we reconcile something Surreal/surreal with our late capitalist globalized age? Because there are some surreal filmmakers across the globe whose provincial-mystical films say a lot about capitalism and contemporary life in often very oblique ways: Alain Guiraudie, Lisandro Alonso, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and others.

If none of this makes sense or sounds interesting to you, dear reader, I'm not surprised. These notes are mostly for my own process of edification.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Towards a New Subjectivity of New Subjectivies

I sometimes am taken with the notion that a lot of academic discourse--I'm talking about prose style and rhetorical strategies--is merely the analogue of marketing/proselytizing departments of other aspects of our society. 'New and exciting' academic work that 'crosses boundaries' often seems to follow the same formula : the emphasis in all cases is on vague terminology of novelty and 'sanctioned transgression,' where "central to our conception is a need to rethink and reimagine [insert object of rethinking and reimagining here]." Everything is so wound up on discovering and claiming new technologies/identities/hybridities/etc., or calling for a new politics of such-and-such, that no time is ever spent developing these new things to see if they work. I'm speaking in generalities, obviously, and as such am largely as open to the same criticisms I'm levelling myself. (But then again this is a blog entry, not a paper.) Certainly there are examples of really worthy academic work that fits the trappings I've outlined here. But I have read this kind of language in mission statements posted in the break rooms when I've worked at chain retail stores in the past; just this morning I saw a TV program on some untraditional Christian movements trying to think of a "new Christianity to answer for twenty-first century demands." And I'm just incredibly suspicious at how closely academia resembles corporate-commercial America as well as purple-state religious America. And all the while, how often (and how well) does any of this rad razzle-dazzle ever do anything?

I will never be as productive or as insightful as those whose intellectual labors I want to use as models for my own work. But I also hope that people might notice that I'm striving in those directions.

In two hours I will finally be seeing films by Christopher Maclaine ...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


From a letter Walter Benjamin wrote to Gerhard Scholem on May 23, 1917:

"I want everything that goes together lined up side by side. This is the only way I can work."


I can't relate how often I've been extraordinarily (and defeatedly) reluctant to say anything of length about a given topic because I feel inadequate about my understanding of its contexts--a work of art within the artist's (or school's, or movement's) corpus, or within its historical and material world.

I'm trying desperately to remedy this and be more productive, and to go out on a limb once and a while without being sloppy about it.

(Have I also mentioned how much I despise ice cream trucks now that I've moved to Queens?)