Sunday, July 30, 2006


Raymond Durgnat on El Bruto:
"Buñuel has a special feeling, as many left-wing thinkers do, for the workers' sons who become agents of the bourgeoisie: the gamekeepers in L'Age d'or and The Young One, the major-domo in El Angel exterminador, the policemen [including those of May '68--does Pasolini have in Buñuel a kindred spirit?--ZC], the strong-arm man. In one sense, they are traitors to their class. In another sense, they express the constant pull of self-interest in every member of the proletariat. Or again, they can be seen as victions of a 'confusionism' spread by the reigning culture." (p. 78 of Luis Buñuel)

Durgnat on Diary of a Chambermaid:
"Because Buñuel's view of character is fundamentally dialectical, we feel no contrivance, no schematism, whe he (following Mirbeau) makes Joseph not only a Fascist but also a sex murderer. Buñuel isn't saying that all Fascists are quite likely to murder children. ... Buñuel is simply noting a possible, unsuspected affinity between physical aggression and political aggression. The political criticism here, is, surely, that of excessive consistency, rather than of excessive contradiction. ... For [Joseph], sexuality is just sweet slime, it's meaningless without marriage, i.e. absolute possession unto death, another form of murder." (p. 134 of Luis Buñuel)

In other words, maybe: we are all responsible for our own actions, but real political guiltiness runs much deeper than actions, and it is recognizable in our psyches. To be on the side of authority and reactionary power: confusion and ignorance are signs of potential liberation (like guilt & shame are good signs under Calvinist predestination), but emphatic embrace of order, an absolutist coherence, signifies one's political designation beyond reformation or rejection.


I didn't always like Buñuel: the first few films I saw of his were disagreeable to the (admittedly somewhat left-leaning) Catholicism of my youth. After a while I realized he was the one sticking to his principles and expressing them, admist so many contradictions, with great honesty and verve, and I was the one clinging to platitudes and predeterminations.


Possibly my favorite moment in El Bruto: after Palomar (Katy Jurado) meets beefy, sexualized Bruto, then returns to the bed of her old husband, who renews his previously-rejected sexual advances. As he caresses her, she's enraptured--by the thought of Bruto, we know--and the camera zooms in to her face to underline and even, almost, "kinaesthesize" the rush of sexual energy she feels at that moment.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Garrel + Kinks + Youth

Found on YouTube--one of the highlights of Philippe Garrel's Les Amants réguliers. This is my 150th Elusive Lucidity post, so I wanted something kind of celebratory. {Edit: Damn, actually it's only my 149th post, but who's counting? Clearly I'm not doing a good job of it...}

New Babylon

"New Babylon ends nowhere (since the earth is round); it knows no frontiers (since there are no more national economies) or collectivities (since humanity is fluctuating). Every place is accessible to one and all. The whole earth becomes home to its owners. Life is an endless journey across a world that is changing so rapidly that it seems forever other." (Constant.) I actually just really love the splotches of red & white here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

De Palma Image of the Day

In Carrie, Sissy Spacek is horrified by her body and her womanhood--but she learns to harness her power to great destructive effect. Some have read this as a direct generic extrapolation of femininity (and menstruation) into monstrosity, so that Carrie represents De Palma's (and the viewer's) fear of Woman ... but nothing could be farther from the truth. The director's teen-telekinesis diptych is about both Pandora's Box and the Return of the Repressed. The monstrosity is that of adolescence, of potentiality, and those who paid most dearly for it are the conservators of a repressive adult order. If this was still unclear for some viewers with Carrie, De Palma worked hard to make it more lucid in The Fury. Like Spacek, Amy Irving has difficulty coming to terms with her powers. But for Irving, femininity itself is not at issue: she hasn't been raised by a religious nut, her health allows her to eventually overcome the hurdles, to survive. The difference is that her powers are also unwedded to pampered (male) privilege, and her survival comes dually from the fact that she has neither repression nor excess--she perseveres, she is "healthy." She learns to tame the killer instinct that Robin Sandza indulges (and is encouraged to indulge).

In The Fury there are two especially important colors: red (blood) and blue (the psychic eyes). Otherwise, from Kirk Douglas' costume color palette to the white interiors and the beige-brown beach of the prologue, The Fury is dominated by neutrals. Schematically speaking, Irving 'tames' the preponderance of red with blue. It is a pleasant coincidence (I presume it's only a coincidence) that in the still I found above, when Irving stares in horror at the blood on her hands, still struggling with the powers with which she is dealing, she is wearing a shirt that is ... light blue. (In full disclosure, I remember that this is a still from the scene in the film where Irving unintentionally kills someone in the 'psychic home' where she stays for a while. But my DVD is out on loan so I can't double-check it. Maybe I'm misremembering?)

I wrote about these two films (mostly The Fury) in a course paper available
here. For more De Palma analysis, some really good stuff about the way DP structures his images in sequence throughout a narrative, I recommend going here, and click on the button 'second sight.'

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Housekeeping Miscellany

Thousands of people are still without power here in my borough, Queens. ConEd is really screwing my neighbors over: thankfully I'm one of the lucky ones, and our apartment hasn't had any real power problems.

Above is a video of an instance of police brutality that Andy Rector writes about. I haven't found the right words to adorn this kind of footage; Andy does well enough to contextualize it.

Below are links of some blogs that are relatively recent obsessions/discoveries.

Different Maps - wow. Backpedal a bit to the transcriptions of the Žižek talks.
The Measures Taken & Sit Down Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy - fascinating: constructivism, Soviet movie posters, British architecture, album art, etc. all tied into a meaningful web.
Subject Barred (or $) - Different Maps has linked to it, I haven't done more than give a cursory look to the archives on this one yet, but ...

Recent viewing (within the last few weeks) that I haven't mentioned here already has included video revisitations of Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire (I like it but still prefer His Girl Friday) and Makavejev's WR--Mysteries of the Organism (recommending it to Darren increased that itch). I actually went to a new American commercial release--A Prairie Home Companion, which I liked. But I've never listened to Keillor's radio show, and who knows what references or nuances (or inanities?) I may have missed. Peter Emanuel Goldman's Echoes of Silence ('65) is a fantastic Beat-ish 'silent' film about loneliness, socializing, and sexual frustration in '60s New York City. Nicole Brenez is a fan of Goldman's work, and I can see why. (Let's get a full retrospective here, I don't think he made that many films!)

I have anywhere from two to five drafts of essays sitting around (depending on whether or not I want to merge some topics), and hope to get them into shape soon enough. I also have to get back to cracking the whip on the graduate school application checklist ...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Desire & Capital: Why!?

So. What motivates me to string together such a loosely-related set of blog entries on the almost meaninglessly ambiguous phrase 'desire and capital'? It's ultimately an urge on my part to try to articulate how the capitalist and non-capitalist film industries, and their authors, constitute "desire" onscreen, and whether or not there are some broad patterns to be read in the ways these constitutions appear. So if we say that filmmakers in line with Hollywood or some other capitalist film industry have a tendency to 'commodify' desire, to turn women into objects in the vaunted Western tradition* then can we really differentiate socialist filmmakers or even socialist industries?

And then within this initial, presumed capitalist/anticapitalist manichaeanism there is internecine conflict. Dziga Vertov-era Godard assumes a constantly critical, puritanical posture, directing his energies
against Chytilova, for instance. After his return to "commercial" filmmaking, however, Godard (retaining his critical crankiness) loses some of his puritanism--it converts into elegy, or it reverts into the playfulness of his early work. Prénom: Carmen and Passion, two early 1980s films that deal with a history of forms (the famous novella and opera; the history of Western painting from Rembrandt, Goya, Delacroix), suggest to me--and perhaps I am misreading--that the substance of cultural loss, of loss of cultural memory, occurs not what an object is lost but when its context is erased and a new context built, blindly. To recreate the painting of the Old Masters in filmed tableaux: what does this mean? What does it signify, that we [meaning: anyone] should desire to do this? And Prénom: Carmen--when Godard rips a few pages of the storyline, reconstitutes it in his own film, what does it mean? What is said about Maruschka Detmers herself, this Dutch-cum-French beauty whom Godard parades lithely naked before the camera, as, if I remember the film correctly, relations between her and her lover go sour ...

In 1968's Teorema Pasolini (who took the side of the police in May '68, because they came from the working class while the students emerged from the bourgeoisie) provides a nuanced Marxist reading of the power and allure of the desired object, a One wanted by Many. On the flipside Hollywood liberal Hal Ashby (in a film made in '75 but set in '68 during the McGovern-vs-Nixon run-up), provides one of American cinema's most powerful views of the One who wants Many--Warren Beatty's character is an inversion of Teorema's Terence Stamp. (This is to say, yes, Stamp may have desire and Beatty is also desired, but the films focus on Stamp's status as object and Beatty's as subject.) What does this mean? That in a liberal, self-critical capitalist context, the focus is on the subjectivity of this One Man, whereas in a similarly self-critical Marxist worldview (made by a Marxist as the postwar 'economic miracle' of Italy was in crisis), the focus is on the subjectivities of those who behold this One Man. I wonder if we can read these formations, these stances, as at all indicative of their circumstances of production.

*see Jonathan Berger, see Laura Mulvey, you get the picture, you understand there are exceptions to every rule of course, etc.

** I was going to punctuate this entry with stills, but Blogger has decided not to cooperate.

*** More coming soon on Diary of a Chambermaid, possibly For Ever Mozart, maybe Frantz Fanon, and who knows what else ...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Desire & Capital: Buñuel's Chambermaid

Andy--) Joseph codifies his desire for Celestine by insisting to her that, deep down, he knows they are alike. He is correct but not in the way that he thinks. What he tells himself is that she loves Order--that she can be a fascist too. What Joseph dares not acknowledge (and is perhaps unable to realize) is that the difference is Celestine, just like him, will work underhanded means to achieve her goals, to square her sense of justice. If she is buffeted about in this diegesis, in this world, it's because she lacks power and means. But if she survives, it is because she is crafty enough to observe. Celestine is a bit of a cipher in Buñuel's film (I haven't seen Renoir's version or read Mirbeau's book to compare), but she's always gazing at everybody else.

More to come on this film and related issues in another post ...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Desire & Capital: Detour into a Communist Country

In the Dziga Vertov Group's Pravda (1970), there's a segment where Vera Chytilova speaks as though she's answering an interview question (though it's not a talking heads segment aimed at the camera), and 'Vladimir' says, "Rosa, if you haven't had time to learn Czech, nevermind, it's still the same thing. Chytilova talks like Arthur Penn or Antonioni, and not like a Chinese worker in a Shanghai movie studio." The film (and Godard, and Gorin) mean this as a criticism, as Pravda is a cine-essay on the decaying influence of capitalism and rightist revisionism within Czechoslovak society of the time. (The youths are indicted for dancing all through the spring of '68...) It's something of a stupid judgment, but then again not entirely without a point--after all, who does get to make films in any given society? If Godard's point is that Czechoslovakia is crumbling to capitalism & revisionism from inside and out, then perhaps a state-sponsored film industry is producing filmmakers who will aggravate this development. A moment later, 'Vladimir' intones, "Perhaps in the end it would be best to stop making films and to let others make them." That Daisies is a great film is pretty clear to me and to many people, I am sure, so now the prospect of watching Pravda offers us a retrospective question today: if Czechoslovakia is indeed crumbling because it is not Marxist enough, is it worth attacking and even foregoing the work of the state-sponsored film industry's talents in order to find and cultivate new talents who will further the proletarian revolution instead? (This question is meaningful only if you're sympathetic to Marxism to begin with, I guess.) If so, what do we do with the talents like Chytilova? "Re-educate" them, as the bright lure of Capital has warped their original learnings ... ?

In The Aesthetic Dimension, Herbert Marcuse argues that great art, true art, is inherently tied to revolutionary interests, in that its transhistorical truths offer a vision of life & humanity that go beyond class existence and (in historical terms, in material terms) would therefore advance the class struggle because they offer a "counter-consciousness," something of a utopian impulse. So if Marcuse were an interlocutor with Godard & Gorin here, he'd probably say that Chytilova's work--because it is demonstrably great by some valid criteria--is justified because it is a great artwork and thus gives the viewer something human to latch onto. Godard & Gorin might counter that Chytilova's aestheticism, and her supposedly high aesthetic accomplishment are beside the point altogether--that what matters is that as a 'cultural worker' she demonstrates no desire to further the revolution. Perhaps they, like the Czechoslovakian state, would also attack the feast scene in Daisies--all the gleefully wasted food, a sign of capitalist fantasy and consumerist frenzy indeed! Marcuse is interested in what an artwork can do for a viewer (but he's vague about it), the Dziga Vertov Group is interested in what forms an artwork and its producer take in the constant and precarious struggle between revolution and counter-revolution--taking neither subjectivity nor nuance into account at their peril.

I don't agree with either "side" in this artificial debate I've set up, but simply used them to employ a certain dialogue where I find myself stuck--because the question underriding all else is, how do art and the world relate, and what do we do about it!? And while I may not make a very good Marxist, I do see myself as trying to be critical of the economic and political state of the world, which means that fundamentally I am critical of capitalism. I'm not even sure if we can really polarize it this way, but, when it comes to politically and aesthetically sensitive writing on art, is there a choice that has to be made between Marcuse (or, the properties of the artwork) and DVG (or, the conditions of artistic production)?

Consolation Comments, Final Prediction

Germany 3:1 Portugal ... Bastian Schweinsteiger! He had a quasi-hat trick ... for those who didn't see the game, he put two long range rockets past Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo--considered one of the better keepers of the tournament--and in between these goals, he hit the free kick that a Portuguese defender mis-hit and redirected into his own goal.

Regarding Cristiano Ronaldo and the booing he's received in the last few games, I feel it's a little harsh. I don't see how he's responsible for Rooney's red card, and yes, he dives, and that's frustrating to watch, but why single him out when this Cup was full of divers? Though I've written here that Ronaldo gets on my nerves sometimes, I think he was more deserving of, say, the Young Player award than Podolski, who really only had one superb game, and that was a Sweden match where his partner Klose did most of the work anyway. (As for other deserving Young Players, Rooney didn't have a fantastic tournament, which is understandable because of his injury and his piddling midfield support. Messi didn't get enough playing time.) At various times in the elimination rounds, Ronaldo would look like the only feasible threat from Portugal's offense, and that's no small feat.

I do have to say, the most disappointing things about this Cup have been that a lot of players didn't show up and have good tournaments (Ballack, Ronaldinho...), that some extremely talented teams were a shambles tactically and in terms of team cohesion (England, Brazil), and that the elimination rounds saw a lot of defensive soccer where almost none of the group stage dramatics returned.

As for today's final, I hope that it's a classic. I'm mentally preparing myself for a bore, though, just in case. What we have are two great 'tournament teams,' where Italy are 'micro,' France are 'macro.' The Italians played just well enough to succeed in match after match--so that if we look at them in their games against USA or Australia, we think, 'There's no way in hell this is a championship squad.' But put them in a superbly-officiated, high-stakes match like the one against Germany, and even I will admit that Italy played strong, clean soccer and won an honorable (if heartbreaking to me) victory. In the end, Italy have been rising to the occasion only as far as they need to rise. France, on the other hand, didn't rise to the occasion in each match, but strung together a long-term survival plan, taking three group matches (in an easy group) to find their sea legs, using their underdog status to devastating effect against Spain and Brazil, and battling Portugal in a game where neither team could seem to get a rhythm going ... in short, they're survivors, and with Zidane they can also be miracle-makers. If Zidane shows up, if he has another performance like the one against Brazil, then France will win their second star. Anything less, and Italy will contain him, and the fact that they have tighter teamwork and (man for man) probably better players will overtake the match. My prediction is Italy, 2:1, though I'll be hoping for the other way around.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Floating Hats: A Mere Diversion?

While I still haven't re-installed a DVD driver in my computer yet, I have figured out how to capture images playing in media players (hint for those who were clueless like I was: in the 'tools-options-performance' menu, click 'advanced...' and then de-check 'use overlays' under 'video acceleration'). So this post will partly be an exercise in screen captures!

Hans Richter's Vormittagsspuk (aka Ghosts Before Breakfast) (1927-28) is regarded as either one of the last Dada films or one of the first Surrealist films.

"The story ... was originally intended to follow Werner Gräff's film script about the rebellion of revolvers. Richter opposed this idea, reasoning that revolvers that rebel do not shoot; therefore, not shooting is not an action. Richter settled on a story about benign objects that rebel instead. "We all had bourgeois bowler hats on." The hats were attached to black strings on long poles and were swung from the top of a garage in front of the camera."

(from Stephen C. Foster's Hans Richter: Activism, Modernism and the Avant-Garde, p. 131-132)

A title at the beginning of film reads, "The Nazis destroyed the sound version of this film as degenerate art. It shows that even objects revolt against regimentation." Richter infused his film with semiotic nuance--Foster writes,

"The flying hat is another potent metaphor ... . For a period of 100 years beginning in 1827 the hate was commonly used as a symbol in German literature. ... In the German culture of the nineteenth century, hats that fly from people's heads were a sign of existential danger looming in the near future. The hat was the quintessence of the bourgeois citizen and a symbol of the status quo. Pictures and words indicating that hats no longer fitted well, and were threatening to slip off heads, indicated that society's stability was in danger. A more familiar twentieth-centujry image is cited by Walter Benjamin about Charlie Chaplin's trademark bowler hat: "His derby wobbles for a lack of a secure place on his head, giving away the fact that the reign of the bourgeoisie is wobbling too."" (p. 133)

By the end of the film, the hats of course come back to rest on the cipher-characters' bourgeois heads:

And one could draw the further conclusion that non-regimentation brings harmony (while strict regimentation sows the seeds of confusion and chaos). I don't know that Richter would have liked that reading: it's almost a Deleuzian buggery of his worldview. Still, the underlying principle is that things get weird, and hopefully we get unsettled.

But if we're unsettled, are we guaranteed to be unsettled out of our (perceived) sociopolitical complacency? When do anti-bourgeois art tactics shock the privileged targets? When do they simply give us something new and unusual to look at? For I have MPEG files of both Richter's Ghosts Before Breakfast and also the infamous 'Tara Reid tit slip' on my hard drive, and I find (celebrity gossip whore that I am) that since I have paid for neither of these, I don't know what the concrete difference is--aside from the fact that one is a digital reproduction of a work of art, and the other a digital showcase for, um, a work of plastic surgery.

They both fascinate me. And ... might the supreme and carefree stupidity of a Hollywood party-starlet achieve the greater political good, though, galvanizing me into disgust for the star system and the culture it sits atop, blinding us to more important things? The fact that I rarely pay for multiplex entertainment--that I went through the calender year 2005 giving truly almost nothing to this monstrous establishment (or even its arthouse peripheries)--should stand for something, right? Then again, I find that even as I happily skip the films, television shows, and music of the celebrities I love to hate, I still spend my time reading, repeating, and discussing gossip about them. Is meta-entertainment a new form of entertainment, a new articulation of the culture industry!? It is this possibility that makes me think that something like a Hans Richter film has a renewed cultural viability: its straightforward attack on convention, which for a postmodern moment might have seemed achingly quaint, may actually be as true as it is easy. Sincerity rests at our feet, maybe a valuable tool, and I wonder if we (like the American national soccer team) will fumble with this object at our feet though we are so close to the goal ...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


A reader wrote me a question and wondered if I'd respond with thoughts on my blog, so I'm giving it a shot. The general substance of the question was, first, What moves us to provide commentary, in-depth analysis, of some films (and not others)? Masterpieces that leave us overawed and worldless commingle with great films (or less-than-great films) that can draw out reams of analytical material, as well as disposable films which move nothing in our minds. The reader also asks if I'd describe three films that, as of now, I'd like to put on, say, Criterion DVD (clean slate) and do commentary tracks for ...

Very generally, I would say that what moves us toward commentary in films (or any art) is that ultimately we have a firmer understanding of our relationship to them than we do with films for which we have little, or only functional or conventional, understandings. What I mean by this is that there are films, for all of us, which (for great films: whether they touch us too profoundly or which we admire too coolly) we can write a little about, but find that we may either come up short, or that we write about with a certain anonymity. We point to this thing, that thing, quite visible in the film to anyone else, and we can perhaps "explain," a little, about why the film is great (or not great), or why it's formal/thematic integrity exists, how it's put together ... but because we're too overwhelmed or underwhelmed, or for some other reason perhaps, we leave nothing of ourselves on the page (or the screen). Criticism (very broadly defined) is perhaps like cooking, where great dishes require two things, two ingredients: the artwork and the spectator-writer. Competent analysis of a film which does not inspire, which does not necessitate, analysis in the writer is a bit like a restaurant offering a plate of a raw fruit or vegetable--potentially delicious, but not real cooking, merely evidence of good taste.

I don't refer, really, to 'personality' or 'biography.' I don't mean that real substantive analysis involves telling a story about how a film "means something special to you," because you were impressionable when you first saw it and you had your first kiss that after you watched it that hot summer, etc., etc. That kind of thing can still lead either way--to mere description of what's there and what's already thought about it (this time absorbed in autobiography), or to the creative fusion of a spectator with an inimitable position & voice exchanging, even flowing with, the work in question--in a capricious moment I'm tempted to say that real, great analysis of art makes the film at least a little unfamiliar even to those who know it well, simply because it's been so ingrained within the voice of the commentator. Similarly, though, the commentator upon these films might appear a little unfamiliar from article to article, unfamiliar to friends in her own writing or speaking. I don't actually know that this is all true--but it's an interesting possibility, and it is what the fingertips impress upon the keypad. (Ha--if I'm wrong, it's my fingers' fault!) At any rate, what I mean by all this is that the commentator's distinctive way of seeing, feeling, interpretating, taxonomizing, and even 'cartographing' the artwork in question will be impossible to duplicate anywhere else, only imitate.

So to return to the actual question, why do some films inspire commentary while others don't, I think that it may be because we are more cognizant, and more confident, of our distinctive and inimitable "reading-relationship" in these cases, whereas films that overwhelm us to speechlessness lead us into lack of confidence, maybe even a failure of cognition, and films that we admire only coolly have failed to provide us with a distinction that we would crave--a reminder that we humans are not always, 100% special (and brilliant) people with something always to say. We all have a truly inescapable right & obligation to be boring and mediocre, uninspired and uninspiring, from time to time!

Now to DVDs. This is a difficult question if only because there is so much to choose from. Of course, I'm picking from films that I've already seen. And the list would change tomorrow. But ...

An American Romance (King Vidor, 1944) A masterpiece, albeit one I've only seen once, and on video. It's a familiar story, a story of, roughly, my great-grandparents' generation--when European immigrants came here, learned English, worked hard, and eventually made good. At the time of this film's release the "message" of the film was roughly, You've earned citizenship, and a great life with your wonderful family, now play your part in the War! Today's viewer, such as myself, might take the film not simply this agenda of patriotic sacrifice, but also the inherent conservatism of its argument for the immigration debate today--we can't say this applies to An American Romance as it was made, but the act of seeing the film today ensures that the issues it raises draw a different web of psychological and social connections, connotations. For the myth of the American Dream that this film baldly promotes comes from an age when there were many (European) people successfully assimilating into the fabric of this country, and believed fully that they had lived and earned the American Dream. The indignation of their children and grandchildren at today's immigrants, who are demonized for being lazy (or working too hard and taking our jobs!) or for not learning English, comes from a familial foundation, laid out over history, as depicted in this film. Times have always been hard, my family went through poverty and tragedy, but through belief, loyalty, and Stakhanovite dedication (to the Protestant work ethic, that is) we perseved. (Why can't you?) This film remains alive, if criminally underseen, for this larger social discourse, among other reasons. Furthermore if I were to offer commentary on a film like this I would like to address the question of formal integrity & brilliance, and how this relates to ideological function. For this is a very American film, with very American ideological baggage, and yet it is in terms of aesthetics hardly just functional. The images are at times awe-inspiring, and in this respect it is difficult for me to describe, because as I have mentioned I have seen the film only once, on video. But I am certain of its aesthetic greatness (for the record, Fred Camper and I think possibly also Peter Tonguette consider this peak Vidor). And to have a chance to look at the images closely, both for their sensuous properties and their semiotic significance, and provide people with an informed, researched reading would be a treat. [This film is unavailable on home viewing formats, according to the IMDB, but it shows on TV sometimes, and if anyone out there would be interested in a dubbed tape and has extraordinary patience, I could maybe do something to get it your way.]

Viva la Muerte (Fernando Arrabal, 1971) I wrote a few words on this film when I saw it months ago, and now I think I'd enjoy the challenge of trying to identify (as I wrote) the "axes" which characterize this film. I'd probably want to start with all the associations and the historical/biographical context--but constantly I'd try to move into that area that threatens overwhelm me and remain ineffable, that motley bead necklace that is the aesthetic/formal organization of this film. Whereas An American Romance is a great film with conservative, capitalist, and mythopoetic ideological functions, Viva la Muerte is a film that offers intense, simmering anger and bewilderment at the Franco regime and all that it stood for--which is much closer to my heart, politically, as should be obvious to readers of this site. What can "the surreal" offer us? I think it can still offer us a lot, but if nothing else, it can be a way to exorcise demons and to attack the symbols, images, and conventions of forces that have injured us and destroyed those dear to us. [This film is available on DVD and should be watched right away!]

The Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter (Liu Chia-liang [aka Lau Kar-leung], 1983) This outstanding Shaw Bros. film was almost a disaster--the actor playing the intended hero died in the middle of production, so a new hero/actor had to emerge on the fly. Researching the film's production story, its early 1980s HK film context, and its allusions would be a pleasure. Elaborating on its quasi-Brechtian sets and acting (and this feels different, more deliberately artificial, than even something like the early, slightly creaky, but good 1965 Shaw Bros. martial arts film Temple of the Red Lotus ['65]) would be a great springboard for talking a little about the uses and possibilities of both artifice and anti-realism, and this film's specific strategies, and how improvisation operates in conjunction with both rigor and artifice--a triangle that has resonance for the film thematically, formally, and extra-textually (its production story). [This film is available on the Celestial Shaw Bros. region-3 DVD, and probably several other bootleg or gray market formats.]

If this question inspires anyone else to tackle the questions and pick three films, please drop us a line with a link to your blog or site to let us know (or post comments below).

Monday, July 03, 2006


I have to admit, Germany, I'm pessimistic. I'm not sure you will do it--defeat Italy. I know you can. I don't know that you will. I hope Klinsmann riles you up so you play like madmen, tells you that the game is about scoring more than your opponent (not just scoring one while your opponent scores zero; not playing for a penalty shootout). It's been, what, six years since Germany have defeated outright a "top" national team? End that tomorrow! Overwhelm them with positive soccer, and with that victory leave behind the phantom husk of safe, uninspiring German tactics.

(Budweiser translation: Kick some ass!)

As for France-Portugal, I will be rooting for Zidane's squad, but I like Portugal's effort too and if they win I'll wish them well in the final, moreso if they play Italy.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Objects of Fascination

Bear with me, I'm not sure I know where I'm going with this.

Walerian Borowczyk's short film Escargot de Venus (1975) is an interesting work for its associations above all. One can download it and several other Borowczyk shorts from
Ubuweb, where the description reads, "This is the portrait of painter Bona Tibertelli De Pisis ­ wife of writer Pieyre De Mandiargues ­ while working in her atelier, together with fragments of her graphic works inspired by one of Remy de Gourmont's writings." Gourmont (whose work I don't know) was something of a controversial libertine-hermit, a Symbolist, and an influential figure of Parisian letters in the late 19th and early 20th century. Pieyre De Mandiargues was among other things the writer behind Borowczyk's Cérèmonie d’amour (Love Rites), which was made in 1988, as well as the novel upon which La Marge (1974) was based. I like the idea of an artist building out his lineage, his network, his "tree of influences," and through Bona & Mandiargues Borowczyk has found one way (he has others) of reaching back into the extended fin-de-siècle for a figure like Gourmont, as well as the Surrealist lineage and its arguable forerunners of weird/dark literature (Mirbeau, Huysmans--writers whose work I've merely scanned in translation, no more, I humbly add). It is probably too great a stretch to group Surrealism in with the Symbolist moment in European culture, but I think Borowczyk focused on not a grouping of years so much as the texture of a broad historical moment before Europe's global "decline," that generation or two when the World Wars were fought, when the last great European empires (seemingly) fell, when the United States and the Soviet Union ascended into the roles of superpowers, when the economy and communications (media) reached towards a certain type of speed and global reach that nullified something of 'old handmade mysteries' (crafts and trinkets--but also mysteries of sex). On one level Borowczyk uses the whole filmic apparatus as a way of rescuing a shred of disappearing object-aura (and he'll treat his characters as "objects" too) in a mass-produced era. Benjamin saw photography & cinema as signifying the cultural eradication of the artwork's aura. Complementarily, Borowczyk saw cinema as the damned-if-you-don't technology which would paradoxically help keep discourse on these old objects alive.

(When it came to sex & culture, I might propose--not that I've even convinced myself yet--that Borowczyk was cinema's great oblique chronicler of the destructive nature of the twentieth century, while Makavejev was--for a while at least--its great ambitious problem solver.)

(Above: Sixth century Byzantine icon of Christ Pantokrator.)

Take the example of icons--if for no other reason (first) than to savor the idea of a hypothetical Borowczyk version of Andrei Rublev. I would venture to say that what marks Boro's entire aesthetic sense, as far as "the aura," would be completely neutral in terms of the fierce historical debates over icons--neither iconodule or iconoclast, I suspect he would neither venerate nor fear the power of the image. He believes in neither option because he believes in no power to glorify or offend, or so I infer from his work. What fascinates him is the power of the image or the object to spark debate, to spark devotion/revulsion, to draw affection, to symbolize, to be the focal point for intense psychic energies, to cause one to turn away. The effect of 'objects' (open to projection/interpretation if not exactly blank), discrete and special, upon human behavior is one of the great subjects of Borowczyk's treatment.

Earlier, I suggested that Joe Dallessandro's character's infidelity in La Marge is a function of the things around him, his environment--simply put, country vs. city. Above, however, it may not be the City and the Country as such, but the objecthood of Wife and Whore, in their separate and respective settings, who draw out different behaviors. The rumblings of the twentieth century in the time just before it truly "announced" itself, destroying something of the 19th century and its preceding age(s), are the source of artistic rivers such as Surrealism, and it is this historical-cultural-artistic reaction that Borowczyk (past the Surrealist moment, past the Symbolist moment, past the Arts & Crafts movement) seeks to recapture, casting his art back there like a fisherman casting a net.

On the other hand, Makevejev, takes the signs of this New Age and makes them unfamiliar, weird, alienating, decrepit, maybe comic ...

... and wonders if we can reclaim something, or liberate what we never had claim to, through more radical experiences, ineffable libidinal experiences, whose specialness is not old & lost--perhaps hung on to by threads (Borowczyk)--but altogether new.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Links Abound + World Cup

Suggested reading/surfing material ...

here for "A History of Hong Kong Production Logos, Part One: The Early Years."

Photography, television, cinema, culture industry, Seinfeld's funniness, and one of my favorite novels (yes, in translation), Goethe's Elective Affinities (and more) first
here, then here (same author, old blog & new blog).

If you haven't seen this
ode to George Washington by indie comics guy Brad Neely, you may want to. Not quite work safe, if you work in a particularly stuffy place (or don't have headphones).

Commercial that's making the rounds lately as footage of "Italian soccer practice."

Speaking of the Italian soccer team, I have a queasy feeling that they (who made short work of Ukraine yesterday) will be the ones to dispatch Germany in the semifinal--they will do so with great skill, cynicism, and defensive singlemindedness. Wouldn't it be awful if the final were a match-up between, say, Italy and Brazil (assuming Parreira continues to avoid the beautiful and dominant soccer that characterized their Japanese victory)? Or, worse but less likely, if England were to stumble into the final somehow without really managing a single good 90 minutes for the entire tournament? (And I don't dislike Brazil or England per se--but I've been soured by the way they've played in this World Cup.)

As for the Germany-Argentina game, that was difficult to watch. It wasn't always great soccer, but to me it was a great battle. Though I would have been very disappointed if Germany were knocked out, it was sad to see Argentina go simply because they really were the best team in the tournament. That said, I don't think Germany failed to earn their win on PK's--they resorted to somewhat more conservative tactics against the South Americans, which worked well enough, and even if Argentina are the best side in the Cup, in this game they failed to put one more ball in the back of the net than Germany did, and that was with several severe German defensive lapses.

The games today are difficult for me to predict--Portugal and Brazil have the edge, certainly, but one would think England are bound to have a good game at some point in this Cup (maybe Lampard & Rooney can finally net a few beautiful shots today, against a Portugal team that's missing a few key players?), and Brazil's conservatism could very possibly be trounced once again by a canny French team that showed a bit of that '98 spark when they upset the Spanish a few days ago. If there's a midfielder I like watching at his best even more than Ronaldinho, it's Zidane. I have no favorites today (unlike yesterday, pro-Germany and anti-Italy), I only want the sides who exhibit better soccer to win.