Sunday, December 31, 2006

Image of the Day

Romare Bearden, Quilting Time, 1986

Year's End

I. New Films
Very few new films adorn my personal film viewing log in '06--but one film among a very small sample rose to a really high level for me, Hong Sang-soo's The Woman on the Beach.

II. (Re)Viewing of the Year
Love Streams, 35mm, at the Anthology Film Archives.

III. Old Films Seen on Celluloid
Below is a very rough preferential list. Differences between individual spots are basically negligible--just understand that I liked #1 more than #21, and cherished all of them. One film per filmmaker, and also an understanding that in several cases the film chosen is sort of a 'peak' stand-in for two or ten works by that artist.

1. La Prise de pouvoir au Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini, 1966) MoMA
2. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994) MoMA
3. Arnulf Rainer (Peter Kubelka, 1960) Whitney [... also, a corrolary: Tony Conrad's The Flicker]
4. The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, 1971) Anthology
5. N:O:T:H:I:N:G (Paul Sharits, 1968) Anthology
6. Fuji (Robert Breer, 1974) Anthology
7. The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939) Film Forum
8. Forest of Bliss (Robert Gardner and Akos Ostor, 1986) MoMA
9. The Text of Light (Stan Brakhage, 1974) Anthology
10. Report (Bruce Conner, 1967) Anthology
11. The Lead Shoes (Sidney Peterson, 1949) Anthology
12. China 9, Liberty 37 (Monte Hellman, 1979) BAM
13. Ice (Robert Kramer, 1969) Anthology
14. Chumlum (Ron Rice, 1964) Anthology
15. Les Amours de la pieuvre (Jean Painlevé and Geneviéve Hamon, 1965) Whitney
16. In Spring (Mikhail Kaufman, 1929) Walter Reade
17. L'Amour fou (Jacques Rivette, 1968) Moving Image
18. Echoes of Silence (Peter Emanuel Goldman, 1967) Anthology
19. Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949) Anthology
20. La Villa dei mostri (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1949) BAM
21. A Walk with Love and Death (John Huston, 1969) MoMA

IV. Old Films Seen on Video
A special mention should be made to online places like UbuWeb, providing a sampling forum for unfortunately scarce works of fringe or experimental cinema (and like Mubarak Ali mentioned in his recent year-end commentary, Toshio Matsumoto's works are fascinating). Below are the same rules as above, but with a few more classics that I only saw in 2006. Long live the game of Humiliation.

1. Numéro deux (Jean-Luc Godard, 1975)

2. Au hasard, Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
3. Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
4. Ali--Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
5. Viva La Muerte (Fernando Arrabal, 1971)
6. Barsaat (Raj Kapoor, 1949)
7. Edward II (Derek Jarman, 1992)
8. Dark at Noon (Raúl Ruiz, 1993)
9. There Was a Father (Yasujiro Ozu, 1942)
10. Diary of a Chambermaid (Luis Buñuel, 1964)
11. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1965)
12. These Hands (Florence M'mbugu-Schelling, 1988)
13. Monsieur Klein (Joseph Losey, 1976)
14. Salt of the Earth (Herbert J. Biberman, 1954)
15. No Room for the Groom (Douglas Sirk, 1952)
16. Les Filles de Kamaré (René Vienet, 1974)
17. Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (Dušan Makavejev, 1967)
18. Family Diary (Valerio Zurlini, 1962)
19. The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda, 1971)
20. Dead or Alive: Final (Takashi Miike, 2002)
21. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965)

V. Film Book
Jonathan Beller's The Cinematic Mode of Production I suppose. Truly important, I will write more on it in the future, in the meantime interested readers will want to check out Le Colonel Chabert, who's posted a few recent entries dealing with the book.

VI. Laughing
Revisitation: The Happiest Days of Your Life (Frank Launder, 1950) - One of the funniest films ever, if you ask me.
New on Film: For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest, 2006) - Specifically, Fred Willard with his fauxhawk, and the scene where the Siskel & Ebert clones unexpectedly reach an agreement--the articulation of the moment of exaggerated shock is small & priceless. (I still haven't seen Borat and have no idea what I'll think of it.)
A Moment out of Time: When Sho Aikawa buys a hungry kid about five bowls of noodles in Dead or Alive: Final, and as the kid slurps away our hero nonchalantly states, "Finish it or I'll kill you." I wonder if my reaction is similar to a Japanese speaker's.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Some Points Before Vacation

What follows are slightly pointless and solipsistic musings. Avast, read at your own risk!

Sports #1: Fisticuffs
I'm not a boxing fan exactly, but I found
this article interesting (I found it at some political blog I was surfing very recently, but I'm too lazy to double check which one at the moment). The media treatment of Mike Tyson finds itself echoed strongly by the underappreciated Walter Hill-directed Snipes/Rhames vehicle Undisputed ('02). Armond White wrote up the film in a positive review here. It's hard for me to deal with White's reviews these days--his weird permutation of rightist authoritarian populism is now too demoralizing--but for a while he seemed to be one of the few name reviewers engaging with ideas when he wrote on films, and at the time (2001-2002: he also seemed more aligned with the social left then, tho' I could be wrong) I was really inspired by his work. And anyway the article and the film offer another occasion to recommend Mandingo, Richard Fleischer's 1976 film maudit which is sensationalist, and far from a masterpiece, but still quite an important film. David Ehrenstein (for the record--gay and black like Mr. White, but in his case a figure on the left) has called it the "most honest film about American racism ever made."

Sports #2: Football (the English kind)
This is the first season I've had cable and channels that showed European club soccer. Before, I was the most fairweather sort of soccer fan imaginable--very occasional club matches, highlights clips, whatever friendlies I could catch on ESPN, and of course the World Cup. (I could never afford to go to bars to watch games, either--not to the extent that I could follow a team.) But after a (happy) year without cable my girlfriend and I finally got it last summer--the kicker as far as I was concerned was that it was time for the World Cup. Now I find that I'm addicted. I could give up otherwise fine/useful channels like news networks, TCM, IFC, Bravo (Project Runway), even maybe the Food Network, but to give up Fox Soccer Channel seems like the biggest loss to imagine. At any rate, being able to follow along with the English Premier League this season, I've finally decided which team I want to get behind: Arsenal. I'm not a supporter, not even really a true fan: just a guy who's chosen somebody to cheer for when watching a certain league. It's the fact that they're dedicated to a beautiful team game that seals it. Or, as my friend and occasional EL contributer Gabe reformulated it to me last time he was here in New York (Arsenal were playing Chelsea): "It's aesthetics versus consumerism." Anyway, I just thought I'd mention that.

When it comes to contemporary music I am pretty clueless. But post-breakthrough (not always sophomore) efforts from the recent folkish-indie "scene" have left me cold (e.g., the second one by Iron & Wine). I didn't know how I'd feel about Joanna Newsom's Ys. It took me a while to get into her voice but once I did I was hooked by The Milk-Eyed Mender. "Peach Plum Pear" has to be my favorite song from the (for lack of a better word) 'indie' scene in the past several years (unless Animal Collective's "Winters Love" tops it). Anyway I just picked up Ys and am listening to it now and--whew--it's awesome!

Cinema Theater as Sleeping Compartment
What is the suggested etiquette for waking up someone behind you who is snoring through a film screening? Being a nonconfrontational person I tried "excuse me, sir" a couple of times, but I failed the break the fellow's sweet slumber. Of course, he came into the screening 5-10 minutes late, soon fell asleep, and after at least a half hour of snoring, he promptly left the auditorium as soon as he finally woke up. (And that was just the most egregious example of a pile of small discourtesies at a recent screening of Vanina Vanini...) Also read
this ...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Image of the Day

Kasimir Malevich, Reaper on Red Background, 1912-13.

A Few Words

A paradox:

"In his last works, Rossellini loses interest in art, which he reproaches for being infantile and sorrowful, for revelling in a loss of world: he wants to replace it with a morality which would restore a belief capable of perpetuating life. Rossellini undoubtedbly still retains the ideal of knowledge, he will never abandon this Socratic ideal, but he does need to establish it in a belief in simple faith in man and the world. What made Joan of Arc at the Stake a misunderstood work? The fact that Joan of Arc needs to be in the sky to bleieve in the tatters of this world. It is from the height of eternity that she can believe in this world. There is a return of Christian belief in Rossellini, which is the highest paradox. Belief, even in the case of holy characters, Mary, Joseph and the Child, is quite prepared to go over to the side of the atheist."

--Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (trans. Tomlinson/Galeta, p. 172)

I don't know how much I agree with the above passage, in part because I'm never totally sure I understand what Deleuze is talking about, and also (here) because I haven't made up my mind really about "late Rossellini," other than that it's likely one of the peak achievements in cinema. But I wanted to mention it here because I have been thinking about it and want to suggest that Rossellini be discussed in terms of his rhetorical strategies as a filmmaker of which an engagement with realism is one part, rather than being a "realist" who went astray, or who became a "minimalist." Meaning--Rossellini's films are expressions at certain points in his life of a drive to "believe in the world," which could maybe try to build some kind of important direct line between image and referent, but might also be a case of deliberate and remarkable "artifice" (his Joan of Arc film with Bergman), or his late work as an offering of morality--or as I'd put it if asked to do so without thinking for a while about it, an exercise in logos, rationalism, and a very subtle historicism. I'll try to unpack that last part at a later date, see what I really think that proposition means and if I really think it holds water.


"Let us now imagine a spectator unable to follow a film's story line, someone who could only follow the involuntary forms that have managed to creep into the film, that is, its mistakes. This spectator, a kind of experimental delinquent, follows a film composed of obsessional details. Let me serve as my own example. For years I watched so-called Greco-Latin films (toga flicks, with early Christians devoured by lions, emperors in love, and so on). My only interest in those films was to catchs ight of planes and helicopters in the background, to discover the eternal DC6 crossing the sky during Ben Hur's final race, Cleopatra's naval battle, or the Quo Vadis banquets. That was my particular fetish, my only interest. For me all those films, the innumerable tales of Greco-Latinity, all partook of the single story of a DC6 flying discreetly from one film to the next."

--Raul Ruiz, Poetics of Cinema vol. 1 (trans. Holmes, p. 60)

Once before I touched upon the idea of generic complexity as a spectrum whereby a certain amount of richness might warrant destructive readings, alterations, and behaviors as in the case of Situationist détournement. I'm not intellectually convinced that this reflex of mine is a good idea, but certainly I'm emotionally attached to it. I don't want my Genuine Genre Art attacked and degraded! But this is precisely because my "taste" or my "knowledge" aren't very good shields against certain abrasive artistic effects--effects which may even have worthy social and political ends, mind you. (Relevant anecdote at the end of this post of Andy Rector's.) What's hard for some of us--it certainly is for me sometimes--is to trust in the durability of art ... as though we're afraid our masterpieces can't stand up to criticism outside the parameters we've learned to hold them to (formalist, dramatic, political). Frame a question a certain way, and I will debate vehemently in favor of art's autonomy and the necessity of its freedom. For instance this was the case with my Sátántangó posts almost a year ago, where I questioned the drive to have everything immediately available as exchangeable commodities: the implicit assumption that widespread DVD availability is an unconditional good thing. My fundamental problem was with the mentality which, to me, celebrated the smooth space of the digital marketplace as a way of masking imbalances, gaps, and inequalities present in the 'pre- or ur-digital' cinema, its own broader (but latent) inavailabilities, and the cultural incomprehension that might accompany this vending machine of film history + cultural capital. But any opinions expressed in this line are, insofar as they make up my personal theory (ahhhh, semipsuedotheory) of art and its relation to the world, exist in dialogue with my impulses which (I hope) empower viewer agency.

Perverse readings of films, "anti-viewing," deliberate forays into trivia and marginalia ... these are healthy activities. If (film) intellectuals, in the Gramscian sense, have valuable roles to play in film and media culture today--and who knows, maybe they really don't--it is in pointing people to the ways in which people may better know the differences and uses of viewing/engaging/participating/consuming with or against the grain of a work in question. I feel as though people are culturally encouraged to have opinions about artworks without facets to them--"rate it," 1-to-10, as though your own subjective interaction can be viewed as a monolith, as though one can't filter a work through different grids or dimensions, to understand individual shortcomings or the shortcomings of an originary system, or to recognize real achievements within such limitations--'lines of flight' outward, to suggest it in Deleuzian terms. (I'm not blindly embracing pomo contradiction here--there are despicable films I would not recommend anyone to find a way to defend, and which I would actively campaign against in conversation with people ... for instance, by my judgment, We Were Soldiers, or, less offensively if no less ineptly, the recent King Kong. [The original had a lot of awful baggage too, of course.] But I love Zoolander, e.g., even while I recognize that it's part of a system & industry I oppose and all its parody does nothing to subvert this fact.) In other words, it's not my opinion that really has to prove correct, but rather my knowledge of how my opinions work--on a personal and psychological level, and in a social and material sphere.

Hence, reading against the grain in ways that Ruiz suggests, or in completely different ways, is a good strategy, a good set of options (not instructions). It's a whole potential world of operations--perhaps one day we'll be very good at it, audiences can learn to appropriate all manner of things according to their own terms (and, importantly, also be very conscious of the fact that they're doing this). This is one of the reasons why the notion of avant-garde traditions is important to me--for its social functions. (The Surrealists, like the Situationists, were all about new ways to engage with artworks.) I don't believe, like Marcuse, that great art always holds a liberatory potential in it. I think that we can call great art that which is durable to the treatment those human beings who have had cause to encounter it.

What I'd like to say is that these two quotes, the Deleuze and the Ruiz, serve to me as good reminders to be willing to believe in a film, any film, without ever feeling obligated to grant it the final word.

If/when I teach cinema to students one day, particularly if it's film theory, I would love to bring in one of Deleuze's Cinema books and a volume of Ruiz's Poetics of Cinema to the classroom and try to read and incorporate random readings from both books into each other and the day's topic.

It may be early 2007 before I come back with another substantial post (or maybe I can get one more out before then). On the agenda for the near future--I will return to the topic of the Baroque, as well as Modigliani, Soviet art and cinema of the 1920s, hopefully some words on comic books, more on Ruiz and Rossellini (not necessarily together), returning to Godard, deeeep breath, and a few other things.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Rise to Power of Louis XIV

Here is a film that I suspect is like a bottomless pit in that it operates in a very superficial way as a televisual historical drama, but the more closely one looks at its allusions, its narrative and visual architecture, its powerful articulations of an historical moment, one could find ever-richer material, renewing itself before one's eyes. The masterpiece as the "inexhaustible" text more than the "perfect" one ... more will follow on this film but I cannot predict how soon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Essential Online Reading

Alex on Kiss Me Deadly, noir, Los Angeles, and the military-industrial complex.
Over at Antigram, Tom Cruise, Scientology, and Mission: Impossible III (with spoilers!).
Kevin Le Gendre on Alice Coltrane at
Wax Poetics (I just recently purchased my first AC album).
Robin Carmody: "The Lost Lineage of Rural Liberalism."
Tony Conrad on duration (2004), to expand a bit on my comment on The Flicker in the post below.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Didn't See Out 1 (Yet)

(a viewing journal)

While almost every other NYC cinephile, and many from elsewhere, was sitting before Out 1 this weekend (was initially shut out because I dared wait until a week beforehand to reserve my ticket; damn!; but fortunately I now have my tickets for the March encore, thank you), I managed to see a few other films over the weekend.

Rossellini's Augustine of Hippo (1972)--not to my mind a very major film of RR's, its aesthetic interest (the soundtrack, the zooms, the framing) seemed spread thin and to only cluster into fascinating moments intermittently. The shot where Donatists attack a few of Augustine's underlings (passing out bread to the peasants in the countryside) is an amazing example of zoom & subtle camera movement, for instance.

(Before we saw Augustine, some friends and I checked out MoMA's Brice Marden exhibit. Favorite overheard art criticism in recent memory, said in an exasperated, ripped-off tone: "Brice Marden, Brice Marden ... hey, these paintings are all by the same artist!")

Robert Breer films; I had seen this program back in January, and it was just as great this time around. Breer himself was in attendance for some reason or other, muttering about how the focus was off. People were clapping a bit between each film and after the third or fourth time Breer announced to his companion, "They wouldn't do that if I wasn't here." The artist's final verdict: Anthology's prints were a bit washed-out, color-wise. While certain films in the program (70; Blazes; Pat's Birthday) have slightly more of an immediate impact for me, again, I think it's Fuji that best summarizes and demonstrates what makes Breer special, and what appears to be the key themes and formal tropes of the preceding two decades. Now if I could just see Breer's late work ...

Bruce Conner's A Movie (my third, fourth, or possibly fifth viewing), Conner's Report (first viewing), and the whole reason I went to Anthology that evening, The Flicker by Tony Conrad (relevant to the paper I'm finishing up this week). A Movie is absolutely great, of course, high-energy artisanal melodrama ... in comparison Report extracts the analytical impulse of the earlier film and focuses it more intensely upon its object (media surrounding the JFK assassination), so that the repetition of fetishized a/v footage becomes the material itself, makes it weirder as well as rubbing in its familiarity. The cultural associations one has with a film like this make for a reverberant sort of experience.

As for The Flicker, well, as I've mentioned to a few people already, there was one point in the screening where I said to myself, "I honestly don't know if I'm five minutes into the film, or twenty-five." Of the flicker films of the 1960s-70s I've seen, this is the one where individual perception is most forcefully and purely isolated and foregrounded as a component and structuring device of the artwork itself.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Why make images? Why not be satisfied with embracing reality? Experimental films have often formulated and more often answered this fundamental question in art. Cinema is not necessarily an echo chamber (Jean-Luc Godard's "damsel of recording"). It can be an act; it can become a weapon; it can even get lost in combat. Consider René Vautier's sublime works: designed like missiles to destroy the enemy (capitalist exploitation, to be brief, especially in its colonial forms), they burst into flames, they get blown to bits in mid-air (shots from Vautier's films constantly reappear throughout militant cinema); or else, having accomplished their mission and self-destructed, the work merges into its own concrete historical effects. It would be useful to study the history of forms that brought about militant practices in cinema, whether they came from direct intervention (René Vautier, Chris Marker, the constellation of collectives that blossomed at the end of the '60s, Bruno Muel, Dominique Dubosc...) or from a more classic activity such as pamphlet writing, a struggle against a state of affairs, beliefs or even the image itself (certain cool-headed films superimpose these three targets, including masterpieces by Maurice Lemaître, Marcel Hanoun, the Dziga Vertov group, Djouhra Abouda and Alain Bonnamy, Dominique Avron and Jean-Bernard Brunet). Making images nobody wants to see, offering images for things that don't have any, going even farther than transgression or subversion, experimental cinema confronts the unacceptable, be it political, existential, ideological or sexual. Even these purely nominal distinctions would be obliterated, first by underground cinema, for one (Etienne O'Leary, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, Philipe Bordier, Pierre Clémenti...), and later by individual personalities like Lionel Soukaz."

-- Nicole Brenez (of course), from the
Introduction to Jeune, dure et pure!

Above: Vautier. I really like the idea of one's work living on anonymously by being collaged by others in spirits more or less true to your own.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jonathan Beller ...

... has to be one of the most exciting film theorists working in American academia. (I say 'exciting' only if you're interested personally or professionally in film theory. His prose is often dense and dry, though never obscurantist: he's always aiming for clarity, he's just often trying to describe very abstract or multidimensional concepts.) Over the last several months I've been picking through any of his articles that I can find, slowly, and as a result I have read the majority of the early published versions of the pieces that constitute his new book, The Cinematic Mode of Production, which I suppose is finally available. I've mentioned Beller here a few times in the past, and have linked to some of his work before.

"The Spectatorship of the Proletariat," which I have not quite finished yet, is a thick, leisurely paced essay on the creation (and presupposition) of cinematic spectatorship as a form of labor. Let me explain this one roughly, possibly brutally, just to give you a sense. One of the general arguments is that Sergei Eisenstein conceptualized the audience of his films much like machines or animals. Taylor thought of maximizing efficiency of workers in the (macro) factory, and Pavlov thought of understanding machinic impulses in the overriding (micro) mind. (Cinema is the factory or the mind!) In these cases there is a hierarchy constructed by which one class, the filmmaker or scientist, presupposes a certain environment in which they can "manipulate," and perhaps "better," their apparently less well-developed cogs in each system. (I would stress that any initial criticisms of this model should be addressed to my characterization, not Beller's, not until you've read his work.) Beller situates Vertov in opposition to Eisenstein here, a pretty traditional "rivalry" in itself, and I think he's more sympathetic to Vertov because Vertov respects the autonomy of the viewers to use cinema to figure out relations between objects, commodity, labor, value, etc., whereas Eisenstein tries/tried to "play" the audience. But I can't yet be 100% certain that this is accurately Beller's assertion. The piece needs closer analysis than I'm really able to give it at the moment.

I hope more will follow here on EL. Some other things he's written:

"Cinema, Capital of the Twentieth Century."
"Numismatics of the Sensual, Calculus of the Image: The Pyrotechnics of Control."
Review of Diverse Practices: A Critical Reader on British Video Art.
Review of Fight Club.

There are more essays which are not readily available online (or off) outside of a library or education institution with access to certain databases (Project Muse, Ingenta), but a Google search will reveal these and if you can get yourself to a place with a subscription to these services, there will be perhaps 4-5 more articles available.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Viva l'Italia

In this very rare Rossellini film, fortunately presented in the current retrospective, I became more intimately attuned to Rossellini's framing. If you go here you'll see that le Colonel asserts that "the technology allows you to create a very busy, detailed, turbulent mural representing the trenches at the Somme, and it allows you just as easily to introduce a clean blue bunny rabbit or a gnome or a fairy into that hyperrealistic environment, the big, busy, dense, swooping film image with disconcertingly uniform and crisp focus." Everything becomes allegory.

With Viva l'Italia, a commemorative film of the 1860 Garibaldi exploits, there are several battle or reconnaissance scenes that take advantage of the mountains of Sicilia or southern Italy, presenting huge vistas where large-scale combat sometimes takes place. These battle scenes are superb, and the reason why is not because they're "exciting" or "psychologically-resonant" (codewords for, this film presents battle as riveting!) but because they foreground the limitations of the frame in the process of presenting their images. The difference between Viva l'Italia and something like The Lord of the Rings is that the CGI battles in those Peter Jackson films suggest clarity and predetermination. You--"we"--know that the camera is going where it has been deemed to go, to capture the appropriate action. It's taking something huge and violent and chaotic, making it clear and readable and even fun. But we never know when or where something--a crowd of soldier's, a main character, a building in the foreground, a lake in the distance--will break Rossellini's shots and basically reconstitute the nature of the entire shot itself, which may have started tight and close but ended long, wide, striated. This is part of his engagement with that amorphous thing, 'realism.' It's not about naive indexicality of the image, it's about the demonstration of material largeness and the inadequacies (as well as attempts) of the camera to capture it all ...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Images of the Day: Suspiria & Vice

For a few friends...

"Argento's lurid, saturated colours lack nuance and assault the sensorium in their perverse mimicry of the Disney cartoon spectrum. Red predominates in a variety of vibrant shades. It is first glimpsed fleetingly, on an anonymous woman at Frieburg airport where the heroine, American dance student Suzy Bannon, arrives. Suzy next sees red on a terrified student fleeing the dance academy. Red stains the outside of this building, spreading via the wallpaper and drapes as well as wine, blood, fingernails and lips. Violet-blue velvet covers the walls and adds tactile to visual potency. This Technicolor palette drains the strength of the good characters by absorbing their life energy and glowing brighter afterwards. It vibrates in us intensively, oppressing yet arousing us." (p. 142-3)

"Anamalous forms of life invade the dormitories. Their repulsive tactile qualities are emphasised by the sensitive skin exposed to them as the dancers undress. A bat flutters down onto Suzy and clings tight, biting her. Hundreds of maggots appear, wriggling and crawling over the floor,a nd the girls are compelled to tread on them, squashing them either with their shoes or with naked feet. The maggots land in the girls' hair and crawl on their skin as they struggle to brush them off. The use of close-up in this sequence intensifies the viewer's virtual sensation of slime, squirming larvae and viscous texture, particularly repellent on bare flesh." (p. 143)

-- from Anna Powell's Deleuze and Horror Film (Edinburgh UP, 2005)

There are few places on the Net to get as good a giallo education as Killing in Style, it seems to me.

What have I learned from gialli, not that I've actually seen very many? It's good to drink J&B, and it's not a good idea to cross women or animals. (Two stills above from Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, '73.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Came So Far for Beauty

Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess (1973) is, like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a disjointed and artful example of the serious black genre film of the early 1970s. But whereas Sweetback told a very simple narrative in a very fragmented way, accruing for itself much moment-to-moment richness, Ganja & Hess is allusive, evocative, lyrical, mythic, and complex. One flows with the stream in Sweetback, even when you hit the rapids. Ganja & Hess is like a pond or a swamp or an estuary--a whole complex "ecosystem" is just lurking there under a pokerfaced still surface.

Rossellini (part I)

Some aspects of Roberto Rossellini ... triggered by a double bill of Blaise Pascal ('71) and India ('59).

Mystic: A deeply spiritual filmmaker; Nicole Brenez described in her original Movie Mutations letter that Stromboli ('50), whose religiosity offended her leftist anti-clericalism, provided a experience to be scaled like a mountain. It took effort for her to let Rossellini "in." Rossellini is not necessarily concerned with miracles as a rule, however: in his work faith is applied to that which perfectly natural and phenomenological, but whose significance comes out, creeps up, overwhelms the characters and the viewers. Socratic: Blaise Pascal really got me thinking about Rossellini as a Socratic filmmaker. To bring up Brenez again, in her piece on Godard in For Ever Godard she mentions how Godard likened Rossellini to Socrates--'a guy who just asked questions.' Throughout his cinema there are defenses of a free spirit, denunciations of any kind of persecution which limits questions. Formalist: amidst ostensibly unfussy, competent frames we will see a camera movement or a composition slowly fall into place which is breathtaking, as time unfolds we may be aware that Rossellini's kino-eye is submerged within the fabric of all his shots. He's not a showy filmmaker, but there are moments where the rigor comes through, because the images' feeling of naturalism periodically dissolves before our eyes.

Blaise Pascal is part of the often low-budget early modern costume film stratum that seemed to flourish in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In its pulpish forms (such as Matthew Reeves' Conqueror Worm/Witchfinder General and various other torture movies), this barebones staginess often served to underline sensationalism (a cut to or from a gory image; the presence of a violent or erotic shot). That is, unlike something like Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, '97), the images for these kinds of films are often clean, the sets and costumes may be sufficiently ornate but the filmmakers aren't usually going for complicated, deep, sophisticated, lush, porous images, but for flat or simple-perspective ones. Things are spare, and on the soundtrack you can hear footsteps. There are more "artful" early modern costume films of this era, of which Blaise Pascal is an example, who use some of this (possibly budgetary) "plainness" to foreground really ineffable ideas and tones--I'm thinking also of Winstanley ('75), The Immortal Story ('68), A Walk with Love and Death ('69), and the medieval-set films Lancelot du lac ('74) and Blanche ('71). (A counter-example might be Ken Russell's more "baroque" compositions in his amazing film The Devils, or Has' Saragossa Manuscript.)


More coming on Rossellini soon. This is just a still from what is probably the most beautiful shot in India Matri Bhumi ... and one of the most beautiful shots in cinema, possibly.