Monday, January 22, 2007

Margin Notes

Girish puts forth some words on "poetic film" (letting Maya Deren do a bit of the talking). Of course when most people say "film," "cinema," or "movies" they are talking about what would be the cinematic analogues of novels, rarely short stories (though there are frequent mentions of contemporary cine-serials, i.e., television series), just occasionally nonfiction, and almost never, poetry. See the films of Nathaniel Dorsky for poetry that'll pop your eyes out of your head, Bruce Conner that will turn you over on your head a couple times over, early Luis Buñuel for very angry and savage poetry (the contrarian in me says, "nevermind Dalí's contributions, the hack!"). For me the question of poetry in cinema works best as a kind of literalist sense of analogy.

The question of film poetics, and cinematic strategies, on the other hand, necessitates that we re-examine all (and discard many) of the crutches we have used--been taught to use--in comparison between cinema and the other arts. This is partly because of the massive historical ramifications of these particular forms of production and reproduction (as if I need to tell you: see the likes of Beller, Virilio, Jameson, Benjamin, et al.), and partly because to understand the former it's necessary to do so on its own terms as much as necessary. Otherwise we may only want to interpret "film texts" as though they're extensions of novels and essays, and never anything more, and that's a bad rabbit hole to disappear into ...

Is anyone even still reading EL? Perhaps I've gotten to be too boring a host. So let's say I'm throwing a party. What are you drinking?


girish said...

"What are you drinking?"
How about some large 22-oz. Kingfishers?

Zach, I'd love to hear you expand some on this intriguing line...:

"For me the question of poetry in cinema works best as a kind of literalist sense of analogy."


orenda said...

If I had the resources, I'd be drinking Benrinnes.

Until then, though, it's Sleepytime tea.

Andy Rector said...

I am! and I'm having a 24oz of Icehouse, do you carry that here? I'm a little short on cash, you see...

Your contrarian impulse on Bunuel/Dali is mine too (after all we have what came after Andalou/L'Age to redeem us). I wanted to say that the excellent book MASTERPIECES OF MODERN CINEMA (which I've referenced over at my blog before) has a wonderful article on L'AGE D'OR by Dudley Andrew. As Andrew tells it, Dali contributed to L'AGE more in an art history/painting sense whereas Bunuel was on top of the dialectics, providing a passage from dream to politics. This is why Breton loved the film and Bunuel, but eventually excommunicated Dali. As Breton says "Bunuel was fully prepared to lay waste to the ideas of family, country, religion;...there is no room for compromise." The last 6 words of this quote certainly relate to your second paragraph. I consider Nicholas Ray a film poet, and he of all non-experimental filmmakers wouldn't shock us if he told us he made a scene because of a poem he'd just read. In spite of his compromise here and there, what is good in Ray, where he resisted (as per your previous post), where he did things "wrong" -- it's obvious and full of a soulfulness that can't be gotten at via innermonlogue or descriptive words. This must be why Godard said of Ray that if cinema didn't exist, Ray couldn't do anything else.

Not that it'll clarify much, because (seemingly) no one has seen it, but Ernie Gehr's film ESSEX STREET MARKET seems to me a supreme non-fiction film poem (without the found footage caveat); the aspect of poetry in the durations of a documentary context.

Tuwa said...

I am drinking mint tea at the moment. But if this were a party and I could drink anything, I'd say I just came in from the cold and would love some glüwein.

HarryTuttle said...

May I inquire about "nevermind Dalí's contributions, the hack!"?

jmac said...

I am drinking Rumi! So glad to see your mention of Bunuel & surrealist film. I know that I am not the only one who followed this poetic cinema all the way to the experimental film/video of 2007. Have you seen "Entre'acte"? It used to be one of my favorites . . .

andyhorbal said...

(the contrarian in me says, "nevermind Dalí's contributions, the hack!")

My eyes lighted upon that too, Harry, because just last night in the Experimental Cinema course at Pitt (undergraduate level) that I'm sitting in on (I took it for credit as an undergraduate) my favorite professor, Bill Judson, said exactly the same thing after screening Un Chien Andalou (he almost relented and went with Las Hurdes instead!).

In addition to what Mr. Rector has said here, my understanding is that Dali said some rather nasty things about Buñuel in the years that followed their collaboration on that film, and even tried to get him deported.

Is anyone even still reading EL? Perhaps I've gotten to be too boring a host. So let's say I'm throwing a party. What are you drinking?

Boring? Good grief! My goal as a blogger is to be 1/4 as thought-provoking as you are here, Zach! I'm drinking cheap red wine from the bottle and chain-smoking Pall Malls.

And jmac: I just saw Entr'acte again last night in that same class! Love that cannon...

girish said...

Andy R. -- I loved Essex Street Market; after the screening, Gehr talked for an was a thrill. (This was at TIFF in '05; Michael Sicinski has a great write-up on it here. Scroll about 1/3 of the way down.)

And I've been enjoying Masterpieces of Modernist Cinema too. Even though I've never seen the film, I read (and loved) Gilberto Perez's essay in it on Gehr's Still....

Alex said...

I wish I was drinking Chateau Margaux '59. Instead I'm guzzling free office Coke in my cubicle. In consideration of your depleted bank account, I'll accept Emilio Lustau Sherry Dry Oloroso Don Nuno. Or more free Coke, or more free anything, for that matter.

Andy, like that avatar. Really like that avatar.

jmac said...

Andy H., Your experimental cinema course sounds so awesome. I used to see "Entre'acte" at Anthology Film Archives all the time, but I can only really remember the ballerina. Maybe you could write a post on this film?

Zach Campbell said...

Adrian got trouble from Blogger when he tried to post his comments, so he emailed them to me and gave me the OK to reproduce them here:

"Fascinating post, Zach (and Girish, too, who started it!). But I am not
quite getting your distinction between 'poetry' and 'poetics' - mainly
because poetics is a term that really comes to us (as I understand it)
via Russian Formalism, and from there to USA-style neoformalism, where
poetics refers to a kind of 'horizon' of rules, conventions, etc. It is
a funny territorial move: Bordwell's next book is called POETICS OF
CINEMA, like he wants to take the really inventive 'strategies' (as you
say) out of Ruiz's great title POETICS OF CINEMA!! And I think Ruiz
does straddle both meanings, conceptually, of this word poetics: there
are rules of all kinds (and hence games of all kinds), conventions and
hence subversions - but also something that begins way, way out from
the rules. And that brings us back to the 'old fashioned' meaning of
poetry, even in its most 'literary' connotation. One of my oldest
friends really struck me when he said a few years back: 'Film theory is
comfortable with poetics these days; what it can't handle is the idea
of poetry'. Therefore, I defend the retaining of the word poetry!
There's more inspiring stuff, for me, in Pasolini's semi-semiotic
speculations on the 'cinema of poetry' (or in Deren's schema cited by
Girish) than in Bordwellian (et al) poetics. What do you think?"

Zach Campbell said...

What an eclectic bit of drinkers thus far. Is no one going to have a martini? Well, I will then.

Girish, for the question of a 'poetic film' in terms of literalist analogy, I meant it just like that--insofar as we're going to say film is poetic or not (i.e., as far as we're going to use use the word to act as an approximate), then the breakdown of genres would seem to me to be feature films (=novels), short films (=short stories), instructional work videos (=manuals). A poetic film is roughly synonymous with what we might call 'experimental' or 'avant-garde.' I'm not saying that these are all set in stone, cut-and-dried of course (just as literary genres aren't either). This is a matter of shorthand taxonomy here, convenience and intentional breadth, not a theoretical position as such. So on one level for me 'poetic cinema' refers roughly to an a priori genre before we really even consider artistic values or any kinds of values--it's merely a designation for a certain format of cinema, a matrix of identifiers as to why & how a particular film was made, what its intended functions are, and so forth. It's a useful tag for how I would try to describe films to myself (if I'm reading something I wrote months/years ago) or other people.

Of course, we sometimes say that a film has "poetry," and of course mean it as a big compliment, and by this we're referring to, say, its use of film language, in which case the (novel-analogous) feature films of Nicholas Ray are, in my view, much more "poetic" (as in greater) than the "poetic films" (as in poetry-analogous) of, say, Jordan Belson.

Adrian, it is this broad question of poetics as strategies that I referred to in my second paragraph--not really trying to refer to Aristotle or the Russian formalists, or anyone in particular, but rather to designate to the close study of how cinema works by using a phrase, 'poetics,' even while trying to express my reluctance to keep all this tied to word- or literature-based paradigms. I wasn't really trying to refer to "rules" at all, either--sorry for any confusion ...

Zach Campbell said...

On Dalí--I don't know that I can make a considered dismissal. My affinities for Surrealism are more literary/political than visual arts-centered, but even when I really changed on that point (that is, my second trip through the Art Institute of Chicago's great surrealist galleries, which was last year), I never really felt anything from Dalí. He just makes me shrug. And then when I read about the ill history he had with someone like Bunuel, his turn to political conservatism, it doesn't make me want to try any harder.

There are two intriguing old posts on a_film_by made by a fine critic:


The only time I saw Dali, he was holding court in the Oak Room at the
St. Regis, surrounded by epigones in matching black vinyl raincoats,
his ocelot with the diamond collar parked at the door. I had just
come from seeing Bunuel's Diary of a Chambermaid (just out), with its
last image of the marching fascists being double jump-cut into
nothingness, followed by Bunuel's signature in a bolt of lightning. I
looked at Dali and thought, "You putz..."

and here

Bunuel had never stopped being a revolutionary, and Dali had sold out
everything the two of them ever believed in. It showed in their
respective work of the time.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

Too much to respond to so I'll take the safe route: Bombay Saphire Gin & Organic Santa Cruz Lemonade soda. Ça ce laisse manger...ou boire, pardon.

HarryTuttle said...

You can't take Dali's statements seriously... taking to extreme ends all he thinks and does is part of his artistic personality, which is one with his self. His real life is art, or shall we say "performance". He's a paranoid, he has no real life.

I don't know what are the political implications of his art (did Warhol love any less money than Dali?), but I don't think of Staline when I watch Eisenstein.

As far as surrealism, my feeling is that Buñuel is the one who compromised (at times) to make commercial movies, while Dali was always pushing the limits until the end. He has an amazing understanding of the power of TV and the cult of personality it induced. He manipulated the media without compromising.

You should give a try to his surrealist documentary, homage to Raymond Roussel, "Impressions de la haute Mongolie", and "Babaouo" (filmed by Manuel Cussó-Ferrer in 2000) before giving up on him.

girish said...

Ah, that's very helpful, Zach. Thank you.

You asked: "Is anyone even still reading EL?"

I read you faithfully, and get a lot out of your posts. You are a fierce thinker, an example to us all. And a great resource for us in the blogosphere.

Taking your question above as a sort of spur, I want to try to put aside my EL-dauntedness, and would like to begin to (occasionally) ask you questions on your posts to draw you out on one point or another. I find your explanations very helpful. You're a good elucidator! (I've been in my profession for 15+ years and I can recognize a good teacher when I encounter one!) And since you're heading for an academic career, I suspect that issues of pedagogy are also of interest to you...

Anyway, with that as preface, let me ask a couple of questions:

(1) So, to put aside poetry-analogous films for a sec, and to concentrate on poetry in film, what exactly might it mean to say that Nicholas Ray's use of film language has poetry. Is it his images? The manner in which his mise-en-scene expresses his themes, illumines his characters, puts across his worldview? Is it something else...? And what might make these things "poetry" in his films as opposed to "prose" (say) in someone else's films?

(2) Using Ray as an exuse, allow me to raid one of your recent posts:

"It is important to remember how much context matters. In cinema, in this age, when people misappropriate "auteur theory" [shudder] so badly, it's worth recalling that what made the politique a useful tool was that it understood authorship in the studio system as a battle--not mastery. Nicholas Ray was not the lord & master of his Hollywood projects, instead for the critics he played the protagonist whose strategy and tactics were inscribed onto his commercial work from the inside out. This is why auteurist practices should still be salvageable for the political & cultural left, and not remnants of romantic celebration of the Individual Genius who finds himself (sic) excused from or transcendent of "mere" politics ..."

So, today's context, today's moment, is obviously very different from the 1950's moment in which Ray was working, and the politique was applied. So, what did you mean by "auteurist practices" still being "salvageable for the political & cultural left"? Salvageable, how? Ray and others struggled primarily against the studio system. If we are to salvage and deploy these practices today, the struggle would be against something markedly larger, yes? Might this have you been what you were alluding to...?

Thank you, Zach!

Andy H. -- After Alex pointed to your cat avatar, I did a double-take: "Hey wait, I know that doodle..." Thanks for using it.... :-)

andyhorbal said...

Andy H. -- After Alex pointed to your cat avatar, I did a double-take: "Hey wait, I know that doodle..." Thanks for using it.... :-)

Yes, I plundered you!

girish said...

Oh not at all, Andy. I feel flattered!

Zach Campbell said...

Ryland, the drink is yours. Harry, I'll try to see those films sometime.

Girish ... 1) that's a massive question! I can't answer it at the moment (I'm just trying to address a few loose ends before heading to work) but will give it some more thought to try to give a decent cursory response. 2) yes, I'd agree with what you say-- and the "context" I was referring to also had to do with the context of how the Cahiers or Positif writers were championing their authors at a given time. We've been over this before, but basically I think auteurism when it "got American culture" (like one gets religion!) became more heavily implicated in rightist romantic rhetoric. (Say that 3x fast.) "The" auteur "theory"!? What is that!? So now we have a basically un-auteurist commonplace within film culture that auteurism is about "the director being in charge of the film," as a straw man which many people actually believe, rather than a consideration of filmmakers as being writers against a system, and for something Good (whatever the viewer thinks that may be!). Anyway this is another massive question too, and I have to go do some things, so maybe I'll respond more later (sorry for being incomplete) ...

Also, I don't know for sure but there were two possible Andys that Alex could have been referring to with the avatar comment, no?--Mr. Rector has a cool one too.

girish said...

Thanks, Zach. Yes, those questions I asked were massive, weren't they? Take your time in answering; you don't even have to do it here, perhaps you might address them in future post(s) if you felt like it....they involve huge territories and we could talk about them for a long time...

And thanks for pointing out Mr. Rector's avatar, which I had missed before! Indeed it's a cool one, and I wonder what film it's from...

Andy Rector said...

girish- the still is from LE POND DU NORD (Rivette). It's hard to tell but she is not drawing the glasses on, but cutting them out.

girish said...

Thanks, Andy. I just clicked on the full-size graphic--what a powerful image that is...

hotlove666 said...

My Kingdom For. We Can't Go Home Again. Metaphor. Talk to Me Like the Rain. La monnaie de l'absolu. The Bridegroom, The Fiancee and the Pimp. Boy. The Language of Orson Welles.

hotlove666 said...

Correction: The ACTRESS, The Bridegroom etc.

And Filming Othello.

Andy Rector said...

it's late Saturday night and I'm drinking sake...oh shit...hotlove is in the place...

Boetticher, Ray, Vidor, Sirk, Godard and:
their late styles. Twilight's poetry?
Straub/Huillet, Oshima, Welles/Graver and their lucid, brash youth?

"I take the moon very seriously."

Zach Campbell said...

Hotlove, thanks for coming by! (Now if only I could see those films--well, I have seen the Straub/Huillet but that's it...)

HarryTuttle said...

Off topic, relating to Andy Rector's avatar.
There is an Ad campaign in France at the moment using the same graphic : Optician Afflelou, for glasses at half-price. ;)
I thought the coincidence was amusing.

Anonymous said...

so many commets

Anonymous said...

so many commets