Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Milan - Liverpool

A half-day off of work; a packed Liverpool bar on the Bowery; a fairly good game in a rowdy atmosphere. The shocking thing wasn't that Milan proved victorious, but that Liverpool looked for almost any given stretch of the match like the team who wanted it more, the team destined for glory. It wasn't the best game ever played by either team (and it was far, far from the worst), but Liverpool put a lot of fire and energy in their performance. Milan, to my eyes, not so much. If I were Rafa Benitez I would have subbed in Crouch in the 60th minute, and maybe Fowler (for Kuyt) in the 80th. Congrats to Milan though.

Chronik der ...

Upon finally seeing The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. ... Strangely, it is this film (the first Straub/Huillet I've seen on something other than projected celluloid) when I've finally come around to what I think may be a distinctive quality of their images--namely--that they encompass such a rich tonal range. This b&w maybe-masterpiece is pictorially rich, sometimes like busy tableaux, while keeping a certain clarity: varying degrees of depth in which the composed elements form a broiling combination of very deep blacks (such as actors' costumes) and white lights of sun peering through windows. Strong diagonals (furniture, architecture) abound but not without some definite counterweight in the same frame from horizontals and verticals--I'm thinking, for instance, of various choral shots composed diagonally in terms of the human content, but exhibited against a tall rectangular window. (I'd love to post screengrabs but at the moment I don't have Photoshop.) The composition of the images proves to be almost always asymmetrical.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Cinephile Takes Off

As I mentioned last week, I haven't been seeing a lot of films lately. I'm more content to do other things, like spending a little more time each day reading. I've been on an art history kick; plus Sorel's fascinating Reflections on Violence (much of which I strongly disagree with); still one leisurely chapter after another of The Pickwick Papers--I can't remember when it took me this long to finish a novel, even a lengthy one. This has meant that I've also been lazy about things, i.e., I've missed a few screenings which I probably would not have missed--even on my viewing vacation--had I been a little more alert.

We've all got to recharge our batteries in our own ways. Cinephilic burnout is not a good thing, I imagine--I don't know that I've ever quite had it. And thankfully I've never been sick of seeing a lot of films because I think I know, viscerally, when to just ease up. And so every so often there comes a period that lasts a few weeks or so when my inclination to fill free moments with the scheduling of rep screening attendances, or putting in a video at home, just dwindles for a while, and everything else I'm interested in personally just expands to fill what would presumably be empty time and missing space.

Of course this answers to how I order my life for myself and how I pursue my interests--things which every person should have a right to do on their own. Fine enough. The problem is that I also consider myself a person with aspirations toward some kind of political action and duty (to be not just a consumer and a semi-solipsistically contemplative individual), and this is something I'm not very good at. I like to ask questions and learn about things; and I like to discuss things that interest me with people who interest me--and that includes a lot of very real, political issues, with a wide variety of people, of course. But when it comes to all these things I'm not much of an agitator, I'm not much of a popularizer, I'm not a go-getter. I don't think I should strive to be anything I'm patently not, but I believe experience and the getting of wisdom necessitate a small bit of self-improvement. I think I could stand to be a little more of all of these things.

The thorn in my side, what I've slowly come to diagnose, is that somehow in spite of my best reasoning and dedication to the contrary, I've become--precisely--solipsistic. (Just look at how many times the word "I" appears in this blog entry! Can't get over myself.) I think my writing has suffered as a result, on this blog, and by the fact that I haven't really published elsewhere in quite a while. The recent bout with writer's block has been part of this. Looking back on the last several months, I want to conclude that somehow I have been focused on my feelings, my opinions, my place, my growth, my whatever--thus anything, any objects I've been thinking about have been refracted through the prism of myself and what my consideration of such object "means." Surely some good has come of this period of reflection. But ... ugh ... eventually, how boring--for you, for me; how totally unjust--for the objects of this contemplation.

My hope is that writing all this will act as something of a closing chapter on this; an exorcism if need be. I have not felt much "flow" in my intellectual life, or my activity within the blogosphere, or much of any political motivation lately. But I think I have identified the problem and can regain a sense of personal stride, and of giving myself to activities intellectual or otherwise, instead of worrying ultimately about the significance of what they give me.

So tonight I'm going to not watch a film again. I'm might read some more. I'm going to relax. Tomorrow, after the Milan-Liverpool festivities anyway, is a new day ...

Image of the Day

Fra Angelico. Annunciation. 1437-1446. From San Marco.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Recommendation in Art History

Just recently I spent an evening reading Michael Baxandall's seminal book Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, a truly fascinating book about social, material, and stylistic conditions that comprised the rapport between patrons, artists, and paintings in the era. For instance, he looks at something like art criticism written by contemporary clients (recall that Vasari, "father of art history," was a sixteenth century man), and examines the uses of words used in evaluating different painters for different projects; similarly, he goes into detail about things like volumetrics and proportion, very important parts of the education and daily life of the moneyed class that would have comprised the patrons of all our great quattrocento masters.

But what's additionally laudable is the very subdued presentation of Baxandall's prose--he's a very dry wit, with a certain modesty about any generalized claims he makes (even as he ceaselessly heaps interesting facts into the reader's lap). And the conceptualization of the project is inspiring. To me this is a great example of a consideration of form, the history of style, and even a little aesthetic philosophy considered within both materialist and a historicist contexts--teasing out concrete origins and corrolaries of the social history in which our forms are forged.

I know that I must have read Baxandall in college--very likely his work on Tilman Riemenschneider (example below)--but I can't remember for sure ...

For some recent words by a fellow film blogger on the same era (but not Italy), go

Saturday, May 19, 2007


1. Did I just forget about it, or did someone drop the ball in not telling me there was a Frank Borzage biography published last year!? Why did coming across this book seem like such a surprise? (Albeit a pleasant one...)

2. Some people reading this know that I owe them a few things--they are coming very soon!

3. Except for Mean Girls (funny movie) and a few excerpts from Cassavetes, I haven't watched a film all week. But that means that I was reminded only too late that The Death of Maria Malibran was playing here ... and that I was technically in town for Liberté, la nuit but missed it because I'd accidentally included it in with the Garrels I'd have to miss when I was recently in North Carolina.

4. The FA Cup Final starts in a little over an hour--Manchester United versus Chelsea. I don't know how easily I'm going to transition into the off-season. (My plan is to spend the earlier Saturday hours I've normally devoted to matches to going to museums & galleries.) I've contemplated writing a review post of my first season really following the EPL, watching several games a week.

5. I think I've beaten the writer's block, and it's fading, but not faded all the way yet ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bread & Hunger

Isn't there a Gramsci comment about starvation (the paradox of its existence given its non-necessity)? Or am I recalling someone else? This article on Venezuela has got me thinking a little ...

... about many things really, but among them (for the purposes of this, a personal and film-related blog), instances of hunger in cinema--what films evince a really palpable sense of hunger (in me, in other viewers); what films acknowledge and utilize certain connections to the psychology of food, nourishment, consumption, thirst, hunger, starvation, satisfaction ...

... for some reason I associate Memories of Underdevelopment strongly with coffee; in Westerns coffee and whiskey saturate the screen and are often used as ways to present feelings between characters (think: eggshell in the coffee grounds in 3 Godfathers); Godard may have shot the most famous cup of coffee in film but in his body of work I just as intensely recall the meal Anna Karina makes in A Woman Is a Woman (a roast, no?); of course in French cinema there's a whole history of great cafe sequences, including the one in Chantal Akerman's I'm Hungry, I'm Cold, where the two girls order, I think, two coffees, and then count money to order two pastries as well (am I totally misremembering? is it from a different film altogether?); Americana gets a nice lard-fried flour representation in prison movies (fried dough in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, beans--not to mention eggs!--in Cool Hand Luke) and also in Ford's great proletarian howl The Grapes of Wrath or Capra's It Happened One Night (black coffee/donut; one egg; carrots!); or the price of breakfast on the train in The Palm Beach Story; the moment I recall most strikingly in Haneke's Code Unknown is when the farmer feeds his son beets (because that's all there is).

In Verhoven's Black Book chocolate (in addition to having a particular narrative function) boasts a job as a kind of signifier of plenty and privilege--though it's surely not the first WWII film to do so, just the one I've most recently seen. This film enacts this kind of "chocolate privilege" on another symbolic level, too, in that the heroine's lover offers it to her in an analogy of his social/economic protection of her in dangerous circumstances ...

What strikes me about a lot of these is not that these instances of food & drink in film operate like they do on the Food Network (enticing me to make a ravenous trip to the refrigerator, grocery store, or local restaurant). Instead, what seems to really affect me in cinema, when it comes to dealing with food, is its unforced evocation (even provocation) of a certain lack driven less often by narrative contrivance but by a certain conviction about the brutality of a social system as well as possibly the more bourgeois-friendly vagaries of The Way of the World (cf. Pedro Costa--though I'm bowdlerizing him--"something is wrong"). "Brutality" is in fact too strong a word, or even too indicative of a cogent and harsh political critique, as a description for some of these films, of course. But that's the point--what I'm describing is not only the films, but my specific ways of receiving, organizing, and coding various tropes in cinema (cinema that I either like or that has some kind of an effect), and so the presence of food means the most to me, at least in the context of film, whether it explicitly or potentially says something not only about the obvious pleasures of consumption, but simultaneously about economic lack, starvation, and even perhaps, presumably, about the hardships of life both necessary and unnecessary.

In Bicycle Thieves the point gets hammered home with the father-son pasta meal; it's mawkish--which isn't to say I've got a heart of stone, I'm a pretty sentimental guy really, but honestly I prefer the impoverished gustatorial cinematics of Pasolini's Accatone, more hard-edged but more heartbreaking because of it, which if I recollect rightly opens with its eponymous hero wolfing down pasta, and which later on has all those working-class i vitteloni-echoes complaining about , and scheming to get the pasta, meat, and sauce so that Accatone's mother (grandmother?) will cook for them.

Soon, soon, I'll mention a few comparable things in relation to Cassavetes. (And someone should discuss Blake Edwards' treatment of alcohol in depth if they haven't already.)

In Lost Illusions there is a restaurant Lucien patronizes when he's out of funds: Flicoteaux. It specialized in whatever was in season, and in all parts of animals, and only poor students and the like were to be seen there. Back when my friends and I were still actively contemplating a food blog (a miscarried project...) I suggested Flicoteaux as a possible title.

Forgive the run-ons and nightmarish syntax, readers: stream-of-consciousness is all I can muster as I slowly hammer away at one hell of a writer's block ...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Speaking of ...

Obviously plenty of other people have noticed this before, but since I've pointed a quick finger to the Wu Tang Clan's place in pop culture iconography ...

(full disclosure, I haven't ever heard this RZA album)

The Mask of Invisibility

Not always a literal invisibility ...

The Invisible Man
(James Whale, 1933)

Memoirs of an Invisible Man
(John Carpenter, 1992)

Hollow Man
(Paul Verhoeven, 2000)

Blood and Black Lace
(Mario Bava, 1964)

The Shadow

(Sam Raimi, 1993)

Danger: Diabolik
(Mario Bava, 1966)

Wu Tang Clan's debut album (1993)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Brief Hiatus

Sorry there's been nothing substantial lately. EL has had to rest on the backburner. Will return to regular programming next week ...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Milan - Manchester (second leg)

What a disappointment--not that Manchester lost, of course, but that they lost in such a whimpering manner. Did they ever play nearly this poorly all season long? (If they did, I don't think I saw it.) They gave up most of their possession, and didn't run for balls, except for a moderate suggestion of determination for a while in the second half (where they looked the more offensive team for a spell, but still not the better one). The United that generally showed up to games in 2006-7 could have salvaged something even after going two goals down, and may or may not have won the tie. But the United that showed up at the San Siro just did nothing, and Milan outclassed them big time, didn't they?

And while Kaka is justifiably everyone's hot footballer of the moment (and perhaps now even eclipsing C. Ronaldo as the frontrunner for Player of the Year), the AC Milan player I've been most consistently impressed by in these two matches has been Seedorf--what great talent: power, elegance, and intelligence. Wow. In my more on-and-off spectator days I mostly knew him as a national name for the Netherlands (but never as visible to me as say Bergkamp) ... what I must have been missing all this time!

I'll be looking forward to the final ...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day, and a Project

Today as I waited for lunch outside at the dosa cart a locksmith in his van pulled up on the street and loudly called out, "Happy May Day, workers of the world!" It was a fine thing. I hope to bring more updates in the very near future, but because it is May Day we cannot let this pass: From the Clouds to the Resistance. It will eventually expand into something more. Sympathetic readers, please keep this in mind, and we will keep you updated as it gradually takes off.

Liverpool - Chelsea (second leg)

Now that's more like a match! The evenness with which these two teams played each other over the course of two legs was astounding.

Chelsea's Petr Cech, best goalkeeper in the world? Quite possibly--but not tonight, when Liverpool's Pepe Reina blocked two out of three penalty shots. Except for the last ten minutes of regulation time (when Chelsea have recently been notorious for scoring), I felt that the longer the game went on, the more Liverpool had momentum. The commentators noted that Chelsea looked fresher, physically, than Liverpool come extra time. But both teams were creating chances back-and-forth so I figured the Anfield adrenalin made up for any fitness gap. Robbie Fowler, of course, got a huge ovation at the Liverpool-friendly bar where I caught the very end of the game after work.

I shed no tears at all for Chelsea, but I do have to say that (if Milan make it to the final) it's too bad we couldn't see the Drogba/Shevchenko showdown against the Rossoneri or that (if Manchester make it to the final) that Chelsea and Man Utd couldn't have continued to fight things out on three different fronts for a little while longer.

Slavoj Is Wrong

Le Colonel Chabert appeared to have left the blogosphere for a short while, but she comes back (thankfully) with a finger pointing to Slavoj Zizek's review--or "think piece"?--on 300.

The problem with an essay like this is in all its assumptions: a correct, or radical, political reading comes from finding the appropriate "graft" of a "reading" onto a Hollywood (or other) product. Steven Shaviro (thanks Girish) puts it nicely:

Zizek, unlike the free-market economists and evolutionary theorists, justifies his contrianism in Hegelian terms; he’s performing the negation of the negation, or something like that. But this is exactly Deleuze’s Nietzschean point, that a critique grounded in negation is an utterly impoverished and reactive one. Zizek’s favorite rhetorical formulas all always of the order of: “it might seem that x; but in fact is not the exact opposite of x really the case?” Zizek always fails to imagine the possibility of a thought that would move obliquely to common opinion, rather than merely being its mirror reversal; and that is why I find him, ultimately, to be so limited and reductive.

Whether critical negation is useful or not is beside the immediate point here, and not something I'm prepared to get into anyway--but what Zizek does time and again is tweak or reverse some supposed concensus about a big Hollywood film or some other subject, essentially arguing that 'everything bad is good for you,' or the opposite, and the ultimate message is always, "Consume guiltlessly and with gusto!" No consideration for who comprises 300's audience in Zizek's review, let alone a consideration for its financiers. No attention to the fact that films like 300 are made with such ostensibly apolitical ambivalence (see Zack Snyder's comments about how the film isn't meant to play into current events debates) so as to incorporate and welcome two conflicting "readings" of the film's meaning in order to pull in as many endorsements, and hence viewer-buyers, as possible.

Now, I sometimes like Zizek's work. I especially think when he decides to play the Leninist he can sometimes be insightful. But this is precisely the sort of work that I think is harmful to the political struggle, the role of leftists and/or intellectuals in academia, and on a less important scale, harmful to film culture, too, because it strives to make film criticism a consumer's debate of people's approval-readings and disapproval-readings about a film's presence on the marketplace, disguised as "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," with no debate about historical and material context, few if any allowances for empirical facts, and little room for flexibility and nuance. Just because I decide that Tremors 4 is a great film with a subversive political edge doesn't mean it necessarily has much bearing on the political significance of such a film--which is not to say one can't offer political readings of films. But it's a matter of learning and knowing how to situate one's viewing habits and conclusions--for me, still a process and an uphill one at that ...