Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Guard Yourselves, Upstanding Straight Citizens!"

Reading (
on the lesbian gangs; on cops).


I don't know about y'all, but I find I'm much more forgiving of bad videotape transfers than bad DVD ones.

A Cult Alley Theatre disc of Enzo G. Castellari's pimps-cops-and-hookers update of The Iliad, known by one title as Hector the Mighty, is an appallingly pan-and-scanned affair. I couldn't finish it, and it wasn't with the low quality of the film itself. And yet I find that if I had the same transfer on VHS, if it were all that were available to me, I'd probably convince myself to be resigned to the experience, maybe even romanticize the idea of the shaky, murky nth-generation dub.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Image of the Day

Ida Lupino, 1936


No, not the Anthony Mann film (though that's a good one)--something more immediate.

I came across this story before but Brownfemipower recently blogged about it. From an article on the matter by Imani Henry (quoted by Bfp):

"On June 14, four African-American women—Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20) and Renata Hill (24)—received sentences ranging from three-and-a-half to 11 years in prison. None of them had previous criminal records. Two of them are parents of small children.

"Their crime? Defending themselves from a physical attack by a man who held them down and choked them, ripped hair from their scalps, spat on them, and threatened to sexually assault them—all because they are lesbians.

"The mere fact that any victim of a bigoted attack would be arrested, jailed and then convicted for self-defense is an outrage. But the length of prison time given further demonstrates the highly political nature of this case and just how racist, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-youth and anti-worker the so-called U.S. justice system truly is."

The man who was beat up testified that he was mostly roughed up by men who apparently came to the young women's aid. And from what I've read the forensics simply haven't cleared to connect the knife of one alleged. This happened last August, but it was only recently that they were convicted. Apparently they were charged with second-degree attempted murder, gang assault, and possession of a weapon.

I suppose this means that if you're a young gay black woman you're fucked over--travel alone and you may not feel safe; travel in a group and you're a violent "gang." Everything I've read about this case just seems shady. I'm just doing a little bit to help spread the story around to the few people who read my blog.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Violence ...

"For the colonized, this violence represents the absolute praxis. The militant therefore is one who works. The questions which the organization asks the militant bear the mark of this vision of things: "Where have you worked? With whom? What have you accomplished?" The group requires each individual to have performed an irreversible act. In Algeria, for example, where almost all the men who called on the people to join the national struggle were sentenced to death or wanted by the French police, trust was proportinal to the desperate nature of each case. A new militant could be trusted only when he could no longer return to the colonial system. Such a mechanism apparently existed in Kenya with the Mau-Mau, who required every member of the group to strike the victim. Everyone was therefore personally responsible for the death of the victim. To work means to work towards the death of the colonist. Claiming responsibility for the violence also allows those members of the group who have strayed or have been outlawed to come back, to retake their place and be reintegrated. Violence can thus be understood to be the perfect mediation. The colonized man liberates himself in and through violence. This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end."

--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth p. 44 (trans. Richard Philcox)

"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, "Jeune, dure et pure!"

I'm going back to work on a paper I drafted months ago about "aggressive" form and figural violence in cinema. It requires an understanding of cinema as action and not simply as reflection, representation, or expression. One of the hardest parts is how to clearly and adequately convey the importance of historical context in any of this, i.e., there is no free-and-easy theory here to just lay across the use of 'violent cinema,' if there's a theory at all its that time & place render such a thing incredibly malleable. Hence, the Noël Burch paragraph I love so much that indicates that avant-garde flicker films in the 1960s (which are some kinds of films a lot of non-cinephiles and non-film scholars tend to simply overlook, to their loss, when discussing this medium & modernism) were a deliberate aesthetic reclamation of certain unsavory motion picture side effects from 50+ years before, and the movement from a working class tolerance of headache-inducing flickers into a middle-class embrace of the same effects put to an intentional, artistic purpose. (I absolutely love these flicker films--Arnulf Rainer, The Flicker, Paul Sharits--though one can also only take so much...) In effect the violence becomes nullified even as the technique is amped up, though not because the technique is amplified, but because of who is producing and consuming the work, and why they are doing so--what context they're doing it in. A consideration of environment is necessary, because while headaches (and possibly epileptic seizures) may result from intense flicker, the flicker films may not actually be very "violent" at all, when it comes down to it. Reading some of Sharits own writing on his work and his opinions on film pedagogy, violence doesn't seem to come into it; the challenge of his work is not so much about attaining mastery through trial as it is finding an almost buddhist sense of acceptance. So evaluating, praising, criticizing (say) a flicker film involves us being diligent about the actual circumstances of the form; we can't really say it subverts our sense of vision or the cinematic experience when small and educated audiences were voluntarily seeing these films that consciously utilized a more-or-less outdated (and previously unintentional) "technique" of the cinema. This is not to say, however, that cinema cannot be actually violent, cannot play a role that is disruptive or genuinely aggressive; again, it comes down to the circumstances of production and use. The Vautier missile ...

And so on. More on cinema & violence in the future.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Tribalism of Cinephilia

"The international emergence of Aleksandr Sokurov was perhaps inevitable, but no less welcome for all that. He is but one of a whole international generation--a word not taken in the biological or chronological sense--of great auteurs, who seem to renew the claims of high modernism in a period in which that aesthetic and its institutional preconditions seem extinct. Any festival program supplies a short list: Bela Tarr, Abbas Kiarostami, Victor Erice, Tsai Ming-liang, Raoul Ruiz, Theo Angelopoulos, Alexei Gherman, Alexander Kluge, Manoel de Oliveira, even Peter Greenaway. These figures certainly have some of the aura of Bergman or Fellini, Antonioni or Bresson, although they did not have to break the ground broken by those predecessors (and thus might better be termed late modernists rather than modernists tout court); they are also a good deal more unreadable (or "writerly") and difficult, boring and demanding than those more popular modernist figures and are in that sense comparable to the more extreme and enigmatic literary modernists (Stein, Pound, the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, Raymond Roussel, the Mallarmé of Le Livre, Duchamp, and so on) rather than the stereotypically accessible ones (Mann, Proust, the Joyce of Ulysses, Kafka). A case could certainly be made for the nonsynchrony of the dialectic of film modernism with respect to literary or fine arts modernisms; and in that case Sokurov and the new auteurs would be the nonsynchronous equivalents of an immediate post-World War II literature. But these new figures do share one modification of the modern with their new-wave forebears: the desacralization of the cinematographic art, the waning from this very insistently art cinema of the religion of art that had reassured its earlier modernist practicioners. Yet, as we shall see, this confidence in (or additiction to) cinematographic production as an activity in its own right that needs no external or transcendental justification is not enough to rescue the works themselves from a typical modernist autoreferentiality; indeed, it explains the latter and justifies this cinema's structural need to justify its own existence."

-- Fredric Jameson, the opening paragraph of "History and Elegy in Sokurov" (Critical Inquiry 33, Autumn 2006)

People have long noted how cinema & cinephilia employ certain truisms in an effort to fortify itself or bolster its sense of exceptionalism (a youngest-child syndrome?). "Cinematic" is a compliment in some circles when people would balk at describing a novel as "novelistic." Wasn't it Nicole Brenez who, in her letter in the first round of Movie Mutations correspondence, said she's never seen a film that's made her turn away from the cinema? Well--what of it? Are we to understand that, deep down, to turn away from one's livelihood is a very real possibility? (That is, is there just a tiny seed of defensiveness in Brenez's comment?) Can anyone think of an instance in which, say, an art historian said that she'd never seen a painting that made her want to stop looking at paintings? What makes people say these kinds of things about films?

That's one of the refreshing things about Fredric Jameson's magisterial, sometimes byzantine dabblings in high-level film criticism and the like; there's no sense that he ever needs to justify his interest in films on personal terms. Consequently one can't imagine him giving into some of the weaker impulses that maybe don't do justice to us awestruck hardcore cinephiles: the impulse to centralize the cinema. This impulse is "fine" from the point of view of a hobbyist-consumer; but it makes cultural criticism through the consideration of cinema very difficult. (This is why so many of my film critical heroes seem to be pointing with one hand ever deeper into the films, trends, authors they examine, but using their other hand to point always outward: this includes militant Brenez, gonzo-humanist Möller, Adrian Martin--well, readers here know the list already.)

Speaking of Martin (from one of his letters to James Naremore, published in Movie Mutations):

"In the mid 80s, the celebrated Australian cultural historian and critic Sylvia Lawson wrote a searching piece called 'Pireces of a Cultural Geography.' [Note to self: Track this piece down, already. --ZC] It offers an account of a month or so in which Sylvia attended a number of different public forums that piqued her interest--one was a film conference, another was an art world seminar, and the last a political forum. Sylvia records her impression that, while some of the faces in the crowd--and even some of the speakers on the panels--recur, there is a strong sense of non-overlap between these pieces of cultural terrain: they simply don't communicate with each other. Each one becomes a kind of box, with its own history, its own language, its own concerns. They each become tribal centres, massively self-generating and self-sustaining--like all institutions, I guess. And even when individuals with wide interests and open, synthesising minds like Sylvia travel from one to the next, they experience a kind of alienation, as if they have to reorient, reconfigure, even reinvent themselves upon entering each new space."

Now part of all this is my own personal desire for mastery (and world domination). I envy a certain fluency of "cultural spheres" that some people are able to practice. But I also fear there's a greater and greater niche-formation happening, culturally, largely predicating one one's "interests" (which means, to an extent at least, what you buy) and that the mastery of multiple niches is going to mean less and less a cultural roundedness and fluidity, a balance of energies, and more and more a status as good "smart" consumer, a balance of the checking & credit accounts. (When I say meaning "less and less" and "more and more," I want to be careful here--I'm not attempting an historical evaluation, what I'm really expressing are the evolution of my anxieties, the way I understand these things...)

The Neoliberal Republic

Recently I emailed a friend some thoughts about a New Republic article we'd discussed. From my angry email:

So I finally read that Cioran/Eliade/Ionesco article this morning, and it was very informative, but the below paragraph indicates why I just can't stand the New Republic:

All through his later life he actively supported democratic causes, affixing his name to petitions to support the Prague Spring, the Afghan resistance against Russia, and the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate, and joining movements such as Amnesty International. He was tireless in his support of Israel, thus bucking a strong current of French gauchiste opinion. He joined Arthur Koestler, Leszek Kolakowski, and Czeslaw Milosz, among others, in his anti-communism. He is depicted as thus "sliding to the right," but doing so in defense of the values in which he had always believed: the liberty of man, humanism. As more or less of a gauchiste herself, however, Laignel-Lavastine cannot resist a dig at "the rather reactionary side of the old academician, which sometimes brings on a smile or a reaction of annoyance" when "his anti-communism becomes in the end a little ridiculous." This is a nasty thrust that does her little credit.

Submerged in whatever NR articles I read is this insistent Ground Zero of neoliberalism, the constant hat tips that, yes, "fascism was awful," "anti-semitism is evil," but above all, what one must reject and reject strenuously is any kind of anticapitalism. Liberalism, universal "values," "democracy" (a buzzword rather than a concept), "human rights" (ditto)--these are the clubs used to beat down anything Marxist or anarchist (which are always tarred-and-feathered in publications like this for their implied/perceived connections, however unreal, to Stalin and Pol Pot--the inevitable 'excesses of totalitarianism' that nice Cold War liberals "recognized" for apparently being the logical extensions of any kind of anticapitalist society). What is the "nasty thrust" of indicating that Cold War anticommunism might be "a little ridiculous"? Is it just so unthinkable that anticommunist (neo)liberalism might ever be capable of, yes, zealotry of its own or even unwitting self-parody? I'm not saying Laignel-Lavastine's "dig" is necessarily justified, I wouldn't know, only that the author of this NR article doesn't actually offer a case against it, just that smug knowing neolib nod, a "you know," that those loony altermondialists are just so quaintly, wrongly dismissive of the Great Artist Humanist Defenders of Democratic Humanistic Greatness that You & I (Democrats, Liberals, Humanists, All of Us) appreciate and defend.

This is the underlying web to everything I've read in NR; the fence they won't cross, the net below their acrobatics. Given the horrific regimes and bloodshed this neoliberalism supports I find it too sickening to deal with in heavy doses. At least with communism there are schisms, there are easily identifiable paper trails that differentiate Good Communist Dissident A from Evil Communist Dictator B, and so on. But the Gospel of Neoliberalism seems ultra-conducive to groupthink.

* * *

In case anyone flips through the current issue of Foreign Policy and sees Alvaro Vargas Llosa's piece on the Latin American "Idiot," let me sum it up for you: angry middle-class Latinos who secretly want to be wealthy go to state-run universities which teach them Marxism as a way for these angry people to twist their morality into class hatred against the wealthy folks they secretly aspire to be. An inferiority complex affecting this small class of Latinos has been responsible for Latin America's underdevelopment. (Yes, Hugo Chavez and his ilk are specifically to blame for the suffering of great America's southern neighbors.) Backwards brown people and a few privileged Anglophone fuddie-duddies support these psychologically perverse caudillos out of hatred of the United States, you see. Also, the white supporters are simply projecting utopia onto Latin America, just like old Columbus himself did. [Clever twist, that, the neoliberal apologist trying to use an anticolonial Columbus legacy against the very people who would most stand behind it!] These loony "opinion leaders" (yes, apparently Noam Chomsky et al., big and powerful figures) are influencing and corrupting concrete policy and popular thought in major, major ways--not corporations and their PR sectors. Oh, and there's this old chestnut providing an essential crux: when voters "get rid" of left-wing governments, it's a democratic expression that can't be questioned. When they vote in a left-wing government (as in the case of Chavez), it's ... uhm ... ah ... (punt).

Such is the primary role of the intellectual in our culture--sound and fury, paragraphs and paragraphs of nothing but the arrangement of words and facts and opinion presented as fact, all to shore up the foundations of powers that Cannot Be Questioned.

Moving to Barcelona

I just realized one good possibility about this sad news--the girlfriend & I are planning a trip to Spain next spring and if somehow I could finagle tickets to a Barça game I could still maybe see him play live.

Now, of course, if they didn't before, Barcelona have the most frightening offense in soccer. What are they going to do, just have Eto'o of all people sit bench? They would almost have to sell him, but if not to Arsenal as part of a TH trade, then what?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Knives in the Executioner's Back

Just some notes: The human zoo, a largely 19th century phenomenon that (under the guise of the developing priviliged-amateur discipline of anthropology) saw the manhandling of indigenous Americans, Africans, and other peoples for the amusement and edification of nice white folks: science at the circus, or circus-as-science. The impulse or imperative to submit fellow humans to the project of taxonomy (the whole picture, both good and bad, civilization and barbarism--the Albert Kahn Archives, the Mnemosyne Atlas, the panorama, the great project of vision-knowledge). This is a background for a thematic and ideological strain from which the cinema itself sprang and proliferated (see Ellen Strain's article, "Exotic Bodies, Distant Landscapes").

Sometimes the manhandled spoke back in return from within the insidious racist/colonialist performances of this apparatus, and not always in the most direct ways. (See this post for a mention of Joshua Yumibe's excellent article on a 1927 'Abyssinian Expedition.)

To read up on some more in the near future: Hottentot Venus; colonial/anthropological photography; 1927 Abyssinian expedition; 1931 Paris colonial exposition (and other 19th/20th C expositions); Josephine Baker (not to mention Anna May Wong); minstrelry; panoramas; histories of evolution & taxonomy.

Looking, Concentrating

(Stills from, above, Grandeur et décadence d'un petit commerce de cinéma, and below, JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stray Memos

Note to self: do not start so many books at a single time--and wait until you've finished a few of them before starting more.

Ask aloud why, online at least, used paperback copies of Henri Lefebvre's Production of Space are so expensive.

I realize I tend to read fiction better when I can immerse myself in it, devour something over a few days without necessarily reading anything else too substantial at the same time.

Next novel--Sembène's Gods Bits of Wood, or Conrad's Under Western Eyes?

Beverages: summers are for iced tea and gin & tonics. Seek out smaller bottles of tonic water so that it won't go flat before I'm done with it.

Food: now that I've got the world's simplest killer salad down (mixed greens, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, grape tomatos, roasted red pepper vinaigrette), experiment with different types of greens. Roast vegetables 2-3 times a week.

Film: still taking it easy for a while, but should find some things of interest at the cinematheque and/or the videotheque this week. Shall report back to EL shortly.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Football Roundup

Above are highlights (~10 minutes) of probably my favorite Arsenal match of the past season--the come-from-behind 2:1 victory against Manchester United, at the Emirates. I saw it in a bar and most of the people, like myself and my early drinking/soccer companion, weren't wearing any kind of identifiers as to what side they were on. But when Robin Van Persie equalized in a most satisfying manner, everybody let out a huge cheer. And when Henry headed the second goal home in injury time, everyone let out an even bigger cheer. I'll be sorry to see Henry go if/when he does--I've started following the team just a couple years after their big peak ...

Goal for next season: try to follow the Bundesliga, and to watch the Eintracht Frankfurt games. (Unlike Arsenal, which I like for various reasons, I do have some personal connection to Frankfurt--I lived there as a kid, being an Army brat; I learned to like/play soccer when I lived there; and my only European football attendance was a Frankfurt home game, where they beat Dresden 3-0 and I got Anthony Yeboah's autograph.) But the place where I would watch games online has been very inconsistent with its Bundesliga coverage, especially when it's one of the less sexy teams, like this one, so when I'd try to tune in to Frankfurt-versus-Gladbach, the stream would often either be a totally different Bundesliga match, or a Malaysian game show. (Not speaking German hurts too.) Nevada Smith's shows Bundesliga games though, right?

Quick Rant

“I’ve got cousins galore. Mexicans just spread all their seeds. And the women just pop them out.”


“My grandfather…tried to forget his Mexican roots, because he never wanted his kids to be made to feel different in America. He and my grandmother didn’t speak Spanish to their children. Now, as a third-generation American, I feel as if I have finally cut loose.”


Jessica Alba used to be my favorite of all the plastic Hollywood starlets currently out there. She's beautiful in a high school crush kind of way, she has pug dogs, she gives her fans cupcakes. What's not to like? (Don't say "her acting"--I don't think I've ever actually seen her in anything.) But this is depressing. The first statement isn't inherently bad, I don't think. Mexicans--or almost any Catholic immigrant group in the US at one time or another--can claim this stereotype if they wish, own it as their own, make jokes out of it: fine. But the nature of the second comment contextualizes what Alba means when she talks about "popping them out"--it's not 'we Mexicans,' it's 'those Mexicans,' the ones she's finally 'cut loose' from. (Unless there's more important context that anyone can alert me to, which makes Alba less of an idiot here; but the source quoted by Mollygood doesn't help her much.)

Anyway, these days, what kind of (self-hating?) xenophobic lunacy discourages children from having extra languages in the home? Spanish is a good thing to learn and to have. I wish mine were better; I envy people--first generation, immigrants, or otherwise--who grew up with two or more languages ...

Nochlin on Delacroix

"No wonder then that Daumier chose the maternal image over all other possibilities for his allegory of the good Republic of 1848! Motherhood for him, as for most of his contemporaries, was the most positive feminine image available, and by the same token, the least threatening. What better vehicle for setting forth the virtues of the new Republic? I would not maintain that attitudes towards women played an absolute and decisive role in the invention of female political allegories in the nineteenth century--obviously, many other factors intervene--but rather, I am asserting that such attitudes should not be neglected in an attempt to give an adequate reading of these works or in trying to understand their creators' choices or rejections. It is Delacroix, the dandyish elitist and lifelong bachelor, the creator of scenes of female torture and victimization, an artist who satisfied his sexual urges impersonally with his models, who creates an allegorical figure of outright feminine activism, Liberty, the prototypical woman-warrior figure of all time. Indeed it was Delacroix, the friend and portraitist of George Sand rather than the satirist of her accomplishments, who had had the temerity to transform the same Charity image that had inspired Daumier's maternal The Republic (Andrea del Sarto's in the Louvre) into the ferocious but dramatically vivid image of Medea (1838), murderer of her own children, brilliantly reversing all the implications of his conventional model. Domesticity, a salvation at once personal and universal for Daumier, was either conteimptible or irrelevant for Delacroix, maternity only interesting in its perversion. Delacroix's imagination ranged more freely among the possibilities: Enlignthenment liberty and romantic enslavement and savagery could be brought to life with the same sensual vividness in his feminine representations."

--Linda Nochlin, "The Myth of the Woman Warrior" (collected in Representing Women)

This brings perfectly into the focus the significance of those Delacroix images of women that are not the stereotypical ones (Liberty, Medea) but which are some of the most powerful and famous he made. Nochlin identifies J-L David as a painter whose works (more than Delacroix) separate figures into hard masculinity and weak femininity ...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Image of the Day

Josephine Baker and friends at La Coupole.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

From the Mixed-Up Files of Eugène Delacroix

... the Delacroix Woman seems so frequently deflated, limp, like time is a constant siesta and one must lounge, flopped over on a couch or carried about by strong men. Of course in Delacroix there is a certain place and a role for women (uh, no comment necessary on whether it's one many would choose for themselves)--Romantic lushness, an object of golden light and harmonious colors, an image that doesn't do much thinking (and not much more acting). The functions of symbolism, the functions of allurement or invitation: these are prescribed roles of Woman in this sort of figurative painting.

Look at the low suggested center of gravity in the painting above--the weight seems concentrated really deep in her bottom and in the center of her back, you can almost feel the pull of skin on the bottom of her left leg as it hangs across her right knee.

I will soon read Linda Nochlin's book Representing Women, which deals with relevant issues here (largely French painting 18th-20th century).

What beautiful modeling of hands on the left--not hands that hold the flag of liberté, égalité, fraternité, instead hands that are heavy, connected to arms that are tired, limbs of a body soft and pale and above all things a portrait & signifier of something quite other than the suggestion of a fully-formed subject.

Note the common highlighting of those frequent bare breasts whether in the comatose Woman with a Parrot or the militant Liberty.

And something on the figure of Medea in the future.

(A post-script about promised content: life proved a bit too busy for me to see Manoel de Oliveira's The Fifth Empire, a fact that bothers me quite a bit as I was hyped to see it and wanted to write on it. Apologies. One should certainly stop by
Chained to the Cinematheque for Oliveira material, though I imagine pretty much anyone who visits here visits there also.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Scratched Note on Godard's Women

Though Godard and his alter ego recreated (after Rembrandt and Goya) Delacroix in Passion, we must recognize that the typical Delacroix woman is--like the bare-shouldered beauty in Passion and the corner of The Entry of the Crusaders into Jerusalem--passive, supine, even defeated. (Atypical is the Delacroix woman leading the war!) Godard's (nude) women are more like Courbet's--Courbet, the champion of the Paris Commune!

Kenyon Review

I had seen Daisy Kenyon two, maybe three times on video before catching it at MoMA. It's one of my very favorite films.

As a general rule (there are exceptions) I loathe going to see melodramas or noirs in public. My experience just never jibes with the vocal majority, who chuckle and guffaw throughout any number of lines they perceive as too "quaint," or which they perceive as howlers. I can even sympathize (though not empathize so much) with this kind of behavior when we're looking at a given film as a relic of the slightly older or outmoded idiocies of the past (even as these same audiences might be loathe to laugh at contemporary idiocies)--such as a film that insists on its women characters being housewives and mothers to be happy, or some such nonsense. (But this does not describe Daisy Kenyon, a film with a very strong female character based on a novel by a feminist writer and agitator that explicitly problematizes and dramatizes the attempts of its three-dimensional male characters to pigeonhole and control its three-dimensional female protagonist.)

Assuming a certain baseline of good manners (keep talking to a quiet mininum, turn off cell phones, don't get into fistfights), I think people are entitled to any kind of reaction and experience in the movies that comes naturally to them. I don't, rationally, begrudge people their right to guffaw even as it annoys me to no end while I experience it. At the same time it just really pains me to see certain classical Hollywood films that I love (as I said, melodramas are the worst; followed by noirs) just laughed through. Maybe I over-value the sustained intensity of only certain scenes in an overall work; but generally in films that really deeply move me in some kind of "serious" way, I can't bring myself to just laugh very much. (Understand that this is a matter of temperament and disposition--my own personal psychology--only; I am quite happy with the inverse: outright comedies that slip in moments or through-lines of pathos, gravity, sorrow, etc. I have fewer personal problems crying at a "dumb" comedy than heartily laughing at parts of a film that's captivated me on a serious "dramatic" level. Which is no doubt why I like the Farrelly Brothers.) So when I watch Daisy Kenyon I usually tear up at parts; I'm moved deeply and my body may constrict into a tightly-wrung ball because of the intensity of the experience; and I don't let out belly laughs when Peter (Henry Fonda) complains about how they changed Sixth Avenue to Avenue of the Americas (a sad and suggestive line, to me, that the MoMA audience found just hilarious for some reason).

When I saw Sirk's Shockproof a few months back, I had the misfortune of sitting in front of a trio of people who, from their conversation before the movie even, were clearly there to laugh, to enjoy some kitschy and fabulous "old movie." (I can't identify with the impulse of people who say they like "old movies" and act as though they've told you something substantive, just as I don't understand when people say they do or do not like "foreign films." Which ones!?) To me there's the distanciation of 'camp,' and then there's something else: the consumption of the cinema of the past for the more-or-less condescending enjoyment of its various inadequacies to the contemporary viewer. And I just can't, can't, can't bring myself to feel aligned with this viewer.

* * *

There are certain types of masterpieces in classical Hollywood--Ford's great films, McCarey's, some of Hawks', The Strawberry Blonde, I Walked with a Zombie--that are almost too delicate for me to see them outside of a totally sympathetic audience. (Ford and Hawks are a little different because of the bawdy humor and machismo that permeates them, too: but the tenderest and most lyrical moments in either are so overwhelming to me that I have to group them here.) Atmosphere has something to do with it, but it's not fundamentally a matter of atmosphere. It's about my personal relationship to, or categorization of, these works. See, the "other" kind of Hollywood masterpiece, one that's a little further from my heart if not my head (on average) is something that I think could sustain a lot of camp-laughter and crowd distractions: most Hitchcock, a lot of Preminger (just not Daisy Kenyon), Billy Wilder, a lot of Westerns (since a lot are meant to elicit knowing laughter in parts), a lot of musicals (ditto)--and with these I can deal with audiences sniggering their way through the running times. But with something like Daisy Kenyon, I confess ... I want almost total silence, I want everybody to share the exact same overwhelming experience I'm sharing. (An authoritarian fantasy, I'm aware, but it's just a fantasy--I've no intention to try to construct a rational argument supporting my internal wish.) Reverence: because I'm an atheist, a materialist (but with a religious and arts-loving upbringing) I think this should be reserved for art and for the dead. Not in all instances; but all instances of it should be for these things, since "we" (I) no longer use them at Mass.

* * *

Anyone interested should read the
24fps Daisy Chain -- me with Damien Bona and Dan Sallitt, a series of brief letters the three of us exchanged regarding Preminger's film.

* * *

Obviously, I haven't actually been talking about Daisy Kenyon yet, but rather about myself, and about my feelings for other people's reactions. The solipsism is hard to shake. But this film really is something to see. It's amazing that Preminger (so he said) couldn't recall even making the film, late in life; that it's widley regarded as "just another" Crawford vehicle. For classical Hollywood it's not matched by very much at all, if you ask me--Only Angels Have Wings, Notorious, Make Way for Tomorrow, a handful of Fords, and a few others maybe. One of the interesting things about it is how well it translates the idea of the literary character on film (for the film comes from a literary, or at least fictional, source) ... usually this is a pipe dream, an unfair expectation that the middlebrow mainstream keeps for the commercial cinema. But in Daisy Kenyon the dream comes alive, and we have that elusive thing, the Three Dimensional Character--actually, we have half a dozen of them. Evaluating this film in terms of character dynamics and psychology (usually such a fruitless, dead-end activity in standard commercial film products) is like watching a big machine, a bunch of pulleys and gears, with no beginning and no end, where every part changes from its original function or expression from the first time you laid eyes on it.

And Preminger--he wasn't so much as the great objective/neutral auteur of classical Hollywood as much as he was the era's greatest whitewater rapids-kayaker of myriad tumultuous perspectives: not coldly objective or ambiguous, but rather full of balanced and lively antagonisms. Durgnat once made a stinging and partly accurate observation that Preminger's cinema offends 'everyone a little and nobody much.' But Daisy Kenyon, which comes from the earlier years, before Preminger got very ambitious, doesn't suffer from the sensationalism of mandatory Issue-mongering, even though it deals tangentially with such ripe issues as modern womanhood, governmental anti-Japanese discrimination, divorce, the moneyed classes, and the experience of war veterans.

Plus, Daisy Kenyon has maybe the most unassumingly impressive last line in cinema--it doesn't sound at all impressive out of context (because it isn't) , so I won't spoil it, but it does crystalize a certain through-line of the dramatic content that maybe doesn't make sense to a first-time viewer until that very end moment.

Such a strange film--after several viewings I still can't quite get at why it looks, sounds, and feels (on a moment-to-moment basis) so perfect, so arresting ...

Friday, June 08, 2007

IG Farben Aerial Photograph

I've been itching to see Images of the World and the Inscription of War again ...

Spy Game

In Tony Scott's Spy Game (2001), characters in several instances talk about calling people from their "cells." The film is set in 1991--well before the "cellular phone" became simply a "cell" in American terminology, no? (And just when along this line did "cell phone" become the common nomenclature?)

An anonymous commenter suggested for me to watch this film for its "two aging pretty boys Brad Pitt and Robert Redford as time separated images of each other -- you can't get any more fuckin' Markerian than that!!" I was under the impression that Spy Game was literally some kind of a time travel espionage techno-thriller (along the lines of Scott's later movie Deja Vu). When I scanned the Netflix envelope summary I realized I was in for something a bit more conceptually conventional. But to see Pitt and Redford playing basically the same character (in more than a metaphorical or symbolic sense) could have made for a fascinating trip down the rabbit's hole.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Image of the Day

Eugène Delacroix, The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (1840)

Here's One

(For Girish.)

Part of what I love about Docteur Chance is how, whenever I look at parts of it, I find the whole feel of a particular shot or scene (to say nothing of the entirety of the plot) feels at once alien and familiar--like a film you've seen but long forgotten, or a film you've never seen but have started watching in a channel surfing daze: at the moment of realization that the film is generic, that you know what has happened (will happen) because you have seen something like it before. Docteur Chance captures the weird incongruities and beauties of the viewing experience in so many its glories (it's a cinephilic film, beginning with Sunrise), ruminates on them, lets its amour fou detonate into a hundred reflective shards. Déjà vu is important here: remember that the first and last scenes circle into one another.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


A great thing about Queens are the taco trucks that dot the neighborhoods, catering to all manner of late night people. After several solid hours' worth of Leffe Blondes and whiskey sours the MTA (a corrupt institution*) decided not to offer us much of a way to get home on the subway--the third time the system's shortcomings have inconvenienced me at night in the past week, as they've no doubt screwed with any nighttime traveling for my fellow borough residents. So it's about two in the morning as we get off at the Roosevelt Ave stop in Jackson Heights, and I'm subjecting nobody but my patient girlfriend to a long string of expletives directed at the MTA, and suddenly I see the taco trucks on Roosevelt. A soothing aura pushes away some of the resentment. I took my place in the crowd of Mexican teenagers standing in front of the truck (there wasn't a line per se, people were just friendly and let each other take turns) and ordered a chicken taco as my better half did the practical thing and found us a ride home. That taco was made with love; the people who serve food on the streets in Queens are saints.

Likewise, my man Thiru--the guy behind NY Dosas, lower Manhattan's finest cart food**, is in a current episode of Rachel Ray's Tasty Travels show on the Food Network. The next showtime will be June 5 at 9pm; there are a few more airings left. I don't know if prime lunch hour lines can possibly get longer from more exposure, but maybe Ms. EVOO will do it.

New York is a great place for food; and based on the appetizing reviews and local food blog links at Matt's I'm thinking that Melbourne may be a food mecca I'd never known about. Whenever I go Down Under (someday, someday) I'll be sure to make the activity priorities as follows: 1. food, 2. film festivals. Curiously, one of the friends with whom I would have made my (dead-in-the-water) food blog--he's a truly dedicated cook and diner--hails originally from the town of Melbourne, Florida.

* I'm talking about the MTA itself, not necessarily the workers or the union, which were of course villified by the cowardly media during the transit strike here in 2005.

** I do also love those halal chicken-and-rice carts (in NYC street food hierarchy they're the aristocrats), but even the best of them can't topple Thiru from the pedastal. Also, a caveat--I haven't tried that famous late night hot dog stand down on the LES. Anyone have any other contenders to recommend?

Espelho Mágico

One can like or dislike Oliveira; one may rail against any number of ideological or philosophical problems in his work. But the oldest living master of our seventh art is one of the indisputables, that is, one cannot doubt that he (like Godard) is working on an extremely high and rarified plane of accomplishment. Less than ten people attended the screening I was at, which was unfortunate. But after viewing the film it's hard to imagine there being large audiences for something like Espelho Mágico. It reminded me of Marco Bellocchio, whose films (i.e., the mere two that I've seen) I don't much like; but in both cases there's a very subtle way of obliquing carving out an abstract "subject" or "theme." Oliveira, like Bellochio, is very good at using the actions, images, temporality of cinema to suggest something very difficult to verbalize (or at least that I feel very difficult to verbalize). It's not about a feeling, but about an object of inquiry--like, say, intersections of doctrine and faith (with a very sly social analysis webbed over the whole thing), which comprise the objects of both Espelho Mágico and L'Ora di religione ('02). There's one more recent Oliveira playing in town, so more on him soon.