Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WB on BB

He created works for the dramatic stage and the opera, presenting his pieces both to the Berlin proletariat and to the bourgeois avant-garde of the western sections of Berlin.

* * *

Epic theater moves forward in a different way—jerkily, like the images of a film strip. It basically operates through repeated shocks, as the sharply defined situations of the play collide.

* * *

Each of these short acts demonstrates one thing: how ineluctably the reign of terror now swaggering before nations as the Third Reich is subjecting all human relations to the rule of falsehood.

(All passages from Benjamin's "The Land Where the Proletariat May Not Be Mentioned: The Premiere of Eight One-Act Plays by Brecht" [1938]).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

"You are endangered more by your desire for community, even if it be the apocalyptic community of the revolution, than by the horror of loneliness that speaks from so many of your writings. To be sure, I am willing to stake more on that horror than on the metaphors you use to cheat yourself out of your vocation."

—Gershom Scholem to Walter Benjamin (May 6, 1931)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I'm Still Predictable

James Gray makes movies that feel like the last movies ever made; films that were destined to be and to feel obsolete; his cinema is so good it makes virtually everyone else in Hollywood or Indiewood appear amateur. It's not that I really believe this—but I like the films so much that it's a thought that bubbles up sometimes.

* * *

Obsolescence is part of the charm not only because Gray is making "old-fashioned" movies, or because movies like these are rare in multiplexes. His virtues are classical ones, in the bigger scheme of cinema; appreciating him is a Lukacsian endeavor rather than Brechtian. His appeal is textual, which is not to say that there aren't fascinating allusive and intertextual qualities here: for instance Two Lovers nails its loose but pungent deployments of Rear Window and Vertigo, if you ask me—the citations are neither pretenses for meta activity, nor are they banking on loaned-out gravitas. (Even if one were both cynical and unappreciative of Gray, one would be foolish to say he freeloads off of Hitchcock or any other filmmaker, for the simple reason that if he needs to appeal to older texts for weight and mythology, he feels supremely comfortable gesturing towards Greek tragedy, opera, Dostoyevsky: if it's authority and status he's after, Hitchcock is small fries...) The Hitchcock blonde is also the shiksa goddess is also the shrewd portrait of moneyed upbringing is also a specter (the final scene) is also ... i.e., Gray works all of his thematics, all his allusions, all his textual levels into a cohesive multi-layered pattern with dexterity most directors would, must, should envy.

* * *

James Gray and whoever else was involved in casting Gwyneth Paltrow understand something essential about getting good performances from her: it is vital that one, at least in some way, works against the assumption that she is a wonderful, charming presence. Gray makes her a slightly obnoxious, loopy, fidgety rich girl and she's actually fantastic in the role. Joaquin Phoenix, too, could have delivered an insufferable performance (the role was ripe for it), but he balances all the necessary tics & mannerisms with a constant unfolding of a self—unraveling layer after layer of "character."

* * *

"Behavioral beauties."

* * *

* * *

And still the money flows. Constantly flowing around the edges, under the surfaces, sometimes right before our very eyes.

Internal Systems

Once in a while I get to go out and see films. Happy to see, lately, a program of work from the 1970s by Coleen Fitzgibbon, who has been showing these at various festivals and other venues in recent years, with the advocacy & preservation work of Sandra Gibson & Luis Recoder helping her along.

Fitzgibbon is interesting, among other things, for having been a woman in the hardcore structuralist cinema scene. (There were not so many women making films in this idiom, as Fitzgibbon hereself testified.) And she said of Internal Systems, her 45-minute magnum opus, that back in the 1970s when more people were interested in this kind of rigorous experimental cinema, part of her incentive was: "You want structural film, I'll give you structural film!" Internal Systems (it also goes by Internal System, which is what is listed on the title card) is nothing but the recording of projector light, modulated according to mathematical adjustments to the camera's F-stop.

Pictured here is a frame from Restoring Appearances to Order in 12 Minutes, a 10-minute (!) film showing Fitzgibbon cleaning a big filthy sink. Eye-popping was Time Magazine (1974?), shot with a microfilm camera, an issue of Time from front to back, complete but in fragments.

Friday, March 06, 2009


"A code is a deliberately established, killed context."

—Mikhail Bakhtin.

Paranoia is a useful, malleable thing because it can work as an allegory with innumerable and immediate applications; paranoia is not simply a thing produced or maintained by our zeitgeist: it is a formal feature, too, which is constructed as a result of other processes.

(Self-critical question: when has 'ideology critique' itself served as a form of paranoia?)

The wheels keep turning ...

Thursday, March 05, 2009


From the Onion: Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

The Best Buy featured here is in my neighborhood. If you look near the guy's left elbow, down the sidewalk, you can make out a street cart (where they sell hot dogs & knishes).

Not that I've been able to devote much of myself to EL lately, but I assure you that this, too, in its own humorous way, will be woven into something larger and more substantial ...