Friday, July 24, 2009

New Flesh, Old Flesh

What does modernism offer? Long live something, maybe not it ...

Macunaíma can help us out.

I'm not being cryptic here (honest). There's nothing to decipher. Just ask yourself what these images mean to you, how they make you feel or what they make you think about. Maybe it's nothing at all like what I'm thinking. How does our "visual culture" (whatever that may mean) treat space, and not only space, but all that which is within it. All that which constitutes it, in fact. Rocky Balboa punching beef in a factory (or, say, Texas Chainsaw Massacre meathooks) tells us about something, gives us a piece of a puzzle, just as Antonioni's brilliant Red Desert does. What really does happen to our flesh? Animals' flesh? The entire sustenance industry? How is it presented back to us? How can we get back to the body, assuming we're alienated from it?—which we are, if we identify with or conform to the externalities depicted by the likes of (much) Antonioni, or any other artist who turned a cool eye on the bourgeoisie.

This Videodrome remake will almost definitely be the worst film ever made. (A few postures we might like to see embraced: to find a better balance between the serious & unserious; to be grumpy but not snarky [a truly Herculean feat for today]; to be able to scrawl a few lines down without worrying if in this particular instance anyone follows you, simply because the point is to record for personal posterity, and to share in the interest of lighting up someone else if at all possible, sparked by the words & connections & images ...)

P.S. Here's an off-the-cuff proposal for nobody. A full three-day weekend programming bill - Friday & Saturday: Rivette's Out 1 ('noli me tangere'), Sunday: Robert Kramer's Milestones, Coleen Fitzgibbon's Restoring Appearances to Order in 12 Minutes, Pere Portabella's El Sopar, and Sara Gómez's De Cierta Manera.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Classical Movie Magic

Over a period of time 'the genius of the system' becomes so ingrained into children of the spectacle that authorial flourish (rather than systematic turnover and internal development) eventually renews this 'genius.' What people come to recognize and perhaps cherish in classical Hollywood, its genius classicism, never disappeared but found expression under new conditions, such as via an author who grew up imbibing this systematic thing but related to it, tried to recreate it, via personal dimensions. This is what people refer to when they refer to Spielberg, for instance. I wonder if a lot of the blockbuster mentality, or the "degraded" nature of so much front-and-center commercial cinema in general, is not to some considerable extent traceable to the aspirations of media creators towards their own memories, and relationships, of the earlier studio magic--which, because production/distribution conditions changed so drastically in the 1960s/70s, now became the prerogative of self-aware mavericks (McCain-style) and Svengali figures.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chickenscratch on Public Enemies

Not the the most interesting of his movies, but still, Michael Mann for all his flaws remains working on a stratum that leaves him with few peers in the heart of the American industry (Eastwood, Gray, Malick if he counts, a couple others maybe). The Fordian-style (or Hawksian, if our model is Only Angels Have Wings) device used in the plot here, the emotionally-imbued token ("bye bye blackbird") showcases one of Mann's limitations. In its final incarnation, its final appearance in the film, Mann schmaltzes things up a bit with music. Why? Why not trust the images alone?; not to say that music is verboten, or that Mann's films previously have not done wonderful things with the interplay with sound & image (think of the club scene in Miami Vice). It's moving, but it's moving in a cheap way. Mann is a filmmaker operating on all cylinders, a massive presence, but what's so maddening (and part of what's also so fascinating) about him is how in some ways he's one of the most fearless, intuitively gifted directors in the world, and in others he strikes me as a factory foreman, churning out stale conventions.

Miami Vice remains my favorite Mann film this decade.

Despite my reservations about Public Enemies, I do think that criticisms about the film's failure or decision not to "delve into" the psychologies of these people, these legends (a complaint voiced succinctly by the estimable Aaron Graham here, if I don't misrepresent his case) miss the point. The subject matter, a fine dovetail with Mann in general, is about a certain superficiality, which is not to say a lack of artistic depth, but the location of that depth in all the spaces between people, people as apparitions moving around, or as nodes in, a network "in the air." The figural dimensions of human beings in Mann are phantasmatic, mysterious, he doesn't much strike me as a corporeal (or perhaps more precisely: a kinesthetic) filmmaker. These are not characters who have psychologies, they are psychologies. They are not bodies, they have bodies. Maybe.


Ignatiy Vishnevetsky here: "He's always worked on location. Back then, he'd start with something at least partly real and make it feel completely artificial, completely plastic. I recognize Lake Michigan in Thief, but only the way you recognize a triangle or a square. What I see first is a color and a line. Images that sort of scuttle themselves, marooning the viewer. (It's possible to also think of a roster of ferrymen, directors who use the film to row the audience out to a certain place and then bring them back in time for the end credits: Shirley Clarke, Eric Rohmer, Yueh Feng, Charles Burnett, David Mackenzie, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Aleksandr Sokurov. These directors should not be confused with kidnappers like Santiago Alvarez or gallery guides like Peter Greenaway.) But something happened around Heat. Aesthetics gave way to ethics, imagery to images." That's a very intriguing sequence of insights, and that parenthetical is a veritable call for further investigation.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Image of the Day

(by Kiarostami)

"We haven't been curious enough."

(Braque, 1908)

(Cinq femmes, a Picabia "nudie" - 1941-1943)

A screen capture from Michelangelo Antonioni's contribution to Eros (2004), The Dangerous Thread of Things. Also: Cézanne's mountains, a photograph by Jeff Wall whose title I've forgotten, of course the toe-sucking from L'Âge d'Or, a bit of Oliveira's Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo, even Straub & Huillet. A pastoral poem, of sorts, transformed multimedia frenzy (as Mr. Keller has suggested).

Words to read here and here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Something About Antonioni

Both Rudolf Arnheim and Basil Bunting cited Antonioni in circumstances that indicated his 1960s work was the rare highlight to grace cinema after 1930. Arnheim, who looked upon the widespread use of color cinematography as a decline, cited Red Desert as one—the only?—example of color cinema that was developing the artform. Bunting, when asked by the poet Jonathan Williams to name some films that were genuine artworks to stand the test of time, cited after the likes of Clair, Chaplin, and Griffith ... and (paraphrasing) 'the middle section of Blow-Up, before it becomes a bore.'