Tuesday, January 25, 2011

White Swan

"Empire alone can create and sustain whiteness, despite the common fantasy of its self-sufficiency. The Black Swan must be mastered and absorbed to save whiteness from enervation and sterility. (As Odile in the poster, the heroine’s genuine essential whiteness is in question; having absorbed the whiteness-creating blackness of Lily, the Prima Donna is red-eyed like an albino and thickly painted white.) The bourgeois culture industry has deconstructed only to reconstruct as indestructible because ideal; it has discursively destabilized with “gynesis” the hierarchies of white supremacist patriarchy only to reaffirm them, killed them to give them the eternal life of spectres. Spectacle’s layerings – able to create the illusion of that DeManian “infinite” irony through a kind of seductive hypnosis – assist in the re-establishment of debunked mythology deploying a levelling operation whose main move is to place reality under an erasure it cannot re-emerge from entirely."  (Qlipoth)

People can't seem to agree on the basic properties of Black Swan, probably nominated for a bunch of Oscars by now.  [Some general spoilers follow here.]  Is it camp?  (If so, what kind?)  Are the laughs this movie draws intentional or symptomatic?  What about people who take the quasi-high romantic markers seriously?  Black Swan is what I'd call a "diffuse" film - a deliberately multi-layered construction.  In the work's complexity one is invited to bask in the codified indeterminacy of the entire affair.  It's like "art" (multi-faceted, mercurial, rich, impossible to pin down), and yet not. This film contains so many diverse elements in terms of plot, theme, and style ... the result isn't a new thing with a new structure, but a clever theme park ride through various codifications of genre or symbolism, and various registers.  A night out on the town?  It's like Gossip Girl.  High-pressure dance practice?  It's like Center Stage.  Frightful blurrings of fantasy and reality?  It's like Repulsion.  This sort of contained "surfing" can make for really interesting cinema (see here).  All art cannibalizes and repurposes previous cultural content; plenty of great art deliberately courts ambiguity. I wonder here about the meta-orientation of this particular expression of ambiguity. 

One generic ingredient in the Black Swan stew is the horror film - suspenseful editing strategies, the intense soundtrack, the overbearing generational conflict between mother and daughter (and absent father), horrific and animalistic CGI, and horror of one's own body and its involuntary changes - changes one both anxiously awaits and dreads.  (A thought that crossed my mind, but which I haven't hashed out in conversation with anyone yet: Black Swan is a film about sublimated menstruation anxiety made from a male point of view.)  Horror, Richard Dyer writes in White, "is a cultural space that makes bearable for whites the exploration of the association of whiteness with death." 

The horror trope of vampirism for instance - white, ghastly, consuming - is so menacing, Dyer goes on, that it is often represented by whites who are not coded or accepted as completely white (Jews, Southeastern Europeans, creoles).  Unsettlingly coincidental, then, that in this film's setting of a markedly moneyed, white subculture it is Portman and Kunis (both Jewish) who embody the emergent presence of this passionate, dionysian, destructive, selfish, unchaste thing, the black swan.  The "deaths" of these two characters in the film signify the pyrrhic victory of a newly tempered whiteness, which has been threatened & pushed to its limit by that evil blackness.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Contemptible Behavior

First person: "I really like [artist x]/[artwork y]."  Second person, without waiting or digging for elaboration, conversation, etc.: "Really?  Wow, I just lost so much respect for you."  I disdain this general pattern of behavior (and I also disdain it whenever I notice something like it in my own actions).  Taste, inasmuch as it acts as a meaningful social bond as well as lubricant, should never be confined to a checklist of proper likes/dislikes.  This otherwise transforms culture into a mathematical game, hemmed in on all sides by the finitude of  combinations.  What could be more boring, more deadening than this?  And, more, what could slot more neatly into a bureaucratic, niche-marketed society?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


"The colonial does not exist, because it is not up to the European in the colonies to remain a colonial, even if he had so intended.  Whether he expressly wishes it or not, he is received as a privileged person by the institutions, customs, and people. From the time he lands or is born, he finds himself in a factual position which is common to all Europeans living in a colony, a position which turns him into a colonizer.  But it is not really at this level that the fundamental ethical problem of the colonizer exists; the problem of involvement of his freedom and thus of his responsibility.  He could not, of course, have sought a colonial experience, but as soon as the venture is begun, it is not up to him to refuse its conditions.  If he was born in the colonies of parents who are colonizers themselves, or if, at the time of his decision, he really was not aware of the true meaning of colonization, he could find himself subject to those conditions, independent of any previous choice."  (Memmi)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Image of the Day

The above shot, from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's early film Thirdworld, reminds me of something one would find in Ozu's Ohayo/Good Morning.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Friday, January 07, 2011

L'Enfant secret

A shot through tree leaves in Garrel's amazing L'Enfant secret is one of the most startling and wondrous images I've seen in a film in a long time.  In fact much of L'Enfant secret proceeds along these lines: pouncing upon a viewer in small, enigmatic doses.  Innovation is overrated, but I still appreciate the artful gesture that takes me by surprise ...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Couple Strays

(Took another look at The Thin Man recently - wonderful!)

Skin. Viewers of the future will set their eyes upon the degraded remains of cheap 1960s espionage playboy movies (like Maroc 7, dir. Gerry O'Hara, 1967) and wonder at the skin of the actors, which the sun and smoke have dried out.  I was curious if any of the late stars of this little movie might have battled skin cancer.  A cursory search didn't reveal anything.  The history of tanned skin (caucasian, obviously, as this is the normative skin color range of Hollywood) precedes any given filmic event, interacts with the history of Hollywood style & glamor, and subtly infuses many color films and yet is difficult to pin down as something specifically aesthetic or technological or social.  We could rightly say it's "cultural" but this is simply to assign a nomination that is as diffuse and mercurial as the object ...

Medium specificity.  The other night I dreamt that I was in a big, well-attended movie house, with stadium seating.  Screening was a delightful avant-pop animation that took iconic images of Audrey Hepburn (particularly Breakfast at Tiffany's) and "reworked" them.  I felt very much at home in this crowded theater, and had spread in front of me several remote controls.  Obviously, these controls could be used to pause the movie, rewind it, or adjust the volume - as though I were in my own living room, sitting in front of the TV.  But it subsequently dawned on me that the policy of this theater was to allow no remote controls.  It wouldn't be fair to all the other patrons if you just paused the big screen at your leisure!  I felt panic.  Then someone else in the theater must have had a remote control, and must have tried to use it on the big screen, because patrons around him started to yell out, "Hey!  Remote!  Remote!"  As the authoritarian ushers walked down the aisle to accost the offender, I was at a loss as to where I could hide the array of remotes before me.  Why did I even bring them?  What gadgets did they belong to?  If I pretend they aren't there, can I trust the people around me not to see them, not to rat me out?  I awoke, bewildered.  That was a very strange dream.