Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Image of the Day

Starting Eleven?


(Note: I see the above selection is fairly uncontroversial, as Arsenal fan Piers Morgan has recently tweeted support of the same eleven - Szczesny in goal, Santos at left back, Mertesacker and Vermaelen in central defense, Sagna at right back, Song and Wilshere and Arteta in midfield, Gervinho wide left, Walcott wide right, Robin Van Persie in the middle.  Though I hope the front three play fluidly and swap positions.)

Apologies for breaking my recent blogging hiatus with Premier League talk instead of, oh, the Toronto International Film Festival (not that I'm going) or FX's Louie (which I'm enjoying) or similar cinephilic-telephilic objects.  I've spent the last few days (a) reading, (b) writing, and (c) fretting obsessively about the end of the European league transfer window.  

To make a long, armshair sports column a little more concise - I'll just repeat that I'm an Arsenal fan.  

(Already I want to introduce a tangent into my "concise" blog entry: We American fans of the English game are so predictable.  Most of us witlessly gravitate to Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool - the three most successful clubs in English history.  I knew Arsenal were a big club when I ceremoniously devoted my allegiance to them, but it took me just slightly longer to realize what a damn statistic I was.  Whatever.  I could have jumped ship at any of the low points before, but I didn't and I won't.  On one hand, I don't call myself a "supporter" because that sounds like an unbearable affectation coming from someone who's never even set foot in London.  On the other hand, the big European leagues are very much a global game now, so there's no shame in being a Malaysian, Hungarian, or American fan of an English club.  I've roused myself at ungodly weekend hours for years just to see Arsenal try to pass the ball into the net.)

This past weekend, of course, saw the Gunners humbled by Manchester United ... 8:2.  That's right.  That's a soccer score.  If you're not aware of the significance of this and - strangely - are still curious, Google will direct you to countless pages of commentary and analysis.  Suffice it to say that this was definitive proof that the club's, and the manager's, actions in the transfer market and their policy on young talent has simply not been good enough on their own.  The squad needed skilled and determined players, and while some of the youth talents had that, they needed to embed it with a lot of experience on the pitch.

So you see, Arsenal's last gasp flurry of transfers was a highly satisfying - here are several experienced new players, all past college-age, who can help anchor all the youth talent in the club.  I think the average age of this ideal starting eleven is about twenty-five, and with some other recent signings, Park Chu-Young and/or Yossi Benayoun, in the squad, we'd even be a hair closer to greybreard.  This did not at all seem the case in the early part of the transfer window, when Arsene Wenger was signing - it seemed - mostly teenaged, unproven wide players when fans were clamoring for strength in so many parts of the pitch.  I am optimistic that the team will finish fourth, maybe even third (at the expense of Liverpool or perhaps Chelsea), and that they could even grab a cup trophy by season's end.  Finally.

That said, a tiny morbid part of me still expects Vermaelen, Van Persie, Song, Wilshere, and Szczesny all to pick up season-ending injuries before the end of October.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Image of the Day

Quote of the Day

"Let us retrace, more slowly and gradually this time, the step that Patrice Blouin made in his Shirin pan from classical mise en scène to the modern dispositif. It is not a matter of declaring, in this progression, that mise en scène is dead, whether as a mode of filmmaking or of film criticism. Perfectly fine classical films are still made today (whether by Clint Eastwood or Lone Scherfig), and mise en scène criticism, as we have known and loved it, is far from exhausting the field, historical or contemporary, of its research (see Gibbs 2006, McElhaney 2009, Perkins 2009). Rather, the question is: has there been a certain tendency in cinema (and audiovisual production more generally), not necessarily only an invention of recent times, that has been marginalised or literally undetected by the protocols of mise en scène critique, with its inevitable, in-built biases and exclusions? A tendency which is not the opposite of mise en scène or its negation, but a particular, pointed mutation of it? (Indeed, many auteur signatures—those of Bresson, Ozu, Angelopoulos, to take only a few classic art cinema examples—resemble the structure of a dispositif, even though auteurism, with its Romanticist attachment to a creed of unfettered creativity, has long fought shy of apprehending this intuition.)

"Or—the most radical notion—does the notion of the dispositif name or point to something that is and has always been inherent in mise en scène—maybe even larger or greater than it, as an overall formal category? This is what Raymond Bellour suggested in 1997 when he proposed that la-mise-en-scène (as, with a literary flourish, he dubs it) is a classical approach that corresponds “to both an age and a vision of cinema, a certain kind of belief in the story and the shot”, but is ultimately only one of the available “modes of organising images” in cinema (Bellour 2003: 29). And if the dispositif idea should rivet our attention to anything, it is the modes of organising filmic materials: Christa Blümlinger, for instance, defines a dispositif as the “spatial or symbolic disposition of gazes characterising a medium” (Blumlinger 2010), where gaze refers to all manner of looks, orientations and perspectives (fictive, technological, spectatorial)—and this is a matter not only of our eyes but also our ears. Naturally, within an art gallery—where directors including Akerman and Pedro Costa have literally disassembled some of their feature films and spatialised them across several screens in an architectural arrangement—the idea of dispositif as installation (and this can serve as yet another possible English translation of the term) is obvious enough. But can we also project the concept, and everything it raises, back into the single-screen medium of cinema, illuminating this medium in a new way?

"A key thrust of the machinic or systematic side of the dispositif concept is to remind us—a 1970s notion too quickly forgotten or repressed since then—that a dispositif is heterogeneous, that it is truly a matter of bits and pieces of very different substances brought into an often volatile working relation. For the great German critic Frieda Grafe (who died in 2002), all cinema—no matter how seemingly neutral or classical—came down to something resembling this: “Only the calculated mingling of formative elements originating in various media, each with its own relative autonomy, generates the tension that gives the film life” (Grafe 1996: 56). And she was, on this occasion, speaking not of any conceptual art installation but Joseph Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)!"

(Adrian Martin)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Roll the Credits

It's a cool film, and unhurried.  Road to Nowhere is perfectly content to let its viewers wallow in several blurred layers of fiction. Any "truths" emerging soon acquire counterparts and negations.  (This would make for an intriguing double bill with Ferrara's Dangerous Game.)  The humor is wonderfully dry - "fucking masterpiece."  Hellman stages the images with a remarkable sense of enigma - not just in terms of where they fit in the story's reality, but also in the way that something on the soundtrack (a gunshot, a character's high-pitched shriek-crying) or from out of the frame will stunningly transform the meaning of the shot we've just been watching.  Even if one doesn't like Road to Nowhere, I think it would be difficult to deny how unformulaic is its narrative construction.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

For Real, Bro (Ephemera)

Let's take a handful of the best American TV comedy from the past few years.  We could say that NBC's Parks and Recreation exists almost entirely in Sitcom Land.  Starz's Party Down edges a bit closer to the domain of realism.  FX's Louie engages heartily with realism.  This is not to say that the show is (ugh) a "truthful representation of reality."  Because Louie also has a lot of cartoonish gags, like the tiny cup of water the flight attendant gives Louie on a plane ride.  Realism has less to do with mimetic fidelity to reality than it it does to the establishment of a certain anchoring relationship between the screen and the world.


A movie like The Fighter, constructed from inanities and cliches as though they were bricks, hasn't the slightest engagement with "reality."  Its only engagements are with some commonly accepted signifying practices for "reality" that have emerged in mainstream media over the last several decades.  Think of the reflexivity evoked, though not developed, through the use of the camera crew following around the family.  Or better still: sweat.  Readers may recall some months ago I suggested that the sweat stain on the back of a cop's shirt in the Bill Murray vehicle Quick Change evinced a certain kind of realism.  That is, it indicated a certain relationship to the indexical register of the images being captured.  It strikes me neither as a "detail" (i.e., a detail made to be noticed as such) nor a secret (something you aren't supposed to notice, like a continuity error), but a part of the texture of an image.  The Passion of Darkly Noon (Phillip Ridley, 1995) is a film in which people sweat, and the sweat isn't much textualized (one could conceive of the treatment & screenplay making nary a mention), and yet this unremarked and frequent visual touch plays to a range of effects: eroticism (Ashley Judd's legs and back), stifling imprisonment, healthy labor.  It plays a part in anchoring the images to the trees and structures and chores.  In The Fighter, working class men are denoted by their near-permanent sweat marks.  And poor people, you see, don't bother to shower or change clothes when they go out to the bar after a day of manual labor and a workout at the boxing gym.  That's how you know they're poor.  It's the Eric Cartman approach to prestige cinema ...