27 novembre 2007
A selection of blog posts from my RSS feeds aggregator. Enjoy!
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12 novembre 2007
Continuation from my post on single-frame films, When do images turn into cinema?
Gilles Deleuze says it better than I could, in Cinéma 1 : L'Image-Mouvement (1983), on the origin of primitive cinema and the constitution of movement (Chapter 1 : thèse sur le mouvement, premier commentaire de Bergson) :
"Cette reconstitution [du mouvement avec des "coupes immobiles"], vous ne la faites qu'en joignant aux positions ou aux instants l'idée abstraite d'une succession, d'un temps mécanique, homogène, universel et décalé de l'espace, le même pour tous les mouvements. (...) chaque mouvement aura donc sa propre durée qualitative.
En 1907, dans L'évolution créatrice, Bergson baptise la mauvaise formule : c'est l'illusion cinématographique. Le cinéma en effet procède avec deux données complémentaires : des coupes instantannées qu'on appelle images; un mouvement ou un temps impersonnel, uniforme, abstrait, invisible ou imperceptible, qui est 'dans' l'appareil et 'avec' lequel on fait défiler les images. Le cinéma nous livre donc un faux mouvement, il est l'exemple même du faux mouvement."
"Et d'abord la reproduction de l'illusion n'est-elle pas aussi sa correction, d'une certaine manière? Peut-on conclure de l'artificialité des moyens à l'artificialité du résultat? Le cinéma procède avec des photogrammes, c'est-à-dire avec des coupes immobiles, 24 images/seconde (ou 18 au début). Mais ce qu'il nous donne, on l'a souvent remarqué, ce n'est pas le photogramme, c'est l'image moyenne à laquelle le mouvement ne s'ajoute pas, ne s'additionne pas : le mouvement appartient au contraire à l'image moyenne comme durée immédiate. On dira qu'il en est de même pour la perception naturelle. Mais, là, l'illusion est corrigée en amont de la perception, par les conditions qui rendent la perception possible dans le sujet. Tandis qu'au cinéma elle est corrigée en même temps que l'image apparait, pour un spectateur hors conditions. Bref, le cinéma ne nous donne pas une image à laquelle il ajouterait du mouvement, il nous donne immédiatement une image-mouvement."
"Le cinéma à ses début n'était-il pas forcé d'imiter la perception naturelle? Et, mieux encore, quelle était la situation du cinéma au début? D'une part la prise de vue était fixe, le plan était donc spatial et formellement immobile; d'autre part l'appareil de prise de vue était confondu avec l'appareil de projection, doué d'un temps uniforme abstrait. L'évolution du cinéma, la conquête de sa propre essence ou nouveauté, se fera par le montage, la caméra mobile, et l'émancipation de la prise de vue qui se sépare de la projection. Alors le plan cessera d'être une catégorie spatiale pour devenir temporel; et la coupe sera une coupe mobile et non plus immobile. Le cinéma retrouvera exactement l'image-mouvement du premier chapitre de Matière et mémoire. (...) Il y a d'autre part la critique du cinéma, dénoncé comme une de ces tentatives illusoires, comme la tenatative qui fait culminer l'illusion. Mais il y a aussi la thèse de Matière et mémoire [Bergson, 1896], les coupes mobiles, les plans temporels, et qui pressentait de manière prophétique l'avenir ou l'essence du cinéma."
"Or, justement, L'évolution créatrice présente une seconde thèse qui, au lieu de tout réduire à une même illusion sur le mouvement, distingue au moins deux illusions très différentes. L'erreur c'est toujours de reconstituer le mouvement avec des instants ou des positions, mais il y a deux façons de le faire, l'antique et la moderne."
"La révolution scientifique moderne a consisté à rapporter le mouvement, non plus à des instants privilégiés, mais à l'instant quelconque. Quitte à recomposer le mouvement, on ne le recomposait plus, à partir d'éléments formels transcendants (poses), mais à partir d'éléments matériels immanents (coupes). Au lieu de faire une synthèse intelligible du mouvement, on en menait une analyse sensible."
"Mais, en fait, les conditions déterminantes du cinéma sont les suivantes : non pas seulement la photo, mais la photo instantannée (la photo de pose appartient à l'autre lignée); l'équidistance des instantannés; le report de cette équidistance sur un support qui constitue le "film", un mécanisme d'entrainement des images. C'est en ce sens que le cinéma est le système qui reproduit le mouvement en fonction du moment quelconque, c'est-à-dire en focntion d'instants équidistants choisis de façon à donner l'impression de continuité. Tout autre système, qui reproduirait le mouvement par un ordre de poses projetées de manière à passer les unes dans les autres ou à se "transformer", est étranger au cinéma."
"Qu'Eisenstein sélectionne des instants remarquables n'empêche pas qu'il les tire d'une analyse immanente du mouvement, pas du tout d'une synthèse transcendante. L'instant remarquable ou singulier reste uninstant quelconque parmi d'autres. (...) Celle-ci est l'ordre des formes transcendantes qui s'actualisent dans un mouvvement, tandis que celle-là est la production et la confrontation des points singuliers immanents au mouvement. Or cette production de singularités (le saut qualitatif) se fait par accumulation d'ordinaires (processus quantitatif), si bien que le singulier est prélevé sur le quelconque, est lui-même un quelconque simplement non-ordinaire ou non-régulier."
"L'instant quelconque, c'est l'instant équidistant d'un autre. Nous définissons donc le cinéma comme le système qui reproduit le mouvement en le rapportant à l'instant quelconque."
"(...) la seconde thèse de Bergson rend possible un autre point de vue sur le cinéma, qui ne serait plus l'appareil perfectionné de la plus vielle illusion, mais au
contraire l'organe à perfectionner de la nouvelle réalité."
"Ce qui implique que le mouvement exprime quelque chose de plus profond, qui est le changement dans la durée ou le tout. Que la durée soit changement, fait partie de sa définition même : elle change et ne cesse pas de changer."
Gilles Deleuze, L'Image Mouvement, 1983
What I forgot to mention in my post, was what single-frame films negate. Deleuze says it. They negate duration, mouvement and time, because they refuse to follow the rules of the equidistant frames captured from the same live "movement", of the "ordinary instant" taken from reality during the camera recording (opposed to the posed, priviledged images taken by a photograph), and the abstract, uniform scale of time to which each frame should be refered to (opposed to still cuts, single frames, without duration, without an idea of time, without an impression of movement). We don't get "movement" with an anarchic succession of unrelated frames. This is not "cinematic". And Deleuze says it, it belongs to another branch of photography. Cinema, as he defines it, implies a respect for the rendering of motion.
I wish the interest for this perspective on cinema would have lasted beyond the timeframe of the blogathon event... or even have some repercussions in film reviewing, to reconsider the way we write about films that are difficult to put into words. Maybe I missed the examples of this new type of film writing, maybe I'm wrong in expecting this evolution. Anyway, this concept of C.C. needs more critical scrutiny, more deconstruction, more contrarianism, more elaboration, more sampling, more case studies, more participation...
I'm the first guilty, since I didn't pursue my investigations as planned on the blog. I'm lost in my scattered notes, and overwhelmed by the number of themes and films I'd like to explore at the same time. Result, I've postponed everything.
Hopefully this anniversary will be an opportunity to bring forth another series of ideas and posts to discuss this type of cinema. What are the new films since last year? What are the new developments?
I don't know what topic could refresh and inspire new contributions or if another blogathon is even desirable... Anybody out there wants to repeat on January 2008? (I know I'm not trying to be original, and find something completely different for my second blogathon...) ;)
Probably not a month-long event this time though. Maybe just a week-long deadline (Sunday 6th-Sunday 13th January 2008 would be ok?). Go to Unspoken Cinema
Contrarians could even prefer to note how we can find traces of classic narration (or an altered form) in C.C. films.
Suggestions for a topic are welcome. If there are other ideas before January, we can always change it. Find the blogathon banners here.
Well, just to let you know that the Unspoken Cinema team-blog is still alive, or strives to be, and that you are welcome to participate.
What do you think?
31 octobre 2007
The unfolding of this diarist relationship is a fascinating glimpse at the psychology underlaying the confrontation to another creator. The first thing we notice is how each have understood the concept of the project and how they give their interpretation. The first four videos are already described and commented at Senses of Cinema.
- VIDEO-LETTRE #1 : El Jardin del Pintor (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 april 2005, 9'30"
He films a mini home-made family documentary. His proposition is surprisingly "non-professional" (formally I mean, not that it was a bad thing), contrary to what we would expect from a seasoned auteur. We could say he takes it easy, and enjoys a nostalgic retrospect on his career as well as looking in the present to update the premise of his film as seen by the new generation. In any case, he doesn't engage in a skill showdown with Abbas Kiarostami (A.K.), it is simply a spontaneous exchange of personal videos to him. Far from being detrimental, it is a refreshing and touching moment of intimacy, filmed with a loving attention. It's also showing complicity with his counterpart, Abbas, who loves El Sol Del Membrillo (1972).
V.E. returns to the house of his friend Antonio Lopez, 13 years after the shooting of his film. The quince tree is still there, painted now by the painter's grandchildren, each with an artistic representation corresponding to their age (variations of colors, details, realism, composition).
- VIDEO-LETTRE #2 : Mashhad/The Cow (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, 5 Sept 2005, 10'
Unexpectedly, his first contribution has nothing to do with V.E.'s openning of the series. It is both disconcerting and exciting. Because it seems like A.K. is completely ignoring the collaborative project, but at the same time he affirms his freedom of expression and takes the project further, in a different direction. He seems to say they don't have to play ping-pong, they don't have to quote eachother, they don't have to make this project a self-referential conversation, but should instead open it to the world and explore surprising stylistic clashes.
A.K.'s hand is seen writing a postcard to Erice, all subtitled in Spanish. A brief voiceover introduces a memory from a recent drive in the country. This introduction appears to follow the model set up by Erice (coincidentally the running time is equivalent too), but what follows is totally unique. The title, he explained later, was a reference to an important milestone in Iranian cinema : Dariush Mehrjui's Gaav / The Cow (1969), an Iranian New Wave icon. Miguel Marías at Rouge pretends these video lettres (the first 4 at the time) are "definitely not major works", but when I see this piece I think this is one great cinematic achievement (my favorite of the series so far!), with the genial abstraction of the most basic material possible. All the more fascinating since it's so far from what Kiarostami usually does in his documentaristic and realistic filmography.
In successive stationary shots (extreme close up), A.K. presents us several views of some kind of a velvet drape, a gently waving flag with black and white patches. The shapes, animated curiously, are too abstracted to be recognized at first. And the soundtrack has a continuous ruminating noise, that should be a clue. A.K. actually maps the body of a cow in cautious detail, with artfully composed framing of certain parts. Each tableau is a living surface, with a furry texture, vibrating to a rhythmic pulse. This hilly skin covers organs and bones like a tensile fabric. Veins crawl right under the surface like snakes. The skin folds in the angles. Then we discover a section of tail, more agitated, and assume pudicaly the beginnning of pink tits with erotic sensuality. The video ends with a wider shot of the entire cow walking away surrounded by electric-green grass.
While V.E. cites his own film, A.K. cites the film of someone else. While V.E. comments on the past, A.K. proposes something new. While V.E. documents, A.K. creates.The antagonist and fertile polarities of the possibilities offered by this project are installed right there in only two videos.
- VIDEO-LETTRE #3 : Arroyo de la Luz (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 Oct 2005, 20'18"
He had the excellent idea to show A.K.'s Where is the friend's home (1987) to a first grader classroom and film the following debate directed by the teacher. Now V.E. establishes a direct relation with A.K., showing him how his film is received and understood by the kids from another country. He also uses a documentary technique A.K. is very familiar with, as he used to film kids a lot for the Kanoon. We assist to a session of ciné-club for kids, with all their spontaneous, naive, innocent responses. They comment the story, the dilemma of the young hero and the justification to lie and disobey to his parents and his teacher. They pounder on the preference to get into trouble rather than let a friend get punished. And we are reminded of A.K.'s great documentaries on kids like First Case, Second Case (1979) or Homework (1989).
- VIDEO-LETTRE #4 : The Quince (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, dec 2005, 12'
- VIDEO-LETTRE #5 : José (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 18 Jun 2006, 7'19"
To be continued...
28 octobre 2007
"La photographie, c'est la vérité et le cinéma, c'est vingt-quatre fois la vérité par seconde"
(Godard, in Le Petit Soldat, 1961)
Everyone loves to cite this smartass moto even though it's all wrong. Photography is as fake as the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. The realistic "ontology of the photographic image" Bazin defined was in comparison to paintings, within the realm of representational Arts, because the subjective interpretation of the artist disappeared in the capture of reality. Although nothing matches exactly with reality. Black&White (or approximated chemical colors), 2D, odorless. It's even inaccurate visually : proportions and perspective are determined by the type of lens. It is evidently an illusion of truth. An optical illusion, a delusion of the brains. It doesn't even have the 3D perception of human eyes (stereoscopy). The camera is a cyclops!
Moreover, the decomposition of a second in 24 still steps is an illusion of motion. It's all lies to exploit a loophole in the physiology of the human eye. We cannot perceive the flickering of quasi-identical frames when it goes over about 15fps. The retina remanency (eidetic memory) merges the frames together and only the subtle changes become obvious over time, creating an illusion of movement. But the cuts between unrelated frames at 24fps is always visible, we notice very well the changes from one shot to the next.
Cinema is the most realistic invention we have so far, but it's only a partial, approximated rendition of selective aspects of reality that only satisfies one of our five senses. It's an intellectualized vision-driven conception of "truth", but it's far from the subtle array of the most essential elements of reality. We tend to forget that this apparent "truth" requires the proverbial "suspension of disbelief".
* * *
In his last post, Girish talks about "single-frame films" of Michael Snow and asks interesting theoretical questions about the viewer's perception :
"So the real subject of this film seems to be: How do single-frame images get apprehended, combined and synthesized into something new by an act of the viewer’s creative participation, via the workings of human perceptual processes?"
The challenge of human visual perception is a fascinating subject to study for an artist, but isn't it an antithesis of cinema?
More than just a boring conundrum for theorists to solve, this particular film modality questions the definition of cinema and its own limitations. There is a fundamental distinction to be made, that is not solely aesthetical but ontological, between the art form called "cinema" and other visual art forms that are developping a different cognitive process, and therefore define a new separate medium. The problematics differentiating these visual art forms are the coherence between the production of the film strip and its restitution on screen, as well as its type of apprehention by the audience. Exploring the bounderies of the medium helps us to refine what cinema is about as an art form.
Function alone, doesn't create form.
The usage of a camera and a film projector doesn't suppose the production of a result that should be automatically called "cinema". For example, a slide show is not proper cinema. The visual stimuli operated by an optician to test our vision aren't either, even though it projects images before our eyes.
The realm of performance art and conceptual art may use the technical apparatus usually employed for cinema, to study and critic the process of projection, audience perception, visual recognition and reaction to a spectacle. They may study the physiological or mental process of human vision. But it doesn't mean that everything dealing with eyes and images shall therefore be "cinema". Cinema is not just a product of a mechanism. There is an intimate relation between the technical illusion and the magic revealed to our eyes.
What makes cinema?
"On rendrait bien mal compte de la découverte du cinéma en partant des découvertes techniques qui l'ont permise. Au contraire une réalisation approximative et compliquée de l'idée précède presque toujours la découverte industrielle qui peut seule en ouvrir l'application pratique. (...)
Ce serait donc renverser, au moins du point de vue psychologique, l'ordre concret de la causalité que de placer les découvertes scientifiques ou les techniques industrielles, qui tiendront une si grande place dans le dévelopment du cinéma, au principe de son "invention"."
(André Bazin, in Le Mythe du cinéma total, 1946)
Bazin laid out fundamental notions to understand the ontogenic realism of the photographic image. He didn't say cinema was about a projector or about series of images at a 24fps (a mechanical device allowing to restitute a "movie"). The essence of cinema is somewhere else.
He said specifically that the precursors of cinema (like Niepce, Muybridge, Marey) worked on the "analysis" of motion (decomposition of a kinetic form into still steps), while cinema seeks the "synthesis" of motion (reconstitution of kinetic form from stillness) and its mechanical reproduction. "Cinema" is not a technical, industrial, optical or chemical medium.
That's why I brought up the Godard quote above. Could we say if the essence of cinema is in the single frame (elementary unit), or in the viewer's experience of a stream of frames magically born to life (combination of the whole)?
The ontological definition of the medium is independant from its practical projection, it is defined by what happens between what is recorded and what the spectator experiences, on a mental level. Cinema is like a dream, it's a dialogue between conscious memory and sight. Cinema is in the head, not in the projector.
When the single-frame film reduces the shot length to one "subliminal image", they in fact negate everything cinema intents to do. They kill the "suspension of disbelief". We are self-conscious about watching a light show, and are unable to be immersed in another world. So is it still making "cinema" to turn a film projector into a high-speed slide show? The difference between a silde show and cinema is the continuity that transcends the accumulation of images into a new medium with higher properties. That's when images get the chance to become more than the sum of their parts. The nature of still photographs vanishes and the optical illusion recreates a new art form, distinct from photography.
Single-frame films fail to do that, purposefully. That's the point the artist wants to work on. It is of course intentionnal and accomplished by design. But it operates outside the very nature of cinema, in contradiction to its process of transmission.
To clash with the "cinematic" purpose, they emphasize the cuts instead of the images. Cinema lets the images impress the retina, single-frame films deny this intimate relationship between the image and the eye. They frustrate the eye by spamming it with an overwhelming quantity of informations too fast to register. They frustrate the visual conscience, not on a narrative level, but on a basic cognitive level.
The image loses its content, its graphical quality, its meaning, to become a brief undetermined stimulus, part of an informal ensemble without perceptual cohesion. And the eye loses its ability to make sense of the stimulus, to trigger a phantasmatic universe in the mind. Single-frames by-pass almost entirely the conscience and directly connect with the subconscious, through undigested, uncensored, unchecked subliminal messages. We get a general impression difficult to appreciate and an intellectual rationalization of the conceptual process that has little to do with the images content...
Images only become "cinema" when there is no longer images but a life of its own, through invisible combination. Cinema happens when the illusion starts to make us forget the apparatus. The "24fps" aspect is a backstage secret for professionals. If the result of this illusion happened with a different mechanical invention (like with the electronic scan of a TV screen, with tricolor lines or pixels instead of frames), we'd still meet the ontological nature of cinema that speaks to the mind with its own language. The frames are only the practical means to a greater end.Read also Deleuze on singular frames.
19 octobre 2007
Continuation from the introduction of the exhibition
An ongoing series of video-lettres between Victor Erice (V.E.) and Abbas Kiarostami (A.K.) comissionned by Alain Bergala and Jordi Ballo on the occasion of this
joint-exhibition that opened in Barcelona (February 2006) with 4 videos, then 6 in Madrid (july 2006), and now 10 and counting in Paris (Septembre 2007).
This one-on-one correspondence between two auteurs is a new form of production in cinema, at least to this extant (to my knowledge). Godard did some video-lettres, the group Dziga Vertov also made ciné-tracts... it would be interesting to compare with other similar experiences. Anyway, these two auteurs are rather solitary and introverted, so it's extraordinary they would agree to commit to this idea and want to collaborate on a common work. Looking at this collection of videos we can see the exchange wasn't easy, nor entirely spontaneous. We can feel tensions, expectations, frustrations, provocations... all through ellipsis without spelling out what they really wanted to happen, with an utmost respect for the other's whimsical personality. And they also mentionned this with amusement during the conference :
Alain Bergala calls it an epistolary romance, like sharing a private diary, communicating with a lover.
A.K. says this exchange fills him with happiness. It's a change to make a film for a single known viewer. It's also a responsability to produce a video for someone who is anticipating it. It's like a marriage contract, a pact to bound eachother to write back and forth. To him it was a love mail, the transcendence of romantic correspondence, where the lover is an abstract archetype for all lovers in the world, not just a mail between A.K. and V.E.
He was moved when he received the first video-lettre, which V.E. had made subtitled in farsi already (or was it an idea of the curators?). The night when he received it, he was so proud he showed it to his guests, announcing it was a letter sent by a Spanish filmmaker friend of his.
V.E. says this correspondence took more an more importance in his life. Everytime he would see or read something of interest he would immediately imagine how to include it in the next video-letter to A.K. He cites Jean Renoir : "Je suis citoyen du cinématographe", to emphasize how isolated filmmakers are in our contemporean world and how they can reach out beyond political frontiers too around the world because they are all part of the cinema family.
He says how disappointed he was by A.K.'s first reply (The Cow) because it seemed totally unrelated to his, without any feedback on his initial proposition of dialogue. Especially since it took A.K. over 4 months to respond. V.E. had a feeling of unrequited love, and the curators, Bergala and Ballo had to comfort him and encourage him to pursue anyway, to go past the apparent coldness, to play the game.
"On one hand, obviously, the first DV letter which Víctor addressed to Abbas, the latter’s surprising answer, and the ensuing real exchange is a modern version of messages in the bottle – sent not only to communicate, but also in the knowledge that they would be shown to strangers, those who wander now through the rooms and corridors of this new Marienbad which is the exhibition, and thus the virtual meeting point of two lonely and distant filmmakers struggling for the survival of cinema as a way of reaching knowledge."
Risks and Revelations, Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences (Miguel Marías, Rouge #9, May 2006)
They have a mutual admiration for eachother's work. A.K. said he could stop making films if he had made one like El Sol Del Membrillo. Which could explain why they are intimidated to take part into this dual project that will call for further interpretative comparisons. There is a reason why La Politique des Auteurs credits a single person for the coherence and fullness of a work... art is rarely a collaborative project. The idea born in the mind of a person shall be carried out to the finished product under the direction of the same person, otherwise compromises along to way to incorporate other subjectivities and creativity will pervert the integrity and unique depth of the artwork. That's what we see in this improvised video project that was intentionnaly unconcerted, unplanned and unnegociated. Both filmmakers filmed whatever, wherever, whenever they wanted without any requirements (that I know of) or unifying directions. The result is a little patchwork of ideas that is less significant aesthetically as a whole than it is, narratively, as a cumulative process, step by step. And it is in fact an open ended project that may or may not continue, privately or publicaly, after the exhibition is over.
I assume they had total freedom of style, length, subject and frequency. Except maybe the fact they had to film with a mini-DV for practical and financial reasons. The series is indeed quite varied in shape and size, which makes it richer and more lively. The videos run from 2'1/2 to 20 minutes. With or without music. With or without narrator commentary or onscreen indications. With a plotline or an abstract concept. With people or none. And the postage is spaced out from a few days, up to 7 months. The common trait might be they always use non-professionnal actors, regular people playing their own "role".
"Here we see writing, literally, on the screen. Language becomes a salient feature right from the beginning, with the subtitles (in Castillian Spanish and Persian) considered as part of the creation of the author, not as a later addition. (When the installation moves to France, new subtitles will have to be added – in a language both directors understand but which is not their native language.) (...)
The filmed letters link but are far from symmetrical. They link one to the next but they also link within the world of the writer. Erice’s cartas focus on children and their reactions to nature and to film. Kiarostami’s, in contrast, play with perspective. The pleasant asymmetry of the cartas both reveals and conceals the writer."
Letters to the World, Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences (Linda C. Ehrlich, Senses of Cinema, Oct–Dec 2006)
Oddly enough, the language barrier was not an issue in itself. The first two lettres are subtitled in the recipient's language, as a friendly gesture across the barrier, but the others aren't. Probably not to clutter the screen with multiple translations as the exhibition will travel in different countries. The distance seems to be properly cinematic, corresponding to their understanding and practice of the video medium. Erice uses it as a homemade documentary. Kiarostami uses it as an art form. But it's interesting to notice how their attitude towards the project evolves after receiving the videos made by the other. A connection builds up, and an effect of emulation and mimetism seem to prevail and reveal a true friendship of kindred spirits. Though this convergence is not without mystery.
To be continued... here
* * *
These videos are available at the website of L'Institut de Recherche et d'Innovation du Centre Pompidou. (Click "Entrer" then click on "Films" at the top. The first 9 videos "Correspondance" are the series of video-letters, the number 8 combines 2 V.E. lettres, the second of which should be the 10th) I can't load them, I hope others can see them or that it will be fixed soon. The rest of this website is amazing too, featuring the project "Lignes de Temps", a new interactive analysis for visual medium.
13 octobre 2007
In his latest blogpost, Do filmmakers deserve the last word? (October 10th, 2007), David Bordwell uncovers fascinating insights about the relationship between filmmaker's talking points and what the audience and critics make of them. In particular, the contextualization for the birth of the deep-focus critical concept, coming from Welles and Wyler's cinematographer, Gregg Toland, is incontestable, as Bazin appropriates the same talking points almost word for word. Gregg Toland lays out the principle of his revolutionary technique, "pan-focus", in a 1941 article. And Bazin re-uses it, under the name "profondeur de champ", in his essay "L'évolution du Langage" which dates from 1955, where Toland is never mentioned.
But I'm not sure Bazin would accept all Bordwell's implications as is :
- Bazin is a "plagiarist"
- Bazin's critical theory is shaped by publicity talking points
- Some "deep-focus" scenes from Citizen Kane were actually forged, thus disproves Bazin's theory of realism
- "Deep-focus" existed before Toland in pre-1920 cinema
I'm not arguing with (1), the precedence closes the case, and Bazin should have at least cited the article, as his duty of journalist would command. It's unlikely he would have phrased it exactly the same way without knowledge of Toland's speech. It's really odd though that Bazin would intentionally resist to mention the cinematographer's name at the origin of this invention...
(2) However, I would like to moderate the interpretation of this case as critics being subject to plagiarism and influence. Critics never invent technical or aesthetical devices themselves. Their job is to spot them, analyse them, understand them, trace their genealogy and explain them to the public. Conversely, it's not enough for a filmmaker to spell out a theory to earn a landmark in history.
Critics either find out by themselves by looking at the pictures alone, or talk with the filmmakers to learn from their practice. But in the end, the critics make the decision to validate or to dismiss whatever is purported by filmmakers' or publicity's talking points. I mean great critics there, more precisely, theoreticians and historians, not the reviewers of course.
So Bazin cherry picked one of many claims championed by their auteurs out there, found it credible and fruitful, and added his credential to it by publishing it under a more elaborate theory. Like Bordwell says, we can't listen to everything filmmakers claim they do if the screen disproves it.
Toland could not make history by himself if nobody out there was listening. He couldn't trumpet his own glory alone either.
By the way I would like to know what were the repercussions of his article in the USA. Did American critics understand it like Bazin did, 14 years later? Did the public opinion receive Welles and Wyler as geniuses like they were after Cahiers celebrated them, once these films made it across the Atlantic after WW2? I think the appropriation of a cinematographic device by a critic is what makes all the difference. It took Bazin to transform a publicity stunt into a critical landmark. Inventors of form could go unnoticed if they are not endorsed by a critical authority. Sometimes the filmmakers aren't even aware what they do unconsciously is truly revolutionary.
Like Bordwell reminds us, Greengrass claims he revolutionized cinema language... but it's the critics job to validate or invalidate this talking point.
Bazin's theory of deep-focus and realism goes well beyond whatever Toland proposed, which was mainly practical issues.
"That's why deep focus is not a cinematographer's fad like the use of filters or lighting, but a capital gain for mise-en-scene : a dialectical progress in the history of filmic language.
And it's not just a formal progress! Well mastered deep focus is not only a mere economical way, simpler, subtler to emphasize the event; it affects, with the structures of filmic language, the intellectual relation of the spectator with the image, and thus modifies the meaning of the spectacle."
Bazin (L'évolution du langage)
(3) André Bazin (L'évolution du langage) :
"It's obvious, to whoever can see it, that Welles' plan-sequences in The Magnificent Ambersons are not at all mere passive "recording" of a photographic action within a single frame, but to the contrary, that the refusal to break up the event in bits, to analyse over time the dramaturgic space is a positive operation which effect is superior to one produced by traditional cutting."
"(...) deep focus places the spectator in a relation to the image closer to the one (s)he experiences in reality. It is thus right to say, that independently from the very content of the image, its structure is more realistic."
In a footnote of his essay "Montage interdit", he describes the scene from Where No Vultures Fly (1951) where, after a parallel montage, a little boy with a lion cub in his arms and the mother lioness meet in the same frame, which constitutes the recreation of reality for the spectator. But he acknowledges that the lion is obviously tamed and that the boy's life is never threatened unlike the shot suggests. So to Bazin, it's not so much that whatever happens on the set should be the reality handed over to the spectator, but that the mise-en-scene should recreate the conditions of reality (which would be otherwise negated by heavy editing), that the filmic language, with its technical devices and tricks, should not betray our perception of the time-space continuum on screen. We know cinema is an illusion, in so many ways. But the mise-en-scene may choose to betray reality or to reinforce it, which determines the realistic approach of the filmmaker.
Thus the post-production tricks of transparency for Citizen Kane doesn't negate the theory of realism, as long as the frame gives the impression of something inherently plausible on screen. Besides the foreground and background added (for aesthetical composition purpose) into the shots described by Bordwell, do not alter the main dramatic action within the frame. There is no direct interaction between the drama unfolding in each separate shot of the double exposure. Which is very different from the deceiving interaction suggested by CGI tricks where the actor actually interacts with a green vacuum on set. The green screen superimposition pretends two characters talk to each other while they never had a lifelike experience together on set.
"It's not that Welles refuses to resort to the expresionnistic devices of montage, but precisely their episodic use, between "plan-sequences" with deep focus, gives them a new meaning. (...) In Citizen Kane, a succession of superimpositions contrasts with the continuity of a single-take scene, it is a different modus operandi, explicitly abstract, of the narration. Accelerated montage cheats with time and space, but Welles doesn't attempt to fool us (...) Thus the "quick editing", "Attraction Montage", superimpositions that talky cinema hadn't used in 10 years, acquire again a possible use in relation to the temporal realism of a cinema sans montage."
Bazin (L'évolution du langage)
(4) Bazin acknowledges that the wide shot with deep focus existed since the origins of cinema. The focus of early cinema lenses was designed to capture pretty much everything in front of the camera (like the cheap disposable cameras today).
"Agreed, like in the case of Griffith's close up, Orson Welles didn't "invent" deep focus; everyone in primitive cinema used it, logically so. Image blur only appeared with editing."
Bazin (L'évolution du langage)
07 octobre 2007
"Surely we have all had this feeling, at some time or another, as we have contemplated one of the long-canonised 'old masters' of cinema - that they disconnected from the forward movement of history long ago. That, more simply,
they lost touch with the present, and started to become living anachronisms, no longer 'in sync' with the problems and pulses of the contemporary scene. (Adrian Martin)"
"Does this matter? What does it really mean for us, as critics or viewers, to demand of any filmmaker that he or she should 'invest in the modern world' - or else be declared outmoded, old-fashioned, a dinosaur? (Adrian Martin)"
Adrian Martin talks about this subjectivity of the spectator. The same way the personality of the auteur departs from the evolution of society and culture (as I explained above), so does the personality and expectations of the critic who has been shaped up by the discovery of cinema of a certain era during the impressionable years of adolescence when we form our values. The clash of these reverred times with the contemporary emphasizes the rejection of certain unforgiven digressions by the masters who betrayed our loyal trust in them.
Thus it mostly matters to our subjective expectations. But does it matter to cinema History? If Rosenbaum asks about the relevance to the contemporary world, it implies that films should fit in place in the universal order of human History. But cinema History is a patchwork of whatever is best representative of our society. It doesn't matter who made the film. It doesn't matter if a given auteur has placed all or only one work on the canonical list. The relevance of the concern featured by an oeuvre is different from the immediate relevance of an oeuvre as an artistic statement.
29 septembre 2007
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have blogged 200,000 words in one year, which could have been edited, published and sold in 2 books. It's rare to see professionals (writers, journalists, critics, professors, historians, researchers) willing to share their culture and researches freely on the internet for the cinephile community. One of the stated purpose of this blog reads as follow, ressembling the first installment of my Critical Fallacy Series :
Definitely an example to look up to and to follow studiously for the cinephiles who would like to turn the blogosphere into a potent alternative to the old media."We’ve tried to deflate some clichés of mainstream film journalism. Writers of feature articles are pressed to hit deadlines and fill column inches, so they sometimes reiterate ideas that don’t rest on much evidence. Again and again we hear that sequels are crowding out quality films, action movies are terrible, people are no longer going to the movies, the industry is falling on hard times, audiences want escape, New Media are killing traditional media, indie films are worthwhile because they’re edgy, some day all movies will be available on the Internet, and so on. Too many writers fall back on received wisdom. If the coverage of film in the popular press is ever to be as solid as, say, science journalism or even the best arts journalism, writers have to be pushed to think more originally and skeptically."
- Abbas Kiarostami v. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who to believe?
No, people in Iran are not evil ! Don't bomb them...
(Public Service Announcement of the week)
My notes on the interview of Abbas Kiarostami by Laure Adler (9-26-2007), for the exhibition in Paris MoMA : Centre Georges Pompidou. France Culture radio broadcast, available online for a couple more days (REALaudio, FRENCH-FARSI, 30').
Photograph, documentarian, filmmaker, poet, furniture designer, performance artist... a multi-talented artist.
At the head of Kannoon (Institute for the intellectual development of children and adolescents) for 20 years, Kiarostami began his cinema carreer when the Shah ruled Iran, making educational documentaries for children and about children. He learnt so much from them and by seeing himself in them. One of his close childhood friend tell him now, that the kids in his films are just like Abbas was when he was their age. I'm solitary now as an adult like I was as a child. We are all profundly lonesome beings, whatever the age, even among friends...
My job of filmmaker, ma life condition, impose this loneliness, but it's mainly because I wanted it.
There is no distinction between reality and fiction (documentaries and fictive story). Artifice and lies help to reconstitute truth on screen.
And Life Goes On... (1991) : A.K. comes back to the location where he shot his first feature film, Where is My Friend's House? (1987), which was hit by a terrible earthquake (30,000 deads). He went there with his son, 8 yold, to meet friends (protagonists of that film), and only had the idea to make it into a film, Through The Olive Trees (1994), back in Tehran. The innocence and hope in the eyes of his son confronted to the pain of life, changed the pessimistic vision A.K. had.
Taste for Secret : In The Taste of Cherry (1997) the suicide motive is mysterious, in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), the local boy cannot reveal the subject of the documentary filmed by the guys from Tehran. Life by definition bear a secret, and this mystery of life must remain hidden. We must not reveal it.
When he set the ligthing for his photographic exhibition at Centre Pompidou, he realised the more he lowered the brightness, the more they enclosed a secret. The relationship to a work of art is to approach this secret. Maybe that's explains the black shades he wears all the time! ;)
By the way, scientists recently discovered that Monet, father of impressionism, might have had a vision disorder. There is a reason for everything...
The problem of today's movies, is there is no more mystery remaining with us when we walk out of the movie house. The essence of art is to contain this mysterious unspoken aspect. Cinema is a work of art that establishes a creative relationship between the spectator and the film, through this imaginative reaction to mystery.
To the question "why do we hear children precisely when the old man talks about the taste of cherry to convince the protagonist of The Taste of Cherry?"
AK responds : Chance doesn't exist in cinema. Everything in the film is noticed and endorsed whether it happened by chance during shooting or purposefuly. But the choice to keep it on the editing table is fully conscious.
The secret in The Taste of Cherry allows for every viewer to identify with the undefined crisis leading the protagonist to wish to terminate his life. Some believe he had a broken heart affair, others that he had depts...
Landscape : Nurturing Nature = identified to a mother. AK didn't choose Nature as a subject he was invited by Nature, who embraced him with wide open arms.
Politics : I accept the label of politically involved filmmaker. Politics + Poetics. Like in The Bicycle thieves.
My cinema evolved towards formal epuration : abstraction, contemplation, méditation of nature. Nature questions me profundly.
Location scouting and casting is the most time/energy consuming. To find the people who will say what I wrote is the most important. To meet in flesh what I imagined in my mind.His next film, Copie conforme (2008?), staring Juliette Binoche, is on hold for 3 years because he didn't find the right man to play opposite her. His producer suggested that maybe Abbas himself should play the role.
He doesn't always tell the actors what to do, who they are on set. Leaving the actors in doubt so they bear this worryness that is everyday life. The fact they doubt makes them look more like me.
In his last film, 100 women are shot looking at a white sheet of paper where they are supposed to read a story. They didn't know what the story was, didn't know what to do, and had to improvise. The story was added after with a voiceover commentary. The uncertainty creates the expression of truth. Too much information, indications turn actors into robots who try to become you, the auteur, and don't reflect life itself, naturally.
Cars are omnipresent in AK's films. He says a shot onboard a car combines his preference for stationary shots with the dynamics within the frame. The car allows for the spectator to concentrate on a static frame and still enjoy the motion of the background image.
Death : People always believe to be immortal, death is only for the neighbor. We only witness others dying. We'll never see our own death.
"I'm afraid of height because I've already fell
I'm afraid of a break up because I've already been broken-hearted
But why am I afraid of death if I never experienced death before?
If it's the feeling of not existing anymore, that's something we experience every time we sleep, yet we are not afraid of sleep..."
* * *
SHOT ANALYSIS by D.P. Caroline Champetier
The cinema of A.K. helps me to live, she says.
She was invited by A.K. to a private screening at the Paris MoMA of a piece of his latest work. She describes what she saw. It's a plan-sequence of 17 minutes filmed with a digital camera, with a lens probably equivalent to a 50 or 70mm.
We can see rocks on a sea shore, with cavities, in one of them, the highest, there are 3 seagull eggs, and the waves slam that rock.
An evident suspense is created by this simple situation without a need for explanation. The first egg is pushed out by the waves, and ends up in a lower, less secure, cavity. And finally falls off and disappears in the sea. The egg is lost. [Egg symbol of life, youth in becoming]
Then the other two eggs follow the same fate, are also ejected one after the other, and disappear.
When the light is switched back on, Kiarostami shows a contented smile, waiting for questions.
The sound is not live. This was a post-production reconstruction. Actually, even the plan-sequence is forged, with a precise montage of 15 shots spliced together.
A.K. master of space and time becomes the illusionist who make believe what he wants the spectator to believe. He recreated this made-up dramaturgy, this suspense, this succession of events that looked so natural and believable.
16 septembre 2007
Opening Sequence : The voice of the protagonist, Bo (Pijika Hanzedkarn), is heard without image talking on the phone (pitch black screen). The offscreen conversation carries on over a stationary frontal shot of a wall scattered with photographs of friends, in dim light. We understand that Bo is opening her new cafe soon and invites various long-forgotten acquaintances to the inauguration. The camera pans to reveal Bo through the kitchen door. The long take captures a mundane activity in real time, as she hangs up, looks for the next number, dials again, and repeats her attempt. The mood of the film is set with a simple shot which contains the heart of the drama. Solitude, estrangement, nonchalance and lack of attention.
Her friends are all there with her on the wall, nostalgic memories, still fresh in her mind, with the frozen smiles and funny faces posed for the camera. But all belongs to a bygone era of carefree entertainment. Now she's alone, desperately seeking for available friends, like a market researcher, to share her joyful pride with. She would like them to launch the word-of-mouth and bring in many customers. Unfortunately the calls we overheard don't seem very successful. She's got more friends on photos than real people in her present life. A sentiment of profound abandonment sinks in, with remarkable restraint, as the shot keeps on running long after the phone calls are over, staring at her walking around in silence.
Afternoon Times is a beautiful little film made by students with the most basic production equipment to the greatest effects. The creativity of a sobre mise-en-scene, the daring transcendence of small moments, the mundane poetry... all make it an adorable, melancholic episode suspended in time. The very prototype of the Contemplative Cinema trend. Like a haunting memory revisited intact, stripped of superfluous details, these characters are caught in a strange whirlpool of redundant events. Repetition and variation.
The careful observation of minimal gestures throughout the day recalls Chantal Akerman's film which was one of the most important pionneer of "Contemplative Cinema" : Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1976). Likewise emphasis is put on body language of non-speaking people. Stationary shots frame the situations in self-contained tableaux, that render the presence of a "surveillance camera" invisible while bringing attention to the private life happening in front of our voyeur eyes. We can see what people do when nobody is looking at them, when they don't have to play a social role in front of someone else. A perspective also featured in the segments of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times (2005).
A brownish, darker evening light dominated the introductory shot, a feeling of anxiety and despair caused by the anticipation of her café grand opening. Later, a brighter sunny morning light shines on the film, tinted with a metallic blueish hue celebrating its fresh, acid, melancholic, surreal atmosphere. Congratulations to the cinematographer (Nalina Tungkanokvitaya) who does a wonderful job with natural lighting.
A delivery boy brings a baguette every morning. He's the only person Bo becomes familiar with along her redundant routine. Although their contact is strictly professional, regulated by a polite yet reserved, even timid, etiquette. Without a word he hands over the bread, she gives a banknote, he returns the change. A long trained composure. An automatized ceremonial.
The photographic memorization motif, which structures the entire film, will come as an ice-breaker for them. Upon one of his delivery he's asked to take a picture of her with her friends to immortalize the inauguration of the café. I love this type of microcosmic scenes encapsulating unspoken emotions into unsignificant acts, which we find aplenty in Miranda July's Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005) for instance. In this world of lonely disconnected individuals, every little task is an opportunity to meet with somebody else's private sphere and hopefully to step in for an instant in their sealed bubble, if the situation is not too awkward of course. Here, the favor to take a group picture for her becomes a tacit connection. The polaroid camera is used as a proxy device for interpersonal socialization with a total stranger, like with a lighter or a watch in the street. She asks "Can you take a picture for me?", but what she really means is "Hey, take a look at me please!"
This central theme of self-representation, announced in the opening shot, fully expresses the distanciation of human relationship in today's virtualized world. Without the polaroid they are confused strangers looking at their feet ashamed of themselves. But hidden behind the camera viewfinder he could lay his gaze upon her. Conversly, under the excuse of posing with her friends, she can show off her largest smile without obviously seeming to seduce him. The self-esteem is preserved for both of them.
Even though they are not aware yet of this blooming romance, the film catches there the pre-historic, founding moment of their future bond. She puts up the polaroid picture on the wall, with the other pictures. But what it stands for is less the friends we can see on the image than the invisible photographer who took it.
The whole story is articulated in seasonal chapters entitled "Afternoon Times", "Summer", "Rain", "Winter", "Summer later"
In a funny scene, Bo dresses like a tourist, with sunglasses, backpack, camera, and pretends to visit this splendid café for the first time. She contemplates cautiously every little object decorating the place, with a self-satisfied admiration, projecting into this fictional character the ideal customer she'd like to serve if the turnout wasn't so poor. She then unpacks her sleeping bag on the floor and stares at the ceiling. It's nice to remember a similar scene in Me And You And Everyone We Know when the kids wondered what it would be like if the world was upside down.
On a rainy day, he's soaked and she gives him a towel. Is it because the light is darker, because the rain pours outside, because the wet clothes wear out the usual respectful distances, or because of this tender gesture showing care? After so many meetings at regular hours for the bread, they seem to look at eachother with different eyes this time. No word spoken yet, no effusion of sentiments. Just a memorable moment shared intimately, the secret happiness of being together. An awkward silence extended indefinitely, planted face to face, which would normally make anybody uncomfortable. Though none of them seems in a hurry to break this tensed silence. They soon return to their lives without uttering a word.
The cassette jams in a bundle and so begins the time without music.
The next visit, surrealism creeps in for a moment of arrested poetry. Within the uncut course of a long take stretching over 6 minutes, they are mysteriously locked inside when he delivered the bread. The locksmith can't even rescue them because rains is still pouring outside. By a welcomed enchantment they are miraculously stuck together for a while. They resolve to wait, and she offers to cook a meal for him. The strange ways of fate has kept them close together for a longer time than their usual commercial transaction. As oddly as it occured, the temporary spell is broken when he finished his food and the door now opens naturally. He wondered why the habitual music wasn't playing and promises to bring her a new tape. But he doesn't come back the next day, someone else's delivers bread.
She paints dozens of childish drawings representing a fish, a horse, a camera (again the motif of self-representation), countless rows of dashes... and a delivery boy with a baguette in a bag. She loses appetite. Her business is running down. She has to move out. The walls are covered with copies of the same drawing of the delivery boy, like the identical frames of a film strip, like a dismantled cartoon. The paintings have replaced and covered up the photos on her wall. A new medium of representation illustrates the memories of her second life, leaving the photos behind.
Another uncut long take runs for nearly 15 minutes for the second last scene. In one plan sequence the whole set is packed into boxes, just like if the shooting was over, she clears the borrowed premises, helped by a friend. All drawings are picked up one by one, all pictures, and decorative objects. When he asks why she paints, why she takes pictures, she replies "to kill time", "no particular reason" to futher burry her feelings and regrets...
We realize that life is like a movie production, good times are like afternoon times, they last only a while and then we have to move on and get over them. Memories fit in a little box.
(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) ++ (i) +++ (c) +++
- If you're interested in seeing this student film (not yet available commercialy), please contact directly the director, TOSSAPOL BOONSINSUKH, at this email.
P.S. My apologizes to Tossapol for taking so long to finally write up this long overdue review. And many thanks to CelineJulie at Limiteless Cinema for recommending this beautifully contemplative film.
10 septembre 2007
Paris MoMA Sept 19, 2007 - January 7, 2008
The meeting of two contemporary masters : what a perfect cinephilic event in all imaginable ways. Their full filmography will be screened over 4 months which is a rare occasion in itself, as their films are usually hard-to-see. It's always admirable when artists are celebrated at this level before passing away. This exhbition was first created in Barcelona in February 2006 by Alain Bergala and Jordi Ballo. Then moved to Madrid, now Paris. Australia booked it, and it will probably tour around the world. The presence of these filmmakers will be the major asset of this exceptional event to dialogue with eachother and with the public. Two conferences will be broadcasted live online!
- L'Histoire des Trente, Year 2000 : Films on Time (Sept 22 / 18:00 GMT+2) with the short films projected : Ten Minutes Older (2001/Kiarostami); Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet : Lifeline (2002/Erice); Roads of Kiarostami (2005/Kiarostami); La Morte rouge (2006/Erice)
- Question de Cinema (Dec 8 / 14h30-19h GMT+1) with Victor Erice, Abbas Kiarostami, Alain Bergala, Fabienne Costa, Jean-Michel Frodon, Stéphane Goudet, Youssef Ishaghpour, Jean-Pierre Limosin, Jean-Philippe Tessé, Marcos Uzal.
The centerpiece of this event will be the 10 video-letters Erice and Kiarostami have been exchanging the past 3 years at the suggestion of Alain Bergala. This could be as consensual and formulaic as a portemanteau project commissionned by a third party who imposes an idea to creators who don't need directions. But this project sounds really exciting.
Both filmmakers who happen to share the same age of 67 are discreet and introverted (especially Victor Erice who makes one new movie per decade) accepted to interact artistically by investing the short format of video-essay. Looking at the sent dates, Kiarostami seems less motivated or slower, but looking at the stills from the videos his contribution seems less literal (in a penpal way) and more abstracted, poetical (in the production of stand-alone pieces). Imagine if we could have a trace of a correspondance between Tarkovsky and Bresson, Satyajit Ray and Kurosawa...
- 1) El Jardin del Pintor (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 april 2005, 9'30"
- 2) Mashhad (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, 5 Sept 2005, 10'
- 3) Arroyo de la Luz (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 22 Oct 2005, 20'18"
- 4) The Quince (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, dec 2005, 12'
- 5) José (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 18 Jun 2006, 7'19"
- 6) Sea Mail (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, 10 aug 2006, 3'49"
- 7) A Rainy Day (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, 11 mar 2007, 11'10"
- 8) A la deriva (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, sep 2006 - mar 2007, 13'24"
- 9) Treasure Map (Kiarostami/Iran) AK to VE, apr 2007, 7'23"
- 10) Escrito en el agua (Erice/Spain) VE to AK, may 2007, 2'35"
Accompaning these videos, an exhibition of multimedia works by the two artists around the themes they have in common : childhood, landscape, roads, trees, silence... Notably there will be an artificial forest scenographied by Kiarostami himself. As well as their latest short films : Roads of Kiarostami (2006/Kiarostami), made for the Korean festival, and La Morte Rouge (2006/Erice), made for the original exhibition in Barcelona. The good news is also that Victor Erice is currently working on a new series of films called "Memories and Dream"!
RETROSPECTIVE (list of films projected)
Of Victor Erice I've only seen 2 (El Espiritu de la Colmena, El Sol del Membrillo) so I'm most excited to finally discover El Sur, and his short films.
I know very little of Kiarostami (Close Up, The Wind Will Carry Us, The Taste of Cherry), his films are not projected very often, especially the lesser-known. Thus I'll be able to catch up with this major oeuvre of our time that everyone around is praising.
I would love to see everything, and I'll try but if I can't, please let me know which titles I must not miss in priority.
ERICE'S CARTE BLANCHE
Since Erice filmography is considerably shorter he was offered a Carte Blanche to show alongside films he liked.The original list Erice submitted was declined by the curators because the titles were too familiar for the French public and had enough exposition already. So these films will not be shown at the exhibition but it's important to know Erice elected them originaly to illustrate, inspire, nourish and dialogue with his own filmography :
- The Kid (1921/Charles Chaplin/USA)
- I was born but... (1932/Yasujiro Ozu/Japan)
- Treasure Island (1934/Victor Fleming/USA)
- Germany Year Zero (1947/Roberto Rosselini/Italy)
- The Bicycle Thief (1948/Vittorio de Sica/Italy)
- Los Olvidados (1950/Luis Buñuel/Spain)
- Moonfleet (1954/Fritz Lang/USA)
- The Night of the Hunter (1955/Charles Laughton/USA)
- Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959/François Truffaut/France)
- Ivan's Childhood (1962/Andrei Tarkovsky/Russia)
- Mouchette (1967/Robert Bresson/France)
Meanwhile, it's a pleasure to discover, instead, more films recommended by Erice as his favorites, ones we never heard of or aren't as widely available as the above titles. So here is the final list, that will be screened :
- Las Hurdes (1933/Luis Buñuel/Spain) Short DOC
- Espoir, Sierra de Teruel (1939/André Malraux/France) director's cut
- The Saga of Anatahan (1953/Josef von Sternberg/USA)
- Chibusa yo eien nare (1955/Kinuyo Tanaka/Japan)
- Acto da Primavera (1963/Manoel de Oliveira/Portugal) DOC
- El verdugo (1963/Luis Garcia Berlanga/Spain)
- La Tía Tula (1963/Miguel Picazo/Spain)
- Uccellacci e uccellini (1966/Pier Paolo Pasolini/Italy)
- My Childhood (1972/Bill Douglass/UK)
- Queridísimos verdugos (1973/Basilio Martín Patino/Spain) DOC
- L'Ordre (1974/Jean-Daniel Pollet/France) Short DOC
- Lost, lost, lost (1976/Jonas Mekas/USA)
- My Ain Folk (1976/Bill Douglas/UK)
- We Can't Go Home Again (1976/Nicholas Ray/USA)
- My Way Home (1978/Bill Douglas/UK)
- Dalla nube alla Resistenza (1979/Straub/Huillet/Italy/France)
- La verdad sobre el caso Savolta (1980/Antonio Drove/Spain)
- El viaje a ninguna parte (1986/Fernando Fernán Gómez/Spain)
- A Comedia de Deus (1995/João César Monteiro/Portugal)
One last choice was denied by the right holders :
Khaneh siah ast / The House Is Black (1962/Forough Farrokhzad/Iran)
The recurring theme here would be "resistance". I love to look at a Carte Blanche listing, because like a favorites list, it tells so much about someone's personality and particularly about their cinema vision and sensibility. And it's the opportunity to share a part of this filmmaker's cinephile culture.
Related : Exhibition coverage in e-Cahiers (Sept 2007); Errata podcast, Robert Davis and J. Robert talk about Kiarostami's Homework (1989); Girish : Abbas Kiarostami's Early Films; Zach Campbell : Kiarostami Until 1987
18 août 2007
"I'm far from sharing von Trier's cynicism, but I think there are many reasons for respecting it, most of them generational. People born before 1950 often had good reason to feel hopeful, at least during the late 60s and 70s; those born later -- von Trier was born in 1956-- had less and less reasons to feel that way. A massive backlash against the earlier generation's optimism is still going on, an indication of how potent the optimism was. (...) Within such a context, a passionate desire to create and even respect a character like Bess--however many stylistic and thematic paradoxes this entails--is clearly a heroic aspiration.
Von Trier may be deeply cynical, but he's less so than Terrence Rafferty was when he recentlly wrote in the New Yorker, "If Breaking the Waves becomes a hit, von Trier will have proved that the american audience for foreign films wants today precisely what it wanted in the boom years of the 50s and early 60s: nudity plus theology." A little later he added, "It's tempting to attribute the decline of the European film to the increase, over the years, in the erotic explicitness of American movies." When he says "decline" and "the European film" it can only be in the context of the American marketplace--specificaly the European films selected by American distributors, the tip of the iceberg Rafferty seems happy to accept as a whole. Apparently he believes the only reason films are made in Europe is to satisfy Americans who want to see tits and ass mixed in with their theology, and if these needs can't be met, European filmmakers might as well han over their assignments to "pure" American artists working free of such pressures. (...)
I can't recall much nudity or theology in European movies such as Mon Oncle, Breathless, The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, Last Year in Marienbad, Eclipse, Ashes and Diamonds, or [Bergman's] The Magician--to cite only a few of my favorites that did well during those "boom years" (alongside such commercial flops as Pickpocket, Lola and Dreyer's Gertrud). (...)
I can certainly understand Rafferty's anger at the sarcasm and falsity underlying von Trier's approach--since I become angry every time I think of Breaking the Waves "replacing" Ordet (though that's surely a false syllogism). (...)
A less sympathetic reading of this flexibility might be that von Trier is "too cynical to believe even his own cynicism"--as Andrew Sarris once said of Billy Wilder. But I would prefer to regard Breaking the Waves as a search for belief that acknowledges the land mines separating a 70s consciousness from that goal, a search that burrows ever deeper into irony and ambiguity without reaching the sincerity it strives for--but without collapsing into the nihilism that I see all around me in commercial fare. (...)
Is Breaking the Waves a religious film? I doubt that von Trier knows the answer to that question--just as I doubt that Dreyer would have known the answer if he'd been asked the same question about Ordet. A vast universe of thought, feeling, and artistry divides the two films, made over 40 years apart, but this uncertainty is the point at which both of them become interesting."
Jonathan Rosenbaum in "Mixed Emotions" : review of Breaking the Waves, Chicago Reader, Dec. 6, 1996. Also in Essential Cinema (2004), chapter "special problems"
Now I can agree with Rosenbaum's 1996 reasoning. Thank you for correcting what sounded wrong in the 2007 NYT.
Though it seems that anyone making films around Denmark must be compared to Dreyer... I see the connection between Breaking the Waves and Ordet, but Dreyer is not the end all argument to judge a film in particular. Not every cinema has to be about Dreyer, has it? We certainly could look past this aspect to focus on the film itself. What is the connection between Bergman and Lars von Trier?
My unanswered comment at the Chicago Reader's blog [EDIT: Rosenbaum replied on his blog since]:
"Why would Bergman's use of "torture" on his fictional characters be different, in principle, to Dreyer's (or Bresson's)?Could someone answer me?
Jonathan, in your Essential Cinema essay, you seem to be more generous towards Lars Von Trier's cynicism in Breaking the Waves, than you are for the entire oeuvre of Bergman. You reckon there are creative, interesting ways to deal with misantropy.
If the debate is about the content and moral purpose of such sadism, then we shouldn't stigmatize "misanthropy" in itself, and focus on Bergman's hollowness (if that's the case) rather than "sadism" (which is a cliché).
I don't know what you think of these following auteurs, but on the specific case of "misantropic treatment" what degrees separate the "cynicism" of, say, Bresson (Balthazar, Une Femme Douce, L'argent, Le Diable Probablement), Kaurismaki, Herzog, Cassavetes, Elaine May (Mickey and Nicky), Peter Watkins, Alan Clarke, Polanski, Kubrick, Kurosawa (Dodesukaden, The Lower Depths) , Kim Ki-duk...
If you admire any of these, what justifies their harassment of fictional characters that doesn't work with Bergman (and I think he's at least greater than a few on the list)."
I'm having trouble to finish my commentary because I can't wrap my head around his talking points. They sound self-contradictory and we could track down quotes from his past articles where old Rosenbaum disagrees with new Rosenbaum. Nothing really makes sense, and I need someone to explain it all.
Although he knew what he was doing when he wrote that (he called it upon himself), I feel bad about continuing this investigation because Jonathan is understandably worn out by all the heat he got... And I still admire the cause he defends. I just can't accept that he would point finger to a scapegoat in order to raise attention for his victimized champions. In the end this is about the lack of wide public fame of Dreyer and Bresson, because within the private circles of auteurists, scholars and cinephiles, none of these masters have been forgotten. His only rational to apply different standards to various parts of cinema is to oppose favorite auteurs to least favorite auteurs.
I agree that it's a shame that other masters' death have been overlooked, but that's not a reason to scorn Bergman because he's lucky to get more posthumous attention. The mainstream attention is elective and lacunary... so what? We're not going to change the mass by burning idols... Rosenbaum's wrath goes against the mainstream cultural awareness, yet all his accusation are directed at Bergman himself, who had no business in moving and shaking public trends...
"Of course, if anyone wants to argue that Bergman deeply altered our sense of film language and/or had fresh things to say about the modern world to the same degree as these other filmmakers, I'm all ears. The article is meant to stir the pot, not close the lid. (...) I'm perfectly happy to listen to counter-arguments defending the beauty, seriousness, authenticity, and/or importance of Bergman's thoughts and emotions and what they contributed to our own thoughts and feelings. Maybe Bergman DID have something to teach us all about the Death of God." J. Rosenbaum (at a_film_by)So the burden of proof rests onto Bergman's defenders, as if we had to justify ourselves. Before to bring counter-arguments, we'd like to see solid arguments in the first place. It was his job to at least sketch out a potent framework, an insightful angle that seriously puts into question Bergman's merits. He didn't. That's not a fair debate.
"I'd just like to hear more about (...) what he did to enrich (as opposed to confirm or ratify) other people's views of the world, hopefully in terms that I don't find overly familiar or glib or boring. All of which I find in some of the larger claims made for Bergman that I've been hearing for almost half a century. This is what my piece was reacting to." J. Rosenbaum (at Scanners)Now he wants us to write a book-length appreciation of Bergman's legacy with never-heard-before ideas, to disprove his 1000 words-long unsubstenciated gratuitous mood piece...
This is very difficult to engage with this polemic without starting from scratch to debunk the classic shortcomings reproached to any controversial filmmaker. The tabula rasa proposed to re-evaluate every steps of the oeuvre makes Bergman an exception in the auteurist realm, where we ought to demonstrate all over again his legit signature and the cinematic value of his style.
It doesn't seem to me that he's shown a willingness to open and encourage this debate.
If at least he would distanciate himself from this shaky article, I could reconcile his usual sound arguments with this one-time provocational rant. But he's in denial. All he's been doing lately was to justify his editorial line through formal limitations (he blames the NYT editor, the word count, the imposed timing, the NYT hype, the short notice, the --not so forgotten-- Bergman fandom...) instead of backing up or revisiting his allegations.
He's on defensive mode and doesn't make the discussion easy to engage for his contenders, raising the stake of legit dissent to hard-to-meet requirements. Now he has seen Fanny And Alexander, he asks his detractors to watch both versions, the theatrical and the long TV version before they could dare to dispute his claims...
I appreciate how Jonathan took the time to respond to the attacks on several blogs, replying to Ebert, Bordwell and the guys at a_film_by. Though all my comments (on his blog in particular) have been ignored so far [EDIT: he's replied since, see the comments in my next post]. I thus undersand my response is not welcome to stir his pot. He hasn't developped further any of his arguments either, patiently waiting for detractors to come up with all the ground work to re-demonstrate that Bergman is not a minor auteur. Even if it is flagrant, it is not as quick and easy than to ruin a reputation with a few punchlines.
Then again, he digs his own hole (about Bordwell's take on his op-ed piece) :
"Although I haven't yet made it to the end of David Bordwell's piece apart from skimming it (I tend to get bored when he writes long, no matter how accurate he often is), I agree with most of what he said in the first two-thirds or so. I even emailed him to agree with him that nothing I was arguing was especially new. I also agreed with his statements about generations. (...)Are we to understand that his (factually unreliable) op-ed piece is meant to "stimulate the imagination"? I wonder how trashing unsubstentially any critically acclaimed master can change the way we watch films... since it's what any uneducated viewer could do when they are bored by a challenging work of art. He thought that the NYT was the right platform to further blur the line between gratuitous slander and educated, analytical criticism. Therefore degrading the level of film criticism in the public mind.
All perfectly true. And I do value a lot of David's work for these reasons. But as a nonacademic, I have to admit that there are times when I'm more interested in reading writers who are factually unreliable but do more to stimulate my imagination and sometimes do even more to change the way I watch films. The classic instance of this: Noel Burch." J. Rosenbaum (at Chicago Reader)
Bordwell took the time to elaborate a thought-out response to some of the challenges thrown out in the NYT, yet Rosenbaum doesn't even care to read Bordwell's post from end to end??? Did he want to open a debate or not?
Next : Rosenbaum, Dreyer and cynicism (4)