Friday, March 19, 2004

Reading Pamela Lu's Towards an Aesthetic of Cannibalism against Oswaldo de Andrade's Cannibal Manifesto.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I've been quite ill lately, and have spent some very late evenings attending the Chantal Akerman retrospective at the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the REDCAT. Fortunately I'm not the only Angeleno who needs his filmic fix. Franklin at konvolut m has faithfully recorded his Akerman-opinions after each screening, and Doug at Filmjourney managed to catch the documentary marathon, which I missed. Friday will be the final night of the retrospective. UCLA will be showing Night and Day followed by an encore presentation of From the Other Side. Next week filmgoers in Los Angeles should check out the Lars von Trier retrospective at the American Cinematheque.

Friday, March 05, 2004

"I thought you were going to Paris."

"I am in Paris."
from Blow-Up by Julio Cortázar: It'll never be known how this has to be told, in the first person or in the second, using the third person plural or continually inventing modes that will serve for nothing. If one might say: I will see the moon rose, or: we hurt me at the back of my eyes, and especially: you the blond woman was the clouds that race before my your his our yours their faces. What the hell.
Antonioni: I want to re-create reality in an abstract form. I'm really questioning the nature of reality. This is an essential point to remember about the visual aspects of the film, since one of its chief themes is "to see or not to see properly the true value of things."

Antonioni: The young people among whom my film is situated are all aimless, without any drive but to reach that aimless freedom. Freedom that for them means marijuana, sexual perversion, anything . . . What you get at the end doesn't interest me . . . It's that conquest of freedom that matters. The pursuit of freedom gives man his most exciting moments. Once it's conquered, once all discipline is discarded, then it's decadence. Decadence without any visible future.

Living among that youth, I had the precise sensation of entering a world which has finally put down barriers between individual and individual. You can speak with anyone of anything. No more taboo topics. I've talked with hundreds of young girls and boys who were seeing me for the first time. If one is used to smoking marijuana, he'll say so without fear. If a girl is frigid, she has no inhibition to admit it. This is a generation that has approached a certain individual freddom . . . and freedom from feelings too, because their sexual freedom, at this point, goes without saying. I don't know whether they can love the way we loved. They must suffer, I guess, but I'm sure they suffer for reasons very different from ours . . . never romantic . . . To live as a "swinger" . . . I think it means to take a leave from certain norms, certain traditions at any cost . . . But maybe it is also a legitimate way to get nearer a happier condition of life. Who can tell?

. . . . Love today is weaker, paler than in the past. When Soviet Cosmonaut Titov came back from his flight among the stars, he was asked by the press whether from the heights he had reached he'd once thought about his wife. 'No,' said Titov quietly before returning to live with her.

According to Roger Ebert, those mimes in Blow-Up are students: "These figures were described as 'white-faced clowns' in Pauline Kael's pan of the film, but a British audience would have known they were participating in the ritual known as 'rag,' in which students dress up and roar around town raising money for charity." The only definition I could find on the web is from WordNet. Rag week: a week at British universities during which side-shows and processions of floats are organized to raise money for charities. In his script, Antonioni simply writes: "A group of shouting students dressed in bizarre clothes and with white powdered faces are loaded in a jeep which drives into a paved courtyard surrounded by modern buildings."

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Just finished watching the new DVD of Antonioni's Blow-Up. It's been many years. I remembered the Yardbirds, but I had forgotten about the mimes. Loud, anarchic mimes.
Does all pop culture have the same rhythm? Leslie Thornton queries Jonny Quest in Another Worldy (1999). But let’s ask Mary Ann Doane (whose book The Emergence of Cinematic Time is essential): “Another Worldy is a revision of an older film by Thornton, Old Worldy (1998), which juxtaposes old Hollywood footage of dance sequences (from the 1930s or 1940s), ethnographic footage of ritualized dances from ‘primitive’ cultures, and an ironic rendition of 1990s techno-ambient disco rock on the soundtrack. The new film produces fascinating collisions and correspondences between the different materials, pressuring dangerously fixed assumptions about racism, sexism, and the ethnographic gaze. The film encourages tension but refuses easy satire and the assumption of a superior position.” From old world to another (newer) world, then. But the film begins in an older cinematic world, where 1940s Lucky Girl dancers kick a leg out to their Russian, Indian, and North African counterparts. As the film moves from familiar western haunts to unfamiliar orientalized orbits, it struck me that this truly is another world, because it can’t possibly be this one. And – but how could this be? – they’re all dancing to the same rhythm. And it even matches the (horrid) gothic-techno soundtrack. Thornton: “I was thinking about how popular entertainment is derived from forgotten pasts, from ritual, religion and war, from various symbolic, practical and worldly forms of movement. With reworking, Old Worldy evolved into something more nuanced and critically oriented than I originally imagined it being. There was a point when I had to give it another name--it was becoming another work altogether. I spent more than a year looking at ethnographic dance material, some ‘scientifically’ serious, some ‘educational,’ some what I call ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’-type travelogs and some newsreels. Another Worldy operates as an implicit, cross-cultural critique of dance forms and their origins. I wanted to hold on to the entertainment value and uncanny qualities of Old Worldy while bringing forth a more implicit critique.”

Elsewhere, in her masterpiece Peggy and Fred in Hell (1985-2004), a boy and a girl, Fred & Wilma of the post-apocalyptic set, thrash about a Paul McCarthyesque type workroom while reciting King of Pop lyrics and eating Cap’n Crunch. No, in 1985 she couldn’t possibly have known how creepy a little girl singing Billy Jean was to be. But from all accounts, the film seemed so futuristic in the 80s, while today, after 9-11, after Total Information Awareness, it seems simply of its time, an ethnography of the present. Who said that the future of the future is the past? With this film, Thornton burns the edge of narrative; as she puts it: “Narrative reflects specific cultural presumptions. Recognizing that, one can't help but think: then there must be other possibilities for narrative – reflecting other times and places and agendas, past, present, and future.” Peggy and Fred in Hell is the most tedious yet utterly fascinating film I have ever seen. To which Thornton answers: “I'm interested in boredom. My interest comes out of the experience of the most hardcore structuralist films from the '60s and '70s. I think these films often produced profound boredom, which forced you somewhere else . . .. you have a profound response, if you commit to stay. You feel you've had a life-changing experience. A voluntary experience of boredom. The mind becomes very active. All kinds of images and scenarios begin to play.”