July 31, 2006

stills of Kuhle Wampe (Dudow/Brecht, 1932, above), Le Pont du nord (Rivette, 1982, below), Puissance de la parole (Godard, 1988, below below)...thinking of this...

July 29, 2006

André Dias was kind enough to translate the Cinema Cinemas clip of Godard on Full Metal Jacket/79 Primaveras. Much obliged André.

« There it is! This is the slow motion we find in Peckinpah, if you will... It addresses the crowd of spectators only by exploiting something that it lacks. It seems like what Welles talked about: a gimmick, a trick, a gadget. Something that's now usual in all these American directors, even in Kubrick, who disappoints me because he has more talent than them. And this is just Peckinpah, if you will... with the exploitation of Vietnam. To his film I wouldn't go because I wouldn't see the Vietnamese, or God knows in which form. They were there. You just needed to go there... He doesn't see them. Something's missing. Kubrick's film misses what America also missed. They keep showing... In war films about Germany, there's not one big Hollywood actor that hasn't, sooner or later, played a German general. Here no one has played a [Vietnamese] general, cause they didn't know how to do it. That's their shame. To cover up this shame with a slow motion, whatever talent one has, it doesn't work... Let see the Alvarez slow motion. We see a crowd that cries. And we see each one cry without privilege, despite being privileged. The spectator can make his choice. This is what never occurred...Here is a war movie made by a Cuban. It's sufficient to see this to, when we show Kubrick's images see that they do not hold... To say good or bad things... I, (...), it wouldn’t come to my mind to make war; I've deserted in two countries. But it's necessary to watch. We see something in which we believe and there he [Kubrick] doesn't believe in films anymore. He forces himself to believe. And at a certain point it doesn't stand. There's a minimum of honesty... We see that the other [Alvarez’s], which is made of documentary, is so worked by a stylised fiction like this, that it gives back something. And there [Kubrick's] lacks the documentary approach. »

July 23, 2006

La Guerre des mondes / Les guerres d'un monde

The War of the Worlds /
The Wars of the World

This piece was written for the French magazine Panic, No. 3, Mar./April '06, as part of an ongoing series "Chronique cinéphile" conceived and collected by Nicole Brenez.

Amidst the wars of the world (just one world) I see CITY OF FEAR (Irving Lerner, 1959). This is going back a bit in what's called film history, but I've just seen the film for the first time. It rages on. The city and the fear.

It's a film that shows secrets, large and small. The secret lies and exaggerations of a police report about a dangerous criminal's prison break, critiqued by the escaped convict himself as the report streams from the car's radio. An image of two different sides of the story: official and sanctioned (radio/media), and the suffered and experienced (critique/action).

A vast State secret rumbles beneath the rest of the narrative: the canister the convict has stolen from prison just before escaping is not the $1 million worth of heroin that he thinks it is, that he needs to sell in order to live the good life. It's radioactive Cobalt that was in the prison, it's banally explained by the cops, for experimental use on the prisoners. Hoods for sale. This Mengele treatment of the incarcerated continues in US prisons to this day.

Thus we have Threatening Danger, Fear, then...Catastrophe. The ultimate goal of the State's radioactive experiment is efficient and contained annihilation. But of elsewhere! not here! in Los Angeles!

The final cinematographic scene of the film predicts 'zero': a shot of a radiation ridden corpse, draped with a black sheet, framed like a landscape, a "Caution: Radiation Area" sign placed against the static hilly form of his body. Dissolve to a panorama of the Los Angeles basin, flat and twinkling.

Why mention this film today? Apart from its surprising narrative and formal similarities to Godard's Breathless (made the same year, 1959, and as in that film you see: passenger-seat jump-cuts; jive digressions for their own sake; sweaty, drawn-out sequences in location-shot cafes; gas stations and rooms where women wait, and may rat; general anguish); apart from profound contrasts between Los Angeles location shots (usually alongside the crimey) and the stale air of the studio shot-sequences (usually with the police); apart from reminding oneself of the existence of CITY OF FEAR's director Irving Lerner and therefore of the Worker's Film and Photo League of which Lerner was an active member, and therefore of the existence and possibility, once upon a time in America, of an openly Communist Cinema Collective, whose founder said:

"the news-film is the important thing; that the capitalist class knows that there are certain things that it cannot afford to have shown. It is afraid of some pictures....we will equip our own cameramen and make our own films." (Samuel Brody)

...yes, apart from all that, I also mention this film today because it shows something people in the US do everyday but that's seldom shown in American films: citizens talking back to their radios and televisions. Refutations yelled at the machines by those who know the truth because they live in the consequences of it.

One has to marvel at one horrifying bond between cinema and radiation sickness posited by the poster advertising the film: Chills for millions. 

Like cinema itself, cinephilia is nothing unless it fabricates a bond with life. Across films, across continents, across thoughts, justices and injustices -- that's all.

July 22, 2006

The Greatest Cinema Blog I Can't Read

I stumbled upon an extremely interesting cinema blog while searching for references to Jean-Claude Rousseau. It is in Portuguese and seems to be a "discovery" type of blog, taking frequent note and quotation of Cinemateca Portuguesa screenings (though it's much more than that, for instance theoretical as hell, as a babelfish translation of a piece on video vs. film has just indicated to me). It is called Ainda não começámos a pensar and it looks to be run by someone called Andre Dias.

It is where I found the Cinema cinemas clip of Godard comparing Kubrick and Alvarez, Full Metal Jacket with 79 Primaveras (pictured above as it appears in dual-screen sequence on the blog).

Andre has also posted several beautiful videoclips on youtube (most of which have been put to use on his blog):

La cicatrice intérieure (Garrel)
Les enfants jouent à la Russie (Godard)
Le pays de la terre sans arbre (Perrault)
... and what I assume is just an excerpt from Andre Dias's own film
Destruição de uma casa de banho . Very disquieting film.

July 21, 2006

LA Pigs brutalize Anti-Minutemen, or, When They Crossed the Street, the State Came to Meet Them. (July 8th)

Two weeks ago, while walking home on Hollywood Boulevard I heard distant drums. As I passed Vine Street I found a demonstration and counter-demonstration in my path. The Minutemen were staging a rally for their racist anti-immigrant crusade. An organization like the KKK, but much more active, the Minutemen are a jingoist vigilante group tolerated if not encouraged by the State, as unaccountable civilian border police.

The Minutemen were on the east corner, on top of Jerry Lewis's star, while the counter-demonstrators were on the west corner, on top of Frank Borzage's star. The Minutemen were organized and about 150 strong, and were met with an equal number in opposition, impromtu though, chanting "down, down, down with the Minutemen!!" Both parties were pressed to edge of their respective curbs. The police were doing formations in the middle of the street between the two groups, however they always faced the opposition, the counter-demonstrators, batons drawn. Every 10 minutes or so the police would shift positions in maneuver-like fashion, lending the scene a theatrical air.
Someone from the counter-demonstration stepped down off of the curb accidentally and the pigs started clubbing us with all their strength. The victims were mainly women. Afterwards, as everyone on our side cursed the police and threw plastic bottles at them, I saw the physical consequences of the police clubbing on those at the very front: knees swollen the size of baseballs. In the now indignant atmosphere several young counter-demonstrators tried to cross the street in dispersion and were immediately sacked by multiple cop, with typical pig historionics: 2 or 3 corn-fed flat-foots pinned and ground one female counter-demonstrator into the asphalt. Several minutes later the police began beating a protester who had successfully crossed the street (see video by clicking above photo). They caught him by his shirt, dragged him around by it, and several different brutal pigs took turns with their batons. A young couple tried to shield the sacked protester from the baton blows, only to receive their own. The pigs cuffed the street-crosser, picked him up high and slammed his chest into the ramp of a truck unloading stage apparatus for the theatrical musical 'RENT'. In all this the pigs made a point to shout "resisting arrest" (for the crossing of the street).

I took the above picture from across the street with a disposable film camera. Note the title on the theatre marquee; the duty of the police in a capitalist state is to protect private property -- the duty of art in a capitalist state is to be private property! Proof: this theatre will certainly pay no mind to the theatre in the street or its casualties; it exclusively puts on Broadway superproductions about "getting better all the time."

Zach Campbell recently noted Pasolini's siding with the police during May '68 in France because the police are necessarily of the working class, batons and all. Here is a response to that troubling point of view:

"We saw that an essential characteristic of the state is the existence of a public force differentiated from the mass of the people. (...) The free Athenian considered police duty so degrading that he would rather be arrested by an armed slave than himself have any hand in such despicable work."

-Chapter V. of Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State 
F. Engels

In turn, the police must differentiate themselves from the State to gain any respect in these struggles.
Demonstrators might make the cop think twice about his/her job with formations and maneuvers of their own.

July 19, 2006

True/False Passports

"In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers. "
-Herman Melville

Israel has displaced, as we have seen, those who flee by foot, by hoof, by bus, by Mercedes, by BMW, by Jeep, by French or American Helicopters, etc., They have not diplaced them equally and the US media is not afraid to risk capsizing the weight of their reports by doggedly focusing on the airlfting of those with the proper passports, all the while unilaterally labeling Israeli strikes as against Hezbollah targets. The vast majority of Israel's savage strikes have been against civilians and civilian infastructure.

As usual it will be the poor who will suffer the most for not being able to leave, it will be the poor who will also refuse to give up their homes to the Zionists, and as usual it will be (and has been thus far) the poor who will resist epically.

I needn't identify the nationality of this corpse; were she the "correct" nationality this would be one of the most famous pictures in the world.

The passports of bombs and rockets, however, are given a mistier treatment. For instance, a missle fired by Hezbollah is unfailingly referred to as "Iranian" whereas an Israeli shell is almost never identified as "American". Perhaps the massive number of Israeli bombs justifies their shrouded identity; well over 9,000 US made shells have been fired into Lebanon by the Israeli aggressors in just one week -- not to mention US missles, the US jets that carry them, and as yet unidentified American weapons of mass destruction being used on the civilian population in Gaza.

Robert Fisk (the British journalist who lives in Beirut and always provides valuable on-the- ground reports from the Middle East) has even stooped, in this degraded time, to begging for some sort of class/culturally based outrage over Israel's arrogance and boundless barbarism:

"It amazes me -- I mean, living here in Beirut, as I have for 30 years. Here are the Lebanese people, sophisticated, educated, cosmopolitan, people who don't look like the Arab world, they look like us; I mean, people who could be quite at home on the streets of Paris or New York and London, and some of them are; people who read, who are very well educated; people who speak English fluently, French beautifully, and fluent Arabic."

Indeed it is shocking, especially insofar as Europe has given up the ghost on its own visage in Lebanon, but no more so than the concurrent occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq, and most critically, Gaza and the West Bank.

The left needs to unify its outrage in the face of the spurious 'clash of civilizations' mantra of the capitalists. If one has the suspicion that Chavez is right, that the capitalist/imperalist US (as it exists today, and has long before Bush) will NOT last another 100 years...then the left must focus on facilitating that fall...This requires mass solidarity with ALL who are oppressed and exploited by the US and its facilitators, across all supposed cultural lines. Class IS tied up with culture, we can't deny that: mass culture is inseperable from mass production and signification, but everyone on the planet is subject to the FACT that almost nothing is purely signification, that material conditions provide existence. Why be afraid of this knot (in the same stomach that must be filled from day to day)? I say we use it as a basis for renewed human solidarity and revolution. This requires signification; signification is not sinful; and this is where cinema comes back in...


                                                                                              - a.r.

July 13, 2006

July 9, 2006

Jean-Claude Rousseau by Akasaka Daisuke (excerpt)

2005... From "Visual" to "Audio"

A fixed shot. In a hotel room there is a bed and sunlight enters from a right window. A middle aged man enters the room and takes off his coat and hat. When he opens the window, the atmosphere and noisy sounds of the outside invade the inside. The man triggers sounds from the off-screen. He switches on TV, the voice of an RAI announcer is heard, and the noisy siren of a patrol car fills in the room. At that moment we feel as if the space is exploding within, the shot and the sounds are cut... a black screen with silence, and connecting to a vivid long shot of the city which liberates the sounds of the outside atmosphere.

Jean-Claude Rousseau, who himself plays the man, is an amazing cineaste in that he can show what cinema is, as such, in only one shot. In Japan, his four video works were shown for the first time in the "Panorama of New French Documentaries", at the Institute Franco-Japonaise de Tokyo, in November 2004.

He was born in 1948, and was influenced by the American underground cinema during the time he spent in New York, as was Phillipe Garrel. After coming to Paris Rousseau made 8mm film works, taking years for each one. In 1999, La Vallée close (1995) won prizes at the Belfort International Film Festival. Jean-Marie Straub says Rousseau is one of the greatest filmmakers in Europe, along with Frans Van de Staak and Peter Nestler. Recently Rousseau has made video works at a greater pace. The first video I described above is a short film called Lettre a Roberto (2002)-- it's a masterpiece. I was fascinated with the movement of light and sound, lead by Rousseau's gestures in the space. The movement captured by this fixed shot is very fresh, fun and even entertaining; the director's look is gloomy to the contrary. But, why?

Some viewers must have the same question about Juste avant L'orage (2003), which was shot while Rousseau was in South-Korea for the Jeon-ju International Film Festival.Why is such a low-angle fixed shot of a street market stall so fascinating? Immediately after men at rest leave, a shop-woman is cleaning, and there are families in  the distance, in addition to a motorcycle and a car, appearing and leaving, roaring like choreographed extras in a Jacques Tati film. But it's not a comedy. Was it directed or not? I don't know, but this simple shot is incredibly funny. Then the space is filled with noises suddenly turns into a black screen with silence, and an inside shot of a taxi captures wipers moving on wet windshield, with a conversation between driver and guest.

Faibles Amusements (2004) fragmentally tells a love story that the director himself tempts out of a young man who wants to be a filmmaker. They stay at a hotel near Lake Como and the young man leaves the director, but viewers can see the deck of a ship on which passengers board (Ozu!), a young man posing in bed with the director's voice, the young man who reads outside through a window like a Bonnard painting, and a street with the conversation of the two men about Robert Bresson... The relation between image and sound is loose (for example a shot of the young man's face with conversations from an other scene), and the time goes back and forth. And in the 5 short minutes of  Contretemps (2004) we hear the voice message of a young man from telephone "I can't come see you " with black screen, and see the next wonderful shot whose composition consists of books and antiques of an oriental taste on a desk. A book turned over shut by itself. That's all. But in such a short film which consists of extreme simplicity, we feel Rousseau gives his absolute confidence to space and sounds -- as if each shot answers "yes" when asked " Is such an image valuable?"

In Rousseau's films he trusts the audio-visual sense of viewers who will recognize the movements which create this world. And through his cinema he lets us notice the existence of the space and sounds which we can't recognize in daily life. How the collision of sounds, their deletion and invasion into space can expand our audition and amuse us! Rousseau developed Bresson's ways of "off sound", and he implies that the manipulation of the author himself who organizes the movement of the sound that goes in and out of a fixed shot is an amazing subject, too. His films are documentaries of manipulation in that sense. Rousseau is an ultimate filmmaker because he reforms cinema buoyantly, as if keeping a diary.


But why do most viewers turn away from the trust of these cineastes and leave themselves out of the audio-visual operation? Every year it becomes more and more difficult to see the films that awaken our senses on-screen in Japan. Most distributors and bureaucrats believe that they can leave the sleeping beauty as she is, without knowing it drives us into dangerous places. Our life is enclosed within images now and in the future, and the person who doesn't think about this is nevertheless profoundly influenced by it, as if it's easier for the person who doesn't have immunity to get disease. We need the cineastes who give us an opportunity to think along with the enjoyment of listening.

-- Akasaka Daisuke
This is a revised translation of Daisuke's longer essay "2005...from 'Visual' to 'Audio': Jean-Claude Rousseau, Monteiro's Branca de neve, Nestler, Straub-Huillet" which can be found in a questionable translation, but still better than nothing, as information and incisive thought on these filmmakers is hard to find, HERE.

July 7, 2006

Click here for video -- JLG showing the evidence that lies between how two filmmakers see Vietnam: Santiago Alvarez and Stanley Kubrick. (From Cinema Cinemas)

English translation by A. Dias in the comments field below...

July 4, 2006