June 22, 2007

The Secret Radiation of Denise Bellon

"...amusing to imagine BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN aboard this vehicle..."
(the feet of Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson, and the resistance vessel that saved innumerable films from Nazi confiscation/destruction. Photo: Denise Bellon)

Le Souvenir d'un avenir a.k.a. REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS TO COME by Yannick Bellon and Chris Marker is one of the most extraordinary of all movies about, and almost entirely made out of, photography ("...to sustain the gaze of others..."). This is done with the tool of video and it is one of Marker's finest in that medium. The photographs under consideration are those of Denise Bellon who lived almost every year of the 20th century (1902-1999), just like Marker's other beloved subject, Alexandr Medvedkin, THE LAST BOLSHEVIK.

To have been 27 years old at the time of the Second Manifesto of Surrealism...
To have been 18 years old during the Russian Revolution...
To have been middle-aged during the fight against Fascism...

Filming the images that others have made, speaking through and with them, respecting and transforming them -- this is Marker's solidity (whereas for many other filmmakers, it is their anemia). Simple devices -- dissolves and cuts from photo to photo -- are movements from strata to strata. When he's using images he himself has shot, it's an image within the image: commentary. Marker is known for his beautiful voice over commentaries -- exact and digressive, personal and worldly, a totality of rhetoric -- and REMEMBRANCE's commentary track is no exception.

For all the mastery and invention of essay form in Marker that has been talked about on a literary bon mot basis, what's as important or perhaps more important is how these commentaries relate to the images, i.e. the cinematic basis: Marker manages to leave the image open while transforming it. In spite of the density of Marker's commentaries, his images are not smothered as images. Still, we must consider Marker's images of images as his (and his collaborators) own, because though Marker is recording the images of others  -- recording photographs -- it's his methods of cropping, emphasis with masking, duration, and angle that contribute (I would say entirely) to his particular kind of memorial and material rhetoric. Here in REMEMBRANCE, and especially in THE LAST BOLSHEVIK, we have extremely refined work with photographs. It's shocking how entrenched the conventions of filming documents and photographs in standard documentary productions have become; Marker doesn't use those conventions, even when he does. A little camera movement over a photo, a crop understood as a crop; Marker's commentaries would be merely lovely without the cinematic device. The ideas between the images, materials, authors -- all these generations -- are brutal and unmistakable in REMEMBRANCE; combat and testimony to history. Twentieth century anachronisms here don't crash into our century's back from the past; they come round and face us, and gently lap onto own epoch's feet. The photos recede as much as they return.

A big idea in the movie: Bellon's pictures somehow registered the moments when "post-war (World War I) became pre-war (World War II)." How?

Victorious steel turned to rubbish.

The body liberated, then mutilated, then appropriated by fascism.

Adverts for alcohol and socialism.

Then, about Duchamp the film says: "He'll be used to vindicate the art of vanity." Bellon took pictures of him as if he knew this.

Bellon took the only pictures of Langlois's cradle of all cinematheques, his bathtub filled with films.

Over Bellon's photos of suicidal Europe, the film later says "...it seems that nations on the verge of war make a point of parading their wealth, like misers who in their final death throes want to recount their treasures."

Bellon reported to L'Afrique occidentale française: "....even on the Left nobody thinks of independence..." In this sense she was a great human spy...as is, and always was, Chris Marker.

I have said very little about Bellon... that is what the film is for! See it here. . .

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS TO COME was once available on Youtube, and I embedded all the parts below so that it could be seen -- but no longer. Here are the carcasses of that fact:

part one

part two

part three

part four

part five

June 20, 2007

June 3, 2007

"Also, the idea was to bring filmmaking into the community and demystify it, to encourage kids that, look, if you can turn a HiFi on, you can turn a Nagra on and do sound. Just watch the button and keep it level. And they would do it. Five year old, six year old kids. The kids you see running around, they'd drag the lights, do the slate. The only thing they didn't do was change the magazine and load the camera, but everything else they had their hands on. "

-- Charles Burnett (interview from "Drifting" here)

June 2, 2007


Now each day is fair and balmy
Everywhere you look: the army.

––Ustad Daman (Punjabi poet, 1958, from an anecdote by Tariq Ali, here.)

I thought the tanned teens of this film's trailer looked suspiciously anonymous, now we know why: it's that slick anonymity of the army recruitment ad:

Ian Bryce, one of the producers of TRANSFORMERS : “Once you get Pentagon approval, you’ve created a win-win situation. We want to cooperate with the Pentagon to show them off in the most positive light, and the Pentagon likewise wants to give us the resources to be able to do that."

The film was shot on a military base with Servicemembers acting as "extras". No doubt it's a showcase of military product and power (director Michael Bay had similar pacts with the Pentagon for 'Pearl Harbor' and 'Armageddon'). One Army Lt. Col advising on the film said "The Army has never fought giant robots, but if we did, this is probably how we’d do it.”

For those who are inclined to verify such films for professional or academic purposes, there remain enough reasons to refrain in this case. It wouldn't occur to me to see this film but anyway we ought to boycott TRANSFORMERS. Not in objection to filmmakers cooperating with the military per se, look at the films of John Ford and Sam Fuller, but certainly in objection to the super-production and the super-product.

CIVIL WAR, John Ford's contribution to the omnibus super-production HOW THE WEST WAS WON, is not a super-product but a film. For all its super-form proportions (3-filmstrip Cinerama) what matters in the film is some pink water in a creek that the spectator doesn't even see. The creek has been tinted by the blood of the North and South. (Recalling this reminds me of its opposite -- of how disgusting an act it was for Spielberg to use "movie magic" at precisely the wrong moment in SCHINDLER'S LIST: tinting the little girl's frock "red".) What also matters in CIVIL WAR are the sudden graves we see, as massive in Ford's Cinerama as they are in Ford's 1.33:1.

The Iraq War is a super-production: limitless ad-space for its super-form-weaponry on TV (showcases on networks owned by both Turner [CNN] and Murdoch [Fox]) and in print (at the New York Times and those that follow suit). Had the Iraq war been a small production, a Wenders film, then "filming" would've been stopped a long time ago. "We can't get these shots, they don't want us to film here, they don't want to be in the film. It's over." But no, the super-producers "film" incessantly. Yet it seems that nary a grave -- sudden or stately, Iraqi or U.S./Allied Forces -- has been shown.

If there was a super-film that reflected the U.S. population's aversion to the Iraq war in a small way, I think it was HULK, by Ang Lee (et al.). It failed at the box office because it showed carpet bombing by the U.S. military from the point of view of the victim on the ground (in a desert setting, no less). It was simply too much for guilty citizens in the summer of 2003. Or perhaps they just stayed home (CNN, FOX), which is another story.

Below, another film made under the tutelage of the US military, AGUINALDO'S NAVY, from the year 1900 (American Mutoscope, Biograph). The use of cinema in this place (the Philippines) at this time (so early in film history) would have necessarily made this film a kind of super-production; for cinema to be under the tutelage of anyone at this moment meant "advising" the very purpose of cinema itself. The sparseness of content in the film in relation to its title, the very lack of military forces is the film's mocking propaganda in the service of Theodore Roosevelt's brutal occupation of the Philippines just after the Spanish/American war. Here, the title AGUINALDO'S NAVY is rendered: "Aguinaldo's?" "Navy"? -- in other words it is an ironic, ridiculing film, and a base, hubristic imperialist point of view. Here we are seeing two infancies: that of the cinema and that of U.S. imperialism. Then again, take a look, what do we really see?:

(Apologies: the below video is no longer available, but AGUINALDO'S NAVY can be seen here)

This clip apparently ends Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin's latest film AUTOHYSTORIA (read Robert Koehler on the film here ), a film I haven't seen because it is unavailable in the U.S.

For fascinating information on what the US and Filipino independence leader Aguinaldo were doing to that country, read
It follows that the native landlords and capitalists are incapable of leading a struggle to overthrow foreign imperialist domination. The history of the Philippines demonstrates this especially clearly. In spite of the myths it has propagated to prettify its history, the real traditions of the Filipino
"national bourgeoisie" are utterly wretched and servile. The "ilustrados" considered themselves Spaniards. Even the saint of bourgeois nationalism Jose Rizal chose "exile over revolution" and died a passive hostage, a sterile martyr immortalised in his poems and novels. The revolution of 1896 exposed the true attitude of the ilustrados. It took the initiative of the insurrection of the Katipunan, party of the nascent Manila proletariat led by the worker Andres Bonifacio, to galvanise them into any activity. Then they moved with haste and implacable malice to hijack the movement. They sneered at Bonifacio and his worker comrades as godless, ignorant ruffians. When Bonifacio denounced them and attempted to establish an independent revolutionary council, he and his brother were abducted, tried and executed, by the ilustrados' military leader Aguinaldo.

Thus the first act of the "national bourgeoisie" was the murder of the workers who had led the revolution. Having crushed the original cadres of the revolution, Aguinaldo's second act was to accept a bribe of P400,000 from the Spanish and sail away into exile in Hong Kong. Popular resistance continued despite Aguinaldo's appeals to the masses to lay down their arms. If it had not been for the accident of the Spanish/American war, and the cynical exploitation of Aguinaldo by American imperialism, that would have been the end of Aguinaldo's historical claims. The mass struggle continued in his absence and the Spanish were expelled. Only then, having established communications with the Americans in Hong Kong, did Aguinaldo return to proclaim independence "under the protection of the mighty and humane North American nation." The Americans brutally and systematically occupied the islands following their victory over
the Spanish, and cynically made war against the infant republic. Aguinaldo again and again whimpered for a peace with the Americans, but they were determined to crush the revolution. After a brief and unequal war Aguinaldo again capitulated and called on the masses to end their struggle. Once again however, ferocious resistance continued up to 1916, by which time up to 600,000 Filipinos had laid down their lives in the struggle for national liberation.