May 29, 2008

INNER CITY BLUES by Charles Burnett

If one has any interest in film as a means of transforming society, one can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of the main character in the novel Bread and Wine by Ignacio Silone. The hero, who is a revolutionary hiding from the police, disguises himself as a priest; the villagers mistake him for a real preist. He attempts to explain that their social condition could be improved, that certain things -- food and shelter and the right to happiness -- belong to everyone, but the villagers can't conceive those things as a part of their reality; that is something to be obtained in heaven. The question is how does one who is dissatisfied with the way things are going set about transforming society? To whom and to what should one direct the message and what will be the spark, the messianic message, to motivate people into altering their habits when reality hasn't made a stir, when the realization of death itself has failed? However, time and again, you find in the testimony of ex-addicts and alcoholics that what made them stop and go cold turkey was that after years of destroying themselves, they looked in the mirror one day and did not recognize the person staring back at them. And having tried to change drug addicts, I was warned that no matter what logic, no matter what emotional appeal I used, it would have no effect on that person until he or she was ready to change; it is when the person has arrived at the conclusion that he or she needs help.

For a film to act as an agent for altering people's behavior in a way that makes a neighborhood safe, another dynamic has to have occurred and it is an ongoing process; a politicization must be taking place. There is a polarization and issues are clear-cut, ambiguity is at a minimum and there is a moral outrage if things don't change. Because the situation in the black community lacks leadership, it lacks direction. The inner cities are virtually infernal regions where the most inhuman behavior manifests itself in the "Rock House", a house where one can buy a cheap high from cocaine; it is like a black hole in space which sucks in the youth. For those of us who still have senses to offend, not to attempt to find a solution will be participating in genocide; the problem of drugs, with babies being born with a drug addiction, is horrendous. When the middle class moved away and over the years a vacuum formed and an isolation, people of daring gained control and the irony is that there was a conspiracy to hide the situation.

Particularly in films that were sounding the alarm and realistically trying to dramatize concerns that were eroding the very foundation that makes a society a society, the response was, 'This makes us look bad'. To bring to light that which troubles us was being uppity, no home training, etc. The middle-class blacks wanted to emphasize the positive and the inner city wanted 'Superfly''; neither had any substance, however, both were detrimental. There is a difference between illusion and inspiration. The difference in concerns clearly marked the direction in which consciously or unconsciously the people who lived on the opposite side of the tracks were going. Surprisingly, politically speaking, there is a large reactionary and/or chauvinistic point of view in the inner city.

The commercial film is largely responsible for affecting how one views the world. It reduced the world to one dimension, rendering taboos to superstition, concentrated on the ugly, creating a passion for violence and reflecting racial stereotypes, instilling self-hate, creating confusion rather than offering clarity: to sum up, it was demoralizing. It took years for commercial films to help condition society on how it should respond to reality. In the later films that strove for a reality, the element of redemption disappeared, and as a consequence the need for a moral position was no longer relevant. There was no longer a crossroads for us to face and to offer meaning to our transgressions. The bad guy didn't have to atone for his sins. He could go on enjoying life victimizing innocent people. In essence this cinema is anti-life; it constantly focuses on the worst of human behavior to provide suspense and drama, to entertain. The concerns are generally about a young white male and the rest of society is anathema. Any other art form celebrates life, the beautiful, the ideal, and has a progressive effect -- except American cinema. The situation is such that one is always asked to compromise one's integrity, and if the socially oriented film is finally made, its showing will generally be limited and the very ones that it is made for and about will probably never see it. To make film-making viable you need the support of the community; you have to become a part of its agenda, an aspect of its survival.

A major concern of story-telling should be restoring values, reversing the erosion of all those things that made a better life. One has to be prepared to dig down in the trenches and wage a long battle. The problem is that we are a moral people, and the issue need not be resolved by a pushing and shoving match or taken in blind faith, but should be continuously presented in some aspect of a story, as for example in the negro folklore which was an important cultural necessity that not only provided humor but was a source of symbolic knowledge that allowed one to comprehend life. The issue is not necessarily to lead one to become a saint or a to make the world a paradise but simply to remind us that our acts not only weigh on our souls, but also that by putting them in a narrative we make them human. A good summation on this theme would be in Men in Dark Times by Hannah Arendt, who in her chapter on Lessing states that 'however much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellow...We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it and in the course of speaking of it, we learn to be human.' Solidarity and humanity occupy the same space. And nowhere is a common bond more necessary than in the inner city. It seems that the object of all films should be to generate a gense of fraternity, a community; however, for an independent film-maker that is the same as swimming against a raging current.

One of the features of my community is that it does not have a center, does not have an elder statesman, and more important, does not have roots; in essence it is just a wall with graffiti on it. Life is going to work, coming home, making sure every entrance is firmly locked to keep the thugs out, thinking on how to move up in the world or being a member of a street gang standing at neighborhood corners, thinking about nothing and going nowhere. In both cases what is missing is not only the spiritual but mother wit. Even though there is a church on every other corner, it only holds services once a week and it is not a dominant part of the life of the community. It is like a ship that has lost its rudder. It seems that those of us who observe tradition and have a sense of continuity can at least see the horizon. External forces more than internal forces have made the black community what it is today. There has always been the attempt to destroy our consciousness of who we were, to deny the past, and to destroy the family structure; and, since for us each day has not a yesterday or a tomorrow, to make the use of experience a lost art.

Those who live a healthy existence, meaning those who live on the other side of the tracks, gain knowledge through learning, and those who live on my side of the tracks learned about the world through conditioning based on pain and pleasure, and what has developed as a consequence is that man is wolf to man and every night is a full moon. We have always lived in a hostile environment, but not one where parent and offspring turn guns on each other. The inner city is characterized by people with irrational behavior. The perception is that people are dangerous. Everyone is paranoid and rightfully so. It isn't the schizophrenia that is disturbing. It is that multiple personality type, people with two people inside them and more. You can witness them changing character in a breath. How do you place a chair for someone who can't sit still? In trying to find the cure, what person do you address? It is not a matter of informing someone of the truth, the facts, reality; it is only when he finds that he can't live with himself, when he has stopped deluding himself. The way back is redemption.

If film is to aid in this process of redemption, how does it work its magic? It seems that old question of why are we here, and not getting a satisfactory answer, makes man's fate intolerable. I think that it is the little personal things that begin to give a hint of the larger picture. The story has the effect of allowing us to comprehend things we cannot see, namely feeelings and relationships. It may not give you answers but it will allow you to appreciate life and maybe that is the issue, the abiility to find life wonderful and mysterious. If the story is such, film can be a form of experience, and what is essential is to understand that one has to work on how to be good, compassionate. One has to approach it like a job. Until there is a sharing of experiences, every man is an island and the inner city will always be a wasteland.

                                                           Charles Burnett

--text from QUESTIONS OF THIRD CINEMA, ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willeman, 1990, BFI
--image of Dolores Farley and Andy Burnett from SEVERAL FRIENDS (Charles Burnett, 1969).

May 27, 2008

The girl with the red-gold hair...
***3 IMAGES***


May 1, 2008

Song of Two Humans, BUT...!

Straub sings a little Schoenberg 
while leaving the frame:

Erwartet die Form/ nicht vor dem Gedanken! Sondern...

Huillet: ...ABER !

...Aber gleichzeitig wird sie da sein!

Don't expect the form before the idea however...

Huillet: ...BUT !

...BUT together they will make their appearance!

N'attendez pas la forme avant la pensée (l'idée).....

(Où gît votre sourire enfoui, Pedro Costa, Theirry Lounas - 2001)



In 1972, Straub and Huillet make "a little Schoenberg"
Einleitung zu Arnold Schoenbergs "Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene"
Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's "Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene":

Günter Peter Straschek reads from one of Schoenberg's letters to Kandinsky, 1923:
(...)...Don't you know that in peace-time everyone was horrified at a railway accident with four dead, and that during the war one could hear talk of 100,000 dead without even trying to imagine the misery, the pain, the fear and the consequences. Yes, that there were people who rejoiced over the most possible dead enemies; the more, the more so! I am no pacifist; to be against war is as pointless as to be against death. Both are inevitable, depend only in the slightest degree upon us.

The same way the inversion now taking place in the social structure isn't on the guilt account of any individual. It is written in the stars and takes place with necessity. The bourgeoisie was already too orientated towards ideals, no longer capable of fighting, and therefore the miserable but robust elements are rising out of the depths of mankind to generate a new middle class, capable of existing. This one will buy itself a book on bad paper and starve. So and not otherwise must it come - can one overlook this?

And this you want to stop. For this you want to make the Jews answerable? I don't understand it! Are all Jews Communists? You know as well as I that this is not the case.

The Jews do business as merchants. But when they become uncomfortable to competition, they are attacked; only not as merchants, but as Jews. As what should they defend themselves? But I am convinced that they do defend themselves only as merchants, and the defence as Jews is only an apparent one. I.e. that their Aryan attackers when attacked defend themselves in the same way, even though with a few other words and by employing other (more congenial???) forms of hypocrisy; and that for the Jews the point is not at all to beat Christian competition, but all competition! and that for the Aryans in the same way it also hat to do with all competition; and that every connection which leads to the goal is thinkable between them, and every other antithesis. Today it is race; another time I don't know what. And there a Kandinsky joins in?

But where should anti-semitism lead, if not to violent deeds? Is it hard to imagine this?

For you it is perhaps enough to deprive the Jews of their rights. Then Einstein, Mahler, I and many others will have been eliminated. But one thing is for certain: those much tougher elements thanks to whose capacity for resistance the Jewry has for twenty centuries maintained itself without protection against the whole of mankind - those you will not be able to exterminate. For they are obviously so organised that they can accomplish the task that their God has assigned to them: to maintain themselves in exile, unalloyed and unbroken, ......until the hour of redemption comes!

Huillet: But, asks Brecht, how will someone now say the truth about fascism, which he is against, if he will say nothing about capitalism, which brings it to the fore? How then should his truth turn out to be practicable?

Peter Nestler reading a Brecht text from 1935:

Those who are against fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes from barbarism, are the same as people who eat their part of the calf, but say the calf should not be slaughtered. They want to eat the calf, but not to see the blood. They are not against the ownership relations which generate barbarism, only against barbarism. They raise their voice against barbarism, and they do this in countries in which the same ownership relations rule, but where the butchers still wash their hands before they serve up the meat. Loud accusations against barbaric measures may work for a short time, so long as the listeners believe that in their countries such measures would not come into question. Certain countries are still in a position to keep up their property relations with less actively violent means than others. To them democracy still renders the services for which others must resort to violence - namely, the guarantee of property in the means of production. Monopoly over factories, mines, lands, creates everywhere barbaric conditions; yet these are less visible. Barbarism becomes visible as soon as monopoly can still be protected only through open violence.

F. Engels (Letter to Karl Kautsky)

Mahmud Hussein (Luttes sociales en Egypte)

Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna

Bia and Kratos

BIA: If you had known humans, you’d understand. They’re poor worms, but everything with them is unexpected and a discovery. One can know the beast, one can know the god, but no one, not even we, knows the depth of their hearts. There are even, among them, some who pit themselves against destiny. Only by living with them and for them does one savor the taste of the world.KRATOS: Or of women? Pandora’s daughters? Those beasts?
BIA: Women or beasts, it’s the same. What do you think you’re saying? They’re the richest fruit of mortal life.KRATOS: But does Zeus accost them as beast or as god?BIA: Silly, he accosts them as human. That’s the point.



"The most interesting thing about me is my date of birth; 1 May 1936. After the second diploma I went once to the Sorbonne and ran out again after a half hour,in hatred and terror. Then I prepared for the I.D.H.E.C. -- and met Straub in the process. I wanted to make documentaries -- ethnographic films. Also: I didn't like blond people with light skin at all; when I was small, I found nothing more beautiful than the girls at school in Paris (where I came only at age 13 -- before, I was in the country), who were dark.....But Straub simply was blond with very light skin, unfortunately! I had learned English and Spanish and then had to learn first German and finally Italian...quite dialectical."

-Danièle Huillet-


Operai, contadini (Workers, Peasants - 2001)

Trop tôt, trop tard (Too Early, Too Late - 1982)

Europa 2005 - 27 Octobre (2006)

Quei loro incontri (2006)
Dalla nube alla resistenza (1979)

Straub on 
Einleitung.../Introduction to Schoenberg's..., 
 from ENTHUSIASM no. 1, 1975:

(...) Then I got a letter from Hilmar Schatz (of West German TV) who wrote, 'Would you be prepared to illustrate optically this music of Schoenberg?' I listened to the music which I did not know and I answered: 'I see nothing, therefore I connot illustrate anything optically at all.' And then I thought about it and said, 'Maybe I can come up with something'. It started to interest me. Then I found the two letters by Schoenberg, and so it assembled itself. I hadn't shown Schatz a script. I said, 'I'll start with some letters', which he knew - 'Ah, yes, very nice, letters' - 'and then I have a few lines of Brecht', I did not say which of course, 'and then newsreel material'. Again I didn't say which. Because then we thought to turn the thing upside down by a bit of artificial dialectics, meaning, not to show American barbarism, which is now in the film, but the three Israeli/Arab wars. We saw some more material. Slowly we arrived at the conviction that it would be better to return to the source of imperialism, that is, to the Americans, who in fact feed the state of Israel. Then I delivered the film to Schatz the day it was to be broadcast. There was a slight difficulty with the station, but it was too late. We said, we keep the rights to ourselves, together with the negative, and here the answer to your question, and we insisted that our film was shown third (in the omnibus TV series of musical shorts), not at the beginning, and not in the middle, because I knew exactly that the whole thing was going to be completely a-political and it would be better to have it at the end especially in an a-political frame.

(...) and I would like to say that Schatz was very correct and very friendly.

(...) The Brecht text was brought to my attention by Nestler, years ago. Therefore I wanted him to read it. I didn't discover this text. He did. As far as Straschek is concerned I wanted an Austrian accent. I wanted a young man so as not to give the impression, 'That is Schoenberg, resurrected, reading'. And I wanted one who right from the beginning did not agree with it. Straschek didn't want to do it at all.

Andi Engel: Yes?

Straub: Of course he thought the letters beautiful but it went againt his convictions, what is said there.


Huillet and Straub in 
conversation with F. Albera,
from Hors Champ No. 7 
(trans. JP Bedoyan and G.W. Antheil), 2001:

Huillet: You can let things mature, however. You were talking about circumstances earleir. When you're obsessed with massacres and peasant wars as we were and still are, when you finally make Too Early, Too Lateit's precisely because all of this resurfaces in a acertain way once it's found the appropriate form.

Straub: This is the form we chanced upon through a triple encounter: a first trip to Egypt for Moses und Aron, followed by a second trip, and then the return to Italy and the discovery of a book written by two people who had spent a year in one of Nasser's concentration camps...

Huillet: Plus the cahiers de doleance from which Engels takes his figures. All of this, the French part of the film, ends with the inscription "Peasants will rise," partly masked by a pole. When the film was completed in 1981, they told us peasant revolts were all but impossible. Now you can see what's happening.

It's the opposite of a film that would be following the fads...

-Thanks to Klaus Volkmer ( please see his 1st of May post here ) for the translations, Moses und Aron, aber alles...

-Thanks to Tag Gallagher for his work on the Quei loro incontri translations