Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sesame Street in Guantanamo Bay

Al Jazeera reports that the songs of award-winning Sesame Street composer Christopher Cerf have been used to torture detainees in Guantanamo.

I guess it goes to show how meaning and affect are contextual, and songs that are unequivocally joyful and redeeming in one context, can be weaponized and effectively torture in another (hooded prisoners, tied up, wearing headphones blaring the same songs for hours or days on end).

In other words, we artists are in the same boat as scientists and technologists: once we release our creations into the world, we can't control the ways they're used by others – nor, ultimately, the meaning that other people will find & make once our creations are out of our hands.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Darren Aronofsky

How did documentary films end up influencing your fictional features?

I first started studying film when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, with Ross McElwee and Alfred Guzzetti, and they are the guys who pioneered first-person documentary — probably what’s now turned into the entertainment that Michael Moore has turned into mainstream cinema. But it started off there, with “Sherman’s March” and other things. And the program that I was in was very documentary-based. My approach to “Pi,” my first film, came out of our first assignment: we took a 400-foot roll of Tri-X black-and-white film and had to make a portrait of one person. So I tried to turn that into a narrative film.

Do you still see the lessons of that education resonating in the kinds of movies you make now?

Definitely. If you look at “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan,” I took these movie stars and stuck them into real worlds and tried to surround them with people from those real worlds. “Black Swan’s” maybe more stylized [laughs]. Reality television is an extension of documentary as well, and that’s taken over TV. From “Cops” to “Storage Wars,” it’s basically that. It’s hard to make narrative that rings really truthful. And now dramatic, independent films are really disappearing and dying, and most narrative films are these real high-end fantasy superhero films that don’t exist. There’s something amazing about seeing real people in real, dramatic situations. And that can be “I Used to Be Fat,” [laughs] which is a great, great, great show.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


What it must feel like to be a 16mm camera on mushrooms.

sound is sync, sound is direct, just not from our dimension... like an audiovisual translation of the sensual experience from a deaf and dumb person: frightening and urgent, though always sensually incomplete - we never get a complete or clear image. ... or a document from one of the parallel worlds that overlaps with ours in the spiral of time: the sounds and images are incidental with ours; tangential; but they lead off into incomprehensible dimensions.

Leonard Retel Helmrich

“His camera glides through spaces in a way that just seems impossible,” said the documentarian Robb Moss, a film lecturer at Harvard. “Sometimes you stop looking at the movie and look at the shot. But I think it’s delightful. It may be distracting, but I’m all for it.”

To Mr. Helmrich, whose trilogy will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art beginning Thursday (with a Sept. 28 showing of “Position Among the Stars” on HBO2), his innovations — like the SteadyWing, a camera mount with handlebars, and the placing of a camera on a bamboo pole (to get that trestle scene) — arise out of a philosophy that he calls single-shot cinema.

“It happened when I stopped thinking in shots, and started thinking in camera movement,” the Dutch-born director said via Skype from a film festival in South Korea. “I don’t want to make the camera movements in anticipation of the editing. I want to make the editing in celebration of the camera movements. I want to have complete freedom in how I move the camera. When you start thinking that way, you come up with shots that are never done before. And shots that can only be done with equipment that doesn’t yet exist.”

Like a tripod made from floor dusters. Or a bamboo “crane” with which he shoots the painters on the roof of a mosque. Both of those were devised on the fly when he found himself in unusual shooting situations. “He has this remarkable ability to see the world with a camera,” said Mr. Moss, who asked Mr. Helmrich to shoot “Nuclear Underground,” a coming documentary, “and then to build this equipment out of basic household items and make shots you’ve never seen before.”

re: "the different ways people inhabit, and work with the tv that's meaningful for them"

Diane Winston: "Part of why tv has become even more powerful as a place for working out social and cultural issues is that we are no longer isolated intelligences watching in our own homes. I'm struck by the number of blogs [or twitters] that work on issues around Dexter, around zombies or vampires, asking 'what does it mean to be human,' 'what is morality,' 'how does justice figure into love' 'how do i know what is spiritual,' 'can people change?' "

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gallery - London Festival of Photography

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three Womens' Stories: An Interview with Michael Glawogger on Notebook | MUBI

DANIEL KASMAN: Did you always conceive this film in a three part structure?

MICHAEL GLAWOGGER: No.  Like all of my films, I only know after the first filming.  Once you have something you get a feeling for the whole project.  Before that you want to look, you collect, you conceive things—but you don't know.  I wrote a book this thick [indicates a big, fat book] for financing with many, many places I researched.  There was Naples in it, there was Vienna, there was Nepal, and later on I went to Africa.  But after the first sequence you know more what you're looking for.  I knew when I filmed Bangladesh that I had done something was a manifesto, it was substantial, and I knew I couldn't break it down to 20 minutes, so I knew the film had to be something different.  And the whole religion thing started to come up also in the research.  So then I thought it should be like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, it should be like an alter; the only difference then was to have three different cultures, three different religions.  And then I knew what I was looking for; I knew I wanted a left side, a beginning that is more lightweight, that is more glamorous, with Buddhism in a more easy-going surrounding, and I knew I wanted to end on something heavy, deep and Catholic.

...KASMAN: And what were the reactions of the Bangladeshi and Mexican audiences?

GLAWOGGER: In Bangladesh it was quite ethnographic in a way...almost two years had passed since the filming and they didn't realized the authenticity of image of themselves.  One mother would see herself on the TV screen and she was a little, almost..."what is this?...What this woman here says is absolutely true and the whole world should hear it!"  And then she'd reflect for a second and then realize "Oh, that's me!"  It was very interesting in that sense, obviously while we filmed she was not aware of the outcome of what the project would be, but at the same time she was proud of what she said.  In Mexico, also like in the movie, they are the most reflexive people, philosophical people.  They would really watch the whole movie, they think Thailand is hell, they say "we pray we get to live in Mexico because we would never want to sit behind glass and not be able to communicate with our customers.  How would we be able to know if we liked or disliked them?" They were very aggressive about Bangladesh, saying "what is this bullshit with the children there?" And all this without understanding the language because I only had English subtitles and they don't all speak English. Vana, the one who was so explicit about the rimming and the ice cubes and everything, she said "yeah it's great what I say there, but are my tits ok?  I was a little ashamed but I think they're ok for my age, don't you think?"  It was so human, it was very nice in that human sense, and we discussed the film for a long time. They really loved the music, the Mexican girls said "oh this song, I don't know her but she has a great voice, she's shouting out and we love that."

...KASMAN: What was it like interacting with the clients?

GLAWOGGER: Mainly, I wouldn't have thought it would have come up that much because I thought getting them to talk would be very difficult, but it came up by itself.  Because I was going again and again and leaving the place and coming back trying to convince the girls, the regular customers came up to me and asked what the fuck I was doing.  So I explained the movie and they cursed at me say "oh you journalists, you pissers, you always give us the red card and say we are the horrible guys and criminals and blah blah blah, are you one of them?"  I said "come on, my film is a stage for these things, if you feel about prostitution and you have the balls and the guts to speak up, be my guest, I'm here."  The moment that started I couldn't free myself from them!  If they did not have a family or a job to lose they would all want to speak up.  Sometimes they are stupid little kids, but I couldn't hate them, when I was nineteen I probably behaved like that too, in a way they were fun.

...KASMAN: I can imagine the entire pre-production of the film was fraught with negotiations.  How difficult was it to shoot these private-public interactions, business being carried on, with a crew, you, cameraman, sound guy, how'd they let you do this?

GLAWOGGER: [laughing] I don't know!  I think they got so tired, they just said "just do it, get the fuck outta here!"  No, I mean, in a way it's easy too; as you can imagine most of these places are controlled by some kind of mafia.  These are people, you can say they are criminals, on the other hand they are pretty straight-forward in their deals.  The Mexican mafia demanded that they wanted to watch my films, so I came there with DVDs and they watched the movies, and they said "You did this in the film?  What does it mean when you do this?" The funny thing about Mexico was that they said I could do anything but not to do drugs or sex in the film [the Mexican section in the final film includes both].

KASMAN: I take it you didn't show that part of the film to them.

GLAWOGGER: Oh yeah I did! They didn't care anymore, it was a straight deal, they wanted some money for it, they got it, and they stick to their thing.

...KASMAN: That's fascinating to me, because I would assume that due to the secrecy and shame involved in filming prostitutes and their stories, this subject would be one of the most difficult things to comprehensively film.

GLAWOGGER: It is difficult, but there's one thing I hate which is filmmakers who brag about the difficulty of their shooting, I really hate that with all my senses, so I'm not going to do it!

KASMAN: But between Workingman's Death and this, they're films that with almost every scene as an audience member you are aware of how the filmmaker had to get into the position to film what's on camera.  We're conscious of that very difficulty.

GLAWOGGER: Otherwise I wouldn't stand with a short lens so close to them!  I mean look at this American film that I think even got an Oscar, called Born into Brothels, which actually bullshits you because it beats around the bush all the time and the director sent children in to take pictures where she should actually film, so she's never there where the film has to be, but everyone thinks this is a charming idea when it's chicken shit, you know

Darren Aronofsky’s Anti-Meth Ads and the re-release of Shirley Clarke's The Connection

Darren Aronofsky’s Anti-Meth Ads Are Horrifying (Video) | Death and Taxes

These anti-meth ads are tremendous, disturbing. I'm (still) thinking a lot about portraiture, and about how gazing directly into the camera (and thus into viewers' faces) can draw us (viewers) into an empathic relation with the subject / character. That makes for a neat strategy when the character then reveals him/herself to be utterly mad because of his/her meth addiction.

Curiously, these anti-drug ads echo Shirley Clarke's approach to filming The Connection (1962), wherein the characters look straight into the camera and deliver monologues straight to the viewers. The Connection was made about the life of heroin addicts, and the actors were all addicts playing characters much like themselves.

A restored copy is presently visiting cinemas, in anticipation of Ms. Clarke's much-deserved and too-long-awaited revival (a DVD boxed set is forthcoming!).

Amos Vogel: Life as a Subversive Art | Idiom

Amos Vogel: Life as a Subversive Art | Idiom:

..."Vogel’s underlying vision [as a programmer]: to challenge an audience’s understanding of film, and thereby produce a new appreciation and heightened social consciousness. For Vogel, film programming could be used as a vehicle for education, in the broadest, most liberal way, and thus serve as an edifying bulwark against the pernicious, pandering childishness of Hollywood (early on, Cinema 16 was marketed as “a film society for the adult moviegoer”). In order to do so, however, Vogel stressed that the figure of the programmer must stand his ground against potential resistance. A truly productive experience of film-going, Vogel contends, must be dialectical, its revelations and joys produced through symbolic conflict and challenges to normalcy.

...In ‘Thirteen Confusions,’ Vogel argued that the New American Cinema had its own shortcomings:

The American film avant-garde suffers today, for the first time in its history, from an ominous new ailment: over-attention without understanding, over-acceptance without discrimination. Crime of crimes, it has become fashionable. Its gurus and artists are in danger of becoming the avant-garde establishment; its growing fame hides only imperfectly an inner weakness…To begin the process of an informed critique of the American avant-garde (and more specifically, the ideology and style of the New American Cinema tendency within it), is an act of the highest and most necessary loyalty to the movement. The time has come to rescue it from the blind rejection of commercial reviewers and the blind acceptance of its own apostles, both posing as critics and neither subjecting it to dispassionate, informed analysis.

...In Film as a Subversive Art, Vogel argues that the unique properties of cinematic exhibition allow film to function as a potential force for heightened political consciousness. “Subversion in cinema starts when the theatre darkens and the screen lights up,” Vogel writes. “For the cinema is a place of magic where psychological and environmental factors combine to create an openness to wonder and suggestion, and unlocking of the unconscious.”

Friday, April 27, 2012

Carlos Reygadas - Cinema Scope

Carlos Reygadas - Cinema Scope

By Raya Martin
There is much to be said about Carlos Reygadas—the way he shoots his lifeless sex scenes as class discourse, or the way he embraces his characters as milieus, and vice versa—but his greatest weapon is not his ability to achieve technical prowess with a relatively limited budget, nor his tributes to a transcendental cinema. His real weapon is ambition. Crowded by the Mexican triumvirate of Cuarón, Iñarritu, and del Toro, Reygadas prefers to make cinema as the commodified discourse it could be. Stories are being sold, and images are being peddled, and the result is a politically hedonistic mirroring of Mexican history.

Revolución (2010), an omnibus film by ten Mexican filmmakers commemorating the bicentenary of the Mexican Revolution, presents Reygadas’ best work to date. Este es mi reino (This Is My Kingdom) takes place in a simple setting—a Mexican country fiesta—where the guests exteriorize the whole class spectrum of his country. The rich warm up to their landed history before moving on to a framed painting of a map, on which kids tack up their achievements of subjugation. The middle class curse the land they step on, concerned with their own landscape of knowing and being known. They have to dress well for the game of survival; trends are lifted up to the television gods. There is also the search for drugs, and the fascistic/fashionistic fascination with their existence, only because we are never satisfied with the reality we are dealing with at any moment. And the working class? A minefield of descriptions, from embarrassed to embarrassment. There is the continuing detachment from technology (or is that just old age?). The revolutions in their heads and hearts that only the cameraman knows and can be asked about. These distances are all covered and continuously covering—much like in Japón (2002)—because seats have been assigned, then unassigned, for the portraiture ride.

Yet Reygadas, who appears in the background of the party’s opening, is unconcerned with the camera’s presence. He doesn’t really worry about staging the whole thing, here or in any of his films. He is concerned with our own biases, and how they become manifest in celluloid or video. We are reminded that the filmmaker as an artist is really only here to do one thing: ensure that the paying audience gets to see onscreen what they encounter as soon as they leave the cinema.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Controversial French Ad Campaign for Photographers’ Rights