Monday, December 29, 2008

OUTSIDE IN TOKYO / Pedro Costa “Colossal Youth” Interview

OUTSIDE IN TOKYO / Pedro Costa “Colossal Youth” Interview

In Vanda's Room was a project that was almost done alone. The shooting, the production and sometimes I had a friend helping me with the sound. Sometimes I had a friend helping me with small things which we call production, which just involves a car. And with this one, we actually got a little more money, here and there, in Switzerland and Germany. So before we started Colossal Youth, we had this small budget and were allowed to have a small crew. We were four, so I managed to put one year, with almost 2 years of shooting with four guys and plus, we could pay the actors for all the shooting, and that changed a lot because it creates a normal film crew schedule and routine, so we tried to keep a very disciplined schedule, from Monday to Saturday. And Sunday we didn't shoot. This went on for a year and a half, so it's very different. But I wanted to try and see if we could do it. Because when you do a film, it's generally five, six or seven weeks at the most. We had the ambition to do it for a year and a half, and that changes a lot of things and we were not in the same state of mind. You don't see the end so near. What you talk about, what you live during this long period is not the same as when you're doing a shoot in five weeks. In five weeks, you talk about everything except the film. You talk about girls, cars and money (laugh) like in every shooting and you just hope it's over soon. When you spend a year and half with the film, you are just there and life is much more together. You have lots of other things. You have people who are born, people who die (laugh) and seasons change. So the film becomes, really, almost organic. You don't really think about the film. Or you think about the film and life at the same time. So it's good. It's because it brings down the importance of cinema (suspiciously). The balance is more correct, I think. In what you live, that a film should not be the main thing in your life. Perhaps it's one of the things. It's your work. It's like the guy in the office, or the guy who makes food, or the guy who makes shoes. They do it everyday, from 9-7. It should be the same thing. Photography too. This idea that you're making film, that you?fre making art, is a special moment or aspect, or a thing for the special kind of people, was never for me. It's like the idea of trying to make it all your life, because I like it, it's what I chose, and make it day to day, everyday. Just very simple, very simple, but very tough and very boring sometimes. (laugh) Sometimes it takes a lot of work. Taking a photograph can be very boring and making a film is not always wonderful. If you think there's always a wonderful moment and you meet beautiful people, no it's not. It's not! (laugh) It could be tough, a tough job. But, it's also a privilege to do it, because, it's something that I chose. I wanted to do it, and I can do it well. And with this small budget crew and in this place where people are very generous. We can do it on a very daily basis. We're not doing art. Even if the actor, the film you see is something mystic or beautiful or good.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pedro Costa: "I Have to Risk Each Shot" | GreenCine

Pedro Costa: "I Have to Risk Each Shot" | GreenCine

I did film school and just after that I had four or five years of [working] as an assistant to the producer/director. I did a lot of things from just getting sandwiches for the actors to picking [them] up [and driving them to location]. Those five years just before this film, that was the period where I saw a lot of things that I didn't like. I chose film or cinema; but then I had this experience of the hard reality of making films. What I saw was very bad. I did a lot of films - maybe 20 or 30 - as an assistant and each one of them were mirrors of the worst parts of society, from power relations to all the worst part of our organization as human beings. I was a bit afraid that this work could become the rest of my life because I saw a lot of directors collapsing, failing, afraid, usually in very bad situation[s]. It was all about money or about lacking time. As I was assistant director, my job was to say, "Calm down. Everything's all right"; but I saw that everything was collapsing. That's what an assistant director does more or less, is to calm down the paralytics. It's a phony job actually, at least in Europe.

Then I had this moment in my film where I tried to avoid a lot of things. I think we succeeded. We had a very good crew. We did this film in five weeks. It was very quick and hectic with a lot of lighting. We had no time to rehearse with the young boys. There were a lot of locations. Because I was a little bit experienced with this kind of organization, we managed through it, but it was more a sensing or feeling [of] what the secret of making a good film could be - not the film itself - but the way you make it; the way you live it. It took me many films and many experiences to get to that point, to get things more or less right, as I feel I have now. Now, the film and the way we live the film during the making has begun to balance. I feel I have achieved a certain balance between being behind and in front of the camera. Here [in O Sangue], though there were not a lot of production problems, there is still a lot of me in front of the camera. The balance is not right, correct. It's more [that] everything was a means to an end.

...There's not that much money that comes in and less and less every year. You can feel it. Also, there are less possibilities of showing my films. But they're dangerous in the sense that I have to risk each shot of my film. There's a French writer, Céline, who I like a lot. He wrote Journey to the End of the Night, a classic novel. He used to frequently say that the writer should "put his skin on the table"; that was his expression. I feel the same way. If you don't risk yourself and the people with whom you're working in almost every shot you make, it's not good, it's useless, it's just another film. For me, this danger takes a lot of forms. I'm shooting with video, which - perhaps - some people think is easier and has more freedom, is cheaper. It is cheaper - you can do it yourself - but at the same time, if you want to do something ambitious, it's difficult for this small-medium machine to accommodate so much ambition. Can it produce a bigger form? A bigger picture? Sometimes, I think, not always. It's a very limited machine, a limited medium, and you can easily make false moves.

It's risky to try to use video as I'm trying to use it, almost like a 35mm camera. It's no different for me. I used to work with a crew and big cameras. I have the feeling it was safer for me when I had this crew, these assistants, this large machinery. It was protection. I was surrounded by people that were there for me, sometimes a bit naïvely, sometimes very sincerely, but that's a kind of work that no longer interests me. I don't know. There's a danger to the kind of engagement video affords, letting yourself be in reality, aware of certain aspects of reality. When I did films in 35mm with a crew, every day the thing that I wanted to shoot, to film, was happening either to the left or the right or behind the set-up - it could be some bit of the actors; it could be just a bit of light on leaves; it could be something happening just to the side - and with a big crew and cameras, lights and everything, you never had time to turn the camera and just shoot this small spot of sunlight on a rock. You never have the time. If you do that, it will kill your production schedule. So you never do it. The producers don't allow it. The machinery does not allow it. It's too complicated.

Again, this freedom or lightness in the way I work now doesn't mean that it's completely improvisational or that it's a vacation with a video camera. Not at all. I try to impose, almost, the same discipline and the same consciousness as working with a 35mm camera; but I feel that everything is really more risky. Technically, because we have to be as good as with a 35mm camera, which is nearly impossible. I'm adjusting my camera to conditions and always trying not to make false moves because video is not good for certain things.

One of the things I especially respect about your work is that you grant agency to your audiences. You're not just spoon-feeding us. The films pull us into their gravitational orbit and require an accommodating physicality, an attention, exploration, engagement, endurance.

It's not only me or the style or the way the film is structured; it's more the rhythm of the people inside the films. They also put themselves in danger because they are naked. These are naked people; they have been all their lives really, not only sentimentally, but socially, economically. They have little and they're giving a lot in the films. Giving a lot almost like actors though, for me, better than actors. They're more sincere. They want to share, they're trying to express some things, and - in that sense - they also are very much in danger. They reveal a lot. I think they expect that the viewers and the audiences can be as naked or as responsible or as conscious. Responsible is a good word because it's about memory, it's about rhythms, it's about different timelines and timeframes, all these people, and you have to accept that or walk out.

Can you talk a bit about your compositional eye?



No. To be very frank, people are always comparing and referring to filmmakers of the past. I forget to mention that there is a tradition that moves me a lot. Here, in France, in Portugal, in Spain, there were people all over the world at the beginning of the 20th century who were photographers. One of them even called himself a "citizen." They were more or less amateurs - you could say documentary photographers - because photography was so young from the turn of the century until the 30s when it became something else. But photography is still something that touches me and I always forget to say this because it replaces for me a lot of things that I miss in film today and in filmed documentaries. I don't like to talk about framing or the composition because I don't know how to talk about that. I really don't. I know that in Fontainhas it comes from the material space. You have to think about the space.

My friend Jean-Marie Straub says something obvious, "When you see a film by Stroheim, you are afraid for people when they cross the street." It's that material. It's two things. One, he was saying cars are bad. Second, the very powerful effect that just crossing a street at a street corner could really materialize fear on the screen; it's just incredible. Fritz Lang, the way he organizes space - I'm saying Fritz Lang but it could be 30 different filmmakers - all of them, even the not very good ones, are fantastic. Today, you don't see doors or windows. You never see a door. If you see a door, it closes in perfect silence. "Stuck in a perfect silence," that's what Jacques Tati used to say. Now a door closes and it's a different conception of space. I don't know if it's a conception that people accept today. I don't know how to answer your question.

...There was film criticism that I really hate completely, that almost killed people that I like, like Straub, all this semiology, and I hated that and I still do. It's pathetic if you read it today. I think everything communicates. They say nothing communicates. Perhaps people have difficulty communicating but things communicate. They organized space to communicate. That's what was the cause of one of my fascinations.

...The scene in the museum brings a little bit of the art into the film and, of course, says also that we say hello to these artists but without being too reverent. I don't like films that try to be paintings or try to imitate paintings or try to be close to certain paintings, as I don't like films that are too close to films, to cinema. A lot of vanity and fetishism is involved in that and I'm trying to get rid of that. So this museum scene is for me a nice way to come together with people that we liked in the past who did the same work we did. Very tough, very hard. Reubens worked like that with enormous canvases that he spent months and months trying to find something; it was not about some secret or strange mystique; it was just work, and our's too, so we meet and we do this moment where it's not only an homage to Holbeins and all the paintings but it's an homage to Ventura's work also.

Well, there's work and there's work. I've been taught that within indigenous cultures there's a belief that soulfulness is embodied and corporeal and that it comes through the body to register as creative expression. In other words, it comes from within and literally emerges through the whorls of the fingertips into the creative object. Fine craftsmanship is thus recognized as soulful. When I first read about Ventura's visit to the Museum, I considered that he was in essence admiring the soul he put into those walls.

...The best answer for your question is something I shot in my film on Jean-Michel Straub - Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? - the film about the editing. They say something that is not a mystery but that everybody tends to forget a little bit. All the critics and people that write about cinema, they tend to forget what is evidence for me and for Straub. He says it and I could say the same thing: there is not so much psychological investment when we are working. We're not trying to compose a dream or compose with dreams; but of course psychology comes into the film and - for me and for Straub and for a lot of filmmakers, especially the most classical ones, the ones that depend on at least some kind of narrative; it can be modern but they have this minimum narration they have to achieve - psychology comes into the film when you edit the film.

When you edit the film, you are composing, you are analyzing, you are choosing more deeply than when you are shooting. Of course you are choosing certain things when you are shooting a film - you are choosing a space and not another; you are choosing an action and not another; you are choosing a smile against something else - but when you're editing, you're choosing and you're going deeper and that can affect the psychology of a character, of the film. It depends on how you cut your film. It depends on how you put your shots together. It can say things and there it launches a lot of possibilities. That's when a lot of psychology is coming into the work. It's like that; you cannot refuse it. It's like Straub says in the film, you cannot refuse it because - if you cut close to a smile; if you cut close to someone that cries; then you have your next shot and it's larger and the reaction or response of someone to this laughter or this cry - this is psychology. This will tell things in another way, in a psychological way. I cannot refuse it. I'm just saying that when we are shooting, we are trying to concentrate on something that is very dry, actually, very dry. We're trying to get to what's rough. It's not a sketch. We start with the sketch of a thing and then we try to improve and improve and improve, but in movement, in rhythm.

It's more like a musician perhaps than theater work. There is not much psychology; feelings are absent; we tend to expel them to find them again at this editing stage. That's also very fascinating because you can change a lot of things and create a lot of affinities, which are psychological, even more than psychological. Editing is almost a psychoanalytic process, as you can see in the film about the Straubs.

I think the exact term would be "psychoid" rather than psychological, in the sense that you're not trying to create a meaning or generate equations saying this means that or this is the consequence of that. To be in a psychoid state is to say you are seeing with the psyche, imagining with the psyche. The affinities an audience might catch might emanate from a psychoid state and might not be your psychological intentions at all. You may not have put an affinity there; but, a spectator can look at a well-crafted, well-edited image and feel an affinity.

Sure. Then there is the interpretation the audience chooses or makes; but, that's another thing. Yeah, when you are structuring or constructing your film, in the editing especially, you're creating enemies, affinities, certain things begin to become enemies of other things, some things connect very closely, just because you cut one or two or three frames. It's fragile and magical. It's unexplainable. You cut a little bit and images become closer in every sense. You cut large and they clash.

I can't even fathom that work: shaping 340 hours of footage down to three hours. I can't imagine the process or the commitment of time. You took a year to edit Colossal Youth?

Yeah, it takes a long time. But it's great because it forces you to be patient. It's a discipline that, I think, lacks in a lot of cinema today in general. It's a lesson - well, this is very pretentious and reactionary - but, it's a good lesson for young people. I think young people today are used to things that are so easy; the films are so easy to see and easily made. That kind of work is everywhere so they don't imagine hard work. Probably they don't want to do hard work. I tend to say that it's not a mountain of suffering that comes for you; it's just work you should do like everybody else does in all aspects of society, like the simple guy that has a shop and opens the shop at 9 and closes at 6 or 7 every day for years and years. Cinema should be like that and not just special and incredible with funny and strange moments in six weeks of the life of someone. It should be everyday. It should be patient. That's the only way to learn a little bit. You should give film time. You should give cinema more time today. That's what I think it lacks a lot.

When I see a movie, I always see that they had no time to think. It's like Jean Renoir. Renoir said something that is not very true; but he said his American films, the films he made in Hollywood, were all bad because he had no time. He couldn't get used to the four, five, six week production schedule, shooting very fast, so he said his films were not good and that - after the films in Hollywood - he had to go to India to do something where he could really discover and work properly. He did The River.

Speaking of that temporal quality to film, you've used the term "material" to describe your films, and suddenly materiality in film seems better than metaphors in film! Letting something just be what it is and apprehending it that way, appropriately. The Maya of Central America had a concept called the ilbal. An ilbal could be any number of things - a rock crystal, a folded book, an inscribed monument, in your case a cinema lens - basically, an ilbal is a seeing instrument that furthers perception. Your films allow me to see. I don't always understand what it is I'm seeing but, then, I think you like my not always understanding. I think as a filmmaker you want me to question what I'm seeing?

Of course.

And it ramifies. Now, I will accept that your films are not metaphorical and I will accept that they are not necessarily symbolic or even representational, but - because of the temporality and the materiality in your films - I would have to argue that there is a mythic quality to them. Yours are stories that slow down and dilate perception, shifting them into mythic territory. Let me offer two examples from Colossal Youth, which I'd like to run by you to see if I'm projecting or not.

Returning to the doors, I know you have talked about leaving the door closed, that it's a philosophy about access or lack of access, but for me such a philosophy implies a necessary transgression on the part of the audience, in the old style of fairy tales, let's say, where a character is told, "Do not open that door. Do not open that box. Don't do that!" And yet it's absolutely imperative for the character to open that door, open that box, and to do what they're not supposed to in order for the story to move forward and for the wisdom to be gained. Are you doing that?

[Costa smiles ear to ear and chuckles.] Yeah. It's so obvious for the films that I've been making at Fontainhas and Casal Bobol that we are dealing also with space and fear. Everything comes together because it's about space, it's about being in space, creating your own space. It's all about rooms and it comes from a very faraway place also, from childhood, from being a teenager.

For instance, In Vanda's Room is a film that I thought was about all the rooms, all our teenage rooms, where we close doors and decide not to talk or to talk, to play a guitar or read a book or imagine. It's a film about creating your space or how space is created for you to be in. It's about the problem of space today because the space today is paid for and it has to be almost fought for. This space is a way in and out also. Even the light comes in through some holes and so I'm very used to this being my center for making a film. I have to find the center of a room, the center of a neighborhood, so that then I can begin to have an almost 360° view of things. I start opening some doors and closing some other doors, letting some people in or not, and sometimes I decide to close some doors because it's better for the audience perhaps or for the story or for the film. While other doors are just open, mostly windows I think, lots of seen or unseen windows, sources of light, there are spaces. You can see that the light comes in through some indirect window or hole or aperture. That's very interesting for me.

Another mythic element I've foisted on Colossal Youth that I'd like to run by you: in Sumerian-Babylonian mythology the original descent myth is that of the descent of the goddess Inanna. Do you know that story at all?


Innana has a sister named Ereshkigal who is the Queen of the Underworld and, one could say, she doesn't really like her job. She's pretty miserable. It's not so much that Ereshkigal is a bad person; she's just a dark person and it weighs heavily on her. There are many elements in the myth of Inanna but the bit that I'm interested in that I think is relevant to Colossal Youth involves Ereshkigal. She has two attendants. They're like imps or spirits that live in the thresholds of the doors. They're threshold spirits and I see them as the original psychoanalysts, the original therapists, because what they do is they repeat back to Ereshkigal all her complaints. She'll say, "Oh, I have all these aches and pains. My arms hurt" and they'll whisper back, "Oh, your arms hurt." She'll say, "Oh, my back hurts," and they'll whisper back, "Oh, your back hurts." That's all they do. They repeat her complaints and it comforts her. I felt this with Ventura, that he was a liminal spirit moving through all these doors and rooms, listening to everybody, but never offering advice, just listening and sometimes repeating what people have said.

That's nice. I like this comment you're making. It's important because he never really gives advice. He's not a doctor or a psychoanalyst. He's not even a father. It's a bit like myself when I make a film with these people. The thing is I cannot rob them, but at the same time, I cannot give them anything. It's very sad sometimes. It's very ambiguous, but I don't think cinema can give that much to these people, but anyway, cinema is not there to rob them or dispossess them of something.

You've honored them.

I think so. It's done with some dignity. But we're equals. I'm not quite sure who is gaining in a profit sense and neither of us lose also.

Recently, I read Alexander Nemerov's Icons of Grief, which is about the films of Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton. I'm looking forward to seeing Casa de Lava, which I understand is somewhat a remake, or a reworking, more a riff, of I Walked with a Zombie, which is one of my favorite films. Nemerov's thesis - and I can apply it to your films - is that, like John Ford, like yourself, the extra, the character actor, the minor role, the marginalized role, is almost the true story. The lead actors are primarily there to drive the narrative forward, but it's the brief appearance of minor character actors that carry the weight of unspoken grief and tragedy. Nemerov describes them as iconic. Especially in his collaborations with Tourneur, Lewton would film these minor actors standing very still, almost pictorial, invested with presence.

In many of the reviews of Colossal Youth, Ventura is described as iconic and mythic. He embodies, as you are saying, the grief of ages, the ongoing tragedy of a displaced, enslaved people. In Colossal Youth I noticed this iconicity was achieved through your camera placement, which is very low, looking up at him. Was that conscious? Why did you do that?

For me it was more about the daily work. Before starting every day's work, for me it was more about, How can I meet this man? This very big man that I had met and with whom I had talked and who had accepted my proposal to make a film? Then came the moment in the first weeks of the shoot where I had to find how I could be as - the words are not enough - how can I put myself at his height really with my camera? The camera came down and down and down because I could not be at his height. I had to be lower. It was not instinctive, but for the first weeks of shooting, I adopted this height, this position, this respect perhaps - but it came like that and stayed like that. It seemed good for me. It seemed good for him, especially for the image, and it seemed good for him in the space. He was the one who was more or less the designer of the space. He crosses some things that make you aware.

It's my feeling that when you see him at some doors or in some places like the museum, Ventura is a man for a museum also when everyone says no. There are some people that are not for the museum. This is also a metaphor. Of course he fits very well in this Louis XV chair called the "Canopy of Confidence." Ventura is more or less the designer or the architect and it is because he designed the neighborhood. All these men, these pioneers, they made this medina, this place.

So it's because he crosses the shots or he enters and gets out or just being in the shot, being there, made me be at this height of camera position. If there's not a living human being in a shot, the shot does not exist today. It's very strange. Even more with Ventura or with people with this mythical quality, I tend to be respectful. My camera wondered and was a little bit afraid of him. A little bit. It's not fear; it's...


Yes. So that was my feeling every day when I came to the place, when I arrived and saw Ventura, how can I do it again? How can I do it today? How can I go on? Because he seemed much more than what I imagined. And that was good because we both worked with imagination, especially the other's imagination, which is much more rich, confronting this other person and you have to begin the work with him, this challenge between him and you. This is what's going to be the film, the imagination and the void of the film, the ideas. The whole film is about me and him and it's also about space. The way we are everyday. Ventura is a very polite, elegant man that does not seem a man of today, you know? I have the feeling that some people are not of today. It's rare but sometimes you see someone who seems from the past, who has the force of the past, like our grandfathers, and Ventura is this kind of man. It makes you wonder.

... read it!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Archive Fever

“Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art - Art - Review - New York Times

a lovely bit on the work of an exceptional human i had the pleasure to meet once, fazal sheikh.

"And in the show’s most startling example of archival accumulation, the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann has filled a room with the framed front pages of 100 international newspapers — from Paris, Dubai, Sydney, Seoul, New York and elsewhere — printed on Sept. 12, 2001. Questions flood in: Why were certain pictures of the devastated Twin Towers used in certain places? Why does Osama bin Laden’s face appear on some pages and not on others? And how is the story reported in languages we cannot read; Arabic, say, or Persian? And what could readers who didn’t read English know of our reports? To enter this archive is to relive recent history. I was reluctant to go in, but then I couldn’t leave.

Mr. Feldmann’s work, made for this exhibition, is monumental. Fazal Sheikh’s “Victor Weeps: Afghanistan” series (1997) is, in almost every way, not. Each of the four pictures in the show is of a hand holding a passport-size photographic male portrait. Statements by the family members who hold the photos tell us that they are portraits of Afghan mujahedeen fighters who had died or disappeared during battles with occupying Russian forces in the 1980s.

Although the portraits are in each case held loosely, even tenderly, the words they evoke are passionate. These little pictures — routine, unexceptional, of a kind turned out in countless numbers — may be the only visual link between the dead and their survivors. Here the archival is profoundly personal.

But do Mr. Sheikh’s beautiful pictures, or the photographs within them, represent some special, easily approached corner of the great archive that surrounds, shapes and even overwhelms us? Do they convey , for once, some comprehendible truth? No, just the ordinary one: When it comes to full disclosure, art never, ever speaks for itself, as Mr. Enwezor’s eloquent exhibition tells us in many ways."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Joe Sola: Atlanta College of Art Gallery | ArtForum | Find Articles at BNET

Joe Sola: Atlanta College of Art Gallery | ArtForum | Find Articles at BNET

In interacting with these and other icons of hypermasculinity, Sola always marks his own masculinity as different from theirs. In a monitor-based video Riding with Adult Video Performers, 2002, the artist rides a roller coaster with a group of male porn stars, but it is obvious even in this context that he is a breed apart. His physique does not resemble the performers' and his ebullient enjoyment contrasts with their more restrained reactions. For the other monitor-based video in the show, Saint Henry Composition, 2001, Sola allowed himself to be used as a tackling dummy by a high school football team and was inevitably knocked over by the uniformed players. By presenting himself as either more emotionally expressive or physically passive than the more "masculine" men with whom he interacts, Sola becomes their feminized Other.

He takes a more active role in the projected video Studio Visit, 2005, the most engaging work here. This documents a series of visits by art-world professionals, including Artforum contributor Jan Tumlir and LA Louver gallery's Peter Goulds and Chris Pate, to Sola's Los Angeles studio. Each time, after showing his guests around and asking them if they would like to see a new performance, the artist suddenly takes a flying leap out of a closed window, crashing through the (breakaway) glass and leaving those present bemused. Here, Sola emulates that archetypal movie scene in which the desperate protagonist seizes a slim chance to escape a threatening situation. Particularly likable is the moment just before each leap when Sola feigns interest in the conversation while visibly planning his dive to freedom. (Perhaps this video provides the backstory to Yves Klein's Leap Into the Void, 1960. Is it possible that a curator was responsible for driving Klein out the window?)

see also: site and catalog!

girish: Pedro Costa One-Stop

girish: Pedro Costa One-Stop

reblogged from a handy compilation:

I'm in the middle of a Pedro Costa retrospective at Cinematheque Ontario. To make it a little more convenient for people searching for writings on his films on the Internet now and in the future, I thought I'd collect those links here in a one-stop post.

-- The most detailed Costa overview I've seen so far is by James Quandt in the Sept 2006 issue of Artforum. Unfortunately, it's not online but a reduced and revised version serves as the introductory essay for the retrospective.

-- At Rouge: A lengthy, thoughtful, amazing lecture that Costa gave to film students in Japan called "A Closed Door That Leaves Us Guessing"; and an essay on him by the Japanese film critic Shigehiko Hasumi.

-- A collection of Costa posts at Andy Rector's blog, Kinoslang.

-- Tag Gallagher's "Straub Anti-Straub" in the current issue of Senses of Cinema.

-- A collection of writings, many of them on blogs, in no particular order: Mark Peranson's Cannes '06 report in Cinema Scope; Dave McDougall at Chained to the Cinémathèque; Darren Hughes at Long Pauses; Acquarello at Strictly Film School; Michael Sicinski's TIFF '06 report at Greencine; Doug Cummings at Film Journey; Daniel Kasman at d+kaz; Jason Anderson in Toronto's Eye Weekly; Dave Kehr on Casa De Lava; Tom Charity's Vancouver '06 report at Greencine; Ruy Gardnier at A_Film_By; and my own post on Costa from last summer.

-- UPDATE: See Michael Guillen's Pedro Costa Next Stop post from several months later.

-- In addition to these online pieces, let me strongly recommend: Mark Peranson's interview with Costa in the summer '06 issue of Cinema Scope (issue #27); and Thom Andersen's essay in the Mar/Apr '07 issue Film Comment.

A Closed Door That Leaves Us Guessing

A Closed Door That Leaves Us Guessing

This whole essay is brilliant, but I'm just including a little bit (relatively) of it here.

I knew the Japan of films, above all of the three directors most well known in Europe – namely, Mizoguchi, Ozu and Naruse. I knew Japan through them, these who are dead, who are of another time, but I loved it already, at a distance – and that also is very important in the cinema, to love at a distance. There were things in Japan that I'd never seen in the films of Ozu or Mizoguchi or Naruse, and that I continue not to see in Japan. Here, I launch into a rather complicated subject, for there are things that these directors, or the other great directors I don't know, hid from me, aspects of Japan that they didn't show me. Today I'm in Japan and I still don't see them. That is to say, sometimes in the cinema, it's just as important not to see, to hide, as it is to show. The cinema is perhaps more a question of concentrating our gaze, our vision of things. That's what great directors, like these three Japanese, are doing. They are not showing Japan – they're condensing something. Instead of scattering your mind, your heart and your senses, they're concentrating your vision. That's what I'm always saying: the cinema is made for concentrating our vision. To concentrate means also to hide. It's a cliché to say that Japan is like the films of Ozu, and the history of Japan is the same as in the historical films of Mizoguchi. Now I understand and I sense Japan better (it's the same thing: to understand is to feel and to feel is to understand). For example (and you must not laugh now), I have the impression that I don't see pregnant women on the streets in Japan, and I understand that after having seen the films of Ozu. I know what it means not to see a pregnant woman on the streets of Tokyo. In Ozu's films, he gives us cues to understand that it's hidden. That is to say, Ozu prepared me to see this absence of pregnant women. So, sometimes a director who is very much a realist, working almost in a documentary mode like Ozu, sometimes he makes films also to hide something. There's a secret somewhere in his films, and to assert certain things he must hide others. Maybe it's necessary to step a bit outside of Japan, because what I'm about to say could make you uncomfortable, I don't know ... but for me, the true Japanese documentaries are by Ozu. All the people I know in Japan, all my Japanese friends, I knew before, through the films of Ozu. What I've just said, Ozu has written in his journal. He says: ‘I've never made up a character. In my films, I make copies of my friends.’

All of that is to begin to tell you what I think the cinema really does well, what it has as its ultimate function, and in the first place that isn't artistic or aesthetic. For me, the primary function of cinema is to make us feel that something isn't right. There is no difference between documentary and fiction here. The cinema, the first time it was seen and filmed, was for showing something that wasn't right. The first film showed a factory, the people who were leaving the factory. It's similar to photography, which is also something quite close to our world. It's like when we take a photo in order to have proof of something that we see, which is not in our mind, something in front of us, of reality. The first photograph shown to the world in newspapers was of the corpses of the Paris Commune, it showed the bodies of the Communards. (2) So, you begin to see that in the first film ever shown we see people leaving a prison, and the first photo published in a newspaper showed dead people who tried to change the world. When we speak of cinema starting from there – or of photography, documentary, or fiction – we're speaking of its very realist basis. It's sort of a basic historical given that the first film and the first photograph are somewhat terrible things. They're not love stories, they're anxieties. Somebody took a machine in order to reflect, to think and to question. For me, there is in this gesture, this desire – be it the gesture to make a film or a photograph, or today to make a video – there is in this gesture something very strong, something which says to you: ‘Don't forget.’ Of course, the first gesture, the first film, the first photograph, the first love, is always the strongest, always the one that we don't forget.

The problem comes afterwards, because after the first film, after Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895, La Sortie des Usines Lumière) by the Lumières, there is a second film, again workers leaving a factory made by the same Brothers Lumière. It is here that things deteriorate, go awry, become complicated, because the Lumières were not very happy with the appearance of the workers coming out of their factory (it was their own factory), they said to the workers: ‘Try to be a bit more natural.’ They managed the workers. So the first gesture was lost, this first act of love – it's an act of love but also of criticism – is very powerful, like a first gaze is very powerful. So they managed the workers, they said: ‘You, go left, don't go to the right ... you, you can smile a bit, and you too ... you, go with your wife over there ...’ And so there was mise en scène. Thus, fiction was born, because the boss gave orders to an employee, to a worker. It's obvious that the first film script – a script is always a book of law, of rules – the first book of rules for cinema was a production script. In comedy scripts, it was noted how much it costs for an actress to play a young girl, how much it costs for an actor to play a lover, and for an actor to play the father who just hit the head of his son, i.e. that costs such and such amount of money. That was it, the first script.

At the same time, or a bit afterwards, films were also made without scripts, and strangely these films still exist today in the museums of cinema. I'm talking about erotic films. It's as if the first fiction films (as we understand a fiction film) with a script, a love story, and characters which speak, were romantic comedies. We could also say that the first films without a script, thus documentary, are vaguely amateur films, vaguely secret, pornographic. At the beginning of the century, in 1900, there were thus on the one hand, the first directors who wrote fiction and the script was how much things cost, so it was really an economic story, this love story, a romantic comedy, a melodrama. While on the other hand, there were directors who filmed without a script, who also filmed love stories, that is to say, the gestures of love, in an erotic or pornographic film, but without a script. So, there were already people who showed things, fiction, they showed a love story, a girl, a father, a mother, a happy ending, and on the other hand, there were people who also showed things, a gesture of love, somebody fucking somebody else. What's interesting here is that documentary and fiction in the cinema are born at the same time, with the same idea of love. Except that on one side, it started with a sort of economy, which afterwards began to be an industry, and from the industry, a market, and thus a need for people who want to buy a certain product. It became the law of the market. Even if that's just one aspect of cinema at the beginning of Hollywood, it continues even today. On the other side, there were films without a script, without an apparent market, without an industry, amateur films that were made at home, and which were above all also films of love, because they were erotic films, family films, but they continued to be only the gesture to make a film for film's sake. It was thus necessary to have people who could bridge these two things. At the beginning of the century, there were people who succeeded in putting a bit of fiction into documentary and a bit of documentary into fiction, and thus a bit of money into the private sphere, and a bit of the private sphere into money. We could say that the first directors were those who synthesised the documentary and fiction film, that is to say, created a synthesis of the almost private, documentary film, made in its own corner, in a village, at home, and the film made in public where one showed everything. This synthesis between the public and the private happened with Griffith who made a war film that was also a pornographic film, and succeeded in putting sex and terror into the same shot. This happens in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). These films convey a very strong feeling that the passions and terrors of men can make two things: love and war.


Friday, December 19, 2008

International Jean Rouch Symposium

International Jean Rouch Symposium

[Jean Rouch] kept repeating that he was neither an ethnologist nor a film director, but combined both functions. Extraordinarily diverse, surprisingly unusual, the decent man par excellence, crossing through the looking glass, a pale fox straight out of Dogon mythology, the hunted-hunter of an impossible doppelganger that he finally came to face on that last night in Niger, on February 18, 2004, elusive and yet present, yesterday or tomorrow, forever...

Between surrealism and knowledge of Africa, Jean Rouch found the magic lantern of cinema. It reveals the self in the other, and the other in ourselves, between which the anthropologist attempted to initiate dialogue. He wrote that "cinema, the art of the double, is already a transition from the real world to the imaginary world, while ethnography, the science of others' systems of thought, is a permanent crossing from one conceptual universe into another, a form of gymnastics where going out of one's depth is the least of the risks involved."


- Direct cinema and construction of the real: Chronique d'un été
Across all his manners of "acting" as both an ethnologist and director Jean Rouch brings into play a true philosophy of action. This unrepentant trickster, this smiling magician, this intriguing charmer, this dream hunter, this smuggler of genres, never stopped inventing Africa -- has he not invented anthropology as well, in making his films?
One response to this question appears clearly through his collaboration with Edgar Morin for the film Chronique d'un été. Not only is the film a token of the advent of direct cinema in France, it is also a real action film showing real situations and relations b/t characters that are more or less artificially brought together. Rouch and Morin's cleverness lies in allowing the spectator to follow the meanderings of the actors' and directors' involvement with each other, thus offereing a dynamic anthropological study about the formation of a group, the emergence of a society. The director is no longer a demiurge or a learned portrayer of shadows, but a mediator who is implicated in the effects of his work. The meaning of the film belongs to the spectator in the end, and thus renews itself from viewing to viewing.

- A new anthropology, an anthropology of the living
"Rouchian" anthropology teaches us a double lesson: proximity and continuity allow us not only to see, but also to explore the meaning of difference, to exchange points of view, and as such to possibly change and most of all decenter the analysis. Shared anthropology puts into perspective the anthroplogist whose method is included in the questioning. The interviewer and his subject are both incorporated in a situation that eludes them as they define it.
From his very first films, Rouch presented his images to the people that they were showing. ...
Anthropological investigation becomes a concrete situation: it is the meeting of people who openly question their belonging, their desires, their pleasures and their obligations. The description that is the foundation of anthropology is thus narration, avoiding the risks of hasty explanations that Marcel Mauss proscribed by enjoining anthropologists to first observe without drawing any conclusions. The Rouchian lesson follows in the same direction as that of Dziga Vertov, the "armed gaze", that of the director and to an even greater extent, that of the ethnologist: it is important to overcome the prior organization of seeing which leads only to cursory examination, if not reducing it to a mere resemblance of itself.
Rouch suggests increasing the number of observation paths and locations. He directs his anthropological questioning toward putting the approach itself into perspective. Perceptive attention must rediscover its capacity for surprise, astonishment, and thus intimate questioning, which questions itself before questioning the legitimacy the other.
On the paths covered by Jean Rouch, the urgent lesson that he leaves behind is to always find new paths to endlessly question accepted truths and "continue the fight!" In Jean Rouch et Germaine Dieterlen "l'Avenir du Souvenir," a film directed by Philippe Constantini, Jean Rouch bids an emotional farewell to a young Dogon and says to him: "I am going to tell you a beautiful French phrase: what is the future of memory?"
Constantly renewing our questions, intriguing our imaginations, escaping our rules and our classifications, impertinent, always ahead of us despite all the delays, Jean Rouch is simply present!

Nina Davenport: "I've Never Encountered Anyone Quite Like Him Before" | GreenCine

Nina Davenport: "I've Never Encountered Anyone Quite Like Him Before" | GreenCine

Whatever the merits of the American documentaries about the Iraq War made so far, all of them are clearly made by filmmakers convinced they're on the side of the angels. Not so for Nina Davenport's Operation Filmmaker, the first American film whose director implicates herself in the condescension and cultural misunderstandings of the occupation. Her soul searching, spurred by a complex relationship with her subject, gives liberal guilt a good name.

The film's also compellingly structured, as it depicts Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed using an internship on the Prague shoot of Liev Schreiber's Everything Is Illuminated as a chance to navigate his way out of Iraq permanently. Muthana's life goes through twists and turns that would please the most hardened screenwriter, but Davenport follows his story while highlighting her own increasing role, including lending him money at desperate times, in it.

Was it hard to make a documentary about someone you obviously dislike?

I did like him at the beginning. I wanted the best for him and to steer him in the right direction. It was a very long, slow and painful process of disillusionment, which I think the film captures.

How does Operation Filmmaker connect with your other films, particularly Parallel Lines, which is about 9/11?

I think the connection is that they all have some sort of personal element. To a greater or lesser extent, I become a character within the films. I wasn't planning on doing that with Operation Filmmaker, but I got sucked in and realized, partly because of my previous experience, that it would be a lot more interesting if I became a part of it. Another filmmaker would never even have considered that, and it would have been a completely different film.

In Mexico, Beyond Gay and Straight - The New York Times > Week in Review > Slide Show > Slide 5 of 15

In Mexico, Beyond Gay and Straight - The New York Times > Week in Review > Slide Show > Slide 5 of 15

Alex with her mother, Rosa Taledo Vicente, and her father, Victor Martinez Jimenez. Mr. Martinez is a construction worker who speaks Zapotec but little Spanish. He and Alex have a loving relationship, and when asked about having a muxe son he replies: “It was God who sent him and why would I reject him? He helps his mother very much. Why would I get mad? God sent him for both of us. Why would I get mad?”

erratum -

erratum -

Henri Chopin, explorer of the body’s voices.
For the last forty years, with his sound poetry revue OU (1964-1974), then through his participation in various international sound poetry festivals, through his personal experience in the experimental studios of radio stations in Köln, Paris, Australia, Canada or Sweden and in his concert/performances throughout Europe, Henri Chopin has consistently and unceasingly opened the ways to unexplored spaces beyond all known languages. Thanks to the systematic use of microphones, amplifiers, tape recorders, editing and mixing consoles, he has given a voice to realms beyond modern or experimental music, beyond any note system and headed for spaces without norms, categories, definitions or limits: spaces of permanent metamorphosis. But despite misleading appearances, Henri Chopin is not merely doing a new kind of music; he is not just a consequence of Pierre Schaeffer’s concrete music principles and Pierre Henry’s experiments in the fifties. Henri Chopin is an individual (in Stirner’s sense: the ego and its own) who has always resisted absurd attempts to reduce him to part of a movement, a school, an academism; what one perceives are Henry Chopin’s bio-psychical vibrations, that he himself constructed by electronically recording, then modifying, amplifying and transforming the energies of his own body. This language is beyond institutionalised language or indeed beyond any language, it precedes all idioms (sound signs, playful energy signs like those of whales and dolphins), it is a breath language, a soul language (the language of anima), the unfettered respiration of the cosmic energies we are, who belong neither to factions nor clans. The energy of live beings, whose individuality is irreducible, and impossible to break down. Solitary and strange cosmic creatures, mysterious yet showing solidarity, resonating with all those who dared breach shackles and rules, escape vile obedience, submission and compromise, reject complacency and blind allegiance to traditional or experimental academism. With Henri Chopin let go and bid farewell to all that: here’s a plunge into the unknown, an exploration of the inside of voice, of the other side of voice, a sort of submarine navigation, of potholing into the unmapped tunnels and grottoes of the glottis, oesophagus, stomach and lungs, the places where pneuma (breath) is formed. Henri Chopin uses electronic devices to explore the pneumatic body relentlessly, but never gives way to the temptation of artificially fiddling with noises. He remains a-live, energetic vibration of the pulsating, cosmic soul.

Tate Britain | Turner Prize History | Artists: Steve McQueen

Tate Britain | Turner Prize History | Artists: Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen
Shortlisted: 1999

The use of extreme and unexpected camera angles has become a trademark of Steve McQueen's films. 'The idea of putting the camera in an unfamiliar position is simply to do with film language . Cinema is a narrative form and by putting the camera at a different angle . we are questioning that narrative as well as the way we are looking at things. It is also a very physical thing. It makes you aware of your own presence.'

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Susan Meiselas with Phong Bui - The Brooklyn Rail

Susan Meiselas with Phong Bui - The Brooklyn Rail:

"Consequently, my concern is not the concern of the concerned, but just to not pull back from that act. I think part of the impact of postmodernist inquiry or criticism, in some ways, inhibited that action. And that’s very costly. I want to put things into question but not paralyze people in that process. For example, what happened in Nicaragua, I wanted to register the voices of the subjects that are embedded, I hope, as objects in my photographs. By knowing and recognizing its limits, the voice of the protagonist within the picture, challenges the image as a fixed moment in time, all of which constitute another way to reevaluate, reconsider this act of photography. At the same time, I’m aware of the differences of how memory registers those images, when we saw them, if we did, and later they get transferred to our mind, and remembered when we read a book, differently than seeing them now in an exhibition."

Rail: And it’s a far cry from Carnival Strippers to Nicaragua!

Meiselas: That’s because I had no idea how to work in the field, nor did I have any kind of framework before going to Nicaragua. At least in Carnival Strippers, there was an immediate structure of the girl’s show that was visible to me and I could peel the layers, to go from the front of the fairgrounds, which was a public viewing to the private zone, through the dressing room, to the back of the tent. But when you land in a place you don’t know, and it’s just everyday life, so to find a narrative structure, what you are seeing, what’s happening, how to find the differences between one place and another, how to relate to people, and so on, is nearly impossible. I would say that it wasn’t until the drama of the insurrection took place that I began to see a process unfolding, evolving, whether it was the graffiti on the walls, which was always a signature, indicators, or different kinds of demonstrations that would follow. That was when I really felt this sense of an evolutionary process that drives the Nicaraguan book forward.

Rail: Having watched both films, which came with the two books, it made me realize that your process is equally and integrally invested in both taking the pictures and talking to people. You seem quite natural at it, especially the latter.

Meiselas: Well, I think people always know their own lives better than you can possibly imagine them. One of the things I’m quite pleased about in this exhibit is that we were able to include the open soundtrack...

Rail: You once said, “We take pictures away and we don’t bring them back.” Is that what compelled you to go back [to Nicaragua] in 2004, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution? At which time you took mural-sized prints of some of your memorable images and mounted them in the locations where they had originally been taken. And this was revealed in the film Pictures from a Revolution. What were the reactions among the people, especially those that you talked to?

Meiselas: I had no idea if the pictures would resonate from history in present day memory. The question was and is, “How do young people, who weren’t present at that time, relate to it?” I think this is the essence, to continually question what you do. This, again, goes back to the “Concerned Photographer” that we spoke about earlier. In other words, the “Concerned Photographer” can’t start off with a concern and not continue to be concerned. There you go. It’s sort of the play of language but not really. I think what was unfair and sad about Johnson’s review was his simplistic notion of opportunism. It’s as if when I went to any one of these places I knew what was going to unfold.

...In fact, when I brought the Spanish version of the book, that’s just been reprinted, to Nicaragua, they asked me to bring the murals back to the 30th anniversary, which is in eight months. I don’t know if that’s what I’ll do, but I’ll try and figure out how to respond. In other words, is there a dialogue with the community that can be meaningful? Likewise with Kurdistan. I’ve been really searching for what would make sense there. People are trying to transform their lives. It may not be relevant to look at their past right now because it may not be useful. It wouldn’t make sense to just go and decorate the landscape with my photographs. So I just think of this as an ongoing project of interrogation. Frankly, I don’t know the answers.

Rail: That’s how I feel too. One more question: Why haven’t you been able to spend time in Bosnia and Somalia?

Meiselas: Since everyone else went there I didn’t feel I needed to be there. I stayed in Kurdistan instead. Now with so many people taking photographs, whether it be with cell phones or digital cameras, professional or amateur, the question is what do you do that contributes to the thinking about photography? I think those experiences tend to come from encountering real issues in the field. Not just having ideas, sitting away from the reality.

Rail: How do you mediate between spending a great deal of your time in places subjected to serious turmoil, which is your real passion and work, and New York City, where you live and rest in between?

Meiselas: Well, you know, there was a time I lived in New York and going back and forth to El Salvador I thought it was more dangerous to live in New York than there in El Salvador, which was hard for most people to understand. It’s not only the violence in the literal sense, but it’s the violence of being ruptured with the familiar, going to the unknown, and having to travel places where you have no idea what might evolve. So it’s a psychological violence that you put yourself through, to disrupt yourself, to uproot, throwing yourself into places where you don’t belong and you try and find a reason to be there that makes that act coherent and justified and that’s what I mean. It’s not just about pictures; it’s about the whole role.

Rail: That doesn’t sound that romantic anymore.

Meiselas: I don’t think it’s romantic. But it’s realistic.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Critic's Choice - New DVDs - ‘Douglas Fairbanks - A Modern Musketeer’ - Review -

notes on my most famous (supposed) relative...

Critic's Choice - New DVDs - ‘Douglas Fairbanks - A Modern Musketeer’ - Review -

It’s no coincidence that MoMA chose to begin its version of film history with these two figures: if Griffith was the first modern filmmaker, then Fairbanks was a plausible candidate as the first modern movie star. With his boundless energy and incandescent smile, Fairbanks counts among the earliest major performers to emerge, not from the one- and two-reel films that had been the norm in the nickelodeon days, but from the feature-length film as it began to develop around 1912.
This is the performer whose development is traced in “Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer,” an extraordinary, well-produced set of 10 features and one short film that arrives on Tuesday from Flicker Alley. These aren’t the more familiar costume epics from Fairbanks’s later career — several of which have been issued in fine editions by Kino International — but rather the modern-day comedies that first established his screen personality.
For Fairbanks, a dedicated amateur gymnast, such moments of physical exuberance came naturally. On “His Picture” he was teamed for the first time with the director John Emerson and the screenwriter Anita Loos (the future author of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”), and their collaboration extended through eight more films, three of which are included here: “The Mystery of the Leaping Fish,” a bizarre short with Fairbanks as a drug-addled detective named Coke Ennyday; the western comedy “Wild and Woolly”; and the Ruritanian adventure “Reaching for the Moon.”

Working with Emerson and Loos, Fairbanks (who contributed substantially to his own scripts, often under the pseudonym Elton Thomas) elaborated the character audiences came to call “Doug”: an energetic striver, of middle- or upper-middle-class origins, whose romantic notions and passionate enthusiasms (for the cowboy life in “Wild and Woolly,” or a fantasy of royal origins in “Reaching”) are first presented as comic but ultimately allow him to save the day.
With “Zorro,” Fairbanks inverted his successful formula. No longer was he an ordinary individual who dreamed of being a hero, but a hero (Zorro, the masked scourge of corrupt officials in Colonial California) who disguised himself as an average guy (Don Diego, the foppish son of a landowner). The reversal, of course, only made the fantasy seem more potent: “Zorro” began a line of superheroes with secret identities that remains very much (perhaps too much) with us today.