images of the year
Since I haven't yet seen most of the key films of 2006, I won't do a traditional 'top ten of the year'. This being a film-centric blog, however, I wanted to end the year with a set of film mentions - a personal greatest hits of 2006 - composed of excavated 'older' films, immortal images, if only for the sake of some clarity before the start of a new year, along with an expression of fondness for these films, which were seen in a variety of formats during the year - from theatrical screenings to DVDs to DVD-Rs to VHSs, etc. I didn't include videos streamed online from sites like YouTube, Ubuweb, or Directors' Lounge TV, although I should mention that there have been some wonderful additions during the year to all three (such as the Toshio Matsumoto short films added a few weeks ago at Ubuweb, or the original conceptual art videos of David Anthony Sant at YouTube, or the films of André Werner at DLTV). And I haven't been keeping a film log this year, so I hope I'm not forgetting something major...
Favourite film seen for the first time this year: Philippe Garrel's L'Enfant secret (1982), experienced not projected as has been a dream of mine for some time, but on the DVD release by a Japanese label, Uplink DVD Collection. This film marks the beginning of his narrative period and remains, from what I've seen of his works, his most stunning achievement to date: an extemporaneous convergence of fragmented autobiographical content and the (early) Garrelian experimental form, of seeming studies of portraiture and painfully intimate fiction that moves as if dictated by a pulse ("a camera in place of the heart"). By describing the film's characters (ex-Bressonian models, Anne Wiazemsky and Henri de Maublanc) as 'silent cinema phantoms' is not to deny them of their corporeality or their psychological force - which is on display here, perhaps more than anywhere else in Garrel's oeuvre - but to draw attention to Garrel's eternal engagement with the birth of cinema, the discovery of movements, the dawning of new eras. Also worthy of mention: his Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights... (1985), a 'meta' companion piece that anticipates the sublime incompleteness of Sauvage Innocence (2001).
Philippe Grandrieux has been a major discovery this year, a figure whose films I still find myself processing - La Vie nouvelle (2002) is surely one of the great films of the past few years, but Sombre (1998) is perhaps the more daring investigation of the plasticity of images, a descendent of L'Enfant secret in this respect, but instead of an exploration of the rhythm of sounds and expressions, we have an exploration of the rhythmic use of light and its absence, and its violence upon the body. The local Maurice Pialat retrospective which I attended in July brought forth films which specifically stressed the performative elements in the cinematographic 'window to the world'; films as agitated, wounded bodies. My favourite remains La Gueule ouverte (The Mouth Agape, 1974), an overwhelming cinematic measurement of death ('time exists to kill'), followed by Le Garçu (1995) and À nos amours (1983).
Île de beauté (Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Ange Leccia, 1996): this hypnotic masterpiece is composed of a few wordless scenes of landscapes that seem to have been caught from a moving car, a boat, and a train, while pop songs and recordings of TV images form the flesh, the text. The spectator gets comfortably lost within the filmic space, and shares the loneliness in the unseen traveller's gaze (there is probably a story there, just beyond our reach). Its closest cinematic cousin is Bill Viola's video Hatsu-Yume (1981), which also offers the immobile spectator a long (and in its case, mystical) voyage to Japan associated with a mysterious and complex perspective. Hopefully more on their films in 2007 once I check out the precious MK2 release of 11 of their short films.
William A. Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954): a white canvas with bodies and landscape painted in broad strokes; of all things, its restrained use of colour (along with the image of Robert Mitchum by a dying fire in a frozen cave) haunts me. The frequently comic and astonishing, Talking To Strangers (Rob Tregenza, 1988), is also one of the most unique American films of its time: it's composed of nine ten-minute plan-séquences that follow a young, struggling artist and his encounters with an assortment of characters. The camera is in constant motion within the film's limited space, and as the film progresses, it becomes an exploration of the tension between the fictive process and reality within the frame that is beyond Tregenza's control. Godard himself puts it well: " fiction, the slut, trips up reality as soon as reality wants to possess her". Tregenza was one of the cinematographers for Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies, and has made three other features following Talking to Strangers, which I look forward to seeing some day.
Others - ritualistic movements within (pseudo-)erotic performances: La Marge (Walerian Borowczyk, 1976), Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (Borowczyk, 1981), Score (Radley Metzger, 1973), The Story of Joanna (Gerard Damiano, 1975), Angel Mine (David Blyth, 1978); resisting, Land: Red Psalm (Miklós Jancsó, 1972), From the Cloud to the Resistance (Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, 1979), Subarnarekha (Ritwik Ghatak, 1965), 79 Primaveras (Santiago Álvarez, 1969), Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969); chased by/chasing memories in the night: Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948), Night of the Hunted (Jean Rollin, 1980); registering haunted spaces: In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, 2000), Méditerranée (Jean-Daniel Pollet, Volker Schlöndorff, 1963), Tren de Sombras (José Luis Guerín, 1997); boredom, consumptive inertia, madness: N-Zone (Arthur Lipsett, 1970), Last Chance For A Slow Dance (Jon Jost, 1977), Acéphale (Patrick Deval, 1969); new frontiers: The Land Beyond the Sunset (Dorothy G. Shore, 1912), India (Roberto Rossellini, 1959), Unstabile Materie (Jürgen Reble, 1995), On Top of the Whale (Raul Ruiz, 1982), The Last of England (Derek Jarman, 1987), X (Roger Corman, 1963).