Wednesday, January 31, 2007

all words are flesh

Some notes on Der Rosenkönig (The Rose King, Werner Schroeter, 1986) :

If there is a central image in the film, it has to be Magdalena Montezuma's pale hands, which could qualify as a discrete entity, a complete body in itself (she died two weeks after shooting for the film completed and the film is dedicated to her). Outside of this, things fall into various categories, sheets or fragments that exist only to merge into each other by the morbid, sexualised final moments.

In its operatic, high-camp poise and often-sublime fragmentation of narrative, Der Rosenkönig is reminiscent mostly of Carmelo Bene's work (as opposed to Syberberg, whom Schroeter is often compared to) - a contemporary of Schroeter in the sixties when they both started making highly idiosyncratic films. It seems to me that Schroeter is a creator of isolated images that slowly come to be suspended in viscous, passionate music. Words and music exist only to elevate and agitate. The movements of the performers are exaggerated (and Montezuma, Schroeter's muse, understands this more than anyone else here), yet still sensual.

There are around five or six languages spoken or heard through music in the film, and to some extent, an immediate incomprehensibility is encouraged (Schroeter apparently refused to include subtitles when the film was released). These 'texts' - in the form of the monologue, opera, poetry, prayer, and song - hover over the film as we observe the performers' movements in asynchrony with the music (as in his debut feature, Eika Katappa, but not as extreme), as we are consistently denied passage into their subconscious. But what we are given is more than sufficient! Of all the symbolist systems freely floating within this film, those to do with light and colour surpass everything else.

Reds and black dominate and meet in the final scenes. Fire and water are omnipresent, comforting.

(Some of the most memorable scenes of the film are on YouTube: 1, 2, and the 'spoiler'-rich 3.)


Borges and I
It's the other one, it's Borges, that things happen to. I stroll about Buenos Aires and stop, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance or an iron gate. News of Borges reaches me through the mail and I see his name on an academic ballot or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee, and Stevenson's prose. The other one shares these preferences with me, but in a vain way that converts them into the attributes of an actor. It would be too much to say that our relations are hostile; I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges may contrive his literature and that literature justifies my existence. I do not mind confessing that he has managed to write some worthwhile pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because the good part no longer belongs to anyone, not even to the other one, but rather to the Spanish language, or to tradition. Otherwise, I am destined to be lost, definitively, and only a few instants of me will be able to survive in the other one. Little by little I am yielding him everything, although I am well aware of his perverse habit of falsifying and exaggerating. Spinoza held that all things long to preserve their own nature: the rock wants to be rock forever and the tiger, a tiger. But I must live on in Borges, not in myself - if indeed I am anyone - though I recognize myself less in his books than in many others, or than in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and I passed from lower-middle-class myths to playing games with time and infinity, but those games are Borges' now, and I will have to conceive something else. Thus my life is running away, and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to the other one.

I do not know which one of us two is writing this page.

- Jorge Luis Borges, Dreamtigers (1964); translation by Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland.

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Above: Jean-Louis Trintignant as Jean Robin/Boris Varissa in Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Man Who Lies (1968).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ixe (Lionel Soukaz, 1980)

Ixe by Lionel Soukaz, both an autobiographical essay and a political leaflet, utterly violent, constitutes a radical off-screen variation of Etant Donnés' films. And yet, in the pursuit of ecstasy though drugs, the film calls upon the same solutions: ecstasy as the connection with the cosmic (the cosmic as an imagery: galaxies and planets "re-filmed" on television) , slow motion (of sound, this time, establishing two different speeds of consciousness), ecstasy as a seriality and the camera-eye. Here, ecstasy is no plenitude, but some substraction, that gets renewed strength from its own pursuit as a political resistance to the horror of the world.
- Xavier Baert

A rather Godard-ian experiment in that its pursuit of truth and freedom emerges from the arrangement, the violent assemblage of images, as ideas and emotions bleed into each other. The image's material nature is preserved, and a certain metaphoric sense develops from the juxtapositions (the "third image"), while the whole thing is loosely held together by the electro-pop soundtrack and the mad laughter. A constant high is evoked in the latter half of the film in the form of drug-induced hallucinations and passionate sex, before the world explodes. This is a shocking map of a mind trapped in a specific time, witnessing History from inside his flat, on a television screen. I hope I can write something more coherent on this fascinating film in the future.

shot / reverse shot

René Magritte, La reproduction interdite (1937, Oil on canvas)
But also:
Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait (1434)
Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas (1656)
Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

365 brief glimpses

This great new Jonas Mekas project has begun:
A web project of 365 short films will be launched beginning January 1, 2007. Mekas will release the films, one for each day of the year, through Inspired by a poet writing a poem each day of the year for his lover, he will create a similarly poetic statement through these deeply personal films, reflecting on his life and sentiments of both past and present. Working from his vast video archive of footage, these films aim to “celebrate the small forms of cinema, the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs.”
I missed the videos from the first five days because I completely forgot about this, despite having bookmarked his site ever since this project was announced. The video for the day is free to download for around a day (although, as I type this, you can download the clips for Day 6 and Day 7 for free), so I'll be making it a habit to go there everyday. And if these two videos that I've seen so far are anything to go by, then we're in for a special treat. Every day!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

the long voyage home

I've been carrying images from Straub/Huillet's Quei loro incontri (These Encounters of Theirs, 2006) - some of the their final images - in my head since I saw an excellent dub of the Rai-Tre broadcast of the film last month. That broadcast was unsubtitled so I acquainted myself with Cesare Pavese's text, Dialogues With Leucò, the last five conversations of which the film adapts without much alteration (from what I can tell anyway).

Straub-Huillet have, of course, returned to the same Pavese text after 27 years: the first part of Dalla nube alla resistenza (From the Cloud to the Resistance, 1979) contains six of these brief dialogues between Greek mythological heroes and gods. Quei loro incontri is, at once, one of their most beautiful, most sensual films. We see carefully placed bodies, each with its own prescribed movements and in harmony with nature (the movement of the sun is reflected in their faces), set within the lush green of trees, the brown of the earth, and the blue of the sky. We hear a spectrum of voices - each with its own acoustic parameters of timbre and intonation - rising and falling in volume, as if competing with (/resisting) the ever-present, en concert, sounds of wind on trees and birds in the sky. Voices that announce living beings.

Deleuze: "The act of speech or music is a resistance: it must be economical and sparse, infinitely patient, in order to impose itself on what resists it, but extremely violent in order to be itself a resistance, an act of resistance. ... It is therefore now the visual image, the stratigraphic landscape, which in turn resists the speech-act and opposes it with a silent piling-up. Even letters, books and documents, that which the speech-act has torn itself from, have passed into the landscape, with the monuments, the ossuaries, the lapidary inscriptions. The word resistance has a lot of meaning with the Straubs, and it is now the earth, the tree and the rock which resist the speech act..." (Cinema 2: The Time-Image, pp. 254-255)

Like Dalla nube..., Quei loro incontri exists simultaneously in the past and the present - I think this is made relatively more explicit in the second part of Dalla nube when The Bastard returns to his village after the war and narrates his childhood memories to Nuto. In the latter film (as in many of their works), it is the earth itself which represents the mortal beings' past history of colossal struggle and death (while the horizon is something that is desired, a pursued idea of peace). The text is driven by a very pure form of class relations (between gods and mortals) and Straub and Huillet find striking ways to incorporate this divide into their images, such as in the third act - the only act in the film which features a conversation between a mortal (Hesiod) and a goddess (Mnemosyne) - when the positioning of the actors is in accordance with hierarchy (recalling the first segment from Dalla nube, with Ixion and The Cloud). Even the landscape immediately around them parallels this divide.

The film's soundscape (which is the natural sound of the world we occupy, in this case around the edges of/deep within a forest) is pure Renoir in its three-dimensionality and varies in intensity with every cut that moves closer to the actor. Daisuke Akasaka, in his recent write-up on the film, even notices a difference in the sound of the wind according to the direction it's blowing, an occurrence that is perhaps a little clearer on the big screen. Something about the perpetual wind in the trees brings to mind Sternberg's Saga of Anatahan. To say nothing of how these characters remind one of Ford's many literary and/or mythical figures in a landscape, or how the emotional complexity of the architecture of the landscape before the camera recalls Cézanne's paintings, and the final image of the film - a Final Image in so many ways - is Straub/Huillet's Mont Sainte-Victoire, their pursued horizon.

Flesh + a letter

Arnold Schoenberg, Flesh (ca. 1909), Oil on cardboard.

Schoenberg to Wassily Kandinsky, 4 May 1923:
Have you also forgotten how much disaster can be evoked by a particular mode of feeling? Don't you know that in peace-time everyone was horrified by a railway-accident in which four people were killed, and that during the war one could hear people talking about 100,000 dead without even trying to picture the misery, the pain, the fear, and the consequences? Yes, and that there were people who were delighted to read about as many enemy dead as possible; the more, the more so! I am no pacifist; being against war is as pointless as being against death. Both are inevitable, both depend only to the very slightest degree on ourselves, and are among the human race's methods of regeneration that have been invented not by us, but by higher powers. In the same way the shift in the social structure that is now going on isn't to be lodged to the guilty account of any individual. It is written in the stars and is an inevitable process. The middle classes were all too intent on ideals, no longer capable of fighting for anything, and that is why the wretched but robust elements are rising up out of the abysses of humanity in order to generate another sort of middle class, fit to exist. It's one that will buy a beautiful book printed on bad paper, and starve. This is the way it must be, and not otherwise...
[excerpt from the Schoenberg-Kandinsky correspondences, which appear in Jean-Marie Straub's and Danièle Huillet's Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s "Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene" (1973)].

new layout

For a long time now the old black background was making me gasp for breath. Hopefully this new layout looks good on most settings (let me know if something looks wrong). I'll probably do a bit more tweaking here and there... The skeletal archives have been moved to the footer for the time being.

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