Friday, April 20, 2007

How Are You Doing Tonight

Jonas Mekas sings with the Himalayas at Zebulon, Brooklyn, in his video for Day 39 (February 8, 2007) of his 365 Films project. I hope folks have been following this series - so far we've got all sorts of interesting clips, new and old, captured by Mekas' ever-alive camera and often coloured by his trademark poetic optimism: from encounters with Susan Sontag, Béla Tarr, Peter Kubelka, Yoko Ono, Ken Jacobs, Harmony Korine, Zoë Lund, Kenneth Anger, et al, to live performances by Nina Hagen, Ornette Coleman, Tony Conrad, and Madonna, to poetry recitals, Andy Warhol anecdotes, and great jokes involving a priest and a leprechaun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Carlo Carrà, The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (1911, Oil on canvas)

Image from Ma 6-T va crack-er (Jean-François Richet, 1997)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pierre Clémenti (2)

Staying with French 'underground' cinema: Five of the rarest and most personal films directed by Pierre Clémenti through the sixties and seventies have recently surfaced on DVD with English subtitles - an event that should not go uncelebrated. The two discs contain five radical works of concrete poetry that range from his first experiences with a Beaulieu 16mm camera to his years-in-the-making feature-length fiction, In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal. Clémenti eventually completed Blue Rascal after serving a 14-month jail term in 1977-78, and continued to perform in films and theatre until his death in 1999 at age 57. These films, a cascade of impressionistic, psychedelic images interlaced with diaristic narration and rock-and-roll, coalesced over years of filming within the Parisian underground art scene, with actors, musicians, friends, lovers serving as subjects, performers, technicians. In my attempt to describe these films, I can't do any better than quoting the one and only Nicole Brenez, whose following paragraph from her essay on the films of Peter Whitehead also largely applies to those of Clémenti's:
From plastic abstraction to documentary reportage, from psychic investigation to political pamphleteering, from the autobiographical essay to a demonstration of the powers of montage, from graphic and textural work to militant revindication – Whitehead's work accomplishes an exceptional synthesis, open to every different dimension of avant-garde cinema, tending towards perceptual explosion and euphoric fusion with phenomena.
All the films included on the discs are special in one way or another: New Old (1979) is a poetic journey through Clémenti's career - visible as an actor, invisible as a filmmaker - and chaotic stray images (some of which would later come to be part of Blue Rascal) shot from the very beginning, exist as multiple superimpositions that form Clémenti's fragmented and intensely personal ruminations on media, art, politics, relationships (Warhol Superstar, Viva features prominently), memory and rock-n-roll. The Revolution Is Only the Beginning, Let's Continue Fighting (1968): "Half family photo album, half ciné-tract, the film was shot in Paris during the events of May '68 and in Rome where the actor was featuring in the film Partner* by Bertolucci." Rediscovered in a basement in 1999, this silent film appears to be one of Clémenti's most purely beautiful and concentrated works, at times recalling Brakhage and Eisenstein. À l'ombre de la canaille bleue / In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal (1978-85), the only purely fictional film here, deserves its own separate post after subsequent viewings. Strangely, it reminded me of Ossang's Treasure of the Bitch Islands, with its absurdist humour and voiceover narration, perpetual wanderings in the night, its pre-industrial rock soundtrack. This also features one of the coolest end titles ever, a true testament to artistic fraternity and homage to Clémenti's frequent collaborators: Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Valerie Lagrange, Margareth Clémenti, Yves Beneyton, and many others. Le Soleil (1988) is Clémenti's favourite among his own works. I understand it forms a cinematic complement to his autobiographical final play, Chronique d'une mort retardée / Chronicles of a Delayed Death, a search for beauty and meaning in his life in the form of lengthy monologues, again, to the accompaniment of a wealth of images, trembling, superimposed with each other and with the author's thought processes. Clémenti at his most vulnerable and Rimbaud-esque (refer to Jeunesse from Illuminations).

And, most astonishing of all, Visa de Censure and Carte de voeux, both of which form Certificate No. X (1967-75), a shadow of a precursor to the films of Étant-Donnés. In these hardcore masterpieces, the screen attains the status of a giant perforation through which naked ritualism and elemental textures must dance: it's like witnessing the birth of Ecstasy! The film's rapturous use of colour brings to mind Kenneth Anger's Invocation of My Demon Brother. It is this violent, hypnotic, defining presence of colour that is the film's driving energy, propelling bodies, texts, abstract figures, light, into each other, into new rhythmic forms. Clémenti: "The youth of this film (1967) was the emotions, the events, the reflections, the course of time... For the assembly, a selection of scenes over several years, like old wine, fragmented of new inventions, discoveries, new rates/rhythms gave to this first film all innocence and the joy of rediscovering intact the mystery of the cinematograph."

* According to Philippe Azoury, Garrel admires Bertolucci's Marx-/Freud-/Godard-inspired Partner and, of course, Clementi himself [the latter appeared in many of Garrel's experimental films (Le Lit de la vierge, La Cicatrice intérieure, Berceau de cristal)], and made his own masterpiece on the events of May '68 two years ago, Regular Lovers.

the faces of Pierre Clémenti

He always seemed to pick the right filmmakers to work with, appearing in films by Garrel, Rivette, Pasolini, Rocha, Jancso, Makavejev, Buñuel, Monteiro, Bertolucci, Visconti, and others. His performances were always memorable, at times unforgettable - an uneasy fusion of devilish charm and angelic beauty (in the same year he appeared as Jesus in Garrel's La Lit de la vierge, he had a very special appearance as the Devil in Buñuel's The Milky Way).

See also: José Neves aka 'Murnau'.

Free Thai Cinema!

The film “Sang Satawat” (“Syndromes and a Century”), recently submitted to the Censorship Board, was not approved for release in Thailand unless cuts are made. The Board would permit the release on the condition that four cuts were excised. As a result, director Apichatpong Weerasethakul decided to cancel commercial release of the film in Thailand and stood firm that these cuts not be made. He has issued a statement:

“I, a filmmaker, treat my works as my own sons or my daughters. When I conceived them, they have their own lives to live. I don't mind if people are fond of them, or despise them, as long as I created them with my best intentions and efforts. If these offspring of mine cannot live in their own country for whatever reasons, let them be free. Since there are other places that warmly welcome them as who they are, there is no reason to mutilate them from the fear of the system, or from greed. Otherwise there is no reason for one to continue making art.”
If you haven't already signed the petition that demands that changes be made to archaic legislations that mutilate films as this, you can do so here.

(P.S. - A new post should be up soon. Hold on!)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

a just image / just an image

"I beg your pardon for disturbing you during your class struggle. I know it is very important. But which way to the political film?"

- woman to Glauber Rocha in Vent d'est (Wind From the East, Godard, 1970)

"... a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another..."

Mao Tse-Tung, as quoted in War in the Shadows: The Classic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Persia to the Present, Robert B. Asprey, p. 247

"In Vent d'Est (however, this) habitual passivity is challenged from the outset, as Godard gives us an opening shot that arouses our curiosity (a young man and woman are seen lying motionless on the ground, their arms bound together by a heavy chain) but systematically thwarts our expectations by simply holding the shot for nearly eight minutes without any action and without dialogue. In fact, when the voice-over 'commentary' finally breaks in (on the 'forest murmurs' we have been hearing), what we get is not dialogue but a critique of dialogue.

"Ostensibly talking about strike tactics in some labour dispute, the speaker states at one point that what is needed is dialogue, but that dialogue is usually handed over to a 'qualified representative' who translates the demands of the workers into the language of the bosses, and in doing so betrays the people he supposedly represents.... in a strange and insightful way, this discussion of the failure of dialogue in the hands of a 'qualified representative' also refers to the failure of dialogue within the 'bourgeois concept of representation' in the cinema."

- James Roy MacBean, Vent d’Est or Godard and Rocha at the Crossroads, 1971

"Godard, like Eisenstein before him, is more concerned with 'image-building' as a kind of pictography, in which images are liberated from their role as elements of representation and given a semantic function within a genuine iconic code, something like the baroque code of emblems. The sequences in which the image of Stalin is discussed are not simply - or even principally - about Stalin's politics, as much as they are about the problem of finding an image to siginify 'repression'. In fact, the whole project of writing in images must involve a high degree of foregrounding, because the construction of an adequate code can only take place if it is glossed and commented upon in the process of construction. Otherwise, it would remain a purely private language."

- Peter Wollen, Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d'est, 1972

"Sound (she)/Image (he) or, more precisely: Voice (She)/Eye (He). By talking too much about "images and sounds" in the abstract, we failed to notice that there was always and above all a body invoked. The Godardian body is what receives, what lodges the eye; it is the image. The image is the domain of the man (even when - Numéro Deux - nothing remains of it but fetal blackness), it is what he is answerable for. He is answerable for it as a filmmaker (the overwhelming majority of filmmakers are men), therefore as a voyeur. Cinema, voyeurism matters of the scopic drive, the erectile eye, the business of men until now. But he only answers for it because someone talks to him about it. Someone: a voice, a voiceover, always the voice of a woman.

"The voice of the woman as oral penis. It articulates the law, but a law made to order; what subjects the images, these images, his images. In the second part of Wind From the East it is the voice of a woman which makes him draw the lesson: "What to do? You've made a film. You've criticized it. You've made mistakes. You know more now, perhaps, about the production of sounds and images, etc." The same apparatus in Ici et Ailleurs, where it is again the voice of a woman that translates, unfolds, restores these images, already seen, too quickly run ("run out the ass," as they say). Even the theater of Tout Va Bien is one where the same division of roles is at work. She (Jane Fonda) works for the radio (the voice: political commentary). He (Yves Montand) works in film (the image: commercials). And this voice speaks only about the meaning of events ('68), about History, about the meaning of History. And this image is one of prostituted bodies prancing for the greater glory of Dim stockings and the shameful pleasure of the man who films them. It's by the voice that History descends on these images as what guts them, marks them, subjects them to its law. By the voice of a woman."

- Serge Daney, The T(h)errorized (Godardian Pedagogy), 1976 (trans. Bill Krohn and Charles Cameron Ball).

I hope to return to some of these quotes in the future in some form.

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