Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Film-Makers' Cooperative faces eviction

"We don't want rosy films -- we want them the color of blood" it says, on the home page of The Film-Makers' Cooperative, an institution that is now in danger of being evicted from the small place it has in New York. The Coop, as it's known to most of us, is, as Fred Camper puts it, "one of the world's few pillars of genuine film art." Evicting the Coop isn't much different than evicting the Louvre Museum, or the Museum of Modern Art.

You can read Fred's words on the issue here. And here is the New York Times article.

Just reading the history of the Coop, written by Jonas Mekas, is bound to inspire anyone who deeply cares about moving images:
After looking into the existing film distribution organizations, and seeing how few of them were interested in our work, I came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to create our own cooperative film distribution center, run by ourselves. When Cinema 16, at that time the most advanced avant-garde/independent film distribution organization, rejected Stan Brakhage's film Anticipation of the Night—an eye-opener and the beginning of a totally new, subjective cinema—this was the signal that something had to be done. On January 7th, 1962, I invited some 20 avant-garde/independent filmmakers to my Manhattan loft to discuss the creation of our own distribution center.

I worked at the Coop for two years and all that time I considered myself lucky to be a part of history. Inspecting, cleaning, repairing all those masterpieces by Robert Breer, Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage, Larry Jordan, Jonas Mekas, Hollis Frampton, Christopher Maclaine, Sidney Peterson, Michael Snow, Peter Kubelka, Peter Gidal, Joyce Wieland, Harry Smith (What a list, oh God!) and many many others, was a privilege. Again using Fred Camper's words, "the kinds of films the Coop distributes tend to base their art in the particular properties of celluloid, rather than simply as a conveyor of pictures, and thus must be seen on film."

I don't want to imagine a world without the Coop, and I wish good luck to everybody working to save it! And, to anyone who has a chance to work there, I strongly recommend it. Trust me, it will change your life!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Orson Welles' "F for Fake" (1974)

In a post to a_film_by about F for Fake (one of the best films I have ever seen), I wrote:
The film has an unbelievably breathless rhythm, one that constantly forces us to feel on our toes, as if the whole film can change at any moment, as if it can veer off to a completely new direction in terms of colors, or pace, at any point, it is so unpredictable that one has to give himself/herself to the moment as if life depended on it since the next one can be only one of the infinite possibilities available.

...what is real about F for Fake is its intensity, its multiple perspectives shifting like life does constantly, and its sense of harmony that forces the human being to get closer to its full potential, whatever that means.

In the film, Orson Welles quotes (a few times), The Conundrum of the Workshops, a poem by Rudyard Kipling. You can also read it, without interruption, here.

The Conundrum of the Workshops

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

Wherefore he called to his wife and fled to fashion his work anew—
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
And he left his lore to the use of his sons—and that was a glorious gain
When the Devil chuckled: "Is it Art?" in the ear of the branded Cain.

They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,
Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: "It's striking, but is it Art?"
The stone was dropped by the quarry-side, and the idle derrick swung,
While each man talked of the aims of art, and each in an alien tongue.

They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west,
Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest—
Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start,
And the Devil bubbled below the keel: "It's human, but is it Art?"

The tale is old as the Eden Tree—as new as the new-cut tooth—
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art?"

We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,
We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yolk of an addled egg,
We know that the tail must wag the dog, as the horse is drawn by the cart;
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: "It's clever, but is it Art?"

When the flicker of London's sun falls faint on the club-room's green and gold,
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mold—
They scratch with their pens in the mold of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start
When the Devil mutters behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it art?"

Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the four great rivers flow,
And the wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
And if we could come when the sentry slept, and softly scurry through,
By the favor of God we might know as much—as our father Adam knew.

Near the end of F for Fake, Orson Welles says:
“Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. "Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. "Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing." Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Johnnie To's "Breaking News" (2004)

Breaking News is the first Johnnie To film I saw. It's got wonderful rhythm and a very fluid camera. The film somehow grows, in style and meaning, as it progresses.

I think the big mistake people make about Breaking News is that they try to find the content in the whole issue with the media, etc. (and I agree, he doesn't have anything very original to say there) while the true story lies in the characters, their relations, and the very architecture-aware cutting...

In an interview on Breaking News, Johnnie To says:
Hong Kong, with its particularities, is different than all the countries of Southeast Asia. The dissimilarity with Europe is even more striking. You find very interesting aspects to discover in Hong Kong. It's a rich place in terms of paradoxes. Ultra-modern buildings contrast with the very old houses... the too clean, even sterilized, neighborhoods with very dirty corners. Hong Kong is a city of two extremes, interesting to film, like New York. In Hong Kong you find buildings with such narrow corridors that you can't carry furniture. There is nothing like this in France or Europe.

My filmography abounds in action films. My films are about the relations between men, through the conflict between cops and criminals, questions of Life and Death, loyalty, and masculine heroism. I adore that universe.

If you haven't been introduced to Johnnie To before, you can begin by reading this. I hope to see more by him and I'd really appreciate if anybody has any suggestions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Michael Mann's "Miami Vice" (2006)

There is the monologue below off-screen while the volume of the music is turned down, and the two shots above (seemingly irrelated to the action) follow each other:
"It's just there's variables, you know? Randomness, see? That's why."

Read Edo Choi's inspiring post on Miami Vice here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Özgür Özcan's "Bengi Dönüş" (2008)

I like Özgür Özcan's 3 minute 40 seconds work Bengi Dönüş (or Eternal Return, in English) that I saw today in the shorts section of !f Film Festival.

I don't know if it's a correct thing to do to post it but you can see a short part of it here.

I like his play between the material and the immaterial and his sense of rhythm. I don't really know how good Bengi Dönüş is... I would like to see more of Özgür's videos.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bong Joon-ho's "Shaking Tokyo" (2008)

Bong Joon-ho does wonders with lighting yet again... I don't know how he comes up with this very personal way of lighting things, or over-exposing... Hope somebody asks him about this. In Shaking Tokyo, the main character talks about how much he hates sunlight, how he sometimes watches the slight movements of light, etc. drawing closer attention the form on the screen.

Bong Joon-ho's unique lighting presents a new, unique, tender way of seeing the world despite everything that distances us from it. Isn't the story of Shaking Tokyo somehow similar to what I just described?

I have added the film to the Best of 2009.

The images I picked are from the trailer of Tokyo.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Robert Creeley's "Nothing New"

Below is a paragraph from Robert Creeley's Nothing New.
Creeley quotes Olson translating Rimbaud: "Can you afford not to make the magical study which happiness is?"

You can read the full essay here.

"Mine eyes have seen the glory?" Enough to stay open, certainly, but it had little to do with qualified "great moments". Somehow our elegantly secure cat Aphrodite having her kittens just as the first human stepped out on the first moon ever to be walked on is something I'll remember most specifically of that event, like they say. Is it that the so-called "personal" keeps drifting back into "self," wants the home of its own habits, recognizes even in vastness its own familiar hat and coat? I don't really know, and I is fading, intermittent signal, batteries running down. "Oh build your ship of death, for you will need it..." D.H. Lawrence got to me, he made sense, he made clear that feeling, touching, holding, seeing, being with other people in every sense, was the fact of life, what it was, literally. You could think anything you wanted to or could. Still you wouldn't, and couldn't, go far.

There's whole lot more to read from Robert Creeley here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995)

Michael Mann's movies are about the dichotomy lovelife / evildeath. His characters are torn apart between these two extremes. In Heat, every significant character involved in the story (all of them are male) have a relationship that ties them to life. Vincent's wife says: "You don't live with me, you live among the remains of dead people." Nevertheless, Vincent's response to this, later in the film: "All I have... is what I'm going after."

It isn't very surprising that our introduction to Vincent is a sex-scene with his wife. The most evil guy in Heat, Waingro, will have sex with a prostitute... whom he will later kill. The moment Vincent sees the body of the prostitute, almost half-way into the movie, is his most intimate encounter with Evil, poetically... His wife's words, when he's about to leave: "This better be earth-shattering."

Neil does the same monologue twice. Notice the word "heat":

Neil: Do you remember what Jimmy used to say? "You wanna be making moves on the street? Have no attachments. Allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner." Remember that?
Chris: For me the sun rises and sets with her, man.

Vincent: My life's a disaster zone. I got a stepdaughter so fucked up because her real father is this large-type asshole. I got a wife. We're passing each other on the down slope of a marriage, my third. Because I spend all my time chasing guys like you around the block. That's my life.
Neal: A guy told me one time: Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner. If you're on me and you gotta move when I move... How do you expect to keep a marriage?
Vincent: That's an interesting point. What are you? A monk?
Neal: I have a woman.
Vincent: What do you tell her?
Neal: I tell her I'm a salesman.
Vincent: So then if you spot me coming around that corner... You're just gonna walk out on this woman? Not say goodbye?
Neal: That's the discipline.
Vincent: That's pretty vacant, you know?
Neal: It is what it is. It's that, or we both better go do something else pal.
Vincent: I don't know how to do anything else.
Neal: Neither do I.
Vincent: I don't much want to either.
Neal: Neither do I.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

!f Istanbul Film Festival 2009

My suggestions for the !f Istanbul Film Festival:

The full list of things I want to see is here. I'll just mention the two films that are crucial to me:

Stories On Human Rights has shorts by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (the director of Worldy Desires, Syndromes and a Century) and Jia Zhang Ke (the director of Still Life). Two film-makers who have a profound sense of joy, humour, and awareness in their films.

One of the parts in Tokyo! (called Shaking Tokyo) is by Bong Joon-Ho. The use of architecture and light in his The Host was astounding.

I hope to discover other great film-makers in one of the short-film screening...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Jonas Mekas's "Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR" (2009)

This is the first time I'm writing about something I haven't seen but I am very very excited about this. I read that it will be screened in Anthology Film Archives (my favorite place to see film in the world) tonight.

In a post to Frameworks, Elle Burchill wrote that Jonas just finished a 4 hours 49 minutes long video called Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR.

Jonas Mekas describes the video as
"The video is made up of footage that I took with my Sony from the television newscasts during the collapse of the USSR, with the home noises in the background. It’s a capsule record of what happened and how it happened during that crucial period as recorded by the television newscasters. It can be also viewed as a classic Greek drama in which the destinies of nations are changed drastically by the unbending, bordering-on-irrational will of one small man, one small nation determined to regain its freedom, backed by Olympus in its fight against the Might & Power, against the Impossible."

The last serious video work of Jonas Mekas I saw was A Letter from Greenpoint (2005)... What beautiful light, composition! A song sung on video!

One of the greatest moving-image artist alive releasing a new serious work is an event that deserves front-page exposure in all newspapers. Ezra Pound said "Literature is news that stays news." and this is true for all great art.

I truly hope somebody who sees the work will reply to this post.

Monday, February 2, 2009

"L'Amour par terre" (1984) de Jacques Rivette

An artwork is broken so that a new one can be born...

An actress turns to the director and says: "I don't understand a bit of what's happening!" (Who does?)

Rivette opens the doors to a metaphysical and poetic universe somehow paralleling our own...

John Ford's "Fort Apache" (1948)

'Two of the most beautiful things in the world," Ford was fond of reminding his scenarists, "are a horse running and a couple waltzing." (...) "With Ford," said Flora Robson, one of the 7 Women, "the actor is continually conscious of the fact that he is making a motion picture and that it must move, move, move. His scenes are never static or dominated by the dialogue." "When movies are best," said Ford, "the action's long and the talk's short. When a film tells its story and reveals its characters to us in a suite of simple, beautiful and animated shots, that's a movie.'
from Tag Gallagher's book on Ford.