Thursday, July 16, 2009

The 50 Greatest Films

Iain Stott of The One-Line Review kindly asked me to participate in a poll for The 50 Greatest Films of all times. After giving it some thought, and working on the list for a while, this is what I came up with, together with my introductory note:

This is an arbitrary selection of my fifty favorite movies... As a result of not limiting myself to one film per filmmaker, other great artists such as Harry Smith, Jonas Mekas, King Vidor, Vincente Minnelli, Robert Aldrich, Carl Dreyer, Jacques Rivette, Chris Marker, Bruce Baillie, Ernie Gehr, Christopher Maclaine, Louis Lumière, Buster Keaton, Jean Epstein, Raoul Walsh, Josef von Sternberg, Jack Chambers, etc. were left out. This is more or less where things stand for me as of June 30th 2009:

  1. Il messia (1975) - Roberto Rossellini
  2. India: Matri Bhumi (1959) - Roberto Rossellini
  3. What goes up (2003) - Robert Breer
  4. Socrate (1971) - Roberto Rossellini
  5. Cartesius (1974) - Roberto Rossellini
  6. Viva l'Italia! (1961) - Roberto Rossellini
  7. Bang! (1986) - Robert Breer
  8. LMNO (1979) - Robert Breer
  9. Viaggio in Italia (1954) - Roberto Rossellini
  10. Faust (1926) - F.W. Murnau
  11. Ugetsu monogatari (1953) - Kenji Mizoguchi
  12. Au hasard Balthazar (1966) - Robert Bresson
  13. La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (1966) - Roberto Rossellini
  14. Intolerance (1916) - D.W. Griffith
  15. Sophie's Place (1986) - Larry Jordan
  16. The Art of Vision (1965) - Stan Brakhage
  17. Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons (1980) - Robert Breer
  18. El Dorado (1966) - Howard Hawks
  19. Life of Oharu (1952) - Kenji Mizoguchi
  20. L'argent (1983) - Robert Bresson
  21. Rio Bravo (1959) - Howard Hawks
  22. Donovan's Reef (1963) - John Ford
  23. Beaubourg, centre d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou (1977) - Roberto Rossellini
  24. Francesco, giullare di Dio (1950) - Roberto Rossellini
  25. I... (1995) - Stan Brakhage
  26. Visions in Meditation #2: Mesa Verde (1989) - Stan Brakhage
  27. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) - John Ford
  28. Agostino d'Ippona (1972) - Roberto Rossellini
  29. The Tarnished Angels (1958) - Douglas Sirk
  30. Miss Oyu (1951) - Kenji Mizoguchi
  31. Gulls and Buoys (1972) - Robert Breer
  32. Three Times (2005) - Hou Hsiao Hsien
  33. Mr. Frenhofer and the Minotaur (1949) - Sidney Peterson
  34. Chimes at Midnight (1965) - Orson Welles
  35. The Petrified Dog (1948) - Sidney Peterson
  36. Our Lady of the Sphere (1969) - Larry Jordan
  37. 69 (1968) - Robert Breer
  38. ...Reel Three (1998) - Stan Brakhage
  39. Blow Job (1963) - Andy Warhol
  40. In Harm's Way (1965) - Otto Preminger
  41. The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him (2000) - Stan Brakhage
  42. The Lion and the Zebra Make God's Raw Jewels (1999) - Stan Brakhage
  43. The Loom (1986) - Stan Brakhage
  44. Arnulf Rainer (1960) - Peter Kubelka
  45. Millennium Mambo (2001) - Hou Hsiao Hsien
  46. Fantômas (1913) - Louis Feuillade
  47. The Last Laugh (1924) - F.W. Murnau
  48. The Potted Psalm (1946) - Sidney Peterson
  49. The Horse Soldiers (1959) - John Ford
  50. Zorns Lemma (1970) - Hollis Frampton

There are four lists I find inspiring: Edo Choi, Jack Angstreich, Mike Grost, Dan Sallitt

Monday, July 13, 2009

Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" (2009)

"There must be mutation, swifter than iridescence, haste, not rest, come-and-go, not fixity, inconclusiveness, immediacy, the quality of life itself, without denouement or close. There must be the rapid momentaneous association of things which meet and pass on the forever incalculable journey of creation: everything left in its own rapid, fluid relationship with the rest of things.
This is the unrestful, ungraspable poetry of the sheer present, poetry whose very permanency lies in its wind-like transit."
- D.H. Lawrence talking about Walt Whitman in his intro to the New Poems, 1918

Michael Mann's Public Enemies is liquid, ephemeral and present. Every moment happens "all of a sudden". It's not the past or the future but the perpetual now we care about, ever-changing, dynamic, and through the eyes of Michael Mann, the greatest living Hollywood filmmaker, gorgeous, intricate, LOVEly. You care, honestly care, about his images, it's a love-affair in a way, physical and tactile. Nevertheless, the images, and the vision behind each image, changes so quickly, you can't hold on to it. The unstoppable forward motion, like in life, leaves you unaware of the moment, because it's replaced by something else as soon as possible.

The movie ends with a shot of a door closing, inconclusive. None of the bank robberies or the prison escapes are as operatic as in some other works by Michael Mann. The finale leaves us with no meanings, nothing to hold on to, no grand narratives to explain it all. Compared to Miami Vice, Public Enemies feels unworked, incomplete. This, I think, is a great direction for Michael Mann, fitting perfectly with his style. Life offers, or promises, no human conclusions, but only a perpetual moment. It's a "curve, which flows on, pointless" as D. H. Lawrence once wrote.

Have I been describing the life of John Dillinger, or the movie called Public Enemies, I do not know... There are all these concepts floating around in my mind, all these things I'd like to write about, but after seeing the movie twice, it's hard for me to try to make any "unifying" comments. The movie is too vast, and too alive for me. So I'd like to share some things other people wrote:

"It's the way these events occurred in this unique life that was so short but so dynamic, and so intense, dedicated just to living right now for the moment is really what kind of fascinated me in doing it." says Michael Mann in a video interview on Screen Rush. There's another interview with him you can see at ITN and one at the Guardian site (where he says he doesn't "look backwards very much").

Talking about the shooting of Public Enemies, at The Auteurs, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky quotes D.W. Griffith: "What's missing from movies nowadays is the beauty of the moving wind in the trees." And he argues that Mann recently "left behind grammar for expression." I agree, and this is why I think the last three films, Collateral, Miami Vice, and Public Enemies are his greatest, a whole new direction...

Here is how Manohla Dargis begins her review in New York Times:

"Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is a grave and beautiful work of art. Shot in high-definition digital by a filmmaker who’s helping change the way movies look, it revisits with meticulous detail and convulsions of violence a short, frantic period in the life and bank-robbing times of John Dillinger, an Indiana farm boy turned Depression outlaw, played by a low-voltage Johnny Depp."

And Keith Uclich of Time Out New York commits the perfect commentary:
"It might sound damning to say that the film resembles a bullet-riddled carcass just barely clinging to life, but it’s exactly this ephemeral sensation, which Mann sustains for the entire two hours plus, that distinguishes Public Enemies."

Roger Ebert talks about "compulsions" (a beautiful word to pick, to talk about a Michael Mann movie) but then explains "why it is not quite a great film" by adding: "I think it may be because it deprives me of some stubborn need for closure." At least he's honest! Art has moved away from that need for closure years or centuries ago...

Scott Foundas, in the best review I read about Public Enemies, writes:

"Visually, Public Enemies seems like the summation of something Mann has been steadily building toward ever since he first incorporated video-shot footage into the dynamic opening training montage of Ali in 2001. Where digital methods have gradually become the industry standard by simulating the dense, luxuriant textures of film, Mann embraces video precisely for the ways in which it is unlike film: for the hyper-real clarity of its images, for the way the lightweight cameras move through space, and for its ability to see sharper and more deeply into his beloved night. At every turn, Mann rejects classical notions of cinematic "beauty" and formulates new ones. The sounds and images rush at you, headlong, and before you can fully get a handle on them, something else takes their place. (...) those robberies are brisk, expedient affairs rarely lasting more than two minutes each. Where Mann staged the heist sequences at the center of Thief and Heat as a kind of grand opera, Dillinger's are closer to proletariat street theater."

Zach Campbell also sees what is happening, and desribes it with extraordinary ability:

'...people as apparitions moving around, or as nodes in, a network "in the air." The figural dimensions of human beings in Mann are phantasmatic, mysterious, he doesn't much strike me as a corporeal (or perhaps more precisely: a kinesthetic) filmmaker. These are not characters who have psychologies, they are psychologies. They are not bodies, they have bodies. Maybe.'

And again D.H. Lawrence: "The quick of the universe is the pulsating, carnal self, mysterious and palpable. So it is always."

Monday, July 6, 2009

New Videos

I finished ten videos yesterday (many of which I've been working on for the last three months) and uploaded on Vimeo. You can take a look at them below but try to see them fullscreen (you can make them fullscreen bu clicking the small button on the lower right). They are in chronological order.

All of this was shot with my Nokia E65. In the first two, (ÎLE DE RÉ & APRIL FLOWER), there was some form of superimposition done on Final Cut. In all the other ones, I exported my footage on Quick Time, limiting the data rate to 32 kbits/sec, which is where the extreme pixellation comes from. I did very little or no editing on these, since what interests me is their randomness... The titles are: horn, mears, forever and a day, residue, theatre, notation, slightly, whirling. All of the videos, except horn, are silent.

I've been updating my My Videos page, you can find all the news about my videos over there.