Monday, August 31, 2009

Roberto Rossellini's "Viva L'Italia" (1961)

In 1964, Rossellini exclaimed: "Of all my films, I'm proudest of Viva L'Italia."

About one and a half hours into the film, a singer meets Garibaldi and expresses his joy as follows, describing perfectly Rossellini's own cinema (French translation of the Italian original):
"Devant toutes ces beautés rares, je suis venu ici, et ce soir je veux chanter quantité des chansons. Des chants sans apprêts, écrits comme ils venaient, sans style, ni prétention, qui font parler le coeur."

My English translation:
"Before all these rare beauties, I came here, and tonight I want to sing many songs. Songs without preparations, written as they came, without style, or pretension... Songs which make the heart speak."

In his book, Tag Gallagher writes the following about the war scenes in Viva L'Italia, where the camera constantly zooms in and out, pans around, telling the story of the battle with extraordinary precision, and beauty: "... a new era in cinema: never before has a camera done anything like this, never before have we seen anything so vast." And later in the book: "... Viva L'Italia erupts into a crescendo of liberation across an ever-expending space."

Zach Campbell also wrote beautifully about the war scenes in his own blog.

Talking about Viva L'Italia, Andrew Sarris mentions Rossellini's camera that "keeps its cosmic distance." And later in the same paragraph, he states: "Where Buñuel's ideas sometimes transcend his images, and where Chaplin's images sometimes transcend his ideas, there is in Rossellini little or no separation between style and substance. If there be such a thing as a cinematographic language, and I firmly believe there is, Rossellini requires the least translation..."

One of the things I like the most about the film is its courage to emphatize with history, and its characters (notwithstanding the "cosmic distance" that Sarris talks about). The chants and hymns on the soundtrack or the ideological exclamations might feel naive to many but Rossellini only makes movies about the things he feels, and by feeling Garibaldi's followers, he makes us understand a very important point in recent history: the formation of nation-states. As Tag Gallagher says, what interests Rossellini "is always the moment when one cycle of history is dying, another is born." At the very beginning of Viva L'Italia there's an important emphasis on telegrams, and later, on mass printing of newspapers. Without the changes in mass communication, history would have happened very differently. Rossellini allows determinism, understands the forces that drive history, but also embraces the human beings who drove it, Rosa being a great and heroic example.

Adam Rokhsar's videos

Adam Rokhsar has been producing some of the most inspiring experimental videos I've seen in the last few years...

Rokshar's works incorporate information processing techniques, programming, file conversion, etc. to question how the computer technology stores and processes images & sounds. This questioning - achieved with great taste, a sense of integrity, and an unmistakable aesthetics - push the boundaries of video as we know it. I know of no other person who uses these "new" programmes to create new rhythms, new textures, and a unique harmony.

There's no doubt Rokshar controls the processes with precision, and care, but he also allows and embraces a great deal of randomness, which is what makes these works so lively, and which, at moments, cracks open the gateways to see, to grasp, how the information has been processed. What he makes "transparent" is not only himself (through the use of face-detection software), it is also the whole technology behind the final works produced. Somewhere on Vimeo, he mentions "videos that function both as a video and also as a way to visualize information about that video." Which only proves he knows exactly what's happening...

READ Adam Rokhsar's descriptions of his videos; they show a great attention the the process. He talks about his works as a scientist would talk about his experiments. The descriptions may even seem cold, but art comes rarely without an exciting process. Here is the seemingly "artless" description of his The story I am trying to tell you...:

"I took pictures of myself using my Canon digital camera using a very slow shutter speed. The pictures were processed with OpenGL and converted in Max to a movie, which I then hacked with avidemux2 to add static and the compression error effects.

I recorded myself speaking a short text and loaded the audio into Max. By extracting the amount of motion from the video using frame differencing, I could map that number inversely to the sampling rate of the audio, so that my voice could only be heard in fragments of visual motion."

Repeat: "so that my voice could only be heard in fragments of visual motion." Rokhsar takes the "outside world", a "reality" (and sometimes the "reality" is home movies - videos - from his childhood, or his own face), which he abstracts, without losing the first connection. When you look closely, the works are not so impersonal after all. They are consciously expressive.

Especially in the videos after Ontology (I'm not a big fan of his works before that), this skipping between different techniques somehow produces unexpected rhythms, beautiful colors, elusive sounds and a constant dynamism. What strikes me first about Adam Rokhsar's videos is their impeccable beauty. The rest comes much later, while I continously care about what's on my computer screen. His best videos offer deep layers of meaninglessness, video-textures that captivate the eye, and constantly shifting centers of gravity. On the Internet, there are few things more worth your time. I think my favorites, in an arbitrary order of preference, are: Engulfment (3), What's on TV?, Closure (4), Memory.

His blog, where he uploads his finished works, is titled Make Yourself Transparent. There's a nice biography of his here.

Adam Rokshar's own description of Engulfment (3):
"When I was a therapist, my supervisor taught me that engulfment was the experience of feeling absorbed or swallowed up by another person.

Here is an exploration of engulfment by a machine: watch as the computer finds my face using automatic face detection, and then recursively averages it until each pixel becomes entirely white.

As the amount of whiteness increases, the sampling rate and bit depth of the audio decreases– this means that fewer and fewer samples of sound are taken, and that each sample is increasingly constrained to fewer values.

The original audio is the sound of an empty room, and the air conditioning."