Friday, July 13, 2018

Blanche (Marc Hurtado, 1995)

I have a difficult time writing about the films of Marc Hurtado due to how close they feel to a sort of platonic ideal of cinema. A personal ideal, for sure, but regardless, there's a complicated simplicity on display that carries virtually everything necessary for cinema to do what I want it to be doing, and with a degree of effortlessness. The elements: the body/the self, the sea, the way flora moves in the world, the gestures of man, light (above all light). There's more to it, of course, as these are indeed films, in all the medium-specific intensity said form indicates: they depend on movement, rhythmic editing, optical printing, light exposure, the hypnotic bent of duration, and sound, the wonderful sound of Hurtado's own Etant Donnes; sound intersecting with music, reacting to with or against.

Before, in speaking of Kenneth Anger, I've drawn attention to the literal magickal workings Anger makes use of when combining music & film-image. The film-image sits on its own, silent, but the film in itself is not complete until sound begins to interact with it. If the magick works, the film-image and sound combine into a new sort of totality, driven by something other than the artists' direct hand, a confluence that lets interstitial chance (invisibly permeating the world) control the resulting outcome. This sort of near-alchemy is also practiced by Marc Hurtado, though his process is different from Anger's. In the case of Marc Hurtado, the sound-work is Hurtado's own sound-work instead of found music, sound-work that exists before the images exist. In conversation, Hurtado has told me that the film is not edited to the sound; rather, the film is edited first (in camera), and after the film-image sequence is complete, Hurtado introduces sound to the film without spending any insistence on editing the sound to fit the images. Hurtado says:
"The music always exists before the images and I just put the music that [felt] good for each roll without cutting it without any timing exercise and without [even] listening [to] it, it [is] only by magical grace[;] magic is the key of all these films."
The "magical grace" that Hurtado invokes is truly the key to his films. There's a moment about halfway through Blanche where a series of three cuts (arguably quicker cuts than most other places in the film, revealing a series of three singular images [in opposition to the density of the image present throughout the duration]) match up perfectly with the soundtrack: the synchronicity is operates at a level that one would assume would have to be intentional, save for the fact that throughout the 32 minute film there are no other points where editing is tied so specifically to sound cues: as such the magical grace is felt here, as the collusion of sound and image create a sort of affect, away from any of Hurtado's own desire for control.

In fact, it's Hurtado's refusal to control, to dominate, his images that makes the film work like it does, for the images and multiple-exposures are left up to chance as well. Again, Hurtado states:
There [are] absolutely no edit[s] in these films, all the editing was made in the filming [...] when I needed a tree with flowers [and the same tree with snow within the same image] I just wait six months, putting out the roll and filming another roll [in the meanwhile].

It means that for each finish[ed] film it was 2 or 4 years of work [to have] the right mix of images, many times I [shot] 4 times each roll one over the other.

At one moment I [feel] that the film [is] finish[ed]...
The process reveals a complete reliance upon this "magical grace," for if one is to watch virtually any of Hurtado's films made between 1976 and 1996 (the date range he ascribes this working method to) is to find an almost preternatural interaction of images, the world and the body, the inside and outside, the way images move together to indicate a larger idea of gesture or the world or, again, magical grace.

While I'm not entirely sure of any intentionality in this statement, Blanche very much seems to operate as a "conclusion" to both the aforementioned body of work, spanning 1976-1996, as well as a sort of "final statement" in the cycle of films that include Aurore, Royaume, and Bleu (the music from these films is tied to a trilogy; while I'm not positive, the sound Hurtado uses for Blanche sounds like an earlier Etant Donnes piece). The work that follows Blanche (and there seems to be a void of a decade between Blanche and the more recent films) has all been shot on digital video instead of film (with the exception of Jajouka, which Marc made with his brother Eric Hurtado Super16). While the work shot on digital video (especially the majestic Le Saut and Ciel Terre Ciel) have their own distinctive feel, in their examination of light the films reveal they share the same author as the earlier work.

Though, perhaps, this is besides the point. Blanche as a film stands alone, carrying such a range of potent intensity in its exploration of the figure, the gesture, the body, the world, the outside, a timeless place of magic, of holiness, of myth. The film speaks cosmic in using superimposition to flatten the sky to the ground, the sea to the stars: as above so below.

The final few minutes of the film, which seem like a coda in and of itself, features something distinctly separate from the work that has come before it (both the first 27 minutes of the film itself, as well as all of Hurtado's work which precedes Blanche): the nude body of a woman, an other apart from the body of Marc Hurtado himself. The use of the body remains unsettled: nude, but imaged in a way where there is a tension between eroticism and fascination, as if the camera isn't sure if the body is living or dead. Perhaps there's only a placement here to recall the other, the male and female that create the use of nature [and I think this is more of a cosmic invocation than any sort of heterosexual impulse; the idea of reproduction in the world is predicated upon heterogeneity: even flowers must be penetrated]. The use of the female image becomes shocking, especially as the film refuses any sort of come down from the ecstasy it has spent a half hour carrying: and this tension at the end of the film, in many ways, provides the only way out. A way into the world from the mythic and cosmic space of magical grace.

In ecstasy of the world.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Ruins Rider (Pierre-Luc Vaillencourt, 2017)

I feel like of everything I've seen that approaches it, this film demonstrates, above all else, how you make a digital flicker film well in to the second decade of the 21st century.

Those will light sensitivity or photo-epilepsy should, as is the case with most flicker films, stay far, far away from this, as the only violence that occurs on screen is a physical violence against the eye: a complete penetration of that elevated organ of sight, the flicker varying in intensity approaching an ebb and flow of violation: at every moment you allow yourself to sink into the contemplative quiver of dimmed beauty a new blinding white takes over the frame, pushing you back into yourself, reminding you not to lose track of what it is you are doing, which is sitting in the dark watching a film.

And indeed the film requires the darkness. When I received the film from Vaillancourt he included a note: It is highly recommended to view in good AV conditions, pitch black environment and high-powered sound system. I always understand the frustration of being told how to watch a movie, but for a film like this the darkness, the capacity to be enveloped in the sound, is really necessary as it aids in creating an environment that permits a total subsumption into experience itself.

While some would argue that 45 minutes is too long for a film predicated upon little more than a simultaneous interrogation of both landscape and ocularity, I'd argue the opposite, insisting that duration is necessary to allow the viewer to become fully encompassed by the work. The aggressive nature of the technique, once you find yourself "inside" of it, becomes more meditative and reflective, and the nature of the film becomes more about the experience of looking in a new way than any sort of mere penetrative ocular violence. There are times when you feel like you're moving without actually moving, and, while trying to pay attention, the eyes play tricks on the mind. Without any sense of awareness, you find yourself further along the landscape than expected.

The catch herein, of course, is that this is indeed a landscape film at its most base level; the landscape is one of the ancient ruins of Montenegro. The images always refuse a pastoral approach; the history of ruin is a history of violence and erosion, ultimately the earth wearing down all that has been built by man, and the image here reflects that: there is no perfect visual acuity, you are not truly permitted to just look at these ruins, rather, as the title implies, one can only (literally) ride them. This posits the landscape as "landscape as limit experience"; a cinematic ride through the calm nightmare of entropy.

It is pertinent to speak to the success of Marc Hurtado's soundtrack; a month or so ago I had watched Vaillancourt's much shorter film, Hypnagogia, which uses the same "technique" found herein. That film seems far less successful to me, both for the fact that it's duration prevents one from totally becoming absorbed into the experience and because the music–interesting on its own–dominates the image and makes the film seem like more of a music video than an experience, whereas the stylings of Hurtado's sound-work is much more suited to the experience of the film: low buzzes, the sounds of a body, mechanistic thumps–complementing instead of dominating.

While it's certainly not for every one (in many ways it's a film that asks a lot of its viewers), it's a perfect example of exactly what I want cinema to do, and so for me it's an immensely rewarding and worthwhile film.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Jerusalem (James Fotopoulos, 2003)

Evocative of the primordial waters of a video abyss, Fotopoulos's 2003 feature begins in static. Out of tracked VHS static, a voice begins speaking, and for the first of many times we encounter cyclic & nearly inaccessible dialogue (reputedly a mere 11 page script forms the entire feature film), endlessly repeated by different voices and inflections throughout the work. After a few minutes of emptiness, we glimpse a figure on screen, alone in a bland room. Penetrating the void of a static night.

To describe the film is to say almost nothing of it, to deliver nothing of what the film actually manages to do, and this inherent contradiction lends itself perfectly to the idea that cinema must be cinemathe tautology speaks to an idea of totality rather than of mere translation or representation.

But, to consider, these are the disparate elements that make up Fotopoulos's film:

  • the blank screen; used both as punctuation and as vital, near-corporeal breathing space
  • the dialogue; recorded without the aid noise-reduction, the same dialogue recorded over and over again with different voices, spoken by both men and women, recasting meaning by both inflection and gender, later being spoken by machines and devoid of human affect (instead introducing an artificial, mechanized affect)the dialog is never in sync with the figures on screen, often the same loops of dialogue overlap each other, starting earlier on the right channel, and then starting again later on the left channel. Speech becomes spatially disoriented & disorienting.
  • the figures, bodies; at first one woman, then one man and one woman, then one man and several women, then several women, and then two women. Most of the time the figures are nude.
  • the space; the space both of the video itself (often looking like it was re-filmed off of a screen or monitor, imposing even further distance from the viewer to the space of the film) and the space, meaning the room, the figures find themselves in. The rooms are strangely empty. The space is not decorated as to seem bleak, but rather absent of any signifying matter: the room is simply a room, empty save for the figures inside of it
  • the soundtrack; aside from the dialogue, tones and oscillations haunt the soundtrack. Sometimes subtly, sometimes with a hyper-presence. Sometimes this lends an aura of anxiety to the proceedings, other times it merely serves to dampen the noise of the recorded dialogue.

Listing all of these elements, even noting how they work individually, does very little to articulate how the film itself works. This list reveals a difficulty, but what is perhaps most difficult about this work is that to watch the film without being willing to take it seriously, without being willing to let the film unfold on its own terms, would be to find the film as nothing but an exercise in frustration. This is, of course, true of all of Fotopoulos's most rewarding films. They are films that require work. They are films that, if you refuse the work, can easily be dismissed as bullshit. It's as if the films' true power is hidden, and one must be actively open to the films in order to gain access to them.

But, what I would insist here is that this is neither an obscurant nor an elitist position to have your film take. Rather, it's an honest one. Consider the hegemonic mode of filmmaking: if you have grown up in the English speaking world you have literally been raised on a specific brand of narrative development. The hegemonic mode of filmmaking requires no work to understand. I want to qualify here that the hegemonic mode of filmmaking, of delivering narrative, does not exclude the possibility of difficult content; it is extremely possible to encounter content (or ideas) that requires work that is delivered in an effortless fashion, a mode that does not require work. Most of the time this is the kind of "art house" film one encounters. Difficult ideas packaged in digestible forms. This is fine. Often this is didactic, but it is at least a push for something less passive than normal.

Before I continue here I want to qualify that I'm not trying to draw a negative equivalence between "thinking this movie is good" and "being open to non-hegemonic filmmaking." I don't believe in binary suppositions, and I also don't believe that there is any such thing as art that literally everyone in the world can respond to equally if they were only to open themselves up to said work. I've said it before and I'll say it again: no matter what lengths you go to to try to quantify the experience of a work of art, you can literally never account for every single individual's subjective response. With this said, I'll point out again that there seems to be a cache of Fotopoulos's work that play specifically to a tone, an experience, that I personally respond extremely well to. I've also noticed that this tone is only accessible to me if I watch the film in a particular environment: alone and tired at night, in as close to pitch blackness as possible. This is one of the things that has slowed down my journey through Fotopoulos's body of work. All of his narrative films require this interstitial space between being awake and asleep; I've tried to start a few films outside of this position and found that the films refuse my entrance. Knowing this, I'm happier to wait, to watch the films when this preferred setting is available to me, as it has repeatedly made my reactions to the films far stronger. As with all experiences I've encountered throughout life, I'm always happy waiting for said experience if it means that when I finally get access the experience is far more intense than it would be otherwise.

In the same way that Esophagus manages to capture a sort of depressive despair, pointing toward an inability to overcome stasis, Jerusalem manages to perfectly capture a sort of perpetual anxiety and terror, drawing its initial power from abstracted speech that seems to be an eyewitness account of a UFO sighting and potential alien abduction (this is not made explicit, rather it references this idea without naming it; realistically it really just introduces an encounter with something other). The inflection said message is delivered with ranges from dead-pan to truly anxious, interrupted by noise or staccato fragmented repetitions: we cycle around this conversation multiple times, each time picking up further details. This serves to inherently "other" a conversation that already seems to be about something irreconcilably other. A doubling that forces a viewer to feel as if they're witness to something impossible. As more details are revealed, what you understand of being said becomes more uncanny and terrifying.

The images expand this insistent discomfort. Without any obvious connection to the words being spoken, the film begins by showing nothing but fragments of bodies and occasional glimpses of banalized architectural details (i.e., the edge of a built-in bookcase; a ceiling fan). Later, a man and a woman stand uncomfortably naked next to each other against a blank wall. Further along, the man gets his hair cut. Near the end of the film, two women silently speak to each other and use their bodies to inhabit various spaces of the room they inhabit. And later still, the same women perform an uncomfortable and seemingly improvised dance.

Using narrative elements, Fotopoulos successfully fashions a film that transgresses the mere idea of plot, which is clearly irrelevant here. The film is instead a meditation on anxiety and terror. A true horror film, one that operates on an entirely separate level than what one normally expects in the genre, but this is true of most of Fotopoulos's work.

A masterpiece in its own right, Jerusalem is the opening film in a nearly 10 hours long tetralogy that I look forward to further exploring.
Ballade pour un Homme Seul (Lionel Soukaz, 1968)

Minor, in comparison to Soukaz's later works, and formally this was clearly before he came to terms with the cinematic radicalism that would define his oeuvre, but here, in his first film, there's still something worthwhile to be found. If you watch the film as a film about a body in movement (rather than about homosexuality or ecologywhich Soukaz's own account of the film seems to imply?) it becomes radiant and immediately calls to mind the linguistic contrast of the title, a contrast that Soukaz is so great at evoking throughout his entire body of work: "loneliness" is not something purely dejected, rather it should be viewed more as a joyful sort of freedom. This is conceptually radical in its own right, and more indicative of what was to come than anything happening aesthetically, but it still feels more like a mere piece of the puzzle rather than anything masterful in its own capacity.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Esophagus (James Fotopoulos, 2004)

This is the first feature from Fotopoulos I've seen that truly cements what his other films have really only hinted at: Fotopoulos, at least in some instances, privileges the experience of watching the film over a direct presentation of narrative or allowing only an empathetic response via characters etc. This is something I write about with regularity, and there are very few examples of filmmakers who work this this idea in feature length or with any semblance of narrative, which is something that I'm particularly interested in as it's sort of a route that I try to head towards in nearly all of my creative work (that is to say: narrative work that is an experience all on its own rather than being a representation of an experience).

There's little enough critical writing on experimental film in general (especially outside of academic writing), and it seems even more rare to find writing on work that truly crosses between genres—most of the findable writing on Fotopoulos's work seems to locate the work specifically within the framework of the "cult" film, an ambiguous signifier of genre that tends to refer to something that, twenty plus years ago, would have popped up in Psychotronic Video encyclopedia, something where any extraneous details or element of confusion get written off merely as "weirdness" or "enjoyable incompetence" or (my least favorite term) "surreal." Due perhaps exclusively to Migrating Forms, comparisons between Fotopoulos and David Lynch are abundant. Maybe throw in another completely unfounded comparison or description to something more palatable and "psychedelic," emphasize how ""weird"" the films are, mention that they are put forward as deathly serious but can still inspire laughter, et voila, you have any given review of a Fotopoulos film from the past decade. This isn't entirely surprising, as anyone deeply into experimental film is rarely interested in genre film (and, perhaps even more so, the opposite). The common expectations, of each genre, are different. But what about those few singular filmmakers whose work does manage to cross these boundaries, equally treading both sides without kowtowing to posturing efforts towards either? There's a rich history of these ulterior and often-maligned genres ending up lumped together due to bootleg tape trading culture and the fact that both "cult"/genre films and experimental/avant-garde work exist "outside" the dominant hegemony of film-making (a surface level reason for this is that horror films, pornography, and experimental film all tend to privilege the spectactor's response over any sort of inherent narrative or psychology in the film itself: these films actively want to affect the outside rather than staying self-contained). But, despite these comparisons, different modes of filmmaking require different modes of viewing. You can choose to view everything you watch in the same mode, sure, but you're most likely not going to end up appreciating anything other than what already fits specifically into the mode you've decided to take (this is true across everything: if your filmic expectations derive exclusively from watching commercial cinema, anything that falls outside of these parameters is ultimately not going to meet the expectations you have; if your filmic expectations derive exclusively from the pleasure one can derive from incompetent genre films, a film that competently explores ideas that are also found in said films is going to be met with the same sort of disdainful giddiness and not be taken seriously). Etc, etc etc.

There's two sides to this, and honestly I'm equally open to both: the first side posits that you need to take each film on its own parameters without imposing a pre-existing framework upon it. Conceptually I think this is the best way to approach things, but nothing in the world, yet alone cinema, exists in a vacuum, so it's impossible to ignore systemic notions that creep into a work whether the artist intended such notions or not (for instance, just because a director isn't intentionally making a racist statement, it doesn't mean his film doesn't fall prey to perpetuating racist ideology, etc). This is inescapable. Similarly, because what is accepted as the "standard" mode of viewership is the mode that has been presented and dominated by commercial outlets (which, more recently, means the serialized "central conflict narrative" of this quote GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION end quote) it's literally not surprising that most people cannot escape their preconceptions and view a film outside of said parameters. Just because this isn't surprising doesn't mean that we should accept it, as it closes off many wonderful experiences to most audiences.

And with all this said, I feel it necessary to point out that Esophagus is a singular work. Just as likely to alienate as it is to fascinate (possibly the same viewer in different head-space), the 2004 feature uses a variety of forms and mediums to create a unique space of despair. What it manages to do is literally carry a viewer through a hell-scape of extreme and dejected emotions. There's  nothing to grasp onto, and even while you're grasping at air it sits as a film so incredibly powerful that I can't help but praise it.

Fotopoulos is regularly able to wrangle true gravitas out of scenes/acting/prosthetic or optical effects that lesser filmmakers would only be able to use in ways that result in failure: where Fotopoulos can produce something extraordinary, the same element in another film would either end up totally flat, ironically hilarious, or called out as a low-budget shortcoming. Fotopoulos warps these 'base' effects into an almost uncanny sense of abjection: prosthetic wounds that at first,—distanced in medium to long shots,—appear plastic and wholly artificial, close-up are revealed as grotesquely organic; bizarre appendages and body-horror pieces that wouldn't be out of place in cult-comedy take on an edge of pure terror; hyperbolically dramatic, emotional dialog is moved to pure depressive flatness by way of text-to-speech automation, somehow managing to elevate the bizarre dialog to an even higher level of intensity.

One of the specific technical elements that Fotopoulos excels at is knowing how to make the most of the tools he is using, and using the right tools for the work. Shooting exclusively on film for the first decade and a half of his career, his transition to video in the 2000s strikes one as less a matter of convenience and more of a realization that video (especially primitive analog video) has untapped potential in the creation of zones of affect. While it's the combination of film and video here that add up to the space of experience Fotopoulos's film offers, it's arguably the video-photography that ends up feeling even more 'atmospheric' than the film (literally not an easy task by ANY means, especially to me personally as someone who is inherently predisposed to preferring the look of low-gauge film over video).

The film is split into three major fragments, bookended by abstract photography, flickering screens of colors, indiscernible figures, the sound of the sea and a low hum. The footage used both at the beginning and the end of the film appears to be the same, but the experience of the footage is entirely separated by the "body" of the film in between. The footage, interstitial, sits as a boundary between the space of the film and the space of the world around you, and it's both a mechanism of transition—allowing your entrance into and exit from the film—and also a buffer space that literally allows the film to sit apart from the world at large. The film itself is impossible.

A simple rundown without much commentary:

  • First section: nude women with grotesque, diseased wounds and growths have sex. Shot on film, faces and lines are scratched out on the celluloid.
  • Second section: a group of men with bizarre growths and tumors adorning various bodily topographies wander around the space of an empty white room. All the men are dressed the same. Some of the men die. Some stare out a window, some sit on the floor. They speak, but there is no diegetic sound; instead a text-to-speech voice intones what one would assume is all of the dialogue in said fragment straight through four times in a row at different speeds.
  • Final section: a depressed elf, a sex-worker, a young boy, and a man with a head injury are seen in various scenes inside an apartment. Once again there is no diegetic sound, only text-to-speech technology, but this time there are multiple "voices." The voices yell at each other, talk about depression, and in a final moment one voice tells the other of a place far away where everything is better, and that to get there you need the right group and weapons. The voices agree to go.

If there's any point of reference for this film, at least in tone, I can think of nothing other than Jason Hrivnak's writing; both his published novel The Plight House and his unpublished manuscript Mutilation Song. I'm not one to insist on referentiality in terms of recommending something, but since Hrivnak's writing itself is somewhat obscure, the linkages here could speak volumes. This is not an easy film, rather it's an impossible masterpiece.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Les Chants (I, II, III, IV, V)
Jean-Paul Dupuis, 1981

Opening with the landscape of the sea, the rolling of waves, a near sepia-toned monochrome, the camera exploring space as something new and alien, the relentless crash of the waves, occasionally, briefly, glimpses of a woman's face, her visage and hair blending, mixing with the waves courtesy of the camera's depth of focus.

Chant II, a woman stays in a room waiting to die, perhaps... haunting herself, moving about isolated, alone, the outside an autumnal world filled with nothing but flora. The music, combined with the woman's gestural actions, inspires anxiety in the viewer, but the anxiety seems inconsequential to the despair that haunts the woman's eyes. She leaves herself in an early scene, her body raising above her supine position courtesy of double exposure, but even when she leaves herself she can't manage to escape the room (tentatively huddled near the top of the stairs, incapable of descent...)

In Chant III, an opening fragment finds the woman outside of the room, perhaps--her gaze has stayed the same, but now she lies face-down on the same alien landscape we saw before. She has finally descended the stairs and the music cues us into the near cataclysmic event that such transition has inspired.

But perhaps this was only a dark night of the soul, a passage that has been crossed, as back inside sunlight fills the room and shadows find new gestures. The outside is no longer as oppressive and impossible as it was before. The supine position the woman takes on the bed is less indicative of death, the camera floats around the room with movement more indicative of oneiricism than anxiety: temporarily, at least, death has been staved off.

But this sense of calm is ephemeral. The woman sits as a table in the light of the setting sun, everyday objects positioned as if they were tools of divination. A hand flat on the table. Light upon the hand. Everything is still impossible despite the synth-laden soundtrack providing what sounds like the drop of water in the background. In consistent stasis the future cannot be told because the future cannot exist. Without movement one cannot move forward. When there is only an interior there can never be an outside.

Despite this, there must be an outside: the day bed now before a tree, the woman supine again. It would be easy to describe it all as simply a dream but there's something uncanny that insists there's much more to it. That there's something else coming. Stasis has to be refused because there is always an outside. There's always something else, even when there is no one else. Silence lets us watch the woman notice the world around her, finally recognize that there is something outside.

Once the woman recognizes the outside exists (40 minutes into the film's run time), the film introduces the body of an other. A man. Binary positioning insists that a man is a woman's ultimate other. The body is only hinted at at first, the male figure whispered by film stock next to a hint of flame.

The flowers of the outside become the flowers depicted in fabric on a curtain. The anxious music comes back. Inside it is dark, outside there is sun. The woman looks upon her reflection set deep into a mirror. There's a reminder of the outside but once again it is no longer accessible. Supine on the bed, as if there could be no world beyond this bed, the body again looks more dead than asleep, the outside can only exist as a dream.

Chant IV: the windows have opened. The day bed against the trees no longer sits apart from the space of the room, inside, for it is now visible through the window. An establishment of continuity. The man as well is no longer merely a fleeting glimpse -- he, too, is now inside. But has he replaced the woman? Supplanted her? Can the two not exist in the same space at once? What happened to the flames we were given only a hint of? The man repeats many of the actions performed by the woman. Is this incorporation of the other, is this a displaced continuity? The movement of the camera disorients the space of the interior, moving in ways it didn't when there was only the woman, only an inside. Something has shifted. The camera, the gaze, floats down the set of stairs away from the interior space. But it stops, sits, staring back up, unable to truly move beyond.

The man, however, eyes shut, is outside again. Dizzying veriticality contra horizontality, no willingness to settle into an image, an insistence only upon movement and presence. Hands and leaves, light overexposed, the body against the ground, the earth, not the bed. A horizon. A new sense of the outside. The blank slate of infinity. Disorientation contra reorientation. The sun in the sky upon the horizon. Hard lines. Lens flare. The impossible expanse of the outside.

If the woman truly was only waiting for death, death is merely this beyond that the film seems incapable of transgressing. But is the landsape at the sea that opens the film this beyond? Have we already visited and left, returning to the safe known quantity of our interior spaces? The woman is gone and now there is only a man in the room. The sun is a golden melt visible through leaves. Continuity.

One of the final images in the film is a set of French doors opening. We've seen this image several times repeated throughout, but this is the first time the act has been shown to us at this specific angle. The angle reveals a literal line between the inside and the outside. A boundary. After the boundary is emphasized we see the man take the role of the woman in Chant II. Disoriented, more dead than alive, absently gazing to a beyond that is now inaccessible.



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Gilles, José, Marcel
Ahmet Kut, 1976

I have always had the utmost respect for a film that configures the space of eroticism as a dimly lit room. If I were to attempt to explain my thoughts on eroticism (or, slowly pronounce the French word one syllable at a time for maximum duplicity tying meaning to how the word is pronounced: er-o-tis-me), by way of movement, gesture, and image, what would be arrived at, formally, would be something similar to this film.

I've written before on how, in terms of eroticism, when a film (this is specifically something tied to image-based work) manages to feel "erotic" without actually featuring figures (bodies, people) that the viewer is inherently turned on by, this should be considered a mark of success. The films that speak loudest to me as a viewer, of course, combine both form and subject into pure erotic bliss, but I can pass over into the erotic space of a beyond by way of form much easier, perhaps, than I can by way of a "hot dude" in "shitty" movie (that works in another way, and it's rather by way of distraction than a tunneling in to that eroticized cinematic space can offer).

But I've said almost nothing of the film itself thus far:
three figures, all men, caress, lounge around, touch one another, move, in a room. Rephotographed images break the film apart and put together a fragmented visual representation of pure eroticism: hazy blues and red, slow & ennui-inspired movements of repetition, the blurring of bodies into a single visual form, the tactile grain of film.

I'm tempted, here, to move into esoteric comparisons drawing on Tantrism or Kundalini to talk about what happens when watching this, if you can truly give yourself to the film, but I fear I'm not well versed enough in either to make the points I want to make. The entire idea, it seems to me, is that this explanation is already what the film is doing: something language itself can not do, which is present a conceptual space (instead of representing a conceptual space), especially one as mystical as the eroticism of the body.

Oftentimes the films that I find myself reacting most strongly towards are films where I find myself lost in the space of the film itself, "zoned-out" if you will. This estrangement happened here, often no easy task to accomplish when it comes by way of an entirely silent film I'm watching somewhere other than in a cinema (watched on my computer in the middle of the day, the noise of everyday apartment living often makes it easy to be distracted or removed from the film at hand).

It's unfortunate that this is seemingly the only film of Kut's that I can find mentioned of online, as whether it was intended or not it's something of a minor masterpiece.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Passacaglia y Fuga
Jorge Honik, 1975

I am struck, primarily, by the silence that the sea presents, opening the narrative space. A film primarily shot inside the contrast between the silence (and, in terms of camera movement, stillness) of the sea with the at-times overwhelming natures of Bach's organ piece (which amps up in volume and intensity as the film progresses)--I'm not one to read for metaphor (as I have explained multiple places), but this is a ripe comparison of internal vs external (and more appreciated on my part for its literal nature).

The beauty of the film, while certainly heightened by the quality of the images and the light, is attained primarily in the fluidity of the movement, of the horizontal pans only occasionally interrupted by gestural significance (the breathing of a body, a spinning chalice, the blinking of an illustrated saint's eye).

John Lecht, in an essay on Bataille, states that "verticality can refer to the axis of transcendence, where transcendence refers to objectification, conceptualization, representation, distanciation, homogeneity, knowledge, history (as written or as narrative) and, more generally, to the domain of theory especially in the sense of theoria: to see. Horizontality, on the other hand, refers to immanence, and thus, secondarily, to ritual, difference, horror, silence, heterogeneity, abjection (in Kristeva's sense) and, more generally, to the domain of [the] nondiscursive, or practice." With this in mind I'm always fascinated by how artists use each axis. Bernard Noel, himself a "disciple" (for want of a better term) of Bataille, subverts Lecht's explanation and insists upon the verticality of poetry on the page, the way it functions as a stake into the ground (or into a body), the way it stands upright.

Honik's horizontality sits somewhere between Bataille and Blanchot. The shots compress time in their tracking; the pans feel closer to ritual and difference (qualities which Lecht attributes to horizontality). I'd also insist that, in certain ways, despite being literally visual, revealing more of the space of whatever we're looking at, the tracking shots fail to truly allow us as viewers to see the space; when tracking over the spines of books we move too quickly to focus on any in particular; when tracking from left to right across the window upon the mountain we move through such extreme compression of time we can never see the present, only an overall impression of passing time and seasons. Our sight, in many ways, is obscured.

But with all that said, this film succeeds primarily in how it uses everything mentioned above in tangent with the increasing intensity of Bach's organ piece; the title cues us into this, let's us know to both expect and excuse a heavy reliance on music. Here the reliance on music does not predicate the way the film is cut (an incredibly smart move, for rhythmic intensity differs wildly from the sort of slow building intensity that Honik matches to the organ here), but rather allows us to accept the swelling that at times threatens to push the limit, to overwhelm.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Puce Moment
Kenneth Anger, 1949

I've seen this movie a (literal) countless number of times--there was a period in my life when I was watching it multiple times a day, to the point where it seemed utterly futile to log that I was watching it. In many ways it's a perfect 6 minutes of cinema.

But the more that I watch it, the more I'm convinced that, like all of Anger's best films, the reason the film succeeds as it does is because of how impossibly unknowable it remains. I've read somewhere around four books on Anger, been treated to insider stories about him from friends of mine who have spent extended amounts of time with him, and have seen all of his films over and over again. I've read (and even written) much about the films themselves. But they remain somehow past analysis, explanation. Their powers lie not in signification, but rather in some sort of experiential magick. Anger's will transposed to technicolor. An opening up into another world.

Part of the key to this in Anger's magickal practice is the method of juxtaposing two objects against each other. The easiest example to point to herein is his use of popular music against occult imagery in all of his films. The best examples of this, in terms of Anger adopting pop music to his films, come in Puce Moment (the film at hand of course) and the Eldorado version of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (which I made a few comments about a few months back). The thing that must be remembered is that these films are not edited to interact with the pop songs; rather, the pop songs are placed atop already completed films, and the resulting experience, arguably only 50% anything Anger literally "created," is what you experience when you watch the film. The interactions between film & music were not created by Anger's hand, rather it's synchronicity found only after the two elements have been pushed into one another. Zap! You're pregnant! That's witchcraft!

This same method is used to different ends in the films of Marc Hurtado. Hurtado isn't using pop music, but rather using his own music created independent of his films. I've used similar techniques in writing, where I throw two disparate fragments together using something like a random number generator or literally drawing a card, and will find that two narrative fragments, formerly existing on their own, will interact perfectly. This is the nature of the universe (and the easiest way to tap into it; we can once again recall Burroughs' and Gysin's use of the cut-up). All of this is magick, all of this is cinema, all of this is some sort of current that runs through the universe.

Occult no longer means hidden. Most of us are aware of this current, yet still we refuse to tap into it. There's always more to be said, but perhaps this can serve merely as an easy route into thinking through film. We need to forget about meaning and intention and instead just tap in to whatever it is we're watching, listening to, reading, living.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Adolfo Arrieta, 1983

Almost every single time I watch one of Arrieta's films (because, for whatever reason I rarely watch his films in close proximity to one another) I'm reminded of how wonderful of a filmmaker he is. Even in its scraped-together, fragmented form, Grenouilles manages to hint at so many things that reveal this as an off-kilter masterpiece. But, perhaps the gaps are more important than what's there. The quality is shit on the Re:Voir DVD, but even in the tainted image there's such shocking beauty, the haze heightens it at times... narratively this is oblique pulp, but there are a few 'uncanny' details that make me think of Hadzihallilovic's Evolution; there's the sea, a glowing light, a closed off island, a desire to know something unknowable... Eva Ionesco is fantastic here, there's a scene shot at night underwater that is almost shocking in the way images appear on screen, there's so much beauty thrusting through the disorientation. If this had been finished it would have been an unquestionable masterpiece aligned with Arreita's other feature work, but in fragmented form it becomes something else; almost a wound begging to be filled...