31 octobre 2006

DIGEST : Octobre 2006

Unreviewed screenings, current reading, links, recommendations, free talk, questions, thoughts, informal conversation, anything... comments welcome

>> updates below (sticky entry for a month)

23 octobre 2006

Climates (2006/Ceylan)

Iklimler / The Climates (2006/Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Turkey)

Shot analysis :

Isa and Bahar take a sunbathe on the beach, the sun is hot, their skin is greasy and sweaty. She wakes up from a bad dream (she imagined he smothered her head with sand), uncomfortable and lonelier than ever. I believe it's right after the argument they have at a friend's dinner and before the motorcycle ride.

The composition of this static shot is very classic, almost like a kitsch romantic postcard : the beach, the sea, the sky, a couple side by side on the beach cut out in backlite silhouettes. The woman in the distance, out of touch object of desire, and her "prince" in the foreground. They think about eachother and dream of love.

But since the opening sequence (then comfirmed with the bad dream) we know the romance is gone between them. The shot starts with Isa (him) lying down. I can't remember his dialogue (maybe he's still asleep), but I think she doesn't utter a word since the bad dream and just walks away to sit over there (photo above). They are still together at this point but cold and distant. So the dreamy look of this shot is contradicted by the inner conflict bubbling under.
We see a couple sitting away from eachothers, it's easy to understand something wrong is going on with this couple. Not quite the fusional passion of the early days. But the symbolic analysis tells us more about them. What makes this composition so important is there is no other camera angle (that I recall of) to show this part of the scene, no countershot to see her face, no shot of the boat alone, or her in the foreground. This is the end of the scene (long still take) that states, in stasis, the status quo of their relationship (which is not satisfying and shall be disengaged).

The screen is divided horizontaly in 3 strips (sky, sea, beach) with different colors and textures. The beach limit marks the middle, twice as thick as the "sea" and "sky" areas above the mediane. The unity of colors reinforces this grouping, sky and sea are light grey, bright, transparent, etheral, while the beach is rough, darker and textured.

Now the symbols. Each area has its figure that sits on the lower limit, as if stacked on top of the strip below.

  • (1) Beach + Man => Earth (materialism) / here / heat / Male
  • (2) Sea + Woman => Water (desire) / apart / cold / Female
  • (3) Sky + boat => "Heaven" (ideal) / faraway / dream / Love

This already establishes the partition of (symbolic) space and the clash between characters. Which has not been properly spelt out thus far by the film and announces their violent split up in the next scene, because he didn't see it coming in this scene and didn't hold her back when it was still time.

  • (1) The man lies alone, next to an empty space, where used to lie his partner, metaphor of a bed. The image of the broken couple : "she's gone".
    He's in the foreground, because the film always assumes his subjective viewpoint. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is the auteur-director-actor. So this mise-en-scene, here, puts the audience in his shoes.
    Then he sits up, and his body fills the beach area (photo above). His head emerging, reaches out just above to enter/overlap the sea area (2), in an attempt to get in touch with her, but without moving/speaking. He looks over at her in the sea space. So the composition illustrates his inner questioning/puzzlement and above all his inability to formulate/address the problem.
  • (2) The woman sits alone. Unlike for the man in (1), there is nothing next to her that could tell us she waits for someone, or that someone is absent. That's because she's already away, detached from him. We can see this, but does "He" understand it? She stands there like a single woman, a stranger, and looks away to (3), the horizon of brighter expectations.
  • (3) The sky and the white sails of a boat sitting on the horizon. Obviously a symbol of escapism, fantasy and idealism. That's what she wants inside, without saying (that's why she sits still in this composition). She needs something else that she doesn't have. She dreams of heavens. The boat cruises slowly between the two of them, marking a triangular figure between him, her and a symbol of ideal love that is gone.
    I could further argue the boat goes right-to-left, which means backward in time, towards the past (left = past / right = future), from her to him, and moving past them, away from what used to be this couple, a momentary hope to go back to how beautiful love once was.

Acquarello associates the motorcycle accident following this scene (when she blinds him with her hands to kill them both), with the symbolic blindness of him who couldn't see how unhappy she was, how their couple was going to an end.

"[Isa] deliberatively shoots a series of photographs of ancient ruins for possible use in a class lecture, oblivious to his traveling companion's noticeable discomfort and tedium over his latest distractive side trip (a figurative myopia that would subsequently be manifested in Bahar's reckless, symbolic act of blindness during a motorcycle ride), her sense of profound desolation and estrangement momentarily betrayed by the eruption of tears that also escape the self-absorbed Isa's regard."

Official Website
(s) ++ (w) +++ (m) ++++ (i) +++ (c) ++++

17 octobre 2006

DR9 - part quatre

Sorry for staling on this one, I'm not good at holding together this kind of wide study, it takes me time to re-focus on it. I will eventually get to the bottom of my notes, if there are still readers who care about it.

An art critic on a radio show about Art Brut, brought up an insightful taxonomy of art movements paralleled with certain mental disorder tendencies. The artist is always the lunatic among us... And it was interesting in correlation to Matthew Barney's Avant Garde, and the obsessions in his work we could easily qualify of symptoms.

History of Arts & Psychiatry
  • Mannerism (XVIth c.) <=> Obsessive Neurosis
  • Baroque <=> Hallucination
  • Siècle des Lumières Utopia <=> Rational Delirium
  • Symbolism <=> Melancholy
  • Art Nouveau <=> Hysteria
  • Cubism <=> Schizophrenia
  • Surrealism <=> Paranoia
  • Body Art <=> Perversion
  • Suicide Aesthetics (XXIst c.) <=> Death Pulsion
Matthew Barney's work could correspond to the last three, Surrealism (symbolism, free-association, subconscious inspiration), Body Art (physical performance, body choreography, prosthetics, mutation) and Suicide Aesthetics (fascination of death, decomposition, decay, destruction, mutilation)

Back to DR9, I wanted to describe the time line of the choreographed presence in the film of the Field Emblem sculpture, from beginning to end. Barney documents almost every state of its fabrication, because the making is part of the performance, and probably more important than the finished sculpture, which is in fact destroyed. Although the collapsed sculpture, solidified, is the artwork Barney sells as a "collectible" from a one-time performance. Thus perverting the idea of sculpture that means to produce the perfect replica from the mould, here Barney dismisses imitation and lets chance design the shape of his artwork. The artist only controls the process but cannot direct the final aspect. Actually he's more interested in the aesthetic of decomposition, a state when the object loses its contour. Like the compression of a Chrysler car in Cremaster 5. And the advantage of the petroleum jelly is it "petrifies" a semi-liquid state for ever once solidified. This petroleum cast is called Cetacea, and is obviously a metaphor of the live whale that is absent from the film. And the strange choreography around the mould, almost like a bee dance, contains all the significant subtext of the film. This symbolic message can be decoded however quite intuitively because the visual language is very simple. Actually I wonder what the crew of the Nishin-Maru thought of this "mascarade" and why they agreed to be part of it...

Phases of the Cetacea (Field Emblem)
The sculpture goes through a cycle of the 3 states of matter (gas, liquid, solid), from chemical/artificial (petroleum by-product, which is the result of decomposition of fossil organism) to organic (incorporation of ambergris, shrimp), almost symmetrical, rhythmically composed and marking the evolution/mutation at work on the lower deck between the Occidental Hosts (Barney and Björk), to mirror their "alchemical transmutation". The whole process could remind the slow and sophisticated operations necessary for alchemists to change lead into gold (the secret of the Philosopher's stone).
  1. AIR (empty) : Mould assemblage.
  2. LIQUID (chemical) : Fill up with hot petrolatum
  3. AMORPH (chemical) : Solidification of the petrolatum
  4. SOLID (chemical) : Bisection of the jelly block in 3 parts, insertion of the mid walls
  5. SOLID (chemical) : Removal of the petrolatum midsection, retrieval of the white spine
  6. SOLID (chemical) : Rotation 90° of the mould across the axis of the ship
  7. SOLID (organic) : Dragging of the ambergris log to fit in the gap
  8. SOLID (organic) : Rotation 90° back to initial position parallel to the ship axis
  9. SOLID (organic) : Reconstitution of the midsection around the ambergris log with shrimp and cement (allegory of the digestive restraint in the whale stomach leading to the formation of ambergris) by white clothed children.
  10. SOLID (organic) : Removal of the ambergris log, which melts down and infiltrates the ship, only remains the black spine
  11. SOLID (organic) : Midsection filled with more liquid petrolatum
  12. AMORPH (organic) : Disassemblage of the mould and collapse of the petrolatum into a shapeless cream
Read the rest of this analysis:

14 octobre 2006

Critical Fallacy 4 : Burden of Proof

Critical Fallacy 4 : BURDEN OF PROOF

Or lack thereof... the fallacy being to expect detractors to bring evidence you are wrong.

"Meanwhile, film magazines and free city weeklies promote that self-assured nonconformity which prizes jaunty wordplay and throwaway judgments. (...)
Academic writing, you might think, runs in the other direction, overdoing ideas and information. Actually, prestigious academic film talk is drenched in opinions. Theory is a matter of taste: you say Virilio, I say Deleuze. Most film academics don't critically examine the doctrines they applaud. Many dismiss requests for evidence as signs of 'empiricism' and when they cite evidence it's likely to be tenuous or tendentious. They too have a touching faith in zeitgeist explanations. And too many academics seem to illustrate Nietzsche's aphorism that to most readers muddy water looks deep. (...)
But what's an insight? Is it just a twitch or tingle? Or is it closer to a hunch--something that should be speculated on, investigated, analyzed, and tested? Intellectuals should turn insights into clear-cut ideas, reliable information, or nuanced opinions, but neither journalistic critics nor academic ones do this very often."
Against Insight by David Bordwell at Cinemascope

Any journalist knows they are responsible for what they write, and would only print something they double-checked with distinct and reliable sources. Giving one's opinion after watching a movie, anybody can do. Film criticism implies credibility and informed judgment. So as we developed precedently, making sure to avoid deception, manipulation and simplification, the burden of proof is on the critic, which precisely helps to prevent the aforementioned fallacies. Throwing the ball at the reader, or even at the filmmakers, is too easy a cope out to contradict everyone and expect them to disprove every assumption you formed.

Moreover, concerning the job of a film critic in particular, it's not only a journalistic ethic to carry the burden of proof, but also a facilitating way into the film for the reader who hasn't seen it. It's always more interesting to read a review illustrated by examples directly taken from the film, instead of a succession of universal opinions and evasive evaluations out of context that could apply to any other movie. When you read how good or bad was the performance, how good or bad was the story, how good or bad was the direction... in the end all you have is an impersonal list of appreciations that tell you what the critic felt but nothing about the film itself.
We should be able to read a review without agreeing with the writer's opinion, and find some substantial meat that is not censored preemptively by the partisanship of the critic. Otherwise readers would avoid contradictory reviews and that would defeat the purpose of constructing a critical assessment. If dissenting reviews are ignored for opinions out of context that cannot be evaluated by the reader in front of tangible filmic illustrations, then (in the mind of the readers) a "good critic" is a taste pleaser and a "bad critic" is one who disagrees with my anticipation.

By complying with the burden of proof, a critic allows the reader to compare reviews from a common analyzed material. It's interesting to know why this critic liked this scene and that critic didn't. Better even is to be able to confront and evaluate ourselves (as readers) which critic elaborates the impression closer to what I might most likely feel myself, not from his abstract generic qualificatives but thanks to a sensible empirical demonstration. At least part of the review should provide some evidence, description of the film, supported arguments, statements backed by their sources. Again, not only it makes criticism more credible, but it's an invitation to the reader to participate in the evaluation of the film step by step, instead of being delivered a definite conclusion coming out of the blue.


Speaking of evidence, I'm not pretending to give a patronizing lecture or a sentence on right and wrong, (And I'm certain many find it condescending) I'm not pointing finger to the bad apples like if I was a model myself... Quoting other critics and showing snipets of bad examples is meant to make the fallacy easier to understand and to prove I'm not the only one to think that way. I see my job here just to organize a list, cause nothing there is new. Who am I to go judgmental like that? I'm not a critic, journalist, writer or scholar... I'm just a wannabe on a learning curve. And this type of listing secures the obsessive in me. I mean it's easier to notice flaws than to write well. The reason why there are more critics than artists in the world!

I make mistakes all the time in my tentative reviews, and that's why I firmly believe in collegial discussions and online interaction to be able to confront opposing views, measure up to their equally sound arguments and reassess my assumptions. The point isn't to be ashamed of occasional fallacies, conscious or not, because one could argue and defend the rational and redeeming value of such fallacies. I mean it's an open debate! (Just read how pro's and con's Farber quarrel on a_film_by to justify with hindsight his arguable "mistakes")

Although I kinda expected to stir a debate around these issues that plague credibility of film criticism, either in the comments or by inspiring responding posts on other blogs... So now it sounds like I'm lecturing or even talking to myself. I wonder if it's an outrage to criticize critics, if I'm just overstating truisms, or if all this is just B.S. My intention wasn't to make new enemies or make my readers think I'm accusing anybody in particular because it's really just an theoretical overview of most frequently found errors, general principles, from my limited/biased/uneducated perspective. External contributions (which I'm trying hard to include with citations), references and comments would perhaps confirm or infirm these points brought up in the series.
If you practice criticism, just like me, you obviously have a conception of how it should operate and how you function everytime you write on a film, be it an academic rigor or an autodidact improvisation, and it's worth talking about it, and defending the various options and capabilities available to everyone of us.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do a remarkable job at debunking fallacies used by journalists and politicians in mediatic affairs, through irony and caricature. These comedians are more critical than actual journalists even though it's not their job to be relevant and educational. I would have never thought Politics (which is inherently boring and obscure) could feed successful punch lines, much less than comedy would provide check and balance to alienating moral controversies. Where are the Stewarts & Colberts of film criticism to use witty literary style to expose faulty reviews (without taking sides for a movie) and to defend standards of criticism?

I'd rather believe my posts are bullshit than that let readers be cautious against feedback without this little disclaimer. Anyway this is another ambitious project I don't see the end of, so bear with me and be patient if it's of any interest. Comments and support would help no doubt. Or else I'll take this series home, at snail pace, for what it's worth. ;)

In the meantime don't miss Andy Horbal's blogathon on film criticism at No More Marriage! (December 1-3)

Contributions, disputes, examples are encouraged as always.
Coming up, Critical Fallacy 5 : Complacency

11 octobre 2006

Contemplative Cinema blogathon (update)

The blogathon on contemplative cinema I called earlier will be re-scheduled to January 2007 (Monday 8th)because the hasty date I originally picked (Nov. 15th) was already taken by Hitchcock, and I didn't know. I didn't mean to overlap, and I want to participate to this one too.
So this gives you a couple months more to think about it, and hopefully to give more time for other vocations to join in. Sorry for the inconvenience this postponed date may cause. Please tell your friends about the blogathon and its new date.

Blogathons schedule :

See you all there!

01 octobre 2006

Unspoken Cinema

Let's talk about "boring art films"

I'd like to call for a blogathon on contemplative cinema, the kind that rejects conventional narration to develop almost essentially through minimalistic visual language and atmosphere, without the help of music, dialogue, melodrama, action-montage, and star system. Contributors are invited to pick a film or an auteur fitting this (undefined) profile, or to ponder over the general characteristics, roots, aesthetics, significance of this emerging trend in contemporean art films. Feel free to chime in and help define this nebulous "genre" in the comments. It requires a new form of criticism because a capsule summary is usually detrimental and misrepresentative of what the film has to offer. I often find myself at loss when confronted with the description of a film where nothing is happening. How could we best give justice to these films that defeat all codes of cinema history we've been conditionned to detect and connect with?

Without imposing a final exhaustive list before the discussion, a few names to illustrate the type of films in question and to help whoever is not familiar yet to draw correspondances :
  • Bela Tarr, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pedro Costa, Saruna Bartas, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Carlos Reygadas, Tsai Ming-liang, Aktan Abdykalykov, Bruno Dumont, Elia Suleiman, Lisandro Alonso, Aleksandr Sokurov ... (wordless and plotless?)
  • Jia Zhang-ke, Aki Kaurismaki, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wong Kar-wai, Hong Sang-soo, Lucrecia Martel, Theo Angelopoulos, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Claire Denis, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Jim Jarmusch ... (contemplative narration?)
  • Marguerite Duras, Michael Snow (conceptual?)
  • And even documentarians : Wang Bing, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Chantal Akerman, Victor Erice, Raymond Depardon ...
These films catch the critical attention of festivals around the world, every year, but aren't given much exposition or theorized much... So if you feel strongly about "boring art films", positively or negatively, or particularly like one of them, please join this collegial effort to explore, decypher and understand better this cutting edge, marginal cinema.

Maybe we could answer some questions :
  • What is/isn't a Boring Art Film? What have they in common? Is it a coherent family? How should it be (re)named?
  • Why "boredom" is the new "great"? How to champion boredom against entertainment? How to "sell" a "boring film" to the general audience? When does it become actually boring in a bad way?
  • How are these auteurs different from eachother? Is it only a formal/superficial familiarity?
  • Where this trend comes from? Cinematic filiation? Artistic influences?
The last couple of years, I read and gathered some articles on the subject, but if you have more references to share, paper or online, drop it here and I'll add to the list for everyone to read.
Online :

Bibliography :

  • Des films Gueule de bois - notes sur le mutisme dans le cinéma contemporain (Antony Fiant in Trafic #50)
  • Vers une esthétique du vide au cinéma (José Moure, 1997)
  • "The destruction of plot and narrative" in Film as a Subversive Art (Amos Vogel)
  • Transcendental style in film : Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (Schrader, 1972)
  • Sculpting in Time (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1989)
  • Lanterna Magica (Ingmar Bergman, 1987)
  • Light Keeps Me Company (Sven Nykvist)
  • Devotional Cinema (Nathaniel Dorsky)
  • Visionary Film (P Adams Sitney, NY 1979)
  • Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (David Bordwell)
  • La Lenteur / Slowness (Milan Kundera, 1995)

On Boredom : (only tangential theme of the blogathon)

  • L'Ennui / La Noia / Boredom (Alberto Moravia, 1960)
  • The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (Martin Heidegger)
  • Essays and Aphorisms (Arthur Schopenhauer)
  • Anatomy of Melancholy (Robert Burton, 1621)
  • A Philosophy of Boredom (Lars Svendsen, 1999)

I'm not sure about the deadline, I'm thinking Monday the 13th. [UPDATE] New deadline : Monday, 8th January 2007.
I also would like to try an experiment to expand the blogathon experience, and open a collective event-blog (online now already) for the occasion, during the month of January. So participants will become member-administrator and be able to post new entries.
Either you stick to the classic blogathon rules and crosspost your entry on this collective blog on deadline, or you can visit the blog all month, ask questions, suggest themes to address, add references and comment on the ongoing discussions to collect and share the most critical material around "boring art films" available.
Crossposting all entries is not meant to "steal the thunder" (and comments) each individual bloggers could get on their own blog but hopefully to help focus a productive discussion in one place. Well if this sounds inacceptable, we could always go by the traditional blogathon standard.
* * *
New Contributions to the blogathon :

BLOGATHON (rules reminder) :
Every blogger is welcome to join this event and write a post on the topic proposed (here, "boring art films") on the deadline fixed by the organisator/host (HarryTuttle). Simple as that. Thus creating a wealth of articles by various writers focusing on the same idea on the same day, a blogosphere mindstorming, or a thematical special issue in electronic form. Every post participating to the blogathon will be listed and linked here. You may leave a comment to this post to show your interest, or just publish your post on deadline. Don't forget to send me a link to your contribution by email or in the comments. Happy blogathon everyone!