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!

28 commentaires:

Ouyang Feng a dit…

ok, I'm in... Should I say my pick now ? I'd try to write well - sorry my English isn't great, but I'll make the effort.
I am not sure if "boring" is an appropriate word, but I guess it's a term often used. Also we often seem to assimilate boring with contemplative, slow pace, and of course "boring" contains a negative connotation, I think it's more a question of appreciation than of judgement (in terms of objectivity).

Marina a dit…

A marvelous and daunting task you propose here. Important, undoubtedly. It would be a great pleasure to participate (the idea about a separate blog is terrific since this subject represents a contemporary face of cinema and is bound to be inexhaustible for some time).

What hooked me in your post was the word "contemplative". When I read that, I thought: "That's exactly what I've tried to accustom myself to - contemplation." Yet, that's exactly what slimes away through my attention everytime I feel involved in a film (Jarmush has said it perfectly - http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/malaysian-cinema/message/5335). Contemplation becomes a tool of emotion and after the end credits what I remember is not the look, but the feeling of the film. Not its images but their aura. Often, my mind blurs certain acts, stirs and whirls them, mixes and meshes them back. Two scenes become one, another is lost in the narrative, the final feels like the beginning and vice versa. And when I think about the film as a whole - well, the whole is vague. When I try to deconstract it - the images are gone. So, what do I appreciate then? A feeling? An impression? I certainly do remember images but in no logical (and by that I mean, corresponding to the logic of the film) way. I judge a feeling, an emotion. I try to objectively judge the most subjective thing on Earth. Or, I could try to find out about the origins of this impression. Still, what remains as a "scar" is the feeling.

Then, there're these truly long-take-after-long-take films that seem to flow monotonously, like a silent river that never ends. They're visually cinematic, peeling a scene after scene. There's almost no feeling, it's impossible to feel something if you don't contemplate...deeply. No music, no outer noise, no melodrama devices. Only a naked image of masked allusions. They don't unveil themselves easily. What is it there, in the end? A feeling? No. An image! A bright image of that most dear and near to you allusion that you've managed to unmask. Not the idea - because it dominates over the feeling in these kind of movies - but the image of this idea. Not the feeling and reason, not even the mere look of the film, but rather - the look of the reason/idea as depicted in a shot/scene.

From these scattered thoughts, the conclusion is still a bit vague to me. Something like that - the "boring art cinema" is "explained" through image(s). They are the native language and all other cinematic devices are foreign ones. The "entertainment cinema" is given meaning to through the feeling - usually, here the viewer has more responsibility and involvement. Or, the "boring film" leaves more space for objectivity/distance, and the "entertainment" - subjectivity.

What criticism does it demand? Contemplative?

Anonyme a dit…

Let's see. That gives me six weeks to choose which of the many, many Boring Art Films I love to write about. Great idea, Harry.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hi Ouyang Feng,

Your English is great. Write what you feel, that's the most interesting to share anyway. You're right, the ironic term "boring" is not helping the cause of these films. That's how most people perceive them and it's funny in a way, but it would be nice to come up with a new name. I gave my suggestion in the title, but hopefully this question will be debated here.

Hi Marina,

Your scattered thoughts sound very promising, that's what I'm talking about. And this idea of a "contemplative criticism" is one worth developping!

Hi Darren,

You've already wrote about this (see link above), but I'm sure you've got much more to add to the topic.
Do you mean 6 weeks is too short a notice?

HarryTuttle a dit…

By the way Ouyang Feng, you can tell your pick here if you like. It's not so much to avoid repeat entries (I think it's best everyone take what they feel most comfortable with), but to see how the collective effort is shaping up. Every post will be personal anyway.

Steve C. a dit…

Boring Art Film blogathon? Cool! Now I've got an excuse to finally watch that copy of Jeanne Dielmann I acquired some time ago!

Anonyme a dit…

Sounds good, Harry. And I like your new approach to the blog-a-thon, too. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

I have a rough idea what I want to write about: Remember that scene in Stranger Than Paradise where we watch our heroes watching a movie? I want to talk about some variations I've been seeing on that idea.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Please do Steve. I haven't seen Dielmann yet... I wonder what's it's all about.

Thanks for the support Andy. I'm curious about how this event-blog will function...

I don't remember this scene from Stranger Than Paradise, you'll have to refresh my memory. What film do they watch? I reckon Jarmusch should be on the list.

Now there are degrees to "slowness", "idleness", "silence", some use no words and no music at all, some use unsignificant (non plot-driven) words/music, others film a melodramatic plot in a contemplative way... so we could refine the subcategories of this "boredom" umbrella.

Any ideas?

Anonyme a dit…

They go to an unidentified "kung fu movie" which we hear but never see: instead we watch them watching it. It's a long scene, and an interesting one...

HarryTuttle a dit…

I don't remember that... waiting for your post anxiously ;)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Girish on Raul Ruiz's book Poetics of Cinema, talking about boredom and cinema.

Anonyme a dit…

I'll be there. Hopefully.

Anonyme a dit…

As a would-be boring art filmmaker, I'd be remiss to pass up this blog-a-thon. Consider me in!

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks Matthew and David, you're very welcome.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Andy Horbal reminded me that the Hitchcock blogathon is on Nov. 15th, so it might cause a schedule conflict for who wishes to participate to both (like me). Should the date be moved? Maybe postponed as far as Dec. 18th...

Please let me know what's best before November for proper rescheduling.

Also I realized maybe the use of "boring art film" was confusing since contemplative cinema is only a specific subset of what the mainstream audience consider "boring".

I added this at Girish :
"The mainstream definition of "boring art films" is anything in B&W, with subs or slow... whereas my blogathon is meant to highlight an extreme form of artfilm : the "non-verbal" sound films, so Tarr, Snow yes, but Ruiz, Ozu no. Ruiz is definitely a narrative filmmaker relying on verbality.
We all agree great art films are only boring to the neophyts. I didn't mean to defend the value of "boredom" like Ruiz does. Maybe the description of the subject was too confusing and inappropriately worded. In my mind the use of the word "boring" definitely implied the irony of an undeserved charge. The existential study of boredom is indeed more relevant than the mere non-entertainment of movies. I hope it wasn't a boring subject..."

HarryTuttle a dit…

another book :
"Vers une esthétique du vide au cinéma" (Toward an aesthetic of vaccum in cinema) by José Moure, 1997.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Over at Jahsonic, the blogathon is relayed, with a commentary.
Offering new references to question the idea of "narration" in cinema :
- Laura Mulvey’s essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

- Amos Vogel’s chapter 4 in his Film as a Subversive Art, titled "the destruction of plot and narrative". Also an entry on "Plotlessness".

This documents the breaking point of Modernism in literature. Modernist cinema, most commonly associated with "boring art films" (i.e. Bergman), will later drop "boring narration" altogether, evolving further away from "plot" and generating a new type of filmmaking : "contemplative films".

- and a great entry on "Boredom", particularly pertinent to our blogathon. Ennui, existentialism, melancholy, spleen.
With more book references to check out :

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

Jan a dit…

Hi Harry,

Would you please consider of boredom and interestingness to be my contribution?


HarryTuttle a dit…

Thank you Jan! This will be the first post of the blogathon to be linked.
You submit your entry very early... the new deadline is now Monday, 8th January 2007. But why not. Actually I prefer to spread the blogathon effect on the long run. But most participants like the deadline pressure and emulation.

Debord and Warhol are quite an extreme example of "boring art films", bordering on Performance Art... these "anti-films" make a conceptual (artistic) statement about cinema limitations rather than making contemplative cinema. Well I guess the definition is highly subjective.

For instance Debord did films with images and elaborate montage that aren't as painful to sit through.
I didn't see Hurlements en faveur de Sade unfortunately, and like you only read about it... And I agree with you, some (conceptual) films can very well be experienced by reading about their formal gimmick without missing out much.
But I believe "contemplative cinema" like the wordless Bela Tarr's Santantango, or Gus Van Sant's Gerry are contemplative without being too abstract to make the viewing unecessary or vain...

So I guess you make the distinction between what mainstream audience finds "boring" (Breillat) and what even cinephiles could find "boring" (Debord). Very interesting post.

HarryTuttle a dit…

A "contemplative cinema"-friendly review of Ceylan's Distant and Climates by Mike Hertenstein at Flickrings

"I should probably note before too much longer that other names given this sort of film include "contemplative cinema," "devotional cinema," and "transcendental cinema," a style people have been talking about under one name or another and trying to understand for a long time. Whatever you call them, such films aim to capture an invisible (even spiritual) Something beyond the structures and strategies of conventional cinema."

Jan a dit…

Hi Harry,

Thanks for summarizing my rather rambling post:

"So I guess you make the distinction between what mainstream audience finds "boring" (Breillat) and what even cinephiles could find "boring" (Debord)."

It suddenly occured to me that my recent favourite film in the "what mainstream audience finds boring"-category is Russian Ark (2002) by Aleksandr Sokurov. In any case, it is my favourite film of the 2000s. It also has this connotation of interestingness (its being filmed in one shot (and two takes)).

HarryTuttle a dit…

You're welcome Jan, I like your post, even if you disliked Climates it was an interesting self-questioning for why it didn't work for you.
Russian Ark is a good example because it has no dramatic plot, streamlining through sets and characters, dialogues are not quite plot-driven, they are overheard or digressive, the pace takes patient attention to observes the here-and-now without being rushed by an impending suspense.
The concept is purely artificial and irrealistic (a one take rundown through history timeline) but its seamless mise-en-scene almost makes it credible.

HarryTuttle a dit…

New references :

-Fast Cuts, Slow Views
-Loose Canon: Paul Schrader and the end of movies
(thanks to Marina)

Santantango at Waggish

And some bibliography found at Film-Philosophy :

-Andrei Tarkovsky: SCULPTING IN TIME
-Ingmar Bergman: THE MAGIC LANTERN
-Nathaniel Dorsky: DEVOTIONAL CINEMA

Noel Vera a dit…

Hi, Harry. I thought I'd mention being interested in participating, but looking at the list of comments, apparently I didn't post my intent. Ah well. Here's the article I had planned to contribute anyway; sorry I finished it so late.

Noel Vera a dit…

...and I look at the table of contents and it turns out I do have an article there anyway. Huh. That should teach me to check around more.

And thanks!

HarryTuttle a dit…

You're welcome Noel. I've added your contribution to the list at the blogathon blog. Thank you.

Noel Vera a dit…

Thank you. It's a last-minute writeup, but I worked hard on it, and I'm pleased to see it on your table of contents.

Anonyme a dit…

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