Category Archives: film

Orson

Notes for lecture one:

How to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital, of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms?

For all the interest in Marx, in the past and renewed today, it is at least worth attempting at first to read anew. Yet this vast accumulation of commentary stands before us. While it would be possible, and even plausible, to insist on a Dead Poets’ Society moment and rip out the spurious introductions, for example that of the Secretary of the Fourth International, Trotskyite Ernest Mandel, in the Penguin Edition, there is not much to be gained from this merely theatrical gesture.

Instead, I would like to turn to cinema. And another accumulation that seems a dull dead half-life of narrative. That which surrounds the film Citizen Kane. Orson Welles might be a good choice for this illustration because he is both actor and director, at the same time working to a script and writing that script. Marx of course is famous for saying something similar in the 18th Brumaire – we make our own history but not in conditions that we have chosen (Marx 1852/202:19). Welles is also interesting as an overexamined, already known, and yet little understood, figure – famous and notorious in advance, myths and rumours abound. He is much maligned for his politics, he was often attacked for threatening bourgeois norms (or its complacency); his work a coded vehicle for other fears (Japan, Germany, Russia); and, I will argue, never more relevant than now (financial crisis, do-gooder philanthropists as alibi for business as usual). Welles of course, in advance, is already known – as dozens of biographies attest, and as the pre-publicity and staged controversy of his most famous film confirms. Perhaps the question to ask is whether it is possible to reclaim such a figure from the vast accumulations of biography and myth. Already in Citizen Kane Welles mocked such ambitions. The first image is of a sign that says “No trespassing”.

The biographers are on the march – dozens and still counting. Simon Callow begins part one of his multi volume biography (part two released 2006) with a quote that might be read as revealing as much about the anxieties of a biographer about to approach ‘the fabulist Orson Welles’ as it does about its subject’s self-consciousness:

“If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you. Seventy-five percent of what I say in interviews is false. I’m like a hen protecting her eggs. I must protect my work.Introspection is bad for me. I’m a medium not an orator. Like certain oriental and Christian mystics, I think the ‘self’ is a kind of enemy. My work is what enables me to come out of myself. I like what I do, not what I am … Do you know the best service anyone could render to art? Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man – and not the contrary. Orson Welles to Jean Clay, 1962 (Callow 1995:xi)

Callow continually takes away Welles’ stories about his life, even the place where he was said to be conceived is labelled a fabrication – much energy devoted to undoing the Welles myth only confirms it. Welles had already anticipated these moves. Seven years earlier in Touch of Evil he had Marlene Dietrich say of his character Quinlan, who had just been found dead, that: ‘He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?’

Welles is surrounded by myth. Among the routine retinue, it has become commonplace to sort commentators into two camps – defenders and opponents – Pauline Kael who raised the stakes of the controversy over the writing credit for Citizen Kane into an international brouhaha on the one side, Peter Bagdonovich still attempting to finish Welles’ final masterpiece, The Other Side of the Wind (caught up in legal disputes) on the other. In between, sects and factions, a host of divergent positions and jockeying for favour, and a massive publishing culture industry that has made a commodity, franchise and brand out of the good name of the citizen.

Welles himself deserves some praise for this. In cases where there is so much written, this will always be offered with some perspectival bias. Should it matter than that the following highlights are only a selection?:

- 1915 born, his mother a suffragette who once served time in prison for her radical views (Welles and Bogdanovich 1988:326), a ‘brilliant public speaker’, she was the first woman in Kenosha to be elected to political office (Callow 1995:9)

- 1936 an all black production of Macbeth– admittedly there are issues of exoticization here in the move of action from Scotland to Haiti, and where Welles contrives a voodoo withes scene (see Callow 1995: 235). Nevertheless, an important production

- 1938 campaigns for and champions various leftwing causes, including speaking against Franco at ‘Stars for Spain’ – a medical aid benefit. Welles gives a series of talks on the ‘People’s Front’ at the Workers Bookshop and writes for the Daily Worker. Plays Signmund Freud on stage, gets to know Hans Eisler, Count Bassie, Vincent Price, Lucille Ball.

- October 30th 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

- 1941 Wells is ‘attacked as subversive and communistic by leaders of the American Legion and the Californian Sons of the Revolution in Hearst papers (Rosenbaum 1998:363). The FBI’s J.Edgar Hoover writes a memo linking Welles to various ‘communist’ organizations (Bogdanovich 1998: xxxvi)

“FBI director J. Edgar Hoover writes a “memorandum for the assistant to the attorney general Mr Mathews F. McGuire” stating: “For your information the Dies Committee has collected data indicating that Orson Welles is associated with the following organizations, which are said to be Communist in character: Negro Cultural Committee, Foster parents’ Plan for War Children, Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, Theatre Arts Committee, Motion Picture Artists Committee to Lift the Embargo, Workers Bookshop, American Youth Congress, New Masses, People’s Forum, Workers Bookshop Mural Fund, League of American Writers [and] American Student Union…” (See James Naremore, “The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles, “ Film Comment, January-February 1991” (Rosenbaum 1998:364).

- May 1st 1941 – Citizen Kane. In a scene edited out of the film, Kane’s first wife’s son was to have been killed ‘when he and other members of a fascist organization try to seize an armory in Washington’, with the son’s body shown interred in a mausoleum where a wall inscription from the 1001 Nights begins ‘The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever’ (Carringer 1996:148).

- 1946 Welles gives protest speeches against the nuclear tests on Bikini Atol (Rosenbaum 1998: 397) and uses his ABC program Orson Welles Commentaries to campaign to bring charges against a policeman who had beaten and blinded black war veteran Isaac Woodward. With heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Welles draws 20,000 people to a benefit for Woodward. The culpable policeman is finally identified in mid August (Rosenbaum 1998:398-9).

- 1955 on a television program Welles speaks out against passport control and immigration bureaucracy, a subject later dramatised in Welles’ film Touch of Evil.

‘the bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer. You can never pay him off; the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. If you fill in one form, he’ll give you ten’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:262)

- 1962 Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial in part conceived as a commentary on Displaced Person Camps (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:281).

- Filming Don Quixote, incomplete, but the Knight is the emblem of a quixotic politics

- 1972, Welles reports that he still wants to make a film of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, emphasizing the contemporary political associations (Rosenbaum 1998:512). Seven years later Francis Ford Coppola releases Apocalypse Now.

- 1977 ‘the original Rosebud sled turned up in a prop warehouse at Paramount that used to belong to RKO. (Custom-built in the RKO property department, it was thirty-four inches long, made entirely of balsa wood, and fastened together with wood dowels and glue … three identical sleds were built; two were burned in the filming’ (Carringer 1996:49-50)

- 1973 F is for Fake – if you have not seen this, see it now.

On the above grounds, then, after tallying the votes from the members of the Academy, we are proud to announce that the Oscar goes to Orson not only for his film on Kane – patron saint of trinkets – but because of this exchange from the book This is Orson Welles:

Bogdanovich: ‘well, do you have a theory about possessions, or just an inability to keep things from getting lost’

Welles: ‘Both. The things you own have away of owning you’

Bogdanovich: ‘How about things like letters andbooks’

Welles : ‘I’m not laying this down as a law for anybody else. It’s just that I feel I have to protect myself against things, so I’m pretty careful to lose most of them’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 183)

More to come:  where Kane is the embodiment of Money-Bags, yet curiously he himself tries to fight for the ‘common man’ and has sentimental attachment to things (Rosebud), nevertheless he is still a representative of his class, a class who – as capitalists – do not care about things, only the possibility of recouping profits (valourization of appropriated surplus value) through the exchange of things. So much fun to be had with this. And then on to The Trial, and F is for Fake. Soon…

To Gaza with Love – 6pm Goldsmiths Cinema, Monday 30 Nov 2009

The true story a rag-tag team of international peace activists aboard two fishing boats, who decided to take on the might of the Israeli military and break the siege of Gaza. Refusing to be intimidated, only one thing could stop them; and that was them-selves.

Screening, 6pm Goldsmiths Cinema, Monday 30 Nov 2009

Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi2755068441/

“Understanding Trafficking” a film by Ananya Chakraborti – Monday 16th November, 2009 Goldsmiths Cinema

still from Understanding Trafficking4UK screening of “Understanding Trafficking”

plus Q&A with the director Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti

6pm Monday 16th November, 2009 Goldsmiths Cinema (Richard Hoggart Building, New Cross, SE14)

Legend goes, there is a magical line that Laxman drew around Sita, which no woman is supposed to cross. If any woman dared to cross the magical line, she would risk being kidnapped by Ravan the demon.

Women have for centuries been discouraged to cross the line, to remain indoors, and within limits. The lines and limits of their existence have always been defined by patriarchy. So what happens if a woman does cross the line? By circumstances, through need, or just by a desire to dare the magical line?

Camera Joydeep Bose, Sound Sukanta Majumdar, Editing Saikat Sekhareswar Ray, Direction Ananya C. Chakraborti

Reviews here:

http://www.cinemawoman.in/review.html

Film: To Gaza with Love

gazaIndyMedia on Aki on Gaza:

At this years London Anarchist Bookfair I grabbed Musician, Activist, Punk, Broadcaster and Musilim, Aki Nawaz who was there to introduce his film ‘To Gaza With Love’.

He gave some tough critiques on the Anarchist movement, talked about his recent visit to Pakistan in which he questions the true motives recent violence towards western journalists, and hints at what exciting projects we can expect from him in 2010.

Attached Files

Report Aki Nawaz (Fun-Da-Mental)

https://london.indymedia.org.uk/articles/2648

Border Documents 9-11 Nov 2009 Copenhagen

Border Documents @ CPH:DOX

Border Documents: A scholarly/activist workshop on the crossings of borders and documentary films.

Border Documents is the third in a series of events run as part of the international research network Beyond Borders.

Preamble: In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just in ports, but between us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language, meaning, representation, and a cry of protest and the music of solidarity across divides. Sound problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.

In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.

In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news, the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.

We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political, ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing, archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities – we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?

Beyond Borders is a collaborative venture between the Copenhagen Doctoral School in Cultural Studies, the Friei University Berlin InterArts, Jadavpur University (India) Film Studies and the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London, and with guest participation from Clandestino Festival (Sweden) and Migrant Media (UK), among others. Beyond Borders is funded by the AHRC UK Beyond Text program.

PROGRAM

9th November 2009

11.30-12.00 (Seminar room)
Prof Frederik Tystrup & Prof John Hutnyk:
‘Introduction’ to “Border Documents”

12.00-13.30 (Seminar room)
Lecture by Mathias Danbolt:
‘Queers Without Borders: Activist Travels in Elliat Graney-Saucke’s Travel Queeries’
ravel Queeries (2009) by Elliat Graney-Saucke is the first feature length documentary film portraying radical queer culture in Europe. Produced by queer filmmakers from the U.S., Travel Queeries takes us on an extensive tour of queer communities in ten major European cities – from London to Warsaw to Belgrade and Copenhagen. The travels alluded to in the film’s title do not only refer to the U.S. filmmakers’ travel with a camera to and through Europe, as it also points to the travels of activists within Europe, where people circulate between squats, festivals, and other social and political gatherings. In this paper I will focus on the way in which Travel Queeries queries activist travels. By looking into the way the film represent – as well as take part in – the circulation of concepts, repertoires, esthetics, and politics, I will discuss how travels and translation have been central to the development of the transnational (Euroamerican) queer activist community. Informed by the activist group Queers Without Borders fight for free movement for all in relation to crossings of gender, sexuality, and national borders, I will focus especially on the border issues raised by and evident in Travel Queeries, touching upon question of racism and activist tourism.

Presentation and screening by Maria Finn: ‘A Technical Problem’ (DVD, 16. min).
After having studied the films of Michelangelo Antonioni I grew interested in his writing and found Unfinished Business, a collection of his never realized screenplays, where Technically Sweet was mentioned as one. I have used this screenplay as a starting point for a video where I travel to the sites in Sardinia that should have appeared in the film. The video from that trip, A Technical Problem, can be seen as a reflection over how fiction is constructed by including excerpts from the screenplay, and through the documentation of these places that itself produces a fiction. Film locations become virtual archaeological sites, which Laura Mulvey describes in Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy/Viaggio in Italia (1953) from her collection of essays, Death 24x a Second (1996). Rossellini used the archaeological sites in Naples for his film to reflect over how the present is fossilized on film. I will use Mulvey’s essay to investigate how movies functions as an archive over places, some ruined and some still existing, and how visiting these places affects us.

13.30-15.00 Lunch

15.00-16.30 (Seminar room)
‘Border performed’ – Workshop, led by Filmmaker Dr Hito Steyerl
3 recent video art works will be screened (Amar Kanwar’s “ A season outside”, plus work by von Wedemeyer and Mik) and discussed in relation to their relation to border and performance.

17.00-19.00 (Tent)
European Premiere screening of “Musafer: Sikhi is Travelling” with Q@A with one of the directors Kushwant Singh (the other director is Michael Nijhawan)
Musafer is an independent documentary film that has been shot in Frankfurt, Paris, London, Delhi and San Francisco between 2003 and 2009. The film portrays the interconnected lives of a younger generation of diasporic Sikhs by giving emphasis to their artistic expressions and in-depth conversations about the meaning of Sikhi in times of political upheaval and social uncertainty. Musafer does not attempt to portray the Sikh tradition (Sikhi) in its multifaceted forms, but instead sheds a light on the inner and outer journeys of particular individuals, their homing desires, as well as their boundary crossing endeavours.

20.00 (venue to be decided) dinner

10th November

11.00–13.00 (Seminar room)
Round table discussion on ‘Borders and Selves’

Heidi Hasbrouck:
‘Personal Borders: The Filmmaker’s Family through the Lens’
This paper aims to explore the re-formation of boundaries when the filmmaker turns the camera to her personal life. Historian and film critic, Paul Arthur, writes of the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject as a negotiation where borders are shaped. “An ethical compact of sorts, an explicit or tacit ‘transaction’ between observer and participant, is negotiated; its terms regulate what can be recorded, what form the recording will ultimately take, and how the filmmaker intends to portray social actors who agree to appear (Arthur, 876).” What then happens when those borders must be re-shaped from a previously formulated relationship? Between the filmmaker and her film? Between the filmmaker and the audience when the story is a personal one? Furthermore, how does turning the camera on one’s own family change the ethics or politics of the documentary itself? Through the exploration of multiple personal documentaries, including Hara Kazuo’s “Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974”, John Maringouin’s “Running Stumbled”, recently released Kurt Kuenne’s “Dear Zachary”, and new filmmaker Marianne Hougen-Moraga’s “My Mother’s Promise”, I aim to resolve my own qualms as a documentary filmmaker torn between the boundaries of my family and a potential documentary about our ‘darker side’.

Elena Papadaki:
‘Even better than the real thing: when fiction becomes more convincing than the truth – Stefanos Tsivopoulos’ documentaries’
Stefanos Tsivopoulos is a visual artist engaged with the documentary format. He uses archival material, historical footage and real-time events in order to create his own -often pseudo- narratives. Among others, his work challenge journalistic conventions and the meaning of an “objective” historical narrative (Gray 2008) (Interview, 2007. He commissioned a BBC reporter to interview a war veteran from Serbia; then asked a Serb filmmaker to take the transcript and create a fictional version of the same interview, shot at the same location. Both interviews were projected at the same time in adjacent rooms, with the fictional one looking more convincing than the real documentary) as well as the power of mediated news and propaganda (The Remake, 2007. He uses archival material from the Greek national television and from events that took place during the dictatorship in Greece [1967-1974] with his own shooting of recreated scenes from the television studios at the time). According to Tsivopoulos, the “visualisation of history and reality can be interpreted and misinterpreted at the same time” (Tsivopoulos 2008). His interest lies in the way in which we, the spectators, consume the information that exists within the visual imagery and accept the validity of the “archive”. Where do we draw the line between fiction and reality? How does his work (re-)create a new social and historical imagery? A selection of clips from Tsivopoulos’ work will be shown during the presentation.

13.00 Lunch

15.00-16.30 (Seminar room)
Round table discussion on ‘Framing Border’

Ray Ganz:
‘Radio Verité and Acoustic Osmosis’
Field recordings and found sounds are still one of the major sources of radio artworks, in spite of Raymond Schafer having introduced the concept of soundscape and developed the World Soundscape Project more than 30 years ago. The present article examines the different contemporary artistic uses of field recordings and found sounds within the Radia network during the last three years, according to Schafer’s concept of schizophonia and Feld’s notion of schismogenesis. It argues that although radio occupies a privileged position in the current media landscape to broadcast acoustic decisive moments and documents, it is during the aural osmosis of different soundscapes (diegetic and non-diegetic in relation to the listener’s existence) allowed by the radiophonic experience that field recordings and found sounds become radio artworks.

Jennifer Otter:
‘[Dancing In] Isolation: Joy Division Tribute Bands Transmission of 2.0’s Melancholy’
Manchester’s iconic Joy Division officially disbanded almost thirty years ago, after the untimely suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis. Yet many people point to this seminal group as one, if not the, forefather of modern rock in its present incarnation. Bands such as The Killers, Fall Out Boy and Interpol blatantly rip off the Mancunians’ riffs, style and sentiments through out their own manipulations of musicality. However, some people feel that just paying accolades to the fallen heroes through interpretations of their own new music is not enough. They believe that only the original music of Joy Division truly expresses the spirit of the troubling times we are living in, a world reflective of Ian Curtis’s own bleak Manchester of the late 1970s. For this tribe of people, solely by creating their own group to play exclusively and inclusively the music of Joy Division can they express their own situational oppression, of a world that is simultaneously connected via the world wide web and instant messenger, yet more alienated, with people staying inside their homes more, hidden behind a computer screen and “mediated reality.” Tribute bands and interviewees from a variety of geographic and socioeconomic groups have been included in the project, spanning Mexico City, London, Macclesfield, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Iraq, Australia, and Bosnia, illustrating a true breaking of borders and staying power of the foursome from the North not often illustrated by artists of today.

17.00-19.00 (Seminar room)

Lecture by DR Bhaskar Mukhophadhyay:
‘Ritwik Ghatak Documentarist’
Largely unknown and unacknowledged in the West and misunderstood in India, one of the masters of twentieth century cinema, the Communist director Ritwik Kumar Ghatak’s cinematic oeuvre revolves largely around the after effects of the Partition of Bengal which displaced thousand and left deep wounds that never healed. Ritwik’s cinema is about the monumentality of this catastrophe though as a theorist of postcolonial culture and a Communist cultural worker, he never allowed nostalgia to take over his sense of engagement with the present. As a cultural theorist, Ritiwik rejected the Soviet model of Social Realism and the European radical avant-garde aesthetic politics of high Modernism. His uniquely postcolonial vision of culture entailed a renewed engagement with the epic and the vernacular and a re-enchantment of the machine through a renewal of the ‘primitive.’ In cinema, his renewal of melodrama fused majestically with his revival of the epic, leading to an aesthetic of vernacular modernism that has no precedent or parallel anywhere in world cinema.
As political film-maker, Ritwik’s treatment of Partition is multi-layered which interrogates and confronts borders at many levels. Himself a refugee, he had little illusion about culture’s holism. He depicted with compassion the class-logic of the inevitable but historic disintegration of the colonial Bengali bhadralok in the aftermath of the Partition and the continued presence of the sealed-off border in the affective landscape of the subcontinent. In Ajantric, a film about the animistic beliefs of tribals and an old automobile that takes on human attributes through the affective engagement of its owner, Ritwik plays on the cognitive-affective borders between fetishism and disenchantment, between the human and the non-human, between the sensible and the intelligible. My presentation will focus on two of his major films, Ajantrik (1957-58) and Subarnarekha (1962) through the optic of ‘border’ in order to situate Ghatak in the wider cultural politics of our times.

Lecture by Abhijit Roy
‘Documentary Diversions? Factual Popular and the Reality Debates’
This presentation talks about how the televisual genre of the ‘factual popular’ and the debates around reality shows can help us revisit the ‘documentary’ form and its legacies. It would like to engage with recent theorizations as evident in John Corner’s coinage ‘documentary diversions’ and Keath Betty’s ‘documentary display’, and also the classical/Griersonian school of documentary practice, to pose the age-old, somewhat hackneyed, debates around the ‘border’ between fact and faction in a new light. While the factual popular, in its form, and in its mode of address (posing as the neo-progressivist messiah of the late-capital, citizenising agent etc.) enters into interesting dialogue with the documentary tradition, particularly with its ‘classical’ mode, the current trends in documentary filming and dissemination, in turn, get highly interjected by the factual popular. Contextual, in this regard, could be a recent practice in documentary diversion: that of creating incessant audiovisual archives (foregrounding therefore a certain idea of ‘beyond text’) and circulating across the de-territorializing space of internet. The ‘publics/users’ of both of these trajectories intersect in various ways. Tickling the network, generating circuits of fandom and activism defying national borders, have become major trends in both of these.

19.00 dinner (1 hour)

20.00 (Tent)
European Premiere screening of “Understanding Trafficking” plus Q&A with the director Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti
Legend goes, there is a magical line that Laxman drew around Sita, which no woman is supposed to cross. If any woman dared to cross the magical line, she would risk being kidnapped by Ravan the demon.
Women have for centuries been discouraged to cross the line, to remain indoors, and within limits. The lines and limits of their existence have always been defined by patriarchy.
So what happens if a woman does cross the line? By circumstances, through need, or just by a desire to dare the magical line?
Camera Joydeep Bose, Sound Sukanta Majumdar, Editing Saikat Sekhareswar Ray, Direction Ananya C. Chakraborti
Reviews here: http://www.cinemawoman.in/review.html

11 November

11.00–11.30 (Seminar room)

Ruth Hogarth: Beyond Text Program Co-Ordinator. ‘The Wider Program’

Mary Claire Halvorson (Goldsmiths Director of Professional Development): ‘Alterity, mobility and rhizomatic model of learning’

11.30–13.30 (Seminar room)

Dr Dietmar Kammerer:
‘Official, unofficial, invisible – the role of the filmic document in “Operation Spring”’
“Operation Spring” was the name of the first (and later widely publicized) undercover police operation in 1999 that made use of covert surveillance technologies in order to collect evidence against an (allegedly) international ring of drug dealers. “Operation Spring” is also the name of a documentary film that years later put in question the police operation and the subsequent trials and convictions of more than in ehundred people, mostly immigrants form Nigeria. The documentary became one of the rare cases, where a film actually sparks a political debate and was discussed in the national parliament. In my presentation I want to argue, that the political and persuasive power of this film can – among other factors – be explained by its use of the filmic document. Three types of images can be made out in this film: official, unofficial and invisible images. What counts as a document or as evidence, is always to be seen within a strategy of power.”

Renate Wöhrer:
‘How (Not) to Be Seen. Contemporary Attempts in Social Documentary to Contradict Hegemonic Discourses on Labour’
In my contribution to the workshop I would like to discuss the documentary art project ‘Chat(t)er Gardens: Stories by and about Filipina Workers’ (2002-2008) by the Austrian artist Moira Zoitl. It is not a film but an installation, in which video plays a major part. It consists of videos, photography, text, embroidery, sculptures and/or spatial constructions. The project documents the working and living conditions of Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong and London as well as their political and social activities. It is conceived as a platform, where different kinds of expressions – also by different authors – are possible. In this documentary the border is at issue in three different ways: First of all the depicted migrant workers are confronted with borders between nation states. In their “host country” they also have to deal with social borders. Due to their special working and living situation migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong make this social border visible. Since they mostly live at their working places, which are the private homes of their employers, most of them don’t have a private space of their own. Therefore they spend their rare free time in public places, which they use differently than the majority society. They create a public visibility, which contradicts their hidden existence in everyday life. In Hong Kong as well as in other industrialized – or better: post-industrial – countries the economic systems relies on the exploitation of domestic workers. But neither the exploitation nor the domestic workers should be a public issue. The system is based on the concealment of these facts. On the one hand the workers counteract this kind of suppression (in taking public space as well as in political demonstrations, celebrations, etc.) on the other hand Moira Zoitl brings up the issue (and the efforts of the workers) in the public of the art world via her documentary. So the third kind of border, which is at issue within this documentary project, is the border drawn by hegemonic practices to demarcate what can be said, shown, discussed, etc. within a society and what’s excluded from public discourse. In my paper I will examine Moira Zoitl’s methods and artistic strategies to undermine dominant regimes of visibility. In analyzing this project as an example I will discuss the problems and possibilities of documentary to produce and initiate counter-hegemonic discourses.

13.30 (Lunch)

15.00-17.30 (lecture room)

Raul Gschrey

Between Fact and Fiction. Artistic Works on Visual Surveillance.

Documentary approaches play a major role in artistic works on visual surveillance. This becomes most obvious in the mockumentary ?Citizen Cam? (France/Iceland, 1999), a satire on a fictional TV-channel in Reykjavik. Artistic projects which focus on the topic often include phases of research on the extend and possibilities of CCTV systems and their utilisation. Some artists use the original pictures produced by surveillance systems, but through the process of editing the material becomes fictionalised. During performances and interventions in spaces under surveillance, usually there is not only the CCTV camera present but also further cameras, which document the action and form a means of counter- and self-observation. In these situations, the presence of the camera also changes the reaction of the audience and the authorities. The borders between the documentary and the fictional become porous.

All: Discussion of the Future of Beyond Borders.

18.00 Beyond Borders Workshop after-party

bt_logo_cmyk2cmyk-lscape2

11 theses on art and politics…

IMG_2748 (…continued – parts 2 & 3 – Part one was Do Bee Do Bee Doo: here).

2. The ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ is Adorno’s enigmatic turn of phrase in The Culture Industry for a subtle judgement on art and politics. ‘It is a delicate question whether the liquidation of aesthetic intrication and development represents the liquidation of every last trace of resistance or rather the medium of its secret omnipresence’ (Adorno 1991:67). To understand the liquidation of intrication we have, I think, to move some years forward to his book Aesthetic Theory – an indispensable and difficult commentary on the complicity of art with the culture industry. Here you will find condemnations aplenty, of the complaisance of those who find politics in art, or who find crisis – of the separation and reification of art that relies dialectically upon otherness to confirm the soulless totality of the society in which it is other – an other with ‘the marrow’ sucked out of it (Adorno 1970/1997:31). Also find: condemnations of the injunction against self-awareness which insists that ‘nothing should be moist: art becomes hygienic’ (Adorno 1970/1997:116) and a critique whereby the reception of art oscillates in a tension between ‘do-not-let-yourself-be-understood and a wanting-to-be-understood’ (Adorno 1970/1997:302) that is held more significant than the work’s appearance. Introspection, where it is exists as a protest against order, is mere inwardness and indifference to that order, fully compatible with wage slavery (Adorno 1970/1997:116). It is monopoly, especially the monopoly form that is bourgeois film, that abolishes art along with conflict. Here, in the face of an omnipotent productive power, ‘all preservation of individual conflict in the work of art, and generally even the introduction of social conflict as well, only serves as a romantic deception’ (Adorno 1991:67).

3. Cinema is the art form of our times (even if now transformed through multi platform formats and televised via laptop and mobile phone). In his book Film Fables, Jacques Rancière offers the intriguing suggestion that documentary fiction ‘invents new intrigues with historical documents’. It ‘joins and disjoins – in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence – the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:18). Rancière is talking of Chris Marker’s great film The Last Bolshevik and Jean-Luc Goddard’s ‘Maoist theatricalization of Marxism’ in the pop age. These fictions using historical documents and making pointed reference to political struggles and current events (the collapse of Soviet power in the USSR; the cultural revolution in France) are glossed by Rancière as an indication that laments about contemporary commercial cinema or mass television as the death of great art, or even over the impossibility of cinema after Auschwitz, are premature. Not just a ‘machine for information and advertisement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:19), Rancière has a more nuanced, even Adorno-esque critique of television (and I do not mean the Adorno as rendered too simply as an elite critic of mass culture, but the Adorno that wrote of the two torn halves of a bourgeois culture, ripped asunder by industrialization, and which cannot, perhaps should not, be repaired). Rancière writes:

“cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple technology of artistic modernity, to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. We must not map this process of thwarting onto the opposition between the principles of art and those of popular entertainment subject to the industrialization of leisure and the pleasures of the masses. The art of the aesthetic age abolishes all these borders because it makes art of everything” (Rancière 2001/2006:10).

Although there is no reference here to Wiesengrund, nor even to the notion of real subsumption, there are reasons to consider the predicament of the political fable here as the question Adorno brought into Marxism, in however European a way [Euro-Marxism] and consider the possibility that the question of art remains a ground of struggle for representation and politics in the widest sense. Do the bees, as it turns out, share with us a co-constiitution of art and ppolitics, of institution and design, a symbiotic relationship between appearance and essence. The frame through which, or rather in which, ever tightening, something is exhibited, excludes other possibilities. Adorno’s sentence about the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ that I have so often quoted, seems apt yet again here as I try to bring forward the discussion of cinema to include not just the staples that reach from Eisenstein’s montage through to Marker or Goddard, but also the much more prosaic art of the pop promo and the documentary television moments of the period immediately after Rancière wrote his book. Has representation collapsed, or is there a secret resistance to be revealed in the silence of the images of which we see and hear so much?

More later: http://wp.me/pcKI3-yT

films at Goldsmiths in Autumn term 2009

filmpcfrontfilmpcbackfinal

Responses on -empyre- list

CATThe reasons I am writing this might not make perfect sense without the full responses, which are on the empyre list and comments on the previous post here, but my return post was an attempt to clarify where questioned and engage where challenged. Was useful for me if no-one else:

Hi All, Apologies for being slow at responding, some family difficulties have taken precedence, and the never ending routines of.. well, no need to whine on about it.

Many many thanks for the responses and comments. I was planning a post that would take us elsewhere, but time already achieved that. Let’s say I am happy to stick with the productivity of going ‘off topic’ in good directions, of even being out of sync – and of later attempting difficult crossings and even slightly impatient and breathless connection making (which I really liked, thanks Micha).

The thing about audio in cinema/movies is that while lip-service is paid to the ‘silence … action on set’ its exactly that priority – silence because the action will start that has sound continually relegated to the status of a second class citizen. Sound recording is fraught, often forgotten – and we have become very much accustomed to images, they seem easy (sure, they are not, but…), well, sound is not of equal import in the discourse on film, and that’s just the problem. When I was teaching documentary film (in my first ten years at Goldsmiths) there was one clear consequence of the limited resources we had. Picture image was pretty good on the various cheap-ish cameras available, such as TVR 900 and so on, but the sound was terrible. And when it came to editing, if the sound was terrible, that was about as good as things got. Great images, crap sound, often meant disaster. Some great films were made (you can see them on Daily Motion) but oftentimes they could have been a whole lot better.

“Except in music videos and cartoons, the soundtrack seems always to exist in function of the image” – Menotti

But even in music videos the sound seemed to be relegated – as Andrew Goodwin long ago argued in “Dancing in the Distraction Factory”, critics had become deaf. I don’t think he was just bemoaning the fact that New Romantic music was dominated by rubbish fashion. That he includes factory in the title of his book did not align him with Adorno or the autonomists, but it would have been nice if it had – I think there is something to be explored in the way the visual – surveillance, coding, presence – belongs to the realm of production under capital. The grooves of the record industry riff on this over and over, a culture industry, a distraction factory, a machine for value extraction. In the cinema no-one lets you scream.

I am happy to hear talk of mediation (Menotti), as without mediation, or rather without theorising mediation, I think we remain unable to comprehend what is going on. To the extent the cinema escapes its older factory conditions, it escapes via a mediation into new conditions, new circuits of occupying the city-space/our lives. Without mediation between the image and the production apparatus, there are only reified fixations – on the image, on the auteur, on the screen mechanics, even on the circuit. I like to call this trinketization – a limiting fascination with abstracted and isolated components of a system that cannot be grasped without a theory of mediation. The trinketization syndrome is very strong in cultural studies (objects, things, the fetish of commodities) and also in cinema (close ups, Kane’s Rosebud). Here Adorno chastised Benjamin writing his Arcades project wanting to have the things (all those bits and pieces of Paris etc he collected for so long, snowdomes and the like) communicate with each other in some kind of auto-dialectical arrangement. Adorno insisted this could not stand without a theory of relation, of mediation. I’ve long been a fan of juxtaposition, but agree that mere montage, revolutionary once, has so readily been co-opted by the culture industry that its no longer even raising eyebrows. The famous picture of Sergei Eisenstien shaking hands with Mickey Mouse is a trinket to ironize exactly this.

I’ve a slowly gestating piece on Citizen Kane (oh no, not again) along these lines, developed slowly as the opening to my lecture course on Marx’s “Capital” (lecture one – ‘The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense collection of commodities’ – Kane collects… Without Kane, without the mediation that is Kane as capital, Kane in Xanadu, Kane and politics, newspapers, media (without Kane as William Randolph Hearst…) there are only trinkets, only Rosebuds. For the record, the gist is in these posts:

http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2007/10/05/welles-hearst-capital/
http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2006/09/03/quoting-marx-for-the-slums-–-zizek’s-parallax-viewpoint/
http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/kanes-snow-globe/
http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2005/10/13/why-film-students-babble-on-about-orsen-welles/

What I meant when I suggested – just threw it out there really – that “the city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure” is that the border is not just at the airport or the seaport, or the passport control check. The border extends, like sound, into every register of our lives. I have to refer to the back catalogue again here. A post on trinketization from the anniversary of Sputnik, in honour of Leika:

The border is not only geography and vision – though a line on the map and the sign at immigration control are our most immediate experiences of control – the border is also a process, an order, an iteration, uneven, performative and aural. The border is not just at the edge or boundary, it is also in the street, in the post, in the pub. The border operates between people. The hand raised to silence the offer of the migrant DVD salesperson who interrupts your quiet enjoyment of a beer – that too is a brutal moment of border control. Although of course we can insist that state boundaries are also porous, continually bypassed, more and less easily, in so many different ways; immigration control still stands as a block to movement and mediation.

The resonance of the war and power is strong here – echoing with the sounds of silence, dispossession and death to which our eyes become deaf, our ears have become blind.

Is our boundary prejudice built into the structure of the border control? A logic of presence, geography and vision govern the strong sense of truth that belongs to knowledge. We say knowledge is divided into fields (geography) and seem most often to designate knowing through a confident designation. We indicate truths by pointing (vision), there is presence in understanding. Now perhaps there is an alternative in the metaphoric code with which we name movement and sound. It may be possible to hear a more critical tone, to raise questions about the assertions of certitude – when critical we say we are not sure we agree, we doubt, we say we do not like the tone. Can thinking through travel and sound suggest new ways of linking across the borders between us all – as sound crosses the border in ways that tamper with visual and geographic blocks (pirate radio, music, language, the sound of falling bombs…). But we also say, when critical, that we cannot see the point. Ahh, with this last the too easy divide of metaphor into those that point and assert knowledge through vision and those that question and challenge through sound does finally break down. But perhaps there is something in sound that can suggest more, that allows us at least to listen to another possibility, temporarily opening up ears and minds.

It is often thought, but we could be more precise – that movement across borders of all kinds is a good thing, breaking taboos and genre rules is an unmitigated good. Of course, cross disciplinarity is claimed as a boon (in cultural studies for sure), but clearly other crossings – of capital, of weapons, of imperial power – are not so welcome. Capital moves one way, surplus value extraction another. Cross-border global movement (music distribution, television news, democracy) might not always be a boon. No doubt pirate radio enjoys much approval, but communications media also have a less favourable heritage (radio as used, say, by the National Socialists in Germany) and present (the contemporary normative narrations of ‘democracy’ by the Voice of America, the BBC, or with the televisual uniformity of CNN). A more careful thinking that notes the metaphors of critique, distinguishes movement and sonic registers that affirm or disavow, works to undo that which destroys and divides, fosters that which unites, organises capacity to live otherwise with others…

Crossing the border, a great achievement, pushing the boundaries, also sometimes caught and fraught in contradictions. For cross-disciplinarity and border transgression, against control by Capital – we need to sublate movement out of, under and around control. No simple task. The sound of a dog barking in space might caution against uncritical celebrations. Lest we forget Laika, dead on  Sputnik 2 these 51 years ago today.

And earlier, an attempt to suggest we could start working against a geographical model of the Border or the Boundary. If we recognize the border is not just the port, but the entire city, as in “everywhere, in everything we do”, in each interaction between people related, somehow somewhere to belonging – how violent this is – if we recognize the border as a wall between us all, then we might see reason to have to reconfigure the very idea of nation, boundary and movement that so distracts us. Secondly, the border is not just at the edge, but at any port, at the immigration office, in the postal service that delivers the visa, in the police checks, the detention procedure – in the everyday reactions of people to each other even as they stand and stare. Thirdly, if we think of the way sound and meaning travels across the border, might we start to develop ways of thinking critically against this geographic boundary – and the old models of nation, culture, race that the border secures? What would it be to ask critically about, and so reject, the way we have fixed the border through property, maps, geography – and so leave that space that has been deaf to other movements, transmissions, resonances. Would this work things differently, otherwise?

Which might be what I might – maybe – could – possibly have meant by “filming your way across”? The ‘second life’ of theoretical language (thanks Johannes, I like that) is pretty useless if it does not provoke suggestions that might lead us to actions more effective, more capable, more able to win (against Capital, which has tanks and theory… there is so much more to do here… but I must run elsewhere).

Thanks so much for the time, if you read this far. I will lurk on…

John

Empyre – extensions of the city discussion (border reprise)

kipnistheaterI’ve been invited to participate in the Emyre mailing list discussion this week, so will cross post here. Already gone off piste I guess, but hey:

Empyre is here.

Thanks for the invitation to guest here. I wanted to start with two quotes from the rubric for this discussion:

“From the Depth of Projection to the Extension of the City The performances with projection rescue the tri-dimensionality of the place and set the image back to human proportions. This allows us to jump from closed to open spaces, from private to public domain. The city is not only a setting: every wall can be a screen; every window, a projection booth”

“The borders between public and private spaces are essential for the existence of cinema as such”

Thinking about this, I went back and looked up the early comment that: “cinema is a collection of techniques to make the light lay on a surface” – my trouble with this definition, perhaps, is mainly that it leaves out the audio – the surround sound of the cinema space. In so many ways the city, and the border, is an audio-visual enclosure. The audio cannot be ignored in cinema, even when it moves away from the proscenium screen. I think it is productive to think of the city as cinema (this is not new) but also to think the border this way. Audio-visual passports? Even our dialogue on the border is scripted. Sure, the border begins as a line in the sand, and cinema too has a silent pre-history, but even this spatiality was never totally mute.

So, ‘media as architecture’ sure, but this includes sound, and we need a way to talk of this without relegating the metaphors to secondary status behind the screen (where the speakers are?) – I am deeply dissatisfied with the term soundscape and all this talk of distance. The way metaphors of vision and geography dominate the audio-visual. The whole thing about writing on the screen gets stuck here too – though that would take an excursus into Derrida (and perhaps Stiegler) to unpack, and cost us years and lives.

So, to cut to the main theme – all this comes up in our [Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, AHRC Beyond Text] project on Borders, which I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce here. This may seem opportunistic, but my habit is to think in reverse, or against my first expectation. See what I did above – started thinking about the screen only to insist on talking about audio. The idea behind the borders project stems from this kind of wayward/dissonant process.

So, I want to think in the opposite direction from film studies, not with a view to understanding film, or screens or media, though of course film studies helps us understand what we see (and hear), but to suggest that we ask what can our understanding of film (I’d rather say, the telematic) can bring to our understanding of other pressing questions.

For me, the ‘pressing’ questions have to do with issues such as migration, racism (profiling, the war of terror, security hysteria) and capital (economic restructuring, cultural economy etc). Also perhaps climate/environment, and of course resistance to capital (what is required to ‘win’?).

One part of this – backwards thinking process – is to ask how an understanding from one field – eg., cinema/telematics, screens, the audio-visual etc., – might offer ways of rethinking things in another – such as terror, or racism, or migration/borders – and reconfigure the activities and activisms that stem therefrom. A series of our Border workshops have explored this, following a trajectory from the audio, through performativity and now, next, to cinema. How do these areas of interest provoke new modes, sites, registers of activism and action? I hope you can read between the lines here and we can set up a relay between this project and the current one on “Extension of the City” (my next post on cities I promise, though here I am already engaging with the suggestion that ‘This division [of cinema space] reflects not only the organizational logic of the cinematographic industry, but that of society as well’ ).

Anyway, here is the Border Documentary call, recently sent out, for the workshop to be held in Copenhagen in November (mentioning the earlier workshops too):

In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just in ports, and the authoritarian boot boys of the nation state, but between us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language, meaning, representation, and in the cry of protest and in the music of solidarity across divides. The border echoes everywhere, it resonates and shouts from every station location, wherever you listen look. Sound problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.

In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.

In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news, the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.

We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political, ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing, archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities – we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?

Border Documents (here)

CPH.DOX: http://www.cphdox.dk/d1/front.lasso

Border Documents

IMG_2590In “Sonic Border” (London Nov 2008) we explored the way sound crosses the border differently, provoking a rethink of the border’s location – not just in ports, and the authoritarian boot boys of the nation state, but between us all, in conversations, in ideas – an oppressive structure of language, meaning, representation, and in the cry of protest and in the music of solidarity across divides. The border echoes everywhere, it resonates and shouts from every station location, wherever you listen look. Sound problematized the geographic and visual location of the border regime.

In “Theatre Border” (Berlin April 2009) the performative, tactile and ritualistic force of the border as staged power suggests we rethink connection, touch, proximity and co-responsibility. The theatrical exclusion of others manufactures a charade populated by demons, caricatures and monstrosity. We don’t want to be cast in such dramas.

In “Border Documents” (Copenhagen Nov 2009) we will join the CPH.DOX documentary film festival to consider the border as it unfolds in time/screen based media – what does thinking about border activism and the telematic offer us? Possible topics include the border in television news, the in-focus out of focus role of CCTV in detention centres, the scanning screens of the immigration check, the civilian phone-cam exposé of deportation and ‘Torture Taxi’ (special rendition) flights, and more.

We are interested in new perspectives on the status and function of the documentary forms today, as they cross the ontological divide between fiction and truth, art and reality (objective/subjective, social, political, ethical etc) and frame alternative ways of seeing, witnessing, representing, archiving and experiencing ‘the elements of truth’ (Steyerl, 2003). Can we understand documentation not as paper passports or mere representation but as docketing the (re)construction of (new) social and political realities – we are interested in time and screen formats that offer access to critical recontextualization of the reproduction of borders, and of unfolding new agents of social and political (ex)change. On a more formalistic note, how does the documentary form carry a politic, an ethics or epistemology and how can the documentary film help us see and act differently? Does the time of the border transform its place, or its performative character? Does border activism lend itself to the cinematic? Can we film another way across?

We will meet over three days in mid November (9th-11th here) in the Arts Academy of Copenhagen, as part of the wider CPH.DOX festival (which runs 6th-16th – see here). More details soon.

“Border Documents” will be the third Network meeting of the Beyond Text Beyond Borders group, funded by the AHRC Beyond Text Program) and with the participation of University of Copenhagen Doctoral School in Cultural Studies, Friei University Berlin InterArts, Jadavpur University (India) Film Studies and Goldsmiths College, Centre for Cultural Studies, as well as with Clandestino Festival (Sweden), Migrant Media (UK) and, of course, now CPH.DOX (Denmark).

 

UPDATE: http://wp.me/PcKI3-hW

bt_logo_cmyk2cmyk-lscape2

Godard “British Sounds” pt 1

UntitledYou can find Jean-Luc Godard’s “British Sounds” in all its glory on You Tube now. It is worth watching all the way through (6 parts) – from the ‘petroleum of pop music’ and excerpts from the great Shiela Rowbothom to the “gestapo of the humanist university” (they mean LSE). ‘No end to class struggle’ in the centre of the jack. All Godard’s great themes are here – the pan across the line of cars (weekday this time, not ‘weekend’) through to militant Maoist students concocting a twisted sympathy for the devil (Lennon not Lenin) and more. Thanks for the reminder to Iain Sinclair and his great rambling Hackney(ed) dossier (if you haven’t got it yet, get it – and read Sukhdev’s review of Sinclair’s book here). As Sukhdev says: “here’s another reason why Sinclair is such an important writer: he offers readers the critical tools for looking anew at wherever it is that they live.”

Bengali Cinema and class

nagarikI was asked for recommendations of films on Class and Caste by Dipa for her course in LA.  Just a few very quick suggestions of the top of my head. I’ve no idea if these are readily available in Hollywood, but I’d expect they should be:

Bengali Films on class [and caste] would start with almost anything by Mrinal Sen (we screened a bunch of these at Goldsmiths last year):

Sen’s film “Kharij” is great for its critique of middle class life. He made this after his Calcutta revolution trilogy. Though I guess that’s more class politics than caste, of course it can also be seen that the boy is of lower caste as well. Its a pretty amazing film.

Or you might look at the films of Ritwik Ghatak, starting with Nagarik 1952, an early Marxist statement dealing with partition – predates Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” by a few years, but not released till after Ritwik died of alcohol related illness.

Then – though not a Bengali film – there is that film about Ambedkar, more contemporary, glossy, but I recall thinking it pretty good. Read Gail Omvedt alongside the film.

Several films have been made of Mahasweta Devi novels to do with tribals and dalits. “Mother of 1084” I think is one that deserves attention. Obviously its Devi and Spivak who you’d read alongside this. My take here.

Burt

burt_lancasterAlongside Barbara Stanwyck, my other fave mainstream movie star is Burt Lancaster (and though the woman on the beach in this still is, if you did not know, Deborah Kerr, Stanwyck and Lancaster teamed up together in “Sorry, Wrong Number” way back in 1948). As I am on a bit of a Burt tip this month, I watched “The Professionals” (1966) tonight. It is fantastic. Alongside his great “Crimson Pirate”, its one of the huge movies that show that the House Un-american Activities Commission (HUAC) really had a point, there were communists in Hollywood. Kaaabaaan! And it was a good thing too. More arty types might also enjoy Lancaster in Visconti’s very last film, “Conversation Piece” where Burt plays an aging Professor obsessed with trinkets. That kind of appealed to me too. What a trajectory – pirate – revolutionary – art dealer. Its a pity his involvement with the movie “Airport” ruined the run.

Thomas for Prez in 08

Thomas Altheimer would love to see friends and enemies for a screening of his 52 mins film Europe For President at Alma Enterprises’ project space on November 4th in Glasshill Street, SE1 (no street number, signs in the small street will lead you to the venue). Altheimer will open the event at 7 pm with an ‘Act Of Concession’.

The film documents Altheimer’s attempt to launch a European candidate for president in the US (see pics and pitch below). It is produced by German, French and Austrian television and premières on French/German broadcaster on Nov 1st at 6 pm (see German press release: http://www.zdf.de/ZDFde/inhalt/28/0,1872,1404028_idDispatch:8094208,00.html).

Europe For President

Inspired by the spectacle staged in Berlin by still-citizen-Obama in July 2008, Thomas Altheimer, decides to not only stage a presidential campaign of his own in America but also to take the message to Barack Obama that Europe is not a part of his constituency.

At a casting session in LA Altheimer picks the beautiful Hannah Jefferson to front the Europe 2008 campaign. From LA the campaign sets out to capture the hearts and minds of Americans in small towns. But the real challenge quickly proves to be to capture the heart and mind of the candidate herself.

Disagreeing on pretty much everything, the culture-clashed Altheimer and Jefferson goes to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Altheimer to tell the delegates of the European alternative, Jefferson to take pictures. In the end Altheimer brings out a sign that sours the mood—not only of the convention but also of the Europe ’08 campaign.

[ed note: As a long term supporter of this campaign, I note here and here as moments of complicity with the electoral process - JH].

Roshan Seth

Once Upon a Long Ago, Far Away a Time… Roshan Seth <pic 1> was in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), a Stephen Frears film from a Hanif Kureishi screenplay. Kureshi, a *force* in British theatre and film, once said of The 1001 Nights – a book I will speak more of later – that it was the greatest book of all’ (in My Son the Fanatic [Kureishi 199x:xii]). His own story in Laundrette <pic 2 Laundrette ad> includes a portrait of a vodka-swilling, bed ridden, socialist-journalist father of ‘white-boy kissing’ Omar (see Desai 2004:vii), played by Seth. There are problems with the film, but I was happy to organise the first ever screening in Australia back in 1985. Controversy over its troubling sexual politics – an Asian boy fucking a fascist – possibly overshadowed the economic crisis built into the plot – financial meltdown and social decay mixed with Thatcherite opportunism and rampant greed, a volatile mix that might seem familiar today.

Roshan Seth was in a lot of films – from Monsoon Wedding, London Kills Me and The Buddha of Suburbia, right through to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) <pic 3> , and instead of showing Seth, I have a picture <pic 4> that is the height of exotica-schlock-porn-horror – is the heart-tearout scene where Amrish Puri who played Mola Ram>. Here I’d just point out how this is a classic image of cod-exotica… this is a classic orientalist film …the Temple of Doom houses a Thuggee cult – I’ve written about this in relation to Calcutta and Exotica, thugs would take a rupee, tie it one end of a length of cloth (a dupatta?), and strangle their victims from behind – causing terror on the roads). Anyway, in the film Seth was Chatter Lal, Prime Minister, and I don’t have a photo of him. He (and Puri) had a role the year before in Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) – the story goes that some protested about Gandhi being represented at all, since he was like a saint and he should be presented simply as a white light crossing the screen. <Gandhi pic #5 – seems from this still that Attenborough tried to achieve that effect with Ben Kingsley>. Seth was Nehru in the film, prime minister again. When I was in Manchester I went to a fundraiser for Akbar Ahmed who was keen to make a rival bio-pick of Pakistan founder Jinnah (eventually released 1998). It was to be equally respectful of the other leader of the anti-colonial struggle. A thousand ponds a head dinner, I was there as ‘anthropologist’ and they were thinking of having none other than Ben Kingsley also play Jinnah. In the end they got Christopher Lee, with disturbing vampire associations, he faced death threats and needed body guards as people in Pakistan were, perhaps rightly, concerned at the quality of the movie. Ahmed himself, a Cambridge University Islamic scholar said his film would be respectful and truthful, not at all going in for scurrilous point scoring, it would report Nehru’s affair with Edwina Mountbatten, but not try to suggest the then soon to be Indian Prime Minister was corrupt or complicit in any way.

Roshan Seth was also Beria in the bio pic of Stalin (1992 – Robert Duvall in the lead role <Stalin Beria pic 6>). So the whole gamut of dress up roles are his – socialist-journalist in bed, thrise times Prime Minister of India, and NKVD executioner.

[more parts of my talk from last night will come when the hangover subsides... Thank-you to everyone who came last night, the students, past and present, who wrote in my little red book (great gift) and for the flowers, wine, books, more wine. thanks to the staff of the college who made it possible - from the media technicians hassled with a last minute panic, through to Geoff who contrived such a marvellous introduction. Thanks to everyone who came, from near and far - hi Cheryl - and Ange, Johhny and Freddy... Thanks Adela for the video record that appparently captures all four mentions of Emile. Thanks everyone who came.]

Cross Border

I am rereading Eyal Weizman’s really excellent book “Hollow Land“, and I’m taken by his comment that the border is not always symmetrical. Of course, some are blocked, some pass freely, Capital flows through, commodities glide on by, others stand in line or have to sneak under the wire (if lucky). What else crosses the border, and how? Can this symmetry be tampered with in innovative ways, so as to support… Add this to the street as the border right here right now, and the ubiquity of border controls in our every move (for and against) and … Anyway, this below just had to be elevated from the comments of this post here, with dates amended, since its now time to start thinking out loud how to implement the thing. Get in touch if interested:

June 25 2008: I have been awarded some money from September for a network on the theme of ‘Beyond Text‘, and propose to use it for work on border activism and creativity – music, theatre, film. AHRC in their wisdom and generosity have included money for people from India to come to Berlin London Copenhagen – and possibly Barcelona, this year and next.

The project: we are gathering Border Activist/artists from a couple of organizations and propose to meet together over a week X 6 in the next two years – some casual meetings, some workshops, some public talks – to work out some ways to break with conventions of border arts, pursue border activisms – and of course tamper with Border Patrols. The thinking needs to be furthered as its pretty sketchy as yet, but I want that to happen in concert with others. Migrant Media London, Clandestino music festival Gotebourg, Re:Orient theatre Stockholm and friends in Unis at Barcelona, Berlin FU and Copenhagen Doctoral School.

The times are not yet fixed, but I wanted to give advance notice….

A slightly better outline of the plan: The money I have is small, and specifically for events in Berlin, London and Copenhagen and for visitors from Calandestino festival, Re:Orient theatre, and Migrant Media film, and various people from Kolkata. It is to run a series of week long laboratory-workshops. These will be variously on music, theatre and film. The focus is on border crossing activisms in some way, I hope. Nothing is worked out yet, but at a guess the dates would help – approximately, a week each in:

early November 08: London (music)

end feb 09 Berlin (theatre)

May 09 Copenhagen (Film)

Sept 09 London (film)

Feb 10 Berlin (music)

May 10 Copenhagen (theatre)

The people involved will be working on border activism, transnational, diaspora, streets as borders, the border between ourselves, everywhere, everyday…mainly, but specifically with a film, theatre and music angles. Any ideas welcome…

The first meeting at least will be music focused. A week long ‘laboratory’ on ’sonic diaspora’ to be held in London in November. There would also be a big music night at the Amersham Arms pub. The laboratory would involve various practitioners in music, and academics from Europe, in a series of workshops (no idea exactly on what yet) in the week.

So, these are just preliminary ideas, but get thinking of border again… and have a look at your calendar. – John

Journal of the moving image

jmi-logo-copy_1.jpgYou can find my tactless trashing of televisual tourism and our ‘national treasure’ Michael Palin in one of the issues of the Jadavpur Uni Film Studies journal that have just been put online . Thanks Abhijit Roy.

 

“Journal of the Moving Image (JMI) is the annual journal of the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, published by Jadavpur University, Kolkata. It was launched in print format in 1999. The print and the online versions will now co-exist.

JMI seeks to represent critical work on the state of contemporary screen cultures. There are many regions in the world with large viewing populations, often with vast production infrastructures for film and television; but corresponding institutions or forums for critical engagement with such audio-visual regimes are still highly inadequate. JMI seeks to address a broad set of issues ranging from formal properties of the moving image to the social foundation of its production, transmission and reception. There will be a special focus on India and South Asia, and on issues of transnational media transactions, but we would like to offer a wider range of discussion on film and television from various parts of the world made from different perspectives”

Panto Rancière

The twin towers have been so often represented that it is barely possible to see them now for the fug and smoke. In a certain sense, and for some critics, the question of representation collapsed for Cultural Studies on that day in September, 2001. Of course everything has already been said about it, and nothing heard. The towers are silent, the lives erased then, and the many more lost since (and the billions in war credits) are also verbosely inarticulate.

In his book Film Fables, Jacques Rancière offers the intriguing suggestion that documentary fiction ‘invents new intrigues with historical documents’. It ‘joins and disjoins – in the relationship between story and character, shot and sequence – the powers of the visible, of speech, and of movement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:18). Rancière is talking of Chris Marker’s film The Last Bolshevik and Goddard’s ‘Maoist theatricalization of Marxism’ in the pop age. These fictions using historical documents and making pointed reference to political struggles and current events (the collapse of Soviet power in the USSR; the cultural revolution in France) are glossed by Rancière as an indication that laments about contemporary commercial cinema or mass television as the death of great art, or even over the impossibility of cinema after Auschwitz, are premature. Not just a ‘machine for information and advertisement’ (Rancière 2001/2006:19), Rancière has a more nuanced, even Adorno-esque critique (and I do not mean the Adorno as rendered too simply as an elite critic of mass culture, but the Adorno that wrote of the two torn halves of a bourgeois culture, ripped asunder by industrialization, and which cannot, perhaps should not, be repaired – see Hutnyk 2000, chapter 1). Rancière writes:

“cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple technology of artistic modernity, to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. We must not map this process of thwarting onto the opposition between the principles of art and those of popular entertainment subject to the industrialization of leisure and the pleasures of the masses. The art of the aesthetic age abolishes all these borders because it makes art of everything” (Rancière 2001/2006:10).

 

Although there is no reference here to Wiesengrund, nor even to the notion of real subsumption, there are reasons to consider the predicament of the political fable here as the question Adorno brought into Marxism, in however European a way [Euro-Marxism] and consider the possibility that the question of art remains a ground of struggle for representation and politics in the widest sense. Adorno’s sentence about the ‘secret omnipresence of resistance’ that I have so often quoted, seems apt yet again here as I try to bring forward the discussion of cinema to include not just the staples that reach from Eisenstein’s montage through to Marker or Godard, but also the much more prosaic art of the pop promo and the documentary television moments of the period immediately after Rancière wrote his book. Has representation collapsed, or is there a secret resistance to be revealed in the silence of the images of which we see and hear so much? The book “Pantomime Terror” will be an attempt to work with and through these scenes towards something more than the melodrama or melancholy that Rancière diagnoses as innocence become guilty sacred mission (Rancière 2001/2006:186). In a brilliant moment he recognizes that it is what he calls the burlesque body – and what I will call pantomime – that provides us with a ‘dramaturgic machine’ for cutting ‘the link between cause and effect, action and reaction’ by throwing ‘the elements of the moving image into contradiction’ (Rancière 2001/2006:12). It is this secret contradiction that we need to see at work.

The terror for me is this delinking cause and effect. That the image becomes mute, that we become blind, is a problem. These are the terms used by Buck-Morss and Žižek in books that address the events of 2001, and it was the constant refrain of former British Prime Minister Blair in defending British foreign policy in the wake of the July 7 2005 tube and bus bombings in London.

More detail will be needed on this mutation and blindness of representation, but is it enough to note that in his 2008 book Violence Žižek calls terrorist attacks and suicide bombings a ‘counter violence’ that is a ‘blind passage a l’acte’ and an ‘implicit admission of impotence’ (Žižek 2008:69) and Buck-Morss, in her book Thinking Past Terror, offers ‘the destruction of September 11 was a mute act. The attackers perished without making demands … They left no note behind … A mute act’ (Buck-Morss 2003:23). It should be said she qualifies this ‘Or did they?’ but the choice of an absent verbal – mute – message is something we should return to, listen closely to, consider again, and not just with our eyes scanning for evidence, but ears as well. In a similar tone, we might pass over the curiosity that Žižek chooses the infirmities of blindness and impotence to characterize the terrorist suicide bomber, as if the twin towers indicated a scene of masturbation (too much and you lose your sight) and castration (impotence, symbolic castration of the towers, mummy daddy, the old psychoanalytic staples are invoked). More details to be added here on the symptomatic eventuality that has to be pathologized via fables and pantomime in order to be dismissed.

More to come…

 

Patrick Swayze Dance with Death

There will be no “Dirty Dancing 3″ it seems. Sad, but at least we can luxuriate in the recollections of knowing that “DD2″ (2004 – where Patch was a dance instructor) will have been the last outing for the Rambo of the ballroom, and the flame will never be dimmed. I am dismayed that he has cancer, but also not surprised since his delicate health has always been an issue. There was a time, soon after his work in Kolkata on the film “City of Joy”, that we were very concerned. Roland Joffe, director, had had to build a secure fresh water pool for the monsoon scene of that film since to have his star swim in regular Kolkata water would have been too big a risk. After the shoot we got some souvenirs too (a jar full, see below) – we were fans not only of “DD”, but also his excellent, Keanu-mocking role in “Point Break”. But it was the “City of Joy” stuff that was a worry, Swayze said at the Melbourne premier that while he could normally command a seven million dollar fee for a film, he so wanted to do this one “for the people of Calcutta” that he accepted just one million dollars. Here are some excerpts from my “Rumour” chapter on the film [with pictures added for my amusement] detailing the story of the fake slum, the fake promo shots, fake protests and fake stool – a farce all round in a city that deserves more than a dirty two-step coin trick:

Cinematic Calcutta

This chapter considers cinematic Calcuttas … The Joffe film, “City of Joy” is the primary focus because this film was made in co-operation with volunteers from the Preger clinic living in Modern Lodge. It presents highly-worked, advanced media technology, scripted and choreographed version of the rumour of Calcutta, so that the experience of travellers and visitors as portrayed in the film version … Released in 1992, “City of Joy”, directed by Joffe and starring Swayze alongside Om Puri and Shabana Azmi, offers an opportunity to evaluate the role of the movie camera in the presentation of India, and Calcutta (to the world beyond its shores). The distribution circuits of the film are all the more relevant here since City of Joy takes as its subject a ‘volunteer’ visitor who works in a street clinic very similar to that in which the travellers I met worked. Indeed, ‘the same’.

The plot of “City of Joy” is simple. The film begins with the death of an anonymous patient on an operating table in a modern American hospital. The surgeon in charge of the operation suffers anguish and despair over his failure. Cut to India.
Hasari (Om Puri) and family travel to Calcutta by bullock and cart, bus then train – the acceleration of this travel trajectory is not accidental. With warnings from a Grandmother to “stay away from the cinema”, they arrive to the crowded Howrah station amidst a Communist rally (which is the only scene which indicates any formal political presence in the city at all). They spend a first night camped by the Hooghly river and are then deceived into renting someone’s apartment by the charlatan Mr Ganguly. After Ganguly disappears, and Hasari and family begin to settle in, they are suddenly chased from the apartment, which was not for rent, and was not Mr Ganguly’s in the first place. Having lost all their savings, they mark out a space of pavement.

Dr Max (Patrick Swayze) arrives at Sudder Street’s Fairlawn Hotel (no bar fridge, offers of a “lady”) and takes a shower, musing over his absent passport, which he has left at an ashram, and his earnest quest to find enlightenment/escape from his failed life in America as a surgeon. In the first of what are many uncommon occurrences for this ‘typical’ American tourist, the porter from the Fairlawn brings Poomina, (Suneeta Sengupta) an allegedly 20 year old “lady”, with whom Max has “some problem” (a euphemism for sex?), but resolves this by going out drinking. As must happen with all Americans stranded in a ‘foreign’ city, Max ends up in a sleazy nightclub, the drinking bout leads to a bar fight, as goondas bash him – a very unusual event to befall a tourist in even the most seedy of Calcutta’s bars, more likely in New York – and he is robbed of all belongings. Hasari, from his pavement space nearby, intervenes and brings the near unconscious Max, with Poomina’s assistance, to Joan’s ‘City of Joy’ street clinic. Joan (Pauline Collins) patches up his wounds, shows him around the clinic, its small dispensary and school, and pays his way back to his comfortable hotel.

Max “doesn’t like sick people” and resists Joan’s obvious plans to recruit him as doctor for the clinic. Hasari learns to pull a rickshaw, bringing Max back to the hotel in a mad zig-zag through proverbially crowded streets. The unlikely entrance of such a rickshaw into the grounds of the hotel is not the least of the inaccuracies (or rather, artistic licence) of the film – the street protocols and hierarchy of business and propriety which operate even in Calcutta’s relatively small tourist trade are glossed over in this realist portrayal.

Rickshaw work is controlled by the family of Ghatak, whose son Ashoka (Art Malik) – the one whose gang beat up on Max – demands that Hasari ‘neigh’ like a horse if he wants to pull a rickshaw. The more pragmatic father examines Hasari’s chest (for signs of tuberculosis) and demands “loyalty”, and Hasari becomes a rickshaw wallah. While in Pilkana, the real City of Joy, hand-pulled rickshaw’s have been long replaced by bicyclist-driven ones, artistic licence again erases the contemporary conditions of Calcutta and no recognition is made of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation campaign to end the use of hand-pulled rickshaws. Although the hand-pulled rickshaw is still prevalent in the inner city area, this fictive shifting of them to the City of Joy is another calculated inaccuracy: such omissions of urban planning efforts in Calcutta are significant devices in presenting the city as the exemplar of massively abstracted ‘grinding poverty’. Upon establishing himself as a rickshaw wallah, Hasari and family move into a room in the City of Joy. Hasari plans to save for his daughter’s dowry (no criticism of this practice acknowledged, despite signs of a school, and thus by implication the usual campaigns to prevent the illegal practice of dowry and the many tragedies to which it leads through extortionate demands).

The notion that Ashoka and the Ghatak family organization are somehow, consciously or unconsciously placed in the metaphoric location of the Left Front Government and its officials in Joffe’s version of Calcutta may occur to some. As the slippage from specific characterizations to generalized ‘how things are in Calcutta’, and with the conspicuous absence of the communist parties in most of the film, it seems clear that Ghatak, as embodiment of all evil and corruption, will be associated with formal authority in the city. The message is that the only authority in Calcutta is corrupt. This crypto-anti-communist lesson from Joffe will be acknowledged and internalized to varying degrees of conscious recognition – and moreso if audiences are aware of any of the wranglings Joffe had with the Government of West Bengal, Bengali intellectuals and the Calcutta press over the propriety of making this film. While it is not possible to show that the characterizations of the Ghatak family must be seen as a Joffe slag against the CPI(M) through ‘metonymic’ substitution, this does raise questions of the motivations of those involved in this sort of film-making, and that perhaps the film is about Joffe’s, and Swayze’s, frustrations more than much else. The explorations of Swayze’s tortured self, the search for enlightenment and meaning, the works of ‘charity’, in a psychoanalysis by substitution, can be read as Joffe’s own experience. Despite criticism from almost every quarter in Calcutta – from the Government who banned his film to other film-makers, including Satyajit Ray who said he couldn’t film on the streets of the city – Joffe belligerently and relentlessly pursued his project. There were great difficulties encountered in scenes filmed in the streets, although most of the film was shot in a specially built million dollar set in suburban Calcutta. Swayze recounted the excitement of filming with a certain tension in a promotional interview: “we were forced to just set up the camera and shoot before anyone noticed what we were up to”. (Less generous critics on the roof of the Modern Lodge called this the clandestine realismo approach to film-making).
Max, meanwhile, is trying to buy a hamburger in a streetside “no beef” cafe. He spots Ashoka, gives chase, but is detained by the police. Rescued a second time by Joan, he comments upon her work in the street clinic: “are you just nuts, or are you doing penance here?” Joan replies with the first of many pro-charity soliloquys that would not seem all that out of place at a Modern Lodge roof-top meeting: “I came on a whim in the first place, but then I stayed. In the beginning it was really frustrating trying to convince them not to be so bloody passive, and then I realised I was fighting a thousand years of passive acceptance”. The theme of passivity is the recurrent explanation of people’s predicament throughout the film.

Max: “Maybe you should stop doing this”. Joan: “Maybe I should … but I’m not very good at loving just one person, it seems to work out better if I spread it around a little bit”. After this exchange Max reaffirms his faith in the Dallas Cowboys, American cinema and Mickey Mouse. Joan’s “simple-minded, but tidy” three part explanation of the ways of the world – there are runaways, observers, and the committed – does not seem to impress as Hasari invites him to share a meagre dinner. After a planting ceremony of seeds in a pot on behalf of his daughter’s dowry, the farmer who must always watch something grow, asserts the ‘simple’ joys of life. But very soon after, this tranquil scene is disrupted by an emergency which only Max can deal with, and although there is no morphine, diazepam … local anaesthetic, he is able to assist in the delivery of a breach birth – an awesome scene in which the doctor asserts the full authority of the medical tradition contra indigenous superstition and fear. Amidst all this, Hasari’s wife Kamla (Shabana Azmi) assists the doctor on the strength of her experience as a mother of three, and earns a position as his nurse when – after the loss of his airticket home, and a little soul searching: “I don’t even feel good about what we did down there today, bringing another little mouth to feed into this cesspool” – he ‘volunteers’ to help in the clinic on a continuing basis. Max: “You call this a clinic!” Joan: “We’ve got no brain scanner either Max, but we’re doing the best we can” (these lines, and a scene involving the sale of donated milk, were offered to Joffe, I suspect, from the chief humourist at the Preger Middleton Row clinic).

In the meantime Poomina has been ordered to attend school under Max’s directive. Max and Joan visit Ghatak (Shyamanand Jalan), who offers Max a lesson in goonda philosophy: “I have learnt not to trust those who say they do things for the benefit of others”, which Max violently rejects. This is an interesting refusal which encodes much of Joffe’s message; unlike the passive and yoked people of the City of Joy, Max will not bow down before the power of the oppressor Ghatak. He calls upon the people of the City of Joy to rise up against the Ghatak family: “You should get pissed at the people who are really using you”. This is as admirable a message as it is naive. Even the most cursory history lesson about Bengal would have taught Joffe that any suggestion that Calcuttans need American coaching in order to organize a political mobilisation is wholly absurd. Passivity here works as Western arrogance and denial displaced by self-importance. Near the beginning of the film Grandmother had warned Hasari’s sons Shambu and Manooj to “stay away from the cinema”, but Max, a film-buff’s fanatic, had taken them to see an action-hero epic. Max is the agent of (cinematic) change, although a mature assessment of the effects of cinema upon him in his youth, where his adulterous father packed him off to the movies while pursuing his affairs, might lead to other evaluations of the impact of paternal directives. While Joffe does not take up the metaphor of movies and paternalism which could be read into this scene, the self-referentiality of Joffe’s cinema jokes may have unforeseen dysfunctions which should not be lost on critical audiences who are likely to note that the real “users” in this film are the Americans, Swayze and Joffe, and the imperialist system which makes possible this sort of cinematic characterization of Calcutta by wealthy celluloid “bosses”. Fatherly protection and paternalistic charity are the guiding themes. The rest of the film follows the script of classics like The Wild Bunch and The Seven Samurai, as Max leads the people of the City of Joy to organise and, subsequently, Hasari inspires the rickshaw wallahs to rebel against the oppression of the Ghatak ‘family’. There are several almost predictable setbacks: Hasari contracts tuberculosis, a common complaint among rickshaw wallahs; he loses his rickshaw to Ashoka and he is forced to sell his blood (a sensational aspect of poverty included in the story and around which the author of the book “City of Joy”, Dominique Lapierre, was severely criticised); an attack is organised by Ashoka and his goondas upon the leprosy clinic; and there is a near-death action-camera experience for Max during the monsoon flood (the 250,000 gallons of water for the flood was specially pumped into the watertight set Joffe had built to enable monsoon filming without regular ‘polluted’ monsoon water – the entire project overseen by Star Wars trilogy special effects wizard Nick Allder).

There is one terrible scene where Ashoka traps Poomina and uses a razor to cut her cheeks to “accentuate that beautiful smile”, although Max’s surgical skill is sufficient to restore her beauty. Moving from active woman to silent ‘child’, Poomina’s character develops in a way that underscores certain gendered and ethnocentric assumptions about Indian women. From an assertive, but fallen woman who initiates all interaction between herself and Max, and brings him to the City of Joy clinic, her increasing passivity contrasts to her initial resourcefulness as she is ordered off to school, is attacked with the razor by Ashok, is carried to safety by Max who sews her slit mouth shut – making her unable to speak in the entire second half of the film. After functioning as the catalyst for Max’s arrival in the City of Joy, as well as providing a hint of exotic and erotic intrigue, Poomina is silenced almost as completely as Hasari’s daughter, who, without a word, and possibly in Poomina’s place, is married at the end of the film with the dowry that Hasari has almost killed himself to earn.

After this, the film’s denouement is a scene reminiscent of the manger sequence in Jerusalem in late December two thousand years ago. Amidst a grey Calcutta, just one shining light beacons for all Christian souls – the clinic of the City of Joy – as the camera pulls back to a full panorama and the credits roll.

OTHER ANGLES ON THE CITY OF JOY

There is much in “City of Joy” that people could find offensive. The simplicity of the emotive codes in which poverty and the conditions of Calcutta are explained away as problems of passivity, and localized exploitation, avoids any analysis of the global economic factors which depress such sectors in Calcutta. Max, even though the audience recognizes that he is from the wealthy ‘West’, is still presented as the man with the answers, despite the self-help rhetoric of the clinic. It is never acknowledged that Max’s own patronizing attitudes and ‘answers’ are founded upon the full might of neocolonial exploitation of Calcutta by international capitalism. Nor does the representation of women in the film, as smiling, passive, beautiful and increasingly silent beings, provide any degree of analytic sophistication. Such formulaic representations of bodies cannot achieve more. The absence of those who in other (local) narratives of the city are seen to be doing things in Calcutta, be it the Corporation, or the militant communists and CPI(M), simply affirms the film’s misrepresentations of Calcuttans as passive (apolitically joyous), and Americans as those-who-have-answers. This is not Calcutta, and although I’m not sure what is, or how its diversity could be represented (but see the films of Mrinal Sen), it is possible to argue that despite being ‘about’ Westerners in Calcutta, Joffe’s film does not at any stage address an explanation of the problems of Calcutta in terms of international relations, nor does it consider the dimensions of local conditions – positive and negative – in the context of Calcutta’s political history, or provide more than a gloss over the factors of class and caste which should take at least some place in any narrative. That he prefers instead to lay all blame on a local petty bully boy, in an emotional and sentimental heart-throb wild west adventure in which Patrick Swayze saves the day – hi ho Silver – is nothing short of amazing.

Can the camera, in the hands of a Western visitor, see otherwise? If “images of Calcutta are restless and constantly shifting in meaning” as Joffe says (Filmnotes 1992) is it possible to disrupt the code that he has played out here? There are other films of Calcutta, but I do not think the ‘difference’ that these films display is a difference that enters or effects the codifications that determine Joffe’s images. The reasons for this are prejudices and ethnocentrisms that are not specific to the camera, but are neither disrupted nor displaced by it either. Imperialist business-as-usual seems to be the order of the day – the camera is a fold in perception, and yet nothing much has changed. Similarly, Joffe can present himself as a more sensitive film-maker, alert to many of the pitfalls and assumptions of cultural difference, able to recognise at least a degree of the indeterminancies of meaning in which he is involved – “Calcutta taught me to take nothing at face value” (Joffe, Filmnotes 1992), and yet still make a very conventional film which reiterates Kipling-like arrogances.

There are too many of these bad news stories in a city which gets a bad press. Its inscription as the exemplary site of photogenic poverty and overcrowding is continually reinforced, the analysis and action which might address Calcutta’s problems is not forthcoming, and despite all this Joffe persisted in forcing his production onto our screens. In Calcutta the filming was bizarre; riots outside, and invasions of, the set, hijacking of the cast’s food truck, union bans, huge crowds come to see the Indian film stars, stone throwing, police lathi charges (bamboo baton), delays of all kinds, the shooting of the film attracted much – perhaps too much – attention. There were, it seems, also some problems with Patrick Swayze’s bowels: in April 1991, Modern Lodge volunteer workers were able to auction off a stool sample bottle with the star’s name upon it found among junk donated by the departing film crew. If we were interested in authenticity we might expect to find Dr. Max in “City of Joy” spending most of his time in the bathroom attending to his diarrhoea. This, of course, would be unseemly in a popular film, however much it would resonate with the experience of visitors and their ongoing shit-talk. The viscous limit of “City of Joy” is reached by blood, childbirth and a fairly sanitized focus upon the stumps of leprosy. With a fabricated slum, with imitation monsoons from pumped bore water, hand-pulled rickshaws where there are bicycles, joy in destitution, and what the film crew described as ‘chaos all around’, it is still a wonder that the film appeared at all (a tribute to Joffe’s cash reserves). During the period of filming there were numerous reviews, pro and con, and promotional articles in the Calcutta press reporting the sensations of riots and intrigues on the set. A whole gossip and rumour system in itself. Subsequently the whole affair has entered more literary writings as a background event in other stories about Calcutta. For example a character in Sunetra Gupta’s novel “The Glassblower’s Breath” announces his successful tender for the contract to build Joffe’s set: “So he would be building a slum, a slum to slum all slums in this city of slum, for no slum had proved slum enough for the City of Joy … Do you feel no shame?” (Gupta 1993:233).

Wholesome purchase and transportation of slum dwellers’ houses went into the construction of the ‘City of Joy’ set. One volunteer noted that the bustee dwellers must have thought Joffe was mad; ‘he comes in, sees the broken down roof of hessian and the tin sheets and says, “I love it, I’ll have it” and peels off three or four hundred rupees to give to the owner. Then his henchmen get to work, remove the old wrecked roof as carefully as possible and replace it with a strong solid new roof!’ (Kath). Yes, it is crazy. The old roof is fitted into Hollywood’s authentic Calcutta.

As a coda to this, the scene in “City of Joy” where Max gives a rupee to the begging children can stand as an emblem for all the themes of third world tourism and charity. Max plays this out as a sleight of hand in a way that recalls Derrida’s presentation of Baudelaire’s counterfeit coin tale. Unlike Lévi-Strauss who dismisses the begging child’s call for one anna as ‘pathetic’, Max engages with the children, and amuses them with coin tricks. Here we can read a routine of savage curiosity over colonial magic often played out to remind Western audiences of their technological advantages. Max is soon overwhelmed by the numbers of children his offer of coins attract and he is forced to flee – the very same scene appears in John Byrum’s 1984 film version of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, where Bill Murray arrives on the steps of the Ganges in Varanasi4. What does the coin trick signify here? Is it that the Western visitor has the power to give and yet also to fake the gift, and abandon the effort when the demand gets too much?

The coin, as symbol of money, is not, here, the universal marker of value that it is in the money form for Marx. The burden of money in Marx is to be both a commodity exchangeable for itself as well as for all other commodities. Max’s coin cannot be exchanged. The coin, however, is a marker of an exchange in another way – the coin given to a beggar is a marker of power. This is a transaction which shares its structure with the appropriation of photography or film, an abstract directional exchange. Max exchanges his coin for the return that comes to all who give … The coin Max gives has its value “stripped away” (Marx 1858/1973:147) and it comes to stand for a social relation, so that the trick of this scene is that the gift of a coin, as any similar scene of ‘poverty’ is reinvested through the media circuits and wider economy of received images of India. This scene travels. In another context Spivak provides an analysis of this counterfeit and quotes Marx as saying: “in the friction with all kinds of hands, pouches, pockets, purses … the coin rubs off” (Marx in Spivak 1985:81), recalling that Nietzsche too mentions coins which have lost their face through rubbing. This occurs in his famous comment that truths are only metaphors, of which we have forgotten their illusory nature – “coins no longer of account as coins” (in Spivak intro to Derrida 1967/1976:xxii). Another formulation; in Capital, Marx says, “During their currency coins wear away” (Marx 1867/1967:125). “Im Umlauf verschleissen namlich die goldmunzen, die eine mehr, die andere weniger” (Das Kapital p.139).

From: The Rumour of Calutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation. Zed 1996.

The pictures I have included here also tell a story – here they are in order:Patrick and Suneeta; advert for City of Joy with Howrah bridge in background (remember this pose); Howrah Bridge itself; original scene for the ad pic with Art Malik as goonda-henchman – with no Howrah Bridge; and finally, a two-step trick just to show my love for PS is boundless – our two families; made into one, since we are all having the time of our lives…

and I never felt like this before

Yes I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you”
.

Kon Ichikawa

A place maker for a future review of Kon Ichikawa’s great funny poignant anti-imperialist film “A Billionaire”, as soon as I find a copy.

We screened a series of his films at Goldsmiths two years back. The big famous ones are deservedly praised, but A Billionaire was just great – especially the student who built her own atom bomb upstairs in her flat.

The pic shown here is from “Tokyo Olympiad”.

Kon Ichikawa 1915-2008.
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Absolute Beginners

We all know something was wrong with TV in the 1980s, making plastic looking sensibilities and emo-before-the-fact affect something particularly special. We would have to call this a complex quivver with pastel tonality, level five. Watching the Julian Temple film “Absolute Beginners”, with Patsy Kensit, David Bowie, Ray Davies, James Fox, and Tony Hyppolite as Mr Cool tonight. Fun.

Seeing it now, the sideways commentary on the Notting Hill ‘riots’ and mockery of British fascism is strange, but worthy. Tributes to West Side Story are the least of the referential codex. Mr Cool offers Colin a non-too subtle 80s style spliff while Sade sings ‘Killer Blow’. There’s stuff about crap housing, dodgy developers. a critique of roller-posh, a love story that redeems the teddy scat beatnik nexus. Incomprehensible now that Bowie was involved, even as he played a dodgy thin white supremicist duke ‘seller of dreams’. Creepy.

The story is from Colin MacInnes’s novel of the same name, and Temple fresh from his early Pistols docs does something else, the Fine Young Cannibals get a look in, and Eddie O’Connell (as Colin) does a great job of the young hip malchick-afor-the-letter.

If only Big Jill and Suzette (Kensit) had more scenes together – they could’ve been friends (and that would have saved her from life with Liam Gallagher and too many Man City away days). Not enough time with Ray as Colin’s dad, having lost his kinks, and Robbie Coltrane as ‘dadio’ Mario the sterotyped storekeeper – I guess we could have had more of that.

But its Steven Berkoff as some sort of Enoch Powell nasty racist uber-orator who is the point of the whole confection. The seller of dreams and Berkoff as one and the same (bastard) kind must be run out of town. So this film works for me because of its welcome unsubtle anti-racism. Plastic critiques of fascism seem somehow very very 80s, but they redeem the decade in a way we could learn much from for the present. You can remember/see how close the brown shirts were/are if you think of the naivety of Geldof’s do-gooder mobilisation and the tubthumping that is Radio Ga Ga. We need Resolute Beginnings now more than ever.

The Evolution of Film


I seem to have accumulated a disproportionate bunch of notes on one chapter. Not quite a review… a summary [with crit in square brackets] of Janet Harbord’s ‘Innocent Monsters: film and other media’ in her “The Evolution of Film: Rethinking Film Studies” 2007 Polity Press.

In a book critical of foundational, fixed, homogeneous, located notions of film – ‘film isn’t what it used to be’ – Janet Harbord pursues an expanded notion of what film is when it escapes the cinema, starting in this chapter [I’m only reading chapter 5 here] with an archive of images of terror [not detailed] ‘stacked and layered on top of each other’ (118) in Hoolbooms ‘Imitation of Life’ (2003).

She asks if we might reconfigure the story of the decline of cinema (no more celluloid products) as a story of escape? The escape of film, not of us – escaping from fixed, viewer controlled (the view decodes and digests) contingency, escape from the cinema hall… So that film haunts new spaces, walks the streets like the uncanny zombie resurrection [not unlike fetish objects with their own lives and brains].

The question of the constructed nature of the non-human world arises – the model of human construction has no dynamism, maybe the non-human is not to be reduced: is the alterity of the non-human irreducible to human experience, as claimed as foundation for those who deploy the concept of affect (120)? Affect defies distinction between emotional response and rational comprehension, conscious and unconscious, mind and body. Affect belongs to sensory apprehension of rampant image-based multinational capital (cites Deleuze translator Brian Massumi) in a post-grand narrative, post ‘belief’ realm –as pursued by intensity theorists – Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza.

This appeals to Capitalism since it attracts but does not fix. Capital today is shifty, always seeking renewal [wasn’t it always?]

Harbord cites a certain SLash who distinguishes film as old media from information as new, non-narrative, not cinema. Harbord makes three points here: she questions Lash’s division of film as content, information as form. [This also goes against her interest in film as escape – but wasn’t running away always too easy, always a way of making new tracks for commerce? Lash’s information is the new terrain for capitalist growth]. She notes that film as aura in the cinema, in Lash’s version an old media, is different to film on DVD, and she points out that film in the cinema hall is being reworked ‘after’ recognition of contingencies in the expanded context of film (her examples will bear this out – ie that films like “Momento” are no longer ‘in sequence’ is related to fwd and rwd of video and DVD).

Then a discussion of early cinema and contingency in Doane and Kracauer.

New reworkings of classic films such as Gordon’s 24 hour version of “Psycho” ‘wrench open this desire to look’ that was examined by Doane and Kracauer – so that new more than ever we see it all – still more focussed upon shot, close-up, edit, contingency – but in a way that moves beyond Kracauer’s assertion of transience of the image (it flows past us) and Doane’s ‘staging’ [in the frame of the story?]. Contingency mutates as film escapes from the cinema (DVD, stop, pause, rwd, fwd).
[Does this overstate the case for the digital as expansion, and the domestic control of the remote control?]

3 areas to examine new contingencies
– domestic use of technology, DVDs etc
– rang of viewing contexts (airports, galleries, phones)
– changes in narrative structure [which feedback into films in the cinema]

This chapter attempts to theorise films’ escape from the cinema hall as both new contingency, and in terms of affect. The examples are detailed: non-linear DVD Iranian taxi film ‘Ten’; the station screen with Laurel and Hardy at Victoria BR; ‘My Architect’ in the cinema; Tate Modern video installation.

Films in stations, galleries or malls have a quality of ghosting (141), phantasmatic animation a la Benjamin’s arcades for the flaneur – who turns out to be the ghost. Yet film, having left the cinema, walks the streets and refuses to die. Indeed, contingency multiplies its affective charge. Film reasserts (affectively):
– through its historical attachment, capturing us in time
– through its not yet worked through mutations of format
– through interplay of narrative and inventory

Results: its futile to search for film’s ontology [? She has been doing just this, no?] because film’s mutations escape, they reinvent, cannot be defined by what film has been.

At the end of the chapter a turn to Derrida to recognise film as the realm of the supplement – it evolves, and incorporates its new emergent forms [ah, a mobile ontology then? – this turn to Derrida sits strangely with what comes next…]

Then a final return to the question of affect, which is also a return to Massumi, and the idea of rumour governing the stock market- [but this comparison is underdeveloped, the stock market is not wholly governed by rumour, there is also profit, greed, accumulation, glee]

[can we say that film does not still fix – the close up, the edit/juxtaposition – just as much as the stock market fixes brand value via rumour – what is needed here is a Marxist understanding of value – not branding, not prices – a critique of the hauntology, the fetish, the ghostly rumours that are the surface of film/stock/life]

[Affect theorists fail to comprehend the social aggregation of value that emerges via affect – rumour, fetish, image accretion, archive, hauntology. And this amounts in effect (and affect) to an alibi for mutating capitalism – where capitalism is ‘critiqued’ but only as an image-site for a new post-cinema. I think Harbord’s chapter does indeed want to say this, but doesn’t actually do so because it is stuck amongst three divergent angles: old Kracauer, shorn of materialism; affect, read critically, but not in all its implications; and Derrida’s supplement that could be better read through the essay on hyperbole in ‘Writing and Difference’]

[The chapter’s last line etymology – contingency, from tangere = touch, does not clinch the argument; and Chambers Dictionary gives more: Contingency, from Latin contingentum = befall, happen, touch and contagion - which would have infected this affect stuff nicely! ]

Good chapter. Glad I took time out to read it.

Welles Hearst Capital

In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There is much much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, and in volume three of Capital it becomes crucial (see here)

But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with a immense collection of commodities, its is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. Even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretation is, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. The collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).

But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.

There are many possible starts.

I want to begin with something, or even someone, who might seem the total antithesis of the celebrated critic of capitalism. Marx was not a rich man, however well bred, well married, well educated, he was in and out of the pawn shop, knew a lot, intimately, about debt, borrowing, credit, and – as is very well known – relied upon a certain moneybags called Freddy Engels very often to get by. Engels though, whatever his peculiar foibles in taking up with two sisters, riding to hounds, effecting a mourning jacket and partiality to fine liqueurs, does not deserve to be lampooned as much as the figure with which I want to begin. I choose a character from the not too far removed history of Capitalism, though glossed through a film – I have in mind the life of William Randolph Hearst. Moneybags. As portrayed by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

Kane is (stuff about snow globes… as in post here and here).


Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overburdened film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

Hearst, however, cannot be reclaimed. Conrad suggests that Hearst papers created both the gossip column and celebrity (Conrad 2OO3:145). Andre Bazin Points out that the controversy over Kane as Hearst was a consequence of the rivalry between Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons and her bitter enemy Hedda Hopper. (Bazin 1950/1991:57). Conrad also notes, a page earlier, that Welles had written a forward to Marion Davies posthumously published memoir of her time with Hearst at San Simeon.

Was Hearst’s hostility to Kane reason for the industry to fear exposure, through Hearst papers, of Hollywood’s foibles – sex, payola – or rather its employment of ‘aliens at the expense of American labour’ (Leaming 1985:209)? His support for the working man may well have got Hearst called communist in his youth, but it was always a misnomer.

The importance of rumour in the reception of Kane is clear, but what then of the unspoken exclusions in the Hearst story, the bits of narrative not voiced: Hearst as moneybags plundering the material culture of the world, the arrogance of his taking photos in Luxor where the flash damages the art of millennia… Hearst thought WW1 a financial venture for Wall Street tycoons and his defence of regular soldiers, even deserters, and pro-Irish anti-imperialists was impressive – for example his campaign in support of British diplomat Roger Casement who was eventually hung for seeking German military support for Irish independence. Such campaigning was however not without financial benefit to Hearst’s own purse in the form of ever growing newspaper sales to those who approved of his anti corruption stance. His position on WW2 entailed a meeting with Hitler, but an abstentionism that became a liability. He rapidly became an advocate of anti-communism in the post WW2 era and had campaigned against pro-Soviet U. S. Films from the early forties, such as ‘Mission to Moscow’ and ‘North Star’ (Pizzitola 2002:409).

Hearst, an anti-communist, muck-raking, armaments and finance capital moneybags with a vendetta and a deep resentment (Rosebud)? What then of his concern about ‘alien’ labour? What of his early ‘investigative’ journalism? Despite denials by Hearst that he orchestrated it, Kane, the film, was branded communist, only saw restricted release, got bad early press, and took several years before being recognised the ‘greatest film of all time’ etc etc… the rest is cinema history. Welles was investigated by FBI agent Hoover (Pizzitola 2002:398) and his directing career never recovered, despite The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, he was forever dogged by studio interference and funding troubles.

So lets find that image from the film that encodes it all – a hammer end Sickle on the façade of the Inquirer (see accompanying still). Then the multiple perspectives of the Kane film can be twisted to do allegorical service for a reading of Capital (“hat tip Rough Theory“). Immediately following the newsreel sequence that (re)starts the the film after Kane’s snow globe death, the camera moves through a neon sign and down through a glass window to Susan’s table and the first of five or six interviews which structure the rest of the film. These are not consecutive, temporally concurrent, and can even be contradictory, they do not add up to an explanation of the life of Kane, yet by the end, when the ice of the snow globe has turned to the fire of the furnace that consumes all that collected junk, we do perhaps know a little more than before, can examine things in a more nuanced way, and we maybe even get to know something of Hearst.

The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

Bazin, Andre 1950 Orson Welles

Leaming, Barbara 1985 Orson Welles, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Conrad, Peter 2003 Orson Welles: the Stories of His Life, London: Faber and Faber.

Pizzitola, Louis 2002 Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press.

Kane’s Snow Globe

An object, collected by many, contemplated, pondered, shaken. It is not always frozen, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized. I am fascinated by these domes, as have been many before – beginning again with the opening scene of Citizen Kane. I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss.

Kane is a collector – and one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters.

My friend Joanne collects snow domes. I borrow one from her each time I do this Kane lecture. I like to think of this as the cinematic scene. The snow globe shakes up conventional souveniring versions of cinema – stars and cameos – in favour of miniature worlds and mis-en-scene. A glass ball into which all manner of interpretive occult effects can be projected. The snow globe can be thought of as a miniature TV, a time machine for memory, for second sight. It records and replays the past in newsreel fashion. In her book “Film Cultures”, Janet Harbord notes Adorno’s elegant phrase for capturing Benjamin’s fascination for ‘small glass balls containing a landscape upon which snow fell when shaken’ – an example of the ‘frozen image’ (Harbord 2002:34 London: Sage). I think this glass ball occult theme also gets at what fascinates in the globe – the world miniaturized, yet pointing in other directions, evocative, aspirational, and leading us elsewhere. In her next section Harbord explores the increasing importance of ‘ephemeral’ consumption of the ‘dematerialized commodity’, she writes: ‘The experiential economy is characterized by time-based goods, simultaneously used up in the moment and extended in souvenir-like ancillary products’ (Harbord 2002:48 ). The film is ephemeral, the snow-globe souvenir you buy afterwards is the material residue (as is the DVD on the shelf).

Despite the No Trespassing sign, Kane, and I guess Welles probably, is fixated on childhood, so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, and take the the snow dome as a vision machine, not just that which Bazin describes as a ‘childish souvenir’ which Kane ‘grasps before dying’ a ‘toy that was spared during the destruction of the dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1950/1991:65 ‘Orson Welles’). He also reports that Welles had described the style of Kane as ‘bric-a-brac’ in comparison to his less famous ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ (Bazin 1950/1991:59), but Bazin also provides an excellent analysis of the single shot which presents Susan’s suicide attempt, contrasted with the six or seven cross-cut shots that ‘anyone else’ would have used (Bazin 1950/1991:78). Just after the snow globe room-trashing scene in Kane there is a beautiful painted 3-piece scene. And a printing error in the eye of a cockatoo – see DVD special edition ‘Anatomy of a classic’ – Barry Norman. I’ve more to do on this I guess, but would an ‘error’ in a film print count as a kind of parapraxis, a Freudian slip in the reel?

Melanie Klein wrote extensive notes on Kane but these were not published until 1998, not only, I think, because they were not written up, but also because the film outdoes psychoanalysis before the letter – another Wellesian prank perhaps, snooting his nose at those who’d second guess. (see Mason, A. (1998). ‘Melanie Klein’s Notes on Citizen Kane with Commentary’ Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18:147-153).

This will continue, some of it rehearsed earlier here.

But before I go, can I note another symptom of Welles’ wit – toying with the psychoanalysts, Welles lets us in on another triangle of distraction, another ephemeral ancillary aspect of the show, a scene inside a scene, (Rozencrantz!): just in the middle scene of Susan’s opera, itself stubbornly sponsored by a now demented Kane, disgraced yet still yearning for glory, we see his old newspaper buddy (and conscience) Jeddadiah sitting in the audience, bored, he seems to have made a 1,OOO,OOO Poems out of his shredded program.

Now you can purchase your own rosebud snow globe moment to commemorate the film here for $31.95. Its from PERZY, the Original Vienna Snow Globe manufacturer! – which ushers in a whole new world of possible trinket-movie tie-ins. What a great idea for xmas – get a rosebud globe/snowsled etc etc. Other ancient movies surely can also be given the Mattel-Star Wars plastic toy movie merchandising treatment – little kiddy versions of the False Maria of Metropolis, the movie-camera from Vertov, ships from Potempkin… the plastic possibilities are endless, and what a good education it will be. Although a plastic Maria might be indistinguishable from CP3O I guess. Still, do it now, festoon your young takker’s crib with a toy puss in the shape of Holly Golightly’s cat (‘He’s all right! Aren’t you, cat? Poor cat! Poor slob! Poor slob without a name!’) and how about a teething ring made from the gun used by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity? I’m riffing now, but why paint young Tamsyn’s room with elven fluff from mere fantasy when she could have wall-sized stills of the Unicorn scene in Bladerunner for her room decor. You want her to have ambition don’t you, you want her to direct? I can see a business plan forming already.

Funuke domo kanashimi no Ai o Misero

AKA: Funuke, Show some love you losers!

Its really hot (humid hot). What to do? Attack the cinema (joy of air-con in a big room).

‘Funuke domo kanashimi no Ai o Misero’ is at first sight a slender tale, yet it tries to do for the dysfunctional family what “To Die For” did for love and romance (wasn’t Nicole almost good in that?). Funuke… rips it up with a weirdly dark sweetness. Everything is adorable but scary. The lead actress (Sumika, played by Eriko Sato) is obsessive but cute; incestuous and slutty, yet with innocence and charm; a gangster/yakuza moll, but also a high school sweetheart and loving sister. The rural wife is a mix of the witch/demon of Monkey stories and the castrator in Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses”. The male of the piece – after the debt-ridden patriarch is flattened even before his first scene (we see him in retrospect) – is a bad tempered, spoiled fool, manipulated by his half-sister (Sato), and in the end an honourable suicide. The younger sister, a manga writer just about to break big (Kiyomi: Aimi Satsukawa) turns out to be the chronicler of the very saga we have been witnessing.

So its funny. Does it tell us much about contemporary Japan [as national allegory Fred Jameson?)? Are men on the way out of the picture as this film would have it? Are women going slightly batty trying to have both a glamorous girly career and having to out-bastard even the Yakuza to get by?

The main idea is that talent/manga writing skills could be the meal ticket to the bright lights, just as once upon a time that path was via a Tokyo acting job (Sumiko’s director fantasy figure is straight out of the 60s auteur ‘I-wanna-meet-Kurosawa’ tradition – and the guy even looks a little like a young Kon Ichikawa). I guess this is plausible, but it rather ignores the interim achievements of Takeshi, Miike, Hara Kuzuo and Kon himself (at least the cinema was cool, half empty, but cool).

But that teenager was wicked, not cool. Certainly she (little sister Kiyomi) steals the show in what should have been an acting vehicle for Sato. The youngster playing Kiyomi (Satsukawa) has all the emotion. The half-brother/sister sex scenes are ok for atmosphere, but clearly/thankfully cannot be too explicit (kissing and a bare torso). Yet even this is not acting enough – the irony of the screen test scene where big sister fails to learn her lines or ‘prepare’ is telling. I guess we are supposed too enjoy this irony, but I’d be more keen to try to work out if there are any reflections to be made on the back of this psycho-social set up in the film insofar as it is related to the way the present historical conjuncture of capitalist-culture-industry Japan might be named. Not that reflection theory is all that credible – I guess a film can go against the times/or subvert the predicted allegorical code – but what if this scenario did say something profound about the country today?

What if this were an example of Otaku (nerd?) culture (manga sex/violence, superflat, Hikikomori) going mainstream? The other big film at the moment in Tokyo is transformers – I’ve said earlier that I enjoyed Toshiya Ueno’s examination of the transformation problem of former leftists into conservative producers of mass content market fare like that movie (must go see). What if there is more to be said about the gendered politics of manga authorship – relate this to the young women in battle Royale 1 & 2 – and some sort of angular version of feminism that I’m afraid is as opaque to me as the ubiquitous cos-play girls dressed up as Bo-Peep, but with lip and eye-brow piercings. There is surely a market out there for such stories/parables/mixes.

So it might make sense to ask why just now a certain version of family values are both affirmed and disrupted, as they are in this film (Funuke…). The sisters and sister-in-law all work hard at mending the family situation, damaged by, in turn, debt, distorted sexuality, and the intrusions of the culture industry: – in brief, the patriarch bequeathes debt; the wannabe actress seduces her half-brother (compensation dating – Enjo kosai – gone wrong?); the younger sister uses the family drama as material for her mainstream schlock manga debut.

There are scholars of Japanese culture and politics much better versed in all ways than I to talk about the significance of the financial crisis, family breakdowns and the culture industry (see Takashi Murakami’s “Little Boy” project and critiques thereof) but this does at least resonate with what little I do know of recent Japanese history. The years of stagnation have indeed put a strain on many families even as creative cultural production has been robust (Japan style!). This film then really does seem to conform.

And we haven’t even got to the main plot device of the film, which is a series of letters that never get delivered. Much could be made of this by Lacanians, Derrideans, but I am also interested to note that the letters sent by the fantacist actress to her imagined director are intercepted by little sister Kiyomi because she works at the post office in a part time capacity (what did Heidegger do in the war dad?). It would be wrong to restrict her labour here to precarious, since ther is no reason but maliciousness for her to intercept the letters, but its not insignificant that the plot runs on a writing machine that does not communicate to its intended audience. the ostensible lead ‘actress’ is supplanted by the scene-stealing (manga) writer. Is this then a film addressed to women or men? To aspiring actors/manga writers, or to director/editors. At the end the message is dessicated – the letters torn to scraps by Sumika and the loony in-law – but that is the point of this red-letter day. Am I as insane as witchy-cutie-doll-maker sister-in-law if I suggest that behind the code of this film is a Marxist critique of contemporary Japan? Of debt, careerism and the baleful exploitation of the precarious creative labour of youth? Unfortunately my experience of the Japanese Communist Party does not assure me that such critiques are popular within the organized left, but perhaps among filmmakers (or novelists like Yukiko Motoya who wrote the book)? By now I have somehow decided I really like this film – and that’s what’s wrong with reflection theory: you end up thinking the correspondences between capitalism and cinema are intended. Brilliant, but probably wrong.

Back to the summer now.

Antonioni

Eli Wong has done a great job in acknowledgement of Antonioni’s passing, with some must see clips to boot. See here.

Kamata

Back in Tokyo. This time staying in Kamata, which is a sort of central urban junction town, hence interesting. Rows and rows of those little bars, sushi and sashimi shops, yakitori, izakaya (居酒屋) and yakiniku (焼肉) places to eat. Most of them with about 12 seats, especially near the station and west (NishiKamata), but there are some much bigger ones. Its no Kabukicho, but the area exhibits a bit of a yakuza/hostess bar presence, porn shops and the like, but more interesting than the Ginza version of the same where westerners are expected to be looking for ‘special massage’ I guess. Here I’m ignored as the probably lost gaijin I am.

Learning a little more Japanese from a woman whose just flown in from Beijing with Japan Airlines on her fourth trip as cabin crew (not hostess, clearly that is another kind of work). She tells me of the Sakura trees by the Shinomi river (late April I guess) and tomorrow I am going to search out Yazawaya – since Tokyu Hands is clearly the popular more expensive version of trinket heaven, or so it seems.

In the meantime, I am happy to wander late at night in and out of little bars – jazz in one, arguing couple in another, drunken salary men who want to talk about football – Australia’s soccoroos were knocked out of the Asia Cup by Japan on penalties, but Japan ‘only’ coming fourth was a disappointment to these guys. Victory to Iraq and a political intervention by the captain… They agree its something.

The other streets in Kamata are gorged with cheap commodity stores, 100 yen shops, clothes, footwear, camera stores, obscure things where people sell things I probably shouldn’t want to buy. I had a dream that there was a river of fish flowing into Tokyo, given the massive consumption of maguro, hotate, amberjack, ika (shiso leaf), and tako (octopus).. yum yum, but sitting there eating and drinking as the road transforms from a street of wandering drunks to a busy thoroughfare for boxes and bundles – its obvious someone has to carry in all these products too, so the river of fish is awash with delivery vehicles and the narrow lanes with elegant lamps are also multifunction furrows of capital dredging for gold through the worn facades of the megacity (Hi Ryan and John).

From my hotel window in the morning I can see the city centre in the distance (I’m just guessing but I think its Rippongi and the television tower visible there) and directly outside my room a mysterious building with no windows at all (see pic 3). I find these aircon specials disturbing, even as the air outside is clearly particle-rich (notice the haze in pic 1).

I’m up early to seek out the movies of Kon Ichikawa. If you have never seen “Fires on the Plain” or “Harp of Burma” (Biruma no tategoto) you shoul, but for mine his great under-acknowledged masterpiece is “The Billionaire” (Okuman Choja 1954):

“Author: Robert Keser (rfkeser@ix.netcom.com) from Chicago
This scathing satire plays like Ichikawa’s attempt to slap Japan out of its postwar malaise. A hopelessly naïve junior tax collector crosses paths with an assortment of quirky characters, including a young woman working on a home-made A-bomb, a spoon tycoon on his way to the U.S., a poor boy aspiring to become a movie star, and a fast-talking geisha scheming to extort corrupt politicians. A running joke throughout is the absurd overpopulation: everyone seems to have an absolute minimum of twelve children. This consistently original work remains fresh and funny, thanks to vigorous performances and Ichikawa’s precise framing.”

Just started reading Eric Cazdyn’s “The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan” – my copy is inscribed on the inside cover by Eric to Masao ‘without whom… nothing’ Feb 2003 (handwritten – pic 3). Masao Miyoshi is acknowledged first for his ‘critical infectiousness’ in a very generous opening paragraph of the text proper. But I bought the book second hand in Labyrinth New York. Anyway – go figure. Looks good so far – Jameson inspired, only a very brief reference to Kon Ichikawa, but an intriging mention on page 32 of the war films of Shibata Tsunekichi, who at the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-5)travelled to actual locations to film, and mention also of home made “‘docu-dramas’ (fake documentaries about the war)” (Cazdyn 2002:32) which deserve further investigation. But I’ll need to read more Kanji than I do to cope with that. So it goes. Back to Blighty in a week.

The algebra of need

What madness of actors is it that only approaches the horror of war and yet still rends minds? In the midst of the jungle that is Apocalypse Now, both the brooding Brando (reading The Golden Bough in his temple) and a more unhinged Martin Sheen (the future best President the Empire never had) break their backs upon the fire of insanity. And even in a related way there is madness in the directors Francis Coppola, and earlier Orson Welles (who started but did not execute a projected film of Heart of Darkness). This of course is mad enough, but not close to the indigestible indescribable photo-real blood-and-bone mulch of our daily news reports. War films require a celluloid mode of madness. From Aguirre, Wrath of God, through to the marines singing for Annette Funicello at the end of Full Metal Jacket – there is also a kind of celebrity chaos on the brain that is carefully staged to stand in for the horror, the horror. A depth of affect that still cannot quite reach inside the photograph, cannot animate the film footage, and certainly cannot assuage the desperate need of the piggy pollies to keep themselves clean amidst the shit they have stirred up.

As they stumble towards a tortured damp squib end, I have to ask again: why have the Blair years, which were the years of souped-up Thatcherism with a better frock, why have they not produced the same kind of hostility, dismay and exile that Maggie’s viscous militarist rule had done? We have been ruled by warmongering maniacs in ways contrary to universal good since time immemorial, and too many of us have learnt to ignore this with a vengeance. We are a virus upon the planet. Uncle Bill as freedom fighter, clom friday, for a mainline Napalm shot.

Photo: Horst Fass, near Bao Tra1, 1966

EMERGENCES AND EMERGENCIES: NEW SOUTH ASIAN FILM-MAKING FROM BRITAIN

If you are in New York City this weekend (20/4/7-22/4/7) you can go see this ‘must see’ collection of films. If you are not able to attend, the texts are worth reading – collected below. Excellent.

Emergences & Emergencies
New British Asian Films

Curated by Sukhdev Sandhu


From the companion catalogue:
1. Sukhdev Sandhu on “India Calling” (Sonali Fernando, 2002)
2. Michael Vazquez on “Otolith” (The Otolith Group, 2003)
3. Naeem Mohaiemen on “Bradford Riots” (Neil Biswas, 2006)
4. Jon Caramanica on “Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music” (V.Bald, 2001)
5. Vijay Prashad on “The Road To Guantanamo” (Winterbottom 2006)
6. James Brooke-Smith on “England Expects” (Tony Smith 2004)
7. Karen Shimakawa on “Skin Deep” (Yousaf Ali Khan: 2001)
8. Kamila Shamsie on “A Love Supreme” (Nilesh Patel, 2001)
9. Mohsin Hamid on “My Son The Fanatic” (Udayan Prasad, 1997)
10. Bharat Tandon on “The Warrior” (Asif Kapadia, 2001):
11. Gautam Malkani on “Young, Angry and Muslim” (Julian Hendy, 2005)

Thanks to Naeem Mohaiemen for the collection of texts – visit Shobakorg.
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Saddam Hussain Superstar, who do you, what do you…

Saddam Hussain has been remade into a modern myth, reminiscent of him 2 millennia ago who was nailed on the cross by those god-botherers who thereafter suffered with the Christ-sickness and deified a carpenter. Saddam was no carpenter, but was the CIA-installed puppet of cold war skulduggery in the middle east – and now, having offended his gun-toting buddy Rumsfeld at some point perhaps, this martyr for a new millennium is set up with a founding narrative that repeats, as farce, a history with which we have already much conjured.

Think of Saddam’s palaces – the pay-off for his earlier compliance before he went rogue – they were often seen on news reports in the early flush of the arrival of US troops in Iraq. Beautiful palaces with ponds and the like. I have observed such scenes on screen somewhere before have I not – yes – at Herod’s place. In the Superstar version of Christ, there was talk of ‘walking across swimming pools’ and ‘turning water into wine’. JC Superstar was more all-singing, all-dancing cinematic than Saddam’s rope trick ending, but PM Blair’s reluctant, forced and late condemnation of the way it was done was very much like a rerun of Pilate washing his hands of dereliction and delegating the case elsewhere. And Bush is guilty too – whether we want to call those that hung Saddam US patsies, or if we recognise a certain modicum of vicious revenge, it is, as Slavoj Zizek has said, strange that there was no talk of dragging Saddam to the Hague tribunal. Instead we got a show trial and a show-business hanging, on prime time TV over the New Year when we were all at home with the family to watch.

Zizek has also compared the US to Rome, and found them lacking: “recall the common perception of the United States as a new Roman Empire. The problem with today’s America is not that it is a new global empire, but that it is not one. That is, while pretending to be an empire, it continues to act like a nation-state, ruthlessly pursuing its interests” (NYT 5.1.2007). The trouble seems to me that, rather, the timing is all too convenient, such that the troubles of Rome 2000 years ago do resonate with the troubles of US as faulty empire today. It took a good while for the Christians to extricate themselves from the lions and topple Caesar and all that, and of course there was the nasty middle ages and inquisitions and all sorts to get through… But what has been achieved with the televisual hanging of Saddam is perhaps a glorious sequel. An epic story of struggle and the next greatest story ever told – but instead of Max von Sydow (Christ in the 1965 version) or Cecil B. DeMille directing, we are likely to get Mel Gibson, as director and hopefully star (Mel as Saddam doing his own stunts – you’d have to laugh). Opening soon at a cineplex near you.

Lets remind ourselves of some of the lyrics:

Herod’s song:So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine.
That’s all you need do, then I’ll know it’s all true.
Come on, King of the Jews.
Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made around here.
You are all we talk about, the wonder of the year.
Oh what a pity if it’s all a lie.
Still, I’m sure that you can rock the cynics if you tried.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.
If you do that for me, then I’ll let you go free.
Come on, King of the Jews.

AND

Pilate’s refrain (slower):

Don’t let me stop your great self-destruction.
Die if you want to, you misguided martyr.
I wash my hands of your demolition.
Die if you want to you innocent puppet!

AND

finally:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.
Don’t you get me wrong.
I only want to know.

Now we do have mass communication, but it seems we also need long memories. And, I’ll wager, ear-plugs.

[pic - from the audition: Much hand-washing needed, Rumsfeld leads the way, but Bush, Blair, Brown and Prescott also need a scrub. 'What's the buzz, tell me what's happenin, what's the buzz...'.
Disclaimer: Please note that I do not endorse any carpenters in any form, not even Richard and Karen; nor musicals, unless they star Barbara Stanwyck ("Lady of Burlesque", "Roustabout" - with Elvis Presley, and "US Canteen" to name a few)]

Iwo Jima outrage


In respect of the white-washed sands of Iwo Jima (suburb of Hollywood, made by Clint into a fantasy space where all American heros are John Wayne clones, an ideological confit that is ever so totally unrealated to Vietnam/Iraq type losses and the national trauma that arises therefrom). That historical cliches can be reworked with white actors only (director says ‘its true to the book’ – which makes us wonder about the director not just the book, right?). Anyway, its an outrage, but angular as ever, this post from Shashwati makes some really good connections:

Unknown Soldiers
I have been on the National Archives web page for the last couple of days, researching films and photos. While looking around, I found this photo:

“Rickshaws are almost as common in India as they are in China. Some of the…troops are on their way to see `Tarzan’s New York Adventure’—in India…”
African American soldiers going to see a Tarzan film in Calcutta. What can you say about that? It was interesting to find this in conjunction with the rumbles about the new Clint Eastwood film about the battle for Iwo Jima, where the absence of Black soldiers has been noticed by those who took part in it, like Sgt. McPhatter:

…almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima, including Sgt McPhatter…..”Of all the movies that have been made of Iwo Jima, you never see a black face,” said Mr McPhatter. “This is the last straw. I feel like I’ve been denied, I’ve been insulted, I’ve been mistreated. But what can you do? We still have a strong underlying force in my country of rabid racism.”

And here is a tidbit about the newsreel footage from that time, from auhor Melton McLaurin:

“One of the marines I interviewed said that the people who were filming newsreel footage on Iwo Jima deliberately turned their cameras away when black folks came
by….

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 24th, 2006 at 1:10 am

News from the makers of ‘Injustice’


News from the makers of ‘Injustice’ – the radical feature length documentary film about the struggles for justice by the families of people that have been killed by the police in the UK. www.injusticefilm.co.uk

1. ‘INJUSTICE’ CD – now available!
The INJUSTICE music CD was launched successfully in London and Birmingham recently (a report of the event will be up on http://www.4wardever.org/ soon!). The final line-up includes shortMAN, Princess Emmanuelle, Hillz Yungsterz , Aricka Douglas & Dub Judah , Yaz Alexander, Jimmy Chiozo, Ebele, WattsRiot feat. Scalper & Mr. Sparkes , Dee, Warhouse, The Tribunes feat. Judy Green & Poetic Justic, Lowkey and Sebastian Jamison. The CD will help raise the profile of the family campaigns for justice, after its launch there will be a touring ‘Injustice Roadshow’ with the Injustice film, family campaign speakers and live performances from the artists. The aim of the tour is to organise, raise awareness and raise funds to support the different family campaigns.

The CD includes some radical rap, hip-hop, roots, spoken word, r&b and much more! If you can help with distribution of the CD or want to host the road show then contact: info@injusticefilm.co.uk The CD is available through our website at http://www.injusticefilm.co.uk/ as well as in record shops in Birmingham, London and beyond.

2. Special screenings of ‘Injustice’Its now five and a half years since Injustice was launched and the film continues to be screened on a regular basis and continues to ahve an impact! In this month alone there are six screenings planned. Details of all public screenings are on the website www.injusticefilm.co.uk

Every year we screen the film to school children as part of National Schools Film Week.
If you know of any schools in the South London area they can see the film free as follows:
17th October 2006 Ritzy Cinema, Coldharbour Lane, LONDON, SW2
10.00am schools only screening followed by Q&A with families & film maker.

Please note this screening is for National Schools Film Week and is not open to the public.
Schools wanting bookings please call: 020 7439 4880 www.nsfw.org
A big thanks to Film Education who organise NSFW for their continuing support.

3. INJUSTICE DVD – translation help needed.We are preparing a new DVD which will include ‘Injustice’ as well as extras covering reports on the film and the family campaigns. We are looking for people that can translate the film into German, Arabic and Farsi.
Get in touch if you can help info@injusticefilm.co.uk

4. United Families & Friends Campaign Annual ProcessionThe United Families & Friends Campaign invites all to this year’s Remembrance Procession in memory of those who have died in police custody, in prison and in psychiatric care.

Saturday 28 October 2006
Rally at Trafalgar Square, Central London
€ Assemble at 1pm for a march to Downing Street.Nearest tube: Charing Cross
Further details: http://www.uffc.org/ or read the following article: www.blackbritain.co.uk/news/details.aspx?i=2296

5. United Families & Friends Campaign leaflet available
UFFC, with the support of the Churches Commission for Racial Justice, has recently launched a new leaflet about their struggles for justice. If you can help distribute these leaflets let us know and we can get the leaflets to you. info@injusticefilm.co.uk or call 07956 629 889

To read about other Migrant Media productions log onto http://www.injusticefilm.co.uk
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[pic is of Jasmine Elvie, mother of Brian Douglas]
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Dub at the Movies.

“Music is a weapon of mass destruction” – ADF

Cinema and sound sync/mix technology seems to come and go in leaps and loops. Where once the screen image required accompaniment by a live performer at a piano, today, such a ‘throw back’ to the old black and white days of immediately present live sound is rare, even nostalgic. A calculated and curious staging renews our appreciation of the artifice of sync sound, although the piano is electric and the ‘live’ now requires mixing desks, digital precision, planned sequencing and programmed synthesisers. It requires all this, at least, in the case of performances over film by the drum and bass outfit Asian Dub Foundation (ADF includes John Pandit, a speaker at the RampArts discussion below). Always innovative, of late ADF have been filling cinema halls with new audiences for old films. I am impressed by this revival of a past format, and thinking about how this technology is used perhaps helps our understanding of the pursuit of innovative modes of political activism.

ADF screen movies with intent. For several years they had used the 1995 Kassowitz film La Haine as a vehicle for a cinema-music experiment, where the story of three youths caught up in suburban unrest (which is itself largely off screen), in the suburbs of Paris, is presented in performance with a new live ADF soundtrack. This film has particular relevance given events in the Paris suburbs in November 2005 (discussed here), but I do not want to focus upon representation and the repetition ‘in the real’ of the events ‘in the film’. Rather, I am more interested here in the scene of the screening of a French film replayed in Britain, a film which itself is very much alert to the politics of representation, to the reverberation of screens, such that when shown in the UK it is meant to evoke parallels and differences in terms of race, suburban alienation, and the politics of the imagination, especially with regard to thinking about technology and terror.

La Haine begins with a Molotov cocktail, set across the background of a shot of the planet as seen from space. The incendiary device is falling, and spinning as it falls, towards the earth as pictured from afar. A voice recounts a story of someone who fell from a tall building, and as he passed each floor on the way down, he said aloud: ‘So far, so good, so far, so good’. Ash and Sanjay Sharma wrote perceptively on this film, suggesting that this ‘anxious repetition of assurance’ might be dubbed ‘the inner voice of liberal democracy’ (in TCS, vol 17, no 3, 2000). The Sharma brothers link this reassurance to the critical scene of the journalists visiting the suburbs only to be confronted as intruders by the youth, chased with their television cameras back to the safer boulevards. When the three youth themselves are stranded in the centre of the city, caught without tickets to the metro, they see reports from the ‘riots’ on a public multi-screen, and learn of the death of one of their comrades.

ADF want the film to provoke discussion. They screen it for new audiences and it is discussed in detail on the interactive activist/fan website that is part of the ADF Education Foundation (ADFED), itself an activist oriented youth politics forum. Workshops organised by ADFED included one by Sonia Mehta in 2003 involving Ash Sharma on the development of ADFED as a music technology training provider working with visual media and exploring the politics of sound. Discussion within ADFED and on the ADF chat site is not uncritical. For example, the politics of screening action cinema as entertainment is measured against questions about the best ways to organise, and politicize, the music industry, organisations like Rich Mix (an arts centre and venue for music, cinema, performance and training with which ADFED is associated) and anti-racist campaigns. Concerns about street and police violence are aired and the testosterone-fuelled adventurism of the Paris uprisings are compared with events in the UK that echo those shown in La Haine. The film, as ADF intend, also articulates these concerns. The absence of women in the film is striking, but as the Sharma’s argue, the pathologizing of the suburbs is an old sociological, anthropological and Hollywood standard, where inner urban tradition demands alienation and decay, disaffection and lawlessness, reinforcing the racism, even as La Haine challenges these easy moves (TCS 17-3 2000:103)

In 2002 ADF initiated similar concert-screenings of another film, this time the revolutionary cinematic extravaganza of The Battle of Algiers, directed in 1964 by Gillo Pontecorvo (scenario Franco Solinas, music by Ennio Morricone, won the Golden Lion Venice 1966,). This film tells the story of the clandestine resistance movement against the French occupation of Algeria and works well when screened for new audiences with a live ADF soundtrack. Bringing a new audience to an old film, a part of the third cinema movement, quite often overlooked by drum and bass fans, carries a powerful allegorical charge at a time when issues of colonial occupation – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon – are prominent in the media.

I am particularly interested in what a British Asian music activist outfit, with a record of anti-racist, anti-imperialist organising, can achieve with the technology of sound and film as propaganda device. What does this tell us about activism, media, and the intended audience for ADF’s experiments at the movies? Some will of course say that the ADF update track for Battle of Algiers is no improvement upon Morricone’s score; some will quibble about the sanctity of creative work in the age of digital reproduction; some might suggest that ADF cash in with a radical pose, presenting themselves as advocates of any and every left cause going. It is of course possible to discuss these matters, but I think these are the wrong questions.

It might be interestingly provocative to ask instead after the plausibility of ADF’s attempts to get the youth to question; to ‘meditate’ (not at all in the yogic sense) upon problems of politics, violence, resistance, and on alternate ways of viewing the world. Battle of Algiers, in Pontocorvo’s third cinema way, was already a moment of consciousness raising, which ADF now update according to their want. ADF are not sentimental, and they are never in denial about the culture industry as a sapping vortex of commercialisation, but their engagement with the media cannot be described simply as an issue of chains or noise. ADF would want to promote a revolutionary consciousness. I wonder if we can grant them the luxury of thinking so differently?

Perhaps what ADF have though is not just any kind of politics, nor any greater or lesser disguised evangelical mission, but a purpose and push towards a more fundamental form of thinking; the realisation that a limit to thinking, a narrowing, is a baleful consequence of an unexamined attachment to the silver screen. The jangling soundtrack ADF provides for La Haine or The Battle of Algiers is intended to in the face of so much dross on TV. ADF member John Pandit is often contemptuous of idle-talk as a substitute for the necessities of organising an alternative to capitalism, imperialism, racism, and in many ways I hear this resonating over and over in ADF’s politically motivated use of film.

Perhaps we can better understand something about what Battle of Algiers, as a film, achieves by listening to the ADF soundtrack. The event is never simply the cause of bringing about a critical anti-colonialist consciousness in the youth that are attracted to ADF performances. Ostensibly this would be one of the simple planned, even calculated, ends, but no-one would be so stupid as to think there is a one-to-one equivalence between planned intention and effect. Indeed, there is no simple or singular intention possible when an audience, by definition, comes from a wide range of possible contexts. There are plenty of debates about ethics and motivation, even inspiration, in the literature on propaganda, promotion and politics. ADFED itself is a broad ‘church’ (to again invoke an out of place chalice metaphor), open to many, and ADF have long pointed out their wide ‘consciousness raising’ orientation.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that film itself, with added live music, is by and by an automatic consciousness raising tool. One particular story drives this point home. In 2002 it was reported that Pontocorvo’s film was to be screened (with the original score) at the Pentagon as an instructional text for the generals of the low intensity warfare operations unit, with the intention of aiding the generals in their thinking about how to win the war in Iraq, and how to deal with a militant insurgency without losing the ‘battle for hearts and minds’, as the French so clearly did in Algeria. It seems the generals watched less than carefully. The point is not to suggest only that any text – film, event – can be turned to any politics whatsoever (though I am sometimes convinced that all things can be recuperated and co-opted to do service for capital) but that what is required to achieve a radical thinking is something more than the conventions of calculative thought that usually belong to technology, especially technology in the hands of the generals bombing Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq.

ADF use technology to make us think, not simply consume. In this, they are, I feel, an advance insofar as they do more than simply offer a critical note against colonialism, revealing some of the truths about colonial history; rather, revealing plus an activism that militates for critical thinking. It is no accident that ADF called an earlier EP Militant Science. They explain:

“Whatever anyone says about ADF’s so called ‘political’ lyrics, no one would have taken any notice if it wasn’t for ADF’s sound and its inherent energy: ragga-jungle propulsion, indo-dub basslines, distorted sitar-like guitars and samples of more ‘traditional’ Asian sounds” http://www.asiandubfoundation.com/adf_home_fs.htm

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Attributed to Jean-Luc Godard:


“Tracking shots are a question of morality.”

[on Los Angeles] “It’s a big garage.”

“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.”

“Every edit is a lie.”

“Up to now — since shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution — most movie makers have been assuming that they know how to make movies. Just like a bad writer doesn’t ask himself if he’s really capable of writing a novel — he thinks he knows. If movie makers were building airplanes, there would be an accident every time one took off. But in the movies, these accidents are called Oscars.”

“What I want above all is to destroy the idea of culture. Culture is an alibi of imperialism. There is a Ministry of War. There is a Ministry of Culture. Therefore, culture is war.”

“In a house there is the top floor and there is the cellar. The underground filmmakers live in the same house as Hollywood, but they work in the cellar. It’s up to them if they like to live in the dark. The Hollywood filmmakers are more intelligent, because they have that sunny top floor.”

“All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.”

Speaking at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival about filmmaker Michael Moore: “Post-war filmmakers gave us the documentary, Rob Reiner gave us the mockumentary and Moore initiated a third genre, the crockumentary.”

“It’s over. There was a time maybe when cinema could have improved society, but that time was missed”

“In the beginning I believed in Cannes, but now it’s just for publicity. People come to Cannes just to advertise their films, not with a particular message. But the advantage is that if you go to the festival, you get so much press coverage in three days that it advertises the film for the rest of the year”
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The end of Representation


The end of Representation

I have taught a lot of great students in my (eight!) years in the anth department at Goldsmiths, and now finally it looks like my escape to full time graft in the Centre for Cultural Studies is going to be confirmed – yippideee (for better or worse – its gotta be easier than two half time jobs = 150%). Its also a time for somewhat wistful reflections, and, gotta say, things have been pretty flat for obvious reasons the past few weeks…

Anyway, fact is, I won’t be teaching the Representation course anymore, so thanks to Chris, Richard, Atticus, Lia, Carrie, Nick and Will who taught alongside. Thanks also to all those who wrote and made work – fantastic films and photography projects, multimedia and chaos performances – which were really the greatest part. So many good films – onwards and upwards. I cannot list the highlights here (too many), but I do play them over and over as recruitment devices at Open Days…

What I will do – and with heavy heart – is refer you to another piece of Imogen Bunting’s writing, done for this course. Part of the reason I am leaving anth is because of discussions with Imogen over many years (there is a New Cross band that sings ‘if we beat our heads against this brick wall for long enough eventually it will fall’ – nope, it did not). I had always hoped we could change the world etc etc, and I still do, but in anth its for others to do now… Imogen’s enthusiasm must be carried elsewhere.

I am posting (here) a piece that was written as what we call a ‘practice essay’ in Imogen’s third year at Goldsmiths. I had lectured on the films of Denis O’Rourke for nearly ten years and always asked a question something like ‘who spoke for who [or sometimes, who fucked who] in the Good Woman of Bangkok?’ (if you have seen the film that makes sense – Denis does not appear in the film, but its his voice, or is Aoi pulling his strings?…). Anyways. after this effort from Imogen I just had to retire the topic, even though there had been many good answers over the years. After this there was no chance of a better one being written.

There is a memorial for Imogen on 22 May in New York.
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paris to die for our sins


this may be a little late and I’ve lost the date – might have been April 1 – but its another of those items I have carried around for ages in a lint laden coat pocket after ripping it from a newspaper in amazement: Big News: Paris Hilton is slated to play MA T in a film about the god-bothering ‘grizzly hell bat’ who, in the words of the then-interesting-but-now-recidivist, C.Hitchens was guilty of ‘peddling the pope’s henious policy of compelling the faithful to breed’ – ie, anti-abortion, contraception, etc. So, Paris gets to play the simple life (Calcutta style) but this time without Nicole, or is she gonna get the role of drink-drive victim Diana? And of course I also wonder who will play Enva Hoxha, whom the diminutive Albanian met and later laid flowers on the grave thereof. I did recently meet the British Communist M-L group who described themselves as Enva-ist, and advocated following the old comrades version of marxist-leninist-maoist-hoxha-ite thought. Truly way out there, these Albanians.

Now, I have never been to the fair land of Albania, but I did see in person the dubious activities of this particularly scary little nun, and even met her very briefly once at some city event where we were lined up as if for slaughter. She counsels her workers to ‘love till it hurts’ but could not use her organisation’s massive wealth to actually cure anyone, since to do so would either interrupt old Bog’s heavenly plan, or offer false hope to those who could not get to the top of the waiting list… So, love em till it hurts meant ‘volunteers’ came and cuddled people who were ill, and yes dying, but not necessarily always beyond medical care, just denied it. Charity is about image after all. The pope came to Calcutta too once, in his pope-mobile… but anyways, the best bit about this news item is the suggestion that: ‘a computer generated image showed a close facial match between the hotel heiress and the Albanian-born nun’. Makes you fear for the day machines take over eh? The article also references Paris’s previous movie experience – a predictable slur I guess. I say why not give Paris the job? Sure, she could hardly be less irritating, and is likely to be better, miraculously even best at what she does. Praise the Lord.
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Barbara Stanwyck

I have been meaning for so long to post this picture – with signature – of Barbara Stanwyck, the most fabulous screen legend ever to ever to ever, forever. I mean, why should I be the only lucky one to see this picture every day? It was a birthday gift from Rebecca who knows about such things (thank you) and if you have not seen movies like: The lady Eve (1941), The bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), Double Indemnity (1944) and Meet John Doe (1941), then you gotta do that NOW! Later you can catch the episodes of The Big Valley you might have missed on early morning television come down. And for real laughs, the fabulous Red Salute (1935) about communists on campus in the US in the 1920s/30s (an heiress and her red beau, the capitalist father kidnaps her and exiles her to south America for deprogramming or some such – a film which was variously re-released over the next ten years with and increasingly anti-communist rebranding: aka “Her Enlisted Man” (USA), aka “Her Uncle Sam” (USA: reissue title), and best of all aka “Runaway Daughter” (USA: reissue title).

Kath Bird is responsible for originally dragging me along to see “The lady Eve” which started this obsession, oh about 15 years ago. Red Salute Kath…
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Perverted By Language


Piper got the blog back and the Brighton girl from Arkansas has her own now. Still mesmerised, as am I, by the lesser films of Bill Murray:

Perverted By Language: “Ghostbusters 2 is chock full of the past itself coming back to haunt the present. A train that crashed around the turn of the last century comes hurtling through a forgotten underground track. The Titanic finally docks at a city port, allowing its long-dead passengers to file into the city (and as Jeffery Sconce reminds us, the Titanic disaster occurred around the same time as supernatural-seeming devices like radios and telegraphs, were coming to the fore, and inspired a spate of tales of dead victims communicating from the dead through these ‘new media’). The Statue of Liberty comes to life and walks from Ellis Island across the water to the promised land of Manhattan. “
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The Pirate Party

Check this out :

The Pirate Party “Because kidnapping and killing people on the high seas is exactly the same as sharing music with your friends!”

http://www.freeculture.org/pirates/

Music video contest!

For the Pirate Party, we want to show pirate-themed music videos while we dance. Thus, we are also holding a Pirate Video Remix Contest! The top three video remixes will each receive a snazzy FreeCulture.org t-shirt–a fine vestment for any pirate.

Rules:

The remixes/mash-ups should feature at least 10 seconds of recognizeable pirates (the traditional ARRR MATEY sea-going pirates). The entire video doesn’t have to be pirates, but there should be a few clips to remind people that this is in fact a pirate party.
The music needs a beat that people can groove to. Extra points if the music is plunderphonics or otherwise exercises your fair use rights, but the primary requirement is that the music be danceable.
The music video should be placed somewhere online where we can download it, in a format that VLC can play. MP4 or MOV will work fine. Archive.org is an excellent place to host your video.
The deadline is April 21st, because the party itself is April 22nd and we need time to download the videos.

ta, bri
.

Poco TV

Abhijit Roy writes:
> have you received the copies of the journal? they were
> posted more than a month back.

he’s referring to the Kolkata based Journal of the Moving Image vol 4. The article is called something like ‘Postcolonial Television’. ITs out, but I have not yet seen it. So this is to be updated I guess…
.

fisk

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EDITION EIGHT

Art Resistance Community TV Program 1 50 mins
JOURNALIST & WAR CORRESPONDENT
Robert Fisk: Public Meeting at Sydney University.

Robert Fisk has been the Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper in the UK since 1988. Dr Fisk spoke at Sydney University at the invitation of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. He spoke mainly about the current situation in Iraq. He tells the story of the growing hatred of the West by millions of Muslims, the colonisation process that previously occurred in the Middle East by European powers and the uncanny resemblance between the British 1920’s occupation of Iraq and the current US occupation. Fisk also talks of the West’s continuing support for Israel ’s occupation of Palestinian land and its refusal to implement UN Resolutions.

Actively Radical TV also conducted an interview with Robert Fisk prior to the lecture and this footage is intercut with his lecture.<!– D(["mb","The Fisk talk is also supplemented by Wattan TV\nmontage footage of life under occupation on the West Bank.\n
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\nArt Resistance Community TV Program 2 – 34 mins \n
\nScotland: Socialism\nin the Making\n
\nA documentary produced in 2003 on the Scottish\nSocialist Party (SSP) and the politics of Scotland. Interviews with\nScottish\nMembers of Parliament, Tommy Sheridan, Frances Curren and Caroline\nLechie as\nwell as Allan McCoombs (Co-author of “Imagine”) and Matt Preston from\nthe\nScottish Socialist Voice.\n
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\nVoices of Protest - 30 mins\n
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\nIn the studio for this edition of Community\nFocus is Craig Bulley – radio disc jockey for Workers Radio Sydney.\nWorkers\nRadio Sydney is a radio program broadcast on Radio Skid Row, and plays\nan\nintegral role in the fight against the changes to the Industrial\nRelations laws\nby keeping the community informed of union activities throughout the\nstate and\nraises the real issues facing working people today. \n
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",1] ); //–>The Fisk talk is also supplemented by Wattan TV montage footage of life under occupation on the West Bank.


Art Resistance Community TV Program 2 – 34 mins
Scotland: Socialism in the Making
A documentary produced in 2003 on the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and the politics of Scotland. Interviews with Scottish Members of Parliament, Tommy Sheridan, Frances Curren and Caroline Lechie as well as Allan McCoombs (Co-author of “Imagine”) and Matt Preston from the Scottish Socialist Voice.

Voices of Protest - 30 mins
IN PROFILE: a report by Simon Tayler on the BP corporation and its past activites and its current PR cloak of being a “green” corporation. Also on Voices of Protest is a visit to the ARTV VAULT with an 1999 East Timor Solidarity rally and a 2003 Refugee Rights rally. The PALESTINE REPORT with Rebecca Semaan looks at some of the myths regarding Palestinian Refugees.

Community Focus - 30 mins
In the studio for this edition of Community Focus is Craig Bulley – radio disc jockey for Workers Radio Sydney. Workers Radio Sydney is a radio program broadcast on Radio Skid Row, and plays an integral role in the fight against the changes to the Industrial Relations laws by keeping the community informed of union activities throughout the state and raises the real issues facing working people today.

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Choice


I walk into the newsagent to face a choice of 75 magazines telling me about a range of pretty much the same consumer choices – which computer, which video, which movie. All of them have the same perfect model on the front, male or female, blonde or brunette. I walk across to the supermarket to by the supermarket’s own brand pasta, and its own brand bath cleaner – only to find the refill nozzle on the size I usually buy has been redesigned, so I can’t just buy another refill. I would laugh out loud at the absurdity of this, but it’s not funny enough to make me to piss my name brand pants. How funny is it that I have another man’s name across the front of my Brad Pitts? Of course I ask this while thinking of Fightclub in which Pitt says exactly what I wish I had thought of first, but didn’t cos I was preoccupied with the laughter of Bataille. Stretch – [cats from Brighton, powered by Carrie].
.

On Dennis’s Work of Art

Book chapter abstract – to be written over the next two months or so…(I hope)

‘Documentary Provocations: Dennis O’Rourke’s Sex Tourism Revisited’

‘I would not recommend that movie as an educational tool’
– Thelma Burgonio-Watson quoted in The Filmmaker and the Prostitute p 128

My proposed chapter revisits Denis O’Rourke’s 1992 ethnographic film
on sex tourism in Thailand. “The Good Woman of Bangkok” is examined in
the light of increased, or at least differently inflected, media
reportage of sex tourists in Asia (cf Gary Glitter in Cambodia and
Vietnam; the controversies over US military personnel in Japan; the
closure of the Subic Bay base in the Philippines). What was O’Rourke
trying to achieve with this film with its ‘Brechtian’ cinematic
apparatus, its theoretical ambiguities, its intentionally provocative
staging? Are the ‘theoretical’ issues, as well as the moral(istic)
conundrums, insofar as O’Rourke was able to broach them, to be
evaluated differently now in changed ethico-political circumstances?
Or does sex tourism, and indeed travel-as-exploitation, continue as
‘business-as-usual’? As Jennie Martin wrote about the film’s
characters: ‘it is the western working class which inherits the role of
colonial rapist’ (Martin 1992 ‘Missionary Positions’ Australian Left
Review, May). Does this position remain valid in response to
O’Rourke’s nuanced argument, or has the subtlety of his theoretical
arabesque always been inappropriate, given the structural conditions
in which the filming, and the treatment of the issues, had to be
played out?

The chapter also takes into account use of the film as a ‘teaching
tool’, in Gayatri Spivak’s sense, in over ten years of Anthropology
classes, suggesting that difficult material can, and in some ways
cannot, provide educational and ethical ‘instruction’.
.

You, Me and Everyone We Know

Me and you and Everyone We Know sounds like the title of one of those independent US movies where the director finally gets a long cherished project up on the screen and all the actors are friends (I’m thinking John Waters here, but cute). Anyway, it may or may not be the case, but Miranda July has got her stuff up and she does it deftly. Great kwirkiness that doesn’t insist on its kwirks too much – though you’ll have to agree the hand-flame scene is, well, heavy-handed. It gets better (I reckon someone said, ‘you gotta start the movie with something really wacko’ and this is the equivalent of a burning giraffe or something). Anyway, there are no reasons not to like this as a love story (or rather as a story about people wanting to be loved, which is more wistful) ; as an exploration of people’s sad, but quite amusing, foibles; and as a portrait become diagnosis of personal problems, insecurities and just plain madness that – thankfully – does not prescribe anti-depressants or expect people to get over it by becoming famous (but yes, there is a happy ending). It could have dwelt more on the breakdown of a mixed race marriage (but doesn’t), and it could have become a moralistic drama about assisted suicide (phew, avoids that too), so on the whole I rated this as a cool sunday arvo flick that was worth the fiver it costs to see.

Then again, I just read about the director that ‘Filmmaker Magazine rated her #1 in their “25 New Faces of Indie Film” in 2004′ and that ‘She chose to work under the surname “July” because she says it is the month that most facilitates her creativity’ – two things which kinda dints my admiration for her just a tiny bit – Hail Caesar!

Kagemusha

Kagemusha is one of Kurusawa’s great epic films.

Screening 6pm, Goldsmiths Cinema, Tues, Nov 1st 2005

Tampopo


Tampopo (1985) Directed by Juzo Itami
Screening – 6pm, Cinema, Goldsmiths, Tuesday 25th October.
All welcome. No charge.
(+ visit to noodle shop in Elephant and Castle after the film).

I don’t know how to describe the film. Many rave about it:
9 out of 10 people found the following comment useful:
-My All-Time Favorite Movie!, 25 July 2002
Author: underpussy from San Francisco, CA:
“I just keep watching this movie over and over again. Why? It’s hard to say exactly. Sure, the acting is great and the story is terrific, but what makes “Tampopo” so special is harder to define. I like to think of it as optimism; the belief that people in this world still do nice things for other people. Or maybe that romance can strike when you least expect it. Sure, this is a movie about food, you’ve heard all about that, but more importantly it’s a movie about people. People working together, eating together, striving together, and accomplishing together.
The script is flawless. Every scene blends into the next, and takes you someplace new. The narrative sidetracks away from the main story from time to time, leading to the most conceptual and entertining scenes. Tampopo is an adventure on a very small and personal scale. It’s a charming movie, unlike any other I’ve seen, well worth a look”. Was the above comment useful to you? …umm, don’t bother to answer this, I just ripped it off from a DVD sales site – just come to the film… .

The Seven Year Itch

The film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, (dir. Howard Hawks – came out in the US the same year as the Kinsey Report – 1953. First Playboy out then too). It is famous for many reasons, but for me most importantly because it made movie stars into export commodities. This kind of export – crucially, like the arms trade, one of the few with a US surplus relative to imports – refers not just to the face of Garbo as make-up vehicle, as discussed in the now equally commodified Roland Barthes essay; but rather, with this film, the image of Marilyn also commodifies all women (see the Marilyn Reader, and Luara Mulvey’s essays). It makes a cosmetic America the standard model for women in Europe, bereft of menfolk, seduced by G.Is with nylons and looking for alternatives to war.

Cinematic commodification of woman has a long history. The possibly apocryphal story that Griffith invented the close up, of an anonymous leading lady. All the way to: Your Look Hits My Face – Barbara Kruger’s street billboards and The Face, the airbrushed, streamlined mass commodity, glamour puss into todays rent a face model scene (and leave Kate Moss alone, arrest Robbie instead).

So Jane Mansfield and Marylin Monroe belong to those who brought glamour and relief to post war Europe, and did so in the interests of retail. The Monroe thing is not sex, its commerce. Dancing for the Marshall Plan. As Lily Marlene did ideological work for NSAP Germany, Garbo was sold back to them by Hollywood, so now, Monroe becomes the white supremacist’s dream date – but the dumb blonde swaps sex/Love for money/diamonds routine is stale, and it didn’t take Madonna’s tribute to Marylin to let us know she was the Materialist Girl or to emphasize the economic investment of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War.

In the last interview she did for ‘Life’ magazine, Monroe said: ‘That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing and I just hate to be a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something, I would rather have it sex’. But it wasn’t to be – Sex transubstitutes for dollars.

Monroe starred in the Seven Year Itch (dir. Billy Wilder, 1955). The movie starts with a mock documentary voice over explaining that 500 years earlier in Manhattan Indian males packed their squaws off to the hills for the hot summer months.

I am not trying to be funny here, but the obvious sexual readings apply where Marilyn stands above the grate over the subway enjoying the rush of air as the train passes underneath. Curiously though, in this scene she does not look at her co-star Tom Ewell at all, but is rather absorbed in her own pleasure. Tom, publisher of 25c paperbacks, is the hapless male onlooker immediately after they come out of a screening – the film hoarding lit up behind them informs us – of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Poor dim Tom. Laura Mulvey draws attention to women’s pleasure in her essay … here its possible to discern that pleasure again in the somewhat unusual pacing of the subsequent sequence. Marilyn seems to be waiting for more, but not from her leading man. She is looking slightly off camera, as if at an audience, and though on the pavement outside a screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, there should be no audience, there clearly is (in the film documentary Norma Jean and Marilyn such an audience cheers as if at a football game).

Marilyn has explained to Ewell that she will be on television and after a discussion about the chances the ‘Creature’ has for being loved and wanted – a close-up of Marylin then Ewell is seen fixated on her ankles. She looks away.

He says – and I think this is crucial – ‘you sound like a commercial’. There is a kiss, in fact doubled, then a cut to Marilyn walking through the door to her apartment block waving Ewell’s hat as if that previous scene was way too steamy. The apartment upstairs, which we have already learnt is filled with African sculpture, is also hot like a ‘Turkish bath’. Ewell manages to get Marilyn into his apartment with the promise of air-conditioning in every room – heavy innuendo.

He is about to become a duck, a Freudian, an orator and a prude, trying to justify his seduction with psychoanalysis. After all the savagery in the film starting with Manhattan Indians, Turkish Baths, African statuary, he then wonders what he will talk about with Marilyn and speculates aloud about Freud and the human predicament: ‘what shall we talk about … psychoanalysis’ which leads him to speculate that ‘under this veneer of civilization we are all savages’. Marilyn meanwhile, in a syncopated monologue, is thinking of shopping, sleep, being cool, sleeping downstairs… Ewell responds to her not so innocent suggestion with ‘there are savages and savages, but that could be too savage’.

They are interrupted, of course, by the representative of working class uncouth lust, not far removed from the routines of Ewell, who, just as he dithers over the impending sex act ‘there’s such a thing as society you know’ [improbably anticipating Margaret Thatcher’s famous line in reverse]. He answers the door to the janitor – there is a scene in which Marilyn’s legs are iconically registered, and she is described, by the janitor, as a ‘living doll’. Of course the resolution involves Ewell’s return to his wife, after denying the ludicrous idea that he might have Marilyn Monroe in his kitchen. She’s there.

An aside for the publisher. The Ewell character is considering bringing out a book on psychoanalysis by a typically stereotyped German professor. Similarly, in The Big Sleep (dir. Howard Hawks) Humphrey Bogart investigates the death of Geiger, an antique books proprietor, or an underworld figure. In neither case is the book trade interesting enough to carry the plot. Though there is an incomparably great literary exchange with Lauren Bacall:
Bacall: ‘I thought you worked in bed like Marcel Proust’
Bogart: ‘Who’s he?
Bacall: ‘French writer, you wouldn’t know him’
Bogart: ‘Well, come into my boudoir’.

Of course the best scene between Bacall and Bogart has Bacall explaining to Bogart how to reach her: ‘you remember how to whistle Steve, don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow’. No-one can condemn Bogart for having no possible comeback to that line.
Some Like it Hot – another great film, this time with amazing scenes of the gaze, but cross dressing galore, and an ending that even today most film production houses cannot come close to.

Odd Obsession


Film Screening – all welcome (please distribute widely).

Goldsmiths College, Cinema, Tuesday 18th October. 6PM

Kon, Ichikawa’s

“Odd Obsession”

[1960 Colour, 107 Mins, Eng Subtitles.]
stars Machiko Kyo, Ganjiro Nakamura, Junko Kano, Ichiro Sugai…
“Aging… desire… jealosy… comic tragedy” – from the video blurb.

All welcome.

why film students babble on about Orson Welles

‘I still wonder why film students babble on about Orson Welles … Even the worst films of Russ Meyer are infinitely more interesting than Citizen Kane’ (Waters 2005:12)

I still believe we can learn a lot about the world as it appears to us today from an old movie from another time – Citizen Kane. The search for meaning is key in Kane, Welles tells us at the start there should be ‘no trespassing’ on the childhood drama that motivates Kane, yet the film of course does so trespass, tells us about Kane’s childhood, shows that not all can be explained by the sled.

Kane, and Welles himself probably, is fixated on childhood. So no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, the snow dome, which Bazin describes: Kane ‘grasps this childish souvenir before dying, this toy that was spared during the destruction of he dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1972/191:65).

Rosebud

d – I’m not giving anything away here as from the start the journalists are seeking the meaning of this enigmatic last word. The journalists never find out what the audience get to know – the ‘truth’ remains undiscovered within the contrivance of the inner plot of the movie. We achieve, however, only what Kane achieves in the end in the contemplation of the snowdome – the grand overview of the complete collection with no central or final meaning. Within the contrivance of the investigative plot, the journalists amass much about Kane through interviews and records, but they do not discover Rosebud. Listing the trinkets collected by Kane or even narrating Kane’s life as a reverse sequence of scenes, would do little more than entertain. Without analysis we get little insight – iin the film the collection is on its way to destruction in the furnace. Kane dies lonely surrounded by the detritus of a decimated European culture, plundered as Europe was destroyed by self-hatred and fascism – Kane’s nostalgia a metaphor for isolationism.

Nostalgia – the sled, the snowdome, the trinket – the memory bubble the artificial world (Olaquagia). Trinketisation is one way to read Kane – the sled, marked by the haunting vibraphone music, is this inner plot of the movie an intended distraction, something to also throw the knowing viewers – as critics, after the event – off the scent? As, of course Kane himself, has missed the point. At the end the grand overview of the futility of the collection, the amazing final tracking shot into the fire in the failed fantasy jigsaw empire of xanadu, which leaves the media tycoon paralysed and immobile.

Rosebud, ultimately, is that insignificant icon of significance – the emblem of a lost past, the fantasy of another life. The immense power of Kane is shown as impotent because of this loss – indeed, ultimately ending up in a wheelchair, alone in his pleasure palace Xanadu – Kane confusedly mistakes loss of the past as the source of his errors.

There is much in the film worth noting, its innovations, authorship, controlling genius, lighting, shots, music, structure – the slow opening scene is interrupted by the crash of the racy newsreel, which some minutes later clutters to an end and is shown as the shadowy construction of journalists in a smoky room. Frames within frames. The film variously deals with New Deal cultural content, US hegemony ‘on the march’, the ‘battle between intervention and isolationism’ (Mulvey 1992:15). Isolation – the castle museum of European trinkets – in which Kane imprisons himself. Kane modelled on William Randolph Hearst, whose holiday playground in Guantanamo Bay is now a prison camp for Afghans and Saudis, funnily enough the lease for was due the same day grandaughter Patti got out of jail (Symbionese Liberation Army has faded into obscurity) and somehow the US failed to hand it back, Castro waits – it is a restricted area.

As is well known, Patti was kidnapped by, but later voluntarily participated in the activities of, the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was later to appear in John Waters’ films Serial Mom (1994), Cecil B, Demented (2000) and A Dirty Shame (2004).

Welles denied Hearst was the model for Kane, though curiously Hearst, who approvingly meets with Hitler in 1934 (as does Kane), owns newspapers and becomes a recluse (as does Kane), has a mistress (as does Kane) – and, though I will read no significance into this, Hearst’s secret name for his mistress Marion Davies’ genitalia was Rosebud (Leaning 1985:205). There is possibly reason to dispute this glorious piece of trivia: Pizzitola reports that Rosebud was the painter and family ‘friend’ Ocrin Peck’s nickname for Hearst’s mother (Pizzitola 2002:181).

There’s more to be said here… in the lecture…
.

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