Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Edge Of Cinema: Experimental Cinema Log #5 - Light is Calling

[After a month's hiatus, the continuing series focussing on snapshots of experimental cinema starts up again. Apologies for the time it took to get this up and running again, it's been a busy month].

LIGHT IS CALLING (Bill Morrison; USA; 2004)
[8 mins]

Light is Calling was released two years after Decasia, Morrison’s masterwork of recombined decaying film stock, and it can be considered as a capsule-sized appendage to the older film. Unlike the collation of assorted nitrate fragments that shape Decasia, Light is Calling is a decaying narrative composed entirely from the decaying stock of one film, James Young's The Bells, made in 1926.
Morrison sculpted not one but two films from a decaying copy of The Bells, having also made The Mesmerist a year earlier. Both of these films hone the issues of cinematic mortality that Decasia alluded to by zeroing in on one finite, singular decaying source and offering a positive and creative solution to the future decline of legible cinema by carving two narratives from the one text. Both films wear the hallmarks of the metaphors that circulate around archiving – mortality, the need to ameliorate instability and fragility, the hope of regeneration, the past's relation to the present.

Whereas The Mesmerist is a testament to the power of recombining previously used footage to create a new narrative, Light Is Calling is a furious, disorienting, swirling sea of bubbles, boils, fissures, and pockmarks. The Mesmerist has a sheen of decay that adds texture to the narrative, whereas Light Is Calling takes mortality to an extreme. There is so much obliteration of the image in this eight-minute film that it seems to suggest an imagining of cinema as already dead. The decay creates constant mist swirls, suggesting a haunted film, attempting to project itself from the archival grave. The title alone suggests as much – Light is Calling, as if the light of cinema is calling from its distant past.

What is fascinating about Light is Calling is how the decay becomes the central component not just of the film’s form but also of its narrative content. The decay helps to reinvent and revive the old film, concocting an entirely new narrative, and perhaps heralding the beginning of future decay-narratives. It becomes a character, a monstrous entity that pushes the story forward.

Through a miasmatic haze of constantly churning decay, a simple story occurs in fragmentary glimpses. A woman is trapped inside a morass of celluloidal mist, being constantly buffeted and pummeled by this sea of nitrate-decay. It is as if she is trying to survive the death of the film, like a drowning swimmer waving in the surf. Meanwhile, a group of cavalrymen search ceaselessly, travelling forested paths attempting both to find the woman and to find a way out of the decaying film. The leader of the cavalrymen finds the woman, and in a remarkable moment reaches into the boiling haze and pulls the woman out. They ride off together, decay-mist still surrounding and attacking them, to find a new life for themselves outside of their world of nitrate.

Thus, Light is Calling gauges a feeling of triumph rather than melancholy for the plight of decaying film. Rather than the doomed legacy that beholds the future of decaying nitrate film, Light is Calling shows it to be filled with potential for renewed, vigorous experimental beginnings, and thus this film is a clarion call for nitrate’s victorious survival in new forms.

The film can be viewed here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

KUCHAR, BELSON, BREER – quick notes on a tribute

A few days ago I managed to catch an evening of films paying tribute to three experimental filmmakers who died last year – George Kuchar, Jordan Belson, and Robert Breer. This was a rare opportunity to see work by these three on the big screen, so the event was a must-see.
The evening started with a handful of films by Kuchar, starting with his most well-known film Hold Me While I’m Naked. Watching a series of Kuchar films is a little bit like listening to too much Wagner, black metal, or noise music in one sitting – in a small dose it’s fine, but too much and after some time your head begins to feel as if it’s dehydrating. Thus, after 70 minutes worth of constant intense orchestral music to back the lurid and comic faux-melodrama and by the end your head is kind of sore.

If anything, watching Kuchar is an opportunity to enter into the world of cheap shitty New York apartments from the 1960’s. In almost every film we get to see a grimy, mouldy, cramped bathroom, and focussing on the small details such as the horrid, dank atmosphere of these bathrooms becomes a small pleasure in its own right. This is unadorned filmmaking, dressed up through its overuse of melodrama to appear completely adorned. The most fascinating moments were observing the pockmarks and acne in close-ups on the face of the lead male character in Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, or the huge balls of dust gathered at the edges of the room in The Mongreloid.

The meditative unfolding of colour, patterns, and rhythm of Belson’s films come as an immediate antidote to the audio-visual bombast of Kuchar’s work. Belson’s films exude billowing calm. Of the five films presented, I’d only seen one before, Allures, as part of a compendium of 5 films released on DVD by the Center of Visual Music. Although a small-screen viewing of this was spellbinding, nothing prepares you for the journey experienced via the big screen.

The overarching effect of viewing Belson’s films is clearly stated in the titles – Cosmos, Meditation, Chakra, Cycles. The screen is filled with swathes and washes of gently-roiling coloured mist, smoke, water, and spiralling circles, and it feels as if the eye is being taught how to slow down. The effect is one of total immersion, a kind of submission to the constant drifting movement of colours and circular patterns. But this is not just a soporific experience – the films still have pace and energy, shapes constantly morphing from one state to the next, always in flux, never in stasis. The ‘real world’ even manages to break through into these films (a brief shot of a diver in Meditation; a naked figure, parachutists, and even what appears to be a cityscape in Cycles), but these fleeting images become a part of the seamless meditative fabric that Belson weaves.

Constant motion is also the heart of Breer’s films, although the pace is far more frenetic. Collaged scraps and scribbled drawings are constantly twisting and hopping in fits across the screen, appearing and being replaced by a new manic sketch in the blink of an eye. Yet, despite the pile-up of animated debris that Breer pumps out at a rapid rate, this is also an incredibly immersive experience, producing a different kind of meditation. If Belson is akin to meditating via the sound gently-chiming singing bowls, then Breer is like meditating via white noise.
The most fascinating part of watching this small program of Breer’s output (16 films over 80 minutes), is mapping the chronological progression of his filmmaking. His earlier films from the 1950’s seem more likely to use cut-ups of newspapers and magazines, and the pace is rapid, buzzing, nonrepetitive. Later films introduce rhythmic cycles (like the start of 69, with a simple geometric drawing rotating through the screen, over and over), and become more like diary films, with the soundtrack composed of recordings supposedly from Breer’s domestic environment. Throughout, the insistent theme pulsing through Breer’s films is pure unadulterated spontaneity, stringing together improvised doodles and creating an animated cinema of pure ‘now’.

Monday, 5 March 2012

101 FILMS: A JOURNEY FROM 1991-2011

[Been quiet the past couple of weeks, due to dealing with a busy transitional phase in life, shifting vocational focus. I aim to get back on board with some regular posting this week, with the desire to get another experimental cinema post up and running in the next couple of days]

This is my 101st post. Obviously I’ve just realised this recently, as I would have been celebrating a 100th post as opposed to the 101st, but hey a post is a post is a post, as Gertrude Stein would never have said if she had been a blogger.

I can probably mark my first truly earnest year of cinema-passion as 1991, because that was the first year I recall heading off to the local international film festival by myself, poring through the festival booklet and trying to see as much as I could. So, seeing how the years 1991 to 2011 present a tidyish twenty year stretch, I've decided to celebrate my 101st post by presenting a list of 101 films that represent a journey of little epiphanies – moments that mark some kind of
development in my understanding and appreciation of cinema.

Let's get this clear. It's not a 'best of' list. And these are not necessarily my favourite films of each director represented in the list (only one film per director, by the way - no reason why, we just need rules sometimes).

It's simply a journey, charting little boundary-pushing explosions of surprise.

It maps first encounters with directors I grew to love. It reflects films that allowed me to finally obtain a clearer understanding of a director’s work, made me think "ahh, now I get it", giving me the werewithal to re-appraise previous work. It charts films that lit me up, that had my head buzzing after leaving the cinema. It highlights films that sparked a whole new line of enquiry, a new understanding of the language of cinema, a new path of cinematic discovery.

Right, enough preamble. Here’s the list.

1.      LA BELLE NOISEUSE (Jacques Rivette; France; 1991)
2.      RAISE THE RED LANTERN (Zhang Yimou; Hong Kong; 1991) 
3.      VAN GOGH (Maurice Pialat; France; 1991)
4.      THE QUINCE TREE SUN (Victor Erice; Spain; 1991) 
5.      NIGHT ON EARTH (Jim Jarmusch; USA; 1991)
6.      NAKED LUNCH (David Cronenberg; USA; 1991) 
7.      THE LEADER, HIS DRIVER, AND HIS DRIVER’S WIFE (Nick Broomfield; UK; 1991)
8.      CAREFUL (Guy Maddin; Canada; 1992) 
9.      THE PLAYER (Robert Altman; USA; 1992)
10.   GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (James Foley; USA; 1992)
11.   RESERVOIR DOGS (Quentin Tarantino; USA; 1992)
12.   TIME INDEFINITE (Ross McElwee; USA; 1993) 
13.   CALENDAR (Atom Egoyan; Canada/ Germany/ Armenia; 1993)
14.   SONATINE (Takeshi Kitano; Japan; 1993) 
15.   NAKED (Mike Leigh; UK; 1993)
16.   THREE COLOURS; BLUE, WHITE, RED (France/ Poland/ Switzerland; 1993-1994) 
17.   SATANTANGO (Bela Tarr; Hungary-Germany-Switzerland; 1994)
18.   THE KINGDOM (Lars von Trier; Denmark; 1994) 
19.   CARO DIARIO (Nanni Moretti; Italy/ France; 1994)
20.   LONDON (Patrick Keiller; UK; 1994) 
21.   HOOP DREAMS (Steve James; USA; 1994)
22.   BEFORE THE RAIN (Milcho Manchevski; UK/ France/ Macedonia; 1994) 
23.   LA HAINE (Mathieu Kassovitz; France; 1995)
24.   FARGO (Joel and Ethan Coen; USA; 1995) 
25.   HEAT (Michael Mann; USA; 1995)
26.   A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE (Mohsen Makhmalbaf; Iran/ France/ Switzerland; 1995) 
27.   UNDERGROUND (Emir Kusturica; France/ Germany/ Hungary; 1995)
28.   LONE STAR (John Sayles; USA; 1995) 
29.   CRUMB (Terry Zwigoff; USA; 1995)
30.   IRMA VEP (Olivier Assayas; France; 1996) 
31.   DRIFTING CLOUDS (Aki Kaurismaki; Finland; 1996)
32.   WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (William Gazecki; USA; 1997) 
33.   FAST, CHEAP, AND OUT OF CONTROL (Errol Morris; USA; 1997)
34.   PUBLIC HOUSING (Frederick Wiseman; USA; 1997) 
35.   BOOGIE NIGHTS (Paul Thomas Anderson; USA; 1997)
36.   FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke; Austria; 1997) 
37.   A TASTE OF CHERRY (Abbas Kiarostami; Iran; 1997)
38.   MOTHER AND SON (Aleksandr Sokurov; Russia/ Germany; 1997) 
39.   THE INTERVIEW (Harun Farocki; Germany; 1997)
40.   HAPPINESS (Todd Solondz; USA; 1998) 
41.   42 UP (Michael Apted; UK; 1998)
42.   THE THIN RED LINE (Terrence Malick; USA; 1998) 
43.   FESTEN (Thomas Vinterberg; Denmark; 1998)
44.   BEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis; France; 1998) 
45.   I STAND ALONE (Gaspar Noe; France; 1998)
46.   RING (Hideo Nakata; Japan; 1998) 
47.   AFTER LIFE (Hirokazu Kore-eda; Japan; 1998)
48.   HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA (Jean-Luc Godard; France; 1998) 
49.   ETERNITY AND A DAY (Theo Angelopoulos; Greece/ France/ Italy/ Germany; 1998)
50.   ALONE, LIFE WASTES ANDY HARDY (Martin Arnold; Austria; 1998) 
51.   PONY GLASS (Lewis Klahr; USA; 1998)
52.   FILM IST. (1-12) (Gustav Deutsch; Austria; 1998/2002) 
53.   ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (Pedro Almodovar; Spain; 1999)
54.   ROSETTA (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Belgium/ France; 1999) 
55.   RATCATCHER (Lynne Ramsay; UK/ France; 1999)
56.   L’HUMANITE (Bruno Dumont; France; 1999) 
57.   OUTER SPACE (Peter Tscherkassky; Austria; 1999)
58.   SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (Roy Andersson; Sweden/ France/ Denmark/ Norway/ Germany; 2000) 
59.   EUREKA (Shinji Aoyama; Japan; 2000)
60.   THE CIRCLE (Jafar Panahi; Iran; 2000) 
61.   IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar-Wai; Hong Kong/ France; 2000)
62.   YI YI (Edward Yang; Taiwan/ Japan; 2000)  
63.   THE GLEANERS AND I (Agnes Varda; France; 2000)
64.   NINE QUEENS (Fabian Bielinsky; Argentina; 2000) 
65.   PLATFORM (Jia Zhangke; Hong Kong/ Japan/ France/ Netherlands/ Switzerland; 2000)
66.   MULHOLLAND DRIVE (David Lynch; USA; 2001) 
67.   BLOODY SUNDAY (Paul Greengrass; UK/ Ireland; 2001)
68.   TIME OUT (Laurent Cantet; France; 2001) 
69.   PULSE (Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Japan; 2001)
70.   A MA SOEUR! (Catherine Breillat; France/ Italy; 2001) 
71.   THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson; USA; 2001)
72.   FEMME FATALE (Brian De Palma; France; 2002) 
73.   THE CENTURY OF THE SELF (Adam Curtis; UK; 2002)
74.   DISTANT (Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Turkey/ Netherlands; 2002) 
75.   TO BE AND TO HAVE (Nicolas Philibert; France; 2002)
76.   DECASIA (Bill Morrison; USA; 2002)  
77.   BUS 174 (Felipe Larceda & Jose Padilha; Brazil; 2002)
78.   GOODBYE, DRAGON INN (Tsai Ming-liang; Taiwan; 2003) 
79.   ELEPHANT (Gus van Sant; USA; 2003)
80.   THE BEST OF YOUTH (Marco Tullio Giordana; Italy; 2003) 
81.   MEMORIES OF MURDER (Bong Joon-ho; South Korea; 2003)
82.   KINGS AND QUEEN (Arnaud Desplechin; France; 2004) 
83.   OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook; South Korea; 2004)
84.   LOS MUERTOS (Lisandro Alonso; Argentina/ France/ Netherlands/ Switzerland; 2004) 
85.   THE HOLY GIRL (Lucrecia Martel; Argentina/ Spain/ Netherlands/ Italy/ Switzerland; 2004)
86.   GRIZZLY MAN (Werner Herzog; USA; 2005) 
87.   WORKINGMAN’S DEATH (Michael Glawogger; Austria/ Germany; 2005)
88.   SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (Apichatpong Weerasethakul; Thailand/ France/ Netherlands/ Austria; 2006) 
89.   12.08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (Corneliu Porumboiu; Romania/ France; 2006)
90.   COLOSSAL YOUTH (Pedro Costa; Portugal/ France/ Switzerland; 2006) 
91.   SILENT LIGHT (Carlos Reygadas; Mexico/ France/ Netherlands; 2007)
92.   AT SEA (Peter Hutton; USA; 2007) 
93.   IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA (Jose Luis Guerin; Spain/ France; 2007)
94.   MODERN LIFE (Raymond Depardon; France; 2008) 
95.   MAN ON WIRE (James Marsh; UK; 2008)
96.   LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Tomas Alfredson; Sweden/ Norway; 2008) 
97.   DOGTOOTH (Giorgos Lanthimos; Greece; 2009)
98.   DISORDER (Weikai Huang; China; 2009) 
99.   EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Banksy; UK; 2010)
100.  NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (Patricio Guzman; Chile/ France/ Germany; 2010) 
101.  LE QUATTRO VOLTE (Michelangelo Frammartino; Italy/ France/ Switzerland; 2010)