Friday, 15 June 2012

30 Unseen Directors

God, I miss film. It seems my film-viewing has trickled to a near stand-still in the past few months. Through hair-tearing tracts of time mismanagement and a general blood-curdlingly hectic schedule, it feels like casting my eyes over some quality cinematic images is becoming some kind of mythic quest.
The only thing that keeps me going in these bleak times of my own GFC (Ginormous Film Crisis) is using any tiny snippet of time to stay plugged in the cinema world. I can either graze on a film magazine, sift through film news on the net, or draft list after list of films that could all be lumped under the heading “Films To Watch When Some Semblance Of Time Management Takes Hold In My Life.”
It’s odd, but lists of films to watch keeps the engine running. It keeps the desire fuelled. To cast my eyes over screeds and screeds of “must-watch” films provides a heady mixture of overwhelm and yearning.
One new list I conjured up, in between frantic bouts of just being me, is of directors who I’ve never seen. It’s alarming to find the gaps in my cinema viewing, amazing to see what slips between the cracks. Once upon a time I think I would have hidden this out of some dumb form of embarrassment at “not keeping up” with the cinephile world, but really why hide this? So I haven’t seen Louise Feuillade yet, or Mikio Naruse. Big deal. I have something to look forward to – and once I ‘conquer’ a few films by these directors, I’m damn certain there will be new names popping up to replace them.  It’s great, really - there is always something new to pursue, always new epiphanies potentially around the next corner.
To be transparent, I’ve provided a selected list below of 30 directors who I haven’t seen yet, whose films frequent my “must-have-a-look-at-this-some-time” lists. Here’s to the future of film-viewing.
1.       Louis Feuillade
2.       Kira Muratova
3.       Boris Barnet
4.       Jon Jost
5.       Nathaniel Dorsky
6.       Jean Epstein
7.       Alexander Kluge
8.       Stephen Dwoskin
9.       Jonas Mekas
10.   Mikio Naruse
11.   Werner Schroeter
12.   Joao Cesar Monteiro
13.   Guru Dutt
14.   Sharunas Bartas
15.   Marco Bellocchio
16.   Bill Douglas
17.   Sacha Guitry
18.   Luis Garcia Berlanga
19.   Marcel L’Herbier
20.   Lav Diaz
21.   Mark Rappaport
22.   Alan Rudolph
23.   Alain Tanner
24.   Johan van der Keuken
25.   Mario Monicelli
26.   Alexei German
27.   Jacques Audiard
28.   Francois Ozon
29.   Krzysztof Zanussi
30.   Alain Robbe-Grillet

[pic: Louise Feuillade]

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Edge Of Cinema: Experimental Cinema Log #9 - Lyrical Nitrate

LYRICAL NITRATE (Peter Delpeut; Netherlands; 1990)
[50 minutes]

Peter Delpeut's Lyrical Nitrate is a mini-archive, a visual museum of dusted-off nitrate relics given a chance to dance on screen once more. The snippets of film that Delpeut used date from 1905 to 1920, and were recovered from the collection of Jean Desmet, a Dutch cinema owner and film distributor who horded hundreds of films in an Amsterdam movie house.

Here, cinema's mortal form is firmly on display and in question, as the film is split into six parts that refer to cinema's nature and life cycle – 'looking', 'mise-en-scene', 'body', 'passion', 'dying', 'and forgetting'. These sections seem to mimic the function of categories in an archive, to assist with classification and archival location. Delpeut's use of images incrementally reveals a desire to present the heart and the history of cinema. The film is almost the mortal anthropomorphic trajectory of cinema as an entity, going from birth, living and loving, pain, dying, then finally death.

The film is 'born' with a series of iris shots, until we see a screen within the screen, and the black of the rest of the shot lights up to reveal an audience watching a film. This introduces a self-referential aspect that permeates the entire film, and sets off a chain of relations between scenes that suggests that the history of cinema is predicated on constant influence, mutation, and re-birth. At times it even seems like these films are watching each other, providing a haunted fantasy of what films might get up to in an archive when they are discarded, forgotten and unobserved.

Delpeut often retains the natural speed of the images he uses, but on occasion he employs variations to startling effect. During the 'mise-en-scene’ section, a scene of a man and a woman talking then moving apart in a drawing room is broken down into still shots. After these still images choppily describe their brief liaison, they finally kiss, and the film comes to life again as they embrace, a moment that is exquisitely similar to the blinking eye that occurs in Chris Marker's La Jetee. This sequence not only signifies the archival reduction of early cinema to still images through inaccessibility, but also of the metaphysical movement of early film from death back to renewed life again, through rediscovery, re-projection, and re-use.

In another section, Delpeut scientifically breaks down a scene where a woman is assailed with some kind of emotional trauma in a parlour room. He plays the scene over and over, first at normal speed, then slower, then even slower again. At this slowest speed, Delpeut zooms in on details in the scene – her neck stretched and taut, her arm flailing behind her, searching for support. Suddenly the spell of being immersed in pure unadulterated early cinema is broken, as this moment is scanned and analysed, like a specimen to be observed, dissected, and experimented upon. It is a moment of analytical re-photography akin to Ken Jacobs' work.

The final section of Lyrical Nitrate is a dream (nightmare?) of the death of cinema. The scene is of Adam and Eve, but most of the images are ravaged by decay. Images flicker determinedly through increasing barrages of haze and murk, as we see Eve converse with the Serpent, and then take a bite of the fruit that gives knowledge but takes away immortality. At this moment, the film is completely obliterated with decay, the only image visible in the final two minutes being the image of either Death or God, seated, in the sky. It is fitting that this final moment is part of a section entitled ‘forgetting’, which comes after ‘dying’. Here, alone in the archive, these films dream of their possible fate, and dream of their fear of death. But an even worse fate for these ‘lost’ films is the possibility of being forever forgotten, their existence slowly extinguished as the memory of them fades.

You can watch a small segment of the film here.