Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Ken Jacobs, The Philippines Adventures
April 12, 2008, 4:33 pm
Filed under: notes, Philippine Chronicle | Tags: , , , ,

Harry Kreisler: A couple of your films are more political than others. In one you use some old footage on the Philippines to make a point. Talk a little about that film and how this format for your art is tied to a real historical experience.

Ken Jacobs: Well, the work is called The Philippines Adventure, and I hit upon a little film purporting to be the history of America’s relationship to the Philippines. It was just a little propaganda piece and I used it almost intact, essentially to mock it. To bring out things that were there. The work is essentially my horror at what this piece of imperialism has been.


HK: What is the potential of film to shape our moral imagination?

KJ: Moral imagination?

HK: Yes.

KJ: Well, that sounds like propaganda.

HK: Why is it like propaganda?

KJ: Well you know, somebody’s morals …

HK: So “moral” is the bad word there?

KJ: I’m very involved with morality, and of course I think we are struggling, a lot of us, towards doing right. Being able to live with ourselves, being able to respect ourselves. But essentially, as I said before, I think that the deeper opportunity, the greater opportunity film can offer us is as an exercise of the mind. But an exercise, I hate to use the word, I won’t say “soul,” I won’t say “soul” and I won’t say “spirit,” but that it can really put our deepest psychological existence through stuff. It can be a powerful exercise. It can make us think, but I don’t mean think about this and think about that. The very, very process of powerful thinking, in a way that it can afford, is I think very, very valuable. I basically think that the mind is not complete yet, that we are working on creating the mind. Okay. And that the higher function of art for me is its contribution to the making of mind.

HK: And making mind, on the one hand, by disorienting it so it sort of has a sense of itself. And beyond that, what else?

KJ: Well in some cases also mindfulness. Mindfulness, in the case of The Philippines Adventure of American imperialism, you know, American self glorification, self-mythologizing. So there are things where you also want to create mindfulness, but it’s of lesser value than this primary thing of keeping the mind alive. And there’s lots against keeping the mind alive. We are surrounded, inundated, with bullshit. Okay. From almost everywhere. Advertising, which is a euphemism for lying. This government of lawyers who are working for people who pay them to go out and be on television and be ingratiating and get votes. They go to the lawyers, and they lie. And all of this just eats up the mind and makes us stupid. And stupid is also moving away from existence. We lose a hold on existence.

(Source: Ken Jacobs; Film Artist: “Film and the Creation of Mind,” 10/14/99)

Making Light of History: The Philippines Adventures, 1983, (90 min.)

Has anyone seen this film? Or know what footage Jacobs used?

I wonder if it some it may be this:
U.S. Troops and Red Cross in the Trenches Before Caloocan
Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan
Colonel Funstan Swimming the Baglag River
Filipinos Retreat from Trenches
Capture of Trenches at Candaba


…and I also wonder if it has ever been shown in the Philippines?


On that same source page linked above are the three actualities used to such silencing, chilling effect by Raya Martin at the close of Autohystoria:
25th Infantry
Aguinaldo’s Navy
An Historic Feat


A number of the same Edison clips are seen in still another extremely interesting work. Though produced in 1995, I was only introduced to it this year (thanks to brilliant programming at Cinema du Reel) and it has moved and affected me more than any other film I have seen for the first time in 2008. This is Marlon Fuentes’ Bontoc Eulogy, and I have a feeling I will be writing much, much more about it in the near future.

On the year that was
February 28, 2008, 12:25 pm
Filed under: notes | Tags: , ,

In his year-end article In the Pit of 2007 for the December/January issue of local magazine Rogue, Tad Ermitaño begins by discussing major headlines in local news in the past twelve months (a Teri Hatcher remark on Desperate Housewives, censoring of the Neo-Angono Artists Collective mural, explosion in Glorietta mall, ZTE NBN deal, and the pardoning of ousted President Joseph Estrada after being convicted of plunder), before ending with this description of a familiar feeling, about trying to work in the field of arts in the Philippines today:

What the hell do I know. Why do I care about art, these gestures in the air, when every time I actually think about what’s in the paper I think all the fucking names in there ought to be lined up against a wall and shot? They’re the ones who really deserve the bullet in the last paragraph, but there’s no way to get Jonas and Mariannett to kill them all off without writing in a freak metaphysical accident that turns the two of them into agents of the Apocalypse. I am become Death, destroyer of worlds. The latest art thing I’ve done is a little machine in which a video image winds thread on a spool. Something virtual performing work in the real world. Cute, maybe even witty, maybe even a signal in the history of Philippine video art. When I’m not thinking about the stuff in the paper, I think I’m kind of on the ball, a pretty good artist, a pretty good writer. When I do think about the paper, I think it’s all stupid and I’m a fool to keep at it. Schizophrenia and frustration. An adolescent’s schizophrenia and frustration. A dilettante’s schizophrenia and frustration. I suspect that the poet-turned-guerrilla Eman Lacaba was in some extreme variant of this mood when he decided to fuck off from the Malate art scene and put himself in the service of the Revolution. The masses are Messiah. But I’m not going anywhere near a gun, nowhere near an army, and probably nowhere near a march. I distrust crowds and hate podiums and slogans and want nothing better than to screw around in my cave, with my computers and my cameras and circuits. The country careens towards the year’s end and no end in sight. Babylon gnaws its guts and I’m sorry for the mess. We will meet again, and I will be in a better temper. Nehru once called Bali “the morning of the world,” but I remember thinking the first time I heard that that every morning everywhere must be something like the first morning of the world and that it was probably just easier to remember it in that Bali then–in the middle of temples and rice paddies and gamelans and kretek cigarettes. We will meet again in 2008, and we will talk about what we like about the world, what we like about the country. We’ll talk about something small, but made with care and attention. A painting, a sidewalk, a program, a piece of fish, a box, a shirt, a lamp, a sentence: the details of continuity and faith


tad at home

(Tad at home)


Features and literary editor Erwin Romulo is doing some very nice things with Rogue. While I’ve written a handful of film-related articles for them–on Lav Diaz’s Heremias, Rox Lee’s The Great Smoke, the short films of Antoinette Jadaone and a brief Ingmar Bergman obituary–it’s their prose and fiction I’d like to plug at the moment. Currently on its seventh issue, the magazine has published interesting new fiction by the likes Luis Katigbak, Sarge Lacuesta and Tony Perez, new prose by Lourd De Veyra and Erwin Romulo himself, and been the latest outlet for one of my favourite local writers, quoted above.

Update: April 12, 2008
Some issues of Rogue can now be read online in high quality at Issuu:

Rogue Magazine Mar 08
Rogue Magazine Feb 08
Rogue Magazine Nov 07
Rogue Magazine Oct 07
Rogue Magazine Sep 07
Rogue Magazine Aug 07
Rogue Magazine July 07

Notes On A Committed Cinema (3)
January 7, 2008, 1:44 am
Filed under: notes | Tags: , , , , ,

Tenants of the House: A Conversation with Jonas Mekas
(excerpt, pages 21- 25, Film: The Front Line – 1983, by Jonathan Rosenbaum)

Jonathan Rosenbaum: […] there’s a way in which institutional acceptance and promotion can take the teeth out of certain kinds of art that have something to do with protest.

Jonas Mekas: What art do you have in mind? The avant-garde of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties had nothing to do with protest.

JR: You don’t think Flaming Creatures had anything to do with protest–

JM: No, absolutely no. He [Jack Smith] was floating in that kind of reality. He was obsessed with that reality; he had to do it, and he did it with his friends. It had nothing to do with politics; it was his world, the life that he lived.

JR: Don’t you think that world and life was formed in relation to something else?

Continue reading

James Benning’s 13 Lakes, Landscapes, and a brief note on Mt.Mayon
December 6, 2007, 7:23 am
Filed under: festivals, interviews, notes, quotes | Tags: , , , , ,


Slovenian critic Nil Baskar begins his introductory essay on the films of James Benning for the catalog of the Ljubljana International Film Festival:

Fernand Léger, a versatile avant-gardist, once said that the essence of cinematographic revolution lies in “making visible, what used to be merely noticed”. At the same time, he forgot to ask what would happen when the “revolution of the visible” was completed – when the film had shown almost everything? When all the time everything can be seen, and nothing merely noticed? This is the question posed by the films by James Benning, another versatile avant-gardist.

The films also offer the possibility of an answer: they allow us to notice the most obvious again.

There is a beautiful level of contemplation achieved by landscape films when they are done right (that contemplation need not only be of serenity, but even violence, and naturally all that lies between). Benning’s magisterial 13 Lakes screened last month at the Ljubljana International Film Festival (aka LIFFe) as part of a small focus on his recent work. Benning was in attendance and I jotted down these notes during the Q&A that followed the screening.

Continue reading

Notes On A Committed Cinema (2)
November 6, 2007, 2:35 pm
Filed under: notes, quotes | Tags: ,


“I don’t think a film should impose at all the ideas of the director. He should propose ideas that people can accept or refuse. He shouldn’t impose them, no matter what they are. Even if he wants people to participate in his ideas, he must present them in radically different ways than in commercial films. If he used those same selling methods to sell his so-called beautiful and good ideas, it’s an absurd contradiction, because those methods only hit you on the head, and even if you are hit on the head with the best intentions, it still hurts.

“If I show you an audio-visual object which deafens you or blinds you under the pretext of convincing you of a beautiful and good idea, I can’t even convey the idea to you because it must be perceived by the senses I have just diminished. So, I will succeed only in making you more unconscious.”
– Jean-Marie Straub, as quoted in a profile by Ellen Oumano for Film Forum: Thirty-Five Top Filmmakers Discuss Their Craft [58-59]

Notes On A Committed Cinema
October 28, 2007, 3:06 am
Filed under: notes, quotes


“For a while I was like the students — emotional,” he confessed. “But now I realize you have to know who you are, where you’re starting from. Each place has a specific struggle. I can’t describe anything except what I know. In France the main battle is at the moment ideological. In America, the Black Panthers may be justified in taking up arms, or not. I don’t know, and I won’t prescribe policy for them. Movies are only a screw in the mechanism of the revolution, a secondary part. But for us in the Dziga-Vertov Group right now, filmmaking is our main activity (for others it may be time to take a gun).”

– Jean-Luc Godard, in an interview with Andrew Sarris for the Village Voice in 1970 (reprinted Jean-luc Godard: Interview)


“The death of an artist is too high a price to pay for the birth of a revolutionary, even when the revolution seems to make more sense than ever before.”

– Andrew Sarris, addressing his reader at the conclusion of the same interview, critical of the turn Godard’s career had taken.


“At some point or other, every leftist cinephile has had to decide to devote him or herself to the aesthetic realm, to engage with representations, to take on faith that “work on the text” has material repercussions and that, pace Marx, interpreting the world is at least a partial means towards changing it. Gianvito’s work does not disagree. Profit motive is, after all, a radical work of art and by no means a pamphlet. Any attentive viewer will immediately perceive Gianvito’s faith in the capacity of art to motivate through both beauty and intellection. But, like a select few others in history of film—the gadflies and conscience-prickers, like Peter Watkins, Straub/Huillet, and Jon Jost—Gianvito makes work that asks a delicate, crucial question again and again. What can film do? And when is film not enough? If you are roused to action by Gianvito’s film but find that inspiration strangely disconcerting, perhaps it’s because it both prompts you to take to the streets, and asks you to reconsider the reasons you may have given yourself for not doing so.”

– Michael Sicinski (website), at the close of an interview with filmmaker John Gianvito about his new film Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, loosely inspired by and a tribute to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.


Reflections On a Committed Cinema
An e-mail dialogue between John Gianvito, Paul Chan and Pablo de Ocampo

– [I think the entire exchange is highly relative to the topic so I’ll forego a quote]