Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Tag Gallagher on Gertrud
April 13, 2009, 3:11 am
Filed under: quotes

From Chain of Dreams by Tag Gallagher:

What interested him most about making movies, said Carl Th. Dreyer a few years before his death, was to “reproduce the feelings of the characters in my films […], to seize […] the thoughts that are behind the words […], the secrets that lie in the depths of their soul”.

“Gertrud [1964] is a film I made with my heart”, he added. With the heart. About the heart. “What interests me before all, it’s this, and not the technique of cinema.”

Technique, nonetheless, is the tool the heart must use. Accordingly, Dreyer mobilizes all cinema for the hunt. “I need a big screen”, he said. “I need the communal feeling of a theater. Something made to move has to move a crowd.” He wanted to do Gertrud in colour. Maybe 70mm, too, like Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). Isn’t Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) on a camel in a desert like Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) on a seat in a parlour? Dreyer wanted mass catharsis, the way Greek theatre did, or maybe the way college basketball does, with thousands of pulses synched to that ball’s movements. With the result that Gertrud is more like a basketball game than Lawrence, has more action, excitement, spills, chills and thrills, and has some of the “coolest” scenes in movies, piled on top of each other.

Curious it is, then, that some people complain Dreyer is slow and intellectual, talkie and dull, Gertrud particularly. They never spot the ball. As a result, it is unlikely in my lifetime that I shall share Gertrud on a big screen with two thousand pulses synched to her every movement. Like most people, I shall see Gertrud at home alone, on my television, and even with a large screen and Criterion’s excellent DVD, I shall have to press my player’s zoom button in order to see into her eyes. She and her men sit in full-length compositions like figures in gigantic tapestries. “I don’t like television”, Dreyer said.

Gallagher is a fantastic critic that deserves much more credit. More of his writing is available on his website, including (quite generously) downloadable pdf files of his 884 page tome on Rossellini (“The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini”) and his tome on John Ford (“John Ford: The Man and his Films”, revised in 2007 and with frame enlargements).

Critics on Critics
September 25, 2008, 9:44 pm
Filed under: propositions, quotes

The latest issue of Sight & Sound includes the forum Critics on Critics, in which film critics were asked to nominate a piece of writing that has inspired them in their own work. I was invited to participate, intended to, but unfortunately did not meet the deadline. Had I been able to, the following would have been my submission:

My people speak disapprovingly of an outsider whose wailing drowned the grief of the owners of the corpse. One last word to the owners. It is because our own critics have been somewhat hesitant in taking control of our literary criticism (sometimes – let’s face it – for the good reason that we will not do the hard work that should equip us) that the task has fallen to others, some of whom (again we must admit) have been excellent and sensitive. And yet most of what remains to be done can best be tackled by ourselves, the owners. If we fall back, can we complain that others are rushing forward? A man who does not lick his lips, can he blame the harmattan for drying them?

Chinua Achebe, from the paper Colonialist Criticism

It is in the spirit of this challenge posed by Achebe that Criticine was started. And with renewed fervor that work on it begins again.

Postcards from Zagreb (2) / Notes on Zanzibar Films

May 23, 2008

(1: Dusan Makavejev)

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Lamberto Avellana
May 13, 2008, 3:01 pm
Filed under: philippine cinema, quotes | Tags:

Question: How would you evaluate the development of cinema in our country in the same manner that the Europeans have developed a cinema distinctly their own?

Lamberto Avellana: I believe that there is a Filipino feeling for movies; a Filipino way of film making; and one day this will emerge, slower than usual, human, pathetic, touching the heart. On the screen, we’ll see the way we talk, the way we make love, the way we die. We are a unique people living in a unique place, and we deserve a uniquely Filipino cinema.

(extract of Portrait of a Director: Lamberto Avellana. Originally published in Filipino Film Review, January – Match, 1985)

Bunuel / On Love
May 13, 2008, 2:28 pm
Filed under: quotes, Uncategorized | Tags:

1. What sort of hopes do you place in love?

Luis Buñuel: If I’m in love, all hopes. It not, none.

(From the French. Interview published in Le Revolution surrealiste, no.12, December 15, 1929. Reprinted in An Unspeakable Betrayal: The Selected Writings of Luis Buñuel).

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.

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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]

Documenta 12 and Southeast Asia
September 25, 2007, 11:15 am
Filed under: magazines, quotes | Tags:

“The documenta is regarded as the most important exhibition of contemporary art, drawing attention from all over the world. It was initiated in 1955 by the artist and art educator, Arnold Bode, in Kassel. After the period of Nazi dictatorship, it was intended to reconcile German public life with international modernity and also confront it with its own failed Enlightenment.” (link)

The 12th edition of the infamous Documenta Exhibition was staged this year, and one significant part of it was a magazine exhibition:

“Nearly 100 publications with different formats, different orientations and focuses from around the world were invited to think together about the motifs and themes of documenta 12. This process has generated over 300 articles, essays, interviews, commentaries and illustrated essays.” (link)

Sounds enticingly interesting, I imagine what that process yielded must be a joy to read (Documenta produces a handsome publication at the end of their exhibition, often available in Manila, at a handsome price, at Fully Booked Bookstores). Though it turns out the proceedings did raise eyebrows with the cost of putting the exhibition together, and what the struggling Magazines themselves got out of participating, being put to question.

An interesting article brings to light some issues that came up in discussions between Editors of Southeast Asian Arts publications, small publications that, generally, just scrape by. An excerpt from the article by Kean Wong:

“And then there is the faint whiff of a neo-colonial gesture in play, where these publications of Documenta12’s defined ‘peripheries’ are feeding a much richer metropole of the magazines project’s headquarters in Vienna, feeding it with ideas, text and images mostly for free, and transferring even more of such ‘wealth’ towards an exhibition budgetted at EUR19 million planned over five years?

Would a redistribution of priorities and funds produce a better outcome for struggling Asian (or Latin American, or African, etc) publications, where savings made from fewer international conferences of editorial elites are instead spent sponsoring, say, several editions of Indonesia’s KUNCI [4] or Malaysia’s SentAp! [5] journals? Such sustenance would in turn help develop some critical mass for arts activism and seed more cultural debates, agreed the usually polite editor of SentAp!, Nur Hanim Khairuddin. And it would certainly have helped save the superb South-east Asian arts journal based in Singapore, FOCAS, from closing prematurely – ironically, the last issue of FOCAS was launched on the eve of the week-long ‘Asia Speaking Up!’ meetings mentioned above.

Even as most of these Asian publications struggle to survive – like SentAp!, going from edition to edition in a daze of unpaid articles and frantic fund-raising while avoiding too many compromises with both commercial market and government demands – the space for the free and open discussion about art, society and pointed debates about state-sponsored utopias continues to shrink as media and consumption habits change.” (link)

In loving tribute to Sandor Krasna
August 5, 2007, 9:40 am
Filed under: quotes, stills

Sans Soleil: The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.