How long will it take before all artists have their own television channels?

This question was asked by Stoffel Debuysere. It could be argued that every web page developed and maintained by individuals is in fact operating within a broadcast model. The screen real estate may be different, and the time and place of broadcast may be 24/7, but the reality is that we now live in what could best be described as a world of webs, semantic clouds and visual and aural clusters.

This ecology or imagescape is multi-layered and lends itself to an endlessly proliferating messagesphere that is infinite. I would suggest that self-broadcasting (which is at the heart of the brilliance of Facebook) now determines the ways in which we recognize ourselves in the world. I am not suggesting that the material world which we inhabit and recreate on a daily basis has ceased to exist. Rather, the material world has increasingly developed into mixed messages, which in combination with human action and interaction means that words, for example, can be taken more literally than ever before (the rise of religious fundamentalism) in parallel with an increasingly powerful and rational scientific model (that is at the heart of the engineering behind the Internet). Religion and science now co-exist in an uncomfortable relationship that is strained and for the most part in conflict.

To self-broadcast means to communicate with the unknown, since for the most part readers of web pages and facebook sites are anonymous. You may have 600 friends on Facebook, but you can't know when they are viewing your pages unless they leave you a message. For the most part, broadcasting in this way is asynchronous.

It is of course the same thing with books which exist in an asynchronous relationship with readers.

How long will it take before all artists have their own television channels? Well, they always have been broadcasting whether it was through the gallery system or via picture books or in large museums. The notion of self-broadcasting is as old as most of the systems of communications that we have created over many thousands of years of creative activity within messagespheres and this includes cave paintings.

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Reflections on the Documentary Cinema

In 1981 during a public presentation in Paris at La Cinémathèque Française, Jean Rouch said the following:

“I am an ethnographer and a filmmaker. I have discovered that there is no difference between documentary films and fiction films. The cinema, which is already an art of the double, which presents us with a constant movement from reality to the imaginary, could best be characterized as a cultural configuration which balances between various conceptual universes. In all of this the last thing to worry about is whether reality as such has been lost in the process of creation.”

Lest Rouch be misinterpreted by purists of the documentary genre he went on to say that as a filmmaker he creates the realities he films. He sees himself as a ‘metteur en scène’ as well as someone who has to improvise everything from camera angle to camera movement during the shooting of a film. This process is inspired by the kind of personal choices which inevitably rely upon the imagination of the filmmaker. The key to Rouch's approach here is the role which he sees artifice playing in the construction of any image or as he put it, the way the filmmaking process irrespective of genre is ultimately a sharing of dreams at the level of production and performance. Rouch's statement can be seen as a counterpoint to efforts on the part of documentary filmmakers to overinvest in the realist enterprise. It could also point the way to an examination of why images which “look” real have such a seductive appeal. Most importantly what Rouch suggested is that the image doesn't play as important a role in the production of meaning as filmmakers would like to believe. In much the same manner as Chris Marker in “Sans Soleil,” Rouch's statement questions the place of referentiality within the documentary form and to some degree looks outside of the image for an understanding not only of the message but of its relationship to performance and projection.

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In 1986 Richard Leacock, in a piece entitled “Personal Thoughts and Prejudices about the Documentary,” proposed some of the same ideas as Rouch. By the end of his short article, however, he retreats and discusses the documentary as a genre capable of capturing something true and real in the world. The key word for me is capturing. For is that not a crucial component of seduction? To imagine that the 'real' as such is just a sign system waiting to be incorporated as image, suggests a collapse of levels and of difference. The postulate that the real is open to capture can only be made when the filmmaker imagines that he or she is in control of the reality they are filming. They also have to imagine that they will control what the spectator will see. The desire for seduction is in this case is also a desire for others to be seduced.

For the real to appear in a film it must first be subjectively apprehended. This means that “it” exists as the term of a relation, the real only becoming so if a spectator decides to engage in the process. This is a slippery slope and illustrates why a filmmaker may want to “capture” the real as a way of escaping from the contradiction that an image remains just an image irrespective of what is shown.

Notwithstanding what I have just said, the ubiquity of digitally produced images is beginning to redefine the notion that images can never break out of the two-dimensional space that they occupy.

The Dark Knight

There are films and then there is cinema. The difference is not in the degree or strength of the entertainment. The fundamental difference is in the script, in the writing. Juno was such a film, differentiated largely by the superb cadence of its dialogue, but its narrative simplicity worked against it being anything more than a momentary, although quite pleasurable experience.

The Dark Knight is cinema, driven forward not only by a script that is as rich in literary references as it is suffused by moral dilemmas, but also by the director Christopher Nolan's profound understanding of visual storytelling. In between explicit references to 9/11, terrorism and George W. Bush, Dark Knight develops an argument, in collage/montage form, about the moral implications of violence practiced not so much by those who are evil, but by those who are stewards of the law.

When the cinema works, pleasure and shock co-exist in an almost continual tension with plot, images and sound. I found myself floating in and out of the film, racing to solve its problems and yet at the same time challenged by its brutality. This is not a film with a main character in the traditional Hollywood sense. Batman is a conduit for the fears and hopes of a population. The essence of this film will be found in its philosophical dilemmas — sounds strange, but in a quite self-conscious manner, Nolan asks us all to face the consequences of our own reactions to the arbitrary death of loved ones. But, can death be anything other than arbitrary?

When (as he often does) the 'Joker' laughs about chance, he is laughing at the rather blind reaction of people to the dystopia they share. Blind because it is in the character of a dystopia to be unable to see solutions and it is precisely the purpose of terrorism to cloud people's judgments about the future.

Given the circumstances, events and challenges of the last decade, the clear lack of a moral centre to so many of the choices made by so many different governments and the ever-present threat of terrorism, it is not surprising that Batman who is ultimately good, becomes an outcast. It is also not surprising that Nolan casts the Joker as the ultimate incarnation of what terrorism has come to mean since 9/11.

Terrorism is by its very nature without morality. It is an ethical black hole. Dark Knight explores what happens when that black hole sucks "good" people into its orbit and how they deal with the pain of loss.

At its heart the film explores the relationship between ideology and action, between closed systems of thought and the messy space occupied by democracy and its institutions. It is as critical of the police as it is of politicians, but always in the spirit of choice. We get to choose when the criticism means something and when it is arbitrary.

Nolan is so smart that he reconstructs the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in this case a speech by the Mayor, so that the shots that ring out from a book depository- type building melt into the chaos of a violence that has become viral. But, he also asks when does violence become foundational to our everyday thoughts and what happens when people no longer distinguish between morality, law and anger?

The key to the 'Joker' is his disguise and the fact that he believes he knows what is wrong not only with those he kills but with those who fight him. In a series of monologues that sound like they have come from a drunken sailor, the 'Joker' builds his rationale for the fall of human beings from any state of grace.

In the end, however, faced with the moral dilemma of choosing to kill others to save themselves, the 'Joker's' test subjects (who are on two different boats) choose life even at the cost of their own deaths.

This redemption sets the stage for Batman to become the ultimate outcast, a man whose goodness must be distorted so that he can become yet again the conduit for order and law. He takes the blame for everything that has gone wrong with all of the Christian overtones that that suggests.

A must see. A different opinion about the film can be found here.

Note: For anyone tired of dystopias and death and terror and war and oil prices and a decaying environment and so on, go to Mama Mia.

PS

Also watch this video

Johan van der Keuken

REINVENTING THE DOCUMENTARY CINEMA: A DISCUSSION BETWEEN JOHAN VAN DER KEUKEN AND RON BURNETT

Ron Burnett

So much of what you are trying to do in your films is a response to the history of the documentary, the way in which the documentary has tried to set up a false window/mirror on the world and presumes itself to be showing what is happening in the reality around us but never really trying to bring out the complexity of what it is showing, never self-reflexively bringing out the political, economic and social context of which it is a part. The window presumes a clarity on the part of the filmmaker, a unified view of the world, a homogeneity, a lack of contradiction--all these are perspectives which I think you are trying to work against. There are two levels at which I perceive you operating. One is at the level of the reality that you are trying to depict and show and the other is a level of discourse in which you try to comment upon and politicize the way reality is understood and seen. I would like to understand how you are affected by what you are filming and then how you feel you are, politically, influencing the images which you are show. You are trying to include two sets of complex elements simultaneously in the act of filming, does the history of representation, the history of the documentary, overwhelm the spectator's capacity to recognize the level of critique which you are trying to construct?

Van der Keuken:

In SPRINGTIME, the economist Claude Ménard plays a crucial part. The documentary for me is only part of what I am trying to do. I am trying to account for a thinking process. The portrait of Claude Ménard is a double process: my inquiry into a certain set of problems and his self-reflexive attempt to formulate an answer to these problems. Film as a finished product only presents, the strongest stages, the most effective moments, of a long process; that is, it puts together strong points, and this does not allow for insight into the whole itinerary. Claude Ménard's interview-section in the film contains moments of uncertainty, where you may feel that he is not in the right setting perhaps, but I include that uncertainty so that the spectator may see where the whole process comes from--mine and his. Everytime I watch SPRINGTIME with an audience I get tense because I don't know if it works, whether or not people will accept this intrusion on their normal viewing experience. Audiences expect results, polish, they cannot accept weak phases in a product. This is where the history and ideology of representation is so strong. To me it was important to transform the process and go through these uncertain phases and try and give the audience a place in any discussion of the film by in effect opening the text up to them, reinventing its premises, relocating the viewing experience.

Ron Burnett

Why is it so important for you to disrupt the audience's desire for a finished product?

Van der Keuken

That depends on the phase you are in yourself as a filmmaker and for me it changes from film to film. SPRINGTIME brought resistance when it was shown on T.V. and in the Cinémathèque in Holland, but my next film was well-received. All my films have breaks within them to try and alert the audience to the fact someone, in this case a filmmaker, is presenting them with a point of view but the images also have to touch the audience and ironically that may contradict what I am trying to do.

Ron Burnett:

Do you try and provide the audience with tools to unravel the ideology of the documentary? Or do you think that it is the way documentary films structure meaning, frame enunciations which determines the unraveling? In THE PALESTINIANS there are alot of events presented in terms similar to what we might see on television. How do you try and make the audience understand that what you are presenting them with is a construct--your construct--and not just an objective representation of reality? Is there a means within the film itself for understanding the woman who stands besides her bombed out house for example? (ed. note: there is a crucial scene in the film during which the camera examines a bombed out house in Lebanon; we see some older women crying and moaning, they talk of having once lived in a house that is now rubble; the shot is a relatively conventional one and seems derived from cinéma-vérité.)

Van der Keuken:

From one film to another you may even diametrically change your own point of view. I feel there is a strong theme of unity between my films. In fact I sometimes get the feeling that I am doing the same thing in all my films! Always the same story, but taken in different directions, from different viewpoints, and even different viewpoint inside my self...although each new film starts at a point opposite from the last one.

Lost and Indiana Jones

I have been thinking about the relationship between the new Indiana Jones movie and the television show, Lost. The season finale of Lost connected the dots between the six survivors of a still unexplained airplane crash (which is at the origin of the show) and their 'exile' on a strange island that by the end of the show this season had disappeared into the ocean.

The six, who also happen to be the main characters, are to varying degrees suffering from a series of physical and psychological ailments as they struggle to survive in the 'real' world. They attribute all of this to the pain of being away from the island and to its magical qualities which were disrupted by their departure. In particular, Hurley has descended into a psychotic state. Jack has become a drug-addicted depressive and Sayeed has become an executioner as he takes vengeance on all those who might be associated with the death of his wife. (Warning, none of this makes sense if you have not been watching the show!!)

The island's powers seem to live inside Ben (who has also left through a magic portal frozen in ice underneath the island). He has become obsessed with killing the main antagonist and seemingly the agent of everyone's problems, a man by the name of Widmore (an all-powerful character drawn more from James Bond movies than a police drama or mystery show). Ironically, Widmore's daughter Penny has been searching for her lost lover for years, Desmond, who also happens to have landed on the unnamed magical island deep in the pacific as a result of a boating accident. (They do find each other, although that particular scene in the season finale is rather pathetic. )

If this sounds convoluted, it is. Part of the problem with Lost and the reason that its audience has shrunk, is the complexity of the plot and the continual way in which every story is extended into another story and so on. There is never any closure and there wasn't one at the end of this season as well. At the same time, it is the messiness of the narrative that makes it not only interesting, but a bit of experiment in television drama. The narrative is driven by the same elements that we have become so used to in both film and television early in the 21st century — evil that gets more powerful meets people of integrity who fight for truth and what is right. (See Heroes for another example of this, but there are many other shows as well.)

Lost experiments with all of this by sometimes inverting good and bad and by creating a deep ambivalence about why people act as they do irrespective of their negative or positive characteristics. Lost also experiments with the history of the characters in what can best be described as a psychoanalytic manner unveiling more and more about their past. Their personal history becomes a laboratory of human behaviour in which the audience plays researcher and analyst.

One of the key characteristics of Lost is the use of tunnels and portals and underground installations which are both mysterious and somehow full of technology. Lost endlessly explores Alice's hole in the ground both metaphorically and literally. The foundations of the island seem to be built on a series of basements that lead to other worlds. This is of course a central element in children's stories but has also become a defining element of many contemporary films. The portal in the Narnia series would be the most current example, but there are many others including Harry Potter and of course the many films that are now based on comic books.

The latest Indiana Jones film also centres on caves and underground installations within which there are artifacts that reveal some historical truth or connection to the present. Archeology meets anthropology and both connect to history and to adventure. The early part of the film is fascinating because it takes place at ground zero in Nevada where the first atomic bombs were tested in the 1950's. Further mention of Eugene McCarthy and the witch hunt for communists situates the film within a critical historical narrative (and is perhaps why it was so well received at Cannes). In addition, Indiana Jones brings ET into the narrative as Steven Speilberg and George Lucas play with their own work as well as that of other filmmakers. They generate a phantasmagoria of cinematic references that suffuses nearly every element of the film and all of this is made possible by a variety of portals which progressively reveal more and more about the causes of history in general and about the role of images in particular.

Mystery meets truth meets pseudo-science in a dance of questions about the unknown forces that really rule the world, from god-like spirits to angels. In Lost those forces are explained (somewhat) through the appearance and disappearance of the dead (like Clare and Jack's father) incarnated by a biblical character with the name of Jacob who is only visible to those with the power to see him. His messages are certainly understood by the key characters like Locke. For Indiana Jones the unknown forces are often old civilizations like the Mayan which are wrapped in riddles that can only be solved through a fight with evil or the accomplishment of some near impossible task or challenge. The film takes place in the 1950's so inevitably it is the Russians who represent evil. Cate Blanchett plays a horrible Soviet acolyte of Stalin's who is searching for absolute power. There are an abundant number of cliches, but Blanchett is simply channeling numerous characters in hundreds of films as opposed to simply being THE evil one. In this, both Lost and Indiana Jones are trying to be critical, even analytical but in both cases, the mysteries of history are really insoluble. This notion that we cannot understand why certain events happen is repeated so often that it almost becomes a mantra. The mantra reads like this: History and people's roles in history cannot be explained by rationality and in the end cannot be explained at all.

The world is wrapped in mystery because humans don't recognize how their understanding of reality is inherently distorted by forces which they cannot control. Human agency is both fragmentary and a figment of our collective imaginations. There will always be other powers greater than that of humans which will determine the outcome of events, their direction and impact. This deference to mysticism and spirituality and finally to religion is at the heart of the work of Lucas and has always been central to Speilberg's films. The startling similarity between the island in Lost disappearing as a round disk into the ocean and the appearance of a spaceship that it also disk-like in Indiana Jones is not an accident. The fact that both use portals in a play with magic realism is also not accidental.

Ironically, the world is a broken place because irrationality has taken hold and the only explanation both Lost and Indiana Jones offer is that the irrational is fundamental to the human psyche. All that is left to conquer, even examine, is the dream-like space of the unconscious manifested in the mutterings of Hurley and in the metaphoric resonances of dead languages. Coincidence, chance, sorcery and the accidental are at the heart of a dadaesque swirl of stories that ultimately produce protagonists and audiences without any control over their lives — a dire message in these very difficult times.

Wires to the Sky

In 1938, Orson Welles altered radio forever. Welles produced and acted in one of the most famous broadcasts in the history of the medium War of the Worlds. Radio was a relatively new technology although by 1936 over ninety-eight percent of the British population and over sixty percent of Americans had radios in their homes. Welles played a trick on his audience. He used the authority of a newscaster to fabricate a first-person account of the landing of invaders from Mars on earth.

In 1965, the filmmaker, Peter Watkins did the same thing with his film The War Game. Although it was supposed to be shown on BBC television, the film never made it to air. There were fears that it would overwhelm viewers and frighten them. Watkins used many of the same techniques that Welles had developed for radio except the topic this time was a nuclear holocaust and its aftermath shot in cinema-vérité style. In both instances, the outcry was enormous. The primary effect of these productions was to foreground the impact of media on our culture, identity and sense of history. In Welles’s case, the police actually came to the studio to try to stop the broadcast.

The bridge between truth and fiction was crossed many times by Welles and Watkins who deliberately highlighted and took advantage of the weaknesses and the strengths of mass media. Most importantly, both artists used images and sounds to flout the conventions of communication that had quickly become standardized within the broadcast and film industries. Watkins spent his career exploring a style of self-reflexive documentary that in recent times has been taken up by music videos, television, and Hollywood films. Perhaps the most blatant example of this is The Blair Witch Project, which owes a great deal to Watkins’s film Culloden made in 1964. In both these cases, hand-held cameras were as important as Welles’s voice in overriding the fictional elements of the narrative with the sensation that the story was true.

As both Welles and Watkins understood, there is a wonderful, albeit contradictory fragility in our relations with images and sounds. Our culture is also in the midst of a profound transition as we negotiate our way through the maze of human, social and economic relations that digital technologies are generating. I see this process of transition as an opportunity to reinvigorate our relationship with the tools provided by communications technologies.

Transitional periods like the one we are living through at the moment, allow us to develop new models that will facilitate our understanding of why the invention and development of new technologies continues to be one of the most important activities of Western culture. This, despite the fact that new technologies don't necessarily lead to positive change. The design and use of any new technology is never inevitably bound to the outcomes that were anticipated by its creators, something that the recently deceased author Arthur C. Clarke understood really well.

Why are our identities so bound up with the media technologies that surround us? Ironically, the cultural and social tendency in the discussion of new technologies is to talk about what has been lost. My own approach is to cautiously explore what has been gained.

Instead of seeing the future through dystopic eyes, a future more defined by machines and media than by humans, I want to suggest that the technologies of communication we have created are not just tools or supports for human endeavors. Rather, in tandem with our growth as a civilization, communications-based technologies have always been a part of the ecology of human existence. This is not meant to downplay the legitimate fears that many people have about computers for example, and their possible dominance in the affairs of humans. I do not want to dilute worries about living within simulated spaces and losing contact with reality.

On the other hand, all new technologies have to varying degrees been the means through which Western culture has defined everything from religion to politics to culture. We are very good at building ecological spaces based on images and sounds. The advent of digital media is just one additional phase in a long history of development that has its roots in music, performance and a variety of cultural forms that are dependent on spectators, participation, and presentational technologies.

Photographs/History/Meaning

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The beauty of this image is its simplicity. Shot in the 1930's in the midst of the worst depression in American history, this photo is part of a collection available through the US government. I would draw your attention to the signs which surround the men, to the discussion that they are having and to the many possible ways in which we could speculate about the image to imagine their words. What are they looking at? Are they waiting to be picked up or simply hanging out because they are unemployed?

In a photograph published some years ago by the New York Times we see a Bosnian soldier facing the camera and begging for his life. He is a young man. He has curly hair and a smooth face. His arms are outstretched. Behind him stands a Serbian soldier, rifle cocked and ready. As the caption suggests this man’s pleas were answered with his own death. He is staring at the camera as if it will provide him with refuge, as if the photographer will somehow intervene. The photograph cannot anticipate history but the caption can. The prisoner pushes against the camera — he is pleading for help. Yet, without the caption, his “story” and the interpretations which we could make of it, would be entirely circumstantial. In this case, the written word acts as an arbiter for the event and tries to intervene in our interpretation. But even as I say this, the photograph slips away. This anonymous man’s torment is as silent as the paper it was printed on. It would take an imaginative projection on my part to overcome the gaps created by his death as text and as image.

Let me suggest that photographic images neither illustrate thought, nor are thoughts illustrated by the pictorial. Photographic images are silent, blind, unseeing. They don’t listen to us nor do they change when viewed. They are not the source of a magical emanation from which the seeing eye draws inspiration. They rarely display the hand of the photographer who has created them and for the most part leave no traces of the chemistry which has produced them. This is not simply a matter of arbitrariness, of meanings lost and then gained, of part-whole relations which flounder in confusion. Photographs cannot rob the subjects they portray, since photographs never have subjects, men, women and children “imprinted” upon them. What is in play here is the very language which is used to describe and explain the “sight” of an image, the categories, words and labels which have been applied to the miniature worlds we peer into, anthropomorphize and recreate.

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Calendar: Between the Borders of Cultural Identity, Atom Egoyan's Calendar

To look:
at everything which overflows the outline, the contour, the category, the name of what is.

All appearances are continually changing one another: visually everything is interdependent. Looking is submitting the sense of sight to the experience of that interdependence. To look for something (a pin that has dropped) is the opposite of this looking. Visibility is a quality of light. Colours are the faces of light.

(John Berger, “On Visibility,” in The Sense of Sight)

Calendar, in which Atom Egoyan plays the role of a photographer whose assignment is to take twelve pictures of historic sites in Armenia for a calendar. Arsinée Khanjian plays his wife, guide and interpreter. The film takes place in Armenia and Toronto.

I have come to realise that Atom Egoyan’s films must be understood as the continuing construction of an open ended oeuvre. All of his films are inter¬linked. Sometimes, it seems that he is writing an extended essay on the cinema and television (Family Viewing and Speaking Parts). Other times his films are like extracts from a series of diaries about images, loss and a postmodern context bereft of meaning (Next of Kin, The Adjustor and Calendar). His films search through the living ruins of modern cultural history in much the same manner as an archeologist digs for evidence of a culture’s past. The difference is that his tools are images and images are ‘light’ — a shift¬ing, groundless place where, “Clouds gather visibility and then disperse into invisibility. All appearances are of the nature of clouds.” (Berger: 219) Yet even as this ‘lightness’ recreates the premises of the visible (and how we are able to understand it), Egoyan continues to use the mediums of film and television to explore history and identity. The pursuit is a noble one, but as Calendar so deftly reveals, the result may be one long travelogue where the sensibility of the tourist dominates. There is a strange irony to Egoyan’s decision to use himself as one of the main characters in the film. He implicates himself in an auto-critique of the desires which have governed his relationship to photography and the cinema. He puts himself on the line in a kind of Brechtian play with divided loyalties which break apart and destroy the flimsy foundations of author¬ship.

I have recently discussed Egoyan’s use of images in an introductory essay on Speaking Parts. In the above quote John Berger captures some of the ironies with regard to any analysis of images. His use of a metaphor drawn from nature is not accidental, of course. Egoyan spends a great deal of time in Calendar exploring the act of taking a photograph of historical buildings in Armenia (his country of origin), churches and fortresses, for example, within picturesque natural environments. Although these places are beautiful with rich colour tones, wildflowers and sun-baked fields, they are “tourist” images for which some anecdotal history is provided, but where the depth seems to be mis¬sing. In fact, what becomes important as we look at the old buildings is not so much their connection to the past, but the role they play in triggering questions about the two characters whom the photographer is dependent on for guidance and information. One is a woman with whom the photographer (played by Egoyan) is in love and who is identified as his wife and the other is an Armenian driver who acts out the role of the local “informant”. The photographs are ostensibly being taken for a calendar but in essence we are witnesses over time to the breakdown of the photographer’s relationship to his wife and by extension to Armenia. Thus, all of the monuments which we see are themselves evidence of what cannot be seen. There are histories in the buildings but they only speak through the voice of the driver. In fact the pastoral setting of the images seems incongruent with the war raging in Armenia and with the breakdown of civil life and the economic devastation brought on by the overthrow of communism. How then can this place be spoken of as home? How are national borders defined when identity and place are fluid, moveable and ever changing? Are we the sum total of all of the different nations we now live beside? — all of the different languages we either speak or listen to? How does this hybridization change the spatial and temporal boundaries within which we normally operate?

“A life-testimony is not simply a testimony to a private life, but a point of conflation between text and life, a textual testimony which can penetrate us like an actual life .” Calendar is Egoyan’s testimony to his past, as much as it is a story of the efforts by the film’s characters to understand their own ethnic history. The film explores the many dimensions of identity, which in the late twent¬ieth century means far more than a simple relationship to the nation-state or the recovery of ancestral connections. The postcolonial and postimperial history we are now experiencing has scrambled the meanings of home and homeland. In Homi Bhabha’s terms another history is being written from within a crisis of the sign where language and meaning, discourse and identity have no firm anchors. Traditional notions of subjectivity have been transformed but this is not simply the movement from one stage to another, but a fundamental split in the operations of time and history. “…today, the rapidly expanding and quickening mobility of people combines with the refusal of cultural products and practices to “stay put” to give a profound sense of a loss of territorial roots, of an erosion of the cultural distinctiveness of places… Gupta and Ferguson go on to quote James Clifford: “What does it mean, at the end of the twentieth century, to speak…of a ‘native land’? What processes rather than essences are involved in present experiences of cultural identity?”

Hamid Naficy has commented upon the nostalgic desire to return to the homeland and thus to overcome the double loss of “…origin and of reality…” as a driving force inhabited by imaginary constructions which “…remains alluring only as long as it remains unrealised.” (Naficy: 286) This is of course the dilemma of the diaspora and exile, of cultures which have lost their roots as they have been overrun or destroyed only to be recreated elsewhere, simulated and I do not mean this pejoratively. In some respects, then, for Egoyan we have all become tourists and in the process we have had to develop new ways of dealing with each other which are more often than not mediated by complex technologies such as the camera and the telephone. Salman Rushdie has commented on this in a wonderful anecdote. “A few years ago I revisited Bombay, which is my lost city, after an absence of something like half my life. Shortly after arriving, acting on an impulse, I opened the telephone directory and looked for my father’s name. And, amazingly, there it was; his name, our old address, the unchanged telephone number, as if we had never gone away to the unmentionable country across the border. It was eerie discovery. I felt as if I were being claimed, or informed that the facts of my faraway life were illusions, and this continuity was the reality.”

Some years ago I found myself at a Cambodian ceremony in Melbourne, Australia. There were about eight hundred people in the gymnasium of an old school which had been taken over by the small but growing exile community of Cambodians in Australia. The gym was decorated with the symbols and colours of the homeland. Everyone was dressed up and the smell of incense was heavy in the air. I remember little of the specifics of the ceremony except for the feeling which I had that we were all in a time warp, transported back into a village, participating in the sounds and rhythms and music of a culture many thousands of years old. I understood then how crucial the nostalgia was, how curative and yet how contradictory. As a particular dance reached its peak the people around me began to cry, and as they comforted each other they seemed to me to be both weak and strong at the same time. This it seems to me is one aspect of exile — the ability to implicate oneself so strongly in the homeland and at the same time to go on, to carve out a new life, to break out of the boundaries of geography and time and yet to remain bound by a history which remains static even as things change both in one’s new home and abroad. This is of course the paradox of loss and the base upon which narratives are built. As Rushdie says an original moment cannot be reclaimed here with the result that fictions will be created, ‘imaginary homelands.’ (Rushdie:10) But this is precisely what Egoyan is exploring. How do those fictions sustain themselves? What are the markers we accept and what happens to the ones we reject? How do photographs operate as a fictional bridge?

I mention this in relation to Calendar because of my own background as an immigrant to Canada, as someone who was born elsewhere and for whom that “elsewhere” has never disappeared from the various ways in which I define myself. This very fluid sense of identity is made all the more acute by the situation in Quebec, by the personal signposts which I have for my own past and the efforts by official culture here to eradicate the importance of that history.

It is in the borders between official culture as promulgated by govern¬ment policy and the displacement (psychological, physical, intellectual) which grows from being both a witness and participant to the diasporas of twentieth century life, that a film like Calendar is situated. The film searches for strategies of talking about identity that will not fall prey to the categories of margin or centre. It longs for some coherence in the transnational space of exile and community. Through a series of often funny conversations the film tries to locate the way time and distance work to generate a mental geography within which the markers more often than not are unstable and unclear. At the same time one of the most interesting aspects of the film is the difficulty which the photographer has in under¬standing Armenian. Everything his driver says has to be translated. Often, we don’t get a translation and conversations take place which we don’t comprehend. This is duplicated in the Toronto flat of the photographer where he meets a number of different women in exactly the same setting (…a small dining room table, wine glasses, a bottle wine…). Each time they go off to the telephone and have a conversation with their lovers in their own maternal language. We hear everything from Hindi to German to Spanish to Swedish etc.., and depending on our own backgrounds we either under¬stand the conversations or not. In all instances the women stand near the calendar which had been produced from the Armenian scenes we witnessed the photographer shooting.

The border region inhabited by Egoyan in this film also pivots on temporal displacement. The time is now but somehow it isn’t. The characters seem disconnected from the present, always yearning for something else, for the future, for the past. Yet that is also the paradoxical situation of photo¬graphy both as an art form and as a means of documenting past and present. “In a photograph a person’s history is buried as if under a layer of snow.”

Kracauer distinguishes between the photograph of a person and the memory-image. The latter is what is left when the photograph is viewed outside of the time when it was taken. This distinction is a crucial one. It temporal¬izes the photograph and in so doing heightens the role of discourse, what is said and what isn’t said, about images. No photograph escapes the contra¬dictions and potential excitement of temporal dislocation. There are so many movements in space and time, so many moments within which history must be rewritten, that the conceit of truth must be understood not as an ontological basis for interpretation, but as a site where memory is reinvigorated, even when memories slip from fact into fiction and back. The pleasures of seeing in this instance are invested with desiring, to make the memory real, to generate truth, to manufacture a narrative. The truth becomes a metaphor just as quickly as the image disguises its sudden transformative power. The snow melts and there is a dissolution of memory although the photograph remains suggestively encouraging — as if no historical moment will ever again escape its simultaneous role as event and image, memory and potential arena for debate.

Each encounter Egoyan has with a different woman suffers the same fate. He is left alone to contemplate the love he has left behind in Armenia. In that sense he is locked into a history which is only real within a false kind of romanti¬cism. As in nearly all of his other films the telephone is a device of contact and breakdown, a metaphor for distance and connection. As a technology the telephone is perhaps the most important contributor to the creation of a public space within which the private fantasy of communica¬tion and interaction can be sustained and through which it is often denied. This, I think, is also the role which is played by photography. Distance can be overcome but the photographic print must be narrativized if links be¬tween past and present are to be established.

Calendar is a film in twelve movements, built around the photographs accompanying the months of the year. But the film is really about the memories of times past, when an image somehow connected to its referent and when notions of home and church and tradition could be addressed from within a set of foundations as solid as the buildings we see in the film. Ironically, as the Armenian driver becomes the historian and more fully represents all that is missing from the image, from the photograph, Arsinée falls in love with him. Egoyan is left to his devices in the dining room of his Toronto house or in the darkroom trying to reconstruct a world which, as his own images suggest, has long ago ceased to exist.

CineAction, No 32, 1993

Editing Time (3)

It seems almost heretical to propose that editing is not at the heart of the creative process in film anymore. As my last post suggested meaning creation in the era of new media is no longer dependent on montage, as much as it is on rhythm, sound and layers of multi-faceted images.

The best example of this is that video images are not produced through a series of frames as films are. On the contrary, the CCD array of your conventional video camera is a two-dimensional grid of pixels with sensors that react to light. (“CCD is an acronym for Charge-Coupled Device. It is the image sensor that separates the spectrum of color into red, green and blue for digital processing by the camera. A CCD captures only black-and-white images. The image is passed through red, green and blue filters in order to capture color.”)

The grid is locked and the pattern of pixels is arranged to maximize the subsequent processing of colour. HD cameras are also dependent on this technology and although the images look very rich, they are the result of complex processes of adjustment based on approximations and compression. The point is that nuances are not the strength of video images largely because the computer in digital cameras is working on black and white images and effectively ‘adding’ colour to them based on a set of mathematical formulae.

What then does it mean to edit this material? What is the impact of using Final Cut Pro and other non-linear editing software packages?

 

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Editing Time (2)

I was reminded by one of my graduate students recently that people take so many pictures with digital cameras that the challenge of quality (capturing something unique and beautiful) has been replaced by the challenges of data management, tags and titles.

Read more……

Editing Time

 

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Montage, or editing, as it is more commonly known, has always been at the centre of creative processes in the cinema. Unfortunately, montage has become the defining metaphor for creativity in nearly all forms of image production. Unfortunate, because the cinema and most time-based image environments like the world wide web (both in terms of flow and experience) are often closer to music than photography, not so much a series of still frames as a jumbled mixture of the seen and the heard. (The intellectual origins of this confusion began with Sergei Eisenstein and continued with greatest force in cultural theory through the work of Christian Metz reinforced to some degree by the early work of Umberto Eco on semiotics.) Interestingly, music and poetry are the creative forms that come the closest to exemplifying both the creative processes of image production and the viewing experience.

The Web is also closer to the theater, vaudeville and opera than hypertext or the book. The Web is a series of images not just pages, staged — located in time but only marginally in space. How are images on the Web edited? This question seems to suggest something about the internal nature of the pages, but not the actual relationship among a series of pages. Texts drive readers from page to page and most pages are now dominated by words in a desperate attempt to “locate” messages within the architecture of a computer screen. This architecture is more about mise-en-scène than information.

Documents/Images/Ethnography

I will weave through a series of juxtapositions today drawn from a number of experiences which I have had in the "field" of ethnography and documentary film - a kind of bricolage - or as James Clifford has put it, an 'ethnographic surrealism'. (See Chapter Four of The Predicament of Culture (1988) in which Clifford argues for a redefinition of the history of surrealism in order to show the close if not parallel development of ethnography and surrealist thinking.) In retrospect these fragments are linked in ways which I could not have anticipated before I made the attempt to understand the connections. This kind of reconstruction interests me because it is a combination of personal history, field work and theoretical exploration, evidence of an effort to explore and map the relationships among subjectivity, analysis and experience. More than that it is a way of specifying and revealing the presence of 'theory' within the subjective - a strategy for talking about theory 'through' subjectivity.

The etymological origin of the term documentary is rooted in the notion of the lesson and is connected to docility, doctrine, indoctrination and didactictism. Docility suggests someone willing to be taught and also someone who is teachable and easily managed and trained. To be responsive, to be taught, to be open to the information which is presented — information which, if it is to function as document must reproduce in as great detail as possible the world being pictured so that the images can be believed.

Search a bit further into the etymology of documentary and the stronger connection is to doctrine and indoctrination which have roots not only in teaching but in notions of specialization — in the idea of a specialist able to instruct, someone whose knowledge cannot be questioned.

I bring up this tableau of origins because although a consensus has developed around the definition of "documentary" the debate at this stage pivots on questions of realism almost, though not completely, in opposition to questions of pedagogy. Documentaries however, exist as object lessons in themselves of a desire to teach and thus to enter into a system of communication (or to create one) which links images with a specific outcome or result.

The instrumental logic of the documentary is so deeply ingrained that the technology of image creation is now geared to increasing the probability of specific effects upon the viewer. I am speaking here about the hybridization of light-weight video, film and computers, a kind of postmodern brew designed to make the experience of viewing "virtual" — virtual in this case can easily be equated with real because the gap between viewing and experiencing has been short-circuited.

The ends justify the means. Effects become the standard bearer of truth.

Let me contrast the above with the work of Eric Michaels, a documentary/ethnographic imagemaker who worked in Australia with Aboriginal peoples. He died in 1988 but the impact of his undertaking will continue to be felt for a long time.

His essays and his brillant monograph entitled, Aboriginal Invention of Television (1986) reveal a sensibility closely tied to some radical innovations in documentary and ethnographic thought over the last fifty years. (I am thinking of the work of Edmund Carpenter (1970); James Clifford (1988); Jean Comaroff (1985); Vincent Crapazano (1980); Michel De Certeau (1984); Johannes Fabian (1983); Clifford Geertz (1988); George Marcus and Michael Fischer (1986); Paul Rabinow (1977).

Michaels explored the frontiers of one of my major interests, the impact of video and television on indigenous cultures. He achieved this by rethinking the notion of "effects" - the ways in which white, imperial cultures control and attempt to dominate other societies - and not positing anything like a linear model for what happens when new technologies are thrust upon indigenous peoples. Michaels worked on both sides of a complex process. He was aware of the need for indigenous peoples to take control of the media they were being exposed to. He was also very sensitive to the specific choices which they made with respect to images.

His approach interests me because he questioned the roots of instrumental thinking by looking at the way in which another culture responds to the logic of images — presumptions of viewing and understanding so basic they influence not only the documentary but the fictional image process as well.

All of this is of course a way of questioning the role of documentary images precisely as devices of teaching and learning. It is also about how to analyse the strategic choices which different cultures make in response to the influences which they have on each other. The question of vantage point - where and how these choices can be examined was a central concern of Michaels. He tried to draw upon the experiences of non print media and apply them to the process through which ethnographic knowledge is transferred and transformed into visual and oral documents. This is made very clear in his article entitled, "How to Look at Us Looking at the Yanomami Looking at Us,"(Eric Michaels 1982, this is an essay in a superb collection edited by Jay Ruby, entitled, A Crack in the Mirror 1982) in which he says: "A solution is to address the entire process of visual media as a problem of communication, more specifically in cross-cultural translation." (145)

It may be that nothing of value to indigenous cultures can be yielded in the process of translation and that the role of visual media is more important for imperial cultures than for colonised ones. But this would presume, as Michaels so often pointed out, that colonised cultures themselves have somehow escaped the influences of modern media, for example, knows is not the case.

This still doesn't lessen one of the central dilemmas of ethnographic and documentary work with film and video. For the ethnographer it may be more important to uncover both the applicability and effects of the technology than to let the technology work its way through the society in question and let that society find the measure of its own response. I think that it would not be too radical an assertion to say that the response of indigenous cultures to cultural phenomena cannot be ascertained clearly until those cultures have devised strategies of response, whatever form those responses might take.

Working its way through - what do I mean? A process perhaps which may not be open to external examination and without wanting to push the point too far a process which may produce forms of internal and culturally specific images which cannot be judged, evaluated or examined from the outside. I want to be careful here because I am not suggesting that a vantage point couldn't be found which might permit one culture to examine another, but there is the matter, and I consider it to be an important one, of how we go about understanding our own history with respect to modern media, let alone the history of other cultures.

There is a tendency, manifest in many ethnographic and documentary projects but even more so when film and video are put to use, to presume that what other cultures choose as images can actually be translated, and it is this presumption which I think needs to be contested because what is inevitably involved are complex sign systems which our own culture has had difficulty in interpreting for itself let alone for others. This is a fascinating and perplexing problem. It suggests a kind of opaqueness which the universalizing tendencies of modern film and television theory have not grappled with, nor fully understood.

The present popularity of documentary cinema is largely based on the paradox that even when the films are polemical (Michael Moore), they are nevertheless seemingly connected to the truth. Any examination of how other cultures use documentary films reveals, however, that "vantage point" is perhaps far more important than fact.

More on the issues of vantage point in my next posting…

Experimental Cinema: Maya Deren

Maya Deren was one of America's greatest experimental filmmakers. Her work which was both allusive and surreal explored the visceral and sensuous as well as the symbolic and the magical. Meshes of the Afternoon which is available through YouTube still stands as one of the most important films of the 1940's, although her reputation only took off after her death in 1961. She was a seminal figure and continues to exert a strong influence on the independent cinema of the 21st century. Her influence also extends into other artistic disciplines and her book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti continues to be read even though many of its ethnographic assumptions are naive and sometimes contradictory.

Experimental Video: Ed Emshwiller

"Sunstone is a landmark tape. Symbolic and poetic, it is a pivotal work in the development of an electronic language to articulate three-dimensional space. The opening image is an iconic face, which appears to be electronically "carved" from stone. A mystical third eye, brilliantly crafted from a digital palette, radiates with vibrant transformations of color and texture. Sculpting electronically, Emshwiller then transforms perspectival representation: the archetypal "sunstone" is revealed to be one facet of an open, revolving cube, each side of which holds a simultaneously visible, moving video image."

Hollywood: Is the Cinema Dying? (A response)

Jan responds:

I guess that the art of storytelling lies in finding the perfect balance between what to tell and what not to tell, whether orally, in writing or through images. It's perhaps the abundance of images in our environment that forms the greatest threat to what once was a great form of art.

"The documentary cinema has risen in prominence over the last decade both because of reality television and the fact that there are so many stories out there that need telling." The problem is that most such documentary cinema tells the stories that need no telling. It focuses on the most superficial layer or reality rather than the reality beyond what is already blatantly visible. It creates a shield between the audience and the stories that lie behind the story, stories that are different for diverse members of the audience, because each of them has his or her own life history and thus unique perspective. While watching a good documentary - I’m thinking here of works like Ivens’s ‘The Bridge,’ ‘Rain,’ or ‘La Seine a rencontré Paris’ - one is immediately aware that one is not just looking at a bridge, the downpour of rain, or a city. Instead of assuming a spectator role, a good documentary demands of the viewer to trade his or her status as onlooker for that of participant (a position that is distinct from the manipulator role one so easily takes on when playing a video game).

Joris Iven's The Bridge can be viewed online. The link leads to a page in Dutch, but on the right of the text there are options to choose between Windows Media narrowband and broadband as well as the English version. The movie itself is silent. I watched it again twice and was as impressed as I had been when I saw it last several decades ago.

Hollywood: Is the cinema dying?

There is a myth circulating in Hollywood and in the media that film is dying. True, box office revenues are down. The impact of flat screens in the home as well as DVD's and the Internet is changing the dynamics of viewership and audience. Yes, there are less people going to the cinema and the medium is changing because more people can now make films at home and then upload them to YouTube. There are many more venues in which films can be shown, which dilutes the power and the role of the majors. True, cinemas are closing and those that remain are deteriorating. Yes, there is more variety and many more choices available to people than ever before and this is highlighted by the strength of videogames.

BUT, the real reason that this is happening has much more to do with content, storytelling and the role of images in our society than with any substantial change in audiences. Hollywood has lost the ability to tell stories largely because it is so out of contact with the publics it tries to address. Much of the slack has been taken up by the independent cinema which in relative terms is thriving. Relative, because independent cinema needs to find small audiences and so can survive on less than the mainstream. I know that there are some people who will not be unhappy to see mainstream spectacle-oriented cinema decline, but I am not one of them. But, if the mainstream is to survive, it will have to reinvent itself, shed the marketing departments that dominate the selection of projects (when will producers realise that marketers have basically no understanding of audiences — which may explain why the vast majority of films fail) and develop new models of storytelling and narrative.

In my opinion, the cinema is not dying. The conventional approach to production and distribution is changing, but Hollywood producers still think that they are back in the 1970's. Examples abound. After many years of videogame production, audience building and the growth of production companies, Hollywood took notice and began to make films as if they were like games. The films failed of course because as related as the two media are, the activities of viewing are different. Videogames remain, in my opinion, locked into models of narrative that are as predictable and dry as Hollywood's have become, but at least some elements within the organization of a game allow for new strategies of audience involvement. The documentary cinema has risen in prominence over the last decade both because of reality television and the fact that there are so many stories out there that need telling. One of the few films that grasped this phenomena was "Good Night, and Good Luck" which used black and white film as a way of telling the important and often overlooked story of Edward R. Murrow in post-war America during the McCarthy era.

George Clooney's film took advantage of the strength of newsreels, combined that with close-up cinematography and then mixed in a soundtrack that not only evoked the era, but said something important about the media and their role as purveyors of information and opinion. Clooney didn't get much support from Hollywood for this film, but it succeeded nevertheless.

The cinema is not dying because audiences will always be hungry for stories and for new content that addresses their concerns or reveals experiences and worlds to them that they know nothing about. Ironically, a television series like Deadwood which is shot in the style of the cinema, has become a success largely because it manages to tell stories so well. The characters are powerful precisely as a consequence of the power of the FICTION. Here is David Milch, the brilliant creator of the series talking about his creative process. (From the HBO web site — producer of the show)

Executive producer David Milch warns that Deadwood is not a docu-drama about the famed outlaw town. "I want to make it clear," he says, "that I've had my ass bored off by many things that are historically accurate."

That said, Milch spent months immersing himself in the true stories of the people of 19th century Deadwood, absorbing not just the events, but also the subtle motivations behind them. "I like to read the primary materials; I love reading the Black Hills Pioneer, you know," he says. "I could read that all day. I'm interested in the personalities who were kind of the first prime movers in the community."

What has emerged is a picture of a place finding its own "order" without the benefit of laws. "Deadwood was a place created by a series of accidents. A kind of original sin — the appropriation of what belonged to one people by another people — was enacted with no pretense at all," he says. "You know, the people who landed in Manhattan, they paid 24 bucks. Well, maybe they got a bargain, but they still recognized the obligation to pay. In the Black Hills, the land had just been given to the Indians, to get 'em to move from another piece of land."
“I want to make it clear that I've had my ass bored off by many things that are historically accurate.

Somewhere between David Milch and George Clooney lies a middle ground for the new Hollywood. Go to the Ars Technica site for an interesting analysis on the future of videogames and why they may not be threatening Hollywood at all.

Johan van der Keuken (2)

In a series of writings published on the occasion of the 42nd San Francisco International Film Festival, Van der Keuken said the following:

"The idea of the truth 24 times a second is erroneous. The acceleration that takes place in the mechanical process creates a gap between the function of mechanical repetition and its form as a continuous flow that is only perceivable in a purely subjective experience of time. "

Van der Keuken was referring to Jean-Luc Godard's statement: "Photography is the truth, and cinema is the truth 24 times a second," which was made in reference to his film, Le Petit Soldat.

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Van der Keuken goes on to say, "The important thing is not the reproduction of a three-dimensional reality, but by way of the time elements in a film, the creation of an autonomous space."

An autonomous space — this means that the flow of a film creates its own time and space, because the viewing experience is never simply a function of what is shown or seen.

Vision — the cultural approach to seeing and thinking, privileges objects of sight, as if they will provide some clear answers to the dilemmas of viewing and understanding, as if the questions, indeed possible contradictions of autonomy, need not be addressed.

For example, hallucinations and dreams are sights not in the control of the conscious mind. It is more difficult to trace their origin because they suggest autonomy without specifiable external or experiential causes.

This could be reason for excitement, visible evidence so to speak, of the mind reconstructing and redeveloping conscious and unconscious relations. Instead, autonomy, which I am not suggesting is the only process at work here, is more often than not recontextualized into an objectivist language of description and analysis. In fact, the sense of estrangement attributed to hallucination or dream cannot be divorced from the hesitations which we feel in describing the “inner workings of vision — the often obvious way in which the reflective autonomy of thought challenges preconceptions of order and disorder.

So, van der Keuken is talking about the unique circumstances through which the cinema makes it possible to experience the world and those experiences are a product of the viewer's own consciousness as much as they are evidence of the world we inhabit.

____________________

There is a superb interviewwith Bill Joy originally published in New Scientist that is worth a read.

Johan van der Keuken (1)

This will be the first in a series of short extracts about Johan van der Keuken.

In the winter 1984-85 issue of Skrien, the most important and serious of Holland’s film magazines, Johan Van der Keuken wrote the following: “How to return, how to leave behind. The cinematic space of New York, the Lower East side, ‘Loisaida’ as its Spanish-speaking residents so aptly call it and write it: cracked pavement, the rot of a bad tooth, manhole covers, the scars of flames, scorched spot in the city — now left behind, everything forgotten, senile like in Bernlef’s Mind Shadows Suddenly you no longer know a single name, a single place, a single number, you have gone blind from too much seeing.

In 1956, Van der Keuken shot two photographs of a young girl (Yvonne) from different angles and printed them onto the same image. In both instances the two faces are looking outwards from the print to the camera and by extension to the viewer. The photograph is part of a series prepared by Van der Keuken for a film script by the Dutch poet Remco Campert. The script was called, Behind Glass.

Can you go blind from too much seeing? Or is the act of seeing blind to begin with? How many windows, panes of glass, are there between sight and feeling and memory? “You wipe your breath from the window and look outside, says Campert’s script.

The breath is the body. Memories are physical. Often, memories overwhelm breath and the heart races and the body erupts and the “sights are neither present, nor do the sensations of seeing rely on any objects or subjects outside of the eye(s).

Perhaps Van der Keuken shot only one image of two girls, twins, or two girls sisters slightly different in age. Their glance is outwards. Their memories are inscribed on their faces, but I cannot reach them. Their look suggests that I will never know them. They come to me from the past. It is 2006, fifty years after they were photographed. Are they still alive? The photograph neither answers these questions nor necessarily suggests these questions make any sense.

Robert Daudelin recently published a series of conversations with Van Der Keuken entitled, L'oeil au-dessus du puits: deux conversations avec Johan van der Keuken (The Eye Above the Well: Two conversations with Johan van der Keuken)

THE EYE ABOVE THE WELL
(Het Oog Boven de Put)

Directed by Johan van der Keuken
The Netherlands 1988, 16mm, color, 94 min.

THE EYE ABOVE THE WELL explores India’s spiritual and economic condition, moving from the city to the countryside in the region of Kerala as it focuses on the essence of that civilization. Captured without commentary by his gliding camera are a cacophony of distinctly nonwestern sights and sounds: the bustling city streets, the serene landscapes of the surrounding countryside, a family preparing for dinner, an elderly actor performing his mythological drama, a modest country moneylender traveling from village to village, young girls at their singing lessons. What emerges from these encounters is not only a highly evocative sense of lived experience but a poetic vision perhaps best captured by what Cahiers du cinéma called “the aesthetic of diversity.

"Film is not, as is often assumed, a language in which certain combinations of signs refer to certain concepts and in which series of combinations of signs can be arranged into a syntax. Film has no sign and no significance. The sentence "John is a villain" cannot be converted into a combination of cinematic signs." Art from Now (Kunst van Nu), August 1963 © 1999 Johan van der Keuken

To be continued...........

Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann (2)

Dene comments:

What stood out for me from the first viewing to the last of the film _Moulin Rouge_ were the common themes that, despite all of our postmodern "cynicism" (as you call it, Ron), still resonate in our culture.

Take, for instance, the song Satine sings when she does Madonna's "Material Girl" doing Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." The tradition of the blonde bombshell is still with us whether we like it or not. It drives me nuts, but we have to ask, would Paris Hilton be so infamous if she were a brunette and frumpy? Not according to Luhrmann. Not in our culture. Ever.

And the updating of the fallen woman theme, seen in the song "Lady Marmalade," from the sleazy streets of New Orleans to the tawdry ones leading to the Moulin Rouge cabaret pokes fun at our pretensions that we are more sophisticated and worldly than our forbears. Truth be told, Christine, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink have nothing on Patti. They are all cut from the same naughty cloth. Certainly all their hair is just as weird:)

But I guess the most important theme to emerge from the film is passion--the kind that begins with strong physical attraction but grows into eternal love that death cannot even destroy. When Christian and Satine sing the duet "Elephant Love Medley," they engage in a seductive, verbal intercourse that presages the physical one soon to come. Most importantly, we as viewers come to realize the parallel between the love they share and the kind we feel for art and for film.

Thank you for introducing the topic.